I’ve never been too fond of the term “overachiever.” Most people who do and achieve more than the average human tend to be something more like over-doers. That sounds a lot more fitting, considering many of the people you see “overachieving” are probably taking Above And Beyond just a little too far.
The combination of Fear Of Missing Out (FOMO), a strong desire to help people and inspire people, and an (I would argue totally normal) dislike for boredom — and some other things I won’t mention now — I have a tendency to commit to many projects simultaneously … and then wonder why I’m so gosh darn tired all the time.
And why I haven’t seen any of the shows or movies everyone is talking about.
Or why I just heard a Billie Elish song for the first time (I had never heard of her until my day job suddenly required me to know who celebrities are and why they are famous).
I like having things to do. Especially writing things. It gives my creative energy somewhere constructive to go, it makes me feel like I’m contributing something to the world. But most importantly, writing commitments are a significant source of social contact in my everyday life. I like getting to know other creative people and share ideas and learn from people who might have more experience or greater/different knowledge than me in certain areas.
But sometimes, doing a lot is not a good thing. It’s not a good thing for the editors waiting until the last minute for my work and it’s not good for my mental health.
Finding balance as a writer — in not just work but also in all the things you want to do in your life — is not easy. In fact, it may not even be possible to ever find perfect balance because things are constantly in motion and you have to learn to adapt to change in an instant.
But here’s one thing that has started working for me: saying yes to less to some things and more to others.
You don’t have to “give up” what you like if you want to be a writer. I know it’s (mostly) a running joke that many writers spend the month of November completely locked in their rooms doing nothing but writing (no TV, no friends, no contact with the outside world). But there’s a big part of me that just does not love the message this sends to aspiring writers. (Love the joke, love the song, love to laugh, but for real …)
So many writers believe that if you want to succeed you can’t live a normal life. I suppose for some people, writing really does take up a lot of time and it’s of no fault of their own. They have no choice but to put certain things on hold so they can focus on what needs to get done. I’m not judging. You do what you have to do to succeed.
It’s just not a prerequisite to cancel Netflix/Hulu/Amazon Prime Video before you can write a book or start a blog or whatever it is you’re working on. You don’t have to stop seeing your friends. You don’t have to forgo visiting your family, seeing movies opening night, or reading the unread books on your bookshelf(ves).
Many of us are very, very bad at time management. It’s just a fact — it’s time to accept and deal with it. I am skeptical of anyone who says they never struggle to manage their time, because with all the things always going on and always being plugged in and, yeah, FOMO, EVERYONE has their moments. Some days you don’t want to write, you just want to lay on the couch and rewatch Veronica Mars or whatever.
But you have to write.
It doesn’t mean you CAN’T watch TV EVER. TV can come AFTER writing. We run straight for this all or nothing mentality when the thing we want to do instead of writing can be the reward we grant ourselves when we finish writing. Why do we do that? Because instant gratification. Because Veronica Mars.
You don’t have to watch 20 episodes in a row instead of getting your writing done. You can do your writing and then watch 2 or 3. That is what “doing less” looks like. That is what saying yes to less and more to writing means. Not giving up what you care about, but instead doing more of what matters and less (but still plenty) of what brings you total, stress-free joy.
You don’t have to do all the things. Especially not all at once. I write this not just for your benefit but also for my own. Because it never hurts to be reminded that even if it seems like everyone expects you to be able to do it all, and everyone else around you is doing it all, you don’t have to. No one can ask that of you. Especially yourself.
While it may seem like doing more and writing more and BEING MORE will make you more productive over time, it won’t. It will just stress you out and burn you out and land you in a place I have been many times — not writing what or as much as you want to be writing, frustrated and/or angry with yourself for not writing what or as much as you want to be writing, and wondering if “trying harder” or “doing something different” is even worth it anymore.
Don’t let yourself get to that place. Instead, make it a point to do less of the things you spend the most time doing outside of writing to free up more space for writing … but not too much space.
Really, it’s about how much you can handle, and only you know what that comes out to for you specifically. An hour a day? Several? Five hundred words? A chapter? An article? I’m going to have to write another post to go into this point in more detail. But right now I just want you to know that doing everything all at once isn’t what it means to be a productive writer. Not at all.
Being a productive writer means you are making good use of the time you have. And working on things that matter to you. Pushing yourself in certain ways, but not so much that you start to hate what you’re doing.
Burnout is not fun. I say this as someone who has experienced it more times than I am willing to admit. Be kind to yourself. Write purposefully. And remember that you don’t have to give up the things that make you happy. Just figure out a different kind of balance that works for you.
Meg is the creator of Novelty Revisions, dedicated to helping writers put their ideas into words. She is a staff writer with The Cheat Sheet, a freelance editor and writer, and a 10-time NaNoWriMo winner. Follow Meg on Twitter for tweets about writing, food and nerdy things.