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Collisions of ambition and running on fumes
The act of not writing is just as important as writing. Never underestimate the importance of staring out of a window or going for a walk. All too often the knottiest story problems can only be untangled by getting away from the desk. If all else fails, try going to sleep and letting your subconscious do the heavy lifting. It’s amazing how often the resting mind can resolve a problem your active thoughts couldn’t fix.
Those words of David Bishop crossed my desk for the first time in 2019 as I was trying to come up with a new idea, something fresh to write about. Then they crossed my desk again today. Each time I read them, and then I looked at the clock.
Tick. Tick. Tick. Tick.
Tick. Tick. Tick. Tick.
My fingers itched to type some brilliant words, (well, any words, if I’m being honest) but…..nothin’.
Instead of coming up with a new idea, I mostly just stared at the blinking cursor as the seconds ticked by, occasionally opting to scroll through social media or check my email. You know, just in case.
We all know by now that scrolling through social media or checking email repeatedly is not the optimal way to fuel your writing. Or anything, really.
Anyway, as I contemplate what’s going on (and I contemplated this in 2019 and every year since, if I’m being honest), I realize (again) that I’ve been in a season of production for quite some time. I have published seven books since 2016, and contributed to and edited an eighth— Collisions of Earth and Sky and In Search of Simple came out within a week of each other earlier this year. It’s been quite a ride, and I’ve loved a great deal of the work that has been necessary thanks to being on this publishing path.
This year so far I’ve made countless social media marketing posts, planned and pulled off a launch event (which had to be relocated a week before due to unusual circumstances); have given three podcast interviews; did two bookstore events with other authors, and contributed one feature to a magazine. I’m flying to Boston on Friday, there’s another bookstore event coming up toward the end of April, an Instagram live interview the day after that, and a few more things in May. This is on top of working 40 hours a week as a health coach, being present with my family, and shoveling quite a lot of snow in what has been Minnesota’s third snowiest winter.
In my defense, it seemed manageable at the time. Truly, it has been just fine, but I need to pay attention.
As I sit looking at the list of things I have completed in 2023 and have coming up later this spring, I am reminded that my energy stores need to be replenished, too. Otherwise I’m left scraping the bottom of the barrel — running on fumes. Trying to pour from an empty cup or draw from a dry well. Despite all of this output, (even as I acknowledge the need to recharge) there’s still that little gremlin on my shoulder chanting “do more do more do more”—when you’re in book launch season, there’s always something more you could be doing, because when you're an indie author, no one by you is as invested in a book’s success. There are always more articles to write, more interviews to secure, more podcasts to contact, more reviews to remind people to leave.
A writing colleague of mine, Thomas Lloyd Qualls, wrote once, “the harder I try to make any of these things happen, the more I chase the fickle cats of progress or achievement or impact, the more I think I really need to do or be some thing, the more these things become water between my fingers.”
Instead of plugging myself in to a backup generator to push through and keep doing more, I need to truly replenish the stores. Go dark for a little while. Take more walks and look out more windows without the intention of writing about those activities. In other words, spend a bit of time not pressuring myself to constantly produce or promote. At least for a little while.
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Honoring what I actually need, instead of what I think I should do, tends to offer the restoration necessary to pick up the pen (or microphone) another day. So, for the next week: Walking. Staring out windows. Filling the well. They say you can’t pour from an empty cup, and it’s true. You can't.
(Fortunately, my time in the Boston area this weekend will be restorative—what a gift from the folks who have developed the WonderLit wellness retreat series.)
If you need something similar, I invite you to join me. (Maybe even at the WonderLit retreat if they have spots left on Saturday..) This doesn’t have to be a year long sabbatical.I’m going to take the next week or two, starting this weekend in Walden Woods, to rest the parts of myself that have been working hard lately. Maybe you need an hour, maybe you need a month. Do what fits your life right now, and don’t apologize for taking the time you need to restore. Cultivate a resting mind, and see what that alleviates.
But the snow’s rapidly melting this week, and the ravine streams are happily bubbling, the redwing blackbirds and geese have returned, and the lake is rising as the ice melts.
If you’ve left a review, thank you so much. If you haven’t…please and thank you in advance. These help a great deal in a book’s life, especially early on. If writing reviews isn’t something you’re into, please feel welcome to create a sandwich board of any of my book covers and wear it publicly whenever possible.
Will I take my own advice? Time will tell ;)
I’d like to point out that most of this post was already written — in 2019. I just modified it to fit what’s going on these days. Here’s to taking my own advice, eh?
Raise you hand if you’d like a year long sabbatical from your day job. (pick me!)