Balance and renewal

Writing is a very solitary kind of work. For me, at least, it’s not something I can do with other people. Bouncing ideas off them, asking if I should go this way or that with a scene – those are not things I can do. I like complete creative control of my work, only giving it to someone else when I’m ready for editing and when I feel it’s complete enough that I can take “This really sucks!” for what it is, rather than feeling the urge to defend myself with “But it’s not done!”

I do spend a lot of time with the characters in my head, though. I’m privy to incredibly intimate details of their lives. I’m a voyeur, peeking into the lives of these fake people, the fly on the wall that we all wish we could be sometimes.

These fake people don’t do much for me for my own social life, my own need for friendship and conversation. I control everything they do – except when they resist, but even then, I can simply leave them sitting on a park bench like a puppet whose master has dropped the strings.

Sometimes, I get really caught up in my writing. I reach a point, often when I’ve realized what the ending should be and am nearing it, where I spend many of my waking hours working on my book. Of course, I also have children to care for, so if I’m not writing, I’m spending time with them, or cooking or doing other necessary things, like running errands.

When that happens, I often forget that stepping back and taking a break can do more good than harm. I tell myself that I need to keep working while it’s all flowing, that I need to run this errand or that and it just can’t wait, that between teaching today’s lessons to my kids and writing, I simply don’t have time for anything else right now.

But last week, I took a break. I took my kids and met a friend and her kids at the lake for a long afternoon. The laptop stayed at home and the cell phone was only there so I could keep the occasional eye on the weather radar, as our rain chances were about 60% (for the record, though the clouds did begin to build and it thundered, we didn’t get rain until a couple of hours after we got home).

It was a great afternoon. My friend and I spent the hours chatting about everything – her work and mine, the kids, how hard it is to balance it all, shows we’ve recently begun to watch on TV, movies, anything that came to mind. Well, anything other than sunscreen, I should say. We both remembered to bring the sunscreen, we both somehow forgot to actually put it on, though.

When I came home late that afternoon, with hot, red skin that is only just today feeling more normal and thinking about the tuna casserole I was making for dinner that night, I realized that I felt different. I felt refreshed, renewed.

My mind didn’t feel cluttered anymore. I realized that when I spend so much time writing, I have all these thoughts about my characters, their homes, their lives, their interests and feelings and hobbies, and those all come to the forefront of my mind. All my thoughts about the kids, TV shows, movies, music, news, politics, whatever else I think about all get shoved to the back, piling up like old newspapers. And when I don’t talk to friends, I end up feeling like my mind is all cluttered up with all that stuff, and it interferes sometimes with my writing.

Chatting with my friend (a friend I’ve known since my freshman year of high school) was like cleaning out a cluttered room. I dumped all my thoughts in our conversation and came home with a clear mind. Since that day, my writing has been moving forward with much more progress than before. I needed that time away from my work, in order to make it better.

Being an author is like any other self-employment. It requires motivation from within, because you don’t have a boss to hover over you and push you to get your work done. You are that boss, and if you aren’t hard enough on yourself, you won’t get anything done.

I think I often tend to be too harsh a boss on myself. Out of fear that I won’t stay focused, won’t get enough done, won’t be able to prove to others that what I do is a job and that I spend time on it like others do when they work in an office or a factory, I think I go too far the other direction and work too much.

Working too much backfires, though, because when I force myself to write when I’m too tired, or not sure where to take things next, I write a bunch of crap that I end up deleting to replace with something different. So all that time spent working doesn’t necessarily get me anywhere.

I’ve been reminded that taking time for yourself, taking time to spend with friends and going to the lake to relax and do nothing or going to the movies to enjoy a good laugh, can do more for me than anything else.

I think we all need that reminder sometimes. I think we all have those times when we focus too much on one thing at the expense of everything else. Maybe it’s not working too much. Maybe you focus too much on partying at the expense of your job. Maybe you focus too much on partying or the job at the expense of your job. Maybe you try too hard to find other, easier ways to make money. You date too much at the expense of friendships.

Whatever it is, we all have to remember that balance is important and that taking a break from whatever it is that you focus on too much can be incredibly beneficial. It can show you that you’re off-kilter, remind you that you need to find that balance where everything that is important gets its moment of attention. It can refresh your mind, clear out the cobwebs and help you to see things more clearly.

Why don’t you take a break today? Go to the beach, see a movie, go out to dinner with a friend or a relative you haven’t seen in a while. Relax in the pool while listening to the stereo and sipping a frozen drink. Take a hike or a bike ride, or just sit at home and veg out in front of Judge Judy and reruns of Wings or Criminal Minds. Whatever it is that you would enjoy, take a break and do it.

I took my big break last week, and I’m still feeling the results. I’ll be focusing on taking smaller breaks a couple of times a week from here on out (at least until I forget!) so I can hopefully keep feeling this way.

Go fly a kite, why don’t you?