March 7, 2017
When I hear "spring break!" I don't picture writing. I imagine beaches and alcoholic beverages with those little umbrellas.
When I hear "spring break!" I suddenly wonder how much money I have in my account and if it would be feasible to run away to the nearest (well, cheapest) resort location and play in the surf.
I don't have money, and I don't even like alcohol all that much - though I certainly joke that I do. In the end, my spring break is lattes in the botanical gardens here in Georgia, with my laptop open, maybe doing that thing I really do love, but more likely not.
Writing isn't a job - not for me - but sometimes it feels like I need a break from it. The problem is that it is something of an addiction. Sometimes its the voices in my head that push me to write. Other times, it is guilt. My advice would be to resist that guilt, and only write when the voices tell you - but I know how hard it is to ignore that itchy feeling that you are failing life miserably. The guilt can be especially strong if you have a day job, and you can only steal moments of time in your busy week to add to your word count and tick off sections of your outline. When you do get a break, you feel you should want to jump into writing. But you don't.
Writing isn't a job, for me, but it is exhausting all the same. There is pressure: pressure to finish a book and make it perfect and start querying and get that agent and get published. That pressure follows me into breaks and vacation. It's gotten to the point where I feel so guilty about not writing that I can't even read, and any writer can tell you that reading is one of the best ways to make your writing better. So how did I reach this point of unquenchable guilt?
1) I have an unhealthy obsession with succeeding.
I don't mean success as in obtaining the gold medal at the Olympics or becoming a CEO. I mean success as in finishing something. Anything. I love the feeling of marking things off my to-do list. As a child, my mother asked me if I really enjoyed reading or if I just enjoyed finishing the book. At the time, it seemed ridiculous. But now, looking back, I can see her point. Call it low self-esteem, but I loved closing that back cover for the last time and running to add the novel to my book list and then to show her how long that list was getting.
Add this compulsion to the writing game, and you can see the problems. My mother might as well ask me if I really enjoyed writing or if I just enjoyed typing "The End." In fact, she might have asked me that before.
2) I say "Yes" too much.
Projects that don't seem like they'll take too long to complete but end up taking entire weeks/months/semesters/years are a big part of my life. I agree to everything. Yes, I'll write a paper with you. Yes, I'll teach this class. Yes, I'll take this class. Why not? I'm Race. Mom says I'm smart and clearly I've gotten this far so I can do it.
The more you say "yes" to, the more you add to your plate. Picture yourself at the buffet of projects, shoveling more and more on an actual, porcelain, platter. The more you add, the less likely you'll be cleaning that plate off at the table. Just like having "big eyes" that make you take too much lasagna and garlic bread at the church dinner, I have big expectations of myself in regards to my time-management.
The result? I've failed. I've let people down on projects. I've let myself down when I didn't make deadlines or study enough for a test or work hard enough get the job done. And looking toward the future I can't help but remember those failures and let the guilt eat at me.
3) I have major goals.
Maybe I should put this under either 1 or 2, but I feel it is a big enough topic to deserve its own category. I don't want to be Dr. Rachel Mercaldo, PhD. I want to be Dr. Rachel Mercaldo, MD., PhD. Yeah, tack medical school on in there. Why? Because I love the human body and I love populations. I love math and I love helping people. I love knowing how the body works and responds to treatment and I love knowing how a virus spreads through a country.
It doesn't mesh very well with writing, does it? Curse a brain drawn to both fiction and science. There isn't enough time in a day to do both, supposedly. I'm still trying to figure it out.
Combine those three, and you have a perfect storm of guilt. I have major career goals outside of writing, despite the stories I have screaming in my skull. I have this undeniable urge to finish everything and a bad history of not doing so and disappointing everyone but my mother. So now you can make a recipe called "A day in the life of Race," in which you first add waking up to a pot of possibility. Next, there's a bowl of cereal and a decision to not work out. One more day won't hurt anyone. Add a stop for coffee on the way to campus, and then make sure to sprinkle in at least an hour of "settling in" before the crazy Race brain can focus on a school project. Which one to think about? There are two possible papers to work on, five class projects, responsibilities as a TA and the lecture to plan. Add one or two or five actual classes. Stir in a meaningless meeting, a reminder that comprehensive exams are in May, and a dash of traffic on the way home. We've gotten nothing done at school, but the evening is free!
Do you add writing in? Or comps studying? You could have an hour to yourself to eat food and clean up and bathe, but guilt is kicking in. You should work on your projects, or you may not make the deadlines. You should get your lecture slides in order so you don't lose your teaching assistantship. You should read these journal articles that are stacking up beside your bed because, someday, you need a dissertation topic. Crap, you need to get your dissertation advisory committee together before they'll let you take comps. You should probably study for comps.
Writing? Writing gets shoved in the background. The only one expecting anything from you is you, and you is the least important.
So... spring break. That's what started this conversation. It's the perfect time to write and the worst, because you could be doing so much other stuff. With no classes to interrupt, you can get your work done on campus. You could technically finish ALL your projects, or at least get close.
I don't know how to handle the guilt, beyond possibly starting an hour-by-hour daily plan. Maybe I should try that. And when the "writing" block shows up, I can maybe persuade myself its okay to drop everything else for just one hour or so.
I could also try therapy. Retail therapy has already proven effective, though necessarily expensive.
And, blogging helps. I feel better now that all of that is off my chest.