…Yep, we wanted Peggy Bechko back so badly that we couldn’t wait for her next contribution and swiped this baby right off Peggy’s wonderful blog:
Hey, you, are you working too much?
Yep, you. Yes, I know, you’re working a job and you just have to write so you have to juggle both and that means working…a lot.
Many, actually most, writers have to do this if they want to write. Few of us actually reach full-time writer status, at least in the fiction arena. And if you become a successful full-time copywriter or grant writer or creator of newsletters, etc. and love writing fiction, you still work too much.
So how to you work less and still pursue your love of writing?
For starters you realize that taking breaks optimizes your work and creative flow so the writing goes smoothly.
Being pumped up on caffeine and pulling all-nighters is plainly not optimal no matter what your 20-something buddy (or your own 20-something brain) may claim.
And what is optimal? Well, the experts tell us it’s a period of time in which you perform, mind and body, at your best when engaged in high-imagination and thinking projects. During that time you can keep your focus, your body is firing on all cylinders, your attitude is good and your imagination (really critical to fiction writing) is through the roof.
So, with all that in mind, it’s true, that 20-something brain may work faster than a 40-something brain. They may have an edge on efficiency, really cranking it out, but the 40-something has the edge on effectiveness.
45-year olds have it all over 25-year-olds in verbal memory and vocabulary. Yeah, well, there it is.
And, remember our bodies and minds (emphasis for writers on mind) have a natural rhythm. For most of us humans that cycle is around 90 minutes to 2 hours. So, with that in mind, it would appear the best time to take a little break is after that cycle.
For writers with day jobs that means not only do you need to take those little breaks during your work day – step away from the desk for a few minutes, grab a cup of tea or just walk down the hall – for optimum performance, but you need to do the same when you lock yourself down for your writing.
If you write during your lunch break at your day job, eat your lunch, savor your food, walk a few steps, then write before going back to your ‘other job’. Yes, you lose a few minutes from your cherished ‘writing time’, but it will cause you to write that much more effectively. This applies to folks who have to do a lot of reading as part of their jobs (this includes you writers) as well. Short breaks and distractions will improve reading comprehension and speed.
And if you include taking breaks when you write during your evening hours you’ll find you’re not ‘over-doing’ it and burning yourself out. And, if you want to sustain that writing momentum over years and decades, not just right now, take those breaks.
Even short breaks are a tremendous help. Step away from your work area. Look out of a window. Maybe sit in a comfortable chair near a window for a few minutes and embrace a memory that gives you pleasure. Step outdoors for a quick breath of air if you are able and while there savor the breeze, the colors, the sounds and smells. Movement is even better – a brisk short walk, even a block and back – more if you have the time. For night I have a treadmill – five minutes at a brisk pace and I’m good to go.
And I’ve reached a stage in my writing career where I don’t have to work evenings. My work days are my work days. If you don’t have to write in the eveings, don’t do it.
Relegate your writing to the ‘work day’ if you can – on the bus, during breaks or lunch hour, get up early to write before leaving for job, some writing on week-ends and days off. It’s much more relaxing – and thus leads to better performance if you keep your evenings free, disengage from all work and allow yourself pockets of silence, play, self-indulgence and reading. If you can’t eliminate all evening writing work, then make sure you shut down about a hour before you intend to go to bed.
Give yourself a break and see how your productivity and quality will improve. Life (and by extension your work) is not a sprint, it’s a marathon.
Give yourself a break.