I’m about a month into this period of time known sometimes as my break, or my pause, or my sabbatical. “Working sabbatical” is probably the most accurate though I’m pretty sure that’s a total contradiction in terms. I can’t believe how far into September we are and how much my life doesn’t feel that different. I suppose this shouldn’t surprise me–I’ve lived long enough to know that change tends to be slow and by tiny degrees. Here’s what I’ve discovered so far:
- It’s really hard to say no. Even though I’ve promised myself I’ll leave my writing-related commitments as minimal as possible for the next year, when opportunities come up I struggle to keep this promise. Sometimes because the opportunity is really cool, and sometimes out of guilt, and sometimes out of a lack of truly connecting the idea of “several little yeses today=overwhelming to-do list in three months.” Things that seem like no big deal all add up and seem to multiply, like unmatched socks in your drawer. Remedy: Suck it up and say the N-O word even when it’s painful for me or someone else.
- If this time is actually going to feel different, I just can’t do social networking at the level I am, or have been, or would like to in the moment, or every time I feel a little lonely or bored. Technically there is the time to do that, but it leaves my mind fragmented. Also, and this is the main thing: I think creative people need to feel “bored” or lonely. I think you have to endure that rather than immediately soothing it because after the initial agitation is over, the funnel unclogs and you can actually get some stuff into the well, and out of it. Remedy: Block out at least a couple of whole days during each week when I’m 100% unplugged.
- An absence of deadlines doesn’t mean an absence of career obligations. When you have work out in the world, it generates all kinds of returns. Which is awesome. But unless you’re willing to totally check out (I’m not), you have to stay engaged at some level with your publisher, readers, and colleagues. Therefore (and because of the previous point), time management is as important as ever. As much as I’d love to sort of “live intuitively” and be a free spirit and follow my bliss and live in the moment or whatever, I’m a grownup with a job! Mainly, I’m simply not the free spirit personality type, and that’s okay. Remedy: Accept that I do have some work obligations, and schedule time for them each week. And be grateful for career health.
- Money is still a necessary evil. Hey, look at me, I’m not signin’ any contracts! I’m not selling out to pay my rent! I’m all about the art! Yeah, well, I don’t have to look too far into the future to see the day when what I’ve set aside to fund my sabbatical is gone. And it’s not just the expense of normal life–I’d hoped to spend some of my time off taking some trips to spend time with mentors and peers who inspire me and make me want to push myself, and other “professional development” kinds of activities that cost money. So some part of me does have to think about how to generate the scratch. Remedy: Travel back in time to the 1800s and find a wealthy patron? Partner with James Patterson and write for hire? Get a part-time non-writing job? Apply for grants? Offer editorial services? If you’re a person in our industry out there who has any opportunities for me that don’t involve writing a whole book, I’m all ears. My agent knows the kinds of things I’m interested in.
- Time marches on. There’s no pausing this thing. If I choose to waste a day or a week or a month by not keeping commitments to myself, I’m not getting it back. Remedy: Live as well as I can, every day.