Writers and Workaholism: The Importance of Balance
I'll never forget a conversation I had with a friend of mine a couple of years ago. She asked Mark and me to come to her annual Superbowl Party, and I said "well, we might, but he has to work on his thesis, and I have to work on my novel." She smiled and said a couple of other things, and then said "well, I had to ask you, but I know you guys are workaholics." Her words stung, and it wasn't the first time, nor with that particular friend. In fact, ever since I slipped into the abyss that is known as my novel, I've been saying "no" to almost everything.
Some of these nos have been necessary; some have been a long time coming. Getting serious about my writing forced me to quit activities I wasn't really enjoying and to end friendships that no longer made sense. In general, it's forced me to evaluate how I spend my time, almost down to the minute, and to realize that every time I say yes to something, I say no to something else.
The problem is that now I think I've gone too far the other way, and I'm a little bit worried. I hardly ever meet people for a social activity, and I shy away from groups. Part of this is because although I love people, I am highly empathic and tend to soak up their energy, which means that if that energy is negative, I will leave feeling exhausted and drained. But another part is that it is just really hard for me to explain my life path right now to people who aren't writers, particularly since I'm in a state of transition. So my default pattern now is to say "no," when before I began the novel it was almost always "yes."
Ideally, I'd like to add at least a couple of things back into my life, now that I've defended my dissertation and at least that hurdle is over. But I'm wary, until the book is done. I still have a day job, and that day job demands a lot of the same mental energy that I give to my writing, so I have to be self-protective. On the other hand, over Spring Break when Mark and I had a heart to heart, we realized the last time we took an actual, honest to God vacation was August, 2004.
It was before I started my comprehensive exams (and I did actually lay on the beach and study for those while I was there) and before he started his master's degree. It seems a little crazy that it's been that long, particularly when I theoretically have "summers" and "breaks" from school. But I have been cramming tons of writing hours into those "off" days, which means that it's been a really long time since I had a mental break. And my mind and body are starting to tell me that.
Over on academicladder.com, Gina Hiatt has this recommendation for people like me: She recommends creating a balanced life chart. On and off during the dissertation process, I used it, to help me remember not only to prioritize my writing, but to keep it from soaking up my entire life. I mention it here because I think this is something we all struggle with, whether we write or not, but I think it's particularly hard for writers. A friend of mine argues that a writer's life is necessarily overextended, because there's always going to be what we do to pay the bills and what we really do. But as several people have reminded me lately, this life is a marathon and not a sprint, and I am only one person.
And last year I did go to that Superbowl party--and had a blast.