Tuesday, June 26, 2007


We are in a business where we feel we need to work 24/7. Spending time doing nothing or just hanging out with family and friends feels like a guilty pleasure and one we shouldn’t be allowed. If you’re a writer you think you should be writing, and an agent feels that time away from the office is time that should be spent reading client or other submissions. And email only makes this worse.

It wasn’t too long ago that a client apologized to me for not responding to the email I sent on Saturday. She was at the water park with her family. Imagine that? Apologizing for spending a weekend day with your family! Is it just us or is it the world we live in?

Let me tell you something. We all need to remind ourselves that downtime is equally important to working time. It’s where we come up with our best ideas and it’s when our brains recharge for more efficient and better work. If we don’t have time with our families, to curl up with a good book that has nothing to do with research, or to just veg out in front of the TV, we won’t be the best we can be. So if you can’t write a book every 3 to 6 months without giving up all sense of a “life,” you shouldn’t be writing a book every 3 to 6 months. If I miss out on a new client because I had to have a vacation, I missed out on a new client. You’ll be just as successful if you write a book every 12 months (as long as they are all the best book you can write) and I’ll be just as successful when I am the first to move on that next client.

I’ll admit I’m horrible at not working. I have a manuscript with me at all times and will make notes during dinner for new blog entries, revisions suggestions for authors, or even fresh book ideas. I can’t turn it off and I have to constantly remind myself that it’s okay to have a day here and there where I just don’t work. And that’s what this blog is for. To help remind all of us that it’s okay to not work.



kris said...

"Not working" can be the hardest of all sometimes. We get in a rhythm of going, going, going, and breaking that rhythm can take concerted effort.

Just last week I had a totally insane schedule in which every minute of every day was spent preparing for a large family celebration. All week I promised myself that on Sunday, when this was all behind me, I would spend the day in bed. What happened? On Sunday, I looked at all those suddenly-empty hours and thought, aha! I can catch up on pages and write my column and work on a blog and ...

I had to forcibly remind myself that I was exhausted and that the best thing I could do was to spend the afternoon on the sofa, reading, napping, and drinking vodka & lemonade. It took serious WORK to make myself lie down and say, "I'm taking the day off."

Good luck maintaining the balance!

Anonymous said...

You mean there are people that write a book every 3-6 months and the ones that "take time off for their life" are still churning out a book a YEAR?

Oh, hell.

Well, if I didn't work seven days a week before, now I'll have to work 8 or 9 days a week. Does anyone know a different country I can move to that has 8 or 9 days a week?


JDuncan said...

Totally agree with you on this one, Jessica. I have the rather odd writing schedule of writing at work during the night (I run automated machines, so if they run well, I get more writing time). During the day I take care of five year old twin boys. Small children make writing time virtually non-existent, at least for me they do. heh. It's difficult on those nights when I don't get to write much, heaven forbid I actually have to work, to not feel like the day has been a failure somehow. Not a very healthy mindset.

Sadly, I'm about to lose that job so my writing time is going to be up in the air to some greater or lesser degree.

Anyway, can totally relate to your feelings on the matter. Maintaining sanity should always be on the top of one's list.


Anonymous said...

I get cranky without down time. In this society I feel like such a slacker, but that time either in front of a TV at night or curled up with a book is essential.
I cannot be moving 24/7.
Oh and I like to sleep, too.

Anonymous said...

I totally needed to hear that. Four weeks ago my husband and I purchased our very first home and I've been so wrapped in the moving, painting, etc. That I haven't touched my current WIP in over a month. The guilt is really starting to get to me, so I definitely needed that reminder that a little downtime is always needed.

Christa M. Miller said...

I have kids... they force daily downtime. LOL I used to feel guilty, but now I look at playtime, vegetation time, etc. like I do sleep - time to let the subconscious go to work. Interestingly, I get blocked a lot less now that I have kids than when I didn't. I think "forced downtime" has helped my creativity!

Anonymous said...

Most writers (unless they have a spouse to financially support them or a publishing contract that gives them enough to live on) must work two jobs.

I own my own freelance writing business--definitely a full-time endeavor. I'm also agented but unpubbed, and working on my next novel.

I live at my computer. I have to.

Kate Douglas said...

It's hard for me to find balance because I love writing more than the down time. It took me a long time to admit that, but this past couple years have reminded me that if I don't occasionally take a break, my favorite pastime--writing-suffers. It's not easy to break away, but I've discovered that if I do avoid my WIP for a day or two, I can come back refreshed and full of enthusiasm for the project. It's definitely a balancing act.

Anonymous said...

When I got a laptop, 'not working' became even more challenging...so this year, I decided camping or mountain trips during the summer would be laptop free. And the freedom and relaxation I feel is totally worth it!

Writer, Rejected said...

Right. Isn't that why we blog? To avoid downtime?

Kim said...

Not working is almost impossible for me - even with kids and spouse and animals all over the place. Between the laptop and the Alphie, it seems like there is no reason not to work - which is a little nutty, now that I stop to think about it.

I have to force myself to stay away from the computer, or the WIP - and then I have to assure myself that it's okay to veg out for one night. Wow - I never knew I had such a twisted work ethic :)

I try to take one day each week - just as a rule. One time, I was doing so much, getting almost no sleep, and I ended up really sick as a result so I try to avoid that if at all possible. Plus, I find writing and revising easier if I've had a little rest.

Anonymous said...

AMEN!!!!!! I've got my hands in the air, and I'm swaying to this one, Jessica...and I'm Jewish.

For the first eleven years that I was published, I had one or two jobs and was constantly juggling. My health suffered. The housework. My sanity suffered. Then--hallelujah, sister!--I gave up the day jobs to write full time. A year I became a mother.

Health is suffering. Sanity is suffering. The housework...oy. A couple of weeks ago--Kim Lionetti, if you're reading this close your eyes--I decided something has to give. There's got to be more than striving to write faster, more. I'm still getting up at five to maximize my awake time, but now I'm exercising. One hour less writing won't kill my career, and it might extend my life (or at least the life of my jeans). I'm attending BBA--BookEnds Blog Anonymous (except for today; I'm in relapse).

I think my health is improving already. My sanity--definitely. The writing seems better, if not faster. The housework...oh, please.

Jessica, I love that you are so obviously dedicated to your career. But this blog has to be one of your best yet.

Isabelle Santiago said...

Without downtime, I get serious 'writer's burnout'. I feel like nothing I write makes sense. My plot is suddenly the worst thing I've ever read. I hate my characters, my world, the entire writing process. It's an ugly scene.

I try to take at least the weekends to myself. If I can write 5 days a week, then I can give myself a 'life' on weekends. On the other hand, if I miss a day during the week, I have to be strict about writing on the weekend, in order to get the five days in. I have to take it seriously, since so many people around me don't. They're like: "Can't you just write later? I mean, I'm sure it won't take that long."

Pft. They obviously know nothing about writing.

Anonymous said...

Great words of wisdom. I don't work outside the home, but, aside from writing and raising teenagers, I'm the office help for two side bizzes for my husband who also works a 40+ hour week job away form home. ALL my "jobs" are 24/7, and it's difficult to find "time off." I've learned that if one area slides, it's not so bad, as long as I'm making strides forward collectively. Rather than hopping back and forth between writing and the two bizzes, I find it much more effective if I can focus on one for a day. That's not always possible--things come up that need my attention--but it's what I strive for.

I do try to reserve my weekends for recharging, but if it's not happening, I'll take a mid-week day to recharge. It's definitely necessary to my peace of mind.

Spy Scribbler said...

I get that guilt, too! I supposedly took a week off last week. I ended up working about twenty hours or so, and it took me six days to unwind enough to take a *true* day off.

My life has gotten to the point where I feel like getting done at 7pm is a treat. Getting a day off, even on weekends, is a rare luxury!

Aimlesswriter said...

Down time? Very hard to accept. I have one of those real life jobs to pay the bills that gets in the way when all I'd rather be doing is writing. I've even emailed ideas for writing home from work because its always on my mind.
Down time...a good thing to remember, a difficult thing to do.

Sharon Page said...

I grew up in a family business, and since I'm self-employed as a writer, I just tend to work 24/7. By that, I mean, work happens when it happens and I have the flexibility to arrange life in those times when everyone else works. Sometimes I think I'm not really working all the time--it just feels that way :-). Downtime is really, really important.

Agatha Christie apparently used to take many long walks. In her head she would be working out her plots, but she would also enjoy her walks, take a leisurely pace, and relax. I've always envied that. And the best ideas do seem to pop into my head when I'm not working.

AlexisFleming said...

Oh man, did I need to hear that! I get the guilts big time whenever I miss out on my writing time.

I run a large motel, living on the premises as well, so I'm pretty much on call 24/7. But once the reception doors close at night, it's computer time, stopping only long enough to eat dinner. The problem is I have been short-changing myself on sleep and yeah, it can really screw with your health. I'm trying to slow down a bit right now, give myself permission to head for bed before midnight.Okay, so I'm not going to get as many books out this year as I did last year, but hopefully I will have gained some balance in my life.

Now if only I could get rid of the guilt. lol

Anonymous said...


Thanks for the reminder--a very timely blog. Myself & two friends are all facing deadlines, some publisher-based and some self-imposed, and it's so easy to lose sight of the fact that we love this work and should keep loving it.

I've found that actually looking at what I have to do and how long I've got to do it brings me some sanity. The workload stops being a nebulous fear bouncing around inside my terrified brain and becomes, if not easy, do-able.

Becky Levine