My 2015 was full.
I released three books. I spoke two times. I attended four live book selling events. I launched a podcast. I was featured on three other podcasts. I wrote more than 365,000 words (that averaged 1000 words a day). I was successful in Nanowrimo, writing my 50,000 words. I launched my weekly encouraging newsletter. I also took on a part-time job as a homeschooling tutor. I did all this while maintaining my household, hosting two chats a week, homeschooling my five kids and baking my bread from scratch.
This all looks very impressive until you pull the curtain back and see the truth: I was a nervous mess for most of the year.
I worried about the various launches. I was disappointed in my subsequent sales. I was disappointed in the trickling reviews. I lost sleep. I spent a three month period, between mid-August and mid-November in severe pain in my neck and shoulders. Also, from January to December, I had an almost nonstop struggle with various relationships over this theme: I have boundaries now.
By the end of my amazingly productive, amazingly stressful year, I was completely knackered. I was so exhausted that I was ready to walk away from writing fiction, from blogging, from ever publishing anything ever again.
Fortunately, I had the good sense not to make any rash decisions. I was tempted, more than once, in this down time to confuse fatigue with failure. I found that it felt good to not have a deadline or a project or an event to plan. But in I way I felt empty too, like I should have been doing something.
Instead, I just sat back for a few weeks. I unplugged figuratively and literally.
Sometimes the best something you can do for yourself is nothing.
This is what I did during this six weeks or so of resting.
- I didn’t feel guilty. I needed a break. I needed to retreat, go back and rethink what my next writing and publishing steps are. I’m still not completely sure of them, but I’m not going to stress about the unknown in my life.
- I didn’t feel rushed. It’s almost always better to move thoughtfully and purposefully than harried and hurried. This can apply to most things in life.
- I didn’t have high expectations. This was the toughest thing I had to let go. I set aside a month to avoid writing and rest. But in the back of my head, I was, at times, convinced that this month was the key to the really big idea that will launch me into fame. Those expectations will make me crazy and neurotic. I don’t think it’s worth it to worry about the future.
- I practiced good self care. During my time off, I tried make sure I was doing everything I needed to do. The obvious: sleep, water, exercise, good food was just a beginning. I also took a few hot baths, got massages, read a lot of books and stopped anxiety at the door of my mind.
- I had a plan. Kind of. I started by asking myself what was the most important thing to me. I was surprised at my answers. It was from this clarification of my values that I was able to envision 2016 a little clearer.
- I looked for answers. I spent this down time reading books (and discovered how much I like travel nonfiction!). I asked trusted friends for advice. I read old notes. I went back and remembered the highlights of 2015. What do I want to repeat?
- I tried new things. This meant for me new books and introducing my teen girls to The Gilmore Girls. I also listened to the Ted Radio Hour and This American Life. I think the novelty of this entertainment kept my mind distracted from listlessness.
- I curbed negativity. This is probably the hardest and most important thing on this list. My negative thoughts will have more of an impact on me than anything. My wails of despair and disappointment are not as powerful if I distract them with happy memories and positive thoughts.
- I paid attention to the stories around me. That’s why I love Ted Radio Hour and This American Life. They have fascinating fresh stories that I believe will take root in my self conscious and give my future art depth. This is what I think it means to be filled up with art before you can overflow.
- I wandered both figuratively and literally. I walked on the trail behind my house. I let my thoughts go to happy, unpredictable places. I invented dialogue for ghosts of characters that will never materialize. I couldn’t plant a stake in an idea, but I didn’t let it bother me.
I didn’t do all of these perfectly, by no means. And I didn’t have this list to go on — I just let things happen. And truthfully, I’m in the middle still of this rest period and I’m still figuring it out as I go.
But I think it’s a reasonable expectation for an artist to have down times.
I think there is nothing abnormal about a dry season or a hiatus or a holiday. Our minds and schedules need breathers and even though it had been years really since I had been able to take one, I’m glad I did.
I still don’t know what my projects for the future will look like, but I’m determined to approach my words as if they are my toys, not my taskmasters.
I’m going to be nice to myself and enjoy this time between deadlines. I’m not going to worry about sales or rankings, because those figures have rarely brought me joy.
2016 could be my best year yet.
What about you? How have you rested in between projects? What did you do to take care of yourself?