At the office gym the other day, I found myself trying to slack off. I’d just finished the first half of my workout (squats and Romanian Dead Lifts) and was moving into the second half (six rounds of lunges, box jumps and leap frogs). I had a couple of afternoon appointments as soon as I left the office, and was tempted to quit twenty minutes early. By this point I was already dripping sweat and my legs were dead after just one round of lunges and jumps.
My brain started thinking up excuses to get me out of there.
Call it good. You don’t want to strain your right calf, you know it’s been stiff lately.
Then I remembered a late summer morning my senior year of high school. It was Hell Week — five days of brutal relentless training to kick off the football season. We’d ran I don’t know how many 50 meter sprints and some of the younger guys were dropping like flies — walking off the track with various “injuries”preventing them from running any more.
There were a few — maybe even half — obviously faking it. Even more tapped out when we started doing laterals in front of the home team stands. The coaches and the rest of us still running were understandably pissed, but to our head coach’s credit, he didn’t force anyone to run. Instead, he said something like this:
“I can’t tell any of you that you’re not hurt and make you run. But you know yourselves, you know the difference between being hurt and just being tired. If you’re not hurt and just sick of running, you’re cheating yourself and your teammates.”
I know all this gym rat/jock-speak might be a turn-off for some of you, but the same rule applies to writing: only you know if you’re giving it your all or if you’re slacking, if you need a break or if you’re just being lazy.
It’s easy when you’ve got a day job and a thousand other responsibilities to feel drained and skip writing. To make it worse, the guilt starts setting in, messing with your head and stressing you out. It’s easy to beat yourself up and get trapped in a cycle that can seriously screw with your creativity.
On the other hand, sometimes you really do need to take the night off. Sometimes you need to take a week or even a month off! Overworking will mess you up just as much as slacking will. Knowing which is which can be more complicated than following Taylor Swift’s latest relationship.
There are an infinite number of ways to go at this author business and the only way to figure out the best process is through trial and error. But first, you’ve got to know your limits. Recognize the difference between doing half-assed work and legitimately needing a breather. Nobody but you can determine what you’re feeling.
Many authors advocate writing every day and that’s great if it works for you. For many, however, it’s impractical or even impossible. When I’m deep in the middle of a first draft, I usually only take off Sunday and sometimes Saturday. Not counting those days, my string of writing usually only lasts a month or so. I set a weekly wordcount to hit but my day-to-day output varies based on what’s going on with the rest of my life.
My revising/rewriting process is even more skiwampus. After too many tight deadlines and stress-filled weeks, I’ve learned to put some padding into my schedule to ensure I release the best work possible. The only way I figured this out, though was by testing my limits.
Don’t sell yourself short. You’re capable of achieving more than you think. On the flip side, don’t be too hard on yourself, either. Everyone needs breaks.
The next time you feel like quitting, be brutally honest. Cut out the excuses and all the other bullshit. Are you hurt or are you just tired?