Looking at the Margins (It’s Okay to Take a Break)

I didn’t write yesterday. It was the weekend, I could have sat at my computer and typed the whole day but I didn’t.  I expected to feel disappointed at the end of the day but surprisingly I didn’t turn into a gnawing pit of guilt. My word count was smaller than it should have been, but I was able to recharge. 

As I stated in my previous post, I failed to meet my January word goal. I’m very competitive, especially when it comes to my personal goals, so I expected to feel disappointment rather keenly. 

However something I have been working on, which I think is beneficial to other writers who are starting out, is keeping things in perspective.

The one thing I’ve had people (especially my boyfriend, who is probably the loudest voice of reason in my life)  repeating to me, since I started back in November, is that whatever I write during the next few months is more than I wrote before.  I can compare myself to other authors or blog writers but at the end of the day, I’m doing more than I did before. I’m not saying I have an excuse to slough off the work, but it does keep me from going insane when I need a night off.

The difficulty with working full-time, maintaining an apartment, and just generally living, is that personal goals can fall by the wayside. Overall I need to be satisfied with the work I produce rather than focus on the quantitative value. It’s easy to focus on all the things I could have done, focusing on what I have done is significantly more difficult.

One of my favourite book quotes deals with this exactly. In Frederick Philip Groves’ Fruits of the Earth (available via Gutenberg) the main character is questioned by a neighbour about his outlook. He focuses on the material, the quantitative, forgetting about the more intangible aspects of life:

In spite of the fact that Abe could not understand the man’s hesitation he was attracted. To him the world was a thing to be conquered, waiting to take the impress of his mind and will. Nicoll seemed rather to look for a niche to slip into, unnoticed and unobserved.

“But look what I’ve got!” Abe said impulsively. “This barn cost me three thousand dollars. My stock is worth two any day. And all that”–indicating, by a sweep of his arm, the fields with their crops-“is clear profit, not to mention the rest of my equipment. I had nothing but a hand plough when I came. Before I’m through, I’ll be farming whole sections of land, ploughing with tractors, an acre every two minutes.”

“No doubt,” Nicoll said. “Dukes and lords. How about the margin?”

“The profit? Before I’m through, I’ll build a house over there fit to stand in any city.”

Nicoll repeated, “No doubt!” not hesitatingly this time, but decisively. “Not a doubt on earth! … But I didn’t mean it that way. Do you find time to live?…”

Writing is a strange niche where you can work for years but never have an end product. Feeling guilty or letdown because I haven’t written a novel in two months, is a little absurd. Yes, professional authors can write a book in two months, but I can’t, and shouldn’t,  expect the same from myself for my first novel. 

Challenge and push yourself to deliver results but remember that it’s okay to recharge. Most of us are working under deadlines that we’ve set for ourselves – deadlines that are moveable. I know it’s dangerous to let deadlines slide, it’s easy to let one deadline pass and then never get back on track; this is where a lot of writers fall off. But if writing isn’t your day job and you’re not facing an editor’s wrath, then it’s okay to take a break.