I have an interesting profession. Other than my colleagues, I’ve never met anyone who works at a private detective agency. I like seeing the surprised looks on people’s faces when I tell them what I do. It’s a lot more interesting than saying I work as a receptionist, which is what my last job was.
But, in the day to day, what I do for a living feels normal. Mundane even. It takes an odd case or a conversation with a stranger to make me pause and think “Wait. My job is actually kind of cool.” It’s moments like these that help me get through the other parts of my job: the boring bits and the stressful bits.
I think that’s why taking breaks is so important. Whether it’s taking a few days off work to get away for a bit, or taking a break from writing or querying, or whatever it is you do to work towards your dream.
I’ve spoken before about how hard it is for me to write at the same time as I submit. I think part of it is how many voices are there when you’re submitting: Agents, friends, critique partners, well-wishers, competition judges. I find it really difficult, after listening to those voices all day while I’m querying, to then sit down and listen to my own internal voice. It’s hard for me to block everything else out, the voices telling me I’m not good enough, or that my last book was fantastic, and what is this piece of rubbish? to just write.
Sometimes this makes me want to give up on the whole trying to get published thing. What I love about writing is the day to day, the putting words down on paper. I find the other stuff hard to deal with. But I have this dream of one day being able to quit that day job to write all day every day, and in order to get there, I need an agent, I need an editor and I need readers. All of these things a good things, GREAT things. I’d love to have people reading what I write one day. But it means I need to find a way to balance both the outside voices and my inner voices. To both write and submit. And I’ve come up with a few strategies.
The first is the Just For Fun project. I started writing it about a month ago, and I’m a third of the way through. I think I’ll finish before November. The great thing about a JFF project is there are no other voices. I’m not writing it with the goal of submission, so I can do whatever I want. It doesn’t matter if it’s horrible, it doesn’t matter if it’s utterly unsellable. It’s mine and mine alone. When I queried my first book I didn’t write a word for months, I was so paralyzed with doubt. Not a single word. The fact that I’ve written 20k in a month is a miracle.
The second thing is taking breaks. Querying is an intensive process, at least how I’ve been doing it. Sometimes I find myself getting so wrapped up in queries and competitions and blog posts that I start worrying about silly things like trends and putting sentences together if I ever have to talk to someone on the phone. Sometimes I need to take a step back, block out all the voices and learn to breathe properly again.
It’s like with my day job. Taking a break from the madness helps me to see the cool bits about querying. The full requests and the friendships made with other writers. The fact that I’ve written a book that some people think is GOOD. These are pretty awesome things, but when I’m neck-deep in queries I can lose sight of this. I can get lost in the stressful stuff and the exhausting stuff and the stuff that makes me want to curl up under my bed and never come out.
I’m starting to see that it’s all about balance. A balance of work and play. A balance of creativity and business. I used to say these things just don’t go together, but I think maybe they can. You just have to find your own strategies to make it happen.
So, to sum up, when you start hearing too many voices in your head, it’s time to take a step back. Or possibly see a mental health professional.