I know many of you are also writers, so I thought I'd share one of my smaller, more subtle pieces of advice for surviving the day-to-day of the writing biz.
As always, there's a story. Back in 2011, right before I graduated from a grueling but amazing MFA program at Seton Hill University, I was deep in the daily word trenches. At the time, I was working in the medical field, 40+ hours a week at a long-term care facility. It was hard. It was depressing. It was, in truth, an interminable grind.
I'd go to work at 7am, come home at 4pm, and then get to writing and schoolwork until about 10pm, then finally fall into bed exhausted. I did this every day. Even weekends. Even holidays.
My MFA thesis was a massive epic fantasy of about 150K words. I'd already revised it twice and was on my way to completing a third revision. I had lofty daily goals. I met them, or I beat myself up about it. I learned to eat with one hand while typing with the other.
It was hard, but I loved the writing part, and I desperately wanted to improve my craft, so I did it. As time ground on, I counted the days I kept this schedule. When I reached 435 days, I started to joke that my life was much like Frodo's in the end scene of Return of the King.
"I cannot recall the taste of food nor the sound of water nor the touch of grass."
It sounds silly putting it down on paper, but looking back, I'm pretty sure I was slowly killing myself.
And then, the chance to go to Ireland for two weeks on the cheap fell into my lap. The catch was: I wouldn't be able to write.
I remember contacting my mentor in a near-panic. How am I going to do this? How could I POSSIBLY be away from my desk at this critical time? Because, yes, every second was critical. I'd convinced myself of that. I'd convinced myself that not writing = death.
My mentor said to me, "You've been giving to your writing for a long time. Maybe it's time for you to let go and just receive for a while."
I had only the barest idea of what he meant, but I went to Ireland, and I didn't write for one second while I was there. I remember the first meal I had there (fish and chips at a small pub) because it was the first time in 435 days I didn't eat at my computer. I nearly had an anxiety attack. I didn't know what to do until my travel partner told me, "All you have to do is eat your meal. No more, no less."
And in that second, I slowed down, and I stopped giving every second of every day.
Instead, I visited castles like the ones I was writing about. I saw lush, untouched land greener than any camera could capture. I witnessed natural wonders that took my breath and met so many wonderful and interesting people whose culture differed from American culture.
I took it all in. I received whatever the day had to offer. More importantly, I gave myself time and space to just live. And it rejuvenated me completely.
When I returned, I tackled my manuscript with renewed energy and insight. Reader, I finished that damn 150K-word manuscript, and I passed in all four categories, though only three were required. It's called The Gathering of Seven. You can read it at the SHU library.
My MFA experience was very similar to an epic fantasy. It was wonderful and harrowing, illuminating and deadly. I graduated with my degree, but I learned an important lesson:
To write about the world, you have to live in it.
So, from time to time, take a break from writing, from giving, and simply open yourself and receive.
Be in the world and just, well, BE.
Thank you for reading,