Toward the middle of NaNoWriMo, I took an unintentional break from writing. I didn’t mean to do it. It just kind of happened. I felt like I had lost my will to write. I’m one of those people who believe artists of any stripe should practice their art every day, even when they don’t feel particularly inclined to do so. Painters need to paint. Musicians need to play or sing. Potters need to… pot, or whatever they do. Writers need to write.
There are a few reasons why I stopped writing for over a month; why I lost my way for a while. For one, I think I got overwhelmed with both my writing and life in general. More accurately, the demands of life and not taking care of myself because of those demands is what stunted everything.
I work as the lead pastor of a church and December can get hectic with Advent and Christmas. Additionally, there has been a lot of transition over the past year, and I’ve taken on some responsibilities that were formerly handled by other paid staff. I know the joke is that pastors only work one day a week. The reality, however, is that most pastors I know (me, included) rarely AREN’T working.
On the home front, my wife, Joy, had a busy semester working on her M.P.A. at USI. Her absence three nights a week this past semester meant I had to pick up a lot of evening responsibilities at home, often balancing them with evening meetings at the church. All of which I have been more than happy to do so my wife can be free to get her degree without worrying about dinner and bedtime and dishes and laundry, etc. That, alone, cut deeply into my writing time, which I often did in the evenings. But, it’s something I would choose over and again for her sake. That’s just what spouses do. My wife is much more important to me than my writing. Her hopes, goals and dreams are worth every bit of support I can provide.
And, due to all of the above (mostly the busyness of work), I haven’t been able to take my regular weekly day off (Friday since I work on Sunday) like I need to do. Fridays were always part writing day and part time-with-Joy day but, more often than not, I’ve had to do work instead. In fact, prior to the week after this past Christmas, I had not had a vacation since early June of 2016. Prior to that it was the end of January. I could feel the burnout creeping up on me. Burnout = lack of motivation for anything.
As for my writing, I had a ridiculously difficult time trying to figure out what to write for NaNoWriMo. I had story ideas galore. (I currently have nine story ideas sketched out, and some of those will likely end up as series). I could not, for the life of me, figure out which one to write. Part of it was a lack of motivation somewhere in my soul even though, mentally, I really wanted to write: indeed, mentally I felt like I had to write. The burnout from work got in the way.
I also had this deep desire to do a complete rewrite and reorganization of my first three novels (a fantasy series) but have been absolutely daunted by the scope of that gargantuan task. The story arc of the first novel needs to be split into two books. The other two need to be rewritten to fit what precedes them. And, I need to write the final book (or two!) to complete the series. So, we’re talking five or six novels at roughly 100k words each. It will be a massive undertaking.
But I knew the work would be an effort of love. I love the story these novels tell. Yet, it is full of bad writing. I started the first two when I really didn’t know much about how to write. I’ve learned a lot over the course of the past three years, and each story I’ve written has gotten better. But, these books are close to my heart, and I know the story deserves to be written well. It deserves the work of a rewrite.
But I was still daunted.
I thought I could work on other books first. After all, I have several great ideas (in my humble opinion). I started NaNoWriMo with my book, A Spear and Shield. Then, I switched projects in early November and switched back. It was just… Ugh! Total frustration. And I’ve barely written a word since mid-November.
Last evening, I told my wife that I think I need to get back to writing. I also said that I need to take a vacation week where I sit at home and write because that’s how I recharge my body, mind, spirit, and soul. She agreed.
So, last night, after the kids were in bed, I sat down and rewrote chapter 1 of my first novel. My wife breezed by the living room and stopped to peek in at me sitting on the couch scribbling in my notebook. She smiled and said, “It’s good to see you writing again.” It felt refreshingly good to slash those words across the page.
One of the first things I did today was open my calendar and plan out my remaining vacation days before they reset on July 1. I plan to use some of those day to hide somewhere and write. I need the recharge that writing offers. I need to take better care of myself by taking my regular day off each week and my full allotment of vacation days. I’ll take care of myself, and I won’t apologize for it. If I’m so burned out that I can’t even write, something is wrong.
The fact that I started writing again last night suggests I can turn this ship around. It was a small step, but it represents a hope within me that I might have found my way again.
We have permission to practice self-care. It’s a necessary requirement, not an optional privilege. I’m a writer, so I’ll keep writing. But, from now on, I’ll take care of myself so I can be who I am. I need to be who I am. I won’t lose my way again.