That Place Where Life and Writing Intersects

There are some moments that are so genuinely still that you can hear the molecules of the universe dance through the ether. In these tiny spaces between atoms, there’s just the most fleeting glance of that place where all the points in our lives intersect like long lines trailing off into the inky black. 

It’s a place where all things are possible, many things are probable and the infinite isn’t all that overwhelming. It’s a place of peace and chaos. It’s the end and the beginning and all the stuff in the middle. The loves, the hurts, the wins, the losses, the missed opportunities.

For us, it’s where writing and real life intersect. It’s like looking into the abyss, except something a lot more specific than the general universe looks back. 

Overlapping Realities

For writers, life happens in two places: one is in our heads, where, let’s face it, most of us have a pretty rich internal existence. It’s a blessing and it’s a curse. It’s a great place to escape to when things are too much, but it can be incredibly tempting to just stay there forever. The other place, of course, is in actual real life. And by real life, on this Earthly plane, I also mean social media, because, frankly, that’s pretty damn real if you make it real.

Our work, by its very nature, overlaps those two worlds. We dream it and then we make it, it doesn’t matter if we’re novelists or lowly copywriters. We breathe life into worlds every day. Your world might be a planet with six moons and two stars, but my world where my client’s product makes bedtime an easier job for parents is just as much a fantasy. If I can’t see it before it exists, I can’t tell you the story of how your load will be lighter.

And this is where things get dodgy for us, I think.

It can get weird trying to sort out what’s work and what’s life and what parts are both. Compartmentalization is the most valuable tool in a writer’s arsenal, I don’t care what anybody tells you. And maybe it’s easier for fiction writers or people who don’t need to believe what they’re telling the world to weave those words into gold without walking the wire.

But for me, and maybe for you, reality checks are vital. Sometimes I feel like I’m kind of living in a world that’s between all things, but the truth is that the fantasy is just that — it’s the fantasy. That can never be forgotten or we’ll be lost forever in the depths of our own minds.

The Intersection and The Greater World

Having recently left a relationship that was only surviving because I was clinging to shreds of fantasy, I can tell you that the intersection isn’t the best place to hang out. It stifles you. It keeps you from being all you might be since you’re putting all your energy into world-building a scenario that a big part of you knows isn’t real.

Escapism isn’t the solution, kids. You have to face your stuff. Your demons, your reality, even your choices at the polls on this Super Tuesday. Hit that shit headlong and believe me, life will be so much better.

The tools we use to give people hopes and dreams and desires are the same ones that will sink us if we’re not careful. Someone has to pilot the ship, it can’t be left to the wind and the waves. Currents are deceptively treacherous because they feel like they’re taking us in a direction that’s best because the resistance is so low.

Trust me, I get tired of fighting, but there are too many things in this life worth fighting for, we have to battle on. Even if that battle is against ourselves and our urge to just… not.

Take Control of Your Ship

Wherever you are today, you can grab that rudder and start wrestling reality back from your layers of fantasy. You can dig yourself out of your creative mind and pop back up into the world like a determined gopher. It doesn’t matter how long you’ve been down there, the light is so close, you just have to reach for it.

Start by owning it. Own that you’re dealing with your heavy shit by world-building. Then reach out to a professional. Read some books. Learn all you can about your situation from as many angles as you can. It’s a fucked up world, and we won’t always be perfect at being humans, but I think the trying is what really matters here.

Once you’ve owned it, studied it, understood it, sift it like a bag of Skittles, sorting out the bits that you need or want from the ones that are sending you deeper into that fantasy world (that includes the banana-flavored bits, gross). Don’t let your inner writerly world be the same place that you go to deal with life stresses. Do that outside your head. 

Tell your neighbor that if their dog poops on your lawn one more time, you’ll start flinging it at their house. 

Correct the cashier that insists your coupons are expired when they clearly aren’t. 

Tell people you love them. 

Accept that they won’t always love you back. 

Sing at the top of your lungs to an empty room. 

Sing at the top of your lungs to a crowded room.

Do that thing you thought would be impossible, just to see if it is.

You don’t have to live in a fantasy for your life to be the one you deserve. You can get that on the exterior of your skull. Really. I promise. Whatever your dreams are, you deserve a chance to pursue them. 

Explode back into real life, my friends. I promise, I promise it’s so worth it.

Self-Care is Fundamental to Your Writerly Health

I’m writing this blog from the end of the road, the bottom of the barrel, the length of my rope.  You see, I’ve been neglecting my most important asset for the last month: me.  I’ve not been sleeping well, I’ve not been eating well, I’ve been overworking myself, I’ve been skipping the gym, I’ve been pushing when I knew I had nothing left to give.  I’ve been on empty and there wasn’t anything for it.  I continued to plunge ahead.

If you stay in this business, this life, for long, you’ll find that this state of workaholism isn’t unique to me or something to admire.  It’s a kind of sickness that some of us get.  We forget to stop.  We get wrapped up in the work, in the thrill of the keyboard, the rush of a new project (never mind the old one isn’t getting finished because you’re spread so damn thin).  I’ve been pretty good to keep it at bay, but I met a fella recently who brought me some really special projects and there it was, peeping at me from around the corners.

So, my fucking friends, today we’re gonna drag this ugly beast out of the motherfucking shadows and talking about the thing we don’t talk about.  Because tomorrow it might be you, it might be the person you’re collaborating with, it might be your best fucking friend.  Freelancing draws a certain kind of person, they’re often quite intense and have quite intense reactions to life.

Workaholism and Burn-Out: Where We Are Now

I collapsed from exhaustion this week.  At my desk.  I am ashamed to admit this, but I need to own it because that’s literally the only road out of this pit.  If you’ve fought the battle against workaholism, you know what I mean.  You can’t pretend that you’re just really hard-working or that it’s just that you’re really interested in *this* project.

It’s a full on obsession with creation, breathing life into a world that never existed until you strung the words together like so many fairy lights.  But if you don’t own your shit, it will absolutely kill you and take everything you love.  Burnout is real, my friends, and it’s mighty unpleasant.  Mental collapse is awful.

I don’t know where the act of creation turns into the act of self-destruction.  There’s a line there somewhere… but it’s fuzzy.  It’s easy to cross over, it’s easy to get too deep into that and forget to eat and shower and take care of the basics in life.  That’s where you start dancing with burnout and all the nasty stuff.

American culture elevates work addicts and workaholism, but it’s one of the most dangerous compulsions you can possibly have.  Like with compulsive eating, you have to work, so you’re always sort of risking it, every day.  Is today the day I’ll slip?  Is tomorrow?  Am I already in a downward spiral?  These are the things I have to ask myself to keep my head above water.

Your Daily Self-Care Checklist

I’m writing this blog more for myself than for you, but I figure that if I’m having this issue, some of you are, as well.  I know a few of you are also serious workaholics and will hurt yourselves to make deadlines and so forth.  I once believed that was admirable, even something to aspire to, but time and experience have shown me that self-immolation isn’t sustainable.  Self-neglect isn’t cool.

Or, as I like to say to people who aren’t me, you can’t fill others’ tea cups from an empty pot.  In actuality, you can’t do shit with an empty pot except smash it and if you break your teapot, well, you’re in a lot bigger trouble than you realize.  So, step one and step two and step three hundred and fifty six is self care.  Every single day.  I made a checklist.  It’s for me, but maybe it’s for you, too.

Self Care Checklist

Shower.  Take a real shower.  Shampoo your hair.  Then put on something nice that makes you feel like a person and not a slovenly zombie.  Shoes, too.  Be fancy.

Breakfast.  Protein shakes and meal replacement bars are ok for breakfast.  Just do it.  Swoosh.

Meds.  Eat them pills.  They make you strong.

Exercise.  Every day.  Monday, Wednesday and Friday, take the dog for a walk/jog around the neighborhood.  Tuesday and Thursday, go to the pool at the Y and thrash about like you’re drowning.  Eventually you’ll learn how to swim properly this way.  Saturday and Sunday are for adventure walks with the whole crew.

Don’t skip lunch.  You do this a lot.  Don’t do it.  When the bell sounds, you get up and go find food.  Even if it’s a cookie.  Cookies can be lunch if there’s other good stuff with them.  Take the time to find the good stuff.  It’s good and it’s stuff, what’s not to like?

Dinner promptly at six.  Don’t eat so close to bedtime.  It just makes it hard to sleep and you really need good sleep.  You can always go back to writing after.

Movie time.  From 8 pm to 10 pm, sit and watch TV with the fam.  You deserve a break, you’ve worked hard today.  You work hard every day.  You work yourself to death.  Learn to let yourself have some fun to death.

Weekends are for exploring.  Stop working on the weekend.  That’s exploring time.  You need to figure out where all the good stuff is, but you can’t if you’re always working on the weekends.  Just stahp.

Get enough sleep.  You’ve been neglecting this one big time.  That extra hour you’re getting to work in the morning is literally killing you.  Your brain can’t function on six hours of sleep, it’s pretty evident from your heart rate monitor and general mood.  Sleep until you’re done, or at least eight hours.  Eight hours.  Zzzzzzz….

Above all else, listen to your inner Homeland Security Advisory System.  If you’re on Red Alert, you need to stop right the fuck now.  If it’s a blue alert, keep on keepin’ on my friend.

What’s This Work/Life Balance Everybody’s Talking About?

I’m about to posit a potentially unpopular opinion.  Are you ready for it?  Brace yourself.

There’s no such thing as a work/life balance for writers.  There’s only work, more work and less work.  We live in a world that’s either all on or all off.  You’re totally in or you’re totally out.  And that makes it nigh on impossible to really have anything like a work/life balance, even with a staff.  Sure, you might be at your kid’s ballgame, but you’re on your smartphone looking up information for your next article or you’re outlining marketing plans for the future or you’re searching for new clients.  The point is that you’re not really all in your real life — your non-writing life.

Instead you’re outlining, you’re world-building, you’re doing anything but living your life.  I think this is why the writing life is so difficult for us, and why it ruins relationships and why it fucking kills people.  There’s no stopping it, or slowing it down.  You’re just always on to the next project.  There’s no leeway.  if you’re on social media to keep up with real life friends, you’re also there performing for your audience.  You’re participating in groups with the hopes that someone will need your services.

Everything. You. Do. Is. A. Lie

Becoming More Present With a Writing Life

Although we tend to go tits-deep with the Writing Life, there’s hope for a work/life balance.  I know, I was shocked to learn this, too.

The truth is that the non-stop world of work is a fiction we’ve created for ourselves because we believe the task is so overwhelming it can never stop.  The truth is that we can and should take time off, slow down, spend time with our families and friends in real life and get out of the fucking house and get some of that sweet, sweet Vitamin D.

I’ve been pondering this a lot lately, and I think — I believe — I have a solution.  Or at least some suggestions, so here we go.  I believe these tips will help you get a little balance in your life:

Give yourself permission to stop.  All of this, I think, starts with the myth that any small business owner needs to be invested in their business all the time, that every moment should be spent working your butt off until you die.  So, let’s start with that.  It’s fucking wrong.  You’re fucking wrong.  Do you hear me?  You’re fucking wrong.  You can run a successful business and still golf three or four times a week, go to your kid’s ballgame without second screening, have a fucking life in between assignments.  Give yourself permission to stop.  Do it right the fuck now.

Schedule regular and significant vacations.  Get out your calendar, bitches.  Schedule two things right now.  First, pick a week or two every four to eight weeks and schedule them off.  Do it now before you fill the rest of your schedule out.  Next, schedule a few days for overflow.  We all have those days where nothing comes together and we suddenly lose our precious days off to make up for that lack of production.  Go ahead and give yourself permission in writing to have both types of days.

Put the computer away.  On those days you’ve scheduled off, get the fuck away from the computer.  I find myself coming in here and fiddling with my calendar or doing something on my laptop when I should be decompressing.  This world is a pressure cooker and the only way you survive it is to go cold turkey.  That includes me.  Get the fuck away from your computer.  Run, don’t walk, on your days off.  Don’t even think about opening up productivity programs or looking at your work schedule.  I swear I’ll find you and cut you.

Find a non-digital hobby.  The way I was raised having a hobby was sort of a secondary or tertiary priority.  But the reality is that it’s not, this is something vital to living an enriched life.  Whether you’re a woodworker or a gardener or you fly kites or ride mountain bikes, you need time away from the computer.  Exercise.  Go outside.  Do competitive sports with your dog.  Anything, just do it in real life, even if you also talk about it online.

Bitches, burnout is a real thing, it’ll crush your heart and soul, it’ll make you feel lost and angry and bored and it’s hard — so hard — to overcome once you’re all in.  So, listen to me now when I say you need to get a little more balance in your life.  Everything has to balance eventually.

God knows you don’t want to find that balance after a mental breakdown and months of not working.