When I was thinking about whether to try to be more social about how I write, I thought about how I can run harder and further and faster and without it seeming so hard if I run with a friend. That was one of the things that led me to start a writing accountability group with some friends and to set up a write-on-site session once a week, as I described in Monday’s blog post. I think these changes have led me to write more. That’s a good thing, right?
In the weeks since adopting these new approaches, I’ve started to wonder about possible downsides. To go back to my running analogy: I can run further and faster and harder with a friend – but might end up getting hurt in the process if I push myself too much. Last week, I ran with a friend and was so distracted by our conversation that I didn’t notice that I had forgotten to put on a brace that I’m supposed to wear while I run. My back noticed, though, and that night it let me know that I had overdone it. I had to take a few days off from running afterwards to recover.
Clearly pushing myself harder while running can backfire – could the same be true of writing?
I think it’s possible. I had been happy with my summer plans, but then learning about my friends’ plans made me add some more summer goals. And then some new opportunities came along that I’ve decided to jump on. I did a little adjusting of other goals and responsibilities, but not nearly enough to offset the new ones. So far, I’ve managed to keep up with the new, higher pace, but sometimes I also feel like I’m squeezing every last drop from the proverbial stone.
This all got me wondering: am I doing sabbatical wrong?
As I reflected on that, I immediately came up with a bunch of reasons why I really need to work hard in the next three weeks. But I also know that in July I’ll have another, equally compelling set of reasons why I really need to push myself. And the same will be true in August and September and…well, you get the idea.
Part of why I’ve been thinking about this is because I spent a lot of time last year feeling pretty burnt out. I’ve come to realize that one sign of burn out for me is spending a lot of time thinking about retirement. I am nowhere near retirement age. My mental health wasn’t great last winter and, while there were probably multiple factors that contributed to that, a big one was probably the strain of going full tilt for the preceding summer and fall.
I don’t want to feel like I’m sprinting for the next 30 years. More importantly, I know that I can’t sprint for the next 30 years.
I have a really wonderful opportunity in the next year while I’m on sabbatical – I can focus on projects that I’ve wanted to do but haven’t had time for. That led me to set a lot of goals for the year, including ones related to writing. But another important part of sabbatical is getting a chance to recuperate and rejuvenate, and turning the knob to 11 on writing might not be the best way to do that.
I am incredibly fortunate that, for the most part, my sprint pace is self-imposed – which should mean that I can also slow things down. The challenge, of course, is that for myself and so many others, that’s easier said than done. Part of that is because working hard is an important part of my self-identity – I bristled when someone recently suggested I might only work part time because I’m on sabbatical – but prioritizing health is important, too.
All of which is to say: yes, adding social habits to my writing has increased my productivity and is helping me get more done. But I also need to make sure I focus on sustainability and health. Having people who help me prioritize writing and who support me as a writer is wonderful. But, as with running, I need to pay attention to my pace and whether it’s one I can sustain long term.
I think the key is to pay more attention to indications that I’m overdoing it and to be more mindful of those signals. On a run, I pay attention to how I’m breathing, how my legs feel, and whether my back hurts, allowing me to ease up before I overdo it to the point of getting hurt. What are the analogous signals my body sends me to warn of overwork? I’m not entirely sure yet but have some ideas. As with running, I need to pay more attention to those warning signals and make sure I don’t ignore them when I’m pushing myself with friends.
I’d be really interested to hear from readers about how you pace yourselves and what signals you use as signs that you’re trying to sprint a marathon!