Give Me Leave or Give Me Burnout

This is my partner cat, being helpful and giving me advice on my line edits. Never mind that Stephanie Draven’s website is up on the screen. A girl can take a break now and again.

In fact, that’s my topic today in the How My Day Job Has Made Me a Better Writer series: time off.

I see a lot of writers on the internet saying things like this:

“It’s Saturday and the family is off to the park, but there are no weekends for writers.”

“Writers don’t get vacations.”

“It might be midnight, but I’m working because writers don’t have timeclocks.”

I’m sure you’ve seen it, too. Now, a lot of this is just toss-off stuff. People who are under deadline babble about all kinds of things. They’re kind of like the drunks at the bar at 3am, who’ve been there since Happy Hour, and keep arguing that it can’t possibly be last call. They’ve lost touch with reality. Don’t try to reason with them.

There is the syndrome of writers using vacation time from the day job to write. That’s something else entirely. Usually that’s a treat and a much more leisurely schedule than trying to get the writing done AND doing the day job.

My company offers us a very generous benefits package. They deliberately set out to create that for us. We get ten holidays, four weeks of vacation (if you’ve been there long enough), two personal days, forty hours of sick leave, plus another forty with supervisor approval. They are very good to us. And it’s not out of the goodness of their hearts.

It’s an investment in us as the primary assets of the company.

I mentioned in yesterday’s post that, as a consulting firm, the company I work for has no product outside of the brains of its staff. We work hard. We work long hours, sometimes under grueling conditions with difficult clients. And they expect us to take time off to recover.

I don’t have to connect the dots here, do I?

As writers (or whatever discipline you’d like to insert here), our product comes from ourselves. Just as the industrial types have to sometimes shut down the factory for maintenance, we must give ourselves down time, as well. The problem is, writers are more or less self-employed. Nobody gives you a list of the paid time-off you can take.

Which means we have to do it for ourselves.

It would be interesting to know if any full-time writers do this – issue themselves a certain amount of holiday, vacation and sick leave. It would be an interesting way to keep yourself accountable. And to minimize screwing-off time, too. If you have a leave bank, then you could take the time off guilt free.

All theoretical for me right now.

8 Replies to “Give Me Leave or Give Me Burnout”

  1. This is very true. I think the problem for many writers is that they are constantly trying to legitimize their career choice. And since writing is one of “the arts,” it sometimes takes more effort to get the same amount of respect as more traditional careers. But I think that’s sad; we should all have confidence in what we do and take off the time we need. I personally use my husband’s (more traditional) work schedule to base mine around. It’s pretty simple that way; when he’s at work, I work. When he gets a vacation, I get one. Nice post, Jeffe!

    1. That’s an excellent point, Annie. “I’m not lying around eating bonbons and dreaming – I work *really* hard!” I like your solution. It’s definitely easier to mesh our schedules around our family’s. And those schedules do give us an outside structure to work off of.

  2. Jeffe, this is all so interesting to me. (And not just because I’m getting a little squee at seeing my awful website up on your laptop!)

    I’ve been thinking about this a lot lately because last year I saw four of my books release in print within twelve months. And I didn’t deal well at all. Between trying to market and write new stuff and make final edits, it was rough. I can count on one hand all the days I took off. And a lot of those working days were such a slog. My writing pace kept getting slower and slower and slower to the point that I probably won’t release anything else in 2012 after the Fever and the Fury.

    So, when it came to the holidays my husband asked me to take a real vacation. Or at least as real a vacation as I could muster. I learned how to set up an email responder to tell people I was away. I still logged in an answered mail every day, but only the absolutely urgent or the fun stuff. I let everything else wait.

    I took time to decorate my house. I baked cookies. I hosted Christmas dinner. It was wild and crazy but it was still therapeutic. I actually enjoyed cleaning. Enjoyed it!

    I watched the entire first season of Downton Abbey…twice. I watched movies. I read books. I felt like a lazy ass.

    And then do you know what happened? The last two days of my vacation, I suddenly started writing. Not something I was on contract for. Not something I even knew I wanted to write. But I wrote something FOR FUN and I was flying. I finished 35k in less than six days.

    My husband joked that I must not understand the word vacation anymore. And he’s probably right. But it made me realize that the break, the time away, the time TO THINK and TO BE and to LIVE LIFE awakened the creative part of my brain again.

    So, there’s my thinking on it.

    1. Ha, Stephanie! That was a total coincidence. I didn’t realize what was on my screen until I downloaded the pic this morning. And I thought, ah well, random plug for Stephanie it is!

      That’s a great story. I did a lot of the same thing over the holidays. Amazing how therapeutic the little tasks like baking and decorating can be. And, ah yes, the lying around reading books. SO lovely! That’s so wonderful that your well refilled like that. You go, girl!

  3. I try to take weekends off from writing. I notice that I get this “squeezed out” feeling (much like what oranges must experience)if I try to write 7 days a week.

    But it is hard to simply take a day off without labeling it as “lazy” or feeling that you’ve let some precious time you could have spent writing go to waste. What I do is try to set a daily goal and if I meet it, I’ve earned my cocktail for the day.* Fortunately there are enough parallels between writing and parenting that I’ve gotten good at remembering, “No one is ever going to tell you that you’ve done a good job except you.”

    *I wish.

    1. That’s interesting, Kristen. You’re not the first writer to say that here. We really seem to battle the perception of being “lazy.” And there’s the added pressure of knowing how very long it can take from starting a book to seeing it hit the shelves, so there’s always that sense of time slipping away.

      I love that line: No one is ever going to tell you that you’ve done a good job except you.

      SO true!

  4. Steven Covey, in his Seven Habits of Highly something something, talks about “taking time to sharpen the saw”. It’s funny how sometimes the challenge is pacing yourself, and sometimes it’s just impossible to get yourself going at all.

    Also, if you’re trying to reason with drunks at the bar at 3:00 a.m., you ARE one of the drunks at the bar at 3:00 a.m.

    Just sayin’.

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