Productivity seems to be both the biggest challenge and biggest goal of just everyone these days. Without question, a not insignificant number of people have made fortunes teaching or, minimally, claiming to show people how to squeeze every ounce of productivity possible out of any given day. Yet, despite a little lip-service, typically in a short, breezy afterward or tucked away in an appendix, not much talk is given to downtime.
Downtime, it seems, is anathema to our current social situation. When people admit to taking time off, it’s often done furtively or with an explanation about how a child or spouse requires their presence. Writers, I think, come under more pressure than many to justify their downtime and often feel the pressure to be productive all the time. After all, lots of writers work at home. How stressful can it actually be?
The reality is that writing, even when you love it, even when the thing you’re writing at the moment may not be particularly hard, still demands a fairly intensive mental effort. You may not be driving to an office somewhere, but you still staring at computer all day, subject to deadlines and the majority of other stressors that accompany other professions. So, many writers wind up putting in time writing every single day, even when they know they need to take a break.
I’m no exception to this and I learned a hard lesson from it. I worked 14 straight days recently. I was productive. I made money. I made progress, albeit less than I wanted, on my novel. I did some research to find new outlets where I might place my writing. I read articles about writing and read books about the craft and business of writing. I was on, in one fashion or another, all the time.
Even when I wasn’t physically sitting in front of the keyboard, I was thinking about writing, or the things I would be writing, or analyzing the writing in the things I was watching on the TV. My theoretical downtime was becoming an extension of my working time. This might sound good, in theory, but not in practice. I paid a price for this.
This past weekend, instead of putting in some serious time on my novel, or working on the cover for that novel, or reading a novel, or any of the other things I had imagined I would do, I spent most of the weekend fighting a losing battle with a crippling headache and then recuperating from that headache. I accomplished next to nothing.
The point brave readers and fellow writers is this: downtime matters! Your body will revolt. It will punish you. It’s not just about getting enough rest or a balanced diet. I was sleeping 7-8 hours a night for the last week and eating plenty of the right stuff. The problem was that I never disengaged from the work. That’s the kind of downtime you need to take from time to time. It’s important and necessary. Don’t feel bad about that and don’t let anyone convince you otherwise…not even yourself.