It’s been quite a month.
I started this post before last Tuesday, but it just wasn’t coming together. This first month of the year has been a bit challenging, and honestly, I was feeling pretty beat up last week. I just needed to retreat, reset, and refill my mental, intellectual, and spiritual tank. I had some client deadlines to meet last week, so my retreat wasn’t total, but I also didn’t push myself beyond those obligations. I don’t know if the tank is totally full yet, but it’s better than it was.
If only I were Iron Man…
When I first started thinking about a post for this week, I was reminded of when I went dark back in 2012 or so. I’m not sure exactly when I shut down my social media, but I think it was sometime in August 2012. My last post on my old blog was on August 15. I said I was “taking a break,” and then I never went back to blogging there. I think I went back to Facebook sometime in 2014.
I have a ritual of looking at my Facebook memories every morning, and I can see the crescendo of frustration and anxiety build through 2012. That was the year I rediscovered crocheting and then knitting and then started visiting yarn shops with The Bestie. I replaced my writing obsession with a yarn obsession, and then when I returned to Facebook, I replaced the yarn obsession with an AHG obsession. And then there was a whole host of struggles and setbacks for several years…
But I think that sometime between 2014 and now, I gained a little traction on some things. I republished my books. I fell into freelancing with a few serendipitous opportunities, and then I found a couple of great clients through marketing myself.
I think that somewhere along the way, I did develop a little bit of grittiness and maybe found my purpose, because this time when the setbacks hit, I didn’t think of giving up completely. Instead, I took a week to be introspective and face some demons and write out some thoughts, and I think I figured out a few things…
I’ve Been Scattered
One thing that’s really hard about writing for clients and writing fiction is that I don’t always know where to focus my energy.
On the commercial side, I have both paid work and marketing to do, and on the fiction side, I have writing, editing, and promotion. It can feel very disjointed, and when I struggle to focus on any one thing, I just want to focus on nothing.
As I was thinking through my work last week, I seriously considered just maintaining the small amount of client work I have on the books for this year and focusing instead on fiction. But… that doesn’t feel quite right. I very much enjoy the commercial work and don’t really want to cut back on it; I just need to do some marketing and find some more good clients.
I also do want to push forward with my fiction. I need to finish the second Ian Mac Roy story and write the third, and I want to get back to Soultainted. And of course, if it’s ever going to actually produce an income, I need to improve my promotional activities.
But having too many streams of work can be really frustrating, and often my coping mechanism for frustration is just basically scrolling social media and playing solitaire. And that actually just makes everything worse.
I’ve Not Been Resting (Not Really)
I recently read The Shallows: What the Internet is Doing to Our Brains, by Nicholas Carr, and it was quite an eye opener. Carr points out that staring at screens doesn’t really allow you to rest your brain; it basically keeps your brain in “working” mode and doesn’t really let you synthesize thoughts and recharge your intellect and creativity. The screens tend to trick us into thinking we’re working whether we really are or not.
I spent a lot of time in remote video meetings in 2021, and I realized that it was not what I wanted to do with my time. I struggled to get any writing done for clients or for myself, in part because those video meetings were so draining that I didn’t have any creative or mental energy left to do the work. I ended that contract, and for a while, I was just relieved to have more time to focus on the actual writing that I like doing. I had a lot of projects in early 2022, and so for a good part of the first half of the year, I spent a lot of time in front of my computer doing work I liked.
That was all fine, basically, but… I never really reset how I move in and out of work mode. So when I finished up a lot of that work, I never really cut back on how much time I spent in front of screens. I just kept staring at the screen for the same amount of time, but I was doing stuff that did not recharge me.
Basically what I’m saying is that I fell into bad habits of spending too much time playing computer solitaire, which is actually not restful in the long run.
I’ve Let My Habits Slide
For the last couple of years, I have been telling myself that I “mostly” kept up with the habits I established in 2017, and that’s not exactly a lie.
But it’s also not exactly true.
Yes, I still exercise more than I don’t exercise. But I’ve also taken a lot of weeks off for vacations and such, and my workouts have been lazier, and I’ve been more apt to skip days just because I don’t feel like going out in the current weather.
It’s true that I don’t eat as poorly as I did in 2016 and earlier, but also, I don’t eat as well as I did in 2017 or 2018. I reintroduced wheat into my diet in 2019, and then my diet slid during lockdowns, and then we had a lot of road food on our trips between Oregon and Idaho, and The Man and I eat out a lot, and… well, my diet is not great.
The same thing has happened with other habits, too, like my Bible reading and knitting/crocheting and reading. And although I spend a lot of time in front of the computer, a lot of it is wasted or unproductive.
I started this year with goals and intentions, but what I didn’t start with was a full tank of energy. And when you have goals and intentions but an empty tank, you don’t focus on the right things, you tend to not make much progress, and you make stupid decisions.
I’ve done all of those things in the past month.
And last week, I had a reset.
The Good News
Here are the positive things:
- I did not go dark. I did not get so far down the rabbit hole that I threw up my hands and went completely dark like I did in 2012. I caught myself before I went that far, and I rested, and I’m back.
- It’s still early in the year. Just because I had some setbacks in January doesn’t mean the year is a wash. I looked at my month, evaluated, and made a plan to move forward.
- I did make some progress on my goals for 2023. It was small progress, but it was progress.
- I know what I need to do going forward. At least, I know some of what I need to do. As for the rest…
- …I am allowing myself to keep iterating. There is a lot of value in shitty first drafts. I think January was my shitty first draft for 2023. February is for editing. We’ll see what I need to do in March.
And so, going forward…
- I will be more intentional about rest. I am going to take more time off on weekends, and I’m going to walk away from the screens more during the day.
- My “rest” will be less electronic. Rest periods will consist of fiber (knitting and crocheting) and real books and a lot less screen time (including TV).
- I will start blocking time for each activity. I’m not sure what this looks like yet, but I’m trying to split my work time into four categories: client work (billable), freelance marketing, fiction writing and editing, and fiction promotion. (There’s also admin and professional development time, but for now, I can squeeze those into the cracks, so to speak.) I may start trying to dedicate days or half days to certain things just to feel a little less scattered. We’ll see.
So this is basically a very rambly post about how I didn’t go dark, which is… Well, maybe a little weird.
But here’s what I want to leave you with:
- The Internet will try to trick you. A lot. Everything we look at online is designed to keep our eyeballs there. My encouragement to you is to walk away from the screens as much as possible. Rest your eyes, your mind, your brain, and your spirit.
- None of this is ever done. You may think your habits are set in stone, but they require constant adjustment–the good ones and the bad ones. Be vigilant against the slide toward ease and laziness.
- It’s better to manage your energy than your time. I attended a webinar last week about this very thing. As someone moderately addicted to productivity hacks, this concept has been an eye-opener for me. I’ll say more about this later, but for now, just check out this post about managing your energy.
I’ve probably rambled long enough… I wish you all a restful week!