I’ve been sick since Labor Day Weekend. Nothing major, really, just a kidney infection that I thought was going to kill me (yeah, I know – Drama Queen!).I was pretty much out of commission for almost two solid weeks. The first little while, I slept a lot. But then after I saw the doctor and got a prescription for antibiotics, I just didn’t recover as fast as I thought I should.
I was feeling “okay” but not great. I got tired very easy, and even when I wasn’t tired, I couldn’t seem to wrap my brain around anything productive. For nearly two weeks, I got almost nothing done. And I beat myself up over it pretty bad.
I started September out strong, writing 1500-2000 words a day, and really making progress on Biloxi Blue. After I got sick, though, I couldn’t bring myself to write anything that didn’t have a hard deadline (with a paycheck) attached to it. So, for the last 10 days or so, I’ve felt like a sloth. A lazy sloth, at that.
Then it dawned on me. I wasn’t being lazy. I was sick. Fever, aches, pains, tiredness, nausea, all of it. Full-blown, down for the count sick. Why in the world was I beating myself up over not being able to write? If I had a full-time, report-to-a-boss type of job, I would have been out of work. I couldn’t sit up for long periods of time. I needed a nap just because I took a shower. So, how was it fair to berate myself for not writing like I should?
It’s a common problem I’ve discovered with writers that make a living with their craft. We have a very hard time separating ourselves from our work. On the creative side, maybe that’s a good thing. We have a vested interest in what we’re writing, so we spend a lot of time writing or thinking about writing. We hold ourselves to deadlines, and we spend hours obsessing over the book, story, or article we’re working on.
We should, however, realize when writing (just like any other work) can wait. Illnesses are just one example. Think about the times that you skipped out on something fun with the family because you had a deadline or were working on a story. Or the times you didn’t go out with friends. Or one of a thousand other moments that you missed because you had some false sense of requirement that you should not do something because you had a story to write.
Those are the times when we have to realize that no matter how much you love it, writing is a job. The difference is, you’re your own boss. You’ll need a certain amount of discipline, because, let’s face it, it’s a whole lot easier to sit on the couch and watch the new season of Elementary than it is to sit in front of a blank page and try to suss out the words that seem buried in your synapses. It’s more fun to go shopping or out to dinner with friends than it is to figure out what’s broken in this plot and how it can be fixed.
That’s when discipline comes in. Setting a deadline and staying with it. Putting up a goal and reaching for it. Discipline is not making yourself work through an illness or giving up on hours of sleep or activities with your family because you blew off a deadline when you had time and now you have no choice. Those are undisciplined actions. But taking a few days away from the computer because there is a legitimate reason – a reason that even a boss in an outside job would excuse – that’s just taking care of yourself.
As writers, we do need self-discipline. We also need self-love. So, give yourself permission to heal if you’re not well. Remember that your family is your first priority. And stay on top of the deadlines and goals that you have so that when your day is over, you can walk away without feeling like you should be working. Then, enjoy the other parts of your life, too, for someday, they may be fodder for whatever writing project you’re working on.
What are some of the ways that you beat yourself up about your writing? Do you give yourself adequate time away from writing so that you can refuel and refresh? Or do you push yourself too hard? Share your thoughts below. I’d love to hear how you manage illnesses and obligations.