In the past, I often approached time away from work with the same spirit of competition and productivity that governs my work life.
By the time I approached a vacation I had often worked myself into a state of exhaustion, so I was absolutely going to “vacation well” and maximize every moment I had away from my computer. I would wring everything I could out of that vacation so I could hit the ground running when I returned.
See what I did there? I made it work.
For once I didn’t do that, and I’m hopefully unlocking something that might help you with your writing too.
I recently got back from three weeks in Scotland, and the whole time I was there I just did whatever I felt like doing that day. Sometimes that was reading Last Night at the Telegraph Club and The Dawn of Everything, sometimes it was hopping on a train to watch a soccer game, sometimes it was drinking scotch in a pub, sometimes, as you can see above, it was trekking up the coast to see a spectacular castle.
I didn’t plan anything. I didn’t write, I didn’t blog, I only answered enough emails so I wouldn’t face a mountain on my return. I didn’t even consciously try to gather inspiration.
It was amazing and, I’m not going to lie, a little unnerving.
The importance of self-permission
Now, let’s also get some things straight. I absolutely still believe in productivity. You may be less than surprised to learn that my vacation did not transform me into a zen monk.
But all of this is bound up in one of the elements of writing I struggle with the most.
You might be a writer who struggles at times to get over a hump with your writing, and may sometimes be baffled by your lack of productivity. Maybe you’re wildly industrious in your work and home life and have gotten used to accomplishing whatever goal you set for yourself. And yet writing is the thing that bedevils you.
You’re probably struggling with one of the most underrated challenges related to writing: giving yourself the permission you need to write.
The forces arrayed against just writing
In order to write a book, you need to be able to devote an enormous amount of time to something that is deeply personal and has a wildly uncertain economic return.
Think of all of the forces arrayed against you: a culture that prizes productivity and glamorizes money and status, a system organized to make you work to meet even your most basic needs, people who depend on you to survive within this environment.
It wires us to put ourselves and our passions last. Anything that isn’t feeding the capitalistic beast is chalked up to being a frivolous endeavor.
We can’t just vacation sometimes and do whatever we want, we need to vacation in a “good” way that maximizes our return and helps restore our productivity. We can’t just have hobbies, they need to somehow be monetized. And we certainly can’t just spend our time writing a book for fun.
I see what this does to writers all the time.
This drive to feed the beast warps writers’ perception of their own creative projects. To give themselves permission, some writers need to transform their passion project into an economic endeavor. A book is not just “allowed” to be just a book. If it doesn’t achieve publication (i.e. status) and economic viability, well then it wasn’t worth it entirely.
Whose voice is the one that tells you that?
Embracing the personal
I’ve resisted listing all my caveats surrounding this trip to Scotland I just took (namely: yes, privilege). I do believe it’s good to do your part to recognize and use your privilege to good ends for society, but those thoughts can also eat away at the permission you need to spend time on things that are more personal.
Also: do you see how I still managed to make this work? I’m practicing giving myself permission. I still managed to give myself a job. Take it up with my therapist!
But I still feel like this represents progress for me. I’ve achieved self-sufficiency via my work life, I spend time and energy giving back… it’s okay to not spend every waking moment trying to feed the beast.
In other words, it’s fine to just sit and stare at a castle for an hour without it adding up to something more than that. I hope I can extend that same energy to my writing life, and I wish it for you too.
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Photo: Dunnottar Castle, Scotland. Follow me on Instagram!