A day doesn’t go by when one of my writer friends proudly proclaims online, “It’s 3am, I should sleep but I just need to finish this scene. I’ll rest when I’m dead.” It’s almost like a badge of honor for writers to show others how late into the night they work, sacrificing sleep, personal time, and free time. When I started focusing my life and career toward writing, these were the posts that I thought I needed to live up to. They were inspirational. Sacrifice all for your dream. Go, go, go, until there’s nothing left.
Now, whenever a post pops up on my feed about another writer pushing themselves to the limit, I keep scrolling. Because that kind of behavior takes me back to a nightmare time in my life when I worked in that job.
Most of us have had that job. The job where you worked long, thankless hours. Where high stress was your every day norm. The boss you hated, breathing down your neck. The one where each day felt like you lost years of your life. The one where you reached burn out after only a couple of weeks.
I come baring good news: writing is not that job.
Don’t make it that job.
In a short, fantastic read over on Medium.com by Jessica Seeman, Jessica points out that working hard felt like a non-negotiable. “Working hard is ignorance. Because I was young, and my narcissistic boss told me it is the only way.” But working that hard takes energy away from other activities necessary for your health. “Working hard is selfish. For I am robbing my family and friends from my presence, love and attention.”
When I was working for small businesses and startups, it seemed like not taking a break was held in high regard. But science tells us taking breaks not only makes you more productive, it also makes your work better. When you’re busy and have deadlines, it feels counterintuitive to take a break. But taking those breaks helps you stay focused on the task at hand, helps your brain take in information and make connections, and helps us reevaluate what’s important.
Doing the best you can in the time allotted is good enough. There is no need to hyperextend or overexert yourself. The work will be there for you to do, no matter what state you put yourself in to do it.
Don’t get me wrong. You will have deadlines. And some of those deadlines will be tight, and you will have to occasionally give up some free time. But if you allow your free time to be taken over time and time again, then that’s exactly what will happen until you decide to stop it, or until burnout stops you.