by Laura Laakso
I saw my chiropractor yesterday and his parting words were that if I didn’t stop writing, which he wasn’t expecting me to do, I’d have to take better care of myself. My first thought was, who has he been talking to? Was it my doctor, or my flatmate (also my best friend) or possibly my mother?
His sole concern may have been my joints and muscles but the sentiment is something that has percolated around my mind for a while now.
A bit of context: It’s been six months since I signed a publishing contract for my debut novel. In that time, I’ve done structural edits and line edits on the manuscript, written the sequel almost from scratch, including letting the manuscript rest and doing major revisions to bring it up to a standard where I dared to send it to my publisher. I’ve done extensive research for the third book in the series, drawn up a detailed plan and started writing the book. And did I mention I work full time, compete in two different disciplines with my dogs and have ME?
It’s no surprise I’m tired. But I’m also driven. When I finished the first draft of book 2, I was going to spend an entire weekend on the sofa, reading for pleasure. I managed about an hour and a half before I started thinking that maybe I should be doing something useful, ie. research for the next book. Another hour and I set aside my book in favour of reading about the history of Samhain.
My problem? Writing is fun! (At least for the most part.) You may wonder why that could possibly be a problem, but it is. When I say I’m driven, my flatmate would correct me and say I’m obsessive. Sure, I have deadlines to meet, but ultimately there is only one person who is pushing me to write as much as possible, to take part in competitions, to develop myself as a writer and to realise my dream of becoming a published author (and maybe, just maybe being able to write full time). And that person is me.
Still, don’t see the problem? If left unchecked, I will write myself to the ground and still feel like I haven’t accomplished enough.
For the past year, I’ve been learning about self-kindness and compassion. At first, they were foreign concepts. The words may have been English, but they meant nothing to me. But little by little, I’ve learnt that it’s okay to lie on the sofa cuddling one of my dogs, to pause to admire the sunrise and to not take part in every writing competition I like the look of. I’ve started using a timer for writing so I don’t get carried away and exhaust myself. When the timer rings, I walk away from the keyboard and give myself a proper break.
Another thing I am learning to appreciate is that writing is just the tip of the iceberg of being an author. Reading, watching TV, talking to people about their experiences, forging connections on social media and even staring out of the window (yes, I know it’s a cliché) are all part of it. Rationally, I knew all that. You only need to open Twitter to see a meme reminding people of the very fact. But on a personal level, it has required a conscious effort to look beyond the daily wordcount and see the bigger picture.
Do I have all the answers? No. I don’t even have all the questions. And trying to find a more compassionate way of being a writer involves re-wiring my brain. It takes time and it’s easy to ignore the reminders that I must take care of myself. But. When I have allowed a bit of self-kindness into my life, my mind has been filled with inspiration and plot twists, and the writing has flowed.
That should be all the incentive I need to take a break without feeling guilty. I hope one day it will be.
Laura Laakso is a Finn living in the UK with a flatmate who knows too much and their dogs. When she is not writing or competing with her two dogs, she works as an accountant. Her debut novel, Fallible Justice, will be published by Louise Walters Books in November 2018. Laura has a blog at: https://unfinnisheddreams.wordpress.com/ and you can also find her own twitter.
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