when you know it's time to take a holiday

Friday, 24 June 2016

The thing about being an author, is that you never really have a break.

Even when you're in a low- (or no-) production period, there's more than enough to do--catching up on maintenance, accounts, tax, filing, acquittals, blog posts (like this one), mentoring, events, promo, marketing, social media, planning, committees, volunteering, applying for grants, reviewing, emailing, promoting others and their books and events, updating or upgrading your website, writing workshops, creating presentations, speaking, visiting schools, doing interviews, writing guest posts, writing articles, planning book launches, studying, honing skills, sketching, learning new digital art techniques, scratching the back of or liaising with beloved friends and colleagues--and, heaven forbid, perhaps writing new, un-contracted material.

Oh, and maybe washing your hair occasionally.

Weekends are never a break. An afternoon or evening off isn't a break. Sometimes you just need a good solid stretch of time--an official 'holiday'. Time in which to lie in. Read. Watch movies. Go shopping. Get into nature. Spend time with the family. Read.


Because it seems I've forgotten how to read. Not only because I rarely find the time but because my attention span, according to scientists, is now officially lower than a goldfish (humans - 8 seconds, goldfish - 9 seconds).

I'm also tired. Tired of the overwhelming (to the point of ridiculous) list of roles I need to fill as a 'modern' author. I'm tired of being too tired or 'clear' to create something special--and I have so much I'd love to work on (you're no doubt the same), I'm now existing in a state of 'would-SO-love-to-create-this-or-that' rather than actually DOING it. I'm so overloaded with 'potential, imaginary' work, I've found myself buried under it, with one arm poking from the morass, rabidly finishing off books that need to truly-ruly-real-life go to print.

Of course, we don't need to add to that morass the innumerable weeks and months spent waiting on submissions, the deeply heavy weight of 'almosts' and 'maybes', and that God-awful crusher--of which I seem to be particuarly brilliant at--being pipped at the post with an idea you have spent two years working on and/or have repeat-subbed, and see on the shelves the following year (done by someone else, just to be clear--NOT you).

I'm also really good at monumental effort. Like the four months I recently spent on the preparation of an illustrated manuscript submission. The one for which I'm still yet to receive an acknowledgment of receipt.

So, yes, things get heavy sometimes.

I love my work. I live and breath it. All I want to do is create--create my best work, learn and grown and delight kids wherever I can. That's all I want. You'd think such a gloriously creative and fun job would be perennially easy, but it's not. It's also not much fun to watch yourself slide from a positive, active, engaged person, to a haggard, exhausted and disillusioned whiner (ref: above text).

Of course, it's sacrilege to 'whinge' about it, so I'm doing it here, on behalf of everyone who holds it inside and pushes it down into that deep dark spot where it does so much damage. (Out, damn spot!)

In truth, anyone whose been in the kids' book industry for any length of time will be nodding vigorously by now. Studies show that being an author or illustrator is not only one of the loneliest professions (just google 'author lonely profession' and marvel at the endless articles), it's pretty much a career that relies on 'flying blind'. We rarely receive direct feedback, constructive critique or praise on work or achievements. We often don't know how well our books are doing, whose lives they're touching or how they are being received. This is why it means so much to us when people ARE in touch or do take the time to review. The happy tears shed over three positive words from a kid at a local school--it's rife in this industry.

We also live in a state of angst in regard to future work, the limited funds we receive, the way our work will be produced, if it will do well, if it will shortlist or win awards, how it will be received and if our publisher will want to publish us again, who will pan us, who will judge us (literally and figuratively), who might personally assassinate us (that's right, not even the 'innocuous' subject matter of most kids' books can escape the wrath of haters sometimes), who will be incapable of being happy for our successes, which government might sap more funds from our already strapped industry, who will continue to debase our industry/label it as unimportant, and most of all--will our beloved target audience fall in love with our work? Will it inspire, uplift and entertain? Because that's the most important thing of all.

Oh--how could I forget? Then there's the heart-thumping threat of uncertainty and rejection. All part and parcel of the author/illustrator life.

Quite naturally, all of this has a deeply psychological effect that can become deeply depressing. Yes, all jobs have their hurdles and challenges, of course, but creatives experience all of the above ON TOP of the regular challenges. Coupled with the well-documented depressive effects of living life online, especially in regard to social media (which many creators live by), it's so important that we heed the burnout signs, and just take a break.

A big one.

So, that's what I'll soon be doing. I feel poised on the precipice of great change, and I need to do some thinking about where I'm going and what I want to work on. I think being honest with ourselves and where we want to travel... what deeply attracts and calls us... is vital on our creative journey. Yes, it's tempting to do work that pays the bills and that might just 'get another book published', but I want to make the argument that it's SO worth putting in the time, having patience, and producing something spectacular. Quality over quantity is not only far more rewarding and happy-making, it's really important for a burgeoning career.

I like rewarding, happy-making and burgeoning.

I don't like running around like a headless chook, doing it all, pedaling like a duck, then looking up to see I'm in the exact same position as when I first dived into the river. Taking large blocks of time to hone your craft, work on a project of passion and recalibrate your direction is something that could truly change your life.

I didn't plan on this post becoming so philosophical and I certainly don't want it to sound negative. Here's a pretty picture to lighten the load... (at least I hope you'll find it pretty--I'm ever not so sure... another curse of the creator...).

I love my industry, I love my publishers, I love the people I work with, and I'm enormously grateful for the glorious opportunities I've had so far on this kids' book journey. But I don't want to reach a stage where applying for an office job (not that there's anything wrong with that) is sorely tempting. (Can sense more nodding going on.)

So, I plan to take at least three weeks' full holiday. Who knows--I may take more. I may take two months and surface in time for Book Week. I shall read and ponder and garden and walk and read and read and read and draw and read. I'd even like to just sit and close my eyes for a while. I may post here again, but it will likely be about muffins. Or my winter garden.

Then I shall return to All of the Above. And hopefully I'll be renewed and enthused and regenerated and a little stronger. We all need that every now and then, non?

Until then, go gently, my beautiful, creative souls. Take your time [out].



Cate Whittle said...

Sounds like burn-out to me... and no wonder, I've long marvelled at your amazing energy and drive. I prescribe a nice comfy chair in front of a fireplace, complete with a crackling fire, a nice hot cuppa (or mulled wine), a small mountain of books, and, yes, perhaps some gentle rain outside your window. Close the door, take the phone off the hook, and disappear into another world for a while... it does wonders for the soul.

Heidi Smith said...

I so love reading your blog. You have the most amazing way with words. I always feel like I'm sitting down to chat with you... only I'm not saying anything, I'm just listening in awe. I do hope you're feeling renewed and enthused and re-energised very soon!

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