The Cup That Runneth Over (In a bad way)

November. That month after the really fun one and before the other potentially fun one.

(Though I suppose November does have Thanksgiving for our American readers, but it’s a vaguely quippy opening line, so let’s just go with it, okay?)

With NaNoWriMo happening, it’s usually a busy time for writers and I am no exception, but this year things are a little different for me. I will not be taking part in NaNo, which was a hefty decision for me to make, but I still have a plethora of other projects to work on, and that’s what I wanted to talk about today – the importance of knowing when you should say no to new projects.

Our work is rewarding – maybe not financially for most writers, but there is something fantastic about the feeling of being able to express our emotions, or conveying the story in our heads through our pages. But I’ll have to disagree with Hemingway and say that writing is not easy. It’s taxing. It’s ink, sweat, and tears. Editing is no easier – it’s intense, it’s exhausting, it’s time consuming. Any creative process, as rewarding as it may feel, is tiring and it’s vitally important that we don’t push ourselves beyond healthy limits.

(For those of you who know me, you’ll probably be muttering things about pots and kettles at this point. For those who don’t know me personally – I am chronically bad at taking breaks, at resting, and I am well aware of how unhealthy it is, and perhaps my own failings in this regard give me a degree of perspective.)

At present, I have literally a dozen different projects. There’s Narratess, there’s a zine (which I’ll definitely be talking about soon!) I’m working on, The Second Book of Varr (for Chronicles of Tyria), my novel, Disjuncture, another World Machine short, several editing contracts, and one other project I’ll be announcing in around two weeks.

Further, I’ve been on the road since July. Traveled through Italy, and now write this from Malaysia, where I will be till I return home later this month. It’s been a great time, don’t get me wrong, but being on the road naturally slows productivity. It’s hard to edit a manuscript when you’re watching dozens of people practically prostrate themselves before Michelangelo’s David (“Kneel before your god, Babylon!”) in Florence’s Galleria dell’Accademia, for example.

The point is that it’s led to me making the somewhat heavy decision not to take part in NaNo next month, and while it pained me initially, I realise it is the wisest choice, and that’s what I think all of us – no matter our profession – should remember sometimes. There’re a lot of hard workers out there, which is impressive, and sometimes it’s not possible to actively take a break – things need to get done, projects need to be completed, bills need to be paid – but there’s nothing wrong with recognising the wisdom in declining (or rescheduling) a project if you’ve too much going on.

We have our limits, each and every one of us, and there’s nothing shameful or negative about that. We should test those limits sometimes, train our ability to handle more, so those borders are mutable, but no-one wins if you run yourself in the ground.

Recognise your schedule, be realistic in judging how much you can handle. Push your limits, but don’t destroy yourself doing so. Your work will suffer. Your life will suffer. Those who depend on you will suffer.

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