My brain doesn’t work as well as it should. And I have only myself to blame. I have been abusing my brain and now it’s getting back at me. It’s not exactly on strike. It hasn’t walked off the job. But it regularly shows up late, sometimes not at all. And then, right in the middle of a work day, it gets up and leaves. No good-bye, no apologies. Just gone.
Simple. I am a professional writer, but I’ve been working like an amateur. Thankfully, I am married to a former professional athlete. Not only is Woofy always ready with a cycling metaphor, he understands the long-term approach to performance. And writing, like cycling, is all about performance. Every day when I sit at my computer I have to perform. If I’m tired, if I’m bored, if I’m overworked, my performance suffers.
Now way back in August, Woofy looked at me with my bloodshot eyes and thousand yard stare and said, “Lauren, you need to take a break from writing.” “Hell no,” said I. “I have far too much to say.” I kept on writing. I wrote like a demon. In between two novels, I wrote a screenplay. While I was waiting for my deal to be finalized at Random House, I squeezed out another novel. I was unstoppable.
And now I’m paying the price.
When you exercise, you are actually hurting yourself, by damaging muscle tissue. When you rest, your body repairs itself. And because your body is smart, it makes those abused muscles extra strong in preparation for the next onslaught. The rest period is as important as the exercise period.
As Woofy never tires of reminding me, mental fitness works the same way. You have to work very hard to become a good writer, to become good at anything. But only by resting can your brain absorb what you’ve put it through and “repair” itself. Often times, I’ll struggle with a particular chapter or scene. I’ll spend all day re-writing it. I’ll stay up late working on it. But it’s only when I’ve gone to sleep and woken up the next morning that the solution comes to me. And it’s not because I’ve dreamed the solution. It’s because I had worked my brain into oblivion and it needed time to repair itself.
Basically, what I’m saying is that a writer, like an athlete, needs an off-season. Most likely, all people need an off-season. This is something they seem to have accepted over in Europe where it’s standard to get a minimum of 6 weeks holiday. I bet those Euros are good and rested. I bet when they come back from their sun holidays in Ibiza, they are raring to go.
I am taking my off-season this year. Probably in May, when I’ve turned in my Cycler sequel. But the really scary thing about it–I mean the thing that identifies me as a card-carrying puritan work ethic type A-American–is the fact that it’s only by zombifying myself with overwork that I can even stomach the thought of more than two weeks off in a row. Lance Armstrong wouldn’t think that way.