Since the first week of January this year, I have spent most of my days writing.
For the unaware, my friend Brooke and I are collaborating on our first comic book project. It’s a personal project and unpaid, and we plan to release it online for free once we’re finished. In this collaboration, she is the artist, and I am the writer. Obviously, an artist can’t begin drawing pages until the script is complete, so for Brooke to start drawing as soon as possible, I set myself a strict deadline of completing one issue (or chapter; roughly 22 pages) every week. For the first 16 weeks of the year, I’ve successfully met that deadline.
This past week, I failed.
I didn’t fail because I was lazy or procrastinated. I didn’t fail because of a busy schedule or a lack of careful planning. I failed because I burned out.
This is what writing 22 pages each week looks like: Swearing off all other hobbies except maybe once a month. Getting home after a 9-hour workday and 2-hour total commute and trying to decide if it’s worth it to actually relax for the precious three hours I have before I need to get ready for bed. Declining movie nights with the man I love because I haven’t met my weekly page quota yet. Racing the clock on Sundays, even though I want to enjoy the day.
Last Friday, when I realized, based on alpha reader feedback, that I would have to completely rewrite the latest issue I’d written, I almost broke down at work. The accumulated stress of this breakneck pace; the notion that I would have to set back my writing schedule by at least one week; and the sudden, irrational thought that I am terrible at writing and I hate myself ground me down into the dust, all at once. I spoke with four different people, four friends who know me to varying degrees, and they all gave me the same advice:
“Step away for a while. Take a break.”
I can’t, I argued. I have deadlines to make.
In the end, however, this comic book is an unpaid personal project. “It’s good to set deadlines,” published author Rebecca Milton reminded me, “but the great thing about self-set deadlines is that you have the power to adjust them for your own sake. If you need to do that, it’s not letting yourself down — it’s looking after yourself.”
As I drove home from work on Friday, I remembered this tweet:
I’ve mentioned this before, but I’m repeating it now because I forgot and chances are you will, too: remember that taking time to play games, watch movies or do something OTHER than work is a crucial part of a creative career.
— Sam Sykes (@SamSykesSwears) April 15, 2018
So instead of driving straight home like I’d originally intended, I picked up a copy of Assassin’s Creed: Origins at Target and some gỏi cuốn for comfort food. I changed into pajamas, plopped down on the couch with my food and my laptop, and played my new video game until I could no longer stay awake. I slept for eight hours and woke up feeling revitalized.
Later that Saturday, Brooke and I went over the alpha reader’s feedback on a phone call, decided on the rewrites for this part of the plot, and discussed other changes we would make. During the call, not once did I feel hateful of myself. Not once did I doubt my writing ability. I was sharp-minded, rational, and calm.
A night’s worth of video games, a good meal, and a restful sleep. That’s all I needed.
I am an amateur writer. A hobbyist. Up until this moment, I’ve only written short stories and fanfiction — my comfort zone. This comic book is the first full-length, epic, original tale I’ve attempted to write, and it challenges me at every step. It’s taught me a lot about myself, and the lesson this week was to take breaks. An output of 22 pages per week is impressive but unsustainable. And as much as I like to joke about secretly being an android, I’m not a robot after all, just a woman with a computer and a vivid imagination.
And that’s okay.