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For Readers & Writers

from Susan Dennard

December 15, 2017


What's in this heart-to-heart?
 



Recent Goings On:


As you read this, I am at the hospital recovering from surgery. Don't worry! It's a pretty routine procedure.

Um, we know you like to get personal, Sooz, but maybe TMI? Why the heck are you telling us this?

Trust me: I had no plans to. I was just gonna vanish from the internet for a few days and assume no one would notice. But as the week progressed and my topic for this newsletter began to solidify...

Well, I always frame my lessons or my arguments within my own experiences, and this whole surgery thing is the perfect example for today's subject (glorifying busy!). And this isn't a good thing, as you will see below.
 




For the Misfits & Witchlanders:

Sightwitch Call to Arms!


First off! If you want to read an extended excerpt of Sightwitch (I think it might be half the book?), you can request it on Netgalley. Just head here to do that!

NEXT. Many of you have likely already seen, but in case you haven't...

The Sightwitch release date has been delayed by 3 weeks. It is now coming out 2/13/18.

This delay was completely unforeseen and has thrown off everything for me and Tor Teen. All our plans for promo and outreach and shelf space and…well, everything is having to be reconfigured. In some cases, things we'd set up simply can't be rearranged and are now gone for good. (You can read more about that here, if you’re interested.)

Because of this, I've decided to do something I never do: I'm asking for your help. Specifically, I'm asking if you would be willing to help me spread the word about Sightwitch. I have graphics and sample tweets and preorder links, excerpts and summaries, and all sorts of other stuff for you to use here.

And IF you help, then you can enter the Thank You Raffle! There will be 3 such giveaways over the next two months, and each time, I'll pick 5 people to win the full e-galley of Sigthwitch.

I completely understand if you don't want to help. I have worked very hard to give and never ask. I want you to trust me. And I'm truly sorry if this feels like I'm overreaching. I hope you'll look past it and stay subscribed.

Either way, thank you for reading this. Thank you for supporting me! 💙

 


 

For the Daydreamers:

Stop Glorifying Busy,
Stop Idolizing Overwork

 

I tweeted about this subject earlier this week, and the response from readers told me that maybe this subject needed further exploring.

 

I want to tackle this subject from two angles.

  • First: How truly problematic overwork can be in our lives.
  • Second: How to shift the narrative.


Let's get started.
 


 

My mom called me today. (I am writing this on Thursday.) "Are you nervous about tomorrow?" she asked, meaning the surgery.

"Yeah," I said because of course. Who wouldn't be? But then some words came out of my mouth that stunned me. "But I'm also weirdly excited because at least for that one day, no one will care if I'm not working."

Holy crap, say what? I was excited to have my abdomen cut open because it meant THAT AT LEAST FOR ONE DAY NO ONE WILL CARE IF I'M NOT WORKING?!

Surely you see how supremely messed up this is, and yet as I uttered this surprising statement, I realized it was 100% true. There was a strange buoyancy in me knowing that tomorrow I could skip a day of work guilt-free.

10 bucks say some of you recognize that feeling. There's even a name for it: the hospital fantasy. It's where you fantasize about being in a minor accident so that you have no choice but to spend a few days resting in the hospital.

Yeah, that's screwed up, and trust me: I know it. But here I am, living out the hospital fantasy to a T.
 


From a young age, we are taught that more work = better. Less work = lazy, and lazy = the worst sin you can possibly commit.

We are taught that downtime must be earned, and that every moment of every day is a chance to be productive. We are taught that you can always, always do more and that whatever you're doing now simply isn't enough.

And I guess...all of this is...true...? Or at least that philosophy has its benefits and teaches children to be industrious, but it also teaches us that if we could just get one more thing marked off our to-do list, then we could let ourselves relax.

Well, clearly that's a trap since the to-do list never ends, so you never reach a point where you've checked off everything. That means we just keep going and going...and going and going.

Oh, and how about that smothering GUILT that you feel when you aren't working? I know all of you recognize it. I'd wager it keeps you up at night, and, if you're like me, it makes you pick your nails down to the quick. It makes you put off planning vacations or picking up a hobby or entering the dating world or maybe even starting a family -- all because it would interfere with your work.

Now some people insist, "I only feel good when I'm working. Staying busy helps keep my anxiety (and that pesky guilt!) away."

I used to be that person. Hell, I'm still that person, but I'm also now actively trying to NOT be that person. Why? Because the more we work, the more our performance suffers.

There have been countless studies on this very subject, and the research is undeniable: long hours lead to reduced work quality.

In creative jobs, the effect is especially pronounced. We need our brains firing on all cylinders, and when we're tired -- not just from a sleep perspective, but from an overuse angle as well -- our output suffers.

Simply because I CAN write all day long does not mean I should. And given enough time, I will burn myself out so badly that I no longer can write at all. Trust me: I've done it. It was called Windwitch.
 


By this point, I imagine some of you are nodding along -- maybe even clapping your hands and saying, Amen, sister!

And then I bet there's a few of you who are saying, "That's not me. I can work non-stop forever. She's just weak."

To you I say, Piss off. I'll repeat that in case you didn't hear. Piss. Off.

You are part of the problem. You are part of the culture that glorifies overwork. You are one of the people that has pushed so many others into crashing, burning, and watching their lives, families, and careers fall apart.

Every person is different. Every person's capacity for work without burnout is different. Every person's sense of shame is different.

Yet I truly believe, across the board, that everyone deserves to take a break. Yes, even you Mr. High Horse, will find an improvement in productivity and quality by forcing yourself to enjoy some guilt-free downtime.
 


 

Now let's back up quickly to what I told my mom: "But I'm also weirdly excited because at least for that one day, no one will care if I'm not working."

I think it's safe to say here that my concern isn't truly what OTHERS will think if I take the day off. The issue is what I will think. Only with incisions and anesthesia will my guilt monster turn off and allow me step away.

Not cool, guilt monster. Not cool. (And the sad things is that I am so much better about stepping away than I was earlier this year!)

But what can I do to change my reactions? HOW can I stop feeling guilty for the time off and learn to embrace it as a positive?

This leads me to Part 2: shifting the narrative on busy.

For me, there are 3 steps I'm following to change my own relationship with overwork.

  1. I take forced downtime.
  2. I try to understand WHY we glorify.
  3. I maintain perspective.

 



 Step1: Forced Downtime
 

This is both the hardest step on here but also the most valuable. It will transform your creative life. Earlier this year, It took me from burned out, broken, certain I would never write again, to SO EXCITED TO WRITE I COULD NOT WAIT.

Now forced downtime is more than just making yourself take a weekend or go on vacation. It's more than just taking a twitter hiatus or an email break.

Forced downtime is when you do not let yourself even think about work for at least a few days. (I suggest for at least a week, adding more time depending on how broken you are. But I realize that my job is flexible with hours and not all jobs are. I took an entire month of forced downtime last spring, and no joke: it healed me. Completely healed me.)

During this work break, if your brain even flitters toward a work-related thought -- even the fun stuff, like, "Oh, what a cool story idea!", you stop yourself and say, NO. Intentionally turn your mind away from anything remotely connected to your work.

I want you to feel guilty if you work or even think about it. I want you to be brutal with yourself if you cheat, and I want you to turn your brain to all the other things it's been dying to do for the past...who knows how many years.

This likely sounds terrifying to you. Giving up control, knowing that things are going undone, and then reversing the narrative on how you feel guilty -- it isn't easy. But I promise you, it's easier than you think and the benefits are uncountable.

If, like me, you are someone who needs a bit of outside reinforcement to take the plunge, then email me (just hit reply to this newsletter!) and I will hold you accountable for however many days/weeks you decide to step away.

When your break finally ends and you return to your work, you will find a renewed sense of excitement and, best of all, a billion new ideas for how to tackle old problems. The subconscious brain is an incredible solution-finder, but it needs space and relaxation to properly activate.

Forced downtime gives it that space and relaxation. It also gives YOU, on a physical level, the very same.

So pick a day (sooner rather than later) to start your forced downtime. Pick an end date. Email me for accountability if you want. Then do not -- DO NOT -- let yourself think about work at all.

And watch as your brain magically begins to heal. Watch as your productivity is actually higher and your quality much improved when you finally do return to the job.




Step 2: Understand WHY We Glorify


Writing is a unique career. It comes with challenges that non-writers cannot understand. (I'm sure the same could be said for any job, actually.) One of the most frustrating things about writing is the false belief by non-writers that it's easy.

Must be nice to just sit at home all day. I cannot even count how many times I've been told that. For the record, I usually respond, Yeah, must be nice. I can't even imagine what that would be like. Or sometimes I'll say, Well, actually, I have a standing desk.

It's infuriating to have someone dismiss all the hard work I put in. To have someone assume that I just sit down, a book comes out, and then I'm done. To have them think I must work fewer hours than other people -- yet somehow I'm also richer. (What IS that about?!)

As such, I notice that I and many other writers tend to OVEREMPHASIZE how hard we work.

I'm not saying we don't work super hard. Holy crow, I work much harder and many more hours at this whole author gig than I ever did back in science, but look -- there I go! I'm doing it again! I am insisting to you that I work really hard! *facepalm*

You guys already know I work hard. Why? Because you work really hard too. So why do we constantly feel the need to assert this fact? WHY do we need this outside validation that our jobs are legitimate?

I don't have a good answer to this. I suppose I just want people to respect me. But simply knowing why I do this -- and then catching myself in the act -- allows me to take a step back.

And then it allows me to stop and train myself to do better. Not even kidding, I recently caught myself mid-conversation as I was pontificating on the difficulties of Sightwitch release kerfuffle. Stop, I ordered myself. Stop. You don't have to prove that your job is hard by complaining. So instead I wrapped up the convo with a bright, "But it'll all work out!" and that was the end of it.
 



Step 3: Maintain Perspective
 

This was actually a technique that helped me survive Windwitch. I would remind myself that it was just a book. That I was not curing cancer, and no one would die if it turned out to be the worst thing I'd ever written or I didn't finish on time.

I would also remind myself that I was really stinking privileged to get to do what I do. Because you know what, standing desk or no, I do get to spend all day at home doing my dream job. Sure, I'm working hard, but I'm also not working the night shift on the line.

As Jasmine Warga said to Emery Lord who said it to me (😉), Writing is hard, but it's not coal mining.

We should be grateful we get to do this incredible job. So complaining about the self-inflicted busy or even trying to fill our days with more busy in order to make our jobs seem more legitimate...That just isn't going to work. Because no matter what, this isn't coal mining.

We should also realize it's not going to lead to nuclear war if we fail at at our work. So what of we decide to take a weekend off? Believe it or not, the world will NOT implode. In fact, I'm pretty sure no one will even notice (except your subconscious brain, which will be very happy).

So if you catch yourself panicking about the work load OR complaining about it, just step back and regain some much needed perspective. It'll help you so much in the long run if you do.
 


There you have it. These are my thoughts on glorifying busy and why we shouldn't overwork. If you want to read more on the subject...well, google it. 😉  I already spent my entire Thursday writing this newsletter, so now I'm making a conscious choice NOT to make it even more work. Plus, there's so much out there on this subject, I have no doubt you'll find heaps on your own.

And don't forget, you can hit reply to this newsletter if you want someone to hold you accountable during your forced downtime. 
 


 
Upcoming Events:

Sightwitch Tour Dates coming soon!

 

 

 

photo by Emily Rae Photography

Copyright © 2017
Susan Dennard
All rights reserved.


110 West 40th St., Suite 2201
New York, NY 10018



I'm a misfit, a daydreamer, a fangirl, an animal-lover, and a gluten-free cookie-eater.