On Downtime and Perfectionism

 The cheesiest stock photo I could find.

The cheesiest stock photo I could find.

Writing fiction is hard. But what's going to kill me, if anything, is the downtime.

I love the rhythms of writing a book. The project-based tempo matches up perfectly with my own internal work tempo. I enjoy (at least the idea) of working hard on a project for a finite, deliberate schedule and then having an extended block of time away after completion. Spend a few months writing a draft. Put it away for multiple weeks. This forced separation is helpful for me. I am a perfectionist, and, given, the opportunity, will work on a project endlessly until my fingers are bloody stumps.

It works both ways, though. What does a perfectionist do with downtime? What does a workaholic do without the North Star-like properties of the big, life-changing Current Project? Over the past three weeks, these questions have poked at me ceaselessly. 

Every day you don't spend working on your craft or furthering your dream is a wasted day. I understand the irrationality inherent in this absolutist statement, but we all know logic rarely works against these most deep-seated habits and quirks of our brains. Without a Current Project, my mind goes off the rails. It looks inward when it should be looking outward. It thinks itself to death, tears itself apart, asks all the right (wrong) questions: 

Did I do enough today?

Am I lazy?

What have you accomplished today?

My mind has this magnificent talent of forgetting all previous achievements and milestones. YesI answer. I finished the second draft of my novel. That's why I'm not working on it right now. Again, the logical and correct answer. But it only helps so much. From a young age, I was told to "never rest on your laurels." I think I've taken that advice and ran with it. Now, I don't even rest, let alone on laurels of any kind.

This scares me. It scares me a lot, because I don't want to achieve my dreams of success and never be satisfied with my accomplishments. One of my biggest fears is publishing a couple of bestsellers and feeling the exact same way I feel right now. I want to kick back and feel some of that rare guilt-free satisfaction. I want to work hard to create something and then let myself swell with pride.

Part of this dreadful feeling is the fact that, at 24, I and many other people are in some rush to hit home runs when we should be focusing on the fundamentals and base hits. We're adults now. We realize the world is not slowing down. We realize the world doesn't care about how much fun you had in college, or that you remember a time when iPods just held MP3s and weren't handheld Facebook machines. Our childhoods are a flash gone by. With our generation's newfound appreciation of time, we reconcile with the fact that it is so precious. It's an unnerving revelation that can trick you into putting a timer on everything.

As one perfectionistic workaholic to another, I feel compelled to say this:

You are doing enough.

You aren't lazy.

You've accomplished something today. Are you working full-time? Great. Are you living on your own? Awesome. Are you paying your own bills? Fantastic. Are you somehow managing to find the time to work on your craft despite all of these adult distractions? Perfect. You are doing it. You are fucking doing it.