One of the things I’ve discovered through doing the daily blog challenge is the psychological and physical effect of having no downtime. For probably 98% of the 299 days of blogging and writing this year, I have put the children to bed at 8pm, gone downstairs, cooked dinner, eaten it while catching up on social media and blog comments, then opened my laptop.
At some point between that point and 11am the following morning, between normal household duties – dog walking, dishwasher stacking, cooking, ironing, child hugging, sleeping – I find the time and energy to write my 1000-1500 words.
Sometimes, like today, they were written in a supermarket café with free WiFi while placating a whining small child with crayons and cookies. Sometimes, like now, I stand at the computer at 11.38 p.m, having just been woken up from a three-hour sofa doze by hubbie going to bed. On very rare and wonderful days I’ve actually written some of it in the day time and I only have to format the post, add photos and tags and publish. Those are good days.
I’m not saying this for sympathy or to have a moan. Well, maybe a little bit. 😉 I’m saying it because a) it’s 11.40pm and I have to think of something to waffle on about and b) I’ve realised that the lack of downtime is starting to send me slightly doolally. It isn’t the work: I don’t mind working hard. Plus, I get whole chunks of my day when I’m sat cuddling a child on the sofa, or walking the dog, or driving to and from school, when I’m free to just think. What struck me was the lack of guilt-free downtime and the effect that has on the mind.
When you work a paid job, you get a lunch break. You might not get to actually take it (I ate at my desk pretty much every day of my ten-year marketing career) although I think you should always make a point to try. As a contractor I made sure I took my full thirty minutes or an hour, every day, to eat a proper lunch, get some fresh air, and switch off. It’s guilt-free time. You’re being paid to take a break.
Then you get home, sometimes late, granted, (I think 2 am was the latest I got home from work after a particularly challenging deadline), and then that time is yours, until the alarm goes off in the morning and it starts again. And then there are weekends. Well, if you’re not working of course!.
Of course all that goes out the window when you have children, although they do sort of sleep at least some of the time, theoretically giving you an element of guilt-free downtime. Maybe.
When you’re self-employed, though, that guilt-free time is so much harder because, if you’re not working, you’re not earning. I’m not earning anyway, but that’s beside the point. I am trying to make money, and to do so I have to keep on working. Some days I check my sales reports obsessively, as if hoping to see something to make the pain worthwhile (I rarely do.) But all work and no play makes me a grumpy, tired, stressed bunny.
Last week I re-read David Eddings’ Belgariad series and it felt like being on holiday. Reading = work for an author (well, mostly! It helps if you’re reading something brilliant or within your genre).
Spending a few hours every day curled up around my favourite book was a way to escape without feeling (too) guilty. Unfortunately I came to the end of book five yesterday and the next five books (the Malloreon) are at my Mum’s house. She’s asked to have a week of peace, after my sister and her family went back to the states, so I can’t go and get them until tomorrow.
Probably just as well, as I need to catch up with the writing. Except I haven’t. Instead I’ve been falling asleep on the sofa and waking up at midnight, blurry eyed and numb-brained, trying to make up words for the blog and Claire, trying to think up deep and meaningful tweets or FB status updates, trying to choose front cover images for Two-Hundred Steps Home (October is proving particularly challenging as it hasn’t had a ‘theme’ in the way the other months have).
All the while, in the back of my mind, I know I want to do NaNoWriMo (Hahahahaha falls on floor laughing), it’s half term next week, and I just discovered in my diary that I agreed to give a talk on abstract art to a local college on the first Monday after half term. Eek! There goes any chance of guilt-free downtime in the near future!
Anyway, apologies, this has just turned into a bit of a whinge. It wasn’t meant to be. It was meant to be an insightful discussion of the effects of life in the twenty-first century where we are never off work, we’re never switched off, we’re never free. Hmmm. Maybe I’ll file that one away to write about another day!
Below is the next installment in my novel Two-Hundred Steps Home: written in daily posts since 1st January as part of my 2013 365 Challenge. Read about the challenge here.You can catch up by downloading the free ebook volumes on the right hand side of the blog:
Claire smiled as the sun streaming in through the window gently woke her; warming her skin and sending sun fairies dancing across her eyelids. With a sense of impending adventure, she pushed back the covers and wondered what was causing the fluttering of anticipation in her stomach.
As she rose and walked to the window, Claire remembered where she was. The gorgeous hostel perched on the hillside with views to die for. It was still early and the other occupants of the room were sound asleep. Pulling on yesterday’s clothes, Claire crept from the room and headed for the kitchen.
The silence continued throughout the hostel, and Claire wondered just how early it was. The kitchen clock said 6 a.m. and Claire laughed, the sound echoing around the empty room.
When did I last wake at dawn without an alarm clock?
Her body felt alight with energy, and Claire thought she would burst if she didn’t do something with it. She wolfed down a quick breakfast, scalding her mouth on too-hot tea, then paced quietly back to her room to grab her boots and bag.
Her discussion with the manager the previous evening had revealed that the South West Coastal Path ran almost from the door of the hostel. The manager had raved so much about the spectacular views that Claire had decided to walk some of the route before driving to Plymouth to meet Conor.
Thinking about the meeting gave her butterflies, so she pushed the thought aside and stuffed snacks and a jumper into her bag. The manager had said a map wasn’t necessary, as the path followed the coast all the way round to Hope Cove. Having checked the map, she suspected she wouldn’t make it quite that far.
The hostel remained silent as she let herself out and into the tropical gardens of the National Trust property. With a deep breath Claire inhaled the scent of plant life soaked in dew, smiling as it sparked memories of the New Zealand bush. She shivered as the early morning air raised goosebumps across her skin, and set off towards the path.
The sun greeted her again as she left the trees and reached the path, and she soon settled into her stride. To one side lay the estuary, sparkling blue beneath her. That’s a long way down. Claire looked around, as if only just realising how high up the path was along the cliffs. I hope it isn’t too steep. She remembered being up near Old Harry Rocks and shuddered.
The path grew steadily steeper, until it was nothing more than a trail of rocks climbing vertically towards the azure sky. Forcing herself not to look back or down, Claire concentrated instead on keeping her footing on the uneven path.
It would be so much more convenient if I hadn’t discovered that I’m scared of heights.
She chanced a look at the view, and swallowed the bile that rose up her throat. Beneath her, crumbling rocks appeared to tumble in slow motion to the sea, as if frozen in the very act of falling. The sea itself rippled in a palette of blues and greens, darker and more foreboding than the sparkling strip of water seen in the distance from the hostel. On a sunny day it seemed merely stark. Claire couldn’t imagine what it would be like in a storm.
Encircled by the stunning vista, Claire wondered for a moment what had possessed her to fly half way round the world, bankrupting herself in the process, to admire the beauty of another country, when she’d barely scratched the surface of her own.
If I thought the Lake District was pretty in winter, that’s going to be nothing to what this place is going to be like in June.
As the sense of adventure built within her, Claire pushed on up the steep path towards the outcrop of rocks silhouetted against the sky above her. The change from light to dark left sunspots in her vision and she blinked to clear it.
Then the world went sideways. Slipping on loose shale, Claire lost her footing and began to slither back down the path towards the cliffs. Thrashing like a landed fish, Claire grabbed around at the grass in an attempt to slow her passage, as the rocks tore at her bare legs and arms.
At last her frantic attempts worked and she came to a halt at the very edge of the path. The rocks loosened by her passage continued on over the edge, falling away to the sea far below.
Claire lay panting, unable to process anything but the fact that she was still alive. Slowly, one piece at a time, her body began to yell out its grievances. Clawing her way back up to a flatter part of the path, Claire assessed the damage. Both shins and arms wept blood, and a tentative exploration of her face revealed a similar story.
Great. I look like the victim of a traffic accident.
She bit her lip against the pain and humiliation, glad no one had been there to witness her fall. Bad enough that she felt like a peeled plum and was going to be sore for days. Then another thought crept in unwelcome and she groaned.
Conor’s going to die laughing.