Towards the end of January I turned in the last round of deep edits on a project that I had been working on semi-unexpectedly for about two months, referenced in my last post. I promptly felt like falling down and sleeping for ten days, despite the fact that I had just come back from vacation not long before.
Bodies are interesting things. Adrenaline and optimism help us do so much. The idea that there’s an end, an achievable goal, can help us to produce more. Not long after I finished that project, while I was still in a self-enforced recovery period, I came across this tweet thread likening reaching the end of the creative process to reaching the peak of Everest. It began with this intriguing quote: “more people die descending Everest than on the way up.”
I have the pleasure of engaging in a variety of creative pursuits, including a dayjob with several long-running and intricate projects. During this same period of time, I heard my boss say that he worried that we didn’t celebrate enough when we finished a long-running project. He said that was how you get burnout – you don’t stop and acknowledge your success. You just turn around and start doing more work. This jives with my experience both as an author and at the office. It takes effort to get to the finish line – but it takes just as much effort, then, to stop. To stand in the way of your own, perilous momentum.
The cost of not expending that effort, of not forcing yourself to slow down and take it easy, is, indeed, to burn out. I’ve been swirling around the gaping maw of burnout for three years now, and it is pretty lame. So I’ve worked very hard to set some boundaries for myself: not working a lot of overtime at the dayjob, taking time for self-care by going to the gym or other physical activities, and making sure that I get at least one whole day off every week that I’m not scrambling around on deadline. But I have been notoriously bad about just jumping back into the next project.
But that said, I did take a step back from any drafting or editing for a week, just to try to keep my sanity. I did reward myself with a delicious beer. And when the project finally sees the light, I fully expect I will be throwing a tiny, personal party because I want to get better at celebrating my wins.
After all, they’re worth it.