Winding Down And Knowing When You're Sick

Haven't I been here before?  Didn't I hate it every time?

Haven’t I been here before? Didn’t I hate it every time?

Organizing Your Creative Life In 13 weeks, week 11

Prolific science fiction novelist Sarah Hoyt follows up her “Your Novel in 13 Weeks” PJ Lifestyle series with a new weekly experiment each Saturday to figure out the best way for all creative types working from home to better organize their efforts.

Week Zero, Introduction: Organizing Your Creative Life In 13 Weeks

Week 1/2, Preparation: The Case For Making Lots of Lists

Week One: How to Make Your Mind Like Water

Week Two: What Are the Best Apps For Artists and Writers Desperate To Get Work Done? 

Week Three: The Lone Writer Against The Time Masters

Week Four: How to Tame Your Subconscious

Week Five: How Separating When and Where You Do Tasks Improves Both Productivity and Quality of Work!

Week Six: Organizing your Life is Like Learning to Juggle Eggs and Chainsaws

Week Seven: 4 Tips So You Don’t Organize Yourself to Death

Week Eight: Organizing your Writing Life When Words Fail You

Week Nine: After an Upset in Your Routine Catching Up Is Hard to Do 

Week Ten: If You’re Trying to Do Two Things at Once, Pick One


Sometimes I think I suffer from very specialized kinds of memory issues that relate only to symptoms and to how my body works.

At least I hope they’re very specialized memory issues, because if this starts affecting all my memory I’m in serious trouble.

As I’m working on organizing my creative life, which in my case is also my professional life by using Getting Things Done, a penguin timer and a bunch of note cards, I hit a mid-size snag.  It’s a snag I’ve hit before, when working on other projects, and yet somehow it took me a few days to figure out what it was.

The week started very well on Monday, with me feeling energized and full of concentration.  I figured out what I’d been doing wrong with Through Fire and edited the first chapter. Then I got some stuff edited to go up and listed to the lecture on publicity by Dean Wesley Smith.

It looked like the week was going to go very well.


And then I woke up on Tuesday feeling exhausted.  One of those mornings when you go “can I sleep another day or ten?”

I attributed it to the approach of nine eleven and our truly bizarrely tangled national politics.  I tried to slug through the day, but all I got done was the piece for PJ Media.

Wednesday was bad, but again I thought “oh, this is just the result of its being 9/11.  I’m allowed some grief and depression.”

But on Thursday it felt pretty much the same, only with a curious new symptom.  I had the ideas in my head, I knew exactly what I should be doing, but I couldn’t somehow muster enough strength to take the words in my head and put them on paper.  I was also having trouble concentrating on such demanding tasks as emptying the dishwasher or folding clothes.

At which point from the dim depths of my memory I got the feeling “I’ve been in this place before.”

If I didn't work for myself, I could escape my boss's death glare.

If I didn’t work for myself, I could escape my boss’s death glare.

It was true.  I have.  It’s a sinus infection, something to which I’m distressingly prone, exacerbated due to some issues in our HVAC which we’re waiting for parts to fix. (Or rather to get fixed.  I’ll do carpentry, I’ll paint walls, and I’ll repair minor stuff around the house, but I do not have illusions about my ability to fix complex systems.)

Knowing what it is should make me feel better, right?  I mean, at least I know I’m not in some way broken.  My “writing thing” didn’t go away and leave me.  I haven’t, somehow, overnight, become incredibly lazy.  No.  there is a physical reason for all this, since sinus infections are the sort of thing that while not being necessarily very painful (this one isn’t that painful) leaves you feeling exhausted and drained.

Unfortunately some part of me thinks that having identified the problem I can now ignore it, and so I keep trying to get me to work harder and “stop goldbricking.”

The best way to express this is to tell it as though I were two people. There’s worker Sarah, who knows she feels like heck and should probably be sleeping two or three times what she’s allowing herself.  And then there’s boss Sarah, who knows there are two short stories due and a novel overdue, and who is standing over worker Sarah saying “Oh, come on, how bad can it be?  It’s just a little sinus infection. You’re not going to allow that to sideline you, are you? You big baby. Hey, you know, if this stuff doesn’t get delivered you don’t get paid.”

In real life, if there were really two of us, you’d consider this a hostile work environment and I’d tell myself to get a grip on reality.

Unfortunately, worker Sarah shares a body with boss Sarah. Worker Sarah can’t just quit and go in search of greener pastures, or at least not without the men in white coats coming in to er… mediate this workplace dispute.

Listen, boss, if you don't lighten up, we're going to get a psychiatrist in here with us!

Listen, boss, if you don’t lighten up, we’re going to get a psychiatrist in here with us!

Or, as I told someone this week, “Unfortunately I work for myself and the boss is utterly unreasonable.” Only instead of “utterly unreasonable” I used a five letter word starting with b.

And the most dispiriting thing is that boss Sarah is right.  If I don’t work, I don’t get paid.

And so, I’m trying to get at least some stuff done; trying to, at least, not fall completely behind.

So I caught up with some posts on PJ Media.  I’ve done some work on Through Fire, clearing up the voice and pacing.  Oh, yeah, and I folded laundry and did a thorough cleaning on the kitchen.  (You only laugh at that as achievements if you don’t know how I can let things slip when I’m not feeling well.  And since the kitchen is my domain, the guys never do things the way I like them done.)

Tomorrow I need to start up early morning with work on one of the overdue short stories, as well as the chapter of the free novel Rogue Magic which I was supposed to put up on my blog but failed at because, again, I knew exactly how it was supposed to go, but couldn’t muster the strength to actually put the tale on paper.

This might seem a little insane to my readers who aren’t writers.  After all how much strength is needed to write?  All I’m doing is sitting here and wiggling my fingers.

However, those of my readers who are writers are probably going “Oh, yeah.” This is something that most writers learn very early on in their apprenticeship.  If you are imagining the scene accurately and intensely, if you are there, if you are living through the events, you’ll feel the fatigue that your main characters feel.  Many is the time that after writing a battle scene I’ve felt as though I’m ready to drop of tiredness.

This seems to tie in to research that carefully imagining exercising will have the same effects on muscles as exercising.

Whether this is true or not, you do need strength to write fiction.  And if you try to cheat it, you end up gliding over the scene but not involved in it.  Which means neither is your reader.

I’m glad to report the strength seems to be coming back.  So tomorrow I can hopefully get back on track.

Meanwhile, there is a distressing situation.  I almost hesitate to report this, but the truth is that while I was feeling so ill and moving around in a mental fog, I somehow misplaced my penguin timer.

Last I remember was having it on the bedside table while doing some editing.

I can improvise, of course.  The computer will time segments of 25 minutes and 5 minutes, so I can follow the pomodoro technique.

However, I’d gotten so used to the penguin glaring at me towards the end of the time segment, that I might very well make finding him a priority before I settle down to real work.

Photos Courtesy Shutterstock
First photo © Kozoriz Yuriy
Second photo © Laurin Rinder
Third photo © Everett Collection