I’m not very good at relaxing. I’m the sort of person who can’t sit down on the couch to watch a movie if there are dishes in the sink or clothes that need washing. I’m a big fan of to-do lists and often have several on the go at once. One for work tasks, one for writing goals, one for wedding things and one for exercise. I even make to-do lists for my weekends. Free time is viewed as dead time so I meticulously schedule in an extra yoga session, some essential toenail painting or research for new recipes to try.
These lists are, by their very nature, neverending. When it comes to writing especially, there is always going to be more. Last weekend however, I found myself in the strange position of having no urgent deadlines. I had submitted my December article, and made a rough plan for my January one. I had a couple of blog posts up my sleeve waiting to be published, and I had even achieved my ‘by-Christmas’ goal of 30,000 words (halfway!) for my novel. I was officially up to date.
So what did I do?
I scheduled in some more novel writing time. All day Saturday in fact, and instead of congratulating myself for reaching what had been a stretch goal, I pushed the goal out again and revised it to 35,000 words by Christmas.
So when Saturday morning rolled around, bright, sunny and promising a whopping 37 degrees, I found myself torn. These kinds of days are rare in Melbourne, and to have one fall on a Saturday is downright miraculous. It was The Perfect Pool Day if ever I saw one. I faltered, mid-way through writing a text to my pool buddy as the little voice inside my head piped up and said ‘Hang on a minute, you were going to write today. How are you ever going to finish your novel if you abandon ship at the first hint of sunshine?’ it continued, laying the guilt on nice and thick. I almost gave in, too, until it struck me what was actually difficult about this situation.
It wasn’t that I desperately wanted to take the day off writing to laze by a pool, gossip magazine in hand. My preference was to stay home and write; to adhere to my strict list of tasks for the day. What was difficult was letting myself off the hook for a day. I needed to enforce some time off.
So against my every principle (and with Type A Ali screaming in my head that the world would quickly descend into anarchy if I diverted from The Official Weekend Plan), I went to the pool.
I spent a gloriously unproductive four hours alternately lying in the sun, reading magazines, chatting to my friend and taking dips in the pool. It was pure bliss, and as trite as it may sound, it was like a vacation for my soul.
I was dangling my legs in the warm water, perched on the edge of the pool when I realised something. Not only am I allowed to take time off; I am obligated to do so if I ever want to finish my novel. I need to make relaxation a habit as much as I make writing a habit and it is imperative that I keep the promises I make to myself along the way.
That when I reach the word count, or when I sort out that tricky chapter, I’ll make good on my own word and relax. I’ll forget the to-do list for a day. And I’ll probably achieve much more.
What about you? Do you struggle to let yourself off the hook?