For quite a while now, I’ve been planning to make a job change. The entry-level publishing job I’ve occupied for nearly a year and a half is, shall we say, no longer challenging, and I want to find a part-time job that will cover expenses while I build a freelance writing business.

Unfortunately the rigours of full-time work turn me into a sloth in my downtime, and I found I had very little energy to dedicate to job-hunting (let alone any creative projects). I was starting to feel really burnt out and desperately needed a break from work that would last more than a week, so at the end of last year I decided to use up all of my annual leave. I had three weeks off.

And, oh, what plans I had for those three weeks. I was determined to find a new job. I was going to go into application overdrive and write cold calling letters and schedule informational interviews. I also wanted to do a ton of writing and a new painting. I was going to get this blog ready for launch by writing the first 10 posts! Oh yeah, and exercise every day. Naturally.

Of course, I also needed to relax, so the first week was earmarked for enjoying Christmas and chilling out with a book or two. After that – to work. But as the clock ticked over into the new year, I just kept on chillin’.

Here’s what I did over my break. I spent Christmas with my family. I spent time with my friends. I went to a friend’s beach house for a few days. I swam in the ocean. I saw a bright red hermit crab peek out of the most fantastic shell I’ve ever seen washed up on an Australian beach. I played Risk 2210 AD with the boys until we all wanted to kill each other (it was great!). I shot a roll of film on my new lomo.  I got rid of half my clothes and a piece of furniture that had been taking up too much space for months. And I ate way too much junk food and played Kingdom ofLoathing until my brain went numb.

I think I went to the gym once.

I did sit down to write job applications, but after going through the pile of ads I’d collected I deemed them all unsuitable and threw them out. In the last few days I made a start on updating my CV.

This week was my first back at work, and I went into overdrive. Work was hectic, but that didn’t stop me from going out three nights (normally I would be sacked out on the couch in exhaustion) and completing a lengthy job application to boot. I feel energised, more organised and positive about the future. My three weeks paid off big time.

Anyway, here’s my point. All too often, us creative types take time off our day jobs only to spend that time working blisteringly hard on other projects. Or we come home from a full working day only to do yet more work for ourselves. There’s always more work to be done, and sometimes we forget to switch off. Sometimes even for years on end.

I didn’t mean to slack off over the break – I was going to work hard and achieve some goals. But I blew off the goals for a bit and had some fun instead. So remember that you need to take a break every year, every week, every day. The work can wait.

Relax, man. It’s good for you.

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What better way to start a new blog project than to talk about quitting?

This topic was inspired by a post by Nadia Cornier at agentobvious (formerly known as agentobscura) in which she attempts to answer the double-barrelled question, ‘How do you know if you’re good? When do you stop?’

Nadia is an American literary agent who blogs about the publishing industry, and her post is directed mainly at people who want to become agents and writers who plug away at the keyboard, waiting for a publishing deal. However, the advice applies to anyone with a creative dream (you can expect me to say that a lot during the life of this blog).

So how do you know when to quit? To Nadia, it’s a simple question: if you can even conceive of abandoning your creative dream, you probably should – right now.

It’s such a romantic notion, isn’t it – that us creative types are only real artists if we’re positively compelled to keep writing, dancing, acting, painting, or basketweaving. But as Nadia points out, it’s also good business sense: ‘Let’s put it this way. If they say, Ok, I’m giving myself three years… Within three years, that person will be G.O.N.E.. I spend a lot of time with the people who respond, “What do you mean? Why the hell would I want another job?”‘ If Nadia is out networking, or looking to hire someone, she wants to know that they’re going to stick around. Not many people these days are loyal to a particular job or company, but you could at least show some commitment to your field in general.

That said, sticking around can be really hard to do. Living off your savings while you write a novel might be a bold and thrilling gesture, but ultimately it probably isn’t going to last. Even creative fields that boast actual, stable nine-to-five jobs – say, publishing – typically aren’t that lucrative. At the National Young Writers Festival earlier this year, panellist Jeff Sparrow (editor of Overland) kept bringing up the wave of Australian grunge-lit writers of the early- to mid-nineties, noting how few of them are still writing today. Why did the others give up? Because the average annual income for Australian writers is $11,000, and they wanted to buy houses, support their families, and generally have normal lives.

So there will be times when, no matter how compelled you are to create, you think about giving up. You will wonder why you didn’t become an investment banker instead, and if it’s too late to retrain. Or maybe your thoughts of quitting stem from the fatigue of rejection and overwork. In any case, if we follow Nadia’s definition and assume that ‘real artists’ have no choice (and I do agree with that idea), then quitting isn’t an option and we should probably start talking about some other strategies.

  • If you’re experiencing burn out, then for pete’s sake, have a holiday. Creative work is still work, and you’re entitled to time off. Wrap up any projects you’re working on for clients and then take a weekend, month or more to yourself. Or take a leaf out of the Bible and choose one day of rest. (I’m not a Christian, but my best friend is, and I borrowed this strategy while we were at university.) Building a creative career is hard, but you don’t have to work on it (or even think about it) every single spare minute.
  • If the problem is financial – if you’re behind on mortgage repayments, have no food or are about to lose your kneecaps at the hands of crowbar-wielding debt collectors – you need to do something about your income. You might have tons of time, but it’s difficult to create when you’re under that kind of stress. Can you take on more hours in your day job? Move from part-time to full-time? If your creative career is your full-time gig, what about taking on a short-term contract through a temping agency for some fast cash? Then get back in the creative saddle once you’re in the black.

The thing is, us creative types tend to be a bit obsessive, and thinking about quitting is standard either/or thinking when it’s really a question of finding some balance. Your creative work might need to take a backseat for a while – maybe even long while – but that’s okay. It’s all about finding a way to make it work on whatever scale you can.