Saturday, October 15, 2011

Oh, time, time, time is on my side, yes it is

One of my reader friends, Emma, sent me a copy of an essay by Maj-Britt Rosenbaum, MD titled Sabbatical. I wish I could find a copy of this article on-line because it’s probably the best thing I’ve read on the topic. Rosenbaum perfectly captures the mix of anticipation and anxiety triggered by the very thought of that much “free” time.

“The private fantasy of uninterrupted time--time to waste, time to pour through my fingers if I want to, time to savor, time to loll in--has a different emotional texture than planned time off. Time extracted from the ongoing stream of schedules, commitments, and responsibilities, always balanced against such counterweights as “Can I afford it?” “Do I deserve it?” “What are my responsibilities?” “Will it be worth it?” and “Dare I, can I actually get away with it?”

All this -- and more -- is constantly churning in the back of my mind as I get closer and closer to the end of the year. Am I really going to do this?

In fact, it’s pretty much too late to turn back now. I’ve steadily (stubbornly?) resisted taking on any commitments for 2012, and now most of my publisher’s schedules are filled. If I publish anything next year it will be self-published.

That in itself is exciting. A new direction. A new challenge. A new adventure.

But doubts whisper in my other ear. I’ve worked hard to reach this point, the point of being able to even consider taking a serious amount of time off. Am I subconsciously sabotaging my success?

 Will I miss my fantasy, so shiny and satisfying, so “unattainable”--an ideal I can wistfully compare to my busy, hectic life? With no future fantasy beckoning in the distance, will I instead look back to these busy days as the more rewarding times, when what I did mattered, when I felt useful, and “good,” because I did for others?

How ingrained the work ethic is: to contribute, to excel, to climb the mountain, to use my “gifts” to do, to do, to do--to produce, to accomplish, to succeed.

Oh yes. I feel guilty even contemplating rewarding myself with sabbatical. Especially when everyone I know is busting their butt to make ends meet, to hit their goals, to carve a career out of ice.

Not that I’m choosing a sabbatical as a reward. I’m burnt out. I’ve been burnt out for nearly two years. But so what? I can still produce. The fact that I’ve come to dread writing is sort of beside the point, right? Because as long as I can function, it seems like I ought to.

I suppose that’s why the decision to go on sabbatical feels increasingly like a reward and not therapy.

All I want is the chance to stand still for a while, to reflect, to feel, to listen more carefully to my own voice. Just to wait and see what bubbles up. One fear is that nothing will “bubble up,” that no combustion, no energy will be generated. I fear that only cold wind blows in there--I fear a desert inside.

Yes. Exactly. Worse…right now I can function. I can produce. What if I come back from this break and I’ve lost the ability to drive myself forward, to work under this kind of pressure? What if it turns out I can’t refill the creative well and on top of that, I’ve lost the discipline to march on without water in my canteen?

What then?

It’s a risk. Will readers remember me in a year in a genre where there a couple hundred new titles every month?

I wake up at night thinking are you really going to do this? And yet…and yet…

I prefer to see it as a test run, a chance to find out if I have filled my house with enough life. I prefer to see it as an opportunity to listen to--and to express--my own voice, not the echo of others, not what they want to hear, what they want me to do, but just because, just because.

Maybe it is a mistake. But then, leaving the security of my day job was a risk too, and I’ve never regretted that decision. Not for one moment. I don’t know if this sabbatical will bring equally dramatic results to my life, but I know that for better or worse, I’m going to do it.

And in an odd way, making this decision to leave, grabbing this chance, feels like taking the first step to coming back.


  1. Love, you know I've waited MUCH longer than a year. :::piffles you::: Go rest. And for god sake's, sleep in once in a while.

  2. From HJ:

    Yes, readers WILL remember you after a year, notwithstanding the quantity of titles published in this genre. It's quality rather than quantity which matters more, and you have that in spades. Of course we'll miss you (being selfish) but (continuing to be selfish) it's better for us if you take a break now and come back rejuvenated and enjoying writing again.

    It's clear from what you say that you can't go on the same way so, even if there are risks, you're doing the right thing.

  3. You deserve a break, and spending some time doing things other than writing can only be good for your muse.

    Enjoy it, and don't feel guilty!

  4. Oh go get a tan! Do a little research(wink-wink). Your creative well will be just fine.

  5. I had a tan, IE. And then the summer ended. Maybe THAT'S my problem. Not enough swimming equals not enough vitamin D. :-D

  6. Thanks, Jo. Isn't funny how we always feel guilty about taking time to take care of ourselves? ;-)

  7. You're perfectly right, HJ. And that's the part that outweighs the risk, I think. I can't keep on in this way -- and taking time now will (should) make for better work later on.

  8. Hey, Rhys! :-D I like sleep. In fact, I'm thinking maybe I'll try keeping a dream journal on sabbatical.

    I wonder if it's possible that I'll get bored? But then again, it's not like I can't write if I feel like it. All I'm doing is removing the deadlines.

  9. I would love to be able to take time off like this! But as you've said, it's hard to feel OK with it - I would be worried about everything work-related, too. Glad to see in your response to Rhys that you do realize you can write whenever you want, that you've really just "removed the deadlines" :D

    I think we'd all love to do that - remove the deadlines! I personally am still playing the lotteries here in NC and hoping against hope that our numbers will be the lucky ones. That's probably the only way I'll ever get that much time off. lol! Enjoy yourself, and just think - this will give you tons of Facebook time, which will make Matthew a very happy boy!

  10. That's where the dream/fantasy aspect comes in, Traci. To actually do it -- to actually take that kind of time? Everytime I think about it I feel a giddy mix of elation and alarm.

    The main thing is I don't want to waste a moment of it. I don't want to squander it or fritter it away. I want to come out of it with something to show -- even if that something isn't tangible.

  11. Hi Josh,

    This is a big change, so your concerns are understandable. I know I'll still remember you (as I re-read your books). I hope you have a wonderful break. You deserve it!

    Are you going to try something new? A new hobby? Travel? Whatever you do to recharge those batteries- I wish you the very best.

  12. I am, admittedly, several weeks into an Artist's Way workshop at the moment, but I'd probably feel this way anyway. The point of taking a sabbatical is to pamper your inner artist a bit, right? So there is just no way you can possibly not refil the well.

    Could you find yourself writing something totally different a year from now than you would write today? Absolutely. Probably. But that's exactly the point.

    As a reader, I'll be very sad to have to wait to enjoy something new of yours. But I also wish you all the best. Good for you.

  13. Are you going to try something new? A new hobby? Travel? Whatever you do to recharge those batteries- I wish you the very best.

    Thank you very much, Vanessa. I do hope to maybe get a dog and read a lot and walk a lot and think a lot. And I'll most certainly write, though I'm not exactly sure what.

  14. Thank you, Nicole. That's very kind.

  15. Forget you??!! Never happen! This will just give us a chance to re-read all your great stories. Relax, forget about everything "work" related and enjoy whatever you decide to do with your time. We'll all still be here, waiting for you, in 2013. (unless the Mayan's were right... *g*) Best wishes!

  16. Yes we'll remember you. And rest. You deserve to recharge your batteries and relax. Forget about not being able to produce when you come back. I have faith in you and your abilities. Take care.

  17. I felt sad when you said that you have come to "dread" writing...and despite how sad I'm going to be w/o a new JL book in 2012 I'm happy you have reached this point in your career where you can, and did, make the decision to take time off. The worst thing would be to have second thoughts about it, I say enjoy every minute and besides, do you know how fast that year is going to fly by???
    As for your fans still being here, there should be no doubt. Your stories are the ones which drew me into this genre and remain my "go to" and comfort reads. Yes, there may be many authors now publishing, but as someone stated quantity does not equal quality.


  18. Merentha, that's what I keep telling myself! This will give everyone a chance to buy the backlist.

    See, it's my secret master-plan. ;-)

  19. So much of it is attitude and mindset. Because of deadlines, the work becomes a Must Do (I know, welcome to adulthood) and that puts on the pressure. And yet pressure is also how we get stuff done on time. So...who knows. I'm counting on this as a way of coming back re-energized. Otherwise, I'd be announcing my retirement. ;-)

  20. Thank you very much, Rdafan7. You -- well all of you, really -- say the nicest things! I am blessed in my readers.

  21. I just finished reading Mummy Dearest, it was a great read for Halloween. Visited the blog from the link at the end of the book, and saw that you are taking the year off, just thought I'd take a minute to say thank you for all your wonderful stories! I was sad to see there will be no new books this year, but I still have some of your older books that I haven't read yet (just discovered you recently and am buyingbthem all and loving everything so far) so I will still be enjoying your work this year while I wait for your return. No, you will not be forgotten, just like your characters cannot be forgotten at the end of the book. This fan will be here! Enjoy youth time off, come back energized.

  22. Thank you so much! Well, there's plenty there to read, so hopefully you'll find lots to entertain. I appreciate the support.

  23. Hey Josh,

    If you ever decided to stay in Bali for your sabbatical, give a shout-out for all the Fanyons out there in Indonesia. I know there are many!! (and I’ll be right behind you booking ticket from the states back to Indonesia..hahaha).

    And I am sure when your own version of “Eat, Pray, Love” (or “Drink, Play, F**k” if you prefer…:D) comes out, there will be a long queue of impatient customers waiting to buy.

    Wish you all the best. And thank you. You have no idea how many lives you touch with your books and stories. We will never forget you.

    -From one of the Fanyons ;-)

  24. Aw. Thank you.

    What I should have done was not said a word and seen if anyone even noticed. :-D Too late now.

    Anyway, I appreciate the kind words.