Tuesday, June 16, 2009

TIme (and time off)

I tried something yesterday that turned out to be very eye-opening: I used a stopwatch to track the amount of time I was actually working. I did a complete scene-by-scene analysis of the book and then did a more detailed review of the first two chapters, plus read the third chapter to think more about what it needed. If I'd estimated the time I spent working, I would have said about three hours. By the stopwatch, which I started when I started actually working and stopped when I finished, I had an hour and thirty-seven minutes. Some of that was because the kind of work I was doing requires a lot of breaks. In first draft writing, long spurts of writing are good, but in revisions, after a while I reach the "oh, whatever" stage, where it all looks good to me and I can't be bothered to mess with it. That means I have to work for a while, then go do something else before coming back to it. On the positive side of looking at time, I found that I was able to do a significant amount of tidying in the living room in the nine minutes it took to cook pasta. This all boils down to the fact that I really need to be making better use of my time. Which brings me to the topic of time off.

Those who've been around here for a while may be familiar with my attempts to plan the perfect vacation -- and my complete inability to actually take a vacation. I'm an explorer by nature, so when I travel, it's not really what you'd call a "vacation." I end up utterly exhausted from going non-stop for days. If I need to rest and refresh myself, I pretty much have to stay home, or else take a vacation to recover from the vacation. I've never been that good at the lie-around-and-relax kind of vacation. But a couple of years ago I was at a writing conference in a fairly nice hotel, and when I had a few hours free, I realized how relaxing it was to just hang out in a nice hotel room, and how seldom I get to do that. If I'm staying at a decent hotel it's usually on business, which means I'm seldom in the room. I've also realized that I haven't traveled purely for pleasure in ages. Even my fun trips have involved events that put me on a timetable so that I have to be at certain places at certain times and don't spend a lot of time in my room.

That realization led me to try to think of a vacation that would be really relaxing instead of exhausting. Anything too far away is out because even if I relaxed while I was gone, the trip home would tire me out. Plane travel these days is automatically exhausting because of the hassle. I'd have to find a location where there's just enough stuff to do to not be utterly bored, but not so much to do that I'd feel compelled to do it all and would fear I'd be wasting my time if I just hung around in my room. I have planned a couple of hypothetical vacations that meet these criteria, but I haven't really had the budget for travel.

That leaves the "staycation" -- the vacation while staying at home. And I've had another recent realization there. One of the downsides to being a bit of a slacker and doing a job that's pretty much also a hobby is that it's hard to have a vacation. Spending a day not working looks an awful lot like a regular day. And I'm not even enjoying the days I spend goofing off because I know I should be working and I don't let myself just take off. According to one of the psychiatrists at the medical school I used to work for (and still freelance for), the the key to a vacation that will actually refresh you and revive your brain is making a break from routine. That means you need a routine to begin with.

I've also tried to think of what makes a good hotel room relaxing, and I think it's mostly the fact that it's clean and uncluttered. My bed is more comfortable than most hotel beds, and I have a huge garden tub that's better than anything in most hotels. I have access to a swimming pool and hot tub. I have better cable than you usually get in a hotel. I even have a private balcony and patio.

Unless I suddenly have a big influx of cash, I probably won't get a travel kind of vacation this year. In order to have a good at-home vacation, I'll need to do two things: clean and declutter my house and work hard enough for long enough that taking time off would feel different. So, that's my plan for the summer. I'm going to work on getting my house almost hotel clean, and I'm going to really try to work -- logging enough hours to "earn" a vacation in the fall. The up side of the work is that it raises my chances of an influx of cash that might allow a travel vacation next year.

And, yeah, even though my life is a vacation, I think I need one, just to have a change of pace and clear my head so I can be more creative and energized. Slacking really isn't the same as relaxing or taking a true break. Plus, having the reward of a future vacation in mind is a great incentive to plunge into more intense work.

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