Writing (in) the Moment Plus Shareworthy Reading and Writing Links

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An unexpectedly lovely flowering burr that Daisy and I discovered on the river trail.

This has been the busiest summer I’ve had in a long while, and not in the fun, vacationing, reading, hitting-the-beach-and-hiking-with-my-daughter kind of way, but in the racing-to-meet-crazy-deadlines, working-seven-days-a-week, at-my-desk-’til-midnight kind of way that puts me in very real danger of total burn out. Despite moments of bitterness (Why does everyone else seem to be going on vacation, while I can’t??) and regret (My daughter will never be twelve again.), I am ultimately grateful to be as busy as I am. Being able to pay the bills is a Good Thing, and, as I’ve said before, this too shall pass.

Perhaps because of the complete insanity of my schedule and the breakneck speed of my days, any pocket of time that allows me to slow down even a little bit feels like an oasis. I had such a moment the other day when my daughter’s extended stay at the beach with friends left me to cover a dog walk for her. At first I was frustrated by the interruption (after all, it is her dog walking business), but I soon found myself thankful for the excuse to get away from my desk for a while. Even more important was the chance the walk gave me to exist in the moment, to just “be” as my canine companion and I walked down a wooded path that runs through town along the banks of the river.

It was late afternoon and still hot, but a rogue breeze wandered up and down the path, keeping the air just this side of oppressive. Unseen cicadas hummed their shrill tune from high up in the canopy of faded, drought-bedraggled leaves. A few ducks and gulls milled about, making slow circles on the surface of the river, and the sunlight that filtered down to the dusty path threw a greenish-golden cast over everything.

Daisy, my furry companion, snuffled about contentedly in the low undergrowth that lines the path, leaving me to my own thoughts. I walked slowly and felt, quite literally, like I was catching my breath. I closed my eyes and let my consciousness sink into the physical sensations of the moment – the hard ground beneath my feet, the gentle tug on the end of the leash, the warm air buffeting my face, the prickle of heat on the back of my neck. I inhaled and let the scent of late summer rush me back in time through an incoherent patchwork of summers gone by and other moments when I had paused to let a moment crystalize around me, captured in the web of my memory like an insect in amber. I heard, as though from a long way off, a layered symphony of sounds – the squabbling and chatter of the waterfowl, the muted whoosh of cars, a crow calling from the top of a soaring pine across the river, children’s voices from someone’s back yard, a siren somewhere towards town, and the cicadas.

All of this rushed into my mind in a moment, giving me the sensation of being pulled forcefully back into the world after a long period of sensory deprivation at my desk. I felt my shoulders drop and my chest relax slightly. I took another deep breath. This, I thought, is what people mean when they talk about “existing in the moment” – this grounded, open, undistracted way of being.

And then I realized how important it is to cultivate a similar feeling when we write. How we need to stay with the page, with the words, with each word. How we have to keep our minds from running away with our thoughts. Whether they are trying to drag us backwards to pace in agitation over the tired path of old regrets, or whether they are rushing ahead of us to worry about the unknown future,  our minds must be brought back to a point of stillness in the present moment. While looking back in time or imagining the future may provide us some inspiration, when we are actually at work, we have to stay in the moment with the story. We cannot, for instance, let ourselves get distracted by thoughts of missed opportunities or work ourselves into a frenzy of self doubt by wondering how our work will be received. I can’t tell you how many times my train of thought has been derailed by involuntary musings about how much a client is going to hate the piece I’m working on. (Reality check – they never hate anything I deliver.)

No. We can’t let our minds take advantage of us like that. Be in the moment. Stay with the story. Use the words to anchor you to what you’re writing. Like my feet planted on the path by the river, keep your attention rooted and focused – allowing you to tune in and stay with your words. It’s not easy, but when you find that space, you will gain clarity and flow in your writing. You will be able to let the rest of the world slip away so that you can focus on building a new one with your words. And then, in a kind of circle of magic, you will be able to invite others into that new world, sharing your story to help them focus their thoughts and maybe find their feet planted more solidly underneath them because of your story.

_jamie sig

 

 


My Favorite Blog Reads for the Week:

CRAFT

PUBLISHING & MARKETING

INSPIRATION

THE WRITING LIFE

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Sundry Links and Whatnot:

Miniature BookcaseI came across this delight via Messy Nessy, a Cabinet of Chic Curiosities. Obviously, as a reader and writer, I’ve always loved books and libraries. But, I have also always loved miniatures. Though I never had a proper dollhouse, I turned my childhood bookcases into a house (and stables) for a doll. And I still have a collection of Tiny Things, which I display in an antique letterpress drawer that hangs on my living room wall. So, it was not surprising that I would swoon a little at the sight of this beautifully detailed miniature library.

Perhaps even more delightful, was the discovery that the creator of this fetching library space, Lady Delaney, has not only a beautiful website to explore, but also an Etsy shop where you can purchase all kinds of miniature books as well as a kit to make your own collection of miniature books. Sounds like a lovely fall/winter project to me!

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Finally, a quote for the week:

pin stillness

Here’s to finding moments of peace in the chaos, staying with your story, and finding your feet beneath you.
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Jamie Lee Wallace Hi. I’m Jamie. I am a content writer and branding consultant, columnist, sometime feature writer, prolific blogger, and aspiring fiction writer. I’m a mom, a student of equestrian arts, and a nature lover. I believe in small kindnesses, daily chocolate, and happy endings. Introduce yourself on FacebookTwitter, Instagram, or Pinterest. I don’t bite … usually.
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Short and Sweet Advice for Writers: Remember. The World Runs on Stories.

tiny storiesI have yet to meet a writer who doesn’t routinely doubt the sanity of writing. Despite realizing that writing is an inextricable part of our identity, we can’t help but question its usefulness and value. We feel guilty and self-indulgent. We worry (and sometimes believe) that there are other, more Important Things we should be doing with our time. 

Rubbish.

No matter what our culture may try to make you believe. Writing is Important. Your writing it important.  Writing is your “real” job. It matters. And, you know why? Because the world runs on stories.

If you don’t believe me, I challenge you to go through ONE DAY without consuming or sharing a single story. Go ahead. I dare you. I double dog dare you.

It’s impossible.

Spend thirty seconds on social media – Facebook, Twitter, Instagram, whatever platform you choose – it’s all stories. Watch the news, a movie, a TV show, or a documentary – all stories. Listen to the lyrics of a song, the banter of radio DJs, or the gossip of the little old ladies at your local coffee shop – all stories. Every commercial and advertisement you’ve ever seen – stories. Every whisper of the voices in your own head telling you you can or you can’t –stories. The dream your child told you over breakfast, the email your friend sent you about her trip out West, the joke your coworker told you at the water cooler – nothing but stories.

And not only do we have an insatiable hunger for stories, our appetites are as diverse as we are. While we crave stories in general as human beings, as individuals, we seek out particular kinds of stories – fiction and nonfiction, romance, fantasy, horror, historical, and so on. No matter what kinds of stories you write, there are people out there who want to read them, need to read them.

So, dear writer, when you are feeling low or confused or doubtful of your path, when you are questioning the sanity of spending an entire life putting one word down after another, remember that the world runs on stories: big stories and small, the stories heard round the world and the stories written only for your own heart, sad stories and happy, comforting stories and stories that upset the status quo, realistic and fantastic stories, tragic and funny stories … all kinds of stories, created by all kinds of people, and consumed by every human being on the planet. Remember this, and keep writing.

 

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Jamie Lee Wallace Hi. I’m Jamie. I am a content writer and branding consultant, columnist, sometime feature writer, prolific blogger, and aspiring fiction writer. I’m a mom, a student of equestrian arts, and a nature lover. I believe in small kindnesses, daily chocolate, and happy endings. Introduce yourself on FacebookTwitter, Instagram, or Pinterest. I don’t bite … usually.
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How to Handle Overwhelm

Getting overwhelmed can happen to the best of us. It can happen when we least expect it, but most often, I think, we at least have a glimmer of when it’s about to hit us.

Overwhelm can hit when, like Jamie recently and me back in December/January, your computer crashes in the middle of the workweek and it takes a while to get back ‘on track.’

Overwhelm can hit when you have slow periods with barely any work, then start saying ‘yes’ to any work opportunities that arrive, and within  days or weeks you find yourself with so much work you don’t know when you’ll sleep again.

Similarly, overwhelm can hit when you have a few projects (sometimes even one) that take much longer than you estimated, or that you consider ‘done’, arrive back on your desk needing rewriting or other fixes — and your schedule is full already.

What do you do when overwhelm hits you? My best advice is: step away. It sounds crazy when there’s so much to do, I know.

Step away from all of it. Breathe. Do something mindless or fun or at least not-at-all-related to your work. Re-focus. Re-prioritize. Develop a plan of attack. Move back into the work.

Family of live crabs overwhelmed and washed up by tide

Family of live crabs overwhelmed and washed up by tide

What made me think of this post was seeing an entire family of crabs wash up on the beach over the weekend. Two large crabs, some smaller crabs, and some incredibly tiny crabs all together washed up from a wave as the tide peaked. I imagine they had been swimming just under the surface, having a family day, and then they took a step into a current (perhaps rip tide) and lost all ability to control their own progress.

They became overwhelmed with forces outside of their control. They got left on the sand and struggled to gain their footing and regroup and just as they (almost) managed that, another wave washed over them, tumbled them around, pulled away and left them struggling again. This went on for many minutes. The struggle was real. The crabs weren’t going to drown, but they certainly were overwhelmed.

I thought that the couple of crabs that remained where they were each time the wave pulled and pushed against them – the ones that seemingly remained calm and let the water flow as it would – were the ones that were going to end the day on a good note. I felt the crabs that scrabbled for a grip on the sand and ran this way and that without any plan were going to end up bird food as soon as they exhausted themselves.

We can’t always let go or step away completely, but when overwhelm hits, we need to find a way to stay calm, focus, and develop a plan. Otherwise we’re struggling and may end up too exhausted to do anything at all.

What do you do when you sense overwhelm approaching?

Lisa_2015Lisa J. Jackson is an independent writer and editor who enjoys working with businesses of all sizes. She loves researching topics, interviewing experts, and helping companies tell their stories. You can connect with her on Twitter, Facebook, and LinkedIn.

On Being Human and a Writer Plus Shareworthy Reading and Writing Links

multiple identitiesBeing human is complicated. And, being a human who writes adds a whole other layer of complexity to your existence.

Unlike animals who live simple lives that inhabit a single identity, we humans must constantly shapeshift between myriad roles, sometimes changing who we are multiple times over the course of a single day. In any given twenty-four hour span, I am mother, lover, daughter, sister, neighbor, mentor, and friend. I am a professional freelance content creator, an aspiring fiction writer, and a nascent entrepreneur. I am a caretaker, housekeeper, and accountant, a cook, laundress, and student.

We slip in and out of these skins in a matter of seconds, like chameleons adapting to the colors, textures, and shadows of a rapidly changing environment. With each transition, we must rebalance ourselves around a new set of expectations and priorities. We change our behavior and make choices based on new criteria, which are defined by a reordered set of obligations and responsibilities.

I wonder sometimes if writers, and perhaps actors, are better suited than other humans to the constant “costume changes” of life. We are, after all, used to creating characters and stepping into their lives as if they were our own. Our vocation requires that we regularly shift out of our own existence and preconceived notions, letting our words carry us to different times, places, and situations so we can see the world from a different perspective – explore, imagine, and experiment.

But, even if our writing does make us slightly better suited to the life of a quick-change artist, it also puts extra strain on our most precious resources: time, attention, and energy.

And so, I sometimes wonder if my life would be simpler if I didn’t write. I wonder if my days would feel more manageable if I didn’t insist on cramming this “extra” identity of “writer” into the limited number of hours available to me. I wonder if I would feel “lighter” if I could somehow turn off the part of my brain that is always running in the background – processing every experience and feeling through the lens of my writer’s mind, squirreling away story ideas, wrestling with my inner critic, and constantly bearing the heavy weight of guilt about the writing I’m not doing.

Because trying to blend and balance all these identities can be draining and frustrating. We cannot have it all. More to the point, we cannot have it all at the same time. As my dad is fond of saying, “You can have anything you want. You just can’t have everything you want.” Every accomplishment demands its pound of flesh. The road to any goal is paved with sacrifices and compromises. You cannot simultaneously pursue two different goals any more than you can simultaneously inhabit two different identities. One pursuit, one role must always take center stage while the others temporarily fade into the background.

Whenever I try to be and do two things at once, I fail miserably. When my daughter is home sick from school, for instance, I repeatedly make the mistake of trying to combine being a doting mother with being a dedicated freelancer. The result is that I am, in those misguided moments, terribly inadequate in both areas. There is no such thing as multi-tasking. We simply aren’t wired that way.

So we are left to try and figure out how to build lives that can accommodate all our identities and goals. Maybe we adopt a big-picture, phases-of-life philosophy that requires us to set certain roles aside for years at a time while we focus the lion’s share of our resources on another role. Perhaps we take a more granular approach that structures each week or even each day into separate blocks of time in which we can inhabit each role.

Whichever strategy we try, we will doubtless still have challenging, heartbreaking days that make us question the sanity of continuing to fight for our writer’s identity.

But even on my worst days, even when I feel like an utter failure in all my roles and am so tired and worn out by the effort of shifting back and forth that giving up seems like the sanest choice, even on those days I know in my heart that I turning away from being a writer is never really an option. Because being human is complicated. And being a human who writes is the only way I know to navigate the complexity of life.

_jamie sig

 

 

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What I’m Reading:

While I’ve been racing to keep up with client deadlines, I have had precious little time to inhabit my Reader identity, but I did complete two books a couple weeks ago that I haven’t yet had a chance to share:

Clariel by Garth Nix

book clarielHaving recently finished reading the third book in Nix’s Old Kingdom series, Abhorsen, I was delighted to discover that he had written a prequel: Clariel. I chose, as I did with the others in this series, to listen to this story via Audible. I was slightly disconcerted in the beginning because the audio version of this fourth book in the series is narrated by a different voice artist than the first three. I had so enjoyed Tim Curry’s performance, that it took me a while to get used to Graeme Malcolm, but I eventually came around.

I don’t have much experience with prequels, but I enjoyed this one very much. The protagonist is a complex character whose nuanced inner conflicts make it difficult if not impossible to draw hard lines between good and evil, right and wrong.

I recommend this whole series, and would almost say that this was one of my favorite books in the series. It doesn’t follow all the rules, and I liked that. I also liked discovering that Nix has a fifth Old Kingdom novel set to release this October. Goldenhand will continue Lirael’s story, and I can’t wait!

My Grandmother Asked Me to Tell You She’s Sorry by Fredrick Backman

book grandmother sorryThis book took me by surprise. It was yet another serendipitous find at the RiverRun bookstore in Portsmouth, NH. I have the best luck there, discovering new books. Here is the description of My Grandmother Asked Me to Tell You She’s Sorry from the publisher’s site:

Elsa is seven years old and different. Her grandmother is seventy-seven years old and crazy—as in standing-on-the-balcony-firing-paintball-guns-at-strangers crazy. She is also Elsa’s best, and only, friend. At night Elsa takes refuge in her grandmother’s stories, in the Land-of-Almost-Awake and the Kingdom of Miamas, where everybody is different and nobody needs to be normal.

When Elsa’s grandmother dies and leaves behind a series of letters apologizing to people she has wronged, Elsa’s greatest adventure begins. Her grandmother’s instructions lead her to an apartment building full of drunks, monsters, attack dogs, and old crones but also to the truth about fairy tales and kingdoms and a grandmother like no other.

This book has so many endearing and admirable qualities that it’s hard to know where to start. It left my heart feeling a little more opened and my soul feeling a little more comforted. It wove the magic of story and the complexity of love into a warm and protective blanket of understanding and hope. I am glad that I chose to purchase this one, rather than borrowing it, because I have a feeling it’s one I’ll return to.

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My Favorite Blog Reads for the Week:

 

Finally, a quote for the week:

pin writing heals

Here’s to embracing being human and a writer, crafting a life that encompasses all your identities and your goals, and never giving up on any part of yourself. 
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Jamie Lee Wallace Hi. I’m Jamie. I am a content writer and branding consultant, columnist, sometime feature writer, prolific blogger, and aspiring fiction writer. I’m a mom, a student of equestrian arts, and a nature lover. I believe in small kindnesses, daily chocolate, and happy endings. Introduce yourself on FacebookTwitter, Instagram, or Pinterest. I don’t bite … usually.
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Photo Credit: Paris Seawell via Compfight cc

Persistence

While I’m hiking The Long Trail, I’m reposting old favorites. This one originally published January 20, 2011.

ITWplainSeeing the galleys for my first book was like seeing a sonogram of a baby that’s been growing inside me for years. I was giddy with excitement to see the cover, the type, and the design of the chapters. Like one of those biblical matriarchs, I felt as if I’d been waiting six hundred years for this birth. In truth, it had only been twenty-five. 

In February, 1985, I received my first rejection letter for a novel I’d written the previous year. The letter arrived on my twenty-ninth birthday, and I despaired of achieving my goal of having a book published before I turned thirty. I didn’t start my next novel until ten years later, and I was well into my forties by the time it was complete – and it’s still not published. I wrote Into The Wilderness in 2002, when I was forty-eight.

During the twenty-five years I’ve been writing but not publishing novels, I’ve also raised a family and worked to help support it. I’ve done some interesting things, like taught literature to health care workers and writing to inmates; and I’ve done some less interesting things, like laundry. I’ve worried about my children, argued with my husband, witnessed my parents age, and – always – kept writing.

A few years ago, a published friend said to me, “The single thing that separates those who get into print from those who don’t is persistence.”

I persisted.

I have the requisite number of rejection letters to wallpaper not just the fabled bathroom, but also the interior of a small house. Some are simple form letters; others are full of high praise. I’ve come to prefer the form letters that start with, “Dear Writer” to those that say what a splendid writer I am and what a wonderful book I have – for someone else to publish. There were months when I could have been working in a boomerang factory, when all the typescripts I sent out kept homing back. But a year ago, I received the letter I’d been waiting for all this time, and now, my book is in print.

This long, slow, journey has made me wonder what gave me the tenacity to keep writing despite so many other things to do (help with homework, wash dishes, plant peas), and what gave me the chutzpah to keep refusing to accept repeated rejection. My answer: my cats and my dog.

My dog doesn't know how to read.

My dog doesn’t know how to read.

As Groucho Marx famously said, “Outside of a dog, a book is man’s best friend. Inside of a dog, it’s too dark to read.” My dog is a great companion, but she’s illiterate. She dislikes the indoor, sedentary pleasures of literature. She’d rather be outdoors, on a walk. I did a lot of thinking on those walks, which are a kind of moving meditation in which I work out narrative difficulties. I also watch my pooch in her mostly futile attempts to catch the chipmunks. Despite her dismal record of failure, my dog never fails to take up the challenge. She flings herself over stonewalls and gives herself whole-heartedly to the chase. And she’s never discouraged by her failure to catch a chipmunk, only by my failure, some days, to take her out.

My cats, on the other hand, want me to do nothing but sit at my desk all day, so they can drape themselves decorously across my papers, my lap, or my keyboard. They approve of literature, and like to lie across the page of any open book, but especially on the page I’m reading. One of them likes to watch the cursor progress across my computer screen; the other likes best to curl up in a manuscript box, anchoring the pages in place. As far as they’re concerned, the only reason for me to leave my desk is to open a can of cat food.

Between the cats and the dog, I’m blessed with companions who provide inspiration, in the case of the felines, and a model of persistence, in the case of the dog. They have been good company for this long haul. They’ve helped mitigate the loneliness of writing in silence, a silence that has at last come to an end.

Deborah headshotDeborah Lee Luskin will resume writing when she returns from hiking The Long Trail. Meanwhile, you can still receive An Essay Every Wednesday emailed directly to your inbox – just subscribe at www.deborahleeluskin.com. It’s easy, it’s entertaining, educational, and it’s free!

Take 2: Thinking About Being a Self-Employed Writer?

This is a reworked post from almost exactly a year ago. The question is evergreen and the conversations it started were quite helpful then, as I think they will be now.

If you’re on the fence about making the leap to self-employed writer and how to make a living, perhaps something here will help you along.

My (former) home office

My (former) home office

About me: I only have myself to rely on for income. There is no alimony or child support or money from any non-client coming to me. I do not have any children to feed or any crazy-ridiculous expenses to worry about such as music lessons, sports teams, camp getaways, college tuition, etc.

I usually hear one of these two replies when people learn I’m an independent writer/editor: “Hey, that’s fabulous that you have no one but yourself to worry about! No money worries at all!” or “Oh, wow, if something happens to you, you might be up the proverbial river without the proverbial paddle. Does’t that stress you out?”

I don’t have a formula, but here’s what there is to know about how I am now 11+ years into being my own boss:

  • When I decided to leave the corporate world, I gave myself 1 year to get my finances in order and find affordable health insurance. It was/is important to me to have at least 4 months of savings to cover bills.
  • At the time I quit, I downsized (sold my house) and have been renting ever since, which is less responsibility and has more predictable expenses (to me), so I can save money as well as pay myself.
  • I am frugal – this means I minimize my bills, but I’m not lacking. I have Internet, a smartphone, use AC, and buy too much food when I go to the grocery store; I don’t work by candlelight to save on my electric bill or live in a library for free WiFi. :) I always pay my credit card in full each month to avoid finance charges.
  • I maintain my older vehicle instead of having car payments.
  • I network to meet other solopreneurs and learn how they thrive in their business and try tips I learn.
  • I use LinkedIn to find contract opportunities.
  • I only take on jobs that interest me, which keeps me happy and lets me give my best to the client.
  • I absolutely love what I do and (literally) say “Thank you” out loud every day to the cosmos.

I don’t know of a magic bullet for self-employment success, but I know (1)  it’s important to love what you do and that you have to work at it. If you want it to work and approach it honestly, I believe you’re more than 75% to your goal.

And (2) having money readily available if monthly income checks don’t arrive when planned is quite helpful at keeping stress about money at under control.

What is your tip to someone thinking about becoming self-employed?

Or, what was your final hurdle before jumping into self-employment?

Lisa_2015Lisa J. Jackson is an independent writer and editor who enjoys working with businesses of all sizes. She loves researching topics, interviewing experts, and helping companies tell their stories. You can connect with her on Twitter, Facebook, and LinkedIn.

Downtime – A Necessity to Getting It All Done

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Sneaking away for a little downtime🙂

Downtime? I don’t have time for downtime! I have a business to run!

From Merriam-Webster,  the definition of downtime

  1. time during which production is stopped especially during setup for an operation or when making repairs

  2. inactive time (as between periods of work) <napping during our downtime> <an injured athlete facing months of downtime>

I know I’ve talked about this before, but it’s important and worth repeating.

As a business owner, particularly if you run your own business, it can be quite a challenge to find any periods of rest. There is always, always, always, something that needs to be addressed – and usually it needs to be done “right away.” Right?

If you don’t plan ahead for vacations or weekends or even a few hours every now and then, your work can easily consume you. Even with times marked off on the calendar, ‘overwhelm’ can still sneak in.

It’s important to notice when this happens so you can minimize it quickly.

I found myself saying, “No, I can’t go have fun, I have to work.” too often in July. Way. Too. Often. I had to say it, because I did have work that needed to get done; client deadlines that had to be met. However, it wasn’t fun to work so much and play so little.

Downtime is important. Not having downtime is like not having sleep – it catches up with you. If you work too much or sleep too little, you lose your creativity, your edge, your energy, and your focus.

Even an hour a day for a walk, lunch away from the office, a nap, some meditation – whatever you can do that changes your focus and lets you take a few deep breaths can make a lot of difference to the rest of your day.  Taking a break matters – a lot.

With downtime comes creativity, inspiration, the ability to grow and nurture a special interest, and a chance to refocus. (Everyone needs downtime, not just business owners or writers or other creative types. Kids need it, students need it, we all need it.)

If you find yourself getting overwhelmed with things that ‘have to be done’, see if you can strip the list down to what “absolutely” has to be done “right now.” I bet you can discover a lot that isn’t earth-shattering, and several tasks that can either be eliminated or postponed. Focus on the ‘must do’ and put off the rest for a little while.

I’m now in downtime mode for a full 6 days. I’ll get back to work refreshed, recharged, and re-focused on what matters to me (and my business) the most.

What happens to your productivity when you don’t have downtime?

Lisa_2015Lisa J. Jackson is an independent writer and editor who enjoys working with businesses of all sizes. She loves researching topics, interviewing experts, and helping companies tell their stories. You can connect with her on Twitter, Facebook, and LinkedIn.