I put myself under a lot of pressure. People have pointed this out to me my entire life. It used to always be a warning—I was about to crush myself, and they wanted me to ease up to avoid it. I didn’t usually listen, and often ended up running myself into the ground.
As I’ve gained more experience, I’ve started understanding where to draw the line. It’s hard for me not to run full-tilt until whatever project I’m working on is completed. Yard work, home improvements, learning a new song, finishing a scarf, etc.
I still run myself into the ground sometimes, but those occurrences are the exception now. The fundamental change in how I operate came to me through my writing.
You can’t sit down and write an 80,000 word novel in a day. Or even two days or three. At least, I can’t. I type about 120 words per minute, but have only been able to max out my productivity at around 2,000 words per hour (technically, if I could keep up the 120 wpm pace, I should be able to type 7,200).
Creativity takes time. That 2,000 per hour is when I’m pushing myself to the max, and have the plot lines, characters, and worlds completely figured out. I’m putting myself under incredible amounts of pressure to create that kind of output. Pressure that I can’t keep up for long without causing myself injury. It’s an intense burst that can become a crushing energy if I’m not careful.
I’m more interested in the kind of pressure that makes diamonds, exerted slowly, over time. The wind pressing on a kite is what keeps it in the air—as long as your feet are on the ground, your grip on the string just right.
I always have a queue—a line of projects waiting for their turn, a list of tasks that need to be completed before I can reach the next milestone in my writing career. It’s part of how I maintain my output. I use this gentler form of pressure as a tool, turning it on my inner critic to keep it at bay. When my critic tries to step in while I’m writing, I point to my writing task list and say, “I don’t have time for this right now. I need you during edits. And you better rest up, because I’m going to work you hard.”
Pressure can be an incredibly useful force—if it’s a balanced, gentle pressure, used sparingly and with care. It doesn’t have to be crushing. It can be motivating. It’s the push I need when I’m feeling too tired to write. It’s the wave that lifts me back to my feet after a disappointment or even a victory that knocks me off balance. Anyone who’s stood in the ocean and felt the tide coming in knows the subtle yet immense power behind those waves.
I have stories to write. So many stories. They stand behind me, keep me moving, gently pushing me forward, asking me to keep going so that they can have their turn. I won’t let them down.
That’s a pressure I can live with.