In actively supporting other writers, I was necessarily having to take time away from my own work, and my own well-filling.
Now, the adage is true: when we help others, we help ourselves even more. So I often got even more than I gave. And every time I finished a class or got off a call, the buzzy feeling I had confirmed that I was where I needed to be: this was vocation. But I knew I had to be mindful of burn-out. I tried to take care of myself, though it was hard not to give every drop of energy I had, and it was so much fun to talk shop and to create community and to make things and to help others through the darkness I’d walked through myself. To be a light-bringer.
Problem is, all this light I was bringing to others was causing my own little flame to gutter. No one’s fault, except perhaps mine: my own eagerness and passion, my obstinate belief that I could do it all. This had a ripple effect on everything—and the writing, most of all.
I knew it was time to slow down. Big time. To get expansive. To get back to the work.
Several months ago, I spoke about my decision to have a hiatus from social media. Update: best. Decision. Ever. I have more flow, lots of big internal shifts, and I’m able to wrap my head around some really important things I’ve been mulling over. This was my first step in slowing down and coaxing that guttering flame to burn brighter.
For a long time now, I’ve been running on fumes. I bet a lot of you are, too. I’ve managed, through meditation, to stay upright, but it’s been too much. And now the chickens are really coming home to roost, as the deadlines pile up and I navigate the complexities of life abroad. All of this has created clarity on what has to go, what isn’t serving me or the work. I tend to be a gal who works in extremes, for better or worse, and so it took moving to Europe and a slew of unfortunate events for me to finally make some big decisions that were a long time coming.
It really comes down to boundaries. Yes, the boundaries you create with others, but—in my case—it was more about setting some boundaries with my perfectionist, ambitious, creative self. The self that wanted to please my publisher and get a book in on deadline even though I needed more time. (New Heather emailed her editor and said I need more time. Editor said this was okay and all’s well that ends well.). I had to set boundaries with the self that wanted to create bespoke worksheets for students and clients instead of being okay with knowing that what I was giving was absolutely more than enough already and that every time I slid into worksheet-making behavior I wasn’t working on my books. New Heather is currently not making worksheets. New Heather is honing her sense of when she is in a space of healthy output for others—a positive energetic exchange—and when she is draining herself. And she adjusts accordingly.
Giving of our time and creative energy to others, be it fellow writers or our readers, is a perk of the job. But in order to do that job well—writing—we have to be able to show up for ourselves, too.
A quick way to check in to see if you’re not setting good boundaries with yourself (and students, clients, readers, etc.) is to simply stop when you feel overwhelmed. Stop, close your eyes, and just follow your breath for a bit. Tune in to how your body is feeling. See where this feeling of stress or overwhelm is residing. Just sit with it for a bit. Don’t push it away. Breathe. Just a couple of minutes. Meditation teacher Tara Brach calls this a “sacred pause.” It can help you get a little clarity, stepping outside the maelstrom. A bit of walking meditation goes a long way, too.
It’s good to remember that what makes a flame stronger, brighter is more oxygen. So: deep breaths.
Breathe. Write. Repeat.
Heather Demetrios (’14) is a young adult author, writing coach, and meditation teacher for writers. She’s the recipient of the Susan P. Bloom PEN New England Award and the author of several critically acclaimed novels, including Bad Romance, I’ll Meet You There, and Exquisite Captive. She’s the editor of the upcoming anthology, Dear Heartbreak: YA Authors and Teens on the Dark Side of Love, which features several VCFA faculty and alumni, and the author of Codename Badass, an upcoming feminist pop biography of WWII spy, Virginia Hall. New fantasy, contemporary, and historical novels are also forthcoming from Macmillan. Her honors include books that have been named Bank Street Best Children’s Books, YALSA Best Fiction For Young Adults selections, a Goodreads Choice Nominee, a Kirkus Best Book, and a Barnes and Noble Best Book. She lives abroad in various locales, but you can always find her at mindfulnessforwriters.com. Find out more about Heather and her books at heatherdemetrios.com.