Writing Wednesdays

Writing Wednesdays

Too Much Mojo

By Steven Pressfield | Published: October 24, 2012

We were talking last week about acquiring mojo, which I defined as that state when we are going gangbusters in our writing, art, or business. It’s “flow.” It’s “the Zone.”

Flintstone

Our ancestors didn't work 52 weeks a year

The only problem with having Big Mojo, in my experience, is you can’t keep it up for long. I know I can’t. My nervous system can’t take it. Three weeks maybe, four tops.

What do I do then? I flake out. Deliberately.

I knock off. I get outa Dodge. I take a break.

Years ago, I had a small freelance business. I used to get into trouble because I couldn’t say no to my clients. I was afraid if I weren’t available 24/7, they’d dump me. What happened was I never stopped working. I’d work myself to the point of collapse. I didn’t know how to stop.

Then one day I got some advice from my friend Morrie Weiss. Morrie was a lawyer in a two-man practice. “I used to have the same problem, Steve. I was like a fireman on-call 24 hours a day. Here’s how I solved it. At the start of each year, I sat down with my calendar and blocked out my times for vacation. Say, a week around a Fourth of July, another week in September, two weeks around the Superbowl.

“Then I wrote a memo to my clients and informed them in advance.

“It turns out that people have no problem with you going away, as long as they know in advance when. They can plan and work around it. Which makes perfect sense, right? I don’t mind when my shrink goes away in August. I lay in a month’s supply of Xanax and I’m cool.”

Here’s the wrinkle if you’re a writer or an artist: instead of telling your clients in advance, you tell yourself.

At the risk of jinxing myself by saying this, I’ve got some Major Mojo going right now. But I can feel myself starting to burn out. I can’t keep this level up much longer. So I’ll write a memo to myself:

Steve, just want you to know I’m heading out of town the second week of November. Back after seven days.

This is the way to take a break. NOT crapping out in mid-stream. NOT dropping the ball Wednesday, Friday and the next Monday.

Take time off in one big glump.

The other trick, in my experience, is to set the work aside completely when you’re en vacances. Don’t stew. Don’t fret. Don’t feel guilty. You’ve busted your ass; you’ve earned this time away. You’re giving your nervous system a chance to recover from excessive transmission of mojo.

The Muse won’t mind either. She got the memo. She knows you’ll be gone, but she also knows you’re coming back. She’s cool with that.

The goddess, I have found, works something like the Post Office or the New York Times. She understands the concept of “vacation hold.” All the ideas that she was planning on giving you next week … she’ll save them for delivery the week after. You won’t miss any issues.

I’ve found, too, that I don’t need to do all this vacation planning at the start of the year. It works just as well on the fly. Better though, in my experience, to slate our break two or three weeks in advance—rather than only a few days. Knowing we’ve got that length of time focuses our concentration. We can tell ourselves, “Okay, let’s really hammer this stuff for the next fourteen days.” We can go hard, because we know we’ll have time off at the end.

The final plus to taking “little vacations” is it jibes with our natural human rhythms. Our caveman ancestors didn’t work 52 weeks a year. When they made a good mastodon kill, they kicked back and hung around Bedrock for a while.

They got tan, they got rested, they got ready. They built up energy for the next acquisition of Mojo.

Posted in Writing Wednesdays

20 Responses to “Too Much Mojo”

  1. October 24, 2012 at 3:44 am

    It’s funny how mental work can knock the crap out of you. I’ve been working on video products a lot over the past year, and always find myself spent at the conclusion of each. It normally takes me a couple of weeks before I can even think about starting a new project. I’m glad you posted this, Steven. We ain’t machines, we’re human beings.

    • October 24, 2012 at 11:42 am

      I just a three-vacation and it was so great to step away from it all. I have the tendency to work all the time and want to do as you suggest and schedule more time off. I’m more like you in that I like to schedule only a few weeks in advance. I do also run a business so I will let me clients know about the upcoming holiday breaks, as soon as I schedule and HONOR them. :-) Huge fan, Steven. Thanks for your notes from the road!

  2. Basilis
    October 24, 2012 at 4:07 am

    Oh yes!

    For everything that is mentioned!

  3. skip
    October 24, 2012 at 4:45 am

    good stuff! i simply pack it in and go play golf. clients understand that golf transcends sport as it takes the mind and spirit well enough away from the work field.

  4. October 24, 2012 at 6:21 am

    Funny, I was just asking about this last week. It’s good hearing a reply. Scheduling a break is better than crashing, though sometimes I don’t take it like I should. I always want to keep working. I’ve been getting better though.

  5. Michael
    October 24, 2012 at 6:23 am

    Fantastic. I experience literally the same things you write about every writing wednesday and this is no different. I always have to convince myself to step away from the work when necessary. Resistance loves you feeling crappy about not doing your work and can slowly build up against you if you aren’t careful in planning getaways.

  6. Carrie
    October 24, 2012 at 7:50 am

    Oh my goodness, I love this post. You are so, so right. Thank you!

  7. October 24, 2012 at 10:40 am

    Splendid!

    For years I sold my art door to door and even though I did awesome at it, I couldn’t keep it up. I’d crash. After being “on” for so long I just wanted to burrow into bed and drool while gazing vacantly at the ceiling.

    Not only did this cause much stress and confusion in my marriage, but I’d completely lose all momentum until some external stress (usually money) would prod me back into action, and I’d have to begin from a standing start. Very unpleasant.

    For years I misread it as me being lazy or hating what I did, but I think all it was was a call for some balance.

    We began to implement some systems so that sales could come in more regularly instead of relying solely on my own steam. Then when I took time for other things (like being a dad), the whole business wouldn’t hit the ditch.

    It was a big revelation to discover that with the merest of planning, one could step back from having to “be on” all the time and let a sort of flywheel kick in and help keep things spinning nicely!

    • October 30, 2012 at 8:35 am

      WOW! Talk about great marketing, omg, I just checked out your website. Phew!

      I just finished “The War of Art” and started reading “Turning Pro”. When I finished “The War of Art” tears were flowing down my face. I had found a plan and a reason. I decided the next morning I would DO THE WORK. I woke up and did do the work and then my emotions fell apart as the demons of life rushed in, those demons that have been with me for some time now. Drats!

      This morning I woke up thinking DO THE WORK. I felt encumbered with that nagging image of art piling up as the steam in me for finding ways of selling it, yet again, after a move from Hawaii back to the mainland, overwhelms me. But DO THE WORK.

      I gotta say that your website has given me a breath of fresh air. It is darn creative. No I am not going to try to copy you, only feel inspired by you. I am going to DO THE WORK and press on.

      No need to take a vacation just yet, but the knowledge that I can is good to know.

  8. October 24, 2012 at 11:39 am

    Wow, Steve, you nailed another one–and tight! I live in both Rome, Italy and Fort Payne, Alabama, an old Cherokee town in the mountains. Yes, grits to pasta every spring and fall. This past spring on Facebook I began a daily series called CIAO FROM ROMA! and the response from readers told me I had the makings of a book. So this past summer I committed to write the book in two months and was working 10-12 hour days, as well as taking care of my wife who had had back surgery. Yep, I wrote the 200 page book in two months, had other professional writers read it, and polished it. I didn’t even send it to my agent. I have had four books published by Random House, two six figure book deals, with one nominated for a Pulitzer. I published it on Kindle and it started selling the first day. It’s doing well and I have media gigs–TV and radio–in November. But my point regarding your blog today? At the end of the summer I collapsed. Was it worth it to write the book so quickly? For me it was a double edged sword.

  9. October 24, 2012 at 3:10 pm

    I really need a vacation.

  10. October 24, 2012 at 6:42 pm

    I never really had trouble taking a vacation. It was the working in between that gave me trouble.

  11. October 25, 2012 at 5:46 am

    Thank you for this post. Somehow, the thought that I can take a break never occurred to me and it is strangely comforting. One day I will have to try it.

  12. October 26, 2012 at 8:45 am

    Brilliant idea. I’ll start scheduling lumps of time off so I know when I am ready to take off.

  13. October 30, 2012 at 9:25 pm

    There’s a book in this … it’s called “The Art of Peace” Instead of talking about Resistance it talks about ‘The Happy Talent of Knowing how to Play’ It is inspired by a quote by Ralph Waldo Emerson. Even the marines need a break from the front line. If they don’t get it every now and then they turn morose and self destructive.

  14. November 11, 2012 at 4:05 am

    Right!

    There’s a humongous difference between giving in to resistance or slipping into neutral and making a positive choice to stop for a while.

    I’m just a little sick of book after book and blogger after blogger peddling the myth of “hustling”, saying that you’ve gotta put in 16 hour days and work your butt off for anything you do to count.

    BS.

    It’s okay to work at a different pace and it’s useful to make it okay to give yourself time off.

    The key, I think, is having the right intention.

    • November 18, 2012 at 1:51 pm

      For the first time in my adult life I am officially taking a pre-meditated 3 weeks off!

      Last year I moved from my native New Orleans to Ojai, CA to begin anew after being badly spanked by the economy. For the first time in 20 years income from my school market health and guidance video collection no longer sustained me financially, and I needed to move to a place where there were opportunities to supplement my income. I’ve never held a jobby-job, and entrepreneur listings in the help wanteds don’t seem to exist. I discovered no one would give a 57 year-old woman an entry level position. Of course, when I even managed to get an interview, my would-be supervisor was my kids’ ages (30s), and I knew I was doomed the minute I walked in the door.

      This is the first time in my entire life I’ve ever lived anyplace else, and my entire family is lives in New Orleans, a place few born and breds ever leave, and if they do, they usually come back. As I hope to one day.

      I decided to return to where I started in the 80s, and go back to writing. Recently, thanks to Steve’s War of Art and Turning Pro, I began work on my first book. And just yesterday, Nov. 17, 2012, drum roll…I turned Pro!

      I decided that my first executive order to myself is to take off 3 weeks from my video business and freelance newspaper assignments, and go home for Christmas. I can’t wait to contact my clients tomorrow and let them know that I will be closed for business Dec. 17 – Jan.11. There I said it–and the sky didn’t fall! LOL

      I so needed to read this post today, my first time on this blog. I am forever grateful to have found Steven and a wonderful forum to turn to for support. Yesterday when I turned Pro I was ecstatic. Today I’m just plain terrified!

      Looking forward to hearing from y’all and wish you all a Happy Thanksgiving!

  15. November 18, 2012 at 1:54 pm

    Steven,
    Love, love, love this post about taking time off and not feeling guilty about it!

    For the first time in my adult life I am officially taking a pre-meditated 3 weeks off!

    Last year I moved from my native New Orleans to Ojai, CA to begin anew after being badly spanked by the economy. For the first time in 20 years income from my school market health and guidance video collection no longer sustained me financially, and I needed to move to a place where there were opportunities to supplement my income. I’ve never held a jobby-job, and entrepreneur listings in the help wanteds don’t seem to exist. I discovered no one would give a 57 year-old woman an entry level position. Of course, when I even managed to get an interview, my would-be supervisor was my kids’ ages (30s), and I knew I was doomed the minute I walked in the door.

    This is the first time in my entire life I’ve ever lived anyplace else, and my entire family is lives in New Orleans, a place few born and breds ever leave, and if they do, they usually come back. As I hope to one day.

    I decided to return to where I started in the 80s, and go back to writing. Recently, thanks to Steve’s War of Art and Turning Pro, I began work on my first book. And just yesterday, Nov. 17, 2012, drum roll…I turned Pro!

    I decided that my first executive order to myself is to take off 3 weeks from my video business and freelance newspaper assignments, and go home for Christmas. I can’t wait to contact my clients tomorrow and let them know that I will be closed for business Dec. 17 – Jan.11. There I said it–and the sky didn’t fall! LOL

    I so needed to read this post today, my first time on this blog. I am forever grateful to have found Steven and a wonderful forum to turn to for support. Yesterday when I turned Pro I was ecstatic. Today I’m just plain terrified!

    Looking forward to hearing from y’all and wish you all a Happy Thanksgiving!

    Reply

  16. January 11, 2013 at 7:44 pm
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