Finding Boundaries

Image: Someone holding up a picture of a wall with the words; Keep in mind, Finding boundaries means testing the walls. @ejdawsonauthor

I took a social media hiatus without ever meaning to, writing ground to a halt, and I limited myself to editing. I had social media content queued in the background, lists of website posts, TikTok videos, and saved tweets. I had books I needed to review, my own work wasn’t getting enough attention, and I had a complete schedule of the books I needed to beta read and edit. Yet somehow, I hit this wall, hit it so hard I fell back and spent far longer just lying there wondering what the hell happened.

I’ve been working on my writing career for almost ten years. There are always times you think you are going to give up, but I hadn’t realized how close I’d gotten, and it wasn’t because nothing was happening, but too much was happening.

I’d gotten into such a habit of saying yes, my workload had slowly mounted until I found myself making a cup of coffee on a Saturday morning, my busiest workday, and started having a panic attack. My chest froze, everything faded out, I burnt my hand on the mug because I couldn’t move.

This was in June.

The attacks got worse, I kept having them and kept it a secret, but straight away I knew something was deeply wrong. So wrong because that was the moment, I hit the wall. I hadn’t even seen it, it blindsided me so completely I may as well have been driving in the dark without headlights on.

I sat at my computer and disassociated into the Big Bang Theory and games for a solid week.

It took talking to a friend about why I was struggling with writing what was wrong. I gave her a list of everything I needed to finish, along with deadlines and realized it was simply too much. This year, every month I have either dev edited or beta read one or more manuscripts per month. I’ve read or partially read nearly several hundred books in the space of a few months. I started a graduate course in writing. There are several other things in the works for the next year that I can’t talk about yet, but they are gong to need my complete attention. There were so many things that needed my attention.

Until June.

When I hit that wall.

You get into a nasty habit when you’ve been an author a long time and sometimes that habit is ‘yes.’

Not just big things, opportunities to give talks, to submit writing pieces, to be part of really cool things I can’t talk about yet. I mean little things. Editing a manuscript. Beta reading. Critique partnering. Reading. Reading. Reading. I was doing so much reading I couldn’t read. My quota of reading dropped down to zero after I finished judging on the Self-Published Science Fiction Awards.

I took that break, I’m still semi-breaking as I slowly explore Guild Wars 2 (I like the fishing).

But I got back to the work I needed to do because I promised I would do it.

I spent two months cutting through backlogs until I’m now down to two manuscripts, and after that I’m dedicating the rest of the year to my own work and the few projects already planned, I need to commit to one hundred percent. I started saying no.

Not because I didn’t want to help and support other authors but because I couldn’t.

I found a limit and now I know what that is I’ll be making myself stick to it. I won’t have as much room to say yes to things in future, but it was more than that. I kept doing it for free. I know how much I bring to a manuscript. I’ve been sent flowers from across the world as a thanks for my work. And it is work.

Hitting the wall wasn’t just about finding my limitations, it was also about finding how much my time was worth. It was about understanding exactly why I was being asked to look at manuscripts by so many people. It was weird to feel valued in this way, to find myself stepping into this other realm where, as someone wisely said to me; you want to be a professional then you get paid.

Next year I’ll be offering a limited opportunity to critique manuscripts for a fee. It won’t be a large fee, this is the first time I’m looking into this, but it will be something made clearer on my website and even in doing this, I’ll be limiting what manuscripts I’ll be reading so I can devote myself to those completely.

Finding boundaries means nothing without testing the walls. I know how much work I can do, I’ve found a line between yes and no, and I know my limitations now. Sometimes finding your own boundaries means saying yes to that scary thing or saying no to that tempting opportunity. You won’t know what you can achieve saying no, but you can’t overextend yourself either. Sometimes saying yes is the only way to find out, even if you do hit a wall.

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