Friday, April 28, 2023

Reflections of Life, Part 1 by Karen S. Wiesner

Reflections of Life, Part 1

by Karen S. Wiesner

In looking back over the course of my life as an author who's looking forward to becoming an artist in retirement, I've learned to slow down and reflect on the past, savor the present, and look forward to the future. Interspersed through these ruminations, I'll include some of my own most apropos sketches.

For the last several years, I've felt directed toward finding a better balance in my life. There's no denying I've spent most of my time on this earth cultivating a crash and burn lifestyle--in my work and "play" activities. Those who know me would agree that I can only be described as a person who gets things done (emphasis and attitude in that phrase, please). In all honestly, I took great pride in my accomplishments at many points in my life before I was laid low. You will see that--and even some smugness--reflected in these reminiscences. I apologize and ask for you to indulge me just this once, as this is something of a capsulation of my entire life, and I have little more to show for myself than these brief achievements. I'm forever reminded of the countless, plentiful desert periods in my life when I was absolutely certain I was a fraud without a speck of talent, natural or otherwise. Those by far supersede any glimpse of self-worth.

In any case, during my "leisure", I've been known to read in excess of 400 books in a single year. Yes, you read that right, and, yes, I know there are only 365 days in a year. In my work, which has been writing (professionally for the last 26 years) I've actually been compared to a computer. Only that accurately describes how quickly I process and perform my tasks. Whereas most writers can finish a novel or two a year and rare ones can produce one or two more than that, I've spent the majority of my career completing at least five full-length novels (ranging from 60,000 to 100,000 words plus) and five novellas (nearly all close to 40,000 words long) every single year.

If I had to be honest, I'd admit that I barely broke a sweat most of the time I was accomplishing these feats. In fact, reading and writing books was only part of what I was doing at any given time. Along with writing books, every year I made promotion of my published works a full-time job, along with leading a few writers' groups in which I coordinated numerous endeavors. I also wrote countless freelance assignments for many magazines, cranked out weekly or monthly columns for various publications, wrote blurbs, and critiqued and edited the material of other authors, as well as designed covers for my books and those of fellow authors.

Copyright Karen Wiesner
Karen Wiesner Sketch: Still Life with Books

My secret: Early in my writing, I formulated an approach to writing that I've documented step by step in my reference titles. This technique allowed me to "work in stages" and accomplish so much more than I would have if I'd written each book from start to finish, back to back, one at a time. Essentially, I was always writing multiple books at a time, each in distinct stages of the writing process. For the most part, that technique ensured that I avoided burnout altogether. More accurately, I was able to sidestep it, provided I gave myself at least three vacations a year, each lasting 2-3 weeks long and forcing me to curtail all writing activities during them.

As long as I took those vacations as prescribed, I could indefinitely juggle the heavy workloads I assigned myself the rest of the year. Most often, I indulged in my favorite pastimes during my recuperation times: Reading and playing videogames. Here, too, I hit it hard. As befitting a crash and burn personality like mine, I would spend most of my waking hours, staying up late, playing a game or series of games or plowing through a shocking amount of books from my To Be Read mountain. This was the only way I was able to cope with the stress of just how much I was accomplishing in a year's time. Mind you, if I took my vacations when I needed to, for as much time as I needed to, I barely felt the weight of my work at all other times. In these 26 years, my running tally is 146 books published, 152 books written, and, incidentally, nearly 130 awards nominated for or won. This is the testament to my dedication in accomplishing all my writing goals.

As anyone can imagine, breaking this lifelong habit of crash and burn was nearly impossible. As I said at the start of this essay, I've felt myself being directed and redirected, gently, sometimes almost imperceptibly, for years. It wasn't a lesson I learned all at once, but it is one I had to relearn countless times it really stuck.  Many sentiments fit how it felt to be taught something I assumed I'd mastered only to fall back into the same bad habits that are seemingly my own unique factory resets: Embarrassment, amusement, frustration, bewilderment, even shock at my own ignorance and blindness as to what's happened to bring me back to square one.

It's unfortunate that, to get me to the point where I even agreed to submission in the first place, I had to be broken and re-broken. Strangely, I've come to enjoy (in some ways, at least) the slow-down--I, who once considered herself with no small amount of pride, the Mighty One with Super Powers.

Next week I'll talk about what it took to bring about change in the crash and burn lifestyle that dominated most of my adult life.

Karen Wiesner is an award-winning, multi-genre author of over 150 titles and 16 series.

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