A Little Downtime

  • By: Jessica Faust | Date: Oct 17 2008

I have about 180 to 200 equeries sitting in my inbox, a stack of requested proposals from as far back as June, and at least two client submissions still awaiting feedback. I’m behind, really far behind. On top of all of that I have contracts to review, calls to return, and everyday projects to complete. Am I complaining? Nope, simply explaining. The scary thing is that I’m behind not because I’ve been goofing off in the office and spending my days playing Scramble on Facebook, but because my weekends and evenings have been filled with a personal life. “What,” you say, “How dare you?” It’s true, I dared to go on vacation, spend a quiet evening watching Project Runway, and I even (gasp) read a book for pleasure.

An agent’s job is never done and it’s one of the first things I need to explain to a new assistant. No matter how hard we work those piles are never, ever going to go away. I guess that’s life for all of us, but what does it say about us? What does it say when I request material and get an apologetic reply that the author is on vacation and won’t be able to send it for another week? Or that I send an email to a client on a Saturday and get a reply five minutes later?

This post is nothing but a reminder to live our lives guilt-free. As a writer you are better when you have time to enjoy the life you are writing about. How are you ever going to get new ideas for characters or plots if you don’t take the time to meet new people or experience new things? How are you going to hone and improve your writing if you can’t take the time to read what others are writing? How am I going to find the time to really appreciate a fabulous submission if I’m reading nothing but submissions? How can I properly edit my clients’ work if I’m not reading published works to see how editors and authors make things sing?

Downtime is important for our mental health and for our personal lives, but it’s equally important to our careers, so if you were planning on working all weekend, don’t. Let’s all promise ourselves to take a little time off and simply enjoy the day.


36 responses to “A Little Downtime”

  1. Avatar linda hall says:

    Amen!! I second that. And also would like to note that as writers–I know I’ve been guilty of this many times–we tend to see the publishing industry as this big hulking beast that never rests, never sleeps, just works works works…I think I watch too much tv..lol.

    But it’s good to be reminded that you guys are people too. Hope you have a great weekend, Jessica! 😀

  2. Avatar Marian says:

    Thanks for that post. Rest and relaxation is good for us all. And it’s better to take time off, recharge yourself and do your work well than run on fumes and not do as good a job.

    I was just checking out the blog of an author who’s working on a long-awaited book that’s part of a series. He’d posted about a football game and one of the comments from a fan was about his taking time away from writing to watch games and blog about them. His reply was that he knows about his writing responsibilities and doesn’t need to be reminded of them all the time.

  3. Avatar Candi says:

    No matter how true – and how eloquently – you may have said that, you do realize there are any number of submission weakened aspiring authors shooting daggers into the screen of their computers – at you!

    But I have to agree. After some down time, I find it is so much easier to find my muse. Actually, it just kind of grabs me and says enough playing, I want to work.

    The best part of what you said is the need for a break from what you are doing. Even in crit groups you can become so inundated with the same stuff that it all begins to blur. Taking some time to experience everything around you gives you new life and fresh perspective.

    While I think most of us do remember that you are people and not machines, boy is it ever hard to think of an agent actually taking time to themselves when the submission we worked so hard on languishes under the others in the pile. LOL – How many careers are there that you can put your heart and soul into? Gotta love writing.

    Donald Maass’ book – The Career Novelist – REALLY opened my eyes to what an agent goes through in this business. And what seems to separate the good from the bad, is the ones that remain human!

    Enjoy your downtime!

  4. Avatar Anonymous says:

    It would be easier to have down time if I wasn’t worrying about the perfect query letter, synopsis, and the two books swimming in my head, and the other book I haven’t edited yet because of the one I need to try to sell. All I want to do is continue writing and not jump through the agents hoops. It would be a lot easier if they would just read the query letter and one chapter if they were interested. Do you realize how much time perfect queries and synopsis take?

  5. The “double standard” doesn’t just apply to gender issues. As an author, I expect my agent to respond to my emails as though they were instant messages and online chats. I’m frustrated when she doesn’t answer her phone. But I think nothing of being away from phone and computer for my own personal life. Thanks for reminding us that…(gasp!)…agents are people, too.

  6. Avatar jbstanley says:

    This reminds me of the comment folks will often make to their favorite writers: “Write faster!”

    While, in theory, having a writer or editor or agent changed to his or her desk seven days a week might produce results, they won’t be the results everyone is looking for.

    Without a break, no one is free to regain our perspectives, which can get lost or blurred by too much routine.

    Agents are businesspeople, but are also in a business partially focusing on creativity (assuming they represent fiction and nonfiction). Like writers, they time to close their eyes and open them again without having a computer screen in front of them.

    All three groups (editors, agents, writers) need a change of pace, envrionment, and tasks to replace the energy we all pour into our work. For me, gardening, baking, hiking, and traveling refill the well.

    So let the piles sit there. We are all better at our jobs when we leave the office behind. I’m off to Disneyworld Monday. Truthfully, I’d rather be writing! 🙂

  7. Avatar anita says:

    Yet even when you’re packed to the hilt with all of these “to-do’s”, you still manage to blog for those of us who substitute this URL for our cup of joe in the a.m.

    Thanks for always taking the time to shoot a few words of encouragement or wisdom our way!

    And hear-hear on taking time off to do recreational things (although I happen to find writing very recreational–grin).

    I’m going to have lots of downtime this weekend, what with my son’s baseball playoffs and “The Secret Life of Bees” movie coming out. And I plan on getting a few chapters under my belt with my pleasure read, THE OUTLANDER.

    Thanks to this post, I can lay off the writing for a day or so and not feel guilty in the least.

    Oh, and it’s nice to hear that agents are only human. Although, I kind of suspected it all along. 🙂

    Have a relaxing weekend!

  8. Avatar NerdSnark says:

    This post is nothing but a reminder to live our lives guilt-free. As a writer you are better when you have time to enjoy the life you are writing about.

    Like Linda Hall said, “Amen!!”

    I’ve been feeling guilty these past three weeks. I haven’t been writing. Then I realized it’s another part of my writing process. I’m spending large amounts of time on the phone talking, laughing, with my friends. I’ve even taking up flirting with a cute a guy. I’ve never felt so alive.

    But this year I learned a very hard lesson–if you don’t refill your well then your words will disappear. When times got hard I had nothing to fall back on, because I had tapped all my resources. It didn’t just cripple my writing life, but my personal one.

    So I made myself a promise not only to keep my writing time sacred, but my personal time.

  9. Avatar beckylevine says:

    Here, here! Plenty of time to stress when a deadline looms–and it’ll be tight no matter what you do ahead of time. 🙂

    SO…have a great weekend!

  10. Avatar Keri Ford says:

    I’m coming off of my down time. Weekends and evenings are when it’s best for me to buckle down and get some work done! While I’m plowing between the margins, I’ll think of you relaxing down with a book 😉

  11. Avatar Raelene says:

    Right on! I could not have explained it better myself. This applies to editors and publishers as much as to agents. I find so little time to read for pleasure, but it actually is a vital part of keeping up with the industry and trends, and improving my job performance.

    And let me join in the thanks to you for doing this blog. It’s one of the very few I read religiously, and is always helpful and insightful.

    Raelene Gorlinsky

  12. Avatar Amanda says:

    When I was working as an accountant, I had to realize at some point that the work would be there tomorrow. And when I went home, I was home. I think it’s a little harder as a writer. I work at home and even just surfing the internet, tends to be “work.” But I agree there has to be some separation, especially when it comes to personal time.

  13. 130 query letter is a lot. And to think…you may only select one or two of them.

  14. Avatar Anonymous says:

    Good post. I’ve been working non-stop since July, with a four book deal, and a deadline of February. I’ve had to learn how to take a break. I’m not complaining at all, it’s a great thing, but you have to make yourself aware about too much work. Otherwise quality suffers.

  15. You know, you agents are soooo lazy. My agent has the nerve to be out of the office this week–apparently he’s jetting around Frankfurt, or something, no doubt sleeping all day and partying all night. 🙂

    (Yes, I’m totally joking; Frankfurt is a huge book festival where international rights are sold, and agents work their bottoms off every day. Just clarifying in case someone thinks I’m serious.)

  16. Oh, and personally? I’d much rather an agent be rested and relaxed and in a good mood when my sub crossed their desk, as opposed to run ragged and grumpy. But maybe that’s just me. 🙂

  17. Good for you. It’s important to balance work and play. And, remember this when you are tempted to give up your personal life to slog through your email bin: No one wants an overworked, cranky agent to read her query.

  18. jesus?!?! almost 200 query letters to read?!?!?! I knew being an agent is hard work, but 200 in a week?!?!

    Good luck, man.

  19. Avatar Edie says:

    I watched Project Runway too, and was so glad Leeann won. She was obviously the best.

    I combined a road trip with research yesterday, which was the best sort of downtime.

    Glad you had a good weekend!

  20. Avatar Anonymous says:

    I Tivoed Project Runway. I was going to watch it tonight with my hubby. Now I know who won. I’ll still watch it, but I’ll have to wire my jaw shut to keep from spilling the beans.

    Thanks a ton, Edie.

  21. Avatar superwench83 says:

    What a great post. Thanks so much. I tell myself this same thing from time to time, but there are other times when I need a reminder, when I need someone to point out that I shouldn’t feel guilty for taking time off.

  22. Well said Jessica! Hope it is a good weekend.

  23. Avatar Bella Andre says:

    What a FANTASTIC blog, Jessica! And a great reminder that all of us definitely need. And thanks again for all of the time you spent with me this week. 😉

  24. “Downtime is important for our mental health and for our personal lives, but it’s equally important to our careers, so if you were planning on working all weekend, don’t. Let’s all promise ourselves to take a little time off and simply enjoy the day.”t

    I leave for the Surrey International Writer’s Conference Wednesday. I doubt I will even get any sleep before I leave, let alone relax.

    Query and synopsis I stab at thee. Sample chapters, revise thyself. (I wish.)

    Clothes I had planned on taking but are now too small because I’ve been sick all week and binging, yeah, I’m not even talking to you.

  25. Avatar Karen Duvall says:

    I love Project Runway! It was one of my guilty pleasures. Now I’m gearing up for my other favorite, Top Chef!

  26. Avatar Gina Black says:

    (((Jessica))) you are so right!! I just made the biggest move I’ve made in my adult life (geographically) and I’m going to take some time to enjoy myself here before I bury myself in my manuscript (and before I finish unpacking which will take for-e-v-e-r anyway).

  27. Avatar Cindy Procter-King says:

    Great post, Jessica. I really needed reminding of that. I went away for 8 days in September, and, as much as I enjoyed myself, returning home reminded me of all the work I could’ve gotten done if I hadn’t gone away. That’s warped.

  28. Avatar AstonWest says:

    I don’t know…I figured the lack of sufficient mental health was how I ended up with some of my best writing ideas…


  29. Avatar spyscribbler says:

    YES, yes, yes!!! Ohmigosh, yes! I’ve been so busy writing, ending with three weeks of only sleeping a couple hours at night in September, that I hadn’t had a new story idea in MONTHS. Maybe six or seven months?

    I decided to take October off to read and live, LOL, and the ideas are waking me up at night. Phew. I was afraid that part of me had died.

  30. Avatar jnantz says:

    As a High School English teacher, I can understand what you mean about the never-ending stack of papers. Difference is I get about 1.5-2 months during the summer without any (guess when my most productive writing time is?). I think I’d have shot myself long ago if I didn’t get that break.

    God bless you, take what time you need. ‘Cause believe me, those of us who are unpublished and hoping to change that will DEFINITELY still be here when you get back (wink)

  31. A very wise eprson told me the journey is not just about getting there, it’s about enjoying the trip. Otherwise you will not truly enjoy the rewards. Brnoujt in this business is so easy to come by, and I promise you every one of your client and hopefulw ould-be clients want you to have time to yourself. As a writer the ehours I steal reading for pleasure (too few) and watching football (my passion) are what keepme sane. Great, great blog, Jessica.

  32. Avatar jo says:

    I agree! I am definitely in need of down time. However, my “down time” actually means me writing, because my “up time” is taken up by homework and work. Trying to finish a novel while still in school (and trying to graduate magna cum laude) is one of the hardest and most stressful things I’ve ever had to deal with.

  33. As you have “about 180 to 200 equeries” – I imagine somewhat precariously perched – on your intray, perhaps your problems are rather more urgent than most…

    I promise not to submit my MS to you. (I already have a publisher – but no agent. Some of us don’t need to bother you! Do I hear you sigh with relief?)

  34. Thanks, Jessica. That’s a great reminder. Enjoy your weekend!

  35. Avatar Anonymous says:

    From what I’ve seen reading 200 query letters and sending out a form rejection can’t take long. My first reject was out in less than a minute.