As a journalistic spectator of three game jams, I’ve seen many well-intending attendees burn themselves out 48 hours to produce playable games; even with lectures by organizers. I’ve seen others manage their time well, eat decently and sleep well, all without any health risks. The more you practice a creative avocation, working toward turning it into a vocation, the more you have to be your own boss at some gig that won’t let you work overtime.
You might think “oh, just five more minutes.”
In spite of the best efforts from everyone around you, you have to be the moderator of your own success, which includes not burning yourself out. If you’re not at the point where you can be self-aware enough to know when you’re tired versus being lazy, then you can’t whip yourself into shape to push through another five minutes of work. You’ll look back over the hour you accidentally spent staring at the screen and wondering why you even bothered at all.
You can’t sacrifice yourself for your art.
You only have so much energy to expel. There are only so many hours you can spend grinding away at something before the return on investment for that time you spent just goes to waste. Even with an occasional nap, it will still take hours to get back into working mode if you push yourself too far without knowing your limits. The teams I saw that went the furthest with their hackithon projects were the ones that budgeted their time throughout the weekend to factor in breaks, sleep, walks, and food. As tempting as it can be to plug away at a project from a different perspective – focusing on writing here: if the words aren’t flowing, then how about doing research on settings? – there’s only so much of that one can do before it’s just time to scrap it for a few hours.
How about for a month’s long marathon of fiction writing?
Block off time on your calendar. I’m a compulsive writer, which does lead to a “quantity over quality” approach that might be divisive for most, but I’ll block off the times I can and cannot write. That same method could be useful for you as well, depending on how many hours you can dedicate to writing each day. I estimate that I can safely block out about three hours per day to dedicate to concentrated writing, which factors getting in a healthy amount of sleep and taking care of all of my biological needs, so the only thing that remains to be seen is testing those waters over the next week.
I was most burned-out after a hackithon where I slept the least.
I still borrow time from sleep, by either going to sleep late or waking up early, and I can notice the subtle changes in my patience or appetite over the next few days when that borrowing wasn’t equal. If I have to wake up early to take care of an errand and don’t get to sleep earlier to account for that, sure, it might not exactly show in the short-term, however, in the long-term, my writing quality degrades just slightly. Words might not flow as naturally, thoughts might take more time to realize, or in the case of writing fiction, thinking through a scenario might take more time to realize with more self-doubt creeping in.
You have to be a little egotistical to chase after your dreams.
The problem is when you chase faster than you can go for too long, you will burn out. I’ve done so repeatedly over the past 3+ years. “On the one hand, you know I have no trouble putting down a lot of words, in fact the opposite, so that number sounds pretty doable. On the other hand, I’ve never really tried my hand at fiction, so that could instead be overwhelmingly difficult. I wish you good luck in this.” That thought from Collector reminded me of all the jammers I saw and left on the second day, after they burned out, like I had during my second reporting event. The writing turned into the deranged observations of someone well past their senses, it took me months to finally edit the beast into something halfway comprehensible, and when I did, it was to next to no fanfare.
I don’t want to repeat that again.
That’s why I split up the novel idea into 30 short stories. I’m going for more than the suggested average because – and there are the physical pangs of eye strain affecting my body, interrupting this essay, so don’t mind this thought disruption, as I continue to type with eyes closed, trying to retrace my thoughts back to where I should be at in terms of where I left off before this headache started to encroach… – and there the thought has returned. The short stories allow me some mental breaks in terms of continuity and consistency. I imagine that all of these stories will take place in the same month, but in terms of chronology or time pacing, I don’t think they’ll all be the same.
Let’s return back to that aforementioned aside.
I’ll push through mild inconveniences like that, much like pressing the backspace a few times to clear out a typo or rewording a poorly-written sentence. Something like that fatigue was more of a sign that I shouldn’t try to work too much more. I’m nearly out of time, I’m nearly out of words, and writing something like this might be vastly easier than writing fiction because I can just write from my own opinion, and when you’re writing casually, you can write as much as you want. Should I be worried? My laptop’s been on for over 8 hours now. My mind’s been active through most of that. I’ve distracted myself with some things irrelevant to my goals, so I’ve kept my pacing fair enough to write without too much strain.
I should avoid becoming too much of a hypocrite and stop now.
|Quotes:  Collector, a good friend of mine for many years, takes great photography.|
|Sources: My personal experiences, primarily, and the three game jams I went to, I suppose.|
|Inspirations: I’m writing these essays in order, where first I felt great about the idea, then the concern over health and ego started to creep in. I’m sure soon I’ll be back to thinking about the fictional world rather than the logistics of it all, but I wanted to capture these thoughts since it’s relevant for others that might be trying the same experiment… now or in years to come.|
|Related: Other 2019 Novel writings.|
|Picture: It’s OK to use pre-existing art assets if you own the rights to them and you don’t rely too heavily on them. I guess the quote above would actually kinda break that rule slightly since I didn’t write it or say it myself, but hey, we’re showing how complicated this whole self-care thing actually is, I suppose, as hypocritical me, writing more even after saying I shouldn’t!|
|Written On: October 24th, 2019 [46 minutes, from 6:53am to 7:39am, WordPress]|
|Last Edited: October 24th, 2019 [First draft; final draft for the Internet]|