I know, I know. It’s been a while since I’ve written anything here. The very busy summer continued straight through the month of August into my vacation time. I spent time at the beach (or as we Jersey people say, “the shore,” even though I was in South Carolina), did some shopping, had a mini spa day, did a day trip to Charleston, and did some knitting as well. While I brought my iPad and keyboard with me, the only writing I did during that time was to send some proposals for the 2014 STC Summit. Otherwise, I barely used social media, and I definitely didn’t do any writing. I thought it might be a good time to write, but I just didn’t do it.
It occurred to me that this was a good thing, in the end. At least, it was good for me. I’ve been pushing non-stop with my writing and involvement on social media in the tech comm world for about two years with few breaks, and it was time to take a true breather. This year hasn’t been too bad. I have a good job for now–at least until the contract ends in December. I haven’t felt as much stress with that job as I have with other jobs in the past. The summer was a little stressful because of my son having time off from school and summer camp, but he got a chance to play, and he was happy. I think the vacation was really, in many respects, a true license to completely relax for the first time in several years. I didn’t think of technical communications in any shape or form–with the exception of the Summit proposals–for almost two weeks. Okay, that’s not totally true. I found a grammar mistake on a restaurant sign and some other little editing things that I saw on various brochures and menus, but that’s beside the point. The point is that in my mind, being a good technical communicator is immersing oneself into the subject completely. To keep up with technical communication, you have to keep up with it all the time. For me, for the past four years since diving into the field first through graduate school, and then my big push in the last two years to look for and find a job, I’ve been totally engulfed in it. I had to come up for air, and float on the top for a while, much like relaxing on a floating lounge chair in a pool.
Even as a writer, I’ve felt like I’ve had writer’s block for a while, and that’s part of the reason that you haven’t seen much. I still read what other people post, share when I can, and write when I can, but between writer’s block and being busy, it’s hard to get the writing in. Much of my writing would end up being work related, and I’d feel tapped out. So, what’s a technical communicator to do?
This is what to do–which is what I did: go on vacation. Change your environment, your scenery, and clear your mind of the clutter that has built up as best as you can. For me, I would listen to the ocean and deeply inhale the salt-water air as I’d take nighttime walks along the beach. I’d sweat it out walking from shop to shop in the late summer heat of the Carolinas. I went somewhere new, and infused my mind with new thoughts, new perspectives, and new memories.
Technical communication isn’t necessarily an easy thing to do. I think most of us who do this for a living make it look easy to the rest of the world. I remember talking to the esthetician who did my manicure and pedicure during my spa day about what I did for a living, and while she was well-travelled and seemed bright, I think it blew her mind to know that people like us existed. We all live and breathe technical communication as our vocation, and it can take a lot of brain energy over time to stay on top of our game. But every once in a while, it’s good to take a REAL break and clear one’s mind completely. No emails, no phone calls, no coding, no writing–no connection to the professional world that depends on us. This mental breather needs to be done for a few reasons. First, it’s just good for one’s mental health in general. Being a workaholic is not good for anyone’s health or well-being. Secondly, and more importantly, clearing one’s mind so completely allows creative energy to be renewed again. The clutter can be cleared out, and that creative edge that has always helped you can be sharper and more acute than it’s been in a while. Maybe you were already at the top of your game before your vacation, but imagine if the clutter is cleared out for about a week–imagine how refreshed on many levels you could be!
This week may be the week I’ve returned, and life is just as crazy as ever with trying to catch up with the backload of work, handling things while my manager is on vacation, and dealing with the stress that goes with my son going back to school for the first week, but I feel like I’m much more open to possibility and can contribute more (once I can get back into my routine again) now that I’ve let that salt air cleanse my brain for a bit.
For me, the beach life was a break. You can do it in a big city, the mountains, or anywhere. Just be sure to give yourself a lot of quiet time that is not work related at all, time that’s as stress-free and responsibility-free as possible for as long as possible, and find something new to stimulate your senses again. You need to do more than “stop and smell the roses” or “stop and smell the coffee.” Breathe them in, over and over again, for a longer time, and don’t answer that email or phone call. In most cases, the world will not end if you don’t respond. It can wait. Be sure to take care of yourself, so you can take care of others, as technical communicators are born to do.