6 Lessons From My Writing Sabbatical

Ten months ago, my boss asked what I saw myself doing in 10 years’ time. When I pictured my corporate career stretching out interminably into the desolate distance, I all of a sudden remembered that this was never my plan.

Somewhere in the back of my mind, I’d always imagined that one day I’d be a full-time author. His question made me realise that this dream wouldn’t come true by itself.

So from April 1st until Sunday, I took a sabbatical to write a novel and test whether the reality of writing full-time would live up to my expectations. Here are my top learnings from the last three months.

1. Make time for yourself

It’s so easy to forget what matter most, to get caught up in the daily rat race to the next “milestone” (whether that’s the next degree/job/promotion/marriage/baby). If you never stop to take stock, you might end up chasing the wrong things.

2. Actively seek opportunities

My sabbatical forced me out of my comfort zone. I went to an Arvon writing retreat, attended Stoke Newington Literary Festival, spoke to strangers about my novel. Things I never would have done otherwise, that have led to contacts in the industry and a renewed confidence in myself.

3. Give yourself permission to write

My sabbatical made me feel like a “real” writer. Writing had always been on the side, squeezed into spare moments, the first thing to drop when life gets hectic. It’s what I want to do, but can’t prioritise. Yet for the last three months, writing was no longer a hobby but a profession. And it made me realise: “It’s okay to want this.” I gave myself permission to take it seriously, and need to sustain that now that I’m back at work.

4. The self-doubt never goes away…

I’ve written about the expectation barrier before: how your own fears of not being good enough can crush you from succeeding. Well, the anxiety of being a writer was all the more apparent in the last 3 months. I’ve begun to wonder when, if ever, I’ll feel validated. Will it be when I finish editing the first draft and get beta reader feedback? Will it be when I get an agent? A publishing deal? Or maybe never?

5. …so cling tight to every positive thought.

Before the Arvon retreat, I never had formal feedback on my writing. I went into my tutorials fighting back a wave of nerves… and came out the other side inspired and encouraged and giddy with disbelief. But the positive feedback burned bright and fierce, then all too quickly faded in the tide of self-doubt.

So I did something that still feels stupid, but is a reminder to myself: I wrote out all the feedback I got into one place, and make myself read it to remember it was real.

6. Most of all: keep on swimming

You can’t edit a blank page, and you can’t get better without practice. However much I doubted myself, the same amount of time passed whether I sat staring at a blank screen or actually writing. So I learned to push aside the misery, and put down one word after another.

As of yesterday, I am back to the daily grind of reality. But I’m also one chapter away from finishing the first draft of my new novel, and that means one step closer to sharing it with you.

Have you ever taken time for your personal projects?

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