I’ve had two health-care professionals now tell me that I need to be more careful when researching for my childhood memoir. I see their point – I am visibly stressed, as it has been very difficult to be reminded of uncomfortable things that had faded from memory (I suppose for good reason).

But it is anathema to me to do anything halfway. I have a hard time doing bits of a project here and there. I like to dive in, stay up late nights, devote whole weekends to searching its depths. I have been diving into my memoir research since early August — for two months now. I am nowhere near finished, but I do agree it’s time to stop, and so I’m putting it away. What I did accomplish in that time was to pull out a number of letters and note a number of diary entries relevant to my project. Now they’re residing in clearly-labeled boxes that I will tackle in January, when National Novel Writing Month is over, and when I’ve had a month to recover (which I will surely need).

I’m left with the question of how to take care of one’s emotional self while writing or researching difficult topics – not only in memoir, but in any genre about a topic that hits too close to home. How do you balance emotional health and productivity? How do you recognize when you’re over-saturated and need to take a break? How long a break do you take? And how do you resist the impulse to dive in and do as much as you can as quickly as you can, and instead do things in small, drawn-out chunks? Does anyone else find this as difficult  as I do?


Originally published on WordPress on Oct. 5, 2009