The First Out-of-Office Message I’ve Ever Written
I haven’t stepped away from the keyboard in 13 years. That changes now.
I wrote my first article, for The Smoking Section, in early 2008. I was a senior in college. On average, I’ve written 2,000–3,000 published words a week since then. That’s 13 straight years of pitching, deadlines, late nights, and early mornings. I’ve been on the verge of burnout more times than I can count.
Maybe it’s because I’m a Recession Baby, never quite secure in the journalism industry and when the next check is coming or disappearing. Maybe it’s the imposter syndrome that made me feel like I always have to prove myself. Maybe I don’t even know. But all of those things that pushed me to never take breaks came to a head last summer.
Last summer I was writing a story about Ahmaud Arbery that ripped me apart. I had a full-time job. I was taking every story someone wanted to assign me. And I was writing a book. I was absorbing the worst America was doing to us and trying to synthesize it into something useful. I don’t know what comes after burnout, but I was there. And I kept pushing.
At one point I was in the middle of two deadlines, finishing a book chapter and getting ready for the fall semester at Morehouse and an editor reached out to me for a story. I didn’t have the time. I didn’t have anything left. But I said yes. The article paid a couple of hundred bucks.
There’s one article from last year that I have no recollection of writing. Like, I remember it being assigned. I remember it being published. I don’t remember the actual act of writing it. That doesn’t seem healthy.
But now I’m choosing restoration. I find myself unexpectedly in a space where I can take some months off to take care of myself while working on my book and teaching. So at the end of March comes a nine-week break from the grind. I may write a short article here and there—once a month, max—but I’ve enlisted accountability partners to make sure I truly take this time. If and when editors reach out, I’ll be directing them to other writers who can write these articles as well or better than I can. I know that there’s a privilege in being overworked in this industry. That’s something I don’t want to take for granted and…