Em's place

Writing, anxiety-wrangling, tea.

The refractory period

By Emma on February 13, 2014

I’ve been quiet of late. Usually I’m merrily chatting away on Twitter and sharing and liking all manner of silliness on Facebook but not over the past few weeks. There have been occasional flurries of activity (I mean, come on, how could I not share the apologetic cat?), but nothing consistent.

As an author, there are many voices in my head vying for attention. Being an author with an anxiety disorder it can get pretty crowded. There are not only ideas for stories and books, characters, potential lines of dialogue or descriptions, there are all the endless doubts and insecurities and just plain fictional bullshit my brain spews out every day to keep me terrified.

Thanks brain.

One of those voices has been mithering about me not being around. It’s convinced that if I’m not there, titting about, people will forget I exist and not buy my books and I’ll never get another book deal again. It also draws that conclusion from me not blogging as much as I used to and blah, blah, blah. It’s too boring to describe. It’s not like I even talk about my books that much anyway, but there you go, anxiety starts at point A and leaps to point X before you can say “now just wait a moment”. It’s from the lizard part of my brain and not very bright.

So I’m here, blogging about it. Partly to poke it in the eye, partly to explain something that helps me when I feel this way.

Oh. Yeah, I forgot to mention why I haven’t been around as much. Let’s get that out of the way first. (Feel free to skip this part, it isn’t very interesting).

We moved house in November after several weeks of extreme stress (which seems to be an obligatory part of the house selling and buying process in the UK). The house we bought and love needs a lot of TLC. We have spent weeks since we moved in getting as much as our budget allows done. We hosted Christmas and some other, private stressors occurred. My son started a new school, we had builders in for a month, on and off, making the office I am now typing in (ZOMG I am so in love with this room I cannot tell you). The builders were wonderful but my temporary office was above the garage being converted and the noise, the noise! Hammering and drilling and 80s power ballards… not great for working. I recorded an audio book in the studio, finished the book I was writing and started (not very successfully) on the next projects. We recently had our first house guests, which involved painting and all many of house tessellations to get it all ready before they arrived.*

The tl;dr? A metric fucktonne of stuff has been going on in the last three months and almost all of it involved other people, whether it was being with them or having to deal with them, and lots of real world domestic and DIY stuff. In short: not at my computer, alone, for several hours a day.

Okay, back to the important stuff.

If you are a fellow introvert, you know how it feels when you just haven’t got anything left in the social tank. And if you’re a writer too, you know how it feels when you can’t write as much as you need to.

I got rather frayed around the edges. This week was the first since we moved in which I was in my own space (not temporary and slightly chaotic) with no other demands on my time, no crazy decorating or building stuff going on and nothing looming on the horizon.

I have written about 10,000 words and my God, I needed to.

But the return to social media is slow. And the thing I wanted to talk about (bloody hell I ramble) is something I learned about in university called the refractory period.

There was a lot of neurophysiology in the psychology course that I studied and this was in the first term. It stayed with me ever since. The horribly simplified version is that when a synapse fires in your brain to propagate an electrical impulse from one neuron to another, it has a short period afterwards when it cannot fire. It takes a little bit of time for it to get back to the correct chemical state to be able to fire again.

The thing I like about using this as a metaphor for my energy levels – particularly social energy levels – is that this period of just not being able to fire again is totally normal. It’s part of the system. It doesn’t mean that the synapse will never do its thing again.

When I get tired on deep levels, and can’t be alone and write to recharge, I think of my need to withdraw like my own refractory period. I can’t fire at full tilt indefinitely. It felt like I was firing for most of last year. Even before we moved house I had 3 books published, launched a new podcast, went to 10 (I think) conventions, edited books, wrote one and a half new ones – in short, it was… mental.

So when this stupid voice says “You’re not doing enough. You should be out there, doing stuff and being visible (holy crap, I hate that word)” I’m saying “No, I can’t right now. I’m in a refractory period.” When another demon says “Is this depression? Is this the start of breaking down again? What if you can’t handle this?” I’m saying “No, this is just a refractory period. It’s all going to be okay.” It helps combat the fear that this is something more devastating, which as anyone who has ever suffered depression or crippling anxiety knows, is never far away.

It’s all going to be okay. So, I’m sorry I’m slow to get Tea and Jeopardy out the door and I’m sorry I’m not being around as much. I just need to hunker down and write at the moment. Normal service will be resumed. In fact, this post is probably my first steps towards that.

*I apologise for sounding like a moaning git. I hasten to add that it has been glorious to move and we love the house and I am immensely grateful – every day – to have the life I do. I just got tired.

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{ 10 comments... read them below, or add one }

  1. Paul (@princejvstin) says:

    No apologies necessary, Em. I’ve wondered what you’ve been up to, but in that “are you all right and doing well” sort of fretting.

    You can only do what you can only do. Would I like to chat for you for hours on twitter, and get a T&J episode every day? Sure! But you only have “so many spoons” and have to spend them as you must.

  2. Fred Kiesche says:

    We’ll be here, keeping the tea warm.
    Fred Kiesche recently posted..A New Odyssey

  3. What Paul said. I can empathise completely with a need to recharge, and you have enough awesome to be worth waiting for.

    In your own time, m’dear. 😉
    Lisa (@EffingRainbow) recently posted..The Way Of Kings Read Along: Week 7

  4. Whirlochre says:

    Hamlet had his dilemma all wrong. At issue is whether to tit or not to tit, and occasionally the nipples of exuberant and extrovert glee crave nothing more than the inside of a bra.
    Whirlochre recently posted..Say HI To The Nearest A-hole

  5. Morgen Rich says:


    Frankly, what you’re saying about needing, acknowledging the need for a refractory period, and letting one play out makes perfect sense. In fact, it’s SENSIBLE, which is such a rare commodity these days as to be a friggin’ superpower.

    We’ve been undergoing a major home renovation for about a year. When it’s done, I now intend with not a dram of guilt to invoke the Emma Newman Refractory Period Clause in my life contract. 🙂

    Thanks for articulating this sensible need so beautifully.


  6. Caroline says:

    The other day I was tidying up my bookshelves and realised that I have five of your books.

    I remember back in 2009 posting a comment on your blog to the effect that I wanted to hold your book (singular, there was only one in gestation at that point) in my hands and see it on my bookshelves. And now I have *five* – not to mention a whole library of ‘Tea and Jeopardy’ to listen to.

    You’ve come a long way, baby …

    Sending virtual tea and lemon drizzle cake to help your writing along. 🙂

  7. Fi Phillips says:

    Happy new year! We all need a break now and then and I know, myself, that if I don’t have time on my own and in some level of silence, I start to go a bit (!) loopy. Congratulations on the house move and all the exciting developments. Good to see you back.

  8. You know I get the anxiety and introvert thing and I’m so going to nick the idea of the refrectory period from you. It’s such an accurate description of how I feel after I’ve had too many people/socializing and not enough down-time it’s rather scary.

    And as long as the occasional Hiddles post gets a reaction, I know you’re still alive 😉

    As Lisa and Paul said above, we’ll be here when you’ve reloaded!

    Mieneke van der Salm recently posted..P.B. Kane – The Rainbow Man

  9. Icy Sedgwick says:

    Thought you’d gone quiet but glad everything’s going well! Don’t worry, no one would forget about your books 🙂
    Icy Sedgwick recently posted..Liebster Award

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