How writing a book taught Katrina Onstad how to relax –

Katrina Onstad’s new book, The Weekend Effect, uses a mix of history, interviews and personal anecdotes to explain why weekends are essential to our health and happiness. Onstad’s fiction has been longlisted for the Scotiabank Giller Prize, shortlisted for the Toronto Book Award and she has won the National Magazine Award multiple times for her journalism.

In her own words, Onstad (who used to work as a television producer at CBC) talks about how she wrote The Weekend Effect, a book about valuing time away from work.

(Photo courtesy of the author)

Learning to write long

In some ways, this book felt like the longest magazine article I had ever written. The hardest thing with feature writing, for me, is that I always go over in length. I always want to go down a million different paths and there’s never the space to do it. With this, it was actually incredible to have the space to play and to follow those tangents because it is this quirky, meandering journey.

But it did call on kind of a different skill set. I was definitely out of my comfort zone, not just because of the depth of the research but because it is a different kind of storytelling. Trying to create a consistent page-turning tone when you have the interviews, the historical research, the contemporary research and my story was a lot to synthesize. It was rewarding when it worked, but it took a long time.

A week to write

A year ago, I went to Prince Edward County for a week. I rented a place, like a corner of a house, and I just had to really write. It was so productive. I knew that I had this June deadline so I had to do it. There wasn’t any choice – it was coming. I was really glad for that deadline because I think if I didn’t have it, I would still be [researching] in the library. I’ve never had the luxury of that, ever. I have always had a day job. It has always been hours here and hours there, in and around the margins of everything else. I highly recommend it. There is a reason why people do it. I’m definitely going to try to make it happen again.

Finding time for leisure, not labour

What I was hoping for, and what all the research was setting me up for, was this idea that if you made some of these changes, became really attentive to time and really clear about what was work and what was leisure, you would feel better. You would feel like you had more time. I was researching it for years, but I actually didn’t know what having a better weekend was like.

Last night I clocked off at 5:30. My husband was going to come and cook dinner, my daughter was somewhere else and my son was doing homework. I had this weird hour. I didn’t actually have to do anything. In the past I would have retreated to my computer and thought, «Well, I’ll get some work done, then.» Now, I’m carving out those spaces. I sat on the couch and read The New Yorker and put music on. It was such a small thing.

I had really become disconnected from daily pleasure. I was turning all of my leisure into labour, which I think so many of us do. I actually think that, until I started writing a book, I didn’t realize what a big problem it was.

Katrina Onstad’s comments have been edited and condensed.

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