The Writing/Life Balance

If you’re a dedicated writer, then you must… no, let’s start like this.

All impassioned authors resemble each other, and there are… that’s not working either.

Look, when you want to write, you’re dividing your energy between three pools of resources: your talent, your time, and your motivation. Let’s just go ahead and assume you’re talented, and let’s put aside the motivation/writer’s block question for a moment. Yes: what if you’re talented and rarin’ to go, but there just aren’t enough hours in the day?

You’re about to sit down to write after eight hours of corporate whoring and three hours of commuting, lots of ideas spinning in your mind, but first you really should do a load of dishes because your s.o. did the last two; that’s done, but the trash and recycling are full and smell like they should be taken out; there, done, but then your family calls and someone’s dog or kid needs babysat, or an older member is having a medical emergency, or they figure you’re a writer with tons of time on your hands so could you please come over and do something they just don’t feel like doing, thanks. Or your s.o. is just feeling neglected because you’ve spent the last two weeks on your writing, and that meant them missing out on a movie they wanted to see or just dressing up nice for you and making out before you go to bed.

(*ahem* Asking for a friend.)

But if you don’t get your writing time in… you can feel yourself starting to vibrate and rattle. You can hear your replies getting sharper and less patient. It’s increasingly harder to listen to and comprehend anything anyone has to say, because all you can think about are the sands dropping through the hourglass and your story not being written. And then you’re no good to anyone, they send you home because no one wants you around, but now you can’t write because you’re explicitly aware of how many people you’ve pissed off and let down.

(Again, totally hypothetical situation I’m proposing.)

There are all too many self-help and motivation blogs, websites, and podcasts out there, all willing to give you a few crumbs of advice if you’ll buy their book, or you can get a cheap little pamphlet free—two pages of useful advice, eight pages of repetitive filler—if you’ll sign up for their mailing list. Who needs that? And aren’t they all repeating each other, after a certain point? That’s why I looked up the advice from several websites and will now summarize some of their best ideas for how to maximize your writing time, or to examine your life and scrape together some not insignificant chunks of time.

Writer’s Digest: 4 Tips on Balancing Your Writing Life vs. Your Personal Life

This article suggests making a “time map” of all your requirements each day, the things you absolutely must get done (cleaning, exercising the pets, time with your partner, etc.). Prioritize these responsibilities and schedule the rest of your time around them.

It underscores getting enough sleep and exercise and eating the right food, which is good advice in general, for everyone. But you’ve got to take care of your body: what’s good for the heart is good for the brain. It also suggests cutting down on the time you spend on social media. Of course you’ll need to promote your work on Twitter, Facebook, Tumblr, etc., but that’s work, unlike gawking at hours of GIFs of people injuring themselves.

Lastly, own your decisions. Don’t get mad at other people if you make a crappy schedule or prioritized one thing over another and you missed out on something cool. Take responsibility for the choices you make and learn from that.

LitReactor: Storyville: 10 Ways to Balance Life and Writing

This is a great article with a logical, methodical approach to brainstorming how to fix your jumbled-up life into something sleeker and more productive. One idea is just pouncing on every available moment: keep a notebook on hand for handwritten stories, or crib your notes and ideas on scraps of paper to be assembled later when you’ve the luxury of time. Outline your stories, think about your characters, just use your downtime to cogitate and ruminate over the novel you’re writing.

This article also turns the lens on your social network of friends and family. Announce to everyone what you’re working on, so they can help hold you accountable. Related: submit your work for publication so they can see you’re honoring their generosity, as they give you your space and tolerate your requirements. And maybe you need to look at your relationships, giving less energy to people who distract you or don’t take you seriously, and sharing that attention with people who support you, either through encouragement or reading your work. It’s still important to step away from your work and clear your head with going out to see friends.

Diana Urban: How to Have a Good Work/Life (or Work/Write) Balance

A lot of what takes up our time is all our distractions. Of course we have things demanded of us, of course we have responsibilities to live up to. But everything has its place, and this article stresses drawing a clear and inviolate line between the compartments of your life.

Employers and corporations go on and on about loyalty and dedication and crap, but when the excrement hits the air conditioning, all those extra hours you put in and the extra work you took on outside of your job description mean nothing as the ax begins its swing. The advice in this article for putting the parts of your life in their places are useful to writers: remove the work email app from your phone. You don’t need to tend to work when you’re not at work: work hard at the office, leave on time, and don’t bring your work home with you.

This article also suggests cutting down on ambient distractions, from avoiding office drama to stifling chit-chat and even ditching unnecessary meetings. If you can, invest in a pair of over-ear noise-canceling headphones and wash the world away with instrumental music or ambient noise. 14 Steps to Achieving Work-Life Balance

This is the most annoying article of the bunch, because it presents each tip on a separate page and you have to click through the whole tedious procedure to learn anything. This is blatant and shameless click-harvesting, but despite, there was some useful advice here.

Like the above articles, this mentions establishing your priorities and tracking what you actually do with your time on a daily basis. It also urges you to watch your health, exercise, take vacations, and establish boundaries between work and your personal life. What’s new is that it recommends directly, explicitly asking the people in your life for support and considering the hire of a personal coach. That might be beyond your budget, but you could still seek out a mentor in any area you’re trying to develop.

So there you go.

Chart your day, and schedule around your priorities. Eat right, sleep well, and get 20 minutes of moderate exercise every day (these also helps with writer’s block and creativity). Be good to the people who are helping you along, and block out the useless noise that ruins your focus and productivity.

4 thoughts on “The Writing/Life Balance

  1. The notebook is a must. One thing I mentioned to you that’s crucial for me is learning to type faster.

    Also, sometimes nothing will go right. You couldn’t sleep, your offspring needs you, your cats are cussing you out, your mother is calling… sometimes I sit down and type something anyway.

    Liked by 1 person

    1. A lot of the writer’s life has to do with forgiveness of the self. Not letting oneself off the hook or abnegating all responsibility, but giving yourself permission for the “shitty first draft,” not expecting perfection immediately, allowing for a day when the Universe conspires against you. Many good writerly practices are good for mental and physical health: going out for a walk to let ideas settle and organize, going out people-watching or socializing with friends, reading more, or just learning how to sit still and be quiet and letting yourself do that.

      Liked by 1 person

      1. I replied here over a year ago, and my answer still stands. I write when I can. As you know, because of how my life is, scheduling writing time is difficult. That has to be the propellant and not the excuse. I have difficulty making a schedule, so when a window opens up, I better use it. I’m better at that than I used to be, thank goodness.

        Liked by 1 person

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