Ten years ago, my writing WAS my life.
Fresh out of graduate school, I was used to being immersed in books, magazines, literary websites and blogs, and my own editorial work with the online journal I edited, the university where I worked, and the small press I co-founded. When I wasn’t actually writing, I was reading poetry submissions and assembling chapbooks in my living room. I was submitting my writing to publications, giving readings, traveling to conferences, and communing regularly with other writers.
At the time, I rented an apartment and did not have children. My income was modest, but I could save up to travel and pay the occasional writing contest submission fee. The real privilege, though, was that I didn’t have to prioritize writing in my life because it was already front and center. There was nothing else competing for my time and energy.
Enter children, a mortgage, a second job, several new and important relationships, a trauma healing journey, volunteering for a good cause, and recommitment to a spiritual path. Suddenly, there were not enough hours in the day or days in the week for the writing life I had built. I had to make space for it again, in what felt like a new existence.
A vibrant writing life is a balancing act. It’s actually several balancing acts, because almost everyone who writes also has the aforementioned family, day job, and other commitments and hobbies.
As with all people and practices that matter to us, we have to devote time and energy to maintaining their presence in our lives. It helps to be aware of the challenges and have a plan for balancing them:
To me, the most obvious balancing act is between what we have to do vs. what we want to do to earn an income. If you are making a living doing what you love, good for you! In a perfect world, we could all say the same. But for many of us, especially writers, earning a living usually happens by other means. Translation: you are spending a third of your day sleeping and a third of your day working, so you have to cram writing (not to mention, everything else in your life) into the remaining third of your day.
How to balance: Begin to think of writing as another form of important work that you do. Writing is communication and connection. Center Founder Elizabeth Ayres said, “I am putting something good, beautiful, and true into the world every time I sit down to write.” Begin to center writing in your life by mentally elevating its status and purpose. Then identify a time of the day or week in your existing schedule to do this important work.
So yes, writing is work. The authors of the books on our bedside tables worked hard to create what lies perfect-bound and expertly packaged before you. But writing, as with any art you practice, should also bring you joy. If it feels like all work, all the time, you risk burning out and giving up. And the goal is to keep writing, right?
How to balance: Meet your word count goals, sure, but pepper in a fun experiment once in a while. Keep plugging away at your novel, but co-write a story with your child. Complete your freelance projects on time, but cultivate a journaling practice on the side. Take a class or attend a retreat to build your writing community.
You got to your writing desk and you have some time. Now, where to start? Some pieces need a lot of work; others, you could finish in an afternoon if you could just focus on them and not the drafts upon drafts, or that one stubborn story you can’t seem to finish, or this new idea that’s tingling at the base of your neck… Do you generate new content, or revise existing content? What is the best use of your precious writing time?
How to balance: Simply put, you follow your gut. There comes a time in every writing practice where we have to remember that we are practicing an art. We need to nourish our creativity, not structure it out of existence. If you have an hour to spend writing on a beautiful, sunny afternoon, and the thought of hunching over that troublesome story on your computer screen fills you with dread, grab your journal and head to the back porch already! Like laundry and dirty dishes, the mess will keep. Save revision work for a day the muse doesn’t visit.
For writers with an eye on publication, self-promotion can overshadow the creative process. We want to get ourselves out there, but we want to have something to show for it once we’re there, right? Otherwise, we might find ourselves writing nothing but social media posts or emails that begin, “Thank you for considering my submission…”
How to balance: When you publish (good for you!), share widely; but also start something new. Make a spreadsheet of your dream publications, the ones you most want to see your name and writing in, and track their submission deadlines. If you keep deadlines in mind, those submissions will wait while you chase the latest idea that has you buzzing with inspiration. Always follow the idea. Get it down on the page or screen. Promotion is about your future as a writer. Writing itself is about being present in your practice.
How do you balance writing in your life? Which of the four balance challenges above sounds most like you? Share with us in the comments!
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