Wednesday, January 7, 2015

Finding Balance

Many of you have seen these kinds of writer memes in various places on the interwebs.

They get pretty close to the heart of the assorted perceptions of what a writer's life is like.

The only thing I'd change in my own personal meme is to replace "what I think I do" with something like this:


I'm under no illusions that I'm Shakespearean in any way.

But see that last frame in both memes? The one with Johnny Depp from the movie Secret Window (good movie, btw)?  It made me snort-laugh because, seriously, that's half of a writer's life--sitting around pissing away your time because you've hit a plot problem, or your muse is on vacation, or your characters aren't speaking to you, or you've contracted a nagging case of ennui, or you're just so overwhelmed and intimidated by the enormity of Writing A Book that you can't plow through and get it done.

Which brings me around to the idea of balance. How many of you are full time writers with the luxury of waking up every day to a schedule with only one thing on it: writing?

Not many, I'd guess.

I'm not saying that if you write full time you're suddenly immune to pissing away your time. I'm sure you are. I think it's a universal symptom of authoring. But if you have a "real" job, one you have to do until you've clawed your way into a place where you make enough money as a writer to quit said real job, then you understand how important balance is.

You may or may not know that in addition to being an author, I'm also a literary agent, a college writing professor, and a wife and mother. That's a crapton of work, right there, folks. We're talking at least two full time jobs and two part time. However you add it up, my days are full.

So it was necessary a long time ago to figure out how to balance it all. When I tell people everything I do, they stare at me like this: 

Then they ask: "but how do you do all that?"

My stock answer is: "I've become a master of time management, and basically I just try not to think about it too much, because if I do, I'll probably go crazy."

Generally, though, I'm pretty adept at time management, but not because I came up with some master plan, or took a class, or read a book. I just did it. I make a lot of lists, I learned to prioritize, and I use every spare minute in the day. When most people get off work and go home to relax, I'm still working. I may move from my office at the university to my desk at home, but I work at one or another of my jobs from the time I get up to the time I go to bed, 24/7.

I also have to let a lot of things go, like housework, which doesn't really break my heart, as it turns out.

But working hard in no way sets me apart. I know dozens of authors for whom this is a normal life. We do it because we want to. Most authors--whether or not they ever get published--are driven to write, so they'll do it no matter what.

Of course, the trick is fitting it into the rest of your life until you're (hopefully) at a point where you can afford to wake up in the morning and do nothing but write all day long.

There's no magic formula to balancing writing with the rest of your life, because everyone's life is different, so you need to find your own solutions. Compartmentalize, prioritize, shift, shuffle, isolate, ignore...and just DO.

Trust me, if I can do it, anybody can. 

Now, go and: 


  1. I love this so hard!!! Because yeah, you can't learn about balance from a book. You learn it by doing it, trial and error, making a list and checking it twice.
    Oh, inappropriate holiday reference. Sorry.
    At any rate, I hope you soon get to the point where you can hang out and write all day. Or stare at Johnny Depp photos on the internet.

  2. And just when you think you have the balance, another ball is thrown into the mix... Thanks for the great post. Glad I'm not the only one feeling the juggle. :)

  3. I can identify with this. So much!! And I love your point about how writers are driven to write and will do it no matter what. I went for a period of time when I didn't write (at least, when I didn't write for myself, since I was writing for pay at the time.) My reasons were many...too busy...too focused on homemaking...etc. Worst decision ever. Now I know to prioritize time for writing, it's like my oxygen mask on an airplane. Thanks for a terrific post, Margaret!

  4. This made me laugh out loud because it's so true...

  5. "If you have any young friends who aspire to become writers, the second greatest favor you can do them is to present them with copies of The Elements of Style. The first greatest, of course, is to shoot them now, while they’re happy.” Dorothy Parker

    One of my favorite quotes. I think of it often at 4:30 in the morning when I'm writing before I go to work.