There’s a joke at every college that you can study, sleep, and have a social life, but only two out of three. And when you’re out in the real world and trying to build a career at whatever you’re doing, that may as well be two out of three of work, sleep, and a social life. And yet we writers with day jobs are trying to cram a hugely time-consuming fourth task in there: writing. There’s never enough time.
These past few years I was on a treadmill that I know many writers can relate to. If it wasn’t working, writing, blogging, or watching the occasional TV show or basketball game at the end of the night, chances are I wasn’t doing it. I lived for the vacations I took every six months or so – those were my breaks.
The time I took for doing purely fun things slipped away, and the day when I was going to slow down kept receding in the distance. It was a bit of an unsustainable course. Now, I didn’t go Britney Spears and shave my head or anything like that, but something had to give, which is partly why I craved a fresh start and a new challenge in a new career. I knew I had to find a different balance.
This all came to a head the past few months. I was starting a new job as I was trying to finish up WONDERBAR #2 (which I’m now editing), starting WONDERBAR #3, spending time with family around the holidays, dealing with a sick dog who wasn’t sleeping through the night (he’s fine now), and other assorted massively time consuming travails.
The thing about this is that I know full well these are the problems of someone who is very blessed and fortunate, and I’m not asking for, nor do I deserve, sympathy. I know I’m lucky! Oh – gee, my hobby that I love is too time-consuming. Woe is me. There are people out there who are working far harder and who are struggling and for whom the idea of finding “balance” in their life is an abstraction.
But I also know that’s the guilt of the ambitious writer talking, and it’s a great justification for running yourself into the ground. Someone out there is always working harder and more successfully and look like they have it made in the shade. I have to remind myself to ignore that. If you have the luxury of time: It really behooves you to take some of it for yourself.
So these past few months I’ve been searching for a new paradigm. No longer am I working late into the night; I’m trying to spend my weeknights hanging out with friends. No longer am I spending every single Saturday and Sunday writing; I’m trying to spend at least one of those days doing something fun. My new job is going great and I’m trying to get out of the apartment more and reengage with the world. One day I went to the Steinhart Aquarium and just stared at the fish, which made me feel slightly crazy, but hey, what can I say world, I’m back!!
Have you ever gone through a similar rebalancing of your life? How did you find the right mix, and are you happier as a result?
I love this post. And I'm so happy for you – what a great thing to reevaluate and then actually make a change. I'm completely inspired.
I lived in Italy for several years, and I have come to love the balance that the U.S. offers in terms of organizing and sculpting my life.
Many people think of Italy as a much more leisurely culture (which in some ways is true) but the fact is, I have much more leisure here in the States. In Italy everything, absolutely everything, is a major hassle. Hours at a time are routinely sucked down the toilet trying to commute on public transit systems that always strike, trying to shop for miscellaneous items that can only be obtained at random spots scattered around Rome, or making numerous trips to the grocery store because, hey, one day they were out of bananas, the next, no shampoo, etc.
There is no Walgreens, open 24 hrs., that you can dash to to grab vitamin c when a nasty cold is coming on at 9:15 pm, and you want to fight it off before you go to sleep.
In the US, everything is organized. I can pay my bills online, get all my groceries in one swoop, stock up on anything and everything (that's a no-no for medicine and vitamins in Italy, too).
The bad thing about the US is that you can work yourself into the ground. Not only will no one stop you, they will probably cheer you on and supply you with the no-doz and ginseng tea with which to do it.
It would be nearly impossible to work yourself to death in Italy!
As much as I loved my time there, I much prefer a life in which errands and life's task can be neatly accomplished, leaving the rest of my time for work and genuine, relaxing leisure.
The struggle for balance is much less difficult for me now that I've lived having to stand in line for 2.98 hrs. in the post office, in order to pay my rent via wire transfer to my landlord who lives in Naples.
I've learned the absolute, shimmering value of 2.98 hrs. and I treasure living stateside where I can spend it as I see fit.
Ok, I agree with the need for balance, but how are you managing to get your writing done? Or are you okay with less production?
What a lovely post, Nathan. Just a tad vulnerable in a beautiful way. Very personal too. Thanks for sharing this.
P.S. I don't think I've ever commented on your blog before despite reading it for some years. I only mention this so you know my sincerity regarding the above statement. All your posts are great, but there's something fresh about this one that goes a step beyond. Thanks.
I'm trying to do the same, it's so important, good for you. She says while reading this on a Friday night 🙂
Amber Slattery says
Writing is my way of finding balance. I have a demanding job. I have two brilliant children. One of those children is about to graduate high school early, and is being heavily recruited by schools offering dramatic arts programs. She is in two plays, works two jobs and is taking college courses online. My other child just asked me if I had any old CD-ROM drives because he thinks he knows how to build a laser. "I mean a laser wouldn't be too dangerous if we had all the right stuff. It would be so fun."
My best friend is getting married. 'Nuff said about that. My neighbor is running for city council, at my urging, so I am helping him with his campaign.
We just spent a week in Paris (I'm not complaining, I'm just exhausted). I spend many nights at board meetings, plays, neighborhood meetings and other school events. I feel guilty that I haven't been to my friends' children’s’ athletic events.
I need to get up, take a shower, clean my house and clean up my yard before our retired neighbors vote us off the island. (If they have so much time to worry about my yard, why don't they just pull those weeds themselves?) But here I am, pouring over blog after blog about writing, publishing, etc.. I am behind since I was out of the country. Google reader says I only have 203 to go.
And all I really want to do is write.
Nancy Kelley says
I'm catching up on the blog posts I missed while I was in England, and this one really hit home. I took two… no, more like two and a half weeks off for my vacation. It was wonderful and fantastic, but I came home and immediately felt the pressure of deadlines looming. I wrote out a time line for myself that will let me get everything done on time, but it doesn't really allow for much time off.
However, I'm pushing myself on with the promise that this is only for a few months. I'm taking two whole weeks off in June. I might work on my website and Facebook page, but I will not write or edit in that time. I just need to get things done before then, so I can enjoy the reward.
Interesting… word verification is cousnel–so close to counsel. Thanks for your wise counsel, Nathan.
Curtis Galluzzo says
I just started waking up 4 to 5 hours earlier. Turns out there's all this extra time in the day I was unaware of!
Karen Prince says
Thank you for admitting you are working extremely hard, Nathan. I just love reading your blog but I must confess, it makes me feel panicky…as if the successful are geniuses from whom eloquent words flow so naturally and easily that they can bang out blog after blog and a book on the side, whilst holding down a full time job. I feel a little more relaxed now.
To all those who commented about how difficult it is to cope at the same time as raising kids. It gets better. All that parenting comes home to roost when they become independent and start helping you.
I am writing from Africa. Anytime I feel like slacking off I take a trip to the townships to remind myself 'there is worse pain than yours'
don e. nelson says
. . . . .as that great & wise teacher once said:
"Live in the moment- you will . . and the moments you do not live in- will take care of themselves.
Yoda's Brother: Star Wars Episode VII
(Huh? You didn't know Yoda had a Brother.)
Terin Tashi Miller says
Balance is hard to come by, with so many things in the world competing for your attention and time.
I was taught long ago that when you're faced with a host of possibilities or problems, break everything down into the simplest elements possible.
Complete one thing, rather than trying to start a million at once. Then, move on to the next thing. Like having to build something. Step A. Then step B.
With writing, I can spend hours just trying to come up with "one true thing." A simple declarative sentence. But once I manage to, it's like the spark that ignites the gasoline that causes the pistons to move that starts an internal combustion engine.
A sentence is the first element of a paragraph. A paragraph is the first element of a page. And pages are the first elements of either a short story, or perhaps something bigger.
But it all starts with that first sentence.
I tend to have tons of ideas. And far too little time to implement any. So often, with whatever time I have, I'll start something that then I can pick up later with little effort and continue on.
Editing is easy in the sense what you're editing is already there, you're just trying to refine or improve or polish it.
Writing–putting an original (hopefully) idea on paper, whole and complete and expressing exactly what you want to how you want to when you want to–is to me much, much harder. Therefore, I'd rather spend "writing" time writing than anything else. Editing, I can do, either when I have a deadline to meet, or have time and little inspiration.
And like Erika, I can be so immersed in an idea, I could literally–if I didn't have other commitments or people vying for my time–spend days, even weeks, "building," putting things together, expressing my idea or ideas. But when you come up for air, if everyone's gone, it may occur to you that one day, there will be no more inspiration and then what will you do with all your time?
And in this day and age of "self-marketing," if you don't at lest occasionally acknowledge the existence of other people, there may come a time when you have completed all you wanted to–but no one else knows or cares, because they have no idea what you've been doing since the last time you were heard from.
I have to say, I really enjoyed this post, but it has absolutely no impact on me right now. Not because it isn't full of wonderful ideas, but because that whole separating yourself (on your own) can be very difficult. Yep, I'm struggling with balance. I can shut things off when I've got someone there saying, "hey, let's. . ." But if they don't, I keep going–that smelly, hermit, writer junkie 😛
So, for example, today I did work work, then I revised an article for a journal, then I started on another round of revisions on a work of fiction. Somebody pulled me out of it all for about an hour. I decided I couldn't handle more revisions, so hey, why not blog. . .
I don't know if others are that way, but sometimes I just can't find the right distractions to shut my mind off. I think I need tips on how to MAKE myself stop. Or an intervention. Either one will work 😀