Keeping the Balance: Professional Life and Writing (and cow shit)
Please try not to weep bitter tears of woe, but there won’t be a Leveraging Misutilized Words post this week. I’m deep in the throes of quarter end hell at work, which means that I work a lot of 10-hour days. Right now the only thing I want to do with a computer after I leave the office is smash it with a baseball bat. In addition, we got our pre-work for the Lambda Literary Foundation retreat, and I’m currently putting the finishing touches on a club newsletter that I do every two months. In case you can’t tell, I tend to overcommit, which means this is a good time to talk about work/writing balance.
Writing novels while working full-time is similar to simultaneously balancing a plate full of wet cow shit on top of one’s head and dancing the masochism tango with an enraged jellyfish. The cow shit is a day job, or maybe school—something that isn’t always very fun, but helps give you survival skills for the world in which we live. Balancing that plate is awfully important though, because having zero income is no fun (much like winding up covered in cow shit). The jellyfish is writing—that thing that fills you with doubt and self-loathing on occasion, and throttles you with the stinging tentacles of guilt if you don’t work on it, but is also bioluminescent and beautiful and feeds the soul you spend forty hours per week denying that you have.
Here are a few tips for any writers trying to balance a professional life with a creative one:
Say no, sometimes even to things that sound like fun projects. This is one of the hardest things for me, but the truth is that it is impossible to do it all no matter how overachieving you are and how little you need to sleep.
Make time. It is hard to get in a writing frame of mind in just one hour at lunch, but it can be done. Even if you only eke out 100 words, it’s still forward progress.
Seek a day job you enjoy. Everyone slaves through some unfortunate jobs in the course of a lifetime, but once you’ve worked your way up the ladder to something you like, it is amazing how much more positive energy you will have to devote to something you love—like writing.
Get support. Surround yourself with friends and family who support and motivate you to keep writing, both through encouragement and by giving you the time and space you need. I am constantly overwhelmed with gratitude for my friends and family.
Take a break. Every once in a while it is necessary to have a break from everything. Writing is hard work just like a day job. It’s okay to vegetate in front of the television or go out and have fun with friends. In fact, those things can sometimes be the only lifeline back to sanity.
There are a lot of ways to succeed as a writer, and many of them don’t involve being a working professional. But if you do have a day job, keep these things in mind…and don’t lose your shit.