Camy here! I’m talking about balancing your writing with your “other stuff” as opposed to balancing your checkbook or not tripping over your feet every time you walk (I do the latter quite a lot, actually ...).
Let’s face it, sometimes life gets just SO crazy busy you feel like you need to sleep for a YEAR to recover, except, oops, you only have time for a 2 minute nap before you have to do something else.
My creativity reeeeeaaallly does not like to be hemmed in by schedules. Or discipline. Or deadlines, for that matter. It will pout in a corner just when I absolutely need a burst of some artistic brilliance to explode out of my fingers onto the computer screen.
So I have learned to achieve balance between life and writing by compartmentalizing.
Now before you run away screaming, hear me out.
I’m not talking about anything rigid or (heaven forbid) disciplined. I’m talking about some tips and tricks to enable me to be efficient and appease the muse and talk to my husband once a week.
1) Figure out what time is best for your writing.
I posted last month about Your Best Writing Time, figuring out when during the day (or night) you are at your most creative or productive or both. This is really important when you’re trying to balance your family/work life with your writing because you need to know when your best writing time is and if you can possibly rearrange things so you get to write at that time.
If you can’t write at your best writing time, then figure out your second best writing time and if you can possibly rearrange things to write during that time of the day.
I write best from about 9 pm until 2 am. Problem is, my husband gets home from work around 9 pm and I naturally want to spend time with the love of my life.
So I will do all my email and marketing and other busywork during the day. When he gets home, we will usually hang out, talk, watch TV, oh and, uh, eat dinner :), but when he’s getting ready for bed, I’m back at my computer writing during my peak hours.
Also, he has his own evening out once a week. He plays on in co-ed volleyball league one night a week, and so on that night, we’re each on our own for dinner, and he gets home around the time he needs to shower and go to bed. I spend the evening writing.
In between volleyball seasons when he doesn’t have a volleyball night, I still have a “work night” once a week. He gets home, we eat dinner for maybe an hour, and then I’m back at my computer. Since it’s only once a week, I don’t feel too bad that I’m working instead of spending time with him. After all, he gets to watch his mixed martial arts fighting shows.
2) Use props.
I think that we, as writers, ignore the power of props. We’re so focused on the written word and our computers, we neglect other things that could actually help us write better.
When you’re writing, figure out what kind of props you could use that might make the writing easier. Often I need to get in right-brain mode in order to write, and for me, it takes a really long time for me to shift from my normal left-brain mode.
I am still searching for good triggers, but I’ve come up with a couple that help me. I utilize candles for soothing visual effect, a table water fountain for auditory effect, and lavender/eucalyptus aromatherapy for olfactory effect. This usually helps me get into right brain mode faster.
I also have certain music I will sometimes listen to, and certain snacks that tend to help me write better.
(Side note: Why is it that chips make me write better but carrot sticks only work so-so? I have really tried hard to substitute healthier writing snacks but as soon as I give in to a few chips, BAM! I crank out 20 pages. Sigh.)
I also tend to be easily distracted, so I will use a timer sometimes. It helps me because I don’t allow myself to do anything else except write while that timer is counting down. I can’t leave my computer. I can’t check email (I turn off my internet).
For those of you who shudder at the thought of a timer putting pressure on you to get words written in a specific amount of time (and I will admit to feeling that way too sometimes), think of other props you can use. When my roses bloom, I cut one and put it right next to my monitor. While that rose is there, it makes me smile to look at it, and it also reminds me to keep my butt in my chair and keep writing. It’s a combination of soothing and motivating.
3) Plan and prepare.
Do you need long stretches of time to get back into your creative mode? Then plan and prepare for it. Tell the family your intentions, silence the whining, make some casseroles for them to pop into the oven. Assign cleaning chores because Mom cannot leave her heroine in a burning building in order to vacuum. Do what you need to do to allow the house to run smoothly without you for a specified amount of time. The fam will usually be understanding as long as they know when the ending date/time is going to be.
Can you only write in spurts? Well then, plan and prepare for it. Bring the Alphasmart or laptop with you to soccer so you can write while they’re playing/practicing. Bring a notebook in the car to write while waiting to pick up the kids. Tell the kids they have 30 minutes to do homework and they can’t bother you until the timer goes off, and then tuck yourself away with your computer. Plan for meals that only take 30 minutes to cook (or use a crockpot) so you can have those extra minutes to write rather than cook.
When life gets in the way …
I’ll be honest, it seems that whenever I’m screaming on deadline, a family member dies. I know that’s kind of morbid, but it is a source of sadness, stress, and frustration for me. I can’t exactly tell my great-aunt not to die until next month after the book has been written.
Here’s some advice, which I’ll admit I don’t always take, but which sound pretty good:
(a) Take time away. Give yourself permission to lay down the writing entirely, disengage, undo that RedBull IV drip next to the computer, and go deal with the family crisis. It’s okay to leave the writing.
(b) Do what needs to be done. Take care of the funeral arrangements. Bail your brother out of jail. Repair the damaged roof. Go to the hospital.
(c) Do what YOU need to do to get back in the game. After the furor dies down somewhat—and don’t wait until everything is completely calm again, because that will never happen. Trust me—then do what you need to do in order to get your head back into writer mode.
I know this will sound really selfish and harsh, but for most of us, writing is a business. If you were working at a company, they’d give you a few days or weeks off and then you had to get back to work. No arguing or excuses or questioning, unless of course you’d like to quit.
Writing is the same way. Do what you have to do to get back into things. Maybe that means counseling. Maybe that means some time alone. Maybe that means a crying fit over the phone with your agent or a writing friend. Whatever it is, do it. Get back into writing. Pull on your Big Girl Panties (er…or Superman Underpants) and just do it.
You are a writer. You are a professional. Act like it and get back to work.
Okay, scolding is over.
Anyway, I hope this has been helpful and not just depressing and frustrating for you. The reality is, you can plan and prepare all you want, but something will always come up to unbalance your life.
The key is in trying to balance life during the times when there isn’t some crisis taking up your time, and to get that balance back quickly when the crisis is over.
How about you guys? Do you have any ideas for balance for your own life? I’m always looking for more ideas because God certainly knows I could still use help in this area.
Camy Tang writes romance with a kick of wasabi. Her novels Single Sashimi and Deadly Intent are out now. She runs the Story Sensei critique service, is a staff worker for her church youth group, and leads one of the worship teams for Sunday service. On her blog, she gives away Christian novels and ponders frivolous things. Sign up for her newsletter YahooGroup for giveaways!