A couple weeks ago I did a call for questions for an industry pros series I’m doing here—where I ask fellow publishing industry professionals to give their takes on questions you, our readers, have. You can read the first one on conferences here:
One response that really stood out to me was Aneeqah’s question about how to balance a day job (in my case an amazing yet sometimes creatively draining one as a children’s book editor) with my own writing career.
From your editorial perspective, I'd love to know how you balance a day job reading books with writing your own novel (superhero powers?!)
— Aneeqah N. (@hianeeqah) June 12, 2017
I'd love even an honest blog post about that! I think a lot of us feel guilty about not being able to perfect balance writing + life things.
— Aneeqah N. (@hianeeqah) June 12, 2017
If you’ve ever asked me “how I do it all” you’ve probably also heard me laugh then mumble, “I don’t.”
At that point everyone usually laughs and then I get embarrassed because of the attention (truly a extroverted introvert). But in the end, most people don’t believe me.
Because, as my mama often reminds me, when you continue to put forth an image of being of being perfect, like I’ve done my whole life, it becomes harder to escape from that lie. This of course works in my favor if I ever need to ask for an extension on a project or if I want to hide that I’m having an off day, but it hurts me. It also hurts other up and coming writers, publishing professionals, etc. And I’m not the only culprit. The more of us that perpetuate this myth that we’re perfect at balancing our lives, that we love everything about our creative process and the business of publishing, that we’re always pleasant and grateful and have never once envied another writer, the more the myth grows until it’s nearly impossible to shatter. By playing perfect, I’m feeding a beast I cannot slay. I’m believing a lie I can’t sustain. Which is something I’ve done most of my life, which is why I was drawn to write this post.
So, what do I really mean what I say I don’t balance everything?
Well, first, it means I no longer believe in balance.
I used to. I really did.
Growing up I was obsessed with Egyptian mythology and Maat was my favorite. She’s the goddess of many things including balance and it’s she who plays an important role in the way Ancient Egyptians were supposed to live their lives and the judging of their souls–weighing of their hearts–after they died to see where their final “resting place” was. And so, I sought to be incredibly well-balanced. I played sports and did theater. I was a mischievous rebel but never so much as to actually upset the status quo. I think because of this I developed a really skewed idea of what balance is. I trace the functional anxious person I am now to those early roots of believing that in order to be well liked, to be successful, I had to embrace balance as my personal philosophy. I never showed my failures, which usually resulted in me having a yearly major breakdown.
I’m anything but balanced. My room can tell you that as it reflects my brain. Currently, it’s a mess.
So, the first thing for me was to reject this idea of needing to be perfectly balanced, especially given that I’m someone who enjoys doing a lot of different things. I have a Maat print (that I bought as a teen) hanging above my bed, but it’s now more of a reminder that balance is an illusion, a myth. That I maybe never truly understood what balance was to begin with. That seeking balance–and writing while working full time–requires a commitment to sacrifice.
I know that sounds really dark, like part of the prequel to a dark fantasy novel. But what I mean by that is that you can’t do it all. Something is always going to fall by the wayside. The sooner you understand that, and release that guilt, the sooner you’ll be happier. If life is about the choices we make, mine is defined by the sacrifices I’ve chosen to make for my careers to thrive. I truly believe there is power in choosing which things to sacrifice so I make a lot of them in order to preserve my sanity and do “all the things.”
Sometimes I choose to put off the episode of Sherlock I want to watch for a week in order to read a submission for work during non-work hours. Sometimes I choose not to go to brunch with friends because I need to catch up on freelance assignments. To be fair, this goes the other way: sometimes I say, I’m always going to be behind on submissions and oh well if I miss “the next big thing” so I’m going out and I’m gonna watch that episode of Sherlock and I’m gonna have a glass of wine. Which, I suppose you could say is balance, but it’s also knowing what to give up (or sacrifice) and when to do so.
Nothing comes without sacrifice. Because of this acceptance, I’ve made peace with the sacrifices I need to make daily and I’m more productive because if this mindset.
Here are a few tips:
1. Embrace Your Writing Process
I get it, this means you have to first have a writing process. But, I bet you do, you’re just too busy feeling guilty for not writing that you’re not recognizing (& celebrating) the times you are.
At the end of last year, I noticed I tend to write A LOT more on the weekends. Makes sense, right? During the week my energy is often focused on publishing things and while publishing and writing are interrelated, publishing is a business and writing is more of a creative venture. I write best, as I imagine many of us do, when I’m not also stressing about the market and where (if) my story will fit into it.
My weekends are now when I do 80% of my writing. This of course means there are sacrifices: I have to actually work on my weekend and I almost always only hang out with friends during the week and on Saturday evenings. But with that sacrifice, I’m happier because I’m not stressing and making myself feel guilty for not writing during the week. I’m more attentive to friends when I do see them because, again, I’ve set aside my writing time so I’m not feeling guilty for having fun. I also have become more productive as a person and better at setting aside non-writing me-time.
I encourage you to take a week and really look at the pockets of availability in your schedule. Is there something that can be shifted? Is there a time you’re most alert and not distracted with other things?
Find the time. Be ruthless in keeping it.
2. Find Accountability Buddies
I have an in-person writers group that meets on Sundays. Everyone in the group is in their 20s and we’re all at different stages of the process. I say the 20s part because while I’ve always had a lot of writer friends, I didn’t have a lot of writers friends close to me in age until recently. And though my non-writer friends are amazing & supportive, I wanted people my age who just got it…people I could turn to with querying and plotting questions and go out for drinks with and complain about the suckiness of dating apps. I love those guys <3
I also have other writers who I check in with regularly. Some of them I’ve met and become friends with in person, some of them we’ve only ever interacted on Twitter. Regardless, it helps to have people who ask you once a week hey, how’s that book going? Funny enough, my dad is also this person. He asks me how’s that book deal all the time as a way of encouraging me not to give up <3
3. Turn to “The Pros”
I love soaking up information on what other creative types go through. Sometimes this means book events, but in being more aware of my time, I’ve started going to less book events (I used to attend everything local) so now I listen to podcasts such as First Draft with Sarah Enni and 88 Cups of Tea with Yin Chang which interview creative types about their lives and creative processes. These podcasts are perfect for my morning commute and I love seeing the different ways others tackle problems I might be having.
4. Develop Thick Skin
This is kind of harsh, but my parents used to tell me that sticks and stones might break my bones but words can never hurt me. Well, as a word nerd I disagree (I mean, Shakespearean insults, anyone??), but I get what they were trying to tell me.
There is always going to be a new article, a new person, claiming that [insert method] is the only way to BE a “real writer.” At a certain point, you stop getting upset and start ignoring them. There just isn’t enough time to care. Knowing my triggers and what affects my personal life and thus my professional careers, and ignoring these idiots when they come around, has been an invaluable part of erasing guilt.
5. Take a Break
B-b-but, there’s not enough–NOPE. There is always enough time for “you time.”
My friends got me hooked on Sherlock so sometimes it’s an episode of that and sometimes it’s just walking around Manhattan at night time and taking in the city and getting lost in the crowds. This is part of “your process.” Your body, your brain, your creative soul needs time to recharge. You can’t just keep going going going and hitting creative blocks and expect to get different results. Schedule the break into your writing schedule–to erase that guilt–and go forth.
If there’s one takeaway from this post, not feeling guilty part is key. To be writing and working full time is so badass. You’re literally cultivating two careers. If you have guilt for not balancing both, for giving one too much time, that guilt will build and fester. After I graduated college I was in a really dark place, not because I left a utopia behind (college was amazing but I was ready for my next journey) but because I was depressed because I hadn’t accomplished the professional (both publishing and writing) goals I’d set for myself and told others about. I couldn’t deal with the guilt and, as a result, I crashed and burned because I couldn’t deal with life as a “failure.” So when I say that guilt will eat you alive, please hear me.
This is all a process; you’ll get there. Trust yourself. You know your needs and what you can handle better than you think. Be kinder to yourself. You’re working really hard, even if you think you aren’t. Find a support system and take breaks. Release the guilt that’s trapped within you.
And as for the superpowers, we writers are pure magic <3
*Update: I wrote follow-up to this post on 7/31/17 with further tips on how I say no to things and prioritize writing.*
And if anyone wants to share a bit about their struggles with balance and how they fight guilt, feel free to find me on Twitter or comment below 🙂