Balancing Writing and Non-Writing Life

“If you want to write, stop qualifying yourself for every other job that is not writing. You need to search for more areas in which you are underqualified. That is humbling, isn’t it?” ~ Heather Sellers

I’m continuing to read, slowly and steadily, Heather Sellers’ Page after Page, and it rewards me each day with new perspectives on my writing and new ideas for where to go from here, as well as some effective writing exercises.

Where is “here” for me, exactly?

Well, first of all, in terms of writing, I’m not where I was one year ago.

A year ago, I decided to take the 2009-10 year off from teaching to focus on my writing. It was our son’s first year in college, so I would have more time at home to write than ever before. I thought (correctly, in hindsight) that this personal change for me and the statement it made about the importance of my writing career would be a good balance to the nostalgia I would feel for when there were three of us living here.

In the past year, I attended a writing conference, where I forced myself to sign up for two pitch sessions so as to practice speaking confidently about my work (one of those sessions led to getting an agent). I finished and had published two non-fiction books for and about teens. I wrote a work of historical fiction for children. I began in earnest the transcription project of my great-aunt’s diaries, and I have recently settled on the form and general direction of my own writing project that will be based on her diaries. I started and am continuing two blogs (three, if I include the blog of my great-aunt’s “posts”).

Most important, I am writing every single day, for the first time in a long, long time.

Now, I am going back to teaching in the fallβ€”just one evening course, but it will still mean a change in schedule, class prep, grading, etc. I’m lucky to teach at a college that has a terrific art museum, where I have been a docent, so I took a docent refresher course yesterday so that I could return to that, as well. I’ll be helping out with a homeschool literature and writing group that I have worked with in the past and have missed, and tutoring a very dear young friend in writing.

I want to do all of these things, and for very good, healthy reasons: community, professional affiliation, being with young people, personal stimulation, to have a place or room of my own that is separate from family, and just plain old getting out of the house.

But I will admit I’m nervous. In the past, I haven’t always found a good balance of doing too much and doing too little. I tend to swing from one extreme to another, overloading myself to the point of feeling completely overwhelmed, then quitting everything at once, only to start the process over again once I feel underwhelmed.

How will I know when my non-writing life is becoming an excuse not to write, not to continue this journey I undertook so faithfully last year?

I guess I’ll have to wait and see, but I’d love to hear others’ thoughts on how you balance writing and non-writing life. What works for you? What doesn’t? How do you qualify yourself for writing?

14 thoughts on “Balancing Writing and Non-Writing Life

  1. Lisa–I just posted today on the cycles of writing. For me, the seasons have a big influence on how active I am with my writing. My oldest is only 6-years-old, so I’m allowing myself time this summer to splash in the pool and enjoy my kiddos. I didn’t put this in my post, but through my relaxing and hanging out with family, I’ve gotten some great story ideas. I jotted down an entire plot during my son’s swim lesson! So I don’t think time spent not writing is unproductive. The other interests I have in my life create a richer writing experience. Enjoy teaching–I’ve found that I learn as much through teaching as my supposed ‘students.’ πŸ™‚

    • Kristi, I love your writing cycles post! Isn’t it amazing how creativity pours forth during those moments of relaxation, when we aren’t trying so hard?

      Yes, I learn from my students, too, probably more than they ever know. It’s one reason I’m glad to return to the classroom this September.

  2. I agree with Kristi. Recently read a post about an author who writes 7-8 hours a day, 7 days a week, even on vacation. That sounds horrible to me. I don’t see how you can truly find the joy in life to pursue the dream of writing. Some days, maybe I could write 7-8 or even more hours…but if I had to be that regimented it would be too much like digging a ditch. I applaud your success and contentment in your efforts. That’s the reward.

    • DiDi, I think I used to think that kind of writing schedule was what I wanted, but now I agree with you–digging a ditch, indeed! Thanks for your kind and encouraging words. They mean a lot. πŸ™‚

  3. Ah, the great dilemma in life: balance. I think awareness is the key to finding balance. This morning I was meditating on the hebrew letter HEI. Its message is “Here I am–right now.” Just doing that one thing at a time, giving it all you’ve got…for me, that’s what I try to remember. Even though I’m “retired” (huge myth), I find it so easy to find excuses to “not write.” But when I get the guilt-thing rev’d up it paralyzes me. So, I reframe it, consider it time for ideas to gestate. Somehow, from reading your blog, I’m sure you’ll be there, writing whenever you can. Victoria

    • Victoria, you got to the core of the matter: the “guilt-thing.” I’m going to take your advice and proceed as though I know I’ll make life and writing work together for me. Thanks for helping me to see this positively. I needed it today!

      I also love the “Here I am-right now” message. Just thinking those words is calming.

  4. Well, generally this is what I will blog about today myself, how to balance life and goals for the future, including writing. I thought I would do much writing over the summer and I did do more than I ever have, yet, I have life to live and a husband to support through a really rough situation. The situation is better now but needs hours of my dedicated time to assist him in his goals. How will this turn out? As it usually does, as an adventure into the unknown future of life. The school year will start again for me soon and the hectic lifestyle which ensues. I know I am up to the challenge again; some may remember the old saying, If you really want something done ask a busy person to do it . Well, that said, I am that busy person.

    • Thanks so much for your comment. It’s good to know that others think about balancing life and writing and everything that happens in the intersection. It is true, isn’t it? The busiest people do seem to get the most done.

      I’m just not sure I’m one of them, though, lol. I wish I were.

      I do know that when I’m busy, I am likely to find really creative sideline projects that I get passionate about, but maybe that’s something else entirely going on. πŸ™‚

  5. This is an ongoing struggle for me. Last school year I had a horrible schedule that took away my morning writing time. This year I’m getting my old schedule back, which will make a huge difference. But it’s also my oldest son’s senior year and my youngest son’s freshman year, so I’m feeling the pull to be present as mom more in the next twelve months.

    I have to keep reminding myself to do what I can when I can and look back at what I’ve accomplished in the last four years. For you, I’d keep those first two weeks back at school pretty low key expectation-wise and give yourself the space to adjust. Good luck!!!

    • Dawn Maria, thanks for the good suggestion about the beginning of the term. I think I would normally try to start off with a bang and plan to do too much, but you are absolutely right that it may be good to ease into things.

      I know what you mean about high school years. They don’t need as much physical help, but I found that we had many, many important conversations during that time. I’m sure you will treasure your final year with both of t hem home! ~ Lisa

  6. Hi Lisa. Sorry I couldn’t comment sooner. I started writing Death’s Island in high school, were I once had plenty of time. Especially during summer. But, once I got into college, I found it hard to find the time to write with my schedule. So, I made the time, even if it meant writing in my journal just before class started.

    • Thank you for the wise reminder! It is true that I do always seem to make the time for what is important to me, and I don’t know why now is any different. I admire your drive and tenacity! You have inspired me today. πŸ™‚

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