Therese butting in for a moment to introduce you to our newest contributor here at Writer Unboxed: internationally bestselling author of two novels (Stay; Why Can’t I Be You?) and awesome human, Allie Larkin. Please help me welcome her to the team!
I’ve been grounded since November. It’s self-imposed. I deserved it.
I’ve had a few short furloughs for important occurrences, and I’m allowed long weekend hikes with the husband, but right now, when it comes to adding events to my schedule, I’m forbidden.
When I wrote my first book, it was from a blissful, quiet place where there was no pressure, no timeline, and no social media. It was an exploration. For the first seventy thousand words or so, I was actually convinced it was a short story.
When I wrote my second book, I had a tight timeline. My husband was in California starting up a company. I was in Rochester, NY, and I had to meet my book deadline before I could get our house on the market so we could officially move. I put myself on lockdown. I left the house once a week for groceries. I talked to friends on the phone sporadically. Once in a blue moon I met someone for coffee or dinner, but mostly I lived in my book. I got up in the morning thinking about my characters. I ate when I was hungry, I slept when I was tired. Sometimes I went to bed at 8PM, waking up at midnight to work for a few more hours. It was great for writing. It was terrible for humaning. It left me drained, and sad, and out of sorts. I swore that on the other side of that book I would strive for a balanced life.
I got to California and threw myself into the search for balance. There were new people to meet, friends popping into town, more art, music, and book events than I could have ever imagined, people to collaborate with on side projects, and no season of bad weather to keep everyone home and indoors. It was sensory overload. I tried to keep a couple days a week devoid of activity, but something was always coming up, and I wanted to say yes to all of it.
This is the thing about writing: It takes time.
And this is the thing about everything we pull from the bucket we call balance: It also takes time.
In November, after reading Greg McKeown’s brilliant book, ESSENTIALISM: The Disciplined Pursuit of Less, I started saying no (No, a million times no!). I love my friends. I love art and music and book events. But I can’t spread myself thin and expect my mind and body to somehow magically make up for the discrepancy in the time it takes to write and the time I have available to me.
An old tweet by Randi Zuckerberg ended up in an Inc.com article I read last week.
The entrepreneur's dilemma:
Maintaining friendships. Building a great company. Spending time w/family. Staying fit. Getting sleep.
— Randi Zuckerberg (@randizuckerberg) December 9, 2011
Startup company life and novel writing life are, in many ways, comparable. I think Randi Zuckerberg’s tweet perfectly captures the choices and sacrifices we have to make to do good work we’re proud of. In our current culture, shiny photos on social media create the illusion of balance in other people’s lives, which helps pile on the guilt when it feels like everyone else can do it all and you can’t.
I’m confessing to you that I have no balance right now. I have focus. Balance has left the building, and I’m working on wrestling the guilt away too.
If you also feel like balance has slipped out of reach, you should know that we are not alone. I asked some writer friends what they choose and what gets sacrificed:
Randy Susan Meyers: What’s missing on the list here is ‘fun’–all those things I used to do with regularity: movies, poker nights, going to places more interesting than the couch –TV watching spot. Getting fit? Gone. I used to go for a long walk every morning. Getting together with friends? Far less than I once did. So I guess I gave up fun, friend-time and fitness for writing.
Julie Buxbaum: For me family, work, friends in that order. I don’t prioritize myself nearly enough so exercise and sleep tend to fall by the wayside. I so want to live by the plane oxygen mask rule (put on your own mask before putting on your kids) but it never seems to happen. Only reason I have time to type this right now is that kid number two is in a time out!
Nichole Bernier: Writing my first book, it felt like that new time crunch was a kind of triage of values, forces you to choose. What do you really care about? You have 2 hours, gun to your head, what are you going to spend it on? For me the things that fell by the wayside were exercise, television, and hobbies. Funny thing is, if you asked me at the time, I don’t think I was aware of consciously choosing.
Caroline Angell: I definitely give up fitness. I have to walk to work and back and dance it out with the kids to get in any cardio at all. And I rarely cook!
Ann Mah: For me, it’s a juggle of the priority du jour. I sometimes sacrifice sleep for exercise. Often writing comes last. I’m constantly reassessing and adjusting depending on the week.
Allison Winn Scotch: For me, it’s family (non-negotiable), writing, and exercise, which tempers my stress and boosts my happiness. I do girls’ night every once in a while but mostly keep up with people online. Sleep? Sigh. If only. When I’m not working on a big project, I take more time out for friends, for sure.
Juliette Fay: Kids and family first, for sure. I often spend time with friends while exercising – I’m a big walker. And I find that if I don’t get enough sleep for too many nights in a row, I can’t get anything done and no one wants to be with me anyway. Writing comes last, but somehow I sneak it in.
Matt Norman: The thing I really give up is the ability to relax and enjoy the moment. Whenever I’m doing something other than writing, there’s a dull, constant pang of anxiety in my stomach. It’s this vague feeling of unease that’s telling me that I should be writing. If I’m watching baseball, I should be writing. If I’m making an overly complicated meal on a Saturday evening, I should be writing. If I’m meeting friends for a drink, I should be writing. And so on and on and on.
Cassandra Dunn: I feel like my kids’ school schedule affects my answer. During the school year, I choose work, family, and friends. During my kids’ summer break, I don’t have as much time to write, and I have two kids to keep entertained, so then I choose family, fitness, and friends. I’m sad to say that sleep never makes it onto the list! Thank goodness for coffee.
I married my husband because he’s my favorite person in the world. When given the choice of how to spend my time, I will always, always choose him. I need to exercise and eat well, or I don’t function. I need to take long walks with my dog, for her sake and mine. And I need to barrel through this draft with reckless abandon and absolute focus, because I feel better about myself when my work is going well. It’s okay to honor that. I deserve it.
So, right now, my laundry only gets done when there’s nothing left to wear. I rarely answer e-mail, and even have an auto-reply that says so. I don’t pick up my phone. I love my friends dearly from afar, but I’m grounded. I can’t come out and play right now. It’s only temporary. If I work really hard, I’ll be allowed out again in March when I’m done with this draft.
What do you choose? What do you sacrifice? What’s the hardest thing for you to let go?
Now, thanks to tinyCoffee and PayPal, you can!