Making a living as a writer is unlikely. For most writers, it will never be a day job. Even published writers can’t always pay the bills with their books. Author Shannon Hale has a wonderful thread about the reality of making a living wage as a writer, even after publication.
This information shouldn’t discourage us, though. New writers find agents, sign contracts, and receive advances all the time. What this information should do is remind writers that balance between our writing and the rest of our lives is important. Life is full, and there are so many things to pull us away from writing. How do we focus on the things we want to do when there are so many that we need to do?
When I started law school, I was terrified that my writing would wilt and die. Law school is notorious for sucking one’s life until there is nothing left, and I worried that I would not have time to continue writing, that my progress over the past year would all be lost. I didn’t want to put my writing on hold for four years and have to start over when I graduated.
That hasn’t happened. I have managed to find a (somewhat tenuous) balance between law school and my writing. I’ve written regularly, submitted regularly, placed in contests, and appeared in journals. It certainly hasn’t been easy–there are many times over the past year that I have dropped the ball–but it has been possible.
Finding balancing is different for everyone. Even so, I believe that writers should be transparent with one another regarding what works for them. We are traveling parallel paths, and we should help each other along the way. Here are some things that have helped me find balance in my life.
Writing doesn’t happen by accident. It takes intention to sit in that chair and put the words down. For some people, intentionality means scheduling a block of time each day to write. For others, it means using found moments between tasks to jot down your thoughts. I slip away to a cafe to stave off the distractions of home. Determine what works for your schedule and for your life, but don’t expect that the time to write will magically appear. Integrate writing into your life. Carve the time out of your day with intention.
Find a community.
Having a writing community has been vital to my endurance as a writer. I have found several clusters of community in my life: White County Creative Writers and Gin Creek Poets are local groups that I meet with monthly to grow as a writer and share my work; I have writing friends to talk with when I am convinced that I am a failure, or when I want to celebrate my victories; I attend local poetry readings to cheer on other writers; and I follow successful, hardworking writers on social media to learn from them (and because they are very cool people). These communities take different forms and serve different purposes, but they all help me grow as a writer.
Many communities don’t have established literary communities, making real-world interactions with other writers difficult. But the internet and social media have made it possible to commune with writers across great distances. I have friends who have found community in online critique groups, blogs (like this one), and discussion boards for writers. There are plenty of communities out there for you to find.
Keep priorities in mind.
It is easy to get lost in the weeds of life and forget what the garden is supposed to look like. When balancing careers, family, friendships, hobbies, and writing, something is bound to be neglected. Figuring out what is important to you and what you’re willing to sacrifice for it is necessary for a busy life.
Sit down with yourself and lay out your priorities. I find it helpful to make a list, but lists aren’t for everyone. What are your priorities, and in what order? What can you stand to give up or neglect for a little while–that mobile game, perhaps, or having a spic ‘n’ span home all the time? Figure out what you need in life and trim the fat. Everyone’s priorities are different, and it is okay to hold onto something that others don’t see as important or to let something go that is less vital to you than it is to others.
Check-in with yourself.
Even when you set out with the best of intentions, it is easy to wander off the path, distracted by the wildflowers growing just a few yards away. Every week, month, or quarter, return to your list of priorities and remind yourself of your intentions. This is a way to self-correct any deviations from your path. Some people also find it useful to write their priorities and intentions in a place they will see it: on the bathroom mirror, a dry-erase board in their room, or a corkboard in their office. These reminders can keep you on track.
Don’t forget to read.
It’s possible to become so wrapped up in being a writer that you forget to be a reader. Be careful not to forget your first love. Often when people bemoan the curse of writer’s block, it is because they haven’t been consuming literature. The old saying is “garbage in, garbage out,” but there is a parallel thought: nothing in, nothing out. If you are not reading, it is difficult to find it in yourself to write. It may seem like a luxury, or just one more thing taking time away from your other priorities, but reading is an important part of the writing process that should not be neglected.
These five principles have helped me keep my writing on track despite my busy schedule. They’re not foolproof, and they’re not universal, but I hope that they can help you balance to write around your schedule.