Word by Word

Practical insights for writers from Jessica P Morrell

Bitter Truth # 7

Written By: Jessica Morrell - Jan• 10•13

   Bitter truth # 6:
Whereby I espouse cautionary tales about the writing life.

Balance might not be possible all the time.
For years now I’ve heard much talk about balance, as in work-life balance. For years I also pursued it and actually still do. Each person has his or her own definition of this oft-elusive quality. For some it might mean exercising more and fretting less. Or spending that elusive quality time with their kids. For me it means that whatever I’m doing, I’m not fretting that I should be doing something else. So that I can be present with the moment.

Most people I know are trying not to chase so much. They want to settle into themselves, slow down, relish each day.

If you’re a writer, all that lovely balance we long for, strive for, work towards, might not always be possible. Writing takes a lot of time. Hour after hour, day after day. Sometimes progress happens so slow that the frustration feels unbearable. The pain too large. The end too far away. And let’s not get started on how easy it is to obsess or fall into envy at other writers’ successes.

Meanwhile, while you’re holed up in your garret du jour, the world is shimmying past without you, horns blaring, parties jollying along. If you’re the kind of person who needs lots of downtime, parties, friends, vacations, and sleep…..well, writing might not work out for you. If you spend hours on Pinterest or Facebook or tweeting or watching television….you might need to rethink that time spent or the writing won’t get done. Writing has to come first before that stuff, including sleep. Writing needs the attention that you give a new love, a marriage, a baby.

It will be wrenching at times to miss the gang’s weekly gatherings or your favorite team’s home games. You will spend freaky amounts of time alone when you have a deadline or the writing is pouring out like a lava flow. You’ll look up from your computer and an afternoon or a season will have passed. One of my author friend lives in her pajamas for a month before a deadline. Another jokes that food needs to be passed under the door to her office.

Balance is lovely, juggling is normal. Perhaps a better wish for the writing life is flexibility. You develop a dailiness, a practice, a mindset. Then, if tragedy strikes, you take a bit of time away (while still taking quick notes on the rawness of your emotions) and you return. If the holidays mean nonstop commitment, you get up early and sit in the quiet and write before the day blasts off.

The bitter truth is that you will need to give up something fun in order to write. I would love to learn to knit. Cannot do it now—too many books and columns to write. I would also love to learn how to watercolor, and travel the oceans blue. Ain’t going to happen. Instead, I’m going to learn more about the birds in my backyard, I’m going to garden as a means to let my mind wander, I’m going to nurture a calm inward life.

One last thing: When you’re not writing, don’t write. Let the story or project you’re working on simmer below in your subconscious. Focus on what’s at hand. The imagination needs downtime in order to produce the most glorious stories.

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  1. Olivia Ashe says:

    Jessica, you always say things so eloquently. I wish I had your way with words.

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