Writers in the Storm

A blog about writing

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February 29, 2016

The Secret to Balancing Writing and Life

The reminder in my office.

The reminder in my office.

As writers we know the tricks to time management. We know we have to treat our writing as a job, not a hobby. We know we have to set boundaries between our work life and personal life. We know we’re supposed to sit our fluffy behinds every day in front of the computer and put down words.

So, pop quiz …

  • Who uses tracking software to see where they are with word count? *raises hand*
  • Who has a lovely writing office without the clutter of life? *raises hand*
  • Who’s blocked off time on the calendar just for writing? *raises hand*
  • Who sets monthly goals to meet their deadline? *raises hand*

And yet, we’re at the end of February and I’ve written a total of 1,000 new words on my work in progress. My target for the month was 25k. Way to rock those writing goals, eh?

It’s not because I don’t have the tools or the knowledge or the time. It’s because, to be perfectly honest, I’ve allowed guilt to paralyze me.

See, life hasn’t been, how shall I put it -- creatively inspiring lately. There have been a few too many personal hits and each one has taken a toll on my physical and emotional energy. But I’ve always believed that personal shouldn’t interfere with professional. That works up to a point. It worked with running WFWA because I could lose myself in the details and by helping others, so I felt like I was doing something productive. I didn’t have to think about me. It worked on organizing a writing retreat because the logistics dictated the timing.

But it doesn’t work with writing. Why? Because writing requires the emotional energy. We write from a place deep inside and when that place is littered with confusion and hurt and disappointment, the words have a hard time finding their way to the surface.

I don’t know about the rest of you, but I got a triple dose of guilt in the character traits serving line. With guilt comes shame. I feel guilty that I have this time to write and I’m not making the most of it. I’m ashamed to admit that instead of sitting on my life problems until they succumb, I’m allowing them to push me around.

I spent most of the last few weeks decluttering my basement. We’re having new flooring put in so that meant taking everything out. Amazing how much crap you manage to accumulate. As I was sorting through things and putting them in the stay or to-donate pile, I started having twinges of guilt over some of the items in the to-donate pile. (Of course I did!) It took a bit of effort and a particularly hokey article that surprisingly helped, but was finally able to say thank you for serving a purpose to each item that was giving me a guilty hiccup before putting it in a bag.

What does this have to do with writing? Remember the extra dose of guilt and accompanying shame? Time spent cleaning is not time spent writing. And that, of course, sent me into another downward spiral.

When the charity folks picked up all those bags, I felt the guilt go with it. Granted, letting go of toys and books isn’t the same as emotional baggage, but it’s a step. And it got me thinking … if I was able to put the guilt aside by confronting the item (sounds so ridiculously stupid now but hey, it worked, don’t judge!), could it work in other areas?

As much as I’d like to stuff some of the personal problems into a large garbage bag and have it schlepped away, I can’t (I think there are laws against that 😉 ). But there are a couple of things I can do …

1) Admit defeat. What? You were expecting me to give you a rah-rah-overcome speech? Nope. Life happens. No way around it. And by admitting that it happens and that you can’t always control how it affects you, you give yourself permission to stop feeling guilty.

2) Manipulate. I see those eyebrows poking up and that’s not what I’m talking about so chill. I can’t change some of what’s happening around me but if I stop beating myself up, I can actually use those feelings to fuel story ideas.

I may not be close to my 25k goal for the month and I may still be teetering on the balance scale but once I let go of the guilt over not writing, I was able to start writing again.

So there it is folks, the secret to balancing your writing and personal life is …

Letting go of the guilt.

Let it go.
Let it go ..
*apologies for anyone who now has that blasted Frozen song stuck in their head*

What strategies have worked for you when life gets in the way of your writing?

About Orly

orly1.jpgAfter years of pushing the creativity boundary in corporate communications, Orly decided it was time for a new challenge. Three women’s fiction manuscripts later (plus a handful of picture books), it’s safe to say she’s found her creative outlet. When she’s not talking to her imaginary friends, she’s reading or at least trying to ignore everyone around her long enough to finish “just one more paragraph.” Orly is the founding president of the Women’s Fiction Writers Association. She is rep’d by Marlene Stringer, Stringer Literary Agency LLC.

Orly’s debut novel, The Memory of Hoofbeats, will be released by Forge in 2017.

You can find her on Twitter at @OrlyKonig, on Facebook at OrlyKonigAuthor, or on her website, www.orlykonig.com.

45 comments on “The Secret to Balancing Writing and Life”

  1. I launched an online magazine last September. It's taken off incredibly fast. I find there are days when I'm bogged down with administrative or managerial tasks, and I don't write at all. While these tasks are important, since I'm now running a business, it still bugs me that I didn't get any writing done. So now I find I only write a couple of days a week. And I get upset, and say to myself, "I'm a writer first!", as I feel guilty that I didn't write another day. As I read your post, I realized something: I may only be writing a couple of days a week, but in those days, I probably write 4000 words. I write several articles, and a weekly newsletter (and a monthly newsletter once a month). On those non-writing days, I proof/edit/format contributed posts. I interview people; I research; I sell ads; I take care of tech stuff; I market; I execute promotional partnerships; I conduct social media; I'm the billing and collections department; I'm planning ahead, in regard to editorial, advertising, the next phases; I'm evaluating and adapting. I'm an ambassador for my community. I'm spreading a positive, collaborative message that's resonating. I'm doing all this! Wowee! I'm not going to make myself feel guilty anymore! Maybe this isn't the year I will get back to my WIP, but I'm doing something I really believe in and am passionate about. It helps me to celebrate my heritage, be active in the community, to create, to write. My WIP will wait for me. And I promised myself, that it would be completed in the next 3 years. I can live with that. Thanks for your post, and helping me realize what I accomplish when I'm not writing, and why I shouldn't feel guilty.

    1. I'm glad you looked at what you ARE accomplishing. I started a journal at the beginning of February - every day I write what I accomplished that day, what I let get in my way, and one happy moment. After a month of looking at those entries, I realized how much I really was getting done and how many times I let guilt or frustration at something get in my way. Total game changer. 🙂

      You're doing an amazing amount of work. Focus on that!!

  2. You can't drop off that personal garbage bag stuff, Orly, because it's toxic Hazmat material.

    I never have had this problem . . . until now. A painful rejection has frozen me to a block of ice. I'm trying these. UGH!

    1. Even the guys with the hazmat suits don't want it.

      There's always a ready excuse for not doing and that raunchy little guilt dude is forever ready to hop up on your shoulder and tell you you failed. Knock him off. And you know I'm right next to you with a 2x4 ready to swing if you need. 🙂

  3. When people ask me if I have writing targets, I say n-o, yet I've written six novels and 200,000 words of an epic fantasy since the fall of 2009 when I decided to devote myself to writing. My secret? I don't beat myself up if I miss a day, although my wife will tell you that I start to get grumpy. My targets are long range. When I'm working on a novel, I figure six months roughly for the first draft and then another six for revisions (using beta readers and a paid editor) and advance publicity while I wrestle with formatting, etc. Each person needs to learn what conditions work best, such as time of day, background music or none, etc., but I highly recommend being kind to yourself and not setting short-term goals.

    1. "highly recommend being kind to yourself" ... THAT!!!!!! And so many of us forget to do that. Whether it's short term goals or long term goals, I think a lot of people fall into the "I failed" spin cycle with the first missed goal.

      I love your approach and congratulations on making it work!!

    1. I'm sorry to hear that! It's so easy to give in to the guilt. And then the guilt that you gave in to the guilt in the first place. Except when that spiral starts, you can't help the loved ones who need you and you can't help yourself.

      As Peter said above, it's important to be kind to yourself.

  4. Great post! We all likely have goals we don't quite meet sometimes. It's awesome and liberating to read about that here. I have to remember it's not that falling down that shapes us it's the getting up again. Thanks for the great post! Especially helpful on Monday morning!

    1. You nailed it, Mary Beth. It's the getting up and getting on with it that's important. And whatever the fail is - not making word count, a rejection, not getting the laundry folded and put away, finding a cucumber in the back of the fridge with a full Santa beard (not that I know from experience or anything), it doesn't matter. It's what you do next that matters.

  5. Such a timely post and oh so true. Women by nature are harder on themselves, I think. I just wrote a similar post on my blog. It must be in the air, but I agree with you, we have to give ourselves permission to let go and go with the flow. Thanks for sharing this important message. @sheilagood at Cow Pasture Chronicles

    1. Going with the flow ... Sounds so lovely and easy, doesn't it? 🙂

      Thanks for stopping by, Sheila!!!

  6. Oh, I feel for you in this, Orly. Guilt, whether earned or borrowed, is tough to overcome when it comes to getting your creative mojo back. Glad to hear that you're taking baby steps to a better mental place.

    1. Oh Erin! I read your response on my phone quickly the first time and my brain took mojo and turned it into mojito. Tonight may call for a creative mojito and I'm totally blaming you. 🙂

  7. Life has been kicking butt lately. I haven't written anything decent since November. I was introduced to your blog over the weekend. Perfect timing. I'm going to go back and read this again, then read more on my lunch break. Oh how I needed this. Thank you for being honest about this process.

    1. Glad you found it helpful, Robin. Life has a way of kicking serious butt. Except for working on revisions (and blog posts), I didn't write on my WIP since, yeah November, just like you. And then I'd give myself a verbal lashing because I wasn't doing what I needed to do or what I thought I needed to do. But with all the shit in my life, I didn't have the creative mojo (as Erin called it - a few mojitos may have helped but that's another story) to write even a grocery list.

      In my response to Maria, I mentioned how I finally got to the point of being able to start letting things go. It's worth a try. 🙂

      Glad you found WITS. Welcome to the family.

  8. I had to step away from writing and take care of my mind for about 8 weeks. Now that that is under quality management and back on track, the writing is coming again. I tried to get words down, but simply was not in a place where I could. Coming back, however, has given me new insight and excitement for my writing, and the break helped me remember that tending to the author is a necessity if there is going to be anything resembling continuous productivity and happiness.

  9. Since I am not yet published, I carry an extra layer of guilt when I devote time to writing instead of family, friends, chores etc. After all, there is a chance I am spending my energy on novels that won't bear the fruit of publication (read validation for my efforts.) Even though I write because there are stories inside me that need to come out, I still battle to remain optimistic at the same time the guilt gnaws at me.

    1. Oh Stephanie, we've all shoveled fertilizer onto that guilt pile. My husband was the one actually who gave me the kick in the pants to lay that particular guilt aside. He said I needed to respect writing as my career choice. If I don't take it seriously, why should anyone else? It took time for that to sink in but it finally did. Then come other guilt piles. Hang in there and keep writing!

  10. I allow myself to surrender ... sometimes. Life should get in the way of our writing. If it doesn't, I couldn't possibly believe that everything that's happened in my life got me to this place ... got to the point of maturity so I'm able to write with context and texture.

    1. You're exactly right, life should get in the way of our writing. It should get in the way of any job. And it's also okay not to feel guilty when that happens.

  11. Orly, thanks for a great, timely post. On those days when I just don't want to do it, I think of what I heard a bestselling technothriller writer say -- "I give myself permission to write crap today." I sometimes think, "Aw, this sucks. I might as well do laundry." Sometimes I do, but many times I am able to keep going. Outside influences bug me more than they should. Like my e-publisher hasn't answered an email. Ulp. Anyway, excellent essay. It was what I needed to hear.

  12. Oh Orly! You are a goddess of writing life prowess. After months of only writing in my head and scratching notes on scraps of paper today I'm sitting down to plunge back into revisions and I so needed your words of support and wisdom. My stress comes partially from having crit partners who are on stand-by to get me through this revision because I have an agent who has helped me shape this draft and is waiting for the new MS. Life has knocked me flatter than I've ever been before, and none of it is anything I have control over, There's finally some good brewing and I'm slowly starting to pull myself back up. I don't feel guilty that I'm not writing because my family comes first right now, they truly need me, but I so want this writing career and have worked hard to get this far. Your post today was just what I needed: "But it doesn’t work with writing. Why? Because writing requires the emotional energy. We write from a place deep inside and when that place is littered with confusion and hurt and disappointment, the words have a hard time finding their way to the surface." Yep! That's just how it's been. Thanks for putting my feelings into words!

    1. I've been thinking about you Cerrissa!! What I discovered is that sometimes you have to let life do its thing. There's no way to fight against it. And fighting against it only makes the guilt worse. The words come back when you're ready for them. And they'll be more confident, stronger. Hang in there! Sending virtual hugs until September!!

  13. Orly, sometimes life and kids and work and money issues just SUCK. But we are writers, and we'll always get back on the horse. It sounds like you write fast, and I know you will get over the hump and meet your deadlines. You'll worry about it, but you'll nail it. You've got this girl. Perhaps it is time for another Write Up a Storm??

  14. Hi Orly, It is so hard to write when life is battering you. I know. And guilt is so paralyzing! I recently read The Magic Art of Tidying Up and am a believer that it helps us deal with emotional chaos. The past is behind you . . . onward to that deadline now. You can do it!

  15. Well this is interesting.
    As an MFA student in my last semester i've got the guilt alright.
    Guilt that I spent my entire first year paralyzed by a mean spirited, soul crushing profesoor who sucked the creativity right out of me by trashing every piece i brought in and having major writers block because of it.
    Things got better in the second year with different insructors at the helm who have been more encouraging and helpful and so I am finally about 100 pages into my first novel.
    But, I feel guilt over not being at least twice that word count!!!

    I feel like I should at least twice, maybe three or four times that by now. But hey, theres always all the other literature classes, papers and time sucking projects to blame.
    Still, I want a do over of my first year! And I'm blaming myself for not accomplishing more with this precious time that is grad school. Yet, I suppose I should try to give myself credit for getting this far with it. Still, I so wanted to have a finished novel, ready to publish by graduation...

    1. Lisa, there's always more that we wanted to accomplish. There's always more we could have accomplished. As you said, there were all the other literature classes, papers, time sucking projects, in addition to the crappy instructor. So you did accomplish a lot. AND, you pushed past a major roadblock with that instructor. The publishing life is full of people who want to tear your work apart. You'll meet more supportive people than trashers, but you still have to deal with the rejections from agents/editors, the bad reviews, etc. You now know that you CAN push through everything that comes your way and continue writing. Not a bad thing to add to your "accomplished" list after all. 🙂

      Keep going!!! The supporters are out here waiting for you.

  16. The tagline for my blog isn't Life Happens for nothing. I have had more person crap happen over the last several years that it amazes me I get any writing done at all. You are so right Orly. The emotional stress zaps your creative energy. But it does come back girl. Hang in there. 🙂

    1. It does come back. And starts peeking out from around the corners when you stop scaring the shit out of it with the guilt. 🙂

  17. Hi Orly,
    I am Denise from Belgium. I follow you in WITS every week. Your blog is very helpfull and give me the opportunity to make my work better.
    As you know Henry Sienkiewicz and I are working together on a family story. He is great, working together with him is fantastique. Normally I write in Flemisch, so exuse me if something in this post is not correct.
    Thank you,
    Denise Keustermans

    1. Hi Denise!!!! 🙂
      I'm glad you popped in to say hi. And say hi to Henry for me. 🙂

  18. I'm still trying to work these things out, but it's hugely helpful to read posts like these. They remind me everyone has these problems, there is no easy solution, and there is no one-size-fits-all solution. That is freeing in its' own way (kind of like getting rid of those garbage bags of clutter!).

    1. You know, there really is a weird comfort to knowing others are struggling with the same problems. 🙂 It's also very nice to know that there are others going through or who have gone through the same issues and survived. That's what has always been so amazing to me about the writing community -- it's such a generous group.

  19. Orly, thank you so much for this post! I haven't written since June last year when my son died. I gave myself space last year but lately I've been beating myself up because I 'should' be getting better. Your post was a timely reminder that beating myself up achieves nothing. And I am, as you said, taking inspiration from having the time to observe people. Head down, bum up at the computer leaves little time for that when you have a business as well. Thank you again.

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