I can’t believe it’s July already. That means I’ve passed the half way point in the year and I should be at the half way point in my book releases. I must admit, I’m a bit behind. I know I’m not the only one. I belong to a writers group where we share every week the number of words we’ve written and any challenges we are facing. Two thirds of the group are behind in their word count. Interestingly, we all have the same problem: balancing writing time with the rest of our life.
When most people begin writing, they have one or two books in their head they are dying to complete and get published. Some people take years to get that first book done, while others get down to it and have it out within a matte of months. No matter the writer’s pace or ability, that first one is special and everything is concentrated in that experience of writing a story. The author’s family, friends, even work colleagues are often very supportive–and sometimes forgiving–of the time it takes to create this work and get it out. In those first books, balance looks like this first picture. Perhaps five somewhat equal priorities, in which writing is the second or third largest.
It is that focus and forgiveness from the support network that makes the writing experience exemplary for most new authors. But it also sets up a false expectation. That is the expectation that every book will be this way. Sadly, for most of us, that is not the case. The husband or other care partner who took over the kids in those days of being behind closed doors with your book is not always willing to do the same again and again. The day job that allowed you those extra days off when you were plowing through to the end, is not always as willing to let that happen with book after book. The friends you ignored because you had to choose between writing or going for coffee, they may have decided it’s not worth it waiting for you to surface and then again disappear for the next book. Not to mention volunteer work you may have undertaken, aging parents, or any number of other day-to-day life experiences that were temporarily ignored.
It is with that second or third book, that 95% of new authors slow down or quit. It is not because they don’t have the will to write. It is because they don’t know how to find a balance that works for everyone. How do you decide who or what to put more energy toward? Most of us are not in a place where we can equally parcel out hours for all the parts of our life. Something has to give, and if we don’t let something go then something WILL fall apart eventually. Children, spouses, parents, friends, all have a way of requiring more than the hours we’ve allocated to them in order to accommodate are writing time. If only nothing every went wrong.
For me, I had no problem with balance through the first 5 to 6 books–even while working full time. Then things started to happen. Job changes, more travel on the road, aging parents, need to take over financial management for others, retirement, moving our residencs twice, being elected to leadership in a volunteer organization, not to mention the normal daily distractions. Of course, at the same time, I had more books to produce and all that entails from writing to marketing. Each month I’d tell myself: “I can do this. I just need to work harder, faster, be more efficient.” And for a while that worked, then one day it all came crashing down and I didn’t write for 6 months.
Life Balance is all about choice. The truth is no one can “have it all.” With whatever we pursue as our number one priority, it requires other things to be a lesser priority and then given less time. Eventually, the priorities toward the bottom have to disappear. Balance also requires a realistic look at what you are able to accomplish in the time you have. If you don’t have enough time for everything on your list, your CHOICE is to change the list. Remove something or make something a lesser priority–and thus receiving less time. As the books pile up and the time allocation gets reduced, something has to give. Yes, you can perhaps work smarter or leaner. You can perhaps spend a few hours and it’s enough to get to the next step. Perhaps you can ask for help or pay for help to keep it all in balance.
By mid-career or later, the balancing may look more like the picture on the left. The foundation is still strong, but there have been adjustments to tasks and priorities. Each adjustment impacts the ones nearest and makes the stones to come that much more precarious. I can’t tell you what to remove or adjust. For each person it’s different. It depends on your values and your relationships and commitments. It depends on what you are willing to give up, trade, or buy to make balance more likely.
The other thing about life balance is that it is not static. No matter how much I think I have it together, something inevitably comes along to make me re-evaluate and have to make changes. Learning that making those changes is a requirement of maintaining balance is a hard thing to accept–after all it took so much effort to find that equilibrium. But if I don’t make adjustments, I will find myself drowning once again.
I hope all of you are finding the best way to live the balanced life you need and feeling at peace with your choices.