Wednesday, September 20, 2006

Wednesday is all-about-writing day no 4: maintaining balance

Okay, once again this is based around my experience, and the experience of writers I know. The subject is keeping balance in your life when you are a writer. If anyone has suggestions, please stick them in the comments!

If you hang out on chat groups for writers you might see this little phrase bandied about a lot: “the SDJ.” It stands for sucky day job, for writers who write as a second career. For many writers, a full time writing career is the ideal, and if you read my Wednesday post last week you know that’s what I worked towards over the course of many years. Some writers (true superheroes,) can juggle a regular career, family, home, and a busy writing schedule. Not me, alas. I could manage shorts and disjointed bits of novel writing in spare time, but to really get to grips with the craft and the longer stories I needed more hours, so it was a matter of whittling down the SDJ hours just enough so we could survive financially, and I could make that transition. Many of my writer pals also want to write full time, and are working towards that as well.

On the other hand, writing is an all-consuming task, and the more hours we devote to it, the more consumed we may become. Oh yes, it’s lovely to be consumed by our fantasy worlds, in one sense, but while we fly with our imagination we really need to keep one foot nailed to the floor. (I’m badly misquoting Clive Barker there, I think, anyone know the correct quote please say.) That’s because the threads we weave together in our stories come from real life. Our creative sources are all around us, whether we even realise it or not. Writers are people-watchers and magpies, collecting little shiny things here and there, making a new story with the odd image or phrase, emotion, or sensation that inspires us.

It’s a matter of keeping balance in our lives, and for someone like me that is as simple as getting away from the PC, even if it’s just a short drive or shopping trip. Sometimes I realise I’ve been focused on writing (and the business of writing, all that comes with the online writer's life,) for hours and even days at a time. Apart from the risk of RSI, it can really disconnect me with the things I love – my social life, my friends, booking gig tickets, planning holidays and nights out, fresh air, hanging out washing (no really LOL) but you get the picture. The life that inspires me.

There's a fabulous little book that addresses the subject of creative writing through interviews with many big name authors. My CP gave it to me as a gift and I return to if often because it's full of gems. It's called Writers Dreaming by Naomi Epel, and the main theme is the correlation between dreams, imagination and writing. Heaps of valuable stuff in there. I used to read a chapter a day in my lunch break at my SDJ, and I still dip into it now. It's inspirational and I highly recommend it. Here are a couple of quotes from the book on the subject of the writer’s life:

Clive Barker: I spend most of my day in some kind of dream state. That is to say, I get up from my bed, I shower, drink my coffee and go to my desk, which is literally ten yards from my bed. I then start, on a normal day, a process which will maybe take me eight or ten hours, writing about something that my inner eye is seeing.

Isabel Allende: When I begin a book, very rapidly I get into the story and it becomes the real world for me. That is, when I'm driving the car, I'm not looking at the landscape, I'm in the landscape of the book….I'm a social person but when I'm writing I'm not. It's a very schizophrenic life. I want to be with my husband and when I'm writing I'm even closer because he's the only person who shares this strange state of mind. So that although I operate in a normal state and I can feed my grandson and buy the groceries, my mind is detached. Everything that happens to me that I can use in the story becomes interesting. And everything that I cannot use in the story is eliminated automatically. My mind becomes very selective.

I can almost hear the writers out there saying: “yes, that’s it, that's how it is for me, too.” And it is, it’s great, it’s the state we might need to be in to create real, fleshed out stories that engage readers on that kind of level.

Isabel Allende also talks about how she writes. She spends months writing, and then months living a more normal life again, while another book gestates. Not so good, you think? Well, it’s one way of dealing with it. For me, it’s about making a big effort to lead as much of a normal life as possible. Because of my wonky leg, that only adds to the problem. When I worked out of the house full time, I used to spend every night and weekend writing. I had to balance my social life even then. But like Isabel Allende, I’m a social person and I need that. I’m off to a gig this weekend, so that proves I’m not completely lost to it as yet. ;-)

For me writing can sprawl across the entire day, as can the business of writing, all the other stuff that has to be done. The people I admire most are the writing mums out there. I hear about writers who can do 9 to 5 writing, like a regular job. Oh, how I dream of that, and being able to switch off at the end of the workday. LOL I wonder how common that is. Nora Roberts can treat it like a normal job, so it must be good. ;-) If you have tips on how to achieve it, please share. Even now, as a full time writer, I often feel as if I’m stealing time from other things, maybe it's a hangover from when I was actually stealing precious moments for my dreams, maybe it's because there’s so much I want to do, but it’s hard to balance. And, no, I don’t have any formula to conclude this post with. I do believe that knowing a problem is half the battle to solving it, so I'm just saying, watch out for the writing monster that eats all your time and your social skills. ;-)

With apologies for this going up late, blogger wasn’t playing along and I've had to give up on uploading the image I wanted to include until later, sigh.


Nikki said...

Wise post, Ms Walker. I wish I had that balance!

I find I write sporadically, and 'full-time' can mean 4 in the morning, or at inconvenient times when I should be on holiday/socialising/eating. It's easy to fall into a literal 'full-time' life of writing 24 hours a day, in your sleep, while you're talking and doing what should be 'real life'.

What helps:

Washing up. (really. Repetitive, easy and satisfying.)
Gardening. (Can't get more earthy than mud!)
Music. (must activate a different brain part - I can't write and listen at same time, usually.)
Drawing. (Again, a silent, wordless activity. Good for sanity.)

If I'd been half-sane I would have kept the crummy day job.

Marilyn Jaye Lewis said...

I never feel like I have balance. When I had the SDJ, I felt like I got more done. Meaning both writing and non-writing. Writing & writing-business consumes me and I have to force myself to stop. I usually go several days without stepping foot outside--or at least off my porch and into the real world. I also have to force myself to take weekends off once I've met a particular deadline. I get stuck in the groove of constantly working.

I'm hoping that the upcoming move back to my family will help me find more balance again. At least learn how to have midday meals with people & not always be eating lunch at the laptop. It's a start!

Saskia Walker said...

Nikki ~ like you, I write at odd times. I can't shake off habit I had from when I wrote late into the evenings, while I worked a SDJ. I'm trying to write during office hours now, but it's hard. It's as if it was programmed in me and I can't reformat!

Marilyn ~ very similar to me. With writing being the main focus it's as long as a piece of string! I never feel I've done enough until I look back at what I have achieved over the last year. As a result, writing and the business of writing comes first, and that means I sacrifice too much of my real life. We haven't had a proper holiday in two years, but in a regular job it was deemed necessary and I worked for it. We've got a few days booked off and I'm fretting about that "lost" time already. Wrong attitude. I'm getting there though. :) I hope your move brings you that regular routine. I know what you mean about eating lunch at the laptop!

Nikki said...

Good to hear you've got a holiday coming - you certainly deserve one!

Holiday suggestions: set an 'out of office' autoreply on your email, turn off mobile phone and leave laptop at home. It's strange, but when you physically can't be contacted, a lot of that guilty-anxious fretting just dissolves into thin air...

Saskia Walker said...

Nikki ~ I swear you and the Man of the House here are in cahoots! He's forbidden me to take the laptop LOL You are, of course, both right. It's the only way.