By Emily Rae Robles
I am going to guess something about you, and you can tell me if I’m right or wrong. I am going to guess that a lot of you readers are writers yourselves. But I am also going to guess that some of you are also parents. Some of you have day jobs. Some of you are athletes. Some of you are gardeners. All of you have lives and identities outside of writing. Am I right?
“What is wrong with having an abundance of positive, fulfilling experiences?” you might ask. “Aren’t we enriching both our own lives and the lives of others?”
Yes. But the problem is that we are human, and we can only handle so much stuff. Even when it’s good stuff, it’s still stuff. As humans, we are only capable of so much before we break down. We need to be able to strike a balance between our different identities, specifically between what I like to call “the Real Life” and “the Write Life.”
I’m going to give away the ending now: I don’t really have an answer. I’ll give away the ending even further: There is no real right answer. Life is different for everyone, and everyone has different limits. My perfect balance is different from yours, which is different from Clark Kent’s. However, here are some tips that will make balancing the Write Life with the Real Life slightly easier to pull off.
1. Learn the difference between living as a writer and writing as a living
Not all of us are lucky enough to get paid for our writing, although many of us aspire to that. This point is dedicated to those who say, “writing is my life” but who are forced to work a day job to pay the bills, thus relegating writing to a spare time activity. I’ll be willing to bet, this is a good chunk of you.
Here’s a hint: you can’t always write, but you can always live. And living is what inspires great writing. So pay attention to the tiny, mundane details that pop up every day. Think of ways to describe that slightly hoarse quality to your boss’s voice, or the lingering sweet smell of blossoming flowers as you walk down your street, or the frustration you feel when a meal you’re cooking doesn’t turn out right.
Humans identify with humans. As readers, we don’t want to hear about a character that lives an idyllic life with no character development or personal issues, so why should you want to live that life? (Then again, just because you happen to enjoy reading murder mysteries doesn’t mean you thrive on being in mortal danger, so take what I say with a grain of salt.)
Listen to the world around you. Live as a writer. Your balancing act between the Real Life and the Write Life will be easier when the one inspires the other. So be inspired!
2. Learn the difference between the boundaries you set and the boundaries you push
You need to set limits for yourself. That is a must. If you write all day instead of making yourself dinner, you will starve to death and, among other issues, won’t be able to write anymore. On the flip side, if you spend all day cooking an exquisite gourmet dinner, you will have no time for writing. So, no matter how much you love cooking and no matter how much you love writing, you must set boundaries that define when you will do each thing and for how long. At the same time, however, you must be willing to stretch out of your comfort zone, try new things, and take risks. Without risks, there are no stories. The hard part is being smart about the risks you take.
I’ll give you an example. For two and a half years of my college career, I was a piano performance major. I was a lazy piano performance major, because I didn’t practice the minimum six hours that most others did. I took naps (and English classes.) I read books. I practiced maybe three hours a day. Looking back on it, that balance sounds fairly healthy. What was not healthy was my mentality. I had the idea that I needed to do everything and do it well. The problem with doing everything when you are a piano performance major, much like the problem with doing everything when you are a regular human being, is that there are no limits to what you could do (if you were invincible. Which you are not.) I could have refused to eat, sleep, or be merry until I had practiced every spare minute. But there are always spare minutes.
You need spare minutes in order to remain sane. I hereby give you permission to take those spare minutes and do nothing with them. Give yourself a break. Don’t do everything. Set yourself boundaries to push, but also set yourself boundaries that you must not push.
3. Learn the difference between imagination and denial
As a writer, you need a strong imagination. However, in order to rightly develop your imagination, you also need to be grounded in reality. You need to realize that, although you are living as a writer, you are not yet writing as a living (if this is the case.) You need to realize that you do have a day job. You do have kids. You do have that sports meet to attend. You do have your garden to take care of. You have responsibilities and commitments outside of writing, which you cannot simply sit around and deny.
On the other hand, you can imagine that you are a superhero writer who pumps out ten thousand words a day while servants wander around your luxurious castle and wait on you. Just realize that this is not reality. And it probably wouldn’t make very good fiction either, so put your imagination to better use while you’re at it.
So there you have it: three easy tips to balance out the Real Life with the Write Life. Follow these simple lessons, and your problems will suddenly be cured, leaving you with more time than you know what to do with.
Really? No, not really. In reality, what will happen will most likely go something like this: You will try to catch yourself every time you start wishing you were a “real writer.” You will try to write down ideas as they are triggered by everyday events. You will give your imagination a workout while trying to remember who you really are. Then, after a few days, you will fall slowly back into the mire of denial, wishful thinking, and over commitment. A few days after that, your motivation will return, catapulting you into newfound levels of productivity. Then, again, the mire.
It’s a vicious cycle, but really it’s worth the trouble. Why? Because struggles are what make us human, but overcoming struggles is what makes us superheroes. And yes, we all want to be superheroes.
Emily Rae Robles is something of a literary prodigy, and we’re so glad to have found her! Growing up her dream was to become a professional reader, not the more commonplace ballerina or veterinarian. Her parents often punished her by taking away her reading privileges back then. She credits CS Lewis and Chaim Potok for changing her view on literature and life. She can be reached via email or Twitter. You can also learn more about her by visiting her blog, The Paradoxymoron: www.emilyraerobles.wordpress.com