I spend most of my working hours running the non-profit that I started called Writing Through. I love the work and I think that it is the greatest gift I can give to the world (other than my wonderful children, of course). But I also love writing – poems, novels, whatever – and I know that my writing is the greatest gift I can give to myself. How to balance the two, though, has become more and more of an issue, and so I am always on the lookout for descriptions of how other writers organize their time. We writers are always jugglers, too. I don’t know of anyone who writes, earns a living from writing only, and lives alone without the interruptions of friends and/or families (joyous or not). Perhaps that is a road that can be taken by some, but it isn’t one that I have ever wanted to take. Sometimes I think that was always my Faustian bargain. If only I had sat alone and did nothing but wrote, maybe I would have been Hemingway. But I guess I didn’t want to be Hemingway enough to make those sacrifices.
I call this the Work-Work Balance. When you have multiple jobs whose work hours bleed into each other’s, how do you manage? I just read an article in Medium by Mike Gardner called How Amy Bloom Paid the Bills While She Wrote the Books. The interview is enlightening in many ways, not the least of which is how she seems to say that the only element of her success which was not haphazard was her persistence. I would add a seemingly bottomless resource of talent and energy. But even for those of us who don’t have Bloom’s bottomless energy and talent, the interview is well worth reading.
For myself, I am continually struggling with my own balance. The scale usually tips to one side of the other, but every now and again there is a temporary equilibrium. When that happens, these factors are usually in play:
- Two communities pulling me in both directions at once: my Writing Through team and partners on one side, and a community of artists on the other, both vying for my attention equally.
- Deadlines. I’m the sort of person who works well with deadlines. If something has to be done by a certain time, I do it, so I often create deadlines for myself even when they don’t exist, for both my non-profit work, and my writing.
- Two separate work areas. I try to keep my Writing Through work piles in a separate area from my poetry/fiction writing work piles, even if that means just in opposite corners of the same room. Separate, but equal.
- Time away. Despite my need for deadlines, my need for me time is just as great – whether it’s to exercise, do the crossword puzzle, play the violin or (now) the drums, or do nothing. If the pressure mounts too much, nothing gets done well.
Amy Bloom tells the story of the Do Not Disturb sign which her young daughter made for her. Neither side says, Do Not Disturb. One side basically says Come In, while the other says Knock and then Come In. I get that and have always done the same, no matter which work area I find myself in. To my friends and family, it is always Come In or Come In, Even if I Say Don’t. Perhaps that is the real essence of my deal with the devil. Keeping the door to life open may have meant for me keeping the door to success closed. But I guess it depends on your definition of success.