Finding Balance in Your Writing Practice

Is your writing/life balance effective and sustainable, and how can it be improved?

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Is your writing/life balance effective? Is it sustainable?

On the 8th August 2019, Kris Twyman swam solo across the Channel. He balanced months of training followed by coasting along at peak fitness and then sheer determination for 14 hours and 38 minutes. I swam in the sea for 20 minutes, in a spirit of solidarity with him, and then lay exhausted in bed for hours.

Writing deadlines loom and I’m not up to meeting them all. Why not? Because writing my book is so joyful that I’ve been ignoring my timer. Ignoring my wellbeing. Ignoring the early warning hints that I’m draining my mental and physical energy.

Are you paying enough attention to the balance in your life? Short-term imbalances are necessary and even desirable. My persistent imbalance has ended because exhaustion has forced me to stop. My self-imposed book deadline has now been ditched. No guilt, no shame, no regrets. It was unrealistic. Before I set a new one, I’ll be journaling using the following prompts:

  • Where are the imbalances in your life?
  • What are the first hints that your mental or physical energy is draining away?
  • What replenishes your mental and physical energy?

Are you working with your biorhythms? Do you write when your creativity peaks and edit when your brain is at its most analytical? At what time of day are you most creative? At what time of day are you most analytical?

Are you happy with the balance within your writing practice? Is the input from courses, workshops and reading other writers balanced by your writing output? Is writing three morning pages taking up most of your writing time? Is it eating into time you want to spend on a treasured writing project? John Siddique inspired me to start facilitating weekly journaling workshops in addition to my creative writing. Despite the impact of his workshops, attending writing workshops feels like a distraction from my writing.

I was delighted to be asked to lead a journaling workshop for the first Margate Bookie Write Up! Weekend in July. I wasn’t planning to attend the other workshops because my writing deadlines were closing in, but curiosity changed my mind. Both my writing and my writing/life balance have benefitted.

I was alerted to the way my readers’ brains will be searching for patterns and melodies in the rhythm of my writing. This triggered a realisation that the rhythms in my life are in chaos, disrupted by writing my book without having a repeating melody of writing integrated into the natural rhythms of my life.

Then I learnt that an emotional response to a place can drive a fiction story and create a non-fiction atmosphere. This inspired me to boost the momentum of my stalled short stories by paying attention to the spirit of their setting. On reflection, too much time spent writing has disengaged me from the rejuvenating power of living on the coast. A coast glimpsed through a window rather than being enjoyed on walks, swims and while basking on my balcony.

If laughter is defined as reacting vocally to something that’s not right, it becomes the reward when a writer successfully combines something recognisable with a subversion or transgression. Laughter felt good. Laughter has been missing from my life. I could be laughing at my life—reacting vocally to something that’s not right. The imbalance of a total focus on writing. No time for fun. Nothing to look forward to with anticipation. This has inspired me to take the risk to incorporate humour in my writing and to feed my sense of humour.

I was then introduced to evidence-based writing for wellbeing. Writing to discover ourselves and to discover who is driving our bus. And by listening, to give more weight to hidden aspects of ourselves. My inner workaholic has been driving my bus non-stop, leaving my inner carer waiting at the bus-stop. This prompted me to describe the kind of place where I feel at ease and flourish. A first step into bringing that place into our lives.

Finally, I learned how to create new worlds in a literary sense, which is an invaluable skill for writing short stories. What sort of world are you creating in a literal sense? This inspired me to create a more sustainable world which nurtures my wellbeing and writing.

Are you gaining the rewards of listening to aspects of yourself which need attention? Are you allowing them to take a turn at driving your bus and help you to live a more balanced life?

Teach what you need to learn, they say. My rule for expressive writing is: don’t think, just write fast in response to a prompt. The most benefits result from making expressive writing a daily habit. The time of day and length of writing are flexible to suit you and your lifestyle. Anthony Trollope had a routine of writing for fifteen-minute sessions for a total of three hours a day. Short, regular sessions add up. They easily slip into a daily schedule and soon become a habit. Trollope’s fifteen minutes will be most effective when your brain is habituated to being creative at a similar time every day. There’s only one way to find out if a routine like Trollope’s will work for me.

Kris demonstrated the benefits of training and pacing. His body needs a month to recover from swimming across the channel. Trollope demonstrated the productivity and sustainability of short writing sessions and a realistic daily time limit for writing. The Margate Bookie Write-up! Weekend has given me inspiration and tools for turning my ideal writing/life balance into reality.

Do you have a sustainable writing-life balance? What is your ideal writing-life balance? How will you achieve that balance?

Navigating a river of travelogues, whirlpools of free-writing journaling, and plunging into the ocean of fantasy short stories.

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