One of an aspiring writer’s biggest struggles is balance. It’s a difficult thing to achieve, because there are no set recommendations for writers to follow to figure out when, how much and how often to write (if only …). You would love to be able to write from the moment you get home from work until you’re too tired to function … but most of the time, you can’t. Or don’t want to. Or you procrastinate. Or all of the above.
How can you balance your writing with work or school, and your social life, and your other hobbies, and those completely mindless activities we all hate to love? Here are a few suggestions.
This post will focus primarily on those of you who write in your spare time and not as part of your work day, but professional writers might benefit from a few of the suggestions below as well.
Establish a separation between writing … and everything else
The problem with aspiring to write regularly, whether full-time or as a side gig, is that regardless of how much time you might prefer to spend writing, it’s not the only responsibility you have. Some of you, like me, might have work that doesn’t involve writing for yourself or for your own business or blog. Some of you have families or other relationships that need frequent attention. You have hobbies that have nothing to do with writing. You need your “Netflix and whatever you do while watching Netflix” time. It’s important to pay attention to all of those things, which is why fitting writing into the mix is so complicated. You need to set aside specific time to write. That way, when it’s time to write, it’s time to write. And when it isn’t, you don’t have to worry about the time you aren’t spending in front of your laptop.
My cutoff time for writing is usually 5:00. If your writing time happens early in the morning or late at night, you’ll likely have a block of time set aside dedicated to writing instead of a cutoff point. During that time you should really try to focus on writing only – not checking your messages or making dinner or talking with someone. Similarly, you should try not to write outside or beyond that block of time or cutoff point. When it’s over, it’s time to focus on something else – a person or pet who needs your attention, or a book, or a really messy kitchen.
Set goals that are actually attainable
There’s nothing wrong with wanting to challenge ourselves to do more than we think we’re capable of. That’s one way we can start to grow, after all. But when it comes to goal-setting, sometimes we overdo things a little. In that moment, experiencing what I like to call “brain rush,” we like to think we can easily exceed our own expectation. This leads to us setting goals, both short- and long-term, that are a bit more then challenging … they’re TOO challenging.
Don’t say you’re going to write 5,000 words today if you can’t. Not if it’s going to interfere with work, or going to dinner with a friend, or watching the season premiere of a show you’ve been waiting for since spring. There are times to push yourself a little, and times to just let yourself step back and enjoy the present. Setting the bar a little lower doesn’t mean you’re not trying hard enough. It’s healthy. It’s okay. You’ll feel much better if you actually reach that bar than you would if you set it too high.
Set limits for yourself, and don’t go overboard
Everyone pretty much has an upper limit to how much writing they can do on a normal day. There will, of course, be days you’re on a roll and can write thousands of words at a time without feeling drained, the same way there will be days even a few hundred words seems to wear you out completely. You need to test your limits – set a word or page or article count and stick with it for a week to see how you feel by the end of the stretch. If you feel good with that, stick with it. If it tires you out too much, set a lower limit.
This goes along with the idea of attainable goal-setting. Over time you’ll learn how much you can handle on a good day compared with how much you need to get done throughout any given week. Take my blogging as an example. I can handle one 500-1000 word post a day. I would love to be able to write more than that. But that’s beyond my limits. Quality over quantity is also a factor. Do good work, even if there’s technically less of it. Don’t do more work that’s not that good. It’s not worth your time, or anyone else’s for that matter.
It’s common to feel torn between wanting to write as much as possible and wanting to feel like you’re actually getting out into the world and experiencing real life. The longer you write, the more you realize how much real life experiences shape and enhance your writing. Write enough to satisfy your creative hunger and take advantage of inspiration when it comes. But don’t go to extremes. Balance, like many other attributes of skilled writers, becomes easier with time.
What part of balancing your writing time with other areas of your life do you struggle with the most? Have you found any methods that have helped you overcome this?
Meg is the creator of Novelty Revisions, dedicated to helping writers put their ideas into words. She is a freelance writer and an eight-time NaNoWriMo winner with work published in Teen Ink, Success Story, Lifehack and USA TODAY College. Follow Meg on Twitter for tweets about writing, food and nerdy things.