When I look to my left, sitting on top of my desk is an empty mug that about an hour ago held about eight ounces of peppermint mocha flavored coffee.
Ever so slightly distracted by this, I check the time. Check my text messages, glance at my email and my Twitter feed and my Facebook notifications. I realize it is getting late. I should take the dog out. I should clean the dishes. I should give my mind a rest.
But one glance back at my computer screen reminds me that when I stopped to glance at my coffee cup, I originally did so because I’d been trying to think of a word. You know — that word that’s just on the tip of your tongue that would fit perfectly right in this spot, but it just isn’t coming to you.
It comes to me. And I realize I was very much enjoying what I was writing, and have a very strong desire to return to it right now.
But I am tired. So I consider getting more coffee, if only to fuel more of my writing. Just for a little longer.
You have been in this position before. Maybe at a different desk in a different state — on a different continent, perhaps — or you’re sitting on the floor with your laptop, not at a desk at all. But you’re stuck between your physical and mental desire to rest and your creative urge to keep writing, and the more logically you try to think about it, the harder it is to figure out what to do next.
It is in these moments you have to actively make a choice. Do you leave the mug where it sits? Do you take it to the sink, rinse it, and load it into the dishwasher?
Do you refill it for the fifth time today in the hopes it will get you through another thousand words — even though there is a chance it won’t work at all and you still might not be able to get through the final leg of today’s writing journey?
If you do refill your mug one more time and spend another hour in front of your computer writing through your exhaustion, will it be worth it when that hour ends? Will it still be worth it tomorrow when your alarm goes off and you’re kicking yourself for staying up too late? Will it still be worth it a year from now when you look back on all you did — and didn’t — accomplish?
Or will you be glad you put the mug away, closed your laptop, and spent the remaining hour of your day lost in a book, laughing at a TV show, cuddling with your significant other, or talking with your mom/friend/child?
We often get hung up on crossroads like these. Writing is so important, but so are things like family and friends and hobbies and pop culture (IT’S IMPORTANT, DON’T @ ME).
We could benefit so much from spending just one more hour writing. But then our best friend calls. Our kid needs help with a science project. Our dog has now brought us half her inventory of toys just waiting until we pick one up to play.
How do you choose? Do you caffeinate and write, or do you put it all aside and live?
No writer will ever make the best decisions in the moment every single time. I’ve missed out on outings and game nights and fun conversations because I chose to write instead. I’ve chosen to lounge around instead of getting my work done and regretted it.
I’ve also chosen to stop writing and have woken up the next morning feeling refreshed and ready to take on the day because of it. And I’ve pushed through just a little bit more of my work for the day and have gone to bed feeling the best I can swear I’ve felt in a long time due to that choice.
You aren’t going to know how you’ll feel when you hit that crossroads until you come to it. You’re going to have moments where you expect to breeze through your goals for the day and end up unable to even come close to finishing them. And you’re going to have days you don’t think you can do it, but somehow you do, and that’s a feeling that simply can’t be replicated.
Do you keep writing? Do you quit for the time being? It’s completely up to you. The hardest part about finding balance as a writer is wondering if you’re doing all this right. If you’re putting all your priorities in the right order. If you’re giving everyone around you the attention they deserve while also giving your ambitions the time and energy you so desperately desire to give them.
Today I kept writing, and at the end I felt I had made the best decision for me in this moment. Perhaps I will feel differently about it tomorrow. Perhaps I will wake up and remember I forgot to text someone back and I’ll feel guilty. Or my alarm will go off and I’ll have spent too much of my energy and getting out of bed will feel like the hardest thing I’ve ever had to do.
But in this life, we do what we feel is best and face whatever the consequences may be at a later time. We learn as we go. The more we worry about whether or not we’re doing it “right,” the less we’ll end up getting done.
So next time you stop writing for a moment and stare down at the empty coffee cup to the left of your keyboard, try not to worry about whether what you do in the next five seconds will have a positive or negative outcome. Simply do what your gut tells you to do. Don’t even think about it: Just do it.
Whether it’s time to say goodnight to your work in progress or the night is still very young, focus not on what comes after, but instead only on what’s happening right now.
Make the most of the time you have.
Spend it doing what makes you happy.
Some days, choose writing. Other days, choose everything else.
In the end, all that matters is that the way you spent your moments made a difference somehow. That it mattered. And that you gave it your all, even when you were uncertain. That you tried your best, kept pushing forward, and rarely looked back.
Meg is the creator of Novelty Revisions, dedicated to helping writers put their ideas into words. She is a staff writer with The Cheat Sheet, a freelance editor and writer, and a 10-time NaNoWriMo winner. Follow Meg on Twitter for tweets about writing, food and nerdy things.