Yesterday, after steering clear of them for a while, I ate a bunch of potato chips.
Some might call this a victory. Others, a setback. I prefer to call it A Completely Normal Reaction to the End of A Very Long Week. Mostly because I only got around to eating a handful or two. More on that later.
For some reason whenever I’m sitting in front of a bag of chips, I’m overwhelmed with the sensation that everything is falling apart around me and sour cream and onion Lays are my only salvation. This is not true, of course. Snacks to me, though they haven’t always been, are a reward, not a sin or a punishment.
But it’s the late-night stillness, the absence of sound beyond the rustle of the bag and crunch of the chips, that forces you to be mindful of your surroundings and all the things that are going on in your life. And that’s when you often become aware that things might not be happening the way you’d like them to.
I’m not usually disappointed in my consumption of flavored potato chips. The chips just happened to follow an otherwise seemingly perfect day.
As I reached for the bag of potato chips I realized that up until 11 p.m. on that full, productive Friday, I had done everything “right.” I’d gotten up early, I’d eaten good food, I’d gone for a run and cleaned and walked the dog and I’d hit my daily writing goal. I’d made progress on the book I’d been reading. I’d even emailed a website about a contributing writer opportunity, something I don’t do often anymore because REASONS.
But the chips. Why the chips? And why at 11 p.m.?
For the record, there is absolutely nothing wrong with potato chip consumption as long as you are engaging in said activity “in moderation.” Thank God I have a puppy who spontaneously appears at my feet every time I try to snack on something, forcing me to enjoy only a few delicious chips before they have to go back in the cabinet (otherwise she’ll give me that look, and I’ll have to share, and I don’t want to).
But so many people wonder why just when you think you’ve checked all your boxes for the day, at least one thing tumbles off the rails. I mean, I would have technically had a completely clean slate if I’d just gone to bed instead of going for the chips. But I chose the chips. Why? Because balance.
For writers — for anyone, really — balance doesn’t mean you do everything right and have everything together all the time. Balance means that sometimes you have to rise early and work hard and take care of yourself and then also treat yourself and not feel guilty about it.
I would love to be that person who really does have it all together all the time, except I don’t think that person actually exists. It’s the social media facade that has been lying to us for so long, and before that, more traditional forms of media that only show the good parts of a person’s day, having already overcome obstacles, doing everything well always no matter what.
Because while I did work out and eat healthy and do all my work and succeeded as a dog mom, I don’t think I communicated with any of my close friends, even to just say “hey I love you you’re awesome have a good day.” I spent way more money on books than I probably should have. I wasn’t necessarily happy with the things I did write. And even though I’m all caught up on things at my day job, it was a highly frustrating, exhausting eight-plus hours.
Sometimes I think we forget that “doing the best we can” doesn’t actually mean we have to do everything well. Yesterday my best meant finally hitting my word count goal at 11 p.m., at which point I was so done with being awake that for some reason my impulse was to go straight to the snacks. I don’t feel guilty about that. But I did sort of feel guilty about almost feeling guilty.
Also — writing is hard. It’s hard BEING a writer. Most people don’t realize how exhausting it is to have to do all the adulting things and finally settle down to write and become completely aware of the fact that writing is the absolute last thing you want to be doing right now.
You have to do it anyway. Sometimes you have to hold off on other things so that you can do it anyway. That may not seem like balance, but the truth is that there will also be times you don’t have to write “after hours” and can start watching Friends from the beginning. Again.
Instead of achieving total balance every single day, we have to look at the bigger picture. If you’re writing a novel, for example, you’re most likely not going to have a normal or even totally healthy routine. When I’m in the thick of it, I don’t clean the house as often, I eat more frozen meals (I know), I don’t make plans with friends as often. But when I’m finished with the book (well, the first draft anyway), I’m looking forward to getting back to “normal” for a little while. For me personally, that’s just what balance looks like. Periods of chaos followed by periods of slightly less intense chaos.
And if we’re being honest? You’re going to have plenty of long stretches of time where you just can’t get it together. You’ll feel like everything you do, you don’t do well. You’ll feel like you’re just not operating at your best. And do you know what? That’s completely normal.
Life rises and falls, some in more intense hills and valleys than others. You fall apart and you put yourself back together again. You doubt and you believe. You hate everything and you hate everything less. It is the way of things. We don’t live in a constant flow of repetition all the time because if we did, we’d start to question whether or not that routine was even worth repeating for a ten-thousandth time.
The reason balance is impossible to achieve on a daily basis comes down to the fact that we are all human. We are not invincible and we are not immune to weariness. We get tired. We get frustrated. Heck, we even get bored and procrastinate and don’t always get our writing done when we say we are going to.
Instead of beating ourselves up about our imperfections, it would be much more productive — and practical — to not only accept that we are flawed, but to set boundaries for ourselves to keep our chaos somewhat in check. Potato chips, for example. I’m not NOT allowed to eat them. But eating half the bag or more in one sitting would be crossing a line. I know this. I adhere to this. I know that if I don’t respect my own boundary, I’ll be upset with myself, and getting my writing done is actually going to be a lot harder because I am upset.
Perhaps, in creating the best possible writing conditions for ourselves, our first focus should always be on making sure we are well and happy and “okay.” Maybe then we can not only set goals, but do our very best to work toward achieving them, too.
This is not about being perfect. It is, at the end of the day, about being the best versions of ourselves we know how to be. Always seeking to improve, but accepting that we are works in progress and will always be works in progress. Sometimes things won’t go our way. Somehow, we have to train ourselves to write anyway, and make the most of that time.
If we can do that, we can do anything. Well. Almost.
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.