According to my Fitbit app, I haven’t gone for a run in almost three weeks.
As I am writing this, that means the last time I laced up was November 3. And that has nothing to do with the weather, which has been unfavorably wet and cold and awful for most of the month.
It turns out that despite other stressors that have led to my temporarily putting workouts on hold — to be fair, I do walk my Husky every day, and by walk, I mostly mean sprint — I actually stopped running every day when I started working on my NaNoWriMo novel.
Suddenly, I had a daily choice: Write 1,667 words, or run three miles?
I’m the type of person that would normally say “do both! You just have to make time.” This is a fair assumption. I probably could make time for both if I really needed to, and in the past, I have.
But this year I decided I was going to let myself choose between one or the other. And it just so happens that I have chosen to write.
Because sometimes, if you want to succeed in writing, there are things you have to give up. This is, after all, the way. Of things.
There is this belief, this misconception if you will, that writers have to stop doing the things they enjoy if they want to get their work done and be successful. They have to “give up” spending time with friends or stop watching their favorite TV shows. They have to stop cooking, stop exercising, stop living, really, outside their creative projects.
I am no stranger to this often destructive “all or nothing” mentality that is so common among aspiring writers. I have struggled for years with this idea that, during National Novel Writing Month, for example, if I couldn’t write 1,667 words on Tuesday, I wasn’t going to write any. Five hundred? Not good enough. Might as well not even bother.
This has caused a lot of unnecessary stress and anxiety for me over the years, especially when it comes to writing. It’s the reason I am at constant war with my temptation to procrastinate. Why work for an hour on a project and not finish it? Might as well just wait until the day it’s due and spend four straight hours making sure it gets done even though I don’t have time for that.
We all give up things when we decide to take on major responsibilities. The sacrifices we make in our lives aren’t always ideal, but sometimes they are necessary.
The problem with doing this as a writer is that so many of us don’t realize we can say no to certain activities in favor of writing but only for a little while.
But why put yourself through that? Because as much as you might want to be (don’t we all?), you are not superhuman. You have to eat and sleep and rest and restore your mind. You can’t go a million miles an hour trying to fill every moment of every day with “things.”
Trust me. I know. I’ve tried.
The truth is that no matter how capable you might think you are — even if you were able to at least come close in the past — you simply cannot do everything all at once. No one can. Even those who constantly rave about how productive and successful they are can’t do everything all the time. Humans weren’t built for that.
So there is always going to be something you have to set aside, even if it’s only for one night or weekend, week or month or more.. And guess what? Temporarily refraining from doing something so you can make time for something more important probably isn’t going to be the end of the world for you or anyone else.
So if you, like me, have barely touched Netflix in six months because you’ve just focused on other things, does that mean you’re a miserable human being who doesn’t allow for any fun in your life? Not necessarily. It just means you are learning how to prioritize. You’re learning that sometimes writing means not watching the same shows as everyone else at the same time, for example, but hey, at least your writing gets done.
Again, this isn’t ideal. I would have loved to spend more time with my friends this year. More time working on other projects. More time reading and relaxing.
But from the beginning of 2019 I knew my priority had to be writing, and for the most part, that’s what it has been. I’m not upset about the things I have given up. I just know that shortly my priorities are going to have to shift, and I am going to have to focus less on writing so that I can focus more on other things.
You can give up on exercise for three weeks (or more … God I hope not). You can go three days only eating leftover pizza. You can go for months without talking to your best friend because you’re both adults trying to get through the day and it’s nothing personal.
Just as long as you do eventually get out of the house and go for a walk … or eat a real meal … or call your friends. Because we can’t live without those things. We can’t live inside our stories. There is so much more to life than writing. Most of the time!
If you are ever struggling to find balance between your writing and the rest of your life, remember that things will never always be in perfect balance. Some weeks you will have time for writing and Netflix and all the other things you have to do as a responsible adult. Some weeks you will have to choose one or two and save the rest for later.
Life as a writer is a constant balancing act. No two days are ever the same — and that’s one of the most dangerous myths of all. Routines are great. Schedules are helpful. But you have to be able to say “No time for this today” in favor of something else, regardless of your original plans.
This is just something you learn how to get better at as you go. No one is perfect, and no one who matters really expects you to be. But while giving certain things up is hard, the hope is that it is only for a short amount of time. At some point, you will turn in that project or you will finish that book (insert your specific circumstances here), and you can give yourself some time for Netflix (or food, or friends) again.
Be patient with yourself. Do the best work you are capable of doing at the moment. And never forget: Sometimes the occasional night spent watching Netflix with a bag of potato chips when you technically could have been writing is one hundred percent okay.
Not that I know what that’s like or anything. *hides empty potato chip bag* Nope. Not at all.
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.