All Writers Must Learn to ‘Balance’ Work and Play

It can be done. No, really.

When it comes to writing — and most writers — there seem to be two extremes: those who write all the time and don’t do much else, and those who wish they could write more but can never seem to write enough.

I have a theory as to why we don’t hear from the former type very much — I can say from personal experience that it’s hard to talk about “over-writing” because it sounds kind of elitist to complain about having too many ideas and too much work when there are those who struggle so much with this on a daily basis. But that’s a discussion for another blog post.

Here’s the truth: At the end of the day, writing is work. If you have dreams of getting published or working as a writer in a certain industry or gaining recognition for your words in any way, you will spend much of your creative energy on doing work other people will see.

This isn’t to say people who write as a hobby aren’t “real” writers. This isn’t the case at all. But for the most part, even hobbyists often dream of being able to display or promote or be known for their work someday. They just approach it differently, with the realistic expectation that it might not ever be their full-time career. And many writers of this nature are completely okay with this.

Regardless of how you treat it, there has to be some kind of balance in writing between the things you do “for work” and the things you do “for fun.” You can’t function well if you only ever work, the same way you will have a much harder time working if all you ever do is play.

Is it possible to balance both these things? Yes. But it’s certainly not an easy thing to do.

Full disclosure: I am by no means an expert in this particular realm of writing. I tend to gravitate toward extremes, and still struggle to regularly make time for both work and “fun” writing — in addition to work in general and this thing they call “relaxation.”

But experience is knowledge. Even though I don’t know you personally and I am unaware of your specific circumstances, strengths, and weaknesses as a writer, I can offer some advice based on what I have been through and what I have learned.

First, you should know that in life — especially in writing — there is probably no such thing as “perfect” balance. Call it harmony, call it alignment, call it whatever you want. It’s very unlikely that you will ever have your life “all figured out.” And your chances of having everything in order all at once are so low they are basically nonexistent.

Example: I’m usually pretty good about working out regularly. It’s good for my mental health, it helps me stay positive and motivated, and I’m just overall a better human when I do it. Since NaNoWriMo started, I think I’ve gone for a total of one run. I’m the kind of person who would love to be able to say I can “do it all,” but I’ve recently realized I actually, at least right now, cannot run and also write, sleep, cuddle my dog, and read. Plus all the other things I have to do that I haven’t even listed here.

When November ends, I will likely go back to running and will end up writing fewer words every day as a result. And it’s very likely that at some point, something will come along that will force me to cut back on my running or my writing or my reading — who knows what else?

You have to learn to accept, first and foremost, that total balance is a myth. There is always going to be at least one thing every day that you do not have time for. Some days, that will be writing. And that’s okay. The necessity of daily writing is a myth anyway. Get used to it.

Here’s something else we don’t often consider: balancing work and play within your writing life itself. If you are going to push yourself as a professional writer — which you absolutely should in at least one project at a time, whether that’s for your day job or outside of it — you also have to make time for “fun” writing.

What does that mean? It means while you can work on a book you plan on submitting for publishing someday, or a blog post you are going to send out into the world — something that in some way might contribute to the rise of your career as a writer — you have to have at least one project that’s strictly for your eyes only … at least for now.

Why is this important? Because a lot of the writing you are probably doing is considered work, and it’s HARD work. It’s not supposed to be easy; we have already established this fact. And if you want to continue to grow and develop as a writer, you have to exercise your brain in all kinds of ways.

One way to do this is to just let your brain come up with whatever it wants and create something out of it without holding back. This is challenging in its own way because, well, it’s scary to “force” yourself to write exactly what’s on your heart. It makes you feel vulnerable.

But that’s why it’s “for your eyes only (for now).” You shouldn’t have to worry about who might read or judge it. You should give yourself the freedom to write whatever you want without having to consider other people’s reactions to it. This teaches you to be brave, and trains you to “go there” whenever potentially tough subjects come up. Even if you aren’t technically working, you are still learning. That matters. It can make a huge difference.

It’s very possible that the more often you do this on your own time, the easier doing this when you are working and writing things for other people will be. If you can do it just for yourself, and the world doesn’t end, maybe the same will go for something you might actually publish.

You need both extremes for a healthy creative mind — work and play. Writing for others and writing for yourself. They feed off each other. Play encourages you to work, which encourages you to play. It’s a cycle. Make it a normal part of your writing life and stick with it — all of it.

All writers need to have a little fun so that they can do the work that needs doing. Always remember: In writing, there is no such thing as wasted time. Everything you write has a purpose, even if you never end up showing it to anyone. Everything you write has something to teach you. Even if you’re never paid for it. Even if it never leaves your hard drive.

Have fun. Get things done. Do the best you can. And no matter what, keep writing.

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.

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2 thoughts on “All Writers Must Learn to ‘Balance’ Work and Play

  1. I definitely believe in a certain amount of “fun writing.” Sometimes while driving, walking, or waiting for something, I’ll just idly start stringing words together for pure aesthetic.
    One of my preferred ways to fun write is to include 1 or more 10 free writing exercises into writer’s group events. That way someone who hasn’t had any time recently can write as part of the event, and potentially share. Usually I use 1 or more images and/or pieces of music, with the general statement to “write a story to go with it.”
    Lots of fun to just impulsively “see/hear” something and then “write” without plan or forewarning.

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