One of the hardest things for a writer to achieve is balance–especially when writing is not your full-time gig. As a graduate teaching assistant in a creative writing graduate program, I’m currently struggling with finding time to balance all that I need to do in order to write, i.e., all that I need to do in order to 1. feed myself so that my body is energized enough to write 2. pay the bills so that I can maintain a roof over my head with electricity/modern conveniences to write 3. maintain relationships such that my heart is energized/given material needed to write 4. manage an exercise schedule so that my body can be strong enough to sit for hours upon hours writing 5. maintain my teaching jobs so that I can afford to do all of the above 6. finishing all my homework/commenting on my peers’ writing so that I can then receive their feedback on my own 7. maintain a sense of play/creativity through tangential projects, guitar, painting, gardening 8. maintain some connection to the outside world by reading, especially newspapers 9. maintain my mental health through the stress, either by meditation, talk therapy, affirmations, journaling, or other sources of positive thinking. All of these things need to be completed to my satisfaction before I can sit down at my desk and write.
As the new semester gets underway, I realize I need a slight change in my routine so that day-to-day, I feel like I have adequate balance between all these activities. Instead, what I have is a general feeling of dissatisfaction that every day I have choose whether to devote my energy to my students, my colleagues, my friends/family, or my own writing. I’d rather figure out a way to devote a fraction of my energy to ALL of these areas daily, instead of feeling like Saturday has to be Grading Day and Sunday reading up for class/doing homework/rifling off a poem or two while Friday is social day. Sometimes, too, I get so caught up in being a support for other people’s writing (my colleagues, my students, my friends) that I find myself over-indulging in their work and forgetting that the reason I’m here for my MFA is to write myself, not to (just) nurture other people’s writing. Sometimes I get so caught up in my personal relationships the same thing happens. It was even harder when I was a full-time teacher to find time for ANY of my personal goals, let alone my writing ones, but what I’ve found the most interesting is that going to grad school for writing wasn’t the instant “fix” I thought it might be when I applied in terms of allowing me instant time and energy to do what I set out to do. I still have to figure out how to organize my many responsibilities so that I can write, even though I am ostensibly here for writing. I am also it turns out here to make mistakes, teach undergrads, grade, go to training seminars, go to class, do homework, grade, and, you know, fall in love, fall out of love, make friends, maintain ties with friends and family from afar, adopt an adorable but rambunctious kitten, clean, work out, grade, teach yoga, grade, teach middle school through an outreach program 2 hours a week, grade, read not just for pleasure but for my own education in the craft of writing, blow off steam, grade, eat, maintain a house, garden, breathe, grade, and pursue the gloriously random, serendipitous connections and opportunities that float into my path like feathers.
Most who know me know that I am a rather obsessive compulsive list maker/planner. In my struggle to achieve more of a feeling of balance in my life, I made myself a list of twenty daily/weekly goals that will make for a happier, more well-rounded me. The goals vary from the personal (meditate, write in gratitude journal) to the interpersonal (call friend/family member once a day), the relational (read headlines, peruse twitter feed), to the kinesthetic (gym/run/yoga 6 days a week), the writerly (submit to a journal once a week, read three books a week), to the culinary (actually cook a nice meal 5 times a week), to the straight to the point of this blog post: actually sitting and writing 2 hours a day. As I am a morning person who works better in the morning but has an insanely difficult time actually moving from the comfortable, kitten covered bed in the morning, I’ve been struggling to actually get up at 6/6:30 still like I did in my former life so that I can get most of these things done before my brain and energy start to wan around dinner o’clock.
Just like I used to do for my students when I taught high school/middle school, I made it into a chart where I have to sign-off/place some sort of marker (sticker, stamp, initials, etc.) to mark when I complete that goal. Having that visual sort of accountability is actually just as motivating for me in my late twenties as it was for my students when they were teenagers. By the end of the week, I can chart my progress.
I still have yet to have a week with all the days full of stars, etc., but this week has more goals completed than the last. Some week soon I will have established my new routine. I read somewhere that it takes at least a month to fully establish a new habit. All I can do is try to get a little bit better each day, rather than focus on the empty squares on days where I failed/got sucked into netflix/let my general overwhelm put me behind.
I’d love to hear from other writers on how you maintain balance in your writing life!