Goodbye: A Balancing Act

Alas, dear readers,

Image courtesy of TreyHolliday (flickr.com)

As spring draws to a close and the glorious summer eases into swing, I am here to regretfully announce that after this season, I will be stepping down as the editorial assistant for YARN. Working for YARN has been a monumental experience. I’ve enjoyed so many aspects, including reading all your wonderful submissions. And it has been a joy to work with this group of wonderful people at YARN, who truly appreciate and respect one another, and provide space for each other to grow. I feel tremendously happy to have had the opportunity to be a part of an amazing group of people.

Before I go, I do have a question to pose to all you writers out there. You see, lately, certain aspects of my life have taken up (and will continue to take up) a lot of my time, and I’ve been having trouble “finding the time” for writing. Although I want to be careful to not be too hard on myself, I also do not want to use this as an excuse for not writing. Not only because of Mr. Neil Gaiman’s argument in his 2012 commencement speech for the University of the Arts, but also because life is just a little less satisfying if I’m not making stories.

The question is as follows.

Over the years, I’ve been to a great many number of readings by prose writers, and the question that always lurks amongst the audience is, “What is your writing ritual?” By which the question is seeking, “When do you get to write?” By which the question is enviously and almost accusatorily implying, “How the heck do you find time to write so many words? Don’t you ever get out of the house? Don’t you have other hobbies? Like sleeping?” The question wants to get a whiff of the writing life. The question is about balance: How does it feel to be successfully juggling the shut-in hours of writing with the other exhilarating siren-calls of life?

The answers come back similar in form. I have a schedule. I treat it as a job. Take yourselves seriously, dear young writer, and set aside time consciously. These are good pieces of advice, really, but what I find more telling about these successful writers’ balancing acts is the common detail dropped into almost all of their answers. The common detail is, “Four a.m.”

Four a.m., they say. I get up at four a.m. And I [insert habit here] and then I [insert habit here]. Then I sit down and write until the kids get up/my day job starts/so-and-so needs me for such-and-such.

Perhaps this is a coincidence. Perhaps I just happened to go to readings of authors who have similar writing schedules. But I think there is something more to it.

Here is my bold thought of the day: By delegating writing to a time when it feels like only you are awake in the whole wide world, not only is the writing time “protected,” but also protected is the non-writing time. Along with writing, the “everyday stuff” also gets a boost of importance.

Even thinking about this “protected non-writing time,” I feel a great sense of relief. I can go stress-free to that nine-to-five. I can be guiltless meeting up with friends. And then, when I sit down at my laptop/typewriter/pad of paper, the well will have filled some, and I will have something I want to say.

This is a useful idea, I think, when thinking about the art of earning a living as a young writer and editor. Earning a living is time-consuming. Even if you love your job, which I do, and love the people with whom you work, which I do, it still inevitably takes up a huge chunk of the day. But, if I can section off my writing time to when others are asleep, then perhaps I can think about the job and the other non-writing bits not as “taking away from my writing time” but as “taking their rightful turn” in my multifaceted, wonderful life. Maybe I would even be carefree when I go and live out there in the world, so that I might write, so that I might live…

All right, so waking up at four a.m. is an optional way to balance the writing life and the working life. Does anyone have any other balance techniques? Do you write in small chunks during the day? Do you take two days off and write in caffeine-induced spurts? What’s your writing routine? I’m dying to hear.

Au revoir! Hope to catch you soon.

All my love,

Julia

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11 Comments Post a Comment
  1. Kerri says:

    Julia! Thanks for this thought-provoking blog. I am going to miss you! Good luck, and I hope 4am treats you well.

  2. Diana Renn says:

    Julia, we’ll miss you here at YARN! But I’m delighted to hear that making time for your own writing will remain a priority for you! Thanks for writing this great post! It’s a great topic for young writers to think about. We’re all so heavily scheduled these days; even teen writers I talk to, without the time pressures of full-time jobs or kids, struggle to find the time. Balance can elude us at any age. I agree it’s vital to section off protected writing time, whether it’s at 4 am or in the middle of the night or on a lunchbreak. I’d add to that, protect your writing “space” too, as in your mental space. Sometimes it’s valuable to have that time to let ideas percolate, or think about your plot or characters. We’re bombarded with constant input, information, and entertainment, and I think our mental space, where our stories take shape, is as important to protect as our working hours.

    Best of luck with your next chapter!

  3. Kerri says:

    That is so true, Diana, about head space. As a mom, that is one of the big things I’m lacking, since my daughter (though I love her) is so loud when she’s awake, its’s hard to listen to myself as much as I used to when I had time for solitary walks.

  4. Julia says:

    Thank you! I will miss you all as well!

    And yes, I completely agree, Diana. It’s so important to be patient with oneself and let ideas talk with each other in the back of one’s mind. This is a good topic for discussion!–how we make room in our minds to allow a little breathing room for stories.

  5. Lourdes says:

    Julia!

    You will be missed my fellow, always YARNette.

    I am also an nocturnal writer. I think it is because my head feels most lucid when the lights are less blaring. Just know you always have a 4 am writing buddy in another time zone.

    Best of luck with everything you do.

    Lourdes

  6. I used to write after the kids went to bed, from 7 or 8 to 10. As they started staying up later, I switched to mornings. I used to be able to get up at 5, but now the reality is can’t really function until 6am. Usually I have to use a morning hour to deal with logistics, email, etc. I have a part time teaching schedule, so I do my best not to start other work until after 11. There are nights when I have to put in time responding to student work until 7pm or even 9pm. Sometimes freelance education writing takes up my evenings, as well. I try for 3 completely uninterrupted long-weekends of writing each year. To be frank, I have sacrificed a fair amount of financial security to protect writing time, as have most of my friends who are professional writers.

    There are times when I wonder if the hustle is worth the sacrifice. Classes have ended for the year, so I am just now tidying my office, for the first time since December. i literally just filed Christmas cards, which took me 10 minutes. I didn’t have an extra 10 minutes to do this since December? Apparently not. Or, at least, I used my free minutes with my kids and friends instead. I’m not willing to sacrifice them for writing time. Is it worth it?

    I keep saying yes.

  7. And I should have said – Good luck! You absolutely can find the time if you want to.

  8. Jess says:

    Best of luck in all your endeavors.
    And if you find yourself in the 4am time slot–I’m right there with you, with the rest of the early risers, cheering you on.

  9. Kerri says:

    Maybe you should form some sort of #4am Twitter writers’ group!! Seriously. It might help.

  10. Julia says:

    Thank you for all the support and good wishes!

    Kerri, #4am is a good idea. I might just give that a try. I’ll let you know how it goes!

    Laura, dear comrade in battle! Your message is very inspiring: we can definitely find the time if we want to! It just takes will and love.

  11. […] Not “having time” to write is not a new problem for me. I wrote about writers’ schedules when I was an editorial assistant for YARN (Young Adult Review Network). You can see it here. […]

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