5 Ways to Balance Writing with the Rest of Life
Finish this sentence: I would get more writing done, if only...
If only what? You had more time? You didn't have a day-job? The dishes were clean? There weren't so many shows to watch on Netflix? You hired a babysitter? You were a full-time writer? You sat down and did it? You removed the distractions? You quit procrastinating? You had a nice house with a view that inspired your muse? You could spend a month doing nothing but writing? You had a better laptop? A new notebook? Less self-doubt? More inspiration?
In theory, we would get more writing done if we could have a perfect world where the stars aligned and everything worked in our writing's favor. And all those things would be nice. But we could sit around waiting for this "right" reality for the rest of our lives.
The truth is, you do have a day-job and responsibilities and a life. You do have to wash your dishes and enjoy yourself by watching shows on Netflix. You are distracted and procrastinating for whatever reason. And none of us can just snap our fingers and make those things disappear.
But you can't let the fact that you're human get in the way of the fact that you're a writer. Both are good things to be, but you have to respect that both of them exist. Sometimes you'll write, and that's good. Sometimes you won't be able to write, and that's good too. Instead of thinking about your writing and life as an "us" versus "them" war, we have to help them work together. We have to make room for both, intentionally choosing to write in the spaces we can, using techniques and tricks that make it easier for us, or intentionally choosing not to write to allow ourselves to be the humans we are.
I've got 5 tips to help you fuse writing with the rest of your life to help manage this balance. Are you ready?
1 | Choose to Make Writing a Priority
Writing is important to you. You want to do this, to be a writer, to finish your stories, to put words out into the world. But you're never going to do that if you don't choose to make writing a priority in your life.
You have to embrace the reality you live in and respect your obligations. But that's not a free pass to write occasionally or randomly. If you truly want this writing thing, you need to infuse writing into the life you lead and give it the attention it deserves. You have to respect your reality, but writing is a part of that reality too. And it needs attention, respect, and love.
Consider your life responsibilities and schedule. Make room for them and commit to them guilt-free. Because you have to live your life. But if writing is a priority for you, you've got to intentionally choose to make the space, find the time, and write. Even extremely prolific writers, like Stephen King, have dishes to clean. Many successful writers also have or had a day job. You're not the only one in the world with life things to do. Schedule writing time into your calendar. Choose to respect it and do it. Again and again and again.
It sounds so simple, but it can be super difficult in practice. If you don't have a solid writing routine right now, writing randomly and inconsistently, it's hard to retrain your brain to start making this a habit. When you sit down to write, you might be out of inspiration, doubting your abilities, wondering if you're really cut out for this. This is your brain being a jerk.
But when you choose to sit down and write anyway, you train your brain that writing is important and it will not be ignored. You're cementing writing as a habit, and habits take effort and time. The first few times will be tough, but persevere. Schedule your writing time and write, even if you don't feel like it, even if you don't want to. When you start to get into a routine, your muse will start to show up with you and the writing will get easier.
*Want help with prioritizing your writing time? The WriteLife Planner can help! Check it out!
Writing is a priority for you, and you have to respect it. You have to intentionally choose to write, or no words will make it onto the page.
RULES TO FOLLOW: Prioritize writing by scheduling it into your calendar. Then, sit down and do it. Even if you don't want to. Even if you don't feel like it. Keep it up over time to cement writing as a habit and get the muse to show up with you.
2 | Use "dead" time
You can't write 24/7, but you can infuse writing into the rest of your life even more by using your time wisely. We all have responsibilities to do – working out, showering, washing the dishes, folding the laundry, driving, cooking, yada yada. These responsibilities have to be done; there's no escaping them. But they don't take a lot of brainpower. Essentially, they're "dead" time. We can go on autopilot while driving or showering. It's so habitualized into us that we don't have to think about them.
So, what is our brain doing while we're completing these activities? And, more importantly, what could our brain do during these activities?
I love to listen to audiobooks or writing podcasts while I do my chores and live my life. I have a subscription to Audible and "read" books while driving to and from my day-job. I listen to writing podcasts or YouTube videos while cleaning my house. I've listened to webinars on writing while taking a shower. And it's not taking up any "extra" time I don't have. I was going to do these activities anyway. Now, I'm just making them life-productive and writing-productive.
And your brain likes the stimulation. This keeps your brain active and engaged with your writing life, but you're also getting stuff done that you need to get done. And you didn't even have to find the time.
RULES TO FOLLOW: Any time when you can listen and simultaneously do something, see if you can infuse some auditory writing stuff in. Sometimes it's important to have these as actual downtime to let your brain recharge and rest. But it can also be a great time to be engaging with your writing life while taking care of your responsibilities. #WriteLifeWin
3 | Aim for baby-steps
Often, we believe we have to do so much with our writing right now. Sometimes this pressure can help get the butt in the chair, but too much of it can stifle the muse and prevent writing altogether. You don't have to binge on writing for 8 hours a day every day to be a writer. And you don't have to write 5 million words in one sitting. When we aim for these big writing goals every session, we set ourselves up for failure, our brains start being jerks, and the writing doesn't get done.
Instead, we need smaller goals, baby-steps. Surprisingly, you can get a lot of writing done in just 10 minutes, or by consistently writing 500 words. The key to making progress with your writing isn't necessarily writing a lot at one time, but writing consistently. And our busy life likes these small steps too.
Faye Kirwin of Writerology promotes keeping a small, but consistent Write Chain. The goal is to aim for baby-steps, no-brainer writing goals, that you can accomplish every day, no matter what. Each day you write, you build a link on the chain. Soon enough, your chains will increase and you'll build momentum to not break the chain.
I'm not an everyday writer and I'm not sure if I ever will be. The pressure of not breaking the chain is a little too black and white for my world. But I believe in the message of Faye's Write Chain Challenge: "You don't have to write a lot. Just write [consistently] and it'll add up to a lot." It's much easier to tackle baby-steps with your writing again and again. You train your brain to aim low, consistently, and then you build momentum over time. And your busy life appreciates this too. It's easier to make time and space for 10 minutes of writing or 500 words of writing consistently than it is to block off a whole afternoon multiple times a week.
So, start looking for the time and space to make baby-steps with your writing. It doesn't have to be a lot and it doesn't have to be good. It just has to be done.
You have to consciously choose to find these mini spaces of time though; they won't just appear out of the blue. If you keep telling yourself that you're too busy, you'll find times when you're too busy. But if you're constantly looking for opportunities to write, they'll start to appear to you. Even the busiest person in the world can find 10 minutes. This goes with making writing a priority and constantly seeking out opportunities to write. You won't do it if it's not important to you.
Take 10 minutes before you start your day and write or 10 minutes before you go to bed. Spend time during your lunch break. You could use your "dead" time like the 10 minutes you get to work early and you're scrolling through Facebook on your phone in your car. Or while you're waiting for the doctor. Or while dinner is cooking. You can even dictate into your phone while you're driving if you have to (definitely guilty of this last Wednesday on my way to work when the muse smacked me upside the head with an essay).
And if 10 minutes isn't your thing, you can also aim for smaller word-counts. Instead of asking yourself to write 1,000 words every day, shoot for 500. That's a chunky paragraph. Anyone can accomplish that.
The point is: Aim for baby-steps. Remove the pressure of writing so much and writing all the time or even every day. Aim small. Finding 10 minutes a few times a week is much better than pressuring yourself to find a whole afternoon, feeling guilty for not writing, and not getting any writing done at all.
RULES TO FOLLOW: Make smaller goals for your writing life. Shoot for 10 minutes or 500 words, something easy and no-brainer for your life. Satisfy yourself with small wins and build that momentum to keep going.
4 | Binge with Marathons and Sprints
I like using small baby-steps to make consistent progress with my writing, but I also find I work better, get much more writing done, and enjoy my process a lot more when I can spend more time and energy on my work at once. This is where binging with your writing using marathoning and sprints comes in. When you want to make serious progress with your writing, you'll want to carve out a good chunk of time and dive deep into your writing.
Marathons and sprints are when you aim for quantity over quality. You block off time, lock yourself away with your words, push your writing and yourself to work harder, and do it. It's a race to get words on the page. You could aim to write 1,000 words in one hour, a common writing sprint on Twitter that writers all around the world use every day (just search for the #1k1hr hashtag to find someone to race with!). Or you could marathon all weekend, aiming to write 5,000 words in one day or 8 hours over the whole weekend. More popularly, this is what writers do during NaNoWriMo, marathoning with their writing for a whole month by pushing themselves to write 1,667 words every day for 30 days.
The key to marathoning and sprinting is to find a concrete goal that challenges you and write to that. Marathoning and sprinting aren't for slow and steady progress with your writing, but for pushing yourself hard and getting the writing done. You could marathon by time-count (8 hours) or word-count (5,000 words). Or, you could marathon towards a story goal, such as spending time getting to know your protagonist (although be forewarned, this isn't as concrete of a measurement as time or words). Block off your time, choose your goal, and write.
Marathoning and sprinting aren't every day writing activities because they do ask for a lot from you. If you're having trouble balancing writing with the rest of your life currently, asking yourself to marathon with your words every day is NOT going to be effective. And even if you do have a good writing routine, if you marathon 24/7, you'll push yourself into burnout. Instead, you want to use them wisely and sparingly with your work. Pay attention to your story needs and your life needs, then schedule marathons and sprints accordingly.
And just like when you run a traditional marathon, you want to make sure you give yourself ample time to rest and recharge afterwards. You would never run a marathon and then do your normal workout the next day. You would give your body the time it needs to heal. If you binge with a marathon in your writing, don't pressure yourself with too high of expectations the next day. Give your muse some breathing room to rest and recharge.
When your marathon or sprint, you'll probably reach a natural "high" in your attitude towards your writing. Seeing yourself make serious progress with your work feels good. Love that feeling and be proud of what you accomplished. But do NOT feel guilty for the times in between. It's always write o'clock somewhere, but it doesn't have to be write o'clock 24/7 in your world. When you write, feel proud and grateful for the time you had. When you're busy and you're not writing, don't worry about it. You're human and you have a life and that's 100% okay.
RULES TO FOLLOW: Block off time and schedule marathons and sprints into your writing life to make serious progress very quickly. But give yourself time to recharge afterwards and don't pressure yourself to write like this all the time.
5 | Respect your reality
Remember how we started this post? Talking about all the things that get in the way of your writing? Things like your day-job, and a lack of time, and dishes to clean. This is the time when we choose to stop hating them.
We could sit around and wish them away all day long. But the dishes will still be there and the stories will still need to be written. We could guilt ourselves for not writing, finding blame, creating excuses, frustrating ourselves. But that won't wash the dishes or write the stories either. Instead, we need to respect the fact that our reality exists and it's not going away anytime soon.
Writing and human-ing go hand-in-hand. If you don't live your life, you won't have anything to write about. Instead of staying frustrated at the fact that you have things to do and procrastinating on your writing, you can choose to allow both to exist in the same space. You can choose to give writing the attention it deserves, and choose to give life the attention it deserves too.
Perhaps you only have 10 minutes to spare in between life's busy-ness to write today. It's not ideal, but for right now, it's what you've got. You could choose to write or choose to procrastinate, blaming life and everything that comes with it. The choice is entirely yours. I vote that you choose to write.
And perhaps tomorrow, you literally don't have time to write. You have 5 million things to do and no energy. You still have the choice to write or not write. If you write, great. If you don't write, that's fine too. You can choose not to write in order to respect your reality and be the human you need to be. There's nothing wrong with that.
This is respecting your reality and being honest about where your attention should go. If you have life stuff going on, live your life guilt-free. Do the dishes, watch Netflix, spend time with your family, go to your day-job. And don't be mad at yourself for not writing during that time. It won't do you or your writing any good to pressure yourself to write all the time and guilt yourself for not writing because you have a life to live. The true mark of a writer isn't writing 24/7, but coming back to the writing and trusting that you will come back. Respect your reality, live your life wholeheartedly, and love it.
It's a delicate dance to balance writing and life together. Sometimes writing needs more attention, and sometimes life does. But instead of wishing everything would be different, we have to make peace with the current situation and intentionally choose to do what's best at that point in time.
RULES TO FOLLOW: Don't wait around for things to change. You don't need the perfect writing life; you just need to write. Start where you are, right now. And don't pressure yourself to write 24/7. Consider your responsibilities and your enjoyment in life, and participate wholeheartedly. Live life and love it.
It is possible to balance writing and the rest of your life, as long as you prioritize writing and consciously make the effort to get it done. When you pay attention to your writing and your life, fusing the two together, you can be a happy and productive writer, who also has a life. Just make sure to respect your reality, aim for baby-steps, and find the time as it works for you.
If you want some help with infusing writing with the rest of your life, make sure you check out The WriteLife Planner. It's your three-month guide to conquering your writing goals, strengthen your writing practice, and live a writing life you love. You'll take consistent baby-steps with your work-in-progress, marathon when you need to on the weekends, and respect your reality by writing in the ways that work best for your life. Check it out!