Monday, March 13, 2006

BJH: Balancing Act

If my mail and some of the questions raised among writer-friends are examples, the question of how we balance writing with our other daily responsibilities ranks right up there in the top ten most frequently discussed subjects among writers. Writers are usually interested in learning how other writers go about achieving a balance without relying on therapy or live-in help.

Like most other things about life and writing, this kind of "management" varies from writer to writer. Some things that help facilitiate this constant juggling act, however, are common to us all. You've probably heard this ad nauseam, but the only workable solution comes down to choosing your priorities--and making certain those choices are aligned with God's will.

In the rush of daily living, there's a great deal to "manage:" Family. Church. Housekeeping. Playing taxi and keeping up with all the extracurricular activities that go along with children in school. For some writers--perhaps most--there are full-time jobs in addition to everything else. And some of those full-time jobs are of a nature that might seem to dampen creativity or at least make it more than a little difficult. Editors who also write, for example, must often find their schedules positively grueling: spending hours reading the manuscripts of others, editing those manuscripts, discussing them with the authors, participating in marketing plans, attending daily meetings--and then going home to give quality time to their families plus finding a few devote to their own writing projects. It exhausts me to even think about it!

Since no one method of balance works for all, we each have to fumble our way through the confusion until we come up with what works best for us as individuals. Years ago, when I first began to see some of my work published, I made a commitment with God to focus on keeping my family first, before the writing. I'll always be grateful that I did this early, because it would have become only more difficult after a few years, when the children got older and the writing life became busier.

Because my tendency has always been toward being something of a writeaholic, I knew I'd have to be absolutely ruthless with myself regarding what to do and what not to do if I were to keep this commitment. Some things I chose to let go of were no-brainers: speaking, for one. I am so not a public speaker that I gladly offered this one up to the Lord and was vastly relieved when He didn't give it back. Teaching was a different story. I had always loved to teach (in my capacity as a church music director, I did a lot of teaching in the graded choir programs, etc.), and I come from a background of teaching music in one area or another. But teaching takes preparation, and preparation takes time. So--thinking it might be a temporary relinquishment, I set aside teaching too. Traveling (of the business variety); no sacrifice, that. I've been plagued by arthritis since I was in my early thirties, so traveling, especially alone, is actually more burden than blessing for me. In addition, after raising our two daughters, my husband and I were caregivers for my mother, afflicted with Alzheimers, for a long time. Consequently, we spent years finding it extremely difficult to make time for even the briefest of vacations, so we admittedly were somewhat jealous of any time to ourselves and chose not to spend it traveling for business--his or mine.

I cut out all professional associations except for those that required no time input, but served merely as research organizations (and required little or no e-mail). Out, too, went any Yahoo groups, except for a couple of writing boards I've belonged to forever. Even with these, I stay with the "no mail" option, which enables me to go to the web site and scan any e-mails, reading only those I think I should. This alone cuts down on e-mail in a big way. And that's a significant item to cut down on: from what I know personally and the comments of other writers, e-mail is one of our biggest time-consumers--and one of the most difficult to tame.

Recently, a writer-friend raised another question, a vital one: what about the things we need to do for ourselves--the personal things that help us stay healthy and reasonably sane? The need for rest and relaxation, for exercise and a hobby or two? Vacations? Those activities that keep us centered and help us live--and enjoy the living?

The irony in finding this necessary balance is that when your children are young, you play a kind of waiting game: "Okay, I can write only an hour today and tomorrow, because we have this and that going on. But someday, when the children are grown I'll have unlimited free hours, and then I'll burn up the computer."

Then the children are grown, off to college, then marriage, and you discover that you're still not writing all that much more than you did twenty years ago. Why? Because the family is still your top priority. As it should be. Although you're no longer a band or soccer mom and playing taxi six days a week, you still do things together with the family. They still, believe it or not, need you. And there are other matters of a different nature that chip away at your writing time. Now you have some books published, so you have to deal with interviews and the preparaton for them; newsletters; reader correspondence; mailing lists; schedules; and all the other details that go into being a working writer--and a business. Because like it or not, to the IRS, you are indeed a business.

So once again you're looking for ways to save time. My point is (I do have one) that as a writer, you'll always have difficulties with this thing called "balance." The difficulties may take on a different complexion, but you'll face them all the same. What helped me years ago to sort through the chaos, and still helps me today, was to carefully and prayerfully think through this entire business of writing. What did it mean to me? Was it a genuine "call" or simply carnal ambition? What did I want? What did I expect? To get rich? (Ha! Thanks be, that wasn't one of my expectations!) To be famous? Ha! again. To win awards? Don't even get me started on that one. To be in the "public eye?" Ask my family what their nickname for me is. Hint: it rhymes with 'Kermit.'

I finally came to the simple realization that what I wanted was to write...because I love to write. But more than that, I wanted to take care of my family...because I love them more than writing. You see, when the accounts for eternity are settled, I honestly don't believe the Lord is going to care one way or the other how many books I've written or whether they were bestsellers, or how I ranked with my readers, or what my yearly sales figures were. He probably won't be interested in the deadlines I made or didn't make. (Come to think of it, at that point I won't care about deadlines either--hallelujah!) But I'm almost certain He will care how I treated my family and friends, and even strangers. Most likely I'll still be looking for balance right up to the end; I can only hope that I don't have to take too much baggage in the way of excuses with me.

Do I regret anything I've given up? Not for a moment, except perhaps the teaching. But only now and then. Because, just as He always does, God has given me far, far more than anything I've given up. So much so that I'm daily dazzled by His goodness.

P.S. Three words every writer can use to her advantage: "No." And..."Yes, Lord."

BJ Hoff
Author, A Distant Music, An American Anthem, An Emerald Ballad


At 8:43 AM, Blogger Wandering Writer said...

I so needed to hear what you wrote this morning. I just returned from a morning prayer walk, all the while asking God to help me set priorities. Like you, I thought when the kids left home I'd have sooo much more time. Right. Now there are the grandchildren and my husband's planning for retirement (yikes! How will I write with him home?) It all seems to pile on sometimes. You were God's answer this morning. I need to sit down and sort out again. Thanks for sharing.

At 8:46 AM, Blogger Unknown said...

Thanks BJ, like every other writer, I'm struggling with this balancing act.

I guess the trick is to keep weighing everything against eternity. The Purpose Driven Life really helped me with this, as did your post!

At 10:23 AM, Blogger Patricia Hickman said...

I'm sitting here writing out yet another FAQ for the website, to gently explain why I can't critique manuscripts, but to offer what I hope will be a wealth of information to the new writer. Learning to say "no" to those things for me has had to become a practice in discipline. And I still don't have it all down right. Your last point is the real point--say "yes" to God and "no" to all else.

At 3:04 PM, Blogger Lynetta said...


That was a wonderful reminder, and aptly put. Finding balance is a universal problem, and writers are no exception.

The most peaceful conclusion I've ever come to (at least professionally) is that I want to write because I love to do it, and it's the purpose for which God has called me. It comes third, after God and family--which also takes a tremendous amount of pressure off (when I remember it!)

Thanks for sharing your experience and wisdom. It was just what I needed to hear today.


At 4:49 PM, Blogger Deborah Raney said...

Amen, to what everyone else has said, BJ. I need to bookmark this and read it at least once a month.

At 7:56 PM, Blogger Sharon Goemaere said...

I thought this was excellent.In the last year I have felt the Lord leading me to pursue writing(Yikes!I am already 44 years of age!).So far I am just blogging and journaling.I am already dealing with trying to balance my time and my life.I just really needed to hear this bit of encouragement.Thank you and God bless you and your writing!

Sharon L.Goemaere

At 10:18 AM, Blogger Ernie W. said...

Wow!! Great insight. As a new writer with a full-time job, a wife, and two grown children (no grandkids yet, or for that matter son-in-laws), the balancing act has been a trying time. Your words have been so helpful and encouraging. Thanks, Ernie Wenk


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