I Used To Teach Balance; Now I Teach Passion

8 Aug

Four and a half years ago, someone asked me what my ideal writing schedule would be.  I was working full-time then, so I said, “Every day after work, from about 6 until midnight…and weekend days…and weekend nights, too.”

“Jen?  You see how that’s extreme, don’t you?” she asked, nodding slowly, like it was so obvious.  Or like I was unstable.

“Um, well…maybe?” I trailed off.

After that point, I felt certain that I just had to cultivate balance.  Like, balance was the answer, and once I struck it, everything would fall into place.  I was starting Writeous Chicks at the time and creating the curriculum for my first class, so I decided to infuse my quest for balance into my teaching.  And one of the first things I taught on the first day of my first class, was that balance is important.  And that there can be a tendency as a writer to get out of balance.  At which point I shared my extreme story of how much I wanted to write in every free moment of time I had as a cautionary tale.  Don’t let this happen to you.  Create BALANCE. I believed in this deeply, and I was excited to share what I’d learned – that writing can be a piece in the bigger pie of a balanced life.  A pie chart really, with fat, luscious, colorful triangles, each representing Work, Love, Friends, Home, Hobbies, and Writing, and sliding together neatly to complete this full, balanced, Pie ‘O Life.

This is what I taught.  And tried to live.  And tried and tried and tried.  Until I realized.  I’m not balanced.  In many (most?  all?) ways, I am quite un-balanced.  Or im-balanced.  Or at the very least, I tend, extremely, toward extremes.

Sometimes, I want to write all the time.  In every free moment. And this does not support my Mission To Achieve Balance.  This fucks up my pie chart, so that it is just one voluptuous, overflowing whole, labeled WRITING DAMMIT!!!!  And this is not a bad thing.  In fact, it feels very very very DELICIOUS.

So I stopped teaching The Great Way of Balance.  I ditched the School of Writing As a Piece of A Balanced Life Pie.  And now, instead, I teach Passion.  I say in those first minutes of class, that Passion is The Thing to chase after, to say Yes to.  Because writing is solitary and lonely and often frustrating and sometimes you just don’t know why you are doing it at all and there is no payoff anywhere in sight.  There is just loneliness and maybe a couple of good sentences and maybe a ton of crappy ones.  So you need something, something so strong that it will drive you to sit in that chair in front of your computer or with your notebook in your lap, furiously typing or scribbling for long enough to get something down, to finish something.  And this can be a very, very long time.  So you need something strong to get you there and hold you there for the duration.  And balance just ain’t gonna cut it.  You need to have passion, an obsessive, all-consuming passion, not all the time, but at least some of the time if you are going to write.

And this is where the payoff shows up.  Because some of the best times in my life, when I felt the most energized and alive and just buzzing with excitement, have been when I was totally consumed with my writing, in a very unbalanced way.  When I wrote all through the night until the sun came out and then kept on going, when I sucked down iced coffees or chai lattes or Diet Cokes one after the other even thought I was so wired I didn’t need the caffeine, when it was 11 at night and I realized with certainty that I hadn’t eaten dinner yet, and I had to question whether or not I even ate lunch, when my floor and every surface of my apartment were covered with sprawled open notebooks and Post-It’s and Post-It Flags and uncapped pens and scraps of papers.  And messy.  Wonderfully juicily deliciously messy, and not at all organized and alphabetized and color-coded and neat and balanced.

And sometimes, I actually do, in these rare fleeting moments, achieve balance.  But, meh.  Not so memorable.  Not so alive and pulsing and exciting.  Just, balanced.  There are people who say that balance is a thing to strive for.  And perhaps these people have color-coded Excel spreadsheeted To Do Lists.  And maybe I will never be able to check off every item on my To Do list, or file every piece of paper in its alphabetized home, or have a Life Pie Chart comprised of perfectly portioned slices.  My Pie Chart is always going to be lopsided at best.  But that’s cool.  I like my pie messy.

And it’s cool if, for a brief moment here and there, my life feels balanced, I feel balanced.  That’s a fine side effect.  But I don’t think it’s something to strive for.  Because to me, balance connotes neat.  Forcing big, messy, sloppy wonderfulness into perfect, neat, square cubbyholes.  And if I have to chase something, I’m picking passion, because that is where the life force lives.  And that life force is what is going to get you to your writing and give you enough energy to keep you there.  And passion will fill your life with memorable, alive, pulsing, exciting moments.  And then, you can sit down in your chair, in front of your computer or with your notebook in your lap, and write about those moments.  In an obsessive and all-consuming way.

8 Responses to “I Used To Teach Balance; Now I Teach Passion”

  1. Margarita Tartakovsky August 8, 2010 at 11:12 pm #

    Jennifer, I just read this in my e-mail, and I love it! So I had to tell you. 🙂 Many times, I’ll beat myself up for being terrible at the work/life balance, and it’s nice to know that you struggle with it, too – and put a positive spin on it. I’ve learned that it’s really whatever works for you. For instance, organizational systems or productivity systems, whatever they are, don’t work for me. In fact, they’re too much work. I like plain and simple, which my scribbled-on-a-piece-of-paper to-do list is. BTW, your post also really got me re-energized about writing.

  2. Stefanie August 10, 2010 at 9:27 am #

    People with perfectly orchestrated schedules probably aren’t in creative professions.

    I procrastinate, I cram for deadlines, the kids get sick… the best balance is being able to go with the flow of life, inspiration, a big creative push and yes, PASSION.

    I am also so grateful for the years I spent auditioning, then waitressing while also going home to write when I could. If I hadn’t pushed and squeezed for a few years, I wouldn’t be a writer today.

    Great post!

  3. eleanor August 10, 2010 at 9:28 am #

    Great post, Jen. I often feel like the ideal of “balance” is hung over women’s heads in particular – like “Here is something you should be aiming for while you multitask your head off and try to be perfect.” And then we feel like there is something more we could/should do to achieve that ideal when we are just fine the way we are.

    To feel joyful about our lives is much more important than creating a life that looks like it jumped out of the pages of Real Simple magazine.

  4. stephanie August 10, 2010 at 11:24 am #

    I am more impressed with passion than I am with balance. I need to make room for the passion in my life these days bc of other obligations (family, etc) that balance out my life without room for the “passion” part of the pie during this particular chapter of my life. But your passion? Oh, your passion!! Your description of a messy home with notebooks open and pens uncapped sounds more enticing to me than words can say! I hope to achieve that again some day!! Balance … it’s over rated.


  5. Brian Groves August 27, 2010 at 7:38 am #

    Just read this now and thought yes! The energy of your words just carried me forward. Living according to the moment is being balanced in its own way. There will always be time to sleep, eat, etc. but the moment of creativity requires the passion of now and can never be recaptured later. Excellent Jennifer!

  6. Cher September 3, 2010 at 2:56 am #

    I felt more passion about all of the work that I’m doing just from reading your post. Your writing is beautiful, humorous, and inspiring. I loved it!

  7. Jennifer Garam September 12, 2010 at 3:32 pm #

    @Margarita – YAY on all fronts! I am so happy to hear you are re-energized about writing!

    @Stefanie – Thank you! I agree, there is something about creative professions where not having everything in perfect balance works. And I am also grateful for years of waitressing, auditioning, rehearsing, and writing and what an incredible experience that was.

    @Eleanor – Thanks! Great to feel joyful about our lives and fine the way we are instead of always trying to do more and balance even MORE on our plates!

    @Steph & @Brian – Thank you!

    @Cher – Awesome re: feeling passion about your work!


  1. I Took a Break From Writing to Take Care of Myself | One Writeous Chick - June 14, 2013

    […] Then I went on this kick like, fuck balance, it’s all about the passion. […]

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