Tag Archives: balance

I Took a Break From Writing to Take Care of Myself

14 Jun
Laptop computer and desk

My laptop is taking a break from writing.

Sometimes, I blatantly contradict myself.

Like how I used to say it was so important to have balance in your life.

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

And now I’m kinda into the balance thing again. Or trying to be at least. Living a life of balance  is not the place I naturally default to.

But, both things are true. Balance is nice. Passion is cool, too. Balanced passion may be something to strive for, although sounds like something that’s probably impossible to achieve.

Or when, several years ago, the married man I was having an affair with abruptly ended things. I was devastated to the point of barely being able to function, but I was also relieved — relieved that I no longer had to spend agonizing days waiting for his texts, calls, or emails, or hours lost to fantasy, obsession, fear, and worry. I was devastated, but I was also free.

Both were true.

I learned this from my therapist, she says it a lot. Life is big and complicated enough for seemingly completely contradictory things to both be true at the exact same time.

The last blog post I wrote was about how I always need to be writing. I wrote this almost 9 months ago. So you can see already: contradiction.

Shortly after writing that post, things fell apart, as they sometimes do in my life. As a freelancer, I was doing work that I loved, but unfortunately not enough of it to support myself. I have a high tolerance for deprivation in service to following my vision; if I’m doing work I love, I can make do with very, very little in terms of material gain.

But at a certain point, the chaos of financial instability starts to interfere with my creative process. Waking up every day in a state of panic tends to make me shut down, writing-wise. As someone I know once said, “You can’t write a novel if your house is on fire.” And based on my own experience I can say: tru dat.

Not knowing how I was going to pay the following month’s rent, and with my financial house up in flames, I set out looking for work. Once I’ve reached this point of complete desperation and panic, I can’t like, casually look for work and keep writing on the side. At that point, earning money requires all my time and attention.

I got temp work right away, and a month later, a full-time job. My first full-time job in over three years, I now had health insurance, paid time off, and some stability.

Although I hadn’t written in a few months, I decided to consciously continue my writing break so I could get acclimated to my new job. Also, I wanted to be a normal person who went to work and then had a life — time for socializing, dating, and decluttering my apartment — instead of this person who has a day job and then in every moment of her free time is trying to make things happen with her own creative projects on the side, living multiple lives and driving herself to exhaustion.

But after a month at my new job, my friend said to me, “Jen, I think you should start writing again.”

Because what happens is, not writing takes on its own crazy non-momentum momentum. If you don’t write for long enough, it turns into this really huge, daunting deal, and you can’t imagine how you ever wrote anything in the past or will ever again in the future. I said something along these lines to my friend right before she said, “Jen, it’s time.”

So, I wrote my dating profile for OkCupid. It was kind of fun. It made me laugh. I thought, This is good and I can write.

Inspired by my success writing my dating profile, I dipped my toe further into the writing pool, and wrote an essay about writing my online dating profile. Then I wrote a few more things, like this, and this.

It felt so good to be back. I was on a roll. Sort of. I still start and stop. Write, take a break. Struggle with writing/self-care. Balance/passion. Working hard/rest. Being consumed by creative projects/having a life. I write, but then I have to take mini-breaks. Because I work full-time and have activities and commitments almost every night after work, and I get t-i-r-e-d and need to rest. Not be so busy and striving all the time. Just be.

Last Sunday afternoon, I planned to write. But I was exhausted. So I took a nap instead. By mid-week, I was aching to write. I’m doing it today. I may need to take a break tomorrow.

Taking breaks from writing can be good self-care, and necessary periodically, but still, still, if I go too long without writing, I feel really shitty. Sometimes I need to take a break from writing to pay attention to how I’m going to pay my rent. But when I’m not writing, inevitably, I hit a point where I start to get angry and filled with resentment. I feel invisible, unseen, unheard, disempowered, like I have no voice. And the only way out of this is to USE MY VOICE and write something.

I need to be writing all the time. And I need to take breaks.

Both are true.

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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.