To enable myself to write full time, my work/life balance can’t be too loose or too strict. It’s critical to feed the passion and provide for myself and find the perfect levels for each.
Being a writer is my full-time job. Predictably, at most of my book signings and appearances, some people greet me with a wishful expression, and I know they are thinking, “I wish I could stay home and write full time and make a living.” One twenty-something approached me not long ago and blurted, “You are living the dream! You are who I want to be.”
It’s true, I am living the writer’s dream, but it isn’t self-sustaining – it’s one that comes with responsibilities and coordination. It doesn’t take much for an untended dream to slide into chaos. Being a writer requires maintenance. Every few months, I make it a point to stop and analyze my schedule and re-set my goals and purpose. Without attention to these details, my dream takes off on tangents and can easily splinter into tasks that may not feed the dream and can redirect my energy and hijack my days.
I knew I wanted to leave the nine-to-five routine to pursue a deep, personal, satisfying quest in writing. But I didn’t just drop everything: I made a plan before taking the leap. While writing fulfilled me, I had sense enough to know I had financial obligations I had to take care of, so I developed a three-year plan to pay off debt, save for emergencies, and develop a work ethic of income writing (versus creative writing). At the end of three years, at the age of 46, I took an early retirement.
I wanted to leave earlier, but that three-year plan included securing health insurance and a small pension based on my qualifying for early retirement. I needed to know there would always be a roof over my head. Plus, in those three years I was able to test several writing avenues, weighing which would bring in the most income, which would allow me to pursue my novel-writing goals, and which would provide me the best platform. I had an intense need to define a balance between responsibility and desire, getting everything I wanted out of my days without sabotaging my well-being.
We often mistake a balanced life as being one we have to think less about: a laissez-faire mindset that defies structure and regimen. In reality, our balance goes awry if we aren’t focused. We lose balance if there is no weighing in of need and purpose.
I have been able to write full time and make a living for over a decade now, and I believe it has worked because I periodically analyze my purpose, goals, and schedule.
While it’s easy to say my main purpose is to write, I learned early on that an equal purpose is to ensure my financial safety. I could not be successful without both. So instead of saying my dream is to write full time, I recognize my dream is really maintaining an ability to write full time.
Every month, I study the time I’ve spent writing for short-term income (freelancing), writing for long-term income (novels), making appearances, and promoting myself and my business. They must balance to sustain my full-time passion, and it means sometimes I spend less time on my creative writing so I can bring in dollars… which buys me time to delve into my novels. Without dissecting this balance regularly, the scales quickly tip in the wrong direction. Too much income writing robs me of my creativity. Too much creative writing robs me of income. Writing is my career, so it takes leveling both left-brain and right-brain tasks to allow me to maintain a full-time dream.
A novel has numerous deadlines prior to publication, and meeting each of the lead-up deadlines does not bring in income. As a novelist, I also find I’m planning several books at a time, meaning I have a multi-year, long-range plan. Until those novels are published and bringing in income, a certain number of short-term goals must be met to pay bills. This analysis of long-term and short-term goals takes place monthly to keep me on track.
While setting goals and tending to them is a great habit to get into, real day-to-day activity isn’t always precise or easy to monitor. Then again, I left the nine-to-five partly because I felt suffocated by the regimen, and I am not interested in replacing one rigid structure with another. So I developed a process to avoid force-feeding myself a daily schedule.
Monthly reviews covering my creative writing, freelance writing, and promotional activity are sufficient for me. In the day-to-day, I can allow a more relaxed environment.
I rise when my internal clock wakes me, and I go to sleep when my clock beckons. My work may make for five-hour days, or fifteen, depending on my energy and enthusiasm, but my work week is a forty-hour minimum. One great thing about being a stay-at-home writer is that I can deem what makes for a satisfying day without worrying about a clock or overseer.
To avoid burn-out, I take breaks to walk my dogs, tend the chickens, and garden. I can make doctor appointments in the day without missing work, and I can take a break and visit the zoo with a grandson in the middle of the afternoon before it gets crowded.
I can work until three AM knowing I can sleep in. I can stop and cook dinner, watch a mystery on television, then return to the job because it’s just down the hall. While I give myself Saturday as a day off, I’ve learned that I love my work so much that I rarely reach the end of the day without checking for replies from publishers, editors, and readers.
Balance can’t be too loose or too strict, but it’s critical to feed the passion and the self-sustainability of a writing career and find that perfect level. Give yourself enough of a structure that you feel focused, but enough detachment to feel you’re not tied down.
Without a doubt I’m living the dream, and with the balance I’ve achieved, that dream will carry me as long as I wish.
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