Guest Post – Life vs. Writing: A Balancing Act

Angela D’Onofrio is a writer and artist whose series of novels takes place in the fictitious town of Aviario, Connecticut and contains elements of the fantastic (I reviewed one of her Aviario novels, In the Cards, a few weeks back). I met her through a local writer’s group, where I was struck by her dedication to promoting her projects and keeping an active role in her many, many creative communities.  Check out more of her work here, or follow her on Twitter at @AngDonofrio.


Hello, fellow writers with day jobs!  Ian approached me a little while ago and asked if I’d like to write a guest post for his blog.  “Sure,” I said, “but let’s do it after National Novel Writing Month, when I’ll be done writing my fingers off…”

Which brings us to the topic of this post: Life vs. Writing. For the past four years, I’ve participated in National Novel Writing Month, aka NaNoWriMo: a challenge to authors to write the first 50,000 words of a novel draft in a month.  As much as I’d love to be able to tell you that I pummeled my keyboard into submission…alas, this is the first time I haven’t done so.  But I’m not calling it a loss, simply a speed bump.

As I’m sure you all know, balancing a job, a family, precious personal time, and community activities along with maintaining the fictional or nonfictional world that’s unfolding on the page is a juggling act that would make a Cirque du Soleil expert cringe.  November ended up being chock-full of such days.

I won’t give too many particulars, but a family member grew very ill then passed away over a very long two weeks, and the rest of the month was dedicated to coping and figuring out ways to carry on.  I have most of a plot outline staring at me mournfully from my desk, waiting its turn, but my heart simply isn’t in it right now.  As many on the internet have come to put it, I’m low on spoons, and my fuel gauge is near empty.

But here’s the most important part: that’s okay.

So many blogs, books, and other repositories of writing wisdom say: “You Must Write Every Day Or You Are Not An Author.”  I beg to differ.  Are you at your day job every single day of the week?  I hope not!  You’d burn out faster than a candle with a wick at both ends.

I think that part of being a decent writer is that you must first respect yourself.  I find I write infinitely better when I’m rested, refreshed, and relaxed: even if I can only write an hour at a time, in quiet stretches before work.  Once you’ve achieved that state, then the writing will come to you.  It might come slowly—you might need to noodle around a bit typing out your train of thought before the good stuff starts showing up.  But if you’ve found your ideal writing vibe, it might show up faster than you’d think.

Yes, there’s something romantic about the notion of writing wherever one can: on buses or subway cars, or on J.K. Rowling’s infamous cafe napkins.  But I’m happy as a cat in a sunbeam if I can sit at my desk with a sandwich of some stripe, a beverage, some good music, and an open Scrivener file.  Even as I type this, I’ve got a timer set, and I know that once it goes off, I have to close the laptop, put my dishes in the sink, and go tend to another facet of my life.  But this is how I’m easing myself back in.

I can’t swim into the deep end of fiction just yet, but I can paddle in the shallows of my writing mind and share my methods.  I can remind myself how it’s done when I’m at my best, and hope that sharing this advice helps you, too.

So, here it is, here’s my secret for Writing With A Day Job And A Life: I found what works for me.

You can find what works for you, too, but the tricky part is being honest with yourself, one hundred percent.  Don’t just give yourself the answers that you think will create the most compelling author persona to impress people.  Give yourself the answers that make you say to yourself, “Damn, that sounds fine, I should sit down and do that right fucking now.”

Your day job may seem like it takes up all your time: but I promise you, that isn’t so.  It’s possible to shut it away in its own little corner of your mind for a little while: if you’re busy juggling, drop that Work ball for a little while.  You can always pick it back up again when it’s time.

Make your writing that one ritual you settle into like that cat in a sunbeam.  The more it feels like a special thing, a treat, the more likely you are to make time to get it done.  Because isn’t that what our stories are?  A reward to ourselves for putting up with all the crap we’re obligated to do?

I challenge you to lay out your perfect writing environment and share it in the comments here… then make it happen for yourself.  I’m pretty sure you deserve it.


Have a thought about the Day Job life, or literally anything else that you’d like to share?  I’m always looking for guest posts, so shoot me your idea!

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