Writing in Spite of the Real World: The Art of Balancing Side Projects with Normal Life
As we prematurely bust out the sweater collection and ease back into our busy lives this month, I’m detecting a certain eau de anxiété from my friends and colleagues who do self-led work.
Writers, freelancers, and artists: this is the season where the real world starts to breathe again, and if there’s anything that interferes with making strides on your side projects, it’s the real world. But striking a healthy work-life-other work balance is possible, and it all begins with the right frame of mind.
First things first, you need to acknowledge whatever work you do apart from your typical money-making ventures is deserving of your attention and shouldn’t be sidelined.
It’s important! It’s meaningful! It brings you joy! There’s a reason you started your project, right? Remind yourself of why that was. If you genuinely feel that what you’re working on matters, then give it the same care and attention you would any other significant part of your life.
Second, make time for your side work.
Just because you love something (e.g. being fit and in shape) doesn’t always mean that you make time for it (e.g. going to the gym to be fit and in shape). There’s no such thing as typical hours for a writer; I’ve seen people write a book in two weeks by writing for many hours every single day, and I’ve seen people write a book over two years by writing little bits here and there. What I can say is that it’s best to follow a routine, and to make sure that your routine works for you.
Think about when you’re most creative, and schedule your writing hours for that time. For a lot of people, it’s the morning because the rest of your day can’t intrude on those hours, so maybe start there and see if it works for you. Don’t feel bad if it’s not the morning, though; it’s certainly not for me, no matter how hard I try. The most important thing is to make sure that you’ve got at least an hour or more to dedicate to writing; writing requires deep thought, which you can’t access if you’re doing it in bits and spurts. Try scheduling 2+ hours and go from there.
Lastly (and maybe most importantly), stay honest about what you need.
The toughest thing about writing on the side and living the rest of your life is there’s almost never enough time and energy in the day to do it all to the point where you’re satisfied. While it’s important to make time for writing, you have to be realistic and make sure you’re not sacrificing other responsibilities — or sources of happiness — to accommodate a writing-filled schedule. It’s okay to restructure your efforts on an as-needed basis. When you don’t give yourself the wiggle room, the odds of burning out increase dramatically. Writing isn’t an all-or-nothing sport; you can take time off and step away when you need to. At the end of the day, it’s your project, and it’ll be waiting for you to come back to it whenever you’re ready.
Lauren Taylor Shute is the Founder and CEO of Lauren Taylor Shute Editorial Inc., a full-service editorial firm based in New York City that helps authors around the world develop their ideas, perfect their manuscripts, and find representation or publication for their work. She speaks regularly at writing conferences and has been featured in Forbes, Fast Company, and Glamour magazine.