This post is part of a HippoCamp 2021 recap series, with guest blog posts written by HippoCamp attendees. Learn more about our conference for creative nonfiction writers.
“Work/life balance” is one thing, but balancing work, life, and writing feels in some ways like another thing altogether. And yet for many writers, writing doesn’t really fall into either of the other two categories, as Athena Dixon’s presentation at HippoCamp 2021 made clear.
She covered the myth of “Love What You Do”—sometimes that’s just not realistic for someone who has to keep the lights on and eat regular meals. Most writers have other responsibilities besides writing: taking care of family members, a non-writing job, household chores, and so on. “There is no writer’s life,” she said. “There is only the writer living.” As most writers are already aware, just because we have time to create doesn’t mean we have the passion to fulfill our goals, and the opposite is also true. Just because we have the passion and drive doesn’t mean we have the time to spare because “work/life balance” often ignores writing completely.
In order to use the time we do have wisely, we can do three things. First, we must recognize our own privilege and how it manifests in our writing life. If you can afford (and employ) a housecleaner, for example, you have more functional time than someone you can’t afford one. Similarly, if you are employed by a company that offers your position vacation time, you are more able to attend a writing conference without it being possibly detrimental to your ability to pay your bills. Second, we must question our assumptions about “the writing life.” Consider how “the writing life” affects your decisions and perceived opportunities. And third, we must take a long, hard look at our creative community. Is it varied, or is it homogeneous? In what ways is it varied?
Athena also suggested having an honest conversation with yourself about what you want from your writing. What are your expectations and goals? How do these fit into your “real” life? What are you willing to accept, and what is unacceptable?
“You can’t create more time, but you can better organize the time you have.” There are only twenty-four hours in any given day, only 525,600 minutes in a given year. How can you use this time to your benefit? Create goals at the macro level: yearly and quarterly. And then, winnow down what you can actually do on the micro level: monthly, weekly, and daily.
At the macro yearly level, make three lists: (1) goals for the year, (2) places you’d like to pitch or where you’d like to submit, and (3) all of your current projects, no matter how small. Then, on the macro quarterly level, split the yearly goals into four quarters to avoid overwhelming yourself, and give yourself grace if you need to adjust in real time if something takes longer than you expected.
On the micro monthly level, check in on your quarterly goals and make adjustments as needed. Remember, the only one who “wins” or “loses” here is you, so don’t beat yourself up if your quarterly and yearly goals take longer to achieve than you think they should. As long as you’re moving in the right direction, you are on the right track. Also at the monthly level, reflect on your submission and/or pitch goals: (1) note upcoming deadlines, (2) determine your work in progress’s readiness for submission, and (3) check in on current submissions and send inquiries if you need to.
At the micro weekly level, make sure you don’t set impossible goals. Consider setting a weekly writing goal (in word count, time spent, or pages written) instead of a per-session goal. Another good way to keep motivated is to join a writing sprint group, which precipitates concentrated writing and gives you access to potential critique partners and other opportunities. Writing sprint groups can be found on most social media platforms, including Facebook, Instagram, and Clubhouse.
Also, take advantage of your down time; daydream and feed yourself creative works in and outside your genre and style. Even if you don’t end up writing as much as you’d like to in a given week, try to do at least one thing that’s related to your work in progress, such as organizing photos, outlining, or creating a mood board.
Finally, at the micro daily level, you can do two things. First, keep an open word processing document or physical paper and pen within arm’s reach so that you can jot down inspiration as it strikes. Second, do something fun just because you want to or for curiosity’s sake in order to keep a barrier between your work, household and family responsibilities, and writing.
Athena suggested several tools for writers in both analog and digital formats. Analog tools she mentioned included a project notebook, a whiteboard, and notecards or sticky notes. Digital tools were far-reaching and wide-ranged: a calendar like Google Calendar; a writing application like Microsoft Word or Bear; media streaming services; moodboard applications like Pintrest, Canva, and Milanote; and digital photo storage (so that you don’t fill up your phone’s storage too fast) like Google Photos. Athena’s go-to ambient sounds on YouTube, for example, included Tokyo Tones, Ambient Renders, Lofi Girl, RideScapes, and Cozy Rain. Additionally, she mentioned CuriosityStream for documentary lovers.
Athena Dixon can be found at her website, http://www.athenadixon.com and on Twitter at @AthenaDDixon.
Viannah E. Duncan is a professional editor for academic, corporate, and creative writers. She specializes in writing, developmental editing, line editing, copyediting, proofreading, sensitivity reading, and literary coaching and has a soft spot for poetry and LGBTQ+ fiction and nonfiction. Ms. Duncan’s clients range from individuals just starting their writing journeys to independent publishing houses to corporations and government entities. She holds an MFA in creative writing with a focus on poetry, creative nonfiction, and small press publishing and has a small dog named Hyphen. She lives on stolen Piscataway land in what is now known as the area north of Washington, DC. You can find out more about her and her editing services at http://www.duncanheights.com.