Writing and living: A necessary balance

I am Exhausted. Tired. Mentally fatigued.

Last night I fell asleep while writing, my laptop perched cozily on my lap, my back propped by two pillows still covered with cat hair from our recently deceased cat. I fell asleep, no lie, with a piece of chocolate in my mouth.

I fell asleep before even swallowing that piece of chocolate, how sad and pathetic is that?

I woke a few minute later, chocolate drool running down my face, and for a moment I had no idea where I was in time, or even who I was. Then it came back to me: I’m a woman living in Alaska and trying to rewrite a novel, train for a 50-mile race, work, maintain a relationship and remember to chew chocolate when it’s placed in my mouth.

What I’m wondering is: How do other people do this, how do this juggle their lives without sacrificing one thing for another? Or is sacrifice a necessity, is it the cost of wanting something that’s hard to obtain?

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Pretty picture from one of my long runs a few weeks ago. Why can’t writing be as easy as running, one foot in front of the other?

A sane voice inside my head reminds me that I don’t have to run a 50-mile race, the world isn’t holding its breath for me to finish almost last in an Alaska ultra race most people have never heard of. And it’s true. I don’t have to. But I want to. I want! I want!, as William Blake supposedly said right before he died (I don’t think he really said this but I like to imagine that he did, that he raised his aging head and croaked out the words in a raspy and pained voice).

Oh, William, you look so stern. I don’t think you would have liked me if we had ever met in real life (though your eyes are kind of sad and lonely so who knows, maybe we could have had a torrid affair, eh?).

I also don’t have to finish my novel rewrite. I could tell my editor and publisher that I’ve changed my mind, that I don’t want to rewrite my novel, that I’m tired and I’d rather sleep at night, thank you very much. Because, again, the world isn’t holding its breath waiting for my book.

But that’s not going to happen. I’ll give it my all, hand it in on time and start on my third novel (which I already have outlined because beginnings are so much kinder and enjoyable than endings).

I read many writing blogs and it seems that people talk a lot about marketing and publishing, about writing and plot and character development, etc. And while they sometimes mention that writing is tough and finding the time to write is even tougher, they rarely talk about what they have to give up in order to find time to write plus the consequences of giving up those very things.

So I’m going to talk about some of those things. First off, my relationship with my partner has suffered this summer. Oh, we aren’t on the brink of despair but we haven’t had much quality time together. It’s summer in Alaska and we haven’t hiked much. We do run together a few times a week and we try to take walks together on my rest-from-running days. But mostly it’s me coming home from work, shoving food in my mouth, taking a nap, waking up from my nap and running, coming back home and shoving more food in my mouth, spending a little bit of time with my partner (while part of me itches to go downstairs and begin writing) and then finally, finally (and usually it’s close to midnight by then), walking downstairs and sitting at my desk and oh yes, it’s time to write and oh yes, I’ve been waiting all day for this, and oh yes, more often than not my mind goes blank and I have to work, hard, at writing that first hour, until my mind relaxes and feels fluid and smooth, and usually I write until four or five in the morning and sometimes I stay up all night and stagger to bed a ruined and bleary mess, only to get up a few hours later and start all over again.

Other things I’ve had to give up in order to write: Hikes in the  mountains. Taking our inflatable boats out in the lake. Reading in the sunshine. Taking a long bath. Seeing friends (hello, do I even have friends any longer? I dearly hope so.). Sitting on the couch and staring out the window and daydreaming. Attending readings and crafts talks or even my own writing group. I haven’t been keeping in touch with people, either, haven’t been keeping up with emails and social media. I rarely post on Facebook or Twitter, and when I do, it’s hurried and rushed and feels incomplete.

But one of the things I miss the most? Reading. I normally read a book, and sometimes two, a week, and now I maybe read a few chapters a week. I miss reading terribly, I miss curling up with a book and diving in, miss the way new worlds and viewpoints and ideas unfold in front of my eyes.

I’m not mentioning any of this as a way of saying, oh, poor me, the tired writer still trying to hang in there. I’m simply stating a fact: That writing isn’t easy. That if you work and write and want to also have a life, you’re most likely going to have to make sacrifices and cut corners and, at times, give up things that mean a lot to you.

The good news is that you can still kind of, sort of make it work. You can still run and hike and have a small semblance of a life and see beautiful things, you just might have to see them at odd hours or odd times or while oddly tired or while in an odd state of mind or, most likely while experiencing all of the above.

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13 thoughts on “Writing and living: A necessary balance

  1. Oh, believe me, I know of what you speak. I’ve never fallen asleep with chocolate in my pie hole, but I’ve definitely seen the dark side of the writing obsession. I suppose it’s the same with any pursuit that requires this kind of intensity: becoming a virtuoso violinist, a skillful brain surgeon, a home run hitter. If our friends, families, and partners believe in us, they cut us a little slack. We hope. 😏


  2. So glad you wrote this, Cinthia! I’ve been thinking a lot about balance. I’m taking an online creative nonfiction writing class in which there is a LOT of reading (but it’s all so interesting and stimulating) but when do I write? Well, we have assignments and, although we won’t be graded, a deadline is often what I need to kick my rear in gear. I’m lucky that my husband has interests that require a lot of his time and focus. We can spend the day together but not together. Physically in the same house, maybe only a few feet apart but he’s intent on his photography and I’m trying to figure out if what I just wrote is some kind of hybrid essay. It’s the most difficult during the week. I used to be able to sneak time for writing at my day job, but not any more (budget cuts, staff shortages). Yoga after work, then fussing over the cats and our dinner and maybe an episode of Dexter because by this time, it’s almost my bedtime. And I want/need my sleep. I don’t how you manage on what sounds like very little sleep, although I often think that is the route I’m going to have to take if I want to not just write, but actually send my writing off for other people to read and judge. The key thing for me is having a partner who: (1) understands writing is a job for which you work long hours and get very little pay but the intrinsic value is off the scale; and (2) has enough of his own interests to not always notice that you’ve slipped away to write. To be honest, I think the social media part of our writing lives is the most expendable. Occasionally I have fun with Twitter and Facebook, but so much of it seems to be just people tagging me so I’ll tag them in return (Twitter circle jerk). Lovely photos, by the way. I’d want to be outside all the time if I lived where you do 🙂


    1. We are totally bosom buddies, truly. I loved what you said about no longer being able to write at work, due to budget cuts, because I wrote a good part of my first novel while supposedly working. I never had writer’s block when writing at work, I guess because I felt as if I were getting away with something. I’m glad your partner is understanding about your writing. It’s essential. Mine gives me a lot of room and a lot of slack, bless his heart. But still, I’m quite selfish about my writing time and he ultimately ends up paying the price sometimes. P.S. I finished the Dexter series last summer, was so hooked. Didn’t like how it ended yet it made perfect sense.


      1. We finished Season 1 (watched that in a week, usually two episodes at a time). Started Season 2 last night. We are hooked. My husband complains that some of the story lines are too improbably (suspend your disbelief, darling!) but we love the development of Dexter’s character. At first I thought it was creepy having a series about a serial killer as hero, but there’s so much depth to Dexter. If the ending makes sense, I’ll be okay with it. I can’t imagine things ending well for Dexter. I guess that’s part of the hook 😉


  3. Finding balance in life is so difficult. Life would be so much easier if we were capable of only one passion at a time. Right? Maybe?

    My problem, at least in terms of writing, is that I am absolutely brilliant and the words just FLOW while I’m out on a run, but when I finally sit down to write, they evaporate the moment my butt hits the chair. Forcing myself to write only results in crap so my poor blog sometimes goes a week without an update (an eternity in the online world, right?) even though I have plenty of adventures I could share.


  4. Writing seems so hard! But avid readers like me are so glad that you are forcing yourself through that. Don’t think that the world wouldn’t care about your second novel. The world cares. Well, I care, is that enough? Do I need to send chocolate?


  5. Just yesterday I finally said to myself: something has to give, so you can either choose what it is, or let it be chosen for you. I guess it’s simple, and obvious, the juggler is going to eventually drop one spinning plate, but you’re right we don’t talk much about what we give up when we are writing (with very full lives otherwise). I realized right now what’s being lost/cost is my sanity. It’s probably better to pick something else. The hardest for me to manage is friends: I feel so guilty/uncomfortable when I’m not saying “yes” enough, yet the work/life/kids/writing/partner balance leaves almost no time for friends. Anyway -thanks for this & for helping me sort through the same problem in my own life.


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