This applies to much more than thermodynamics. We use this dictum in all facets of life, and I often hear one form of it that’s more relevant to the venture of writing . . . You can’t work in a vacuum.
Some writers swear up and down that the opposite is true. And, no doubts, writing can be a lonely pursuit. Hours spent on end with people who only exist in your mind does not, unfortunately, count as being an active and social human being. Like with any form of art, writing has its eccentrics and savants that prove the exception to any rule.
For the rest of us, though, I think this is true. You can’t work in a vacuum. At least, not for great lengths of time. And here’s my reason why – writing is life. I know, cheesy, huh? But, what I mean is – writing is made up of the activities of life – of our experiences, senses, feelings. As writers, we need to be familiar with these things in order to turn them into moving prose. If you really spent your life cloistered away from all that life has to offer – what would you have to write about?
That’s not to say that having a ‘creative space’ free from the clutter of everyday life isn’t crucial. And by ‘creative space’ I mean a frame of mind, rather than an actual physical space, though certain physical spaces my contribute to your ‘writing space’ or detract from it. For me, it is necessary to physically disconnect the internet from my computer if I intend to get a large amount of writing done. Otherwise, there are too many distractions, but I digress . . .
In thinking about this week’s post, the topic of balance weighed heavily on my mind. Perhaps because I have felt unbalanced lately, and that always nags at me. Whether it’s an astological given, or just a personality quirk, I’m on a constant quest for balance. A little deeper analysis revealed that I had enough thoughts on it to (maybe) constitute a blog post. I’ll let you be the judge of whether any of this rambling is worthwhile.
Okay. We can’t work in a vacuum. Even if writing were truly our only pursuit, it still dictates that we go out there and experience life. Oh! The pain, the glory, the sunsets, yes, even the garbage is good fodder for a writer. We make the mundane interesting, the forbidden acceptable, the unimaginable possible. So, I ask myself – where is the balance point?
More importantly – for those of us who choose to write in addition to maintaining anything resembling a ‘real’ life outside of writing – is balance even possible? Or is tearing your hair our inevitable?
Jobs, marriages, kids, school, friends, family, illness, travel, celebration, housework, and the myriad of other activities that constitute life abound. So – how do we squeeze some time out of that to write? And once we do wring some writing time out of our schedule – how do we divvy it up?
We can’t work in a vacuum. To me, a fair percentage of my growth as a writer is reliant on feedback. Feedback, which requires social interaction, which requires time. And what about research? That’s cutting into our ‘writing’ time too, and we haven’t even gotten to the part about trying to actually sell our work. We’re just talking about writing it. Add learning your craft, and reading to that list, and I don’t know about you – but I’m out of time slots. So – when do we actually WRITE? We have to find a balance . . .
If you’re a writer, balance is probably instinctual. We already balance so many things: description with dialogue, plot with action, backstory with world-building, character arcs and relationship development, even our word ratios – “Do I have too many adjectives? Too many words starting with ‘s’?”
So, why, if you’re like me, does it not come quite so easy when it’s time to balance writing with life? Why does it feel, sometimes, as though everything in the world is there to keep you from doing the one thing you want to do – sealing yourself in a vacuum and writing?
Battle of the binge.
I learned early on in my writing addiction that I have a tendency to binge write. I’d lock myself away, hardly speaking to even my husband, for an entire weekend, then finally come up for air twenty thousand words later. (DISCLAIMER: In case you’re thinking to yourself – ‘hey, I wouldn’t be complaining, that’s twenty thousand words’ – please note that I DO NOT recommend this method.) Needless to say, this sort of habit was difficult to maintain – unpredictable, and frustrating – not only to me, but to the people around me. I was out of balance. Happy. High on writing, but unbalanced. A conundrum.
Take two: Gwenny reforms.
I had to take a chunk of time to get my life back on track – to make sure I was meeting deadlines at work, showing up for classes, seeing my family more than once a month, and not letting my husband go to bed alone more than once or twice a week, remembering to eat, and yes – even sleeping *gasp*. After that, I slowly introduced the writing drug back into my system. It was painful at times, and frustrating. I wanted more. I wanted to crawl away into my writing hole and play in my imaginary worlds for hours, days, weeks.
Instead, I forced myself to do it in small, and sometimes sparse, chunks. The most infuriating thing – rather than waiting for inspiration to strike me and then getting carried away by the muse, I had to write when I had time to write – muse or no, and stop when it was time to stop. Sometimes that meant staring at a blank screen for an hour and then moving on with life with nothing to show for that hour other than festering self-doubt. But, this was life, and I had to find a way to adjust. I slowly re-trained myself to write when I had time, not when I felt inspired – and even if what I wrote was crap, it gave me something to start with. I could/would/did fix it later.
What have I learned? (Really, Gwen, why are you making us listen to this?)
Well, I do have a few pieces of (what I deem) wisdom to impart. Though, I’m learning more about myself, and writing as it pertains to me, every day. Hopefully, you are too.
1. You can’t work in a vacuum. Finding other people who feel the same way you do will not only make you a better writer (feedback is crucial) but you’ll also feel like less of a freak when you discover there are so many others like us out there. Balance is important here, and a fair exchange so that everyone feels like they’re getting something worthwhile. I am here to tell you, this is entirely do-able. Writers are writers are writers. It doesn’t matter which genre, which length, which market – we all have some common ground. Don’t be a closet writer – there’s no need to do it alone. Many a time someone I’ve met online has said just the right thing to give me an idea, to inspire me, to bring me down out of the rafters, or to re-instill my faith in myself. That sort of interaction can make all the difference.
2. Make a ‘creative space’ for yourself. This is a mental state. Find a way to shut out the nagging lists, demanding bosses, inner-critic, door-to-door salesmen, and yes, even the TV. Build a mechanism into your psyche that allows you to disconnect and seclude yourself when you must, to let your creative energy flow safely and freely. Build it in such a way that it does not rely on the outside environment. That doesn’t mean you can’t institute a physical que. For me – it’s all about the iPod. If I have my headphones on, I’m in the zone, and don’t get in my way. Maybe for you it’s a special treat you only enjoy when writing, or a favorite sweater. As long as it’s something you can take with you anywhere, I think it will work. The idea is that, even without the food, the dog still drools, i.e. the que helps you create the ‘creative space’, just remember – it’s inside you.
3. Find a balance point. If you wait for everything to be ‘in order’ before you write, you’ll never get there. On the other hand, if you could give a flying f*&%, as long as you’re writing – you’ve probably swung too far the other way. Find the balance point. You’ve found something you love, something you’re passionate about. That’s amazing. You’re lucky. But don’t let the rest of life pass you by. No venture, no matter how passionate you are about it is worth missing out on life. Also – writing is multi-faceted. Make sure you don’t sell yourself short and only spend writing time on the part that you like the best. Balance your pursuit of the craft so that you’re well-versed and continually growing. Your work will show this. Like with anything in life, you will ‘feel’ when you’re in balance. You know your limits. As long as you are honest with yourself in setting them up, they will serve you.
Let me just say again, I’m in constant pursuit of it. I wish I had some formula to give away, but none such exists. We are all individuals, and what works for one of us doesn’t work for all. This is working for me, right now and I am trying to fine-tune it. I’m seeking a balance between my non-vacuum, and my creative space time, and I break my ‘creative space’ time up between studying craft, reading in the genre, writing exercises, writing what I have to (projects that need revisions, finishing, etc.) and writing what I want to (the story where the muse is on speed).
I wanted to get everyone thinking about their own internal balance-point because my next post will be on goals, and knowing your limits, and your balance -point is critical when setting goals for yourself.