The Life / Writing Balance

In my recent post ‘The Writers’ Network’ I explained how blogging can provide a new social network for writers.

Interestingly some of the comments on the post extended this new society to an actual social life.  As if talking to other writers online is the closest thing a writer might have to a life of her own.

The idea of a writer not having a real life of her own angers me.  As I explained in ‘Writing from the Heart’, it’s important to know and understand the things you write about.  So how can a writer convincingly write about the exciting lives of her characters, if she herself lives a rather mundane existence?

For me, becoming a good writer has meant understanding people.  And that involves communicating with, and engaging with, people from all different backgrounds and in all different situations.  In order to have the imagination to create a full range of characters, and empathise properly with those characters, I feel like I need to truly understand the world around me.  As a result I often feel like I’ve lived a hundred lives.  I’ve tried anything and everything … possibly one of the reasons why I’ve adapted so well going from Cambridge Law student to professional babysitter! Every adventure is two-fold.  Not only is it interesting and exciting for me as an individual, it’s also useful for me as a writer.  I’ve stood on both sides of the fence – the served and the server –  and as a result I understand life ‘upstairs’ and ‘downstairs’.

I’ve noticed that a lot of people write their first novel in their mid-thirties.  However I was 25 when I finally committed Flicker to paper, and I think the reason I did so at such a relatively young age, is because I feel I’ve had more than enough life experience.  The adventurous and constantly-changing way in which I live my life has equipped me with the knowledge and empathy to write from various different perspectives on a number of different subjects, which has proved particularly useful, particularly where books like ‘My Ten Future Lives’ where the characters’ situations change with every chapter.

In my opinion the traditional image of an author as a loner, trapped in a room, able only to socialise through her pen is out-dated and unrealistic.  Just because I can write, shouldn’t mean I can’t talk to people … and vice versa.

Personally I like to think of myself as a rather bubbly and sociable person, who also enjoys writing, and I hope that this personality shades my writing rather than hampering it.

The idea of the loner writer is a rather romantic one.  As if she puts her all into the book and has no time for a life of her own.  However, it is more than possible to have a life, and dedicate your time and energy to writing a book … it’s simply a question of understanding your writing.

As I explained in ‘The Author, The Journalist and The Blogger’, everyone writes differently depending on the nature of the task.  I also find that within each ‘discipline’ of writing, I work differently according to the task.

Take, for example, the administrative side of writing a novel.  As I will explain in more detail in a later post, it’s important as an author to present your work in a user-friendly manner.  And this involves headers, footers and page-numbers.  Compare this side of writing to expertly selecting the perfect words for the opening paragraph of your novel, and you can hopefully understand the different mental demands of various tasks.  Labeling my pages uses 2% of my brain power … finding the perfect words, maybe 92%.  And then there’s re-reading and editing.  The more often you have revised a piece of work, the less attention you need to pay it.

And so, with this all in mind … it’s actually possible to be rather sociable, and still find time to write!

When I’m writing prose, I know I need to be alone … whether that privacy is offered by four walls, or simply by my laptop headphones.  Similarly, I need to have relative focus when it comes to my initial edits.  I’ll perhaps play music I know well, or a tv show I’m not captivated with in the background.

But in the later edits, where I’m simply skim-reading for mistakes or repetition, and when it comes to numbering my pages and making everything look neat and tidy, I don’t need anywhere near my full attention on my computer.  And so these activities don’t require me to be a ‘loner’.  In the same way that I’m sitting writing this blog post whilst half-watching a movie with my boyfriend, and contributing (all but half-heartedly) to a conversation with him and one of our friends, a lot of writing tasks don’t require my full attention, and so I have adapted my life to include ‘laptop’ moments.

It’s not gospel, and probably wouldn’t work for everyone, but knowing when I can fulfil tasks in a sociable manner definitely helps me feel a lot less like a loner writer.

Finally, the other thing which keeps me sane is knowing when NOT to write.  As I mentioned in The Writers’ Network, I’m between books.  And three novels into my writing career, I understand my habits well enough to know that I need to take a decent break in between projects.  I need to switch character perspectives, in order to write convincingly from that new point of view … and whilst I’m not exactly lazy during the gaps (as perhaps best evidenced by this blog!!) I definitely take a proper break.  Which leaves more time for that life part of the life/writing balance …

Two years in, and it seems to be working for me … what about you?  Have you found the perfect balance?  Are your coping methods different to mine?  Or are you the stereotypical loner writer?

As ever … discuss!! That’s the whole point of the blog 🙂 Get social with the rest of the internet’s aspiring authors!

C-C xxx


Filed under C-C Lester, General, Unsigned Author Commentary, Writing

8 responses to “The Life / Writing Balance

  1. Pingback: Response to The Life/Writing Balance « Jennifer M. Hartsock

  2. The quote “write what you know” is a good one. A confident writing voice, in my humble opinion, reveals knowledge of a particular content. Your writing is automatically read as truth.

    In order to sound attractive (confident) you have to obtain knowledge of the content. You have to live and interact with the world.

    After you’ve written the initial draft, I agree that seclusion with the company of music is ideal. I find that my writing is respectable the first time around, but then really comes alive the second time (editing). I believe that this is the case because my first draft is the “bones.” Once the bones are in place, I may then go back and follow a structure, but now add “meat.” The plot is there, which takes a lot of energy to create, but now I may sit back and let my mind wander. Details, descriptions, and everything else fall into place perfectly.

    You asked how I make my balance my life and writing. I wake up in the morning excited to check my email for blog updates, or see who commented my work, or see what other authors have written over night. In order to always feel this excitement for going to work in the morning, I’ve decided to gain a degree in english to put toward being a literary agent, or editor. Also, I must admit that I currently don’t have any trouble juggling personal life with writing. I’m lucky to be with a man who also loves to write, and so we may spend hours together writing separate works in the same room, and sometimes turn to one another to discuss our work, and then go back to writing. It’s beautiful.

    For those of us who can’t share a hobby/talent with our significant other, my advice is to make your life just as/more interesting than your writing. For some, or most of us, it becomes painful to make a plan on how they can set aside their writing to make room life. I think this is backwards, and unfortunate, because the people most important to us should never be “squeezed in” between writing. I believe that life should always be grander, and that writing should enhance such a grand life, but not dominate or cast life out.

    Anyway, I look forward to reading your next blog entry.


    • I too look forward to the next blog; C-C has rapidly become one of my ‘must reads’.

      First thing each money I check my emails to see if there is a blog update or another chapter of TDN *cough* or even a reply from someone else who finds her stuff so compelling to read.

      I am the architypical ‘loner’ but I am not an author and I am not really a writer – or any other title that befits others. I just like writing down my thoughts – as putting them down in words seems like the only way to get them out of my head so I can find peace.

      I can blog whilst on my lunch break at work (surrounded by colleagues); at least the rough draft or outline of a new idea; I need isolation for anything more ‘meaty’ and, like you, use a layered approach akin to oil painting or sculpting: base coat followed by layer upon layer to build up the relief.

      The blogging is actually making me more sociable: I am happier to let others see what I’ve written and through that what I feel – resulting in more ‘real-world’ discussions about what I hold dear to me.

  3. i like the subtle hint for another chapter 🙂 C-C xx

  4. I obviously don’t apply any structure to writing comments. *hangs head in shame*
    I am going to assume everyone understands money* should have been morning. Hate iPhone’s spell-checker. Hate it but too reliant to turn it off.

    NB – sorry, was that subtle? Thought it was pretty ‘in your face’ ;). Feed my addiction :D.

  5. iPhone spell check (until last week when mine got stolen) just cracks me up… unfortunately i only have a couple of friends with zaney enough senses of humour that I can leave the words uncorrected when it goes a bit crazy! C-C xx

  6. Pingback: Inspired …. | elementarycircle

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