One of my colleagues used to point to the hero Odysseus as an example of someone who was balanced. Odysseus’ greatness as a hero, the argument went, wasn’t due solely to his physical strength, his intelligence or his spirit. It was the balance between these three qualities that made him the idea hero.
Balance has been on my mind a lot these days. Mainly because it’s something I’m struggling with as a writer.
If you’ve been following this site since I started it in January, you’ve noticed I’ve been posting less during the last month. That’s because I’ve entered the category of part-time freelance writers. True, it’s only your basic service journalism—what one of my colleagues called “how to drill a hole in a bucket” articles. Nothing sexy or exciting. But I am getting paid. Not a lot, but enough that I can set myself goals for weekly earnings that, compiled together, add up to a supplementary income that can’t be ignored. Certainly it’s more than I’d make wearing a vest at any of the local retail stores.
And this is where I run into the problem of balance. How do I balance the need to earn money writing with the need to flourish as a writer?
Eventually I’d like to get to a place where I can be paid for creating the sort of writing I enjoy, not just the sort of writing I can get paid for. Right now the two are separate categories.
It’s not that I don’t enjoy what I’m doing. I do. It challenges me on several levels. My writing has always suffered from a certain wordiness, which doesn’t fly in the journalists’ world. Furthermore, I’ve never really written with my eye on the clock—at least not in the way I do now. When you’re getting paid in one or two-digit increments, you don’t have time to write at a leisurely pace.
But I also need to find the time to work on my own writing. To write about literature, food, travel, teaching—in short, all the things I write about here on this site.
So my writing here has obviously suffered of late. From hitting a high of four posts a week, I’m down to one. And I do want to keep it there.
Several months ago, I posed a question about why I write. At the time, I wrote I didn’t truly know what my purpose was as a writer. But the website had a purpose. Its job was to help me develop the discipline needed to write for a paycheck. This was necessary. I’ve never been truly balanced as a writer. Historically, I’m the writer who creates in flourishes of inspiration, then shuts down. And I know there are a lot of us out there.
Kurt Vonnegut said once that what separates the good writers from the average ones was patience:
Our power is patience. We have discovered that writing allows even a stupid person to seem halfway intelligent, if only that person will write the same thought over and over again, improving it just a little bit each time. It is a lot like inflating a blimp with a bicycle pump. Anybody can do it. All it takes is time.
That’s never been me. But I am getting there. And for that, I can pat myself on the back a bit. Considering everything else I have going on in my life, I’ve managed to carve out a place in my world for a second job. Well and good.
But can I keep it up?
I can. But only if I can find that elusive balance.
I need to find balance between the writing I’m paid for and the writing that truly pays me.
I need to find balance between the time I spend writing and the time I spend with my family.
I need to find balance between being “real” as a writer and revealing too much of my personal life. My life isn’t so exciting that a ton of people would want to know about it, but if I can’t bring my personal experiences and views to bear on my writing, I’m not sure I can produce the sort of writing that people would enjoy.
I need to find balance between my day job and my night job. I don’t bring my home job to my day job. But being a teacher means you take your day job home with you. I can get things done—but that’s not the point. It’s never enough as a teacher to simply “get things done.” Success as a teacher means my students are thriving. Are they? Are they doing as well as they possibly could? Is there anything else I could or should be doing as a teacher outside of school to ensure they thrive?
These are some of the things I need to balance.
So far, I’m doing okay. Nothing in either my personal life or my professional life has come apart at the wheels.
But the challenges posed by the writer’s life are obvious. And I need to do a better job handling them.
Getting that balance is my new goal. Wish me luck.