"Most people don't keep writing after college," my Creative Writing professor told us in several of the many classes I took with her. I don't know if she meant to warn us or galvanize us—or simply to make us set realistic expectations—but writing is the only thing I've wanted to do with my life ever since I was a little kid. I knew it would be tough to balance the responsibilities of adulthood with the demands of writing; I was going to have to beat the odds and become one of the people who did continue to write after college. I didn't feel intimidated because thanks to the online writing community, I knew about a lot of writers who balance their creative careers with day jobs. (I'm in awe of anyone who can write while raising children and paying the bills—you're truly inspiring, folks). However, I knew it would be difficult.
I didn't fully appreciate the precise challenges I would be facing until I got out in the world and started trying to live the dual life I had outlined for myself. I thought I would have more mental energy to dedicate to writing because I wouldn't have the mental strain of classes and homework, but I didn't anticipate the emotional exhaustion I would feel. Eight hours seems to leave the better part of the day free, but that's not factoring in travel time, cooking and eating, cleaning, grocery shopping and endless errands, exercise, hygiene, and socialization time. Oh yeah, and sleep. Not to mention all the activities that have to surround writing if you want to turn it into a career for yourself: building a social media presence, maintaining a writer website, and creating some kind of author platform for people to get to know you, such as a blog, YouTube channel, or podcast.
Some of those things can be set aside, of course—writers can be hermits, right? Can't we have takeout every night? Is exercise really necessary? I can get away with a couple of hours of sleep, can't I? But it's not the best idea, because isolating yourself and neglecting to take care of your body and mind will not make you a better writer. It might give you more time, but it won't give you more energy. Quite the contrary: neglecting myself feeds into my depression and anxiety.
It's a vicious cycle. Writing takes time and energy. Life takes time and energy. Mental illness takes time and energy. If I hide inside my room all weekend to write, I have more time to be productive, but it won't be good for my mental health and I'll be neglecting things I need to do to keep my life running, which will prevent me from writing in the long run. If I take a break from writing to replenish my mental energy, I don't make any progress and I feel bad about myself, making me less likely to be able to write later.
But I have kept writing ever since graduation. Maybe I haven't made as much progress as I would have liked, but I am making progress, and I'm still on track for my goal of publishing the first novel in the Phyrian War Chronicles this fall. I'm building my social media presence on Twitter and Instagram and I'm trying to blog regularly. I don't have the answers for how to balance writing and life perfectly, and I'll probably be figuring it out for the rest of my life, but I have come up with some strategies that have helped me keep writing.
1. Dictating to my phone on the drive to and from work. This was especially helpful when I was writing a first draft, since I could just craft scenes from scratch. It helped me get in an extra half hour of writing a day and I probably couldn't have finished my draft without it.
2. Tailoring my author platform to my personality. As much as I enjoy filming and editing videos and love the BookTube community, BookTube it was too time-consuming for me. I was too ambitious—I wanted to write and record a new original song every week related to writing and/or reading—and I didn't have enough time to make my videos as good as I wanted them to be. It was causing me a lot of stress and I felt a lot better after deciding to quit. Instead, I turned to blogging, which so far has felt like a better fit.
3. Writing on my phone. After staring at a computer all day for work, the last thing I want to do when I get home is sit down with my laptop. I've been revising my novel on my phone using Google docs, which not only helps me take a break from sitting at a computer but also allows me to write during shorter intervals that I have free—no need to wait for my computer to turn on, no need to lug my computer everywhere I go (more on this in a moment).
4. Writing when I have the most energy. Since I started doing revisions on my phone, I've been able to get a solid half hour of writing in almost every day during my lunch break. I have the most energy during the times of day when I'm at work, so it makes sense to grab a little of that energy for myself around noon.
5. Writing during shorter intervals. When I was a kid or when I was on vacation from school, I would sit down and write for hours straight every day. I still do that on some weekends, but I've come to appreciate how much more progress I can make when I don't wait for when I have uninterrupted writing time. The other strategies I've talked about, such as dictating to my phone on the drive to work, writing during my lunch break, or drafting a blog post between different steps of cooking dinner, have all allowed me to keep momentum. There's a lot more time in a day when you count up the shorter moments, and it requires—and expends—less energy.
I know I'm not alone in my struggles with managing time and energy as a writer who is also a responsible adult or just a busy person in general. How do you cope with it? Do you employ any similar strategies? Let me know in the comments, and happy writing—whenever you make the time!