Episode 47: Honor Your Reality

by Gabriela Pereira
published in Podcast

Hey Word Nerds! Thanks so much for being here with me today. In this episode we’re going to talk about something that’s near and dear to my heart and is a bit of DIY MFA’s core philosophy. It’s called honoring your reality.

I usually only share this technique with my DIY MFA 101 course, but in light of a question I got from a listener, I felt like it was especially important to share on this podcast. This game-changing lesson has helped so many writers I have worked with achieve balance between their writing lives and their real lives. I hope it can help you too.

First off, I want to give a shout out to one of our listeners, Erin, whose question inspired this episode. A few weeks ago, Erin emailed me and shared this about her writing life:

I am a stay-at-home mom with two small children and I am struggling with my writing career. I want to take my writing more professionally, but I feel lost on how to do so. I only have a few hours each day that I’m not running after my kids, making sure dinner is ready or the laundry is done, etc. I try to make sure I write every day as well as read and connect with other writers but I am still not feeling like an actual writer. Am I ever going to feel like one? Are these feelings just something that naturally evolves over time? I fear that I am missing an important task that I should be doing or that I’ll just have to wait for my kids to be in school to have a little more free time to devote to my writing.

Thank you so much, Erin, for sharing your struggle to find balance between real life and your writing life. First and foremost, you are not alone. I know lot of writers can relate to this exact same thing. I know I can relate because have two small children at home (my little girl turns one tomorrow!) and it’s a very real struggle for me because I can’t just put my life on hold to write. My kids won’t let me.

Part of doing DIY MFA means embracing the fact that you have a real life, that you can’t just be immersed in  your writing. Somehow your writing has to co-exist with that real life (and good news: It CAN!). The most critical thing you need to do as a writer is Honor Your Reality.

A lot of experts spout “best practices” for being a writer. They will prescribe a certain number of words per day or tell you to write every single day, as though giving you a formula for how to be a writer would help you write better. Here’s the cold, hard truth: it won’t. This is why I don’t believe in a formula. I believe in doing what works.

The only “best practice” is the one that works for you.

The way that works for you may be very different from what works for anyone else. There’s only one “formula” that can capture all the individual differences, challenges, and experiences of different writers and that’s honoring your reality. This means honoring who you are and where you are in your life, and choosing methods and techniques that will work for you.

I never like to give a rule across the board. I don’t like to say “write this many words per day” or prescribe specific schedules because each writer is different. Instead, I like to give suggestions and it’s on you to decide which of of these ideas and techniques to put into action.

Let’s look at the phrase: “Honor Your Reality.” What does it mean?

It means you’re going to respect what’s going on in your life. It’s not about “if only” (“if only I didn’t have two small kids…”, “if only I didn’t have a day job…”, etc.). Honoring your reality means looking at your life with all of the good, the bad, the ugly, the messy, the difficult, and also the beautiful and the easy. Your life would not be the rich experience that it is without the good and the bad together.

Honoring your reality is about embracing the struggle. It also means recognizing that writing is part of your reality. You can’t ignore it. Honoring your reality means finding a way for your real life and your writing life to co-exist. They’re not competing. They can work together. This is NOT to give you an excuse to be lazy and avoid writing. That would not be honoring your reality either because writing is part of who you are, just like everything else.

When you’re not writing, examine why you’re not writing. Is it because you honestly do not have the time? Because that’s ok! You honor your reality by recognizing that you have other things on your plate. At the end of the day, the writing will still be there, waiting for you to pick it up again.

Now if you find that everything else is always requiring time from you, that you’re using “Honor Your Reality” as an excuse not to write, then that’s not honoring your reality. You have to dig deep, to look at your life and decide, “Am I honoring both my life and the writing that I need to do?”

“Life is short, but also wide.”

There is a certain level of flexibility to reality. You have to look at the width, the breadth of your life and see if there isn’t room to fit your writing in. Look for pockets of time (like during your daily commute) to fit in different aspects of your creative life. I like to listen to podcasts or read when I’m on the subway heading to meetings. This is hands-down my most productive reading time and the only time I can fit the Read With Purpose part of DIY MFA into my life.

There are plenty of great little portable productivity tools and apps available to help you fit your writing into your day. But the goal isn’t to give you tools and tactics. This isn’t a strategy or a magic bullet. Honoring your reality is all about understanding who you are, what is important to you, and what you’re going to invest your attention in.

Be mindful, be present, be here now.

When you are truly honoring your reality, that means you agree to be fully present in what you are doing each moment. It means recognizing that everything that is part of your reality not only is important but also contributes to your ability to write. This means you must be fully present wherever you are.

Here’s the thing. Human beings were not built to multitask. Whatever we’re focusing on gets 100% of our attention. “Multitasking” just means that you’re constantly shifting your attention from one thing to another. And when you jump from task to task, you’re actually less efficient.

When you honor your reality you ask yourself “What needs my attention right now?” and then you give it 100% of your attention until it is completed. That means that when you are writing you are writing (not checking Facebook or your phone), and you need to do whatever it takes to guard that time, to keep it focused on writing and protect it from interlopers.

Get rid of the “shoulds.”

Whatever you’re doing at the moment is what you’re supposed to be doing. There are no “shoulds” when you honor your reality. The great thing about applying this principle to your life is that it takes away so much guilt.

Here’s an insight that changed how I think about guilt and the should-monster: having extra guilt doesn’t make you any more efficient or prolific as a writer. If you need to take time away from writing, OWN IT and don’t feel guilty. Piling on extra guilt when you’re not writing won’t make words magically appear on the page. Instead, give yourself permission to focus on what you are doing right now and be present in that moment.

To be clear, by telling you to honor your reality I’m not giving you permission to be LAZY. I’m giving you permission to live your life. Remember that all of those rich experiences, the good ones and the bad, make you the unique, wonderful person that you are and that person will come across in your voice and in the stories that you tell. Give yourself the freedom to live your life.

When you embrace both your writing and your life together, you are creating a situation that is sustainable for the long haul, that you can keep doing for the rest of your life.

Finally this.

To wrap up, I want to remind you that you have a story to tell and that story is important. You need to write it and no one else can do that but you. Honor your reality, both the real life that makes you the amazing person you are and also the writing side of your life.

You can do this! It might be hard (trust me, I’ve been there), but it does get easier over time.

If you enjoyed this episode, please send me an email or comment below. I’d love to hear about the reality that you’re honoring, and how you’re going to balance that with your writing as well.

Link to Episode 47

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Until next week, keep writing and keep being awesome.

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  • Stormy

    Nice article. I can appreciate Honoring the Reality. My reality is that I work fulltime… I’m 60+, and single…and my reality is pretty full. I get pulled in many directions. I need time to write and time for my art. I need to find a balance between both creative outlets. I don’t have major health issues, but I am so tired by the time I get home, finish my daily routine of cleaning up, feeding cats, and all the this’s and thats’s that pile up. I am a poet, and I enjoy going to poetry readings. But finding the time is an issue…. I multi-task believing the illusion is somehow advancing my creativity or furthering my productivity. You are right… nothing really gets accomplished, except feeling more frustrated, and thinking less of myself. I also get caught in comparing myself to what others may accomplish in less time…or with more ease. I flip flop between realities… and can’t decide where to land sometimes!

    • DIYMFA

      One of the best tools I’ve found for managing time and cutting down the multitasking is something called the Pomodoro technique (an efficiency/productivity technique developed in the 1980s). You can find lots of websites and articles about it online, plus there are some cool apps you can download to your computer, tablet or phone. Basically the idea is you focus your work for short spurts and only do one task until you get that task done. Then you take breaks at prescribed times too, so you can avoid burnout. This technique forces you to focus on one task at a time, which makes it easier to actually complete the tasks and make progress toward your goal. I use a Pomodor-style schedule in my work (making me more efficient and therefore able to squeeze in more writing) plus I also use this technique for actual writing spurts to make the most of my precious writing time.

      Also, remember that you are not alone in struggling to find time for writing. A LOT of writers face this exact same challenge. In fact, when I ask writers what their biggest struggle is, they usually answer one of two things: 1) finding time to write, and 2) having the discipline to get down to writing when they do find time. You can do it! Just take it one poem, one phrase, one word at a time.

  • Michelle Cook

    I’m so glad that you shared this, and I’m very glad to know that your daughter is well. I just spent two weeks in the ICU with a loved one. Spent a few more weeks in the hospital. Then rehab. And now it’s radiation and chemo. There was a point when I thought, “I’m done. No more writing.” And that hurt. I’ve never had that part of me go so numb, but it came back. It’s fragile and scarred, but I am a writer. I need to write. Sometimes I have to fight against the onslaught of should and shouldn’t. I’m slower than I’d like to be right now, but I can live with that. As long as I’m moving somehow. Somewhere. Even if I can’t see the where right now.

    I really needed to hear this today. So thank you again for sharing.

    • DIYMFA

      Michelle,
      Thank you for sharing your story as well. I think the thing that binds us word nerds together is that urge to write. No matter how turbulent the seas of life, hold on to that passion for writing. Remember also, that you are not alone in feeling like this. I think many readers on this website can relate to your experience (I know I can!). Know that I’m pulling for you all the way!

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