If you frequently visit DIY MFA, then you’re likely serious about your writing. You probably also have a day job, a family, and other day-to-day responsibilities that compete with your creative pursuits. Yet both sides of a writer’s life – the creative and the real – can’t be ignored. Each deserves time, respect, and attention, so it’s crucial that both aspects coexist. This balance between your real life and your writing life, which is part of DIY MFA’s core philosophy, is known as “honoring your reality.”
Maintaining that balance can be tricky, though. Sometimes we feel torn between responsibility and creativity. We might think we should be spending time with our children instead of our manuscript, or vice versa. This puts a great deal of guilt and stress on us – emotions that make us less productive, and more unhappy, in the long run.
If you’ve felt this way lately, please know that you’re not the only one. Every writer struggles with the challenges of honoring their unique reality. Gabriela has already talked about hers here. Today I’d like to share mine, with additional insights that can hopefully help you with yours.
My Experience with Honoring Reality
Like you, I have important real-life obligations. I work a full-time job and commute by car. I also own a condo and live alone, which means I’m my primary cook, housekeeper, and “accountant.” Plus, I enjoy visiting my retired parents on Cape Cod two weekends per month and getting together with friends when I’m home.
I either need or dearly love all of these things in my life. But altogether, they mean that the time, energy, and finances I can invest in writing, platform activities (blogging, social media), and related excursions (conferences, classes, webinars) is limited. And I’m OK with that – most of the time.
You see, reality is more than our everyday duties. Sometimes we get sick, or a family emergency needs our attention. Unexpected events are just as important as our routine, and they often compel us to make temporary or permanent changes to our writing lifestyle. A couple months ago, I had to rethink my writing priorities because of changes to my daily schedule. The end result hasn’t affected my novel-writing time or my DIY MFA column, but it forced me to cut back significantly on personal blogging.
That adaptability – or, rather, the willingness to adapt – is key in our response to such dilemmas. It’s not exactly a “go with the flow” attitude, but rather one of flexibility toward change and acceptance that real life has to come first. And when we need to make these choices, we shouldn’t feel bad about it. But that’s easier said than done for some of us.
We Can’t Always Be Superwoman (Or Superman)
I still remember how I felt when I decided to cut back on personal blogging. It hurt. The blog had come a long way over the past couple years, from its clean yet beautiful design to the quality of its content and the responses from readers. Writing there had become a rewarding experience, one I took with great responsibility and had planned to continue nurturing.
Then came the curveball I mentioned earlier. As I figured out how to adjust, I knew I wasn’t willing to compromise my novel-writing time. So I accepted that I’d be blogging less often. This decision meant less stress in the future, but also that I couldn’t keep up with my popular writing-tips series anymore. And as someone who takes her commitments to other people seriously, I felt like I was letting my readers down… and the ensuing guilt exhausted me.
Then, while reading Sue Patton Thoele’s The Woman’s Book of Courage, I found a passage that gave me a new perspective on the situation. In “Putting Superwoman Out to Pasture,” Thoele discusses the psychological effects of “being Superwoman,” or over-committing ourselves in our work, relationships, and other responsibilities. Toward the end she writes:
“Do you have an active Superwoman who needs to be put out to pasture? If you are overtired, angry, depressed, or feeling used, the answer is probably a resounding Yes! When we do too much, take on too much responsibility, or over-commit ourselves, we end up being resentful and exhausted.”
After I read that, I thought, “Wow. Now I know why I feel that way.” By trying to maintain so many external commitments, I wasn’t just ignoring my internal commitments (self-care, emotional well-being). I was also refusing to honor a crucial part of my reality. Since then, I’ve made a conscious effort to change my mindset and fit in “retreat time” between writing and real life. I’m still working on this (no one ever said it’s easy to break bad habits), but I’m more relaxed and aware of my limits now – and I don’t feel as guilty, either.
Seven Steps to Honoring Your Reality
If you’re struggling with how to honor your reality or suffering from a “Superwoman” or “Superman” mentality, take this moment to re-evaluate your circumstances and attitude using these seven steps:
- Accept (and Possibly Love) Your Obligations: Regardless of how you feel toward your responsibilities (I love my family and friends, but housework… not so much), accepting their necessity is the first step in honoring your reality. Acknowledge the presence and purpose of these obligations, then plan your writing time around them.
- Remember that There’s No “Best Practice”: Don’t feel rushed to cram in a certain number of words per day, or to squeeze in writing time on a day when it’s not possible. Do what works for you, even if it goes against other writers’ advice.
- Prioritize Writing Above Platform: This might seem to go against Tip #2 – but you are a writer. Your writing should therefore come before platform activities. If it helps, plan to spend more time on your manuscript than on blogging or social media (how much time is up to you), and do your best to stay focused when it’s time to write. If you’re frequently distracted when writing, check out these tools and apps that can help.
- Be Open-minded About Your Routine: Being flexible will allow you to find windows of writing time in between the busyness, or to create a new schedule in response to long-term changes. I altered my writing routine after my parents moved last year, and I’m still stunned by how much my productivity has increased since then.
- Take Care of Yourself: Your physical health is vital to your real life and your writing. Pay attention to the foods you eat, the beverages you drink, and the amount of exercise and sleep you get to see what boosts your creativity and well-being. Don’t forget to make time for activities that bring you joy or help you relax, too. Mine are reading, meditating, mandala-coloring, walking, and journaling.
- Cultivate a Positive Mindset: The right attitude can go a long way to helping you honor your reality. If you feel guilty, anxious, or angry, stop for a moment and breathe deeply. Then, turn the worries, doubts, and toxic emotions into positive statements; and reaffirm your goals, desires, and sources of gratitude. Journaling is a great way of accomplishing this, since it allows you to release and transform negativity through the physical act of (what else?) writing.
- Ask for Help: Last fall Leanne Sowul reminded us that we can’t do it all alone. That couldn’t be more true. Talk to the people you trust, such as family, friends, writing buddies, and mentors. They can offer emotional support, constructive suggestions, and other assistance that can help you ease the burden of your balancing act and achieve your goals.
Most importantly – and though I said it earlier, it bears repeating – remember that all writers go through this. Sometimes the balance tips one way or the other. And when it does, don’t be too hard on yourself. We’re human beings just as much as we are writers. Writing, living, and taking care of ourselves are part of our essence. Embrace all three, and you’ll not only honor your reality, but you’ll also discover what makes it incredibly rewarding.
You can do it. I believe in you.
What are some of the challenges you’ve faced with honoring your reality? How did you react or adapt to any changes that happened as a result? Do you have any tips to add to our Seven Steps list?
Sara Letourneau is a fantasy writer in Massachusetts who devours good books, loves all kinds of music, and drinks too much tea. In addition to writing for DIY MFA, she is a Resident Writing Coach at Writers Helping Writers and is hard at work on a YA fantasy novel. She also freelanced as a tea reviewer and music journalist in the past. Her poetry has appeared in The Curry Arts Journal, Soul-Lit, The Eunoia Review, Underground Voices, and two print anthologies. Visit Sara at her personal blog, Twitter, and Goodreads.