Thursday, June 5, 2008

tipping the scales

I've met a bunch of writers this past year who mull over the issue of balance. In other words, how do we balance our writing life with the other parts of our lives?

Some have family commitments. Some have full-time jobs. Some have full-time school. Some have all three. Most just need to pay the bills. So sometimes I lament, why can't writing be my full-time job? Why can't it pay the bills?

Thus begins the Catch 22. We need to devote more time to writing because we want writing to be our breadwinner. But in order to do that, we have to go without bread. But we need bread to live. Bread means work. Work means time. Time equals money. And so on. If only it could be easier. If only writing could pay the bills as easily as being a computer engineer, or a retail manager, or a writing teacher (and being a writing teacher ain't gonna get me on Cribs anytime soon, let me tell you... perhaps "easily" is a misleading word).

My writing partner and I are facing our first bump in the road of our otherwise smooth collaboration: time. This morning, she told me about all the things that are distracting her from our novel (those "distractions," btw, are the daily goings-on of life -- the normalities, really). And I told her about my sense of urgency to complete this novel because I have no distractions at the moment -- no school, no classes, no kids, etc.

Here's how we resolved it for today: We talked. We shared, we kavetched, commiserated, laughed, and talked about our novel ("I'm still not sure about the ending." "What if...?" "So here's what I'm thinking...") She even quoted our character: "So in the words of Kenny, where does that leave us?" And I think it relieved the pressure, even just a little bit. I decided not to work on the novel today. I read the last thing I wrote. I went back and read over my partner's and my chat. I worked on a short story I'm submitting to a writing contest -- I needed to cut 350 words in order for it to qualify. "Why don't you send it to me," offered my PIC, "I'll take a crack at it." Sometimes distraction works.

Perhaps I was too romantic in my last post. I write because I can't not do it. But sometimes, I really can't do it. When I'm sitting here in my apartment with central air, having just gotten back from a swim, and the dishwasher is running, when I sleep at night knowing I have health insurance just in case... my romantic notion of writing because I can't not do it gives in to the comforts that took me years to acquire. When I remember how it took me two years to pay off one night in the ER, when I remember how on a 98-degree-day exactly like today in Massachusetts, I needed to fill my bathtub with cold water and sit in it every thirty minutes, and sleep with cold compresses on me at night just to keep from job looks pretty damn good.

So what do we do?
Rather than seeking balance, we set out to tip the scales in the opposite direction instead. We get aggressive.
We say we can, and don't give in to the preconceived notion that we can't. We remember that Stephen King was working in a laundromat, that JK Rowling was a single mother, that a record company passed on signing The Beatles, and der Kellar was a seedy dive in Hamburg where they played.
We also know that we don't have to be as big as the Beatles, or Stephen King, or JK Rowling.
We remain patient, allowing ourselves a meltdown every now and then, as well as a swim.
We tend to our daily goings-on. We do what life calls us to do. But we also ask life to use us, use our gifts, for good.

We tip the scales.

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