Monday, July 8, 2013

Maintaining Balance in a Creative Life

by Sheila Webster Boneham

Balance. I’ve long been a great believer in balance in life. Not necessarily moderation, mind you, but balance. Hard work balanced against hard play, or hard rest. Think very long nap on a rainy afternoon after writing from seven until noon, with a couple of hours bicycling or hiking in the early evening. Balance.

Indian Paintbrush looks to me like
creativity feels.
©2011 Sheila Boneham, Evans Canyon, Reno, NV

For creative people – writers, painters, musicians, actors, crafters, and more – balance can be hard to achieve. The siren that is creative work is seductive. It can sing its way into our brains and make us attend to its needs until our joints lock. That same siren, though, can be painfully shy, hiding itself at the first hint of distraction. Something good on tv? You can write that poem later! Friends want you to come play parcheesi? The painting can wait. The socks in your sock drawer are rebelling? Clearly more important to organize them than to write that novel.

I jest. Sort of. The truth is that there’s ALWAYS something else to do. Some distractions even look from the outside very much like actual work. You’re a writer, you’re on the computer – checking what’s happened on Facebook in the last ten minutes, and reading the latest writers’ group digest post, and checking the five hundred blogs you frequent because HOLY COW! You might miss something that will make or break your career!

There's always some seductive path
calling, "Follow me!"
©2011 Sheila Boneham, Wrightsville Beach, NC

I confess. I do all those things. Sometimes. But in the past fifteen years I’ve also written twenty three and a half books, sixteen tons of articles (more or less), a pile of short stories, a small clutch of poems (very recently!), and the various related documents – query letters, proposals, blurbs, bios, bull..., er, marketing materials. So, rumors to the contrary aside, I do maintain some degree of balance.

How? A surprising (to me, anyway) number of people ask me that. It’s no mystery, really. Like many busy people, I compartmentalize my time, and have done so for so many years that my "time habits" are part of me. I write in a local cafĂ© every morning, beginning around 7:00, ending around noon, with a half hour or so off for breakfast with my husband. I go home, have lunch, have tea. I read for a couple of hours. Take a short nap most afternoons. Go for a long walk, sometimes with my dog Lily, sometimes with my camera, sometimes just with my thoughts. I often write more in the evening, or meet my writers’ group, or friends, or go to an event or movie, or paint and listen to music, or watch a movie at home. And, yes, reading social media and posting on my Facebook author page, or updating my website or my own blog.  And ok, maybe an hour of Frasier reruns. Hey, we all have our vices. I read some more late at night, when everything is quiet. I sleep. And the writing gets done, because I know I have those four or five hours of dedicated writing time, and I use them to....write!

I find that other creative pursuits,
like painting, help feel my work as
a writer. Creativity begets creativity.

©2011 Sheila Boneham, "Sydney," watercolor

Balance, of course, should extend to all of life, not just work. Because creative work is so personal, it can be very difficult to separate the artifacts of our creativity – the books, the paintings, the hand-thrown pots – from our Selves. But the truth is that our creativity comes from without as well as from within. We need experience of the world to feed the fire inside. The precise experience each of us needs varies, but we all need something. A few days without my writing time make me crave my keyboard, but I know from experience that if I lock myself away to do nothing but write for more than a day or two, my siren stops singing. I need time in nature, travel, long walks, cuddles with my dogs, talks with my husband, flowers, music, my friends, good books, photography, art, and more in my life if I am to have anything worth saying.

What do you need to create balance in your life and work?


Patricia Gligor's Writers Forum said...

I smiled the whole time I was reading your post because I can relate.
You asked what I do to create balance in my life and work. Like you, I've found that structuring my day works best for me. I'm (for the most part) a morning writer so, barring emergencies, I write every morning.
I also plan the week ahead to include time for work and play. I'm big on prioritizing, which sometimes means that you can write your name in the dust on my furniture. Hmm, guess I'd better put that on the schedule for next week. :)

Unknown said...

You're not supposed to write in furniture dust, Patricia? :-) I agree, scheduling helps a lot, although I also try to leave room for spontaneity. Thanks for coming by.

Beth Groundwater said...

I love your watercolor of Sydney, Sheila! Like you, I find that getting outside is often what I need most to refresh that creative spirit. That may mean a morning bike ride, a hike down Sawmill Creek into town to pick up the mail, or even just a short soak in the hot tub while gazing out at the trees and the bird activity within them behind the house. Since moving to Breckenridge, I've found that most mornings I'm outside, while I do my work in the afternoons and even evenings.

Deborah Sharp said...

lovely post, Sheila ... and lovely pictures, too. In your case, creativity really does beget creativity. I find that my ''balance'' chances over time. Right now, I'm more about play than work, but who knows what the next life phase will bring?

Nancy S. Goodman said...

This is such an important post. finding balance is so very difficult. It is one of the reasons I always say I can never do yoga, as my mind can't relax; I'm always thinking of something else I have to do. I think relaxing is a skill to learn, like everything else! And that painting is beautiful!

Unknown said...

Thanks, all! Sorry to be so late - I've been outside. :-) Beth, I am usually a morning writer, but am having to shift my schedule during the heat of the North Carolina summer. It's all good, though, right? Deborah, I agree, the things that balance us do change and cycle. Play is vital! Nancy, perhaps meditation or yoga or some other "practice" would help you learn to turn some of that unlaxed (to paraphrase Bugs Bunny) mental activity down a bit. Painting actually does that for me, and (confession) playing Mah Jong on my iPad. And training my dogs for competition obedience (and fun).

Helen Haught Fanick said...

Thanks for that, Sheila. I'm inspired to compartmentalize more than I have in the past.