The Juggling Act: work-life balance

This post is dedicated to Dr. Ami Bera (now Congressman Bera). When I was in medical school and he was our dean of admissions, his "thing" was to always talk about balance. Balance in your work. Balance at home. Balancing the two. Balancing your balance. Etc. It became a running joke with my classmates.

Well, the chickens eventually come home to roost. You grow up. You become an adult. You get married. You have kids. You decide to add on a superfluous additional career (writing on top of being a full-time physician). And suddenly, you have a problem with--you guessed it--balance.

And this is a common story. Most writers have another job. A real job (one that pays the bills). And a lot of them also have families and friends. Short of petitioning the Earth to slow down and add 5 more hours to the day, how do you fit it all in? For me, the key has been flexibility (and a very understanding spouse).

When I started, I had no idea what I was doing. I was a resident. I worked insane hours (frequently 80 hours per week) and I frequently worked 24 hour shifts or did a couple of weeks of nights at a time. Because my life was so unstructured, my writing time was very unstructured. I would write in between seeing patients. When there was down time on a night shift, I would write instead of sleeping. I even wrote in the Emergency Department while my intern was seeing patients or while waiting for the OR to be ready.

Basically, I hadn't figured out yet how to factor this new part of my life into my life. Over time, I realized that these fragmented writing sessions were very inefficient. My productivity with writing increases dramatically the longer a writing session is (I may only write a paragraph in the first hour until my brain gets back in gear). So, as time went on, I instituted "writing days." I would warn my wife ahead of time, and then on a Saturday or Sunday I would write for 8-12 hours in a row. Very efficient, but also very disruptive to life.

This is my life exploding

This is my life exploding

This worked pretty well for both my first and second novels. And then my son was born and my whole life exploded. Suddenly, the prospect of ditching my wife for 8-12 hours at a time on the weekend for my hobby was not only mildly uncool, it was being a horrible partner and father. I wanted to be spending all of my time when I was home with my son. And when he went to sleep, I had precious little time left to spend with my wife. But I still desperately wanted to write.

These two were irreconcilable and for about 6 months, I completely stopped writing. However, I never stopped thinking about it. I had been infected with the writing bug and there was no turning back. Like jonesing for my next fix, I felt a deep yearning to get back to it, so I sat down with my wife and worked out a compromise. I decided that one night per week, I would start writing when my son goes to sleep and write until midnight. I would be tired the next day, but I would get a solid 4-5 hours of writing at a time per week. Thankfully, my writing has gotten more efficient, so I can typically meet my goal of 2,500 words per week with just the one session.

This does not mean that this solution is a one-size-fits-all. I just wanted to write about my writing-life balance journey as a way of saying: life changes, and your habits have to change with it. It may seem impossible, and maybe you do need to step away from writing for a bit when life gets really intense. But if it's important, work it in. As it is, things are stable for me right now, but I'm sure I'll have to adapt again when my second kid comes along in April.