Cartwheels on the Tightrope: Finding Balance in the Writing Life



  Chloe Neill ( Photo credit: Dana Damewood)

Let’s get the disclaimer out there and up front: I have absolutely no clue how to find balance in a writing life. But I’m trying to learn.

I have a full time (plus) dayjob, and a very full writing life.  I’ve written a YA series (Dark Elite), a PNR/UF series (Chicagoland Vampires), and I’m hoping to announce my next project within the next couple of weeks. That one will intersect with CV, so I’ll be writing two projects at a time. Not unusual for a genre author, but not the easiest course for someone with a dayjob.

So, yeah. Professionally, I lead a pretty full life.

I try to compartmentalize the professions as much as possible. Daylight hours during the week are for the dayjob.  Evenings and weekends are for writing. Obviously, the divisions aren’t always that clean: my editor may need to discuss a project during business hours, and a dayjob emergency may bleed through to the weekend.  There’s fluidity to both jobs, which means I spend a lot of time at both of them.

My very well-intentioned husband calls me a “workaholic.”  Undoubtedly, I devote a lot of my time to one job or the other.  And although I’m flattered by what he clearly believes is my solid worth ethic, I don’t really care for the word. It suggests one works solely because one is addicted to it, maybe because addict fears stepping aside from the job(s) and engaging in other portions of his life, maybe because the addict’s self worth is derived primarily from the job.

I work hard—and often—because both jobs, by their nature, require it.  If there was a way to build a novel, a series, a fandom, with three hours a week of effort, I’d be exercising a hell of a lot more in my newfound free time. J But it hasn’t worked that way for me, and I doubt it works that way for many.

Writing success is, in large part, measured by the effort you put into it. Not just writing a marketable novel, which obviously requires a good chunk of time (and luck), but continuing to writ, edit, and tweak a manuscript when you don’t want to look at it anymore. Blogging when you’d rather be walking the dogs on a gorgeous spring day. Engaging with readers even if you’re an introvert. Putting together a marketing plan when you’d rather dive into the book you preordered online, which is still boxed and waiting on the counter. 

I’m definitely a believer that if something is worth doing, it’s worth doing all the way. I try not to halfass either job.  In addition to not being a good strategy for long-term success, halfassery is insulting both to colleagues and readers. 

That said, as I’m editing my thirteenth novel, I’m also learning to let myself breathe. I’m learning that a few hours of rest—and maybe even a nap!—on a Saturday afternoon isn’t going to be the death of a manuscript.  Chances are slim I’ll ever look back at a project and think, “Wow, the result would have been entirely different if only I’d not spent two hours that Saturday in February resting and reading.”  In those thirteen novels, I don’t even remember the times I decided to rest instead of work.  

Books and careers are built in slow slogs of time, built layer upon layer like fine sediment.  Life still has to be lived in the meantime, and that’s fine.

This year, I won’t be visiting as many conferences as I’d like to. But my husband and I will be able to take a vacation together.  I write/edit two books a year, and I could probably push it to three. But that’s only going to burn me out, negatively affect my health, and certainly not be positive for any of my relationships – or my dayjob.

Working “all the way”, I’m learning, doesn’t mean working to the exclusion of everything else.   It means that every hour of the day presents a choice: to advance a project, to plan a new one, or to give yourself a chance to breathe, to be present in the world.  And it means that all those options are valid and important.   

How do you balance your work, perswildthings_3-ChloeN-199x300onal, and/or writing responsibilities?  

BIO: Chloe Neill is the New York Times and USA Today bestselling author of the Chicagoland Vampires and Dark Elite series.  She was born and raised in the South, but now makes her home in the Midwest–just close enough to Cadogan House and St. Sophia’s to keep an eye on things. When not transcribing Merit’s and Lily’s adventures, she bakes, works, and scours the Internet for good recipes and great graphic design. Chloe also maintains her sanity by spending time with her boys–her favorite landscape photographer/husband and their dogs, Baxter and Scout. (Both she and the photographer understand the dogs are in charge.)
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9 comments to Cartwheels on the Tightrope: Finding Balance in the Writing Life

  • Chloe, I think it’s incredible that you accomplish as much as you do as a writer while still maintaining your day job. I can’t even imagine how you get it all done, and done well. Thanks for this glimpse into your writing life.

  • Um, chaotically? 😉 Actually, you raise a really good point about needing to breathe, to rest. I’ve lately found that I’m less able to focus because I’m not allowing myself the chance to rest. And so that writing time gets wasted by zoning out on social media and not being very productive at all, which leads to the spiral of frustration and self-resentment. Not good. Thank you for sharing your experience with this, Chloe. It’s really made me think.

  • sagablessed

    Working on this. I’m am a slacker when it come to time management, and it sometimes bites me in the you-know-where.
    I also don’t believe in half-assery.
    One good thing? My day job has pretty much set hours and days now, so no more haphazard schedules. Now, to balance life and writing and Monster (my dog and companion)? There’s a worry.
    It is a constant battle, as I might have a touch of ADH-oooh, shiny.
    Ah well, live and lear…that’s a pretty neat story idea. 😉

  • inkfire

    Forget day job, I’m still trudging through school….in fact, I have a historical document and two page analysis to get around to before the morning, but, while history is not my forte, procrastination is. Such a pretty day, forget homework, I’m outside writing what I care about. Not for long though, my professor is one to be feared. Greatly. Feared. But alas, all must pay their time in the educational institutions, at least some genius decided to invent weekends (the only reason my WIP continues to develop at a relatively consistent rate)

  • Razziecat

    My dayjob is literally 9 to 5, although I leave the house anywhere from 7:30 AM to 7:45 depending on which bus I want to catch, and I get home around 6 PM – unless I have to stop somewhere after work. No car means groceries come home by bus, so some days I’m not home until 7 PM or later. Then there’s dinner, family, pets, etc. I get about 3 hours of writing time per weekday. If I want to do better than that, it has to be on the weekend, and I have to stay off my favorite websites. The frigid weather at least keeps me indoors writing 😉 I do have to be more diligent about the daily writing hours, as it’s all too easy to disappear into the internet and suddenly it’s time to go to bed.

  • khernandez

    Am I the only one who finds it a bit depressing that as an author with 13 published novels, you still work a day job? I appreciate the glimpse into your life, I really do, but I am surprised that you are not a full-time writer with that output (and presumably you have your publishing all lined up for at least a few more projects…)

  • I’m another of those of the hamster-wheel of life. My job (on paper) is a 9/80 pay period, meaning I should be working 5 days one week and 4 the next with the 2nd Friday off, and each day working 9 hours. Except. Demanding job. 10+ hour day norms. Off Fridays? Occasionally. Sleep? Limited.

    And yes, my writing suffers because of it. I try to get in an hour or so each night, and also try to steal time on weekends between laundry, dogs, son, the constant demands of house-keeping and home-ownership or the Need-It-Done-By-Mondays. That you are able to do all of that PLUS write and edit two books a year PLUS remember the names of your family members makes me want to place an idol on the shelf and worship you!!! 🙂

  • chloeneill

    @Khernandez – I love my dayjob, and have no complaints about it. I understand many hope to write full time, but I am not one of those people, as it’s not a lifestyle that would work well for me. I need significantly more structure.

  • khernandez

    Oh, OK, Chloe. And I’m sorry, I didn’t mean to offend, I just was wondering. If you love it, then that’s great. I just have been reading a lot lately about writer’s incomes and some of the people that I thought would be making good money just sren’t.