Is Writing/Life Balance Possible? Pt. 2: Creating [Digital + Physical] Space and Time for Your Writing

This post is part of a two-part series, synthesized from “The Takeaway,” a panel at Aspen Summer Words on June 20, 2019, which was meant as advice for conference attendees returning from a literal and figurative mountaintop experience to juggle writing with everything else in life. Among the topics discussed were how to sustain energy, how to create time and space for your work, and how to avoid the siren song of social media. If you’d like to read the first part, navigate here.

Panelists: Meghan Daum (THE PROBLEM WITH EVERYTHING; SELFISH, SHALLOW, & SELF-ABSORBED), Tom Barbash (THE DAKOTA WINTERS; STAY UP WITH ME), Brooklyn’s first female poet laureate Tina Chang (HYBRIDA; OF GODS AND STRANGERS), Laura Fraser (AN ITALIAN AFFAIR), and Nick Flynn (ANOTHER BULLSHIT NIGHT IN SUCK CITY; THE TICKING IS THE BOMB). Moderator: Ellie Scott, Aspen Words.

How to Create Time and Space for Your Work

As it turns out, the rules of becoming a literary Time Lord are no-brainers.

First of all, “you have to say no to a lot of other things,” essayist Meghan Daum asserts. This is both good news and bad news, as it includes shunning fun things like happy hours (boo!) and less fun things like baby showers (yay!).

(NB: Ideally, don’t say no to baby showers or events that will make your family disown you. However, if it’s been ages since you wrote and your friends invite you to the beach, you might want to sit that sunburn out.)

This idea of saying “no” might be rubbing you the wrong way, like the sandpaper side of a shark. It might sound selfish. With that in mind, poet Tina Chang says it is crucial to change your perception of what is selfish. Why do we think of spending time with our words as a selfish act? We spend so much time on giving acts like cooking, cleaning, working, and listening to our loved ones’ problems that, if we don’t restore ourselves, we will likely get burnt out. (And grouchy, in my case.) We are creating work that brings us joy and restoration, so perhaps we should think of our writing practice as self-interested, not selfish.

Meanwhile, novelist Tom Barbash has tips for gracefully and mindfully exiting a writing session. (I was particularly grateful for this. So many blog posts and seminars focus on how to launch a writing session, but how do we safely land this plane?!)

 Essentially, Barbash schedules time to decompress before moving on. This is not only so that we’re not that socially awkward weirdo at the party, but also because sometimes the good ideas, the “Eureka!” moments that solve plot and character problems, come after the writing session has ended.

Daily Writing Practice and the Downside of Social Media

When you hear things like “Don’t seek anyone’s approval,” or “You’re a writer; go write,” you likely nod along. It’s easy to agree with these tenets in theory—maybe even in practice, in your everyday world. After all, didn’t we learn on the playground that words can never hurt us?

Somehow, though, that all goes out the window when it comes to the curated, feedback-hungry way we present ourselves on social media, which is why many of the panelists suggested getting rid of social media as a daily practice. Barbash admits that it’s tempting to say, “Well, I wrote a thoughtful Facebook post or funny Twitter thread. That counts as my writing for today, right?”

If you post a clever idea, social media creates an approval vacuum that sucks up your idea and then dulls its edges. Either you are psychologically satisfied by likes and favs and don’t want to explore the idea further or you get demoralized by the lack of positive feedback to the point that you decide (erroneously) that the idea is DOA. Instead, take that energy and write your book or your story or your essay.

“The world goes on when you don’t log on,” Tina Chang says. Instead of sharing a big, self-important announcement that she was logging off of Facebook, etc., to write her latest collection, HYBRIDA, Chang simply let her accounts lie dormant. When she logged back on, literally no one had missed her.

(Side note: I can understand if writers have baked social media into their publicity and marketing plans. It is the twenty-first century. If I’m allowed to speculate, I believe Chang is thinking more about the aimless scrolling we’re all guilty of. To avoid this aimless scrolling, try scheduling your posts ahead of time and setting a timer to spend no more than twenty minutes interacting on the platforms a day. At the very least, put your phone in airplane mode while you’re writing.)


TO SUM UP THIS METAPHYSICAL DISCUSSION of time and space, think in simple terms, like best-selling author Laura Fraser: “I have to do a million other things, but it’s important to remember what the biggest, most important goal is.”

(Your writing. Duh.)

So, if you found this post because you’re twiddling your thumbs on Facebook or Publishing Twitter, STOP READING ALREADY. I AM BUT A MERE WASTE OF TIME! Seize the day, lads and lasses! Go forth and write.

Jessica HatchComment