Pit-Falling Down: Striving for Balance

Last week a link popped up on my Facebook feed to an essay by writer Theodora Goss about how she manages to get by as a writer. Like many of us, she cobbles together work beyond writing, in her case teaching full time at a university and part time in a low-residency MFA. She also has a family, and a life, so the balance gets tricky. In order to make a living, her writing, "fits into the nooks and crannies. It fits in whenever I can fit it in. I suppose it fits in where other people would be watching television? Or knitting, I don’t know."

Knitting is one of those things I don't do anymore, and my husband and I long ago gave up cable, and now stream only our favorite shows. Most nights, though, after the kids go to bed, I don't settle in on the couch, but back at my desk to work. Work for me is my writing, of course, but also being a mother to two small children and schoolwork (I am pursuing a doctorate in Library Science.) I'm also drafting a proposal for a book for educators, freelancing for a local publisher, and trying to do all the promotion stuff that writers need to do. There's always something that needs doing, especially with the work that you fit into the nooks and crannies. The pitfall is always doing it.

Later that same day another post about making it work came across my social media stream. This one from Jessica Lahey, one of my favorite writers on education, and was part of something called The Balance Project.  It felt a bit like the universe trying to speak to me via social media, perhaps not the best venue to speak to someone trying to find balance in her life. Like Lahey, I have a lot of guilt around the issue of work-life-other work balance:
What part of “balance” can you just not seem to figure out?The whole “I’m guilty when I’m playing because I feel as if I should be working and I’m guilty when I’m working because I feel as if I should be playing” thing. Work is play to me. I love my job so much, and it’s really easy to let that take over every moment of my day. ... I also have trouble focusing on my family when I’m inspired by a work idea, and because I work at home, it can be hard to draw boundaries. I’m still working on that—pun intended.

Hearing that other people struggle with this issue is certainly good for my psyche, but it does not mean I have conquered this pitfall. I think, When my kids are older, it will be easier. I think, When I have a more steady job again, it will be easier. Maybe that is true. Right now my studying seems to expand to fill all available space. Working, studying, writing, and living at home means it is exceptionally easy for boundaries to blur. I need to figure out how to leave open spaces for my writing, especially when no deadlines loom. Perhaps even more vitally, I need to figure out how to set aside and shelter time for myself and my family.

I've written about this issue before, back when I was still working full time as a librarian. It's been five years and I don't feel like I've gained any great insight except, perhaps, that I need to be a bit more forgiving of myself, and that I shouldn't try to take two classes in one semester while working on major revisions. Has anyone actually figured any of this out? I realize that this post might come off as a bit of a downer. That's probably because I am very tired. But the truth is I know that I am in a fortunate position. When I left my full time job as a school librarian, a colleague said, "You are lucky to have so many things you are passionate about." And she's write. I am lucky to write, lucky to be in a vibrant academic community, and lucky to have my family. I think I am just striving, like so many other people, to find the even terrain.


  1. Megan,
    As a single mom of two girls who are 10 and 13, I completely relate! I work a day job as an attorney and write when I can, mostly at night or in the early mornings. And sometimes, there is a whole day that goes by when I cannot get to the computer at all. But my stories are still being written in my mind, and often my best ideas come when I am not actually "writing". So hang in there, we balancers need to stick together!!!

  2. I'm constantly working on figuring out the balance thing.

  3. This was so honest and true. I loved this, Megan!

  4. I loved this, too. I dealt with this most when my kids were little. Whenever I was with them, I felt guilty I wasn't working. Whenever I was working, I felt guilty I wasn't with them. Then I made a conscious decision to embrace and celebrate each part of my life as I was engaged with it. While I was working I said, oh,how lovely it is to be out of the house, talking about fascinating things with coherent adults. When I was home I said, oh, how lovely it is to sit by the sandbox in the sunshine watching my little children at play. It really did help.


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