Michelle Isenhoff

Balance vs. Burnout

“Never put off till tomorrow what you can do today.”
That’s pretty sound advice, wouldn’t you agree? After all, it was given by a man with a brilliant mind—the one who drafted the Declaration of Independence, served as president of the United States, instigated the Louisiana Purchase, and sent out the Louis and Clark Expedition. He was a man of foresight, wisdom and action, and the many writings he left are still highly regarded. But I take issue with this one. I think it’s possible to do too much in a day, particularly if you are a writer. I’m a prime example.
I am a highly energized, highly motivated person. I’m mom to three young children who have homeschooled in different configurations for the past six years. I’m responsible for family meals, shopping, taxiing, cleaning, laundry—everything but lawn care and repairs. I exercise pretty faithfully. I plant and preserved a huge garden every year. And I’m involved in several church ministries. My typical day starts at six thirty and I hardly sit down until my youngest is tucked in bed at eight. Then I have time to blog, read, or write.
For the last several years, my writing has been very seasonal. I read in the summer (because we do a lot of camping and because I usually have sixteen thousand out-of-school neighborhood children in my house at any given moment, neither of which are conducive to writing), and I write in the winter when Michigan days are short and cold and routine. I get obsessive about both. In the summer, especially since I began my book blog, I try to read the vast majority of the yearly 104 books I review. And in the winter I try to finish writing an entire novel. When you only have four hours to write each day, that’s a real challenge. I tend to not have a life from October till April. I don’t watch tv. I rarely go out with friends. I hardly ever pick up a book. I write. And I write. And I write, with the exception of the nights I simply fall into bed exhausted.
Let me put out there that I wouldn’t recommend this schedule.
This spring, I’ve vowed to start “putting off until tomorrow.” I’m calling it balance. Rather than simply cramming a hundred books into my noggin during my homeschool break, I have several projects I’d like to accomplish, including the creation of audio books, planning a story new arc, and rewriting a manuscript. I’m allowing myself to be obsessive about any of them for no more than two weeks at a time. Then I put them off and switch to something else. By alternating projects with reading, I won’t get all my books read, but now I’ll have time to read during the winter. Likewise, if I lay down my winter manuscript in favor of a book, I may not get it all done by spring. But neither will I be exhausted, burnt out, and grouchy. As an indie author, I have the freedom to extend my own deadline.
We’re all busy. I only know one writer personally who writes full time. The rest of us must balance our writing with jobs, family, and real life. My schedule will not lighten until my kids are grown up, and I in no way am trying to hasten that. Parenting is the sweetest adventure of all. I want to enjoy these years that are over so quickly. But if I’m serious about writing—if we’re serious—I think “putting off,” taking breaks, and finding balance is a much more sustainable approach.
It’s your turn. How do you balance writing with real life? Can you tell me the identity of the man I quoted without Googling it?  I’m currently lost somewhere in the Smokey mountains on one of our family camp-outs, but I’ll respond to comments when I get home in a week or two.

Balance vs. Burnout

4 thoughts on “Balance vs. Burnout

  1. Thank heavens I don’t keep the schedule you keep — there was a time I did in another way. You are one super mom homeschooling too! I spent much of my career in PR — would not have been able to balance all you do. Kids grown, and I still wonder where my day goes. I have can write anytime, but the creative juices seem to flow late at night now.

  2. Every moment does seem to fill itself, but few people I know actually sit around and do little. We’re all busy. I find that by cutting out television I have hours more time. I, too, work best at night. Maybe that’s just because it’s finally quiet.

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