• Finding Balance in a Mostly Disordered Life

    Posted Posted by Guest Writer in Strategies     Comments 25 comments

    Here to find the Micro Fiction Challenge results? They’re in the comments section of the post

    Today our pal Yi Shun Lai shares some thoughts on the subject of balance in a writer’s life. Yi Shun’s debut novel is coming out soon from Shade Mountain Press, she has a new novel coming up due, a day job, a volunteer job (or several?), a husband, a dog, a blog, and … and I’m out of breath just typing this. i.e., balance is a continual struggle. Is finding balance a struggle for you, too? What strategies do you employ? Do they work? Let us know below. — DD


    By Yi Shun Lai

    Yi Shun's dog, Sprocket, shows how he achieves balance.

    Yi Shun’s dog, Sprocket, shows how he achieves balance.

    We are not talking yoga.

    Or maybe we are. Because when you’re staring at a to-do list that seems five thousand items long, and the dog needs walking, and your unfinished manuscript is weighing on you, maybe what you really need is to meditate.

    In front of classic Star Trek.

    On the couch.

    With a blanket over your head.

    And a box (two?) of Cheez-Its.

    I can tell you from recent experience that this is not “mindful” or “productive” behavior. And yet, it is highly necessary.

    [Tweet “”Sometimes what you really need is to meditate. In front of classic Star Trek” — @gooddirt”]


    Unchoke the Lizard

    Life balance includes vegetation. It includes doing things daily that you truly enjoy, on a lizard-brain level, with no end goal in sight. Stuff shakes loose when your brain is at rest. Problems get solved.

    Perhaps most important, you gain energy back to take little steps towards larger goals. Some days, when you are halfway through your working day and you have done nothing but small tasks, even picking up the phone or sending an email about scheduling a reading can feel impossible.

    But a half-hour of doing nothing (a nap!) can give you just enough energy to write the email, make the phone call. Which will lead to something else. At the very least, it will put the ball in someone else’s court for a while.

    Thus, the classic Star Trek, which will be followed shortly by MacGyver, I think.


    Goals, Goals, Goals

    Not convinced? Let me tell it to you this way: I have tried everything else. I have actual physical goals (I’ll do my first triathlon in three years in May); I have little daily goals (write at least a line or two each day in my diary; populate the weekly “brain flotsam” section of my blog).

    I have immediate goals (my debut novel comes out May 6, 2016, with its attendant readings and things), and future goals (I need to have a draft of my next novel completed so I can start shopping that around).

    I have goals that involve my surroundings (I want to get to know Los Angeles better), and goals that involve my career (I want to do more manuscript critiques and writing coaching). I have goals that are seemingly altruistic and charitable (I volunteer a couple times a year for a disaster-relief agency.)

    I involve my network — my friends and colleagues — in these goals, so that I can be held accountable. I try to exercise and eat regular meals.

    But nothing feels quite as good as carving out an hour each day to do something totally unrelated to the stuff in my goal bracket.

    (Bonus resource about finding balance, for reading this far: Entrepreneur Danielle LaPorte has a great system for scheduling each week. She has “buffer days,” “focus days” and “free days.” I may take an hour each day, but she takes whole days! How cool is that? Read more here.)

    [Tweet “”A half-hour of doing nothing (a nap!) can give you just enough energy” — @goddirt”]


    Not Writing is Writing

    Writers are notoriously bad at stepping away. Everything we do can feel like it’s related to writing in some way. Are we reading for pleasure? Kind of, but with an eye towards bettering our craft. Are we hanging out with our friends? Sort of, but it’s more like “networking” and “getting to know other writers.” And so on.

    So: TV. Cheez-Its. Watercolor, every weekend or so. Piano, a couple times a week. Drinks with friends, on a scheduled bi-weekly basis. Letters. A good walk in the foothills.

    And yes, even yoga, every once in a while.



    Is finding balance a struggle for you, too? What strategies do you employ? Do they work? Do they involve Cheez-Its? Let us know below.


    Yi Shun LaiYi Shun Lai (say “yeeshun” for her first name) is the nonfiction editor for the Tahoma Literary Review. Her novel, Not a Self-Help Book: The Misadventures of Marty Wu, debuts May 6, 2016 from Shade Mountain Press. 


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    Alex Jackson

    Thanks for the thoughtful post. For now, I’m going to refrain from starting a debate about which Star Trek is *the* Star Trek. But the rest of this piece is great.

    For me, balance is all mental. Some days I can watch four hours of TV and still consider it a well-balanced day if I get done the other things I need to get done. Other days I can keep that same exact balance between fun and work, but it won’t feel the same, for whatever reason.

    But work or play, yes, Cheez-Its.

    Yi Shun Lai

    “Some days I can watch four hours of TV and still consider it a well-balanced day.” Alex, this is SO true. Some “tasks” take more energy than others, so if I spend two hours creating a draft, I’m more than likely to turn my brain off for more than an hour. :) Thanks so much for reading, and all best on your future projects! #CheezItsFTW

    David Duhr

    Cheez-Its kill me. As I believe I’ve mentioned before. Just a few of them is a guarantee that I will feel like total hell for the next couple of hours. Or days.

    I’ll lay off the Star Trek, since I’m not a fan of any of them. (Star Wars, all the way.) But Alex, it’s like every week you’re trying to get into a fistfight. If it’s not Zadie Smith it’s sci-fi TV series. Next week we have a post on the submission process, so start getting those knives sharpened now.


    This is a great post Yi. Me, I’ve never felt very
    balanced. I work two jobs and a volunteer job too,
    and husband, kids, dogs. It’s crazy. I’m lucky to write
    once a week. I can’t even find time for yoga. And I refuse
    to buy Cheezes because I est the whole box in 1 sitting. It is for the


    Yi Shun Lai

    Cindy! Thanks so much for reading. I honestly am perpetually in awe of parents. I don’t know how it all gets done. But I encourage you to keep on at least trying to write once a week. That’s a good goal to start with. FWIW, Annie Lamott wrote in _Bird by Bird_ that she kept a one-inch frame on her desk. When the words were too long in coming, she would just say to herself, “You just need to fill that one-inch frame”–and that was the only rule. Find five minutes. It’s worth it. All best!

    Yi Shun Lai

    Also, PS. just one box? Oh, look, here are some Girl Scout Cookies to go with.


    oh, I could eat 17 boxes of those. That’s one of the drawbacks
    to having kids. The little scavengers get to all the good stuff early.

    I don’t think I understand the Anne Lamone story. She was typing,
    and on a bad day she would type only enough words to fit
    a 1 inch piece of poet?


    piece of paper. That’s a funny phone auto correct.

    Yi Shun Lai

    That’s exactly right, Cindy. She’s just type until she had enough words to fill the frame. And then she’d give herself permission to stop. It’s a nice technique.


    This is great: Writers are notoriously bad at stepping away. Everything we do can feel like it’s related to writing in some way. Are we reading for pleasure? Kind of, but with an eye towards bettering our craft. Are we hanging out with our friends? Sort of, but it’s more like “networking” and “getting to know other writers.” And so on. That’s why I make it a point to hang out with at least a few people who aren’t writers, or even readers. Cleanses the palette. And I also make it a point to sometimes read things that would teach… Read more »

    Yi Shun Lai

    You bring up a very good point, Marlene. Hanging out with folks who aren’t writers is great for lots of things, but there’s one oft-overlooked benefit: They can sometimes be our best champions, and expand our literary community.
    Thanks so much for reading, and for contributing to the conversation!

    Betty G.

    It became a lot easier after I retired. But before that, my strategy was just to write for one hour every morning, rain or shine. I’m a morning person anyway so it was never that bad. And then work. And I’d read on my lunch hour. Anti-social. Go home, and use my free time for whatever I felt like doing to unwind. TV, movie, radio, more reading, knitting. And now I have all the time in the world for all of those things. The funny thing is that I don’t write every day anymore. Isn’t that silly? Is finding balance… Read more »

    Yi Shun Lai

    It’s interesting, Betty–if you look at Mel’s comment, below, structure is what works for some people. It’s harder to write when you’re not accountable, sure, but the other part of it is that feeling that you “have time” to get to it later. Are you in a writer’s group? Peer pressure–masquerading a writing hour as a coffee hour–can be a lovely, useful thing. Keep us posted!

    Glynis Jolly

    Balancing my day: After my first writing session of the day for my WiP is often spent watching the Turner Classic Movies channel on TV. Usually the movie is from the 1920’s or 1930s. It’s a super blast to the past far before my birth. I lounge on the sofa, munch on dry cheerios, and enjoy the movie that is usually a little over an hour long.

    Yi Shun Lai

    Oh! My kingdom for TCM! I used to get that channel, and it’s both a boon and a temptation. I’d go to it because I was genuinely curious about the films and newsreels of days gone by, so it was too easy to see it as a legitimate thing to be doing with my day. (Related: I love historical fiction.) Still, your days sound just like mine. Keep on keepin’ on, since it works for you!

    Mel Daniels

    I can only balance my life through rigid structure. If I don’t make a daily shedule — for life, not just for writing — I’ll get less done. But if I know that at 3:00 p.m. I’m scheduled to write for one hour, I will write for one hour. And then from 4-5, I’ll move on to what’s next on my slate, regardless of how the writing is going. From 7-8 I read, from 8-9 I watch part of a documentary or whatever, etc. It’s kind of militaristic (is that a word?) but it is what works for me.

    Yi Shun Lai

    Mel! I do better, too, with a schedule. That’s why my loafing is scheduled for lunch, and from 3-4. For reals. ;) Militaristic loafing! Who knew?


    I took a gymnastics class when I was in about 5th grade or so. That’s the last time I felt like I had any balance. And even then, it wasn’t great balance. (I didn’t go back the next year.) Since then it’s felt like nothing but chaos. Thanks for the post… I’ll try some of these tactics. Minus the cheese-its. Maybe?

    Yi Shun Lai

    Oh, Veronica, I commiserate! I am SUCH a klutz. As for the Cheez-Its…I confess an unhealthy obsession with nuclear-orange colored foods. But you should substitute any activity or culinary pleasure that puts your lizard-brain in a state of happiness. Don’t overthink this happiness. Just look for the things you gravitate towards. It could be your version of junk TV is a walk in the woods. That’s good, too. Keep us posted!

    David Duhr

    Balance eludes me. One week I’ll have so much work to do that it makes me physically ill. The next week I won’t have enough work to do and will waste a hell of a lot of time. Recently I’ve taken to writing out, in the morning, a list of tasks for the day, and then crossing them out as I complete ’em. That helps. But still, that’s only work-related, and doesn’t do much for the balance. In this post “The Myth of Balance,” the writer quotes a tweet that I find interesting. The tweeter calls it “the entrepreneur’s dilemma,”… Read more »

    Yi Shun Lai

    Oh, I don’t know, David. I’m a firm believer that your brain really only presents to you the things it believes you can truly handle at the right time for you. So maybe the times you’re goofing off, “wasting” time, is really your brain just telling you that you’re not ready that day, that minute, to write. Maybe that’s your M.O., you know. They say endurance athletes hit peak performance much later in life than you’d expect. I think this is a lot like that. All this stuff you’re building–friendships, a great business, fitness–all that could be filed under “more… Read more »


    My cure for eating Cheese-Its when I should be writing:
    Buy two big boxes. EAT THEM BOTH THE SAME DAY. (Sit and watch some dumb TV program. Generally waste the time.)
    The next day you will be so sick of them and junk food you won’t want to even look at them for at a least year. *Worked for me.

    Pick out your most I’ve-been-putting-it-off writing project.
    Sit down and write one sentence. Come on, you can write a better one than that. Do it… You have cracked the code!

    Yi Shun Lai

    Ha, Gene! Bingeing is such a good way to break out of a good habit.
    I’d argue there’s a fine line between writer’s block and maintaining a good stretch. So important to have these techniques, like your “write one line,” above.
    Thanks for weighing in!


    “Life balance includes vegetation. It includes doing things daily that you truly enjoy, on a lizard-brain level, with no end goal in sight.” Love love love this! I started drumming at the age of 45 after wanting to drum since 2nd grade. Does it help my writing? Absolutely! Does it help me complete the trillion other things demanded by my other two careers? Actually it *does* bc after making music I’m open, flexible (mentally and physically), heart-centered, and emotionally ready for anything…the next student zinger (I run a graduate program), the next client in pain (I’m a holistic health practitioner),… Read more »

    Yi Shun Lai

    Hear, hear, Sylvia! One of the things I didn’t fully address in this post is the importance of physical activity. Lots of times, if I’m feeling unbalanced, I’ll leave my phone at home and take my dog for a neighborhood ramble. And let’s not count the number of times we’ve solved the world’s problems in the pool, or out running someplace, or on a bike. ;) Drumming is such a visceral activity, it seems. I think I’ll put that on my bucket list to try. Thanks for letting us read about your experience! Loved hearing about your gift to yourself!… Read more »

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