Choosing which ball to drop

(Photo credit: Karen K. Ho)
From the Museo de la Revolucion in Leon, Nicaragua. (Photo credit: Karen K. Ho)

I got a new job a few weeks ago. After the initial period of worrying I wasn’t learning fast enough and trying not to have panic attacks all the time, I’m finally starting to feel like things are manageable.

But in the seven weeks since I started, I realized I have a lot of uncomfortable questions about how to be an early-career writer with a pretty-consuming day job in media, and no one seems to have a really good answer for them.

For starters, I made the switch from writing in print to online and then to broadcast. While my job in live television is full-time (40 hours), it involves very little writing.

And even though my ability to generate interesting ideas hasn’t gone away, I do constantly worry my writing skills are getting rusty from lack of daily use. I’ve quickly realized I miss it and need to write outside of work.

The problem is figuring out where to fit it in.

At my job (which I am very grateful to have, let’s be clear), I’m paid by the hour. If I’m sick or request vacation time, I don’t get paid. I don’t have health benefits. So I spend a lot of time cooking my meals at home to save money, exercising to reduce stress (I’ve been grinding my teeth again) and trying to sleep at least seven hours a night so I can have enough energy for my job. Slide in a desire to regularly do laundry, spend time with my family, see friends, learn languages, read books and occasionally date – the hours fill up fast.

So now I have to make the uncomfortable call of figuring out what I need to do to be able to write more.

Do I see my family less on the weekends, even though they generously support me in pursuing what increasingly feels like a rapidly-shrinking industry? Do I go to the gym less? Do I sleep less and drink more coffee to make up the difference? Further put off studying Mandarin again? Give up trying to date for a few months? And do I have a certain milestone of clippings in mind when I can start picking things up again?

I also know whatever choice I make, I have to be productive with the “extra time” because I’m actively sacrificing time doing something else I’d really enjoy to work on my writing.

Sure, I don’t have to worry about the basic necessity of paying rent and buying groceries because of my day job. And what I do is strongly related to the kind of writing I want to pursue. But I realize I do still have to make some sort of sacrifice to fit writing in my life. And much as I’d like to believe it’s possible, I really don’t think it’s something I can’t avoid through time-management or “leaning in”.

Like a lot of other driven people, I don’t know if the sacrifice or any of the work will actually pay off. But I’m consoled by the fact that I’m not alone, and there are lots of other people trying to figure this out too, even years into their careers.

Ultimately, we’ll all juggling stuff. Now I just need to choose.

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5 thoughts on “Choosing which ball to drop

  1. I share so many of your feelings here, Karen! I too don’t have a solution, exactly, but I read an article about “work/hustle/life” balance, instead of just work/life, that rang true for me. I can’t find the link, but the idea is that your day should be part standard job, part relaxation, part “hustling” (ie. pitching articles, blogging, writing a novel, etc.). Some people just need the hustle to feel satisfied!

  2. Congrats on your job!

    And I hear you on carving out the time for writing. I see this as part of the side project / passion project debate : http://ernestbarbaric.com/passion-project-now-time-start-one/

    Yours just happens to be a very particular form of writing. Keep pushing the limits of your writing and keep putting pen to paper, letters to the screen.

    That pullquote from Seth Godin ring so true that I have to requote it:

    “Your art is what you do when no one can tell you exactly how to do it. Your art is the act of taking personal responsibility, challenging the status quo, and changing people.” – Seth Godin

    1. As for actual practical advice, take advantage of the mornings. 5am or 6am, that time when most people are just listening to radio, crisping up some bacon and eating cereal before it gets soggy – that’s prime time for writing.

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