By Lori Pollard-Johnson
Writers crave it. The idea of creating a life activity scale that weights our vocation (read: day job) with our avocation (read: writing life) and holds even burns within us. If only I could spend as much time writing as I did working... If only I could carve time out every day to write... If only I had consistent hours (substitute high-paying, night job, day job, school hours job, etc.), I could finally get the time to write... Most of us are guilty of thinking, and probably saying (repeatedly), any of the above. But does balance necessarily mean productivity?
I’ve wrestled with these questions since I first began writing professionally over twenty years ago. Now, with four published novels and over 100 pieces of short fiction and nonfiction behind me, I think I know the answer. No. Having the scale successfully balanced between work and writing does not promote creative productivity. It doesn’t even maintain writerly output.
For me, it’s about readying myself for the opportunity to write; it’s about allowing the scale to tip so far one direction, to get so out of whack, that I cannot wait to get back to the keyboard. It’s about giving myself permission to become so dazed from the idea of a story that nothing could deter me from it, once I engage. It’s about hungering for the twists of plot and the thirsting for the synesthesia that comes from tapping away at a great scene. It’s about allowing the idea to percolate, germinate, age, come to full boil, before immersing myself in the writing process.
I’m not the first to find this true. Others have expressed it better. Pat Conroy writes, “The idea of a novel should stir your blood, like a lion lifting up at the scent of impala” (Why I Write, 1998, ed. Will Blythe). Jane Yolen identifies this passion as “Saku-taku-no-ki: the instant a chick pecking on the inside and the mother pecking on the outside reach the same spot. The egg cracks open. New life emerges” (Take Joy, 2003, Jane Yolen). It’s about inspiration--and inspiration rarely comes from routine. It comes in flashes; some sizzle and die and others ignite into an energy that can’t be contained. Ultimately, it’s about trusting the cosmos to expand and contract in a way that gives birth to art.
Now when I think of balance, I see it not as a scale, but as a teeter-totter with the two equally-weighted children--the tweedle-dee and tweedle-dum of work and writing--that vigorously pump, pump, pump their tiny legs, feeding each other to higher levels of insight and creativity. They manufacture an ebb and flow of productivity that is as sure and consistent as any eight-hour-a-day writer can promise; more importantly, they give each other the room each needs to explore and expand. And when the writing is at the top of this other-worldly see-saw, there is a moment of weightlessness, of release, that enables a story to be told well and true.
Lori Pollard-Johnson is the author of four novels: THE LIE (Young Adult), TOXIC TORTE (Adult Mystery), RECIPE FOR A REBEL (Children’s) and THE TRUTH TEST (Children’s), and over 100 short works of fiction and nonfiction. She teaches college-level English and creative writing courses in the Seattle-Tacoma area.