There has not been a lot of advice about balance on this blog, and there’s good reason for that: I have very little experience with balance. My idea of balancing is much more reminiscent of juggling, and my greatest talent is my ability to move pretty quickly. It helps with many important things, juggling being one of the most important.
Don’t get me wrong; time management is one of my specialties, and one of the reasons I can move so swiftly in so many different directions. But time management and schedule management are two very different things, and I have only managed to fail so miserably at one for so long because I really am quite good at the other.
It’s time for that to change.
That’s what I’ve been saying for the last couple years, anyway. Maybe writing it down and sharing it will either lead to a new level of resolve or show me the folly in my sometimes faulty thinking. Either way, I’d like to share some of the thoughts that I have about putting all this stuff together. I make it a regular point to reiterate that I am just starting out here, and that this blog comes from a particular perspective. There has still been a lot to learn just to get to where I am, and I am putting it all together now better than ever before. At the same time, I have a vision of how I’d like to put it all together that looks like an impossible workload from down here at base camp; you know, like writing two to five books a year seemed like way too much for me two years ago.
Let’s talk about one, and then the other, and see if there might be a map or at least a decent set of directions for me to follow that might help get me from one place to another.
Balance is something that an author needs to be able to maintain to some degree. It’s not that the same schedule that will help every writing style; it’s that every style can benefit from figuring out a schedule of some kind. The possibility that I’m going to suggest that you do much of anything by anyone else’s book is pretty slim, no matter the topic. (Even if that book happens to be mine.) I’m not sharing my playbook with you so you can straight up swipe it: I’m trying to help you find your own answers by watching me struggle with what are hopefully some of the right questions. Of course, feel free to swipe whatever does appeal to you; some great ideas are inexhaustible, and I probably swiped it from someone else to begin with anyhow.
This year that is what I have been up to mostly, swiping great ideas. There are a lot of them out there, and I’ve been mining them like gold all year. From starting a weekly newsletter and what to share in it, to approaching a weekly blog from the right perspective, to learning how to find the right readers; I’ve searched articles and blogs, podcasts and books, and come up with some answers. It’s not clear how long it will continue to feel as though I’m just getting started, but that hardly matters. What does matter is that there is no end in sight, and no reason to ever stop writing books. Even if I felt as though there was no way I could improve any more as a writer, which I don’t see ever happening, there are still endless stories to tell. When getting better and telling those stories and finding new readers all get factored in, there’s no reason at all to consider an end to all this; there are just a bunch of reasons to work harder.
That’s the biggest lesson that I have learned this year, and it’s one that has been both humbling and gratifying. Writing is like any other difficult thing: the rewards to be found in discovering and learning it are both exactly as limited or as infinite as the work that the writer is willing to put into it. When all I was doing was writing, and trying to build a bit of a library, I marveled at how much I had to continue to learn just to build that library. Every new book was a stack of lessons to learn and research to do. When I finally decided to have a good look around at what others were doing, I realized there was a whole other field of study that I needed to take on to have any kind of chance at doing this full time.
I thought I was doing pretty good, setting up a schedule for writing and releasing multiple titles each year; and I was, as far as that goes. But when I heard that the eighty/twenty rule applies to any kind of art as much as it applies to any kind of business, I both took heart and doubled down. I had acquired a bunch of those professional tools to get good at other things in the past; it was actually a relief to find that writing is much like other fields in many ways. It’s not easy to get good, and it’s even harder to get great. Those that begin with a natural talent only have a head start if they are as committed as their less talented counterparts. Otherwise, they’re apt to watch those that began behind them pass them up due to the simple fact that dedication and passion go a lot further than natural ability.
That eighty/twenty rule should be explained, especially since it has been used in different ways that all can be helpful. The original concept is that eighty percent of your results generally come from twenty percent of your efforts; working from that perspective, any professional doing the looking can isolate that twenty percent of effective effort and expand it to be a larger proportion of how they spend their time. When a new schedule and routine are put in place, you eventually have to go through that process all over again to take things to the next level once more. For some people, it sounds exhausting; these are the people who are in it for the praise, and not the challenge of learning. Those of us who love to learn delight in the fact that everything gets more complex and difficult as we go, and we know that the most important part of any equation worth working is our own efforts.
The other way the eighty/twenty rule works is the way that I am addressing here. It basically states that your twenty percent is your art; whatever time you spend on that, see your eighty percent as being time you should spend publicly backing up that art. That sounded a bit fantastical to me, until I started doing a little bit of that math I love so dearly. I realized that it was not my great writing skill or speed that had gotten me to the point of being able to write as many books as most full-time authors while still working a day job. The reason that they are full-time writers is because they also have a day job: it’s promoting themselves and their books, of course; and the ones that are most successful are generally the ones who seem to know that they need to spend four times as much time promoting themselves as they do writing.
That doesn’t mean stop writing so much, or looking for more educational devices to make sure both the quantity and quality continue to improve. We need to do that, too. It just means that the reason that most authors are not doing it professionally is because most authors aren’t doing it professionally. It turns out that writing is like any other thing that is difficult to master: the field is full of amateurs that are more interested in accolades than they are in throwing themselves fully into their writing. It’s easy to look around and tell yourself that you’re doing relatively well when you see what so many people are calling their best effort. That doesn’t improve anyone’s writing, though; and the attitude truly dedicated to that improvement knows that comparisons should be made only with how the individual is doing today compared with how they were doing yesterday.
So, that’s what tomorrow is about for me. Once I realized that I’m only doing twenty percent of the job that I need to be doing, and that it is the least important part as far as the market is concerned, I also realized that stepping it up will mean reworking my schedule yet again. I believe that I will now begin to think of balance as one would when building a race car: make sure this thing is designed to move as quickly as possible, and put all the weight where it will best serve to push things forward with even more speed and power. And maneuverability…it’s obviously going to need that.
It’s not that I’m in a rush, or in a race with anyone but me; it’s just that want my books to have the life that I envision for them. My desire to do this professionally comes from my desire to do this professionally, and that desire comes from my obsessive love of writing. I’ve seen how hard it is to get good at hard things, and I’ve gotten good at some of them. Now that I know what path my soul loves to walk the most, from here it’s all about putting it all together.
Way to bring it around, huh?
Thanks for reading!
All the best,