It’s my firm belief that writing and having a normal, fulfilling life are not mutually exclusive. I can do both. You can do both. It might be easier than it seems.
“Having a life” might even be completely necessary to writing. For a writer, almost every activity undertaken has value. We just need to use experiences and opportunities that our lives give us to our advantage.
Many of our hobbies become research opportunities. Like to read (I argue you can’t write at all unless you read frequently)? Enjoy watching movies or documentaries? Television? Browsing Wikipedia? Perfecting a tasty dish in the kitchen? Picking up gardening? Watching how-to videos on YouTube? Travelling? All usable. They just need to be focused properly to subjects that relate to our writing.
Our physical activities help us understand the body’s reaction to strenuous activity and limits. Hiking, biking, running, skiing, martial arts, etc. teaches us about that particular discipline. Exercise also helps to achieve the levels of brain activity that might otherwise be unavailable. Read about it in Spark: The Revolutionary New Science of Exercise and the Brain by John J. Ratey and elsewhere on the interwebs. We’ll be healthier and live to write longer.
Wasted time becomes writing time. Time spent organizing files (including photos) on the computer is mainly wasted. Time spent playing repetitive games can be reclaimed. People who know me are calling BS right now, but I mean games like Plants vs. Zombies, Angry Birds, Clash of Clans… big time wasters with no real benefit (board games are better… more social interaction). Time endlessly browsing Facebook or Twitter comes back. The entire topic has been addressed unto itself by countless authors. Here’s one: Top 20 Time Wasters. We’ve all spent time that is basically wasted. Reclaim that time. It is writing time.
Bonding with children over stories, play, and outdoor activities help refine ideas and remind us what it is like to look at life from a child’s perspective. I wrote a scene about a little girl for my upcoming novel The Galaxy and All Her Charms that would never have been possible if I didn’t play with my kids.
Lunches and dinners out become opportunities to observe people and build character description skills. Dates not only help us maintain healthy, loving relationships with our significant others, they also help our writing. And if you’re doing it like this… yeah… don’t:
Even sickness, grief, and personal trials help us give meaning to our writing. They enable us to write from experience rather than assumption and second-hand knowledge. I’ve written pieces I really like, for future use, about my experience learning to ski (as an old snowboarder), about personal loss and the fear of loss, and also about a recent bout of food poisoning. Writing about grief and trials is also therapeutic and liberating. It will lighten our burdens.
To be a living, breathing, observing, reading person is all the preparation that is necessary for that person to become a writer.
You can guess my conclusion: the struggle isn’t writing vs. having a life.
Quite the opposite.
Writing IS having a life.