Pen To Print

Monday Moments: Finding Your Balance

Introduced by Holly King

Holly King Monday moments

The theme of balance (and colour) makes me think of a tightrope walker, trying to get across the rope without falling. They’re in some lovely green and blue acrobatic costume that’s been highly patterned to make them look exciting for the viewers, and the ceiling of the circus tent is a deep red, reaching so high your neck aches to stare up too long. But that supposes there is an end to the balancing act, a time when you don’t need to do that any more, because you’ll be on solid ground. I’m not sure that’s accurate, though. Perhaps a more truthful metaphor would be that same tightrope walker with multiple commitments, goals and responsibilities piled up on either side of their pole. And the single tightrope they need to traverse becomes multiple ones; there’s a whole network of them up there near the ceiling that’s rustling in the wind. There are those posts, small squares of ground where you can rest, perhaps leave some of your objects on while you focus on the next balancing act. But they’re always up there with you, and you always have to traverse the next rope, and you never stop, because in the tent you can’t tell whether it’s night or day.

That may sound a little overwhelming, and I imagine many people are feeling overwhelmed now because of the new responsibilities, constraints, expectations and worries we’re adding to the tightrope walk of life. If we crossed the same path, over and over, with the same load each time, I’m sure we’d get quite good at tightrope walking. Practice makes perfect. But that isn’t life and, more often than not, if we start a new path, one we haven’t tested out before, we either need to unload some of what we’re holding, or be prepared to wobble. Sometimes we find we become unbalanced, even if we do everything how we’ve always done it, and we still end up falling down.

I come from that generation of people who refuse to bring the shopping into the house in more than one trip (cue parental eye rolls at my overloaded self dragging ten bags of food an inch off the ground up my flat steps). Because of that attitude, I wouldn’t naturally consider unloading my balancing pole but, instead, would attempt to cross a new rope immediately, most likely plunging down after a few feet. Is that the right way to be? Wouldn’t it be better to stay up there with the ropes for longer? Even if it means I have to unload and reload, rather than plummeting, climbing back up and beginning again a few paths back?

We spend a lot of time looking forward. Many of us also spend a lot of time looking back, reflecting. But we don’t spend much time connecting the two together. They are either side of the same balancing pole, and we’re the ones in the middle. If we’re able to reflect and then apply that reflection to our current situations, perhaps we can find a better balance on the other end in our actions, perceptions, relationships and progress.

The analogy of a tightrope walker applies to the creative process too. I suffer from the delusion that writing is linear, that you only move forward. But in reality, you move all over the place (like a clown on a unicycle: backwards, forwards, paused, sideways, crooked-angled. Maybe that’s one metaphor too far, let’s stick with tightropes). You fall down, backtrack, wobble all over at one point and speed-run through at another. It’s hard to see that as inefficient; there’s a straight line from you to your publication at the other end of the tent, just walk that one, slack tightrope in one go! But, if you don’t practice (and by association fall, backtrack, wobble), you’ll never be able to gain the experience to be skilled or confident. The longer you spend up there, or even just inside the gymnasium that is writing, training and doing, the sooner you’ll be joining those who have made it to the Circus tent (now that’s a metaphor I could run away with).

Writing is just one of many hats we wear and needs to be balanced against all the other duties we have and hats we pile on. I admire those who seem to be juggling so many balls and yet always have time to create, answer questions, put out fires, swallow knives and balance on one of those giant balls. Can you guess who I’m thinking of? Yes, it’s Claire Buss, Write On! Deputy Editor, author and child-wrangler, here to provide some insight into how she maintains balance, and she’s picked a topical title:

Writing On A Tight Rope

As an author of a first draft humorous urban fantasy novel, I must pun with the best of them. Quick wit, innuendo and a sprinkle of magic is an absolute must but those fun and frolics have to stop when I put on my Deputy Editor’s hat for Write On! magazine. Here, I must be professional and caring, motivational and empowering, encouraging and grateful for the wonderful pieces of writing I get to read and include on our website and magazine.

As a mum, I must battle intelligently, diligently and repetitively with ‘the system’ in order to get my son the support he needs at school while we wrangle with acronyms, tick boxes and highly specific hoops to leap through. As a poet, I should let go of everything else and wax lyrical upon the splendiferous musicality of words.

On top of all those writerly hats, I blog, I give and take interviews, I write book reviews, I run several Facebook groups and promote my books across social media platforms, each one requiring differing marketing language for maximum effect. Do I get everything right all the time? Of course not.

What is the best way to balance these writing styles? Partitioning. Break yourself up into lots of tiny versions of yourself and then send them off to do everything else while you curl up in the corner with a good book… oh, wait… we don’t live in a sci-fi novel, do we? But breaking it down is still an excellent way to get things done.

The thing is, everyone works differently. Everyone has different pressure points, reacts differently to stress and also places importance on different things. I would quite happily never wash another dish up in my life, whereas my friend won’t go to bed without an empty sink, #justsaying.

Here is my methodology. Take from it what works for you.

The Five am Writers Club:
Hahahahahahahahah! As if. I have two smalls, they usually get up between five and six and, if by some miracle, I were to set my alarm for five am and get up before them, it would be nanoseconds before they joined me. Quiet time would cease to exist, and zero words would be written. However, if you can get up at sparrows fart and make writing your number one priority, imagine how great you’ll feel when the first thing you do every day is hit your daily word count! You can wear that smugness all day long.

The Self-Care Option:
This is the one I currently cling to. As soon as I stop pretending that the kids didn’t really wake me up at five am, I get up and put on my work-out clothes. There are several good-morning sorting-out routines to go through and if I’m unlucky – and I usually am – demands for breakfast will get in the way of my morning yoga, etc. But regardless, I eventually complete my daily exercises, so I don’t feel so guilty about sitting at a desk for the rest of the day. Also, I eat some veggies and drink some water. Go easy on the cake. I know, cake is life, but healthy food builds a healthy brain and a healthy brain will help you focus on your writing.

Plan It Out:
I use several tools. A diary for my time-sensitive bits and bobs, which works brilliantly as long as I remember to turn the page. I have two spreadsheets (love a spreadsheet), one of which has my daily schedule reminders and the other has my weekly attempts at getting stuff done. The key to having this plan, for me, is that when I get time to sit down, I don’t have to spend half an hour figuring out what I’m supposed to be doing AND the things that I am meant to be doing are all grouped together. This is perfect for keeping my brain on a specific track.

It’s not enough to say I’m a writer and believe that, when you sit down, you can turn your hand to any type of writing you want to achieve. You must put yourself in the right frame of mind. And you do need to be able to change your writing style to meet your different writing goals. This flexibility is also good for your brain, forcing it to change lanes and stretch your vocabulary, because a writer has never learnt it all. We are constantly evolving our inner language, our world-building, our imagination and constantly learning how to improve our craft.

Can you achieve balance? In learning to write for different reasons, yes. In juggling mum-life, writer’s life, housewife, actual wife and being an individual in your own right – I’ll let you know. I fear it involves a fair amount of guilt – but that is a whole other subject!

Connect with Claire on Twitter: @grasshopper2407 and on Instagram: @grasshopper2407

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Now we have an illustration by Emmanuel. I love the different interpretations and uses of ‘balance’ in it:

Connect with Emmanuel on Instagram: @oreyeni.arts, Twitter: @artsoreyeni and follow him on YouTube: Oreyeni Arts

Learn to draw sessions every Monday at five pm on Zoom: https://zoom.us/j/516550777

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Lastly, I’d like to finish with a poem. As budding creatives, I’m sure you know all too well the amount of time we spend telling ourselves not to talk about our own work, to promote ourselves (which is only compounded if you’re English too). To balance that out, I’ve submitted something for this week’s theme, and it nicely ties up the balance of this page, beginning with me and ending with me (with the real talent smack bang in the middle):

Indirect Stimulation

Compound lifters work hard, heavy,
consistently overload,
progress steadily.

Only when you
isolate
imbalances become obvious,
because
overuse of the
dominant side
exhausts it,
fatigues the muscle
far
too
quick.

On the other side,
isolation
lifts its potential,
becoming the standout,
untapped, coming into its own.

One side cannot always support
the other,
only for it to become a useless gesture.

Train to achieve balance between
Rest and sets
Here, there
Now and then
Between both fear and progress

concentrate
correct
alter your focus.
build
balance

(C) Holly King, 2020

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Don’t go just yet, I want to see your work! Your writing, art, photos, music, videos, memoirs, articles, extracts. Our next two themes are ‘The Resolve To Be Resilient’ followed by ‘Reimagining the World’. So get on that tightrope and find me at the next intersection to hand over your goods! If you’re afraid of heights and prefer an easier method, though, you can just email us via: pentoprint@lbbd.gov.uk.

Don’t forget, Issue 5 of Write On! magazine is available to read online, just click here.

Sometimes we find we become unbalanced, even if we do everything how we’ve always done it, and we still end up falling down.