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Wednesday, January 26, 2005

BALANCING THE MODES

"The only thing I was fit for was to be a writer, and this notion rested solely on my suspicion that I would never be fit for real work, and that writing didn't require any."
Russell Baker, "Growing Up"

In writing, there's an expression "balancing narrative modes", that is: dialogue, thought, action, description and exposition. It's important to examine the balance of these five 'modes' in your writing because if you favour one over another for the wrong reason (use too much of one) it affects the PACE of your story.

The same thing applies to our way of living. As they say "all work and no play..." isn't good for a balanced life. Although I love spending hours at my computer writing, I still have to consider putting bread on the table. And besides that, there has to be time left for pleasure and leisure. This week my busy time begins. And now is the fun of trying to 'balance my modes'. I have lots of work ahead of me but there's also got to be time for my writing. (And yes, my writing is 'work' too, but it isn't necessarily generating enough income at the moment to pay the rent.)

The reality of it is that I have to work some of the time outside of my home. I quit my full time job 12 years ago after twenty years of being a day-care supervisor. I did this in order to allow time for travel and writing. And I have never regretted this decision. From then on I have only worked on-call as a sub teacher. But by a stroke of luck in 1994 I got a job as an instructor for the school board teaching Travel Writing at night school and now I also teach Novel Writing and an experimental creative writing class called "Prompting the Muse." And once a week I instruct a Memoir writing class downtown. (These are all contract jobs, 8 weeks at each semester except in Summer). In addition, I've done one-day workshops and courses in Historical Fiction writing. Having the privelege of teaching these classes has validated me as a writer and allowed me to now live my life almost-but-not-quite as a full-time writer. But it's still 'work', and requires quite a bit of my time for preparation and committment.

I feel fortunate though, to have these classes as they not only supplement my meagre income but they are also a great source of inspiration and challenge. And it's all part of the connection and net-working a writer needs to achieve his/her goals. As a result of these classes I've also been invited for one day to teach a travel writing class at a colleges where my friend teaches journalism, and because I belong to the Federation of Writers I've been accepted for a second time running into a program called "Off the Page" where I will go to a school and talk to the children about becoming a writer. These are bonuses for me and I feel grateful to have these opportunities.

Of course, not working full-time requires making financial sacrifices. But I still manage to travel (on a wing and a prayer) and my daily needs are somehow always taken care of (thanks to supportive friends and guardian angels).

As I don't work every day and only teach at night, it's up to me to keep focused on my writing and use my time wisely. There must be time for pleasure too, and this will include waterfit, fitness club and daily walks. And on the weekend it's play-time: a little bit of fun with my friends, dancing and going to movies or shows.

It's a good life, really, so long as you don't mind making the sacrifices. I'm mostly short of cash, I have no credit cards, own no car and have no responsibilities such as a family to care for.

It's good living the writer's life. However the first thing I tell my students (in particular those in the travel writing class) "Don't quit your day job." Unless you're independantly wealthy or living off a big early-retirement pension, you need some cash flow coming in to support your creative life-style. I think I've found a perfect balance to support my life as a writer.
So far it's working. And when the refunds come in from my 'self-employment' income tax this year let's hope it will be enough to finance another trip!

"A little work, a little play,
To keep us going -- and so, good night." George Louis Palmella Busson du Maurier

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