My life is a pendulum. And sometimes that’s a scary thing. But it doesn’t have to be.
I recently spent a week away at a writing retreat, which was intense and productive and amazing. I’m about a third of the way into my very first novel, and while I had a 35,000-foot view of the entire story arc and the character arcs, I hadn’t really worked through in my head how the rest of the story would evolve. I tend to be more of a panster than a plotter; I have to let my characters tell me what comes next.
But I wanted to enter a writing contest, and I needed a synopsis as well as the first twenty five pages. I had to outline the rest of the story to write the synopsis! So during my week away I did just that: worked with my writing coach to create the scene cards that would carry the story from where I’d gotten in the writing all the way through to the end, then fleshed out those one-line scene cards into paragraphs that I could eventually weave into the synopsis.
We also worked on really polishing those first pages. I reordered the first four scenes, which meant going back and rewriting a bit to make the new timeline work. And I edited, edited, edited. It was a very intense week.
I came home, and worked on the synopsis some more. Paula (my awesome coach) had given me a really good format for a synopsis while I was on retreat with her. I worked through that, and edited, edited, edited. It was a very intense four days.
I submitted the contest entry on the Friday, and left for a week in Mexico with my husband on Saturday.
Talk about a pendulum swing! I went from living and breathing my novel and working on it for hours every day to reading for hours and napping by the pool and getting massages in a terrific spa and eating gourmet meals prepared by someone else.
I needed that R&R time. WE needed that R&R time. We’ve both had a very busy eight months or so, professionally and personally. It was a wonderful week. Kind of surreal, but wonderful.
And then we came home. And I could feel the pendulum start to swing again.
I know I can’t sustain the intensity, the pace, of the two weeks before we went to Mexico. I can do that for short bursts but not long term. And while Mexico was wonderful, I have no interest in becoming a beach bum.
I have come to really dislike the word “balance”. Balance to me implies working really hard to stand still. I don’t do it well physically; I can’t ride a bike or skate or do yoga because I fall over a lot. And I have found over the years that I don’t do it well metaphysically either. It seems like a lot of hard work to get nowhere.
But I can live on a pendulum. Most of the time I’m not going to be at either extreme: that terrifyingly intense but amazingly productive two weeks of writing and editing swung all the way over to seven days of luxurious indulgence. Most of the time, I’m going to be somewhere in between the two, living within a smaller arc.
Because those big swings are scary. While I thrive on change, I don’t do well in chaos. I need some stability and structure in my life. Overscheduling, though, is like over-plotting my book. I get kind of pissy at what my subconscious mind perceives as externally-imposed demands — even if I was the one to put the demands in place.
So I’m working on finding the sweet spot of the pendulum. It’s not a balance point; it’s a comfortable range of motion that encompasses both the writing and business work and personal tasks on my to-do list at one end and the spiritually rejuvenating and relaxing and creativity-inducing activities at the other end (I think of that as my be-list; it’s where I focus on being, not doing).
Some days I focus more on the to-do list. Some days I focus more on the be-list. It’s the moving back and forth between them that’s important to me: both the freedom to make the moves and the moves themselves. If I’m not moving, I feel stuck. If I’m moving too far or too fast, I stop myself (which means I’m stuck again but differently).
So for me, pendulum motion is good. Extreme swings are not.
How about you? Are you in motion? Is the motion working for you? If you’re not moving, or not pleased with the moving, what can you change to make it work?