Wednesday, August 17, 2016

Guest Post: C. Hope Clark on Life Balance

It's my pleasure to hand over my blog today to C. Hope Clark. Mystery readers know her for her Edisto Island Mysteries; writers of all genres know her for her Funds for Writers newsletter. I invited Hope to talk to us about balancing a writing life with the rest of life now that she's where some of us still aspire to be: working full-time as a writer. 

My fulltime job is that of a writer. At my appearances and signings, many people greet me with a wishful expression, and I know exactly what they are thinking. I wish I could stay home and write for a living. One twenty-something approached me not long ago and blurted, “Honey, you are living the dream. You are who I want to be.”
Admittedly, I am living the writer’s dream, but it’s one that comes with responsibilities and coordination. It doesn’t take much for an untended dream to slide into a nightmare.
My dream, however, isn’t self-sustaining. It requires maintenance. Every few months, I stop and analyze my schedule, goals, and purpose, because without attention to them, my dream takes off on tangents, even splintering into tasks that may or may not feed the dream, and can ultimately dismantle my days.
I wanted to leave nine-to-five to write, to pursue a deep personal satisfying quest. However, I made a plan before taking the leap. While writing fulfilled me, I had sense enough to know that it also had to take care of financial obligations. So I developed a three-year plan to pay off debt, save for emergencies, and develop a work ethic of income writing versus creative writing, then at the end of three years, I took an early retirement at age 46.
While I wanted to leave earlier, that three-year plan included qualifying for early retirement which gave me health insurance and a small pension that would always be there for a roof over my head. A necessary evil? Maybe. But in that three years, I also tested several writing avenues, weighing which would bring in the most income, which wouldn’t interfere with my novel-writing goals, and which would provide me with the best platform. I had an intense need to define a balance between responsibility and desire, getting everything I wanted out of my days without sabotaging my well-being.
Errantly, we often think of a balanced life as being one we have to think less about. A laissez-faire mindset that deters regimen or structure. In reality, without some definition we lose balance because there is no weighing in of need and purpose. Our balance goes awry because we aren’t focused.
I’ve been a fulltime writer for over a decade now, and I believe it’s worked because I periodically analyze my schedule, goals, and purpose, beginning with the last.


While my main purpose is to write, I learned early on that an equal purpose is to be financially safe. A writer is not successful without both. So instead of saying my dream is to write fulltime, I understand that my dream is maintaining the ability to write fulltime.
Every month I study the time spent on writing for short-term income (freelancing), writing for long-term income (novels), appearances, and self-promotion. They must balance to sustain my fulltime passion, and yes, that means sometimes I write less creative work to bring in dollars in order to buy me time to delve into my novels. Without dissecting this balance regularly, the scales quickly tip in the wrong direction. Too much income writing robs me of my creativity. Too much creative writing robs me of income. My writing is a career, so it takes leveling both left-brain and right-brain tasks to allow me to maintain a fulltime dream.


Novels have multiple deadlines prior to publication, and so while they do not bring in income, they have needs. A novelist also plans several books ahead, meaning a multi-year, long-range plan, and until those novels are published and bringing in income, a certain number of short-term goals must be met to pay bills. This analysis of long-term and short-term goals takes place monthly so I do not stray.


While goal-tending is great, day-to-day activity isn’t so precise or easy to monitor. But I left the nine-to-five partly because of a suffocating regimen, and I do not want to replace one rigid structure with another. So I go out of my way not to force-feed myself a daily schedule.
Monthly reviews of my work, covering creativity and entrepreneurialship, are sufficient for me. In the day to day, I allow a more relaxed environment.
I rise when my clock tells me to, and I go to sleep when my clock beckons. My work may make for five-hour days, or fifteen, depending upon my energy and enthusiasm, but my work week is a forty-hour minimum. The greatness about being a stay-at-home writer is that I can deem what makes for a satisfying day without worrying about a clock or overseer.
To avoid burn-out, I take breaks to walk the dogs, tend the chickens, and garden. I can make doctor appointments in the day without missing work, and I can take a break and visit the zoo with a grandson in the middle of the afternoon before it gets crowded.
I can work until three AM knowing I can sleep in. I can stop and cook dinner, watch a mystery on television, then return to the job because it’s just down the hall. While I give myself Saturday as a day off, I’ve learned that I love my work so much that I rarely reach the end of the day without checking for replies from publishers, editors, and readers.

Balance can’t be too loose or too strict, but it’s critical to feed the passion and the self-sustainability of a writing career and find that perfect level. Give yourself enough of a structure that you feel focused, but enough detachment to feel you’re not tied down.
Without a doubt I’m living the dream, and with the balance I’ve achieved, that dream will take me as long as I wish.

BIO: C. Hope Clark loves living her writing dream and will continue to the end of her days. She just released Echoes of Edisto, book three in The Edisto Island Mysteries, and has many books planned in her long-term goals.


  1. Thanks for allowing me to be a guest poster, especially talking about a topic I take seriously.