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Sunday, January 25, 2015

Maintaining Balance in a Creative Life

by Sheila Webster Boneham

She is in her place and moves with perfect balance.
Walt Whitman                     

Balance. I've long been a great believer in balance in life. Not necessarily moderation, mind you, but balance. Hard work balanced against hard play, or hard rest. Think very long nap on a rainy afternoon. 

Indian Paintbrush looks to me like creative inspiration feels.
©2010 Sheila Boneham. Evans Canyon, Reno, Nevada

For creative people – writers, painters, musicians, whatever – balance can be hard to achieve. The siren that is creative work is seductive. It can sing its way into our brains and make us attend to its needs until our joints lock. That same siren, though, can be painfully shy, hiding itself at the first hint of distraction. Good movie on TV? You can write that poem later! Friends want you to come play parcheesi? The painting can wait. The socks in your sock drawer are rebelling? Clearly more important to organize them than to write that novel.

There's always some seductive path calling, "Follow me!"
©2011 Sheila Boneham, Wrightsville Beach, NC

I jest. Sort of. The truth is that there’s always something else to do. Some distractions even look from the outside very much like actual work. You’re a writer, you’re on the computer – checking what’s happened on Facebook in the last ten minutes, and reading the latest writers’ group digest post, and checking the five hundred blogs you frequent because HOLY COW! You might miss something that will make or break your career!

I confess. I do all those things. Sometimes. But in the past fifteen years I’ve also written twenty three and a half books, sixteen tons of articles (more or less), several poems (very recently!), and the various related documents – query letters, proposals, blurbs, bios, bull..., er, marketing materials. So, rumors to the contrary aside, I do maintain some degree of balance.

My animals have helped balance my life.
This is Lily - UCDX Diamonds Perennial
Waterlily, AKC CD, TD, RN, CGC, ASCA CD,
TDI - earning the first leg of her ASCA CD. 
How? A surprising (to me, anyway) number of people ask me that. It’s no mystery, really. I compartmentalize my time, and have done so for so many years that my "time habits" are part of me. I write in a local cafĂ© every morning, beginning around 7:30, ending around noon, with a half hour or so off for breakfast with my husband. I go home, have lunch, have tea. I read for a couple of hours. Take a short nap most afternoons. Go for a long walk, sometimes with my dog Lily, sometimes with my camera, sometimes just with my eyes and my ears and my thoughts. I often write again in the evening, or go to readings or other events, or meet with friends, or paint and listen to music, or watch a movie at home. And ok, maybe an hour of Frasier reruns. We all have our vices. I read some more late at night, when everything is quiet. I sleep. And things get done, because I know I have those four or five hours of dedicated writing time, and I use them to....write!

Sometimes balance requires that we move forward; sometimes it
requires that we find stillness. 
©2012 Sheila Boneham, Wrightsville Beach, NC

Balance, of course, should extend to all of life, not just work. Because creative work is so personal, it can be very difficult to separate the artifacts of our creativity – the books, the paintings, the beaded book covers – from our Selves. But the truth is that our creativity comes from without as well as from within. We need experience of the world to feed the fire inside. The precise experience each of us needs varies, but we all need something. A few days without my writing time make me crave my keyboard, but I know from experience that if I lock myself away to do nothing but write for more than a day or two, my siren stops singing. I need time in nature, travel, long walks, cuddles with my dogs, talks with my husband, flowers, music, my friends, good books, photography, art. 

What do you need to balance your creative work?

Sheila Webster Boneham is an award-winning writer who writes across genres and interacts across species. She is the author of the best-selling Animals in Focus mystery series from Midnight Ink and of seventeen nonfiction books, including Rescue Matters: How to Find, Foster, and Rehome Companion Animals (Alpine Publications, 2009, updated 2013). Sheila also writes creative nonfiction, literary fiction, and poems, and she teaches writing classes and offers individual mentoring for aspiring writers. Find her online at www.sheilaboneham.com, on Facebook, or by e-mailSheila runs the Writers & Other Animals blog and the companion Facebook group. Sheila holds a PhD in folklore from Indiana University and MFA in creative writing from the Stonecoast Program, University of Southern Maine. 


  1. A good blog, Sheila, and a timely reminder as I'm having difficulty getting back in the groove after the holidays. (Example: I'm reading this now instead of working!) I have so many friends who are "going to write a book" as soon as they have time. You have to claw the time out with your bare and bloody fingers and do it most days to get a book written.

    I LOVE the bird photo. Very nice!

    1. Thanks, Susan. Yes, there I many more wannabes than dunnits around.

      Great Blue Herons are among my favorite birds, and that guy was particularly dashing.