Balance vs. Excellence

Everystockphoto_187217_mA Post Wherein I Explore Two Approachs to Writing and Confess I Don't Know Which is Best.

Let's begin with balance.  It has been a bit of a massive buzz word the past few years, with experts telling us we need it in our lives and offering advice on how to achieve it.  Seems it's what we're all looking for, that elusive balance between working hard and taking time off to enjoy the fruits of our labors.

What does balance look like?  For me, its something like this:

–I rise early after sleeping well.

–I head to the computer, ignore my email inboxes, and work on my novel.

–After a rousing writing session, I eat breakfast and shower.

–The rest of the day is spent working on assignments or coaching.

–After dinner I take a walk and am able to relax and watch trash TV or read.

Plenty of time to work, plenty of time to relax.  Balance.

But lately, I've read some things dissing balance, saying it really isn't all that it's cracked up to be.  That balance equates mediocrity and who wants to be mediocre?  Chris Guillebeau, whose writing I admire, wrote about it a few weeks ago (and of course, now I can't find the exact link.  But go check out his site anyway.  After you're done here, of course.

What does the other way look like? (Loosely, we'll call it the pursuit of excellence.)

–It looks the same throughout the day, with the exception that I probably rise earlier.

–After dinner, I'm not wasting my life watching stupid TV.  Nuh-uh.  I'll return to my office and work late into the night, only to get up early and do it all again the next day.

As I was writing this post, I got an email from somebody hyping a telecall discussing how important it is to achieve balance, because if you don't, you'll blow out your adrenals, with drastic consequences to your health.  Which is the antithesis of working all hours to finish a project.

So what's a writer to do?  Which way to seek?

My answer: I dunno.

What I do know is that my life bounces between the two extremes and I suppose that is its own kind of balance.  I love, love, love the days when I've had a satisfying and productive day and can knock off by 5:30 or so.  But I kind of like the weeks when I'm madly working to finish a million things, and return to my computer for at least an hour, if not longer, in the evening.

As a vote for the side of balance, I know that creativity begins in the darkness, in the quiet hours we sit in silence and if we're rushed and stressed new ideas are not going to arrive in our psyches.

As a vote for the side of excellence at all costs, I also know that I desire to create a life and body of work of high caliber and have no desire to be mediocre.  And if that requires staying up late a few nights, so be it.

How about you?  What works best for you?

Create a successful, inspired writing life: Experiment with scheduling your writing and other responsibilities and see what works best for you.

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Photo by dancerinthedark.

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8 Responses to Balance vs. Excellence

  1. Melissa Marsh 04/16/2012 at 19:20 #

    There is something to be said for those days when you are completely consumed by your work – and you end the day exhausted and pleased by all that you have accomplished. I love those days. But thank goodness I don’t have them often because I couldn’t survive if I did. I need time to recharge – and that’s why most weekends find me at home. I’m at the day job during the work-week and as a dedicated homebody, I NEED to be at home to really be able to face the next work-week. (That I would much rather work at home at least part-time is what I really want, but can’t have at this point in my life).

    So, all this rambling is to say, that balance is good when you can achieve it – but it, like everything else, should be subjected to moderation. Why? Because otherwise, if you’re balanced all the times, you don’t get to experience the creative highs and the lows of life, and if you don’t get to experience those, how can we stay true to our writing?

    If this makes sense, I’ll be amazed as I’m loopy from my pain medications!

  2. Patty/Why Not Start Now? 04/16/2012 at 22:33 #

    I like it that you stay in the paradox, Charlotte: both balance *and* excellence. Because isn’t that what life really is – both/and, not either/or? There’s a lot I don’t know, but I’m pretty sure that balance doesn’t negate excellence or vice/versa. I haven’t read the post you’re referring to, but I always shiver a little when someone suggests that something that clearly has a place in our lives, like balance, might lead to mediocrity. And I’m old enough to remember back almost 15 years ago when people were dissing balance. Maybe that conversation comes around every generation or so.

  3. Charlotte Dixon 04/17/2012 at 06:58 #

    Melissa, it made perfect sense despite your pain medication. Yeah, I agree, much as I want to be excellent, I think there are limitations to what we can do and dangers to going too far in any one direction. Hope you feel better!

  4. Charlotte Dixon 04/17/2012 at 07:00 #

    Patty, thanks for adding clarity to this post because you’re right–life is about both balance and excellence. I think we’re heading into a time when people start dissing balance again, maybe, as I’ve seen this addressed a couple of times. I have to admit, the idea of going full out for my goals is very seductive to me, but I also love my down time!

  5. Carole Jane Treggett 04/17/2012 at 09:21 #

    Hi Charlotte,
    I agree with Patty that balance doesn’t mean a writer will achieve excellence in their work or vice versa – that one can only attain excellence by manically working all the time, neglecting self-care,being inconsistent with other life responsibilities and activities,and not investing the time it takes in building/nurturing healthy relationships with ourselves and others.

    I keep thinking of Stephen King or other very prolific artists. What seems common is that they stick to a work routine or habit, almost religiously. I assume occasionally they get caught up in the passion of their work and spend the occasional ‘nuit blanche’ writing furiously away because they must, because the work is really, really flowing. But it’s the exception, not the rule, as is the case with champion marathon runners. The mark of excellence seems to be achieved through the discipline of consistency in showing up and working our best in frequent practice and honing of the craft,over time.

  6. Charlotte Dixon 04/17/2012 at 09:29 #

    Excellent, point Carole Jane. Having a regular work habit is key. Julia Cameron talks about this, too, pointing out that it is better to consistently produce three pages a day than to get manic and stay up all night and then crash. Thanks for chiming in!

  7. Don 04/18/2012 at 05:19 #

    Like you, I know that I don’t know what I should know, but knowing that means I know that when it comes to having balance and excellence it’s really hard, if not impossible, for anyone to know exactly which is the more important. Certainly, having balance can produce a type of excellence in one’s writing, and, likewise, having excellence in one’s writing can add a type of balance to one’s writing as well. However, in my own particular case, I think that it’s safe to say that having both balance and excellence is equally important. I just don’t know what is more important, having a higher degree of balance or having a higher degree of excellence, or how to achieve either?

  8. Charlotte Dixon 04/18/2012 at 06:39 #

    Don, maybe what we need to do is get excellent at balance! I agree–both seem equally important to me. I believe the key is to know when your pursuit of excellence makes you out of balance and take steps to heal that.

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