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Want to Grow Your Writing Career? Stop Looking for Balance.

To build a successful business, we often look for balance.

We look for safety, we look for the expected, we look for certainty. We try to find a process that works, that can be replicated. And we try to find ways success can fit into the hours of 9am-6pm on weekdays.

But few things of great importance are done in a balanced way. Instead, they require vision, sacrifice, and boldness.

Dan Blank This is why I feel that many company mission statements are so vanilla- that they try to balance everything equally; that standing for everything means they stand for nothing.

Business doesn’t often work this way. It requires moving firmly in one direction, shunning all other options. And we know it, we just don’t say it out loud as often as we should. The behind the scenes success is often filled with people taking crazy risks, working incredible hours, and making moves that are unexpected.

I work with a lot of writers, helping them to build a viable career by connecting their passion and expertise to the communities they hope to be a part of. I’m often digging into topics such as content strategy, social media, and other aspects of building an author platform. The most common question I am asked is: “How is this supposed to fit into my schedule.”

I know my professional answer is supposed to be some magical framework whereby you can fit twice as much effort into the spare 15 minutes we each have in a day. That there is one magical button that you can add to your website that will bring you thousands of raving fans. And yes, I do have lots of tips and tricks to help organize your time, carefully choose which tasks have the highest ROI, and group tasks together to best leverage your time.

But one’s success is often driven by two things: goals and purpose. And when dealing with the question of “how can I fit this into my busy life,” the honest answer is: if you don’t make the time, no one will make it for you. No one will make it easy for you to succeed. In fact, there are lots of people who will try to stop you, in their well-meaning ways: encouraging you to find balance; to not spend another weekend in the basement writing; that you are already doing enough; that maybe you aren’t a writer after all. These discouragements come in tiny ways in regular conversations. Writers often know them well.

Every success story of a creative individual is one of a long journey; of countless thankless hours of work when no one believed in you; of doing the impossible, which is often the most unsexy thing of all: jugging laundry, a family, a job, dinner, AND building your writing career.

And I think that is true of all business, and most endeavors that we hope desperately to succeed in. You have to put in the hours. You have to prioritize and give up any sense of a balanced life.

And to be honest, I don’t think this is a bad thing. Here’s why:

I gave up balance a long time ago. But that doesn’t mean that I don’t prioritize in order to focus ONLY on the things that matter most to me. For example:

  • Something I cut out of my life: The 3 hour roundtrip commute to New York City each day.
  • Something I find MORE time to do: Hang out with my wife and 7 month old son.

Cutting out that commute gave me an extra 15 hours every week. That’s more than half a day! Why? Because commuting is unproductive to my career, and doesn’t add any joy to my family. So it’s gone.

I have a business that is about a year old, and a son who is less than a year old. Balance is not part of that equation!

So instead of looking for balance, I look for opportunities to maximize the joy I have with my family and the success I have in my career. And I am convinced that balance will only hurt both of those things. That to succeed, I need to be obsessive, to care about delivering outstanding service to the point that I can choose to work at 4am or 11pm if I want to. That I do everything I can to go above and beyond what I promise to clients. And I love doing this.

But that I also care so much about my family that I don’t hesitate to drop everything to take a walk with them, to read a book out loud with them, to just hang out on the floor with them making up funny voices for my son. To do something nice for my wife on some random Tuesday.

There is a small debate going on about the role of authors: should they focus only on writing or also on marketing themselves and their work. I think this is a personal decision for each individual. But regardless, the writers who only write will have to do so obsessively, without balance. The writers who also market themselves and their work will have to do so obsessively, without balance.

Most of my heroes are those who gave up hope for a balanced life. They simply dove headlong towards their dreams.

973-981-8882 | Twitter: @DanBlank | dan@danblank.com

  • Sembree

    Thanks Dan for the honesty. Life Balance is like looking for the white unicorn. Do unicorns exist? How frustrating to seek something we are told that makes us happy, yet is near impossible to attain. Enjoy life.

    • Interesting metaphor with the unicorn! Thanks so much.

  • It’s hard to try for the balanced life because everywhere you look, it is brought up. Everyone says you can do it. I think you just have to make it work for you and sacrifice like you said. Also be flexible and have a partner that is flexible or things come undone fail to get done. Thanks for telling it like it is.

  • Nancy

    Amen Dan. I couldn’t agree with you more. Some of the most successful writers and speakers I have met have quipped that their success is an overnight success that took a decade or more to build. And it happened step by step, one purpose-driven move at a time. They have been on missions bigger than food, clothing and shelter. They have been creating movements for good. And that takes passion, tenacity, patience, and commitment to their dreams, even when it is hard or inconvenient.

    • Nancy: thank you! Love this: “They have been on missions bigger than food, clothing and shelter.”
      Have a great day!

  • Hi Dan,

    I feel like you wrote this post just for me! I love the idea of not having to figure out that elusive balance “thing.” It seems to me the idea is either you want something or you don’t and you just have to figure out how to rearrange your priorities to get it,as you have done with trading your long commute for time with your wife and son. One of those “AHA” moments again 🙂 Thank you for presenting an old topic in a fresh,new light.


  • Beth

    What a refreshing perspective! Thanks for this, Dan.

  • I’m not even sure I know what balance means in this context, if it’s good or bad, or should even be a concern as you point out. Seems so many are worried about it though, time does fly by like wild horses running over the hills, so making what one considers the best use of it, for themselves, and those they care about, is perhaps what’s really important in being happy. I couldn’t agree with you more about the long journey and diving in, for me it’s always been about the process more than the end result, which often is anti-climatic, and look forward to the next endeavor.

    • Jeffrey, Excellent points, thanks! It’s definitely about making choices.

  • Great message, Dan, and one I totally agree with! There is something about diving into life (and writing) that is quite refreshing.

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  • KJ

    Hi Dan — Thanks for this article.  I found myself nodding my head as I read down the page, but by the end, I also realized something.  When I read about how you prioritized your career, and cut out your commute and other things that weren’t serving your purpose, and then how you also made it a priority to spend time with your family whenever you wanted… well, to me, *that* is balance.  I think what’s outmoded is the notion that balance must be a perfect split of time, or always giving everything equal attention (which, for most people, includes a lot of meaningless tasks and activities — “noise”).  Instead, I’d say it’s about giving the things you value most *intentional* attention, and that by making room for all of the things you value, you create a balanced life.

    • KJ – That is an EXCELLENT POINT! You really hit the nail on the head there – thanks!