If you’re like me, there’s something about fall that ignites a rush of energy and new projects. It’s the time of year too, when friends return from summer holidays, organizations restart their meeting schedules and interesting classes are on offer.  Of course, all of these added temptations occur during the months when I’m most likely readying a manuscript for my editor, and I’m left wondering how to balance it all.

I try to corral my work into a reasonable number of hours a day, but that can be difficult when it’s so easy to slip into my home office to write. Add in the unpredictable nature of creativity, and you may easily find me writing late at night, or well before dawn while the rest of the household is asleep! But I remind myself that even though writing is something I enjoy, I have to draw a line somewhere or risk crowding out the rest of my life.  Life-work balance … it’s a struggle that I’m sure many of you share!

But the idea of balance has me thinking about other aspects of writing too. At the heart of my Alex Graham mysteries is real science and politics specific to the location in which the story is set, and that means months of research, and hours of discussions with experts. It’s easy to get caught-up in something intriguing found online or in a newspaper, or devote weeks of effort researching a topic that ultimately doesn’t make it into the book. Balance in research means learning when to say no. At some point I have to step away from the newspapers, internet, libraries and expert resources and just write the story.

So beyond the absolute essentials needed to start a story, I’ve started to research as I write instead of trying to do everything up-front. It’s a more balanced approach that surprisingly suggested a different organization for my research, one that has made a world of difference. Instead of boxes of notes filed by subject, specific research is now linked to a section or chapter of my novel, making it that much easier to incorporate ideas as I write and double-check facts later.

Balance also means knowing when to say yes, and that applies to my characters and plots. I’m more of a pantser than a plotter, but my first draft becomes an outline that serves as the framework for subsequent drafts.  As I’m writing a second or even a third draft, a character or scene that I hadn’t considered might take shape, or a plot twist or subplot might come to mind. It would be easy to reject these additions and keep to the outline, but I’ve learned to say yes to these creative sparks. Although it can take weeks to weave these new ideas into a near-completed draft, it’s always worth it because the end result is a better story.

I’m not sure I’ll ever achieve true balance in life or in my writing, but learning to say no to the time-wasters and yes to valuable ideas, people and experiences is a step in the right direction!

Published: Stacy Alesi’s Book Bitch, October 26, 2016