Finding a Balance in Work and Writing

by Serina Gousby

I can’t tell you how long it took for me to breathe this week, like really…breathe. This week was the first time since last November, that I could focus on skincare, read a book on dating, go to the beach, and write without the weight of what’s happening around me. I’m only on my fourth day, I’m just now beginning to feel the calmness of a vacation. 

Over the past year, I’ve experienced many shifts in my career, particularly when I went from part-time to full-time, and I didn’t realize how much that would impact my daily routine. Ironically, my role is to serve writers in the community, and it’s been a life-altering experience. Two years ago, I didn’t know a writing community existed in Boston, and now I’m meeting more writers than ever, particularly writers of color, who are finding time to write and balance everything else in their lives. With all that to say, I have not been attentive to my own writing goals for a while. Yet, something impactful happened this past Sunday.

I’m the coordinator for the Boston Writers of Color Group, which lives on platforms, such as a newsletter, Facebook, and MeetUp. This past Sunday was our second writing retreat, where members are invited to come to GrubStreet’s headquarters and write for the entire day. I didn’t write much that day, not until one of the members expressed that she read one of my blog posts. The energy and hug she gave me was honestly something I needed because I felt the feeling that I believe I give to these members. I see them, read their work, promote their events, and try to find opportunities that fit their styles. I love this work because no one did this for me, so it’s a blessing that I’m able to be a resource. However, what surprised me was that someone there saw me as a writer and human, nothing else. I didn’t think about how my own writing would empower someone just as much as sharing resources does. 

Knowing that my vacation began that very next day was perfect because I realized that I have a lot of work to do to find a balance. Both my community work and life outside of that are two fulfilling things, but if I do more than the other, it becomes very unhealthy for my mental and physical health. So, I wanted to share a few goals I made, and if you’re also struggling to find a balance, these might help you as well:


1. Use your break time as a refresher

There are moments when my break time consists of staff interactions or just a walk to a nearby lunch spot, but I’d like to spend the majority of this time eating food I brought from home, and either focusing on a writing project or finishing a book. This could also mean bringing in a laptop or writing notebook that takes me away from the computer I use for work. I also want to stop eating at my desk because I don’t allow my brain to rest if I’m eating broccoli while browsing my email.


2. Wake up thinking about your passions

I often wake up trying to plan my workday before I arrive there, and I realized it adds on unnecessary stress to my mornings. I read a tweet the other day on the late and great Toni Morrison, that she woke up at 4 AM to write, and was working in publishing and raising two children on her own. That alone shows how much she made her writing a priority, and although it wasn’t easy to sacrifice that time, she did what she loved. To have writing as my first thought in the morning may set a more peaceful tone to the rest of the day. 


3. Put yourself in the conversation

If you work in an environment that centers around your own goals and passions, like working in the arts, real estate, or business, don’t be afraid to use the tools and resources for yourself. I don’t submit to nearly 90% of the writing opportunities I share, and rarely attend events that would be amazing for me. However, I’m changing that. If I see a writing opportunity that seems to be a great fit for me, I’ll create a separate list and schedule the time to work on it. Although I’m an advocate for writers, that doesn’t mean I need to dim my light.


4. Don’t bring work at home

This particular goal may not work for everyone because some people love working from home. However, after trying that out a few times, I learned that bringing work to a place where I exist the most as a writer and human brought more stress than being in the office. So, I have to change my environment and go to libraries, cafes, and parks, on the days I choose to “work from home.” 

This goal also speaks to not bringing actual work duties at home. This is why I want to stop thinking about work when I wake up because it’s crucial for me to monitor how many hours I’m working, and how many hours I’m using to take care of myself. Some people I know have full-time careers but are frequent travelers who make time throughout the year to see the world. My solo trips like AfroPunk and Spike Lee’s Block Party were moments completely separate from work, and it felt so good to indulge in them. 

I remember working in retail years ago, and there would be days when I took two 5-hour shifts back to back because I needed more income. However, when I made that decision, I didn’t know how emotionally draining retail was until I went through a very embarrassing and public anxiety attack three years ago. Since then, I have always put my health first before I take on various tasks. 


5. Build a sustainable daily to-do list

At my desk, I have a large whiteboard because that is the only way I can organize my thoughts. Spending five minutes writing on it is actually my most calm moment at work. Instead of writing tasks for the week, I write tasks of the day because it allows me to breathe a bit better. Even for my vacation, I have a black and gold notebook, and every day I write a list of tasks before I accomplish them. This blog post was one of those tasks.


Now that I see this list of goals, I’m excited for what’s to come. Writing has been a part of my life for a long time, longer than any career role I’ve ever had, so it’s important for me to prioritize it. If I have to wake up at the crack of dawn sometimes to get it done, I will because I deserve to shine my light while shining others. 

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