River of Thoughts

Christine Royse Niles — Changing the world one word at a time

The Shifty Balance of Paid Work and Creative Work

Today, I’m excited to share the words of my friend and writing mentor, Andi Cumbo-Floyd.

I am a writer.  I make sense of the world through words.  That’s my most fundamental way of being in the world.

Photo: will write for food

Photo Credit: Ritesh Nayak via cc

I am also an author, and I write books and try to sell them.

Additionally, I am an editor, writer-for-hire, and writing coach.  I take great joy in this work.

These things matter to me in the order above, but without question, I give more time to the third than I do to the first two combined. . . that’s because editing, writing-for-hire, and coaching buy my groceries . . . . and I deeply appreciate cheese.

I would love to tell you that I have found the perfect way to balance these three aspects of my life.  I’d love to have a formula that works GUARANTEED for everyone in every circumstance at every point in a writer’s career.

But if I did that, I would be lying.

The truth is that I don’t balance these things well at all most of the time.  I fail at what I know is best in a couple of major ways:

  • Because my paid work is just that, I often give it not only most of my time but also my best time.
  • Because book marketing is often quantifiable, I often give inordinate amounts of time and energy there rather than actually writing things to market.

But I am learning. Lately, I’ve found a few things that have really helped me strike the balance between paid creative work (because all writing/editing/coaching is really creative) and the pure creative work that feeds my soul.

I make a spreadsheet of my paid projects.

Shawn Smucker shared his spreadsheet with me, and it’s immensely helpful. I just simply block off the time I’m going to be committed to a project on that spreadsheet, and then I book out projects on a more reasonable time frame instead of what I used to do, i.e. TAKE ALL COMERS AT THE TIME THEY CAME.  That didn’t work at all.

I make an hour-by-hour calendar for my working time.

On Sunday, I look at my spreadsheet, see what is due that week – big projects and little ones – and then I schedule time for all of them that week AND schedule time for creative work.  I do this in Google Calendar; thus, ten minutes before my next block of work is coming up, I get a notification of the next thing. That notification lets me shift my mindset and also reminds me to stand up and stretch.

I give myself long leads for paid projects.

Rather than succumbing to the pressure that clients often apply about “getting it done sooner” or “starting now,” I evaluate the timeline for a project honestly and then I add a week or two to that expected completion date.  That way, I’m not tempted to cut my creative time out because I KNOW I have plenty of time to finish the paid project.

I schedule in maintenance time.

Ed Cyzewski makes this suggestion in his book Write Without Crushing Your Soul. I schedule actual time to send invoices, answer emails, do social media, etc.  An hour on my schedule for these things means I don’t lose valuable time elsewhere fretting about when I’ll get those things done.

I take a lunch break.

I give myself a full hour to sew, watch an episode of Supernatural (only 40 episodes on the DVR at the moment), or take a walk.  Then, I can go back to work with the knot of stress untwisted in my chest.  Best thing I’ve done for myself in a long time.

My balance is FAR from perfect. . . and at times, like this month when I’m launching a book, I give myself some grace and let the creative work go.

And really, that’s my best advice that really does apply to everyone in every situation at every point in their writing career – Show Yourself Grace.

Shame, guilt, overwork – they never helped a creative soul.  So be kind to yourself. Let yourself off the hook when there’s a sudden interruption.  You’ll be much more likely to go back to the page tomorrow if you don’t beat yourself bloody about missing out on it today.

What’s getting in the way of your creative work? Leave a comment…


The first month of my career as a full-time writer, Andi graciously allowed me to join her online short story class. I’m grateful for the love she pours into her students and their words, and I’m honored to share her words with you today.

Andi’s new novel, Steele Secrets, is available at all major online retailers. It’s a gripping story of a teenage girl, a ghost, an abandoned cemetery, and their small town’s secrets. Click here for details.



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About Andi Cumbo-Floyd

Andi Cumbo-Floyd is a writer, editor, and farmer, who lives at the edge of the Blue Ridge Mountains with her husband, 4 dogs, 4 cats, 6 goats, and 23 chickens.  Her books include The Slaves Have Names and Writing Day In and Day Out, and her new YA novel, Steele Secrets comes out on February 9th.  You can connect with Andi at her website andilit.com.

12 Replies

  1. Thanks for sharing your tips, Andi! I’ve been pondering a better way to organize my writing time. I created a Google calendar to block off writing time but did not get as specific as you suggest. I appreciate your idea! Hopefully, it can help me be more disciplined with my time. :-)

    1. Oh, thanks, Sharon. Yeah, I find the specifics are really important in that calendar. In fact, I didn’t get mine done for this week yet, and I already feel the anxiety rising. Time to go do that. :)

  2. Ooooh, the idea of “maintenance time” is so helpful. I find maintenance sucks up much of my most valuable time. Something worth pondering there.

    1. Me, too, Kelly. That’s why I schedule it. . . I’m actually thinking of saying that the last 30 minutes of my working hours will be maintenance – invoices, emails, things I need to do to start tomorrow fresh.

      1. Christine

        I love that idea. I’ve tried a lot of different day structures, but I’ve never mastered ending the day well.

        1. Me neither. . . I always feel uneasy, like things are unfinished. Yesterday, it helped to do this. Get my business straight so it felt managed. :)

  3. Andi, thank you for an honest post while offering the practices that help you do your best to find “balance.” I most certainly need to be more specific when communicating when I may have a project completed for a client. Unless there is a hard and fast deadline, such as for a magazine publication, I’m working on everything as it comes in or juggling projects with shorter anticipated completion times.

    1. Oh, I hear that, and I’ve done exactly what you describe, Amanda. Still do sometimes. But I find that I really have to give myself the space to move things around within long-lead deadlines. . . otherwise, my creative life suffers BUT the work I do for clients also suffers.

  4. I am just starting out on a “full time” journey of writing. A few of your points resonated with me: 1. Giving myself lots of lead time. I actually do this already in other areas of my life. I call it margin. I never assume something will take the allotted time. (& if it does, I feel great) 2. Taking a break: I will no longer feel guilty when I take an hour exercise break. Or that break to put some food in the slow cooker. In fact, my brain is still working and contemplating during these times! 3. I like your spreadsheet idea. I’m going to take a look at that. Thanks for sharing your experiences & wisdom. Very helpful! I am a fan of Ed Cyzewski’s writings. He has many good things to say about work & life balance!

    1. Oh, Heather, I’m so glad some of this resonated with you, and yep, I too find that I’m thinking well – even better sometimes – when I take a break. . . my brain gets less cluttered. Keep me posted on how the spreadsheet goes?

  5. Andi, you have no idea how much I need this right now. I’m in a desperate state in my writing, I have lots of ideas, lots of projects, but have totally lost my desire to write. Which is weird, as I love writing. What’s also weird is that I seem to have no idea why I’ve lost motivation. It’s not burnout, it’s not lack of ideas, and I’ve got plenty of knowledge and expereience of this field to fall back on – but I still can’t figure it out.

    This post has helped me, at least, begin to give myself some grace whilst I work it out. Thanks Andi – appreciate you, and thanks Christine for giving this space over to Andi.

    1. Oh, James, I totally get where you are. Have been, maybe even am there, myself. Grace – space – breath – practice. That’s all I know to do in those times. May the desire return soon, my friend.

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