Freelancers often talk about their business being “feast or famine.” Feast means that there are lots of articles due, lots of markets, lots of books or stories to be finished, usually all under similar deadlines. Famine means, of course, that the markets have dried up or cut back, that the editors are changing and you don’t know who to submit to, that there is just, for the moment, very little work.
I often use the ForF phrase as well. I’ve been in serious feast lately — half a dozen articles, a novel, three publications to edit, two classes to teach, a bunch of readings and events — and it’s been overwhelming, to say the least. Recently, I caught myself saying to someone, “It’s feast or famine, and right now it’s feast, so I just have to duck my head down and power through it. When I hit the famine again, I can hang out with friends and relax.”
And then I realized (after two months of “feast” — yes I’m slow) that it isn’t really feast OR famine. It’s feast and famine. With every busy work period (feast), there is an equally slow friend/life/pleasure period (famine). And with every delightfully full play period (also feast), there comes along with it a much more empty work life (famine).
Balance is a word that’s thrown around a lot today. We’re all trying to achieve a sense of balance, a feeling of equilibrium, that middle-of-the-road place where we know what to expect and we never feel stretched beyond our limits.
But perhaps balance for me is knowing that for every feast there is also a famine, that the two are not exclusive, but exist hand-in-hand. Perhaps balance is knowing that the pendulum will eventually swing the other way, and I should always be prepared for that. I find that I’m very happy to bust my butt for as long as it takes if I know there’s a respite coming soon, and there’s even a chance that I work better that way (and, in some senses, isn’t this what the proverbial writers’ retreat is all about? Leaving the ‘world’ behind so that you can sink fully into your writing?). A circular rhythm is a balancing rhythm, the world turns, things leave spring and summer for fall and winter. There’s a balance in that continuum, in that scheduled change, and in that understanding that there is always a little bit of one in the other. There are flowers in the winter, and snowstorms in the summer. In the midst of this work feast, I discovered (is that the right word? Maybe it is at that) a writer-friend who inspires me and brings me great amounts of joy for her honesty and realness, her sense of self, and her beautiful voice (in person and on page). A bloom in the snow.
Of course, it’s more complicated than that — isn’t everything? I find that it’s much more difficult to explain this process to friends and family. They either urge me toward a more traditional version of balance or they feel slighted for the months when I’m “gone” because they’d gotten used to me being more accessible when work was slow. I’ve gotten better about explaining this process over the years (or, at least, I think I have), but those who work better under a different system sometimes find this a confusing process on my end. I’ve learned to say, “I love you, I adore you, I enjoy spending time with you, but now’s just a bad time because I’m busy and stressed and I won’t be fully present; I’ll be thinking about writing.”
I’m coming out of work feast and moving (for the next two weeks) into a different kind of feast, a kind of feast that I don’t have a name for yet. Life feast? No, that implies that writing is not living, and it is, for me at least. Perhaps it’s just a communal feast, a kind of writers’ break-fast where we leave the land of page-living and rejoin the land of the world-living. I plan to eat at this table for a while, to laugh and whisper and love and fill myself with worldly pleasures and joys, and then starting November 1st, I shall retreat back into the writing world for National Novel Writing Month. Goodbye friends, walks in the park, dinner dates and lazy afternoons. Hello fantasy world all wrapped up in 50,000 words!
Feast and famine. Writing and life. Words and worlds. May you find your rhythm, whatever it looks like.
Kiss kiss bang bang, s.
PS — Image by this artist