You Don’t Want My Advice, but Seek Joy (Mary Strand)

This month at YA Outside the Lines, we’re offering practical advice for your writing/creative/whatever life: routines, rituals, and all that good stuff.

Note: what works for me may not even remotely work for you.

First, I’ll admit that for seven solid months, from last November through May of this year, I spent almost all of my waking moments preparing for publication not one but THREE novels I wrote many years ago. They were published in April, May, and June.


And here they are. So there.
(And here they are. So there.)

I love them, but I ignored at my peril almost ALL of my routines, rituals, and any semblance of balance (for seven MONTHS!) in order to make that happen.

My main piece of advice: Do. Not. Ever. Do. That.

Seriously. I had no balance for over half of a YEAR. It damn near killed me. I was even cranky for a few days at one point, and I’m never cranky, so it damn near killed people around me, too.

The rest of my advice gets murky, because most people truly wouldn’t want to live their lives in the mega-high-octane way I do, but you do you. In fact, two of my writing groups have similar mottos on this subject. In one group, it’s a combination of “your mileage may vary” and “it’s all about you.” In the other, it’s “many roads to Oz.”

Basically, do whatever it takes to make YOUR life work for YOU.

For me, a balanced life means that I’m writing novels, playing music, writing songs, working out (preferably by playing lots of sports), being outside (even in Minnesota in January, although flying somewhere warm then is a happy thought), listening to live music, and finding JOY. I also travel a lot, and I try to maintain my routines when traveling ... but it’s not easy. I admittedly don’t have much down time in my life, but an intense workout is actually relaxing for me.

Yeah. You don’t want to follow my advice.

But. One thing that I think should be universal: actively seeking JOY. I’m not talking about mere contentment. I’m talking JOY: things that truly light me up inside. Even during the seven months I just endured, I made sure I found JOY, even though the rest of my routines were often toast. My weekly to-do list insists: “Do something joyful.” Some of my JOY moments: savoring a fantastic meal, live music, zipping around on my scooter or in my convertible, seeing really good friends, getting a massage or facial, going to a museum or play or movie. Even in my worst weeks, I always do at least one joyful thing, and in a good week it might be five. The WOW of joy fills my soul and helps me make it through the rest of my week.

So, really, ignore the insanity of everything else I do, but seek JOY for yourself.


Sure, your spouse, your kids, your parents, and your friends may not want you to focus on finding JOY or doing things that matter to you and no one else. Yes, we all have commitments. But like they say on airplanes, put on your own oxygen mask before helping others. If you’re not feeling balanced, sane, and some level of happy, you’re not helping anyone. For creative types, if you’re burned out by always catering to others, you also won’t be able to produce novels, music, or art. Personally, if I don’t find true JOY at least once or twice in a week, I slide downhill fast.

Another note to creative types: I also can’t believe how many people tell me how lucky I am that I set my own schedule, because I can do ANYTHING (especially what they want me to do) whenever I want. HA! My schedule for most of the seven months I just endured was often 9am to 9pm, six days a week, I was constantly exhausted, and I worked even harder than I did while practicing law. But muggles simply don’t understand, and you can’t fix that. So just ignore them.

And go do something joyful.

Mary Strand is the author of Pride, Prejudice, and Push-Up Bras and three other novels in the Bennet Sisters YA series. You can find out more about her at


  1. Yes! Seek joy. It's the most important thing.

  2. Joy is such a flexible and renewable entity (process?). It's right up there with gratitude and kindness. Any of them can make a week, day, or moment worth all the peripheral stuff that makes me want to wash with a Brillo pad. Nice post.

    1. Thanks, Berek! And "wash with a Brillo pad": exactly!


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