Warning: This is a no-edit zone…
NOTE: Typically I’d post this to my Aids4Writers@yahoogroups.com group and not post it in the blog, but I’ve received so many positive comments on it and so many requests to reprint in other forums, I figured I’d save us all time and post it publicly.
I appreciate the feedback, and I’m very glad that this post has been of use and interest to you.
Q. I am a new author, under contract for my first novel to be published early in 2006. My publisher is interested in my second novel as well. I am a wife and mother, homeschool teacher, and my husband and I are in full-time ministry. My question is this, how does one find their flow and balance between all of life’s obligations? I have reprioritized my responsibilities over and over to the point that I become frustrated.
You have a full plate, that’s for sure, but take heart because most writers do. It goes with the territory–to have much to say, one must experience much. 🙂
I suggest a list. On it you add everything that must be done and assign it a priority. Start with the most critical, and work your way down the list. This way, even if you only get halfway, the most urgent things get done first.
Secondly, understand that so long as you are a wife and parent you’re going to have interruptions. So long as you home-school, you’re going to have teaching as a high priority that interrupts the writing. So long as you reach out to help others through your ministry, you’re going to have high-priority inserts, dealing with the needs of others. Accept this and don’t become frustrated by it.
Remember that you have higher priorities and you can only see a small segment of your lifetime canvas at one time. So things that might seem important now are tiny droplets of paint on that canvas. Everything goes back to why you’re here–and I’d say by your listing of what you’re doing, your jobs are significant.
So when you sit down to write and you’re hit with a barrage of challenges, read this little list:
1. Not everyone can or will listen to others who are in trouble, having a hard time, hurting, or lost. Not everyone can or will reach out to help them, trying their best to be constructive, realistic, and positive. You can. This is a gift and it bears an obligation. One you can fulfill or you wouldn’t have the gift.
2. Not everyone can or will teach children. The responsibility is great. You’re shaping minds AND hearts, teaching them to think with both and you’re preparing them to take their place in the world. This is an awesome gift and an amazing opportunity reserved to those among us who can be trusted to understand that the principles they teach and the teachings they share can shape the lives of these children, their friends and families and their children. The ripple of lives touched grows forever. You have been trusted to do this. That’s an amazing amount of faith entrusted in your abilities and quite a statement about your capabilities. Remember that when you feel taxed. Few can shape the future and minds as you are doing. Remember the ripple.
3. Your obligations in the ministry are self-evident and you well know their worth. You also know that there is no convenient time for the writing interruptions that come as part and parcel of it. Offering aid or comfort to someone grieving, someone who is without hope, someone who is struggling under a burden they’re convinced they cannot bear–well, you know the value of what you do here and certainly don’t need for me to tell you how much more important those things are than is writing an extra page or two today. In this, in your writing, it’s all about touching people. When you’re weary, remember your special place in these persons’ lives. You might be the only person on the planet that they feel safe or able to talk to about their trials. That
My point is that these other things you’re doing are all significant and all of them carry time requirements–scheduled and unscheduled–but all of them do help you in your writing, too. The experiences are fodder. The events are fodder. The unexpected twists and turns that come up–all fodder.
You can’t turn your back on these others things in your life that you’ve built. They’re all important. What you can do is change your mindset, accepting that some days you just won’t get as much done on your writing as you’d like. But that doesn’t mean that you can’t get anything done.
Now, I’ve mentioned the priority list. Let’s look at a couple other tips that could help:
1. You didn’t mention the ages of the children, but they’re home-schooled and that says they’re old enough to help you with chores. Put a chore list on the fridge. Everyone works from the list. (If they’re small and what’s done isn’t perfect, so what? Neither are we. Imperfect works just fine.)
2. Establish a quiet time at home every day. It can be 30 minutes, an hour, two hours. Whatever best works for you and the kids. I used to set the timer on the stove. Until it went off, no one talked, no TV, no noise whatsoever. The kids didn’t have to nap, but they had to read. This was “alone” time, and they could think or do anything approved, but it had to be without sound. This was my writing time, and I’ll tell you, it’s amazing how much you can get done in a short amount of time when you know it’s coming and you’ve got to produce. (No phone calls during quiet time, either. And if an emergency one comes in, then quiet time starts after the crisis is settled.)
3. Buy a little handheld recorder. You’ll be free to multi-task. As you’re driving, doing household chores, record your next scene or chapter. It’s easier to transcribe in a busy environment than it is to create in one. I have a friend who writes three books a year on the drive to and from work. (It’s 20-25 minutes.) So don’t underestimate what can be done in short spurts.
4. Schedule your deadlines allowing for your life. Some writers will cram deadlines so close together that they have no time away from their desks and no lives and that leaves them out of balance (it’s all about harmony within and balance) and frustrated. So simply schedule added time. If you have no idea how long it takes you to write a book (in normal living), then start a time sheet.
I use a time sheet on every book I write because things change around here, and what I need to write a book changes with things. Anyway, on this sheet track:
Date (seasons, holidays–all can impact and you need to know this when gauging)
Time (time of day impacts. Some are more productive at specific times.)
Focus (jot a note of what you worked on–chapter/scene)
Pages (note your progress. Ex. “112-117”)
+ or – (+6 = net gain of 6 pages. You could go back and edit previous work. This lets you know what you did and so you again can gauge your time accurately.)
Okay. This will give you a clue how long it’s taken you to write this book and how much time you spent editing what you’d written. That will NOT be the same for every book. Some novels come to us full-blown, some come as we write them. The point is, regardless of how they’ve come, the majority of the books I’ve written have been written within 20 hours of each other. I’ve had the exceptions, where I’ve written an entire novel in 2 weeks, and where I’ve worked on one for 5 years (and still am not satisfied with it).
But having an idea of about what it takes, you know how to set your deadlines and about what you need to produce to make this work for you. That’s the key. Knowing what you need.
Now your life is pretty full, and this next recommendation might seem a little silly, but I’m telling you, I’ve been where you are (sans the home-schooling and plus the taking care of a diabetic mother) it is not silly, it is critically important. Take 30 minutes each day for yourself. Meditate, exercise, take a bubble bath. Do whatever it is that centers you and makes you feel serene and calm and at peace. Treat this time as if it is sacred–it is–because it nourishes you so that you can then meet the needs of others without being depleted. And know that if you do not do this you will deplete. Expect frustration to grow and taint all you touch. Expect dissatisfaction, disharmony and even depression. The hungry have to eat, and nurturers have to be nourished to nourish. It’s that simple.
Q. How did you do it when you were just beginning? Was it a challenge for you as well?
I’ve shared with you the things that were most critical to me. The biggest asset is the attitude and that daily dose of self-time. Sometimes it’s hard, but you’ve got to make time for it. Remember, your needs matter, too.
This is a challenge for all writers I know–women and men. We all wear so many hats. The very thing that gives us a wealth of experience to be good writers also taxes our strength because we’ve so much to do to gain that experience. Attitude. I can’t stress it enough. It’s the saving grace.
Q. I am passionate about my writing, yet I find that I feel guilty at times when I sit down to create and look around and see things that have not been taken care of, or feel like I’m shutting myself away. I can’t seem to let things go in order to write like I should. Is this normal?
Absolutely, yes, it is normal. Totally and completely. Working past it requires a revision in perspective.
What are the consequences of…
The beds not being made up? The dishes not being done?
The car not being washed? The lawn being mowed tomorrow rather than today?
Running a bunch of errands at once rather than making two or three trips?
There are always things to be done. No one ever finishes, and I’ll bet if you took a survey at any cemetery in the country from those who’ve passed on, you’d find they all left unfinished work. It’s the nature of life. If we completed everything today, what would get us out of bed tomorrow?
So we have to think about importance. Yes, clean sheets are important. But an unmade bed isn’t, and if you’re bothered by it, close the door.
Look at those things making you feel guilty. Odds are high 9/10ths of them haven’t earned the privilege but are tied up in your perspective of what a good wife, mother, woman does or doesn’t do. I can tell you that before I started writing, my house was in perfect order. Everything had its place, and it was in it. Not even the kids left water spots on the bathroom faucets.
After I started writing, I got to looking at that, and wondered what the heck I’d been doing. People LIVE here. It’s a home, not a hotel. And then things like comfort and happy atmosphere became far more important to me. The bath faucets are cleaned, but who gives a spit if they’ve got water spots on them? Life in the house is more important than this kind of thing.
So get comfortably messy and ditch the guilt. It doesn’t serve a constructive purpose. You’ll be happier, and I can tell you from experience, your family will be much, much happier. 🙂
I hope that this helps–and as always if you’ve questions or want to discuss
something further, just yell.
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