A Juggling Act
Updated: 2 days ago
Can you balance between work, family and writing?
It’s tough trying to balance between work (hey, full-time moms/dads work too) and writing at the same time. It’s particularly tough if you have young children or other dependents who need your attention as well.
If you’re anything like me then you know that it takes a lot of effort, willpower and patience to write consistently, let alone complete an ENTIRE novel! You’re exhausted at the end of the day (whether from working at an office or looking after your dependents) and you still have a house that needs keeping - meals to be cooked, laundry to be done, carpets to be vacuumed, four-legged pets to be petted. On top of that you have your two-legged family that needs loving - husbands and wives and significant others need attention and cuddles. Sometimes, it feels as though everything and everybody is fighting for your time.
So how do you find the space and time to write when you’re exhausted from all the demands on you - both physical and emotional? Does it sometimes get so bad you want to clone yourself or maybe join the circus? (Even traipsing through the air fifty feet about the ground without a safety net can feel a whole lot less demanding!)
When I started writing my last WIP, I had just given birth to my fourth child. It was a particularly tough pregnancy as I was in my forties. Recovering from a caesarean section made it even harder. Between breastfeeding, changing stinky nappies and monitoring 3 other kids (luckily two were already teens by that time) I had to squeeze in writing. I would write while the baby napped or when my husband (or the other kids) watched the little one.
When I returned to work at the office, it was just as tough as I would have to wake up at the crack of dawn to hammer out a few hundred words. Lunch times included finding a quiet corner to scribble away. Commutes meant writing on the fly. Nights were no better and I had to stay up to write while everyone was already in bed. It was exhausting but I persevered. Why? It would have been so easy to just throw in the towel (or even shave my head and join a monastery). I guess the answer is writing is my passion, and I have ONE life goal - to become a published author.
So, if that’s true for you as well, how do you manage?
Well, I've jotted a few things down below that may be useful. The list is endless but here are a few things I’ve learned over the last twenty odd years of writing:
Be kind to yourself
Sometimes it’s easy to beat ourselves up for not being on top of things. But we’re all human after all. We can’t walk on water and we don’t wear a cape. On days when you just can’t manage - when everything gets too much, when the dogs are howling and the children have turned into savages and you just can’t get a word down - just tell yourself that it’s fine. You’ll get to it tomorrow. Or the day after. Or next week. You’re allowed to have off days, off weeks, off months and sometimes even off years. Don't let it get you down. As my fellow writer @AlaineGreyson tweeted, 'When you feel depression and anxiety kick in, please practice self care first. The writing will still be there. Take time for yourself, get more sleep if you need it, find out what helps to centre yourself and allow time to recover. You are not alone!'
As a certified coach and psychotherapist, I cannot emphasise this enough. You need to take time to look after yourself whether it's giving yourself some positive reinforcement; taking time to pamper yourself; or just binge watching Netflix. If you're still feeling guilty then journal - list down all the things you love about writing and remember why you started it in the first place (it wasn't to torture yourself). It was meant to be about expressing yourself, meant to be fun, so don't let the negative thoughts paralyse you.
As Ann Roberts, another fellow Faber Academy alumni says, sometimes balance and coping isn't possible so please don't beat yourself up because other people can write in circumstances that you can't. Your life is as individual as your fingerprint.
And it's true. We all have our very own journeys, our very own circumstance that is particular to us. So you really don't have to compare yourself to anyone else. We're usually our own worse critique.
Seven years ago, I almost worked myself up into a nervous breakdown because I wanted to be perfect. The perfect wife, mother, daughter, employee, friend, writer. I wanted to write but I also felt guilty when I didn't spend what I thought of as sufficient enough time with my children after work. When I failed to do everything on my list, I thought I was a failure. I couldn't differentiate between who I was and what I did. It took a couple of months of therapy and self-acceptance to dig myself out of that hole. What I learned in the process is that we are not just a sum of what we do. We are what we choose to become. We're all imperfect, flawed. We make mistakes. The important thing is to pick yourself up and keep going even on the darkest of days. And to accept that we are unique and that our scars make us stronger.
Remember, the only journey that matters is your own.
If you start feeling anxious, then walk away from writing for awhile so you can refocus. Find other things that interest you and then come back. You'll find that you write better when you're fresh. There's also less chance of hitting writer's block early on. I find I hit a brick wall faster when I'm exhausted.
Love the process
Enjoy the journey. Even when you’re struggling, even when you think you're not getting any where. Remember you’ve committed to doing something you love - writing - so enjoy it. Even when you feel as though you're crap (you're probably not), just remember that every writer has their own inner demons. We all suffer from imposter syndrome. The most important thing is to not let it paralyse you and to use that inner voice constructively to help you improve.
Have a plan.
The easiest way to get side tracked is to not prepare for the commitment required to become a writer. It can get very demotivating when you find yourself derailed by the demands of everyday life. Adulting can be hard. So have a schedule set up - what is your daily writing goal, weekly, monthly? Have back-up plans for when you don’t achieve it. Maybe write while you’re on holiday? Make up for it some other time? But remember, don't beat yourself up if you don't achieve it.
Setting priorities help as well. If you want to prioritise your kids over writing then so be it. Maybe that's what best for now. Rashmi Menon, a fellow writer and blogger says that her son comes first and she will spend her evenings with him and writes after he goes to bed.
Even if you can’t write everyday, it’s all right. Remember that every little bit counts. If you write 500 words a day and write three times a week, you’ll have 84,000 words in a year (which is the length of a full novel). And always to remember to Celebrate small wins even if it's just finishing a chapter, a paragraph, solving a difficult section of your work.
Find a Writing Partner
Try and find an accountability partner or a writing partner that you can share the journey with. Maybe your significant other, a good friend, someone from the local writing groups in your area, a book club member. Maybe join an online course where you can learn your craft and mingle with other like-minded people going though the same challenges. If you need a community of writers, check out #WritingCommunity on Twitter. The writers there are warm and supportive and are always keen to have a chat.
Ask for help
If you're really serious about becoming a writer, talk to your partner, family, friends. If they know how important writing is to you, they will usually rally behind you (whether it's by providing help around the house, emotional support, reading your drafts). If they don't support you then maybe talking about your goals and priorities as a couple/family makes sense.
You can include your family in the whole process. Read your book to your children (if it's age appropriate of course). @faithallaire includes her kids in the process by getting them to provide feedback on her children's books.
Don't be afraid or ashamed to ask for assistance. We all need as much help as we can get. If you look at the dedications page of most books, you'll find that every writer has had someone at their back, supporting them in some way - whether as cheerleader or in more practical terms. If you can't seem to find any help, then reach out to your community. Whatever the case, keep on believing and keep on going! You can't fail if you don't give up. Just make sure to love yourself along the way.
Please drop me a message or a comment if you'd like to chat. I'm happy to connect.
Twitter handle: @michele_sagan
PS I am also a writing coach if you'd like some professional help on your writing life.