Finding a Balance

For most of us, writing is not our primary job. It is something we love and work hard for, but it isn’t what pays our bills. Or cleans the house. Or the other million and one things that make up daily life. For the majority of writers, writing is something we have to make time for before, after, and/or in between the other necessities of life. It can be difficult and daunting.

We give up our nights, weekends, lunch breaks, our children’s naps, anything that will give us a little more time at the keyboard. That doesn’t mean we don’t have families, friends, jobs, hobbies, chores, or special events that we can’t and won’t neglect.

And it doesn’t mean we should neglect ourselves either.

My writing is important to me. It’s a part of who I am. But it is only one part. I’m also a wife, a mother, a sister, a daughter, a friend, etc. Beyond that, I am also someone who loves sports, board games, learning–and teaching–self-defense through mixed martial arts, and volunteering with local groups/organizations of my choice.

If I abandon the other things in life I enjoy, or my other responsibilities, I feel guilty and my writing suffers. If I neglect my writing, I feel guilty and my sense of self-worth suffers. I have to find a balance. It’s not easy. If ever I perfect it, I’ll let you know.

In the meantime, I have to be intent on carving out time for writing and for the other parts of me. Because my experiences fuel my writing. And, frankly, sleep is non-negotiable. I’ve tried.

A lot of writing blogs I’ve read in the last few months have stressed the importance of taking a step back from your work during editing. Walk away from the project for a short while so your eyes are fresh when you come back and you’re more likely to notice things that escaped you before. Use that time in between to do something for yourself. Rent a movie. Run a race. Play a game. Take a long bath. Read something with no intent to critique or edit. Go to the gym. Do whatever it is that helps you feel human again.

You write, so you’re a writer. But it will never be the only thing you are. I’m sure even the overwhelmingly successful authors would say that they are more than their job. Don’t forget to let yourself be more. It’s okay to give yourself a night off once in a while. Your writing will probably be better for it and so will you.

It doesn’t mean you aren’t dedicated. You don’t have to be superhuman to be a successful writer. Nobody will doubt your dedication if you go on a date with your significant other, go see a sporting event with your kids, or go to bed early. You’re allowed to be human. You’re allowed to be you.

Your writing will still be here when you get back.

 

Keeping Motivated

I’m a list maker. When I sit down to get things done, I prioritize by making a list of everything I need to do, most important goes first.

Spoiler Alert: I’m a mom, so sometimes the list doesn’t get finished. Kids need naps, snuggles, lunch, kisses for boo-boos, trips to the doctor’s office, outside play time, emergency toy surgery, etc. So the most important tasks get listed first because otherwise, I might not get to them.

I’m a writer. Being a writer means more than sitting at my keyboard hacking away. It also means I’m a reader. I have to read in my genre in the industry to keep up with the trends and find good comparative titles. I also read for my critique partners, because, well, it’s a partnership. If I want them to slog through my hot mess drafts until I can beat the prose into something palatable, it’s only fair that I read their wonderful works of art in return. I do book reviews, usually posted here on Thursdays. Thanks to NetGalley, I also do some ARC reviews so I can get a sneak peek at what’s debuting this year. And last, but not least, I do some beta reading too.

It may not sound like a lot, especially since I love to read, but the time adds up. And I still have to find time to get my own writing and revising done–not to mention all of the pesky things my non-writing life entails, like being a mom and paying bills.

It can get a little overwhelming sometimes. Perhaps I’m the only one who has ever felt it, though I doubt it, the feeling of having so much to do that I don’t want to do anything. When my to-do list is so long that my brain refuses to function and I end up stuffing my face with bad snack food and watching Netflix. Or falling asleep sitting up. Maybe both.

Eventually, though, I have to crawl out of my haze and get my rear in gear because that list isn’t going to finish itself.

In the last few weeks both my kids got the flu, so naturally, I got it too. My husband had to travel for work, so it was just the three of us in the house, sneezing, coughing, and fever dreaming up a storm. After we got better, the kids were on Spring Break–which isn’t saying much when they’re in preschool, but it still meant that I didn’t have my usual quiet work time during the two days a week that I usually do. Then my parents came for a surprise visit. And then my youngest had his first birthday so everyone came to visit. It’s been a whirlwind.

Now, we are all well, sanitized, and living on the leftover cake, so it’s time to get back to business. But the problem is that while all that was going on, my to-do list in the writing world didn’t get any shorter. It got longer. Things piled up. A lot.

But it’s time to crawl out of the haze. So what do I do?

I have to find the right motivation. I can’t get on my daily chat with my writer friends until after I finish [insert acceptable number here] pages of the reading I need to do today.

I finished that critique? How about a bite of cake!

Wrote the blog post that was due three hours ago? That deserves a cup of coffee at least. Even if it’s just Folgers.

I reworked the outline of my manuscript and found a way to up the stakes while fixing that character who wasn’t quite working anymore? I’ll take a fifteen-minute break and do something mindless so my brain can rest before it shuts down and resets to factory default settings.

You have to find whatever it is that works for you.

Also, remember to forgive yourself when life interrupts and you don’t finish what it is you were in the middle of doing. Writing is work. It’s work we love, but it’s work. You have to find a good work/life balance. Don’t let your guilt over not finishing that chapter rewrite by today suck all the joy out of the new character arc you just came up with.

If you succeed at keeping the guilt at bay, write a blog post that gives me your secret. Maybe it’ll work for me, too.

The Chore I Hate the Most

baby shoes

I hate to do chores. Well, that’s not really true. I hate the need to do chores. I procrastinate with all the other things that I need to do before I will resort to chores. Call it being messy, a slob, whatever. My step-mom even calls it “But First! Syndrome”. As in, I need to do the dishes, but first I need to answer emails. And then, I need to answer emails, but first I should really make that vet appointment the dog needs and check in on Suzy Q from church who just had her baby to see if she needs me to bring her dinner tonight. It usually ends up meaning I have a whole lot of half done chores and nothing to show for it.

However, once I really get into a chore, I love the productive feeling I get. That sense of pride that something is getting done. That’s what really drives me. Because when I’m done, I take a deep breath and feel better. And I don’t just feel better about my to-do list. I feel better in general. I accomplished something. It feels good.

So while I really dislike scrubbing the pots and pans, I feel good about it being done. I really don’t like to do dishes. Especially since it’s a never-ending cycle of scrub, dry, put away and then a few hours later, get back out, used to cook, and then have to scrub, dry, et cetera all over again. But I do it because, in those few hours between the new cleanliness and the start of the new mess, it feels good. Although, I might have, on occasion, gone out for dinner just to preserve the clean state of the kitchen for a few extra hours. Don’t even pretend you can’t relate.

I dislike doing the dishes, I dislike this particular chore on a level above the others. Still, it isn’t the chore I hate the most. The chore I hate the most is one I only have to do every couple of months. It’s one I’ll have to do every few months, sometimes weeks, for the next several years, and then one day, I won’t have to do it anymore.

I hate cleaning out my sons’ closets. Like all other chores, I love the feeling I get when I know I’m being productive. Unlike the other chores, I don’t procrastinate on this one. As soon as it’s time for one of them to move up to the next size because he has several other things that don’t fit, it’s time for the small stuff to make room for the bigger stuff. However, the feeling of pride over my productivity is often overshadowed by another feeling altogether.

With every piece of clothing I pull out of the drawer, or off the hangers, I realize just how quickly my children are growing up. I realize that those days that seemed long, were shorter than I thought. Those moments that seemed like they would never end, when one of them would cry and reach for me because he needed me to do every little thing for him, are getting fewer and fewer every day.

I get more chores done around the house now. I can scrub pots and pans, do laundry, and even cook simple meals without either of them having a conniption that I’m not standing or sitting right next to him every second. My house is cleaner. My to-do list reaches completion more often. They don’t need me to entertain them at all times because they have learned to entertain themselves and each other.

We still have play time together. We still have reading time together. They still need me to make meals, give baths, kiss boo-boos, and do all the other things that a small child needs a mom to do. But they already don’t need me all the time anymore.

With every pair of pants that is now too short or too snug, with every shirt that isn’t long enough, with every pair of socks that no longer completely covers little feet, one of my children has hit milestones that mean he is becoming more independent. He needs me less.

They are my sons. To some degree, they will always need me. Even if it is just to love them. But one day, that’s all they’ll need from me. And that is so very bittersweet. One day they will be grown. They will have jobs, homes we don’t share, possibly families of their own. They will have these things because each day we (I’m not in this alone, after all) teach them new skills. We teach them right from wrong. We are slowly, each day, teaching them not to need us. Not to need me.

There are still days, usually when I am carrying the youngest into church or the store, when I think, “Little man, you need to learn how to walk because you are getting heavy.” And then I know that one day he will be able to walk, run even, and I will chase after him and wish he was still small enough to carry. It’s already happened with his brother.

I open the box the old clothes go into and look at all the other outfits in it. He was so small once! I remember when he wore this. He woke up every three hours to eat and I felt like a zombie. I prayed he would sleep through the night so that I could, too. I remember when he wore that, he couldn’t crawl yet and would just roll across the floor to get to his destination, which was, more often than not, me. Now I put a new batch of clothes in the box. Ones that I will long for a few months from now. Ones that I’m sure I will weep over someday when I clean out the attic and this is not the only box of things they have both long since outgrown.

As a mother, the days can seem very long. You have laundry to wash. You have dishes to clean. You have floors to sweep or vacuum. You have shelves to dust, towels to fold, toys to pick up, and bills to pay. You have food to cook. You have emails and phone calls to answer. You have a million little things that you need to be doing and you have this little person, this beautiful, wonderful, adorable, hugely needy little person pulling at your pant leg. You wonder, will this phase ever end? And then? It does. It’s over. You still have a million things to do, but that little person isn’t as little anymore and is off doing something without you. It makes your to-do list easier, but your days are shorter. The years are shorter. And that breaks your heart.

I’m proud of every milestone my sons hit. I’m proud of every new thing they learn how to do. But I know just how fast time is going by. I know because those deep, wide boxes of clothes I have for each of them are almost full. I’ll have to start new boxes now. Another box to pack memories into and close the lid on.

Now, if you’ll excuse me I have chores to finish. I need to do the dishes, but first I think I’ll play with my sons a little longer.