Sunday, November 18, 2007

The Balancing Act: Juggling Writing, Day Jobs and Kids

Making time to write isn't easy for most people, but when you're juggling a full-time day job, tending to your family's needs, doing chores and running errands while trying to meet writing deadlines, making time becomes tougher. I've worked in retail for five years and, needless to say, I'm entering the busy season. It's always stressful because my hours increase while I'm trying to prepare for Christmas and still write. I've thought about not writing altogether the last few days before Christmas, but this would only add to the stress. I'm one of those who has to write, even for just a half hour, every day to keep me grounded and reasonably happy. Over time, I've developed a few strategies that work for me. Most of them simply involve using common sense, but knowing what's sensible and applying it to one's life can be two different things. Still, I constantly try. Here's what works.

First, adequate rest really is important. Staying up past your usual bed time to do more chores, TV-watching, or writing catches up with you over time. The studies are out there proving so, but nothing hits home more than trying to live with sleep deprivation.

Eat healthy. Have you ever tried eating a few raw veggies versus a bag of chips in the afternoon? What a difference. The energy boost from veggies was a surprise to me, and it works well. Though, I still grab those chips far too often.

Stay fit. This was a big problem for me. Once I started working full time, I had little energy left for writing. I was napping 3 to 4 times a week, which isn't necessarily a bad thing, but I wanted fewer naps and more writing time. So, I joined Curves because their thirty-minute workouts three times a week are fast and efficient. Best of all, I saw my energy return within a month. Pick your favourite form of exercise and go for it. Increased energy helps improve concentration and the amount of time you can spend at your keyboard.

Use a day planner. I write down what I need to accomplish each day, not just for writing, but for errands, chores, and appointments. Just don't create an impossibly long list, or you'll feel frustrated and disappointed if you don't get to cross everything off.

Adopt a set writing time if possible. Because my day job schedule changes from week to week, nothing is set in stone, however, on days when I work the afternoon shift, I write and do my heavy editing in the mornings. When I work the day shift, I type up changes, research markets, and do lighter editing in the evening. The point is to make the most of whatever time I do have. I also have my own space to write and while I like to use different rooms for writing, having one spot helps me get into a creative frame of mind quickly.

Break the big writing projects down into small portions. I've been writing long enough to know what's ahead when I start to write a book. The outline, research, writing, rewriting and editing, and ultimately more rewriting is so daunting I can feel worn out and intimidated before I start. But if I just one aspect at a time, it's not so bad. Sooner or later, I know I'll get there.

Learn to multi-task. Most moms and dads already do this out of necessity. So do professional writers. I find that working on more than one writing project makes my writing life more challenging and interesting. I'll choose one or two projects to work on any given day, taking breaks for chores, errands, exercise, or other tasks. These days I'm typesetting one book, editing a second, writing reviews, and working on a couple of stories. And of course there's this blog business. But I'm healthy and willing, so why not go for it while the going's good?

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