Welcome back to another episode in the lives of the Amazing Juggling Writers. This week, debut novelist Fran Cannon Slayton, author of When the Whistle Blows (Philomel Books, release date: June 2009) and member of the Class of 2k9, weighs in on how she manages the balancing act of full-time momdom and authordom.
[And remember, if you're interested in sharing your own story about how you juggle writing and other work responsibilities, or would like to discuss how you broke free to write full-time, please contact me at: mpbarker[at]mpbarker.net!]
Q: Hi, Fran! Thanks for joining us, and congratulations on your upcoming novel release. You must be excited! But for now, down to business: Tell us how you manage to squeeze your writing time in between your mom-duties.
Fran: For the past five years I've been a stay at home mom. For the first three years it was a 24/7 kind of job. I wrote during naptime and after bedtime (my daughter's, not mine!). When pre-school kicked in, I had three or four mornings a week where I had three hours to write, which seemed like a luxury. Now that she goes to school full time, I have practically an entire day to work on writing-related things. Frankly, I seemed to get more done when I had less time, but that is probably because I was only writing then. Now that I have more time, my day–at least right now–is primarily consumed with marketing my book. And marketing can suck up every second if you let it!
Q: Oh, yeah, that marketing can be a real time sink! But you have a lot of other activities on your plate, too, besides writing, marketing, and child-care. Can you tell us a little bit about those?
Fran: I volunteer at my daughter's school–reading to her class, helping with computer lab, etc.–an hour or two a week. My husband and I are also the directors of Cursillo in our area, which is a movement in the Catholic church that sponsors retreats and other events to support people in living out their faith in the actions of their everyday lives. The time commitment varies, but I'd say it takes between 2–15 hours per week, depending on the season.
Q: So you're definitely a busy bunny! How much time does all that leave you for writing?
Fran: I CAN spend about five hours a day writing. Maybe seven if I work at night. But I don't. I am learning to find balance right now between writing and marketing, exercising, reading, and spending time with my family. It's not always easy.
Q: No, that balancing thing is always a challenge. About how much time do you spend on book promotion?
Fran: Right now I'd say I spend about five to nine hours per day on book promotion. A good chunk of this includes answering emails so not all of it is super focused, but it has to be done.
Q: How do you organize it all? Can you describe an average day or week? (And don't forget to mention how many hours of sleep you're functioning on!)
Fran: Okay, you're digging into my New Year's Resolution with this question! Right now I don't organize it much all–I just do it. I spend WAY too much time with email, and that has to change.
Q: Oh, yeah, that email is like quicksand!
Fran: Basically, my day has been get up tired at 6:00 or 6:30, get my daughter to school, exercise, take care of emails (including Class of 2k9 things that need to be done), contact various people about book marketing, mail out ARCs, eat, do household errands, return more emails, blog or read kidlit blogs, think about my next novel and modify my outline if it's a good day, return more emails, pick up my daughter from school, read to her and play, fix dinner, have family time, put my daughter to bed, and do more emails until I go to bed, where I read a chapter or two in someone else's novel until around midnight. Or one. But this is going to change in 2009. My plan is to get up and not be tired! Then exercise. Then I will write for two hours. Then eat. Then answer emails and do book promotion. And only spend limited time on the computer with emails in the evening I'll let you know how it goes!
Q: Okay--especially if you can figure out that getting up without being tired part! What are your best places and times for writing?
Fran: I love writing at home in front of the fireplace. Or in my office. Or Starbucks. Or Paneras. Or long car rides (when I'm not driving!)
Q: I get it! Have pen, will travel! Sounds like you probably don't have much trouble with losing your momentum. Or do you?
Fran: When I am really engaged in writing I am so excited about it that I don't want to stop. I think about it all the time. It's hard to go to sleep or think about anything else. But there have been times when I've gotten stuck and then I tend to take a walk. There are times I need to stop the actual writing and just think about things, and walking seems to get the brain juice flowing for me. I'll also talk plot points over with my husband, who is really great to bounce ideas around with.
Q: What do you do when you get blocked? (Or do you get blocked?)
Fran: I can't really say I've gotten blocked yet. I've been scared to start. I've been a victim of inertia, but not of being blocked.
Q: Do you find it difficult to make the transition between your non-writing responsibilities and writing? How do you handle it?
Fran: I ignore my chores! Okay, not completely, but some. My husband and I have split up the chores in a way that allows me not to have to think about the dirty laundry or dishes (both his usual chores). I think this is EXTREMELY helpful and I would find it hard to balance anything without my husband's help. I do the grocery shopping and a lot of the cooking and daily childcare. And we have a housekeeper who comes in a couple of times a month, who makes our world immeasurably easier. (I am a horrible housekeeper, I hate to admit. Actually, it may be that I am not horrible at it, but just that I don't have enough time to do it all and if it's a choice between cleaning up and working or spending time with my family, the cleaning up is always the thing that gets short shrift.) I do have to be careful about transitioning from my work (especially email) and time with my daughter. I try to just turn off the computer completely after I pick her up from school so there is no chance of being distracted.
Q: Hmmmm...Last week Lisa Schroeder said something similar about ignoring the chores. I'm beginning to see a pattern here...writers, put down those dust rags and laundry baskets! What helps motivate you and keep you on track? Are you self-motivated or do you need outside naggers to help?
Fran: When I met my editor and she became interested in the manuscript for WHEN THE WHISTLE BLOWS, I was only half way finished with the novel. Let me tell you, having an editor's attention was a HUGE motivator! But generally, I am not someone who needs nagging; I am very self-directed and motivated and I love writing, so most of the time it is easy for me to stay on track.
Q: How do you deal with distractions—either outside or inner procrastinatorial/avoidance issues?
Fran: Frankly, I let myself be distracted when I think it's good for me. For example, right now I'm letting myself be distracted from my writing by marketing and book promotion. But that's okay because I've been a little scared about writing my second book. So instead of forcing things I've been letting myself just think about my next book for a good half a year, deciding which direction to take, ironing out the story in my head, outlining it, and finally sharing it with my agent and editor. Sure, I would like to have written it already, but I also realize that I've been learning a great deal about writing during the editing process for my first book. Generally I'm a believer that everything will come in good time. That you can have it all, but you can't have it all at once. There are seasons to life, and there are seasons to writing and to being an author. Right now, I'm developing my roots, soaking it all in.
Q: That sounds very philosophical. Do you feel you have enough time for non-writing hobbies or activities you'd like to pursue?
Fran: Generally, I do. I love writing, so it's what I want to be doing most of the time. And I love spending time with my family, which is what I tend to do when I'm not writing. And I try to make time for exercising every week, and to see friends on a regular basis. Plus, the writing (or at least marketing) dovetails pretty nicely with traveling, which I also enjoy. I'd like for email not to interfere with family time so much in the evening, which it sometimes does. But email is a lifeline in some ways for a writer–it is how we connect to other writers across the country, and it's the primary way I market my book as well. I imagine after the book promotion is done (um, does that ever happen?) and I am on a writing cycle again, the emails will slow down a bit. I hope.
Q: Um, Fran, hate to tell you, but rumor has it the book promotion is NEVER done! Sounds like you have a good handle on it, though. What advice would you give to others struggling with writing/time management issues?
Fran: Wow, that is a toughie, because everyone and every situation is really very different. Maybe my best advice would be to write down the five things that are most important to you, and the five activities that actually take up most of your time during the day, and see where they do and do not overlap. Figure out where you ARE spending your time, and figure out where you would LIKE to spend your time. And then work on finding ways of shifting the balance from what you actually do to what you'd really like to be doing. Most people can find things they are spending their time on that they really don't have to do--they just do them out of habit. One tip for this–TV is a complete time suck. I know if I watched TV much I wouldn't be able to find the time to write. Another thing (and this is advice I'm giving to myself)–email and blogging can be a total time sucks too. Figure out a way to curb it or your writing time will suffer. (And if you figure out a way to do this, please email me at my website and let me know!) Finally–I consider myself a "scavenger writer"–I write whenever I can find a spare moment. I wrote most of my first book while my daughter was napping. Take whatever you can get; make your writing fit into your day (or night) however you can. You don't have to do it like other people do it–do it the way it works for you and your schedule. And if you're commuting or driving and can't actually write, then just think about what you're currently writing. A lot of writing can get done in one's head as well as on paper or on the computer.
Thanks, Fran! I like your "rule of 5"--I'm going to have to try it--although I'm a little scared about what I'll find out. Good luck with your debut. I'm looking forward to seeing you on the shelves!