where the writers are
Balancing Your Family and Your Writing Career

How do you balance your family and your writing? This is a question I am often asked, and if I answer it truthfully—it isn’t easy. I have three children ages 7, 13, and 16, so they are all at very different stages in their lives and this can make for some interesting dynamics. My seven year-old daughter is big on riding horses and playing soccer, my thirteen-year old is busy becoming a teenager with all the angst that goes along with it (texting, skateboarding, videos, et al—oh yeah and girls), and my sixteen-year old is smack dab in the middle of his angst and thinks his family is plain stupid. Through it all they keep me busy, busy, busy—and worried. My oldest just got his driver’s license. 

A typical day for me goes like this: Get up and have coffee at about sixish (love the weekends because I can sleep into the seven o’clock hour), sometimes with my husband if he hasn’t gone to work or surfing (truly my oldest kid), make lunches, get kids rolling, make breakfasts, send oldest on his way in the carpool, pile two younger ones in the car and head off to school, get home and breathe, and now eat my own breakfast, check e-mails fifty times because procrastinating is what I do really well (I think many writers can relate), have tea, throw in laundry, clean kitchen, check e-mail again, then write five to ten pages (if on a roll can do more) leave by 1:45 to do afternoon carpool for high school, drop off oldest, pick up two younger kids, get snack, little one changes for riding, drive thirty minutes to ride (sometimes I ride too of there is a horse available), two hours at riding place, race home, start dinner, check e-mail, light fires under everyone to do homework and little one into bath, eat dinner, check e-mail again (I have e-mail ocd), serve dinner, check homework, get youngest to bed, give orders to older two, head to bed myself and kiss husband good night, read a book. Oh yeah—somewhere in there I feed the dogs and cats twice a day, and myself. If I’m lucky I might get in a thirty minute yoga DVD. 

Yeah—I’m kind of tired. I think it’s not a matter of how I do it, it’s why I do it. First of all my family means everything to me and then my writing. I will admit the house tends to get pretty messy. I clean the kitchen and try and pick up and have everyone else pick up, but if you come for a visit, don’t expect Marta Stewart’s standards. We’re not pigs, but we can be messy (especially the 7 yr. old). I spend a good share of Saturday cleaning house. 

Here’s the nitty gritty of making it all work:

  1. Sacrifice—I gave up a decent paying day job in order to pursue my writing dream, and be at home with the kids. This meant cut backs—not many nights eating out, vacations are non-existent at this point, and letting the housekeeper go. Be willing to give up some things if you plan on being a career writer/author.
  2. Letting it Go: If the house isn’t perfect but the family is happy and the pages are written, fine. No one on their death bed thinks back—“I wish my house was cleaner.” Set yourself writing hours. Mine are from 9-1 each day. I’m lucky that I can write quickly. Don’t push so hard you burn out, which is easy to do in this business. I have been there and I can tell you it isn’t pretty. If you’re feeling that way, stop for the day or for two days. You hear writers tell you to write everyday. To an extent I get that, but I also say if you need a break then take it. If you truly are a writer, you won’t be gone long. Everyone gets a vacation, and for a writer that can simply mean not turning on the computer for a few days at all, going to a museum, visit a friend or two, see a movie—heck even watch day time TV (mindless entertainment is good for writers, because we tend to think waaaaaaaaaaay too much.
  3. Drive & Desire—How hard are you willing to work at pursuing the writer dream (that includes oodles of rejections, typically low pay, managing not only your writing but your marketing and usually doing that on your own dime and own time). If you have to get up early to write or do it on the weekend, or stay up late then that’s what you do, because the kicker is your kids are young only once. They’re in your home for a limited amount of time compared to a lifespan, and so I think there are times when you do have to make choices to achieve the balance. You may have to choose going to your kid’s soccer game and then taking her and her friends for pizza over the fact that you have a Wednesday deadline and have 315 pages of copyedits to get through (am speaking from experience and have no regrets. The pizza was good and the kids were a blast to hang out with), and somehow the book with overnight delivery made it back to NY on time. It’s simply making a decision that yes you can do this, and yes you will make it work at home and with your writing.
  4. Your spouse needs you too. My husband and I both work long hours, but every week we make it a point to meet for lunch at least once. We ask the kids for fifteen minutes alone when he comes home, just so we can talk and touch base. And, a date night is a must. You don’t have to spend a lot of cash. Sometimes our date night means taking the dogs for a walk. It’s not super exciting but time together is vital.

 

It’s not easy, but is it worth it? There are days when I have asked myself this question. Here is the best answer I can give: When I have written five or ten pages that I think work really well, and I’m into the character, and I have my family taken care of and hopefully smiling at the end of the day (a grunt from my oldest works fine for me these days), then yes, it’s worth it. Days where I ran late, couldn’t get into the pages, checked my e-mails 200 times instead of the usual 50, then I feel lost and that feeling bites. Days when the bills are overdue because being a writer also means tightening the belt, well, that also bites. But yes, I do think it’s worth it. I’ve been able to live a dream and write stories that I love and be a mom and wife, which I also love. All and all I feel pretty darn lucky and damn grateful. 

Now, go hug your kids and then write a page. That’s the balance. The other stuff can wait.

Comments
1 Comment count
Comment Bubble Tip

Good for you.

You have obviously thought long and hard as you considered the pros and cons of trying to do too much--and yet doing it well. This is a very helpful post. You ae thoughtful but funny.

Now go check your email. Maybe there will be an acceptancefrom an editor there. If not, maybe a distraction from a rejection. I hope you get a grunt from the 16-year-old tonight.