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Posts tagged with: juggling life and writing

This Writer’s Life: Balance

I may have blogged about balance before. It’s one of my favorite topics because I believe feeling balanced is one of the keys to happiness. To be honest, I’m not sure I qualify to lecture anyone in balance, as each case is as unique as each individual, but as a mother of three, wife, the family secretary, daughter, sister, author and domestic goddess (*snort*), I often get head shakes accompanied with “I don’t know how you do it.” Or questions like “How do you make time for writing?”

 

I don’t pretend to have all the answers, but I know what works for me. I figure if I put my schedule below maybe it’ll help someone out there understand how it can be done. Or maybe some piece of it will resonate and help in some small way. Somehow, amid the chaos of raising a family and keeping a household going, I’ve released five books in the past three years and watched my career steadily, though slowly, grow. And I know many writers who face all kinds of incredible challenges and have persevered in this crazy industry. No matter what you’re facing, you can succeed, too.

 

KNOW THYSELF

 

What’s important to you? Whatever your answer, it will likely change over time. As my kids (ages 11, 9, and 4) grow older, I feel time speeding by. I always put them and my husband first. My dad and siblings are also a large part of my life. Dad lives in the same town as me and is alone since my mother’s death two years ago. He isn’t good at planning meals, cooking (or even pushing buttons on the microwave), or cleaning, so I make time for him each week. Besides, after losing my mother, I want to enjoy every moment I can with my surviving parent.

 

Even with all of the external demands on my attention and energy, I NEED to write. I write to reclaim my sanity. It even says so in my bio (see below). I started writing full time about a dozen years ago when my husband and I moved across the country and I knew nobody. And then I got pregnant and my life changed even more. With little sleep to go on. I needed the escape that writing fiction provided. Writing was a way to feel in control of some part of my world, and to have a piece of something for myself.

 

Basically, writing is important to me. And if something’s important, you make room for it in your life.

 

PRIORITIZE

After you’ve had a deep discussion with yourself about how you want to spend those precious 24 hours we have each day, make sure you take to focus on those priorities. How will you get the most out of your energy/time? What needs are your actions addressing, and are you meeting your most important needs? I envision my life as consisting of four primary arenas:

  • PHYSICAL – Your body’s health. Diet and exercise would be here. If you’re sick or have unhealthy habits, it impacts everything else.
  • SOCIAL/FAMILY – Humans need relationships with others. None of us is an island. (And if you are on an island, can I come visit?) It’s important to take the time to foster these bonds, just as it’s important to cut the toxic relationships out of your life.
  • MENTAL/EMOTIONAL – Keeping the brain primed is the key to a fulfilling life. This is especially true for writers. Having daily challenges to stimulate the brain is important, and for me, that stimulation is writing. 
  • SPIRITUAL – A connection to a higher power, a faith that we each have a purpose, keeps me going when things seem especially dark. It’s just as important to pay attention to the larger picture as it is the daily activities.

 

When I feel off-kilter, frustrated, or unusually anxious, it’s usually because I’m neglecting one of the above and my priorities need to shift for a while.

 

MY IDEAL DAY

What’s important will change over time, but here’s how my ideal day looks when my kids are in school:

7 a.m. – Up and packing lunches, getting kids ready, etc. (Social)

8 a.m. – Running kids to school, eating, laundry/cleaning (Social, Physical)

9 a.m. – Drink coffee while going through emails & popping in at social media/blogs (Social, Mental)

10 a.m. – Workout (Physical, Mental) unless I’m on deadline, and then this is writing time (Mental). I’ll also sometimes listen to audiobooks or workshop recordings while working out. (Mental)

about 11 a.m. – Lunch (Physical)

12 – 3 p.m. – Writing time (This can include WIP, edits, blog posts, putting together my chapter’s newsletter, or whatever tasks are on hand for the day.) (Career, Mental/Emotional)

3 – 5 p.m. – Picking up kids and running to after-school activities. Sometimes I can squeeze in more writing time, or if I have just a few minutes here or there, I’ll read a book for pleasure. (Social, Mental)

5 – 7 p.m. – More running kids around, homework, and dinner (Social, Physical)

7 – 8 p.m. – Clean up the house and get kids moving toward bedtime (Social)

8 – 9 p.m. – Settling everyone for bed (Social) and checking emails or catching up on whatever needs more attention (Mental)

9 – 11 p.m. – Online work, sometimes while watching TV with husband. Because my brain is often tired, this is the best time for catching up on emails, doing some social media, and tackling the miscellaneous tasks of the writing business like searching for cover images, updating my website, or listening to a conference workshop on tape. Or sometimes I can generate new words and they actually come out pretty good in this semi-conscious state. My subconscious takes over more easily. I also try to take some time to reflect on my day, be grateful for what I accomplished and what I have, and other things that connect me to the more Spiritual side of life. (Social, Mental, Spiritual)

11 p.m. – 7 a.m. – Sleep (ideally, though it doesn’t always work out that way!) (Physical)

 

While this is a glimpse into a “typical” day, there are the inevitable upheavals, illnesses, and unexpected problems that require flexibility. And deadlines trump a lot of things. I like to have a To-Do list to start each day where I can put the three or four items I absolutely need to get done. For me, feeling organized is important to getting the most out of the 24 hours I have each day.

Weekends are different. Kids and hubby are home and I spend time with them. However, the housework that may have been put off during the week can become a Saturday morning family project. Sunday, my dad comes over and I cook for everyone. But I also squeeze in a couple hours of writing time each day if I can. I find if I’m away from my WIP for more than a couple days, I struggle to get back into that world.

 

PREPARING FOR CHALLENGES

Three kids at different schools and a husband who teaches at another equals a germ factory. I can almost count on a week in October and another couple weeks in the winter and spring being unproductive due to illnesses.

I always set aside a couple weeks around the holidays for family and relaxation, and try to adjust publishing schedules so that I’m not doing the most challenging stuff at those times (i.e., major edits).

The essence of prioritizing is sacrifice, and knowing what you’re willing (or NOT willing) to sacrifice is the first step toward finding more time for writing (or whatever your priorities are). Sleep is a biggie for me. I did without it for so many years when my first two were young and horrible sleepers that it’s hard for me to give it up now. But sometimes the promise of a nap the next day is enough to trick myself into staying up a little longer. And the week before a deadline is almost a given that I’ll be sleeping five hours a night instead of seven or eight. But that’s a finite commitment, which is so much easier than those days when I didn’t know when my kids would finally start sleeping. Or if they ever would.

Another sacrifice is giving up TV time or going out. And weekend time. And reading time. There are weeks when any spare hour I have might need to go toward writing or editing.

Balance isn’t easy. A lot of days, I feel like I’ve got too many balls in the air or can’t take on one more thing. Making writing a priority comes down to what you’re able to sacrifice, and knowing what’s important to you.

 

What’s your daily life like? Are there any tips you’d like to share for managing it all, or any questions you have that the Rubies might be able to help with?

 

AnneMarieBecker-300Anne Marie has always been fascinated by people—inside and out—which led to degrees in Biology, Chemistry, Psychology, and Counseling.  Her passion for understanding the human race is now satisfied by her roles as mother, wife, daughter, sister, and award-winning author of romantic suspense.  

She writes to reclaim her sanity.

Find ways to connect with Anne Marie at www.AnneMarieBecker.com. There, sign up for her newsletter to receive the latest information regarding books, appearances, and giveaways.

 

RUSH

We’re ten days into the Winter Writing Fest and I want to talk about stress. Appropriate? I think so.

Stress affects every level of our lives, including our writing.

I don’t know about you but the moment my feet hit the floor in the morning until sometime in the late evening I’m on the go. The list is endless.  Some days, I feel as if my feet will drop off at the ankles if I stop and propped them up and my mind is mush.  Let’s face it, women are caregivers and being a caregiver is stressful. Add extra duties (ie; taking care of aging parents or a love one, moving to a new house, remodeling) and you’re adding stress.

Recently, I read an article at Women’s Health (http://www.womenshealthmag.com/health/stress-help ) which stated that some women need to be busy in order to feel alive, and I wondered if I wasn’t one of them.  I mean I always need to be doing something.  Even now, as I write this article, I’m multi-tasking.

Stress can lead to mental health disorders, like depression and anxiety, obesity, heart disease, high blood pressure, abnormal heart beats, menstrual problems, and acne and other skin problems.  So what can we do to relieve stress?

 

It’s all about attitude.

•There are some things you do not have control over. Don’t worry about them.

• You don’t always have to be right. Pick your fights. It’s not worth the stress to argue. Give in or at least meet people halfway.  Be open.

• Get organized. Write a to-do list. Figure out what’s most important to do and do those things first.

• Set limits. We only have so many hours in the day. Set limits for yourself and don’t be afraid to say NO to requests for your time and energy.

 

Relaxation doesn’t take a lot of time.

• Take deep breaths.  Taking a few deep breaths makes you breathe slower and helps your muscles relax.

• Stretching can also help relax your muscles and make you feel less tense.

• Having someone massage the muscles in the back of your neck and upper back can help you feel less tense.

• Take time to do something you want to do. We all have lots of things that we have to do, but often we don’t take the time to do the things that we really want to do.  You know that priority list above, but your want to do on that list too.

 

You have one body. Take care of it.

• Get enough sleep. Doing so helps you recover from the stresses of the day and helps you think better so that you can handle problems as they come up.

• Eat right. Try to fuel up with fruits, vegetables, beans, and whole grains. Caffeine or high-sugar snack jolts, wear off quickly. That is why they’re called jolts. You’ll  wind up feeling more tired than you did before.

• Drink Lots of water.  At least eight glasses a day.

• Get moving. Physical activity will not only help relax your tense muscles but improve your mood.

• Don’t deal with stress in unhealthy ways, such as drinking too much alcohol, using drugs, smoking, or overeating.

 

There is nothing better than a friend.

• Share your stress. Talking with friends or family members can help you feel better. They could help you see your problems in a new way and suggest solutions that you hadn’t thought of.

• Get help from a professional if you need it.

• Help others. Volunteering in your community can help you feel better.

 

Long list, right?  Don’t stress. Pick one, do it, get good at it and then add another. Deep breaths.

2013 was a very stressful year for me, but through the events I’ve learned a lot. One being there will always be stress around waiting to knock me down, but if I’m prepared I’ll handle things much better. So I’m getting organized, making goals and lists to help make those goals, and I’m setting limits!

I’m drinking more water, making sure I eat plenty of vegetables and fruits, smaller portions and limiting the snacks. I’m stretching, walking and dancing. I’ve called a good friend more than once and laughed.

I think laughter should be on the above list. Don’t you?

Now, tell me. What helps you when you feel the world on your shoulders?

Writing When Life Interferes

Seriously. I want to know. How do you sit down at the computer, maintain your focus, and form cohesive sentences when life sucks you in, spins you uncontrollably, and then hurls you to the ground without warning?

When I told my husband I was writing a blog about how to write when life gets in the way, he burst out laughing. “Well, that should be both an easy and short blog for you,” he said. “Because you don’t.”

I just hate it when he’s right.

As career oriented writers, we are expected to write. Come hell or high water our fingers should be flying over the keyboard at any given moment during the day. I hate to be the one to break it to you, but writers are human. And, sometimes, life just gets in the way.

It could be job related, it could be health issues, or it could be family related. The reason doesn’t matter. The important thing is whatever is going on in your life, it’s serious enough to prevent you from either having the time, energy, or frame of mind to sit down and put words on the page.

Several years ago, I experienced the unexpected death of a close family member. My world turned upside down in many ways. Apart from the sudden loss, I went from having an independent mother, who lived over two hours away, to one whose grief and subsequent health issues had her relying heavily on me.

I didn’t quit writing completely, but finding a time when I wasn’t mentally and physically exhausted from my duty as caregiver only added stress and guilt. Yes, guilt. Remember? Career oriented writers are expected to write.  I grabbed a few hours here and a day there, but my concentration was shot. Simply put, I didn’t want to think. Thinking meant coming to certain realizations that I wasn’t ready to face. My life had forever changed.

I began wondering how many other writers had faced similar situations. Were they able to channel their pain into their writing? Were they able to block out their situation and power through to keep their writing routine?

The guilt that I couldn’t produce in the face of life’s challenge loomed over me. I questioned my dedication. I questioned my desire. I questioned my ability. I was driving myself crazy trying to fulfill my family obligations and justify why I wasn’t writing. I was adding stress on top of stress. So, I quit. Writing, that is. I came to the realization that it’s okay to take a writing break. I hadn’t lost my passion or desire, I just had to put it away for a short time.

Should writers give themselves permission to take time off from writing? It that really okay? Some would argue that if you don’t write every day, you lose your momentum. Some argue that powering through a rough time helps keep the emotion in your story. I say it’s up to the writer. She knows her limits. She’s aware of what’s going on in her life. My mother always told my two sisters and me, “Don’t criticize someone until you’ve walked a mile in their shoes.”

In my situation, it was absolutely the right thing to do. I don’t have any regrets. I was there for my mother when she most needed me. Her health has since improved, she’s moved closer to me, and we’re both healing from our loss. More importantly, every second I spent with my sister instead of writing is a memory I hold precious in my heart. As I said, no regrets.

What about you? Have you had to make some tough choices in your writing due to life’s interference? How did you juggle life and writing?

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