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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.

 

23 responses to “This Writer’s Life: Balance”

  1. Addison Fox says:

    FANTASTIC post, Anne Marie! I think you are spot on – balance is one of the keys to happiness – and it grows increasingly difficult to feel happy when things are out of balance.

    I also think you nailed it by acknowledging that there are weeks that will be crazier than others. Factoring that in and putting as much preparation into dealing with it is important as well.

    Addison

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    • Thanks, Addison! While we can’t know when something bad will throw things off-kilter, at least we can be somewhat prepared by knowing there will be days like that. (Isn’t that a song? “Mama said there would be days like this…”?)

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  2. jbrayweber says:

    Great post Anne Marie! Just what I needed, too. My life is in such a spiraling mess at the moment. Despite my best efforts, I’ve been struggling all summer to grasp some sort of daily schedule. But darn it if there aren’t other people demanding my time. *sigh* Off to the grocery store…

    Jenn!

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    • I hear you, Jenn, and am sending you “good balance mojo.” 😉 I can count on at least 2 days a week being completely off. Things pop up. Taking a deep breath and telling yourself this will be one of those days when you have to just ride the waves instead of letting them toss you about and other things will have to wait seems to help me. (And look! I made a sort-of pirate-like reference. LOL) I’m particularly fond of Thursdays. It seems like that’s my one writing-dedicated day, since I’ve handled the other things that popped up by then. 🙂

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  3. Tamara Hogan says:

    I love the way you described the categories you use for prioritizing, Anne Marie. Prioritizing is something I’ve become pretty good at over the years; I have chronic health problems and never quite know how much energy I’ll have on any given day. Schedules are important to me, and self-care is a high priority.

    My hardest lesson? Learning to say no, and making it stick. Yeah, I feel guilty about it sometimes, but I’m no good to anyone if I burn myself out.

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    • Ah, the guilt monster. Shove him back in the closet. I’ve had some hard lessons in boundaries the past few years. If it (or he or she) sucks away your energy, it (or he or she) has to go. I love that you put your health first. I’m sure that was a hard lesson, too, and a daily challenge, but you’re miles ahead of other people who aren’t in touch with their needs.

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  4. Vivi Andrews says:

    LOVE this post, Anne Marie. Balance is everything and it’s so easy to lose when we’re stressed.

    And I just had an epiphany! I’m not a religious person, but my spiritual need is nature – which I think is part of why I feel so off balance in New York City at times, where it can be hard to find any sort of opportunity to connect with nature. Thanks for waking me up to the obvious! 😉

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    • Tamara Hogan says:

      I hear you, Vivi. As someone who experiences transcendence and connection from feeling like a small mote in an infinite universe, many of my spiritual needs are met watching the Science Channel. 😉

      Last night I watched an episode of “Wonders of the Universe” where many of my favorite scientists described, with wonder in their eyes and delight in their voices, a theory about how the universe might transition to its next state…in about a trillion years.

      Absolutely mind-blowing.

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    • Hooray for epiphanies! 😀

      (And I hear there’s a large park somewhere in that city. 😉 )

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  5. Elisa Beatty says:

    This is so great, Anne Marie, to map out your schedule in terms of NEEDS.

    Of course, kid needs and domestic needs seem to gobble up the lion’s share no matter what you do….(ai, ai, ai…I had non-sleeping kids, too. That was hard to survive.)

    But this seems sensible and workable.

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    • When I found myself obsessing about what I DIDN’T get done each day, it worked better for me to reframe it and focus on what I DID do – and WHY. And be grateful for what I could accomplish.

      Our actions meet some need. Understanding why you make the choices you do can be so helpful, and alleviate the guilt about what we chose not to do. 🙂

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  6. Gwyn says:

    Balance is so difficult to achieve, especially when you’re an all-in sort like me. Schedules don’t work because they make me contrary. It’s like I have an inner three-year-old yelling, “You aren’t the boss of me!”

    When I’m writing, I’m writing, and I resent anything that interrupts once I hit the zone. Good thing my young’uns are grown and on their own; I may actually accomplish something.

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    • But it’s fantastic that you know that about yourself, Gwyn. Better to “know thyself” than repeatedly butt one’s head against the wall. And when you’re all-in, you’re still making a choice about what you’re going to put your time and energy toward. You’re meeting a need. Hope you find “the zone” today! 😀

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  7. Liz Talley says:

    I think we’re all chasing balance so a post on this once a month would be good 🙂

    My ideal writing time is in the afternoon – after 3pm. It’s odd to me because I would think I’d be tired, but it really is my most creative time. But it’s the witching hour at my house – errands, homework, finding cleats. It’s brutal.

    So I usually write in the morning. BUT, if thing go smoothly enough, I edit what I wrote that afternoon. Editing isn’t as taxing as creating and so that works for me. But the main thing that I always do is give myself permission to not follow a schedule. I get really overwhelmed easily so I often remind myself “Who’s going to die if you don’t get everything done?” Answer: no one. So that gives me a chance to breath deeply and forgive myself for not being breathtakingly awesome 24/7

    Thanks for the reminder 🙂

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    • I hear you, Liz. That after school rush, trying to get to other activities, is crazy time. But I find it fascinating that’s your most creative time. I used to feel extra creative when I was doing dishes (of all things!). Maybe it’s your brain wanting to go do other things while the monotony takes control of our bodies?

      The part I love most about what you said is the “permission not to follow a schedule.” Love that! While I have a kind of schedule each day, I know that I have to be flexible and ready to toss it out the window if things start to pop up.

      Okay, resume breathtaking awesomeness, sister. 😉

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  8. Kim Law says:

    This week my daily life has consisted of a series of naps. Seriously, how can a few days of hanging out with 2,000 talking women be so overwhelming?!?!?!?

    I’m not sure I can give any viable tips, as I’m constantly working on managing it all myself. But I have found that doing most of my writing during the time my mind/body “wants” me to write does produce the best results. Even if that is during the middle of the night.

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    • I’m soooo jealous. 🙂 I’m an introvert, so I can tell you how 2,000 people can be exhausting. But it also kind of clears my palette, if that makes sense. I come home exhausted, try to recuperate, and am ready to crawl into my writing cave and be productive. Or sleep. LOL

      And your tip is awesome! I call that “following my energy.” If my brain wants to go toward a new project and is resisting what I *should* get done that day, I’ve learned to follow it rather than resist, which is typically more draining. That inner voice often knows best. 😉

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  9. Sorry I’m late, Anne Marie. I’ve had a LOT of trouble with balance this year, what with selling our house and all of the traveling I’ve been doing. After my new grandson is born in October, I hope to get back into the groove. Thanks for a great blog!

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  10. I’ve never thought of my schedule in terms of categories or needs. Thank you for sharing yours. I work full time as a college instructor, so my schedule is different on a day I teach vs. a non class day or a summer break day, but I still have to map out writing time each day.

    I love your categories and will steal them. Plus, I’ll add a “financial” category because as much as I love my job, I wouldn’t do it if wasn’t necessary for paying the bills. 😉

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