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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.

 

Listen Up, Grasshopper

BalancedrocksSM

 

Psst. I’ve got a secret to share. It’s a big one. The key to happiness? The secret of life? Yeah, it’s balance.

 

I’m convinced of it. The times I haven’t been happy, there was some unevenness in my life…something that pulled me so strongly in one direction I neglected the others.

 

I like to think about life in four realms: physical, social, mental/emotional, and spiritual. I’m happiest when I have an equal footing in all four. (Imagine the game Twister here, with a foot and hand in each color.)

 

How does this translate into my writing? Conflicts are all about imbalance. The conflicts characters face arise when their lives become so unbalanced that they try to restore balance through action, or, in the case of the villain, often through unconventional or illegal means. The inciting incident that launches the entire story is all about upsetting the apple cart and sending your characters on a quest to reclaim their apples…or decide they’d rather have oranges.

 

As a reader, and as someone who strives for balance, I love to read about the hero and heroine being thrown off their life plan…better them than me, I say.

 

For instance, in Only Fear, a stalker enters the heroine’s life. In Deadly Bonds, everything’s going smoothly for my heroine, a director of a school, when a parent promises to make trouble for her because she won’t get with his program. In fact, my whole Mindhunters series was the result of an imbalance in one man’s life. Damian Manchester launched the SSAM foundation when his daughter was the victim of a serial killer. He needed to regain his sense of control and direct his grief toward something positive (and hopefully find closure by finding his daughter’s killer).

 

So, Grasshopper, now you know the key to a happy life, and a happy ending to a book: finding and maintaining balance.

 

What are some of the imbalances your characters face, or in the books you’re currently reading? What areas of your life are you working to balance, and how?

 

AnneMarieBeckerAnne 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.
Anne Marie publishes the Mindhunters series with Carina Press and is currently hard at work on some new projects. Find ways to connect with her at www.AnneMarieBecker.com.

(*This post originally ran on the Not Your Usual Suspects blog on June 12, 2012.)

To Tell or Not to Tell

When I first joined RWA, I read time and again: when people ask what you do, tell them you’re an author. Own it and be proud of yourself. I do and I am. It’s a lot easier when I can follow up with “and my first book will be on the shelves in August 2013,” but I’ve become very comfortable talking with others about my writing. Readers and non-readers.

But I recently ran into a situation that made me think twice.

From the time I started writing, I’ve had to work up the courage to tell people I was an author. I still vividly remember the nervous churning in my stomach when I told my husband I wanted to write my first book. I’m a lucky woman. He was supportive of me as so many people have been along the way. Being outed as a romance writer at a church women’s retreat broke me of a lot of worry, since having 40 people take turns asking, “What do you write?” creates a bit of a thick skin.

But I’ve now found myself actively deciding to keep my authordom a secret. Only in one place – my new day job. I work in an office with six women, but only 2 of them know I write. Why keep it a secret? An upper management boss who only proves more and more how much of a problem this would be with her. She’s extremely conservative and holds to an old-school level of professionalism. She finds something to criticize, no matter how small. That shirt’s a little too low in the front. Those shoes aren’t professional enough. That subject is too personal for the office. While I wouldn’t lie if asked directly, I’m not going out of my way to “share”.

As more time passes, I realize how much of my true self I’m hiding each day. I’m living a double life and not very happy about it. So much of myself is tied up in my writing. I find it very hard not to share my writing triumphs with my fellow workers. To not mention when my characters are giving me a hard time while everyone talks about their rough days. I even have to keep mum about my plans for the weekends, since “writing, writing, and more writing” might raise some eyebrows. But I draw the line at hiding my writing on my lunch break. I usually have a notebook or laptop and what I’m doing on my time is no one’s business – and no one has asked directly yet. Much to my surprise. That particular boss has caught me in the break room and asked questions about my laptop, but draws short of questioning what I’m actually working on.

I haven’t decided exactly what I’ll say when she asks. Not because I’m ashamed of my writing, or what I write, but because I don’t want to be hassled over something that’s none of her business.

So my question for all of you is: When do you tell? When do you not? Are there certain situations you avoid, or have you become comfortable enough to share indiscriminently?

Dani

I’ll check in on my lunch break and after work! Another thing I’m not allowed at this job is personal use of the internet, which I understand a lot more but is very hard when I’d like to be playing with all of you!!!  🙂

 

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