Category Archives: Family

SLICING THE CAKE

A Guest Post by David Heyman

“Honey, where are you?”

Physically I’m in the store with my wife, where she is asking my opinion of an item she’s seen. In my mind though – I’m on a far-off snowy plain, trying to get my heroine out of the scrape I’ve written her into. This is the world of the writer and their family, and it’s one I’m betting most of you are familiar with. Managing the scales between the time and energy we give to our writing and the time we give to other demands can be one of the more difficult challenges an aspiring writer can face.

It’s commonly called the work/life balance, but for us it is a more complex beast – one more properly named a work/work/life balance. We all have lives that include family, friends, pets and the many activities that make life worth living. These are all wonderful, but they rightfully expect an investment of your time. Then most of us have the job that pays the bills, taking care of that rewarding life and keeping the road ahead of us clear. That job also makes demands on your time, demands that can be harder to negotiate with than Fido.

Now you want to add writing, but for most of us writing no mere hobby. It doesn’t fall into the ‘pursuits’ section of that life category. No, writing for us is our second job – the one that might not be paying bills yet, but someday….

Something’s gotta give – somewhere a sacrifice must be made.

cake

I always view my time as cake. I cut a piece of cake for my family, one for work and one for myself. If I want to write and that’s going to use some of that available time, then someone’s piece of cake is going to get smaller.

My advice: make sure you are the one making the sacrifice. Cut into your cake, not someone else’s.

Want to write on your lunch break? Sure. You can bang out that scene while you have your sandwich. Write during that boring dial-in meeting where they never call on you anyway? No, that time is committed to the job that pays the bills. Writing after play time with the kids and TV time with your spouse? Sure, but discuss it with them first.

You are the one who wants to be a writer, the big time sacrifice must come from you. Video game time, Game of Thrones watching time, Facebooking time.

Your time.

I would caution not to take all of your time, though. Don’t take away the sleep you need, or the time you exercise to stay healthy. Reserve some time for yourself to de-stress, to recharge and get the creative juices going again. Moderation is the key.

Each day is a cake that you choose where to make the cuts and choose the sizes. Your job, your friends and families all have their plates out, waiting to be serves a slice of your time.

How you distribute those slices will have a big impact on your support system going forward – and you will need that support to succeed.

David Heyman:

Dave writes both novels and short stories in the various genres of speculative fiction. His other passions include his family, gaming and reading about mountaineering. Sleep is added to the mix when needed. You can visit him at daveheyman.com

Make it Happen

A Guest Post by Joy Dawn Johnson

I work best in complete silence with no distractions.

Insert pacifier in crying infant

The slightest movement can distract me and completely erase the perfect sentence I had just formed in my head. A sentence that I swear will never come together quite the same again.

Fix lunch for toddler
Make a second pot of coffee

Now it’s gone and my fingers stop. I tell myself, “Just keep writing.” I’ve always loved this advice. I give the same advice to new writers but it’s also the hardest thing to do when your time is not your own.

Take crying infant to bed and pray he takes a nap
Clean Cheerios up after toddler “made it rain”

I want to “keep writing.” The last thing I want to do is stop working on something right when it’s coming together.

Get coffee

Whether it’s flowing or I’m constantly interrupted, writing reminds me of rowing.

Add forgotten creamer to coffee after burning tongue

When I was on the crew team in college, I led two boats. First, the one that won nearly every race we entered. Second, a boat of rookies that managed to tip over before our first race. The boat trapped me beneath the water and it took me over a minute free myself. I nearly drowned that day.

Reinsert pacifier into infant
Hope the mobile twirls long enough to put him to sleep

When I get my time to write. When all is quiet and I can actually hear my own thoughts and my characters start talking to me, it feels like that first boat. I’m in the zone. My fingers race and I feel alive.

But I almost never get this.

Restroom break for me and the dog
File down broken fingernail before there’s nothing left of my digit but a nub

I’m constantly pulled in so many directions that I can’t catch a good rhythm even with a short blog post. With every sentence—like every stroke of an oar in that second boat—I’m off balance and I feel like I’m about to go under again. So often, I feel like I’m drifting in the water, wanting to row, but I have no oars, no boat. I’m doing the whole treading water thing with no hope of getting to shore. I’m not going to die if I don’t hit my word goal for the day but sometimes I get so frustrated that when the stars align just right and I actually get my perfect peace and silence, I’m so overwhelmed and exhausted that my fingers won’t move. I want to write, am ready to write, but most days it feels that everything and everyone around me (yes, even my dog) has conspired to keep me from it (even though I know that’s not the case).

Change diaper
Take toddler to bed

Part of my frustration comes from my situation and wanting to make it better. Growing up, the one thing I knew I would never be was a stay-at-home mom. For years, I was the primary breadwinner of my family. Then my first son was born, and due to circumstances, I left my incredibly stressful corporate job to take care of my kiddo and give a go at writing. Now with two children under the age of two, writing has become a bit of a challenge.

My plan for this blog was to come up with a list of things I have to do every day and talk about how I overcome them. Then I realized after having to stop on the very first line of this post that I really don’t need to “come up” with anything. Instead, I added each task that made me have to stop writing. Some were more necessary than others.

Get new box of tissue from garage because I go through them like candy when I’m sick
View slideshow of “Robert Downey, Jr.’s Face on Pin-Up Girls’ Bodies”
Spend an indeterminate amount of time scrubbing my eyeballs

The balancing act: time vs. money vs. kiddos vs. my sanity.

I knew when I left my corporate job that my family would face major financial stressors. Being at home for my children has been a blessing but as you can see, it makes it nearly impossible to write.

During Superstars this year, I made the decision to find my writing time because if I never got it, I’d be forced to do the one thing I didn’t want to ever do again: go back to a cubical. For my family, it comes down to the balance of to two things: time and money. My husband and I talked about putting the kiddos in daycare a couple days a week but that would cost far more than we could afford.

I knew what I needed to do to make it happen. I started keeping my eye out for creative writing opportunities. A few weeks later, one of my Facebook writer friends (whom I will be forever grateful to) posted that her best client was looking for more ghostwriters. Even though it was for a genre and category I’d never even considered before…I went for it (because I don’t ever say “no” to something I know I can do). The author loved my samples and I just signed the contract. I worked things out with my husband to hire a babysitter a few times a week. I’ll get my writing in and still have way more time with the kiddos than I would working full-time. I’m not going to make what I did in the corporate world, but if everything pans out, I’ll be able to work on my own novels while making enough to not ever have to go back to a cubical again.

I’m always on the lookout for new opportunities and sometimes they show up when you least expect it. Earlier this week I was asked to start instructing strength training and kickboxing at my gym. Get paid to workout? Done!

Watch live webinar on submitting for freelance jobs

I’m still figuring out what works for me. Like a good plot twist, I didn’t go for the easiest solution but I’ve found my boat and oars and I’m setting off down the river. It might take time to find my zone but I’ll make it happen.

What keeps you from finding your “zone”?

What can you do to find time in your day to make it happen?

Joy Dawn Johnson:

Shortly after receiving her BFA and MBA, Joy Dawn Johnson worked as a project manager for more than ten years, including a stint in Baghdad, Iraq, as a government contractor. She is a member of the Society of Children’s Book Writers and Illustrators and was the 2015 recipient of the Superstars Writing scholarship. Joy typically writes middle grade and young adult Sci-fi and fantasy and now ghostwrites for a USA Today bestselling author. She will begin to query agents later this year with her current work in progress, Smooth.

Read the first chapters of Smooth: JoyDawnJohnson
Website: joydawnjohnson.com
Twitter: JoyDawnJohnson
Follow and chat with Joy live on Twitch: Joylovin.

Finding Your Cheerleader

superdad-1Considering the subject of this post, I’m pretty sure to earn myself some flack so let’s just cover the “role” biases right off. For over fifteen years of my marriage, I chose to be a stay-at-home mom. Because my husband worked long hours earning his Ph.D. and working, I did what I could to save money and I did most of the housework–which isn’t saying much because I’m a horrible housekeeper–and took care of the day-to-day activities with the children. My husband was always willing to help, but we ended up with rather traditional family roles. I was good with that.

Then, I took a chance with my writing and realized how much I wanted to become an author. My husband was on-board, but to be honest, it took a while. Change rarely occurs like the flip of a coin. It’s a gradual process. I often felt like the words of encouragement coming from his mouth didn’t match the expectations that still went on with our family. I couldn’t write all day while the kids were in school and still get the laundry, cooking, errands, etc. done and not have more help from my family. It was tough. On everyone.

As my husband realized my struggles, the dynamics started to change. He never complained about a messy house before; he’s not that kind of guy, but I could often sense his irritation. More and more, I noticed him evaluating my time and progress as an author against the discomfort of some clutter and un-done projects, and I won out. When I got down, instead of saying that taking the time to write was okay, he started reminding me that it was important. Despite his heavy work load and long commute, he started taking more time with the kids and the house. Recently, family circumstances required that I get a regular paycheck.

Now, I find myself trying to juggle the house, kids, job, and writing. No matter what people say about the modern world and modern women, we still tend to feel responsible for the grocery shopping, meals, laundry, and the activities of our children, even if we can divide up all the housework. I still take those responsibilities on myself, but again, my husband stepped up. He works from home twice a week and started taking care of many of the family appointments on those days, often working late into the night to compensate. With our change in schedule, he’s had to take the kids to school every morning and picks them up twice a week, which is a fair chunk of his work time. I often write at night and he works on his computer, making up for what he couldn’t get done during the day. He also does the dishes every day, even when I’m not able to lift a finger in the house because of other responsibilities and writing time. Last week, I made the list and he did the grocery shopping. I think we work as a team better than we ever have before in our 20+ years of marriage.

Often, when I consider how much more money he makes compared to me, it doesn’t seem fair that he bends over backward to help me with my work and goals when the return is so comparably minimal. And then I remember, that it’s not about my work, or his work, or money. It’s about goals, and each other, and the things in life that matter to us and the fact that we have always put each other first.

As we talk this month about making time to write, I’m glad that my husband and I took time to communicate, to be patient with one another, to learn how to be supportive, and to never give up. So, how do I find time to write? I make time, in part because I owe it to those who have supported and encouraged me for so long–my family. I think we all need our close family to be cheerleaders and if you don’t have that, I suggest some understanding talks and perhaps some counseling. Making time for writing is important, but working with your loved ones to balance that time and to understand one another will make all the difference in the world, both in your writing and in life.

Colette Black Bio:
Author PicColette Black lives in the far outskirts of Phoenix, Arizona with her family, 2 dogs, a mischievous cat and the occasional unwanted scorpion. She loves learning new things, vacations, and the color purple. She writes New Adult and Young Adult sci-fi and fantasy novels with kick-butt characters, lots of action, and always a touch of romance. Find her at www.coletteblack.net

 

Writing is Life

A Guest Post from Scott Lee

I pulled in to the house, just back from my third time attending the Superstars Writing Seminar. I had spent the ride home rehearsing the arguments I would present to my wife as to why I should pull out the credit card and immediately pay for Superstars 2017. After all, the price was the lowest it would ever be, it was set to go up in the morning, and we had a rough idea that our tax return was going to be pretty sweet… Argument in the bag, right? In. The. Bag.

Then I noticed that our little car wasn’t in the drive way. Huh. Becca wasn’t home. Perhaps I would end up waiting awhile before delivering my winning Superstars argument. Or then again, Becca wasn’t home…but no, I’ve lived enough to recognize that thought as a trap.

So, I walk into the house, playing it cool, calm and confident. I had an argument to make.

***

So here I am. Blogging. About writing. And life. And balance. Feeling that I owe you, dear reader, some modicum of advice, insight or wisdom. So here goes.

As I’ve thought about this over the past few weeks I knew pretty quickly that the story I started the blog out with—I’ll finish it later, don’t worry—would have to be included somehow. It is too ironic not to be, and it embodies what thoughts I’ve managed to gather.

First off, I find that framing the question as finding balance between life and writing, writing and real life, or between art and life—creates a false dichotomy. When I considered opening with this point, I had to ask myself if I wasn’t nitpicking. Was I just giving way to personal prejudice against any dichotomy? Everyone talks about writing this way. But I don’t think I’m just picking nits. We can talk about balancing priorities in life, we can talk about where writing fits in our lives, but as long as we split life from writing, even subconsciously, we’re self-sabotaging.

My job doesn’t define me. I am a teacher, but it’s a single facet of who I am not the sum of my identity. Even so, I don’t separate my role as a teacher from my life. It’s not something I go and do when I’m not living. And my role as a writer is no different. If you allow yourself to separate your writing from your “life,” then you make any pursuit of writing time, let alone balance, much harder.

Furthermore, in my experience, most writers are likely to experience things in exactly the opposite direction. It is writing that feels most like life. If we adopt a mental stance where we’re saying that isn’t true, suddenly we’re trying to find time for and balance with, a triviality. Good luck with that.

Second, in practical experience I’ve most often found “balance” by being a binge writer. My typical day didn’t include writing at all. And then when the muse struck in the form of some deadline, I became a zombie with an IV drip of caffeine who taught school and was hubby/daddy during the hours in a day that a sane person was awake, and, during the late night and early morning hours, I wrote like mad in order to get the paper done while the house was quiet. I wrote my grad school papers, my published short story, and my published short story collection/thesis, in this fashion. By the way, 16-19 hours of work/family followed by 5-8 hours of writing, is not balance, it’s insanity. But when I had to, I got writing done, and that seemed like enough. Not an approach I recommend.

I began to make headway a few years ago, when we went on our 10th anniversary vacation. We picked a destination vacation rather than a running-around-seeing-things vacation, and our schedule was determined almost entirely by my writing. I got up in the morning a bit before Becca and wrote my morning pages—three pages, long hand—a daily journaling/meditation exercise I encountered through Julia Cameron’s Artist’s Way books. Then, later, we made our way down to the public library where I’d get a guest pass and a computer and write while Rebecca patiently read whatever caught her eye. I never wrote for more than an hour and a half in a sitting, and most days I wrote for just at an hour, if not a little less. In those five days I wrote well over 10,000 words of new fiction. Not the most I’d ever put together over five days, but I did it without a deadline, without having to try to kill myself in the process, and without suddenly achieving the miraculous hours and hours of writing time I had been subconsciously waiting for before I could “get serious.”

The point isn’t go take a long vacation to Telluride, Colorado without any kids, it’s that in less than two hours-a-day, I put out one of the best steady chunks of words I ever had, and at the end of the process I was neither dead, high on caffeine, delirious, nor stressed out of my mind. I did it as a small part of my ordinary life.

When I got home I had to admit to myself—for the first time, although it seems painfully obvious in retrospect—that I could in fact find balance. Make time to write without killing myself. And I started doing so.

I would love to tell you that I immediately became incredibly disciplined and dove into writing what is now my bestselling novel an hour or less at a time over the next few months. That’s not what happened. My life wasn’t transformed. Nor was my writing. But I wrote more than I ever had, with greater regularity, greater ease, and less stress. And I produced more than I’d ever produced on any single project before.

So here’s my two tiny bits of wisdom: (1) You don’t need a ton of time. Just because Kerouac supposedly wrote On the Road as a highly caffeinated high speed physical endurance test doesn’t mean you have to somehow trade life for writing time. You don’t. Make writing time a part of your life. Make it routine, work-a-day, consistent. Don’t bargain for hours, days, weeks, months, or a year’s sabbatical with your work or your family. Bargain with yourself for an hour or so at a shot, or when you get really smart for any tiny snatch of free time. Make writing life. And you will discover more time and more peace than seems possible if you haven’t done it yet.

(2) Writing isn’t separate from life. In Neil Gaiman’s excellent “Make Good Art” commencement speech, he suggests that the response to negative experiences in life ought to be make good art. I often hear people simplify this to “When life happens to you, make good art!” I know what they mean, but it makes me sad. Because it’s wrong. Art isn’t the counter to life. It’s the ultimate expression of life, and its beauty, tragedy, and value. Art—or writing—isn’t just a record of life, it is the most positive and life affirming of human of acts—the act of creation. So don’t pit your writing against your life. Because the minute you pit anything against your life instead of embracing it as part of your life and making it essential, it will lose. Every. Single. Time.

Now I promised you the rest of the story…

***

My wife was waiting for me back in our room. I felt something coming, kind of the way the lady tied to the tracks in a classic melodrama must feel something coming.

“Hi Becca,” I said. “What happened to the car?”

“Well,” she said, “about that. I was driving on the other side of town today and every warning light on the dashboard came on at once. So I took it to the Toyota dealer. They say the transmission is shot. It’s going to be $5000 dollars to replace it.”

I asked about Superstars 2017 anyway. Why? Because writing is part of my life. An essential part. My wife knows and supports this. We talked about it. I didn’t apologize for asking, and she didn’t yell at me for being stupid, selfish or ridiculous or impractical.

I haven’t paid for Superstars 2017…yet. And I won’t for a while. Seems we need that big tax return elsewhere. I didn’t insist on paying for Superstars immediately, or get down about not being able to. Instead, we made plans for exactly how to pay for it later.

I’ll pay for my car now, because that’s part of my life, and I invest in it. I’ll go to Superstars next year, because writing is part of my life, and I invest in it. In the mean time I’ve had a few hours here and there, and I’m about finished with draft one of a new short story. I’ve loved writing it. I haven’t had a lot of time, but I’m getting it done, and every minute so far has been pure pleasure.

 

Scott Lee:

Scott Lee is a strange individual who chose teaching and writing as his two primary careers. Obviously he has no desire to make any money, and on that count has largely succeeded. He has, however, written much poetry, some individual short stories, published a short story collection entitled Singular Visions, directed 15 plays, and fathered several human children to go along with his less material offspring. He has thoroughly succeeded, in his own humble opinion, at living a worthy and interesting life.