Striking the Write Life Balance

We are thrilled to welcome our newest contributor, Melanie Jacobson!

Since becoming a stay-at-home mom, writing has saved me. But wait—I prefer the term homemaker, because that’s what I spend most of my time doing: trying to make a home and life for my husband and three ridiculous children. Who I love, bless their pointy little heads. (My husband is not ridiculous nor is his head pointy.)

And I recognize this as my most important work, but I’m not sure it’s healthy in life to ever just be one thing and only one thing.

I had a rich career as a teacher before I stayed home. I’m Type-A and hard driving, so teaching was never a forty hour a week gig. It was late nights and weekends and extra responsibilities and giving up lunch breaks and conference periods to work with students. And I loved it.

But it was really hard to downshift and go from that to having a kid in school all day and sitting home pregnant with my second with nothing to do until Kid 1 got home from school. So I immediately jumped into learning the art and craft of writing. My Type-A tendencies took over again and I was lucky enough to have my first book accepted for publication, but it meant I couldn’t write when I felt like it anymore. My publisher wanted two books a year and that meant deadlines.

Over the years I’ve made it work, mainly remembering that there are times and seasons for everything. When I have to trot that reminder out, it means I haven’t been paying enough attention to my kids and I need to rebalance.

But there are times that I need to rebalance the other way too. When I recognize a certain restlessness in myself, kind of like wanderlust without a need to be anywhere specific, that’s when I realize I’ve been neglecting my writing too long.

Summer is always the most difficult time to strike the balance. All my kids are home all day. I have to keep them busy enough not to kill each other while still finding a way to meet my obligations.
But most importantly, in the summer more than any other time, I have to be aware of my limits.
During the school year, when I have my mornings free with my youngest in preschool, an average writing day for me is about 2000-3000 words. In the summer, I do a 1000. And even those words are hard to come by.

It’s not because my life is hard. It’s not. I’m typing this at the beach, in fact. Try not to hate me. But I have to type this at the beach instead of listening to the waves and playing in the sand because . . . I have a deadline. They never go away.

So I’ve learned some tricks and tips and found some tools to help. Even if you don’t have deadlines, you need to create space for your writing every day in your life. And if possible, they need to be uninterrupted minutes. So here we go, the practical how-to for keeping YOU in balance by making sure your work fits around your other demands, whether it’s your primary career, your parenting duties, your summer schedule or all of the above:

1. Say it out loud every day if you need to, but remind yourself: “My writing matters.”
It matters that you give your creativity an outlet every day. You WILL be better for your family if you do this.

2. Find the time that works for you: if your kids, or even one of your kids is old enough to get breakfast for themselves and younger siblings (my 7 year old is in charge of making a microwaved quesadilla or pouring a bowl of cereal for his 5 year old sister in the morning) then right after you wake up might be a good time. I’m willing to suffer for my art but not enough to get up earlier than my kids in the summer time. If you’re willing and able to get up before them, go for it. You’re a super stud and I bow to your awesomeness.
If you write better after kids are in bed, do that. I don’t like night writing because that’s my time to spend with my husband catching up on the day or vegging and watching TV together. I’m also just not as good at slipping into flow at night.

3. If you can’t find regular time, learn how to carve it out wherever you can. I bring my favorite tool, my Alpha Smart Neo, to the park while the kids play or to gymnastics or swim lessons. I can get a minimum of 750 words done in a 45 minute swim practice.

Some days, though, I have to do it at the beach or the pool while the kids play, glancing up after each paragraph while they’re in the water to check on them. It’s not ideal, but I can work, and as soon as I hit my word goal, I put my keyboard away. Done is done and I can rest easy that I’ve exercised discipline by doing the work, but also had the luxury of spending some time playing with words.
If you can afford them, summer camps can be your friend. My kids do a week of Vacation Bible School. They’re only gone for the morning, it’s a whole week, it costs me a whopping $50 each, and I get 15 hours of writing time. That’s huge. I’m really happy after that week because I’ve been able to really dig into my work and run with it, spending my time in “flow” instead of stops and starts.

4. Reinvest in your career. Consider a mother’s helper. Maybe there’s a 12 year old in the neighborhood or at church who can come over one morning a week or month. You pay her to hang with your little kids while you shut yourself in a room and work like crazy.
I’ve earmarked 10% of what I earn in royalties for childcare when I need it, like right before deadlines when I need to take a few afternoons to just knock something out. This doesn’t make you a bad parent.

5. Produce every day. Promise yourself that no matter what, you will spend some time with your work. Try to commit to a minimum of 500 words. It’s not much, it won’t take long, but it will add up. Then let yourself spend the rest of the day taking care of everything else or just playing. You won’t have that nagging feeling that you should do some writing or the resentment of not getting to write. It’s done and behind you and now you can focus on other things. If even 500 words is a stretch on a given day, at the very least promise yourself you will read the last two pages you wrote and write 3-5 sentences about what you will write the next day. That way, when you go back to it, it won’t take you so long to get into the head space you need to be in to write.

It’s worth it. If you can find a neat box to fit your writing in so that it doesn’t bleed over and dominate the rest of your life, your family isn’t going to resent it. And if you can protect a part of each day, even if it’s the smallest fraction, you’re not going to resent the parts of your life that keep you from writing.

And you balance. And your world stops wobbling on its axis.

Go ahead. Balance. Your family deserves it. But YOU deserve it.

______________________

Melanie Bennett Jacobson is an avid reader, amateur cook, and champion shopper. She consumes astonishing amounts of chocolate, chick flicks, and romance novels. She lives in Southern California with her husband and three kids and a series of doomed houseplants. Melanie is a former English teacher who loves to laugh and make others laugh. In her down time (ha!), she writes romantic comedies for Covenant and maintains her humorous slice-of-life blog. Her sixth novel, Always Will, hits shelves in October. Melanie’s contemporary YA novels are represented by Alyssa Henkin.

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