The Work-Home-Writing Juggling Act

Those days when you say, “I didn’t get very far on (fill in the blank) today,” and even though it’s driving you crazy, it doesn’t mean you’re not a writer anymore.

Work-life balance is a juggling act, and life balance is an ongoing challenge for women writers. There is so much you can’t control. You can’t control when your kids or spouse gets sick, when work gets super busy, when a family responsibility superseded your desire to write.

Most of us have to balance jobs, family and writing. And it’s a fallacy that “real” writers work full time at their writing, and that’s the only thing they do. Most working writers have another job, or two, or three.

Those days when you cannot get your butt in a chair, when you can’t get words on the page, you need take a deep breath and realize that you will have time in the future, if writing is something you truly value.

When life is wild, here are three things I do:
1. I tell myself, you can do it. I write what I can. I encourage myself. I make it a point to be generous with myself.

2. I find the pockets of the day when I’m not doing anything and use that for writing.

3. Sometimes I can’t fit writing in. On those days, I take a deep breath and relax. I write down the ideas as they’re coming and I know that I’m going to get back it as some point.

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We’re being lied to

We’ve been told we all have the same 24 hours, no excuses.

Except that we don’t. No, really, we don’t. We’re too busy cooking and cleaning.

A recent Bureau of Labor Statistics American Time Use Survey showed that women still spend 1 hour and 18 minutes more every day on household activities* than men do.

*Household activities: things like housework, cooking, taking care of the kids, and other household management.

On an average day, 19% of men do housework, compared to 49% of women; 46% of men do food prep or clean up, compared to 69% of women.

If you’ve wondering why you can’t find time to write, that’s one reason. So don’t feel guilty when you run out of time. And, for goodness sake, don’t listen to anyone that tells you you’re not trying hard enough.

Dream the impossible dream

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We are women. We do things that are impossible, like herding cats. Every. Freaking. Day. Today is a good day to remember that nothing is beyond the bounds of possibility when it comes to your writing dreams. Go and write. And when you need a break, herd a few cats.

Why Can’t I Find Time to Write? Part 5

This is the fifth in a several-part post.

The theme of virtually every article about how to write is straightforward: Just do it. Just find the time to write. Just write! So why don’t we? How can so many women be so morally bankrupt that they can’t take this simple advice?

Here’s what I think: we try to pretend that the advice we are given is really good and the failure lies with all the women who can’t make it work for them. That’s wrong. It doesn’t make any sense. Is it not more logically that the advice we are given is just really bad advice for women writers? In a Paris Review Interview Toni Morrison admits that she has no routine. She says, “I am not able to write regularly. I have never been able to do that—mostly because I have always had a nine-to-five job. I had to write either in between those hours, hurriedly, or spend a lot of weekend and predawn time” (p. 3). This woman gives me hope.

Why Can’t I Find Time to Write? Part 4

This is the fourth in a several-part post.

Since starting my PhD program, I have thought often and deeply about women and writing, what it means to have a voice and to use language, what it means to fashion a time and space where a woman’s writing work can be done. For most of my adult life there has never been a moment where I was undisturbed, free to do my artistic work away from the interruption of work or children. Rather my life as a creative woman is represented on two registers: society-making and soul-making. In place of single-minded devotion to my creative/artistic work (soul-making), my attention is required by family relationships and work (society-making).

The first thing I noticed about being accepted into the Creative Dissertation track (I’m writing romantic-mystery novel and a contextualizing essay), is that it gave me “permission” to work on my writing. Why do I need to be “allowed” to take the time to write/create?

Because every time I think about writing, I am creating dangerously. To create dangerously for me really means saying, “No, this is my writing time/space and I won’t __________ during this time.” Why is that dangerous? I’m not going to be placed in prison or sentenced to death for creating, but the kids could go hungry, the laundry unwashed, the students papers ungraded, a committee request turned down, and all of the other things that a woman’s life is the center of could go undone or become untied. The world could fall apart and I would be the cause of the destruction of the smooth running life of my loved ones.

Edwidge Danticat says, “All artists, writers among them, have several stories – one might call them creation myths – that haunt and obsess them” (Create Dangerously, p. 5). This is mine: everyone else must be taken care of before I can think about writing the article, the book, the novel. I am my world’s peacemaker. I want everyone to be content, happy, not upset. You can see how that attitude requires much investment in others. When I write, the act is — to quote Danticat — a “disobeyed directive from a higher authority” (p. 5) and that higher authority is our culture that says for women to engage in creative work is an indulgence, an abandonment in fact, of her other duties.

To use a fiction writer’s term, most days I find myself sitting in a “crucible”. “James N. Frey says, “Think of the crucible as the container that holds the characters together as things heat up. The crucible is the bond that keeps them in conflict with one another” (p. 33). My crucible is filled with my need to write and all of those relational, social and cultural tensions that are in conflict with that need.

I know what to do. I need to write. A writer learns to write by writing. Sure that’s a truism, but if is so self-evident as to be hardly worth mention, why do writers/writing teachers/writing books/writing articles keep mentioning it? Because it’s damn hard! To be a published writer, you have to write. How does one write? You show up, sit down, and write. I know what to do, but I don’t do it nearly often enough, because Very Important Tasks (many for which I receive pay) stand between me and my writing time.

But I promise you dear reader that as I work on my novel, I will image the crucible as an old, wooden rowboat. Every day I shall try to poke a few more holes in the rowboat so that it will sink, and I can swim to freedom.

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Writing Tip #9

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When you didn’t have regular time to give to your writing, let your stories* just be working in your head. You can work out all kind of important elements before sitting down to write. That way, when you started to write you are already deep into your story.

*I’m using this word generically to mean all forms and genres of writing.

A Writerly Life: George Eliot

“It is never too late to be what you might have been.”
― George Eliot

Eliot was an English novelist, poet, journalist, translator, and one of the leading writers of the Victorian era.

With regard to finding her writing dreams, if she could it in the Victorian era, we can do it today!