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When Writing Demands Cut Into Other Priorities

In the last post we established that the number of demands placed upon modern writers has increased, but the amount of time we have to meet the demands has not gone up at the same rate.

If anything, with the busy, activity-filled lives of our modern culture, our time for quiet, centered writing has gone down.

Even if we're setting proper priorities for our writing stage, we still struggle to fit everything in. The problem for most of us is that we can't tackle writing, researching, learning the craft, blogging, networking, etc. in 40 hours a week, especially when we're not making a full time living from it. Other responsibilities fill our days--jobs, children, school, etc. We're forced to squeeze writing work onto the side.

Or. . . we begin to take time away from our other responsibilities. Perhaps we sneak onto blogs or twitter while we're alone in our office at work. Maybe we facebook about our kids instead of getting on the floor and playing with them. Or maybe we neglect exercise and sleep to the detriment of our health so that we can finish our daily word count.

Let's all be honest. We have so many writing demands and so little time, that we often let the writing work cut into other important priorities.

I'm reminded of the life of Clara Wieck Schumann, a 19th century composer and wife of the acclaimed musician Robert Schumann. First, as a woman she already had the challenge of finding success in a world dominated by men. But more than that, she had eight children whom she raised with great care in addition to the many household duties expected of women during the 1800's.

Clara didn't have a microwave, washing machine, the McDonald's drive-thru, dishwasher, store-bought bread, or thousands of other modern conveniences we've come to rely upon. For a time, she single-parented her eight children when her husband was hospitalized.

And yet the list of Clara's accomplishments is astounding. She taught at the Leipzig Conservatory as well as gave private lessons. She performed piano concerts throughout Europe and was continually composing her own works. And of course, as any piano student knows, she had to practice, practice, practice.

Clara Schumann became known as one of the greatest pianists of her time.

How did she do it? How did she manage the heavy demands of a musician's life and all of her other responsibilities? How can we manage the load of a writer's life and still keep up with our other priorities?

I don't think there is an easy answer to that question for her or for us. But I take courage from her story. If she was able to achieve a successful music career amidst the responsibilities of her large family, without modern conveniences, then certainly with all of our technology we can find a way to handle our work loads.

Here are just a few of the ways that I've tried to manage writing priorities and other responsibilities:

Set boundaries. I set aside specific writing time every day. I use the time for actual writing, researching, or editing (and I turn off the social networking). I've established my "work" time with my family and they're learning to accept and respect the new boundaries.

Keep up with the work. In other words, I try not to procrastinate. When I'm away from my computer for any length of time and then return, I quickly run through my emails and delete all of the ones I absolutely don't need to read. Then I spend a few minutes right away answering or reading the ones left. I try to do the same with blogging and other networking.

Know when to stop. This is a hard one for me. I tend to justify doing more and working longer because usually my work time is often a jumble of interruptions (even with boundaries). But I also don't want to look up from my computer some day and realize my children aren't there anymore, that they're grown up and gone. Which brings me to my last point. . .

Savor life. I'm passionate about my stories and characters. I cry when they cry. And I laugh when they laugh. I notice the tiniest details--the shadows under eyes, even the quiver of a lip. If I can immerse myself deeply into my fiction, then surely I can take the time to experience such emotions in real life.

I want to savor this life God's given me--the intermingling of imagination and reality. I long to find just as much passion and beauty in real life as I do in my stories. But that means I have to make a conscious effort to fully live in each moment, no matter what I'm doing.

How about you? Do you know when to stop working? And are you taking the time to savor real life as much as the imaginary one?

47 comments:

  1. Oh, Jody, you're stepping on my toes today. I've been so abnoxiously busy the past couple of weeks trying to fit everything in. But I'm vowing now to savor my time with my kids this weekend. My youngest turns 7 (SEVEN!!) The kids are done with school today until after the New Year, so I'll be spending a lot of time with them and trying to write a little during that time. It's definitely hard to find a great balance, but, like you, I dont' want to look up one day and realize my children are grown and gone.

    Happy Friday!

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  2. Ahhhh, what a GREAT post, Jody! I am so so so guilty of this. I have such LITTLE time to even set aside for writing, it's automatically cutting into my husbands time, my kids time... but I can still learn balance. I think that will be my New Year's Resolution!

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  3. I try to fit in my writing and researching in the early morning hours when everyone is asleep and during my little one's nap time. I also try to work in blogging, emails, and such during those times as well. My mornings are generally designated as home time: cleaning, home schooling, cooking, etc. all while keeping up with our toddler. Lunch time we all typically sit down at the table and have lunch together. The afternoon is nap time for our toddler. During that time I try to focus on any writing I need to get done, blogging, emails, etc. along with helping my daughter with any of her school work she does on her own that she needs help with. After dinner, the evenings are generally family time. We spend time together, watch a movie, talk, etc.

    But even though we have a general routine, I find there are still times when I have to set aside some things to get a project finished. Sometimes writing deadlines will creep up on us and we have to readjust our plans and schedules temporarily to get things accomplished.

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  4. It's definitely a hard balance. Since I'm not contracted or agented, I try to only write or blog when the kids are playing or sleeping, and when hubby is busy with his stuff. These are great tips for me to remember when it's time to expand my work time.

    I think I do know when to stop working, but I have other issues. LOL I'm going to try to savor stuff more today. :-)

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  5. Great lesson Jody! My focus has been jumbled with so many things, I'm learning to commit myself to things that I know God is calling me to. Writing has been the prime focus for the last stretch of this year and I've neglected everything else.

    It's so hard.

    My prayer for 2010, should God allow me to see it, is to give God, my family, and my writing top priority in my life. Working 40hrs a week at work, is a huge distraction from my dream, and I do struggle not to blog when I'm working. (Like I'm doing right now!) Yikes!

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  6. Finding balance in this crazy world is certainly a challenge.
    I was reminded earlier this morning that when we give time to God, He has a way of multiplying and blessing our efforts.
    I try to set aside some writing time each evening. My 15 y/o has developed a habit of following me into my little study- and we have had some of the very best conversations that way.
    Thanks for your blog- I can see already that it will help keep me centered and focused

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  7. You are an inspiration in regards to self-discipline. I need to set those boundaries and not procrastinate. I am also trying to accept the fact that I have to work full time right now and so writing will not be the main focus I want it to be. God and family have to come first, but I need to learn to organize my time better to have a set writing time. Thanks for a great post!

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  8. It is such a struggle to fit everything in and I must admit that lately I'm not accomplishing everything that I would like to. But I always look toward the New Year as a way of starting fresh and getting back on track.I know it's impossible to make the time for everything so I just do what I'm able to. Some days I accomplish more than others but I am always in awe of those who seem to be able to juggle it all.

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  9. Oh wow, savor life and know when to stop. It's exactly what I've been pondering this past week (ever since Rachelle's post about Chief Edwards). I don't want to look up from my compuater and wonder where my life went. I want to savor those small, simple moments, when I'm rolling around the floor with Brogan, or giving my husband a hug. I'm going to blog about this soon. Probably a New Year's resolution...only not so much a resolution, but a perspective shift.

    I loved this post today, Jody. It just reaffirms what I've been reflecting on. Reaffirms that while writing is important to me, while it's my dream, it should never take away from my living, but add to it. If it starts taking away, then I need to step back and reprioritize.

    Happy Friday friend!
    Katie

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  10. Establishing boundaries and a routine is important. Unfortunately others don't always respect the boundaries. Especially if you're viewed as a stay at home mom and not having a "real" job.

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  11. Just knowing you're plugging away everyday helps to keep me focused. Thanks for that.

    Your story about Clara Schumann is so lovely. A rich life means the ability to meet life's challenges, but also remembering to sit and savor.

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  12. I think you pretty well summed it up. Has Robyn been teaching you her mind reading tricks, because how you summed it up, is pretty much how I do things. Hmmmm . . .

    I think the most important thing anybody, writer or not, can do is to savor life. We rush here, there, and everywhere and rarely take the time to smell the roses, the coffee, the petunias, the pine trees, the fabric softener, or anything. Rush. Rush. Rush. I try to find some time to savor life every single day, even if it's only first thing in the morning when I'm walking the dog, pretty much still dark out, the sky starting to lighten, and red fire seeming to tinge the horizon. Then, there are the spring, summer, and fall days where I can sit outside with a cup of coffee on a Saturday/Sunday morning and just enjoy the world around me.

    I think savoring life is the most important priority of all, because often, that life provides inspiration.

    S

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  13. Oh, this is such a challenge! It's easy to feel like our stories are real life, but you brought up a good point. I don't want to miss watching my son grow up either. It's such a delicate balance.

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  14. I don't always know when to stop, but on the flip side, I can be good at procrastinating. One of my prayerful goals for 2010 is to have better balance in what I am called to do. Thanks, Jody, for a great post and much food for thought. Blessings!

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  15. Yeah, you mentioned my old friend Boundaries! He's been good to me. And savoring life...I can think of few more important things than soaking it up as we go along.

    I appreciated how you mentioned caring for your characters and how we need to have equal passion for those in our lives.

    Great insight.
    ~ Wendy

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  16. I've for sure learned to savor life. It's been an impossibility to get all things done around here and plus with Christmas next week I really need to spend some time wrapping this mountain of gifts. Care to help? ;)

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  17. I believe Clara acheived her great level of success because she refused to allow TV, Facebook and Twitter to cut into her disciplined schedule. In case you think I'm stupid, that was supposed to be a joke.

    You inspire me, Jody. Someday we will meet, whether here or in the Golden City, and I will hug the bajebbers out of you to thank you for your exhorting soul...

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  18. I know when to stop working, but I completely ignore the warning signs.

    My goal for the new year? Moderation in all things!!

    Elizabeth
    Mystery Writing is Murder

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  19. I learned this lesson the hard way two summers ago and hope to never fall back on giving my family their due time and energy and attention.

    I love this: " I notice the tiniest details--the shadows under eyes, even the quiver of a lip. " I can't wait to read your stories, Jody!!!

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  20. My boundaries are set with itineraries. If I'm drawn away from my work by the rest of life, I know I'll return to some sort of order and priority on that itinerary, which helps. And I also see the value of taking small blocks of time and just "unplugging" for a bit. It refreshes in many ways, benefiting myself and my work.

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  21. It's amazing how we let modern day and its conveniences get in the way of production. I'm sure Clara Schumann would be aghast, aren't you?

    Thanks, Jody. Another helpful, informative post!

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  22. I am working very hard to savor the moments in life and writing less as a result. But I'm finding that that's okay. I'm also learning to trust my own rhythms. If I set aside work time and the work isn't happening, I shift to something else. It's more a matter of tuning in to what is calling to me in a particular moment - writing, singing, exercise, hubby, friends?
    Love this post, Jody.
    Karen

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  23. Great post Jody. I agree that turning off the social networking during prime writing/editing hours is a good idea. I don't have the discipline not to check them every fifteen minutes otherwise. Yesterday I was thinking back to when I first began writing (as an adult, I wrote as a child and teenager too) with a semi-serious notion that one day I might be published. I didn't even have a type-writer, much less a computer. It was me alone in a room with a candle, a cup of coffee, a pen and a stack of lined paper. That was twenty years ago, but it feels more like fifty. How times have changed. So many new challenges to overcome just to get the writing done and stay disciplined.

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  24. Jody, I want to savor this life too. Thanks for the reminder to REALLY live this life God has given to me.

    I like the one about setting boundaries. I too have told the family that my work time is just that. Still the interruptions come.

    Wonderful post as usual. I shall refer to it a lot as the days melt into January and I am querying agents. And working on my new WIP. :)

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  25. I struggle with this sometimes, especially when I'm in that place where the words are just flowing. I have a hard time stopping. Thanks for reminding me that my kids will be gone soon. I'll have all the time in the world for writing after that. For now, I should put them first.

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  26. Knowing when to stop is such a great one, one I need more practice with. I'm getting better at it. It's just so easy to get sucked in to some of the networking things and the next thing I know, hours have passed. I'm really trying to be aware and be present in every moment.

    Thanks, Jody! Have a great weekend!

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  27. I'm much better about this now than I used to be. It takes time to find the right system to fit your life. I do the same things you do! We're a lot alike!

    Have a terrific weekend!

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  28. Great post as always, Jody! I'm so glad I didn't live in Mrs. Schumann's day! Can't imagine! My prayer is to live a balanced life including my writing time. Have a blessed weekend!

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  29. It is hard to pull away, to remain engaged in real life, while trying to write. Writing is a carrot dangling; I could chase after it 24 hours if I let myself. So, late in the day, I force myself shut the computer off.

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  30. My problem is the reverse - I tend to let life interfere with my writing. I have to be diligent about trying to carve out writing time so I don't let everything else eat up my day. ;)

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  31. Jody, who doesn't face these obstacles, right? It's good to revisit them and our priorities. We have to do that pretty much daily and it can be a bit much. We also need to carve our time for God -- so important and so neglected (I'm talking to myself here!). So often, when I give time to God, I find the energy for more of the other things that need to get done and moments that should be enjoyed. Here's a challenge to all: the few days of Christmas we have with family, let's try to turn off our devices and just be there, fully, for that time. The work will still be there after we've had that precious time with family or friends. (Alright, I am challenging myself, but hoping it will inspire others...) Thanks as always for helping us keep our priorities clear!

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  32. As CJ said, sometimes the greatest obstacle is getting other people to respect those boundaries, and to realize you have a 'real job.'

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  33. Jody, fantastic post. I had a priority day like that today. I took a day off from work because I wanted to write. I had a dentist appointment in the morning and figured I would do that the rest of the day. However, my 7-year old had a "parents invited" Christmas party at his school and my wife and I had a chance to have a sit down lunch. I wrote for a good while, longer than I normally get a chance to do on a given day, but I took in the lunch and the party, too.

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  35. Wonderful post.
    I've struggled with this problem, so I made a schedule for myself. I put in HH duties, writing, etc. Knowing laundry will be taken care of on ... say Sunday morning, allowed me to roll around and play with my daughter. I love being in the moment when I am with her and not worry about what needs to be done, since I know it will be.

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  36. I find the late nights are my most productive time. Even when I've had a chunk of daytime to devote to my writing I'll often work for a couple hours after everyone else has gone to bed, savouring the quietness and lack of interruptions.

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  37. I was just questioning myself on this matter the other day. Do I balance my life and my imaginary one?

    I like to think so.

    Good luck to everyone!

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  38. For me, the social networking is a real temptation. I could easily spend the entire day bouncing around the Net.

    Since I finished the first draft of my second manuscript, I've been coasting. A devotional here, a blog post there, a little research for Book 3. I think it's time I took my own advice, and "put the pedal to the metal."


    Blessings,
    Susan :)

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  39. Great post. I find the only way for me to write is to leave my house. I have a fabulous library where I can bring my coffee. Only problem is I drive 28 miles R/T to get there.

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  40. Thank you for the story on Clara Schumann. She must have been an amazing mother and inspiration to her off-spring. She nurtured them and followed her passion. I want to be like that.

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  41. I believe I'm stuck in a perpetual muddle at the moment. Perhaps after the holidays I can reestablish my writing life. I miss it so.

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  42. The key for me is to walk by the Spirit. To always be asking for direction and clarity, to seek to do moment-by-moment what I believe God would have me do. I'm not perfect. I make plenty of mistakes. But I take comfort in this: the more I practice, the more skilled I become. And I am not alone with it, because God helps me. He wants to be the center of everything I do!

    I love your work ethic and the way you handle things, by the way. I admire you for all that you are doing.

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  43. I've taken a two month break from writing (unplanned and not my choice). The longer I'm away the more self-doubt creeps in. I vow to have some semblence of a schedule as I'm stepping into the game again so that I don't crash and burn like I did in October.

    Thank you for sharing your schedule with us. I could always use some tips and the one I will utilize right away is informing my family what hours of the day I'll be writing.
    Bless you and Merry Christmas.

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  44. What a great post, and perfect timing for my life right now. It's really hard for me to break away from this writing life to be more balanced in the rest of my life. Your words are inspirational and poetic.

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  45. Great post, Jody!
    As a new blogger, I have been itching to surf when I should be tapping words into the WIP!!!!

    The Spirit will help me with a schedule adjustment, if I will just listen!

    Oh, thank you for enriching my month.

    Merry Christmas!

    Patti
    www.pattilacy.com/blog

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  46. I agree with what you've said, but I think it also goes a step further.

    It boils down to "how badly do you want this?"

    If you must write, you write. Whatever else is going on, you make the time, you steal the time, you wrestle the time. Time will never just open up for you -- voids always fill. So you make it happen. Even fifteen minutes waiting in line can be useful, it you actually use it.

    We all have 24 hours in the day. It's how we choose to use them that defines us.

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  47. . but I can still learn balance. I think that will be my New Year's Resolution!

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