Karen Putz asks how I do it — balance full-time writing and being a parent to three kids. I should be asking her how she does it — she interviews Marlee Matlin!
As I mentioned in my how I became a writer story, the whole thing started as a part-time venture while managing a part-time corporate job (for most of it) and three kids. I believe writing on the side while holding down a corporate job is a better route than chucking it all for the freelance life.
Yes, life is about risks, but you’re more likely to succeed by building up instead of starting with zip. Had I chucked it all back in 2000, I would’ve had less than a part-time amount of work and no health benefits. My spouse got laid off in 2003, right before #3 came along. We would’ve been in deep trouble had I chucked, which would’ve been more of an upchuck (holds back from the woodchuck routine).
I also volunteer and sit on several PTA boards. My mom was a full-time volunteer for the second half of my childhood. I wanted to be like her. Living a balanced life is important to me. My kids will grow up, so I need to enjoy them NOW.
Prefer to be all about your career? You might want to read Wake Up, Damn It! If your career makes you happy, then go for it and ignore everything here.
So how do I manage all of this? Not without a little insanity and stress at times, but these tips help make it easier:
- Enroll younger kids in pre-school. Keeping them at home isn’t doable (unless you have a nanny). My youngest has learned amazing stuff he would never have learned had he stayed home. He enters kindergarten in the fall (sob).
- Rely on a personal information manager complete with contacts, calendar, and to do lists. The Palm desktop has been my trusty sidekick since 1995. Use Outlook. Use any of the many online web-based applications.
- Balance your schedule for the week. Non-work appointments take too many of my slots this week. I’ve rescheduled two. I try to spread out appointments, but that doesn’t always work and find a week becomes overloaded. So when I realize it, I start moving things around where I can. I review the week ahead sometime between Friday and Monday to ensure balance or to do something about it.
- Accept working off hours. While I work a standard work week, appointments and kid events can cut into my work time. So I make it up in the evening or on weekends, but never at the sacrifice of sleep bring us to the next point…
- Get sleep. Everyone requires a different amount of sleep to function well. If I stay up late working on something, I’m hurting more than helping my clients and business. While I might get something done late at night, I’m useless the next day and lose an entire day. So better to sleep and finish in the morning.
- Avoid waiting until last minute to do work to make deadline. To avoid late nights, I make sure I have room to meet the deadline. This prevents racing the clock or sacrificing quality to make a deadline.
- Make “No” part of your vocabulary. Or else, get stuck with deadlines close to each other, overload your schedule, and turn yourself into a stress machine (which affects your health). I believe, “When mama ain’t happy, ain’t nobody happy.” So parents, it may feel selfish to say, “No,” but your family benefits.
- Drop stressful clients. I’ve dropped a client or two because I didn’t enjoy the work and dreaded working on their projects. Add these together spells energy drain. Worried about replacing them? Writers should always include marketing a part of their job.
- Balance your kids’ activities. Who says they need to take music lessons, play sports, dance, and do scouts all at once? Kids need a break, too. Try to limit younger ones’ — who are trying things to find what they like — current activities to one or two. When one ends, you can try something else. After all, fewer activities means fewer chauffeuring jobs for parents.
- Use your “I can’t write now” time wisely. When we find ourselves unable to write or work, we can easily fall into the trap of needlessly surfing the Web or doing other wasteful activities. When I’m in a stupor, I fold laundry, exercise, play games (that I need to review) — Things that benefit me.
How do you balance your writing life with your personal life?