Sometimes I feel like a fraud when I tell people I’m a writer. Because on most days, my writing time is limited to about 2 hours when my 3 year old is asleep. Which means that, really, writing is one of the things I spend the least amount of time doing. But writer-mother-cleaner-washerwoman-tearwiper-bottomwiper doesn’t exactly roll off the tongue, does it?
A couple of weeks ago, one of the lovely people who visit this blog asked me to write about how I fit writing into my life. So this is my attempt at a response. The truth is, anything else that you do takes time away from writing. But if you spend all your time writing, it is very hard to have any kind of regular income and we all know that money, not words, makes the world go round when it comes to feeding three hungry kids every night.
Writing versus work that pays you money, now
To be honest, I think it’s not balancing writing and being a mum that’s hard; it’s the balance of writing (which is potentially paid work, but at some far distant time in the future) versus actual paid-at-the-time-you-do-it work, which is the hardest juggle.
I have a pretty good routine now for writing-time and mum-time. I write my books from 12.30 till 2.30 every day while my youngest is asleep, and I have the bonus time of Tuesday morning to write as well, when someone looks after my son. I do all of my admin work at night, because I find that my writing brain goes into retirement by about 7pm. So every night, except weekends, from 7.30pm to 9.00pm, I write blogs, or do the invoicing, or update my Pinterest boards, or write my newsletter, or check what’s happening on Twitter, or read research books that relate to the novel I’m writing, or do some preparation for courses I might be teaching.
Teaching writing, or conducting workshops about writing, is what I do to ensure some form of regular income. I find this the hardest thing to fit in. Not so much actually making the time to teach, but making the time to plan and prepare courses, material, mark assignments etc. And so this year, I made a choice, and only time will tell if it’s been the right choice. I’m not doing any undergraduate teaching at university.
Deciding to write, rather than “work”
This was a big decision for me, because undergraduate teaching is a guaranteed income flow for two by twelve week semesters, plus online teaching for the university’s OUA units, which I would fit in during the regular university holidays. When I was teaching at university, I found that I would have to spend at least two of my weekly writing sessions on course preparation, or marking, or answering student queries etc. Which left me with only three writing blocks a week. The first writing block of any week is always, for me, a warm up. A way to rediscover the voice and the flow and the story. So a lot less words get written on the first day than on subsequent days. What would it be like, I wondered, to have dedicated writing time 5 days a week? It meant dropping the university teaching. But it’s been a huge bonus for me because as I’ve said in other blog posts, I’ve been able to write an entire first draft of a novel in just five and a half months. Having five consecutive writing days has made a huge difference to my productivity.
Luckily I am still able to teach at UWA Extension, which I love as I am working with engaged and enthusiastic adult writers, and the classes are at night, which means no babysitting hassles. And as any mother will know, babysitting dramas can often throw the best laid plans into disarray. I also pick up some paid work from time to time doing speaking engagements etc.
Investing in yourself
So that’s the juggle as I see it. Because being a writer is so much more than just sitting down and writing books. And every choice we make involves a sacrifice of some sort – we sacrifice words, or money, or time with the kids, or having a clean house (I’ve forgotten what that’s like!) to do what we do the best way we know how at any given time. And here’s hoping my decision to invest my time in me and my New York book has been the right one!
What do you think? How do you juggle writing and paid work and other commitments, such as family? How do you decide what should be your priority at any given time? I’d love to hear other people’s experiences.