Tuesday, July 28, 2009

Time Management for Female Writers

(Warning, this is tongue in cheek. Male writers are not to feel slighted!)

I once heard a highly successful male writer thank his wife for taking care of the children, while he shut himself away in a room and wrote. She brought him his meals and cups of tea and made sure no one bothered him.

Believe me, every female writer I know would like a wife!

There are tips on the internet to help writers manage their time. Here Michael Stelzner makes suggestions. And here Annette Young talks about planning your writing day.

As a mother of six I used to think, 'When all my children are in school, I'll have time to myself'. I had one year where they were all in school. During that year the youngest broke his arm so severely he needed therapy to regain use of it. So I spent a lot of time driving him to specialists and appointments and doing his therapy with him. Then the following year, the eldest left school and went into part time work and study and I spent my days driving her to and from work and the train station to get to college. And how could I resist therapeutic coffee and cheesecake when she and I would have a D and Ms (Deep and Meaningful conversations)?

Meanwhile, I was still trying to find not only a room of my own to write in, but the mental space in my head to tap into creativity. Washing, cooking cleaning, driving kids to jobs, music lessons, tutoring and sport. Here are some tips wise women have passed along to me over the years.

Where possible, buy clothes that don't need ironing. If it is winter, only iron the collar of a shirt, the rest will be hidden by the school jumper.

If it isn't dirty, don't clean it. (Don't laugh. I used to vacuum the hallway, just because it was between the living room and the bedroom).

When the kids can be trusted in the kitchen, teach each of them to cook their favourite meal. If you have three kids, that's three nights of the week when you don't have to cook.

Learn to say 'No'. If you're a competant person, people will thrust responsibility on you, president of the school committee, treasurer, tuckshop convenor, run a stall at the school fete. It never stops. At some point you have to decide, I've done my share. Let someone else do it now.

And the last one is really important. At some point in your life, things may get too much for you. (Moving house, coping with illness in children or elderly relatives, stress on top of stress). Don't run yourself into the ground trying to please everyone all the time. Be your own best friend. Best friends can be honest with each other, they have their friend's best interest at heart.

So be kind to yourself. Imagine what you would say to your best friend if they were going through what you are going through. Now, give that advice to yourself and follow it!

How do you juggle work and family, and still make time for your writing?

16 comments:

KylieQ said...

I have a very wonderful and very understanding husband who cooks, cleans and bring me gin and tonics. I couldn't write and hold down a full time job without his support. I also have two wonderful dogs who are always in the study with me and interrupt me for a game every hour or so. When I'm sitting there trying to shut out the rest of the world, they remind me of what's really important.

Rowena Cory Daniells said...

Kylie, pets are wonderful. I have several cats. The grey ones risk their lives by sleeping on my black chair in the dim computer room.

If I'm not careful, they'll jump up onto my desk and add interesting symbols to my manuscript by walking across the keyboard!

Amanda Green said...

Rowena, great post. My juggling act used to include running away to the local library to work when things got too hectic at home. Unfortunately, that is no longer a viable option. I've gotten involved in several projects at the library so now, whenever I'm there, the librarians I'm working with use it as time to discuss the projects, etc. Then there's the fact the kids are still on summer vacation and, well, you get the picture.

So now it is mainly grab a few minutes when I can. I carry either my EEE or a notebook and pen or both with me all the time. it's amazing how much can be done waiting in line to place your order at the local fast food restaurant or in the car while the 19 year old is driving -- plus that also has the added benefit on not letting me concentrate on what he's doing. I have enough white in my hair as it is. [G]

What I really want is a maid to clean house for me. I an handle the rest of it. Cooking is a time when I can think about the current WIP -- especially since the family becomes strangely invisible during that time unless I specifically ask for help. Working in the yard is the same thing. But cleaning -- no way. So I want a maid to come take care of all those pesky little details like laundry, dusting and cleaning the bathrooms.

As for cats, I have one, the demon cat. The one who likes to act like my forearms and hands are prey to be attacked and subdued whenever I sit at the desk to work at the PC. The fact she still has her claws makes that not so much fun. Then there are the times she does her vulture imitation from the top of the door -- which is behind me when I sit at my desk -- snd leaps onto the back of my chair, scaring me to death. Of course, you can't forget the keyboard dance and "try to catch the cursor on the screen". Still, I wouldn't trade her for the world.

Sarah A. Hoyt said...

How one manages it is simple -- I've given up sleep and exercise, both of which decisions are responsible for my ballooning weight and might need to be re-examined. ;)

I completely understand what Rowena means. I used to think "When the kids can dress/eat/walk by themselves, I'll have ALL this time to write." Not so much. We end up with activities we have to drive them to, stuff that has to be bought RIGHT now, and that year I was homeschooling the younger son.

I don't want to malign my family. They're great about having four dinners a week being "get it yourself." (They call it Guy Dinner.) They're great about the occasional laundry/cleaning. And none of my kids ever asked me to volunteer at the school.

OTOH I have lost friends who couldn't understand that "trying to make you relax" by talking to me while I'm on deadline is not an endearing habit and that when I avoid that it doesn't mean I hate them, just that I'm busy.

I think people have in their heads this image of writers as a'tists who have all this free time. Oh, you know. Walk to the coffee shop, walk back, write three paragraphs and that's your work day. This often colides with the real life of "the book is due and I lost the week looking after a kid with the flu." And I've found, over time, the images in people's heads are the HARDEST thing to change.

Anonymous said...

This issue is the biggest bane of my writing. My husband and daughter are marvelous. They don't mind letting the house fall down around them while I write ( and they do pick up some of the slack). My problem is me.

If I'm on a deadline of some sort, I can justify to myself that it's okay to ignore the personal duties. If not (usually the case), it can always wait. I have a hard time concentrating if the house looks like crap. I'm not Suzy Housemaker to begin with, and "crap" is a matter of comparison.

These are my personal hurdles to jump, and I'll figure it out eventually. I've gotten much better at it than in years past.

Erica getting older is also a good thing writing-wise, and her driving is even a better thing. On a personal note, I also know that she only has a year or two more in the house. I'll be inconsolable when she leaves, I'm sure, so I want to have a life of my own by that point. I've spent so many years putting in the time and effort on her behalf (and let's not forget the job but that will still be here), that the time-hole will be large. I want this in place by then.

No, I don't expect to be Ms. Moneybags Writer, but I do expect to be (or hope to be) with the program - writing, networking, promo-ing, and whatnot.

Anonymous said...

Whoops, forgot to sign my name. I really must sign up on this service.

Linda Davis

Jason Cordova said...

Febreeze is your friend if you want to do cheap and quick laundry.

I also learned the joys of ramen noodles. It's amazing that being an author is a lot like being back in college and on a tight budget.

Dave Freer said...

(long suffering artistic sigh) The best woman for the job is a man. (I've been waiting to say this for twenty years. Allow me my moment of bliss :-)).
There are such easy practical solutions to these problems. Unfortunately the female mind is too highly evloved to think of them. For example:
1)Mud floors - are a great saving on all this sweeping. And the dirt helps the immune system. Really.
2)Foraging is healthy and natural for children and spouses(spice?). Besides why else would there be neighbours with food? There is a devine purpose in these things, you know.
3)Five drops of furnugloss on the heater and smells like the woodwork has been polished to extinction. And the spice and kids eyes are watering far too much to see what the wood looks like.
4)Install your computer in the smallest room in the house. It has a lockable door.
See. It's all easy when you get a male mind to deal with it.

Monkey (who was Mr Mum for ?5 years when one kid was still in nappies. And wrote. A lot. More then than now. And I cooked and cleaned the house. But I didn't sleep much. And I learned to cook very fast and effectively.)

Rowena Cory Daniells said...

Amanda, there must be a special relationship between writers and their cats.

And getting involved with projects at the library is great. I totally understand why you would. I'm involved with our regional library running workshops etc. But I sympathise, it does mean you can't run away there to write.

I've seriously considered applying for a residency, where you have a room at a writers centre and go there to write three days a week.

Rowena Cory Daniells said...

Sarah, I call those self help dinners, 'Catch and Kill' the kids have to catch and kill their own dinner!

Friends? Who has time for friends? Isn't that awful? After having 6 kids in 10 years I realised I had no friends. Every moment of the day was focused on my family.

It's only my writing that keeps me sane and in touch with other like-minded people. So I'm really grateful for the internet and writers!

Rowena Cory Daniells said...

Anonymous, I used to think that my children would leave home and I'd miss them. Now I'm considering running away with my husband and leaving the children in the house.

No, seriously, all 6 are still at home and the eldest is nearly 25, plus we have the second eldest's girlfriend living with us. He lost his licence for 6 months and I had to drive them everywhere. He gets in back tomorrow. Yay!

Rowena Cory Daniells said...

Jason, I do admire your stoicism.

Yes, instant noodles are wonderful, but my poor long suffering husband would like a roast or steak dinner now and then.

Rowena Cory Daniells said...

Mud floors, Dave? My grandfather grew up in a one room cabin in the bush with a mud floor.

My grandmother had a mud floor under her house which she used to hose down and sweep while it was wet, so it went hard like concrete when it dried.

Boy, am I lucky to have a dishwasher!

Kate said...

So where do we women writers get ourselves wives?

I sneak writing into whenever I can. A few words here, a few there in between stuff at work, evenings if I'm awake enough (which depends on how well the narcolepsy is behaving and whether the job has gone feral) and usually a few hours on weekends.

Right now the priorities are the day job, husband time, and writing. I don't need to list the cats because they make their own priorities by coming over and insisting on getting some quality time on their schedule.

Probably the biggest issue I have is when it comes time for revisions and putting submissions together. I need actual blocks of more or less uninterrupted time for that, where drafts can happen anytime I have a few minutes and the ability to type for a bit. Or write into my PDA. Or plain old longhand. Comes from sneaking writing in while I was in class ;-)

Rowena Cory Daniells said...

Kate,

Block of uninterrupted time is what I crave. I need to be able to see the flow of the whole story to pick up slow patches. but what I get are 20 minute windows of opportunity, that leave me with a patchwork glimpse of how the book is coming along.

Dave Freer said...

Acually it was mostly mud and cowdung mixed and 'plastered', and was hard, clean and hard work to keep that way. It was common even in 'european' houses up to fifty years ago and is still common in black rural dwellings now. It's hysgenic and clean and hard work as I said. But I was being facetious as usual, and referring to the mud tracked by two small boys. I'm probably infinitely nastier than all of you, and conditioned by the army, in that the kids a play area, and all of outside. The rest of the house was off-limits in daylight. The dogs (major dirt and hair and mud factors) also had an indoors curfew. Even now, they can access my study - but not the house, from get up time to 4pm. That reduces the time spent cleaning a lot. I solved the uninterrupted writing thing by getting up at 4 AM. The kids and B got up at 6.30.