I got it again yesterday.
Not “it” in the sense that you’re thinking (though I suppose that’s true, too – I’m a newlywed, after all).
No, I’m talking about the question I hear about five times a week from colleagues, fellow-authors, and the homeless guy watching me pick up dog doo during my morning walk:
How do you do it all?
While the homeless guy might have a different context for his question, most people are asking how I manage to balance having a day job, a personal life, a family, and writing career that’s gone a little nutso in the last year (four romantic comedies published in 2014, and four more on the agenda for 2015).
I know a few of you are hoping I’ll offer up the recipe for a secret formula I drink each morning to magically add an extra six hours to each day. Sadly, that’s not the case (though the opposite may occur when consuming large quantities of Chianti).
Magic potions aside, here are a few things I can point to that buy me extra tidbits of time or give me the tools I need to balance this whole crazy mess.
No boob tube
I’m not talking about tube tops (though for the record, I can’t wear those without looking like a misshapen hot dog). I’m talking about television. I can’t actually recall making a conscious decision not to watch it, but about seven or eight years ago, I quit flipping the TV on to catch nightly reruns of Friends or the evening news. I was never a big TV fan anyway, and I never had cable, so this wasn’t a huge hardship. Even so, it was eye-opening how much free time I suddenly had.
Not-so-coincidentally, that’s about the time I got serious about writing.
Do I miss it? Not really. I still get together with girlfriends for an occasional tipsy viewing of The Bachelor, and my husband buys boxed sets of TV series like Dexter and Breaking Bad that we’ll chip away at for a year or two by watching an episode on laundry folding night.
If the idea of giving up the boob tube makes you weep, don’t feel bad. Everyone needs little indulgences, and if that’s yours, rock on with your TV-watching self. Just look for other time-sucking elements to cut from your life. A pal recently gave up Facebook and said he’s astounded by how much extra time he has now that he’s not flipping through his phone every five minutes to see who commented on photos of his dinner.
Multi-task like a boss
I’m very rarely doing only one thing at a time. When I walk the dog, I’m also catching up with my mom on the phone. When I’m on the phone with my agent, I’m clipping my toenails. When I do the dishes, I’m thinking through plot details for my next book. When I join my husband in the boudoir to build the beast with two backs, I’m thinking through the choreography of a sex scene I’m preparing to write.
I probably shouldn’t have admitted that last one.
This blog post was written over the course of several lunch breaks at the day job. I brainstormed most of it in the car on my way to Barre class, dictating ideas to Siri on my phone as I drove. Incidentally, this post nearly contained the phrase, “nice turn signal, asshole!”
Whether you’re struggling to build a writing career, or just trying to juggle a sane person’s existence, multi-tasking is your friend. Just don’t let me hear you peeing when we’re on the phone.
Figure out where to flex
Despite all my meticulous planning and time-saving strategies, life happens. On Monday, “life” was a puking kitten and a vet visit that took up more than two hours of my precious writing day.
That’s why I always build extra cushions into my writing schedule. I mark my calendar with word count goals for every day I’ll be writing. Then I try to keep myself 2,000 words ahead of that so when I’m derailed by vet visits or unexpected meetings or
lunchtime quickies or computer trouble, I don’t have as much ground to make up later.
Make plans and set goals, then take a step back. Think about where things could go off the rails, and set yourself up so you’re not totally screwed if that happens.
Accept the ways you suck
There are many ways I suck, several of which are not suitable for sharing on this blog. One of the things I suck most at, however, is keeping track of my eyeglasses. They’re a requirement for me to read or write, but I’m constantly losing them. I’m not exaggerating when I tell you I lose or break about 20 pairs a year.
So I have a choice here: I can get pissed off at myself and spend half my day searching for lost glasses and the other half insisting I’m going to change my sucky ways, or I can accept that this is who I am and work around my own faults.
Then I can go out and buy 15 new pairs of prescription eyeglasses from Zenni Optical for $6.95 each and scatter them everywhere in my home. Problem solved, self-flagellation avoided, and hours that would have otherwise been spent searching for eyeglasses are now diverted back into writing.
Got a bad habit that’s eating up your time? Find creative ways to work with or work around your faults instead of expending the energy fighting yourself.
Don’t let the big picture freak you out
When my gentleman friend and I were planning our wedding last summer, we had a whiteboard for all the pressing items on our to do list. As the big day approached, our list grew to the point that our tiny wording required a magnifying glass so we’d know how to spend our weekend.
I hated that whiteboard. I still do.
That’s why I like having two kinds of to do lists: The one that shows the big picture of everything I need to tackle in the coming weeks or months. Then I have a second one that includes the most immediate, pressing tasks, along with an assortment of minutia I include for the satisfaction of crossing a few things off the list.
Because nothing’s more satisfying than checking off “take a shower” before noon on a writing day.
Play nice with others
One of the most important lessons I’ve learned is that I can’t do everything alone. Not only can’t I do it, but I shouldn’t.
Promoting yourself as an author can be tedious sometimes, but joining forces with another author to make puppet sex videos? Well that’s just good,
Same goes for picking up tips from people who are smarter than me. On Facebook last week, author Katee Robert shared a photo of her Erin Condren life planner. When I commented asking about it, Katee and authors Jessica Lemmon and Robin Covington immediately chimed in with organization tips and even a coupon code. My new life planner is on its way to me now, and I intend to be fabulously organized within the week.
Or I’ll just play with the stickers. Whatever.
In any case, don’t be afraid to solicit tips, buddy up on projects, or find other ways to rely on the collective experience and creativity of your peers. It makes life more fun, and it’s nice to shoulder the burden with others.
Give yourself a break
Next to the “how do you do it all?” question, the second most common inquiry I field is “when are you going to quit your day job?” My usual answer is that they’ll have to grab me by the hair and forcibly drag me from the building. It’s partly because my day job involves getting paid to snowshoe or go standup paddleboarding or take journalists out to drink beer, but there’s another reason, too.
About four years ago, I had a nine-month period where I did the stay-at-home author thing full-time. It was the least creative nine months of my life. By not getting out to interact with humans and experience life, I turned off the tap that allowed my creative juices to flow.
This is less about having a day job and more about maintaining some diversity in your day-to-day activities so your brain doesn’t shrivel like a testicle in ice water. Take your kids to the park. Have beers with friends. Enjoy a nooner. Go for a hike. Make time for a paw in your butt crack.
Above all, don’t get so wrapped up in your pursuit of a goal that you forget to fuel your soul and your mind.
How about you?
So that’s my long answer to a short question, but I don’t claim to have all the answers. How do YOU manage to do it all? Please share in the comments!