Wednesday, 7 April 2010

Finding a balance

One thing I struggle with is creating enough space to write around working a ‘normal’ full-time job. I worry that everyone else manages this with ease, perhaps with a child upon each knee, and in comparison I am disproportionately stupidly slow. I cannot seem to speed up, and so spend ages berating myself for being useless. The knock-on effect is that by the time I do actually try to write, I feel pretty sad about myself and so cannot think of anything to add to the page apart from ‘durr’.

As you can imagine this does not do me any favours!

At the moment I spend approximately around two and a half hours each day commuting to and from my job. Sadly it is the sort of commute where you don’t get a seat, but squeeze into corners on trains and tubes wishing you were somewhere else. So I cannot use that time to write, although I can use it to think – sometimes the best plot ideas come from times like this!

My job is in a busy office, with colleagues that sit fairly close by. I am very conscientious when working, and my job requires me to be on the ball and puzzling out various solutions. So I cannot sneak any writing into the days, and even blog posts (if long) are created at home and emailed to myself at work to whack online when I get a moment. Even that makes me feel guilt-ridden (it doesn’t take much, I admit).

At home I don’t have anywhere really to write. My computer is in an awkward place (the only spot it can go in) and I have to sit cross-legged on my bed in order to use it. It’s not ideal… but it is workable. The only thing that isn’t is me! I get in from work each evening, eat, fold myself into the spot in front of the computer, but no real writing happens! A few words, a few paragraphs… I know it is still all helping but it doesn’t seem to be that fast a creation. I also need my sleep… I get up early, so need to start snoozing at least by eleven, or else I am a cranky girl.

So there’s my big conundrum – am I really just going very slowly with writing/redrafting, or am I expecting too much of myself?

I think it is all about finding a balance, and I seem to be permanently teetering on one side or the other. Maybe I need to be more organised – leave the house earlier so I get to work and have time to write down the ideas / blog / catch up before work starts? And then only do that in the morning, so the evenings are just for writing. That sounds good… but is it realistic? In a way I suppose it is… set the alarm earlier, start the day earlier… there is really nothing stopping me apart from my reluctance to stir from bed!

How do you do it? Do you write full-time, or do you also fit writing (or being creative) in around a busy job or being a busy mum? If so how do you find a balance and make time for it?

And a big hello to all people following, and leaving comments. I appreciate it so much, thank you!


Karen Jones Gowen said...

What a relevant question, and it got me thinking back to those days (no, years, decades) when I was raising my children, (ten of them, but they came along one by one, so it wasn't as bad as it sounds, it just took a really long time for them all to grow up), and I had a similar dilemma. I wrote in a journal. No real stories to speak of. No real creative writing, just obsessive journal writing. I was writing, I was venting, I was giving myself therapy. And when I did have the time to focus creatively many years later, there was all the material for my novel. Right there. For all the novels I want to write. It's all there. I just mix it up a bit. Throw in a few villains and there you go. So basically-- get your research now and save the creativity for later. Like on that commute, can you keep a notebook and record people & places you see, conversations you hear, descriptions of what's around you? That stuff will be gold later on.

Melissa Cunningham said...

Thank you for coming by my blog! I loved what you had to say and I really enjoyed reading this post too.

Boy, you're in a tight spot. I'm lucky in that I can stay home and all my kids but one is in school. So really, if I let my house go to pot, I have plenty of time to write.

Of course I have other responsibilities that keep me busy, but I'm no where near how busy you are.

Honestly, I'm not sure what advice I can give. Just stuff your writing in wherever you can. Just like you're doing. Try not to "think" while you write. Just let yourself totally go. Go into la la land and write outrageously. When I do that, my books are even better. You can "think" later on when you go back to edit.

Write during lunch while you eat if you can. Also, they sell those little writing computers that are small and you can take anywhere. Dang. What are they called? Can't remember. I'll look it up for you, but don't worry. You'll get there. Keep your dream alive!

And hey! I'm your 50th follower! How cool is that?

sarahjayne smythe said...

Balance is something we all struggle with a lot of the time. I write around a full-time job that actually takes more than full-time. I have four kids who while older, live at home and juggle school and other responsibilities. My husband is a great help in keeping me balance as we all juggle family life.

I basically try to just jot down notes and snippets of dialogue whenever/wherever I can. It makes for a lot of paper scraps, but I'm not sure how else to do it.

Joanne said...

You're right, it does often come down to a balance. I write to-do lists with my goals every week. It helps me to see what's ahead of me, to fit it in the schedule. Maybe try that, but keep your goals manageable so you can accomplish them and feel satisfied with your work.

Talli Roland said...

Karen, you have 10 kids!? I'm in awe!

I don't think I'm qualified to answer this questions, because I couldn't write when I worked full time (maybe I was just too lazy). For me it was write or nothing.

MommyHeadache said...

I am lucky because my kids are at school so I write in the afternoons - I actually run out of steam after three hours so that is the perfect time for me - I am writing a mystery at the moment.Great blog I have linked you!

Unknown said...

I work full time as a data analyst and as soon as I get home I start the writing process my muse is normally in full force and angry that I haven't written all day so she makes sure I get several thousand words in a day!!!

As a part time writer I was able to knock out 82K in five weeks thanks to my wonderful muse and she's at it again with the sequel!! Sometimes balance is something that can't be obtained... some things refuse to wait!

Roland D. Yeomans said...

Well, being Clark Kent helps me with doing my writing at super-speed.

I wish. No, you are not slow. You're human. And that condition is better than being a cat. Typing with paws is a real pain. My cat Gypsy keeps telling me that.

Seriously, I am a blood courier, and work can be a 13 hour a day for 12 days straight gauntlet with being on first call during sleepless nights. I carry a small note pad in my back pocket. I write scraps of dialogue or gems of plot twists that occur to me on the road.

At night, I force myself to pull out my wrinkled note pad and start typing. I make myself do only 15 minutes a night, though once typing it often turns into a half-hour, sometimes an hour.

The shower, surprisingly, has given me excellent new slants on dialogue as I try it out in the echo chamber of the tiles. Gypsy, my cat, is certain I have gone round that merry bend into insanity. Little does she know that happened long before I picked her up, battered and bleeding in my apartment parking lot.

And should I find time to watch DVD's or read, I have another note pad by my chair. Sometimes what I've seen or read will spark an excellent idea.

Hope this helps in some small way. Come check out my blog : WRITING IN THE CROSSHAIRS :

You have a delightful blog. Better commuting this week, Roland

Fran Hill said...

I think Melissa's comment about 'stuffing it in' is about right.

Linda said...

Hi Jayne

Oh I can truly sympathise with you and believe me you are not the only one who is struggling with the life / writing balance. Like you I have to cram loads of things into each day so by the time I can get down to writing at night time my brain has switched off so I go and watch mindless tele instead. Too often I think that I am lazy or badly disorganised, but I really think that when you're juggling writing with everything else you have to give yourself a break or it takes the enjoyment out of it.

Recently I was really blocked on my novel but I read somewhere about doing daily pages. This is where you take a notebook and write spontaneously for three pages about anything that comes into your mind. By the time you reach the end of the three pages your creativity has kicked in and you're rariing to go. I've tried to concentrate this on the bits that I am stuck on in my novel and its really starting to work. It sorts out in my head what I need to be doing. If you do this in your lunch hour it might give you the inspiration to work in the evening. I've got a net book too, they are brilliant, easy to carry and make make it easier for you to find somewhere else to write at home.

Good luck and don't despair, you'll find what works for you.


VR Barkowski said...

I don't know if there is an answer to balance. Supposedly, I write full-time now but feel as though I have less writing time than when I worked.

I've managed to schedule so many other activities, most of my writing time is gone. I'm constantly jotting notes. I carry one of those little memo tape recorders around for ideas. And when I'm finally in front of my computer for a jot of uninterrupted time, I try to make sense of it all.

Bottom line: we write when we can.

Lilly Higgins said...

This is such a good post Jayne.
I think you're doing an incredible amount as it is! You really are. I know it's tough to struggle a full time job and have the creative you vying for deserved attention!
I always think busier people get more done. I'm not a writer but when I need time to work on my own things I usually say from 8 to 9 is my own time and I must get stuff done then or else I'll be kicking myself the following day sitting at my desk again! Maybe try and get one half day off work a week just so you can write?
Maybe try and listen to inspiring music or audio books on your commute, there's lots of great talks and lessons on itunes. My boyfriend drives 3 hours to and from work each day and listens to history lectures to keep sane! x

T.J. Carson said...

Oh goodness, finding time to write is a challenge. I'm no mother and I do not have a full time job. Rather I'm a 'dean's list' college student, working a part-time job on the weekends, a volunteer t&f coach at my old high school weekday afternoons, college wellness volunteer, adrenaline junkie sports enthusiast about 5 times a year, kickboxing groupie once a week, and napping when I get a minute.

Ha so sometimes I get a chance to sit and write (like 3 times a week for maybe an hour or two). But if I don't feel like writing, I don't. That is pushing it to try and write if it just doesn't feel right, the words will just be trash. Sometimes I take a sick day (if it does not mess with my grades) and type the entire day with some tea and my laptop (by the way invest in a laptop, it is very comfortable and portable). Just do what you need to and take time for yourself.

Private said...

I hear ya! I'm a full-time student, so I'm not ad effecient in writing as I would like. Hopefully that will change when I start my MA in creative writing:) But I find that during the week, it's almost impossible to get any real work done - it must be done in the week-ends. Sunday is generally a day without events, so if any day, that's the day I write.

Al said...

Finding time to write is very difficult for many of us.
I have to fit writing around a full time job, fortunately all my sprogs are pretty much grown up.
Keep plugging away, you'll get there in the end.


Publish or Perish

Janet O'Kane said...

I feel deeply ashamed, as I have no children and a part-time job that I do from home, AND YET I still struggle to find time and then the motivation to write. I so admire anyone who manages to complete a whole book (or several) without the impetus of being paid for it, fitting it in around their busy lives.
I went on an Arvon writing course where Val McDermid, one of our most successful crime writers, was a tutor. She wrote her first novel on Thursday afternoons only - her argument being that the less time you have the more productive it can be. It's a matter of finding the time then going for it.
A few practical tips which work for me:
- give yourself targets, big external ones, like competitions to enter (I recently finished plotting my novel in order to have a synopsis to enter in the CWA Debut Dagger competition, and don't think I could have done it without that deadline), as well as small, personal ones like words/pages/chapters per week.
- is there just one task that you could hand over to someone else (husband, children, paid help) that would free up a wee bit more time for writing? Do all those clothes really need ironing anyway?
- as long as you don't worry about being avoided as the mad woman who talks to herself, how about using a small dictating machine while you're travelling, if you can't manage to write down all the ideas that are competing to get out of your head?
I hope this helps. This was my first visit to your blog and won't be my last. Good luck!

Rose said...

so many lovely comments- if it helps I take advice from yoga and try to let it go a bit. I set myself targets that aren't realistic with having a job and sometimes I really don't do enough- and then sometimes I do lots.

I think you should work when you feel inspired and I also think as a writer you really must have a notebook at all times so you don't lose those little snippets.

As for time and when you are inspired I don't take this advice enough myself but if you can't write about one thing try something else

Jayne said...

Hi everyone! Thank you so much - most of your comments I addressed in the post above this one, but it was great to get all this advice. And some of it I have adopted already... :)


Karen - ten kids?!!! Oh my - if I was wearing a hat consider it raised in your direction at the moment. Thank you for managing to make me feel inspired even about the commute!


Hi Melissa. That is very cool that you are my 50th follower - yeay! Thank you for all the advice - I especially like the 'try not to think' part - I over think all the time.


Hi Sarahjayne - wow, full time work and four kids! I am so impressed!

Jayne said...

Hi Joanne. I love lists – it’s that satisfying feeling of ticking things off at the end of the week that I am already looking forward to! Key word is manageable... I need to work on that bit. This week I put that I would finish a whole chapter – even though I was sick for most of it, and had a presentation to deal with at work as well!


Hi Talli. Back in 2006 I thought the same as you – that it was either write or nothing. And so I chose not to find a job when made redundant and just write instead using my savings to sustain me – in hindsight this was so incredibly foolish! There were some perilously skint moments and it has taken me a long while to recover. So now I realise I have to work AND write – sadly I don’t think I will allow myself the luxury of quitting work again to just write until I have some solid foundations behind me.


Hi Jen. I am still in awe of your muse! There’s definitely something in just getting on with it. 

Jayne said...

Hi Roland (aka Clark Kent). Thank you for the reassurances that I am not just being slow. It really does help to hear how other people cope, and it sounds like you have a good system going on. Love the idea of trying dialogue in the shower – I see your point with the acoustics! Note-pads around the house – I often flap about looking for a note-book. When I have my own space then perhaps I can do this!


Hi Fran. Stuffing it in is definitely the way forward!


Hi Linda. It is so nice to know that other people have this same issue – we’re not alone! I think for me it is learning that it is ok to take a break – every time I do I fear I will never get it finished, but it’s not the case! Oh the pressure we put ourselves under.

I like the idea of daily pages a lot! Thank you for suggesting them.


Hello VR Barkowski. I find that if I take a week off work to do writing it turns into a week of Other Chores in which writing plays a small part, so I do sympathise. I could see myself using a memo tape recorder if I was on my own in a car (if I had a car) – other than that I get terribly self-conscious. But agree – we write when we can!

Jayne said...

Hi Lilly. Thank you for your comment, your words are very reassuring! I love how you put aside time for you - and thank you for giving me the idea of audio books - I have taken your advice on that already! Love that your boyfriend listens to history lectures to keep sane!


Hello T.J. It sounds like you lead a busy life over there! Love hearing about what you do - the only adrenaline junkie thing I do is snowboarding, and I haven't been for years - miss it so much!
I am going to get a laptop, I think that will be much easier for me to work. Thanks for your suggestions, and the idea of taking time out occasionally - sounds silly, but I needed to hear that!


Hi Alexandra. I am so excited for you about starting your MA in Creative Writing. That will be brilliant! Please do tell us all about it on your blog. And it is nice to hear what day you choose - Sundays are also good for me too, for the reason you describe.

Jayne said...

Hi Al. Nice to hear you also plug away at your writing around a full-time job. Thank you for your words of encouragement - most appreicated.


Hi Janet. Thank you so much for your comment. I was so interested to hear about the Arvon writing course, and what great advice you have given me. Competitions - yes, I really want to get into these. I keep thinking I just need to finish the redrafting, and then I can be let loose! Sadly I have no one to hand over tasks to - and really, the only task I have is the 9-5 - can't hand that one to anyone else and still get paid! I'm also a bit too self-conscious for the dictating machine so it wouldn't work for me, but all good tips - thank you!


Hi Rose. I know - must have struck a chord! Oh yoga... I miss yoga, haven't been for a long while now (3 months) and I really notice the difference in myself when I don't go. I'm going to try and take on board as many of these tips as I can - hopefully they will all make a difference.