You look up from your computer after a productive writing session only to remember that you forgot to take your child to the dentist today. It’s also your sister’s birthday, and you meant to call her. You’ll have to deal with that later, because right now you have to scramble. Your spouse will be home any time, and it was your turn to make dinner. If only you’d remembered to thaw something, you wouldn’t have to run to the grocery store.
Feeling guilty, you work on your relationships the next day, which leaves little time or energy for your writing. You vow to focus on writing tomorrow…and on and on it goes.
Is it possible to balance being a writer with taking care of your relationships, or is that a pipe dream?
I won’t say that I have this nailed in my own life. The struggle began for me when I became an author with a publisher and readers waiting for my next book. While that’s what all writers want, it does create pressure in a multitude of ways. I allowed the demands on me as a writer to claim the majority of my time and attention. The result? My friends and family received little of my attention. Of course they understood and supported me, but deep down I knew I was giving them the short end of the stick. Hyper-focusing on my writing was easy to do but it cheated everyone, myself included. I decided that it had to stop.
I’m still working toward balance in my life, so I think the most useful way I can help you in this article is by sharing my failures and the steps necessary to correct them.
Keep Being a Writer from Hurting Your Relationships
Remembering Important Days
One night at the dinner table my husband casually mentioned that it was his birthday. Much to my shock, I had completely forgotten the date. I apologized profusely and made a fuss of him the following night. Granted, I was in the middle of a crushing deadline at the time this happened, but I shouldn’t have forgotten my husband’s birthday. I never want to repeat this sort of mental lapse again, so my solution is to feed important dates for friends and family into an online calendar (I use Google Calendar) that delivers a reminder email to my inbox whenever an event is near.
I’d fallen off from sending out cards and e-cards for Christmas, birthdays, anniversaries, to express my thanks, and the like. A little advance planning resolves this problem. Picking up cards all at one time to use throughout the year eliminates many runs to the store and the likelihood that I will forget to do this while shopping for other items.
Ever sent Christmas presents to distant relatives in January, as I have? Using a similar system to purchase gifts, wrapping paper, ribbons, and mailing supplies in a single trip knocks this task out quickly. If you can’t afford to buy all gifts for the year at once, try a quarterly shopping trip.
The appointment failure I regret most was when I left the prayer team leader of my church waiting for me. I would dearly have loved to spend the afternoon chatting with her while sipping coffee in Barnes and Nobel. Alas, the appointment at the end of a busy week completely slipped my mind. The trouble with events that don’t reoccur is that you aren’t used to remembering to attend them. Using a calendar with a reminder system that sends emails or phone notifications is a good solution. I input the information when I make the appointment or put doing so on my schedule and don’t go to bed that day until I’ve done it.
Being There for Friends
A friend mentioned going through a hard time and I neglected to call and lift her. It meant to call her but kept putting it off until ‘later.’ I wouldn’t be able to take away her pain, but I could have eased her suffering at its sharpest. Now when I make my daily schedule, I don’t just write down the goals I need to accomplish during my writing time but for my entire day. In my next post I’ll cover how I put this all together in a planning diary.
Being Fully Present
Mentally working on a plot point at a time when I should make myself available to friends or family isn’t fair. I can’t always control my writing process. I could be anywhere when a writing idea drops into my head. That’s not what I mean here. I’m referring to the part that I do control. I’ve learned through writing with dictation that once I start the flow it’s like a tap that is hard to shut off. However, I can usually choose to turn on the tap or leave it off. If my writing time is up and I’m spending quality time with friends or family, they deserve all my attention.
Telling my friends I would host a dinner so we can get together periodically, and then not following through is another of my failures. The main reason I haven’t is due to the clutter and disarray that a tight writing schedule puts my house into. Cleaning up for company becomes an ordeal in this type of scenario. Being on a deadline can look a lot like living in the dorm during finals week in college. Sometimes, it’s just not possible for me to keep up with housekeeping on my own. This is where delegating comes in. My family graciously understands that I do have a a full-time job and that the complete burden for the care of our home does not rest on me. It took us a while to come to this conclusion, however.
I realize not everyone has the benefit of a supportive family, but let me encourage you with our journey. My husband and I were both raised with a traditional view of the roles of men and women. Sheer logic shifted my mindset and changed my husband’s thinking as well. We realized that I can’t continue to to provide the services of house cleaner, maid, and laundress while also building a writing career.
We did not come to this realization immediately or easily, but once we did it changed our lifestyle for the better. My family loves me and wants my writing business to succeed. By allowing them to help me, I give them the chance to invest in my writing, and that brings them a reward. In addition to delegating, I came up with creative solutions to finish housekeeping quickly or avert it altogether. I shared some of these in my last article, Can’t Keep Up with Your Writing Life? Try This….
Another factor is having too much to do to make time for socializing. Recognizing that I need to have a life outside of writing, I’ve started questioning the demands on my time of being a writer. That’s an ongoing process that I’ll probably have more to say about in the future.
Final Thoughts from Janalyn
Managing your relationships while maintaining an active writing career calls for sensitivity and grace. While setting goals for your writing is desirable, don’t make the mistake of ignoring them in your personal life. When establishing them, consider all of your desires and ambitions. You don’t want to look back over your life one day and realize you only accomplished part of a dream.