Tuesday 19 November 2013

Managing Your Writing & Your Life - The Creative Process

Managing Your Writing & Your Life

Like many writers, I have two lives. I have my life as a writer when everything is about editing and writing the next chapter, and I have my other life. The life that involves hospital stays, school runs, bill paying and uni work. Switching between these lives is usually easy, but you have to find a balance otherwise when you've got all those balls up in the air - the uni one, and the child one and other personal ones alongside working ones - if you stop and drop one, then usually the others come tumbling down fairly quickly. So, how do you manage your writing life and your life life?

I've been retired from the conventional working world since I was nineteen, as many of you are aware. Yet writing is still a job for me. It gives me some money and it has other aspects of a conventional job too, like having to pay my editor or do some admin work to keep everything in its place. However, because adult life is never as fun as it seemed when you were a child, I have other responsibilities too. I have a nine year old to get to school. I have uni work, and with that essays and such that need doing. I have bills to pay and being disabled and chronically sick, I also have numerous hospital and doctor appointments scattered in there too. I am an adult and with that comes a wealth of responsibility.

However, as I said at the beginning of this piece, I feel like I have two lives. Sometimes though, the beams cross and I'm suddenly mixing my writing life with my other life and I find myself juggling and running around trying to make sure my world doesn't implode. It's hard, but it's something that pretty much every one does. They may not be writers, they may be doctors or teachers, but they find their working lives intermingling with their professional ones and learning to deal with that is part of what makes up those responsibilities that I was talking about.

So, here's how I manage my two lives. It won't work for everyone because we're all different, but some of these may appeal to you and if they do, feel free to give them a go.

I've learnt from many years as a professional patient that everything in life can be triaged. Basically, you need to work out what has to be done RIGHT NOW and what can wait. I work for myself, so although I set myself four chapters a fortnight, there's no one standing over me and demanding an explanation for why they weren't done. Uni work, on the other hand, fits to a tight schedule and although The Open University are great and work well with disabled people, they can only be so lenient. They can't just tell you to hand in your work whenever you've got it done. So, for me, I do have certain deadlines I have to meet, which puts the uni work above the writing work. I am also in a band, and am in the process of recording songs for an album. That is purely hobby work, all of us have other jobs and lives that mean that the band stuff gets done in our spare time and if I have uni work AND chapters? That means I have little spare time, so that gets put behind book work. Now sometimes, I will have deadlines in my book work, like if I've already announced a date for a give away or a promotion and I'm running behind on the admin work. At that point, book work will share the top space with uni work and I'll be running around like a headless chicken trying to get it all done. Hey, we've all been there, right?


Some people will think that this only applies to those of us who are chronically ill and/or disabled. It doesn't. Everyone has a breaking point, just for some people it's lower than others. I can only speak as a disabled and chronically ill person because I have been that for all of my adult life. It's no good arranging your triaged list and then ignoring it to cram in more work, such as thinking that you can do that essay for uni, and you can also do those four chapters in two days. If you can, more power to you, but if you're like me, and you know that it means you'll be pushing yourself and sacrificing other things such as sleep, or relax time, or time with the kids, then it just seems that you'd be setting yourself up for failure and a lot more stress and that is never fun. I like to spread things out, with the beginning of the week dedicated to the things at the top of my list, and then everything else moved around the rest of the week. I do it because I know that health wise, I can't work for ten hours a day and still function the next day. I know because I've tried and learnt my lesson.

So, you've triaged and you've made sure that you are aware of what you can and can not accomplish in the time frame - say two weeks because that's what I work in. You shouldn't be filling every available time slot with work - be that writing work or life work. You need time to chill, to sit down and read a good book. To watch TV and play with the kids, to spend watching your favourite film or go on a date night with your partner. You need time off basically, and although some people are able to schedule, say thirty minutes a day to do that and stick to it, not everyone can. I know that sometimes I'll plan to watch a TV show and then go back to work, but I'll find that before I get to my scheduled time off my brain and my body go "NOPE" and I have to listen to them because otherwise I find I am unable to do anything for the rest of the day, or perhaps even the rest of the week. So, linked in with number two, know your limits, and also, take some time for yourself.

Sometimes, the key to getting that time to yourself or sticking to your work plan, is that you have to turn down people who want you to do them a favour or who want to chat when you're working. You have to tell yourself that it's okay to tell them that you're busy, or that you can't because you're working/relaxing/don't want to. It's okay to say no and it's okay to lock yourself in your office and shut the door and say "No one disturb me on pain of fictional death!" because sometimes that's just what needs to happen.


I hate to break it to you, but you can't. That means that even if you are someone who can schedule their life down to the last second, you are always gonna end up with something that knocks the schedule off kilter. Like the cat getting sick and you having to go to the vets, or the child having a screaming temper tantrum or just, as I said above, your body having a temper tantrum and telling you that you can't work anymore today. Surprises happen and because you can't predict how the day is going to go, you have to leave some spaces for things that you didn't plan, otherwise when your car breaks down and you're stuck at school waiting for the man from the AA to come and save you, you're going to get stressed out and that's only going to make things worse.

So, those are my five tips for managing your professional and personal lives whilst not driving yourself crazy or making yourself sick because you're trying to do everything at once. One last thing I will say is that you shouldn't compare your schedule with someone else's. Everyone is different (crazy when you consider there are 7 billion of us!) and everyone has different priorities. A writer working on a magazine piece is going to place their work above something like uni work, but someone else may do the opposite. Comparing notes on how to manage is fine - I'm doing it right now - but try not to beat yourself up because you're friends with a writer who does eighteen chapters a day and still does a load of other stuff...and at the same time, don't look down on those who only manage a chapter a week and does little else. Everyone works at different paces and everyone has different things in their lives that may not be obvious to others. Concentrate on your own juggling because if you take your eyes off the balls, you'll drop one.

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