Saturday, August 27, 2011

Family Matters: Balancing Family and Writing

Okay, this is a tough one, I admit, but we might as well attack it head on. Sometimes the biggest distraction we have in our lives from our writing are the ones we love the most. Between soccer practice, recitals, "date night", school, church, club functions, family matters can take up a bunch of time. However, there are ways to stay a loving spouse/parent/daughter/son/sister/brother/aunt/uncle/grandpa/grandma/cousin and still find the time to write.

1.Love does NOT mean never having to say "no." I know this may come as a shock to some of us who take the phrase "Family always comes first" a bit too literally. Truth is, that there are times when family does NOT come first in certain practical matters. You go to work everyday, and if Jane calls up in the middle of the work day because Jimmy is "looking at me," you will probably tell them that it's okay for him to look at her and to only call at work if something happens involving people in uniforms. You won't rush home to check out the offending look.

Saying "No" or "Not now" are part of any parent/spouse/family member's vocabulary for a large variety of things. You can use it for writing as well.

And, it is good for children to learn they cannot get everything they want when they want it. It is part of learning about the world, deferred gratification and setting boundaries.

2. Negotiate Writing Time. Sometimes we have problems with others we live with because we don't communicate. If we have a nice family dinner, watch a bit of TV, and right in the middle of a family night, I get up and walk out to my room and start typing away, I'm probably going to offend someone. However, if we set down as a family, and especially setting down with a spouse, and have a discussion about needing some time everyday or every few days to write, and working out a schedule together, things will go more smoothly.

Just a note here. If you have yet to publish anything or you publish sporadically, don't talk to your spouse about it like a business. You can do that when the time comes that you have enough publication going on to quit your job, move to the Bahamas and sit on the beach drinking lemonade and typing up your next best seller. Non-writers do not understand our own sense of mission and the importance we attach to writing. Instead deal with it like an enjoyable hobby, and a fairly inexpensive one. That's something people can understand. Doing something recreational like watching or playing sports, scrapbooking, music, flower arranging, fishing and hunting, hiking or marathoning is something they can understand.

Of course, negotiations means giving as well as taking, so you might have to let him have his sports package upgrade or for her to go to that church women's retreat. Remember, if you are asking for some "me" time to write, you also need to give some "him/her" time to do some things as well.

3. Set limits on your writing. If you negotiate an hour a day Monday, Wednesday and Friday at 7, don't take two hours. If your family knows you will be writing until 8, then they can be more willing to wait to talk to you than if they don't know when you are coming out.

I had an online student (who had the same problem with family interrupting her studies) who put a sign on the door of her office at home, "Mommy is in class. She will be out at 7". They discussed it in a family meeting and they were to treat is just like she was at school during that time. Nothing short of an actual emergency (something involving people with uniforms) would interrupt her work.

She said that having a set time helped. Admittedly, everyone was standing at her door with every issue they wanted to discuss at precisely 7, but it gave her time to study.

I do know some of can get carried away with our writing. The time can fly by. I found a wonderful little program. It works with Windows and Linux. It's called Workrave . You can set a time limit and the program will lock your keyboard after that limit for a set period of time. It's a great way to remind you to take a break. In fact, it even has a rest break function that includes exercises for you to do to reduce the stress of working online during the break. But as a reminder that you have been working too long and it is time to leave the computer, it's great.

I also use it for power writes.

4. Family Time Multi-tasking. Okay, I don't have kids, but my sister had eight. She said she had my kids for me, but I never came to pick them up. But I have picked them up many times when my sister's car wasn't working, which was most of the time when the kids were growing up. I took them to sports practices, school and church functions, play rehearsals, proms, even on dates.

That meant I spent a lot of time in my car waiting for them to eventually say good bye to their friends and get back to the car. I took a book with me on those occasions. You would be surprised how much reading I got done. Now, I would probably take my computer and do some writing. Or you can print out your recent work and do some pencil and paper editing.

5. Engage them in the writing. You know, writing can become a family activity. Often you can make your family your helpers in a project. Look for ways to engage them. You can ask your spouse to read and critique your work. (Just remember to keep things in perspective. Don't get mad about a critique you would take easily in a writing group.) If you have a spouse who is good with grammar, spelling, etc. You can say, "You know, I could use some help. You are much better at grammar than I am, could you look over this chapter?" Now, don't do this when they are actually engaged in something else. Remember the idea about "me" time working both ways.

If you have children of the age you might be writing for, you can use them as a live in focus group. They can read the story or if too young to read, you can read it too them. Watch their reactions. Ask them specific questions about the characters and story. Don't ask, "Did you like the story?" They will try to please you and say "yes." Ask instead, "Did you know what Joe was going to do at the end of the story?" "Have you ever felt anything like Mary felt?" "Did this remind you of another story?" As they talk about the specifics of the story you can catch on what they might have liked or didn't like.

Of course, the most "honest" audience could by your teenagers. If you are writing a story, though, which includes teens (even if the story is not for teens specifically) ask your teen to see if the teenagers in the story are realistic and, if not, how could you make them more believable.

In each of these cases, you are having family time and writing time at the same time. You are also helping your family understand through participation your passion for writing.

What are some ways you use to help balance family, work, social activities and writing?

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