Happy Labor Day!
Yesterday I just crashed. I slept late. I couldn’t get myself moving on anything I had to do, not this blog post or another guest blog that’s due, not my usual stint on the WIP, not any of the several business emails I needed to take care of, not trying to clear some of the clutter and mess that have collected in my house as I’ve launched and promoted one book (including much traveling) while writing yet another book under a tight deadline, taking care of a slew of freelance commitments, and preparing and teaching several workshops . Usually I rise early, take a deep breath, gird my loins for the day’s battle with the endless to-do list, and kick into overdrive, but yesterday I couldn’t muster the energy or the will to do much of anything productive. This is not like me.
While driving with my husband past Kansas City’s Plaza, which is a premier pedestrian shopping mall/outdoor art gallery full of fountains, intricate and colorful Spanish tiles, ornate buildings, and beautiful sculptures, I reminisced sadly about the good times we used to have walking the Plaza and sitting on one of the many benches to watch the parade of people. I reminded my husband of the fun we had taking picnic lunches to some of Kansas City’s many great parks to enjoy after a refreshing walk. I waxed nostalgic over the weekend day trips we used to make to explore lovely small towns all around the Kansas City area—I’ve given many of their best features to my fictional town in my Skeet Bannion series of novels. The strange thing is that, though we don’t do any of those things any longer due to lack of time, we used to do them when I had an ultra-demanding, 60-70-hour per week university job. Now that I’m a full-time writer, however, I have no time to enjoy leisure activities with my husband or any of the other things I used to do to make a real life—cooking, fiberart, gardening, going to Shakespeare or concerts in the park, lunches with friends, etc.
How did this terrible imbalance in my life occur? Isn’t one of the joys of being a full-time writer supposed to be the flexibility of time that allows you to lead a fuller, richer life? How did I manage with that old job and all its hours and responsibilities to weave in time for recreation and fun, time with family and friends, time to feed the creative well inside me, yet now I can hardly find time to even wash dishes or do laundry, the minimal tasks required to keep us from sinking into total chaos?
If I were just writing my books, I would have time to enjoy some of these activities still, but I have to promote those books in an effort to constantly increase sales. Publishers are dumping, left and right, amazing writers who have received impressive reviews and award nominations because their sales are just not spectacular enough. So I have to work harder to try to get the word out about my books and persuade new people to try them. The writing and publishing (with its line edits, copy edits, and page proofs) when combined with the promotion and marketing (with its touring, social media, conferences, and events) are two full-time jobs. Since my (successful) writing career is still not earning enough to support me, I must take on freelance writing/editing/evaluating/judging/teaching contracts, yet another full-time job. It’s no wonder I’m so tired!
I’m hardly the only writer in this predicament. Writers who are far more successful and have been doing this for far longer than I have are facing the same dilemma. The Sisters in Crime listserv recently rang with the cries of authors who have run out of steam trying to do all of this. Some are even seriously thinking of giving up writing, which they love, because they just don’t think they can do all of it any longer.
On this Labor Day, I think this is a topic to consider. As a country, we are moving more and more to a freelance or independent contractor environment, where we don’t have paid vacation and sick days and where we can find ourselves working all the time—or feeling as if we ought to be. How do we make a go of this kind of career and still have any kind of life outside of work?
I’m the first to admit I don’t have the answers to that question. I will be spending my Labor Day trying to find some, however. How we spend our time is our actual life, even if we think we’re just doing it until we bring in enough money or reach a certain level of success. I intend to find a way to bring those elements of a real, lived life back into mine. Can I do it without shortchanging the efforts I need to put into my writing and promotion of my work to create a successful career? I’ll have to find a way.
How do you manage that career-personal life balance that can be so difficult to get right?