Monday, September 2, 2013

Getting a Life

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?



Sarah Henning said...

Honestly, I feel like I live a schedule and not a life.

I work a 40-hour work week, for which I commute 90 minutes round-trip daily. I write books. I do freelance writing and copy editing. Oh, and I have a family and a hobby of running way too far.

For me, if it's not scheduled in, I freak out. I know what I'm doing every single night of the week. And if something changes in those typical plans? Freak out. My schedule keeps me sane and all my spinning plates from crashing down.

That said, I do have my days where I do "nothing" ... and that usually means running errands, taking the kiddo to the park, going shopping. No writing, no editing, no day-job work. They are rare — happening only once a month or so — but I think they're what I need to hit the refresh button ... before the schedule takes over again.

Jim Jackson said...


I see two large issues in your post: how you treat yourself; how the world treats workers as opposed to owners.

You've noted the imbalance in your life and wondered how it happened. By stealth, I suspect.

One problem with a writer's life is that it does not have the fixed boundaries of a "regular" job. You may have worked 60-70 hours a week when you worked for someone else, but they were bounded hours. When you worked, you worked. When you weren't at work, you knew it.

As a small business owner (for that is what a writer is) there is no clear break between work and "other" life - unless you consciously make it be so.

Rather than carving out time for work, you must consciously carve out time for nonwork. You must schedule your days, weeks and months to FORCE yourself to have time for other things. Then you must commit to following your schedule.

This structure is not necessary for everyone, but for some of us (and I join you in this regard) our drive to get all the things done we believe we must, overwhelms our instincts for fun.

Stephen Covey has written well on the subject of making First things First - prioritizing the important things in life.

On Labor Day it is good for us to pause and think about the changes in the way the U.S. treats workers. Whether or not you think it is a good thing, in my lifetime there has been a massive shift from labor power to owner power.

Labor unions, who helped institutionalize overtime pay, sick days, vacations, employer-provided healthcare and pensions no longer have the power to effect changes.

Corporations have moved from life-time employment (assuming good work) to on-call employment. Benefits continue under attack.

And yet, while we have a tendency to blame others, this Labor Day I suggest we look carefully at our personal purchasing habits. Do we bargain shop online or at big box stores so our money goes farther--and thereby support those corporate structures with their policies of milking ever higher returns from their employees?

Or do we willingly spend more money to support businesses with employment policies we support?

If you don't like what is happening to the "little guy," you cannot change it by complaint or protest alone. You must change your buying habits. The Montgomery bus strike did not ultimately win on moral grounds; it won because the bus company continued to lose money.

Oh dear, you've hit one of my on switches, Linda, I'm stepping off the soap box now.

Wishing you the best in finding balance. As the yoga enthusiasts know, when you do find better balance, everything will feel better and your productivity will rise, even as your time spent working shrinks.

~ Jim

Warren Bull said...

it is an uneasy compromise for me. When I take the time to do something really exciting, like go on a safari in Africa, I get so much into the experience that I rarely think about writing. I hope after I get back (and get of the traveling woes) my mind will allow the adventure to sep into what I'm writing.

Gloria Alden said...

Jim has said what I feel only so much better than I could have said it. I totally understand where you are coming from because I feel it, too, and people who are not writers DO NOT UNDERSTAND for the most part. Some are lucky enough to have spouses and/or friends who understand, but I think that's rare.

Yesterday, I went to a cookout at my sister's house. And sometime during the day as almost always happens, my youngest brother, still in his 50's made the comment "It must be nice to be retired. I can't wait so I have time to do all the things I want to do." I felt a strong desire to knock him out of his folding lawn chair, but I am not a violent person so I didn't. Nor did I get nasty and say what I was feeling. Why create friction when everyone was having a good time.

I do have one advantage that most writers don't have, I don't have a publisher's deadline to meet. Although, I would like to sell more books, for me I'm content with a small reading public who enjoy what I write, although I'm starting to get nagged about when I'll have book three out. And then there are those self-imposed deadlines or jobs we create for ourselves, too.

And I don't know how someone like Sarah can work a full time job, commute, take care of a little one and still find time to write. Ahhh, youth! :-)

Linda Rodriguez said...

Sarah, I think a lot of writers live this way--a schedule rather than a life. Writers in this country have always had to find other ways to supplement their earnings from their writing (unless they are the few real bestsellers). It's the modern expectation of promotion that's tipping a number of us into overwhelm. In the past, promotion and marketing was once of the responsibilities of publishers. That's now been shifted to the individual writer. Big, big change.

Linda Rodriguez said...

Jim, you are so right about carving out time for nonwork. That's my new mandate.

And I so agree with what you've said about the treatment of workers in this new corporate-ruled age. We must make those decisions with our pocketbooks if we want positive change, but they get harder and harder to make as fewer and fewer companies treat their employees humanely. The mistreatment of labor and the growing inequities in pay between workers and top management are becoming key issues of our time.

Linda Rodriguez said...

Warren, I'm sure your trip to Africa refreshed you in many ways, didn't it? But yes, I understand. Time away from the writing and the current WIP always means for me a time of spinning wheels while I try to get back into that world and those characters' heads.

Linda Rodriguez said...

Gloria, you're right that few who aren't writers understand. They think it's a cushy life.

But I have to remind myself that, in some ways, it is. I remember working in the cotton fields, pulling cotton until I quite literally couldn't stand up straight at the end of the day, or cooking for harvest crews, both when I was a kid. I remember, as a high-school and college student, waiting tables and making doughnuts over a huge vat of frying fat that left me stinking and covered with congealed fat when I got off. There are people working very hard jobs to whom our lives, even with the over-scheduling and heavy demands on our time, would seem like heaven. I try to remind myself of them when I'm tempted to feel sorry for myself.

Paula Gail Benson said...

Thank you, Linda, for this thoughtful post. Thanks also to all the commenters. Evaluating time well spent is so difficult. You've all given me some good measuring parameters. Many thanks. Happy Labor Day!

Linda Rodriguez said...

Best of luck as you go about this process of reevaluation, Paula!

Shari Randall said...

Dear Linda,
I got to this post very late and want to thank you for bringing this up.Your schedule sounds positively grueling (as does Sarah's! Let's bottle that energy!) and I have read other authors' posts about the very issue you raise - the expectations that the novelist will also be publicist for his own work. It's lunacy on so many levels. Do they - the publishers - really expect writers to do the same quality and amount of work that a marketing pro would do? Don't publishers want to sell books too? I hope you can carve out some quiet, peaceful time to recharge your batteries.

Linda Rodriguez said...

Shari, this situation with the publishers has happened since the big conglomerates have taken over the publishing houses. They want a larger ROI (return on investment) than publishing has traditionally offered--they've done the same thing with newspapers and about destroyed that industry.

I'm lucky with my publisher--they still employ good editors and copy editors and proofreaders and cover artists. A lot of them have outsourced all that, and you see the results in books with bad covers and typos, etc. All of the pubs, however, have started expecting authors to do their own promotion. Publishers that used to send you on tours now expect you to set up and pay for your own. That's why some authors hire outside publicists, but most of us haven't got that kind of money. So we spend a lot of time to do the work a publicist would do.

It's part of the corporatization of America that Jim was talking about. Most of the editors and other staff whom authors deal with at publishing houses are people who love books and authors and good writing, but it's usually out of their hands. The "suits," the MBAs are making the decisions. *sigh*

Anonymous said...

Great post, Linda. It's good to know I'm not alone because I feel like I'm about two steps away from total burnout. It's a terrible thing to finally achieve the one thing you've always wanted only to find that you need to spend the little time you have doing things you loathe. It's overwhelming.

Linda Rodriguez said...

Anonymous, this is the way a lot of writers feel right now. And there's a very real pressure on us. We all know of multiple writers whose books have received great critical praise and award nominations but whose publishers have dropped them because the sales are adequate but not at the much higher level that the pubs want.

Maureen Harrington said...

Hi Linda,

It seems I failed to enter my comment the other day. I am truly sorry about that, because this is a very important discussion. And as Anonymous points out, there is an overwhelming presence that threatens the joy of achievement.

This presence has forced its way into the publishing world via the corporate interests in the same way all other areas of our lives have been subjected to those needs.

I will continue to write, because I love telling the story. I will hope for success, but know that I may not be able to do everything that it might take. I will still write and hope. My greatest need is to tell a story, and that takes an audience. So I will do my best to get my stories out where they might be read.

Linda Rodriguez said...

Reine, writing is the first priority, always. And you're right in thinking that's where you need to focus your time and energy now.

You're also correct that what's happened in publishing is simply one aspect of what's happening all over our society. I wish I had answers. What I'm going to do for myself is set quotas of time spent on marketing--that much and no more. I want to focus my time on writing and on working at having some kind of a life, as well.