Balancing Hats: Author and Day Job and Family and [Fill-in-the-Blank]

Alma T. C. Boykin

Ah, the fortunate soul who makes so much lucre (filthy or otherwise) and who can retire from Day Job to do nothing but write! Sometimes I envy those few, those happy few, that band of authors. All five of them in the world. 😛

Or their spouse works and lets them write for a living. Or they won the lottery (literally or figuratively) and are now independently wealthy and can do nothing but write.

Then there’s the rest of us. Amanda Green had a lot of Life happen, and so she stepped back from MGC to focus on writing and on family. That’s a very healthy and wise call. Her balance was out of whack, and she made a decision about priorities. Dave Freer has to shift away from writing because of family and home stuff, intermittently. It isn’t as much of a free-will choice as Amanda made, but it was still important. We only have so much energy to expend, and running a non-writing version of the WIBBOW test may show that writing has to be set aside for a while. Or blogging. Or the every-Sunday visit to the in-laws, although I’d suggest that one be only temporarily set aside. Preserving the domestic tranquility and all that.

When you work full-time or close to it, and write, the most important thing to do is to set priorities. I’m fortunate in that Day Job has a pretty set schedule in both senses. I know what will happen seasonally, and what should happen when from day to day. This month will be crazy, this day of the week is quieter than that one, and so on. Some kinds of books I can write in the “slow” season, others I can do at any time (if time permits). There are always changes—”Um, yes, we want you at the Important Meeting on Tuesday. It shouldn’t take more than two hours.” Sickness, family crises, a coworker needs a hand, something gets rescheduled by an outside agency … After all, we’re living in a universe where Murphy’s Law is up there with Newton’s and the laws of thermodynamics in terms of importance and reliability.

WIBBOW – Would I Be Better Off Writing?

The Real Life Version – Would I be better off delaying the book release to take pressure off of me while my child is having trouble and needs all my attention? Would I be better off politely declining an offer to attend a Con because it is rush-season at work? Would I be better off setting that short story anthology aside for now, until my spouse/parent/child’s medical problem is better under control?

It comes down to priorities. 1) Survival – will writing pay the bills and put food on the table and enough into savings that my family can survive if something happens and this book goes thud? 2) Family – will my family rebel/leave me/be badly hurt in some way if I insist on writing and not doing family things? Do I have enough in the family bank account to draw out a little good will for “I can’t go to the afternoon school play/employee picnic with you because I need to finish this story?” 3) Day Job – Can I squeeze in a few words at lunch? Can I postpone a bit of a work project in order to finish something book related?

Above all that is your health, both physical and mental. Will trying to squeeze everything into the day/week/month cause you to go short on sleep, not exercise, feel over-stressed and overloaded? If so, pull back from whatever benefits you the least. Set the book aside. You can’t help other people (or your Day Job employer) if you’re also a casualty. Don’t ruin your life so you can write your book. It is not worth it.

If you decide that writing isn’t in the cards for a stretch of time, there is absolutely nothing wrong with that. Do a few sketches when and where you can, jot notes for the future, give yourself space and time to doodle at stories without any pressure that you have to turn them into anything at all.

I have a priority list of 1) family, 2) Day Job, and 3) writing. I have older relatives who sometimes need things done or need help. That comes first. Health falls in that category for me as well.

Then I set my Day Job schedule with what has to be done, what should be done in advance if I can, and what can wait (or should wait, in case there are changes.) If it is crunch season*, then Day Job pushes writing out the window. Day Job pays more bills than does writing, even though writing is catching up. I know my readers don’t like it when Day Job overshadows new releases. That’s just how it is right now.

Writing fills the remaining space. I have time set aside each day, when possible, to just blog or write. If it is blog or fiction, the blog gets bumped. In my case, if I go too long without writing, things start to leak, so I really do have to write, even a few paragraphs done in longhand between other things. This works well with Day Job, in that Day Job is not 0900-1700. Usually. Most of the time.

If you ever find yourself barely treading water and trying to do too many things, load shed. Readers will understand. Trust me on this. Your writing peers will understand. You’re not Superman. You can’t do it all.

And that’s OK.

*Concert Week counts as Day Job in some ways. That also includes major religious holidays and feasts, since I tend to be involved in worship in various ways. Again, priorities, and prior planning.

IMAGE SOURCE: Image by Myriams-Fotos from Pixabay

5 thoughts on “Balancing Hats: Author and Day Job and Family and [Fill-in-the-Blank]

  1. I have a list of books I want to write before I die. My original plan had been to retire from the day job in January 2022 and write full-time. Then someone came along in July of 2021 and asked me to work on a Lunar project. Most fun job I have ever had. So now I have a day job only because it was an opportunity to do something I had dreamed of all my life. I don’t need to work. I want to work.

    I am still writing bur I have had to defer projects to meet the reality of working two jobs. At some point I will quit the day job to write, but the contract I am on runs five more years.

    What I told my boss was I would leave the day job under one of three conditions

    1. I felt I could no longer do the job to the standards I maintain.
    2. It interfered with my writing. (Like they made be choose between working for them and writing.)
    3. He asked me to leave. (So far he has not and does not want me to leave.)

    Right now I am doing a balancing act between the two. At some point the need to write more will surpass the satisfaction of working on a Lunar project, and I will flip to writing full time.

    I do have plenty of time for family. And they come first. But my sons are all grown and on their own and I lost my wife five years ago. Last year I ended up working remotely for a week so I could help out my son and d-i-l after the birth of their first child. (Left unexpectedly in the middle of the work day to get there. I do have a great boss.)

    But at least for me work and writing are co-equal with me giving 100% to whichever I am doing at the time.

  2. Something I’ve found is that there are social situations where cell phones would be considered rude but jotting in your A5 or pocket-sized notebook somehow isn’t. It’s helped me out a time or two in terms of dealing with Sudden Plot Bunny or getting myself unblocked on a difficult scene.

    A voice recorder app on the phone (I use the one with the retro tape recorder interface, for that Carl Kolchak vibe) plus (thank you whoever recommended this site some weeks back) have bought me the ability to squeeze a little bit of dictation into odd timewaster moments here and there.

  3. I’m an obsessive type, so my immediate reaction upon getting “a thought” about a plot bunny/next book/character background, etc., is to stop everything and implement/fix that. This is, of course, impossible (but I sometimes do it anyway, to the detriment of other things).

    Illness was a good whip-holding mistress that forced me to rethink this policy. I had to come up with other ways to react, such as doing a rough detailed outline for a “next book” because I couldn’t do anything more substantial at the time (and I’m more of a pantser anyway) but I still had to deal with all the “thoughts” that were piling up somehow and riffing off of eachother.

    Now that I’m more or less back in action, this has carried over into piles of little notes (headed by “which book in series” identifiers), all targeted at either the first 2 books (not yet released), the 3rd book (in process), and later books yet to be specified. That turns out to be just enough to remove the obsessive impulse, since I know I can (and will) reach into those piles, pull out everything related to the book-being-edited/written, and trust myself to make the adjustments/changes in a wholistic manner, all at once.

    What a relief!

  4. I gave up watching the news, and reading the entire newspaper. So much more time, so good for the blood pressure . . . a bit head-in-the-sand, but . . .

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