Wednesday, March 30, 2011

The Many Hats We All Wear

I’m a mother of three kids, wife of one husband, wrangler of two cats.

I’m also a daughter, a sister, a grand daughter, a niece.

A volunteer at the kids’ school. A friend.

And a writer.

Some days it’s damn hard to balance all these hats on just one head.

Especially the writing one.

So many people say you must put everything in your life second to your writing if you’re ever to write a book. To concentrate on the writing, 24/7, if you’re ever going to be published.

Is this really necessary? Is it even true?

I see authors like, Allison Brennan, who wrote many manuscripts before she was published, with a full time job and five – FIVE – children in tow. Who managed to finally write a book that was published, and now writes three books a year. Three. With five kids.

Just give me a moment to process that …*mind boggles*


Her posts on Murder She Writes and Muderati occasionally contain glimpses into her home life, which, as far as I can tell, involves lots of driving kids to and from sports and the supervision of homework and the cooking for a family of seven. Essentially, a normal, very busy life. Into which she fits her writing. With all this on her plate, the writing, obviously, does not reign supreme.

And then there’s Diana Gabaldon, who started her writing career with three small kids at her ankles and a full time job.

Now, some would say these authors must have discovered that elusive work/life balance, the secret that allows them to pump out books and have a smooth family and personal life, no speed humps, no dilemmas.

They may have. I don’t know. But I’d wager they haven’t.

Life does interrupt your writing. It can be a positive interruption, something that inspires you and which you can later feed into your work. Or, more likely, it’s a sick kid, or that call to work an extra shift at job number two. Life is messy. It doesn’t run to a schedule. And there’s no secret way to balance your writing life with the rest of your life, that once revealed, allows you to sit back smugly while the rest of us muddle along getting it wrong.

Writing and living your life is a CONSTANT balancing act, down to the hour, the minute, the second, between what gets your attention and what doesn’t. And maybe what really needs your attention isn’t the first thing that comes to mind, or the thing that’s screaming loudest. Sure, you’re crappy first draft might be lying on the floor with barely a pulse and in desperate need of resuscitation, … but look around. What about your kids? Do they need you? Your better half? Have you called you mum in a while? Are you crumbling under the pressures of your “real life” job?

And YOU. Do you need you, just for a second?

So, yes, write and write, write every day … but balance every day too. Writing is important, but should not come at the sacrifice of everything else, including your health and you sanity. And understand that despite your best efforts, things sometimes will go to hell in a hand basket – and that’s OK, too.

What hats do you wear, on top of that of writer? And what’s your approach to trying to make real life and your writing life work?


  1. Yep, so many hats! Some of us have more of them than others, depending on our stage of life. Luckily, I don't work outside the home, and my nest is empty of my daughter-birdlings. But I know writers who keep writing despite their many hats. Hoorah for them! You're right; it's all about balance.

  2. I write, hold a full time job, mother one child, sing on a choir, and thank goodness, I have a self-sufficient husband. I don't write as much now as I did in the past, but somehow, my mss got written and edited. I still spend too much time at the computer, but my son is now old enough to send me on guilt trips, which helps keep me in balance. Sometimes, I make a conscious decision not to use the computer beyond a certain number of hours per day. Keeps me in check.

  3. Sometimes it's tough to balance, but I manage because I love writing so much.

  4. You already know about all my hats- almost full-time work, toddler, coordinating two charities, and the rest.

    When the overload got too high at the beginning of the year, the first thing to go was the writing. I had to make a choice to either sacrifice that, or completely eliminate spending time with my husband. I know which of those things is most important.

    The good thing is, that break paid enormous dividends. It actually allowed me some perspective on my writing that I hadn't had for a while, and now things are quietening down just a bit, I'm able to pick the writing back up without neglecting the family to do it, and I'm enjoying it so much more. There's always going to be that odd level of guilt at focussing on me and my own interests exclusively for a period each day, but I want to make sure, as much as possible, that the guilt is not justified by the fact that I *should* be paying attention to someone I love instead.

    Writing is one of the most important things in my life- but it's not *the* most important, and it's always going to be there, waiting patiently for me, when I need to take a break.

  5. @ Carol- you're very right, the balancing act does change depending upon the stage of your life. Now my kids are older I write when they're at school because there's no way I can write when they're home, what with home work and sports and generally just being around for them. Unlike when they were little, and I could sneak in a few moments of writing while they watched Sesame Street or they napped. Change does keep you on your toes ... :-)

  6. @ J.L. - you *do* wear many and varied hats! And even though you say you don't write as much now as you did in the past, it sounds like you're pretty adept at keeping a good balance between everything you do. Keep up the good work!

  7. @ Heather - yeah, so very true. When everything seems too hard, I sometimes wonder why I just don't give up on the writing ... and then I remember. I'm addicted. I can't. :-)

  8. @ Claire - yes, I do, and I sometimes wonder how you manage to cram them all on your head. ;-)
    Sounds like that break was just the thing you needed. Good luck! Can't wait to see the end result.

  9. Hmmm. I wear the Mom-of-Three hat, the full time+overtime Nurse hat, the resident Paper-proofer hat (for my medical coworkers who are back in school), the Wife hat, the Family Drama Coordinator hat (since none of my parents seem to have a decent grip on Life at the moment), the Reader hat, and the Writer hat. Is that it? I think I've left something off?
    Anyhow, my Me time is usually reading and/or writing. I really like to unwind with music while I cook dinner, with or without a glass of vino.

  10. The one hat I don't have yet is that of mom, but I've got the rest covered. It's a wonder I ever get any words written at all but s'truth, the words come easily (thank goodness!) - it's the editing that's dang hard. Easy enough to scribble down words in the stairwells at work, on the train, in the pubs when everyone's gone out for a smoke. But to fix those words, to slash and burn 'em... that takes focus.
    I'm impressed that any of us manage to do it :-)