Tomorrow, I will go back to the day job for the first time in sixty-four days. Summer is over for me in less than twelve hours. Nearly half that time traveling and writing; it has been wonderful. Next Spring if the editing gods are kind I will have two new pieces ready for publication.
But, my wonderful summer is not what this post is about. It is about balancing work, life and the pursue of my writing dreams or as I like to call them goals.
Education does allow me to have time off even if it doesn’t pay well. It does allow me to have that sweet, sweet health insurance and believe it or not, a lot of job satisfaction. I love my daily interactions with students and staff. There is, however, no denying that it is a hard job and balancing it with a healthy home life is hard. Trying to figure out how to balance all three is more than a little challenge.
This past year, I have gotten much better at it than I have since I started teaching thirteen years ago. The biggest thing I did was move away from a life that wasn’t working for me.
The life that I have built in the last year contains a lot more boundaries than the one I had. I don’t let things bleed into one another. Work, even as a teacher, stays in the building with a few rare exceptions. I can do this because I get to work early and organize myself. I keep a calendar that has both writing and work commitments on it so I know ahead of time when things are going to get tight.
This also includes scheduling time to write, date nights and chore days. Chore days are days that I set aside to work with my godfathers on big household tasks like fixing the barn roof or putting the pool together. Come to think of it, I schedule a lot of things.
And it works for me.
Why? Because as much as I schedule myself, I also forgive myself if writing doesn’t happen or if the dust bunnies start creeping out from the corners.
I forgive myself if having dinner with my family means that I don’t have time to write before bed. I forgive myself if I get into the flow of writing and three or four other things on the to-do list don’t get done or I stay up a little too late. Or when I get sick and the only thing I can do is take care of myself.
Balancing things can at times mean letting some things have more time as they need. The beginning of the school year means that for the next month, I am going to be more tired than usual. It happens to me every year. I will write about half as much as I normally do. Any writing deadlines that I have must be adjusted.
Balance isn’t giving equal time to everything, but giving things the time they need and letting go of things you can’t tend to.
What works for you to maintain work-life-dream balance?
Two weeks in France and I was writing everyday. I am twenty pages and a few plot wholes away from a finished draft of The Devil’s Due.
I wrote well when I was away from my writing desk.
Back at my writing desk for two weeks and I have two pages. Not so good when I was averaging a page a day and a blog a week.
Travel is good for me or at least getting away from my house where I intend to write and settling in to some place I do write. Next Spring, I plan on spending a week in Richmond researching and writing a new book.
Do your thing.
If you write best at 4:30 am when everyone else is asleep in your house, then get up and write. Or maybe you work best at the local cafe. Where ever you work best, go there and do the work. Neil Gaiman wrote parts of American Gods on a train going across the country.
Some people have writer’s rooms or corners in their house. Others go to work early and write in their offices before the hustle and bustle of the day.
I wrote parts of Blood Child on the sofa of a friend’s house. Whole chapters were composed sitting at the bar of a friend’s restaurant. They gave me wine and food, in return when things got busy, I ran food and drinks for them. I miss that place and the friends who tended me to while I worked on my dream.
I’ve written on my front porch and in airports. Sometimes a new place to write is perfect because it gets you out of your head and lets your creative brain free.
Write where you are inspired or in my case where you aren’t distracted.
This morning, I woke up in a strange room in a city that neighbors the one I grew up in. As my traveling companion slept fitfully in his bed, I moved through the room making coffee, showering, reading and doing my morning exercises. The nervousness and tears that had marked my first day of travel were gone; now it is onto the adventure.
An adventure that as a writer feel compelled to chronicle. This is my first vacation in over a year, the last being a weekend trip to Sanibel, Florida, with a dear friend after the death of Papa. It was a healing trip, the waters of the Gulf of Mexico washing away some of the stress and agony of loss. More than a year into my new reality, I know that there are no waters that can wash away sorrow and grief, only waters that can comfort and refresh the heart and soul. I still miss Papa, he would have worried about me taking such a long trip.
Sanibel, if you have never been, is a small island off the west coast of Florida. It is known for its peaceful beaches and for the prodigious amounts of shells that wash up on its shores. You can find 250 different types of shell on their more than fifteen miles of beaches.
I’ve been fortunate enough to visit three times and each time brought with it a sense of serenity that just speaking the name of the island in my mind brings me joy. Each time, I have gone I’ve stayed at the Sandpiper Inn, a colorful and very affordable spot on Donax street. It is a quick walk to the beach to collect shells from there and they have bikes which are free for guests to borrow. It was truly delightful to hop on a bike and ventured off to breakfast. There are over 25 miles of bike paths.
The best and strongest memory of that trip was driving over to Captiva and renting a boat for the day. We sailed around the bay for a couple of hours and were delighted when a dolphin joined us for a bit. We sailed back and forward trying to follow him only to realize that he was playing with us. It was absolutely marvelous. The experience of a lifetime.
Now, in a few hours I will be boarding a plane with two friends heading to Paris where we will meet two more friends for another experience of a lifetime. One of those friends is the same extraordinary soul with whom I went to Sanibel.
My heart at this moment is light. I know worry will return. For now, I am delighting in the adventure ahead as I look out the window towards the towers of Dulles seeing the tips of airplane tails among the trees.
First Friday in weeks that I have been home. First Friday in weeks, I haven’t been sick although truthfully, I am not completely well yet.
My first thoughts on this evening entailed going to bed early and rising in the morning with intent. Instead, I played some Fallout Shelter, practiced my Spanish and tried to see what dog I would be on Facebook. The results of that particular quiz will not be shared.
There is writing to be done. Writing and editing that has been on my to do list for over a month. Writing, I want to do, but somehow whenever I sit to do it, something else always pulls me away.
My favorite pair of boots died, today. The soles are coming falling off. Some glue may fix them. There is money to replace them. Funds that my brain says should go else where. My mind was considering all the sensible options when the phrase “Fuck my life” popped into my head. I’ve heard it more than a dozen times something goes wrong and suddenly everything goes. My shoes aren’t a big deal. The deal comes in the fact that I just played off a credit card, this is the second pair of boots that have suffered damage this week that will be need to be replaced, along wit some other expenses another new set of boots would drip the budget in red ink. Combine those thoughts with the ones where I am no good at my job, a fraud who is about to be found out and dozen more demons poking around in my noodle. It would have been easy to say “Fuck my life”.
Not justified, but easy.
Easy to think that everything is crap, because life has a way of doing that just like my cold turning nasty and spending that couple of weeks sick.
Life is still pretty good. Actually, it is damn good. While I am not where I want to be and far from accomplishing my goals and dreams, I am a good place. A place, where I can write on a Friday night undisturbed. A place where I can make mistakes and work way back to where I want to be from where I am.
How does one deal with being so lost that they have finally gotten tired of throwing their hands up in the air? Of starting all over once more. Of staring at the end and knowing how much work it is going to take to make it a beginning. If one is a writer, you write. You talk about it with people and then you write some more.
This is me doing just that.
This is me working it out.
Today, I crossed off 11 of the 14th things on my to-do list off.
I did good, today.
All and all, it was pretty spectacular for someone who has been sleeping through much the last month of her life one of two sofas. My living room is a mixture of items I have been given over the last five years. There are only a couple of items in the room that I purchased. A lamp shade I purchased with an ex-boyfriend from Ikea that looked vaguely like one of the chocolate oranges you see around the winter holidays. It is absolutely hideous. And fits perfectly. It works in the space. It adds something to it The rugs and one of the bookcases as well as the TV make up the rest of the items that I purchased. Well, beyond the books which even some of those were passed on by the dearly departed.
There are a lot of things in my home that came from death. The death of a friend or love one has filled my living room with furniture. My favorite lawyer bookcases and the desk where my TV sets all came from a friend’s parents. They gave me these things after her death because I needed to furnish my new home and they were moving. It was too much for them to stay where she had died. So much of the last two years of her life were spent with them watching her.
I wear a set of rings they gave me everyday. These belonged to my friend. It is my way of remembering her. Of honoring her. I feel naked without them. If I forget these things then I will dash back into the house.
Death and the past are constant companions. Maybe that is why I have such a hard time mapping out my future direction. So much of the home I cherish has come from the past. When you walk in my house, it is clearly that I have an affliction for darker things. I stopped repacking the entirety of the Halloween decorations years ago.. My living room, the first room, that you see has seven skulls in it. One witch, two bats and a couple of dragons. The only room without a skull or something Halloween in it is my bathroom.
Then there are the books. Lots and lots of them. A great deal of them are histories from around the world. Scattered among these are the skulls and various nick-nacks.
My house sometimes scares my landlord. I have been a good tenant for the last five years which combined with being a writer as well as teacher has ensured the good will of the landlord. Thus he has learned to humor me. I may be odd, but I pay my rent on time and don’t cause trouble.
Drapped in death and the slightly macabre my home gives most visitors a sense of peace. What is more peaceful than death? The long sleep. The goal for me in decorating has been to create a place that is inviting. So far, it seems to be just that. I have worried in the past that my collections and love of skulls would turn people off, but as far as I know I haven’t scared anyone away. And if I have then I have no problem with it since they didn’t tell me they were uncomfortable. I can’t fix what I don’t know is a problem.
The map I am trying to layout currently is going to take me away from this place sooner or later. This is the second place that has been totally mine in adulthood. I have lived here longer than anywhere else since I graduated college. Before that I lived with my birth father after my mother and I lost our home. I would spend the next three years living like a guest in his house. My picture rarely made the wall of family photos and when it did, it was only for a short time. If you walked into my father’s home, you would never know that I was his child. There is no evidence of me there at all.
The house I live in now is home. I love the idea of the life that I have built for myself. I am proud of how far I have some in the last couple of years. And then there is the shame I feel for not having gotten farther. Why don’t I own a home? Why do I live so close to the edge? Truth be total, my family won’t allow me to fall too far. They have always been there to save me from rock bottom.
Another truth be told, I have been coasting for the last couple of years. I am smart. This isn’t a bragging. It took me a long time to realize that I am in fact intelligent. My mother and sister are genius so being an intelligent woman runs in my family. I am not a Mensan like them. I haven’t bothered with the test or like my mother has suggested on more than one occasion when I as in therapy had a psychologist sign off on the paperwork. She believes in me. She has always seen the intelligence that has been bouncing around in my head. Years of being talked down to by my birth father, grandparents and the rest of my siblings taught me that if I wasn’t as smart as my sister and mother I wasn’t smart at all. So I never pushed myself academically. It was either sink or swim. I am good at floating.
My mindset was that I only had so much intelligence. There was no way I could be as smart as other people. Talent was something I lacked and could not develop. Psychologist Carol Dweck calls this a fixed mindset. I didn’t really see that I was coasting a great deal of the time just below success. I honestly thought that if I was meant to be successful it would just happen. I never quite got there but I am never far off from it,
Don’t get me wrong, I do work hard. Sometimes I work too much. But that is mostly to make up from having coasted. Or when things really need to get done. Or when I get the energy. Lack of energy has been the theme of the last couple of years. Truth be told, I believe that I burnt out before I ever became a teacher. Ironically, teaching is where I finally began to believe in my own intelligence.
I have been working since I was 12 years old. Given the nature of the employment, I worked long days and made little money (75 to 100 a week), which at twelve was big money since I didn’t have any money. I saved pretty much every penny I yearned for either school clothes or my college fund. I made it through college and went where life and opportunity lead me. I didn’t explore much. Kept waiting for a sign or something. The course catalog was the sign I missed.
Kept waiting dreaming of that door to open. Kept dreaming of it. Didn’t know how to manifest it. People kept telling me I could do this or that. I didn’t believe them. Seriously, I thought because of my learning disablity (dysgraphia) that I would never be a writer. Mmm, who was an Amazon Best Selling Author? And who is going to continue to write no matter what? Me.
I follow some very talented people online. Some of whom I am friends with and the thing about their talent. The secret to that talent is that they work at it. They keep working on it, made mistakes and kept working on it. They do the work. (Thank you, Lisa from Halfmoon Creative Works for reminding of this. )
I wrote Blood Child in a heart beat. I did the best I could. I got help from professionals and friends to make and after months of hard work, there were mistakes. There are always mistakes. No matter how hard you work there will always be typos and things you can do better. You have to learn to do them better fix them the next time around.
The next book is coming slowly, but it is coming. It is going to take more energy and way more work. It is time for me to take the skill I have and begin to refine it. I just need to shake things up and make a new map for myself. One where I am growing. Get out of the comfort zone and back to my happy. My happy often comes from learning new things, traveling and having conversations. Things that my depression and anxiety nearly robbed me of. Things I can’t always do from where my life is right now. From where I have directed my life.
Happy isn’t easy. Happy doesn’t always mean that you feel well happy. There isn’t a glow to it always. My happy maybe more of a flow. When I am flowing, I am growing I moving with my life and better able to see opportunity when it presents itself. I think though for me it is a little bit like the lamp in my living, not always pretty by itself but given a chance a thing of beauty. The trick of manifesting that thing of beauty is seeing the potential, not listening to doubt and doing what is necessary to make it shine. The lamp shade, didn’t natural fit the lamp. The lamp itself had to be taken apart and reassembled. It is still a little wobbly when bumped.
My new map is going to be made day by day. Word by word.
So after weeks of sending out resumes and expecting it to take weeks, I finally got a response from two principals in my district. Ten years at the same school. Ten years knowing the boundaries and pushing them. It is time to push new boundaries and serve new students. Two interviews, two chances. Two opportunities to venture down new pathways.
Or in my case, new characters.
Keep pushing for your dreams, Keep pushing for something that fits better and as always ….
My last post about my current work situation, which is still pretty messed up, but it wasn’t really focused on the ups and downs of being a writer and the need of a day job. There is a myth that if you only had enough time you would be able to get your next book done and that book will bring an end the day job.
It is a myth. Not sure a dream.
The idea of being a writer who is able to rely on their works as your only source of income is both a fantasy and a nightmare. A fantasy because many of us firmly believe that if we just had more time to write then we would be able to accomplish our goals. John Green, the author of Fault in Our Stars and Paper Towns, found that more time he had the less productive he was at first. Eventually, he found a community of people who helped provide him with the interactions he needed.
To make money as a writer, you have to write. Write, edit, publish repeat. It is easy and nearly impossible all at the same time. Yet, people do it. Just not as many as you may think do it without a day job.
Writers have to hustle to make a living. They don’t just spend their days on their next great novel. They are writing articles, critiquing movies and play and generally doing whatever they need to keep a roof over their heads. Most don’t write full time at least not in the way we like to think they do.
They bust their fingers day and night to make things happened for themselves and their families. They write for magazines, blogs and any outlet that they can. They do talks, pick up gigs here and there and I am sure more than a few can be found behind the wheel driving for Uber. They update their Patreon page and communicate with readers. (Engaged readers are more likely to become fans. Fans buy your books and tell their friends.) They create their stories late at night and in the moments in between whatever they have to do to put food on the table.
In the next couple of weeks or months depending on how it goes, I will be looking for a new day job. I can’t live without it. I need insurance and having rent money is a necessity as well. I will dream of not going back to work after the summer. Dream of spending my days at my writing desk and three hour workouts. Although, truthfully when I have a lot of time to myself I don’t get much writing done. I am, however, willing to try and see what happens provided I win the lottery or my book gets a mega movie deal.
In the meantime, I am going to work harder at making the time I do have count and use my day job as inspiration for my writing. There are numerous characters rambling around my school everyday begging to find their way on to the pages of my next book.
A day job doesn’t need to be a hindrance. Use it as a source for your next work. Write what you know. Take inspiration from all around you.