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Finding Balance

It's not always easy to balance writing and family.  For a while, life was fairly quiet while my girls were in school, and I had tons of writing time.  I've always loved a challenge, and amazed myself with achievements.  I remember plunging into my first NaNoWriMo last minute in 2006.  It felt incredible to surround myself with others who were all working toward the same goal--50,000 words of a novel.  I started about a week late, and was excited to still make my goal by the end of November.  Each year, I pushed myself harder.  And harder.  One year, I had to go away mid-month, and was determined to make my NaNo goal by then, so I could enjoy the time with my family without being tempted to escape to my hotel room to make more progress. I completed NaNo in 11 days!!!!  And last year, I believe I came up with about 90 new picture book ideas through PiBoIdMo (even though the goal is 30). 

I've been on a bit of a roller coaster this past year.  My older daughter has been doing a wonderful job trying to overcome an eating disorder.  She wasn't ready to go to our local high school though, so she's home with me and our pups, and doing virtual school.  We decided that Lolly and Ruby will be her school mascots -the Massive Mastiff and Regal Beagle.
Lolly and Ruby holding paws
It's great spending all this extra time with my daughter.  But between doctor appointments, bark-fests when my daughter takes a break to play with the pups, and daily interruptions I never used to have, I've been working a lot slower than usual. Taking several weeks or longer to do a round of revisions that I could normally knock out in less than a week was frustrating at first...but I've found that one perk is that I can see my manuscripts in a different light when I have the chance to really dig into them.

I definitely used to spend too much time writing (and doing writing related things). I'm heavily involved in so many things--From the Mixed-Up Files...of Middle-Grade Authors, I'm the FL SCBWI Listserv editor, an administrator on Verla Kay's Blueboards, I'm in five critique groups...plus all the time I spend on Facebook, Twitter, blogs, etc. But now I feel like I haven't had enough quality writing time, which makes it scary to participate in challenges (if I say I'm going to do something, I feel beyond awful if I'm not successful).  I've thought about it, and I'm still determined to do NaNoWriMo and PiBoIdMo in November.  And I really, really hope I complete both!  But this year, I can't put my entire life on hold to do them.  I need to find some balance.  Yes, I'll probably stock up on extra underwear because the laundry mountain tends to get out of control in November.  And I'm sure I'll sneak into my office quite a bit and probably will say no to some events in order to have extra writing time...but I'm not going to shackle myself to my computer.  Helping my daughter through her rough battle with an eating disorder made me appreciate my family and friends even more than before. I'm not sure how I'll find the right balance...but I'm determined to do it!

I have a huge to-do list I'd love to tackle before November 1st.  I just took a plotting workshop with my amazing mentor, Joyce Sweeney, and had a huge 'aha' moment for my MG, so I'd love to finish running the revision through the entire manuscript and have a chance to read through the full in one sitting by then.  And there's another MG I'd love to go through.  Plus, I love the plot clock that Joyce uses, and for the first time, plan to loosely plot out my NaNo novel (I usually have at least a rough idea about the beginning, end, a few events, and character sketches ahead of time...but now I want to make sure I have all 4 acts, the potential inciting incident and binding point, etc. in mind...even though I know it's possible my characters will take me in another direction once I get to know them better.)  I also want to get as many picture books written for the 12 x 12 challenge by then (and hopefully get the rest into rough draft form by the end of the year).  I only wrote 5 out of the 12 drafts this year, and have so many great ideas  from last years' PiBoIdMo begging to be written.  And I have crits to get back to some amazing writers by the end of this month, too.  I have a feeling I won't make all of these goals by Halloween...but I'll do what I can and make sure I tackle the most important ones first.  

The thought of signing up for a challenge and not being able to complete it terrifies me.  But for years, I've told people that they're winners in these challenges, even if they don't make their goal...because they've produced much more than they probably would have without the challenge.  And I totally meant it...for them.  So why is it hard for me to believe that's true for me as well?  I always try my best in everything I do, but if life gets in the way of me completing my challenges this year, I don't want to feel awful about it.  I'll do my best and try to find a good balance between writing, my family, and writing related activities...and see what happens.

How do you balance writing, family, and everything else in your life?   
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( 27 comments — Leave a comment )
Oct. 18th, 2012 12:09 am (UTC)
Sending lots of good thoughts to your family! LiveJournal has also informed me that it is your birthday. I hope you are having a wonderful celebration!
Oct. 18th, 2012 03:13 am (UTC)
Thanks so much for the good thoughts you sent for my birthday and family. :)
Oct. 18th, 2012 02:20 pm (UTC)
You are welcome! :)
Oct. 18th, 2012 01:04 am (UTC)
Mindy, I am popping in to wish you a HAPPY BIRTHDAY! I hope the day is bringing much laughter and happiness, and that the coming year is filled with much good stuff!
Oct. 18th, 2012 03:14 am (UTC)
Thanks so much for the birthday wishes, Tracy. A year filled with good stuff sounds fantastic. :)
Oct. 18th, 2012 01:49 am (UTC)
Balance isn't easy -- but I firmly believe family comes first. Writing challenges are great, but it sounds as though you have other "challenges" in your life, and they're important ones.

Ease up on yourself, and believe that whatever you get done for challenges is fine, no matter how much it is. I am going into PiBoIdMo knowing that I likely won't "win" the challenge this year. I have something important to my life happening in November, and that's what is taking center stage for me this year. I'll do what I can in PiBoIdMo, and let go of the rest. (That's been my motto for decades -- "Do what you can and let go of the rest.")

Above all, be kind to yourself.

And I'm not Anon Y. Mouse, I'm Beth Stilborn!
Oct. 18th, 2012 03:17 am (UTC)
Thanks, Beth. You're right, family does come first. It would be great to have tons of quality time with them and also meet all my November goals, but I'll try not to kick myself if I don't make all of them. I'm sure I'll at least make some nice progress, and that should be more than enough reason to celebrate. Saying to be kind to myself made me smile. It's so true...and something I often forget to do. Thanks for the reminder. :)

I'm sending lots of good thoughts your way!
Oct. 18th, 2012 02:06 am (UTC)
There must be something in the air (I blogged about something very similar today) -- however, I'm about 1/10th as busy as you, so I can't imagine handling all that! :) Still, I'm going to try NaNo this year, I think (I've started it the past couple of years, but I haven't 'won' since...2008?). All we can do is our best, no? :)
Oct. 18th, 2012 03:28 am (UTC)
Yay that you're trying NaNo. I can't wait to hear about your new project! And we can cheer each other on in November.

Yikes, I hopped over to your blog and read your balance post. (((Hugs))) After reading that, I have to run upstairs and hug my girls (even if it wakes them up). I hope you and your family are doing okay. It was scary reading about it, and I can't even begin to imagine how terrifying it is when it happens so close to you.
Oct. 18th, 2012 08:26 am (UTC)
When I was teaching, my co-teacher gave me great advice. "You'll always have time to teach other people's kids, but only one chance to teach your own." So in your case, you only have one chance to raise your own kids, but you'll always have time in the future to write. Enjoy your precious time with your daughter! :)
~Tina Cho
Oct. 22nd, 2012 03:41 am (UTC)
Re: advice
Thanks, Tina. And you're right--I'm definitely enjoying this extra time with my daughter.
Oct. 18th, 2012 10:39 am (UTC)
You have tremendous determination - I have always seen that in you. And it sounds like you are a great mom, too. Sending good luck vibes to your daughter and you, and the pups.
Oct. 22nd, 2012 03:42 am (UTC)
Aw, thanks so much for your sweet comment, Sheela. (((Hugs)))
Oct. 18th, 2012 01:52 pm (UTC)
Happy birthday!

I don't have any answers to the balance thing. I think it's okay to be flexible and to shift your priorities as necessary. Goals are great, but not when they overwhelm you or cause you to feel unnecessarily guilty. Been there, done that.
Oct. 22nd, 2012 03:43 am (UTC)
Thanks for the birthday wishes--I had a wonderful day with my family.

It took me a long time to learn that it's okay to shift my priorities when necessary. But I definitely love pushing myself to make my own goals or complete challenges, because I feel like it constantly inspires me to move forward with my projects.
Oct. 18th, 2012 03:41 pm (UTC)
Happy birthday, and also good luck! I'm impressed at anyone who successfully completes a Nano novel. The one time I tried for real, I ended up hating the novel and going backwards, so since then I've used it as a way to finish something I've already gotten started. Much better success that way! (By my rules, not theirs.)

I do understand committing to something because you absolutely intend to finish--I try not to make commitments like that unless I'm quite sure I can do them. But I also realize that not everything is possible at the same exact time. You've certainly got a lot of huge things on your plate right now, and I don't think you should feel bad if you have to prioritize and only do some of them! Maybe if you say, I will complete X,Y, and Z, and I will set a goal to do HALF of L,M,N, O, and P, you could still feel like you met your goal, instead of just dropping out midway?
Oct. 22nd, 2012 03:50 am (UTC)
Thanks, Rose!

It's great that you learned how to adapt NaNo to your writing style. Are you going to tackle it this year?

I've been really lucky with my NaNo novels so far. Of course, they've all needed tons of revisions, but only one needed major reconstruction. I'm still determined to rip it into tiny pieces and find a way to make it work, but it's not one of my priorities right now. One day, I'll dig back into it though!

I think I'm going to hope for a way to finish my NaNo and PiBoIdMo goals in November...but will try to be flexible if I truly need extra time. Now, if I can just find the time to finish my character sketches and to roughly work my ideas onto a plot clock, I'll be ready to plunge into it on November 1st!
Oct. 22nd, 2012 04:00 am (UTC)
I'm going to try to finish a WIP for Nano. But...maybe one reason it doesn't work so well for me is that I can't outline to that level of detail without feeling like I've already told the story. Major scaffolding, okay--but I have to have surprises come out of my fingers when I write or the story fails on an emotional level. I wish I was an outliner! It would make the whole Nano experience less anxiety-filled for sure.

Good luck with your own--I hope you have fun and feel satisfied with whatever you do accomplish.
Oct. 23rd, 2012 04:42 am (UTC)
I know what you mean--I'm a pantser, too! I do go into NaNo with a bunch of notes about what I think might happen in the story and some character sketches, but some minor characters just kind of appear as needed (and then they sometimes demand to become important characters that have to be woven throughout the entire manuscript). I just keep notes of all the details I add and any changes I make and have them ready to use on the rest of the manuscript and when I revise.

This year, I'm going to try to use Joyce Sweeney's Plot Clock. It's a fantastic tool for revising a manuscript, and I have a feeling I'll love pre-planning with it, too. But I'm determined to still be flexible, because it's hard to know what should happen in a novel before I get to know the characters well. If a character decides to lead me in another direction, I'll definitely explore it and see where it leads. If I hit a brick wall, I can always move the parts that don't work to the end of the file and go back to using the Plot Clock. I do love all the surprises that pop up, and hope I'll still have some using this method.

Thanks for the luck! I'm sending tons of good luck vibes to you, too. I hope you have fun and end up with a novel that your agent and an editor love. :)
Lynda Shoup
Oct. 18th, 2012 09:34 pm (UTC)
I remember being at a Kid Lit event and the speaker (can't remember who) started off with "Balance? What's that?" Her premise was that balance is irrelevant. You write when you can. It made us all laugh. It struck a chord in so many of us.

Life with family is busy. Like you, this is a year that I should not be signing up for NaNoWriMo or PiBoIdMo. And yet, I am. In fact, I'm doing a crazy thing...I'm hosting NaNoWriMo for my students. I invited all 475 of them to join me. I told them all that my word count is 50,000 words. I promised them prizes. It doesn't make much sense, does it?

Wait a minute. When you are overwhelmed by the magnitude of taking care of your family. When taking care of that family takes more time, not less, than it used to. When there are new questions and situations to deal with and things to worry about and where are the clean socks, anyway? That is exactly the time that I find I need to find a way to fill myself up. If I don't do something to light the flame inside of me those people who depend on me - my family, my students, my colleagues and the cashier at Whole Foods who depends on my weekly foray to keep her position viable - don't get what they need. The sparkling me. The vibrant me. The me that still knows how to use a credit card.

NaNoWriMo and my crazy story. PiBoIdMo and the need to find an idea by the end of the day - I'm going to find one during our dinner conversation tonight, you just see if I won't. These challenges have little to do with the difficult in life. They are deadlines I can ignore if I need to. They aren't life or death. I can get the answer wrong and not loose my place in line. These challenges do demand a lot to finish them strong. My goal this year is different than in the past. I don't need to finish with the most ideas or the highest word count. I need to finish them with a gleam in my eye and the knowledge that I am still a writer. Sometimes in the midst of family it's easy to forget that. Sometimes if I can't find time for writing for...well, I don't even want to admit how many days have gone by this year without a single word on paper....sometimes I have felt like I'm not a writer anymore. That's why I am signing up despite the call of reason that tells me that I cannot finish. I may not win the sprint, but I want to know that I'm still on the field.

So I'm throwing balance to the wind and embracing all the joy that I can. I hope you can find a better, more balanced, way.

Happy Birthday.
Oct. 22nd, 2012 03:58 am (UTC)
Wow--it's wonderful that you invited all your students to join you with NaNoWriMo this year. I wish a teacher did the same for me when I was younger. I can't wait to hear how it goes for all of you!

You're so right, Lynda. I've found that I feel so much stronger when I write every day. It helps me deal with everything that has been going on in my life.

I'm sorry that you've had days when you've felt that you weren't a writer anymore. Maybe during busy times like that, you can time yourself for a short period of time and write (even 10 minutes a day can add up quickly--especially if you can find 10 free minutes a few times each day). It's much harder for me to write in short spurts...but it's better than completely missing a day.

I'm sending tons of good vibes and hope that you make all your goals and have an amazing month!
Oct. 18th, 2012 09:53 pm (UTC)
Happy Birthday!
Glad you have so much to celebrate on this birthday. I'm sure November will bring good things for you. I'm doing PiBoIdMo, but NaNoWriMo always sounds like a prescription for carpal tunnel syndrome to me!

- Cathy
Oct. 22nd, 2012 04:02 am (UTC)
Re: Happy Birthday!
Thanks so much, Cathy!

Yay that you're doing PiBoIdMo--it's such a wonderful challenge, and I love having so many ideas ready to go the second I find time to write a new PB. And LOL--NaNo can be a bit hard on my hands, especially during some of my faster years. But I've found that during the few times my hand has bothered me, wearing an Icy Hot patch overnight has me ready to tackle the next day. If you're thinking about it, but are worried about producing so many words each day, you can try to aim for half or even a quarter of the total word count...and see what happens.
Oct. 19th, 2012 02:56 am (UTC)
Even though I'm not a writer, as a mom I can relate to so much of what you're saying. Advice is so, so easy to give away. It always makes perfect sense as applied to someone else even though I could benefit from my own words most of the time! I struggle minute to minute on trying to balance everything and every one. I guess I just set my expectations low and celebrate every time I reach the bar or get over it, LOL. It's an imperfect science for me...I might never ever achieve the balance that I seek. In the meantime, since I have started doing Crossfit workouts, I have learned that the only one I am truly competing against is myself. I might not be as good as someone else but as long as I am as good as or better than my own previous efforts, I've learned to celebrate that...and not measure myself with someone else's yardstick.

Congrats to your daughter for her successes on what must be a challenging journey. The fact that you can be there with her and for her is a success in and of itself.
Oct. 22nd, 2012 04:04 am (UTC)
Thanks so much for your congrats for my daughter!

You're so right that it's better to measure my successes against myself than others! I try to remember that...and it usually sticks in my mind.
Julianne Dillard
Oct. 19th, 2012 09:45 pm (UTC)
I love seeing this glimpse into how your brain and your writing life work! As I read, I kept thinking, "That's how I feel!" It's so hard to meet all the different commitments and goals, but it's enticing to take on a challenge in the hopes of pushing that much harder. Thanks for sharing your thoughts--I feel more inspired to attack NaNoWriMo! :) Julie (from Turbo Monkey Tales)
Oct. 22nd, 2012 04:10 am (UTC)
Re: Together
Thanks, Julie. :) I'm glad you feel more inspired to attack NaNoWriMo. It's always been an incredible experience for me. I'm sending tons of good writing vibes your way, and can't wait to hear about all your NaNo progress in November!
( 27 comments — Leave a comment )


Mindy's head shot
Mindy Alyse Weiss
I write humorous middle-grade novels with heart and quirky picture books.

I'm an Administrator on the SCBWI Blueboard, the FL SCBWI Newsletter Editor and Critique Group Coordinator, and a proud member of From The Mixed Up Files...of Middle-Grade Authors

I've been married for twenty years and have two beautiful daughters, an adventurous Bullmasador adopted from The Humane Society, and an adorable Beagle/Pointer mix pup who was rescued from the Everglades.

I've been published in Highlights three times and placed in the 80th Writer's Digest Competition.


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