Monday, July 6, 2009

Time = Money; Writing Time = Priceless

Were I well qualified to post on the topic of time management, I would not be composing this post on the fly, the morning it’s “due.”

In school, I was never one of those write-my-term-paper-at-the-last-minute types of students. My first drafts always suck, and I know I need to budget most of my “writing time” for revising.

In fact, I started this post in the quiet hours of Sunday night -- the kids finally in bed, my workout complete, a sweet glass of red wine in hand. Of course the wine was my undoing, as I wrote a half a page (all now consigned to the recycling bin), then realized I was too tired and would have to start fresh in the morning.

At the moment my husband and I retired for the night, my two-year-old (who has either supersonic hearing or ESP) decided it was time to get up. Thus followed many hours of futile attempts to persuade him that it was, in fact, night.

Now bleary-eyed and far more tired than I was last night (but at least with tall mug of coffee in hand), here I sit. For each sentence that I have typed (and just as many that I have erased), my “writing time” has been punctuated by requests for two cups of milk, two fruit snacks, one spilled bowl of cereal, one diaper change, one request for “help wiping,” two outfit changes, six demands to “look at this,” four requests to “help me with my puzzle,” one desperate shout of “He’s biting me!,” one prolonged meltdown over hair-brushing, two kisses, three hugs, and one phone call.

One of the first pieces of advice most professional children’s book writers will give is, “Don’t quit your day job.” Excellent advice, indeed. For Mind Games, I earned an advance of $6000 – roughly the equivalent of $.02/hour. I freelance for some local quarterly publications, typically netting about $50 per article. Teaching at a community college earned me $2000 for one semester. And of course, my other day job, mommyhood, is paid in a wage of kisses -- and I just collected two more as I typed this paragraph.

My full-time day job, soap opera writing, is a blessing. I work from home; it pays well; and, most important, I love it! It also affords much practice at writing very, very quickly. Right now, I am a breakdown writer, which means that I spend three days per week on conference calls. Typically we have 24 hours to write one show; in some weeks, we have 48 hours to write two.

At the beginning of the year, my then-three-year-old was in half-day preschool, and my toddler was home with me. One fall day when I was on a conference call and my daughter should have been napping but of course was not, I removed to another room and desperately ordered the children to play nicely and be quiet. Suddenly, I heard shrieking emanating from the next room and ran in to find my daughter pulling an ipod cord tight around my son’s neck. “I’m wrapping him up as a present for Daddy,” she said sweetly. She now goes to preschool all day, for which I feel no guilt on most days because she loves it, and this is clearly the arrangement that works best for all of us.

Life is easier, but it is still crazy. Many days my husband comes home from a long day of wrangling middle school children to watch our two little ones so I can get work done. My own writing projects have suffered much in recent years, but, now that both kids are sleeping through the night (most nights), I am finally, joyfully writing again.

Because soap opera writing is a precarious business with little job security, I am always considering my prospects for a second career. My husband knows I am a little crazy about applying for jobs (part-time editor here, tutor there) and overextending myself. If I just focused on my writing and trusted, how much easier would our lives be?

It is hard to ask for time to write something on spec that may never sell. In the time-versus-money calculus that we are always weighing, difficult choices must be made. Hire a nanny and let someone else care for my kid? Keep our biweekly housecleaner and have more writing time, or clean toilets myself? Get sleep?

There are huge, tangible financial rewards to having a “regular job” – and I am not frugal and not a budgeter, so these are important. But I recently interviewed a job coach who reminded me that work is also an important avenue through which many people socialize, identify themselves, and maintain their sense of dignity. The honest truth is, it is hard to trust that I can make a “career” of writing books when I have always had a job job.

I wrote a piece a few months ago about a local bookstore that is owned by the husband of romance novelist Nora Roberts. The New Yorker did a recent (excellent) profile on Roberts, in which I read with much interest that when Roberts was a single mother to two young boys and writing prolifically (how??), she laid down the law that she must only be interrupted in the event of arterial blood or live fire.

If my husband hadn’t told my daughter that my job was to write “silly stories,” maybe this tactic would work for me someday? But, knowing my daughter, probably not.

My time management advice? Do as I say, not as I do. Make time. Read. Write. Live. Trust. Enjoy!


Mary Jo said...

Jeanne: Thanks so much for this post. Good to know there are other mommies out there trying to make time for all the demands of writing (including searching for those writing-related PT jobs!)
Mary Jo

Jeanne Marie Grunwell Ford said...

Right back at you, Mary Jo. Thanks for the virtual support, which is also priceless.
Jeanne Marie

Nina Johnson said...

I'm so past that. My kids are grown but I fondly remembered the time you talked about. I loved being a Mom more than anything.

You hit it right on the head and so easily rolled the words out that describe motherhood that I laughed out loud.

Thanks for the walk down memory lane. I raised 3 kids and when my kids were teens I remarried and I got 3 more. So the 6 are now adults and between them have managed to give me 12 grandkids.

Life is busy. Busy keeps us alive. Isn't that wonderful.

I'd love to talk to you more about your decisions on housecleaner and nanny. What did you do?
Nina Johnson

Jeanne Marie Grunwell Ford said...

Nina, I'd love to talk to you about how you possibly manage to manage once the parents are outnumbered -- times 3! I'm sure your philosophy helps -- busy keeps us alive, indeed.

For the record, we eschewed the nanny and kept the housekeeper. My husband is also the cook in the family, much to the horror of my late Italian grandmother and the envy of everyone else I know.