How to anchor your creative endeavor while juggling work, study and family with writing.

When I’m not writing I work full-time in a library.

What is it like to try to pursue writing with a full-time job – (I work in Dlr Libraries) while doing a Masters (Library and Information Management with the University of Ulster – Distance Learning) , not to mention guiding and looking out for four teenagers/young adults and keeping connected with extended family, friends and other pursuits?

If you’re already tired just reading the list you’re getting the feeling that can come over me, or anyone at first pass – a sense of overwhelm, futility, foolishness, exhaustion. Voices in your head questioning the choices you have made.

The short answer is that like I did when raising four small children and writing alongside I have to make choices, pick times, try to focus, to put life aside (so very difficult), use tricks to keep me in the seat, hide my phone, enter things, submit and apply for programs and mentorships (I’m working on a Words Ireland mentorship this year with Jan Carson) to give me deadlines and an impetus. The longer answer is that maybe, it’s not possible to do everything and indeed, what you can do might be very little. In that case how do you mitigate that sense of futility and make a richer experience of the time you have?

Find the place we can be ‘lived by’ our desire to write in the midst of real obstacles

One of the ‘other pursuits’ I hope to realise ‘sometime’/soon is answering (through writing and courses) to these questions of time, focus, motivation, values, creative resilience and helping others to find a comfortable landing spot in which to exist at least some of the time. A place where they can feel that they are doing at least some of what they want to do, for reasons they have identified as being important, without beating themselves up/undermining their own foundations. A place where they can anchor themselves and be ‘lived by’ (to quote the extraordinarily pragmatic and psychologically astute Rick Hanson) an enduring sense of their own commitment to creativity and the wonder of living and observing. We can make our own fuel if we know what we love to do. BUT there are constraints, of time, of financial position, bereavement, social class, employment status, personal challenges and circumstances, difficult events, physical or mental health/fragility, commitments, even philosophy of life at a moment in time. There are things we can muse upon and there are things that punch up in the face and tie our hands.

Question your perceptions – noise in your head can drain

There are areas of ‘agency’ – what we can change, even on a small scale. How we perceive a problem, how we perceive ourselves, how we ask for help or payment, how we gather supports from friends or changed circumstances. We need to interrogate our own blinkers about whether we can change our job or relationships or our perception of our abilities or our habit of worrying whether we are good enough or can do it or our constant striving to produce or be perfect, our assumptions that others have it easier or – on the other hand – that it is really possible to be able to raise a family, play sport to a high level, have a full-time job, maintain a wide circle of friendships and write two novels in a year.

Most of my writing is about how people’s beliefs blinkered, absolute or otherwise can make them believe in probably impossible things, allow them to hurt themselves and others or – more positively – make life bearable or allow them to do extraordinary things. And yet on a daily basis we all struggle to convince ourselves that what we are doing matters, that small progress is progress, that doing rather than producing or achieving makes sense.

‘Getting’ somewhere rather than ‘Being’ somewhere.

This blog, which flourished at a certain point and has been put aside (due to time/headspace constraints!) looked to answer to headspace and ‘finding the time to write’. How is it to try to pursue writing alongside a job, a Masters (in Library and Information Management) and everything else? I have tried to make pragmatic choices, focusing on writing over the summer break from college, fitting it into the two mornings before my library job late shift and some time at weekends. Truthfully it has created a feeling of compromise, of dissatisfaction, of panic at times. Two strands – Firstly: panic at ‘getting somewhere’, i.e. – producing more, getting an agent, getting published, ‘finishing’ i.e. starting, the several novels I have been thinking about for years. (Alongside panic that I am falling short as a mother, wife, daughter, sister, friend. ) Secondly: a feeling of running on fumes, lack of sustenance, lack of connection with the satisfaction of creating, making, observing, writing observations down, wordplay and sentence generation.

The mistake I have made is allowing the first strand to shout louder than the second. To somehow – and I will come back to explore the means required – connect in with the pleasure of creating, to create a relaxed and open space to potter and experiment and move things around even while (in the back of my head) the clock is ticking. Another voice now shouting – this is naïve – you want to have a body of work, you might run out of time, what are you doing with your life.

Give us some tips

I have answered nothing. What do you do when juggling to make space to write?

  1. Figure out the space and time you have (tiny pockets of time!) and make it a place – as far as you have agency – that signals creative space – quiet library, coffee shop, spare room with all your writing stuff. The necessary conditions – to reconnect with the certainty – that spot – inside yourself that knows what you love about writing.
  2. Look at your values, your passions, why you write, why you are writing this. Put objects and talismans around you to remind you. Read a chapter of one of those ‘on writing’ books that have been on your self unread for the past five years.
  3. Slow everything down, your breath, your writing, starting a new project.
  4. Gather, mess around, play, incubate, rest, but
  5. Yes, show up and sit down and plan, in small chunks
  6. Set writing goals, in small manageable chunks. Then half them.
  7. Write down what you would like to do, write down each day what you have done
  8. Realise that you will hate writing, not want to do it, that the feeling of doing it will sometimes make you sick. Go back to number 4. 5 and 6.
  9. Make even smaller goals in sequence. The goals of a king or queen in a miniature writing kingdom. Or the goals of a maid in the servant’s quarters with 5000 things to do.
  10. Take space to questions your assumptions about the project, really novel – or better as short story, is it two books, are you ready to write this now, does this character really fit. Keep asking new questions – especially about things you think are obviously correct.
  11. Laugh, don’t take yourself too seriously. Realise that it both does and doesn’t matter if you write these words or if people see your book or not, if it’s one person who is moved or 1 million. How can you measure impact? How can you understand the ripples? Even if the writing is not seen, how can you know that the mere act of you trying, the encouraging smile you gave to a passer-by after your endeavour did not create something amazing.
  12. Include an awareness of the other areas of your life that require and deserve time whether for practical, mental health or inspiration reasons. You cannot operate from guilt.
  13. Make your work different sizes so you can send out haiku or poems, or dribbles and drabbles, prose pieces or flash fictions or short stories or novellas or novels or epic series at different points and make a difference through the tiny to the gigantic.

Yes you will forget, but remind yourself

Forget everything you read here and find yourself beating and berating and wailing and grim-faced as you get into the car for your commute having written the sum total of zilch.

Then find that spot inside that knows you find the world and its people, wondrous or funny or entertaining or horrific or all of these at once and you have always wanted to figure out how to say it. Find that spot, that sense of observation and wonder, and use it to steady yourself, then look out the window, and notice, and record.

These are some of the ways you can keep hold of the reason for writing and the satisfaction (alongside the hard work) that comes of connecting with creativity itself. Let me know what you find hard to do when juggling life and writing, both physically and mentally and remember, yes it is hard, its not a ‘fail’ to feel you can’t do it, or do it adequately, just remember to rate what you do and what you are trying to do as you move (albeit slowly) along the way.

Carved out satisfaction versus cut throat success

There’s a ‘wealth’ of information out there and particularly on-line about how to become a successful writer, how to write, pitch, blog, market yourself, build up a following, get a publisher, be known. Much of it is excellent advice. However what grates on me is the kind of ‘stop at nothing’ advice where you are meant to steam roller your way to the top by being relentlessly competitive with your contempories. Some will think I am naiive. You simply have to stand out to be noticed, you need to blog more, network more, tour more, promote more.

Absolutely. You need dedication. You need to lose the excuses not to write. You need to be aware of what’s going on in the market. You need to know who’s in the know and what they know! But what I object to is ambition in a vaccum, the one tracked mind to success that doesn’t consider other priorities like the people around you, your home and family life, your relationship with others and with the world.

Christina Katz, writer, woman, mother, powerhouse has asked people this week to blog about happiness. To me happiness can be joy, exquistic moments of enjoyment of the process of writing, of the gorgeous reality of my children and their funny moments, a perfect moment of spring blossom and sun. But that kind of happiness is not always available moment to moment. What is available is an overall satisfaction with your life and its choices, an understanding that you may not always get exactly what you want, when you want (like all the time you want to write) but that you are doing your absolute best to fulfill your ambition while maintaining equilibrium with other parts of your life. As a woman and mother, this reciprocity and balancing of your own needs with the needs of your children, family, extended family and the community as a whole is integral. I am not going to blog everyday if it means that I don’t do a jigsaw with my two year old or colour with my daughter, if I can’t listen to my friend who is going through a hard time, if I never have time for giving rather than just getting. On Benjamin Kanarek blog Isa Maisa said recently As our society today considers fame and fortune to be the Holy Grail of our sense of purpose, living a life in an attitude of a happy medium is hushed as insufficient and discusses Doris Lessing, Michael Jackson and Alexander McQueen’s relationship with success.

There are many people in the writing world I admire who are successful by building up a reciprocal and mutually satsifying relationship with their readers and with other writers.  They bring others up with them, provide others with opportunities for exposure and development. In particular I would like to mention Vanessa O’ Loughlin of Inkwell Writers. She writes, provides great quality writing classes and has created a network of writers who regularly receive her extremely useful newsletter. She uses the newsletter to promote other writers and has provided opportunities for other writers to be noticed. Christina Katz is an expert at platform building, becoming known in the publishing world, making the most of opportunities but she also promotes the careers of fellow writers and provides opportunities for them. The Year Zero collective is a group of writers who want to engage with and give back to readers. They develop a reciprocal relationship with readers by posting work regularly and getting feedback, by doing readings in intimate venues and by often giving away their work for free.

These are only a few examples. In terms of social media, there is, for the most part, a wonderful atmosphere on Twitter of reciprocal help, promotion and respect. Only occasionally do you find those whose own agenda of self-promotion comes ahead of their respect for others.

I want to be a writer first, I want to be a successful but also satisfied writer. But what that means to me is to develop a relationship with my readers and other writers first and foremost, to maintain a courteous, considerate and caring relationship with people in my personal and professional life. And after that, only after, will I count book sales and stats as a measure of happiness. What do you think?