We are happy to welcome New York Times Bestselling author Susan Wiggs. Her latest novel is The Oceans Between Us. Find out more about her and her novels at SusanWiggs.com:
Like Grace, the main character in my novel The Ocean Between Us, most writers I know perform a daily juggling act to balance family and career. I’m no exception. I wrote my first novel with a colicky newborn in my lap, and sold it when she was 18 months old. I had the added bonus of a full-time teaching job thrown into the mix.
Working at home is a mixed blessing. You either feel like you never go to work, or you never leave. Finding balance somewhere in the middle is the key. I could tell you to make a schedule, carve out a discrete area of the house for your writing, set boundaries for your family, set goals and keep regular hours, but I’d better not say that, because a) it’s boring and b) nobody ever actually does this.
When you’re in the thick of raising a family, you learn to write on the fly, scribbling scenes and snippets of dialogue on the back of your grocery list or hair color coupon while waiting in line at the grocery store, eking out a scene as you wait in the carpool line, letting out a token shriek or cheer at a kids’ soccer match while you edit your ketchup-stained manuscript.
I could also tell you to have a Serious Talk with your family, letting them know this is important to you and you would appreciate their support in pursuing your writing dreams. But I won’t tell you that, either. When you’re knee deep in deadlines, just make a sign for your door that says “Don’t Interrupt Me Unless Your Eyes Are Bleeding” and call it good.
People who say they’re waiting until life slows down and they can find time to write are fooling themselves. There’s never a good time to write. What about cleaning the can opener? What about watching reruns of NCIS? What about sitting in the hot tub and talking on the phone? All these delicious distractions will never go away. The way to get the writing done is to simply write. I wish I knew a shortcut, but I don’t. Sorry.
I’m not telling you to neglect your family. Quite the opposite. You can’t write good, juicy books about families unless you have a life. So go ahead and live it. If your toddler wants to turn the living room into a tent city, drop everything and oblige the little tyke. If your husband wants to have movie night, indulge him, and hope it’s not yet another viewing of “Gladiator.” If your teenager is having a meltdown, be there for her. The book will always be there, waiting for you, and you’ll make time to write. My mother likes to say, you make time for what’s important to you. If the writing’s important, you’ll get it done. And if the work comes slower than you could wish, forgive yourself.
There’s a passage near the end of The Ocean Between Us where Grace is sorting through old family photos, on the eve of her twin daughter and son’s high school graduation:
“What happened to her little girl, her Emma who used to love so open-heartedly? Where was that laughing, blue-eye boy who used to curl up in her lap at the end of the day? Brian was a man now, with plans of his own.
“Did I appreciate my years with them enough?” Grace wondered. “Did I really see these children?”
She knows what working women everywhere discover–it’s never easy, but the rewards are immense.
Maybe that colicky newborn absorbed the writing bug all those years ago, because my daughter, now 26, will be publishing her first book in 2011. How I Planned Your Wedding: The All-True Story of a Mother and Daughter Surviving the Best Day of Their Lives, a funny memoir, will be released by Mira Books.
How do you, the fellow writer (whether aspiring or published) manage to balance life and family?
Thanks for letting me stop by. I am waving from the Pacific Northwest!
Be sure to swing by The Pink Chandelier on Tuesday for the next stop on Susan’s Blog tour!