Monday, January 19, 2009

As the Writers Juggle...Episode #3 - Rosanne Parry

Hi, welcome to another episode of "As the
Writers Juggle," in which we ask writers to
share their tips on balancing work, family, and the writing life. This week's featured writer is Rosanne Parry. Rosanne is a member of the Class of 2k9 and author of the middle-grade novel Heart of a Shepherd (Random House, Jan 2009) and the picture book Daddy's Home! (Candy Cane Press, Mar 2009).

Q: Hi Rosanne! Thanks for joining us and congratulations on your upcoming releases! Tell us a bit about all of your responsibilities and how you keep them straight.

Rosanne: I’m going to telescope these questions into one answer. My principal and favorite occupation is raising my four school aged kids. I have aging parents near by. Sometimes they help me. Sometimes I help them. It’s a pretty even give-and-take at the moment, but that balance will shift my way eventually. I have a part-time teaching job that is flexible. If I want more hours, I contract to teach more classes. If I need more time to write and less money, I can scale back. In addition to the novels and picture books, I sometimes write curriculum and do parenting articles for magazines. I do volunteer work every week in a variety of places. I need exercise every day or I get little else accomplished, and my husband and I have a long-standing habit of a date every Friday night.

I wake up at 6:30 and go to sleep well past midnight most nights, so I’m working at one of the above mentioned jobs 18 hours a day. I don’t have a regular writing schedule. I might work 12-15 hours a day for a few weeks when I’m revising, or six hours a day when I’m plodding along with a first draft, but when I’m in between projects I may only write short practice pieces and work on promotion. I seldom write less than three hours in a day.

Q: I'm impressed that you still have time to write in between everything else. Sounds like LATE to bed and EARLY to rise is part of the secret. I like the idea of a date night to keep your relationship fresh. It's easy to neglect spouses when you're so busy (just ask mine!).

What are your best times and places for writing?

Rosanne:I love to work outside, especially in my tree house, but I’ve learned to write anywhere and any time I have available.

Q: What a gorgeous spot! No wonder you're inspired. I think I have tree house envy.

How do you keep from losing your momentum?

Rosanne: I try to set an attainable goal for the project at hand. For example, I just finished a first draft of a new novel. I did about a chapter a week or 700-1000 words a day for five months. I also try to do things that keep the character in mind even when I’m not writing. I’m working on a character that plays the violin, so I practice mine every day, just to keep my head in that character.

Q: Wait a minute! You play the violin, too? That's amazing!

What do you do when you get blocked? (Or do you get blocked?)

Rosanne: I don’t think of it as being blocked. If I don’t know what to write next I put a note in the text—“more about what she is thinking here,” or “characters run from the Sorbonne to the Montmartre train station, describe scenery here.” That way I can do the research or reflection later and stick it in.

Q: That's a good trick. I'll have to remember it when I get stuck.

Do you find it difficult to make the transition between your non-writing responsibilities and writing? How do you handle it?

Rosanne: Transitions are pretty easy for me. I tend not to think of inspiration or mood as having anything to do with the actual nitty-gritty of writing, so I don’t have to psyche myself up in order to write.

Q: What helps motivate you and keep you on track?

Rosanne: Need of money is motivation aplenty, and I really like to write so it’s not hard to make time for that. Housecleaning is a whole other story.

Q: Ah-ha! More ammo for the "Successful writers don't do housework" thesis!

How do you deal with distractions—either outside or inner procrastinatorial/avoidance issues?

Rosanne: I’ve learned to trust my memory. If a scene is strong enough I’ll remember where I was going with it if I get called away in the middle. If I can’t pick up the thread of a scene after I’ve been called away, my reader won’t be able to either, so I might as well let it go and start over with a stronger scene.

Q: Do you feel you have enough time for non-writing hobbies or activities you’d like to pursue?

Rosanne: Nope, I don’t have any hobbies. I genuinely enjoy the things I do for exercise and I love to write, so I don’t feel a pressing need for other hobbies

Q: Outside of playing the violin, that is... ;)

What advice would you give to others struggling with writing/job/time management issues?

Rosanne:I’m not sure I have any sage advice here. Writing is hard. If I didn’t love it I would have given up ages ago.

I think you're speaking for all of us writers there! It's definitely a labor of love.

Thanks so much, Rosanne. You need to have a balanced life when you're writing in a tree house!

Monday, January 12, 2009

As the Writers Juggle....

Welcome back to another episode in the lives of the Amazing Juggling Writers. This week, debut novelist Fran Cannon Slayton, author of When the Whistle Blows (Philomel Books, release date: June 2009) and member of the Class of 2k9, weighs in on how she manages the balancing act of full-time momdom and authordom.

[And remember, if you're interested in sharing your own story about how you juggle writing and other work responsibilities, or would like to discuss how you broke free to write full-time, please contact me at: mpbarker[at]!]

Q: Hi, Fran! Thanks for joining us, and congratulations on your upcoming novel release. You must be excited!

But for now, down to business: Tell us how you manage to squeeze your writing time in between your mom-duties.

Fran: For the past five years I've been a stay at home mom. For the first three years it was a 24/7 kind of job. I wrote during naptime and after bedtime (my daughter's, not mine!). When pre-school kicked in, I had three or four mornings a week where I had three hours to write, which seemed like a luxury. Now that she goes to school full time, I have practically an entire day to work on writing-related things. Frankly, I seemed to get more done when I had less time, but that is probably because I was only writing then. Now that I have more time, my day–at least right now–is primarily consumed with marketing my book. And marketing can suck up every second if you let it!

Q: Oh, yeah, that marketing can be a real time sink! But you have a lot of other activities on your plate, too, besides writing, marketing, and child-care. Can you tell us a little bit about those?

Fran: I volunteer at my daughter's school–reading to her class, helping with computer lab, etc.–an hour or two a week. My husband and I are also the directors of Cursillo in our area, which is a movement in the Catholic church that sponsors retreats and other events to support people in living out their faith in the actions of their everyday lives. The time commitment varies, but I'd say it takes between 2–15 hours per week, depending on the season.

Q: So you're definitely a busy bunny! How much time does all that leave you for writing?

Fran: I CAN spend about five hours a day writing. Maybe seven if I work at night. But I don't. I am learning to find balance right now between writing and marketing, exercising, reading, and spending time with my family. It's not always easy.

Q: No, that balancing thing is always a challenge. About how much time do you spend on book promotion?

Fran: Right now I'd say I spend about five to nine hours per day on book promotion. A good chunk of this includes answering emails so not all of it is super focused, but it has to be done.

Q: How do you organize it all? Can you describe an average day or week? (And don't forget to mention how many hours of sleep you're functioning on!)

Fran: Okay, you're digging into my New Year's Resolution with this question! Right now I don't organize it much all–I just do it. I spend WAY too much time with email, and that has to change.

Q: Oh, yeah, that email is like quicksand!

Fran: Basically, my day has been get up tired at 6:00 or 6:30, get my daughter to school, exercise, take care of emails (including Class of 2k9 things that need to be done), contact various people about book marketing, mail out ARCs, eat, do household errands, return more emails, blog or read kidlit blogs, think about my next novel and modify my outline if it's a good day, return more emails, pick up my daughter from school, read to her and play, fix dinner, have family time, put my daughter to bed, and do more emails until I go to bed, where I read a chapter or two in someone else's novel until around midnight. Or one.

But this is going to change in 2009. My plan is to get up and not be tired! Then exercise. Then I will write for two hours. Then eat. Then answer emails and do book promotion. And only spend limited time on the computer with emails in the evening

I'll let you know how it goes!

Q: Okay--especially if you can figure out that getting up without being tired part!

What are your best places and times for writing?

Fran: I love writing at home in front of the fireplace. Or in my office. Or Starbucks. Or Paneras. Or long car rides (when I'm not driving!)

Q: I get it! Have pen, will travel! Sounds like you probably don't have much trouble with losing your momentum. Or do you?

Fran: When I am really engaged in writing I am so excited about it that I don't want to stop. I think about it all the time. It's hard to go to sleep or think about anything else. But there have been times when I've gotten stuck and then I tend to take a walk. There are times I need to stop the actual writing and just think about things, and walking seems to get the brain juice flowing for me. I'll also talk plot points over with my husband, who is really great to bounce ideas around with.

Q: What do you do when you get blocked? (Or do you get blocked?)

Fran: I can't really say I've gotten blocked yet. I've been scared to start. I've been a victim of inertia, but not of being blocked.

Q: Do you find it difficult to make the transition between your non-writing responsibilities and writing? How do you handle it?

Fran: I ignore my chores! Okay, not completely, but some. My husband and I have split up the chores in a way that allows me not to have to think about the dirty laundry or dishes (both his usual chores). I think this is EXTREMELY helpful and I would find it hard to balance anything without my husband's help. I do the grocery shopping and a lot of the cooking and daily childcare. And we have a housekeeper who comes in a couple of times a month, who makes our world immeasurably easier. (I am a horrible housekeeper, I hate to admit. Actually, it may be that I am not horrible at it, but just that I don't have enough time to do it all and if it's a choice between cleaning up and working or spending time with my family, the cleaning up is always the thing that gets short shrift.)

I do have to be careful about transitioning from my work (especially email) and time with my daughter. I try to just turn off the computer completely after I pick her up from school so there is no chance of being distracted.

Q: Hmmmm...Last week Lisa Schroeder said something similar about ignoring the chores. I'm beginning to see a pattern here...writers, put down those dust rags and laundry baskets!

What helps motivate you and keep you on track? Are you self-motivated or do you need outside naggers to help?

Fran: When I met my editor and she became interested in the manuscript for WHEN THE WHISTLE BLOWS, I was only half way finished with the novel. Let me tell you, having an editor's attention was a HUGE motivator! But generally, I am not someone who needs nagging; I am very self-directed and motivated and I love writing, so most of the time it is easy for me to stay on track.

Q: How do you deal with distractions—either outside or inner procrastinatorial/avoidance issues?

Fran: Frankly, I let myself be distracted when I think it's good for me. For example, right now I'm letting myself be distracted from my writing by marketing and book promotion. But that's okay because I've been a little scared about writing my second book. So instead of forcing things I've been letting myself just think about my next book for a good half a year, deciding which direction to take, ironing out the story in my head, outlining it, and finally sharing it with my agent and editor. Sure, I would like to have written it already, but I also realize that I've been learning a great deal about writing during the editing process for my first book.

Generally I'm a believer that everything will come in good time. That you can have it all, but you can't have it all at once. There are seasons to life, and there are seasons to writing and to being an author. Right now, I'm developing my roots, soaking it all in.

Q: That sounds very philosophical. Do you feel you have enough time for non-writing hobbies or activities you'd like to pursue?

Fran: Generally, I do. I love writing, so it's what I want to be doing most of the time. And I love spending time with my family, which is what I tend to do when I'm not writing. And I try to make time for exercising every week, and to see friends on a regular basis. Plus, the writing (or at least marketing) dovetails pretty nicely with traveling, which I also enjoy.

I'd like for email not to interfere with family time so much in the evening, which it sometimes does. But email is a lifeline in some ways for a writer–it is how we connect to other writers across the country, and it's the primary way I market my book as well. I imagine after the book promotion is done (um, does that ever happen?) and I am on a writing cycle again, the emails will slow down a bit. I hope.

Q: Um, Fran, hate to tell you, but rumor has it the book promotion is NEVER done! Sounds like you have a good handle on it, though.

What advice would you give to others struggling with writing/time management issues?

Fran: Wow, that is a toughie, because everyone and every situation is really very different. Maybe my best advice would be to write down the five things that are most important to you, and the five activities that actually take up most of your time during the day, and see where they do and do not overlap. Figure out where you ARE spending your time, and figure out where you would LIKE to spend your time. And then work on finding ways of shifting the balance from what you actually do to what you'd really like to be doing. Most people can find things they are spending their time on that they really don't have to do--they just do them out of habit.

One tip for this–TV is a complete time suck. I know if I watched TV much I wouldn't be able to find the time to write.

Another thing (and this is advice I'm giving to myself)–email and blogging can be a total time sucks too. Figure out a way to curb it or your writing time will suffer. (And if you figure out a way to do this, please email me at my website and let me know!)

Finally–I consider myself a "scavenger writer"–I write whenever I can find a spare moment. I wrote most of my first book while my daughter was napping. Take whatever you can get; make your writing fit into your day (or night) however you can. You don't have to do it like other people do it–do it the way it works for you and your schedule. And if you're commuting or driving and can't actually write, then just think about what you're currently writing. A lot of writing can get done in one's head as well as on paper or on the computer.

Thanks, Fran! I like your "rule of 5"--I'm going to have to try it--although I'm a little scared about what I'll find out. Good luck with your debut. I'm looking forward to seeing you on the shelves!

Sunday, January 4, 2009

Trying to start the New Year out right!!

As a brandie-new published author, I've been struggling with two things this past year--

Thing #1 - Knowing that having a blog is a very important part of authorly networking, but not having a clue about what exactly to put on it

Thing #2 - Trying to figure out how to balance working my day job, promoting the old book, and writing the new one

...well, there is a Thing #3, which is not being successful at either Thing #1 or Thing #2.

This being a New Year and time for turning over new leaves and starting fresh and all, I thought it I'd start the New Year off by trying to address Things #1 and #2. And what better way to do that than by killing two birds with one stone and blogging about how other writers deal with juggling their day jobs and authorly lives. That way I get my blogging done while picking up some tips to help me with my own juggling problems. So I'm inviting fellow writers to guest-blog about how they deal with the juggling act (or don't deal, if you're like me).

So if you're a writer who's interested in sharing your tips for how you juggle jobs, family, and writing, feel free to contact me and I'll send you a short questionnaire. If you don't have a day job, but have other nearly full-time commitments (kids, elderly parents, volunteer work, school, etc.), you're welcome to play, too!

For those of you who have kicked the day job to the curb and are able to write full-time, I welcome you to comment about how you took the plunge and what allowed you to do it: a really, really nice advance, an inheritance, living on Ramen noodles and mac'n'cheese, selling the house and moving into a cardboard box under a bridge, hiring out the kids as indentured servants, etc., etc...? What was the turning point and how is it working out?


Our first guest blogger is Lisa Schroeder, fellow Class of 2k8 member and author of the novels-in-verse I Heart You, You Haunt Me and Far From You (both from Simon Pulse, 2008) and the picture book Baby Can't Sleep (Sterling, 2005). Lisa has just sold her fourth book, a middle-grade novel called It's Raining Cupcakes.

Besides being a writer and a mom, Lisa works 32 hours a week in the Human Resources department at a major hospital/university.

Q: Lisa, you're amazingly productive--and busy! Tell us some more about your daily work schedule.

LISA: I'm lucky in that it's very much a job I can leave behind at the end of the day. When I took the job, it was 40 hours, and after 18 months, I felt like I could do the job at 4 days a week, and since I had sold my first novel, I really wanted that extra day to work on writing-related tasks. So, I proposed going to 32 hours by suggesting we try it for 3 months and see how it went. Fortunately, they said yes, and it's been over a year that I've been on that schedule. Tues-Fri, I get my kids off to school and leave for work at 8:30. I get there at 9:00, work until 5:30, and get home between 6:00 and 6:15.

Q: Wow! Sounds like a busy week! Besides the kids, are you responsible for taking care of anyone else? Volunteer work? Clubs, committees, organizations? Care of elderly/ill relatives? Etc.?

LISA: My parents are fairly young and doing well, thank goodness. As far as volunteer work or clubs and that sort of thing, I'm not involved in anything. At this point in my life, it works better for me to give financially, and so that's how I choose to help others.

Q: About how many hours a day/week can you spend writing? Any sense about what your average output is (pages/words a day)?

LISA: I don't write every day, and I don't get hung up on feeling like I should write every day. I may have a month where I tell myself I must open the document and write at least 100 words every day, to push myself along, but that maybe happens once or twice a year. And the great thing about doing that is I usually write more than 100 words, because 100 words is not a lot, right, and then I feel really successful because I did above and beyond what I needed to do!

Q: 100 words--that doesn't sound so scary! Setting an easy-to-reach goal sounds like a good way to overcome procrastination.

Book promotion is a bugaboo for all of us. About how many hours a day/week do you spend on it?

LISA: Before, during and immediately after a book's release, I'll spend a good 8-10 hours a week, doing on-line interviews, doing postcard mailings, that kind of thing. If there's a conference or some other teaching opportunity, I'll spend time putting the presentation together, and that's of course more time consuming. Because I work and have a family, most of my promotion is on-line. I do one or two book signings with each release, and that's all. I just don't have time to do more than that, and so I don't let myself feel bad about that.

Q: How do you organize it all? Can you describe an average week? (And don't forget to mention how many hours of sleep you're functioning on!)

LISA: I need 7-8 hours of sleep a night, and I get it pretty much every night. I spend time on the computer in the early morning hours 7 days a week. I get up at 6 am and either do promotional stuff or write, depending on what's going on. On the weekends, I'll write until 10 am or so, when it's time to get ready to go grocery shopping/run errands or go to church. We try to do one fun family thing each weekend, so one of the afternoons is for that, but the other afternoon, the kids often have a friend come to play, and while they play, I write. During the week, I'll use my breaks and lunch time to respond to e-mails, stay connected to people on blogs, etc. I also keep note cards handy at work, and when thoughts or ideas come to me on the WIP or maybe a new project, I jot them down that way.

During the week in the evenings, that's family time when I'm having dinner, helping with homework, taking the dog for her nightly 30 minute walk so she and I get our exercise, that kind of thing. The kids go to bed at 9:00 and my husband and I are right behind them.

I know other authors who put their kids to bed and they stay up and write, because that's their best time. I'm such a morning person, that would never work for me. I think the key is to figure out what DOES work for you and then be consistent about it.

Q: Consistency--that's definitely something I need to work on! What are your best places and times for writing?

LISA: At home, in my office, in the early morning hours and on the weekends as time allows.

Q: How do you keep from losing your momentum?

LISA: Most of the time, this isn't a problem for me. When I start a book, I want to finish that book. Of course the middle can be a tough place sometimes and I may find myself procrastinating a lot, but again, I'll usually tell myself, open the document and write 100 words. Half the battle is opening the document and just getting started. I find once I get started, I'm off and running.

Q: I know what you mean about that getting-started hurdle. I'm going to try that 100-word goal! Do you ever get blocked? How do you handle it?

LISA: For me, a block usually happens when I don't know what should happen next in the story. So it's a matter of stepping away, writing down thoughts and ideas, in whatever form feels right at the time. It may be outlining, it may be free writing in paragraphs just to get my juices flowing, whatever.

And if I'm having trouble doing THAT then I usually need to step away for awhile and let my subconscious work on it for awhile. So I'll go for a jog, do chores around the house, head to the library for some quiet time perusing the shelves, etc.

Q: Do you find it difficult to make the transition between your day job/chores/non-writing responsibilities and writing? How do you handle it?

LISA: Some days I do struggle with thinking about writing-related stuff at work a lot, and that can be hard. What helps me, again, is to keep notecards nearby and jot stuff down, and to use my breaks as a time when I can check e-mails, maybe respond to interview questions, make lists of the promotional things I want to accomplish in the next couple of weeks, etc. I think if we feel like we HAVE to turn our writerly brain off when we go to work, we will be frustrated because we can't! So, figure out how you can combine the two in a way that will work for you and is fair to your employer.

As far as chores, let me say this. It is essential for authors who also have a day job to not worry about the house-cleaning. If that means hiring a housekeeper to come twice a month, do it! I don't do that, because I am lucky in that I have a husband who does a lot of it. He works 6 am to 3 pm so he is home with the boys after school, and they'll do laundry, clean out the dishwasher, get dinner ready during those hours before I come home. We are a team - it's not just MY house, it's OUR house.

I'll spend an hour here or there cleaning bathrooms or decluttering, usually on the weekends. But I'm not one of those who is spending all day Saturday every week cleaning! And if any writers are reading this who do that, stop that right now. :)

Q: Okay, no more Saturday cleaning from now on! My husband cooks and cleans, too, so I can second you on how helpful that is!

What helps motivate you and keep you on track? Are you self-motivated or do you need outside naggers to help?

LISA: I'm pretty self-motivated. I like seeing the word count grow. And a lot of times, I am really excited about a project and can't wait to see how it turns out. I wrote a mid-grade novel last spring and I could hardly tear myself away I was so excited. I wrote a first draft in like 6 weeks or something. That book, IT'S RAINING CUPCAKES, has since sold and will be coming out spring 2010. My editorial letter should be arriving any day, as a matter of fact. Eek!

For me, the best thing I can do is to get in the zone and then stay there. I write fast and furious when I'm in the zone. If I have a whole Sunday afternoon to write, and I'm there, I can get a LOT done.

The other thing I've learned to do - before I leave the document for the day, I write myself notes about where I'm heading, what I'm thinking should happen next, that kind of thing, right there in the manuscript. It makes reentering the story SO much easier.

Q: A book in 6 weeks! That's impressive! Six YEARS is more my speed! How do you deal with distractions—either outside or inner procrastinatorial/avoidance issues?

LISA: I like reading blogs, I admit it. But I feel like if I'm commenting and connecting with people, that's a form of promotion in a way. I mean, that isn't why I DO it, because that would be squicky, but by thinking of it that way, it makes me not feel guilty about doing it.

If I'm having a particularly hard time opening the document and I really NEED to, I'll e-mail a writer friend for a little kick. The other day I did that, as a matter of fact. We were having a snow day and I knew I should be writing because I could, but the kids were home, I was worried about getting to work the following day, and I was just having trouble focusing. My friend gave me a little pep talk and then said, want to do it together? Let's do 500 words. Go. And you know what? I opened the thing, got started, and wrote over 1,000 words!

Q: Squirky--that's a great word! I'm going to have to remember to use that one! Do you feel you have enough time for fun/relaxation/non-writing hobbies or activities you'd like to pursue?

LISA: No, I don't. Writers who work a day job basically have two jobs, so something has to give. And for me, this is the area that gives. But right now, my priority is earning money and saving money for the future, so the kids can go to college. The peace of mind that comes along with the day job is worth a lot to me at this point in my life. And I'm lucky in that I work with some great people, people who make me laugh every day, who I like spending time with. We go out to lunch one or twice a week, and that is all FUN to me. I don't think I could do both jobs if I hated one of them and had no time for fun on top of that!

Q: So it helps if the day job is something you like--I'll second that. But I have to admit it makes the conflict between the two a bit tough at times!

What advice would you give to others struggling with writing/job/time management issues?

1. Enlist the help of others. If your spouse/kids won't help, I believe you absolutely have to find someone else to help, whether it's a teen helper you pay to watch the kids, a housecleaner, etc.

2. Figure out if you are a morning or night person and then be consistent about how you spend those prime non-job hours.

3. Grocery shop once a week and plan the meals out for the entire week. Allow one night a week for pizza or sub sandwiches.

4. Plan a writing weekend once or twice a year by yourself or with friends and go away to write, with no internet connection. I'm going on one next weekend, as a matter of fact.

5. Deal with things as they come up. When I get a request for an on-line interview, I do it within 24 hours. I want it done so I can move on to the next thing, or be free of things hanging over my head so I can write without worrying about it.

6. Use breaks and lunch times at work to do writerly things if you can.

7. Don't feel guilty about what you can't do! Do what you can do, and let it be enough. In the end, I've learned that the best thing you can do for your writing career is to write the next book, and the next one after that. So if you're struggling with how to manage the promo stuff with the writing stuff, put the promo stuff aside and just WRITE. There will always be something we could be doing in the way of promotion. We hear about things others are doing and we feel like failures. We're not failures! We have two jobs, and there is only so much time in the day. So in my mind, promotion should be pretty far down on the to-do list. If you get to it, great, but if not, it's OKAY!!!

Q: For me, I think the not-feeling-guilty part is hardest of all! But thanks for giving me permission not to stress myself out so much over the promotional stuff. I think that I've been a total paranoid about not doing enough, and that's taken away from my writing over the past year.

Thanks so much for lots of good advice, Lisa! You're amazingly organized! And one more thing...don't get any frosting in your hair when it rains cupcakes!