Ask the Authors - Balancing Writing and Family Life by Megan Higginson

Work-life balance is a term we are now all familiar with. It is bandied about, argued over and striven for. According to Wikipedia, 'work-life balance is a concept including proper prioritizing between "work" (career and ambition) and "lifestyle" (health, pleasure, leisure, family and spiritual development/meditation). This is related to the idea of lifestyle choice.'

www.en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Work–life_balance

So this brings me to my current query. Can we, as writer's, achieve this? Is it possible? Can you balance writing and family life? Can you resist the pull of the pen, the keyboard? Should you? What about the guilt? Does it exist? If it does, what do you do about it? Find out what the thoughts of the following authors are on balancing writing and family life, and more.


Dee White

What is your writing routine as a children's author?

I write every day. When my children were small, I used to get up at 5.00am just so I'd have an hour or two to write before I had to get the kids ready for school.

I've never had a routine where I start writing at the same time every day. It's more that I set goals for myself about where I want to be in my story by the end of the day.

Even if I don't have time to actually write that day for whatever reason, I make notes so I know where my story is going next.


How do you fit this around family?

I try not to put pressure on myself. I write when I can, and if it's physically impossible for me to be writing because I'm cooking dinner for example, then I'm often thinking about my story and what I will write when I get time to sit at my computer ... or take out pen and paper.


Are you ever made to feel guilty about spending your time writing?

I've never been made to feel guilty about my writing. Both my kids and my husband fully support me, and they are often involved in brainstorming the early stages of a book. My kids are great beta readers.


What are your thoughts on balancing writing and family?

Writing is supposed to be fun, and so is family. They can work together as long as you try and remain flexible and relaxed about both. Set yourself realistic goals, don't be afraid to ask for help or understanding. Your needs are just as important as other members of the family. Treat your writing with respect and others will too.

Happy writing :)


Alison Tait


What is your writing routine as a children's author?

I work as a freelance writer, writing teacher and social media manager, as well as writing fiction, so my routine is very much dictated by whatever deadlines I have at any given time. My aim is to drop the kids at school, go home and walk the dog, and be at my desk ready to work by 9.30. If I'm working on a novel, I schedule in one hour a day to write, if I can, otherwise, I'm simply getting in as many words as I can whenever I can fit them in – this is often late at night. If I'm editing a novel, I set aside full days to get that done. Editing, particularly a structural edit, takes a lot of focus.


How do you fit this around family?

I have always fitted my writing around my family. In the early days, when the kids were babies, that meant writing whenever I had a spare minute, and that's a habit that I've retained. I'll write while the boys do swimming lessons, I'll write while I wait at soccer training, but mostly I write after everyone's gone to bed. For me, the paid freelance/teaching/social media work always comes first, so that tends to be scheduled in during the day while the boys are at school. Fortunately, I'm in the position now where I'm able to put some of my fiction writing into this category. But if I'm writing something completely new and untested, it goes into the 'third shift' section of my timetable.


Are you ever been made to feel guilty about spending your time writing?

No, because I have always made it clear that writing is what I love. Plus, I've always made it fit in around family life. I'm not someone who needs to take a day to myself to write – in fact, I think that would be the worst thing I could ever do because the pressure would be immense. Instead, I write the words in the slips and cracks of our days. It also helps a great deal that I am an night owl. If you write at midnight, in the deep, dark quiet, you inconvenience no-one but yourself…


What are your thoughts on balancing writing and family?

Writing is an inconvenient thing to do. It takes a lot of focus and concentration – and that can be difficult to find in the hurly burly of family life. You will never find time to write a novel. You have to make time. The only way to do that is to train yourself to write when the moment presents itself, rather than waiting for inspiration to strike and then realising you can't act on it.


I've created a whole new on-demand course for the Australian Writers' Centre called Make Time To Write, which breaks down the strategies I've learned over many, many years of writing around work, family and friends. (www.writerscentre.com.au/courses/make-time-to-write) It's about creating a word habit that will help you finish that novel!

Stephen Michael King

What is your writing routine as a children's author/illustrator?

It's changed many times over the years. I've never been disciplined as an author. I'm happy to write in the middle of the day, the middle of the night and all the times in-between. I can go all Dr Seuss and say "in a car, in plane, in a train, on a boat, up a tree, or in the rain".

I haven't written in an organised way for years. Sometime in 2017 I'm going to read through a few years of journals and do some solid writing hours. I'm keen to clear the drawing board of a few serious years of illustration work and take a couple of months to meander down the wiggly writing path.

My illustrating has simple routine and ritual to it. I always leave a tiny piece of the day's painting to finish the next morning. It makes starting easy if all I have to do is ink two eye dots. I get excited about those little dots and race down to finish the illustration. I usually discover there's another splash or stroke I can add as well. My studio is intentionally internet/wi-fi free. I make a cup of tea and walk there each day. I don't pressure myself to create, but being in a space that's devoted to making art means that eventually I put down my tea and pick up a pen or a brush and I start making. It's kind of a sacred space. I'd feel disrespectful if I left without doing at least a sketch.


How do you fit this around family?

I just do. My children are twenty and seventeen years old. One is travelling the world, the other is doing his HSC and will be leaving home in a year . . . so everything is changing. For the last twelve years or so I've worked mostly school hours, the odd late night or early morning. When I was younger, before family, it was all "hippy artist" early mornings or late nights. I've adjusted to regular hours and it suits my tribe without much trouble. I love being a dad, and a home dad all the better. My dad worked from home so I feel like I'm carrying on the tradition. My family have always been welcome in my studio – they're free to use my paper and paints. Often I'm drawing while I'm cooking. I wrote and drew my first ideas/sketches for LEAF while I was cooking spaghetti in the kitchen. In truth, they don't see me working all that often because I usually put down my pens/brushes once they're home.


Have you ever been made to feel guilty about spending your time writing/illustrating?

Guilt? I don't know, maybe as a kid there was pressure to be a different kind of person other than an arty one. There were points in my life where I questioned myself and pondered why creating, drawing and making stuff was so important to me. Why was poetry more inspiring than politics and why did paintings make more sense than the evening news. I often wondered why I didn't seem to fit. Reflecting, I think there was a lot of social pressure to do other things with my life, and I did try uncomfortably to fit into those ideals. Eventually I had to accept my inner artist. I haven't felt guilty since. I'm probably proud that I broke away from the status-quo more than anything.

There's been some guilt about taking breaks. Working from home can tend to lead to washing the dishes/vacuuming instead of creative pursuit and if you sit down to read a book, guilt can seep in. That's not a great place to be. My wife and I have tended to share domestic duties and compartmentalise them into a shared hour or two a day. That makes the rest of our day guilt free . . . eight hours sleep, an hour of two of domestic duties and around fourteen hours to nap, play or create.


What are your thoughts on balancing writing and family?

If I was a nine to five worker I'd be trying to push start the "less working hours" revolution.

Like Jack and Cat, my wife and I are vagabond minstrels (my wife has a beautiful singing voice). I'm a bit of a wannabe hippy who left the city and went with his family to live on a hill by the sea. My wife and I have managed to work from home for the whole of our children's childhood.

If you have to write, you have to write. It's a call to the wild that can't be ignored. The art you have to do. I painted pictures with my children on my back, in a backpack. I didn't "find time" to write, I had to write or I had to draw. I can remember drawing the fantastical bike for "Milli, Jack and the Dancing Cat" in our car; while my daughter was happily imaginative playing in the back seat, I was happily drawing up in the front. My life doesn't make sense if I'm not expressing myself in one creative way or another. I didn't try to find a quiet place or a quiet moment. Just like reading on a train or cooking in a busy kitchen, I learnt to accept the noise and find the quiet within myself. My children were always welcome in my studio, to make noise, chat, paint or sleep . . . always.

When I was young I read everything about art, artists, illustrators or any kind of crazy creator. Once I became a dad I read everything about parenting, balancing my life and mud brick house building. My wife and I are a team and we work at working well together. Work stuff is always balanced with big slabs of life stuff, laughter and play. I feel my most successful when my work gives me the space to do nothing but hang out with my family. A constant journey towards the simple things!


Aleesah Darlison

What is your writing routine as a children's author?

I'm not sure I can say I have a writing routine. Not for most of the year anyway as I have a pretty busy author visit/tour schedule and four children. Basically, I write whenever and where ever I can. If I am at home and have that pure and
utterly delightful stretch of several free hours in front of me, I'll sit at my
computer and work solidly on my latest story.


How do you fit this around family?

Life is busy as an author, but it's also pretty flexible. Sometimes I write during the day. Sometimes I write at night or on weekends. It's always been that way for me. If the kids are asleep or at school, I write. If I have to travel, I always have my laptop or a notebook or part of a printed manuscript with me so that whenever I have a spare moment, I can work on my latest story. If I'm waiting for rugby training or cricket or swimming to finish … I write. OneDrive comes in handy for allowing me to have manuscripts on my iPhone to work on electronically so my changes are saved immediately. It provides me with a little
bit more efficiency to work that way (without lugging a laptop around) because time is so precious!


Are you ever been made to feel guilty about spending your time writing?

No, not at all, but I have missed out on a few sunny days on the weekend because I've been working to a deadline. I really do need to work on my tan. Perhaps I'll set a goal to write outside more this summer… I think what tends to take over
my time are all the other processes and responsibilities of being an author – the business side of things. It's incredibly time consuming being a sole-trader author. You not only have to create your own product (stories) but you also have be the submissions executive, the marketing manager, the administration manager, the publicist, bookkeeper, travel agent… that's where a lot of work lies.


What are your thoughts on balancing writing and family?

It's a lovely idea, but things don't and can't ALWAYS balance. Life isn't perfect like that. You have to take the work when it comes because as an author, you're always working on a 'contract' basis really. There are no certainties or full-time employment opportunities in our job. Having said that, this is the job that I've chosen and I love it. There are sacrifices of sunny days that I
might make, but the benefits outweigh those sacrifices. Besides which, having four children is an incredibly busy occupation in itself so even if I wasn't working hard as an author, I don't think I'd have much of a chance to lie around on the
couch watching daytime soaps or spend my time down at the salon. Nor would I want to! I think I thrive on being busy so I guess this life suits me.

So, there you have it. Writing and family can co-exist. You will never achieve what others would consider 'balance' so to speak, however, it does not to be an either-or scenario. If you are passionate about your writing, you will make it work, learning to work in those slips, cracks and pockets of time, wherever you are. Get rid of the guilt. This is part of who you are. Celebrate it!

Live. Laugh. Play. Write.


Author Bios

Dee White

Dee wanted to be a writer since she was seven-years old. She has published 16 books for children and young adults and many articles, short stories and poems. She has been lucky enough to combine her loves of writing and travel into a career which takes her all over the world writing, researching and presenting workshops.

Apart from skydiving and hot air ballooning, the craziest thing she ever did was travel around Australia in tents for nearly two years with her two children under three, her husband and the family dog. She is a certified writing teacher and mentor, passionate about encouraging new writers. Her blogs Writing Classes for Kids and DeeScribe Writing are full of career and writing tips for writers of all ages.

www.deescribe.com.au


Allison Tait


Allison Tait is the author of the bestselling children's adventure series The Mapmaker Chronicles, and a multi-genre writer and speaker with more than 20 years' experience in magazines, newspapers and online publishing. She lives on the south coast of NSW with her family and a cheeky puppy. Book #4 in The Mapmaker Chronicles series will be released on 1 April, 2017. Find out more about her at www.allisontait.com


Stephen Michael King

Stephen Michael King has authored a dozen books, and illustrated over 50 more. Stephen's designs range from children's magazines to the farmyard puppet characters for the television show "Bananas in Pyjamas".


He is published throughout the world.

Nominated for numerous book awards. He's won the prestigious CBCA award for Best Junior Fiction Book, been selected for America's "Pick of the list", and the international "White Raven". The White Raven label is given to books that deserve worldwide attention because of their universal themes and/or their exceptional and often innovative artistic and literary style and design.

Most of all Stephen loves to draw and spend time with his family.

www.stingart.wordpress.com


Aleesah Darlison

Aleesah Darlison is an award-winning Australian children's author who writes picture books, chapter books and novels. Her much-loved stories promote courage, understanding, anti-bullying, self-belief, friendship, teamwork and environmental themes.

Aleesah has published over thirty books including Stripes in the Forest: The Story of the Last Wild Thylacine, Awesome Animal Stories for Kids, the Netball Gems Series, the Unicorn Riders Series, the Totally Twins Series, Ash Rover: Keeper of the Phoenix, Puggle's Problem, Spidery Iggy and Mama and Hug.

www.aleesahdarlison.com

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