In this week’s Pen to Pen column, author Sarah Hadley Brook tells of her entry into publishing later in life and the challenges of fitting her second career into an already busy schedule. It’s advice we can all benefit from, whether we’re new to writing or have been publishing for a long time.
I found a lot to relate to in her story, including how a call for anthology submissions kick-started her writing career. You can get the same sort of juice by checking out the calls for submissions section of my website. I turn to them whenever I’m having trouble with a current project and need something a little different to focus on.
And please let us know in the comments what you do to make time—and mental space—for writing.
Finding Time to Write as a New Author
By Sarah Hadley Brook
Someone from my Camp NaNoWriMo Cabin in July asked what brought us the most frustration in our quest to be professional writers, and since I’d been struggling with that very thing all week, I was all over that question.
I’d been writing all my life—for fun, for friends, and even for curriculum at my day job—but writing professionally wasn’t really on my radar until about eighteen months ago. Don’t get me wrong, as a child I dreamed of being an author. I read Little Women when I was young and wanted to be Jo more than anything in the world.
Life sort of got in the way and, while I was happy for the most part, at forty-four I found myself wishing I had at least attempted to submit a manuscript somewhere. That led me to search for short story submissions, and when I found an open submission for an anthology call, I decided to go for it.
When I got that email telling me they wanted it, I was in shock. Excited, but in shock. It was a dream come true.
But oh, there is so much more that goes into a story than just writing, isn’t there? I learned a lot through the editing process and was lucky my first editor was so patient with me. She gave me a crash course in the publishing process and before I knew it, I was hooked. Bitten by the writing bug.
Great, right? Living the dream!
But with that also came stress. Like most writers starting out, I already had a full-time day job—one that I loved and had been with for fourteen years. Working late through the night on my laptop from home had never been a problem because I enjoyed what I did. I still do. But as I tried to squeeze in writing time, I felt the rest of my life beginning to stall. Who had time to unload the dishwasher or go to a movie?
Then I became a grandma. (Why yes, I am a very young grandmother, thank you very much!) I spent almost every evening helping with him for the first few months.
When I tried to get back to my writing, I now had not only my day job, my grown children, and my social life (*cough*—sorry, tried to slip social life in with a straight face….) competing for my attention, but I also had my grandson. Guilt crept in. How could I take time to write and enjoy myself when I had so many other responsibilities?
It became clear to me though, that when I did skip writing, I was more stressed than if I had just written first and then moved on to the other items calling out to me.
It’s taken some time, but I’ve found a balance between life, the day job, and writing. I’ve learned tricks and techniques that work for me.
MY WRITING RULES
- I began recording my thoughts when an idea, paragraph or description popped into my head. That way I’ve always got it down and don’t stress about forgetting it. Even if I’m babysitting, I can still speak into my phone and quickly record it for later.
- I’ve also created a space at home just for writing, which really works for me. I keep it clutter-free so that when I do sit down to write, I don’t feel like I need to clean it up or I find something on the desk to distract me. The only items on my desk now are my laptop, my desk fan, a charger for my phone, and a coaster for my water. I also find that this helps me with my focus, and I am not thinking about what I need to be doing around the house.
- A friend of mine who is in independent sales shared her “Power Hour” philosophy with me. She spends one hour a day (splitting it into 20 minute increments) doing what needs to be done with her sales. I adapted it somewhat to fit my needs and find it really helps. I spend one hour a day updating social media, working on my website, working on any forms or anything on my writing to-do list—but not any actual writing. Sometimes this is early in the morning, sometimes it’s the last thing I do before bed.
- This might sound silly, but I changed my sleep schedule—and the way I go to sleep. I no longer fall asleep with the television on. If I listen to music, it’s only nature sounds, such as rainfall. I wear a sleep mask so that my world is dark. I go to bed earlier than I used to, so that when I wake early in the morning, I feel fully rested and can spend time working on my writing before I head off to my day job. The difference in my ability to balance the many aspects of my life has been tremendous, and I wish I had made this change years ago.
I know nothing I’m telling you here is a game changer, and maybe you’ve heard it all before. But as a new author, it took me some time to figure it all out. Now when my frustration is related to my writing, it’s not from guilt or distractions or worrying about the house. Now it’s because I can’t decide the way a certain scene needs to play out or a character I’ve worked on morphs into something completely different than I’d planned.
Sharing my decision to make time for my writing with my family was important too, so they know there are certain times I may not be available—unless it’s urgent, of course. I did have to clarify to my twenty-year-old son that wanting me to pick up a Big Mac and fries for him did not qualify as urgent. He disagreed, but I think that was the hunger talking. I guess urgent is in the eye of the beholder.
I had to make a clear choice in my mind in order to achieve this transition, and I admit I slip up occasionally, but as long as I get back on track the next day, everything still works out for me.
About Sarah Hadley Brook
Sarah Hadley Brook is an executive director of a nonprofit by day and a writer of M/M romance by night. She believes in happily ever after for everyone. Her latest novella is Eggplant Highlights and Mustard Yellow Jeans from JMS Books.