As you might have noticed, I’m a great believer in balance for writers—good food, modest amounts of exercise like walking and yoga and swimming to keep all the organs and joints oiled and moving, plenty of sleep and refueling the well with hobbies and travel and such things.
But sometimes life just doesn’t leave a lot of room for balance. April is a wild month around here. I’ve been juggling my calendar this morning, trying to fit everything into place. My son is getting married in three weeks, which means there will be many out-of-town guests, and I probably will be required to clean my house or (more likely) hire someone to do it, which means I lose a work day because the feeling of people here is very distracting. I’m giving a keynote for a library fundraiser, and teaching an intensive plus another workshop at one of my very favorite conferences, The Pikes Peak Writer’s Conference. We’re completely re-doing the back yard to make room for an urban farm, a project that requires demolition and heavy equipment and noise.
have had a deadline of April 15, which means a lot has been sliding already. There’s a leaking toilet that needs a plumber and a section of old fence is going to come down in the next big windstorm.
Most of this could have been juggled, but the wedding date was a surprise. My son’s beloved, an Air Force sergeant, was deployed for six months, and they came to the conclusion that they had to be married, soon. So the minute she hit US soil in late January, the wedding was in motion. The date? April 7.
One week before my book was due.
Now, I know some of you are the sorts who would be well ahead of your deadlines and could have just made the choice to turn your book in a couple of weeks early. That would, uh, not be me. And there was no way I wanted to split my attention between the humans and happy events going on that week, and the book, which requires extreme left brain attention at that point.
So, I did the sane thing: emailed agent and editor, who were more than happy to give me the extra few weeks I asked for. (Only a few weeks, well within the grace period, because I hate hate hate hate hate to miss a deadline and almost never do.)
It still means juggling a thousand things—presentations and structuring class work and writing; family and friends and visitors; making things presentable, including maybe me. I need a haircut because I’m peering through my bangs like sheepdog. Maybe a dress, though maybe I could go shopping in my closet and wear one of the 12 million author cocktail dresses that hang in there unused most of the year. It’s not like anyone in my family has ever seen them). It’s going to be an insanely busy, insanely happy, insanely demanding month.
One thing there will not be is any semblance of balance. There is the book. There is family. There are the presentations. I’ll be working long hours.
That means setting strict priorities and sticking with them. The book has to be finished, so it goes at the top of the list, and I do mean the top—I’m getting up at 4 am to work, so that it is done every day no matter what else happens. Getting up so early means I have to go to bed earlier because my particular brain doesn’t function well on a short sleep cycle. To sleep well, I also require some fresh air every day, so the dog walks are also non-negotiable.
I love my Tuesday evening Nia class. It’s my favorite teacher, and my good friend meets me there, and we usually go for a couple of beers afterward and have a salad or share a mini pizza, and it’s a highlight of the week. But no way I can go out like that and still get up at 4, so for this month, I have to drop it.
Top Chef is nearly over, thank heaven. Survivor and Amazing Race are on early enough that I can still watch them live. Any other shows I like to watch, and I’m not saying which one but it might have Tyra in it, can be watched on breaks at lunch or I can watch them all when I’m finished.
Yoga class goes, too. It’s at 9:15 on Friday mornings. Interferes too much with my best work hours and I have enough years of practice to do it myself at home at a different time of day. Maybe swimming once a week is a good idea because it keeps my shoulders and neck loose. It can be done in that dead time of day for my brain, too: early afternoon.
Aside from the wedding, family and friends won’t see me. I’ve covered half of my volunteer hours, and will serve the other half because I made a commitment.
But now that I’ve had to cut out many of the highlights of my usual non-work time, I know I have to put some rewards back in. Work stops at 5 pm and I have dinner with Christopher Robin, and a glass of wine or a beer or two. I’ll take that second amble around the neighborhood with the dog, and then come home and read. Books I’ve been saving up for this kind of time, by favorite authors. I’ll take a hot bath and drink expensive herbal teas to give the girls in the basement a chance to relax. I’ll let myself have a treat every day, too—a little English chocolate, maybe, or a small piece of pie, or some macaroni and cheese on Friday afternoons.
It’s a time of great excitement and hard work, and that’s part of life. Maybe you don’t have a wedding, but a possible new avenue of opportunity that will require similar dedication. You want to get your backlist organized for ebook release. Maybe you have decided to finally finish your book and get it ready for RWA this summer. Go for it.
A little hard work never killed anyone. When I’m finished, my garden will be waiting, ripe and dark and ready to plant. I can putter for a whole month if I like, because I’ll have done what I needed to do.
What do you do when it’s time to knuckle down?