My wonderful client Rebecca Ramsey, author of the now-in-stores-you-should-read-it-it’s-amazing-and-heartwarming FRENCH BY HEART was kind enough to agree to fill in for a day while I’m on the mend. She provides a glimpse into how one author juggles writing and having a family. Becky will be around to answer questions in the comments section as time permits (as you can see below she’s very busy). Enjoy!
Since Nathan has taken to his bed, hopefully watching reruns of America’s Top Model, I’m going to take a deep breath and post in his place. As a former high school teacher, I’ve seen what classes can do to substitutes, so I’m praying that y’all will be kind to me. I think I’ll model myself after Mrs. Longbottom, my favorite substitute from my own high school days, who loved her seventeen cats so much that she used to give slide shows of them, no matter the lesson plan. Hopefully my chosen topic will be of some use to some of you, and you won’t start shooting spitballs at me.
I thought I’d write about how to juggle writing and family.
I should begin by saying that I have not mastered this juggling thing, (just ask my kids!) but maybe I can tell you what has worked for me and what hasn’t.
I’ve tried to write for many years now, have given up a few times and started again, because I couldn’t seem to help myself. I wrote when my children were babies and am still writing now that they’re bigger. I have three kids, each with his/her own social calendar, and a husband who travels all the time with work, so my house is usually a disaster area. And that brings me to my first rule of juggling…
Rule One: LOWER YOUR STANDARDS!
I was one of those lucky children who grew up with a mother who greeted us every day after school with cookies warm from the oven and a spotless house. My friends were always coming over, (who wouldn’t, given the cookies?) the refrigerator was always full, and the dirty clothes my brother and I dropped beside the hamper every night magically reappeared in our dressers the next day, neatly folded and smelling of Tide.
This does not happen in my house.
After several years of self flagellation, I have learned to feel quite comfortable with a different style of mothering. I’ve discovered that children survive amazingly well with an occasional dinner of Cocoa Puffs, and that a daily doling out of Flintstones Vitamins assuages most traces of maternal guilt. I tell my kids never to eat off the kitchen floor (besides, that’s our dog’s job!) and never to let guests open the microwave. Luckily, most of my children’s friends have mothers like me, and the poor kids that don’t are more than welcome to play outside if that makes them feel comfortable. And that’s fine. The weather’s usually real nice in South Carolina!
(By the way, out of desperation, my older ones are learning how to do laundry, which I feel is an important life skill. See how effective my parenting is!)
Rule Two: Stop it with the multi-tasking!
Long ago, when my daughter was a baby, I drove myself crazy trying to write while cooking dinner, doing laundry, and cleaning up spit-up. It made me a nervous wreck and it didn’t work out very well. I don’t do that anymore. When I write, I write.
The minute my kids are out the door, I put on my blinders and march myself over to the computer, bypassing the dirty dishes in the sink and the ringing phone and the piles of laundry. (Okay, so I do stop by the coffee maker for cup #2.) Yes, I could throw the clothes in to wash while I’m working, but I don’t. I treat my writing as my job. I pretend I’m a regular person in a regular office and I concentrate.
When my kids were little and I struggled with writing and working part time or full time jobs, I’d trade babysitting with friends during any mornings off. It was hard to resist the temptation to get errands done without the “help” of whining children, but when I stayed strong and spent time writing instead, it was amazing how much I could get done.
Rule Three: Just say No!
Often PTA moms and dads who’ve heard that I “don’t work” call me up, asking me to head up a committee on this or that, or bake cookies or some such thing. I smile and say No thank you. This was especially hard to do before French By Heart sold, and I felt shy about calling myself a writer, but I made myself do it anyway. I do volunteer, but I only say yes to things that energize me. I’ve found that there are plenty of moms and dads tripping all over themselves to get in line to volunteer at school. And that leads me to Rule #4…
Rule Four: Feed your creative spirit!
I volunteer with old people because they crack me up and because they’re always telling me how young and cute I am! (I’m 42, and I’m not as cute as I used to be!) My daughter and I go look at art, or I read poetry or other books that I love. I also go to church. Sometimes I just need lolling around time, and my husband and I try to give that to each other.
Juggling writing and family isn’t easy, but I’m not giving up. My family is my best fan club there is (and I haven’t even mentioned my mother!) When disappointments come, they’re great at consoling me, and when we have something to celebrate, they’re the first ones with the high fives. And my youngest, Sam, still occasionally says, “Remember that day when Mommy got that email from that random house and wouldn’t stop screaming?” They all laugh and smile. And then they want to know what’s for dinner.
Travis Erwin says
No spit balls from this direction. Sounds like sound advice although Martha Stewart might not agree, but look where all those robot-like orginizational skills landed her.
Great advice. The laundry can wait.
I think one of the most important things is “lolling about.” We all need relaxation. I have a salaried part-time job and an hourly one. Both are work-from home. When I find I have some unexpected free time, do I call up a friend and go out for ice cream? No.
Whenever my schedule opens up, I’m typically torn between my own writing and making some much-needed money at Job #2. But either way, I’m always trying to “be productive.” It NEVER occurs to me to goof off or have fun.
All work and no play fries the brain and makes me unhappy, cranky, and tired. This is something I need to work on: Having down time and not feeling guilty about it.
Have fun, people. It’s healthy.
Rebecca Ramsey here.
Thanks Travis. Though I am fascinated with Martha Stewart, she kind of scares me.
And good point, mkcbunny! When I’m not having much fun the creative side of me starts to shrivel up. It’s a real sign that I need to take a break!
Michelle Moran says
I just finished your book last night (I saw it recommended on this blog) and it’s one of the best books I’ve read all year. EVERYONE should buy it!!!!!!
Although my French is limited to ordering cheese baguettes and asking where the nearest W/C is (it took me a while to figure that one out), I enjoyed the way you included French in your book. And I loved your descriptions of “French aristocracy” and their penchant for mismatched but tastefully arranged furniture. My husband and I were married at Chateau d’Esclimont outside of Paris last year, and color coordinating was completely out of the question. They turned up their noses and wouldn’t hear of it!
I do, however, have great concern over what happened to Ms. Mallet. How is she? She’d be almost 80 now, right? Have you gone back to visit her? Has she come to visit you?
I’m glad to see you’re managing your time well and still writing, because this means there will be a book #2 and hopefully all of my questions will be answered! Because your public is waiting and we want to know!
Rebecca — I love your sense of humor. I’m a homeschooling mom of 4 (with number 5 on the way), so my “juggling” involves the homeschooling. I prefer to see it as integrated, though. My writing and my mothering and my homeschooling and my running-the-home all comprise a certain portion of each day. When I don’t view it as “juggling,” it doesn’t feel like a balancing act. It feels like…life. Crazy life, sometimes, but life nonetheless.
I’ve always felt that writing is a career that blends beautifully with motherhood. The best of both worlds, as it were. I wish you all the best!
Nathan…guess you haven’t noticed that I mentioned you on my blog, else you might’ve taken me to task by now. 😉
Rebecca here again…
Wow! Thanks Michelle! I’m so happy you enjoyed it!
How funny about the color coordinating at your wedding! No, it’s not something they do–it’s too constricting and the French are all about freedom of style!
And don’t you worry about Mme Mallet. She sent me a letter about three weeks ago, fussing at me for not writing her more often. She’s doing quite well, even with the oodles of new neighborhood children–she’d rather have cats. In fact, she kind of reminds me of Mrs. Longbottom, except Ms. Longbottom was more smiley and wouldn’t dare scold me if I had gained a pound or two! (Oh, and I immediately sat down and wrote her back. You don’t mess with Mme Mallet!)
Book two is in the works!
Thanks for asking!
I’m in awe of you. Seriously. I don’t know how you do it! That’s amazing!
Thank you kindly, but I’m really not an amazing person. I’ve made it my goal for a number of years now to live a simple life, so what may seem like a Whole Lot really isn’t. We’re finished with the majority of our homeschooling by lunchtime, so that my afternoons are free for writing. Of course, when the new baby comes, it will all be shot to heck! LOL
That’s great that you’ve found a balance. I’m still trying to find mine. I also have three kids and write. But I’m not published and have made zero dollars from my writing career as yet. Before you sold, didn’t you feel any pressure to put more emphasis on home than writing?
I do have an agent shopping my novel, so my family is a bit more understanding now. They are finally understanding my writing is more than a hobby, but not completely. How did you make your family understand how important this was to you?
That’s awesome that you have an agent shopping your novel! Congratulations!
And yes, it was really tough getting people to take my writing seriously before French by Heart. I guess my family watched me stay up late working night after night for long enough that they saw I wasn’t giving up. They saw me give up time doing things with friends and heading to the library on the weekends to work. There were times that I had to have repeated heart to heart talks with my husband Todd, telling him specifically how important my writing was to me and asking him for his help. He’s been great but it hasn’t been easy. We love each other like crazy, but the writing thing hasn’t always been a smooth ride. I put up with his business trips and he puts up with my writing life and we work hard to make things work out.
Hope that helps!
I just reread what I wrote you and I’m thinking that my husband would hate to read that. He has been such a strong support–it’s not that he “puts up with my writing life”–he loves that it has worked out! It’s just that when I started getting really serious about the book we knew that college for our oldest was/is right around the corner and it would have been simpler for me to take a teaching job and have income we could count on. We set a time limit, and thank goodness it happened! We’re both so happy–but it hasn’t been without stress!
Heidi the Hick says
What a relief!!! I’m doing things right!
My son’s making dinner tonight by the way. He’s 10. He’s making something he calls “Sammon Sammich Castle.”
I’m going to edit while he’s doing that because I broke a rule and went out errand running this afternoon instead of writing!
…and never to let guests open the microwave.
A little trick, that’ll give you an embarrassment-free microwave with hardly any effort: boil a cup of water in the microwave, then leave the door closed for another few minutes after the timer goes off. Open and wipe with a paper towel.
I’m a mom of three as well…must be a magic number. Now that all three of mine are in school all day, I write when they are out of the house.
I try and set a 10-2 writing schedule and work like a maniac before and after to keep the household plates spinning. It works about half the time. The other half my plans are sabotaged by the responsibilities of motherhood. I don’t mind too much most days!
The weekends are family time and I don’t write. Although, I’ve been known to sneak out to Barnes and Noble and meet my crit. partner for a cup of coffee and some serious conversation.
I guess in the long run, for any of us, published or not, it is about making a choice. I can choose to live in a spotless house and serve fabulous dinners or I can finish my first draft and throw a few pizzas in the oven.
The menu for tonight? You got it. pizza.
Nothing is ever perfect.
Sometimes good enough is just good enough.
We are so “plugged in” by the likes of Martha.
It doesn’t happen that way in the real world.
The best advice is to not to listen to any advice.
Whatever works for your family.
Feel “butter” Nathan.
Dan Leo says
So, it seems like the nicest agent on the internets found one of the nicest writers to fill in for him!
I’m looking forward to reading “French by Heart”.
Michelle Moran says
If Mme Mallet is still up to fussing she must be well indeed. I can completely envision her scolding you for gaining a pound. Whenever I go to France and stay in various B&Bs this invariably happens to me, and by strangers no less!
As a vegetarian, I’m pretty restricted by what I can eat, and on my last stay at a B&B when the owner saw me choosing a few vegetables for dinner (vegetarianism is a foreign concept there) she said proudly, “Excellent, madame. Just a little bit. Because, you know, big butts are not fashionable in France.” What?! Who said anything about a big butt? Of course, my husband was encouraged to eat as much as he wanted and I spent the rest of the trip looking in shop mirrors thinking, Did my butt get bigger? Why did she say that? But, as you point out in your book, that’s simply the French! When I told a waiter once I was vegetarian he brought out a special “Americanne” sandwich which consisted of a large baguette stuffed with oily fries. Ugh. And when I only ate a bite, instead of being offended, he was quite proud. “You don’t want to be the size of America, do you?” he laughed.
No wonder the French women are all thin. They’d be henpecked to death if they weren’t!
Good luck with book 2. I look forward to reading it ;]
Thanks, y’all, for all the fun experience blogging. You’re the kindest folks, and I so enjoyed reading your responses. I’m off to put my littlest one to bed–and to boil water in my microwave. What a great tip!
Mary Paddock says
As a mother of four, who homeschools, works part-time, volunteers with youth and writes, I get asked from time to time, “How do you do it all?” And I’ve learned to reply, “I don’t even try.” If someone pushes, I assure them that my housekeeping standards are probably lower then theirs. (A lot lower. I relate to the microwave thing and then some).
I also demand that the kids help. Long before I started writing, I decided that I was not going to raise another generation of men who couldn’t pick up behind themselves. Everybody has chores and everybody contributes. It makes for a much nicer day for all of us.
Wifey and I are now with child and it scares the bejebus outta me. She’s an architect with a great career while I have a well paying J-O-B. So the deal is, if I ever sell enough words, then I can stay at home and play Garp. Dare to dream…dare to dream.
Thanks for covering the bases while NB is on the mend. No spitballs…great job!
Feel better soon, Nathan.
I enjoyed your post and congrats! on your book and on a bunch of great reviews! I’ve placed it on order with amazon.co.uk (3 weeks! *sobs*).
Hahahah, I could have written all that, only I’m a few years behind you! My youngest (of 3) is 19 months now, and my screen name on the Absolute Write forums is SinkFulloDishes.
I’ve also realized that it is nearly impossible to write while the baby is awake (I liken it to being an actress in the middle of an intense, highly emotional scene, and somebody yells out, “Hang on a sec, could you come over here and wipe my butt?” Interruptions continue approximately every four minutes thereafter.
So, I do most of my writing either at night, or when the baby is napping (i.e. when most others would be washing those dishes).
Kim Stagliano says
Love the title and the cover. Congratulations. I also have kids and juggle “everything.” It’s never easy but it is a boatload of fun, don’t you think?
This is really great advice! I’m not married, and I don’t have kids (my family means me, my parents, my brother, and my cousin) but this advice is still really helpful and means a lot! Multi-tasking and not being able to say “no” are two of my biggest obstacles. 😛 Thanks!
Was truly lovely to meet you at the “Open Book”. Honestly, I have never been interested in a book signing prior to yours – so thank you for persevering and achieving your dream! I finished your book before the signing and so enjoyed your writing. I hope to cross paths again.
the gal whose name means “Wash-Cloth”…. how very drole!
Man can I relate, but I do make warm cookies for the kids still after school. My floor is a pig sty and I won’t let my kids eat from the dirty floor, although I will admit, I’ve given them eachother’s plates without telling them once or twice LOL. If they knew they would die. I hate wasting food with the sick prices nowadays so…
Anyway, can’t wait to read more by you great people.
Holy crap. I just realized how late I am in replying LOL.
Great. See? I think I was the last person on earth to get a DVD player too. Heck, I still have 8 track tapes LOL.
Get with the times and seasons girl! Not you hehe, me!
Oh well, better late than never right?
Probably too late to comment on this, but so grateful for your post.
Particularly appreciate the floor and the microwave comments. I will probably feel less guilty for the next few days. It is harder to justify writing when you haven’t anything to show for it yet.
okay….i really should have been looking for you two years ago when i completed my first work. I never printed it…i left it on the computer too long till the computer got infected and i lost four years of working on a masterpiece.Anyway; now i am working on my writing again, only this time it via my blog. So please do check me out…we could be friends at least. I love the idea of having a guest blogger…i am looking for ideas on how to make my blog widely read…Any suggestions? hope to meet you soon; even if its online. ciao…ps: my name is Eche.