5 Steps to Writing Seriously With a Family and a Full-Time Job

So you have a dream to write a book or a memoir, or some great work of fiction, but you think you're stuck at the wrong stage of life to pull it off. You have kids. A marriage. A day job that pays the bills. So how can you carve out writing time when your life already feels impossibly full?

It isn't easy, but it can be done!

Step 1: The challenge of prioritizing.

Priority One: your spouse, (or God, and then your spouse, if you're somewhere on the theistic worldview spectrum as I am.)

Priority Two: your children. (I have three. All boys--all under 5 years old.)

Priority Three: your full time job. (Yes, you probably want very badly to have your writing be your full time job, but until you can provide CONSISTENTLY for your family with royalties and sales, then you cannot forsake the good--or bad--job that you currently have.)

Other Priorities: time with extended family, mowing the lawn, washing the dishes, paying bills, buying groceries, fixing the fence, doing laundry, birthday parties and weddings, and all the other random things we do that are necessary and good in our lives. Having a dream to be a writer does not mean you can skip date nights with your spouse, trips to the zoo with the kids, or eating and sleeping (although you can cut back on the latter two! I'll explain later).

As Stephen King aptly wrote: "Life isn't a support-system for art. It's the other way around."

Question: How badly do you want it?

Maybe it will come easier for you, but for me it was like this: I had to want to tell my story so badly, that I was willing to do anything EXCEPT forsake my priorities. I had this vivid, captivating story in my head that just wouldn't leave me alone. It was more than just a story, it was a part of me, and writing it was like therapy. I didn't feel right keeping it inside. I had-had-had to get it out!

So here's what I did. I laid upon the alter all my "me-extravagances" so that I wouldn't have to give up extravagances that are necessary to a spouse and children. There is a big difference between personal extravagances (I'll get to these) and necessary extravagances (board games with the family, taking the kids to the lake after work to fish for an hour or two, dates and romance with the spouse, or story time before bed with your children.

Extravagances are important in a family, and by extravagances, I mean delighting in each family member and spending as much quality time as you can. But what about personal "me extravagances"? If you want to be a writer--and you want it badly enough--douse them in imaginary kerosene and light the match. Writing is now your only serious "me-extravagance".

Step 2: Eliminate personal extravagance

  • Television -- Or as Stephen King king calls it, "the glass teat," is almost always time wasted. Unless this is an extravagance that you and your spouse enjoy together, then it must be the first thing to go up in flames. Sitting in front of the TV is not (usually) quality time. The time normally given to TV must be turned into quality time with the spouse or children or both. It is an extravagance of massive proportions.
  • Internet and Computer-- It is so easy to waste time clicking from interest to interest Try to minimize this to twenty minutes or less. From Facebook to Amazon, to Pinterest, to YouTube, to pop culture and news articles--internet time must be controlled. Like the TV, it interrupts quality time.
    • Photos -- looking through photos, organizing them, uploading, and posting can take so much time. Be efficient. Set time limits. We all can spend--waste--so much time on fine tuning exactly what we want to share with the world.
    • Facebook (and other social media sites) -- This gets its own category. If we want to write, we have to live more of our lives in the present. That means, we catch up with people when we see them instead of seeing what they had for dinner each night and reading their every single thought on social media. And then there is the temptation to comment endlessly, and the next thing you know you've spent an hour of your life away from your first two priorities. Spouse. Children.
  • Video games -- Sell every game that is played solo and only keep--if you have to!--the games that you play with the spouse and children. And even then, you can usually find better things to play with the family, but if you have that Mario Kart game, or Nintendo Wii Bowling that you and your family just love, go for it. But burn the solo distractions.
  • Personal grooming -- Yeah, I said it. Be efficient. For women, that may mean putting your hair up in a ponytail five days out of the week, using minimal make up, whatever is time efficient, not time extravagant. For men, this might be real easy. Just go for the wild writer look; the windswept bed-head hair, the unshaven face that gets cut every other week (or don a beard). You want to write, remember. You don't have time to curl your hair in the morning or shave because you either squeezed every bit of time working on your art late last night, or very early this morning, so look in the mirror and smile. You're beautiful just the way God made you. Now skip that shower and get to work!
  • Exercise -- We all need exercise, but if you are going to be a writer, you need to be strategic. Instead of a 30 to 45 minute leisurely trip to the gym or walking three miles, AMP IT UP! Go run a mile as fast as you doggone can. Work intense in a short amount of time. And choose a strategic time to do it. Make it a part of your family routine, or do it on a lunch break. (I do one mile and 15 push ups on my 15 minute break at work. That way I don't take away from family time later at night!)
  • Sleep -- Be the sleepmaster, don't let sleep master you. Feel free to attribute my name to that quote. Seriously though, sleep is the biggest time wasting extravagance. If you are THAT excited about the story you want to write, you might be able to knock off an hour of sleep a night. Let's say you do good with 8 hours. Cut it down to 7 and start using stimulants like caffeinated soda or coffee to get you through those early mornings or late night writing sessions. An hour is a huge amount of writing time to be able to add on. I was able to knock off an hour to an hour and a half off my sleep each night, and that is really the bulk of my having time to write. I usually get two or three hours a day in.
  • Eating --  I'll make this short and sweet. It doesn't hurt to skip a meal on occasion to squeeze in a little extra writing time. Or you can eat that PB and J while you write. I skipped two lunches getting work done on this article. I survived, and it made dinner that much more delicious!
Now you know I was serious when I asked how bad do you want it? Get rid of all the "me-extravagances," enjoy your family, and create space to write!

Step 3: Crossing the one bridge that could stop everything cold.

Maybe you read everything so far and are still saying, "Yeah, I can do this! I want to write so bad I can taste the paper of my future book in my bared teeth!" Well if you said that, cool down. You're starting to talk crazy. And besides, everything could come to a dead stop if you don't have one duck in its proper spot in the row.

“The hardest thing about being a writer is convincing your wife that lying on the sofa is work.”  -John Hughes

If your spouse doesn't at least tolerate your writing efforts, then its pretty much all over unless you are willing to forsake your first priority. Mostly, this is about whether you have a healthy marriage, or an adversarial one. If your marriage is good, communication is flowing constantly. If it is adversarial, anything close to the effort that writing takes will become a huge battle field. If this is the case, maybe you can carve out a little time to write here or there, but before you can really work on writing, you'll have to work on your marriage.

Now, if you have a healthy (or at least a semi-congenial) marriage, where needs and desires are talked about openly, and good communication happens often enough, you should be able to pull this writing gig off. You may need to prove to your spouse and children that they will be your highest priorities, and with the above list parsing out ways to expand family time, and your commitment to laying waste to personal extravagance, you may find yourself with both MORE quality family time, and MORE quality writing time than you, or your family, ever imagined.

Now, If your spouse is like a cheerleader, encouraging and uplifting you as you pursue your passion, then, my friend, you will be able to soar through the challenges and struggles supported by that enthusiasm. This is every writer's dream. However, you may not receive that level of enthusiasm. That's okay. Let's say your spouse is closer to tolerating your passion to write and isn't full on encouraging it. That's okay. Writing can be hard on your spouse because it does take time out of the day. Not just time away from them, but time in the sense of your writing messing with family routine, because now your writing becomes part of that routine.  But whether your spouse is a cheerleader or just tolerating your work, never fail to appreciate that they are sacrificing some of themselves to allow you the time to write. In essence think of them as your coauthor. You NEED them in order to write your book!

Teaming up with your first priority (and having the talk)

Okay, now that you're on the couch, looking at your spouse with passion and intensity, spilling your heart out about how you want to be a writer and how you have this story in your head and--oh those incessant muses--they just won't leave you alone and, it's going to be good, oh so exhilarating to dive in and release this world and these characters, and this crazy agonizing plot. You are like a volcano and this book is hiding in you, pushing against your brain, ready to explode in hot magmatic prose all over the blank pages of your Microsoft Word document, and . . . and you pause, realizing how vulnerable you've sounded, spilling your heart out like that, and you look in your spouse's eyes, and quickly add that you have a game plan. You tell them not to freak out. That you are going to cut out your own personal extravagances in order to make this happen, all you need from them is support and communication on how you can best fit a writing routine into your family's daily life.

Step 4: A Routine

Make your partner a teammate! They are your coauthor, in a very real sense. Together the two of you can make a routine that fits your family.

Creating a routine is crucial. That means less spontaneity--don't read this wrong, you can still be spontaneous, but within the routine. That means, spontaneity with your family time. Surprise the wife with a date. Take the kids to ice cream. A routine requires scheduling out time with friends and family. Coffee with a high school buddy, barbequing over at the in-laws, a hike with your sister or brother--plan ahead, and put it on the schedule.

If you have a Monday thru Friday job, your week will be easier to turn into a routine. If you work in retail or food services or a job where your schedule changes week to week, communication with your teammate and an adaptive routine is critical.

Step 5: Carving out daily hours for writing time

Everyone has different schedules and will have to be creative in carving out time to write. Work with your teammate (your spouse). Figure out what is best for your household. However, far and away the easiest way to carve out writing time is to write on the fringes. Late at night, or early in the morning.

  • Option one: early morning -- This means, early to bed, early to rise. So if you've done Steps 1-3 your goal will be to go to bed early enough to get up and write before work. Let's say you can get to bed by 9am. And then let's say you allow yourself 7 hours of sleep. That means a 4am wake time! Grab your coffee and get to it. That's about 3 hours of writing a day if you go from 4am to 7am.
  • Option two: late at night -- This is the reverse of option one. Let's say you start writing at 9pm, if you go to bed at 12pm and wake up at 7am to get ready for work, that's 3 hours of writing.
Feel free to flex those scenarios as needed to create a writing schedule that works for your family.

Deciding how often to write (and one last call to action!)

 How many days a week are you going to write? Three? Five? SEVEN? Everyone must choose for themselves what they and their family can handle, but remember, don't let personal extravagances get in the way of your writing because if you really want to do this thing--if you really want to be a writer and put out quality content--its going to take sweat and tears and sacrifice, and maybe even a little blood . . . you never know.

Don't let TV and internet get in the way of writing that story trapped inside your heart and mind. Meet the call of the story, not the Call of Duty. Let your hair be a little messy. Better for the muses to play in, or get tangled and caught. Slay the dragon of naps and sleeping in. Bah! That stuff is for the weak . . .

. . . the weak, and the not serious.


Liam Savage said...

Great advice! Even if you are not a writer or an artist, cutting the personal extravagance in trade for spending more time with your family is wonderful. The priority list is perfect. Communication and collaboration with your spouse to have support in the things that matter to you and the things that matter to them, will make your life so much better.

Sheldon VanAuken wrote that if the person you love, loves something, you should be able to love it also, and finding the thing worth loving in whatever it is, and loving it with them, becomes another passion you now share with your loved one, that unites you, draws you closer together and overall makes your life with them better.

Thanks for taking the time to write this Brandon, I really appreciate it!


Brandon Barr said...

Liam, thanks!
That quote by Sheldon VanAuken is superb. Really shows the heart of love.

J.B. Simmons said...

You put into words many of my practices over the past couple years. Nicely said!

- J.B.


Brandon Barr said...

Glad to hear I articulated it well! I checked out your website. You're books sound excellent.