I’m writing to you poolside from a hotel in Scottsdale, AZ. My family drove down from Colorado last Friday to watch my high school sophomore run in the Nike SW Cross Regional XC race–an annual post-season event for his very talented cross country team. We decided to turn his race into a family vacation this year and stay in the warmth until the kids have to return to school next week.

So, what’s the point of this story, and what does it have to do with writing? Well, the catch is, while I’d love to just hang out at the pool all day, or play volleyball with my daughter, or watch SpongeBob with my seven-year-old, as usual, I have work to do. I promised myself, as always, that I wasn’t going to work over vacation. But, as always, I have no choice. Deadlines loom, and somehow or another, the work must get done.

So instead of a happy-go-lucky, carefree vacation, I’m spending my time trying to achieve a balance between working and spending fun, quality time with my family. I try hard to avoid having my kids’ (and my own, for that matter) memories of our vacations include me always having laptop or pad of paper within reach.

Since I’ve in no way yet mastered this dilemma, I’d really enjoy hearing from some of you who’ve been able to win the struggle of being a writer on vacation. In the meantime, here are some ideas I’m toying with at the moment:

1. Set aside a definite, particular time every day for work. This way, everyone will know what times are off-limits for Mom and can work around my schedule accordingly. But, what if something we’ve already planned ends up interfering with this allotted time?

2. Wait for everyone else’s moments of downtime to sneak in some work. This is actually what I’m doing now, but, what if my four other family members’ downtimes don’t always coincide?

3. Don’t worry about it; just enjoy my vacation, and work nonstop when I get home. Possible, but then I’d have all the stress of hitting all my deadlines once I return home, which of course, would make my vacation stressful simply thinking about it!

I apologize for whining, but you can see my dilemma–and why I need your help! I also apologize that this isn’t much of an instructional post–actually, I’m hoping to learn from you! Managing the writing life isn’t always easy. Freelancing can be tough because you ten to always be on the clock–no matter how hard you try not to. But, on the other hand, there’s a lot to be said for being able to work in your bathing suit next to a pool if you wish. I doubt that I would trade it for anything!

Until next week when I’ve returned home and hopefully, everything’s returned to normal.

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My series on the Writing Life continues with today’s post on the good, bad, and ugly of working at home. I have to admit that I consider myself quite blessed to be able to earn a decent income working from home, especially while I still have young children at home. But there are days…oh, boy are there days…when I sort of wish I had somewhere to escape to!

After working from home for nearly 12 years now, I’ve decided that all home distractions can be corralled into 3 categories: communication distractions, family distractions, and household distractions. Let’s tackle these one at a time.

Communication distractions. We live in a communication-overload age. No matter how we want to communicate with others, there’s a tool for it right at our fingertips. This is good, except when you’re on a writing deadline. Here’s a couple tips that may help eliminate the communication distractions.

First, allow yourself to only check email at regular intervals, such as once an hour. Also, turn off the chime that alerts you to when you get a new email. When you do check email, give yourself only 10 minutes on it, then get back to work. Same with social networking sites. Check them at regular intervals only. I would also highly recommend putting your phone in a different part of your house and turning down the ringer. Unless you’re in a situation where you have to be on emergency alert for someone, I would suggest not keeping your phone near you when you’re trying to write.

Family distractions. I hate using this term, because your family should never be a distraction but a priority, but I think you know what I mean. If you have small kids at home with you during the day as I do, it’s helpful to block off time periodically to spend one on one with them. They may not have a real concept of time, but just to say to them, “I need to work for about one more SpongeBob, then you and I will play,” let’s them know there is light at the end of the tunnel.

Sometimes, if I know I have a long day, I’ll tell my son that he and I will have a special outing together later that day or that night if I can finish up what I’m doing. That helps him be a little more patient with me. I’m not a big TV proponent when the kids are real young, so I’ll place puzzles, coloring books, or LEGOS in the office with me or right outside the door, so my son still feels a part of being with me.

If you’re dealing with a spouse who is jealous that your work time is cutting into his or her personal time with you, talk with them about a compromise and schedule. Maybe you can agree that you will not do any writing on the weekends if you can work for one hour each evening. Or maybe instead of evenings, you will block off 4-5 hours over the weekend.

Household distractions. By far, this is my biggest challenge when it comes to distractions. I am very organized and love a clean house, so I used to be quite distracted just knowing there were floors to clean, dishes to do, and household repairs to take care of. I have learned, however, that if I want to get any writing done, I need to block all those things out–at least temporarily. Now, for many of you, this poses no distraction at all, because housework is probably not real high on your want-to list. But even so, some things you can’t ignore forever, like laundry or grocery shopping.

My solution has been to block of a certain amount of time each day for household tasks–usually about an hour. If I do that every day, by the end of the week, just about everything has been taken care of. I also enlist the help of my family on the weekends for a thorough cleaning! I’ve also found that certain mindless tasks, like vacuuming, are great for ushering in creativity. In fact, when I get stuck on something I’m writing and need ideas or to find just the right words, I will leave my office and find something to clean. I’m not kidding! Something about doing a physical task helps me think better. In no time at all, I’ve solved my writing dilemma and head back to the computer. I must admit, some days my house ends up being really clean!

How about you? What distractions pose the biggest threat to your work, and how have you learned to overcome them?

Happy New Year and welcome to 2010!

In my last post I offered an overview of some various areas of our lives as writers that we often struggle with, and promised I would tackle them each in detail over the next few posts. Today, I’d like to take a look at one, which, in my opinion, is the most important one we face: balancing our writing lives with our family time. Juggling the two most important aspects of our lives is never easy, but it can be done. I certainly do not yet have this down to a science, but over the years, I’ve discovered a few “rules” that, when followed, can create peace of mind with this balancing act.

  • Work out a schedule with your family that will help you most effectively work around your family. Talk to your family before you schedule your work hours. By getting a general consensus upfront regarding what the best schedule will be for everyone, balancing your time with family down the road will become easier.
  • Set definite hours for yourself, then leave your work in the office when your work day is done. For me, this has become the most difficult rule to actually follow. When you work from home as I do, it’s too easy to do “just one more thing.” Having tough, consistent boundaries here, however, is very important, especially if you have children at home who are expecting you to be available when you promised you would be.
  • Pre-warn your family of upcoming tight deadlines or other anomalies to your schedule. By now, they probably realize writing is not a “regular” job and can have its share of crunch times. Instead of just locking yourself in your office for weeks on end with no one knowing why, alert them to your deadlines ahead of time and let them know you need to temporarily adjust your schedule. If you have young children, you may also want to reward their patience during this time by promising some quality time with them once your schedule is back to normal.
  • If you work a regular full-time job in addition to writing, limit your writing hours to a certain amount each day, and try to schedule your time so it’s most convenient for your family. I’ll address this issue more in an upcoming post that looks specifically at juggling part-time writing with full-time work, but for now, let’s just say that your writing time may not be an optimum time of day for you. I know writers who get up at the crack of dawn just to get an extra hour of writing time in before they head off for work and then squeeze another hour or so in after their kids have gone to bed. This way, they’re still in touch with their families, and they’re still writing. They’re just not sleeping! But…sometimes you just have to do whatever you have to do to make something work.

These are just a few starters, and I’m sure you have your own that have worked well for you and your family. The most important aspect of making any rule is to enforce it. Once you’ve established time boundaries and set a schedule for your writing, be sure to keep it. Your family will thank you!

As we head into a brand-new year, it’s the perfect time to reflect on what’s worked over the past year and what hasn’t. Hopefully, more has worked than hasn’t! I’m not big on making resolutions, but I am huge on goal setting. Resolutions are too easy to break, but goals stay before you, daring you to reach them. I find goals quite motivating.

Over my next couple of posts, I’d like to discuss different areas of the writing life and how we can  make it work in our favor instead of against us. In particular, I’d like to focus on:

1. Balancing family obligations with writing obligations

2. How to stay organized for optimal efficiency

3. Juggling part-time writing with full-time work

4. Overcoming distractions when working from home

5. Making time to write effectively when it’s part of your non-writing job

If you have any additional areas of the writing life that you’d like to see discussed, please leave a comment and I’ll do my best to address them.

Look for today’s follow-up post by January 1!