The Mommy Writer Makes Sacrifices (but probably not enough)

[this is part of an ongoing series about how I get work done with kids]

I posted on Facebook yesterday about being sad about not having time to do the catch up reading for Oathbringer.  Well-meaning responses suggested that I listen to the audio books, that I just read it anyway, that I read it slowly over time.  I have wonderful friends.  They were trying to be encouraging.  But instead I felt discouraged.  I knew I couldn’t do those things, but I couldn’t really articulate WHY.  I did a lot of thinking, and now I think I’m ready to try.

Let me tell you what my life is like.  This is not a pity party.  My life is awesome. But here are the facts about how I spend my time and prioritize:

I spend about 45 hours a week as the principal caretaker of my children, and another 30 or so as the backup caretaker.  That’s 75 hours a week, not counting any of the hours in which my children are asleep, and therefore all I have to do is send them back to bed if they wake and generally make sure the house doesn’t burn down.  I’m lucky that my husband does 50% of the principal caretaking, and is home to also play backup caretaker nearly 100% of the time I’m playing principal caretaker.  I literally could not do as follows without him in those roles.

That said, right now I have a one years old who is even now climbing on my desk and playing with my air purifier, and I have to keep lifting down, so the parenting hours are heavy lifting in this stage of life.   And oh yeah, 13 or so hours of this time I am homeschooling my daughter, a number of hours that will nearly double next year.   Family outings also happen in here, both just me and the kids, and me, the kids, and my husband.

I write about 20 hours a week.  Some weeks more, other weeks (usually due to sickness or excessive prewriting) less.  These are the hours that I am physically typing or revising words.  Sitting at my computer.  Giving it my full attention.

I spend at least another 30 hours a week in partnership with my critique partners (mostly Megan).  These are NOT hours where either of us are writing.  What are we doing?  We’re texting about the characters/ideas/plot problems.  We’re doing prewriting (yes, this means playing with Barbie dolls.)  I’m reading for her and giving her feedback; she’s reading for me and I’m listening for feedback.  We text feedback in real time.  We’re talk talk talking about revisions and fixes and upcoming stories.  We’re looking for dolls/sets/props for upcoming prewriting, or building said sets.  We’re writing down the ideas we’ve gamed; we’re turning those ideas into outlines.  We’re talking about business decisions and communicating with our agents or other people we work with.  Really, I think this is probably more than 30 hours a week, but I know it’s at least that.

I spend another five hours a week in business maintenance that doesn’t involve my co-writers.  I’m responding to emails.  Checking on audiobooks or edits or covers.  Doing social media (not reading it; composing posts, etc.)  I’m going to the post office.  I’m ordering books.  I’m organizing and planning promotion.  I’m doing accounting, taxes, and paying bills.

So that’s 55 hours where I’m engaged in creating the worlds and characters and the words that will carry them to readers, and dealing with the business trappings that surround that.  Plus 75 hours of kid stuff, either as on-duty parent or backup parent.  Plus 50 hours (ish) of sleep.  (This often gets cut short, but is usually compensated for by sleeping in on the weekends lest I die.)

There are 168 hours in a week.  I have already spent 180 hours doing these three things.  This means, in case you haven’t guessed, that I’m doing the child thing and the writing words or writing prep during many of the same hours.  This is why I say that I couldn’t do it without my husband to play backup when I’m on duty and to be on duty so I can be off.

Some writers say you should count all the time you spend THINKING about characters or stories or plots as work time.  To which I say HAHAHA that’s the majority of my waking hours—at least another 30 hours a week.  Probably a whole lot more.

So now we’re up to 210 hours in which my brain is filled with child things or work things.  This means in practicality the GRAND majority of the time I am doing BOTH these things already.  Even while driving, I am generally parenting (and fielding a million questions and listening to a million stories) and also thinking about my characters and my books. (Yes, please, let’s listen to an audio book on top of that.  HA!)

BUT WAIT!  I’m not done.  I also have a house to maintain (badly).  I also have a writing group that I’m responsible for.  We meet weekly, and I’m generally the one who sends out the first submission email and checks up on people to see who will be coming, if we need to add more people, etc.  Plus the reading.  This is another 3 hours or so a week.  (Because we are crazy efficient, people!  We have to be.)  I also have a Thursday night roleplaying game (also weekly) that takes up another 4 hours…except I’m running the game this year, so I also need to prep/think of ideas/have the energy to be the game master.  This, for obvious reasons, gets to take about 20 extra minutes of my week.  Because really.

I also go to church (for three hours) and have a church assignment that takes another few hours a week.  I also like to play games with my husband occasionally for another couple hours a week.  I also have to, you know, grocery shop and run errands.  And cook and eat (sporadically, at best.)  Oh, and I got a dog in the hopes of getting exercise, who I try to run with 20 or so minutes a day.  And sometimes I am sick, and my capacity shrinks drastically.  This happens a lot, actually, because I have a kindergartener who brings home all the germs.  (But she’s homeschooled, you say!  Yes, but she has bunches of neighborhood friends who are not.)  And sometimes my brain craps out and I scroll through facebook for two hours because I don’t have the brain capacity or sustained attention span left for my children or to read more than two paragraphs on any given topic.

This means that on top of the two things I am doing most of the time (writing stuff and parent stuff), I am frequently ALSO doing one or more of those other things.

Multitasking makes you stupid, guys.  This is why I didn’t answer your email/go to your party/remember your birthday.  This is why I have dropped off the planet.  This is why I can’t listen to an audio book.  It’s not even the matter of hours in the day.  It’s the amount of STUFF GOING ON IN MY BRAIN that makes me literally incompetent to add anything else.

There are things I do a lot less of than I used to, but still do some: read, play video games.

There are things I don’t really do at all anymore, but will do again someday: yard work, watch TV, paint minis, sew.

I know what you’re thinking.  Janci, do less.  Definitely do less.  For heaven’s sake, work less.

Here’s the thing.  This is my life pared down to just what I absolutely love the absolute most.  My kids. My husband.  My writing.  My God.  My closest friends.  (I am not a person who can function without my closest friends.)   I’m kind of in love with my job.  I am dedicating my life to the things that are most important to me. With the exception of the housekeeping stuff, my life is fun and awesome and fulfilling.  But it’s also FULL.  The words there will not be room enough to receive it come to mind.

So when I say I don’t have room for that and I’m sad, I’m not having regrets, except that my hours and energy are not limitless.  I’m happy with my choices, but occasionally wistful about the ones I could have made or hope to make someday.  And when I decide to give myself moments to do what I want and screw the consequences, right now I’m choosing to spend time working on my stories and hanging out with my best friends, not reading enormous tomes, no matter how much I love them (which is a lot).

Now excuse me while I go happily (though wearily) do four or five vitally important things I love at once.