Monday, June 9, 2014

Managing the Writing Life... with Family by Marybeth Whalen

Marybeth Whalen and her six kids

Hey everyone, Annette here. Raise your hand if you have trouble balancing your writing life with the rest of your life... Me too. Thankfully, Marybeth Whalen, mother of six, is here to offer advice. Enjoy!

 Managing the Writing Life... 
with Family
By Marybeth Whalen

Whether your family means small children, teens, aging parents, grandchildren, or demanding pets, chances are you’ve got something to balance as you write. As a mom of six children, I get asked “how do you do it?” more than anything else. So today I thought I’d share some tips that help me make my word count steadily increase.

Be kind to yourself. I began with this one because it’s essential. You’re going to have days where your energy is low or your focus went AWOL or the words just won’t come. Don’t beat yourself up when this happens. That’s just part of the gig. On those days, pay attention to what’s going on and treat yourself as you’d treat a friend who told you she was struggling. Make yourself some tea, speak gently and kindly to yourself, and take time for restoration. Initially it might seem like you’re losing valuable time but in the end you might find that the next day you’ve actually gained energy, focus, and enthusiasm.

Get a system in place. Everyone’s system will be different. But I believe that systems yield effectiveness. Areas to implement systems are in your household management, your daily tasks, your exercise, your social media, etc. Whatever is important to you needs to have a time and place in your day, your week, your month in order to make sure it happens. If organization is something you struggle with, invest in some “how to” books to help you create some workable strategies. If you don’t, you’ll just keep floundering and you’ll stay frustrated.

Remember: your to-do list is a tool, not a taskmaster. It’s all in how you look at it. Having a list of things to do each day is a good thing, not something to bemoan. The adage “think once and write it down” means your brain is free to think of things like character names and plot points instead of tedium like “go to the dry cleaners” or “return library books.” Each morning I wake up to a to-do list that I consult all day long. It keeps me on track and shows me what I’ve accomplished. You don’t need anything fancy—I like to use those little yellow legal pads you can get at the dollar store!

If you’re the person who cooks for your family, try creating a weekly meal plan. Taking time each week to consult Pinterest, your personal cookbook collection, or your favorite recipe site and jotting down five meals you’d like to cook, creating a grocery list using those recipes, then shopping and knowing you have five days’ worth of meals in the house is a great feeling. Yes it involves a little work on the front end but imagine it... No more standing in front of the fridge wishing some magic meal would materialize! Don’t have any idea where to begin? I’ve pinned a number of easy meals on my “Fave Foods” Pinterest board. Just try it once and see if your week goes smoother.

Involve your family. Get help when you need help. Don’t do it all, and don’t be a martyr. Have the kids do chores. Get your husband to make a grocery run. Ask a friend to do a day of freezer cooking with you. If you can afford to hire help, hire help with no shame. With summer upon us, you might find a college student or high school student who will do projects you just can’t seem to get to. One summer I “hired” my daughter to do a project that involved a lot of looking things up on the internet. It was mindless but necessary work—something she could do that freed me up to do what only I can do... my writing! The point is, no one can do it all—and no one should.

Crack down on clutter. Clutter confuses and overwhelms. Whether you need to clean out messy closets, clear off your home’s surfaces, or eliminate excessive emails, taking time to get rid of stuff will ultimately free you. Systems and to-do lists actually clear out the clutter in your brain, when you think about it.

Walk away. Whether you run or walk, get outside and refresh your senses daily. A quick walk can boost your energy level, renew your perspective, and get your creative juices flowing. It’s good to get outside and boil your thoughts down to feet on pavement, breath in lungs, sky over head, honeysuckle on vine. I can’t tell you how many times I’ve solved some problem in my writing, or come up with a great idea, while on a walk or run. It’s also an excellent time to pray.

I hope that sharing some of the simple things that have helped me stay on track will inspire you and spur you on. Summer is a great time to set some short-term goals and tackle some projects so that you can balance writing and your family. I’m here to tell you, with a little work, it can be done. 


The Bridge Tender
Marybeth Whalen and her husband Curt have been married for 22 years and are the parents of six children, ranging in age from college to elementary school. They live outside Charlotte, NC. Marybeth is the author of five novels. The newest one, The Bridge Tender, brings readers back to Sunset Beach NC and releases June, 2014. She is the co-founder of the popular women’s fiction site, She Reads and serves as Writer in Residence at a local private school. Marybeth spends most of her time in the grocery store but occasionally escapes long enough to scribble some words. She is always at work on her next novel. You can find her at

The Bridge Tender

Emily must realize that her dreams didn’t have to die with her first love. When Emily Shaw, a young widow, learns that her late husband's last surprise for her involves returning to Sunset Beach, North Carolina, to realize an old dream of theirs, she reluctantly embarks on a summer of discovery in the midst of grief. There, in the oasis of the beach community, she meets a host of townspeople with their own broken dreams and unexpected situations. As the island citizens divide over the fate of a nostalgic bridge, Emily happens upon a man who just may be the one to restore her faith in dreams, hope, and possibly love.