Juggling Life and Writing

Lately, I’ve seen many articles and blog posts about the search for balance between writing and life.  Most of what I’ve read has been geared toward stay-at-home mother/writers, but I think all of us–women, men, mothers, fathers, singles, religious, those who work in the home, and those who work outside of the home–have the same struggles.

We are a culture of multi-taskers.  The same day-to-day realities of work, family, and home that past generations dealt with, remain.  Now, in addition to that, we also deal with the “virtual” reality of global, up-to-the-minute  accessibility to one another through cell phones, email, and social media.  The blessing of this reality far outweighs the burden, but it can be a burden.  It seems that no matter what task is begun, in addition to the chorus of voices of children or co-workers who need assistance, is the chorus of bells, whistles, rings, and beeps alerting us to text messages, finished loads of laundry, Twitter mentions, or a call from your Aunt Lulu in Michigan.

Personally, I’ve tried turning off Tweetdeck, email, and Facebook while I work.  I’ve tried switching the cell phones to vibrate. I can tune out the buzz of the dryer. But sometimes, during writing time, my kids actually need me.  The dog might have to go out.  The phone in the house might ring.  Not everything in life can be turned off, nor should it.

That doesn’t change my frustration when I get interrupted.

There is an answer, however, that I’ve found through two recent books I’ve read that has helped me tremendously.  As is often the case, it’s incredibly simple but incredibly profound.

First, from Dani Shapiro’s Devotion:

“One afternoon…Sharon Salzberg spoke about a Buddhist teacher in India, a widowed woman with many, many children who had no time to sit on a cushion, meditating.  How had she done it, then?…How had she achieved her remarkable ability to live in the present?  The answer was simply this: she stirred the rice mindfully.” (89)

Next, from Mitch Albom’s Have a Little Faith:

A little girl came home from school with a drawing she’d made in class. She danced into the kitchen, where her mother was preparing dinner.
‘Mom, guess what?’ she squealed, waving the drawing.
‘What?’ she said, tending to the pots.
‘Guess what?’ the child repeated, waving the drawing.
‘What?’ the mother said, tending to the plates.
‘Mom, you are not listening.’
‘Sweetie, yes I am.’
‘Mom,’ the child said, ‘ you’re not listening with your eyes.’

Stirring the rice mindfully, listening with your eyes, attending wholly to the task of the moment, this is the secret to balance.

If my son comes into the office when I’m writing and I type while he’s talking to me, we’re both frustrated, and that frustration creates ripples for both of us.  If I stop, turn to him to hear what he has to say, and then turn back to my writing, the moment is a complete moment, not a series of interruptions.  We are both fulfilled and can both move on without carrying the negative feelings of the interaction once it’s passed.

If I attend to the dinner I’m trying to cook instead of doing it while talking on the phone, packing my son’s backpack, and pulling clothes out of the dryer, I won’t burn the dinner, have to make my Aunt Lulu repeat herself, and forget to pack my son’s lunch for the field trip.

It also applies to work: if I turn off my email alert while I’m blogging or writing I make significantly more progress than if I switch back and forth.  For me, unless the tasks are extremely simple, multitasking ends up leaving me with more work, more fires to put out, and a flawed product.

I still have a lot of work to do in this area, but at least when I get frustrated I can remind myself to stir the rice mindfully or listen with my eyes.  My co-workers (ahem, my kids) generally respect the boundaries I’ve set during writing time.   The dog usually leaves me alone once I sit at my desk.  But now, at least I have a coping strategy if they don’t.

How about you?  Do you have any tricks for finding balance in your work or family life?  What works for you?  What doesn’t?


7 thoughts on “Juggling Life and Writing

  1. Jody Hedlund says:

    Great thoughts, Erika! Sometimes I too forget to listen with my eyes. But I really like that! And the idea of living in each moment instead of rushing through them.

  2. Emily Crum says:

    Erika, I had to laugh when I read this! I’ve been working to become an unblocked artist recently, and wouldn’t you know it, that was around the time I realized I could do anything I wanted – provided I could keep an eye on the kids at the same time. Fortunately, I was able to apply my creative mind to the task by using the mantra, “I will allow my family to help me find opportunities to be creative.” What do the kids ask me to do more often than anything else? Tell them a story. So this Summer, I’ll be in various area parks (and one nursery’s fairy garden) reading fairy tales for children, getting a feel for live performance (I practice while I fold laundry, audience or not). What will my kids be doing? I joke that they’re my “seed” audience – and they won’t have to bug me for a story while I work!

  3. sarahwedgbrow says:

    “stir the rice mindfully,” I really like that! I also like that you point out that you have coping strategies in case work is interrupted. Because, it’s easy to talk about balancing things, but so much harder to put into practice…so much so that you really do need those coping strategies. thanks for the insight.

  4. Erika Robuck says:

    Thanks for your comments, ladies!

  5. Sara McClung says:

    gah! I’ll let you know my own techniques when I figure them out. I’d LOVE to use the techniques that you use, but I just can’t seem to find the willpower… But every day is a new time to try =)

    PS, I saw Jenny Bent again at the VA Festival of the Book. She was just as sweet as when we saw her at American!!

    PPS. You won something in my March Madness contest =) Come see what you won and how to collect your prize!


  6. Nina Badzin says:

    Loved, loved, loved this post.

    “Stirring the rice mindfully, listening with your eyes, attending wholly to the task of the moment, this is the secret to balance.” JUST PERFECT!

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