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The Writing Life: Juggling Priorities

by Sherri Burr


Recently, I read T.D. Jakes’ book Instinct and was startled by the chapter on juggling priorities. The author discussed juggling as “giving each object just enough of a push so that all items remain suspended and none falls out of sequence.” I thought of my efforts to make time for my writing life while working full time, attending to family obligations, volunteering to help others, practicing a healthy lifestyle, and looking after my home. In short, like the readers of this column, I have a lot of balls in the air.

As writers, we type stories, edit material, shepherd work through the publishing process, market and promote the work. Depending on how many projects writers have on their desks, they could be juggling all of these. Each takes time, and yet are required to manage a successful writing career.

Writers need sustained work time. Scheduling thirty, sixty, or ninety-minute blocks to put words on paper can be helpful. If I get on a roll, I hit the timer to add another block. When I have a passion project, I can’t wait to read and write about my subject.

So how does one decide to accept other opportunities that take time away from writing and other necessary priorities related to family, work, and home? Do you say “Yes” and add another item to juggle? How do you know when your schedule has reached its saturation point?

I know I have reached schedule saturation when even the thought of taking on another commitment causes stress. Ultimately we have to say “No” to people when a “Yes” could bring all the balls crashing down.

Adding one more meeting means less time to write, and the occasion divides the day. This can lead to missed deadlines and the inability to do any work at all because of the feeling of being overwhelmed.

Within two months this year, I received four offers to join not-for-profit boards. One group met twice a month and that was a non-starter. As I contemplated another offer from a board that met once a month, I looked at my calendar and noticed that their board meeting date conflicted with a previous obligation. Even though the group offered to move the time of their meeting, I just couldn’t see how I could add another monthly commitment to my calendar. For a third board, the executive director said they met bi-monthly and communicated by email in between. That felt worse as I often struggle to read all the email that currently descends into my box. One recruiter mentioned the seriousness of the board work. As the guardian of a brother in a coma, I already make solemn decisions. Just the mere mention of the word ‘serious’ made me want to run.

I finally decided to decline all four board offers until I finished other volunteer projects or freed up time from my university job.

I believe there has to be a good reason to nod an acceptance.

I recommend writers consider saying “Yes” to those offers that bring joy, pleasure, and peace into your life. Writers must intersperse fun activities between obligations. Fun activities and passion projects feed your soul. They make life pleasurable so you can endure the serious and take delight from the prestigious.

For example, after taking several sets of golf lessons, I finally play with enough confidence to make it enjoyable. Fortunately in New Mexico many golf courses substantially discount their fees to encourage late afternoon play. With over 300 sunny days a year, I have become enthralled by the mountain views and gorgeous New Mexico skies. If given a choice between attending additional meetings and playing golf several times a week, guess which one I’ll choose.

At the end of each day, I review what I did that was gratifying. Did I type pages for my next book? Did I help someone? Did I golf in a nice surrounding? Did I see a comedy movie or watch a fascinating television show like How to Get Away with Murder?

There are things that we have to do, and then there are those we want to do. A balanced life requires juggling between both sets of undertakings. So off I go. Today’s writing is done and nine holes are calling my name.

A Short and Happy Guide to Financial Well BeingSherri Burr is the Regents’ Professor of Law at the University of New Mexico School of Law where she teaches Entertainment Law, Intellectual Property Law, and Art Law. A graduate of Mount Holyoke College, Princeton University, and the Yale Law School, she has authored or co-authored 20 books, including A Short and Happy Guide to Financial Well-Being (West Academic, 2014). Sherri is also a long-time member of SouthWest Writers and a regular contributor to the organization’s newsletter SouthWest Sage.

This article was originally published in the December 2014 issue of SouthWest Sage and is reprinted here by permission of the author.

Writing In No Time

by Chris Eboch


So many things demand our time—job, spouse, children, volunteer work, housework. It’s tempting to say, I’ll write during vacation, or when the kids are back in school, or when the kids leave home, or when I retire ….

Yet if you want to be a writer, you must find time to write.

Becoming a writer requires commitment. If you don’t take your work seriously, your family and friends certainly won’t either. The new year is traditionally a time for resolutions, so make one for your writing self. Let people know how important writing is to you. Insist that writing time is your time, and you must not be disturbed. Carve out a few hours each week. Then close the door and ignore your phone and e-mail, or take your laptop to the library.

Finding even a few hours may seem hopeless when you have young children. Louise Spiegler, author of middle grade novel The Amethyst Road, says, “It is impossible for me to write with my kids awake and active. I either tried to get both kids to nap at the same time or I spent my non-existent savings on two hours of babysitting.”

Try trading babysitting with other writing parents. Or start a play group/writers group: the kids play, the parents write or critique.

Molly Blaisdell, author of the picture book Rembrandt and the Boy Who Drew Dogs: A story about Rembrandt van Rijn, and mother of four, found another creative way to keep her kids busy. “I kept all the special toys in my office. When I wanted to work on a scene, I’d pull down that box and say, “This is quiet time for special toys.’” It would always be good for about half an hour and sometime would go for two hours.”

No Use for a Muse

When your writing time is limited, you can’t afford to waste a moment. After having a baby, Michele Corriel, author of Weird Rocks says, “I still managed to get up before my daughter and cram in even half an hour. The problem with a shorter amount of time is you really have to switch it on.”

Successful writers agree: no waiting for the right mood. Spiegler says, “As soon as the kids were asleep or safely dropped off, I would sit down and start working—no waiting for inspiration.”

The most productive writers work anywhere and everywhere. Jean Daigenau says, “I take advantage of the few minutes of downtime I have at school or home—while I’m eating lunch or supervising the homework group at our after-school latchkey program or soaking in the bathtub.”

If you can’t do serious writing in five-minute bursts, use the time in other ways. Daigenau suggests, “Get it written on the computer and then use those few minutes here and there to revise.”

Christine Liu Perkins, author of At Home in Her Tomb: Lady Dai and the Ancient Chinese Treasures of Mawangdui comments, “When I’m constantly being interrupted, chauffeuring, or sitting in waiting rooms, I brainstorm and pre-write. Wherever I am, I focus on a specific problem for that short session. What points do I want to include in this article? What happens next in the story?”


The best organized life can sometimes just get too full. Spiegler, who also teaches college now, cautions against buying into the super-woman myth. “It is almost impossible for me to work at a demanding job and take care of kids and write regularly. The only way I can write is to be teaching something familiar that I can spend less prep time on.”

You can’t do it all, so decide what’s most important. Then look for areas to cut back. Reduce your work hours, or cut commute time with a job closer to home. Commute by bus and write as you ride. Arrange car pools or play dates for your kids. Dictate into a tape recorder as you walk for exercise. Let the housework slide, and make quick meals. Cut back on email, web surfing or TV. Try keeping a journal of your activities for a week to find out just how much time you waste.

Put your family to work as well. Train your kids (or spouse) to do housework and some of the cooking—they’ll learn important skills while you get free time!

When a real crisis intrudes—sick kids, ailing parents, a job change or divorce—you may need to take time off from writing. Just don’t let it drag on forever. Plan how you’ll handle the crisis, and schedule a time to return to writing. In the meantime, read writing magazines or books for a few minutes each week to keep your focus.

How about your time? Where does writing fit in your life?

Decide, and make a commitment to your work. Then repeat this mantra: I am a writer, and writers write.

BanditsPeak150Chris Eboch writes fiction and nonfiction for all ages. In Bandits Peak, a teenage boy meets strangers hiding on the mountains and gets drawn into their crimes, until he risks his life to expose them. The Eyes of Pharaoh is an action-packed mystery set in ancient Egypt. The Genie’s Gift is an Arabian Nights-inspired fantasy adventure. In The Well of Sacrifice, a Mayan girl in ninth-century Guatemala rebels against the High Priest who sacrifices anyone challenging his power. Her writing craft books include You Can Write for Children: How to Write Great Stories, Articles, and Books for Kids and Teenagers and Advanced Plotting.

Learn more at or her Amazon page, or check out her writing tips at her Write Like a Pro! blog. Sign up for her Workshop newsletter for classes and critique offers.

Chris also writes novels of suspense and romance for adults under the name Kris Bock; read excerpts at

This article was originally published in the January 2011 issue of SouthWest Sage and is reprinted here by permission of the author.

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