I got an email from a woman in response to last week’s newsletter — and it intrigued me. Like me, she’s a copywriter, she’s a mom of young kids, and she’s written a few books (so far unpublished). She asked me how I balance my copywriting business with writing books.
What intrigued me about this question was twofold:
First, it reminded me I haven’t talked about Women in Time and Space recently, and it was a nudge to share more about that book again.
And second, she was already balancing her business with writing books. Maybe she was looking for some new tricks to try — but the wording of the email made it sound like she wasn’t giving herself enough credit for what she had already accomplished.
Let me be clear: Doing ANYthing other than your job + caring for the people you’re responsible for in this life is a massive accomplishment.
We live in a world of constant distraction, to-do lists that grow faster than we can keep up with, and perpetual pressure to be more and more productive. We also live in a world where parents are expected to be everything to their children — safety nets, entertainment, teachers — with little to no help from anyone else because community has broken down. And we live in a world where taking care of others (children, aging parents, needy siblings, employees, teammates) is expected — but taking care of your own needs or exploring your own wants is a luxury, or worse, selfish.
So huge kudos to this woman who has managed to write books while running a copywriting business and raising children. You’ve done well.
Here’s my ask of you, dear reader: What have you done besides work and take care of others in the last year? Name one thing.
Now celebrate that huge win.
Now to answer her question more fully. In Women in Time and Space, I shared how I experimented with my schedule to see where I might be able to squeeze in some productive book-writing time. Here’s an excerpt …
At 40 years old, I knew I had to make a decision. I could either embrace the seed God had planted in my heart to be an author — or I could finally let it go. I had this deep need in me to make a decision one way or the other.
Perhaps this was because of everything that 40 represented to me — the beginning of middle age, the end of my childbearing years, the point at which retirement planning becomes serious.
Or perhaps it was because I was doing a lot of math. I had my last baby at 39 — so I’d be 57 at her high school graduation, and likely retirement age when she got married and started having kids. What did that look like? I couldn’t imagine it. I literally had acquaintances my exact age who were grandparents.
And while I was thinking about these things, I was also realizing that my young-and-healthy years were rushing by at an astonishing pace. I didn’t feel like 40 was old by any stretch of the imagination, and all of my grandparents had lived to ripe old ages — but I’d experienced enough death in my life (my little brother, most recently) to know that tomorrow is not guaranteed.
So I did what any reasonable Gen-Xer would do in a semi-midlife-crisis: I started experimenting with my routines and habits, then I hired a career coach. I figured something in that mix would give me the answer that I needed.
I have been an obsessive time-tracker for years. Yes, I’m self-employed, and no, I don’t charge an hourly rate — but for my own knowledge, and to help me keep tabs on how long projects are taking me so I can give more accurate quotes for future projects, I use the Toggl app during my workday to track how I’m spending my time. So my workday routines and habits, at least, were relatively easy to experiment with.
I tried meditating when I first got to my office in the morning. I tried reading a book before I answered any emails. I tried journaling as my computer booted up. What I learned was that I could do something for myself in the first hour or two of the day and no one got upset about it. Clients weren’t pounding down my virtual door. There were no nasty emails waiting in my inbox. Work waited.
I started to wonder what else could wait.
Because Autumn was such a terrible sleeper, I had trained myself to get as much sleep as I could because I expected to be awakened at any moment. So even though after age two, she slept through the night with few problems, and even though Cassie was a champion sleeper from four months onward, I was still going to bed at 9 p.m. to make sure I could get my eight hours. I remembered something, though, at age 40: I used to be a night owl. What if I still was, really?
I decided I was going to stay up late each night for one week and write before I went to bed. Jeremy and I put the kids to bed around 7, we had some “couple time” until around 9, and then I headed up to the bedroom with my laptop. I admit, I was nervous. I had been so sleep-deprived for so many years, and I was finally starting to feel normal (whatever that is when you’re a parent). What if this set me back? What if I was a zombie the next day? Or if not the next day, in a few days once the late nights caught up with me?
The result was better than I could have hoped for. Not only was I able to write more easily at night, but the house was quiet and I could really focus. For years I had this strange insomnia where I would wake 30 minutes after I went to sleep, though I was normally able to get right back to sleep — and now I had zero insomnia. I was able to wake in the morning at my usual time with no more trouble, too. I started by going to bed at 11, but within a week I was up to 11:30.
Looking at my routines and habits was like taking a magnifying glass to how I was spending every minute of my day. Working with a career coach, on the other hand was like pulling out a telescope to explore the expanse of my entire life. …
In another part of the book, I talk about the seasonality of life. When I wrote Women in Time and Space, almost exactly a year ago, I was in a season where writing until 11:30 at night felt good. And I kept it up for a long time.
Then my youngest daughter had a sleep regression we did NOT see coming.
She had been a champion sleeper her whole life — then one day, a few months before she turned two, she just stopped sleeping. She acted like she was scared to be in her crib by herself. I wondered if something scared her — a noise or a nightmare, perhaps. We tried everything to get her back to her usual sleep routine, but nothing worked. It was months of her refusing to sleep before she started, very slowly, to sleep again. She’s still not 100% back to normal, but much closer now.
Those months took a toll on my energy. I started writing the sequel to Paint It Red, working title Santa Fe Blues, and it went soooo much slower because I just couldn’t put in the time and energy in this particular season. I had to forgive myself for not being as “productive” with this one, and recognize that I likely needed some time to recover from the months of dealing with our toddler’s sleep problems.
This is a season, too.
So rather than get discouraged and give up, I’m doing what I can do. I’m averaging 1500 words per week instead of the 2500 words I averaged with Paint It Red, and I’m proud of myself. I’m also looking for new places to experiment. Maybe I’ll try flipping things around and writing fiction in the morning and nonfiction at night. Or maybe I’ll try getting up an hour earlier during the weekdays. (Ha! That last one is a very unlikely experiment.)
The point is, change is the only constant. When life changes, we might need to change how we’re doing things, too.
So to the woman who sent me an email asking about how I balance Horizon Peak Consulting with writing books, I ask this question:
What experiments have you run lately in regard to how you’re spending your time and energy? Is there room for experimentation with time of day, type of work, etc.?