WriteChatWednesday: Work-Life Balance

What is #WriteChatWednesday?

We believe what makes Kaylie Jones Books special is the way our writers and staff support one another. Kaylie Jones Books is truly a collective of writers who believe in sharing their knowledge and experience.

#WriteChatWednesday is our latest blog series written for writers, by writers. Each month, our writers will be answering questions about writing and publishing submitted by our readers.

Meet Our Participants

MATT MCGEVNA

MATT MCGEVNA

LITTLE BEASTS

MATTHEW McGEVNA was born and raised in Mastic Beach, Long Island. Born of Irish descent, he attended fiction and poetry workshops in Galway.

LAURIE LOEWENSTEIN

LAURIE LOEWENSTEIN

UNMENTIONABLES & DEATH OF A RAINMAKER

Laurie Loewenstein, a fifth generation Midwesterner. She is the author of two novels: UNMENTIONABLES (2014) and DEATH OF A RAINMAKER (2018).

LAUREN J. SHARKEY

LAUREN J. SHARKEY

INCONVENIENT DAUGHTER

LAUREN J. SHARKEY's debut novel, INCONVENIENT DAUGHTER, is forthcoming in 2020 and based on her experience as a Korean American adoptee.

PATRICIA A. SMITH

PATRICIA A. SMITH

THE YEAR OF NEEDY GIRLS

PATRICIA A. SMITH’s nonfiction has appeared in several anthologies, including One Teacher in Ten: Gay & Lesbian Educators Tell Their Stories

About Our Participants

Matt: I am the author of one published novel, several short stories, and I am nearly finished with the first draft of a third novel, tentatively titled “We Were All There Once.” I have been married for 17 years and have three children. I grew up on government assistance in a working class town with few opportunities, let alone connections to publishing industry professionals. My brother and I were the first in our family to attend college. Prior to college, the only professionals I knew were service industry: carpenters, painters, plumbers, etc. I didn’t realize until I got into this game how much of a disadvantage this was, but not an insurmountable one.

Laurie: Descended from butchers, farmers, and merchants, I a fifth generation Midwesterner. After careers as a feature and obituary writer for small daily newspapers and later in public relations, I completed a masters degree in creative writing at age 54. I published my first novel at age 60.

Lauren: I am 32 and currently live with my parents on Long Island. I recently graduated with my MFA, and expect to be entering repayment within the next few months. My loan debt is significant, but I’m fortunate to not have much credit card debt, and pay modest rent. I do, however, pay for other utilities such as my cell phone, car insurance, medical expenses, and groceries.

Patricia: I’m a 57 (soon to be 58 year old) writer, lesbian, and I live with my partner of 9 years and our two cats.

What is your day job?

MM: I am a New York City school teacher and proud union member of the UFT. I teach English Language Arts at a 100% ELL school for students who just arrived here from a Spanish-speaking country in the last four years. Basically, I have to take a large group of students who know maybe five words in English and get them to pass the New York State Regents Exam in two years time.

LL: As the story goes, my grandmother’s father was an itinerant jeweler. Not much is known about James Lowenstein as he died at a mineral spring sanatorium in Texas when my grandmother was 11 years old. However, I am doing my best to maintain the family tradition as a freelance wanderer. These days, I work with clients who are in the throes of a memoir or novel and are looking for guidance, suggestions, or copy editing. Twice a year, my wanderings take me up to Wilkes University where I teach for the Maslow Family Graduate Program in Creative Writing, with the remainder of the year spent staffing the program’s online Writing Center. Sometimes I have time for my personal projects, which include genealogy – through which I learned that my great-grandfather was perhaps not so much an itinerant jeweler but more of a clerk in a pawn shop.

LJS: I stole this phrase from a friend of mine who called her “day job” her “survival job”. So, my survival job is working as a full-time receptionist at a photography studio on Long Island. The work I’m passionate about is tied to my roles as Managing Editor at Kaylie Jones Books, Executive Assistant at the James Jones Writers Workshop Retreat, and creative nonfiction editor at Reservoir Journal. On the side, I do freelance editing, web development and design, and social media marketing.

PS: I am a teacher and have been a teacher for 33 years. Right now, I teach American Lit and Creative Writing (Fiction and Nonfiction) at the Appomattox Regional Governor’s School for the Arts and Technology, in Petersburg, VA. It’s a public school that draws from 14 different counties in Virginia and I teach a dual enrollment 11th grade English class as well as writing classes.

How do you find time to write and work?

MM: It is very difficult in light of my occupation. There is a lot of planning involved, a lot of meetings, a lot of time spent dealing with the social and emotional needs of my students. However, because I live so far away from my school, I actually leave my home around 5 a.m. When I arrive at my job, I have about an hour and 15 minutes alone in my room, and if I prepare my lessons at the end of the previous day, I can use that time to write. Barb Taylor, a fine novelist and friend of mine, once left me with a question: Are you a writer who teaches, or a teacher who writes? At the moment I still consider myself a writer who teaches, but time is at a premium for me, so I need to steal whatever minutes I can in order to write. Using this method this past academic year, I was able to get about two-thirds of a new novel written, so I think it’s been successful. Of course having the summers off on the surface may seem like a blank slate of time, but I have a whole new set of headaches once June 28 comes around. Getting babysitters, negotiating my social life and other obligations. Basically every hour I grab feels like (and is) larceny. But I’m getting good at this particular crime.

LL: As a freelancer and online instructor, I have the good fortune to control my own schedule most of the time. Generally I dedicate mornings to my own writing and the rest of the day or evening to the writing of others. If a client or student is trying to finish a piece under deadline, their needs come first.

LJS: I work a lot of jobs, many of which are volunteer, so finding time is hard. When I have a lot to do, I go in order of priority: what needs to get done right now? But my own writing always comes before my to-do list. Whether it’s five minutes, a half hour – I write every single day. Writing is a muscle – you use it or you lose it. Of course, there are days where the words don’t come, but you have to force yourself to make time for your own work.

PS: Honestly, finding time to write and work is a challenge, and I decided that if I wanted to write books, I had to make writing a priority. So, what I TRY to do and succeed mostly, is to get up at 5. I have the coffee pre-set so it’s ready when I get up. I pour my cup of coffee and head to my desk. Here’s my routine: I read Richard Rohr’s Daily Meditation Email, then I read Mark Nepo’s daily inspiration/meditation (they often coincide) and then I read some poetry. I still own more poetry books than I’ve read, so I’m making my way through my collection. After that, I write. I work until 6:30 when my partner Cindy comes for her coffee and lets me know its time to hit the shower and get ready for school. We teach at the same school and leave the house together, around 7:30.

What do you do when: A) You’re on a writing spree and have to go to work or b) Don’t feel like writing when you come home from work?

MM: Scenario A: The absolute worst! So much of writing is getting locked into a sort of trance. Kerouac described it as a dream-state. When something like work or a diaper-change (for my child, not me), interrupts that dream-state I can get like a bear coming out of hibernation. My best strategy: I try to leave off at a spot where I can easily pick up again. Sometimes I’ll drop it in the middle of dialogue, so if a character asks a question, when I get back to my desk, I can answer it and get back into the dream-state. One caveat would be to quickly jot down anything really interesting, important or majorly hilarious your character might say, so you don’t lose it during the work day. But other than that, try to stop where you can live with yourself for stopping and where you can plug yourself back into the matrix of your created world.

LJS: My forthcoming novel, INCONVENIENT DAUGHTER, originally started as a memoir. I was writing about a lot of trauma I thought I’d left behind, and as I revisited that trauma, I found it difficult to write, then go to work, or to come home from a long day, and return to that darkness. So, I think a lot of it depends on what you’re writing. I also thing writing shouldn’t be forced. There’s a difference between forcing yourself in the chair and giving yourself the space to write, versus writing when you just don’t feel like it. Listen to your body and heed its needs. As for the other situation – if you’re really on a roll, call your boss and let them know you’re running a little late. If you’re really, REALLY on a roll – that’s what sick days are for.

PS: It’s hard to leave the writing some days, that’s for sure. And I’ve always struggled with transitions from one thing to another, even as a kid. When I get immersed, it’s hard to pull myself out. I remember years ago, I used to write in my classroom when I had a free period and then when the kids returned, I’d feel resentful! These days, I do very little, if any, writing after school or in the evenings. I need time to read, work out, see friends, etc. So I work best if I get to the writing first thing. An hour—or sometimes only half an hour—a day isn’t much, but it keeps the story in my head. Also, because I have summers free, I try to always schedule some type of writing get-away each summer, sometimes with other writer friends, sometimes solo. This summer, I’m lucky enough to have received a two-week residency at Virginia Center for Creative Arts, and I’m looking forward to having a full, uninterrupted two weeks to get a lot of writing done on the next book! My hope is for a completed draft but I might be too ambitious. We’ll see!

I love long summer days when I can write for hours and still have time to get outside.
Oh—and I often write when my students are writing, too. I give myself the same prompts and I find that I can generate a lot of useful material. I don’t write chapters that way, but I do lots of character exploration and sometimes have terrific breakthroughs.

When I have full days to work, or on occasion after school or in evenings, I edit. I find I’m better at creating in the morning and can do the editing in the afternoons. That’s mostly how I work when I’m on a writing retreat, too—new material in the a.m., editing after lunch. Or maybe working on other projects—like essays or stories I’m working on to send out.

How do you afford to be a writer?

MM: I don’t. Few people do. I think the best way to make a living while still working with words, is to get into journalism or public relations. Before becoming a teacher I did both. Public relations not only provides a plethora of characters and material to write about, the job itself actually teaches you how to be economic with your words. Look, everything you do in just about any writing profession informs the art you create in your spare time, so nothing is a waste. I spent a lot of needless years resisting professions I might have enjoyed because it wasn’t “real writing.” Took time for me to realize that all writing is real writing.

LL: I can’t. Perhaps if my cat, Charles, would share his Purina Cat Chow and allow me to squeeze into his heated shelter, it would be possible. But while friendly, he is content in his bachelorhood. This is not to say I have not, in the past, made money by writing. My early jobs were with daily newspapers. Obituaries, wedding announcements, club news, feature articles – these were means by which I fed and clothed myself.

LJS: At this point in my life, I’m fortunate to be living at home. While I pay a modest rent, it’s nowhere near the same level of financial responsibility, nor am I under threat of being evicted for nonpayment (that I know of). However, the amount of student loan debt I’ve incurred is enormous, and well over $90,000.00. This is the result of one and a half years at a private university, two years at an undergraduate college, graduate education, and lots of refinancing. With my repayment period approaching, a book launch in the distance, and my desire to move out of my parents’ house and build a life of my own, I constantly feel as though I’m sacrificing something, somewhere, at any given time. It seems like my love for writing, and my yearning to be a full-blown adult are constantly working against each other. I don’t know that I’ll ever be able to “afford” being a writer. All I know is that I’m steadily working toward finding that balance between my dreams and my reality, and to always hope and reach for better.

PS: Good question! But, as I said, I’ve been a teacher for YEARS so I’m used to being poor! Grace Paley once told us in a writing class in Provincetown that in order to be a writer you should do two things: 1) have a supportive spouse (check!) and 2) keep the overhead low. (Well, I was already older when I met her and could’ve used that advice when I was younger…but oh well! It’s great advice). Keep your costs down. It’s all about priorities.

Do you have a side hustle?

LL: Does this involve doing laundry, buying groceries and vacuuming? If so, yes, I definitely have a side hustle.

LJS: I do A LOT of freelance work – web design, graphic design, marketing – anything I can get my hands on. I also babysit and do some transcription work (which has actually been amazing for my writing). During the holidays, I do gift-wrapping. I know that sounds dumb, but you’d be surprised how many people can’t or don’t want to wrap presents. I’m always looking for ways to scrounge extra cash together.

PS: No side hustle these days. In my former life, I was a French teacher, and I used to do some freelance textbook writing but not lately. In my younger years, I used to teach on Saturdays, too, in a program for gifted and talented kids (back in MA), and I used to work in the summers as well, but not any longer!

How do you deal with friends and family who ask you to look at their work for free?

MM: I remember a time when I needed someone to look at my work for free. Then I look at their work for free.I grant them writing advice and favors. Similar to the previous question about friends and family, you need to remember there was a time when you needed advice or someone to help you with a place in your novel in which you were stuck, or help with a cover letter, or help jump-starting your car so you could get to your fiction workshop that night. As much as I concur with the idea that you need to be a tyrant or a fierce warrior for your writing time, I would say as much as you can give: give. When you do this, you’re not just giving back, you’re giving forward. This thing we do is a lonely thing. And unfortunately there doesn’t seem to be a shortage of writers who take and take and do not reciprocate or help promote other writers. I don’t know if it’s driven by selfishness or just self-absorption, but it’s present in our community and it sucks. I won’t name names here, I don’t have to. I see it when it happens and I remind myself not to be that dickwad. If others can join in this fight to get the dickwad out of publishing, then we’re giving forward. It’s actually an exciting time to be a writer: we live in a time when do-it-yourself is not only a realistic option, it’s becoming the preferred method. But in order for us to do it ourselves, we need the help of others and we need to be reciprocal. Giving advice, looking at someone else’s work, offering feedback on someone’s project: these things mean something to someone. And if you do it enough, you put down a welcome mat for good things to visit you. Not a bad way to spend an afternoon in my estimation. Do your part to get the dickwad out of publishing! That’s my campaign slogan.

LL: I do it. So many other writers have helped me gratis that I am honored when I can do the same for someone else. And almost always I end up learning something new when I read the writing of others. It becomes a mutual exchange. That said, my son and his wife are both excellent writers and have rarely asked me to read. But I am secretly hoping that they will.

LJS: When I sat down to write what the acknowledgments page of my novel, I suddenly found myself sobbing and overcome with gratitude. Absolute and unrelenting gratitude to the authors and writers who generously gave their time, their feedback, and their love to my book, and to me. It is for that reason I always help when I can. Because were it not for the generosity of others, my novel would have remained a dream. More than that, though, there are so many young writers out there who are alone – who don’t have the support, access to resources, and the community I’ve writers I’ve been lucky to find. It’s our job as a community to help those writers. I’m not saying to give away your time and expertise to all and any who ask, what I’m saying is give what you can when you can.

PS: I don’t seem to have a LOT of friends and family who ask me to look at their work—except for my writer friends, that is. I am happy to look at their work, if asked, because they will return the favor for me. You always want those cherished readers who will look at your drafts. Beta readers are important! But I am not part of a writing group that critiques each other’s work. I did that for years and now, because it’s what I do all day long as a teacher, I find I don’t really want to do that after school. Still, I think it’s important to pay back, and I am genuinely happy to help out a new writer who is interested in learning and receiving feedback on their work. We are also lucky in Richmond, VA to have an wonderful organization, James River Writers, who host monthly “Writing Shows,” social events, and a fantastic conference, and I often steer people to those resources.

I hope this is helpful. Here’s the thing, if you really want to write, you’ll find a way. It’s like anything else. I used to train for triathlons in my 40’s. Now, I’m not an athlete by any stretch of the imagination, but somehow, I found myself training for triathlons and long-distance (century) bike rides. I realized that if I could do that, I could fine time to write. I had a writing teacher who told me early on when I wondered if I should get an MFA he said, “Go out and work in the world. If you find that you can live without your writing, then so can the rest of us.” It was a hard and very useful thing to hear.

About the author: Lauren J. Sharkey

Lauren J. Sharkey
LAUREN J. SHARKEY's debut novel, INCONVENIENT DAUGHTER, is forthcoming in 2020, and based on her experience as a Korean American adoptee. Sharkey is currently Managing Editor and Marketing & Web Development Coordinator for Kaylie Jones Books, an imprint of Akashic Books, and Executive Assistant of the James Jones Writers Workshop Retreat. Her creative nonfiction has appeared, or is forthcoming, in Dear Adoption, and Blind Faith Books’ I AM STRENGTH anthology.

2 comments to “WriteChatWednesday: Work-Life Balance”

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  1. Val Hargis - July 16, 2018 at 12:12 am Reply

    Thanks so much for this insightful blog. I needed to read different opinions about balancing writing, work and life. I must admit I’m just dipping my toe in the deep end of the pool of writing while working 55 to 60 hours per week at my ‘survival job ( very clever description, by the way), and traveling every weekend to watch my grandson play baseball. My long drives to ballgame locations give me some time to run ideas through my head. Then staying alone in hotels during those weekends provides me with much needed stimuli vacuums. I can write quite a bit during that time. So I do what I can. As to the question about free edits or reads, if it wasn’t for LJS, I don’t know what I would do. She’s a freaking Godsend and she lives what she says. She pays it forward and I’m grateful. Otherwise, I would be sitting in a small town with no support and no avenues to pursue. I would be lost. Again, thanks for the blog. I will continue to tune in when possible. And Yes, LJS… this comment needs to address my failures at extreme brevity. I need to cut about 1/2 of the content. At least I’m aware of mistakes now, thanks to the JJWWR! Lol

    • kayliejonesbooks - July 16, 2018 at 8:26 am Reply

      Hey Val! We are so happy you are finding WriteChatWednesday helpful. We understand how difficult it can be to balance job responsibilities, family, and writing. Just remember there is no formula – every author has to decide what works best for them based on their own situation. You’ll find a routine that works for you, even if it doesn’t seem like much of a routine in the beginning. We’ll be sure to pass your comments on to Lauren J. Sharkey, and know she is just as happy to be working with you as you are working with her. We believe in you, Val!

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