Happy New Year everyone! I’m very excited to be back blogging after a little break and what better way to kick of 2017 than with some advice about managing the juggle that is life, writing, kids, working etc and some great tips on how to make time to write. I’m here with the lovely Lauren Sams, whose new book, Crazy, Busy, Guilty has just come out. Lauren is also the author of She’s Having a Baby, and works as a freelance writer for magazines such as Elle, Marie Claire and Cosmopolitan. She has a 4 year old daughter and another beautiful baby on the way.
As usual, I’ve recorded our chat in the video below, so please have a watch. I’ve also summarised one key point from each of Lauren’s answers in the post below the video. Enjoy!
1. What kinds of writing and writing related tasks do you have to do each week?
I do a lot of work for women’s lifestyle magazines and I do a bit of food writing as well. So I spend time juggling and managing the magazine editors, people I’m interviewing for articles, and then doing very unglamorous things like transcribing, researching etc.
In between all of that, I try to write novels. I really, really try to set aside at least one hour, if not two, to just sit down and write and write and write. I use the Pomodoro Technique.
What that means is I turn everything off and just have my word processor open on my computer. I set a timer for 25 minutes, then I write for 25 minutes. I just go for it. And then I have a five minute break, and then I come back and do another 25 minutes. So you do that four times and you get a 15 minute break after that. That’s how I wrote Crazy, Busy, Guilty, certainly, and it’s how I’m doing my third novel now. It’s so simple, but it’s quite life changing for me.
Writing for eight hours straight is just not available to me, and I’m sure that’s the case for many, many working mums, no matter what they’re doing, and so you have to take the time as it comes to you. Taking those chunks of half hours means you can get a lot done.
2. Do you have set writing days, admin days, Mum days (i.e. days where you take a day off from writing) or do you do a bit of each every day?
Monday to Wednesday my daughter is at her preschool, so they’re my writing and my freelance writing days. Thursdays and Fridays we generally spend together, so usually, I will wake up early, at five o’ clock, and try and get some stuff done.
What I like to do on those days is just focus on her. She does martial arts and sometimes I will take my laptop to martial arts and squirrel myself away and do a bit of writing for that hour. And then on weekends, I try to wake up early, between five and six, and write some more.
3. How do you prioritise all of the different tasks you have to do? Do you use a scheduler, a to-do list, some kind of planner or other tool?
I’m an old school pen and paper person; it’s something that’s ingrained within me and I process the information better, I feel. So I have a paper diary that I swear by, and if it’s not in my paper diary then it does not exist to me. And I swear by a to-do list. One thing that I really have found helpful is if I write my to-do list the night before. So let’s say I’m finishing work today, before I log off I will write my next day’s to-do list. It somehow takes it off my mind for the night.
4. Have you changed the way you manage your time based on what you’ve learned over the past several years of juggling?
I’ve learned to not take on more than I can actually do, which is really hard, especially when you’re starting out as a freelance writer. It’s a perilous sort of industry, and you want to take on as much work as possible, because there is that idea of, “Oh God, what if a magazine shuts down, or what if I run out of work?”
But I have learnt that there are limits, there are only a certain number of hours in the week, and there’s only so much that you can do and take on. It was such a steep learning curve for me, and it’s still going. I hate saying no to people, and I am very much that type A perfectionist of, “Yes, yes, I’ll do it, yes of course’.
5. What about social media – it’s great for connecting with readers, but it’s also always there. Do you find it can be intrusive at times or do you have a way to manage this?
I’m not one of those people who thinks, “Oh, I have to do X amount of tweets a week” or anything like that. If I have a book coming out, I try to do as many scheduled posts as I can on Twitter. On Instagram it’s more of an ad hoc basis; Instagram is a bit more fun I suppose, rather than profile building or brand building, and it’s less about selling books I guess.
I find that social media is a really lovely way of connecting with people. When you support other writers’ work and link to it and retweet it, they really appreciate that. Then sometimes that comes back in kind to you.
6. Any final tips for mums who are working and trying to fit writing time in as well?
Don’t be afraid to ask for help. I’ve found that people will sometimes ask you if you need help, but often they’ll sit back until you ask for it. But then they’ll be very happy to help you out.
And don’t do everything. I don’t do everything, and I would never expect my partner to do everything. Sometimes we expect too much of ourselves. But if you can outsource things like cleaning that free up your time for more creative pursuits, I think that’s a really good investment. I’m also very bad at cleaning, so I’d much rather ask someone else to do it for me and do a really good job!