A few people have asked how I "do it all," meaning, raise a large family AND write a book. I thought I'd share my little philosophy of living AND the practical how-to's of my life. A huge part of becoming a writer has meant knowing my body, human limitations, life situation and my core values. I schedule and systematize as much of my life as possible.
My body is: is a morning body. I get my best work done in the morning. After 3pm, I should NOT be doing any creative work. Also, my body requires a lot of sleep (otherwise I get sick and/or depressed). That is the honest truth about my human limitation. I have ADD. I have a whacky menstrual cycle. I am an ENFP.
My life situation is: I am a married mother of five children and my husband is the primary breadwinner.
My core values are: daily time together as a family (including spiritual readings and conversation), daily time with my spouse, 3-4 hours of writing, 1 hour of reading, 1 hour of exercise, healthy nutrition.
Speaking of my life situation, I really cannot underestimate the HUGE leg-up I've been given by being married to a man who takes seriously his duty of providing for our family. There is simply NO WAY I could have written a book without the financial support of my husband. For example, my husband's regular job provides for the bulk of our expenses and I used my book advance to hire help for the laundry and cleaning so that I was freed up to actually write the book. (NOTE: it took us a long time to get here--for many years I simply had to write after or between doing all the regular laundry, cooking, baby-caring etc.) The added benefit of having domestic help is that I'm not an exhausted wreck by day's end. In other words, I really can't begin to talk about my daily practices without giving ample credit to my husband whose financial support actually makes my daily practices possible.
In order to be successful at writing, I have had to tailor my daily schedule to fit my human limitations, serve my core values and provide for my life situation.
Essentially, I systematize my daily routine. A daily schedule may seem mundane or repetitive but it's a huge time and energy saver. We eat, sleep and work on a systematized schedule. I fully believe that many child-behavioral problems are the result of sleep deprivation and poor nutrition. I also believe my creative process won't just magically happen. I have to schedule time each day to "catch" the inspiration. Lastly, my relationships will suffer unless I make time for them each day.
For example, I don't want to have to think about exercising each day. I simply go at the same time and the same place each day. I also don't want to think about daily carpool schedules so I am in a carpool that requires the same route and same schedule each day. Lastly, our bank, post office, schools, grocery stores and doctor's offices are within two miles of home. My husband works nearby. This means our daily maintenance routines are systematized.
It took quite a bit of strategic planning for us to set this up our lives this way but because we have a large family, we simply must arrange our lives within a very close proximity to home--otherwise we will waste many hours in the car.
I am forever grateful to the people who took a chance on me. I wouldn't be where I am today without my literary agent, editor and all the bloggers who have cheered me on and supported me. Still, there is so much a writer can do before she wins the attention of an agent, lands a book contract or writes her first book.
This is what a typical weekday looks like for me:
5am: wake. I keep my iPhone on my nightstand and the alarm wakes me each morning. I roll out of bed, use the restroom, check my email and immediately put on the workout clothes I've set out the night before.
5:15am: drive to bootcamp. I listen to classical music or NPR because it's an edifying way to wake up my brain and soul.
6:45am: Arrive back at home. The children are already awake and getting ready. Again, our morning routine is highly systematized. The kids make lunches the night before. Matt makes a hot breakfast while I make coffee, prep backpacks and lunch boxes, brush twins' hair, make sure everyone is staying on target. The children are expected to report to the breakfast table fully clothed (with socks and shoes), brushed hair and teeth and backpacks ready to go.
7:00am: We all sit down for breakfast. We read The Magnificat (a daily selection of Scripture readings, suggested prayers and saint-of-the-day). Everyone shares a prayer request. We close in prayer. Typical breakfast: 1 egg, 1/4 bagel with peanut butter, coffee, sliced fruit.
7:20am: Load up for carpool. I drive 7 children to two different schools every morning. If it's raining, I make an extra trip for an 8th child.
8:00am: Back home. Shower, brush teeth, hair and makeup. Dress for the day. Note: I think it's important for me to dress nicely each day. Looking better=feeling better. It actually doesn't take that much more effort for me to put on nice clothes rather than my old yoga pants. Additionally, everyone in my family appreciates it when I make an effort to look presentable. (NOTE: while my children were very little, I wore yoga pants daily, no makeup).
8:30am: Begin writing. I write for 3-4 without stopping. Even if I'm not working on my book or blog, I'm either journaling or outlining. I truly believe that in order to improve the craft, I must write every single day. Sometimes people think getting a book deal was an overnight thing. Ha ha. I've been writing every single day for most of my life. And in the last six years, I've written for at least one hour each day.
11:30/12:30 Lunch break. Usually a salad with chicken and veggies. Lite Italian dressing. Shredded cheese. A big glass of water. A piece of fruit.
1:30pm: I'm still writing but a different kind of writing: proofing, editing, re-reading what I've written, perhaps catching up on email. If I don't have pressing writing needs, this is when I read. I read for an hour every day.
2-2:30pm: Nap. I sincerely believe more than HALF my success as a writer can be directly contributed to getting enough sleep. Period. I used to think it was sorta artsy and cool and "writerly" to stay up late drinking and waxing eloquent on life. Yeah. No. That doesn't work for me or my life. If I'm a good writer it's only because I prioritize sleeping, eating and exercise. I have to work hard at it. I'm only mildly talented. The rest is hard work.
2:40pm: Older kids arrive home from school. Debriefing. Look over homework. Ask about upcoming tests. Plan the afternoon. Assign afternoon chores. Snacks.
3:15pm: Pick up the twins from Pre-K. This takes longer because as little people, they move more slowly. There are lunch boxes to be fetched, jackets, completed work, updates, checking in with their teacher, etc.
3:45pm: Home. Make healthy snack for twins. Usually sliced apples with peanut butter and milk. Talk to the twins about their day, assign "little chores," ie. setting out their clothes for the next day, tidying up their rooms. Playtime. Chores.
4:15: I begin dinner prep. I only cook three nights a week. We have a multitude of food options nearby so on the other nights my husband picks up dinner on his way home. This is one of the major ways I save time and energy. Also, my gift is writing, not cooking. So, I make very basic meals. On the days I am not cooking I am driving Jewel to and from ballet class.
5:30pm: We all sit down for dinner (except for Jewel who is usually at ballet class--this is why we make sure we sit down for family breakfast every day because not everyone is home for dinner everyday). We discuss "high-lows" of everyone's day (a highlight and lowlight). This often leads to great conversations. One of my core family values is daily meal together.
6:30pm: Twins bath. Dinner clean up. Prep for the next day. Boys finishing homework. (I am beginning to feel very tired at this point). Slowing down.
7:00pm: Twins in bed. (Yes, they actually go to sleep at this time. I think many child behavioral problems can be directly traced to sleep deprivation.). Boys finishing chores, homework, prepping for next day. They are allowed to play Xbox at this time. Matt and I regroup on the couch and talk. This is OUR daily time together. We plan for the next day, cuddle, eat a dessert. My brain and body are beginning to shut down. We rarely watch TV during the week, mostly we DVR shows to watch over the weekend.
8:30pm: Older kids' bedtime. Yes, I believe ALL children should go to bed early. I fully believe this leads to better grades at school and emotional stability. (Exceptions made for homework, extra reading)
8:45pm: I begin my bedtime routine. Yes. I have a very early bedtime. Again, I require a lot of sleep. My body has always been this way and instead of fighting it, I accept this about myself and don't push it. Again, this is a systematized routine which helps calm my body for sleep. I brush my teeth, wash my face, moisturize and floss. I drink a big glass of water. I write in my love journal (a journal I keep for documenting all the ways my husband loves me each day). I get in bed and say my prayers. I read poetry before sleeping (I avoid reading anything upsetting or stimulating before sleep). When I'm ready for sleep, I call for Matt. He comes in and says goodnight. He can't go to sleep as early as I do but we always say goodnight and kiss. From the beginning of our marriage we made it a point not to go to sleep upset with each other. My last spoken words each night are: "Goodnight, Matt. I love you." When the light is out, my last thoughts are: "Thank You, Jesus, for this day. I love You."
9:15pm: I am asleep.