The life of a writer is a funny thing. No one ever asks me as a writer how to balance things, but I think about it all the time, and almost every self-directed “interview” with an established author deals with how to write when you have a full time job, a marriage, kids.

The truth of it is no one really knows. There’s no right or wrong here. Isn’t that the scary thing of being an adult? Everyone has their different take.

I remember reading that Nora Roberts, who writes full time from her home office, advised a babysitter for kids, and having an office with a second door. When her kids were young she would leave the front door going to work, sneak into her office, then come back in the front door at the end of the day. She said if the kids knew she was at home, she’d never get any peace.

I took that advice as “Don’t have kids.” There’s good and bad to that. Sure, I can sleep in, go wherever I want whenever I want, but royalty rights will outlive me and now I have to figure out how to divide that between my three godchildren. Having my own kids would streamline that, sure, but it’s not for me.

So I can’t advise you on kids. I can tell you, the best writing comes with no pressure. When no one is waiting on you, no commitments. If in school you wrote your best papers last minute…well, welcome to the club, but paper writing and fiction are light years apart. Papers have a specific formula, fiction has general guidelines. So perhaps write when kids are in daycare and the errands have been run, or write after they are asleep. Or have one, wait a few years to have the rest so you have an automatic babysitter and groom your eldest in dictatorship. Find what works for you.

Now, in relationships….ye gods, I have yet to master that. I’ve only had three serious relationships in my life. The first encouraged my writing, loved to read my short stories. Sometimes, he got so involved in critiquing it would turn into an argument. All I can say is…don’t get yourself into that situation, it sucks, because you have to figure out how to tell someone their advice is not concrete yet still make them want to sleep with you. Tricky.

The next didn’t want to hear ideas, loved hearing about successes, but didn’t want to read anything. I thought it was perfect. Then he started bitching about how long I’d spend writing. I was working eighty hour workweeks back then so often I’d come home, eat my dinner in my office writing, then sit down for a drink with him and go to bed. He hated being ignored. Any surprise he left for another woman with no hobbies or interests that were not perfectly built for two?

The third treated my writing as a hobby. Strange, because this is the one I was dating when I got serious, formulated my five year writing plan, and self-published the first Marly Jackson. Well, fuck him. The second best thing about that relationship was he was on the road six months out of the year so it gave me all the time in the world to write. Of course my roommates also had parties every night, so during the months he was gone I didn’t have to leave my house to socialize, which was kind of awesome, but exhausting. It’s hard to sleep with techno blaring.

So I am single now, happily, but a conversation with my brother made me wonder something that got me on the whole balance thing. He wanted to know how I balanced writing with a relationship. For the moment I can see, er, not-applicable, but in the future? I don’t know. Again, I guess you find what works for you, but I must admit the single thing is particularly awesome for writing.

Lastly, work. This is actually the easiest one. Work full time? If you can, commute via train or bus. Bring your laptop and try to write 250 words on the way to work, 250 on the way back. On your lunch break, brown bag it, and write at least 500. Then, by the time you arrive home you’ve written 1000, and that’s about how much you should write every day, even if you’re in editing mode.

The next thing is to schedule writing time. Yes, the muse may not work by schedule, but you do. If you have kids, perhaps make a deal with your significant other: one of you lets the other relax for an hour while helping the kids do their homework and making dinner, and that one gets to relax for an hour while the other readies the kids for bed and does the dishes.

Single parents….I do not know how you do it, but try to keep your writing goals low, do it on work commutes and your lunch break, don’t kill yourself.

The point is that balance is hard. Writing should be very important to you, but so is work, so are kids, so is your spouse. Religious? Church is important to. Militant feminist? Your NOW meetings are important to. Rabid sports fan? Well, you have to draw the line somewhere. Remember writing isn’t just a job or a hobby, it is a calling. Fireman go off the clock and come home, accountants, and waters too, but a writer never is off the clock. In a way, you have to figure out how to wedge the other things into your life without hurting the writing, and ensuring you don’t lose these people and things you love.

Above all, keep writing. God knows we need good books more than ever these days.