Ten Lifehacks to Balance Life, Depression, and Writing
My creative journey has been really taking off lately. I’m about to reach a milestone in my draft. A ten-minute version of a play I wrote, Sisters Fight, is about to get staged in New York City! (more details forthcoming. Follow me on Facebook or Twitter @TRPatmore for the most up to date info). I’m really feeling connected to my craft in a way I haven’t felt in years.
What’s the change? So many things! The biggest one, however, is going to sound oh-so-familiar, but here it is–I’m making time to write, and developing a habit. I’m setting goals. More importantly– I’m achieving them!
None of it is easy. Balancing domestic responsibilities, with the needs of my kids, the support role we wives play in our husband’s careers, along with writing is a tricky thing. You know what kind of thing it isn’t? An impossible one. Here are a few hacks I’ve discovered that are really helping me succeed. Hopefully, you might find a couple that help you too!
Be desperate to write. Charles Bukowski said, “writers are desperate people and when they stop being desperate they stop being writers.” I saw this while mindless scrolling through Instagram, and it hit me like a punch in the chest. I admit, I lost my desperation at some point along the way. I approached becoming a writer with too much skepticism in the past. I’m not sure I was convinced that I could actually do this thing. It was when I stopped to consider what would happen if I had to stop writing that I discovered how desperate I really was. What if all I could do was wait until my children went to bed and squeeze whatever words I had in? What would I do if I only had one hour to write? This one idea changed everything.
Acknowledge weaknesses. There is this group of people in my life whose biggest criticism of me is that I’m “too perfect”. It’s probably one of the most ridiculous statements that I’d ever heard, but they’ve never seen the laundry area of my basement. The fact of the matter is that I am nowhere near perfect. I stink at repetitious tasks; I hate having to make creative decisions on the spot (like what to make for dinner); and I’m also dealing with depression–which makes having the energy to begin tasks damn near impossible. These are the things that make me who I am. Ignoring them doesn’t help me. Acknowledging my weaknesses, however, allows me to work with and around them.
Find a writing partner, group, or creative tribe. I understand if this sounds insurmountable. It can sometimes be tricky to discover like minds. Just try to be open, and take a chance. NaNoWriMo is coming up, and they have great groups which meet-up both virtually, and locally. Reach out to your artist friend. I am extremely lucky to have a writing soulmate, fellow writer, Erica Deel. We do our best to see each other whenever life allows, but we make sure to take advantage of phone calls, and even have our very own personal writing support group page on Facebook just for the two of us. It helps to have someone to be accountable to, but even more than that, it helps to have a person understand your plight. My creative tribe also includes my cousin, an actress (just one of a million other talents she has) and fellow creative. Together we have been able to create a support structure for our creative passions that is almost spiritual. It’s hard to describe. The point is that when my creative energy is lagging, or when I’m feeling stuck, the women in my tribe help to lift me up and get me back on track, as well as motivate me to succeed so I can return the favor in my own way.
Take control of time. There are only 24 hours in a day. It’s true. There’s nothing you can change about that. Find a way to make a visual representation of the time you spend on various tasks throughout the day. All it takes is a two day commitment to catalogue your activities to see that there is a lot of time wasted (I’m looking at you social media) that could be used to write. Trying to decide what to make for dinner each night, was a huge struggle. Trips to the grocery store were horrendous time sucks. I tried making lists, but even that took forever, because I wasn’t really sure what I needed to buy. The same held true for tedious repetitive tasks, which I have serious issues accomplishing. I wasted all kinds of time just trying to get up the energy to clean something, fold something, dust or vacuum something. Laundry is the absolute worst for me. Usually it takes one of the kids running out of socks to get it going, and I’m not going to pretend that h
Find and commit to a method. There’s all kinds of organization methods out there just a Pinterest away. Pick one you like. Commit to it for two months. I chose Bullet Journeling (check out the post I wrote about it here), and I find that it is a really effective way to help me focus all of my thoughts, tasks, and to-dos in one place.
Plan Ahead. The BuJo method is great for helping you to plan your time. The biggest change I made was weekly meal planning, and marathon meal prepping. Because deciding what to cook for dinner often lead to take-out, I decided that the only way to ensure I was providing a healthier lifestyle for my kids was to decide what to cook ahead of time. This is where BuJo comes in handy. I have a few different notebooks with different functions that I’ve put into regular use in my life. My daily BuJo is the size of a pocket-sized Moleskine (it actually is one, right now), and is where I put both monthly and weekly calendars. I have a creative journal where more permanent things go, like my master meal list, and recipe cards, along with notes about my novel, and other creative expressions about my life. BuJo’s indexing makes it easy to find what I need, pretty quickly. I use them both every Sunday to plan the meals I’ll cook for the week, and create a grocery list. I also tend to prepare double batches of things like lasagna, or meatloaf, that I freeze for use in upcoming weeks. This Fall I decided to stop letting my kids buy lunch at school, which was made so much easier since I’d already developed the meal planning habit. It just gets added onto prep day.
Play to strengths. Since I’m much better at getting tasks I hate completing done in bursts I’ll buy all the groceries I need from the list I’ve made in one day, and then I meal prep all at once. What that means is that I do all the chopping, dicing, and spicing done at once. I separate things into ziplocks, and plastic containers (I’ve amassed quite the collection from the take-out days), and store according to when I’ll need them. Having everything pre-portioned, and prepped makes it super easy to throw dinner together, and cuts actual cooking time. By the time I’m finished I’ve got ready-to-eat breakfasts for my son (he gets up earlier in the morning than the rest of us), four days worth of lunches for both kids, and snacks for the little one too. Every dinner I’ll make that week will be broken down into easy to cook parts. This leaves me with more time in the school day to complete other difficult domestic tasks that would get pushed aside in favor of grocery store trips, and figuring out what to make for dinner.
Set goals. This is another thing BuJo is great for. Creating trackers to help you meet your goals is an easy thing to do, and something you can get pretty creative with (yet another Pinterest away). My life can be unpredictable, between religious holidays, and whether or not my hubby is working from home, so instead of scheduling the bathroom to be cleaned on Wednesday, I’ll write it on a to-do list: bathroom, and floors; or dusting, and de-cluttering. I haven’t really found a way to make laundry work this way, but I’ll keep you posted when I do. This is where your writing life can get a chance to make your to-do list. With the domestic stuff scheduled, you’re free to put the writing time back into your life. Set goals. Some writers like to set word count goals, others prefer to track the time they spend. I like to set two scenes per week: one that I’ll definitely finish, the other that I will start if I finish the first one quickly. This gives me a way to structure my thinking ahead of time, the same way I make a grocery list for the meals I’m prepping for the week. To keep myself focused I use this adorable iOS app called Forest, which lets me time 20 minute bursts of writing, and lets me earn adorable plants and trees for my daily focus forests. Don’t forget to set time to read! This is just as important as your writing habit.
Reward yourself. In every other job you get rewarded for your work on a regular basis, in the form of a paycheck. Mom doesn’t come with that kind of validation, nor does domestic engineer, and guess what, writing doesn’t do it with any kind of regularity either. BuJo makes it easy to see the accomplishments you’re achieving from week to week, and crossing things off a list feels great! It’s important to acknowledge this success too. Reward yourself for your wins. Didn’t order take-out the entire week? Sweet, order a pizza on Saturday! Met your writing goals for the week? Get some ice cream, take a bath, paint your nails. You know what your weaknesses are, indulge them when you’ve had a good run.
Don’t give up. There’s going to be bad days. You’re going to catch colds. For me there is an acceptance that some days I’ll beat my depression back, and some days when I’m too paralyzed to move. I have accepted this, and know that the pile of laundry in my living room doesn’t make me a bad person, or a bad mom. Life obstacles are going to occur. You’ve got to roll with them, get through them, and get back to what is important. The habit that has been developed is going to be there when you’re ready for it. And when all else fails, remember number 1.