I’m thrilled today to welcome NY Times bestselling romantic suspense author Allison Brennan to our blog today. I’m a huge fan of Allison’s books (and still can’t read them at bedtime.) as well as in awe of her ability to juggle a skyrocketing career, five children, a husband, a house and… well, you name it, I think Allison does it.
And she’s got a terrific new series out – the FBI trilogy: SUDDEN DEATH, FATAL SECRETS (just released this month) and CUTTING EDGE (releasing in July).
So give a big MamaWriter’s jelly-stained welcome to Allison and be sure to comment because Allison is giving away TWO sets of her Prison Break trilogy to lucky commenters!
When I tell people I have five kids, their jaws drop and they stare at me in shock. I know what’s going through their heads. The first thing is, “Doesn’t she know about birth control?” Then, “There must be twins in there.” Or, “She must be Mormon or Catholic.” The answers: Yes, No, Catholic.
The comment I always get is, “I don’t know how you do it. How can you write three books a year with all those kids?” Or a variation on that theme. And I don’t get that.
I used to work full-time outside of the house-a regular 9-to-5 job-and no one ever asked me how I “did it” and raised my family. There are a lot of moms out there who work their asses off and aren’t writers, some of them working two jobs, some of them single moms, some of them with husbands who help a lot, and some of them with husbands who don’t do much of anything around the house.
Before I quit my day job in early 2005, I worked 30 hours a week, had five kids (11 years to 6 months), and wrote every night after the kids went to bed. THAT was hard work. It was especially hard before I sold because I was writing toward a dream that may never happen.
Women tend to put everyone else’s needs before their own. We get married, have kids, often work outside the house while still juggling all the homemaker responsibilities. Honestly, before I quit my day job (and still now), I was the one who took time off when one of the kid’s was sick, I dropped everything to take them to the doctor/dentist, I made sure to leave work right at five p.m. and suffer rush hour traffic in order to make the typical 20 minute drive in 50 minutes to reach the kids before six. I was responsible for homework, baths, bedtime, and cleaning the house (ok, I’ll admit, I rarely cleaned the house-I hate cleaning. But it was sore spot with my husband, so I grudgingly tried.)
Working moms tend to feel extremely guilty because we work outside the house and we fear we’re damaging our kids in some way, so we overcompensate and try to do everything. Stay-at-home moms feel guilty because they are at home and worry when they don’t do everything from being the team mom on soccer to being the first to sign up to drive on every fieldtrip to making sure their house is immaculate because they’re “at home” and there’s “no excuse.” I swear, the year that I was a stay-at-home mom after I quit and pulled my kids from day care was the hardest year of my life. I couldn’t write when they were running around (at the time ages 4, 2 and 1-my oldest two were in school.) I was physically exhausted when it was bedtime, but I still had to write at night. I was criticized by said husband who thought that if I was home, I should be able to keep the house clean. Who in the world said it was easy being a stay-at-home mom? Shoot him. Because it had to be a man.
Being a mom is a full-time job. And sometimes, women lose themselves in the role because for some reason-Society? Family expectations? Personal drive?-we feel guilty if we do anything solely for ourselves.
Writing is selfish. We do it for us first. When you’re unpublished, no one in the world cares if you sell a book-except you. No one. It’s hard to keep motivated in the face of negative influences, even when those negative influences aren’t obvious. Sometimes it’s our husband or parents or kids who think it’s “cute” we’re trying to write a book. Others they complain that we’re wasting money on paper, toner, and a new printer. Others are critical that we’re not spending enough time watching television at night, or we lock ourselves in a room with our laptop after dinner.
Worse, some family and friends think that writing is a “hobby” something we do just for the hell of it or because we enjoy it, but it’s not a future career and it doesn’t fulfill us like say, oh, being a trial lawyer or brain surgeon.
Being a multi-published New York Times bestselling author has some advantages. People don’t think I’m writing just for the fun of it. People don’t generally look down their nose at me anymore when I decline to drive on the next field trip. Most people take my writing seriously-I have credentials now. But I still get the, “But you work from home, so can you just do . . .” fill in the blank of anything that takes more than ten minutes. Add half a dozen of those up and you’ve lost an hour or more of YOUR TIME. Yet we still feel guilty when we say no!
Moms rock. It doesn’t matter if we’re working from the house or working out of the house or working for money at all. And because we rock, I think we need to sometimes do things for ourselves-and if that means telling your husband he can watch television by himself three nights a week because we’re going to WRITE, then do it without the guilt.
It took me a long time to minimize the guilt of putting my needs on equal footing with my family. Or close to it. Because I still drop everything when someone is sick, or when there’s a special event at school, and now that my hours are more flexible, I do drive on more field trips and rarely miss sporting games (though I rarely attend practices-something has to give!) And honestly, I wouldn’t have it any other way. I love spending time with my kids, but I also love writing, and I can juggle both most of the time.
I “do it” like every other mom out there: I prioritize, I sacrifice, and I don’t sweat the small stuff.
- Keep your writing time sacred
- Stagger deadlines between major life events
- Keep your kid time sacred
My oldest is 15, my youngest will be 5 next month. My writing time is when they are at school, 8:30-3 five days a week. That is my sacred writing time. I limit other commitments during this time. Sometimes interruptions are unavoidable; most of the time, if you’re committed it works. During the summer, my little kids go to day camp except when we’re on vacation, and the week before school starts. If you work full-time, whatever time you set aside for writing-whether it’s early in the morning or late at night or on the weekends-you have to stick with it. Make it sacred. That’s YOUR time.
Deadlines are important, especially when you’re published. I avoid setting deadlines around major holidays when the kids are out of school and/or have major school projects due (finals, science fair, end of year projects.) Having a book due the same week as the science fair and three of your five kids have a project due on the same day . . . your sanity will suffer.
Just like writing time is sacred, kid time is sacred. For me that’s after school through dinnertime, and weekends. And I read to them every night.
Before I sold, I gave up television to make the time to write. I also gave up some sleep. Now, I still give up sleep-I’m rarely in bed before 1 a.m., and I usually am up by 6:30. And I still don’t watch as much television as I did before I started writing.
I’ve also sacrificed cleaning. Ok, okay, I sacrificed cleaning years before I got serious about my writing. I have a husband and wife team who come in once a week for $35 an hour. To me, it’s worth it, and I’m happy to sacrifice something extra to pay for them. That’s how much I hate cleaning.
For others, it might be something else. Maybe you hate cooking, or ironing (I love cooking, hate ironing.) Maybe it’s gardening or you like vacuuming but hate cleaning the shower. Whatever it is, if it makes you miserable, find a way to get rid of the responsibility, or you’ll begin to resent it.
Kids are bribable. I’m not above bribes. It’s really nice now that my oldest is almost driving and I remind her (often) that driving is a privilege, not a right, and if she wants the keys and the car insurance that goes with them, she has responsibilities. Chores are good. They teach kids responsibilities as well, and I can’t tell you how many of my kids friends who have no chores. Mine do. And not enough chores, because I’m a softy at heart.
My husband doesn’t have as much of my time as he’d like because our kids always come first. And sometimes, there’s not enough of me to go around. We have five kids. I’m responsible for 95% of their day-to-day survival, especially the younger kids. I’m tired at night, and often have work to day. So to make up for it, we try to have a date night once a month.
I’ve had to sacrifice time with friends-and that, sometimes, is hard. Some friends understand, some don’t. When you are working toward achieving your dream, the friends who stand in your way are not your friends. It’s hard to accept, and so you do everything you can to keep the relationship working. But if they’re not supporting you, or worse, if they are trying to demoralize you, they’re not a true friend.
But the friends who stick with you? They are golden. They are worthy to make sacrifices FOR.
DON’T SWEAT THE SMALL STUFF
This is one of the hardest lessons to learn. Honestly, I think we as women, and society in general, stresses over so many little things that we make ourselves miserable. So what if the house is messy, it’s not going to kill you. And your son has a hole in the knee of his uniform pants-well, until his fist can go through it, is it really a crisis? And your youngest didn’t put on his shoes and you got halfway to school before your kindergartener mentions it-if you turn around and go back home, is it truly unfathomable that the kids are late to school?
I had it in my head for years that I had to cook a “good” dinner and everyone needed to sit down as a family and eat. And while I believe that family time is a good thing, when you have kids in sports, family dinners are few and far between. There’s always someone who needs to be taken somewhere, or someone at practice, or someone needs to eat early because they have a game. When I worked outside the house, I never wanted to make dinner a battle time because I didn’t have as much time with my kids as I wanted, so I always made healthy food I knew they liked. This works very well now. So, we eat a lot of spaghetti and salad, tacos and hamburgers, but it works for us. My older two often make their own dinner because they have weird schedules, but the little kids and I almost always eat together-even if it’s sitting casually at the kitchen table munching carrot sticks and chicken strips before running off to my daughter’s basketball game.
Stress is a killer. It damages us mentally and physically, and there’s enough stress in our lives between the economy, our children’s future, our mortgage, our personal security. Why add to it?
Ultimately, happiness matters. When I quit my day job, we didn’t have a lot of money and I had to be exceptionally frugal with my advance so that I could make it last. I pulled my three youngest from day care, we refinanced the house, I lived on a much tighter budget-with the added stress that if my books failed, I’d be crawling back to my old boss begging for my job back.
BUT I was doing what I had always wanted for me. Writing. I was a published author, I had achieved a dream I’d had since childhood. My oldest daughter, then 11, said about a month after I quit, “Mom, I’ve never seen you so happy.”
And ultimately, that’s a lesson I’m thrilled to teach my kids.
ALLISON BRENNAN worked as a consultant in the California State Legislature for thirteen years before leaving to devote herself fully to her family and writing. Her books include the New York Times bestselling Evil series: Speak No Evil, See No Evil, and Fear No Evil. She lives in northern California with her husband and their five children. Visit her website at www.allisonbrennan.com
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