Saturday, January 28, 2012

BALANCING FAMILY AND WRITING A guest blog by Craig Hansen

Around noon, I boot up my computer, fire up Word 2007 and settle in to work. I'm not in the right mindset right away, so I hop onto Kindleboards, then check out Facebook and Twitter, just to get a lay of the land. I flip back over to Word and start to read through my last couple days' worth of progress to get back into the flow of the story.

Knock, knock.

It's my dad, who lives with my wife and me. He's 89, has Alzheimer's and dementia, but is still usually coherent.

"Hey Craig," Dad asks, "wanna make me some popcorn?"

I glance at the clock. It's only one in the afternoon.

"Let's hold off until after dinner tonight," I tell him. "Have a Three Musketeers."

That makes him happy. I start re-reading my recent progress again.

Knock, knock.

"Hey honey." It's my wife. "What time do you want to go for our walk today?"

We go for a health walk once a day, mostly for my benefit. I need to drop weight to stay healthy long-term. In the early months of working at home, I worked too much and became overly sedentary; my weight skyrocketed by over twenty pounds … and I was already carrying around more weight than I should.

"I just got started," I reply. "How about six?"

"It's getting dark earlier now."

"Then how does four sound?"

"That'll work."

After she goes back to her homework, I realize I'm discombobulated, so I work on a contract editorial assignment; I do this on the side to bring in money. It's a short bit of work this time and then I flip back to MS Word. I skim the last couple pages I completed and feel ready to get back into the flow of the story.

Knock, knock.

Dad again.

"I need to use your bathroom."

We have two; but with his condition, Dad usually remembers he needs to go when he sees one of us head for a bathroom. I wave him in and wait for him to be done and leave. We talk a bit. He doesn't fully understand how I make money as a full-time writer. Sometimes, I'm not so sure myself.

Once he leaves to watch television again, I turn back to my PC and start writing. I compose 100 words; then 200, then 300. I'm starting to feel like I'm in the flow now. Sweet!

Knock, knock.

It's my wife again. "Honey, it's almost four. Time for our walk."

Oh well.

~ * * * ~

The above scene isn't an exact snapshot of any one day, but is meant to be representative of one of my typical afternoon shifts since I began working as a full-time writer. While taking care of an elderly parent represents a different set of challenges than, say, raising a child, or several children, the struggle that unites all full-time writers is how to divide work-time from family time in a way that works for everyone.

One universal struggle is gaining respect for one's "work time" when working from home. Family members generally understand work time when work is performed outside of the house. But once the home office becomes the only office one has, the boundaries become fuzzy.

Often, one's work time can be seen as easily interrupted, simply due to convenience; I'm only a knock on the door away, after all, and sometimes even the knock is cast aside. Family members breeze in and out as needed, often not even intending to interrupt, even though that's the result.
Also, one's work time can be mischaracterized or misunderstood. If I disappear from the living room for several hours, I might hear phrases drifting in like, "Craig's hiding in his room," rather than, "Craig's working right now." Ugh.

While these sorts of minor interruptions can seem like sources of irritation at times, however, it's important to keep things in perspective. Before writing full-time, I worked in several jobs outside of the home, usually in an office environment.

And what happens in an office environment?

One must field phone calls, socialize with coworkers, talk to one's supervisor, and deal with other interruptions like packages being delivered, customers dropping by, and so forth. It can become a madhouse.

By comparison, the minor interruptions one endures while working from home are infrequent and minor. One could even argue that one has more time to work from home than at an office outside the home.

And when it comes down to it, who would you rather be interrupted by? The UPS guy, supervisors, coworkers and customers? Or family members you love? Seems like a no-brainer.
That said, to work efficiently one must at least have a plan that works for them if they expect to stay focused enough to make real progress each day. Here's the plan I've formulated since beginning my full-time, at-home writing career.

I tend to be a terrible night-owl, so my day begins around noon. After freshening up, I go straight to work and generally work until sometime between four and six in the afternoon, depending on when my wife and I go on our health walk.

Since I'm likely to experience more interruptions during my afternoon shift, I don't often do a lot of writing then. I mostly save that time for my contract work, paid blogging, or doing small tasks related to my writing career overall, such as logging some social media time, blogging, or working on other promotional efforts. If I feel inspired, however, sometimes I will write during the afternoon.

After taking our health walk, I generally shift into family time mode. This lasts usually until ten in the evening or later. Then, once everyone else is in bed, I start my evening shift. This is when I do the bulk of my writing. Sometimes I'll wind down around three in the morning; sometimes, if I really get into the flow of a story, the breaking dawn is my clue that I need to stop for the night and get at least six hours of sleep.

It's not a perfect system, and I don't necessarily recommend it to others. But since using this schedule, I've published two novels and am working on a third, all in far less than a year. So it works for me.

While several hours of family time might seem excessive to some, it's an important component of balancing work needs and family needs. When one is working at home, the biggest danger is spending too much time working and inaccessible to family members, making them feel ignored or neglected. I structure my second shift while they are asleep to also reduce those potential pitfalls.

Every writer will formulate their own solution that fits their family dynamic and personality. The important thing is to make sure you take your writing seriously enough to make time for it, however you carve that time out of your day. My method is merely one example of how to accomplish that.

By Craig Hansen

Book 1 of the Ember Cole series.

Genre: young adult paranormal suspense

Word Count: approximately 32,500 words.

SHADA Book Blurb:

"If you could talk to a dead person, anyone at all, who would it be?"

A year ago, Ember Cole witnessed the death of her grandfather. Now, with her grandmother slipping away into dementia, she seeks answers from the only person who loved her grandmother more than her, even if he is dead: Grandpa Normie.

Joined by three of her closest friends, Ember treks deep into the woods of northwestern Wisconsin, seeking the advice of a dead man on how to save the living. But sometimes, the dead have their own agenda.

Craig Hansen wrote stories from an early age, but when his SF short story, "The S.S. Nova," was published in the Minnesota Writers In the School COMPAS program's 1981 anthology of student writing, When It Grows Up, You Say Goodbye To It, he decided to dedicate himself to writing. Several unpublished novels and short stories followed.

Hansen earned two degrees at Minnesota State University at Mankato under the mentorship of young adult novelist Terry Davis. In the years that followed, Hansen worked a variety of jobs related to writing, including editorial work at a small publishing house, holding a position as a Web site editor, and five years in journalism in northwestern Wisconsin, where he earned several state awards for his writing and editing.

His work has appeared in the Meadowbrook Press anthology, Girls to the Rescue, Book 1, as well as the true crime journal, Ripper Notes, in volume 28.

His first novel, Most Likely, was released in May. Shada is the first installment of the Ember Cole series of young adult paranormal suspense books. Hansen is hard at work on the next installment in the series, the novel-length book, Ember.

Hansen recently moved to Oregon with his wife, a dog, a cat, and his 89-year-old father, a World War II veteran.

Craig's interests include the music of Johnny Cash, reading the novels of other independent authors, blogging, and the study of Messianic theology. On his Web site, you can sign up to receive a periodic email newsletter that will notify you when he releases new novels.

Connect With Craig Online At:
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