Balancing Writing & Family

Author Laurell K. Hamilton ruminates on her blog about the difficulties of balancing writing and family obligations…

I read how Eugene O’Neill, the playwright had his third wife, Carlotta, make sure that no one bothered him in the morning while he worked. No phone, no callers, nothing. Not even if the house were on fire. Everyone went around on tip-toes, speaking in hushed voices. At lunch she was afraid to even move to make her chair squeak for fear of disturbing the man’s concentration. She also sorted his mail, which frankly is a fine idea, but the rest . . . Yeah, it’s occasionally appealing to be that protected from the world. But how would it possibly work? What, I have a nanny to tend my daughter and never see her? You just give up your entire life to other people, and care only about the writing?

There are other writers that did similar things. Asimov worked an average of twenty hours a day, and supposedly never left his office during a work session. His wife brought him food. There are numerous other stories about writers that did that. Most, if not all of them, male, but I don’t see how it would work. I mean was O’Neill not told if his mother was ill, if he was in the middle of a play? Did he only learn of it afterwards? Was he that protected? Or did emergencies disturb the great man’s schedule? But what, I’m not going to greet my daughter home from the first day of third grade? I’m going to miss that? I don’t think so.

My husband and I were both there huddled under an umbrella in the unusually cold down pour, when she got off the bus for the first day of third grade.

I don’t know how to balance real life with the writing. I really don’t. But I just don’t think I could isolate myself to the degree that some have done and be happy with the decision. It would be as if the writing were more real than your life. How weird would that be? Also, truthfully, the thought of making everyone tip-toe around and whisper because I was working is a little too primadonna for me. I would feel silly asking my family and friends to do stuff like that. But hey, that’s just me. Eugene O’Neill was the first American writer to win the Nobel Prize for literature. He won four Pulitzer prizes for drama. Some scholars claim that he’s the third most widely translated and produced dramatist after William Shakespeare and George Bernard Shaw. Not bad, not bad at all.

It’s a problem we all face. I know I do. I work all day on MISSING… and then I chme home at night and work on my DIAGNOSIS MURDER novels. I also squeeze in booksignings here and elsewhere (like Bouchercon or Left Coast Crime). But at the same time, I want to help my daughter with her homework, see her soccer games, take her to karate practice… and just hang out. Managing time is a daily problem for me…and, I suspect, all writers.

3 thoughts on “Balancing Writing & Family”

  1. Not just writers, but principals too.
    Seriously, I think all parents, no matter what their occupation, have a hard time finding the balance. I think you have to prioritize what is important. I tell my staff every year the story of the 3 big rocks.
    The story goes…a professor in a college class has a large glass jar and he place 3 large rocks inside the jar. He asks the class, “Is the jar full?” Many in the class answer yes. Then he take a bucket of pellets and pours it into the jar. He askes the question again. Now the students start to scratch their heads. Next he pours sand into the jar to fill in the spaces between the pellets and the rocks. Asking the question again, many students asnwer yes. Finally he purs water into the jar and puts a lids on the jar. The jar is now full.
    “What is the moral of the story,” the professor asks. One student replies, “No matter how full your schedule is, you can always squeeze something in.” The professor responds “that may be true, however if you don’t put the rocks in first, they will never fit in.” So what are your 3 big rocks? Family, church, writing, etc.
    Something to think about.

  2. I seriously doubt I’d be writing now if we had kids. My brother, who in his teens was a much better writer than I am now, never got the chance because he worked long hours, was a full-time musician for several years, and came out of those phases of his life with 3 kids and one foster daughter. I wrote at first as a stress reliever. When I gott serious about it, I found I had to work harder at making time. That’s not to say I don’t have fun anymore. I do, but if we had kids any time in the last five years, it’s very unlikely I would be as far along as I am right now. (Which, granted, isn’t very far, but it’s further than I expected to be at this point.)
    So I envy people who can write fulltime. I probably should look into freelancing and nonfiction work, but for now, it’s enough of a challenge balancing the day job and what I do write.

  3. It’s really hard to find time to write books with a dayjob and a kid. Even harder when your dayjob is writing, too. I end up doing most of my “book writing” between 10 pm and 1:30 am, then catching up on my sleep debt on Saturday and Sunday. With a book due Nov.30, I feel like I am cramming for final exams every day…
    Tonight will be hard… I will probably write until one…then grab three or four hours sleep before having to drive to the airport to catch a 7 am flight to Toronto for Bouchercon. To make that 7 am flight, I will have to leave the house by 4 am.
    Ugh…I’m yawning just thinking about it.


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