Pictured above: What I’d like to be doing right now.
I get asked this question a lot, and I think it’s worth exploring, because we all struggle to manage the demands on our time.
First, here’s what “all the things” has consisted of over the years. I did have a day job while I wrote my first three books, or for roughly the first seven years of my writing career. Because I had a salary coming in, I didn’t spend a penny that I earned as a writer. I put it all in a separate bank account that was not very easy to get to, and I saved it up with the idea that I’d quit my job when I had a year’s living expenses in the bank. That took seven years.
After that, my income was a mix of paid speaking gigs, a little freelance writing, a stint doing freelance copyrighting for a local company, and book advances and royalties. That went on for another ten years or so.
I should say that in all these early years, we lived in a small, rural town where the cost of living was low so we could buy a house. This is a real trade-off. I missed out on networking opportunities, was not considered for regional prizes, etc, because I didn’t live near a city. Also, flying in and out for all the speaking gigs was more expensive and required more days away than it would have if I’d spent more on housing and lived in a city.
Today, “all the things I do” includes writing books, making art, teaching online, and doing some Zoom events to take the place of in-person speaking gigs. That’s pretty much all I do, apart from getting myself fed, exercised, showered, dressed, etc. every day.
So the simple way to answer this is to say that I truly don’t have any other obligations or responsibilities. I no longer have a day job, and–this is important– I also don’t have any family responsibilities: I don’t have kids, and my husband is very self-sufficient. No one depends on me for their day-to-day existence. If you are responsible for earning a paycheck or keeping other human beings alive, that does make a difference in how much time you have to pursue creative endeavors. No getting around it.
But the other answer is that I am sort of deliberate about how I structure my day. And I’ve figured out what kinds of things I can do and when I can do them throughout the day.
For instance, I don’t like to write in the mornings. Never have. So I write in the afternoons, after lunch. I paint in the mornings.
I know how to break a project down into bite-sized pieces and just do a little every day, knowing it will all add up. Writing a page a day gives me a book in a year. Spending an hour or two on a painting every morning gives me a new painting every few days.
And now that I’ve started to teach classes online, I’ve learned how to break that process down into smaller chunks and just do a little every day. (And by the way, I teach a class on developing good writing habits, which you can take on Skillshare or on Udemy , where I have made it part of a longer class on starting a book.)
I save up all that nonsensical admin work–answering emails, paying bills, etc–for late afternoon or evenings, when I’m too brain-dead to do anything interesting.
So how do I do what I do? A little at a time, and with the luxury of very few distractions.