My Balancing Act as a Writer
by Susie Orman Schnall
Being able to write as a full-time job is a luxury for most. Certainly, we’re all painfully aware that stringing together 80,000 words that make sense and tell an intriguing story does not usually pay for all the diapers, heat, groceries, gas, rent, wine, and the thousands of other things a writer and her family need to get through a typical year. Unless that intriguing story happened to be written about wizards or vampires at the absolute exact right time. Or bondage. Did I mention wine?
Before I had children, I worked for many years in corporate marketing and communications. When I had my first son, my husband and I decided that it would be best for our family if I stayed home with him. The son; not the husband. I know that I am lucky — freaking lotto-winning lucky — that we were able to make that choice. That we could pay for all the diapers, heat, groceries, gas, rent, and wine on his salary. Especially the wine.
Over the next three years, one baby became three babies and this mama ached for some intellectual stimulation. I dabbled in volunteering for a local museum and organizing class gifts at the nursery school. But it was freelance writing for magazines and websites that lit me up. It’s been eight years since my first article was published and being a writer has turned out to be the perfect occupation for me.
Over the years I’ve thought a lot about work-life balance. I started off thinking about my own, then I started thinking about it as it related to other women, and eventually as it related to my characters. Let me explain…
Writing is an occupation that has allowed me to be the primary caregiver for my kids while still getting to do what I love when and where I want to do it. I can’t think of too many other jobs I could say that about. While my boys are at school, and a lot of times even when they’re not, I write. There are so many benefits to being a writer: Flexibility! Unlimited sick days! Sweatpants! I’ve been very thoughtful and calculated about how I want to spend my time. This has given me the strength to say no to a lot of things. I still can’t find enough hours in the day to accomplish all that I want to — who can? — but I feel pretty satisfied with the life I’ve created and being a writer is a huge part of that.
As I’ve settled into the Writer Mom Lifestyle, I’ve struggled from time to time with many things, most notably, feeling overwhelmed. That struggle led me to ask other women whom I admire how they manage “it all.” And that asking turned into The Balance Project, a series of interviews of working women that I publish on my website several times a week. Through those interviews, I’ve learned, among many other things, that every woman is making sacrifices. No one is perfectly doing it all. This idea that we should have unrealistic expectations of ourselves to be the best at everything is ludicrous and damaging. My readers have told me that reading the interviews makes them feel better about their own lives and choices. That it takes a lot of the pressure off.
The Balance Project interviews inspired THE BALANCE PROJECT: A NOVEL. I realized from the interviews along with mainstream media’s obsession with the topic that most— if not all — women struggle with work-life balance in some way. In many ways. The moms and the child-free. The just-starting-outs and those firmly entrenched in their careers. Those with villages of help and those doing it all entirely on their own. I wanted to explore the issue of work-life balance through fiction and give a voice to women at different stages of their careers. THE BALANCE PROJECT tells the story of Lucy, a 25-year-old single woman, and Katherine, her highly successful, 45-year-old, married, mother-of-two boss. There are twists and turns to keep the pages turning, but ultimately it focuses on the issue that so many of us discuss in the company kitchen, at dinner parties, and on the soccer fields.
It all comes down to this: You can have it all. You just have to be realistic about what “it” means for you. And being a writer certainly helps.
Susie Orman Schnall is a writer and author who lives in New York with her husband and three young boys. Her award-winning debut novel On Grace (SparkPress 2014) is about fidelity, friendship, and finding yourself at 40. Her second novel, The Balance Project: A Novel (SparkPress 2015), is about work-life balance and is inspired by her popular interview series The Balance Project.