Tuesday, April 26, 2011

Positive Presence--author Jeff Bennington

As an author and a family man I’ve found that writing and working a day job can be extremely hazardous to my health. As the years go by, my wife and I have determined that with the effort it takes to be an indie author, I’m working the equivalent of a second job. I never thought of it that way, but then again, I’ve just recently crossed over from the self-pubbed world into the do-it-all-myself world…a world that’ll snatch you away from your family if you’re not careful

When you take on the task writing a novel (Hello! That’s a job in itself!) and contracting an editor, working with editor, cover art,  formatting, marketing, blogging, uploading etc, etc, etc, you tend to have a little too much on your plate. If you have a day job, it’s even worse. If you have a family, worse yet!
I have four children and a wife and plenty of chores to do. I’m no different than other writers with responsibilities. Scott Nicholson might have to feed the chickens and repair the barn, but I’ve got a basement to remodel and boys who need to be taught how to cut the grass and a daughter who has a lot of questions that she needs me, and only me to answer! Aaaauuuuughh! 

I love my family dearly and I would never put writing above them, but I have had to learn that I can’t be the dad and husband that I want to be if I let writing consume me. Now you might be thinking that this is the point where I bring up time management for writers, or a four point system for prioritizing your prose. If so, you’re wrong. There aren’t enough hours in the day for me to organize. Every minute is already full. I’m not sure, but I think I’ve already micro-managed my time. What I want to talk about is how indie authors have to fight to be present at home.
If you’re an indie, and you have a family, you’ll know what I’m talking about. Have you ever been told, “You’re here, but you’re not really here!” or “I know you were listening, but did you hear me?” or how about this one, “I don’t want you to be here, I want you to be present, not just physically but mentally and emotionally.” Sound familiar? 

These are all reminders to me that I’ve let writing consume my life. It’s not so much the writing that gets me; it’s the twittering, blogging, facebooking and kindle-ranking obsessions that take over my though life when I have family business to tend to. The extra activities aren’t bad things, but I have certain goals for my family, certain objectives that I’d like to accomplish with those four kiddies before they become adults. When I’m constantly thinking about what I should tweet, or who I can promote on a Saturday morning, or if I’m caught up on my blog tour, I’m not thinking about what I really need to be doing in my home, with my wife and kids. I’ve always been keen on my family. They mean everything to me. But writing, writing and everything that goes with it, especially with indie publishing, can take a serious toll on me if I’m not present when I’m at home. 

Okay, now I’ll tell you my Four Point Path for Positive Presence (That’s psycho-babble for how to manage your family and be an indie author).

1.      Before you write, get all of your chores done. My wife educates our children and teaches piano and does 80% of the chores that keep our home functioning. I do the laundry, pick up the house, make repairs and help with meals and keeping the kitchen clean. I will not write if the sink is full of dishes or the laundry needs done; it’s not fair to my wife and I need clean clothes. When the house is clean, I don’t have to worry about my wife feeling like everything rests on her shoulder.

2.      Frequently take your spouse on dates. My wife needs time to talk to me. She needs to keep me updated on the state of our children, the state of our extended family, our schedule, children’s events, etc. She also needs to be with an adult and get away about once a week. I cannot give her what she needs if all I’m doing is writing or thinking about writing stuff. When we go out, I leave my writing world behind. As expected, when she’s talked herself back into a state of sanity, she’ll inevitably have the energy to ask about my writing…our evil, yet beloved stepchild.

3.      Turn the computer & iPhone off. When it’s time to be with the family, I literally have to turn my world off. Clicking the switch on my phone and powering down my computer is the best way for me to make a conscious choice to be present with my precious little boogers. 

4.      Make an agreement with your spouse. I have found that good communication is always the best way to avoid hurt feelings. As writers, we need to be aware that our second job (writing) can very quickly pull us away from our families. And your family will most likely notice that you’re no longer present before you do. Your emotional absence can cause hurt feelings if your spouse or children begin to think that your writing is more important than they are. If that’s not what you want, than you should make an agreement with your spouse/family on what times work best for you to write and how you can meet their needs without neglecting your literary masterpiece. The key is to talk about it before your writing spills over and makes a mess of your life. 

The point is, when you write… write. And when you need to be with your family… be with your family. They need you more than your book does. There are thousands of books published everyday and your book will be just as much a tiny drop of water in the ocean of words today as it will be a week or month from now.
If you’re a newer author, heed these words. If you’re a veteran, tell us how you manage to be present at home. Thanks for reading.

Jeff Bennington
Author of Reunion & Other Thrillers (linked to http://jeffbennington.com)



Corrine said...

Love this post, Jeff! It is so true!

Jeff Bennington said...

Thanks, Corrine. Glad you liked it.

Anonymous said...

I've been wondering about this. I don't selfpub, when would I find the time, I keep telling myself.
A couple of my author friends are considering making the switch, others shriek in horror.
I homeschool my two children. When I need peace I write at night or early in the morning. But I can never stop myself from scribbling during the day.
I find it all fascinating though.

Anonymous said...

This is such a great post!! I beat myself up every day because I either spend too much time writing or not enough time writing and this is all because I have to juggle 3 kids and a day job. I need to accept that I am not superwoman. I am a mere mortal and there are only 24 hours in the day. Period. Family is absolutely the most important thing. Thanks for reminding me. :)

lkwatts said...

I absolutely agree with everything said here. Being a newly published author is overwhelming, as writing is only 50% of what you do. Marketing is so much harder!


Meaghan said...

Hrmm, this sounds familiar, except I'm a single mom, work full time, and ALL of the responsibilities are on me. I find that I can limit my tweeting throughout the day, but my number one rule is no writing until the kid is put to bed. It's not fair to her to be present, but in a completely other world.

Jeff Bennington said...

Hi Elleothego, We homeschool our four children too. My wife does most of the work, but I have to be there for her and support her if I don't want her to go zombie on me.

Ella, Ikwatts and Meaghan,
I'm glad I could be an encouragement to all of you. Writing is one of the most time consuming occupations (to the surprise of many). I'm glad you all care about your families; it will show in your successes.

author Scott Nicholson said...

Hi Corinne, Elle, LK, Ella, and Meaghan, thanks for sharing your thoughts, and thanks, Jeff, for this wonderful sharing of your life.


Trey Lindsay said...

A man on his deathbed surrounded by children and family never thinks to say, "Gee, if only I WORKED more..."

Great post.

Michelle Muto said...

I love this post. Sure, it sounds like common sense, but when you're wrapped up in all the writing, editing, promo'ing - it just takes hold. Thanks for the reminder life is more than our writing.

Nicholas La Salla said...

Great post Jeff! I constantly deal with this in my own family -- I have two kids and a wife and it is difficult to find time to write or market or do much of anything because I don't want to miss out on anything. I've gotten by pretty well so far -- my two books are doing decently on Kindle -- but even so I still feel like I'm spending too much time on doing other things than being with the family.

My wife and kids are hugely supportive, but even so, having a day job, it definitely is a bit of a crunch to accomplish everything that needs to get done.

Thank you to Jeff for stopping by and to Scott for being the host with the post.


Three Before Dark
One More Day

Brenda said...

I'm not so excited about the marketing part either, because it takes that much more time. We do a lot of family things together and that's fun, but sometimes I just have to unplug. Life is good unplugged, too, lol.

Tim McGregor said...

Great post Jeff. And thanks to Scott for putting it up here. Note to self: bookmark Jeff's blog.

Like all the other commentators, this resonated with me as I have the same challenge. What I do is schedule my time. A couple hours before everyone else gets up and evenings when the kids are in bed. The bulk of the day is for family and dayjob. I don't know how else to do it so I carve out my own time. Sure, that means I don't get enough sleep but what the hell, I'll sleep when I'm dead.

What you do when you're not writing feeds into the writing later on. I try to keep in mind something Stephen King said in his memoir "On Writing": Life isn't a support system for art. It's the other way around.

Jeff Bennington said...

Hi Tim! Thanks for the additional input. Good luck with the writing. Hope to see you on the circuit someday.

Anonymous said...

I am SO impressed with your commitment to your wife and children that I had to take a few moments and comment. It's true. That book we write isn't worth alienating our family. Everything you say to do to prevent this from happening is so wise and so true. Your children will grow up so fast (I know, I had four) that if you don't take time to be with them and influence them now, you'll regret it the rest of your life.

I ended up being a single mother, and now a caregiver to a disabled daughter. She comes first. But, ironically, taking care of her, I have more time to write than I ever did when I was younger and before the car accident. Twitter, Facebook, Blogging: I have spent too much time on them. I'm working on being better organized with them so I do have more time for writing, and time to enjoy my adult children and grandchildren.

I applaud you, Jeff Bennington. What a wonderful post. It has made my Sunday. Now I want to read your book.
Ann Best, Memoir Author