Pink and Blue Diaries: The Insanely Busy Woman’s Guide to Sustaining a Writerly Life

Deborah Siegel mashes up YOUR wisdom.

One thing I've long loved about She Writes is the intergenerational breadth of its membership. My post last Friday on Book/Life fit elicited confident wisdom from women writers who have been there, done that; tentative nuggets, based on trial and error, from many of us on the road to figuring it out; and one wisely skeptical nugget from fellow She Writer and cultural commentator Katha Pollitt, who wrote: 


“[M]ale writers don't write these articles about how busy they are. They don't feel guilty if they do their work. They simply claim the time and the family has to deal with it.” 


To which I responded that my husband, who morphed temporarily into stay-at-home dad after he lost his job during the recession, felt guilt when I'd glance over his shoulder and find him blogging instead of looking for work.  But Katha's right, he didn't write about it.  I did. 


Wrote Sue in another take on the gendered angle, "If we are the ‘weaker sex’ how come we are repeatedly called upon to be more inventive, more resilient and enduring?”  True that.  And yet here we all are, inventing, enduring, and still somehow managing to find time to write in the crevices of insanely busy lives.


How do we do it?  Here are 10 pearls of wisdom culled from YOU, She Writers, from the comments on my last post.  This goodness was just too damn wise to keep to myself.  If others just joining our conversation have wisdom—or struggle—to add to this ever-morphing guide, please do so here or in comments on last week's post.  Here we go:



I can no longer have my book on the back's now front and center with an end date.  So, some things need to go, some things need to stay, but in the end it's what gives me joy that has to come first.  -Amy Wise


Kate Wilhelm: "I realized the world, everyone in it practically, will give more and more responsibility to any woman who will continue to accept it. And when the other responsibilities are too great, her responsibility to herself must go. Or she has to take a thoroughly selfish position and refuse the world, and then accept whatever guilt there is. . ." via Deborah Batterman

[I]f we don't learn to say no, our goals will be about as good as the scrap of paper they are written on. And for goodness sake, how does this make us a credible source for empowering a child? -RYCJ


I have always gotten up two hours earlier than anyone else in my home and go to bed at least one to two hours later.  I have four more hours in every day, twenty-eight more hours in my week and one hundred twelve more hours in a month.  It is a practice I started when very young, have always continued and never divert from unless I am sick.  I never watch television, and always use the time others use for that, to read a good book. -Kathy Kise Nicholson


I read on the bus to and from work as I have almost an hour commute each way. Sue

[I] write on my lunch break.  [I] think of story ideas on the way home and in the shower. -Jessie Burche


Work. Sounds counterintuitive, but now I have the money to pay for writing workshops, classes, website ideas. -Jessie Burche


I am trying to teach my house how to clean itself, but I think it's developmentally delayed. -Jane Baskin

Stop worrying about being a lady (being from Texas it's first nature to put on makeup). Learn to swear. Follow the teakettle theory--don't let life build up.  -Kay Merkel Boruff


We're not in writer's block as long as the words pour out of us. There are writers who aren't saddled with a load of life, etc., and they still don't write every day, still don't get a book written, and still don't feel good enough. -Joyce Evans-Campbell


Trust the process.  Look around and see all of the wonderful things going right in your amazing life story.  For indeed, this is the most important story that you will ever write—it is your legacy.  Be Inspired.  -Sharyn Jordan Hathcock


I don't believe there is such thing as "balance" in the short term; there are the all-consuming day-to-day diaper changes, feeding, consoling, doctor visits, role-modeling, and being there 24/7. The balance comes later when the kids are old enough to be more self-sufficient. It was a wild ride for me; only now that my kids are in their tweens and teens can I begin to think about my self-actualization. -Fleur de Lys


Every day is a new adventure in adjusting my writing/life fit. - Pamela Toler

I muddle through and muck it up, we all muddle through and muck it up at times. -Mary Keating

And now, back to Katha’s point, because of course it has me thinking.  Why is it that we don’t see male writers writing these kinds of posts?  And what's wrong with this picture? I’d love to hear your thoughts.


Image cred: willraleigh

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  • Elisabeth Kinsey

    I just found this, but am glad to have read it!  I love the concept of writing life-fit!

  • Evelyn Sharenov

    Agree completely with Pollit.  She and Steinem remain role models.  Why write about the process?  What for?  It's a time suck, unless that's the subject of your writing.  Even if you must teach this to earn a living, does this have to overflow into your own writing?  In terms of writing about the challenges of parenting, etc., if that's actually your subject matter, great.  If I'm writing a multi-generational literary novel, or an extended experimental piece, I don't want to be distracted by my kids, writing about them, or anything other than handing them into the hands of their father or caregivers.  All this dissecting of process seems more like playing Mah Jongh and I believe it is holding women back.  After a while, the entire thing is like who cares?  I often identify more closely with men than women, in terms of shut up and get the job done.  It's work.  It's what we do  And if you have children?  Better figure out what you're going to do with them while you write about process.  If you can find the time to write about process and doubts and worries publicly, why not just write your book instead of diluting your work, which may or may not get published, and may or may not get reviewed.  Count frets -- see what side of the line you land.

  • GREAT post.I liked points 1-4, and 10 the most. :)

  • Helen Gallagher

    Don't let tweets use up your words!

    25 words = 2 twitter messages.

    10 twitter messages  = 250 words ... a page!

    20 twitter messages = 500 words ... a blog post, essay, or fabulous revision!


  • Helen Gallagher

    It has long been true that men who write, write. They are often less social beings, not used to the femme chatter we grew up with, and perhaps are worse at multi-tasking, so they focus and get it done.



  • Sue Rowland

    Sabra! Hilarious. You nailed it, verbatim. My hubby doesn't drink but conversation goes like this: 

    Mike: Hey

    Jesse: Yo

    Mike: Catch anything?

    Jesse: Got one striper.

    Mike: Wadja use for bait?

  • RYCJ Revising


    Lovin' #5, 7, 8, & 10.

    And as for why men aren't writing these kinds of posts, I think Sabra hit it home (or out of the ballpark)... classic. 

  • Jamie Wallace

    Wonderful post. Tweeting and sharing right now. :)

  • Hi again, Deborah. You keep doing this -- opening the flood gates, and I love it. Male writers have always had a wife -- us. They were never socialized to do more than is humanely tolerable. They've expected the lovable wife to cook, clean, baby sit and work outside the house. We all know that we've spent years squeezing into life those things we desire -- reading and/or writing. In the guys' role they've worked hard all day and when the king gets home, the queen has to make life easier for him. (forgive me. I have to apologize because all men aren't socialized this way, but many are. I'm blessed because my husband was taught entirely different) Anyway, we women as a whole get to evaluate and re-evaluate our role, assuring ourselves that we aren't neglecting our family. We pile busywork on ourselves and we believe it's our duty to take care of everyone else first. I'm going to use that ugly word no woman wants to hear. Lazy. God forbid if any of us even thinks our mother, husband, daughter, father thinks we're lazy. It's better to live as a frazzled woman who makes it all look easy. Most men wouldn't have a clue about how to cram all of this work or to work through the displeasure of guilt. Let's face it. It would take eons before we erase all of these wifely, motherly responsibilities, and combine that with writerly responsibilities. It will take eons before a male writer could reverse his thinking on juggling an overfilled plate. Until then, we'll keep stretching ourselves to do more and more. We'll do all we can while we can, and we'll keep that writing new. One thing I do is measure my stress and take steps to lower the levels. Instrumental music -- ocean waves, flutes, saxophones, clarinets -- are tools I use. Then there's sense memory -- taking a mental trip to my favorite place, which is the beach, and breathe deeply. It usually takes about 10 to 15 minutes. We put ourselves in charge of ourselves. I know that it's tough to make time for ourselves. I call it a mental health time out. JE-C 

  • Deborah Siegel here.  I've been LOVING reading your comments, all!  Thank you for this super-thoughtful thread.  I swear, She Writes -- or rather, She Writers -- keep me feeling sane.

  • Mother On the Go

    I have finally landed wher ei should have a long ago.... Heaven! Pearls of wisdom and experience. I couldnt have asked for more.

    The Best I read- "If we are the ‘weaker sex’ how come we are repeatedly called upon to be more inventive, more resilient and enduring?”  True that.  And yet here we all are, inventing, enduring, and still somehow managing to find time to write in the crevices of insanely busy lives.

    Sue- can I please use this beautiful and clever tapestry of words somewhere?

    My take on the post- Men are just not so versatile. Period.

    Thanks all, I will be following you like gum!

  • Tina L. Hook

    I think as women we have been socialized to feel like taking care of others is our primary job, and all else is secondary, including that weekend with the girls we never seem to get around to and that book we have been meaning to write. It is no surprise that our time spent on ourselves becomes such a guilt inducing secret. And there is no shortage of public criticism.

  • Kathy Brunner

    Katha is correct in some respects because I think our culture is more accepting of how men spend their time whether at a career, sports involvement etc. Women tend to apologize for "not assuming the gender perfect role" or even for something less "offensive" like sending their husband to a child's soccer game so they could use the time to do something creative(or even rest!). I think women have to develop a strong outer shell to let the negative looks, attitudes or comments that come when a women steps out of traditional expectations roll off. Sometimes our perception of needing to justify what we do with our time is self inflicted and sabotages our roles. It's dinner time here and like Jane Baskins said, "...I'm trying to teach my house to clean itself...", I'm trying to get my kitchen to prepare a great dinner nightly, clean up after it's over and pour me a glass of wine when I sit down to write and so far, I too am having zero luck.

  • Sue Rowland

    Great post-loved every word of it. There's so much to talk about. I need a certain amount of solitude to work and have always been that way. Maybe that's why libraries are one of our greatest institutions. Now that I'm older (and NOT necessarily wiser), every moment of free time spent in creativity is delicious. I agree that women are way more self critical than men, or so it seems. Or... maybe we just verbalize it more? Nature vs nurture is a big debate. I think it's both! Biology, culture, mystery, environment, cellular structure, DNA? Who really knows for sure?


    Here's an herbal tea toast to balance and joy in the writing/living process. Hat's off to you ladies with young children! xo

  • Laura Blowers Moyer

    I totally agree with #9. I also believe that trying to "achieve balance" is just one more thing that women use to judge themselves and determine whether or not they "measure up." I, for one, do not need one more benchmark by which to measure my life.

  • Miranda Koerner

    I need to print these out and glue them to my forehead.  My husband hasn't understood for years why I get up at 5 to have time to write.

  • Linda East Brady

    I like much of what these writers have to say, and see facets of myself in much of it.  I can't manage to get up two hours early and be creative -- but often do stay up hours after the family is in bed in order to write my fiction and essays. I do this after a full day of writing as a music/features journalist for a newspaper. I am often tired, and at those times, especially when rewrites are in order (the real work of the craft), are no doubt challenging. But I just finished my second novel -- that late night butt-in-the-chair time works!

  • Sarah Pinneo

    I agree with "kill your TV."  I have small children and a writing career.  But that means some things just can't happen.  I do need to read, so that means no time for TV.  Ever.  Lately, I've had to shut off all social media (except for SheWrites) because Twitter and facebook are such a drain.  And... I don't blog.  For me, blogging proved incompatible with producing long form articles and books.


  • Muriel Jacques

    Can I add a few more:
    1.don't be too hard on yourself
    2. 3 minutes of meditation from time to time helps. That's all the time I have anyway.
    3. Organisation, organisation, organisation
    4. Getting some help is not a shame
    Good luck to us all!!!

  • Zoe Zolbrod

    I think Farzana's onto something with the idea that women tend to enjoy dissecting a process and sharing their doubts and worries publicly, and that men might not be encouraged to do so. But I'm not sure that I agree that among contemporary writer types--especially those who share childrearing and breadwinning more or less equally--it's only women who fret so much about how to fit nonrenumerative writing or art-making into the picture. I wrote about the writing time issue on The Nervous Breakdown, and it seemed to strike a chord with just as many men as women at similar stages of life. Is there anything wrong, per se, with women being the ones to write about this publicly? Katha Pollit seems to imply that this kind of contemplating is holding women back from, perhaps, more serious writing. Maybe. But I know that by writing about my own struggles with time and then interacting with commenters, I actually came up with a strategy for myself that I might not have found otherwise. And why shouldn't writing about the challenges of parenting--of which finding time or maintaining self--is one, be considered a serious topic?

  • K. A. Laity

    Farzana -- you're mixing evolutionary biology and socially constructed gender behaviour. I highly recommend Cordelia Fine's Delusions of Gender that debunks a lot of misintepreted science (especially misinterpreted by pop journalists). Here's a terrific review of her book over at Equal Writes.

  • farzana

    Men just don't experience the same kind of angst women do.  Women are natural "worriers" - we are socially conditioned to be caring, sensitive and nurturing and men are conditioned to bury their feelings and get on with it.  men who rhapsodize about their feelings are generally considered to be whiny.  double standards do apply to men too.  for example, how many of us truly want a man who cries freely?  evolutionary biology also supports the fact that men are producers, they have to be concerned with end results, not the process, in order to survive.  For women, we are all about the process.  we want to get into the heart of matter, turn it over, shine some light on it, dissect it and interpret it 3 different ways.  there was a study on men and women and their ability to interpret facial expressions, and men could tell happiness, sadness, and anger, but women were able to pick up on more subtle emotions.  so women love to write about the process of writing, how to balance it with their lives, motherhood, a dual career.  i don't read a lot of male authors so i can't comment too much on their writing, but i would guess that is why we don't see many men writing about the process of balancing home, work, writing, etc.  there's no money it.  for them.

  • Evelyn Sharenov

    Think long and hard about whether you should have children.  And if you have children, are you ready to leave them for periods of time in another pair of caring hands - your partner, your parents, in-laws, sitters, friends?  Can you get past guilt?  Priorities mean 'what's most important?'  Only you can answer that.  Men don't write these posts because they don't have to.  They're just fine in their role - focused on that piece they're working on.  My husband knows I'm going to leave home for long periods of time and I will be unavailable at home for periods of time while I'm writing, thinking, making notes.  There's no debate.  It's my way or the highway.  I opted out of motherhood a long time ago.  You have to focus on your dream, your work - or your work is diluted and takes twice as long to complete, edit, get to a publisher.  I live with another creative soul.  We share our time away.  When things get icky, I remind him that we both doors out.  No one can do it all and feel whole, integrated, healthy.  I'm fairly certain that a lot of what I read on social networking is patent bullshit.  I always think of Gloria Steinem's words: a woman needs a man like a fish needs a bicycle.  She found love late in life - a huge body of work already completed.  My translation for this is 'a woman needs a child like a fish needs a bicycle.'  Also, better give some thought who you want as your readers and reviewers.

  • farzana

    i love this!

  • Sabra

    Hmm. . . comments must be limited to a certain number of characters. Multiple paragraphs of my comment were cut. Essentially, I wrote that most men just simply don't feel a need to write about their experiences or how they feel, whereas most women must express themselves, and many use writing as the medium to do so. Male writers usually create blogs or write books to gain attention to themselves as experts in their fields, to build a following and create new leads toward compensation. Women will often write as a hobby, as an adjunct to their daily work, just to have a forum for expression, to satisfy the need to communicate, and for the pure enjoyment of writing.