Pink and Blue Diaries: 5 Steps Toward a Better Book/Life Fit

Deborah Siegel asks: Is any working woman writer with a family (broadly defined) successfully juggling?  Is it possible?  Is it our goal?


I’m high off the yoga retreat my husband and parents blessedly, mercifully sent me on for my birthday last weekend.  But five days later, the glow is already wearing thin.  Balance—or rather, the quest for something resembling it—remains a daily challenge.  It was nothing shy of wonderful to sit in an empty room with 22 other women (and 2 men) all weekend and focus on my breath.  The real challenge, of course, is to bring the peace I felt on the mat back home.


As women and writers composing a life, we are postergirls for stress.  Tina Fey’s timely manifesto in the New Yorker (“Confessions of a Juggler”) struck a chord for many of us here at She Writes.  The rudest question you can ask a woman, writes Fey, is not “How old are you?” or “What do you weigh?” but “How do you juggle it all?”  As a still new-ish mother of twins, it’s a question I get all the time.  And while it often feels like a compliment, sometimes I feel like a fake—you think I’m successfully juggling? Ha! Fooled another one.


And so I want to know: Is any working woman writer with a family (broadly defined) successfully juggling?  Is it possible?  Is it our goal?


I came back from my retreat thinking about a woman’s—and in particular of course this woman’s—book/life fit.  Cali Yost is among those redefining “balance” (elusive, inachievable).  She talks about work+life fit (a constantly recalibrated equation—note her recent post about how sometimes even a work/life expert's fit stinks).  I adapt my term from hers. 


Book/life fit = a woman writer’s ability to make working on her book and her current life, well, you know, fit.


Definition of “fit”:

1. be the right size or shape (match, suit, correspond)

2. be appropriate

3. be compatible

4. make somebody or something ready

5. relationship for best function


In an ideal world, and maybe in places like Sweden where they've actually figured out things like childcare, our writing and our lives are one.  “[T]here are books that a writer undertakes because she wants to go on a journey, and there are journeys a writer undertakes because she wants to write a book,” writes Dani Shapiro in an interview about the undertaking of her latest memoir, Devotion, which I deliciously consumed over the weekend while curled up on a couch sipping ginger tea between yoga classes (NOT, believe me, my normal life).  Previous books I’ve written or proposed have been undertaken because I’ve wanted to write a book.  The new one is for the journey.  The endeavor feels qualitatively different.  More organic.  More in sync with my life in its current form (I’m writing about the gendering of childhood, with memoir strewn in).  But it’s a challenge, daily, to allow myself to just let that journey unfold.


Like Shapiro, whose memoir is about her search for answers to big spiritual questions, I’m fighting internal demons as well as external ones for the quiet time, the permission, the space to experiment and think deeply and well.  “This was very much a journey I wanted to go on,” Shapiro says.  “[T]he only way I could really give myself the permission and the time to do it was by knowing that it was what I was doing for work, that I could spend two years cross-legged on my floor and feel like I was working.  Otherwise I’m way too type A, and it would have felt both impossible and self-indulgent.  I needed to slow down and quiet down deeply into a lot of these questions, yet at the same time what I was looking for, and continue to, is a way to have this exist within a regular, normal, modern life.”


And there, dear ladies, is the rub.  A woman’s regular, normal, modern life is generally so full that slowing down and quieting down takes concerted effort, not to mention finagling and negotiating with the colleagues, the bosses, the partners, the parents, the dogs, the children, the childcare, the bills.  “Juggle” implies perpetually keeping balls in the air.  I don’t want to live in fear of dropped balls. What I really want is to slow down. 


Here are 5 ways I’m trying to slow down:


1. The 7-Day Social Media Cleanse Challenge It worked!  After a week of following my own rules (more or less), I find I’m both emailing less and getting fewer emails.  I’m less addicted to the constant “hit” of my Inbox, blog comments, and retweets.  I’ve spent less time on FB and I’ve been tweeting in a way that feels holistic and enjoying watching the number of followers grow.  (For anyone wishing to try the Challenge, read this post, follow the instructions for a period of 7 days, and notice what unfolds.)


2. I’m meditating.  Or rather, I meditated two days in a row, for 10 minutes each.  Hey, it’s a start.


3. I’m saying “no” to things more often.  Even when they’re tempting and, in one recent case, semi-lucrative.  I’m trying to be strategically intentional in terms of the paid work I take on.  As my dear friend Courtney Martin recently said to me (and I’m botching the quote she quoted me), some things are actual opportunities and some things are distractions in a superfly red dress.


4.  I’m inching toward spending more time, rather than less, with my babies.  This one sounds counter-intuitive but hear me out: Starting next month, I’ll temporarily cut back on our babysitting so that the time I spend working on the as-yet-un-paying book project is less stressful, less filled with guilt, more free (but no, I am NOT--repeat NOT-- opting out. I am among the vast majority of us who literally can't afford to, long-term).


5.  I’ve stopped folding laundry.  I mean really, what’s more important: folded shirts, or 500 more words?


So tell me, She Writers: How’s your book/life fit?  If it’s out of whack, what steps (including, perhaps, moving to Sweden) might you take to make it work better?  Share your strategies, and pass it all on.



How's YOUR book/life fit? She Writers join @TinaFey123 in writing/life struggle. Join the convo #worklife

Image cred: Women Workout Routines (with a bow to Sarah Saffian, who I think first found this pic!)

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  • Mother On the Go

    Point no 5: Definitely 500 more words......

    Point no 1 : No, No No

    Loved your psot. hilarious. Got a totally diff point of view.

    Following you. You can catch me at

  • Pamela Toler

    Stepping back in here.  Several years ago someone asked me what was the best writing advice I'd ever received.  I told them it was my mother's example.

    I'm a second generation freelance writer.  When I was small, my mother was a very young stay-at-home mother with three children under the age of five in a very small house. While there was no doubt that she loved us all, she was not a very maternal  mother.  She did not make motherhood look fun, or easy.  But she wrote, and she published.  Her notebook traveled with us everywhere.  If there was two free minutes in the day, she grabbed it.  One enduring memory of my childhood is walking out of ballet class to the sound of a blazing car horn.  My mother had leaned her notebook against the steering wheel and was so deep in her work that she didn't notice when she leaned on the horn.

    The lesson I took away was that if you really want to write, you will find a way to write.


  • Patricia Caspers

    I just wrote a blog post about this today. I'm just feeling like my work is not valued/valuable because I don't get paid for it and because I have to squeeze it into the off hours, and lately my self-esteem is taking a hit.

  • Miranda Koerner

    I think the hard part is also not letting our insecurities and woulda coulda shouldas suck time away from us.  I know my anxieties and worries about I should do this or should do that or if I was a good wife take a lot of time!

  • Fi Phillips Revising

    I'm constantly diving around in the act of juggling. With two children and a house to arrange, on top of running a home business, fitting my non business related writing in can be a challenge but I thankfully have a husband who is also a writer so we keep each other inspired and motivated. Not much time for a social life in there unfortunately.

  • Jane Baskin

    Wow. What a topic. My book life fit right now is: Life is Madness. My children are grown but still call all the time, I have a demanding job and am just about to bring out a novel. Last night I got 4.5 hours of sleep, not good. I am trying to teach my house how to clean itself, but I think it's developmentally delayed. What scares me is that it can only get worse, when the book comes out in April, then starts the marketing/pr. So, thanks for the tips and a VERY worthwhile discussion.

  • Jessie Burche

    1. Buy food that cooks itself.

    2. Work. (Sounds counterintuitive, but now I have the money to pay for writing workshops, classes, website ideas. Plus, I wanted to jump off of the tallest building as a SAHM. Now I'm sane and I have money).

    3. Write on my lunch break.

    4. Think of story ideas on the way home and in the shower.

    5. My husband and I switch off childcare on the weekends. We only have kid (hopefully it stays that way), so it's easy. He takes her Saturday, I take her Sunday. 

  • Fleur de Lys


    From my own experience with twins and an older sibling, 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. More power to you if you find a way to have it all!

  • Miranda Koerner

    I just went to a children's writing conference, and I had the same epiphany.  It's all about balancing your priorities between family and fitness and life...But on those days when you get it right, it just feels so RIGHT.


    I just need to keep this positive mindset and not let the drudge get me down!

  • Amy Wise

    Cathy I must taste that sweetness more often! I love it! Thank you for sharing. A.

  • Amy Wise

    This past Saturday I did nothing.  Yes, NOTHING.  I didn't get dressed, I didn't leave the house, I didn't write, I didn't turn on my computer, I didn't talk on the phone, I didn't pay bills, I didn't clean, I didn't run errands, I didn't cook, I didn't care.  Well maybe just a little.  It felt sooooooo good!  I mean GOOD!  It was weird, but I needed it sooooo badly.  I let go of the guilt and I just relaxed.  My hubby and I watched movies, my daughter was at a friend's, I read magazines, I even took a NAP!  A freakin' NAP!!  When was the last time I did, never.  I'm trying to be better at doing a little less.  I can't have many days of doing nothing, but less at this point is a must.  I'm prioritizing and setting doable goals.  I have book writing time, blogging time, writing for mags time, and so on and so on.  My book is now my priority.  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.  For a glimpse of why the madness has to plate literally runneth over.......

    All of us need to slow down and step least once in a while.  Hang in everyone!  Amy 

  • Deborah Batterman

    And how's this for irony?  I happen to be rereading Joanna Russ's How to Suppress Women's Writing, published in 1983. We've come a long way since then, but as the recent VIDA 2010 Count demonstrates, we still have far to go. So, here's a quote by 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. . ."

  • Joyce Evans-Campbell

    Hi Deborah, I hear you loud and clear. You really get down to the bone as Natalie Goldberg's book says. My writing life is saddled with a grown-up, husband's and my own illnesses, my aging mother's needs and my love for all. Some days I sit just to think where I am -- writerly and otherwise. I've always burned my hands and feet because I undertake a lot and demand so much no matter what the circumstances. Anyway, I'm rewriting a poetry collection adding new poems, my husband's memoir rewrite -- a huge job because he's not a writer, and my own memoir needs rewriting. And you know I'm trying to read every poetry collection and other books I open. It's a struggle but mostly a challenge. It would be horrific if I didn't do this. They say, if you want to get something done, give it to a busy person. By the way, I'd love to head to Paris and chill out for a few days, rent an apartment, and write my heart out. Congrats for airing this thing we dread most -- the thoughts about the writing struggle. I look at it this way, 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. I suppose we all have days when we simply cannot believe we're going right or we sink into the abyss. That's OK as long as we dive out of there.

  • RYCJ Revising

    Pamela Toler...cheers to you!!! What a classic great response! 

  • Hi all -- it's Deborah here.  What thoughtful comments!  My responses to everyone so far:

    @Sue, you sum it all up beautifully: "If we are the "weaker sex" how come we are repeatedly called upon to be more inventive , more resilent and enduring?" Hells yeah sister.

    @Sharyn Jordan Hathcock: Beautifully put: I hear the desires of everyone's heart to open the gates to step into the world where writer/woman dwell side-by-side with harmony and balance, a place with inspired words, serendity and synchronicity flows freely.  YES-there is a place and you have every right to ask, "What is the key to this kingdom?"  Blessings back!

    @Katha Pollitt: Ah yes, the guilt-free men.  I know that's true.  Though I have to say, my husband, who morphed into a stay-at-home dad after he lost his job during the recession, felt a fair amount guilt when I'd glance over his shoulder and find him blogging instead of looking for work.  But you're right, he didn't write about it. I did: Helicopter Spouse

    @Cathy Kozak, @Kay Merkel Boruff, @RYCJ:  YES TO NO!

    @Deborah Betterman: Thank you for the recommendation - I'm eating up memoir these days (esp the domestic sort) so I will put hand wash cold on my list.

    @Mary Keating: Thank you for being my long-distance buddy, as ever.  Not only are you supportive, you are eloquent.  Love this: "Since becoming a mama, I have searched for the pearl of wisdom, the fountain of patience, the bounty of balance and the locket of living life to the fullest. A daily rub of the teapot has not procured a genie nor has the plastic wand in the toy box aided in organizing the house in true type A fashion."

    @Pamela Toler: Ecstatic dance -- I love even the sound of that.  Bring it on.

  • Sharyn Jordan Hathcock

    Oops...hope you will proof my recent post and make the necessary corrections.  Another Key to the Kingdom, in this time of immense global, including domestic transitions, it is essential for you to live in PoSivity~no, that is not a typo.  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 imporant story that you will ever write~it is your legacy.  Be Inspired.    

  • Sharyn Jordan Hathcock

    Greetings Deborah,  As I reverse engineering my life, I am deliciously enjoying the fruits of my labor.  I hear the desires of everyone's heart to open the gates to step into the world where writer/woman dwell side-by-side with harmony and balance, a place with inspired words, serendity and synchronicity flows freely.  YES-there is a place and you have every right to ask, "What is the key to this kingdom?"  First key-simply begin with looking in the mirror and telling yourself what a GREAT LIFE you have! Shift into a place of contentment and commit to living in beauty.  This beauty can only be accessed from the within-the yoga of the Soul or if you will, the inner Feng Shui of your Spirit.  Connect with the wisdom that says, your talent matters!!  As you allow yourself to predict, not resolve your life, you will bend time.  Clarity of your life's purpose will shine and you will bask in the glow of your own life-story.  Think upon Alistair MacLean's insightful request for assistance, "Help me to find my happiness in my acceptance of what is my purpose; in friendly eyes, in work well done, in quitness born of trust, and, most of all, in the awarness of your presence in my spirit."  Remember to ask and you will be amazed at the assistance that shows up~you are never alone.  Blessings dearest fellow writer/women.  Be Well.  Sharyn   

  • RYCJ Revising

    Yep, learned to say NO when I realized I had no one to blame but myself for letting others tell me what, when, and where. The turning point was the shortages of thanks I got after going out of my way to do a favor. A nasty word I'm about to use here, but that's pissed me off. I even got a little creative with saying no, and now today feel that much more empowered.

    The short of it is, if 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?



  • Sue

    (cont.-it ran long) the 99 weekers have dropped off of the rolls and may still not be working.

    So now what? As my male vampire/love interest would say " i have a plan".

    _ I will give up another hour of sleep and go into work to concentrate on remaining markets. I will work 1/2 day every Saturday.

    I will find a way. If we are the "weaker sex" how come we are repeatedly called upon to be more inventive , more resilent and enduring?

    Me fear an agent search? Please! I have managed as a single woman without husband or kids not to lose my mind or my apartment for decades. Its not Sex and the City but its not Ironweed either.

    As for my vampires? I don't buy that the genre is overbooked. Twinkling in the sun Edward Cullen may be the star boy for now but , move over , Eddie. Henri can make a mean white chocolate creme brulee.

    After all isn't sucess 90% belief that you can meet the challenge?

  • Sue

    This blog comes following the news yesterday that due to problems with our accounting department , we have lost (at least in theory ) four of our six markets with a major client. We saw this coming but the news was a shock and an insult. Remember when you were in school and the mean kids would pick some unfortunate to initiate by a dunk in the toilet? Hopefully the water was clean. This means that my coworkers and I will be picking up the balls dropped by the well protected incompetant. Our client liason , like the fairy that hid, when the evil fairy cursed the Princess Aurora in Sleeping Beauty, unable to undo the harm but hoping to modify it through her business contacts and new markets. That will take time. I am hoping that our efforts will be great enough. Its my third time to pick up more balls and juggle them successfully.

    -I already get up two hours early to write/edit etc and come home at night, and do the same till bed.

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

    -I have a great Chapter Buddy who helps me stay focused on my ms.

    If that is not enough, my parents are in their 80's . After decades of living independently, they both collasped just before Thanksgiving. My sister has picked up the heavy part of the lifting. I have to get up there and help her clean out the house. They are going home for awhile but the reverse mortgage company is putting pressure on them to sell the house within a year. Medicaid says they own too much. Trust me , they don't. I do have to come up with a couple grand to go up there. Most of which is housing while I am there, there is no place for me to stay when up there. I am most certainly not going to impose on my parents. Its going to be a good trick with yesterday's news. I have not figured out how yet.

    There is no place to go that pays more. If I were younger ( 59 in April) maybe but I am smart enough to know that the reason ( only) that

  • Kathy Kise Nicholson

    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 practise 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. 

  • Kay Merkel Boruff

    Life lessons: Learn to say no. 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.

  • Katha Pollitt

    Interesting piece -- I spend MUCH too much time on e mail, maybe I'll try that 7-day cleanse.  But you know, male 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.

  • Cristina Pippa

    First of all, amazing that you went on that retreat! Secondly, I love Courtney's superfly red dress metaphor.

    I've been thinking deeply about this exact question. Thank you for your always engaging take on it.

  • Pamela Toler

    Every day is a new adventure in adjusting my writing/life fit. And just to prove that slowing down isn't one size fits all (Is anything really one size fits all?):

    1. Classic meditation makes me edgy.  I'd rather do ecstatic dance, paradoxically speeding up to slow down.

    2. I see folding laundry as a quiet break in my writing day.  A few moments in which I can listen to a little NPR and clear my head.