Tuesday, February 28, 2012

Guest Author Allison Rushby: I Don't Know How She Does It (well, actually, I do…)

By Allison Rushby

Today, I'd like to welcome Allison Rushby to the blog to help us figure out how to do it all. Okay, maybe her advice is aimed more at juggling writing and being a parent, but even those without children can pick up a trick or two from her wise words. Her newest novel Shooting Stars releases today, so be sure to check it out.

Over the past ten years, Allison has published five books for young adult readers and five for adult readers in the women’s fiction genre. She is currently working on a six episode New Adult e-serial for St Martin’s Press, a new YA novel, a travel memoir and her sanity.

Having failed at becoming a ballerina with pierced ears (her childhood dream), Allison instead began a writing career as a journalism student at The University of Queensland in Brisbane, Australia. Within a few months she had slunk sideways into studying Russian. By the end of her degree she had learned two very important things: that she wasn't going to be a journalist; and that there are hundreds of types of vodka and they're all pretty good. After several years spent whining about how hard it would be to write a novel, she finally tried writing one and found it was quite an enjoyable experience. Since then, she has had nine novels published. She keeps up her education by sampling new kinds of vodka on a regular basis.

Take it away Allison...

I love Allison Pearson's book I Don't Know How She Does It. It always makes me smile when I recall the scene where heroine Kate bashes mince pies with a rolling pin to make them look homemade. If you're a mother and a writer too, you're sure to have understood Kate's motherhood vs. work predicament. You can't not.

I always find myself remembering that scene when other writer mothers ask me how I 'do it'. The truth is, until both my kids hit school this year, how I 'did it' was a nanny three days per week. I always felt bad when I admitted this was how I managed to find the time to write. Probably because I knew this wasn't an option for every mother out there who wanted to write. But the fact was, writing was my job, my son couldn't attend day-care because of health problems and I simply couldn't write whilst also looking after my two kids. Somehow they always wanted something. Like food (what's with that?!).

Now I have both kids at school, I have more time. But that time can slip away fast if I'm not careful. Between drop off and pick up, I have roughly five hours per day in which to write. That's 25 hours per week. Not exactly a full-time job. In 2012, I have a YA release out in February (Shooting Stars, Walker Books). I'm in the middle of writing a Downton Abbey-esque New Adult six episode e-serial for St Martin's Press that should be released one episode per month starting June 2012. And I'm also writing a travel memoir as we're living in Cambridgeshire, in the UK, for 18 months. It's a lot to fit into 25 hours per week, especially when you add in PR, email and so on. So, how do I do it? Well, I have a few small tricks up my sleeve that I've learnt over the years. So, here's 'how she does it':
  • She tells her muse to get stuffed. Pre-kids, I used to have to feel 'in the mood' to start a new ms/do those revisions/finish off those page proofs. Not anymore.
  • She knows you can get some work done even if there is only ten minutes to spare. I used to need to allocate large blocks of time for things. Now I know I can sketch out a chapter, or write a hundred words or so while I'm sitting in the car waiting to pick one of my kids up. I haven't yet lowered myself to writing in the bathroom, as some friends have, but I'm not saying I'll never go there. Your call. 
  • She doesn't 'do' coffee except as a very special treat. Plenty of people will think that working from home means you are always available. And you are. If you never want to get another word written, that is. Remember it's okay to say no, or to schedule ahead. The thing is, two weeks from Friday might be a better time to do coffee than tomorrow, especially when you promised yourself you'd finish that second draft by the end of this week. The best bit: when you finally have that scheduled coffee, second draft all done, you know you totally deserve an éclair as well (and we all know éclairs have no calories when you've reached your writing goals). 
  • She has six monthly goals, monthly goals and weekly goals. More work gets done if you know exactly what you're meant to be doing as soon as you sit down. I have a document I update weekly with what I need to be doing each day, as well as an outline of what's going on monthly and six-monthly work-wise. 
  • She always factors in a bit of extra time to deal with sick kids, sick animals and sick cars. As a mother, there's always something. I know that if I need two weeks to do some revisions, it's better to add a couple days on to the end of that time-span just in case. If nothing goes wrong – bonus! Coffee and éclair time! (Or, you know, you could start in on the next task…).
  • When the going gets tough, she gets out her egg timer. If I'm really struggling to write, I find an egg timer can help. I trick myself by saying I'll do only 30 minutes before stopping for a cup of coffee/Facebook break/Twitter-fest etc.. By the end of 30 minutes, I always seem to keep writing.
  • She schedules in at least one writing conference/retreat/workshop per year. These might seem like just another thing to keep you from your writing, but I find them invigorating and always come away ready to write harder and smarter. I network. I have little planning sessions with myself. I hang out with people who get what I do. I laugh. This is incredibly important when you work by yourself day in and day out. When your work Christmas party consists of you, a photocopier and a bottle of vodka, you need to add those other people in at some point or you might start thinking those characters of yours are real.
So, how do you 'do it'? However you manage things, I'm sure it's a combination of tried and tested methods you've developed over the years – like so many other writer mamas (and Kates) out there – cramming it in from all angles and getting more than we all ever expected done. Let's share tips.

About Shooting Stars

Meet Josephine Foster, or Zo Jo as she’s called in the biz. The best pint-sized photographer of them all, Jo doesn’t mind doing what it takes to get that perfect shot, until she’s sent on an undercover assignment to shoot Ned Hartnett—teen superstar and the only celebrity who’s ever been kind to her—at an exclusive rehabilitation retreat in Boston. The money will be enough to pay for Jo’s dream: real photography classes, and maybe even quitting her paparazzi gig for good. Everyone wants to know what Ned’s in for. But Jo certainly doesn’t know what she’s in for: falling in love with Ned was never supposed to be part of her assignment.


  1. I agree that a large part of time management is knowing what to say no to. That's made a huge difference for me in balancing writing with my full-time day job. Goal lists are also helpful--I divide mine into a grid: urgent/important vs. urgent/not important, etc.

  2. Yes, time management is essential and a willingness to work all the time, especially when you're juggling the family life, writing and a full time job.

  3. Reading this felt familiar. I actually blogged about how I manage to write and still take care of my little kiddos a bit ago(http://www.mkhutchins.com/search/label/writing%20logistics). It's always great to see what others are doing -- thanks for your post!

  4. Such great tips, especially about the "muse" thing. We moms can't wait around and write only when we're in the mood.

    I try to do my serious writing while the kids are at school, and do the social stuff (Twitter, blogs, etc) once they're home.

    But oops, my kids are at school now. Why am I here??

  5. Good advice. You're right, time can get frittered away. I still am challenged in saying, "No."

  6. Time management is key as a writer mama. One thing I hadn't factored in is the sick time. I'm learning this the hard way dealing with a sick kiddo now.

    This particular tip is one I'll keep in mind from now on.

  7. Thanks for the tips. I no longer have kidos at home but my goals need revamping. I appreciate the goal list. :)

  8. Wow, I'm very impressed, Joanne - you've got Allison Rushby as your guest!
    Hello, to a fellow Aussie author.
    Enjoyed your article, Allison - thanks for the great tips in your 'how you do it'!

  9. I've just started part time uni, and am trying to combine that with schoolwork, music lessons, and other commitments in my busy life as well as writing. I've been thinking a lot over the past few days about time management. I think your tips will definitely help me at the moment

  10. Thanks for the inspiration, I'm getting my egg timer out now! And ditto on the vodka ... ;)

  11. With a full-time career, three daughters, and an ill husband, writing sometimes seems like an impossibility. Guess what? I write anyway.

    Thanks for sharing your tips. I write in the car waiting for children, at sport practices, and at doctor offices etc. Every minute counts!

    I force myself to write almost everyday. Even if I don't want to or I only have time for paragraph. Workshops are a huge motivator for me. It is great to meet other authors and feel slightly normal.

    I will work on the goals. Good point.

    One of my struggles is the guilt. Sometimes my children don't get all my attention or my youngest isn't read to quite as often. Sacrifices for writing. I wish I could say I never felt guilty, but it is there. It doesn't stop me, but sometimes that is my greatest hurdle.

    Anyone else there?

  12. First, I need to state right out that I'm not a parent, or female, and definitely not married (I've still never been on one date. Sometimes I feel like the only twenty-something who's never been on even one date, whether or not it led to another, I know I'm not, but it feels that way sometimes...)

    I also struggle with time management. I don't need a spouse and 3.5 kids to know that.

    Saying "No" is not my problem.

    It's not being able sometimes to say no in a civil way that gets me screwed in daily life.

    Plus, I may say "No" to far too much, writing related, I mean.

    It's not easy for me to take risks where my writing's concerned. Especially if the last few I took either failed miserably, or nothing I did helped, and heard the same conflicting feedback, over and over and over and over and over and over again.....

    To be continued,

  13. My tribe of writers always tells me that sometimes you just need to do things your way for the fun of it, and ease up on pressuring myself.

    They're right. I'll be the last to deny that.

    But I think that's just harder to do the more you learn. At least for me.

    When you've been conditioned to "Strive toward improvement" it's hard to give yourself permission to ease up your need/wanting to improve your craft and business skills as a writer when they're both weak at the start.

    I wish that wasn't so hard for me. But it is. I don't get why. I just can't pretend it's not real anymore, not after the traumatic nightmare that was last year.

    The Height of my writer's meltdown saga that began in 2009 came to a head in 2011.

    There were moments of light and hope in between, but it's only now in 2012 that I've STARTED to reach some kind of even keel as far as my writing's concerned.

    I put in the hard work, but I miss the fun, and I don't think it's selfish to want some of it back while still working hard. I just don't know how to reach it yet.

    I know all the moms replying here bend over backwards to fit anything writing related in, but there has to be a balance, or you will become an emotional time bomb that will cause Social Armageddon if you're not careful, and I say that not to exaggerate or pity myself, but to warn the writers out there who feel they'll explode if the frustration pain goes unchecked, and unresolved for too long. That's not good for the kids anymore than you, right?

    I forced myself to mostly focus on query letters all month, because that's my weakest skill. I HATE writing these letters because nothing else frustrates me more as a writer than these Godforsaken query letters.

    Even revision is more fun than these query letters! There, I said it.

    But I white-knuckled through it, anyway, because I refuse to let bad query letters define my ability to write the actual book, and write it well, and rewrite until my eyes bleed to make it even better.

    But if they don't improve, I'll never attract the right agent, no matter how many more books I have to go through. Because no matter how great "The Next Book" is, if the queries don't reflect that, the parade of form letters will continue, because I work too hard researching the right agents for my work for that to be the main problem.

    When these letters stand in the way of hooking agents or not, it's impossible short of infantile denial not to be concerned about them.

    To put it a simpler way, don't get so caught up in the work involved that "Fun" becomes a four-letter word instead of being a "Friend."

    I hope I'm stepping on the toes of parents when I say this, but the pressures of higher education (That are starting as early as PRESCHOOL now...) along with what goes on at home is hard enough as it is, as much as we can't escape all suffering in life, we also weren't given life to only know suffering, that's the only thing about God I do understand.

  14. I didn't have a "Loving Guide" kind of mom so I might be off base here, but don't you moms think there's a difference between "Raising a capable, responsible person" and "Inadvertently turning them into miserly, risk averse workaholics?"

    I do. I feel like many workaholics in my family don't get that, and I'm worried what that "Type-A, School's God over anything else" mindset will do to them, and my younger cousins who may not be able to cope.

    That's part of why my teen years were a nightmare!

    I NEVER want my kids to feel that all I care about is going to college and "Getting out of the house." They're important. But they aren't all that matter in life, and they are the sole thing that define you, just like how Janice always says "One book doesn't make a writer, writing makes a writer" is this not the same thing?

    I fear all this pre-college pressure, bad economy or not, will only turn our kids into neurotic misers who may be able to make a living, but at the cost of enjoying life all together.

    That kind of pressure is heartbreaking, whether you're autistic or not, male or female, no matter how old or young you are.

    Even Type-A people can only endure so much before they snap. I'd like to think, anyway.

    What do you moms think?

    P.S. In case my three part reply might give the opposite impression, I'm fine and more or less feeling okay, I just get passionate about this topic, even though I'm not a parent, but know what it's like to be a late blooming child, and how that's not easy to live with sometimes, even for people far more patient than I am.

    Since I did great with improving my query letter crafting, I'm treating myself to my favorite pasta tonight, and ice cream, no guilt or shame, it's my reward for not letting query letters haul my progress as a writer.

  15. Sorry! I meant to say in part 2-

    "I hope I'm NOT stepping on the toes of parents when I say this, but the pressures of higher education (That are starting as early as PRESCHOOL now...) along with what goes on at home is hard enough as it is, as much as we can't escape all suffering in life, we also weren't given life to only know suffering, that's the only thing about God I do understand."

  16. Having kids and writing is definitely a juggle, but oh so worth it!! Mine are both in school now so that makes it much easier. Your books sounds great!!