Writing While Woman: Actually Writing

“How do you manage your work-life balance?”

That question is the scourge of all women writers everywhere. It’s often asked during interviews, during panels and conferences, by readers and other writers alike. Often a hot button topic, the mere asking of it is enough to set women creatives on edge for a plethora of nuanced reasons, many of which aim to drive the conversation away from their art and their passions, and instead focus more on their domestic duties as if that’s all we are good for. On top of its inherent demeaning nature, it’s also a lazy question, and no one who invests hundreds upon hundreds of hours into a singular body of work wants to be asked, “That’s great, but what about your laundry?”

It’s a loaded question with an equally loaded answer. In her stand up special on Netflix, writer and comedian Ali Wong gives the perfect answer to why men are not asked how they keep their work and personal life balanced. It is simply, “Because they don’t.”

Let me give you a rundown of my average work day, as it stands right now.

  • 6:30am, wake up, start getting ready for the day
  • 6:45-7am, get kids up, make breakfast
  • 7:15am-7:30am, pack school lunches, scream at kids from my bathroom to do very basic tasks like brushing teeth or putting on shoes.
  • 7:35-7:45am, kids have done none of these things, panic
  • 7:45-8am, take kids to school, go to work
  • 8:15am-4pm, work my day job
  • 4:30pm, Pick up kids from afterschool care, go home
  • 4:45pm-7 pm, make dinner, homework time (3rd graders have obscene amounts of homework)
  • 7pm-7:45pm, coax 9 year old out of existential crisis, clean up after dinner maybe, feed the dogs, kids inevitably start fighting over a Happy Meal toy from 3 months ago, aka my time to “relax”
  • 7:45pm-8:30pm, bath time, read Harry Potter to kids, bed time
  • 8:45pm, whew, I did it, time to —
    • Nevermind, someone heard a weird noise or needs a drink or is demanding a new pair of socks or needs a tissue or <insert ridiculous claim here>
  • 9pm to whenever I pass out on couch watching reruns of Frasier– Me time

Not included in this list are any school functions, doctors appointments (unless I took off work to take them during the day), laundry, cleaning, basic household managerial tasks, and simple pleasures like reading a book.

Now let me lay out my husband’s day.

  • Wake up whenever he wants (job has no specific start time)
  • Work day job
  • Come home

This isn’t to say he doesn’t help; he does do most of the grocery shopping and he’ll fill in on a certain kid duty when I need to tap out, and he gets on a laundry kick on occasion which is always nice, but that’s the thing—he manages exactly NONE of it. Who/what/where/when/how is all kept inside my mental Rolodex. If I need help, I ask. If I leave for a work trip, I have to leave detailed notes on the basic care and management of our house, and am still inundated with calls.

An article in Psychology Today states that, “Some studies suggest that women have almost three times the workload of their husbands. Interestingly, these proportions stay about the same, regardless of whether a wife has a full-time job, and whether or not her husband is currently working.”

Another article in The New York Times goes further by suggesting it will be “another 75 years before men do half the work.” Interestingly though, same-sex couples divide chores more evenly (until the kids come, that is).

So I ask you, fellow women writers, how DO we manage our writing-home-work life? It seems to me that this question, in all sincerity, is a valid one. Because I have no damn clue how any of us get anything done. My writing is usually executed in explosive little bursts, usually between 15 to 45 minutes. Sometimes more, sometimes less. The weekends are a little more flexible, but all this comes at a cost—my house is never as clean as I’d like, the laundry piles up, and sometimes the kids eat pop-tarts for dinner (not all the time, but let’s get real here). My spouse is exceedingly supportive of my writing and does make a concerted effort to keep the house in order so I might have a sliver of peace, but in that respect I am very lucky. Many are not. So, truly, how the hell do we do it?

I suppose I don’t have much of answer, because what works for me does not work for everyone. My only advice would be to take whatever time you can get, learn to sprint write the best you can, and don’t sweat being a “slow” writer. If the words come, then you’re doing it.

And you’re awesome for it. Seriously. You. Are. Awesome. As in inspiring awe. Don’t you forget it.