Thursday, June 21, 2007

How Do You DO It All?

This is one of the most common questions I get from readers and writers alike.

What made me decide to actually answer the question here was when a friend (we'll call her Blondie) happened to let drop the fact that neighbors were asking her how I did it all, trying to get the scoop on me.

See, Blondie has known me most of my life. As in, I attended her fifth birthday party, we went to Girls Camp together, and we have pictures of one another and stories that we could use to black mail the other from high school and college. (Scary, huh? Good thing we really like each other.)

It so happened that about two years ago she moved into a house right around the corner from me, and ever since, her daughter and my youngest daughter are now best buds. So the ladies in our neighborhood went to Blondie asking her to unravel the mystery that is supposedly me. "How does she do it all?"

I laughed and laughed and laughed.

If I were being completely ridiculous, I would smile and make up something about how I've managed to be so organized and sleep only three hours a night.

Here's the truth: I DON'T do it all. Not even close.

My house isn't like Martha Stewart's. It's clean enough for me, but probably not for a lot of people. I enlist my kids to do a lot of the work. I figure it's good for them. I don't remember the last toilet I cleaned. That's their job. Sure, they don't always do it as well as I would, but I cleaned toilets when I was nine. It was good for me at the time.

I don't have a lot of hobbies. I used to scrapbook a lot. I don't anymore. Every so often I'll pull out a few supplies on a Sunday (because that's when I don't write) and slap a few pictures onto some cardstock so my kids will actually have a record that they existed, but their scrapbooks are woefully out of date now.

In the last year, I've gotten my hair done twice. Once was in August, once in March. The LDS Booksellers Convention is in August. The LDStorymakers Writing Conference is in March. You do the math.

As mentioned in my tag blog earlier this week, I rarely get dressed until lunch time. Show up at my door in the morning, and I look like a wreck. Doesn't mean that I haven't been UP before that, likely sorting laundry, cleaning up the kitchen, or whatever. I've been busy. But I'm still in my PJ's (as I am right now. Karen Neuburger light blue ones . . .).

It's not uncommon for me to go to bed with the kitchen looking like a disaster. I'm totally okay with not getting all the dishes put away before bed. I'll be cleaning up breakfast in a few hours anyway. Why not add some of the dinner mess to it too? At night I'm tired. I don't want to do more cleaning. I don't mind cleaning in the morning. Yet a lot of people would freak out to know what my kitchen looks like at midnight.

Once I had a neighbor watch me sweeping. He flipped out. "WHAT happened?!"

I stopped and looked around, thinking a child's hair was on fire. I finally realized that he was looking at the mess on the floor. To be honest, I think the guy is a bit OCD and isn't used to normal messes. (Or maybe I'm delusional and don't realize that my messes are a class beyond "normal.") I looked down at what the broom had collected.

"The kids ate Doritos," I told him. He was the father of small children. Surely he knew that when you give a bag of chips to little kids, they don't stay ON the table.

But I guess most people tend to sweep up immediately, and I often . . . don't.

Not that I'm a slob. I don't think. I do take care of the house, to a point. But I have my priorities. I once had a friend whose mission in life was to have a clean house. She woke up at 6:00 am to keep her home that way. That's pretty much all she did, from scrubbing the kids' toothpaste spit to vacuuming Cheerios from under the couches to cleaning grout with a brush.

Not worth it, says I.

For starters, I want a life. And I think kids need to learn to work, too.

So there's a balance. I let the kids work. I let a few things slip through the cracks. And I find a place for my writing in the mix, because it keeps me sane.

I learned once that if I don't write on a semi-regular basis, that, paradoxically, I actually have less time for everyone. The house is messier, I'm a wreck, the kids are worse behaved, my church work suffers. I struggle to find time for my husband. Go figure.

So I have to find a little time for writing if I'm to keep everything else in place. It really does help. (At least, when I'm not on deadline. Those are the times when everything else goes crazy and we start running out of food and underwear.)

Balance. That's how I do what I do. But I DON'T "do it all," whatever that means.


Luisa Perkins said...

Again with the 'separated at birth' thing. Love it!

And it slays me that your neighbors were asking your friend about you...

Josi said...

I also tend to think that when you have a driving passion that you HAVE to find room for, you tend to do the other stuff a little faster. Yes, corners get cut and things get put off, but when I'm in a writing mode I can clean and cook and run errands twice as fast--carving out that writing time. And I agree--if whatever your passion is meant to be a part of your life, the red sea parts now and then. Great Blog (as usual)

Heather Moore said...

People ask me this a lot. Or they say they are "impressed." But like you, Annette, I DON'T do it all. I was at a writer's presentation once with James Dashner. He asked the audience to raise their hand if they'd watched T.V. for one hour the night before. Two hours. Three hours. Hands stayed up. He said, "Do you know what I did for those three hours you were watching T.V.? I wrote." So we don't do it all. We are just more selective of what we DO do.

Annette Lyon said...

Luisa, Yeah, it was a little weird knowing those ladies were scoping me out . . .

Josi, You're absolutely right--people will find time for whatever they WANT to find time for. I'm amazed people who can find time to create intricate handmade quilts but say they simply don't have time to write.

Heather, Great example with James. TV all by itself can be an intense time waster. I wonder how much people could get done if they realized they could actually put down the remote.

Anna Maria Junus said...

Great post.

I've come across people who will say to me when they find out I'm a writer "well, I could write a book, but I don't have the time."

Anonymous said...

My VTs came over unannounced one late morning and I was still in my robe. I could tell they were both embarrassed for me, though I'd been up for hours.

I have 10 kids (oldest is on a mission) and summer is c-r-a-z-y. If I want to get any writing done at all, I have to turn over much of the cleaning to them. I write their jobs on a white board and they get to it. Of course, they don't clean like I do, but that's okay--it's clean enough and when it gets too nasty, I do some hard core cleaning.

I put off writing for years, waiting until I stopped having babies. But, those babies kept popping out, so I had to figure out how to write with newborns, toddlers, kids, and teenagers. It can work, but I don't have any other hobbies, I don't quilt or can, or wear a bra most days. But, that's okay because I write.

Great post, Annette.

Rebecca Talley

Annette Lyon said...

Thanks, Anna Maria. I've gotten that a lot too. I have to bite my tongue to note say, "Bet you couldn't." I've also gotten people who tell me that they can't write a book YET because they have to care for their children--implying what, that I don't take care of mine?

Rebecca, You put it so well. Writers somehow do find a way to work it into the chaos that is diapers and Cub Scout den meetings and everything else. (I bet almost every writing mom has typed one-handed while nursing a baby.) It's in our blood. And sometimes a few of those other domestic things might find their way into the picture as a result--even bras, sometimes! And that's okay.

Annette Lyon said...

That was supposed to be might NOT find their way into the picture. :)And that's okay!

Unknown said...

I'm so relieved to hear all this. Most days I get up between five and five thirty and hammer the keyboard for hours before I realize it's way past the time to be dressed and looking half decent for any visitors. Thank goodness we don't have screens on our house phones yet.

You're doing great, Annette. And who cares about crumbs? If it bothers the neighbors, you could always hold a daily crumb competition and see who can collect the most. The children, that is, not the neighbors. Er, the children collecting crumbs, not the neighbors collecting children. Oh, you know what I mean (maybe I should get up later after all).

Jenna said...

Loved this. You could have been writing about me. We're doing the best we can! I agree with you about balance and having kids do work. I stop doing kid laundry when they reach age 3, and then it's their job. Wonderful!

Annette Lyon said...

Laundry at age 3? Wow, I'll have to figure that one out! Maybe get a step stool up to the washer for my 4-year-old . . . :)


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