Tuesday, April 9, 2013

Springtime Chaos and Making Time to Write by Jess Riley

Spring is always an incredibly stressful time for me, as it’s my “busy season” at work. My "day job" is grant writing, and the deadlines for the grants I write typically fall between January and June.  

In fact, this week I have three huge grants due and two more in the chute for an out-of-state client. I met with an awesome book club last night, and I’ll visit a freshman lit class at UW-O on Thursday. I’m presenting at the Fox Cities Book Festival next Wednesday and prepping for another panel I’m on at a local writer’s conference on May 11.
From last night. An excellent excuse to leave the computer and actually put on makeup.
I’m still trying to squeeze in a little reading at night, because I want to. (Just finished Unimaginable Zero Summer by Leslie Stella, and at the risk of sounding like Annie Wilkes, I am her new biggest fan. Next up: Jennifer Close’s new novel, The Smart One, and the fabulous Sarah Pekkanen’s latest, The Best of Us

And I just finished copyediting my next novel. I can’t WAIT to introduce you all to Graham and Drew this summer. Graham is my favorite character I’ve ever created.

I like to live on the edge.  (Or maybe it’s “I like to live in a house and have clean running water and money for groceries and good coffee and the occasional dress from Modcloth.”)

Though spring is stressful, I adore it. The tulips that I planted last October are finally poking through the soil, and I’ve got two flats of seedlings under lights in my bathroom. 

I don’t mind being crazy-busy, but the perennial trick for me has been juggling writing fiction with writing grant proposals.  I typically have summers off after my crunch time, which is when I do the bulk of my fiction writing. (Though this is changing…) Day jobs and writing—how do the rest of you in this situation manage it? One of my strategies is to set priorities and get organized, reserving time daily to write--which I’m not always good at.  When I’m crazy busy, this can get a little fly-by-the-seat-of-my-pants.  Recording digital notes in the car, scribbling scenes on any scrap of paper I can find (you should see the last pages of my checkbook register), keeping a notebook by my bed so I can jot down a sentence or two whenever the muse strikes. Left brain, right brain, rinse and repeat…

No matter what, however, I MAKE the time because writing is what I do. I love it. I get depressed when I’m not actively engaged in writing or editing a novel. It feels like working two full-time jobs at certain times of the year, but I’m figuring it out. My friends know I won’t be a hermit forever, and my family has put up with me for this long (maybe so I don’t put them in my novels…).

You don’t think you’ll need excellent time management and prioritization skills to manage your writing career when you’re a starry-eyed kid dreaming of telling stories for a living, but yep. You do. I’d love to hear how you balance writing with the rest of your lives: motherhood, jobs, families, other responsibilities, even the time suck of social media.  Are there times of the year when you get more writing done than others? Or is it a daily balance? 

Jess Riley will be at the Little Chute Public Library on Wednesday, April 17 at 6:30, part of the Fox Cities Book Festival, to chat books, publishing, writing, whatever else comes up. She hopes it won't be too obvious that her brain is entirely fueled by coffee and panic this time of year. 

All the Lonely People is her latest novel.


  1. You are so right, Jess! It is always such a challenge. I try to write whenever I can-- sometimes it's tiny 10 minute increments here and there (thank you, iphone voice memo!), and sometimes I get a few hours to myself.

    I'm the same way as you-- if I'm not writing, I'm just not myself.

  2. Since I always seem to have more deposit slips than checks, I find my checkbook a great place to take note!

    Even when I'm not physically writing, my brain is constantly on writer mode. Eavesdropping on conversations in the name of research, watching people as they walk, sit, stand...constantly "what if-ing."

    I just retired Jan. 18 after 25 years of teaching, and I feel like a human boomerang. For 25 years, my day was determined by ringing bells. Now what?

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