Like Jen and Jena, I have a fair amount going on in a lot of directions.
I’m a freelance writer, the mother of two young children (Pearl, who’s four, and Everett, who’s almost two), and a wife. Then the things that mean a lot to me take their turn: I volunteer trying to get toxic chemicals like BPA out of our food and drinks, I love doing charity crafting, and this year I’m lucky to be president of the Portland Modern Quilt Guild. Basically, I don’t sit down a whole lot unless I’m at my laptop or my sewing machine, reading Betsy-Tacy to my daughter, or cuddling my son.
Getting everything done in my three childcare days a week is… challenging. I don’t know how other people do it, but here are a few things that I suggest trying. If you have any other tips to share, I’d love to hear them!
Do what you love. I love craft writing and that’s what I want to be (and am lucky to be) doing with my work life, so I try to take the rough with the smooth as gracefully as possible. Some sunny weeks are full of sketching and sewing, others are more about slowly conquering an unfriendly document bristling with multi-colored Track Changes comments, queries, and edits. There are plenty of days working at home when the only people I see in nine hours are my kids – before and after school – and the mail carrier – through the window. But a couple of weeks ago, I needed to go shopping for Japanese fabric for work, and well, that’s kind of my dream job.
Make to-do lists. These are life-savers for me. Mine are on paper. I love, love, love checking things off and being done with something.
Never stop moving. On my workdays, I try to be focused and stay with what I need to be doing. I take breaks, but with the paid childcare clock (x2, ugh) ticking, my time is literally worth money and I need to use it wisely.
But if you need time off, take it. Sometimes I just burn out. Last month I hit the wall, gave up after a couple of not-very-productive hours, went to Powell’s and bought a stack of new books, and then took myself out to lunch and read four chapters of one of them. It felt so good to be reading for fun instead of on a screen.
Be flexible. Twice this summer, someone from KOIN News called to ask if they could come over and interview me at my home the same day (in one case, within the hour), about my work on toxins and my Change.org petition to ban BPA in food. To me, this is worth quickly rearranging a morning, trimming my bangs in the mirror, straightening up the living room, and finding a (wonderful) friend to come over with her son for an impromptu playdate with my 4-year-old (thankfully, it was filmed during my 1-year-old’s nap). Was it an easy morning? Not at all. Did I earn any extra money? None. Was I glad I said yes? Yes! (And thank you for the awesome support, KOIN.)
And let go of things when you need to. I have kept my craft blog, West Coast Crafty, for seven years, and I love writing there just for fun. I think I’ve posted less this year than any other – that time goes to PMQG, volunteering on the BPA issue, and work right now. It’s right there, I’ll post again when I have time. My garden was doing great when I had time for it in June and July, but it’s pretty sad right now. Oh well, there’s always next spring!
Get better at saying no. When I over commit on things I feel overwhelmed and scattered and freaked out, and it’s been a huge lesson in scaling back. I have a long way to go with this one. Maybe I can write a sequel post about this when I’m better at it (and achieving the mythical zero inbox, if I ever get there). I will say I’ve officially retired from organizing quilt shows, after working on four of them (two concurrent) this year.
Change direction when the time is right. I loved what Diane had to say about this last week – so inspiring and rang very true to me. I started out with an American Studies degree, realized what I really loved was making things, moved to Portland and went back to school to learn to make jewelry, my best friend came to visit and taught me how to sew, and I started selling my jewelry and skirts at craft fairs, on my website, and at Seaplane. Meanwhile, I started writing articles about crafty things I liked, and writing tutorials for what I liked to make, and realized that that was what I really wanted to be doing, so I wound down selling my handmade work and wrote about it instead. I’ve been lucky to carve out my “career” path pretty organically, learning lots of stuff the hard way, but getting where I want to be. Now, I’m working on the copyedits for my sixth craft book and writing magazine articles about craft culture and history… and I have another hopeful baby idea on the horizon that’s totally different from anything I’m doing now. We’ll see where that goes, I guess.
Drink coffee. I’m not sure where I’d be without a whole lot of it.
Susan Beal is a craft writer in Portland, Oregon. She’s the author of six craft books, the mother of two children, and president of the Portland Modern Quilt Guild. Her petition asking the FDA to ban BPA in food and drink packaging just passed 198,000 signatures!