BALLS OF STEEL™: Balancing Writing and Life

It's not easy being an writer with a family. One of the greatest struggles we have is navigating life while navigating our writing careers.
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In a past Balls of Steel, a writer commented, asking if I’d address the issue of balancing family and work in an upcoming Balls post. No time like the present.

Jeanne Veillette Bowerman is the Editor of Script magazine and a screenwriter, having written the narrative feature adaptation as well as the 10-hr limited series of the Pulitzer Prize-winning book, Slavery by Another Name, which were honored in the Top 25 Tracking Board Launch Pad Features Competition, CS Expo Finalist, the Second Round of Sundance Episodic Lab, and a PAGE Awards TV Drama Finalist. Follow Jeanne on Twitter @jeannevb.

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In last week’s Balls of Steel: Don’t F*ck It Up, Fred Bluhm commented, asking if I’d address the issue of balancing family and work in an upcoming Balls post. No time like the present.

As many of my readers know, I work a full-time job with ScriptMag.com, moderate the popular screenwriter Twitter chat, Scriptchat, am in another rewrite of Slavery by Another Name, as well as producing my first short film, Impasse, which will shoot at the end of this month in Orlando, FL. But what many don’t know is I am indeed married, have two teenagers, three cats, two dogs (one of which is 12 years old and at the vet every other week), and two elderly parents who live a mile from me. Oh, and I just started a production company with two dear friends.

Sleep? Not so much.

Resentment from family and friends? Mucho.

Last weekend, as my immediate and extended family celebrated my mother’s 80th birthday, I sat perched at the picnic table with my Wi-Fi card sticking from my laptop, hammering away at the keys, as I played producer and downloaded insurance and SAG information.

My older, wiser cousin walked over to me, slammed down my laptop and said, “Get a life.”

I immediately flipped it back up, irritated, and said, “You have no idea what I have on my plate right now… I have to get this done!”

He calmly sat next to me, and in a most authoritative, respectful tone, said, “Jeanne, I know the bar you have set for yourself is high, but you need to find balance between life and work.”

I stubbornly told him of all the people depending on me, especially for the short film, and I had no time to dilly dally my days away.

He double-dog dared me, “I bet if you took the next four hours off, and enjoyed your family, the sky wouldn’t fall and your company wouldn’t collapse.”

I sighed, and conceded.

Much to my surprise, two hours in, I was laughing, my body had loosened, the pain in my upper back subsided, and no one died because I chose to live.

The very next day, I got a phone call from our lead actress on Impasse, Wonder Russell. Her father was declining of Stage IV lung cancer, and her boyfriend was also diagnosed with cancer that very day. She needed to bow out.

As she poured tears into the phone, I found myself regurgitating my cousin’s wisdom.

“At the end of your life, I promise you, you won’t even remember this short film. Instead, you’ll reminisce about your father, your lover, and how you were there for them when they needed you. We’ll get another actress. Be with your family.”

I hung up the phone, heartbroken for her, but confident in our decision.

But the question still remains, with life constantly pulling on us, how do we push past everyone else’s needs and protect our passion to write?

For me, it’s the simple litmus test when someone needs my time or attention. At each occurrence I ask, “Will I resent it if I say yes?”

You’d be surprised how liberating that question is.

Take my teens as an example, when my son asked the other day if I could drive him 30 minutes to see his friends, which would make it so I had to hang in limbo for 3 hours, I realized if I said yes and did what he needed, I’d feel better at the end of the day. I was right.

So, how do you accomplish being there for your family and still being productive?

Get a laptop. If it’s in your budget, get a Wi-Fi card. It’s saved my ass a million times over. Set yourself up to write on the go, stay up late at night, or rise early in the morning to get the writing done. Even if you just write one hour a day, you will accomplish your goals in less time than you think. For me, that’s my lunch hour. I guard it for my words.

Now for the hard part of the conversation: The spouse.

If they’re questioning your passion, your commitment, and your art, they might as well be stabbing your soul. If you gave up writing for their needs, you’d always resent it. That resentment would build, and you’d probably end up divorced anyway… with no scripts in your arsenal.

Ask yourself honestly, at the end of your life, what will you regret? If you’d regret not spending more time with your kids, then shut the laptop and dedicate time to them, even if you have to schedule it. If you’d regret not writing that script, then schedule time for that.

The busier you are, and the more goals you have, the more organized you need to be.

Would you be happy if you didn't give it your all?

In my opinion, a spouse should want you to be the best person you can be. If you’re spending your energy on meeting their expectations and not nurturing what you need, you’ll be miserable. You can’t live for someone else; you need to live for yourself.

If you have passion for something and another person wants to derail it, that marriage won’t last anyway. Why would you want to be married to someone who doesn't want you to pursue your dreams and live a full life?

Bottom-line, only you can determine what balance you need in your life because everyone’s goals and priorities are different.

I’ve said this before, but it bears repeating: I have two quotes on my laptop:

“Do what is best for you” and “It is not because things are difficult that we do not dare, it is because we do not dare that they are difficult.” I read them countless times every day when making a choice of what my priorities are.

Allow me to clarify – doing what is best for you is not a green light to be selfish. It’s about living a life that fulfills you, brings something positive to the people you love, and allows you to live in honesty.

So, do what’s best for you… but remember to stop every once in a while, breathe, and soak in your loved ones… because that’s good for you too.

It’s all about balance.

This post is dedicated to my dear friend, Wonder Russell who so eloquently shared her choice in stepping down from the role of Alice on Impasse on my website. May your courage bring your father and Paul strength and comfort. You will be missed on Impasse, but are always a part of our family. Balance, oh Brave One.

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