Mary Ellis

Mary Ellis grew up close to the eastern Ohio Amish Community, Geauga County, where her parents often took her to farmers’ markets and woodworking fairs. She and her husband now live in Medina County, close to the largest population of Amish in the country. They often take weekend trips to purchase produce, meet Amish families, and enjoy a simple way of life. Visit Mary at

Author by Night

by Mary Ellis

Most readers imagine authors pounding away uninterrupted at their computers for hours, and then taking long walks on the beach, city streets, or woodland trails for renewed inspiration. A writer’s life must be solitary, introspective, and perhaps a bit tragic. Although some writers probably enjoy that lifestyle, most of us juggle another job besides family and household responsibilities.

I fall into this latter category. In addition to writing each day, I earn a living as a part-time sales rep for the largest candy maker in the country. It’s a great company to work for, with supportive fellow employees and understanding supervisors. But nevertheless, I’m often worn ragged—not from the physical labor of lifting cases of chocolate, but from mentally changing hats all day.

To keep my book moving forward, I never let my story get away from me. During my morning coffee I make notes, jot character transitions, or adjust the plot outline to accommodate scenes that took on lives of their own. While sitting in my car or eating lunch in a food court, I write dialogue in longhand for the current chapter. Being alone yet surrounded by people helps my characters to “speak” for themselves. While driving in between sales calls, I sometimes pull into driveways to jot down ideas before they slip away. I’ve often wondered if anyone has noticed me sitting in front of the house, writing fast and furious on a legal tablet. Even while standing in the grocery line, I’m usually thinking about my story so that when I sit down to write I don’t stare at a blank computer screen.

To those of you who might wish to add writing to your day job and family responsibilities, I offer five rules for accomplishing your desires and still having time for those you love . . . including yourself.

#1 Make a weekly calendar and stick to it. If you have a dentist appointment, daughter’s recital, neighborhood cookout, or anything you don’t want to miss, write it on the calendar in red ink. And barring an emergency, allow nothing to usurp the event. Even weekly recurring events like church services or exercise classes should be written on your weekly planner. Then schedule writing “slots” in the same way and stick to them. And don’t allow Internet surfing or e-mail to steal your valuable time.

#2 Prioritize your tasks. I work in sales four days a week—the rest of the time is mine to schedule. Since half an hour devotional time is important to me, I skip the newspaper until the evening and read it while watching TV, when I’m too tired for anything else. Make sure writing is part of every day. Whether it’s for hour before work, while riding the train or during your lunch break, write a few paragraphs longhand or on your laptop. Regarding your social life . . . pick and choose your activities carefully. Don’t feel you must say yes to every invitation, volunteer project, or committee meeting. Learn to say no unless you truly wish to devote the time and energy.

#3 Multitask, but only if it’s productive. The only time I dust is during long phone calls. I check voicemail while walking the dog. I shop and do other errands on my way home from work to free up weekend time for writing. Don’t make the mistake of plotting a scene during your son’s ballgame if he expects you to watch him play. You will fail at both tasks. Allow some downtime every now and then to curl up and watch a sappy movie, read someone else’s book, or call up a friend to chat. If you’re feeling stressed, recharge your batteries.

#4 Lower your standards. I can live with weedy flowerbeds as long as my bathrooms are clean. I don’t like clutter, but dust doesn’t bother me. I take store-bought brownies to parties so I can have time to write stories about women who love to cook. You can’t do it all. Repeat that as a mantra every morning. Give up the notion you can work two jobs and still compete with the Food Channel gurus. But if cooking is your pleasure, find another area to be mediocre in and don’t apologize.

#5 Release the outcome. Put your future in God’s hands instead of looking too far into the future. If you dwell on how much you need to accomplish by the end of the week, the month, or the year, you’ll get discouraged. Like every monumental project we tackle, whether building our own houses or hiking the Appalachian Trail, if we fully understood how arduous the task is we would never begin. Create a schedule for yourself that accomplishes your goals in small increments—such as writing one chapter per week—and stick to it. Never compare yourself to others. Pray for guidance and then listen to your intuition. This is God talking to you. Invite Him to take the helm of your life. If your goals are part of God’s plan, then you cannot fail . . . whether it’s climbing Mount Everest, learning to speak Japanese, or finishing your first book.

Never Far From Home