Jenny B. Jones is the author of A Katie Parker Production series, including In Between and On the Loose. When she’s not writing about the drama of teen life, she’s living it as a high school speech teacher in Arkansas . Since the author has very little free time, she believes in spending her spare hours in meaningful, intellectual pursuits such as watching E!, going to the movies and inhaling large buckets of popcorn, catching Will Ferrell on YouTube, and writing her name in the dust on her furniture. Check her out at jennybjones.com.
I’m less likely to run for the Border if I have a made-ahead meal ready to pop into the oven.
The question I get asked most
(aside from, “Hey, are you Keira Knightley?”) is how I balance the
demands of writing novels by night and teaching by day. I would like to
say my role as a high school teacher is not a job but a labor of love.
However, I would be lying and God would probably curse me with boils.
Working two occupations is hard. I try to be polite and humble about
it. Conversations usually go like this:
“How do you do it—teach and write?”
I smile. “It’s not bad. It’s a great problem to have.”
If I were honest, the conversation would go more like this:
“How do you do it?”
I burst into tears. “I haven’t bathed in a week, my cat has left to find his own food, I hate my main character, and I just want to sit and watch Entertainment Tonight!”
The truth is working two occupations is hard, and anyone who says it’s not needs to be sent to a colony with the other lepers. But over the past few years, I have learned a few things to try to maintain a little peace, a little sanity.
A. Calories do not count when you’re nearing the end of the deadline. Yes, it is worrisome when the kid at the McDonald’s drive-through knows you by name. But it’s okay not to give a fig about the food pyramid (or your arteries) when a deadline is knocking at your door and you’re seemingly light years away from finishing. Actually, I don’t know if this is Sabbath cheating and qualifies as work, but on Sundays I like to fix extra food and freeze it. I’m less likely to run for the Border if I have a made-ahead meal ready to pop into the oven.
B. Dust—friend or foe? I finally decided I did not care what my house looked like and assigned such menial tasks as scrubbing tile to the end of my to-do list. This worked . . . until someone would ring my doorbell, and then I’d fly into a frenzy and throw everything I owned into a closet or come up with 101 reasons why they shouldn’t come in. “No, Mother, I seriously do have rabies.” I finally employed a nice gal this past year to clean once a month for me. I am too cheap to have her come biweekly, but that day is coming. It’s a huge help to have somebody do the tasks I really don’t want to do. And knowing she comes once a month made me more mindful of keeping the house picked up. If you break down how much your time is worth, I think you’ll find you can afford to hire cleaning help.
C. Paper plates and sporks. Enough said.
D. Change how you spend driving time. I get books on CD to listen to on my way to work. I also buy writing conference CDs and use those in the car. To be honest, if I have ten extra minutes at home, I’m not going to spend it doing something crazy like learning. But when I’m stuck in traffic on my commute to work, a daily occurrence, I pay attention to what brilliant teachers like Chip MacGregor or Colleen Coble have to
say about writing. I also keep a nonfiction book on writing in the car because I read for escape (with two jobs I need it!) and cannot seem to make myself read writerly books on my own time. But if I’m waiting somewhere, such as the car dealership or other appointments, then The Most Exciting Book on Plot You’ve Ever Read doesn’t seem so bad. (If people would start writing these in romance novel format, I would be more inclined to read them. Just an idea.)
E. Exercise. The very word turns my stomach. We’ve all heard we need to get up and move around every hour or so, and I’m afraid it’s true. As a teacher, I learn a lot about brain research—that movement equals brain activation. Plus sitting for hours on end is heck on the spine, the butt, and the manicure. I sprint one mile for every page I type, then jump some hurdles I have set up in my backyard. I like to follow that up with some deep knee bends and isometric tushie squeezes.
Okay. Not really, but I do see a huge difference on the weeks when I could cross working out off my to-do list. I can’t recommend the buddy system enough. We writers have all sorts of excuses: “I have a deadline.” “I have a mean editor.” “My agent says sweat is bad for my image.” “My butt is freeze-dried to my chair.” So do like I did and get a friend who absolutely does not care that you’re an author, that you’ve offered her $50 to go away, or that the last time you worked out Ronald Reagan was in office. My running buddy is definitely bossier than me, and that’s the only thing that gets me to the track. If the decision was left to me, she and I would be at the IHOP eating smiley-face pancakes with extra whipped cream.
One fine day we authors will make a million dollars per book. We’ll all vacation together in the Hamptons and talk about the underpaid poor folk—like that Bill Gates fellow. But until then, find whatever it takes to survive and keep writing. Make time for yourself and get help whenever you can. Your derriere may not thank you for your crazy lifestyle, but you’ll find other people surely will.