Here’s a peek into my day: I start just after five in the morning. I get up, wash my face, and grab my laptop. I spend the next hour as a writer, drafting and editing, fine-tuning and submitting. I have a few minutes to get myself ready for the day, and then I wake up my kids.
It’s parenting time. We make and eat breakfast, gather our things, and I drive first to daycare and then to work. On the way, I switch into teacher-mode, going over lesson plans in my head and reminding myself of my teaching to-do list. I spend the day teaching music to fourth and fifth graders, switching instruments from trumpet to flute to percussion in small groups and conducting full band rehearsals.
I drive home at 3:30, switching back into parent-mode. I team up with my husband to spend the afternoon shuttling our kids to karate and dance and piano lessons. In between there are errands and chores: throw in a load of laundry, pick up a prescription, cook dinner, do the dishes.
I spend an hour at the end of the night reading to the kids and putting them to bed. Hopefully, I’m done with my house chores by then and can spend a few minutes blogging or connecting with other writers online before heading to bed with a book, knowing that when I wake up, I’ll be a writer again.
Sound dizzying? It can be. Although I love all my different roles, it can be hard to carry the mental load of writing, teaching and parenting every single day. But I know I’m not alone in this. I recently came back from a writing conference where the mealtime conversation over the banquet room tables was often focused on juggling it all. Very few writers have enough money and time to focus completely on writing. We’re all balancing day jobs, family needs, and our personal health.
So in honor of all of us writers who struggle to “get it all done,” today I’m launching a three-part series that will go deep into the daily demands of the modern writing life. Today’s column will be on the WHY, helping us find the purpose behind our quest to do it all. The second part will be on the WHAT, as we figure out which parts of our lives get priority. And the final part will be on the HOW: the habits and routines that grease the wheels and help us juggle all our roles throughout the day.
Start With Why
“Working hard for something we don’t care about is called stress. Working hard for something we love is called passion.”
The above quote is by Simon Sinek, the author of Start With Why. A clear purpose is vital to balancing all the parts of our lives. If we don’t know why we’re doing what we do, it presents itself as stress instead of passion, but if we find our WHY, all the difficult moments in our daily lives seem easier to handle thanks to that clarity of purpose.
Ideally, we create and live by a purpose statement that gathers all the pieces of our life under one umbrella. That’s not always possible— life is messy— but the attempt is worth it.
Write A Purpose Statement
Start writing your purpose statement by doing research on yourself. Divide your life into different roles— caregiver, spouse, writer, day job— and search within each role to find themes that you naturally embrace. Mine your own data: look through your photos, journals, blog posts, emails, novels, essays and work reports. What jumps out at you? What connections can you make? Start a list of those themes.
The next step is seeing if your themes overlap. Organize them in columns or bubbles and see if you can draw lines between them. You may be surprised at how well they align. For example, I had an epiphany when I realized that I’d written variations on “Make connections to the past” for both my writing and my teaching themes. Then I saw that it showed up in my parental themes, too, under the guise of “Give my children roots.” I realized that any purpose statement I wrote had to include making past events— historical, familial and musical— relevant to my readers, children and students.
Finally, bring your themes together into a single purpose statement. It will take some time to sculpt— you’re talking about your life, after all! Write a draft, then walk away. The next time you look at it, check back on your original list of themes and connections and see if they all made it into the statement. If not, find a way to work them in. Walk away again. Keep returning and iterating until your purpose statement is fine-tuned. You’ll know when you get there, because reading it aloud will give you a glow of passion and pride.
Finally, post your purpose statement in a visible place. Each day, particularly on stressful days, return to it and ask yourself: Did I live up to my life’s purpose today? Did my work feel full of passion, or did it just feel like work?
Lead the WHY into the WHAT
Now that you’re clear on your purpose, it’s time to start prioritizing the elements of your life that best serve your purpose, and prune out the elements that feel like work instead of passion. That’s where we’ll pick up in the next part of our series.
Leanne Sowul is an award-winning music teacher and writer whose writing has appeared in such publications as Hippocampus, Mothers Always Write, Confrontation, and Hudson Valley Magazine, and in live performances such as Read 650’s “The Great Outdoors.” She also writes the “Be Well, Write Well” column for DIY MFA, where she helps writers live full, happy lives while pursuing their creative dreams. In 2017, Leanne won both the Scott Meyer Award for personal essay and the All-American Dream Champion Award for music teaching. She writes historical fiction and memoir, and is represented by Suzie Townsend of New Leaf Literary Agency. Connect with Leanne at leannesowul.com, via Facebook at Words From The Sowul, and on Twitter @sowulwords