Which brings me to something I've been thinking a great deal about this past year, the concept of time management. When you're a writer, you always feel like you're stealing time. You steal seconds away to go write. When you're both writer AND illustrator, you feel like you're stealing double time.
Most of my friends and even my acquaintances, whether they know me well or very little, they know one specific thing about me: I do all the things.
Reflecting back on 2015, this was my year that I have become the person who DID all the things.
In my first year as an agented writer, I thrived on the manic energy of participating in the community, social media, and conference scene. I'm a people-person, so naturally I got my energy being around the enthusiasm of others achieving common goals. I was focused exclusively on writing at the time, and illustrating was something I happily did as part of my design day job or for myself.
Then I became a published illustrator in my second year, before I became a published writer. Everything changed. I found my time stretched thin. I had to draw for clients, which enthralled me and I found the act of collaboration both exciting and addictive. And then once I stopped drawing, I had to start writing. Finding the time to balance time with my husband and son and working as both writer and illustrator became a dance that I felt out of step on, with writing my books and drawing on the bottom rung of the ladder. I quit my day job, certain it would give me more time to spend on the sheer amount of to-dos I had in publishing. On the surface, everything seemed to be going well, but behind the scenes, I was drowning. I've dealt with panic attacks and night terrors for ten years, but suddenly I was having them worse than ever. The only thing that helped me was drumming. Something had to give in 2015 and I didn't know what I should give up or how.
It wasn't until this summer and I gave birth to my second child that the concept of time changed for me. Yes, something had to give, but it was not what I thought it was. I thought I had to choose between writing and art, between writing books and illustrating them, but I had it all wrong. I gave a good hard look at where I was spending my time and how, and it finally hit me, the real truth of where my time was going and why.
Time is money, but not in the way you might think. What I mean is, your time is valuable. We all get the same amount of hours in the day, but how you spend them, what you spend them on, and who you spend them with - it all amounts to how rich the quality of your life becomes.
There is a balance between learning when to say yes and when to say no, but there is also a balance between what projects or book ideas you choose to take on and what projects you should say no to. Learning which projects to say yes to means learning the value of your time, the value of yourself. This also includes what relationships you say yes and no to. Choosing the right partner, the right group of friends, the right agent - it all contributes to where you time goes and why.
I get asked a lot, how are you a writer and an illustrator? How does that balance? I always say that I schedule time for both, but I do it organically or by deadline. I prioritize or I let inspiration take me. If I'm stuck on a chapter, I draw. If I can't think of what to draw or I'm waiting on feedback from a client to progress, I write. They feed each other. I get unstuck by being both. Because of this, I get writers block very rarely. I will always be both.
It wasn't until late in the year, when I was having drinks with my art mentor, that I got to the truth. He asked me, "What are you going to do if one of your talents begins to be more successful than the other?" that I took a good hard look at my time. It was then I realized what drives me to draw and what drives me to write were two very different things. As a writer, I'm happy to be left to write, success or not. If one book fails, I write another because it makes me happy to create for the sake of creating. But with art? I'm completely commercial and people driven. I'm collaborative with art, more interested in team work than individual projects. I love marketing teams and creating branding materials for authors and drawing maps, reading books and creating their worlds.
Because I looked at what drove me, what makes my art tick, I was able to better manage my time. I was clear on what I should say no to, and what to say yes to. I found my balance. In 2016, I'm moving into working with a new balance on writing and art that works for me. All my time started to free up. I found myself more relaxed, less stressed, and having less panic attacks.
If you're writing or drawing (or both), look at what drives you. Why do you want to write? Where does it come from? What about it gives you joy? Reminding yourself why you do what you love will help you find balance. After that, the harder part of learning to eliminate from your life the things that aren't serving your balance becomes much easier.
My favorite advice about time management comes from Ron Swanson of Parks and Rec: "Don't half a** two things, whole a** one thing." I used to think that meant choosing between writing and art, but I now realize it means not killing yourself going after what you love for the wrong reasons and in the wrong way. It means taking control of your time, owning all of it, eliminating the drama both around you and inside you. When you own your time, you will find the space to do the things you love -- always.