BALLS OF STEEL: Balancing Writing and Life

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.

More articles by Jeanne Veillette Bowerman

19 thoughts on “BALLS OF STEEL: Balancing Writing and Life

  1. Ajit Kumar

    Basically, connecting oneself with family is very important like an anchor for the ship, however big the ship be, it still needs an anchor, else, drifting takes place. I found many people in my life, who found many reasons to be away from the family, just to enjoy the drift, a little, but later gets caught in the flowing current, they get distanced, not able to come back to the family, and this distortion ruins their career.

  2. Jennifer

    Oh, Jeanne, you hit me right where I live. Started a new production company, maintaining another business, volunteer work, a sideline freelance gig, supporting a Dad now disabled by a stroke and recovering from hip surgery. Oh, and working on my fourth full length feature. Do I have time to do my laundry this week? Maybe not. Average length of time dirty dishes linger in my sink? Four to five days. Last time I shaved my legs? Uh…

    I do try to achieve “balance” by focusing on doing what I am doing at the moment — and doing it well. When I’m with my Dad, I focus on being the best daughter I can be. When I’m at my production company, I focus on being the best producer I can be. And when I carve out a few hours a week to work on my script, I’m the best screenwriter I can be.

    Or at least that’s what I tell myself…:)

  3. Erik Dessler

    I love this column, I rarely comment…. I’m almost phobia about the web at this point soooo… Yeah. But this has come home to me so much over the last few years; I have MS and various issues they can’t figure out(like stage 2 hypertension at 35)… And my wife has congenital glaucoma and is legally blind… I read other people saying ‘our work is who we are’, and your ‘they might as well be stabbing..’ and god, that’s so true. Every day I struggle with this project, and we’re broke; and I mean broke as in I went without my blood pressure pills for three days for lack of $4. Often we don’t eat. But always I carry this sense of urgency, this sense of ‘this is why I’m alive, and if don’t at least complete it I’ll have endured all this for nothing’. People accuse me of being a bum. Accuse HER of being a bum.

    And last Friday she had three almost back to back seizures, and then I ended up in the ER myself for my blood pressure… all I kept thinking was that I promised her and myself that I would do this, and how much would I regret it if something happened to one of us while my script/score was sitting unfinished in limbo because I just ‘didn’t get to working’ that day? In my MIND I’m writing 24/7, a constant almost white noise, but that won’t help if suddenly there isn’t any more time….. Not to waste OR use. And I’m almost more afraid of that than of dying.

    I think sometimes balance is also knowing that you – you in this article, not the general you – can’t BE the person they’d want if you gave up your soul and your passion. And while of COURSE, life might actually be EASIER, you absolutely CANNOT get time BACK once It’s gone. No time out, no ‘Hang on, guys, it wasn’t supposed to be like this, rewind’. And sometimes you HAVE to tell them AND yourself that the hard, struggling, bleak times are JUST in passing, and that the time itself is worth it. Be determined that It’s worth the sacrifice. I can’t IMAGINE giving up now, and not a small part of why is because I feel idve wasted the last few years, that all that I’ve done isnt enough yet to justify the things we’ve had to endure. Art is a powerful incentive….like love. If you’re Lucky you can even fuel the first with the latter.

    I’m so sorry….!! Rambling like an idiotic maniac. I’m sorry, I’m SO tired.(Technically I’m not ‘up’, yet. Heh.) But I felt I needed to comment, even if nothing I said was even CLOSE to articulate. Thank you for this, is what I mean to say. For perspective. For existing. -.-

  4. Jeanne Veillette BowermanJeanne Veillette Bowerman Post author

    Dan, I know the feeling too well. My parents live a mile from me, and I don’t talk to them nearly enough. I have no doubt, that will be one of my biggest regrets. I need to fix that… pronto.

    Eva, thanks! I appreciate you always supporting my ramblings.

  5. Pingback: Priorities-101:Yes means No « ADD . . . and-so-much-more

  6. Dan aka @electrifyngMojo

    Today I found out that my mother, who lives 2000 miles away, has been in the hospital since Monday undergoing numerous tests and waiting to hear from her numerous Drs on what treatment she’ll require to mend her weary body. Sadly, I cannot remember the last time I took a moment out of my busy day to call my folks and see how they’re doing. Your column is a timely reminder of just how important it is to reach out to our loved ones before we run out of opportunities to do so and are only left with regrets. Thank you Jeanne.

  7. Jeanne Veillette BowermanJeanne Veillette Bowerman Post author

    Jamie, your man is going to love the life of leisure 🙂

    Sylvain, great perspective. I love the idea of embracing living in the moment.

    Ian, while what you’re experiencing now is difficult, I promise you, you’ll use these personal learnings in your writing some day. One step at a time. She doesn’t need to understand what you do, just respect that you love it.

  8. Ian

    Ever since I’ve been pursuing a career in screenwriting, my mom doesn’t understand it. I found a local writers group so I finally went for the first time. When I got back from it, she was surprised I wanted to go back in two weeks. She doesn’t get that getting any kind of feedback is still helpful, regardless if they are from professionals or not. Someone can still see something I can’t in my scripts. She doesn’t think it’s worth it and I have to constantly fight with her.
    I’m currently doing a rewrite of a short screenplay I wrote about a year ago and now she is constantly bugging me to read it. I told her I would show her when it’s ready but she just takes it personally like, she thinks I don’t want to show her and gets insulted by it.
    Unfortunately, I can’t afford to live on my own and my mom has a rare immune disease and needs help around the house, plus my dad isn’t giving her enough money so I have to help her out financially as well.
    I’m in a very difficult situation but I continue to write anyway. I even write on my lunch break when I have time.

  9. Sylvain Paquette

    The break-even point starts at wishful thinking. It translates progressively to action and re-action. All the while life goes on, dumping bread crumbs to examine or glimpse over on a path filled with (again) thoughts.
    You talk of priorities & honesty, i yell back respect for more than a mind.
    For every minutes of another’s words travelling mouth to ears there’s a thing call openness to actual reality. These simple events teach us one important lesson – it’s not the path, it’s WHAT is there in the moment for us to witness or participate in.
    Not even a question of balance with some decisions – it’s just a perfectly natural form of instinct & emotions.
    It takes more than listening to think – we need reasons to step through the barrier of individuality.
    Thanks for giving us, one of many more.

  10. Jamie Lee Scott

    Fantastic post. Thanks. I’m so lucky to have the world’s most supportive spouse when it comes to my writing. He’s behind me 100%, but he’s also there when I go overboard, throwing me the life preserver and telling me everything’s going to be okay. He’s the one telling me, “It’s okay to write, and it’great, but remember the restaurant is paying the bills for now.”
    Even though he understands absolutely ZERO about any of my writing endeavors, he’s fully committed to being a househusband in the near future. lol

  11. Steve Harshfield

    So fitting that this is called Balls of Steel (other than for the obvious reason). This life that we choose is about juggling – keeping all those balls in the air. It is easy to forget that one of those balls is family… Thanks for your balls, Jeanne!

  12. Princess Scribe

    What is this thing you call balance? Is it edible? Does it come in chocolate?

    All kidding aside, Jeanne, another wise post.

    Our work is more than what we do – it is a part of us. It is an extension of our hearts and our souls. For others to try to deny us that with guilt, or mutterings of obligation, is to kill off a piece of us each and every day.

    I’m all for healthy selfishness – meaning, prioritizing for self. That being said, there are some times when we have to have another priority – that of family, of hearth and home.

    Your cousin is wise, as are you, for counseling beautiful Wonder during this heartbreaking decision.

    At the end of the day – list your regrets. Look over that list… and pledge to reduce the list by one each and every day.

    xo
    me

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