Many writers also have a day job which means time management and balance becomes paramount in their lives. Not only does Jeannie Ruesch have a day job, she runs her own graphic design and marketing services company, Will Design For Chocolate. Tracey, Adrienne and I are especially fond of Jeannie since she designed our wonderful Romance University site. She’s here today to talk with us about how she runs her own business, keeps up with her three-year-old and still manages to write!
Kelsey: Welcome, Jeannie! Could you give a quick overview of your business and the number of hours per week you spend interacting with clients and designing websites?
Jeannie: Thank you for having me, Kelsey! (waving to Adrienne and Tracey.) My business is called Will Design For Chocolate (and yes, I do…twice a year, my husband selects a project # assigned to a client and that client gets their work done for a box of chocolates…which my husband will then most likely eat.)
I have been in design and marketing for fifteen years, working for a variety of companies ranging from start ups to Fortune 500. Eventually, I decided to take my two loves – design and books—and combine them. My clients are mostly writers and authors, which I love – not only because it’s a joy to work with them, but because I believe I’m in a strong position to help them succeed in their marketing goals. I cover the gamut of marketing design, from websites to bookmarks, print and online advertising. You name it, I can probably design it. And if I don’t know what’s needed, I’m just curious and stubborn enough that I’ll take the time to find out. In fact, last year I worked on a client’s first cyber Christmas Party. We threw it in the game Second Life. I knew nothing about it to start, but delved in …and we had a wonderful time.
The number of hours a week I have scheduled to work on clients and graphic needs is twenty-four, but the weeks those twenty-four end up being the only hours spent on clients are…well, actually, I don’t believe I’ve ever had one. (Just ask my husband.) I love my clients, so saying no to something they need is difficult. And saying no to a project that excitements me or knowing that I might lose that project because my schedule is full for two months is really difficult, but I have to be realistic when I accept jobs. It’s only fair to my clients to know what to expect and to my family to get the time they deserve.
Jeannie: To be truthful, at times my writing does take a backseat (is my editor reading this?). At the core, it’s the job that pays the bills. But I also feel a very strong loyalty to my clients. They trust me with their needs, and I feel I have to honor that trust. It’s the luxury I have right now working with a small press, my deadlines are more flexible and I can control more of my time.
The difficulty for me is that both of my jobs – the writing and the design – are creative. They pull from the same portion of my brain, and after a long day of design work, it’s like wringing a dry sponge to pull any creative writing out of me. So at times, I’m forcing myself to just get words on the page. I can and will go back and revise, sharpen and polish them later… but finishing that first draft is often the hardest step for me. Editing is easier when I’m the middle of design projects. When I start editing, my right-side brain breathes a sigh of relief. I start with a checklist of things to edit for – repetitious words, my weakness, and other things—so for me, at least, it’s more analytical and more a left-brained activity.
Kelsey: How do you manage multiple projects, both design and writing related? How do you structure your days?
Jeannie: I am constantly looking for the best way to do just that. When I started getting busier, I just worked…and worked. Ultimately, I worked a lot – day and night, to try and do as much as I could. It was normal to be up until 3am many nights….and up by 7 with my son. And that would be an example of how NOT the way to find balance in anything. J Everything suffers when you aren’t more careful with your time.
The only way I can function with so many projects is to compartmentalize as much as possible. Separate days for different projects—including emails, etc–and following a strict To Do list of items that I focus on until they are finished. Because this isn’t always my strong suit, my husband helped me a lot during this time and he’s taking on some aspects of my business (like billing lol) that I’m not always good at. He’s a godsend.
Kelsey: Do you have regular childcare for your son? If so, do you ever feel guilt about time (not) spent with him?
Yes to both questions. My son is with his daycare provider, Robyn, three days a week now. Since I started my design business, I’ve slowly ramped up those hours in accordance with the work coming in. I went from one day to two …now to three. And during Brenda’s auction, he was with Robyn four days a week.
I am lucky to say he adores her. He has friends his age that he plays with, and he loves his time there (and often doesn’t want to leave).
I do feel guilty about the time I miss, even as I know he’s well taken care of. I wouldn’t be able to accomplish the work if he were here every day, but I also wouldn’t be able to get anything done if I didn’t believe 100% that my son loves the person who watches him, or that she loves and protects him.
I also never forget that I am blessed to spend half the week with him. I never take the time I have with him for granted. The days he is with me, I try my hardest to just be in those moments, since I know how fleeting they will be. Back to the compartmentalization of my time. The biggest struggle in juggling multiple elements is letting go of one to focus on the other. It’s something I work on, and try to find ways to handle every day. Sometimes I force myself to let go. Others, I realize that I have to make a list, or jot down notes or something, so I can let it go.
Kelsey: What advice do you have for other writers who work either full or part-time to help them stay healthy and sane? (At least moderately so!)
Jeannie: After attending Susan Elizabeth Phillip’s workshop at RWA this past July, I can say I’ve embraced her suggestion to give ourselves permission to put garbage on the page. J When time is of the essence and you don’t have enough of it in a day to accomplish everything you want to accomplish, this thought – this permission – can remind you that what you’re writing doesn’t have to be perfect. You can and will change it later. That’s important to me because at times I don’t have a lot of time to write so whatever progress I make is important, no matter how small.
I remember a few weeks that I was particularly busy, and time got away from me. The next time I looked at my WIP to open it up, I looked at the “last saved” date. It had been over a month. That was disheartening… even though I knew I had reasons that stacked a mile high on my desk, if didn’t matter. I hated feeling so distant from my work.
That’s when I made the goal for myself – open up my WIP file every single day.
I do my best to write every day. That isn’t to say that it’s brilliant or even a complete sentence. Sometimes getting two words on the page feels like a major accomplishment, but I am working at building the habit that my writing is a daily part of my life. I want to know that I met a goal. Some days, that goal is just to read the last page or two I’ve written. And sometimes, it may be thinking about my plot or a particular character and working out their motivation in my mind and then jotting down one or two sentences to keep it fresh.
I truly believe finding something that gives you a sense of accomplishment every day as a writer is imperative. Give yourself permission to make that goal as small as you need it to be, but do something, every single day, that reminds you that you’re a writer. The closer you feel to your writing, the harder it is to push it aside when you’re tired or irritable.
As for the rest, I’ve also learned that setting your schedule so you accomplish something every day is key. Make a To Do list, then break those tasks down as small as you have to so you know that you can finish something in one day. It’s common for me to be working on five to ten client projects at once… and yet at times, that’s also my downfall because it takes longer for things to come off of my To Do list.
Being able to check things off that list at the end of a the day leaves you with a sense that you finished something, you accomplished a goal – so you can put that job away and go on to the next part of your day without a nagging feeling. Writers have enough voices in their heads…we don’t need our own in there saying, “don’t forget this…but you didn’t finish that…”
So overall – Allow yourself to accomplish something, no matter how small, every day. Compartmentalize your tasks as much as you can. When you’re done with something, put it aside and give yourself fully to the next task at hand.
Thanks for having me, ladies!!
For our RU crew: Feel free to post a question for Jeannie or share your favorite strategies for maintaining balance in your life!
Jeannie’s Bio: It was a Saturday afternoon when Jeannie Ruesch gave up her illustrious, hours-long ambition of becoming a Dallas Cowboy Cheerleader (after seeing the made for TV movie). That day, she sat to write her very first story and when she was finished, she knew that pen ..or rather, pencil and collegiate-lined paper was the path for her. She was six. She finished her first two books in 7th grade—handwritten on 150 legal size pages and complete with hearts dotting the I’s, of course.
As an adult, however, she discovered the need to…well, pay for things. In her words, she “paid a lot of money to go to school, get a degree and go beg for work.” She began her career in marketing and design and continues to this day, with her graphic design and marketing business, Will Design for Chocolate. She considers herself fortunate that her passion of writing and her other love go hand in hand so nicely.
In 2008, she sold her first completed novel (as an adult and written on a computer this time) to The Wild Rose Press– a historical romance that has been a labor of love from the start. “It’s been through four or five revisions, including one complete scrap-it-and-start-over, and has been a wonderful tool for learning how to be a better writer.”
She is also the creator of the WIP Notebook, a writer’s tool to help stay organized while you write.
Now with a few more tools in her author’s tool belt, her first published book, and a drawer full of emergency chocolate, she has a lot more stories to tell. She lives in Northern California with her husband (who is likely tired of having his brain picked on the ‘male perspective’), their son and her brother, who she thanks every day (since he cooks and she hates to.)
- Weekly Lecture Schedule for August 16-20, 2010: Heather Webber, Build-a-Blog, Kim Howe, Jeannie Ruesch & Theresa Stevens
- 7 Weekly Steps to Becoming an Organized Writer with Kelsey Browning
- Weekly Lecture Schedule for June 14-18: Bella Andre, John Arden, Jeannie Ruesch & Theresa Stevens
- Weekly Lecture Schedule for April 19-23: Marjorie M. Liu, Kelsey Browning, Jeannie Ruesch & Margie Lawson
- Going Pro: When To Let the Professionals Step In