Posted On August 7, 2009 by Print This Post

A Delicate Balance: Writing and the Day Job

jeannieruesch_authorphotoMany 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.

Kelsey: You also write for Wild Rose Press so how do you schedule your business projects without compromising your writing projects?

SAH_Cover200Jeannie:  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.)

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31 Responses to “A Delicate Balance: Writing and the Day Job”

  1. As Jeannie’s client – she designed our beautiful website, updates it once a month, designs email campaigns, ad copy, book marks, installed an RSS feed (how, no clue) on our site, this list goes on! – we KNOW how hard she works. And how committed she is to excellence and helping her clients succeed as working authors, for us, maybe some day without the day jobs. She’s a gifted writer – we’re proud to own her engrossing debut novel and can’t wait for the release of Book 2 (how’s that for pressure to keep writing, Jeannie?). How she does it is as mysterious as how we do it. Running three companies between us, Kathie and I are planning maniacs. All worth it to hold one of our books in our hands. Or one of Jeannie’s. Thank you Jeannie for being multi-faceted, talented you.

    Posted by K.M. Daughters | August 7, 2009, 6:50 am
    • Hello Pat and Kathie!! I have to say that doing the job I do is easy because I have some of the most amazing people as clients — supportive, wonderful, and so generous with their time and compliments! LOL

      And as for the pressure to write #2, it’s in the works, I promise! In fact, to give myself some devoted writing time, I’m taking September off of design projects and focusing 100% on my writing for that month. This was actually my husband’s idea, his support makes so much difference in my life. I couldn’t do any of this without his strength and sheer belief in me. So at the end of September, I hope to have a finished #2 to hand in and the next book well outlined and ready to work on.

      Even on the days I stress out, I feel like the luckiest person there is — I’m doing two things I love — writing and design — and I have amazing support and people to work with. It truly makes all the difference.

      Posted by Jeannie Ruesch | August 7, 2009, 12:19 pm
  2. Jeannie -

    Welcome to RU (as a VP this time)! Can you share with us some of the things in life you’ve just had to “let go?”

    A couple of things I do to keep my sanity are:

    I decide at the beginning of the school year what I’ll volunteer for with my son’s class and I try like crazy to stick with that. I also tell him what I’ve decided so he’ll understand when I say no to something.

    Living in the desert, dust is a huge problem (although my DH may have solved it with 23 tubes of caulk in the last two weeks) so I’ve learned to ignore it on the furniture or use it to write funny messages to my family. :)

    I live and die by the list I make for each day. Then I use a moving Post-it note list for the big stuff that I know won’t get done immediately, but that way I remember it all still need to be done.

    Happy Friday all!
    Kelsey

    Posted by KelseyBrowning | August 7, 2009, 8:12 am
    • Hi Kelsey! I have a big, fat “Sure, I can do that.” problem. It means I tend to say “yes” before I stop to think about what it means to actually add that work into my schedule. I’ve recently had to let go of a project I truly enjoyed being a part of, but it was the right decision for me and I knew it was right because the moment I made the choice in my head, I started to feel the pressure coming off of me like steam after a hot tub. It was a hard choice but a good one.

      And hmm…the things I have learned to “let go” — housework often falls by the wayside. LOL Seriously, it’s always a balancing act and there are days when you have to let go everything to take care of the three year old who really needs his mom. Or you learn to put aside the piling work projects just to vacuum your house (because you haven’t done so in two weeks. LOL)

      At times, I’ve also had to put aside my writing in order to meet deadlines. For the last few months, I’ve put aside my own marketing stuff — which you can tell by looking at either of my websites (or that bio which is sadly out of date. LOL) And when I took on a huge project late last year, everything got put aside except for that project.

      Everything, at one point or another, has been put aside. For me, it’s a matter of making sure I (try to) maintain a balance, giving myself permission to let something go in the moment and remembering to pick it back up and put it in the priority list again.

      Posted by Jeannie Ruesch | August 7, 2009, 12:26 pm
  3. Hi Jeannie!
    Thanks so much for joining us. How does it feel to be on this side of the fabulous website you designed?

    I’m halfway through Something About Her. Love, love, love it!!

    I recently purchased several notebooks to keep track of RU projects and various information for my stories. I’m hoping they will help me stay organized. To Do Lists are great – I use them at work all the time.

    Thanks again for all you’ve done to help make RU a success, and good luck with your current WIP.

    Take care,
    Tracey

    Posted by Tracey Devlyn | August 7, 2009, 8:16 am
    • Something About Hers is one of my fav’s love Blythe and family.

      Posted by Regena Bryant | August 7, 2009, 8:33 am
    • Hey Tracey, Kind of funny to be here today since I’m working BOTH sides of the website. LOL (Doing backend updates and picture stuff today, as well.)

      I’m thrilled you are loving Blythe and Michael’s story!!!

      Notebooks of any sort are a way of life for me. I almost always have a notebook and pen wherever I go…it’s a conscious effort, because the few times I think “Oh, I won’t need that.” are always the times I need it most. Like on Wednesday, I was running errands with my son and driving around (which I know better, driving is when I work out a lot of plot stuff in my head lol) and the plot for my next book started coming at me in WAVES. By the time we sat down to have lunch, I had to grab a napkin (which is now pinned to my bulletin board) to write it all out. Notebooks are wonderful. :)

      Posted by Jeannie Ruesch | August 7, 2009, 12:30 pm
      • I brought Something About Her to the hair salon today and I didn’t care that my stylist had four chairs going at the same time and I was in the fifth. :-) Love the book, Jeannie, and hated to put it down. I have a feeling I’ll be up late tonight reading.

        Posted by K.M. Daughters | August 7, 2009, 12:46 pm
  4. Jeannie I enjoyed meeting you at the RWA conference. This was very helpful. I am always stressing on how to balance both writing and a full time job. Your advice about writing everyday even if the goal is small is great advice. I am going to do that!

    Posted by Christine Segina | August 7, 2009, 8:20 am
    • Hi Christine, it was a pleasure meeting you, as well!

      I completely understand the stress factor… and the best way I’ve found to help myself let that go (and many times it’s a choice, not a natural state lol) is to make sure I accomplish something on my writing every day, no matter how small, and that I can check one thing off my Design To Do list. It helps a lot.

      And the one thing I took to heart from the RWA conference was from Susan Elizabeth Phillip’s workshop. She said “Give yourself permission to put garbage on the page.” I have been repeating that mantra ever since, because the first draft is the hardest aspect for me. I’m great with edits, I love edits. The first draft is tough because you question every word, every sentence and I can get bogged down there. So if I give myself permission to put garbage on the page, it doesn’t have to be perfect and I can put a note on the page saying “fix this later” and move on. Also very helpful, especially when writing time is precious as it is.

      Posted by Jeannie Ruesch | August 7, 2009, 12:34 pm
  5. Jeannie,
    It is such a thrill and pleasure to see Something About Her in print. You inspire me inspiration to keep at it, balanceing work and children and writing. More than the great advice that you gave us it’s inspiring to see the “proof”in print.

    PS you won’t recognize my pen name you most likely know me as Kathy Thigpen

    Congrats and look forward to your next visit at RU.

    Posted by Regena Bryant | August 7, 2009, 8:32 am
    • Love the pen name! Thanks for stopping by.

      Posted by Tracey Devlyn | August 7, 2009, 9:12 am
    • Hi Kathy! You are right, I didn’t recognize you. :) Absolutely keep at it…your dream is your dream and should always be honored, visited every day and polished up, IMO. Seeing SAH in print was a dream of mine since I was six years old… Thirty years later, it became a reality. (Yes, I did just admit my age. lol)

      The other advice I took to heart is simply one word “Believe.” It encompasses everything, but it’s so important. Believe in yourself, believe in your gifts, believe in your dream and your success. And when you don’t feel like you can believe, fake it until you do. :)

      Posted by Jeannie Ruesch | August 7, 2009, 12:37 pm
  6. Hi Jeannie. It’s fun to see you as a VP instead of responding to all those “Help!” emails. LOL.

    After slipping on the icy driveway over the winter, and trying to edit my book with a concussion, I decided I needed a better plan (LOL). Ya think? I now break my day into segments. Two hours for emails and the rest gets split between my day job and writing. It’s simple, but the perfectionist in me loves the limits because I don’t feel guilty when the time is up. I just switch to the other project.

    Posted by Adrienne Giordano | August 7, 2009, 8:50 am
    • Ahhh yes, I actually think you hit a really good strategy. One that I have plans to implement with an egg timer. LOL I do get caught up in what I’m doing and time can get away from me VERY easily… especially email. My inbox is ridiculous.

      The last months have been crazy for me and I just pushed through trying to get as much done as I possibly could, so after my September hiatus, I plan to do exactly what you’re doing — break my day up into segments. Wish me luck. LOL

      Posted by Jeannie Ruesch | August 7, 2009, 12:40 pm
  7. Hi Jeannie!

    I just bought your WIP notebook last night, it was highly recommended by Jacqui Jacoby, and it looks amazing! Can’t wait to start another book so I can try it out! =)

    I have 3 jobs, plus writing. Restaurant manager, design websites, and design jewelry. Somedays (like yesterday!) are just flat out running from 8am-10pm. Writing occasionally takes a back seat, but I also try to do something every day. I live by my lists, crossing them off and starting a new one every morning. It helps a lot! And when I go through my email, nothing gets deleted until I’ve read it or accomplished whatever I was supposed to do in that particular email. Yesterday I had 117 emails in my inbox! yikes!

    Oh, and I also help my husband run a computer repair business on the side, just for fun. =)

    I don’t think I’m really organized, I’m just really a determined person who tries to cram everything she can into each day…lol…I will have to say though this week has been especially tough, had to skip my workouts 2 days in a row when a customer sent me 500+ photos for his website. eek!

    and now that I realize I’ve written all about ME…I’ll say thanks for the great article Jeannie and the WIP notebook…I’m sure it will help me tremendously with my next book and my attempts at organization!

    carrie

    Posted by carrie | August 7, 2009, 9:00 am
    • Hi Carrie, Thank you — I hope you find the notebook useful. I have plans for more versions eventually (it’s on the To do list lol) in both a perfect bound book and a OneNote version (which is where I actually use the info) as well as a few other similar projects. (Did I mention my To Do list is about 10 pages long?) I’m so thrilled with the response I’ve received from it, and glad it’s helping writers stay on track. :)

      Three jobs plus writing and a husband is a SERIOUS amount of effort! LOL I understand what you mean completely about “go, go, go”. Even though all of my work related is mostly at my desk, it’s a constant race to see how much I can finish in one day.

      But I’m also getting better about learning my limits, learning when I need to back off and actually say “no” to things. It’s never easy to do that, but it’s sometimes necessary for your sanity.

      And 500+ pictures? Oh good heaven, I’d say kill me now. LOL

      Posted by Jeannie Ruesch | August 7, 2009, 12:49 pm
  8. What a great interview. Jeannie you are an amazing person. I admire how you handle all that and stay calm and smiling. You are an inspiration.

    Posted by Mona Risk | August 7, 2009, 9:17 am
    • Hi Mona! Thanks for visiting today. I had to laugh…Remaining calm at times is a facade. LOL My brain tends to whirl about, running through To Do lists and WIPs and future books and ideas and the other ten million things I want to do on a constant basis. My husband says he can always tell when my brain is on overload — I apparently get a specific look on my face, fingers start taping like I’m playing the piano and calm is the last word he uses to describe me. LOL

      But I’m a believer that a lot of “state of mind” states are a choice…sometimes you have to move yourself into a state of mind. Going to sleep at night is a conscious effort at shutting down my brain. My hubby can fall asleep in three seconds flat, but it takes me at least a half hour and I have been known to count sheep many a time. Stupid brain. :)

      Posted by Jeannie Ruesch | August 7, 2009, 12:54 pm
  9. Great interview, Jeannie! I’m balancing a day job as a teacher with writing, so I can really identify with what you’re saying. One saving grace for me is that my husband travels once or twice a month…while he’s gone, I devote most of my evenings to writing so I can pay some attention to him when he’s gone. I’ve also found that social obligations that I really didn’t enjoy (women’s groups, etc.) had to go. I also screen all my phone calls and use Facebook and email for most casual correspondence…it’s much more time efficient for me than phone calls. One non-writing related activity that I maintain as a priority is exercise. It keeps me sane!

    Thanks for sharing your experiences and ideas : )

    Posted by Victoria Gray | August 7, 2009, 10:58 am
    • Oops…meant to say I pay attention to my husband when he’s home, not gone…

      Posted by Victoria Gray | August 7, 2009, 10:59 am
    • Hi Victoria, I understand what you mean about focusing on your writing while your husband is away! That’s great that you have that time and more that you treasure and use it. :)

      My husband is a morning person – he’s up before sunlight and out the door as the sun comes up to get to work. (He drives 3 hours a day in commute, if traffic is mild.) And I am a nightowl — 1am is a normal bedtime for me. So there’s often nights when everyone else is asleep and I have quiet time with my computer.

      With a teaching job, do you bring your work home with you? (grading papers, etc) I actually found it easier to split my time when I had a full time job working for someone else. Working for myself, at home, makes it hard to separate the elements and work time is always bleeding into everything else.

      Posted by Jeannie Ruesch | August 7, 2009, 12:59 pm
      • Jeannie,
        Like you, my hubby is a morning person and I’m a night owl…1 a.m. for me, too, even when I’m working…so, nights are wonderful for me. I’m fortunate now that I seldom have to bring teaching work home with me. I’m no longer in the classroom – I’m a school librarian, which means I teach technology, research and literature study classes and supervise the library, but don’t have to worry about homework and grades…I’m so blessed with that! I would have a hard time if I worked at home…the potential for that “bleed” you described is huge.
        Thanks for sharing your experiences :)

        Posted by Victoria Gray | August 7, 2009, 3:20 pm
  10. Woot! I’m just excited to see my fantastic critique partner blogging here. Great interview, Jeannie.

    She’s a fantastic writer (and editor), folks! I’ve only been working with her for a few months and I’m really impressed with the quality and quantity of her work over that time.

    Thanks, Jeannie!

    Posted by Jordan McCollum | August 7, 2009, 1:04 pm
    • *waving at Jordan** Hi there! So great to see you here, and I can toot the horn of my CPs, too. In fact, it’s something I’d add to the list of “must haves” in order to keep life balanced and working. A CP or CP group that gives you exactly what you need, on both aspects. I love the comments I get from Jordan and our CP group, and as well I love reading their work and editing because I always learn something new.

      With the CPs I have now, I have a fabulous balance — people who tell me when yes, it is indeed garbage and what the h-e-double L was I thinking, and who also tell me when they love it. Now I have to get my butt in gear and get my CPs work back to them… LOL (It’s on the list I swear!!)

      Posted by Jeannie Ruesch | August 7, 2009, 1:54 pm
  11. Just wanted to say I stopped by and love your article. I have to say I’m still struggling with a balance of life and writing. Can’t wait for your next book.

    Posted by Beth C. | August 7, 2009, 1:12 pm
    • Hi Beth!! Thanks for stopping by and commenting. I think somewhere in my head, I had it that I had to be on top of things and balanced every single day. But balance really is about priorities, knowing how to let go of things and how to give yourself permission to just do the best you can. Every day is different. I struggle with being in the moment, not thinking about what I have to do two hours ahead. It helps to keep myself less stressed. And knowing my limits has been HUGE — it’s been a lesson I’ve definitely learned this year.

      Posted by Jeannie Ruesch | August 7, 2009, 2:01 pm
  12. I also wanted to add my own comment to say thanks to the Romance U ladies!!

    Romance University is a fabulous place – I love the interviews, the information they offer… I remember when they contacted me about doing the website thinking what a terrific idea it was. They’ve done such a wonderful job with the content, I love the male perspective series especially and I have yet to read an article I haven’t learned something or pulled something new from. I’m so happy to work with them, and I can’t toot the horn of this site enough!!! :)

    Posted by Jeannie Ruesch | August 7, 2009, 2:02 pm
  13. Jeannie -

    We wouldn’t be here if not for you! The professional look of the RU site catches people’s attention and communicates that we’re serious about this blog. No doubt, it takes some work, but I wouldn’t change a thing about this experience.

    Jeannie, you’ll always be one of the “RU gals!”
    K-

    Posted by KelseyBrowning | August 8, 2009, 7:38 am

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