by Jenny Milchman

I used to think I had the whole work/life balance thing down pretty pat

“All” it required was the kind of all-in commitment that I’ve written about before, wherein one’s whole family joined in the writer’s career hopes and dreams, so everybody could pile into the car and go touring for months at a time.

And voila: no work/life dilemma at all.

Of course, this would have to entail total freedom re: the non-writing partner’s job, so that he or she could earn enough money to pay for said tour while working from the aforementioned car (my husband’s in IT), and also kids young enough to be “car-schooled” during said tour and…you can see where this is going, right?

The kids got older. Developed interests—and lives—of their own. My husband took a new job, which made working from the front seat a little tricky. (Now he’s a surgeon. KIDDING). And I found my way to a publisher that wanted was willing to set up an elaborate tour for me.

Which is why this year I will be away at an event on my daughter’s fifteenth birthday.

What does it take to be a working writer, a career author?

Writing is a pursuit that has two distinct parts: craft and the industry.

Craft can be honed with an astonishing degree of flexibility. We mentally hash out plot points, delve deep into a character’s psyche, mull over what we learned at a conference, even write whole scenes during slow times at a day job, while doing chores, or caring for our children.

There’s a price to be paid for habitual multi-tasking and living multiple lives at once—family members have been known to snap a finger repeatedly by a certain writer’s ear to get her attention—but I would still maintain that this ability to produce work and grow our skills while remaining connected to home and hearth allows people to become writers yet not starve their kids or plunge into bankruptcy.

The professional side of the business is a whole other story

In this age of content overload, it’s harder for a writer to stand out from the crowd, to become established in his or her career. More of the marketing burden falls on the writer. Some of the resulting work can still be done with one hand, while a baby is fed or an older child chased around the house—social media, for example—but some doesn’t lend itself to the do-two-things-at-once hack.

I can’t figure out how to be the featured author at a bookstore’s book club in Bethany Beach, Delaware, and simultaneously celebrate my daughter’s birthday on a day she is not permitted to miss school in New York State.

This isn’t the first time my pursuit of a career has resulted in a wrenching dilemma

My son was four years old and sick for the first time on the night I planned to go see the legendary Lisa Scottoline. I didn’t want to miss meeting Lisa! I was hoping she might share some wisdom I could use in my quest to get published. Or at least offer hope that it was possible to succeed at this thing if one kept at it long enough. And she did. But my son threw up for the first time without me there.

We have a funny family story from that night. When I got home after seeing Lisa, my son woke up and blamed being sick on the pizza we’d eaten earlier that day. And I replied, “Oh, I don’t know, sweetie. I think you probably just caught a little bug.”

And remember how I said he’d never been sick before? So he’d never heard this expression. He’s a very analytical, scientific-minded child who wants to understand everything. So he considered, and after a moment or two, replied, “Yeah. I probably just swallowed a little bug accidentally.”

Meanwhile, on the daughter front

She read a story at her first-grade talent show. A story that she’d written herself. It was pretty good too. I believe she got a standing O. I say “believe” because I wasn’t there to see it. Instead, I was hosting a panel for an array of authors I admired. Maybe even hoped one day to be.

And now that same little girl is turning fifteen, and I am about to release my fourth novel. I lost my first publisher only to find my way to my dream publisher. They’re sending me on a tour that equals in excitement anything I’ve done before—maybe even exceeds it.

Planes and handlers and cars and dinners and radio spots and more.

And I will feel glad and grateful and incredibly privileged every single day of the five weeks I’ll be out there. I get to pursue my dream of being an author.

I’ll also miss my family so much it will hurt.

We can’t have it all—at least not all at once

But if we do it right, accept the compromises while keeping those we love paramount, asking their indulgence as we walk this crazy writing road, we may wind up with exactly what we’ve been trying for, for so very long.

How do you manage the work/life balance? Any suggestions? Thoughts, comments, solutions? Come chat with us on our Facebook page.

Wicked River by Jenny MilchmanJenny Milchman is the Mary Higgins Clark award winning and USA Today bestselling author of four novels, including Cover of Snow and the brand new Wicked River, out from Sourcebooks on May 1st.