Not long after my trip to Glacier National Park last year, I received a pitch from a writer in that region. Author Kris Dinnison hails from Spokane, Washington, the city I flew in and out of for the trip. Kris is the author of You and Me and Him (Houghton Mifflin Harcourt, 2015). When I read her pitch about her day-in-the-life, I recognized a few similarities to my own days and found it comforting that another writer on the other side of the country manages the same ‘controlled chaos.’ Kris explains more about balancing freelance obligations with non-writing life and, ultimately, coming to the same conclusion I do every day.
Controlled Chaos With a Side of Flexibility
By Kris Dinnison
The dog whines at 4:30 AM. I roll out of bed, fumble in the dark for my sweats, tennis shoes and headlamp. By the time my husband, the one of us with a “real job,” stumbles to the shower, I’ve already been on the trail for an hour and a half. I don’t do this because I’m virtuous or particularly fitness-minded. I do it to wear out Lou, our ninety-pound lab puppy, in the hopes that he’ll sleep through the rest of the morning, granting me a few precious hours to write before he gets a second wind and it’s time to wear him out again.
If all goes well, I make coffee, kiss my husband goodbye, and sit down at the computer and the workday starts. If all doesn’t go well, I get delayed by the dog throwing up his breakfast, or my daughter who lives in London wanting to Skype, or, worst of all, me discovering I’m out of coffee.
Must. Have. Coffee.
When I’m finally at my post, which is usually in my office or at my dining room table, I set a timer. Yes. A timer. Fifteen minutes. I get fifteen minutes on social media. Otherwise I get completely sucked into the vortex of blooper reels and political essays and vacation photos and suddenly it’s four in the afternoon and the garage door is opening and no writing has happened all day and I’m a failure.
I’m not afraid to admit I have a problem. So yes, I set a timer.
Fifteen minutes of social media: then I journal. I try for three pages, a hold-over from the Morning Pages Julia Cameron recommends in her wonderful book The Artist’s Way. But this is not smart, insightful journaling. This is emotional drivel. This is downloading all my neurosis and mind loops and all the other garbage that gets in the way of my writing. Let it be known that I regularly burn my journals. The world would thank me if it knew what they contained.
After journaling I read a couple of poems. I am not a poet, but reading poems nearly daily has helped my language as a prose writer become more adventurous and nimble. Poets are the daredevil acrobats of the literary world and I long to be more like them.
When all this is done, if the dog is not whining, one of the cats is not lying on my keyboard, and my husband hasn’t called to say someone is sick at one of our two businesses (which would mean I must shower, jump in the car, and race down to fill in a shift at work), I write. What I write isn’t important. I might be drafting, or revising, or working on a freelance piece, or maybe just organizing ideas for future projects, but the work of writing comes first. I answer emails or do the dishes or take a shower later. I wouldn’t skip a shift at a job because I got distracted by housework or errands, so I try to schedule those things around my writing, not the other way around.
Like so many professional writers, my life is a mélange of time spent tending to the rotating demands of a day job, a family, the business side of writing, and creating new work. I’d love to call it a delicate balance, but it’s really more of a messy hodge-podge of days lost, broken, or gone astray. Sometimes I feel like I should get that Robert Burns quote about the “…best laid plans of mice and men…” tattooed on my forehead. A day in the life of this writer rarely goes as expected, and yet I feel like I’m living the life I wanted of all the years I wasn’t a writer. So I’ll take a little chaos if it means I get to live my dream.
Kris Dinnison spent nearly two decades as a teacher and librarian while dreaming of becoming a writer. Her work has appeared in One Teen Story, The London Journal of Fiction, HelloGiggles, YARN, The Inlander and The Spokesman Review, among others. She lives and writes in Spokane, Washington. Her first novel, You and Me and Him, came out in 2015 from Houghton Mifflin Harcourt. She blogs at Scribble and Hum, she tweets @krisdinnison, and you can find her on Tumblr and Instagram @krisdinnison.