“How do you do it?” is a question I get asked occasionally about my ability to multi-task. How am I able to juggle practicing medicine, writing, parenting two teenage girls, writing a blog, and maintaining any sanity?

The answer: I am NOT managing most days, but I give it my best effort. After twenty years of practicing medicine, I discovered that my passion lies in writing. After furthering my education at Hamline, I vowed to write as often as possible. But that hasn’t come easy.

I get at least eight hours sleep, but I get up early to write. Some people can write into the wee hours of the morning, but I have my freshest, most creative energy about 4-5 am. Currently, I’m working on a Nanowrimo novel, but since I know I can’t function with any working brain capacity after a day of work, I try to get at least 500 words before the work day begins.

Deadlines are motivation. Nanowrimo forces me to put words on a page daily for an entire month, and I have completed five novels this way. (Not completed . . . but rough drafted of course.) Because my OCD will not allow me to fail at a challenge, the deadline pushes me to finish. I also set personal goals with attached rewards (this is also how I potty trained my kids – LOL). For example, today I intend to write at least 2000 words for Nanowrimo, put some last revisions on a picture book to send to my critique group for this week, and finish my Inkpot article J. Only after I complete these tasks, can I watch the recorded Supernatural episode that I have on DVR! (I got it accomplished by noon – bring on the Winchester boys.)

A critique group and a book club keep me revising projects and reading new books. The groups encourage me to work on a new manuscript or continue to revise one to get feedback. I write a blog to stay connected to the world and for potential readers to hear my voice and personality. It will come in handy for when I’m published someday – yes, it WILL happen.

I stay active with my family, because my number one occupation will always be MOM to my two teenage daughters. The evenings are family time and I avoid sneaking away to write during this quality time. (They’re teenagers, and they wont want me around soon enough.) This keeps me grounded.

When I can’t write, I create in other ways. Painting, crafting, and learning new artistic modalities keep my right brain active even when the words aren’t flowing. I opened my own Etsy shop “McCaw Musings” for fun. On other days and before bed, I read in the genre I’m working on. I reason that I’m still working creatively even if I’m not writing.

Two weekdays are dedicated to writing and I rarely write on the weekends. I share these weekdays with grocery shopping, laundry, cooking, and any appointments for kid, dog, or self that is necessary. I make appointments late afternoon to allow a solid morning of uninterrupted writing. Whenever possible, I sit in my dedicated writing room as soon as the kids get on the bus and I write until noon. After a quick break to eat, then I write again until about 3pm when the kids come home. I revise, revise, revise and then challenge myself to create new projects. I avoid interruptions and will use the Forest app on my phone to set an uninterrupted time goal while I plant a tree, and I also use the Self Control app on my computer to block me from using social media while I write. It helps!

My biggest challenge is focusing on one particular project. I am currently writing MG novels, picture books, and have a couple YA novels floating in the ether. Concentrating on one project at a time is difficult. If I flip from picture book writing to novels, I tend to write short choppy sentences. I choose one manuscript for the day to pursue and stick to it.

Character sketches prior to a new project help me to focus my writing. The more prepared I am helps the project flow more easily. I am a “pantser” and have never been successful at completing a full outline. I start a story and then enjoy the time and exploration as it develops and takes me on a journey. This takes dedicated time and focus on one project to keep the story alive.  

Even when I can’t write, I’m developing my story.  In the shower in the morning or between patients at work, I think through plot twists and develop conflict for my characters. If a story gets frustrating, then I set it aside and switch projects.

This is my method, and it works for me. Many writers lead dual lives and have similar stressors, but I hope something here helps focus your writing time to pursue your dreams.

Pat McCaw has an MFA in Writing for Children and Young Adults from Hamline University and an MD from the University of Iowa. She lives with her husband in Eldridge, Iowa, where she strives to be super-mom to her two teenage daughters. She recently cut her medical practice down to part-time in order to maneuver more writing time.