Wednesday, June 24, 2009

Anne Marie Becker: When Did I Join the Circus?

I haven’t been kidnapped. I didn’t run away. But somehow, I ended up in the midst of craziness. I chose the path my life has taken and I love where I’ve ended up so far, but most days (especially lately) it feels like I’ve joined the circus.

When I was asked to blog about how I balance being a writer with the rest of my life (i.e., being a mother, wife, daughter, sister, and somewhat productive member of society), I had to laugh. Balance? Most days, it feels like I’m teetering from one project to the next, barely gaining my footing. It feels like I’m cramming a piece of writing in here, feeding the kids there, a quick check of my emails here, get the kids in the tub over there (and clean up the inevitable mess that follows one or several – sometimes all! – of the aforementioned).

But sometimes, life is chaotic. Life cycles. We all have slow times (even if they’re a distant memory). We all have busy times. And we all have times when we need to take a break from everything.


Even though recent times have made me look around, searching for the yellow-and-red-striped tent that must surely be surrounding me, on those rare occasions that allow for deeper introspection, I realize I do have a balance to my life. While my life sometimes feels like a circus, it’s an extremely well run circus, mainly because I am still in control. I am the ringmaster, and as such, I set clear, definable, attainable goals and have learned to review them on a weekly basis.

I’ve set goals in every arena of my life – writing, mothering, taking care of the house, and so on. At the start of each week, I set aside time to look at my goals for the week and determine what I can manage to accomplish, breaking them into smaller pieces if I have to. These goals are given a priority, and higher priorities must come first that week. These priorities can change on a daily, weekly, or monthly basis, depending on what’s going on in my life. I’m the ringmaster, but during the course of any given day, I may have to step in and be the clown, lion tamer, strongman, or juggler.


If you have children, a spouse, or any kind of family or friends, you know that you will be called upon (sometimes hourly) to fill one of these roles. Kids crying or significant other pouting? Put your clown face on and do kid things for a while to fill their needs. Siblings fighting? Break out your whip and play the lion tamer. Have to lug a bajillion bags of groceries up the stairs, clean the house, and mow the lawn? Time to be the strongman. All jobs are important to making this circus thrive.

Not just any juggler, but one of those breath-stealing, death-defying jugglers who flings fiery contraptions into the air and catches them again with amazing precision and skill. And that’s just while trying to herd my 4- and 6-year-old offspring to school in the morning. I do it all over again when they come home. And while they’re gone, I do a similar juggling act with my other roles in life – wife, housekeeper, daughter, sister, friend, president of my local RWA chapter, and writer.

Notice how I put “writer” last? Unfortunately, many days that’s how it feels. But I still keep at it. Even if I only write 20 minutes a day (which is how it all started several years ago, by the way), I count the day a successful writing day. There are days I spend 6 hours or more on writing-related projects, but I’ve learned that those days aren’t the norm. And something almost always “pops up” during the course of a day so that I’ve learned to plan my schedule with built-in “crisis time” to cover any unexpected surprises. I treasure every small bit of time I can write, just as I treasure the time I have as a mother and wife, daughter and sister. Writing is a part of me now. So when people ask – how do you find the time? – I have to say, how can I not?

One thing that helps immensely is a skill for juggling – er, I mean multi-tasking. I have trained myself to be well organized – a true blessing in a business where you often set your own deadlines and juggle responsibilities, submitting queries on one manuscript at the same time you’re editing another and plotting a third. To keep all these balls in the air, I have calendars, and lists, and lists of my lists. In fact, a fellow Golden Heart finalist (Jacqui Jacoby) and I are putting together a Writer’s Organization Toolkit that we hope to sell at the Moonlight Madness Bazaar at the national conference – all to raise money for our local chapter. We were shocked at how few time management and goal setting resources were available specifically for writers (as in, none).


Over the years, I’ve had to accept that I can’t manage time, but I can manage how I spend my time. I’ve developed a system that works for me. (Did I mention the lists?) I have a weekly To-Do List, broken down into days, of things I have to do that week. At the end of my list is a column called “Later” for things that aren’t demanding my time this week, but that I need to focus on in coming weeks. I have two calendars I consult on a weekly basis – one for family appointments and one for writing goals and deadlines.

It may seem complicated, but the key is I’ve found a system that works for me. I am a perfectionist, and writing a list each week that details what I need to (or should) accomplish each day helps get the “chatter” out of my head. I found that I’d feel anxious about getting everything done – until I wrote it down. Just knowing it was written in permanent ink in the top drawer of my desk really helped. If something pops up, I simply add it to the list, on a day I think I can handle it, or on the “Later” list if there isn’t enough time. Most important, though, is it gets it all out of my head, so I can sleep at night. I’ve learned to let go of what I can’t get done during the day, and add it to another day’s To-Do List.

Despite the chaos, I love the juggling act. I’m someone who can’t abide boredom, which is why I picked up writing full-time. I needed a fantasy world to be an alternate dimension to my real world. And, after having worked as a counselor with people from all walks of life, and in all kinds of mental states, I can say that I’m lucky to have the chaos. It’s part of a healthy life, if you can find a way to juggle it without too much stress. And who wants to die saying every day was normal, uneventful, and boring? Not me! So I say, enjoy the circus!

Thank you for having me here at Seekerville. You seem like a fabulous, supportive group of writers. You all get free tickets to my circus! If you’d care to comment, I’d love to hear how everyone out there juggles life. I’m always learning.

Happy writing (and mothering, working, housekeeping, or whatever other roles fill your days),

Anne Marie

Anne Marie Becker’s life is often like a circus, but she wouldn’t change a thing. She loves being a wife, mother, daughter, sister, president, and award-winning writer. Recent additions to her To-Do List include shopping for a dress for the Golden Heart ceremony, where she’s a finalist in the Romantic Suspense category. You can visit her at


  1. Congratulations on your GH final, Anne Marie. (great name, my sister's name and I am Tina Marie).

    Welcome to Seekerville. We have of course roasted peanuts, hotdogs and cotton candy..but for now donuts and java.

    Great post. I live for the list. Right now I am compiling my daily one, to coordinate with the weekly and monthly one of course.

    And as I have mentioned before here I am a huge fan of WRITE IT DOWN MAKE IT HAPPEN by Henriette Ann Klauser.

    Excellent post...gotta go juggle some balls now.

  2. Welcome to Seekerville, Anne! And congratulations on your finaling in the GH! This is getting to be a habit for NARWA members--Julie Stevens last year and then both you and Jacqui Jacobi in 2009! Go Arizona!

    I'm a list person, too -- one on an index card every day that I carry in my purse (along with another index card where I accumulate items for a grocery store or Wal-mart run). I have a long-range "master list" on the computer, too, that I check into at the beginning of the week. There's also a section that has odds 'n' ends things that don't need to be on a "To Do List" with a deadline, but I want to keep on the radar. You know things that you'd like to do in your free time -- if you ever get any!

    I thought I had a ton of stuff on my lists before, but with "Dreaming of Home" coming out in October, it's tripled, so I can identify with your Circus World!

  3. Hi Anne Marie,

    I love your comparison of life to a circus!

    I don't make daily lists but I do set three monthly goals and really strive to meet them every month. I don't always but I try.

    I'm going to add popcorn to our circus treats.


    PS Tina, I'm Rose Marie! : )

  4. Welcome to Seekerville, Anne Marie! Mega congrats on the Golden Heart final!!! Hope you find a great dress.

    I love your delightful take on managing our hectic schedules, especially yours. Just hearing all you do makes me want to go back to bed. :-) I'm a huge listmaker. Like you, I can't sleep until I've written down the "To Dos" dancing through my mind at bedtime.

    Thanks for the coffee and donuts, Tina.


  5. Thanks for the post, Anne Marie! It sounds so familiar I think you wrote it straight from my desk instead of yours.

    At least I'm in good company with all the list makers here! I've heard some people say that writing everything down is frustrating because you get discouraged when you see all there is to do. Not me! Writing it down gets it out of my head and into a place where I can keep up with it. Plus, I do love accumulating those check marks to show things are DONE! :-)

    Got to have some of those monster-size pretzels to go with the other munchies. I'll pick some up when I go Krogering later this morning.

  6. Hello Anne Marie!

    Great post. It's good to know I'm not alone in my list-making obsession! I've always made lists for everything and writing is no exception. I find it easier to concentrate when I can look at everything I need to do. It's much easier than trying to figure out off the cuff what needs doing. When I do that, I inevitably leave something important off. Plus, when I have a list staring at me, it's harder to push the "very important but more often than not boring" work to the side.


  7. That was a fun and accurate analogy, Anne Marie!

    I get into a routine and that helps. Summer is challenging because my routine goes away, but I've found that if I can get a couple of hours on the computer first thing in the morning, I'm a more cheerful mom for the rest of the day. :-)

  8. I'm loving the great comments. It's nice to know I'm not alone in the chaos!

    With my husband on crutches for the past 10 weeks as he heals from foot surgery and the kids home from school, the lists have become more necessary than ever to cover my "To Do's" and my husband's. And, we just found out we're expecting child #3, so that list is expanding daily!

    The circus continues...

    Oh, and thanks for the donuts!! I love the ones with chocolate icing.

  9. #3!!!!

    Oh, yes, time to celebrate!

    Quick, we'll have an impromptu shower. I've got cake, cookies, chocolate and punch.

    And diapers for a gift. Every baby needs diapers.

    Someone bring little sandwiches, 'kay? And chips. And fruit salad, oh my stars, how can we have a new baby without fruit salad?

    Can't be done.

    Okay, presents.



    Anything that numbers 1 and 2 wore out.

    Make a list!!!


    Perfect solution.

    Super mega congrats on the GH and the baby. Blessings all around. Oh, how wonderful!

    I think it might look like me. The baby, not the GH. My one venture into GH-land was crash and burn.

    It wasn't pretty.

    No survivors.


    Now lists.

    I make lists.

    Sometimes I read them.

    Sometimes I lose them.

    Sometimes I find them.

    This is an inexact science in Ruthy-land.

    I file things in the computer.

    And never see them again.

    I need a remote to tell me where the remote is.

    Anne Marie, darling, any advice???


  10. Hi Anne Marie,

    Thank you for the helpful post. I've been feeling really stressed lately, and your mention of lists reminded me how much better I feel when I write things down. Thanks!

    Congrats on child#3! Wahooo!

  11. Why is it every time I visit this fabulous block I get hungry....... RUTHIE :) Anne Marie, she has the juggling act down to a science, which probably adds so much to your writing, would you agree? She forgot to mention she's president of her local chapter, she helped me with co-coordinating the Judge Training for the Daphne. This woman does it all, and she's so pretty and smart besides. Good things come to good people, and I see wonderful blessings to you and your husband with child number 3.

  12. Another list maker here. I'm so addicted to them that I've even been known to do something, realize it's not on the list, and then write it down---just so I can have the satisfaction of CROSSING IT OFF THE LIST.


  13. Hi Anne Marie, nice to meet you. Congratulations on your GH final. I'll be clapping for you when your pix goes up on the big screen.

    I’m not too much into lists but am getting better. My sister lives by them and is always trying to get me more involved. Now, after reading your post, I think I will.

    See you in DC. I plan on looking up your Writer’s ToolKit at the Moonlight Madness Bazaar. Good luck with your shopping!

  14. Great post, Anne Marie. I thought I was the only one who made lists of my lists. :) Like you, I just find I'm calmer when I write it down and can refer to it as needed. Kind of like brain drain, so there's room for the actual "doing" of stuff rather than just the "remembering".

    As a fellow GH finalist, I've had my lists for DC going for about 2 weeks now. I've been taking little snatches of time to worry about my schedule and wardrobe for the trip. Now if I could just get my pitches done...

    Congrats on the new addition!


  15. Oh, Anne Marie, you're in the circus too?

    Wow, what a small world!

    Mmmmm, pass me one of those hotdogs!

  16. I love, love, love lists.

    Little stickies at work when things get especially hectic.

    Spreadsheets for long-term stuff.

    Emails to myself with subject line that says:

    *******Things to do********

    The astericks are VERY important!

  17. Helen said: Another list maker here. I'm so addicted to them that I've even been known to do something, realize it's not on the list, and then write it down---just so I can have the satisfaction of CROSSING IT OFF THE LIST.

    Oh, my! Me too, Helen. Me too.

  18. That is a great blog never thought of my life as a circus maybe a nut house.....
    Always something going on with someone mad at someone else, you never know with my bunch.


  19. Great blog. I wish I could write bits here and there, but it takes me 20 minutes just to immerse myself back into story land.

    Congrats on #3! Looks like your juggling skills will have to improve yet again, but I've no doubt your up to the challenge.

  20. Great post! I need to get in the 20-minutes-a-day habit. I tend to not consider it a successful writing day unless I spend a good portion of it at my computer, plugging away.

  21. Ruthy - yes, I'll need diapers!! I thought I was past all that, but life throws you little surprises. As for the lists (and tendencies to misplace them), I'd pick one place to keep it (such as the top drawer of your desk or tape it to a cupboard in your kitchen that you open on a daily basis). Also, just writing things down (even if you lose it) can help you remember the things you have to do. It's one more way of imprinting the information on your memory.

    Donnell - you're going to make me cry! Thanks for all the kind words.

    Danniele,CONGRATS on the GH final! Ack, the pitch! That's on my To-Do list for next week. Dress fitting this week. Gotta have priorities! (grin)

    Now that it's lunchtime, maybe I'll try some popcorn - ooh, and funnel cake (or elephant ears, depending on what part of the country you're in)!

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  23. Okay … thought of the clever thing to say, thought of the meaningful thing to say, thought of being a wise ass - shocker, huh?

    Simple fact is I **do not ** know a better Ring Master on the planet who not only manages to juggle it all, but adds their friends and family’s needs to their list as new and unusual things crop up and scream “Need Help Now!!” You take care of it all and everybody and yeah, you might get a little tired, but you still come out on top, always a lot of fun, a great person to be around, a **great** friend and you keep on writing ...

    You are an inspiration and the words of this blog should be shared because I think you nailed it with the most of us … we do all have to juggle it all … and you do it the best.

    Jacqui Jacoby

  24. Anne-Marie--Popcorn at a baby shower. I'm all in!

    I love the moments you mentioned--the treasures in the midst of craziness. Life is too deep not to live in all its amazing multi-dimensionality (even if it means I need a bigger Ringmaster).

    Congratulations on this year of new adventures and for reminding us how special every moment in life is!

  25. Welcome to Seekerville, Anne Marie!

    I love making lists. It's knowing where I put them when I need them that makes my world a circus : )

    I love your idea of a Writer's Toolkit. Sometimes just having all the tools you need at hand makes all the difference in your productivity.

    Congratulations on finalling in the Golden Heart, too!

    Thanks for sharing!

  26. A circus -- yep, that's it. With trained cows and poultry.

    Lots of good ideas there. Thanks!

  27. Hang on. It's going to be a bumpy ride.

  28. What a wonderful way to describe trying to keep up with your life.

  29. Great post, Anne!! Now I just have to figure out how to get the Ringmaster job back. Most days it feels like someone else's in charge and I'm stuck in the backseat of the clown car! :)

    Congrats on your happy news!!


  30. Love the clown car image, Cee!

    Thank you to everyone here in Seekerville for hosting my circus today (and for all the wonderfully yummy treats). I really enjoyed visiting with you all. And it always helps to know I'm not alone in this craziness.

    Happy listmaking, writing, and juggling!

    Anne Marie