The Time Management Challenge for Writers: Male vs. Female

- by Deb Mullins

It’s the morning of Easter Sunday as I write this, and I am pondering this afternoon’s celebration at my mother-in-law’s house.  The usual thoughts go through my head.  Son #1 is working this morning and will be coming separately.  Does he remember how to get to MIL’s house?  What time will he arrive?  Does Son #2 have any clean clothes?  Will I have time to write today?  Do male writers ever have to worry about stuff like this?

Whoa.  Backtrack.  Do male writers ever have to worry about stuff like this?

I truly have no answer for this question.  I have been a professional writer for over ten years now; however, I write romance novels.  This means that 99.99% of the writers I know are female.  I kid you not-I can count the number of male writers I know on one hand and never even use all the fingers.  So this really is a question where I have no answer.

This got me wondering.  How do gender roles affect the writing schedules of male writers versus female writers?  For instance, up until a few of decades ago, men were supposed to be the breadwinners and women were supposed to take care of the home and children.  Then women started getting into the workplace-and they still were expected to take care of the home and children in addition to working. 

So when a man has a deadline and needs to lock himself in his office and write for hours, I would assume no one blinks an eye.  This is his job.  He is winning bread.  But if a woman needs to do the same thing, there is usually a juggling act that must precede said sequestering because of her other obligations-home, children, managing the family social schedule, dealing with doctors’ appointments for the family, et cetera. 

I know many female writers who wake up before dawn to squeeze in their pages before the kids get up so they are assured writing time with no interruptions.  It’s the only time available to them because in general, women are the social directors of their families.  They run the kids to soccer practice and volunteer at the church and stay in contact with family members.  They make arrangements for holidays and birthdays.  Once those kids are up and about, any thought of uninterrupted time becomes a really nice fantasy. 

Add to that another factor-there are female writers like me who work outside the home at a 9-5 job, while balancing a writing career and home and children and social obligations.  More things to fit into the same 24-hour day.  The juggling act gets trickier.

I know this is the 21st century.  I know that now more than ever before, men are taking a more active role in the home and family life.  On the TV show Castle, author Rick Castle admitted that he stayed home with his daughter when she was growing up while his wife was working a day job.  But that is fiction. Does this happen in real life?  Is it that the writer becomes the caregiver by default because that person is home, or is it gender based, where traditional roles apply?  I know my own husband runs the non-driving son to his social engagements, does the grocery shopping and is the family chef (I do the dishes and allocate the correct Tupperware containers for the leftovers).  He is amazingly supportive of my writing career and my determination to make a success of it.  However, based on what I have heard from other female writers over the years, he may well be an exception to the rule.  And he is not a writer himself.

Is this kind of teamwork normal in today’s writer marriages?  Do male writers pitch in with the family and home life or are they left alone to work while their wives carry on the conventional female roles in the home?  Are there female writers out there whose husbands take over hearth and home during deadline dementia?  What happens if both husband and wife are writers and they have kids?  How does the work get divvied up?  How prevalent are gender roles in our home lives, really? 

Which leads me back to my original question.  Do male writers have to worry about the same kinds of time management issues female writers do?  Inquiring minds really want to know.

17 comments

  1. A truly interesting question! Like you I am lucky to have a husband who helps out by doing the laundry, sharing the cooking responsibilities and when my daughter was younger, the demands of social activities. But that still left me with cleaning and grocery shopping and other assorted tasks in addition to my writing and a full-time job.

    My full time job is as an attorney and I can speak to what I see happen there — many of my male counterparts have wives who carry the burden for most of the domestic activities, freeing them to work and also, engage in the children’s social activities.

    The female attorneys, in addition to working similar hours to their male counterparts, also bear the burden of domestic activities and the children’s social activities.

    In other words, women are now moms and breadwinners in today’s liberated world. Add “writer” to the mix for some of us and we are now carrying 3 full-time jobs.

  2. When we both worked full-time, my husband shared a lot of the household tasks (close to 50-50) and he took on more when I was working on a deadline. His job has now allowed me to stay home and write, and when he started working overtime I took over the lion’s share of the “stuff” that needs to be done, probably 95%. He knows this means I’ll get less writing done, especially now that we are (read “I am”) packing to move. So when we’re settled again and his job is back to regular hours, he agreed to return to the 50-50 share (which will probably work out 60-40, but it’s still better) so that I can once again focus on writing.

    I know I am VERY BLESSED to have a husband not only supports me in intention but in action. Most of my writer friends’ husbands have a lower tolerance and eventually get more demanding again, even if they want to be supportive. But I was raised by people who were used to gender roles and I’ve come to realize I internalized those roles myself. That and my personality lead me to choose to “just do it” rather than argue or nag him into doing it, whatever “it” is. And I’m pretty sure settling into our parents’ roles, especially with me home all the time now, is what has led to a decrease in productivity for me.

    Hmm, now you’ve got me thinking, Deb, about what I can do to solve this dilemma! {grin}

  3. Really a relevant topic today–and yesterday, as well. Women’s roles keep changing and we multi-task at a level beyond imagination, yet it seems like we still have to fit in the that “one more thing.”

    Actually, before my daughter was born, my husband was excellent at sharing the load. I participate in a grad school survey once and the student who was going to use our stats truly did not believe that my husband shared the load so fully. He didn’t cook (because I didn’t want to die) but he did all of his own laundry and led our once-a-week kill-every-germ-in-the-house campaign. Our house sparkled every Thursday evening.

    Then I had my daughter, and though he stayed at max level support while I was pregnant, not even letting me use cleaning products for risk to the baby, once she was born it was like night and day.

    Now that I’ve quit the corporate life and am working from home 24/7, it’s even worse. Yes, we’ve talked, but it’s like a switch was toggled when I became a mom that told him I had to assume everything I did work-wise, plus the house and family.

    But I’m using the situation for the good. I visualize each day having the success and cash flow to allow me to hire my own personal assistant, and a staff of other help. So, it keeps me focused on writing success. No, I’m not writing just for money–but goals of any kind are truly helpful.

    Thanks for bringing this subject to the forefront today.

  4. Wow, such great stories! I’m hoping some of the fellas stop by so we can hear the other side. :)

  5. My husband is also very good about helping…BUT…

    The bottom line responsibility for cooking, cleaning, kids falls to me.

    Never once does he have to say…I’m going golfing on Thursday, can you watch the kids? LOL

    Interesting questions, Deb!

    susan meier

  6. Deb, I just got home yesterday after running away from home (no, I’m not kidding) in order to reclaim my writing.

    I’m trying to run another business with my husband, and between that, family stuff (laundry, cooking, cleaning, all that “crap” that has to get done as well) and emotional stuff over the last year, my writing got shoved to the backburner.

    Well, a week ago yesterday my editor emailed me to ask where the heck my proposals were. So, I decided, enough was enough, I was mad as hell and I wasn’t going to take it anymore. lol.

    So, I packed a bag and headed off to some friends’ house who were kind enough to let me crash with them and work on the proposals. I’ve come back home with renewed discipline (do NOT open the office door if it’s closed or you’re DEAD. LOL) like, no internet or email until AFTER the pages are done.

    In one week I wrote two chapters and half a synopsis.

    Would some people think I was a “bad mother” for taking off on my husband and son like that? Probably. But I’m a lot happier and productive today, even for the home stuff. (The laundry, etc.)

    I’m willing to bet that there ARE gender differences, but I don’t know enough male writers to ask, either. LOL.

  7. I think we all get to that point, Susan! Whenever I feel guilty about leaving hubby and kids on their own, I just remind myself that they will not starve to death just because I take some time to do what I need to do! :)

  8. I might be odd in that my circle is comprised mostly of artist types. We are all pursuing our passions without regard for the standard gender roles. No one blinks when “real life” is jettisoned for brainstorming weekends at the beach, out-of-town gigs, or the need for cadmium red over groceries.

    Of course, we have all made sacrifices for that passion. Most of us don’t have children; few of us have homes of our own; certainly NONE of us have clean houses :) But somehow all of us, males and females, have come to the same place — that our art is every bit as important as someone else’s “real life.”

  9. Interesting subject, Deb. I do have time concerns that my husband does not, like meal preparation, laundry and grocery shopping. But he has responsibilities that take a great deal of his time as well, like, paying all the bills, doing the bookkeeping for the household and my writing expenses, maintaining the cars and cleaning the house. I’d say that maintaining our home and keeping our bellies full is time consuming. I’m very lucky to have so much help with the household. Oh, did I mention he is also my photographer?

  10. Kitty B sent me over here, and I find it fascinating… and a bit sad.

    I am a screenwriter, and I write in collaboration with my husband. I’m also a half-time writing professor at USC, and am the one who handles all the stuff. So it amounts to me having 2 1/2 jobs while he has maybe 1 1/4.

    We both work from home. And my husband does pitch in to some extent. Trash, changing beds, pet care, and he does probably 2/3 of the driving-kids-around duties. But I do the rest. Paying the bills, answering the meals, most of the cooking, food and household shopping, basic household chores.

    And the real biggie, in my mind: the schedule. I’m the one who knows who’s supposed to be where and when, be it a school activity, a meeting at a studio, kids’ guitar lessons, our writers group, whatever. He’s happy to chip in with, say, driving or errand running, but I’m the one who has to keep track of what errands need to be run.

    Part of this is personality difference. I’m a multi-tasker, and really wouldn’t like it if writing were the only thing on my plate. He’s a single-tasker. When he writes, he writes, nothing else. (And when he’s not writing, he’s doing some other single-minded task — right now we’ve just moved, and he is diligently unpacking — and I am thanking God we aren’t under a deadline, because otherwise, he’d be writing and I’d be doing all the unpacking.)

    And, truth be told, our writing styles are so different (a spin-off of the multi-/single-task mindsets), it usually works for me to handle most everything. I certainly don’t think I’d use any time I got from his pitching in more to do more writing.

    So to the question: “Do male writers ever have to worry about stuff like this?” I’d say, probably not. Not if they have a wife to do it for them. Even if that wife is a writer, too.

  11. Wow, Janet, I hadn’t even considered the single-task vs multi-task part of it. My husband, as helpful as he is, is indeed a single-task person. He does one thing, completes it, goes on to the next. Which might be why he does the cooking and I juggle the schedule! Great insight, Janet, thanks!

  12. Wow, Janet, you are the THIRD person to bring up the males-may-be-single-task-oriented idea in a week! Last month’s blog by Lori Pyne on the OCC RWA blog (http://occsliceoforange.blogspot.com/ – go to March 25) discussed this idea. Then a few days ago I was venting to a friend about how my husband and I can plan to go to the beach (for example) but he doesn’t see that a cooler needs to be packed, beach towels need to be found, etc. He just sees that we’re leaving later than he wanted because he’s waiting on me! LOL!

    Hmm… this is fascinating! And surely good fodder for better character development!!

  13. My husband is a writer/editor, but he works for a technical trade magazine and he does very well, and also teaches, so he has a lot going on. We both work from home, but his work often takes precedence because he is the main income, and he has responsibilities which are not flexible — when he has phone interviews, conferences, classes, etc those have to happen at a specific time, and that’s how it is. I am intrinsically more flexible w/in my work day, and that means I have to be much more careful about protecting my time. I also feel it’s only fair I pick up a bit more on the home front.

    I think we probably split house/yard work at about 60/40, and he certainly does his part. More than that, he doesn’t care of if I don’t do mine. LOL If I don’t vacuum for 2 weeks, he doesn’t care, and if he does, he’s willing to get the Dyson and do it. I do all of the cooking, except for special events when he helps, but he helps with all of the cleaning, laundry, and does some things I really dislike, like the garbage, taxes or cleaning the cat box (this may be a traditional gender break down, and I don’t care, as long as I don’t have to clean the cat box). It balances out, and I try not to bean count, because in general we just work together to make it work.

    Another angle on this question is how male writers run their careers differently than women writers — they never seem as visible or accessible to me. I’ve always been curious about that, but I guess that’s another blog. ;)

    Sam

  14. Hi, Deb,

    What a discussion you started here, during the morning hours on a holiday, of course–when else?

    I read through many of the responses hand found a recurring theme–women do the majority of the work.

    We tend to DO a substantial portion of every physical job on the homefront.

    We get the mental share of having to know everyone’s schedule, where this one left that (“in the last place you left it,” or “pretend you’re a girl and look” are two of my favorite responses to my testosterone-driven housemates). Then we’re supposed to be on top of our day-job game (which may entail bringing work home–the difference between a “job” and a “career” IMHO).

    All this and then I decide to be a writer, too. Add a publishing contract and now I have to write, learn about the business end of writing, cover the website end, blog, etc, etc, and so forth.

    My husband helps out in many ways (putting away laundry, basic jobs like dishes and some cooking, but I need to keep him a running list of things to do, many of which I end up doing anyway. And forget trying to direct 12 and 10 year old boys to do nothing more than keep after themselves!

    So off to mail the dreaded income taxes. (Hubby went to open up our summer home w/his buddies and won’t be back until this evening…

    A writer mom’s life, I suppose…

    Joanna

  15. Great post, Deb! In addition to the kids, I also have interruptions from my 4 dogs! I’ll be writing a scene or working on my newsletter and of course one of them has to go out. I’m the one they come to for food, outings and affection even when everyone else is home :)

    BTW – I love Castle – great show.

  16. Out of the 13 comments we got that were not mine, all were from women, and all but one felt that even though they have writing deadlines, they are still expected to handle the majority of the work at home, though many do have husbands who help here or there. Very interesting. Wonder if this would make a good thesis for someone studying writing habits?

    And Jessica, my husband is an a cappella singer in addition to his day job, so to your point, perhaps he understands the demands of creativity better than the average bear? :)

    Food for thought!

  17. A couple weeks ago I asked one of my daughters (who no longer lives at home but loves to cook, etc) if she would be my wife. I work full-time for an accounting firm and am pretty much the sole support of my household.

    I’m so tired right now (yeah! survived my fourth tax season!). Haven’t written a thing for months except for a couple blog posts/comments. My energy level is at an all-time low. Fortunately, my husband does nearly all of the cooking now and gets the one kid still living here to and from school.

    I was a stay at home mom for 11 years. Went back to work 15-16 years ago when youngest child went to all day school. My writing productivity took a major nosedive when I went back to work and has never really recovered. Most of that is my fault, though. I have a bad habit of choosing other things over writing: sleeping, grocery shopping, laundry, even vegging in front of the tv for a little while or reading a few pages.