Sunday, October 25, 2009

Maggie Toussaint's Advice -Balancing Writing and Life

Welcome Maggie Toussaint, romantic suspense author and yoga teacher.

How does a writer balance all the parts of life and keep writing and publishing goals on track?
   When you hear the word balance, specific images come to mind. Maybe it’s a teetering seesaw, or a tightrope walker, or a blue heron standing on one foot. For each of these examples, adjustments are made to achieve a balanced state.

   Our lives and publishing careers often conflict, sending hapless writers into a tangle. Given that confusion, I ordered my priorities, with the most important coming first: family, church, day job, writing, friends, promotion, volunteering, and housework.
   Did you notice where writing came in? Number four. Three other things take priority. I’m lucky to get ten to twenty hours a week for writing and promotion. Once I understood what was reasonable given my “load,” I wasn’t frustrated about the hours I wasn’t writing.
    In addition, I take time for myself, wasted time, if you will. This time, while not directly productive, relaxes my mind and body. The healthful benefits spill over into every segment of my life.

How do you do it?
   I know writers who carve writing time out of sleep time or out of lunch time; neither of those works for me. My optimum writing time is right after breakfast. Armed with that knowledge, I hoard that time for writing my first draft.
   I set reasonable word count goals per week and later, chapter edits per week. I accept that life interferes, and I won’t get all my mornings to write. And I also know that some days I’ll have an extra chunk of time, and I’ll exceed my weekly writing goals. Those are very good weeks.
   Respecting the time when I am most productive keeps my momentum going in my work in progress. I record my progress by day so that at the end of the week, I see how realistic my goals were. If I’m constantly missing the mark high or low, I make adjustments to the next goal. That keeps my expectations in line and gives me a visible endpoint.
   I also have a writing friend that I report my goals and results to on a weekly basis, she does the same for me. There’s no judging of performance, just lots of positive reinforcement for moving forward. And having that accountability keeps me on task.
   Playtime is important. My play activities include yoga, music, time spent outdoors, pampering myself, and reading. Of these, yoga is the most important to me.

Can you offer suggestions to keep the mind clear in order to write and set priorities and stick to them (most of the time)?
Prioritize your responsibilities. Know your writing mindset. Accept the time limitations to your writing schedule. Guard that writing time like a precious jewel. Hold yourself accountable to your goals.
Take time for yourself, time that relaxes and rejuvenates you. Find a way to release tension. Yoga is a huge part of my wellness plan, along with meditation. Discern what gives you that “ahhhh” moment and incorporate that into your weekly life, if not daily life.

For me, writing fiction is like stepping into another world. While one part of my mind loves marketing and promotion, they become addictions and take over. How do you balance promotion and writing to keep the present and future?
    The first step is to recognize you are writing for publication and not solely for yourself. Authors who publish with small presses, as I do, assume a large part of the burden of promotion.
    When a book releases, I restructure my priorities so that promotion comes on par with my day job. I consider it that important.
    There are a few weeks before and after the release when my ten to twenty hours of writing time goes exclusively to promotion. Again, I view this as necessary to generate awareness of the product. But once that initial push goes by, I ramp back to splitting promotion and writing time, with the writing time percentage inching up with each week that passes.
    My study of yoga comes into play here as well. Acceptance of who I am at each stage in this process (I am writer; I am a promoter) helps affirm my choice and keeps me grounded.

Thank you for reminding me that the answer is “more yoga.”
   Listening to my mind and body helps me balance writing and promotion. I gain perspective of the bigger picture, the world in which my family and friends live. I want to exist in both worlds, so I divide my time accordingly.
   Finding that perfect blend, that unique, balanced mix of life and writing is my ongoing goal.

With the holidays coming up many writers are going to be manic and discouraged. What tips can you offer?
   Each holiday season I struggle with balance because there is so much extra to do (gifts, cards, parties, visits) in an already busy schedule.

   Here’s how I cope. I need to have “down” time, to be apart from the festivities. I decorate the house for the holidays, but I don’t get insane about it as I once did. I keep the level of effort reasonable, and I guard my writing time to the best of my abilities.

   Even though there are more activities during the holidays, take time for pampering. Soak in the tub with a good book instead of watching the news one night. Schedule a facial or other body treatment. Sample holiday foods in moderation.

What is your latest release?
    My cozy golf mystery titled IN FOR A PENNY. In the book, accountant Cleopatra Jones wishes she’d gone to work instead of golfing when her wild approach shot lands on a dead banker. The police believe her best friend did the deed. Of course she didn’t so Cleo sets out to prove her innocence. There’s sizzling romance from the sexy golf pro along with family gymnastics with two teenage girls, an ex-husband, and Mama. How could anyone forget the woman who thinks up menus like Spickle Fish Lasagna? And let’s not forget the dog co-star, Madonna, who is the spitting image of my short haired St. Bernard granddog.

What are you working on now?
I’m working on a romantic suspense. Realtor Roxie Whitaker and security expert Sloan Harding meet when a tree falls on his house. While Roxie struggles to stabilize her business, Sloan searches for his missing inheritance. Sparks fly, but his wild past and her determination to establish a museum in a building his father is accused of torching, put them at odds. Someone else wants that lost fortune, someone who will stop at nothing. This work is tentatively titled Tempest in a Teapot.

Thanks Maggie for being my guest on Wordshaping and your wise advice for writers and just about everybody else.

A scientist by training, a romanticist at heart, loves to solve puzzles. Whether it’s the puzzle of a relationship or a who-dun-it, she tackles them all with equal aplomb and wonder. Maggie’s cozy mystery from Five Star, IN FOR A PENNY, is about a terrible golfer trying to save her best friend from a murder rap. Her three other published works are romantic suspense books, one of which won Best Romantic Suspense in the 2007 National Readers Choice Awards. Her day jobs include freelancing for a weekly paper and leading a yoga class. Visit her at Toussaint


Contest question: Rafe Golden, the golfer in the book was styled in the vein of which international professional golfer? Here’s a huge hint: in golfing circles he’s known as “The Big Easy.”

To enter, send an email to 
with the word “Contest” in the subject line. 
The winner will be randomly selected on October 31.
Contest Closed
Congratulations Molly!


  1. Wise words, Maggie. As a writer, I often feel guilty about the hours I'm not writing, even though there are a thousand other things I need to do. I've just discovered yoga, but I think it's going to be a big help in keeping my expectations on track.

  2. Hi Keena,

    Thanks for dropping by! I was highly resistant to the idea of yoga until I took a class. Then I became a convert.

    My friend Liana Laverentz, who I consider a very smart person about balance, helped me shape a lot of my ideas about balance.

    Importantly, folks need to know that balance is a journey, not a single endpoint.

  3. Amber,
    Thanks for inviting me to your blog today. I look forward to receiving comments and hope folks will remember to enter my contest by sending me an email off list about who I modeled my golf protagonist after. He's known as the Big Easy in pro golfing circles.

  4. MAGGIE--Save your ARC of In For a Penny for someone else--you know I've read it, and ordered it for our library, and directed at least half a dozen people--strangers in the library looking at mysteries--to try it. In one case, two ladies reached for it--I had it held out--and one literally snatched it out of my hand, causing the other to give her a stare. Funny.
    I love your interview--I know you so well,and yet in every interview you do--including your radio interview--I learn something else about you.
    Excellent advice about writing--and I need it. Celia

  5. P.S. I know the answer to your golf question--but I won't tell! Celia

  6. Hi Celia,

    Thanks for stopping by! I greatly appreciate your advocacy of In For A Penny. I hope to have news of a sequel soon!

  7. Maggie, great post. I've had to learn rather quickly how to balance my day job, writing and family. Luckily for me it's all worked out. I make sure I exercise 3-4 times per week, and I've learned to write on my lunch hour at work, so when I get home from work if things go south, I don't stress about not writing.

  8. Hi, Maggie,

    I definitely need to take up yoga!
    Wishing you success with your latest novel,

    Jacqueline Seewald

  9. Terrific advice, Maggie. You're right about trying to keep a balance. It's something I have to keep reminding myself about. I can get so glued in, I forget to come up for air.

  10. Hi Marie,

    It sounds like you have a handle on balance with your busy life. Committing to do that exercise and sticking with it will help you more in the long run than cutting it out. And great going on the acceptance of when you have time to write. A positive attitude goes far when it comes to a happy muse.

    Thanks for stopping by!

  11. Hi Jacqueline,

    One thing I didn't discuss in the post is that there are many kinds of yoga. Many kinds. Some of them are very active or fast-flowing. Others are more passive and meditative.

    You should definitely find the right style of yoga that suits you. I enjoy a kind of Hatha Yoga that is a blend on Iyengar yoga and Vinyasa yoga.

    Best of luck to you with your Five Star release and your other writing endeavors!

  12. Karen,

    I'm glad you stopped over. Before I was aware of how focused in I get on writing and life, I often had myriad aches and pains. Migraines too.

    Getting more activity and having less anxiety about the number of things I wanted to accomplish went a long way toward improving my quality of life.

    It make me feel ten years younger.

  13. Hi Maggie,
    So much great advice/wisdom. I need to take alot of it. I have daily goals/larger goals and I take steps daily to achieve them all. Focus for me is the key. Yoga, I want to try it, but to date, I haven't. Take care, and I'm so proud of you. You're a true inspiration! ^5 *Hugs*

    Romance Edged With Danger

  14. hey Maggie! I hear you on carving out the time, but it's just that darn life that has to interfere! LOL.

  15. Hi Maggie, this is such excellent advice! I admit, I was startled to see where writing is on your priority list, but it made me think, and realize that a lot of my frustration is caused by my lack of priority list so I end up always running after the 'shoulds.' Your blog is going on the wall behind my desk! Kim

  16. It is soooo hard to find that balance. I try to wruite everyday but that sometimes doesn't work out. I have to keep saying - three pages, write three pages.

    Thanks for the great perspective

  17. Maggie, it was great to hear how you apply balance to your writing life. I need to work my balance. haha!! You're an inspiration!


  18. I liked the article. I have a writer friend who is constantly irritated at me because writing is not my top priority and because I take the weekends off to be with my family or simply relax. She says, "You are a writer 100% of the time." Yes, I am, but I also know that that 100% needs to be tempered with family time, church time, and down time.

    Great article!

  19. Me Time is never a waste of time. Good job, Maggie!

    Liana Laverentz

  20. Thanks for the reminder that we need to step back from the hectic pace we sometimes set for ourselves. Balance, balance, balance. So important for our lives, and if we take care of our inner self, the work comes so much easier.

  21. Because the computer is three steps from my kitchen it's always beckoning me. Thanks for the tips on balancing all the "shoulds" in my life. I do practice yoga--and it's WONDERFUL!

    A. Y. Stratton

  22. Very good advice, Maggie. Thank you. I, too, teach yoga, but don't practice it nearly as much as I'd like. I'm so much more centered (and sane) when I do. So thanks for the virtual butt kick of a reminder.


  23. I've been awol from the computer today and I want to thank everyone who stopped in.

    Diana, keep the focus going.

    Judi, keep your head in the fairy tales.

    Kim, thanks for the honor of going on your wall.

    Kathye - three pages a day will keep the blues away.

    Steph - first step in balance: stand on one foot!

    Katie, family time is very important. Don't skimp on it.

    more in another post!

  24. Thanks again to all the posters. I love reading your thoughts on balance!

    Liana, thanks for being my balance mentor!

    Maryann, I'm so glad you recognize the importance of a healthy inner self and the place balance holds in a writer's life.

    AY, you have my utmost admiration for being able to write so close to the kitchen.

    Rebecca, I know exactly what you mean. You'd think yoga teachers would practice yoga several times each day. I wish!!! Namaste!

    Thanks to those who have entered my contest. If you haven't entered yet, there's still time. I won't do a drawing until Saturday, Oct. 31.

    To enter, send me an email to with CONTEST in the subject line. Answer this question: which international golfer did I model my character Rafe Golden after? In pro circles he's known as the Big Easy.

  25. Hi Maggie
    Very informataive post. I often feel there aren't enough hours in the day to do everything, but you seem to have got the balance just right.

  26. Maggie, do you think there would be interest in a website or blog hosted my romance authors who are yoga teachers?
    Like RomVets
    (Former military women who are romance writers


  27. I always feel encouraged when I read your words on prioritizing. I've missed "hearing" you. And, can you believe it? I'm "doing" yoga for times a week at the gym, albeit I am the stiffest person in there. Still, I enjoy it!

    I hope your "In for a Penny" is doing well. I'll just bet it is!

    Bess McBride

  28. Hi Margaret Tanner! Thanks for swinging up from "down under" to leave a comment!

    Amber, you might be onto something with your idea of a blog for writers by yoga teachers. Although I wonder how much of it would be different? Let me know if you decide to pursue it.

    Bess, Howdy my friend! I miss your energy too. This day job stuff really cuts into our free time, doesn't it? It would be nice to have mo' money and mo' free time, but that's another happily ever after for the fictional realm! One day, one day we'll all get there.

  29. Just as a final wrap-up, I thought I'd announce the winner of my contest here. Molly MacRae won the ARC of In For A Penny.

    Congratulations to Molly and thanks to everyone for your support and enthusiasm.

    Happy Halloween everyone!