create margin

Eight Ways to Create Margin in Your Author Life

What happens if you have left no margin for error in your life? It happened to me, so I collected a list of eight ways to create margin in our lives for writing.

The need to create margin.

Last week, things did not go as planned. My newsletter did not go as planned. Neither did my podcast. I didn’t write more than a few hundred words, but I did find a silver lining.

I received a phone call from my mother late one afternoon that my eighty-two-year-old father had fallen and couldn’t get up. They called Emergency Services Management (EMS), and the medics got Dad on his feet. He had no obvious injuries and seemed much better, so he declined a ride to the hospital in the ambulance.

Four hours later, he fell again on the same side, and this time, it hurt much worse. Mom called to tell me he was on his way to the ER.

I’m her driver, so of course, I picked her up and took her to the hospital and stayed with her.

We are on our second week of recovery, and now, Dad is in a rehab facility. Of course, the emergency isn’t over for us. There will be fallout, likely for months to come.

Last week’s work didn’t get done, and I am not sorry.

Through this experience, I realized I have created a schedule with no margin for error.

Lately, I feared that I had lost the ability to read for pleasure. This week when the hours at the hospital dragged by, I lost myself between the covers of a trilogy. Good fiction helped me deal with the high-stress situation by giving me a way to decompress while being present to advocate for my parents.

Kathrese McKee

I was reminded that we all need margin in our lives.

Margin means different things to different people, but for me, it means when life goes sideways, the show goes on. For authors, it means we can continue to write even if it is at a reduced level.

Margin means I can take time off from the weekly routine for family emergencies or health issues or a simple week off without letting my readers down. Obviously, since there was no margin, no safety net, then I chose my family over everything else.

mind the gap

For me, margin means shaping a schedule that allows me to read for pleasure. Lately, I feared that I had lost the ability to read for pleasure. This week when the hours at the hospital dragged by, I lost myself between the covers of a trilogy. Good fiction helped me deal with the high-stress situation by giving me a way to decompress while being present to advocate for my parents.

We need margin like we need highway rest areas, places to pull over, to deal with rowdy kids and puking dogs and flat tires. We need the space to rest our eyes or read a good book or be with family. Indeed, creating margin is a way to safeguard mental and physical health.

Eight ways to create margin.

  1. Do less.
    Obviously, we can choose to do less, but I admit, it is easer said than done. Minimize your commitments. Pick your fights. Choose your lane. Stick to your convictions. Guard your time. And tell people no. Writing is a sacrificial activity; you must be willing to forego “worthy causes” to carve out time for writing. You simply cannot commit to loads of extracurricular activities and maintain creative momentum. Ask me how I know.
  2. Coordinate errands.
    Get gas on the way to pick up groceries and prescriptions. Choose one afternoon to get your hair cut and the oil changed in your car. Make every outing count for two or more errands.
  3. Store provisions for the winter.
    Like “The Ant and the Grasshopper” from Aesop’s Fables, we can store stuff for the winter we all know is coming. I’m not a true prepper, but if I were, I would have several episodes stored away for future emergencies. This is something I am determined to implement. I plan to use batching to accomplish similar tasks during a given time block.
  4. Streamline and systematize.
    If you plan to do any work activity more than once, it pays to document the steps and save the materials for the next time because there is no sense reinventing the wheel. Each time you repeat the process, look for ways to improve. This applies to anything from editing your manuscript to launching your next book.
  5. Train others to do the work and delegate tasks.
    Wouldn’t that be nice? As soon as you can justify it, offload the work you hate doing (like accounting) to get more time for your creative work, the work you love.
  6. Get adequate rest, exercise, and hydration.
    What does general fitness have to do with margin? Everything. Take care of your machine; you only get one. I especially disagree with the advice to get up an hour earlier to write. Early morning writing time is great if you make the other needed adjustments to compensate.
    Get adequate rest to think your best. (I should emblaze that on a t-shirt.) If you choose to be an early riser, then go to bed earlier to compensate. Resist the latest, must-watch television series that tempts you to stay up late. Avoid binging on YouTube and TikTok.
  7. Prepare for tomorrow’s morning routine tonight.
    Lay out your clothes, tidy up, and help your kids do the same.
  8. Don’t overschedule or double-book your time.
    You are not the Time Lord with a blue phone booth. And you don’t have a time turner, like Hermione. Instead, add buffer between activities. Schedule extra time to drive places. Add extra time for getting dressed. Knock off the computer an hour before bedtime to read for pleasure. See what I did there?
time turner
Photo by Maithilee Shetty on Unsplash

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What are some ways you create margin for writing in your life?

Today, we have discussed eight ways to create margin in our lives as authors. I’m sure I didn’t think of everything, and I would love to hear your tips and tricks for creating margin. Please share your ideas in the comments below.

2 thoughts on “Eight Ways to Create Margin in Your Author Life”

  1. Mary Van Everbroeck

    Hi Kathrese. Your guidelines for creating margins to read and write are very effective. I have used all of them in hospice and grief situations. You are correct when you say that we have to pull in, advocate and nurture ourselves, and not allow ourselves to feel guilty that we’re not able to meet many commitments. Reading and writing fiction became my haven, my sanctuary, throughout my husband’s illness and passing. Thinking of you and your family during this time.

  2. Thanks so much for reading the article and taking a moment to leave such a thoughtful answer. I agree; reading and writing fiction is a wonderful haven from mental stress. It gives us a much-needed break between the many things that come our way.

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