Balance is something I struggle with—not necessarily the act of balancing, but the concept: to load up all aspects of your life, arms outstretched and still, and then just hold it there. I struggle with the idea that movement, progression, or adding anything new or different might tip this balance and cause everything to fall. So my goal (that I have yet to fully achieve) is to be unbalanced, to focus on the few things that matter most: family, writing, publishing, websites, and faith. The problem is, other things—new projects, new distractions—always begin to pile onto the scale.
What has brought me to this point are countless questions like, “How do you juggle four kids, a full-time job, three websites, a publishing company, a reading series, and your own personal writing?” When I really thought about that I question, I realized that I wanted to do so much more than just “juggle” in each of those areas. Coming from the business world, and specifically working in human resources, I have read a lot of the books on strength-finding, on the best habits, on success, and I suppose my approach takes pieces from each. However, when things get hectic I still find myself stretching out my arms as far as they will go and just trying to keep everything perfectly still. To overcome this feeling I try to set goals on multiple levels. I set obtainable goals, but also far-reaching and abundant goals. I focus on these until they're achieved.
In the Spring of 2008 I was approached by a local writer whom I'd interviewed for my arts and culture website and asked if I would consider publishing his second novel. At the time I knew very little about how to publish a book, but I had been trying to figure what the logical next step for the website would be. It took several months to research, consult other publishers, and really think about all that would be involved in heading down this path. I reached out to Jonathan Messinger of Featherproof Books and Matt DiGangi who, at the time, had just launched Thieves Jargon Press. Both were extremely helpful. The books I've published on Orange Alert Press have been the product of collaboration, which I firmly believe is essential to success. I wouldn't call the press a success just yet, but it has allowed me to make connections and be present at a table that I couldn't have imagined just a few years ago. I consider each member of the collaboration and each person I consult a mentor. Mentors are essential for growth and learning, and I have been fortunate to have several along the way. I’ve used my arts and culture site and my weekly interviews with writers and publisher to make these vital connections. There is something extremely comforting about having a group of people with experience and knowledge willing to give advice and answer any question. My goal is to one day return the favor.
In addition to mentors, another key component in accomplishing all that I do is time management. Every morning I organize, prioritize, and revise what I need to do that day. Here's an example of an average day (in an attempt to be healthier, I've changed this schedule in recent months): I wake up every morning at 6 a.m., regardless of the day. Before taking the kids to school at 8:20, I work on interview questions; send out five marketing emails for my music website (The Deli Chicago); finish any posts that I didn't complete the night before; and, when there’s time, work on my own writing. I then make lunches and take the kids to school. I work a full-time job, but while I am there, I find time during breaks and lunch to post to each site and comb through my net reader (a netvibes reader). I follow more than 50 websites, podcasts, and newsfeeds through my reader, which also houses my two Twitter accounts, Facebook, Gmail, etc. I never feel like I am on top of everything, but I am always trying. There is a constant feeling that I am missing something—that there's something I should be covering, but I have no idea what it is. While we are on the subject of Internet time-savers, I would like to mention two more sites I use daily: dropbox.com and mint.com. Dropbox is a site that allows you to share documents between multiple computers. It actually creates a “My Dropbox” folder on each PC and, as you update documents, they update in each folder. You can work on a file on your laptop and then also work on it elsewhere—say, on your work computer. No more flash drives or emailing a file to yourself! Mint is a financial management site that allows you to keep track of all of your income and expenses and quickly drop them into a budget. You can add your bank account, PayPal account, credit cards, and investments and easily manage everything in one spot. I've noticed that many writers and publishers could use a little more organization in the area of finances. I always have my email up at work, because otherwise I'd be reading hundreds of messages at night. When I get home around 5:30 p.m. I typically make dinner and then spend time with my four girls. To make sure they each get quality time with me, they have their own nights for one-on-one time. After they are in bed at 7:30 p.m. I have three hours to write posts for each site and spend time with my wife. It’s tricky, but it works for now. What hasn’t been built in yet is time focusing on Orange Alert Press. I believe the three books I've published thus far are high-quality, and everyone would enjoy them, but I’ve struggled to get them into the hands of the right people. It wasn’t that long ago that I was staying up until 2 a.m. working on posts and interviews, but I’ve found that I am the least productive late at night.
So, hopefully I've laid out my schedule in order, and now that I have, maybe I can begin to take my own advice! We writers need to focus on what is most important in our lives and not attempt to balance everything. Find a mentor or a collection of mentors to help guide you to success. They have been there, or are there, and their expertise will help you at your stage in the journey. Collaboration with mentors and with other like-minded and passionate individuals is vital. Finally, organization, prioritization, and using tools that help with these things are valuable to keep you on task and help you achieve your goals.
Written in Spring 2010.
Jason Behrends is the editor and founded of Orange Alert Press. He is the creator of the arts and culture site What to Wear During an Orange Alert and runs a monthly reading series by the same name. He is also editor of the Chicago-centric music site The Deli Chicago and is a contributor to the Chicago-centric webzine Gapers Block. Behrends is the art editor for the literary site decomP and music editor for the literary site This Zine Will Change Your Life. This year he took over the literary blog, Chicago Subtext, for the Chicago Tribune’s Chicago Now blog collective. He is a father of four and Director of Business Operations for a local nonprofit agency.