THE BALANCE PROJECT | No. 133: Jenna Blum, Writer

Welcome to THE BALANCE PROJECT: a series of relevant and refreshingly candid interviews featuring inspiring and accomplished women talking about balance. I’ve always been curious about how women I admire manage the tragically glorified “doing it all” craze. So I asked them. As I suspected, no one really does “it all.” Everyone’s making sacrifices somewhere. And that should make us all feel a little better. I hope the conversation will be steered toward that reality rather than toward the flawed and dangerous assumption that we should try—or even want to try—to perfectly do “it all.”

By the way, looking for THE BALANCE PROJECT novel that was inspired by these interviews? It’s here.

No. 133: Jenna Blum, Writer

Age: 4os
Where I live:
 Boston (base) / Minnesota (family home and writing retreat)
Job: Writer
Kids: Not yet! (Unless my black Lab Woodrow counts.)

Jenna Blum author photo R_credit Marcia PerezHave you changed jobs or adjusted anything in your career to have more balance?
I’ve shifted from mono-focus to dual-focus. Initially, I put off having children so I could concentrate on my career. I was married at 23 to a very lovely man. He wanted to start a family, and I wanted to make sure I had a couple of novels published before I had children. I knew even then I am not a good multitasker; I like to concentrate on one big orchestral event at a time. When my then-husband asked, “All right, but how long will publishing a novel take?”, I knew our life goals didn’t match.

I don’t regret letting him go or waiting to have children. I went gangbusters on writing and promoting my novels. Now I am, by great Providence, a New York Times bestselling author, and I’ve broadened my concentration to focus on two things: my future family with my fiancé (I’m engaged to photographer Jim Reed) and writing more books. I’m now able to go 50-50 on relationship/ family and career, with a more serene pace I wasn’t capable of in my 20s and 30s.

Do you think having “it all” is realistic or overrated and why?
I have no idea, since I haven’t tried it! I have many female friends who have children and high-powered careers and I marvel at their stamina and time management skills. I do know they are awfully tired much of the time. I think women put so much pressure on themselves to do it all and do it 1000%, and I sometimes think those categories are mutually exclusive. I admire my friends whose philosophy has become, “My best at this moment is good enough.”

What part of “balance” can you just not seem to figure out?
My writing. I’m either in the zone or I’m not in the zone. When I’m in the zone, I tend to put everything else in my life in power-save mode. For my second book I ran away from home and lived in a motel to finish the first draft, and for my new book I am sequestered at my family home in rural MN. I’m still challenged by balancing the public part of being a writer—speaking, teaching, promoting, all of which I do and love—with the extreme solitude I require to tune into my characters.

What part of “balance” are you getting better at?
I’m getting better at taking care of myself. When I was in my 20s, it was all or nothing: getting three hours of sleep a night so I could write longer hours, smoking two packs of cigarettes a day. I quit smoking after my first book, and it was three years before I was able to write again. To be honest, the writing process has never been quite the same; it lacks the same fluidity. But I’d much rather stay alive longer and write more books than “Live fast, die young, leave a good-looking corpse.” (I came of age in the 80s). I eat well, spend time with other human beings who aren’t characters, and walk the dog or go to the gym once a day.

Do you have a favorite time management tool, hack, or other strategy you use that helps you achieve balance that you would recommend to others?
Time management is not one of my God-given abilities, so I rely on strategies:

  1. I use my iPhone alarm to keep me on task and on time. I’ve set it to 80s songs so I’m in a good mood.
  2. I’m learning to say no—politely, respectfully. And to heed that little interior voice that says, “What a delightful opportunity!, but too much for you right now.”
  3. I spend a few minutes a day no matter what with my “one good thing” notebook, the theory being that no matter how lousy a day is, there’s always one good thing in it, whether buttered toast or a book deal. Gratitude works.

What was the best advice you ever heard on balance?
From your mother?
 “Thank God I ain’t afraid to be lazy.” (That’s actually a quote from Lonesome Dove by Larry McMurtry.)
From your spouse/partner? “You’ve gotta eat breakfast.”
From your kids? “Hurry up and have us already!”

If you had one extra hour in each day and you couldn’t work or be with your family, how would you spend that hour?
Probably on the elliptical watching Chopped, HGTV, or Lifetime while chatting on Facebook. Or reading.

What do you wish you’d known when you were 20?
Belief in yourself pays off, but you don’t have to be frantic to make it. Be kind to yourself. You’re okay.

What do you hope to know by time you’re 60?
Where my forever home is.

What part of your home life do you wish you could outsource?
Cleaning.

Whose job do you wish you had?
Mine! I have a pretty great job. Also I’d like to be Adele.

Whose job are you glad you don’t have?
Any office job. I had an office job after college and I lasted one day; then called and said I had mono.

Favorite books?
Gone With the Wind by Margaret Mitchell, The Stand by Stephen King, Lonesome Dove by Larry McMurtry, The Secret History by Donna Tartt, and Sophie’s Choice by William Styron.

What are you reading right now?
In the Lake of The Woods by Tim O’Brien and manuscripts for my Grub Street Writers novel workshop.

Biggest vices…
Activity?
 Shopping, online and virtual.
Food? Pizza.
Website? Anthropologie.

How many hours do you generally sleep at night during the week?
7.5.

What do you read every morning?
Email.

Complete the following sentences:
I think: Donald Trump should be cast into the sea.
I wish: there were a makeup called Photoshop that does what Photoshop does. Also that my black Lab Woodrow could live forever.
My kids: will be pretty damned awesome if I get around to having them!

Do you have a personal motto or favorite saying?
“Don’t borrow trouble.” —my mom, passed down from my maternal grandfather

Anything else you’d like to add?
Thank you for having me! The Balance Project is a great idea and a valuable concept to add to our dialogue as women. I grew up in the heart of the “doing it all” craze, as you put it, and although I’m so, so grateful we have the opportunity to do it all, I don’t think anyone, male or female, can do it all without a) killing him or herself or b) compromising some quality somewhere. We pick up one thing, we have to put down another, that’s reality. I’m delighted your conversation is highlighting this—and that (this is my perspective!) there are no right choices, there are the choices we make. And thank goodness, again, we now have those choices.

Screen Shot 2016-01-18 at 11.13.17 AMAbout Jenna:
Jenna Blum is the New York Times and internationally bestselling author of novels Those Who Save Us and The Stormchasers and novella “The Lucky One” in Grand Central. She is also one of Oprah’s Top 30 Women Writers. Jenna divides her time between a family home in rural Minnesota and Boston, where she teaches novel workshops and seminars for Grub Street Writers.

Find out more about Jenna:
www.jennablum.com
Twitter: @jenna_blum
Facebook: Jenna Blum
Instagram: jenna_blum

WANT TO READ MORE ABOUT WORK-LIFE BALANCE? CHECK OUT MY NOVEL THE BALANCE PROJECT!

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