I've admired Ashley Coleman and her work since I found her through a tweet from #Blkcreatives, an online social brand and blog for black writers, artists and other creatives. She balances her career with The Recording Academy, which sponsors The GRAMMYs each year, with WriteLaughDream.com, her brand for writers through which she writes helpful blog posts, teaches online and in person writing workshops, and creates printed content to help writers through every stage of writing and publishing. Recently, she launched Permission to Write, a literary magazine and membership website for writers that offers writers of color with the opportunity to be published along with the opportunity to be mentored by other seasoned writers of color. Within her own writing, she focuses on love and relationships, and she has published two books about the topic, one titled Dear Love: A Love Letter For You and her most recent title, Love On Purpose. I love the fact that not only is she constantly bubbling with new ideas, but she executes her ideas with excellence. I talked with her about how she balances writing, work, and life.
Nichole Nichols: Today, we are talking about tips on balancing your writing, your career, your day job and your personal life. First, I want to talk to you about your story of how you developed a passion for writing and what made you decide to pursue a writing career.
Ashley Coleman: For sure. I'm pretty much one of those folks who have written and read books forever. As a kid, I always loved books. My mom was such a stickler for reading and writing, so I think we knew how to read, my brother and I, before kindergarten. We were very early readers. I remember us taking trips to the library and taking out our books, from Baby-sitter's Clubs to Goosebumps, all the kiddie books to eventually, as I got older, the books that my mom read she just handed down to me.
I always remember during that time feeling like I could write books. Just reading them, I felt like, "Oh, this is good. I could do this." Throughout that time I wrote a lot of stories. I always journaled. I would write short stories and things like that. I took some creative writing classes in high school and actually won an award for a story I had written in high school for graduation.
So, it's always been a passion of mine, even though in my adult life I transitioned out of regular writing to doing song writing. That was what I was doing first out of college. I really grew pretty disenchanted with the music industry because it was turning in a way that wasn't really about the artistry. That led to me starting a blog. My first blog was called Music's Chest: a Pawn Story. It was really about the music industry because there were so many characters in the music industry. I was like, "These make great stories." Eventually that blog morphed into WriteLaughDream.com, which is what I have now, where I pretty much talk about pursuing your dreams, entrepreneurship, and writing.
NN: One thing I admire about you is how it seems like you get so much done, even though you have a 9 to 5 job as well. It was really amazing to me to find out that you have a 9 to 5 because I wondered how you get all of your writing business stuff done and still go to somewhere else and work for someone else for eight hours in the day. How do you get so much done, in spite of your 9 to 5, with your writing?
AC: One thing I can say is definitely that I know I don't have as demanding a job as a lot of people do. The good thing about my job is that it really is pretty much just eight hours a day. We do events and things that might extend my work day, but I prepare for those days, and just understand, "Okay, I'm not going to be able to work on my side hustle on those days at all, because I'm going to be working from 9:00 AM to 9:00 PM, you know?
I really try to take advantage of that time frame before work. I typically start work at 9:30 AM. I am fortunate enough where I can kind of flex hours. Because my company is based on the West Coast, they're working way later than we work on the East Coast. If I want to start work a little later, I can. Generally, I start work around 9:30 AM, but I wake up between 6:00 AM and 7:00 AM, and I literally wake up and start working on WriteLaughDream and the things that I have to do. So, I really utilize that time between 6:00 AM or 7:00 AM to 9:30 AM.
A lot of times I'm working after 6:00 PM or 6:30 PM also on my brand. Really what it comes down to, I've learned in my work flow and my process, is really focusing on just a few things a day. That planning of "This is all that I need to get done this week," and then breaking it down into "I'm going to do this thing, or this group of things, each day," really just helps me utilize those quick-hit times.
So, it might not be all the time in the world; it might be three to six hours that I'm able to squeeze out in a day to work on my brand, but because (my plan) of what I need to be doing it's so well thought-out, I'm able to execute more quickly in the short windows of time.
NN: Yeah, that kind of goes into the next thing I was going to ask you about balancing. One question that I personally had is about balancing all the different parts of a writing career, especially when you're an independent writer, when you're doing everything from the marketing, the business fundamentals, creating products and having time to actually write.
Do you do anything like, you know, some people use themes like "Monday is going to be marketing day, Tuesday is going to be business/bookkeeping day," or something like that? How do you manage that?
AC: For sure. It's so funny, because I was just talking with (someone about this). Sometimes I confuse real life and digital life, because I'm way too ingrained in digital life. It might have been online or in real life, but I was talking with someone about, you know, "Gosh, wouldn't you just love to have so much more time to just write?" Because yeah, the bottom line is, when you're trying to build a business, even with the fact that I do work a 9:00 to 5:00, my side hustle is still also its own business?
So it is difficult, it's very difficult to manage that, because starting a blog is so much more than writing. It's all these pieces, especially when you can't outsource all the work. I was laughing thinking about how much design work that I do. It's like, "Oh, my god, I do not want to be a designer. I hate design." But you know, the necessity of having to do that because of how costly design can be.
Basically, after flubbing around, because that's what everybody does ... You have to kind of drown first to figure out what your process is going to be, and what really works for you. I do adhere to some scheduling of days to do certain things. I would like to be more organized in that way. The one thing, or the one or two things that I definitely have are designated writing days. So, Wednesdays I'm writing something, whether it's a blog post, a newsletter, sometimes I'm writing outlines for, per se, a course or a writing challenge or a workshop or things like that.
On Wednesdays, I have to complete some type of writing project. I think that sometimes we put too much pressure on ourselves. We're like, "Okay, on my writing day I want to finish five blog posts." I think that's too much. I think if you're in a flow, great, because there's been some days where I've been able to write three blog posts in one day, and I'm like, "Whoo!" I feel so productive. But that is generally not my goal.
My goal is to say I completed one writing project, even if it's just an outline of ideas that I can come back to later and refine. Fridays, I definitely upload blog posts. I learned that, too, that I needed to separate, I'm blanking on how to say it, but the mechanics of blogging from writing. Writing is such a special head space, whereas the mechanics of uploading a blog, doing graphics, I can do that with my eyes closed. I can do that watching an episode of Gray's Anatomy, or Netflix, or whatever the case may be, but I have to be in the right mental space to write.
So, I separated those things. If I'm working on a blog, I'll write them on Wednesday. Then, on Friday I will upload the blog post onto my site and do the graphics. I am fortunate enough that I do work with an assistant at this point in my career, who goes in and formats the blog posts after I write them. We work a week ahead, whereas I'm uploading posts for Friday that are going to be scheduled next week, and she'll go in and make sure that they're scheduled and formatted. Then, I do finances on Fridays. I'll go back through my bank statements to see what I spent, and then at the end of each month I'll go in and total up all of the expenses and all the income that came in that month.
NN: What you said about trying to do five blog posts in one day, that sounds like me. I just realized that that's not going to happen on a regular basis, so if I can get through one blog post, then that's an accomplishment for me, and I usually do mine on Saturdays, because I have the most time then.
NN: It's good to hear that you're basically doing something similar to what I've already kind of discovered for myself.
AC: Yeah, for sure.
NN: I did a survey to get ready for this blog series, to see what people wanted from the series. I had a question on there that said, "What is your biggest frustration with having a 9 to 5 and trying to have a writing career?"
The thing that people chose the most was that they felt like their 9 to 5 job, their day job, was keeping them from being the best writer they could be. Do you have any kind of inspiration or tips for people who feel like that?
AC: For sure. I tend to believe that any obstacle that we want to let get in our way will be in our way, you know? But I think that one big misconception is that if we didn't have the job we would write more, and I don't think that's necessarily the case. Why? Because I know some writers that work full time for themselves that talk about how much more disciplined they were when they actually had a job.
Part of the reason I'm able to execute is probably because I do know that I have a limited amount of time, you know what I mean? I'm a little bit more hyper-focused. Like, "Okay, yes, I only have this amount of hours before I have to get to work, or focus on that." So, I think sometimes it's just our perspective about things. But, clearly, 40 hours out of your week towards another mission is definitely going to influence what you're able to do, right?
So, I feel those same frustrations sometimes, where I'm like, "Oh, my god, I don't want to think about my job, because my head is spinning with ideas about WriteLaughDream, and new ideas, and things that I want to do. That can be really frustrating. I think that the major key is to make sure that you're as productive as possible with the time that you do have. That will help the frustration that you have with the job.
When I'm on point and productive, and making sure that I'm getting things done for WriteLaughDream.com, I don't feel the same frustration as when I've wasted time, you know what I mean? When I didn’t execute what I wanted to, and then I'm like, "Aww, now I have an event, and now I'm behind. Now I can't get to this blog post because I'm working all day, because I didn't utilize the time that I did have as efficiently as I could have.
I guess if I had any advice, it would just be, try to be as productive as you can in the time that you have, and you'll feel so much more accomplished when you're at work, or have some things to focus on that aren't your writing or your career.
NN: Right. I think that another thing that might help with some people is having a job that is related, in a sense, to writing. I'm a librarian, so I do some things that are kind of tangent to writing anyway. When you're doing something that's totally in a different direction, I think that also may cause some frustration as well. But those were some good tips. I'm glad to hear that.
The last question I have is about the whole personal life piece. I know that I'm finding that trying to focus on my day job, and then focus on my writing, it's easy to forget me time, and forget time to spend doing something just to relax. I know you recently got married, and I'm sure deal with that as well. Do you have any tips for how you carve out time to just be with people that you care about, and just do things for you, just to have some self-care time?
AC: Right. Absolutely. That's a struggle for everybody, I feel like, especially now that all of us are doing so much, and we have so many goals and aspirations that we're spending a lot of time working on those things. I think that one of the major keys is planning and preparation. The more that I get done early in my day, the more free the end of my day is.
The reason why I started getting up earlier was because I realized that I wasn't getting up early enough to get things finished, and then I was working so late after work on WriteLaughDream, and that was leaving no time for my husband. We want to eat dinner together. We want to watch TV. We want to go see a movie. So that was one thing.
I would definitely recommend looking at your schedule and saying, "Hey, are there more hours I can carve out earlier in the day to free me up later? Then, I also always try to remind myself that at the end of my life, I will never say, "I want more blog posts," or, "I want more whatever." I'll be looking for more time, right? When you do that, you're just like, "You know what? The blog post can wait today." You know what I mean? I've taught myself to have a little bit more of that freedom, when my husband is pining for my attention, that I just close my laptop, even if I'm in the middle of something.
The reason I can do that is because I'm working so far in advance all the time. And not even so far in advance because I heard someone talking about having a year's worth of their editorial ... I'm not into that at all because one, I feel like I get so many new ideas that I would never want to plan that far ahead. But just this idea of, right now (in May) I'm writing a series for independent authors. I'm not writing any of those posts now, you know what I mean? I'm already working on what's happening in June, and what's happening in July, so that if I need to take a night off to take care of me, or to see a family member, or to go on a date with my husband, I can afford to do that because I have prepared in way that it’s not contingent on me needing to get something out tomorrow, you know what I mean?
If there was one major key, it's definitely that. And just knowing that your career, your goals, they're great, but they're not the end all be all of your life. Your life will be the experiences that you made with other people. Your life will be the quality of how you treated yourself, you know what I mean? Things that you did for yourself. I try to always keep that in mind. Since I'm such an ambitious, driven person, I have to constantly remind myself of that. Like, "Girl, all this stuff you're chasing, it'll be here. But these moments, you'll never be able to get those back.
This wraps up the Writing in the Balance series! If you'd like to implement the tips that the writers in this series have shared, please sign up to receive the free worksheets that I created to help you do just that!