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Don’t Tell Me It Can’t Be Done!
by Michelle Sussman

When I told my high school counselor that it was my plan to major in Medieval History in college, I was told it couldn’t be done.

"There’s no such thing as majoring in Medieval History," she told me. "Why don’t you look into being an accountant like your brother and sister?"

I graduated four years later from a Big Ten school with a degree in Medieval History.

Last year when I finally got serious about my freelance writing career, I was worried about balancing my life as an at-home mom with writing. Everything I read said it couldn’t be done. A nanny, regular babysitter, or grandparent was necessary to success.

I don’t like being told "it can’t be done," so I set out to prove them wrong. All it took was a little compromise.

* You can’t have it all, but you can have a lot. It was important to both my husband and I that one of us stay home with our daughter during the first few years of her life. Since he was an engineer, the financial responsibility fell to him. But I couldn’t imagine not writing, now that I finally had some time. I only had to realize that quantity wasn’t as important as quality. I budgeted my time and determined exactly how many articles I could balance at one time and stuck to my guns.

* Find a specialty. After reading Kelly James-Enger’s book "Ready, Aim, Specialize," I focused on markets that fell within my specialty, pregnancy and parenting, and only submitted to those markets. It’s not that I don’t have ideas for other markets, but those markets were easiest to crack, I have tons of contacts for anecdotes, and the ideas stem from everyday life with my daughter.

* Keep an idea file. Even though I’m concentrating on parenting and pregnancy, I do occasionally get ideas for other topics. For the time being, those go directly into my idea file. If I have a dry spell with assignments, I’ll pull out one and research markets.

* Work around your child’s schedule. Since writing was a joy to me, unlike the daily burden of housework, I looked forward to writing while my daughter napped. Even outings provided opportunities for working. My local library not only has a ton of magazines for my research, but I was able to study them while my daughter played with puzzles or other children in a safe, controlled environment.

* Be flexible. Anyone who has a child will tell you that the minute they seem to be on a schedule, something changes. When she dropped her last nap last winter, I panicked. The great majority of my telephone interviews took place while she was peacefully sleeping and I felt shafted. After talking to other parents, I discovered something call "Quiet Time." While she was no longer sleeping, my daughter delighted in playing with her toys in her room for an hour each afternoon and I was able to resume my interviews.

* Work nights and weekends. While working late at night or on the weekends isn’t something I enjoy, if I have a deadline looming, I will work while my husband’s home to entertain our daughter or after she’s gone to bed. But, that leads back to my first tip. If I keep my workload manageable, I can avoid working odd hours.

One year and eight published articles later (three articles for national markets and five for local magazines), I’ve developed a great relationship with Chicago Parent and gotten my foot in the door with more national magazines. My daughter’s schedule changes once again this fall as she heads to preschool, giving me even larger blocks of time to write. I’m proud because once again, someone told me I couldn’t do it, and I did.

© Copyright 2005, Michelle Sussman

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