Another summer is rapidly coming to a close. This was a hot and dry one up here in the arid wastelands of the once verdant Pacific Northwest. It’s hard not to look at this summer as a sign of impending climate apocalypse. And here I am in my typically air conditioning-free Seattle-area house. “You really only need air conditioning a few days a year, so why bother?” was the line we heard repeated over and over again. And when we came here in 1997 that seemed more or less true. But now the six-week dry season has turned into a five-month dry season, temperatures are routinely in the upper 80s and low 90s, and by about 2:00 in the afternoon it’s just too hot for me to function in my office. At least I got my old laptop back up and running so I can sit in the “downtown office” in front of a fan that blows hot air full of dust and other allergens at me and is a constant roaring white noise that makes me sick and angry and temperamental and what do you care?

Calm down, Phil, just calm . . . down.

<Pause for deep, cleansing breath, followed by dust-clogged choking spasm.>

Okay, I’m better now.

Let’s find some good news about yet another summer that I have essentially missed while working my butt off, sweating even while sitting down and typing.

“Back to School” approaches. That’s good news. I need these kids out of here for at least some of the day. They interrupt me with their constant need for food, attention, etc. I was under the impression that once your kids left the toddler phase it would no longer be necessary to track their every move. Apparently this will go on forever.

Ooh . . . here’s a good one!

I am more on top of projects and deadlines right now than I have been in a year and a half at least. I have two short-term deadlines that will be reached on time, and two lingering, way-too-behind projects that will be finished up quickly after. I’m looking to my birthday as a goal: Get to September 7 and you’ll be 100% caught up!

Hurray me!

But wait . . . don’t celebrate yet . . . that’s just going to jinx it!

And how about a reality check for me:

These projects are: edit a fantasy novel written by a major author in the field, edit a fantasy anthology that’s almost done (gone to the copy editor), write a novelization I can’t tell you about but that’s a joy to write, teach the last session of this term’s Worldbuilding class tonight, write five more jungle pulp stories, write a hardboiled detective short story for a waiting anthology, edit a fun and quirky role-playing game, edit two more Traveller novels, write a Traveller novel I’m writing myself, edit a fantasy novella the author want to expand into a novel, and finally get started on the big fantasy work-in-progress that hasn’t been progressing at all.

And here I am, whining.

This is my job, and I get paid pretty nicely for it, too.

This is what I’m bitching about.

Wait . . . no it isn’t! I’m bitching about all the things that are preventing me from doing that work, that get in the way, like the oppressive heat, or my equally oppressive children. With the end in sight for both summer heat and summer vacation, coupled with the end in sight for some major deadlines, I’m feeling on top of it for the first time in a while.

Now, if I had sat down to write this after 2:00 this afternoon, I might be singing a different tune.

But where’s the advice for writers in this?

Try not to be me, at least in this sense. If you can make a living in publishing, and concentrate on the genres you love, look for that work/life balance that eludes most overworked Americans, and even if that eludes you, too, quit yer bitchin’.

This is a pretty sweet deal.


—Philip Athans


About Philip Athans

Philip Athans is the New York Times best-selling author of Annihilation and a dozen other books including The Guide to Writing Fantasy and Science Fiction, and Writing Monsters. His blog, Fantasy Author’s Handbook, ( is updated every Tuesday, and you can follow him on Twitter @PhilAthans.
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  1. I just started my graduate studies in composition and writing–I feel ya. I have so much work to do bt I’m not getting paid. 😦 I’m looking for a job, trying to keep a quiet house, trying to keep up with assistantship work AND find time for pleasure reading. I wish I could write pulp. I need to look into that. But I have your book near by (The Guide to Writing Fantasy and SciF((signed by R.A. Salvator AND Ed Greenwood)) for good luck!

  2. Craig says:

    Work, life, writing… pick two. Unless writing is your work and you get paid well to do it, work-life balance while trying to be a writer is brutal. At least it is for me, but I have 2 young kids and an over 40 hour a week type job.

    And I hear you re this summer in the Pacific Northwest… I bought a house a couple years back that actually has a full AC system, and I thought it was cute… I lived here my whole life and never needed AC before, but since the house came with it, fine. But a week ago it broke down, and I couldn’t have called the repairman any faster.

    Anyways, I’m glad to hear you’re getting caught up on everything… I think the reason people get behind with this kind of stuff is a lack of short-term urgency. If you have a deadline a month away, any given hour or day is likely not going to make too much difference, so it’s easy to skip an hour or a day. But after a while those hours and days add up. I believe that’s why so many writers who are so much more productive at it than I am have a daily word count goal…

  3. Pingback: THE HURRIER I GO, THE BEHINDER I GET | Fantasy Author's Handbook

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