Balancing Your Writer’s Life

Ah. Writing. There are so many ideas, so many characters, so much internal and external conflict to wrestle with. I love getting my thoughts down onto paper or up onto computer screen (and drives). It feels wonderful to accomplish such a feat with so many other non-writing-related activities pressing in all around.

Wouldn’t it just be grand if writing was all there was to a writer’s life?

But it’s not all there is.

Of course, there’s the mental struggling with plot and character, and the writing it all down (or typing it). Writing is a very romantic career, and I don’t limit that to genre. There’s so much more. There is research, and revisions, and critique groups, and more revisions, and more research. There’s setting the story aside to decide later it needs a full rewrite. And checking your story word for word for silly little errors. Then you must search what to do with your completed story — agent, editor, self-publish, alternate, or trash it.

When your story is published, of course, you go on to writing your next story. That’s a given. While that happens, you also must coddle your already published toddler.

What does this coddling entail? Updating your website, being “visible” on social media sites, printing business cards for live encounters. There are book signings, speaking engagements, and follow-up, including evaluations, to all. To each of these coddling suggestions, I could write chapters.

My mantra has always been that family comes first. That said, it’s often difficult to find time to write when you have babies to care for, toddlers, work which pays bills, school activities, church activities, social activities, house, yard, etc. Surely, there are at least 33 hours in any given day, right? And who needs sleep? Yet, somehow, the writing bug wiggles deeply into people who work and have families and family activities.

Family always comes first, which means sometimes writing must be put on hold.

Writing demands discipline. You can finish stories one sentence at a time, or as Anne Lamott puts it, bird by bird–writing during your children’s nap times, and then compartmentalize it while you focus on other aspects of life, like your kids.

Discipline is also required for all the published book coddling. Organization of sales for tax purposes, keeping track of  your PayPal account with their automatic withdrawals, remembering to update your domain name each year (or every third), contacting places to speak, putting together talks and PowerPoint presentations for the various requests, making your author name and book title visible both on social media and face-to-face, advertising, press releases, media kits, updating everything and often…

Is there no end to what an author today must do?

The short answer is no. So prioritize your time and what needs to be done. Focus. Be a disciplined person. Write. Market and promote. But most of all, hug and spend time with your loved ones.

Yet Another Tornado Cleanup Entry

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First need: Water. The first night after the tornado struck, we had gallons of water which I always have on hand “in case.” By the second night, we were using our neighbor’s outdoor spicket, as they have city water, so even though they were without electricity like us, they still had water available.

Second need: Food. As hikers, we always have dried food in our house. Others might not think a lunch of peanut butter on crackers with a can of V-8 and cup of applesauce is much of a lunch, but it is quite satisfactory. And grocery stores in some parts of town were opened, although we couldn’t store anything cold.

Third need: Shelter. Our house is now livable. It is far from the normal we were used to. While our master bedroom gets repaired, we’re sleeping in the smaller guest bedroom with our winter clothing stashed in the basement because there’s no room for them upstairs. And although we still have tarps over four parts of our roof, we are protected from the elements. We have shelter.

Fourth need: Love/ People/ Friends. Thank you. I can’t say that enough. Although you may not think that merely asking “What can I do?” is much, it is HUGE. We need the knowledge that others care. You do. Thank you.

Fifth need: Mental Stability. Throughout this past week, my husband and I each found ourselves repeating things, or forgetting things, or being unable to focus or concentrate. (And I apologize for continuing to repeat things.) Everywhere we look in a 360 degree circle, in every room, and at each section of our yard, there are things which need to be done yet.

I actually thought I was doing (mentally) much better after the power and water came back on. (We will have only partial power for perhaps months, and still don’t have internet service nine days after the tornado. I’m sending this through my husband’s work office.) But today as I was out doing two errands – taking several trashbags of clothing to the Salvation Army and stopping to get milk – I was at the checkout and asked the clerk if she was affected by the storm. She replied, “Thankfully, no, but this store was without power for a few days.” I smiled and nodded, then turned to leave, taking two steps before I realized I had neither paid for the food nor even taken the milk. Yeah. Although some people may argue there was doubt all along, I must admit that I don’t think I’m quite mentally stable yet.

P.S. I have taken 62 pages of notes in my journal so far, concerning this storm and clean up,… and counting. Most of what I’ve written is just jotted thoughts. I could write pages on any of those things. Oh, the writing fodder — to look over someday when I’m mentally stable once again. I may even read over these blog posts for the past week – and melt in sobbing embarrassment.

Battle Creek Tornado, Post #2

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On Sunday, I wrote four pages of observations on notebook paper before deciding to write tonado-related things in my pen and ink journal, including important phone numbers, notes, priorities, and even scattered half-phrased thoughts. I’m now on my 25th tornado page in that journal. I figure, as a writer, someday I’ll return to those pages for future stories/articles. For now, it’s simply a central location for stuff my brain is too shaky to retain.

Five points to today’s post:

1) We still are without power and water. Yesterday, there were still 31,000 people without power, with the plan to have everyone restored by 11 pm tonight. Even so, our wires are pulled away from our house and under a large oak, so unsure of when this applies to us.

2) Son John had his own tragedy happen a week before ours. A drug-crazed stranger threw a 50-pound boulder through his car window, then proceeded to rip apart the dashboard before threatening John’s life. Far away carless John is in his own survival mode, but wishes he could help as well. There will be stuff for him to do later. No worries.

Monday, Jeff called Son Peter, who lives 5 hours away. As soon as he found out the extent of the devastation, he drove here with a chain saw, lots of bottled water, tarps, and nails. We had a list of three major things he could help us with during his overnight stay. They were all accomplished two hours after he arrived. It was like Jeff and I were taking baby steps in shock, while Peter comes in as a triathlon athlete (which he is, actually). He whipped through a project, then said, “What next?” His time was not only a physical boost to us, but definitely an emotional boost.

3) Our yard went from 90% shade a week ago to 90% sun this week. Sunlight comes through windows which hasn’t seen sun in our seven years here.

Related to that: With downed trees all about, it took Peter four attempts to get to our house. Even so, the neighborhood looks so different, he started to drive past our house when he saw us out front. Yesterday, Friend Francie, who was out-of-town during our storm, drove down our little street (a whopping 20 or so houses), and became confused when she realized she’d reached the end of the street and had to of have passed our house.

4) People keep asking what we need. This morning I broke down for the first time and cried with “Cuz” Dale called from Mississippi, saying how she touched she/they were when members of my church and I went to help with Katrina clean up, and asked “If there is anything at all I can do–” I answered, “Dale, you already have.” It’s the care and concern and compassion, and being a friend — that is the BEST thing anyone can do for us. Just be our friend. Thank you.

5) Hopefully, I’ll get a chance to work on some photos at home to post on FB tomorrow. Hopefully. It’s hard to plan things more than a few minutes ahead of time.

Love to you all. We sure feel it coming at us from you.

Why Write? (part II)

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I feel like standing up and saying, “Hi. My name is Sandy. I’m a writer.”

I haven’t confessed to too many people that I actually have four blogs. I don’t post on them all regularly, but they are four very different blogs on very different subjects. For instance, I also have a humor blog where I write true funny family stories, but also stick in some good old clean jokes now and then. That blog is strictly for sharing the funny. Another blog concerns my husband’s occupation — b.o.r.i.n.g. to most people.

Why four blogs? For compartmentalizing different focuses.

I also have written nonfiction articles, as well as stories cross-genre and cross-age, from PB to adult thrillers. (The last is under a pen name, so as not to confuse my dear children readers.)

When I was a freshman in college, my advisor — a very plump woman threatening the existence of her chair, with narrow eyes which burned into your very soul — asked me what I wanted to be (when I grew up). I got all fluttery and replied, “I just don’t know. I love being outside, but I love working with kids, and I want to help people, and I want to explore places, and –” She slammed her hand to her desk to stop my babbling. I was startled because, after all, she’d asked. She waggled her finger at me and said, “Focus. Decide on one thing and do it.” Then she waved me out of her presence with the back of her hand. I was devastated. But then, I ended up in a profession which did all of the above. I was an elementary school teacher, and a girl scout leader, later becoming a wife and mom and cub scout leader. I really COULD do it all. Ha on her!

Coming back to my wide interest in writing… I feel my former advisor shaking her pudgy finger in my face with a “Focus!” Will I ever learn? Could I focus on just one series and write a bazillion stories with those characters? Not sure it’s in my varied personality. But because of my families adventuresome spirit, I don’t need to do tons of research for what it would be like in many situations. We’ve been there. OH! something I hadn’t thought about because it is far too scattered to focus into one book — a memoir!

March’s 20,000-Word Challenge

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Now you see! With thirty-one days in the month, and no scheduled holidays off from school or work, THIS makes for a much better writing challege month (v.s. November/ NaNoWriMo when it’s not only one day shorter, but has THREE holidays thrown in the mix, plus the holiday weekends often with family buzzing about).

So… simple dimple writing challenge: Write 20,000 by the month’s end. It does not have to be edited. It could simply be Raw Writing (writing without thinking with the editing coming later).

Simple Writing Rules

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Rule #1: Writing is not simple.

Rule #2: Write; Finish what you write; Revise; Have it critiqued; Revise a few more times; Let it sit.

Rule #3: Read. Read. Read — read EVERYTHING you can get your hands on: books in your field/genre; NF research; books for pleasure; books so out of whack from your own writing genre that it would make your fellow writers blink to see you reading them; etc., etc..

Rule #4: Take another look at your story; Revise again.

Rule #5: Research agents and/or editors; submit it.

Rule #6:  Start writing another story.

Rule #7: Go out and play. (More grown-up authors might rephrase that to “Go out and live.”)

Well?

NaNoWriMo Begins — Permission to Write Drek

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Today is day one of NaNoWriMo – National Novel Writing Month. I participated last year, and will do so this year as well. Although what I produce during NaNoWriMo is not readable at the end of the month, and perhaps not even finished, I get inspired by short-term writing goals, and end up putting down lots of words to work with. I did not make my 50,000 word goal last year, but came close. Most of what I wrote ended up as stream of consciousness, but all related to the story. I ended up deleting about 9/10 of what I wrote. But that 10% was well worth it, and made for a solid foundation of a novel, which I did end up finishing last spring.

NaNoWriMo seems a sloppy way to write, yet is very productive. The end product is trash can material, with a few pages and ideas and scenes rescued. Yet to me, NaNoWriMo is a means to an end. It inspires me to make writing a priority. Deletions (lots) and revisions (tons) follow.

Novel Revision Workshop Teacher, Darcy Pattison, suggests to get a story down first. Then, you can make it readable. (My paraphrase; apologies to Darcy.)

I will get my story down this month – or at least a good chunk of my thinking-writing time will be spent doing this. I actually look forward to the January to spring revisions.

I am reminded of my friend Ross, who told me last summer that he has a splendid story idea, and that if I wanted to write it out, I could have the idea for free. Ideas are easy. Writing is hard. Perhaps I should introduce Ross to NaNoWriMo, even though he doesn’t own a computer and still uses a land-line rotary dial phone. (Who needs to make up fictional characters?)

Good luck to all NaNoWriMo participants, and to all other writers who continue to plug away without this sprint.

Your Writing Space

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One of the things every writer needs is a designated writing space. It might be den space in your house, or an overstuffed chair, or a certain table at the library or cafe. All the best of the best writers recommend this. It should be a place where you go specifically to write, not to knit or eat or watch tv or check your email or Facebook friends. This is your personal designated writing spot. Writing only!

I don’t have one.

In my defense, I happen to have many. Perhaps it has something to do with the nomad in me. 1) We move into a new house (often a new state) every seven years or so, therefore a specific place in any given house changes from place to place. 2) My husband works about 1/3 of his job at home, in the den, using the computer, during undesignated times; it could be morning, afternoon, or evening. 2) We own a laptop, which I do use, but with the den taken, there is no designated space in which to use it, and no comfortable place to sit or type. Besides, each room of our house is otherwise designated.  3) I follow the sun. In the summer time, the sun comes up from the back of the house. In the summer, I spend a lot of time writing in our three-season room (unless it gets above 90 degrees — no air conditioning out there). In the winter, I set up my writing nest in the guest bedroom, in which the sun enters each morning. I’ve only got leg-space there since the room is mostly filled with the two beds. But the beds serve as both chair and tables on which to spread my notes, etc. But then, the guest bedroom only works until noon, when it becomes wintry dark in there. I consequently move to the breakfast nook off the kitchen, following the sun around our house.

(Stop yawning, please.)

My suggestion to you all is to find your own personal writing space. That’s what all the biggie-bigs say to do. I support their wisdom: Find your own space… that is, unless you have a circumstantial nomadic spirit, like me.

How To Write When There Are Others Around, Part III — Some More Solutions

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One very important thing I failed to mention concerning writing when there are others around, was/is personal discipline.

Besides my husband working in the den of our house for much of his work, we have company at our house now — for about 10 days. I’ll have a 3-day break at the end of next week before we get in a different set of company (family — hurrah!) for two weeks. I’ll have company in our house 24-7 for most of this month. It’s a might distracting for the writer.

It’s now 7 days into the month. How much writing have I gotten done so far this month? Confession: very little. Excuse: entertaining guests and traveling to touristy places. However, I have done some writing, and I’ll share the reflections of my experiences.

How to write when there are others around? Unfortunately, I’m not rude enough to shut myself up behind a closed door. Besides, when I do that, I inevitably get distracted by laughter from the next room — which I’m SURE was some great writing fodder story which I’ve lost out on. So…

1) Sneak away for a five-minute writing break. It feels glorious. You may feel sneaky and somewhat guilty, but glorious all the same. I know this. I am a writer. I need to write each and every day. If I end up not writing, I make Oscar the Grouch look as singing-sweet as Disney’s Sleeping Beauty.

2) When you do get the chance to sneak away, do not — I repeat, DO NOT — spend your glorious writing minutes with checking your email, catching up on FaceBook, LinkedIn, favorite blogs, how far the Gulf Coast tar balls have drifted, etc..

3) Enjoy your company. Relish in visits from family. Love them to pieces. And learn to delegate. (e.g., “Oh, say… how ’bout if you folks clear the table and wash the dishes?” Then go sneak in your cherished writing minutes.)

4) Microize your normal writing goals. (I sure hope I made that word up instead of used some swear word or laser weapon. No time to research it now. Remember? I’ve got company in the next room.) Instead of giving yourself 3 hours to spend in revisions, limit yourself to one chapter a day. Microize your normal writing goals.

5) When company leaves, and there are sheets to wash, floors to mop, toilets to scrub, mountains of laundry to do, etc., don’t forget to work back up to your normal daily writing schedule. W.E.D: Write Every Day.  (Rats! Another made up word.  I sure hope that isn’t some acronym for a porno site. No time to look it up.)