Writing Between the Lines (aka: Time Management)

Write between the lines.

It’s a concept many of us writerly types are familiar with. After all, few of us have the luxury to just sit at home and write all day. We have careers. Kids to raise. Errands to run, meals to prepare, volunteering to do. You’d be amazed by how many of your favorite authors actually have a life beyond cranking out novels. So how do they get it done?

They write between the lines.

William Faukner Quote

Each one of us gets exactly 24 hours to do it all. Eat. Sleep. Manage the glut of daily routines and responsibilities that eat up the hours of our day. But good writers, successful writers, the ones who manage to do it all and get their work published, too, understand the secret. They write while riding the train to work. They write while their kids are in gymnastics class or at soccer practice. They write during those 30 minutes while waiting for the casserole to finish baking in the oven. If there is a crack in the sidewalk of time, we writers will find it and fill it in with words.

Busy is my other middle name.

Busy career woman

On a normal day, I wake up before the sun rises to go for a run, or head to the gym to exercise. Then I check in with my teens and commute to work. After work, I usually cook a nutritious meal for the family, then return to the gym for another workout. I spend the rest of the evening reading, writing, catching a TV show, and spending time with the teens before I take a moment to prepare lunch and clothes for the next day. Somehow, it all gets done. Even the laundry and dishes. (Okay, not always). And I nearly always manage a good 8 hours of sleep every night.

Yes, maybe it’s because I’m from Jupiter. Or maybe it’s possible because I have no friends or relationships to eat into more of my precious time. But maybe, just maybe, it all boils down to one essential thing. Time management.

time management

It takes a lot of discipline to do it all every day. It also takes effective tools, and consistency to make those tools work for you. Calendars are useful, as are reminder apps. Imagine — making your phone remember everything so that you can focus on what’s more important!

Sometimes, I listen to other people complain that they just don’t have enough time in the day to get to the gym. To cook nutritious meals with whole foods. To read books. I just smile and try to empathize. But if they were to ask me for advice, I would offer this one thing: look for the cracks.

Want to read more books? How about listening to audiobooks during your daily commute, or together with your family in the evenings? What if you plan to spend exactly 15 minutes before bed each night engrossed in a book you really want to read? It’s slow progress, maybe, but it’s still progress.

Want to exercise more? How about bringing your sneakers to work and going for daily walks during the last half of your lunch hour? How about purposely climbing the stairs at your work building? Or a habit of walking your dog each evening. Or you can brave the early morning and go to the gym when it’s not at all crowded.

strong woman stress management

It is easy to find excuses. It’s easy to come up with reasons why you can’t make those small changes that you know will improve your mind, your health, your life. It’s easy to collapse on the couch and watch TV and eat processed foods. But very little good ever came from following the path of least resistance.

You don’t have to be a writer to write between the lines. Each one of us has at least one big thing we’d like to accomplish. You’re probably thinking of it right now while reading this post. The question is, what small changes are you willing to make to reach your goal? What cracks in your daily path are you ready to fill?

My Great-American Junk Drawer (aka: Getting Organized)

miscellaneous-stuff I was searching for a screwdriver today.

Yes, my toolbox is full of screwdrivers, but I was searching for the one I like best – a Phillips screwdriver with a grippy handle that feels just right in my hands. You see, I just got my bedroom back for the first time in six months. Six months! (Insert cartwheel here). My sister and her family moved here from far away and needed a transition home. So, like a good little sister, I loaned them my spacious bedroom to use as their hotel-away-from-home until they could get settled and move into their own house. Which happened yesterday.

So today, I had work to do.

It takes a lot of scrubbing and furniture-moving and reorganizing to get one’s bedroom back in shape after it’s been lived in by other people. It also takes a good Phillips screwdriver to repair your lopsided curtain rod, which has been yanked out of place by two rambunctious, preschool-aged kids. Which is why I was searching for one this afternoon.

After ransacking my toolbox and coming up empty, I began to rummage through various drawers and organizers. At last, I came to the large wooden IKEA desk that I keep in my bedroom. Our family has had this desk for nearly ten years, along with all the stuff that fills the drawers. Although I am mostly organized in other areas, desk drawers in my home have the bad habit of collecting all manner of odds and ends, until every single one comes to resemble that one drawer that everyone has in their home.

You know the one.

The junk drawer.

Junk drawer

The main drawer of our IKEA desk was a sight to behold. As NPR once put it, “The Great American Junk Drawer can be an accidental time capsule, a haphazard scrap heap, a curious box of memories and meaninglessness.” This one was no exception. Paper clips, old business cards from the home business I ran fifteen years ago, my youngest son’s missing library card, an unused $25 Game Stop gift card. I collected a few dollars’ worth of coins to add to our family Dream Jar, which will hopefully offset a future trip to Disneyland and the Wizarding World of Harry Potter. But there was no screwdriver. I cut my finger on one of a zillion push pins or rusty staples lining the drawer, then happened to discover a single toy Magnetix rod, which turned out to be a perfect picker-upper for push pins and staples. But still, no screwdriver.

I then came across a stack of old photos – a treasure trove of snapshots of my children when they were small and rosy-cheeked, and a few pics of old friends that instantly threw me into a nostalgic mood. I spent the next half hour flipping through more old photos, traveling back in time, the bedroom project forgotten.

At last I shook off the distraction. As much as I would have loved to clean out the junk and make it a neat, organized office drawer, I had a screwdriver to find. Which turned out to be in the toolbox, where I swear it wasn’t the first two times.

I have my room back.

The curtain rod is straight again, and my room is once again a cozy, clutter-free retreat of comfortable furnishings, soft lighting, and flickering candles. Everything is in its place – visitors snug in their own home, junk in the junk drawer, and yes, my favorite screwdriver safely returned to my toolbox.

I think.

cozy-master-bedroom

Not-Quite Martha Stewart (My Transformation into a Neat Freak)

Well, I think that the impossible has occurred. I am almost afraid to confess, lest I jinx it. But here is the miraculous truth: I am becoming a neat freak.

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I know. Shocking.

Okay, maybe by the standards of some, I am not exactly a neat freak. I’m reasonably sure that my home will never be considered for a feature in Better Homes and Gardens magazine. As much as I admire Martha Stewart, I will never learn how to fold the perfect fitted sheet. (In fact, I pretty much just crumple those into a ball and hide them behind the pretty stacks of flat sheets). But compared with my old habits, which would have earned me a C- in Housekeeping School, my new habits may actually be worth a B+.

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Okay fine – so my house wasn’t quite THIS dirty/messy/disorganized. At least not usually. But still, I barely deserved passing marks.

Now here’s the weird thing – I am even beginning to enjoy keeping our home clean and organized. Yes, I said enjoy. Almost as much as I have always enjoyed the other domestic arts, like baking, sewing, and decorating. I guess it shouldn’t come as such a surprise. After all, it has always been important to me that my family lives in – not just a house – but a home. A cozy, well-decorated, nice-smelling, and yes, clean home.

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Home is much less stressful and much more homey when everything is clean and tidy.

And so, these are some of the rules by which my children and I now live, in order to keep our home as pleasant and homey as possible:

1. If you make the mess, accidentally or not, you clean it up.

2. Dishes are done every night, with few exceptions.

3. Fold and put away your laundry while it is still warm from the dryer.

4. Vaccum often. 3X per week minimum.

5. Keep bathrooms sparkling clean and sanitary

6. Clean pet cages at least once per week.

7. Help each other. We all live in our home together, so we must all work together to keep it nice.

8. Remember – everything has its place. If we can’t make a place, then something must be thrown out in order to make a place.

9. When in doubt, throw it out.

10. Stay organized. It is easier to find what you need when there is less clutter.

The result? Ooh, look – clean dishes whenever we want. Matching socks, too! And wow, we can walk around the house without tripping over books and toys. Even better, our home feels comfortable and relaxing, and it isn’t embarrassing to invite guests inside.

I don’t know how long this neat freak phase will last, but I hope it is for many years. I also hope that it rubs off on my children – especially the part about enjoying cleaning the house. Time will tell. And now, I am off to wash the remaining dishes before snuggling into my neat, cozy well-made, B+ bed.

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Why yes, my food pantry does resemble this after picture. Okay, somewhat. And only because I used to sell Tupperware products like these many years ago.