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?

Advertisements

Wild and Precious…and Lukewarm (aka: Goal-Setting)

One Wild and Precious Life

For some reason, I thought it would be a good idea to revisit the 5-yr. life plan I wrote several years ago. Because you know, sometimes it’s good to give your life a check-up, to see how you’re doing on achieving your goals, and to adjust them as needed. Three years into my (very sparse) plan, here’s what I’ve managed to accomplish:

Career: I graduated from college, adding two very useful Computer Information Science Degrees to my useless B.A. degree. Check! I obtained a great job doing something I actually love, which has a great salary and benefits. Check!

Future career goals: I just happen to be really good at my job, and continuing to climb the ladder is inevitable, as long as I keep learning, staying ahead of the curve, and adding value to the agency I work for. Within five years, I hope to still be doing what I love, but perhaps in the private sector, where I can make more money, travel for work, and work remotely. I’d also like to see at least one of my novels published.

Financial: I like to keep these goals private. But my plans are positive and practical.

Social: Still nada. With the exception of the wonderful man I dated just over a year ago, I have been without any friends for more than seven years.

Future social goals: I’ve given up on the idea of my anemic social life changing, and decided to just embrace the “only” life. It can be lonely, having no one to call and chat with, or invite out places, or share joys or sorrows. But this has been my life for so long now, that I figure I can survive it indefinitely. Once in a great while, I go out to a Meetup with groups of strangers, to chat in a restaurant or go for a hike, just to pretend like I have some sort of social life. Sometimes, this is even fun.

Family: Five years from now, I will officially be a single empty nester. One kid is already a young adult, with his own life. One is a high school senior, on her way to university next fall. And the youngest has begun high school. So I guess my goal is to just keep loving and supporting them until they’re on their way. After that — who knows?

Future family goals: Well, I guess five years from now, I will be my own family. I would like to have a dog, if my lifestyle allows for it then. I would also like to continue supporting my grown children from a distance, as they start their own independent lives. I can totally see myself living somewhere far away from here, too, since I will have nothing left to keep me here. Seattle, maybe? San Francisco? London? Maybe a new location every year, if my work enables that kind of mobility. But these are all desperate ideas, since I’m honestly clueless about how to plan my future family/self goals. I guess I don’t really know what I should want.

Heading somewhere maybe who knows?

Health: I’m still doing what I should. I exercise daily (running a lot, going to the gym, and occasional tennis Meetups). I eat a mostly plant-based flexitarian diet. My weight is still in the ideal range, and my clothes fit well. I sleep regularly, see the doc regularly, my iron levels are finally within normal range, so my hair is growing again. Yay! I focus on self-care. I don’t have any bad habits to break. I feel good, and content, and just happy enough, most of the time.

Future health goals: I guess I just want more of the same.

Relationship: Last year, I had a wonderful, fulfilling, far-too-short relationship with the man who was perfect for me in every possible way. I pictured a future with him. I pictured an amazing future with him.

Future relationship goals: There will never be anyone who can take his place. I have zero interest in even trying. I do not plan to ever be in any kind of romantic relationship or date anyone else ever again, so I can cross this one off for the rest of my life.

Travel: Luckily, my kids and I have been able to do a bit of fun traveling within our state within the past several years. Yosemite, Disneyland, lots of beaches, and plenty of great day trips and camping trips. I also got to travel vicariously when my daughter went to China for ten days.

Future travel goals: I hope to travel out of the country at last within the next five years. I just have to figure out how we’re paying for kids’ colleges first. I’d also like to return to New York City for a visit, hopefully with my kids. I’m also considering doing a RunDisney 1/2 marathon one day with my daughter, mostly because running in costume is more fun than no costume.

Somewhere in between the big goals, I sometimes throw in a small, short-term goal or two. But to be honest, I don’t have any tangible small goals right now. Sometimes, I feel like I’m running out of ideas. I already have plenty of hobbies — reading, hobbies, watching sports and movies, music, handicrafts…What should I do next when nothing else seems particularly interesting or fun or useful? It seems so lukewarm to me, to plan to do something just for the sake of saying, “I’ve done that.” Where is the joy or meaning in that? Is it just to make conversations more interesting for you people who have friends? Is it meaningful because you work toward these goals with people you’re close to?

04ca3a40-f7de-4b16-b50f-426338858658-9126-00000c3a4ee5360b

I guess I could plan to do new things just to have something to blog about, to make my blog posts more meaningful. But shouldn’t it be the other way around? Shouldn’t I blog about the goal I’ve accomplished which had great meaning to me somehow? I would love to hear your thoughts, suggestions, etc.

Mix the Batter (aka: The NaNoWriMo Commandments)

Tick, tick, tick…

Hear that sound? No, it’s not a bomb. Not exactly. It’s the sound of the NaNoWriMo countdown clock.

Brace Yourself NaNoWriMo is Coming

If you are not a novel writer, then you’re probably scratching your head right now, wondering if NaNoWriMo is some rare tropical disease, or an exotic food dish. But for those of us steeped in the writerly world, we know that NaNoWriMo means one thing: Panic.

Preptober is almost over! Only four days left until it begins! Aaaaaaaccckkk! I’m not done with character development! I’m not done worldbuilding! My favorite pen is out of ink! I still don’t have a plot! Aaaaaaacckkk!!

NaNoWriMo stands for National Novel Writing Month. It is an annual challenge in which fiction writers everywhere attempt to do the insane — write an entire novel in one month. That’s right. A minimum of 50,000 words in 30 days. You do the math. My novel-planning brain is too exhausted. So exhausted, in fact, that I will now spam the rest of this post with silly memes as I share the NaNoWriMo Commandments.

50,000 words minimum writing

The NaNoWriMo Commandments

1. Thou shalt become a Plotter, not a Pantster. I know full well how fun it can be to fly by the seat of you pants and just write, write, write without bothering to plan. But if you attempt to do this during NaNoWriMo, you are almost guaranteed to fail. If you don’t have a notebook filled with character descriptions, plot outlines, and worldbuilding details, I have just one question: What are you thinking? You’ve only got four days left! Get thee to a search engine and lookup How to Plot a Novel. Having a plan is essential to success.

Glinda the Good Wtch Pantser or Plotter

2. Thou shalt carry a notebook at all times. Or a tablet. Or a laptop. Whatever tool you need to take notes or tack on a few paragraphs during the spare moments of your day. This is especally true for those of us who have a day job or children.

3. Thou shalt stay off social media! I will probably end up breaking this one. Twitter is irresistible, and sometimes my ceative mind needs to take a little break. But if it is late at night, and you’re scrolling though Facebook or Tumblr, and are still 800 words short of your daily word count quota, then it’s time to question your priorities.

Writing not Facebooking

4. Thou shalt have no other writing before your novel. Yes, this includes blogs. Also, poems, short stories, flash fiction, and anything else that saps your creative juices. For the entire month of November, you only get to write your novel. What does that mean for our blog readers? Well, hopefully they’re cool with reblogs, reposts, and blogs that contain little more than a meme or a music video, because that’s what they’re getting.

Plotting the story

5. Thou shalt prepare your workspace. A clean desk. Your favorite mug for coffee or tea. Maybe a nice room where you can lock your cats away for a couple of hours, since cats are notorious at taking over computer keyboards when writers are trying to write.

6. No editing your novel! I mean it. We novel writers know that our first draft is not a cake. It’s only the batter. Mix your ingredients well, but don’t let the rawness bother you. There will be plenty of time to bake it into something delicious after it’s complete. After NaNoWriMo.

Confused

That’s it. Your six commandments for a successful NaNoWriMo month. What? Did you thinking I was giving you ten commandments? Are you kidding? There are only four days left of Preptober. I have plotting to do! Tick, tick, tick…

Hats Off! (aka: Graduation Day)

My 17yo son has graduated from high school.

Hooray!

My Kid on Graduation Day

The end of 13 years of homework struggles, 13 years of report card anxiety, 13 years of parent-teacher conferences and dropoff/pickup arrangements. The end! Woohooo! *Throws hat in the air*

Of course, the end of one era often signals the beginning of another era. For my son, this marks the beginning of his years as a young adult, and the start of college. Which of course, means a few more years of homework struggles and report-card anxiety (for him). It also means, hopefully, his entry into the workforce as a scrub, like the rest of us had to do at some point in our youth. Yes, kid, I want fries with that. Welcome to the Real World.

As my son and his class marched along to Pomp and Circumstances in their flowing green robes and tasseled hats, I was filled with pride, relief, and excitement about my son’s next phase of life and what it may bring. I was also filled with thoughts about the very idea of graduation. According to Merriam Webster, one definition of “graduate” is: to pass from one stage of experience, proficiency, or prestige to a usually higher one. We all graduate numerous times throughout our lives. We graduate from high school and begin college. We graduate from childhood to become young adults. We graduate from university to begin our careers. From single-hood to married life. From being green, inexperienced neophytes to experts in our field.

Graduation ceremony

Our graduations, as we ascend the staircase of life, don’t always come with flowing robes and tasseled hats. We don’t always celebrate each rite-of-passage with parties and hoopla. But maybe we should. Maybe, each time we accomplish an important, long-term goal or achievement, we should celebrate just like graduates on the day of their high school or college graduation. You did it! You passed! Your hard work and dedication has paid off, and now you have the reward of entering a new phase in your life. Drink up friends. Let’s cut the cake and throw our hats in the air, and celebrate our life’s successes together.

Graduation throw hat in the air

Playlist for Graduates of All Kinds

Unwritten– Natasha Bedingfield

Graduation (Friends Forever) — Vitamin C

It’s Time — Imagine Dragons

Ain’t it Fun? — Hayley Williams

School’s Out — Alice Cooper

It’s Good to Be Alive — Andy Grammer

The Climb — Miley Cyrus

On Top of the World — Imagine Dragons

I Hope You Dance — Lee Ann Womack

Don’t You Forget About Me — Simple Minds

Closing Time — Semisonic

It’s My Life — Bon Jovi

100 Years — Five for Fighting

World — Five for Fighting

Titanium — David Guetta (ft. Sia)

Best Day of My Life — American Authors

Celebration — Kool & the Gang

Hall of Fame — The Script

 

 

Last week, my 17yo son graduated from high school.

Hooray!

Summertime Dreaming, Part 2

Apparently, I’ve been blogging about life in the cave for four and a half years. Four and a half! That’s a long time. It is interesting now, to look back on what life was like four years ago, and to see all of the ways that things have changed. Our family. Job. Schools. As always, Time keeps marching forward, arm-in-arm with her sister, Change.

I came across this one post, Summertime Dreaming, which I published almost exactly four years ago. It was amusing to read the fun, mostly superficial summer goals I’d set there. Let’s see how I did:

Engage in some nice, relaxing Global Thermonuclear War

Haha…it has been a loooong time since I’ve had a good real-time online battle. A part of me misses the days of Age of Empires or CyberNations. But maybe I’ve outgrown my thirst for virtual world dominance.

Wear a Bikini

I totally did it! So rad, right? At the age of 36, I hit my weight-loss target and spent my first (and last) summer traipsing around the beach in a cute little two-piece suit, like a true California girl. Now I can happily move on with life and not have to wonder what it would be like to wear a bikini.

summer splash 031

Drink a Beer

I’m proud to say that I have drunk a grand total of five beers since I posted that goal. No, not all at once. Yes, I enjoyed it (though I still prefer a glass of good wine).

Remodel My Sons’ Bedroom

Yep, did it. Then we moved to a new house.

Write Write Write

I wrote, wrote, wrote.

writing creative stuff

Setting goals does not always have to mean the big, serious plans in life, like career goals, fitness goals, or financial goals. Sometimes, you can take great pleasure in setting small goals that are all about enjoying life, having fun with your family, or growing and learning in tiny ways. Meeting these little goals can result in great joy.

And now to set some small goals for the Summer of 2016. I would like to:

Do a fun programming project

Maybe design a fun new website for readers of Young Adult fiction, or design a relational database of our family’s book library. Okay fine, maybe this does not sound like summer fun to like, 97% of the world, but it does to me.

Try a new water sport

My kids and I already love kayaking, canoeing, and paddleboarding. Learning to surf would be fun. Maybe waterskiing or wakeboarding? Even floating down the river in inner tubes is still on our haven’t-tried-it list.

watercraft fun

Learn to do something new with my hair

I’ll admit it. I am pretty dull when it comes to styling my hair. Wear it naturally curly and short, or wear it straight and shoulder-length. Ponytail or no ponytail. A couple of times, I had it highlighted, and years ago, I even wore it in dozens of mini-braids. But now what? Learn to French braid? Try a hair weave? Dye it some daring new color?

Shop at farmers’ markets

farmers-market shopping

Now that I’ve decided not to grow a veggie garden this year, I would like to make a habit of heading to some of the great farmers’ markets we have in our region. The kids will enjoy this one, too.

Write, write, write

Specifically? Finish something and start sending it off to editors for publication.

Hopefully, whether or not I am still blogging away four-and-a-half years from now, I will be able to look back on this tiny list of tiny goals with a huge smile, knowing that even if I didn’t complete them, I had fun along the journey.

The Clothes Make the Man (aka: Dress the Part)

Women's clothes what to wearThe clothes make the man. Or rather, the person.

It’s true. Not just because Polonius said so to his son, Laertes, in a rather ironic speech about being true to oneself and not being a phony. And not just because the idea has transformed into a cliché, handed down throughout the years. But in fact, science indicates that the clothes we wear, and our symbolic associations with them, can indeed affect our psychological processes. (Adam & Galinsky, Journal of Experimental Social Psychology).

In other words, dressing smarter may make you smarter. Dressing sloppily may make you – well, sloppy.

This totally makes sense. When I go to work each day, I take great care to wear outfits that are neat, well put-together, and professional. And also cute. Because dressing this way sets my attitude for the day – I have it all together. I am a well-organized, focused, and confident professional, ready to excel in the workplace. And also cute. However, when I’m home during the weekends, I pull on comfortable sweats, or jeans and an old t-shirt. My I-don’t-care uniform for lazy hours of reading, video gaming, or Netflix marathons.

In addition to the way our clothing can affect how we think and feel, the way we dress can also influence the perceptions of the people around us. Wrinkled shirts, ripped nylons, scuffed or worn-out shoes may give off an impression of laziness, apathy, or untidiness. By contrast, a well-fitting suit, a trendy yet conservative dress, and voilà! The people around us may perceive us as successful, full of confidence, even more trustworthy.

superman movie dress the part

Are these perceptions as important as my own self-perception? Maybe, maybe not. I am inclined to think that the two are dependent on one another. Perhaps, if I were to pull on a superhero suit, it would make me feel and act like a superhero – not only because I appear to myself like a superhero, but because I am aware that the people around me will also see me as such. If a sexy red dress makes me feel sexy, then perhaps it is because I know that other people will also see me as sexy. And if a well-fitting, conservative (and cute) business suit makes me feel successful and confident (and cute), then perhaps it is due to the perception of success and confidence that my suit gives to others. The clothes do indeed make the man (or woman) – both to his or herself, as well as to the people in his or her life.

This is not to suggest that our clothing choices must always take into account the reactions of other people. No matter how snappy a dresser you may be, there will always be someone who sizes up your appearance and makes an unfavorable judgment about your character. Too provocative. Too conservative. Too frumpy. Too matchy-matchy. Too juvenile. Oh, the faux-pas! We can’t please everyone.

Now plenty of people are perfectly content to live their lives in one standard go-to outfit, be it jeans and t-shirts, khakis and polos, or something more Walmartian, as my daughter likes to put it. And that’s totally their prerogative. But for those of us who enjoy the process of “dressing the part,” it is important to strike a comfortable balance between making a good external impression and feeling positive about our own sense of self-expression through the clothes we wear.  Although the clothes make the man, we must also remember, above all, “to thine ownself be true.”

Barbie fashionistas

 

 

 

 

 

Facing the Mountain (aka: Writing vs. Editing)

Goooaaalll!  

Okay, well, I am not exactly talking about scoring a soccer goal here. But the sentiment is the same. I feel like throwing my hands up in victory, throwing back my head, and cheering. I have accomplished a gooooaaaaallll!

closeup of an typewriter with the words "CHAPTER 1"  in blue lightingYesterday, I completed a novel. To be fair, it is not the first novel I’ve completed. But it is the first young adult novel I have ever completed, and by far the longest. Possibly the best, too. I don’t know. It’s not always easy to judge your own work.

It is not an easy accomplishment to write a novel. In fact, I would rank it right behind weight loss in terms of how much daily effort and discipline it takes. Better yet, maybe it is like mountain climbing. You dig in and pull and scrabble your way up the face of the mountain. But when you at last reach the top and celebrate, wiping the sweat from your brow, the realization hits you.

climbing-a-mountain

You have not reached the summit. Just beyond your little peak looms a higher, more challenging part of the mountain. It is very daunting – filled with obstacles, like icy crevasses and loose rock. Climbing that section will likely take three times longer and require far more effort and focus.

And that, dear reader is editing.

writing rewriting

Every writer is passionate about creating a story. But few writers enjoy the editing process. Improve the spelling and grammar? No problem. But, what? Change the point-of-view of the entire story? Improve believability? Kill my beloved characters and storylines? Make the voice more active and consistent? Make the character arc more clear? Plant clues and foreshadowing earlier in the story? Make the plot less predictable?

Aaack! It’s like torture. I would rather discuss politics with my mother than edit a novel. I would rather be forced to listen to Nickelback or Bruno Mars all day than edit my novel. I would rather engage in hours of small talk with people I barely know than edit my novel.

But editing must be done. It is the thing that takes a crappy first draft that should never see the light of day and transforms it into a worthwhile novel that readers will actually want to read. Anyone can write stories. Anyone can climb the easy, first part of the mountain, pat themselves on the back, and then call it a day. But true writers know that the real victory awaits at the peak. And so, I will slip on my best climbing shoes, gather up my rope and carabiners, and face the mountain once again. I’ll bet the view will be incredible. Summit success

Famous Writer Quotes on Editing

“Kill your darlings, kill your darlings, even when it breaks your egocentric little scribbler’s heart, kill your darlings.”  ~ Stephen King, On Writing: A Memoir of the Craft

“The difference between the right word and the nearly right word is the same as the difference between lightning and the lightning bug.” ~ Mark Twain

“The first draft of anything is shit.” ~ Ernest Hemingway

“When you write a book, you spend day after day scanning and identifying the trees. When you’re done, you have to step back and look at the forest.” ~ Stephen King, On Writing: A Memoir of the Craft

“You write to communicate to the hearts and minds of others what’s burning inside you. And we edit to let the fire show through the smoke.” ~  Arthur Plotnik

OCD Editing