Sharpen Your Knives

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Courtesy of Flickr Creative Commons

We had some snow here in NJ. My area got hit with about a foot. Maybe eight inches. I didn’t check and I didn’t bring out my ruler. I will tell you however much it was the shoveling wore me out. I tried to focus on the blessings like I’m healthy enough to shovel and I live in a house as opposed to a cardboard box. It’s the first snow storm in March since 1993. 

All that snow means the school closes. Two teens home. And the Coffee King certainly can’t drive to work and we share an office at home. Let’s not forget the noodgy dog. So, trying to get writing done with many distractions isn’t easy.

I’ve blogged about this before, but after about fifteen interruptions and it wasn’t even lunch time I had to take matters into my hands. I had to carve out some time to write.

First, I texted my good friend and writer buddy K.M Fawcett. (Her books are awesome. Check her out.) K.M. and I go to a local Starbucks at least twice a week for uninterrupted writing time. My text said something like, “I CAN’T GET ANY WRITING DONE.” It’s hard to get your mojo going every time someone sidetracks you. She gave me some good advice. Set a timer. Tell the characters in your house no interruptions while the timer is on.

Then I remembered! My red hat!!!  It had been years since I needed that hat. When the Noodges were little and I would try to write they’d interrupt me constantly. My desk was out in the open so I couldn’t shut a door. I instituted the red hat. When I wore the hat they weren’t allowed to talk to me. Unless blood or vomit was involved. I promised to always give them warning before I wore the hat and they could ask me as many questions as they wanted before the hat went on which was very important to Noodge 1. He can’t wait to have his questions answered. He’s still like that at almost seventeen. (I can’t believe that same little boy is almost 17!)

Yesterday, the hat made a revival. I took a picture of myself wearing the hat, and sent it to my family scattered around the house with instructions. I’d wear the hat with a timer going for 20 minutes. Please don’t interrupt me unless blood is involved. (They’re big enough to throw up in a toilet now.) It works.

Finding time to write isn’t easy. We all have lives that work around our writing. Unless you’re Stephen King whose writing can work around his life. Our families don’t always understand that we’re actually working even if all we’re doing is staring at the computer, but our hands aren’t moving. Every time our train of thought gets broken we have to start over and hope to capture the fizzle we’re trying so hard to get on the page. Writing isn’t like doing accounting or sewing.

I don’t blame them for not understanding. In fact, I’m a culprit in the interruptions. I often stop what I’m doing, no matter what it is, to help my kids or walk the dog or talk to CK. The hat creates a nice visual. (I just got interrupted while writing this. I’m not wearing the hat and Noodge 1 can’t find his sweatpants. See?)

The timer is good because they know how long you won’t be available. And anything can wait twenty minutes, can’t it?

Knives are sharpened. The hat is on now. The timer is next. It’s another snow day and plenty of writing to do.

Any questions?

 

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How Long Should A Christmas Tree Stay Up?

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My Christmas Tree before January 13. 

My Christmas tree is still up. I’m a slacker. I hate that it’s the middle of January and it’s still in the window. At least it’s naked. I did take down the kids’ tree in the family room, the stockings, and the Hanukkah decorations. But that tree in the living room, facing the road? That bothers me. In fact, every time I pass it, I think, if you were on top of your game that tree would be down. 

I know people whose tree has been down since December 31st. I heard that’s a tradition in Texas. Is that true? Anyway, here in New Jersey, I do know people whose tree is down, put away, and forgotten for another ten months. Why can’t I be this person?

I could say, “I’m busy. I work, have two teens I have to drive everywhere, laundry, blah, blah, blah.” There are plenty of reasons for me to justify why that tree is still up. I mean, maybe I want to hang Valentine’s Day cupids on it. Or I could hide Easter eggs in it. But all the reasons in the world don’t stop me from thinking I should have that tree down by now. I mean, what am I waiting for really? Couldn’t I get up from my desk right now and pull that tree apart and shove it into the bag? I could, but then I wouldn’t be talking with you and it’s almost lunch time. I have to eat every two hours like an infant so I’d have to wait at least until after lunch and then I have to pick Noodge 2 up at the end of the school day for her first activity so I can’t start then. There’s always tomorrow when everyone is home and maybe someone taller than I am could help me.

And the tree still stands.

I don’t waste any time putting the tree up. Every Thanksgiving weekend. So why can’t I make the time to take it down? Not as much fun? The holiday let down? Both. There is so much anticipation as the holidays approach. The festivities, the lights, the presents, time with friends and family. Then after what’s left? Cold and dark January nights. The weeks after Christmas are so anticlimactic. I told myself the tree is pretty and I can sit with a cup of tea gazing over at it as if something magical would appear through its branches while Nat King Cole croons in the background.

I think I’ve been sipping the egg nog punch again.

I can procrastinate with the best of them and I work best with a deadline. I can even impose my own deadlines on myself and meet them. How’s that for anal retentive? So, why is the tree still up? What does that say about me? Failure to meet objectives.  I wouldn’t be getting a raise if I was at my old job. I’ll tell you that.

If I was a young adult, would the inability to finish taking down the tree be a failure to launch from the holidays into the dregs of ordinary life?

I could dare myself to keep the tree up all year.

What’s the solution? Drag it out onto the porch as an offering of a new housing development for squirrels and chipmunks? I could spray paint the branch tips white and pretend it snowed inside. Maybe if I act like it is already down others will start to believe me. I could make them think they’ve been sipping the egg nog punch too.

I’ll try not to pass judgement on myself. I’ll be kinder to those who suffer from the same condition: Tree Removal Procrastination. (TRP) I could start a support group. Save lives. Save the world!

The tree still stands. At least for another day.

 

 

 

 

 

 

Editing Tip Tuesday on Wednesday

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Courtesy of Flickr Creative Commons

Life happens.

I let a Tuesday go by without offering an editing tip. Sorry about that. I remembered at 4 am that it was Wednesday and I hadn’t blogged.

I decided that would be my tip. Life happens. Don’t beat yourself up. We all have goals. Daily writing goals, blog posts, newsletters, social media expectations, deadlines. We plan and plan. Then life has a hearty laugh at our expense.

That’s been my whole week. Two sick kids. My work schedule for Monday took a turn when my son came down with a stomach bug minutes before the bus came. Put the brakes on and reroute. Because it’s not just my writing and editing I have to think about. There’s the food shopping, the house cleaning, the dog, doctor’s appointments and the health forms the high school requires incoming Freshman to submit for continued admittance. Not as simple as that sounds, believe me. I live in New Jersey. This state loves its regulations.

The other kid caught the bad cold knocking her school mates on their butts and now she’s home too. Deep breath. I can still juggle it all. Right?

Probably not, which is partly why I missed my own deadline.

This post might not be full of technical information to make your novel better, but knowing its okay to shift gears and start over goes a long way. I’m giving you permission. Go ahead, take that deep breath, walk around the neighborhood, drink that glass of scotch. Your writing will wait for you.

When I was writing my third novel in my middle grade series, Welcome To Skull Mountain, I struggled with the plot the whole way through. I sent the book to my editor and even with her suggestions the story didn’t feel right. I ditched the entire novel and started over. Life happens. The story is better for it.

 

Don’t fight it. Today might not turn out the way you planned. Just keep going. Don’t give up. If you don’t make your goals today, there will be tomorrow and maybe those scenes will better than you thought. Or find small snippets of time, like waiting in the doctor’s office or waiting for your kid’s dance class to end, to jot a few sentences down. You might get closer to your word count than you thought.

I’m shifting my goals today. A blog post. More pages in the novel, but I won’t be typing “The End” today. There isn’t enough time. My son returned to school and he needs to be picked up at the end of the day. It’s also Back To School Night. Can’t forget about dinner……

Life happens.

The Most Wonderful Time of The Year

Do any of you remember that Staples commercial for school supplies where the Dad takes the kids to the store, the shopping cart is full of school supplies, the Dad is riding the back of the cart down the aisle the way kids would, one foot in the air, and his two children are dragging up the rear, heads hung low? The music playing over the commercial is the Christmas Carol, “It’s the most wonderful time of the year.” One of my absolute favorite commercials ever.

It’s that time again and I love it. I love school supplies. It’s a weird fetish, I realize, but I can’t help it. When I was in school I couldn’t wait to purchase new notebooks, pencils and pens, a Trapper Keeper and on and on. I loved having folders or a binder to organize myself. New school supplies meant a whole world of new possibilities. I might turn out smarter, maybe the cool kids would like me if I had the best binder, ah, my imagination would run away with itself. Let me tell you what, there is nothing like a brand new notebook just waiting for you to fill it!

When I didn’t have kids and was no longer in school I’d still browse through the new school supplies bursting out of the aisles and buy myself a notebook. And then when I had kids that needed school supplies? Well, look out. The fun was back. I never say no to school supplies. While they searched for the right pencil case, soft with a zipper, I secretly looked for things I could buy for me. I did it again this year! I’m addicted to notebooks. I can’t help it. All that empty space just waiting for stories to tell. A blank screen in Word can’t hold a candle to a blank page in a notebook. Then there’s the sound of my pen scratching across the page as my hand soars from line to line. I’ll take that sound over the clacking of keys any day.

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This year’s purchase.

As a matter of fact, I can’t wait to go to Staples because I need note cards to edit the new book I’m working on and hope to have published next year. It’s all I can do to control myself from running out when I should be writing. Though, Noodge 2 said just last night she needs additional supplies for schools. Yippee!!! I’ll be looking for those note cards for sure.

The start of the school year brings about so many emotions especially as my kids get older, but this time of the year is something like a birth. Everything brand new and smelling good. Endless chances to do it right. A clean slate. New experiences.

It is the most wonderful time of the year. (Next to Christmas, of course.)

Just Say “Thank You.”

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Courtesy of Flickr Creative Commons

Have you ever given a gift and not received a thank you note? Yeah, me too. Often. You know what stinks about that? You can’t tell anyone to write you a thank you note and you can’t ask for your gift back. Nah, I don’t really want the gift back. I didn’t give the gift for the thank you note. But it’s a nice gesture.

Here’s the other thing about a thank you note. It tells me you at least saw the gift. If you’ve invited me to a gift giving occasion with a large crowd and I leave a gift on a table or with the host, not necessarily the guest of honor, I don’t even know if the recipient received it or realized the gift was from me. I feel funny asking if they got the gift. A thank you answers my question. Did I mention it’s a nice thing to do?

The old fashion hand written note is the nicest. Did you know the first known exchanges of greetings on paper originated in China and Egypt? But I’ll take a text message. Well, I’ll take a text message if it’s a birthday present from a friend. If we’re talking a bigger event, then call me old fashioned.

I did receive a thank you nine months after the affair. Better late than never, right? Guess it depends on how you look at it. My gift wasn’t nine months late. I know they have to have time to write the thank yous. A bride and groom aren’t going to come back from their honeymoon and write out a hundred thank you notes in a week. Though, I did receive a thank you in a week. The event was much smaller than a wedding, but I was still very impressed.

What should go into a thank you note? Well, Southern Living says, personalize it, show your personality, but don’t ramble, (no one likes a rambler) and most importantly don’t exaggerate. In other words, if you really hated the clock with the bird that pops out every hour don’t write how you can’t wait to hang it up in the foyer. Just say thank you for your thoughtfulness.

Be sure to leave out anything that remotely sounds like this, “What the heck were you thinking giving me jumper cables? I lost my license six stinking months ago.” Absolutely not appropriate thank you note language.

Don’t be a stuffed shirt either when you write those thank yous. Have some fun with it. Southern Living says jokes are okay as long as you’re not making fun of the gift. When Aunt Edna gives you nose clippers just say thank you.

Do you write thank you notes? Have you ever been stiffed a thank you? I love to hear from you.

 

Driving In Cars With Boys

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Courtesy of Flikr Creative Commons

Okay, it should really be, driving in a car with a boy. My boy. Noodge 1. Noodge is taking an SAT prep class this summer. After much research the Coffee King and I decided on one about thirty minutes from our house. Just about everything is thirty minutes from my house. After five years of living in the country, I’m starting to get used to it.

Anyway, today we were getting on the highway and traffic was backed up on the on ramp. Traffic is bad at rush hour in NJ, but this was really bad and sure enough there was a tractor trailer on fire and we were being rerouted.

Thank God for technology and my kid. He navigated the Waze app and I navigated the roads. They were long, windy, and bumpy. Wherever we were driving was way more country than I was used to. No worries, I can handle this.

Until we came to a downed wire. Some crazy people were driving under it. I turned around and went back the way we came not sure how to get back to the highway or to the school with the SAT class. But, technology served us again and with a little guidance from my co-driver, we took more windy, curvy, bumpy, and frighteningly small bridge roads.

Then there was a police officer blocking our way. We’d been in the car for close to if not over an hour by now. I was starting to get the feeling the Universe didn’t want us to get to the class. Far be it for me to argue with the Universe.

So we headed for home. And when I was finally back to an area I recognized I was behind a very large construction truck doing 25 in a 50. My patience had worn thin. I wasn’t handling things so well any longer. We know I’m not a patient person, (number one flaw besides being judgmental) and I hate driving in cars for too long. I expressed my feelings about the slow driving truck out loud. (Big mouth, third character flaw.)

Noodge 1 said, “You sound angry.”

The child is spot on. Scary really.

Me, “I hate driving in cars and we’ve been in the car for an hour and a half.”

Him, “But you got to spend time with me.”

Shut up. Feel badly. Mommy guilt. How could I be so stupid and when am I going to learn to shut my mouth? (Considering my age, probably never sadly.)

He was so right and I hadn’t thought of it that way. Don’t get me wrong, I love being with him and try to tell him that every chance I get. Plus, he’s the kid that lets me hug him unannounced and I take full advantage of that.

But I shouldn’t have become angry at the truck driver even if he was driving like a putz. I should’ve taken a big deep breath and thanked the Universe for saving us from some horrible event and for getting a full hour and a half with my kid. Uninterrupted. No video games. No earbuds.

I quickly apologized for my misstep and thanked him for being my navigator. He’s also the kid that doesn’t hold a grudge, so I was forgiven in a quarter of a mile. But lesson learned. Be grateful for what you have and never mind the rest. It wasn’t wasted time getting a tour of the hills of New Jersey it was quality time with Noodge who will be going off to college in two years and driving around with others instead.

Don’t resent cooking dinner. It means we can afford to eat. Don’t hate doing laundry. It means we have clothes to wear and I don’t have to go to a laundromat to do them. Don’t hate running the vacuum because I have the strength to do it. Don’t worry that your bathroom isn’t updated. At least we’re not peeing outside. Don’t worry that I’m not a best selling author. I have the privilege of spending my days writing and the health that allows me to sit at a desk and type. You get me?

So, how about you? What are you grateful for? What do you toss aside as a nuisance that you can turn into a blessing? I love to hear from you. You, my faithful reader, I am grateful for too. For without you, how would I spend my time besides driving in cars with boys.

The Journey to Bliss: A Detour

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Photo courtesy of Flickr Creative Commons Virginia State Parks

I recently read a blog post from Writers Unboxed about letting our creativity rest. It’s a wonderful blog written by a large list of writers for writers about the craft, the business, and the life of writers. If you’re a writer and don’t follow it, I suggest you do. Just the posts from Donald Maass alone are worth hitting the subscription button. (If you don’t know who he is, click on his name. You’ll be impressed. I promise.)

I recently went through a period of not writing. I’m not sure I’d call it a “rest” because I didn’t choose to stop. It was more like a detour. My life became stressful and the voices in my head that feed my work just dried up. I had nothing to say. And was beginning to realize no one was listening anyway. My friends and family told me the inability to write was understandable with all that was going on. One insightful friend said, “three books in three years. You deserve to rest.” Others said be patient (not something I’m good at) the voices would come back. It was over a month before I wanted to sit at my computer again. I didn’t stay there long. Words stretched and yawned reluctant to throw the covers off. The desire to sell my work stayed in hibernation. I had to take a detour whether I liked it or not.

The thing is I’m afraid to take time away from my writing. I haven’t made my full dream come true. I’ve published three books, but they aren’t selling because I haven’t handled that part of my business correctly. I feel like a failure. And a part of me thinks if I stop, if I don’t produce I’ll never have the readership I want. It’s a voice on a loop, “you must write. you must do more. Learn more. Read more. Be more.” Why am I so obsessed with more? Why isn’t what I’ve done enough? Why can’t I take another route, and enjoy the warmth of my accomplishments as the sun streams through my open sunroof?

Is it because I think time is running out? And time resting is time wasted. My father-in-law asked me once if I ever sat down. The Coffee King will tell you, I hate naps. I also hate getting lost. Detours are not my friend.

But I couldn’t force the words. They would awaken when they wanted to.

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Photo Courtesy of Flckr Creative Commons Kate Ter Harr

I let the words lie and tried other things. I read more. A lot more. Genres I didn’t normally read. I colored. I exercised and caught up on some television shows. I sat at my computer and waited for the voices to tell their story. And they did. Slowly.

I’m writing again. It’s different than the other times. I’ve outlined the entire book in more details than I’ve ever used for an outline. I still worry the words will elude me because my word count is low for the time I’ve put in. I worry the story isn’t good enough and no one will like it. I feel the loop of “more, more, more” creeping into my brain, but I can tell it to pull over and turn off the engine once in a while. Not often and not for long, but it’s better than running out of gas on the Parkway.

The full dream will come true. In time. Just not my time. And not my route.

How are you handling the journey to your bliss? What steps have you taken? Are you finding yourself faced with an unexpected detour? What does the road ahead look like?