To-Done!

If you read my post last week, you know that I had great hopes for this week. My to-do list needed to get a lot shorter, and guess what? I am happy to report that my first full week of summer break has been a success.

On Sunday, I finally finished Christopher Paolini’s Inheritance Cycle, the last book of which I’d been waiting for read for four years. I have to say, whatever my complaints about Paolini’s style in his early books, the last one more than made up for it. The only problem, of course, was that I was sad to be finished.

Reading Dilemma

With my recreational reading done, I plunged into work on Monday. And I even involved the kids. They sat at their table and had work time while I cleaned the kitchen. I have to tell you this because a day during which I clean an entire room (actually more than that because I cleaned the laundry room and one bathroom, too) is a day for the record books. (Please tell me I’m not crazy to be proud of this.)

I also spent my younger son’s entire naptime working on my biggest freelance project, a memoir that I’ve been working on for a year now. Thank goodness my client isn’t in a hurry. Although she still has some copy to turn in to me, my hope was to finish arranging and editing the material she’s given me so far and return it to her by the end of the week. I must have spent anywhere from three to six hours on this project every day this week, and although Microsoft Word had me practically pulling my hair out by the end, I did finally get a draft to her. (I would give details, but just know it had to do with pagination – if I try to be any more specific, I’ll most likely be reduced to gibberish and &%*!@ in order to keep this a family friendly blog.)

With one project out of the way (at least until that client gets back with me), I have one last freelance project (a much simpler one) to finish before our family vacation. I understand that I will come home from our vacation with work still to do, but my clients will have that time to decide what changes they would like for me to make, and I will only have to worry about finishing touches.

And then I will be done. As of this week, I am no longer offering my freelance writing services. And it’s not just Word that’s made me fed up enough to quit. Although I won’t go into details now, I am going to join the work force again soon, and if I’ve learned anything in life, it’s that I can make myself and my loved ones very miserable if my plate is too full. So while I will be glad to help friends with blogs or editing projects that don’t have critical deadlines, I am no longer pursuing freelance work.

It’s a relief, actually. Anyone who is self-employed understands the pressures of finding enough work to pay the bills. Last summer, I was able to land enough steady projects to earn a paycheck while I wasn’t substitute teaching, but it meant that when I was at home with my kids, we weren’t able to do much fun stuff; I was stuck at my computer working very hard for very little monetary compensation. This summer, I will be able to spend more time with them, and the time that I do spend at the computer will mostly be writing my own fiction.

Speaking of my fiction, now that I have one freelance project behind me, I have time to concentrate on editing last year’s NaNoWriMo book. I am determined to get my two free copies from CreateSpace. Beta readers, I will be reaching out to you sometime in July, so get ready!

Lastly, while I am reducing the stresses in my life, one of them will be this blog. No, I’m not quitting! Believe me, I still have a lot to say, but I won’t be pushing myself to reach my own personal deadline (which is once a week) anymore. Many weeks, I get to Sunday and panic because I don’t know what to write about. Or I have a lot to say but am too brain dead to arrange much of a coherent thought.

I have a friend who used to blog weekly, and she made the announcement earlier this year that she will now only post when she feels inspired to do so. At the time, I was saddened because I loved reading her blogs, but I could certainly understand – and I kept her idea in the back of my mind. To remove another stress that I put on myself sounded like bliss. I told myself that if I ever went back to work, changing from a weekly blog post to a “when I’m inspired to write” blog post would be the way to go.

Don’t worry. Even if you don’t hear from me next week, I still have plenty to say. I’ll likely update my book list sometime soon, and I’m sure I’ll have a lot to say about NaNoWriMo 2015. But when you don’t hear from me, know that I’m enjoying my family or a good book… and, as always, striving make more of my to-do list items to-done.

Spring “Cleaning”

Inheritance Cycle

Inheritance Cycle (Photo credit: Wikipedia)

I really wish I could tell you that I spent a good chunk of spring break getting rid of toys and clothes and giving my house the overhaul that it needs. Sadly, while I did the usual laundry and daily upkeep, I didn’t spend a lot of much-needed time cleaning.

My hope for our spring break, after returning from a few days at Disney World, was to catch up on my freelance projects and recreational reading. Any cleaning that happened in addition to that was gravy.

But would you believe it? My kids actually expected to do fun stuff for spring break. I know – can you believe the nerve? Really, they were little troupers. I had a lot of not-fun-for-kids stuff packed into those five weekdays. Now, they did get to stay up later than usual and watch movies and play outside, but there was still tutoring and the dentist and grocery shopping. I finally took them to the park last Friday, where they could just be kids.

It didn’t leave a whole lot of time for all that catching up I’d planned to do. I should have known better, but when spring break is on the horizon, it looks so sweet, has so much promise.

I did make some good progress on my biggest book project (and absolutely zero on another). I edited a bunch of my novel and only had a little left when school went back into session. In all honesty, I was happy to get any of that done.

But what I didn’t do much of was read for fun. Granted, I’m reading Eldest (sequel to Eragon). Not only is it close to 700 pages, but they’re a very cumbersome almost-700 pages. There’s a reason these books are on my book list for the third year in a row – and there’s also a reason I’m tackling them early.

For the first couple months of the year, I stuck to my 2015 book list, but to get more titles under my belt and break up the pace a little, I decided to read shorter books in between the Inheritance Cycle books. Aaaaand… well, I may have fallen off my book list wagon and bought a new book.

It was a shorty, I promise, and it was a really good one – a new-to-me author with a unique style that I admire, even if I can’t emulate it. (It was Daniel Woodrell’s Winter’s Bone, in case you’re wondering.) The only problem was that I made a sort-of promise to myself that I wouldn’t buy any new books until I read through all the other new books that I already own, and this was a new book.

But after that little detour, I’m back on track again. Except…

One of the other things the kids and I did on spring break was to stop by my favorite local bookstore, and because the owner knows what a sucker I am for books, she reminded me that their 40% off spring cleaning sale was coming up.

You should be proud of me. I only bought four, two of them chosen by my elder son. But I have to say it makes me happy to know that there are more books for next year’s list if I don’t get to them this year.

New Books!

New Books!

Plus, I also have to say that sometimes you get a nice surprise where you don’t expect it. That book on the top left – The Fantastic Flying Books of Mr. Morris Lessmore – is amazing. I highly recommend it if you love books; you don’t even have to have kids to appreciate it. I likely would not have bought it on my own, but Peter was excited to see it because he’d heard it before in his school’s library. I’ll have to say I’m pretty proud of my little bibliophile.

Despite not checking one thing off on my to-do list, I’m pretty happy with my spring break. It’s the little things.

Mommy’s Summer Break

Flagler Beach

Flagler Beach (Photo credit: Wikipedia)

This summer, I’ve been more aware of the passage of time than ever before. I think part of that is due to updating the calendar with my six-year-old every day. It’s something he did in kindergarten and will continue to do in the first grade, and I figured it was an easy way to sneak in a little learning all summer long.

So when we turned to August, and I saw that the first day of school was less than three weeks away, I felt like our summer break had evaporated without me taking much notice. Then Peter asked me how many days were left, and I turned it into a quick math lesson. We counted the days of summer break up to that point, then counted the remaining days until school started, and we added them up for the total number of days.

Eighty-one. From the day after he finished kindergarten to the day before he starts first grade are 81 days. Not even three full months. I have to admit that I feel a little cheated. When I was a kid, we were out at the beginning of June and didn’t go back until the day after Labor Day.

A little past the mid-point of July, we were invited to a play date at the beach. I was talking to another mom, whom I hadn’t seen since early June, and she asked me about our summer. I was at a bit of a loss and had to admit that standing on the beach with her and our children was the first “summery” thing I’d done. Yes, my kids had occasional play dates and day camps or classes, but I hadn’t taken them to do anything that smacked of summer.

Before I had kids, I was rarely asked the “What have you done this summer?” question. After all, if you don’t have kids, you’re not in school yourself, or you’re not a teacher, summer is merely a hotter time of year. And when you live in Florida, it’s hot about eleven-and-a-half months, anyway, so it all kind of runs together.

But this summer, I’ve encountered this question a lot, and I’ve finally resorted to the, “It’s been very busy” answer. If you’re a regular reader, you know that I have completed three big projects since the end of the school year, but for every one of these projects, I’ve picked up at least one more. So my busy-ness has just shifted into other areas.

I’m not complaining. I love freelance writing and the flexibility of being able to go to the store when I need and to be available to take my sons to their various activities. Even being busy isn’t all that bad, except that I’ve had to utilize to-do lists more than ever in my life the last couple months because, otherwise, I might forget to brush my teeth or something.

I will have to say, though, that some things have suffered. Like the house. Because of my husband’s odd work hours, it seems that the only days he’s available to mow the lawn are when it rains. Consequently, our grass grows so thick and so high that we run through lawn mowers like candy. We finally gave in and hired a lawn guy (something I’d been rooting for since last fall), and when he showed up one morning this week and did what would have taken Thomas two days to accomplish, I said that my dreams had come true. Of course, that’s a gross exaggeration. He wasn’t publishing my book, cleaning the house, potty training my toddler, and mowing the lawn, but I’ll take what I can get.

Ick – do we live like this?

Ick – do we live like this?

As for the interior of the house, it’s been the pits since before spring break, which was in March. People say that trying to clean while you have kids is like trying to shovel snow in a blizzard, which is true, but still. I have a nice little shelf with bins that will hold toys, if only the kids will use it. Then my elder son decided he wanted to sleep on the floor over eight months ago, and he’s slept there ever since. (Really – check out the picture.) So his floor is mostly taken up with a sleeping bag, which never gets picked up. Every once in a while, it gets so messed up that I straighten it, only to find a number of toys that we thought had disappeared.

Sleeping bag… and no more sleeping bag :)

Sleeping bag… and no more sleeping bag 🙂

With my summer dwindling – and although I’ve been busy, I have more free time now than I will when I start substitute teaching again – I need to take care of my house before it gets even more out of control. So this weekend is my opportunity. My in-laws are taking the kids for a couple days, and although I swore I would clean the last time they kept the kids, I didn’t. But this time, I’m tackling the mess. I’ll tell you, there’s nothing like being able to vacuum at three in the morning and not bother anyone, except for maybe the cat. (And sleep late because no one’s going to yell, “Mommy!” at six A.M.) It’s also nice to be able to pack away toys that my boys will never miss and donate them to children who will actually play with them instead of leaving them in the middle of the foyer.

So my life has come to this: it makes my day to pay someone to mow the lawn and to get rid of my kids long enough to clean up after them. Am I nuts, or what? My mommy-cation is not glamorous, nothing to write home about (although it does make for a convenient blog topic). And after all, my six-year-old gave Thomas and me his blessing to go out and have ice cream, see a movie, and have a romantic dinner. So, who knows? We may take him up on it… and come home to a house that looks like it belongs to civilized people.

The Happy Ending

The Happy Ending

The Year of Writing Dangerously

Novel Motto

From the time I was thirteen, I knew I wanted to be an author, and at that age, it seemed like such a reasonable dream. It’s a hard one to obtain, though. I went to college as an English major, despite people encouraging me to take up journalism or something that might actually be useful. I was going to be an author – why would I need to pursue anything else? You know, anything practical.

Then somewhere around my junior year in college, reality set in. By then, I’d found my university’s writing program and an excellent fiction workshop, run by my friend Ari. I think, if it weren’t for Ari’s workshops, I never would have been able to see the level of improvement that I’ve noticed in my fiction. Yes, I have good proofreading and editing skills – inherited from my proofreader mother – but my fiction was not worth reading until I experienced some first-hand criticism.

One aspect of the workshop was getting a story publication-ready. And Ari made no bones about the difficulties of publishing. It’s a cruel world, where editors who have bad days arbitrarily consign authors to the slush pile, no matter the worth of their stories. That’s why a group of us started our own literary journal, Fiction Fix, which is still going strong today. But as much as my editing credentials with Fiction Fix have done for me, they haven’t done anything for me in the greater world of novel publication.

The real world impeded on my dream to the point that I all but forgot it at times. After having my first child, I not only took a long hiatus from Fiction Fix, but I basically quit caring about writing for a while. Three straight years of rejection from literary agents can do that to you, and falling in love with my newborn son made my career-of-choice pale in comparison.

But the dream did not die, and I returned to my stories, often becoming lost in them for weeks or months before getting burnt out again. And then I decided that I would branch out and just get whatever kind of freelance work I could find. As long as I could have some sort of income from writing, that’s what I always wanted, right? Well, not quite.

I enjoy writing and editing, and I’m good at what I do, but the problem with freelancing is that it’s easy to get wrapped up in the assignments and forget the joy that I initially had when I just wrote stories all the time. And I am spoiled by having a husband whose job allows me the flexibility to write what I want to write. So why haven’t I been doing just that?

When I participated in NaNoWriMo this year, forcing myself to almost write full-time – and on a project with no guaranteed paycheck at the end – I finally fulfilled a little bit of my teenage dream. Never have I spent so much concentrated time writing, and never have I enjoyed it so much. This is what I had in mind (although being paid to do it would certainly be ideal).

I also regained some of that hope of someday writing a novel that people would pay to read. I had a lot of that hope when I was in college, before the harshness of life and the publication world fully set in. But after a while, I started to wonder why I kept trying if no one wanted to give me the time of day. And I was frustrated that I got older and still had nothing to show for all the stories I’d written. But the problem is that if I don’t submit, if I don’t get up every time I’m rejected and try again, no one’s just going to knock on my door and ask if I have a book that I would like to publish.

This is not a New Year’s resolution, first of all because it’s been in the works since November. But more than that, I’m not changing my ways, only to revert back to old habits within a few weeks. Rather, I hope that my rediscovered passion will give me that push to make this year the most productive I’ve ever been, as far as writing fiction is concerned. I’m already looking at contests and searching for new agents. I’m still working on the first draft of the novel I started with NaNoWriMo. And I’m determined not to lose my enthusiasm this time.

One day you’ll see me in print. And maybe – just maybe – it will be sooner rather than later.

The Rejection that I Really Needed

filedesc http://www.epa.gov/win/winnews/images...

Photo credit: Wikipedia

If you decide you’re going to be a writer, rejection is something you need to get used to early on. And it’s not just the newbies who find their inboxes full of metaphorical pink slips. Madeleine L’Engle, international bestseller, went through a ten-year slump, in which she thought she might have to give up on her career, before someone finally gave A Wrinkle in Time a chance. Especially after a run of success, rejection is hard to swallow, and that’s where I found myself last week.

My problem is that I am a planner to a fault. And I had a goal for how much money I wanted to earn last week, which was dependent on the number of articles that were accepted. I got past the halfway point with acceptance after acceptance, and I felt pretty good. I mean, I was writing about obscure things like foot valves – I didn’t have a clue what a foot valve was before I wrote that article – and getting paid for them. I began to have that indestructible, I’m-never-going-to-get-rejected-again feeling. And then you can guess what happened.

And it wasn’t something weird like the foot valve that did it. It was an article on treadmills. I used to run on a treadmill every day. I’m familiar with the super-fancy models they have in gyms, as well as the simpler models for home use. My instructions were specific about keyword phrases and how often to use them, and there was a website for reference. I followed all the instructions to a T, submitted the article. . . then waited. I waited longer than usual, then finally received an e-mail that it needed revisions. This worried me somewhat, but I figured I’d fix whatever I needed to fix, then have done with it. Except my instructions were that it was exactly not the kind of article the requester wanted. Well, I followed all of the instructions, so how else was I supposed to write it? Not only that, but she didn’t want me to edit the article. She wanted me to start from scratch. At that point, I’d already invested a couple hours of my time without being paid, and it wasn’t worth starting over – especially when the requester refused to send me specifics about what parts of the article didn’t work for her.

At that point, I was behind on my weekly goal, and unless I planned to stay up a couple hours later than usual to make up for it, I wasn’t going to be able to catch up. Now, my goal was ambitious, anyway, but that’s how I am. Instead of having a meltdown, however, which is what I tend to do when I can’t force things to go by the plan, I accepted it.

Looking back, I realize now that the pace I was keeping was liable to blow up in my face eventually, and the rejection actually saved me from what could have been much worse. I could have stuck to my goal, added to my sleep deficit, and lost my temper numerous times as I tried to cram thirty hours worth of work into a twenty-four hour day. Instead, I took some much-needed rest, read the novel I’ve been neglecting, and picked up a new project with a much friendlier deadline.

Rejections can be disappointing, yes, but they can also be freeing. Mine gave me perspective on the balance (or lack thereof) between my writing and personal life. That doesn’t mean I’m looking forward to the next one, but when it inevitably comes, it’ll probably be time for another wake up call, anyway.

Write Like It’s Your Job

Writing

Writing (Photo credit: jjpacres)

 

Someone asked me recently if I always knew I wanted to be a writer. My answer: “Always. I was going to make millions of dollars as an author, and I would never need a regular job.” I assumed that something magical would happen in college, and by the time everyone else was finishing internships and putting out job applications, I would be retiring to my bedroom with stacks of college-ruled notebook paper (yes, I prefer to write longhand), where I would churn out bestsellers eight hours a day.

Ha. It’s been years since I’ve been so delusional.

The tough thing about freelancing—or even tougher, doing something for which I have a passion but may never get paid—is making the time for it. That whole writing for eight hours a day thing was shot when I needed to actually make an income. Fresh out of high school, I figured that bookstores would be the perfect venue for me to work through college, and then I would turn around and sell my own books there.

Not only did I not get a job at a bookstore, but the job I did get was the last one on Earth I ever wanted: working for my parents’ small business. My job description had more to do with dealing with people (an introvert’s nightmare) and accounting than writing, although I did eventually become an in-house editor and writer for the company newsletter. I did what I had to do to keep from being a starving artist, and I wrote when I could. Sometimes that meant finding inspiration and writing every spare minute. Other times, I just didn’t feel like writing, couldn’t get motivated, so I didn’t. When I returned from my first maternity leave five years ago, I traded my forty-plus-hour work week and sporadic writing for a shorter work week and a load of responsibilities that left me with less time to write than ever.

Recently, I decided I’d had it. I’m not quite sure what made me fed up enough with myself to change–maybe the dissatisfaction of looking back on an afternoon when I had time to write but piddled around the house, made a shopping list, and spent too long looking at my budget instead. I realized that no one’s going to publish a book that’s not finished. No one will even know about it because I won’t send it out until I feel that it’s the best it can possibly be. And it won’t attain that level of perfection until I actually sit down and work on it. So I sat down and worked on it. Whereas most days I’m lucky to read through a few pages (and maybe fix a typo or three), I actually sat down and read more than two chapters aloud, added a scene, cut a bunch of extraneous fat. . . and I still had time to read the mail and clean up the stuff my kids dumped all over the place when we walked in the door.

It was somewhat of an epiphany (forgive me for being so dense) when I realized that, for someone who wants desperately to write and no longer works full-time, I have no excuse for not writing. Oh, I do plenty of writer things–volunteering for a literary mag and editing among them–but what about that career as a novelist I dreamed about? One of my problems is that I don’t know how to say no, so I fill my schedule with things that I may or may not need to do. And I do have my children to consider, but they nap every day. Why don’t I use those precious minutes to write?

I am not the first writer in the world with this issue. Stephen King, before he published Carrie, was a high school English teacher who typed something ridiculous like two thousand words every night after his wife and kids went to bed. Madeleine L’Engle, after having initial publishing success, went through a decade of rejection, during which she felt useless as a writer and contributor to the family budget. She almost gave up. Almost.

The last thing I want is to look back on my life and see that I gave up. Do I expect to be Stephen King or Madeleine L’Engle? Of course not. I just want to have no regrets. I don’t want to say, Well, fitness was important enough for me to get up early and exercise five days a week, but I just couldn’t ever find extra time to write. I never dreamed of being a workout nut; I dreamed about being an author. No more excuses, no more feeling sorry for myself. I am going to write, to show that I care enough to be serious, and then maybe I will actually be taken seriously. Maybe if I work hard enough, as if there’s actually someone out there who is paying me to do it, I will write something worth paying for. Maybe if someone says, “I’d really like to read the rest of your manuscript,” I’ll feel like I did my best and be proud of what I have to hand over.

Decision made. Mind-set changed. I’m the one in my way, and I’m stepping aside.