Monday, January 13, 2020

Writers, Protect your Time

As a writer and a stay-at-home mom, one of my biggest challenges has been finding the uninterrupted time to actually sit and write, without needing to worry about outside or additional responsibilities.

That the unpaid duties of parenting and home keeping - whether beloved or merely tolerated - still fall primarily on the shoulders of mother, is an almost universal constant. Women have been navigating these competing priorities for generations now. Those of us working in the arts are not exceptions, although we might have the advantage of a short commute if our studio is at home, as mine is. A recent study of salary data, found that the work of a SAHM is worth over $162K per year, when all the different functional roles are added up. Today as housekeeper, cook and part-time administrative assistant, my salary should be about $90K - but that would assume I'm a bit more enthusiastic of a housekeeper than I usually manage. 

For the last 20 years, I have been acting as the support system for my partner (my husband) and his professional activity as the breadwinner, while my own career aspirations have fit in part-time, around the choices I made. Yes, I did make the choice to live this lifestyle, centering home schooling as my priority and all the multitude of tasks involved in being a home maker as how I spent my time. It wasn't my original ambition to be out of the workforce. I had planned a fabulous career in theater and film. Just because I am happy with the choice I made, and the beautiful life I lead, doesn't mean I don't sometimes mourn what might have been.

Slowly, starting about 10 years ago, my daughter grew ever more independent. As she needed less of my focus, and I turned increasingly towards working for an income. Now I am a writer, with my first book on its way to publication. (More on that soon.)

In fact, I would go further to say that now I am practically a full-time writer.

It is because my daughter has entered college, and my husband and she leave for work/school together early just about every morning. My productivity, now that I am free of interruptions or plaintive importunities for attention or snacks, has skyrocketed.

Never have I felt the truth of and identification with Virginia Woolf's idea in her essay, "A Room of One's Own" so keenly as now, when I feel the real difference the comes from being alone in the house for a specified, predictable and regular time on a repeating schedule.

How did I manage to write a whole biography before? Well, my daughter was able to give me just enough time alone at my desk each working day, either from her sleep schedule or from as much self-discipline as she could muster, that I was able to put in about three or four hours a day, with some extra magical times when I was able to squeeze in 8 or 9. But it was a slog, and there is no denying that sometimes the others in my household, while expressing full support, left me feeling torn with their reasonable neediness.

Image by OpenClipart-Vectors from Pixabay

Here are the tactics that I use, that worked well in the past to let me get some writing work done, and continue to work well now.

  • While working on the bio, I had a daily set time when I wrote that I made sure everyone knew about. I had my accountability buddy to help me start every day at a consistent time. But I also had a set finishing time most days. When I was in a particular deadline mode, I would put the time on a dry erase sign, to let my people know when I was going to stop. I don't have an office with a door - yet - so that sign was very important. This included working on resumes too. 
  • I got efficient about preparing meals, and I have only become more efficient now with week-long meal planning and a daily preparation time built in to my schedule. I know when they will be home, and I work to that each day. 
  • I've been using a Pomodoro timer app. I let it tick aloud during the five minute breaks, when I jump up and do some quick housework task. But I find the countdown clock inspiring too. I have really become a lot more productive. 
  • I have a to do list, numbered by priority. If I have to make fewer decisions, work gets done faster. I spent some time during the first week of January creating an editorial calendar for the first Quarter of the year, even longer for some aspects of my writing businesses. Just four pre-planned blog posts a quarter here - surely I can manage that. 
  • I get most of my groceries delivered, especially the kind of household paper goods and sparkling water that come in bulk sizes. On the other hand, it can be a nice break to go up to the store and gather a week's worth of veges and proteins for meal planning. But the fast ordering and ability to avoid traffic and standing in lines, helps my time management immeasurably. 

There was no way for me to work consistently and in the great chunks that actually move a work of fiction along while my daughter was tiny and underfoot. Sure, I could knock out a blog post, or an article - even if it took a few sessions. But the ability to write a thousand reasonable words of a narrative or a screenplay needs the kind of time that allows flow - immersion in a whole other world where time moves entirely differently, and re-entering the common world, leaves one in a daze wondering where that time went...when did it get dark? How long has the cat been asserting her desire for her dinner? That takes protected time. And now I have it, for the time being at least.

Friday, January 3, 2020

Good books I read over the last year

I have to be honest. Most of the time I listened to audio books. I have subscriptions to two different services and this has been the greatest impetus to get new books and consume that informative, inspiring or entertaining content.

One of the reasons I choose audio for so much text based content is because of time constraints. When I read a book, that is all I do. What tends to suffer when I am absorbed in a book, especially a ripping narrative, is my sleep. I will continue the habit of a lifetime and read in bed. It's still relaxation, but it's not sleep.

I travel by public transit a little over an hour to my volunteer gig once a week. Every other week, I have an errand to another part of town. Perfect reading moments, right? Alas, I get terrible motion sickness if I try to read in a vehicle or on a train. So it is the perfect time to listen.

I like to listen to something while I'm walking or grocery shopping. Often I hit up podcasts, but buffering can be a problem. So I have a book downloaded, and I can listen happily. At home, I use an audio book as my "reward" for doing some housework. I put my earbuds in, turn on an entertaining book, and clean. It's especially great for the vacuuming.

Here is a selection of the non-fiction titles I read and appreciated this year, in no particular order. I read more than these, but these are the ones I truly enjoyed in the moment or intend to return to for references and ideas.

Wendy Wood - Good Habits, Bad Habits: The Science of Making Positive Changes (2019). This book is a conglomeration of the science including a lot of Dr. Wood's own research into the topic, but is written in language accessible to the layman. I have only just finished my first listen, and I will be going through it again to make notes of some actionable practices. Stay tuned on that one.

Ken Robinson - Out of Our Minds: Learning to Be Creative (2011) and Finding Your Element: How to Discover Your Talents and Passions and Transform Your Life (2013). Creativity is a particular interest of mine. Ken Robinson's TED talk on the subject is still one of the most listened to in history.

Simon Sinek - The Infinite Game (2019). This is an interesting take on the concept of fixed and growth mindsets for leaders. I have already recommended this book to others.

Hillary Rodham Clinton and Chelsea Clinton - The Book of Gutsy Women: Favorite Stories of Courage and Resilience (2019)

Michelle Obama - Becoming (2018). Definitely her story, her point of view, not his. Good value too, because it is long and detailed.

Mel Robbins - Work It Out (2019), Kick Ass (2018) and Take Control of Your Life (2019) - Audible Originals. These are recorded coaching sessions with deeply insightful commentary and actionable take-aways. I like this work better than the original Five Second Rule.

David Wallace-Wells - The Uninhabitable Earth: Life After Warming(2019). A depressingly clear run down of the current climate-change science, and some of the predictive models - but with some hope attached. Very useful for anyone writing futurist or sci-fi novels, if nothing else.

Marie Forleo - Everything is Figureoutable (2019). One of the great features of this audio book, is that the sections with the exercises - what she calls an "Insight to Action Challenge" for each chapter - have their own heading - so it is easy to jump to them to participate in the exercises.

Currently reading:

Matt Bird - The Secrets of Story: Innovative Tools for Perfecting Your Fiction and Captivating Readers (2016). This is another book that will I will be taking copious notes from. I'm finding it illuminating.

Amy Schmittauer Landino - Good Morning, Good Life: 5 Simple Habits to Master Your Mornings and Upgrade Your Life (2019). I am already a fan of Amy's first book, Vlog Like a Boss, and I like her reading style in audio. She writes in a friendly, authentic style and shares personal stories from her own life, including sometimes painful learning experiences. Plus it includes actionable exercises and doable steps. I like it so far.

Thursday, October 3, 2019

Back to the Writing Desk...

... that is to say, the drawing board.

Unfortunately, as sometimes happens, we were not able to come to an agreement that everyone was happy with, so I'm back to looking for representation for Dervish Dust. However, I am not discouraged.

If anything I am excited, because the agent is still interested in seeing my fiction work when the first book is finished. That being the case, I'm going to now share some more about it.

Mermaid Summer

When Jenna Hanson moves to small town Windchime Lake, she hopes that she will finally be able to settle down for more than one school year, put down roots, and make some real friends. Her mom is excited to start a new business, and her dad hopes his new job as a biologist attached to the pulp-and-paper mill will be his redemption from a past big mistake in his career.

But almost immediately Jenna realizes there is something strange about the Lake that gives the village its name, and making new friends is not as simple as she hoped.

This is the first in a Middle Grade fantasy series.

I'm also embarking on a quest to improve my writing in general and increase my content output, so that I can submit short pieces both fiction and non, to the many markets available. My goal is to make a good living from my writing. It's that simple. So you will find some short bits and bobs on this site for a while - what might be called writing exercises.

About My Cat

I’ve not always been the best cat mom.

In fact my last cat was an indoor/outdoor cat that freely came and went, out the small window while I was out at work. He was quite the scammer, making pretty much everyone along the street believe that they were his people. I only found out when I was ready to move, and was looking for him to put in a carrier and come with me.

I met up with him coming out one of my neighbor’s houses. He had the grace to look a little guilty or at least conscious that he had been caught. The lady of that house was so stricken, so heartbroken that he might be leaving her, that I happily let her keep him.

It took 30 years for me to get another cat. This one is our joy. We keep her indoors, since we know that indoor cats live longer. If the conversation in the house ever flags, all we need to do is tell each other some cute thing that Virgo did today, like clack in throat at those pesky crows that dance on the street, and taunt her in her window. We all like to watch her sleep or roll over.

She gets the most high quality food, and I play with her. She curls up on a cat tree next to my desk as I write, then follows me to whatever room I am working in. She mews and likes it when I brush her. She yowls in hallway when she wants to play - I throw balls for her. When I’m at home alone, she acts like she’s my cat.

But she’s not.

Oh no. She’s my husband’s cat, all the way. I feed her, but she runs to him.  She sleeps at my feet, but cuddles up at his head. Her name’s Virgo, but he calls her “Cat”, so she answers to that when he calls. She presents her belly to him to be rubbed. And for a standoffish rescue cat - she has finally started sitting on laps after three years - she shows him the most affection. She talks to him at length, and seems to answer his questions. It’s lovely.

There’s no gratitude in a cat. But I have enough to cover her little share. I forgive her scratching up the sofa - that she only does when she wants attention. She likes to visit with our visitors. She sometimes calls out when she thinks she’s alone. She likes to hide in odd places and make us worry that she got out, but she never tries to go out an open door - just looks with mild curiosity. Stays.

Best cat ever.

Thursday, February 21, 2019

Collecting No's Pays Off

James Coburn preparing for a scene - Hard Contract (1969)
Hi folks,
I was planning to write a post about staying positive while collecting "no's". I've been sending out query letters to agents who rep biography since last November, and I've collected a bunch of them.

They have been in the form of jaunty form-letter rejections, or brief words, although a couple have been a bit more personal and encouraging. I got one referral and then the no from that was very kind, probably more in deference to the referrer than me. I only had one really brusque no, and their brief feedback as to why feels perfectly logical and useful.

I've even had a couple of requests for the full proposal (more on that later), and about half the people sent no reply at all, which after a certain time (usually specified on their websites) is a tacit no.

I didn't feel bad. I researched each agent thoroughly - read their sites, determined whether they were a good fit for the book, were open to new authors or any submissions at this time, customized my query letter. I sent out a few a day in what was two batches over a couple of weeks each time, then settled down to wait. I was collecting those no's, because every no was one step towards the ultimate yes.

I guess I hadn't been at it very long to become actually discouraged.

Then a kind of miracle happened. A friend of mine who is a writer referred me to his agent. She was certainly not on my radar or in any of the guide books. Nor is she a bio specialist, but does have some experience with the genre, and knows everyone. I talked to her, and she requested my proposal, and read it the next day, and came back to me with an offer of representation - which is unheard of. That is super fast. I was lucky that I caught her in a few free days - she actually read my sample chapters while she was on a family trip.

She's lucky - she can read in a moving vehicle. The main thing is she said she believes she can sell it.

So as things stand, there are some contract details being addressed with the James and Paula Coburn Foundation, and I may soon be able to say that I actually have an agent for Dervish Dust. To follow more on this particular journey, please Like my Facebook page for the book.

But the great thing, for which I will be forever grateful, was that she took time out of her vacation to give me some valuable and awesome notes about the proposal (OMG too long) and sample chapters (just some tweaks!). It was so exciting to have real feedback from someone who knows what they are doing about this proposal.

I hope she will also be interested, in the fullness of time, in my upcoming fantasy YA series, the Mermaid Lake books. The first one, Mermaid Summer, is in rewrite stage - the tough part.

Saturday, December 29, 2018


One of James Coburn's movies that somehow feels very contemporary is THE PRESIDENT'S ANALYST (1967). The plot concerns a psychiatrist tapped to be the US President's analyst, who becomes increasingly paranoid as he learns more and more confidential secrets from his patient. It turns out that his paranoia is justified as the international espionage community converge on him to try to learn those secrets. All of this is against the backdrop of plenty of still biting social commentary and some wonderful prescient ideas about technology.

Aside from reviews, the movie is mentioned in different places like this legal blog:
Above the Law

and this therapist's article about privacy: Forbes celluloid shrinks

Here's someone else who agrees that it's prescient: Slant

I like that the film is being rediscovered, like this showing a couple of years ago: BAMPFA 

It has even been used as support material for psychoanalytic studies college courses: Atlanta Psychoanalysis movie mania

Jim's behind-the-scenes stories of making this picture are some of the most fun in the book.