30 August 2011

Working vacation vs. vacation

In mid-September, I'm planning to take Bean and Bunny up to Illinois to visit my family. Not only do I feel like I could really use the vacation, but it'll be my mom's birthday, and most of my family hasn't met Bunny yet. So I'll be braving the 18-hour drive with a potty-training two-year-old and a four-month-old.

photostock / FreeDigitalPhotos.net
And as if that wasn't complicated enough, I'm still trying to decide whether this will be a working vacation or a normal vacation. Do I want to set aside time, even if it's less than normal, to work, or should I put work on hold for the couple of weeks I'm up north and play catch-up when I get back?

If I decide to put work on hold during that time, I can work ahead with my two main clients between now and then. If I decide to work while I'm on vacation, I can reduce my work load a little so I can still enjoy the time I have.

There will be at least four days during my vacation I won't be working. Since I'll be the only driver on this trip, I won't be able to work during the travel days. But since the kids are little, they're going to nap, and I could use that time every day to do a little writing.

I would love to simply close my office and take two weeks off, which I could do if I work ahead a little, but I don't want to feel overwhelmed coming back from vacation and having two weeks of work to catch up on in the office, on top of having to get back into the routine with the kids.

What say you, readers? Should I work "part-time" while on vacation, or close the office completely? What would you do?

29 August 2011

Why I don't use my iPhone as a personal organizer

My husband is a bit of a techie. He loves gadgets and seeing how games and technology develops. He listens to gadget/tech podcasts and loves his iPhone and iPad. When I tell him about an upcoming appointment or event, he tells me to email or text him with the details, and he puts it in his phone's calendar or on Google Calendar. We don't have a family calendar on the wall at home because there's no point.

Hubby has often urged me to use an electronic calendar on my phone or online to keep track of everything. He argues that I could figure out my schedule, add article and project deadlines, and update it quickly and easily as things change. I could even keep my daily task lists on my phone!

Yes, that's true. But I will always and forever use a paper day planner for my scheduling and bound notebooks for my task lists. I will always and forever scribble appointments and article deadlines in the squares of my paper day planners. I will always and forever cross off tasks as I complete them, a black line through the middle of the writing.

And here's why.

If I don't write things down, I have a hard time remembering them. Appointments, tasks that need to be done, anything. I have to write them down. So by having physical day planners and task list notebooks, I can physically write things down, and I can be sure they'll get done.

On top of that, what do I do if the network goes down? Or my phone battery dies? With paper and pen, I always have access to what I need to do, even if the technological gods are against me.

I can see how using Google Calendar or your phone's organizer is helpful, especially if you're on the go a lot. But I'll stick with my Luddite organization techniques, thank you. And when the Internet goes down, I'll still be waiting at the coffee shop for our lunch date.

26 August 2011

Fiction Friday: introducing my children to literature

My two-year-old son loves stories. Whether I'm reading his story about Chip & Dale (which he calls "Dale book") for the ten thousandth time or telling him my version of Caps for Sale while we work on potty-training, he adores stories. It makes my heart happy to know that he loves stories as much as I do.

And now that he's getting old enough to sit through short stories, I've started thinking about things I want to read to Bean and Bunny. What stories were favorites of mine that I want to pass on? What books from "the canon" do I want them to be familiar with? So I'm starting to compile a list, which includes short books for now and longer books for later. Things like Amelia Bedelia, lots of Dr. Seuss, the Berenstein Bears, and The Terrible, Horrible, No-Good, Very Bad Day are on the short book list. Things like Black Beauty, Alice's Adventures in Wonderland, and From the Mixed-Up Files of Mrs. Basil E. Frankweiler are on the longer list. And, of course, The Last Dragonslayer by Jasper Fforde. (No child's library is complete without it!)

What books do you think are important to childhood memories?

24 August 2011

The Land of Misfit Words

Photo source
Sometimes I find myself scribbling scenes and character sketches and ideas that don't fit with anything I'm writing. These bits of fiction might be inspired by seeing someone walking down the street, a dream, or even a spin-off of something else I'm writing.

I always try to jot them down in my journal, but once I do, I'm never really sure what to do with them. I try to find ways to incorporate them into what I'm writing, which doesn't usually work. So they sit in my journal until I stumble on them again and still don't know what to do with them.

I've sort of given up on trying to find homes for these scraps of misfit words. Instead, I continue to collect them as writing exercises, pretending that the people I see on the street are writing prompts, or that the ideas are simply meant to get my brain going.

Since making that change, I've found the scraps come more frequently, and I don't feel as bad about leaving them to linger in a journal until eternity. Maybe someday I'll have a story that would be perfect for the man playing the violin as he walks his son home from school (true story), but until then, he's content.

And so am I.

23 August 2011

The world is your classroom

Photo source
All across the nation, school is back in session (or will be soon).

Kids are dragging themselves from bed at a decent hour to stand on corners and wait for buses, parents are singing their personal "back to school" songs in joy, pencils are being sharpened, and I'm dancing with glee through the school supply aisles of stores, excited at all the amahzing sales for the things I love so much.

I was one of those nerds who liked school. I liked organizing all my school supplies and loading up my backpack, I liked getting a new assignment notebook. But most of all, I liked learning new things. It was rewarding and encouraging, and as a writer, I always found ways to apply what I was learning to my writing life.

Maybe that's why I always liked school so much: I'm a writer. And writers never stop learning. At least, they shouldn't. Regardless of genre, writers draw from the world around them for inspiration. The people, places, and situations they encounter all contribute to the words they put on the page. So by continuing their education, formally or informally, writers expand the world from which they draw inspiration. The more they learn, the better their foundation for creating stories.

This doesn't mean that, as a writer, you need to enroll in college classes every year. If you can, great! If you take workshops and seminars, that's awesome! Attend lectures and Q&A sessions, go to concerts, ask questions of experts. But learning on your own is just as valuable. Just as you can attend a lecture series at a local college, you can find books by reputable authors and study on your own. You can dive into topics like geology with all the passion you have. And when you come up on the other side, your writing will be richer for it.

Never stop learning and you'll never stop writing.

18 August 2011

Why I watch TV

I have to admit something to you.

I watch too much TV.

My office space is currently in our living/dining room area*, and I can see the TV from my desk. So when I'm working, I usually have something on for background noise. Law & Order reruns on TNT, Storage Wars on A&E, or whatever horrible B movie happens to be on the Lifetime Movie Network. (I know. Don't judge.) Most of time I'm not paying attention to what's on, but sometimes I get drawn in to a show or movie, and find myself writing a bit slower than I should in favor of seeing Six from Blossom as a college student rushing a sorority.

Photo source
But I've learned to use my too-much-TV-watching to my advantage. If I'm drawn in to a show, obviously there's something good about the dialogue and story, right? So when I find myself watching more TV than writing, I try to listen to the dialogue and dissect it. What is it about these lines that's made me want to watch? What does the dialogue tell me about the characters? About the story?

When I was in college, my husband (then boyfriend) and friend would try to get me to play video games with them instead of writing. Once my friend said that I should play video games because it was "for my craft." It was research...or something. After a while, we jokingly justified anything by declaring it "for the craft."

One of the good things about being a writer is that you get inspiration from anywhere, and since you draw from life for stories, all things in life can be source material. Anything can be "for the craft." Sure, the college coffee-stained writer used it as an excuse to play video games and go for a coffee run instead of writing, but there's a lot in life that can be used to help strengthen your writing.

Including TV.

*This fall my office space will be moving to the closet in the master bedroom. It will give me a door I can close, shelves for my files, and privacy when I need it for a deadline (or call with a client). I'm super excited to have an official office, even if I have to share it with my clothes and shoes!

16 August 2011

Weekly Writing Prompts

Every Tuesday, there will be a new writing prompt on the sidebar to the right. Every Monday, I will write my response to the writing prompt and post it on the blog.

If you use the prompt and post it on your blog, let me know and I'll happily link to your blog. If you don't have a blog or don't post it but use the prompt, email me and I'll happily post it on my own blog (with a brief bio).

Happy scribbling!

Fall Reading List

If I ever find time to read, this is what I'm going to work my way through this fall.

Possession by A. S. Byatt (rereading)
The Color of Magic by Terry Pratchett
The Jeeves Omnibus by P. G. Wodehouse
The Last Dragonslayer by Jasper Fforde

What are you reading? What's next on your list?

15 August 2011

What it means to be a WAHM

My bosses
I am a full time freelance writer. I am also a work-at-home mom (WAHM).

In many ways, my life as a writer and my life as a mom blend together seamlessly. In other ways, I find myself wondering if my children are sacrificing for my career, or if my career is sacrificing for my children.

I think sometimes people think WAHMs have it "easy." After all, they get to work from home, they get to play with their kid(s) all day, and they get to do it all in their pajamas with Days of Our Lives playing during nap time. Right?

Well, not so much.

In order for me to be successful as a WAHM (which means success as a writer and as a mom), I've had to approach my day very differently than a SAHM (stay-at-home mom) or a WOHM (work-outside-the-home mom) does. The biggest difference is in my daily schedule.

I have a very detailed daily schedule. In fact, according to my schedule I have very little down time. In practice, there's more down time than it appears, but I've padded the tasks I have to do each day to allow for distractions or side-tracking caused by "my bosses" (see photo above). If I don't have a very structured schedule, it's too easy for me to not get things done because I figure I can do them later. As it is, I can look at my schedule and simply do what it says to do during a certain time slot and know that, by the end of the day, I'll have gotten through the things I needed to do.

I also get up earlier than the rest of my family. My husband gets up around 7:15 every morning to get ready for work during the week. Bean is up between 9:30 and 10:00 every morning. (Bunny kind of does her own thing.) I get up at 5:00 a.m. every morning (including weekends) and get ready for the day, then spend time working until everyone else gets up. Having that extra time is what I need to get my day going on my terms so I can have a good day once the kids are up.

Though this is one thing I'm still working on, being highly organized is also key to being a successful WAHM. Not only do I have to stay organized to stay on top of deadlines and in contact with clients, but I have to stay organized to stay on top of my home responsibilities. I have lists and a calendar and I write everything down so I don't forget anything.

The biggest thing, which I know I've mentioned many times, is balance. When you work from home, you can't work all the time, and you can't let yourself get distracted so that you don't get anything done.

It's not easy, but I have to tell you that making it work is definitely worth it to get to spend so much time with my kids, and to get paid to do what I love so much.

14 August 2011

A shiny new idea

I wasn't going to participate in NaNoWriMo this year. I didn't last year because we moved to a new place in November and my son had minor surgery. I missed scribbling furiously every day in November last year, but didn't think I'd participate this year, either.

Well, that changed this past week when I was struck with a shiny new idea for a story.

I'm not going to go into detail about the idea right now. It's really only the kernel of an idea at the moment and I need to take some time to develop it a bit more before I commit it to the permanence of the Interwebz. However, I will tell you that it deals with the intersection of religion and some aspects of the paranormal.

Are you scribbling for NaNoWriMo this year? What are you doing?

12 August 2011

Good reading or Gag-inducing?

I've been thinking about what makes a piece of writing "good" lately. Maybe it's because I've been working on the coffee house book, and maybe it's because I've been working on a reading list for the fall. (I've been terrible about reading lately, but my schedule is a lot better now!) My reading time has been pretty limited lately, so I don't want to spend time on something I don't like.

But fiction is so subjective that to declare something "good" is hard to do. And if you do decide something is good fiction, that doesn't mean others will agree with you. That said, I think there are qualities a piece of writing can have (within subjectivity) that make it "good."

Engaging. A story has to draw you in. If you read a story and are very aware you're reading a story (unless that aspect is intentional, of course), it's hard to enjoy it.

Suspension of disbelief. Whether the story is realism, speculative fiction, or bizarro literature, good fiction is written in a way that lets you believe that what's happening in the story, however unlikely (or impossible), could actually happen.

Rewards rereading. I've read lots of stories that I've enjoyed, but when I read them again, problems are exposed. On the other hand, I've read stories that I could read every year and take something new from it every time. Good stories can be read more than once.

Emotional. Good fiction evokes emotion, positive and negative. Authors who write good stories are the ones who get you to love the characters they want you to love and hate the characters they want you to hate. Whether you like what's going on in the story or not, you react to it.

What else makes a good story?

What makes a bad story?

10 August 2011

The Work-at-Home Dress Code

When people talk about working from home, one of the perks that inevitably arises is the ability to work in pajamas all day. And some people do. I have. It's easy to do that when you have two little ones to chase and your work is all online so you don't have to meet clients face-to-face.

However, lots of people who work from home say you shouldn't work in your pajamas. They say getting up in the morning and dressing for the day as if you're dressing for work puts you in the mindset of work. You may even be motivated to get extra work done if you're dressed for work.

I can see that side of it. In fact, that's what I've been trying to do in my own work day lately: get up in the morning and get dressed (including shoes), and work before the kids get up for the day.

For me, it is about putting myself in "work mode," but it's also that I feel better when I get dressed in the morning. I'm more awake and motivated. I feel ready to tackle my day. I've found it's also less tempting to curl up for a quick nap on the couch if I'm dressed with shoes on than if I'm wearing pajamas.

I'm not saying I wear business professional (or even business casual) clothes every day. But I get dressed in something comfortable, something I like, and something I would be happy to meet a client in, if the need arose. I'm happy in jeans and a t-shirt or a casual skirt and top.

What do you wear to work at home?

08 August 2011

My Daily Schedule

When you work from home, no matter the industry or field, finding a balance between your work and home life is imperative. It can be easy to let your work self get distracted by things at home (TV, Internet, laundry, etc.) or let your home self get distracted by work (emails, phone calls, articles, etc.). Many people find they either procrastinate terribly, or they never close their office. Neither is healthy.

Finding balance is something I've been working on for a long time, and I'm finally feeling comfortable in where I am. The key for me has been building a schedule that includes home and work tasks throughout the day. This enables me to get everything done I need to for work, but gives me the breaks I need to get home tasks done, as well. Since that's the way I have my schedule set up, I can be comfortable walking away from work when it's time to clean, and I can be comfortable walking away from house work when it's time to work.

You can see my detailed daily schedule here.

How do you balance your home and work life? Do you find yourself drawn more to one or the other?

05 August 2011

Story cards

The coffee house book is one in which chronology matters, but the story is not necessarily chronological. Because of that, I'm considering using story cards to help me keep the story line and story-telling organized.

The idea is that I'll write a summary of each chapter/scene on an individual index card. I'll number them chronologically in one color, then arrange them for the story arc and number them in another color. That way, I can see which events come in which order chronologically, as well as which events come in which order within the fabric of the story.

Has anyone used this method for organizing story events? If so, how did it work for you?

03 August 2011

What I've been doing lately....

My sister, brother, and niece visited at the end of July for my daughter's baptism. I'll be back soon (today or tomorrow) with a "real" post.