Category Archives: life

People All Over the World… Join In!

Around this time last year, my friend at Are You the Babysitter? posted a list of things she loves. Our pal Virtual Farmgirl got in the act, and then I followed suit and I called it the Love Train.

With the change of the season and the kids all going back to school, this seems like a good time to remind ourselves of the simple things that make us happy, so AYtB has started up the Love Train once again. She’s also gotten don’t touch my poodleWindy City Virgins, and Outrunning the Storm to join the Love Train. So check out those lists, check out my list below, and if you have a blog of your own, hop on! (If you don’t blog, give me your list in the comments!)

  • A bright, sunny day with a cool breeze
  • Doctor Who—one of the few shows that my husband and I both love in equal amounts
  • Watching my kids’ soccer games and seeing how they and their teammates work together, better and better each year
  • My Ragnar Relay jacket—it’s a great jacket, lightweight and warm, but it also broadcasts to the world my greatest (and possibly only) athletic achievement
  • Nutella. ’Nuff said.
  • Listening to my girls play Legos together, as they create wildly inventive scenarios for their characters
  • Fall shoes, especially my Chuck Taylors and Danskos, which I miss during the summer (seriously, I wore my black Chucks yesterday for the first time since May and they made me so happy!)
  • Hummus with lots of lemon juice
  • Guacamole with lots of lime juice
  • My childhood best friend’s mom’s oyster cracker mix—my friend recently sent me the recipe and the taste of those crackers took me back in time
  • Finishing up a knitting project and going through my yarn stash and pattern stash to decide what to make next
  • Lending books I loved to friends (it justifies my book-buying addiction!)

What’s on your list?

Photo: Courtesy of Oxyman, Wikimedia Commons

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“Just F*#king Write Stuff”

So I’m writing a novel. At least, I’m trying to. Off the top of my head, I’d say that the biggest obstacle has been finding the time, but that’s not 100% true.

Indeed, I’m always strapped for time. Between my corporate freelance writing and editing “day job,” taking care of the kids, and my volunteer responsibilities, I’m pretty damn busy. I usually have at least one outstanding client project, so whenever I have a few minutes to write, I feel like I should be working on that.

But lately, the other equally big obstacle has been deciding what to write about. I have the general idea of my story, but I’m blocked on a few things so that’s making it hard to work on the manuscript. It’s making it hard to work on this blog too, and any other non-paid writing projects, for that matter.

Many published authors, when asked how to conquer this issue, have said some version of “Well, you just have to keep writing.” Usually, my reaction is some version of “Easy for you to say, Published Author.”

During the last few weeks, I’ve been working on some home improvement projects (more distractions!), and while doing that, I’ve been listening to The Nerdist podcasts. The Nerdist is a project by Chris Hardwick, a former MTV host who wanted to write and talk about sci-fi/fantasy TV, movies, comics, cartoons, and pretty much all other nerdy entertainment. He’s got a blog, the podcasts, a Youtube channel, TV specials, and oh yeah–he wrote a Nerdist book. Basically, rather than waiting for the entertainment job to come to him, he invented an entertainment job that he’d love and uses technology brilliantly to get it to the masses. And he’s really funny.

So I was listening to a podcast of one of his live shows and an audience member asked Hardwick how he gets past writer’s block. What he said was, more or less, “Well, you just have to keep writing,” but he said it like this:

“You have to sit down and just force yourself to write and it doesn’t matter what comes out of you, you just have to get the wheels turning. Even if you spend an hour writing shit, it’ll get the wheels turning so that later you will be struck by the good idea that you’re looking for.

“So never let the excuse of, like, ‘I don’t have anything to write about’—just fucking sit down, even if it’s just gibberish— ‘All work and no play makes Jack a dull boy’—doesn’t matter. Just fucking write stuff to get it out so you can keep the machine greased. Because what’ll happen is that you’ll start to get afraid to write if you don’t do it, ’cause you’ll be like, ‘I don’t ever have anything to say.’ So you just have to force yourself to sit down let your fingers start moving and it’ll unstick the wheels and you’ll write.”

For some reason, that hit me. Maybe it’s all the cuss words? Maybe it’s because I love The Nerdist and worship Hardwick and his crew as pioneers in new media? I don’t know. But for whatever reason, it hit me. I need to keep the machine greased. I need to not worry about “wasting time” writing material that I won’t keep (which is something I really try to avoid when I’m getting paid by the hour).

I need to just fucking write stuff.

Beginning Monday, I’m going to commit to writing at least three pages a day, even if it turns out to be gibberish, just to unstick the wheels. And I’m writing it down to make sure I really do it.

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“Back” to Work?

Angry bird is angry!

A few months after my oldest child was born, I became a freelance writer. Over the subsequent eight years, I wrote articles late into the night, scheduled phone interviews during nap times, and answered client emails on my Blackberry while my kids played in the sandbox. I got over my paralyzing fear of “networking” and reached out to former co-workers and bosses and others who might have projects for me.

I got to be a pretty damn good freelancer, if I do say so myself. Most years, I’ve managed to bring in nearly the same salary that I was bringing in at my last full-time office gig—if you count the fact that I’m not paying for transportation, dry cleaning, or child care, my family has probably come out ahead.

Meanwhile, I got to keep the parts of my office job that I liked (writing, editing, and researching) while getting rid of the parts that I didn’t (meetings, committees, meetings, departmental budgeting, meetings).

Last fall, my youngest started “all-day” school, meaning that both of my kids are gone for nearly seven hours a day. To me, this means the chance to pursue more and bigger freelance projects, to finally write the novel I’ve always wanted to write, and to spend fewer nights tapping away at the keyboard well into the a.m. hours.

But apparently, to some others, my kids being in school means that it’s time for me to go “back to work.” I’ve been asked this a number of times in the last few months: “When are you going back to work?” “Are you going to get a ‘real job’ now?” One of these queries came from someone whose organization pays me thousands of dollars each year—I’ve written for nearly every division there. And yet I apparently do not have a “real job.”

Here’s what I would like to say to those people (but did not, because see above—thousands of dollars): Writing is not my hobby, dammit. It was my hobby when I was ten, but then I went to college and graduate school to learn more about it. Every job I’ve had since graduation has been a writing job.

And yes, I like writing, but I don’t write for entertainment. I don’t noodle around at it for fun. I sit down each day and write articles and software manuals and press releases and book chapters because that is my job. I’m good at it, and that’s why clients pay me (in some cases, quite well) to do it for them. Just because my office is the kitchen table does not mean that this isn’t real work.

So no, annoying questioners, I’m not going “back to work.” I can’t go back to something I never left.

Photo: Courtesy of ToNToNi, Wikimedia Commons

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Start a Love Train, Love Train

During the last few weeks, I’ve felt bogged down by a giant to-do list. My freelance work is picking up, which is good, but when I’ve got three articles due in the same week, and volunteer responsibilities at the kids’ school, and an all-day Girl Scout field trip, and all the other tasks that have to be done to keep the family clean and fed, it can get a little overwhelming.

When things get like this, it’s a good idea to remind yourself about the things you love. I’m stealing this idea from Virtual Farmgirl, who stole it from Are You The Babysitter? (two blogs you should be reading even if you aren’t lucky enough to know these two kickass women in real life, as I do), and I’m writing up a list of things I love.

Things I Love (not at all inclusive!):

  • Singing loudly in the car with my kids
  • Having a huge, I-can’t-breathe laugh with my husband
  • My bike! I love riding my bike (bonus points if I can use my bike to get errands done)
  • Reading for no reason other than because I want to
  • Going to the library by myself
  • Cold Riesling on a hot day
  • Room-temp Shiraz on a cold day
  • The glass-smooth feel of my daughters’ cheeks
  • Whole Foods honey-vanilla lip balm
  • Hanging out on the playground with my friends while our kids play
  • Going out with my friends in the evening while our kids stay home
  • Sandalwood-scented soap
  • Watching my husband play with our girls (bonus points if they’re making him play something girly, like the Fancy Nancy game)
  • Haagen Dazs coffee ice cream
  • T-shirts with geeky references that only some people notice and understand
  • Extra-fine point Pilot rolling ball pens, in purple, pink, or turquoise
  • My black notebook with silver stars embossed on the cover
  • Diet Coke from the can

Of course there’s more, but the list has to stop somewhere! So what’s on your list? Post it in the comments, or post it to your blog and link to it here! (I’m gonna go get me a Diet Coke.)

Photo: Courtesy of Oxyman, Wikimedia Commons

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Learning About Revisions… the Hard Way

Bad kitty!

My seven-year-old is writing her own series of Rainbow Magic books. They’re all at least 10 pages long, with detailed illustrations (and hilarious “Coming Soon!” promos at the end of each one). She puts hours into each one, writing them out, cutting the pages to size (not so successfully), and binding them with the stapler.

And today, one of the cats peed on three of the books.

They’re unsaveable. Even if the marker colors hadn’t bled all over, they smell terrible. I photocopied the pages so she can still have the text that was in pencil, but if she wants them to be even close to the way they were, she’s going to have to recreate them.

Obviously, she was devastated. But then I had a stroke of genius: I taught her about revisions. I told her that all authors have to revise their books, rewriting over and over to make them as good as they can be. Even the authors of the original Rainbow Magic series revised those books before they were published (although that’s hard to believe, if you’ve ever read those).

So now she feels a little better, and she’s looking forward to making newer, better versions of the peed-upon books. But if she’s going to keep up with this series, I’ll eventually have to talk to her about copyright law…

Photo: Courtesy of Luis Miguel Bugallo Sánchez, Wikimedia Commons

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Don’t Call Me Mommy (Unless You’re Under 10)

I recently picked up a book from the library that, according to the tagline, was supposed to offer advice on building and maintaining a writing career while raising kids. I was looking for ways to tune out “My Little Pony” cartoons, strategies for getting kids to leave you alone when you’re on deadline, maybe a time management tip or two. What I got was “how to write about being a mommy.”

OK, that wasn’t quite the topic of the whole book, but it made up a lot more of the text than I’d been led to believe, and it was the final straw for me. A lot of books and websites claim to be for mothers who write (they’re not hard to find—almost all of them have “mama” or “mommy” in the title somewhere, as if children will be the ones Googling for them), yet most of them lean heavily on writing for or about kids. If you have no interest in writing children’s books or articles about breastfeeding, you’re out of luck.

Not that I’m slamming on anyone who does want to do that. If that’s what you love to write, go for it. There are certainly enough outlets for that type of writing, and if you can come up with a fresh take on the divisive cloth-vs.-disposable diaper issue, believe me—the world needs you.

But why does the assumption seem to be that, if you’re a writer and a mother, you must want to write about mothering? The same is not true for fathers who write. I can’t even imagine a site called “Writer Daddy” taking off.

This theme also does not gel with reality, at least not my reality. I know a lot of female writers, and most of them are mothers. Yet none of them write about being a “mommy.” They write sci-fi, drama, mystery, and humor. They write about the law, sex, healthcare, entertainment, and technology.

I’ve been able to find the advice I was looking for on other sites, especially on other writers’ personal blogs, so it’s not that the information isn’t available elsewhere. Most writers are juggling families and other careers too, so I suppose that finding the time to write is a struggle that’s not unique to mothers.

So I’ve learned my lesson—if I want advice on writing, I need to stick to the sites and books for writers, because the “writer mommy” genre is always going to think I’m more “mommy” than “writer.”

Photo: Courtesy of miguelphotobooth, Flickr

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