Category Archives: Writing Mother

January Challenge: Finish, Begin, Improve, Plan

write start badgeNew year, fresh start. After yesterday’s reflection (2013 Day One: Reflections, Goals and a Challenge), it’s time to get to work.

In yesterday’s post, I mentioned the JanPlan challenge being hosted by writer Christa Desir. Another writing friend, the lovely Khara House, is hosting a challenge for improving your blog or website. (Keep reading – links to both are below.)

As I planned to tackle each of these as well as the to-do list so many of us start the year with, I found that while Christa challenges that we finish one thing and Khara proposes that we improve one thing, I also need to start a major project this month (eek – a literary magazine due by April).  I want to do both Christa and Khara’s challenges but my month was forming into its own January challenge: focusing on one approach for each week of the month.

If you would like to join in, my January Write Start Challenge looks like this:

Each week — starting tomorrow — I’ll post a kick-off challenge, sharing what I will be tackling that week as well as any articles, challenges or steps that will help motivate your own project.

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Here is an overview:

  1. Isn’t it true that Week One of a new year includes finishing old business?  If you have time off for the holidays, maybe you can finish an incomplete story. Maybe there’s an unfinished goal from 2012. TOMORROW will feature the kick-off post for this challenge, but you can get a head-start by checking out Christa Desir’s JanPlan 2013 challenge here.
  2. In Week Two, I will begin a new semester — and production of the literary magazine for my students. New starts involve identifying key steps, scheduling meetings with key players, and setting deadlines. Sad but true, new starts involve a little fear, so we can jointly take a deep breath and plunge in.  While I dedicate the week to this new start, no project happens in a vacuum, and I’ll address how to balance a new start with the “finishing” and “improving” of ongoing projects. (Launch for Week 2 here)
  3. In Week Three, I will focus on improving one aspect of my writing business. Depending on where I am at that point, it will either be submissions or my blog.  **See the note below about Khara House’s challenge , if you think you might want to improve your blog this month.  
  4. Week Four will be the wild-card, to evaluate where you stand and plan goals for the coming months. This might include aspects of all three of the prior weeks, as new beginnings are planned, progress is evaluated for more improvement, and more projects are targeted for finishing. It will be a time to reflect on what is going well and organize for success.

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How to Get Started:

To join in at any time during the month:

  • Jump in with a comment below this post or any later posts in the month.
  • Post your own goals on your website.  Include a link to this post (and links to Christa or Khara’s posts if your goal relates to their challenge). Grab the badge above, if you want to be festive!
  • Come back and share a link to your post here so other readers can see how your January Challenge is going! 

Most of my readers are writers of some sort, but everyone’s goals are welcome — whether finishing painting that living room (a-hem) or starting an acting class or… What will you be up to this month?

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Our Lost Jungle "I <3 My Blog" challenge

Our Lost Jungle Challenge

Khara House’s “I ♥ My Blog” challenge

If the one thing you want to improve this month will be your blog, I do recommend that you join Khara House’s “I ♥ My Blog” challenge and participate throughout the month. Khara is a fellow member of Wordsmith Studios, a great group of writers, and I can assure that she will host a lively, informative and supportive challenge throughout the month.  She begins the challenge today by tackling editorial calendars — find it at Our Lost Jungle here or join the Facebook “I ♥ My Blog” event here.

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If you like this blog, be sure to subscribe using WordPress’s +follow option, or via email or RSS feed.  I love to connect with like-minded readers and writers!

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Filed under Inspiration, January Challenge, Time Management for Writers, Writing Life, Writing Mother, Writing Prompt

2013 – Day One: Reflections, Goals… and a Challenge

c. Elissa Field - request written permission for use

c. Elissa Field – request written permission for use

You can’t look anywhere among your social media friends without being left with the question: Do I have resolutions for 2013?

Reading a few friends’ blogs had me feeling need to reflect on the state of my own goals — and to-do lists.

2012 was a great year for me, one of successes.  Goals met and some not yet tackled — but a renewed sense of my own abilities, a great sense of perspective and freedom to move forward.  I feel an odd affection for the idea of it being 2013 — not necessarily declaring “resolutions,” but feeling good about the possibilities ahead.

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Reflecting on 2012:

A year ago, around when I took that picture of my sons, I was entering a new year with a lot of old baggage and a lot of opportunities I had created for releasing them.  I was married for more than 15 years, and we had spent the last two years deciding if he was just having a midlife crisis or if he wanted a divorce. I’d been hanging on for my sons’ sake, and also clinging to some other things that weren’t really working.

But I’d finished certification to teach and was hired for a third year at the same fabulous school my boys go to.  I had bones to a novel down.  I had ideas of stories flowing. I’d hit a point where I was (mostly) able to balance writing hours and bringing in income and keeping up with the boys. (Mostly.) And, most interesting for this loyal, sentimental girl: I was ready for whatever changes came into my life to make things work.  Including divorce, job changes, moving — whatever.

You can’t help love a year where you opened your hands to release what didn’t work, willing to catch what does.  And I might not make resolutions, but I’d entered 2012 with a decent plan.

2012 Goals:

  • Daily life: For my boys, I needed income, stability, all that.  I’d finished 2 years completing credentials and started my third year teaching.  I kept the boys together in the same, fabulous school they’ve gone to since preschool. I had quality time with them. We spent a month of summer at my parents’ house in Connecticut. All around, this was a success for the year.  As someone who liked being married, it was a little moment of pride to realize I’d made it two years on my own with the boys and we were doing just fine.  Having fun, actually.
  • Writing hours: Without setting specific word or hour or daily goals, I needed to carve clear, productive writing hours in the face of demands on my time.  During the school year, waves of essay grading can bury me — made worse last fall as I took on another grade and science fair.  Still, I have been astounded how much more easily I can compartmentalize my focus and claim time to write than in other years.  Often, it means stopping whatever I was about to do and saying: write 30 minutes, right now, before you do anything else.  I teach afternoons, so claim undistracted morning hours while the boys are at school.  But I’ve also gotten better at writing with them in the room, so I could work near them while they watched tv or in bed as they did their homework beside me.  Somedays it would only be the 30 minutes, or just in the margins of a book I was reading as I fell asleep or on scratch paper in the car. But I also claimed whole mornings or nights, or whole days.  There’s never enough time. But the success was this: part of teaching is that I have holidays and summer off to write. When I worked freelance in the past, I sometimes had gaps like that but was so preoccupied with marketing or other distractions that writing didn’t happen, so this was my big fear: to have time off, but I’d waste it or ideas would fall flat.  “Success” for 2012 was that every minute I’ve had free time (and even when I didn’t) the ideas were right there, and the writing worked.  Little of it was garbage; most of it went into finished drafts.  Other than having my laptop crash midyear, 2012 was really productive.
  • Short stories: Goal was to finish 2 nearly-done stories, revise an older one with feedback, and submit until published.  Heh heh. Yeah, no.  Not a lick of work on short stories since about January last year. Sorry, half-drafted story. Sorry to the one ready for final rewrite. I’ve written before about not wanting to just be Running on Grass.  I like to keep a couple stories circulating — something done and out the door — while I’m working on a novel. It’s hard to accept zero submissions for the year — but not necessarily a failure, considering other successes.
  • Novel draft: Altogether, I have 3 novel drafts, and the goal for summer was to have one draft revised and first queries submitted by September. It’s supposed to be that I am finishing the first WIP, and only jotted out the bones of the other 2 to get them out of my head while I finish the first. But the newest one (Wake) did not sleep at all in 2012, and has completely taken over.  It developed really fully throughout the year, which is what you most hope for — that resonance that comes when the story lives inside your chest and picks up depth even when you’re not actively writing on it.  That would be useless if the story hadn’t made it to the page, but I had butt-in-chair enough to have finished the first draft in June, with second and third revisions over the summer. The setback of my laptop crash prevented having a draft ready to submit and queries out to agents.  But I’m more sure of Wake now than I was a year ago. It’s hard to resent the delay, as I used the time to finish research and the book has grown from it. My novel projects grew in other ways as well: downloading Scrivener turned out to be a great new tool for revising and, on a very different note, I’ve been debating whether one of the other WIPs might work best as a young adult series, which is an exciting possibility.
  • Reading: Twice during the year I took time to set down my targeted reading list.  I learned a lot from a few of the books I read, and enjoyed the intentional process of blogging about my reading and connecting with other readers.  That was new.
  • Connection: I could have called this goal “social media” or “platform,” but it didn’t start out that way. I started 2012 knowing I missed the old writing group I’d lost touch with during years I wanted to write without feedback.  And, as someone who has worked in PR, I was exploring new marketing avenues — for clients, or for online business ideas my mom and I were weighing. In April, I participated in a platform-building challenge with poet Robert Lee Brewer, which led to a clearer understanding of social media, and several successes developed on the heels of that. Numerically measurable successes included expanding readership on my website by over 400% and connection on Twitter by 1,000% — which well exceeded the growth numbers I set for myself for the year. From a freelancing standpoint, I understand how to help clients use social media in a way I did not previously. But the immeasurable successes are the greatest win. The best intangible has been some of the amazing friendships and professional connections I’ve shared. Anyone in Wordsmith Studio reading this should blush, knowing I count our group as a success for the year.  It’s a great group of generous and talented writers.  Despite the social media impact, as many gains were also in the real world, including participating in a great workshop, local friends, family and travel as well.

2013 – the year ahead:

There’s lots of messy stuff left from 2012’s list. I intended to apply for grad school by November, but turned deer-in-the-headlights mid-October and will likely soon regret not having gotten that done. I need to file for divorce (does the attorney not know the irony that his fee is equal to what I want to spend on grad school?).  In teaching, I tripled my salary (which speaks more of how little I was paid the year before), was given more classes and am leading the literary magazine now, although this still leaves me up in the air about where I’ll work next year.  A move is possible, as our house is our last remnant of 2008-bad-economy.

But mostly, there are new beginnings to look forward to.

  • I have a litmag to assemble by April.
  • Finish the novel and get queries out by summer.
  • Short stories. Repeat 2012 intention. Don’t cry if it doesn’t happen, as long as the novel does.  No.  Take that back.  Get your butt in gear and get these submitted.  Mom says.
  • Grad school.  Apply.  While waiting, take a course.
  • Write more for online.  Respond to requests for submissions and guest blogging.  Move forward with more additions to my own editorial calendar, here.  Submit proposals for paid articles. Part of teaching is having the credentials for some of the articles I’ve been jotting for parenting and other how-to sites.
  • Another workshop or maybe Grub Street in May.
  • Summer.  There’s always summer off to write.
  • And connections.  People like my friends at Wordsmith Studios, writing friends, visitors to this blog.

Thanks for being part of what made 2012 great, and 2013 great to look forward to!

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Want a challenge?

Picture 6In tomorrow’s post (January Challenge: Finish, Begin, Improve, Plan), I introduce my January Write Start Challenge, in which I kick off my goals for 2013.  The first week of the challenge was inspired by YA author Christa Desir, who posted 2013 the JanPlan on her site — a lovely, unstructured challenge to complete one thing in January.

My short stories eye me accusingly.  My grad school apps.  Or…?

I would love for you to join me in the January Write Start Challenge — or just tackle one unfinished thing!

Are you up for the challenge?  I’ll post more about it later (or click the link to read it on Christa’s site)… but for now, let’s get targeting: what one thing would you take on?

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Filed under Novel Writing, Writing Life, Writing Mother

Christmas Shopping for the Writer in Your Life: 40 Top Gift Ideas Writers Really Love


At birthdays and holidays, how great is it when friends or family try to find just the right gift to honor the recipient’s interests? Since writers often work alone, it is especially touching when family try to affirm their work with what seem to be “writing” gifts.

But, wow. Looking at the feathered pens and pewter bookmarks and dolled up journals in the “gifts for writers” display at a bookstore the other day, I couldn’t help feeling protective of the well-intended money lost on such things.  At the same time, a real list of “gifts writers could really use” began playing in my head.

This feeling was furthered Tuesday when editor Jane Friedman tweeted: “Advice, please: How do you deal w/family who buys you stuff, even though you lead a minimalist life & hate accumulating things?”

In this economy, no one wants to see their loved ones wasting money. For every writer in your life, there are actual things they would love to have or maybe even need for their writing. Writers care deeply when you seek to honor how important their writing is. But, family and friends: your writer would love for you to not be tricked into that $25 pewter bookmark that could only dent pages and make books weigh a ton.

The list below highlights writing-related gifts that writers would genuinely appreciate, with guidelines for any shopper to make the best use of their money.

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Resist those cutesy kiosks by the bookstore cashier — we don’t all write with feathered pens in angel-covered journals.

1) Journal — or no? Over the years, I’ve been given some really thoughtful journals from friends, which have gone to good use. But know your writer. In the age of laptops and smart phones, it is common for writers to rarely use pen or paper. Tricks for guessing if your writer would like a journal: if your writer never carries a bag bigger than their cell phone and car keys, then they are unlikely to carry a journal with them for writing out in the world. If they make all notes and keep their calendar electronically, they are unlikely to use a handwritten journal. However, if they do use a journal, ask or notice the type they tend to prefer. Some writers really do like a luxurious leather one or artfully decorative one — while others prefer the stark usefulness of a Moleskin or even old school composition notebooks. If you can’t ask, use the accessories they wear or carry as measure of how elaborate or plain their tastes are. Cost (& where to buy):  $1-2 for composition books (try Target); $5-15 for Moleskin or other midrange journals (try your local bookseller or office supply store); or $30-45 for leather (finer stationers or booksellers).

2) Quill or… cheap ballpoint? I once wrote with only fountain pens and was thrilled to be given an expensive one. Then I had a few too many leaks. Same advice about journals goes for pens: some writers love paper and ink; others are nearly all digital. In most cases, a writer has use for pens, but not all will appreciate an expensive pen, so know your writer. Personally, I always appreciate when my sons put pens in my stocking that write well but are only midrange in price. Pilot V-Ball or Pentel gel are decent. If you live with your writer, try to see which type of pen they prefer.

Other “jotting” alternatives to journals:

2) Diver down!  Is your writer a shower thinker? Surprise them with a humorous — but genuinely clever — solution to help them remember their showertime brilliance, and avoid that dripping dash to write things down on paper.

  • Underwater writing slates, originally designed for scuba diving, are a great solution to hang in the shower for recording ideas. They come in standard (5 x 6″) or instructor (8 x 10″) sizes, and I’ve heard writers appreciating either. The smaller size is convenient and unobtrusive, but with room for short thoughts only. The larger size allows room for an entire paragraph or for several thoughts to accumulate without needing to be transferred right away. Both types have rings or hooks for hanging.  If space is not an issue, I’d go for the larger one.  Cost & where to buy: $6-14; available at a local dive or sporting shop, or here are 2 on Amazon:   smaller slate or larger slate.
  • Aquanotes: like the dive slate, this is a notepad for wet writing, specifically designed for the shower. Deciding between this or a slate, consider: as a wipe-off format, the slate is permanently available, although with the inconvenience that notes need to be transferred.  The notepad offers the convenience of tear-off sheets, although this makes it a disposable solution, needing to be repurchased again in the future.   Cost & where to buy: $9, offered by Your Shop via Amazon at this link.
  • Bath Crayons. What the heck — go for the laugh. This idea comes courtesy of the year my husband was taking organic chemistry and stole our son’s bathtub crayons to scribble chemical formulas all over the tile wall while showering before a major exam. The crayons are intended for toddlers’ bath time artwork, but work equally well for scribbling that brilliant bit of dialogue.  They wash off. They are cheap, easy to replace and easily stored. Best yet, they’ll provoke a laugh as your oh-so-serious writer gives you an odd look while unwrapping. Cost & where to buy: Crayola or Alex brands are $5. Try independent toy/children’s shops, Toys R Us, Target, some grocery stores, or here is a link to find them via Amazon.

3) Writing while driving. One of the funniest “you are a writer if…” pictures I ever saw was of a writer’s arm after having scribbled a scene up and down her forearm out of desperation while driving. Others confess the desperate grab for a receipt, napkin or anything else within reach to write on. Yes, we are a dangerous driving mess.  Here are a couple options to capture those genius insights behind the wheel:

  • Dragon Dictation smart phone app.  Love this one.  You download the app onto your phone.  When an idea hits you, click the app, then it records whatever ideas you dictate.  When done, it processes your words to text which it will then email to you.  It jumbles some words, but is enough to get the idea down while leaving your hands free for safe driving. It’s saved me many times. Cost & where to buy: The app is FREE, downloaded via itunes or other app stores (within the phone).
  • Evernote smart phone app. Popular with many writers, this allows a writer to type their ideas (pull over, please — not as readily used as Dragonware). Cost & where to buy: sample app is free; available via the smart phone app stores (within the phone); for complete app, gift an itunes gift card or purchase and email the app.
  • Car accessories. Try an auto supply store, office supply store or the auto supply aisle at Target, for various note-taking accessories available for business people who spend hours on the road. Options include dashmounted notepads or Post-It holders, or pen and pad options for the console.

The real basics — paper, ink & other office supplies:

4) Printer paper. Most of the time, your writer will be submitting their work electronically, so there is not the constant need for printing and mailing stories that there used to be — but paper is still a mainstay. Rather than fancy journals, a ream of printer/copier paper is a nonglamorous but useful gift for writers on limited resources. (Read: your wife will not find it romantic, but your grad student nephew might appreciate it.)  Hint: this gift will be less appreciated by people who are able to print for free in an office. Consider combining with ink, below.  Cost & where to buy: $4-7 for a 500-count ream; try any office supply store, or even Target or your grocery store, or order HP Multipurpose paper online here.

5) Ink. For writers who have to pay for their own printing, those ink cartridges are a constant and invisible expense. Cost & where to buy: single cartridges are $10-20 for black, and $10-20 for each of the colors, in an ink printer (laser cartridges are more expensive, but less common in home printers). Know the proper model for their ink cartridges, or give an office supply, Target or Costco gift card.

6) Other practical office supplies:

  • Standard stapler.For a young writer starting out or a writer who used supplies from their office before working from home, a good stapler is a basic.  Hint in choosing between a cute stapler or a sturdy one: writers’ stories can be 20 pages or more, and a sturdy, office-grade stapler by Swingline or Bostitch is less likely to break or jam.  Cost & where to buy: $5-20; buy at office supply stores or general stores like Target. Office Depot or Staples tend to have one stapler “on special.” For shopping online, here a Swingline classic at Amazon.
  • Heavy duty or automatic stapler. If your writer is submitting print copies of manuscripts, theses or grant applications, only a heavy duty stapler can clamp those documents more than 25 pages. I loved my automatic heavy duty stapler (up to 80 sheets), but had to borrow the manual one from my office for longer documents. Hint — knowing your writer: this will be very appreciated by a writer printing long documents, and meaningless to a writer who works only via computer. Be sure to include a box of staples.  Cost & where to buy: non-electronic ranges from $25-60; electronic ranges from $50-80. Try office supply stores, and aim for weekly sales. Here is link to a good manual stapler by Swingline  currently at a great discount price via Amazon.
  • Staples. If buying a stapler, include a box of staples — and be sure they are the correct size for the stapler.  Cost: $2-4, depending on type; buy where staplers are sold.
  • Post It notes or flags. If your writer is working on revising a print copy of their work, various PI notes or colored flags are great for tracking revision comments — and just expensive enough to be an appreciated stocking stuffer.
  • 3-ring Binder. Best practices for most novel writers includes printing a draft for read-through during the editing process, which happens several times.  A thoughtful gift for a writer at this stage would be an editing kit: a ream of paper, black printer cartridge, post it notes, highlighters, a pen and a 3-ring binder. How do you know if your writer would like this? If they have just completed a draft or if they’ve just finished a first draft through NaNoWriMo (you would have heard the cursing/boasting of word counts throughout November).  Cost & where to buy: Recommend Avery Durable View Binders. White is best, unless you know how to fit a theme to their novel or style.  The clear cover pocket allows them to slip in a “title page” if they want. For average novel size, 2″ binder will hold the pages without being unwieldy.  $3-10; office supply stores or Target, or here is one on Amazon.
  • Portable memory stick. These are the thumb-sized, mini memory drives for moving documents from one computer to another.  Cost & where to buy: $5-15, available nearly everywhere, including office supply stores, Target and even grocery stores. For fun, they now range in silly designs, including animals, toy cars and more.

Our real “office” is usually our computer:

7) “You had me at 10 GB.” If your writer is your significant other or someone else you’re likely to lavish, then know the main gear most writers live for are a laptop, wireless internet access (at home: a router; away: portable hotspot), and a printer . As a girl who’s gone 3 months with a favorite laptop out of commission, let me tell you how easy it is to romance a writer with efficient computer processing. Cost & where to buy: my #1 suggestion for buying laptops or printers is Costco. They have great prices for laptop packages and they double the manufacturer’s warranty with Costco Concierge service, which is the best tech support I’ve used. For routers or wireless service, go with your cable/phone service provider.

8) Software or updates. The key software for writers is a wordprocessing software and a backup or security software. For PC users, most use Microsoft Office-based Word; for a new computer, that would be helpful. But here are some more novel suggestions:

  • Scrivener software. If your writer is working on book-length fiction or nonfiction, Scrivener is a software that helps them organize the complexity of multi-scene, multi-chapter works.  Originally designed for Macs, a PC version came available in 2011 — so that it has been a “new discovery” for many writers in the past year.  I was a fast convert.  Days off during the holidays are a great time to get to learn and play with all the software’s functions.  Cost & where to buy: $40; the software is purchased directly from the vendor, Literature & Latte. No fear: the site is generous in offering a free trial that allows 30 nonconsecutive days of use. The buttons below take you to the Windows version. A hyperlink below that offers the Mac version. From either link, navigate to the L&L homepage to access the free trial or special offers.

Buy Scrivener for Windows (Regular Licence)
Buy Scrivener for Windows (Regular Licence)
Buy Scrivener 2 for Mac OS X (Regular Licence)

  • Quicken. We don’t go into writing poetry because we’re awesome at accounting. But writers accrue lots of expenses that can be tax write-offs. The day a fiction writer earns their first publication check, they should be able to see how much they’d spent in submission fees or research to get that piece written and published.  Writers who are freelancing need help managing not only expenses, but client accounts and invoicing and self-employment taxes.  Especially if you have a recent graduate or job-changer getting started as a freelancer, this is a great way to say you believe in the business they are starting.  Cost & where to buy: Quicken Home & Business 2014 retails $115; can be purchased as a download from various online sites including the manufacturer’s site, or at a range of stores including Best Buy, Costco or Target. It is currently on discount for $62 at this Amazon link, or check for discounting at other sellers.
  • PhotoShop or PaintShop Pro. Truth: many writers are photographers, bloggers or researchers, and a good photo software comes in handy. I prefer Corel’s PaintShop. Cost & where to buy: PaintShop Pro is $79 (on sale now for $59) via Corel’s website; or current sale price $41  via Amazon.

9) Upgraded battery. No matter what laptop stats brag, those batteries don’t keep a charge long when the computer is processing large documents with demanding software. It takes an upgraded battery to get beyond an hour or 2. Hint: you must know your writer’s computer model and DO seek a brand-name battery vs. a cheap one. I was slipped a mickey once, and it does not latch properly and performed inconsistently. Cost & where to buy: $90-150; try local electronic stores and battery retailers; or accessories sold on the laptop manufacturer’s website. Be cautious of fly-by-night discount websites.

10) I love you enough to guard your manuscript. Have you ever heard the echoing scream of a writer whose computer crashed while containing the only existing copy of what was certain to be the greatest novel ever written? Then you understand. Give the gift of a reliable back up.

  • Carbonite or Norton 360. Carbonite is an online backup service, provided for an annual fee. If you’d rather give security in a wrappable box, try buying Norton 360 (includes all around security), which includes a minimal amount of memory in online backup, and the option to upgrade for a comparable annual fee. Cost & where to buy: Carbonite is $59/year; free trial or download of Carbonite at this link . Buy Norton 360 for $33-60 (depending on sale prices) at office supply stores, Costco, or discounted at Amazon here; option to buy additional backup space when setting up account online.
  • Portable back up drive. (Also called an external hard drive.) A professional grade external hard drive copies the computer’s contents to a separate drive. Cost & where to buy: drives are available at office supply stores like Staples, for as little as $20-120. Price range corresponds to storage capacity.

11) Surge protector. That scream you heard from the writer whose computer crashed could have been at our house, where 2 computers died within weeks of each other after summer power spikes. Plugging equipment into surge protectors guards against such damage. Cost & where to buy: minimal protection is available for $20-30; higher quality provides greater “clamping” of spikes. Try office supply stores, or the electronics section at Target, where average Joes demand them for protecting tvs and video equipment.

Writers are readers – and no writer can afford all the reading they want to buy!

12) Literary magazines. If your writer writes short stories or poetry, their main targets for publication are literary magazines. Your writer needs to read what is being published to know what is out there, and those magazines need subscribers to stay alive. It is a great place to spend your money. Cost & where to buy: single issues are $5-20; subscriptions are $10-60/year. Eeshh… but which publication? There are hundreds out there, so here are some hints:

  • Single issues.  Single issues of literary magazines can be bought on the shelves of many independent and chain booksellers, and gifted the same as you would a book.  While there are hundreds of litmags out there, it is unusual to see more than half a dozen on the shelf, which narrows your confusion. How to select: a safe bet are the glossier, famed mags like Granta, The Paris Review, The New Yorker or Tin House. Literary writers may appreciate more the lesser-known regional publications, which vary by store. Flip through a magazine, maybe skim a few pieces, or select a publication that has more of the kind of writing (fiction or poetry) that your writer writes. Cost & where to buy: $5-20 per issue. Buying options: 1) Try your local independent bookseller (find one using If your local bookstore is Barnes & Noble, they carry several. 2) Or, see links in “subscription” below — single issues can be ordered directly from the magazines. or 3) Order through the website New Pages, which sells sample issues of many literary magazines.
  • Subscriptions. The most cost effective and convenient option for you (and best for the publication) is to order a subscription. This is a luxury most poetry or short story writers would appreciate all year long. Hints for picking a magazine: 1) Ask your writer what magazines they submit to or which ones they would want to be published in. Those are your prime targets.  2) If you can’t ask, then check bookshelves to see publications they’ve bought before. 3) Or just pick a good one. Cost & where to buy: most are $10-20/year, some are up to $60/year. Find the magazine online and order through the website. Here are a few suggestions:  internationally respected publications that anyone might appreciate: Granta, The Paris Review, Ploughshares, Tin House and The New Yorker.  As a fiction writer, a few of my favorites:  The Southern Review, Glimmer Train, The Missouri Review and Fiction. Right now, most are offering holiday promotions or “gift one, get one” offers.

13) Subscript to Poets & Writers. Over the years, this one publication has impressed me more than any other with the concrete professional advice it offers writers, including everything from submission practices to success stories to calendars and lists of submission deadlines. Cost & where to buy: order through this link to the site for $14.95/year (or $24.95 for 2 years); or, purchase a single copy at a bricks and mortar bookstore, and order using a subscription card.

14) Never enough books. If you have a book that was your favorite read, it can be a meaningful gift. But sometimes what a writer wants most is permission to buy a title that has been on their reading list, so a book store gift card is like gold.

  • Gift cards. Where to buy: To get gift cards from independent booksellers, try (can purchase via the website or find an independent near you) or try Powells in Seattle. If no indie is available, Barnes & Noble is good for gift cards, as they have bricks & mortar stores near most shoppers.
  • Find the book they want.  Hints to shopping, sneaky as an elf: social media makes it very easy to know the books your writer wants to read. If they blog, see if they posted a recent “must reads” list. Otherwise, see if they have a “to read” list on Goodreads or wish list via an online bookseller (Amazon has one here). Want other book suggestions? Here is a list of recommended reading: My Reading List Winter 2013.

Writing away from home:

15) Cafe gift card. Some writers actually do most of their writing in a cafe, and “rent” for that chair is paid in purchased scones and lattes.  If this is true for your writer, a gift card to their cafe would show you get it.

 16) Workshops, conferences or retreats. At the same time we’re sweating gift lists and holiday cards, many writers are already wrestling with whether they can afford to enroll in writers’ workshops and conferences in throughout the spring. Associated Writing Programs and Grub Street both hold fabulous long weekends that draw writers from throughout the country. Several other regional conferences last long weekends or full weeks in January. Other writers may be looking ahead to workshops at Iowa, Bread Loaf, Tin House or Sewanee in the summer. You can check out my post reviewing several famous workshops in this post: 2013 Writing Conferences & Workshops, which includes links to their sites.  But know your writer: unless you have overheard them talking about one, you’d need to ask your writer if they have such workshops in their goals for next year. Many workshops involve an application process, so you cannot just sign them up. Cost & where to buy: workshop fees and tuition can range from $150-1,500, depending on the program. You could sponsor tuition, or offer to pay for one option in the program (such as a private meeting with an agent, or manuscript review with an editor). Other costs include travel to the conference or housing.

17) Support that MFA candidate. If your writer is considering applying for an MFA program, you could sponsor the application fees. Entry into graduate programs is competitive, and it’s not unusual for writers to apply to 6-10 separate programs to get accepted. Cost & where to buy: application fees range $60-100; the student pays the fee directly to the school with their application. Another alternative: if your writer is already accepted, and attends a “low residence” program, then they have twice yearly expenses to travel to the school. Have accumulated frequent flyer miles? Consider sponsoring their next ticket to write.

Writers are researchers – do you know their current project?

18) Support their research. When I was writing Breathing Water, I learned Spanish, listened to Cuban music, cooked Cuban food and bought every coffee table book of Cuban photography I could find. I’ve done the same with Ireland and India. Here are ways you can support your writer’s current work-in-process, if it involves research:

  • Cookbooks, travel guides or music. For researching a foreign culture, books rich in photography of the architecture and common people are great. Cookbooks are great for this, and offer the added bonus of cooking the meals that provide the smells of a culture.  Illustrated travel guides or even maps are also useful.  Cost & where to buy: Look in travel, cooking, culture or art sections, as well as discounted sections, where books are sometimes available for $5-7.
  • Rosetta Stone, tapes or language classes. Are characters traveling through France? Is one character a soldier attempting the rudiments of Farsi? Do they have relatives from South America? Often, writers are trying to quickly learn the rudiments of a new language to write dialogue, or even just to describe the sounds of a location. Cost & where to buy:  English conversion dictionaries are available in most bookstores ($7-20). In the same section, book & CD sets are available beginning at $40.  Rosetta Stone is available for $200 through its own site, or via Barnes & Noble or Amazon. A foreign language course at a community college ranges $90-200, plus book.
  • Bang! Bang! Get your writer to ‘fess up: are they writing a thriller? The sweetest granny goes gritty when researching for the perfect murder weapon. Try Gun: A Visual History or The Illustrated Guide to Rifles. Or give real action by giving a day out at a shooting range.
  • Travel for research. How much do you love that writer? I’m sure there are statistics out there somewhere to show just how many writers have a fantasy destination they would nearly die to travel to, in order to get perfect research for their work-in-progress. That might sound over-the-top — but selecting that destination might be a thoughtful gift if you’d planned traveling this year anyway or, say, had a proposal to plan.

If only you could wrap up writing hours – give the gift of time:

19) Actual time.  Especially if writer has a separate job or children or family to care for, time is the greatest gift every writer needs to get work done. Surprisingly, there are ways to accomplish this:

  • 7700c15b0324c2a791499227918010cdIn-House Retreat. Stage an in-house writing retreat by removing distractions and sending the message to, Go write! These t-shirts from Wordlove send the message: the family is fine, it’s okay to go write: Wordlove
  • House cleaning. The best baby shower gift I ever got was a gift certificate to a local maid service. Key is to use a service that is licensed and insured (or loan your own maid, if you use one). You can prepay the service, bill it, or see if they offer gift certificates. Cost & where to buy: assume $80-140 for a single visit, although a gift certificate for any amount could be an option. Merry Maids is a national service. Check local listings for one in your area, or get a word of mouth referral.
  • Child care. Personally, I’d rather the housekeeper — but a babysitter would be a tremendous gift to many writers. Cost & where to buy: DIY: one option is to babysit, yourself. Otherwise, pay the writer’s own sitter, or sponsor a day, weekend or week of camp ($20-50/day, or $50-300/week per child).

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What do you think is the perfect gift for a writer — or reader?  Let me know what you think in the Comments below.  I love to connect with my readers!

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Filed under Reading, Writing Life, Writing Mother

Writers’ Day Jobs 01: Balancing the Time, Money & Credit Trifecta

Summer hours spent revising Wake. c. Elissa Field

In the years I’ve been participating in social media with other writers — beginning on early boards at Poets & Writers Speakeasy — one of the most common discussions to arise among writers was over “day jobs.” Like superheroes not yet fully embraced by Gotham, so many writers work on their fiction but pay bills with another job.

Today’s post is part 1 of a series sharing my experience with day jobs.

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Day Job Balance: Money vs. Time

The repeated refrain in evaluating the perfect day job is the need to earn a living against a writer’s hunger to preserve time and creative energy for writing.

Camp counselors, bartenders, odd jobs, temps. Writers are mercenary in their willingness to fill a resume with a string of odd jobs that load the refrigerator while buying time. Writers’ parents may roll eyes over what seems a stubborn inability to assemble a genuine career — while the writer squirrels away hidden hours that mean not thousands in income but, if well-played, thousands of words toward a polished manuscript.

Of course some day jobs include professional titles or even high paying roles, but often writers are willing to take less income in order to avoid overtime hours or retain more braincells undrained at the end of the day.

The Trifecta: Time, Money & Street Cred

In a perfect world, a writer’s day job produces the trifecta: money to pay the bills, time and energy to write, and street cred.

Street cred, in this case, would be jobs that earn a writer credit for experience in the writing or publishing world. It could be a legitimizing title, it could be professional interaction within the publishing world. Booksellers, business writers, journalists, freelance PR or social media consultants, agents, teachers.

In our less perfect world, writers often trade time or money to gain recognition: write for free or trade lower pay to chock up a byline or tear sheet. I say this while spending hours blogging income-free, and having published my short stories without payment.

What is less obvious are those who went into becoming editors or agents out of their own writing aspirations, only to achieve the money and professional accomplishment but surrender all free time and creative energy so their own writing never occurs.

The Goal: Balance

It might seem that all writers would seek the trifecta. Yet, really, the key is for each writer to balance money, time and credit as fit the writer’s current goals. For example, there are times when a writer couldn’t care less about street credit, because all that matters is time to get that novel draft written. At the same time, having all the time to write can be meaningless to a writer who is unemployed and preoccupied with how to feed their kids. And street credit can be shiny but meaningless if the industry continues pushing writers to be unpaid for their work, or if the attention becomes a distraction that keeps an accomplished writer from writing new work.

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Evaluating Your Day Job

Today’s post is motivated, in part, by what all writers need to do from time to time: I’m evaluating my current day job.  There are times — no matter where we are in our career — when things are out of balance, and I’ve been feeling a significant imbalance over here for the past couple months. At the moment, my job is earning me street cred, but not sufficient income to minimize distractions, and with what feels like suffocating demands on my time.

In evaluating what change is needed, I’ll ask myself these questions:

  • Is it temporary? As a part-time teacher, overwhelming demands on my time from grading should be temporary — limited to the school seasons. The key is for me to evaluate if it is balanced by coming free time, and if that time can be used adequately to accomplish my writing goals. So far, each time I reach a vacation break I find myself writing like crazy, addressing those goals that have been on hold.  If not, I need to adjust — and adjustment, in most cases, comes through discipline.
  • Am I using my free time well? This is where discipline comes in. My litmus test on how well I am using my free time is reminder that Toni Morrison wrote The Bluest Eye while working full time as a single mother to two young boys. She wrote before they woke in the morning and after they went to bed at night. Um-hmph. My arms cross in accusation over some unused hours I’ve let slip. The key is to know your goals, seek out your writing hours and get your butt in the seat, writing.
  • Are there alternatives? Last Sunday, I spent 8-9 hours cleaning house. It would take me 4 hours to earn the money to pay someone to do that. Is that an alternative that would remove a distraction? I could leave my current job and get a different job, possibly doubling my income, but would work longer hours and not have summers free. Which option would be more liberating? Are there alternatives to bring in income with less demand on time? In some cases, there are no alternatives. If that is true, go back to the two points above to find your writing time.
  • Are my priorities aligned with my current writing goals? Right now, I have two novels drafted that need substantial hours for editing — but either one would then be ready to query an agent. For this reason, it works that I kept a part-time writing position this year, as it buys me holidays off and the potential for writing mornings. In another year, if I were working on short stories or just blogging, it might make more sense for me to give up time to increase income. It’s also been a year where I wanted more writing connections, so it has made sense for me to take more time with social media and workshops than in other years where I just wanted time on my own to write. It’s important to respect your own current projects and goals when applying any writing advice. What is great for one writer may not be for you — at least, not at this moment.

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How About You?

What experience can you share about day jobs that worked well for your writing, or those that didn’t? Can anyone share experience working at a publishing house or agent, to say if this helped advance your writing or took over your time? Or have you held a profession completely outside of writing that made it easier to write? It would be great to hear readers’ insights.

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Filed under Novel Writing, Seeking Publication, Writer's Day Jobs, Writing Life, Writing Mother

October Fiction Challenge 4: Where and How Do You Write? – Part 1

A perfectly good workspace: the desk in my office (notably, with a box open for shipping off my fried laptop). To my Hawaiian friends or fans of The Descendents, the print on the wall, bought by my parents in DC 20 years ago, hung on the wall in the family’s HI house in the movie.

Today’s post continues a series of responses to October Writing Challenges posed by fellow bloggers.

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To catch up on October’s Writing Challenges:

If you join in, post your links in the comments!

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Today’s post returns to the great 30-question list featured in Herding the Dragon’s 30-day challenge, to address Part 1 of the theme, “Where and How Do You Write?”

Day 5.) Where are you most comfortable writing? At what time of day? Computer or good ol’ pen and paper?

We have an expression in our family — “Don’t poke a sleeping bear” — and this question is provoking me to rant over how frustrated I’ve been without a laptop since its meltdown in July. I am an adamant laptop writer.

Pen and paper is fine. Early on, my first mode of writing was a fountain pen and a cheap composition book (I’ve had tons of “fine” leather journals, but find something freeing about not having to live up to the cover). I liked fountain pens because they flow quickly, removing one more level of resistance — but over time (and surely in response to all the complications parenthood adds), I’ve simplified to “any pen on hand.”

Two interesting observations about writing by hand:

  • I learned in education classes that the physiology of writing something by hand records it more deeply in your memory. In this sense, if I’m in the car or on the run, the simple process of dashing something down (even if I never read it later) makes me more likely to remember the idea when I am back to a computer. Brain research shows this is particular to the wiring of eye-hand coordination and handwriting; typing and dictating do not have the same effect.
  • I was mortified as a teenager to have one of my writing notebooks passed around between tittering family members. Perfect cure to this is that my handwriting has evolved to something nearly illegible, as if only I have the spy decoder for transcribing it.

I have two main complaints about writing by hand. One is that I have come to hate paper in general, as it piles in drifts that are hard to relocate, get damaged or lost, and no one seems to read. Spoken as someone who once knocked a cup of coffee into my notes drawer while vacuuming.

Worse than this is the inefficiency of it. I was able to continue full days of revising my WIP over the summer, while traveling after my laptop died. I marked editing notes on a print copy, wrote new sections in a notebook, used flags and highlighters and… yes, I got a lot done. The wastefulness is that I now have to double that effort, as all those notations have to be typed in.  The greatest limit most of us have is time, and I’d rather type something once than have the same effort take my attention twice.  It’s hard to be stuck typing last month’s changes when you want to move on to the new thoughts in your head.

Overall, the computer is more organized and faster. When drafting, I work rapidly in what I call an “add on” document, writing sections out of order, not worrying about spelling, capitalization or punctuation. Quick keystrokes fix the conventions.  I then work with two documents open at once: I copy draft sections from the “add on” document, pasting only those I want to use into the actual draft document, fixing order, chapter/section breaks, etc. as I go.  To keep orderly, I switch the text I’ve used to blue in my add on document, so I know what I’ve used.  I’ve started using Scrivener, which is fabulous for tracking themes, getting perspective, reorganizing, and making revisions.

Where I am adamant about using a laptop is that a desktop computer is frustrating in allowing you to work in only one place. I have an actual office in the house — with a computer on a real desk, with files, bookcases and everything — but it kills productivity to only work there.

I write at all hours of the day and especially like being able to sit next to my boys, wherever they are, and not have my writing keep me isolated from our daily life. I don’t mind the desktop during my disciplined work time (in the morning after the boys are at school, before leaving to teach my afternoon classes), but prefer the lucid flow of ideas I get late at night, when I don’t want to be here at the desk. My favorite place to write, at any hour, is sitting in bed, as the light and energy in my room are like an airy treehouse.

When traveling, I write anywhere — but I am not generally a cafe writer.  I’m too curious for that. When I’m out, I’m watching and listening, not writing. That’s actually one of my greatest weaknesses when attending conferences or workshops: I’m easily distracted. Look! Squirrel! Yeah.

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Where and how do you write? Have you tried Scrivener, or have you wondered if it is an effective tool for novel writing?  Share your experience — or links to your own responses to October challenges — in the comments.

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Filed under Novel Writing, Writing Life, Writing Mother, Writing Process & Routine

From my Parenting Blog: Parenting Gets Existential

I’ve never loved candy-stripe carnations as much as these that my sons gave to me to celebrate the end of our school year. (That great vase is a bar glass that makes me crave a trip back to Mama Kwan’s bar in Kill Devil Hills, NC.) c Elissa Field

Because it is summer, and because summer has me of the mind of young children, free for long days of unscheduled abandon, today seemed a good day to share an essay I posted originally on my old parenting blog. As I enjoy long days with my boys, I was reminded of this one day with them that so captures how non-writing days serve as inspiration.

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I was the first one pregnant in our generation, on either side of our family.  From those first weeks of confessing it, I ran the steep hill of all the things I would learn about what it took to parent.  Diapers, pack and plays, how to know if it’s sick.  And then they grow up a little.

You work on which vacuum has large enough bore to suck up Cheerios without clogging, teaching yourself to say sugar! instead of shit, and truisms like “hands are not for hitting.”

Mysteriously, I discovered I absolutely love parenting.

Not the least of which is the way its existential challenges never cease to amaze.

This month’s challenge: answering the question, “Mom, what is a hippie?”

My five-year-old said, “It means ‘an old man’.”

His eight-year-old brother corrected him:  “No, it’s a teenager with long hair…  and funny clothes… and…”  He accurately described Shaggy, from Scooby Do, then faltered, breaking down to ask, “Mom, what is a hippie?”

And here parenting becomes existential – because even in their little boy way, they were grasping at something they could not articulate but could sense.  They got that there was some socio-political, socio-historical implication behind the meaning.  That it signified something they did not understand for there to be a hippie in their cartoon.

I begin to answer, but it’s the ubiquitous sound of one hand clapping.  Any explanation of what a hippie is means nothing without understanding the context of the culture they were rebelling against.  In our current environment where the two long-haired boys on my sons’ baseball teams are the sons of fashionista mamas, not grunge, how can they get what a statement it was for a guy to let his hair and beard grow shaggy in an era where hair didn’t touch one’s collar?  Where men and women still wore hats in public, and my grandmother and even my mother still carried spotless white gloves?   Our kids know hippie images as neon flowers on paper cups and napkins at the party store, or the peace signs in rhinestones on the neighbor’s jeans, without seeing them as re-imagined icons of what was once a radical attempt to move toward a gentler, more natural way of being, at a time of corporatization and war.  How do you explain the experience that I remember intangibly as paper butterflies on my young aunt’s wall, fanning out above her black and white poster of “A Bridge Over Troubled Water”?

In attempting to find simple words to explain it, my understanding grows expansive in memory of history lessons and personal experience growing up in the 70s, touched with hindsight and the newer context of the world we have become since then.  I was not a hippie or flower child or child of hippies; my parents were primly republican.  As a child, I associated hippies with broken bottles on the pavement at our playground.  Yet here I am, forty, riding along in my SUV with little boys rattling about in the back (who are fascinated we did not have to wear seatbelts as kids), and feeling a wan tenderness in memory of avocado kitchen appliances and trying to remember what the whole affection for rainbows was about.

My world becomes larger with children.  Not just because more square-footage is required to be able to move around highchairs and train tables and strewn Legos, but because the whole expanse of the universe is new again in their eyes.

Soil that clearly belongs nowhere but between the roots of the hedges and flowers outside is now meant to be dug up, spread apart, carried about and stored in little containers that just would not have occurred to you as meant for analyzing dirt.  That is, not until you have a playdate with brightly dressed, neat little girls who open the little play kitchen and find it caked with dried spattered mud and your son smiles and explains it to her – proudly pointing out how when he shook the soil in a jar with water, the mulch, peat and sand separated into layers, creating a distinct grey, tan and brown rainbow that he’d just been dying to show someone.  He discovered density, you think with pride, at the same time you apologetically wash away the filth and reassure the little girls that there are clean toys here somewhere.

Life is a mystery.  Full of dark turns and surprises and joys and tragedies and things so beautiful and amazing.  You go on vacation and see a sunset or painting or giant gorge in the earth so startlingly beautiful that you honestly could not have borne seeing it without someone meaningful beside you to touch and say, “Look at that!”

Children find this not only on vacation, but in the mundane, the sagging days of life that might otherwise be only about when to fit in grocery shopping and whether a successful day at work was enough to qualify for bonus and if you will be able to sleep soundly tonight.

“Look!” they say, all the time.  “What is that?  Look!”  They pick out the plainest flower at the market and fall in love.  You find rocks in the bottom of your purse, a wilted  feather left for you beside your bed, stray bits of hardware clanking in your dryer.

And they take what we have known always in our lives – something as irrelevant and silly as a hippie – and hand us a whole cosmos of depth and meaning to wrestle with.

“What is a hippie?” I repeated, ready to say something about how people sometimes choose their clothes to express their feelings about the world, or maybe share something about what it was like to be a child in the 70s, or how the times then were or weren’t like our times now.

But they were laughing at something.

Just at the point they had me thoroughly wrapped up in the riddle of it, the boys moved on.

In the same effortless way they expand our lives with depth and complexity, they model for us simplicity.  My boys decided, simply, that “hippie” will be their favorite new word for anything weird… whether or not they really get what it means.

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Related Posts:

More on finding inspiration when least expected: Writing Life: Today’s Job – Non-writing Days

Reading this summer, including with my boys: Summer Reading List 2012

Another post on challenging conversations with kids: Reminders of What We Wished Lost

Are you a writing parent? Where do you find inspiration or challenge in balancing family with work?


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Enjoy your summer day, all!


Filed under Culture + World, Inspiration, Setting Place Roots, Writing Life, Writing Mother

Writing Life: Today’s Job – Nonwriting Days

Considering my last two posts had to do with managing time and keeping the writing work moving forward, I shift gears today.

For me, today’s writing job, no exaggeration, is to sleep.

A week ago, I had been driving back and forth to Miami for three days to complete a writing workshop with Ann Hood. If you live outside a major city (think: New York, LA, Chicago, even DC), you know what that means. I live 60 miles north of Miami: the drive there is bearable; the drive out at rush hour is stop and go for two hours. Add to that, my son was home sick the whole time and we had family in town, so it was an exhausting few days.

My writing job in the week(s) leading up to the workshop had included preparing and sending a manuscript for the workshop, then reading and commenting on the 15 manuscripts for the other writers in the workshop. I mixed that in between commenting on student essays for classes I teach, and responding to submissions to the literary magazine I read for. This was in addition to regular daily writing, which included new material for Wake, a brief interview, and a couple blogs you’ve seen here.

The workshop then provoked new writing tasks. While the workshop was to focus on beginnings (making the first 250 words work), Ann Hood mentioned at one point how, in draft, characters most like the writer are often the flattest (Note: I blog about this advice later, here and here). Her advice inspired new insights into a main character I hadn’t spent much time with yet, so last weekend was spent writing two important new scenes. Also, the main response Ann had to my manuscript was a comment that it had reminded her of writer Alice McDermott. I knew the name, but had not read McDermott’s work, so a new writing task was to find and begin reading Charming Billy (which later made my annual best-reads list).

Round about then, the inevitable happened: mom caught the 8 year old’s cold.

This is how the week played:  I teach, and am in the last month of the year. My house looks like sheep have moved through.  Not hyperbole.  As a single mother, I have been done in by my house. The disposal died, causing the dishwasher not to work, and I won’t have time to get a repairman in until next week, which means I’m washing dishes.  I have student essays to read, which are completely disorganized after leaving all the drafts for them to work on with a sub while I was in Miami.  I spent Sunday teaching my son how to restore the research project he’d gone off-road with at school, helping him select a new topic, and directing him through online research.  Monday: student work and teaching, and helping the son who’d missed school all last week catch up. Tuesday: called in to sub for a colleague, so missed my planning time, which got shifted to the evening.  Wednesday, slept as late as possible.  Wednesday night: out with my college boyfriend, who I hadn’t seen in more than a decade and happened to be passing through town on business.  Thursday: shot.  Teach, then out late for son’s spring musical.  Friday, teach early, all day, then out all night to deliver and pick up son from his first middle school dance.

Today’s job: sleep.  Do not yet open eyes to the housekeeping and laundry put off through this week, waiting for you to wake up.

None of those things seem to have anything to do with writing.  They sound like the writer’s nemesis: a list of all the things that kept me from writing today.

I don’t see it that way.

To me, when I’ve just posted two articles on how to make the most of your writing time, it seems only fitting for the third to be about all the things that happen in the rest of our time, and the fact that some days your job is really just to sleep.  Some days, it is to mend house, or to jockey for strategic seating at your 8-year-old’s spring musical, or to go to work early to cover a friend’s class or to assist with the school Eucharist where the mayor shows up to honor your retiring head of school.  Other days it is to sit shoulder-to-shoulder as your son struggles through his first research project or be on hand as he dresses for his first dance.  Some nights it is to sit at a table along the sidewalk at Rocco’s Tacos with an old friend who has come to town, laughing and talking until the busboy says he needs to carry in the table and chairs because the bar is closed.

Strategize your writing time, yes.  But there are days when a writer’s life is about the living of life, the connections with others.  When insight and understanding comes from having lived through the weakness of sickness or broken appliances or bad schedules and struggling children.

So today’s post is in honor of those days — recognizing that today’s writing chore really is to sleep, recovering from the week’s experience so I’ll have it in me to write tomorrow.

An observation I would offer is that much of this week I was pushed out of my comfort zone.  Things did not go the way I wanted. I had to put my intentional schedules aside to do things I hadn’t planned on doing. I even managed to back into my ex’s car in my driveway – while leaving him to watch our kids so I could go out to meet the boyfriend I’d dated before marriage. Crunch.

As writers, we don’t write “screw up” as a to-do item on our calendar, but isn’t the imperfection of life where much of inspiration comes from? Awkwardness, inconvenience, failures, crossed wires, confusion.  The realistic brokenness of life happens out there — not in all our planning while sitting at the computer or our writing desk or wherever we work — but sometimes in those hookie moments when we needed to be working but life intervened.  It’s just worth saying, to all of us struggling to work writing hours into our days, there are times to embrace the chaos of life, wecome it in and even count it as part of your writing goal.

I wish you all a productive week — in the hours things go as you planned, and when they don’t!

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Filed under Time Management for Writers, Writing Life, Writing Mother