Wednesday, July 24, 2019

Faith

I've always been fascinated by religion, and have enjoyed learning about the beliefs of others. But more than reading the dull textbooks about religion I enjoy hearing the stories of people of faith or no faith. Faith and personal beliefs are constantly evolving, and I believe we are seeing this evolution even more so today.

This book for teens will be a collection of personal essays about faith, with scriptures from different faiths relevant to some topics, and statistical information added by me. The book will have three sections: Topics, Structure, and Social. I'm looking to include essays from a wide range of religions, indigenous traditions, spiritual practices, agnostics, and atheists. I am especially interested in stories where an individual's beliefs have involved on their own, or where cultural identity and faith combine or clash. I'm interested in stories of leaving religions and in stories of finding religions.

Topics: music, prayer, premortal life, faith, revelation, inspiration, talents, grief, service, charity, relationship with humankind, family, children, afterlife, scriptures, nature of God/Gods/the Divine, creation, integrity, honesty, agency, choice, end of the world, repentance, sex, education, relationship with deity, salvation, exaltation, mercy, justice, sin, temptation, purpose of life, comfort after trauma, stress, life plans.

Structure: holidays, rituals, ordinances, initiation into the faith, fasting, places of worship, religious services, death, burial/cremation, funeral, weddings, marriage, religious leaders, holy days, sabbath/day of rest or worship, holy sites, pilgrimage.

Social: (essays in this section will be limited to only those sharing a personal experience with the topic, and no scriptures will be included in this section) homosexuality, abortion, politics, birth control, women's rights, civil rights, military service, patriotism, trans rights, etc.

For all sections, stories about a personal experience will be favored. This is not a proselytizing work, rather a place to share our beliefs and experiences with faith.

This work does not currently have a publisher. I do not intend to self publish, and will be pursuing traditional publication. Updates on this work will be shared on this blog, including the search for an agent and a publisher.

If you are interested in sharing a story on one of the topics discussed above or on a different topic, you can email the essay, an optional photograph, and a signed permission form to oliviaghafoerkhan@gmail.com. Essays and photos without a signed permission form will not be considered. You may submit more than one essay. You may also share scriptures regarding the various topics. A permission form is not required for sharing a scripture. While anyone is welcome to submit a scripture, I'm requesting essays only from those ages 15 to 25. This is a work for teen readers. The writer should identify their belief system in the essay. Essays should be between 250 and 750 words, although essays outside of that range will be considered as well.

Questions can also be sent to me at oliviaghafoerkhan@gmail.com.


Thank you so much. Please do share this post widely. 

Monday, February 25, 2019

Why Trying to be a Writer Sucks

Trying to become a writer sucks. Like really sucks. And not because writing is hard or trying to get published is hard, but because people suck.

For years, from when I was a teen, possible before I became a teen, I had people in my life who scoffed and said things like “better keep your day job!” Yeah. When I was a kid. And I wonder (and maybe some of you can tell me) if kids who want to pursue other impractical careers like acting or sports star get that too. Do they? Did you?

And as an adult, here is a brief chronology of writing advice I received: “why don’t quit writing so you have more time to clean?” “Well I guess that’ll be something your kids can read.” “You’re going to a writing workshop? How can you leave your kids to go on a vacation?” “Have you thought about substitute teaching?” “Why not go to law school instead of an MFA program?”

Guys, seriously. Like writing and learning to write well isn’t hard enough. Like maintaining the necessary confidence and feelings of self worth while querying and getting rejections isn’t hard enough, like still believing in your craft and your story while getting rejections isn’t hard enough already.

After the sexual assault book came out, many of my nay sayers shifted gears. Like one friend who had discouraged me for years. When talking one day, I told her about a job/career opportunity I was considering. Her reaction? “Won’t that cut into your writing time?” I felt furious. This was someone who, while a friend, had never believed in my writing before, had never considered it a serious pursuit, now advising that I safe guard my writing time.

I remember too the cheerleaders: those who believed in me before there was any sign of publication. My husband, for one. A few good core friends (Danielle, Marquesas, and others) My Dad. And a handful of teachers over the years.

Yes, writing is a long shot. So too is becoming the top/most successful anything: CEO, lawyer, President, the school superintendent. Lots of people pursue careers in fields hoping to one day rise to the top, but never reach that point, settling instead into something comfortable. Not every writer will be JK Rowling, nor are they trying to be. Most writers I talk to love stories and want to share them. Why is a career pursuing that so discouraged?

And believe me, your writer friends already know that writing will be a secondary income at best. You don't have to remind them of that.

Your creative friends and your writing friends need you. Now. Not when they sell the book, when they’re writing it and wondering if it’ll ever be read. They will need you when the rejection letters start coming in.

I know a lot of writers who have stopped writing, and I wonder: how many stopped because of the advice of “friends,” advice like I got?

It’s a hard journey, it takes time. Lots of time. It’s a craft, one that takes years and years to reach a mastery level. Don’t pile rocks on someone’s heavy load. Be the friend who helps to lift up.

My journey isn’t over. I’m still pursuing mastery, I’m still full of stories to tell and unsure of finding an audience. People tend to take my writing more serious now because I have sold two nonfiction books, and so are more supportive/encouraging. But it is the light given when in darkness that shines the brightest. Encourage. Support.

Monday, December 31, 2018

New Year

Only a few hours left of 2018!

At the beginning of November, my life changed drastically. I was in the middle of a million things as usual. In the middle of revising a novel, in the middle of the semester, in the middle of finishing up the last few bits and pieces of the nonfiction sibling book, in the middle of a mentorship, in the middle of applying for two writing jobs: one work for hire, the other ghostwriting. I was also constantly, aggressively, looking for more side jobs to fill up my time and earn more money. This is to say nothing of the normal day to day life with five kids, a messy house, and a church calling.

Then on November 5, nine weeks ago today, my eyes closed. And stayed closed for two and a half weeks, until my first round of Botox injections kicked in. Then they were opened about half the time, still challenging and limiting my day to day life. More Botox injections, which have finally kicked in. I’m on day four of good eye days, and I think it’s finally under control. I will continue to need Botox about every three months to treat this rare neurological disorder called blepharospasm.

With this, I began a painful process of holding on and letting go. Holding on to family, my Wonderful family that rallied around me. Holding on to my teaching job, making creative adjustments to keep the semester going. And then letting go. Mundane things, like driving, preparing my own food, seeing my kids’ faces when they laugh. I’m still not driving, but the other things are coming back or are back.

Then other things: the writing mentorship position I’ve enjoyed for over a year had to be let go of. The two jobs I was applying for were also abandoned, as well as my never ending job hunting. I did finish the edits and the index for the nonfiction sibling book which will be out in April, but my relationship with writing has changed as well.

Since I graduated with my fancy expensive degree, I’ve felt an overwhelming need to prove that it was a financially worthwhile decision. (It was definitely worthwhile from a writing craft perspective) Add to that pressing home repairs, and I became obsessed with supplementing my teaching income. It took this experience with my eyes to help me see that this pursuit of income has distracted from what matters most: my true writing goals. This includes the mentorship I so enjoyed doing.

I will no longer be pursuing every writing gig or job opportunity. This doesn’t mean that my mountain of home repairs have disappeared, or that my student loan is no longer due every month. But I’ve come to realize that my focus needs to be on what matters most, and that includes in writing.

I have a lot of big goals going in to 2019. Late last night, I finished draft eight of my novel (the fifth novel I’ve written.) After basking for a few hours in the glow of a job well done, my familiar doubts started coming in. It can’t be good enough, those new elements I’ve added must not be working, there must be something I’m missing. I need to find someone to tell me what’s missing.

And I stopped myself there. This is draft eight, I’ve gotten feedback from some of the most brilliant people I know. I reached out to two friends to check if something specific is working, and that’s it. I’m finally going to submit aggressively, something I haven’t done since the first novel I wrote so many years ago. I’ve done a lot to work on my writing craft, and I’ve written a lot, but have only done a handful of query letters here and there. It’s time.

I’m also going to write two new books in 2019. One is a nonfiction book on religion that will be like a combination of an anthology and a devotional. It’s going to be young adult, and when it’s complete I’ll be seeking a different publisher than the one I’ve been working with. You will be hearing a lot more about this project as I put together submission guidelines and an info packet. I will be aggressively seeking essay submissions from teens, and will be using my blog to organize all information about the project as it unfolds.

I’m also going to be working on a young adult novel in verse that addresses poverty, the difficulties in overcoming poverty, and some of the many reasons some people never do. It’s going to use an untraditional structure, and I’m a little intimidated by the scope of the project. However it’s important, and a story that needs to be told, and this seems like the most appropriate way to tell it. 

I want to fill my life with things that are meaningful and make a difference, including my writing life. My novel, while a fantasy, has important issues imbedded throughout. This new nonfiction project will shed light on the common ground in many belief systems, and has the potential to increase understanding and empathy, bringing people closer together. And this novel in verse will shed light on a much forgotten social ill, and hopefully dispel the myth that poor people are lazy. These are the things I want to write, not the stories of strangers or random ads.

I have many other goals for 2019 related to living in a more meaningful way. Goals related to family and personal spiritual development. I’m slowing down and focusing on fewer things. But I’m not doing less.

May your 2019 also be filled with purpose and meaning, and may you find ways to hold on to the things most important to you, and let go of those that take away or distract from what has meaning for you. 

Thursday, October 18, 2018

How I Dropped the Ball on Banned Book Week



Happy Banned Book Week! Okay, actually Banned Book Week was at the end of September, and here we are mid October... But I wrote this post in September, excited to share my thoughts about banned books, and then life happened and I went out of town for a week and had horrible WiFi, and I've been playing catch up ever since...But I have this awesome post, and I even recruited some amazing art from the awesome Etha Pat @elvaerhapat, so I have to share this post, right? So here we go, back in time to late September:


Image by Etha Pat, on Instagram @elvaethapatart


          It’s Banned Book Week, a week to celebrate and read books that have been banned! These are usually children’s books and young adult books, and they are usually being banned from school libraries and reading lists. Sometimes their presence in the public library is bring protested. Sure, there are other books that get banned, usually books pushing for violence and riots, but those are far less common. The books that are usually banned are books about the hard stuff: abuse, alcoholism, racism, LGBTQ issues. Books about sex education. These books are also objected to because they sometimes contain profanity.

            Who is objecting to these books? It’s usually concerned parents, wishing to shelter their children from the world for a few years longer. They are just kids, they don’t need to be exposed to that kind of thing, right? These are dangerous, radical ideas, I don’t want my child exposed to that kind of thing.
            When I was a child, my exposure to books was never censored, and I’m not sure if that was a conscious choice of my mother’s or just a happy accident. I tried to read “Roots” at a very young age, and failed. I listened to audiocassettes of “Clan of the Cavebear” and several other books in that series while still in elementary school, and only realized much later the heavy sexual content of those books (oops). But I read and listened to everything I could get my hands on. Every two weeks we’d go to the small public library, and I’d go home with a huge stack of books I had no chance of working through before it was time to return them, but I would try. And while I wouldn’t recommend “Clan of the Cavebear” for elementary school children, I feel this unfettered access to information and ideas shaped me into a better person. And there’s science to back that up.
            There have been several studies showing that we can learn empathy when we read about others who are different than us. This is true when we read about people with different challenges than us as well. You may reside over a picture perfect heterosexual home with no substance abuse or physical or emotional abuse going on. Great! And you may homeschool, and never watch TV or see movies, you may effectively shelter your child from everything and everyone. But for how long? Your child will eventually go out in the world and meet people and have to deal with situations outside of their realm of experience. How will they react when their college roommate is dealing with an abusive boyfriend? Or when they have a friend dealing with addiction? Or the first time they meet someone who is gay? You may respond that you’ve taught your child to be kind to everyone and they’ll do fine…but being told to be kind is different than learning empathy. Books provide a safe place to learn about different life experiences, and to learn about hard things. Still uncomfortable with your child reading a banned book? Read it first and be prepared to talk about these topics.



Image by Etha Pat, on Instagram @elvaethapatart
And you may not know everything your child is going through. A couple of years ago I talked with a student who in high school began cutting herself, but she kept it secret from her parents. Then one day at the library she discovered a book about a teen dealing with depression and self-harm…and that book changed her life.

            Books have been there for me. I read “Before Women Had Wings” in high school, and it was like a revelation to read about someone going through the types of things I was going through. Because we don’t talk about these issues, when you’re experiencing them it can be extremely isolating. That book was like a bright light shone into a dark room. I wasn’t alone.
            If you censor your child’s reading, think about why. Profanity? You can’t walk down the street without hearing it, it’s in most movies that aren’t rated G, and it’s even on the radio. I’ve had some say that reading it is worse, but I don’t really think so. It’s more obvious, but when we are hearing it we are still internalizing it. This is why when you learn a language you can’t just read the text book, you have to participate in conversations in that language. I think reading violence is actually less sensory than watching it in a show. Your mind shuts off the more graphic details, which doesn’t happen when you watch a violent show. Books are easy to skim uncomfortable bits, and easy to close if it does become too hard. Don’t underestimate your child’s ability to self-censor.
            My oldest and I have a deal. She can read anything, but we have to talk about it. If I know there’s something in it, we talk about it before, and if something comes up I didn’t know about, she’ll come to me and we discuss it. The only thing I really object to in young adult books are the books where unhealthy co-dependent or emotionally abusive relationships are made to look normal or even romantic. This is why I didn’t want her to read Twilight. But we talked about it, and she wanted to read it because a friend of hers really likes it, so I allowed it. She ended up abandoning them somewhere in the second book.
            I encourage you to read something that makes you uncomfortable and that is widely outside the realm of your life experiences. This is how you learn and grow, which is what we should all be doing every day that we are alive.


Image by Etha Pat, on Instagram @elvaethapatart
  

Saturday, September 15, 2018

Investing in Your Writing...Is there a ROI?

The hubby (a longtime supporter of my writing addiction) and I were reflecting on the money we've investing in my writing. It's a lot. I'm not going into figures, but it's a lot.

One Bachelor's degree, many many books, a pitch conference, a writer's conference, a full novel critique that wasn't as thorough as it might have been but was still helpful, an MFA program, an alumni weekend trip...and another upcoming writing workshop/novel critique (which thank goodness I got a discount on!)

Was it all worth it? Well, the pitch conference was a rip off, I see that now. I learned very little from it given the time and expense it took, but I met some awesome people, some of whom I'm still in touch with today. But the rest of it? Was that worth it? Definitely.

Investing in your writing is scary, because there's no guarantee it'll pay off. And it's easy to think it's an unnecessary expense. Writing is easy, you just sit at a keyboard and type out some words, right? But not investing is risky too...it can stunt your growth as a writer. Sure there are some successful writers who have, with little time or money, become great successes. But most of the writers I know have spent lots of time and large amounts of money learning their craft. Think of it like with musicians: yes, there are people who, just from ear, can pick up any instrument and play it beautifully. Are you one of those people? I am not. I took four years of piano lessons, can't sight read to save my life, and have a grand total of two songs memorized, neither of them very impressive or advanced. Most musicians study music for years, paying lots of money for lessons. It's the same with athletes. My kids swim on a summer swim team, and love it, and we cheer them on at every swim meet. But they will never be very good. Why? Because they swim two months out of the year, and that's it. We don't have the time or the means to invest in a year round swim league for them (and thankfully they're okay with that). Those athletes in the Olympics, or even just on college teams? Years and years of practice, training, and financial investment got them to that level. And just like with writing, there was no guarantee that the investment would pay off.

I did work on my own for many years, reading craft books and novels and just writing. It was long, grueling, frustrating work. I had my BA, but going for that MFA seemed like a luxury I couldn't afford. So I worked alone, and did small conferences and such here and there. Finally though I got to a point where I knew I'd gone as far by myself as I could, and at that point I found Hamline and my MFA program. I'm actually grateful I waited as long as I did, because I think I got more out of it by waiting. And I progressed much more rapidly in those two years working with amazing professional writers than I had when it was just me, a blank page, and a stack of books.

So now I've got this novel...it's the fifth novel I've written, the one I started during my MFA program, my baby. I revised extensively during that gap between nonfiction books, and I got it as far as I could. It's the best thing I've ever written...the very best...but I'm left with this nagging question of is it good enough? So after much painful deliberation, I reached out to a trusted friend who is a professional writer...the kind I dream to be...and asked if I should invest once again in this writing dream.

And guess what I found out? This amazing successful writer has an independent editor! Yep, this writer is still investing in writing, even after getting ROI.

And I have seen some ROI, though small returns so far: I've sold two nonfiction books, which is something. I've been an adjunct professor for three years, and even though the pay isn't great it's a job I enjoy that allows me both time with my kids and writing time. And then there are the slippery, harder to measure things, like the fact that I'm happier. I'm always happier when I'm writing. My mental health is much better too, in ways that counseling and medication can't accomplish. I am still hoping for that big payoff: getting an agent, selling this novel that I love so much, but I've learned to be patient.

Here is my advice to you, if you are considering investing in your writing (because not all investments are equal):

1. Like in any financial investment, avoid the get rich quick schemes. This online course will teach you to write a best seller! Learn to self-publish and make six figures doing it! Launch a new career by writing nonfiction! The pitch conference I went to promised meetings with agents and a polished pitch. Looking back, the pitch I crafted there was mediocre at best. I only met one agent, and honestly I think my work was given as much consideration as something from the slush pile, because even though the agent did request my book, it was rejected with no feedback. I could have done just as well reading a few posts on Query Shark and sending out a cold query letter on my own. And there are lots of events like this that will promise you the exposure needed to sell your book, when really what you need is the ability to write a better book and query letter to sell it. Focus on craft, that's what should be most important.

2. Seriously consider going for the degree. Seriously. If you're underemployed, unemployed, if you hate your job, think about it. A degree can open more opportunities for you. In most states, a BA can get your foot in the door to teach public school or to at least sub. A BA in creative writing plus a few extra credits can be a teaching certificate. An MFA can mean teaching college classes. This is of course if you enjoy teaching. The perk of both of these career options is they still allow for ample time to write. The downfall is neither pays well, especially if you're an adjunct professor. But depending on your current job situation, it may be a worthwhile trade.

3. Ask advice. If you know any writers who are successful on any level, talk to them about what helped them the most. How did they get there? What investments paid off the most for them? If you go to a conference or a reading, and there's time to ask the author questions, ask them this.

4. Look for community. Writing is a lonely business, and you need community. If you look through literary history, many great writers were friends with...other great writers! Like Tolkien and CS Lewis...who liked each other, but not each other's work. Now I've tried those writing groups on Facebook and Twitter and such, but it's not the same as a connection with people you've met face to face. When you're looking at conferences or MFA programs, look also at the networking potential. These friendships are great for the sake of camaraderie in a lonely craft, but they are also great for connecting with others and learning about job opportunities. Most writers I know are interested in helping and building each other up...and you need that!

5. Find or start a critique group with writers who are on the same level as you. This is a cheap investment in the financial department, but can be hard to pull off logistically. This can be a helpful way to start improving your craft.

6. Look at credentials. This guy selling you this conference, who is he anyway? What's he done that's so great? Who will you be learning from at this event, and what feedback will you be given? Can you find reviews from others who have attended this event in the past?

7. Don't pay for something you can do for free. You don't need to pay to meet agents. I know this is a bit of a repeat of number one, but it bears repeating. Almost all the writers I know got their agents by sending out query letters. A very few got referrals. It's cool and it's thrilling to meet an agent, and if you're at an event where an agent is speaking on the business side of writing it's totally worth your time, but don't pay money to pitch an agent.

I get that investing in your art is scary, and hard. We've never really been in a place financially where this investment has been easy, but we keep doing it. And I can see it paying off. My writing is much stronger, my critical reading skills are much sharper. I can see the bits and pieces of novels now, and how all the little moving parts fit together, and it's truly amazing. My mental health is better, I'm a better wife and mother for it, and I'm happy. Will there be a financial payoff as well? Will I sell a best-selling novel, or even a midlist novel? Will I get a faculty position at the college I teach at? Will I keep selling nonfiction books? I don't know.

But I do know I'll still be here, just writing. And you should be writing too.

Friday, September 7, 2018

Full time writer/Full time parent





There is a history of asking successful women with families how they can accomplish so much and raise the children too. There is a history of not asking successful men questions about their families or how they can do so well in their profession and be a father. It's sexist, and it's demeaning to both men and women. It's telling women all they can do is mother, and it's telling men that fathering is on the backburner. An extracurricular if you will. And this bothers me. It bothers me when people talk to me like my writing is some cute hobby, and why don't I stop so I can clean more?

However, I want to talk about doing both parenting and writing, and here's why: I know a lot of men and women who are full time parents and are trying to write. The reality is that writing doesn't pay much and it takes FOREVER to get your foot in the door. It's hard, grueling work. You will either need a full time job to support yourself while you write or you may have a spouse who is willing to sacrifice to give you the luxury of writing time.

Now if that's the case, and if you have kids, chances are your family won't be in a position to pay for childcare and allow you the time to write. Chances are you will be writing and raising kids and the majority of the housework will fall to you because you're the one who is home.

This is not to say I don't love raising my kids. I love being home with them, taking them out to lunch or to the playground or the library. I love snuggles and reading time and sharing a snack. I love every single cuddle and wet kiss.

But I also love to write. There have been times when I've found myself resenting things that take me away from the writing...not so much kids, but errands. And dishes. And laundry. And all those little necessary things that have to get done to run a home and keep a family fed and clothed.

I often joke that if I had the money I wouldn't hire a babysitter, I'd hire a housekeeper.

But over the years I've figured out a system to keep that writer fire going and take care of the other stuff too. So I'm excited to share with you how to put in eight or more hours a day towards your writing and raise your kids. Some of this will be helpful for those who work full time too.

In the past twelve years I've written and revised five novels (none are published yet) two nonfiction books (one published, one scheduled to be out next year) earned my MFA, taught at a community college for the past three years and had five children...and I've never had childcare.

I remember well the spring of 2006. I was pregnant with my oldest and about to graduate from Florida State with my undergrad in English with a concentration in creative writing. Graduation and childbirth were occuring within a week of each other, and then I'd be living the dream...home with my new baby, and a blank page. Suddenly the dream was terrifying. I had worked in daycare for six years, I knew plenty about the care and maintenance of young children. How could I possibly take care of a baby and write?

At first, it was easy. I got my baby on a schedule and I wrote during naptime and after she went to sleep at night. My husband was still in school, and he worked from four to midnight. I'd put her to bed at seven, and then write until he got home. Five uninterrupted hours of writing, plus whatever I got done during naptime. I wrote my first novel in a couple of months.

But as my daughter got older, and my husband's scheduled changed, and I had another baby, things started to get more complicated. My long chunks of uninterrupted time disappeared. I had to learn to work in snatches of time, the odd moment here and there. So I've developed my own system of writing, some of it derived from advise from other parent/authors, and I'd like to share my biggest most successful techniques with you now.

1. Plan a time to actually sit and write. I know some people who get up early and do this before the kids are awake. That doesn't work for me. I'm not a morning person, the get-them-all-ready-for-school craziness of the morning makes me anxious so I can't focus, and I really need the time to mull things over before I sit down to write. Figure out what time works best for you. Early morning? Naptime? That lull after you drop the four year old off at preschool and your baby is happily self-feeding in the high chair? After dinner while your spouse watches the TV and the kids take their baths? After bedtime when the house settles down for the night? A combination of these? Pick your time and make it a routine, a ritual, a sacred part of your day.

2. Now that you've picked your time, your brain will start to plan...to plot...to work towards that moment when you'll have your butt in the chair. Notice that earlier I said you'd be putting eight or more hours towards your writing...I didn't say you'd be writing that many hours. One of my favorite quotes about writing is from Agatha Christi: "The best time to plan a novel is while doing the dishes." I had that hung over my sink for some time. Use the time during all those mind numbing tasks you have to do every day to plan your writing. This takes practice: the more you do it, the more effective it becomes. Then when you sit down to write, the words will flow and you'll get the most of the time you have to write. Yesterday was a rotten day. I had errands all morning, and someone hit my car in a parking lot and threw me off track, which caused me to be behind all day, and to lose the hour or so I would have had to write. I'd planned to write a poem. I haven't written poetry in a long time, I'm in this weird in between place with a couple of big projects where I can't work on either of them right now but I can't really start a new big project because those projects aren't done, so I'm doing some smaller things while I wait. And I had this idea for a poem, and I wanted to write it yesterday. So as I drove around, as I bought milk and baby food and mayonnaise, as I waited for the police to come meet me in the parking lot, as I took my daughter to speech therapy and fed my baby his jar food, I mulled over this poem. I started it at least three times in my head. Hated two of those beginnings. Played with the third one, over and over...sounds, words, how they'd fit...  So last night, as I laid down in bed, bone weary with exhaustion, I pulled up a blank email on my phone and I wrote that poem. If I hadn't thought about it all day long, I'd have had several false starts, and as tired as I was I probably would've given up. But the words were in my head, and all I had to do was type them out. It's not perfect, there's these two lines that mirror each other and they are just really off, and I need to figure out what to do with those, so I'm mulling on that today, but I wrote the poem. I also thought about this blog post a lot yesterday, and so today it's just coming together nicely.

3. Feed yourself. Your odd moments and errands don't need to all be story planing, in fact they shouldn't be. You need to develop your craft. Always. Craft books and novels are great food, but it can be hard to read for long stretches of time (although you should make time to read some everyday, even if it's just in the bathroom). I've found the podcast "Writing Excuses" to be excellent food. There are several great literary-quality story podcasts out there too. I've recently discovered "PodCastle" which is fantasy short stories...good stuff. I've heard some beginning writers say they don't read (WHAT?!?!?!) because they don't want those other books to influence their "voice".  Here's the thing with that: you can't really accidentally take another writer's voice. There may be some residual influence, sure, like how I have the faintest British accent after watching all five hours of the A&E Pride and Prejudice, but it's gone in like ten minutes. Even if you try to intentionally write in the same voice as another writer, you'd probably fail at it cause that's a serious feat few can accomplish. (Brandon Sanderson pulled this off when he finished Robert Jordan's "The Wheel of Time" series, Mark Winegardner does not pull this off in "The Godfather Returns"...no offense to Mark) So even if you read nothing but Lemony Snicket novels, you're not going to write like Lemony Snicket. If you're reading a wide variety of novels by different authors in different genres, which is what you should be doing, then there's really no chance of you sounding like one of these other authors. This may help you shape and develop your own unique voice, but that's very different. The other excuse I hear beginning authors give for not reading is that they don't want other stories to influence their WIP's plot. Okay, so this is a bit different. You need to know and understand what's out there in the genre you're writing in because if you don't know what's been done there's a good chance you'll replicate it. Why? Because we all watch TV and stuff, we internalize tropes. Tropes are the lazy over done stereotypical things in genre fiction that readers are just tired of (beam me up Scotty, here's another vampire, this ring is magic) This is not to say you can't create a fresh original take on a trope, thereby making it no longer a trope, but in order to do that you've got to have an in depth understanding of the genre which you can only develop by....READING!!!! Now I have heard writers say when they're working on a book they don't read books like that, but that's because they've already read those books before they started to write. Again, you've got to understand what's out there.

4. Use the waiting time. I've written so much in parking lots it's nuts. On my laptop, or on my phone, or on old school paper. Waiting for preschool to end, waiting at Girl Scouts, waiting at swim practice, waiting during church activities. If you have kids, you will at some point be somewhere just waiting for them. This is also a good time to read. Don't just mindlessly scroll Facebook or play Hayday. You are a writer, put in the time to write.

If writing is more than a cute hobby to you, then treat it like more. Invest the time and energy into it that it requires. It's more than just butt in the chair time, it's all the little things you can do while you're taking care of your kids and your home that add up and build to help you become a better writer. All these pieces mold and shape you, so that when you do have that precious time to sit and write, you've got something to say, and you're saying it better.

Friday, August 31, 2018

Becoming a multitasker

I’ve never been good about juggling multiple projects. I can multitask by writing while breastfeeding or eating, but when it comes to managing, say, working on a book and housework, or housework and grading papers, or writing and grading, I tend to zone in on a single task. Everything else gets dropped. Now with the housework the kids and the hubs do help out a lot, but I’m still the one home the most with the most flexible schedule...and honestly I’m getting tired of the constant mess and chaos myself. I often joke that you can always tell how much writing I’m getting done by how messy my house is, but the joke is getting old even to me.

Awhile ago, someone told me about the app Todoist, and I downloaded it, but never really used it. A little over a week ago, I started to play around with it.

Folks, this app is perfect for anyone managing multiple large projects...and especially for writers.

You’ve got your basic to do lists, like “personal” which I use for housework, “errands” and “work” which I use for my college teaching. But then you can add more lists. So I have one for the nonfiction book I’m under contract for, the novel I want to start submitting soon, short story ideas I want to develop, the second job I mentor for, magazine articles I want to write, things I want to cook for dinner tonight, even a list of things I want my husband to do (a literally honey do list)


Now here’s the beautiful part: once you create all these different lists for the different projects that you’re doing, you can assign days when you want to accomplish each task, creating a daily to do list:


The only thing that’s  not included in the free version of this app that I kind of want is the ability to see tasks after they’ve been completed. Like I can’t show you that for today I’ve already checked off applying for a grant and cleaning a bathroom. It would also be cool to set up reoccurring tasks, like every day there’s laundry, and I’d like to do writing exercises every day. But so far this has really helped me stay on top of multiple projects and not feel so overwhelmed. My house is slowly getting clean, I got the book revisions in on time, and I’m on track to have everything set up and ready for my fall classes.

A shot of what the app looks like, if you want to try it: