Saturday, May 31, 2008

Who Am I?

Today we have a writer that I'm very familiar with because she's from my country! She's a PWACer, just like me! And an FLXer. (I think she's stalking me!) So, ladies, please put your hands together for Marijke Vroomen-Durning.

Hi, my name is Marijke and I’m – well – that’s the problem. Who am I?

I’ve never been one to suffer from an identity crisis. I’ve always had a spot in the world, however fragile it could be at times. But, sometimes I’m so many people that I begin to wonder who I really am.

The unarguable facts are that I’m a newly minted 47-year-old mother of three (for 21 years and counting) and wife of one (almost 23 years and counting). But I’m also a nurse, a writer, an editor, a quilter, a freelancer, owner of Dee, the greyhound (although Dee may argue that she’s the owner!), sister, daughter, friend, mentor and acquaintance. I’ve participated in groups where I felt I belonged and I’ve been part of groups where I’ve felt like an outsider. There have been times when I’ve felt invisible and other times when I felt like the elephant in the middle of the room. But which one of those is me?

I love being a mother but, I’ve never lived through my children. Some mothers become the super-mother and everything they do and think is about their children. I’ve never been able to do that. I always thought I was a bit on the selfish side because, I couldn’t do that. I am their mother, but a mother is not who I am. Does that make sense? I would take a bullet for my kids and I can’t imagine life without them. I feel for them and every hurt they have, it seems that I feel it 100 times over. I take such pride in their accomplishments, I think I’ll burst sometimes, and I quietly mourn their disappointments. But being a mother wasn’t and isn’t my meaning in life. At least, not that I know of.

With my oldest living on his own now, my middle one in university and my “baby” graduating from high school next month, my life is shifting from mom of children to mom of adults. It’s a very different way of thinking and it takes a different mindset. My role as mother is no longer the primary thing in my life. While they may need me from time to time to help them, they don’t need me. My job is pretty well done.

So, am I to identify more as a wife? No – I love my husband, but I don’t identify myself as a wife. Am I a nurse? For years, that is how I identified myself – I felt like being a nurse went to my very core because of my knowledge and because of my experience. But, I haven’t worked clinically in over a year now and only sporadically before that for several years, so can I/should I say I’m a nurse?

Am I a writer? Now that’s the one that gives me pause. Am I a writer? I think about writing all the time. I dream about it sometimes. I see things that need to be written; I hear stories that need to be told. I sit in front of the computer and start to write – and the words just flow, as they are doing now.

I read a good piece of writing and I get it. I get how the person made the words flow and helped me feel what he wanted me to feel. I read bad writing and cringe, because there are so many good writers out here in the real world.

Some writers see their work as just that – work. But that’s how I saw nursing. It was a job; sometimes I did it better than other times; I could be mediocre, and I could be really good. But writing, my writing. All I want to do is write. So, maybe I’ve finally discovered who it is that I am.

I am Marijke, mother of three adult children, wife of one, I used to be a nurse, and now I’m a writer.

And I like to think that I’m a pretty good one.

Marijke (which is pronounced muh-RYE-kah/keh) lives in Montreal, Canada and has taken her nursing background to carve a spot in the health writing world. She has started writing about other things, such as quilting. She writes for several blogs but the two she loves to work on most are Help My Hurt, a blog about pain and living with pain, and her newest one, Womb Within, a blog about the health and issues in pregnancy.

Thursday, May 29, 2008

Guest - Jennifer Fink

We have a guest today, Mamas!

So Tiff go put on yer bra, Kai get yer hair in a pony and let's welcome her! And someone tell Linda to git a wiggle on it because she's always off doin' somethin' or other.

Jennifer L.W. Fink is lives and homeschools her boys in Mayville, WI. She is a freelance writer who has been published in Parents, American Baby, Ladies’ Home Journal and more. Suddenly Homeschooling (HEM books) will be out in late 2008.

With four sons ranging in age from two to ten, my house is a whirlwind of light saber battles, pillow fights and Yu-Gi-Oh cards. Getting any writing done in such a testosterone-heavy environment is, uh, a challenge, to say the least. But it can be done. On a recent day last week, I conducted three phone interviews, nursed my toddler, made some last-minute edits to my Journal Sentinel op-ed, cooked three meals, considered teaching a writing class, hiked with the boys and wrote for three hours.

Freelancing with a family isn’t easy. It requires patience, devotion and time management skills. These tips, from my chapter, Living with Kids 24/7 in the soon-to-be-published book Suddenly Homeschooling, can help you get some work done:

  • Develop simple household routines. Don’t be afraid to involve your children. Your kids can help pick up their rooms, prepare meals and clean up the yard.

  • Use a master calendar to avoid scheduling conflicts. Be sure to transcribe your professional obligations onto the family calendar as well.

  • Take advantage of empty moments. Try transcribing for 15 minutes on your laptop while the kids play video games. Or take your notebook along and outline an article while you wait for soccer practice to end.

  • Get up before the kids or stay up after they go to bed. Many mom-writers find these quiet hours to be the most productive of the day.

  • Offer to trade childcare with another parent, join a babysitting co-op, or hire a teenage babysitter or pre-teen “mother’s helper.” Even just a couple hours a week of kid-free time go a long way toward meeting your professional goals.

  • Have realistic expectations. As one Mom told me, “Life with kids is very different. Be willing to accept the limitations that come with the territory.”

THANK YOU Jennifer, we kiss your feet, FOUR BOYS, PEOPLE!

(I have one, that's about enough!)

Tuesday, May 27, 2008

Seven weeks till summer...

Red starImage from FlickrAs a child, though the weather said it was 'summer', I never - really - accepted that until I finished up school for the last day of the year. Summer, in which case, technically started for me sometime in April, but that's not when summer starts in our house. Summer, officially starts on the first day of school holidays for the kids.
So, I have seven more weeks until I'm being driven batty every day by 'mum can I have a drink, mum can I have an ice pole, mum I'm bleeding, mum he cheated, mum she pushed me, mum she's not sharing, I'm telling mum, I'm telling mum, I want, I can't, I will, I won't....'
That's seven weeks of freedom, in many ways - I have one class until the holidays, and that's it ;)
In these hallowed seven weeks, I'm going to make sure I've got enough books to read at the park, enough pads of paper to make it through swimming classes, enough plasters and reward stickers, diluting juice, bribes, loose change and all of the other bits and pieces that every parent needs to get thorugh the summer. Sanity is, of course optional, and is probably going to be a frayed rug, again, by the end of the holidays, but I wouldn't have it any other way. I deliberately don't book during the summer, and ask my clients to plan accordingly, because the summer is for the kids.
What are your plans for summer?

Monday, May 26, 2008

Goals and Plans and ... oh hush up God, I can hear you laughing...

I know that I'm a planner, I'm all about Making a Plan and following it. Or, rather, not so much about following it, as having an End Goal in mind and focusing on it.
Lately though I've felt rather aimless. We're paying down our debt and living frugally... but it doesn't seem like there's a real goal in mind.
So DH and I sat down and wrote some goals. Then we crossed off the ones that we couldn't BOTH agree to work on together.
You'll note that "Heather wants to have another baby" was vetoed.
Grumble grumble.
So was my Photography Course. But, going to a writer's conference was not, as long as I paid for it with my writing money. Which, duh, I was going to do anyway since "Make $1000 a month writing" was up there.
I'm very focused on making some more money writing at the moment because of our debt situation. I just need to kick it up a notch. For about 3 years I've consistently made $1000 per month writing, but with the two books... I've backed off. Now I want to take on just a smidge of extra work and up my income.
I think DH and I agreed on a few major goals: me writing from home full time, us owning a house, him getting a good job that he can retire from in 15-20 years. I don't ever want to retire from writing.
Sell another book was on there too, I think I have more proposals in me, and one that has a pretty good chance of getting accepted with one of my publishers.
I was partly perturbed at having to 'goal check' with my husband, but really, he is my partner, right? He's the one that has to pick up the slack when I'm on deadline. So maybe it is something I should do more often. He is a Show Me The Money type of guy, he wants to know what kind of ROI we'd be getting with each financial commitment. Sometimes that's a little grey... I think that if it's professional development then there isn't really an ROI... or maybe there is and I just have to think like an investor to figure it out...
Do you set goals for your writing? And if so, what role does your spouse play?

Friday, May 23, 2008

Big YAWP for my Agent

My agent, Kate Epstein, has been admitted as a full member to the AAR, the association of author's representatives. Members uphold the AAR canon of ethics; have been agenting for at least two years; have done at least 10 deals in the last 18 months.

Go Kate, go Kate, go, go, go Kate!

New for old

Mediterranean springImage from FlickrAfter getting my university grades back for the year (I got a 2:1! *that's a B) - I decided to get on with cleaning out some of my business and writing.
Its been hard work knowing where to let go - and where to keep - harder still to buckle down and set up the last of the work that I need to justify keeping them - but I think, sometimes its important to clean out the things that are holdig us back - whether it's a declutter from our professional life - or your private life.

A couple of tips to make it easier though:
Be as detached as possible - you're not looking at long term unless 'long term' is something you're working towards - so if you've got a project on the long term that's stuck in a rut, and you're not sure whether you can revive it, it might be a good time to let it go. I'm not saying 'give in' completely - but sometimes you need to take a step back and look at what you're doing and where you're going.
And how best to get there.

Once you've worked out your goals, your needs - your wants - your DREAMS - be merciless! Get rid of everything you no longer need to accomplish your focus. Trust me - you'll feel better for it.
Decluttering your professional life could be as simple as taking only certain types of clients - changing your contracts to protect your rights as a provider - it could be finishing off that book that is gathering digital dust.
It can be a bit harder in your private life -but its important to prioritise and ensure you've got time - space - breathing room to fully enjoy your life. Even if that means saying 'I can't' occassionally.
Starting with something as simple as decluttering your email can make a huge impact on your life - give it a try!

Thursday, May 22, 2008

There's "something" I want to say

There is something sacrosanct about quotation marks. As a writer, they signify something true, something that was actually said, something that can be taken to the bank. I think about once a week I say “let me quote…” or “he said, I quote…” because if it was said, it can be quoted. You might just as well engrave it on your forehead.

Of course not everything said is true. Not everything said is worth quoting. Sometimes it begs the question: why say it then? I could take that advice a little more often, God gave me two ears and one mouth for a reason, they say.

But there’s that “other” use for question marks. Born from the “air quote sign” you make by putting your hands up in front of your face and scrunching the first two fingers downward, the “air quote” has morphed into something a little different in writing.

Suddenly there are quotes you can find around random phrases online, in advertising, wherever someone wants to, I don’t know, boost the credibility of the words.

“These words are in quotes! So they are True! You can rilly rilly believe in them!”

I stumbled across this blog, The “Blog” of “Unnecessary” Quotation Marks: misinterpreting bad punctuation since 2005.

The blogger doesn’t so much make fun of unnecessary quotation marks as much as she deliberately misinterprets them. In doing so, I hope what she really does is point out why you should only use quotations for their real purpose: quoting people or text!

Monday, May 19, 2008

Things You Need to Get Things Done

If you've been a writer and a mother for any length of time, you know that there are things that you need or lean on that give you just a couple minutes of space so you can get your work done. TV is a popular choice, but of course, we could let our kids veg out for hours on that. Video games, too.

I admit that I’ve let my son play those in excess. But he goes through bursts where he would really play them all day long… and then he doesn’t touch them for a month. I think the binge playing isn’t doing too much damage! At least I hope note… I heard a rumour that his dad lets him play a few more adult games. We stick to Star Wars or Spiderman…

So here’s my ‘set up’ for maximum writing efficiency:

1) A great neighbourhood where you can kick your kid outside and let him play with neighbourhood kids. We actually pay more rent than our place is worth because there are at least five other townhouses in our complex where we know M can go play and the same number of friends who will come over and entertain him, and sometimes even his little sister.

2) A backyard, no matter how small. Ours is about 20 feet by 20 feet, fenced. It’s not huge by any means. But we put up a little gazebo so there’s mostly shade. My office (slash the living room and the kids’ playroom) is connected to the backyard via big patio doors, so the kids are in the backyard, but also just feet away. It’s like another room… yesterday we put out the outside chairs and moved the play bench outside… all things that had been taking up space in my office/living/play room all winter. The picture to the right is E, reading to herself in the backyard with her bear. I took this photo from my desk chair. No telephoto lens. ;0)

3) Good weather. Boy, Mother Nature and I have had our go-rounds. Waking up on the morning of a deadline when you were SO counting on good weather but instead it’s raining and your kids are inside, staring mournfully outside and wishing that they could go play. With the gazebo tent they can go out in a drizzle, but every once in a great while there’s this torrential downpour and it’s freezing butt cold and no one wants to venture outside at all.

What about you? Do you have something that helps you get writing done? A trick, a crutch, a technique?

Thursday, May 15, 2008

Hit me with your best shot

Siberian tiger (Panthera tigris altaica), Aalborg Zoo, Denmark.Image via Wikipedia
Have you ever been in a position where you've gotten to exactly the point where you can take NO MORE.
No, seriously. One more assignment, problem, and my head is going to explode.
I took the rather drastic action of 'restarting' all of my time management projects.
I bought myself a new piece of software, and I've found that I am actually now 'winning' the war on my email.
It did, of course, also help that I relented and enabled spamassassin on my server, but by and large, I am actually managing to work and write emails in between, instead of emails, and sandwiching work in the spare couple of seconds between it and the next PING.
I've just started a daily blog on how time management works, given I'm suddenly finding I actually have TIME (OMG, does this mean I can't procrastinate and have to finish my books!?) but I was wondering what valuable and important time management, stretching, or downright saving tips you've got.

I bet a couple of you are wondering what the tiger in the picture has to do with all of this? Well - one, its a fabulous photo - but two:
When you give yourself room to stretch or extend - life can hit you with its best shot, and you should be able to go 'and there's time to take care of that HERE' without breaking a sweat. We might all be mothers, and we might all be really busy, being full time *other stuff*, parents, carers, partners and everything else that we do, but it doesn't mean, necessarily that it has to take all of our time to do it. It doesn't mean that just because we're engaging in superhuman feats of time corralling and management that we're not capable of doing it in a way that gives us our own little pockets of time.
Now...if only I could learn to say 'No, I can't, sorry' more often....

Saturday, May 10, 2008

Give it your best shot: Rewrite these cliches

There's a reason cliches (where's that accent character for the "e"?) became cliches. I posted about this at my other blog today for my newly-declared Corny Cliche Saturday.

I admit to being a little fond of them. Usually they are succintly-worded universal truths that we do well to heed. Think about the first time you heard, "Stop and smell the roses." Well? Isn't that good advice? I have a doo-hickey in my kitchen that says "Take time to smell the coffee." (I bought it as a gift for my husband who is a coffee aficionado.)

But as much as I like them, there is a good reason for us as writers to avoid overused phrases. The message that is really quite important becomes dulled with repetitive use and what was once a revelation soon becomes "yeah yeah I know."

How would you rewrite these sayings to bring life back into their meaning?

"They grow up so fast."
"On your deathbed, you won't wish you had spent more time at work."
"All work and no play makes Jack a dull boy."

And if you have some corny cliches you love anyway, feel free to post them in the comments. I'm going to need some more next Saturday. :)

Wednesday, May 7, 2008

Did you miss me? I sure missed you....

Illustration of a scribe writingImage via WikipediaOne of the things that I absolutely adore about a 'regular' gig, that writing my own blogs doesn't give me, is the fact that I know I'm reaching people that ordinarily, I might not get to talk to.
But...for the last two weeks, I've been finishing up my first year of Uni (errr...didn't I start when we started this blog? That's kinda scary!), and that meant somewhere in the region of 20,000 words that makes sense to my professors...
I think you can see the problem there ;)
Mainly the whole 'making sense' thing, if I'm being completely honest. And then, last week, I caught a kidney infection, and then...I was wiped. Entirely. Which meant that when I'd only intended to be MIA for maybe a week, I've been gone for around two, perhaps more than even that.
I don't take weeks at a time off blogs normally, because one of the main points of blogging is that you have to try to do it consistently - but sometimes life gets in the way.
Writing is like that too. Have you ever sat down and thought to yourself 'I MUST...' and then, instead, vegged in front of the TV? Surfed aimlessly around the internet? Played around with things that you don't really *need* to do.
Yep - most of us do that. Its not life getting in the way, but it is our brain's way of saying 'enough already'. I've given in fighting it - I can achieve 'butt in seat' but I find it wearing if I really don't want to write - so instead, I read, I draft, I plot, I plan. I spent most of this last month reading non fiction books on the 'how to' of plot and characterisation, testing out new pens, finding things that I enjoy...
I'm currently testing out some project support programs that should help me (yes, I'm still at it - I called ceasefire over the last two months, cause Uni got manic) - and by extention, anyone interested - reorganise, reprioritise, and most of all, gain control over my time completely again. I have to stress though, and I'm not in denial - I don't have a time management problem. I really don't. There's just not enough time in the day to do everything all the time. Which is why I'm working on shifting gears, amalgamaing....most of all though, I'm trying to find a way to make sure that my writing time is truly my own again ;).
There is something you could perhaps help me with though. Do you, as a writer, collect, or hoard pens. I do. I've got about a million of them - most of them rarely used - sixteen fountain pens - thousands of ballpoints, both functional and pretty, and fineliners, hilighters, hybrid, fancy, calligraphy and other pens. I've always wondered if it is a 'writer' thing. :)
And if you DO collect them - is it becuase you like pens, or because youve never got one handy when you wanna write? :) I'm talking about this on both my personal blog (Kai's Personal space) and my professional writing blog (Ardentwriter) but I'm curious, so I thought I'd ask here too ;)

Sunday, May 4, 2008

Edits... I love the pain....

This week I received the first edits back on my first book. It's exciting. It's thrilling... and yes, it's a little painful. But it's a good hurt.

I've always said that I think I have the thickest writer skin on the planet. Go ahead, kill my darlings.
Of course there's always the thought that I like a good editor because a good editor makes ME look better. And yet, it never seems to be the other way around. You don't hear anyone saying "hey, that writer made that editor look really good!"
Now, this is only the first bit of the manuscript. I had a great phone conversation with one of the senior editors about how to handle the edits... and I'm so psyched to get started!
I think the best part is that between submission and getting the edits back I had a feeling about something. Not necessarily something I'd done wrong. Ok, yeah, something I'd done wrong... and that was the main concern. I've been thinking about how to make it better, now I can.

Friday, May 2, 2008

Feast or Famine

Yesterday I was figuring out my schedule for the summer. What are my commitments? When will we be able to do that family vacation?

I realized when I was mapping it all out that I am going to be busy this summer. I will have three regular contracts, and they will span the entire summer -- starting next week and continuing right up to the end of August. When will I be able to take a week for vacation? It looks like no matter what I choose I will end up with a working vacation.

When you work as a writer, you cannot turn down work. It just seems that it all arrives at once. I'm lucky though because this summer it looks like I won't have any down time. Last summer was mostly down time.

How do you schedule your work? Do you ever have to turn anything down? I don't think I could do one more thing this summer, and I hope I won't have to.