Category Archives: Family

The Joy of Teaching

I recently had an incredible experience—guiding my six-year-old as he wrote his first story. I abandoned my Ph.D. track partially because my time as a T.A. in World History 101 convinced me I despised teaching, but helping my child discover the joy of storytelling was truly amazing. And a lot of hard work, for both of us.

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This journey began when I saw a post about the PBS Kids Writers Contest. I just knew my precocious kindergartner would latch onto a project like that, and he did. I took dictation as he spun an imaginative tale about his stuffed orca coming to life as a real whale. In no time, he had a complete story—or so he thought. But as every writer knows, that’s just the beginning.

The first thing I taught him was the concept of the first draft and that every story you read has been through several rounds of editing and rewriting. His face fell, but he wanted this story to be good. We used worksheets from the PBS website to break down his story structure. His story naturally had a good beginning, middle and end, but the worksheets helped him find ways to strengthen the final problem and resolution for a more satisfying ending.

He still wasn’t done, though. His story was now over 500 words, and the contest limit was 200. That meant he had to do a lot of cutting. We went through every sentence, talking about whether that sentence contributed to the story he’d outlined on the worksheets. He especially hated cutting the paragraph about his little brother’s stuffed seal, but he recognized that it wasn’t really part of the story. We searched for anything that was unnecessary or repetitive until the story was finally under the limit.

There was still plenty of work to do since the contest called for illustrations and Mean Mommy made him write his story out by hand (not required for the contest, but I wanted him to practice his handwriting), but for this post I want to focus on just the writing process. What really struck me was how similar this was to the way I craft a story. Whether it’s a full-length novel or a 200-word children’s story, many of the ideas and processes remain the same.

My child and I both invested many hours in this project, but it was time well spent. It was wonderful sharing something I love with my child. I ordered a hardcover version of his story for myself, and I’m going to treasure that book—and the memories of the time we spent together—forever.

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Oh, and in case you’re wondering, his entry took first place in the kindergarten category for our region and also received an honorable mention (second place) in another contest for 6-11-year-olds sponsored by the Springfield-Greene County Library. I can’t wait to see what he writes next!

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Happy 2014!

2014

Happy New Year!

Yeah, I know, I’m late to the party. That’s been happening a lot lately. The last couple of months have certainly been an example of when life gets in the way.

First—five weeks of pneumonia, including a few days in the hospital, while my husband suffered from bronchitis and my youngest had a painful double ear infection with a ruptured eardrum. That was a good time.

I was healthy enough to run the Ozarks Romance Authors meeting in December, but probably pushed myself too hard in the process and suffered a bit of a relapse the next week.

ORA Dirty Santa meeting

As I gradually became functional again, I focused on getting ready for the holidays. My boys are three and six, so Christmas is still a magical time. Lights on the house, a tree dripping with ornaments, cookies, presents—the list goes on and on, and I wasn’t going to let my boys miss out on any of it, no matter how sick Daddy and I were. The toughest part was taking them to see Santa without killing ourselves in the process, but we got it done. Phew.

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The next task was moving out of the photography studio I’d been leasing the last few years. While I was sick, I did some hard thinking about my priorities and made the difficult decision that it was time to cut my overhead and downsize back to a home-based business. My lease was up at the end of December, so no matter how bad the timing was, it had to get done.

Now I just had one last major hurdle. As president of Ozarks Romance Authors, I was largely responsible for organizing and running the annual Mega Critique Group and Write-In Event we co-sponsored with Sleuths’ Ink Mystery Writers on January 4. Several days disappeared in a blur of lists and e-mails and all the little behind-the-scenes tasks that crop up when you’re running an event. Thank goodness I had a great support team! We had a fantastic day, as always.

ORA Write-In

When I got home from the event that evening, I immediately noticed that the house smelled smoky. Apparently, my husband tried to burn down the kitchen while boiling water for tea. For the record, he’s an excellent cook and knows his way around the kitchen. Obviously, watching the boys all day imploded his brain. There’s just no other explanation.

The next day, the polar vortex hit with its snow and arctic temperatures. That was fine. After all that activity, I was perfectly happy to be confined to my nice, warm house. Unfortunately, that meant my boys were confined to the house too, with day after day of school cancellations. My Facebook timeline filled with humorous memes about frustrated parents wanting to devour their young. I could relate.

Even more unfortunately, a frozen pipe burst, causing minor flooding in a few rooms downstairs. At this point, we’d had fire, flood and plague. What was next, locusts? Famine?

So there’s my rather windy explanation for why I haven’t posted anything lately. Things seem to be getting back to normal now (knock on wood). We’re all reasonably healthy, I have every reason to expect my boys will be in school this week and several days have passed without any new disasters. Life is good.

I’d like to say that through all of this, I followed my own advice about what to do when life gets in the way and continued working on my book, The Amulet of Isis, through hell and high (or frozen) water. Not so much. But after almost two months of neglect, I made significant progress on my manuscript this week. I tackled some of the trickier editing issues and added another 2,500 words. By Wednesday, I plan to have it ready to send to the next—and probably final—round of beta readers before I begin querying and submitting. Woohoo!

Maybe after that I’ll finally get around to my New Year’s resolutions.

When Life Gets in the Way

I often hear my friends say they couldn’t write this week/month/year because life got in the way. And I’m as guilty as anybody. It’s easy to imagine that once we finish this project/season/insert-almost-anything-here, life will calm down, and we will be able carve out a peaceful space for our writing. Yeah, right. Never happens.

What I've been doing this week--vacation with the family.

What I’ve been doing this week–vacation with the family.

Because life goes on in all its messy glory, continually bringing new chaos. Work, kids, health problems—everybody’s challenges are different, but we all have them. Now sometimes there truly is something extraordinary happening in your life that requires all of your attention, but what about the rest of the time? How do we continue to make progress under less-than-ideal circumstances? Here are a few thoughts on the subject.

Prioritize. Take stock of your life every once in a while and think about what is most important to you, then continually remind yourself of those priorities. Don’t let all the ephemeral day-to-day concerns, like whether your house is perfectly clean before your friend comes over, steal all your productive hours.

Clear out the clutter. Hey, wait, didn’t I just encourage you not to spend so much time cleaning your house? I mean life clutter. Facebook games and TV shows you don’t even care about and all the little time sucks that are lurking out there waiting to get you. I’m soooo guilty of this one.

Find your happy place. Maybe you have or can create a home office. Maybe you like to write in a coffee shop, or a park, or your bed. The brain learns to respond to familiar stimuli, so having a favorite writing spot can help you slip into your creative mode more quickly.

Schedule writing time. Make it sacred. Make it happen. It works best if you can set up a consistent time, like writing an hour or two every morning before you begin your day. If your life doesn’t allow for that, don’t worry—you’re in good company. Look at your schedule for the week and find some time each day you can devote to writing. If you don’t plan ahead and put it in your schedule, chances are your day will slip away without a good time to write ever presenting itself.

Get your family on board. Let them know that writing is important to you and what a challenge it is to find time to flex your creativity. Make sure your family knows when you’ve scheduled certain times for your writing. If they understand what you’re doing, and that you’ll be available to them again soon, they’ll be more likely to leave you undisturbed.

Find a writing buddy. If making a commitment to yourself to write at certain times isn’t motivation enough, make that commitment to someone else. Set a date to meet a friend for writing time, either in person or online. Agree to write for half an hour, an hour or whatever works for you, then compare word counts at the end. The goal isn’t necessarily to write quickly, but simply to stay focused on the task for that period of time.

Grab snippets of time where you can. I haven’t been able to make this one work myself, but I have a friend who turns out amazing word counts this way. Carry a small computer or notebook then add a few sentences whenever you find yourself with a free moment—waiting for your lunch order, at the doctor’s office, you get the idea. Just like adding pennies to a jar, these little bits add up.

And with that, I’m off to squeeze in a few words before a vacation day of go-karting and swimming with the family. What are your ideas? How do you keep life from getting in the way?

Mourning for Oklahoma

It’s a small world, and sometimes a cruel one.

I had a big day Saturday at the Ozarks Writers League conference in Branson. I left with my head swirling with marketing ideas, a manuscript request from an agent and a new friend—editor Mari Farthing.

Mari lives in Moore, Oklahoma. Need I say more? We’ve all seen the harrowing accounts of the massive tornado that ripped through Moore yesterday. We’ve all grieved over the children lost in the Plaza Towers Elementary School and the families who will never be whole again. Mari and her family are safe, but that doesn’t mean they are unscathed. You can read her powerful account of hunkering in her storm shelter as the storm passed and facing the aftermath here.

I should be writing my novel—that’s what I’m supposed to be doing at this moment. After all, I now have three agents who have requested full or partial manuscripts when it’s ready. I haven’t even told my friends about that third request yet. It happened just last night, and it didn’t seem right to celebrate a manuscript request in the face of such a tragedy.

Joplin, MO

Joplin, MO

All I can think about is Moore. And Joplin. I volunteered in the recovery efforts following the Joplin tornado two years ago, and the images still haunt me. The skeletal trees. The twisted cars and mangled playground equipment. The heaps of rubble that used to be homes, extending as far as I could see in every direction. The hollow eyes of the now-homeless woman who limped into the facility where I was sorting supplies, asking me what she should do.

Joplin, MO

Joplin, MO

And so, instead of writing my novel, I’m writing this, hoping that putting my thoughts into words will provide a catharsis. My kids are with their grandparents, or no doubt I would spend the day hugging them. That’s definitely how I plan to spend my evening.

Mother’s Day Musings

I’ve had a lovely Mother’s Day so far. I slept late (8:00 a.m. counts as sleeping in these days), snuggled with my husband then enjoyed breakfast in bed while editing chapters nine and ten. A beautiful, quiet morning with no children in it whatsoever.  Is it bad that the nicest way I can think of to spend Mother’s Day is to ship my kids off to their grandparents’ house?

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I’m a firm believer that each stage of parenting comes with its own trials and joys.

With a newborn, you have lots of breaks while your little bundle of joy sleeps or plays happily in that expensive swing you bought, but you’re not allowed to sleep more than two or three hours at a time, leaving you stumbling through life in a sleep-deprived haze.

Wait a few months, and the five or six hours of sleep you’re getting at night feels like a luxury, but you’re going to need every bit of that energy as you chase your crawling/toddling explorer around the house, thwarting disaster at every turn.

By the toddler stage, you’re a pro. Sure, your little darling still needs almost constant attention, but you’re getting a full night’s sleep and a couple of breaks each day during nap time. But don’t get too comfortable–the terrible-twos/throttle-them-threes are just around the corner.

Never. Ending. Drama. That’s the stage my youngest is in right now, and as reluctant as I am for him to grow up, I can’t wait for this particular phase to pass. Anybody know of a never-ending font of patience I can tap in to?

My eldest is finishing preschool this week. He’s growing up way too fast. Video games, go-karts, sports, reading, arguing. LOTS of arguing. I appreciate the fact that his increasing independence gives me more time for myself and my goals, but I can already feel the precious childhood years slipping through my fingers.

And so, I’m enjoying a few hours to myself, without the demands and frustrations of mothering two small children. But I’m also missing their sweet, smiling faces, their little arms wrapped around my neck and their excited voices calling, “Mama! Mama!” when I walk into the room. As life-consuming as motherhood can be, it’s all worth it.

Anybody care to tell me what I have to look forward to over the next few years?