Learning How to Juggle: My Journey to a More Balanced Writing Life

Writing is hard. At the same time time, as a writer, writing is inevitable. While I love writing, I frequently wrestle with my muse and battle with self-discipline. Maybe I try too hard. Maybe I don’t try hard enough. I’m not always sure which is closer to the truth. Lately, there has been a lot of frustration, and an apparent lack of progress, an ongoing struggle to balance multiple projects along with the day to day business of life.

My intention in writing this post is to explore ideas of how I might do things differently, better. I’ve recently decided to try taking a step back to gain a bit of perspective on what it is exactly I’m trying to do. I’ve started making lists – I’m very good at making lists! The idea here is to reestablish a good foundation on which to move forward with my writing.

The first step in this process is to review where I am at this moment. There are four main areas in which I battle for balance. If I’m going to pursue my writing, I need to find a way to make it work alongside these other things.

1. Family and Friends

This one might be the hardest. I am a wife, a mother, a daughter, a sister, a daughter-in-law, an aunt, a neighbor, a friend. Each role comes complete with its own set of expectations and obligations. Some are more demanding than others.

As a mother – I suppose I should say, parent – balancing the needs of my children and the needs of self are sometimes more challenging than I can handle. I am not the perfect mother, I am no superwoman. And I’ll be the first to admit, I often fail at what should be some of the most basic tasks. Usually, it is my own needs and wants that go unaddressed.

When I made the decision a few years ago to relaunch my attempts at a writing career, I was a new mother. I now have three very busy little boys on the edge of all being school age. With each year as they grow, I gain a small measure of freedom. Still, they do need me, and I cannot escape their demands. Nor do I truly want to. They will be grown all too soon, and they will no longer be around.

So, while it may make pursuing my dream of being a published author a difficult journey in the short term, in the long run, spending time with my children will never be a waste.

2. Work

I work full time outside the home. So besides my parenting and housekeeping responsibilities, I am obliged to be away from my home and away from my own pursuits for the majority of my day, five days every week. My time is not my own.

In today’s world, a steady, well-paying position is not something to be taken lightly. Especially one that provides generous benefits. Furthermore, my current position provides a sort of mental stimulation I don’t have in other parts of my life. It presents a challenge, an on-going puzzle of sorts, that I find satisfying.

The up-side to working away from home is the mandatory rest periods proscribed by the laws of my state. I have a fifteen minute break each morning and each afternoon I can use for my own purpose. I have an hour at lunch time, and I typically use this time for writing when I can. These rest periods are not something that motherhood allows.

3. Hobbies, Recreation and Other Activities (a.k.a. Television and other time wasters)

I enjoy a variety of creative endeavors. Besides writing, I like hand crafts such as counted cross-stitch and crochet. I spent a good deal of time (and no small fortune) in past years creating miniature teddy bears, stitched by hand. I love these activities, and once found great satisfaction in them. However, over the past year, I’ve come to the conclusion that I just can’t do it all. I’ve set aside the hand-crafts in favor of writing. For now.

Then there is television. Netflix is great, isn’t it? All the shows and movies you could ever want to watch without the annoying time-wasting commercials. The only problem is how easy it makes it to just keep watching. One episode leads right into the next, and the next, and so on. Besides, one of my characters is a serious Trekkie. Watching all those old episodes and movies, it’s research. Really.

Twitter and Facebook fall neatly into this category as well. As would Tumblr, Pinterest, Goodreads, and so many others I’ve not personally used. Even when it begins as legitimate “writing business” pursuits, it can quickly become a time trap, sucking in even the most diligent of users.

4. Legitimate writing-related pursuits

Even the business of writing itself can prove problematic. How is the business of writing a distraction? I have been writing stories for several years. I’ve gone through the motions of learning the art and business that is writing, spending a great deal of time reading books and anything else I could get my hands on that had anything to do with how to write. How to write novels, how to write short stories, how to sell a novel, how to edit, all about plot and characters and settings and so on.

More recently, I joined Twitter, started a blog and launched an author page on Facebook, all in an effort to build a platform for my writing. The writing community is vast and amazing, and I’ve barely tapped the potential resources of this online community.

Then there is the reading. Everyone says, to be a writer, you must read. There are books to be read, articles and stories, poems and biographies. All of this, legitimate writing-related pursuits. But they nonetheless take time away from the writing itself. It is proving difficult for me to find a balance for all these things.

In conclusion…

There are distractions on all sides, and I am currently working on making a better plan for myself so that I can pursue my writing goals and still maintain some level of sanity. I know my struggles are not unique. I’m certainly not the only writer who has a family and a full-time job. My methods to date leave much to be desired. I am often exhausted, frazzled, and on the edge of burn-out.

It is my hope, however, that in sharing my struggles, and my efforts to overcome them, perhaps another writer will be encouraged to continue their own battle for balance. Or maybe someone has already found ways that work for them in rising above similar challenges. I would love to hear what has worked for you. Or even what hasn’t worked. What struggles do you experience? And how are you working to overcome them?

2016 Reading Challenge, and poetry by Nick Cannon

I haven’t posted a new book review for several weeks. In fact, it may seem I have completely dropped out of the 2016 Reading Challenge that I began at the start of this year. This would be because I have not had time to do much reading. I started reading The Name of the Wind, by Patrick Rothfuss at the very end of March, barely managing to crack open the 700+ page tome. Then in April, I participated in Camp NaNoWriMo, and had to set aside most of my reading in favor of more writing time.

Reading with my children, however, is one priority I will not set aside for much of anything and on a recent foray to the local library we brought home Neon Aliens Ate My Homework, And Other Poems, by Nick Cannon. The method my children use to select the books that we borrow is to simply pull them randomly from the shelves and stuff them into our library bag until the bag is fairly bursting. Cannon’s book was one such random grab, made by my middle son who was attracted by the green cover.

I don’t have a great deal of experience with poetry, usually finding it difficult to relate to. That said, I enjoyed this book, and will attempt to do it justice in a review. The poems in this collection are full of humor, fun and general ickiness (stinky feet anyone?). While I can’t say that I liked all of them, they were a great deal of fun to read aloud, and I enjoyed sharing this book with my boys.

The poems range in style, though most employ some sort of cadence and rhyme. The themes vary as well, from the whimsical “Animal Advice”, to the silly “The Baby Squisher” and “Hot Sauce on my Popcorn”, to the downright gross “Boogers” and “Farts or Burps”. Many more of the poems are tributes to Cannon’s family or to others he admires such as “Super Mom,” “Grandpa Esau” and “School of Hip Hop”.

Over all, the poems in this collection have a positive and uplifting message. Some of my personal favorites include the title poem, “Neon Aliens Ate My Homework,” “Dinosaur 3000,” “Weird Concrete!” and “The Wordsmith”.

Besides writing poetry, Nick Cannon is a film star, comedian, TV and radio host, musician, writer, director and philanthropist. This book also has an entire arsenal of artists (Michael Farhat, Fawn Arthur, Kristian Douglas, MAST, Mike P, Jack Fish and Andrea von Bujdoss) whose artwork brilliantly compliments Cannon’s poetry.

For a completely random grab, this turned out to be a rather enjoyable read, one I would heartily recommend.

How the Anne Venture Got Her Name

In the process of writing the first book in my middle grade adventure series, I had to find a name for a ship. People are difficult enough to name, but a ship? I’ve never named one before, so this proved an interesting process.

The book involves my characters Mike Triplett, Tommy Cooper and Elijah Capelli going back in time to 1714 where they find themselves on board a ship bound from England to the American colonies. It was important to me to find a name for the ship that was both meaningful to my story and historically plausible.

I started my journey of discovery by researching the names of real historical ships and I found names fell into two basic categories. First, ships were named for a person. Usually, this would be a saint, a monarch, or a significant benefactor who contributed to the ship’s mission. The second category would be to choose a term that gave meaning to the ship’s purpose, words such as blessing, discovery and fortune.

There was also a third option, one that combined the two together to form a name. This is the direction I chose for my ship. I decided a monarch would be the easiest choice, so I set about learning who reigned in England during the time frame in which I planned to set my story, which was the late colonial period of the Americas. There were a number of monarchs, James, George, William and Mary. But I found myself drawn to one queen in particular, Queen Anne, who held the throne from 1702-1714.

I chose Anne for a couple of reasons. One, I have a personal connection to the name, as it is also my own name. The second reason for choosing Anne was that in reading more about her history, her tragic life seemed uniquely suited to where I hoped to go with my story. Anne lost her grandmother, a maternal aunt and her mother at a young age. She became queen following the death of her sister and brother-in-law. Furthermore, though she experienced more than fifteen pregnancies, she had no surviving children, Prince William, her only child to survive infancy, died of smallpox at the age of eleven. Death, it seems surrounded her, almost, you might say, like a curse.

So, Queen Anne was to be the royal behind the ship I was building. Next, I set out to find the right word to pair with her name to become the identity of my ship. I looked at the other words chosen to name ships: Fortune, Blessing, Discovery, Bonaventure, Assurance. These are words that speak clearly of the ship’s mission and purpose. My ship was to be one bearing passengers from England to a new life in a new world. This was to be a venture, a dangerous, but potentially profitable undertaking. And there it was, Venture.

According to dictionary.com, venture means:

1. an undertaking involving uncertainty as to the outcome, especially a risky or dangerous one
2. a business enterprise or speculation in which something is risked in the hope of profit; a commercial or other speculation

It was the perfect fit. And so my ship became the Anne Venture, apparently cursed to suffer many deaths.

My three boys – Mike, Tommy and Elijah – will find themselves in the middle of the Atlantic, unable to return home until they can find a way to break the Curse of the Anne Venture.

Photo/Art credit: Isaac S., age 9

For further reading on Queen Anne:
The Tragic Life of Queen Anne
Queen Anne

The Silver Compass Adventures: An Introduction, part 3

Over the last few weeks, I have introduced my current work-in-progress, a novel series titled The Silver Compass Adventures. It has been my Camp NaNoWriMo project through the month of April, and I am very nearly finished with the first book of the series. I have introduced you to two of my main characters, Mike Triplett and Tommy Cooper. Now, here is the third member of the adventurous trio, Elijah Capelli.

Elijah comes from a large Jewish Italian family. His parents are both professors at a local university. He has three older brothers and one older sister. Jerry, the oldest, is in the Marines, and currently deployed overseas. Then there is Isaiah, Annie and Zeke. Elijah is the youngest.

Four years ago, the Capelli’s moved from Chicago, to the small community just outside the state capitol where they now live. Elijah is a bit shy, and the move was not an easy one for him. He became fast friends with Mike Triplett when it turned out they shared a love of classic video games. Mike’s friend Tommy Cooper was a bit harder to convince, but before too long, the three boys were inseparable.

Elijah would trust his friends with anything from his most embarrassing moments, to his newly discovered fear of outer space. But there’s one thing he can’t bring himself to share. He really likes Mike’s sister, A.J. Really, really likes her. And to share this secret would be to invite ridicule from Mike and Tommy which would just be more than he could bear.

Too small for sports, Elijah prefers books to physical activities. He knows his way around a chess board far better than a baseball field. Still, he has great respect for his friends and their athletic abilities. Cautious to a fault, he’s become the voice of reason for the little group.

Elijah isn’t one to back down from a challenge, however, and when Mike is given that compass from his granddad, he is immediately sucked into the mystery of how it works. And any good experiment must be repeated.

Therefore, although not as eager as the others to rush headlong into whatever might come, he can’t resist the Silver Compass Adventures.

Photo credit: Katie Aguilera