Writing Hacker Tip #2: Double Duty Reading

I love doing things efficiently, and I’m always looking for new ways to do more work in less time or at least do double duty with one task. I’m sharing some of my crazy writing hacker tips, and I hope you will share some with me too.

Double Duty Reading (a.k.a. Killing Two Birds With One Stone)

One of the things I love about being a children’s writer is that it’s required to read children’s books. Same goes for being an elementary school teacher. And a parent. I’m lucky enough to be all three. So it’s no wonder I pretty much ONLY read children’s books. An occasional adult novel will sneak it, but it has to come highly recommended.

Last week I talked about market research and reading professional magazines and how I keep up with that. But there is another side to market research—knowing the market and what’s being published.

Our latest library stack

Our latest library stack

So, I try to expose my kids at home and my students at school to the latest and greatest children’s books. I try to read books so I can recommend them to my students. But all of this day job work and parenting work is also doing something else—feeding my writing work.

Have no time for market research? Read the books to your kids that you want to study yourself. Lately, my son’s bedtime stories have been interesting point of view picture books and concrete poetry picture books. He’s pretty happy and I’m learning something about craft.

 

Mom’s Write: Back to School Schedule Changes

The times are a-changing. For many of us, the fall signals the start of a new school year. Some of my teacher friends have been in school for weeks now. Many won’t go back until Labor Day. Just like the start of the summer, the end of the summer might mean schedule changes for your writing time.

If you are a teacher and a writer, the fall means less time for writing. If you are a full-time writer with young children, the fall might just leave you with more time on your hands to write. If your day job doesn’t really change with the seasons, you might still notice that you feel different when summer ends. Cooler temperatures might re-invigorate you or it might be a time when the shorter days plunge you into a more a melancholic state. Whatever your situation, this is a good time of the year to re-evaluate your writing goals.

But 2013 is almost over, you might say. The start of another school year also signals impending holiday madness through the end of the year.

Exactly.

That’s why it’s time to take a discriminating look at how far you’ve come and what you’ve got left to do in 2013.

While the leaves might not be falling yet, it's still time to plan for your fall writing time.

While the leaves might not be falling yet, it’s still time to plan for your fall writing time.

I work like a maniac on my writing in the summer. I squeeze as much writing as I can into a few short weeks. Re-evaluating for me is looking at what my goals were for the summer. What did I accomplish? What is still left undone?

Then I look at what still is necessary to finish before the end of the year.

If summer has been a more lax time for your writing, then fall is the time when you need to step it up.

Here are some questions to help get you going for the last four months of the year:

 

1) What have you already accomplished this year?

I hope you wrote down what you’ve been doing, so you can say: I did ____, ____, and _____ already! Hurray!

 

2) What goals do you have left to work on for 2013?

If you need a post about how to make goals, read this. It’s not too late to make goals for the last few months of the year. This is also a good time to prioritize the most important things left.

 

3) How can you make the most of your schedule in the next four months?

Pressed for time? You can still write in short spurts of time.  Having to play chauffeur for your kids activities? Pack a writing bag. 

The best way for me conquer crazy schedules and still write is to admit that my time will be crunched, and figure out a way to still write during the crunch. 

 

What does your fall look like? Do you have a plan for re-connecting with your goals? Do you have a plan for making time to write?

Mom’s Write: 5 Ways to Survive Schedule Changes

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It’s summer time. If you are a mom and a writer, chances are, this means that there will be some change in your schedule. If you have kids in school, they will be home more often, or you’ll be shuttling them from place to place. If you have babies or preschoolers, you’re probably still spending more time outside.

For me, summer time means that I have several weeks off from my day job. I always look forward to a less stringent schedule and more writing time. But I also look forward to more time with my kids.

I’ve written about writing with kids in previous posts, but recently in the 12×12 Picture Book Facebook group, Julie Falatko (mom, writer, book reviewer), posed the question about writing with kids in the house. It racked up a ton of comments. Some moms they are used to have some or all of their children away for a few hours a day at preschool or school. When summer rolls around and the kids are home, it throws a kink in the writing routine.

Here are some ways writer moms survive schedule changes:

1) Establish a routine.

Kids thrive on routine, and frankly, so do I. While I do enjoy the more relaxed summer schedule, I still like to know what I have planned for the day. During the school year, I normally get up at 5:00am to write for an hour. I am going to try to sleep a little longer, but if my four year old continues his morning bird rituals, then I may have to still get up early to write. I like writing before everyone gets up because it really is quiet and I get a lot accomplished. I hope my routine will look something like this:

6:00-8:00 Writing time

8:00-9:00 Breakfast, household chores

9:00-1:00 Activities

1:00-3:00 Writing/Quiet Time

3:00-5:00 Activities

5:00-8:00 Dinner, winding down

8:00-10:00 Writing/Reading Time

Of course, not every day will look like this. But the plan is to try to establish a routine.

2) Expend some energy.

Many of us in the 12×12 group said we do the busy, fun, energy-exhausting activities in the morning. Talk with your kids about fun things they want to do and make a summer bucket list. We did this last summer. We spent time going to the Transportation Museum, the art museum, the pool. Whatever you do, make sure they expend some energy. Get totally worn out. Then they are more likely to want some quiet time or nap time when you can write.

3) Create a quiet time.

If I could wave a magic wand and have everyone in my house quiet and peaceful at the same time, it would be wonderful. It seems far-fetched. But if you wear them out in the morning, even the wildest will settle for a little bit of quiet time. This summer we are heading into the first summer of NO NAPS. That’s right. The quiet time will be tested. But I also have this amazing thing called Netflix. It will keep my wildest calm for an hour or two. Call me a terrible mom, but I don’t think there’s anything wrong with letting them watch a movie after a morning of activity. My daughter will be happy to read on her own. My son can’t read yet, and he will look at books, but not for 2 hours. Hence, Netflix comes in handy.

4) Make it Fun

If your kids are old enough to understand, explain what you are working on. Show it to them, read it to them. I talk about reading my picture books to my kids in another post. 

Carrie Charley Brown  suggested making special boxes for the kids. The kids can decorate their own box. Rotate new or special toys or activities in these boxes. They would be filled with things that they don’t normally get to play with or do. These boxes would only be for mommy’s writing time. Carrie said her kids really loved it. I plan to try this out myself this summer.

5) Relax

For type A personalities like me, relaxing is HARD (see my post about resting). I always feel the need to be doing something. But sometimes I need to be reminded that writing is also in the living. Living life, making memories, stopping to smell the roses are perfectly fine because they give us something to write about. Just make sure, when you are relaxing, to bring your notebook along in case an idea strikes you.

 

How do you handle schedule changes that disrupt your normal writing routine? Have more tips? Share them in the comments.

Writing Quote Wednesday: Making Time to Write

“If you don’t write when you don’t have time for it, you won’t write when you do have time for it.”

—Katerina Stoykova Klemer

 

Monticello, April 2013 Copyright Marcie Flinchum Atkins

Monticello, April 2013 Copyright Marcie Flinchum Atkins

After my second  child is born, I wondered if my writing life was over. I didn’t know when I would be able to fit it in. But what I knew in my heart was this: if I didn’t write, at least a little bit, I wouldn’t be happy.  Once my kids were grown, I would would feel like something had been missing. I knew that I had to keep writing. A little bit. I didn’t want to look back in 20 years and wish I had written.

 

 

 

 

Mom’s Write: Writer Mama Resources

Update on Mom’s Write: Rest

Some of you might have noticed, I didn’t post last Monday. I usually write my posts on Sunday and schedule them to post. Last Sunday was my planned day of rest. I was serious about not doing any “work.” I didn’t do any “work,” like blogging, writing, researching, school work. But I was taking care of my husband and daughter, who were both sick. But since they both wanted to sleep away the day, I was able to relax. I didn’t worry about the writing I needed to do. I rested. And I am so glad I did. I posted about doing that once a month and actually scheduling my rest. I am going to try this over the next few months. I think this week has been an unusually productive week, even though my regular writing sessions haven’t been consistent, I have worked writing into other times.

 

Mentor Writer Mamas

I write a lot about mentor texts on this blog and how I use them with young writers. But as a writer, I also look up to other writers as mentors, not necessarily for the words they write, but for the path they have made as a writer and a mom. As I write, and lament about how busy my life is with a full-time job and children, I look to other writers who have been an encouragement to me. I hope they will provide encouragement to you too, if your life is as busy as mine.

 

Christina Katz

writer mama

 

I first read Christina’s book, WRITER MAMA, when I was trying to figure out how I could make mothering, writing, and a full-time job really work.  It’s a great book to read if you are struggling to figure out a way to make it all work.

Kristen Lamb

WANA

She is a mom, a writer, and an entrepreneur. She is mama to the WANA group (We Are Not Alone). I first discovered Kristen through her book, WE ARE NOT ALONE: THE WRITER’S GUIDE TO SOCIAL MEDIA, then I started following her blog. I’d recommend both her book and her blog. She tells it like it is. And she admits writing is hard work, but we must do the work.

 Jenny Lee Sulpizio

Jenny Lee Sulpizio was involved in a Facebook writers group I’m a part of. She put a call out for mama writers to interview for her blog, and I did a guest post back a few months ago. She has a series of interviews she does of mom writers. It’s called “Write On, Mom.” Those posts help me to know that I am not alone in this journey of raising a family and pursuing a writing dream.

Other Writer Resources

 Kristi Holl at Writer’s First Aid

Several years ago, another writer mom recommended Kristi Holl’s blog to me. I’ve been following it every since. She writes about making time to write, balancing life and writing, and other things that get in our way of writing.

 DIYMFA

While I have an MFA, and didn’t have to DIY, I still find DIYMFA a great resource. If you are running low on time, the articles are uncluttered and easy to read. Plus they will help you as move forward in your writing career.

 Kelly Stone

TTW pic

Kelly Stone recently did a guest post for my blog. She’s also written several great books, one of which I’ve recommended more than once on this blog.

Tips for the Writer

There are lots of people who work full-time and still write. This article gives a few tips for how to get things done. 

Your Turn

I’m always looking for great new resources. Do you know a good writing mom mentor or just another good resource that is easily accessible to a very busy working mom? Tell me in the comments.

 

 

 

 

Mom’s Write: Rest

I find it kind of ironic that I’m writing about rest after reeling from a insanely busy weekend. Our weekends aren’t normally so jam-packed, but this one sure was. And I’m headed into a very busy week at work too.

Last week I wrote about priorities and what things you could give up to make more time to write. I think it’s important to pursue your passion as much as possible. Sometimes that means my days are packed.

But I also have found value in rest.

Forcing Myself to Rest

Since I normally have a very hectic schedule, purposefully resting can be really hard for me. I often feel like I need to be doing something since there’s always something to catch up on. Right now I could list 20 things that I need to do this week. I’m looking forward to getting some of those things done, but I’m also looking forward to some much needed rest.

A few months ago, I took a whole day and I did almost nothing. I spent the afternoon and evening curled up in bed watching Army Wives episodes on Netflix and I didn’t feel one bit guilty about it (well, maybe just a little). I learned that my body needed it though. My brain needed a rest. I didn’t have the energy to read, and I definitely didn’t have the energy to write.

I just needed to stop and chill out.

 

But I Don’t Have Time to Rest

Accomplishing important tasks all have one thing in common: If we don’t make time for them, we’ll never FIND the time for them. If I waited until I had a free few minutes to write, I would never do it. So I have decided I need to plan my rest like I plan my writing time. Michael Hyatt talks a lot about being intentional. If you are intentional about something, then you are more likely to actually do it or at least make progress. I’m trying to be intentional in other areas of my life, so why not rest?

Ideally, I would rest every week, preferably on Sunday. But Sunday afternoons are prime writing time for me. So, I have decided to pick a day a month to block off. I will not do any writing or work of any kind. I won’t ban cooking because sometimes that’s relaxing for me.

Sometimes we get sick and our body forces us to rest, but I’m hoping that I can plan to rest then give my body the break it needs ahead of time.

I’m putting rest on my calendar just like I put an appointment or a task to be accomplished. I hope that will help me know not to schedule anything else during that time.

I’m I the only one who has trouble resting? How do you make it a priority?

Mom’s Write: What Can You Live Without?

What Can You Live Without?

There’s a finite amount of time in a day. Since most of my day consists of a non-writing day job, I have to really be careful about my hours outside of work. When I wanted to get serious about making a career out of writing, I had to think about what I could live without.

I can do without TV. I grew up overseas with a Beta VCR and no cable. So, the constant addiction to television was foreign to me when I moved back to the United States for college. I’m not anti-TV. I do watch TV, but I also know that I can live without it. When I need to get more writing done, that’s something I CAN give up.

What Can You NOT Live Without?

Eating local and healthy is also a priority for our family. Yes, it takes longer. Yes, it’s slightly more expensive. But my daughter and husband have food allergies. Eating processed foods is simply not a viable option for us. This is a health issue, so an allergy-free dinner is a priority. Some people might think this is a special “diet” that is temporary, but this is something that affects their health. Screaming stomach pains and hives are not something that I enjoy. We can not live without paying attention to what we eat.

What Can You Delegate?

When I was pregnant, I was very, very sick. It was all I can do to make it through a work day without vomiting (most of the time with vomiting). By the time I got home from work, I couldn’t do much. My husband took over almost all of the daily chores. Since my son was born, he has kept up the laundry and the deep cleaning. I don’t spend my Sunday afternoons doing laundry—he does. Sunday afternoons are sacred writing times for me. I’m grateful that he can take on this time-consuming chore.

Priorities

We all have things that are necessary. Family members have to be fed, bills must be paid, you must go to your day job. But if you list all of the things you really want to make a priority, what is at the top of the list?

For me, spending time with my family and pursuing a writing career are priorities.

I’ve had to give up my domestic diva mentality to spending time with these areas in my life. I’ve had to give up sleep too. But I don’t regret it.

 

If you’re having trouble making time to write, think about what you can live without, what you can NOT live without, and what you can delegate. Make writing a priority, not something you’ll do when everything else is done.

 

Mom’s Write: Get Rid of the Guilt Trip

Every mom I know has packed for a guilt trip. You know the kind that needs a gigantic suitcase where you can stuff major mom confessions:

“I let my kids watch TV last night instead of encouraging them to do something constructive.” 

“I let my kids eat french fries instead of giving them fruit.”

“I worked while they ate french fries and watched TV.” 

We shove the confessions in there and carry them around. Those confessions are like little devils whispering in our ears. It’s time to drop off your bag somewhere else.

I wrote about getting rid of the domestic diva mentality a few weeks ago and I think the guilt trip is closely related. For some reason, we feel guilty about a number of things. Even if we shouldn’t. Guilt sucks at our motherly souls and tugs at our heart strings. Those times we have to spend without our kids makes us feel guilty. It can be especially paralyzing if we spend a lot of time at work then want to write. Somehow, we feel guilty about writing and that is often the thing that gets ousted from the schedule.

In her book LEAN IN, Sheryl Sandberg talks about being a working mother and says:

“Guilt management can be just as important as time management for mothers.” 

So how does one manage the guilt? I propose a change in thinking. No one else can free you from self-inflicted guilt.

Ask yourself: what are you most passionate about? Of your personal pursuits, what makes you the happiest?

Chances are, if you are pursuing your dreams, you are better wife, mother, and friend.

Last year I heard Kathryn Erksine, author of MOCKINGBIRD and winner of the National Book Award, speak at the Mid-Atlantic SCBWI conference. She said, “Free yourself from the guilt that you are taking time away from your family and friends. They want you to be happy and this is what it takes for you to be happy.” She also said it is good for children to see their parent going after her dreams.

In my “Making Time to Write” posts, I write about my schedule. Sometimes it does mean making sacrifices of sleep or giving up other activities to make time to write. But I try not to feel guilty about it.

Unpack the bags you have packed for your guilt trip and start writing.

 

 

Mom’s Write: Potential Readers

I know many writers will disagree with me when I say that I sometimes use my own kids as a “test audience” for my books. One of the arguments against this is that kids aren’t going to tell you that they dislike your book because they don’t want to upset you. But the way I see it, I have my own little house of potential readers. I would never tell an agent or an editor that my kids loved my book because that would be a big NO-NO.

But it would also be a lie. They don’t always love my books. And this is good.

Because I learn what doesn’t work.

Sometimes, my kids have questions or get bored. And finding this out makes my writing stronger.

 

Picture Books—Testing Them Out on the Artist

My daughter is an artist. One summer I was taking a picture book class with Candice Ransom and we had to make picture book dummies to help us with paging out our books. There wasn’t supposed to be any artwork—just words. I use this technique with all of my picture books. My daughter picked one up when she was five and asked if she could draw the pictures. No one else will probably ever see these dummies, but it helped me. What pages did she have trouble coming up with a different drawing? These are the pages that don’t work and need to have new images created with words.

 

 

First drawing inside picture book dummy, age 5

First drawing inside picture book dummy, age 5

Picture Book Dummy, Age 7

Picture Book Dummy, Age 7

 

 

Picture Books—Testing Them Out on the Squirmy Boy

I have a 3 year old squirmy boy. One day we were waiting to pick up his sister. He was still buckled into the car seat and I knew I had him right where I wanted him. I started reading him my picture books that I was revising. He didn’t know they were mine. He’s used to me reading to him. What I did notice is this: it’s very different reading out loud to a squirmy three year old than reading aloud to oneself in the privacy of an office. I heard mistakes I didn’t hear before. I noticed where things seemed to drag. Where did he start to squirm? I made notes as a I read.

Picture books, especially beloved picture books, begged to be read aloud again and again. Reading mine out loud lets me test them on for size. Would I want to read this book aloud again and again and again? If not, it’s time to make some changes.

 

Middle Grade—Embracing the Questions

Recently I was really struggling with the opening chapters of a middle grade I loved. But I couldn’t figure out a way to make it work. My daughter and I were in the car (again) waiting to go somewhere. I asked if I could read her something. I had it on my Kindle. I read her the first chapter then asked her what questions she had. At this time, she didn’t know it was my book. She was full of questions. Some were questions that I was okay for her not to know the answers to yet. But some where the types of questions I needed—places where she was confused, places I didn’t set up enough for the reader. I wrote everything down and went to work on rewriting the beginning chapters of the book. And it’s so much better because of it.

 

My Own Worst Critic

I am my own worst critic, and reading some of my books (or parts of them) out loud to my kids (AKA potential readers) helps me be realistic about what’s wrong with the book. These little critics help me make it better.

Mom’s Write: Why I’m An Artist Date Rule Breaker

I’m an Artist Date rule-breaker. There I said it. I like Julia Cameron’s THE ARTIST’S WAY. I love this idea of a weekly Artist Date—you know where she says you must go fill your artist’s well on an outing—alone.

She recommends going to a museum or a play or taking a walk in a beautiful park. Something that allows your mind to play. Her blog even has 101 suggestions for Artists’ Dates.

I don’t take issue with the Artist Date. I think it’s a great idea. I do many of the things she suggested, or I’d be willing try them. However, it’s the solo part I take issue with.

This doesn’t exactly fit with my reality. I can’t always go on a weekly Artist Date by myself. Mostly, I don’t have that much time to myself. When I do, I usually lock the bathroom door and have a bubble bath.

I think there is value in going out and absorbing other artistic or peaceful places. Of course, going alone helps you think. It feeds your work.

But I also think mothers of young children may take the suggestion as nearly impossible. If you are working, writing, and mothering, finding a weekly date to go out alone that doesn’t involve your to-do list might not work, at least on a weekly basis. You can only parcel out so much alone time. I mean, I work full-time, I write when my kids are asleep (and often when they’re awake). I make time for my writing group. All of this is time spent away from them.

WHY NOT?

WHY NOT?

So I began to ask the question WHY NOT? And I summon my best Mo Willem’s NAKED MOLE RAT GETS DRESSED voice when I say this.

WHY NOT take your kids with you on an Artist Date? You might say, “Because I can’t hear myself think when I’m out with my kids.”

True. But if you are a children’s writer, I find this whole Artist Date idea to be family-friendly.

An Artist Date with the whole family

An Artist Date with the whole family on a writing research trip we took.

I write picture books. My picture book brain was filled when I took my daughter to see a play adaptation of a children’s book at our local Children’s Theatre. My writer’s soul was filled when I took her to see Nikki Giovanni and Chris Raschka do a tandem presentation. She was just as thrilled as I was to go to Candice Ransom’s book launch party.

We attended a Candice Ransom book launch party. It's dark because Hollins lost power during the Derecho.

We attended a Candice Ransom book launch party. It’s dark because Hollins lost power during the Derecho.

I’m busy, and I’ll bet you are too. I’m not opposed to an occasional REAL Artists Date that involves visiting some museum alone. But, I’m tired of thinking that there’s some RULE that my writing is going to be less wonderful or my soul will be less fulfilled if my kids tag along.

Oh, and if you asked my kids if they liked going on Artist Dates, they wouldn’t have a clue what you are talking about. To them, it’s just life.

I love having time alone just as much as the next writer, but I also found myself open to a lot more possibilities for Artist Dates when I stopped following the rules.

Do you take your kids on Artist Dates? If so, what do you do?