Switching This World With That One

thinking-writing[1]Many writers who celebrate Christmas probably find December the busiest, most stressful time of the year. I know I do. It’s not that I don’t love Christmas and spending time with friends and family. It’s all the work that leads up to it while trying to balance the day job, and family responsibilities with writing time.

It’s especially challenging for writers with younger kids and/or aging parents, who depend on us to do their Christmas shopping and wrapping, and for those of us who also step up bookselling opportunities.

This year, I find myself preparing for Christmas while editing my first fantasy novel. The novel focuses on Wicca, witches and the proverbial battle between good and evil. Divided into five sections, the one I’m working on takes place in York, England in 1953, a drastic contrast to my real life.

Having written nine mysteries set here in Vancouver and in current time, I’m used to editing in familiar surroundings that deal with real-life types of crime. So it’s a little strange to switch from craft fair bookselling, tree decorating and other chores to writing about spellcasting and run-a-muck serpents. It’s also rather fun.

Although I’m living in two different worlds these days, I usually manage to find myself fully engaged in both. With a lot of practice and not a lot of writing time, I’ve learned to switch gears fast. Within sixty seconds of sitting down and propping my fingertips over the keyboard, real-life tasks fall away and my fictional world takes over.

To be honest, I don’t want to live in a fictional world full time, especially one that deals with the death and destruction that comes from my imagination. From 2010 to 2013, I did write full time, and I’m grateful for those days because the extra time helped me finish projects. I have to admit, though, that I only wrote a couple more hours per day than I had while doing a day job. After writing full time for a year, I missed daily interaction with the real world, not to mention the steady income, and the challenge of writing efficiently while getting everything else done.

For me, it’s not about having more time to write, it’s about making the best use of the time I do have. It’s about quick switches and ensuring that one world doesn’t overwhelm the other, and somehow it works for me.

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What Should I Tell Them?

img_2467[1].jpgA few weeks ago, I was contacted by a teacher at a local high school and asked if I would give a presentation to a group of students who love writing. I jumped at the opportunity because I strongly believe in encouraging young writers.

After the initial invitation, it turns out that I will now be giving four workshops for an entire day, which is evening more thrilling. As I prepare my notes, though, I find myself asking a key question. What should I tell them?

With over 35 years of writing and publishing experience, plenty of ups and downs, and a pretty good grasp of the challenges facing new writers, it would be far too easy to lapse into the disappointments and horror stories that many writers have endured. On the other hand, I don’t want to mislead the students into thinking that it’s all wonderful and profitable. Somehow, I’ve got to find the middle ground. The obvious strategy is to be candid and as positive as I can, but also realistic.

For the most part, I’ll be focusing on the nuts and bolts of writing and editing. Two groups will be spent discussing character development. The other two will concentrate on plotting, point of view, dialogue, themes, tense, and so forth.

At my request, I was sent a list of questions that the students have compiled, which includes getting published and making money, as well as dealing with writers’ block, making time to write, inspiration, and career choices. I hope I can give a well-rounded viewpoint in what is often a crazy frustrating business. But really, the day is all about writing and learning to express ourselves in the most meaningful way possible for each individual. Maybe I should lead with that.

Those Glitches in My Writing Career

Cartoon of Girl WritingI love my writing life. It’s given me great satisfaction over the years and a little bit of income, so I can’t complain. But there are days when things don’t go quite as smoothly as planned, especially on the domestic front.

Sometimes I’m a battle with my kitchen. I can’t tell you how many times the chili I’ve made winds up burned at the bottom of the pot because I was too engrossed in editing to remember to stir it. On occasion, I’ve forgotten to take something out of the freezer for thawing. I also tend to stick to the same ten recipes because I don’t want to take the time to search for new ones. Now that I’m on a leave of absence from the day job, I have been trying new dishes, though.

My nineteen-and-a-half-year-old cat likes to be near me when he’s not sleeping, which is a lot. Whenever I’m at the computer, he plunks himself in my lap and proceeds to drool over my hand and the keyboard. I keep a box of tissues nearby. There’s no point in yelling at him. He’s mostly deaf and lifelong habits are hard for him to break, so I gently put him down on the floor off he goes to find another place to sleep.

The cat is not the only daily interruption. I’ve always kept an open door policy for my family when writing (the kids are grown and don’t live at home anymore), but sometimes interruptions occur while I’m trying to sort out a difficult plotting problem. I’ve been known to give hubby a blank stare when he asks what’s for dinner, not because I don’t know the answer (although sometimes I don’t) but because I’m trying to pull my thoughts out of whatever scene I was working through.

My husband (an accountant) earns a lot more money from his job than I do from writing. When he does my taxes every year, I get a lot of chuckling about my “cute” bookkeeping system and an annoying amount of snickering about my income. But overall, these are minor glitches.

The larger ones include the occasional lousy book review, agents who take years to fail to sell my book, publishers who either dropped me or folded, and tiny royalty checks.

Still, these things are part of every writer’s life. You know as well as I do that every job and career choice has them. But for me, the pros outweigh the cons and glitches notwithstanding, I can’t wait to see what happens next.

 

Assessing Goals, New and Old

keep-calm-and-set-new-goals-257x300[1]This year hasn’t gone by quickly for me, although it has been eventful. I had two main goals in 2018 and neither of them had to do with writing. One was to finally move my mother into assisted living (the decision involved many discussions and was both physically and emotionally draining). The other was to sell Mom’s condo (which required lots of repair). The first goal was achieved on July 29, the second on Nov.  2nd.

Rather than wait for the new year to begin, I’m starting to think about new goals. I’m a big believer in goal setting. It’s the difference between getting something done and plodding along, leaving heaps of half-finished novels in piles.

I do have a number of big, ongoing writing goals that started a few years back. A few of those goals have been met while others are still in the works. Each year I edge a little closer to the finish line.

I probably won’t meet my reading goal of fifty novels this year. I just finished number forty, but I’m not sure I can read ten more books over the next two months. I’d also planned to get the sixth Casey Holland Mystery, The Blade Man, ready for my editor, but I’m behind schedule there as well. I’m just finishing draft #7 and while the book’s much better than it was with draft #6, I need another read-through before handing it over.

There are other writing projects that are not as far along as I hoped, but as you can imagine, real life family issues took priority and will take priority again as my mother’s health slowly declines. So, do I continue to make writing goals? You bet. I’d rather try and fail than not try at all.

The thing about goals is that they can be adjusted, and time limits aren’t always necessary or helpful. The point is to have at least one that matters, so I’m going to be realistic, as I decide which writing and household projects to spend time on over the coming months. Before this year is over, I just might have new goals ready to go for 2019.

Stepping Off the Treadmill

lazy[1]Plenty of writers face burnout, but these days mine centers around real-life family issues which culminated in July when I learned that my mother has a cancerous tumor on her pancreas. We learned this four days before we’d arranged (after much cleaning, sorting, and recycling) to move her into assisted living for her deteriorating dementia issues.

Compounding the challenges was the state of the apartment building she’s living in. The woodframe building’s exterior was being replaced when the contractors discovered major rot inside, resulting in more work and special levy fees for condo owners.

My sister, Val, and I dealt with all of this and were doing okay until Val had a bad fall last month and broke her left kneecap into several pieces. A two-hour long surgery occurred the same day and her knee’s been put back together with wire and screws. She’s currently in an enormous leg brace and will need help around the house and to get to physiotherapy, and so forth.

Combined with my day job and the facilitating I do for a writers’ group on Saturday mornings, I’m feeling a tad worn out. I’d already spent many months going out to my mother’s home to shop, cook, and clean on weekends because she was no longer capable. So, with the support and understanding of terrific work colleagues, I’ve just begun a four-month leave of absence from the day job. As you can imagine, it won’t be all fun or relaxation, but it’s a start at the slowing down process I feel is necessary for my physical and mental well-being.

I had one day to train my replacement. After that I went home, and had a nap, exhausted. I’ve been napping a lot lately. As writers and family members, we need to recognize when it’s time to step off the busy-life treadmill we’ve inadvertently hopped onto.

I’m grateful that I’m able to do this. I’m hoping to write and read a little more, as they are calming distractions from real-life challenges. Besides, it’s what I do. And I know I’ll sleep more, and visit my mother and sister more often, and take care of what needs to be taken care of. It feels somewhat surreal to end the year this way (I won’t be back at work till mid-Feb.) but it feels right. I don’t know if four months is too long or not long enough, but time will tell.

The Aging Writer

senior_woman_working_at_store[1]Those of you who’ve been following this blog a long time know that I’ve written nearly every day for most of my adult life. It’s been an enjoyable habit. Regardless of what I’ve been going through, I’ve managed to write at least a little in all types of different situations (even during the early stages of labor) and in all kinds of places…planes, trains, automobiles, hotel rooms, hospitals, ferries, hockey rinks, sports fields, poolside, and so on.

As I’ve mentioned in the past, it’s inevitable that I sometimes wonder if I’ll retire. I’m in my early sixties now and this decade is proving to be an eventful time of change in my life, some of it amazingly good, and some of it not so much.

Recently, I was blown away by a Washington Post article about the growing number of seniors who are still working at 85+ years. Apparently, over 250,000 Americans in that age category are doing everything from driving trucks to working as crossing guards. As you’ll see in the article HERE, the top jobs for the 85+ crowd are ranching and farming. Who knew? Society is clearly changing its attitude about what aging really means and the options available to seniors.

Researchers attribute the growing number of 85+ workers to longer life expectancies, shrinking retirement plans, and the availability of less physically demanding work. Writers comprise just .04% of the aging work force, which I totally understand. It’s mentally exhausting work that doesn’t pay even minimum wage for most.

Although the article breaks down the types of work and demographics, it doesn’t explore how these older workers feel about their jobs. Are they working because they have to out of financial need or because they want to? If they want to, is it simply to keep busy, or because they intend to help family and/or charities?

In Sue Grafton’s first alphabet mystery, A is for Alibi (published in 1982), we’re introduced to a secondary character named Henry, who is in about eighty years old. Henry’s a retired commercial baker who now makes a living designing difficult crossword puzzles. I remember thinking, wow, what an interesting and unusual character. But it looks like there are a lot of real-life Henrys out there now, and I think the world is better for it.

#amblogging Need Inspiration? Watch the Olympics

2018 OlympicsI remember writing about my admiration for Olympic athletes in the past, and for me it applies even more today than it did back then. I’m not an athlete and never have been. I am an author who’s always been passionate about writing.

Over the years, I’ve learned to deal with rejection, obstacles, setbacks, and occasional outright disappointment in my work. I’ve also learned the importance of perseverance, commitment, and finding new ways to improve and keep on learning.

Sounds a lot like what Olympians experience, doesn’t it? It’s incredibly interesting and moving to hear about the things they went through just to earn a spot at the Olympics.

We all keep going because this is how we choose to live our lives and because it matters to us, win, lose, or draw. This is why I’m still writing, still working toward goals, and still taking on new challenges.

Of course, writing is far less punishing on the body. Nor do we have TV cameras showcasing our successes and failures to the world. Unfortunately, we don’t get a nice shiny medal if we actually publish a book, although wouldn’t that be cool?