Decision Point. Set. Match.

Anyone else feeling overrun with decisions that need to be made lately? What’s the perfect holiday gift? Do we invite the family to stay with us, or travel to them? It’s not just the holidays, though they seem to make it all a bit more anxiety-inducing. Personally, I’ve been staring down my mental decision trees for so long now, all I see is brambles. For example, with five days of NaNoWriMo remaining, I was noodling through the following: tether myself to my computer, coming up only for life-sustaining necessities, in order to churn out approximately 5,0000 words per day to make the 50K finish line; OR be (relatively) normal, but fail to qualify as a “winner” this year. 

For some of you, this isn’t much of a conundrum. For me at the time, the decision wasn’t straight forward. In retrospect, it felt like a microcosmic reflection of a number of decisions that have been tripping through my mind lately, and which, like the cosmos itself, are expanding ever outward in scope and importance. Should Julie and I continue feeding energy into this blog or use that time and effort for other writing goals? Should my family stay the course on limiting screen time for the kiddo, or use the electronic babysitter to create more time for my husband and I to get work done? Do we continue here in New York or once again go adventuring? Etc., etc. And I always wonder, even when the issues appear entirely disparate, how will any one of these decisions impact the others? 

Photo by Jens Lelie on Unsplash

Back to NaNo and my pie-in-the-sky goals, the last five days of November this year included Thanksgiving, complete with family commitments (and actual pie), not to mention a host of other seasonal temptations. Perhaps these facts are enough to drive you firmly in a certain direction. For me, though, the pull between “winning” and “family” is stronger than I should probably admit. Even though I do really believe that every word written is in itself a win, the decision to give up going for the gold was still tough. 

What pushed me over the tipping point, however, wasn’t family, nor missing out on Black Friday (which turned out to be one of my higher word count days), but the needs of my story. Sure, I could have rushed it. It wouldn’t have been the first time (hello, NaNo manuscripts from 2014-2017). While I still believe there is a certain dark logic in the adage, ‘don’t get it right, get it written,’ admittedly, it can make the revision process not just longer, but hairier . It’s one thing to realize you have a plot hole or two, or a character that isn’t fully developed, or an internal inconsistency – it’s another thing all together to realize you’re staring down all this AND MORE as you start your revisions. So, in the end, I decided discretion was the better part of valor this time and I’d let my story continue to spin out at its own pace. Which is to say, I’m hoping to be done with the draft before Christmas, but I’m willing to give it the time that it needs, even if that means I’m still plugging away at the first draft into 2020. 

Continue reading “Decision Point. Set. Match.”

The 12 Days of NaNo

November is National Novel Writing Month, or NaNoWriMo. If you’ve never heard of NaNo, as it’s commonly referred to, check it out here. The goal is to get 50,000 words down on paper in the month of November. It’s November 20th as I write this, and, well, let’s just say I’m not on track to hit that number.

At the rate I’m going, I’ll hit my NaNo word count maybe 12 days this month. Are you in the same sinking boat? Take heart! I’ve written a little parody to cheer up all of us NaNo-not-quites. I combined my NaNo failure with the excitement of the upcoming holidays. I present to you…

The 12 Days of NaNo (Note: In writer world, MS = manuscript.)

On the first day of Nano

I managed to achieve

an outline of an MS.

On the second day of NaNo

I managed to achieve

two hundred words

and an outline of an MS.

On the third day of NaNo

I managed to achieve

three lame scenes,

two hundred words,

and an outline of an MS.

On the fourth day of NaNo

I managed to achieve

four storylines,

three lame scenes,

two hundred words,

and an outline of an MS.

Continue reading “The 12 Days of NaNo”

Go for it!

What you’ll look like doing #NaNoWriMo 2019

Welcome to November! Just as Julie returns to sporting themes periodically, I seem destined to return to NaNoWriMo around this time every year (see Ready, Steady, NaNo or Eeking out time to write). If you’re not participating in NaNo 2019, don’t x this article out! While NaNo was what got my gears turning, this article is aimed at anyone who’s been wanting to do something creative and new, but hasn’t…yet. To those of you who find yourself thinking, “I’d love to try, but…”, keep reading. 

First, a brief aside; I promise it will all come together by the end. I LOVE NaNoWriMo (in case you hadn’t already figured that out). This is my 7th year participating, though, if I’m being honest, two of those years were total flops. Maybe this year will be a flop too – it’s too early to tell. So, the question is why do I love NaNo so much, especially if I can never be certain if I’m going to be a “winner”? 

It’s because NaNoWriMo is one of those opportunities in life that is ALL win. 

Let me explain. 

Outcome A: You work really hard and you find out that your story only has 40,000 words to it (not the 50K required to ‘win’). YOU WROTE A STORY! A WHOLE STORY! (Ok, at least two-thirds of a story.) That’s amazing! You’ve just birthed art into the world and you’ve exposed a part of your deep dark consciousness to the light. How can that be anything but a win?

Outcome B: You have the best of intentions, but life is overwhelming and you only manage to write 5,000 words of a story that you know is going to be a blockbuster one day, if only you had the time to write it. FANTASTIC! You’ve tapped into that inner muse, the genius of the universe, and as a result you WILL come back to this addictive idea another time. November is a weird month, sandwiched between back to school frenzy and holiday insanity. My kid doesn’t have a single full week of school this entire month. It is NOT the ideal writing month, from my perspective. So give yourself credit for unearthing an award winning idea and allow yourself to be excited about getting back to it in January, February, July, or whenever it is that YOU can make time for it. 

Outcome C:  You write 10,000 words of something that feels totally frivolous. You’re writing in a genre you never thought you’d write in, that maybe you don’t even read in, and you have no idea what you’re doing or where you’re going with it. It has no place to occupy on your short-list of professional goals. WHAT A GIFT!! You just learned something new about yourself. Or maybe you knew, but you’d forgotten and allowing this part to have a little time in the sun feels like a reconnection with yourself. Maybe your brain needed to do something different in order to be able to knuckle back down to the hard tasks you demand of it all the other hours in the day. Whatever the reason, take a moment to honor how it felt, and to reflect that perhaps not every minute of your day needs to be task oriented.

Continue reading “Go for it!”

Sideline Headaches

Photo by Sandro Schuh on Unsplash

When I finished the rough draft for this post, I went to look for other posts I’ve written on youth sports and realized I’ve already written three. Here, here, and here. I considered pivoting and writing about one of the many painful plot points in a writer’s journey, but decided I would feel better if I got this off my chest. So here’s the original rant for your reading pleasure. I’ll save the agony of writing for the next post.

Fall soccer season is almost over and I couldn’t be happier. I need a break. Not from the non-stop driving to practices, the lost uniforms, or the chronic misplacement of water bottles. Nope. What I need a break from is some of the “fans.” Some of the people who are hanging out on the sidelines with me – mostly parents and grandparents – from both teams. It’s their constant shouting at children from our camping chairs that has me wanting to bring a roll of duct tape to the games and use it with reckless abandon. Here are the two things I heard coming out of grown adults’ mouths most often this season:

  1. “That was your ball, Joe!”

This is usually yelled after some poor kid made a mistake or just got beat to the ball by an opponent. Um, Joe knows it was his ball. He’s quite aware that the other kid beat him to it or kicked it away from him…but I’m sure he’s sooooo happy to have his parent pointing it out to him in front of his teammates and the people/strangers on the sidelines. In the middle of the freaking game. Great thinking.

  • “You gotta get there faster, Tom!”

I love this one because it usually comes from a parent or grandparent who couldn’t run up and down the field one time without having a cardiac event. Tom’s well aware he got beat. Having an adult shout at him about it is definitely going to make him faster next time. (Insert eye roll.)

What are we thinking?! Do we think this sort of public correcting or chastising in the middle of a game is going to motivate our kid? It’s not! They aren’t going to want to play anymore if we suck the fun out of the game…because this is supposed to be fun, right?

Continue reading “Sideline Headaches”

Begin. Again.

“Failure is simply the opportunity to begin again, this time more intelligently.” – Henry Ford

I’ve got a note on the wall in the shower (if you haven’t discovered Aqua Notes, you’re missing out – they will change your life) that reads: 

If you’ve been reading our blog for a while, you’ll know that September was not my month for writerly achievements. It was, in fact, the month I wanted to take a sledgehammer to my laptop, delete all my files from the cloud, and otherwise burn it all down. Which isn’t really my style, generally speaking. Luckily, the phase passed after a few days of self-pity. Then it was time to begin again. To start over. To redefine the way I approached the things that were draining me. 

But where? What should I do differently to ensure I didn’t end up back at the nuclear option?

The act of writing the note was my start.

1 page

1 pound

1 stretch

Begin

It was an exhortation to myself to get moving. It was a new set of goals, and maybe most importantly, it was a reminder to break my goals down into small, achievable pieces.

The idea of setting achievable goals in order to create a cycle of successes isn’t a new one. In fact, it might be THE lesson life has been attempting to teach me in 2019. As usual, though, I’m a slow learner. Despite having encountered this notion in several formats this year, I keep setting goals that lead to frustration. I couldn’t figure out how to reconceptualize the goal-setting process.

Frustrated Head GIF by swerk - Find & Share on GIPHY

Then I had one of those fortuitous visits with a couple I love dearly who have recently achieved dramatic, healthy weight loss.  I’m not exaggerating when I say that they’ve, together, lost as much as I weigh. It’s amazing. And so inspiring. Especially for someone who has stubbornly hung on to the last 10 pounds of baby weight accumulated over six years ago.  I asked my friends how they did it, expecting guidance on apps used, food systems implemented, etc. My mind was blown by the simplicity of my friend’s response. She said that she had never had much success trying to lose 10 pounds or 20 pounds, so she decided to lose ONE pound. And then she did it again. And again. And again. It was a success she repeated so often that it became habit. 

THIS is the lesson the universe has been trying to teach me! One pound. I can lose one pound. Even if it is one pound of die-hard, stick to your hips baby weight. I can totally do one.

Continue reading “Begin. Again.”

On Raising a Writer

Photo by David Pennington on Unsplash

If you love to write, it’s natural that you want (and maybe expect) your kids to love writing. Totally misguided, but natural. I think I’ve raised all three of my boys the same way when it comes to reading and writing, but there have been drastically different results. Because they are their own persons with their own interests and gifts. The nerve, right? Anyway, I still stand by some of the techniques below because they’ve helped each of the boys, albeit in different ways. So, if you’re looking for some help with your reluctant writer or you want to encourage your budding Stephen King, check these out…

  1. Read.

Yes, the same advice that was given to you when you first expressed an interest in becoming a writer. Read. Everything. For kids, that translates into reading aloud often and exploring different genres with them. One of my kiddos didn’t read independently until age seven. As we encouraged him to learn his stinking sight words, we continued reading aloud every night. We took books on CD in the car and made sure he had a little CD player so he could listen to them on his own, too. By fostering the love of story, you can expose them to the parts of a story, dialogue, and characters. All things that are good foundation for when they are writing themselves.

We recently started picking up PlayAways at our library and they love them! Check to see if your library carries them!

2. Take Dictation

I let all three kids dictate stories to me when they were too young to write. You can fold some paper in half and – to everyone’s delight – get out the stapler. The most exotic of all office supplies. Or you can buy some of these. Whatever works. As they told me their story, I would stop them now and then to ask a question with great interest. What happened next?  Was anyone with the mechanical robot bunny? How did that make the monster feel? It becomes a bit of a conversation. You’re getting more details and helping to build their story. In our case, it helped if I didn’t censor much. They felt free to be as imaginative as they wanted.  So, there were lots of farting, mechanical robot bunny defeating the three-headed monster stories.

Continue reading “On Raising a Writer”

Hitting The Wall

Photo by Robert Bye on Unsplash

Let’s talk about The Wall. 

No, not that wall. The Wall. The one you eventually hit when you’re a creator. Or a parent. Or just adulting.  

Sometimes you hit it in one part of your life and then it spreads to the others. Then it’s The WALL.

From Gripped Magazine, 11 Aug 2014

Maybe it’s the phase of the moon, or the season, or one of those seven-year cycles, but recently it feels like I know too many people up against The Wall. Family members who have lost jobs. Friends who have been betrayed by those they love.  Creators who haven’t met with the success on which they pegged so many dreams. And at the start of the new school year, so many lovely people who are starting new phases of their lives and are just overwhelmed by the changes, even when many of those changes are good. 

I’ll admit it: I’m one of those people. 

Last week, I hit my writing Wall.[i] Rejection played a big part: I did okay with the first 20 rejections for my Middle Grade manuscript, but numbers 21 & 22 did me in. I stared at my query letter, unable to tell any longer if it needs more tweaking or just to be set aflame. I thought about whether I needed to rewrite the first chapter, or scrap it entirely. I considered whether I should turn my attention to something else for a while, and realized I didn’t even have the wherewithal to figure out a way forward on the half-dozen or so works-in-progress that linger as perpetually open tabs on my desktop and that physically clutter my office. I tried to go back to my writing goals for the year, to find a way to progress out of my funk only to realize with a distant horror I didn’t want to do any of the things necessary to move forward with any of my goals. 

I felt totally, utterly defeated in a way I haven’t since I last took a microeconomics exam. 

Anyone else been there? Lately? Then you know how easily it can become cyclical. You feel drained. You want to do nothing. So nothing is what you do. But, as it turns out, nothing doesn’t help. 

Continue reading “Hitting The Wall”

Turn! Spin! Pivot again!

Sometimes parenthood seems the longest exercise in learning how to do 180-degree turns, doesn’t it? 

It started with the shift from summer travel mode to summer camp mode last week. The preparation was mostly mental: getting our son excited to go to camp after a summer free of morning drop offs. For me, it was about switching my brain from full-time mom/activity director to writer. I spent at least a week pirouetting through mental checklists of all the writerly activities I wanted to get done in that blessed summer camp week. My brain churned with neglected projects that represented well more than a week’s worth of work. So on Monday morning, we accomplished the logistical maneuvers to get us out of the house with all the summer camp necessities…only to hit a heart-wrenching plot twist. 

Someone (and by ‘someone’, I mean me) hadn’t actually submitted the camp registration. The roster was full and my son’s name was not on the list. After an awkward conversation with two separate (and incredibly nice) members of the camp staff, we were back in the car headed home.

SPIN!

After a week of up-selling camp, I had to execute a hard right turn to keep my kid from feeling the sting of rejection. The reminder of what he was missing as fresh and uncomfortable as the shoes, wet with dew from the summer camp fields, we were both wearingMy brain went into overdrive trying to figure out how to keep the week from being a total disaster. The problem was, all the items on my writing to-do list were screaming like passengers going down in a plane crash, and it was hard to think (or breathe normally) for all their small tragedies. 

PIVOT!

I’m only a little embarrassed to admit that I held it together for approximately 30 seconds after my husband took our son to walk the dogs, giving me a few moments to “look at the calendar.” The words “summer camp,” scrawled across the week some months before, reduced me to a sniffling mess. It was partially embarrassment that I’d somehow managed to fail at a fairly basic parent task. It was partially concern that my failure would cause our son to feel sad and/or disappointed all week. And it was at least 50 percent despair at the sudden loss of precious writing time, sandwiched as it was between six weeks of travel and the start of a new part-time job. 

Continue reading “Turn! Spin! Pivot again!”

Getting a Grip with Author Sarah Kapit

Kat Portrait Studio

I’m excited to share an interview with author Sarah Kapit. Her debut middle grade novel, GET A GRIP, VIVY COHEN!, releases February 25, 2020. From Sarah’s website:

Vivy Cohen yearns to throw her knuckleball in a real game. But her mother is convinced that an autistic girl won’t be able to handle the pressures of a full baseball season. When a Little League Coach spots Vivy practicing with her brother in the park, she gets her chance. She makes a deal with Mom: Vivy can give baseball a try.

But pitching for a real team isn’t exactly easy. During her first season, Vivy must deal with nerves and bullies. And after a line drive smacks Vivy straight in the forehead, keeping Mom on board with Vivy’s baseball dreams proves just as tough as keeping the ball in the strike zone.

Through all of her travails, Vivy writes letters to the one person she can be honest with: MLB pitcher VJ Capello. Then, VJ writes back.

Sounds amazing right?! (You can pre-order it here!) Read on to learn about her inspiration for the book and some of her thoughts on the craft of writing.

Thanks for taking the time to chat with us, Sarah! Congratulations on your upcoming debut middle grade novel! Can you tell us where or how you got the idea for GET A GRIP, VIVY COHEN! ?

As a baseball fan, the idea of a woman pitcher in MLB is so exciting to me. When I first saw the previews for PITCH–an absolutely wonderful show that was tragically cancelled after one season–that was really the genesis of the story. I just had an intense emotional reaction to seeing a woman taking the pitcher’s mound.

So all of that was percolating around my brain. Plus, I’ve long believed it’s likely that the first woman to play in MLB will be a knuckleball pitcher because the pitch relies on finger movement. Knuckleballers don’t have to be capable of throwing the ball 95+ miles an hour. Since I write middle grade, a girl knuckleball pitcher with big dreams came to my mind. I’ve also long wanted to write an explicitly autistic character, in a book that explores themes of neurodiversity. When I realized that all of this could fit together, the book’s concept just fell into place.

You recently received a box of ARCs of your book. How did you feel finally seeing it in print?

Completely amazing! I keep one copy by my nightstand and it’s hard to stop liking it. Vivienne To did a great job with the cover art, and it looks even better in print. I also love the way the interior design team laid out the pages.

And here’s the awesome cover!

Your main character, Vivy, has autism and her mother is reluctant to let her pitch for the baseball team. Do you think this book will open up dialogue between kids who have autism and their parents?

I hope so! Mostly, I hope that autistic kids who read this book realize that their way of advocating for themselves is valid, and that what they say matters.

Continue reading “Getting a Grip with Author Sarah Kapit”

Workforce Re-entry: the end of the search is just the beginning

by Susan Silverman

It has been two months since my family returned from our three year European adventure. I knew the hardest thing about returning to the United States was finding a job…in my field, at the level I left, and at the salary that I was making previously. As I wrote in January, the research data shows that it is almost impossible to return to the working world at the seniority, professional level, and salary you were getting before you stepped away to take care of kids, parents, or whatever. The data is against us. 

In my experience, the data is at least partially right. But before I fill you in on my results, I want to share some tips that proved helpful in my search.

Network! Rule No. 1 of job hunting: reach out to your social circle, friends in your adult sports team, the postman, ANYONE. You never know who might know someone. I was emailing people left and right even before we returned to the States to set up meetings, coffee talks, or online chats to discuss the current status of my field, learn about potential professional opportunities, or just pick up the latest industry gossip.

Know What You Want and Who You Are! So you want to network, but what do you say? In less than 30 seconds, you need to clearly state who you are, your strengths, and the type of job you are looking for, preferably with minimal industry-specific jargon. Think of it as being your own public relations expert who is selling YOU, your skills, and goals. My “PR pitch” highlights my experience in international affairs while stressing my desire for a deputy project manager or chief of staff-type role. Check out Career Sidekick’s great article for specific tips.

Be Active! Spending all your time on the internet searching and applying for jobs is futile at best. I found that when you apply to a job online you are lucky to get an email rejection back. (And for my soapbox moment of the day: if you take the time to complete a job application, the least a company can do is respond saying yes we are interested, or no we aren’t. The lack of politeness on the part of companies to potential employees is beyond awful.) So when you find a job you want to apply to, avoid having it end up in the resume abyss by checking LinkedIn to see if you know anyone at that company—or even have a friend of a friend—who is willing to forward your resume to the hiring manager. Added bonuses for you both: your friend can potentially offer a word of support for your application, and some companies offer credit to employees who help identify talent. I employed this tactic a few times, but admittedly even then only heard back from a recruiter once.

If you follow these steps, you’ll hopefully end up with an offer or two. The big question then is, do you take any job or do you wait for the right one?

Continue reading “Workforce Re-entry: the end of the search is just the beginning”