Calming Calendar Chaos

We’ve almost made it to October and in my little part of the Midwest we’ve actually had decent weather for sideline sitting so far. And we’ve been doing a lot of sideline sitting! I wrote about keeping perspective on your kiddos and sports here. Today I thought I’d write about how we determine priorities when we have schedule conflicts and how we try to maintain sanity with three boys who are all involved in sports year round.

Some days, the dropping off and picking up for practices can be a little hectic and I have to remind myself why do sports. (They love the activity, it teaches them teamwork and how to take direction from coaches, it helps them with time management, they build friendships, learn how to handle losses, etc.) I’m pretty sure sports could overrun our lives, though, if I didn’t set a few ground rules.

The first ground rule is to follow our family priority list. I read somewhere the importance of making a priority list for your family. (And honestly, I can’t remember where, but if you’ve heard this before, please let me know and I will give proper credit!) You don’t have to hang the list on the wall in some fancy Pinterest frame, but you do have to talk about it with your kids and explain your reasoning. And no, I didn’t get my kids’ input on it. We’re not a democracy. We’re a benevolent monarchy…So, our family’s list looks like this:

  1. God
  2. Family
  3. School
  4. Sports

When there’s a schedule conflict, we hold it up to this list. For example, for some reason, Sunday mornings are no longer off-limits for meets and practices. This annoys me. Anyway, if a Sunday meet or practice shows up on the calendar, we hold it up to the list. Is it higher in importance than their Sunday School class? Nope. So they don’t go to the meet or practice. Here’s how it’s helpful: we are being consistent with our priorities as a family. If I had to make a decision every time we had a schedule conflict, there would be so much whining, arguing, and inconsistency. When I use this list, I’m not making a decision. We are just observing where things fall on the priority list and proceeding accordingly. I don’t think I could handle having to make the call every time.

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Striving for Progress

“The perfect is the enemy of the good.”

– Voltaire

This has become one of my go-to phrases over the years, though it was only in researching this article that I found out who originally said it.  Voltaire’s words apparently best translate to “the best is the enemy of the good,” but that makes me like the phrase even better because now I can appreciate how a little imperfection in the translation actually made it better.

Years before Gretchin Rubin brought this quote back in vogue in her 2009 chronicle The Happiness Project, I first heard this line from a bunch of crusty old CIA officers trying to train the new recruits. They’d fling Voltaire’s pearls before us swine with the same intensity they brought to every lesson, condemning our Type A-ness as a potentially life-threatening flaw, while, in the next breath, berating us for achieving anything less than 97 percent. (Of course, none of those guys ever attributed the quote to Voltaire, though I suspect that they kept the source to themselves out of a matter of habit rather than ignorance. That, and because admitting to knowing Voltaire would have put a chink in the battle-hardened, professor-of-the-real-world exterior they worked diligently to maintain.)

But Ms. Rubin and those cranky old men would all agree (a weird mental image, let me tell you) that perfection is illusory. It’s the destination you’ll never arrive at – the mirage on the horizon. It’s one more hill to climb; one of your own making! Chasing it is a waste of time and, possibly, a surfeit of hubris. Keep that in mind the next time you’re panting to get through one more round of revisions or the ‘perfect’ birthday craft project.

But if we’re not striving for perfection, what are we striving for? Personally, I’m on board with the wisdom of my son’s super-inspiring pre-K teachers who say “practice makes progress,” rather than the much more restrictive and anxiety-producing adage I grew up with.

Here’s the catch, and you Type A’s out there will have already identified this: if we’re exchanging perfection for progress as our goal, how do we know when we’ve hit the mark? How do we know when we’ve lived up to our full potential as writers, or *gulp!* parents? If we don’t have perfection as our destination, how can we tell if we’ve done enough?

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Revise, Revise, Revise

Before we start the post, we must announce the winner of our giveaway! Drum roll, please…

The winner is Cara Martinisi!

Thank you to everyone who entered! Cara, we’ll be in touch. We hope you love the Kate Spade desk set and Christian Lacroix journal.

I know our posts are usually a mix of writer and parent talk, but this one is focused on writing. Specifically, revision. If you aren’t a writer, you might still enjoy the peek into this dark, lonely world. And maybe you’ll buy your writer friend some alcohol the next time you notice her mumbling about revising as her eye twitches.

Revision is on my mind because I just revised a manuscript, and it was a big, whole book revision. I love revision. True story. One of my mentors called me “cheerfully aggressive” when revising. I think I love it because I know if I put the work in, there’s something even better waiting on the other side – stronger characters, better description, a tighter plot. I love this quote from author Shannon Hale:

“I’m writing a first draft and reminding myself that I’m simply shoveling sand into a box so that later I can build castles.”

Revision is when you finally get to build your sandcastle. It’s where all the crafting comes in. Let’s pretend you finished that first draft. You sent it out to a few trusted critique partners and have feedback on what’s working and what’s not. You mulled over their points and have a game plan on what you want to do. It’s time to revise! Here are a few techniques and supplies that helped me get through this round of revisions…

1.Kidding. This is whiskey. I drink vodka.

 

2.     Okay for reals…Have a list of the key things you are looking to change, so you can refer back to it. Or put big checkmarks over key things listed as you finish them.

 

3.     Copy/paste your file into a new document and then save it as “manuscript title revisions” or “my feeble attempt at fixing this hot-mess of a first draft”. I usually go for something similar to the latter. This way, your original draft is intact and you won’t feel so nervous about slicing and dicing passages or whole chapters. Don’t talk to me about Scrivener. It’s like trying new vegetables. I know it’s good for me, but I’m still afraid. One day, I will learn how to wield its awesome power. Not today.

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Give to Get

It’s here! Back to school time! How many of you were counting days until your little loves were officially elsewhere for a consistent period, five days a week, so that you could get back to your routine? Raise your hands high now, it’s okay; there’s no one there to see you! You’ve finally got the house to yourself. Your writing nook is quiet. No one is there to disturb the Muse, should it decide to drop in.

If you’re like me, your to-do list is long. It seems like it was all I could do this summer to even jot down new ideas before I forgot them. Now we’ve got the time to dive into our plans and goals. HOORAY! Time to get back in the swing of things and let your creative juices roll.

Just one sec. Before you start researching your next WIP, or scouring for the right agent, or hammering out the word count, I’d encourage you to stop and consider doing this important thing first:

Pay it forward.

Or if you’ve been fortunate already…

Give back.

Before you run away, I’m not soliciting for anything. I’m here to point out the value of getting involved in your community/communities, because it’s a fine point that I think gets brushed over by lots of professional advice columns. The industry is big on encouraging your to develop your author website and social media presence, but I believe there’s nothing like building personal connections. Sure, not everyone in the PTA is going to buy your future book, read your forthcoming article, or have a friend in the publishing industry that they’re dying to set you up with. But more of them will be helpful to you if they know you personally and want to support you because you are supporting something that is meaningful to them. Personal connections are the bedrock on which all your other platforms will be based.

There are so many benefits to getting involved in your communities. Let’s start with mental health. Writing can be a solitary occupation. Spending days alone at your keyboard and evenings surrounded by family can be very comfortable (or not), but it’s isolating. Sometimes you need other adults to talk to who aren’t family members. When you’re stuck with a problematic scene, have gotten your umptieth form rejection letter, or are facing (God Forbid) writer’s block, it’s good to go think about/do something else. Sometimes having a different task is helpful for unclogging the mental drain. Sometimes you meet people along the way who are happy to lend a sympathetic ear.  Sometimes it’s good to hear about the challenges others face day to day. It can help keep it all in perspective.

Taking it one step further, getting involved is a great way to acquire new material. I collect the best snippets of life in a small town when I’m packing lunches for our local Backpacks for Food program. The volunteer work itself is pretty repetitive, but that means the conversation is usually pretty good. And since this is a charity program that draws on a cross section of interests, it also brings out a fun variety of people – all of whom have kids near and dear to their hearts. For a pretty minimal time commitment, I always come away with a smile, usually having learned something new as part of the process. Plus when I’m sitting in front of my keyboard snacking away, I can feel better about it knowing I’m helping a kid enjoy the ability to snack too.

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Date Night and Other Imaginings

I went out on a date with my husband this weekend to a Live/Counting Crows concert. The music was great – I hadn’t been to an outdoor rock concert in almost twenty years. We hired a sitter who we’ve had over before, but not regularly. She’s super competent and the kids love her, so I walked away without batting an eye. As I was chilling at the concert, it occurred to me that I’ve lost that guilt of leaving the kids. And I remembered the time when it was a very stressful, concerned feeling to walk out the door. The time when it felt impossible to have everything ready for the kids and to get myself ready and to actually walk out without someone having a fit. So, I reflected on that time and have some random thoughts below.

I was in MOPS for a long time (Mothers of Preschoolers) and now I’m in MomsNext, which is for moms with kids elementary-aged through high school. Each table had a mentor mom – a women who had kids in college or older. I remember the mentor moms in MOPS encouraging us young moms to get away without our kids. To keep dating our husbands. And I could see their point. Yes, I desperately wanted to wear something that wasn’t stained with markers or boogers. Yes, I wanted to go out and have a conversation with my husband. But how? The logistics of it were exhausting to even think about.

When you have the littles, budgets can be tight and babysitters can be scarce. And no matter how much you want to make plans to get out, you usually just end up falling asleep on the couch surrounded by toys that make too much noise. And then the next day starts it all over again!

Instead of a couple, you and your husband become a team – dividing chores and supervision of the spawn – which is cool. It’s good to work as a team, but there’s always this danger of slipping into co-workers or co-habitants. You can become two people living under the same roof, coordinating schedules and tag-teaming domestic disaster management.

Which can all work really well in the moment, except one day, sooner than you can imagine, the kids are going to grow up and move out and you are going to wake up next to a stranger. And yes, you and said stranger will have achieved this huge accomplishment of raising little people into, hopefully, contributing members of society. But just as becoming parents can feel like a loss of identity as a couple or as a professional, there will be a loss/change of identity when the kids move out. Your lives won’t be defined by doctors’ appointments and team schedules. Grocery shopping for a ravenous teen army will become dinner for two again. And if you haven’t invested in your relationship with each other during the parenting years, you’ll be starting over.

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