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.”

Five Ways to Work Your Creative Goals into Summer with the Kids

image via Pinterest 

Parents: the clock is running out on the school year and whatever schedule you’ve been able to cobble together to support your creative goals. Hopefully, you’ve got lots of camps lined up for the kiddos that will keep them busy without breaking the bank, but if not (like me), don’t worry! We’ll get through this together! And here’s how…

Photo by Nicole Honeywill on Unsplash

1 – Create while they sleep. Before they wake, after they go to bed, while they  nap – that’s your sacred creative time. You’d be surprised how much you can get accomplished with even an hour a day set aside, if you commit to that hour at least five days a week. Pro tip: my kid is an early riser. So we bought him one of those alarm clocks that change color when it’s ok for him to be up, and set it for 7 a.m. He’s almost always up before the clock turns green, but now knows not to put a pinkie outside his room until the “green light says go.” I, meanwhile, set my alarm for 6 a.m. daily and voila! There’s my hour a day.

2 – Establish a routine for your family that includes your creative time.  If you’ve got little littles, you’ll need help from a partner or older child on this one, but by the time your kiddo is four, s/he should be able to self-entertain for at least an hour. I get that this can be challenging to figure out, but once it’s part of the routine, you’ll marvel at what you can get done – and it’ll feel good to have your family acknowledge that this is something YOU need, especially after tending to their needs the rest of the day. Pro tip: I tack this hour on to my early morning creative time, to get almost two solid hours of work time every day. When my child first emerges, I make sure he’s got something to eat and something to do, and then go back to working until 8 a.m. Cheater tip: Use screen time. I know this is controversial but here’s how I have made my peace with it – it’s usually the only screen time he gets all day. On weekdays, he’s restricted to educational games and shows. Do I feel better about the world on days when he ignores his screen in favor of coloring or some other project? Yup, sure do – but I’m over feeling guilty about using technology to create space in our house. After all, technology is supposed to work for us, and believe you me, this technology is being employed in service of a greater good!

image via Pinterest
Continue reading “Five Ways to Work Your Creative Goals into Summer with the Kids”

Hope and Grief, Connection and Creativity: An Interview with Cara Martinisi

Cara Martinisi is a writer, advocate, certified grief counselor, and mom to three little boys, one in heaven and two on Earth. She lost her 6-year-old son in a tragic accident in 2014. She blogs about her journey, sharing with others the beauty and wisdom she and her family have found in the pain they experience. Visit her blog at Christian’s Red Balloon and her new foundation Love From Heaven to support grieving families. You can also connect on Twitter at Grief’s Guiding Light @lightofgrief.

Cara, you have a beautiful blog about dealing with the loss of a child, and you’ve published other articles in a variety of blogs (including this one) besides. What is it like trying to capture your experience, your emotions, in words? 

Self-expression in words has always come easy to me. In fact many times, I find myself narrating situations in my own head as they are unfolding. The physical act of writing is soothing. I love the way pen and pencil feel on paper. As my emotions leave my body and the pen glides along the page, a certain sense of calm overcomes me.

There are some emotions that are more difficult than others to put into words. When I have trouble finding words that fit my emotions, I turn to meditation. Often this works, but not always.

Photo by Aung Soe Min on Unsplash

After Christian passed away, my ability to read was gone. The concentration and focus needed to delve into books had vanished. It pained me. It was over a year before I could pick up a book again. Now I read even more ferociously than before. The more I read, the more I am able to express myself. Reading, all different kinds of texts, has proven to be a wonderful compliment to my writing.

Were you a writer before 2014, or did the need to write arise out of your experiences? 

I have always considered myself a writer. English was my favorite subject in high school and my major in college. While many students bemoan paper writing, I enjoyed it. My confidence never paved the way for me to believe that I was good enough to do much more than write school papers. Although I was employed as a Deputy Managing Editor at The Economist, it felt as though it was more my attention to punctuation and detail that landed me my job.

After we lost Christian, writing was my way to carry on his memory. I would post a photograph, accompanied with a blurb about him, each day. At one time photography was a large creative outlet for me. That outlet seems to have dimmed since losing Christian, while writing is taking center stage now.

Grief is a powerful emotion.  Does it serve as a motivator or demotivator for you? 

Grief is an intensely powerful emotion. Most of the time it serves as a motivator for me. Many blog posts are derived from my own real time emotions surrounding grief. It truly helps me to keep the blog flowing, as emotions are always flowing. Grief will always be a part of me. With time and growth, my relationship to it changes, but it will always be there.

There are days, and sometimes more than one strung together, when grief is a demotivator. When these dark days descend upon me, fewer than in the past thankfully, it is difficult to do anything that brings joy. There are times when focusing is difficult. Eventually the fog lifts and I find myself returning to writing.

What did you hope to achieve when you started the blog, Christian’s Red Balloon?

My goals have always centered around helping others. It is all about healing. The hope has been to help others heal as well as to continue walking my own healing journey. I have received messages from grieving parents, those who have experienced grief in the past, as well as people who have just walked through tough times telling me that my writing is relate-able and helpful. While I am aware that my blog speaks most poignantly to grieving parents, I am also aware that none of us escape the world without running into some trouble.

It has been over a year that I have been writing my blog and it has become abundantly clear that a strong message is hope. Hope for those grieving, hope for those who are sick, hope for those who are experiencing tough times. We cannot control what comes our way in life, only our reactions. We need to move through the pain, the troubles that arise, and find light. For that is the only way to live again after you have been burned by the fire.

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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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Reward Yourself!

It’s been one of those days. The house is a disaster, your kid(s) melted down seven times since waking and you’re barely through lunch (leftover chicken nuggets and fries). You’re behind on your latest work in progress, there are deadlines to meet for your clients, and you and the spouse have barely been able to exchange more than necessary instructions for survival as you pass each other coming or going. You’re exhausted, the caffeine isn’t sufficient (no matter how many cups you microwave), and you’re wondering when or IF it’s going to get better.  How are you ever going to get through your mile long to-do list?

Take a breath and prepare to reward yourself!

No, I’m not a millennial. I’m a child of the 80s, raised on the belief that you’ve got to pull yourself up by your astro-boot straps, jump on your bike, and take on the neighborhood bullies yourself if you want to enjoy your poprocks and your Bruce Springsteen in peace.

But did you see how many rewards were up for grabs in that idealized 80s reflection? Not just the poprocks and the music, my friends, but also the freedom of flying on two-wheels, the joy of pulling on those boots that you picked out yourself, and the bliss of owning your environment. Potential rewards are all around us, and if we structure the rewards program the right way, they’ll help us not only achieve our goals but boost our productivity and sustain our achievements.

This is something the HR world figured out long ago. When you’re employed by someone else, rewards come in many forms, and they can be relied upon to be doled out with regularity: employee-of-the-month, quarterly awards, semi-annual performance evaluations, annual ceremonies.  The rewards range from You’re a Star! certificates to cash bonuses – with many top employers effectively employing the full range to help keep the work force positively motivated, i.e PRODUCING.

But at home…well, that’s a different story.  When did you last get a gold star for keeping on top of the dishes? A certificate for paying your bills on time? Perhaps a performance bonus for putting away the stacks of laundry threatening to consume anyone who walked into the dining room? Me either – though my four year old once said to me “Good job, mommy! You got this!” when I surprised him with a ‘good’ snack. Let me tell you, I still get excited when I think about that moment! Maybe sometime in the next four years, I’ll earn another verbal reward, but I’m not going to hold my breath.

And if you’re no longer in the office, if you’ve been accustomed to regular rewards, but now you’re self-employed (or free-lancing, or taking time away to focus on your family), whooowheee! That can be one tough transition. We all need to feel like we’ve done good every now and again. And when you work for yourself, no one’s going to give you that pat on the back but you.

Continue reading “Reward Yourself!”