Category Archives: Family

Squirrels Will Be Squirrels

…unless I can keep them in line.

Confession: I wrote the first four posts in this series on one of my fits of inspiration and hyper-focus. Just wrote ’em out while I had the interest. And now I have no idea what I was supposed to be doing here.

This is where notebooks come in handy, right? Looks like we were going to talk about habits/routines and how I use them to tame the squirrels… or rather, to get things done even when the thought-pigeons in my head are on a rampage.

Which is every day. Basically.

The reason I’ve been thinking about this one is that I recently read The Power of Habit by Charles Duhigg. It’s a really interesting book, one of those that I picked up from the library on a whim because it seemed like a tame pigeon, something I could get interested in and focused on for a few days. Really cool stuff about how our brains form habits, WHY they do so, and how we can use them to our advantage.

I’ll confess that I’m not much good at forming or breaking good habits. I’ll get into one for a few weeks and think it’s stuck, and then it’s gone again. We could take meditation as a recent example. I was in the habit of doing it every morning for 5-10 minutes, either on my own or (far better for me) with a guided program like HeadSpace or Buddhify (both available in the apple app store and possibly elsewhere). It was good. I wasn’t good AT it, and never felt like I was making progress, but it was a good exercise.

And then I lost the thread. I gave into the temptation to pick up my phone and check Facebook before I meditated, and that threw everything off one day.

And the next.

I’m really good at bad habits.

But it’s something that I’m working on, and there are habits and routines that really work for me. The key seems to be having the right cue. One that I absolutely can’t miss.

Sometimes having the task written in my bullet journal is enough. I have a section every day dedicated to a whole bunch of habits that I’ll forget about otherwise. If I complete them, I get the satisfaction of checking them off. If I don’t, I get reminded every time I look at that page.

(I used to have these habits on the weekly spread, but didn’t look there enough. Daily is so much better for me. Trial and error.)

Does it always work? Nope. I might look at my page in the morning, see that the kids need their vitamins, and then totally blank on that until I see it again after they’ve left for school. But it is slowly becoming a habit.

And I do still put things off. I write the litter box down every day, but it probably gets done every other day.

Sorry, cats.

But still. It beats waiting for the stench to become unbearable.

This way, the only thing I really have to remember is to check my bullet journal several times a day. And I’ve accepted my scatterbrain tendencies enough that I’m willing to accept that I need to do that. So it works.

Other habits have outside cues, and I’m really trying to develop those more. For example: Every morning, I have to let Jack out to pee. It’s not always first thing in the morning, but it does happen some time between 6:30 when I get up and 8:30 when I take the kids to school. I let him out, turn around, see his dish, and feed him his breakfast.

That’s not a conscious decision. That’s a habit. If I don’t do it then, if I override the habit and move the laundry over instead, the poor guy will not eat until supper time.

…And we can’t have that.

So I stick with it no matter what.

I’d love to say that seeing clutter around is a trigger for me to clean up, or that feeding Jack is in turn a trigger to put that laundry in, but it isn’t yet. I’m trying to get into the “if it will take less than a minute, do it now” mindset, but there’s always something else to grab my attention that’s so much more interesting than carrying a sweater upstairs. And even if I do start to sweep up the dog hair from the floor, odds are I’ll get distracted half-way through by another small task and do that before I grab the dustpan. It becomes an endless chain of unfinished tasks.

Progress is so slow, guys. But it’s happening.

Other things I’m doing to try to help me through the day:

Routines. I’m really fighting to try to get my brain to accept a standard routine. Some weeks it goes well, and it really pays off in terms of later productivity and me feeling like I have a solid start on the day. But no matter how great the rewards, I seem to keep slipping out of it. So I fight on. And it is getting better. I haven’t left packing lunches to the very last second once yet this school year! I mean, it’s only September, but still.

I’m going to keep trying for up-meditate-tea-breakfast-read-get boys up-make lunches before I pick up my phone. It’s a solid routine. I just need to make it a habit.

Preparation. If I have everything I need for a task, I’m less likely to get sidetracked when I go searching for it. Cleaning the bathroom? I’d better have the toilet cleaner, wipes, Windex, paper towels, and mop handy before I begin. It’s one less chance for squirrels to sneak in.

Making tasks appealing. Going back to my stationery snob tendencies here for a second, I’ll give you an example. For weeks I’ve been meaning to write down all of my notes on my new book series in one place, but kept putting it off. I had a notebook ready, but… well, it was fine, but not appealing. Not something that was a pleasure to write in. So yesterday I grabbed the Leuchtthurm1917 I won in an Instagram contest and started working. The paper is nice, and better yet, the pages lie flat so I don’t have to fight with them. I’m excited to use it. So I am. Same goes for buying laundry detergent I love the smell of (God bless Gain Apple Mango Tango) and making my office a place I want to spend time in. I reward myself with a wee spritz of a nice-yet-economical perfume when I’m focusing on work in my office.

So that’s kind of my take on routines and habits. My pigeons are still fluttering, but the more automatic I can make my actions, the less those foolish birds bother me while I’m making things happen.

Okay. I think next time we’re supposed to talk about my work time. That’s trickier. I’m struggling hard with that right now. But talking about it might help someone, so off we’ll go next week.

If I remember to draft it.😉

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Farewell to a Puzzle

His name’s not really Puzzle–not in our world, though I’ve called him that more than a few times. But the blink-and-you’ll-miss-him black and white cat sleeping on Rowan’s bed in chapter two of Bound, the one who’s a little pissed about having his nap disrupted, has a real-world counterpart.

His name’s Charlie. That’s been his name since before we adopted him from the SPCA 12 years ago, and he’s even responded to it a few times.

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YOU. WILL. LOVE. MEEEEEE.

^This basically sums up our relationship.

He doesn’t go out of his way to be mean, and he has sweet moments with one of our other cats. But he’s generally antisocial, has never liked to be touched our cuddled (save for the occasional scratch under the chin). He jumps at things that aren’t there, and I’m not entirely convinced that he doesn’t think we’re all figments of his imagination. Entertaining, yes. Snuggly… not so much.

He’s been my weirdo housemate for a dozen years, basically Sheldon Cooper in feline form: uncertain of how to give or accept affection (even when he kind of wants it), happiest when left alone to enjoy his favourite spot on the couch. He’s been with us through six moves and three provinces, two kids, four dogs and two rats.

And now it’s time to say goodbye.

Charlie’s had a good life, or at least a contented (if somewhat paranoid) one. But he’s sick. I won’t go into details, but we’ve seen the vet, we’ve tried treatments, they’re not working.

I’m taking him for his last vet appointment at noon today (so 10:30 Eastern, if you want to send happy thoughts). He won’t be pleased to be there again, but I’ll stay with him until the end no matter how cranky he gets.

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And it will be hard. No matter what the circumstances, it’s not easy to say goodbye to someone you love.

There’s no lesson here, no big revelation to end the post. Death is hard, even when it’s merciful, even when letting go is the right thing.

He’ll live on, though, in my heart and on those pages.

Rest well, Puss.

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What’s Taking So Long? (Part 1)

Torn, book two of the Bound trilogy, came out on March 31.

On April second, I got the first message asking when book three was coming out. Others soon followed, all polite and wonderfully enthusiastic.

I’m so glad people are as excited about finishing this story as I am. Putting a book out into the world, especially when expectations are high, is a hard thing to do, and positive reader response is like iced tea on a warmish day in Hell.

I love the enthusiasm and the desire for book three.

I do feel bad about not having hard answers for people, though.

See, I didn’t put a release date for book three in the back of Torn. Not even an approximate guess. I have my reasons for being secretive, but as the messages, e-mails, and Facebook comments come in I’m starting to feel like I owe some kind of an explanation so that people don’t think I’m going to flake on them.

See? All scheduled!

No worries, draft three revisions are scheduled!

The explanation is this: Deadlines set too far in advance have a nasty tendency to bite me in the ass, so I’m not making anything public yet.

Not enough explanation? Read on.

Before Bound came out, back when there were maybe twenty people really waiting for it, I set a deadline. I said it would be out June 2014. I’d heard back from my editor, I knew I had things under control, we were good.

…until my basement flooded and we had to evacuate, and everything was up in the air for a while.

I still got it out on June 23. I said “Winter 2015” for Torn‘s release, thinking that left me plenty of time. Eight months shouldn’t have been a problem, right? I was already on draft three, ready for first readers, yadda yadda.

I didn’t think about the fact that I didn’t have my editor booked yet, and couldn’t pay him until I had money from book sales in-hand*. Then there were more delays, and edits turned out to be a slightly bigger challenge than I had anticipated.

Cue major stress as I realized how much work I needed to get done to meet my foolish, self-imposed, late-March deadline.

Such stress is not great for the creative mind, or for families who enjoy things like clean laundry and hot meals. I felt like I was constantly juggling family, too many work balls, my mental health, my physical well-being, and social obligations, all at double speed–and truth be told, I totally suck at juggling. My confidence was shot, and I worried I was going to disappoint everyone.

This isn’t a “woe is me” party. I survived, the book is exactly what I hoped it would be, and I learned a lot from the experience.

But I don’t want to go through that again, so I’ve chosen to not make promises this time until after edits are back in August.

Do I have an idea of how long it will take? You bet. Unless we run into horrible delays in the editing process, we should be looking at the same space between Torn and Sworn as there was between Bound and Torn. About 9 months.

Should be.

No promises.

Put the pitchfork down.

I would love to be able to put out a book every three months for you guys and have them be exactly the quality you expect from me, but I can’t do it. I could have a complete but not professionally-edited book out this summer. I could have a rushed-but-okay-I-guess book out in October for sure. I could probably guarantee something satisfying for December…

…but that’s not good enough for me, or for you.

I’m not releasing Sworn until I know that it’s the most epic, kick-ass, beautiful, gut-wrenching, heart-shattering, oh-gods-I-need-to-reread-this-series-right-now conclusion I’m capable of producing.

And that takes time. That takes editors and readers and chances to sit and think things through. It takes middle of the night epiphanies and long, boring drives when I can perfect tiny details to the best of my ability. It means not settling for the first ideas that come to mind, but digging deep into every character, pushing them harder and further, studying the way the threads weave together and figuring out how best to bring out the fullest beauty of the story.

I get one shot at this thing. I’m going to give you guys all I’ve got.

…in the 4.5 whole hours a day I get to work on it.

But we’ll talk about that another time.

 

 

*My editor is worth every penny, but it’s a lot of pennies.

 


Anyone Else Feeling Really Monday Today?




Writing Stuff Wednesday: Insert Interesting Title Here

Yeah, sorry. I don’t have time for a clever title, or to dig deep into all of these cool new scenes to find something fantastic for WIPpet Wednesday.

But since you stopped by… 2 lines of dialogue for the 2 in the date. No context. Just two characters in a life or death situation. No big deal.

“Pathetic as it sounds, you’re the only family I have, and those two are my only friends. I can’t let you all wander off to your deaths without at least joining in, can I?”

“At least you won’t be lonely.”

If you want to see what the WIPpeteers are up to, here’s the link. I hope I’ll get around to everyone this week… I think I managed it last time. I couldn’t comment on everyone’s, though. THANKS, BLOGGER. I did read, though!

 -_-

 

ROW80 UPDATE: TORN

Things are progressing well with this round of edits on Torn. I have one chapter left to completely re-write, one in which I only have to re-write the second half, and one that only needs partial re-writes.

Those climaxes, man. They get me every time.

I was hoping to get that done this week…

But this weather is killing me. I’ve got a migraine today, but am working through it (God help my characters!). The kids were home for another snow day yesterday, and their dad is away for training this week. The boys are old enough that they can play by themselves or go outside when the storms calm down, but I still can’t close myself off, stick my headphones on, and work while they’re around. I have to be listening, and available. They want me to do crazy things like play with them.

I try to remind myself that this is how I wrote the first draft of Bound, but it doesn’t help. That draft sucked. These scenes aren’t allowed to.

And then there’s Bruno, who I have decided is not, in fact, a Chihuahua, but a Mexican Bed Hound. I’m not getting much sleep with him curled up between my knees–between not being able to move and being worried that he’s going to suffocate under the blankets, I’m waking up exhausted.

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But if I shut him out, he cries. And my husband gives me sad eyes.*

I need more coffee. And a plan.

In case anyone’s wondering what the months before my book release look like, here’s the goal, with dates removed–because things go awry. Snow days happen. Editors get sick, or have other clients put them off schedule, or hey, they have personal lives. Beta readers take longer than anticipated, though no fault of their own. I get sick, or get headaches, and until I’m making more money than my husband**, I’m responsible for this household: laundry, getting the kids to school, cooking, cleaning.

I need a housewife, is what I need.

But here’s the plan:

  •  finish rewrites
  • compile notes
  •  final clean-up pass (will take about a week, I hope, and will involve reading aloud, making the prose read more gooder better, adding in a few ideas I’ve had along the way, and really taking it from a solid story to a beautiful reading experience. In theory).
  • Send to second-round beta readers, hope they can get it back in a week.
  •  write cover copy.
  •  Set up pre-orders.
  •  Figure out whether I can format the paperback through Scrivener (wasn’t an option in the PC version… we’ll see)
  •  cover reveal. Pre-orders. Other fun stuff!
  •  newsletters
  •  fix whatever my lovely betas say I screwed up
  •  send for proofreading/copy edits (2 weeks)
  •  Prologue reveal (not to be disregarded, thanks)
  •  formatting
  •  final version to Amazon (10 days pre-release)
  •  teaser photos
  •  relax and/or freak out and/or get back to work on book 3
  •  upload to other vendors
  •  RELEASE DAY. Party on Facebook.

And then REALLY get back to work on book three, because I’ve had some ideas for big, scary revisions.

So… yep. That’s the plan. Please cross your fingers, toes, and anything else you can spare that I can get this all done soon!

For more about ROW80, click here. For more updates from other participants… um… I’ll add the link when I find it.

Thanks for stopping by! Hope you’re all having a fantastic week (and staying warm, if applicable).

—-

 

*Not this week, but there’s still the crying.

**Okay, even then, it would still be my job, because I work from home.


Barking Mad

Last week, I found myself home alone for almost 72 hours. I edited. I watched Supernatural*. I edited some more. I ate quick meals, I planned, I revised, I edited even more.

It was fantastic.

How did I swing this when I usually have a husband and two kids around? Well, they went to the big city (not the one we go to for groceries… the bigger one) to pick up our new dog.

Now, I’m a little fuzzy on the details of exactly how we ended up adopting a Chihuahua from a rescue agency in Los Angeles. I remember seeing his picture on Facebook, posted by a friend who was fostering him in Hamilton, ON (Canada, guys), and thinking he was adorable. I vaguely remember my husband being quite taken with him. There were messages sent between him and said friend, and he started looking for ways to get a carry-on-sized dog from Ontario to Newfoundland. Something about an acquaintance who’s a pilot… my husband having days off work… talking about dog names… figuring it wouldn’t kill the boys to miss a day or two of classes… I know I actually consented to all of this. I’m just not clear on the details.

In my defense, all of my brain power was going toward the book. I’m sure I smiled and nodded and even acted like I had some clue what was happening around me, but it was actually all I could do to not burn the house down every time I cooked something.

Long story short, this is Bruno:

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He’s 6 lbs of cuddles, love, a puppyish bark, and a bad habit of eating EVERYTHING. Like, I was thinking about getting a Roomba, but I don’t think there are any crumbs left around the house for it to pick up. He (Bruno, not the theoretical Roomba) wears adorable sweaters, sometimes chases the cats (we’re working on that), and is fitting in pretty well around here.

jack and bruno

How are they even the same species?!

We must be crazy. I have a book to get out in the next few months, and edits just keep getting deeper. We’re probably moving this summer, and we have no idea where. We have a dog and three cats (one of them kind of old) already. Our family was pretty great as it was. Why rock the boat?

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Okay, the improved satellite reception provided by those ears is actually nice. But other than that, and having a companion for Jack when the family goes out, and giving a three year-old dog his forever home, and having another furry little buddy to hang out with…

You know what? Never mind. I answered my own question.

*I’m only on season 2. I’m told it doesn’t get really good until season 4, but something pretty is keeping my interest for now.

The scenery. I really go for creepy houses and graveyards. Yep.


What the Monkey Would Have Missed

So. Sunday, and the great “social media sabbath” experiment.

Contrary to some people’s beliefs (*glares at husband*), I made it through Sunday without social media… almost completely. That is to say that from 9:00 Saturday evening until about 10:00 PM on Sunday, I sent exactly one work-related e-mail. We’ll come back to that.

I wasn’t sure what to expect from the experience. Going a day without being “connected” is probably a regular thing for a lot of you, but for me, it’s really not. I’m on Facebook doing word sprints with writer friends, taking part in discussions on group pages relating to my work or my husband’s, talking to friends through chat, tweeting amusing things (okay, I find them amusing), and scrolling any time I have a spare moment, just in case something interesting/amusing pops up. I’m reading posts on KBoards and learning from other people’s publishing experiences, or reading blogs to keep up with news and friends.

Actually, we should talk more about that some day, because that last habit has been helpful to me, and finding a balance will be interesting.

But today we’re going to look at what I gained from taking a day off.

I put my phone away on Saturday after supper. I did allow myself one quick check at nine, just in case any last-minute messages came in from friends (nope), but for the most part it was a quiet evening. Since it was a Saturday, the kids had no homework, and we hung out. Normally I would have had my phone and been looking at that from time to time. This time, I sat on the couch, and my six-year-old brushed my hair while he sang me the theme song to The Fresh Prince of Bel Air.

Kind of nice to just be present for that.

On Sunday morning I did my 20 minutes of breathing, I had coffee, and I read a book. Not a whole book. I read another chapter or two of Mistborn, though, and it was good. I still got the urge to be distracted, and still wasn’t truly immersed in the story, but that’s totally my distracted brain’s fault. It turns out that Brandon Sanderson is, in fact, as amazing a writer as I had been led to believe. Though the length of the book still intimidates me (let’s just not discuss how messed up my reading attitudes and habits are right now, okay?), I started to relax and enjoy it. Progress!

After that I did some other reading for a friend, made notes and answered her questions, and fired those off without so much as glancing at other messages (really!). And while I was doing that, I focused on it, and I feel like I did a better and more insightful job because of it.

So the morning was pleasant, and reasonably quiet. Quiet as it can be with two kids running around (not to mention the dog wanting out, the cats needing the litter box cleaned out, the TV on, and someone playing something on the iPad), anyway.

I think I’d have gone a little crazy on Sunday if we’d been stuck at home all day. As it was, my husband was working and we needed groceries, so the kids and I headed out to the “big city” (45 minutes away) to take care of that.

We went to McDonald’s for lunch. I almost pulled my phone out while I was in line and waiting for the food to be ready. It’s a habit, right? But I went without, and it wasn’t at all painful. Good lesson.

Instead of using my phone while the kids went off to play after we ate, I read that book. A high stool in McDonald’s is not the most comfortable place to sit, but I read a few chapters, and the kids were happy to have extra time to play.

Grocery store, Walmart, dollar store, Tim Horton’s… Not to dazzle you all with the glamor of my lifestyle, but we made some stops. And then we came home.

I couldn’t work with the kids around. I’m not watching any TV shows right now that I could throw on while they were awake. Couldn’t sit and read blogs, or look at KBoards, because that would count as social media distractions under my rules.

So I listened to podcasts, and the house got cleaned.

It burns me to admit this, but with the phone and work put away, I found that I did, in fact, have time to do housework. I didn’t have an urgent chat going on that I had to stop to respond to. My hands weren’t busy typing. I didn’t feel like I was doing something important for my job by reading up on writing/publishing.

The house got tidied, the floors got washed, I threw in some laundry (not so unusual here– it NEVER STOPS), cleaned out the front hall closet and the messy corner in the dining room, and remembered to put a nice supper in the oven early enough that it was ready at supper time.

For the record, I would go bananas if this were my life every day. For that to happen, for me to even come close to approaching June Cleaverdom, I would have to stop writing.

The horror.

But I will grudgingly admit that laying off of the mindless distractions (and even the demonstrably valuable chats with friends who I love), as well as not working for one day, did give me some breathing space to focus on other things that I’d been meaning to do and never seemed to have time for.

What else would my monkey mind have missed if I’d been too distracted to just be present at home? A couple of rounds of Candy Land with the kids, which I actually focused on. More hair brushing and serenading. An evening of TV with my husband during which I didn’t pick up my phone once.

And a reasonable bedtime. Because guys, cleaning is exhausting.

I let myself check Facebook right before bed so that I wouldn’t be tempted to check it in the morning–I wanted to get straight to work as soon as the boys were out the door.

Know what I missed while I was away?

Two friends saying they hoped I was having a wonderful day and that we’d talk on Monday. A metric crap-ton of notifications, most of which were noise. One non-critical post about *mumble mumble*. Two notifications from people who thought I’d cheated when they saw a new post on my author page, and who were fully prepared to slap me for it.

I love my friends.

(But for the record, it was a scheduled post that I set up the night before, just to keep in touch. Ha HA! Don’t think I’ll bother with that again, though. I’d rather post when I’m around to respond to people’s lovely comments. I want to be authentic, not automated.)

Yes, I felt a little lonely without the people I’m used to chatting with every day. Yes, my brain had trouble focusing on just one thing at a time, and I itched to pick up the phone instead of washing the floors.

But I gained so much from taking a “social media sabbath.” I was more present with my kids and my husband. I got stuff done around the house that I don’t normally have time for. I was less tempted to try to get some work done, for some reason. I read a bit more than I normally would have. And miracle of miracles, I found that on Monday, I reached for my phone less. I focused on my work more. I was better able to separate computer/work time out from “taking care of the house” time.

That’s not to say I’m cured. But I’m definitely a work in progress.

 


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