In the Summer of (a Writer’s) Life

I’ve been talking a lot lately about Kristen Lamb‘s Rise of the Machines. And I’m not likely to stop anytime soon because every time I get a minute to read a bit more I end up finding something I want to talk about. It’s just that good. 😀

Today I read a short chapter that invites us to establish which type of writer we are…Spring, Summer, Fall, or Winter. Spring writers are the young ones with tons of time, almost no responsibilities, but not a lot of experience. Fall writers are older so they have lots of experience, and they have few responsibilities because their bills are probably paid off and their children are probably grown up. Winter writers are of advanced age, meaning they don’t have a lot of time left to make their writing dreams come true, but the time they do have can be 100% devoted to writing, and they have tons of experience.

I fall firmly into the category of Summer writer. In fact, I fall so firmly in this category that I found myself nodding enthusiastically as I was reading Kristen’s description. Summer writers are still fairly young, but they’re old enough to have gained a bit of worldly experience. At first it seems like an ideal time to be writing, but there are other problems. The biggest problem facing Summer writers is that they are in the most responsibility-laden era of their lives. Summer writers have day-jobs, children, mortgages, car payments, student loan payments, chores and errands that need doing. Summer writers can’t always find time to write because they have to dedicate many of their waking hours dealing with day-to-day career and family issues. Summer writers may be fatigued because they’re run off their asses by household requirements and children keeping them up at all hours of the night.

Summer writers, to put it succinctly, are bogged down with copious amounts of stress. They’re young, and they have experience, but they have no time.

Currently I am experiencing a slight reprieve, as my job out West recently finished and we’ve paid off enough debts that we don’t have to worry about money for a little while. Regardless, a lack of time is still my biggest complaint. On a daily basis, as the sun wanes in the West, I chastise myself for not writing more, and promise to do better the next day. But the next day I find a million other things to do, or the baby has a bad day, or I didn’t get any sleep that night so I’m completely knackered. And so when I do get a few moments when I could be writing, I instead find myself reading or playing video games or watching movies in bed (and trying not to drift off while doing so).

I’m not trying to give myself a pass or anything; I don’t get to just blame all my troubles on the fact that I’m at a particular period of life and I don’t get to whine that I can’t write because everything else is in the way. But I can say that there are challenges, and that I’m definitely not alone in having to deal with them.

No matter the season, all writers have struggles that they must work through, and as a Summer writer, I invite all other “Summers” to struggle with me. We have families and jobs and responsibilities, but we also have writing, and we have each other. We can do it, come hell or high water!

What season are you? What struggles do you fight with because of the time of life you happen to be in? Please share! I’d love to hear from you!

It’s a Bug’s Life

I have a confession to make. I can hide it no longer. I am a Clutter-Bug.

What the hell is a Clutter-Bug, you ask? Well, what does it sound like? My life and my mind are filled with clutter. Mountains of it.

Don’t mistake me for a hoarder, although material possessions are a little bit of the problem. Physically I do have a lot of hoarder-type clutter around my house. I have an entire shelf on my bookcase that is nothing but blank notebooks I’ve never used, and there’s a whole stack of drawers in the dining room that are filled with good old fashioned junk, like rubber-band balls and dead pens. I have a bit of a hard time throwing stuff away, even when I know there’s no point in keeping them.

But the type of clutter that I’m talking about is the kind that distracts, the kind that disguises itself as disorganization and generally messiness. There are almost always clothes on my bedroom floor, for instance, even though we have a hamper in there. I leave my phone, my tablet, and my Playstation Vita wherever I happen to be when I’m finished using them. There are books on top of my headboard that I haven’t touched in weeks. There are boxes of baby clothes sitting in my hall that I simply haven’t bothered to put away, even though it would take five minutes to cart them down into the basement.

I seem to have a mental block that consistently keeps me from ever putting anything away, thus cluttering up my house. It’s an illness. A terrible, debilitating illness.

But it goes further than that, because clutter can be mental as well.

For instance, in my closet there is a huge stack of jeans taking up a good three square feet of space. None of them fit. They vary between being a size or two off to being so tiny that I would have to get liposuction and a stomach staple to ever have a chance of fitting in them again. And not only are these jeans clutter in the literal sense of taking up space and never being used, they’re clutter in the mental sense because I have to think of them every time I look at them. Every time I open my closet I see this stack of jeans and they make me miserable just for the sheer fact that I know I can’t fit into them. I know I could fit into them if I worked really hard and restricted my calories and stuck to a daily exercise regimen and completely stopped drinking anything other than water and so on and so on and so on…you see? Mental clutter.

Most people do this kind of thing to themselves to some extent, but I, my friends, am an expert. I am the Queen Clutter-Bug. May all lesser Clutter-Bugs bow before me.

Original pic via photoalbum.davison.ca
Original pic via photoalbum.davison.ca

For another example, I have this habit I call “self-fulfilling failure to fulfill”. Basically, I have a mental list in my head of all the things I want to do, or need to do, and no matter how many things I am able to cross off the list I manage to add twice as many more. In this way my list is never complete, and my internal list-maker starts twitching like a drugged-up jackrabbit. It doesn’t matter if I’m working my ass off or sitting back and trying to relax, I have this never-ceasing mental clutter of half-finished to-do lists gumming up my brain.

It’s a horrifying condition for a writer because while I should be writing and working on my platform, I’m instead obsessing about a million other things. I can’t get any writing done around my husband or daughter because I’m so easily distracted by everything they say or do. I can’t get any writing done in my own bedroom because I can’t stop thinking about that basket of clothes on the floor or those damn jeans in my closet. When I do get around to writing I’m plagued by a thousand non-work-in-progress-related thoughts like whether I should be planning some blog posts in advance to give myself more time, or whether I should scrap this fan fiction stuff and just concentrate on my original work, or should I log onto Twitter and see what the other writers are doing? It’s a constant barrage of voices in my head yelling at me about everything except what I’m supposed to be writing about.

“Why aren’t you more active on Twitter? How do you expect to gain followers when you never say anything interesting?”

“Why are you focusing so much on this stupid supernatural romance stuff…it will probably just ruin your image for when the zombie horror novel is done.”

“Oh crap, did I write a blog post for tomorrow? Crap, I didn’t… Crap crap crap!”

It spirals on and on, until I have so many thoughts in my head that I can’t pick out any one particular one. And then I get very, very tired. Queen Clutter-Bug begins to slow down. She crawls into a dark spot and the other Clutter-Bugs swarm around and begin to eat her.

Image via science.kqed.org
Original image via science.kqed.org

But there is hope! Or so I’m told. There are cures for rampant Clutter-Bug-ism, such as meditation, relaxation techniques, and – if you’re a particular kind of person – alcohol. Scour the internet and you will find a million different suggestions for calming the shouting voices in your brain, the ones that keep you from ever being calm or satisfied. There are methods, if only one chooses to seek them out.

Or if you’re like me you can find your own release; little joys that keep you from going utterly insane. How do I dispel Queen Clutter-Bug? I do things that are completely against her nature. I purposely pick something that I know is material clutter and I toss it in the trash, sighing pleasurably all the while. I snuggle up with my daughter and watch cartoons – great brain-blanking animations that somehow keep your mind from thinking about anything else. I watch B-movies with my husband – films so absurdly terrible that you can’t help but just sit and laugh the world away.

My methods may not be ideal, nor might they work at all for someone else with similar Clutter-Buginess issues. But we all must deal with our issues in our own way, and for me these things are Clutter-Bug Raid.

Which reminds me, my mile-long mental list includes spraying some Clutter-Bug Raid. Excuse me, I really must get to that ASAP.

Distractions are…um…hold that thought for just one second…

This past weekend my husband and I celebrated the dual joys of our 4th wedding anniversary, and the marriage of two friends of ours. We enjoyed a beautiful ceremony in the lovely community of Cheticamp, whilst also spending time with another married couple who we hadn’t seen in a long time, and marked the whole thing off by staying at a sweet little chalet along the coast. It was all quite lovely.

Because it was our anniversary, we were inevitably asked what we got each other, and my husband got to tell our companions that he bought me a Playstation Vita.

For our wedding anniversary.

Because I asked for it.

Hey, if you’ve been reading this blog for a while and haven’t yet figured out that I’m a total and utter dork…now you know.

Hubby bought me a Wi-Fi version Vita with a 32 GB memory card, connected it to his Playstation Network account, and downloaded a bunch of free games for me (Sony, don’t ever change your Playstation Plus system…you’re definitely doing it right), plus he picked up Rayman Origins at Walmart. Since last week I’ve been glued to this little handheld joy-box. The Vita definitely has it’s flaws, as any gaming system tends to, but I’m absolutely loving it.

And that’s a bad thing.

Okay, it’s a good thing because it was a present and I wanted it, so obviously one would hope that I enjoy playing with it. But it’s a bad thing because it is a positive time vampire. This morning I got up at about 8:30 am and started playing it. Other than to put it aside long enough to get breakfast for the baby, a coffee for the hubby, and to dance with the baby when she suddenly decided I had to dance with her, I didn’t put the Vita down until 1:00 pm. I got a dozen or so Rayman trophies, and that is all I accomplished all morning.

This is the face of my procrastination.

I didn’t write, I didn’t edit. I definitely didn’t exercise. I didn’t do any laundry or dishes, and I didn’t start tidying up the guest room (which I have to do because we have two days worth of guests coming next weekend). I didn’t even really get dressed. I put on a pair of jeans long enough to run out to the car for something, but I couldn’t be bothered to throw a bra on under my shirt, and I still haven’t as I’m typing this. The baby is still wearing her pajamas. I only just took something out of the deep freeze for supper, and I haven’t established what I’m going to do with it yet. The kitty litter is full and the cats’ streaming water dish has been broken for several days. There are a ton of leftovers in the fridge that have gone bad and I haven’t thrown them out. There are about ten boxes of old baby clothes in the hallway that I’ve been meaning to go through so I can send some stuff to consignment.

But instead of dealing with any of these things that need dealing with, I played my new Playstation Vita for four and a half hours straight. And if I’m totally honest? The only reason I actually stopped playing is because I realized that battery was dying. Yes, the only thing that dragged me away from my gaming is the fact that battery scientists (that’s a thing, right?) haven’t figured out how to make mobile batteries last longer yet.

Distractions are a terrible thing when you’re in a position that requires you to be self-motivated. Currently I am not employed; I’m working on my writing, but I’m not in a position where I am getting paid or compensated in any way. That means that every morning when I get up I have to look at myself in the mirror and tell myself, “Okay. You are going to get some damn work done today!” And then I have to try to follow through with it. I have to pick my own self up, with no hope of any kind of payment of any form, and I have to force myself to sit down and write. That in and of itself wouldn’t be too bad, except for the fact that while I’m trying to force myself to write I also have to deal with a child who thinks I should wear little pink play glasses all day, and a household worth of chores and errands that never seem to slack off in any sense of the word.

Distractions are terrible and they must be eliminated. They must be stricken from the lifestyle. It is the only way. Only when distractions have been completely removed will one be able to go on with one’s day productively and efficiently.

Unfortunately, I’m way too distracted by my shiny new Vita to get on with eliminating my distractions right now, so if you don’t mind…

This is the face of my procrastination.
WHY DO YOU MOCK ME SO?!

A Traitor of the Closest Kind

I have a problem.

My problem is not easily resolved. It is not something I can simply ignore. It is not something that can be repaired without a great deal of effort. It is not something that can be quickly diagnosed. It is not something that is even easy to explain.

My problem is my brain. My brain is broken.

I suppose, perhaps, that the above statement is a little bit dramatic. There’s nothing physiologically wrong with my brain (as far as I know…), but sometimes I genuinely feel as though there is a disconnect in there somewhere, between the “You can relax for a bit” and the “I need you right now!” synapses. Some days I feel as though my brain has packed up and wandered off on a tropical vacation without me, and that’s just rude.

Sometimes my faculties are in top condition. I’ve most often seen these moments occur when it is particularly busy at work. I’ll be the only one there, piles of paperwork on either side of my desk, talking to four different field tech groups on two different radios, running a control panel, and scribbling out the information I’ll need for later on piles of sticky-notes. I’ve had amazing days when (with the field techs as my partners) I commissioned 25+ instruments in one 12-hour shift, as opposed to the approximate average of 5-10 instruments. I’m rushed and doing a dozen things at once, but somehow everything flows and I get it all done, and by the end of it I feel like a million bucks. My brain is giving me a mental two-thumbs-up.

Then there are other times when I wonder if I haven’t suffered some kind of terrible head trauma and I just don’t remember it. These days seem to come when I’m trying to get chores done and errands run. I’ll be trying to work on this blog and I’ll end up reheating my tea six times because I just plain keep forgetting that it’s there (assuming that I get that far…sometimes I won’t even remember to take the tea-bag out). I’ll run out to the post office and drive right past it and be halfway across town before I remember what I was out for in the first place. Worst of all, I’ll be at the grocery store and end up just staring at a wall of soup for, like, five minutes without even actually seeing what I’m looking at; I’ll only realize what I’m doing when I notice another customer looking at me as though I’ve lost my mind.

Which is what seems to actually be happening.

The brain is a muscle, and like any muscle you have to use it unless you want to lose it. If you don’t exercise your brain (like those moments when I’m at work, multitasking like a boss) you start to lose cognitive function and focus (like those moments when I’m drooling like an idiot in front of the Campbell’s). Unfortunately for me, my brain seems to “lose” much more quickly than it “gains”. I turn into a babbling moron after only a few days of extended “mindless” tasks (i.e. the past few days that I’ve been trying to get the house clean), but it seems to take a good week for my brain to return from vacation once I’ve signaled that I need it again (i.e. I’m usually halfway through my 14-day work shift before my coworkers stop commenting on how often I’m reheating my tea).

I blame a number of things for this phenomenon. I blame the fact that I watch more kids’ shows than adult ones these days (listening to Ernie teach my daughter how to count for the three hundredth time can be pretty mind-numbing). I blame the fact that taking Calculus in university seemed to permanently damage my brain for being able to handle complex information. I blame the fact that sometimes my sinuses get so stuffed that I’m surprised there’s not enough pressure on my brain to actually kill me. I blame a lot of things, but mostly I assume that it’s my fault. Somehow, subconsciously, I choose to be a dribbling imbecile some of the time.

Maybe it’s my brain’s secret way of getting some rest and relaxation. If so, my brain is taking way too many siestas.

Get back on that plane and make your way back to my head, you traitorous mass of neurons. I’ve got a lot of writing to do and it’s a hulluva lot harder without you here helping!

Do you ever feel like your brain has just up and left you? Do you have any explanation for these times, or is it completely random? Have you ever caught yourself staring at a wall of soup for minutes on end? Please share!

Accountability Tuesdays – Week 3

Is it Tuesday again already? Ugh…this isn’t going to be a good one. I mean, wait…no, I totally wrote all the words…>.> Really, you don’t even have to read the rest of this post because I totally win all of the things. You don’t have to hold me accountable this week because I’m awesome.

I’m awesome. And don’t you forget it.

Okay, okay, I’m going to do an accountability post just because I said I would, but you don’t need to pay attention to it, okay? Okay. Glad we have an understanding.

Health and Body Image Goal
Can we…uh…can we forget about this one this week? It’s not that I haven’t been trying (except for the fact that I totally haven’t), but I also caught some kind of a head cold the night before last and there’s really no way I can feel anything other than completely terrible at the moment. There’s always next week though, right? Eh-heh…bleh…

Editing Goal
Okay, I’m going to admit something here, something that I am not proud of. I admit that the printed copy of my manuscript for editing purposes is sitting exactly where I left it the last time I looked at it about two months ago. I’m home right now and it’s sitting there waiting for me to give it half a glance, but I haven’t so much as picked it up. I’ve found neither the time nor the willpower.

1,000,000 Words Goal
Well I can honestly say that I did some writing, though it’s not near what I was hoping to accomplish, being that I’m home and able to use my laptop instead of writing freehand, which is considerably slower. Over the past week I’ve written 3567 words toward my current work-in-progress, and a measly 299 words toward this blog, for a total of 3866 words, the least I’ve done yet. Granted I’ve been sick the last couple of days and I’ve been busy with house stuff all week, but I’m still disappointed. Hoping that I can boost things up a bit this week by writing some blog posts in advance. Wish me luck. @_@

Social Butterfly? No…I’m a Social Scorpion

A reminder: This post courtesy of Julie Jarnagin’s 101 Blog Post Ideas for Writers.

66. Using social media effectively.

I definitely do not claim to be a social media expert. I don’t even claim to be a decent social media apprentice. I have a Facebook account, yes, but I only really use it to post pictures of my daughter and to make the (very) occasional status update. I also have a Twitter account, but my tweets tend to come days – if not weeks – apart. The closest thing to social media that I pay fairly close attention to is this blog, and even that can take a backseat for a week or two if I run up against something more important (shut up, playing Ninja Turtles with my daughter is serious business).

The situation I’m describing is one that plagues many “professional” people who find a need to maintain a social media platform, and it’s less about using social media effectively and more about time management. I have no time management skills. I tend to deal with things as they pop up and slap me in the face (I empty the dishwasher when the sink is overflowing with another load’s worth of dishes), and I fit the other important things in whenever I get the chance (like how I’m plucking out this post on my iPhone during the bus ride back from work). This “system” of mine, aside from being an unnecessarily stressful way of doing things, absolutely does not work when it comes to using social media effectively. You have to set aside slots of time to deal with social media if you’re going to use it in a professional sense (in my case, that would be an author platform). You’ve got to put in the effort to think about how you’re presenting yourself to the world because it can absolutely change how you are viewed by people. For example, prospective publishers/agents/editors/readers are t likely to take you seriously if they stumble upon your social media accounts and discover that every tweet is written in text speak, or that every Facebook status update is about the last meal you ate, or if you can’t make yourself known on the Internet without using vast, cascading walls of profanity.

The point is that you can’t just have a Facebook account and expect that it will somehow magically make you a more popular writer (or whatever else you’re attempting to bolster). Using social media in that sense requires (not necessarily a load of time, but) some thought and effort. This isn’t something I’ve put nearly enough effort into this far (see time management rant above), but there are lots of people out there who do have a grasp on the subject and I, and others like me, could definitely learn from them. One such person, whose blog I absolutely love, is Kristen Lamb. Kristen fills her blog with a veritable waterfall of important information for writers and she regularly touches on the social media aspect of being a writer. She has even written a book called We Are Not Alone: The Writer’s Guide to Social Media, specifically for schmucks like me who need someone to hold them down and yell, “Here! This is how you do it!”

And just as soon as I get that time management issue sorted out I’m sure I’ll get around to reading it myself…

Cause and Effect

A reminder: This post courtesy of Julie Jarnagin’s 101 Blog Post Ideas for Writers.

56. How writing affects other areas of your life

Writing is something that I’ve always loved doing. Ever since I was in grade school I knew that I wanted to be a writer, even though at the time I didn’t really understand what that would entail. I chose to eventually study in the trades because I was looking for something with a reasonably foreseeable future and some level of financial stability. There was no way of knowing whether I’d ever be able to actually make a living off my writing, so I kept it as a hobby, and only in recent years did I start to contemplate the idea that I could still be a writer even with my chosen lifestyle. So I work, I spend time with my family, I deal with the same household nuisances and annoying errands that every adult deals with…and then I write.

Keeping writing in my life in this way definitely causes issues. If I want to write while I’m out West I have a very limited time frame to do it in, which makes my evenings rushed, and sometimes stressful as a result. Sometimes I even lose sleep as a result, which in turn affects the following day in a number of not-so-fun ways. Trying to write while on my days off requires me to juggle between baby, husband, chores, and the rest of the real world. Sometimes it will take me all day to write a blog post that would have taken me twenty minutes to write out West because every time I sit at the computer my daughter comes and grabs my hand and drags me over to where she’s playing or watching Sesame Street. I’ll go with her because she is absolutely more important, but it can get frustrating to pluck out a post one sentence at a time whenever I think she’s not paying attention for a few seconds.

I guess when I look at it, it seems less that my writing affects other aspects of my life and more that my life affects aspects of my writing. Writing is very important to me, more now that it ever has been in my life, but I simply can’t put it above certain other aspects of my life…I will never refuse to play with my daughter in order to finish a blog post faster, for instance. I know that there are lots of writers out there who dedicate themselves to it fully, sacrificing sleep, social lives, and family interaction, but that’s not for me. I love writing, and I will always treasure writing, but it is not the most important thing in my life, not by a long shot.

Future (Pointless) Possibilities

People regularly let their pasts dictate their lives, but how many of you let your future dictate your life?

I’m particularly bad for this, and I’m not sure if it’s one of those things that’s weird and unique about me, or if other people actually share this ridiculous problem. Feel free to let me know!

The issue goes like this: I’ll be trying to accomplish something, but a particular facet of my immediate future makes it extremely difficult to accomplish this task. Let me give an example… When my husband and I were still living in our old duplex, we had let the basement get ridiculously messy. There were cardboard boxes everywhere, old furniture that needed to be thrown out, and even the stuff we were storing down there was just plain all over the place. I must have tried several dozen times to build up the gumption to go down there and straighten the place out, but I never managed to convince myself to do it. Why? Because at the time we were looking houses, hoping to buy. Every time I would try to convince myself to clean the basement, all I could think was that soon enough we would be moving, and all the stuff down there would get packed into boxes anyway. In other words, I couldn’t be arsed to put in the effort knowing that it might have been effectively pointless.

Does anyone else know what I’m talking about?

I’m feeling that way right now as well. I recently got word that I’m being offered my job at the mill back once the sale is finalized and the place gets up and running again. Putting aside my feelings on that particular subject and whether or not I’ll actually end up back there, knowing that the possibility is there is making it exceptionally difficult to write. The thing is, I know that I can’t write while I’m working. I just can’t manage to work in the time. Eight hours (or more) of work, plus seven or so hours of sleep, plus meals, showers, dealing with baby stuff, errands, and household chores, and I’m lucky if I get ten minutes to myself. Knowing that, I’m finding it very hard to write now, because that nagging little voice in my head is telling me I’ll never finish my novel by the time the mill starts (estimated August), so there’s no point in bothering to work anymore.

Does that make any sense?

It’s a stupid attitude, and one that’s plagued me for quite a long time. I don’t know why my brain works this way – you’d think I’d be motivated to write harder to try and finish before my time gets taken away from me – but it does and I can’t help it.

That said, I do want to finish this damn novel, so if anyone wants to perform a localized lobotomy on whatever part of my brain causes this insane way of thinking, please give me a call.

Colds and Memories

It’s finally starting to feel like spring in Atlantic Canada, and with that tends to come a desire to do better. ‘Better’ here refers to anything and everything. I want to write better, do better with the chores and errands, and so on and so forth. Unfortunately, whenever I tend to get into these “wanting to do better” moods, something always shows up to put an end to it. In this case, that something is the fact that my daughter and husband are sick as dogs. The little missy threw up sometime after supper on Sunday and just went downhill from there, and by late that night my husband had started to feel it as well. As I type this, my daughter is in bed early, after spending most of the evening groaning and moaning and refusing to eat or drink anything. Its really quite a sin. Small children shouldn’t be allowed to get sick, especially when they’re still too young for you to be able to explain that having something to eat or drink will make them feel better. 😦

And because I don’t want this post to be nothing but baby misery, here’s something completely random:

I was wandering by Tumblr today because my friend has a blog there. For those of you who don’t know, Tumblr has a little automated bot called, creatively enough, TumblrBot, which randomly spits questions at you as ideas for something to blog about. While I was reading a message my friend had left me, I noticed that TumblrBot had left me a question: “What is your earliest human memory?” So I thought about it, and you know what? Hard question! Not because I can’t pick out any specific memories, but because I can’t seem to recall how old I was during these memories. For example, one of the first memories that came to mind was one of my cousin Tommy and I trying to make instant juice at his house. The reason the memory is a memorable one is because we didn’t read the directions right and ended up wasting several packets of the juice crystals. We never actually got the juice. Anyway, I know we were young in that memory, but I can’t remember how young. Old enough to reach the kitchen counters, so not really young.

So what is my earliest memory? I have no idea. But if I had to hazard a guess, I have a hazy memory of being at home when I was really young, back when my parents still had a ton of carpet throughout the house. I was playing on the floor of our kitchen with some kind of Barbie pool playset. I specifically remember there was a toy pool of some sort and mom let me have water in it as long as I stayed on the kitchen floor. I think there were also people visiting at the time, because my memory wants to tell me that there were multiple people in the kitchen with us. I think I may have been somewhere around the age of 4 or 5.

Not a particularly interesting memory, but an interesting concept. So share with me…what’s your earliest memory?