Writing Schedule (or lack thereof…)

Sometimes I think that I picked an absolutely perfect name for my novel, “Sleepwalker Chronicles” as the only time I am able to get to write in my house seems to be the middle of the night, when everyone is asleep. By then I am so tired that I feel and probably look like a complete sleepwalker. Now, I WISH I could sleep-write, then I would have no trouble keeping up with my writing schedule.

Oh, the Writing Schedule. I heard about such an animal in the quiet whispers in the back alleys of the writing circles… Okay, I’m kidding. I read about it in many books and blogs and am completely envious of the writers who are able to stick to one. Or even define one.

Mine goes something like this: I will write during a lunch hour at work while sitting in my car! Once I decide on that, my oldest daughter’s schedule changes in such a way that she needs a ride from school every weekday during the lunch hour. OK, I say, I will write in the evening then, after the dinner is done, dishes are washed and my kids are done with their homework! Once I decide on that, my husband starts a project at work that causes him to come home right at the time we are done with everything and the cycle of dinner and washing dishes and other related household duties repeats again. I turn around, and it’s a midnight and I’m completely exhausted, with my vertigo kicking in, unable to think about anything but a nice pillow and my eyes being closed for however many hours I’ll get to sleep. The only time that left at that point is a super early in the morning. Oh, you haven’t seen me at that time. All the zombie movies were written based on how I look and walk if I have to wake up that early.

Still, when I look at my days and nights it seems that the early morning is the only time when I would be left alone and in peace. If I could get up. I just need some encouragement that it can be done, I guess. I am an owl and in my younger days could stay up till 4am doing college work, or reading or doing whatever I couldn’t fit into my day. A concept of waking up super early is as foreign to my body as running track for fun. However, what can I do?!

Yesterday the universe has answered my prayers and, while I was reading the blogs I follow, I came across a guest post on Jeff Goins’ blog at Goins, Writer by Andy Traub of the “Take Permission Network” called “6 Steps to Successfully Launching a Dream” where the step number 2 was “Fall in love with 5 AM”. That step mentioned Jon Acuff’s Blog who built his dream by ‘being selfish at 5 AM’ . He has a family, who, just like mine, demands most of his time and, if he ever dedicates any of his day time to his writing projects, he is being ‘selfish’ as this time really belongs to his family. So he found that the perfect solution for him was to get up at 5 AM and write at that time.

OK, I said. I’ll take on this challenge. I will give a try to falling in love with 5 AM. I know that to all of you owls out there this sounds as torturous as it does to me, by hey. One got to do what one got to do. So guess what? I’m writing this very post while it is 5:34 AM, so if some of it sounds like I’m writing in my sleep, it’s partially true. But it’s a start.

I will keep you updated on my love affair with 5 AM and you let me know what your writing schedule is like.

 

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Why am I afraid to write

When I was a child, I loved to make up stories. My best friend and I would talk for hours and come up with the craziest stories that we would sometimes write down. As I got older life happened, story-telling and writing were placed on a ‘way back’-burner. First I didn’t have the time and then I didn’t have the courage. When I moved to United States, the notion that English was my second language made me feel inferior and even though people were amazed of how well I spoke being in the country for such a short while, I always thought that they only did it out of kindness of their heart. I was happy to finish the computer college with straight As, but I wasn’t convinced that my English was good enough to write. I had always prided myself of having a built-in spell-check in my native language; I could speed –write and never make a mistake. With moving to US all that was no longer applicable and therefore I had to start from scratch. Being a perfectionist didn’t help either, the doubt was always there.

Finally, after living here for twenty years, having attended colleges and writing many papers and essays, receiving praises from my writing group I decided that maybe, after all, I can do this writing thing. Having jotted down the beginnings of many books throughout the years, books that were later scrapped, I decided that one of these stories deserved a chance to live and be written out into a novel. It had to be a love story. A love wanted and un-attained, a love that caused suffering and immense joy, a love that struggled and survived. And of course it had to have something otherworldly in it (have I mentioned I love sci-fi and paranormal?)

So the “Sleepwalker Chronicles” I began to write. And as I finished the first couple chapters, the fear began to grip me. What if my writing was not good enough? What if my story was not original enough? Would I be able to get a 100,000-some words out of me? And if I finish this novel, would I be able to write another one?

Overwhelmed, I became writing-paralyzed. I stopped writing and haven’t written for several months. My novel was on my computer desktop and on my flash drive. I would see those files every time I would use my laptop. My notebook with scribbled ideas was lying on my writing desk, sending guilt trips my way.

They say you can stop writing because you are simply afraid. You can be afraid of failure and you can be afraid of success. I was definitely afraid of both. And more. My personal list of fears went something like this:

  • English was my second language and I built my sentences in a weird way
  • I suffered from run-on sentences
  • I had no idea what I was doing and it was obvious to the whole world
  • I couldn’t possibly come up with something original or awesome
  • I was not a master of a plot
  • I couldn’t plan out the whole novel in advance with a detailed outline
  • My characters would all sound the same when I was done
  • I would get a bad review and it would crash me
  • People would question if writing was a legitimate occupation if I write full time
  • “You are a writer?” would be followed by a smirk

I have more but I will spare you. As all fears, most of these were created by me and I’m the one who kept on feeding them with doubt and quest for perfectionism. I decided to work on it. I joined two writing groups, began to read books again, books on writing, love stories and self-improvement books. My two favorite books from last year are “The Four Agreements” by Don Miguel Ruiz and “Hector and the Search for Happiness” by Francois Lelord. These books gave a different perspective on a life around me, meaning of happiness and made me realize that a lot of things that I feared, things that I took personally, things that I suffered from were not really there. They were created by my futile attempts to read people’s minds and thinking that I actually can, trying to make everyone happy and forgetting myself in the process, wanting to predict what will happen tomorrow and naturally not being able to.

While searching for my happiness, I learned not to take things personally, to appreciate that I’m working hard at my job and it’s OK to take compliments, that it’s OK to get an occasional B in school (gasp), and that it’s not OK to bash yourself. I also learned that writing made me happy. It made me feel like I was searching for it my whole life, trying this angle and that occupation, this class and that book, and that finally “Eureka” and I got it. I realized that writing was what I wanted to do with my time, with my space, with my life, that was what I would be happy to be doing before I die.

I still have my fears, but I try to channel them into something positive I write more and it gets easier to trust myself with my writing. I try my best not to self-edit as I write and it gets easier to live with typos and a crappy first draft. I talk about writing, I let my family read my work, I let strangers read my work and it gets easier to admit, that I am a Writer.

What fears do you have about writing and how do you deal with them?

 

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Find the courage to do what you love

My husband’s company recently experienced layoffs. I know the staff fairly well and some of them for quite a long time. One of the employees was a particular concern to me as he worked for company for over ten years. I was worried that the layoff would be too much of a shock for him and he wouldn’t be able to deal with it.

Yesterday in a conversation I asked my husband of how this employee was doing after the layoff. Turns out he embraced his musical talents and now plays a trombone in an amusement park as part of the show there three days a week. And he is happy. That took me by a pleasant surprise and made me think. As long as I knew him, this employee worked in an IT field. I assumed that after the layoff he will pursue a search for a similar job since the specialists of his level make a decent amount of money. Instead, he used this situation as an opportunity to pursue something that made him happy, music. Playing a trombone in an amusement park is as far from troubleshooting servers in my mind as it can be. And I’m sure it doesn’t pay as well. But he took the plunge.

How many of us out there wish they could quit the daily grind of doing the job they have to in favor of doing something they truly love? I am no exception. We feel the earning inside of us, we know there is that other life out there, life where we get up in the morning and do something that feeds not just our stomachs, but our souls.

It’s very tempting to leave it all and go for this other life. But we are held back by our fear of losing that paycheck, the security of going to work at the same place and time, knowing it’s there for us. All we have to do is suffer through the day and the paycheck will be handed to us every other week. Many of us dream of escaping, and many let it stay just that, a dream. A few take a bold step and make us all envious of their freedom of choice and existence. And some wait for that moment in life when the decision is forced upon them and, instead of getting mad and falling into despair, they recognize the opportunity that presented itself and embrace it with open arms.

Whatever the reasons that might make us do it, be it a brave decision, a layoff or a dramatic event in our lives that changes our perception of urgency, I hope we find it in ourselves to go for that trombone playing gig at an amusement park.

 

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Writing, there is no other way to be

Books and my family have an affair that’s been going on for over two centuries. My great-great-grandfather owned a book store and was a book doctor. He would sell and lend books, but most importantly would give ‘sick’ books new life. Books weren’t mass produced back then the way they are today. Books were read many times over by many people, causing them to deteriorate and fall apart. Books were not thrown away but carefully brought to my great-great-grandfather to be treated for the serious cases of losing one’s spine, covers, and generally falling into pieces. He clued them together, gave them new spines and covers, with the titles freshly embossed in gold.

My great-grandfather owned a book store where my grandma grew up, reading all the books she wanted. When she got to a working age, she became, naturally, a librarian. As a baby, my mom grew up among the book shelves at that library as my grandma couldn’t afford a babysitter at that WWII time.

Reading was revered and encouraged in our house and I grew up remembering my family passing on TV in favor of reading. In the evenings and during the weekends you could find everyone relaxing in their favorite spots of the house, book in hand. Books adored the walls in every room and a birthday gift consisting of a single book was all I have ever wanted.

Books were always treated with the greatest respect. There was no bending or cracking of the spine allowed, no folding of the pages or, god forbid, writing on the margins. This is instilled in me to this day. In college I couldn’t bring myself to highlight the pages and getting used books from the student bookstore was painful as I would use the books rigorously abused by the previous reader. If you could look at the books in my house, you would think I just bought them as they are in a pristine condition.

I began to read when I was three years old and the teachers at my kindergarten quickly took an advantage of it by making me read stories to other kids. By the age of six I read in two languages and was gobbling up books at an incredible speed. I loved reading while I was eating, while I was watching TV and while I was supposed to be asleep. I loved re-reading books; like old friends they brought me comfort and I always managed to discover something I haven’t noticed in them before. My grandma was always on my case for reading same books ten times instead of reading new ones, but I kept with my old habit.

Since I have read for as long as I remember myself, my head has always been full of stories and, as no surprise, the desire to write was always inside of me. There were all these stories I wanted to tell, but didn’t. I still have my notebooks with the fantastical adventures that I wrote in high school, unfinished, destined to always stay that way. Reading the great works of my favorite authors like Arthur Conan Doyle and Isaac Asimov, I thought of myself as being unworthy of standing in their company. I could only look up at them as gods and bathe in their sunlight.

It took me many years of being sidetracked by the events of my life and self-searching to finally realize that writing is not a competition. At least not for me. I’m not trying to be better or at least as good as the great writers. I’m just trying to be me. I write the way only I can write, I write to get the stories onto the paper. If someone out there happens to like what I write, I’ll be the happiest person on Earth. I will also be happy when I finish my novel, when I have it completed and in my hands (or my laptop). I feel that when that happens, my ancestors will smile at me from wherever they are, proud of me continuing the family legacy in my own way.

What is your book legacy?

 

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The year when I will publish my book

As I mentioned in my post on ‘Writing, Simplifying and other New Year Resolutions’, I started this blog to keep myself honest when it comes to my writing efforts. Well, let me be honest with you, I have been bad. Really bad. As of today I have only managed to sit down and write twice, producing about 4,000 words for my novel. Yes, I know, pathetic. With the goal publishing date of November of this year, I better hurry up and write a bit more than twice in two weeks.

In my defense, if the defense (read: excuse) is even allowed, I have been celebrating a pretty significant birthdate of mine with activities stretched for days. Now that the anticipation and the celebration are over, I really need to get back to it.

And speaking of birthdays. This particular significant birthdate of mine kind of came as a surprise. I remember having so many big goals to achieve when I arrived to it, yet none of them really came to fruition, life simply got in a way. It was surprising and disappointing at the same time. But then I thought: “It’s not like it’s my last day to live, for crying out loud!” Yes, I haven’t achieved the goals I set, but I achieved many others instead.

For starters, I survived being a supporting person in a battle with cancer to two people in the family just in a span of a year and a half. Both are the closest, most beloved people in my life, my husband and my mom. While we were battling cancer, I worked hard at my day job growing in ranks, moving twice up the ladder in a span of two years. I have completed a two-year college as a straight “A” student. I completed classes and received two pretty complex certifications in IT field (my main occupation). Through it all I managed to work full time, raise my kids and take care of, well, everything. Not bad, I thought, eh?

More than anything though, I am very proud of the fact that I finally allowed myself to start writing. Yes, I write at the pace of a tortoise (can they even write?), but I write nonetheless. I have announced to the world and primarily myself that I am a Writer, and I’m not afraid to say it, no matter the questions and reactions from those who “don’t get it”.

I’m still getting a hang of it, writing down what comes to my head and feeling exposed. I have always been a very private person and wouldn’t even journal at the fear that my journals might get read by someone else. I guess having the best friend in the world helped immensely. She would hear out anything that was on my mind, but she moved to England, I moved to US and now I can’t just run over to her house for a quick chat. And so, I write.

As I cross a big defining line in my life, I want to make this year different. I want to make it a year that I will remember. And not remember for the awesome surprise birthday party that was thrown for me, not for the year when I turned 26 again, but for the year when I achieved the goal that really mattered. This year will be the year when I complete and publish my book.

Now, back to work.

Be Happy: The Simple Pleasures

One of my New Year’s resolutions is to Simplify My Life. Besides the obvious things like clearing out the clutter, getting more organized and other physical matters, I think it is important to simplify my life perception.

So often I find myself unhappy and wonder why. I mean, I have everything that an average American Dreamer desires: great day job with excellent benefits (and Yes, pension), house in a safe neighborhood, wonderful husband, great kids, what more can I possibly want? I should be happy at all hours of the day. Yet I find myself unhappy at times, searching for something and not finding it. What is that I’m looking for? Maybe I’m just looking in all the wrong places?

Let me take a tiny step back and tell you that I’m a perfectionist. God, why?! Anyway. With that comes general desire for the things to be perfect (obviously), for the plans to execute just as planned and in the fastest fashion possible. And that kind of mindset is just an invitation for unhappiness. So I have decided, after reading some fantastic books like ‘The Four Agreements’ by Don Miguel Ruiz and ‘Hector and the Search for Happiness’ by Francois Lelord, that I will focus my attention on small, simple things in life and enjoy every last of them. Away from the Big Plans and onto the Small Steps.

During the holidays my husband and I took a drive to San Francisco, and so here are the small things that made the trip to our favorite city simply amazing:

  • Honey sweetened black tea and salami/provolone sandwiches on a multigrain bread, packed for the trip and enjoyed during the ride up to the city
  • Holding my husband’s hand while he is driving, having him by my side
  • Delicious breakfast of waffles and tea the next morning and off to the San Francisco Museum of Modern Art
  • Enjoying art at the museum, anything from precise computer generated images to paintings created by generously applied acrylic and oil paint
  • Beautiful weather outside, sunny, breezy, chilly San Francisco air, just perfect
  • Dinner at a Peruvian Fusion restaurant, classic dishes with a modern twist, fantastic ambiance

During this time I had a burst of writing energy. I had my notebook with me at all times (I usually don’t) and was jotting down ideas, snapshots of how I felt, appreciation journal entries.

I switched from thinking of all the things that were yet to be done to small things that were happening right there and then. In his book ‘Hector and the Search for Happiness’, Francois Lelord lists the Lessons on happiness he has observed during his travels. Among them are Lesson 3 “Many people see happiness only in their future” and Lesson 20 “Happiness is a certain way of seeing things”. I learned my lesson and tried my best to switch my perception to See things and see them Now.

As much as we need to plan for the future and set goals, sometimes our Big Pictures are getting too big and overwhelm us. Step back, recognize and enjoy the small puzzle pieces that make up your Big Picture. Smell a freshly brewed cup of Earl Gray, put your face up to the sunlight, feel the breeze, take a nap, visit a good friend, recharge and then get back and Write.

 

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Writing Getaways: I just want to write!

Whenever I sit down to write, one or more obstacles get in a way. I suddenly don’t believe I have what it takes to write. I doubt every word and line, and syntax is mocking me. Oh, Self-doubt, I’m sure it visits many on a daily basis.

With Self-Doubt comes its friend, Procrastination. It’s amazing how attractive and desirable household chores become when it’s time to sit down and write. I think the more I need to write, the cleaner my house becomes!

And at last, when I seem to believe in myself again (partially due to impeccably done house chores) and ready to sit down and write, I find myself at a loss of a quite corner where I can be left alone and in peace. Our house is quite small and inhabits four people. In addition to that, I’m very popular with every single member. My daughters seem to think I’m the only one who knows how food is put together and where everything is, and my husband… well, he seems to think I’m the only one who knows how food is put together and where everything is. By the time everyone is fed and things are located, it’s a midnight and I turn off like an overheated tube TV.

I have read many “How to Write” books and the authors seem to agree that one needs a designated room or a quiet corner to write productively.

Here is what I tried:

  • A designated room. The only one I could find was the garage, which, even though is insulated, was way too hot or too cold to even think straight
  • A quiet corner. Well, I couldn’t really find a corner; it ended up being a part of the wall in my bedroom where the antique writing desk was placed. Hooray, I thought, but soon the surface was covered with books, notepads and whatever else happened to be in the vicinity. And even on days when I managed to reclaim the surface of the desk I was never left in peace there anyway
  • Other weird locations. In case if you are wondering, Yes, I tried to write in the locked bathroom, but that had only alerted everyone and my moment of peace was gone.

Then I found a trade-off where I could combine my motherly duties with my writing desires. I would take my six-year-old to a small local enclosed park and write there while she played. The trade-off came with some writing time but also with an unexpected benefit. As we would stay at the park for a few hours, my laptop wasn’t a feasible option and I ended bringing a notebook and writing free-hand. Surprisingly, the writing process was much easier than on the laptop. I’m not sure what has played a role here. Was it the peaceful surroundings and fresh air, or the lack of constant interruption? Either might have been, but I believe it was the all-forgiving Paper, that’s not trying to correct you as you’re writing, pointing out with the red underline when you have gone so wrong. I think that when I write on paper, it feels OK to skip some punctuation, perhaps misspell, cross something out and move on. I know that with writing free-hand comes the inevitable sitting down and having to re-type everything later, but I really don’t mind. I feel less ‘judged’ when I free-hand and whenever I have writer’s jitters, I just pull out my notepad and write away.

I have also tried bringing my sub-notebook along (it fits in my purse which I love!) when I go to my day job and writing during the lunch hour in my car. That was a nice getaway as well though I wish I had more than an hour.

So I’m still on a look out for a perfect writing getaway.

What tricks, places, and solutions do you use to get your writing going? Any suggestions?

 

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Writing, Simplifying and other New Year Resolutions

Christmas of 2012 was the best one yet. I received some absolutely fantastic gifs and the best ones came, as always, from my hubby.

He got me an audio book of Stephen Colbert (looooove this guy!), a fully functional Tardis toy, with sounds and working doors (looooove Doctor Who!) and, to top it all off, a baseball cap that reads “Writer” on the front (looooove writing!). You should have seen me with those gifts; I was hugging them and weeeeeeing like a little girl. Then I proceeded on putting on my Writer hat and wore it until I went to sleep that night.

That hat, hands down, is my favorite gift and it’s now sitting on the top of my writing desk. Every time I walk by it, my heart jumps with joy. I know, I know, I am a writer and I don’t need a hat to know that I am one, but this hat reminds me how much I love writing and that I need stop procrastinating and finish my book.

Oh, yeah, the book… I had some grand plans on releasing it in October of 2012, but the self-doubt and procrastination had their way with me and here we are in January 2013 with book still in its infancy. I mean I can site the fact that I have two kids that are a handful, or that I work full time, or that my close family had some serious health problems this last year and that completely ate away at any energy I had left, but let’s be honest. All these are just excuses.

So, since the world didn’t end on December 21st, I’m giving myself few New Year resolutions:
1. Finish my book and self-publish it. The big day is set to November 25th of 2013.
2. Take better care of myself. This will include morning dates with my Ninja mixer (read: juicing) and evening dates with my Zumba DVD (read: dancing).
3. Simplify my life. This will include simplifying my household (read: donating stuff), my kitchen (read: more cooking from scratch) and my life (read: focus on what’s important).

I think it’s a pretty tall order, so I will blog about it all here, keeping myself honest and as far away from excuses as possible. Chime in, dear readers, and let’s have a wonderful 2013 together!

Christmas_gifts

 

 

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