Category Archives: Family

Have Counselor, Will Write

A Guest Post by Karen Pellett

Just last month, I was lying in the same-day surgery wing of the hospital prepping for knee surgery when the pre-op nurse asked what kind of work I do. I smiled as I took the marker and dutifully wrote “Yes, please,” on my right knee, a protective measure against the surgeon working on the wrong leg, and answered, “I’m a mom and a writer.” Over the next hour we talked more about what I do for a living. Finally, she shook her head, and asked, “How do you do it?”

“I have a fantastic counselor,” I said.

She broke out laughing.

It is true though. Life is chaos. That is a given fact for pretty much everyone. It is a big mess of trials, failures, joy and heartache that all mesh into one big ball of fun.

Once upon a time, in a land known as Seattle, I quit my full time job as a business analyst to write. I’d wake up in the morning, kiss my husband send him off to work, and then sit down at my computer and……twiddle my thumbs. I had all the time to write, and struggled to write a single word. It honestly took my friend giving me a random writing prompt before I wrote my first short story Curse of the Light Switches. Believe me, it was totally and completely pathetic. But it was what I needed to kick my imagination gears into motion. Over the next two years, I wrote and edited seven drafts of my first ever epic fantasy novel. Thinking the project finished and a work of art, I started submitting to agents. The mail box remained empty for months. The few responses I did receive were form letters. The greatest rejection stated that while I was a talented storyteller, I was not a fit for their publishing firm.

Then, after seven years of fertility issues, we invented the child. Not just any child, but a little girl who rolled over in the hospital three days after birth and has never stopped moving. She was our little miracle, but the moment she came into existence my motivation and ability to write drastically dropped faster than an Olympic skier racing down a bunny hill. Two months after our daughter was born we moved from Seattle to Utah so that she could grow up near her half-brothers. A short twenty months later I had a son after four and a half months of bed rest. When he was ten months old, I informed the doctor that I wanted to have one more child, but that they had to be farther apart. Either I was a totally suck-tastic mother or my children were literally more than I could handle. The doctor informed me in return….Guess what? You are already pregnant.

Three kids in three and a half years. Try writing anything through that and I’ll personally bake you a cake.

I attempted to salvage my feeble writing career by attending a myriad of local writing conferences and by joining two different critique groups. Their feedback was invaluable. But as I read their stories and compared them to mine, I wanted to cry. However, I’m the type of person who is just too stubborn to give up. I hung in there, submitted crap, and took the feedback as my saving grace and ran with it.

Our chaotic life then spiraled out of control. I ruptured a disc in my back that required major surgery. What writing I did attempt felt like crap, and I felt like the grand prize winner of the Worst Mother of the Year award. On top of that, my husband had a bad reaction to medication, sending him into six months of suicidal tendencies.

That is when I met Bonnie (a.k.a. the most incredible counselor in the universe). She was exactly what I needed in a counselor—long almost black hair, bangles up the arms, at least four necklaces, ripped leather pants, camouflage shirt, combat boots, and a bike jacket. Bonnie became my counseling version of the fairy godmother. She helped me learn what I could control, what I couldn’t, and how to see the difference.

Then in 2014 my littlest son hit me in the head with a car seat, giving me a concussion and one of the greatest miracles of my life. Because of my concussion the doctors did several MRIs and identified “three white matter brain lesions in non-MS typical locations.” This simply means… I’m a writer in transition to superhero glory.

I wish.

At the same time all three of my kids were diagnosed with special needs—running from ADHD, Sensory Processing Disorder, Moderate-functioning Autism, aggressive tendencies, and developmental delays. My kids are pretty much creative geniuses that learn uniquely and see the world in remarkable ways while not grasping social expectations. The truth behind the difficult paths I traveled hit me when I made Bonnie cry. (There’s no crying in therapy! Oh wait….yes, there is. Just not usually from your counselor.)

So how do I balance life and writing in this chaos? I don’t. Thanks to those tiny aliens in my noggin’, the three precious miracle children in my life, a very supportive husband, and my genius counselor, I’ve had to learn to let go. Instead I wing it. Personally, I can’t write at night. I cherish my sleep way too much. And I already get up at oh-dark-thirty thanks to my autistic son who doesn’t require anywhere near a decent amount of sleep. So instead, for four days a week in the precious two hours that all three kids are in special needs classes, I attempt to write. Just like in college, I still tend to work best under pressure, so I set deadlines and goals to keep me motivated (and yes, chocolate and caffeine are often involved). Then there’s my amazing husband who will stay home with the kids and send me off to the library to work when I require a much needed sanity break. (Back off ladies, he’s mine!)

Through it all I’ve written two novels, unpublished to date, but they will be published someday. I’ve had a piece published in a magazine about what it is like being a stepmom. Another piece won first place in an online writing contest and was included in an anthology on being a mommy writer. My third essay came out last year on the trials my husband and I experienced going through fertility issues. And my first ever short story was published this last Christmas to help raise money for Primary Children’s Hospital.

Yes, my life is still a ball of intense chaos, but I love it. It is not easy. But the fight is worth it. And thanks to a brilliant counselor, I’ve had to learn that if I want to survive, if I want to thrive, I must do something that takes care of me—and that something is writing. I’m worth it.

 

Karen Pellett:

Karen Pellett is a crazy woman with a computer, and she’s not afraid to use it. Most of her time is spent between raising three overly brilliant and stinkin’ cute children, playing video games with her stepsons, and the rare peaceful moment with her husband. When opportunity provides she escapes to the alternate dimension to write fantasy & magical realism novels, the occasional short story, and essays on raising special needs children. Karen lives, plots & writes in American Fork, Utah.

The Truth of Work/Life Balance through Life’s Storms

A Guest Post by Kate Corcino

Point A: We’ve all heard them—those pithy sayings meant to get us through the rough patches. “When it rains, it pours” and the like.

Point B: As writers, we’ve all heard the impossible counterpoints, too. “Write every day. EVERY. DAY.”

What happens when Point A wipes out Point B? I’m not talking about feeling swamped. I’m talking about a tidal wave of life events that crashes over you and those you love with a destructive force that leaves you sobbing as you pick over the detritus. Whether it is one huge event, or a series of smaller events that just keep coming, you are utterly overwhelmed.

How do you manage work/life balance when that happens?

You don’t.

And that’s okay.

But how can I be a writer if I’m not writing?

Because you’re learning.

Neither life nor writing happen in a vacuum. The things that you are learning when you’re in coping mode enrich both your person and your writing. I have so many writing friends forcing themselves to work through upheaval simply because they think that’s what writers do. They push themselves into exhaustion and beyond. They agonize over every moment spent away from their manuscript.

The bear of it is, sometimes you can’t help it.

In 2005, at seven months pregnant, I tripped while unloading groceries (they don’t call me “Grace” for nothin’). The impact caused a placental abruption. Our son was born at 27 weeks. The next three months were a blur of hospital corridors, medical forms, two-steps-forward-three-steps-back terror, and gratitude. Later, when I had time to reflect and not simply ride the daily waves, I recognized all of the lessons learned during that time that inform my writing and my life as a writer. Foremost among them was perspective. No matter how terrifying my tiny son’s odyssey was, the spectre of loss that left me breathless with fear was very real to other parents in the NICU. My son survived, then thrived. He came home. Other precious lives were lived in their entirety in that unit.

In 2008, when I was barely five months pregnant, my water broke early. The team at the hospital informed me that they had no choice but to deliver my still “unviable” daughter. We refused. They quoted a 90% fetal mortality rate in ruptures before 22 weeks, but we were steadfast. We were dismissed, sent home with antibiotics to keep infection at bay, instructions for total bed rest, and informed that I should drink at least 120 ounces of water per day. IF we made it to 24 weeks, they’d hospitalize us then, when there was a chance of saving her. When we went back three weeks later for the ultrasound, an eternity of tears and fears having passed in those weeks, my membranes had resealed. Our daughter wasn’t just viable, she was perfect. Lessons learned? Belief in myself, in my instincts, in my right to say no to experts determined to tell me they know better.

In 2011, my husband suffered a heart attack in the middle of the night. A day and half later, he underwent a quintuple bypass. Four and half days post-surgery, as I sat by his bedside, I received a series of calls that makes my heart ache to this day—our 15-year-old son had been in a horse riding accident. He was taken to a different hospital because he required the highest level of trauma care. Two days and a full craniotomy later, I stood by my son’s bedside at midnight as he came out of his anesthesia, disoriented, terrified, and in pain. He begged me with slurring words to hold his hand, to sing him his baby song, to stay with him. I stood leaning into the metal bars of his bed in the PICU until dawn, holding his hand and singing “You Are My Sunshine” until my voice failed and all I could do was hum. At dawn, he finally fell asleep. My day, to be spent managing my loves in two hospitals and at home, was just beginning.

Lesson learned? I am mighty. There is nothing that cannot be handled, so long as you keep your focus on the moment you are in right then. Do not look up. Do not allow yourself to be overtaken by what-ifs and possibilities. All that matters is one moment. If you can do that, you can do anything.

2015 was meant to be a great year. I had that work/life thing on cruise control. My first book, Spark Rising, and its related collection of stories had been released at the end of 2014 and the response to the novel exceeded my expectations by miles and miles. It won awards while I was deep in writing its follow-up. At the same time, I balanced managing the household, homeschooling my two youngest children, cheering on my oldest (who’d recently flown the nest to begin his adult life across the country), and nurturing a handful of animals. But I didn’t merely balance. I didn’t manage. I excelled.

And then our household crashed, again. My chronic health condition (also nicely managed) decided it was done cooperating. I was hospitalized for a week that summer. And then again. And then again. Even as teams of doctors surrounded my bedside and told us gravely that we were done managing and I risked death if they didn’t intervene surgically, I still managed.

I finished two sets of revisions on the manuscript and scheduled both edits and my surgery for early Fall. I co-wrote a short story. I made arrangements for the kids, the animals, the household. And then I was hospitalized again, and the surgeon moved up my surgery. It couldn’t wait.

Unfortunately, it would have to.

A week before I was supposed to return for elective resectioning of my innards, an inattentive driver swerved in front my husband on his way to work. His motorcycle went down, and it took all my careful management skills with it. We began an odyssey that would span gross malpractice, finding another doctor, another hospital, and two surgeries to repair him. The morning of my birthday, I kissed my husband and went to wait in a waiting room while they replaced his shoulder. Five weeks later, he leaned over to kiss me and wait while they wheeled me in for my own surgery.

During our recoveries, I did not write. I did not think of my once-looming deadline, now postponed. I did not work in spare, stolen moments. I allowed myself to heal, for him, for our children, for me.

Because sometimes work/life balance means putting everything you have on one end of the scale because that is the side that matters most.

The miracle of it is that when you turn back to the scale, somehow both sides are still hovering, somehow still balancing. How can that be?

That’s the most important lesson I’ve learned. As writers, we are so much more than butt in chair, fingers on keyboard output. We watch, we synthesize, we learn, and we dream, even through the nightmare times. And every experience, every moment away from our manuscripts and our internal worlds, returns again to us two-fold in wisdom, and depth of character, and fullness of experience that allows our writing to grow.

Work/life balance? I’m here to tell you, my friend, that if you’re alive, you’re balanced. When the storms stop thundering and the water recedes, when you have time to rebuild and breathe again, the words will be there. And they will be so much richer because of where you’ve been.

 

Kate-Corcino:

Kate Corcino is a reformed shy girl who found her voice (and uses it…a lot). She believes in magic, coffee, Starburst candies, genre fiction, and descriptive profanity. A former legal videographer, teacher, and law student, she believes in chasing dreams and the transformative power of screwing up and second chances.
She is currently preparing for the imminent release of Spark Awakening, the second book in the Progenitor Saga, a futuristic fantasy series with romance, science, magic, and plenty of action.

She lives in her beloved desert in the southwestern United States with her husband, several children, three dogs, and two cats.

Find Kate at…
Website/Blog: http://www.KateCorcino.com
Facebook: https://www.facebook.com/AuthorKateCorcino
Twitter: https://twitter.com/KateCorcino
Goodreads: https://www.goodreads.com/author/show/8381085.Kate_Corcino

How to Keep Your Writing on Track When Your Life Goes Off the Rails

A Guest Post by Kary English

2015 was one of the worst years of my life. As dramatic as it sounds when I type it now, the truth is that I lost six months of productivity because there was just too much to deal with and still be able to write. Let me give you a run down of the series of calamities I had to deal with.

I endured the wrath of the internet for six to eight months while the Hugo kerfuffle played out.

My best friend of more than 10 years succumbed to cancer. I had to leave a writing workshop mid-week because we’d been trying to squeeze in a final trip together and her doctors said “Go now.”

A family member slipped far enough into Alzheimer’s that she no longer knows us.

My son’s school was rocked by a shooting threat.

My husband had to take a pay cut, and then our landlord chose a major holiday to tell us that we had to leave our home of more than 10 years. Combined with the high rents in the town where we live, that meant uprooting my son from a school he loves, leaving all of our friends and travelling more than 200 miles to find a place we could afford.

Now that I’m through it, that I’ve survived it, it doesn’t seem as bad. But at the time it was completely overwhelming. Luckily, it taught me a lot and when Nathan asked me to guest post, I decided to share the lessons I’ve learned about how to keep your writing on track when your life goes off the rails.

 1) Be gentle with yourself

Self-doubt, impostor anxiety, survivor guilt, perfectionism, procrastination, distraction, denial. I can usually make three-of-a-kind or better from that list, and that’s on a good day. Add in a major life upheaval like the ones I was facing and the result was overwhelming.

Be gentle with yourself. Feeling overwhelmed doesn’t mean you’re weak, lazy or a failure. Beating yourself up if your productivity suffers only makes you feel worse, so let me repeat this again: be gentle with yourself.

If you’re grieving, give yourself permission to grieve. If you’re exhausted, give yourself permission to rest and recover. If you’re stressed and overwhelmed, give yourself permission to relax, do nothing and take care of yourself first for awhile. If you need help with something, give yourself permission to ask for it and accept it when it’s offered.

2) Get outside

Many writers are introverts, so when life gets bumpy, it’s tempting to hide out from the world until things get better. Don’t pressure yourself to socialize if you’re not up to it, but try to get some fresh air and sunlight even if it’s just a walk by yourself. I’m lucky enough to have a beach and a nature preserve within walking distance, and regular visits are not only good for my mental state, they’re good for my productivity, too.

3) Compartmentalize as hard as you can

When life gets chaotic, I need two things to keep working: time and focus. That sounds easy, but when life goes off the rails it’s almost impossible to get both together. Your solution may be different, but I cope best through vicious compartmentalization. I block off a section of time, turn off my phone and my internet, and for the space of that time, even if it’s only half an hour, I focus on my writing.

Sometimes I can accomplish this in my own home and sometimes I can’t. When I’m at home, I’m a wife, mother, daughter, sister and friend in addition to being a writer, and sometimes those roles conflict. When I’m at home, my name isn’t Kary English; it’s “Mom-can-I” or “Honey-where-did-I-put.” If things have been chaotic, there’s probably a mountain of laundry and other tasks that beckon with whispers (or shouts) of guilt and procrastination. So sometimes the solution is to go elsewhere–a coffee shop, my car down at the beach, or even a week in a hotel when I can afford it.

When I’m not at home I can let those other roles drop away for a little while and be just a writer.

4) Take a break if you need it

Sometimes the words won’t come no matter what you do. If that happens, it’s OK to take a break from writing. If you have to take a break, plan it. Make it explicit by telling yourself that you’re taking a break, and it’s OK not to write. Set a date to re-evaluate your situation and mark it on your calendar whether it’s a week, two weeks, a month or longer.

If you’re like me, not writing makes you feel guilty even when you have a crisis to deal with, and taking time to write makes you feel guilty for not dealing with the crisis. Making the break official relieves the guilt and lets you focus your full attention on the crisis. The check-in date is there to remind you that you haven’t quit; this is just a break.

If you find yourself feeling guilty about taking a break, go back to #1: Be gentle with yourself.

5) This too shall pass

No matter how bad something seems, it will end, things will stabilize and your ability to produce will return. Believe that, and trust in it.

2015 was pretty awful, but 2016? 2016 is going to be an amazing year.

Kary English:

Kary English grew up in the snowy Midwest where she avoided siblings and frostbite by reading book after book in a warm corner behind a recliner chair. Today, Kary still spends most of her time with her head in the clouds and her nose in a book. To the great relief of her parents, she seems to be making a living at it.
Kary is a Hugo and Campbell nominee, Amazon bestseller and Writers of the Future winner whose work has appeared in Daily Science Fiction, Grantville Gazette’s Universe Annex, Writers of the Future, Vol. 31 and Galaxy’s Edge.

Et tu, social life?

Maintaining a work/life balance for me as an author is very different than a lot of folks. Up until recently, I served on active duty in the Army as a space operations officer. Military service is a 24/7/365 thing. Even when weekends and holidays arrive, there’s always the chance that something will happen and I would have to tug my boots on and get back to work. Now that I’m in the process of retiring, that constant pressure has lessened, but my work/life balance as a writer remains pretty much unchanged.

Why? Several years ago, when writing the book that became Runs In The Family, I established a pretty decent routine of writing 2,000 words a night after our only daughter (at the time) went to bed. I kept that up for about four years until our second little one came along. With two in the house, I found writing any amount of words difficult for about a year, but I still kept to a schedule of writing at night and getting 500-1,000 words down when I could. It was a struggle, but the novel than became Sleeper Protocol came from this routine, as did the rough drafts of two other books and a couple dozen short stories.

Routine matters. What has taken up the slack for my routine is that my social time is very limited. Granted, this happens with small children and probably won’t ease up until they are in high school or college, but the reality is that I still write at night and I’ve had to limit the evening social times I’ve enjoyed with writer friends a lot over the past year to get the writing done. I’ve eased off a bit on those limits recently, mainly because it’s important to get out and be social with fellow writers, but I still am writing every day.

My retirement situation has left me in the search for another full-time job, so I have considerable time during the week to get new words down. I’m taking that opportunity now and shifting my schedule around to compensate. When I get back into a work situation, I’ll likely go right back to tucking our kids in bed, sharing a glass of wine with my wife, and sitting down at the writing desk to knock out 2,000 words.

The routine of sitting down to write on a schedule is a critical part of a work/life balance. Everyone talks about the self-discipline needed to be a writer, but the true self-discipline is not writing the words. That comes pretty easy for most of us. The real challenge is getting those words in around work, kids, dirty laundry, yard work, and a host of other things that get in our way. By setting aside a time and getting the words down, you train yourself to be creative at that time and what starts as a difficult slog becomes easier as time goes by. I have a great many friends who get up extra early to write before going to their jobs – and they’ve done this for years. They’ve trained themselves to do it.

The simple reality here is that you can, too. Your writing time is as important as your job and your family and your social life. Most likely, you’re like me and cannot pass up the first two. Will I miss having a beer and super nachos with good friends every now and then? Absolutely! But, I also know that if I can get the words down, edited, and submitted, that’s a victory I can celebrate. One night out isn’t going to hurt me because I already have a plan for the next night, and the one following that one.

You should, too.