Category Archives: Living Deliberately

Finding Your Cheerleader

superdad-1Considering the subject of this post, I’m pretty sure to earn myself some flack so let’s just cover the “role” biases right off. For over fifteen years of my marriage, I chose to be a stay-at-home mom. Because my husband worked long hours earning his Ph.D. and working, I did what I could to save money and I did most of the housework–which isn’t saying much because I’m a horrible housekeeper–and took care of the day-to-day activities with the children. My husband was always willing to help, but we ended up with rather traditional family roles. I was good with that.

Then, I took a chance with my writing and realized how much I wanted to become an author. My husband was on-board, but to be honest, it took a while. Change rarely occurs like the flip of a coin. It’s a gradual process. I often felt like the words of encouragement coming from his mouth didn’t match the expectations that still went on with our family. I couldn’t write all day while the kids were in school and still get the laundry, cooking, errands, etc. done and not have more help from my family. It was tough. On everyone.

As my husband realized my struggles, the dynamics started to change. He never complained about a messy house before; he’s not that kind of guy, but I could often sense his irritation. More and more, I noticed him evaluating my time and progress as an author against the discomfort of some clutter and un-done projects, and I won out. When I got down, instead of saying that taking the time to write was okay, he started reminding me that it was important. Despite his heavy work load and long commute, he started taking more time with the kids and the house. Recently, family circumstances required that I get a regular paycheck.

Now, I find myself trying to juggle the house, kids, job, and writing. No matter what people say about the modern world and modern women, we still tend to feel responsible for the grocery shopping, meals, laundry, and the activities of our children, even if we can divide up all the housework. I still take those responsibilities on myself, but again, my husband stepped up. He works from home twice a week and started taking care of many of the family appointments on those days, often working late into the night to compensate. With our change in schedule, he’s had to take the kids to school every morning and picks them up twice a week, which is a fair chunk of his work time. I often write at night and he works on his computer, making up for what he couldn’t get done during the day. He also does the dishes every day, even when I’m not able to lift a finger in the house because of other responsibilities and writing time. Last week, I made the list and he did the grocery shopping. I think we work as a team better than we ever have before in our 20+ years of marriage.

Often, when I consider how much more money he makes compared to me, it doesn’t seem fair that he bends over backward to help me with my work and goals when the return is so comparably minimal. And then I remember, that it’s not about my work, or his work, or money. It’s about goals, and each other, and the things in life that matter to us and the fact that we have always put each other first.

As we talk this month about making time to write, I’m glad that my husband and I took time to communicate, to be patient with one another, to learn how to be supportive, and to never give up. So, how do I find time to write? I make time, in part because I owe it to those who have supported and encouraged me for so long–my family. I think we all need our close family to be cheerleaders and if you don’t have that, I suggest some understanding talks and perhaps some counseling. Making time for writing is important, but working with your loved ones to balance that time and to understand one another will make all the difference in the world, both in your writing and in life.

Colette Black Bio:
Author PicColette Black lives in the far outskirts of Phoenix, Arizona with her family, 2 dogs, a mischievous cat and the occasional unwanted scorpion. She loves learning new things, vacations, and the color purple. She writes New Adult and Young Adult sci-fi and fantasy novels with kick-butt characters, lots of action, and always a touch of romance. Find her at www.coletteblack.net

 

Don’t “Find” Time, Make the Time

A Guest Post by Wayland Smith

I was asked to write about finding a balance between work, life, and writing. Instead of talking about my writing credits, I’m going to run down my weekend as a way of showing what I know about the struggle to find time to write. It’s something I understand.

My regular shift is a long, overnight one. Thursday I went in to work with my shift starting at 6 PM. I was supposed to get off work at 6:30 AM, but there were some issues and our usual shortage of staff, and I ended up being released at about 12:30 in the afternoon. By the time I got home, I had been up for 24 hours. I had the rest of Friday and Saturday off, then worked a different job Sunday from 4 in the morning until 9 at night with one break in that stretch. With all that, I still got a few thousand words done over the weekend, and finished a chapter of one of my current works in progress. That’s not, “Hey, I’m cool,” that’s me showing that it doesn’t matter how busy you are, you can write if you chose to.

I hear people asking all the time, “When do you find time to write?” The answer is a simple one, but it’s one a lot of people don’t like. You fight for it. You make a commitment to yourself and you stick with it. Some people write every day, some have a word count per week, or month. It doesn’t really matter what you set for yourself. What matters it that you DO it.

Sometimes that means you don’t get to watch the game with your friends. Sometimes you don’t get to the movie you wanted to see. But, as I’ve heard many other people who are much more successful than I am so far say (and this may be part of why they are successful): Writing is a job. If you’re at all serious about it, you have to approach it like that. Jim Butcher has said, “I don’t have a muse, I have a mortgage.” That’s the attitude you need to get the words down.

So how do you find the balance? Well, that’s something you have to think about carefully. I believe the usually accepted statistic is that something like ten percent of writers manage to actually make a living off their writing. The rest of us have jobs in addition to writing. And, if you’re fond of eating, not living in a relative’s basement, and occasionally going out (or to cons), you need to keep the job.

Family is important, whether it’s a traditional tied by marriage and blood kind, or people who have become your family over time. You need these people in your life. If you don’t have them, you’re not well balanced, and that comes out in your writing, which suffers.

You need to manage your time, and you need to do it carefully. It’s going to be full of compromises. Occasionally, you’re going to have to go to work when you’d really rather be chasing the latest story idea. Sometimes, you’re going to have to tell your nearest and dearest and that you have a deadline coming up and you need some uninterrupted writing time. And sometimes, the voices in your head, or your imaginary friends, or however you like to think of it, are going to have to take a back seat so you can spend some time with the people you love. Or at least like.

You need to manage to be nice about it, but really firm. If you’ve promised time to your family, don’t slip out and start writing. If you have a goal that’s important to you and you need to put in a big push to get there, turn off your phone, shut off your internet connection, and write. It’s both the simplest and the hardest thing about writing. Writers write. Not talk about writing, not say, “I really should get some words down.” They write. And then write more. And revise and edit and rewrite. And while they’re doing all that, they have to keep a job and relationships with the people who are important to them.

All that said, I can offer a few suggestions about making some time. Note, making, not finding. You’re not going to suddenly trip over an extra hour somewhere. If you do, let me know how that happened. A few standbys that a lot of people I know use are either getting up half an hour earlier and/or writing during your lunch hour. If you bring your lunch to work, then A) it’s generally cheaper and B) the time you spent going somewhere, waiting in line, buying something, and then finding a table to eat it is time you can write. Yes, this requires some planning and dedication. So does writing. Remember those bits about it’s a job and making the time?

If your writing is really important to you, if you’re going to pursue a full time writing career no matter what, find a job that lets you write. I’ve heard Brandon Sanderson say he got a job as the night desk man at a hotel for just that reason. Night time security guard works, too. Yes, those are really radical changes to make to your life to get time to write. But then you’re back to the balance issue again. What are you willing to give up to move forward with your writing?

I’m not trying to scare anyone, or paint a picture of doom and gloom. I have a full time job, and work a few part time ones, and have a decent social life. I also managed to write just shy of 500,000 words last year. It can be done. You just to plan your time carefully. It’s worth it to me. Whether it is to you or not is something only you can decide.

 

Wayland Smith:

WAYLAND SMITH is the pen name for a native Texan who has lived in Massachusetts, New York, Washington DC, and presently makes his home in Virginia. His rather unlikely list of jobs includes private investigator, comic book shop owner, ring crew for a circus (then he ran away from the circus and joined home), deputy sheriff, writer, and freelance stagehand. Wayland has one novel out so far, In My Brother’s Name, and short stories in the anthologies “This Mutant Life: Bad Company”, “HeroNet Files, Vol 1,” “SNAFU: An Anthology of Military Horror,” and “Legends of the Dragon,” among others. A black belt in shao lin kung fu, he is also a fan of comic books, reading, writing, and various computer games (I’ll shut Civ down in one more turn. Really). He lives with a beautiful woman who was crazy enough to marry him, and the spirits of a few wonderful dogs that have passed on.

Writers Are People Too!

Have you ever noticed how we tend to speak of our time as if it were a commodity? Just look at the verbs we use! We spend time, we save time, and we waste time. At work, we earn time off and are paid in terms of tender per hour or per year. Ultimately, whenever you go work for another you are leasing them your time and attention, devoting your talents to their projects rather than your own. As the cliché goes, time is money.

So, if we count and budget money, why shouldn’t we do the same for our time? As an example, let’s consider my time in round numbers. There are 168 hours in a week. I find my job to be challenging and fulfilling, and so I spend, on average, 45 of those hours working. It takes me another 4 hours a week to commute back and forth, and I usually aim for about 7 hours of sleep a night. All that accounts for 98 hours per week and leaves me with 70 hours to do with as I please.

Sure, once you start considering the minutiae of everyday life, that time goes fast. However, just because I feel that I “need” to do a thing doesn’t change the fact that I’m expressing value by doing it. I clean my cat’s litter boxes because I value their companionship as much as I appreciate having a house that doesn’t smell like cat poop. I value my personal appearance and hygiene, as well as the health benefits that come from regular exercise and eating well. I want to be free from debt, live in clean spaces, and maintain my relationships with my friends and family. It seems like a lot to do in 70 hours, and it is.

However, in and amongst all those details I cannot allow myself to forget that I also value writing. Fiction is a demanding mistress. Like many other authors, I’ve spent years practicing my craft and actively working to maintain and improve my abilities. I’ve devoted countless hours to planning, writing, and editing stories. I’ve invested all of this time because I love the act of creation. I find joy in building worlds and characters, satisfaction in a well-crafted phrase, and a sense of profound peace in the ability to control a world absolutely. Writing fulfills a deep emotional need and so it is worthy of my time.

The major difference between a professional and a hobbyist writer is their commitment. The hobbyist writes when it is convenient. When they find time. The professional chooses to carve time out of a busy life to write. The hobbyist makes excuses for why they didn’t have the time, and the professional acknowledges the reasons and makes it work anyways. This is why I leave a notecard that reads “70 Hours” taped to my bathroom mirror. My time isn’t infinite, but it is mine to do with as I please.

There are many things in this world that seem really important, genuinely urgent, and make a great case for why I need to spend my time working on them rather than having my butt in the chair and my fingers on the keyboard. And while some of them do need to be taken care of now, most can be managed to still allow room for writing time. The past is done and that time has already been spent, but I can choose my actions going forward.

Knowing and saying all this is one thing, but living the commitment to be a professional is often much harder. I’m as guilty as anyone else when it comes to making excuses. In fact, one of my friends recently called me out on this, something that I love her dearly for doing. We all need writer friends to help keep each other honest.

I can’t tell you how to strike a work-life-writing balance that’ll work for you. As far as I’ve been able to find, there’s no magic formula. However, if you got it figured out be sure to share your solution. The best I can do for you is talk about what has worked for me in the past, and more importantly the traps that have bogged me down. But don’t just take my word on it.

This month on the Fictorians, you’ll hear from a truly inspiring roster of writers who all need to balance the many demands of life against their writing time. Though they each go about maintaining their work-life-writing balance in different ways, I’m sure that you’ll find some stories and advice that resonates with your own situation. Whether you feel that you just need to make a few tweaks or perform a complete overhaul of your work-life-writing balance, know that you are not alone. Balancing the many demands of life is something that we all struggle with. Be welcome and happy writing!

Cultivating the Fungus

“One writes such a story not out of the leaves of trees still to be observed, nor by means of botany and soil-science; but it grows like a seed in the dark out of the leaf-mould of the mind: out of all that has been seen or thought or read, that has long ago been forgotten, descending into the deeps. No doubt there is much selection, as with a gardener: what one throws on one’s personal compost-heap; and my mould is evidently made largely of linguistic matter.” – J. R. R. Tolkien, on the creation of The Lord of the Rings

Where do your stories come from? Writers are often asked that question.

The short answer: they come from leaf-mold, like Tolkien says.

As Tolkien was a philologist, the leaf-mold of his life was largely the study of languages and their relation to history, so it’s no wonder why Middle Earth’s races and history are so meticulously constructed.

Let’s deconstruct the above quote and expand its scope.

“One writes … not out of the leaves of trees still to be observed…”

We’ve got to have some experiences, don’t we? Experiences that elicit deep passions, loves in all their forms from crushes to parental bonds, betrayals, butt-kickings, travels, successes, and failures. We need to know what things feel like. We need to have laughed, wept, exulted, raged, and trembled in sufficient quantity to infuse our art with truth. The hearsay of truth, the derivation of truth, and sight of truth on a distant mountaintop is not sufficient fodder for art. Our truth must come from our own experience, not someone else’s.

…[N]or by means of botany and soil-science…”

Conscious thought is death to the creative process. It has uses, but only after the story exists in some form. The study of stories will not create a good story–although it could be argued that feeding your compost with the masterworks of your field forms a rich foundation. In the composition process, we must get the hell out of our own way. The subconscious wants to tell the story, but we fill up our awareness with fears and over-thinking, like scum on top of a crystal clear pond.

A quote from one of my favorite Japanese writer/philosophers, Takuan Soho, a 17th-century Zen monk, sheds more light here.

“One may explain water, but the mouth will not become wet. One may expound fully on the nature of fire, but the mouth will not become hot.”

Knowledge of fire and water comes with experience of fire and water, not from talking about fire and water.

We can’t write stories by talking about stories, deconstructing stories, or applying criticism to stories.

“[B]ut it grows like a seed in the dark out of the leaf-mould of mind: out of all that has been seen or thought or read, that has long ago been forgotten, descending into the deeps.”

Good writing comes not out of our immediate experiences today, the things that are immediate in our minds, our current traumas, but from experiences that we have assimilated.

Writing about an ongoing heartbreak might have value in catharsis, but the immediacy of the raw emotions can blind us to deficiencies in the work. Time lends perspective.

But here’s the thing. Our subconscious remembers. Those experiences will always be there. Water in the well. Leaf-mold covering the floor of our subconscious forest.

“No doubt there is much selection, as with a gardener: what one throws on one’s personal compost-heap….”

And there you have the crux of it. What do you throw into your leaf-mold? Some of it, you get to choose. Education? Choice of field? Work experience? Travel? Military service? Relationships? Long-distance bike trips? Having children? An obsession with cosplay, motorcycles, firearms, history, pro wrestling, forensics, or another wild passion?

Use the good stuff, the kind of stuff that will be nourishing at the next stage. Don’t put Snickers wrappers and pop cans in your leaf-mold. Fill it with the remnants of glorious feasts and breathtaking bouquets.

Things I’ve consciously added to my own leaf-mold include travel to places such as Vietnam, Cambodia, Thailand, Bali, Cuba, and Costa Rica, plus living internationally first in Japan for three years and now New Zealand, activities such as martial arts training, bicycle trips, motorcycle trips, stock car racing, a Bachelors Degree in Engineering, a Masters Degree in English, learning some chords blues riffs on guitar so I can make a little music when it suits me, studying Texas Hold’em, seeking out music that fuels the creative stardrive, and cultivating awesome friends who feed my writer soul.

We throw the best stuff into that compost pile, rake it around, and boy does it get rich!

And also full of worms, and beetles, and spiders, and grubs. Those things just get in there, and there’s nothing we can do about it.

Some of it, you don’t get to choose.

  • An abusive, controlling parent/significant other.
  • A loved one’s struggle with chronic or deadly illness.
  • Finances gone horribly awry.
  • Natural disasters.
  • The experiences of war.
  • Accumulated injustices, prejudice, and betrayals.

Unwilling additions to my compost are things like divorce, poverty, long-ago injuries resulting now in chronic pain, illness in the family, a lifelong struggle with weight, the deaths of loved ones, unrequited love, and a host of trials, failures, successes, and incidents long since receded into the past.

One of the cool things about being a writer is that we get to right a few wrongs, even if only in our own heads and the heads of our readers.

We can get the girl/boy.

We can tar and feather that politician and ride him out of town on a rail.

We can save our parent from cancer.

We can rewrite history.

We can give just desserts.

We can create our own worlds where justice prevails. And those choices we make in our stories bubble forth from our experiences, our desires, our sense of right and wrong, our pain from those who have wronged us.

If people don’t wish us to write about them, they should behave.

Here’s the thing again: it’s all leaf-mould.

Everything we experience, whether accidentally or on purpose, leaves its tracks on our hearts. When those tracks are deep enough, ubiquitous enough, we must write about them. Consciously cultivating a rich leaf-mold will reward the writer with a great life on the front end and better writing on the back end, the kind of writing that makes readers weep and thrill and ponder and exult. The world needs more of that kind of writing.

So you owe it to the rest of us. Live an awesome life, and then imbue your art with that awesomeness.

About the Author: Travis Heermann

Heermann-6Spirit_cover_smallTravis Heermann’s latest novel Spirit of the Ronin, was published in June, 2015.

Freelance writer, novelist, award-winning screenwriter, editor, poker player, poet, biker, roustabout, he is a graduate of the Odyssey Writing Workshop and the author of Death Wind (co-authored with Jim Pinto), The Ronin Trilogy, The Wild Boys, and Rogues of the Black Fury, plus short fiction pieces in anthologies and magazines such as Perihelion SF, Fiction River, Historical Lovecraft, and Cemetery Dance’s Shivers VII. As a freelance writer, he has produced a metric ton of role-playing game work both in print and online, including content for the Firefly Roleplaying Game, Legend of Five Rings, d20 System, and EVE Online.

He lives in New Zealand with a couple of lovely ladies and more Middle Earth souvenirs than is reasonable.

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