Balancing Writing and Non-Writing Life

“If you want to write, stop qualifying yourself for every other job that is not writing. You need to search for more areas in which you are underqualified. That is humbling, isn’t it?” ~ Heather Sellers

I’m continuing to read, slowly and steadily, Heather Sellers’ Page after Page, and it rewards me each day with new perspectives on my writing and new ideas for where to go from here, as well as some effective writing exercises.

Where is “here” for me, exactly?

Well, first of all, in terms of writing, I’m not where I was one year ago.

A year ago, I decided to take the 2009-10 year off from teaching to focus on my writing. It was our son’s first year in college, so I would have more time at home to write than ever before. I thought (correctly, in hindsight) that this personal change for me and the statement it made about the importance of my writing career would be a good balance to the nostalgia I would feel for when there were three of us living here.

In the past year, I attended a writing conference, where I forced myself to sign up for two pitch sessions so as to practice speaking confidently about my work (one of those sessions led to getting an agent). I finished and had published two non-fiction books for and about teens. I wrote a work of historical fiction for children. I began in earnest the transcription project of my great-aunt’s diaries, and I have recently settled on the form and general direction of my own writing project that will be based on her diaries. I started and am continuing two blogs (three, if I include the blog of my great-aunt’s “posts”).

Most important, I am writing every single day, for the first time in a long, long time.

Now, I am going back to teaching in the fall—just one evening course, but it will still mean a change in schedule, class prep, grading, etc. I’m lucky to teach at a college that has a terrific art museum, where I have been a docent, so I took a docent refresher course yesterday so that I could return to that, as well. I’ll be helping out with a homeschool literature and writing group that I have worked with in the past and have missed, and tutoring a very dear young friend in writing.

I want to do all of these things, and for very good, healthy reasons: community, professional affiliation, being with young people, personal stimulation, to have a place or room of my own that is separate from family, and just plain old getting out of the house.

But I will admit I’m nervous. In the past, I haven’t always found a good balance of doing too much and doing too little. I tend to swing from one extreme to another, overloading myself to the point of feeling completely overwhelmed, then quitting everything at once, only to start the process over again once I feel underwhelmed.

How will I know when my non-writing life is becoming an excuse not to write, not to continue this journey I undertook so faithfully last year?

I guess I’ll have to wait and see, but I’d love to hear others’ thoughts on how you balance writing and non-writing life. What works for you? What doesn’t? How do you qualify yourself for writing?

A tribute to my authors (via this literary life)

I stand by my claim: I have the best agent ever. Thank you, Bree!

A tribute to my authors “’That’s what Mr. Squirrel Coat says. He read me the postcard,’ she explained. ‘He also offered to help build our house. And of course you will now do the work your father would have done.’ She put her hand on my shoulder. ‘You are a man now, Thomas. A farmer.’ Me, a farmer. Mama didn’t ask me about the newspaper in my hand. That was the last day I went to school.”–excerpt from Planting Words: My Friend Oscar Micheaux by Lisa Rivero “Peter gave … Read More

via this literary life

Congratulations to Kristi!

Thank  you to everyone who participated my book giveaway event last week! Kristi Helvig’s name drawn to win free copies of A Parent’s Guide to Gifted Teens and The Smart Teens’ Guide to Living with Intensity. You can follow her author blog and  book and movie review blog, and read an interview with her on We Do Write (a fantastic and inspiring author interview blog!).

Congratulations, Kristi! Your books will be on their way tomorrow morning. 🙂

Tell Us We’re Home, by Marina Budhos

Please visit here for an updated version of this post.

“A faithful friend is a sure shelter”

With only one day left for a chance to win copies of free books for and about gifted teens, it seems the perfect time to write about Tell Us We’re Home, a novel by Marina Budhos for readers ages 12 and up that will also win the hearts of many not-so-young adults.

Tell Us We're Home book jacketThe first three chapters of Tell Us We’re Home introduces us, in turn, to the story’s trio of eighth-grade protagonists: Jaya, Lola, and Maria. Their friendship is strengthened by the commonality that their mothers are all maids and nannies who clean the homes and care for the children of families of classmates in Meadowbrook, New Jersey.

As if middle school weren’t hard enough.

In addition to cultural divides and economic disadvantages, each of the girls struggles with her own internal space where she needs to grow. While the book opens with Jaya, and it is her family and story that are at the center of the event upon which the mystery of the novel turns, I found myself most drawn to Lola Svetloski, described at one point as” just, so, well, too much”:

“[Lola] always blurted what came into her head, telling someone exactly what she thought, walking them through each and every one of their deficiencies. To her, a personality was something that could be rearranged and fixed. Like Nadia—Lola once told her sister that she shouldn’t spend so much time primping in front of the mirror before Lon arrived, since it made her look desperate. But then her sister’s face had crumpled, and Lola’s first gush of satisfaction vanished. The old loneliness knocked through her. She was more apart than ever.”

That “old loneliness” and the feeling of being apart from rather than a part of the Meadowbrook community is at the heart of the novel. For Lola, the sense of isolation is complicated by her obvious intellectual giftedness and, as the passage above shows, emotional sensitivity.

Deirdre Lovecky, in “Highly Gifted Children and Peer Relationships,” describes children like Lola who struggle with peer relationships and friendships:

“They had little idea of how to approach others to initiate an activity, or to join in an activity in progress. They also lacked the idea of reciprocity in relationships when peers were already starting to manage relationships more mutually. Many exhibited inappropriate social skills for their age such as substituting monologues for conversations, interrupting peers, insistence of their own agenda versus going along with a group goal or sharing ideas with another, asking irrelevant and fact-oriented questions, and wanting everyone else to observe the exact rules they have decided are the right ones. They also often needed to win, and had little idea of sharing time, attention or materials.”

These social-emotional challenges make Lola’s friendship with Jaya and Maria all the more valuable, what Miraca Gross calls the “sure shelter” of a “faithful friend.” When that friendship is threatened, readers will ache for the “old loneliness” each of the girls feels as accusations fly and the shelter they have so carefully built for themselves is in danger of being torn down.

Read the first chapter of Tell Us We’re Home and watch the author talk about writing Tell Us We’re Home, her own experience with trying to fit in, and how Jaya, Lola, and Maria are parts of her:

[youtube=http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=n_qJ_42BUwI]

Reading-Inspired Writing: The Very Best Moment of Your Day

What should I write about?

A Writing Exercise Inspired by The Anthologist

 

[Don’t forget to leave a comment here for a chance to win copies of free books!]

In The Anthologist, a quirky, gem of a novel by Nicholson Baker, the narrator—a poet who is struggling to write the introduction to a new poetry anthology—answers a question about how he puts himself in a frame of mind that allows him to write poetry:

“[S]omething cracked open in me, and I finally stopped hoarding and told them my most useful secret. The only secret that has helped me consistently over all the years that I’ve written. I said, ‘Well, I’ll tell you how. I ask a simple question. I ask myself: What was the very best moment of your day?’ The wonder of it was, I told them, that this one question could lift out from my life exactly what I will want to write a poem about. Something that I hadn’t known was important will leap up and hover there in front of me, saying I am—I am the best moment of the day.” (pp. 256-7)

What a wonderful idea for writers of all ages to use when we face the daunting question, “What should I write about?”

  • What was the very best moment of your day so far today (or yesterday, or in general)?
  • Visualize it. See it in your mind’s eye. Feel it. Hear it. Touch it.
  • Do some freewriting about it. Or draw a sketch of the moment. This is pre-first draft writing and drawing, uncensored thoughts and images meant for your eyes only.
  • What are the strongest words—either from your freewriting or your mind—that describe the moment? Circle them in your freewriting. Write them down in a list. Try to think of words and phrases that use all of the senses.
  • Use the words in a poem, essay, or short story that captures the very best moment of your day.
  • Revise, rewrite, share.
  • Lather, rinse, repeat.

Listen to Nicholson Baker discuss how he wrote The Anthologist, including focusing on the very best moment of the day:

[youtube=http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=A7sxQUNtAXg]


Further Reading:

“[E]njoy this book’s intensity. Don’t break its spell. Notice the way Mr. Baker glides from Paul’s plain talk to his plummier locutions, knowing that Paul is miserably aware of how he sounds. Share Paul’s joy in the writing he adores. And remember his best ideas as if they came from a classroom, because they could. An essay, he says, is a glass of water. But if a few drops of that water fall on a hot frying pan and sizzle? Then you have a poem.”

Read an excerpt of The Anthologist.

[This post was first published on Everyday Intensity.]