The Art of Working From Home

This past year has been a productive one for me. I’ve produced three completed first draft novels for grown-ups (sorry, I can’t say “adult novel” without thinking 50 Shades of Completely Inappropriate) and three first drafts of children’s books. Working at home does present challenges, and I wanted to share my formula for success.

I am currently working on a couple of short stories, one with a deadline that looms closer every day. I work well under pressure. Here’s how the magic happens.

7am – Send the Padawan off to school

8am – Take Girl-child and Squish to their respective schools.

8:30 – Drop by Chic-fil-a for a biscuit and some wi-fi.

10:30 - Two large sodas and 47 emails later, it’s time to go to the bathroom home.

10:45 – Sit down at writing station, swearing loudly and on Twitter that I will not get up again until I have written 1000 words.

11:30 - Count stinkbugs on the windowsill. Forty-seven. Oh, did I mention I checked ALL the windowsills? For inspiration.

12:00 – Time for lunch. Word count > my age. Barely. Count it as a win.

12:30 – Let’s hammer out some words!

12:31 – Discover amazing Youtube video of cat that can say “NO!” Oh, my gosh! It’s a cat! And it can say “NO!”

1:45: Time to get some words written! Look at my own cat fast asleep on my Harry Potter blanket (don’t hate!). So cute! Have to blow some raspberries on her fuzzy little tummy.

5:15 – The doctor says the stitches can come out in two weeks and shouldn’t leave a scar. Time to pick up kids.

6:00- It’s dinner time. These ungrateful kids! I just fed them LAST night. Why do they need to eat every day? I could be writing right now. I should have stuck to snakes. Mammals are high maintenance. I wanted to get 3000 words in, and I’ve only written 100. I will never do this!

6:30 - Back at my writing station. It’s happening now!

6:35 – I’m stuck on a plot point. Distract myself by playing a game. How many Game of Thrones characters start with the letter “B?”

7:00- Give up and read a couple of chapters in Game of Thrones. Wow. The answer to my question seems to be “all of them.”

8:00- Husband wants what he wants every night. Downton Abbey. Fine. Whatever.

9:30 – My eyes are getting heavy, but I’m going to do this. I am. I’m a writer, by gum! A writer! And a writer writes!

9:45 – Bored. Resort to feeding cat stinkbugs.

10:00- Write a blog post on how to work from home.

Come a little closer...

Come a little closer…

Attitude of Gratitude

It’s been a rough couple of weeks. Life gets completely crazy busy, and I lose sight of what’s good in my world. I’ve been teaching middle school literature classes for the last couple of weeks. I love what I’m doing, but I’m so tired at night that I’m unconscious by 9pm. I’m treading water. Tears have been shed, most of them mine. But it will be okay. Today, I will be grateful.

Our pipes froze and burst, soaking a lot of stuff in our garage. But it was all good. The repair was in the most accessible place possible and took only 20 minutes for the plumber to fix, and the bill was very affordable. The really good part is that this incident alerted us to potential problems that we should be able to prevent going forward. And the boxes of ruined things I carted to the curb were things we really didn’t need anyway.

Squish has no ability to sleep in. I’m tired, my husband is tired. On weekends, we’d like nothing more than to just sleep until we can’t sleep any more. Currently, Squish’s feet hit the ground at 6am, school or no school. There is no rest for the weary. But the kid is a total morning person, and he really is a delight. He’s at his most entertaining before the sun comes up.

I can wake up to this face. Couldn't you?

I can wake up to this face. Couldn’t you?

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I am too tired to write. But it’s times like this I know how much my husband loves and supports me. When my half-day at school turned into a full day, he took off work a little early to bring me lunch. And the next morning, he got up with Squish so I could sleep. After I took a shower, I came back to my room and found he had set up my writing station, complete with my cup of coffee. And he sent me out of the house to write today. Forget Valentine’s day. My whole life is Valentine’s Day right now.

I am frustrated at having no time to write. Which means I still enjoy it and need writing in my life. It would be sad if I didn’t care. I have so many opportunities that are presenting themselves. I’ve been invited to contribute to a site in my own city, which is exciting and may open some new doors, and I’m trying my hand at short stories for the first time since this one. Go ahead and click over, if not for my story then for the Severus Snape gif that makes me a little teary-eyed. Snape loves me, he really loves me. I’m going to have this new story whipped into shape by February 15.

I’m ready for winter to be over. I hate driving in the snow. My road is off-the-beaten path and is oft neglected by snowplow and salt truck. When school was dismissed early a couple of weeks ago due to unexpected snow, we almost didn’t make it home. Our neighborhood is hilly any way I go. I chose the most likely path, and it was the wrong one. I couldn’t get up the hill, and when I tried to back up, I lost control of my van on a narrow road with deep drop-offs on either side. I prayed harder than I’ve prayed in a long time. When I finally let up on the steering wheel, the skid righted itself and I eased in to a driveway so I could turn around. I felt God telling me “You’re holding on too tight.” And He was right. My whole life of late has consisted of fighting to control things that just aren’t meant for me. I’m letting go of the things I’m not the boss of. The Serenity Prayer is my mantra. And I feel free.

Besides, if Squish slept late, and if it were summer, would I have ever seen this?

Besides, if Squish slept late, and if it were summer, would I have ever seen this?

What are you grateful for this day?

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Second Chances

If I have said it once, I’ve said it a thousand times. Life is too short to read bad books. But sometimes the parting of the ways comes not through any fault of the book itself. This year I decided to give A Game of Thrones another go.

I started reading it a couple of years ago, I guess. It was the first library loan on my brand new Kindle Fire. If you look at my top pages and posts on any given day, you will likely see how that particular relationship ended. Long story short, I sent back the device before I finished the book.

I was content to live Throneless for the rest of my days, but the universe has ways of changing our minds. It started with discovering A Clash of Kings at the Friends of the Library book sale. Hard cover, good used condition, $2. Then over the course of the year, I found three others in the series at thrift stores. A near-complete series cost me just over three bucks. The universe wins again. I found a copy of book one (at the used bookstore, and guess who had trade credit?) and a few days ago, I sat down to read.

My original thought was that the world Martin built is more memorable than the characters themselves. My second thought was that A Game of Thrones is possibly the worst book to read during the polar vortex. I’m cold. So cold. Winter is coming? Whatever, Starks. I’ve got news. Winter is already here. I hate Catelyn already, what with her nice hot water steaming through the walls, and all I’ve got is this stupid rice sock. The snow is going to pile deeper still, and we’ll never get out, and I’m almost out of milk! WE’RE ALL GOING TO DIE! Wait. Where was I?

In the first ten pages, I was drawn into the story. I could not remember why I was able to put this book aside so easily. Oh, yeah! There it is! Now I remember! In a world with thirty main characters, it makes sense to give some of them the same name. And how’s about we toss in a nickname or three? Eddard? Sometimes we’ll call him Ned, even when the chapter header refers to him by his formal name.How about Robert and Robert and Robb. And let’s toss in a Brandon, a Bran or two and maybe some oats for fiber. I’m waiting for a Jehoshaphat to pop up somewhere. I’m just gonna call him Steve.

I’m struggling as well with the line between fantasy and reality. Newborn dire wolf pup that licks someone’s face? I’m not overly familiar with the species since they went extinct about 10,000 years ago, so maybe it was possible. No, it’s not. I’m more ready to believe that fossilized dragon eggs come to life than I am that five spoiled children have the ability to train pet wolves to advanced levels. I’ve actually trained a dog or five. There’s only so much reality I can suspend. Fantasy I can deal with; schoolgirl fantasy I cannot.

I’m hung up in the nitpicky things. Because it’s cold, and I’m grouchy, and it’s cold. But I’ll keep reading. The universe says I must. I still have hopes for it. Maybe. Except for the fact that Martin hates both his readers and his characters.

Have you ever given a book a second chance? Did it end well? I’m pretty sure this one’s not going to end well. I’ve read the jokes. “Why isn’t George R.R. Martin on Twitter? He’s already killed all 140 characters.” But I’m in, at least for now. Worst case scenario, I hate the series and resell them at the used bookstore to buy Harry Potter action figures with my windfall. Best case scenario, I find a new favorite series and languish in agony until the 6th book comes out. I’m hoping for the latter. I never pick up a book without hoping it will become my new best friend.

Morning Commute

I left for work early yesterday because sometimes the traffic is unpredictable. Yesterday was one of those times.

I got to the main road, and traffic was backed up bumper-to-bumper as far as the eye could see. I knew something was up. Sure enough, I saw a sign.

*Sigh* But it's okay. I needed to be in that lane, anyway.

*Sigh* But it’s okay. I needed to be in that lane, anyway.

So I, along with many other cars, patiently merged into the left lane. Because we’re obedient like that. A tenth of a mile later, we saw another sign.

You have GOT to be kidding me.

You have GOT to be kidding me.

Fine. Whatever. We all merged back into the right lane. Because that’s what you do when the sign tells you to. I drove another 1/10 of a mile and saw this:

For those who can't read my line-drawings, let me interpret. "Dear Bozo who has now changed lanes twice, time to get back where you started from. Love, Public Works."

For those who can’t read my line-drawings, let me interpret. “Dear Bozo who has now changed lanes twice, time to get back where you started from. Love, Public Works.”

Yep. Right lane closed. So I changed lanes. For the third time in 3/10 of a mile. Now, I don’t blame Public Works. At 7am on a frosty polar vortex January morning, I’m not sure I would know my left from my right. But I do know one thing. Next time, I’ll be looking for this sign before I pull a lane change:

I saw the sign

This Won’t End Badly

So I made a tiny mistake this morning. Miniscule, really. I shouldn’t even be bothering you with it.

I got up this morning after a terrible dream in which girl-child wanted to move in with her grandmother because we had no weekend plans besides watching television and I threatened to send her to a work camp. Weird, I know. We never watch television.

Anyway, my tail was dragging. I did manage to plow through the morning routine, and there’s the problem. For you math majors, here’s an equation that adds up to trouble.

Muscle memory + coffee pot + husband leaving unusually early = making too much coffee.

No big deal. I poured my cup and put the rest in the thermos to save for tonight.Yeah, it’s a good Thermos. One day I’ll compose a poem in it’s honor. It’s several years old, but it still work…

I digress again. How did that happen? OH! I know! I came home from dropping off Squish in six degree weather. That’s degrees Fahrenheit, not dog years. It was flippin’ COLD! And I was cold. And grouchy. And upset because the heat cable we bought last night at Wal-mart (I know. But according to store inventories, it was the last place in a 50 mile radius that had one)  to keep our water pipe from bursting (again) had apparently been previously purchased and returned to the store because it was broken. So I was mad. And cold. Did I mention cold? I was cold.

I came home and jury-rigged a space heater and a box fan to try to warm the garage enough that the pipes won’t freeze. The garage was cold. My heart was cold. But you know what was hot? The coffee in the Thermos. I poured it. I drank it. Three extra cups of coffee. Not three cups of coffee, mind. Three extra cups. And I forgot to eat breakfast. Six cups of coffee. Empty stomach.

9:30am – I need to get busy! So much to DO! Laundry! Lots of laundry! ! FASTER, you stupid machine! FASTER! If the pipes burst, I want all my clothes to be clean! Wow. It’s hot in here. I should wash the clothes I’m wearing while I’m at it.

10:00am- Bored with laundry. Clothes are stupid. Maybe I’ll do some writing.Writing. What do I write? I don’t have any words. WHERE DID THE WORDS GO? I’m cold. Where are all my clothes? Why are they in the washer? I AM SO COLD!

10:30 – Forget writing. I need to scrapbook. 450 photographs to squeeze into an 80 page book. How am I going to do this? What is the matter with me? Why do I take so many pictures? I’m a terrible person. I am a pixel-hoarder. I will never get through this. NEVER GET THROUGH THIS!

11:00 – 30 pages of 80 page scrapbook done. All done. I am awesome! If I keep this up, I’ll have two weeks’ worth of work done IN ONE DAY! Whoa. Why is my t-shirt all fluttery? Oh, that’s just my heart. Cool! Look at it go! Like a little hummingbird. I can’t wait to see hummingbirds. They’ll come back in the Spring. If it is ever Spring. What if all the people in China jumped off a chair at the same time and impacted the earth’s tilt so that it will never be warm again?

11:30 – Finished drying the clothes. They’re so warm! So warm. It seems a waste to put them away. Maybe I’ll just drop them in the floor and lie on them!

12:00 – My good buddy reminds me that maybe I should eat something. Because she loves me. She’s my pal. And I love her right back. I love you, too. In case I forgot to tell you that. I do. I think it’s something that people should say more. I am eating. I got some oyster crackers and salted caramel cocoa. And they’re so good! Where’s my last cracker? Did you take my last oyster cracker? I open my little fluttery heart to you and this is the thanks I get? CRACKER THIEF! Pour one out for my lost oyster cracker.

12:30 - I’m sorry. I didn’t mean what I said. I found my oyster cracker. It was in my sleeve. I ate it. It was soggy. I think the cat sneezed on it. I am sad.

1:00 Is it time to get the kids yet? Wow. I am burning up. It is so hot in here! Is it hot in here to you? Am I going through The Change? I hope not. I just bought hygiene supplies. Hey! Maybe I can insulate the garage with tampons? I might not be needing them otherwise, and I’d hate to waste a perfectly good Tampax.

2:00 – It’s still not time to get the kids. What am I going to do? I wish I could think of something to write about because I have never typed so fast in my life! Here, kitty! Let Mommy paint your toenails!

2:30 – Husband is due home any minute. It’s about time to make some coffee.

Look! We have matching coffee mustaches!

Look! We have matching coffee mustaches!

Of Cats and Bags and Accountability

So, like everybody else on the planet, I made a few goals. Goals are nothing without action, and action comes only with accountability. Or something supercilious like that. Basically, I have happy things to share, so bear with me.

One of these goals was to be more intentional about my eating. The Christmas season was a culinary free-for-all, and I’m paid for it in the end. My giant back end. There that is. Christmas technically lasts until January 6th, so I had a whole bunch of days before dealing with that one. But I have. I am eating a good breakfast every morning. And I must tell you that Belgian waffles with chocolate chips and whipped cream is a good breakfast. I would venture so far as to say it’s a great breakfast. What? Don’t look at me like that. There were strawberries, too. And some powdered sugar, and… I digress. Anyway, intentional eating has been a success.

I’m being very conscious about my to-be-read list. It grows smaller daily. Mostly because I refuse to add anything else to it for a while. I am making a little headway. It’s hard to divide time between crazily devouring pages and crazily creating words of my own. But I have not brought anything home that I didn’t add to my TBR list. In fact, I have taken very little out of the free bin at my favorite used bookstore. And that, my friends, is progress. The bin is bigger than a coffin and has been stuffed to the brim with free books. FREE BOOKS! I have come to understand that free isn’t actually free, since it costs me bookshelf space to store. If I don’t have a reasonable intention to read the book in the next couple of months, back it goes. It’s almost like I’m growing up. I said almost. Don’t be afraid.

And here’s my most exciting top secret news. I had planned/hoped/dreamed/wished  to finish my current manuscript within the first couple of months of the new year. And  (drumroll, please) now (Helloooo? Where’s my drumroll? Desk, head, keyboard. I’m not picky. That’s better. Thanks!) it’s done. The first draft, of course. It’s warty and ugly and not fit for human consumption (yet), but it’s finished. I’ll be moving into rewrites and beta-reading over the next few weeks, which is more exciting than I thought it would be.

But am I content? No. I’m so ready to start another project! My husband thinks I should blog for a little while instead, but I think that’s mostly because he knows if I get involved in another book project immediately, we will never finish Downton Abbey. He’s probably right.

I have a new goal, too. I want to rework my blog page and add some drop down menus and categories. This one will take me a while because I’m not sure I can make that happen on this theme. Changes are coming. It’ll be fun!

So how is your list coming along?

Oh, yeah. The title promised a cat. I meant it figuratively, as in letting out a secret , but when I looked at my latest upload of photos, there were 107 new ones, mostly of my cats. It seems I am missing Piper more than I thought, and my way of dealing with it is to take a blue-million snaps of the two cats we have left. Meet Kisses. Until I work through losing Piper, you’ll probably be seeing a lot of her.

This is me every morning in winter. Every, single one.

This is me every morning in winter. Every, single one.

Room For Improvement

Dear friends, it’s a brand new year. The slate is wiped clear, and we all get to start fresh. All of us. Let’s do this together, shall we? Working together can make the world a better place.

I have goals for myself, of course. It wouldn’t be quite fair otherwise.

My Goals For Self-Improvement

  • This is the year I will finish my current manuscript and begin querying agents. I’m hoping the manuscript itself will be finished in the next month or so, a first draft at any rate. And then on to rewrites, finding beta readers, and then the query. I am excited and terrified. This particular novel is a departure from anything I’ve ever written.
  • I need to do a bit of work on the ole physique. Yeah, I know it’s cliché. Have we met? I made a conscious decision to eat whatever I wanted over the holidays. This morning, I looked in the mirror and discovered all the fluffy pigeons had come home to roost. Right on my bum-bum. I must do better. I will get back to regular exercise and intentional eating. Although I would argue my Christmas eating was pretty intentional. I intended to eat that entire basket of candy bars without sharing.
  • If I buy books, I must immediately add them to my To Be Read list. It takes the commitment level up a notch to publicly commit to reading it. No more saying “I’d like to read this new book sometime.” I’ll post my list later this week.
  • To be as generous of spirit and selfless as my husband. The other day, I went downstairs to get a movie for us to watch, and I knew that no matter what I chose, my husband would happily watch it. I could have brought “Twilight,” and he’d have still smiled. At least on the outside.

My Wishes For the World

  • For words to be used properly.  The two that come to mind at the moment are “artisan” and “handcrafted.” Here’s a flow chart to let you know if the word is being used properly.
My first flow chart. Any recommendations for programs?

My first flow chart. Any recommendations for programs?

  • For reviewers to stop expecting that every female protagonist is a role model. There is a recent trend to upbraid authors for writing women and girls that aren’t paragons of modern feminism, especially in YA. As a writer, this trend really bugs me. I’m not writing role models; I’m writing people. Not every person I meet in life is someone I will look up to. I don’t see book characters any differently. Just because the protagonist isn’t a hero doesn’t mean the book is a bad one. Flawed characters are more interesting.
  • For us to make this the year we get the facts before forming an opinion. Or taking action. Even if it involves reading a primary source. I have to turn off social media periodically when some celebrity/political figure I may or may not have heard of is accused of doing/saying/thinking something horrific, so my feed blows up with folks calling for a tarring and feathering. And then it turns out that (*gasp*) the person in question was misrepresented and the media was making mountains out of tiny little mole hills. Hear something that bugged you? Research it a little. It feels terrible to get the proverbial knickers in a knot and later find out it was a tempest in a teapot. Don’t believe me? Ask Goodreads. And I could think of at least five other examples without really trying.
  • For all of us to quit being mean in the name of Jesus. In researching my current novel, I came across two websites by two different Christian groups that broke my heart. Both sites were busy trashing other Christians for what they thought the other believed. That’s not what it’s about, friends. If we’re caught up in mocking a group of people because they believe in predestination versus free will (or salvation instead of sanctification), we’ve missed the whole point and we might as well go home. Jesus was pretty clear that the most important thing after loving the Lord is to love our neighbor as ourselves. How’s ’bout we get busy doing that? Seems more productive in the long run.

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And what are your hopes for the coming year?

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Snow Day

After two weeks of Christmas vacation and some unexpected snow days, today we are finally returning to school. Conversation in my house this morning:

“I think I’m sick.”

“You’re fine.”

“My throat is really sore.”

“Uh-huh. You’re going.”

“I bet the buses still aren’t fixed.”

“They’re running. You’re going to school.”

“Water pipes have probably burst.”

“No one has called to cancel school. You’re going.”

“I just threw up on the couch.”

“You didn’t throw up.That’s just spit.You’re just- what?! Why did you spit on the couch?”

“I’m too tired!”

“Serves you right. You stayed up much later than you should.”

“What if the kids are mean?”

“They won’t be.”

“I don’t wanna gooooo! You can’t make meeee!”

“You have to go. You’re the teacher.”

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Fine. I’m here. Hope my husband is happy.

Happy “You’re Finally Back At School” Day, everyone.

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