Wednesday, June 13, 2012

What Now?

I made my crazy deadline of finishing the revisions on my new novel before the girls finished school for the year. I actually beat my deadline by 2 days. Hurray! The only trouble is waking up the next day, after all of those weeks/months of putting pressure on myself, and having no novel-in-progress sitting on my shoulders, waiting. I won't work on it at all while it's out with my beta readers, which is a good thing. By the time their comments come in I will have had a much-needed break from it and I'll (hopefully) have a new perspective on it and will be able to revise anew with a fresh viewpoint. But in the mean time, what do I do with myself?

It reminds me of when I finished grad school. It was a ridiculously busy two years of my life. I was working full time, attending grad school full time, and doing my own divorce, because it just killed me to think of hiring a lawyer to do a bunch of negotiating and paperwork that I knew I could do myself. It also meant that for those two years I had a grand total of maybe ten free minutes each and every day. I worked from 8am-3pm, raced across town to school, was in class until 7pm, headed home to log onto my work account for two more hours of work, then tackled my studies until 1am or so. The same routine every day, for two years. And then one day it was all over. The divorce and school part anyway, and a simple full-time job just didn't seem like enough to keep me busy to my new standard for normal. So I joined two writing groups, took a writing workshop to develop my master's thesis into a book, organized daily outings with friends I hadn't seen in two years, took a tarot class, chased a promotion at work, and started following about 10 local bands from bar to club so that I was never, for a second, sitting still. After I finished the workshop and tarot class, after half the bands had either broken up or moved to LA for their big break, after I'd had ample time to catch up with every friend I had, I did eventually slow down into a more relaxed routine.

This time around I have the benefit of having two small children, so sitting still just isn't an option. But the feeling of being in a race against time, of needing to get a lot of words down on the page every day, is still going strong. But after tomorrow summer vacation is here, and my girls don't let me write all day while they play nicely together. They need an activities coordinator, and most importantly, a referee. I'm sure they'll keep me busy enough that before I know it my beta readers will be done and I'll have a novel to revise. In the mean time I'll do my best to maintain momentum on smaller projects. I have three short story ideas to develop. Two parenting essays in mind. A novel I've never been happy with that I'm tempted to overhaul. I'm sure eventually I'll settle down and just enjoy the sunny weather and park visits with my girls. But until then I'm going to sneak in as much writing as I can.

Monday, June 11, 2012


While I am looking forward to the end of the school morning grind come Friday, there are also a few things I'll miss about the hectic morning rush through breakfast, hair brushing, lunch-making, and shoe-finding followed by the inevitable herding of scattering children toward the car. Well, I probably won't miss any of that stuff. But once I finally get the girls to school, something fun and good for my soul happens each morning that I won't get enough of during summer break: hugs. Little 6 and 7 year old girl hugs, long skinny arms wrapped tightly around my waist for a good long squeeze to start the day.

It started with one little girl who gets dropped off every day and waits in line without a parent around. She always adored cute little Peanut, and soon she was hugging her each morning before heading into class. Then she started hugging Peanut and String Bean both. Then one day, after I gave String Bean her goodbye hug at the door, the little girl ducked back out of class for a hug from me. The next day she met us at the school gate for her three hugs and held my hand all the way back to the line. A week later there were two little girls waiting for us at the gate. It's grown from there.

The first graders in String Bean's class line up in two lines: boys and girls. Most of the girls wait in line until we get there, chatting with friends and complimenting each other's sparkly outfits. Once the bell rings and the teacher opens the classroom door, the kids take turns hanging up their backpacks on the hooks outside the room before heading into class. And a portion of the girls in line snake back around to where Peanut and I are standing for a hug before heading in.

At this point there are between five or ten girls who stop by for a hug on their way into class. Most of the girls I know, either from play dates or from volunteering in class, but there is one newcomer that I've never worked with before who doesn't speak much English, but calls me "pretend mommy" and gets in the hugging line a couple of times before heading into class. She changed schools about a month ago and had a hard time adjusting. She cried every morning in line, much as String Bean did in the beginning of school, until she joined the hugging line. It's the best way to start the day, sending her off with a little love, brightening her morning and mine. I haven't seen her cry a single time since she joined our little morning love fest.

String Bean struggled with the hugging line at first, not wanting to share me with her classmates. She went through a phase of elbowing the girls aside, guarding me. But then she accepted it as a mark of pride that her friends like to hug me. She's gone from being wallflower to confident seven-year-old this school year, and managing the hugging line each morning is a job she's come to embrace. It gives her a feeling of popularity by association, and I can see how that makes her smile. But she still makes sure that she gets the first, last, and most hugs of them all.

I don't know what will happen next year. Do second graders hug moms before heading into class? Will any of these girls even be in String Bean's class next year? I'm not sure. So I'm going to enjoy my last few days of morning hugs, and hang onto that warm fuzzy feeling as hard as I can.

Tuesday, June 05, 2012


So, my girls have exactly 7 days of school left this year. That means 7 days of writing left for me. Not that  I won't write at all this summer, but it won't be the same daily affair that it's been lately. I've been on a mission to get my latest novel done and revised so that I can send my second (or third, or fourth) draft out to my trusted beta readers for feedback. While they have the novel, I'll be hitting up local parks with my kids and trying to read a few of the dozen books sitting on my nightstand waiting for me. I might also try writing a few new short stories. And a screenplay or two.

The truth is, I'm terrified of losing the momentum that I've built up this school year. I'm ready for summer: for play dates and homemade snow cones and sleeping in and no more late-night lunch prep when I just want to go to bed, and no more standing over my kids forcing them to do tedious homework assignments. But I'm also sad to give up my daily block of a few hours to myself, and my guaranteed daily writing time.

My dad and step-mom have graciously offered to watch my girls a couple times a week, for a few hours each time, so that I can have some dedicated writing time. I intend to use that time well. Discipline hasn't really been an issue for me. I work well under pressure. Often, the less time I have, the more effectively I use that time. That's been one of my most important lessons to learn as a writer: carve out the time, and guard it. No phone calls, no internet, no email, no texts. Just write, for however long I can. I'm frequently at the tail-end of my three-hour writing block, watching the clock, counting how many minutes it'll take me to get home to relieve my babysitters, typing those last few words as fast as I can. And that's my happy place, racing the clock with my words.

Two writing breaks a week is a lot less than I've had this school year, but that's exactly what I started with when I got back to writing a few years ago. And at that pace I wrote a novel in four months. Two and a half years later I have five novels plus twenty-something short stories done. They aren't all good, and they won't all make the cut of revision rounds and beta-readers and agent/literary journal submissions. But they all mattered. Every single word, every second of time I gave to myself. I've had nine stories published or accepted for publication, and nine agents are currently looking at one of my novels. It isn't just a dream anymore, this writer thing. It's actually happening. And I don't want to let it go.

I'm almost ready for summer. But first I have 7 more days of writing. And I'm going to make the most of each of them, watching the clock as it gets closer to pick-up time at school, scrambling to get those last few words down before I have to go.