Archive for June, 2018

Writing Around Life: Work/School (Part-time/Part-time)

Okay, squiders, we’re getting into the combos now. This week we’re looking at how to work writing in if you’re doing both work and school at the same time.

First we’re going to consider someone who is working part time as well as attending school part time. Part-time work is technically anything under full-time, though it’s generally 30 hours or below. Someone who is attending college part time is anyone who is taking less than 12 credit hours per semester.

Together, the two tend to add up to a full-time commitment, so how do you fit in writing?

Part-time work is often shift work, so the hours may vary from day to day or from week to week, and college schedules change every semester or within the semester, if group work or a new element (such as a lab or hands-on component) is added. With everything varying so wildly, it can be hard to see where writing is going to fit.

This is where being aware of your time and where it goes is going to be a benefit.

It can be helpful to schedule your day or week out before hand. I like to use a good, ol’-fashioned paper planner, with a week on a single page and, if possible, times along one side. Make blocks denoting when you’re working, when class is, any other appointments or meetings you need to attend, etc. (I highly recommend color coding.) Make sure you include things like commute time that is not technically part of an activity but is not free time all the same.

Take note of empty blocks of time. Short blocks of time, 30-60 minutes, can be great writing times because they’re not quite long enough to get much else done, especially if there’s travel time included in there.

Take note of blocks of time where you’re “stuck” somewhere. Do you ride a bus to work or school? Do you have 15 minutes between two classes? Do you have a doctor’s appointment and know they’re always running 20 minutes behind? These tiny bits of time can be useful for plotting out the next scene or jotting down a few hundred words.

(NOTE: I do not recommend writing during class or work, for hopefully obvious reasons.)

I would try to add these times into your schedule, so you can know when you’re planning on doing them (and, for some people, consciously making a choice and writing it down makes it easier to stick to it). Realize, though, that sometimes new things pop up that may derail your writing, and this is okay. (Within reason. Need to do an extra load of laundry because you spilled wine on your favorite shirt? Okay. Need an extra study session? Definitely okay. Screaming child on the bus? Learning opportunity, bring headphones next time. New episode of your favorite guilty pleasure show? Probably not okay.)

Additional thoughts, squiders?

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Writing Around Life: Children (Older Children)

Howdy, squiders. Last week we talked about young children. This week, we’re going to discuss older children. The break between the two isn’t exact, but I’d put it somewhere between 7 and 9–old enough that you can trust the kids to not strangle themselves on the curtains the moment you turn your back, but not so old that you can rely on them to take full care of themselves.

The biggest difference between younger and older children are the amount of direct supervision they require. With an older child, you can have them do homework in their own room without worrying about the consequences. You can trust them to complete simple tasks or chores without worrying about the house burning down. They can probably even get themselves a snack and a drink without dire consequences.

Of course, children all develop at different speeds. Trust your instincts when it comes to your own child(ren). If something seems too advanced, don’t do it.

So, assuming you have an older child (or multiple older children), how do you get your writing done? Well, the good news is that the kids aren’t necessarily the distraction here. The bad news is that their activities might be.

(There are many schools of thoughts about how many activities are the proper amount based on children’s ages and other assorted things, none of which we will discuss here. Every family and every child is different, and hopefully your family will work together to make sure no one is either bored or overworked, and that the bank is not being broken on activities nobody actually likes.)

If your kids are in their late teens, the good news is that they are probably fairly self-sufficient. As long as you check in with them periodically and include them in family things (and feed them), they’ve got their own things to do and their own way to get there, in a lot of cases. If your teens are home a lot and enjoy interacting with you, first of all, congratulations on winning at parenting. Second of all, set aside a time and a place that is your writing time/place, and make sure everyone in the family is aware of when/where that is. Your teen is welcome to your attention outside that.

If your kids are in upper elementary or middle school, here are some strategies for being present and also getting some writing done.

Work together

Kids have homework. Nobody likes homework, but we all struggle through anyway. Consider instituting a family work hour, whenever works best, such as right after school (that way homework is done before fun things) or after dinner. While the kids are doing their assignments, you can write (or, in theory, pay the bills or other boring but productive things that need doing). That way everyone’s working together, which can help provide motivation for actually getting things done.

It can also help to break this up into two or three sections–after a period of time, your brain needs a rest to get back to peak proficiency. This can also depend on the age of your kids and the amount of homework that needs doing. A third grader might be good with two half-hour sessions, whereas a ninth grader may need two hour-long sessions. I wouldn’t recommend going longer than an hour at a time.

It can also help to have everyone stay at the table until the time is up even if their work is done, though this is a determination you will need to make for your own family. Children who are done with their homework can work on hobbies, such as drawing, or they might earn time on a game or electronic device.

Providing a steady, expected time for work can help everyone get into the proper mindset and help them get things done in a timely fashion.

(NOTE: This can be attempted with younger children, though the results are mixed. Younger children often don’t have the focus or attention span to work on something for any sort of significant amount of time, and may need regular help, which can break your concentration.)

Write around activities

Older children have sports, dance, theater, choir, tutoring–you name it. And you probably drive them to a lot of it. Some activities require parents to be there and be present, such as helping with a scout troop or working as the assistant coach. Other things you just drop them off and pick them up an hour later. And yet more things you sit on the sideline, watching 500 attempts at baskets.

This is a personal judgment call, but if you’re spending soccer practice staring at your phone willing the time to go by faster, why not spend that time writing instead? If you could drive home for an hour between drop off and pick up for swim team, would that time be better spent if you went somewhere local and wrote instead? And even if you do decide that watching your kid is the best use of your time, you can still have writing materials with you for when things get slow or if an idea comes to you.

Many of the general tips work here, as do some of the ones for younger children, such as working before they wake up.

Other thoughts on writing around older children?

Writing Around Life: Children (Younger)

Oh man, squiders, nothing kills your writing productivity like having small children. You’re exhausted, you can’t pee without there being crying, and if you avert your eyes for a second, they’ll have scribbled all over the couch with a marker that came from who knows where. (You would have sworn they were all up high.)

WARNING: Do not leave your children unattended!

Small children (we’re talking mostly under 5, though some of these techniques may also work for older children who are less mature) are equal parts stupid and inventive. Taking your eyes off of them, even for just a minute, can sometimes be disastrous, which explains why most parents of small children always look like they’ve been run over by a bus.

That’s not to say that you can’t get any writing done around your children! You certainly can! It may not be as much as it was before children, but it is doable. It is more doable if you have a spouse, friends, or family that are willing to watch the kids periodically so that you can escape.

Write while they’re sleeping

Little kids sleep a lot. It doesn’t always feel like it, because some children do not like to sleep for decent periods of time or on any type of schedule, but they do. Even a 5-year-old should be getting somewhere between 10 and 13 hours of sleep a day, whereas a 2-year-old needs closer to 12-15 hours. The average adult should be getting 7-9 hours. So, in theory, you’ve got at least two hours where you’re awake and they’re not.

This isn’t a perfect plan–depending on sleep patterns, you may need a nap yourself during that time. If you have more than one small one, they may not sleep at the same time. And there may be other things that you need to do during that blessed naptime (showering, chores, a quick workout, a mental health check, etc.). But if you can manage it, even a few days a week, this is a great time to write because you know where they are and you’re relatively sure they’re not getting into trouble.

Write while they’re watching television

This won’t work for the youngest children (experts recommend no screens before the age of 2), but there are a lot of great, educational shows out there for preschool age children, and you can let your kids watch 1 or 2 a day without feeling too guilty about it.

Again, though, don’t leave your kids attended! I recommend sitting at a nearby table with a laptop or a notebook. That way you can see the kids and what they’re up to, and you can get a little bit of work done.

Designate a writing night

Basically, you get one night a week where you get to write and someone else (probably your spouse, but if they’re not available for whatever reason, a relative, a babysitter, the drop-in daycare, etc.) watches the kid(s). This guarantees that you have a least one time a week where you get to do some writing. (Also, it’s lovely because you get to be child-free for an hour or three and sometimes that’s really necessary.)

I’d recommend leaving the house, especially if you’re a stay-at-home parent, because being home all the time can do a number on your psyche. I prefer coffee shops, but you could also meet a writing friend somewhere, go to the library (depending on how late your local branch is open), or hit a restaurant that doesn’t mind people parking for a bit.

Join a parent group

Some parent groups will provide daycare once a month for a small fee (somewhere between $5 and $15 per time), while others have programs where one parent will watch a number of children (maybe four families worth), and then the next parent will watch all the kids, and then the next, etc. You will have to watch all the children yourself in that sort of scenario, but you will also get some time to yourself, though how often and how regularly depends on the group.

In general, however, a parent group can also be useful for general support and mental health, and talking to other parents, some of whom might have older kids and have some more experience, can be helpful for figuring out how to get time to yourself. Make sure you find one that is supportive (some groups unfortunately got bogged down by people who adhere to a certain type of parenting and are loudly opposed to any other techniques, or may be full of people who are determined to hang on to everything bad about parenting), has other parents with children about the same age (good both for discussing issues and for playdates), and provides a mix of activities that work both for you and your children.

And remember, your kids are only little once. There is good mixed in with the bad, and if you’re not getting as much written now as you’d like, well, it’s only a few years until they’re in school and have interests of their own.

Thoughts about writing around little kids, squiders?

The Sparrow Readalong

Woo, squiders! This is quite a book. Bit rough to read in places. And apparently there is a sequel, Children of God, which starts up almost immediately after the first book ends.

I’m always a bit amused with science fiction books that were written a while ago (this was published in 1996) and were set in a time that has caught up to us. The Sparrow follows two timelines: one, after the mission, and the other going over the events that lead up to it (and the mission itself, later on), which starts in 2016.

Anyway! The Sparrow tells that story of a Jesuit mission to the planet of Rakhat, in orbit around Alpha Centauri. It’s got a lot of deep themes–about God and religion (though I do want to make it clear that it is not a religious book–there’s no dogmas being forced on the reader, and the characters themselves are of varying faiths and levels of belief/agnostics), about interacting with new cultures, about human interactions and how one views one’s self, etc. I can definitely see why it won a bunch of awards.

And it’s a debut novel. Major props to Ms. Russell.

The novel pulls no punches. And it takes the interesting tack of putting the ending first. Father Emilio Sandoz is the sole survivor of the mission to Rakhat, and his name has been drug through the mud before he even makes it home, thanks to a transmission that was sent as he was leaving the planet to return home. He’s a broken man, both physically and mentally. So as the novel starts, you know this mission went bad. You know everyone died.

And then the novel goes about introducing everyone and stepping through the events leading up to the mission, and making you care about people, which is really very evil. I cried at one point when one of the characters died.

I feel like the approach to the species on Rakhat is an interesting choice as well. These are not alien aliens, that are incomprehensible to their human visitors, but more your Star Trek or Star Wars type of alien, where are the body parts are more or less in the same parts and they have conventions along the lines of humans. There can be a connection. There can be an exchange of language and ideas.

Anyway! I hope you read this one with me, squiders. I really enjoyed it. Dunno if I’ll pick up the sequel with any sort of timeliness, so I’m not going to include it as part of the readalong.

Thoughts on The Sparrow, squiders?