Archive for June, 2018

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

We’re continuing our work/school combo this week, squiders. This week we’re looking at fitting writing time in when you’re working full-time and going to school part-time, or if you’re going to school full-time and working part-time.

We’re not going to talk about working full-time and going to school full-time. If you’re doing that, first of all, wow, good on you. That’s a major commitment. But second of all, your free time is probably few and far between. Trying to fit in regular writing on top of that may not be possible at this point in time and that’s okay. You may still have writing time–maybe you do have regular blocks of time that you’re otherwise not using, or maybe you have the opportunity to write here or there–but sometimes it’s fine to realize you have other goals at the moment and it may not be feasible to add on additional goals.

Now, back to our full-time/part-time combo. Full time in this case means 40+ hours of work or 12+ credit hours of school, and part-time is less than 30 hours or work or less than 12 credit hours.

The first thing to do is to realistically look at your time. It is possible to write on a regular or even daily basis with a full-time/part-time combo–I’ve done it myself–but that doesn’t always mean it’s the best thing to try and do. Spend a week or so paying attention to how you spend your time. When do you feel like you have the most creative energy? Does it conflict with something else? Do you have blocks of time that easily lend themselves to writing? Or are you stressed all the time, rushing from place to place?

If you feel like you don’t have enough time to get everything done, do not add in something else. I cannot stress this enough. It’s not worth your mental health to run yourself ragged. School is finite; you will not be in it forever. Some semesters/quarters will be harder than others, and if you do want to add in a writing habit and are having issues, it may help to change up your schedule, such as taking fewer classes at a time.

Scheduling is going to be your friend here. Try to get your schedule as regular as possible. Most people go to their full-time position during the day and do the part-time one in the evening, but depending on your personal schedule, you’ll probably have some time between the two or after the evening activity. This is probably your best bet for fitting writing in. It’s not necessary to write every day; you may find that days you do homework you don’t have enough brain left over for writing, for example. And your schedule will probably change each semester unless you’re taking courses online.

(NOTE: If you are taking one or more online courses, you may have more leeway in your schedule since many of them allow you to watch lectures and complete work at your own discretion. There are still due dates for classwork and group projects, but these are often assigned a week or a month at a time, which allows you to spread out the work or do it all at once as best fits your personal working pattern.)

Aside from that, you can still use some of the techniques we discussed in the work and school sections. Some of them may be more limited because of the increased amount of responsibilities, but it won’t hurt to try them out and see if you can make them work.

If you do find yourself with a regular block of time, I recommend consistency of some sort. Personally, I like to work either with a set amount of time (say, an hour) or a goal of a certain amount of words. Consistency helps build habits, which can help you continue to make progress even if your first inclination may be to veg out on the couch after a long day.

What do you think, squiders? Anything to add?

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National Park Annual Pass: Not Always a Scam

Back in 2012, I wrote a blog post called National Park Annual Pass: Kind of a Scam. To make a long story short, my spouse and I had been on a road trip and had bought the national park annual pass (the America the Beautiful pass as it’s officially known) since we’d be hitting a bunch of national parks, only to find that the national parks we hit had ways around the pass, such as charging a parking fee or a tour fee instead of an entrance fee.

I was grumpy at the time. I don’t actually know that we ever made our money back on that one.

Well, I am happy to report that sometimes it is worth it. As of today, the America the Beautiful pass is $80. We’re just home from a two-week road trip of eastern Utah, western Wyoming, Montana, and Idaho and, once again, we bought the pass.

But this time it was worth it.

We’re already ahead just from the trip, so if we hit any more national whatevers in the next year, we’re only getting a better deal.

We hit Dinosaur National Monument ($25), the Grand Tetons and Yellowstone ($50), and Glacier ($25). So there’s $100 of entrance fees for $80. Woo!

(We also went to Fossil Butte National Monument, a fairly new monument in southwestern Wyoming, which was quite nice, but also free, so…)

So, between the two trips and our experiences with the park pass, here would be my recommendations:

  • Check your parks’ fees before you go (entrance fees are covered; nothing else will be)
  • Make sure the parks’ fees are worth the expense (if you’re doing a bunch that have entrance fees in the $3-$10 range, you might not get your money’s worth)
  • Think about whether you will have the opportunity to use the pass again later in the year (local national parks or monuments, or another trip–I can think of two more we’ll probably hit, one of which is free, but the other is $25 or $35 depending on if you’re going in for 1 or more days)

Also I had never been to Glacier before, and it is very nice, though the Going-to-the-Sun road was not open (they opened it this past Saturday, five days after we left, those jerks). I saw a moose! No one else is excited by the moose, but I had never seen one in real life before and now I have.

(Lots of wildlife. We saw a ton of bison, a couple of elks–including one licking a table in our campground, some deer, a bear and its cub fishing in the river, some herons, a marmot, a lot of ground squirrels, and way way way too many mosquitoes.)

Drawing of bear

We’ll jump back into Writing Around Life on Friday, provided I haven’t died of exhaustion. Or the heat.

Thoughts on national parks, squiders? Been to Yellowstone or Glacier? Because they were amazing and totally lived up to the hype. Except for the mosquitoes.

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?

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?