Archive for the ‘Discussion’ Category

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?

Advertisements

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?

Writing Around Life: School (Part-time College)

Happy Thursday, squiders! Today we’re going to look at techniques for students attending college part-time.

As a caveat, most students attending part-time are doing so because they have some other responsibility (children, work, aiding aging parents, etc.) so one of the combination sections later on may be more applicable if that’s you. This section assumes college is your main or only responsibility.

If this is you, you might still have trouble finding time to write despite what looks like ample free time. This is due to a strange, but commonly true, factor of human nature.

The less you have to do, the less you get done.

We could argue the psychology of this all day (is it because there’s less pressure to be productive? is it because people with more to do are naturally better at time management?) but we won’t. Odds are you’ve already noticed that this is true. Have you ever found yourself with a free block of time and no plans?

What happens?

Well, a lot of times, nothing. I occasionally find myself with two or three free hours when I could literally do anything I want. I could write! I could go for a walk! I could read outside in the sun! I could conceivably do all three because I have three hours!

But I tend to play video games and eat too many cookies and fail at being productive at all.

There are ways to get around this tendency.

1. Add more structure to your schedule. 

If you find yourself “wasting” large amounts of time where you could conceivably be doing things you want to get done (like writing), it can help to schedule things out. Maybe you go to the gym as soon as you get up, or go for a walk to get your day off to a good start. Maybe you set a timer for 10 am every morning and write for an hour. Maybe every day at 1 pm you spend 15 minutes tidying your house.

By building in some structure, you get rid of that “the day is so full of possibilities I could do literally ANYTHING” thought pattern that may actually be hurting your goals. Also, setting specific times for specific activities can help build a habit that will eventually become second nature.

2. Make a To-Do List (and prioritize it).

It’s surprising how motivating a to-do list can be. The satisfaction of checking something off–especially something that’s needed to be done for a while, or that is more difficult than the stuff that normally gets done–can be excellent. And a list can help you focus your day.

Categorization and prioritization can also be helpful. If you’ve got 12 things on your list, it can look overwhelming, which might be counterproductive. It can help to rank everything by how important it is that it gets done (homework for tonight’s lecture could be number 1 on the list, for example, whereas laundry might be down at number 8 because if it gets pushed til tomorrow it’s not going to be the end of the world). You can also set a goal for the number of things to get done. Depending on your schedule and the things on the list, maybe a goal of 5 things would be good. If more get done, fantastic! But that way you don’t feel disappointed in yourself if the entire list doesn’t get done.

Categorization can also help. This is how I do my to-do lists–I split the list into three categories: work (which includes contract/freelance work, writing projects, things like this blog), house (chores and other maintenance activities, such if I got a contractor coming by to cut down a tree), and other (everything else). I have 2 to 6 activities in each category for the day, hopefully in order of importance. The categorization helps me break down the day so I can see what needs to be done and where.

(You can also prioritize categories; for example, the stuff in the “Other” category might be more important than the “House” category for the particular day.)

3. Look for good times to work.

When you’re scheduling your day, it might be helpful to make sure you’re doing different activities at different times. Some activities feel better in the morning vs. the afternoon, or might not get done if you don’t try to do them at particular times (such as working out–I find the longer the day goes on, the less motivated I am to exercise). There might also be times that naturally lend themselves to certain activities. If you always get coffee between class 1 and class 2, and there’s time, maybe that could be a good time to go some writing. If you walk past the market on the way home from class, maybe that’s a good time to do your shopping. Look at your goals, and see if there’s a logical place for those activities to go.

Anything to add, squiders? Tips for part-time college students that you’ve found helpful?

Writing Around Life: School (High School)

Good evening, squiders! We’re moving on to more specific tips this week.

We’re doing school first, because almost everyone goes to school (one would hope, anyway). I’ve got this section divided into three subsections: high school, part-time college, and full-time college. While some tips will be applicable across the board, the difference in scheduling (in high school one is typically at school for a solid block of time, whereas in college classes are spread out all over the place and generally in the least useful combination) makes it a logical break.

High school is an interesting time, when one can do a little of everything and see what sticks. As such, around schoolwork, clubs, sports, social activities, and other time commitments (at least in this state, high schoolers must complete some number of volunteer hours to graduate), it can be hard to find time to work on writing or other creative endeavors.

First things first: no matter what, you must make writing a priority. There will always be something else to do, whether it’s sharing videos with your friends during lunch or checking out the latest student council display. In some cases, you will have to choose to write over doing something else.

The first step is to examine your day. Do you find yourself with free time frequently in a certain class or activity? Is there a block of time open where you have options on what to do? Are you at school early or late?

Here are some places to look for times to write:

Lunch

Lunch can be a good time to write because it’s typically a large block of time with no set requirements (aside from hopefully consuming food). I know this is prime socialization time, but depending on how your school’s schedule is organized, you may find yourself on your own occasionally or on a regular basis, especially if your friends have lunch a different period or have some other commitment (club meetings, travel time if they’re taking college courses off campus, etc.) during that time. Some schools have long lunches, so part of the time can be spent socializing and the other part working.

Home Room

My school called this “Access,” but the basic idea is that you have a period some time during the day where you report to your home room/teacher. Some schools require you to stay in the classroom; others allow you to leave to get help from other teachers or attend club meetings. Not all schools have this time period built into their daily schedule, but if yours does, and you don’t need help/haven’t finished your fifth period homework, this can be a great time to squeeze some writing in, especially since teachers generally prefer the students to be relatively quiet.

During (Some) Classes

Let’s face it. In some classes you may routinely finish your work early. For me, it was biology and drafting. So you can sit there and twiddle your thumbs, talk to your neighbors (and probably get in trouble for disrupting the kids still working), or you can be productive. This does depend on the teacher, however, because some don’t care what you work on once you’re done, but others might throw a fit.

During (Some) Activities

Some school activities require you to be there for long periods of time but not necessarily participate the whole time. You might be in the band and another section might be a mess and need some dedicated work from the teacher. You might be in theater but only be onstage for half the time. You might have a long bus ride to a game. Again, beware of the situation. If you have obligations for the activity that aren’t completed (i.e., you don’t know your lines for the show), those come first.

Before School

Sometimes you get to school early. This seems to be especially true in some bus systems, where whomever made the schedule wanted to be absolutely certain that the kids riding the bus were never ever late. My bus used to drop me half an hour before school started, and even my friends on other buses didn’t show up for another fifteen minutes. It can be hard to get going in the morning, but hey, you’re already up and you’ve successfully made it to school, so it can’t hurt to try.

After Your Homework

So, all of the above time periods can also be used to get some homework done throughout the day. You know what’s great about this? It means you have less homework to do later, and this can be a glorious thing. It means maybe you can get your homework done at a reasonable time, and maybe you can have brain to work on your writing after dinner and before bed. Then you can end the day on something fun instead of, you know, math or English.

Weekends

Weekends can be pretty busy still, depending on your activities and schedule, but you still have three nights to do homework instead of one, so hopefully you will also have some free time to do what you would like. It might help to pick a specific time each weekend–Saturday afternoon, maybe–where you typically don’t have commitments and make that your writing time. That way it’s planned, and it’s more likely to happen.

Another thing the can help with writing around high school is to have friends who also write, or friends who are interested in what you’re writing. Having a support system in place can help your productivity a ton. You can share your work, plan write-ins, and talk about what you’re working on.

Any other tips for high schoolers you would include, squiders? Or, as a high schooler, things you’ve found that have worked for you?

Writing Around Life: General Tips (Part 2)

Moving along!

(I finally finally finished my draft, squiders! I’m in the process of sending it out to betas. And then it’s on to something else, which in this case, shall be the return of the space dinosaur book. I’m excited. As well as other ongoing projects, of course.)

A couple more general writing tips today, squiders, and we’ll move into more specific tips next week.

Set realistic goals for yourself.

Be realistic with the amount of time you have. It’s all right to know you’ll probably only have 20 minutes a day or an hour a week to dedicate to writing. What’s not great is knowing you’ve got 20 minutes a day and vowing to write 2000 words in those 20 minutes. Can you write 2000 words in 20 minutes? Maybe. Can you consistently write 2000 words in 20 minutes? Probably not. But you can probably get 500 words. If you get more, great. But setting unrealistic goals can actually hurt you in the long run, because if you’re failing your goals on a regular basis, it can make you feel like a failure, which can make it harder to sit down and start writing in the first place.

Realize writing is more than just writing.

You don’t have to be actively getting words on the page to be writing. It sounds a little crazy, but it’s true. Planning out what you’re going to write or thinking through potential plot issues or ways to add more interest/conflict to a scene are all things that can be helpful when you do finally get to sit down with a notebook or laptop. Turns out that having a plan of action, even if it’s just in your head or for one scene, makes the actual writing go a bit easier. And it gives you something to do when stuck in a long line, or taking a shower, or waiting for a friend.

Set deadlines for yourself.

It can be helpful to set a deadline for yourself to get some aspect of a project done. For some of us, this can be the difference between choosing writing over a marathon of the latest television show. When choosing a deadline, make sure you’re giving yourself a reasonable amount of time to get things done. If you blow through too many deadlines, they lose their effectiveness. And if you’re someone who will just ignore a self-imposed deadline, it can be helpful to tell it to a friend, especially if said friend is the type who will check up on how you’re doing on it.

Eliminate distractions.

Have you ever sat down to do something, looked down at your phone, and suddenly it’s twenty minutes later and you’ve beat five levels of Candy Crush, but progress on what you’re supposed to be doing has stalled out? Some people can sit down, put their mind to a task, and focus effectively. But that’s not everybody. (I tend to focus for a while, say I’ll take a 5 or 10-minute break, and find that break tends to grow.) And while regular breaks can be good–medical science says sitting for too long is bad for you–there are things you can do to make sure they are effectively wrangled, such as setting a timer.

Some common distractions include:

  • The Internet
  • Smartphones
  • Television/movies
  • Other people

Different people are affected differently by various distractions. Some people have to disconnect from the Internet in order to get anything done. There are apps you can install on your phone to help you avoid looking at it (my favorite is called Forest and plants a tree in your virtual forest if you leave it alone for a preset amount of time) and plugins you can install on your web browsers to block the most distracting websites. Pay attention to what’s going on when it’s hard to focus, and, when possible, eliminate those things. Choose to write in the dining room instead of the living room. Choose to turn on music instead of the television.

Any thoughts, squiders? If not, have a lovely weekend and I shall see you on Tuesday. Remember to vote in the Readalong poll!