Writing… With Children

 

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There’s nothing that grabs my attention like a blog about how an author manages to write at home when her children are awake. That’s right. Awake. There are plenty of articles that talk about writers who are able to wake up before the crack of dawn (yeah, this isn’t one of those articles) or writers who are able to stay up and catch Stephen Colbert’s monologue on her writing break (yeah, this isn’t one of those articles, either) because that’s when the author’s children are still snug in their beds dreaming of the house that gives full-sized Hershey bars or some other wonderful scenario that stirs a smile. If the children are in bed, they cannot disturb the writer. There are plenty of articles about writing in coffeehouses or libraries or other locations that aren’t in the home (yeah, I’ve written blogs like that but this isn’t one of those articles, either). Yet I was starting to think about next week. All four of my kids will be under one roof (collegiate Kath who will be studying for finals, high school sophomore MJ, and twin 9-year-olds Cupcake and Chunk) and my husband is working full time with the promise of Thanksgiving around the corner along with my in-laws. So what’s a writer and parent to do, a writer who wants to make time to write and craves time to write, short of waking up early or going to sleep late?

Close the door?! This is the advice I’ve heard most often over the past six years. Close the door. Put a sign on your door that shows your children you’re writing. Well, first of all, if you are the parent of an infant or toddler or young child, I ABSOLUTELY DO NOT RECOMMEND THIS. You can’t close the door on them. My children did not know the meaning of the word nap, but for writers who have children and can only write at home and if your children do know the meaning of the word nap, I highly recommend writing during naptime. Cleaning the house can wait. However, my children are all out of diapers and should understand a closed door means that mom is writing. I’ve tried the “closed door” approach, the “wearing a hat and don’t disturb Mommy unless there’s blood or a broken bone” approach, the “put the earplugs in and hope for the best” approach, the “locking yourself in the bathroom” approach. They all fail miserably. The kids walk in, they laugh at the hat, earplugs only block out the first 90 decibels, and the dog whines outside the bathroom.

If you can’t beat them, join them. This doesn’t mean that I give up writing or that I let the kids win. It means I’ve learned how to write with the television on (yeah, I’m that mom) or with the Wii on. I know that Wild Kratts (thank you Martin and Chris) and other PBS shows provide 25 minutes of writing without commercials. I know some of you are thinking my kids have won because they don’t respect my time in my office. While there’s a small spark of truth in that, I like knowing my kids want to tell me we’re out of apples or MJ put enough peanut butter on his sandwich to feed a small army or they love me. I already know I’ll try this office approach at least once next week and Cupcake and Chunk will open the door anyway, followed by Kath coming up the stairs and telling them blood is supposed to be oozing out of every pore to disturb me, and then I’ll bring my laptop downstairs. I’m a write-at-home mom. That means I’m a writer and a mother. And since I’m not a four AM riser or a 1 AM crawl into bed writer, that means I’ve learned how to write with Chris and Martin in the background.

Are you a writer with kids? If so, how do you write while you and your kids are home together?

Write-at-home mom

Write-at-home Mom

I stole this phrase a while back. I immediately identified with it and started using it. There’s only one problem with it. I rarely write at home. During the school year, I write anywhere except home. I’ve tried to write at home, but there’s always a load of laundry to fold or a dishwasher to unload. When I’m at home, my loving Basset Hound, Vera, believes my purpose is to pet her (or make her a sandwich, if I would be so inclined, instead of feeding her kibble) and pay attention to her. If the kids have a day off, they conveniently stay out of my way if I’m cleaning, but the second I open my WIP, there are problems galore that only Mom can solve. So, I’ve learned to write at libraries, at Panera Bread (a huge thank you to all the employees who kindly let me wear out my welcome, and I do leave at peak hours), and in the parking lot. The question then becomes where to write.

One of my favorite television shows of all time is a little known gem called Ellery Queen. A precursor to Murder, She Wrote, this mystery show followed the adventures of a mystery writer who helped his father solve murders. Why it was only on for one season astounds me. There’s one episode that features Ellery working furiously to finish a book before a deadline. He only had a couple of days to finish forty pages and he had hurt his finger which was wrapped up and unable to be used to write or type. (One other aside: the show is set in 1947 before word processors and computers.) With a busted finger, he hired a secretary, one Miss Margie Coopersmith with a “C,” to write down his dictation. At eleven thirty at night, Miss Coopersmith asked Ellery if he would like to continue writing at the automat. Ellery looked at her as if she were crazy. “Writing? At the automat? It’s too noisy.” He told her he wouldn’t be able to get any work done in the noisy confines of the automat, instead preferring the interior confines of his New York City apartment.

Unfortunately, I’m the opposite. When I’m at home, it’s too busy. Writing in the busy atmosphere with four kids, two pets, one husband, and a myriad of chores is almost impossible for me. The good thing about writing at someplace other than my house is that it gives me a couple of minutes beforehand to think about my writing for the day: where I’m at in my outline, dialogue, setting, POV, and so on. The bad thing is that it eats up time as I travel to different places.

What’s important for me, more than where I write, is working on consistency. Writing deliberately every day is crucial for me to get the character’s story on the written page. This summer, I’ll be the one at the library or Panera with my gaze glued to my computer screen.

Where do you like to write?

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Family Wednesday: Snow Day

Unknown-2A picture to tantalize you of the wonderful seasons to come: spring and summer.

There’s a new four-letter word in the continental United States: snow. Many parts of the United States haven’t just been affected by snow; they’ve been deluged. To paraphrase a scene from Forrest Gump, we’ve had fried snow, snow jumbo, snow fricassee, snow scampi, and baked snow. In other words, there’s been so much snow and ice around the continental forty-eight that no one wants to hear about it anymore. So what am I doing? I’m writing about my family’s snow day. That is quickly becoming a snow week.

Four kids, one roof. There are some general truths about adulthood. Once you graduate college, people tend to look at the ring finger of your left hand. Is there someone special in your life? Are you engaged? If so, who is that special someone? If not, why not? Is there something wrong with you?

Then you meet that special someone and the two of you announce your engagement. The questions change. When are you getting married? The stories change. Once an engagement ring is slipped on your finger, everyone starts regaling you with stories of his or her wedding. Oh, I remember the time. It goes by so quickly. It goes by so slowly. You hear joyful stories, but you also hear the horror stories. His cousin twice removed got plastered. The dog ate my cake. I got jilted.

You get married, and you think you’re in the clear. The questions change yet again. When are you going to have children? Once again, the stories change. Maybe you’ll be in the break room when you get assaulted with the question followed by anecdotal stories. When I was married for a year, we had our first child. Oh yeah, we had twins. Oh yeah, we had quintuplets.

Then you have your first sweet child. That sigh of relief is almost palpable. Everyone will now get off your back. You’ll be in the clear. Soon you’ll be the person asking the questions instead of being on the receiving end. Nope. The questions only change again. When’s the darling little baby going to have a baby brother or sister?

It’s only after the second child, the questions stop coming. There are those of us, though, who didn’t stop at two. In case of my WH and myself, we went for a third and lo and behold, we had twins. The questions started all over again, but this time there were preceding snips. You have a boy and a girl. Why’d you go from man-to-man to zone defense?

Usually I shrug the questions off with a grin. I love all of them. Even with lots of love in my heart, I know snow days are hard and sometimes try my patience. So what to do?

Movie night. I’ve told them all that tonight I’m introducing them to one of the greatest joys in life: Bringing Up Baby. Cary Grant, Katharine Hepburn, Asta as George and a leopard. It’s age appropriate for all of them, and it’s one of the best movies ever made. This morning, I bought extra popcorn specifically for this purpose. Tonight there’s no Scout meeting, late practices, or any other excuse for us not to sit together and watch a movie (unless the power goes out and in which case, I have my laptop).

Books. I have a great slate of books. I just finished Jill Shalvis’ Forever and a Day and Tanya Michaels’ Mistletoe Mommy. Those are two romance novels that will definitely steam up your winter days with some fun and sassy characters. I recommend anything by either of those excellent romance authors. I’ve just started Debby Giusti’s The Officer’s Secret. After two chapters, I’m enjoying this romantic inspirational thriller. I can’t wait to read more of it.

Food. One good thing about six people under one roof is that each of us has different favorite foods. On the way home from picking up the twins at preschool yesterday, I stopped at the grocery store with the four of them, telling them they could each pick out a snack. I’m a chocoholic and I knew I had enough chocolate at home. My WH told me today he picked up queso dip after work yesterday because he wanted that. At the store, Kath asked if we had popcorn. MJ picked out his favorite type of yogurt. Chunk picked out a cantaloupe. And, believe it or not, Cupcake wanted celery. So we have enough food to last a while. Plus the good news for Cupcake is I don’t think we’ll all be running to the refrigerator for an extra stalk of celery when our snack cravings take over.

How have you made it through winter in your neck of the woods? Let me know.

Family Friday: Roller Coasters

stock-photo-silhouette-of-wooden-roller-coaster-70910776This past summer, my family and I traveled up north and visited Hershey Park in Hershey, Pennsylvania during our vacation. In addition to Hershey Park, we also visited Washington D.C., Mount Vernon, Amish Country, and Wheatland in Lancaster, Pennsylvania. Now, a couple of months later, my four year old twins still talk about the day at Hershey the most. I’d like to hope some of those glorious historical sites planted some seeds of love of history and stories, but that will remain to be seen down the road. They want to go back to Pennsylvania, stay in the hotel, and go back to Hershey. The day at Hershey, though, showed me some insight into the members of my family.

     Wonderful hubby. Let’s start with my wonderful hubby. I like to think we balance each other. He’s my rock, and I remind him to buy deodorant with antiperspirant instead of just deodorant. This day reminded me why he’s great at strategy games and planning. He wisely chose to purchase the add-on fee to park next to the park entrance. With twin four-year olds, it was the best spent money on the trip. By the end of the day, Cupcake was tuckered out, and wonderful hubby and I were each carrying a twin out to the minivan. I was so thankful he indulged with that nearby parking spot.

     Kath. It’s hard to believe that the little girl who twirled on the fireplace hearth is now in high school. Her boyfriend lives in Pennsylvania, and he accompanied us to Hershey. They toured Zoo America on their own and also went on some of the roller coasters while touring the park on their own. Kath still talks about her reaction to the dips and turns of one of the coasters, but she participated in the rides without us. In two years, she’ll head off to college, and she’ll live in a dorm away from home. Hershey Park drove that concept into me, but we all still ate meals together and we all laughed together. But she’s now grown up enough to take that first step into her own life by riding the roller coasters with someone other than her parents.

     MJ. My tween son talked nonstop of the roller coasters prior to the trip, but then the moment came when he actually saw the roller coasters. Up close. He had no problem with the bumper cars or the Screamer. The Tilt-a-Whirl and the Pirate were right up his alley. But he discovered he’s not keen on roller coasters. I still don’t know what to make out of this. On the one hand, I want all of my children to live life to its fullest and face any fears they have. On the other hand, maybe this is a sign that my tween son is starting to develop some common sense that will guide him through his teen years and beyond. If something doesn’t feel right and some little worm of doubt grows within him, that might help him later in life. So as hard as it was to watch him not to get on the roller coaster, we had to go along with what he felt was the best choice for him.

     Cupcake. The most fearless of the bunch. She went on every roller coaster the park allowed her to ride. The Super Dooper Looper. No problem. If it was a roller coaster and she was permitted to ride it, she was there. She not only rode every one she could ride, she rode some of them twice. (We were very fortunate to go to Hershey the first week after school ended in our neck of the woods while school was still in session in Pennsylvania. As a result, the park wasn’t crowded and we literally walked onto many of the rides, especially toward the end of the day.) She loved the roller coasters. She came back and reported every wonderful second of the ride to her twin brother and her older brother. She might look sweet and she might cuddle up to you, but this Southern belle has a spine of steel. 

     Chunk. Cupcake’s twin brother didn’t cotton to roller coasters like Cupcake. He allowed his sister to go with Daddy on the roller coasters while he went off to another ride with MJ and Mommy. But the roller coasters were always in view. And by the end of the day, he wanted to try riding one. And then, he loved roller coasters. In the last hour, we rode two roller coaster before ending the day with a Tilt-a-Whiril ride and a final twirl on the Screamer. That’s Chunk. A little cautious at first, but then full steam ahead. 

     The whole day was fun. From the wonderful ice cream dipped cone to ramming into Kath, Kath’s boyfriend and MJ in the bumper cars, it was a great day. 

     What are some of your favorite family vacation moments? Let me know.

Writing Tuesday: What I learned from a Children’s Museum

This past weekend, I posted a blog about my family’s vacation to Pennsylvania. Having children whose birth years span different centuries means that sometimes my wonderful hubby takes the two older children to one activity while I take the two younger children to another activity. One of the days during the vacation, we decided that he would take the older two (along with KB) to a Science Museum while I would take the younger two to a Children’s Museum. Little did I know that I would find material for my writing blog here, but it’s amazing what you can learn about writing in the most unusual places. For here at the Hands to Hearts Children’s Museum, I received a refresher course on the basics of writing. In the dress-up and costume area, there were little placards hanging on the walls that introduced children to the concepts behind stories. But no matter whether you are a plotter or a pantser, these placards reminded me that everyone should know a couple of things before a writer starts a story.

The first placard read as follows: Once Upon a Time. There are three parts to every story, the characters, the setting and the plot. When I read this, I stepped back and blinked. Here was a story boiled down to the three most important elements. A writer needs to have a grip on these three elements before he or she starts a story.

Characters. The placard on the next wall asked where are your characters going? Who is going with them? And what will you be doing? Wow. In a sentence, this placard at a children’s museum reminded me that characters needed to know where they are going (what’s their goal), who is going with them (who are the supporting characters), and what is the character doing (what is their motivation and conflict). Before either a plotter or a pantser sits down and writes that first sentence, he or she needs to know whose story they are writing. Some writers interview their characters beforehand. Others make charts to tell about internal and external goals, motivations and conflicts. Still others make timelines of what the characters do when. No matter how you get to know your characters, the important thing is to get to know about them and spend time with them. As one of my favorite authors (the wonderful Nicki Salcedo, author of All Beautiful Things) once said, these characters are like your friends. And you want to spend time with your friends. Why not give that same dedication to your characters? (Isn’t she smart? A Stanford graduate and a great author, too).  So from a wall at a children’s museum, I was reminded of the importance of knowing your characters. If you don’t like them (even the villains), chances are your audience won’t. If you like them and get to know them, your enthusiasm will probably show to your audience.

Setting. Another placard read as follows: Choose a setting for your story. Pretend you are a character in that story. This is great advice for setting and for POV. Think about it. Pretend you’re in the setting. What does your character see, smell, feel, taste and hear? The five senses and setting description help us feel like we are there in the scene with the character.

Plot. Another placard reminded me that a story has a beginning, a middle and an end. Basically that describes the parts of a plot. A plot needs to introduce the story, keep our interest in the middle and provide an ending. I’m a romance writer so my books are going to have a happy ending. But no matter the genre, it’s so important to go into your story knowing how you want it to start, where you want to be in the middle, what is your black moment or your aha moment, and how do you want it to end.

This write-at-home mom went into this museum expecting to have a fun time with her 4 year old twins but left reminded of important elements of a story.

What about you? Have you ever gone somewhere and unexpectedly learned something about your career or hobby? Let me know!

Wacky Weekend: Family Vacation

Have you heard this old joke? What’s scarier than Friday the 13th? Saturday the 14th.

Okay, so now you know the reason I’m a romance writer and not a comedy writer scouted by the likes of Stephen Colbert and Tina Fey.

There are things that sound scary (my children naming the snakes in our front yard) and things that are scary (the fact that there are snakes in my front yard). I don’t know about you, but six members of a family (in this case, to be more specific, Mom, Dad, 16 year old Kath, 11 year old MJ, and twin 4 year olds Cupcake and Chunk) in one hotel room for a week can inspire a couple of chills. But we all survived. And not even five minutes into our vacation, we heard the line that will forever mark this vacation (keep reading!)

For those who don’t know me, my new running gag is that I’m the mother in a YA romance novel. My 16 year old, Kath, is dating an 18 year old who lives in a different state. As a mom, I’m great with her dating someone who lives five states away. This spring, 18 year old (shall we give him a nickname? Let’s not ask my wonderful hubby to provide this nickname. Let’s just call him-KB for Kath’s boyfriend-I know all of you will now line up to buy my first book with something as creative as that.) KB graduated from high school. Kath thought his graduation party &/or his Eagle Scout party would be taking place during my wonderful hubby’s vacation so we all decided to take a 12 hour car trip to Pennsylvania to visit KB.

We all decide 5 A.M. is a good time to get the party started. By some miracle, we are actually all loaded and in the minivan by 5 A.M. At 5:05 A.M., Chunk utters the words, “Mommy, I need your iPad.” We were barely out of the driveway and Chunk is already bored with the car ride.

At our first rest stop at the SC Welcome Center, Chunk runs his fingers through the grains on top of a garbage can: that’s right. The ones used for cigarette butts. He did not want to stop playing with the big ashtray. At least he was keeping Kath and MJ entertained.

We make it along the first leg of our trip, all the way to Virginia where we spent the night. When we arrived at the hotel, MJ discovered he forgot deodorant. For the good of everyone in the car, we pile back in the car and go buy him deodorant. You’re welcome, Kath, Cupcake and Chunk.

The next day we all go to the Smithsonian in Washington, D.C. When we pull into a parking deck, we were asked to open our trunk for security purposes. What we didn’t know was that our can of raisins ended up back there. The poor security guard who opened our trunk door had the can of raisins gush out of our car onto a sidewalk. They promptly waved us through.

Chunk enjoyed touching a cannon fragment in the display before the Fort McHenry flag. He kept wanting to go back there the most. The rest of us did enjoy seeing treasured pieces of Americana. I especially liked Miss Piggy. And I also marveled at how small Bette Davis’ waist was when I saw the dress she wore in Dark Victory.

It’s a beautiful city, and I’m proud of our nation’s Capitol, but we were happy to start the next leg of our journey. Especially Kath. She’d get to see KB the very next day.

So we proceed to PA. We crammed a lot into a week: the State Museum of PA, Wheatland (our 15th President, James Buchanan’s house), a pretzel factory, Hershey Park, Zoo America, lunch at an Amish restaurant, Hershey’s Chocolate World, the York Emporium, and miniature golfing. Chunk provided our first ever visit to a medical first aid station at a theme park (the EMTs and staff at the Hershey Park First Aid Clinic were exemplary; I told Chunk to enjoy having two beautiful women fawn all over him). Cupcake made friends wherever she went, MJ liked making his own candy bar and Kath loved spending time with KB, including seeing The Fault In Our Stars with him on opening night.

I’m used to the stereotype that we Southerners take our time to get from point A to point B. I didn’t quite know what to make of being chastised up North for walking on an escalator. I normally don’t like labels, but I have to laugh at this Southerner getting chastised for trying to get somewhere in a hurry. But let me hasten to add, that Northern hospitality is underrated and was wonderful. I kept apologizing everywhere I went for the loudness of my kids. People gave me an understanding look and said they were fine. Thank you, Pennsylvania.

One morning at breakfast, my kids were particularly quiet (this must have been the day after Hershey Park). A woman came up to us and complimented me on how well behaved my kids are. Thank you, ma’am. I don’t know how you caught them at that moment, but we have a reputation for being a loud house. A friend of mine called this week and asked if he and his wife could come over, hastening to add “We won’t mind the noise.”

On the way back, I decided to wear my “Careful, Or you’ll end up in my novel” t-shirt. I am after all a write-at-home mom. On the trip up to PA, I edited my work in progress. While in PA, I kept up with my homework from an online writing craft class (A quick thanks to the wonderful and awesome Cheryl St. John for a great class). On the way back, I edited more and worked some more. My wonderful hubby knowing what a history buff I am surprised me with a side trip to the gorgeous and very historical Mount Vernon. If you haven’t been to this national treasure, I recommend the trip.

So sometime shortly after midnight, we pulled into our driveway. Safe and sound. Full of little adventures and little stories. Full of memories that we’ll talk about for years to come.

What about you? What family vacations stick out in your mind? If you are a writer, have any incidents from your family vacations made it into your books? Let me know! 🙂

 

Writing Tuesday: Have Laptop, Will Travel

UnknownGrowing up, I can remember my mother telling me that she didn’t understand how I could finish my homework with the radio playing in the background. Everyone has a different noise tolerance for his or her work capacity. Some people would be able to work no matter whether there was a jackhammer breaking up concrete right outside their window while other people need complete silence to work. Some people can work from home while other people love a workplace environment and shudder at the thought of having to work out of their home. As a writer, I understand the new phrase, “Have computer, will travel.” As long as I have my laptop, I can pretty much work anywhere. Except that try as I may, I never seem to get much work done at home.

Home is a wonderful place. Movie lines and book quotes all wax eloquent on the wonders of home. “There’s no place like home.” “Home is where your heart is.” Home for me also comes complete with my four wonderful children, all of whom instinctively know that I am trying to write and instinctively create ways to interrupt me.

Over the past month, my home has had the distinct pleasure of becoming isolated due to icy conditions. On the one hand, there was a beauty in seeing our yard covered in a blanket of snow and ice. We enjoyed French toast and a rousing game of Monopoly. We broke out other board games as well. Whenever I tried to escape to our basement to write, they found me. First, MJ came down with his book, eager to escape 4 year old Cupcake and Chunk so he could read in peace. Then Cupcake and Chunk came down and wanted MJ to play with them, but then lo and behold, they found Mommy! Surely I want to read them a book or play Zooreka or make cookies (all of which we did do at some time during the two recent snow incidents that left us stranded at home).

I love those minutes with them, but that also means that I want to be home with them when I’m home. As a result, I venture forth to write. I’ve written in people’s homes, libraries, restaurants, malls and so on. I’m even writing this blog at my local library rather than in the comfort of my home. My wonderful hubbie bought and installed a corner desk for me, but I often go elsewhere to write.

Soon all four of my children will be attending school on a daily basis. I will have to adjust to writing from the comfort of my home. The advantages will come in the short commute time and well, let’s face it, I don’t have to dress up to work from my home (my kids joke that they don’t recognize me with makeup since I’ve only worn it for weddings, funerals and writing conferences since they’ve been born). Until then, I’m trying to learn how to balance my writing time. That means I’ll still travel elsewhere to write (with the added advantage of having a few minutes to map out today’s writing-the POV, the dialogue) but come home to spend time with my family. My wonderful hubbie points out that when I don’t write, I can become, well, a little bearish. So, I will write away from home for now, knowing that when I come home, a more relaxed, better wife and mother is returning to hear all the stories of what I’ve missed while I was writing.

Where do you write or work? If you are able to work at home, do you like the convenience or do you miss a workplace atmosphere? If you work away at home, do you sometimes wish there was a way for you to work at home every once in a while? Let me know.