Only 4 weeks until the release of Timeless! Are you so excited? I’m so excited. If you pre-order it here, the book will ship as soon as it’s available, and you will get it faster than you would from any other retailers, so yeah, do that. In the meantime, so we have so much to cover over the next four weeks!
When I first started the countdown to Timeless (way back before the Olympics) I posted a blog about part of the setting for the novel. You can check that out here. While that first part of the setting was unfamiliar to me, the second part was not. I’m hoping that it’s not unfamiliar to you either. You see, the vast majority of Timeless takes place in Darlington, Illinois.
A few of you savvy readers realized right away that Darlington, Illinois is the town where The Long Way Home takes place. And while this book is not a sequel by any means, it is definitely a spin off with plenty of crossover between the characters and setting. (Hint: You don’t have to have read one of enjoy the other, but if you haven’t read The Long Way Home, the next four weeks might be a good time to do so.)
This is the first time I’ve ever had significant crossover between novels. I’ve thrown a few hints in here or there, but never written a full appearance by an older character and certainly never reused a full setting. Going back to Darlington had its fair share of challenges, the biggest of which was getting the details right. Since the town is a fictional mix of several small towns I know in central Illinois, I have a pretty good idea of what’s there, but I had to remember things like the names of restaurants I’d included, what neighboring towns I’d mentioned, what local landmarks, if any, I’d added for creative flare. Of course I reread The Long Way Home and jotted down some notes, but mostly I just spent a lot of time thinking about the town. I’d created it before, and even when I’d moved on to new projects, it lived on in my mind. Seasons changed, crops came in, life went on, but just as the town had lived on in Rory’s mind during her decade away, it lived on in my imagination, too. I only had to decide what I would keep the same and what I needed to build on. Then I had to make sure I did it right.
Obviously there’s some freedom to adding new places, and I didn’t have to fit everything from the first book into this one, but some things shouldn’t change. For instance, people’s homes needed to remain largely the same. Beth’s house couldn’t just go from a farmhouse on the edge of town to an apartment near the college. Also the distances of locations relative to one another had to remain the same. For instance, I had to use the same highways to get to St. Louis and that drive had to take the same amount of time. Then, given what I knew about those distances, I had to figure out how long it would take to get to a town that hadn’t actually appeared in The Long Way Home but had been alluded to.
Another continuity issue in setting a new book in the same place as an older one was making sure it was populated with the same people. I had to remember that Rory had green eyes and Beth’s hair was curly. At one point I had to remember specific timeline details about Beth’s parents’ death (you will have to read the book to see why). I had to comb through The Long Way Home to remember any details about their pasts, especially their time in high school, since Stevie (the main character in Timeless) would have graduated two years behind them. I had to constantly be aware of how much time had passed since The Long Way Home ended and the amount of time that had passed in their lives since Beth and Rory had last seen Stevie. The same was true for minor characters like Edmond and Miles. I hope readers will be happy to see how they’ve evolved over the last few years.
Of course all this overlap was one of the rewards, too. I got to visit with Rory and Beth a lot over the course of writing Timeless. They play a big part in the early and late action, and it was fun to catch up with them. I enjoyed seeing the two of them in their lives together and thinking about who they have become and how they’ve settled into being an out couple in a small town. It was also fun to get back into those characters’ mindsets, to think about how they would handle the challenges faced by my new characters, Jody and Stevie. Stevie and Rory, in fact, are often set up as foils to one another early on. Because I knew Rory so well, thinking about the way Stevie sees the same things differently helped me develop them both in relation to one another.
Having such a well developed and well loved cast already populating the periphery of the story anchored me to Timeless from the very beginning. It allowed me to sink back into streets I’ve traveled before and draw from the strength of characters I knew I could depend on. That familiarity gave me the time, energy, and freedom to focus on creating some new characters and a new romance all their own. I’m very happy with this blend of old and new, and I hope that when you get a chance to read Timeless, you are too.
I believe in the Olympic movement.
I believe in the Olympic spirit.
I believe in the Olympic creed.
Faster, higher, stronger. That is the Olympic motto, but I would add a fourth word, the word the Olympics always inspire in me: “Better.”
I believe the Olympics, at their heart, call us all to be better. Better than those who came before us, better than those who stand against us, better than the people who try to divide us. Better than our rulers, better than our government, better than even we ourselves have been.
Notice I didn’t use the word “perfect.” Or even “best.” Better is a quest. It’s not final or finished. Better is always a possibility. Better is a steady endless march forward.
I am not happy with these particular winter games in Sochi, Russia. I thought they were a mess from the moment they were announced. Sochi is a remote playground for the rich, and these games have been largely funded by those tycoons. Then there’s the politics of suppression that began almost immediately and have continued to silence many through anti-gay “propaganda” laws, crackdowns on free speech, human rights abuses, racial profiling, and terrorist threats. Now I hear that there’s no running water in many of the hotels and wild dogs in the streets. The whole thing is a mess, and I join everyone calling for the International Olympic Committee to review the processes they use to award the games to specific locales.
Still, I’d be a massive hypocrite not to acknowledge that Sochi is not the first Olympic host to fall short of the Olympic ideals. Most recently, China used the games as an excuse for massive human rights violations, forced labor, and the rounding up of political prisoners. Issues with the host country are not a new problem either. The Berlin games were pure propaganda for Hitler. Mexico City was the site of major racial conflicts (remember the famous photos?). And lest I be accused of xenophobia, America has not been some sort of shining example of modern hospitality. The Salt Lake City games were horribly mismanaged and rife with corporate scandal. The Atlanta games displaced hundreds of poor residents, and you want to talk about terrorist threats? Those games actually got bombed!
No, many, if not most, host cities have fallen short of the Olympic ideals. Host countries have consistently misused the international good will associated with the games. Even more governments or individuals in power have used the Olympics as a chance to suppress their critics or further their own agendas.
Not perfect, not even close.
Then again, what is? I am a member of a mainline protestant church. I hardly agree with every decision my denomination has made, and yet every Sunday I put a few dollars in the plate. I am a member of a labor union, and while I generally agree with them, they occasionally do something that really disappoints me, but I still pay dues. I am employed by a company that occasionally makes decisions based on profits more than people. That hurts, yet I’ve not joined a nonprofit. I am a citizen of America, and at times the decisions of my government have almost crushed me with grief, yet I do not renounce my citizenship. I am a member of a family whose members sometimes advocate for things I abhor, and yet I love them anyway.
I remain an active participant in a multitude of problematic systems because ultimately I think those organizations do more good than harm. I prefer them to the alternative, to going it alone, to isolation, to throwing the baby out with the bathwater. I do not ignore their inherent failings or deny my part in them, but I do not feel they need to be rejected forgoing all their benefits for the sake of their shortcomings, and I feel, at least in the cases highlighted above, that supporting them while simultaneously advocating for change is the best way to make them better.
The Olympics are no exception. One of the ways these games are already helping to make things better is by shining a spotlight on Mother Russia and her recent transgressions. Do you honestly think that a gay propaganda law in Russia would have made international headlines for months were the Olympics someplace else? Do you think corporations would have felt such massive pressure to weigh in? Do you think there would have been this outpouring of international support for gay and lesbian Russians if not for these games? I may be wrong, but I believe most people would have seen this as just one more step by an oft-oppressive government. What else could we expect from a country like Russia? This political crackdown is completely consistent with their history. I believe the only reason it’s made news is that the laws are inconsistent with the Olympic charter. Suppression may be a Russian ideal, but the Olympics call us to be better.
Even more important, though, than the effects the games have on Russia is the power they have to effect change on a much more personal level. You see, these Olympics don’t really belong to Russia. They belong to world. To the people. To you. To me. To us. While the Olympics do undoubtedly enable their hosts to wield a lot of power, they are not about their settings. They are not about their hosts. They are not about the powerful or the rich. Once the games begin, their setting is largely irrelevant, or certainly less relevant than what they enable the global community to experience.
In this world it is very rare that we meet people from other cultures, from other countries without money or guns between us. There is very little chance for us to strive for the best without force or threat of force. There is virtually no opportunity for individuals to reach out to a fellow competitor and shake hands, to acknowledge that no matter what issues our governments have between them, you and I, we are striving for the same things. At time when drones kill from afar and money taints everything it touches, I long for more spaces to compete peacefully. I ache for more opportunities to meet the world as individuals. I cherish every change we have to look someone in the eye and say, “No matter what religion we follow, what language we speak, what color our skin, hair, or eyes happen to be, no matter who we happen to love, we are all pouring our hearts and spirits into being faster, higher, stronger.”
Despite all the things, real or imagined, that divide us, the Olympics reminds us we are all ultimately just trying to be better.
I am boycotting Russia in a way I suppose, but not the Olympics. I do not think I will watch the opening ceremonies of these Olympics. That will be hard for me because I love them so much, but that’s the part of the games that are not really the games. That is the time when the Russian government will lead the show, and I cannot support Russia right now. But once the games truly begin, I will not miss a minute. Once the people take to the ice, the mountain, the podium, it really could be any ice, any mountain, and any podium. Those moments, those dreams, they are human and they are universal, and I believe every time we come together to recognize our commonalities we are all made a little better.
Follow your own hearts regarding these Olympics. Watch, or don’t. Boycott, or celebrate what you chose. I cannot condemn either course of action. But to me the Olympics are not about being perfect. They never are. Their unifying creed reads, “The most important thing in the Olympic Games is not to win, but to take part, just as the most important thing in life is not the triumph, but the struggle. The essential thing is not to have conquered, but to have fought well.”
Choose your own path. For me, I will take part.
Hi readers, don’t faint because I’m posting my second blog of the week! The first one was sort off script, but you all seemed to like it. Unless you missed it, in which case go here. This blog though is back on my promised theme of preparing you all for my April release timeless.
Today I wanted to talk you about the setting of the book, or rather the settings plural. You see most of the book takes place in a small midwestern town that’s very familiar to me, and hopefully to some of you too. It offered a return to places and faces I’ve written before which brought a unique set of challenges and rewards. I’m going to talk about all of those in Part 2 of my discussion on settings, but before I can do that I need to tell you a little bit about where Timeless begins and ends.
New York City. Yes, Ms. Stevie Geller, successful novelist and budding playwright lives in the haven of artists known as The Village. She’s a contributor to a theater of youth program off Broadway. She mentions only being a few blocks from the legendary Stonewall Inn. It’s not a huge part of the book, but it sets the tone for who Stevie is as a person and how far her life has diverged from her hometown.
The only problem is, when I wrote Timeless I’d never been to New York City. Yes you read that right, I’ve lived in New York State for almost 8 years, but I’d never been to The Big Apple. This is the first time I’ve ever written about a place I’d never at least visited. I’ve written about Chicago, St. Louis, Atlanta, Barcelona, Madrid, Madison, so many places that I had strong personal connections to, cities I associated with various moods, experiences, aspects of my life that helped me ground the characters. So why pick an unfamiliar setting when I had so many other cities to choose from? Because it’s New York City! Center of the universe. Or at the very least center of the theater and publishing worlds. It’s huge, and busy, and sophisticated and diverse. New Yorkers are tough, resilient, and self reliant, or so we stereotype. The biggest reason I chose New York though is that the city seems like the antithesis of a small midwestern town and even people who have never been to either place generally share in that cultural understanding.
That being said, stereotypes and cultural understanding may go a long way in helping to build characters or setting a tone they do not help me get the details right. Since I’d never been to NYC I had to spend a lot of time on google maps virtually strolling through the streets Stevie would walk. Surfing realty listings and mortgage calculators for studio lofts, then trying to figure out which ones Stevie could reasonably afford on her income (something else I have to know about the character even through it’ll never appear in a book). Mapping out which landmarks were within walking distance. How long it would take her to get to the airport. Where was the nearest Starbucks? Thank goodness for the internet because I’m not sure how writers would have done this kind of research thirty years ago, and I only had to worry about it for two chapters of the book. I don’t know if I’d ever chose to base an entire novel in a place I’ve never even seen.
Thankfully though, New York is no longer completely foreign territory to me. It might have been too little and too late to help with Timeless, but my wife and I recently celebrated our tenth anniversary with a quick trip to The City That Never Sleeps. We didn’t get to see much in the 30 hours we were there, but I did manage to hit a few of the spots Stevie and eventually Jody would have visited. And you can be search I had my writers eyes on in the hopes of being able to use this amazing city and everything it has to offer in the way of setting for future books.
Here’s me and Susie in Times Square. Writers notes: Huge, frantic, cooperate, exciting, overwhelming, crowded, disorienting, energetic. Different kinds of characters are going to react to this place in vastly different ways.
Next we headed down Broadway and through the theater district. With Stevie being a playwright and Jody a theater teacher I knew those experiences would have been helpful info to have while writing, but honestly I’ve just never been a big fan of theater. I mostly only went to see a play because it was on Susie’s bucket list. I expected it to be one of those things I had to force a smile through in order to please her. Well color me corrected! Broadway is a whole new ballgame. There’s tons of fuel here for future creative fires.
That night we took the subway (another experiences full of notes for all five senses) to The Village. We walked by bars and sex toy shops, cute little brick apartments with picturesque stoops next to stores selling accessories for drag queens. So urban and yet so residential with so much creative energy to pull from.
Then we hit the gay holy grail: We had drinks at The Stonewall. This part probably needs to be it’s own blog, because there so much to cover, like getting to hang out with Nell Stark, and do shots, and eat m&ms in our popcorn, but let’s just say the sense of history in this place is humbling. I actually think I got that reference right in Timeless, but you’ll have to read it to find out.
Okay, so there you have it, the ups and downs of writing about a place before you actually get to visit there. It’s a challenge I’m not sure I’d take on for just any place, but for New York, and all that the city offers a writer I found it worth the risk. Furthermore, it added a bit of extra fun to an already cool anniversary trip. And lest you think I spend my entire vacation in serious writer mode, here’s proof I also stopped by the disney store to see if they had anything in my size.
Now, you’ll just have to come back next week to see how I managed to transition the setting and my characters to central Illinois!
Last week, as part of the count down to Timeless (don’t worry we’ll get back to that) I shared some of the elements from the back cover. One of those was my new author picture. I shared it largely so I could brag about the fact that it was taken by my son, then I moved on to talking about the book blurb. Mostly the post what about the blurb, which is about the book, which is why I assume most of you read this blog. And while I did get plenty of lovely comments both here and on Facebook about the blurb, along with people promising to buy the book (thank you!), I actually got a lot more questions about the author photo. I was surprised at first, because I generally don’t find pictures of myself all that interesting, but I have to admit there’s a pretty cool story behind this one. So, while I do promise another “Count Down to Timeless blog soon”, I hope you don’t mind if I digress just a little bit to tell you a little more about this shot.
You see, the day this picture was taken was special for several reasons. For one, it was my birthday, and I am someone who really loves birthdays, whether they are my own, or a loved one’s. I love holidays of any kind really, but birthdays are special because they are dedicated to a single person. I’m not a big present person mind you, birthday’s are more interpersonal than material for me. They’re a chance to think about all the special qualities I associate with the birthday person, and reflect on all my hopes and dreams for them. On my birthday I always try to celebrate the things that made the past year meaningful for me and then think about all my goals and wishes for the year ahead. This past birthday was made even more special by the fact that I got to spend it in Provincetown.
Women’s week always falls pretty close to my Birthday but this year they actually overlapped for the first time since I’ve been attending the event. (Side note: I thought it was going to overlap last year and I told every one that but it turns out, I’m bad at math…and calendars) This year my birthday, fell on the Sunday of Women’s week, which meant I had no readings to do and could, for the first time in my life, spend a totally free day around Ptown. I started off my celebration at midnight on the beach over looking Ptown Harbor with Melissa Brayden. We both love the water so we made our wishes for my 31st year and then sent them out into the waves to be carried off around the globe with the tides. What an awesome way to kick off a birthday!
My wonderful family let me sleep in that morning. Then we headed off to Joe’s for breakfast. Joe’s is my favorite coffee shop in town. They have a ham and gouda crescent that I dream about, and lovely brick patio where I like to sit and watch Commercial street wake up. The day was sunny with a light breeze, and I had visions of a very Virginia Woolf sort of expedition where I’d trek all the way across To The Lighthouse with my wife and son, and our friend Will. We packed a picnic and some blankets and set off for the breakwater.
For those of you who have never been to Provincetown the breakwater is a rocky jetty that extends between the main harbor and the estuary to help prevent the tides from washing away the sands that keep the tip of Cape Cod in place. It’s meant to function as sort of man made barrier reef. The extra upside though it that it’s a fun way to get from one side of the harbor to the other. It’s rough in a few places, and uneven in others, but we’d spent some time playing there earlier in the week and Jackson is now old enough hop from rock to rock pretty easily so we would be able to go all the way across…in theory.
We set out in the beautiful sunshine, surrounded by bright blue water rushing quickly under the rocks we traversed. Backpacks in tow we made quick progress, stopping only occasionally to check out the stellar views to either side of us.
When we got just short of the midway point a fisherman warned us that the tide was coming in quickly and if we wanted to get back across the low part we were currently crossing we only had about twenty minutes to make our return. There was no way we’d be able to get all the way to the lighthouse that quickly, so I asked how long it would be until the tide receded enough to come back. He assured me that, that part of the breakwater would be under for only about an hour, so we decided we’d be fine. After a twenty minute walk to the lighthouse, half an hour or more to eat and explore then a twenty minute walk back we’d return after the tide had begun to go out again. So, off we went once more toward the lighthouse.
We were so close we could see the sand on the beaches ahead when a group of what looked like students passed us going the other way. They said that there was a low spot ahead that the tide was already tumbling over. We’d already crossed a few low rocks were we’d had to jump over small rivulets on the large flat stones, but it hadn’t been a real problem yet, and since the students hadn’t mentioned how low the rocks dipped, or for long, we believed that at the worst we’d have to take off our shoes and tip-toe across. Then we came to this:
The “low point” was at least ten yards long and more than a foot deep in one place where we couldn’t even see the rocks any longer. Whats more the water was now rushing across in a deluge strong enough to sweep Jackson clean away. We stood there for a long quiet moment, listening to the ocean sweep across our path and staring at the lighthouse, so close now, and yet more unreachable than it had ever seemed. I guess I should have been more specific about that Virginia Woolf-esque birthday wish I’d made earlier. Then we realized that not only was the water rising quickly in front of us, it was doing the same behind us too. With that thought we hauled ass back across the rocks in the direction from which we’d come. We made it back to the spot the fisherman had warned us about in half the time it had taken us to get there, but our efforts were in vain.
The low spot wasn’t as wide as the other but it was just as deep with a strong current, and only a few rocky points to try and hit on the way back. We were stuck. Stranded on the breakwater by high tide, and nothing to do but wait. I felt like a pretty big failure at that point. Having grown up in Florida I knew about tide charts, and the ability of waters to rise fast and higher than expected even on calm days. What I hadn’t known was that the level of breakwater dipped so dramatically from it’s starting point. Now my family was trapped atop a string of rocks, within sight of shore on a windy October day. So much for starting off my year right.
We plopped down and unpacked our lunch. At least we’d brought a good meal with us. We sat eating our sandwiches and watching the wind drive the cold waves around us. The water crept higher and higher for another twenty minutes or so, and I’ll admit to being nervous. I knew the waters wouldn’t submerge the area we were camped out on, but I did worry about the waves splashing us. I felt bad enough that I’d gotten my family stuck, I didn’t want us to end up wet and freezing too.
Lunch passed quickly, and we were once again at a loss. There’s not much to do with a five year old on a slab of rock surrounded by water. The boy grew restless, and while Will and Susie were wonderful enough not to outwardly blame me for this disaster I knew they both had things they rather be doing. What a screw up. I was now going to spend the middle of my birthday with nothing to do but stew about my mistake and stare at the water praying for it to go down quickly.
We decided to kill some time by taking family pictures. We’d initially hoped to do that at the lighthouse, and while our surroundings were beautiful on the breakwater it felt like a sad compromise. Plus there were random fishermen in the back ground, and the wind had continued to pick up splaying our hair every which way, and Jackson kept making this face in every shot.
Will must have taken about thirty photos and not a single one of them looked worth keeping much less using on our Christmas card like we’d hoped. We all just ended up even more frustrated while Jackson reminded us for about the 100th time that he was bored! In a last ditch effort to entertain him I did something I felt almost certain to regret and handed him my camera. My good camera. As I put the strap around his neck I remember thinking, as long as he doesn’t drop it in the water I’ll consider this a win.
Then something funny happened. He started to take pictures. Pictures of Me, of Susan, of Will. Pictures of seagulls floating in the current, photos of fishermen casting their lines, photos of lighthouses and boats and sand dunes. Suddenly he seemed to find everything around him interesting, and it was hard not to enjoy seeing our surroundings through his lens. We even noticed a seal trying to steal bait off a fisherman’s line. The fisherman didn’t find it amusing, but we sure did.
Slowly, the magic returned. I took a deep breath, then another, and looked around me. So we weren’t at the lighthouse, we weren’t even moving toward it, or moving toward anything at all. I am a goer, a doer, and I had big plans for my birthday. I should have been a mess, but for some reason I felt more relaxed than I had in ages. Yes, I had messed up, but for once I was in my favorite place, on a special day, surrounded by the people I love most in all the world, with nothing, absolutely nothing I could do but enjoy the view.
We did end up taking a few more cool pictures that I’ll share with you here. Jackson eventually handed the camera back over, and cuddled with his moms to keep warm.
Then he used our picnic blanket to roll himself up into a baby burrito and spent some time dropping shells into the cracks between the rocks.
Finally, the tide went out enough that we could take off our shoes and wade back across, Huck Finn style. (Photo credit goes to Jackson on this one too.)
Then we headed back the way we’d come before, a little tired and a little cold, without ever having made it to the lighthouse. At least we’ve got something to look forward to the next time around.
It wasn’t the birthday adventure I’d hoped for, but it was an adventure nonetheless, and a good birthday lesson for me too. It took getting stuck, completely helpless with nothing I could do to move forward or back for me to start a new birthday tradition. From now on, when I reflect on my life it’s okay to think about where I’ve come from, and where I’m headed, but I’ve also learned it’s important to take some time to enjoy blessings I have in that moment. So this is me, totally relaxed, totally at peace, and totally filled with love for the little boy behind the camera.
We’re now less than three months away from my upcoming release, Timeless. It’s written and edited. I’ve turned in the front and back matter like the acknowledgements and dedications. I’ve been going through all the final checklists lists and details to prepare the official documents for print. My task for this week was to approve the cover proofs. This doesn’t mean the actual cover designed as that was done months ago. (You can see my blog on that here.) Cover proofs are when we check the details like making sure my name is spelled correctly on the font and on the spine. Or making sure the fonts are consistent with my pervious books. We check to make sure my bio is up to date and the photo is properly accredited.
Interesting side note on my new author photo: The official credit goes to Jackson Spangler. That’s right, my son took the shot while we were in Ptown this year. He was 5 at the time. I’m not certain on this, but I’m willing to bet that’s the youngest author photographer BSB has ever published.
Not bad, huh? I also chose this one because the blue background of Ptown harbor fits perfectly with the blues on the cover of Timeless, even if the horizon is slightly askew.
So anyway, I have a multi-sectioned checklist of things to fine-tooth comb before the cover can be approved. The biggest piece on the back though is the blurb. I know that those short little paragraphs will likely be all that most people have to go on when trying to decide whether or not to buy the book, (Not you dear blog readers, I promise you will have much more information and backstory before this one launches) and that short synopsis or teaser will either pique their interest enough for them to spend hard earned money, or it won’t, and my book will go back on the shelf. I have about 500 words to give you the basics of the story along with enough style and enough mystery to hook you in without giving too much away. Characters, plot, conflict, intrigue, and a hint of romance all in half a page. It’s not an easy task, but it’s an essential one.
I actually withheld that blurb when I posted the cover earlier because it’s so important it deserves a reveal of its own. So without further ado here’s the part of the cover to Timeless that carries more weight than even a picture taken by my son.
What would you change about your past if you had the chance? What if you didn’t have a choice?
Stevie Geller doesn’t do conflict. She likes her job as a successful novelist and playwright because it allows her to peacefully ensconce herself in her New York City loft, avoid human interactions, and leave personal drama for the page and stage. When her agent asks her to return to her hometown of Darlington, Illinois, to accept an award, she agrees only because he promises the process will be quick and easy. One panic attack and concussion later, Stevie is forced to confront her past in ways that seem to defy reality. As if befriending a social outcast and confronting high school bullies weren’t enough, she also finds herself falling for a closeted teacher. Along the way, Stevie must decide if some things are worth fighting for. In her rush to escape the past, will she leave behind a better future, or are some conflicts really timeless?
So? What do you think? Did it help interest you enough to read Timeless? Let me know in the comments below.
Hey friends, last year I started a question-and-answer series in which blog readers could send in questions and I’d blog my answers. I have to admit I’ve been remiss in doing this, so I’d like to try to get back to answering some of them. Today’s questions comes from a reader with a username of Simplepleasures59, and she asks:
How do you juggle it all? Often times I find myself feeling overwhelmed or guilty because, ultimately, something has to give. I have a wife, a house, a family, a plethora of close friends, my “paying” job, writing, research, studying the craft to make my writing better, personal reading time…and a hundred other things. All of them vie for my attention. So, how do you choose? What do you do to fit it all in?
So, how do I juggle it all? Not very well sometimes. I haven’t done a very good job of finding balance lately. The holidays threw me off, then my parents came to visit, and when Jackson’s school was supposed to start again, we got hit with a huge blizzard. He was home from school, and our travel plans got pushed back. I’ve honestly felt like a real hot mess lately. That being said, I do have a few tips that I’m trying heed myself to get back on track. Here are few of them:
1) Set a time to write. Early in the morning, late at night, on lunch break, it might not be an ideal time, but it takes time. Like you said, there’s always something else vying for my attention, and that something else might have to give. The rush to get my wife and son out the door always leaves the house a mess. I get hundreds of emails a day. I have comments on the blog and my Facebook. I pick up odd jobs to make ends meet, and we travel extensively for work and family commitments. There’s always a reason not to write, but if you want to be a writer, you have to see writing as being just as important as your other responsibilities. It may not always come first, but it can’t come last. If my kid is sick, I drop everything, but if there are dirty dishes in the sink, they may have to wait. Pick a chunk of time to write every single day and say, “This is my writing time; everything else will wait.”
2) Writing is a job, an awesome job, but a job. Treat it that way. I know it’s also an art. There is inspiration involved, and a lot of people want to wait for the muse to whisper in their ear. That happens sometimes. It’s wonderful, and I love it, but I can’t depend on it. I have to go do my work every day, just like any other professional does. My schedule might be different. I certainly don’t write 40 hours a week, but like any other professional, I have to show up and put the time in. I also resent the idea that writers are somehow more inspired than other professionals. My wife is a teacher, a damn good one. Her job requires tons of creativity, lots of thinking on her feet, and it takes a heavy emotional toll, but does she say, “I’m not feeling inspired today, I just won’t go to work?” No! Some days are easier than others, but she still shows up and gives her students the best she has, even on her worst days. Your manuscript should be given the same consideration.
3) Set balanced goals. My first two points were about writing, but there’s more to life than words on the page. It’s easy to get wrapped up in a project and miss other great things in your life. Likewise, we can get so caught up in what’s going on around us that we bury our drive to create. I try to be very purposeful on how I spend my time. I make lists every day. I also do 30-day challenges where I lay out my 3 or 4 most important goals in the most important areas of my life (health /work/family/fun). Under work, I may put that I want to write 30,000 words and do 4 blogs, but under family I may list 4 dates with my wife and 30 hours of quality time with my son. Of course this isn’t all I’ll do all month, but they are my top priorities. Thing always come up, but when I start to get pulled away by a new project or time constraint, I look back at those goals for the month and ask “Is this really a priority right now?” Sometimes the answer is yes, but usually it’s no. Setting realistic and easy-to-measure goals for short periods of time keeps me on track. At the end of the month I reevaluate.
4) Accountability is big for me. I always post my 30-day challenges on Facebook and encourage others to do the same. We post progress reports once a week to cheer each other on or make suggestions for ways to improve. I also post my daily writing goals before I settle in, then report back with my final word count at the end. Honestly, I probably wouldn’t achieve half the goals I set for myself if not for the fact that I hate admitting to my friends I was a total slacker all month. It also looks really bad to have to admit that I locked myself in my office for three days and didn’t play with my son at all. Knowing what’s important to you, then having to admit to both yourself and others that you didn’t honor those priorities is a real kick in the pants. Find people whose opinions matter to you, and share your goals with them.
5) Keep evaluating your goals. One thing I learned when working with life coaches as I researched LoveLife is that living a life that’s unauthentic or out of line with your true self will make you miserable. If you’re having a hard time living up to your priorities, maybe you’ve set the wrong priorities. Look at your goals. Are they really what you want, or what someone else tells you to want? If I go more than a week or two without writing, I get cranky and lethargic. If I go too long without talking to my wife, I feel disoriented and uncentered. If I go too long without playing with my son, I feel lonely and bored. That’s my heart and mind telling me those things are essential to who I am. I can go months without watching TV and not miss it. That’s my body telling me I don’t need it. It’s not always easy to get back on track. The couch is comfy, and HGTV asks nothing in return, but once I put in a little work to give my priorities the attention they deserve, I feel happier and stronger and have more energy. I feel good when I am on track. If you’re doing the things you say you value and don’t feel good about it, maybe it’s time to reexamine your values.
So, thats what I’ve got Like I said, I am not always great at practicing what I preach. I get overwhelmed just like everyone else does, but when I try to remember all the steps above, I generally manage to do a much better job of juggling than when I don’t.
Here we are, friends, on the eve of a new year. 2013 was a pretty good one for the Spangler family. We actually had so much fun that we made a video to share some our highlights with family and friends, and that means you!
Happy New Year from the entire Spangler family!
Here we are on Christmas night. The presents have all been opened, the food all eaten, the songs all sung. As this beautiful season comes to a close I hope it provided you each with enough warmth and joy to last until this time again next year. In the mean time here’s to one more magical night as you drift off to sleep in heavenly peace.
Christmas Eve is one of the most important nights on the Christian Calendar. It’s a night I look forward to all year. We’ll spend it with the family gathered around the tree then all head to church together. We’ll be packed in, warm and surrounded by golden light. We’ll lift our voices in song and our hearts in prayer. It’s absolutely magical. The spirt is overwhelming. It’s just, well, Holy.
May the love of the Lord and the Peace of Christ fill everyone one you on this most Holy Night.
This is another modern classic. The lyrics are so powerful, and combined with Kathy Mattea’s powerful voice always gives me chills
Mary did you know you’re baby boy has some to make you new?
The child that you’ve delivered will soon deliver you.