How I Write, or, Pulling a Blog Post Out of My…

beginnings

I’ve always been a behind-the-scenes kind of girl. The whole peeking around the curtain thing is exciting (please don’t read into that line, this is a family blog). I’m talking about the process, people. The artistic process.

Writing can be such a solitary practice. By nature it has to be, unless you’re one of those collaborators (lucky you). But for most of us hunched-over-screens-all-across-the-globe kind, it’s solo stuff. Which makes it doubly more fantastic to read behind-the-scenes about writers.

That’s probably why I’m totally enamored by this Writing Process series that I discovered over at one of my favorite blogs, via one of those “blog hops.” (WARNING: rambling sidebar happening now – I’m sorry, but I have a hard time getting behind the “hop” name, since for me it conjures up such a bizarre juxtaposition of frogs, bunnies, and 50s dances. But moving along…)

Inspired by this, “hop” I decided to write a bit about my own practice. Specifically, my blogging practice, because my fiction one varies, as you might expect. I’m more flexible and fancy free with blogging, which may or may not be a good thing.

So, here’s the thing about me:

I’ve never been much of a planner. In writing or life in general. I’m more of an instinct girl. Inspiration turns me on (again, not in that way, come on!). I feel a stirring, sense a seed (WHOA, no terrible puns unintended, I swear) and I go with it. Sometimes I fall on my face, other times I soar.

Like right now I’m thinking the above paragraph is a bit of a face plant, but I’m leaving it since time is of the essence. Which, ultimately, leads us to my biggest challenge in writing ANYTHING:

I have no time.

Seriously. Sometimes I don’t even let myself pee. Well, not until it’s a real emergency anyhow. I forget to eat, shower, and brush my teeth because I’m often too busy feeding, bathing, and brushing everyone else’s teeth (not my husband’s, just to clarify).

mom humor

Since I don’t have time to pee, I don’t have much time to do anything else.

So how do I write blog posts (let alone anything else)? Well. To clarify, when I say “no” time, I really mean extremely limited, and when it occurs, it can be interrupted at any moment. I write when Little Guy naps and Bunky’s at school. Both have to happen at the same time. I write when I have a babysitter, which is for about three hours one morning a week. I occasionally write at night after I wrestle LG into bed – but sometimes this doesn’t happen until 10pm. Not even kidding about that.

For example, right now it’s early evening and I’m writing this while Bunky takes a shower and Little Guy is dancing to the Frozen soundtrack. I’m standing in a corner of the kitchen (where I can see LG out of the corner of my eye since we live in an apartment) so he doesn’t see the computer because if he does, he’ll want to watch Frozen videos on it, or play Thomas the Train games (torture). Right now he’s asking me to help him because he’s spinning in circles and threatening to fall into the train table.

Thirty minutes later… okay, I’m back. It’s mere seconds until the bedtime bomb explodes so this will be brief. I quit earlier so I could dance with my two-year-old son to “Let it Go” while we both belted it out, in pale comparison to Idina Menzel’s version, but rather adorably if I say so myself.

Yet, you can see how the time thing is not on my side.

So, here’s what I do. Here’s the HOW.

I write in PIECES. A little here, a little there. It can take me weeks to write a post. Some days it’s all I can do to upload some photos.

What also helps is to THINK about my posts in advance. I do some of my best thinking in the shower (maybe because I’m alone?! Though not recently since LG has become a shower-addict). I think when I’m waiting for Bunky at school pick-up, when LG is falling asleep. Thinking helps. I can formulate my ideas, take notes on my phone, maybe even think out loud. Ever see a woman pushing a stroller talking out loud to HERSELF? Might be me. Some posts are written entirely in my head first.

It’s a piece-meal process that took some getting used to. In my early blogging days (as in almost 3 years ago!) I used to get a little OCD about finishing. I’d start a blog post and feel this NEED to finish it. And when forced, inevitably, to stop, I’d get upset. I quickly realized I’d have to change my ‘tude because my life was not going to be changing any time soon. Interruption is a parenting byproduct. To get upset by it is futile and exhausting. So, I got used to it. I started to expect it. Knowing it may take a dozen (more or less – this post took exactly 12!) little moments to make up one post, makes it easier to put the computer away when I have to.

Now, there are some times when I have a chunk of time – when the sitter comes and during LG’s naps. He will sleep at least an hour, maybe two, and sometimes if the stars are aligned, three (!). Something Bunky NEVER did, so I really and truly treasure and appreciate his nap times. I try to squeeze out every single minute of them. For writing. Dishes, laundry, and sadly, dinner planning often get sidelined. Sorry, but I have my priorities.

LG sweeping laundry

Yup. He’s “sweeping” the laundry.

When I have my block o’ time the best thing I can do is PLAN AHEAD. Meaning, THINK AHEAD. If I think about what I want to write about, what I’d like to accomplish – be it finishing a blog post or a scene in my novel – I am better equipped at making it happen. If I force myself NOT to go online (not for email, not for research if possible), I am more productive. If I make an effort NOT to look at my phone for vital texts (I don’t actually get vital texts, but sometimes I forget this), I get more done. When time is of the essence, you do all you can not to waste it. I spent a good decade or more putzing around the computer, with entire DAYS at my disposal, and even though my time is so incredibly limited (in comparison), I might actually be writing more. Crazy, but true.

It seems obvious in retrospect that this blog, Aliventures, should have made my Top 10+ list, but here are two great posts by this lovely UK writer who is also a mom. The first is about making the most of your writing time. Along the lines of what I wrote, but without all the rambling. Second, this inspiring post about whether to call yourself a writer when you’re not writing. I definitely could’ve benefited from reading this when I was too exhausted by new motherhood to think about writing, and feeling crappy because of it.

So, go forth and write (or not). Write in long luxurious stretches, or short choppy ones. Write while “hiding” in your kitchen, or compose gorgeous prose while you shower or go for a run. Steal a few minutes to jot down some notes when your boss isn’t around or your kids are watching TV.

Please, share your tips and tricks for getting those words to appear. Despite the chaos of life. I’d love to hear them.

 

A Word and a Winner

Happy New Year’s everyone, and yes, I’ll get to the “word” portion of this post, but first – a winner for my first ever giveaway!

Completely random fishbowl drawing.

Completely random fishbowl drawing.

Kath from the fabulous blog, Minuscule Moments of Inspiration, is the lucky recipient of our random drawing for the book, Gluten-Free Me! A book about celiac for kids, which I reviewed the other week.

Gotta love the mismatched Hello Kitty pjs.

Gotta love the mismatched Hello Kitty pjs.

Please try not to notice how I misspelled my abbreviation of "minuscule."

Please try not to notice my misspelled abbreviation. Handwriting doesn’t come with spellcheck, unfortunately.

Congrats to Kath, but also a huge and genuine THANK YOU to all who entered. After reading everyone’s comments, I really wanted to give everyone a copy. Hopefully, I’ll be able to do more reviews and giveaways in the future. Stay tuned.

Now, for the word… Or rather, many words leading up to the word…

Last year I decided instead of making a resolution I’d chose one word (inspired by this blog) to define and inspire my new year. The word I picked was, nurture. When I was first thinking about this post, it didn’t seem like I had made much of a dent in my goal. After all, one salon hair cut, a handful of manicures, and one Sephora.com make up order didn’t seem like much. But when I gave it more thought, I realized I had done a better job than I gave myself credit for. (Typical.)

What had initially come to mind was the superficial kind of nurture (not that there’s anything wrong with that), but I also made time to nurture my dreams and goals. For example, in the fall of 2013 I attended a writer’s conference where I didn’t know a single person and spent two days immersing myself into a world I had been afraid to reenter.

lwcnyc

I spoke with literary agents about my novel manuscript (hiding in a safe, oh the irony!) for over five years and even read the first page of it during a panel. I was absolutely taken aback when I received some positive comments. And later, after an agent gave me her card I went into a bathroom stall and did a silent scream/happy dance. When I got home, I felt giddy, invigorated, determined, scared, and excited. I pulled out the manuscript and read it through for the first time.

I read Dani Shspiro’s inspiring book, Still Writing (I can’t recommend this enough) and felt like she was speaking to me. There is a passage in the book about procrastination, ah you old false friend, that hit a nerve for me. I didn’t want to procrastinate anymore. I started to feel an urgency that had escaped me before. Time was passing by and if I didn’t start taking my writing life seriously now, when would I?

During this time I decided to work with a life coach – something I never thought I’d do, but I’m so glad I did. Brainstorming ways to improve ME.

If all that isn’t the definition of nurture I don’t know what is.

So, what could be my word for 2014? I thought about balance because I’m struggling to find that right now between mothering and writing. But balance didn’t feel quite right. That word evoked a scale, a shifting of weights, an unevenness, the impossible task of making everything come out even. But most times in life it doesn’t. One side will always tip higher or lower. Since I’ve never been good at multi-tasking, I started to feel anxious. How could I do both? But then I realized something obvious and freeing: I can do both – just not at the same time.

As Kath wrote in her poignant New Year’s post, I See You, I’m a mother first and a creative second. I can’t afford to be lost in my head thinking of plot points or researching dialogue techniques while my children vie for my attention. Both of us lose if I try to multi-task. I’m resentful for being interrupted and my children are resentful at being seen as interruptions.

What Bunky and I can do when I'm present.

What Bunky and I can do when I’m present.

I just read Joan Didion’s wrenching memoir, Blue Nights, a follow up to her equally gutting and flawless, The Year of Magical Thinking. Spoiler alert – kind of, while the first book is about the sudden death of her husband and the illness of her daughter, the second is about her daughter’s death and Didion’s own mortality. She spends much of the book in the past, exploring and dissecting memories of her daughter, Quintana. Part of her wonder and pain revolves around how much time she spent working (i.e. writing) during her daughter’s young life. It’s not so much about regret, but about lost chances. The lost chances of not having been as present as she might have liked for her daughter. Here’s a quote from the book that struck me (italics are hers):

Brush your teeth, brush your hair, shush I’m working.

I get it. I do it. I want to think about my writing, I want to jot down some notes. And sometimes I do. But often at a cost.

What a tug of war us mothers go through.

All this aside, what about the word? I considered perseverance, which is something I will need to finish the edit of my novel and keep writing. But again, no. Too cumbersome, too bulky in the mouth, in my mind. I know, I’m nuts. It’s an English major thing.

Then while helping Little Guy go down for a nap, a time when I’m alone with my thoughts (unless I reach for my cell phone) I figured it out.

open

I imagined what my word should look like, and I saw myself standing with my arms wide open, reaching as if to embrace my children, reaching for the sky. I want to be open to being a present mother, to being a present writer, open to all the possibilities of life.

What do you think your word might be? What does it look like to you?

My Other Writing (Life)

old fashioned lady with computer

Those of you who know me primarily through this blog know that I like to write (this can be deduced from my often long winded and meandering posts). You also know that my daughter Bunky has celiac, I like to bake, planning dinner is akin to torture, my family is picky as hell, and though we live in Brooklyn, New York, we are fortunate enough to have a country house where we can escape rotting garbage smells (summer) and yellow snow (winter).

You may or may not know that I started this blog as a direct result, a knee jerk reaction, if you will, after Bunky’s celiac diagnosis. Writing is how I cope, among other things. So, it was second nature to write about celiac in order to survive it. Recipes came later, and a complete surprise since I am in no way a food blogger or recipe developer. When you’re eating gluten free, you end up making a LOT of stuff from scratch after you nail the whole box/mix thing. And we ALL know how very sad my food photography is. That’s because I’m a WRITER.

paper and pen

But reading this blog only gives you a small slice of my writerliness. Here are some things you may NOT know:

  • I’ve wanted to a be a writer pretty much forever.
  • I’m a pathological reader. Which is a good writerly quality, or so I’m told.

book stack

  • I have been known to read while eating, brushing my teeth, attending Monkey’s concerts, in movie theaters.
  • I have an MFA that I finished mostly before Bunky was born, but I did present my thesis while she screamed in the background.
  • Days before I gave birth to Bunky, I printed out 268 pages of what was the first draft of the first novel I ever wrote.
  • Then I put it in a drawer and didn’t look at it for 5 and a half years. Which was around last week.

It’s understandable (I suppose) that I haven’t done much creative writing since Bunky was born. I’ve pretty much been going non stop since she roared out of my body in 2008. Having a baby is no joke. Especially a colicky one. Then a celiac-y one. Then having ANOTHER one. It’s full time work. Exhausting, mind blowing, brain numbing. Takes a toll, let me tell you.

But now that Little Guy is two (!) and Bunky is in kindergarten, I am pulling my head out of my proverbial butt and trying to reengage my writer brain. It’s not easy, but I’m feeling strangely motivated. Two things have jump started me (besides the whole time is a ticking thing):

1. An awesome writer’s conference I attended in November

2. Reading Dani Shapiro’s new book, Still Writing, which I highly, highly recommend.

still writing

Since the conference I dusted off my novel and read the whole thing straight through during two Little Guy naps. I survived my worst fear (and part of the reason I left it moldering in a safe for 5+ years) which was the fear that it would suck. And hey, guess what, it did suck! But crazy as it sounds, I am okay with that. If the first draft of my first novel didn’t suck, I’d be some kind of crazy genius, and let’s not mince words here, genius I’m not (that sounds very Yoda, doesn’t it?). Luckily you don’t have to be a genius to edit a novel. You have to WORK hard. You have to persevere.

computer hands

I never thought of myself as persistent, until the other day when I was on a call with my life coach (yeah, I’m totally doing that and it’s pretty cool despite my misgivings/cynicism) and she asked me to tell her one true thing about myself. I pretty much HATE describing myself because get all anxious about picking the wrong word(s). But somehow I came up with persistent. And despite how odd it seemed at first, the more I think about it, the more I realize it’s kind of true.

I’ve wanted to be a writer my ENTIRE life, basically. Yet, I’ve suffered the usual self confidence woes while mastering some Olympic gold procrastination techniques (including having babies, a foolproof way NOT to write). And yet, yet, I always come back to the written (or typed) word. I have never stopped writing. Fiction is where my heart is, but when I can’t get there, I write other stuff, like this blog. I write essays, including one just published in a book (!) called The HerStories Project: Women Explore the Joy, Pain, and Power of Female Friendship.

herstories

The amazing ladies who made this book a reality just sent me a hard copy of the book and it felt great to see my words in print.

So why am I writing this post? Besides sharing this other side of myself with you, I want to offer reassurance that while I won’t let this blog fall by the wayside, it may occasionally take me longer to update. Know that I haven’t fallen off the face of the earth, or the blogosphere. I’m just writing elsewhere.

Wow, remember these things?

Wow, remember these things?

I promise to keep you posted (ha!) if I manage to publish something. You’ll be one of the first to know.

Thanks for the love and support, guys. Recipes, rants, and all.

Pinterest: Better Late Than Never?!

Oh Pinterest, you strange and beautiful time sucking black hole! How I love/hate thee!

pinterest logo

As a rule, I’ve been wary of most social media for a while now. I’m not even on Facebook. Seriously. This may seem counterintuitive for a blogger but hey, what can I say, I’m full of contradictions. Maybe you remember my first award post where I fessed up to fear of competition. I’ve always been like this, ever since the whole high school yearbook signature collecting thing. At first I’d act like I didn’t care, that I was above that sort of pedestrian nonsense, but when the yearbooks arrived I was right there at the front of the pack, chasing down anyone who looked vaguely familiar and jamming a pen in their face. True story. Sort of. I’ve spent most of my adult life trying to forget about high school, but that seems about right.

Anyway. Back to Pinterest.

I also have about zero time to do stuff like collect pins, make boards, and track down followers. (All of which I knew nothing about two weeks ago.) I have a hard enough time keeping up my with my blog. Yet, it was calling to me, beckoning saucily like some tawdry sea siren (which in case you don’t know is a mythological creature who lures sailors to an untimely death – am I being melodramatic with my metaphor? I don’t think so).

I kept my distance for a while…

Until now.

That’s right, I succumbed. I’m part of the Pinterest clique, with its hypnotic and bizarrely addictive rituals. Check me out, people, if you dare via celiackiddo. Here’s one of my latest pins, Vanilla Pear Pie with Hazelnut Crust. Yum. And so pretty.

vanilla pear pie

Gotta love the artfully arranged cinnamon sticks and sugar.

I really couldn’t have done it without the help and encouragement of my blogging friend Kristine over at Thank Heavens who gave me some crucial tips and very generous invites. Check out her awesome GF community board here.

It’s funny, for the first week or so I concentrated on making a Gluten Free Treats board and then one all about pancakes (a little weird, I know). But the last few days I’ve been browsing the “Explore” button on my iphone and it’s like a freak show out there, yet I find myself scrolling down and down until my eyes blur with endless images of make up applications, home renovations, DIY everything, lush foreign landscapes, bunnies (or any cute fuzzy animal), crafty everyone, fancy hair styles, wedding ephemera, tattoos, nail art, uncomfortably earnest quotes (at least for me cause I’m cynical that way), workout tips, fashion pics, and recipes (of course).

WOW. It’s seriously a black hole. But I’m trying to stay focused and keep to the task at hand, which is recipe collecting and pinning, and is actually kind of fun when I don’t let it overwhelm me. I love how many gorgeous gluten free desserts are out there, not to mention main meals, side dishes, smoothies, etc.

The truth is though, I’m not a food blogger and besides the pretty pictures I took of those yum-tastic chocolate coconut truffles, most of my photos don’t look like ideal “pins,” but it’s a great resource for recipes and a way to make more connections with other GF-ers.

If you have a GF board on Pinterest, let me know. I’ve drank the Kool-Aid and am now happy to follow you to the end of time. Or, rather, the end of Pinterest. If there ever is one.

50 Posts and One Word

It’s hard to believe I’ve hit the milestone of 50 posts. With two kids, minimal sleep, and a barely any babysitting hours, it’s no short of a miracle, really.

So, what to write for this post? Should I talk about preparing Bunky for the next time she (inevitably) gets glutened? Hmm, that’s kind of a downer. How about something more upbeat, like a review of Better Batter’s awesome brownie mix? We ate nearly the whole pan in one day. (And would’ve finished it if I hadn’t hidden the last few pieces.)

This photo was taken minutes after it was baked.

This photo was taken minutes after it was baked.

I think for the 50th post something a little more personal is in order.

Recently I came across a blog called One Word, and the idea is to pick one word and live with it for a year. Meditate on it, journal about it, whatever. Basically let the word and its many meanings sink into your life, and perhaps change it.

As a writer and a word lover, this intrigued me. But I felt like it would be impossible to choose one word out of millions. Then it came to me.

nourish

And in a way, it actually fits with the original theme of this blog, which was to nourish Bunky back to health. I began writing about celiac and the challenges it posed for my family because that’s how I deal with stuff. I write. Before I had kids I was a writer. I got my MFA in Creative Fiction. I wrote a novel for my thesis, but short stories were my mainstay. Then I had kids, and well, I stopped.

When I started this blog, I sometimes wondered if I should have been using all those stolen minutes to work on my fiction instead. Why was I spending my super limited time writing about what I was living and breathing (sometimes ad nauseum) every day? But over time I realized that the blog was actually nourishing me. I was not only finding support and friends, but I started feeling like a writer again.

So this year, if I manage to stick with this One Word plan, I would like to continue nourishing my children, finding nourishment from this space, but also extend the definition further. I’d like to make a concerted effort to carve out babysitting time to work on my fiction, not just run errands and bake gluten free muffins.

Basically, it’s time for me to nourish the crap out of myself. And my husband, too, poor guy.

What word would you pick for yourself this year?