Balancing Writing and Family – When a Mess Hits, Keep Smiling.

We try balancing writing and family, but sometimes life just happens! Our family has been extremely busy in the last few weeks. We had a TV crew filming my husband (see my last post about KurtX on New Zealand’s Got Talent) a massive plumbing leak, and lots of kids’ activities. With four kids, we’re always busy. Among all that, I had set myself some writing goals that challenged and extended me.

With a week’s notice, TV said they were coming to film KurtX at home! I decided to do a little spring clean (can you hear my family rolling their eyes?) Then two days before the TV crew arrived, a pipe burst! Yep, a plumbing leak! TV were coming with soggy, stinking carpet, 5 holes in the wet wall downstairs and two more in the ceiling.

Plumbing disaster
Plumbing disaster – dried out!

When the TV crew turned up, there were 4 large industrial fans running and an enormous dehumidifier humming away in the background. One of the fans was in our #HarmonicaHero’s sound studio. Of course we had to turn them off to film, but the carpet was still emitting a pungent aroma, reminiscent of wet dog! Luckily it was only television, not smellavison, so we avoided the soggy areas and the holes in the wall, and kept smiling.

My kids, especially the two youngest, thought the fans were a blast. Here’s a video of them having a ball – at the expense of the poor plumbing, battered walls, and sad carpet! My kids showed me that whatever mess life throws us, we should still have fun. I learned from their sense of hilarity and adventure. Aren’t kids great?

Note for Health and Safety Officers: By the time the kids were allowed downstairs by the fans, the TV cameras were long gone and the carpet was nearly dry!

What has this to do with balancing writing and family? Despite TV, leaks and mad, slapdash family life, I’ve had a productive time, writing-wise. For me, the best way of balancing writing and family, no matter what is going on, is to:

  • take time to exercise, preferably in fresh air (in windy Wellington the air is always fresh!)
  • spend time with my kids and husband

    Get outdoors to exercise - balancing writing and family.
    Get outdoors to exercise – balancing writing and family.
  • see a friend occasionally (often to exercise)
  • do something writing-related most days
  • have a day off from writing occasionally
  • set writing goals to focus me.

Setting goals for writing helps me in balancing writing and family life. My goals need to be challenging enough to keep me motivated, but not unachievable. In one of my former lives, I was a performance measurement consultant for a large IT business, so my old habit of utilising SMART goals, is automatic. SMART goals are:

  • Specific,
  • Measurable,
  • Achievable,
  • Results-driven
  • and Time-bound.

So what goals have I achieved since last blogging? And why haven’t I blogged for so long? What have I been doing?

  • Firstly, when I set up my blog, I decided not to commit to blogging weekly. I didn’t want my blog to take away my precious writing time. So I’ll blog when I have something cool to share.
  • I’ve sent out my writing newsletter, Write On!, each week. (Sign up in the blue and yellow box if you’d like to receive it.)
  • Completed revising a novel and submitted it.
  • Completed three short stories.
  • Finished a children’s picture book and submitted it.
  • Done some more work on my paranormal romance novel (sizzle, sizzle)
  • Plotted an adventure chapter book for 8-12 year-old children.

But I haven’t blogged. Although I’ve written about 6 blog posts in my head. I had a brilliant post planned about a porcupine we saw attacking a bunch of meerkats at the zoo. We caught the prickly dude on camera. But when we searched for the video, someone had deleted it. So that blog post wont eventuate! (Sigh!)

Write on the ferry.
Write on the ferry.

The key to balancing writing and family is ensuring you write often. I have a friend who has a half-hour commute on a ferry across Auckland harbour each morning and evening. That’s his writing time. He uses it EVERY day. That’s the only time he gets. The rest of his life is for work and his wife & kids.

Write on the bus - balancing writing and family
Write on the bus!

I was speaking to another writer recently who said she only has a two hour block every Sunday and can’t find any other time. I wrote my first novel by becoming a time-thief, stealing minutes everywhere. So I encouraged her to find  a small ten-minute slot each day to churn out a few words.

“Ten minutes?” Her face lit up. “I can do that, even if it’s during my lunch hour, or on the bus.”

So soggy carpets aside, one of the best ways of balancing writing and family is to make sure we write! A novel grows a word at a time. If there are no words, there is no novel. How do we carve time out from our lives to write?

  1. Set manageable goals with time-frames.
  2. Monitor your progress.
  3. Do something small every day. Or five days a week. Or every Saturday. Squeeze it in when you can.
  4. Creative activity makes us feel great. Doing a little in regular bursts sustains that feeling!
  5. Start with EASY goals.
  6. If you don’t achieve them, don’t beat yourself up, they’re there to motivate you, not weigh you down!
  7. Count your successes! I keep an excel sheet of all my milestones and writing activity, so I can see what I’ve done!
  8. Celebrate milestones with your friends and family! Keeping them involved in your successes motivates them to encourage you to write.

Soggy carpets, TV crews, kids leaping in fans, and family commitments non-withstanding, I hope you find some time to write and to enjoy life with those you love most.

KurtX rocks New Zealand’s Got Talent! – #Harmonica Hero #NZGT

KURTX rocks NZGT with his harmonica
KURTX #hamronicahero at NZGT

KurtX played his ‘wee instrument’ last night for New Zealand’s Got Talent, generating a storm of music with his harmonica. He started with a slow haunting lyrical line, but the judges’  faces soon changed as a rock number hit the sound system and KurtX ramped it up, showing us just what can be achieved with the tiniest of instruments, and earning himself the nickname #harmonicahero.

 

What’s my vested interest?  He’s my husband. I fell in love with a recording of his harmonica playing before I ever met him!

The following quote is from the New Zealand’s Got Talent’s ‘Tip Top Naturally Talented Moment’ page:

This week’s Naturally Talented Moment was 50 year old Swiss, Kurt X who has been playing the harmonica for decades but has only recently started playing publicly.  “I have been working on my harmonica for 20 years but I am very much a closet artist. I entered NZGT because I finally felt that I was ready to share my talent with the world”

The IT Specialist amazed us with his ability to lose himself in the music, getting dub

KurtX rocks the harmonica at New Zealand's Got Talent (NZGT) 2013
KurtX at NZGT 2013 qualifying for semi-finals

bed #HarmonicaHero for his resemblance to the game Guitar Hero. “I feel like I’m melting into one with my harmonica, it is totally a part of me. It’s so physical – my technique and style. It’s all about the music and the moment”.

Here is the link to the Tip Top Naturally Talented Moment advert for episode 3. Yes, KurtX again!

To support KurtX, please visit the you tube site, tweet, and leave comments below.    Tweet about KurtX with #harmonicahero & #NZGT  KurtX you tube link

I can also blog about how KurtX got so good at harmonica. Just request it via comments.

Children’s picture book workshop with Ruth Paul

Ruth Paul
Ruth Paul with her children’s picture book, ‘Stomp.’

Author-illustrator Ruth Paul taught a children’s picture book workshop at The Children’s Bookshop in Wellington last weekend. I was excited to attend because she’s one of my youngest daughter’s favourite authors and is an inspiring speaker

Ruth entertained over 25 participants with advice about writing, illustrating and publishing  picture books in New Zealand and for the international market. Here are some of her tips:

Immerse yourself in current picture books and notice the latest styles, language, themes and content.

Ruth said the biggest rule is: There are NO rules! Someone will have broken all of these rules and been successful! Having said that, Ruth mentioned several ‘NO’s when writing picture books:

  • NO digression
  • NO adjectives
  • NO description
  • NO author intrusion
  • NO explanation

The images need to do the talking and often tell a second story. If we don’t obey the above rules, the text is not tight enough to sustain children’s interest or doesn’t give the illustrator enough freedom to insert their own sub-story into  the pictures.

To rhyme or not to rhyme? Non-rhyming picture books are much easier to write, and to translate for foreign markets. If you insist on rhyming, Ruth gave some great guidelines to follow:

  • Rhyme needs a strong, consistent structure
  • Don’t let the rhyme dictate the story
  • The rhyme must be the servant of the story, a musical tool which enhances the story
  • Use vocabulary that empowers parents as they read to their children
  • Only break out of the rhythm if has been established well.
  • Your nonsense MUST make sense.

I’m not an illustrator, so I can’t wear that hat, but it was interesting to note that Ruth encouraged tight text from writers and loose initial illustrations from artists.

Ruth’s workshop was jam-packed with information, personal anecdotes,  and practical advice about how to go about creating a children’s picture book. Both authors and illustrators attended and we had a lot of fun. She gave us homework to hone our editing and story-tightening skills, and handouts that will help us enhance our next picture books. Thumbs up for Ruth Paul – she’s dynamic, vivacious and motivating. I hope those of you that live in Wellington have a chance to attend one of her classes (see below).

Ruth has been writing and illustrating picture books for ten years. Her stories are lively and full of fun. My kids LOVE them. Check out Ruth’s website here.

Thanks to John & Ruth McIntyre of The Children’s Bookshop for creating this opportunity to learn.The writers and artists that attended enjoyed Ruth Paul’s workshop immensely and learned a lot. John and Ruth play a huge role in mentoring local talent. If you’d like to attend their next children’s picture book workshop with Ruth Paul on 13 October 2013, please email childbkwgtn@xtra.co.nz

3 short stories accepted in 1 week!

Wow! I am ecstatic! I’ve just had three short stories accepted in one week – to two different anthologies.

At the end of last week two of my short stories were accepted for a fantasy anthology about Te Papa, New Zealand’s national museum. ‘A Wizard in the Works’ is a night-time rollick through the museum. ‘Lucky Brake’ is a coming of age story about a boy facing a tough a decision. I’ll post more about these later.

babyteethfinal-v3-w-logo-copy-230x300
Cover of Baby Teeth

This week my flash fiction piece ‘Dad’s Wisdom‘ was accepted for ‘Baby Teeth’ – bite-sized tales of terror! I don’t usually write horror, but when I realised this anthology was raising funds to support Duffy’s Books in Homes charity, I was keen to be a part of it. I’m passionate about reading and children’s literacy and have done work in the past to aid kids’ literacy in developing countries (more about that later in another post!)

Instead of scaring myself witless by writing a blood-chilling psychological terror story, I penned ‘Dad’s Wisdom  which is a humourous take on childhood fears.

Baby Teeth will help Duffy’s Books in Homes to give books to underprivileged children in NZ. It utilises crowd funding via this site. Once the book is published ALL proceeds go towards children’s literacy in New Zealand. Authors have donated their time and energy so we can make a difference in children’s lives by providing them with books to read. Donations close on 10 August. To donate, please click here.

 Thanks for supporting Baby Teeth and helping more kiwi kids to read.

WARNING: ALTHOUGH MINE IS NOT, SOME OF THESE STORIES ARE DISTURBING-TYPICAL OF THE HORROR GENRE.

Free Writing Course!

Free writing course
Free 3-week FLASH fiction writing course

Sign up to Write On! my writing newsletter & get a FREE 3-week FLASH FICTION COURSE by an author who has published over 30 novels and developed a novel writing school. You’ll get the course link, and access to a flash fiction writers’ forum in your first issue of Write On!

Since taking this free writing course, every story I have submitted has been accepted! This flash fiction course has changed the way I write. My fiction is tighter, shorter, and packs more punch! And this is a free writing course! Yes – free! This course is for novelists too – you’ll create more compelling scenes using these techniques.

Within weeks of doing this course, I had three short stories accepted for anthologies. It works!

Write On! is my newsletter sent a few times a month. I’ll share writing resources, recommend courses to improve your writing, and provide links to interesting articles, useful downloads and writing forums. I’ll also share my experiences, grammar tips, quotes, and what I’m learning on the job.

Sign up using the form on the sidebar to your right. Select “Write On!’ from the drop down menu. When you subscribe to Write On! you’ll also receive updates about my books and stories.

Au Contraire – Science Fiction and Fantasy Convention in Wellington

SpecFicNZ at Au Contraire Wgtn
The new & old SpecFicNZ committee including Elizabeth Heritage, Dan Rabarts, Liz Gatens, Marie Hodgkinson, Grace Bridges, Beaulagh Pragg, Darian Smith, Darusha Wehm, Simon Petrie, and others. What an incredible team!

The New Zealand National Science Fiction and Fantasy Convention – Au Contraire – took place in Wellington 12-14 July with 200 Sci-fi and fantasy buffs attending. Although I’m not in this photo of the new and old SpecFicNZ committee, my claim to fame is that I took it!

 It was amazing to meet many of the NZ authors that I had only seen online. And to meet those who organised the contests that I recently won!  Au Contraire was an amazing event, full of education, fun, and frivolity! There were book launches, panels with well-known writers giving us their versions of reality, plenty of opportunities for mingling and 200 people to talk to! If you know me well, you’ll be laughing – 200 people to talk to?  I was in my element!

What were my highlights?

Grace BridgesMeeting Grace Bridges, the President of SpecFicNZ and owner of Splashdown Books, who gave me a fantastic critique as part of my SpecFicNZ Going Global 1st place prize.

Jennifer FallonGoing out to dinner with the Guest of Honour, Jennifer Fallon, who discussed her new self-publishing ventures with me for three hours – yes 180 minutes! And every minute was great!
beaulah-akaroa-smallDarian SmithA fun and informative class on psychology of our friends and family, um, I mean characters, taken by the hilarious team Beaulagh Pragg and Darian Smith.

Phillip MannA flash fiction workshop by Guest of Honour Phillip Mann. Believe it or not, I never spoke once. I’d signed up late and was only there as an observer! So observe I did, and heard some great flash pieces from NZ authors.

phoenix2Meeting Phoenix Writer’s Group members whom I had emailed many times – Alicia Ponder, Lorraine Williams, Rob Campbell, and Lynette Howell.

SJV AwardTo cap off the weekend, the Sir Julius Vogel Awards were presented to the best writers in many categories and genres. See the winners here. It was great to make so many meaningful connections with writers. Au Contraire has given me many new writing opportunities – some which I’ll mention soon! Watch this space!

Wow! Thanks to you, I won a 2nd SpecFicNZ Competition!

Wow, you guys are amazing! Thanks to all my loyal friends who voted for me in the SpecFicNZ Pimp your Profile competition. After my novel won SpecFicNZ’s Going Global competition, I thought I’d better add my writer profile to SpecFicNZ’s website!  I did so in the nick of time— just before the profile contest closed.Sunflowers-14

The votes were counted. *drum roll* I won!

My loyal friends had spread the word on Facebook and voted for me.  A huge thank you and bouquets for you all! 🙂 What a boost to a writer just beginning her journey. I hope you all enjoy my stories when they go live soon.

Winner – First Place in NZ Writing Competition!

1st-place-medal silver with bronze inside

After four years of writing, imagine my surprise when I opened my email to see that the first few chapters of my young adult fantasy novel had won a NZ writing competition! I was thrilled.

I won first place in the SpecFicNZ (Speculative Fiction of New Zealand) Going Global competition. The most valuable component of first prize was the critique, which has enabled me to improve my manuscript further. Not that I’m sneezing at the money they sent me – that’s always appreciated! (I’ll also receive a copy of a book written by one of the judges.)

Although I often write in public – at cafes, playgrounds, swimming pools and skating rinks – writing is a  solitary activity, so it was great to get recognition for my work. Now,  I can ‘come out’ as an author. 😉

Subscribe to my blog, or sign up to read my short stories, novels, and blog posts – just click ‘Eileen’s Stories’ on the drop down menu.  If you’re a writer, you can join my newsletter Write On! which contains articles about writing, links to writing courses, and my experiences as I learn on the job.

I look forward to meeting you online again soon!