Looking Ahead to 2015

treadmill deskAre you looking ahead to 2015? Are you thinking of all the changes you want to make? Projects you want to start? Time you want to find for more writing—and more exercise? Me, too. And I don’t think we’re alone.

For the first time in a long time, I’m not teaching during the winter semester. And, yes, I have lots of things that I plan to do instead of school work starting January 5th. But I’m also realizing that I can’t rush into all of them at once or I won’t achieve anything.

Making lists is my first step. I have freelance contracts to honour, my own writing and marketing to do, a family to care for, a house to manage, and I want to get a dog, and get in better physical shape, oh, and I want to declutter the house before I bring a dog into it, and—okay, just writing all that down is making my head spin.

So I’ve made a decision to work on my list in instalments. I can’t go chasing all of those goals starting January 5th or I’d be giving up on them all by the 6th. I need to look further ahead. What would be a reasonable date by which to get the house decluttered? Probably the end of January.

What about the writing and the freelancing? Well, I’ve started to help myself there by not going on the internet until after 9 a.m. I’m an early bird, and I can get some writing done on my own projects before I open my inbox to see what my freelancing life is going to come up with that day. If there’s nothing there that I have to worry about, I can go back to the writing and check in later.

I have one freelance contract that I know of starting in the new year. It’s a project that will take a few months to complete. Once again, there’s no need for me to start work on it before 9 a.m. by which time I’ve made progress on my own projects before starting to focus on the billable hours.

I’ve learned (slowly) that putting off my own work until I’ve finished the school work or the freelance work for the day, means that my own work just doesn’t get done. By the time I’ve worked on the other things, I haven’t run out of time (because there are hours ahead before I turn in for the night,) but I’ve run out of the creative energy necessary to make good use of those hours.

I’ve tucked my freelance work away for the holidays, but I’m already trying the no-internet-before-9 routine, and it’s working. My husband and son are both on holidays, too, but they’re not early risers, so my day actually starts with writing. I love going into a busy day knowing that I’ve already put words on the page.

I also have a treadmill downstairs with a makeshift platform attached for my laptop, but I don’t use it. Fortunately, my husband’s work laptop has been upgraded, so I’m going to hook up his old one down there permanently. I spend a good 45 minutes to an hour every morning checking email, Facebook, reading articles, and just noodling on the Internet. I’ve decided to do all that while on the treadmill. I don’t walk quickly, but at least I’ll be moving—or at least standing—and that’s got to be a good thing.

How are you planning to tackle your new year’s resolutions? I hope you reach all your goals and that you have a healthy, happy, and writerly year ahead.

A Website Milestone–and Looking for Balance (again!)

Owen Sound Windows
Owen Sound Windows

A huge THANKS to all the people from 172 countries who drop by to visit my website! This morning, my website surpassed 100,000 page views. A big day for me! It’s a pleasure spending time with you. I hope you and/or your students and/or your children are having fun with the writing prompts and are making use of the other resources here. It’s exciting for me to see how many creative people there are out there, and how many people love to write stories. I wish you lots of fun and wonderful surprises as you pursue your writing and teaching goals.

I’ve been doing some of my own writing lately: some short stories for boys for a self-pub project, and an adaptation of Frankenstein for an ESL publisher that I’ve worked with before. I was planning a relaxing summer, but the adaptation, the stories, plus another large freelance gig, are keeping me busy–and, as it turns out, too busy. I chug along at full speed for a certain amount of time and then just hit a wall. Today is “wall” day.

Photo taken at Owen Sound marina

All I hear is the clock ticking and the worrying thoughts in my head about how I’m going to get everything done on deadline and still find some time to relax, too. Well, guess what? Part of that break is happening today. Time to take a deep breath, get the calendar out, and plan the work–and–the down time.

Plowing through, head down, shoulders up and tense as can be is my usual approach to projects and deadlines. I always want to get the job done the day it’s assigned; however, I’m learning to stop before I get too carried away. It’s time to break the work down into small bites and find a little balance.  I’m going back to a favourite blog post by Kristi Holl, “How to Recover Your Writing Energy–All Day Long!” She offers some excellent strategies for helping pace a busy day, and I definitely need to listen to that advice today.

2014 Peonies
2014 Peonies

If you have some tips for pacing a busy writing (or anything else) life, please share. I’m sure I’m not alone in needing some help with this one.

Have a great, writerly day!

PS. Lots of photos in the blog today. I got a new smartphone and have been playing with the camera. 🙂


A Count-Your-Blessings Post

Met these characters in King's Landing, New Brunswick
Met these characters in King’s Landing, New Brunswick

Inspired by writer Laura Best’s recent post, I’m going to answer the question she ended with: Has anything small made your day recently?

I don’t know if the events of last week count as small (I thought they were a pretty big deal), but they certainly made my day–and my week!

Two weeks ago I agreed to do some work for a new client. I was very excited about this new company, which had contacted me out of the blue and promised work soon. The project was confirmed two Thursdays ago and required interviews with three different people, but I didn’t start getting the contact information and article topics until last this past Monday. I got the last person’s contact on Tuesday, so the soonest I could do the interview was Wednesday. The articles were due on Friday. I got a note from the marketing person on Wednesday saying that she’d talked to her boss, and because she’d got the information to me a bit late, and because she was taking an extra long holiday weekend, that they were giving me an extension to this Thursday. They didn’t want to rush the project. Okay. I’ve been freelancing for a long time now, and I’ve never, ever, had a client do that. Needless to say I really want to make this client happy, and hope that they will send more work my way.

Last week my application was due for an e-writer-in-residence position with a nearby library. The application package included two reference letters. I asked my local teen librarian and a teacher, whom I’ve known for many years and whose school I had visited several times, to write letters for me. Thinking of what they wrote, still makes me blush, but reading those letters definitely made my day.

I was also offered a writing gig for a current client. I love working with this client, but his company’s contracts never include the 13% HST (sales tax) that I have to send to Canada Revenue on the freelance work that I do. The last few times, I have deducted the tax from my fee, but this time, the fee was such that I’d be losing an amount that would represent quite a few hours of hard work being done, basically, for free. The client and I had a great phone call about the project (he’s very creative and supportive) and he said he’d take care of my contract concerns–no problem. Such a relief! The new contract was in my inbox within a couple of hours.

It has definitely been a special week. I hope that you find moments in the weeks to come that “make your day,” too.


No Excuses Now

BlossomsSpring is making a valiant effort to warm up my part of southern Ontario, though the roof tops were white with frost this morning and double digit temperatures have been scarce. But I know things will change, and the trees will soon show signs of green.

I’ve been making valiant efforts to write every day–and failing lately. I was making great progress until the middle of last week when a nasty cold decided to take up residence just as my final marks were due–along with my taxes–and a major freelance gig needed to be finished. Nothing like a cold to slow down everything. However, the marks went in on Friday, the freelance gig and taxes were done yesterday, and as of today, I have nothing to stop progress on the books I’m working on. A great feeling.

And a scary one. I can be the world’s champion procrastinator when it comes to getting down to the work. My best solution for getting the writing done lately has been to not write at the computer and to keep my phone on mute. I love checking Facebook and my email and playing Free Cell, and can waste a lot of time doing that instead of writing. I’ll be trying out some strategies in the next couple of weeks that I hope will help me make serious progress on my projects. I’ll let you know how they work. If you know of any tried and true techniques, please pass them along. I have a lot to learn here.

In the meantime, I’m talking to a couple of grade 8 classes on Wednesday about what a writer does, so I need to work on finding props and organizing my presentation in the next couple of days, too. I love class visits, so I’m really looking forward to my Wednesday morning with Mr. Brenneman’s classes.

I hope you have a creative week ahead!

Keeping Score

Work in ProgressI decided that today would be a good time for a little reflection and a look at 2013–a decision partly inspired by several writers I know who are in the midst of 2014 goal setting, and partly because I have work waiting for me that I’m just not ready to face at the  moment. Yes, I’m at “procrastination station” this morning.

I want to begin by thanking the 21,903 visitors from 140 countries who have dropped by the website since January 1. You can’t imagine how thrilled I am that you come by to use the writing prompts and check out the other resources. I’d love to hear more from you about how you or your students use the material on the site, so I can make changes or add things that you might be interested in. Please don’t be shy in 2014. 

I had a look at my invoices for the year, too–always an indicator of how my part-time freelance life has been going. It certainly was a feast or famine year–some months absolutely nothing and others swamped with deadlines. At final count, the year turned out a lot better than I thought it would–I still have two more gigs to finish by the end of the year, and I broke into a new market that actually calls me with work–always a plus.

In the famine times I wrote 7 short stories and a 23,000-word middle readers fantasy, edited and published The Dragon’s Pearl and 201 Writing Prompts, participated in 4 daily-writing challenges, and finally found the answer to a problem I’ve had for ages with a middle readers mystery series–my next project. And that doesn’t include all the starts that didn’t result in a final product or an editing project that is partly finished, or blogs or monthly writing prompts, or …. Could I have done more? Probably. But I’m actually content with what did get done–a bit of a surprise actually for someone who finds the leap to the dark side extremely easy.

All of this tells me that my writing life is a pretty good one, and that, though I get seriously frantic, worried, frustrated, and gloomy about it while in the midst of the famine or the crazy feast times, at the end, I’ve met more goals than I missed and there’s lots to look forward to in 2014. This has been a definite lesson for me in patience and the value of taking time to look back and get things in perspective. Next time I won’t wait a year to do it. In fact, I think I’ll take the time today to put a quarterly writing-life-check-in on next year’s calendar.

Do you take time every year to reflect on your writing accomplishments? How do you decide if you’ve had a successful year? Do you reflect on your writing life throughout the year? Set goals? I’d love to hear about your strategies and accomplishments.

August 2013 Writing Prompts

The end of the storm
The end of the storm

Wow! August already. And you know what? That’s okay. I had a busy July and got a lot of writing done–including some for which I’m getting paid! I’m looking forward to another month of writing, some during a family vacation, and some definitely next week to accommodate a couple of late (and thankfully short) assignments. I love sending out invoices before I go on vacation!

In my last blog I talked about getting the sequel to The Dragon’s Pearl  finished–and I did! I finished it last Saturday, but because of other writing tasks on my plate, I haven’t looked at it since. Today I printed it out, and I’m looking forward to my first, sticky-note run through. I love editing and revising!

Here are some prompts to get you writing in August.

1. Use one, some or all of these words in a story or poem.

  • jar, paperweight, cloth, key, white, grip
  • flashlight, stone, shelf, mark, camera, run

2. See where these opening sentences lead your imagination.

  • Mrs. Winthrop was peeking out of her window again.
  • Inside the apartment, the air smelled of cigarettes–and death.
  • Ducan raised his hands and tossed a ball of light into the darkness.
  • The last person I expected to see here was Luke
  • I always saw more clearly after dark.

3. Maybe these titles will suggest a story.

For the Record, Time’s Key, Heart and Hope, The Long Climb, Circles, First Vision, Silver Stars

4. Write a description of your favourite place. How does it look? Smell? What do you eat there? Describe the tastes. What do you hear? What’s the pace of this place? Does it inspire activity or do you just kick back? When you look back at your writing, does the pace of your writing match the pace of the location? Are your sentences long, and slow-moving or are they short and full of energy and action?

Hope your August gets off to a creative start!

Heat Wave and Changes Made

My Neighbour's Flowers
My Neighbour’s Flowers

The cicadas are singing outside my window as I write and the fan is full in my face. Today, thankfully, there is a breeze, too–something that was sadly missing as I ran errands yesterday (in a none AC car) and caught up with a house and garden from which I’d been absent for ten days. In between, I spent chunks of time in front of the fan doing basically nothing or soaking my feet in cool water in an effort to feel more human. My son and his friend kept cool recording music in the basement. In the evening, I went to my last PWAC meeting—for a year.

I’ve been a member of the Professional Writers’ Association of Canada for over eight years now. I’ve served on local executives and was president when a few of us started our own branch in Kitchener.  I’ve met amazing people and been able to grow my freelance business with their help and inspiration, but I’m taking a year off. This wasn’t an easy decision to make. Our monthly meetings are always energizing and the people in the group are just plain fun to hang out with. It was tough to say good-bye, but—

I’ve set some writing/publishing goals for myself this coming year, and I also want to take some time to do another thing that I love (take singing lessons) and, well, something had to go–for a year. I’ve set a time limit in order to keep pressure on the other things I want to do. I have one self-published middle readers book, and I know, from my reading, that for self-publishing to work you need several books out there. So, I need to finish the sequel to The Dragon’s Pearl and get back to work on a series of medieval mysteries for middle readers that I’ve been playing with for several years.  Also, this fall, I will have three new courses to teach—-a lot of challenges ahead and lots of time needed to make everything work.

And I’m looking forward to all of it. I stewed about leaving PWAC for a long time, but once I made the decision, I knew it was the right one. So onward to lots of writing, lots of school work—and hopefully a break in the weather very soon!

Wherever you are, I hope you are having a cool and creative day!

Friday Wrap-Up (on Saturday)

BlossomsClearly it’s been one of those weeks. I seemed to have been playing catch up every day. I’m hoping that the weekend is just what I need to get organized for the projects ahead with some time, too, for family and a little work on one of my ongoing fiction projects.

One of the toughest things this week was negotiating a price for a large project with a local editor. It worked out well, but it was stressful, nonetheless. I said ‘no’ to the first price and the second, and then he called and a third price was chosen that I was happy with. I never expected the phone call after the second ‘no thanks,’ but it was a real morale boost when it happened. My work was valued, and he was willing to pay a price I was happy with to keep my skills in his writers’ stable.

That’s the mystery of freelancing. You never really know whether what you have done has made an impression on the person who has commissioned your work, or whether it’s just another project they can tick off on their list and move on. Have you been contacted because you’re at the bottom of their writers’ list (and everyone ahead of you can’t take the job,) or are you the first person contacted because the editor thinks you are the best match s/he knows for the project? Um, did I mention that a bit of insecurity comes with being a freelancer?

I also believe that work attracts work. As soon as I committed to this large project, I got a call about another job for someone I worked with last year. It was a much shorter project, but still, it’s a cheque, and it was a fun creative piece that I enjoyed working on. I’ll find out how his client liked it next week.

So the weekend will be spent with my calendar, blocking out work times for the several things I’m juggling over the next few weeks, including freelancing, wrestling with the new intranet program at the college to set up my fall courses, prepping said courses, and, I hope, carving out time for the fun, creative writing that’s just for me. I love calendars, and coloured markers, and getting organized. I know I’ll feel a lot better going into Monday, once I get it done.

How do you organize your writing, work time, and family time to make sure that there is room for all in your life? Love to hear some tips on the balancing act.


April Challenge Update

IMG_5709I’ve been having an interesting time working on my challenge this month to write first thing every morning. I can honestly say that I have written every day, but I haven’t managed to do it every morning, first thing, which was the plan. Now that my semester is ended, I’m hoping to manage to meet the challenge for the rest of the month–and forever. I really have found it a useful exercise. I don’t write on my current project most days. But I do settle my thoughts, make my lists, get frustrations off my chest, and think about how thankful I am for the people in my life. And when I do get to write later in the day, I really do get into “writing mode” sooner, which is a nice benefit. So all good.

I had a couple of fun writing gigs last week. One included my visiting nurseries and finding out about new gardening trends. The other involved a trip to Lowe’s to find out about the latest in power tools. My family thought the latter was pretty funny. My feelings about treking around hardware stores are no secret, though I definitely do my share when home repairs are on the list. Both articles were fun to write, and, as usual, I learned something new. That is one of the best parts of being a freelancer. I get to talk to interesting people, learn new things, stretch my writing muscles with new topics and audiences–and get paid. I’ve posted one of the flower photos that I took while on my nursery visits. Spring is slow to come here, so seeing things in bloom was a real treat.

What writing projects have you worked on lately? Have you learned something from your research or from an interview that you didn’t know before?

I hope you are having a creative April.



Not Quite True

I’ve been thinking more about my recent post about defining the word “writer”, and admit that up to a point it’s true. Freelancing is extremely satisfying work, and I do love all the opportunities I’ve had to be creative within its boundaries.

But …

Lately, I’ve put several projects to bed, and guess what’s left? Time to write. Yes, that extremely precious commodity of time to write and create is actually available, and with my semester winding down, there will continue to be writing time over the next several months. In the past, I would have been thrilled to have all this time and have immediately plowed away at the short story or novel that I’d been living with for the past weeks or months. Finally, those characters who had been talking in my head would get their words recorded on paper. But I have no  voices, no story, no novel–just time. The irony of getting paid by The Writer Magazine to create writing prompts is not lost on me.

A recent post by Laura Best has brought the fact that I’m missing this into sharp relief. Where will I go from here? I’m not sure. But I can’t help but believe that all of this time is waiting to be filled with something and that if I’m just patient–and keep reading and scribbling in my journal–I’ll find out what it is.

%d bloggers like this: