Strategic Retreats

20140208_165606I spent the weekend at a writing retreat with several of my colleagues.  I am all about retreats – mismatched yet comfy furniture, homemade food and plenty of time for navel gazing.  My colleagues got to see me in my jammies, which they no doubt appreciate.  Also, no kids the entire weekend, discounting the junior high youth group sharing quarters with us.  Plus, a pool!

The weather even “warmed up” so it was possible to be outside for almost an hour without exposed skin freezing.  (I really did get outside for an enlightening walk – more photographic evidence below.)

In the past (I’m talking pre-sabbatical), I’ve struggled with devoting big blocks of time to writing.  Even when I get past the logistics of setting aside uninterrupted time, I have to confront the voices saying there are better ways I “should” be spending my time.  Often I can quiet these monsters by closing the door and turning off Facebook, but my thoughts often stray to the outside world, where I imagine everyone else is engaged in productive work.

Let’s set aside the idea that writing is somehow not productive.  A) it is productive, even if it’s not always obvious and B) productivity is not necessarily the best standard of measurement for creative work.

The barrier that keeps me from writing sometimes, however, is the idea that I should be doing something else.  It’s difficult to give myself permission to sit down and write.  For two days, I didn’t have that problem.  For two days, I sat in a spacious room, chipping away at the second draft of my second novel, while over a dozen people sat in the same room, working on projects of their own.  Safety – and creativity – in numbers.  Plus, a pool!

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Barrier: the nagging voices that say your time could be better spent elsewhere than on the page

Solution: Writing retreat – browse for nearby retreat centers or in a pinch, grab a writing buddy and isolate yourselves in your living room for a few hours

*Special thanks to the folks at the Kendall Center who made this retreat possible.

A Parent & Writer's Ode to Mondays

photo (6)Every day is the weekend, if you’re on sabbatical.  (I suppose every day is also Monday, but that’s not a problem for me this year.)  My actual weekends are spent chasing after little ones, who have even more energy now that it is too cold to play outside for long.  It took several years before I realized how creatively draining it is to parent, at least for this introvert.  Hence, when Mondays roll around, I am one happy camper.

I’m a bit of a puzzle to the other parents at day care; our versions of “dressing up” vary.  Most of them are in fabrics that are dry clean only and (the women at least) are wearing makeup.  I’m usually wearing my jammies underneath my jacket. (There’s a reason the blog is Cemeteries and Pajamas, after all.)  I’m also a bit of a puzzle to some of my colleagues and other people I encounter in daily life, who tell me how nice it must be to spend so much time with my kids.  I’ve finally gotten over my shame of saying, “Well, they’re in day care.”

Why the shame? I love my kids and would do just about anything for them.  Yet doing just about anything for them doesn’t translate into having them home with me full time.  After sitting with this question for a few months, I realized that deep down I wondered if my reluctance to take them out of day care sprung from some kind of cap on my love for them.  In other words, the narrative I told myself went something like this:

  • If I really loved my kids, I wouldn’t hesitate to keep them home with me full time.

I’m aware of the inherent sexism in parenting; no one’s ever asked my husband (who is also on sabbatical) if he loves having the kids home full time, while I get this question all the time.   I also can’t count the number of times I’ve had people give me a sympathetic smile when I talk about my careers (both library and writing) and say it’s too bad I have to work and can’t just stay home with the kids.

I’m not wading into the work vs. stay at home debates.  I know women who love staying home with their children.  I know others who stay home because of economic reasons just as I know some who work because of economic reasons.  I know men who stay home with the wee ones or wish they could or who would hate it.  My point: we should speak the truth of our experiences and not denigrate others for speaking the truth about theirs.

One of my goals in life, as I edge toward middle adulthood, is to be more assertive in my actions and speech.  (Note: assertive, not aggressive.)  So this is my truth:  I love my kids.  Unconditionally.  And I love my work.  Those loves aren’t mutually exclusive.  I also love the time and space sabbatical gives me to pursue my writing full time and to recharge each weekday before those little feet start pitter pattering through the house.  (Read: leaping off the furniture and chasing the cats.)

Barrier to the page: Today’s barrier is very personal – a feeling of shame that I am not with my kids full time

Solution: Examine the narratives shaping those feelings, listen, kick back with a laptop and a warm fire to spill my thoughts onto the interwebz

I find my blog focus, at least for now

My Cemeteries and Pajamas blog is a work in progress, as is the nature of blogs, I suppose.  For a few weeks I’ve been content simply to have a site, knowing that its focus and voice will develop the more I blog.  Enter Create Your Writer Platform by Chuck Sambuchino, which has been one of several invaluable tools helping me navigate the world of professional writing.

Sambuchino outlines three potential niches for blogs (in chapter five for those of you wanting a closer look):

  • the “loose subject connection” niche, where the blogger writes about a subject that’s the major theme of her/his book
  • the “altogether different” niche, where the blogger writes about a passion that’s unrelated to her/his book
  • the “writing focus” niche, where the blogger focuses on her/his writing journey

Here’s the sentence that caught my attention:  “What a blogger will not likely realize is that there must be more than five thousand of these ‘new writer’ blogs out there.” (p. 85)

I never wanted Cemeteries and Pajamas to be a blog solely about my writing journey.  Do you really want to hear how many words I wrote today?  Or the tricky plot knot I unraveled over breakfast?  Snoozefest.  I have nothing against blogs like this (and I actually enjoy reading about other people’s writing journey), but I don’t want to be blog number 5,001.

I considered the “altogether different” route and blog about a passion of mine, but there are already some stellar Bruce Springsteen fan sites out there.

Which leaves the “loose subject connection” niche.  I write fantasy fiction.  I visit cemeteries, libraries and archives.  I do research related to my planned historical fiction novels.  I wear pajamas a lot.  I’m on sabbatical and am already worried about how my professional writing life and my professional library life will intersect in a few months.

Then it hit me – Cemeteries and Pajamas will focus on ways to support and enhance the writing life.  At first I’ll mainly write about ways I’m supporting my own writing, whether discussing research trips, contemplating work/life balance or reviewing pajamas.  I hope my discoveries will help others, who will in turn inspire me with more techniques for fostering the writing life.  It’ll be a big, happy writing life support group.

Okay, so I’m still mainly writing a “writing focus” blog, but hey, at least I have some direction now, plus a new blog tag line.  Look for posts about archival finding aids soon!  (It’ll be fun – I promise.)