Tuesday, September 9, 2014

Magical Rewards (Accio Good Behavior!)

There is no question that my kids take after their mother. They hate, hate, HATE housework of any kind. They're really GOOD kids, very active and in challenging classes in school, and so I struggle a bit with enforcing chores during their free time. They just don't seem to have much of it. But at the same time I refuse to be that person who has to teach her college-age child how to do laundry because they've never entered the laundry room before. Enter their recent bout of Potter-mania, and my latest brilliant idea: a Harry Potter-themed Chore Chart.

My kids LOVE Harry Potter. H is halfway done with book 7 and A is halfway through the first book. H has insisted that we do a family Harry Potter Halloween, and is lobbying for a trip to Universal so hard. It just made sense to use the reward system from the book in real life. I sat the kids down in front of Pottermore and had them take the Sorting Hat quiz. (We are a truly divided house: Husband is a Ravenclaw, I'm a Slytherin - which H is still upset about because I'm not ALWAYS mean, H is a Hufflepuff, and A is a Gryffindor.) Then I set about making a truly flexible chart. This is what I ended up with:

The concept is simple: I assign point values to different daily tasks, and I keep a running tally as the kids complete them. If the kids go above and beyond in other areas, I'll assign bonus points, and if they act out in other areas ("behavior unbecoming of their house") I'll take points away. Once they reach 100 points, they get to visit our reward bin and the point tally resets to zero. So far it's been a big hit, and there's a healthy competition in to see which "house" will get the next House Cup.

If you'd like to try it in your house, feel free to download the write-on version I created. You can get the Chore Chart here and the House Crests here

If you'd like to create your own from scratch, I used Word and a free font I found on Fontspace called "Lumos" to create the charts. The font is sort of tricky as it's mis-named internally and shows up as "New" in any programs once it's installed. The House Banners were available as a free download from iLove Digi Scrapbooking (I just googled Harry Potter digiscrap to find it, but you can find it here.) Then I printed my charts out, laminated them using self-sealing laminating pouches, and keep my tally with a dry erase marker. 

Now if only I can figure out how to make the chart work for MY chores, I'd be set. Adulting is hard, but at least a tiny part of my day is now magical. 


Thursday, September 4, 2014

Blogging Again, Maybe

I have an odd relationship with social media in all its forms, blogging included. Sometimes it’s odd and isolating because you feel like everyone is talking AROUND you instead of with you. But other times it’s great and everyone reblogs the same thing on tumblr and you realize we are ALL IN THIS TOGETHER. It’s sort of like my relationship with my high school best friend. We don’t talk often, and sometimes I don’t think we have much in common anymore, but then she sends me animated gifs from Star Trek: TNG and I remember why we’re really soul-mates.

Sorry, I was distracted by Captain Picard. What was I saying again?

Right. Blogging.

I should have named this blog “Updated, Like, Once Every Two Years. Or So.” Then I wouldn’t feel any pressure when I see it on my bookmark toolbar, or the spam comments in my email (“Hello I deeply enjoyed reading about how you do this. Visit my site fuzzy-cookies-not-a-virus-I-promise.com”), or really just the internet in general. But instead I named it Writing Leigh and promptly realized I didn’t want to talk about writing all the time. I just stopped talking (typing.) I do still write, sometimes, but I also volunteer, and cook, and wipe noses (does that ever end??), and clean, and organize, and waste time on the internet, and play video games, and then clean some more.

I’m multi-faceted, okay?

So, for right now, I’m back and talking this stuff out with whoever is listening. This post is really just me, giving myself permission to blog about whatever I want. Prepare for vacation pictures, and crafts, the occasional rant, and yes, writing.

I’m excited. So is Picard.


Thursday, March 7, 2013

On Dreams and Timing

I have young kids who are, as young kids tend to be, very needy. I say this in the most loving, happiest kind of way. But they are. I know lots of writers (in fact, most of the writers I know) are parents and they find ways to balance work and parenting. I recognize the amount of work that takes. I hit a place last year where I just couldn't balance and be the mom I needed to be. So I stepped back from my writing, which is thankfully still at "hobby" levels, and focused on the kids. There were school changes that needed to happen and extra reassurances that both kids needed and all sorts of advocating for them that complicated things. And I'm spoiled. I didn't quit a day job to write. I am fortunate enough to stay home and I felt guilty every time I said "Okay kids, but Mommy has to write now..." Especially when writing turned into researching which turned into procrastinating.

So why am I back? It's only been a year, it's not like my kids are all grown up and suddenly no longer need me. Well, I'm 'back' because I miss writing. It's a part of myself that I just put on hold. I didn't cut it out surgically and throw it away. I'm back because I feel like we've hit an equilibrium with the kids right now, and we have a good routine, and I can become better about my time management so I can say "This is writing time, and this is Kids Time, and that's the way it is." And I'm back because my daughter said to me "Mommy, I can help with my brother now. I'm bigger. You should write another book." She's right.

We've been talking a lot lately about what she wants to be when she grows up. She's incredibly smart, and I'm not just saying that because I'm her mom. Sometimes she says she wants to be a stay at home mom like me, and I struggle to find a way to tell her that I want MORE for her, without devaluing what I do. Like most moms, I have simple dreams for her. I want her to become a doctor-scientist-astronaut who also cures cancer. Nothing too demanding. I tell her that she can't control other people, and maybe it'll be a while before she has kids. Having children is wonderful, but it was never my end-goal in life. It was more of a bullet point along the way. I try to explain that your children only need you full-time for a few years, and that those years fly by, and then you have to be happy with who you are both before and after children if you want to be truly happy. These are really big concepts for an almost 8-year old.

Instead of telling her all these things, I've decided I'll continue to show her. I have lots of dreams. Some are really big and some are really small and some are completely out of my control. I dream my kids will grow up happy and healthy. I dream of writing a book that I'm not afraid to show the world. I dream of traveling west with my husband and camping somewhere we can really see the stars. I dream of someday going to Comic Con with my HS BFF dressed as Lursa and B'Etor from Star Trek TNG (mostly for the cleavage and the chance to scowl constantly.)

I'm back so I can show my kids my dreams.

(Well, except the ComicCon one.) (Oh, who am I kidding? I'll just dress them as non-redshirt Starfleet officers.)

Monday, September 12, 2011

On Procrastination and Mommy Issues

I had the extreme good fortune to attend the SCBWI LA conference back in August, and it was awesome. I listened to a ton of amazing and inspirational panels from authors who, to my shock, didn't point at me and kick me out for not being a 'real author'. Now, I know I shouldn't feel this way, but I can't help it. Because even though I've written a book (and a half), it doesn't feel like I'm committed to it in the way I should be. I've been *gulp* hiding from my book.

Libba Bray gave one of the funniest talks I've ever heard. She described that point in your revision process where you contemplate faking your own death and running off to hide somewhere, because THAT would be easier than fixing your book. The moral of her talk was that, one, you'll make it through, and two, often your book isn't 'right' because you don't want to face something hard and personal. It's those hard and personal things that make the book amazing.

I, of course, nodded and laughed and went on my way because, honestly, there is nothing 'hard' and 'personal' about my book. Come on, aliens bent on (hilarious, hopefully) world destruction? Not exactly a deep insight into my soul. It's more a deep insight into my love of science fiction and campy goodness. So I continued to procrastinate and avoid my book and blissfully ignored all of Libba's and everyone else's good advice to look harder.

And then, of course, it hit me. I realized WHY I was avoiding my book. It's because I need to fix a character, and not just any character, but a very important one. The driving force behind the entire plot line, Sef's mother, is so one-dimensional it's laughable. And I didn't want to deal with her because *insert ironic laugh here* I DON'T WANT TO DEAL WITH A WOMAN WHO WOULD ABANDON HER CHILD. I don't LIKE Eve.

Now, thankfully, I don't have Mommy Issues. My mother is an incredibly loving, supportive woman who was always there for me (and still is today.) But I am a mother. And I realized that no matter what excuses I gave Eve for leaving (and she has very good ones), I couldn't forgive her. I can't separate my mama-bear instinct for my daughter from my character. And there you go. Damn her, Libba was right.

I was hiding from the HARD job of understanding Eve, even empathizing with her. I know I wrote the story, and I could always CHANGE the way things are. I could make her more sympathetic or her actions seem less Machiavellian. But that won't serve the story. My job is to make you, the reader, understand why she made the choices she did. So, starting tomorrow (yes, I set a deadline for myself), I'm going to go back into my story. It's going to be hard, and I may cry and curse and probably direct a lot of that at Ms. Bray. But it'll be worth it. The fear is tinged with excitement. And THAT feeling is why I write.

Wednesday, March 30, 2011

Writers Write, But What?

I read a book several years ago that I hated. It was really long, the characters were mostly unlikable, and it didn't have an ending. Not "didn't have the ending I wanted" but actually didn't have an ending. Instead it just stopped. It was as if the author said "So, I've gotten you invested in these people, but I'm kinda bored now so that's it." Of course, the author did it on purpose, not because he was bored (I hope), but because he wanted to write a book that made a statement, even if it was a risk. It worked. I have read hundreds of books, most of which were very entertaining and had completely satisfying endings. I don't remember most of them. But I remember this book.

As a writer, I keep coming back to that. What type of book do I want to write? Do I want to make a statement and be remembered? Do I want to be fun but forgettable? The answer is "no" to both. I am not a statement writer, and if I ever have a statement to make it's usually sarcastic. I have stories to tell, and they are fun and quirky and not epic in the least. Heck, my motto is "Don't be like Dickens" because I can't stand his style. It's like I'm begging to be forgotten.

But those aren't the only stories. There are stories out there that compel, that make you think, that make you laugh, and make their statements quietly. Those are the stories I want to tell. The novel I'm revising may be one of those, or it may be a lesson in writing to prepare me for the next one. I don't know yet, and I can't know at this stage. I am afraid that I'll be one of the forgettable ones, but not too afraid to try anyway.

I've been pondering if I'm really a writer at all, fueled by that fear. I wrote a book. I could rest on that accomplishment, shove it in a drawer, and move on to a new 'hobby'. Every time I consider that, though, I feel an immense sadness. When I'm 90 I won't look back and say "oh, my house was super clean and I was a great digiscrapper!" I'll look back and say "why didn't I ever send out a query letter for that novel? Why did I ignore all those other characters and stories that came into my mind?"  There's another answer. I am a writer. I'll write.

And I promise that even when I take risks and make statements, you'll always get an actual ending. So, what stories stick with you? What stories do you have to tell? Will you always give me an ending? I certainly hope so, but if you don't, that's okay. It's your book. *grins*

Friday, January 21, 2011

My Husband Gives the Best Pep Talks

A few weekends ago I had a really productive weekend, writing-wise. (I shouldn't even have to clarify that. Nothing else productive ever gets done by me anymore. It's like I only think in terms of feeding my family and writing.) Anyway, I was riding my little writing-high and then an amazing writer friend (you know who you are) sent me a scene to read. And it was a great scene. She nailed it. When I was done gushing to her about how awesome it was, reality struck me. My scenes suck. They didn't have the finesse, the elegance, or even the cool words that hers did. I was filled with WOE. (You may have noticed that writers tend to be over-dramatic.)

A while later, I was moping rummaging around in the kitchen when my husband walks up. He sees me standing there, sour look on my face and bottle of coconut rum in my hand (what? I'm over 21) and asks what's wrong.

Me: My book sucks.
Him: But you were so excited earlier! You had such a good weekend! *pauses* You were reading someone else's work, weren't you?
Me: No! Okay, maybe. Yes. And mine sucks.
Him: No it doesn't! You can't judge your book so harshly. It's your first one, and it's your first DRAFT of your first one. Besides, I've read your work. It's good!
Me: No, it isn't. It's amateurish and choppy and just... ugh.
Him: *takes rum from me* No, your work is very good. I've read the first part of your book, remember? It flows really well! I'd tell you if it wasn't any good.
Me: *disbelieving stare* Uh-huh. You sleep in the same bed as me.
Him: *gets his "I'm very serious" look on his face* Of course I'd tell you the truth! If it was shit, I wouldn't let you submit it anywhere! That'd just be embarrasing!
Me: *pauses before bursting into tears and laughter* I love you.
Him: Now stop pouting and have a drink. *pours the rum*

THAT, my friends, is why you get married to someone like my husband. Because they'll tell you truth. And make you a drink. At the same time.

Friday, December 31, 2010

Revising My Fear

What am I so afraid of?

A year ago I had no idea I'd really write a book. I also didn't realize that writing the book would be the easy part. When you're writing everything is fresh and new and filled with possibility. It's okay if you suck because it's just a first draft. Writing was surprisingly un-terrifying for me.

I had a vague idea of what revisions looked like, as an outsider listening to other people's stories, but I had no true understanding of the process. Now I'm in the middle of the process and I'm terrified. What if my second draft sucks, too? What if I am forever doomed to write "short" books and no one wants them? What if my characters moved too fast or too slow or are too one-dimensional or have too much backstory and are confusing? WHAT IF I FAIL?

I look around at all the amazing people I've met online and in person this year who do this, over and over again, and I don't know how they do it.  How can they take these nuggets and turn them into amazing publishable works?

Six weeks ago, I was completely overwhelmed by the process of editing my book. So I walked away. I took a break to read and relax and sit back and let it all sort of wash over me. At first even this was scary. I didn't know what to do with myself. I caught up on a lot of reading, which only fed my neruoses at times, because they were all so much better than me. But eventually I began to enjoy the reading again, and saw the differences in style and characters and began to learn from what I was seeing.

Now that time is up and I'm still terrified, but I think I found the antidote to my fear: action. I asked some of these friends what they do to self-edit. I have a list of things to look for. I have amazing friends pre-reading so that they can give me insights on plot holes and characters I know I'll miss. I have a printed copy, a purple pen, and a lot of coffee. I CAN DO THIS.

I want to say that 2011 will be filled with less fear on my part, fear of doing and of failing and even of succeeding and what that will mean for me and my life. But that would be lying because I am scared of change by default. I am also, however, relentless. I will not let the fear stop me from pursuing my dream. I will keep working on this novel until it is the BEST NOVEL I CAN POSSIBLY WRITE. It may still suck, and it may still be too "*insert negative word here*", but it will be mine and I will be proud of it. So here's to action and conquering fear. Here's to 2011 and a publishable book. Written by me.

So Happy New Year, everyone! One way or another, 2011 is going to rock.

Fearfully optimistic,
Leigh ;)