Doubling up: Maximizing your writing, and more

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So I am getting ready to start summer schoolanother semester of work-study, a class I don’t care about, and Intermediate Algebra, which is very scary indeed.  I made a D in it about 15 years ago, and I allowed my fear of failurethat I wasn’t smart enough to finish collegekeep me from finishing.

Like Buddy Sorrell on The Dick Van Dyke Show, who could make a joke out of any word (including “milk bath”), I can write a poem on the spot about any word, but algebra has always been the bane of my educational existence.

Except this time, I am so close, with only a handful of credits left before I can work as a copy writer somewhere in the medical field.

This time, I will have access to free, on-campus and virtual tutors.

This time, I will have a few hours a day at work to focus on this class I will never use again, but will help me get to wherever I am goingthat place called Career Contentment. I don’t know where that is yet, for I am still following the map, but I have a pretty good idea of what I will be doing when I get there.

My time is more limited than ever now, so I’ve decided to cut most of my weekend posting (I’d just had enough of dealing with self-inflicted “homework” first thing in the morning).  The one exception is a single #SundayInspiration Instagram post (see bottom) with what I hope will be considered “thinking outside the candy box” (https://www.instagram.com/sarahleastories/?hl=en).

I’d forgotten I even had an account until a recent Facebook friend followed me, and I thought, well, I do have one of those phones now, and I can take a shot of virtually the same thing (which will help establish my “theme”).  I’d tried Pinterest, but it’s more for consumers than creators, and I like the cleaner, sleeker look of Instagram.  Pinterest also seems like it’s more for crafters than writers or photographers.  Furthermore, Instagram seems much more personal, more real.  It has a freshness Pinterest does not.

Streamlining your writing process is a form of minimalism, and it can help you focus on the more important aspects of writing (like improving your craft and getting paid).  It’s good to have a social media presence (any publisher expects this if you’re unknown), but the thing that will get you noticed is submitting, submitting, and submitting [quality] work.

Instead, I will be posting two writing “workshops” (basically, writing tips) the first and third Mondays of the month, and two book reviews the second and fourth Mondays (as I will be dropping the Micropoetry Monday segments at the end of the year).  The latter will help me read more (as I’ve been reading poetry this semester, mostly), and the workshops are bits I post on my Facebook author page, so they’re already “baked in.”

This is one way of maximizing your writing.  To come up with brand new content for every social network isn’t worth it, because chances are, your friends, fans, and followers won’t catch your post on every network anyway, so it won’t seem like you’re repeating yourself.

One Instagram post a week is much more doable than six a week on Twitterthat’s too much time taken away from submitting.  LinkedIn is limited, because it’s what I call “businessy-boring.”  I rarely write a post specifically for the network but if something I write works on there as well as my blog, I’ll post the whole piece on there (as people hate being redirected to another site).

LinkedIn is basically Facebook-lite, complete with memes.  All too often, I see “connections” sharing someone else’s quotation.  Have an original thought in your head, for goodness sakes!  It doesn’t do anything for your brand, only the person’s you are quoting.  Though I haven’t been guilty of posting such things, I have been guilty of sharing them.

For me, it’s all about creating content.  The only new blog post I have to create is on Wednesdaysthe Writer’s Digest poetry prompt.  Fridays are taken care of, because the posts are based on my novel, rewritten in verse form (which I’ve decided to make a separate, promotional chapbook out of called Mormons on the Beach).

I plan on spending the writing part of my weekends writing new work, editing existing work, and submitting to publications.  I haven’t been doing enough of that lately, but then when I come home from work and school, my daughter’s just gotten off the bus and I only have about about three hours with her till it’s time for her to go to bed.  I need that time with her as much as she needs my attention.  If I didn’t have her, I’d be spending too much time clacking at my keyboard, my eyes glazed by the glow.

Social media has its place, but it should be used wisely and sparingly.  Though Twitter is the equivalent of a bathroom wall, it isn’t a complete waste of time, as one of my friends hooked up with a local philanthropist through it who self-published her book; I got a guest blogging gig.

As for WordPress, don’t waste time reblogging (people never return the favor), unless you’re reblogging your own guest post.  Don’t waste valuable real estate on your blog with someone else’s work.  Again, this is elevating their brand, not yours.

What’s more, it’s one thing to use stock photos on your blog (I balked for the longest time, but I’m just a fair photographer with a lousy camera), but photography is Instagram’s focus (pun intended).  Strive for authenticity.

The moral of this post:  Write, edit, and submitthat’s the real work.  That social media stuff is a hobby.  A blog is the best of both worldsa hybrid, of sorts.  Someday, I hope it will make me money (either directly or indirectly), but in the meantime, I’m having lots of fun doing it.

Let’s Have a Truce from the Mommy Wars: A Bit of Memoir

The other day, a friend posted a blog by someone who was bothered by “crafty moms”.  Once in awhile, I’ll read a post that stays with me, positive or negative.  This was the latter.  It wasn’t so much the message (which I think was to make not-so-crafty moms feel better about themselves), but the mean-spirited tone in which it was written.

There seems to be a cultural shift in our country to call bad things good and good things bad.  I’m not saying being an uncrafty mom is a bad thing (I don’t consider myself a terribly crafty person—I like simple, relatively cheap projects, due to time and money constraints), but having a crafty mom is just a bonus.  Different people have different talents, and they pass those interests on to their children.  Some not-so-crafty moms prefer to do other things with their kids (can’t go wrong with any activity away from a screen), and that is totally fine.  Right now, one of my focuses is fostering in my daughter a love for books.

Artwork I made for my daughter's nursery.

Artwork I made for my daughter’s nursery.

Personalized alphabet book I made for Hannah through Shutterfly.

Personalized alphabet book I made for Hannah through Shutterfly.

A glimpse inside the ABC book.  For C, I used a picture of my parents' beautiful cat, Half-Face.  For D, I used my daughter's 25 inch Raggedy Ann doll, and also, my parents' dog Ray.

A glimpse inside the ABC book. For C, I used a picture of my parents’ beautiful cat, Half-Face. For D, I used my daughter’s 25 inch Raggedy Ann doll, and also, my parents’ dog Ray.

Being crafty has never been considered part of good mommyhood.  Spending time with them is.  However, there are blogs out there that will overwhelm you, saying things like, “Being a mom is the hardest job in the world”.  It really isn’t.  It’s the most important job, but not that hard (even though it does have some stressful moments, like when I’m tearing the house upside-down looking for a paccie while the baby is crying, etc.).  You don’t have to go to school for forever and you do get quite a bit of down time (even though you’re always on call).  The hardest thing for me has been to adjust to not being able to pick myself up and go somewhere alone, unless my husband is home, or I have a baby-sitter.  Of course, there are those times I’m dealing with a migraine, and the last thing I want to do is do anything but watch reruns.

(Now ask me again if motherhood is hard in fourteen years.)

Good moms can drive themselves crazy trying to “have it all” by doing it all.  There are memes about “Messy House, Happy Kids” (can’t you have both?; does this also mean, “Clean House, Unhappy Kids”?) and “Real Women Have Curves” (so women who don’t have curves are artificial?).  It seems like if a woman is lacking in one area, instead of accepting themselves, they have to diminish the other side to make them feel better.  Let’s just say that everyone has a talent, and generally, that talent will be where one’s interests lie.  Houses get messy, and that’s fine (that’s what clean-up is for).  Messy does not equal dirty.  However, how much happier I would’ve been if my mom had kept a cleaner and/or neater house so I wouldn’t be embarrassed to bring friends over.  That said, my mom is a veteran of Operation Desert Storm.  That I was, and am, pretty proud of.  She was and is a good mom despite not being a cook (only thing she knows how to make, or will make, is goulash) or a housekeeper.  Because I do remember how it felt to have a not-so-nice house (bed sheets rarely matched the pillowcases; men just don’t care as much about those things), I am more like my grandmothers, one of whom was a full-time SAHM.  See, I don’t have a messy house because I have a husband who helps and because I’m lazy.  I don’t like to spend hours cleaning or picking up, so I just do a little bit here and there all day long.  Sometimes I’m tired, especially if I’ve just worked five hours waiting tables while the A/C was out, and that’s fine.  It can hold.  If I don’t feel like washing dishes, I’ll let them soak overnight.

My dad, who was a SAHD, burned everything (just the smell of medium rare meat makes me want to throw up), but yet I’ve always been pretty healthy.  I don’t think you have to be a great cook to be a great parent, and you don’t have to have a perfect house.  My dad was notorious for putting my dress on backwards or giving me Vienna sausages and Almond Joys for lunch.

I’m a woman with curves (some not all in the right places), but I don’t put down those who work out harder or eat better than I do and have “earned their physique”.  If I ever get to the point where I’ve had my children and managed to get flat abs, I’m not going to post a picture of my stomach with a caption emblazoned over it that says, “Three Kids, No Excuses”.  A Facebook friend of mine did that, and I won’t call it “fat-shaming” (it isn’t), but it wasn’t an effective message.  Now later on, when my FB friend posted a picture of a woman in a bikini who had a belly (but was a good size everywhere else), and then a photo of her three weeks later with flat abs, that inspired me, because this woman gained weight like I did (all in the middle).  I’d always heard that you have to lose everywhere else first, but now I know that is not necessarily true in all cases.

This all ties into the truth that we all have different strengths and weaknesses.  I’m not a great cook because I don’t like to cook (that much).  I’m a much better baker, which is funny, considering cooking is an art (I’m a creative person) and baking is a science (I may be studying science, but it’s an acquired skill for me).

I’ll be the first to admit I wasn’t much of a housekeeper till I had my own house; I didn’t change my habits because I compared myself to others, I just wanted to better myself (and yes, please my husband, as he tries to please me).  However, I’m still the kind of person who uses clean dishes out of the dishwasher rather than putting them up, or leaves clean clothes in the dryer till it’s time to use them.  There is a pile of clean clothes on the loveseat I will get to…eventually (usually when I want to sprawl over it like a cat with a good book).

As for the child rearing thing, I’m better at reading and singing and playing simple, silly games than coming up with more elaborate activities.  My parents never really did crafts with me (except for a diorama of the Revolutionary War I had to do for school, which I got a C+ on), but they allowed me all the paper and crayons I wanted.  I wiled away the hours creating snowflakes as unique as the real ones, I stapled together sheets of construction paper and wrote books about the future, I created different backdrops for my Barbies, or “scenes”, as I called them.  They bought me all the books I wanted, they let me play in the park, they let me make forts out of sheets and all the living room furniture. In short, they allowed me to foster my creativity, and I do believe that’s a part of why I am so creative today.

My parents allowed, encouraged, supported, and taught me both by word and example how to become a compassionate, worthwhile human being.  They didn’t teach me that shyness was bad—it was just a character trait—but they did teach me to stand up for myself when necessary.  They taught me not to beat my own drum; I don’t feel comfortable doing that today, but in this modern era, it’s sort of expected.  I know I don’t come across as confident as I would like in interviews.  I like my work or work ethic to speak for itself.  There is a quiet dignity in doing that.  I don’t post a photo or story online and say how great it is, and I accept praise with humility (though inside, I’m secretly doing backflips).

Instead of begrudging those who have talents I don’t possess, I’ve appreciated all the lovely handmade gifts people made for my daughter before she was born.  I’ve always thought it would be nice to be able to make something so lovely, but if the desire isn’t there, why care so much?  (I once tried to learn how to crochet at my husband’s church with their Prayer Shawl ministry and by the end, I had a headache).  Everyone has a talent—mine is capturing things, whether it’s moments, images, stories, etc.  Mine isn’t necessarily in the kitchen, and I’m about the unhandiest person you could imagine.  I walk into a Lowe’s and I am totally flummoxed.  It also took me awhile to learn how to work the Xbox controller.

So the gist is this:  Let’s not put down other moms for being crafty or not being crafty.  As a friend of mine once said about eating/issues with food, “Just keep your eyes on your own plate.”

I’d had no idea until I read this particular blog post (the one that sparked this one) that there was a new ailment called “Pinterest Stress”.  I just know I waste too much time on it.  Not so much a time or money issue, more like an energy and patience issue.  I’d rather write anyway, but crafts are great for getting away from the screen.

So the next time, if a mother hands you something cute and craftsy, maybe the appropriate reaction is just to thank them and let it bring a smile to your face.  When a friend makes me something, I proudly show it off, whether it’s a poem or a picture (I like to say I have talented friends).

Framed baby shower announcement my friend made for me, complete with elephant (general theme of my daughter's nursery) and Victorian pram.

Framed baby shower announcement my friend made for me, complete with elephant (general theme of my daughter’s nursery) and Victorian pram.

Crocheted doll a friend of mine made for Hannah.

Crocheted doll a friend of mine made for Hannah.

I had one friend in particular whom I wrote a nursery rhyme for after she had her last child, and I can’t say how glad it made me when a friend of hers told me how she showed it to everyone in church and then her mother telling me it was one of the best things she ever got.  That, that right there, is one of the reasons I love to make things for my friends, in addition to the experience of making it myself, but no matter how nice it is to make your friends or children things, the most important part is just being a friend, and being a mom, not just a mother.

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My wall of photography.  I take them, my husband hangs them.  Each picture is supposed to sort of tell a story.  We begin with the past:  my wedding veil, then progress to the cameo (not sure how that fits in), then Hannah's pewter baby rattle and brush, and then the future:  her dancing shoes.

My wall of photography. I take them, my husband hangs them. Each picture is supposed to sort of tell a story. We begin with the past: my wedding veil, then progress to the cameo (not sure how that fits in), then Hannah’s pewter baby rattle and brush, and then the future: her dancing shoes.

My soaps.  I don't do the hard stuff, like cold process.  I prefer to do the melt-and-pour, but I have since found that humidity collects on it here like raindrops, so I have to make it on demand.  Can you tell I love cameos yet?

My soaps. I don’t do the hard stuff, like cold process. I prefer to do the melt-and-pour, but I have since found that humidity collects on it here like raindrops, so I have to make it on demand. Can you tell I love cameos yet?

Your children will remember how you made them feel about themselves far more than they’ll remember a specific activity, because that is the foundation for making wonderful, lasting memories.

 

The Lost Arts of Homemaking

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Brian Breadwinner, Sarah Homemaker–a natural falling into place, some would say.  As a stay-at-home mom (the only reason being I was laid off), I struggle with feelings of inadequacy.  I am a good cook (I keep fresh baked goods made for my husband, who loves his sweet treats), I keep a clean (but not sterile) and tidy home (I put myself on a cleaning schedule about a month ago to help me remember what needs to be done and how often to do it), and take care of my daughter’s needs.  This is quite an accomplishment, coming from a mother who had a career as a postal clerk/letter carrier (I don’t know what they call them these days) in the Navy, who cleaned house maybe once a year and whose only claim to cooking was goulash (which I’d always thought odd, considering we aren’t Hungarian).  I’m also good with coupons, but what I save, I end up spending on something else.  One of my biggest accomplishments was having a year’s supply of laundry detergent to last us our first year of marriage.

When I married my husband, I was over 30, I had everything we needed to fill a house, with the exception of a dinette set, which we got for free at our church rummage sale.  I had been purchasing and putting linens and dishes and such away for years, and those items, combined with furniture I’d inherited from my grandparents, we didn’t have to buy anything for our house save for a few trash cans.  I try to keep this in mind whenever I feel I’m not contributing monetarily to the household.

I was LDS (Mormon) for several years, and being a stay-at-home wife and mother is highly regarded.  However, to me, that means not just taking care of your children, but teaching them, not just cooking, but preparing meals with fresh ingredients (I’ll be making all my own baby food), and keeping the household running smooth.

To take it a step further, it’s good to know what are becoming (in my opinion) the lost arts of homemaking:  sewing, quilting, and canning, for examples.  I’ll admit, I’ll probably never know how to do at least two of those things.  However, I have become quite good in the art department.  Pinterest has piqued my interest in learning how become more crafty (in a different way than I already am).  I’ve gotten into photography and framing projects, and have considered taking a sketching class at the local community college.  I realize those arts aren’t as domestic, but I’m seeking to broaden my horizons.

I want to work outside the home because I’m not this amazing homemaker; I feel this need to make up for my lack of domestic deity status by bringing home a portion of the bacon.  Even if my husband made more than enough for me to stay-at-home, I’d still want to bring in an income.  I just need to be not only good, but successful at something besides being a wife and mom, even though I know that is still the most important job in the world.  If I didn’t do my job at home, then any success outside the home wouldn’t matter; but because I do strive to be a good wife and mother, then whatever success that comes outside the home will be icing on the cake.

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(The quilt pictures are courtesy of my friend, Gina Maddox, who makes them.
More of her work can be found on http://gulfcoastquilting.wordpress.com/)