Priority Pie, with Bonus Balloons

True confession time:

The past few months, I’ve become nearly immobilized by my own expectations.

It’s as if I’ve been standing in the center of a room that’s slowly filling up with small balloons: blue wishes, pink desires, purple promises, yellow fears, orange assumptions, red determination, green guilt.

The pressure isn’t heavy, but it’s there and I’m surrounded, and I can’t move.

Not forward, not back.

But when I realized that I was the one blowing up all these balloons, I also realized that I was the one holding the hatpin.

So, I took last week off to figure things out.

And make pie charts.  Just because.

Why pie chart


First, I wrote down a list of things I want to do and have to do and don’t want to do and can’t do and have to do before I can do and do be do be do be do.

And then I wadded it up and threw it away, because I already know that even if I can, somehow, have it all, I’ll never be able to have it all at the same time.

So what are the daily essentials that I need to function?



There’s some necessary overlap, because my family and friends and writing* can keep me sane, if they so choose, and I can’t spend time with them or write or work if I’m not healthy, and I don’t have health insurance without work . . . so it’s more of a Venn Pie.**

All I have to do is figure out how to balance the slices on a daily basis.

Here’s the plan, so far:


Professional LibrarianI don’t have much leeway here, except for what I do on breaks, which usually involves a combination of the other parts of the Timepie.

But at least work is on a fixed, steady schedule:  I put in a solid eight hours a day, five days a week, work one night a month and every other Saturday.

So it’s easy to plan around—and three cheers for the aforementioned health insurance and timely mortgage payments.

Moving on.


I like the idea of being healthy, I’m just not very good at following through.

I don’t sleep enough, I overwear my disposable contacts until my eyes hurt, all of my favorite activities are  sit-ivities, I’m a wee bit caffeine-addicted and consider the Comfort Food Diet a valid lifestyle choice. . . And while I’m not afraid of doctors, I don’t bother making appointments for myself unless I’m coughing up something disturbing or that nagging pain isn’t going away—or the stick tells me I’m up the duff without a GYN-OB.***

But it’s past time I make the time to make some changes, which includes consulting medical professionals who will help me figure out what changes to make.

Therefore, I’m declaring this the Year of Health, because the Year of Sarah Finally Accumulating Medical Charts in One Place After a Decade of ERs and Drop-In Clinics takes too long to say.

I’ve already started:  last week, I went to the dentist, who inspired me to hurry up and find a regular doctor by showing me a chart of my enamel-less teeth^ and asking me questions about acid reflux, sleep apnea, and tooth-grinding stress.

But scheduled doctor appointments, while occasionally problematic, aren’t as tough to fit in as the daily stuff.

The dietary improvements I’m trying out—I won’t bore us all explaining them—take no more time than my old habits, and neither does exercise, or what passes for it around here, which I’ve already been doing.  Mostly.

SleepHowever, there’s no question that I need more sleep. And to get more sleep . . . I have to sleep more.^^

And that takes time.  Which means I need to finish up the stuff I need/want/have to do in a timelier manner so I can go to bed earlier or get up later.

I mean, I could warp the space time continuum in order to add a few hours between 02:00 and 02:01. But since I’m trying to reduce the amount of caffeine in my system, I’m not going to challenge the Laws of Physics anytime soon.

At least, not without the okay from my doctor. When I get one.

So . . .where can I make room?

Family and Friends:

Nope.  Not budging.  Or if I am, it’ll be towards more, not less.

That I need family and friends time is a given.

But though I’ve been pretty good about keeping up with e-mails and texts and lunches (with friends) and driving and feeding and hugging (the kids), I’ve been shirking a lot of invitations to girls’ nights out (R movies and art shows and nice dinners) and girls’ nights in (G movies and fingerpainting and pizza) lately because there’s so many other things I think I should be doing, so even when I’m out (or in) with them, I’m not really present.

Green BalloonInstead, I’m off somewhere thinking about  all the other stuff I should/would/could have been doing, batting those balloons back and forth—supposing there’s room in my subconscious—and occasionally holding the rough twine tethering a floating ball of maroon resentment, which will turn the color of guilt about five minutes after I escape leave.

My family is the biggest source of those green balloons.^^^

Because as much as I complain, as much as I occasionally threaten to mail them all to my parents in a cardboard box (“Breathing holes are a privilege, kids, not a right.”), or secretly plan to run away from the circus, I kind of love these guys.  A lot.

I may kvetch (and blog) about interruptions and distractions, bad timing and my apparent ability to render all other adults in the house invisible, but at the end of the day—the end of all my days—I’ve do understand that I’ll never regret a single moment I’ve spent with them.°

And that pretty soon, the kids will stop asking for stories or attention or braids or even a Mom-shaped beanbag to lean against while they watch TV.°°  Better get in that quality time where and when I can.

I’ve already started working on this, too—and I found out that I’m not as resentful now that I’ve learned to ask for time back—three hours a week to run away from home.

Look!  That Sanity slice just got bigger!

As for my friends . . .  when I’m with them, I think I’ll let go of all the balloons and just be.

Balloon free


This is gonna fluctuate with the ebb and flow and jostling of the other parts of the ‘pie.

But there’s a couple of solid changes I can make that may help—a few adjustments in, shall we say, medication.

We all have things we do, little rituals, little habits, that help us center ourselves.

One of mine is reading.  Always has been, always will be, not giving it up—though “existentially incapable of giving it up” is probably the correct way to put it.

Computer games are another habit of mine.  Specifically, Time Management games—probably because I can have as many do-overs as I want and there are cheats and walkthroughs, interesting storylines set to a snazzy soundtrack, and plentiful rewards and applause for a job well done.

Makes a fine change from reality.

But there’s centering, and there’s avoidance—and there’s ignoring all the other things I would/should/could be doing instead, in favor of yelling, “Five more minutes!  One more level!” ay myself, until my eyes burn, my mouse hand hurts, and I’m restocking grocery shelves or harvesting pumpkins or doling out playdough in my sleep, which began a lot later (or earlier, depending on your POV) than I’d intended.

It’s past time to put some parental controls on my inner child and try a little Real Life® Time Management.

I haven’t decided whether to limit myself to playing on the weekends, or try to earn screen time with wordcount/chapters/pages.

Or use the time to reacquaint myself with one of the hobbies I seem to have traded in for pixels and points.

But I set my alarm for an hour last night, tore myself away from The Beardless Wizard, and had an early bedtime.


Time Flies

So . . . what’s left?



Writing Pie

I like writing fiction and I like blogging my version of reality.

Both of them are worthwhile, both are beneficial, both can be a blast.

But one of my goals is to be a published author. More to the point, I want to be a paid published author.

Which means I have to scale down the time I spend writing posts and boost the time I use on fiction, both the writing of and the querying of.

To this end, I’m going to be dropping one post a week, to start, and I won’t be working on posts until I produce pages.

That also means the timing of publication—which has been holding steady at Noon CST for a while—is going to be more random.

Like today, for example.

And none of them are going to be as crazy long as this one, believe me—you’re getting all of last week’s at once.

Talk about your time savers . . .

Toy Balloons



*To be honest, I write interesting stuff when my sanity slips.  But I wouldn’t want to live in that headspace full-time, and my family also prefers that I’m here more than there. Maybe; I’m told I can be amusing while on bookbrain.

**Off-topic Inquiry:  Can a Venn Pie be a Real Thing?  Strawberry, Blueberry, and Cherry, for example? Would I need to invent a new pan or just make and freeze seven kinds of pie (yes, I drew a Three-Pie Venn and counted) and carefully reassemble?  Or have I just proven (proved? indy?) that the Sanity Slice is just wishful thinking?

***No, I’m not trying to tell you something. The equipment still works, but the factory is closed.

^No cavities, though.  Weird.

^^This would’ve probably dawned earlier on someone who isn’t as sleep deprived as I am.

^^^Any guilt my friends give me is the motivational kind and much appreciated.  Thank you.

°Even the two-kid-solo-parent clothes shopping trips. Stay tuned for that post; it’s a lulu.

°°But not money; we’ll always have my overdraft.




Oh, Write


For the past couple of months, I’ve been writing around the edges of everything else.

I get up early and write—after I take care of our elderly cat’s needs and until I have to wake the kids.

I write on breaks at work—after I run errands or answer e-mails.

I write in the evenings—after the kids go to bed sleep and until bedtime/husband-attention-time.

On the alternate weekends I don’t work at the library, there are swim lessons or church or other family stuff, so I write when everyone else is occupied with their own interests.

On my every-other Friday off, I run errands in the morning, and write after lunch until the kids get home—or fall asleep where I stand, because jeez.

This hasn’t been a bad way to write—there are no bad ways to write, if writing is being done—and for a long time, it’s been the only way I could have a family and still write.

Because I need both.

But it recently dawned on me that in my efforts to make sure my writing time doesn’t inconvenience the family, I’ve given them the impression that it isn’t important to me, either.

Which meant that it could be interrupted, dismissed, and ignored.

It was becoming harder to submerge myself into a scene, when I knew that I’d be yanked out again at any given moment.  And it was easier to give in, most of the time, because I don’t really have any deadlines I don’t set myself, anyway, and the kids are still young and this will only take a few minutes and it’s easier to stop than explain (again) why I need to get these words down right now . . .

But then I read Averil Dean’s post, “work |wərk|“,  which asks the question, “How do people take it when you refer to your writing as work?”

This question struck me right between the eyes.

Because I haven’t.  Not for a while.

When had I stopped treating the act of writing as my internship/second job/thing-I-would-rather- be-doing-than-anything and started treating it like a poor excuse for not doing what other people expect me to do?

Writeus Interruptus is a chronic condition for most writers, but when had I stopped treatment?

I mean, did I still want to do this writing thing?  Did I still want my stories to be read?  Did I still want to take the time and effort necessary to convince someone to pay me to do this, someday?

Okay then.

In order to be taken seriously as a writer, in order to have my family treat my writing as an important activity, I needed to show, not tell.

So I decided to make a deal with my husband.

In Summer, he likes to play sandlot baseball on the weekends—he rarely misses. The league offers games Saturday and Sunday, and he’s usually gone for three hours.

On the Saturdays I work, he plays Sunday. On my Saturdays off, I’ve been watching the kids, so he can play in the afternoons.

I braced myself—for what, I don’t know, exactly, but brace I did—and told him that I needed more time to write. And I asked him to play baseball on Sundays all season, so I could take three hours on my Saturdays off to go to the library, while he took care of the kids.

If he absolutely had to play on Saturday, I’d be glad to move my three hours to earlier or later in the day, or take them on Sunday instead—if the library wasn’t open, I could hide in Panera or Starbucks or somewhere.

He agreed.

I was surprised, which tells you more about my mindset than his.

I was also elated. I’d figured out what I needed and made it happen.  Sure, it’s a very small step, but it’s in the direction I want to go.

So, after lunch this past Saturday, I ran away from home with my laptop and headphones and notebook. Jane wanted to go with me, but before I could figure out how to tell her that I wanted to spend some time in her favorite place in the world by myself, my husband explained that I needed some time to work on my book without any interruptions.

“Oh,” she said. “Okay. Have fun, Mom!”

The first hour was hard—I kept expecting to be interrupted and ended up interrupting myself. But it smoothed out eventually, and I fell into the Zone for an hour or so until the alarm buzzed on my phone.

It was a very good write.

When I arrived home, my MIL told me that everyone else was biking the river trail.

So I stretched out on the bed and closed my eyes and thought about plot points and poisonous plants—until Sunny landed on my stomach.

Anyone else notice that the pain of Naptus Interruptus is directly proportional to the size of one’s kids?

The nuts must flow, so let ’em go . . .

There’s a useful story out there about how to catch monkeys—some of you already know how it goes.

Find a tree with a small hole in it, opening up into a larger space, like an abandoned nest—or weave a basket with a narrow opening or mold a pot with a narrow mouth.

Drop some large nuts into the tree or basket or pot, place a couple outside as encouragement, and wait.

When the monkey shows up, they’ll see the nuts, stick an arm through and grab a handful. But since the opening is so narrow, they won’t be able to pull their fist out.

The monkey will screech and dance and yank their poor arm half out of its socket—anything but let go of those nuts.

Even when they see the hunters coming.

I don’t know how many times I’ve set my own traps with insane word counts and scenes that don’t work, characters who don’t belong, weird plot points, obscure references, the One True Writing Habit of other people, and even whole stories that arrive DOA—or not at all—no matter what kind of surgical procedures I try.

If I let ’em go, I could move on to something that works, or at least something that’s more fun that swinging one-armed from a #!%&%ing tree.

And then there’s the assorted fears and self-esteem issues that are only insurmountable if I keep holding onto them and screeching and pulling and kvetching and deliberately mistaking for real problems instead of nutty ones.

If I let these go, I’d be a lot less likely to tie myself up in knots when the going gets rough.

The worst part of this is that I’m not only the monkey, here, I’m the hunter. 

And also nuts.

Neurologist and addiction psychiatrist Judson Brewer doesn’t use this analogy in his talk about getting out of our own way—though I’m sure he’s aware of it—but that’s what instantly came to mind after I watched it.

Because it’s kind of hard to feel that writing rush I love so much when I can’t see over my own elbow . . .

Walnuts or Cashews?

I’ll have the Liebster tale, a glass of Pinot Noir, and a bib.

Hey, I was nominated for a Liebster Blogger Award!

Liebster Award


Naturally, I jumped at the chance to get my Tuesday post out of the way  was tickled, and diligently managed to fill most of the conditions of the award . . . before making the mistake of tracing back the origins of the Liebster, out of curiosity.

I really need to stop doing that, because, unfortunately—or maybe not—I discovered that according to the current rules on several sites,  I have too many followers to accept, even if I don’t count the businesses who are following me in the hopes that I’ll buy their aluminum siding or marketing tricks or whatever.*

I know.  It was a surprise to me, too.

But since I’m still flattered to be nominated—and by one of my favorite people, no less—and I’d already done the work, I decided to pretend I can accept, up to a point, and post this thing anyway.

The blog must be fed, people!



To pseudoaccept the Liebster, I need to follow six semi-simple steps:

1.  Thank the person who nominated me and post a link to their blog.

Thanks, Downith!

2. Display the award on my blog.

See above.

(if I could truly accept, I’d be putting it in my sidebar, too)

3. Answer eleven questions about myself, provided by the person who nominated me.

Here goes:

Where do you usually write/create?

Officially, I have a desk in the corner of our bedroom and a laptop when I need a change of scenery and/or better coffee than I’m capable of making.

In reality, I write anywhere I happen to be when a story or plot point or bit of dialogue bites my ankle.  I carry a flash drive and a small bound scribble book wherever I go, and since I work in a library, I have a steady supply of research materials and scrap paper to make notes on.** Though I’ve been known to write stuff on the backs of envelopes or paper napkins, if I’m caught short.


Describe your ideal writing/making day.

I have every other Friday off from the library, and  my husband usually takes the kids to school.  I sleep in for an hour, hug everyone goodbye, have a shower and much coffee, and write until it’s time for my standing nail appointment, for which I’m not apologizing—besides the fact that typing is more fun with pretty fingers, it includes a hand-to-elbow pineapple oil massage that I’m convinced is keeping carpal tunnel at bay.  I come home and write until my husband comes home and reminds me it’s lunch time.

Since this is an IDEAL day I’m inventing describing here, I stay awake after lunch and write until the kids get home.***  After the kids go to bed, I write until its MY bedtime—or perhaps a tiny bit past it . . .

And again, since this is an ideal day, everything I write is amazing and clever and fits so perfectly with previous scenes that I don’t have to stick it any editing notes—and none of it will be thrown out in disgust the next day.


What are you really enjoying working on at the moment?

I’m working on two vastly different WIPS and a Fun Side Project.  The first two are described here.

The Fun Project is an anonymous writing exercise that’s acting as a sort of pump primer for the other two projects.  It gets the flow going—kind of like a paragraph Nano.  If it shapes itself into a Real Story, great.  If not, it’s still fun, and I won’t have to edit it.  Score!

I also like blogging.  But you probablyguessed that.


What, if anything, stops you from writing?

I have kids, a marriage, and a mortgage to pay.  Those are the priorities for now.

But nothing can stop me from thinking about a story.


If you could choose a writer to be your mentor (share work with, chat about the process) who would it be? 

I’m doing pretty well with the amazing writer-friends I have now, really.  If I ever get stuck, I’m only a whiny e-mail or two away from guidance, feedback, sympathy, and a well-aimed kick in the rear.

But if Terry Prachett, Neil Gaiman, Jennifer Cruisie, Joss Whedon, or Clark Gregg ever wanted to have coffee and talk about writing satire, magic, intelligent humor, comic books, and scripts, I wouldn’t say no.

I’m pretty sure I wouldn’t be able to say anything for a couple of minutes, though I’d hope the high-pitched, sustained squeals and the death grip I’d have on the hand I was shaking might adequately convey my polite acceptance.


Do you believe in writer’s block? If you get it, how do you overcome it?

I don’t believe in writer’s block.  I believe in writer’s blah.

Sometimes, it’s caused by trying to write a project that isn’t ready yet, so I have to put it in my Someday folder.

Sometimes, it’s because I’m writing the right project,  but in the wrong way, so I have to stop slamming my head against a scene and pick another one that may actually fix the previous problem.

Sometimes I’m bored with what I’m working on, so I have to switch to another project for  a day, or even just a couple of paragraphs of nothing important (see third question above).

Sometimes, I’m overwhelmed at the workload and underwhelmed at my abilities, so I need to go kvetch at a friend for a while (see fifth question above).

Sometimes, writing isn’t what I need to be doing and pushing it—because a Real Writer™ is supposed to work through the blahs like a literary Marine—will only make things worse.  So I take a day off and watch a movie or read all day or do anything but writing, but on purpose.

So far, so good.


Tell us a good thing that happened to you today.

I wrote/am writing most of this Sunday evening, so today I read Calvin & Hobbes with my six-year old, while my eleven-year old pretended she wasn’t listening, but couldn’t resist coming in on all the punch lines.  When Sunny couldn’t sound out a word, we substituted “penguin”.

We laughed like howler monkeys and then made popcorn.


What’s the first thing you do in the morning?

Trip over the cat on the way to the bathroom.


What’s your most listened to song?

Every time I’ve turned the radio on in the car over the past three weeks, I’ve heard “Talk Dirty” by Jason Derulo at least once, but that’s probably not what’s being asked.

I did a post last week on the playlist I’m using for one of my current projects that’s probably a better answer.

But I’ve also been on an Apocalyptica kick lately—this one has been on constant replay.  Don’t ask me why.


Who would play you in the movie of your life? 

Janeane Garofalo, but only if I get to write the script.

If we’re working off reality someone else’s script, probably Fozzie Bear in drag.

Fozzie Bear


What would the title of your autobiography be?

“She Tested Well.. . “


4. Provide 11 random facts about myself .

Please pick eleven random posts from the archive.  That ought to do it.

5. Nominate a few of your favorite bloggers for the award and provide eleven questions for them to answer.

I figure I can’t nominate people for this award if I can’t actually accept it.

But if you’re interested in some great bloggers and writers, check out my blogroll—and also the list over at Weekend Writing Warriors.

And if any of you would like to give these questions a try, go for it and let me know, please.

6. List these rules in my post.


So . . . Was it good for you?


*And I DO count them.  Heaven help me, I do.

**If you’re my boss, I only do this on breaks and lunch, cross my heart and hope to avoid a pink slip.

***Under normal circumstances, I wake up around three-thirty with pillow marks on my face.

Hold on to me as we go

I’m still operating under a moderate case of bookbrain, and so squandered my Blog Time™ on wasteful things like plot and character development and worldbuilding and an homage to Calvin & Hobbes that had me snerking so hard at my own cleverness, I should just delete the whole scene now and save myself the editing time.

So, in light of the the first instruction on How to be a Writer—and maybe the third one, too—I thought I’d give you the opportunity to mock my music taste share part of the soundtrack of this particular bookfrenzy.

Some writers hate writing to music, but I enjoy it—and not just because it drowns out the rest of the world.

Certain songs can get me in the right mood or help frame a character or set a scene—or just keep me going past the point where absorbing more caffeine wouldn’t be the sane choice.

Please note:  this list might seem a bit MPD eclectic, but I usually group them into mini-playlists, or just put one on repeat. Otherwise, I could risk getting the emotional bends.


 “Demons” from Imagine Dragons, because  it fits my somewhat-conflicted main character.  Maybe his brother, too:

After listening to this song for a couple days, I finally watched the video—turns out one of the other characters has a cameo.  Who knew?

The Monster” by Eminem and Rhianna fits several of the other characters, too.

“Home” by Phillip Phillips, because it’s what most of my characters need, and it’s also what a particular character is offering, bless him.

 “Dark Horse” by Katy Perry—it’s been played to death and beyond on the radio, so I won’t bother embedding it, but it still works for a specific scene.  The video is weird, by the way, but the visuals are excellent.

Meet Me Halfway” by the Black Eyed Peas is my go-to for relationships that are going to be a LOT of work, but so worth it.  Eventually.

The “Thunderstruck” cover by 2cellos is clearly a mood piece . . .

I also have their cover of “Supermassive.” Please note that it’s important to wear headphones when playing it, so you don’t hear your family begging you to stop trying to sing along.

Scream & Shout. Because it’s and I don’t need another reason.

And finally, Martin Garrix’s “Animals”, which is NOT “What Does the Fox Say.”

Not even close:

Do you write to music?

What’s on YOUR soundtrack?


Remember the Writing Process bloghop?  This week highlights the amazing Jalisa Blackman, who is incidentally responsible for introducing me to a lot of music I otherwise wouldn’t have heard, though she is in no way to blame for my taste.

Go see how a woman of twice my imagination is doing what she does.