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Studio Mothers Winter Break

Understanding that this is a very busy time of year for most of us, regardless of which particular holiday you may or may not celebrate, we’ll be on blog hiatus until the New Year. I hope everyone has (or has had) a fabulous holiday — and for those of you who celebrate Christmas, here’s a little video you’re sure to enjoy. See you in 2010!

Another mother writer’s NaNoWriMo win

Stephanie Stambaugh, a blogger and writer living in Colorado, is a friend of Studio Mothers via Twitter. I had noted that Stephanie — also a mother of two — successfully completed NaNoWriMo, and I asked her how she pulled off that feat. Stephanie recently posted a blog-post response, which you may enjoy: Finally, My Post-NaNoWriMo Debriefing. Stephanie’s process actually involved her oldest child, and was facilitated by the younger one. I love the concept of working with your children around, rather than working around your children, as in, circumventing an obstracle. The more we can blend creativity and motherhood the more likely we are to feel “whole”; less compartmentalized. This strategy wouldn’t quite translate to parenting toddlers, but at least it gives the mothers of little ones something to look forward to.

An excerpt from Stephanie’s post:

Over the course of the writing month and over the past few weeks I have been asked by numerous people, “How’d you do it? How did you find time to write a novel?” First, It would be easy enough to answer those questions by simply saying I made time to write it because that’s what writers do, they give up their ideas of being in the so called “real world” to sit and hold words in their mind’s eye and in the palm of their hands for hours on end. That’s our job and so that’s what I did, to a point.

What I actually did was give myself permission to do what I wanted to do instead of sabotaging myself by that nagging voice that plagues all writers. You know what it says? It screams out daily at you too, right? It says, ”What’s the point? I’ve got better things to do, don’t I? Besides, it’ll never be published anyway.” Now I am not saying that voice wasn’t lurking out there just outside my door, waiting for me to invite it in. What I am saying is that I nodded my head to its shrill little demanding attitude and then told it politely to go to hell. I made a conscience choice not to let the dirty bugger into my office on November 1st and now that it is December 14th it won’t ever show its sick little face here again if it knows what’s good for it.

But there was also three other things that helped me “do it.” The first was that I had the greatest motivation any writer can have and that motivation was from my teenage son who did NaNoWriMo right along with me. I did not have to force him to do it as I am lucky enough to have given birth to not just one but two kiddos who have a wonderful passion for stories. But when my oldest said he wanted to do NaNoWriMo with me, it gave me more backbone than I knew I had because I stood a little taller and prouder just by his commitment to do it.

Secondly, I could not have done it without the support of my youngest child who kept busy for hours writing his own comic books and playing quietly until his brother and I were finished writing for the day. Then right along with him was my husband who actually didn’t knock on my office door for once. I think he saw that determined look in my eye and actually liked it or maybe he just feared it too like the way the dirty little nagging voice of doubt feared it.

Read the full post here. Congratulations on your accomplishment, Stephanie! We look forward to hearing more from you in future.

Applause

Our long-time blogmate Brittany Vandeputte was recently published in the Petigru Review! I stole the following from Brittany’s blog:

Yesterday I received my two free author copies of The Petigru Review. It felt good to hold a big chunk of a book in my hands, flip to the table on contents, and see my name listed three times. The $15 I made in “royalties” felt good, too. It brought the total profits from my writing to date up to $115. What a lucrative career choice I’ve made for myself…

Obviously I’m not in it for the money. It’s more the satisfaction of knowing someone else read my writing and thought other people would like it, too. That feels good. And it also feels good to be published in a literary journal named for James L. Petigru, SC stateman, who famously said “South Carolina is too small to be a republic, and too large to be an insane asylum.” I love my adopted state, but as a born and bred Tarheel, I do snicker (quietly) to myself whenever I hear that quote.

I had hoped that I could brag that it was now available on amazon.com, but it isn’t yet. It is, however, available at a local bookstore, Fiction Addiction.

I’m only doing my due dilligence by pointing out that it would fill a stocking nicely and would most certainly impress all your book-loving friends with its sophisticated, artsy, literary-journalness. Plus, I have it on good authority that you might even persuade one of the contibutors to autograph your copy. :-)

Brava, Brittany! We’re so proud!

Studio Mothers on the town

A roundup of recent mentions of Studio Mothers on the interwebs!

  1. Kate at Simply Mother blogged about the article on time management that I posted last week. Kate credits the find to Tara, The Organic Sister, who tweeted about our post. Thanks to both Kate and Tara! These are two bloggers that you don’t want to miss. Seriously.
  2. Christine McCombe at Spaces Between blogged about Alison Wells’s post on 5 ways to be a writer when you’re not writing. Christine’s blog is another lovely find.
  3. Alison’s post was also mentioned by our friend Liz Massey at Write Livelihood, in the context of a terrific roundup of writing and editing links. Thanks, Liz!
  4. And this is very cool…Studio Mothers has been featured in an academic paper about blogging! The author is Cathy Coley’s niece. She also posted us on Tumblr. Thanks for including us, Libby!

New friends = lots more blog reading to catch up on! :-)

Help a writer out: No Haikus

Our friend Debra Bellon, a writer and filmmaker who lives in Toulouse, has a two-year-old son and a brand-new baby girl. Debra has been creatively percolating during the past couple of years, as many of us do while we’re otherwise occupied caring for little ones. To that end, Debra just launched a new blog site for her poetry: No Haikus. Debra says, “I’m going to see if I can write a poem a day, with each poem using a word from the last, if that makes any sense.” She has asked for support and encouragement from the Studio Mothers community — so please visit Debra’s blog from time to time. You know how having an audience helps to keep us honest and committed!

Félicitations, Debra! We much look forward to seeing more of your work.

The Fixed-Schedule Effect: Secret Keys to Life?

My husband often forwards me tidbits from the interwebs that he knows I’ll find interesting. Last week he sent me an article about time management that really blew my mind. In some ways I think it’s the paradigm shift I’ve been looking for, as I often feel lost in the vortex of caring for young children and stepping between motherhood and work.

The answer to feeling overwhelmed and overbooked is NOT throwing more time at your workload — it’s about prioritizing and working in a more condensed framework. It’s about working smarter, not working MORE. Just what busy mothers need, right? We can’t add more hours to our day, but we can use what we have more efficiently WITHOUT running around like maniacs.

This article was truly an eye-opener for me. There’s even discussion of synthesizing parenthood, domestic life, and work. Here’s an excerpt (although I do hope you read the whole thing):

I must emphasize that I’m not some laid-back lifestyle entrepreneur who monitors an automated business from a hammock in Aruba. I have a normal job (I’m a postdoc) and a lot on my plate. This past summer, for example, I completed my PhD in computer science at MIT. Simultaneous with writing my dissertation I finished the manuscript for my third book, which was handed in a month after my PhD defense and will be published by Random House in the summer of 2010. During this past year, I also managed to maintain my blog, Study Hacks, which enjoys over 50,000 unique visitors a month, and publish over a half-dozen peer-reviewed academic papers.

Put another way: I’m no slacker. But with only a few exceptions, all of this work took place between 8:30 and 5:30, only on weekdays. (My exercise, which I do every day, is also included in this block, as is an hour of dog walking. I really like my post-5:30 free time to be completely free.)

I call this approach fixed-scheduled productivity, and it’s something I’ve been following and preaching since early 2008. The idea is simple:

Fix your ideal schedule, then work backwards to make everything fit — ruthlessly culling obligations, turning people down, becoming hard to reach, and shedding marginally useful tasks along the way.

The beneficial effects of this strategy on your sense of control, stress levels, and amount of important work accomplished, is profound.

<snip>

Michael Simmons’ [business] expanded quickly in the years following college graduation. Around the time I was reading The 4-Hour Work Week, I started to discuss the possibility that Simmons tone down the hours. It was his company, I argued, so why not take advantage of this fact to craft an awesome life.

Among the specific topics we discussed, I remember suggesting that Simmons cut down the time spent on e-mail and social networks.

“This isn’t optional for me,” he explained. “Any of these contacts could turn into a important partner or sale.”

But then Simmons’ daughter, Halle, was born.

Simmons’ work schedule reduced from 10 to 12 hours days to 3 to 5 hour days. He took care of the baby in the morning, then worked in the afternoon while his wife, and company co-founder, took over the childcare responsibilities. Evenings were family together time.

Halle forced Simmons into the type of constrained schedule that he had previously declared impossible. And yet the business didn’t flounder.

“The baby turns ’shoulds’ into ‘musts’,” Simmons explained to me. “In the past I used to put off key decisions, or saying ‘no’, because I didn’t want to deal with the discomfort. Now I have no choice. I have to make the decisions because my time has been slashed in half.”

“Since out daughter was born about a year ago, our business has more than doubled.”

The Fixed-Schedule Effect

Collins, Saunders, and Simmons all share a similar discovery. When they constrained their schedule to the point where non-essential work was eliminated and colleagues and clients had to retrain their expectations, they discovered two surprising results.

First, the essentials — be it making sales calls, or focusing on the core research behind a book — are what really matter, and the non-essentials — be it random e-mail conversations, or managing an overhaul to your blog template — are more disposable than many believe.

Second, by focusing only the essentials, they’ll receive more attention than when your schedule was unbounded. The paradoxic effect, as with Collins’ bestsellers, or Saunders and Simmons’ fast-growing businesses, you achieve more results.

Living the Fixed-Scheduled Lifestyle

The steps to adopting fixed-schedule productivity are straightforward:

  1. Choose a work schedule that you think provides the ideal balance of effort and relaxation.
  2. Do whatever it takes to avoid violating this schedule.

This sounds simple. But of course it’s not. Satisfying rule 2 is non-trivial. If you took your current projects, obligations, and work habits, you’d probably fall well short of satisfying your ideal schedule.

Here’s a simple truth that you must confront when considering fixed-schedule productivity: sticking to your ideal schedule will require drastic actions. For example, you may have to:

  • Dramatically cut back on the number of projects you are working on.
  • Ruthlessly cull inefficient habits from your daily schedule.
  • Risk mildly annoying or upsetting some people in exchange for large gains in time freedom.
  • Stop procrastinating.

In the abstract, these are all hard goals to accomplish. But when you’re focused on a specific goal — “I refuse to work past 5:30 on weekdays!” — you’d be surprised by how much easier it becomes to deploy these strategies in your daily life.

 
Read the full article here. Really, it’s worth the read!

I’ve already begun applying these principles to my work life, and I see how powerful this approach can be. Knowing that I need to tie up all loose ends by a certain time (various intervals throughout the day) really helps me stay focused. It’s kind of like applying the urgency of NaNoWriMo to your regular schedule. Do it now; there’s a deadline; stay focused. When you know there really are only 6 hours to get a project completed (rather than telling yourself you’ll work a second shift to get it done) you don’t waste time on Facebook or comparison shopping prices for Seventh Generation Diapers online. And in the end, what do you get? A finished project AND an evening to spend doing whatever you want to do. Suddenly there is time for creativity, reading, whatever. Sounds so simple, I know, but I can’t tell you how much I DON’T do that when left to my own instincts.

Can you see ways of applying these principles to the domestic side of life? Obviously, children aren’t going to observe a “fixed” schedule, no matter how much we might want them to, but there must be ways to apply the “container” approach in a way that makes the domestic scene feel less overwhelming. Your thoughts?

NaNoWriMo: After the big finish

The point here is that the bonds formed during NaNoWriMo should continue beyond November — so keep us in the loop, NaNo winners :-)

Cartoon courtesy Inky Girl — thanks, as always.

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