"What’s it like being married to a blogger/writer?"

MEH on one of our daily early morning dog walks
My Engineer Husband (MEH) makes frequent appearances on my blog. But yesterday when I read a blog by blogging friend, writer Jamie Miles, about what her husband thinks about her blogging, I realized I’d never written a similar blog. When I started putting together questions to ask MEH, I remembered another blog I’d read a few months ago by writer Annie Neugebauer, asking her husband what it was like to be married to a writer. I’ve been a writer all our married life, but since I’ve only been a blogger for the past year and a half, I decided to merge the two questions.
When I asked MEH if I could interview him, this is what he said: “I really think you can do something better with your time. Doesn’t seem like it’s a productive activity. There must be someone more interesting out there to interview.”

But, that’s just MEH being modest, because he’s my biggest supporter and helps me anytime I ask. He always reads my blogs and everything else I write, too. So naturally I want to know what he thinks.

JMM: What is your impression of blogging in general?

MEH: It’s a crazy crazy world that I don’t understand. 

JMM: In what way?

MEH: There seems to be this whole social network of bloggers interacting with one another—a whole culture and society. It’s very different from my culture of engineering where I just go in and do my job with very specific milestones and end results.

JMM: Twitter?

MEH: (Laughter) Even more incomprehensible.

JMM: What do you think when I blog about you?

MEH: I don’t know why you’re blogging about me. I’m embarrassed and I think you’re incredibly creative and have actually created an entirely new character (of me) out of thin air, and it’s very impressive.

JMM: Are you implying that you’re nothing like you are in the blog?

MEH: Yes. That’s what I’m implying. You’ve created a character and attached my acronym to it—or more accurately, your acronym for me to it. (Laughter)

JMM: What do you think of the time I spend in blog world?

MEH: Sometimes you come out of it looking very dazed, as though you’ve gone into another world through a porthole in our dining room. You come out and regale me with stories of what happened in this parallel universe—it’s very science-fictiony.

JMM: Twitter?

MEH: It causes you to have incomplete thoughts. It makes it very hard to talk to you sometimes after you’ve been on Twitter because sometimes thoughts need to be longer than 140 characters.

JMM: What’s your favorite blog I’ve ever written?

MEH: MEH the Amygdala and me. It was a funny blog about our life.

JMM: Any blogs you wish I hadn’t written or can’t understand why I wrote them?

MEH: The blog in the middle of winter when we were out there on the bridge in minus 10 degrees in the wind and the snow, videotaping the overlook. I thought we could’ve done without that. (Note: for the first year of this blog, we videotaped a certain spot in Maine every week. Here’s one of the winter videos.)

JMM: What’s the best part of being married to a writer—please tell me there is a best part?

MEH: (Laughs hard) There are so many. I love it when we’re sitting in a restaurant and I can see the misty eyes you get and then I realize you’re listening to somebody else’s conversation. The amazing trips and stories we’ve gone on in our minds after observing ordinary actions of life, like overhearing a snippet of conversation that takes us down a rabbit hole in your creative mind. These are things I never would’ve seen or done if I hadn’t been married to you.

JMM: What’s the worst part of being married to a writer?

MEH: Trying to understand what you’re saying in 140 characters. (laughter). Seriously, watching and feeling the angst and pain when you get rejections—and the self-doubt that it inflicts.

JMM: How would you describe what I do all day?

MEH: Torture. You torture yourself until you’re happy.

JMM: Torture?

MEH: I see you sitting there with your head in your hands, sobbing (laughter), and you stand up and you stomp around and you sit back down and you pull your hair and then you throw things away and then you start over again. And then you say: “this is awful.” But in the end it seems to make you happy.

JMM: What’s the craziest thing you’ve found yourself doing in the name of helping me do research?

MEH: I think that would have to be pawing through a trashcan. Although taking pictures of random people in the grocery store is up there. And standing out there on the bridge in minus 10 degrees, when you used to do the videos for the blog, seems incomprehensible, although fun at the time.

JMM: Not being interviewed today?

MEH: That’s not crazy. Perplexing, maybe, but not crazy.

Have you ever asked your partner what he/she thinks of being married to/living with a writer? Would you (or have you) blogged about it? Did you discover anything surprising?

Cheers,

Julia

Step Away from the Wi-fi

Photo by Vasile Cotovanu (flickr CreativeCommons)
Two weeks ago, I wrote a post about social networking addiction. You can see it here. At the end of the post I announced there would be a Part 2—more about social networking addiction. But then a funny thing happened. 
I got busy writing. I started writing more and turning off the Internet more. I made a personal decision that when my husband is home or when I’m away from the computer, I won’t check my phone (unless one of our kids calls or texts). Do you know the average person checks his or her cell phone for messages, emails, etc., every ten minutes?

To be honest, I wasn’t even going to write this follow up post (and I felt pretty guilty about it—I said I would write it, and I don’t like reneging on my word). Then something happened to prompt me to write this second part. I was at Target yesterday, and round about when I was in the shampoo aisle, I heard a voice that sounded like a TV show host or a how-to-show host. After a few minutes of hearing it I got curious, figuring it must be a new Target demo or something. But when I turned down the next aisle, all I saw was a little girl (about three years old) in a cart being pushed by her grandma.

And the voice? It was coming from an iPhone the little girl was holding—she was watching videos on youtube (I assumed), glued to the tube, while she was in Target spending time with her grandmother. And here’s what really bothered me. They weren’t interacting at all. Now, lest you think I am being too harsh, that the poor grandma was just distracting the little girl for a few seconds while she picked out a toothpaste. You would be wrong. I kept seeing the two in and out of the same aisles I was in for about fifteen minutes—and only once did I hear them interact—when the little girl said “Look at this, Grandma.” In her only defense, the grandma did look.

I know a little girl watching youtube videos instead of chatting with her grandma at Target is not exactly like a writer being addicted to social networking (nor is it the worst thing in the world, I realize that). But it reminded me once again that sometimes too much of a good thing is, well, too much of a good thing. It reinforced my desire to disconnect more, to stop looking at my phone (or email or Twitter) every ten minutes, to focus on real life at least as much as I focus on online life.

But what I’ve come to realize is that it’s not quite as easy as it might seem. As writers, we spend a lot of time alone, we’re very contemplative and introspective by nature. We don’t all have our grandmas to chat with like that lucky little girl did. And so—even though I know my online “presence” sometimes does interfere with writing—I won’t give up on it completely.

Still, I had to do something. I considered all the great techniques other writers use—left in comments on my first post about social networking addiction, things like: scheduling tweets and posts ahead of time, tweeting and blogging less frequently, slowing down Facebook postings, increasing other non-writing creative endeavors, unplug from the Internet for certain times of day, work outside the house (like at a coffee shop), restrict Twitter to specific times of day and for limited amounts of time, “disappear” (for more prolonged periods) to get writing done, turn off the computer and get away from it, don’t get online after work hours or on the weekends, take a “digital sabbatical,” cut down on the impulse to “check social media nonstop,” step back while the kids are home for summer vacation, don’t get a smart phone.

So last week I started a new routine. When I’m working on my WIP, I turn off the wi-fi. At first I noticed I would still scroll down to check email—I was amazed at how often I tried to check (maybe every ten minutes, go figure)! But after a few days I stopped trying. I remembered that it was writing time. My word count shot up. I started writing at least double what I had been prior to the Internet chill.

Another interesting thing happened, too. It’s easier for me to manage my time in general. I don’t feel as pulled to do a million things at once. In short I’m more focused—which in turn allows me to get even more control over my writing life. And that hopefully will lead me even further down the path to my goal of being a published author.

What about you? Since you read my first post, have you done anything differently to manage your online time? Are you, like I am, trying to limit your iPhone/smart phone time?

Cheers,

Julia

Are You Addicted to Social Networking (Like I am)?

As I put the finishing touches on this post, I found out—much to my immense surprise and thrill—that the July issue of The Writer magazine named me (@wordsxo) as a “Top Feed to Watch.” I’m greatly honored and thrilled, but I can’t help but marvel at the irony.

Am I addicted to Twitter? Are you?

I’ve been thinking about writing this post for a while—ever since I’ve been having so much trouble focusing on my new WIP. Ever since I feel like I’m missing out on something if I don’t check Twitter or Facebook at least several times a day. Ever since I started querying and email is my new best friend (and worst enemy). Ever since I got my iPhone, and now I’m never away from social networking. Ever.

But recently I have an increased incentive. It’s bothering me more. I’ve been restless when I don’t check in. My first thought when I take a photo with my iPhone is I need to tweet this. Then I read an article about social networking addiction. Recent research suggests that all the tweeting and friending and posting we’re all doing may actually be addictive. And there’s a serious problem with addiction in my immediate and extended family.

First. For the purposes of this discussion: What is addiction? Maia Szalavitz, a neuroscience journalist, defines it as “a matter of inbalance—between your personal desire to engage in the addictive behavior and your conflicting desire to avoid the negative consequences of said behavior and/or do something else.”

According to one study I read about, people may have a harder time controlling their desire to check social media (when they really didn’t want to) than they do controlling urges to smoke or drink alcohol. The same study showed that workaholism is a very real thing, too—that many people will work when they really don’t need to.

It occurred to me after reading these results that we writers kind of have a double whammy. Not only is it a requirement of our job to build the all-important platform, but building the platform actually involves the requirement to be a social networker. Compounding this, we often work alone, and social networking allows us to connect with other writers and feel like we’re a part of a community. Further, since the majority of us work at home, we can work 24-7 if we want to—hmmm, does that make us workaholics too?

All this made me wonder…. are we as writers more susceptible to becoming addicted to social networking? And then I wondered further….am Ialready addicted? Like I said, as I set out with a brand new WIP, I’m having a harder and harder time focusing—more difficulty with the balance. Some days I give myself an ultimatum: it’s all or nothing. Shut down the social networking altogether. Because here’s the thing.I often can’t figure out a way to limit myself in a positive way. Then, if I cut myself off I end up feeling left out of the social networking scene but if I don’t cut myself off and write less, then I’m disappointed with my writing effort or just generally frustrated without really understanding why.

Of course I know I’m not the only writer who grapples with this—it’s a frequent subject of conversation and blogs and tweets among all the writers I know. In fact, just recently one writer friend and I were lamenting over email (yes, this too can be a part of the addiction) about how unproductive we were with our writing, and I asked my writer friend about the idea that social networking might be addictive. Here’s what he/she said:

“…Social media is an angel AND the devil all wrapped into one, is it not? Yes, I recall you talking about the research saying that it’s addictive. I can see that in myself, too, where some days I can’t pull myself away and am there for HOURS…”

That comment prompted me to email other writer friends—a combination of women and men, published and unpublished, traditional and indie published, new to the profession and lifers, and across genres, too. The general consensus: we all struggle with the balance in some way, shape, or form. It’s a continuum, but we’re all in this together, no question.

Here’s a sampling of what some of my writer friends had to say, clearly I hit a nerve.

Writer A: “…With the publication of my book and a newly realized need to “build a platform,” my social networking mushroomed into a blog, a couple of groups on the Writer’s Digest site, a Twitter account, and a second Facebook “author” page. There is a substantial list of other sites I’ve read that, as an author, I should be participating in, but let’s get real….”

Writer B: “To me, social networking is the epitome of a double-edged sword. It has introduced me to so many outstanding writers and authors that I can’t imagine my life without it. I have found “my people”! But in all of this wonderful relationship building, my writing has suffered….If I don’t check Twitter, Facebook, etc. at leasta couple of times a day, I feel anxious. I do think it is because of my “profession,” though, that I am so addicted. Writers are supposed to build their platform to gain an audience but then we don’t know when to quit! I think through social media it is evident that people desire connection, but there is a price we pay.”

Writer C: “It’s difficult for me to balance social media, life, and creative writing.  I don’t like to inundate people on any social media platform with lots of posts or re-tweets, but I worry that, “being out of sight is out of mind.” That’s a constant struggle.  And social media can be a time-suck, albeit a pleasant one.  So when I write creatively, I tend to just have my document file open and nothing else.”

Writer D: “I know exactly what you mean about social media feeling like an addiction; for me it’s a constant struggle. It’s the strangest thing because as much as it’s interfered with my life, it’s enhanced it in many ways too. So it’s not easy for me to describe in such absolutes as love/hate. There are days when I absolutely know I can’t go on Twitter, whether it’s because of work or because I’m out, away from my desk. There are times when I’ve gone on Twitter and had the most wonderful conversations and made genuine connections, so that when I’ve stepped away from it I’ve felt like it was a worthy way to spend my time. But the flip side of that is, there have been many, many times when I’ve stayed on longer than I should have, disengaged from the Tweets I’m reading but perhaps hoping that the next one will be like the last time, fun and full of great links, replies, etc. And I’ve stepped away wondering, “What did I just do with that hour of my life?” In that way, it’s very much like an addiction.

Writer E: “The internet, and especially twitter, has been a wonderful source of both friendship and support for me. I have made many fine friends there.  (And three of the authors who gave me fabulous blurbs for my novel were people I met on twitter.)… Of course, like so many things, the trick is knowing when to stop (and then actually stopping.)  I have precious little willpower, and so I employ artificial means to save myself from temptation when I really have to knuckle down and work.  I use software called Freedom that disables the internet completely.  Knowing that I can’t check email or social media sites allows me to put it out of mind completely, so I can concentrate on the job at hand.”
Writer F:I think one of the hardest parts of the writing life nowadays—life in general, really!—is how to find a way to keep social media’s impact at a minimum without losing touch with it’s very worthwhile points. I know for me it’s push and pull. I can’t say enough how grateful I am for the personal connections I have made through social media—the friends I’ve made…and there’s no question that social media can broaden a writer’s reading audience. But that said, it can sometimes feel as if we spend more time online than off it. For me, not having a smart phone is one way I am forced to curb my time online—and by not being able to access social media at all hours (and it not being able to access ME) I think has allowed me a modicum of boundaries. All in all, I am glad to have jumped in to the social media pool. I just wish some days I didn’t feel as if was sinking more than swimming in it!”

Can you relate? I know I can, and we’re clearly all in this together. I’d love to hear from you, to start a conversation…

Do you spend more time on Twitter, Facebook, blog responses, etc., than you think you should or than you really want to? How many hours a week do you spend on social networking—have you ever kept track? Has social networking ever interfered with your writing productivity or your “real life”? Are you like me? That some days you chalk up greater word count in tweets than on your WIP? Can you resist better than I can? Or maybe you think that the idea of social networking addiction is just not really a problem and/or not worthy of too much attention? Please leave a comment!
Cheers,

Julia

Q&A with Alex George (A GOOD AMERICAN)

Last summer, writer friend Erika Marks (LITTLE GALE GUMBO) introduced me on Twitter to novelist Alex George—who was here in Maine researching the setting for his next novel.

Today I have the great pleasure to interview Alex in this post. We share a Maine connection, but the real reason I interviewed Alex was that less than two weeks ago his novel A GOOD AMERICAN was released to wonderful reviews—including being named #1 “Title to Pick Up Now” by O Magazine, February 2012!

I wanted to know more about A GOOD AMERICAN and the writer behind the book; specifically I wanted to ask Alex questions about his definition of home—a theme central to this blog and my heart. I also wanted to know a little bit more about what he thought of Maine as the setting for his next novel.

Finally, I am giving away one copy of A GOOD AMERICAN! All you need to do to be entered into the giveaway is leave a comment before Friday (February 24) at midnight EST!

Please join me in welcoming Alex George! 

Is A GOOD AMERICAN your debut novel? If not, is there a common thread or theme in what you write?

I’ve written four previous novels which were published in the UK and some European countries, but A GOOD AMERICAN is my first book published in the States – hence the “debut novel” tag.  However, this book is so different from my earlier efforts that it feels like a true debut in all respects, not just geographically.

There was no common theme in my earlier books, except perhaps for music – which also features heavily in A GOOD AMERICAN.  But this book is much bigger than the others, both literally and figuratively.  I remember, many years ago, reading THE MAGUS, by John Fowles, and being so completely consumed by the story that I failed to notice that the bus I was traveling in got stuck on the side of the highway in the pouring rain.  I never forgot that.  So more than anything, I just wanted to tell a really good story.  I hope I’ve managed to do that.

A GOOD AMERICAN is called “…a universal story about the families we create and the places we call home.” Because I grew up traveling around a lot, home is something I think a lot about and write a lot about. What does home mean to you and why is it something you wanted to write about?

Home, and what that means, is something that I’ve been thinking about a lot, ever since I left England and moved to the States, nearly nine years ago. Of course, there’s the old saying, “Home is where the heart is,” but I suspect that may be a little too simplistic.  If it were that easy, then Missouri—where I live now—would be home, as it’s where my children are.  But it’s actually more complicated than that.  When I return to England, the past rushes up to me in ambush, and I am pole-axed by a longing to return there for good.  But I don’t know if that’s a function of simple nostalgia, unhappiness with where I am, or something else.  It’s very confusing.  What I do know is that you cannot deny the pull of your past.

It’s a topic I wanted to write about because it’s such a universal theme, one that applies to everyone.  We all have a home, even if we might be a little unsure where it is.  The characters in the novel have an ambivalent relationship with “home,” which I don’t think is unusual.  Many of them spend a significant time trying to escape it—but they all get pulled back in the end.  I don’t think that’s an unusual situation.

One of the things that drew me to your book was that your main character is described as “being an outsider.” Are there parts of being an outsider that you can relate to from your own life? If not, what drew you to writing about an outsider?

I’m an Englishman living in the middle of Missouri.  If you look up “outsider” in a dictionary, you won’t see a picture of me there, but perhaps you should!  Every time I open my mouth, I announce my otherness to the people around me, betrayed by my accent and my failure to grasp the rules of football.  But I think that your question touches upon a more universal issue.  I believe that, in some way, we all feel like outsiders.  Rightly or wrongly, we all feel isolated and remote at times.  And that felt like something worth exploring.  James Meisenheimer, the novel’s narrator, feels a little distant and remote from his family, although he loves them deeply.  I think that distance allows him to tell the story he has to tell.

I know you recently completed the U.S. Naturalization process and became an American citizen. I’m not sure how long you’ve been in the U.S., but how did you draw from your own experiences as a newcomer to the United States as you created your novel’s narrator, James?

My experience as an immigrant to the United States mostly informed the characters of Frederick and Jette, James’s grandparents, since they were the characters who made the journey from Europe to America, as I did.  Frederick is an unequivocal and passionate convert to the American way of life; Jette is more cautious, and, indeed, often feels homesick.  I think most immigrants experience a degree of ambivalence about leaving their home country and starting afresh elsewhere; Frederick and Jette personified those two contradictory sentiments. 

Every immigrant is afflicted by the same paradox: one wants to fit in with one’s new country, but one never wants to forget where one came from.  My mother was born and raised in New Zealand, but she has lived in England for more than fifty years.  She still calls New Zealand home.

On February 16, 2012, I became a citizen of the United States, less than ten days after the book was published.  There is a scene in the novel when Frederick and Jette take their oath and become citizens.  It is rather extraordinary that I should be undergoing the same process at the same time as the novel is being published.

What are your favorite and least favorite parts about becoming a U.S. citizen?

I’m looking forward to voting.  I’ve been paying taxes for the past nine years so I think it’s about time I had a say as to how they were spent.  As Winston Churchill said, democracy is the worst system of government in the world, apart from all the others.  It’s an old cliché, but it’s a privilege to live in a country where power changes without a shot being fired.  Sometimes I think many people take such things for granted.  I will vote with pride in November’s Presidential elections.

I am devoted to the Declaration of Independence and the U.S. Constitution.  I think they are wonderful, inspiring documents, and I am committed to the principles that they enshrine.  Freedom, equality, diversity, tolerance: these are all magnificent things for a country and its people to aspire to.

I love America, but I won’t deny that a small part of me was sad when I took the oath.  A friend wrote to me on the day of the ceremony, and told me I had an English soul—and that this was something that due legal process could not ever change.  I think they may have been right.

The book has a lot of music in it. I’m curious, did you have a theme song in your mind as you wrote it? Or was there any particular music you listened to while you wrote?

I love to write about music.  It’s always a challenge, since it exists in a totally different medium.  But I am passionate about it, and I can’t quite imagine writing a book without music in it somewhere.  But no, I had no particular song in mind while I wrote.  There are an awful lot of different types of music in the novel – it starts with an opera aria, and ranges from New Orleans jazz, blue grass, ragtime, and barbershop singing.  Funnily enough, the book critic from USA Today said she thought the book would make a great Broadway musical!  Music plays a variety of roles in the course of the novel, but its principal function is to act as a type of glue—it’s a way of forging bonds and making connections between people.

Generally speaking I don’t listen to much music while I write—it’s too distracting.  On those rare occasions when I do have music playing as I write, it can’t have words, for the same reason.  I listened to lots of solo piano pieces – mainly Scriabin, Beethoven, and Shostakovich.  And the Bach cello suites.

We met over Twitter over a mutual interest in Maine, and you’ve said that your next novel takes place in Maine. What drew you to Maine as a setting? Have you found challenges in having a novel set in Maine?

I love Maine.  I have only been twice, but as you know, the place has me in its spell, and I cannot wait to return.  It’s so beautiful, so very different to the landlocked tedium of Missouri.  It is, without question, my favorite place that I have been in the United States.  I believe that you do yourself a favor if you write about things and places you feel passionate about (for better or worse)—that passion will come out in the words on the page.

Mainers have an independence of spirit that I appreciate.  It strikes me as being something that is a good thing to write about.

There are obviously challenges in setting a novel in a place that you don’t know especially well.  A lot of research is required.  To the extent that this involves burying my nose in a book, this isn’t such a great thing.  (And I have a lot of books about Maine.)  But if it means (and it does!) that I have to keep returning there, and that I am able to claim those trips as tax deductible expenses—well.  Definitely a good thing.

Follow on question: What are some of your favorite places you’ve been to in Maine? What are some places you’ve heard about but haven’t gotten to see or experience yet?

I enjoyed Portland, but really fell in love with Maine when I went further north.  I spent a week in a cottage just outside Ellsworth last August.  My friend and I spent most of our days in Acadia National Park, walking and climbing and drinking in the beauty of it all.  It was one of the happiest weeks of my life.  We drove up Route 1 from Portland and wanted to stop in every town we passed through.  I’d love to go back to that area and explore some more.

Please leave a comment to be entered into the drawing to receive a copy of Alex’s book A GOOD AMERICAN! (Deadline: Friday, February 24, midnight EST) The winner will be chosen at random, but I would love it if you would tell in comments a little bit about what home means to you! The contest is now closed: Congratulations Nina Badzin, you won a copy of Alex’s book!

Cheers,

Julia



* * * * * * * *

Alex George is an Englishman who lives, works, and writes in Missouri.  He studied law at Oxford University and worked for eight years as a corporate lawyer in London and Paris before moving to the United States in 2003. A GOOD AMERICAN has been named as the #1 Indiebound pick for February 2012, an amazon top ten book for February, and a Barnes & Noble Discover Pick for Spring 2012. You can connect with Alex on his website (alexgeorgebooks.com), on Twitter @alexgeorge, and on Facebook.

The Santa Box

The Santa Box: Yes, Julia, there is a Santa Claus. She exists as certainly as friendship and kindness and curiosity exist. (Paraphrase of New York Sun 1897 reply to “Virginia.”)
At the beginning of fall, I became friends on Twitter with a writer tweep in England. I can’t remember how we started chatting—how do these things happen?—but if you’re like me on Twitter, you’ll probably understand: one day a random tweet turns into a friendship. It’s one of the most mysterious yet more wonderful things about the great Twitterverse!

And sometimes out of that, if we’re lucky, we may find a true friend, and sometimes if we’re even luckier, we may find a Secret Santa!
Such it was with Abi Burlingham. We hit it off quickly, and within a few days we were exchanging daily tweets about our writing and editing, the weather and gardening, then even what we planned to make for dinner tea! (And we discovered differences….for instance, me: refried pinto beans. Her: Shepherds Pie.) At first we communicated only by Twitter, often asking one another: “What does that mean?”—because turns out British English is quite different than American English!

Then we started writing emails back and forth—which gave me an idea to write a blog about our language differences. Although we could communicate perfectly well, our words to describe things and even names for things were so different. Fascinating!

I learned about jacket spuds, dorts, bubble & squeak, fry ups, and grotty jobs. Abi learned about being “socked in,” skosh meaning small, Thanksgiving, and Blue Jays. Of course there was a lot more. Like we both learned that crisps and chips mean the same thing as do chips and fries, and that baps are rolls are cobs. Ace means excellent. And 100% is 100%. Most of all we learned that friendship transcends all these language differences.
And of course, a writer is a writer—so we read each others’ blogs and found out we have a lot in common—we both love typewriters and our families and our dogs and birds and nature. That we’re both mostly vegetarian. That we both love family traditions and surprises (like Santa Boxes).

For lunch we had homemade pizza and assorted “nom noms” from
the Santa Box, including Twiglets, crisps, and cheese twists.
Abi is very creative and an amazing writer. She loves poetry and is an accomplished children’s book writer. I cheered her on with a recent book launch, celebrated wonderful book news, but also cheered her up when she had bad writing days and “tweeted chicken soup” when she had a cold and the flu.

For me, in the middle of editing drafts of my WIP, I’ve felt so lucky to have writer friends like Abi who encourage me on down days when I wonder if I’ll ever be able to finish. Abi is also very understanding of my frequent absences from Twitter as I battle the social media dragon and balance it with the demands of the WIP. 

Origin of an Idea

One day in October, I had an idea—not sure where it really came from—that we could exchange “Secret Santa gifts.” After the weeks of talking about different foods and customs, I thought it might be fun to put together an exchange. Abi quickly agreed. And October 7th an idea was born: I would send a Santa Box of presents from the US, and she would do the same with British pressies (oh, I found out that’s what presents are called in England).

And then the fun began. On Twitter and via email, every time we talked: “Do you have such and such?” It became our standard question. “No reason,” we’d quickly add. My mental notes added up: no cheese popcorn, no Reeses peanut butter cups, no Trader Joes! Her mental notes: no smokey bacon crisps, no Curly Wurlys, no Twiglets!

November 28

I sent an email to Abi on Thanksgiving, a photo of our table, an explanation of all we cooked, an invitation to join us in a future year. Her first glimpse of Thanksgiving except what she’d seen on American television: Friends. The day before Thanksgiving she mailed her Santa Box! And a few days after Thanksgiving, I mailed mine!

Here’s Abi’s lovely painting in front of the tree where the crow
was perching when I took the photo!
In the package I included a letter explaining everything I sent—I wanted to explain why I’d picked each thing. Some food, some small gifts, a book. I wanted to give her a flavor of not just Maine but of the US, of the things I enjoyed and were important to me. I sent a gift for each of her children and even something small for her husband—something he’d remembered having when he was younger (Kool Aid!).

And then we waited. And chatted some more, of course.

December 5

When I mailed my package to Abi, the US Post Office told me it would take 5 to 7 days, and I “might be able to” track the package with the customs number. On the seventh day, I went online to check and it said the package “had been delivered.” I was so excited!

I emailed Abi who said that she had not been home so the package was left at a neighbor’s house. They weren’t home. I was in the middle of baking cookies when ten minutes later my doorbell rang, and it was my letter carrier. He had me sign a card to receive an international package! Then he went back to the truck to get the package!

When he returned, he gave me the Santa Box, and I gave him a handful of warm cookies! As soon as I closed the door, I ran to the computer, and had just received an email from Abi with the subject line: HO HO HO. And I knew that Operation Santa Box was complete. A flurry of about 7 trillion emails back and forth confirmed our extreme excitement!!

And then we waited some more! 

The Santa Box

Abi’s book GRUB’S PUPS and the cover of her upcoming book
A MYSTERY FOR MEGAN (click photo for link to Abi’s book page!)
For a while Abi’s Santa Box was the only thing under our tree. Little by little other pressies joined the cardboard box. On Christmas Eve, my college-age daughter wrapped the Santa Box in bright paper then returned it to under the tree.

Christmas morning MEH, our daughter, our son and his girlfriend, gathered around the tree and began to open gifts. One of the first things we opened was the Santa Box. It was so exciting!

The small bird hangs from a metal basket
on my desk, a lovely reminder of Abi
and my other Twitter friendships!
For one thing, it was my first chance to see Abi’s handwriting—she sent a letter too! And her books, the first I’d seen of them! When we decided to send the boxes to one another, I arranged to buy an inscribed set of her Ruby and Grub books to donate to my local public library—so happy to know that children in my town will have a chance to read Abi’s wonderful books! To my surprise, Abi also sent me as a wonderful gift a copy of her latest picture book: Grub’s Pups!
Abi also sent an assortment of “nom noms,” including Twiglets—Abi’s and her daughter’s favorite and now my son’s; cheese twists (I LOVE these!), and crisps/chips in flavors we don’t have in the US (smokey bacon and steak). Also, a lovely handwritten recipe card for Shepherds Pie—a recipe we talked about on Twitter!

Two items in the Santa Box were quite sentimental…an incredible painting Abi made of a photograph I once tweeted—a crow in the tree outside my house. I was quite moved by this as well as by a small tin bird ornament, which to me represents the origins of our friendship on Twitter.

The small bird hangs from a basket on my desk. It not only reminds me of the wonderful Santa Box, but also of my new friend “across the pond,” and of all the wonderful writer friends I’ve made on Twitter! As Abi says “It’s brill!” 


Click here to visit Abi’s blog and read all about the Santa Box I sent her!
Cheers,
Julia

Have you ever had a Secret (or not so secret!) Santa?

What’s a Writer to Do?

Unfortunately this beautiful brass bird bell from
Denmark has come to represent Twitter to me:
the big bird in the room that chimes for attention

Have you noticed how some blog posts leave you thinking: “Oh that’s nice.” Others make you think a little more. Still others you could take or leave. Then there are some, just a few, that really make you sit up and pay attention. 


In the past 10 days, I’ve read 3 posts like that. Posts that reinforce the little voice I’ve been hearing in my head, saying: I NEED HELP! Why don’t I write?


The day before yesterday, Nina Badzin posted Mixed Blessings of the Internet. Nina issued “a cry for help,” asking how we writers get our daily WIP writing done while still keeping up with social networking.

I responded (inadequately) in comments. (The truth is I had gotten about 2 hours of sleep after Hurricane Irene. Add to that, I was in a pretty down mood. I think my comment reflected it.) The gist of my answer to Nina is that I DON’T get my WIP done, or not very well. But that I keep doing it (social networking), drawn like a moth to the flame.

The second truth is that in the middle of a hurricane I was thinking about how to tweet about it—I was actually a little more worried about that than I was about not being able to cook a hot meal. (In fairness the storm had been downgraded to a Tropical Storm by the time it reached us, but still…)

Just like all writers, there are a lot of things vying for my attention!
The bird bell, of course front and center, represents Twitter and all social networking

Why do I spend my time the way I do? I started thinking about this last week when I read Post #2 that struck home: Slaying the Green-backed Dragon on Cynthia Robertson’s blog. Cynthia wondered if writers are more productive when working another job full time or when they are able to write full time on WIPs. In essence I responded that it didn’t seem to matter to my productivity level, whether I worked or not.

Right now I don’t work full or part time (about a year ago my part time job dwindled down to two or so hours a week—budget cuts). I no longer have children at home, like some of you lucky mothers. And thanks to the economy, my freelance client base has eroded away. In essence I have all the time in the world for my WIPs.

But my third truthis that my writing productivity is based more on my state of mind—how happy and relaxed I am—than on how much time I have. In fact, my most productive time, as a writer (of fiction), was when I was home full-time with two children. I wrote three middle-grade novels, one early reader, two picture books, three published essays, one nationally published short story. And the editorial feedback I got back from “good rejections” (there were plenty) was, well, good. But, note to self and readers: still no novel published.

Which brings me to Post #3, How Much Time Do We Really Need to Write, posted this morning on Natalia Sylvester’s blog. After reading Cynthia’s blog post, she experimented by dedicating an entire day to her WIP, nothing else, to see how much more productive she might be if she only had her WIP to work on—like I do.

And that, dear readers, brings me to MY problem. I have two really promising (my opinion only) WIPs: “Heavy Duty” and “Manila Folder.” One is over one-third written, the other slightly less. But I spend way too much time (more than I care to track) on Twitter and commenting on blogs.

My two WIPs AKA
“Heavy Duty” and “Manila Folder”

I rationalize: Twitter and blog commenting is necessary—it’s part of building my writer’s platform. That’s why I started. Way back six months ago when I first started, a blog post told me to.

But now something more important has happened. You tweeps are my friends: Nina, Natalia, Cynthia, and about 14 others of you that I talk to almost everyday. I wrote a guest post for Natalia a couple of months ago about this. If I’m not on Twitter as much, I’d miss you! My writing life is very solitary. I don’t go to coffee shops, I don’t have a writer’s group. I sit at my desk or at my kitchen table, (purportedly) writing.

Nonetheless, the fact remains. I need to get to work on my WIPs, drum up freelance writing business, write and submit short stories and creative nonfiction, write my blog, and—oh—live my life, maybe even clean my house. And then there’s Twitter, the big bird in the room…

But the real problem isn’t Twitter, it’s me. Why don’t I write? My two WIPs are well defined, great ideas (just my opinion, granted), but I am making much-too-painfully slow process. I honestly believe it’s not because I’m doing anything else, like blogging or Twitter, too much—it’s just that everything else takes priority. And I’m just not writing enough. So, why don’t I? What’s a writer to do?

Have you had times that you simply can’t or won’t work on your WIPs? What have you done about it?

Cheers,

Julia

1 in 140 Million

With approximately 140 million bloggers and 175 million tweeps out there, what are the odds that it’s possible to make connections? To build friendships?
When I started blogging four months ago my goal was simple: to “build a writer’s platform.” Beyond that, I expected nothing. Beyond that I knew nothing. In short, I had no idea what I was getting into….

But the truth is, I found out the real power and strength behind blogging and Twitter is in the relationships and friendships you build, like the one I have with Natalia Sylvester who writes beautifully at one of my favorite blogs: finding truth through fiction.

So today I’m happy to say that I’m guest blogging at Natalia’s blog about this very thing. How against the odds, the massive number of bloggers and tweeters out there, it’s possible to build real friendships and connections like I have with Natalia and my other Twitter and blogging friends.

Please be my guest and read my guest blog What are the Odds? at Natalia’s blog!
Cheers,
Julia

An Aegis of Peeps, Tweeps, and Bleeps!

Yesterday I had a bad day. If you read my blog, you know that. But here’s what you don’t know: in response to that bad day blog, I got amazing love and support!

One of the reasons I started blogging and tweeting was for the feeling of community. It’s a solitary life, this writing one, with usually just me and the dog. And sometimes that’s tough. Even for an introvert like me.

With some trepidation, about a month ago, I started blogging and tweeting—it’s hard to put myself out there. But I hoped for the best. And boy am I glad. You guys came through yesterday in spades: on Twitter and in comments. Much appreciated!

So this morning, in a much-improved mood (thank you so much!), when I saw the word of the day from wordsmith.org, aegis:

(noun) Protection, support, guidance, or sponsorship of a particular person or organization – A.Word.A.Day (today) from wordsmith.org

…I immediately thought of all of you. This blog is about, and for, all of you writers—my community—of bloggers and tweeters. Amazing one and all.

And while I know this may not be exactly the right way to use the word, here goes! I feel the love from the aegis of my fellow writers: my peers, peeps, tweeps, bleeps (BLogging peEEPs), one and all. And I hope you feel it from me too!

With love from wordsxo,

Julia

p.s. How has blogging and tweeting made a difference in your writing life? Do you, like me, feel like you’ve entered a community, under the protection of an aegis? I’d love to hear your stories of support, too!

Dear Blog Readers, I Need Your Help!


Dear Blog Readers,


I need your help! Are you like me? Are you a creature of habit? If so, then please read further and help me out!


Here’s the thing. I am a slave to schedule. Which can be a blessing and a curse. When things are well defined and humming along, like: wake up, make breakfast for the family, take the kids to school, go to the gym, sit down and write until lunch, have lunch. Next, write until the first after school event. Then it works out well.


But what if something new is thrown into the schedule? Especially if that something new is fairly undefined with a mind of it’s own, like a new puppy or starting a new blog? Then what?


Unfortunately I did not get a new puppy. (No more new puppies for this household—that’s a whole different blog.) But I did adopt a new blog. And it’s wreaking havoc with my schedule! Here are the new things I am trying to fit in and figure out:


1. Writing the blog. (On the surface this should not be a big deal, because I was already writing anyway, but it IS a big deal because I sweat and stress. I know “hit the publish button,” like one blog I read said. And I do, by my self-imposed deadline of noon. One day I finished by 6:45 a.m. And it was like, WOOOOHOOOO! But, still, that’s time I would’ve and should’ve been writing fiction or editing for clients or….)


2. Reading other bloggers’ blogs. This is crucial for me. For one thing, there is fascinating stuff out there! Do you have any idea how much fun it is to read about how other people (you!) write or figure out why they decide what they write. (I have my favorites, but that’s not what this blog is about either.)


3. Researching the things I want to write my blogs about. Again, crucial. My scientific/technical background requires me to be nothing if not accurate. I even researched the spot observation information I included about my mother in yesterday’s blog. Good grief. Also, I enjoy research (yes, another blog).


4. Tweeting. This is perhaps the area that I understand the least. Especially about making connections. It’s been very helpful to read Twitter Kiss and Tell and Twitter Tips: Part Two on Nina Badzin’s blog. But clearly I need to devote an entire day (at least) to really absorbing the information. (I strongly doubt this will be the topic of a future blog because Nina Badzin already covered everything….although, on the other hand, you might get a good laugh at my expense…) So, how much? How often? When, and what? I need some Tweeps!


5. Knowing when to stop. There’s just too much.


So, gentle readers (and I do want you to be gentle), what’s a writer to do? How do you fit it all in? Does it get easier, over time, to juggle the blogging with the fiction with the paying clients? What are your tricks and/or suggestions?


Thanks (in advance) for your help.


Best regards,


Julia Munroe Martin

Blogger-in-training


p.s. 7:26 a.m. EST and I’m done. Wooohooo!