Thursday, June 16, 2011

Calgon, Take Me Away!

JULIA: Usually, our Jungle Red Chats are on Monday. You know why you're seeing this one on Thursday? Because I, the woman responsible for the chat, ran out of time. Here are some of the things I did in the four days before the chat was due: drove kid to summer job (twice) volunteered at the local library (twice), picked kid up from high school, hosted a swim playdate, drove kid to date (twice), working dinner with other writer, drove kid to town to hang out with friends (twice), church, brought food to party celebrating youth group. Keep in mind I live in the country, and nowhere - including the local high school - is less than 20 minutes away.

That's just the personal stuff. Then there's the professional: working on the next book, answering emails, phone call with agent, responding to speaking invitations, signing books for large print publisher, reading for blurbs, Tweeting, Facebooking and blogging.

We won't even mention the daily chores everyone has to take care of: laundry, cooking, cleaning, walking the dog, emptying the cat pan. The point is, my life feels out of control, and I can't figure out how it happened!

I was discussing this (read: whining and complaining) with my sister bloggers. "I need a personal assistant," I said. "And a nanny. Not for the kids. For me." I was amazed how quickly and enthusiastically my friends chimed in with their own tales of feeling overwhelmed. Everyone else always seemed so much more organized and accomplished than I! But on second thought, it's not that surprising. People know authors toil away with their writing, but we're also running small businesses, often with no other employee than ourselves, with all the time-sucks and headaches that entails. Plus, we're all...well...women, and there is something about being a woman that makes you open your mouth and say, "Sure. I'll bring a platter of hors d'oeuvres." "OK, I guess I can teach that seminar." "Yes, I'll show up at 7am to help set up."

Now if this were a women's magazine article, here's where we'd all chime in with clever time-savers and easy-to-follow hints that would enable us, as Hank said in her email to me, "exist without sleep or cooking." Well, sod that for a game of soldiers. Jungle Reds, what are your disasters of disorganization? Your debacles of doing-too-much? The wreckage of your running out of time?

HANK: Honestly, honestly, and I hope I'm not the only one: Sometimes I LITERALLY do not know what day of the week it is. (Is this..Tuesday? I'll ask some poor colleague. They often think I'm kidding. Fine with me, as long as they answer.) Or I'll be walking down the hall at my office..and think--where was I going? I have actually written emails to people, asking if I have already written to them.

And I so agree about agreeing to do stuff. Sure, I'll judge that contest. Sure, I'll make the main speech at our dinner meeting. I mean, it seems like such a good idea at the time. (The neighborhood had a block party last week--and I got smart.I volunteered to bring a case of beer: "Jonathan, could you go get a case of beer? And then let's bring it to the party." Which, happily (this is SO horrible to admit) got rained out so I could stay home and work without guilt.

Are we supposed to come up with solutions? Bwa ha ha. Actually, here's one. I laugh. I just--laugh. This is what we always dreamed of, right? Happy and successful and working hard and in demand. What's not to like? My BIG fear is missing an event or a deadline, so I have three calendars. But mostly, I just count my blessings. When I can remember how to count.

RHYS: I am so guilty of agreeing to do things, because I'm just a girl who can't say no. And then afterward I look at my calendar and say, "What on earth made me think that it was a good idea to agree to a luncheon speech IN DALLAS??
About ten hours of travel and two days out of my life for one luncheon speech? I don't care how good the chicken was, or that they took care of all my expenses. Time is the most valuable thing right now.

What used to bug me when my kids were in school and I was a full time writer back then with horrendous deadlines was that the room mother would call and say, "Can you bring in two dozen brownies because YOU ARE THE ONLY ONE WHO DOESN'T WORK." And other mothers would call to ask, "Can you drive my kid to the band concert because I WORK." Hello out there--writing books is work. I may do it from home but it is definitely work.

Last summer I attended my college reunion in England and one woman whom I hadn't seen since graduation asked, "So, have you ever had a proper job?" To which I replied No, but my improper job had put four kids through college, paid off our house and bought a second home. Julia, you got me started on something here, didn't you?

HALLIE: I can't imagine how you do it, Julia. I worked a regular (correction: "proper") job until my kids were grown. Nine to five imposes a rhythm on your life, and as busy as I was I rarely lost track of what day it was. Plus we live within walking distance of groceries, laundry, post office, library, and subway. Plus I was too exhausted to even consider writing.

Now that I'm writing full time, I work every day so the week has no shape. Hank, that's my nightmare, too, forgetting an event or arriving late. So I overcompensate and get everywhere ridiculously early.

DEBS: I don't even know where to begin. I live in a state of total chaos, and I don't even have the excuse of having a kid at home anymore. Actually, I wonder if I did better in those days. Maybe it was the enforced routine. I've been saying since a year or two after I started writing professionally that I needed a wife. I still say I need a wife, but one has failed to materialize. Dear Hubby does not like the job description, which includes, among other things: planning meals, doing all the shopping, cooking meals, cleaning up meals, cleaning house, running assorted errands, picking up dog poop, walking dogs, cleaning out litter box, taking care of the garden (big ha ha here). Then there's all the administrative stuff: bills, filing (a really big ha ha) answering email, social networking and all other kinds of promoting, keeping up web page, touring, travel for research. (My personal travel equation: every day spent away from home equals a day catching up. So it's not like you come home from a three week trip and get right back into the NORMAL routine.)
(Deb's actual, nothing-filed-in-the-last-year office.)

Oh, and writing a five-hundred and some odd page book a year. At least I'm supposed to do it in a year. My editor will tell you that that's yet ANOTHER big ha ha.

I have no answers, ladies. I have in the past had help in the house and the garden, which did help, but it's not in the budget this year. I've also had personal assistants, which just seemed to make me more stressed and disorganized.

I am doing two things differently this year, however. One, I'm staying home. For a whole year, except for Bouchercon. I spent February in London, and am not planning anything else until I go on tour for the new book next February. My goal, after almost sixteen years in this house, several major renovations, etc, is to get myself, my paperwork, and my routine sorted out.

And to finish my BOOK on time.

Secondly, I've taken the email link off my web page. As much as I like hearing from readers, I just couldn't keep up with it. And I couldn't deal with the really weird stuff. It's easy enough for most people these days to contact you through Facebook or Twitter, or they can write to my publisher. Letting go of that obligation has been a huge relief.

Any other tips greatly appreciated. And it's nice to know I'm not alone.

JAN: When my kids were in school I used to be crazy. Especially this time of year. In June, it was if there was a law that every activity they participated had to be celebrated with a party of some sort - which usually required baking or buying juice pops. It's as if everyone in education and sports was terrified that our children were going to be under-entertained. As if that were a big risk.

But now, life is not so crazy. Although my son did email me a couple of weeks back asking if I'd read his thesis -- which is his novel - which would determine his grade for his major, English. I said sure, then he mentioned that it was due in four days. So I dropped everything I was doing to read his novel that day. Something I'd do for no-one else on the planet. But you know - what writer wouldn't do that for his/her writer kid and with incredible satisfaction? It wrecked my schedule, but was worth it! (Note: he got an A)

ROBERTA: We don't have kids at home either, but we both work out of the house. I think it's harder when it's all your own work--there's no end to how much time you can spend on it in one day, one week, one year. And all the promotion we're drawn into doing makes it worse. Not traveling really does make a difference though--don't know how Hallie and Hank and Ro do as much as they do!

Deb, had to laugh. My desk looks a lot like yours...I let myself file and clean after I've finished a draft. That's a big mess for a long time:).

As to the personal assistant, we hired a college student to try to help us do some easy promotion jobs--she lasted a day! But wouldn't we all make excellent assistants???

ROSEMARY: And I'm the last to chime in because I just got back from my third library event in 24 hours. I can't say no to a library. a lot of things apparently. Judging, group things - and events like Mystery Day at ALA which sprang full-blown from my pointy little head.

This spring - more than once - I've awakened and thought something like, "It's Tuesday, you're in Arizona and you have two marks to hit today."

I don't think an assistant would help me (a Ross might help) because it would take longer to explain what I wanted than to do it myself. Next year I will say yes to fewer things. Of course, I said that last year too.

BTW Roberta, I stayed in Madison last night at the funky Dolly Madison Inn. Inn is actually a misnomer - it was a couple of rooms over a bar! Will definitely be in the next book.

JULIA: I feel SO much better to know I'm not the only one. How about you, dear readers? Have any tales of chaos and calamity? We may not have any idea how to help you, but I can guarantee you'll feel better for getting it off your chest!


  1. At Bouchercon last year I bought a t-shirt with that Munch painting, The Scream, and the caption "Stop Me Before I Volunteer Again!" Words to live by. (Sez she who is supposed to be running three different organizations--at least I get to be called "Regent" for one of them--and churning out two books a year.)

  2. Roberta nailed it - "wouldn't we all make excellent assistants?"

    Boy, what I wouldn't do for a clone some days. Other people (at home and work) can help me get through the mountain of must-do tasks, but I really need another me to make enough of a dent to feel ahead of the game.

    Glad to know I'm in good company.


  3. Last year I booked two events for the same day. No probs, I cancelled one and drove 80 miles to the other. Unfortunately, the librarian at the venue checked my website, saw I was supposed to be somewhere else and cancelled the event so I drove 160 miles for nothing. That was a low point.

    LOVE the midnight snowshoeing cartoon - that's so me. "Sure - I'd be delighted!" Nothing a coupla cans of Red Bull can't accomplish.

  4. Julia, where did you find that exact photo of me? Hilarious. You all make me feel MUCH better..

  5. I'm with Debs: I need a wife, because it's those tasks that get the short-shrift in our household ("Honey? Order pizza for yourself tonight.")

    I'm in the pre-release panic of "oh, but I could/should be planning and doing MORE," which I alternate with calming breaths and telling myself that I can't do everything and some will be fine. I'm disappointed to hear that once I get into the swing of things--you know, once the promotion actually *starts* rather than this waiting and anticipation--it doesn't really get any better. Then again, I shouldn't have expected it to, but hope springs eternal.

    Still, wouldn't trade the opportunity!

  6. Calgon? I don't have time for a bath! Copyedit mss arrived on my doorstep this morning. Twenty thousand words into WIP due 1 Oct. Two teens I must ferry to day camps this week at different ends of town starting/ending at different times. My brother and his two boys (6 & 8) staying with us for TWO weeks so multiply cooking, tidying, washing chores by 112 or so. Calgon ain't gonna do it . . . I need a transporter.

  7. Laura,
    you need Brenda's clone. Maybe we all need Brenda's clone.

  8. The clone thing didn't work so well for Michael Keaton in "Multiplicity," but I'm willing to give it a try!

  9. I'm not a professional writer - only poetry for my mental health. I'm a divorced woman, mother of 4, grandmother of 6 (I'm raising 2 of them) and work full time at an Episcopal Church. It has taken me a long time to sort the wheat from the chaff. Housework will wait for you; the making of memories will not. One day, before I'm too old to care, I may live alone and have my house the way I want it. In the meantime, it's work, kids, pets, marching band, photo shoots, etc. Enjoy your chaos - it won't last forever.

  10. Gayle, that's lovely. And very profound. Thank you!

  11. My a.m. mental game is to try to remember what day it is and (bonus points) what I need to do, which I check by looking at the little post-its on the vitamin dispenser, which I almost always remember to do . . . (oops, excuse me, have to go take the vitamins now).
    The iCal also has a nice little reminder option which beeps and flashes a message, on the computer and the iPod. Anything I forget with all that going on, must not have been all that important . . .
    Thanks for finding the time to write!!

  12. Just this morning a friend posted a Joel Osteen quote on Facebook, "Get this down in your spirit: God wants you to reach new levels of fulfillment, new levels of increase, new levels of promotion, new levels of victory." I almost had to take a nap after reading it.

    Next, another friend and I were discussing what "they" say one should do to be happy, healthy and a productive member of society. Get 8 hours of sleep every night, recycle, buy American, contribute to this + that cause, rotate your tires every month with an "R" in it ...

    First off, I'm perfectly content with my levels of fulfillment, increase, promotion and victory, and if I tried to do everything else that makes one a decent person, there'd be some serious freakin' unhappiness here at Sunnyside Manor.

    And seriously, does anyone actually believe that Joel "I know what God wants for you" Osteen is baking brownies, volunteering to be class parent, doing laundry, chauffeuring kids, caring for elderly parents, planning and cooking family meals or any of the other squillion daily tasks that women do, while he's busy telling us we should be doing even more? Right.

    To each of you fantastic writers, I second what someone else said, thanks for writing, and please know you're greatly appreciated!

  13. Lynda, you have my vote. Can we come up with a petition to make Joel Osteen do, not just a day, but a week, or two, or a month worth of an ordinary woman's day, and then see what very special message God has for him?

    Can I just say "Grrr."

  14. Someone once told me that such craziness can be positive - it shows what a rich life you have and how many options are available to you. I think that's true - but I know well the difficult juggling with kids, dogs, cats, writing, etc. (and in the midst of it, someone asks me "what's for dinner?").