Saturday, July 11, 2009


Writing Around Life

Writing around life.

That seems to be my theme here on the Muffin. But what exactly does that mean?
I don’t know about you but I don’t get much writing time in during the day. I am a Mom of four gorgeous children—all six and under and two with special needs—and that’s my main job. Somewhere in there I also study to earn the last nine credits I need for my Psychology degree, tidy the house and all of the little jobs that need doing. But I’m also a very creative person who needs time in each day to BE creative in some way or I go crazy. It’s great doing crafty things with the kids but I’m talking more about ways to express myself through my writing.

I’ve always used writing as a way to work things out, calm myself or help me to re-focus. To me writing is soothing…therapeutic. It’s something I don’t do just to earn money. For me, writing is an extension of my heart and soul that I need to tap into a little bit each day otherwise I feel like a volcano brewing to erupt. And after a crazy-insane day, I need the glorious silence and solitude. Okay…I admit those times are few and far between especially since my kids don’t sleep well but I take advantage of bits and bites throughout the day. Here are a few suggestions:

* If you have very young children, set aside a little bit of time during naptime. That means leave those dirty dishes in the sink or putting the vacuuming for a little while and take some writing time in. Even if you just give yourself half-an hour, it’s worth it!
* If your children don’t nap but still a bit young to play totally alone, take advantange of a designated “quiet time.” In our house, we usually do crafts then my kids watch Imagination Movers while they have a snack. On days when they fight their naps, I squeeze in a bit of time then.
* Take your laptop or Neo to the park with you and do a bit of work while you’re watching them play. This one is a bit more difficult for me because Sophie is only one and hates just sitting in her stroller while she sees her siblings running around the park. And she can’t play on her own yet—she stuffs anything and everything into her mouth so I have to watch her constantly. But those of you with older kids can take a it of time then.
* Stay up late to work or get up early—just don’t do both. Mamas need rest too or they can’t do their very important jobs. So, either stay up for a few hours after the kids (finally) go to sleep or get up a couple of hours before they do.
* Mary Rosenblum told me once that she used to work right in the living room with her boys playing or watching television around her. She said that the deal was if they let Mom do a chapter while they entertained themselves, she’d take them out to the park or somewhere else after she’d finished her work. What I thought was really cool was how Mary said that her writing was THEIR thing not just HERS because they needed to be a team in order for her to work and earn money with her writing. That’s a fantastic thing.
* If you get an offer for help with the kids, TAKE IT! I’m pretty bad for that, actually. Until recently I didn’t often ask for or accept help with my kids. But with my business taking off and, now, writing books too, I NEED the extra time to write.
* Let them do it with you. The most amazing thing is that Jaimie and Jordhan like to write little books of their own. So what I do is cut up a gynormous piece of paper into small book-sized pages and they write their own books—complete with illustrations—while I do my work. (One day I might compile their little stories into books because they are really quite good!) It’s fun for them and, until they start fighting over crayons, it’s nice and quiet.

These are only a few suggestions that work for us. I still have days where I get almost nothing done. But I find as my little beauties get older, and they need me a little less, I have many more productive days. One day, they won’t need me at all and I’ll have all day to write. Until that day comes—and, secretly, I hope it doesn’t happen too quickly—I’ll keep my Neo close and continue writing around life.

See you soon!


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Monday, June 02, 2008



We cannot do everything at once, but we can do something at once.
-Calvin Coolidge

The last week of school, with all of the activities, projects, and parties; a time-consuming coordinator position with the kids' swim team; a handful of writing assignments, both recurring and new. These are the factors in my currently crazed schedule. Life is good, just full.

We all have times of super-busyness, where hours and days are swallowed whole by our to-do lists. For me, I know this state is temporary, with a calmer schedule on the horizon. In the meantime, here are a few things I'm trying in the face of overwhelm:

*Picking one thing from my various responsibilities to tend to, and staying present with it. In other words, focusing on one task to completion versus a little of this and a little of that. It's satisfying to cross something off the list.

*Maintaining perspective. All is well. I'm grateful for all of the people and projects going on in my life. Instead of "too much work," I can remind myself of the opportunities and blessings that each situation provides.

*Prioritizing. Certain things have due dates, other things can be done less quickly, even though I tend to take everything (too) seriously.

*Taking breaks when I can. Even short ones to stretch after too much computer time make a difference. Letting myself stop to have lunch and do the crossword puzzle (my relaxer) allows me to face my work anew.

*Squeezing in some fun. A half hour meet-up with some friends at the local coffee shop really revives me. It also helps to have some things to look forward to, even a plan to watch a DVD with my husband later in the evening.

*Exercising. This really dissipates stress for me. Particularly outside exercise like a walk or a run. I should also include "clean eating" here, but I tend to turn to snacks and treats when I'm anxious. I know I'd have more energy if I ate right, though!

*Asking for help. Most of what I'm working on is up to me to handle. But even asking my family to give me some extra alone time so that I can get some projects done, counts as support.

There. I've crossed another thing off the list: my blog post!


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Thursday, January 17, 2008


Women as Writers: Take What's Useful...

A few months ago, I seemed to keep running into the same theme concerning women as writers: that once women start families, the vast majority of them stop writing.

I read it in Alice Walker: A Life, where she recalls one encounter with a woman she upset with her assertion that having more than one child hampers a woman's full creativity (I'm paraphrasing). Ms. Walker, of course, only had one child. The woman who reacted was bothered by the assumption, prompting her to write a letter to the author, who in turn told the woman that she should take what is useful and ignore the rest.

On one hand, I often say that same thing: take what is useful and ignore the rest. On the other hand, it does nag at me when I continue to run into the idea that women aren't allowed their full creativity when children come on the scene. When men become fathers, no one expects them to stop writing, but for women, who most often are the primary caregivers (whether they work outside of the home or not), unless she's a bestselling author, she can be expected to put her writing on the back burner.

If you've always been a writer, this can be akin to setting your dreams on the back burner, on a low fire and watching it slowly die.

Yes, it can be more difficult to find time to write when you have children, but if writing is truly your passion, what you were called to do, then it shouldn't matter if you have one child or five or ten. We all find time for what we truly value, whether it's reading, exercising or scrapbooking.

Of course, this may hit closer to home if you're a mother, but whether you have children or not, take what's useful: you're a writer, and ignore the rest: the idea that women always have to sacrifice the best of themselves.

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Friday, December 21, 2007


Ahead of Time

Last week, one of my daughters brought home a nasty stomach bug from school that brought down our family one by one. I was stuck at home for an entire week taking care of loved ones, along with a few sick days of my own. Thank goodness I had taken care of some things ahead of time.

These kinds of situations are never fun and you just have to get through them. It was a tremendous help, though, that many household tasks and holiday projects had already been started. Time spent organizing turned out to be a blessing.

Here are some ideas of things you can take care of now, in order to get through unexpected downtime that may come later:

1. Have the makings of one to two back-up meals in case you can't get to the store for a couple of days. We were fortunate to have yummy leftovers for the non-sick family members because I had made extra the evening before. You can also keep some frozen meals (made by you or bought at the grocery store), and even extra loaf of bread or in the freezer. In the pantry, cans of soup, pasta, and hot or cold cereal can provide Plan B meals.

2. If you're out shopping and you see something that would make a good gift for someone, get it right then--even if you think you could just pick it up "next time." This has been tremendously helpful for kid birthday party presents, as well as the kinds of token gifts you might give as a hostess or as a small thank you gift. If you buy greeting cards for people, you can also buy them in one outing so that you have them on hand when you’re busy.

3. If you have a regular writing assignment, such as a column or professional blog, try to have one piece that's done and ready to go for tough times. It should be an evergreen topic that could be used at any time of year. You will be so pleased that you don’t have to produce copy while nursing a fever.

4. In general, do things a little early if you can. At least, don't feel weird about it like I sometimes do. When you’re in the mood to get some of your part of a project or errand done far in advance, seize the moment. Even having detailed notes or lists that you made in advance can be a big help if you need to get back on track after unexpected downtime. A brief illness may keep you off task, but a written plan can point the way as you muddle back into the real world.

5. Get gas for your car if it's below half full and you're near a good gas station. You'll never be caught off guard with a surprise trip and less than you need in the tank. Plus a full tank is very satisfying, like a new tube of toothpaste or a fresh manicure.

6. Throw in a load of laundry practically every day if you're handling this chore for your family. This keeps you on top of things, with some clean things available even when you're unexpectedly sick or busy. We have a spare set of sheets for each bed too, which I recommend. If you take sheets off to wash them you don't necessarily have to get them done right away because there's a second set.

7. For favorite food, health and beauty products, buy or order a backup so there's always one at the ready (online shopping can help with this). Make your next appointment with your hair dresser, doctor or dentist while you're there for your current session. For writers, think about supplies and tasks you can do in advance (prepare SASE's, buy extra computer ink cartridges, request library materials, etc.)

This is not to say that you should spend your life in a constant state of preparation, to the detriment of enjoying the present. But anything you can do ahead of time, when you have the time and inclination, is worth it. One week of family illness makes that point all too clear.

-Marcia Peterson

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Saturday, September 29, 2007


Tag, You're It!

Last night I flopped down on my loveseat and stared expressionless at the television—a ritual I do at the end of a busy day to empty my brain. After a few moments of "brain-drain," commercial grabbed my interest:

A woman stood on a busy corner and waited to cross. A young man was about to run into the intersection when the woman pulled him back just as a car sped around the corner. In the next scene, the same young man helped a woman struggling with her groceries. As items started to fall out of her bag, the young man grabbed them then carried the woman's groceries to her car. In the next scene the young woman with the groceries reached out to someone else in need and so on. The commercial was for life insurance, which was revealed when the woman who saved the young man from the car dealt with her clients in the closing scene.

Now, I realize the company’s message was different from what I got out of it but I thought, “Wow. Look how far one random act of kindness extends.” It’s the same with our writing.

When we write an article or story, someone who reads it will (hopefully) be affected or inspired by our words in some way. It may even sprout other articles or stories from it. A good example is the article I wrote for WOW—Start Me Up—was inspired by my experience with starting up a freelance writing business. The goal was to give encouragement to other Writing Moms who wanted to do the same thing but weren't sure how or where to start. Another Writing Mom, Tricia Ares—a fantastic writer—emailed me to say she was inspired by my advice about “writing around life.” In fact, Tricia wrote her own article on the subject (what an honor!). I checked out her thought-provoking article and read the comments left by other Writing Moms. They thanked Tricia for her awesome article and wrote how they were inspired by her words. See the pattern?

Just like the insurance woman who saved someone’s life and Tricia Ares, the inspirational Writing Mom, we see how random acts of inspiration and kindness can extend far beyond where they're intended to go. For me, my only hope when I write a piece is that my words can reach even just one person. And if that one person is touched in some way by my experience or what I’ve shared, I’ve done my job. And all writers have this ability.

So go out there and write to inspire; to reach out; to voice out; or just to share. And see how far your words branch out.


Happy writing.


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