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Distractions… *sigh*

Freshly inspired after meeting my writing idol last weekend, I wanted to sit down tonight right after I got home from work and just… write. Wednesday night is my dedicated time to write; my wife and kids are aware of this and usually leave me to it. I don’t watch TV (even though Wimbledon and the World Cup are on), I don’t play games, or fiddle with interesting new bits of software or hardware, I try not to let myself get distracted by this or that, I don’t even read (unless it’s my own writing and I need to edit).

Usually, that works out quite well.

Today, not so much. Let me count the ways….

We have a new kitten. Not long ago, one of our cats passed away and the whole family was pretty upset about it. So it didn’t take us long to decide that getting a new one would be the best thing to help us get over it. And it was – “Shadow” is a cheeky little tomcat, a “tuxedo cat” with the most awesome white moustache you can imagine (if there’s interest, I may have to post some pictures, he’s absolutely adorable). Of course, all those things you teach a cat over time, he still has to learn them, and cats don’t learn the same way dogs do. I’m loving it, seeing how the whole world (or what he knows of it so far) is one huge playground to him, but chasing him away from somewhere he’s not supposed to go every few minutes when he’s in one of his playful moods (playful, hungry, cuddly, sleepy… playful, playful, cuddly, playful, hungry, cuddly, sleepy… and so on) is very distracting.

Then there’s my job – it’s quite busy at the moment, and my contract is up in a couple of weeks, so I have to be looking around in case I don’t extend, and just as I sat down to start writing, I get a call from an IT recruiter with a potential job offer, so there goes another half hour, reading the specs he emailed, replying to them in detail, sending my resumé through.

My daughter needs to recharge her mobile phone (even kids have those nowadays… I’m still on my third one, and I’m a technophile!), and since her charger stopped working… fine, you can use mine, but no, you’re not taking it back to your room, it’s the last micro-USB cable in the house I think (plenty of mini-USB ones of course) and who knows what’ll happen if I let this one out of my sight. Almost dinner time. Knowing she’ll be hogging my cable soon, I decide to hop on to and quickly order one. No, make that two, so we’ll have a spare. They’re a dollar fifty, what’s the harm. What’s that? You need a new USB stick for school as well? Fine, that one’s a decent price, I’ll just— what do you mean, 8 gig isn’t enough?!? That’s a gazillion and a half documents! What do they make you put on these things at school? You do know you can delete stuff, right? Ah, you’re right, your brother did say he needed some simple earphones. Of course the site chooses that moment to be achingly slow, then stops responding as I’ve just confirmed my order on PayPal. Grrr….

Then it’s dinner time, and afterwards my wife was teaching my son how to play canasta, so I say, “Sure, I’ll play a round.” I’m a sucker for games of all kinds, but usually I stay strong on Wednesdays. Not this time, I guess.

So I’m back to settling in to my desk, having just arranged the blanket around me so that I can type without freezing anything off (it’s winter down under, I walked around this morning before 7 am in 2 frickin’ degrees – can’t wait for summer!), my music is playing through my earphones. Check dx, the site is back up, complete my order. Yay, time to write!

In pops my son, who’s been after me to find him some music he’s been after. Normally, I’d ask if he can wait until tomorrow, but I already did that yesterday, and he’s gone to the trouble to write up a list of songs he’s after.

A while later, I sit down again, and there’s a little nagging voice in the back of my head saying, you haven’t blogged about writing for quite some time. “Shut up,” I tell it. “Ok,” it says. But I just knows it’s a trick. Dangit. It’s still there in the back of my mind, knowing full well that I’m aware it’s there. Maybe one about trying to write and getting distracted would be as appropriate today as it is ironic. Just a quick one. (I always think that, but it never turns out that way. I’m not wired to write “just a little”.)

Ok, there you go, little naggy voice. Now bugger off.

I’m writing.

Yours Truly – A to Z: Y

Y is for me. I mean, for Yours Truly. Which is me. In other words, I’m going to be sharing a few little things about myself. It’s something I’ve mostly avoided thus far, apart from a post about my pets, an introduction, and my about me page.

If I count correctly, this will be my 50th (public) post on this blog. Yay! The A to Z Challenge has definitely helped get that count up, and in the coming weeks and months, I’m sure I’ll be posting closer to one post per week than one per day, but that way, I’ll get back some more time for what I really want to be doing, which is working on my book. Not that I don’t like blogging – I do, more than I expected I would – but the Challenge has taken up much more time than I’d anticipated. I’m not very good at just writing quick 100- or 200-word posts and leaving it at that; I tend to rave on and check my facts online more than I probably need to. I spend time looking for images that I don’t end up using (I don’t get to use images when writing my book, and while I know blogs are different, it sort of feels like cheating to insert images not my own) and getting side-tracked in facts and details.

My blog-writing is a little different from my book-writing in that I’m more informal here, but I guess that’s not unusual. Either way, I’m still a stickler for details, I hate making mistakes (so if you see any, please feel free to point them out in the comments!), although I have some strong opinions that may be very different from what seems to be the “conventional wisdom” many writers and editors follow. Some of these I’ve mentioned in my posts or in comments I’ve left on other sites; for instance, I don’t like people speaking in absolutes, or blindly following “rules” that were meant more as “don’t overuse” advice than iron-clad “you must never” laws. There are so many writers trying to find the perfect formula, and too many sites give advice that would make all their writing boring, in my opinion. Be different, be bold, be unique, just don’t fall into certain traps and overuse certain patterns that seem to raise some editors’ hackles.

About me personally? I’d still like to keep my “author persona” largely separate from my “private self”, but some things about me that make me who I am are these: I grew up in three very different cultures, speaking three different languages, moved around a lot as a “missionary kid”, had lived in three countries by the time I was one year old and moved 18 times before I was 18. Most influential were formative years that I spent in the tropical jungles of Papua New Guinea, something that has most definitely influenced my writing.

I met my wonderful and amazing wife when we were both teenagers in high school, and we have three great kids, two of them now teenagers themselves. I’m a family person above all else: above my job which I really enjoy, and even above writing, which I’ve come to enjoy so much I dream about doing it for a living (while realising that the chances of achieving that dream are frighteningly slim, even if I were the most brilliant writer on the planet – not that I’m claiming to be that). Two dogs and two cats allow us to share a beautiful house in Perth’s northern suburbs with them, though the tenancy agreement has several clawses clauses about things like feeding, grooming and walking them. I also have a great sense of humour, which even allows me to see the irony in stating that.

I think all this gives me a unique perspective on things like culture shock, racism, being an outsider, and cherishing one’s family, all of which I’m channelling into my writing. I look forward to learning more about my fellow writer-bloggers, to learning more about creating an online presence, and to being able to share the ups and downs of my writing adventure with like-minded people from all walks of life.

Truth be told, I’m also looking forward to the end of this A to Z Challenge and to being able to blog at a slower pace (so that I can spend more time writing). 😉

Xanth – A to Z: X

X is for Xanth, the land in which Piers Anthony’s series of fantasy novels is set. (And X is for Xanth because, well, X doesn’t give you that many options.) The books are mainly aimed at kids, but his fans include many adults who grew up reading and laughing at his puns. If there’s a pun in the English language that isn’t in one of Piers Anthony’s books, chances are, it’ll be in the next one. (No, seriously – people send Piers Anthony requests for puns to be included and he tries to fit them into his stories.)

The puns may be a bit excessive and far-fetched to some, but if you can put up with that, the books are full of humour and a lot of fun to read. I was recently very proud when my son, with whom we’ve been reading the first book, guessed the “big reveal” the first book, A Spell For Chameleon, was building up to.

Xanth, which looks suspiciously like Florida, is a land in which there are many species of (often pun-related) creatures as well as your typical fantasy creatures and, of course, humans. Humans in Xanth all have a unique magical talent – that is, if they don’t, they’re exiled from Xanth (into Mundania, which looks suspiciously like our normal world where magic doesn’t exist). These talents can range from the boring and mainly useless make-a-spot-on-a-wall variety to full-blown Magician-calibre talents, which are required for anyone serving as king or queen.

Books set in The Magic of Xanth usually follow the adventures of a member of the “royal family” or someone with a Magician-calibre talent, quite often being below the age of 18 and thus not yet having joined the Adult Conspiracy.

If you need something to cheer you up, or are looking for a fun introduction for kids into the fantasy genre, pick up a Piers Anthony book and enjoy.

How to make time for writing in a busy life

Having just read an interesting post by Nathan Bransford about not having to write every day, I thought I’d add my 2 cents as well. (Since we round to the nearest 5 cents in Australia, I can actually hand out 2 cents to all writers without beggaring myself in the process. I don’t do foreign exchange, though, sorry.)

Nathan advises writers to do “whatever works for you”, and here’s what’s worked really well for me when I really wanted to complete the manuscript I’d been working on for about ten years while still working full-time.

Designate a “Creative Day”

Originally, the idea behind it was to get the kids to stop relying on electronic devices so much. They seemed to believe they had the right to watch a movie every day, plus get their “half an hour of video game time” (that’s our limit, but the tricksy little hobbitses got around it by watching each other’s half an hour… grrr!), plus use the PC for homework. Ok, we can’t get around that last one, but the others are already too much in some parents’ books.

Thus we decided that we’d have a day where they couldn’t watch TV or a DVD, or play games on handhelds or consoles or computers or tablets or phones or whatever else there is. They had to do something… creative. Like craft something, paint or draw something, build something with Lego or the like, play with their toys, play board games (just like the grandpa in The Princess Bride says, “When I was your age, television was called books,” we told the kids, “When we were your age, MMOs were called board games…” – but no, I wasn’t into D&D). Even reading is fine (imagining things is creative, right?).

The unexpected side-effect of this was that we, the parents, couldn’t really be couch potatoes while the kids were being creative. Using the “PC for homework” analogy, I convinced them that I should be allowed to sit in front of my computer after work and write.

Wednesdays worked best for us, and I was lucky enough to be able to arrange it so that I could stop working a bit earlier on Wednesdays and use the remainder of the afternoon and most of the evening to write until my fingers bled. Figuratively, not literally.

Between Creative Day every Wednesday and the time I took to write on the weekends, I made an amazing amount of progress and wrote more in the last year of working on that manuscript than I did in the nine years before that. (More details on my progress/failure/revamp there in an earlier post, The Road So Far.)

What works for you?

This might not be everyone’s cup of tea, but if you find you’re having a hard time squeezing in some quality writing time between work, family, and other hobbies, perhaps this can help you as it helped me. If you’re lucky enough to be able to afford writing full-time, I’m sure you’ll recall a time when you struggled to find the time. If you can squeeze in an hour or so every day, brilliant, do that. Whatever works for you, just make sure you keep on writing!

Feel free to share your tips and tell me what works for you in the comments, or blog about it yourself and let me know where to read about it.