10 Ways for an ADD Writer to be OOH! SHINY!…Productive

1. I love this list.
2. I need more mean writer friends.
3. “The world doesn’t reward perfectionists; it rewards finishers.” This needs to be tattooed somewhere across my forearm so that I can see it every time I reach my hands out to write.
Thank you, Kristen Lamb.

Kristen Lamb's Blog

Other writers frequently ask how I somehow manage to get a lot of stuff done, despite my having the attention span of a fruit fly…with a bad crack habit. Here are 10 ways to help you be productive even if OOH! SHINY!

…even if you tend to be a tad ADD. The following tips are what help ME stay focused. I am NOT a doctor or psychologist or ADD expert. I’m a Jedi master, warp engine inspector, and WRITER so you get what you get.

1. Make lists.

I get distracted easily, so a list reminds me of what I need to get accomplished. I make separate lists—housework, fiction, non-fiction, business stuff, global domination using sea monkeys. Then, once I have the list, I do the hardest thing on my writing and business lists FIRST (housework can WAIT).

Like Covey says, Never mistake the urgent for the important.

2. Understand…

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Better When It Hurts?

The online NaNoWriMo writing support group that I belong to has lately been discussing character death, which leads naturally to a discussion of character pain.  I can’t speak for my peers, but for me it’s character pain that fuels a story.  It doesn’t matter if it is obvious and devastating or just runs through the life of the story like a single thread that shouldn’t be strong enough to hold everything together, but does.  Tug on it and the character unravels.

Character death is sometimes necessary to the end goals of the story.  Character pain to me is so much more interesting.  As a reader, I mourn the characters that I love, sometimes violently.  More than one book has been thrown across a room.  But when I pick up the story again, ready to move on, my heart turns immediately to the survivors.  How will they cope?  How will they change?  How will they digest a pain that is bigger than they are?

I think that pain fascinates me so much because I’ve hovered on that brink and been pulled back at the last minute so many times.  It is often said that those who have children must learn to live with portions of their heart walking around in the world, naked and unprotected.  It isn’t surprising, then, that some of my most formative experiences with near loss involve my children, even from the very start of their lives.

My first child’s heartbeat dropped during labor and refused to rise again.  My perfect planned natural birth turned into an emergency caesarean.  I was so terrified at the potential loss of my son when they put me under for the surgery that I woke fighting, pulling tubes from my body and lashing out until they put me back under again. When I finally woke, having lost an entire day, and they settled my son in my arms, I got in trouble with the nurse for unwrapping him.  I needed to see his perfect body, to understand all that had been avoided.  I took my first step away from the brink.

My last child, according to my obstetrician, should never have been born at all.  At 20 weeks, my water broke.  There was no way our long-awaited daughter would survive a delivery.  The doctor told us our options, her dry dissertation of what would happen if we opted not to deliver as unacceptable to us at that moment as her youth.  At the low levels of amniotic fluid in my womb, she told us, our daughter would suffer leg deformity, brain and lung dysfunction, and more.  When we rejected delivery, she seemed genuinely put out.  She dismissed me, scrawling out two prescriptions for antibiotics that might keep infection at bay and my daughter safely growing to viability for three more weeks.  Instead, by some miracle, during the weeks of total bed rest and tears and frustration and prayers, my amniotic sac healed itself.  The fluid replenished.  And she was carried, safe and healthy, nearly to term.  We got to step away from the edge of loss yet again to raise a little spitfire who still does things her own way.

It is the middle child, however, who taught us the most about that living on that edge and appreciating the life that comes afterwards.  I fell at 27 1/2 weeks and suffered a total placental abruption.  I was so sick that I wasn’t permitted to see my fragile two-pound son for a week after his birth.  When they finally wheeled me to the NICU, my husband whispered in my ear again what to expect as I worked through the ceremonial cleansing — leaning my painful belly against the sink while I scrubbed my skin clean, pulled on the mint green plastic gown, donned the thin paper hat with the elastic that slid across my damp skin in the room kept over-heated for the sick infants. No words of warning or medical ritual could have prepared me for his thin, shiny red body, tubes snaking in through his umbilicus, through his arm to his heart, through his nose to his belly, through his mouth to his lungs.  I didn’t process what I saw.  I couldn’t deal with the knowledge that my precious sick child was no longer growing safe within my belly, and that all of these beeping, humming machines were keeping him alive.  I focused on the small, physical details that I could manage like little bites of horror.  Why were his ears folded over?  (No firm cartilage had grown yet.)  What was the line on his lower spine?  (No, it’s not a spinal deformity, Mrs. Lang.  The line is his bottom — he just doesn’t have any fat to form little cheeks yet.)  What are those buds on his fingers?  (That’s where his nails will grow from.)

We teetered on the edge of loss, immersed in pain, for two and half months.  Finally, all of the little victories added up, and we were able to bring him home.  We stepped away from that edge, even if only until the next hospitalization.  And that crystalline moment when we loaded him, oxygen tank in tow, into our car for the drive home, my small hand spread across his body from chin to pelvis, was joy and terror intertwined.  I huddled next to his car seat, hissing every time a car passed us.  Too fast!  Slow down!  And once safely home, we curled up inside our house together as if we would never leave it again.  The perfection of moving from that unstable, slippery edge to solid ground with our son in our arms was enough to sustain us for a long time.

There was more in store for us, of course.  There always is.  But for my purposes today, this is enough.  Because the point is that as writers, we mine those moments of our lives, or the lives of friends, or the lives of strangers across the world brought to us via the news or the internet.  Sometimes we use the details.  Sometimes it is the emotions that we remember or imagine.  We set our characters to teeter on the boundary between life and loss that we have witnessed or lived.  We know that each time we feel the devastation of loss, the potential to be drawn over the edge and to fall down into a depth from which we cannot rise, we gain things, too, depending upon who we are.  Rage.  Fear.  Anxiety.  Empathy.  Wisdom.  Peace.  If we are very lucky, grace.  We may swoop away victorious and alive, but we are not unchanged.  The change is what forms the story of our lives.  And our characters are the same.  Of course they are.  Even a vengeful, fiery swamp monster with pebbled skin and a bad attitude is a reflection of some part of all of us.

So throw the book across the room, even if you’re the author.  Mourn your favorite character.  Sulk if it helps.  But come back to the story.  Because there is more to see.  No matter how thrilling or devastating the edge or the drop was, there are characters crawling away from that chasm.  And how they feel about it is where the story lives.

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Music to Write By

I took a break from writing this morning to do some impromptu research online.  (In case you ever need to know, the Keresan word for ‘man’ is ‘hachtzeh’.  Keresan is the name for the group of related languages spoken by the Native American tribes of South/Central New Mexico.  And now we both know.)

Of course, research turned into meandering across the endless wonders of the interwebs.  Normally, I end up very irritated with myself for the waste of time.  Not so today.

Today I somehow ended up following a link to an artist I’d never heard of – Marian Call.  I clicked purely out of curiosity because Call is my maiden name.  No idea if we are relatives.  But I DO know that Ms. Call is one talented lady.  I have been grooving along to her music all morning now, writing up a storm.  Thank you, Marian.  Your music is amazing.

And because music is like wine, best enjoyed with company, I am sharing it with you.  This particular vintage is rich, bubbly and tastes like happiness.  Cheers!

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Learning to Live

It has been an amazing week.  We ditched the house — where the heat had pretty  much kept us confined to quarters — and headed out for White Sands National Monument and Carlsbad Caverns with only a day to rest in between.  The kids had an amazing time (as expected).  And so did I (not so much).

And the fact that those two are separated bears some explaining.  You see, a little more than a year ago, I was diagnosed with Rheumatoid Arthritis.  For most of you, that’s just a couple of words.  It doesn’t carry the heavy weight of dread that those dealing with chronic pain understand, whether the pain is from Fibromyalgia, MS or RA.  The dread is born of the fact that disorders that cause chronic pain do not just affect the body, they affect the mind.  The pain is debilitating.  The fear of pain is almost worse.

There is something uniquely terrifying about knowing that your body is betraying you.  After that first attack, when all you know is pain and inflammation without understanding what is happening, and after the frustration that lasts however long it takes to get a diagnosis (and if you are a woman, this can be a very, very long time), comes an understanding.  You start to anticipate the attacks, or flares.  Swelling.  A mild ache.  The little nagging feeling of being unwell.  Once you notice, the dread floods in and it is as incapacitating as the pain that you know will follow.  Oh.  Right.  So here it comes.  I have a day maybe to get get stuff done before I’m bedridden.  The fear eats away at the core of who you are faster than the pain.

Because the fear will cause you to stop living your life.  Oh, you think, okay.  Going out in the weather causes a flare?  I won’t go out, then.  Overdoing it with physical activity leaves me curled up in bed the next day, staring into space senselessly because it hurts too much to cry?  Well, then, I’ll avoid physical activity. 

Trying to explain the pain so that the person I love most in the world will understand that I don’t want to be like this makes him sigh with exasperation because no healthy person can understand?  I’ll just swallow the words, then, until the resentment grows wild like a bramble and its thorns puncture new wounds into me or him or us.

Bit by bit, the fear leaves the joy you felt in the things you loved – being out in the world, exploring, even your relationships – pitted and corroded. 

This week, I took them all back and shined them up.  I took my children out to sled down tall, shining dunes of white gypsum.  I climbed up the shifting hillsides with them, toes and ankles flexing for a grip.  And my mind said, You know you’ll pay for this later?  I told her to shut up and planted my fanny on that disk sled for a ride down the hill to the hoots, laughter and delighted squeals of my children.  Whatever comes next will be worth it, I told myself.  And it was.

The next evening, aching and tired, the invitation came for Carlsbad Caverns.  My thinking (fearing) brain told me it wouldn’t be smart — two to three hours of strenuous walking down a wet, slick trail into a cave on irritated joints?  Not a good idea.  But the me whose imagination was fired every time she made that descent when she was younger?  The me whose younger children have never heard the singing of the cave swallows darting above as they walked out of the light into twilight and then into darkness and the soft dripping of living rocks?  That me said, Oh, hell yeah.

So we went.  And it was wonderful.   Take that, RA!  I crowed. 

That bitch is laughing in my face this morning.  The pain is terrible.  I want nothing more than to curl in bed, a ball of misery to lock the world out until I can function again in a day or a week or however long she decides to torment me.  But I won’t.  Not this time.  The memory of this week is still fresh and real, and it is stronger than the pain.   I’ll hobble around, hurting, dealing with it.  I won’t be myself.  No.  But I won’t be that temporary invalid, either.  Not this time.

I think I’m finally learning to live with this disease.  It isn’t about avoiding the life I love so that I can spare myself pain.  It’s about using that life to keep the pain at bay when it inevitably claws its way out of my body to drag me down.   I know I won’t always win this battle over pain and fear.  But today I’m wearing the new memories I made with my children like armor.  And this time, I’m winning.

Take that, RA.

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Hello! Wake up! It’s Morning (and I’d Like to Eat Now).

Don’t you love it when your day starts with a BANG??

One of these two is a troublemaker.  The other is a snitch.  Care to guess which is which?Image

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The children and I have settled into a lovely morning routine.  I wake up at six a.m., get in two blissfully quiet hours of writing, and then cruise back to bed around eight to doze, just as the husband is leaving for work.  At that point, the children are beginning to stir.  They’ll either quietly play for an hour, or (my personal favorite) they’ll crawl in bed with me for giggles and snuggles until hunger drives us all from the bedroom to the kitchen.

This morning was a “play quietly” kind of morning.  Well, it was until someone decided to climb on top of the refrigerator where a lovely tall green vase lived.  And yes, it still lived with an enormous dessicated Mother’s Day bouquet.  Don’t judge.  As far as I’m concerned, if my kids have clean skin, clean clothes, clean eating surfaces, and know that they’re loved, I’m calling myself a good mother.

So I am snoozing lightly, one ear trained to the great room where I can hear the faint sounds of “Wonder Pets” and my daughter’s voice singing along mingling with the background music of Minecraft.  And then suddenly there is an explosive crash, followed by the tinkling of glass and my children screaming.

Holy Adrenaline Spike, Batman!  I’m not even sure how I got to the kitchen — I think I may have teleported.  But there I stood, at shattered glass ground center.  Green glass in various jagged sizes and tiny bits of dried flower petals had exploded outwards from the kitchen, into the dining area and across the living area, coating the tiled floor and all three carpets in the room.

The children, clever darlings that they are, had frozen in place to protect their bare feet (My husband can claim the Polish blonde hair and pale skin.  Those clever little Puerto Rican brains are all me.  Ha!).  Zach looked around the room, shocked at the green glass devastation and said, “I have no idea what just happened….”  Vivi stood in the middle of the living room carpet and told me with a shrug, “I was dancin’!”

Freya, our Aussie shepherd mix,  sat up in the middle of it all, doing her best “Boy, do I have something to tell you, Mom!” impatient shuffle with her front paws.  Those little brown eyes were all but singing for my attention.  Luna the cat was cowering in a corner of the kitchen, tail curled around herself.  When my eyes fell upon her, she sat up and started cleaning her back foot as if she hadn’t a care in the world.  Yeah.  Right.

Freya was having none of that.  She huffed and waved a paw at me, then trotted into the kitchen and shoved her enormous black muppet nose under the cat’s belly and knocked Luna off her unconcerned cat butt.  And then, duty done, she continued on to the animal dishes waiting  at the end of the counter and flipped her bowl at me.

“Look, as long as your up dealing with the cat’s mess, could you fill this up, please?”

It’s a good thing they’re all so cute.  I’m pretty sure it’s nature’s way of keeping them all alive.

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Sometimes the Big Picture is Just Too Big

It’s been a pretty exhausting couple of days.  And for once I’m not talking about me or the progress of my book (although that may well be why I am so cranky).  There have been some pretty big events happening across this country.  People on all sides are just a wee bit fired up.  You may have heard of a few of them?

Paula Deen’s racist past (or present, depending on who you are).

Wendy Davis’ filibuster of Texas SB 5.

The SCOTUS striking down DOMA.

It’s a pretty great cross-section of all the stuff that everyone can’t stop talking about and that no one wants to hear about (well, from anybody else).  We’re always a little shocked by the private views of people we call “friend.”  Right?  I mean, these issues…racism, abortion, gay rights…they provide the biggest of big pictures about who we are and what we believe.  Do we find racism any any form abhorrent, or are we secretly (or not so secretly) convinced that “our people,” whoever they may be, are superior to others?  Do we believe in a woman’s right to elect an abortion, or are we convinced that abortion is murder?  Do we believe in the rights of people of any sexual orientation to marry, or do we believe marriage is a religious institution reserved for a man and a woman?  And of course, there are a myriad of smaller issues about tolerance and religion that feed into these big three standing front and center on our national stage.

Where do I stand?  If you care, I’m pretty much all over the place.  I live a fairly conservative life, but that’s by choice.  And that’s where those slippery liberal ideals come in.  You see, I’m half Puerto Rican.  Which is exactly too Hispanic to be considered white by some people, and too white to be considered Hispanic by others.  I’ve also been advised not once, but twice, to have an abortion — once for social reasons and the other for medical (both my own and my 20-week old fetus daughter).  I declined both times.  And I am married to my high school sweetheart after rediscovering him 17 years after we parted.  My experiences have shaped my ideals: the small humiliations of being different, the knowledge that I personally wouldn’t choose to abort and would not tolerate someone insisting I should (It happened. It didn’t go well for her.), and the experience of being happily married for eight years and knowing that not once in those eight years has the sanctity or stability of my marriage been affected by that of anyone else, straight or gay.  I CHOOSE to live conservatively.  The fact that I believe life is a series of choices — choices that everyone should have the ability to make — sets me apart.

So, what do YOU think?

Actually, I don’t care.

I don’t.  But before you get your panties in a twist, hear me out.  If you were to have a peek at my wide circle of friends and acquaintances, you would see people representative of every possible section of the above issues, from the ultra-liberal to the ultra-conservative.  I am seeing posts on my Facebook feed that make my brain feel like a ping-pong ball.  I like some of the comments.  I am saddened by others.  But regardless of where anyone stands, there is one thing about them all that I love, the one thing that all of them have in common:  they are all passionate people.

That’s good.  And it’s bad.  Passion is what drives us, shapes us, moves us to act.  But given free reign without contemplation of where our passions are born and what forces have shaped THEM, our passions can destroy us.  They can destroy friendships.  I happen to know this first hand.  Believe it or not, I haven’t always been calm and measured and determined to see all sides — okay, even I can’t keep a straight face.  (Don’t pay attention to the hyena laughter.  It’s just my family, having a little fun.)

Seriously, now, most who know me know that I have a temper.  And a long and colorful history of being ruled by my passions.  I have a long history of shitty decisions made in the heat of the moment, and there is more than one person whom I cannot think about without an ache because we will never be close again.  But that’s exactly why I want to tell people, “Whoa!  Calm down now!”  Because no matter how passionately we feel about those big issues, if we are ruled by them, or if we elect to surround ourselves only with people who agree with our position on them, we are the ultimate losers.  Life isn’t about those big pictures.  It’s just not.  And none of us lives in a vacuum of people who think like us, no matter how hard we may try to keep the rest of the world at bay.

I know that there are people reading this who are offended beyond measure that I’ve said this.  I have friends who are gay and just want to be free to live their lives.  They’re hurt and angry and tired of being patient.  I have friends who are conservative Christians, whose every decision is shaped by their faith, and they are alternately fearful for and disgusted by those who choose another way.  I have friends who have experienced all of the good and ill that come with being born with a vagina — rape culture; acceptance or rejection of abortion; fiscal, social and medical marginalization.  And I have friends who fall wonderfully all along that spectrum.  I have some, like me, who do their best to defy categorization altogether.

And that, to me, is what it’s all about.  The world looks like it’s ruled by those big pictures.  But like a photo mosaic, the big picture is made up of millions of tiny pictures — people, with hopes and dreams and loves and disappointments.  And the people who fall on the opposite side of the spectrum from you are not evil or delusional or out to get you.  They’re just people, trying to live their own lives.  Most of the time, they’re not even paying you any attention.  Maybe if we all made a little effort to refocus our eyes to see the tiny pictures, and the wealth of lives and experiences that make them up, we could learn to cope with the differences that are innate parts of those big pictures just a little better.

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Courage

Courage doesn’t always roar. Sometimes courage is the little voice at the end of the day that says I’ll try again tomorrow.

— Mary Anne Radmacher

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