Monthly Archives: March 2011

Only Child looks at procrastination in writing

Only Child ready to write that book proposal

A reader of this blog, Tara Benwell, who just published her novel came up with an interesting motivator to get her novel to press. Until she accomplished this, she vowed she wouldn’t buy any new socks. Which got me thinking about my memoir. I  have finished writing it but getting the query and the accompanying book proposal to a literary agent is my stumbling block. Maybe I’m spoiled because the first agent and the first publisher to express interest wanted to skip the preliminaries and look at the whole manuscript. Although both rejected my book, they had some positive feedback (which I acted on). Now, I’m heading into unknown literary agent territory and non-fiction books require a book proposal. I seem to be taking too much time to complete the book proposal. And therein may lie the problem which we writers have – finding the time to actually write. Although I’m not going to give up buying socks until the job is done, Tara got me going. What are the bugaboos that can get in the way of writers finishing writing that novel, memoir, synopsis or book proposal?  Here are some I’ve come across and possible ways to tackle them.

1. Too busy doing what others want instead of writing your book. This can include too many family demands, and a bane of freelance writers and editors (guilty here) – bowing to client demands that go beyond the parameters of the job and your contract/agreement with the client.

2. Social media overload (guilty here but with e-mail and surprise, surprise, business, not personal, e-mail). Social media is necessary to do business these days but you need to pick and choose what best suits your career/business marketing strategy. And on the personal side – how much time spent tweeting or texting could you use writing?

3. Downright procrastination – no matter what you are doing instead of writing. (guilty here.) First you need to acknowledge it – say out loud “My name is —– and I am a procrastinator.” Then look at why. Are you scared if you finish that novel, memoir, etc. it won’t be good enough? Try putting the editor in your head to sleep when you are writing. Editing/rewriting can come later. Or do you get writer’s block when you stare at that blank computer screen? Try freefall writing on any subject, word, even a sound to loosen up. Or go for a walk, take a shower, or pull weeds in the garden (if spring ever arrives). All can get you thinking about ideas.

4. Keep a time log or diary of everything you do from when you get up to when you go to bed. Do this for a week and see what your time-wasters are.

5. This one is important enough to put as a separate point. Pick a time and day (evenings, nights, early mornings, weekends, weekdays) when you could actually sit down and write. Don’t pick early mornings if you are a night owl. Write it down – in your “to do” list, in your Blackberry – wherever you keep track of your day’s schedule. You will be deleting some of your time-wasters – at least for some of the time. Think of it as making the best choice for you. For example, you  give up texting your friends for hours Monday and Wednesday evenings for writing a couple more chapters in your book. Which brings me to my final point.

5. Let your family, friends, clients, etc. know what you are doing. And tell them diplomatically. Remind the client about the work parameters. Tell your friends and family you aren’t ditching them, just re-organizing your time because you are writing a book but you will still spend time with them. Note: for family chores: can your partner pick up the kids from soccer practice sometimes? Or if you’re a single parent, can you arrange with other soccer parents to take turns? How about getting your children to do a few household chores (increase their allowance if necessary). You might want to consider hiring a cleaning person once or twice a month if your budget can afford it. Think creatively beyond that box you are stuck in.

As for me, I’m cutting back on business e-mail time and adding in “finish book proposal” – it is started – to more days each week.

But I won’t give up my coffee and ice cream.

Read Tara Benwell’s blog post at http://www.tarabenwell.com/Tara_Benwell/Blog/Entries/2011/3/25_And_then_there_were_socks.html.

Cheers.

Sharon

Only Child Writes

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Filed under Book Proposals, Only child, Only child memoir, Procrastination, Time management, Writers Block

Only Child looks at aging parents

Only Child's late Dad and Mom

My friends across the street had to rush her dad to the hospital again, the third time in as many months. Her dad is 87. My dad died at 66, my mom at 63. So I have no aging parents to look after but I have no living parents. Which is the better life scenario?

One thing I’ve found with any person I know – relative, acquaintance – anytime after age 82, you can go from living a good life (substitute “meaningful”, “productive,” whatever you want) to a life of hell – for you and your family. If you’re lucky, you make it into your early 90s before entering old-age hell. Oh sure, there are a few exceptions – you see them and read about them in the news – so-and-so is celebrating his or her 100th/103rd birthday. And they are relatively well physically and they still have active functioning minds. To them I say, “Great. You are very lucky.” But most of the elderly-elderly have to deal with some or all of the following: heart disease, aftermath of strokes, diabetes, extreme arthritis (including osteoarthritis of the knees and hips), blindness, cancer, and perhaps the worst of all – dementia.

It’s hard on the elderly person and it is hard on his or her family. I find myself flipping from both sides as to which has it worst. Sometimes I’m almost glad my parents died in their 60s (when I was 22 and 16) and then I want to shake myself because they aren’t here anymore (except in spirit and memory). I also have to remind myself that dying in their 60s didn’t guarantee them freedom from debilitating diseases. Most of you know my dad died from cancer, but it wasn’t sudden.  He had flare-ups of cancer off and on for almost seven years before he finally got out of his misery.

Mom’s situation was something else. After Dad died she fell apart and her health showed it. Suddenly arthritis flared up – rheumatoid arthritis in her hands and feet and scleroderma. She had to quit work because of these crippling diseases  when she was in her late 50s.  Both may have led to her death – she fell a couple of times and scleroderma makes the face so taut it can lead to pulmonary or cardiac complications and death. Mom “officially” died from a brain aneurysm.

Both deaths leave me ambivalent about when to die. With Dad I had a chance to say “goodbye,” but not with Mom. Her aneurysm came suddenly and when I found her unconscious in her bed I didn’t grasp the seriousness – perhaps out of panic. Despite surgery, she died five days later. During those five days while she was in a coma, in the “wisdom” of my 22 years, I grappled with “What if she comes out of it a vegetable? I can’t cope.” In my memoir in the  “Suddenly” chapter, I write

Where did going to church get her? Lying comatose while surgeons dig around in her skull to stop the swelling and maybe, just maybe, get her to wake up. I try to read one of the nameless consumer magazines piled on an end table, but my attention span is lower than that of an addict on speed.

If you let her just wake up and be okay, able to get around, I’ll… I’ll… I try to bargain with God.

You’ll what, Sharon? You don’t want to be a nursemaid. You’re 22 and that’s not happily ever after.

No, God, conscience, whatever, that’s not really it. If I’d have woken up earlier and caught her when she drifted off, if I’d acted sooner, if I’d called an ambulance immediately and got her into the hospital right away after I got up and found her. . .

If…If…if…if “guilt” were one of the seven deadly sins, I’d score a 100 plus on it.

(Excerpted from You Can Go Home – Deconstructing the Demons, copyright 2011 Sharon Crawford).

And guilt often plays a big part in the sons and daughters of elderly parents. Do I put Mom or Dad in a nursing home? Do I look after them myself? Do I?  What is the right thing to do – for both Mom and Dad and me (including spouse and children)?

Seems there is no right answer. Well, maybe if we lived in relatively good health until 90 and then our bodies just died during the night. But that’s sci-fi. With people living longer now (men 78.0 years and women 82.7 years average. (2005 Statistics Canada Mortality Report  http://www.statcan.gc.ca/pub/91-209-x/2004000/rprt-eng.htm#a3) and the rising number here (read “baby boomers”) the situation is in crisis. Sure, governments should provide more assisted-at-home living as well as more nursing homes. But these things cost one way or the other.

It’s Catch-22. I don’t have answers. Any ideas from my readers? Please comment.

Cheers.

Sharon

Only Child Writes

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Filed under Death and Dying, Eldercare, Elderly parents, Family, Health Seniors, Heart Disease, Only child, Seniors

Only Child looks at research in writing a memoir

Two of Only Child's many cousins. The one on the right is the Canadian family genealogist.

The upcoming Memoir Writing Workshop I’m teaching for another Toronto Public Library branch is filling up fast. That tells me memoirs are still high on the trend list. A Google search of  “Memoir Books 2006 to 2011” produced a hit list of 5,300,000.  This continuing popularity gives me hope about getting my own memoir You Can Go Home – Deconstructing the Demons published.

What about memoir writing itself? I’ve covered some ideas on what to write in previous posts (See https://onlychildwrites.wordpress.com/2010/05/). But writing a memoir isn’t just mining from your memories. Research is involved and sometimes where to begin can overwhelm you. Do I go through all those unsorted family photographs? Do I have to become a genealogy expert? Should I talk to family members? Do I…?

Hold it right there. Before you do your version of a chicken-with-no-head, focus. Make sure you have narrowed down what you want to write about in your memoir. Subject matter will determine research. If you’re writing about an area of your childhood and/or your parents, you might want to talk to family members to get the bigger picture. Maybe someone in your family is doing the family genealogy. On my mother’s side of the family, two family members – one close (as in relationship and in distance) and one in another country are researching family history.  Neither knew about the other until another cousin met the United States-based one and connected him to the Canadian one. This connection brought out one point. The Canadian cousin was researching both the Strauss and Schefter sides of my mom’s family. The US distant cousin was researching only the Schefters. On my dad’s side of the family, a cousin once removed (I hate that expression; sounds like the person was kicked out of the family) is doing a bit of research. If I hadn’t talked to several cousins (Although I have no brothers and sisters, I am blessed with many, many cousins) I would have been blindly going where no one has to go. (Sorry, Star Trek fans. I’m one, too).

As I seem to be wearing my teacher’s hat today, let me list some of the things you can do when researching for your memoir.

a)     Sort through old photos, diaries, letters, etc. for what is relevant.

b)    Read the diaries and letters you keep out. Make some notes.

c)     Talk to relatives (the older the better), especially the family genealogist. Bring a notebook, digital recorder or laptop to take notes. Or communicate via Skype and webcam, Facebook or e-mail.

d)    Talk to people with the same last name (yours and your mother’s maiden name in particular) even if you don’t think you are related.

e)     Look at the photos and see what stories they trigger about the family and friends in them. Bring photos when talking with relatives, preferably someone in the photo(s). Or post them on Facebook or on Flickr for online checking with family members.

f)      Visit the cemetery or cemeteries where your dead relatives (including those ancestors) are buried.

g)     Look at photos of the house where you grew up and see what stories that triggers.

h)    Revisit the “scene of the crime” that old house. See if you can get an appointment with the current owners. Compare house stories.

i)       Library – (Disclaimer: I am not a librarian – ask a librarian for more info on what to look for) Some things you can use here – books on areas you want to cover. Digital and micro-fiche records of old newspapers which might have stories about your family, and the time period you are writing about. Your memory isn’t 100 per cent.  If you have a library card, you can access digital files of newspapers from your home computer. Micro-fiche records of the ownership history of the house you grew up in, or at least the lot number may also be available at your library.

k)    If you must do some genealogical research, try: http://www.genealogy.com/index_n.html and Church of Latter Day Saints  (new site) https://www.familysearch.org/ which links to (old site) http://www.familysearch.org/eng/

Those are just for starters.

And for those in the Toronto, Ontario, Canada area (shameless self-promo here) I will be teaching that Memoir Writing workshop at the Bloor/Gladstone branch of the Toronto Public Library, 6.30 p.m. March 31. Check out my website http://www.samcraw.com and/or the Toronto Public Library http://www.tpl.ca.

Cheers.

Sharon

Only Child Writes

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Filed under Cousins, Family, Genealogy, Memoir writing, Only child, Only child memoir, Research memoir writing, Teaching, Writing workshops

Only child takes another whack at trust

Only child contemplates water and trust - from main floor

I must have hit a common issue with last week’s post on water and trust – going by all the hits. And thanks to all who read my posting.

The water-trust saga continues. Lots more water did get in on the Saturday and I am so grateful for the help I had from my friends next door. Tanya mopped up while I was at a workshop I had to be at – my East End Writers’ Group was sponsoring it. I took over the mopping up with towels and mats when I returned…and continued with towel changes every hour or so until 1 a.m. when I finally went to bed.  It took until late Sunday until all  had completely dried on the leaky side. Total estimated water in my basement room equals at least eight pails full. The suggestion for protection from my masonry guy obviously didn’t work. He has another temporary fix – if he gets here today to do it – he’s postponed the day/time twice already. We have more rain coming tomorrow and Thursday and still the ground is frozen and the big fix can’t be done – the big excavation on that far side of the house and sealant put on that wall all the way down to the bottom. And of course, I will go deeper in debt to pay for this.

So, where does trust come in? I think it is really learning to trust in yourself and a few close family and friends who have proven they can be trusted. All the “putting it out there” and praying for help in the world doesn’t seem to work – at least for me. You have to be more proactive and make it happen – or in my case, not happen, or at least try. How you do this is up to you – each individual situation is different – based on who you are, what life has shoved at you, etc. For me it is accepting that I will need that excavation done and going into more debt. Also taking another look at my budget. I am big on budgeting, thanks to my late mother’s legacy.As I write in my memoir:

Late at night, long after my parents think I’m off in the land of nod, they discuss the family finances. Their loud whispers seep under closed hallway and bedroom doors.

“But we can’t afford that,” Mom says.

“We need . . .” Dad’s voice seems to hit the hallway door.

I throw off my bedcovers, sit up and strain to listen. I never get a clear idea about their plan until it happens or my parents discuss the revised version at the dinner table the next day.

(Excerpted from You Can Go Home – Deconstructing the Demons, Copyright 2011 Sharon Crawford)

Mom did better than I, but then she had funds on hand. But I will prune and delete where I can.

I am pruning and prioritizing in other areas of my life – work, included, so that there isn’t too much overwhelm and I can focus on the most important problem. If people don’t like it that I can’t get to them and their requests and other stuff immediately, too bad. I have also started buying lottery tickets again. I know some of you are thinking “big wishful thinking.” However, I  can afford one $3. ticket a week and no, I don’t expect to win big time. Don’t want to – just enough to get out of debt. But I’m not counting on it. I’m just trying to do something about my situation or should that be situations?

Speaking of which, I better make sure I have dry towels lined up along the rec room walls overnight. And stay put for the next few days so I can mop up. And perhaps take comfort in that I am not alone – a heck of a lot of people had water come in their basements, mostly (my ex husband had water come down his fireplace chimney – scary stuff) last Saturday. The insurance companies have a name for this (and for tornadoes, hurricanes, earth-quakes, etc.) – they call these Acts of God. I am not making this up. Check your residential insurance policies.

So, the bottom line right now is – trust down and water up. Let’s hope that can be reversed.

Cheers.

Sharon

Only Child Writes

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Filed under Debt, Floods, Gratitude, Insurance, Life learning, Only child, Prayer, Trust, Water

Only Child views trust and water

Only Child's house almost smack against the neighbour's.

The washing machine fiasco got solved on Friday – the repair guy replaced the part, gave me the seniors’ discount and I even had enough money to pay by cheque. But that’s not the end of  house-related grief.

Most people get bad things happening in threes. I’m “blessed” with the onslaught of four. This time it was water leaking again – but from outside the house into my rec room overnight Sunday. Not a heck of a lot but enough to scare me and anger me. Why? Because there have been basement floods before, including the big one in November 2005. But I’ve had all the necessary work done since then – inside and outside – to prevent floods in the basement – including some digging, grading, caulking, patio slab slanting, etc. June 2008 on that side of the house. Until last night it worked – that side of the house did not leak in water – until Sunday night.

So much for trust that things will work out if you take the precautions and ask/pray that these disasters won’t happen again. I might as well be screaming against the cement wall where the leak occurred. And it’s not as if I didn’t check the floor every day- just in case. Of course I didn’t expect to see water.

Fortunately my friend and masonry expert came over after my frantic phone calls yesterday. He thinks it might be due to some of the caulking missing and the sheet of whatever (this is how much I don’t know about this) shrinking, a gap between the windowsill and the patio, and one patio slab under the window heaving so it slides towards the window. We hope. He will fix some of it this week and the caulking when it warms up to 10 degrees (that’s 50 degrees F). I do not want or need the big dig – big machines coming in and digging trenches . There is no room for that between my house and the house next door. Maybe deep digging by hand could be done.

When I was growing up in a bungalow very similar to the one I live in now, my parents had no water leaking in the house from outside. The closest to that I can remember is a leaky radiator in the newly-built rec room. The plumber, a friend of my dad, had put this second-hand sucker in, so he had to fix it. The difference here is my parents had each other (well for a time until Dad died of cancer; then my mother fell apart) to talk over these stressful situations. I have no one – not only am I an only child but I don’t have a life partner. And as I have mentioned in previous posts, I have a son who helps where he can, but he has his own life with his girlfriend – although they got an earful about the water situation over dinner last night when I took them out for their birthdays (his is Feb. 17; hers is today). Thanks to the leaky basement I thought I might have to postpone.

Which brings me back to this trust issue. No matter what I do, say, read, or am told, it boils down to this. From my experience in all areas (including health, finances, family deaths, family betrayals), life is a land-mine. I have to come prepared, and at the same time, I have to realize that any amount of preparation won’t keep the baddies at bay.

The basement leak was No. 4 – in this set of baddies anyway. However, I’m not looking forward to this coming weekend of mixed precipitation.

Cheers.

Sharon

Only Child Writes

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Filed under Aloneness, Believing, Betrayal, Floods, Only child, Trust, Water