30-Day Writer's Boot Camp, Writing

Punching In, Punching Out

Day 6 of Writer’s Boot Camp

Today is about keeping track of my day. Rachel Federman has some really good advice on keeping track of my time usage in the day in order to not only see if my time is being used effectively, but also to make a plan later so that I can be more productive. She goes on to discuss that many of the people who only write when they’re inspired (me) are probably not going to be very productive in their writing lives. I have lived way this for years, so I closed my eyes in shame when I read this part. It’s like she can see inside my soul. Dang her!

I will do this, but I already know that I do not use my time effectively or I wouldn’t have grading to finish the last week of school and weight to lose this summer. Going to bed on time would be a regular occurrence, and I wouldn’t give my Sleep Alarm app a frowning face every morning when it asks me how I feel. Federman addresses the business of being busy in her book:

We all love to be busy. We love to say how busy we are. We’re addicted to what Tim Krieder brilliantly called “busy trap” and what Heather Sellers calls the “busy drug.” (41)


I can say that I do NOT suffer from this. And I actually call it BBS – Busy Bee Syndrome. I used to suffer from this. I bought my fill of planners and showed people how important my time was. When I first moved to Washington, that all stopped. I wasn’t teaching full-time anymore, and that was the first summer I realized how damaging BBS really was to me. Granted, I could keep busy during the first three weeks or so of summer vacation, but when the dust cleared and the boxes were empty from moving, there was nothing to do. And my brain couldn’t shut off. I’d spent years always having too much to do for school, and I couldn’t get rid of the feeling that something (grading, planning, emailing) had to be done now. It took me over two years to stop having that feeling.

I do fill my time, but I’m ashamed to admit that my planner is not share-with-everyone noteworthy. Truthfully, it’s not worth sharing, even embarrassing. If just thinking about how I use my time is embarrassing now, writing it all down is just going to solidify shame. However, it will be done. That is the task of the day. Once this is take care of, then I can move on to figure out how to use my time effectively in order to plan out my writing. After all, I stated in my goal setting post that I wanted to make sure that I wrote for at least 20 minutes a day (which I still struggle with), and I needed a plan for writing. Here, I’ll be able to figure out the best times to write and focus on doing something specific, as Rachel suggests in her book.

30-Day Writer's Boot Camp

Always Faithful, Always Ready

30-Day Writer’s Boot Camp Day 5

Today is a two-part writing process of always being ready to write even at the most inopportune moments and writing about what irritates me when I run into frustrating moments and can’t really write.

What surprising place can you write? Challenge yourself to find the most unusual place and time.

I haven’t actually done this yet, but I suspect that there are going to be a few places that I will whip out my scratch sheet of writing paper or my notebook to scribble some thoughts. I already grade papers in the dugout during my softball games, so I don’t think it would be any surprise to my teammates that I’m writing some things down in a notebook. It surprises other teams, however, and people who don’t know me. I could also see myself jotting down some notes while standing in the hall at school as students are coming into my classroom. Maybe those don’t seem strange to anyone else, but I would get some unusual looks.

Detox: Give yourself permission to vent. Give yourself a place to put your frustrations.

Rachel suggests even writing an angry letter and ripping it up. I think I will write the angry letter, but it will be published for the world to see.

Dear Whoever Decided to Make a Day Only 24 Hours,

Why did you do this? What made you decide that a day should only have 24 hours in it? The sun rises and sets at different times during the days and certainly during the different months and seasons. Why couldn’t the day be 36 hours? Or 40? The world would be a much happier place if we had a 36 hour day. Let me explain.

Most of us work for 8 hours of our day, and some of us work even more than that. Science shows that the average person needs around 8 hours of sleep to function properly and allow the body and the brain to heal itself from the previous day’s labors. That’s 16 hours of our day already gone to aspects of our lives that must be done if we want to be happy, healthy, and productive (and able to make our mortgage payments). That only leaves 8 hours out of the day to do other things. Unfortunately, those other things involve showering and getting ready for work. Cooking and cleaning the house. Commuting. By the time we complete the chores of the day, there are only a few hours of recreational time left, and we have to pick which ones to do on that day.

Take a look at my son who is a sophomore in high school. The other day he went to school all day. After school, he went home to change for his baseball double-header before we drove for 40 minutes to his games. He had to be there an hour early to warm up, and we didn’t get home until after 10 PM. Then he had to do homework which means that he didn’t get 8 hours of sleep after playing baseball for almost 3 hours. During this time, I also struggled to get everything done that I needed to. While he played, I had to grade papers, keeping me from being able to pay close attention to the game. I also did not get 8 hours of sleep.

If we had a 36-hour day, he could have time to do his homework and sleep extra hours before he had to be to school the next day. I would have been able to pay attention to his game, go home to grade, and sleep 8 hours before going to work. Do you see how much trouble you’ve caused the world? Many Americans are sleep-deprived and over-worked with very little time to spend on hobbies that could make them happier, healthier people. Many Americans also suffer from health issues that could have been prevented if they just had a little more time to work out.

I hope you’re happy. You are single-handedly responsible for unhappiness, sleep deprivation, and the obesity epidemic. You should be ashamed of yourself.



30-Day Writer's Boot Camp

Getting My Bearings

Day 4: Getting Your Bearings

Today is about figuring out what type of writer I am in terms of making writing a daily ritual. Even though this is only day 4, it has been a really fun process so far. Making my students are part of this has also made it quite entertaining. I’m gaining confidence in sharing my work. Naturally, they compliment me. They’re sweet, and I’m not sure they would tell me if I suck anyway. However, just the act of reading a fictional piece to them and putting myself out there has been freeing. Each time I read it, I get a little less fearful.

I have yet to get up early and write as I’m supposed to which leads me to believe that I may be one of those people who just needs to find/make time to write each day. One thing that has been new and exciting is that I look forward to finding time to write, and I was disappointed and upset on the two days that I didn’t. It has been a long time since I’ve felt such a strong desire to sit down and work on something. This blog helps quite a bit.

What Type of Writer Am I?

Such a good question. And such a hard one. Here’s what I know:

  1. There are two places that I absolutely love to go when I want to work on writing: Starbucks and my deck. Sometimes I’ll even do both in the same day. Noise is not a distraction. That’s probably the teacher in me because there are so many things that have to be tuned out in the classroom on any given work day.
  2. There doesn’t seem to be any particular time of day right now that I’m motivated to write more than other times; however, in a little over a week, I’ll be on summer vacation. During the summer, I typically start my mornings writing about or researching my interests. It’s the busy school year that makes scheduling really tough.
  3. I really like to write by hand, but I have wrist issues that keep me from being able to do this for long periods which makes typing the logical answer. I also have a newer Mac that I absolutely love, so that makes it easier to accept my physical flaws and their inability to withstand a lot of writing. (Stupid wrists!)
  4. I think I look for the ideal writing time too much and need to figure out how to push that nonsense out of my head.
  5. I don’t know if I’ll be an everyday writer or not. Even though I struggled for two days to find twenty minutes to write, I also had no problem sitting down at 10 PM after Cam’s baseball game to write for an hour and a half. Even as I write this post, I’ve already spent a good thirty minutes or more on it. When I do sit down and write, it’s for a good chunk of time.

I may not know for sure what type of writer I am, but I know some of what works and doesn’t work. I’m hoping to learn a lot more over the next 26 days as I continue this 30-Day Writer’s Boot Camp.

30-Day Writer's Boot Camp, Fiction

I Didn’t Cry When She Died

Day 2 of the 30-Day Writer’s Boot Camp: Setting Real-Life Goals

Today I’m supposed to determine my writing goals, but I’m supposed to immerse myself in writing for one hour first. I’ve decided to use a story starter to get the ideas flowing, and I’ve italicized the story starter in case you want to use it from the book, too. After the hour is up, I’ll put my writing goals at the bottom whether I finish this piece of writing or not.

I didn’t cry when she died, or at the funeral, or at the reception. It wasn’t until the next morning when I went into the pantry and saw row upon row of canned vegetables, fruits and jams she had prepared for the long winter ahead. The shelves were filled with…so many of the jars and cans I remembered seeing as a little kid while growing up in this god-forsaken place. It had been twenty years since I’d stepped foot in this house. And I refused to call it home. But I don’t want to get too far off track. After all, we’re here to discuss the tears that fell swiftly down my cheeks while I stood in the panty, of all places.

I should probably explain a little about my mother. She was a hard woman. A sad woman. Sometimes, a very mean woman. And never loving. She wasn’t always this way. I vaguely recall laughter and smiles attached to gentle kisses. My sister remembered more of the good times about growing up than I did, and she would sometimes tell me stories about this fairytale mother that I struggled to see in the woman I called my mother out of some familial obligation. To this day, I don’t know if all or any of Clare’s stories were real or a part of her vivid imagination. For so many years I’d hoped they were real and that the shell of a woman who fed and clothed us was just under some dark caster’s spell. I don’t wish for such silly things anymore. I stopped wishing when the realization hit me that Clare wasn’t coming back.

My mother worked for the government for many years. While there is much about my childhood that I don’t recall, I do remember one Friday evening when my mother came home crying and scared. She didn’t speak much during dinner other than the typical dinner commands of “Eat your veggies” and “Clean your plate and put it in the dishwasher.” When the phone rang later that night after bed time, Clare and I snuck into the hallway to hear what she was discussing.

“It’s immoral. I won’t be a part of it,” she demanded. There was a pause before she said, “You wouldn’t dare! I’ll quit.” There was another log pause before she muttered, “Yes, sir. I’ll be in on Monday.” Clare and I never found out what that conversation was about, but when we woke up the next morning, we found the kitchen a mess with jars crammed with food. One entire wall of our very large pantry was filled with canned goods and additional jars overflowed the kitchen counters. She’d been up all night and sat bleary-eyed staring into space at the kitchen table. This was the mother I grew to know.

When she wasn’t demanding we learn something new and barking orders, she sat at the kitchen table staring at some past distant memory. We ate a lot of pizza, spaghetti, and frozen meals after that night. But rarely any of the canned food, which always seemed so strange to me. Why have it in the house if we weren’t going to eat it? We never had time to sit down to a home-cooked meal. Although we were never allowed to play sports, our mother demanded we learn new skills. We were constantly learning strange things. While my friends at school were learning to play the clarinet, I was learning to shoot a gun. While they were playing baseball and basketball, I was becoming a black belt in karate. Even though our mother also demanded perfection at these skills, my sister and I never complained because anything was better than sitting at home watching her can food, work on our house, or sit in silence.

She was always busy doing something with the house and teaching us how to do it, too. At first, Clare and I had giggled that Mother had become one of those Doomsday Preppers that people watched on television and made fun of at the school lunch table. But we stopped giggling when the first year blazed by without stopping. She never stopped. Consequently, we never stopped. Karate, shooting and hunting, advanced academic classes, construction, long-term food preparation, survival skills.

During these grueling years, Clare and I supported each other. She would tell me stories of the fairytale mother that I barely remembered. I would invent fantastic stories about a father who would come save us from the grind of our daily lives. During those nights, we would giggle, then fall silent as the concrete reality of our lives took a hold again with its vice-like grip. There was no fairytale mother or father. There was no rescue from this life.


Day 2: Setting Real-Life Goals

Okay. So this is all I have done so far for the first hour of writing. Rachel Federman asks several question in her book that need to be addressed in some way:

  • Did this help you solidify your writing goals?
  • Do you already know what they are?
  • Do you want to make a career out of writing?
  • What about your short-term goals?
  • What do you hope to finish in the next few months?
  • Are you writing just for fun?

Then she goes on and asks if I can identify a current writing goal. It can be:

  • To write for 20 minutes a day
  • To revise a short story
  • To create a poem that you can read at a workshop
  • To finish a chapter of your novel or memoir
  • To write the draft of a nonfiction essay for a literary magazine

My Goal: I’m not going to lie. I have no idea what my writing goals are. Truthfully, I’ve been stuck for so long trying to find the courage to write and put it in a place where people can see it that I don’t actually have a goal other than to write. I can say that I would like to be published some day. I would like to write young adult literature. But I haven’t really given any thought as to  writing for a career. I’m an English teacher. I firmly believe that teachers who write make better teachers of writing, but that’s all the further I’ve gotten.

I can tell you what I’ve learned so far:

1. I don’t do well without a plan. So far, I really like the story I’ve written, but it’s all on the fly, so I’m struggling to determine where to take it. I have too many options. Zombie and apocalypse type stuff really fascinates me, so that’s always an option. I could go with the crazy mother scenario where we never actually find out why she became this way. I also have the side story of Clare’s disappearance. I’ve toyed with the idea having her kidnapped never to be seen again. I’ve thought about having her pretend that things are still okay but cutting and running as soon as she graduates high school, leaving her little sister (the narrator) to deal with Mother alone. I’ve also thought about having her recruited by the same organization that her mother works for or even a competing organization.

2. My concepts are too vague in my head and I don’t commit. It could be the assignment (writing for an hour on the fly), but I think that it’s really me. Is that lack of experience or an avoidance mechanism? After all, if I don’t have strong concepts, I’ll never finish a piece of writing so no one will see it to criticize. I have to giggle a little to myself because that’s something I would have said to one of my students.

3. My writing could be worse. That’s a pretty big statement for me. Writing earlier that I like what I’ve written so far isn’t something that I’d typcially say. Again. How will I handle the criticism? I guess I’ll find out when I hit publish on this post.

Okay. I have to pick a goal of some kind. Let’s start with something doable but difficult for me. I’ll use Rachel’s Federman’s first bullet point.

My Goal: To write for 20 minutes every day for the next 28 days.

I’m also supposed to come up with a title for a project. This can be changed later, but it will be my “work in progress” for the next 28 days.

Title: Not the Vampire Diaries

At this point, I guess I need to create a plan and schedule. And probably some writing ideas for this piece that I’ll need to work on for the next month.

Thanks for reading. It’s time to publish this beast so I can keep with the schedule of one post per day for the boot camp.