July 28, 2014

The Summer Series - Roxanne Piskel

I know many of you are playing catch up today after attending the BlogHer conference over the weekend. My guest today not only offers some great advice on finding time for writing when life is crazy busy, she was even dedicated enough to re-write her post and send it to me from San Jose.

Roxanne Piskell is a single mother to a 7-year-old superhero and Doctor Who fanatic (okay, he gets it from her!). She’s a Bay Area transplant living in Reno and documenting her adventures in parenting at Unintentionally Brilliant. She has about 5 novels in progress and dreams about completing one before her son goes to high school. Be sure to check out her blog, because she really is brilliant! And fun.

Take Ten

Summers used to be about reading as many books as possible, running through the sprinklers, and getting a break from the go-go-go of the school months. Summer was a great time for me to get writing done. I filled notebooks with my fiction and journals with my personal stories--sometimes elaborating them in the way a dreamer always seems to. I wrote all the time during the summer.

These days, I am less likely to get any writing done when the weather gets warm. And it’s not necessarily because I’m enjoying the sunshine and swimming and camping at Tahoe. It’s because my “real” job gets crazy busy between May and July. We run the kids summer sports camps for Athletics at the university and there is a ton of them going on.

Earlier this summer, I was disappointed in myself because I dropped the ball when it came to writing. I had told myself I wanted to post at least once a week this year, and then I went three weeks without a new post. Not only no posts for the blog, but I wasn’t doing any of my own personal writing either. My novel-in-progress wasn’t making any progress.

And then I saw a simple little post in our group for the Bannerwing Write Club. Mandy of In Mandyland was encouraging us to find a way to set aside just 10 minutes for writing. Instead of just ignoring it and saying it would be too hard in my busy schedule, I made myself accountable to this amazing group of writers and told them I would try my hardest.

That day I wrote in my physical journal for 10 minutes just before bed. The next night, I did it again. On the third night, I wrote a blog post and kept going after the 10 minutes. I wrote for 20.

As the days go on, I’m finding my 10 minutes in other parts of my day--not always right before bed. Sometimes I’ll take 10 minutes during my hour lunch break at work and write.

It’s not always easy, and sometimes it’ll be almost midnight and I’ll realize I haven’t done my 10 minutes. But I will forego going to sleep to get the writing done. Even if it’s scribbling in the journal about what’s on my mind. That extra 10 minutes of lost sleep actually helps because then I get what’s on my mind out of there and don’t have to worry about it as I’m trying to sleep.

To be a writer, you must write. Even if it’s just 10 minutes a day. And if you need some outside motivation, check out the Bannerwing Write Club. It’s been amazing for me, reviving myself as a writer.

This post is so perfect for my blog! And for this series of guest posts. Thank you so much for sharing this great advice, Roxanne! It can feel intimidating at times to figure out how to fit writing into our busy lives. But who can't find 10 minutes?

Check out the other Summer Series contributors:

July 21, 2014

The Summer Series - Alexandra Rosas

I first connected with today's guest on Twitter. And I have so enjoyed getting to know her over the past few years. She has been an inspiration, a friend, supporter, soul sister. And so much more. I'm honored to have her here today!

Alexandra Rosas entered the virtual world in 2010. She has quite the resume. Blogger at Good Day Regular People and is a contributor to The Huffington Post and several anthologies. Touring Storyteller with TheMoth and writer for Purple Clover. Featured humor columnist with Funny not Slutty, home of the funniest women on the planet. Editor for the entertainment website Aiming Low. Named BlogHer's Voice of The Year four years running and Babble Top 100 Mom Blogger. Producer of Listen To Your Mother Show/ Milwaukee and essayist on WUWM. But really, mostly home in a seriously cute apron.

On Rejection

Dear Alexandra: Thank you for your submission. We find that your piece "Better Than Your Easter," does not fit our content guidelines at this time..."

It's Monday morning, the day I take all the submissions I have in drafts and prepare them for launch. I sit with my cup of coffee and a few lemon oreos at my side, and I begin sending out my work. With each one, I'm hopeful, but I add a healthy measure of being realistic. Rejection emails have made me that way, and being rejected, though always disappointing, has become something that doesn't sting as much anymore.

The list of the places where I submit my writing grows every month. It's a many-stepped process. First, I study the site to see the type of work they like, I prepare a first draft, second draft... I work on pieces that I feel are eternally relevant and have been known to stay up until 3:00 in the morning when I feel a topic is going to be hot the next day.

People have told me that they couldn't take the number of no's that I get back. I see it this way; if you don't submit, then your work will never be seen. And so I send in my words. I note word length requested, my cover letter is double checked to make sure the editor's name is spelled correctly, I introduce myself so a hint of my personality is seen. Any honors or accolades I've picked up along the way, I mention briefly, as proof that I've done this before.

Rejection is part of submission. I've learned things from watching the work that is published on the sites I shoot for. And I have a checklist on the front page of a notebook that I keep just for writing tips. It's filled with bullet point items that I go through, line by line, checking to be sure that I've got them covered before I take a deep breath and hit send.

You know what they say about the send button, it's when all your editing skills shine. That's why I keep my checklist at hand. I'm sharing my checklist here:

1.) Study the site you want to write for. Learn the style they like and the topics that are most popular there. Go to their SUBMISSIONS PAGE and stick to the guidelines like your life depends on it. Word count is word count and double space is double space. You're no exception.

2.) See if you can get a direct contact or specific name of an editor who would be in charge of your area of interest, and your genre of submission. BE SURE TO SPELL THEIR NAME CORRECTLY. Every last letter.

3.) Always include your name, address, email, blog link, twitter handle, word count, and title. Sounds obvious, but it's easy to focus on your piece and just send that in... with no information on who you are.

After you've done the above, which is the expected, that's when you're ready for:


--Your voice must be present. You have to listen to your work and hear yourself in it. Otherwise, it won't hold any editor's interest. If there's humor, it has to make you laugh. If it's heartbreak, that pain in your chest must be translated. Make your words as clear as a knife ringing against the rim of a glass. Be strong in your style. Now is not a time for what I call "safe writing."

--Details must be alive -- work them in richly, with your senses. I keep a post-it note close by, asking, can I see it? smell it? taste it? hear it? touch it? Bring things to life in the reader's mind so they smell the fish burning in the frying pan as you rush to your child as he teeters out of his high chair.

--Fling your words like they're your last shot to snag that branch and pull yourself out of the raging river rapids.

Now, after you've spilled words like a wild woman who finally gets to talk to someone after a lifetime in the mountains, stop - breathe -- and check for:

A.) Accuracy in punctuation and spelling . (Typos, misspellings, grammar errors -- are never acceptable.)

B.) Organization and logical flow. (Does the order make sense? Can you see how one thought leads to another?)

Lastly, always and always again, read once, twice, thrice, and once more for luck. Then read it aloud at least once before you hit send. Because we all know the magic of hitting send: it's when your typos appear.

Good luck, and I wish you all happy emails that begin, "Thank you for your submission! We're interested in your piece..." It just takes luck and dedication. Thick skin never hurts, either.

P.S. Rejection is just another way of saying, polish it up a little.

I know a thing or two about rejection, that's for sure. And this is great advice! Thank you, Alexandra! Also, may I ask for the recipe for whatever that is you are eating? It looks divine! 

Check out the other Summer Series contributors:

July 18, 2014

Say what?! Take Two

"Mommy, I don't like the smell of your vagina," my five year-old daughter declared as I sat on the toilet. For emphasis, she scrunched up her nose and covered it with her hand.


I gave up trying to lock the door long ago; she simply pounds on it and screams. We have at least reached a place where she will usually knock and ask for permission before entering. This was not one of those times.

I was tempted to retort with, "Well that's what you get for barging in on me!"

Instead, I decided it was time for a, "teachable moment." Because, after all, she has a vagina too.

"A vagina can have a lot of different smells," I told her. "The scent can be strong or it can be subtle."

Years from now, I'm sure a statement of that nature will send her running for the door. At this age however, she just stood there, intrigued. Waiting for more. So, I continued.

"A woman's vagina can smell different ways based on where she is in her menstrual cycle, for example," I continued. "When her body is ready to make a baby, it might smell one way. When that time has passed and she is having her period, it will smell differently. I am having my period right now, so that is probably the scent you noticed."

I decided against going into the details of the perimenopause "fun" I am currently experiencing. No need to scar the poor child for life. She hasn't even received her ticket for this wild ride yet.

"You're having your period?" (Yes, my five year old knows about periods. We started that conversation quite some time ago...)


"So you're bleeding down there?"

"Uh huh."

She was still standing there, looking at me expectantly. Good grief, wasn't that enough information for one bathroom visit? I was certainly ready to be done with the conversation. Then, thankfully, she remembered why she had burst in on me in the first place:

"Mommy, I need you to help me find Martin."

"I put him in one of the toy bins in the living room. Why don't you go look for him? If you can't find him, when I am finished I will come help you."


With visions of future public restroom visits and an awareness of her penchant for saying whatever comes to her mind whenever it does (which is what got us into this in the first place), I ended the conversation with, "It's good that we can talk about these things, and you can ask me any questions you like. But talking about vaginas is something we should do at home, OK?"

"Because vaginas are private."

"Yes, they are. They are not something to be ashamed of. And it's perfectly normal and natural to be curious about them. But people tend to prefer not to discuss them in public."

"OK, Mommy!"

And with that, she bounded out of the room. Leaving the bathroom door open, of course.

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