Words of advice from Ray Bradbury

In honor of the great Ray Bradbury’s 99th birthday.
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I was looking through my book shelves for summer reading. I picked up
Ray Bradbury’s Zen and the Art of Writing: Release the Creative Genius Within You. It’s a small paperback book that has sat on my shelf, unread. I opened the cover and on page one the autograph of the author and the date May 1996 stared me in the face.

imgresThat’s the first time I heard Ray Bradbury speak — and the first time I asked him to sign a book. My daughter, who graduated high school last week, was three months old, and my son, a junior in college, was three years old. That’s a lot of years to have this book sitting on my bookshelf.

Yes, I’m now reading this collection of essays and remembering how inspiring his talk was. Earlier that same day in May 1996, I recognized Ray Bradbury at Las Casuelas the Original, a small Mexican restaurant a few blocks away from the Riviera Hotel, where he was speaking later. I introduced myself to him, as he ate alone, and I said I couldn’t wait to hear his talk.images-1

It was one of the first writer’s conferences I had attended, and I was kind of in a fog, having a newborn child and little sleep.

Ray Bradbury was amazing. He reminded me of a young child, finding wonder in the world. He had the ability to stay young at heart and observe the world as though seeing little things for the first time. I loved his story of how he wrote Fahrenheit 451 in the basement of the UCLA library at a rental typewriter for 10 cents for a half hour. He said he was literally a “dime novelist.” It gave me courage and the belief that we can do anything — if you want it badly enough.

“Garbage in, garbage out,” he said. He advised us to turn off the TV. Don’t watch the news. He said they were selling soap and there was little or no good news and it would rot our minds. Instead, “Read the Bible, a poem and an essay every day.”

How I’d wish I’d listened more carefully and followed that advice 18 years ago. How different would my life be today? The good news is, it’s not too late to start. And I’m proud to say, I started down that path yesterday.images-3

My all time favorite Ray Bradbury book is Fahrenheit 451. My son Robert loves this book, too. I took my son to meet Ray Bradbury during another local speaking engagement years later. Robert has a signed copy of Farenheit 451 that he treasures. Ray Bradbury was a very accessible and kind man, willing to share with all of us enjoying his gift and genius — and striving to be 1/100th the writer that he was. images-4

“What do you love most in the world? The big and little things, I mean. A trolley car, a pair of tennis shoes? These, at one time when we were children, were invested with magic for us.” — Zen and the Art of Writing

Is it possible to work from home with kids?

katrob 3When I started my Public Relations business, it was June. By July, I discovered I was pregnant. I did pretty good balancing work and life until my firstborn became mobile. Once he was crawling and spitting up on my keyboard, work became more challenging.

I saw an article in the Citizen Times, a USA network paper in North Carolina, called “Making it all work: Balancing parenting and working from home” by Marla Hardee Milling. She interviewed several families and asked how they worked from home with kids. I enjoyed reading their stories, because I had plenty of my own!

If you are a parent, working from home can rank as a blessing and a curse.

First up — the pros: creating a business at home allows you a flexible schedule. You don’t have to worry about a commute. You don’t have to keep a well-stocked wardrobe for daily appearances at an office (this means you can work in pajamas if you want to), and you may well find that you are more productive when you are working for yourself. 

But there are pitfalls. 

Interruptions can be aggravating. Neighbors and friends may think they can call at any moment because you’re at home. Kids often have the uncanny ability to need something right in the middle of a business call. And you may be surrounded by nagging reminders of things that need to be done at home — the stacked dishes, the pile of laundry, the accumulating clutter. 

So how do you strike a balance between being efficient running a home business and keeping your sanity? 

Juggling life and work

Stephanie Carol of Asheville works part-time from home, writing a sewing blog and a travel blog.

“I juggle work at home life with family life imperfectly,” she admits. “My biggest challenge is that I would prefer to work in long stretches of time, but with kids, it’s more like bits and pieces. The two solutions I’ve come up with or used in the past include one, swapping child care with friends so we each get a full or half day to ourselves while the other watches all of our kids, and two: trying to break down my tasks into small chunks so I can dive right back in and out of my list and stay organized.” 

It can be even more complicated when both parents telecommute from home. That’s the current lifestyle for Amy and John Saunders who live in Waynesville with their 3-year-old son. Amy’s parents own a highway construction company — A&P Services LLC in Brevard  and she serves as the vice president of operations. John is a software architect who works for a company in Chicago. 

John’s job is structured in a way that he is required to be at his computer from 8 a.m.-5 p.m. weekdays. But his home office doesn’t have a door, so Amy has to be creative about keeping their son quiet.

“We leave every morning around 9 or 9:30 and then come home for lunch,” she explained. In the afternoon, she fits in work as she can while her son has some quiet playtime. Once her husband is off work, they have a family dinner at 6, go through the bedtime routine and then Amy can hammer out details of her job that she couldn’t get to during the day.  

“As the VP of operations, I do all the scheduling, billing, general project management — I handle everything except estimating and HR stuff,” she said. “As long as the work gets done, it doesn’t matter when it gets done.” 

When I worked from home I had two major problems: how to turn off work and how to get clients to understand that I couldn’t run over for a meeting at the drop of a hat. It was all about boundaries. I had clients who didn’t respect the hours I tried to set and would give me a project at 5 or 6 p.m. and expect it the next morning, because “I worked from home.” When I was pregnant, I could make it to any meeting at any time. Once I had a child, it was a different story. I tried babysitters and nannies and would make set hours when I was available for meetings and appointments. Invariably, I worked on projects at home while the babysitter was there. As soon as she left, I’d get a call from a client to come over immediately.

Here’s how other families deal with childcare:

What can I put off?

Without close neighbors to rely on for babysitting, Amy and John care for their son almost 24/7 except for rare moments when the grandparents can step in. It’s a challenging schedule and can be stressful, but she says, “I wouldn’t change it for anything.”

What she is trying to change is her mindset that every work detail needs to be handled immediately. “If I get an email, I feel like I have to take care of it right away,” she said. “I’m learning that if I put something off until tomorrow, it’s probably going to be fine. Some things are time sensitive, but the majority of my job is not. I’m trying to find a balance.” 

Altamont Inspections is the business of Eddie and Angela Roberts, of Hendersonville. While Eddie is out making the inspections, Angela works from her home office to carry out all the details of running the business: scheduling, billing, troubleshooting, and setting priorities.

“I have a designated office space, so office work stays in the office,” Angela said. “I have set times to devote to work and I make a checklist each morning of the most important things to do.”

Having that list is crucial since they have two very active daughters — teens Anna and Emma — who are involved in band, gymnastics and other activities. “I always put family first,” she said. “If someone wants an inspection time that conflicts with my daughter’s band concert, I’ll offer them another day or time.”

She’s found it easier to keep separate email addresses and phone numbers for work and personal use, and she checks social media during her personal time. Angela also has learned to say “no” when she runs out of time.

“The PTO can find someone else to help with the dance decorations this time, but I’m happy to bring pre-packaged snacks,” she said as an example.  

Outside help

Her daughters are older now and more self-sufficient, but she also realizes the value of getting outside help to keep her household and business running smoothly.

“I hire help like a bi-weekly housekeeper, a lawn maintenance crew, and a caregiver to pick up the kids from school and help them with homework a couple of days a week,” she said. “I will also order groceries online and pick them up or have them delivered through Mother Earth Foods. A family dinner doesn’t have to be home cooked every night. I like to support local restaurants and order to-go or make a list of grocery stores that have weekly specials, like The Fresh Market changes their $20 ‘Little Big Meals’ that feed four each Tuesday and some Ingle’s delis have Friday steak nights.” 

With planning, dedication, and creative strategies, working from home can be a fruitful endeavor. And just think about all that traffic you don’t have to sit in day after day.

The final straw in my working from home was after I hired a full-time nanny. I watched as she raised my child. They splashed in the pool and walked to the park to play. Meanwhile, I sat at my desk jealous beyond belief. I quit the PR business and changed my work. Instead or writing press releases and newsletters, I began writing for magazines, newspapers and drafting novels and children’s stories. I squeezed my work in between raising my kids. I made way less money, but I have no regrets.

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Now there’s just me and the cat while I work from home.

Have you tried working from home? How do you juggle the parenting responsibilities with your job?

6 Tough Questions for Writers

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I write a lot about these two characters.

Have you heard of Authors.me? It’s a website for submissions where writers, agents, editors, publishers and new media can meet. I used it for the first time today and one of the first things I had to do was fill out a personal profile.

I started a new project yesterday that I’m really excited about. I’ll go more into depth about it at a later date. One of the agents I want to pitch my idea to, asks writers to submit their project through Authors.me website. It’s touted as “Your Story’s Future” and a “Smart, effective submissions and acquisitions management.”

I’m super energized about my new project, but filling out the profile surprised me. Here are some of the questions they asked:

Your writing is influenced by experience and personality. Tell your audience what you are made of.

Biography Write your bio as if you are a character in a book. Your life experiences are what make you and interesting person.

Writing Style Show some flare and tell us about your unique writing style.

What makes you special as a writer? More than just style, what makes you unique as a writer could be a lot of factors. Tell us.

Who or what inspires you to write? Show us you can not only inspire others, but that you can be inspired yourself.

What constitutes a great novel? There is no wrong answer, just something that moves you. Tell us.

What is your favorite part about the writing process?

I had fun with the first one–writing my bio as if I were a character in a book. (However I noticed a typo on their first question. Can you find it?) The most important things in my life, whether it’s people or events, became clear by answering this question. I recommend trying it yourself. The exercise asks you to limit the writing to 2000 characters or less. I managed to do that in less which was about 250 words. Even if you’re not a writer, it’s a fun exercise to try.

As for the second request, “Writing Style–Show some flare and tell us about your unique writing style,” I thought was a little strange. Am I supposed to show off or show some flare in my writing about my writing style? Can’t the people looking at my work get a “feel” for my style? I’m not much of a show off and I don’t know how to “flare” my writing about my writing. Plain weird. Also, the opening statement “Tell your audience what you are made of” seems a little over-the-top.

 

 

If you’ve used Author.me, I’d like to know what you think about it. Also, what do you think about these questions?

 

Leaving the Nest for the Ride Called Life

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My son and friend near the beginning of the ride called life.

My son who graduated from college at the end of summer is gainfully employed, living almost 500 miles away in the San Francisco Bay area. He’s worked at a couple of jobs, one which he quit because it was too difficult. It was long-term substitute teaching for English as a Developmental Language–in one of the worst school districts in the nation. It was a good try on his part, but he said it was stressful beyond belief. He had no training to do that job, he said, and there was little support. Next, he found a part-time retail job so he could focus on applying for “real jobs.” Although he liked the retail job, it barely covered rent.

His first week of a “real job” has come to a close, and I am proud to say that as an overly involved swim mom and parent, on his first day of work I DID NOT call him to make sure he was out of bed. I was relieved when he called me a little after 8 a.m. and said he was outside the building with 17 minutes to spare! Whew! I can’t tell you how much that phone call meant to me. He must have known exactly what I was going through.

It’s now time for me to really, really step back and let him fly. I raised a kid who can actually get out of bed, work out, make breakfast and get to work on time! Who knew?

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My son when he was three.

We had an interesting discussion when he accepted his current job, and then got an offer from a second company. He said he might like the second company better, but felt it wasn’t ethical to rescind the first offer because he had committed. I asked a few people in HR and other jobs in business, and they said it happens all the time and it isn’t viewed as unethical, but rather people have to look out for their best interest.

After relaying this info to my son, he interviewed again with the second company and was told they’d email him an employment contract by the end of the day. His start date was to be Monday, the same start date that he had with the first company. Two days passed and there was no employment contract—and they didn’t return his phone call!

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My son a few years ago at Junior Lifeguards.

I worried that he had already given notice to company #1. I texted him and asked. I couldn’t wait to find out if he had given notice to his part-time retail job, rescinded the for-sure position for a “fly-by-night” operation that had flaked out. Would he be moving home because there was NO JOB?

“I’m not stupid!” was the reply I received. He started working the following Monday at company #1 and loved it. He loves the people, the company and is feeling good. What a big step in his life to not only graduate from college but land in a job he likes.

I’m relieved and will sit back and enjoy his ride–and not try to dictate or direct it, but just be proud and thrilled for him. I’ll enjoy watching where his journey will lead.

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All grown up and ready to fly.

 

Tips on How to Catch Typos — And My Three Worst Typos of All Time

images-3Some of my most embarrassing moments have happened with typos. I’ve been writing professionally since college graduation. I won’t mention exactly how many years that is. But, it’s plenty. Plenty of time to make a few mistakes.

1. I had a typo yesterday on SwimSwam. I left out a number on my tips.

My process begins with a small idea. Then I write a rough sloppy draft. Then I begin to hone it down into something tight and simple.  Along the way I cut out one tip that didn’t seem to fit. But, the story didn’t automatically renumber itself. Making a mistake like that on a busy forum like SwimSwam is decidedly embarrassing.

You can read that story here. 12 Parent Tips on How to Behave at Practice.

On the bright side, I got a RT by Natalie Coughlin. I was super excited about that, so the story still worked even if it was not perfect.

Natalie Coughlin

Natalie Coughlin

2. My second worst typo was in the 80s. I worked for a PR and advertising firm and I wrote eight newsletters a month, plus three or four press releases daily. It was a busy, intense job. I was in charge of a fundraiser for abused women which was held at a local country club. In my press release that ran just about everywhere — I mistakenly put in my own phone number instead of the club’s to RSVP! There was no taking that one back. I lived through it by hooking up an answering machine.

I felt humiliated though, when my co-workers relentlessly teased me.images-1

3. My all-time worst typo was when I had my own PR and advertising business. I had some super-duper clients including the hospital’s cancer center and a local branch of a major Wall Street firm. When the boss at the Wall Street branch was promoted to NYC to corporate headquarters, he still used me for all of his work. I was SO excited! Then I made a typo on a Power Point presentation. It was on the new logo he had me create for the Western Region of the United States of America. Ugh.

He was so angry with me, because I made him look bad. I’ll never forgive myself for that one.

imgres-2The thing with typos is your brain can trick you into seeing what you intended to be there.

My tips to catch typos are:

1. Read the piece from the bottom, sentence by sentence.

2. Read it out loud.

3. Put it away for a few days to get a fresh view.

4. Have other people proofread for you.

5. Don’t forget to proofread the title and headers. Numbers, too.