The silverware drawer in our kitchen has been giving us trouble for a while now — it kept getting off the track and we’d be unable to open it.
This morning when I was trying yet again to get the thing on track my partner called out,
“Do it with the drawer empty.”
So i emptied the drawer and tried again. In fact I tried three times and it kept going off kilter when I’d try to open and close the drawer.
Now I’m not especially good at analyzing kitchen drawer problems but it finally occurred to me to check the tracks.
The track in the cabinet was fine, but one of the tracks on the drawer itself was missing two screws. As we had no suitable screws, it was off to the hardware store, drawer in hand.
One of the reasons that my kids had gerbils for pets was that we didn’t (any more) have cats.
We used to have cats. In fact, we had two, seal point siamese, a mother and son. The mother of my female had been found on the street by my friend and, at the time, roommate T. The cat appeared to be a seal point siamese and she was pregnant with a mixed litter.
In due course T. found a male siamese (belonging, I think, to her mother) and the cat had a litter of siamese kittens. Anyway, they looked like siamese; really, we had no idea of the cat’s antecedants.
So I eventually took one of the kittens. She grew into a cat, and I bred her to her father and kept one of the kittens, a male. I named the female Minou and the male Mitsou. Minou means kitten in French and Mitsou was the name of a cat in a story by Colette.
I moved into my own apartment before my cat had the kittens. I started dating J. My cat fortunately liked J; she was a fickle cat and would, if so inclined, sit on one’s lap for a while and then turn around, bit the hand that was petting her and take off.
She never did this to me or J.
We (the two of us and the two cats) moved to Massachusetts. J and I had a son, M. M’s first word was “Cat.”
Unfortunately, Mitsou wasn’t pleased with M and he showed his displeasure by peeing on everything. Amoung other things he managed to ruin a quilt hand-made by J’s mother.
We couldn’t manage to discourage him. In spite of the fact that he was long since neutered we tried hormone therapy. We tried this and that.
Then M. started preschool at almost 3. I got two sinus infections, bronchitis and pneumonia in the course of a month. I was also allergic to the cats — itchy eyes, mostly. My dr. told me that the allergy was making me more likely to get colds, etc.
It was all too much — by that time we had two kids. So we gave the cats away.
J. wanted no part of a dog.
Also a bird. But more on that some other time.
If you ever think you want to get gerbils, remember this: gerbils are more prolific than rabbits. They can get pregnant while they’re nursing.
When my kids were little we got them a gerbil. Now, gerbils aren’t really much fun to play with so they decided they wanted to get a second gerbil and let them have babies.
So we got a second gerbil and put them together in one cage. They had babies. Before we could get a second cage for the male (a day or so), the mother got pregnant again.
So, anyway, at some point (I forget if we kept two from the first litter or one from the first and one from the second…) we ended up with two males and two females. We put what we thought were the two males in one cage and what we thought were the two females in another. We could correctly identify the sex of the parents but not, it turned out of the children.
In our defense all I can say is that those little parts are darn small and neither of us had great near vision.
So we ended up with two *more* litters of gerbils.
We went away for a week just after the births, asking a neighbor to take in the mail and feed the gerbils. When we got back, she handed me the mail, adding, “I think you have a few less baby gerbils than you did at the start of the week..”
One mother had had 7 babies, the other only two. After we got back, there were three or four in cage one, but both babies in cage two were fine. There were several more fatalities after we got back and it was clear, let us say, that the parents were not innocent bystanders.
So we took the poor remaining baby gerbil from the bad mother and put it in the other cage where fortunately the other mother adopted it.
I forget just how many more litters we had before we got enough cages and successfully separated the participants.
We gave the babies back to the pet store. They didn’t pay us anything, and they turned around and sold them for, I think, $5 a piece, but, hey, they were out of the house.
I’ve declared a winner. See the contest page for the winning letter.
You might win a free copy of Kathryn Porter’s book. See contest page.
And I hope that those of you who don’t win will go out and buy your own copy of Kathryn’s book.
Kathryn Porter was kind enough to answer my questions on getting organized as a writer. For more on her book, visit http://www.clutterwise.com
How do you organize your own writing?
The best thing that helps me stay organized as a writer is keeping an updated business plan. I have a mission statement and certain values that I emphasize. I also create long-term and short term goals which I review quarterly. Here’s how it helps me stay on task:
· My personal mission statement guides my career path. It helps me focus with a laser like precision on the area in which I can excel so I don’t pursue multiple areas of mediocrity.
· I focus on specific goals and frequently measure progress. If a writing opportunity does not align with my objectives, I turn it down.
I work by my values. One of the values high on my list is family so I coordinate my schedule around family, not family around work.
Do you have a dedicated place to write?
My favorite place to write is nestled on the couch under a blanket with some light background music. Because I usually write everything in longhand first, my office is the dedicated place to transcribe my work onto the computer.
I encourage everyone to make the home office an attractive room where it’s easy to work. Keep ergonomics in mind when determining the positioning of furniture and style of equipment. Choose colors you love. If you consider writing a full-time job, make your office your own by not sharing it with other household members.
If you live in a small home like I do where the office needs to be accessible to other family members, set boundaries on the times you need to work. Even if you’re not on the computer, that is still your time. Protect it. Upgrade to Windows XP or higher so everyone can have their personal logon and desktop screen. Design the office in such a way that it feels like your room. If your spouse adds too many personal touches that don’t reflect you, it’s not going to feel like your work area.
Where do you keep your work?
When I was writing Too Much Stuff, I kept every chapter in a manilla folder and filed it in my filing cabinet. I’m currently re-working my filing system as I devote large chunks of time to marketing and public speaking. Currently, most of my writing is filed in a folder system on my desktop with hard copy backups for important stuff. My next de-cluttering project will be clearing out my hard drive. While the clutter in my home has decreased, I have way too many computer files that I don’t need anymore.
Many freelance writers keep portfolios created in a basic three-ring binder. This is something I plan to put together this year as I’ve been doing more articles since my book release. In fact, I suggest keeping a main portfolio with everything along with a “show” portfolio that features only your best work. The main portfolio acts more like a scrapbook so you can see how you’ve improved in your writing and chronicle your progress to better, higher paying publications. This is where to keep original copies. In the show portfolio, put in photocopies of the clips for which you don’t have extra originals. I also recommend keeping a section in your portfolios labelled “media.” Place any articles written about you in this section. If you ever pitch a book or a column to an editor, you will look sharp showing off your media prowess.
What do you do about backups?
I keep a hard copy of almost everything. I used to be big about keeping a backup disc as well, but I don’t do that anymore. I ended up with too many discs that cluttered my home. Now, if I had a big project in front of me, I’d probably do that again, except this time use a USB flash drive which can hold a lot more information than a floppy or CD.
How do you keep track of your work, submissions, rejections, work in progress, etc?
I try to keep things simple. I track most everything by email, organizing it all by creating folders and subfolders. I don’t really deal with rejections because I typically write articles only when invited by a publication. Occasionally, I’ll contact an editor about a story idea if it serves a specific audience I’d like to reach.
I also have an accountability partner for goal tracking. We started out meeting on a weekly basis to share our professional goals that we would work on for the week and give progress reports on the previous week’s goals. We currently meet bi-weekly because of our schedules, but weekly is the way to go if you can swing it. I use a lined journal to track my goals along with those of my accountability partner. I keep it in an easily accessible spot so that I can refer to it during the week.
Do you have a system or piece of software you use?
I know that other writers use special software to manage their projects, but I don’t. An old fashioned day planner works best for me. I want to highlight that what works for one person may not work for another. We need to consider things like time, money, and the learning curve involved with new software. I’ve been using a day planner for years. It does the job for me in terms of tracking speaking engagement, deadlines, and other important dates. As my schedule intensifies, perhaps I’ll consider other alternatives, but I like having a calendar that’s convenient for travelling. Even if I eventually move to software for managing writing projects, I’ll probably keep it basic with something as simple as an Excel spread sheet.
Do you have a writing schedule?
At this time, I don’t have a formal writing schedule. I try to work about two hours a day, but it’s not uncommon for me to put in eight-hour days. As a stay-at-home mom, I constantly get interrupted from my work which means having to spend more time working. Once I lose my flow, it takes a while to get my focus back so I try to do computer work when my son is napping. I don’t mind when he interrupts me because that’s why I work from home. I want to be available for him. Whenever I can squeeze in time to work, I do it. When my son draws in his notebook, I will often have my notebook in hand and we will “work” together.
What is your writing process like and how does being organized play into that?
The more organized I am, the less time I need to spend at work. It’s about working smarter, not harder. I’m on top of my game when things are organized. I have more energy. I feel more creative.
In terms of the writing process itself, I carry a notebook with me wherever I go. Sometimes I write out of passion and momentum, but other times it’s out of discipline. I may have several projects going on at one time, but keep one as the primary project and work on the others as I feel like it.
The most crucial part of the writing process for me has been being part of a critique group. I feel this a must for any writer actively pursuing publication. Getting feedback from other writers is like iron sharpening iron. As a professional writer, you want your work to be sharp for publication. Plus, there’s built in accountability along with a natural learning of how to organize the flow of words on paper. For the disorganized writer, this a great forum to learn what works for others and implement those strategies to become an organized writer.
If you are a writer, do you use a rhyming dictionary? I rarely do. I long ago developped my own algorithm for generating rhymes, one that developped from observations I made doing the New York times crossword puzzle about common consonant combinations in English: r, l, h, and w are most common, with r and l leading the list. For h, you pretty much just have: th, ch, sh, and wh. Etc.
So I just go through the alphabet: bar, blar, brar, car, clar, crar, char, dar, …
One of my kids gave me an actual journal for Christmas, as he knows that I usually write in spiral notebooks. This is a really nice journal, so I decided to keep the spiral notebooks for poems, stories, articles, and other writing fragments and use the journal for journal entries. I’m also attempting to write legibly and not scribble so that it’s possible to go back and reread the entries. Lots of people recommend this as an interesting exercise, but it’s not something I’ve done. Even the stuff I scribble down in my spiral notebooks is hard to read. After all, I learned to type for a reason.
OK, so I’m biting the bullet: I’m not just making New Year’s Resulutions, I’ll declare them here (ulp!) in the hopes that this will encourage me to actually keep them (resolutions 2 and 3, that is ):
Keep on writing and submitting for publication
Exercise. My exercise goal right now is to walk for half an hour a day, weather permitting. Since the winter so far is mild, so no excuses there!
I did walk yesterday.
This morning I wanted to mail my tax estimate to Uncle Sam. Having been taken with a fit of post office paranoia, I wanted to go to a post office and hand the letter to a postal clerk. I decided not to go to my local post office because I would have had to go down route 109 (lots of traffic) so I made a *really bad choice*: I went to the post office in Westwood (also on 109, but further down) and then up route 128.
It reminded me of why I no longer drive that way.
There’s probably a post office in Dover — I drive right through Dover center. Time to go look up the address.