All posts by J Monkeys

Self Sabotage? by J Monkeys

Hi there!  J Monkeys here with a confession.  I saw one of those memes the other day.  You know the one – “take small steps toward your goals every day”…or some crap like that.  Here’s one that took me WAY too long  to find on the internet.

goals

Normally, I scoff at that kind of self-help mumbo-jumbo, but this time it struck me.

 

 

 

I know that life is a journey – and like most journeys, I’ve got a destination in mind for mine.  Sure, sure.  I take time to stop to smell the roses and enjoy the trip.   But at the risk of over extending the metaphor, I’m pretty sure that I’m a little lost, or at least turned around.  Completely.

Not only am I not taking steps every day that will lead directly toward my goals, but most days, I’m actively walking in the opposite direction.

I have three main goals in my life right now, the same goals I’ve had for a while,  all of equal importance to me.   1 – Become a successful writer,  2 – Get myself healthier, and 3 – Take care of my family and household.

What road leads to becoming a successful writer?  How about writing every day.  Treating writing like the job it is.  Putting my butt in the seat and doing it.  I have not been following any of those paths.  In fact, I seem to come up with every reason in the world not to write every day, or any day.  Any distraction, every justification, focusing on everything going on in my life except putting my backside in my seat and moving my story forward.  Hmm. 

What roads lead to becoming healthier?  Well, for a person who is probably 70 pounds heavier that they ought to be with a family rife with heart disease, how about eating healthy foods, moving around until I sweat a little and staying away from those substances (ice cream!) that I know pave the path to diabetes and every other nasty thing looming in my future?  Have I been doing any of those things?  No.  I had donuts for breakfast – note the plural.  No water to drink yet today (it’s 11am,)  no exercise (been watching TV since I dropped the kids off at camp.)  And did I mention the donuts?  How about the Rice Krispy treats my sister-in-law made yesterday that are calling my name?  And where will I be getting lunch?  I don’t know, but I hadn’t planned on a salad.  Hmm.

What roads lead to taking care of my family and my household?  To be honest, I can say that while I’m walking in exactly the wrong direction in my journey toward my other two goals, I’m at least on a parallel, if long and meandering path to this one.  But it’s a scenic and not at all efficient road which often intersects with the direct route, but then detours off again.  Hmm.

What conclusion have I come to after this painful self assessment?   I’m on the road to ruin instead of where I thought I was going.  But now, that I’ve gotten directions,  I have to decide if I’m going to turn this vehicle around.  Maybe I’d better think about that.  And get some water while I’m doing so.  Maybe wash a dish.  Or fetch a salad. 

Are your feet on a path toward your goals or are you self sabotaging like me?  Can’t fix it until you recognize it, right.

 

Summer Vacation in 3 Weeks

Hello World!  Remember way back when you were an elementary student?  For me, those years were…cough…some 30 year ago, but I remember summer vacation being one LOOOOOOOOONG stretch of time spent entertaining myself outside until I was actually bored enough to be looking forward to school.  NOT so these days, at least not in my household. 

My kids’ summer vacation this year, real vacation with nothing planned, no place to be, etc, last exactly 3 weeks – two weeks at the beginning and one week at the end. 

That 3 weeks is really “veg-time”.  By that, I don’t mean sit around and watch TV all day, but rather, go-outside-and-entertain-yourself time.  Play soccer or baseball in the yard.  Climb a tree.  Play in the sandbox.  Ride your bike.  Swim.  Huddle next to the air conditioner and eat popsicles on 100 degree days.   Okay – that one’s inside, but hey, it get’s hot here in CT. 

Funny aside – I got an email from Romance Writers of America about he national conference I’m attending this summer in Texas.  It informed me that it get’s hot in Texas in July, like between 70 and 90 degrees.  Seriously?  70-90 degrees?  That’s amazingly pleasant compared to the 90-100 degrees with 90% humidity we usually enjoy here in Connecticut in July.   Maybe I’ll pack a jacket…

For the rest of the summer out-of-school time, my kids will be at various summer camps, having a blast for sure, but not likely getting bored enough to look forward to school.  Hmmm.  Maybe that’s something for me to think about for next year.

What does your family do during the summer?

Confessions of a Story Binger

Hello, I’m J Monkeys.   I’m a story binger.   Phew.   Boy, it feels good to get that out.   They say you can’t solve a problem until you recognize you have one.   Well, I do.   I binge on stories.   Only good stories, by good storytellers…but still.   I’m a story binger.

You may wonder what brought me to this point in my life.  Lots of things, really.  Specifically, Julia Quinn, Lynn Kurland, Jude Deveraux, Aaron Sorkin, Eric Northman, Temperance Brennen, Piper Halliwell, Jack Bauer, Benedict Cumberbatch, the fellas of Ripper Street, the ladies of Downton, Walter White and Francis Underwood

Back in the days before Netflix, I binged mostly through books.  In my high school and college years, I’m not exaggerating when I write that I read at least a thousand romance novels.  It’s a good thing I’ve had a job since I was 8 years old, to support my habit.  And I discovered second hand book stores about the same time I learned to drive.  very handy, that. 

When the last couple of Harry Potter books came out, my boys weren’t born yet, so I declared each of those days “Harry Potter Day” and nobody was allowed to interrupt me until I had finished the book.  I recall wandering the house, cooking and eating all while sobbing my way through the end of Book 6.

the west wing castIn my 20’s I would occasionally by a season of 24 on DVD, then watch the whole thing in 36 hours or so.    And Mr. Monkeys bought me wonderful Valentine’s Day gifts a couple of years in a row, the complete series of The West Wing and Charmed.  Not together, that would be a strange combination, but two different sets.  Charmed comes in it’s very own book of shadows.  ;)

I’ve had to limit myself to not watching episodes in order, because that leads to another one and another one until half a day has gone by with me watching shows that I can probably recite.  Sigh. 

And True Blood?  I’ve bought the last few seasons and watched the whole thing in less than two days.  Pretty much every moment that the children were unlikely to walk into my office, I was sitting at my laptop, with my headphones on watching the show.  If you are unfamiliar, it’s the kind of show that you never know what someone might say (HBO – f-bombs galore – and that’s not the worst of it!) or what might pop up on the screen in the time it takes to hit pause on the remote. 

bonesBut now, Netflix is enabling me in heretofore unheard of ways!  I watched 7 seasons of Bones in a month.  A MONTH!  That’s like 7 episodes a day.  I watched all of Breaking Bad in a few weeks.   I watched so much 24 in two weeks that I had to take a break from it.  House of Cards, the whole season in a weekend!   I’m chomping at the bit for the next seasons of Sherlock and Ripper Street

Is it any wonder that I seem to have trouble finishing writing projects?!   Okay, I’ve admitted my problem.  Now it’s time for a solution.  Here’s the one I’ve come up with: I vow to stay away from all stories (but my own) until I have written 500 words every day.   No word-y, no story.  That’s my new philosophy. 

Anybody else have this problem?

Pete the Katniss or One Book, One School

Hi there!   J Monkeys coming to you from a Monday morning.  Woot!   For any who don’t know,  I’m a parent who studied literature in college and writes children’s books.  I’m excited to put those experiences together as a member of the One Book One School selection committee for my children’s school.

One Book One School is a program where a school selects one book and assigns it to every student with projects and activities that cover a variety of disciplines.   Now depending on the age range of students at the school, selecting a title can be tough.  Is there a book that is appropriate to both a kindergartener and a sixth grader?   Even in my children’s primary school (kindergarten to 2nd grade) it’s wicked hard. 

Kindergartners are only just learning to read.  They are memorizing sight words and beginning to understand phonetic pronunciation.  By the end of second grade, most students can read pretty well.  Finding a book that is challenging, interesting and appropriate for these disparate needs is tough.  

pete the catTrust me.  I’ve read a dozen books over the past week looking for something to recommend.  I’m calling it my quest for Pete the Katniss. 

Pete the Cat is a series of picture books that follow the antics of a cat named Pete.  His stories are simple, repetitive and often set to music.  

Katniss (in case you live under a rock) is katnissthe oft-violent heroine of The Hunger Games, a young adult distopian political thriller type romance.

For my school’s One Book One School program, I need to find a title that is as interesting as The Hunger Games, but has material that is age appropriate for five year old kids.   And, of course, it’s top secret.  I can’t disclose the titles I’ve been reading.

“But J, there are thousands of books to choose from,  how hard can it be to pick one?” you ask.   Surprisingly difficult.  After the committee’s first meeting, I stopped at the library to get the five books we had selected.  I read them, all children’s books that I had read decades ago, assuming that they would be good choices.  WRONG!

I read those five, and seven more, looking for books to recommend.  It turns out that books published before 1955, as three of them were, are often sexist, racist, xenophobic, use outdated language that can be considered inappropriate now, and/or often have a heavy handed sentence structure that would be completely over the heads of my kindergartners. 

One was too anti-school.  A couple of others were too short – the committee is looking for a chapter book in the neighborhood of 200 pages long.  Obviously, it’s an assignment for the parents as well as the students. 

Another betrayed the truth about a certain holiday gift-giver in such a way that I’m concerned the parents would set the building on fire.   There was a trio of books that are intended for a slightly older audience (really all of these are for an audience older than our students) and might just be a bit over the heads of these 5-8 years olds. 

I did find two that I wholeheartedly recommend, although one of them is a pretty popular series and might be disqualified for that reason.  The committee is looking for something that would be new to most everybody. 

I’m left with one; one book to recommend out of a dozen Middle Grade books read. 

What would you recommend?  I’m looking for something that would appeal to both boys and girls, is a chapter book, and is not likely to offend the parents with subject matter that they would deem inappropriate for a young child.  Bring ‘em on.  I’ve got a follow up meeting this week.   I’ll let you know how it goes.

 

A Brave New Scribely World!

Good Morning and Happy Saturday to you and yours!  J Monkeys here.  You’ve been hearing bits and pieces all week, but here’s the real deal: the Scribes are switchin’ it up!  Who can believe it’s been nearly three years! since we started this baby?  The world has changed, the industry has spun on it’s axis in some ways, and we Scribes have grown as writers.

The Cordovan Vault ebook cover small

Way back in May of 2011 I had exactly one published book, The Cordovan Vault.  

 

TCV, TPT, DIY, Brook, D&T 1, D&T2, D&T3

Now I have seven and counting!

In fact, all of us are in the same boat that way.  We’ve all got lots of authorial stuff going on.   In our new format, you’ll be able to see more images.  And we’ll be blogging a bit less often – we’ve found that when we blog everyday, you guys don’t get enough time to check in. 

But don’t worry, there will still be plenty of Sugar’s delightful snarkiness (honestly, I wait all week for that!), PJ’s indie expertise, Jen and Thea’s wisdom, Suze’s enduring love of history, pop culture and all things Downton, Casey’s craftiness, my randomness, and Katy’s inspiring thoughts.   We’ll continue to host cool authors and you might even find the odd bit of eye-candy.  Plus, if you are looking for content on a particular topic, check out our topic cloud.

Welcome to the Brave New Scribely World!  Tune in next week for my thoughts on Pete the Catniss or One Book, One School, What?!

~ J Monkeys

Using Time Blocks To Get Stuff Done by J Monkeys

Hiddey Ho Scribblers!  J Monkeys here.  Since I have declared 2014 the year in which I shall get stuff done, I’m trying a new system to accomplish that.  As you may all be tired of reading by now, I’ve been working very hard these last few years to achieve Balance, with the capitol B.

Somehow, I’m a dabbler who is hard-wired to turn all energy to one thing at a time.  It doesn’t make any sense, I know.  But it boils down to me not accomplishing my goals when nothing is holding me back but myself.  So, the procrastination-fest that was 2013 has ended and a new era has dawned.  This definitely requires a new time management system.  I’m awesome at time management games like Diner Dash, Parking Dash, and Garden Dash – really any of the Dashes.  Surely I can find a time management system to apply to my life that will help me get stuff done.

Here’s what I’ve been doing the last two weeks and it seems to be working.  During the course of any given week I need to:

  • do things that people are actively willing to pay me to do (aka the day jobs),
  • write the things that will allow me to quit the day jobs,
  • eat healthy things and visit the gym a couple of times so that I can live long enough to enjoy quitting the day jobs,
  • and occasionally do some kind of housework so that Mr. Wonderful won’t arrive home from his much-longer-hours day job and wonder what it is I do all day. 

Basically it boils down to me being a full-time mom and housewife, part-time employee,  part-time writer, and part-time human with other stuff to do/interests.

I have derived my new time management system from my never ending love of Hugh Grant.  He was in a movie called About A Boy in which he lives off a trust fund and doesn’t work.  He breaks his day up into 30 minute units to stay busy.  Well, click here, I’ll let Hugh explain it. 

hugh grant about a boyThose short, 30-minute units don’t work for me.  I need something bigger.  I’ve broken my day into roughly two 3-hour blocks and three 1-hour mini blocks.  Once I get the twins on the school bus at 8:15, I have time to shower and eat a healthy breakfast, maybe check FB/email whilst chewing.  Then from 9:00 to noon, I have my first 3-hour block.  Ideally, this is used as writing time because I’m at my most productive and creative during that block.  But if day job #1 demands the morning block, then so be it.  I try to mix up what demand get’s this best block.

From noon to 1:00, I have lunch, plan dinner and do some kind of housework.  Move the laundry along, empty/fill/run the dishwasher, tidy something.  Then I have my second block, which depending on the day of the week is either 2 or 3 hours long.  I focus on the thing I didn’t do in the morning block – either day job #1 or writing. 

Then I’m off to day job #2, I pick the kids up between 5:30 and 6:00, and do the night routine.  Cook/eat dinner, put the kids to bed, read with my darling niece over the phone, and collapse in an exhausted heap. 

By 8:00 pm, I’m drained of all energy and creativity.  I know, you are all playing your tiny little finger violins at me now, aren’t you.  I have many writer friends who work 40 hours outside the home, have commutes to navigate, have kids, are much better housekeepers than I am and still manage to write faster/with more dedication than me.  But I have come to accept that I have no interest in trying to become Supermom anymore.  I’ve tried and failed.  I’m ready to try something else and succeed.

And as a dieting tip, putting myself to bed immediately after the kids go is a great way not to snack after dinner.  In fact, I think there is a book calling my name as I type.  But this new blocking system has worked pretty well the last two weeks.  I have been writing and I’m excited/energized about the project.  My employers are happy, and I even made it to the gym this week.  Sadly, I haven’t gotten my volunteer PTO commitments up to date, but there is always next week.

The best part is, I feel pretty balanced.  I touched on everything this week, with larger amounts of time dedicated to the things I think are the most important.  I’m looking forward to applying the blocks to next week.  I’m using a paper calendar and blocking time off every day so that I know that it’s available to do the stuff I need to do.

How do you manage your day?  Or does your day manage you?  Are you getting the most out of your time or do you need to change it up?

The Game of Life by J Monkeys

car.game of lifeGood Morning world!  J Monkeys here.  Every January I like to take a few moments to reflect on the year that passed and determine if I’ve made any progress in the Game of Life.  I imagine my little car, complete with a pink and three blue little sticks, moving along the game board.  Sure I had a few paydays, and probably got set back a bit, but over all, did I make any progress over those hills last year?

in 2013, I had a lot of goals and I don’t think I actually ended the year any further along than when I started.  I made some progress along the way, then had some setbacks that negated it.  That’s all right with me, as long as I learned something.  And I did learn something.  Looking at last year in retrospect, I let a couple of good opportunities pass me by because I wasn’t focused, or organized enough, or even was just too lazy.

Well, I have a couple of amazing opportunities before me right now and I do not want to miss out.  One of them is potentially a once-in-a-career, jump-to-a-new-and-exciting-path type of opportunity.  It’s doable, but as we used to say in the corporate world, it’s a stretch goal.  Meaning, I can do it, but I’ll have to stretch myself to get there – it won’t be easy. 

So, here I am at the beginning of 2014.  What goals do I want to set for myself for this year?  I have declared 2014 the year in which I will get…stuff (to be “G” rated) done.  It’s the 11th day of the year, and I’ve already accomplished more toward my goals than I did in the preceding 365! 

In the last two weeks, I have finished and published the DIY Publishing book I had been working on.  I’ve finished and published my third Kindergarten sight word book, Dixie & Taco go to the Beach.  I finalized and published a book I wrote with a bunch of school children last summer, TV is on the Run.  I created and published (for myself) a new organizer.   And I updated my website, www.jmonkeys.com

These things were the low hanging fruit on my to-do list.  There are a few other juicy bits in easy reach that I would like to see finished in short order.  But the best part about having gotten some of these things finished, is that I’ve proven to myself that I can do it.  The excuses I’ve been telling myself clearly are not true.  I can get things done when I put my mind to it.  I’m so excited about my recent accomplishments that it’s really spurring me on.  I’m excited about finishing a few more things, and can’t wait to work on them!

My little car is flying down the board right now.  How’s yours?  Have you been stuck, like me?  What do you need to do to jump start things?  Maybe just finishing a project that is nearly done with spur you on too.