Tips for a Cake Smash

Cake Smashes have become a fun and trendy way to celebrate your baby’s first birthday. The concept is pretty simple: give your baby a cake and let them do with it what they will while you (or a photographer) takes pictures. Easy-peasy, right?  Well, sort of.

The thing is with cake smashes, you can go as big or as simple as you want and the pictures will still turn out cute. I mean, it’s your little one we’re talking about here. They are always adorable. The problem is that we can get caught up in the planning if we aren’t entirely sure what to expect. So here are my tips for planning and executing a fun cake smash for your little one.

1. Relax

Yup. Start here. If you google “cake smash” or, heaven forbid, look it up on Pinterest, you’re going to get overwhelmed with all the ideas and whatnot that you could use to get the perfect photos of your baby. I’d advise against it. Start by breathing. What is the goal of this session? To get fun pictures of your kid getting messier than they’ve ever been allowed to get. If you keep that goal in mind, the rest doesn’t seem so important.

2. List What You Need

Making an organized list can help you with any stress you’re feeling about the day. Keep in mind that you may not use everything that you put on your list. I’m going to show you my list that I made and then the list of what I actually used.

List 1 (what I expected to need):

  • a photographer
  • a cake
  • a cake stand
  • jeans & suspenders for Monkey
  • a birthday hat
  • an empty picture frame (for him to hold & take pictures through, painted blue)
  • a wooden letter (the first letter of his first name, painted blue)
  • a chalkboard & chalk (to write “1” or his name on)
  • a background (either a sheet, pretty paper, or wrapping paper)
  • something to put on the floor
  • Christmas lights (his birthday is in December)
  • bath stuff (for clean up)
  • balloons
  • jingle bells & plastic snowflakes for decor on the floor

List 2 (what I actually used):

  • a photographer
  • a cake
  • jeans & suspenders for Monkey
  • a wooden letter (the first letter of his first name, painted blue)
  • Christmas lights
  • bath stuff

Now, my photo session was pretty minimal and we took the photos in my own home, which changes things. We had a blank wall with enough floor space that we could take pictures on. I was concerned about the lighting since we took the photos in November and my windows face north, but that didn’t seem to make too much of a difference. Of course, you can add or subtract as many things as you need to make the photo session reflect yourselves more. But keep in mind…

3. Be Flexible

Things are going to not really go the way you wanted them to. I had set up a whole area in my house for the photos complete with a wrapping paper background (photographer veto’d it because it was going to reflect too much light), false snow sheet on the floor (also veto’d because the white would be too distracting), oversized jingle bells (too distracting for baby), and a table of props (most of which went unused). Almost the entirety of this area that I had stressed over for days went into the trash immediately.

Then we decided to take some photos of Monkey and, while he wasn’t grumpy, he wasn’t happy either. There were no tears, but also no smiles. He’s a serious looking baby when he wants to be and these photos reflected that. I wanted some joy, but I got mostly wide-eyed stares until the very end.

I was very lucky that Monkey actually wanted to play in the cake, but I’ve seen many pictures of kids who didn’t. I don’t know if it’s because we have given Monkey chocolate before (please don’t judge) or if it’s because he’s a boy who loves to get into stuff, but he had fun flinging the cake all over my dining room. Some kids don’t like mess, are freaking out about the attention, or just don’t like cake yet. And that’s okay. That’s why you have a couple of props. Sometimes they’d rather play with a chalkboard than with cake. Doesn’t mean you’re not going to get some adorable pictures. And you know what, I love the cake smash photos, but we took some pictures of Monkey in the sink afterwards and those are the best of the bunch!

4. Have a Clean-Up Plan

My photo session took place on a Monday at noon so everyone else was working. The only people at my photo session was me, Monkey, and our photographer. And I was stressed that I’d never break the imaginary cycle of clean up baby, start to clean up cake, baby gets into cake, clean up baby, start to clean up cake, baby gets into cake, and so on. Plus my bathtub is on the second floor of my house, but the photos were taking place on the main floor and how was I going to get a squirmy, cake covered boy into the tub without getting cake everywhere and then break that damn cycle?

I’d forgotten the sink! All I needed was a wash cloth, some bubble bath, and a towel and Monkey enjoyed playing in the sink enough to get clean. Plus we got some adorable pictures, which we wouldn’t have gotten if I brought him up to my less than tidy bathroom. I still couldn’t leave him alone so I could get the cake cleaned up (had to wait until I could elicit some help from my brother before that got done), but his clean up was actually kind of a breeze.

5. Don’t Judge the Photos Until You See Them

Between the few smiles and the little natural light and the lack of props, I worried about how the photos would turn out. But when I got them, I was overjoyed. You don’t really need a whole lot to make your kid cute, I promise. You did all the work already when you made the little tyke, right? And, if you really are unhappy, many photographers are more than willing to help make it right. No one wants bad press.

 

 

Some final words of wisdom:

  • Blue icing stains!
  • Oversized sprinkles are a choking hazard
  • Red icing, if super dark, can look a bit like blood
  • Some people advise against chocolate cake, but I thought it still looked cute and, who cares if it looks like dirt? I can’t imagine the bath pictures with white cake instead of chocolate
  • A dustpan works wonders as a shovel to toss whatever cake is left over
  • Make sure to have some orange oil or something of that nature to get the icing off the walls
  • Put your pets away (my dog just really wanted some of that cake and was a distraction to Monkey)
  • Get pictures before and after
  • Making the cake yourself (or getting your talented mom to do it for you) is a great way to save money, especially since most of it goes in the garbage. My mom got a giant cupcake mold from Superstore and baked a chocolate cake from a cake mix. This worked perfectly! No need to go super fancy!
  • Finally, make your kid the star of the show. The cake is fun and so are the props, but people (and you) want to see your kid first!

 

Have you ever done a cake smash? Do you have any tips I might have missed or questions about something I didn’t cover? Let me know below!

 

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Week of Writers’ Block: Day 7

Well here we are! It’s the end of week 3 of NaNoWriMo and the end of our Week of Writers’ Block! I hope that even one of these posts has given you some motivation to keep going towards your goal! Today is the final day of our week so I thought it would be appropriate to talk about endings.

Day 7: Where We End Up

You’ve done it! You reached the end! You’ve trekked through mountains and valleys and over rivers and under a couple of overpasses (cursing the over-development of our natural resources, of course) and finally come to the end. You think. I mean, you could have ended it at anytime so what makes now the end? Did you say, “I’m going to walk 100 000 steps and then I will be done” or did you just figure you’d know when the end came? Should you head back to your car now or is that another clearing over there that you should check out first?

How do you know when you’ve finished? There’s a whole lot of talk about “satisfying” a reader, but what does that even mean? How do you know that you should end the book here versus three chapters from now or thirteen pages ago?

1. What’s Your Genre?

Different genres have different expectations regarding where your ending is. If you’re writing a romance, it’d be really strange to write the whole book where your two characters never get together. They may not end up together, but isn’t the whole point of a romance to get to the steamy bits? In murder mysteries, the ending would be incredibly unsatisfactory if the reader never learned who the killer was. They don’t necessarily need to be caught, but if you ended the book with “and the killer killed everyone investigating the case gruesomely. The end.” I’m pretty sure there’d be some pretty angry readers out there.

So research your genre a little bit. “Ew! Research?” you say, but don’t worry hypothetical reader! You’ve already done lots of research. Writers are often readers (actually if you’re trying to write a book in a genre you don’t read…maybe put down the pen and pick up a book). Think of your favorite books in your genre. How did they end? What was resolved? What wasn’t? Now think of your least favorite books in your genre. How did they end? What didn’t you like about the ending?

Don’t copy other authors’ endings, but see the level of resolution and try to emulate it.

2. Sequel or Standalone?

If you’ve hiked all this way, it’s a good idea to know whether you’d like to rest for a while before starting the second leg of this journey or if your hike is complete where you are. You’re going to end in different places if you plan on following this novel with a second one or if you feel like the story is complete in and of itself.

There is a huge push to write book after book after book in a series and, in some cases, it’s a great way to ensure that you have a repeat customer base. But not all books need sequels. It’s not an automatic mark of value if your book is the first in a trilogy. Series and standalones both have their own merits, but they change the way that the stories end.

If you’re writing a series, you could end the book with the main storyline still up in the air, but having many of the subplots resolved. A good example of this is Patrick Rothfuss’ The Kingkiller ChroniclesThe main story is trying to figure out how the great and powerful Kvothe went from magical protege to unknown innkeeper. It’s a trilogy (sort of. There is a short story and a novella that are tied to this series as well). Each book ends a part of Kvothe’s life, but doesn’t explain how he got to where he is at the beginning of the first book until the end of the third (or I assume so since the third book isn’t available yet). J.K. Rowling’s Harry Potter  series is the same. Each book details a year in the life of Harry Potter, but the conflict with Voldemort isn’t resolved until the seventh book.

In a series, you could also write standalone novels that connect via the setting or even some of the characters, but are not so necessary to one another that you have to read them in an order or even read them all. Brian Jacques’ Redwall series is a great example of this. All 20+ novels in this series are connected in setting and refer to characters from his other books, but each are a standalone story that you can read in any order. There is no overarching plot or theme.

If you’re writing a standalone novel, you will need to make sure all your subplots are resolved. They don’t all have to have happy endings or endings at all, but the reader should have a sense that you didn’t just abandon that storyline or plot.

Once you know whether you are writing a series or a standalone novel, you should have a better idea if you’re at the ending of the book or not. Keep in mind for a series, though, that you and your readers are making a commitment to stay engaged until the end so you need to have enough material to keep going without stretching the plot until it’s threadbare. Each book still needs to end with enough resolution that if a sequel weren’t to be published (maybe you lose interest or, heaven forbid, you die before it’s released), your readers would still have some measure of joy in reading it. Think here of Robert Jordan’s The Wheels of Time series.

3. What’s Your Map Say?

If you had a plan, even a general one, of where you wanted your story to go, use that as a measure against where you are now. Retrace some of your steps to make sure your subplots are resolved. When you think you’re at the end, this might be a good time to go back and read the entirety of your book, making notes for each plot or summarizing each chapter as you go. This will also turn you into your own reader and you can get to the ending and think either yes, this is what you want or no, what have you done? You could get one of your first readers to help you with this.

Another way to double check your map is to summarize where each character has ended up or the resolution of each plot in 1 sentence to yourself. For example, Snow White and Prince Charming get married after defeating the Evil Queen. The Dwarves are content to go back to their lives as weird bachelors, having aided the new queen and her husband. Evil Queen dies horribly offscreen. If you can’t summarize, maybe there is still more to write.

These are all ways to double check to see if you’ve finished your book, but I think that each writer, in their heart of hearts, knows when the book is done. And by done, I mean finished the first draft. Because after this comes edits and rewrites and all the scary technical bits of writing a book. And knowing when that is done is a fine art, so I’ve heard.

Have you finished a story and wondered if it was truly finished? What do you do? Tell me below and thank you for joining me for this Week of Writers’ Block!

Week of Writers’ Block: Day 6

I can’t believe that we are already nearing the end of our Week of Writers’ Block! Partially because this week is going by so quickly and partially because by the end of this week, I’ve got very little left in my writing tank. Gotta do some recharging, I think.

Today’s block might be stretching the term “block,” but screw it! I’m just proud I got this far. Anyways, today we are talking about when you hate where you are.

Day 6: This Forest Sucks

Today you’ve been writing for a while. The path behind you is pretty long, long enough that you feel invested in the journey. The problem is that this forest is the worst. The trees are stupid, the path is bumpy, the birds have been replaced by strange winged squirrels that are not nearly as cute as they sound. Sometimes they fly straight at your head so you drop your snacks. There is nothing redeeming about where you are and you’re wondering if maybe you should go back to your car and start again. The only thing keeping you from turning around and pretending this never happened is that you’ve come a long way. Wouldn’t it be a waste to turn back?

Ah, yes, we’ve all been there. We hate our story. It’s stupid. The characters are unlikable and the premise is dumb and in what universe would anyone read this crap (well, probably this one since there is an apparently huge market for garbage like 50 Shades of Grey). What do you do if you’ve put lots of time into drivel?

1. Go Home

Yeah, I know I said that I don’t condone trashing your work and I really don’t. Sometimes, though, we write trash. No one’s perfect. And if you really feel like what you’ve written isn’t worth your time and effort, it’s okay to start something new. Don’t delete or burn what you’ve done. Maybe you can come back to it later. Maybe there is an ember of an idea here that can later be used to create a masterpiece. Maybe you’ve started this story too early in your life and you need to be five years older to write it. I don’t know. But it really does seem like a waste of time to, not just abandon the journey, but erase all memory of it.

It’s okay to start again. And every word you wrote that you hated taught you what you want to write. It’s not a waste to practice and learn, I promise.

2. Press On

Sometimes we hate where we are because of outside influences. Maybe you just read something one of your really talented friends wrote (ugh, happens to me all the time. I need to find more mediocre people to follow on social media) and when you compare it to what you’ve written, you feel abysmal. Maybe your characters are acting in a way that irritates you (but it’s good for the story). Whatever it is that is making you hate the story, identify it. Take a break from writing and think on it.

After you identify what you hate, you can press on in one of two ways: fix it as you go or realize that it leads to a better story and let it happen. For example, I have this character in my novel and right now, I can’t stand her. She’s so whiny, which I’m especially sensitive to with a 1 year old on my hands. Going forward, I can simply make her less whiny or I can identify why she’s whiny and use it to develop her character. Maybe she’s whiny now, but she learns to toughen up. Or maybe she’s whiny because her world has been turned upside down and she’s still a child so this is her way of dealing with it. Either way, I can realize that this hatred of where my story is right now is temporary.

Think of the books you like to read. Is there a part in it that you can’t stand to read? Why? Does it help the story? Sometimes where we are in our story sucks, but prepares us and our readers for a better place later.

3. Retrace Your Steps

You’ve been writing for a while and it can’t have been all bad, right? A compromise between method 1 and 2 above is to only go back as far as you feel it’s necessary. Then blaze a new trail! In this scenario, make sure that you’re honest with yourself about what you don’t like. If it’s a decision one of your characters made, go back and try something different. If it’s because someone else is just magically talented and you feel like crap, see what you can learn from them and use that knowledge to good use.

Like with method 1, I wouldn’t delete what you wrote. Save it under a new file (every time I make major changes or deletions, I save it under Book Title – Draft # and put whatever number of draft it is. Right now, I’m on draft 3). This way, if you like the new direction even less or you get a great idea for your first direction, it’s still there. It’s like putting a pushpin in a map. You’ll always have it to go back to if you desire.

 

Do you struggle with hating where you’ve ended up? What makes you feel that way? What do you do to overcome it? Let me know below and come back tomorrow for the final day in our week of writers’ block!

Week of Writers’ Block: Day 5

We are nearly through our Week of Writers’ Block series and, I’m going to be honest, I’m struggling with today’s block: motivation. This block is related to all of the other blocks because all of the other blocks can murder your motivation, but sadly, it’s also a block of its own.

Day 5: Setting Up Camp (or, It’s Sure Comfortable Here)

We have been talking a lot about hiking in the last four metaphors, which is weird since me and the outdoors have a live/let live policy with one another. Today, let’s continue the metaphor. Instead of hiking, though, you’ve found a comfortable clearing, maybe with a BBQ and a water hook-up, and you’ve set up camp. At first, you figure you’ll only rest the night, maybe two, before you continue on your journey. But then you have that first hot shower and you think “I could get used to this.”

Now weeks have passed and your tent has become a log cabin with a bear skin rug and a hearty fire in the fireplace. You have found every excuse to stay. Maybe the cabin needs a bed. Yeah, you can’t leave it for the next person without a place to sleep! So you forage some wood, craft a bed and set it up in the cabin. But now you need the mattress because sleeping on a wooden pallet is just as uncomfortable as sleeping on the floor. So you sew up a giant bag, find lots of dry grass, and stuff a mattress. Wonderful! But now you need a pillow…

If you're not careful, your tent turns into a castle that you're content to never leave again.
If you’re not careful, your tent turns into a castle that you’re content to never leave again.

It’s easy to find excuses not to write. An author that I admire very much once told me that she procrastinates by cleaning the entirety of her house, then makes some dinner, plays with her cats, and thinks about doing some exercise whenever she’s supposed to be writing. My procrastination is less productive. I watch TV, play video games, or take a nap to avoid sitting at my computer.

Writing is hard. You risk wasting your time every time you sit down. You risk having to confront some of the darker parts of yourself. You risk having to fight the demons of insecurity when you misspell a four letter word that you thought you mastered back in second grade, but clearly didn’t and maybe you should stop relying so much on spell-check, you dunce. So how do you keep yourself from procrastinating away all your writing time?

1. Set a Deadline

I liken this to setting a bomb in the clearing. In exactly three days time, this bomb will explode and destroy whatever I’ve built in this clearing so I won’t spend my time building a log cabin when it’s about to go up in smoke. That way, I get my chance to rest but I know that I have to get a move on before my stuff blows up.

One of the great parts of NaNoWriMo is that there is a deadline: 50 000 words by December 1. That is a clear goal that you want to reach. It’s something you can turn into manageable bit-sized chunks (1 667 words per day or 11 667 words per week). Lit magazines also provide motivating deadlines in the form of contests. To stop you from using the excuse that you need to search for contests and deadlines instead of writing, head over to Literistic where every month you get a list of publications with calls for submission or contests.

If it’s not November or you’re more interested in writing novels instead of short stories, give yourself a word count that you need to hit every month. Incentivize it if that helps you. Another option is to let life dictate some of your deadlines. For example, I have a baby due in January. If I’ve barely found enough time to write with 1 kid, how am I going to find enough time to write with 2? So I’ve got a deadline of January to get my novel done (haha – yeah right). In the short term, Monkey naps for about 3 hours every day so if I want to write, I have to do it in that time. Another deadline.

2. Get a Buddy

It’s easier to motivate yourself if you delegate that task to someone else! If you have a friend that is also writing, motivate each other! Keep each other up to date on your progress and, if you haven’t heard in a while, nag each other until there is some writing happening. If you’ve got a group to be accountable to, that’s even better!

Speaking of deadlines, my little Monkey has woken up and my deadline has been reached! So now it’s your turn! Tell me about your motivational blocks and come back tomorrow to tackle the second last writers’ block!

Week of Writers’ Block: Day 4

Welcome back to day 4 of our week of writers’ block! For the passed couple of days, we have been talking about how we sometimes get stuck when writing new stuff and how to overcome the barriers that keep us from finishing our work. Today, we are talking about a fun one: fear.

Day 4: Too Many Mountains

This metaphor actually came from my mother, though she wasn’t talking about writing. She was talking about going through labour, but in some ways, writing a novel sure feels similar to labour.

You standing at the base of a mountain. It looks absolutely massive. How in the world will you be able to scale this sucker? When you look towards the top of the mountain you see yet another, taller mountain towering behind the first. And another behind it. Suddenly, you’re overwhelmed by the entirety of the mountain range that you’re going to have to traverse if you want to reach your goal. It’s just too much. Even if you get over one mountain, there are dozens after it! Why not quit before you waste anyone’s time?

Those mountains can be anything. For a dear friend of mine who has already completed the monumental task of writing a novel and is starting on the second, the mountains are the publishing process. Self-publishing or traditional? Agent or no agent? What if it takes years and years to get published, if it happens at all? What if self-publishing is so much work that she has to settle? What if, in either case, the book gets lost in everything else out there? With all of those unknowns, it’s hard to think about writing another book that will put her right back in this same situation.

For me, a big part of this block is fear of the internet. I know, weird right? Between the Gamergate thing last summer and the Hugo awards, I’m absolutely terrified of the sci-fi/fantasy worlds right now. If I complete my novel, get it published, and have any success at all, what is the backlash I could face? I see the twitter mentions of some of my favorite authors and it immobilizes me. I can’t imagine having my phone constantly notifying me of the latest person who hates my work enough that they threaten me and my family. What about doxing? If someone publishes my personal information and endangers my kids… I just can’t imagine.

Your mountains are probably different. What if people hate my book? What if there’s no market for what I’m writing? What if it becomes wildly successful and I never get to have time to myself? What if I work incredibly hard on this book for years and nothing comes of it? What if my writing isn’t enough? What if someone else had this idea already and I just don’t know it? These fears can be debilitating to the creative process. So what can you do?

Yeah, they're beautiful, but I'd rather look than climb...
Yeah, they’re beautiful, but I’d rather look than climb…

1. One Step at a Time

This is what my mom suggests and you can’t argue with motherly wisdom. Yeah, those other mountains might suck and you might be tired and there might be bears on that one over there, but those don’t need to concern you right now. Focus on the mountain in front of you. You can conquer it in a series of steps and, in writing, each word counts as a step (tell that to my fitbit). Yeah, that publishing stuff is scary and you might have lots of internet haters, but that’s not what you need to worry about right now. Just put one word behind another and you can put this mountain behind you. Once you’ve completed the writing mountains, then you can look towards the publishing ones.

Once you’re at the publishing ones, figure out what bit-sized pieces you can turn the mountain into. Oh, publishers like writers with an online presence? Then the first step is to join some social media, start a blog, or whatever. Other publishers want authors that have short stuff already published? Write some short stories, submit them, etc. You want to self-publish? Get it edited (at least get it proofread, I’m serious), consider art for the cover. If that all seems too much, write your acknowledgements.

Yeah, the mountain range is huge, but you don’t have to plan for every mountain until you get there. And for every mountain you conquer, you’ll have a little more confidence in the next.

2. Make a Plan

For some people, a great way to relieve anxiety is to make a rough plan for what you want to happen. I’m terrified of internet trolls? Maybe I plan to hire someone to deal with my social media if I get to be that successful (but like, why plan for that success when I’m not even finished my book?). Scared that there won’t be a market for your book? Do some research. If it’s a book you want to read, there’s probably a market for it. If there’s no market, are you open to changes to make it more marketable? If you make a rough plan for the next, say, three mountains, you might feel prepared enough to keep writing.

However, in this case, keep in mind what kind of person you are. If doing research is going to terrify you further, maybe resist the temptation. Remember that things change over time. If you are worried about something now, it may not be an issue by the time you get to finishing your book.

3. Talk About It

If you’re a creative type, chances are you know lots of creative types. It doesn’t have to be writers, even. Artists, musicians, every person who loves creativity deals with these issues. Get together with someone and talk about your fear. Remember that the biggest boogeymen live in our heads. Friends can give us some perspective and reduce that fear down to something much more manageable. Plus, you could go somewhere that has delicious food. Double win.

Your turn! What are the mountains of fear that keep you from writing? Do any of these three methods help? See you tomorrow for day 5 of our week of writers’ block where we talk about the motivation block!

Week of Writers’ Block: Day 3

In case you missed it, this week we are talking about writers’ block. We have talked about two types already: having nowhere to go and dealing with distractions. Today we are talking about what to do if you have too many ideas and don’t know which one to pick.

Day 3: Crossroads

Sometimes you have a character that is standing at a crossroads and you’re not sure which path to take. Sometimes there’s two options or three or four or forty. Having an abundance of ideas is just as crippling as having none. What happens if you pick option A and you hate it? What happens if option B is the most interesting, but is a pain in the butt to write? What happens if two or more of the options could lead to equally satisfying endings? Or what if none of them do?

This visual is pretty obvious. Think of yourself standing on a sidewalk and it forks into many different paths. There’s a sign in front of you that points to each direction, but you’re not entirely sure which destination you’re looking for. What do you do?

1. Pick One at Random

Sometimes you just have to put on a blindfold, spin around, and follow the path you end up staring at. This is a great option for problem solvers and people who like spontaneity. Maybe this direction isn’t the obvious choice and now you deal with problems that you didn’t anticipate–and neither did your readers. This can invigorate your story… Or it can cause you to hate what you’re doing and scrap the whole project. There is definite risk in this option. You might also pick a route that’s uninspired and can bore your readers or you as the writer. And, trust me, if you’re bored, your readers will know it. If you choose this method, I’d advice placing some kind of marker in your work to show where the block started so if you end up unhappy with the direction, you know where to start from. My favorite way of marking is to change the font colour (from black to navy or something subtle like that so you’re not staring at fuchsia for days and days on end).

2. Make a Map

For all of you out there that hate to plan, this is not the method for you. This method involves those outlines that I don’t think a single person likes. Start with where you are in a circle in the middle of the page. Then draw a line and start plotting one of the directions your story can take. Follow it as far as you want, which could be to the book’s end or just a couple of chapters. If another crossroads presents itself, feel free to make multiple directions here as well. Once you’ve finished with one direction, go back to the starting point and make a new line for another direction you could take.

Everyone loves outlines.
Everyone loves outlines.

You can make it as intricate as you want. You can make scene lists or plot points or whatever will inspire you. There are programs that can help with this or you can simply do it in Microsoft Paint like I did. Keep adding to your map until you find a direction that satisfies you.

3. Ask a Local

This goes against what a lot of other writers say, but it’s still an option: get a second opinion. I have a couple of people that are my “first readers.” They read my drafts and let me know what they think. If I’m stuck, I usually ask them what parts of the book they want to know more about or, conversely, what does not interest them at all. For this to work, you have to have people you trust to 1. not steal your work and 2. give you honest opinions. It helps if they’re in your target reader demographic.

Sometimes asking for an opinion gets you no where, but sometimes it prompts a discussion that helps you decide where you’d like to end up. It’s the same principle as when you don’t know what to choose so you flip a coin and while the coin is in the air, you realize which way you hope it lands. I find that discussing my story with those trusted “first readers” gets me going on whatever path I’m most excited about, even if I didn’t know that I was most excited about that path to begin with.

Do you ever have too many directions and are unsure of which to take? What do you do in that situation? Then return tomorrow for day 4 of our writers’ block week where we talk about the fear block!

Week of Writers’ Block: Day 2

So yesterday we talked about the type of writers’ block where you don’t know where your story should go. Today is a little bit different. In today’s post, we’ll be talking about the block that doesn’t come from inside your head, but instead comes from the outside world being just a little too much.

Day 2: The Way is Clear, But…

As you remember, I love thinking visually about writers’ block so that it doesn’t seem so insurmountable. So today’s visual is standing at the edge of a lake. You have taken a writing trail to a beach and now the water is lapping at your feet. Sounds relaxing? Not so much. Your writing trail leads you straight into the water. In fact, the water is so clear that you can see exactly where you’re wanting to go next, but the problem is the lake itself. At first, you can wade for a while, but then the water gets quite deep and you don’t have the gear to follow your trail the way you want to, you know, without getting sopping wet or even drowning.

What I mean by this lake metaphor is when you know exactly what you want to write and where you want your characters to go, but the outside world seems to keep you from writing. This is the writers’ block I deal with the most. I know the entirety of my next chapter, but I have a baby to take care of, a nursery to put together, general house and self upkeep, and a whole host of things that take me away from the page. The water doesn’t just represent chores and to-do lists, though. Are you dealing with emotions that are keeping you from writing? How about personal traumas or crises? For me, I can never write when I’m angry. No matter how focused I think I can get, my anger pulls my attention back to whatever is pissing me off.

For example, this week I have organized the next couple thousand words of my book. I’ve planned each encounter, piece of dialogue, the setting. It’s all done. But someone said something at church that has me sitting in a fuming rage whenever I think about it. I’m mad even writing about it. And that kind of anger colours my work. If I were to keep writing my book, the thing I’m mad about would creep its way into my story, even though it doesn’t belong there. This anger, this issue, is part of the lake that’s stopping me from writing.

So what do you do?

1. Get Some Gear

Find a way to make the water inconsequential. Get some scuba gear or even a snorkel and make your way through the water anyways. The to-do list you have? Do a chore, write 500 words. Do another chore, write another 500 words. Or say to yourself that today you will complete your to-do list, but tomorrow is time for writing. Your little ones are awake? That’s okay! Spend time with them until their next nap then take your time to write. Or let them sit for 20 minutes in front of the TV while you write your 500 words (or however many you can in 20 minutes). As long as they’re safe and not being neglected, let yourself indulge your creativity. Sometimes this takes a little bit of juggling, but if you can, find a way to prioritize writing the way you do dishes or laundry or whatever other chores you do.

If it’s the emotional or personal stuff getting in the way, say to yourself, “I will deal with this issue or indulge my feelings in two hours. But before that, I will focus on being creative.” Then set a timer. When you find yourself thinking about whatever it is that has got you down, take a deep breath and say, “Not yet.” It helps, I swear.

2. Drain the Lake*

This is not an every day solution, but sometimes, find a way to get away to write. If it’s kids that keep you from writing, see if a babysitter is available (or a family member or spouse or whatever) to take them for even an hour. Get out to a coffee shop or lock yourself in your office to get your writing done. If it’s chores that are stopping you, do a deep clean. Get everything done you can think of so that they won’t be bothering you for a couple of days. Or, if you have the money, hire someone to do it for you (maybe not on a continuous basis, but a one-off clean I’m sure would be helpful). Maybe order take-out instead of making supper tonight so the time you’d use to cook could be writing time.

When it’s the trauma or crises, take some time to write about it. Not in a story or anything that anyone ever needs to read. If someone’s wronged you, write them a letter (maybe don’t send it though). Do a stream of consciousness if that works for you. Cry, yell, or sulk. Whatever you need to do to put that emotion away for a day, do it. Get rid of whatever water is blocking you from your trial.

*No fictional animals or ecosystems were harmed in the making of this metaphor.

3. Wade in Anyways

Sometimes the water isn’t as deep as you thought. Maybe it is, but you’re actually an excellent swimmer or you can hold your breath for an inordinate amount of time. Maybe you don’t have a way to get rid of the distractions of life so you soldier forward anyways. That’s okay too. It could change your writing, but maybe that’s for the better? If not, editing can always fix it. Perhaps you excel under pressure and taking snippets of time between the distractions gives you the best prose you’ve ever written. Sometimes the distractions aren’t as monumental as they can seem and the lake is really just a puddle. A warning, though: constant wading can make for some intense fatigue. Your writing can become a chore rather than an outlet for your creativity and cause you more emotional distress than relieve it. So, be careful if you choose this method.

Tell me, do you suffer from this kind of writers’ block? How do you focus on writing when the rest of the world begs for your attention?

Come back tomorrow to continue this week of writers’ block where we talk about having way too many directions to choose from!

Week of Writers’ Block: Day 1

We are coming into the third week of NaNoWriMo (National Novel Writing Month which is a month where people challenge themselves to write a novel of about 50 000 words. There are groups and pages and get-togethers all through the month of November to encourage people to reach this goal), which is usually one of the hardest weeks. Since there is no way I can commit to 50 000 while raising an almost 1 year old and being insanely pregnant, I’m going to make a list of types of writers’ blocks and ways to break them down so my writer friends can get back to reaching their goals!

Day 1: Nowhere to Go

I like to think in visuals when it comes to writers’ block so that it seems a lot more manageable. For this type of writer’s block, I picture the writer standing at the edge of a cliff. Behind them is the written path that they took to get here and ahead? Nothing, but air. So where do you go from here? Because NaNoWriMo is all about word counts, we aren’t going to encourage anyone to go back and rewrite anything. We want to move forward. For this writers’ block, there are a couple of different things you can do to get around it:

1. Change your perspective

When you’re standing at the edge of a cliff, it looks like there is no where to go. You can’t step forward because you’ll fall. You don’t want to go back and waste all that time and all those words. You look up, there’s sky. You look down, a sure drop to death. So we change perspectives. Instead of looking through the writer’s eyes, look at the writer from a third person perspective. Maybe you see a staircase leading down the side of the cliff or a rope ladder that was camouflaged in the rock or a bridge to another mountain that was hidden by a rock formation.

Stepping outside the metaphor, you can do this by imagining your story from the villain’s perspective or anyone other than the protagonist. If you’re writing in third person, think in the perspective of first person for a couple of minutes. What do other characters or other perspectives show you about your character’s current situation? If you see a new path to follow, find a way to make it happen. When you’ve written yourself to a cliff, it usually means you need a change of direction. So follow the stairs down or find a way across the bridge or let the rope ladder take you where you can go next.

2. Jump

When you are on a cliff’s edge and you can’t change perspective, you have another option: jump. You’re either going to fly or you’re going to fall. Either way, you’re moving, right? This method just means that you should write anyways. Just keep writing a stream of (maybe) useless nothings until the words start to form a direction.

This way is risky. You could keep writing and nothing comes from it. It could be a great waste of time. Or just the act of writing can make the story work itself into something better than you imagined. Sometimes the story gets lost in that brain of yours and the only way to get it out is by letting your fingers take over.

The only thing I’d suggest here is to change your font colour so that if you do end up falling, you know where the block started and can erase and start again if you need to.

3. Wait

Again on the mountain top, sometimes the bridge hasn’t caught up with you and if you wait a little while, the bridge will get built. By this, I mean, go out and take a break. The cliff will be there when you get back, but inspiration is everywhere (except the internet. Stay away from the internet!). Go for a walk, get a coffee, read a book, call up a friend. Do something that takes you out of your blocked head space and into a world of movement.  You may hear something, see something, read something that acts as a notification that, yes! the bridge has been completed and you can keep on writing.

How about it? Do you get this kind of writers’ block? Do you follow any of these methods to get rid of it or do you do something else? Let me know in the comments!

Come back tomorrow for day 2 of the week of writers’ block where we talk about how life gets in the way of your writing!

Just a Phase

How many times in the first year of your child’s life do you hear “It’s just a phase. It’ll pass.”? For me, it feels like it’s everyone’s default response to hard days and –surprise!– it does absolutely nothing to make me feel better. Does it help anyone, I wonder?

“My son rolls onto his belly and then can’t get back to his back so he screams until I do it for him. It’s driving me crazy!”

“It’s just a phase! Enjoy it while it lasts!”

“My kid has started screaming at the top of his lungs so that the dog will start howling and it becomes a never-ending cycle of screaming and howling until my ears ring.”

“It’s just a phase! Enjoy it while it lasts!”

“My kid won’t stop throwing his soother out of his crib as a ploy to get someone to come see him. I’m constantly on the floor in the dark looking for a stupid soother.”

“It’s just a phase! Enjoy it while it lasts!”

“My little boy, who has slept through the night since about 2 months, has started having night terrors that get everyone in the house up multiple times per night. I am so exhausted.”

“It’s just a phase! Enjoy it while it lasts!”

“BUT IT’S BEEN 4 MONTHS!”

“Some phases last longer than others.”

I'm supposed to be sleeping!
 I’m supposed to be sleeping!

Honestly, hearing this over and over invalidated how I was feeling, which most of the time was complete and utter exhaustion. There was very little joy to be found in the teething days, the sleepless nights, and the fact that I was pregnant most of his first year. The last thing I needed to hear was that I should be enjoying it. What I wanted to hear was “Oh that sounds like a nightmare! Would you like something delicious to eat/drink to make you feel better?”

We tell mothers to enjoy every minute of their babies’ lives. And I get why, especially from older moms. When your kid can’t seem to keep himself out of detention or your teenager is so freaking stubborn that you want to lock her in her room until she’s reasonable again, the days with a pliable baby sure look like a dream. I get it. But that doesn’t help me today. Just like someone with adult children telling someone with teenagers that “it’s just a phase” would drive the parent of teens up the wall. When a parent tells you they feel like crap or they’re struggling with a phase in their kids’ lives, they’re not looking for “comfort” (if that’s what you want to think of it as). They’re looking for validation.

Yes, when your kid just won’t sleep, it sucks. Yes, when your kid refuses to be potty trained, it sucks. Yes, when your kids won’t do their homework, talks back to you, doesn’t listen, or really any of the “phases” between infancy and adulthood, it sucks. Parenting, in general, is not fun. It’s a huge amount of work to teach a human being literally every single thing about how to be a human being. And, apparently, it’s fulfilling. I’ll let you know when we get to that part.

And you know what the worst part of it all it? Everything is a phase. It really is. And once the phase is done, you do feel that wonderful sense of relief that it didn’t become the new normal. But telling you that in the midst of the phase helps no one. Offering sympathy and something delicious is a much better plan. I promise that no parent is going to decline an offer for cookies unless they have an allergy or something. Actually, this goes for everyone. If you want to be well-liked, just carry cookies with you all the time. Student in the middle of midterms? Here’s a cookie. Bride planning her wedding? Here’s a cookie. Anybody on a Monday? Here’s a cookie. Pure gold.

So, how many times have you dealt with that dreaded phrase? Does it drive you bonkers or does it give you a sense of hope (trick question, no one says it fills them with hope)? What is your stance on cookies?

Happy Halloween

Happy Halloween to all my friends who celebrate!

As a little girl, my family didn’t celebrate Halloween and, honestly, I don’t feel like I missed out. If Halloween fell on a week day during my elementary school days, we got to stay home and eat the candy that my parents bought for us. Then we’d have a very unhealthy supper, courtesy of my father, and watch some Disney movies. My parents made the day special for us without the costumes or going door to door asking strangers for candy. Sometimes, though, when I was in my bed and I could hear older kids still out yelling “Trick or treat!”, I couldn’t help but feel a little left out.

When Brian and I bought our first house, we decided to hand out candy. We were in a neighbourhood filled with little ones and I felt weird not handing out candy. And in no time, I fell in love with the fun of trick or treating. One of our first kids was very young. This must have been his first time out and, judging by his bucket, we were his first house. From inside the house, all we saw of this little boy at first was a pair of hands spread on the glass panel of our front door and heard a muffled “No, buddy, you gotta knock.”

When we opened the door, he scampered inside towards our dog, who hates Halloween as much as American dogs hate the Fourth of July. His dad caught him and brought him back saying, “No, you stay outside and say ‘Trick or treat!’.”

He just looked at me with his wide little eyes and said nothing. So we filled his bucket with candy. Then as he turned, his mom said, “Now what do you say?” in that voice we have all heard when a parent is trying to teach their kids to be polite. So the little guy turned back and whispered, “I love you.”

I was sold on the celebration that day. It’s fun watching the little guys parade up and down the block asking for candy and, I think, builds community a little bit as you meet the people you live around. There are two things I don’t love about this day though: the selfishness and the fear.

The selfishness is obvious. As kids get older, some of them get it into their heads that they deserve one thing or another and turn their noses up at the free candy they are getting from their neighbours or they give attitude to the people giving them free stuff. We have all seen it. Super obnoxious. I think it’s part of the reason my parents didn’t like the day when I was growing up.

The other part is the fear. As someone who grew up with a very vivid imagination and a penchant for empathizing deeply with fictional characters, lots of things frightened me. I still have nightmares after watching Texas Chainsaw Massacre with my friends when I was fourteen. And I don’t love that we as a culture subject ourselves to gruesome images and psychological creepiness for a thrill around this time of year. I’m not judging anyone who loves horror movies or anything of the like, but I know that it’s too much for me.

Especially now that I have kids. It’s not even the fact that I don’t want my kids to ever get into that stuff. I mean, if they become horror junkies and love the genre, that’s their choice, not mine (well, except when they are young. Then it’s my choice). It’s more that the mention of violence towards kids can give me a panic attack. For example, I am currently reading City of Dragons by Robin Hobb (which I’m enjoying immensely) and there is one small detail of a severed child’s hand in a box. The description is maybe a sentence long and not even that detailed. The only word used to describe it is “pleading.” I read it about an hour before bed and I stayed up half the night unable to get the image out of my head. I thought of my son and all the things he’s been doing lately with his little hands. He just learned how to clap a couple of weeks ago. He loves sucking on his fingers. When he was around 3 months, he used to reach his hand up to my face and hold my chin while I fed him. To think of anyone harming that hand makes me physically ill.

And, for me, avoiding fear is something I struggle with on a daily basis. We are going to have another baby in January and every time I have a contraction, I fear that labour is starting early. We have an ultrasound scheduled at the end of next month to dispel concerns our doctor has and I worry every day what it will show. I worry when Monkey wakes up in the middle of the night crying because he’s been having night terrors (where he seems awake and terrified, but is still deeply sleeping and all I can do is watch as he thrashes and screams in his crib because waking him would only make it worse). I worry when he doesn’t wake up at night because what if he’s suffocated himself? When fear is something I don’t want to experience every other day of the year, why would I invite it now?

So we avoid the scary decorations and costumes, opting instead for something lighthearted. There are no tricks in this household, only treats. Though there is a dog who won’t shut up everytime the door bell rings. He’s kind of scary.

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The scary (read: loud) dog and his polar bear buddy.

What about you? Do you love Halloween or hate it? How about the scary stuff? Tell me all about in the comments!