How To Simplify Your Life: Anne Riley’s Guide To Mothering, Working, And Writing

There is a certain question I’m asked consistently. So consistently, in fact, that it’s one of the first questions I answered on my FAQ page. Everyone from my friends to my students to my agent to complete strangers have asked it at one point or another:

“How do you balance being a mom, working full time, and writing?”

Well, Grasshoppers, first I must tell you that “balance” probably isn’t the best choice of words to describe what I do. Secondly, I’m hardly the only person who ever lived to do all those things at once.

And thirdly, I’ve found some shortcuts.

See, the secret is to simplify your life to the point that the multitasking becomes manageable. But HOW do you simplify? And WHAT do you simplify?

Allow me to explain.

1) Become a ruthless grocery shopper. Going to the grocery store can be extremely time-consuming and can eat up valuable minutes that might have been spent writing, or maybe napping. So how can you speed up the process?

Blow through that place like it’s your own personal NASCAR track. You’ve got a cart, right? USE IT. Slam into the slow shoppers from behind; if you apologize enough, they won’t get mad, but they will stay out of your way.

Aim for speeds of twenty miles per hour when going down the aisles. And if you’ve got a small child, put them in one of those giant carts that looks like a car. Then you can REALLY make some progress.

If all else fails, make a siren noise with your mouth. People are hardwired to react to sirens. I guarantee everyone will get out of your way.

2) Never do laundry. When your clothes get dirty, simply throw them in the fireplace and burn them. This is especially effective in the winter as it saves on heating costs.

And before you shout “But what am I going to wear?” Well, just buy new clothes every week. Go to Wal-mart. They’re cheap there, and they don’t have to last because you’re only going to wear them for a week.

Sure, you’re spending more money on clothes, but you’re saving on water and heating costs. It totally balances out!

3) Quit cutting your grass. Buy a goat. Boom. DONE.

(Bonus: Goats also eat trash, so no more dragging your trashcan out to the curb! And if you’re not paying for trash service, that’s more money you can spend on clothes at Wal-mart.)

4) Trick people into giving you free childcare. Friends want to have dinner? Invite them over. When they show up with a salad and dessert, act all embarrassed and say, “Oh, I thought you wanted US to go out while YOU watched the kids! How awkward!” and put on your best trapped-and-overworked-parent face. Maybe work up a few tears–don’t let them fall, just try to get your eyes a little wet. Make sure your bottom lip trembles at least once.

If your friends don’t babysit after that, they’re dead inside. Get new friends. Ones who are easily guilt-tripped.

5) Take your laptop to the gym. Vending machines, childcare, nice restrooms…who says you can’t exercise your creative muscles by using one of the ab machines as a desk? Think of all the writing you could get done! And if somebody wants to use the machine (your desk), simply look at them and say, “Sorry, they asked me to do this. You’ll have to take it up with Don in the office.”

By the time they figure out Don’s not a real person, you’ll have 2,000 new words in your manuscript, AND you can say you went to the gym. WIN!

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If you’d like a serious answer to this question, please see the blog post I wrote here. I promise, it’s for real.

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How To Blow Lent On The First Day

1. The first step to blowing Lent is to make a vow (resolution? promise? goal-oriented statement?) about what you plan to give up for Lent.

This was mine:

OH, POOR MISGUIDED SOUL. And of course I sent it to MY HUSBAND, who was probably falling out of his chair with laughter because, as we all know, I am not the best at following through with my goals.

2. Leave school on an empty stomach. Like an idiot.

3. Start thinking about food before you are even out of the parking lot.

4. Pick up daughter from daycare. Realize that she smells slightly of macaroni and cheese. Consider what your next move might be if you were prone to cannibalism.

5. Do not eat daughter.

6. Pull up to Intersection of Death, so named for the McDonald’s and Zaxby’s that beckon to you every afternoon, luring you in with their promise of grease and fried things, like some kind of cheese-laden Sirens.

7. Mentally scroll through the list of menu items you could get from each place. A Big Mac? Some Nibblers? And fries, OH THE FRIES.

Suddenly you remember the Wendy’s incident, and the memory of how much you hated yourself on that fateful afternoon gives you the strength to keep driving.

8. Floor it past both establishments with your stomach growling and your mouth watering. Try to remember what kind of snacks you put in Baby Girl’s diaper bag last week. Decide that you cannot look for them without wrecking your car, and even if you could, pureed green beans doesn’t sound so great.

Not nearly as great as a Big Mac.

9. Feel sorry for yourself. Consider turning around.

10. Do not turn around because Baby Girl is tired and has decided that this is the perfect time to start communicating, via earsplitting screeches, the depth of her exhaustion.

11. Hoof it to your house. Get Baby Girl in bed and congratulate yourself on arriving home with no fast food. Now you can make a healthy snack, something that will actually give your body vitamins instead of ammunition for heartburn.

12. Open the refrigerator and look for Healthy Things.

13. Discover package of cookie dough you bought last week and forgot about.

14. Stare at cookie dough.

15. Stare at cookie dough.

16. YEARN FOR COOKIES.

17. Tear package apart like ravenous wildebeest and throw cookies on cookie sheet. Shove cookies in oven with no regard for level of pre-heatedness. Set timer.

18. Make cheese omelet that is more cheese than omelet. Why stop now?

19. Eat omelet while cookies bake.

20. Stare at oven timer, willing it to go FASTER FASTER FASTER.

21. Timer goes off! Eat three cookies. Hate yourself because your body doesn’t process sugar well and YOU KNOW THIS. That’s the reason you decided to give up sugar in the first place. What is wrong with you?

22. Feel gross and sad. Your first-ever attempt at Lent has crashed and burned in the first twenty-four hours.

23. Swear you’ll try again tomorrow.

24. No, really.

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How To Have A Popular Blog

A few days ago I got an email from a former student of mine. She told me she’s about to graduate from college (to which I responded WHAT NO THAT CANNOT BE RIGHT I AM NOT THAT OLD, except that the math adds up, so, DANG IT YOU’RE RIGHT) and she’s writing an article on effective blogging. She had some questions for me about my own approach to blogging, as well as my perception of what makes a credible and effective blog.

And it got me thinking: Why do I blog the way I do? Do I have a specific way I blog? Why are there some blogs I check every day and others I hardly check at all?

Now, I don’t know why people read MY blog. My guess is that they stumbled upon it one day (maybe thinking it was a lolcat blog, because given how many lolcat pictures I use, I could totally understand that misconception), and before they could close the window, their computer froze with the arrow on the “refresh” button, and now all they can do on the internet is click “refresh” on my webpage, which means they are now forced to read my blog because the only other choice is NOT TO READ ANYTHING AT ALL.

(I’m not sure why all these people have not called the Geek Squad or whatever. I guess they’re just too busy.)

But I do know why I read the blogs I read. And so I give you:

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Anne Riley’s Guidelines To Having A Great Blog And Also Generally Being Awesome On The Internet

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1. Be funny. 

 

This one sounds easy, but DO NOT BE FOOLED, GRASSHOPPERS. Being funny is an art. It requires practice.

I have read MANY a blog in which the author tried to be funny, but alas, they failed miserably. And when those bloggers discover that failure, it generally results in a lot of defensive complaining.

(Don’t worry, I’m probably not talking about you. Really. I can’t even think of a specific example right now. This is a massive generality. BREATHE, PEOPLE.)

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2. Present yourself in a cheerful way. 

OH, we all have bad days. Remember when I suddenly lost my agent mere hours before I planned to send her the full manuscript of PULL? That wasn’t fun, and I definitely talked about how un-fun it was, but mostly I try to keep things pretty upbeat around here because “upbeat” is what I look for when I read someone else’s blog.

I’ve never enjoyed a blog in which the author complains about writing, editing, peer review, sales, bad reviews, rejections, etc. on a CONSISTENT basis.

Pointing out something difficult that you’re dealing with every once in a while? Totally cool. Makes you seem more human, in fact. But constant comments about how terrible your life is as a writer and how you never have time to do anything and how no one is reading your book–well, it makes me think perhaps you’ve chosen the wrong profession.

But I’ll never know if you choose a new one because I’ll stop reading.

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3. Keep (most) of your opinions to yourself. 

This one goes back to the old “don’t talk politics or religion” idea. Now, I occasionally mention something about my faith, because it’s a huge part of my life. But I don’t talk about it much because most of my blog readers don’t share my beliefs, and I don’t want them to feel cyber-bullied because they don’t believe what I believe.

If you have very strong convictions about something–whether it’s self-pub vs. traditional pub, cats vs. dogs, Mohawks vs. buzz cuts, epidural vs. unmedicated, Democrat vs. Republican–I advise you to save your opinions for the times when you are around like-minded individuals, in real life, where nobody can screenshot your comments and plaster them all over Twitter.

Opinions are opinions, and lots of people might disagree with you.

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4. Don’t be passive-aggressive. 

 

Blogging about “a certain person” who “did that rude thing” and OH, you just CAN’T BELIEVE THEY DID IT, but you won’t say any more because you don’t want to give away who they are, but you’ll just include this ONE LITTLE DETAIL, and oh my goodness can you believe that they did THIS OTHER THING and oops! You just gave us enough information to figure out who you’re talking about! Well, how did THAT happen?

This kind of thing makes bloggers seem a bit petty and borderline obsessive, and it also gives me that feeling in my stomach where I start to think that MAYBE I’m going to throw up, but the urge isn’t quite strong enough to send me running for the toilet, so I keep sitting on the couch with a trash can nearby just in case, WAITING for the vomit to present itself . . . if it ever does. 

That is to say: it makes me feel icky and I’ll stop reading.

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5. Give me a glimpse of your personal life.

I’ll be honest, y’all: I’m worn out when it comes to industry blogs. I’ve been swamped with so much conflicting information, I hardly know which way is up in the publishing world anymore.

So I rarely, if ever, read something that claims to know what is happening in the book world and why I should write about sea creatures but NOT ZOMBIES OR VAMPIRES OR WEREWOLVES, because those are DONE, but maybe I should write about them after all because you never know when the new wave is coming, and did you know that you should ALWAYS tell agents you’re querying other agents, except for the ones who secretly DON’T want you to say that, but there’s no way to know which ones they are except with your Super Psychic Powers, and BY THE WAY, blog numbers are the only way you’ll ever get published, except that most editors don’t bother to look you up and even if they do, all they care about is your Klout score, but don’t worry about that because everyone knows Klout is meaningless.

Do you see what I’m saying?

I’d much rather hear a funny story about your kids or see that cool thing you did with the curtains in your kitchen. If I feel like I kind of know you, I’ll read everything you post.

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What do y’all think? What keeps you coming back to a blog again and again?

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