My tale of two puppies and how they help me write

Here I am pregnant with my son and with my daughter, Little Miss Markey and Princess Belle and Chewbacca. Note: I can no longer hold these puppies!

Here I am pregnant with my son and with my daughter, Little Miss Markey and Princess Belle and Chewbacca. Note: I can no longer hold these puppies!

Even though the last year was a really bad one to say the least, some good did happen. If you followed me before my hiatus then you know how much I love my pets. In fact, Oscar my dog inspired my first published book, “Caring For Your Special Needs Dog.” A little back story first – we have Oscar, who my husband and I got in graduate school. When he was a year old he was diagnosed with severe epilepsy and it’s been a struggle ever since. Then Oscar found two bunnies only about 2 weeks old drowning in an Arkansas flood. I rescued them with intentions of reintroducing them to the wild but they became totally spoiled and domesticated before we could do so. Next came Beast, a Siamese mix cat whose picture I fell in love with here in Saudi. I’ve never had a cat and let’s just say he’s spoiled me for the species in the future.

So our “inn” is very full but I obviously love pets and dogs are my favorite. A puppy is hard to get here so when our friends said they were going to breed their Labradors I instantly said we were in. Life went on as we all waited for the dogs to be at a healthy age to breed and in the meantime we lost our second daughter. Life was hard and the thought of a puppy in the future made the whole family smile on those hard days.

I saw the ultrasound when we confirmed the mommy dog was expecting. It was amazing especially since at that point I also was expecting again. We waited and then one night my friend called me, pup one had been delivered. We rushed over and witnessed the next 6 puppies being born. It was AMAZING!! Of all the puppies there was one girl, the yellow lab our daughter had prayed for- Princess Belle was born!

Over the next few weeks my daughter and I went to help care for the puppies several times a day. We loved them all but then they had such wonderful parents, how could we not? I fell for a large, chocolate boy who we named Chewbacca. At final decision week we learned that we would be able to get the pair of them and then we began training two Labrador puppies, Princess Belle (yes, she goes by her full name as Little Miss Markey demands) and Chewbacca. They are a challenge but pure joy!

Now some of you may think I’m insane but this is the BEST DECISION I’VE MADE FOR MY WRITING. That’s right, while some people may find peace in painting or sewing or [Fill in the blank] I find peace in my furry babies. When I get stuck on a scene or feel overwhelmed in my daily goal list, I turn to a furry baby to hug and seek support. I love seeing their personalities interact and how they grow differently even under exact circumstances. These babies help me despite the time they do take up.

So what (even if it seems crazy) do you turn to for help through hard times or to just make your day a little happier?

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Evolving to put the puzzle pieces of my life together

When I taught my “Writing Moms (and Dads too)” workshops I always preached that our writing styles and tactics change throughout the years. Currently I’m being reminded of this! I started teaching that workshop when I was a contracted freelance writer and working on my own work while caring for a baby. That baby is now five and I have another baby plus a booming dance business. As the times change, so must how we write.

I’ve always thought of my daily routine as a puzzle. I have so many pieces (things to get done) and all I have to do is make them fit all together. Life puzzles may sound easy but when actually assembling those pieces you may want to pull your hair out at times. I think that’s a good analogy but really making everything fit together is even more of a challenge when certain things must be done in order. For example, my writing goals fit in around the dance choreography that’s being taught that day and caring for my children. Luckily, my daughter is in kindergarten all day but they come home for lunch. So while I have a list of morning items to complete I know that my son’s late morning bottle needs to be given to him before my daughter gets off the bus. I also learned that by giving him a long tummy time before a big bottle then he’ll sleep through our lunch and I can still get a good hour and half of writing done before he wakes up. I’ve learned that by giving my dogs a morning walk and playtime that they will then sleep most of the mid-late morning so I can work.

It’s all about finding balance and currently my whole process is evolving as I include my son in my daily routine. I will say though that I’m spoiled – he is such a good baby!!!

While having a new baby certainly warrants an evolution in how I write and more importantly when, a shift in focus or any other change is reason enough to sit back and evaluate what works and what no longer works. I use to get the bulk of my writing done first thing in the morning. I would get up, quickly stretch, get dressed (I would shower later) and dive into writing. By lunch I would have met my writing goal and that was with playtime breaks with my daughter. Then I had all afternoon to revise what I’d written and take care of non-writing items on my daily goal list.

This plan, while it was a good one, no longer works for me. Once my daughter is up at 6am it’s a crazy rush of reviewing homework, breakfast and getting ready for school. So my son has to be less dependent during this time. I know I need to have him fed, changed and ready to be content to lie in a play gym and self entertain. So getting a lot of writing done in the early morning hours isn’t as doable unless I keep pushing my wake up time earlier and earlier. So now the bulk of my writing happens in that quiet moment once my daughter has left and my son is still napping.

Understanding the need to evolve and let go of the old plans is essential. I can personally testify to the importance of this! I kept trying to follow my old routine and felt like a failure everyday when it never went the way I wanted it to. Once I started experimenting with a new writing plan and moving forward to something new then I felt awakened and happy. I knew I could make this work and the tension from my shoulders vanished even if I didn’t get a lot of work done. The important thing was that I knew I would get a lot of work done in the future. I could make this work.

Again, this is what has worked and is working for me. The important thing to know is that every writer is different. Where we are all the same is that we change. Life changes us and therefore we must look to see if what we’re doing is working. If not, don’t be afraid to change and evolve. Trust me, it can feel GREAT!!!

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Where to start?

In my last post I outlined my goals for 2016:

  1. Get back into writing and finally finish two of my projects before RWA this summer.
  2. Waste less food/time by preparing meals ahead of time.

Now here’s the BIG question…where to start? Sadly due to life I had to take time off from writing but I missed it each day. Now I’m back and while exciting I must admit I’m a little nervous and overwhelmed. So, where do I start? All I can discuss in this blog is what I’m doing. I’m not lecturing or offering advice because I’m of no authority to do so but I’m hoping I’m not alone and I’m hoping others reading this will chime in on the discussion.Jan 13 - Where to Start

I’ve decided to take advice from Julie Andrews and “start at the very beginning.” Yes, the Sound of Music is often played at our house and this does sound like a great place to start. With my “Mommy New Year” this week I’ve started reading/revising a chapter a day of my current WIP. For starters this is a great way for me to review the story and I’m quickly falling in love again. It’s a wonderful feeling when I can sit back and actually be amazed at what I’ve done even if it was a while ago.

To force myself to recommit to my writing I’m:
1.) Taking an online class, “New Year, New You” with Laurie Schnebly Campbell; one of my favorite teachers.
2.) I’m rereading one of my favorite writing books “Warrior Writer: From Writer to Published Author” by Bob Mayer.
3.) I’m sticking to my daily goal of reading a chapter of my WIP a day. Sometimes this means I’m pulling a later night to get through it but hey, I’m a mom to a new baby so sleep isn’t really part of my life now anyway.
4.) I’m limiting my social media intake to just my favorites, the people who really inspire me like Kristen Lamb’s blog.

These are my four tactics to getting back to my writing and I’m willing to reevaluate them based on how I see I’m doing. I use to preach about the importance of flexibility in my “Writing Moms (and Dads too)” lectures/workshops. Now it’s time to listen to my own advice and be a student to many of my own principles.

Have you had to take a writing break? How did you get back into your groove? Please share in a comment or let’s chat @NatalieCMarkey.

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Happy Mommy New Year

Happy New Year!!!! Yes, I realize it may seem like I’m a little behind BUT in a big way (well to many of us) I’m just in time. January 1 would be a wonderful day to start fresh and dive into my New Year goals if it wasn’t for the fact that it’s a holiday, in fact everyday has been a “holiday” for me since December 17- when my daughter started winter break. Tomorrow she goes back to school and we all resume a normal routine. So tomorrow, that first school day in 2016 marks my New Year and is my official start date to my New Year goals.

Happy Mommy New Year!!!

So you may have been wondering if I got lost in my part of the desert (I live in Saudi if you’re new to this blog) or if I gave up on blogging? The answer is no and well…pretty close. A little backstory- I use to credit myself at being pretty good at focusing and juggling many irons in the fire. I even lectured on the topic on “Writing Moms (and Dads!).” I have over 5,000 published articles to my credit, a non-fiction book and a dance studio that I own and direct in the Middle East. I accomplished most of this while raising my daughter and a growing sum of adorable furry babies (their stories deserve a separate blog post.) Basically my life was pretty wonderful. Then I delivered our second daughter, stillborn at 27 weeks in my pregnancy. This hit me hard, as I’m sure it has anyone who has experienced such an ordeal. All focus flew out the window. Dance was easier to work on as it was physical and got me to move. By the time I was able to sit and write again without zoning out I found out I was expecting again, this time with a little boy. For a little over 7 months stress and worry took over again and out went my ability to focus and write. I delivered a healthy yet premature baby boy at 33 weeks. He is now a little over 3 months old and just perfect.

During this extreme stress rollercoaster I came close to giving up on writing especially when my lack of focus only caused me more stress. However, when I stopped to take a step back that is when I realized how much I love writing and how much I wanted it back. So while this time of no progress at first left me feeling extremely frustrated it did prove something very important- I love to write and I missed it.

2014 was Hell, 2015 gave me a baby boy and now 2016 is going to be the year of me. I’m not in anyway insinuating that I’m going to ignore my family. I love my family and they come first. However, now my family is complete, even the furry ones for now. My personal life feels right and settled. It’s time to get “me” back and focus on my goals. I am a writer. A part of that died when I lost my daughter and I intend to get it back this year.

So my 2016 goals are:

  1. Get back into writing and finally finish two of my projects before RWA this summer.
  2. Waste less food/time by preparing meals ahead of time.
My babies, Little Miss Markey and the new Baby Markey!

My babies, Little Miss Markey and the new Baby Markey!

As I return to blogging I plan to continue to write about my interests: Writing, dance (yep I like being creative,) family, pets, being an American in the Middle East, and whatever comes to my mind. I will give updates on my writing progress and will be happy to share any great meals that were easy to prepare ahead.

Life changes. Mine certainly has but for the first time in a long time I can say that I am happy. The only area of my life that I’m not happy in is my writing and this year I plan to change that.

Time changes our lives even if a tragedy doesn’t. This is something I mentioned in all my lectures. Now I’m experiencing it and it’s time for me, as I told many students, to reevaluate my process and find out what time management/techniques work for me now in 2016.

As my renewed journey of writing continues I have a question for anyone reading this. What process or techniques have you used when trying to get back into something? How did you find your “groove” again when you thought you lost it?

Happy to be blogging again and I’m wishing you all a very Happy “Mommy” New Year! 🙂

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Let the anticipation build

It’s that time! Deck the halls, put up that tree, double check your lights and finalize all Christmas shopping because tis the season! I love this time of year. I love the anticipation of the season and all the fun seasonal events that accompany it. It’s also the busiest time of year for our family like it is for so many. It’s the time of year where my writing suffers the most because I’ve yet to invent more hours in the day.

Bring on this Holiday season!

Bring on this Holiday season!

But really it’s the anticipation of everything that gets me the most excited about this time of year. It’s the same reason I love planning vacations. I love planning everything and then seeing it all come together. Maybe this is why I love plotting my stories so much? As far as Christmas the build up to the big day is what makes me happy. I love enjoying the decorations, the shopping and wrapping gifts. For me the preparation and build up to Christmas day with family, friends, good food and sharing gifts is what this holiday means to me. I love going to Christmas Eve church service and all the Christmas parties that we go to even starting this weekend!

It’s a great time to celebrate and have fun but also serves as a reminder that the end of the year is fast approaching. This can often be depressing as we look at and evaluate our year. How did you do? This year was absolutely NOT the year I had hoped for. Most events that made it a bad year were completely out of my control. However, I can’t wait to say goodbye to this year and hello to 2015! I’ve decided to throw depression over 2014 aside and focus on the excitement of the season and the anticipation of 2015.

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Writing through frustration

We all go through times of frustration in our lives. I’m going through a rough time right now, which I won’t go into but it is being a very awakening experience. At first I went through the lack of focus stage and nothing was getting accomplished. That is getting better everyday but now my whole approach has changed.

I’m now on the overdrive stage where I’m cranking out project after project. My latest YA edits are nearly done and I’m almost done editing all the recital music. Some days lately I’ve felt like superwoman and it feels great. It definitely eases frustration and I feel accomplished getting things done.

I still think the trick to all issues regarding time management is balance. I’m an active person who gets bored quickly so it helps me to balance my time between my writing and my dance business. Of course family comes first, I’m just discussing work balance in this post.

I turn to the brilliance of great minds to help me through frustration or when I get into a rut. I love motivational quotes and find inspiration in them. I think it is important to create a workspace and living space that inspires and motivates. Everyone needs and deserves a boost sometimes, why not create an environment that works for you and not against you?



I also think blogging is helpful. Right now while I’m getting my life back together I like to think that people are reading what I write and may find comfort in it. Everyone goes through rough times. I believe this and I do not feel alone. I hope that when I write about how I’m coping and how I’m meeting (and hopefully succeeding) time management/ productiveness struggles that I’m helping someone out there.

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Living in categories

You may not be able to tell from my house currently cluttered by Christmas craft projects (yes, Little Miss Markey is making new ornaments) but I like order. With that order comes categories. I am not just a mom, a wife, a writer, a dancer, etc. I am many things and keeping several irons in the fire makes me feel fulfilled and accomplished.

Like a file cabinet, think in categories.

Like a file cabinet, think in categories.

While sometimes trying to juggle projects and just life in general can be daunting, I also find that living in “categories” helps me stay focused on everything. I often feel like my life categories feed off of each other making each one great. My dance keeps me in shape and I feel that benefit when I need to stretch out my back from a long writing session. Taking my daughter to her many activities forces me to be social when sometimes I just want to sit at my computer or get lost in some choreography. Cooking for my family makes me feel like I’ve really done something as a mom and wife. It would be easy to cut corners and resort to take-out but making a well-balanced meal fulfills my desire to be a great mom and wife. Not to mention I’ve probably mastered the art of slow cooking and working ahead on meals.

I think it is easy to feel overwhelmed by the categories of our life but if you stop, think and take it all in you may find, like I have, that most of what we do feeds off of the other. Lately I’ve been trying to use this realization in my scheduling. For example, I try to do dance work after writing sessions as it is best for my back. I find that I am best in the kitchen early in the morning while catching up on news and getting ready for the day. I use this knowledge about myself to try and make the most of my time. I often talk about this concept in my “Writing Moms” and “Busy Moms” workshops. Knowing yourself and how you work is the true key to time management. Journaling through your day and creating a self-study over a period of time can really prove to be useful when planning out your schedule no matter what “categories” you are working with.

Try to categorize your life and figure out when is the best time/place to tackle the areas of your life. Make the categories work for you and not against you. When I started looking at things this way is when I truly felt empowered by the schedule I keep and now run down. Give it a try.

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Pause that…Don’t ignore Thanksgiving and other things

Now that Halloween is over the whole world seems to be obsessed with looking towards Christmas but hello, what about Thanksgiving? Yes, as I’m inundated with Black Friday preview and countdown emails I’m trying my best to raise a child who enjoys Thanksgiving and sees it for more than being a necessary step to Christmas. I just about cracked up when one of my girl friends said, “pause that thought” when another friend kept talking about Christmas. I do think it’s easy in many aspects of our lives to get caught up in stuff and forget to pause and acknowledge what is going on just in front of us.

So this is floating around Pinterest and is so true. Too funny!

So this is floating around Pinterest and is so true. Too funny!

This happens to me a lot with my writing. I get caught up in something and forget or just avoid working on a scene that needs to happen in order to get to the really fun scene I want to work on. I also love writing a synopsis. Yes, you heard me! However, a synopsis isn’t much use to me if I’m not ready to submit the story.

So I’m a big believer in the reward system. I try to focus on what needs to be done and then reward myself later with what I want to do. This works for work and also my personal life. Okay, yes I want to plan out our Elf on the Shelf’s upcoming activities (yes, I’m that kind of mom) but I know it’s important to teach Little Miss Markey about Thanksgiving. So each day we’re focusing on something we are thankful for. We’re talking about it or him/her and making cards about what we are thankful for. After that is done then we can read the Elf on the Shelf book and get excited about our little visitor coming soon.

So don’t forget to pause and look at what is right in front of you and needing attention. One thing is for certain, we’re always moving forward. To all those Christmas fanatics, you won’t miss it. Christmas is coming but pay some attention to Thanksgiving.

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My cat’s secret to relaxation and productivity

Do you ever feel that you mind is so cluttered that it slows down your productivity? I often feel that way and I always am saying how jealous I am of my pets. They are always so relaxed yet seem to have energy when they want it. I’m an advocate of self-study. I tell students in my “Writing Moms” class to journal and study what tasks they are best at during various times of day. So I’m actually ashamed that I didn’t think to study my pets, especially my cat, Beast earlier.

Today I’m feeling pretty awesome and productive. What has made today so good? Well I copied my cat and squeezed a “cat” nap into my schedule right after lunch. Okay, to be clear, I’m always wanting to nap but with so much on my daily goal list that desired nap rarely happens. Today I gave in to sleep for just 30 minutes. After the nap I got moving slowly with reading emails and then moved into some stretches, which Beast happily weaved in and out of my legs during. The result? I feel amazing! I think just that half an hour of resting my mind gave me a boost that my body craved. I am definitely going to try and do this more often.

A sleeping Beast AKA our cat

A sleeping Beast AKA our cat

Next I’m setting my hourglass timer and diving into a writing sprint. I predict it too will be productive considering how I’m feeling. Maybe naps aren’t such a bad idea for busy people. There is a lot of information on the web about this topic and depending on what you read the source is for or against naps. Like all things I think the key is finding out what works best for you and making that happen.

Taking breaks through the day certainly helps our cat Beast. While he is napping now I know that soon he’ll be racing around the house, diving off furniture and playing Spiderman with our drapes. Everything is relative – to him that is being productive.

Do you take a daily nap or take time to rest your mind?

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Creating rituals to meet those word counts

We all have rituals. Some may be seemingly normal while others a little strange. When I danced competitively I always got to the competition early and sat by myself to watch other dances. I never ran through my dance because I felt that if I didn’t know it by then there was nothing I could do. I had to pop my knuckles and hop up and down six times before taking the stage. While waiting for my results I talked to no one; I just sat by myself and watched the other dancers. I did this every time I danced and it worked for me. What may seem strange or silly to someone may be a comfort to another.

I also find myself creating rituals without even meaning to. When I write I must play music and not just any music – I have to have something from Two Steps from Hell or the composer Thomas Bergersen. If you have no idea who I’m talking about then just think of trailer music. Their music often accompanies memorable and epic film trailers. Without my music I feel lost and out of sorts. I also love to write in one-hour intervals. After an hour I’ll stop to work on a dance, check emails, etc. and then I’ll dive into another hour of writing. I love this format so much that for my birthday this year my husband bought me an hourglass. I now use it rather than my old egg timer. This just feels way cooler to me!

New office addition next to pen holder. So much better than an egg timer!

New office addition next to pen holder. So much better than an egg timer!

November is a month when a lot of writers try to push their writing to the limits with NaNoWriMo. I’m one of those writers. A nice way to ease the stress is to not be afraid to take time and seek out helpful rituals when you’re having a great writing sprint. What made that writing session productive? It may have nothing to do with a ritual but then it might. Take note as to what the setting and other environmental factors are when you are feeling motivated.

I feel it’s important to be observant of you. Try to find out what motivates you and find creative ways to replicate that scenario when you want to tap back into that productiveness.

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