Meg Lemke is awesome

Yesterday, I had the pleasure of visiting with Meg Lemke on the telephone.  She was so gracious and accommodating during our interview.  For those who don’t know her, she is the editor-in-chief of Mutha Magazine, guest editor of The Illustrated PEN , chair of the comics and graphic novels panel at the Brooklyn Book Festival, and a freelance editor and writer.  She is also married and has one daughter.  You can read my previous post here.

The thing about Meg that I got from our short conversation is that she is so positive and has this incredible energy.  She doesn’t have this “woe is me” attitude that some of us busy mothers have.  BUT, she doesn’t play it off as “holier than thou” either.  She loves her job(s) and loves her family, and with a little creativity, she makes enough time for both.  I don’t want to speak for her, but I got the sense that she leads a very fulfilled, satisfied life–home life, work life, creative life.

We talked about so many great things yesterday, and I can’t wait to share more with you.  In the meantime, check out the links above and follow Meg on Twitter @meglemke.


The Fantastic Ursula K. Le Guin

The wonderful Caitlin Thomson emailed me recently to let me know about an article in The New Yorker.  The article is “The Fantastic Ursula K. Le Guin” by Julie Phillips.  Le Guin is a wife and mother and she mentions how these roles played into her role as an author.  Here’s a link to the article.

A big thank you to Caitlin for letting me know about this great article.

Rachel Jones bring a new perspective

I had the pleasure of interviewing Rachel Jones of  You can see my previous post about her here.  I love her blog, and I’ve been a follower of hers for quite a while now.  She’s the mother of six children, and she is the author of several books and resources that she offers on her website.

One thing that I did not realize about her is that she is the main breadwinner for her family.  Her husband quit his full-time job to help her at home, and now he works part-time.  This brings an interesting perspective into the mix, as most of the mothers I have interviewed work what most would consider “part-time” and the financial responsibility of the family does not fall on their shoulders.

She mentioned something in her interview that I want to share with you right away.  I asked her if she ever turned down a project or chose not to pursue a project due to family obligations.  This is what she had to say:

No. I have taken longer on a project because I needed to parent though! I have known for a long time that I am a nicer person and better parent when I have projects and goals. I knew that I wanted my children to see a healthy person taking care of themselves, so I determined that that is what I would do. My children have joined me in my life, rather than becoming my life. Getting divorced when my oldest was 5 years old, I had to be honest with myself on what I wanted my children to see as normal and healthy through the rest of my parenting of them. The first 5 years was a toxic example, and I knew I had to change that to be as healthy a person as I could be. I want my children to value themselves and be their own person, and I knew the only way was to be that example to them. 

And generally, my projects are geared towards earning an income, and they all need to eat… so. 🙂

I picked up on two specific things in her answer.

1.  She wants her children to see a healthy person who can take care of them.  We all want that for our children.  I HOPE my children see a well-balanced, efficient, happy mother who delights in their care and well-being.  When you step back and look at the big picture, what do you want your children to see as their example?  No excuses.  Not if the circumstances were different.  Not when they’re older or you have more time or you aren’t so stressed out or you don’t have so much to do.  What do you want your children to see as their example TODAY?

2.  She has to earn an income, and her children need to eat.  That’s pretty good motivation.  I think our children need to see that hard work puts food on the table.  I think (hope) it instills gratefulness and appreciation in them.

Many thanks to Rachel for taking the time to answer my questions.  Even if you have no interest in minimalism, I encourage you to check out her website.  It will change your life for the better.  Look for more from Rachel’s interview in my book.

Another gem in my inbox

This one is from Dan Blank.  He is the founder of We Grow Media.  He helps writers build their platforms and works with publishers to grow their online communities.  This one is rather lengthy but too important not to share.

From Dan:

Most of the people I work with — writers and other creative professionals — work from home. They develop their craft amidst other responsibilities, and the worries that come with them: family, finance, health, home, relationships, and so much else.

Very often, I talk about creative habits that help you produce great work, and to connect it with people in a meaningful way. Today I want to talk about the other habits that surround and encourage creative work. Habits of physical health, mental health, family health, financial health, and productivity. The habits that create a support system which protects and encourages your ability to pursue your vision.

Are these “rules”? Nope. Do them or don’t. Tweak them your own way. Add your own. But I would encourage you to consider developing some weekly, monthly, quarterly, and yearly habits that touch upon some of the themes below.

Why? Because if you are following your creative vision to create meaningful work; if you are fitting this work into the cracks of an otherwise busy life; it is too easy to burn out. To neglect important aspects of daily living. To ignore important relationships.

This is all stuff I do, it’s not just a pie in the sky list. I’ve run my own company for more than six years now, working from home, while raising a family with my wife. Am I missing a lot of items here? Probably. But I find that developing these habits not only help me work better, but also feel more fulfilled.

Let’s dig in…

Back Up Everything. Twice.

What if I told you that tomorrow, your home would burn down. No one would be injured, but all of your stuff would be gone. What would you regret not saving?

Back it up.

Back up everything you care about, including:

  • Your writing or other creative work. This can be as simple as a Dropbox backup. If you write longhand, take photos of the pages.
  • Your online creative work. If you have a blog, download a plug-in to automatically email you backups once per week.
  • Your photos. I could write an entire post just about this. Download the photos from your phone, and back them up. Seriously. Because one day you will lose your phone, and with it, an entire year or two worth of family photos.
  • For physical objects in your life that you love, but can’t back up like you can a digital file, take a photo of it. Photos are free. Walk around your house, and take hundreds of photos of things you care about and want to have a record of. If they are important documents, take photos of those too.
  • Consider taking photos of your home and property to record the time and place, even if just for insurance reasons. Even the outside of your home, the trees, the property. I have found that it is a nice record of how things were.

Create redundant backups, meaning that if one backup fails, you have another. You can use external hard drives for this, and software like Backblaze or Carbon Copy Cloner.

Keep backups in multiple locations. This can be an online backup or an offsite backup, such as keeping a backup external hard drive at your office.

Have backups for essential equipment, the tools you use. Since I work from home, I have a generator. If the power goes out, my business doesn’t go down.

I work from two computers that are 100% mine, not shared with my wife. One is a laptop, one a desktop. If one is out of commission, the other is fully synced. I replace each of them every 3 years or so.

For you, this could mean having two phones, one for work, and one personal. Or it could mean you pay for a mobile hotspot as a backup internet access.

When you hire a photographer for a wedding, you will notice they come with at least two cameras, if not more. You may not even see the backup gear they have in their bags. They often have an assistant or two. Why? Because when they have one chance to get it right, the cost of justifying a second or third camera is negligible to their business.

If you take your creative work seriously, do the same thing.

This can even extend to communication channels. In the earlier days of YouTube, many super popular YouTubers had a single channel. What I noticed over time is that somethings their channels would be down for some reason, and they lost their entire way to connect with their audience. Now many YouTubers either have a “B” channel where they can share updates, or they strongly encourage their subscribers to also follow them on other channels: Twitter, Instagram, Snapchat, Facebook, newsletter, etc. It is a communication backup plan, and one that is critical to their creative career.

If you have an email list with 1,000 names on it in Mailchimp that you consider the lifeblood of your business, BACK THAT LIST UP! Plan for Mailchimp to be hacked and lose all of your data.

Don’t Ignore Physical Health

I’ll start simply here: clean your keyboard. It’s disgusting. Just consider all of the things we touch throughout our days, and how it all ends up in the little cracks of our keyboards. Go clean it. Every couple years, replace it.

While your at it, assess the entire area around where you work. Clean your chair and the area beneath it, your mouse, your monitor, your desk.

Do you work in a small space? Check for air circulation. Are your heating vents and AC vents clean? Or are you breathing in 20 year old dust all day?

Do you use a window AC unit? Look in the vents. If you see little black dots everywhere, throw it out. Seriously. It’s mold, and it is bad for you. It’s the kind of thing that creates problems for you 20 years down the road. Trust me, “old you” doesn’t want that problem.

Consider if you need more lighting in your work space. Your eyes will thank you for it.

Consider if your chair is creating horrible habits for your back or wrist. If so, buy a new chair. Or consider getting a standing desk. I recently just added a standing desk to my office (keeping my regular sitting desk too.) I built it from IKEA for less than $20. It have found that it is nice to be able to move around while I work, having some work sessions while I sit at my desktop computer, and some while I stand at my laptop.

I won’t go too much further into physical health because it is such a big topic, but I’ll encourage this:

  • If you work at a desk all day, take your lunch break seriously. Get out of the office or work area. I won’t lie: if you work in an office environment, that may create tension with your coworkers or boss. You may get questions like, “Where did you disappear to?” Regardless: take a lunch break. Every day. That’s your time.
  • Have some kind of workout routine. ANY KIND. At least once per week. Beyond that, find what works for you. Personally, I have found that having a personal trainer three days per week radically reshaped my health. Do what feels right to you.

Create More White Space

This is about attending to mental health. Which is JUST AS IMPORTANT — IF NOT MORE — than physical health. Are you ignoring mental health in some ploy to “suck it up” and be “strong”. Stop. The world wants you to be fulfilled, not wavering on the edge of sanity because you are so overwhelmed.

I call this creating more “white space” — unstructured time that allows you to feel space between things in the world. Instead of what most of us feel constantly: total overwhelm of dealing with work, family, health, relationships, home, money, and so much else.

This too is a topic I will only touch upon here, but here are some practical actions you can take to create more white space in your life:

Unsubscribe from email lists you no longer care about.

Declutter your office. For all of those piles of stuff that you consider to be critical, throw them in boxes and shove it into the attic. Put a “throw out by X date” on it. When that date arrives, and you still haven’t needed that “critical” stuff, put it in the trash.

Clear out your email inbox. If you have 1,000 unread items, put them into a new folder marked “OLD.” Enjoy that single moment of feeling like you are starting fresh.

Clear off your desk.

Clear your web browser cookies.

Earlier this year, I wrote about the power of saying “no” concluding:

Distraction takes us away from devoting our focus to the things that matter most. The problem is not just that we say yes to too many things, but we don’t identify the few key things that matter most, and commit fully.

In other words: we don’t say YES to what we want with emphasis. We say “yes” meekly. This is a huge problem.

Attend to Relationships

If you are lucky enough to have your mom and dad still with us, call them. Go ahead. If any of your grandparents are still with us, call them too. Tell them you love them.

Just touch base with old friends. A simple update. A simple note that says “I was thinking of you, I hope all is well.”

If you have a significant other, plan a date night.

Take photos of your family. All of you in the shot, use the timer on your camera that you never quite figured out.

I know, you don’t have time for any of this. But 20 years from now, you will be thankful you took each of these actions.

Take Security Seriously

Manage your passwords. Change them with some frequency. Don’t use the same password for everything. Don’t use obvious passwords.

Update your software. If you are clinging to some super old version of your browser, your operating system, or your word processor because it is “familiar,” you are asking for trouble down the road when one program stops playing nice with another. Go through your phone once a month and ensure all of the apps are up to date. With your computer, once a quarter, or once a year.

This applies to things like online software as well. If you use WordPress, go ahead and ensure it is up to date, including all of your plug-ins.

Old software is full of security vulnerabilities. Plug them up now.

I would say that money and finance fits into “security” as well. Huge topic, that I will (again) just briefly touch upon:

  • Have an emergency fund.
  • Set aside some amount of money each month to it. Even if it is only $10 or $20 per month. Make it a habit. Just like health, even establishing the tiniest habit around finance can lead you to adding other habits.

To me, each of these things helps create a support system around your creative work.

What did I miss? What other stuff could we better manage that encourages us to feel less overwhelmed so that our creative work seems possible?


Permission to make your own dreams a reality

The following is from an email from Ruth Soukup.  I subscribe to her email mailing list, and I’m sure she wouldn’t mind if I shared her wonderful message with you.  I was first introduced to Ruth through her book “31 Days of Living Well and Spending Less.”  Because of this book, our family just went through our first spending freeze.  We called it “No Spend September.”  It wasn’t exactly fun, but we learned a lot.  She has some really great ideas.  I recommend you check out her website.

From Ruth:

Earlier this week I had the opportunity to connect with a small group of LWSL readers for a special private Goal Crushing Mastermind. As part of our time together, two brave volunteers stepped forward to go on the “hot seat” to share some of the time management issues they have been struggling with, in the hopes that together as a group, we might be able to brainstorm a few solutions.

While the challenges each of the two women were facing seemed quite different on the surface, it soon became clear that there were some common threads to both.

First, both women were struggling with the overwhelming feeling that there wasn’t enough time in the day to get done everything that needed to be done. There were simply too many things to do, and not enough hours to do all of them.

But as we dug deeper, it became clear that this wasn’t just a problem of having too much to do, but of constantly feeling torn between those tasks that they felt had to be done and of longing to make time for those tasks that they really wanted to do.

Can anyone else relate?

As we talked, I realized just how common this feeling really is! As women and moms, we tend to put SO much pressure on ourselves! There’s the pressure to be a better mom and a better wife and a better cook and a better homemaker, the pressure to be more organized and make more money and to create more work-life balance. There’s the pressure to lose weight or to wear nicer clothes or drive a better car or have a bigger, more impressive house. There’s the pressure to have a healthy, organic, homemade dinner on the table every night, and to somehow always magically keep the laundry done, and to keep the house perfectly clean and to have kids that are smart and talented and always well-behaved.

There’s so much pressure that we put on ourselves to live up to someone else’s ideal, that we forget it’s okay to make our own dreams and goals a priority too.

The reality is that we can’t do it all. None of us can. And I promise you that even the perfect mom you are watching from afar, the one you’ve convinced yourself has it all together, has her own set of struggles too.

And that is exactly why it is so important to stop comparing and to stop putting so much pressure on ourselves to live up to a standard that doesn’t actually exist!

Instead, we need to be brave enough to spend our time and energy doing the things that spark our passion and make us feel most alive, even if that means letting the laundry pile up or choosing takeout over a home-cooked meal sometimes.

Nelson Mandela once said, “There is no passion to be found playing small – in settling for a life that is less than the one you are capable of living.”
Along those same lines, Mae Jemison once wrote, “It’s your place in the world; it’s your life. Go on and do all you can with it, and make it the life you want to live.”

In other words, give yourself permission to go after your dreams.

Your goals and the things you are most passionate about are worth making time for, not just because they’ll bring more joy and fulfillment to your life (which they will), but because giving yourself permission to live in your sweet spot will make a difference in everything else you do. It will make you a better wife, a better mom, a better friend. You’ll have more energy to get things done. The world will seem brighter and clearer and more alive.

And so, my challenge for you this week, is to stop being so hard on yourself and to start giving yourself permission to make your own dreams a priority. Stop putting pressure on yourself to live up to an ideal that isn’t real, and instead be honest with yourself. What secret goals have you been pushing aside because you’ve convinced yourself there’s no time? What are the things you wish you could be doing that fill you up and spark your passion and make you feel like the best version of yourself? Make time for them, friends, before it’s too late.

I dare you.

That’s all for now–have an amazing & joy-filled weekend!

xoxo, Ruth

P.S. Have you grabbed your 2016 Holiday Planner? Right now you can get it FREE for a limited time–get it HERE!

Becky Tountas writes during naptime (and so do I)

I stumbled across Becky Tountas’ piece “Naptime,” and I suggest every mother with small children read it.  We can alllll relate!  I loved it so much that I reached out to Becky asking her for an interview for the book.  You can visit Becky’s blog here.  Hopefully we will be getting to know her a little better in the near future.

Caitlin Thomson gives advice on setting realistic goals

Last week I had the pleasure of chatting with Caitlin Thomson.  Here‘s my previous post about Caitlin.  She had such great answers to my interview questions, and one amazing/heartbreaking/eye-opening story that she shared with me.  Unfortunately for you, I’m saving that one for the book.  But, I will share with you some great words of wisdom she shared with me when I asked her how she deals with disappointment or discouragement along her creative journey.  This is what she had to say: 

When I was a younger writer I regularly made unrealistic goals in terms of my writing, mostly to do with publishing. In the last three years I have put a lot of effort into making goals for myself that are within my control. For example being traditionally published as a novelist within three years is an unrealistic goal. But submitting my novel to at least 5 agents within the next year is a realistic goal, because it is within my direct control. This has helped me from becoming discouraged as easily.

Whenever I find myself particularly discouraged I have turned to focus instead on creating something new – not editing something that exists already, not submitting, just focusing on the pure act of creation for a while. That for me is the most rewarding.

I think this is so important!  Maybe her words really hit home with me because I am seeking to publish this book.  But, I think this advice applies to anything really, not just writing.  It only makes sense to make goals that are within reach AND within your control.  It’s so common sense, yet a game-changer for me.  And hopefully for you too. 

I consider myself a goal-oriented person.  I love a good challenge.  Even better, I love a good checklist or list of tasks to accomplish.  On the flip side of that, I find myself easily discouraged.  BUT, maybe I’m setting my goals all wrong.  So thank you, Caitlin, for (inadvertently) bringing this to my attention.  Such good advice, and I think we all can benefit from it. 

Thanks again to Caitlin for a great interview!  Please check out her website to learn more about her.