Wednesday, September 23, 2020

Back to school…like never before By Lisa Phillips

Back to school…like never before. 

Wow, this has been a crazy year, hasn’t it? I mean, it’s pretty much done at this point. Right? Right?? 

Had you told me six months ago that I would be watching a llama do math I’d probably have laughed at you. But here we are.

Early on in quarantine, my dad (in the UK) mentioned the news broadcasts there kept using the word, “unprecedented” to describe what was happening. And that word might’ve been seriously overused, but it wasn’t untrue.

After the endless summer to end all endless summers, the one that started before spring break and ended when public school started (kind of) a few weeks ago, the fight was on for “back to normal.” I have a 4th grade boy who is a steady blur of chatter and motion who wants to stay home forever and never go anywhere, and an eighth grade girl desperate for social interaction. But why settle for normal? I’ve never liked, “normal” anyway.

As soon as public school got out, we pretty quickly took the “optional” busywork and tossed it out. We rolled straight into summer skills books, and those grade level review books you get at the grocery store. Daily bike rides to walk the dog, and as much family fun as we could muster. My daughter managed to go to a youth girls retreat, and even got baptized. Our family headed to the coast for a vacation with restrictions that was still a peaceful time away. It was great…until it felt like it would never end. (The white planet at the bottom of the solar system is Pluto, because we didn’t want him to feel left out.)

Then came the call: the public school start date will be delayed another month so they can be ready. I had one child, my son, already determined to homeschool for the first time this year. I was researching and figuring out that, as I tend to do every summer just to consider all my options. Then my eighth grader jumped on the bandwagon also, to avoid online learning and all the back and forth that was bound to happen as the school district figured things out. I found her a group Spanish class with youth group friends so she can be social. All that to say…I’m now a first time homeschooler and full time writer.

So how do I do both?

Everyone’s schedule is different. Everyone’s career is different. Everyone’s life situation is different. But here are three tips to help you out if you’re finding yourself doing double-duty in this new season of back to school. Or maybe you’ve been a writer and homeschooler for a while, or a writer and a full time career person, for years and you just need a reminder.

1. Breathe.

In researching homeschooling, I’ve come across several consistent themes. Especially with the start of school. You can’t do everything at once. Don’t try to pack all your subjects into the first day. Start slowly. Let there be a transition period between the old way (in our case, school) and this new season. Something wonderful is on the horizon, but if you’re stressed you won’t enjoy it when it comes. You may even dismiss it as a distraction. Hit the essentials (math and English – and for my son, Science) and add other subjects layer by layer.

In my writing business, I crammed to finish a book at the end of August just so that I would have September open as a brainstorming, new pitch, and revision month. I have done what I could, picked up what I wanted, and maybe not achieved as much as I thought I would (or should have) but I’m constantly moving toward my goals. Baby step by baby step.

In the next couple of weeks I will start a new book, but only when I’m actually ready to start writing it. For the first time in a long time, I’m purposing not to rush myself.

2. Plan

Even if all you do is a simple list on lined paper, figure out what the kids need to achieve. Figure out what you want to work on, if you get some time. Every year I make a schedule for the next calendar year. There’s a list of things I’d like to do, and usually it’s impossible. Then there’s a “slow” schedule of things that’s the bare minimum of what I need to achieve to keep my writer business going.

Life falls somewhere between those things, in a way I’m content with what I got done and always looking for fun ways I can improve productivity. Years ago, when my kids were little, I worked during naptime. It might last fifteen minutes, or it might last three hours. I never knew. But I worked during that time, and I was grateful for it. I never did laundry, or tidied the house during my writing time. I could do those things with little kids at my feet. But writing, in the quiet time that I had, was a precious thing.

Now I write early in the morning, or during dance classes. I take the kids to Ancient Egypt exhibits and try not to have more story ideas. I write in the car at the park, or outside someone’s house waiting for the activity to end. I write early on Saturday morning, or on Sunday afternoon. Thursdays during youth group. On a walk. Watching a movie.

Whether I’m thinking about my book, making notes, or typing, it’s all moving me closer to my goal of a finished book. I can check my ads, or update my website. Format a book for the print version, or chat with readers.

(And honestly, it’s easier to have this continual stream as much as I can. Coming back to my notes or my draft cold – not remembering where I left off – is so much harder to get back into the flow.)

3. Give yourself grace

I have to remind myself this often. If I don’t, then I miss the enjoyable moments because I’m too stressed out to stop and just be present where I’m at. My life isn’t one where I can get away for hours at a time, let alone a whole day, to work on writing.

Sometimes it’s forty minutes. Sometimes it’s a two and a half hour dance class. I have grace from God to get work done, and grace from Him to rest. But what I don’t have is condemnation or guilt. Those aren’t welcome. I have far too much to do to waste time feeling sorry for myself, or getting dragged down by the enemy.

My other penname (JL Terra) isn’t going to get a lot of love this school year. I just don’t have time. Facebook drama isn’t going to get a lot of airtime. I’m going to have to be particular about what I take the time to read. What I’m writing. What series I focus on. How long my books are going to be. Because I can’t afford to spend time doing all the things, so I have to be very laser focused.

Homeschooling is hard. It’s also beautiful.

Writing books and getting paid a living wage for it is hard. It’s also beautiful in its own way, and I’m so blessed that readers enjoy what I write.

I get to spend time watching my kids be inspired by history and science. I’ve been a guest on a podcast, and I’m back here. In November I’ll be participating in a conference with Donald Maass, where I’ll get personal feedback. How crazy is that??! I’m blessed to have a group of author friends who drag me out in the evening to chat – one of whom I’m collaborating on a miniseries with.

And I’ve been so fortunate to work with fantastic authors in the Dangerous Deceptions boxed set. This set releases in just 3 weeks, and for 99c it’s a STEAL. Eight full novels you won’t want to miss.

You can find out more at

Or click on the image below to preorder this set on Amazon now. 

A British ex-pat who grew up an hour outside of London, Lisa attended Calvary Chapel Bible College where she met her husband. He's from California, but nobody's perfect. It wasn't until her Bible College graduation that she figured out she was a writer (someone told her). Since then she's discovered a penchant for high-stakes stories of mayhem and disaster where you can find made-for-each-other love that always ends in happily ever after. Lisa can be found in Idaho wearing either flip-flops or cowgirl boots, depending on the season. She leads worship with her husband at their local church. Together they have two kids and an all black Airedale known as The Dark Lord Elevator.