When we were first married, every end of December my hubby would ask me to write a list of short and long term goals.

Short term was for the next year, long term was for the next five years.

I never did get good at writing them down but that doesn’t mean I didn’t set them.

Tonight I’m having a big shindig in our house. With one of my daughters out of commission (she gave birth to my sixth grandchild less than two weeks ago) and another daughter with a three month old, I’m doing most of the cooking myself.

It’s really just family. Mine, my daughters and their families and one of my daughter’s in-law’s family, a total of about 18 people.

Except for some cupcakes and meat-filled buns, I’m doing most of the cooking.

And considering there are a lot of men coming, and these men like MEAT, I’m cooking a LOT of food.

Oh when I was younger, this kind of event would freak me out.

I’d end up cooking everything the same day, plus wanting the place to look fresh, I’d clean everything the same day too, and basically wipe myself out.

Now I plan.

I had my parents over on Tuesday, only three days before this party, so what did I do? I cooked extra chicken curry and froze it in a serving dish so all I’ll have to do is thaw it and heat it.

Yesterday I cleaned up the upstairs.

Today I bought the meat and the remaining groceries I’d need.

Today I made the beef curry and the broth for the pilau plus the baked chicken and the sauce for the lasagne.

As I cooked, I cleaned, so my kitchen was not a disaster zone by the end of the evening, and while the curry simmered, I watched Fargo,  a good movie that I’d been wanting to see ever since I got turned onto the Cohen brothers’ work. (Highly recommend it. It is bloody, but it’s also kind of funny and quirky.)

Tomorrow I’ll make the strawberry shortcake, put the lasagne together and cook the rice.

I’ll just have to reheat the curries and voila. Dinner for 18.

Writing is like that too.

It takes planning.

I’ve gotten to the point now, that when I’ve got a big event coming up I can automatically plan things without even really thinking about it. I doggedly keep going till everything is done.

Writing is the same.

Right now I have about five different projects on the go. I haven’t listed any steps in terms of how to finish them.

I just tackle them one at a time, give the ones that need feedback to other people to read, while I work on things that have deadlines and insha Allah, I get it all done.

Cooking a big dinner like this is actually a good metaphor for the process.

I find the best thing to do to maximize your time is start things, and get them to the simmer point, and then as they’re simmering on the back burner, get to the other stuff you need to get done.

Back when I used to be a lab technician, it was actually a remarkably similar process, only my ‘recipes’ were the lab procedures, the qualitative analyses and quantitative analyses which would determine if the right drug were in the samples and if it was in the right amounts. Being a quality control technician in a pharmaceutical manufacturing company really wasn’t so different from being a cook. And I’d often apply the same principles.

I’d start something to burn down in the crucible in the fume hood while I’d begin quantitatively titrating a solution to determine the concentration and stuff.

That way I’d get two procedures done at the same time.

I am ALWAYS working on more than one story at a time.

When I tell kids it took me five years to write Ruler of the Courtyard what I don’t tell them is that I was also working on umpteen other books at the same time.

Get stuck on one, push it to the back burner, and work on another.

And yes, carrying this metaphor to the extreme, some stories do get overdone. They get burnt and there’s nothing you can do with them.

That happened with a story idea I had set in Custer, South Dakota.

I even went so far as traveling there and researching all the places that Crazyhorse fought against American forces. All for a novel that never did get published.

But…hey, it’s not done yet. You never know. Maybe one day those figments of story will work their way into a viable form. I actually do have a vague idea for one, but no way can I write it right now.

I like to say that Wanting Mor only took me five months to write. And consciously that’s true, but in reality it probably began when my sister died eight years ago. Reading that paragraph about a girl named Sameela in the orphanage I sponsored the library in, jogged something, but it was still a few years later before I heard Jameela, the main character say the first sentence, “I thought she was sleeping”.

For me, hearing the first sentence is like the smoke alarm going off.

It means something is past done and ready to come off the back burner.

By the time I *hear* the first sentence, the story has basically formulated itself. All I have to do now is hold on for the ride and write as fast as I can.

I did that, and in five months, I came up with Wanting Mor.

Ever since last year, when I went for Hajj and my agent said I should write a book about a kid who goes for Hajj, I stirred up the contents of this story and put them on the back burner of my mind.

Only a few months ago, I started writing it and now I’m almost done.

I had wondered if I’d get done before the end of the year. It doesn’t look like it. But that’s okay. I’d rather do it right than do it rushed.

I do like what’s come out of it.

It’ll need some work, some mixing and stirring to see if the spices are right, but that’s okay. I’m ready for it.

I’m hoping this year is quite prolific.

Got SO many ideas that are bubbling away.

I just hope none of them burn.

Good luck to all of you with your projects and hope this next year is a good one.

2011 was a fantastic year for me!