Tuesday, January 31, 2012

Publishing Industry In Flames. Film At Eleven.

Publishing’s Ecosystem on the Brink: The Backstory is a sort of digest account of some recent articles on the state of book publishing along with some commentary. As is often the case, the reader comments are interesting.

Time Management Tuesday: Controlling The Internet

Last week I wrote that I'd found meditation helpful in helping me to concentrate and stay on task with my work. What I didn't tell you was that I didn't keep it up. Pourquoi pas? you may ask. Well, I didn't have time for it. I work out every morning, for any number of reasons, and I added a short yoga practice a year or two ago. Adding meditation was making my morning routine rather lengthy.

But, in hindsight, I don't think it was the exercising and yoga that were so time consuming that I had to give up meditation. Until very recently I was spending time on the Internet most mornings. I would actually check in before even starting working out or in-between using a twenty-minute exercise tape and getting on the treadmill. Checking my e-mail and responding to messages from family members could easily take up twenty or thirty minutes (if not more), and then I would look at my blog and maybe respond to a comment. And then I'd go to two news sites to see what was happening and to follow links to celebrity gossip articles. I also visited Salon and often read at least one article, and until I started having trouble accessing Slate, I'd go there, too. And, remember, I often started doing that in the midst of my workout routines, meaning it could be 9 o'clock or after, and I still hadn't finished with them. So I gave up on meditating because even without it, by the time I finally cleaned up for the day and got dressed, it could be after eleven before I was ready to work.

I know I'm not the only writer who does that sort of thing. At least, the part about the Internet.

In her Poets & Writers article, A Writer's Daily Habit: Four Steps to Higher Productivity, Ellen Sussman writes about using a program called Freedom to block her access to the Internet during her work time. She describes trying to break the block the first time she used it. "...like an alcoholic with a hidden bottle of booze, I ran upstairs and found my laptop, opened it, and checked my e-mail...I took a mental picture of myself then--sneaky addict sitting on the dog bed in my room with a laptop in my trembling arms--and I've never done it again."

For people who work alone, without colleagues, the Internet is a lifeline of sorts to other people. We have to keep checking because maybe someone--someone we actually want to hear from--has e-mailed us and wouldn't that be terrific? Maybe someone commented on our blog post or something we put up on our Facebook walls, which is almost like meeting someone somewhere to talk.

Writers (and probably others who work for themselves) are also regularly told that social networking will help us professionally...sell books, connect us with movers and shakers in our industries, make a difference to our careers. Doesn't that mean that spending time on Facebook and Twitter is actually working? Hell, yes!

I don't know whether there are a lot of hard statistics to prove that time spent on social media truly sells anything for must of us. How many books really go viral and become bestsellers or even sell enough as a result of something we did on-line to make back an advance? In the meantime, while we're out there on the Internet, believing we're selling, we're not creating something to sell.

I haven't gone as far as Sussman and actually blocked myself from the Internet. Last fall, while we were enduring one of our periodic family crises, I lost interest in celebrity court cases and red-carpet fashion. I've been able to maintain that disconnect since I've been back at work these past two weeks. In fact, I didn't know the Golden Globes were happening this year until the day after the event. I also find that whenever there is some kind of change in life (coming back from retreat week, a birthday, even, once, new living room furniture), I am able to attempt changes to routines. So since I've gone back to work after a long break (a change), I've been able to maintain a work schedule for two weeks that involves no visits to Internet sites and no accepting telephone calls until at least noon. (I make an exception for Time Management Tuesday, since I want that available to readers all day. Hmm. Is that a crack in my defenses?)

Okay, work-at-home people--Is dealing with the Internet as difficult for you as it is for Ellen Sussman and me? How do you control the beast? And, while we're at it, do you think the time you spend on social media is productive professionally, thus worth the time it takes from your creative work?

Monday, January 30, 2012

Classroom Buzz For Fangbone

I passed my arc of Fangbone on to a family member who teaches reading, primarily to children who need some extra instruction in the subject. I was aware that she had a student who is interested in becoming a cartoonist, and Fangbone is a graphic novel.

I learned this weekend that the first time he read the book, the boy didn't get much out of it. But he read it a second time, at which point it was clear that he was comprehending and enjoying what he was reading. In fact, he became an enthusiastic fan, anxious to read the second volume in the series (which has already been published) and wondering why their school library didn't own those two books. (Our family member suggested that he write to the librarian about the issue.) Not to worry. The young man's father purchased Kindle versions of both the first two Fangbones, so they're available whenever he wants them.

This boy is so taken with this book and has discussed it so often that now other children in his class, children who don't have difficulty reading, are interested in reading it. Our family member also thought it was noteworthy that this is a class of fourth graders, and the book is set in a third-grade classroom. She wouldn't have necessarily expected kids to be interested in reading about characters who are younger than they are. Certainly conventional wisdom tells us that children read up, not down.

But evidently the little barbarian in Fangbone can deal with that issue.

Saturday, January 28, 2012

Children's Lit Day On NPR

This is incredible.

First, I caught the tail end of an interview this morning with Penelope Lively who has written a load of children's books, including The House in Norham Gardens. She has a new, nonchildren's book out, How It All Began.

Then I heard an entire interview with John Green, who, of course, is a YA author. He has a new book out, The Fault in Our Stars.

I am cooking this afternoon (for what seemed like a couple of freaking hours), and the first thing I know, I realize I'm listening to a very interesting piece on Ezra Jack Keats. The Snowy Day.

But...that's...not...all. I went on to Facebook tonight only to learn that...Jack Gantos was on Wait Wait Don't Tell Me! He doesn't exactly have a new book out. He has a new Newbery Medal.

Seriously, was this planned or did it just happen? It could be that children's literature is just so all over the place that four children's writers could turn up on the same radio network on the same day. Yes. It could happen.

Thursday, January 26, 2012

Ruth Stone, Poet

Last night, while reading some Vermont newspapers my cousin had sent down here to another family member, I learned that Ruth Stone died in November. I have yet to read any of her work, but I'm still a bit obsessed with writers who had Vermont connections during the time I was growing up there. (I've done more than a dozen posts here about Shirley Jackson.) Ruth had a big one. For many years she lived in a town that was part of our union school system and one of her daughters was in my eighth grade math class. I don't remember her after that point, probably because, as I learned later, Ruth moved around teaching at colleges.

Her personal story is compelling. She was widowed in her forties and raised three children by herself. She published her first book of poetry in 1959, the year her husband died, but her next one didn't come out until 1971. Her major success didn't come until she was in her 80s and 90s. She won the National Book Award in 2002 and was a finalist for the Pulitzer Prize in 2009.

She stayed the course, both with her work and with her family. I am impressed.

Ruth Stone's daughter, Phoebe, is the author of The Romeo and Juliet Code, published last year.

Wednesday, January 25, 2012

Kadir Nelson At The Eric Carle

I was catching up on reading NESCBWI newsletters yesterday and learned that from February 7 through June 10 Kadir Nelson's artwork for We Are The Ship will be on exhibit at The Eric Carle Museum of Picture Book Art in Amherst, Massachusetts. Scroll down on the Carle's Programs & Events page, and you'll see that there will be an Opening Reception for museum members and, on February 19th, a gallery tour with Nelson, himself. (Free with museum admission!)

We Are The Ship is a beautiful book, and I am very happy Nelson's artwork will be on exhibit on March 10th, when I'll be at the Carle for a NESCBWI's event.

Tuesday, January 24, 2012

Time Management Tuesday: Meditation For Concentration

People who work, whether for themselves or in a more traditionally structured job, have two types of time they need to manage: Their personal time so that they can set aside time for the job and their work time so that they can get as much done as possible while they are actually supposed to be working. The four steps to higher productivity that Ellen Sussman writes about in her Nov./Dec. Poets & Writers' article deals with managing time on the job.

The first step she talks about is meditating, her prewriting preparation.

Sussman says she starts workdays with 5 or 10 minutes of meditation. She talks about wanting to quiet the noise in her brain, carry peace of mind with her to her work time, and being able to hear what the muse is saying. I suspect this is kind of squishy stuff for a lot of readers. However, the line she used that connected with me was "I want focus, undistracted thought."

Once again, I think Sussman might be on to something.

I gave meditation a shot a while back because I'd read that meditating can help with concentration. The idea was that you can use meditation to help train your mind to stay with a task. If you can keep your mind focused on something as (let's face it) uninteresting as your breath going in and out of your body or repeating one word for 5 or 10 minutes, it will be more likley to accept sticking with a more interesting task when you present it with one.

God only knows where I read that. I would have guessed Yoga Journal, because I've been reading it for years, but a search of the magazine's website didn't turn up anything that looked familiar. But this article from Science Daily describes a study of meditation's impact on the brain. One researcher summed it up by saying, "Findings like these suggest that meditation's benefits may not require extensive training to be realized, and that meditation's first benefits may be associated with increasing the ability to sustain attention."

If we can sustain our attention during our work period, we can get more done. That's managing our time.

I do think I saw an improvement in my ability to stay on task during that period while I was meditating, and last week when I went back to work after a long break, I started meditating again. I get most of my meditation technique (if you want to call it that) from my taekwondo instructor, who has instructed us on meditation off and on for years, and from yoga instructors talking classes through savasana at the end of class. As Sussman says in her article, though, you can get meditation tips all over the Internet. One of the things I've been finding happening this last go-round is that when my mind wanders from the nothingness I'm shooting for, it's often wandering to something work related. I'm sure that someone really knowledgable about meditation would say that's not a good thing. But so long as I'm not dealing with random thoughts about my extended family or the house that's falling apart around me, I'm pleased.

Okay, all you who are trying to better manage your time, have you tried meditation? Any luck with it? Does it sound like something that would be worth giving a try?

Monday, January 23, 2012

Interesting Aspects Of A Lesser Known Work

Wild Robert, which I stumbled upon at a library a few weeks ago, is one of Diana Wynne Jones books for younger readers. I have to say that I found it rather plodding, myself. It seems like an idea that could have become something much more sophisticated than what it ended up being.

However, there were a couple of aspects to the work that are interesting for someone who has read other of her books and has some superficial knowledge of a later fantasy bestseller.

First off, Wild Robert, which was originally published in 1989, provides another charming, childish, male character similiar to Howl in Howl's Moving Castle, which was published three years earlier, and even to Christopher Chant as he appears in some of the Chrestomanci books, which were published from the 1970s onward.

Secondly, in Charmed Life, originally published in 1977, Wynne Jones has figures in stained glass windows come to life and fight with one another. In Wild Robert, (published in 1989, remember) she has figures in paintings in a castle gallery do the same thing, in a much more elaborate scene.

The whole paintings-come-to-life thing was used regularly in the Harry Potter books, the first of which was published in 1997. Whether Rowling was influenced by Wynne Jones or simply hit upon the idea independently (which definitely happens), it's interesting to see two writers using the same detail in their work.

Saturday, January 21, 2012

Will New Legislation Include School Library Funding?

I am always a bit behind on what's going on politically, but today I saw a post at one of my listservs regarding The Elementary and Secondary Education Act and school library funding. ESEA, to my understanding, is what we used to refer to as No Child Left Behind, and it is up for reauthorization and revision.

The ALA has a page up on its site about attempts to get some funding for school libraries into the ESEA legislation. According to the ALA, an amendment that would do just that was proposed but later withdrawn while still in committee because of lack of interest from committee members. If you scroll down on the ALA page dealing with this subject, you'll see that the organization is asking people to contact their senators and representatives to support school library funding as part of the ESEA legislation.

I don't know if the average parent is aware that school libraries have a little different mandate from the public libraries we grown-ups are more familiar with. They are not redundant, providing the same service, because they are supposed to support their schools' curriculum. They are supposed to provide books to support the science program in the school--on all grade levels. The same with social studies and, of course, reading. And if a school board decides to change its science programming, the school library's holdings should change to reflect that.

Your municipal library, which is providing materials and services for preschoolers up through senior citizens, can't funnel a chunk of its budget into providing books on your state's history to support the fourth grade curriculum in your school. That's what the school library does. Conversely, the school library doesn't spend its money on cookbooks or texts on investing for retirement. That's the public library's job.

You can't just assume that the municipal library is already doing what your school library does or that it can take up the slack if funding is cut for the school libraries in your town. For a municipal library to take on all the work of the various school libraries in a community, it would need great amounts of additional funding, not just for materials, but for space.

Notice I'm not even considering the option of not funding school libraries and just forgetting about the work they do. I can't imagine why anyone would want to eliminate outside reading and research for an entire student body. Talk about a situation that would create a divide between the haves and have nots--the kids from families with money for extra educational materials would be getting a much different education than the kids from families that couldn't provide those things. Yet they would be living in the same community and attending the same school.

Haven't Americans always tried to prevent that sort of thing in our educational system?

Friday, January 20, 2012

Now Those Are Some Werewolves

I was a big fan of Martin Millar's Lonely Werewolf Girl. I just finished the sequel, Curse of the Wolf Girl. Fantastic.

There are some older teen characters in the books, so an argument can be made that there is YA appeal for that reason. And perhaps thematically you could say these werewolves are trying to make their way in a hostile world, which could have YA connection.

I love the powerful women. The moving around from character to character may take some getting used to for some readers, but the various storylines come together terrifically. Well, they come together in a bloodbath, but it is a werewolf story.

Plot Project: My mind is reeling. I can't even begin to guess.

Thursday, January 19, 2012

Yeah, Speaking Of Managing Time

I've been back at work this week, which has almost seemed like vacation, because it's so different from what I've been doing these last few months. But the plan now is that on Sunday evenings I'll plan my evening work for the week, and a lot of it is family business and personal e-mailing. Wow. Who knew I had so many people in my personal life to e-mail? It's time to quit for today, and I have four more people I wanted to contact.

The blog reading? Well, I whipped through some Bookslut posts.

I'll have to see what I can plan next Sunday night.

Wednesday, January 18, 2012

The Next SCBWI-NE Blog Stop

Today I checked out Lupine Seeds, Linda Crotta Brennan's blog. I've actually met Linda a few times. She writes a lot of nonfiction and has published an impressive list of shorter work in magazines.

At her blog she's recently done a number of author interviews--extensive in length and accompanied by photographs. She also does her own commentary on issues in children's literature. (Linda, those recommendations for authors to limit themselves to only a few hundred words for picture books are a mystery to me, given that I'm always seeing picture books with lengthy texts on subjects of interest to people in their thirties or forties.)

I Wish I Had Time To Follow More Of This Kind Of Thing

Goodreads has never made more than a blip on my radar, because I just haven't had time to look into another on-line community. After reading YA novel readers clash with publishing establishment in The Guardian, I wish I knew more about it.

I have wondered if the publishing establishment doesn't try to use the independence of the Internet (Actually, it seems pretty obvious it does, with all the encouragement that authors take advantage of social media.), and lines like this support those thoughts: "More and more bloggers are reluctant to host the author blog tours that now swamp book sites – only to find that publishers refuse them free advance review copies of the new books they want."

Check out the Anthony McGowan review referred to in the article. Yes, indeed, he does write YA.

Tuesday, January 17, 2012

Time Management Tuesday: Does Identity Help?

Today we are starting an arc within our time management topic. For the next month, we're going to discuss author Ellen Sussman's article, A Writer's Daily Habit: Four Steps to Higher Productivity, which appeared in the November/December issue of Poets and Writers. Thanks to those people who recommended it to me and to Jeannine Atkins, who sent it to me.

Sussman's article is subtitled Four Steps to Higher Productivity , but before she even gets started on the steps she makes it plain that she's one of those just-sit-down-and-do-it people. "...if you're a writer, figure out how to do your job." Sounds a little harsh, eh? She does, however, offer an interesting suggestion on how to do that--develop an identity as a writer. Commit to the idea (the fact?) that you are a writer, and that it is your job. "If you embrace that statement," she says, "then you can begin to develop the practice of writing."

What I think she's getting at in her introduction is that if you have a strong identity as a writer, it's easier to maintain that boundary between your professional and personal lives that we've discussed before so that you can develop the practice of writing. And I believe she's on to something with this whole identity thing.

Soon after I published my first book, I heard Jane Yolen speak at a book event. During the question period, I asked her how she had managed to juggle her work and childrearing when her children were young. She said that 1. Her husband was a professor, and because of his academic schedule, he'd been able to take on more childrearing responsibilities than many spouses can, and 2. She had started publishing before she started having children. She already had a career. This sounds to me now as if her pre-existing identity as a writer helped her to maintain a boundary so that she could work.

My first book was published when my children were in elementary school. I could not get past the fact that I was a mother. In fact, I'd been writing for years in the off and on chaotic way that I do everything and had little success until that book, which drew very heavily on my experiences as a mother, was accepted for publication. At the time, I believed it was accepted because I was a mother and that that was the only reason my publisher was interested in me. A family member, who was a professional woman and mother, encouraged me to stop volunteering at school and church because I needed to concentrate on my career now that I finally had my foot in the door. I insisted that if I gave up the suburban mom's world to live like a stereotypical writer, no one would want my work. Talk about having no boundaries between your professional and personal lives.

Last year another family member and I were responsible for dealing with an older relative's health crisis. The other family member took off six days from work in a five- or six-week period and was receiving or making medical calls off and on throughout most of her workdays during the same time. Her personal life was definitely bleeding into her professional life. However, she had fairly traditional work hours with regular income her family depended upon, and she'd been doing that kind of work for decades. Her professional identity was strong, and the boundary between work life and personal life held in the end. I, on the other hand, had no books under contract and had no books in print. My family wasn't depending on my income, because I had none. My identity as a writer was very weak at that point, and the boundary between my professional and personal lives crumbled. Except for a few hours in November, I didn't work for four and a half months. In fact, I just started working again yesterday. I ended up making or taking four quick family calls during work time yesterday, and I had to ignore an in-coming call this morning. It's going to be a struggle to maintain a boundary so I can work.

So, people, how do we feel about the whole identity thing? Can it help with time management? Is believing we're writers, no matter at what stage of our careers we find ourselves, enough to maintain the boundary we need between professional and personal time? Has it worked for you in the past? Do you think it would work for you in the future?

Tuesday, January 10, 2012

Time Management Tuesday: The December Time Suck

Conventional Wisdom tells us that the month of December is stressful for many people because of the additional work the end of the year holidays entail. I thought I'd cover that issue now, while the time burden of the most recent holiday season is still fresh in our minds.

Over the course of writing eight books, I was frequently under contract during the holidays. One year I even had an early January deadline, meaning I was under a lot of work pressure while shopping for stocking stuffers. Boo-hoo. Lots of people have to work during December.

However, there is a difference between writers and people employed in traditional eight-hour-a-day jobs. And that is that the people in eight-hour-a-day-jobs are in a workplace for eight hours a day. It's much easier for them to control the boundary between home/holidays and work. I'm not saying it's fun for them. I'm saying that they're not tempted to try to bake while performing an appendectomy, designing a parking lot, or laying carpet because their kitchen is miles away from their work site. People who work out of their homes have an unfortunate tendency to think, What the hell. How long can making one batch of chocolate covered nut clusters take?

I am constantly trying to conserve time in December, not so I'll have more to use wrapping presents or decorating, but so I'll have more for work. Attempts to date:

1. Several years ago the Gauthier extended family cut back from buying numerous gifts for one another to just one. Quite honestly, this was due to the fact that our wanton materialism had become revolting--at least to me, and I managed to impose my will on everyone else. (I recognize that. I'm a Christmas witch.) The savings in shopping and wrapping time was a side benefit.

2. I spent the better part of a day returning gifts one year. That is when I learned about gift receipts. They haven't been the great time saver I'd hoped, because I often lose them. (Keep reading.)

3. I am no longer interested in mass quantities of gifts under my tree for myself or anyone else. In addition to being revolting (see above), wanton materialism is also time consuming. So I bundle things if I can. If you have the bad luck to receive two shirts from me, they will probably come in the same box. One box seems less materialistic than two, and it uses fewer resources. And wrapping the thing takes less time for me.

4. Last year I read in some kind of magazine advertising insert about something called an "Inspirational Holiday Sparkbook." (You can create sparkbooks for anything, presumably.) The idea was that throughout the year as you thought of ideas for entertaining and decorating, you would collect them, and when the holidays come, you would be primed to go.

I have kept all kinds of journals, and a sparkbook seemed like one more kind of journal to me. So I was attracted to it. My poor social skills are legendary in these parts, so I didn't care so much about the entertaining portion of this plan. But I immediately wondered if there was some way that a holiday planner could help me be more organized and, therefore, end up with more time during the Advent season.

So I went out and bought one of those three subject portfolios with dividers that include pockets so I could plan and organize for Christmas futures. The section on food ended up with almost nothing in it, and I think that whatever the section on decorating had ended up being ignored. It was the section on gift ideas for others that I pinned my hopes on. That was where I thought I could really save some time. I made a list of things not to buy, and a chart where I could keep track of gift ideas for family members.

Having had a year to work the kinks out of this system, I can tell you that it has potential. There were a couple of family members whose gifts I was able to take care of right away because I'd thought of something for them months ago and written it down so I wouldn't forget. One of the better things I did with it this year was to make an additional chart of gifts I bought for immediate family members. I have tended to lose those in the past. (Hunting for them or making others--time consuming.) However, I've learned you really have to be careful to remember to look at the sparkbook before you start Christmas shopping. Also, next year I'll use one of those pockets to store the gift receipts I keep losing before I can wrap them with a gift.

With the sparkbook--and some healthier family members--I may be able to do a little working next December.

Writers--How do you manage to work during the December holidays? Or do you?

Friday, January 06, 2012

A Little Barbarian

Yesterday was publication day for a clever little graphic novel for younger readers called Fangbone! Third-grade Barbarian by Michael Rex. Actually, it was publication day for the second book in the series, too, The Egg of Misery. I received an advanced galley of the first book last month.

In Fangbone's barbarian world, he isn't taken seriously as a warrior because he's a child. He's enthusiastic but treated as a servant. He's ambitious, though, and plans to one day have his own army. When his leader is ordered by the clan master to send someone to another land to hide the big toe of Drool (what that's about is slowly revealed--no info dump at the beginning of the story), the older barbarians feel they are all too adept at fighting to leave the battle. So Fangbone volunteers to become the protector of the toe.

The other land where he's sent to hide? Ours, where he ends up in a third-grade classroom where this little barbarian fits in amazingly well.

Fangbone is the kind of time/world travel story I enjoy. I much prefer seeing someone from the past or another reality arriving in the here and now than someone from our time/world going somewhere else. The outsider/outcast perceiving and commenting on our real society is far more intersting to me than a character perceiving and commenting on a society that no longer exists or even never existed.

We do get commentary here. Bullies? A third-grade barbarian doesn't have to worry about them much, and not because he's violent. It's that barbarian attitude that takes care of threats. Bill, a boy with ADD, takes Fangbone under his wing, explaining toilets to him (You didn't think they'd have those in a barbarian world, did you?) and giving him his first taste of hot wings. Fangbone is flummoxed when Bill's mother asks for the magic word. He knows many, but "please" isn't among them. And when Fangbone is called upon in class to ask a question about why the sun rises, his response is a sort of creation story from his culture. It's the truth, as he sees it, and the episode raises questions about respecting the beliefs--any beliefs--of others.

One of the things that makes this book work for me is that there is a real story here. Sometimes with books for younger children you get a lot of jokes strung together. Fangbone has a mission. A mission has its own narrative drive.

Another aspect of the book I liked is that the graphics truly carry their weight by helping to tell the story. I don't care to see a lot of boxes with traditional narrative at the top, leaving the images to just illustrate text. With Fangbone we can pick up setting, action, and even character through the graphics. What a face that little Fangbone has.

Plot Project: A week or so ago, I read a review in which the reviewer talked about a premise giving direction to a plot. I think that could have happened here. Once the author came up with the idea for a barbarian in a classroom, the next logical step to plotting would have been to think of a way to get him there. Once he came up with the way to get him there, he had his character's mission. And with the mission would come a plot.

Wednesday, January 04, 2012

Not A Lot That Was New

I was a big fan of The Adoration of Jenna Fox by Mary E. Pearson. I found the sequel, The Fox Inheritance, to be a lot more traditional dystopian future story.

My recollection of Jenna Fox is that it was a more complex and subtle story, without clear bad guys. The Fox Inheritance has a very archvillain type of character, and he is a scientist. Scientists are often the heavies in dystopian novels. The main characters are being pursued through a Big- Brother-can-see-you kind of world. I didn't feel I was seeing a lot there that I hadn't seen before.

There were some aspects of the book that I wish had been developed more or even had become the focus of an entirely different story. Two secondary characters have been alive for hundreds of years. One has outlived her husband by a long, long time. The other has buried six of them. So what would that be like, outliving everyone you know, over and over again? I wish Pearson had written that book. Though, of course, that probably wouldn't have been YA.

Plot Project: Sometimes when I'm speculating about plots, I have to wonder about the initial idea for the story. I'm speculating here that Pearson wanted to write about two characters who are sort of just referred to in The Adoration of Jenna Fox. This may have been a story that began with characters. Then the author had to come up with a situation for them, and then a plot. I would have found that a difficult thing to do.

Tuesday, January 03, 2012

Time Management Tuesday: We Have To Manage All Our Time

Articles about time management for writers often include suggestions that we set writing goals for each day and stay on task until we meet them, check and respond to e-mail only once a day, and limit our access to social media. (That last suggestion contradicts the marketing articles that advise us to be all over the Internet.) In reality, though, we need to manage the rest of our lives in order to have any time to manage for writing.

Financial compensation for writing and other creative fields comes infrequently. Royalty statements come only twice a year, for instance, and if writers are able to sell articles and short stories, we're still talking one-time payments, nothing like a regular paycheck. Children's fiction writers will often never make more on a book than their original advance. So many writers are going to have to hold day jobs to meet living and healthcare expenses. Their writing time competes with what you might call their life management time.

Many writers who are able to work "full-time" are parts of families with young children. It makes financial and practical sense that the nonwriter parents with the best income potential will focus large chunks of their time on working in more traditional jobs while the writer parents who make less and work out of the home take on the bulk of the childcare responsibility. It also makes financial and practical sense that adult children who are writers and can be flexible with their work time and aren't providing the bulk of the family's income, anyway, take on some of the responsibility for visiting ailing elders and/or managing their finances or, in many cases, doing even more.

For people who work under those conditions, the boundary between professional and personal time is very thin and very wobbly. It is all too easy for personal time to bleed into work time. In my experience, it goes the other way occasionally (there were times in the past when my family ate a lot of hot dogs and store bought cookies while I was finishing drafts to meet deadlines), but not so much. Plumbers, electricians, chimney sweeps, septic tank cleaners, and family members calling and wanting to talk for forty minutes all peck away at the work schedule. Then there are medical appointments, sick days (for ourselves and others), and snowstorms (or other kinds, depending on where you live) that pop up with alarming regularity. Maintaining basic cleanliness in a home takes up time.

Over the years, I've become a big fan of magazine articles on managing clutter, organizing homes, and doing more with less time. Yeah, reading that stuff burned through some of my hours that might have been used to write. But I have this intense belief that I am doing something wrong. Somehow, there is a way that I can do more with the time I have. There is some method I can learn and apply to all the things I have to do so that the personal work will stay on its side of the boundary, leaving more time for the professional work that I will then knock off rapidly and efficiently.

Or maybe I've got this all wrong. A family member who learned I was going to do a time management for writers project at my blog thought I'd have nothing to write about. If he were a writer, he said, he'd just set aside 9 to 11 each morning to work. That would be all there was to it.* Is he right? Is that all you have to do to make all the personal intrusions go away?

*At this point, I had to stop working on this post for 40 minutes while I dealt with the floor guy who was here to look at the damage the plumbing guy I dealt with for 3 hours one day last week did to our carpet. After calling my husband about this, I now need to e-mail the floor guy. I also have 2 elder care calls to make today and an appointment for myself.

Monday, January 02, 2012

Odds And Ends At Oz And Ends

My next stop on my very, very slow tour of NESCBWI member blogs is Oz and Ends, J.L. Bell's highly intelligent ruminations on children's literature, comic books, graphic novels, and a number of other things, including, of course, The Wizard of Oz. I had been following this blog for years, and just skimming the last few posts makes me very sorry I haven't been able to get to it these last four months.

On New Year's Eve, John did a post on the Wimsey sequels written by Jill Paton Walsh. I read the first of them years ago and never pursued the rest. Even though I hate Harriet Vane and the way she sucked the energy out of the Peter Wimsey stories, after reading what John had to say about them, I may have to read the rest of the sequels. I may have mentioned here in the past my fantasy of a contemporary Wimsey sequel in which one of Bantor's granddaughters is one of Wimsey's grandsons' or even great-grandsons' superior at Scotland Yard. I would so love to see that.

Then a couple of days earlier John wrote about a Salon article I just saw today. Now I have to go back and read the article more carefully as well as the commentary at Oz and Ends.

Oh, my gosh! Still earlier, he wrote about a Bartimaeus graphic novel.

Truly, I have been missing so much.

A Little Website Tweaking And A New Place To Go

We did a little work on the website this past weekend. You can now find all my published essays together on one page.

While my computer guy was working on one of the other pages, he did a little research and found this neat site called NewPages.com. It has information on independent bookstores, literary magazines, publishers, and more.

Sunday, January 01, 2012

How I Did With Those 2011 Reading Plans

On Saturday, January 1, 2011, I announced my reading plans for the year. None of this resolution stuff for me. I plan. Let's see how I did.

I planned to get started reading the Discworld books, and I did. I read the first eleven. I'm happy with that.

I planned to read some books from my To Be Read pile. I did that, too. I read the third volume of The Cartoon History of the Universe, just as I said I was going to. I decided I wasn't getting much out of those books and gave my copies of the first three volumes away. I also tried to read a martial arts memoir that had been sitting in my basket and got rid of that. I read Hotel Pastis, which I didn't care for, though I enjoyed the bits of French, and The Book of Guys, which I found to be elegantly written short stories about middle aged guys in which nothing much happens. There may have been some other books, too, that I've forgotten. My To Be Read pile isn't necessarily memorable.

I didn't manage to read any books about Louisa May Alcott.

Of the books I became interested in because of The Library of the Early Mind, I only read A Hole in My Life. But that's a quarter of the books I wanted to read, so...hurray me!

And, finally, I received The Curse of the Wolf Girl for Christmas and will be taking it with me on retreat week next week. So while I didn't read it in 2011, I'm going to be reading it very soon thereafter.

I am quite satisfied.

It's New Year's Day, And That Means...

...the Cybils finalists have been announced.