Tuesday, July 31, 2012

Time Management Tuesday: Transitional Time And The Cluttered Office

A few years back, I read that people often waste/loose time during transitions. Transitions occur when you're moving from one project/activity to another, especially if it requires a big mental shift. Getting started in the morning is a transition from sleep to day. Getting your work day started requires a transition. Ending the work day requires a transition.

Transitional time is probably another example of the importance of beginnings and endings, only in this case not so much because of being excited about starting something new or being discouraged at the end of a unit of time. Just the opposite, in fact. With transitional time, we're talking about the difficulty of changing to a new thing. We're not excited about it or maybe feeling much of anything at all.

Over the years I've had periods when I had a long "pre-writing ritual" each morning involving checking my e-mail, hitting two news sites and a couple of on-line magazines, and then playing a few hands of some kind of computer solitaire. When I'm wrapping up work late in the afternoon, instead of shutting down and heading off for some life maintenance task (making dinner, for instance), I'll often check news sites again because something might have happened during the day, right? Then there's the whole issue of getting up off the couch in the evening and heading to bed. That can take me a good thirty minutes.

Those are all transitional times. I'm making the transition into work, from work into personal time, from personal time to bed. And it's rarely productive.

One of the few ways we can actually "find" some time is to make better use of transitions. Recently, I've been using the unit system during my morning transition into work. I give myself a fifteen-minute unit of time to work on decluttering my desk, which we've been talking about recently. I definitely can't give a multi-hour block of time to this. But fifteen minutes a day over a week is an hour and a quarter. If I ever finish, I can continue to use my morning transition to keep the desk under control. Or, perhaps, to work on emptying my e-mail in- and out-baskets. Yeah, I have trouble with that, too.

I haven't been able to get the transition at the end of the work day under control yet, but someone who can might prefer to use that time for de-cluttering the desk. That's recommended by many clutter/time management experts, though I find it a rough time to try to do that, myself.

Over the last couple of weeks, I've been trying to use the personal time to bed transition to do ten-minutes of house pick up. I was getting into that, but I found I was having trouble sleeping. Could be co-incidence. My family is littered with troubled sleepers. I'm wondering, though, if the surge of activity so late in the day is over-stimulating. I will keep you posted.

Monday, July 30, 2012

I Admire People Who Can Work Fast And Maintain A Clean Office

R. L. Stine's been working fast for twenty years. The pictures that accompany the Atlantic Wire article make it appear that he keeps a nice office, too.

Link from Blog of a Bookslut.

The Inside Story On Fruitlands

First off, quite some time ago I "Liked" the Louisa May Alcott is My Passion Facebook page, hoping that when I saw posts that interested me, I would follow links, do some reading, and so on and so forth. Saw lots of posts that interested me, but none of the other stuff happened until today, when Louisa May Alcott is My Passion linked to Fruitlands: Bronson Alcott, Charles Lane and Their Unsuccessful Search for Utopia at Failure Magazine. (Really, how wonderful a concept is that for a magazine? Or for anything?) Surely, you all remember that back in July, 2004 I visited Fruitlands. So I was very motivated to read the Failure article.

The article is actually an interview with Richard Francis author of Fruitlands: The Alcott Family and Their Search for Utopia.  I'm particularly fond of two portions:

1. Francis's explanation of Transcendentalism. I don't know that it is correct. All I know is that I can understand it. Usually Transcendentalism is quite beyond me, which is too bad, since I find the whole eighteenth century Concord, Massachusetts crowd so fascinating, and Concord was lousy with Transcendentalists back in the day. Francis says, "The most important aspect of it was a belief in the perfectability of humankind. Transcendentalists believed that Jesus wasn’t the son of God, but was simply a perfect human being, setting an example for other human beings to become perfect likewise." This makes Transcendentalism sound like my understanding of secular humanism. Which is fine.

2. Francis's material about Marmie--I mean Mrs. Alcott's--beliefs. "...the Alcott’s, particularly Mrs. Alcott, thought of family as the heart of society. She was interested in creating a well-functioning nuclear family that would be an example to other families." (Hmm. Could that be what Louisa May was doing with her writing?) He also says she very cleverly manipulated the situation so she could put an end to the Fruitlands experiment.

The interview doesn't make Bronson Alcott look good. However, I have never read anything that made him look good. It looks as if he made a fortunate choice of wife who got his fat out of the fire, at least as far as Fruitlands was concerned, and raised one sharp daughter. Beyond that, he seems most impressive for his failings.

I wonder...what if he wasn't really that bad? What if history has been unkind? It would make a great, sad story.

Sunday, July 29, 2012

Highlights From The Most Recent Carnival Of Children's Literature

The July Carnival of Children's Literature is up at Anastasia Suen's Blog. I found a number of interesting exhibitors.

I got distracted at the Monkey Poop Blog because the site also has a calendar of Boston area children's literature events. The blogger involved must put in a great deal of time and effort to maintain this thing. Also, I suspect the Boston area does a lot more children's literature events than central Connecticut does. 

I was interested in the review of Yawning Yoga at Flowering Minds. I actually have a bed yoga book for adults, though I usually forget to use it.

As a general rule, I'm not a fan of problem books. But the problem involved described in the review of Wonder at Literary Lunchbox is one I've only seen addressed once before, in the very good Firegirl. So I could give it a try.

I learned at Yellow Brick Reads that Margo Lanagan has a new book coming out, The Brides of Rollrock Island. Though I loved Tender Morsels, I didn't find it particularly YAish. The Brides of Rollrock Island sounds adult-oriented, too, what with being about married couples. Not that that is an issue for me as a reader. I read adult books.

I think I was supposed to be looking at a review of Sam the Cat at The Book Chook, but my eye was caught by a post on word collecting. Seriously. I thought I might like to do that with someone I know.

Book Aunt did an ambitious post on books on writing by authors. I was particularly interested in the book by Diana Wynne Jones that is supposed to come out later this year. I heard about it through the Celebrate Diana Wynne Jones thing that was going on this past spring.

By the way, I loved the subtitle on Book Aunt's blog: "Because OTHER People Give You Clothes and Video Games for Your Birthday!" In the Gauthier family, this Book Aunt also gives books for Christmas, baptisms, First Communions, graduations, and baby showers. No one is ever surprised by my gifts.

Thursday, July 26, 2012

Heathcliff, Anne Shirley, And Hound Dog

I am sure many of you recall that I recently read Withering Tights by Louise Rennison because I just wrote about it two days ago. Remember how I said that I found this book about Tallulah Casey a little deeper than Rennison's books about Georgia Nicholson? One of the ways you can tell if a book is deep is if it raises questions in your mind, questions that you keep asking yourself even after you have read the final sentence and closed the cover forever. 

Questions I asked myself after reading Wither Tights:

1. Do folks in Yorkshire use still use "thee" for "you" as in "Are thee daft?" "Daft" is a great word, in and of itself, but it becomes even better when preceded by "thee."

2. Is it common for young people to be so familiar with Jane Eyre and Wuthering Heights that they can make jokes about the characters? For instance, if they notice a house on fire in Yorkshire and someone on the roof of said house, would they automatically start talking about daft Mrs. Rochester?

3. Yorkshire is home to the Bronte sisters. Well, it was home to the Bronte sisters. Are the Brontes a big deal there the way Lucy Maud Montgomery is a big deal on Prince Edward Island?  Do tourists flock to Yorkshire to be near the sites of Heathcliff's and Jane Eyre's stories the way they flock to Prince Edward Island to be near the site of Anne of Green Gables' stories?  
These could easily have ended up being eternal questions. However, I am not without resources. I have a family member who knows an honest-to-God Yorkshireman and his wife. (I've met them, so I have at least met an honest-to-God Yorkshireman.) Okay. So...where was I going with this?...Got it. Through the wonders of e-mail, said family member contacted the honest-to-God Yorkshireman's wife, and now I know:
1. Yes, indeed! Yorkshire folk do use "thee." It's fairly common, making Yorkshire one of the cooler places on Earth.

2. My source has never heard any young people making Bronte-related jokes, herself, but she would expect Britain's young to study the Bronte's fiction in school. Bronte humor might turn up on television in sketch shows. Classic literary humor--who might do that in this country? I am at a loss. Is there anyone on American TV doing Huck Finn jokes? I am sure I've heard Moby Dick jokes, but probably not on TV.
3. And, finally, Haworth, the town in Yorkshire where the Brontes grew up and wrote in a somewhat depressing looking parsonage next to a cemetery, is a tourist draw for book people.
As with so many answers, these led to more questions. Or, to be honest, one. "Do we have any writers in this country who have such fans that their homes draw crowds years after they've turned to dust, the way the way Anne of Green Gables Land and the Brontes home do?" 
I asked this question out loud to a dinner companion this evening, and I was about to answer it, myself, with, "I'm thinking maybe Orchard House," when he jumped in with, "Elvis's place."
Well, I suppose. 

Tuesday, July 24, 2012

Time Management Tuesday: The Clutter Timesuck, Part II

Last week I began writing about clutter and its impact on how we use our time. The impact is not good, in case you didn't read the first post. Hunting for lost items or items you think you remember, but once you find them realize were not what you wanted, after all, is not a good use of time. How can we deal with this?

Clean Your Messy Desk, Lest Ye Be Judged, which appeared recently at Bloomberg Business Week, didn't seem as if it was going to be very helpful, as far as I was concerned, because I work in almost total isolation. I truly don't have to be concerned what anyone thinks of my workspace, and, thus, I'm not. However, the author quoted Katherine Trezise, president of the Institute for Challenging Disorganization, regarding one of the people used as case studies in the article. The person in question said he needed his mess. “I put stuff on my desk because I like to be able to see everything I have to work on.” Trezise responded that such people “feel like they have to have visual cues or they won’t get anything done. But if you have everything sitting out, it eventually becomes like wallpaper.”

I think both people come very close to perfectly identifying why office clutter exists. We do need to see what we're working on. We do need those files, the books we're taking notes from, the letters that we need to respond to. What happens, though, when we get interrupted? What happens when we're interrupted by a new task that needs to take priority for the rest of the day...part of a week...most of the next month? We can't take care of the "visual cues" relating to the first job(s) because they're not done. We need to be able to pick up where we left off at some point, right?

So all the materials relating to all these unfinished tasks pile up and up until we can get back to them. That could be a long time, because while we've put aside Task A because Task B came in and required immediate attention, Task C is about to drop on our desks. Okay. Task C needs to be done, but then Task D turned up and that's even more important, so we put Task C over with Task A, which is still open and waiting.

And, that, lads and lasses, is how office clutter happens. Well, that and the filing we keep putting off.

What to do? What to do? Here's what I'm trying:

1. I've created a "Status" form. All this trial form has on it are the words "Status," "Date," "Work Done With This," "Plan To Do." I'm making these for projects I've had to stop working on. The form is going in the file or being attached somehow to the materials I can no longer work on, and then the item is being...put away. In one case, journals have actually been put back on their shelf. In another, a stack of paper with a form has been placed in one of the horizontal files (the Marketing horizontal file, to be specific) on my desk. I'll admit, a third project is still floating around a bit with its "Status" form clipped to it. But I have been working on that particular project regularly, unlike the two I've actually put away.

2. Simply putting these things away with a "Status" form is useless, if, over time, I forget about them because they're out of sight and out of mind. (Unlike the situation when they were just heaped on my desk. Then they were in sight and out of mind--wallpaper, as Trezise said.) I have a couple of small white boards on a cabinet in my office (from a series of other attempts I've made over the years to better manage time and effort). I'm using one of them to list Open Projects. The idea is that when I have a free moment (Ha!) I can keep referring to that board for projects I should be finishing.

Yeah, I'll let you know how that works.

Next week, I'll address the issue of cleaning the desk when you have no time to do so, and then keeping it clean, which I touched upon last week.

Monday, July 23, 2012

Louise Rennison Is Always Good For A Laugh

My very second blog post back in March, 2002 related to Angus, Thongs, and Full-Frontal Snogging. I am a serious Georgia Nicholson fan. If I'm going to read a book about boyfriends and shopping, Georgia better be in it.

Georgia's creator, Louise Rennison, has an excellent new series out, about Georgia's younger cousin, Tallulah. Tallulah could be said to have a little more depth than Georgia. Her interests  involve more than boys but not to the point that it ruins her sense of humor.

In Withering Tights Tallulah is off to Yorkshire, home of the Brontes and the school for performing arts where she's putting in a summer session rather than do an Outward Bound course with her brother. What, exactly, is Tallulah's performing talent? Ah...well. She and her friends have read Wuthering Heights and Jane Eyre, though, and are capable of some really clever Heathcliff and Mrs. Rochester jokes. In the Glossary at the back of the book, Tallulah defines Heathcliff as "The 'hero' of Wuthering Heights. Although no one knows why."

I found the boy interests in this book a little more touching than I recall feeling about Georgia's many, many, many interactions with boys. Everything's still funny, but there's also an underlying feeling that these are more realistic young people moving on in life.

Happy Day! I am coming late to Tallulah. She already has a book of second artistic adventures, A Midsummer Tights Dream.

Plot Project: Hey, this book starts with a disturbance to Tallulah's world--she's off to a performing arts college where she must board with a local family she's never met and meet all new people. The artistic types at the school...the Brontes... This is a plot that definitely seems to me to have evolved from its original situation.

Sunday, July 22, 2012

Getting Cynical With Book Blurbs

 The July/August issue of the Society of Children's Book Writers & Illustrators' Bulletin has a review by Karen J. McWilliams of Promote Your Book, Over 250 Proven, Low-cost Tips and Techniques for the Enterprising Author by Patricia Fry. In the review, McWilliams describes  "endorsements," particularly from other writers. After reading Promote Your Book, McWilliams realized that "...when an author...comments on my book, she can include free ads about her own novels...Ms. Fry said encorsements should be displayed on the front and back covers and also listed in the inside front matter, another way for authors and endorsers to advertise for free."

Endorsements here are what many of us refer to as blurbs. For a long time, I've realized that writers blurbing other writers' books were getting free advertising because their name, perhaps listed as "author of Blah Blah in Blah," would appear on thousands of books without them having to pay a cent. Some serious motivation for writers to wrack their brains for something nice to blurb, is it not? But for me to be thinking that in my cynical and jaded way is one thing. For me to see that other people have not only reached the same conclusion but are pointing out that this is a low-cost promotional technique for enterprising authors is quite another. I am feeling even more cynical and jaded right now, and not in a witty, Peter O'Toolish way. 

Fortunately, I saw the announcement for the winners of the Lukewarm Cover Blurb Contest at A Brain Scientist's Take on Writing, and it made me feel better about being cynical and jaded. Personally, I would have voted for the second place winner, whose entry begins with "This is a book that no one else on earth would even have conceived of writing" and ends with "I couldn't get through it fast enough."    

Friday, July 20, 2012

So Is He Saying That "The Hunger Games" Is Really Good Or Just That The Other Book Is Really Bad?

After reading English Teacher: I Was Wrong About "Hunger Games" in Salon, I definitely understand that the author doesn't like The Art of Fielding. But I'm having trouble figuring out how he was wrong about The Hunger Games. Does Suzanne Collins' prose "provide us with an opportunity to exercise our critical muscles," after all? He does say "If Suzanne Collins had attended Harvard, founded n+1, and written essays about environmentalism and David Foster Wallace, her book could have been considered equally worthy of critical and intellectual respect." Meaning considered equally worth of the respect given to The Art of Fielding, which he doesn't like, so I'm guessing no, her prose must not be providing our critical muscles with much exercise.

I think I would have gone with a different title for this essay.

Thursday, July 19, 2012

Conventional Social Media Wisdom

I don't understand the third point in 3 Lies that 'Social Media Experts' Like to Tell, but one and two definitely relate to writers who are told they need to blog and get themselves out onto every social network.

Announcing A New Publishing Project

I've mentioned in passing here that I'm republishing Saving the Planet as an e-book. Yesterday I signed a contract with an illustrator for a new cover.

Eric Bloom is a graduate of Pratt Institute with experience in illustration and digital and graphic arts. His background with digital composition and web design interested me, since we're talking an e-book cover. I'm going to be marketing Saving the Planet & Stuff as a YA book this time around, and I'll be attempting some crossover marketing toward adult readers, so I was looking for an illustrator who could do an edgy, nonchildlike cover.

Eric and I also have a history. He was sitting on my deck with my younger son when I came up with the basic situation that became A Year With Butch and Spike. I was flipping burgers for them on the grill, one thing led to another, and Eric's name appears in one of the last chapters as a little thank you gift.

And now he's helping me out with what is for me a big project.

Tuesday, July 17, 2012

Time Management Tuesday: The Clutter Timesuck, Part I

When I first started the Time Management Tuesday project, someone told me she figured messy offices would come into play at some point, and I assured her they would. I started thinking about doing this post early last week before I misplaced a business document for some eldercare work I needed to do. It only took me a day to find it. As it turns out, it was in my bedroom, not the office, suggesting I have clutter problems all over the house.

Sure a perfectly pristine work area suggests no work is done. But clutter doesn't necessarily mean just the opposite. For those of us who live with it around our work areas, it often becomes a huge time waster, as we go hunting for part of this project or that one, or the piece of mail we know came in a couple of days ago. I don't know about anyone else, but having stuff heaped around me eventually becomes a big drag on me emotionally, too. And that makes a great deal of sense. Why wouldn't we feel overwhelmed mentally when we are physically overwhelmed with stuff?

I used to periodically do a major office cleaning, which could take me a couple of days, during which time I would entertain Original Content's readers by writing here about the things I'd found. It's been a long, long time since I've been able to get all the way through an office cleaning because there are more and more work tasks these days. I've covered all the nonwriting writers do before. And even back when I was able to shovel out from under so much stuff, it didn't take long to find myself in the same mess again.

Cleaning is one skill. Maintaining is quite another.

Now, I've just begun my clutter reading. This is a subject, like self-discipline, that we're going to keep coming back to the rest of this year. (Now I'm wondering if maybe I'll have to continue with this into 2013.) One of the suggestions I saw for maintaining a clean work area was to spend a few minutes cleaning up at the end of the day before you finish work. As with other time management recommendations, that plan assumes  we all have some time at the end of the day, every day, to be able to do anything. It doesn't recognize that no one, no matter what they do for work, can control other people. (That's basic zenniness, folks. We cannot control others, only our responses to them.) During that final ten or fifteen minutes of the day when we're trying to work out what on our desk can go into files, be thrown away, sent to someone else, etc., our phones are continuing to ring. E-mails are continuing to arrive. If we're in some kind of traditional office, people are continuing to come into our workspace. Not only are we being interrupted, any of these interruptions could require so much of us that there's not going to be any time at the end of the day for tidying up. Or, worse, any of these interruptions could require more clutter, as files are pulled, notes are taken, etc.

"Clean your desk at the end of the day" is a solution that assumes we live static lives. If only that were the case.

Next week I'll write about what I'm trying to do to deal with the clutter in my office. In the meantime, if anyone else has solved this problem, don't keep it a secret. Let us know. 

Monday, July 16, 2012

A New Bear Book

Illustrator Rebecca Evans' mother and I go back to third grade. That's not why I'm mentioning the new book Rebecca's illustrating, The Shopkeeper's Bear. No, it's the apron the bear is wearing in the second illustration at her blog that grabbed my attention. (That's Rebecca's blog, not the bear's.) At Chez Gauthier, we were (and probably still are) very fond of bears who dressed up.

Except for the Berenstains, we leaned toward your more obscure bears, like Bialosky and this teddy bear gardener who may not have had a name.

Sunday, July 15, 2012

Get Ready To Think

Have you ever heard stories about the good old days, when families would jump in the car on a weekend to go for a ride? Yeah, it seems wasteful in terms of time and limited natural resources to me, too. But that's what I think of each weekend when I pick up on my NESCBWI blog tour.

Kissing the Earth is described at the NESCBWI website as "A blog about landscapes and environments and our relationships to them as writers and human beings." I can't say that I totally understand that, but I do find this to be a well-done blog that is updated several times a month with sophisticated posts. In the "About" section sidebar, the bloggers talk about "The Art of the Flaneur--being present as you wander in your world, and taking note of the details," which I definitely would like to look into. Two bloggers maintain this site, the New England part of the team being Tamara Ellis Smith.

Melissa Stewart is a writer I actually know. For real. We've met. I have one of her books tucked away upstairs to give to a family member. She blogs at Celebrate Science, which "offers innovative resources for teaching science and tips for writing nonfiction." She also does some marvelous work for the NSCBWI.

I'm wondering if I haven't met Jane Sutcliffe. The name is very familiar. (Do I sound pathetic, or what?) She updates her blog, Whozits, a Kids' Biography Blog, a few times a month. The blog has an interesting focus. Each post is, at least in part, a biographical sketch.

Linda Booth Sweeney has written books and articles about systems. (From her website: "...systems – elements and processes interacting to form a whole – shape us and surround us.) Her blog, Talking About Systems, deals with "Looking for Systems in Everyday Life." Wow.

Some serious blogs today.


Friday, July 13, 2012

Arcs Appear To Be A Hot Button Topic

I was aware that there's been talk lately about arc gobblers at conferences. Seriously. But I hadn't grasped how extensive and deep the arc angst goes until Writer Beware linked on Facebook to YA author Elizabeth Fama's blog post Kill My Arc. It wasn't so much what she said that surprised me. Personally, I agree with her regarding arcs being unfinished books, or maybe not even books at all. It was the big number of responders, many of them embracing the arc and being somewhat hostile toward Fama's point of view, that made me realize that this is a volatile issue.

I don't go to conferences, so I don't have a dog in this fight. But I will continue to follow it.

Wednesday, July 11, 2012


I have finally read some Shaun Tan, and I do like his work. Tales From Outer Suburbia, in particular, reminded me of the Ray Bradbury short stories I read in my early teen years. My uncle Mickey, a college graduate who married into the Gauthier family, had an enormous trunk filled with paperback books. Once when my parents, sisters, and I were visiting him and my aunt in the old house their were living in up in the mountains, he opened that treasure chest and pulled out a couple of Bradbury books to give me. They, along with To Kill a Mockingbird, were among the first adult books I read.

My recollection of the Bradbury short stories, and his book Dandelion Wine, a particular favorite of young Gail's, is that they were small town stories about things that just weren't quite every day. And that's how I read Tales From Outer Suburbia and Lost & Found, too, though in this day the action shifts to suburban towns rather than whatever small towns used to be back when Bradbury was writing.

Tan tells his tales in part with visuals, making his books picture books and seemingly for the very young. I see them more for older readers, older children, as I was when I first read Ray Bradbury, and adults.

Check out Shaun Tan's essay PICTURE BOOKS: Who Are They For?, in which he addresses the question "Who do you write and illustrate for?" Among the things he has to say while trying to come up with an answer: "I suspect that much art in any medium is produced without a primary concern for how it will be received, or by whom. It often doesn’t set out to appeal to a predefined audience but rather build one for itself. The artists’ responsibility lies first and foremost with the work itself, trusting that it will invite the attention of others by the force of its conviction." He also says, "What makes art and literature so interesting is that it presents us with unusual things that encourage us to ask questions about what we already know. It’s about returning us, especially we older readers, to a state of unfamiliarity, offering an opportunity to rediscover some new insight through things we don’t quite recognise (as it was for all of us in the very beginning)."

I think that's a very good explanation for why adults like picture books, in general, and Tan's books, in particular. The strangeness of both Tales From Outer Suburbia and Lost & Found do make the familiar unfamiliar, much as Ray Bradbury's short stories did years ago. 

Tuesday, July 10, 2012

Time Management Tuesday: Distracting Yourself From Distractions

Today, my friends, I'm on self-discipline again. Self-control. Will power. Call it whatever you like, we're talking about essentially the same thing--being able to work without allowing ourselves to wander off either physically or mentally. Writers are not the only workers who need to be able to do this, by the way. Here in the twenty-first century, huge numbers of jobs require that the people who do them manage their workloads themselves, with some leeway as to when and how they get everything done. We're talking about people who aren't punching time clocks or being paid for having produced X number of pieces of material work.

I'm talking self-discipline/self-control in relation to work situations, but it has an impact on a wide array of behaviors--eating, money, and alcohol use for starters. And so it's being studied by psychologists.

Walter Mischel's is a name I suspect will keep coming up if I do much reading on this subject. He created the "marshmallow test" in the 1960s, in which he tested children's ability to delay gratification. They could have one marshmallow right away, or if they waited a few minutes, they could have two. More importantly, it seems to me, he followed his test subjects over the years. As explained in  Don't! The Secret of Self-Control in The New Yorker, he found that children who were able to wait so they could get the better deal on marshmallows had S.A.T. scores higher than the children who weren't. "For decades, psychologists have focussed on raw intelligence as the most important variable when it comes to predicting success in life. Mischel argues that intelligence is largely at the mercy of self-control: even the smartest kids still need to do their homework." Angela Lee Duckworth, another psychologist studying this subject, agrees. "One of her main research projects looked at the relationship between self-control and grade-point average. She found that the ability to delay gratification...was a far better predictor of academic performance than I.Q."

Fascinating, huh? But we're not students anymore. The S.A.T. and grade point average ship has sailed for most of us. How can knowing any of this marshmallow stuff help us? And how much help should we need because we're highly motivated, right? We really, really want to write the next book.

Those kids really, really wanted the marshmallow. The kids who were able to put off taking one marshmallow, so they could get something better later (two marshmallows) did it by distracting themselves "by covering their eyes, pretending to play hide-and-seek underneath the desk, or singing songs..." They were able to divert their attention from the thing that they were tempted to do so they could get something better later.

For writers, wanting to write the next book is not the marshmallow. For us, all the things we wander off to do instead of writing the next book is the marshmallow. Checking e-mail and Facebook, looking to see if anyone has commented on our blogs in the last half hour, making sure nothing new is happening with TomKat... What we need to do is find ways to distract ourselves from the distractions so we can work, the way those kids distracted themselves from the single marshmallow so they could get the second one.

Mischel has taught children "mental tricks" that improved self-control. He says, "Once you realize that will power is just a matter of learning how to control your attention and thoughts, you can really begin to increase it."

What can we use for mental tricks? Oddly enough, I'm going to suggest distracting ourselves from our distractions with...work. How?

1. Remember the unit system? You only have to work for 45-minutes, and then you can stop for 15. I've found it really does help to keep me on task. I'm thinking I want to drift away to one of my distractors, and I check my timer. Hey, in 23 minutes I can! So I work another 23 minutes. Doesn't sound like much, but in the past I would have been off like a shot to check CNN to make sure the latest dead celebrity was still dead.

2. Remember the significance of beginnings? You can use the unit system to get yourself working. Okay, first thing in the morning, right after lunch, I have to work for 45 minutes. I've put in 45 minutes and maybe I've gotten myself into a flow state and will want to keep going. (I don't know about you, but I don't keep Time Cops at my house. If I want to work longer than 45 minutes, I do.) If I haven't, I stop for 15 minutes and begin again. Either way, I've got all these 45 minutes chunks of work done.

Thinking of work as something I do to keep myself from doing other things...Well, I guess people have been using work as an escape from their family problems for generations. But using it as an escape from social media is new for me.

Monday, July 09, 2012

What Did We Learn Today?

I spent a chunk of today researching book trailers with Darcy Pattinson's The Book Trailer Manual. I own this on Kindle. I like to mark up my nonfiction books while reading them, so I learned how to highlight and make notes on Kindle. While I was at it, I learned how to make collections so I could organize some of the e-books I now own.

I feel as if I've accomplished something, but it was also quite painless. Those two experiences don't usually come together, I've found.

Sunday, July 08, 2012

There's Always Time For Blog Visits

You can always squeeze in a few blog visits on a busy weekend so you can keep that Yes! I do work on weekends! feeling gone. The end of my personal tour of NESCBWI blogs is in sight. What am I going to do when I'm done? A plan is already forming.

But for now:

Leda Schubert is another one of my Facebook friends. We may have met on a listserv some years back. Yeah. That sounds right. She is not a wildly active blogger, indicating that she posted at Leda Schubert Writer and Teacher every six weeks or so, though it looks as if recently the schedule has been more like every few months. She refers to the blogosphere as the "Kingdom of Blog" and says, "I have said several times, I feel more like an occasional visitor to this kingdom than a participating citizen." When she posts, she often writes about writing process.

Anindita Basu Sempere is prepublished writer who has an academic background in writing and has been active in NESCBWI, co-directing regional conferences. She has recently published at The Washington Post. She often writers at her blog, anindita.org, about her reading.

When I said "You can always squeeze in a few blog visits," I meant, really, a few. That's all I can manage this family weekend.

Friday, July 06, 2012

Publishing News

I recently learned that Alimentum has accepted one of my short stories for publication. No date has been set.

This will be my first piece of adult fiction to see the light of day, though I have published essays for adults. (Oh! And you can easily get to them by way of the link to your left, right under my most recent book covers.) The short story is around 1,000 words making it flash fiction-like. Flashish. Flashesque.

Thursday, July 05, 2012

Saving Some Time And Energy

You may have noticed I've added a couple new sections to my list of links over to your left. I expanded those and dropped the "Links" page at my website. Why maintain two sets of links? How often does anyone check out the Links page at a website, anyway? But blog readers are often active blog readers who follow links from place to place to place. I know I do. So it made sense in terms of of time and energy to focus our attention on only one set of links. I'm also trying to limit my links to blogs I actually visit or was in the habit of visiting in the past and to organizations I have some connection to, as well as publications I've been known to read. (That reminds me. The new Horn Book arrived yesterday.)

If you read this week's Time Management Tuesday post, you know I wrote about busyness, a situation that we actually can do something about. Today I learned of a volunteer opportunity I would love to be part of but am going to have to ignore. I also just sent an e-mail to some family members letting them know I can't run a birthday party for one of our relatives this year.

Time Management is not fun.

Tuesday, July 03, 2012

Time Management Tuesday: Cutting Back On Busyness

I knew that at some point this year I'd need to address the issue of giving up some activities. Even the very best time manager (and I don't know that there's ever been one of those) has to accept the fact that time isn't elastic. There are only twenty-four hours in a day, seven days in a week, fifty-two weeks in a year...You see where I'm going with this. There comes a point where we have to accept that we're going to have to pick and choose what we do with that limited resource, time.

I decided at the last minute to do this post today after Pam at MotherReader brought The Busy Trap to my attention by way of Facebook. The Busy Trap deals with one of the situations that impacts our time. It's not a situation that is imposed upon us by life--sick family members, raising children, financial issues--but a situation that we impose upon ourselves. The trap I'm talking about is accidentally filling our lives and time with things to do and places to be.

What Tim Kreider, the author of The Busy Trap, and I are talking about is a very First World, middle class situation. As Kreider says, "Notice it isn’t generally people pulling back-to-back shifts in the I.C.U. or commuting by bus to three minimum-wage jobs  who tell you how busy they are; what those people are is not busy but tired. Exhausted. Dead on their feet." It's the people who have time to volunteer, take classes, and serve on local boards and commissions who are busy. They tend to have busy kids, too, busy kids who need rides and time-consuming support.

I am a former school and community volunteer who often put in ten hours a week or more on volunteer work. I was a slackard. I had friends who were putting in fifteen or twenty. We were doing valuable work. We built a forty thousand dollar playscape, for instance, and the next generation of volunteers restored it to the tune of seventy thousand. We're not talking chump change here. Volunteers do significant work.

But, as I already pointed out, you can't stretch time to make enough of it for all the things you want to do. I've had to confront this in a big way because I did have a time-consuming situation imposed upon me, one that impacted my career in a big way twice. In order to deal with the imposed situation (elder care) and maintain a career at some level, I had to snatch back time from the only place where I had some flexibility, the time-consuming situation I was imposing upon myself.

I cut back on busyness. It can be done.

I gave up my last volunteer "job," which was only one hour a week because I'd already been slowing down, maybe five years ago. I no longer do volunteer work at church or attend church more than a couple of times a year, for that matter. I don't volunteer at the elementary school in town or the library, two spots you might have seen me, if I lived another kind of life.  I gave up walking monthly with a hiking group a couple of years ago. I only  take yoga classes one week a year while I'm on vacation. I'm only biking a few times a year. I've turned down an opportunity to be part of a writers' group. For years I've only been doing NESCBWI events that require only a day, including travel time.

Sure any one of these things may not be much time. Taken altogether, though, I was using up a lot of time that I could have given to writing. I could easily foresee a time when I would be writing only when I didn't have anything else to do. I was published. I was supposed to be a writer. I realized that if I was always going to be busy doing other things, I couldn't even pretend I was working any longer.

There's nothing wrong with not being a writer, by the way. There's nothing wrong with being busy, if that's what you've truly chosen to do. But we have to be careful that busyness isn't something we just fall into.

Monday, July 02, 2012

Bit Of An Update On Classic Regency Romances

Keeping the Castle by Patrice Kindl is an example of a buzzed book with three starred reviews (that I'm aware of) that is worth all the hype.

It's being called a mix of I Capture the Castle by Dodi Smith (I think I saw the movie, though I remember next to nothing about it) and Pride and Prejudice by You Know Who. I think it has something in common with the Regency novels of Georgette Heyer. In Keeping the Castle you have the young woman looking for love, misunderstandings before she finds it, and, as often happened in Heyer's Regency romances (a genre she is said to have created), an outsider male.

Keeping the Castle has an updated twist, though, because seventeen-year-old Althea is all business, not romance. She's out to use her beauty, which she knows won't last long, to score a wealthy husband who will save her family's dilapidated castle home, thus providing for her mother and very young brother, as well as all the people who work for the family. A lot is riding on her. She's a lot like the female lead in a contemporary YA novel who is intent on going into a profession. The outsider male in this case isn't a rogue, as you find in the old-time romances. He's an outsider because he can actually do something. In this aristocratic world, doing nothing because you've inherited wealth is held in higher regard than being smart enough to make a buck.

Althea and Mr. Fredericks (I don't recall if we ever learn his first name) are witty, somewhat combative characters, making Keeping the Castle a comedy of manners. Fredericks appears so inept at the narrow social demands of Althea's world that for a while I wondered if he was supposed to have Asperger's. This  is a historical romance that also has a feminist slant. There is a female character who can also do something. And while Althea makes clear how few legal rights women have in her world, wives and mothers have a lot of power and even control within their families.

This is a fine book of its kind, but I don't know that it necessarily had to be published as YA. These kinds of books have been around for general audiences for decades. Centuries if you want to think back to Pride and Prejudice.

Plot Project: Keeping the Castle follows a formulaic plot for Regency romances, which readers who are familiar with them will recognize. The book makes a good argument that formula books can be well done and entertaining. Beyond that, Althea does have a problem--finding a rich husband--and she keeps running into obstacles to solving it. On the other hand, the action of the story does begin because a new, young, titled man moves into the neighbor, a definite change in her world.

Sunday, July 01, 2012

Canada Day Observance

Today is Canada Day, the day our neighbors (and, in my case, relatives) to the chilly north observe the anniversary of their confederation in 1867. My family comes from Quebec and then Ontario, two of the original four provinces in the confederation. Plus, we have a young family member who was born on this day. Therefore, I am going to observe Canada Day with links from Original Content dealing with Canadian writers, which means this is sort of another tenth anniversary post for me, since I'm hitting the archives.

I am beginning with a 2007 post, All Canada, All Day With Kenneth Oppel, because not only does it deal with Canadian writer Kenneth Oppel, it also refers to an Internet celebration of Canadian literature.

Then we'll do a few Anne of Green Gables links. Another Day is my take on the book, which I read while on vacation in the Maritime Provinces. The Land of Anne is all about my visit to Prince Edward Island. Loving Anne Shirley, Too is a two-fer. It's my account of an article about Canadian author Margaret Atwood in which she writes about Anne of Green Gables.

A Funny Book About Being Afraid refers to Rex Zero and the End of the World by Tim Wynne-Jones.

I get to write about Mordecai Richler, possibly my favorite Canadian author, in A Book for Your Younger Boys. In addition to his great adult work, Richler wrote the Jacob Two-Two books.