Tuesday, July 25, 2017

Time Management Tuesday: Working In Chaos

As a general rule, I find that material disorder--the kind where your stuff piles up around you, the kind where you lose your cell phone under some unopened mail on the kitchen counter, the kind where you find clothes you'd forgotten you had in the ironing or maybe that's the mending--saps my chi. It distracts me. As I've said before, "I do not deal well with mental and physical disruptions and confusion." I never suggest that homemaking has little value and that writers or anyone else can just laugh it off in order to make time for art. That kind of thinking is sure to come back to take a big old chunk out of your butt. Really. Somebody did a study that showed that very thing.


...I've been working in the bedroom for a month or two now, because my desk in the office is a mess, and who has time to deal with that? A couple of weeks ago, I had twenty or thirty minutes to work. That was it for the day. Probably that was it for the next couple of days. A couple of hours earlier, I had stripped my bed. Disorder! When I used to have a yoga sanctuary in that room, I couldn't roll out my mat if the bed wasn't made. Work? Ha!

But, remember, I had no more than 30 minutes to work. How much of it did I want to spend looking for sheets and making up a bed with them. Wouldn't I be better off, I thought, if I had such incredible concentration that I could work no matter what kind of surroundings I found myself in?

Well, you might describe my concentration as "incredible"depending on how you define the word. I can assure you that we're not talking the kind of incredible that allows you to get much done unless the stars are lined up just right. Nonetheless, I sat down at my desk, with my back to the bed, and worked.

Improving Concentration

I've been interested in improving my concentration for a long time. Self-discipline. Impulse control. Fortunately, I'm the kind of person who enjoys the journey, because I'm sure not getting to the destination.

But this summer is different. It's one thing to let your mind wander where it will when you have three or four hours a day to work. It's another when you have three or four hours a week, if you're lucky. I'm feeling a little more motivated to get some kind of power brain thing going.

So next week, and maybe the week after, I'll be focusing on focusing.

Saturday, July 22, 2017

So Mrs. Bennet Has Her Fans

Years ago I read an article about Mrs. Bennet in Pride and Prejudice in which the author made the point that while Mrs. B. may be foolish, she is also correct. Her daughters will be in dire straits without husbands to provide support.

I think this is why Pride and Prejudice and Zombies works as well as it does. Finding husbands is a life-and-death proposition for the Bennet daughters. Bringing in zombies is just a higher degree of risk. Little Women and Werewolves, on the other hand, wasn't as good a mash-up. The March daughters' response to the werewolves in the story doesn't make sense in the context of Little Women world.

I'm going on about this, because there was a discussion on my Facebook wall today about an article at The Literary Hub called Jane Austen's Most Widely Mocked Character Is Also Her Most Subversive by Rachel Dunphy. It's very intriguing, putting a feminist spin on Mrs. Bennet.

I like it, but I suspect Jane Austen wouldn't have a clue what Dunphy's talking about.

Friday, July 21, 2017

Thrill Me

In Boy X by Dan Smith, young Ash wakes up in a strange place with no idea how he got there. (Yes, this is middle grade fiction, not a twenty-something documentary.) By "strange place," I mean "strange medical place." He appears to be alone there. No mother! No one else, either. He stumbles outside where he finds a girl whose father works in the facility he just left. She informs him that he is on an island in Costa Rica. And he's been there for two days. The last he knew, he was in New Jersey. So, man, what's happening?)

Within minutes an alarm goes off! Men are running! Oh, gunshots! A helicopter is shot down! And Ash can feel himself changing.

The two kids end up having to save their parents (because Ash's mom is there, after all) and pretty much the world. What makes this believable is that changing Ash is doing. Sure it's far fetched in our world, but it's what makes what's happening in the world of the book work.

A real kid thriller.

Tuesday, July 18, 2017

Writing Who You Are

One of my French-speaking aunts.
The Therese Book
No Time Management Tuesday this week, because instead of writing a TMT post I spent a three-day weekend in Vermont for a Celebration of Life ceremony for my aunt. Aunt Tessy was one of the four Theresas/Thereses in my Gauthier family for whom Therese LeClerc in The Hero of Ticonderoga was named.

Butch and Spike's ancestors.
The Cootch Book
One of my Couture cousins came down from Ottawa for this event. Actually we're all
Coutures through my grandmother Gauthier, who was originally Beatrice Couture. And that is where Butch and Spike's last name came from in A Year With Butch and Spike.

My father referred to one of my grandmother's brothers as "Uncle Cootch," and now you know why Butch and Spike became known as the Cootches.

Still Another Couture Book
My Couture family also is responsible for the last name of the family in the Aliens books. Beatrice's youngest sister, Anna Couture, married a Denis. She died around the time I was writing My Life Among the Aliens, so the main characters became Will and Rob Denis. Which I pronounce "Deh knee" not "Dennis," since that's how my Canadian family pronounce that name.

Yes. I do obsess over names.

Friday, July 14, 2017

Norton Award

I'm very late with reading about the Andre Norton Award for Young Adult Science Fiction and Fantasy. Better late than never, however. Here is the short list with the winner highlighted.
  • The Girl Who Drank the Moon, Kelly Barnhill (Algonquin Young Readers)
  • The Star-Touched Queen, Roshani Chokshi (St. Martin’s)
  • The Lie Tree, Frances Hardinge (Macmillan UK; Abrams)
  • Arabella of Mars, David D. Levine (Tor)
  • Railhead, Philip Reeve (Oxford University Press; Switch)
  • Rocks Fall, Everyone Dies, Lindsay Ribar (Kathy Dawson Books)
  • The Evil Wizard Smallbone, Delia Sherman (Candlewick)
You can check out all the 2016 Nebula Award winners at Tor.com

Tuesday, July 11, 2017

Time Management Tuesday: I Have To Finish Something. Anything.

I don't know how many weeks I was into my most recent care giving experience when I began to notice heaps of things around the house. Well, I probably noticed them early on. I'm not blind. But what it took me a while to notice was that many of them involved unfinished tasks. There's laundry in the cellar that hasn't been folded. A room full of
ironing. A desk in my office heaped with papers, books, and some other things. There's mending in a couple of places up here. A counter and a table that...and shoes...and

...then there's the month's worth of Publishers Marketplace Deals I want to read, the submissions I want to make, the synopsis I need for a couple of those submissions, the books I've read and haven't done blog posts for, the...

Oh, and, yeah, I've got a bunch of books and magazines I've read just part of. I'm getting kind of worried about that. Lots of unfinished reading probably says something about a person, huh?

What's With Not Finishing Your Tasks, Gail?

I'm sure behaviorists would say letting tasks go unfinished is a sign of fear of failure or success, that there may be an attention disorder at work. But it can also happen because:

You're Fighting Fires--You have too much to do, too many tasks to complete in the time available, so you keep jumping to the one that blows up in your face and appears to need attention right this minute. Before you can finish it, another fire blows up in your face.

You're Dealing With Tasks Coming From Other People--You're attending to other peoples' needs, real needs of the sick, children, or elderly. And before you can finish attending to one of their needs, another one comes up.

Finishing Things For Writers

Fortunately, I stumbled upon a Five-Step Plan for Writers on finishing what you start.

Step 1: Stop Starting New Projects. Well, no! Who wants to do that? Though, to be honest, I did think about this in relation to the mending I mentioned in the first paragraph. No new sewing projects until I finish that mending.

Step 2: Assess Your Current Projects. But there are so many!

Step 3: Choose One Project to Focus On. Okay. I can do this. I have done this.

Step 4: Decide What "Finished" Will Look Like. Ermm.

Step 5. Set Some Milestones (And Start Hitting Them). This will work for me so long as we're not talking about timed milestones. I make milestones sooner or later.

Finishing Things For Anybody

Two things have helped me get started on finishing things again:

I finished one thing. I cleaned out a personal file. That included collecting paperwork from the office in he cellar and the dresser in my bedroom.

I started a new to-do list. I had been keeping a to-do list for a couple of years, but I lost that habit this spring. It's baaaaack, and I'll be doing a post on it soon.

Friday, July 07, 2017

Connecticut Children's Literature Calendar Update: Jane Sutcliffe At UConn Next Week

Tuesday, July 11
7:30-8:30 pm
UCONN Barnes and Noble Bookstore at Storrs Center
1 Royce Circle, Storrs, CT 

Bringing History to Life through the Lens of Nonfiction Writer Jane Sutcliffe

Hear a presentation and conversation between local nonfiction writer Jane Sutcliffe  and Confratute presenter and children’s book advocate, Susannah Richards. The conversation will highlight how Sutcliffe identifies, researches, and writes nonfiction. Q and A and Book Signing to follow.
This event is part of Confratute @ UCONN, but is open to the public. It will be of particular interest to teachers, teacher candidates, writers, and nonfiction writers.
I've heard Jane speak and attended a panel discussion Susannah moderated.  (Probably more than one. She's very active in the Connecticut  and New England children's literature community.) This should be a well done, professional presentation.

Thursday, July 06, 2017

Aren't All Science Fairs Freaky?

Eerie Elementary: The Science Fair is Freaky! by Jack Chabert with illustrations by Sam Ricks is one of the best chapter books I've read, even though it does involve a science fair, a volcano project, and three friends, which, yes, has been done before. By me, if I'm being honest.

This is part of a series in which three elementary students know that their school is controlled/inhabited by the mad scientist who designed it a century earlier. (A good reason to retire old school buildings.) The book is a coherent story about the kids finding a mysterious book that the school wants to get back with a climactic scene at the science fair.

In addition to the decent story and writing, there's something about a school being evil and some children (one being a hall monitor) protecting others from it that is kind of deep. Profound or meaningful or something.

Tuesday, July 04, 2017

Like You're Reading This On The 4th Of July

Wasting a perfectly good post on a holiday when readers are eating at friends' houses and visiting relatives instead of keeping up with their blogs would be very poor time management. So I'm saving my post on finishing tasks for next week.

Enjoy yourselves.

Monday, July 03, 2017

Connecticut Children's Literature Calendar Update: Neil Gaiman Is Coming To Town

Neil Gaiman is getting attention right now because his American Gods has made it to TV. But he's also the author of the Newbery winner, The Graveyard Book, and other children's books. And he's coming to the Bushnell in Hartford on Monday, July 10. That's a week from today, folks.

If you live in central Connecticut, "coming to the Bushnell" is a very special expression.

Thursday, June 29, 2017

July Connecticut Children's Literature Calendar

We have book releases this month, as well as a group appearance. Not bad for summer.

Sat., July 1, Ruth Horowitz, Jarrett J. Krosoczka, Tod Olson, Bank Square Books, Mystic 2:00 PM to 4:00 PM Scholastic Summer Reading Road Trip stop

Sat, July 8, Lauren Baratz-Logsted, Byrd's Books, Bethel 2:00 PM Book launch

Tues., July 11, Donna Marie Merritt, Watertown Library, Watertown 10:30 AM

Wed., July 12, Chris Colfer, Morgan School Auditorium, Clinton 3:00 PM Ticketed event  R. J. Julia program

Thurs., July 13, Sally Sanford, R. J. Julia Booksellers, Madison 4:30 PM

Sat., July 15, Debbi Michiko Florence, Bank Square Books, Mystic 1:00 PM Book release party.

Sat., July 15, Wendell Minor, Hickory Stick Bookshop, Washington Depot
2:00 PM

Wed., July 19, Donna Marie Merritt, Book Club Bookstore, South Windsor 11:00 AM Story Hour

Monday, June 26, 2017

Time Management Tuesday: Office Versus Home

So, I've written here several times about writers who work at home, and the time problems we face because we're...at home. At home, no one is imposing structure on us with work hours and lunch and coffee breaks. At an office, there is no laundry to do, no telephone calls coming in from relatives. There's no diverting work time into tasks like vacuuming and mopping because there's a cleaning crew to do that, right? You're not working surrounded with piles of clothes, boxes, books, toys, old magazines. The guilt you feel stopping work at the office to read on-line about what's going on with Prince Harry and Meghan What's-Her-Name is different than the guilt you feel stopping to read about them at home.

If there was some way that writers could work in an office with a supervisor who made sure they had nothing to do but lean into it, wouldn't we all crank out masses of work?

Well, today I had a chance to put in a couple of hours in a real office. As you can see from the accompanying pictures, as far as order is concerned, it wasn't much of an improvement over working at home. It's just that the stuff heaped around me wasn't my responsibility, which was nice for a change.

I did feel that I was staying on task better than I do at home. I finished preparing a submission, and if we'd stayed longer, I would have had a good shot at getting a synopsis done. Why?

   I think the difference is that there were other people working in the building. I don't mean they were working with me. One person was in the office across from me, and three were upstairs. I don't mean I was being encouraged and supported by my fellow writers, either. We're talking an office manager, an engineer, and two surveyors. I'm not even talking some kind of social interaction thing. I ate lunch at my desk. And I wasn't surfing the 'net the way I often do when I eat lunch at my desk at home.

No, I think it was just the fact that there were other people nearby working, by themselves, that did the trick for me.

This actually makes sense when you remember that Kelly McGonigal says in The Willpower Instinct that willpower successes (and failures) are contagious. We like to conform to what we feel is the norm. In an office where others are working, it's normal to work. When we're alone in our houses, we don't have a social group of worker bees to create a norm for us to conform to.

So working in a traditional office may be beneficial in terms of getting us to manage our time efficiently not because of the structure we can hope to find there, or the boss breathing down our necks but because of the other people working there. How can writers who work alone duplicate that experience?

Saturday, June 24, 2017

Like "American Gods," But Lighter

Okay. Found that journal. The following reader response was written in a waiting room at one of those surgical satellite facilities where a family member was having his shoulder torn apart.

Author Matthew Laurence calls his first book, Freya (I don't recall the "and the Myth Machine" part that I'm seeing on the book I read), an urban fantasy, which, in my experience, usually means contemporary, real world. It is my favorite kind of fantasy and Freya was a treat to read.

The basic premise here is that the gods of myth and legend are real. They were created and maintained by human belief, and now that few people believe in them, they don't have much of a presence. (This sounds similar to my recollection of Neil Gaiman's American Gods, not that I mind.) Take the attractive, voluptuous (meaning "not tiny") main character in Freya. She has been living in a mental hospital in Orlando for years with no one noticing. That's because she's the Norse goddess, Freya, who still has just enough power to pull off the hide-in-plain sight trick.

Freya's settled, if not particularly dynamic, life blows up in her face when a representative of an organization "collecting" gods shows up and tries to collect her. She takes off with a new psych aid and ends up with a job at DisneyWorld before she is, indeed, caught. But the goddess of beauty and war has a plan.

Freya is a clever and witty narrator, and this was a fun read. Additionally, though, the book addresses what belief in a god does for people. It even mentions Christ, in passing, something I haven't seen in other YA and children's books about gods in contemporary times.

This is the first in a trilogy. It could very well end up as present for a Gauthier relative. Maybe two of them.

Friday, June 23, 2017

Lost Something Old, Bought Something New

Okay, folks, I was going to do a reader response today. I had at least two started in a paper and ink journal. Can you guess where I'm going with this? I don't know where the journal is right now. So I'm going to spend the evening e-mailing some relatives and playing with my new iPad.

Yes, there will almost certainly be an iPad post sometime in the future.

Tuesday, June 20, 2017

Time Management Tuesday: But We Do Have Time

Thank goodness for Time Management Tuesday. This blog feature gives me a socially acceptable way to whine about the time crunch I've experienced this past month and a half due to family responsibilities. I've been working maybe three hours a week, not counting blogging, which I do in the evenings on a reduced schedule. I can't exercise the way I usually do, because so many days I have to be away from home for hours. I'm going to only half my tai chi classes, on the good weeks. I can't eat at my usual times for the same reason. Yes, yes, that's right. I eat at "usual" times. And often. Finally, flat surfaces in the house are covered with items I can't find the energy to deal with.

One day a week or so ago I was whimpering in my head about how I never can do anything for me, when I realized perhaps I shouldn't be dwelling on how much I'm not doing for myself now. Instead, what about how much I was doing for me, me, me before this summer's situation.

I've Done A Lot Of Stuff 

Not Writing
There have been times in the past when I've worked out an hour and a half a day. I know. That's ridiculous, especially when you consider what poor results I got for my effort. I did eleven years of taekwondo classes, sometimes twice a week. In the morning, prime work time. For three or four years now, I've been taking tai chi classes, jumping up from one class a week to two. There's
Not Writing
been a lot of binge cooking over the years. Then there's been all the biking and hiking. When my children were young, I spent years doing ten to fifteen hours of volunteer work a week. Volunteer work was a thing in my circle. Unlike in American Housewife, we were really into it.

I could go on, but I'd have to write about activities and interests I'd rather people didn't know about.

We Often Do Have Time

What I'm driving at here is that I've used a lot of time for what might be described as elective activities. So while I have written thirteen books, eight of which have been published, I have often had time I could have used to write even more, submit more, market more. I chose to use that time for something else.

Not Writing
My experience illustrates a point that some time management writers have made:  As a general rule, we do have time to do the things we say we want to do. We just choose to use it for something else.

Those choices are not necessarily bad ones. I'm not suggesting writers beat ourselves up for all the things we've done and enjoyed doing that didn't involve sitting at our computers four or five hours a day. But what we need to accept here is that we're not talking about not having time to write.

What has this acceptance done for me? Well, I'm not whining now, right? Beyond that, I'm not sure what this is going to lead to.

Friday, June 16, 2017

Gauthier Reading

Here in the Gauthier family, we have a young relative who is fond of a particular kind of book, and I've got him pegged. I always have some specially selected library books here for him.

Now, he always rejects them in favor of books he brought with him, books which lean toward being about trains and trucks. Not that there's anything wrong with that, but, come on. Trains. Trucks.

Needless to say, I don't get him those things. I can't read train and truck books. Yikes. No, I get him what he really wants to read.

Hidden-Picture Picture Books

His favorite books, though he may not know it, but lucky for him, I do, are hidden picture books. The last time I had one for him, he kept insisting he didn't want to read it because he had five train books lined up for reading. Then I waved a page in front of him and finally caught his attention.

And once we were reading Where Did They Go? A Spotting Book by Emily Bornoff, he forgot about trains and trucks. For a while, anyway. Every two-page spread involves repetition of some natural element, and hidden among them is an animal described in a short text. Sooo much better than trucks, and better, even, than trains.

Where Oh Where Is My Underwear

We've all been in poor Polar Bear's position, hunting madly for underwear. In Polar Bear's Underwear by Tupera Tupera, readers get to look for his underwear, by which, of course, I mean underpants, too. This is one of those deals where you find underwear for everyone but the polar bear whose underwear you want. You go through a lot of underwear in this book.

These two books made for some great reading. Then I had to go back to trains and trucks.

Tuesday, June 13, 2017

Jane Yolen...Holly Black...Wonder Woman

Last night was writers' group (Yes! I did something work-like!), so no Time Management Tuesday today. Instead I'm going to direct you to Book Riot's Books to Read if You Like Wonder Woman. Not just because it's about, you know, Wonder Woman, though that is certainly reason enough. No, I'm directing you to it because this article includes:

Sister Light, Sister Dark by Jane Yolen


The Darkest Part of the Forest by Holly Black

In children's lit, those authors are both considered wonder women.

Friday, June 09, 2017

Okay! Let's Read Some Mainstream YA!

Highly Illogical Behavior by John Corey Whaley is sophisticated, mainstream YA. Probably a problem book, but not preachy about it.

Solomon Reed is a teenage agoraphogic. Lisa Praytor is a teenager with ambition--she wants a psychology scholarship and believes that "treating" Solomon will provide her with material for a foolproof essay to go along with her scholarship essay. Solomon feels bad about what his situation does to his parents, and lets Lisa into the house to try to ease their lot.

This book has great character motivation. Readers can believe that Solomon and Lisa could connect in the way described. I often talk about how writers should give characters goals. Lisa is one of the most obviously goal-driven characters I can recall.

The author also does something very different with the romance angle in this book. The male love interest has some, what seems to me, very logical motivation for his behavior.

So while the book is called Highly Illogical Behavior, what I liked was the logic behind the writing.

A good choice for readers wanting a break from YA genre.

Tuesday, June 06, 2017

Time Management Tuesday: When You Can't Make Much Effort

How to Structure Your Day by Mike Gardner at The Time Doctor involves some interesting ideas about:
  • Classifying your tasks on the basis of how much effort they require and how much impact they'll have
  • Determining your daily high and low energy cycles
  • Structuring your day around your best times for doing high or low effort tasks
I'm going to put aside the whole finding daily high and low energy cycles business for the foreseeable future. I'll spare you the details of what my days are like right now. Instead, I'm going to focus on effort.

Effort And Impact For Your Present Situation

Gardner writes about four kinds of effort/impact pairings: Low Effort/High Impact Tasks, High Effort/High Impact Tasks, Low Effort/Low Impact Tasks, High Effort/Low Impact Tasks. Note that this is totally different from the traditional high to low priority rankings of tasks, because the effort involved is included. It's not about deciding which tasks are most important. It's about deciding what kind of effort is required for various kinds of tasks.

Gardner writes about structuring your day around your best times for doing high or low effort tasks. But what about using your knowledge of effort and impact to help determine what tasks you'll work on during weeks or months when you find yourself in situations when you can't work normally?

At those times, you can determine how much effort you can make and which tasks you have some hope of completing.

Hmm. This might be an example of getting the best bang for your buck.

Sunday, June 04, 2017

Smekday Goes To Hollywood

Thursday night we saw Home, the film version of The True Meaning of Smekday by Adam Rex. One of the cable stations was running it over and over. I liked the book a lot, and the movie was pretty decent, mainly because I liked the animation for the main human character, Gratuity Tucci. We're talking a cartoon girl with incredible facial expression and body language. Also, I'd just like to point out that both Gratuity and her mother are attractive females with hips. Cartoon women usually have lower bodies like store mannequins and busts so big they look as if they're going to fall over.

For someone who read the book, the movie is interesting because of the changes that were made. I remember the book being a little scarier than the movie, for one thing. For another, Gratuity and her Boov buddy were headed for Florida (DisneyWorld, I believe) in the book. They go to Paris in the movie. This requires the car they use to fly, something that I don't recall in the book. Why Paris? Or, to put it another way, why not Disney? Were they hoping to attract an international audience, one that they expected to prefer a European city to Orlando?

The biggest change, though, is the title. Home probably refers to the fact that Earth is home to humans and the Boov were making themselves at home there. But viewers won't know that until they've seen the movie. So how is that title preferable to The True Meaning of Smekday? This book got quite a bit of attention when it was published. By changing the name, didn't the movie makers risk losing the book's fans?

I don't know how this movie did in the theaters, but I don't recall hearing much about it in my childlit circle.

Thursday, June 01, 2017

And The Winner Is...

Alexandra Johnston, a Connecticut library media specialist, won Original Content's May giveaway, Strange Fruit by Gary Golio.

Tuesday, May 30, 2017

Time Management Tuesday: Help Me, Writing Portfolio, You're My Only Hope

Well, yikes. Talk about a moment in life that is a perfect example of situational time management, meaning my situation has changed this past month. And the situation I find myself in right now is also an example of the thin and wobbly boundary between personal and professional life coming close to crumbling altogether.

The New Situation

My husband is two weeks into the recovery period for shoulder surgery. We're probably looking at close to a month and a half with him having limited to no use of one arm. I wouldn't be surprised to find out it will go longer. I expected time for nursing care and planned to limit my writing to a page or two a day, do some professional reading, make some submissions.

If you think that makes me sound like the pregnant women who believe that while they're on maternity leave they'll write that book they've been meaning to get to or find a cure for cancer, yeah, I couldn't agree with you more.

What's happened is that I didn't realize how much the surgical patient does around here, meaning I'm spending a lot more time doing his share of keeping our ship afloat than I foresaw. We knew an older family member was going to move sometime this year. Then a few days after the surgery we learned that...Surprise!...it's going to happen in the next month or so. Prepping for the move is taking a lot of time right now, and our elder is going to need a lot of support once the move is made. Summer is nearly here, and that's a rough season for work at Chez Gauthier. Additionally, the family is expecting a new baby this fall. The last time we had a new baby around here, between baby support and dealing with older relatives I ended up working only two days a week for a few months. Which, actually, would be a great deal more than I'm doing now. I can look forward to that!

How To Deal With This Situation?

Well, that's the question, isn't it?

Take a work break? I considered taking a work break and focusing on cleaning up the personal life. My theory was that if I could get everyone and everything working well in a month or two, it would be so much easier to get back to work. However, this personal life situation is going to go on, to one degree or another, for the better part of the rest of this year. Letting myself get out of any kind of work routine at all could mean that one day I suddenly realize I'm not a writer anymore.

Doing Less, Like Einstein. Instead, I'm going to focus on just one thing, like Einstein did. And what I'm going to focus on is my writing portfolio.

Planning My Time Around My Writing Portfolio

I have material ready to submit. One of my seven goals for this year is to submit completed work. My theory (like Einstein, I have a theory!): submitting work I've already completed will require less intense, long-term concentration than generating new work. So until family responsibilities let up, I'm purging my other goals, and concentrating on submitting.

That still means I'll have to knock off a number of objectives/tasks:
  • Research markets (I've already done some of this. I have a list somewhere.)
  • Determine which manuscripts can go where
  • Generate cover e-mails, maybe a (blech) synopsis. (I have some new material stashed somewhere to help with this)
  • Keep track of submissions
The above seems more doable in the odd moments I have to work than trying to continue working on the first draft of a novel I've started or getting started on new essays or short stories.

Evil Gail

My husband's surgery was relatively short, and he was sent out of the surgical center before noon to suffer at home. So I stayed in the waiting room that morning, and while I was there, I drafted two reader response blog posts and finished reading a professional magazine.

I'm not bragging. I feel kind of bad about working under those conditions. Not as bad as I feel about going window shopping while I was waiting for my son to finish his day surgery ten years ago, but guilty nonetheless.

I wasn't the only evil wife there, though, if that's any kind of defense. I know for a fact that another woman left and went grocery shopping while her husband's shoulder was being hacked up, because she told me so. Somehow scavenging for food for the family while a mate is enduring a physical ordeal seems noble while nursing a career under the same circumstances, not so much.

Honest to God, I also brought food. And I ate it.

Oh, well, you know what the Zenny ones say--Dwelling on the past can only lead to unhappiness. Sure don't want that.

Friday, May 26, 2017

June Connecticut Children's Literature Calendar

We have a few authors in the state promoting new books, as well as a few reading from older work.

 Sat., June 3, Wendell MinorByrd's Books, Bethel 3:00 PM

Sun., June 4, Stacy Mozer, Barnes & Noble, Stamford 1:00 PM

Sun., June 4, Francesca Simon, R. J. Julia Booksellers, Madison 2:00 PM

Thurs., June 8, Sarah Dessen, Fairfield University Bookstore, Fairfield  7:00 PM Ticketed event

Sat., June 24, Emily Arsenault, Book Club Bookstore, South Windsor 11:00 AM

Wed., June 28, Susan Hood, Fairfield Public Library, Fairfield 10:00AM

Fri., June 30, Wendell Minor, R. J. Julia Booksellers, Madison 5:30 PM

Tuesday, May 23, 2017

TMT: Purging Activities So You Can Do More

Last week we talked about purging tasks so we could concentrate on just a few pieces of work, on the theory that productivity improves when we can focus our attention on just a few things. But when there are so many things that seem to need to be done, how do we decide what to purge so our attention isn't being diverted all over the place?

Situational Time Management

Life, including work life, is in flux. What tasks we can purge will keep changing, depending on our situation at any particular moment.

  • Are we under contract for a book, under deadline for an edit for a publication, or have a workshop commitment coming up?
  • Are we starting a new project?
  • Are we working a day job, full-time, part-time, or some other kind of time?
  • Is our personal life intruding into our professional life because of a family member's illness, surgery, life change?
Everything always comes back to Situational Time Management. Assessing our situation so we can determine what tasks we can limit ourselves to will determine what tasks we can purge.

And how to purge?

 Minimum Effective Dose (MED)

In medicine, the minimum effective dose is the lowest dose of a medicine that gets you the result you need. Taking more than you need either doesn't improve things or has the potential to make your condition worse. In terms of productivity, the theory goes that you can find a minimum effective dose--or the minimum amount of time/effort--needed to get the work result you want or require.

How might this work?

Well, take a blogger/writer, for instance. Writers need to be careful about blogging. Blogs have value, but writers have to be careful not to commit too much of their work time to them.
  • So what is the minimum effective blogging schedule? This will be different for every writer. When I first started blogging, my goal was three posts a week. Then I got into the childlit blogging world and was blogging like mad. For quite some time, I've been trying to cut back to three times a week, but I'm always stumbling upon something more I want to blog about. So I'm cutting down to two, with the expectation that some weeks I'll do more.
  • The MED for blog reader responses--It's not necessary for me to do a full post about every single book I read. When I post at Goodreads (which I like to do so someone is keeping track of how many books I read over a year), it's not even necessary for me to do more than a star rating.
  • The What Did You Do This Week? posts were fantastic for me as far as getting marketing done.  But if I'm only going to do two posts a week, that sure doesn't need to be one of them.
  • We're talking about the MED for a situation in which I'm generating new work. If I were in a situation in which I was marketing a new book, I might want to spend more time blogging and promoting the blog as part of a marketing plan for a book.
A nonblogging example--You're in a situation in which your professional time is cut down because of demands of a day job or an increase in family responsibilities.
  • What is the minimum effective dose of work you need to do to keep your mind in a big writing project you've started so you can pick up quickly when your situation changes? A couple of pages a week? Reading over some of your completed draft each day looking for potential changes you can make notes on? Some research?


Purge What Isn't Working

Pay attention to what kinds of results you're getting for various tasks so you can avoid continuing doing things that aren't helping you much just because you've been doing them in the past or because conventional wisdom says you should do them.

  • Marketing is an area where I often see writers assess and purge tasks. I've heard a few writers who have done blog tours in the past question whether they will do one for their next book. Blog tours are very labor intensive for writers because in addition to the soul-sucking chore of finding blogs to take part, there are often guest posts to write or interview questions to answer. It's difficult to determine a writer's return on investment for these things. I spoke with a writer this past year who was cutting back on store appearances. They involve time to set up, travel time, and the time in the store and can result in only a handful of people showing up and even fewer sales. Even though conventional wisdom suggests it's good to network with booksellers, the return on investment for these activities is difficult to determine.
  • For myself, I had a goal this year involving a new marketing push for Saving the Planet & Stuff. Given the return on investment of my marketing efforts in the past and some family issues that will require extra attention this year, I've decided to let that goal go in favor of spending my time on generating new work and submitting material.

Networking is another area where writers can assess what kinds of results they're getting for their efforts and whether or not some purging can be done there.


The Overwhelm

Help me!
Most of the material I read relating to cutting down on work in order to increase productivity suggested it as a way of dealing with feeling overwhelmed. Personally, I'd like to avoid being overwhelmed in the first place.




Nothing Is Set In Stone

Remember, we're making our purge decisions based upon the needs of our present situation. When our situation changes, we can pick up purged tasks again and purge something else.

What tasks can you purge so that you can increase your productivity by doing less?

Thursday, May 18, 2017

The Environmental Book Club

Ada's Violin by Susan Hood with illustrations by Sally Wern Comport is one of the best environmental books for kids that I've run across. It's also a great example of creative nonfiction. Seriously, I thought I was reading a novel for a while, the storytelling aspect of the book is that good. (Clearly I missed the subtitle on the cover, The Story of the Recycled Orchestra of Paraguay.) I've seen Ada's Violin mentioned this past year, but I had no idea what it was about. Then I saw it on The Green Earth Book Award short list. An example of an award bringing readers to a book. In my humble opinion, that's a major function of awards. The whole awarding part...eh.

Okay, so what is Ada's Violin about? "Ada Rios grew up in a town made of trash." Her family works for the landfill where recyclers pick through the garbage, looking for cardboard and plastic they can sell for five or ten cents a pound. Not a bright and cheery situation, but this isn't a grim story. Ada and her grandmother are interested in music, and grandma signs her up for music lessons. Ada decides she'll learn the violin, but there aren't enough instruments for all the kids who want to play.

So the music teacher gets together with a carpenter and a few other guys who find some stuff in the landfill and tinker with it and create a recycled orchestra. For real.

What's terrific about this story is that there is no artificial conflict between child characters and environmental bad guys. Ada lives within an unusual environment and that environment is used as the setting for this story. In reality, it was the setting for this story. Environment as setting, and setting as a major factor in action.

Hmm. I need to remember to use this book as an example in a workshop I do.

Tuesday, May 16, 2017

Time Management Tuesday: Doing Less, Like Einstein

So, in my last TMT post, I wrote about whether slowing down  could improve writers' productivity and how most of what I found written on the subject seemed to be more about the amount of work people did, not working slower. I didn't see how people could work more slowly without doing less. So this week I'm forgetting speed and angsting on whether we can improve productivity by actually, yes, doing less. Yeah, wouldn't that be great?

While I found material about improving your work situation by working less, I didn't see a lot about how to do it. A shorter work week would be good. Don't multi-task. Working less means less stress, more peace. I, however, need nitty-gritty how-to details. Sorry to say, the i's must be dotted and the t's crossed for me.

The Einstein Principle

I did find something helpful in a blog maintained by Cal Newport, author of Deep Work: Rules for Focused Success in a Distracted World. I'm talking about a post called The Einstein Principle: Accomplish More By Doing Less. I know! It sounds like exactly what I'm looking for!

Newport's point in his blog post is that for a three-year period, Einstein didn't do much beyond work on his theory of relativity. (Whatever that is.) The reality is, Newport says, that we're most productive when we focus on a small number of projects.

This seems as if it ought to be obvious. Yet think about how writers work. Piecemeal. There's the big writing project that we're totally into until we get this great idea for something else. And then there are the submissions of work we've finished and the marketing of individual projects and ourselves and the training and the appearances and maybe some teaching. When are we focusing on our theory of relativity? (Whatever that is.)

Productivity Purges

Newport actually does describe a strategy for doing less so you can do more. He calls it a productivity purge. I've been known to purge things, but Newport is talking about purging tasks. Next week I'll have some ideas for purging tasks specifically for writers. In the meantime, check out what Newport writes about how to list and analyze professional and personal tasks, analyze them, and identify which can go and which you can continue working on.

Apply The Unit System!

What seems to me to be one of the most important aspects of Newport's productivity purge is the requirement that for a month after finishing you not start any new projects. A month is a nice unit of time, something we're always talking about working with here. With Newport's purge plan, you identify the few tasks you're going to work on and commit to them for a unit of time.

Okay, so doing less to achieve more may be something we can do.

Sunday, May 14, 2017

Silent Reading Parties--How Great Does This Sound?

So you know how you keep reading that contact with others makes people live forever with minimal
cognitive loss? And you worry about that because contact with others isn't something you're particularly good at or even care about? Yeah, I may have found something for u...you.

Silent Reading Parties. You get together with other people and read! You don't have to talk to them, because you're all reading! If you meet in a bar, you can buy something to eat and drink! If you meet in a library, you don't even have to do that!

This is genius. It could add years to my life.

Wednesday, May 10, 2017

Bill Finger--The Documentary "A Big Superhero Secret"

Nearly two years ago, I heard Marc Tyler Nobleman speak about his book Bill the Boy Wonder, the story of Bill Finger, who was instrumental in creating Batman but never received credit for his work. This is the only book on Finger.

Now Hulu has made its first original documentary, Batman & Bill. It's also the first documentary based on a nonfiction book for young readers, Bill the Boy Wonder. Nobleman figures prominently in the terrific trailer.

The film was just released last weekend and has received a lot of media attention. Check out SyfyWire's interview with the film makers for information on children's author Nobleman's connection with the project.

Monday, May 08, 2017

Why Mess With A Good Thing?

I loved Gemina by Amie Kaufman and Jay Kristoff, which is described on its cover as "The sequel to the New York Times bestseller Illuminae." I would call it more of a companion book, myself. It takes place in the world of Illuminae on the space station the characters from Illuminae are headed for. But we have different characters fighting for their lives now. Sort of.

The Gemina story is told with documents, just as it was in Illuminae. There's another heroic, thrilling female character with a witty, male, love interest. Most of the time they are struggling separately, just as the couple in Illuminae did. And there's a medical-type problem to deal with just as there was in Illuminae. Something happens at one point that seems an insurmountable disaster, and then it's surmounted. Just like in Illuminae.

I'm not complaining. I've tried to repeat early successes with later books, myself. I like the set-up in these two and look forward to reading the third book in the series. I'm going to be recommending Gemina to, and maybe buying it for, my niece, who is also an Illuminae fan. I'm just sayin' the first two books' central characters are strikingly similar, as are the books' format and story frame.

Actually, I'll be kind of disappointed if the author doesn't repeat the formula with the third book.