Wednesday, October 18, 2017

Your Cybils Reading Lists

Public nominations for the Cybils Awards are closed. Check out the nominees for reading suggestions from this year's books.

It appears that I've read only four books, Freya and Gemina from the YA Speculative Fiction list, The Lost Girl of Astor Street in YA Fiction, and The Nian Monster in Fiction Picture Books/Board Books.

I liked them all, though for some reason I didn't post a response to Lost Girl here or at Goodreads. Little lack of focus there, folks.

Tuesday, October 17, 2017

Time Management Tuesday: Focus Training

Okay, I'm concentrating. Right now. Right this minute.

Back in July, I promised I would spend some time focusing on focusing. I'm interested in developing such powerful self-discipline that (still concentrating) I can work no matter what my surroundings.

Well, I'm not a fool. I know it's not likely that that's going to happen in my lifetime. Maybe in my next one, if I keep plugging away at this. Fortunately, I've found some focus training methods that might prep me for that future time.

Train Your Brain for Monk-like Focus at lifehacker has a lot of fascinating material. Being easily distracted, for instance, was a good thing in days of old, really old. People who could be distracted by threats such as wild animals or marauders from another village got their genes into the gene pool, while those with the self-control to concentrate on their cave paintings did not. But I, myself, am still concentrating, so I'm going to focus on three training suggestions described
in the article.

Amp Up Your To-do List

Pick the most important item on your to-do list (because you have one, and it's an external support for your willpower) and give it a deadline. This might seem obvious for writers, who are always working with deadlines, right? Not necessarily. Many of us spend a lot of time working "on spec." We're writing things we hope to find a publisher for. In which case, we'll need to create deadlines for ourselves. A rough draft may need to be finished before something coming up for the family or before vacation is over or vacation starts. But a deadline/due-date of any kind increases the importance of the work we're doing, improving our need to stay on task.

And when we meet our deadlines, we can give ourselves a reward.

Use Entertainment as a Training Program

Focusing on something productive triggers the same parts of the brain as focusing on entertainment. According to Susan K. Perry (who wrote Writing in Flow, by the way), there isn't any objective difference between one kind of absorption and another. So, theoretically, you "can be reading actively, watching a movie actively, or creating something or working toward a work goal actively" and it should help improve your focus. It needs to be challenging, though. And you need to do it actively. Which means TV won't work for me because I blog, read, and sew while I'm watching it. As it turns out, advertisements during TV programs break focus, anyway. You'd have to stick to watching programming that's streamed or collected on DVDs without commercials.

I can think of lots of ways to tinker with this idea.

The Ever Popular Meditation

I've already written on this subject a number of times, so let's just refresh our minds with Gail has learned about meditation.

Adventures In Meditating

Finding Time For Meditation

"Killing The Buddha" Or Protecting Method And Process

Developing Some Discipline

Week Two Of Developing Discipline With Meditation

Week Three Of Developing Discipline With Meditation

The Fourth And Final Week Of Developing Discipline With Meditation

Wow. Look at all the writing I've done on meditation. I should really be a whole lot better at it than I am.

Does Learning To Focus Mean You Can Give Up Getting Your House In Order?

Not an orderly environment.
No, I am not giving up on creating an orderly environment. But experience has taught me I'm not great at maintaining one. And when maintenance is down, it would be nice if I had some really powerful focus, or any focus at all, to carry me over.

Sunday, October 15, 2017

The Weekend Writer: Write Like Scott Turow

The May/June, 2017 of Writer's Digest includes an interview with Scott Turow, whose Presumed Innocent I was very taken with back in the day. The writing process he describes could be of interest for new writers limited to working on weekends.

He says that when he began writing, he only had thirty minutes a day, the length of his train ride to work in the morning. "Whatever I was feeling passionate about that I could convert into fodder for the story I was beginning to tell, I'd write down that day...and figured I'd someday put it all together." Eventually he put all these different pieces in order.

That's still how he works, generating material that way for a year for each new book. Then he begins "trying to shape it." "...over the course of the year some sequence would've begun to suggest itself to me."

For people who don't have a lot of time, new writers with day jobs, for instance, this sounds like a master plan for getting started.

Now, Think Of The Possibilities

NaNoWriMo. Okay, say working in a linear way is slow, slow, slow for you, and National Novel Writing Month is all about working fast, fast, fast. So give up the linear thing some days and jump to a spot in your project you "feel passionate" about and rack up some wordage there. Connect the pieces later, which will also provide you with some word count.

Getting Started On A New Project While Still Working On An Old One. I have that NaNoWriMo manuscript I keep talking about, and I wouldn't mind working on some short-form writing. But I also began tentative work on a brand new project last month. It keeps coming up in my mind, and, since it's YA, I can bring new material relating to it to my NESCBWI writers' group. So I'm thinking the Turow Method would be a good way to get started on this, because, as usual with a brand new idea, I don't have a complete story in mind. Working on elements that grab my interest every now and then could help me to transition into this new work and maybe even come up with a plot, storyline, story, the whole nine yards.

How could the Turow Method work for you, Weekend Writers?

Thursday, October 12, 2017

Environmental Book Club

I know. It's been ages since I've done an Environmental Book Club post. But, hey, Henry David Thoreau is celebrating his 200th birthday this year. Or, rather, others are celebrating it for him.

The occasion was marked with the publication of a new biography, Henry David Thoreau: A Life by Laura Dassow Walls. Locally (for me), UConn's Robert M. Thorson published The Boatman, in which he makes the case that Thoreau was as interested in the Concord River as he was in Walden Pond.

Where are the new Thoreau children's books, books published for this bicentennial? I haven't found any, but if any readers know of one, please tell us about it in the comments.

Tuesday, October 10, 2017

Time Management Tuesday: NaNoWriMo Prep

Last year I made a feeble attempt at National Novel Writing Month. I'm going to make a feeble attempt this year, too, but it won't be as feeble as last year's, because I recall what I
did wrong.

I didn't put time in planning before November, so I could make the best use of my writing time during November.

Developing Ideas Before You Start To Write 


This will be the third time I've worked on this particular project during NaNoWriMo, so, yes, I have been thinking about it for a while. What's more, I've been thinking about how to write this thing for a while. What I've realized is that any writing project will go better, if you know what you're going to write. And if you want to write fast, which is what National Novel Writing Month is all about, it's essential.

I have two methods I'm using, the same two methods I got started with last year, to be honest.

Using the Elements of Fiction to Create Story. I've been doing this with this particular project for a while. The setting, for example, in this particular case does have a big impact on what's going to happen, and having come up with a voice this past spring has been hugely helpful.

Blueprinting Chapters. I learned about this story development plan last year at a conference and haven't made much use of it yet. This month I'm going to be focusing on it for prepping for November. I hope to have more to say about this by the end of the month.

Don't Panic

It's already October 10th, and I've done very little of the NaNo prep work I'd hoped to do this month. Last year I wrote about the NaNoWriMo word count and the What-the-Hell Effect. The word count can work against you, if realizing you're not meeting your daily goals causes you to give up because you're not going to meet NaNo's 50,000 words in a month requirement. The same is true of prepping. Any preparation, any at all, is better than no preparation.

Sunday, October 08, 2017

Your Next Baby Shower, Planned

Last week I started a two-part food post on a picture book-themed baby shower. Here's Part Two, pictures of food, food, food.

No, this wasn't my idea.
First I must admit that all the lovely food arrangements you see here had nothing to do with me. I brought my dish and a couple of others that were on the list, so I could make a show of pulling my weight. But the other hostesses did all the Food Network/HGTV-type stuff. Seriously, I am not being modest  here. When I gave a baby shower, myself, five years ago, I did it at a restaurant and asked the mother's sister to co-host it so she could do the decorating. So you can be assured that I did not provide the layout for the appetizer table you see to your right.

Not my idea, either.
I did, however, offer to do the vegetable platter that went along with the Peter Rabbit book that is on the left of the App Table. (The other two items are a Very Hungry Caterpillar fruit plate and a Stinky Cheese Man plate.) My computer guy came up with the idea to make the platter look like Mr. MacGregor's garden by laying the vegetables out in rows and making stakes with the veg names. He came up with lining the whole thing with waffle pretzels to look like a fence, too. I did do the actual work, though. There's that.

Blue lemonade
Then, of course, we had the ever popular Make Way for Ducklings blue lemonade set up outside, too. This was really clever. On the other side of the deck was the wine station, which I didn't take a picture of because I don't think there's a picture book about wine.

Pasta something
Back inside, the first item in the buffet layout was the Strega Nona...ah...I'm not sure what that was, because I haven't read Strega Nona. A pasta salad? Is Strega Nona about pasta salad?

Chicken salad
It was followed by a Count Your Chickens chicken salad.

Seafood and turkey sandwiches
And then a couple of sandwiches, one seafood one some kind of chicken. No, I don't know what books they were connected to.

Green eggs, no ham
The quiche was inspired by Green Eggs and Ham. This was another item I volunteered to make a week before the shower, because I was feeling guilty about doing so little. Not many guests were interested in meat, so I was asked to lean on the green part. I just threw the better part of a bag of fresh spinach into my usual quiche recipe. Except I accidentally bought a bag of fresh spinach with some other green. It didn't make any difference as far as the taste was concerned, but it certainly made the green eggs green.

Spaghetti sliders! Also, pesto sliders.
Then we came to my sliders. They had a spot to themselves right above the oven because they were hot. Yeah. Hot.

There was a bowl of goldfish crackers (One Fish, Two Fish) on the other side of the room, but I missed getting a picture of that.

Once again, not my idea.
Which, of course, leads us to the dessert table. The centerpiece was a cake with a book opened on top (because, remember, this was a picture book party). Additionally, there was a plate of blueberry squares (Blueberries and Sal) and...
Very good cookies, by the way.
...some lovely Goodnight Moon cookies. Not sure who made those.
That IS a Star Trek kids' book.
To work the picture book theme just a little further, guests were asked to bring a picture book for the new child's personal library. A bucket of books is as attractive as any dish.

Today I am taking part again in Beth Fish Read's Weekend Cooking Meme.

Thursday, October 05, 2017

A Cottage For Readers

The Storyteller's Cottage is opening today in Simsbury, Connecticut. Why should those of you from outside the central part of this state be interested? This is a new business developed totally around reading.

"We specialize in creating festive, unique, and immersive events especially for fans of literature. On select evenings, we host parties, dances, LARPing and lectures that feature either the settings or the costumes of some of our favorite novels." It appears that some of their theme rooms are also available for private functions.
They have a Jane Austen room.


Events are planned into November, some free, others requiring a fee.

I actually get into Simsbury fairly frequently these days. If I make it to a Cottage event, you'll read about it here.

Tuesday, October 03, 2017

Time Management Tuesday: A Merciless Purge

I bet you’re curious about what exactly I was doing this summer that required so much time and energy that I stopped working for two months. Well, one of the things I was doing was cleaning out an elderly family member’s house, one she’d lived in for more than fifty years. Now, this woman and her husband were not actual hoarders, mainly because they hadn’t bought anything since the nineteen-sixties. Superficially, the interior of their house looked normal. But they had accumulated a couple of generations worth of…ah…treasures. They never saw a family possession they didn’t think was a valuable collectible. I’ll spare you the details, because that whole mess is outside the scope of the time management feature.

However, this experience was intense and led us to initiate another purge of our own place.

Why Purge Possessions

This year we began with big stuff

I have written here before about:

The impact of our personal environment on our impulse control and our ability to control what we’re doing

How owning and caring for--or not caring for--a lot of things can take time and energy from work that means more to you than a bunch--a whole bunch--of knickknacks, bizarre dishes, old sports equipment, and the remains of every hobby you ever tried and tossed aside.
More big stuff
Working with that knowledge, in 2014 and again in 2015 here at Chez Gauthier we conducted October purges to make our environment more, I guess you could say, time effective. As a result of our experience this summer emptying that house full of things that should have been thrown away years ago, we decided to do another purge this year. And we couldn't wait for October. We started in August, and the plan was to be, as my husband put it, "merciless."

This Year's Purge

Side view of 2017 purged items

Front view of 2017 purged items
Ready for trip to transfer station
This year we included a lot of books, most of which will go to a library sale, family ceramics, some of which went to family, some of which will go to a church tag sale, glassware, and all the cassette tapes because why take care of old technology? I'm sorry, somehow I missed the picture that included the secondary chainsaw. Yes, we had two.

We had a workshop that was nearly unusable because of all the things stored in it. The same thing was true of the laundry/sewing room. And I know I'm not the only writer who moves from place to place in the house with her laptop, because her desk is covered with clutter and who has time to deal with that? Come on, I know I'm not the only one.  

A Different Result This Year

The big difference between this year's purge and other years' is that our month of purging ended, but we didn't stop. We're still working on the shelving in the living room. Wish I'd thought to take a before picture of that. We got rid of some items from the kitchen just this past week, and I have my eye on something in my office. In fact, some serious shuffling of office material could be in my future.

Also, the results are more obvious in a couple of rooms. There is a new work station in the workshop, for instance.

Of course, it remains to be seen how much imposing more order on our living environment will improve our work. But right now we're feeling as if we're getting more control of our surroundings, a step, I hope, to getting control of life again.

Monday, October 02, 2017

What Have You Been Doing These Last Two Months, Gail? Or What Happens When A Writer Can't Write?

Well, I did make thirteen submissions, six of them as part of the September Twitter Pitch Madness. I wrote seven blog posts. I made twenty entries in my idea journal. I came up with an idea for a new major writing project. So I can't say I did absolutely nothing.
However, I had a fleeting thought when I first stopped working back in August that I might do something meaningful…profound…even spiritual…while I wasn’t working. Then when I went back on the clock, I would be changed. In a positive way, of course, a way that would make me a finer human being, or, better yet, a finer writer.

Yeah, well, as you may recall, I dropped off the work bandwagon because dealing with various family issues meant I could only work three or four hours a week, and the effort to keep trying for more was making me nuts. Turns out that I can’t do anything particularly meaningful, profound, or spiritual in three or four hours a week. Though I did change my daily schedule around so that I no longer exercise right after eating. So there's that. That's kind of meaningful.

This Was Disturbing

 In the early days (many days) of not working, I had this fatalistic feeling that I might not ever be able to go back to work. (Given how this upcoming first week back in the harness is turning out in terms of still more family commitments, I wasn’t being melodramatic.) I didn’t actually want to work at that point, but at the same time I felt as if I was nobody and nothing without working. 

A couple of weeks in to my family leave, my husband was finally driving again after his shoulder surgery, which meant that after a meet up at an elder’s place, we went our separate ways. For the first time since May, I didn’t have some place I needed to go instantly. But, remember, I didn’t work. What was I going to do?

I don’t work, I thought. I don’t have to go home. I don’t have to go anywhere.

So I went to Michael’s and bought, maybe, three hundred of those little things for holding pierced earrings in your ears. Then I went over to T. J. Maxx and walked around and around and ended up spending eighty dollars.

This could be my life now, I thought as I dragged my haul to the check-out counter. 

This Was Disturbing, Too

I also didn’t know if I’d ever read another kids’ book. Or The Horn Book. Or Writers’ Digest. (The renewal form for that magazine has been sitting on my kitchen counter for a long time, a very long time.) Instead I polished off lots of adult books from my To Be Read pile and my Kindle. I don’t think I’ve been to the library since July to this day. I just couldn’t bring myself to read anything that wasn’t produced for my age group.

In An Odd Way, This Is Also Disturbing

One day I started reading a really good YA novel I'd just bought for my Kindle. (Except for The Little Blue Truck, I still haven’t read one for anyone younger.)  I started picking away at a Writer’s Digest, and a few weeks ago I realized I was reading a Horn Book. I got started on some blog posts for October. I got an idea for a totally new book and began working on an exercise to develop voice for one of the characters.  

I was working. Barely. And weeks early.

What Made This Experience Disturbing

This experience has been disturbing because being unable to work undermined my desire to work, or maybe I should say my ability to work. A case, perhaps, of use it or lose it. At the same time, not working was not satisfying. My identity is tightly involved with writing. I write, therefore I am. I don’t write, therefore I’m not.

The whole thing was like being sick, actually. Something was wrong, and I’m recovering, but slowly.