Tuesday, October 31, 2017

Time Management Tuesday: Focusing On An Achievable Goal

Okay, folks, National Novel Writing Month starts tomorrow. I don't have all my chapters blueprinted, but, in better news, all that NaNoWriMo cooking I told you about a couple of days ago survived a thirteen-hour power outage Sunday night through mid-Monday afternoon.

I am not officially doing NaNoWriMo. I didn't sign up. In part this is because I'm working on a novel I've already started back in 2004 or 5 when I officially did NaNo. On top of that, I started a revision earlier this year. So, no, I'm not actually following the rules for NaNo 2017. Also, I have no hope of finishing this puppy this month. I'm not even going to sit down with the calendar and work out how few full writing days I've got in November.

The stash I found yesterday
Finally, while I've done the best job I've ever done of prepping a project before starting, I'm vague on the final chapters, which isn't promising for finishing. And I've been working on that right down to the wire. Yesterday, during that extended power outage I was talking about, which meant no computer access, I worked on cleaning my desk, because I'm serious about working next month. Gotta work at that desk instead of the kitchen counter or a couch. What did I find on the top of a filing cabinet but a stack of materials/ideas I'd been collecting on this project since around 2004, that last NaNo attempt? Going through it was helpful, though finding it says volumes about my organizational and cleaning skills, doesn't it?

Nonetheless, finishing a book in a month is not my goal this year. It's not how I expect to use my time.

So How Are You Going To Use Your Time, Gail? 

Well, I'm going to shoot for:

  • Two-thirds of a book.
  • A plan for the last third of the book.
  • A month of focus training

Focus Training Or All NaNo, All The Time

My plan is to spend all my writing time writing the NaNo project. Learn to focus by focusing. I have one NESCBWI event to prepare for, but otherwise I'm not using any writing time for:

  • Submissions.
  • Blogging, except for National Novel Writing updates and news and the December CCLC. I'm hoping to use some of that blogging time for "the project." Whatever little bit I can do then will be a way of training myself to work more frequently, say...every day?
  • Prepping material for writers' group. In fact, I just this minute decided not to go!
Prepping today--still not at my desk
So I've got a two-fer going starting tomorrow. I'm generating material and developing monk-like intensity.

Monday, October 30, 2017

November Connecticut Children's Literature Calendar

Big news. After a one year break, the Connecticut Children's Book Fair is back.

Sat., Nov. 4, Mira Bartok, Marc Brown, Gordan Korman, Sandra Magsamen, Cammie McGovern, Eric Morse, Caragh O'Brien, Joshua David Stein, Rosemary Wells, Carol Weston, Connecticut Children's Book Fair, Rome Commons Ballroom, UConn, Storrs 10:00 AM to 4:00 PM

Sat., Nov. 4, Selina Alko and Sean Qualls, Fairfield University Bookstore, Fairfield 3:00 PM

Sun., Nov. 5, Russ Cox, Janice Dean, Carol Gordon Ekster, Tommy Greenwald, Florence & Wendell Minor, Robin Newman, Pat Schories, Lauren Tarshis, Matt Tavares, Andrea Wisnewski, Connecticut Children's Book Fair, Rome Commons Ballroom, UConn, Storrs  10:00 AM to 4:00 PM

Sun., Nov. 5, Tomie dePaola, The Hickory Stick Bookshop, 2:00 PM Reservations requested.

Tues., Nov. 7, Sara Beth Videtto, The Storyteller's Cottage, Simsbury 10:30 AM 

Sat., Nov. 11, Marc Tyler Nobleman, Temple Beth David, Cheshire 7:00 PM Registration fee.

Sat., Nov.11, Marcela Osello, Fairfield University Bookstore, 3:00 PM

Sat., Nov. 11, Judy E. Byrne, The Hickory Stick Bookshop, 2:00 PM

Wed., Nov.15, Sara Beth Videtto, Southbury Public Library, Southbury 10:30 AM Story Time

Nov. 20, Darlene Davies, Avon Free Public Library, Avon 11:00 AM

Thurs., Nov. 16, Angela DiTerlizzi, R. J. Julia Booksellers, Madison 4:00 PM

Tues., Nov. 28, Sara Beth Videtto, Oakville Branch Library, Oakville 10:30 AM Story Time

Sunday, October 29, 2017

And How Are You Coming With Your NaNoWriMo Prep?

This has something to do with writing
For many years, my family took part in a forestry management program conducted by the state of Connecticut. Every fall, we would cut and remove two to four cords of wood in a designated state forest area. We had four weeks to do this, which, for us, meant four weekends. It was a little intense. To prepare for the festivities, the week before we got started I'd make a big pot of spaghetti sauce for us to eat over the days we were working. Because in my family, that's the way we roll. We want to make sure we're going to be able to eat. 

Bread, cookie dough, and pear cobbler
This year, getting ready for National Novel Writing Month was no different.





What I've Been Doing These Last Few Weekends

Yes, I've been working on developing chapter blueprints, so that when I sit down to write next month I will, presumably, be able to write fast because I'll know what I'm going to write. But on weekends I've been loading the freezers with an array of things, just as I used to load them with spaghetti sauce for woodcutting.

Pasta bake and vegetable beef soup
It wasn't something I planned to do. At some point, maybe when I made those three loaves of honey wheat bread you see above, I realized I was doing it and ran with it.

It's not as if you didn't know I get a bit obsessive about cooking on weekends. Not that there's anything wrong with that.

I'm Going To Argue That This Isn't A Bad Idea


Carrot soup, tortellini soup
Look, that wood cutting experience I told you about was the perfect training for National Novel Writing Month. It was a lot of work that had to be done in a limited amount of time. And we didn't even have the full amount of time to do it, since we were limited to working weekends. It was a ridiculous amount of work to be doing with that restriction. What if it rained, you ask? We went out in the rain! What if someone got sick? No one dared!

More cookie dough, pear crisp, more soup
The main thing I learned from cutting wood in that way is that if you're going to work like that, that's all you can do. You have to do everything else some other time.

Yes, NaNoWriMo Is Like Cutting Wood

Frozen biscuit dough...for the soup
I'm doing NaNoWriMo very much like I cut wood in that I don't have the full amount of time to work. I'll be off on family business at least two week days most weeks. I'll be off to a NESCBWI program one Saturday and to visit family another. I expect guests from two different states over Thanksgiving weekend. If I'm going to work like that, I have to try to make sure that that's all I do, just as cutting wood was all I did when I actually did it.

And that, my lads and lasses, is my excuse for having gone off the rails cooking these last few weeks.

Today I'm taking part in the Weekend Cooking Meme at Beth Fish Reads.


Tuesday, October 24, 2017

Time Management Tuesday: And More On Focusing

I'm still working on focusing. Have you noticed?

How Self-Control Works, and How to Boost Your Willpower by Better Understanding It at Lifehacker includes some thoughts on the subject, since being able to stay focused requires willpower. My favorite thought was the first one, practice.


The article suggests picking something you do in excess and practice not doing it for a week. And once you can not do it for a week, practice not doing it for another. Work up to a month. A month is supposed to be a significant time in terms of changing behavior. I think I've read six weeks elsewhere, but you get where they're going with this.

Now, I see two things going on with practicing not doing something: 
  1. You're toughening up willpower and improving focus in general. I can't find my support for this, but I've read that improving willpower/discipline in one area of your life should improve it in others.  Thus, if I could develop the discipline to not eat all the time I'm cooking, I could, presumably, not have to read articles about Chip and Joanna Gaines or hunt up actors on-line while I'm watching them on TV in the evening. We believe that monks and athletes have iron focus. Maybe because discipline in one area of their lives transfers to another?
  2. If you practice not doing something time consuming, you could end up with some more time. For instance, practicing not reading those articles about Chip and Joanna Gaines and not hunting on-line for info on actors will leave me more time for blogging and relaxing in the evening, since, I swear, that's the only time I do those things. You can always practice not doing time consuming during the work day.
So the idea is that by practicing doing less you can save time because you've become a disciplined badass.

Sunday, October 22, 2017

The Weekend Writer: E-mail To A Student Writer

I recently received an inquiry from a Connecticut high school student working on an independent study project "How to write a children's book." She was thinking of writing a picture book and was contacting authors for advice. Advice is advice, right? So here's what I told her:

The one picture book I've written hasn't sold to a publisher. The books I published were all classified as middle grade or early reader. So I don't have any info to share about successfully writing a picture book. And I am not an illustrator, so I don't do that part of picture book work.

However, I would advise you to:
  1. Spend some time in your local library reading picture books and picking out ones you like.
  2. Then look those books' authors up on the Internet. Sometimes authors will have information at their websites on writing. An example is Josh Funk, who is a New England writer who has written and published picture books.  Be sure to read his section "Picture Books Are Short." Many new picture book writers don't understand that
  3. Take advantage of any opportunities to hear picture book authors speak in public. They make appearances at bookstores and sometimes libraries. They often will speak about how they wrote a particular book or the publishing process, and they may take questions from the audience. 
Good luck with your project. 

I should have also told her to hold onto anything she writes, anything at all, in case she can use it again. For, example, a blog post.

Friday, October 20, 2017

Have I Read This?

Why I Capture the Castle has gained a secret cult of book lovers at Vox was intriguing because I think I might have read the book. Or seen the movie. Or both.

Unless I'm thinking of Cold Comfort Farm. ("I saw something nasty in the woodshed.") Or maybe We Have Always Lived in the Castle?

Clearly I am not a member of a I Capture the Castle cult.

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.