Sunday, September 15, 2019

The Weekend Writer: Time To Think About Organic Writers Again

Today I saw a short conversation about "pantsers," meaning writers who don't plot out their projects before beginning to write. "Pantsers" is supposed to be short for "seat-of-the-pants," which I think is a meaningless term in this situation. I've always preferred "organic," because it describes what non-plotting writers do. We work with the story as an entire organism.

The discussion on Facebook reminded me that I have some posts related to Martha Alderson's The Plot Whisperer. She does some good work on organic writers in that book.

What's Not Helpful For Organic Writers


From the Original Content post, Organic Writers and Plotters, September 28, 2013:

"Organic writers, she says, tend to think in pictures, as in "the big picture,"  rather than language, while plotters go the other way. They are more analytical and detail oriented. Organic writers tend to prefer writing about characters while plotters prefer dramatic action. Organic writers tend to see a story as a whole and are short on details. Plotters tend to see the story in its parts. Organic writers may concentrate on character and end up being weak on the action that drives readers to stick with a story. Plotters may concentrate on action scenes and lose readers who need human interest.

I agree with a lot of what Alderson has to say about organic writers. Our interest in the big picture tends to leave us going, Okay, how do I get to that big picture? This is why formulaic plotting plans often aren't very useful for us. They involve coming up with details. A problem to solve and roadblocks to solving said problem or, heaven help me, metaphorical doors to go through or not are more mystifying than not for us. If I have problems coming up with details, telling me to come up with details isn't going to provide me with a lot of help."


I would just like to repeat the last sentence of that last paragraph: "If I have problems coming up with details, telling me to come up with details isn't going to provide me with a lot of help."

And, in my experience, that's all formulaic plotting plans do, tell you to go find details.

Why "Organic" Means More Than "Pantser"


From the Original Content post Let's Get A Little More Definitive About Organic Writers, Oct. 13, 2013

"I've often wondered why organic writers are called organic writers. Is it because we sort of grow a story, as if it's some kind of living organism that we can't control, can only nurture? That's a little woowoo for my tastes. You sometimes see definitions of organic that involve interconnectedness or elements that are part of a whole. That's what I think is the issue for me and my kind.

Remember, "plot" is only one of the elements of fiction.  Opinions vary on how many elements there are, but whatever the number, organic writers have trouble isolating one of them, plot, from the others. For us, character is most definitely tied up with plot, and plot can be tied up with setting, and voice and theme can be tied up with everything. We can't separate one thing and work on it all by itself. We can certainly try, but we find ourselves reworking things over and over again because, for us, character interaction suddenly leads to something happening we hadn't plotted out and as we get more and more involved with a theme new ideas for how to present it may suddenly appear. All the different elements offer up material at some point or another, not just plot, and not in a very orderly manner."


I would like to repeat these two sentences: "For us, character is most definitely tied up with plot, and plot can be tied up with setting, and voice and theme can be tied up with everything. We can't separate one thing and work on it all by itself." 

And, in my experience, that's what organic writing is about. There is nothing seat-of-the-pants about it.

Better? Worse? 


I have sometime seen sneering accounts of organic writing, and I think the term "pantser" and "plunger," which I just learned today is another term for organic writer, are often meant to be derogatory. For that matter, plotters are sometimes treated as less than, because well-plotted stories often fall into genre categories and are sometimes considered to be not very literary.

Organic writing and plotting are merely methods of getting a job done. There is no better or worse about them. It's in your best interest to figure out which type of writer you are and work on becoming really good at it.




Thursday, September 12, 2019

Happy Anniversary, Johnny Tremain

This summer I started trying to tweet a link from the seventeen years of blog posts I have piled up. I try to go back exactly ten years, looking for something that has at least some links that still work and isn't terribly dated. Sometimes I have to hit another year or even another date. But today I found an interesting one on September 12, 2009--The Book That Keeps On Going And Going And Going. 

I was talking about Johnny Tremain by Esther Forbes. As luck would have it, this Newbery winner is celebrating its 75th anniversary this year. Seriously, this book just does not stop.

And how bizarre is it that I would think about doing a Johnny Tremain blog post and then find out it is its anniversary year? My avid followers may recall that I'm always having woo-woo-type experiences with books. And speaking of woo-woo-type experiences: am I the only person struck by the fact that the Tremain anniversary edition has a forward written by someone named Nathan Hale? Come on.

My 2009 JT blog post was inspired by some posts at another blog, Boston 1775, a site on the American Revolution in Massachusetts maintained by J. L. Bell. (This is one of the rare situations in which I've actually met someone I'm talking about. In fact, I've met John a couple of times.) I was thinking about bringing John's 2009 Johnny Tremain posts to my readers' attention again, anyway. Once I realized the book was having a big, big anniversary, too, I went to work.

John did three posts in what I called, at the time, a Tremainathon. They were based upon his reading of  Son of Liberty: Johnny Tremain and the Art of Making American Patriots by Neil L. York, a history professor at Brigham Young University. I found the first and third posts particularly interesting.

The Path to Publication


What I Found Particularly Interesting About Post 1 In The Tremainathon: "I’ve long said that Johnny Tremain reflects the values of America during World War 2, and York confirms that was in fact Forbes’s vision. She called the book “my great war effort...” I don't think a lot of people realize that a lot of what they read when they read history reflects as much about the people who wrote it than it does about the historical events or figures they were writing about. That's what makes history more...mmm...fluid?...then we probably expect it to be. No, what happened in the past cannot change. What we know about it can change, if new information comes to light. And how we perceive it can change, depending on the attitudes of people writing about it.

This summer I finished reading Champlain's Dream by David Hackett Fischer. (Oh, my gosh! John mentions him in his third Tremain post!) Okay, I only skimmed the book, but I can tell you that Fischer includes a thirty-four page section listing writings about Champlain and describing how the authors from different periods perceived him. ("A rough-hewn man of the people." "Imperial.")

History, it appears, is never done.


Johnny Tremain's Deleted Scene


Check it out. It relates to both Post 1 and Post 3.

Three People Detained at the Castle


What I Found Particularly Interesting In Post 3 Of The Tremainathon: Forbes lucked out when she deleted the scene described in Post 2 from Johnny Tremain. Some historical information she used in that scene turned out to be inaccurate. Unfortunately, she had used it in her Pulitzer prize winning biography, Paul Revere and the World He Lived In. What was the problem?

"When that letter, now in the John Lamb Papers at the New-York Historical Society, was printed in Elbridge Goss’s 1891 biography of Revere, there was one small error. Instead of saying “three persons,” Goss’s transcription said “these persons.”

While writing her biography of Revere, Forbes interpreted “these persons” to refer to the men who had signed the letter..." 
And she concluded that all those people, instead of  "three persons", were somewhere they weren't.

I think we can all agree that this is a lesson we should all learn in not relying on secondary sources. The thought of hunting down every single primary source for a biography exhausts me. I am overwhelmed as I sit here.

Also, this is the kind of story that confirms my feeling about writing straight history. No, thanks. I already don't sleep well at night.

Johnny And Esther Deserve A Moment


I don't believe I've ever read Johnny Tremain. I may have seen a bit of the movie, but only if it turned up on TV. So I can't say I'm a fan. I do, however, have great respect for Esther Forbes' accomplishment. Within a two-year period she won a Pulitzer Prize and a Newbery Medal. That is one hell of a one-two punch. And, yes, having a book stay in print 75 years is mind-boggling. A very tiny number of writers see anything like that happen. Probably not even 1 percent of writers do this.

I wish Esther and Johnny were getting more attention this year. Maybe more will happen before December. In the meantime, scroll down this column from Shelf Awareness for an interview with Nathan Hale on his involvement with the Johnny Tremain anniversary edition.


Tuesday, September 10, 2019

Some Thoughts On Ethnic Characters in "The Horn Book Magazine"

I read a great article today in the March/April The Horn Book by Sayantani DasGupta. My Characters Don't Wear Shoes in the House deals with whether authors from immigrant backgrounds need to write stories about their communities that "perform a certain kind of pain for others' voyeuristic pleasure, or...center and 'teach' mainstream readers about my background and experience." Or can they write about positive experiences they've known? Or just any experience they've known? Does everything need to be about oppression, even if the writers haven't experienced that?

This essay hit me at a great moment, because before getting out of bed this morning, I finished reading The Wangs vs. The World by Jade Chang. This is an adult book, but I think it illustrates what DasGupta is writing about. It's not a stereotypical suffering immigrant story, by any means. Charles Wang comes to this country and becomes successful beyond most of our dreams. Then he loses it all in 2008, not because of his ethnicity or some kind of immigrant oppression but because it's 2008. The Wang children go out into the world of fashion blogs, private secondary schools, stand-up comedy, and art but still maintain a connection to their culture, able to speak Chinese, particularly within the family, and eat Chinese food beyond what's offered at Panda Express.

These Chinese-American family members exist in a truly Chinese-American world of their own making, not a cliched one imposed upon them. Theirs is the kind of immigrant story I think Sayantani DasGupta was writing about.

By the way, an excerpt from Ebony Elizabeth Thomas's The Dark Fantastic: Race and the Imagination from Harry Potter to the Hunger Games appears in this issue of The Horn Book. It's very good, too.

Sunday, September 08, 2019

Maybe I'm Too Into Used Book Sales

I am certain I've written here about attending used book sales, but every search I can think of turns up nothing. At any rate, I've been to another.

I became interested in library used book sales a few years back while my mother was a resident in a skilled nursing facility. I would go to these sales to keep her in Nora Roberts' books. Also Danielle Steele...Fern Michaels...Maeve Binchey...She was a fan of a whole slew of woman writers. I kept lists of the titles she'd read for each author on my cell phone so that when I hit these sales, I didn't buy duplicates. I'd bring my finds in when I visited her, and we'd go through them. I'd leave some, keep the rest of the stash in bags and boxes in my laundry room until she needed more.

What I found happening while I was at these sales was that I'd also buy for myself, because books would jump off the tables at me. (I know I did a post on my finds at a book sale I went to this past year. Where could it be?) In particular, I liked a certain kind of edgy, sightly off center adult fiction. The Elegance of the Hedgehog by Muriel Barbery, for example. The True Story of Hansel and Gretel by Louise Murphy for another.

I've been hearing for years about a library used book sale in a town on the "other side of the river," as we say here in central Connecticut. It's so large, they can't hold it in the library; they have to move everything to the local high school gym. The sale last two days, and legend says that on Saturday morning you have to stand in line outdoors to get in. It's held in September, a time when we're usually traveling. We're home this month, though, so I decided to take this opportunity to go to the sale yesterday.

I'm Getting Kind Of Picky


This sale is in a town an hour away from me, which is a way to go for used books. I have family members who live there, though, so it doesn't seem that far to me. I'd been in town just two days before.

Still, I'd been on the road for about a half an hour yesterday, when I suddenly thought, what if I'm disappointed? I'd been looking forward to this trip for weeks. What if the sale wasn't that great?

I have to say, even though the number of books offered was as huge as I'd heard, I was sort of underwhelmed. I arrived around two in the afternoon, because I'd been warned on Facebook that Saturday morning is a mob scene, so I didn't have to wait in line. But when I arrived, what I was first confronted with were several tables of stacks of new bestsellers. Piles of the same titles. I've seen new books like these at other library book sales and was told by a source at one of them that someone involved with that library had a connection with a chain bookstore, and the books came from there. Someone at yesterday's book sale must have had a great connection with a chain store or a warehouse or something. These books were being offered for either two or five dollars. Nice prices.

To me, though, it was like I was hitting a Barnes & Noble instead of a used book sale. I'm not one of those people who has an issue with B&N. B&N placed a decent sized prepublication order for one of my books. Also, I have plans for the B&N gift card burning a hole in my pocket. But, still, if I'd wanted to go to B&N yesterday, I would have gone to B&N.

While going through the paperbacks further back in the room, I noticed a lot of books that you'd kind of expect to find. Also, books that I'd read. And, remember how I said I used to go to these things specifically for Nora Roberts? I didn't need to look for Nora Roberts yesterday, but old habits die hard. I only found a couple of boxes of them. I've been to smaller sales at libraries in smaller towns and found whole tables of Nora and her kindred authors. What was that about?

My husband pointed out later that I couldn't have looked at every book in this room. That's true. But as I said to him and said earlier in this post, the point of going to these sales is to buy books that jump off the tables at me. So I don't have to look at everything.

So What Did Jump Off The Table At You, Gail?


Station Eleven by Emily St. John Mandel, because it deals with a situation I've been thinking about writing about. Reading this might make me think twice about that.

The Pursuit of Alice Thrift by Elinor Lipman, because I read another book by the author, which I liked.

Breakfast with Buddha by Roland Merullo, because I'm interested in reading about Buddhism, but only if it's easy.

Iceland's Bell by Halldor Laxness, because I just finished watching two seasons of an Icelandic television show. In Icelandic with subtitles. I'm committed.

A Closed and Common Orbit by Becky Chambers, because while it's science fiction I've never heard of, it's supposed to be "exciting and adventurous."

The Namesake by Jhumpa Lahiri, because I read an article about Lahiri writing a book in Italian, a third language for her. Damn. It wasn't this book, but still, I showed some respect and bought another one of her books.

My Brilliant Friend by Elena Ferrante, because it's famous. Seriously, I think this book is about two people. That's it. What I've heard is that it's the first in a famous series by a famous Italian author. Hey, it jumped off the table at me.

What Did This Set You Back, Gail?


Okay, so I read the sign on the wall about the pricing of the book. I read it a couple of times. I thought I was going to pay at least a buck seventy-five for each of these books, maybe more. I was charged seventy-five cents a piece for a total of five-dollars and twenty-five cents for seven books. I hope those nice cashiers didn't undercharge me. I feel as if I know them, because it turns out they've seen the same Icelandic TV show I saw.

If you look at the picture above and to your left, you'll see that this place had five cashier stations set up. They had tables for, I think, three more. For when things got really busy.

I ended up spending a lovely hour there, underwhelmed or not, enjoyed some Cheerios and chocolate chips in the car afterwards, and didn't hit any traffic in Hartford going either way. A good Saturday afternoon.

Thursday, September 05, 2019

Comfort Reading That Just Happens To Support A Goal

I remember early summer fondly. I had fewer family responsibilities than I'd had in years. The temps weren't terribly high. We didn't get any biking in, but managed a few short walks in town on weekends. Unfortunately, I had family members heading out on a lengthy trip at the end of June, and family members traveling is always a source of anxiety for me. Definitely damaged my bliss.

I treated that with a binge of Books Two through Four of the Murderbot Diaries by Martha Wells. I could feel good about reading these books for two reasons.
  • First, and most importantly, I love Murderbot
  • Second, I have an adult scifi manuscript I've mentioned before that I'll be shopping around again some day, and I'm working on improving my recent reading background in this genre.
Now, I'm somewhat off-topic with these books, since they're adult, and I specialize in childlit here. But they first came to my attention last year when the first book in the series, All Systems Red, was an Alex Award winner. The Alex Award being for adult books with "special appeal to young adults, ages 12 through 18." So there's a connection.

These are marvelous first-person novellas told from the point-of-view of a Security Unit, an artificial life form with some human material thrown in. It's on a journey to discover how it came to murder some humans it was supposed to be protecting, as well as working on a corporate plot against a former employer. With all that on its plate, it still finds time to access the entertainment media it downloads. It finds a lot of time for that, actually.

Murderbot's quests are carried over amongst these books. But the series doesn't seem like an obvious serial. Each novella has its own storyline as well.

Murderbot is a great character, and these are great distractions when you have something you want to be distracted from.

Tuesday, September 03, 2019

Time Management Tuesday: The Tend-And-Befriend Stress Mindset


With this summer's stress and time management study, I am trying to find ways to use  the stress mindsets (ways of perceiving stress) described by Kelly McGonigal in The Upside of Stress to replace the best known stress mindset, flight-or-fight, for the purpose of managing time during stressful periods. (Hmm. Yes. That was a long intro sentence.) The flight aspect of flight-or-fight causes us to run from the discomfort of work stress, straight to procrastination. The fight aspect might help us to overcome work stress to get a job done, but it can also cause a lot of struggle on its own.

The last alternative mindset I'm going to write about is called tend-and-befriend. McGonigal says that while flight-and-fight is about self-survival, tend-and-befriend is about protecting people and groups.  That behavior can help us when dealing with stress because it triggers courage and hope and leads us to build social support networks and become better respected. I don't know how much it will help with time management, but I think it does have a particular connection to writers.

The Tend-and-Befriend Stress Mindset


McGonigal says this mindset "may have evolved to help us protect offspring, but when you are in that state, your bravery translates to any challenge you face." It's easy to see how this mindset will work in stressful situations involving parents and children. You have children who are ill or troubled, you want to tend to them. You want to seek out experts to help them. The same could be said for any care giving situation or any helping profession. You tend to others and look for help of some kind to do so.

A U.S. News article, Should We 'Tend and Befriend' in This Stressful Time?, states that tending can involve protecting the self, as well as others, suggesting that being careful about self-care could fall under tend-and-befriend. This article, as well as others I've found, also says that some people believe women are particularly likely to use tend-and-befriend. No, I'm not going to go down that road.

The Stress Mindset Intervention For Tend-and-Befriend And Bigger-Than-Self Goals


If you, whether you're a woman or a man, want to try to shift away from your present stress mindset to one of tend-and-befriend, McGonigal suggests:

  • When feeling overwhelmed, look for a way to do something for others. The value for you here is that doing for others makes us feel hopeful.
  • You can also make a daily practice of finding an opportunity to support someone else. This would help with building networks.
Additionally, McGonigal writes about bigger-then-self goals, which she defines as goals that have a purpose beyond personal gain and success. These are often related to a team, a community, or an organization and feeling part of them "takes the toxicity out of striving." Being part of these types of bigger-than-self goals help you build social support networks and become respected and better liked.

Writers And Bigger-Than-Self Goals


I may have written over the years of the marketing for creatives workshop I attended long ago at which an artist spoke about how getting involved with arts promotion for others had ended up helping her own career. She believed other creatives can find ways to work within their fields for the field, not just for themselves. This sounds a lot like bigger-than-self goals. Attending that workshop helped motivate me to start the Time Management Tuesday feature for this blog. I saw it as a way of helping writers find ways to manage time for their writing.

I'm aware of many other writers who do work for the field, or for bigger-than-self goals.

  • For instance, the Society of Children's Book Writers and Illustrators is run by volunteers to a great extent. The annual spring New England SCBWI conference is run by volunteers at every level. There are regional SCBWI advisers throughout New England. They're volunteers. Smaller and shorter-term events are run by volunteers. There are informal gatherings that are run by volunteers. Social media contacts are made by volunteers. These are all people who see their connection with the SCBWI as a bigger-than-self goal.
  • Writers' groups usually have a point person who keeps people aware of upcoming dates and is the contact for new members. Keeping the group going is a bigger-than-self goal for them.
  • Debut writers frequently team up to manage marketing or publicity opportunities for their books. Their books are a personal goal, but working for the team is a bigger-than-self goal.
  • Blogging writers have worked as judges for the Cybil award. A time consuming task for a bigger-than-self goal. For that matter, writers are asked to serve as judges for other types of book awards for which they don't receive payment. Maintaining the award is a bigger-than-self goal.
  • Writers attend appearances for other writers, read their books, post about them on social media. Supporting others is a bigger-than-self goal.
Treating working for-the-field as a bigger-than-self goal has been helpful for writers, connecting them with agents and editors and providing them with a network that provides support in terms of publicity when they have books published. It definitely can provide tangible value.

 

The Drawback In Terms Of Time Management


McGonigal claims that helping someone else decreases people's feelings of not having enough time. Tending to others makes individuals feel better about themselves as workers. It boosts their self-confidence and that changes how they feel about the demands they face.

However...

  • Taking on these bigger-than-self goals could be seen as contradicting the classic time management advice to learn how to say "no" in order to protect your work time.
  • I've heard of situations in which writers couldn't work at all during periods when they were tending to a larger-than-self goal like planning a conference or reading for an award. (That last one is from personal experience.)
  • I've known of writers who eventually gave up running a retreat or a writers' group, because the time demand became too much. Which sounds stressful.
  • Taking on more and more outside helper tasks is also a classic way of committing all your time so you can avoid personal work.
Tend-and-defend sounds like a mindset that may very well help us deal with the "toxicity of striving," as McGonigal says. This one, though, may not be very helpful in terms of managing time.

Monday, August 26, 2019

September Connecticut Children's Literature Calendar


The beginning of units of time are important to humans, and I've read that September has become as important as January as the beginning of a "year." The beginning of this one sees Mike Lupica, Scott Westerfeld, and Jan Brett coming here and R.L. Stine serving as keynote speaker at the Saugatuck StoryFest

Tues., Sept. 10, Mike Lupica, Wesleyan R. J. Julia, Middletown 6:30 PM

Sat., Sept. 14, Jennifer Thermes, Elm Street Books, New Canaan 12:30 to 2:30 


Sun., Sept. 15, Josh Funk, R. J. Julia Booksellers, Madison 10:30 AM

Sun., Sept. 15, Scott Westerfeld, R. J. Julia Booksellers, Madison 4:00 PM

Mon., Sept. 16, Jan Brett, Mystic Congregational Church, Mystic 5:00 to 7:00 PM Sponsored by Bank Street Books Ticketed event.

Sat., Sept. 21, Stacy DeKeyser, Books on Pratt Street Book Fair, Hartford 11:30 AM to 1:00 PM Tentative

Mon., Sept. 23, Rebecca Podos, Ryan LaSalla, Rebecca Kim WellsR. J. Julia Booksellers, Madison 6:30 PM

Sat., Sept. 28, Saugatuck StoryFest, Westport Library, Westport:


Thursday, August 22, 2019

Looking For Middle Grade Humor

I have done some reading this summer, both before and after getting sick, and now I need...need...to tell people about it. I picked up Slacker by Gordan Korman because I was looking for middle grade
humor, something I write, myself. Reading it was part of my effort to read to support my goals or my work.

A lot of childlit humor isn't very funny. I've seen the same with with some adult books marketed as humor. Some of them aren't funny at all. Some of them involve a series of awkward jokes. I don't know what's going on here. The authors, agents, and editors involved don't seem to understand situational humor or timing. Why do they even want to produce humor writing?

Gordan Korman is a reliable humor writer. He definitely understand how to recognize a situation that has the potential for humor, and he knows how to work it. In Slacker, he combines humor with an improving childlit story about the benefits of doing good.

Cameron Boxer is serious about only one thing, his lifestyle, which he describes as...video games. His only interest is playing them and preparing to play them in a tournament called Rule the World. Mom and Dad are not fans of this plan. They want to see him develop an interest that's not video games. "...it can be anything you want, so long as it involves real human beings and it doesn't happen on a screen."

Cam doesn't have any desire to do anything even remotely like that. But this clever slacker has to get his parents off his back so he can concentrate on training for Rule the World. He comes up with a scheme to create a "shell" school club for which he will serve as president. It sounds plenty impressive for the folks, but no one will notice it or join, because his hacker buddy is just going to slip it onto the school website that no one reads. Mom and Dad will think he'll be doing something, but he won't. His gaming time will be protected.

Yeah, everything goes wrong.

We're not talking gut-busting, roll-on-the-floor humor here, but wry, subtle stuff that comes organically out of the situation. The lessons on saving animals, the town, and doing good teeter into preaching at some points, but the commitment to Cam's character and the original situation make it palatable.

A second Slacker novel, Level 13, was published in June. 


Tuesday, August 20, 2019

Time Management Tuesday: A Stress Mindset Involving Values

Questions about the impact of life stress on time management was my original motivation for pursuing this summer's stress and time management study. This week I'm addressing a stress mindset that seems related to those very issues. 

 

Stress And The Meaning Of Life


According to Kelly McGonigal in The Upside of Stress, in terms of the stress related to every day life (rather than the stress related to personal crises such as terminal illnesses or major human tragedies such as natural disasters and war) events and activities we find meaningful cause us the most stress. Child rearing, travel, school, friends, love, family all bring stress with them. Yet, these are all things most of us want in our lives.

Well, studies have shown that being able to think about these types of every day stresses in terms of our personal values, what gives our lives meaning, makes them become more meaningful and less burdensome. We are less likely to find ourselves in a flight (collapse on the couch/procrastinate)-or-fight (blood pressure rising/bang head on the wall) situation.

The Stress Mindset Intervention For Values


McGonigal suggests that when stressed, we go over our personal values and ask ourselves if we can connect our stressful situation to them in some way. Presumably if we can, the stress will become more manageable.

  • She describes some studies in which participants were given bracelets or key chains that they could mark with some value important to them that they could look at when stressed.
  • McGonigal says that writing about values has been shown to be "one of the most effective psychological interventions ever studied." Writing about values makes people feel more powerful and in control. It also can be done once and show benefits months and even years later. (Many of the interventions she writes about have long-lasting benefits.)

A Personal Reservation Regarding The Values Stress Mindset


I can see how developing a values mindset can help with stressful situations in many aspects of life. The stress of childrearing, for instance, becomes manageable because of how important our children are to us. The stress of planning a trip and getting started on it becomes tolerable because seeing the world or some particular experience we're heading out to is important to us. School stress--We value that education, if not for itself than for what it will lead to. The same with work.

So long as we can see that the stressful activity will lead to something  positive that we value, we're headed for improvement. But what happens if we look to our values and realize that this stress isn't going to connect with one that's important to us? That the school or work stress no longer will get us to something we value? The stress of this relationship is no longer worth it?

I don't recall McGonigal addressing this issue, but my guess is that if you come to this kind of realization and get out of the stressful situation then that must be a good thing, too.

Values Mindsets For Writers


Being able to develop a values mindset may be of particular help to writers dealing with work stress. In fact, many writers may already have values mindsets.

  • It's not unusual for writers to focus on subjects that are of particular value to them.
  • Nonfiction writers, for instance, may specialize in writing about climate change, nature, and the environment. Historians may limit themselves to specific periods or regions. Or they may choose to write about groups of people whose past isn't well known.
  • Fiction writers may also have values they showcase in their work. Diversity, gender equality, faith issues, and climate change are all value-laden subjects fiction writers may focus on. 

For writers like these seeing stress through a values mindset which helps them connect their stressful situation to the values that give their work meaning to them can help them get through things like another draft for an agent or editor or the rigors of marketing.

Sunday, August 18, 2019

Lodestar Award For Best Young Adult Science Fiction Or Fantasy Book Announced

The Lodestar Award for Best Young Adult Book was announced as part of the Hugo Award announcements at the World Science Fiction Convention in Dublin, Ireland. I believe I have an acquaintance at that convention. One I've actually met in the flesh for a moment and been in the same room with, unlike other people I am acquainted with in other ways.

According to the Encyclopedia of Science Fiction, the Lodestar Awards are voted on by the same people who vote on the Hugos, but the Lodestar is not a Hugo. "The chief reason for this distinction is the principle that no single work should be eligible for multiple Hugo categories: Young Adult tales are not excluded from, and indeed have won, the Hugo for best novel and best novella." So now you know that. And it is interesting.

The 2019 finalists and the winner (in bold) are:

  • Children of Blood and Bone, by Tomi Adeyemi (Henry Holt / Macmillan Children’s Books)
  • The Belles, by Dhonielle Clayton (Freeform / Gollancz)
  • The Cruel Prince, by Holly Black (Little, Brown / Hot Key Books)
  • Dread Nation, by Justina Ireland (Balzer + Bray)
  • The Invasion, by Peadar O’Guilin (David Fickling Books / Scholastic)
  • Tess of the Road, by Rachel Hartman (Random House / Penguin Teen)

Tor.com lists all the finalists and winners.

Another Connecticut Bookstore Closes

While working on next month's Connecticut Children's Literature Calendar, I noticed that the website for Jack and Allie's, A Children's Bookstore in Vernon is gone. What do you suppose that means, Gail? I thought.

I did a little hunting, and, as I suspected, the store has closed. The lease was up at the end of May, and the owner is looking for another site.

In addition to selling books, Jack and Allie's hosted events such as birthday parties, baby showers, fundraisers, and reading camps.

This is the second Connecticut bookstore to close this summer. 

Friday, August 16, 2019

How About A "Girl In Hyacinth Blue" For Child Readers?

Recently I read about an agent who would like to find a YA Broadchurch, all three seasons of which I watched last month while I was sick. I'm having trouble getting my head around that, perhaps because I love the stars, David Tennant and Olivia Coleman, too much. How could some other kind of characters be the center of this kind of story?

Today I finished reading Girl in Hyacinth Blue by Susan Vreeland, which traces the different owners of a Vermeer painting back across centuries. As I got toward the end, I thought, Okay. I could see a children's or YA variation on this.

When I was a teenager, I read historical novels that spanned generations of one family. Going back generations with one material thing doesn't seem like too much of a stretch.

Thursday, August 15, 2019

Environmental Book Club

The Guardian in England reports that there is a Greta Thunberg Effect--"a boom in books aimed at empowering young people to save the planet." Thunberg is a sixteen-year-old Swedish climate change activist.

I wonder if this Greta Thunberg Effect is only in England, since The Guardian is an English publication. Greta Thunberg is on her way to America as I write this, so we'll see if she makes an impact in childlit here.

Okay, I'm going to admit that I'd only heard of Thunberg because she's one of the women on the cover of the September issue of British Vogue, guest edited by our own duchess, Meghan Markle.

Tuesday, August 13, 2019

Time Management Tuesday: The Challenge Stress Mindset

Okay! Finally, Gail is getting to a new stress mindset, described by Kelly McGonigal in The Upside of Stress.

Now, remember, a mindset is how we perceive something. We can perceive stress the way our ancestors did as, Oh, my gosh! I have to escape this! (Flight) Or I have to beat this impossible situation, and it's going to be horrible. (Fight)

Or...we can perceive stress as a challenge.

Threats Vs. Challenges


The fight-or-flight stress mindset is a threat response, meaning a response to danger or emergencies. Most of us aren't confronted with true dangers and emergencies on a daily basis, but our minds continue to perceive some of what's going on around us in that way. In the case of writers, we perceive a work-related stress and either run from it (to, say, the Internet and other procrastinating activities) or engage in some kind of psychological struggle to overcome the stressor. A case in point...writing my second book was very difficult, as second books often are for writers. I can recall being up early to work on it, leaving a son off at an evening Boy Scout meeting once and going home to work some more. I would drop everything and go for a walk trying to force a breakout experience, though I doubt I knew that term at the time. Then there was that moment I remember so fondly when I grabbed my husband by the front of his shirt and screeched, "You don't understand! I'm going to have to give back the advance!" Writing that book was definitely an ugly psychological fight.

With a challenge stress mindset, though, the primary goal is to go after what you want instead of either escaping it or using brute force to fight it. You don't feel as if you're in some kind of danger, the way you do with the threat response. You want to perform well. McGonigal says a challenge mindset can be more like pursuit of an athletic challenge than a threat. It's considered healthier for the body than the flight-or-fight stress mindset, because that is designed for short term real dangers. The human body isn't meant to live under that kind of stress indefinitely. It can manage the challenge mindset better.

Additionally, in terms of time management, with a challenge mindset there is less desire to flee the stress, because challenges are good, right? And, thus, there's less reason to procrastinate. We should be able to work more.

Threat Vs Challenge Stress Mindsets For Writers


  • In New England, this is the time of year when NESCBWI members are submitting workshop proposals for next spring's conference. Interested parties are encouraged to be prepared to teach two different workshops over the weekend, which means creating two different proposals. Depending on how you write proposals, this could mean going a long way down the road to planning two workshops. Keep in mind that while you're spending time putting together a proposal, you're not writing or submitting. What is the best use of time? Also, some writers are working on these proposals knowing that if they are accepted, they are not going to be at all comfortable teaching. I have submitted proposals twice, and taught once. The challenge mindset doesn't come naturally to me. This was a stressful experience that I now avoid. I know people who love doing this...ah...stuff, though. Perhaps they have a challenge mindset.
  • At any point writers can find themselves engaged in agent hunts. In addition to finding one who will be interested in the particular project you're shopping around, you might also like to find one who represents other genres you write in. And one who might at least kind of like you. Personally, I think looking for an agent is a lot like looking for a significant other. Stressful? Or challenging?
  • And, of course, there are those points in your work when you realize the new project stinks big time and you should drop it. And marketing worries for books that sold. And what about freelance writers who actually get published regularly and often find themselves with multiple deadlines? Is all this stressful? Or challenging?

 

Do You Have A Threat Or A Challenge Stress Mindset?

Think about whether or not you have the skills and resources to deal with a stressful situation.

  • If you believe you don't, you can end up with a threat/fight-or-flight stress response
  • If you believe you do, you may go into a challenge response.
Think about the conference example I gave above. I know writers who are experienced teachers. They know they have skills and resources to handle a one- or two-hour class. Prepping for conferences and workshops may very well be more challenging than threatening for them.

Changing Your Mindset From Threat To Challenge


According to McGonigal, to shift to a challenge mindset:

  • Focus on your resources. Acknowledge your personal strengths.
  • Go over how you've prepared for similar challenges.
  • Pray. 
  • Reframe stressful meetings as learning opportunities. (Learn from past mistakes?)
  • Practice/train because a challenge stress mindset is like a sports challenge, which you would practice/train for.

 

Some Closing Questions


I definitely like the idea of thinking of stress situations as challenges instead of as...hell. But I do have some reservations.
  • What if you go over your resources and have to acknowledge that you have none for a particular stressful situation? You have no personal strengths that relate to this?
  • What if you haven't prepared for similar challenges in the past? 
I suspect that for many people who do not naturally think in terms of challenges, the challenge stress mindset is essentially a mind game they're going to have to learn to play with themselves. And that's fine. I'm good with mind games. Getting through life is arguably one big mind game. The trick here is making this particular mind game work for you.

So...I guess if you want to face stress as a challenge, the answers to my above questions are:
  • If you have no resources for a particular stressful situation, decide what resources you need to seek out. If you have no personal strengths for this, which ones do you need to develop? 
  • If you haven't prepared for similar challenges in the past, who has whose experience you can study?

If you'd like to read more on the science behind this subject, check out Threat or Challenge? The Surprising New Science of How We Think About Stress at Six Seconds. Kelly McGonigal is one of the writers the author refers to.


Saturday, August 10, 2019

The Weekend Writer

I noticed I haven't done a Weekend Writer post in a long time. Since I had this drafted, and it's a weekend, here we go.

 Where To Begin A Story?


This is a big deal in writing novels. Where do you actually begin a story? After lots of backstory? In the midst of action? How long will readers be willing to wait to get an idea of what your story is really about?

It's not unusual for writers to realize that their stories actually begin in Chapter Three, say, and they have to start doing some shifting, if not cutting altogether.

Where To Begin A Chapter?


This same question applies to chapters. You can find yourself writing pages and pages of interaction, dialogue, activity, and realize you’re just getting to the point. Do you need all this stuff you’ve churned out? Will anybody want to sit through this witty repartee or step by step movement through time to get to the meat, what the chapter is about?

What To Do? What To Do?


Take the attitude that every chapter should involve a change or a release of new information. Determine what that change or new information will be. Get to that change or where that change will happen as fast as you can. Get that new information out sooner rather than later. If you want to place it toward the end of the chapter in order to connect with the next one, make sure your chapters aren't too long.

It can be helpful to maintain an 'as-you-go' outline in which you list for each chapter what change has happened or what new information has been provided. Then you can be sure that you don't have any chapters that are just bloat.

Tuesday, August 06, 2019

Time Management Tuesday: Stress Mindsets And Getting Started On Changing Them


Getting Back Up To Speed

It's been a while since I've addressed time management and stress mindsets so let's make sure I've covered enough so we can go forth.

This summer I'm reading The Upside of Stress by Kelly McGonigal and trying to relate managing stress to managing time, particularly for writers. Procrastination is a particular problem for writers and stress is very much related to that. Remember, in Upside of Stress McGonigal says that people who see stress as harmful are likely to "try to distract themselves from the cause of the stress instead of dealing with it" and "focus on getting rid of their feelings of stress instead of taking steps to address its source." We distract ourselves with procrastinating. We focus on getting rid of our feelings of stress with procrastination. McGonigal also says that "The desire to avoid feeling anxious overtakes other goals." Getting rid of the stress of working toward finishing a draft overtakes the goal of finishing the draft.

Another of our old friends, Timothy Pychl, author of The Procrastinator's Digest, says something similar about procrastination. Procrastinators procrastinate because they're giving in to the need to feel good immediately. Revising this chapter is so much harder than I thought it would be. I am miserable. A Facebook break would make me feel better. Might even make me feel good. I would love to feel good.

You can see why jobs get dragged out forever and ever. At least, I can see why mine do.

Fight Or Flight...The Most Famous Stress Mindset


It's a rare reader of popular science articles who hasn't heard of the fight-or-flight response. The story goes that while we were evolving, the early humans who were good at deciding whether they should flee or fight wild beasts, natural disasters, or other humans were the ones who survived and whose good little fight-or-flight genes got into the gene pool. Nowadays those same genes have a lot less animal/disaster/other humans to trigger them, so turn their attention to things like public speaking, flying, what's happening with our kids, and work.

For many of us, fight-or-flight is our default stress mindset.

But There Are Other Ways To Experience Stress


In The Upside of Stress, McGonigal argues that there are other, more positive stress mindsets we could be using and even taking advantage of when dealing with stress. So far in my reading I've come upon mindsets involving:
  • Challenge
  • Tend and Befriend
  • Values
But where do they come from? If fight-or-flight is some kind of inborn response that we may not even think about, what are these other mindsets? Where do they come from and how do I get one?

Mindset Interventions


My reading suggests that some of these mindsets may be natural for some people and not others. But according to McGonigal, we can all switch to  more positive mindsets by either taking part in a formal intervention or making our own. She describes a number of research projects in which this is done and offers ideas for making our own interventions.

And that will be coming up.



Thursday, August 01, 2019

Environmental Book Club

I bet you all thought I'd forgotten about the Environmental Book Club just because I've done only one post in the last year. Hahahahaha. I never forget anything. Hardly ever. I don't forget for long, anyway. I remember sooner or later.

Today's EBC post isn't about a book. Instead, I'm sending you to an Electric Lit article, All Literature Is Climate Change Literature by Jeffrey Arlo Brown. In it Brown makes the fascinating argument that while we talk about climate fiction as being a very contemporary genre, writers such as Shakespeare and Dante used "the language of climate" in their work. Something like climate fiction was being written before we knew what climate fiction is. "..our vulnerability to the climate," Brown writes, "is familiar."

Give some thought to the flood that's addressed in the Old Testament, as well as the early literature of other cultures. Could that be describing climate change, maybe?Hmm?

Should make you think twice when you're reading some of those boring, dead, white guy books, eh?

Wednesday, July 31, 2019

August Connecticut Children's Literature Calendar

Summers are always slow for childlit/YA appearances store appearances in Connecticut. Maybe shoppers are all reading at their beach cottages and lake houses? Sure, that's it. For eleven years, though, the Connecticut Authors' Trail has been bringing Connecticut writers to libraries in eastern Connecticut during the summer. We have two children's writers on the Connecticut Authors' Trail this month.
 
Sat., Aug. 3, Toni Buzzeo and Sara Levine, R. J. Julia Booksellers, Madison 10:30 AM

Sun., Aug. 4, Amanda Bannikov, Storyteller's Cottage, Simsbury 3:00 PM Book Launch

Mon., Aug. 5, Katie L. Carroll, Voluntown Public Library, Voluntown 6:00 PM Part of the Connecticut Authors' Trail

Thurs., Aug. 22, Jessica Bayless, Scotland Public Library, Scotland 6:30 PM Part of the Connecticut Authors' Trail

Tuesday, July 30, 2019

NESCBWI Encore For Writers Coming To Connecticut

The New England Society of Children's Book Writers and Illustrators will be holding this year's Encore for Writers at the Mark Twain House in Hartford, Connecticut on Saturday, September, 14, starting at 9:00 AM. Registration begins today.

Encore is a repeat of some of the best received workshops held at the NESCBWI spring conference. This year's workshops come from the last two conferences and include:


  • Themes, Threads, and the Core with Erin Dionne
  • Show Don’t Tell Your Manuscript’s Opening with Jen Malone
  • Lie Your Way to Greatness: Using a Synopsis to Create a Revision Plan with Tara Sullivan
  • A New Starting Place: Maps, Vision Boards, and Blank Pages with Lisa Papademetriou
  • If I Only Had a Brand: Successful Branding for Creative Professionals with Jessica Southwick

Registration is $70 for SCBWI members and $100 for nonmembers. Nonmembers can scroll to the bottom of the Encore page for information on how to register.

Sunday, July 28, 2019

John Marsden Has Some Thoughts On Bullying


Australian author John Marsden's Tomorrow When the War Began books were popular Chez Gauthier a while back, so my eyebrows rose when I read last week that Marsden is getting some interesting press for views he's expressed on bullying.

Marsden, a long-time educator, has a new book out called The Art of Growing Up, which has been described as a "broad critique of the education system." Presumably Australia's, since that's where Marsden works. The book appears to cover, among other things, overprotective parents. It sounds as if he's describing the "helicopter parent" issue we've been hearing about for years in the U.S. Turns out, in other parts of the world this is called "curling parents," presumably because the parents sweep problems out of the children's way, the way curlers sweep in front of that...thing...that goes flying around in curling. (Seriously, I have a cousin who used to curl. I should know this stuff.)

But what brought Marsden up on my Facebook page was what he's had to say about bullying, whether there in that book or in interviews about it. I'm having a little difficulty telling which.

In a Sydney Morning Herald article by Nick Bonyhady called 'Don't Care Really What People Think': John Marsden Defends View of Bullying, Marsden is quoted as saying that he would suggest "children having a hard time...look at your own likeable and unlikeable behaviours and try to reduce the list of unlikeable behaviours and unlikeable values and unlikeable attitudes and over time that will probably have a significant effect". Though there isn't a direct quote in this article to support it, Marsden's also described as considering bullying to be "feedback." Meaning, I guess, that the bullying actions provide feedback to the bullied, letting them know what unlikeable behaviors they need to change in order to stop what's being done to them.

And, yes, if this is accurate, it does sound like blaming the victim.

After thinking about this for a while, I'm wondering who gets to decide what are likeable and unlikeable behaviors?  Who decides which of my behaviors I have to change to avoid being bullied?

If We Could All Conform, Would Bullying End?


The article does include an interesting Marsden quote about conflict between children from different ethnic groups at a school he has been associated with.

"At Geelong Grammar they had quite a high percentage of students enrolling from Asian countries and their acceptance depended very much upon how Westernised they were," Marsden said of his time teaching at the expensive school in the 1980s. "If they were able to speak English fluently and wear the clothes that Anglo kids wore and listened to the same kind of music, then they were fully accepted.

"There was absolutely no racism involved," Marsden added. "But if they weren't yet at that stage then there was a gulf between them... It didn't necessarily result in bullying, although sometimes it did, but more often it was sort of a gap between the two subcultures."

So, I guess the solution to racial bullying is conforming to Western Anglo culture. What's racist about that!

More importantly, though, does this suggest to anyone else that conforming to...something...some standard bullies support, say...could put an end to other kinds of bullying? I don't have much knowledge of bully psychology or the research done on them, so I don't know how well this would work, or if it would work.

If it would work, I'm having trouble wrapping my brain around what it could mean. Does this give the bullied power, because they can change bullies' behavior by changing their own? Or does it really suck that the bullied have to change their behavior because bullies don't like it?


Wednesday, July 24, 2019

Reading Short Form Work To Support This Year's Goals

I am reading an essay or short story a day this year in support of my first goal for the year, "Work on short-form writing, essays and short stories." You can follow my reading on Twitter. Additionally, I've been able to knock off a couple of short story and essay collections. I'm thinking of this as research, the adult essay/short story equivalent of mentor texts

American Housewife: Stories


I thought a book of short stories called American Housewife would be more...housewifie. Hellen Ellis's short stories are edgie and often unique in subject matter. But I'd say they are more women's stories then housewife stories, more about women's experience than housewives' experiences. Yes, I feel I'm nitpicking, too. I'm sure that if the collection had been called something else, I would have felt differently.

How did this book work as research? The end of the book includes a list of publications where these stories were originally published that I'll be able to check out. Otherwise, I don't know that I experienced any kind of writing revelation reading them.

We Are Never Meeting in Real Life: Essays


Samantha Irby's essays in We Are Never Meeting in Real Life were eye-poppers. These are definitely personal essays in which Irby comes across as funny, self-deprecating, and approachable, just to get started. She is very memorable as a writer, and if I can grab singleton Irby essays to read, I will.

How did this book work as research? Well, my understanding of personal essays is that they involve taking some element from writers' lives and using them to relate to something universal. I don't know if Irby is doing that here, but that may be because her life is so different from mine that I just assume that many of these experiences aren't universal because I haven't lived them. The lesson here, I guess, is that if you're writing something that some of your readers can't relate to, you better be damn good and funny.

Saturday, July 20, 2019

Connecticut Bookstore Closing

According to its website, Book Club, Bookstore & More in South Windsor will be closing July, 30, 2019. (In roughly a week and a half.)

Friday, July 19, 2019

Buyer, Beware Of Buying Counterfeit Books

Sales Lost
Earlier this month, a family member tipped me off to this story about an author published by a legitimate Christian bookseller who lost thousands of sales because a third-party seller on Amazon was selling counterfeit copies of her book. Though the issue of counterfeit books on Amazon was news to me, it has been covered before. And Amazon has addressed the issue, as well.

A few years ago, I suspected that there might be a counterfeit version of my Saving the Planet ebook circulating. Additionally, we have a textbook author in my husband's family tree, and textbooks are supposed to be particular targets for counterfeiters.  So I can imagine these victims' pain.

But as an Amazon customer, I also have concerns about making sure I'm not buying fakes and thus undermining other authors. I'm not sure how to do that, unless I make a point of avoiding all third-party sellers, the honest as well as the dishonest ones. Which I certainly can do.

UPDATE: I just stumbled upon Summer Reading Prime: How to Avoid Buying Counterfeit Books on Amazon from Nancy Mertzel, an attorney specializing in copyright and trademark litigation.  

Tuesday, July 16, 2019

Time Management Tuesday: Stress Is Harmful Vs. Stress Is Helpful



A few weeks ago, I wrote about a couple of mindsets in the Gauthier family. This week I'll cover two very general ones described by Kelly McGonigal in The Upside of Stress. Notice how they could impact writers.

The Stress Is Harmful Mindset


"When you view stress as harmful," McGonigal says, "it is something to be avoided. Feeling stressed becomes a signal to try to escape or reduce the stress...."

Writing can be stressful. Coming up with new material, revising a draft and having to come up with more new material is hard. Creating the perfect synopsis, the perfect cover letter, creates a lot of misery. (That can't just be me, can it?)

"...people who endorse a stress-is-harmful mindset are more likely to say that they cope with stress by trying to avoid it. For example, they are more likely to:

  • Try to distract themselves from the cause of the stress instead of dealing with it 
  • Focus on getting rid of their feelings of stress instead of taking steps to address its source."
  • And other things like drink, withdraw, etc.
Writers could distract themselves from their stress by addressing its source, meaning writing. But more often we don't deal with it, we distract ourselves instantly by going on-line. Social media may not have been created to alleviate stress, but it does a great job with it.

The Stress Is Positive Mindset

"...people who believe that stress can be helpful," McGonigal goes on, "are more likely to say that they cope with stress proactively...they are more likely to:

  • Plan a strategy for dealing with the source of stress.
  • Seek information, help, or advice."
  • And other things  
These must be the people who actually do their writing. But I'm just guessing.


More Mindsets Are Coming Up, As Well As Information On How To Move From One To Another


Maybe next week, maybe not.


Friday, July 12, 2019

Reading Is A Sign Of Good Health

After three days on an antibiotic that doesn't make me sick (so far), I am again sitting up and taking nourishment. In fact, I started working again yesterday and have done a little cooking.

I've also watched a lot of TV. Last weekend when the body aches hit, I added a Netflix app to my tablet so I could watch TV in bed, twenty-four hours a day. And that's what I did for several days at the beginning of the week. I watched two Katherine Ryan specials, the new Aziz Ansari special, all three seasons of Broadchurch, part of season one of Miss Fisher's Murder Mysteries, and an episode from the last season of Episodes.

I would wake up and watch some TV on my tablet before I got out of bed. Once I was better, I moved out to the sun room to watch tablet TV. I'd go to bed and watch an episode of Broadchurch before I went to sleep. Except one night when I was running late, I watched that episode of Episodes because it was only half an hour. If I woke up in the night, I watched TV.

Those were all times when I used to read. I had no interest in it then. Kind of like I didn't have an interest in eating Saturday night into Tuesday.

Then one morning instead of watching TV in bed, I used my tablet to read articles. A number of them. Last night I ended up reading the first story in a Shirley Jackson book I've had on my Kindle for at least a year. Even though twice today I petered out and stretched out on the sun room couch to finish Broadchurch, it looks as if I'm back reading.

As I was writing this, I realized that my desire to read came back along with my desire to eat.


Tuesday, July 09, 2019

What Are You Whining About Now, Gail?

Lyme Disease! That's what I'm whining about now. I'm being treated for suspected Lyme Disease, which is a hodgepodge of uncomfortable symptoms, in my case, anyway, and the antibiotics to treat it suck.

I added the Netflix app to my tablet, and now I can watch TV and movies in bed. If I felt better, I'd worry about never reading again. But instead I'm going to go watch another episode of Broadchurch.

And I mention this here, because I don't expect to be working this week. What energy I have is going to watching TV. See you on the other side.

Tuesday, July 02, 2019

Time Management Tuesday: How You Think About Stress In Your Life

Today I'm continuing my exploration of how stress affects the way we manage time, using The Upside of Stress by Kelly McGonigal.

McGonigal writes about mindsets, "beliefs that shape your reality." The concept of mindsets isn't new. I've always thought of them as, say, a belief system that everything is filtered through. What is new is that McGonigal says that mindsets affect how we perceive stress and that there's a "new field of mindset science" that shows that one short intervention can change them.

I've only made it about 25% of the way into the book so far, and while I was in the early days I was thinking...Meh. Then I realized what my own stress mindset is. (Actually, McGonigal tells us in the book to do that, so maybe I was following instructions. I don't remember.) And very soon thereafter I happened to get an e-mail from a family member (not the archivist I wrote about recently, another one, a nurse) who had read my first stress and time management post and responded with what sure looked like her stress mindset.

A Tale Of Two Stress Mindsets


Gauthier 1. That's me. This is how my mindset about stress goes: I feel that I can only take on one stressful activity at a time. I can't take on Stressful Activity B until Stressful Activity A is over.  I can't even make reservations for a weekend in July until whatever issue is concerning me in May and June is over.

Gauthier 2. The nurse.  She thinks that stress is necessary.  She believes we have stress no matter what the circumstances, because we are so used to having stress that it helps us to get things done.   Feeling stressed gets us motivated to finish the things we need to do.  Otherwise, would we finish anything?

The Gauthier Stress Mindsets And Time Management


How do these mindsets affect how these particular Gauthiers manage time and crank out work?

Gauthier 1. That's me again. If the stars are lined up correctly, I can work toward multiple goals.  Not so much when stress raises its ugly head. In fact, during particularly stressful times, I intentionally narrow my focus to only a few things. Once I get something done, or get that stress behind me, I can take on something else. I can stay on task, because I limit the number of tasks I'm working on. I might, for instance, limit myself to work and family, and cut way back on social interactions and travel.

Gauthier 2. Gauthier 2, who is not me, remember, is able to work on more things over all aspects of her life. She manages work, family, a network of friends, travel, going to movies regularly, and hitting some Broadway shows when they came to Hartford.

Does what I'm describing here illustrate that fight-or-flight business we're always hearing about because Gauthier 1 appears to run for her life to escape stress while Gauthier 2 tends to go "@#!! it! We're doing this?" You'd think so, but McGonigal says that fight or flight is not the only stress response. More on that in another post.

Why Do People Develop Different Stress Mindsets?


Gauthier 1 and Gauthier 2 should have pretty similar DNA (Ancestry.com says so), and except for birth order and the Mom-and-Dad-liked-me-better thing, we had a pretty similar upbringing. So why such different stress mindsets? Is this something McGonigal will cover in her book?

If I had to guess...and this is my blog, so I do...our work situations are a factor here. Remember how I made a point of stating that Gauthier 2 is a nurse? She has spent years in a variety of increasingly responsible healthcare positions, keeping her under stress regularly during her workdays..

Gauthier 1, on the other hand, is a writer. I experience what might be described as punctuated stress. Stress shoots up when trying to meet a contractual deadline. It goes up when preparing for a professional presentation or having to make it. An editor leaves her publishing house. Should I follow her? Stressful. Cover letters for submissions require hours of stressful work, because a sentence phrased incorrectly could mean the difference between convincing an agent or editor to take a look or being passed over. Struggling to come up with new material for revisions? Stressful. But when those high stress moments are over, the stress is gone and I have long periods of working in comfort.

In The Upside of Stress, McGonigal says that "past stress teaches the brain and body how to handle future stress. Stress leaves an imprint on your brain that prepared you to deal with similar stress the next time you encounter it." "Psychologists," she says "call this stress inoculation. It's like a stress vaccine for your brain."  "...going through stress makes you better at it..."

So I'm making the argument that the kind of stress Gauthier 2 has experienced over the years has made it possible for her to better handle it, and her ability to handle stress means she can better manage her time and do more. Evidently my kind of stress has done nothing for me.