Sunday, September 22, 2019

The Weekend Writer: Publishing Reality

This past week I saw some references to "that publishing article" on Twitter. I found it so you don't have to look for it.

Initial Thoughts 


  • How to Lose a Third of a Million Dollars Without Really Trying by Heather Demetrios deals with an author's disappointing experience with publishing her work. Another such essay got a lot of attention a few years ago. I don't want to say Demetrios's experience is common, but it's not totally unusual, either.
  • Demetrios is dealing with the stress she experienced by looking at it through a tend-and-befriend mindset.  (Discussed here recently in my time management feature.) She is trying to publicize the problems she encountered in order to assist other writers. Just thought I'd mention that since this seems like such a good example of a writer doing tend-and-befriend.
Demetrios's article deals with two issues: how she managed her income from publishing and her sales once her books were published.

The Money

First off, 99 percent of the people reading this post won't have to worry about handling six-figure advances, two of them, which is what Demetrios received.  According to agent Jennifer Laughran, advances for children's/YA writers are more like this: "Many new authors will probably be offered $4-8,000 on a debut picture book text-only to a normal mid-sized traditional publisher. $5-12,000 on a chapter book. $8-20,000 on a middle grade novel. $12-30,000 on a YA." Demetrios is a YA author so her first advance of $100,000 for two books was very good. The next year she got another advance of $250,000 for three books. Again, a lot of money, but, keep in mind she still had to write the second book on the first two-book deal, and probably at least two of the trilogy books.

Here's something I don't think she mentions in her article: It's unlikely she got either of those advances all at once. In days of old, you got half your advance on signing the contract and half on publication. Nowadays, you get it in three payments: on signing, on turning in a completed manuscript, on publication. If you have an agent, a percentage goes to him or her. Taxes need to be deducted. So Demetrios probably never had a huge amount of money in her pocket at any one time.

In her essay, she discusses various mistakes she made in terms of handling the money she did have, to make the best use of it and to make it last as long as possible. You can  read about those for yourselves. Personally, I think the basic mistake she made was believing that because she'd made two big sales, she was established and could expect to continue selling books to publishers and make a living that way. That happens for a very small percentage of writers. Writing is market driven. Your product has to sell in order more of it to be picked up by the middle people who sell it. For us, that's publishers.

You can find a lot of information on-line about the business of marketing. Jennifer Laughran's REAL TALK: $ix Figure Book Deal$ from 2015 (quoted above) is one example. An Agent Explains the Ins and Outs of Book Deals by Kate McKean at Electric Lit is another.

If you are a children's or YA writer who has received an advance and can use some of it for something other than food, shelter, and health care, you might want to consider joining the Society of Children's Book Writers and Illustrators. It puts out a publication four times a year that always carries a column on taxes, for one thing. It sponsors writing groups and, in my region, anyway, meet and greets that are free, for another. There are also various SCBWI Facebook groups. Spending time with other writers could provide some information on their experiences in publishing.

Book Sales


One of  Heather Demetrios's books won an award, she got starred reviews, she did promotional work with a website and interviews, guest posts, and podcast appearances. One publisher sent her on a book tour. But sales were still disappointing.

What went wrong here? Maybe nothing. Seriously, I don't think there's anything that can really be done to make a book successful.

Sure, you want to go with the best editing and production values, a beautiful cover, attention from reviewers, a social media campaign. But many, many books get that and don't generate enough sales to make back what the publisher gave the author for an advancement. It's a mystery.

And when a book does become successful, there's often no way to determine why that happened, either. There's no way of putting a finger on what marketing or promotional investment did the trick.

The best advice I've heard offered for dealing with this dilemma is to move on to writing the next book. Even though it may mean a smaller advance. And, once again, try to network with other writers. Because misery loves company.


Saturday, September 21, 2019

CT Book Award Finalists And That Other Award Long List Announced

The Connecticut Book Award Finalists for 2019 have been announced. The nominees for Young Readers Fiction, Nonfiction, and Picture Book are

Fiction

The History of Jane Doe – Michael Belanger
The Truth as Told by Mason Buttle – Leslie Connor

The Rhino in Right Field – Stacy DeKeyser
Lifeboat 12 – Susan Hood
 
Young Readers – Nonfiction
Shark Quest: Protecting the Ocean’s Top Predators – Karen Romano Young

Young Readers – Picture Book
I’m Sad – Michael Black, Author
Night Train, Night Train – Wendell Minor, Illustrator

I'm having trouble finding information about when the winners will be announced.  Also, does it look to anyone else as if it will be a major upset if Karen Romano Young doesn't get the award for nonfiction?

That Other Award


The New Yorker has the list of 2019 National Book Awards finalists for young people's literature. I believe this list will become shorter before a winner is selected. But you know me. My knowledge of book awards isn't all that great.


Thursday, September 19, 2019

YA Thrillers

I am just beginning a new project, a YA mystery or thriller that I'm working on in order to have new material to bring to my writers' group. As part of getting myself pumped up for this, I've been reading the occasional YA mystery or thriller.

How I Would Love An Island Retreat


The Kindle edition of We Were Liars by E. Lockhart turned up on sale this past spring. It's main character, Cadence, belongs to a stinking rich extended family that has a multi-house compound on an island. Before the book starts, something happens to Caddie. She just doesn't know what.

As I began reading this atmospheric novel, I thought, I want a multi-house compound somewhere--an island, anywhere--for my family. Later, I began to think, Hey, why don't any of these kids have summer jobs? Sure, they're stinking rich, but you'd think they'd want jobs as a way to strike out on their own. Then I thought, Wait a minute. Why don't any of their mothers have jobs? Sure, they're stinking rich and all, but you'd think they'd want jobs just for something to do.

Turns out, these were significant questions.

And that's all I can say about this book, because not knowing much is a big part of what makes it enjoyable. It's enjoyable enough that I picked up another Lockhart book, Genuine Fraud.

Ah, What's Going On Here?


Turns out, I'd read Genuine Fraud before. It didn't hurt my enjoyment of this book. This was one of those deals where I remembered each event in the story as I got to it, but couldn't recall what was coming up.

I don't really feel I can say much about this book, because, as with We Were Liars, not knowing what's going on is a huge part of what's good about it. How bad is the bad guy here? How good is the good guy? I can say that a very intriguing aspect of this book is that it's essentially written backwards.

And What Did You Learn From This Reading Experience, Gail?



Theme. I read once that that is an important part of what makes YA YA, and I think it's the case here. With We Were Liars the YA theme involves place in and connection to family. With Genuine Fraud the YA theme is who am I? Who am I going to be?

Oh, also. It's good...maybe even great...to have a big reveal at the end of the story. The story, in fact, is about the reveal.

Tuesday, September 17, 2019

Time Management Tuesday: "The Upside Of Stress" Wrap-up

I'm ready to conclude my summer read of The Upside of Stress by Kelly McGonigal.

What "The Upside of Stress" Isn't And Is


First off, I want to point out that The Upside of Stress is not a time management book. It is not about how managing stress can help readers manage their time. I cherry picked material from the book to apply to my obsession with managing time.

The Upside of Stress is actually about what it says it's about in the title. The author's argument is that while stress has gotten a bad reputation over the years (and she covers why), there are actually aspects of stress that can help us function better. Thus, there are upsides to stress.

Whether or not we can take advantage of the upsides of stress may be determined by how we perceive stressful situations. McGonigal refers to ways of perceiving stress as "mindsets." She says once we identify our stress mindsets (I, personally, am pretty much full-on flight because stress is threatening), we can change them to be more useful to us.

Stress Mindsets That Might Be Useful For Managing Time


Those of us who perceive stress as a threat and want to flee from it often just drop our work and head off to more relaxing activities. The stress of work can lead to procrastination, a flight from said stress. So finding a more positive mindset sounds as if it should have a positive impact on managing time. I focused on three that McGonigal writes about.

The Challenge Mindset. This may be the most useful mindset for writers managing time while dealing with stress. There's some real action you can take with stress and time, if you can convince yourself that what you're faced with is...a challenge!...rather than a threat.
  • Recognize the resources you can draw upon for this stress situation.
  • Think of the stressful situation as an opportunity.
  • Train for the challenge.  

The Values Mindset. This could be the second most useful mindset for our purposes. According to McGonigal, dealing with stress that relates to a personal value makes the stress less burdensome, because it's more meaningful.

Of course, you have to be aware of your values in the first place. And then you have to actually be able to connect a stressor to one of them. You can see why I didn't put this mindset in first place.

The Tend-and-Befriend Mindset. This seems to me to be a mindset that can help you deal with stress, but won't be a lot of use as far as managing time is concerned. If anything, it could eat up time. Those people who see stress through a tend-and-befriend mindset deal with stress by tending to others and befriending those who can help them or others. It's a mindset that helps those feeling stress become parts of groups...like writing groups or professional organizations...that can provide them with support. The reverse of that is those groups and organizations then need support. Tend-and-befriend can make people feel better about themselves, because membership in groups "takes the toxicity out of striving," as McGonigal puts it. But membership also takes up time.

Is There A Situational Aspect To This?


I've written here before about what I call situational time management. My argument was...and is...that we can't create one schedule or time management model and expect it to work for us in every situation we find ourselves in. We need to be "constantly switching time management plans as situations change because situations change constantly." (Gauthier, Situational Time Management)

Maybe the same is true of stress mindsets. Some types of stress may lend themselves best to a challenge mindset, some to a values mindset, and some to a tend-and-befriend mindset. Some certainly require a threat/fight-or-flight mindset. Being able to identify the correct mindset and switch to it may be the first step toward managing time during stressful experiences.

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.