Tuesday, November 30, 2021

Time Management Tuesday: The "Four Thousand Weeks" Read Part 6

At one point in Four Thousand Weeks, Oliver Burkeman discusses rushing, speed, and impatience. A major point in his book is that constantly structuring time for something that’s going to happen/be completed in the future has a negative impact on our present. He’s very much about quality of life..

Here at Original Content, I've been interested in whether or not slowing down might actually make it possible for us to do more writing in our present. I want to do more with less effort and angst.

Some Speed Issues Unique To Writing

Writing isn't the day job for many writers. We're working writing around a regular income-producing job or family care or both. The desire to rush and get more done in whatever writing time we have is less about impatience and more about necessity.

In addition, two other situations encourage speed for writers.

Traditional Writers. Somewhere around the turn of the century, series became very popular in traditional writing, particularly in fantasy. I can't speak so much to adult series, but for children's and YA, many of these series were actually serials, meaning Book A didn't have an ending, readers had to wait until Book B. Book B might not have an ending, either, you had to go on to Book C.

To keep readers, writers and publishers had to crank out the next book as quickly as possible. Everyone had to work fast. A book a year or even every year and a half or two years is pressure in the traditional publishing world. 

Additionally, even a buzz-worthy book may not generate a lot of buyers, whether it's part of a serial or a stand-alone. In children's publishing, it's not unusual for books not to make back their advances. So writers hoping to make a living or even just create and maintain some kind of career feel a need to rush the next project along.

Self-Published Writers. In the past, at least, self-published writers often didn't get large numbers of readers per book, since distribution was such a problem for them. To make up for that, they had to produce a larger number of books. Smallish number of readers per book + more books = more income. For them we might be talking a book every couple of months or less.

In the early days, self-published writers could produce books that fast, because they didn't have to deal with editors and layout and design people. More recently, the more successful self-published writers are hiring editors and design people to better compete with traditional professionally published books. But, keep in mind, publishing companies provide all those services. Self-published writers have to seek all that out and pay for it, themselves, which means more work, which means more rush.
Income generating self-publishing exists now for short-form work, too. Sites like Medium are self-publishing platforms. People who are able to generate income on Medium generate it by the reader, and it's a very small sum. The way for writers to try to produce more income there is to produce more writing. They do that by writing a lot, which means speed.

Methods For Slowing Down 


Burkeman suggests accepting that a project is going to take the amount of time it's going to take as a method for slowing down. While that sounds promising, it won't be very helpful for writers who have contractual deadlines or need to generate income sooner rather than later. 

Some other options:
  • Create writing goals and objectives for a specific period of time, be it a year, a quarter, a month, or whatever you want. Goals are what you plan to do, objectives are the steps you are going to take to meet the goals. Try to stick to these goals and objectives. If something new comes up that can be an objective for one of your goals, go ahead and do it. If not,  try to set it aside for another planning period.
  • Take your to-do list seriously. It should be focused on your goals and objectives.
  • Work with multipliers, one task that addresses multiple goals, instead of multi-tasking, which can't be done, anyway. This blog post is an example of a multiplier, since I will publish a version of it it at Medium. It meets both my community building/branding goal and my short-form writing goal.
  • Create concentrated blocks of time during which you work on one project. This could be a weekend, a week, a month, a retreat or anything you want. For instance, National Novel Writing Month is an example of a concentrated block of time. School breaks for teaching writers could be examples of concentrated blocks of time. Days children are at school could be examples of concentrated blocks of time for parent writers. 

The idea is to try to slow down without cutting output. That could improve the quality of life Burkeman is interested in in Four Thousand Weeks.

Tuesday, November 23, 2021

Time Management Tuesday: Enjoy Your Thanksgiving Week

Some Positive Procrastination During Thanksgiving Week

In his book Four Thousand Weeks author Oliver Burkeman writes about how there are so many, many things we want to do in life, and we should learn to procrastinate on some of them so that we can concentrate on others. That doesn't mean we'll never get to do them. But during this year, quarter, month, week, weekend, what-have-you, we are putting something off so we can concentrate on something else.

This week I'm concentrating on finishing a chapter in another one of those never-ending book-length manuscripts you hear me talking about here and getting ready to host Thanksgiving for the first time in years. Original Content will be back after the holiday weekend.

Thursday, November 18, 2021

A Fun And Compassionate Book About Friends And Picky Eating

Copy provided by NetGalley

Publication November 2, 2021

I  think The League of Picky Eaters by Stephanie V. W. Lucianovic could be described as a middle grade friends book. Main character Minerva recognizes that her long-time best friends are just plain toxic. (The main one has a mother who is pretty appalling, too, as mean girl moms often are in books and movies. Mean girls learn their mean ways at home.) Sadly, this is at the very point when Minerva is placed in a remedial class, where she eventually realizes she's found a group that embraces and understands her.

The remedial class Minerva is placed in is for picky eaters, children who don't meet the standards for eating in the slightly alternative world they live in. Like Rival, a YA mean girl book, The League of Picky Eaters is about something more than just school relationships. Rival was about singing, and The League of Picky Eaters is about...picky eating.  

Picky eating is a real thing, and it is what brought me to this book after reading Lucianovic's adult book on the subject. We have three picky eaters in our family, one of whom has taken whatever this is--condition/eating disorder/food aversion--into adulthood. We've been dealing with it for many years. Picky eating isn't a dire, life-threatening issue. But it does cast a shadow over lives. We are an extremely food-centered culture. Meals and snacks are eaten at school, incredible numbers of social events are created around food or food is featured before or after them. Work meetings involve lunches, coffee and doughnuts (though all our picky eaters will eat those, or at least some types), dinners, and receptions. A simple book discussion group can end up meeting in restaurants. Dating is around meals. Oh, wait...traveling...means eating in restaurants. Any health situation that involves eating--gluten-related health conditions, diabetes, lactose intolerance, and, yes, picky eating--causes life complications for people affected and their families.

At last Sunday's book launch for The League of Picky Eaters, which I attended in Los Altos, California from my office in southern New England through the magic of Zoom, Lucianovic, a recovered/recovering picky eater, said she was twenty-seven-years old before she started making progress on her own picky eating. She went on to go to culinary school and eat, what sounds to me, like a remarkable number of things. She is every mom of a picky eater's fantasy. She wrote this book, she said, because in the area where she was living she was seeing competitive parenting around eating. And that led her to a book set in a school named for St. Julia Child where students are graded and tracked for their eating.

One of the big attractions of this book for me is that our main character doesn't experience some kind of eating revelation. Characters changing is a simplistic, quick-and-dirty writing rule/tip thrown around in many how-to articles and intro-writing workshops. Minerva's life does change in a realistic and positive way. But it's not around her eating, which is also realistic. I haven't seen or heard of a lot of that happening with picky eaters.

The League of Picky Eaters is entertaining and interesting, because it's about something we don't see a lot in children's books. (I don't know if I've seen it in any fiction.) My concern for the book is that adult gatekeepers won't be familiar with picky eating and not realize what Lucianovic has done here. 

Stephanie Lucianovic ran her launch party from her kitchen where she made a grilled cheese. Grilled cheese figures prominently in The League of Picky Eaters, because it is an acceptable, even loved, food for many picky eaters. Yes, yes, we know grilled cheese well here. In fact, someone mentioned it just yesterday.

Tuesday, November 16, 2021

Time Management Tuesday: The "Four Thousand Weeks" Read Part 5

The Writing Life And Those Present Moments

A couple of weeks ago, I wrote that in Four Thousand Weeks Oliver Burkeman deals with time in general and not with something specific in mind that readers want to do with their time, the way I write about dealing with time management specifically in order to write. In some ways I think one could argue that Four Thousand Weeks isn't a time management book at all, but a time philosophy book. Burkeman's major point with this book is that when you are always using your time, your present moments, for something that's coming up in the future--promotions at work, training for an athletic event, getting into graduate school, planning a wedding, writing a book--your present moments have little value for themselves. You're not enjoying your present moments. 

I found this to be a little bit judgy, as in it may be wrong to spend your present time working toward completing something in the future. Or, what's more, to spend your present time managing your present time so you can complete something in your future. 

In writing world, we have a saying: "Nobody wants to write a book. Everyone wants to have written one." Writing is difficult and sometimes boring, as I was just saying last week. The people who are able to continue doing it, particularly when traditional payoffs such as publication and money come rarely for most of us, are those who do enjoy spending their present moments sitting in front of a computer or old typewriter or journal and generating paragraphs or pages on one project or another, picking up where they left off a few days or weeks or months ago, or doing research, scrapping it all and beginning again. 

It's called The Writing Life for a reason, and maybe there is a philosophy of time involved with it, too. 

Reading this section of Four Thousand Weeks, which, as I said, I found a bit judgy, reminded me of the ending of Cheaper By the Dozen in which Ernestine Gilbert Carey and Frank B. Gilbreth, Jr. say of their father, Frank B. Gilbreth, an early advocate of time-and-motion studies:

“Someone once asked Dad: “But what do you want to save time for? What are you going to do with it?” “For work, if you love that best,” said Dad. “For education, for beauty, for art, for pleasure.” He looked over the top of his pince-nez. “For mumblety-peg, if that's where your heart lies.”

I guess I'm concerned less about what people do with their time, in the present moment or the future, than I am that they have that time to do it.


Wednesday, November 10, 2021

The Bad Mood

Copy provided by NetGalley

Publication November 16, 2021

The Bad Mood by Moritz Petz with illustrations by Amelie Jackowski looks as if it was originally published in 2004 in Switzerland. In fact, the end paper says it's a "beloved classic."  It's a beautiful book about a badger who wakes up in a bad mood and thoughtlessly spreads it to everyone he meets. He then has to fix things.

What I particularly like about this book is that Badger's mood lifts, not because someone points out the error of his ways, but because the mood "slipped right off him" while he's working outside. There's no lecture here about the value of physical activity on the mind, but we do see something positive happening.

Nor is there a lecture on making things right with those you've wronged. Again, we just see it happening.

Show, through story and image, don't tell. A lovely book.

Another Badger book is coming next April.

Tuesday, November 09, 2021

Time Management Tuesday: The "Four Thousand Weeks" Read Part 4

Turns Out There's Bad Procrastination, Too. We Did Know That.

So last week as part of my read of Oliver Burkeman's Four Thousand Weeks, I wrote about what Brukeman describes as good procrastination. That would be accepting that we can't do all of the marvelous things we want to do and making a conscious decision to put some of them off so we can concentrate on a few things we definitely want to get done. You know, write.

Bad procrastination is the kind we hear about more often, the kind that takes us away from those few things we want to concentrate on. 

Procrastination Is Not New

Nowadays, we seem to feel that procrastination is a new thing, a new problem of our era brought about in large part by the distractions that the Internet and social media provide. But Burkeman claims that ancient Greek philosophers wrote about distraction, long, long before Facebook and Twitter existed. I find knowing that a negative behavior has existed for generations oddly comforting. Burkeman also says that distractability has an evolutionary benefit. Those hunter-gatherers who were more easily distracted by the approach of a danger were more likely to survive it. I've recently read something similar about anxiety--anxious early people who worried about what that noise was or whether or not all berries were safe to eat were more likely to live long enough to reproduce and get their genes into the gene pool.

Earlier in Four Thousand Weeks, Burkeman wrote that humans have only been imposing the concept of time onto their lives for the last couple of centuries. And now he says that distractability had a benefit for early humans, one that they may have passed on to us? Once again, when we try to manage time, are we working against nature?  Depressing much?

Procrastination/Distractability Is Not A Problem--It Is A Solution To A Problem

So here's an interesting spin Burkeman puts on the whole procrastination issue: Procrastination is not a problem. It's a solution to a problem we don't recognize or at least do nothing about. 

The real problem is that a lot of what we do in life, even when we want to do it, is boring. Or difficult. Making transitions in writing, getting characters and a story from one place to another is difficult for me. Generating new material for gaps in stories is very, very difficult for me. The solution for dealing with those real problems is to flee to something else, say, Facebook or checking the news or almost anything else I can easily get to on-line. 

A very easy, nonwriting illustration of what I'm talking about, is young parents and cellphones. You often see them on their phones while in the company of small children. How awful, right? The phones, and what's on them, are stealing valuable time from those families. Boo-hoo. No, the phones are a solution to a problem the parents are dealing with. A lot of childcare is boring as hell. Or it's difficult. Or it's heartbreaking. Or it's disappointing. Or it's exhausting. Escaping to the Internet provides a temporary relief from those problems.

So procrastination doesn't cause problems for us. It is a solution/cure for living/work problems.

So How Do We Deal With The Real Problems?

Suck It Up, Buttercup. Burkeman suggests dealing with the original problems by accepting that there are no solutions for many of them. We should give up expecting our lives or work situations to be easier than they are. This isn't unreasonable. Here at Original Content, we've discussed trying to develop distress tolerance, developing a tolerance for the stress/distress involved with our work. Pursuing goals (you have to have them in order to do that, people), planning what you'll do in specific distress situations, and making commitments can all help to increase our tolerance for the distress we would otherwise try to escape with procrastination.

Productive Procrastination. Or, we might say, planned procrastination. Some people procrastinate, not with checking out what's happening on the COVID front or looking to see what's going to be on HBO soon, but with more work. When the stress of dealing with figuring out what's going to happen next to the characters in a big project becomes just too much, they escape to another project. A blog post, for instance. Finishing a humor piece that is almost ready to submit. Researching markets. The main project may have hit a wall for this hour or even the rest of this day, but they're still cranking out work. 

So our two options at this point are to accept or to plan more work.

Tuesday, November 02, 2021

Time Management Tuesday: The "Four Thousand Weeks" Read Part 3

Turns Out There Is Good Procrastination. Who Knew?

Unlike most time management books, Four Thousand Weeks by Oliver Burkeman is about thinking about/dealing with time in general and not with something specific in mind that we want to do with our time. Here at Original Content, it's important to remember that with Time Management Tuesday we do know what we want to do with our time. We're all about writing. We're all about protecting time for writing. When Burkeman writes about the issue of having too many things we want to do in life, we writers think, Too many things we want to do in addition to writing. 

Many time management programs, Burkeman says, lead us to believe that if we just organized our time differently, we could do more of all those things we want to do, when, in reality, we really ought to let some things go so that we're doing less. Less of what is not our focus. Remember, our focus here is...writing.

According to Burkeman, we should procrastinate on some of these other things--creating wall hangings, attending virtual art programs, subscribing to and reading multiple magazines, volunteering for everything, for example (I'm speaking for a friend)--to focus on what we've decided matters. Writing.

That is where good procrastination comes in. You choose what you're going to procrastinate on, so you can stick to what you want to do. Write.

I have to say, in my experience, this has been the case. The magazine subscriptions have had to go. The volunteering had to go. The virtual art programs never got started. Those things went, in the belief that I might get to them sometime in the future, so I could write now. Those things may never come in the future, but it's better to procrastinate on those items so I can write, than to procrastinate on writing so I can do all these other things.

Temporal Landmarks: A Humble Suggestion For Positive Procrastination

There are many things we can't, or maybe just don't want to, procrastinate on indefinitely. Using temporal landmarks--special occasions and calendar events that mark the passage of time and create new opportunities to begin new cycles--could help us to procrastinate productively on important things.

  • This past year I read about a writer who is also a college teacher. She limits herself to writing during one part of the year and submitting during another. She could be described as procrastinating on each task so that she can concentrate on it fully later.   
  • I frequently mention National Novel Writing Month here in relation to temporal landmarks. Many writers use that block of time to draft new work. Over the course of the year, they procrastinate getting started on a new project until November, a time when starting will work best for them.
  • Writers who have to work around school calendars either because they teach or have children at home often do one type of work when school is in session and another type when it's not. They are, arguably, procrastinating so that they use the type of time they have in the best way possible.

You can create your own temporal landmarks around anything--holiday months when you want to work less intently so you put off lighter work for that time; a day job's calendar when you can predict that work will be more demanding or less; travel time when you might be able to do more reading and research. Then you can plan what you're going to do (writing or even something else) during those times and put if off--procrastinate with that particular activity--the rest of the year.

However you do it, you're controlling the procrastination.

Monday, November 01, 2021

Kim Johnson's "This Is My America" Wins This Year's Malka Penn Award

This Is My America by Kim Johnson has won the 2021 Malka Penn Award for Human Rights in Children's Literature. The Malka Penn Award is given annually to the author of an outstanding children’s book addressing human rights issues or themes. It recognizes works of fiction, non-fiction, poetry, memoir, or biography written for children from preschool to high school. The award is named in honor of author Michele Palmer who writes under the pseudonym Malka Penn and presented by Dodd Human Rights Impact at the University of Connecticut.

This Is My America is Johnson's debut YA novel. HBO Max is working on a TV adaptation.

2021 Honor Books 


On-line Awards Ceremony Tomorrow Night, November 2

An awards ceremony for the Malka Penn Awards will be held tomorrow night, Nov. 2, 7:00 PM ET. Johnson and the Honor Book authors will be taking part in a panel, Mirrors, Windows, and Doors: Stories for Equity, Empathy, and Activism.

Register here.