Tuesday, June 28, 2022

Time Management Tuesday: Essentialism And Work Clutter

In my first post on  Essentialism: The Disciplined Pursuit of Less by Greg McKeown I said that I was finding essentialism to be like minimalism but for work and life activities rather than things. Early on McKeon says "our lives get cluttered as well-intended commitments and activities we've said yes to pile up."

Clutter in Writers' Lives

It's easy to see how life clutter accumulates in our private lives. We have family responsibilities and
jump at every volunteer and social opportunity and collect new interests like sports cards. But what about clutter in writers' work lives? Can that even happen?

Yeah, it can. How often do we want to:

  • Attend every nearby and sometimes not nearby writers' conference?
  • Attend every writer gathering?
  • Accept every request to read and blurb books? 
  • Get on every new social media platform?
  • Join still another writers' Facebook group? 
  • Read every new book on writing?
Notice that none of those things I listed above actually involve writing. Many relate to networking, a big, and not necessarily beneficial, drain on writing time.

McKeown says "A Nonessentialist thinks almost everything is essential. An Essentialist thinks almost everything is nonessential."

He also writes that Nonessentialists feel they have to do all the things they're trying to do while Essentialists choose what they're going to do.

They choose to do fewer things and they go big on the things they do do.

Next week: The Essentialist's first step in making those choices.

Tuesday, June 21, 2022

Time Management Tuesday: A Summer Reading Arc On Essentialism

Here comes one of our periodic time management book discussions. Last week I started reading Essentialism: The Disciplined Pursuit of Less by Greg McKeown. While I wish I could recall how I learned of this book, I cannot.

In the past, I have written here about trying to find ways to do more by slowing down. I'm hopeful that McKeown's argument that we can do less, but better will help with that. I'm finding the book well written, well organized, and well researched. This isn't just some guy's quickie throw down of his thoughts.

If I understand essentialism, it's sort of like minimalism but for work and life activities. While minimalism is about how your surroundings impact you and your time, essentialism appears to be about how your choices impact you and your time. I am, you know, a big fan of minimalism, and right now I am very open to essentialism.

More to come in the next few weeks.

Monday, June 20, 2022

Creativity DOES Spur Creativity!

You may recall that I spent last week on a home-based, DIY sewing retreat. In my sewing/laundry room. In my cellar. In part it was to get rid of some sewing work that was hanging over my head. In part it was due to the weight of run-of-the-mill chaos on my shoulders. In part it was because I thought spending time on one kind of creativity would benefit my writing, because creativity spurs creativity.

This retreat worked on all counts. 

The Benefit To My Writing

Last week I came up with various ideas for my work in progress. I will admit that early most mornings I spent a little time reading a chapter of that. But the bulk of my days involved sewing. The writing "work" that did came about as a side benefit should help a great deal with moving forward on this manuscript.

What we're talking about here are breakout experiences, which occur when you've absorbed material about some project/work problem and then moved away from it. They can happen while driving, showering, walking, or doing anything that either engages your mind minimally or in a different way from the original project. 

I came away from this retreat not only with new work material but with new energy, as if getting back from a vacation that involved some relaxation. 

I can't claim this retreat was modeled on what I think of as traditional writers' retreats--go into a cabin and write. I've never been to one of those. The few writers' retreats I've attended were called retreats but were actually short conferences with all the time committed to presentations of some sort. 

This was modeled more on retreats my sister has attended for rubber stampers. Those appear to be intensive work times, with people sitting at long tables with materials they've brought with them and working all day, into the evening. The photograph I saw of one of those events had a sweatshop quality to it.  Those people generate work.

I will definitely do something like this again, creating a retreat around some kind of necessary creation, when I'm at a struggling point with a project and/or feeling overwhelmed. 


A Sewing/Writing Parallel

Last week's sewing included binding some pieces from a quilt I'd taken apart last year to make wall hangings and using some of my extensive collection of old denim to make shopping bags. The engineer at my house referred to all that as "creative repurposing."

Repurposing is something I've done with writing, too, reworking older pieces. Earlier this month I did it with You Are the Parents of Sixth Graders. Act Like It, humor for adults that began years ago as a short story for middle grade readers. 

Friday, June 17, 2022

2022 Tassy Walden Award Winners

The 2022 winners of Connecticut's Tassy Walden Award were announced earlier this summer. This award is a competition for unpublished Connecticut children's book writers and illustrators. Over the years, a number of finalists and winners have gone on to publication. Michele Manning and Kristina Giliberto (see below) are former or present members of my writing group. Really, people, think about finding a writers' group.

Picture Book Text

Winner: Elizabeth Donnelly--Stacking Stones

Honorable Mention: Sherry Peterson--Is There Something in My Teeth?


  • Katherine Donahue--Monsters Say What
  • Kristina Giliberto--The Horse Listener
  • Claudia Lebel--Night Blooms
  • Rachel Shupin--There Are No Bad Guys In This Book

Illustrated Picture Book Writer-Illustrator

Finalist: Jillian Aurigemma--Rylee Finds A Family

Middle Grade Novel

Winner: Michelle Manning--Nooks and Crannies

Honorable Mention: Ginger Merante--Lore


  • Jeanne Davies--Cast Away
  • Debi DiTomaso--Gram Ridder
  • Jane Pronsky-Brothers--Brooke Skyler & The Quest for Mysterium
  • Lisa Yelon--Cook Me A Winner

Young Adult Novel

Winner: Paige Classey Przybylski--Inheritance

Honorable Mention: Debbie McGinley--The Surge

Finalist: Kelly Kandra Hughes--The Happiest Dog On The Internet

Illustrator Portfolio

Winner: Ann Marie Drury

Finalist: Marcus Fort

Congratulations and good luck moving forward to all the people on these lists.

Tuesday, June 14, 2022

Time Management Tuesday: I Made A Mistake With This Year's May Days

 Last year I described May Days as "that month of the year when I get together with some Facebook friends to set aside a time, in this case the month of May, to work on something special."  Notice I said some thing.

At the beginning of May this year I sat down with my bullet journal and listed seven things I wanted to do. Seven. While planning is good, that plan was not.

I did three of them, did three things I hadn't planned to do, and barely touched the chapters of a book-long project that I really wanted to work on in May. I did get to them the first few days of June, which sounds like a Hurray!, but realized that I needed to go back and do some tweaking to make a basic change to my main character in order to proceed.

If I had only worked on just those chapters during May, I would have found that out earlier, presumably, and been further along in that project that just never seems to end.

Now I did get some short-form work done and published last month, but a set-aside time like May Days can mean some intense work on something special and I missed that opportunity by trying to do too much. 

I guess we can say not all is lost, because this experience should tie-in with the book we're going to be reading this summer. 

But that begins next week.

Sunday, June 12, 2022

Unnecessary Creation

Ready To Go
Today I'm starting a week-long DIY sewing retreat in my basement. I have a deadline on three projects, because they're birthday presents. There are also some things I started last year and haven't finished. Some mending. I have something in mind I'd like to do that involves denim. I have some other plans for leftover material, if I can get to it. 

I've tried doing sewing retreat weekends and only managed a few hours on Sunday afternoons, so I know this week of sewing isn't really going to be a week of sewing. I'll be at one family member's house all day Monday. I'll be visiting another for an hour on Friday. I'll be grocery shopping Wednesday morning. Those are just the time I'm going to lose that I know about and explains why I'm going Sunday to Saturday and not just Monday to Friday. 

Why A Sewing Retreat?

  • I've been feeling the effects of chaos a little more than usual the last couple of months and this will allow me to fall back on my mantra, Finish Something. In fact, just preparing for this week of sewing has forced me to impose some order on my office area, as I get it organized so I can get back to work easily next week.
  • I believe in the value of Unnecessary Creation. Creativity spurs creativity.
As part of this year's twentieth blog anniversary I am republishing my first post on unnecessary creation, which I've often referred to as unnecessary creativity.

Aug.13, 2013 Time Management Tuesday: Summer Reading--Spending Time On Any Kind Of Creativity

I  know that many people probably perceive focusing on managing time as very noncreative. What about art? What about literature and music and those fields that are, I think, rather stereotypically considered creative? Shouldn't we be focusing on something like that?

I have a very practical attitude toward creativity. Creativity is simply the act of making something that did not exist before. Whether we're talking painting a landscape or baking a cake or writing a novel or building a house, we are talking creativity. Making something that did not exist before takes time. Big, big connection between time and creativity, in my humble opinion.

Manage Your Day-to-Day 's section on creativity includes an essay by Todd Henry called Creating for You, and You Alone. Now, remember, Manage Your Day-to-Day doesn't deal specifically with writers or artists but with all types of "creatives," people who need to come up with something that didn't exist before as part of their work This particular essay deals with people who work creatively in their jobs, but need to stay on a particular creative task. Exercising other aspects of their creativity is difficult for them, though doing so might be good for their day job, in addition to anything else they want to do with their lives.

Why am I interested in this essay when I write here for writers who presumably create for themselves all the time? Well, actually, we don't. Many writers have traditional day jobs that require creativity of them quite apart from the creative work they want to do for publication. Creating for themselves has to happen in addition to that. I also know writers who do work-for-hire, writing specific nonfiction books, for instance, for a particular publisher or writing volumes for series fiction. Earlier this year I met an illustrator who had "auditioned" for and won a rather nice assignment illustrating some children's books for a known cable chef. She expects to be tied up with that job for two years. For  many working writers and illustrators, this really is an issue.

Todd writes about what he calls "Unnecessary Creation," which he believes "is essential for anyone who works with his or her mind." He's talking about creative acts--making something, anything, that didn't exist  before--that are unrelated to an individual's work. "...something about engaging in the creative act on our own terms seems to unleash latent passions and insights." In other words, creativity spurs creativity.

He suggests creating a list of creative projects to work on in spare time, (I know. What's that?) then setting aside a specific time each week or day (Hell, I'd be happy with time each month) to make progress on it. The point of Unnecessary Creation is that any kind of creativity has value. For those writers I know who are trying to get to other types of creative work, that might be what goes into their spare time set asides. Or maybe not. Maybe simply engaging in any creative act will unleash the insights they need to get to the Unnecessary Creation they really want to move on. Creativity encourages creativity.

Thursday, June 09, 2022

Goal-Driven Characters Are Very Readable

Copy provided by NetGalley

Publication date: June 7. 2022

I am embarrassed to say that June being Pride Month really hasn't been on my radar the way, say, Black History Month and Women's History Month are. I have been noticing references to it the last week or so, though, and as random luck would have it, I just finished reading a book that marks the occasion

I wasn't attracted to Home Field Advantage by Dahlia Adler by the romance. I don't care for romance by itself. Person meets person stories end with our leads getting together, so I feel I know the ending before I even begin. I need a surrounding story for my romance reading. And I wasn't attracted by the football, because I am only a sports fan during the Olympics, and pretty picky even then. What did lead me to ask for the galley was the knowledge that both the cheerleader in Home Field Advantage and the quarterback are girls. I haven't read a lot of those. To date.

Amber McCloud is a popular cheer leader who is shooting for cheer captain, because it will help her chances for college. Jack Walsh is a gifted football player who has been brought in to replace Amber's high school's late lamented QB who was nowhere near as good as Jack is. In fact, the whole team is not on Jack's level. But they are grieving their dead teammate who died unexpectedly, and Jack, being Jacklyn, becomes a target for both misogyny and homophobia.

Goals, Goals, Goals

Amber is a somewhat closeted lesbian--what happens at cheer camp stays at cheer camp--dating a somewhat closeted gay football player, Miguel. One of the particularly interesting aspects of this book, I thought, was that neither Amber nor Miguel have any problems with their sexuality. Nor is family acceptance a major issue for them. They are not out, because coming out will hinder them reaching goals. Amber sees making cheer captain as a stepping stone to college and getting out of town and she doesn't see the cheer team embracing a lesbian no matter how good she is. Miguel wants to play football. His one experience with another player knowing his reality did not go well for him.

Jack, too, is very goal-oriented. A high-achieving female football player has few options. Playing with this loser team may be the only opportunity she will ever have to play football. It may be a stepping stone to some kind of sports-related career.

What these characters want to achieve makes their behavior make sense. Giving characters something to want is cliched writer advice. Give them a goal! 

Oh. Wait. Football has goals, doesn't it?

I am not fond of alternating points of view, and sometimes I felt Amber and Jack got too introspective for my taste. But this was a narrative with drive and some unique characters for this reader. I was even up for a football scene. I've only been vaguely aware that LGBTQ books are a thing in YA. Home Field Advantage definitely encourages me to read more.

Saturday, June 04, 2022

Let's Raise A Glass To The Late 48-Hour Book Challenge

 For ten years beginning in 2006, the childlit blogging community took part in the 48-Hour Book Challenge during a weekend early in June. It was created by Pam Coughlin of MotherReader and was a social reading experience for children's lit bloggers. You read and blogged as much as you could during a 48-hour period. 

My first year, I read magical realism. Another year I read and blogged about friends' books. Looking back through the archives, it appears that I took at least three years off, two for eldercare issues and one because I'd made some kind of crazy self-commitment to not do anything work-related on weekends during the summer months because the family had so much going on. What was wrong with me? 

As part of my 20th anniversary observance, I'm republishing below my post marking the end of the challenge and, pretty much, the end of an era.

Friday, June 03, 2016

At the end of May, 2006  I signed up for the first 48-Hour Book Challenge, the inspiration of Pam Coughlin at MotherReader.  I did a magical realism tour for my first book challenge with seven stops. I took part in 2007 and 2008 and again in 2014 and 2015.

The 48-Hour Book Challenge was a reading and blogging binge. You picked 48-hours over a 3-day weekend Pam selected, usually at the beginning of June, and during that period read as much as you could of whatever you wanted and blogged about the books you completed. Because that's what litbloggers do. There was a list of participating bloggers at Pam's site so you knew which of your friends were reading and blogging with you. There were prizes.

No 48-Hour Book Challenge this year. Pam/MotherReader is calling it a day, figuring ten years is a good wrap-up point. There may be some interest in bringing it back next year, but for now the Challenge is a happy memory.

Some litbloggers who were around back then refer to the mid '00s as the Golden Age of Blogging. As I'm sure I've said before, I think of that time as a wild west/frontier experience. There were no instructions on how to blog, no talk of writers building platform, no articles on why writers need blogs or how they can get by with a blog instead of a website. Internet book bullying was still in the future. No one had come up with ways to use blogs to market books. No one had started companies organizing blog tours for writers. Magazines weren't sponsoring blogs.

Because we sponsored ourselves! Yeah! Ya just went out and blogged in those days! Sink or swim. Blog free or die hard.

Blogging was truly social media then, at least in the childlit world, because bloggers interacted, commenting on each others' work and posting links to one another. You were part of a community. Kind of an underground community. Which was cool. The 48-Hour Book Challenge was an on-line ball for the childlit blogging world.

Well, nostalgia isn't healthy. So let's hitch up our big blogger pants, toss back a little of whatever we like to toss back when we're paying tribute, and get back to whatever bloggy things we do these days. And Twitter. I'm going over to Twitter when I'm done here.

We had some good times, Book Challenge. Have fun in retirement.

Friday, June 03, 2022

Two New Humor Publications In Two Days!

Jesswin Thomas on Unsplash
 After There's Not Going To Be A St. John The Baptist Day Parade This Year, Eli was published at The Haven on May 31, You Are The Parents Of Sixth Graders. Act Like It. was published at Frazzled on June 2. It was inspired by a daycation I was on the week before, during which we were in a museum gift shop with a field trip group. That triggered memories of my own days as a field trip chaperone.

You Are The Parents Of Sixth Graders is interesting, as writing goes, because it started out as a short story I wrote maybe twenty-five years ago when I was invited to submit a humor story to an anthology that was being put together by an editor at my publishing house. The story was about a couple of boys riding herd on some adult chaperones they found to be unruly. The story was rejected, but one thing led to another last weekend, and I revised the material for a totally different type of piece.

Something similar happened in April when I revised a piece of creative nonfiction and turned it into Your Guide To Finding The Perfect Church.

I am now wondering about what else is in my file cabinet.

Wednesday, June 01, 2022

A Seasonal Humor Piece

Charcuterie Board for JBD
Last month was this year's May Days, which I will discuss in next week's Time Management Tuesday post. But one of the things I planned to do last  month was work on a particular humor piece. I got that done, submitted it to The Haven, and it was published last night. 

This piece is seasonal for those of us who celebrate John the Baptist Day on June 24, which my immediate family has been doing the last few years. Haven't heard of John the Baptist Day? Not many people have in the U.S., though it is a thing in French-speaking Canada.

In There's Not Going To Be A St. John The Baptist Day Parade This Year, Eli a not very enthusiastic marketer tries to come up with a plan to raise the holiday's profile in the U.S.

Three Things I've Learned About Writing Humor

  • Format. Finding a format early on is extremely helpful. It both helps generate material, because I'm writing to the format, and keeps me from falling into writing an essay.
  • Humor hook. Humor needs to build up. You don't want to lead with your best line. But as a reader, I really need to see something right away in the first paragraph, or whatever is the first section, that is at least amusing, if not out-right funny. So I pay attention to that first part.
  • Sub-headings. The Medium platform where my humor has been published requires a sub-heading on the material published there. With humor I want to make that sub-heading work for me. That's where, for instance, I can tip readers off about what the format is going to be or try for that initial amusing line/humor hook.