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Recently the lovely Sarah Aronson tagged me to participate in a great get-the-word-out game called The Next Big Thing. Basically it's a blog campaign that started in Australia (not sure which brilliant Austrailian author thought of it) wherein authors with new books tag other authors with new books and share the love all around. Each author answers the same series of questions and then toots the horns of their fellow friends with pens. So, here goes:
1) What is the working title of your next book?
My next book is officially titledThe Barftastic Life of Louie Burger. It had a lot of different working titles, the first one was Help! There's a Sister in My Closet and another one was Loudmouth Louie. I like the current title best. In the book, Louie Burger is a boy with a big dream. He wants to be a famous stand-up comedian, even though he only ever performs his routine alone. In his closet. He figures that someday he'll grow out of his stagefright, become rich and famous, and sell his autobiography. That autobiography will be called, you guessed it, The Barftastic Life of Louie Burger. Barftastic is Louie's catch phrase.
2) Where did the idea come from for the book?
One day, my middle son came home from school in a funk. As he sat at the kitchen table, eating his after school snack and telling me about all the ridiculous rules at his school, I thought he sounded like a grade school comedian. A light went off. Bingo! What a great voice for a middle grade novel. What's the deal with gym?
3) What genre does your book fall under?
This book is a humorous middle grade novel. Great for ages 8-12 or anyone who love silliness.
4) What actors would you choose to play the part of your characters in a movie rendition?
I always find this question super hard to answer. I don't know many young actors, and in any case, they'd likely be too old by the time casting started. I typically imagine young people that I know personally, not actors. I could tell you their names, but you probably don't know them!
I do picture Joan Cusack, whose work I love!, as the mother.
5) What is the one-sentence synopsis of your book?
A misfit boy dreams of being a stand up comedian but is in danger of becoming the class joke instead of the class clown.
The first spark of this book of this book came from my son, but I'd combine that with my huge love of comedy. Especially older comedians. I love to see through they eyes of a character who's just discovering Buster Keaton or The Marx Brothers for the first time.
10) What else about the book might pique the reader's interest?
Well, it contains the world's longest word, tips for torturing your siblings, the world's most delicious sandwich and barf. Are there any better inducements than that?
Some of you may have heard of the Pomodoro Technique. It's a handy time management tool for breaking up seemingly endless hours of work. You work for twenty-five minutes and then take a five minute break. It's named after those tomato-shaped kitchen timers.
I tried it as soon as I first heard about it, and found it did help me stay focused and get work done everyday.
Recently I stumbled across what I'll term a Pomodoro enhancement. It's an App called Vitamin R. I don't know if it's available for PC. Basically, it's a timer in my computer, but there are a few things about it that I think supercharge my writing.
First, it asks for a little summary about what I'm going to do with my "time slice" before I do it. It let's me set my time slice to any length, but I continue to use twenty five minutes because for me it's long enough to get stuff done, but short enough that I always feel like time passed quickly.
Second, at the end of the "time slice" my screen dims and I have to stop working. I cannot type anymore. The program won't recognize my key strokes. (I can of course override if I need to, but I find that I'm unlikely to forget over my break and then I have something immediately to start right back up with when break's over.
Third, just like taking a break is enforced, ending the break is enforced as well. The screen dims when it's done and you have to go back to work.
This takes all the mental effort of starting and stopping my work time and break time and passes it off to someone else. Kind of like working with a trainer, which I love. (You'll have to scroll down to the third post. I couldn't figure out how to link to it separately.) I've found I am able to write for much longer stretches like this.
Although I gobble up posts about how to write 10,000 words per day, in practice, I find that I'm just not capable of writing that much. Maybe that sentence needs a yet. Or maybe I'll never be able to do it. What I know now is that my brain is only capable or writing so much in one day and then it just does not want to compose any more. Very. Tired. Thoughts.
Right now, for me, that's typically between 800 and 2000 words per day, and I'm not going to push myself to write more. Some times when I push myself, I burn out and then wind up taking a writing break, even if I didn't mean to.
At my critique group holiday dinner grab bag this year, I received a lovely present that will be a great reminder to me of this. It's a meditation box, filled with all kinds of lovely inspiring and soothing items. I've placed them all over my office and used the finger labyrinth several times while thinking yesterday.
I don't know if it will help my productivity but it is a great reminder to take those mental breaks, which ultimately make my writing better, I think. Plus, it inspired me to have fun with photography. And I believe engaging in other forms of creativity is always replenishing for the creative well. And fun, too.
It's been over a year since the last time I posted. To that I can only say...hahahahahaha. If you had asked me yesterday, I'm sure I would have told you that my last post was about four months ago. And I think I've written something like that on my blog before so not only do I post infrequently, I also repeat myself. Ah, well.
During the past year, I went through a period of what you might call writer's block. Although, when I think about writer's block, I think of not being able to think of anything to write. And this was not, precisely, what was going on with me. It was more that I couldn't get myself to sit down and write at all, so who knows if I would have had anything to say. I had writer's resistance.
But for the past four plus months, I've made great strides in overcoming my resistance, writing nearly every monday-friday consistently (though for varying amounts of time.) The thing that really made the difference was creating a ritual.
First, I have a consistent place in which to write. Some people may argue you should train yourself to write anywhere, and that may be true, but day in day out, I like going to the same place. It's a place where I don't do much else but write, so my whole being associates being there with writing. This can be as simple as the head of your dining room table or in a cozy chair with a lap desk you only use for writing.
Second, I do a series of actions that I only do before I write. If this seems new-agey, or hokey, or woo woo to you then don't do it. Or find actions that feel natural. It's not the specific actions that help, in my opinion. It's the fact of having them at all. 1. I open my word document or notebook. 2. I rub a scented oil on my hands and enjoy the aroma. 3. I meditate for five minutes, often using a mantra like I write with joy, or I accept whatever words come today. 4. I set a timer for however long I have to write that day. 5. I put on my wrist supports and I write until my timer dings.
I don't know why this helps. I do know that even if I can only set the timer for ten minutes, I still feel great and happy about my writing that day. Which brings me back to the title of this post. How to love writing. For me, the thing that kills the love of writing is the endless struggle with resistance. Once I'm in the midst of it, it's always pretty fun. But it's so hard to get in the midst sometimes.
The trick of the ritual is that, the early tasks are so easy, so unlikely to be met with resistance, that I'm happy to start them. But because they are all linked, by the time I get to step five, I've already bypassed the place where my resistance usually sets in.
Last week I traveled to Honesdale, PA to participate in a Highlights Founder's Workshop led by the brilliant Carolyn Coman and Stephen Roxburgh. A week in a cabin in the woods with nothing to think about other than my novel-in-progress. I'd been struggling with this book. Everytime I got two-thirds of the way through, I'd go back and start over because no matter which way the story was headed, I couldn't "see" the ending.
I'd always known the endings of my other books, but somehow the fact that I didn't for this book never stuck out for me as a red flag. What I can see so clearly now (in addition to the ending of the book) is that when I'm writing something and I don't know how it ends, what I have is an idea, not a story.
I can keep writing away at my idea forever, but until I know where it's going, I will never create something coherent and satisfying. This is not to say the writing process will then be easy. It may or may not be. It may seem like a very simple insight, but if you struggle with finishing a novel, it may be an important one.
I swear I posted last week. But no, it seems 22 days have gone by. Three weeks. I have every intention of posting more regularly, but then how's that to work when I can't seem to keep track of what day it is.
Today is daughter's last day of camp. She's old enough that I don't think it'll affect my writing schedule to much. She sleeps until noon anyway. Much can be done before noon.
Youngest son's camp ends one week from today. That will make writing trickier as he can not be unsupervised. (And there are many fun excursions to be taken!)
Older son has two more weeks. I will be happy when his camp is over. He's been away for 6 weeks now! I miss his funny sense of humor and interesting way of seeing the world.
But the clock is ticking. I so want to finish this first draft and it's just taking forever. I often think maybe I should just throw in the towel, but I'm stubborn. No quitting until I've finished!
(Sounds like a paradox, but really it's not.)
edited to add: it really has been only one week, only I have the dates set to post backward, so I misread. *blushes*
I've actually had access to this room in my husband's office for several months, but didn't fully move in and start working here until about four weeks ago, when my youngest started summer camp.
When he was in kindergarten I often only have about 2 and a half hours to work. It takes about 20 minutes to drive to the office and I usually chose not to when I had such a short window of time.
Now I have five hours (and will have even more when he starts first grade in the fall) and the commute isn't such a significant percentage of my work time.
I love the way that I'm now conditioned to working in this space. I step through the door and my brain instantly goes to my book. It's getting harder to work in other spaces. I had to work at home the other day while waiting for a repair person and was not productive at all. I love being in a space where my only responsibilities are to my book.
And I will enjoy decorating it over time. It's still quite sparse, but here are a few of the things I've added to it so far.
my lovely lamp
art and office supplies with inspirational wordage
cozy reading space
flowery bulletin board
And now I must prove that what I said about this space is true, and get back to work.
I was sure that it had only been a month or two since my last post, but obviously not. What can I say. I've been working on a new YA that's just been not quite right, not quite right, not quite right. But finally, finally I feel that I might be getting it to work.
I've been working on it for two years now (though I took time away to write Sami's Sleepaway Summer and to do a revision of Louie.) It's hard to leave a book mid-draft. When you come back to it, you are not the same person you were before and for me, I think that often means the story I need to tell is not the same story anymore. And that means a lot of do overs. But this time, I'm almost finished. And I really like the story I'm telling.
I'm an introspective person. I often analyze my thoughts and actions and I'm fairly self-aware in a mostly positive way. All that introspection and self-awareness means that there's no hiding from the fact that I, like many people, have quite a few bad habits and self-defeating practices. Being who I am, this has led me to the treasure trove that is the self-help aisle of the book store. I LOVE these books. I've learned so much from them about challenging my own thinking and being patient with my emotions.
The problem I have is that in my zeal to improve myself, I can often get overwhelmed. There are so many ways I could become better, how can I possibly accomplish them all at once?
I can't, of course. And one of the things I've learned from self-help books is to have compassion for myself. It's hard to see all these flaws and accept that for the time being some of them will not change.
On the other hand, sometimes it's the ideas and stories I tell myself about making the change that are what seem so difficult. In reality, the action itself is easy. Like writing everyday. I tell myself stories about how hard it is to commit to that, but in reality, a small goal, like writing one hundred words a day, is no trouble at all.
My father is a psychologist who sees, for part of his practice, people considering gastric bypass surgery. On of the things he works on with them is developing an exercise habit. He's always told me, the most important step in that process is committing to five minutes a day. If you can commit to five minutes a day, and sustain it, you are more than half-way there. Because the real hurdle is the dread of getting started.
So, here I go. Day one!
P.S. My scarf is going great. I'm about 35 inches in. I'll post a pic when it's done.
I did it. I went and bought myself some needles and yarn, took a lesson from my mother and next thing you know my needles were clicking, and a beautiful ball of green yarn became something else. In my last post, I predicted my first project would be a scarf, but I was wrong.
I made fingerless gloves.
And now my kids all want their own pairs too. I will happily make them after I finish project number two. That off-white yarn in the first picture? That's my scarf. Hopefully it will go as smoothly as the handwarmers.
And unrelated, or perhaps completely related, I've been completely obessed with this video lately. A song/poem by Tanya Davis.
In my teens writing was a hobby. I carried a notebook with me where ever I went and wrote poems as they struck me. Some days I might write half a dozen poems and some days or weeks I'd write none. It didn't really matter. I wrote when I enjoyed it and I enjoyed what I wrote.
In my twenties, writing was a dream. I wanted to be a professional writer, but I wasn't sure what kind. I only knew that I wasn't a professional writer, and I couldn't really enjoy writing as a hobby anymore either. I suffered (in my mind) a lot.
In my thirties, I became a published children's book author. I learned to enjoy writing again. But it's still no longer a hobby. It's work, and I do it everyday, even when I don't enjoy it. And I LOVE this. But I miss having a hobby. A creative hobby.
So I'm thinking of taking up knitting. Something I can do when the mood strikes, but don't have to do if I don't feel like it. My mother is an accomplished knitter, and I've already put in the request for lessons over Thanksgiving. Like millions of knitters before me, I'm sure my first project will be a scarf. I'll let you know how it goes.
Visiting so many varied and insightful blogs over the past week and a half has been delightful. Huge thanks to the bloggers hosting me. And of course, I'm happy to visit any other blogs out there who want me! Hint, hint. ; )
I've always been prone to mini-obsessions. When I get interested in something I like to complete dive in, read and watch everything I can about it all at once. I used to see it as a failing. Can't I just space my interest in, say, Chi Walking, out over a few weeks, learning about it in a leisurely manner? Do I have to drop everything until I've practically overdosed on information?
Well, yeah, maybe I do. According to the article, by giving ourselves over to our interests like that we can develop a productive obsession: "something you choose to engage in because it fascinates you and ultimately leads you to create something (a documentary, a street fair, a screenplay.)"* Or, in the example above, a walking habit.
The idea of productive obsession is especially useful for writers, I think. Each book I've written, I've had to be a little obsessed with or it never would have been finished. I've also had to purposely cultivate some obsessions to get research done for the books. But that's part of the fun, no?
Okay, I've got to get back to my latest obsession...car racing. :)
*From the article "The Perfect Brainstorm" by Frances Lefkowitz in the August issue of Whole Living
I'm reading Danica Patrick's autobiography right now (research,) and this weekend watched Believe: The Eddie Izzard Story. You wouldn't think those two have a lot in common but I was struck by the way they both spend a lot of time discussing the way they truly believed in themselves early on in their careers. When the results weren't necessarily supporting the belief, when others around them were continuously voicing doubts, somewhere deep down they were able to maintain a core of self-belief, a certainty that they could and would achieve their dreams.
Of course, belief isn't enough. Both of these guys worked their tushies off, too, but it's that belief that makes the hard work possible no? Why would you push yourself to wake up at five everyday and write? Why would you keep writing after so many rejections? Why would you publish again after a negative review? Because you believe, ultimately, that you will create something great.
I guess that leaves the question how do you believe? Right now the only answer I can think of is the very unhelpful, you just do... I'll have to give it some more time to percolate maybe. (Eddie and Danica didn't cover that one.)
I remember reading once about a guy (I think it was Nicholson Baker) who decided for a year to only read books seen in catalogs. That is, not for sale in catalogs, but books used for decoration in catalogs. I thought that was funny, but this is funnier: http://catalogliving.tumblr.com/
Congratulations to the following 20 classrooms, schools and teachers that have one the third grade box of fun! I'll be in touch!
Mr. K. at Chandler Elementary School, Indiana Mrs. B. at Shawswick Elementary, Indiana Mrs. M. at Bart-Colerain Elementary, Pennsylvania Mrs. R. at Kratz Elementary, Missouri Mrs. B. at Mabel Elementary, North Carolina Mrs. Y. at Lake Windward Elementary, Georgia Mrs. J. at Washington Elementary School, Wisconsin Ms. D. at Glover School, Massachusetts Ms. L. at Mt. Marion Elementary School, New York Mrs. S. at Ft. McCoy School, Florida Mrs. C. at Braeside School, Illinois Mrs. M. at St. Stephen's Episcopal School, Pennsylvania Ms. G. at Orrington Elementary, Illinois Ms. W. at Harris Elementary School, Missouri Ms. H. at Woodland Consolidated School, Maine Ms. S. at Franklin School, New Jersey Ms. D. at South Allegheny Elementary, Pennsylvania Ms. B. at South Allegheny Elementary, Pennsylvania Mrs. H. at Walter C. Black Elementary, New Jersey Ms. S. at J. Fred Spark School, Levittown, New York
Thank you to everyone at ISLMA who came to hear my talk on chapterbooks, a topic so near and dear to my heart. Here is a list (definitely not exhaustive) to get you started!
Great Chapterbooks! • Adler, David : Cam Jansen books • Armstrong, Jennifer: Patrick Doyle is Full of Blarney • Avi,: S.O.R. Losers • Auch, Mary Jane: I Was a Third Grade Science Project and others • Betancourt, Jeanne: Pony Pals series • Blume, Judy: Freckle Juice • Brown, Jeff: Flat Stanley books • Catling, Patrick: The Chocolate Touch • Chew, Ruth : The Wednesday Witch (and other books) • Choe, Sook Nyul: The Best Older Sister • Christopher, Matt: Soccer Cats series • Clifford, Eth: Help! I'm A Prisoner In The Library • Coerr, Eleanor : Sadako And The Thousand Paper Cranes • Conford, Ellen: Jenny Archer books • Coville, Bruce: Space Brats books and many others • Cuyler, Margery: Weird Wolf and others • Dadey, Debbie: Bailey School Kids series and others • Dahl, Roald: George’s Marvelous Medicine, The Enormous Crocodile and others • Dalgliesh, Alice: The Courage of Sarah Noble and also The Bears on Hemlock Mountain • Danziger, Paula: Amber Brown books • Deary, Terry: Calamity Kate • DeClements, Barthe: Fourth Grade Wizards • Delton, Judy: Pee Wee Scouts series • Duffey, Betsy: Math Wiz; Gadget War; How to Be Cool in Third Grade • Estes, Eleanor: The Hundred Dresses • Friedman, Laurie: The Mallory Books • Gannett, Ruth: My Father's Dragon • Giff, Patricia Reilly: Polk Street School books • Gifford, Peggy: Moxy Maxwell Books • Greenburg, Dan: The Zach Files series • Gutman, Dan: Weird School series • Haddix, Margaret Peterson: Say What? • Herman, Charlotte: the "Max Malone" titles • Hesse, Karen: Sable • Hiller, BB: Rent a Third Grader • Howe, James: Bunnicula books • Hughes, Ted: The Iron Giant • Hurwitz, Johanna: Class President; Fourth Grade Fuss and others • King-Smith, Dick : Lady Lollipop and many others • Kline, Suzy: Herbie Jones and Horrible Harry books • Korman, Gordon: Nose-Pickers from Outer Space • Krulik, Nancy: Katie Kazoo books • Kurtz, Jane: Bicycle Madness; I’m Sorry Almira Ann • Landon, Lucinda: Meg Mackintosh series • Levy, Elizabeth: The monster series (Dracula is a pain in the neck- Gorgonzola Zombies in the Park...etc.) • Lowry, Lois: Gooney Bird Greene books • Look, Lenore: Alvin Ho books • MacLachlan, Patricia: Sarah, Plain And Tall • Martin, Ann: Baby-Sitters Younger sister series • Meyerhoff, Jenny: Third Grade Baby • Mills, Claudia: 7x9=Trouble; Being Teddy Roosevelt; How Oliver Olson Changed the World • Myers,Laurie: Earthquake in the Third Grade • Osborne, Mary Pope: The Magic Treehouse Series • Park, Barbara: The Junie B. Jones series • Pennypacker, Sara: Clementine Books • Peterson, John: The Littles series • Pilkey, Dav: The Adventures of Captain Underpants • Roy, Ron: A to Z Mysteries Series • Rylant, Cynthia: Cobble Street Cousins books • Sachar, Louis: Marvin Redpost series • Sharmat, Marjorie: Nate the Great series • Sobol, Donald: Encyclopedia Brown Series • Stine, R.L.: Goosebumps • Strasser, Todd: Help I'm trapped in... series • Szeika, Jon: The Time Warp Trio series • Wright, Betty Ren: The Ghost Witch
No one ever wants to get into a rut, but for me, for many things, I need to do them the same way over and over again everyday for them to "work." Take writing for example. When I first started writing, when it was a hobby, and something I didn't really believe I could do, I only wrote sporadically. I only wrote when I was inspired. Writing was mostly fun, but I didn't revise most of what I wrote, and none of it was ever really good, though some of it was promising. When I finally was hit with a burning desire to really write, to try to write something worth having written, I decided to see what all the fuss was about writing every day, the BIC (butt-in-chair) method. It's much harder, in a way. There are many days I don't feel "inspired" and I sit at much computer feeling as though it takes a monumental effort to type each word. But lately I've noticed that these days happen more often if I'm not writing every day. Even if I write only one paragraph, it's still easier to sit down the next day to write another paragraph than if I hadn't. It's a habit. I know I'm not the first person to make this observation, and I didn't even make it for myself. I've certainly heard others talk about it before I felt it. But some things are like that. You can hear them over and over, but then one day you live them, and it means something completely different.
I've been writing a lot lately, which is a good thing, but it means less blogging, unfortunately. There are only so many hours in my day allotted to writing, and I use them all for writing books. :) Blogging usually has to come from life time. (I have two lives, writing life and life life.) But life life is filled with kids and house and friends and laundry. Although that's probably the wrong order. Laundry always seems to take up so much more time that it should.
But I've been thinking about blogging a lot lately, about what this blog should be and this post is an attempt to regain focus. The purple desk was always supposed to be a place full of thoughts on creativity. (Different, I suppose, from creative thoughts.) So, I wanted to tell you about this great new book I'm reading perfect for all creative types. The Creative Habit, by Twyla Tharp. Maybe you've already read it. But if no, I highly recommend. I'm not even all the way finished with it yet, but it's made such a change in my writing life. (See? It's real.)
She talks a lot about the importance of routine and ritual in making your creativity habitual and not simply something you do once every second Tuesday when you feel the impulse and your toenails are already polished. And it works! I've signigicantly decreased the amount of puttering and procrastination that happens in writing life and have written so much above my typical output this week. Yay!
My ritual is this: 1. Make cup of tea. 2. Set Zen Timer. 3. Open Document. 4. Start timer. 5. Write.
Often times I don't even drink the tea, but it gets me started so it's worth the sacrifice of all those little tea bag lives. :)
A big huge thank you to the fantastic Barbara O'Connor because her blog introduced me to The Creative Habit.
I spent the week in Knoxville, TN last week. Not for anything writing related, but definitely for something creativity related. I took my daughter (and her team of six seventh-graders) to compete in the Global Finals of Destination Imagination. Destination Imagination is hard to describe. It's a creative problem solving competition. It's a place where smart/creative kids can be as smart and creative as they want without ever having to feel like they should hold back.
I don't know about you, but somewhere along the lines in my life I internalized the hold back message. Be smart, but not too smart. Be successful, but not too successful. We don't want to make other people feel bad about themselves. I remember many times growing up being told not to do something as well as I could have because of how it would reflect on others around me who couldn't. Now I'm not saying I'm so great either. I'm sure there are plenty of people who can do plenty of things better than me. All I'm saying is that they should be able to. How I handle it is up to me. It's not the other person's responsiblity to dumb themselves down to make me feel better.
Here, I'll bring it around to writing. When I read a book that is better than what I can write it might make me feel a little jealous or wistful, but I don't think, "This shouldn't have been published because it's making all of us lesser writers feel bad." It's an inspiration. I want to get that good. If we never see what greatness is, how will we ever aspire to it?
You know how many kids were at Global Finals? 12,000. And that's just a small portion of the number of kids who competed throughout the year. How great to know that that many people in the next generation are growing up knowing they should work to their full potential.
If you are interested in this topic, I recommend the book The Big Leap. It's about several things that can hold us back from success, but this holding back is a big one.