Wednesday, July 8, 2009

"A Few Friendly Take-Aways When Life Intervenes"

I offer a resounding Ibid!, not to mention a Thumbs Up, to the solutions and suggestions my fellow, oh-so-wise TeachingAuthors shared concerning Time Management these past two weeks. They answered Pam T.’s question, and then some.

Prioritize. Of course.
Focus. Absolutely.
Remove all distractions. That goes without saying.
I would also add, though: determine and honor your Modus Operandi.
Are you a morning writer, like I am, pouring out your words before the coffee’s finished brewing?
Or does your Muse prefer the evening, when everyone’s asleep?
Perhaps you use whatever Life gives you - i.e. your children’s school schedule or a non-working holiday?
Respecting your M.O., while parceling your day’s task into measured, doable pieces, maximizes your chance of doing your best work.

BUT, and this is an important BUT, almost as important as Jane Yolen’s Butt In Chair Rule: what’s a writer to do when he or she CAN’T do the above?
Say, when she’s asked to replace her son’s Room Mother on that day-away trip to that downstate dairy farm.
Or, when her basement floods from that once-in-a-century microburst.

(Lots of) experience has taught me well.

(1) I absolve myself – quickly - of any and all guilt.
Life happens, yes? And I’ll write about it someday!
Katherine Paterson wrote in Beyond the Gates of Excellence: “… the very persons who have taken away my time and space are those who have given me something to say.”

I throw Life’s Interruptions into My Writer’s Compost Heap, to steep and ferment for later use.
In (lots of) time, I’ll likely have a telling detail, a surprising plot point, a successful way into a character’s heartbreak.

(2) I take my work with me, metaphorically.
I select one particular measured writing task to backburner while I’m out and about.
Maybe the beginning, middle and end of a crucial scene that reveals my character’s emotional plotline.
Or a picture book’s refrain and how I might riff on it.
The names of people, places and things.
A character’s voice.
The focus of a blog post.
My brain continues to rise to the occasion which is why I always have a pen and notebook handy.

I place my senses on alert and use the situation.
For instance, riding my #151 CTA bus down Chicago’s Michigan Avenue, iPod-adorned though not tuned on or in, I listen to conversations, noting vocal rhythms and word choice, delivery and tone. I often imagine the faces of those speaking behind me.Visiting a school, I read the names on the lockers, view the artwork and assignments, check hair adornments and tee-shirt designs.
Relating such observations to my current project enriches my writing once I return to my desk.

I connect to my writing by listening to a song that sounds like the book I’m writing. Klezmer music accompanied me every where I went while I wrote my picture book Chicken Soup by Heart. One song in particular, the Eastern European riddle song "Tumbalalaika," captured my story’s essence. Indeed, its back-and-forth rhythms created my book’s shape.

I listened to Celine Dione’s “If That’s What It Takes” non-stop while writing my picture book Fancy That.
I wrote my middle grade novel The Confe$$ion$ and $ecret$ of Howard J. Fingerhut singing along to Patti Page’s "How Much Is That Doggie in the Window.”

A variation of the above is to create your character’s Play List, then listen to those songs wherever you go, or while engaged otherwise.
Trust me, trust me: this really works.

(3) Finally, I defer to Scarlett O’Hara’s wisdom:

“Tomorrow is another day.”

Once the sun rises, there I am again, pouring out my pages before my coffee’s finished brewing.

Writing Workout

It’s so very easy to beat ourselves up, to render our writer’s selves black and blue, simply by noting what we DIDN’T do, what we DIDN’T accomplish, what we DIDN’T realize.
Well, enough of that!

Affirm your Writer’s Self in your Writer’s Notebook, or in a file so named on your trusty computer.

(1) Note the day/date.
(2) List your Writer-related and/or Project-related Accomplishments, including, as I do, given the day:
  • talking a project out loud
  • brainstorming
  • researching a story and/or project
  • reading a children’s book (or two) that shares my book’s format
  • reading a children’s book (or two) that shares my book’s subject matter
  • visiting the library to check out the newest titles
  • listening to an author at a local bookstore
  • reading an editor’s or agent’s or writer’s relevant blog
  • listening to a relevant podcast
  • attending a conference – writing or otherwise
  • reading reviews (online or from hard copy)
  • meeting with my Writing Group
  • meeting with my local SCBWI Network
  • growing my list of Children’s Book World folks ripe to receive my newest book
  • creating a bibliography to accompany my newest book
  • preparing my author bio for a press release
  • updating my website
  • checking out a local author’s school visit
  • viewing an illustrator's exhibit
  • writing my blog’s weekly entry
Then (3) celebrate, (with chocolate preferably), the Writer’s Life we were lucky enough to live that day!


Barbara S. said...

Thanks for the suggestions. The bruises are fading!

Barbara Bietz said...


You are so wise. I will heed your advice and carry on guilt-free! Happy Writing to us all!

Barbara B