Jeanne: Writing through Coronabrain

Digital illustration of macro Covid-19 cells floating over a human brain and a web of connection. Coronavirus Covid-19 pandemic concept digital compositeWhen I was a child, my mother sent me to the local YWCA for swimming lessons. Although I took lessons for what I remember as an entire winter, I never really mastered the art of moving horizontally through water.

There were two issues I couldn’t seem to overcome:

  1. I never got to where I could put my face in the water and turn my head for breath every few strokes. Putting my face in the water engendered a feeling of panic I could never conquer–not even after spending a week faithfully practicing dunking my face in the tub when I took my bath each night.
  2. The frustration that came from furiously flailing my skinny little arms and legs until the whistle blew, only to discover that I hadn’t progressed forward to any appreciable degree, left me unenthusiastic about continuing.

Lately, I’ve had much the same feeling when I sit down to work on my manuscript. I work away industriously, face in the water for what feels like hours, only to surface and find that I’m still in the same spot I was when I jumped in (though without that gasping sense of panic that I can’t breathe, so that’s good).

Part of that is the Coronabrain mentioned in the title of this post–difficulties in focusing brought on by the stress of living through (and watching my kids and other loved ones struggle through) a global public health crisis whose long-term impacts are impossible to predict and there are no guarantees we’ll all make it out alive and solvent.

But with cases back on the rise and no relief in the near-term future, it feels like it’s time to figure out how to propel myself forward, despite the situation.

One of the problems is that I’ve let myself wander away from my trusty schedule of writing from eight to noon. I’ve been staying up later at nights and therefore getting up later in the morning, making it difficult to work out, shower and breakfast before eight a.m. And since I am not at my desk by eight, I go ahead and prioritize other things (grocery shopping, laundry, cleaning) ahead of writing.

This week I’m going to try to return to my schedule, putting writing at the top of my list again. I’m going to try giving myself a reward (watching an episode of Gilmore Girls, which I recently discovered on Netflix and LOVE) each day that I complete one thousand words. So we’ll see how that goes.

If you’re having any luck with productivity, what magic spell are you casting?

Elizabeth: From To Do to Done

After weeks of sheltering-at-home (84 days, but who’s counting), working remotely has taken on a relatively normal work-like feel.  Although I don’t have a broad expanse of industrial desk to spread my work things out on, an ergonomically adjustable chair to sit in, or a lakeside view to gaze out upon, I have the basic necessities:  a computer, a box of files and reference books, a ledger-sized calendar, and on-demand access to a kitchen with all the coffee I can drink (which is a lot).

The calendar spent the first few weeks . .  okay, months . . . in the box with the files and reference books, but when I started losing track of days and booting up the work computer on weekends, I decided it was time to pull out the calendar and put it back to use.

Around the same time, I started rummaging around in the box of files and reference books and pulled out a file folder that had all of the random scraps of paper, notes, and post-its that I had packed up from my desk before leaving back in early March, along with pages from notebooks that (theoretically) had something on them that I either needed to do or to remember.

I figured I should do something with those too.  The shredder was my first thought, but it was full. Continue reading

Michaeline: Random Quarantine Thoughts

I just want to get a little writing done. Well, and about a hundred other things. (Image via Wikimedia Commons) Inu no Koku by Utamaro Kitagawa (1753-1806), translated The Hour of a Dog, a print of a traditional Japanese woman writing on a long scroll and talking to a servant or an apprentice behind her. Digitally enhanced from our own original edition.

Brian Eno News Twitter (not the real Brian Eno, apparently) posts a random artistic strategy* nearly every day, and the one I saw today was: Disciplined self-indulgence. Well, I don’t do “disciplined” very well, but when I make an effort, my self-indulgence is off the charts, so here it goes.

So, first: a bit of news. Hokkaido’s state of emergency ran from February 28 until March 19, which means that as of Friday (a public holiday celebrating the equinox), we are free from government requests to stay inside.

 To tell the truth, though, I didn’t feel very much of a difference, because despite my best efforts, I’ve managed to get a sore throat. So, aside from work and a trip to the grocery store to stock up for the three-day weekend, I wasn’t out and about to feel the celebratory mood.

I’d say the crowd at the grocery store was slightly busier than usual, and I saw more Continue reading

Jeanne: Hidden Factories

industrial buildingsRecently, we had a conversation on one of my author loops on applying Six Sigma/Lean Manufacturing techniques to writing. Apparently some guru will soon be teaching a class on using Kanban boards to increase author efficiency.

One of the Six Sigma terms I remember from my training back when I worked in the manufacturing sector was “hidden factories”—process steps that take time and resources but don’t add value as defined by the customer. For example, let’s say you have a coffee shop that puts a little paper doily on each saucer before placing the baked good on the plate. If the customer (not the waiter, not the baker, not the store owner) doesn’t perceive that doily as adding value to his bearclaw, that step is a hidden factory.

So how would the concept of hidden factories apply to writing? I’m just riffing but here are some things that authors put a lot of time into that don’t necessarily improve the quality of the book from the readers’ perspective:

  1. In depth research into careers/jobs held by characters.

This is definitely one of the reasons why it takes me so long to write a book. In The Demon’s in the Details, the protagonist was a painter. Since I’m not even a tiny bit artistic, or even crafty, I had no clue how artists view the world. She was, specifically, a muralist, and I didn’t know how artists go about painting murals. Continue reading

Nancy: Because Every Story Is a Special Snowflake

Writers love to talk about writing processes. We’re pantsers, or plotters, or ultra-plotters. We follow the hero’s journey, or Lisa Cron’s story genius method, or the snowflake method (no, seriously!), or one of a thousand either guru-inspired approaches. We write chronologically. Or out of order. Or by writing all the turning points first and filling in the interstitial spaces after that. We swear by writing every day, or binge-write a few times a week or a month.

By the time we’ve spent a few years on this journey and gotten a few completed stories under our belts, most of us have discovered our own process, our unique mix story theory and project organization and time management that ultimately results in a book. And once we understand our own approach, we learn to rely on it to get us through the next story deadline, and the one after that, and…you get the idea. And that can be a wonderful thing. It’s a well-worn path that becomes a shortcut to our creativity. An annotated roadmap to get us from nascent idea rattling around inside our bizarre writer brains to full-fledged story ready to go out into the world. A comforting guide to get us through the rough spots.

Until it stops working.

While every book requires tweaks and adjustments to our approach, every now and then there’s a book that so special (yes, that’s a euphemism for PITA) that we have to throw our trusty process right out the window. And so that’s where I find myself today, with the next installment in the Harrow’s Finest Five series, Harry and Adelia’s love story.

If this ever happens to you in your creative journey–and odds are, it will–it’s important to remember it’s normal, it’s surmountable, and it’s probably even good for you. After all, what good is creativity if it’s easy and stagnant and follows that same stupid rut-filled path every time, anyway? And in case you do ever hit that wall, I’ll tell you the same thing my wise writing friends have been telling me: Continue reading

Kay: Writing Retreats

This is the home of authors Stephen and Tabitha King in Bangor, Maine. (AP Photo/Robert F. Bukaty, File)

Now that we are in the month of NaNo, many of us are hunkered down, grinding out a daily 1,667 words letting our imaginations take flight in a concentrated, one-month writing extravaganza.

You can maybe tell this is not my thing.

However, I am deeply attracted to the idea of a writers retreat, where people can go and maybe write or maybe just cogitate or brainstorm. I like the idea of getting away from daily life, a healthy disruption that removes us from our routines and can jar those neurons into bouncing in new directions.

So here’s a retreat I’d like to try: Continue reading

Jeanne: Processing My Process

idea-2123972_640Last week I finished plotting out The Demon Wore Stilettos, the third book in my Touched by a Demon series.  In case you haven’t been following my progress with bated breath, I set this book aside in January after discovering I’d written myself into a corner.

(Note: when you create characters who cannot lie, be very careful about the situations you put them in. Being unable to tell a convenient fib may work well in Heaven, but it’s a major handicap on this messed-up planet.)

So I set it aside and started work on Book 4, The Demon Goes Hungry, and then set that aside to finish up Girl’s Best Friend, my contemporary that had been sitting in a virtual drawer for a couple of years.

Last week, after sending Girl’s Best Friend off to my editor, I reread what I had done on The Demon Wore Stilettos (approximately 150 pages) and realized it wasn’t terrible. I backed up to the point where I was no longer walled into a cul-de-sac, rewrote a couple of scenes, and I was good to go.

Then I spent the rest of the week thinking. My goal was to lay out the rest of the book, ensuring the events fit together with causal links, and to make sure I had things in the right order. I went for long walks in the crisp autumn air, taking notes on my phone as I solved various issues or had ideas about things that needed to happen. It all went splendidly, with ideas exploding in my head like so many Guy Fawkes firecrackers. 

My question is: why couldn’t I do this ten months ago? Continue reading

Justine: Avoiding Procrastination

What am I waiting for?I had originally intended today’s post (which is late…note the procrastination topic above) to be about another copy editing challenge you can overcome (here’s my last one on apostrophes), but this article caught my eye:

Procrastination is an Emotional Problem

Wait, what? All my life, my mother has hammered into me that procrastination is a time-management problem, and this article is suggesting otherwise?

I dove in and started reading. Because procrastination isn’t just a problem for me. It’s a skill I’ve unwittingly mastered. And I blame my procrastination on everything from attention deficit disorder to my two kids (I know, unfair, right?) to just plain having too much to do.

But it turns out, based on research, that procrastination is tied to your emotions. Continue reading

Nancy: Post-Book Blues

A few weeks ago, I finished the complete draft of my Victorian romance that will come out this fall. It’s a bit more than a first draft, having already been through first-round revisions along the way, but it was “the end for now,” and my coach asked me what I was doing to celebrate. Around the same time, I was answering a series of interview questions, and one of them was, “How do you celebrate when you finish writing a book?”

I didn’t have an answer for either of them.

The truth is, I don’t celebrate the end of a stage of the creative process so much as mourn it. And curling up in a blanket on the sofa, rewatching episodes of Dead to Me and Santa Clarita Diet, staring at the pile of TBR books I’ve been so anxious to read but now don’t have the energy to tackle, probably isn’t the answer they want to hear.

Taking Comfort in Community

As it turns out, the post-creativity slump isn’t all that unusual. When interviewed for an article on the Fast Company website, film writer/director Jeffery Lando talked about having post-movie depression. He captured one of the elements of my own creative journey. Continue reading

Justine: Tricks to Help You Focus

Depressed man with worried desperate stressed expression and brain melting into linesI have attention deficit disorder. I’ve had it my entire life, and because of a heart condition, I can’t take medication for it. ADD makes staying focused one any one task for a long period of time very difficult (unless I’m really excited about the task — like reading a book from my favorite author).

In the past, I’ve tried setting goals in order for me to get my writing done. But word count goals didn’t work for me, especially when I was editing. Did I really write 1,000 words? No idea…too much cutting/pasting/adding. Plus, there were some days Continue reading