Kay: Are You Getting Enough? Sleep, That Is

Lots of times when I have a problem in my story, I can go to bed and wake up the next day with a solution. “Sleeping on it” isn’t just for decision making any more!

As we all know, sleep affects us in many ways, from our energy and moods to our brain development. We’re told we’ll be happier, thinner, and healthier if we get enough regular sleep. (Plus maybe richer and better looking. I can hope.)

I recently ran across a blog post that made a stab at correlating the sleep habits of famous writers to their level of productivity. The blogger makes no claims to causality—data was hard to find and hard to quantify, many factors in a writer’s life affect output, and the analysis is subject to an enormous degree of subjectivity—but the results are fun, if not scientific.

The data set consisted of 37 writers for whom wake-up times were available. Productivity was measured by the number of published works and major awards an author received. The duration and era of an author’s life were acknowledged variables.

Overall, with the exception of outliers such as Ray Bradbury and Stephen King, who are both prolific and award-winning, late risers seem to produce more works but win fewer awards than early birds.

Click to see all 37 authors, their wake-up times, and their literary productivity, depicted as colored “auras” for major awards and teeny bars for number of works published. The writers are organized from earliest to latest wake-up times, beginning with Balzac’s 1am and ending with Bukowski’s noon. I’m with most of the crowd in the 8am–9am range.

It’s always fun to see how the greats worked, but it’s good to remember that no specific routine guarantees success. It’s just important to have a routine, to show up and work most days. That’s how the books get written.

Check out the full blog post and graphic. Where do you fit in?

 

Kay: I Finished the Book!

I finished the book.

Last Friday I typed “The End” on book two of a three-book trilogy about Phoebe’s adventures in romance-land. It’s been a haul for sure, starting with book 1, which I started before the McDaniel class in 2012, and didn’t progress much or at all in 2012 because of class, 2013 because of poor health, and 2015 because of family issues.

But now book 2 is finished. It still needs revisions—the last chapter in particular, which I thought I’d have to rewrite completely, but perhaps all I have to do is cut the last 1,000 words. I want to conflate two of my characters, that will take some thought. And there’s still the beta reads to go. Still, it’s all done but the shouting, as we’d say back in the Midwest.

Sometimes I think it’s a miracle that I ever got this far with it. Continue reading

Nancy: First Monday Accountability Thread

“Obstacles are those frightful things you see when you take your eyes off your goal.” ~ Henry Ford

Welcome to the First Monday Accountability Thread, a new feature here on the 8LW blog. The first Monday of each month, we’ll invite you to share your plans and goals for the upcoming month. As this is a writing blog, of course there will be lots of focus on creative and writing goals, but feel free to share other important life goals as well. Training for a 5k, learning to crochet, reading a book a day? Tell us about whatever it is you hope to achieve by June 30, 2017.

You can pop into the comments on this post any time throughout the month to share your progress or ask for encouragement. And be sure to come back the first Monday in July to report your progress!

To get the ball rolling, here are my top goals for the month.

1) Submit Act I of Take the Money and Run to my writing coach, address her feedback, and prepare to write Act II (in July).

2) Finish the second ginormous revision (yes, that’s a technical term) of my Victorian Romance novella (which got a major overhaul based on excellent critique feedback as well as lessons learned in my Story Genius master class) and submit to final beta readers.

3) Read two books per week, every week.

4) Sign up for ongoing Krav Maga classes to work toward my yellow belt.

See how easy that was? Now it’s your turn. Tell us your plans for June 2017. How will you keep your eyes on your goals and avoid those pesky obstacles this month?

Nancy: Is It Time to Kick Some Habits?

Humans are creatures of habit, and for good reason. Habits lead to predictability, which lends itself well to things like safety and survival. And as brain science and writing gurus have told us, engaging in habits surrounding creativity can boost our productivity. We’ve talked about writing habits, rituals, and routines a lot on this very blog.

But what happens when those habits become necessities, when we can’t write or create or function without them? Is it possible for writing habits to become too precious?

Sometimes life throws us out of our routines. Family emergencies, summer vacations, or business travel intrude on our plans for long hours of solitary writing time. Sure, we can abandon our writing until things go back to normal. But what if there’s a looming deadline, or the break will throw you out of your story at a critical creative juncture? Or, horror of horrors, what if things never go back to ‘normal’?

When it comes to attachment to habits, I know whereof I speak. I love my morning rituals, my writing routines, my writing spot, my editing desk, and schedules and timers to keep it all moving along. But I’m going to have some routine-shattering events coming up this summer, along with deadlines on multiple stories, which means it’s time to get over myself and my ‘must-have’ habits. 

I’ve decided to approach this like an athletic challenge. First, I’ll set up the end goal. Then I’ll set up a training schedule to meet it, and start working up to the challenge day by day, week by week. In case you need to train for a similar event, please to enjoy my training approach and adapt for your own nefarious purposes.

The Challenge: Write outside my comfort zone, achieving 5000+ words and multiple chapter edits weekly while traveling with family and friends Continue reading

Kay: Ode to Critique Groups

This week I met with my critique group, Beth and Patricia. We usually meet monthly at somebody’s house, although lately we’ve hit it big at a Mexican restaurant with a waitress we love, who listens only to audio books and prefers science fiction. This meeting was fun and productive, as it always is. Beth, as always, said about my section, “It needs more emotion! I want to know how she feels!” And Patricia said, as she usually does, “This part just doesn’t make sense.”

I love it when that happens.

I’ve met with Beth and Patricia for the longest time—years and years—but even my newest beta readers are godsends. Every one has flawlessly pointed out the weaknesses in my work—the overwriting, inconsistencies, confusing passages, and character or emotional underachieving. They’ve done so with humor and kindness, intelligence and bravery, and I’m more grateful to them than I can say. Continue reading

Nancy: Can Creativity Be Scheduled?

Week 1 of My 12-Week Year Creativity Schedule. I might have gotten a little carried away…Note that I did not schedule transition time between major activities. Or  lunch time.

There many, many schools of thought regarding creativity, grasshopper. Looking specifically at writing, there are pantsers and plotters, planners and wingers, outline enthusiasts, outline eschewers, thumbnail sketch makers, muse-seeking free spirits, spreadsheet weirdos (raises hand). It seems creativity refuses to be contained. You can’t put creativity in a corner!

But can you put creativity in a time block on a calendar?

Ever willing to be a cautionary tale, I threw myself on the sword of research with an intense productivity system, called the 12-Week Year, so I can report my findings. For more information about this system and how to implement it, there are books, courses, and seminars. Boiling it down for you, the idea is based on data that suggest companies (and individual employees), when aligning to their annual plans, see a burst of productivity and forward progress during the last three months of their fiscal years. Why? Continue reading

Nancy: How Story Shapes Our Brains

How long did the last fiction book you finished stick with you? What about the romance or mystery or classic you read over and over again as a teen? How about the books your parents read to you before you were old enough to read on your own? Turns out, the fiction we read might just be making us more engaged, empathetic humans according to researchers studying the brain through magnetic resonance imaging (MRI). We’ve known this for a while now.

In a New York Times article published more than five years ago, Annie Murphy Paul reported: “The brain, it seems, does not make much of a distinction between reading about an experience and encountering it in real life; in each case, the same neurological regions are stimulated…Indeed, in one respect novels go beyond simulating reality to give readers an experience unavailable off the page: the opportunity to enter fully into other people’s thoughts and feelings.” Wow, heady stuff, you authors out there.

I’ve been pondering the power of story a lot lately as I’ve realized just how many of my foundational beliefs have their roots in Dr. Seuss stories. Continue reading