On September 14th, we reconvened for what we affectionately dubbed the “Back To School Schmooze” where we discussed: LOVED ONES, CIVILIANS AND INNOCENT BYSTANDERS: HOW TO GET RID OF THEM (and other distractions). There were about 40 Schmoozers in attendance (Karol meant take an actual headcount, but she got distracted. As for Charlie, he’s too afraid of lynch mobs to ever count crowds).
The evening started with first-(and possibly last)-time attendee, Kayto Silverfish (we’re pretty sure that’s not her real name) demanding that Charlie and Karol make good on their promise to solve ALL her life problems and address EVERY question she has about the writer's life. Charlie explained that this was merely the co-coordinators’ bait and switch – luring Schmoozers in to solve all of his and Karol’s life problems and answer every question they have about the writer’s life. Kayto stormed out (not really but we thought we’d milk this gag for everything it’s worth) and the rest of you Schmoozers came through with flying colors!
While you may not have actually answered ALL our life problems (for instance, why doesn’t the world think Wally Shawn types are sexy?) you certainly came up with a boatload of great ideas and super resources to help us avoid distractions and get our work done. More on this in a moment, but first…
A Mini-Recap of the fabulous SCBWI National Summer Conference!
Before we got to our main topic, we checked in with a small handful of people about their favorite speaker or experience from the summer conference, just to get a taste of it. Much more info can be found in the SCBWI Team Blog (which is both amazing and searchable!) (LINK), but here’s what we learned:
Karol spoke about Donna Jo Napoli’s keynote speech: “How Writing About Terrible Things Makes Your Reader A Better Person.” Since Karol’s writing a YA novel about a kid to whom terrible things happen, she hung onto Donna Jo’s every word. She especially appreciated hearing her say, “Chances are someone needs to read the book you need to write.”
Marilyn Cohon followed with a valiant attempt at describing the awesomeness that was Gary Paulsen's keynote, "A Writer's Upside-Down Life," summarizing how the simple kindness of a librarian offering him a library card (with his last name spelled correctly) launched the rescue from his wretched childhood, pretty much saving his life. Gary's speech was brutally honest, hysterically funny, and slyly subversive. What left the biggest impression on Marilyn was how utterly authentic he was and how that links to his books which have likely empowered many other troubled young lives.
Laurie Young talked about Libba Bray, doing her best to describe Libba’s indescribably funny latest novel, BEAUTY QUEENS, and her quirky sensibilities in general. The biggest gem for Laurie was Libba’s Survivor metaphor, warning against trying for perfection: “Perfect” wants to vote you off the island. “Better” wants to make an alliance.
Jeff Cox's highlight was the manuscript critique. He was super excited to have been assigned to Ellen Hopkins, author of several edgy and powerful YA novels (CRANK, TRICKS and the just released, adult novel, PERFECT). He found her notes and advice to be incredibly valuable. The thought and care Ellen put into his critique really blew him away.
Lupe Fernandez, one of four writers who make up the Pen And Ink Blog, showed off (and handed out) some nifty promotional bookmarks and pens that he and his blog-mates gave out at Friday night’s wine and cheese reception to celebrate published SCBWI members.
As an added fun perk, Lupe also hipped us to this hilarious video they made, featuring kid-lit luminaries reciting the alphabet. (Don’t ask; just click!)
One Schmoozer raved about the Illustrator’s Intensive day. The high point for her was the illustrator demonstrations, with the illustrators creating artwork right there in front of captivated conference attendees. Thank God no one asks writers to do that!
In a perfect example of Conference Serendipity, another Schmoozer told how she and some friends came to have a surprise, two-hour lunch with Rukhsana Kahn, winner of the Golden Kite for Big Red Lollipop. Fortunately, they managed to keep their jaws off the ground long enough not to slobber on their clothes.
We wrapped up the recap with Rita Crayon Huang imparting a few of her favorite conference moments: Judy Blume (whom Greg Pincus was giddy to learn is one of his twitter followers) describing how trapped she felt before she began writing, so much so that she suffered from many exotic illnesses, all of which cleared up once she let her inner-artist out. (Laurie Halse Anderson reported the same phenomenon – so it’s official! NOT writing is bad for your health!) Also leaving a lasting impression on Rita was Bruce Coville, who recommended voice and acting lessons for writers and cautioned that we need to take ourselves seriously as business people – learn to read contracts and royalty statements people! (FYI – Rita’s blog has great pictures from the conference! Be sure to check them out.)
Loved Ones, Civilians, etc…
Obviously, we could have talked about the conference all night, but we didn’t want to get distracted from our main topic: distractions. So we turned out attention back to the task at hand. Of course, Step One is always admitting you have a problem, right? So we did an exercise – list your top 3 to 5 distractions and possible ways to eliminate or lessen them. In a matter of moments we were all insulting our children.
Charlie told a story about Kathleen Duey’s call to arms at a previous conference, “This is the year we tell them that when they knock on our office door to ask if we know where their socks are, they’ve just cost us a day’s work.”
Charlie was so inspired by this that he marched home and did exactly that, explaining the situation to his teenage son. Unfortunately, this did not lead to a reduction in interruptions, but rather, added a mocking preface to them: “Are you in the zone? I know you don’t want me bothering you when you’re in the zone!”
Lee Wind joked that school is not to educate, it’s to get kids out of the house so we can write.
One of our Schmooze Moms shared a magical phrase she discovered to combat familial interruption: “Can I think about it?” Others quickly offered variations: “Can it wait?”, and the infinitely-helpful, “Can you take care of that?” This one seemed to be a crowd favorite, though results are still being compiled as to its actual success rate.
Yet another Schmooze Mom spoke thrillingly about teaching herself not to care: “Let that towel stay on the floor, let things stay a mess. Let it all GO.” She described her own emotional struggle with caring, and how she finally learn to STOP. It was very inspiring and had the whole room nodding in approval.
For spouses, we suggested giving them the following hand-outs to read:
Having fully eviscerated our kids and spouses, we moved on to other distractions starting with the usual suspects: day jobs, errands, and Facebook—the longest cup of coffee…ever, before moving on to some more obscure (and possibly deeper) problems:
General Worry & Doubt
The number of people hoping to get published vs. the number of people who DO get published can be daunting. As well, money worries and putting the weight of income on the work can pretty much paralyze anyone: “If I don’t place this comma correctly it could RUIN us!”
Having TOO MUCH Time On Your Hands
This one was surprising even for your co-coordinators, but pretty much everyone agreed that too much free time can be counterproductive. Busier people have to squeeze in precious writing time here and there, whereas the non-busy can always justify putting writing off until a “later time” – which never ends up coming. It was good news to those of us with day jobs and those whose spouses insist they need to get one now. It may INCREASE our productivity!
So here they are: the ideas you all came up with to solve all our problems. Of course, there’s a plethora of “distraction-busting ideas for writers” available online as well.
Much of the suggestions we had fell into a few categories:
Create the Optimum Work Space
- Find a writing spot that works for you. This could be in your home or elsewhere. Make sure you have a comfortable chair and good lighting.
- Keep your workspace neat & tidy. Not only is a messy desk distracting, you run the risk of being tempted to stop writing & start straightening. Here is an example of what your desk SHOULD NOT look like:
- Design your space to support you As A Writer, not make you feel like a schmuck with a hobby. Take yourself seriously as an artist and set up a sacred space that is just for this purpose. To inspire you, here are some famous writers’ off the grid spaces:
Alas, we can’t all be as lucky as Laurie Halse Anderson!
Schedule Your Writing Sessions
- Figure out when your most productive writing time is (morning? evening?) and try to write during those times. For most of us, a regular schedule works better than a catch as catch can approach.
- Use a timer. Decide how long you intend to (or are able to) write for and stick to that. Don’t set up unreal expectations or beat yourself up for not writing longer; the idea is to write often and to set goals you can meet.
- Communicate with your family, roommates, boss, etc. when you’ll be writing and, just as importantly, when you’ll be free. That way they’ll know they can count on seeing you later, and will be more likely to leave you alone now. Of course, this only works if you do what you say.
- Write when you can. Sometimes, catch as catch can is all you can catch. And, sometimes, that’s just fine. Allow yourself to live an adult life and take care of business when business needs taking care of. But try to fit in some writing, just to keep the muscles from atrophying.
Block Out Distractions
- Turn off all media. Yes, ALL. Yes, that too. Shut off/unplug your phones. All of ‘em. That editor who wants to offer you a huge contract can leave a message! Disconnect your Internet. Try to do your research in advance so you aren’t tempted. We all know how easy it is to click on Facebook, “just for a second” and lose an entire day. For the weak amongst us, there are programs available (Freedom) or websites (Stay Focused for Google Chrome) that will block out the internet, and even one that blocks out everything on your screen but a blank page and a cursor (Dark Room).
- Try earplugs if you write in a noisy environment.
- Some writers like to listen to music as they write. This has the advantage of totally blocking out your kid knocking on your door to ask you, “Are you in the ZONE?!” or to tell you there’s a fire in the kitchen.
- Sneaky trick: For those who can’t write with music blasting in your ears, use earphones that are unplugged, to make the kid think you’re listening to music. After a few failed attempts, he’ll walk away and call 911 himself. Success!
Once you’ve instituted these handy suggestions, Schmoozers agreed that finding a way to hold yourself accountable is invaluable. Suggestions for doing that included:
- Have a writing buddy to whom you report your progress. This is different from a critique friend. This buddy doesn’t have to read anything. They just ask you what you got done each day/week/whatever, and you return the favor by asking them the same obnoxious question.
- Reward yourself for writing accomplishments and milestones (although it was suggested that you pick a reward that doesn’t stress your wallet or waistline). On the other hand, how much could a single chocolate chip cookie per page hurt you?
- Using colorful charts to record your progress. Karol does this and the result not only helps her to stay on schedule but it truly delights her often-grumpy inner-child.
Still worried about distractions? Still not ready to get down to work? What IS your problem?! OK, as promised, here’s…
CHARLIE AND KAROL’S NIFTY LIST OF RESOURCES
Writing Through The Distractions of...Mothering
How to Write Without Distractions
Tips and Tricks for Distraction free Writing
The Guilt Ridden Writer’s confession
The Frazzled Writer: 5 strategies for alleviating the guilt
That pretty much sums up all the helpful hints we remember (please feel free to add things we forgot in the comments below). It was GREAT to be back in the swing of things and reconnect/recommit following our Summer Vacation.
Check the calendar at SCBWI So Cal for all the upcoming Schmooze topics, starting with BLOOD ON THE PAGE: How to get that ineffable quality, that juice, that pizzazz, that… blood on the page.
Looking forward to seeing everyone on Wednesday October 14th!
Keep passing the open windows,
Charlie & Karol