Tuesday, July 20, 2010

Writers at Work: A Reality Show?

This is a Rerun from February, 2010. I got enough comments on it that I thought it was worth running again here in Rerun Month. I also thought it would be good for me to read it again. As my husband quotes (about all kinds of things, certainly applies to perfecting the writing life), Snail, slowly, slowly, climb up Fuji Mountain.

Last Friday on my own blog (yes my own blog) I wrote a post about writing through fear. I talked about Charles Darwin and how he worked and wrote through fear. How we all do. I wrote about my husband waking up every morning for at least a year and writing through fear. I wrote that he was sending the galleys for his book back that very day. Then on Twitter (yes, on Twitter) I tweeted that the messenger had come fifteen minutes early and my husband, needing every nanosecond he could get, had sent the messenger away and asked him to come back at the appointed time. My husband then moved his butt and his galleys down to the lobby of our building and worked on a bench down there to get in every change he could before that book was pried from his hands. I manged to say this in 140 characters or less, by the way:

messenger came for galleys early. husband chased him away. now he's in the lobby working!.

Someone tweeted back: lol! that's hilarious!!! i can just see the reality tv series-I'm serious!!!

And it got me thinking. What would a reality TV series about writers look like. Pretty awful, right? I quickly tweeted her back:

who would watch a reality tv series about writers? maybe only other writers & shrinks.

Wouldn't it be incredibly boring and annoying? The camera sweeps the room: it is littered with books and papers and old coffee cups and plates of apple cores and crusts. You hear click click click and sigh sigh sigh and groan groan groan. The camera comes to a stop and focuses in on a writer at desk. <> (A friend on deadline recently confessed to me that she hasn't showered in days. NOT someone on I.N.K.). Holy cow. Is that really what we look like when we're writing? YUP. Not very appealing is it?

Not very interesting, either, is it? At least in the old days you could show a writer tearing a piece of paper out of the typewriter, crumpling it up and throwing it into an already overflowing trash can. Now you'd just see the writer hitting delete. And delete. And delete.

But without the dirty visuals, isn't that sort of what we're doing here? We're giving others an inside view of the writing life. And I hope we're doing it in a way that is helpful, fun, educational, and interesting. I know I find other people's posts very interesting.

The other day Barbara Kerley whined about her deadline. (She took at least one shower, I happen to know.) Susan Goodman shared with us the pleasure of writing a book and the pain of when it goes out of print. We've all shared the ins and outs of writing and research, and will continue to do so.
I.N.K.: The Reality Show. You heard it here first.

But I'm going to let you in on a little secret: if there
were a reality show about writers, guess what we'd all be watching it for? Time management tips! We all struggle desperately with questions of time management. When writers get together, that's what we talk about. WHEN do you write? WHEN do you answer emails? WHERE do you do your best uninterrupted writing? HOW MUCH TIME do you give each day to email, twitter, blogging, research, speaking engagements, personal hygiene, cooking, child rearing, sleep, your other job if you have one....

It's advice we're all desperate for. But I have a feeling if there were a reality show about writers we would probably get a picture of what you should not do, rather than what you should do. Do what I say, not what I do, folks.

Herewith are some tips I am going to give you. I am NOT going to tell you how successful I am at following my own tips. For that, I'm going to need some Big Bucks and my own line of sweatpants. (Though I will say I was pretty faithful with number 1 most of the time.)

1.The Bubble: When I was writing CHARLES AND EMMA, and I was on a tight deadline, I went into the BUBBLE every day. That meant that from 8:00 am to noon or 1:00 I did not answer email or the phone (cell or land line). Period. I told my nearest and dearest that they should not call me unless they were bleeding profusely and there was no tourniquet nearby. And they had called everyone else. This worked, mostly. Except for one person, who shall remain nameless, but is my sister, and the only one I have, who would call and of course I would pick up because Something Must Be Terribly Wrong, and she would say, "I can't remember, is it morning that I'm not supposed to call you or morning that I AM supposed to call you?" I'll jump to the ending: I got the book done and we are still sisters. But seriously, the BUBBLE is a great idea if you can do it.

2.Be proactive. My friend the great Elizabeth Partridge, author of amazing non-fiction books for kids, including the new and phenomenal Marching For Freedom, gave me a hugely helpful piece of advice the other day. She said, "Make your to-do list in the morning BEFORE you turn on your computer." My reaction: "You turn OFF your computer?!" Since she told me that, I have turned off my computer every night, and made my to-do list before turning it on. That has helped me be more proactive rather than reactive. Which is one of my goals in this time management area.

3. Divide your day. Susan Campbell Bartoletti, author of groundbreaking nonfiction books for kids, including the daring Hitler Youth, divides her days into chunks of time. She told me that her
day is mostly a chunk for research (early morning), a chunk for writing (late morning and afternoon), a chunk for research and writing (after supper). A couple of times a week she takes a chunk for business stuff like speaking etc. And she spends every Monday watching her grandbabies. While she is am with them, she works on things that she wouldn't do otherwise. Their morning nap and afternoon nap becomes her chunk for a picture book.(She also takes time to talk to friends, thank goodness.)

4. SET GOALS and write them down: long term and short term. (My guru for this is Laurie Halse Anderson.) If you have long term goals, they will filter down into your daily schedule, and give you less of a reason and opportunity to waste time. For example if I have a long-term goal of writing a book about the history of time management (or a proposal for a reality TV show), then instead of going on Facebook and checking to see if it's my move in any scrabble games when I have a lull, or need a break from my current projects, I might go to the library and check out Cheaper By the Dozen and reread that. Right? Right.

O.K. I'm going to stop with the tips now, as I have to pay my bills.

By the way, when my husband was in the lobby with his galleys, the super said in a stage whisper to the security guard, "I guess Deb has finally kicked him out." Jon told me this later, and that he wishes I had come down and taken a photo of him on the bench, surrounded by workmen, his galleys and notes spread out around him. Maybe this could be a reality show....

I think I'll go Tweet about this now. The bills can wait.


Anna M. Lewis said...

Fantastic post!

Great ideas to work by!

Susan Campbell said...

I love the idea of a reality show! Count me in!
--Susan, who wants to brag, er, she means add, that her grandbabies are 10 1/2-month-old twins, one of each, and so far they have not given her one idea for a new picture book, and so on Mondays she's hard at work on a story that she's had to think up herself

Unknown said...

Fantastic - I especially love the "bubble" - wish I could be in one right now!

Melissa Stewart said...

Thanks for the tips. We can never hear advice like this too often. It helps keep us on track, especially when a deadline looms.

nilki said...

Great tips! I'm glad my tweet played a roll in inspiring this post! That was fun, and now it's come around full circle, since now I have some new tips to work with plus I'm ecstatic to have found I.N.K.!

Just this morning I decided I was going to check emails & update SM sites in the first 1.5 hours of work, but now I've exceeded the time limit by 1 hour! I think the tip on writing your goals BEFORE turning firing up the laptop is key, and I, too, just recently learned to use the shut-down mode!! ;) BOL 2 U!

Carol Hinz said...

Great--and entertaining--post, Deborah! Editors struggle with time management too, and whenever I can create a "bubble" and focus completely on a single project, the work goes much more smoothly.

Gretchen Woelfle said...

I couldn't possibly do all those good things you recommend, but I DO write monthly writing goals. (At first I'd plan 5x more than I could ever accomplish. Now I'm more reasonable.) To keep me honest I send them to my writing group at the beginning of the month, and report back at the end of the month, as in DONE, IN PROGRESS, NOT EVEN STARTED. Bubbles, goals. they are all just gimmicks to trick us into keeping butt in chair. whatever works.....

CC said...

If you are gonna have a reality show for writers, than I demand one for Illustrators (and their shrinks) as well! We are like Ginger Rogers, we work every bit as hard as the writers....but we do it backwards and in high heels! ;-)

Great article, Deb.

OOXXOO, Carolyn C.

Barbara Kerley said...

If we are going to be in a reality show, I'm going to need a new wardrobe. Just sayin.

Susan E. Goodman said...

I don't know if it's too late for people to be reading comments, but Elizabeth Bluemle, one of the PW bloggers just wrote about a hilarious (and frightening) computer program to help writers keep working. Check it out: http://www.publishersweekly.com/blog/ShelfTalker_A_Children_s_Bookseller_s_Blog/30891-Write_or_Die_and_Freedom.php?nid=2286&source=link&rid=17224578

Meanwhile, let's all make a pact that if our reality show wins an Emmy, we go up to the podium in our work clothes--sweats and/or flannel bunny pajamas.