Friday, April 30, 2010

Multitasking and Achieving Your Dreams (plus a WIP excerpt)

I’ve been thinking about time management a lot lately, while watching TV*, spending time online and working on my zombie novel. Apparently all this multitasking seeped into my WIP,** in the form of my subconscious, telling me to get my BIC*** and concentrate on my writing. What’s the line from my WIP?
Unfortunately, things that you want to be real are usually dreams, and things that you hope are nightmares can turn out to be real.
Yep. Even the zombies are telling me I need to concentrate on one thing and work at it to make my dreams come true (otherwise they will only remain dreams and the nightmare will be reality). Not everyone would read the sentence and think it means more BIC time, however, I know how my Muse works. It’s telling me that if I don’t do what it wants, it will abandon me to my Evil Inner Editor, and I don’t want that. Seriously. My Evil Inner Editor is a shape-shifting demon that turns into what currently scares me. He uses that form to bash my ideas and writing skills, which turns me into a puddle of jelly. Nobody wants to be around a blob of jelly with eyes, especially when it’s mint jelly. [Shudder.]

Help, I've been turned into a mint jelly blob! Again.
Help, I've been turned into a mint jelly blob! Again.

Is multitasking always such a bad thing? No.****

When multitasking works:

If you’re multitasking and still getting your work done and spending quality time with your family, then congratulations, whatever you’re doing is working! (How do you make it all work?)

When multitasking doesn’t work:

If you’re unable to get your work done because you’re unable to concentrate, or if the only time you spend time with your family is when you’re ignoring them because you’re doing several other things at the same time, it might be a problem.

Tips for slowing down and single-tasking:

+ Concentrate on one thing at a time.
(This could help speed things up, improve the quality of your work, or allow you to finally complete your project. You might even enjoy what you’re doing more, too.)

+ Handle things only once, if possible.
(Respond to emails after reading them, read articles, magazines or newspapers, then file them or get rid of them.)

+ Have a schedule.
(Use each scheduled time for the activity you’ve chosen, so you know you can concentrate on that one thing. You also don’t have to fit in other things because you know you’ve scheduled them for later.)

Tips for times when multitasking is necessary:

+ Use TV commercial breaks to get things done.
(Load the dishwasher, read an article, or write an email during breaks. Try to do activities that can be easily picked up again if you don’t finish before the show comes back on.)

Moo TV.

Moo TV.

+ Use multiple updates.
(Sometimes you can update several online things at once, like Twitter and Facebook.)

+ Watch your favorite shows during meal times.
(This doesn’t work for everyone, or for all the meals you eat each day, but it can work. It allows you to keep watching your favorite shows and not feel guilty about the time spent watching them.)

+ Do something that takes brainpower at the same time as something mindless.
(For instance, listen to a book on tape while you clean the house, or have game night with the family while your 300 page ms is printing out in the next room … just make sure you’ve loaded enough paper in the printer.)

Do what you can and don’t feel guilty.

Sometimes chaos gets the upper hand. We can always get order back if we slow down to figure out what’s important and plan how to make our dreams a reality. If all else fails, remember that writing is easier than crab fishing. Illustrating is too.

* I watch a lot of TV, probably too much. However, you can learn things about writing while watching TV, promise! (I recently posted about watching TV and writing: Are your characters like TV characters?Writing story and characters by watching TV. – Writing is easier than crab fishing.)

** WIP = Work In Progress

*** BIC = Butt In Chair (which is where you have to be to get your work done)

**** I’m not an expert on multitasking. I’ve just been thinking about it a lot lately. I also blogged about Time Management Tips and Managing Online Time. I was trying to find solutions that work for me and might help others.

Thursday, April 29, 2010

writing is easier than crab fishing

I wasn’t planning on this being TV week on the blog, but it’s turning out that way. Tuesday was about Boston Legal (or how Denny Crane is like Sheila the Zombie Cheerleader), yesterday was about The West Wing (and what TV can teach us about writing story and characters), and today is about The Deadliest Catch (which is harder than any job I’ve ever had). Tune in tomorrow, for multitasking and achieving your dreams, while watching TV (or at least that’s what I think it will be about).

The Deadliest Catch

I love watching The Deadliest Catch (even though I’m not a huge reality TV show person). If you’ve never seen the show, it’s about a bunch of guys that go crab fishing in the Bering Sea. Doesn’t sound too bad, does it? Except that the Bering Sea, in the middle of winter is the last place that most people would want to be. Most of the time it’s freezing cold, add to that ice, snow and storms. Working on a crab boat in those conditions is not easy, or at least it doesn’t look easy. I’ve never tried it. Sometimes the guys work for 50 hours (or more) straight, without sleep. Oh yeah, and people yell at each other a lot (you would too, if you were stuck on a small boat in the middle of the sea for months at a time).
There’s a reason they call this show The Deadliest Catch. It’s a dangerous job and people die doing it. Boats sink in clam waters and rough seas. During storms, waves wash over the deck drenching the guys that are out there pulling pots (metal traps used to catch crab). A huge wave could knock them off their feet, dragging them off the boat. It’s so cold in the water that they can only last a few moments, and that’s if they are wearing survival suits. Without them, people don’t usually survive a dip in the Bering Sea.

Why would anyone want to be a crab fisherman on the Bering Sea? Some of the guys that go crab fishing say they love it. Others say that if someone says they love it, they’re lying. It’s all about the money. The crab fishermen make decent money for a few months of work, and they should. Every time they go out to fish, they’re risking their lives.

Every time I watch this show, I’m happy that I’m an author and artist and not a crab fisherman. Every time. In this illustration, the fish is writing and illustrating children’s and YA books, the crab is, me, if I had to go crab fishing.

Which one are you, carpe diem or crabe diem?

Which one are you, carpe diem or crabe diem?

Do you watch the show? Whether you do, or not, would you want to be a crab fisherman on the Bering Sea?

I think it might be fun to try it … not the real thing, but the video game, which can be played in the middle of winter, from the safety of your nice, warm house.

Update: Sig Hansen (captain of the Northwestern) was on Leno tonight! And he wants to be on Dancing with the Stars!! OMG! Ha! Go here to help (FaceBook page to show fan support).

p.s. Sig and Edgar Hansen are my favorites on The Deadliest Catch.

Wednesday, April 28, 2010

writing story and characters by watching TV (especially the West Wing)

This is a blast from the past blog post, originally written on November 15, 2008. I got the West Wing box set recently as a gift, which made me think about how great it was for learning how to write story and characters. (It was great for emotion too … I might have to do a future WW post.)

You can learn a lot about writing from watching TV, especially The West Wing (one of my all time favorite TV shows).

If you take the politics out of the show, you can concentrate on the writing (some of you are probably saying that’s impossible; the whole show is about politics, but I assure you, it’s possible). Politics is only a backdrop, the premise behind the show, along with exploring who the players in Washington are, what the issues are, what it’s like to work at the White House. However, politics is not the main point of the show. Honestly.

The West Wing is really about the characters, who they are and how they interact with those around them. We care about the characters after the first show, and continue to care about them for several seasons. Plus there are a ton of major characters to care about. It’s not just one or two. Even the minor characters are important. Think about how you might pull off a novel with a huge ensemble cast, with many main players and several key secondary players. Could you do it?

How did they create such great characters and make us care about all of them? They did it by making the characters think, act and feel like real people, with great stories, real problems, and realistic dialog (and good actors too). We care about the characters because they’re flawed and because we get to see their good and bad sides. We get to see them on incredible highs and rock bottom lows; we see their whole range of emotions. There are no cookie cutter characters or continuously happy people on this show, and there shouldn’t be in your writing either.

The West Wing is not just about the characters; it’s also about the stories. Yes, many of them involve politics, but not always in the way that you’d think. In the very first episode, Sam, the Deputy White House Communications Director, accidentally sleeps with a call girl, which could be a political nightmare for the administration, not to mention embarrassing to him. (Sam met a cute girl at the bar and went home with her; he didn’t know she was a call girl, but that won’t matter in public opinion.) What actions might your characters take that could wreak havoc on the world around them? Do they do them on purpose? Or do they not realize what they’ve done until it’s too late?

+ The West Wing has excellent stories, sometimes several in one episode. Some of the stories carry over into following episodes and some of them wrap up in one show, but they manage to keep all the plots and subplots working at once.

+ If you’re writing series books, watching TV could be a really great way to see how to do single episode and longer story arcs at the same time, while keeping your readers interested in what’s going on at any given time. The West Wing is one of the best shows to study for this.
If you haven’t seen The West Wing, don’t take my word for it. Go rent the DVDs (or buy them if you have some $), or watch them on Bravo like I do. If you deconstruct the episodes, or even just watch them for entertainment, you’re bound to learn something about characters and stories and how to make them work.

If you have seen the show, think about this:

+ How many of you wish you could write a love story like the one between Josh and Donna? Or write the love story between Danny and C.J.? These start at the very beginning of the series and aren’t finished until the end of the show (it ran for 7 seasons and 156 episodes – that’s a long time to stretch out a romance and make people still care what happens).

+ What about writing Charlie’s* story? When his mom dies, he postpones college to take care of his little sister. He goes to the White House to get a job as a messenger and ends up being personal aide to the President. Then he dates the President’s daughter, which riles up the hate groups because Charlie’s black, the Zoey is white. The President and Josh get shot instead of Charlie when the hate groups target him. Later in the series, he was able to finish college and move into a new position as Deputy Special Assistant to the Chief of Staff.

+ How about Leo, the Chief of Staff? He’s a recovering alcoholic and drug addict who helps one of his friends get elected to the Presidency. Then his past drug addiction is made public knowledge, which puts that friend in political jeopardy. At the end of the series, Leo ends up running for VP with the next President.

Hope this gave you some food for thought or at least an excuse to watch more TV.

* One last thing, remember Charlie? Originally his character was only supposed to be on for a few episodes; he ended up being on all 7 seasons. It shows how a minor character in your story can end up taking on a more important role than you had originally envisioned.

Thursday, April 22, 2010

Green Chickens!

The prompt for the CBIG blog this month is green, and the prompt for Illustration Friday this week is detective. I thought that any literary detective worth his salt would wonder where green eggs came from, and if he used his sleuthing skills, he’d come up with the answer.

Green eggs come from green chickens. It’s the only thing that makes sense.

The chicken that lays green eggs.
he chicken that lays green eggs.

The next question the detective should answer, is which came first, the green chicken, or the green eggs? (I think the green chicken came first. What do you think?)

p.s. The prompt for WaWe this week was The Little Red Hen. Hmm, I’m thinking that history got it wrong. It was really The Little GREEN Hen!

Wednesday, April 21, 2010

5 ways to manage online time & 5 reasons online time is important

Of all the things I need to manage, internet time is on the top of my list. It’s easy to get sucked in and hard to break out of the interwebs! On the other hand, I think it’s important to be online, at least some of the time.

Here are five suggestions * for managing online time and five reasons you can use to justify** the hours you spend there.

Managing Online Time

1. Set The Timer: If this suggestion sounds familiar, it’s because it was in my last post as a suggestion to help complete chores and/or creative projects. The beauty of the timer is that you can also use it to keep the internet from being a time suck. Before you go online, figure out how much time you have to spend, then set the timer for 5-10 minutes before that. Why set the timer early? Because it always seems like I’m right in the middle of an email or reading a blog post when time is up. If you give yourself an extra 5-10 minutes, you can finish what you are doing without feeling rushed.

2. Only Go Online After Your Work Is Done: Think of the internet as a reward for all your hard work on a manuscript or a painting. It’s like an ice cream sundae after a week of dieting, but without all the calories.

3. Use Social Media Only On Certain Days: Stay offline for whole days at a time to stay on deadline or achieve goals. You could also set a specific online schedule every week. My current process is to set weekly goals for my WIP. My week starts on Thursday and ends the following Wednesday. That way, I don’t have to rush to get done by Monday, when I want to spend time with my family on the weekend. Monday thru Wednesday is when I rush to finish weekly goals. Thursday and Friday is when I plan the next set of weekly goals and start in on them. If I need to go offline to get my work done, then I do. The internet will still be there when I have more time.

4. Think In Percentages: If you take the total number of hours that you have to work on your manuscript or art, then figure out how much of that time is spent online, it can be a staggering statistic. (Note: This one made me cringe at how much time I’m online.) Here are two easy math examples to show you what I mean.
- A full time writer or illustrator, with 40 hours a week to work (no weekends, that’s family time), that spends 2 hours a day online, M-F = 10 hours a week. That’s 25% of their writing or illustrating time!
- A writer or illustrator that has 14 hours a week to work (including weekends, because of a day job), that spends 1 hour a day online = 7 hours a week. That’s 50% of their writing or illustrating time!
Those are just examples that made the math easy, but it also makes it easy to see how those hours online can add up. Try it yourself. Is your percentage what you want it to be?

5. Take An Internet Vacation: If the internet is causing you to ignore your family, your writing, your art, or other obligations, you might want to think about taking a break from it. Take weekends off, or take whole week, or a month, or stay off line until you’ve made the deadline for your project. Pick a time period that works for you, then re-evaluate your online time when that’s over.

The Benefits of Spending Time Online

I. Research: The internet is a great place to start your research for the project that you’re writing or illustrating. It can also point you to books and people that are important to seek out to make your WIP or illustration seem authentic.

II. Industry News & Networking: There are a ton of children’s book people online, including agents, editors, publishers, authors, and illustrators. Many of them post helpful articles or links to news about the industry, as well as book recommendations to add to your reading list. You can also find critique groups and friends online. They understand what it’s like to create children’s books, even if your offline family and friends do not.

III. Education: If you want to learn how to do something, you can probably find a tutorial or explanation online. There are many articles specific to children’s and YA books, including articles and blog posts on: plot, creating characters, how to put together a PB dummy, fictional settings, writing queries and hooks, how to write a synopsis, agent submission guidelines and preferences, and even how to paint in Photoshop.

IV. Community: Twitter, Facebook and discussion boards might seem like a waste of time, but they’re not, if you limit your time on them. Sometimes it helps to talk with others online; you’re not the only one struggling with your WIP or illustration or getting rejections from an agent.  Time spent online is a lot like talking with colleagues in the break room at a regular job, which is a good way to maintain your sanity and possibly make a few friends.

Discussion Boards for children’s book and YA writers & illustrators:
Helpful Twitter Chats:
  • Mon. 10pm EST #pblitchat
  • Tues. 9pm EST #kidlitchat
  • Wed. 9pm EST #yalitchat
  • Thurs. 9pm EST #kidlitart
V. Fun: We all need to have fun or escape at times. When you go online, there are friends to talk with, games to play, news about what’s going on in the world (outside of publishing), stories to read and inspiring art to look at. Go play, then get back to work!

* Not that I’m an expert on managing my online time … but I keep trying. Eventually reason will win out over shiny objects and fun links, or at least I hope it will. If it doesn’t, I may have to call in the zombies to keep me in line. There’s nothing like the threat of brain munchage to alter your behavior.

** I can justify almost anything, really. It’s my super power. I’d rather have the power to heal myself when I get injured or fly like Superman, but being able to finesse the BS is a useful power too. (I knew my art degree would come in handy eventually – I learned the art of BS while getting my BFA.)
This is the second in a series of three Time Management articles.

sunny day with a rainy day feel

Do you ever have one of those sunny days that just feels like rain? Or a day where you should feel happy but you’re a bit sad? Today was like that on both counts, so I dug out one of my old paintings (from 2003). It fits how I feel and how the weather is today:

Wet Cows

Wet Cows

The colors are happy but the cows look wet (probably because I started the picture with watercolor crayons and then held it out in the rain). I’m keeping my fingers crossed that tomorrow will be a sunny and happy kind of day! If it’s not, maybe I’ll paint another picture. Art usually cheers me up :)
Update: I looked outside right after I posted this and it’s just starting to rain! See, I knew it felt like rain today.

Sunday, April 18, 2010

Time Management Tips

Recently I’ve been re-thinking how I manage my time, because I don’t manage it well. I was also going to write a couple of articles on time management* (which I may still do), when I remembered that I’ve blogged about this topic before. The post below is from my old blog, posted on October 20, 2008. I decided to run it again because the information is still relevant and could help me and maybe you manage your time better.

Time Management Tips from sruble of the past

When I registered for the SCBWI LA conference** this year, I listed my occupation as “procrastination exterminator,” in addition to writer and illustrator. At the time, it was wishful thinking, and as evidenced by my behavior last week, I tend to go off on tangents with projects that aren’t necessarily the ones I should be working on. I don’t think I can ever completely curb my tendency for tangential projects, and I wouldn’t want to (Sheila the zombie cheerleader is another example). However, I need to be a little more focused in getting the things I need to do done, so I can go off and play afterwards.

Everyone has their own time management system. Here’s what’s worked for me in the past and what’s new. Use the tips that might work for you, and share your tips in the comments if you want.

15 minutes of fame: Each person reportedly gets (at least) fifteen minutes of fame, the same should be true for your procrastination projects. Set the timer for 15 minutes and dig into that task you don’t want to do (even if it’s your WIP and you really do want to write or draw that scene, but just don’t know how). When the timer rings, hopefully you will be so engrossed in your project that you won’t hear it, but if you’re not, you can always try again later. Set the timer again the next time you work on it. Repeat until you’re done or you don’t need the timer anymore. Works for chores as well as creative endeavors … thanks mom.

Get a cheerleader: Your cheerleader can be anyone that helps cheer you on and supports you with your goal. I have Sheila the zombie cheerleader. If I do what she says, she won’t eat my brain. She’s new to the cheering team. My husband, parents, and writer/illustrator friends are part of the team too. Luckily they don’t want to eat my brain, they just want me to use it to be creative and get my work done.

Set goals: Set realistic goals so that you can achieve them. If you’re a big goal setter like I am, write down the big goals, then break them up into smaller steps and use those steps as goals along the way to achieving something bigger. It’s a lot easier to get things done when you know it’s possible, instead of having something hanging over your head that’s hard to finish in a day or a week or a month.

Make a to do list: Write down what you can realistically accomplish each day. Some days you might not finish it all, and some days you might get done early. If you have lots of things to do, make a big, huge list, then take a few of those items and put them on a to do list, for today. Tomorrow you can take more things off the big, huge, master list. Just like setting goals, your to do list should be manageable, so you can feel a sense of accomplishment each day. Plus, it’s really fun to cross things off the list.

Play: Sometimes you need to chuck the timer, the goals and the lists, and completely ignore the cheerleader, who will be confused as to why you have gone off on a tangent. Playing and following your bliss is important. You have to do that once in a while to connect with your creative side, and maybe you’ll even come up with a brilliant new idea or character. Just make sure to get back to your timers, goals, and lists when you’re done, otherwise you may never get anything done. Besides, if you don’t get back on track, Sheila will find you and eat your brain.

(2010 Update) Having fun can lead to other things: A year and a half after I wrote this post, Sheila the zombie cheerleader is in the YA novel I’m writing. Not only that, but the mini comic about Sheila that I wrote and illustrated last summer, launched a new character for a picture book, Daria the chicken, and I’m thinking of re-writing the mini comic as another story starring Daria [Sheila won't be in it]. So far my chicken PB has been requested by an editor, an art director, and an agent. It hasn’t sold yet and might have a revision looming [I'm considering re-writing it as a graphic novel chapter book], however, if I hadn’t painted a picture of a zombie cheerleader, just for fun, I wouldn’t have either of these characters or stories! Allow yourself to play – you never know what might happen!

How do you manage to manage your time and control your tangential projects?

Tuesday, April 6, 2010

Teaser Tuesday – What Would You Do During A Zombie Attack?

What would you do during a zombie attack? Run? Fight back? How about if you were stuck in the middle of a store like The Gap? Here’s a short teaser from my WIP:

The manager put a key into a slot in the wall and turned it. A gate rolled down in front of the door, locking us in with a handful of people that stood between racks of clothing that always looked better in commercials and on people other than me.
“I’ll be over there,” said Taylor, pointing to a sales rack.
“How can she shop during the zombie apocalypse?” asked Dylan.
“Don’t you know that khaki pants are your first line of defense against the undead?” asked Lucas. “That’s what the guys wore in Zombie Apocalypse Now.”
“Right,” I said, trying not to laugh. “Don’t you remember what happened to them at the end of the movie?”
“Okay,” said Lucas, “scratch the khaki’s then.”
So, what would you do? I think I might go shopping too (after thinking up an escape plan).