On how I get so much done

This summer, Jessica decided that she did not want to go to day camp as she has in previous years and so we agreed to give her staying home a try. We had some intense negotiation first (Me: “You will have to be patient while I work.” Jess: “You can bring me to the coffee shop with you and I will have Diet Coke and a cookie.”)

As much as I love getting to spend extra time with Jessica, there is a downside in that she always notices when I am on Facebook.

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And that, my friends, is my key to productivity.

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My collection of travel stories, Travels with Jessica, is now available! Kindle and paperback here; other ebook formats here. And I’ve published my essay “For Jessica” as a small book. Kindle and paperback here; other ebook formats here.

Don’t forget to sign up for my newsletter! I give random stuff away—and I tell more stories. Just wander over to my homepage.

On how to make a grimoire

Some people have asked about my post on why I have a grimoire, wanting to know a little more about what goes into it.

First, you do not have to have a totally awesome dragon-embossed tome. You can use almost anything with a cover (or you could use a computer file but how boring is that).

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You could use something cute or pretty, like one of these, and no one would ever guess that it’s your grimoire! They would think you kept grocery lists in it. That’s kind of awesome.

But I am not a subtle person and so I like the dragon-embossed tome that is my grimoire.

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You totally know what this is just by looking at it. It is the seat of my power! Bwahahaha! Steal it and I am rendered ineffectual.

Anyway. So you can pick whatever you want, and you can put it in it whatever you want, anything that will get the job done. My one rule is that my grimoire has nothing negative in it, not a single charm for causing that editor who just rejected my story to break out in to hives or like that. It isn’t about woe-is-me and those-damned-Yankees or whatever. There are already way too many negative vibes, man. Don’t add to them.

(The first person who can tell me where the quote “Always with the negative waves, Moriarty” comes from will actually win one of the above-pictured grimoires.)

You can make little sketches in your grimoire, although I will warn you that that becomes its own addiction and then you’ll be spending half your life on the Wet Paint Art website finding just the right brush pens to add that little pop of color to your drawings and you probably already have enough to do.

What I try to focus on is the nuance. You can get all the slogans you can stand on Facebook, but they don’t really help when you have an actual problem. And while it can be useful to hear about someone else’s process, your own process is your best guide. Start with some simple things, like a little story about the best time of day for you to write, or your favorite writing tools, or a memory of when you decided to become a writer. Something that is you. Put it in your grimoire, and the next time you doubt, or worry, or wonder WTF? you’ll have a place to go to find a few answers.

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Dojo Wisdom for Writers, second edition, now available on Amazon in print and ebook! (Nook and other ebook versions here)
Catch a Falling Star (by Jessica Starre) and The Matchmaker Meets Her Match (by Jenny Jacobs), two of my favorite novels.

Don’t forget to sign up for my newsletter on my home page! You never know when I’m going to give away random good stuff.

 

 

 

 

On how I work, illustrated

I spend a lot of my writing time doing this:

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By which I mean I spend a lot of my time staring out the window, not that I spend a lot of my time drawing sketches, although these days I spend a fair amount of time doing that, too.

I call this, “Sometimes you have to get the thinking out of the way first.” I might have an idea for a plot twist but have to think about the various ways it will play out and how it will affect other aspects of the story. I’m running down these scenarios when it looks like I’m watching people with their dogs on Mass Street. Sometimes in my head it is all gruesome bloodshed and won’t Martin be surprised when he walks in on that while outside a girl in a yellow dress is drawing on the sidewalk with blue chalk.

Other times, admittedly, I am hoping a muse will come by and zap me with a totally awesome inspiration, but she never does that when I’d like her to, just when I’m in the middle of something else, like sex (“Oh my god if he would just finish I could write this down!!!”).

Mostly when I am staring out the window, I am getting the thinking out of the way so that the writing, when it comes, doesn’t have to wait for the thumbs’ up from my brain. That is why I think word count goals can be counter-productive. Sometimes I make a huge amount of progress in a day when practically speaking I have only written fifty words. What you need to write is time and space, and not all of writing (in fact very little) actually takes place on the page.

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My collection of travel stories, Travels with Jessica, is now available! Kindle and paperback here; other ebook formats here. And I’ve published my essay “For Jessica” as a small book. Kindle and paperback here; other ebook formats here.

Don’t forget to sign up for my newsletter! I give random stuff away—and I tell more stories. Just wander over to my homepage.

On why I love coyotes

So I have mentioned that my friend Debz leads these wonderful guided meditation sessions where I find ways to access my imagination without thinking so much, and lately for reasons I don’t understand, Coyote keeps showing up. You may remember that in many Native American traditions, Coyote is a trickster figure who is constantly getting into trouble, and causing trouble, and getting himself killed (and then his friend Fox has to resurrect him).

Okay, if I look at it like that I can totally see why I identify with Coyote.

Anyway, I recently had a meditation where Coyote figured prominently, including a somewhat embarrassing episode of bestiality (Debz is always, “Maybe you’ll hug or kiss or make love with your quantum twin, and that’s okay” but honestly that experience was totally uncalled for. Although I do now have an idea for a new Alicia Thorne story.)

You may know that one thing Coyote is famous for is stealing fire.

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(In the drawing you cannot see my beautiful pedicure but I have one.)

According to the stories, Coyote steals fire to help the humans, but as a moon god he totally sucks, pointing out all of the things that people are trying to do under the cover of darkness. He is often very silly, and frequently he tries to be things he is not, but he is also extremely powerful. Sometimes his power lectures him on the trouble he gets into, and it can’t help him at all if he gets into trouble in the water. Then he has to use his powers of persuasion to get others to help him. He drives most of the animal people crazy but somehow he manages to get what he needs.

I didn’t know any of this about Coyote until he started butting in on my meditations all the time, but now that I know it I realize he’s pretty much me, although I don’t have mange.

So my adventures with Coyote led me to a book called Coyote Wisdom, by Lewis Mehl-Madrona, which I thought was a collection of stories about Coyote lore, but which was actually about the power of narrative, and how story can be used to transform lives. Sometimes when I feel I am talking to myself, I forget this truth.

The other day, Jessica made me a Coyote totem in glass, and mentioned it to her dad, and you could tell (or I could anyway) that he was thinking, “Your mother is totally loony tunes and I am so glad that I have a more restful companion these days,” or like that because he thinks I believe in these things but I don’t.

What I believe is that symbols are powerful. Words are one kind of symbol, and Coyote another.

In a recent meditation I had a mental image of Jessica with little fox ears.

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And whenever Coyote gets himself killed, Fox finds some part of the dead Coyote, a bone or a bit of skin, and brings him back to life. Coyote would have been forgotten a long time ago if not for Fox.

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My collection of travel stories, Travels with Jessica, is now available! Kindle and paperback here; other ebook formats here. And I’ve published my essay “For Jessica” as a small book. Kindle and paperback here; other ebook formats here.

Don’t forget to sign up for my newsletter! I give random stuff away—and I tell more stories. Just wander over to my homepage.

On why I have a grimoire

This is my grimoire:

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A grimoire is a book of spells, but when I call it a spell book, half the people think I’m talking about a dictionary.

A book of spells is like a cookbook, a collection of recipes, but “cookbook” just doesn’t do it for me, and is possibly misleading in case people think food is involved, which it is not, so therefore I call it a grimoire.

Now, I think we have previously established that I don’t believe in anything, so I’m not actually a witch, except perhaps in the colloquial sense of the word, although I would respect you more if you just went ahead and called me a bitch. But I digress.

I don’t use my grimoire to cast spells. I use it to help me remember what I already know about doing the work, which is a lot (I’ve been at this a very long time).

I started using a grimoire for my writing work when years ago I started work on a series. You know how writers and publishers have a series bible so that you don’t forget from one book to the next that your hero has blue eyes and failed algebra in seventh grade? Like that. I called mine a grimoire instead of a bible because I’m just a rebel.

Anyway, I included potential storylines and conflicts and such and I realized that everything I needed to know about the series was in the series grimoire. If I got stuck, I just opened up the grimoire and the answer would appear.

So I like to generalize from one thing to another, and it struck me that if it worked for a series, it would work for writing in general (and life itself, but that is another blog post). That is to say, I already know what I need to know about writing, I just forget it half the time, and then I have days like this:

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My grimoire is very personal so I’m not going to show you the inside. But I will tell you about what it contains. It contains what I know, or think I know, about writing. It’s divided into various categories based on what I know I will need. So, for example, I keep a list of accomplishments on one of the pages because every now and then I hyperventilate about how I am never going to do whatever it is I’m obsessing over, and the list helps me breathe again.

It has a little exercise I use for when I am working on a project that carries a lot of emotional weight, like my memoir, or some of my essays about Jessica (as opposed to other kinds of things I write about, such as what humanities graduates are doing with their degrees). I do a little meditation to segue into and out of emotionally difficult pieces so that my mind doesn’t get stuck in “oh those years were so hard” mode when I am supposed to be making dinner.

It has little stories about doing the work. So much of what we say about writing is captured in these jargon-y little adages like that Facebook meme, “You should be writing!” Well, sure, sometimes you need a simple reminder like that, but mostly you need to understand the nuances of your own work and your own process. My grimoire is like this wonderful little guidance system that says, “You have had this problem before, and here are some things that you tried, and here is how they worked.” That keeps me from feeling totally lost in the Sahara without a roadmap.

For example, I know by now that for every manuscript, there will be at least three times when I think the work is utter crap. But my grimoire will remind me that this is par for the course, and so instead of hitting delete, I go for a walk.

In this month alone, I hit the wall on three different projects. I couldn’t figure out how to make any of them be what I needed them to be. Often I need to just finish the book. It’s important to do the work despite feeling resistance sometimes. But I’d finished drafts of all three projects, and I was feeling less than enthusiastic about them, not just for a day or two but deep down in the bone. This wasn’t my usual “Oh this is crap” reaction that eventually goes away. This was a conviction that I was picking the trite answer every single time. But I didn’t know how to fix this. No amount of sitting there thinking would fix it.

But the grimoire reminded me, “Sometimes, you focus on getting the answer RIGHT NOW!!!! but a lot of the time the answer doesn’t come till later. Sometimes, you need to stop demanding the answer right now and give yourself time to work it out.” So I just stopped thinking about these projects, and I went to Mini College, and I decided that I would focus on helping Jessica with her art, and do my paying work and just have some fun. I drew some pictures and had dinner with a friend.

The solution to each of the three problems occurred to me when I stopped trying so hard, one in a slow, growing-on-me-over-the-course-of-a-week fashion, and one in a bang!-that’s-the-answer way, and the third in a gradual illumination as I was reading a completely unrelated textbook.

And that experience will also go in the grimoire.

I imagine that someday, when I am 92, I will hand the grimoire over to some young thing, and see what she makes of it.

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From my editor at Crimson: Just a quick note today to say that we’ve got a special Summer Savings code we’d like you to extend to your family and friends for purchases at our new Crimson Store (www.adamsmediastore.com/crimson-romance). If they plug in code: FFSAVE at checkout (lower left side of page), they’ll save an extra 10% off our usual 30% off — so total savings of 40% off their order! The code will be good through summer’s end and expires on August 31, 2014.  (Everyone’s a friend.)

And remember, the buy 5, get the 6th free offer is always in effect as well. 

From me: You know there are easily 6 of my romances that you’ve never read, so check out Jessica Starre, Jenny Jacobs, and Alicia Thorne (though watch out for her. She can be a pain in the butt.)

 

 

 

 

 

 

6 Steps for the Time-Crunched

We’re heading into one of those times of years where there are more demands on my time than time to deal with them. But as ever, I have a solution to my time-crunch problem. I just have to dig it out and remember what it is.

  1. Step back. I ask myself, “What are you doing, why are you doing it, what fills up your day?”
  2. I figure out what I can drop, which is usually the least rewarding thing, like cleaning my house.
  3. I ask myself, “What can you hire out/get help with?”
  4. I try to become more aware of what’s wasting my time. For example, spending the morning surfing the web when I should be finishing a proposal.
  5. I schedule the time. Whatever is important needs to be put on the calendar.
  6. I consolidate. For example, my daughter is off school and wants to spend time with me. I have errands that I need to run. I have a friend I haven’t seen in a while. So, my daughter and I will meet a friend for ice cream while we’re out running errands. Mission(s) accomplished.

What are strategies you use to help when you’re time-crunched? Tell me in the comments!