Thursday, June 18, 2020

Research, Writing and Memories

James Coburn in costume- Hell is for Heroes (1962)
I’m currently working with my publisher, Potomac Books, to finalize the content and design of Dervish Dust: The Life and Words of James Coburn. I’m so glad that my employer, the James and Paula Coburn Foundation who commissioned the book, had a good lawyer who was able to give guidance on legal issues.

One of these is that of interviewee clearances. When you are working on a nonfiction book and plan to cite interviewed sources, it's a good idea to have a clearance form available at the time. This is a simple legal document that people sign giving you permission to use their words. It means that later on you don't have to scramble when the publisher asks you about it.

I was writing a fact-based book, that included research that was backed up by documents such as dates stamped in passports and published newspaper articles, as well as paperwork from movie productions, such as call sheets and the daily production report. This meant that it was easy to fact-check and cross reference the recollections of individuals. I was fortunate in one aspect, which is that director Sam Peckinpah was notorious for keeping every scrap of paper that he ever made a mark on or crossed his desk, all of which can be found in his files at the Margaret Herrick Library. I'm told that his section is 75 linear feet of papers. I think I already mentioned, but it bears repeating, write down ALL the details of any published source you use for your footnotes/endnotes. 

However, sometimes fact-checking is impossible, when there are no actual written sources referring to events that happened 50 years ago. Does this mean that opinions or recollections cannot be included? No, but it means that you should say that it is a person’s memory or belief, or otherwise express that this is a rumor, or “reportedly”, or “generally believed”. 

If two people have different recollections, it's okay to say so. That the other person recalls an event differently, may even make the story more interesting. Sometimes it was a case of another family member saying that's not how that happened. It is up to you to determine whether you are going to dispute the storyteller in the main text, or add it as a footnote that another person has a different recollection of the event. In my case I was writing a biography that was based on James Coburn's memoirs. I was reiterating what he recalled about events, so if another family member had a different recollection, in the absence of written sources, the dispute usually tended to go into the notes.

Sometimes a person's recollection was just completely wacky compared to what other people knew to have occurred, or the differences were of tiny and minor details between two individuals who had been there. If the details were unimportant to the story, I just left them out altogether rather than have a bone of contention. For example, this was the case with the color of one particular car belonging to Paula, unlike Jim’s cars, the colors of which were mentioned often in various sources.

The most important thing I learned was about memory. Memory is very malleable. We know this from researchers examining how memories are formed, how they are held, and how they can change over time. In this case I was writing a book that was founded upon a man's memories sometimes going back over 65 years of his life. What I realized in going over Jim's memoirs, that he had recorded in response to conversational prompts from an interviewer, was that people often forget factual details, such as dates. What they remember are their emotions - how they felt, what they focused on that made an emotional connection with them. They will remember events, but not necessarily the exact sequence.

For example , Jim had very strong recollections of his first trip from Laurel to Compton, when his family moved. His memories were a series of vignettes of moments that made an impression on him, made him laugh, things that he specifically noticed in the context of the people that he was traveling with - his father, his aunt, and his mother. However, what he couldn't remember accurately was how old he was. His age went variously from being 4, 5, or 6. He just had a vague recollection that it was early in his life. Thanks to research and the prominence of the Coburn family in Laurel, so that their doings were mentioned in the local newspaper, I was able to pinpoint the exact date that they left because it was written down.

Dervish Dust: The Life and Words of James Coburn is scheduled to be published in Fall 2021.

Thursday, June 4, 2020

A High Wind in Jamaica (1965) - a Personal Response

Well known publicity still from the film, in the JPCF archive
A High Wind in Jamaica was released in 1965, but I know that I didn’t see it in the cinema since I would have been only four at the time. I must have seen it when it turned up on television a few years later. I'm not even sure what country I was living in at the time. But I know it made a strong impression on me as a child.

I always loved seeing movies about children, with child actors.  Since I was a little girl, I nursed an ambition to be an actress myself. For my entire childhood, I never wavered in that idea and even went to acting school as a young adult. I ended up discovering the technical and design side of Performing Arts, but that's another story. The point was I wanted to be acting myself as a child, but never had the opportunity.

I always loved seeing films about children behaving with autonomy. When I saw A High Wind In Jamaica, I was disappointed that the children ended up back with their parents in the end. When Deborah Baxter's Emily stared at the toy sailboat in the pond in London at the end of the movie, I saw a longing in her eyes. I always imagined that the character would, as soon as she was old enough, run away to return to the Sea, or return to island life at least. She would grow up to be a strange girl with odd ideas, hard to marry off.

The intent of the original book, which Alexandra Mackendrick described as a “strange little Masterpiece”, and of the movie, was to posit the idea that children were inherent savages that would revert to barbarism without the guiding hand of paternalistic adults. Pirates represented the ever-so-thin demarcation line between civilized and uncivilized grownups. For me, the idea of children being free to be whatever they wanted, pursue their own interests, and be taken care of by people who regarded them as interesting in themselves, was fascinating. I didn't see this movie as a cautionary tale at all.

To me the pirates were nice, and mostly kindly. They protected the children most of the time. And while it was based in superstition, many of the Pirates seem to regard the children as powerful. James Coburn portrayed what might be considered the villain of the piece, other than maybe the authorities. His character, first mate Zac, never warmed to the children in the way the Captain did. Zac was not amused at having a bunch of kids underfoot in the workplace, which was hardly a stretch for the actor, and felt their presence was dangerous. His foreboding unfortunately was justified. 

As a child watching the film, I didn’t care that the pirates were actually trying to return the children to safety, and missed that the children had been presumed killed. Their parents were representatives of the authoritarian culture the kids were escaping. It took becoming an adult to realize that some people don’t care if they kill children, and to feel some sympathy for those poor frantic parents.

I remember as a child being infuriated that Emily was so stupid and tongue-tied on the stand in the trial. I was baffled as to why someone who I saw as being my age at the time was so incapable of speaking coherently. I remember thinking along the lines of, “Why don't you just tell them you were afraid of the Dutch Captain? Why don't you admit you did it? They won’t put you in jail - you are a kid. Why don't you tell the story more clearly?” I felt like she could have saved them, but in the end, she was just a foolish little girl. In my mind, she had squandered the opportunity to be free. 

The movie did not do well in theaters, because it was poorly marketed leading to mistaken expectations from the audience. The reviews reflected the confusion about what kind of movie it was supposed to be. Perhaps it could have gone darker, to be closer to the original material. Alexander Mackendrick later opined that great books shouldn't be made into movies, but mediocre books could become great ones.

James Coburn admired his directing style tremendously, and had a very good time on that shoot. He enjoyed being in Jamaica with his entire family, enjoyed working with Anthony Quinn even though they had very different approaches, and knew that the film was yet another important turning point in his career and march towards leading man status. There are some behind-the-scenes stories about this film shoot collected in the book.

I still enjoy watching it when I see it. I love the color palette, the mis-en-scene, the ragged interpretation of clothing from the 1870s. I still feel a tug of yearning longing to go back in time and magically be a little girl who could run away from the responsibility to be well-behaved. 

Saturday, March 21, 2020

My Tips for Effective Historical Research Notes

Here is just a small stack of the notebooks and tablets I used
When I was writing the biography, I had access to some existing research that included interview transcripts, material on tape, and collated records of old newspaper articles from an out-of-State archive. After reading through all that, in addition, I spent a considerable amount of time going through physical paperwork and records at a couple of different libraries that hold archives from filmmakers and organizations, as well as doing my own interviews. I also did online research at various sites, most of them membership/subscription services. Finally, I spent quite a lot of time reading magazines and books either in physical form or digitally. The latter was easier because I could use a search term to discover useful quotes.

I learned a few tricks using Google searches and I got good at scanning written material quickly. I also learned the enormous value of having an index in your non-fiction book. After some trial and error, here's what I learned about how to organize research notes when you are writing Creative nonfiction, or a historical novel or anything that relies on research.

Keep very meticulous notes about the sources of your research

Not everything will be quoted and have a footnote/endnote, but additional sources should be included in your bibliography. I recommend having a dedicated notebook for this purpose. I also wrote down all that information on the page of my research notebook (a composition book) with my notes from the source.

Go to the opening dedication page with all the publication information. Note the full name of all the authors or editors, the publisher and the city in which they are based, the month and year of publication (even though most of the time you will only write down the year.) Note the chapter and page numbers that you read, especially for any quotes that you will use. For e-books, there probably won't be a page number, but there still should be a chapter. 

When you are looking at books online, including Kindle books at Amazon,  you can scroll all the way down below the publisher's blurb and summary of the book, to find the publication information.

When you are planning to quote from a magazine, you need the name of the article writer if it is available (sometimes there won't be a byline and it will say "Staff Writer"), the name of the publication of course, the volume number if available, and the date of publication. You also want the title of the article. Don’t neglect to write that down because writers or columnists often have multiple articles in a publication.

If you are planning to photocopy or tear out sheets from a magazine that you are for your files, also keep the front cover and the publishing information page - that is sometimes before the contents or at the end of the magazine - along with the relevant pages. In the James Coburn archives, I found a number of magazine articles where they kept only the pages of the article, and I had to do a lot of detective work to ascertain the actual publication. In the end, I had one magazine where I couldn't tell you the issue even though I did manage to work out which magazine it was. This is especially important when a magazine has ceased publication and no longer has accessible archives. Letters didn't produce a response. Of course, I could have traveled to London and visited a library there, but sometimes you just have to get on with the writing.

If you are using online sources including blogs for your research material, it is important to make a note of the writer, the blog title, and the title of the specific post, plus the date of posting. Write down the full web address of the relevant item, and the date that you looked it up. The date when you “accessed” the material is part of the footnote.  When you come to publish your book, it is worth revisiting the sites to ensure that the blog post is still available. You can either update the date visited, or if the link is now broken, it's okay to say so.

Pencil notes
The point of footnotes/endnotes is to ensure that you are following fair use guidelines, giving credit properly where it is due, to avoid any accusation of plagiarism, and so that interested people can check on your research and follow it back.

When you are doing research for your own fiction writing purposes, you are less likely to cite sources in your story. However, it's good to keep the records so that in the future you can find your material again, direct anyone who queries you to the research, and who knows, maybe one day you will write a non-fiction piece about the world that your book is set in. 

Make your research time productive

Research can be so seductive. I found that I would go off on long rabbit-hole tangents exploring all kinds of interesting tidbits that were not actually useful for the biographical narrative that I was writing. If you have a time limit, it's important to be aware of how much of a time suck or procrastination tool research can be.

I recommend that you keep a notebook for your ongoing research that is immediately relevant, and another notebook for sources and ideas that you might wish to revisit at a later time when your main project or assignment is completed. The research is not going to go away. You can always return to the library, the website, or the book later.

Here’s is a cheat for research: When searching on Google, do a Google Books search. This will access other things than just books, including magazines and some journals.

When you click on the link to the Google Books page for a particular source, you can often then put specific search terms into the box. Most of the time the searches are limited because of copyright, but you can usually read some of the pages. 

Then, you can take the book title that you have discovered, and go to Amazon and find the listing there. Go to the Hardcover if available, and do a “Look Inside”. Most of the time the e-book format will only show the first 10% of the book and the back cover, but the hardcover will allow searching with a search box. 

I found that between the two ways of looking inside books, I was able to find the occasional quote, or ascertain quickly whether this book was worth purchasing or finding at the library because it had a lot of useful content.

Useful websites, and’s document search features were crucial for me to find material and documents related to my research. These are subscription services. Another helpful place is the National Archives. When you find documents online within an archive, it is important to make detailed notes of where they come from for your citations. For example the “author” of the Census is the United States government. (BTW, has the Census searchable by name; the National Archives does not, yet. Sometimes you have to consider which factor you want to save - time or money.)

US Census Page
The Library of Congress also has archives. And many countries have an archived system connected to their own government and civil records.

Final thoughts

Every day more and more material is becoming digitized and is available online for free or via subscriptions.  Digital catalogs at libraries are also becoming more common. I found the search feature at the Margaret Herrick Library invaluable. I was able to reserve items from various Collections and then go into the library to have them ready for me to access.  By the way, check the rules at whichever Library you plan to visit before you go. At Margaret Herrick they don't allow ink pens of any kind. They do supply pencils, but I prefer my own. They also don't allow phones, so be sure to tell people that you won't be available for certain amounts of time. They do supply lockers for you to keep your stuff in, and let you use your laptop.

Your librarian can be your best friend. They can often have a greater understanding of what is inside the stacks and research collections, beyond Search terms you may have thought of when exploring the catalog.

Having visual material can be helpful too. I use Pinterest to hold research material that I wish to explore more of on a secret board. 

Good luck with your research - remember KEEP COPIOUS NOTES and record all details of your citations.

Saturday, February 29, 2020

Book Excerpt - my middle grade fantasy series - "Mermaid Summer"

Here is Chapter 1, of Book One of my middle grade fantasy series (Mermaid Lake series), Mermaid Summer. That is probably the only part that is close to being ready. Can you possibly guess what the main book is about? I'm having fun writing this, and it may become something one day. 
Image by Ioannis Ioannidis from Pixabay

Jenna was used to traveling but this drive felt endless. The car rumbled along through the twisty turns, and even the mountain scenery had become dull. They would get there eventually, she supposed, and the whole thing of being the new girl would start all over again.
Dad and Mom were talking about boring stuff – how long it would take the movers, their big truck following half a mile behind, to bring in their boxes, whether he should call in at his new job or wait until Monday. Jenna pulled out her phone and groaned to see that there were still no bars. All she knew was that it was going to be a long summer for this 11 year old, and probably lonely as well.
At last they turned off the highway, not down the hill towards the city they had passed and glimpsed whenever the road turned in the right direction, unfortunately, but upwards and further into this wilderness. The sign said “Windchime 4 miles” and at least the road was paved. Jenna perked up when the first part of the lake came into view. Soon they passed through the township, with small shops, and the lake shore with a small marina and parking lot. Most of the shops looked like they catered to winter tourists. The mountain nearby showed what ski runs look like when there isn’t any snow, large scars between the trees. The summer tourist season had not yet started. In fact, many of the shops were still closed. 
Mom and Dad had driven up here a few times, together and separately. Dad had his job interview down in that city, but they had both come up to look at homes for rent. It had been a surprise when they found a place for sale, that they could actually afford. Jenna had never been along, staying with her auntie for the couple of nights both her parents were away. But Mom had given her a long and enthusiastic run down about the place, its history as a spa town starting in the late 1880’s, the old lumber industry that had become less successful when the river silted up and transporting logs became much harder, the great skiing that meant several high end resort hotels tucked away in the forest. Mom knew her way around by now. She liked that it was “quiet and family oriented” so it felt safe. 
A block past the main village, the car made a sudden turn into a long driveway. The faded sign read “Windchime Lake Resort”. Jenna snorted as she thought to herself, more like last resort. Still, she felt a little tingly when they pulled up beside the main house, a little aged but not dilapidated, what her mother had called, “a surprising neo-Georgian.” This resort had been successful and busy in the heyday of Windchime, but had gradually become less popular as summer tourism had declined and the original owners had aged. They had finally retired and the business had been closed down for at least 10 years, but the property was not abandoned. Mom kept talking about “retro charm.”

Now that they were all here, Dad and Mom seemed very pleased, and all three walked up three steps onto the porch. Mom pulled out her key and after a moment jiggling, pushed the door open. They walked into the empty foyer, and in an impressive manner Mom turned back and said, “Welcome home.”
The arrival part of moving was always busy. In some ways it would feel like they were still living in the very first house they had, when Jenna was little. Her memories were hazy of all the houses and apartments with white or beige walls and the same furniture – that uncomfortable antique sofa that always lived against a wall to preserve its back, the pillowed bench that Mom always put under a window, if there was one. 
But this house was bigger than most, and the window in the living room already had a built-in bench. There were bookshelves too. But Mom had planned for this and was busy instructing the movers to haul some of their pieces upstairs. This was one thing that was certainly different. A second floor with bedrooms, and a whole other sitting room. Apparently the expansive room downstairs was originally meant to be for the guests to use.
Jenna started carrying her own luggage upstairs to the room that was to be hers. She only knew that it was at the far end facing the back, while the master was in the front. Good, she thought. It was all light and happiness now, but it wouldn’t be long before the snipping and bickering began as usual, and she’d rather not have to hear it. This was supposed to be a long-term appointment, but Jenna had long ago learnt not to count on that. Time seemed to mean something different to Dad when he thought one year was “a nice long stint.” Mom had told him that this was going to be her last chance to put down her roots. She liked gardening metaphors. They had both promised Jenna this would be the last move for a while – she would be able to attend the same middle school for the next three years, and probably the same high school as all her new friends. But Jenna was still dubious. She didn’t want to jinx it.

At the top of the stairs facing the front of the house, there was a bank of windows. Jenna looked out at the view. She found she could see down the slope past the trees and the neighboring houses, to part of the village, the little marina and some of the lakeshore. This house really was close to the action, if you could call it that. The lake sparkled out to the relatively distant wooded mountains on the other side. The trees along the near edges still prevented her from being able to see the mill from here. She turned around to look for her room.
She passed a couple of closed doors along the back hallway, that she would soon learn were other smaller bedrooms and a linen closet. Jenna walked into her room for the first time. It was nice and quite a good size. The walls had white painted paneling, and the ceiling sloped downward towards the windows on the back wall, but was still plenty high enough to feel airy. There were sliding doors to her closet, but they didn’t take up all the side wall. There would be room for her bed and desk, bookshelf, a couple of chairs for still non-existent friends. As long as she didn’t get saddled with the antique sofa, she’d do fine. Her view was of the rest of the property, with several small cottages poking out from between shrubs and bushes, linked by what looked like stamped dirt paths. Things were looking up. Jenna liked hiking. Below a pergola obscured whatever patio there was. Those cottages were why they were here. 
She checked and found that she had bars on her phone now, but remembered she had limited data. She knew Dad would want her to wait until the wifi was set up. So just one quick selfie, with her view, to her Instagram. Then, a mover appeared at her door. She told them where to set up her bed and desk, then got out of their way. Mom would expect her to make the bed before dinner, and unpack at least one box every morning before going anywhere. 
She thought she had better go downstairs to help with the kitchen. She walked down the short hallway and around the railing to the top of the staircase, and went down. It was pretty grand, she supposed, with a landing half-way. She had been forewarned that the kitchen was huge – professional style to serve the guests at the resort. The built-in sideboard was full of dishes, with the name of the resort embossed on the borders. But there was still plenty of room in the other cupboards for the family’s familiar things, and Jenna started unwrapping plates and mugs from the boxes, while Mom was still talking to the movers. Opening the full kitchen again would be one of the last steps in “Mom’s Big Plan”.
Suddenly there was a knock at the front door. Two people were crowding into the doorway. The first was a colorfully dressed mature lady, holding a casserole dish covered in foil, while behind her was stocky man, wearing a khaki and green uniform, who turned out to be the local Fish and Game warden.
As soon as she saw Jenna and Mom appear from opposite sides of the foyer, the lady started speaking, excitedly. “Hello! I’m Meg Connor, and this is Bill Marks, from the village. Welcome to Windchime!”
Mom replied, “Thank you. We’re the Hansons. I’m Susan, this is my daughter Jenna, and there’s my husband Geoff”, gesturing to Dad as he came in from the other room. "Please, won’t you come through to the kitchen?” They both came in, and Mr. Marks shook hands with Dad. Jenna glanced hopefully out the front door, but the adults were alone.
These people seemed nice. It only took a few minutes before Mom revealed her plans for the old place – “to hold artist’s retreats” – to which Ms. Connor replied that she was, “President of the North Lakes Arts and Crafts Association”, and they were off talking about the local artisan scene. Dad said, “I think we just lost them” and Mr. Marks said, “Yep”, before starting to ask Dad about when he planned on starting work. He explained, “I’m your liaison with both State and Federal agencies around here.” 
Well, that certainly sounded like it was shaping up to be the most boring conversation ever, especially since Jenna already knew plenty about her Dad’s work. But the conversation about the challenges of thriving as artists in the middle of nowhere wasn’t much better. Ms. Connor was just saying that the town lost all the passerby tourism to the city of Reservoir, “when the highway was rerouted there in the 70’s,” like with Route 66. The ski season kept the town afloat – that and the mill where most of the population worked. But for big box stores or appliances or bulk supplies, most people drove down to “the City.” 
Jenna quietly backed out to return to her room. Sure enough, there was the box marked “J’s bedding” ready for her. She glanced towards her phone, then turned away from the temptation, reaching instead for the safety cutter Mom had left for her.
A few hours later she was lying in bed, playing a game on her phone in the dark. She could hear her parents as they came up the stairs and headed to their room. Mom was already sounding pushy, while Dad was already sounding… like himself. He called it sensible. Mom called it defeatist.
“Meg says she wants to bring more arts and tourism to the Lake, and I can be part of that,” Mom was saying. 
“Sure, but it could take a few years to see your business being viable,” Dad said.
Jenna could picture her mom’s face becoming tight. She could hear her deliberate breathing and measured tone, when she answered, “You agreed that this was long-term. You agreed to consider this a long-term project, and you promised me we would stay here even if you took on external assignments.”
“Yes, I did agree. As long as the job exists, certainly, I’ll give it my best effort.”
The door closed muffling their voices, but Jenna could imagine the argument.
“It’s a mandated position. Why would it not exist?” “I thought you’d be pleased that I was taking a long view of it.” “Why say you support my idea but only ever point out problems?” “You place too much faith in external forces. Things can go wrong.” “You don’t place enough faith in anything. Things can go right too.” “They don’t seem to have so far.” “That’s really hurtful. You know why there have been problems. I’ve learnt a lot.” “Yes. Well I’ve learnt to have a contingency plan.” “You agreed to give this job your best effort.” “When did I say I wouldn’t?” and on until they finally went to bed. 
It was always about whose dream could be followed, his or hers. Nobody ever seemed to concern themselves with Jenna’s dreams. She felt like with every move and start over in a new town, a new school, her dreams were sliding further away.
Every now and then her parents would have a discussion when they thought she wasn’t listening. Mom was worried - already - about “how could she hope to get into a good college, or qualify for any kind of scholarship, without a record of outstanding community service work and extracurricular activities?” Dad seemed to have an assumption that she was headed for science, like himself. Mom always carried around a vague air of disappointment about it. 
Jenna felt like that was all a long way off. She didn’t know what she wanted her life to be, except that she liked swimming and sports and the outdoors. Her ambitions for herself included making a couple of true friends that she could laugh with, and share her secrets with, and tell her worries to - those being mostly about how her parents were acting. What she really wanted was not to be lonely. 
Maybe she should announce that her fallback plan was joining the Navy, which would really worry them. Well, at least that might unite them for a while. Jenna’s last thought as she drifted off to sleep, was that she needed to ask when the wifi would be available.

Monday, January 13, 2020

Writers, Protect your Time

As a writer and a stay-at-home mom, one of my biggest challenges has been finding the uninterrupted time to actually sit and write, without needing to worry about outside or additional responsibilities.

That the unpaid duties of parenting and home keeping - whether beloved or merely tolerated - still fall primarily on the shoulders of mother, is an almost universal constant. Women have been navigating these competing priorities for generations now. Those of us working in the arts are not exceptions, although we might have the advantage of a short commute if our studio is at home, as mine is. A recent study of salary data, found that the work of a SAHM is worth over $162K per year, when all the different functional roles are added up. Today as housekeeper, cook and part-time administrative assistant, my salary should be about $90K - but that would assume I'm a bit more enthusiastic of a housekeeper than I usually manage. 

For the last 20 years, I have been acting as the support system for my partner (my husband) and his professional activity as the breadwinner, while my own career aspirations have fit in part-time, around the choices I made. Yes, I did make the choice to live this lifestyle, centering home schooling as my priority and all the multitude of tasks involved in being a home maker as how I spent my time. It wasn't my original ambition to be out of the workforce. I had planned a fabulous career in theater and film. Just because I am happy with the choice I made, and the beautiful life I lead, doesn't mean I don't sometimes mourn what might have been.

Slowly, starting about 10 years ago, my daughter grew ever more independent. As she needed less of my focus, and I turned increasingly towards working for an income. Now I am a writer, with my first book on its way to publication. (More on that soon.)

In fact, I would go further to say that now I am practically a full-time writer.

It is because my daughter has entered college, and my husband and she leave for work/school together early just about every morning. My productivity, now that I am free of interruptions or plaintive importunities for attention or snacks, has skyrocketed.

Never have I felt the truth of and identification with Virginia Woolf's idea in her essay, "A Room of One's Own" so keenly as now, when I feel the real difference the comes from being alone in the house for a specified, predictable and regular time on a repeating schedule.

How did I manage to write a whole biography before? Well, my daughter was able to give me just enough time alone at my desk each working day, either from her sleep schedule or from as much self-discipline as she could muster, that I was able to put in about three or four hours a day, with some extra magical times when I was able to squeeze in 8 or 9. But it was a slog, and there is no denying that sometimes the others in my household, while expressing full support, left me feeling torn with their reasonable neediness.

Image by OpenClipart-Vectors from Pixabay

Here are the tactics that I use, that worked well in the past to let me get some writing work done, and continue to work well now.

  • While working on the bio, I had a daily set time when I wrote that I made sure everyone knew about. I had my accountability buddy to help me start every day at a consistent time. But I also had a set finishing time most days. When I was in a particular deadline mode, I would put the time on a dry erase sign, to let my people know when I was going to stop. I don't have an office with a door - yet - so that sign was very important. This included working on resumes too. 
  • I got efficient about preparing meals, and I have only become more efficient now with week-long meal planning and a daily preparation time built in to my schedule. I know when they will be home, and I work to that each day. 
  • I've been using a Pomodoro timer app. I let it tick aloud during the five minute breaks, when I jump up and do some quick housework task. But I find the countdown clock inspiring too. I have really become a lot more productive. 
  • I have a to do list, numbered by priority. If I have to make fewer decisions, work gets done faster. I spent some time during the first week of January creating an editorial calendar for the first Quarter of the year, even longer for some aspects of my writing businesses. Just four pre-planned blog posts a quarter here - surely I can manage that. 
  • I get most of my groceries delivered, especially the kind of household paper goods and sparkling water that come in bulk sizes. On the other hand, it can be a nice break to go up to the store and gather a week's worth of veges and proteins for meal planning. But the fast ordering and ability to avoid traffic and standing in lines, helps my time management immeasurably. 

There was no way for me to work consistently and in the great chunks that actually move a work of fiction along while my daughter was tiny and underfoot. Sure, I could knock out a blog post, or an article - even if it took a few sessions. But the ability to write a thousand reasonable words of a narrative or a screenplay needs the kind of time that allows flow - immersion in a whole other world where time moves entirely differently, and re-entering the common world, leaves one in a daze wondering where that time went...when did it get dark? How long has the cat been asserting her desire for her dinner? That takes protected time. And now I have it, for the time being at least.

Friday, January 3, 2020

Good books I read over the last year

I have to be honest. Most of the time I listened to audio books. I have subscriptions to two different services and this has been the greatest impetus to get new books and consume that informative, inspiring or entertaining content.

One of the reasons I choose audio for so much text based content is because of time constraints. When I read a book, that is all I do. What tends to suffer when I am absorbed in a book, especially a ripping narrative, is my sleep. I will continue the habit of a lifetime and read in bed. It's still relaxation, but it's not sleep.

I travel by public transit a little over an hour to my volunteer gig once a week. Every other week, I have an errand to another part of town. Perfect reading moments, right? Alas, I get terrible motion sickness if I try to read in a vehicle or on a train. So it is the perfect time to listen.

I like to listen to something while I'm walking or grocery shopping. Often I hit up podcasts, but buffering can be a problem. So I have a book downloaded, and I can listen happily. At home, I use an audio book as my "reward" for doing some housework. I put my earbuds in, turn on an entertaining book, and clean. It's especially great for the vacuuming.

Here is a selection of the non-fiction titles I read and appreciated this year, in no particular order. I read more than these, but these are the ones I truly enjoyed in the moment or intend to return to for references and ideas.

Wendy Wood - Good Habits, Bad Habits: The Science of Making Positive Changes (2019). This book is a conglomeration of the science including a lot of Dr. Wood's own research into the topic, but is written in language accessible to the layman. I have only just finished my first listen, and I will be going through it again to make notes of some actionable practices. Stay tuned on that one.

Ken Robinson - Out of Our Minds: Learning to Be Creative (2011) and Finding Your Element: How to Discover Your Talents and Passions and Transform Your Life (2013). Creativity is a particular interest of mine. Ken Robinson's TED talk on the subject is still one of the most listened to in history.

Simon Sinek - The Infinite Game (2019). This is an interesting take on the concept of fixed and growth mindsets for leaders. I have already recommended this book to others.

Hillary Rodham Clinton and Chelsea Clinton - The Book of Gutsy Women: Favorite Stories of Courage and Resilience (2019)

Michelle Obama - Becoming (2018). Definitely her story, her point of view, not his. Good value too, because it is long and detailed.

Mel Robbins - Work It Out (2019), Kick Ass (2018) and Take Control of Your Life (2019) - Audible Originals. These are recorded coaching sessions with deeply insightful commentary and actionable take-aways. I like this work better than the original Five Second Rule.

David Wallace-Wells - The Uninhabitable Earth: Life After Warming(2019). A depressingly clear run down of the current climate-change science, and some of the predictive models - but with some hope attached. Very useful for anyone writing futurist or sci-fi novels, if nothing else.

Marie Forleo - Everything is Figureoutable (2019). One of the great features of this audio book, is that the sections with the exercises - what she calls an "Insight to Action Challenge" for each chapter - have their own heading - so it is easy to jump to them to participate in the exercises.

Currently reading:

Matt Bird - The Secrets of Story: Innovative Tools for Perfecting Your Fiction and Captivating Readers (2016). This is another book that will I will be taking copious notes from. I'm finding it illuminating.

Amy Schmittauer Landino - Good Morning, Good Life: 5 Simple Habits to Master Your Mornings and Upgrade Your Life (2019). I am already a fan of Amy's first book, Vlog Like a Boss, and I like her reading style in audio. She writes in a friendly, authentic style and shares personal stories from her own life, including sometimes painful learning experiences. Plus it includes actionable exercises and doable steps. I like it so far.