Writing Pomodoro Style

The Pomodoro Technique is a time management method developed by Francesco Cirillo using a kitchen timer shaped like a tomato. 

I first read about authors using this time management method to spur writing on the Writers Write blog and more recently on Elizabeth Spann Craig's blog. 

Do I use it to write? Loosely. I don't use a ticking timer. But since the beginning of this year I do have a schedule for writing that I try to stick with. 

On the days when I'm not at the office, I write. 

When I was still creating my story and spilling it all out on paper, I did not use a timer method to measure how I did. I used word count to track how much I produced. But now that I'm adding layers and revising a story in draft form, I use the Pomodoro bursts. 

I'm a morning person. I like to sip my tea in the quiet and read through writer blogs as I wake up. But come 7 am? I write on my story or on this blog. I'll stay on task for roughly 45-minutes at a time and then take anywhere from a 5 to a 15-minute break.  I don't use a kitchen timer. I don't use an app. The small clock on my laptop helps me track my time. I'll keep at this until 1 pm.  

Having worked on my story for several years, I need to feel a sense of accomplishment. Novels are anywhere from 70,000 to 100,000 words. That's a lot of words, a lot of writing, and I want to know that I'm producing a story, that there is a forward movement with my story. So I like to measure myself. And yes, I track my measurements on excel spreadsheets! 

How about you? Do you have some writerly tricks of the trade to help you feel that you have moved forward with your story or your article during your day?

   

Selling Your Books

I had a blast! The Minnesota Conference United Church of Christ (UCC) had their weekend Annual Meeting. (Yup, that name--meeting--needs to change. It does not begin to encompass all that we do. For we also sang, danced, prayed, honored, celebrated, and listened to inspiring national keynote speakers and a local turnaround church preacher.)

For the purpose of this blog--hello author!--I will only talk about one small specific part. I sold six of my books, Disturbing Complacency: Preparing for Christmas.

One of the events of the weekend are the exhibits on Friday and Saturday. Table displays created by seminaries, SERRVUCC books, banners, and buttons, Turkish scarves, church camp items, etc. allow people to browse, talk with a representative, maybe pick up a brochure or sign up on an email list, and grab a bite of candy. 

Change and Conflict in Your Congregation (Even if You Hate Both) by Rev. Dr. Anita L. Bradshaw, Carnal Knowledge of God: Embodied Love and the Movement for Justice by Rev. Dr. Rebecca M.M. Voelkel, and Disturbing Complacency: Preparing for Christmas by Rev. Lisa Bodenheim.

Change and Conflict in Your Congregation (Even if You Hate Both) by Rev. Dr. Anita L. Bradshaw, Carnal Knowledge of God: Embodied Love and the Movement for Justice by Rev. Dr. Rebecca M.M. Voelkel, and Disturbing Complacency: Preparing for Christmas by Rev. Lisa Bodenheim.

This year for the first time, we had a local authors (and musician) table. What an excellent idea. Four of us of us were present but only two of us available to sit on this table with books from six authors and one musician.

Of course I didn't think of this idea. Pfft! I'm an introvert. Sit at a table with people milling around and try to talk about and ask for money for my book? But Rebecca, whose book just came out this year, is very much an extrovert and comfortable reaching out to other people in diverse milieus. 

It's that piece that made the table such a success for both of us and the other authors/musician. I have been a small church pastor, local and fairly centralized in this area (except for the two years I lived in Scotland). Rebecca is a theologian, pastor, and movement-builder. She has worked within the UCC national settin, leads workshops, and is Director of the Center of Sustainable Justice.  We knew different people. We hang out with different people. We attract different people. Lots of people stopped to visit with us.

And the best part of it was, when there wasn't anybody browsing at our table, we had each other or someone at the next table to talk with. There's a stimulating energy in the air when conversation happens and that draws people. 

New Book

Donna Everhart, author of The Education of Dixie Dupree, has another book coming out this fall, The Road to Bittersweet. And to whet our appetite, the first chapter is printed in Buzz Books 2017 Fall/Winter. Check it out!

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My book? Yesterday Janice Hardy's Fiction University blog had an extremely helpful hint for writers. It addresses a problems which I've struggled with.

I have a completed first draft, finally, of my novel. But my story still has a couple of plot holes even after running it, chapter by chapter, through crit partners.

Janice wrote about the difference between drafting and editing. And that has been part of my issue in filling those holes. I've been in edit/revise mode as I work on my draft. And then when I come upon the spot where the hole is, I forget to shift out of edit/revise into draft as I need to create new material.  

So yesterday, I worked on my manuscript. I tend to write skeletal so I added layers--internal thoughts, seeing the scene from the characters point of view--to a couple of chapters in the middle of my story, the Mirror Moment. And then I had a blank chapter. I knew what needed to go in there but I've been in editing and revising mode and I needed to create fresh material for that hole.  So I dove in! That new chapter needs work (lots of talking heads) but now I have something to work with and shape. 

Excitement!

I am so excited!!  I entered a flash fiction contest and was named as one of the finalists!

 

For sooooo long I have been entering Janet Reid's flash fiction contests and not receiving any type of mention. Nothing I wrote seemed to stand out above the crowd.  Not since 2015! 

Last week, Janet sorted through her 100th Flash Fiction entrees (that word is deliberate as Janet is also Query Shark and she knows how to chomp!) and named her top seven, gave her reasons why she had chosen the entry and then named a winner. I am jealous of the prize the winner received: a map book, Vargic's Miscellany of Curious Maps.

But, did I mention I'm so happy? 

For this contest, we had to use these words in our 100 word story:  gaze, scapegrace, forti, scram, fin. You can take a look at the winning entries here. There was a total of 84 entries which you can find towards the bottom of the page here. 

My story? Here you go:

Breakfast

He asks about her date. Happily, she chatters. I place the milk pitcher. By him.

“Scapegallows,” he insults. Of course. “He wouldn’t know a fortissimo from a finocchio.” He eats his cornflakes.

Our daughter gazes, blankly.

Angered, I touch her shoulder, “Fatherly humor.”

He rolls his eyes.

Stiff-backed, I sit, “Finish your breakfast, dear. How was the band?”

She shrugs.

Her cannolo remains untouched. Damn him. Patient, I sip my Italian Roast. He stands—slender and handsome as ever—and scrams. I accept his tainted kiss, airbrush-style this morning. He leaves. Scapegoat.

And now? Anticipation! “How was your date?”

If you're as sharp-eyed as some of the Reiders, you'll notice that in my editing and revising, I left out a required word. Rats! But, many of the commenters were gracious, telling me to be gentle with myself (my writerly insecurity came out) and things happen!

I was just so happy to be named a finalist, to hear Janet's take on something I had written. 

 

Wrestling

Does the writing life feel like a wrestling match?  Trying and trying to get those words on paper in a way that tells the beautiful/gory/heartbreaking story that lives within your imagination, in the very fiber of your being? 

My title was inspired by last week's column at Writer Unboxed with Porter Anderson.  He wrote about the war for attention. http://writerunboxed.com/2017/05/19/an-arms-race-of-monetized-distraction/

But, whereas, Porter Anderson writes about macro-attention time-stealers, I'm more about micro-timestealers. Getting caught up in facebook. Pfaffing over the worksheets I create for my story. Hopping over to my blog stats too many times. I can just imagine how rodent-wheeling I'll be once I start querying. I'll be hitting the refresh button on my email site every stinking second!  

And it's so easy to not let my focus go astray. Just open the word document to my current spot I'm working on and I fall in love with my story all over again and dig into it. Bringing out its shine the best way I know how at this moment in time. 

But, getting back to the Writer Unboxed column. He quoted one of the presenters there who spoke about the commodification and the commercialization of monetized attention. 

I don't know about you but that phrase is spooky. 

Is that all we're about anymore? Money? And with money as the bottom line (and yes, writers need to earn money too) along comes its brother and sister: commodification and commercialization.  

Those last two words feel so cold because all relationships have been taken out of them. And that's my objection: when money becomes the bottom line for how to conduct ourselves. Especially if we subscribe to the paradigm of scarcity.

If I believe in scarcity, there's only so much to go around and I'm going to hoard what's mine for me and my people.  If there's enough left for you after I get my fill, fine and dandy. If not, well tough cookies. The problem is--if we're not awake to the effect of money and it's power over us, we become slaves of money, greedy, avaricious. An antithesis to human relationships. 

I could go off on so many tangents with this article from Writer Unboxed. I found it thought provoking and I'm caught up in the realities of the war for attention, just to get my story written, let alone hoping it will someday grab readers' attention and hold them, in a nanosecond twitter world. 

 

 

Diversity conversations

Last week, Writer Unboxed printed a column about diversity. It was well-written and brought up the provocative Lionel Shriver keynote speech that provoked reactions and responses of outrage.

Columnist for the day, Keith Cronin, explores his own meanderings down the road of political correctness and cultural misappropriation.  

His article and the comments which followed were thoughtful, courteous, nuanced. If you're interested in this topic of conversation (which I am, obviously), I invite you to head over to Writer Unboxed to read the May 9th column and comments.  

Study: classic reads

This year I've been trying to read one book each week across a variety of genres. This past week I read a Toni Morrison book, Sula.

I have people of color in my stories. And I know that I'm woefully short in reading books by diverse authors. I shouldn't be, because Toni Morrison and Maya Angelou are considered classics, right? 

But, when I google classics the top names that come up are white, European, or American. Mostly men--Don Quixote, 1984, Anna Karenina, War and Peace, The Adventures of Huckleberry Finn. 

On one website, there's not a female name mentioned until #10 George Eliot a.k.a. Mary Ann Evans (1819-1880), author of Middlemarch. And #11 lists Gabriel Garcia Marquez (1927-2014), the Colombian author of One Hundred Years of Solitude.

Out of that list of 99 books, I found more women authors but not until #64 did I encounter another person of color, Sun Tzu (544-496 BC), a Chinese military strategist who wrote The Art of War. Towards the end, a couple of anthologies and short story collections were listed:  Arabian Nights, an anthology of Middle Eastern and South Asian stories, and The Aleph and other short stories by Argentine writer Jorge Luis Borges.  

What makes a classic?  At AbeBooks, their article and video (from 2014) describe a classic as a book: that outlasts time, is historical, is required reading at high school, demonstrates universal themes of life, gets better over time, is colloquial, is educational, and has style.

Perhaps it's time we add other characteristics to our definition of classic literature or at least, to look at themes beyond our customary American and European white-based stories.

What is your definition of classic literature?  

 

Real Live Writer's Group

Writing is a head oriented activity-using our imagination to create stories and selecting words to communicate those images to someone else.

But, to have a vivid imagination, we need curiosity and experience. We need to see, hear, smell, touch, and taste.

Last night, I went to my first, in a very long time, writer's group. 

This group meets monthly and a facilitator steers the group. She had assigned a writing exercise, asking them to use the five senses. (My brief reflection above the picture? I wrote that before I went to the meeting! How's that for coincidence in real life?) There were ten of us last night. Most of them shared their writing pieces.

It was an informal meeting, perhaps because it's the last night until September. They also shared information about the open house for a new artist studio in town, the author's open mike night at a cafe, a couple of books, and one person had attended a workshop at the Loft Literary Center in Minneapolis. 

Though I've been curious about the Loft, between work, cost, and the energy to google directions, drive, and sit in class with new people? Those three things haven't meshed enough yet to propel me there. Someday. Maybe!

As an introvert, I did not participate much last night but observed and watched. I've already received a welcome email from the facilitator that shared again the dates and locations of events mentioned last night. And I'll be glad of opportunities to get to know this group better.

Some of the people in my facebook writer's group pointed out various types of groups which was helpful. I did not have any expectations and it seems this group is more about support of writing habits group rather than critique of manuscripts group.

How about you? What type of writer's group(s) do you participate in? 

    

Study: the craft of writing

This week I've looked at Jodi Picoult's most recent novel, Small Great Things. By the way, there are NO SPOILERS in this post.

You noticed my verbs of choice? I have not read the book as a reader. Not yet. I've looked at it. I've studied it. And I will study the book some more. Then I will read it.

I am not able to study a book and read it at the same time. And, to be honest, this is my way of reading the ending first before reading the book as a reader. 

In my own writing, I have been most troubled with saggy middles and the climactic sequence. I wanted to see how Picoult deals with these areas.

And, my other reason for studying this book? The story narrates a polemical topic, which is one of the braids in my story--racism.

Picoult's story tackles this subject in a pointed and obvious manner. She uses the point-of-views of three main characters: two women and a man.

  • The man is a white supremacist whose wife just had a baby.
  • The black woman is a nurse in the labor and delivery unit of the hospital.
  • The white woman is the public defender who takes this case of the nurse against the white supremacist's accusations after his baby dies.

These three characters connect through circumstance and they begin their relationships with one another within the hospital and within the court system. The two women build a relationship when the nurse is appointed a public defender. The public defender becomes aware of how white privilege seeps into our lives.

My story is about a bi-racial family. There is a hospital involved but there's also the complexity of family love, and personality likes and dislikes among the family members. While one scene has a direct confrontation about issues of racism between two women related by marriage, the focus of my story is more on the continuum of racism. (although Picoult also deals with the continuum too) 

My pov character for the 2013 braid* is Addison, a Millennialist who treasures close-knit connections with her brother and four cousins. When the family draws together to deal with a cousin's hospitalization and to support one another, various emotions and issues come forth. 

White writers struggle to get the issues of racism and white privilege right, as evidenced by critiques of their writing. I'm thinking in particular of The Help by Kathryn Stockett and The Invention of Wings by Sue Monk Kidd. Will white writers ever get the issue of racism and white privilege right? In our time, I think writers will, mostly, remain clumsy in our attempts but if we are earnest in our writing, it will be well worth the effort. We will create common language and better understanding as we learn. 

Have you read Picoult's book yet?  What are your thoughts? 

 

*My other braid is from the pov of the WWII East Prussian refugee, Amalie, who is a great-great Tante to Addison and her cousins.

Living Values

Minimalism, simplicity, green-living, frugality, self-care...all mix and meander together in a beautiful harmonious mishmash but at other times conflict stridently.

Nothing like spring or Easter, and having lived through the recent death of a significant loved one, to get a person philosophizing.

What is our greatest yearning in life? Isn't it a longing for connection, a longing to be authentic to who we are called to be.

Faith has always played an understated role in my life, a bedrock for the values I prioritize in my life. I have always connected spirituality with living simply, with living as lightly on earth as I can. No, I've not  always been successful. But, I've tried.

As a young adult, I volunteered and shopped in the local Food Coop. I wanted to make a difference, to place my money where my values were.

As a single parent, I adopted a frugal lifestyle based on the books, Your Money or Your Life and The Tightwad Gazette. Very 1990s. At that time, I pastored a small church in a small village (no clothing stores, eventually no grocery store) during that time and I drove 30 minutes to get to the nearest town with a hospital. I did not shop often and when I did, I was usually in a rush. So I did not buy into the consumer culture that accumulating things would make me happy. 

But living frugally and living greenly did not always go hand-in-hand. Purchasing frugally meant buying the cheapest, usually a box store. Living greenly or sustainably meant purchasing for long-lasting quality. Expensive. No easy answers in my desire to let my money show my values. My lifestyle values required me to think and decide and live with the consequences. 

Today, the language has shifted yet again. Bloggers speak of living a minimal lifestyle such as No Sidebar and Project 333

As millennialists move from a culture of accumulating fine and beautiful THINGS into a culture of acquiring fine and beautiful EXPERIENCES, I get caught between my parents' "but we have these objects to pass on that tell our history" and my children's "no, we don't want or need anymore stuff."  History is important but not necessarily by owning and acquiring artifacts. 

What do you value? And, perhaps more importantly, are you able to earn enough money that you can support the values you have that you'd like to see continued into the next generation? 

As a new homeowner who is single and works part-time, I make choices. Getting the basics of my household in order (why are there so many water issues with this house?) is  more of a priority than having stylish clothing or more jewelry. Being a writer is more important than having a full-time job (hm....but it would be nice to not live quite so close to the edge.)

Today? The sun is shining. My daffodils are blooming. And there is yard work to be done which I am quite happy to do. Today.