Saturday, March 23, 2019

What is the Moon of Your Imagination? Smack Dab in the Imagination by Dia Calhoun

The third super moon of the year fell on the equinox--what could be better? The name. Worm Moon--that's the name of the full moon of March. Really? All the amazing things about spring and Worm Moon is the best we can do? (no offense to worms or their importance intended...)

Where I live, the frogs singing on the river are one of the first heralds of spring. So I am renaming the March full moon, Frog Moon. I like the idea of connecting cosmic events to my own geographical location. So I plan to use my imagination to create my own names for each month's full moon.

What an intriguing imaginative assignment this would be for kids. Ask students to create their own names for each month's full moon, based on what they do in that month or on where they live. (I can hear your warning ....Screen Moon will be the most popular choice . . .) Have the students add a sentence or two about why they chose each name. Then have them choose their favorite moon as short story or poem prompt.

I am working on my list. So far:
September: Golden Corn Moon.
June: Shawn's Strawberry Moon.
October: Last Chance to Dance Moon (before winter.)
January: Quiet Moon
February: Endless Winter Moon

I'll keep you posted.

Wednesday, March 20, 2019

My Biggest Distraction

DISTRACTION. What a great topic for authors! I wish I could blame it on someone else. But unfortunately, I have no one to blame my distractions on but ME!

Yes, I have to take 100% responsibility for this one because:
  • Who flips through news headlines when she sits down at her computer instead of opening the Word File she's working on?
  • Who clicks on some of those headlines to follow the "rabbit hole" of reading that beckons from beyond?
  • Who answers her email instead of getting right to her current work-in-progress?
  • Who scrolls through Twitter letting the latest controversy take up prime real estate in her mind?
  • Who decides she's hungry and goes to the kitchen for a snack even though she just ate lunch?
  • Who lets the dog coerce her for one more time outside, before she gets to her work?
  • Who cleans and organizes desk drawers when her manuscript sits waiting?

Obviously I could go on and on, but it doesn't matter how many more questions I pose because the answer to all of them is ME. To anyone trying to accomplish their work for the day, distractions like these are a real threat to productivity and to completing long-term projects. But, that said, because all the distractions stem from the same thing, the solution to all of them is the same as well. Just as I'm responsible for giving in to all these things that have the potential to distract me, I also have the opportunity to decide to be disciplined instead of distracted.

I've come to realize over the years that distractions will always be there. Noticing them, naming what they are, and finding a way to keep them at bay is my strategy for getting my work finished. So, when I find myself on the wrong side of the things that take me from my work, I pay attention to what those things are, and then I find a way to keep myself on the right side of them. For example, I don't let myself scroll through news headlines until my work is finished. I keep my phone off my desk to curb the temptation of Twitter. I reward myself with that snack once I'm ready to put aside my writing for the day.

Most of all I remember, that, if I'm the only one to blame for my distractions, then I'm the only one who is able to do anything about them.

Happy Distraction-free Reading & Writing,

Tuesday, March 19, 2019

Writing Distractions That Don't Meow

The first writing distraction that comes to mind is black, furry with fangs: My cat, Boots.

In reality, Boots is one of my finest writing champions. He is one of the first to get into the office and stake out his place for a stretch of watching me while writing. Boots has been my loyal companion for nearly 14 years now, always watching between wild amusement and slight analytical stare as I type away. It’s only when I get obsessed that he gets annoyed and starts trying to step on my keyboard, needle his claws into my shoulders or knocking everything that isn’t stapled down to my desk, off the desk and to the floor.

The biggest writing distractions for me are life – a complicated health situation that impacts my vision and my hands, family that ties up my mind space, a social calendar that is sporadic and work than can be tiring.

It is often tempting to skip my allotted writing time for a nap or a hot bath or simply a break.
The way in which I overcome my worst distractions – busy cat, tired eyes, hectic life – are those that work best for my personality. Routine, routine, routine. I carve out a certain time frame each week, every week during which I write. I do not commit myself to a certain word count or even time stamp. I only know that when that hour strikes, what I’ll be doing and where I’ll be and most of all what I will accomplish: My very best.

It my time, for me. Because my writing IS me.

Everyone has a writing rule that works best for them, and no two writers will be ever be the same, nor should there. There is no judgement in art or in personal victories. Mine are small and meaningful. A splash of time meant for the one art in my life that I never tire of. The one mistress who never is turned away or shoved aside for anything else.

Fuzzy cat or naptime be darned, as long as I see words on that page every week, I know I’m getting to my next goal.

Happy reading!

Monday, March 18, 2019

Writing AS the Distraction

For most of my long writing career, I've had demanding day (or day-and-night) jobs. I've been an editor for a university think tank, a college professor with a full-time academic appointment, a mom of two boys, and now I'm a grandmother who watches my two small granddaughters ten days each month.

This means that writing has always been my private passion, my secret joy, my stolen pleasure. It's what I did in the early morning hours before others in my family awakened, what I did on lazy weekend days, and what I cherished during holidays. My idea of a dream vacation has always been having time to write - preferably time to write in a little cottage overlooking the sea.

So I identified completely with Elizabeth Gilbert's recommendation, in her delicious book Big Magic: Creative Living Beyond Fear, that we should consider having an "affair" with our creativity. She writes, "Stop treating your creativity like it's a tired, old, unhappy marriage (a grind, a drag) and start regarding it with the fresh eyes of a passionate lover. Even if you have only fifteen minutes in a stairwell alone with your creativity, take it. Go hide in that stairwell and make out with your art!"

I love this way of thinking about our relationship with our creative work- not as work at all, as something we have to do, but as play - something we get to do, even though maybe we shouldn't - and sexy play, too. Gilbert continues, "Lie to everyone about where you're going on your lunch break. Pretend you're on a business trip when secretly you're retreating in order to paint, or to write poetry. . . Slip away from everyone else at the party and go off to dance alone with your ideas in the dark."

Ooh! Just from reading this, I feel my fingers itching to find a pen and whisper sweet nothings with it to an enticingly bare page....

Friday, March 15, 2019

Taming the Block-ness Monster

As we continue to look at distractions, sometimes a distraction is exactly what you need.

The term “writer’s block” was coined by psychiatrist Edmund Bergler in the 1940s. He studied writers for two decades, trying to understand why they suffered from “neurotic inhibitions of productivity.” 

There were several popular theories at the time. Some thought the writers simply used up all their inspirations and was dry of further creative thought. The landlord theory supported the notion that the writing stopped as soon as the rent was paid, implying that it was the struggle itself that fed the creative juices. In 1950, Bergler published his findings in his article, Does Writer’s Block Exist? His conclusions were that a writer was like a psychoanalyst. And a blocked writer was, in essence, blocked psychologically.

There have been other studies since Bergler, all trying to understand this creative “block-ness.” (See Maria Konnikova, How to Beat Writer’s Block, The New Yorker: March 11, 2016)

Despite the many, many reasons why one suffers from creative block, everyone has in common certain experiences: their motivation has wavered, they felt less joy in the process, and they had “low levels of positive and constructive mental imagery.”

Writer’s block doesn’t only happen to writers, despite the term. Anyone who creates anything in any format can find herself in a position of “block-ness. You have an idea, or you have a thousand ideas all at once, but either way, you don’t know where to begin. Or you’re rolling along on your WIP when suddenly, life happens. When you finally return to your WIP, you’re stuck and have no idea how to get unstuck. You’ve fallen and can’t get up. Or worse, not only did you hit a dead end, you’ve come to believe you are not good enough, and no amount of revision is going to improve the WIP, or you. During these times, you may give up completely, and abandon your dreams. When this happens, the block-ness monster wins.

There are many popular strategies -- distractions -- you can use to overcome creative block. Keep a journal. Take a break. Take a walk, or a run. Take a nap. Find a guru. Talk to a friend, or a therapist, or both. Eat chocolate (this works!) In the end, I think it’s also about rediscovering your purpose. To illustrate what I mean, I offer the following story, written by Marc and Angel Chernoff. (This is my revamped synopsis, shortened significantly to fit our SMACK DAB format. For the full text and discussion, see Marc & Angel, An Open Letter to Those Who Have Lost Their Motivation)    

Once upon a time, there was a young girl who dreamed of traveling the world. But as she grew up, she found many reasons why she couldn’t go. She was always busy building a good life for herself.

When the young girl turned 65, and was now an old woman, she decided it was time to finally travel the world. She sold all of her possessions, keeping only those precious essentials she could carry in a backpack.

And then, finally, finally, she set out to have the adventure of a lifetime. At first, she was amazed at everything she saw. She was filled with awe at every turn. She kept walking, even when it rained. When there was no road, she walked across fields. She slept outside so she could see the stars. 

 A few weeks into her journey, however, she began to feel her age. Her feet were sore, and every bone in her body ached. She was tired of the rain, and the hills. She was tired of sleeping on rocks. She began to miss the comforts and routines of her old life. She wondered what her friends were doing. Every day, she grew more tired until finally, she couldn’t take another step.

She sat down, on the side of the road, looking ahead. There was no end in sight. It seemed an impossible task. She began to cry, and with every tear, her despair grew.

“I have nothing left!” she shouted. “I’ve sold everything to do this, and now I can’t go another step! This was such a stupid idea!”

It just so happens, a Master Guru lived in the woods, and he listened to the old woman wail. He decided to help her, because that’s what Master Gurus do. He waited until she slept. And then, ever so quiet, he took her backpack, and disappeared back into the woods.

When the old woman finally woke, she discovered her backpack – all that she had left in this world – was missing. Now she felt really lost. Now she really did have nothing. She cried until she had no tears left. She sat there, for a long long time, wondering what to do. Finally, she gathered herself together and started walking. Her feet still hurt, and her bones ached. Her back didn’t feel very good after a night on the rocky road. But she kept going, one step at a time. And with every step, her strength returned.

Miles later down the road, lo and behold, there lay her backpack, filled with her most precious items. She smiled, ear to ear, and said, “At least now I can keep going…”

"Keep going. One small step at a time." -- Marc and Angel Chernoff

(PS all photos are courtesy of I thought the cat was particularly charming.)

Thank you for reading!  
Bobbi Miller

Thursday, March 14, 2019

Writing Distractions...let me count the ways, by Michele Weber Hurwitz

This month on the blog we're writing about distractions we face as authors. Oh, where to begin. Of course there's social media and the nonstop use of our phones, buzzing and beeping constantly with texts, alerts, and the occasional actual call. Then there's my dusty house, piles on my desk, bills to be paid, a car that hasn't been washed in hmm...when was the last time? My kids and spouse, who need me to do something for them "immediately," grocery shopping and actually cooking dinner once in a while, EMAILS that come in as quickly as I go through my in-box, not to mention the "other" work we authors do -- promoting, visiting schools, answering fan mail -- all good stuff, but also distractions from that serious, focused writing work we need to sit down and get done.

As my fellow bloggers have mentioned in their posts, the crux of it is, LIFE is a distraction!

I've thought about this a lot. Because although we face numerous, constant distractions, isn't that what fuels us, too? The Instagram post from a reader who took an artistic photo of my book cover surrounded by flowers and lip gloss -- that virtual pat on the back made me smile and lifted me up on a day when the words weren't coming. The interruption from my daughter, texting me something funny her roommate said...hmm, maybe I could steal that for a snippet of dialogue. And the dusty house...I've used that for setting many a time :)

I've come to the realization that distractions are just part of being a writer. The truth is, I think I'd feel uninspired without them.

Michele Weber Hurwitz is trying to quiet the distractions while she revises her fifth middle grade novel, due May 2020 from Penguin Random House/Wendy Lamb Books. More at

Wednesday, March 13, 2019

Bringing the Funny

Okay, I’m going to do a little multitasking here and blog in response to both of our March themes: mirth and distractions. Because one of my favorite writing distractions is funny middle grade books. So here are a batch of recommendations for some humorous (in fact, hilarious) middle grade novels that may not already be on your radar. Enjoy!

This one’s just out, and to be completely honest, I haven’t even finished reading it yet, but I love the voice Josh uses, love the premise, and I even love the cover, which is like the kind of book I would have wanted to be seen carrying around school back in the day. Meanwhile, who doesn’t want to read about a rickety spaceship-slash-middle-school that gets flung across the galaxy, leaving its students to face down the first aliens ever encountered by humans and hopefully save the universe in the process?

I’m going to go ahead and say it: Crystal Allen is the funniest author I know personally. Not to mention on the page. She’s got voice, she’s got jokes, she’s got good story, and she’s got that X factor, the one I can’t quite put my finger on, that makes me want to keep turning pages. I was sorry to come to the end of this one, but I’m looking forward to checking out Crystal’s MYA TIBBS series.   

COSMIC, by Frank Cottrell Boyce
Humor is such a personal thing, but for me, this is one of the most LOL-heavy middle grade books I’ve ever read. Boyce is also the author of the better-known MILLIONS, but word on the street is that COSMIC may be heading to a movie theater near you before too long. I can’t speak for the movie, but as for the book, do yourself a favor and check this one out—or better yet, put it in the hands of a kid who likes to read funny stuff.

BORN TO ROCK, by James Patterson and Chris Tebbetts
Of course I have to mention one of my own titles. This one came out last month, and it's the latest in the MIDDLE SCHOOL series I’ve been writing with James Patterson for several years now. I love these characters, and it was especially fun to delve into spinoff territory for BORN TO ROCK. Instead of hearing from our usual narrator, Rafe Khatchadorian, this book follows his sister Georgia through a battle of the bands competition, where Georgia’s band (called We Stink!) competes for a gig playing warmup for one of Georgia’s own idols, Lulu and the Handbags. It’s an incredibly deep and serious story, so break out the tissues for this one…. (I kid, I kid…) 

Happy reading everyone, and please share a few recommendations of your own in the comments! 

Tuesday, March 12, 2019

Distractions by Darlene Beck Jacobson

Laundry, cobwebs on the ceiling, the sewing machine, dark chocolate calling in the pantry, Words With Friends on my tablet, a new book I'm finding hard to put down. There are so many things that distract me from writing - ALL of them found indoors.

When I really need to clear out my mental cobwebs and reset my mind to writing, I go outside. Taking a walk, playing in the garden, watching birds flutter in the yard, observing kids at the park playground, may seem like distractions of their own, but whenever I venture outside the man-made world into the world of nature, my mind opens up and begins to free-associate. It's like brainstorming in a way. Characters talk to me. Scenes play out before my eyes. I find an object that would be perfect for my character to obsess over...the ideas are flowing like they never do when I am staring at the computer.

When I am away from the physical writing environment and its distractions, my best writing begins to flow. Now if only I can find my pad and paper...