Thursday, March 28, 2019

A Thoroughly Enjoyable Distraction

Oh, so many things I could write about as distractions from writing! Yesterday it was a lousy night's sleep the night before; the day before that, it was doctor and dentist appointments (mine and my kids'). But over spring break, I CHOSE a distraction, and I enjoyed every minute of it.

When Publishers Weekly announced in its deal memo that Laurie Boyle Crompton had just inked a contract for a book that was a combination of 80s movies Groundhog Day and Pretty in Pink, I began the countdown until the book would hit stands. Finally, with the kids out of school for a full week (read: no lessons to drive them to, etc.), I was able to dig in.

This wholesome novel (seriously, you could hand it to your 12-year-old and not worry about profanity or sexual situations you'd rather not discuss yet) is every bit as fun as an 80s movie classic. And as someone who grew up on those movies, it was fun to see that Crompton incorporated not only the two mentioned in the "elevator pitch" summary, but also touched on just about every other classic 80s movie as well. I liked the way that her protagonist, Andie (named after Molly Ringwald's character in Pretty in Pink, natch), cast a critical eye on the problematic aspects of the films while also appreciating them for what they were. (For example, it's crazy to think that we all watched Sixteen Candles without being alarmed by the suggestion that sexual assault is A-OK if your girlfriend is shallow, mean, and too drunk to know what's happening...what was wrong with society back then!?) I also loved that Andie's supposed rival is a gorgeous brunette named Kaia. I wondered if Crompton chose to name her after the daughter of Cindy Crawford, the official goddess of the 80s. (Cindy's daughter is basically her mom 2.0--drop-dead gorgeous as well.)

So, over spring break, I didn't write very much, but it was time well spent. And as an added bonus, I feel that the break from work opened up my creativity for the coming weeks.

Sometimes, it's great to be distracted. 


Monday, March 25, 2019


We consistently label distractions as bad. And yeah, they can suck some precious time away from our writing projects.

But as far as I’m concerned, many of those distractions can actually be productive—and the source of a wealth of information.

I do keep several news feeds open as I write, as well as some social media feeds. I write until I begin to lose steam, then click over to read a few articles or check out what’s being discussed in an online writers’ group.  I check out what illustrators are posting.  I bounce around until I get that itch to get back to my WIP. I move that way throughout the day, back and forth, writing and reading, writing and reading.

The thing is, I've learned you’ve always got to keep your antenna out. I think that means reading PW and talking to other writers, subscribing to as many trade newsletters and magazines as possible. You don’t know what you don’t know. Which means you can’t Google it in a post-writing opportune time. You have to just be out there, constantly interacting, reading, listening. That’s how I’ve been learning about the publishing industry all along—both traditional and indie publishing.

You can’t write in a vacuum. That means you need an editor and feedback on your work, sure. But I think that also means you can’t simply write and not attempt to learn about the industry as a whole. That’s where we’re lucky. Living in a world in which everything is online, we get a chance to talk to bookstore owners and librarians. We get to talk to teachers and see how our work is being used in the classroom. We get to hear what kind of books readers are hungry for. And we get to see in real time what’s going on in the publishing industry itself.

That’s not to say we should all be writing to market. Chasing trends. Racing to get on the next bandwagon. But all this information really can help inform and shape your own WIP, the work of your heart. Or it can help shape the submission or marketing or packaging of that work. It’s really nice, once you get done writing, to already have a plan for what to do next—a plan that’s been shaped by all your reading during “distraction” time!

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...

Monday, March 11, 2019

Who Me? Distracted?

by Jody Feldman

In this month when we’re discussing distractions, I happen, so far, to have been easily distracted. So instead of listing everything that distracts me and why, how about I bring you two collages. The first, I sometimes show in school visits; also when I talk to parents and teachers. The second, a few of my personal distractions. Some of them fuel my writing, and some are a necessary part of enjoying life. Which ones fall into which category? I’ll just keep you guessing. I’ve already been distracted too long today.
Think the kiddos are distracted much?
Think I am?

Friday, March 8, 2019

International Mirth Month/Women's Day? by Jane Kelley

Smack dab in the middle of International Mirth Month is International Women's Day.

Is this someone's idea of a joke?

Nope. Every year on March 8, we "celebrate acts of courage and determination by ordinary women who have played an extraordinary role in the history of their countries and communities" -- Women Watch.

These women were marching for food and peace during WWI in Petrograd on March 8, 1917. But women are brave in many other ways. In fact, International Mirth Month itself was started by Allen Klein to honor his wife's courage.

Mr. Klein, aka Mr. Jollytologist, wanted to remind us of, as he says in the title of his best selling book, The Healing Power of Humor. He learned the importance of this because his wife suffered from liver disease but kept her sense of humor until she died at age 34. 

As Klein said, "That's what humor does, no matter what the situation. You get a different perspective with a little bit of laughter. That's why I think it's so important, no matter what the situation, even in the death/dying seriousness of illness times."

Klein is not the only author who believes that. 

Lisa Yee's first novel Millicent Min Girl Genius was given the Sid Fleischman Humor Award. Since then, she has written many many books. She doesn't write slapstick. She doesn't wear a clown nose like Mr. Klein. But as she said in an interview, "There's humor in every book I write, even the ones in which sadness and/or tragedy has occurred. Wait. Especially in the ones in which sadness and/or tragedy has occurred. My outlook on life is that humor helps heal. It isn't a luxury; it's a necessity."

Life is hard. Sometimes it's really, really hard. But humor helps. 

That is a really wonderful thing about books--they are there for you whenever you need them. Even if it isn't Mirth Month. And that is something to celebrate.

Tuesday, March 5, 2019

Writing With the Best Distractions by Deborah Lytton

I find that my best writing happens when I can block out long periods of time and just write. Then I can immerse myself in the story and characters. This only happens without distractions if I write in the middle of the night or really early in the morning when it is still dark outside. Otherwise, I have to write whenever I can. Frequently, this involves scribbling in a notebook while I am sitting in the car or waiting for muffins to bake. In those moments, I remind myself that distractions are the best parts of life and they can become central to the writing itself. Many moments with my daughters have found their way into the pages of my books and experiences with my dog have been used as springboards for some of the humor in my latest series, Ruby Starr.
Lately, I have a brand new distraction because we got our first kitten. She is really keeping me busy! Whenever I decide to write, she decides that it's time to play in her water bowl or knock over my cup of pencils. In finding a way back to my creativity afterwards, I am reinforcing my own commitment to storytelling. This renews my purpose and energizes me. In many ways, the distractions encourage me to use my time wisely and to enjoy every moment I have to create stories. And honestly, the distractions are the best reward of all.

Sunday, March 3, 2019

Top 5 Writing Distractions

1. The lake - There is always always something fun to do on the lake... even if it is just looking at it!


2. Rosie - Aren't puppies the best?? Every day is full of wonder and learning with this little girl in our lives. She's an Australian shepherd, and we are in love with her. :)


3. Books - I've heard some authors say that they can't read while they are writing. For me, it's the opposite: books fuel books! I am a voracious reader. I have to limit my reading to certain hours so that I don't get so lost in books that I don't get my writing done. Currently reading NEW KID by Jerry Craft.

4. Thrift/antique shopping - Taking off for the thrift store is probably my most common escape from writing. Currently I am looking for some stained glass panels to hang in my screened porch. :) 
A few thrift/antique store finds....

5. Crafting - I love making things! Scrapbooks, quilts, pillows, art... you name it, I've probably at least tried it! Recently I made this diaper cake for a friend's baby shower.
diaper cake!
Irene Latham is the author of many books, including two novels for children, Leaving Gee's Bend and Don't Feed the Boy. Winner of the 2016 ILA Lee Bennett Hopkins Promising Poet Award, her poetry books for children include Dear Wandering Wildebeest, When the Sun Shines on Antarctica, Fresh Delicious and Can I Touch Your Hair? (with Charles Waters), which was named a Charlotte Huck Honor book and a Kirkus Best Book of 2018. Irene lives on a lake in Alabama where she does her best to “live her poem” every single day by laughing, playing the cello, and birdwatching. 

Friday, March 1, 2019


Darlene Beck Jacobson is thrilled to announce the sale of her second middle grade historical with CRESTON BOOKS. Tentatively titled FISH WISH, it is a story in free verse set in 1963. Here's the jacket blurb:

Eleven year old Jack misses his Dad who is MIA in Vietnam. It’s been months since he and his family had word of his whereabouts. The last thing Jack wants to do is spend summer with his grandparents. Mom believes it will be good for them all – Jack, his sister Katy, Mom, Gran and Pops – to be together while they wait for word about Dad. Keeping busy will keep them out of trouble and help them think of other things.

Jack expects the worst summer of his life. The first summer without. Without Dad, without friends, without his room and all the things that remind him of Dad. When Jack meets a girl named Jill - a girl with a brother who makes trouble for both of them – things they believe are turned upside down. Welcome to a summer of fishing, camping, bullies, and a fish who grants wishes. A fish that could be the answer to Jack’s problem. But when Jill makes wishes of her own, things don’t turn out the way they expected.  Every wish has a consequence.

Will the fish grant Jack’s biggest wish?  Will Jack be brave enough to ask?