Thursday, May 28, 2009

Muse Management Part 2

Muse Management Part 1 introduced you to Allie Pleiter and her workshop, ‘Getting it Done’. I told you how to figure out if you’re a Big Chunky, Little Chunky or Combo Chunky writer. Once you have your writing chunk, you can figure out how many chunks in a week you can write and use that to figure out how long it will take to complete your book.

In a perfect world. Heh

But, Allie says, ‘Life gets in the way’. Not only family and work, but email and research, etc take pieces of your time as well.
To combat this, she said one of the best ways to use your time effectively is to make a list. She says it’s because ‘lists discount emotions.’ Many people think the worst thing they can do is make a list of all the things they need to do. Because it’ll be right there, in your face. But Allie said it’s the most powerful think you can do. ‘That it’s actually been proven, the act of putting that thought process down on paper, tricks our brain into thinking it is measurable and containable. It is probably the number one stress reducer.’ She said it feels containable whether or not they actually are and sometimes, that’s all you need.

And then she said the magic words: ‘Lists manage your muse because they tell your muse what to do instead of your muse telling what you can get done…It puts you back in control.’ A case in point was when she spoke about trying to write and having a friend phone and ask her out to lunch. If she was struggling with her wip, she’d be more likely to go out for lunch than stay and work it out. But if she has a list of things that need to be accomplished, she ‘will make a more intelligent decision’.

So, at the beginning of the week, make one list for all the writing things you need to accomplish, and another one for all the rest of the things that need your attention. If you do it on Monday for the complete week, nothing that happens whether by mail (like a rejection) or phone (like ‘the call’) can derail you from your tasks.

At the time of the workshop, Allie said she was working on four books in different stages simultaneously. She ‘would’ve gone bananas’ if not for her lists. She said everything goes on her list from praying to vacuuming, from exercising to editing, and from grocery shopping to answering the 150 emails she receives each day. If it’s not on her list, there’s a good chance it won’t get done. With her lists in place, she then numbers the tasks because again, this takes out the emotional aspect and doesn’t give her the opportunity to ask what she feels like doing next. Instead, she does what she’s assigned herself to do.

Sorting the tasks are an effective way to make the most use of her time. So if there’s a job you don’t like doing in the morning, save it for the afternoon. Follow a standing task with a sitting one, and a physically demanding one with a restful, mentally challenging one. She said if you take nothing else from the workshop, take this, ‘That taking your to do list and numbering it will make all the difference in the world. You will find you get so much more done.’

But when the next thing on your list is to sit down and write, how do you get your muse to cooperate? Sensory triggers are really important because they don't require cognitive thought:


- Music – Allie knows many writers who create sound tracks for their books. Allie plays the harp and has a CD loaded with harp music. She said ‘her brain has come to realize when that music is playing, it’s time to write…it’s a trigger that doesn’t require any thought process’.

- Favorite Spaces - author John Updike ‘has a different room in his house for each of his writing projects’

- A favorite chair you always use to write or edit in

- Images – she takes images of things that ‘speak to her’ about her books or photos she’s taken on research trips and loads them into her laptop as a powerpoint slide show and she’ll play it before she starts writing. She said when she’s working with four different books, she has to be able to switch ‘worlds’ fast and watching the visual images do that for her

- Casting – when she’s stuck, she goes to the library and checks out 6 months worth of People magazine and casts her book as if she were casting for a movie. She said this has an added benefit when you send them in to the art department because it gives them an idea of who you want on the cover. She said it’s a regular thing now for authors to provide images to the art department for them to ignore.

- Idea envelope – she has one envelope for every book and it’s filled with images and ideas and notes and even metaphors that inspired the book. When she’s stuck, she goes through the envelope.


- Do you always light a candle before you write?

- Allie has a friend who puts her hand over her screen and says a prayer before she writes

- Clothing ie pajamas – Allie said it’s been scientifically proven that your body calms down when you put on your pajamas regardless of your mental state at the time. She calls it a ‘kinesthetic response’ and likens it to a ‘blankie. She said it’s a touch we associate with calm. However, don’t try to write in pajamas you wore while giving irth to your child. And don’t wear the pair you wore when you ran from your burning house. She said ‘if you’re stressing out, go put on your pajamas and see what happens. Your brain calms down’.

Ways to avoid a blank:

- Write until you know what will happen next (especially useful for little chunk people) and then write yourself a note as to where you’re going next

- Stop in the middle of the sentence. She said she just heard that one that day and wanted to try it out. Well, Allie, I tried this last year and I was so proud of myself for being brilliant but when I sat down the next day, not only didn’t I remember, but I was depressed because of it.

What to do when you draw a blank:

- Exercises

- Make a list of the ten ‘What If’s’ for your book. Do it 10 times because you’ll come up with 3 reasonable ones and 6 far-fetched ones and it’s the latter ones that are the goldmine. (Not sure where the remainder ‘What If’ went but maybe Allie will answer is she visits.)

- Explore a setting sense by sense – it’s particularly useful – what does it taste like? Sound like? Smell like? What can he see? She see? What can’t they see? ‘You may find one or two things that give you a plot point.’

- Explore opposites – where would romance be without opposites? Allie says, ‘A vice is a virtue taken 3 steps too far. The guy who is protective and loyal…take him 3 steps too far and he becomes controlling. Every vice started out as a virtue.’

So what’s the purpose of doing all these things? ‘If you don’t have time to plan, you won’t have time to succeed. And when the chips are down, if you haven’t figured out how to plan, you won’t be able to cope very well.’ You really don’t have control over anything because life happens. Deadlines, family, emergencies, all interrupt your writing schedule. ‘
But, you can control your productivity and how stable you are in a high stress or low stress environment.’ It’s what separates the professionals from the amateurs. And if you’re able to manage your muse, you’ll be able to deliver when your editor wants it and ‘that is gold in this business…and you’ll be the one they call for the next project.’

Allie recommends If You Don’t Have Time To Do It Right, When Will You Have Time To Do It Over? by Jeffrey Mayer as the best book on time management.

I’d like to thank Allie for allowing me to post information from her workshop. Allie would like to guest blog some Sat, so we’re looking at dates. Is there anything you’d be interested in her blogging about? Let us know in the comments.

Do you have some little ritual you do to get you ‘in the mood’ to write? A favorite place? Music? Chair? Food? Item of clothing? After reading Muse Management Part 1, did you find your chunk size? What do you think about working on 2, 3 or 4 books at a time?


Allie Pleiter said...

Where'd that tenth one go...same place my Algebra grade went in high school...out the window. So I'm not so good at math--I'm much better with words! Another good time management book I'm excited about lately is David Allen's GETTING IT DONE. It's fueled a whole school of time management, and it's especially good for people who have things (read: kids, bosses, elderly parents, medical conditions, etc) that abscond with their time and priorities. Thanks for this very concise summary of my workshop!

Allie Pleiter said...

Actually, I take that back (not enough coffee yet this morning) its GETTING THINGS DONE

Anita Mae Draper said...

Hey Allie, I was going to 'throw in' the tenth with the 3 or the 6 but didn't know which one to choose to make it sound better. And, if you notice in my 'concise summary', I left out all the math and calculators. LOL

Yeah, 'Getting It Done' was the name of your workshop at the conference. I wish I'd seen you in action that night... I checked the curriculum and at the time you were speaking, I was in another workshop someone told me would be fun. (Not) Then when I received the audio CD's of the whole conference, and listened to you, I wished - still do - that I'd been at yours. Well, I'll know better next time because you are a very good and entertaining speaker.

Thanks for visiting with us even if it was before your coffee. (Probably because we weren't on your list and you slipped us in, huh?) :)

Captain Hook said...

First off, I hate lists!! But you're right, they make you stay on track and do the things you should be doing instead of the things you want to be doing.

Why do you think I hate them so much?

I've never really tried a to do list for writing, but I do know that the only novels that I completely finished the first drafts of are the ones I made outlines for, so I can imagine a list would help.


But I like impulsinity!!!

Silver James said...

Lists are wonderful. So long as I don't lose them. *looks around for current list* *scratches head* Now where did that thing go?

Uhm...anyway. I live in my jammies. Yay for not having to get out unless for errands. I usually have several WIPs going in various stages but I tend to only work on one at a time. When my editor returns an MS for revisions, everything else goes on hold until it's done, even though ideas continue swirling on the stopped project. Yay for stick notes and journals so I can jot down those ideas.

I don't have any rituals, per se. I do tend to use music to set mood when I'm in a particularly rough scene or I'm stuck on a scene.

There are some great suggestions here, Anita Mae and Allie! I just feel lucky if I can wrest the scissors and or the big, pink gun away from my Muse.

Mavis Smyth said...

Love this and wish I could find Part 1 - not that I haven't tried, but just not successful. I'm a 'list' girl when I'm at the day job, but never thought of using one at home - and believe me could use one here too! I write at yes - I write in my PJ's, nice dim lighting, yankee candles and Il Divo in the background (let's face it if those boys don't inspire you to write no-one will!)!!

Karen said...

I'm not big into lists, not that I don't the considerable advantage of using them, it's just not a habit I've developed. I bow to the uber organized.

I can't write in my pj's. I have friends that love to hang in their pajamas. I'm more productive when I'm wearing street clothes. I listen to music and I think I do now associate going to my office and turning on the music as a signal to get busy and write. I think my office signifies for me what pj's do for Allie. It's all mine and a quiet, creative space. Mostly its quiet.

I have binders hole punched envelopes that I stuff with ideas and I sometimes head to youtube to inspire me re: action scenes from movies, or romantic moments from tv shows or movies.

I love that line Captain. I love impulsinity too. Maybe too much!

Thanks for all the great tips Anita and Allie.

Janet C. said...

Great post - and some great ideas - thanks, Anita and Allie.

That being said, I'm with the Cap't. I hate lists. I used to be a list person - lists for everything - until I became just a little too uptight about it. I gave them up - and believe me, that was hard. But that hasn't stopped me from making lists in my head (just another voice in there to add to the din). My list making takes place first thing in the morning, before I get out of bed.

I do confess to writing weekly goals in my dayplanner - so I guess I really haven't given up list making *sigh*.

As for rituals - none. Other than opening up the laptop or picking up the pen. I love to be in PJs (and look forward to the day I can be like Silver). Oh, yeah - I love to have my sticky notes handy at all times (is that a ritual?).

K - back to my little room at the retreat.

Anita Mae Draper said...

Hey Capt'n, I know what you mean and usually I don't make lists if there are only a few things I need to do but when I'm going somewhere, I'm making a list what to take. And when I'm shopping, I make a grocery list. And when I want to stay on track for my writing, I make a list with deadlines of contests, submissions, etc. And I have a list that I started 2 days ago with writing projects that need to be TCO'd by the end of May and I've only crossed off 4 out of the 9. And that's why I'm glad I'm here at the writer's retreat in sunny Muenster, Saskatchewan. Because my main goal here is to write. :)

Thanks for stopping. Hoping for smooth sailing for ya.

Anita Mae Draper said...

Hey Silver, if you're writing in your jammies, then half your battle is won to my way of thinking. Yes, I'm a jammie writer, too. :)

That's good you're aware music helps ease you through the tough parts. Keep at Silver, you'll get that muse trained.

Thanks for stopping, I appreciate your input.

Anita Mae Draper said...

No wonder you couldn't find it, Mavis - apparently it's back to draft mode ... I was having problems with Blogger this morning before I left home...

Okay, I've reloaded Muse Management Part 1, so you can read it here:

Hope I didn't inconvenience you and thanks for the visit.

Anita Mae Draper said...

No wonder you couldn't find it, Mavis - apparently it's back to draft mode ... I was having problems with Blogger this morning before I left home...

Okay, I've reloaded Muse Management Part 1, so you can read it here:

Hope I didn't inconvenience you and thanks for the visit.

Anita Mae Draper said...

Hey Karen, sounds like you have a nice writing environment going already. Many writers need to feel they are 'working' and dress accordingly. The good thing is you recognize that. Sounds like you're a visual writer, too as the envelopes and YouTube scenes signify. You're on the right track.

Missing you.

Anita Mae Draper said...

Okay, considering you're upstairs and can come down and beat me up if you feel like it, let me be nice...

...not much difference between a 'list in your head' that you create before you get out of bed and a day planner's agenda.

But I'm glad you gave them up. We don't want you to get uptight, now do we ladies... :)

Jana Richards said...

Hey Anita,
Finally got a chance to read your blog today (I beat Janet to the guest computer). I write a lot of lists because I have a terrible memory. Also I love the feeling of accomplishment at being able to cross things off as you finish them.

I don't have any rituals to my writing that I can think of. I don't like writing in my jammies. I feel grubby if I do. But I like to wear my pink fuzzy slippers. They keep my feet warm.

See ya back at our little dorm, Neighbour!


Mavis Smyth said...

Thanks for the link AM - I'm adaptable! - which means on a good night I'm a 'big chunk', when there are other demands.....I might be a little chunk! Really interesting exercise though.....made me stop and think about 'how I write'!