Deadline Stress

The freelance world is feast or famine. No matter how hard I try to space things out, I occasionally run into what I call a harmonic convergence of deadlines.

You know how it is. You book some author events months in advance. You have several ongoing projects and an unpredictable production and marketing schedule for an upcoming book release. You think everything is spaced out so that you can meet all your deadlines. You organize and prioritize using fancy software or color-coded lists on your whiteboard.

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Then there are unexpected delays in one project or another. Or there is a glitch that requires additional attention. Then the page proofs arrive when you are deep into another project with a looming deadline. Throw in some family crisis or health issue and you have a disaster in the making.

_hourglass_with_sand (2)For me, deadline stress starts with a dream. I arrive at a test and realize that I have not studied, or even attended any of the classes. As the deadline creeps closer, the stakes in the dream get higher. It’s not just any test; it’s the final. For a class I need to pass to graduate. And I am in my pajamas. Or naked.

Alarm_Clocks_20101107aWhen my deadlines are weeks away, I manage to find time to get to the gym most days. As the weeks pass, the gym becomes a distant memory. I start to count walking to the bathroom as cardio and lifting my coffee cup as a bicep curl.

Posture takes a hit.

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And haircuts, and fashion, and personal hygiene.

As I devote more and more brain cells to writing, with an equal portion to stress, the number of cells devoted to memory falls below a critical level.

First I don’t remember to buy anything at the grocery store if it’s not written down.

Then I forget my grocery list.

Then I forget to go grocery shopping at all.

Some days I forget to eat. Or if it’s not going well, I eat constantly—to keep my strength up. As to feeding the rest of the family, I begin to rely on pizza delivery. Or I delegate.

“What’s for dinner, Mom?”

“There’s a packet of ramen* in the cabinet. Make me a bowl, will you?”

*If the child is less than ten years old, substitute cold cereal.

clock-334117_1280 (2)As much as we hate them, deadlines are our friends. There’s nothing like last-minute panic to boost productivity. And besides, it’s a great excuse.

“You need four dozen cupcakes for the bake sale? Sorry, I’m on a deadline.”

What about you? How do deadlines affect you?

 

Jacqueline Houtman forgot to include this blog post on her to-do list. Bayard Rustin: The Invisible Activist by Jacqueline Houtman, Walter Naegle, and Michael G. Long  (2014 Quaker Press) comes out next month. 

Not-So-Scary Monster Middle-Grade!

What does a mom with strep throat + a child with strep throat + a soccer tournament + an archery championship + a two day SCBWI conference + out-of-town guests = ??

You guessed it.

A very late Mixed-Up Files Post!

Your patience (and my persistence) paid off though, because I have an awesome book list just in time for Halloween!

Not all readers enjoy scary books. If they did, I could recommend quite a few bookst. Neil Gaiman’s CORALINE, and just about any ghost story ever written by Mary Downing Hahn. Or more recently two hits by Claire Legrand: THE CAVENDISH HOME FOR BOYS AND GIRLS and THE YEAR OF SHADOWS.

But since many of us feel our skin crawl a little too easily, might I suggest some lighter faire?

THE CREATURE DEPARTMENT by Robert Paul Weston

My daughter read this book and loved it. She says it reminds her of Monster’s Inc. I’ll be taking this off my shelf to read this week!

the creature departmentIt’s a tentacled, inventive, gooey, world in there. . . .
Elliot Von Doppler and his friend Leslie think nothing ever happens in Bickleburgh, except inside the gleaming headquarters of DENKi-3000—the world’s eighth-largest electronics factory.  
Beneath the glass towers and glittering skywalks, there’s a rambling old mansion from which all the company’s amazing inventions spring forth. And no one except Uncle Archie knows what’s behind the second-to-last door at the end of the hall.
Until Elliot and Leslie are invited to take a glimpse inside.
They find stooped, troll-like creatures with jutting jaws and broken teeth. Tiny winged things that sparkle as they fly. And huge, hulking, hairy nonhumans (with horns). It is unlike anything they’ve ever seen.
But when Chuck Brickweather threatens to shut down the DENKi-3000 factory if a new product isn’t presented soon, the creatures know they are in danger. And when Uncle Archie vanishes, it’s up to Elliot, Leslie, and every one of the unusual, er, “employees” to create an invention so astonishing it will save the Creature Department.

GOBBLED BY GHORKS by Robert Paul Weston

Okay, okay. Don’t get too excited. This one doesn’t release until November 13th, but that gives you plenty of time to read the first book and drool in anticipation as you await book two!Gobbled

When a singing telegram arrives with some seriously stomach-churning news, the Creature Department is once again thrown into an invention frenzy. Rumor has it that monstrous ghorks have taken the creatures of Heppleworth’s Food Factory hostage. And worse, they are threatening to turn them into tasty treats!

The Creature Department and their human friends, Elliot and Leslie, sneak into Heppleworth’s disguised as performers in an all-singing, all-dancing dinner-theater cabaret. There they discover the five types of ghorks that had previously caused them a whole lot of trouble: nose ghorks, eye ghorks, ear ghorks, mouth ghorks, and hand ghorks—one for each of the five senses. But then they stumble upon something else: a sixth ghork, equipped with a mysterious sixth sense!

When the sixth ghork’s sixth sense is finally revealed, it is even more outlandish than anyone imagined; and the only way to save the day is to make a dangerous deal. But if the deal goes wrong, Elliot, Leslie, and every last creature will be… gobbled by ghorks!

HOW TO MAKE FRIENDS AND MONSTERS by Ron Bates

I read this book last year and absolutely fell in love with the laugh-out-loud humor, the awkward memories of making friends, and the lesson learned about friendships. I’m thrilled to see there’s a sequel to add to my list!

how to make friends and monsters

Some Friends Are Just Worth Making

For Howard Boward, science genius, making friends in middle school is hard. The other kids have more fun creatively expanding Howard’s name than actually hanging out, as in How-weird or How-Lame. . So, why not actually make a friend? A little wonder putty, some DNA, a few accidentally spilled chemicals and—boom!—instant friend. Monster friend, that is. Franklin ends up being cool in middle school, and he helps Howard climb the uber-popular ladder, becoming How-Cool.  But the new fame and friendship isn’t exactly everything Howard hoped. Turns out real friendship might not be so simple, even when you create your own friends from scratch.

HOW TO SURVIVE MIDDLE-SCHOOL AND MONSTER BOTS by Ron Bates

monster bots

Sometimes, being smart just isn’t enough

It s been a rough semester for Howard Boward, science genius. Not only is he having to dodge winter s most feared weapon (snowballs), his close friend, Winnie McKinney, is barely speaking to him. If that weren t enough, he s the favorite target of some bullies who seem determined to make life at Dolley Madison Middle School as miserable as possible. But then Howard learns about an upcoming robot-building contest finally a chance to show off his science skills and beat archrival Gerald G-Force Forster Unfortunately, the only way to win is by using his secret monster goo, a formula that has terrifying side effects. Can Howard resist the temptation? Or will he unleash a robot rampage that could destroy the town and ruin the school dance?”

FRANK EINSTEIN AND THE ANTI-MATTER MOTOR by Jon Scieszka

All right. I know. It’s technically a science book, but c’mon! With a title like Frank Einstein, I just had to put it on the list!

Frank Einstein

Frank Einstein loves figuring out how the world works by creating household contraptions that are part science, part imagination, and definitely unusual. After an uneventful experiment in his garage-lab, a lightning storm and flash of electricity bring Frank’s inventions—the robots Klink and Klank—to life! Not exactly the ideal lab partners, the wisecracking Klink and the overly expressive Klank nonetheless help Frank attempt to perfect his Antimatter Motor . . . until Frank’s archnemesis, T. Edison, steals Klink and Klank for his evil doomsday plan! Using real science, Jon Scieszka has created a unique world of adventure and science fiction—an irresistible chemical reaction for middle-grade readers.

THE LITTLE VAMPIRE SERIES by Angela Sommer-Bodenburg

Forever a classic for those children who like monsters along with a good laugh!

The little Vampirethe little vampire 2

 

 

 

 

 

 

While we’re talking about vampires, have you read the TOTALLY LAME VAMPIRE SERIES by Tim Collins? That’s not an insult! It’s the title of the series! See for yourself.

Lame vampirelame vampire 2lame vampire 3

Finally, a series of fairy tale/monster stories with themes of friendship, self-acceptance, peer pressure, and fitting in.

MONSTER HIGH by Lisi Harrison and EVER AFTER HIGH by Shannon Hale

Monster high

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And yes, I would even include my own books in this list.
The SCARILY EVER LAUGHTER series by Amie & Bethanie Borst

Cinderskella Cover

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So that’s my list of not-so-scary books perfect for the timid readers among us. What are some of your favorites? Do you have a recommendation to share? Leave a comment for us!

Amie Borst likes not-so-scary books, not for her kids, but for herself! Goosebumps aren’t for the faint of heart. She writes not-so-scary middle-grade books. Find her on her blog.

Tips for November Writing Challenges

It’s almost November—do you know what that means? Many writers are getting ready for fun challenges, like NaNoWriMo (National Novel Writing Month). The goal is to write at least 50,000 words of a novel in November. When I first learned about NaNoWriMo, I didn’t think I’d be able to participate because I was finishing a revision on a middle grade novel. On November 7th, I completed my revision and thought of a shiny new idea. By the end of November, I ended up with over 60,000 words! As awesome as that was, I’ve learned that it’s better to have more than just an idea. Fleshing out my concept and making sure I have important plot points in mind really helps (even though it’s possible they’ll change as I get to know my characters better). Some people love to outline, but I’ve never been a huge fan of it for my work. My favorite tool is Joyce Sweeney’s Plot Clock. Here’s a post about it, and here’s another post that shows a picture of the Plot Clock.

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Calling all teachers—did you know that there’s a NaNoWriMo Young Writers Program? Check out their Resources for Educators, where you’ll find their free classroom kit, lesson plans, and Virtual Classroom how-to. You can also find out how to connect with fellow educators.

If you want to participate in NaNoWriMo, but don’t know what to write about yet, here’s a post that can help you come up with new ideas.

Here’s a link to a helpful interview with author Dorian Cirrone. She has fantastic advice for brainstorming high concept ideas, how to come up with a great beginning, plus a writing exercise. Check out Dorian’s blog for her series on Ten Ways to Generate Ideas.

A lot of middle grade novels are way less than 50,000 words…so how can you write a middle grade novel and still be a NaNoWriMo winner? Well, I think anyone who makes great progress on a novel is a winner. Reaching the end of a first draft in one month is definitely a reason to dance around the room and treat yourself to some kind of special celebration (maybe delicious chocolate, a fun outing with family members you haven’t spent much time with because you were so busy writing, or possibly a massage to un-hunch your shoulders after all that hard work). After celebrating, I like to dive back in and hit that 50,000 mark. Here are a few ways that I’ve accomplished that:

  1. My first drafts used to have lots of dialogue, but only a small amount of description. To beef up my word count and add important sensory details, I’ve looked for areas that could use fleshing out and added more description to them. I’d often have to cut a lot of it in the first few rounds of revision, but loved how many gems I was able to keep. Find what you often lack in your first drafts (maybe it’s dialogue, you don’t increase tension enough, etc.) and see where you can add it into your draft.
  2. If you think a sequel could work for your story, jump in and start writing it to reach your 50,000 word goal. Just try not to get too invested in it, because any changes you make to the first novel could cause huge changes to any future ones—but it can’t hurt to play around with it. You might find ideas that could enhance your first book!
  3. Beginnings are so hard to get right, that I’ve gone back to write a bunch of different beginnings. Don’t be afraid to start in a completely different place. If you’re not sure which one is best for your novel, polish your favorite beginnings up after NaNoWriMo is over, then share them with your critique group or writing friends and see if there’s a clear winner.
  4. You could also start a new novel! Hopefully, you’ll have some ideas fleshed out and ready to go.

If you get stuck while working on your new project, here’s a link to Tricks to Defeat Writer’s Block.

For those of you who also write picture books, check out Tara Lazar’s PiBoIdMo (Picture Book Idea Month) where the goal is to come up with at least thirty shiny new ideas during the month of November. Then, you have plenty of ideas to choose from whenever you want to write a new picture book throughout the year.

If you have any tips to share or questions to ask, please leave a comment. I’d love to hear from you. Good luck with whatever goal you’re working toward this November. I hope the words flow!

Mindy Alyse Weiss writes humorous middle grade novels with heart and quirky picture books. She’s constantly inspired by her two daughters, an adventurous Bullmasador adopted from The Humane Society, and an adorable Beagle/Pointer mix who was rescued from the Everglades. Visit Mindy’s TwitterFacebook, or blog to read more about her writing life, conference experiences, and writing tips.