Author Archives: Michele Weber Hurwitz

Finding it difficult to focus? Join the club

Lately I’ve noticed my focus has been a little, well, um…wait, what was I saying? Oh yeah. I’ve noticed my focus has been somewhat…how to put it…GONE. Actually, I’ve become constantly unfocused. Anyone with me here?

At first I chalked it up to summer, a houseful of noisy kids, my aging brain…but then I read about a syndrome called “continuous partial attention.” And it turns out I — and probably you — have it.

On Facebook and Twitter multiple times a day? Liking and posting and sharing never-ending content? Checking your phone every few minutes for texts, emails, Instagram photos? Watching way too many videos online? You know you are not alone.

Call it social media overload or living in a virtual reality — researchers say that people today are finding it increasingly difficult to focus on tasks because of chronic and constant interruptions from screens.

social media overloadNot good for a writer. Not exactly good for anyone.

According to a recent article in Toronto’s Globe and Mail, we sprint through our days in a state of super-charged distraction and it’s taking a toll on our brains. In one study I read, workers stopped the task they were doing because of a screen disruption every three minutes.

Writers especially need quiet contemplation in order for ideas to form and gel. Time when nothing is beeping, beckoning, begging for our attention. Not quite conducive to today’s world, is it?

Desperate times, as it is said, call for desperate measures. My focus was floating somewhere out there and I needed to get it back. Who else to turn to but my fellow writers? I texted, posted, sent messages (and yes, I am fully aware of the irony here), pleading for help. What are your secrets, I asked, for avoiding the evil temptress of the Internet in order to get in some focused writing time?

Now I realize, some of these suggestions may seem radical, but I’ve compiled them here because I have been assured they really work. (Disclaimer: If you choose to try one of these, you are proceeding at your own risk.)

1. Accidentally “misplace” your phone. Some excellent places to “lose” it include: the bottom of a laundry basket full of smelly socks, under the sofa, somewhere in the backyard, under a seat in a friend’s minivan. Preferably one with fast food remnants and candy wrappers.

2. Journey to a remote mountainous location with no WiFi, cell towers, or sign of human life, and write. Siberia works, but a tree house will do in a pinch.

3. Give yourself a one-hour challenge. Set a timer and write for one hour without checking any electronic device. This will be similar in nature to detox so be prepared. Drink a lot of water.

4. Let a baby borrow your phone. (They need to text too.) Within minutes, it is guaranteed you will have no Internet connection.

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5. Find WiFi free zones in which to write. Suggestions include the beach, a canoe, while skydiving, or on a roller coaster, preferably while upside down.

6. Walk and dictate into an ancient device found in antique shops and on archeological digs: a tape recorder. An added bonus here is that people will stay far away, believing you are a lunatic.

7. Write while walking on a treadmill, with all electronic devices stowed in another room. Do not get off until you’ve written one thousand words.

8. Pile up any and all devices, put them in your car, and park it around the block. Walk back to your writing space and go.

9. Give your Smartphone to a teenager so he/she can install all updates and add a variety of cool, new apps you’ve never heard of. You will not be able to figure anything out when it is returned to you.

10. Find Thoreau’s cabin in the woods. Knock.

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Good luck, fellow writers. May the focus be with you.

Michele Weber Hurwitz is the author of two middle grade novels, The Summer I Saved the World…in 65 Days, and Calli Be Gold. She will check her Twitter @MicheleWHurwitz when she returns from Siberia. In the meantime, find her virtually at micheleweberhurwitz.com.

Cupcake Cousins Winner

Congratulations, Kristen Kittscher! You are the winner of a signed hardcover copy of Cupcake Cousins by Kate Hannigan! We will be in touch soon. Thank you to all who commented!

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The Power of Group Author Events

In April, my second middle grade novel, The Summer I Saved the World…in 65 Days, came out. A few months before my “book birthday,” I had a moment of panic. Actually, several moments of panic. I was going to have to leave my writerly cave at some point, wasn’t I? I was going to have to put on actual clothing and go out into the world. I was going to have to PROMOTE. The word that strikes fear in many writers I know. Some authors say they LOVE promotion but I question their sanity.

All joking aside (sort of), many authors aren’t very comfortable switching from writing mode to publicity mode. We’re much more comfortable in our made-up worlds where our characters can do anything we want them to do. And of course we can do this while wearing pajamas, so all the better.

pajamasBut as I’m sure you know, both online and in-person promotion are pretty much a necessity in today’s author world. And so is the worry that comes along with it. The basic nightmare of sitting at an autograph table, Sharpie in hand, waiting for people to show up. (Besides your relatives.)

Amie Borst’s post yesterday outlined numerous opportunities available for authors to promote their work, and I’d like to expand on one of those ideas — bookstore visits.

At an Illinois SCBWI writer’s conference last fall, I started chatting with author Kate Hannigan, who had a middle grade book, Cupcake Cousins, coming out about the same time as my novel. We discovered that we shared the same publicity worries, and after we were done with our little therapy session, Kate came up with the brilliant idea of joining forces with other middle grade authors and doing group bookstore events this spring.

Out of our discussion that November day, Middle Grade in the Midwest was born. Energizer Bunny that she is, Kate put together a group of middle grade authors including Amy Timberlake, Wendy McClure, Crystal Chan, Emily Ecton, Liesl Shurtliff and me — all of us live in the Chicago area — and we began approaching Indie bookstores. Not only were they thrilled to host us, we learned that there truly is strength in numbers.

After our first event at Anderson’s Bookshop in Naperville, Illinois last week, we agreed that group author events are not only a great idea for pulling in attendees, they’re also way more fun! During our panel discussion, we were able to interact and bounce questions off each other, and this gave our talk more depth and insight. There weren’t any awkward silences because one of us always had something to share.The event was productive, energizing, and inspiring — both for the attendees and the authors.

And, I remembered what I always take away after I spend time with middle grade authors — they’re pretty much the nicest people on the planet. Many of the writing crises that I think happen only to me were echoed among our group. It’s always comforting to hear that other authors write terrible first drafts, think they’re never going to write another book, and question every single plot turn.

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From left: Liesl Shurtliff, Kate Hannigan, Crystal Chan, Anderson’s Jenny Gerard, Michele Weber Hurwitz, Anderson’s Anne Swanson, Emily Ecton, and Wendy McClure.

So here are some of our tips for lining up group author events:

1. Contact the bookstores at least 3-4 months in advance with a succinct email. Create and attach an online “flier” with author bios and book covers. We began contacting bookstores in January for our May events.

2. Brainstorm with the bookstore the best time and day to pull in the intended audience, and be flexible with scheduling. We had so many email threads going back and forth, Kate actually created an Excel document to keep track of everyone’s schedules. It’s a good idea to have a point person who’s the master scheduler and all-around organizer.

3. Plan to meet for lunch or dinner! Sharing a meal before the event breaks the ice if some of the authors haven’t met.

4. Provide the bookstore with author website links, author and book cover photos, and contact information. Help them out as much as possible!

5. Promote the event on your own social media, and tag the other authors as well.

Later this month, we’re visiting the Book Cellar in Chicago, The Book Stall in Winnetka, Illinois, the Lake Forest Bookstore in Illinois, and doing a panel discussion at Chicago’s Printer’s Row event as well. Thank you to all of these fabulous Indie bookstores that have graciously agreed to host our Middle Grade in the Midwest group.

 

Michele Weber Hurwitz is the author of The Summer I Saved the World…in 65 Days and Calli Be Gold, both from Wendy Lamb Books/Random House. Visit her at micheleweberhurwitz.com and on Twitter @MicheleWHurwitz.