How Do You Focus When the Ideas Aren’t Flowing?

How Do You Focus When the Ideas Aren’t Flowing?

How do you focus when the ideas aren’t flowing? Am I the only one hampered with distractions? While searching the internet the other day, (conducting research of course), I came across a pitch generator that uses the letters of your name to determine how you should pitch your book idea to publishers.

According to this generator, my pitch using my first name should be for a “high-voltage tragedy about an exuberant ghost’s failure.” Well, that was so much fun I tried it again with my last name. Then my brother’s name, then my third cousin’s name…you get a clear picture of my afternoon, right? A session that began with a specific plan, ended with letting distraction stand in the way of productivity. Anyone ever play “predictive text” on Twitter? That can distract for hours!

Going down the rabbit hole.

It all started with the blank page, my biggest obstacle.  All that whiteness creates overwhelming anxiety for me. While some writers see a blank page as an opportunity for total creative freedom, I just freeze.  So, how do you focus when the ideas aren’t flowing?

To answer this question I had to consider what actually works best for me, not what everyone says should work for me.  Realizing that trying to fit within “accepted norms” wasn’t helping, I set out to determine three things that hinder my productivity, and come up with a plan to create new habits to help my focus.  Here is what I discovered:

I am a perfectionist.

That old “do it right or don’t do it at all” philosophy somehow became my mantra, and it is quite a burden. It is challenging for me to write a first draft of anything, whether it’s a book review, an article, or an outline for a story idea, because I have this notion that everything must flow from my mind to the paper in perfect form. I’m sure you can guess how this is working out for me. To get over the fear of the blank page I started jotting down my random thoughts into files on my computer and saving each thought in a separate document.  This helps me in two areas: there isn’t a blank page to contend with, and since there is already the start of a rough draft on the page, it releases me from perfectionism.  It’s not fool-proof, but it has been helping.

My inner critic is brutal.

There is a little “mean girl” inside my head just messing with my creativity, and filling my head with doubts about my ability to write. This is tough. The key here is to set my work aside for a day or two when possible. This appeases my inner critic by accepting there may be some changes needed. I usually find that I return to the project with a clearer head and am more able to see which areas need improvement, without using any negative self-talk.

Setting goals is counterproductive for me.

This doesn’t even make sense, but as soon as I set a goal, that voice inside my head starts saying things like, “You can’t do that,” or some other such nonsense. This is not just a writing phenomenon with me either, as I discovered one day while exercising with my husband.

We typically walk around the lake close to our home a couple of times each week.  It’s really beautiful and is a nice change of pace.  Anyway, I’ve been trying to build up my endurance by setting short jogging goals.  It never fails – as soon as I say, “I’m going to run to the next tree,” the task becomes impossible to accomplish. It seems the tree actually keeps moving farther away, my body starts protesting, and it’s harder to breathe. It’s really quite a sight. Yet, if I don’t set goals, how can I push myself?  I’ve found that by setting an “intention” to do the best I can rather than a hard-fast goal, I am more successful.

The reality?

The reality is we are all a work-in-progress. Just being aware of the things that stall productivity can help.  If you find yourself in a situation that takes you away from your intentions, it’s time to take a break. Be gentle with yourself. Get a cup of tea or a snack. Go outside and do some yard work.  Or just stretch.  Whatever works for YOU.  By moving the focus away from the things that aren’t working and concentrating on developing realistic long-term habits, you are creating the best possible environment for your own success.

So, how do you focus when the ideas aren’t flowing?

*This post originally published on www.readerviews.com.

Book Review: “What Some Would Call Lies”

Book Review: “What Some Would Call Lies”

What Some Would Call Lies
by Rob Davidson
Five Oaks Press (2018)
ISBN 9781944355470
Reviewed by Sheri Hoyte for Reader Views (2/19)
This article was first published on ReaderViews.Com.

“What Some Would Call Lies” by Rob Davidson is a fascinating collection of two novellas that delve into memory versus lies and how our lenses change to accommodate and mold our unconscious desires into creative, new “realities.”

Shoplifting, or How Dilectical Materialism Can Change Your Life

I knew this would be fun as soon as I read the opening paragraph of the first story. In ‘Shoplifting, or How Dialectical Materialism Can Change Your Life,’ Monica Evans, a young author and mother is shopping in the boys’ toddler section of a discount department store. Discouraged by the stereotypical choices she heads over to the girls’ section, finally settling on a floral print dress for her young son because after all, “…if you must live your life as a cliché you could at least choose lavender.” (p. 11).

Monica has issues that’s for sure – and that is the appeal of this novella. Readers experience the inner machinations of Monica’s mind as she eludes, deceives, denies, and challenges everything, from the mundane existence of a “happy homemaker” to indulging in shoplifting adventures in the name of research (for the autobiography of her dead sister, which she is writing in first person). I’m not kidding, as soon as I finished this story, I wanted to read it again to go a little deeper and make sure I hadn’t missed any delightful nuggets of wit or hidden context. 

Infidels

The second novella, “Infidels,” sets a completely different mood as a classic coming-of-age story.  As Jackie Rose reflects on growing up in Duluth, Minnesota during the 70s, readers are transported directly into his world. Jackie takes us through a strained relationship with his father, his unrealized feelings of a teacher who inspired thinking outside the norm, and the magical wonders of getting to second-base with a take-charge-kinda-girl in the sixth grade – just to name a few. 

His encounters will make you laugh, cry and everything in between as you sit there, incapable of doing anything other than reading straight through to the end. I loved this story.  Many of the characters sparked nostalgia for days seemingly lifetimes ago. Many times I wondered about some of my own childhood memories. Are they real? Imagined? A bit of both? And, how many of our perceived truths do we pass on to our children? This story really gets you thinking!

Conclusion

Both stories in this collection are extraordinary works that are a pure treat to read.  I highly recommend “What Some Would Call Lies” by Rob Davidson for a contemplative, eloquent reading experience certain to conjure up some of your own buried memories, real or imagined.

Review Copy

What Some Would Call Lies
Five Oaks Press (2018)
ISBN 9781944355470
Reviewed by Sheri Hoyte for Reader Views (2/19) 
Disclosure in Accordance with FTC Guidelines 16 CFR Part 255

Picture Book Review: “Meeow and the Blue Table”

Picture Book Review: “Meeow and the Blue Table”

Meeow and the Blue Table
Author: Sebastien Braun
ISBN: 9781907152153
Publisher: Boxer Books
Age Range: 2-4
Grade Level: Preschool
Amazon Synopsis: Meeow, the irresistibly clever cat created by bestselling author-illustrator Sebastien Braun, is back and ready to play! Like every young child, Meeow loves to make things. So what will he do with a blue table, a red blanket, and lots of wooden blocks? Why, turn them into an amazing castle, of course! Meeow’s friends Quack, Moo, Baa, and Woof are delighted–and young readers will be enchanted, too. What will Meeow inspire THEM to do?

My thoughts

Meeow and the Blue Table encourages creativity and imagination, as opposed to spending a rainy day in front of the television and/or on electronic tablets! With just a few arts and crafts materials, the friends are all set for a fun day – rain or not! The emphasis on free-play and using your imagination is so important at this young age.

This is a perfect book for toddlers who will enjoy the brightly colored illustrations, and the storyline encourages participation. I loved how every animal has his/her own part – duck makes a paper hat and a bow, Lamb makes a shield and a dragon, Dog makes a helmet and a sword, and Cow makes a hat and cape.  Using toys and comfort items from around the house (blankies and building blocks) the friends create their very own castle and kingdom.

Meeow and the Blue Table is a simple, creative tale that will inspire many playtime adventures for kids – adults will recall fond playtime memories of their own. Perfect left-brain motivation!

About the Author:

Sebastien Braun studied fine arts in Strasbourg, France. His first two books, I Love My Mummy and I Love My Daddy (Boxer Books, 2005), have been hugely successful all over the world. Since then, Sebastien has gone on to create many more books for children. He lives in Gloucestershire with his wife and two young sons.

Note: I obtained a copy of this book to review from my local library.

Next Gen Authors – Encouraging Kids to Write!

Next Gen Authors – Encouraging Kids to Write!

If I had to choose one thing I enjoy most about my day job, it would be reading the book reviews written by the kids reviewing our children’s books at Reader Views Kids. Kids see and absorb everything, noticing details using all of the five senses.  Things that, as adults we have learned to tune out or take for granted.  Seriously, who does ‘show versus tell’ better than kids? And what better way of encouraging kids to write than by starting with writing about books?

Fresh perspectives.

Not only that, but there is a fresh, honest tone in the writing – if there is something in a book that doesn’t appeal to a young reader, it will be voiced! I get a bit reflective when I read things written by children, first looking back to my own childhood and my love for books, and later, passing it down to my son.   When he was younger he loved to write poems and short stories and we even submitted some of his work, at least a couple articles of which were published. He’s now a high school English teacher, sharing his own wisdom and passion for words with the youth of today. Perhaps there’s even a Great American Novel in his future!

Today, with publishing being more accessible than ever, there are many kids developing their craft, becoming illustrators, authors and co-authors with their parents!  Does your child have curiosity for everything around them?  Does she have a love for books? Is he a natural story teller? Here are some things you can do right now to support and encourage that passion:

Support and encouragement

  • Read to your children every day! It not only cultivates a good habit, it enriches and stimulates young minds. While reading, be sure to let them ask questions, and also ask them what they think – about the story, characters, pictures, etc. This helps develop the ability to express opinions and with self-discovery as they learn more about their likes and dislikes.
  • Find book clubs, reading circles and publications, either online or locally, where kids can network to find other kids involved in reading and writing. The local library is a great place to start!
  • Look for publishing opportunities. There are plenty of companies that publish kid’s works, such as Highlights, StoneSoup and Cricket Magazine.  Be sure to also check out writing contests, online sources and even the school newsletter.

There are so many benefits to encouraging kids to write. And, writing and reading go hand in hand so keep your children reading, encourage their creativity, and submit some of their work. 

Note: This article was originally published on www.readerviews.com.

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Book Review – The Eclipse Dancer

Book Review – The Eclipse Dancer

The Eclipse Dancer
Laura Koerber
Who Chains You Books (2018)
ISBN 9781946044402
Reviewed by Sheri Hoyte for Reader Views (1/19)

Soul-stirring and bewitching. “The Eclipse Dancer” by Laura Koerber is an enchanting story that carried me away to another world for just a few days but will linger in my thoughts for some time to come.

Summary

While people flock to Allenburg to catch the total eclipse of the sun, Andy is content to watch from her old family home, a single-wide trailer just outside of town. As the sky blackens to complete darkness Andy abandons her cares and loses herself in dance. Just one night of respite taken to escape her current circumstances. Home tending to her dying mother, memories of her prior life in Allenburg ignite, bringing Andy face-to-face with the moments that shaped her forever.

My thoughts.

To begin, this is one of the most captivating stories I have read recently. The author has an extraordinary talent transporting readers directly into her story. Her voice is distinct and rich with tones both inviting and unsettling at the same time. The reader floats along with Andy as she dances under the eclipse and falls quickly back to earth with her reflections of days gone by. Are the recollections are real or the wild imagination of a young girl?

It is through the recall of these memories and events, readers learn about Andy and her turbulent upbringing with an alcoholic mother, who informs Andy early on that her father was a nobody, a one-night stand. Andy finds out the truth about her father and her own heritage through her new friend Kenshi and the old lady that lives down the road, who turns out to be a relative.

The story.

The storyline is simple in that it is easy to follow. Yet, intricate as layers unwind with a seamless, melodic flow.  And, while the author excels at getting inside the heart and soul of her readers, the connection garnered by what remains unsaid is remarkable. The writing is descriptive and artistic, without being flowery or overdone. She leaves just enough room to incorporate snippets of one’s own imagination. Some things are just not taught and Koerber’s writing is one of those things–she has a gift.

The characters.

The characters are well-developed and authentic to both the fairy and human worlds. The most affecting relationship is between Andy and her mother Cindy, because it shows a strained relationship at best. Koerber clearly exhibits that volatile mother-daughter connection. Body language, facial expressions and declarations that can never be taken back. As a result, I actually had a flashback of a confrontation with my own mother many years ago–talk about haunting!

Conclusion

Overall, combining elements of fantasy with hard-core human issues relevant in today’s world, Koerber takes the reader on a magical journey as down-to-earth as it is out-of-this-world.  I highly recommend “The Eclipse Dancer” by Laura Koerber to fantasy fans and anyone wanting to lose themselves in an amazing, unforgettable story.