Monthly Archives: April 2010

In Memory of Lucy Hampson

I just found out Lucy Hampson passed away on April 15th.    She was the Assistant Regional Advisor for SCBWI-NM from 2007-2009.   She organized and ran a wonderful regional conference, Handsprings, for children’s writers here in NM.

She was a witty caring person, and fine writer.  After retirement from teaching, she pursued writing for publication.  Not long ago she sold an article to Highlights for Children.  She was on her way as a writer.

Cancer killed her before she achieved her dream of selling a picture book manuscript to a NYC publisher.  But I know she was close, because she told me she’d been getting personalized rejection letters from editors.

She just ran out of time.

If anyone out there has a dream to pursue writing for publication, DON’T wait until retirement.  Start right now.  It can take 5-10 years to gather up speed and begin selling on a regular basis.

I wish life were fair.  Lucy just needed another year or two to reach her goal.

UPDATE:  Lucy’s memorial service will be at St. Michael and All Angels Episcopal Church in Albuquerque on Sunday, May 30 at 1:30PM.

UPDATE2:  Lucy is an amazing person who made a tremendous impact on the lives of many, especially children and writers.  I heard so many wonderful stories about her at the memorial service.

Malcolm Gladwell on “The 10,000-Hour Rule” in OUTLIERS: THE STORY OF SUCCESS

I just finished Malcolm Gladwell’s OUTLIERS: THE STORY OF SUCCESS after buying it few days ago.  I’d intended to just read a chapter a week, but instead I raced through it, unwilling to stop.  There were so many “Aha!” moments that I had to keep on going until I finished the entire thing.

For this post, I’m just going to focus on a chapter critical to new writers, Chapter 2, “The 10,000-Hour Rule.”   This chapter clarified something that I’ve been noticing subconsciously in the successful fiction writers I’ve been met over the past few years.  And by successful I mean fiction writers with over 15+ years of being published, who make a living at their fiction writing.   It also ties in with Bradbury’s advice in ZEN AND THE ART OF WRITING about writing 1,000-2,000 words/day.

Here’s what I consider a critical quote to consider:

The striking thing about Ericsson’s study is that he and his colleagues couldn’t find any “naturals,” musicians who floated effortlessly to the top while practicing a fraction of the time their peers did.  Nor could they find any “grinds,” people who worked harder than everyone else, yet just didn’t have what it takes to break the top ranks.  Their research suggests that once a musician has enough ability to get into a top music school, the thing that distinguishes one performer from another is how hard he or she works.”

When I read this paragraph, I got excited.   It means that even if I never sell what I’m currently working on (or the past works I wrote), the experience counts.    It’s not wasted effort–as long as I set a goal with each piece to practice a writing skill like setting, characterization, POV, plot, etc.

Another key point:

…researchers have settled on what they believe is the magic number for true expertise:  ten thousand hours.

This ties in with Bradbury (and other writers’ ) urging to practice 1,000-2,000 words/day, six-seven days a week.   Like any other art form, there are hours of practice to be put in to get adept at fiction writing.

So to rack up those hours, if one worked 20 hour/week for 50 weeks a year, one would hit 10,000 hours in 10 years.

Feeling restless?  Then go up to 30 hour/week for 50 weeks a year, and one hits 10,000 hours in about 6.7 years.

And so 40 hour/week for 50 weeks a year will get one to 10,000 hours in 5 years.

Crunching these numbers explained to me why I’ve felt driven (to the point of obsession) lately to free up more writing time.  I didn’t know about the 10,000-hour rule, but I knew I wanted to devote more time to writing each day.   Now I know what’s fueling this driven itchy feeling I get when I don’t get my daily writing time in.

Too Much Internet Usage Can Wreck Your Writing Productivity

I just read James Sturm’s “My (Probably Crazy) Plan to Give Up the Internet” at Slate Magazine, and it got me thinking about the stories I’ve heard from writers over the years who’ve also had to go cold turkey from the internet due to an addiction to online RPGs, or web surfing, or chat rooms, or compulsively checking their amazon sales rankings every few hours.  There’s just sooooo much that can be done now online to waste the precious hours of each day.

I’ve had problems myself with wasting too much time on the internet, especially web surfing and reading news sites.

The best advice tends to share a common theme–separate the work and play areas as much as possible.  Have a “writing” computer AND a “play” computer.  Make sure the writing computer has no internet access or games on it.

I haven’t gone so far as to have two computers–yet–but I have learned to limit my internet usage to only music while I’m writing.  No email or chat are allowed while writing by making sure I’m logged out of all my accounts.  And when I catch myself breaking the “only music while writing” rule, I turn the network connection on my computer off.

However, I suspect I’ll have to go to keeping the network connection always off while writing, and listen to music through an iPod.  The temptation to go surfing over to Wikipedia for just-in-time research is so strong at times.

High-intensity thinking activities, like writing or debugging, do require chunks of uninterrupted time to do.   That needed chunk may be as short as 10-15 minutes, but if one’s getting email pings and surfing during that time period, one can find that the ability to focus has significantly deteriorated.   I found that this was true for me when I took a hard look at my work habits, and I’ve noticed my ability to focus (and therefore my productivity) has improved since shutting off internet access while writing.

How to get back into writing after a long hiatus

Sometimes illness or tragedy or severe writer’s block can result in a work-in-progress grinding to a halt.  It’s happened to me, it’s happened to other writers I know.  The best piece of advice I ever got for coming back after a long hiatus was:

Set the daily word count goal absurdly low.  25 to 50 words/day max if the situation is particularly severe.  Do that writing goal for 5 days the first week.  Slowly ramp up the word count each week (unless you’re chomping at the bit to do more).  If you grind to a halt, cut the goal for the number of words per day in half and start over from there.

I’ve tried out this advice in the past, and found it did the trick to get me back into the swing of things.   So I wanted to share it in case someone else out there is dealing with this writing issue.

Question: Why Do You Post So Infrequently?

Question:  Why do you post so infrequently?

Answer:  Limited writing time.   The current manuscript always comes first, and lately there’s been no leftover time for posting.  So I try to make sure to post stuff I think will be helpful to other writers over the next few years.