Erin Reel on Writing with Focus

“It may be a book that will change the course of my life… I have yet to discover a micro-chapter or 140 character status update that holds my attention or imagination.” ~ Erin Reel

Erin ReelThe following guest post by Erin Reel was first published in 2011 on my former blog site, and it is an excellent reminder of the power of focus in today’s fast-paced world: “Good writing is still good writing.” Erin Reel is a wealth of resources and wisdom about writing, from craft to career, and she assists executives, entrepreneurs and experts in creating books to assist them in their business pursuits. Learn more at her website, Erin Reel Publishing Services, and in the bio below the post. Take it away, Erin!

The Power of Focus and the Length of Brilliance: My 35 Year Relationship with ADHD (in more than 140 characters)

by Erin Reel

I recently read an interview with marketing guru and bestselling author, Seth Godin (Poke the Box) on Publishing Perspectives that both inspired me and brought me to pause to consider my 35 year relationship with ADHD, what brilliance is and the state of writers today in this brave new world.

In the interview, Godin discusses his new Domino Effect publishing plan in partnership with the great bookseller in the ether, Amazon, the sluggishness, dated and anxious way traditional publishers do business and the role of the book, physical or E, in our oh-so-modern book reading and thought blinking society. I read the trades every day. I hear about new advances in the way we read and connect with books every day. I read about how authors are taking on the role of marketer and publicist every day (though this isn’t new). I read how if we as authors and entrepreneurs who work with authors don’t embrace the speed at which we connect and process information, we’re as good as yesterday’s news. Okay, already! We get it! The world is fast, the publishing industry is the new wild, wild west and we had better move quickly enough to claim our stake on the frontier.

My concern is this, while all the E movers and shakers, all the media and marketing gurus and all the social entrepreneurs are screaming at us, “Think fast!” as they launch their super-creative hot potato to us, all I want to do is hold on for a moment longer than I’m allowed and consider what’s in my hands…not where I’m immediately going to launch it next.

Godin says in his interview upon reflecting on the role of this ancient medium, the clunky physical book:

“Now, I think there is huge opportunity to help people think clearly by going slowly, by having 40-page long chapters, with footnotes. But those ideas aren’t going to spread. And so, I’m happy to leave the Pulitzer Prize-winning to other people. What I’m trying to do is use this medium that I love and that I’m familiar with, to come up with ideas that actually have impact and can be used as reliever. And so, yeah, my chapters are now down to 2-pages long, or 3-pages long, and the reason is that’s the way we have trained people to think. We think clearly at a different rate than we did 80 or 90 years ago.”

Now. Godin is very good at what he does. He certainly knows marketing and book packaging. But really? Does he assume the message in a Pulitzer Prize-winning book doesn’t spread and influence the lives, thoughts and possible careers of many who will go on to replicate that level of success because the means by which it’s brought to us is…clunky and slow…and more than 100 pages?

Let’s take a look at a short list of Pulitzer Prize-winning authors whose ideas, words and song have had and continue to have an impact on our nation and beyond:

  • John F. Kennedy, for Biography
  • Margaret Mitchell, Saul Bellow, Ernest Hemingway, Eudora Welty, Harper Lee, William Faulkner, Upton Sinclair and Toni Morrison for Fiction.
  • Tennessee Williams, Arthur Miller, Rodgers and Hammerstein, Stephen Sondheim for Drama.
  • Roger Ebert for Criticism
  • Alice Walker for The Color Purple; Cormac McCarthy for The Road; and David Mamet for Glengarry Glen Ross.

Godin says we think clearly at a different rate than we did 80 or 90 years ago. That would place us back in the roaring twenties and early thirties. I have a feeling they held a similar sentiment.

All I know is that now, I have far more distractions screaming for my attention than I had ten years ago. And I have no problem shutting them off. Why and how? Because for the past 35 years, I have been forced to harness and direct my ADHD brain to focus so that it is possible for me to take a book like Kennedy’s Profiles in Courage, read it cover to cover, learn from it, recall important and impactful information therein, draw parallels and connections to my world and the world around me and allow that brilliant book written by a brilliant man to become a part of my social and professional consciousness. It may be a book that will change the course of my life. It may be a book that inspires one of my clients into writing the next great American novel. Who knows? I have yet to discover a micro-chapter or 140 character status update that holds my attention or imagination.

The trend now for authors and entrepreneurs is to be multi-present in the marketplace because the internet is our oyster—that there is power in multi-tasking, brilliance in quick thinking and quick acting. I recently watched a PBS special where high school and college students were observed doing their homework while their internet browser remained open, maybe a few documents were left open on their desktop and with their phone beeping new texts at their side. The students claimed they were able to get a lot of “work” done quickly and with ease. The result? The scientists who studied these students concluded that, yes, they were focused on many things simultaneously, but the work produced was disjointed and the quality of the work mediocre at best.

Writers, who are forced to be multi-present in order to succeed as authors, are faced with more distractions now than ever before. And they’ve become a lot savvier in the last ten years, to boot – they read the trades and the latest publishing news right along with me. But I can tell you with certainty, they are not thinking clearly because they don’t know which noise to consider and which noise to turn off.

My answer to them is simple: know the difference between trend and marketing and the solid stuff publishers and readers are looking for. Never write to meet a trend. Good writing is still good writing. Craft is still craft, and the process of revision and editing has not changed despite all the other changes you hear buzzing around out there about how we read and how authors are taking their publishing destiny in their own hands and are finally making enough money to support their families. Writing a work of fiction (and nonfiction) takes months and years of real time to plan, outline and execute. The writer must be armed with a tremendous amount of persistence, patience and most of all focus.

Whether you end up reading the finished, polished work on your e-reader or as a physical book is up to you. One choice is not smarter than the other, and length should never indicate the timeliness or importance of the message.


More About Erin

Erin Reel is an internationally-recognized independent publishing consultant with clients throughout the United States, Europe and the Pacific Rim. She began her career as a literary agent working the high profile book to film market in Los Angeles over a decade ago, and later, as the head of her own agency, successfully published books with the “Big Six” publishing houses as well as smaller publishers throughout the United States. In addition, she contributed to Making the Perfect Pitch: How to Catch a Literary Agent’s Eye and Author 101: Bestselling Secrets From Top Agents, two of the most widely read and respected resource books for writers.

Erin is a frequent contributor to news analysis and commentary on the publishing industry and is the co-creator of “The Writers’ Kitchen” a feature on Rainn Wilson’s, SoulPancake.com which has been featured on the Oprah Winfrey Network. She is also regularly seen on LitReactor.com, a popular writer’s resource site supported by some of the most important writers today. In 2012, Erin launched a new venture focused specifically on assisting executives, entrepreneurs and experts, what Erin calls the “E3″ market, in creating books to assist them in their business pursuits.

Joy Lawson Davis on writing “Bright, Talented & Black”

I am very pleased to re-publish this guest post by Dr. Joy Lawson Davis on why she wrote her book Bright, Talented & Black: A Guide for Families of African American Gifted Learners (you can also read an excerpt of her book and my review). Dr. Davis and Bright, Talented & Black are making a real difference in schools and families across the country. Follow her blog at http://wearegifted2.blogspot.com/.


Why I Wrote the Book

by Joy L. Davis

Joy-Lawson-DavisThe evolution of this book began over twenty years ago. I got started in Gifted Education as a teacher in a small rural district in Virginia. I was the elementary art teacher. One day I remember the principal asking me if I would be interested in assisting with the development of the district gifted program. The district administration was looking for someone who was creative, had a passion and an ‘eye’ for intellectual talent in children, and I think ‘a bit crazy or zealous’ for causes. I took the job on a part-time basis at first, and later moved to another rural district to do this same work fulltime, and that’s when I was fully introduced to Gifted Education as a doctrine, a discipline, a field of its own. I began work on my master’s degree while working this second coordinator position. Since then, I’ve been involved in gifted education in one capacity or another at many different levels.

Throughout my career, I’ve come in contact with teachers, administrators and parents who were concerned about ‘why’ African American and other minority culture students did not have access to the same services in gifted education as their counterparts of the majority group. Some knew gifted children from all cultural groups, had worked with them and were committed to making a difference in their lives. Others were more pessimistic and questioned whether or not children of color, particularly AA children, had the same high level intellectual and creative potential that they witnessed in white children. And, of course, when they saw me coming, they would ask questions: How can I get my child into the gifted program? Why is the evaluation process so unfair? I have referred students in the past, but they were never found ‘eligible’ for services, what did I do wrong? What are the benefits of being in the program because my child was in, and now has asked to be taken out—she just doesn’t seem to be as interested? My child is so sensitive and intense sometimes, this makes him different from his peers and it’s hard enough being a high achieving black male, why is he like this, and what can I do to help him?

Many of these questions were coming from educators, but many were also coming from parents and grandparents. From past experience as an educator and parent, I also knew that it was usually African American parents and family members who received the least amount of information from districts about advanced programs and gifted services. Sometimes this was due to their lack of advocacy skills, but other times it was the bias built into the educational system. This bias was there to maintain gifted programs as an elite form of education for the ‘chosen, vocal few’—those whose parents who were the most affluent and understood best how to advocate for their children.

Writing this book was an opportunity to answer those questions and share the wealth of information that I have accumulated as a gifted education ‘insider’, with families who are, more often than not, on the outside of this field. Their children are among the millions of Bright, Talented and Black students who have been long overlooked and underserved in gifted education programs. African American children and their parents need help to exercise their entitlement to gifted education services, and I believe that the information contained in this book can be just the help they’ve needed for a long time.


Joy Lawson Davis, Ed.D. has over 25 years of experience in the field of gifted education. Among her positions have been that of a teacher, district level coordinator, the first Executive Director of the Appomattox Regional Governor’s School for the Arts & Technology in Virginia, and State Specialist for Gifted Programs for Virginia Department of Education. Dr. Davis has been a consultant to districts across the nation. As an Assistant Professor of Education at the University of Louisiana at Lafayette, Dr. Davis teaches courses in Diversity Education & Gifted Education. She is also affiliated with the International Gifted Education Teacher Development Network (Iget-Network), providing professional development support for educators in the Caribbean and South Africa. Recently, she was invited by the Vice Chancellor of the School of Education to the University of Wits in Johannesburg, South Africa to present in a seminar entitled: ‘Targeting High Potential Youth from Marginalised Communities’.

Dr. Davis’ research and publication interests have focused on development of comprehensive services for culturally diverse gifted learners and in parent involvement in the lives of their gifted children, with particular emphasis on the needs of African American gifted learners. She holds two degrees (Masters and Doctorate) in gifted education from The College of William & Mary in Virginia, and is Chair of the National Association for Gifted Children’s Diversity & Equity Committee.

Guest Post by Christine Fonseca: The Act of Being Fearless

[I am very pleased to welcome Christine Fonseca today as she stops by on her blog tour for her latest book, LACRIMOSA. Please scroll to the end for more information about Christine and her work, and leave a comment on this post for a chance to win a ebook version of LACRIMOSA. Welcome, Christine!)

The Act of Being Fearless 

By Christine Fonseca

“Creative people, as I see them, are distinguished by the fact that they can live with anxiety, even though a high price may be paid in terms of insecurity, sensitivity, and defenselessness for the gift of the “divine madness” to borrow a term used by the classical Greeks. They do not run away from non-being, but by encountering and wrestling with it, force it to produce being. They knock on silence for an answering music; they pursue meaningless until they can force it to mean.”

~Rollo May, The Courage to Create (Ch 4, page 93)

I thought I’d talk about the act of writing fearlessly. When I was planning out this blog tour, I reached out to my closest writerly friends and asked them what I should talk about. Every one of them said I should talk about writing the dark stuff. When I asked for a little more explanation from one of my friends, she said that she felt like I was willing to “go there” in my stories and should write about that.

Hmm, “go there”. Yea, I really had no idea what that meant. I just wrote the story that wanted to be written. Nothing more.

And then I started to think about it—really think about it. Think about the process of writing, about why I am willing to “go there” as she mentioned. Think about the ways I torture my characters, forcing them—and myself—to look at the harder, darker sides of humanity. And it clicked…

It’s about having the courage to create.

Back in college, I took a lot of philosophy classes. One of them focused on two particular writers, the existential philosopher Paul Tillich, and the existential psychologist Rollo May. Tillich wrote a profound book called The Courage to Be. His student, May, rewrote the same ideals in his The Courage to Create, from which the above quote was taken. Both books resonated with me as they explored what it was to face death—not physical death, but the death of stagnant ideas. The death of old ideas. The death of what is most comfortable, in search of what is most true.

Creation.

As writers, we must have courage if we are going to write the story that is meant to be written. Not the story we are being “told” to write, not the story we think will sell—but the story we are meant to write. May believed that creativity came directly from the struggle between death and our push against it. I think that is most certainly true.

But how do we muster up the courage to face down our own death, if you will, and write the story begging to be written? How do we embrace our fear and do what we must?

For me, the answer lies in the act of writing itself. Writing through my conflict, my fear, my tension—it is in that moment that the creative process occurs. Within the limits I inflict on myself is where I find my inspiration and the drive to continue through a difficult project.

When I was writing LACRIMOSA  there were many moments of struggle; many times when I wasn’t certain I was telling the right story. Countless times when I struggled because of my fear that it wasn’t good enough, that the readers will hate it. In truth, the fear became so strong at one point that I actually shelved the novel. Twice in fact. But the story would NOT die – it just refused. And I am so grateful it persevered and forced me to stick with it, even when I didn’t want to.

So, the next time you find yourself looking for excuses not to write, wanting to scream or throw your laptop because the words won’t come. Stop. Take a breath. And write. Anything. This is the moment of creation. The tension and anxiety, the struggle—that is what will engage your creative mind and bring you to new heights within your writing.

Don’t be satisfied with the mundane or “tried and true”.

Be daring. Be bold. Embrace chaos, death, anxiety…

And GO THERE!

I leave you with one last quote from Rollo May and The Courage to Create:

“Artists are generally soft-spoken persons who are concerned with their inner visions and images. But that is precisely what makes them feared by any coercive society. For they are the bearers of the human being’s age old capacity to be insurgent. They love to immerse themselves in chaos in order to put it into form, just as God created form out of chaos in Genesis. Forever unsatisfied with the mundane, the apathetic, the conventional, they always push on to newer worlds.”

~Rollo May, The Courage to Create, page 32


photo of Christine FonsecaAbout Christine

School psychologist by day, critically acclaimed YA and nonfiction author by night, Christine Fonseca believes that writing is a great way to explore humanity. Her debut YA Gothic series, The Requiem Series, including DIES IRAE and LACRIMOSA, examines the role of redemption, sacrifice and love. Her nonfiction titles include 101 SUCCESS SECRETS FOR GIFTED KIDS and EMOTIONAL INTENSITY IN GIFTED STUDENTS.

When she’s not writing or spending time with her family, she can be sipping too many skinny vanilla lattes at her favorite coffee house or playing around on Facebook and Twitter. Catch her daily thoughts about writing and life on her blog.

For more information about Christine Fonseca or the series, visit her website at http://christinefonseca.comLACRIMOSA is available in hard copy from Amazon and Barnes and Noble, and as an ebook for Kindle and Nook.

Don’t forget to leave a comment for a chance to win a free ebook copy of LACRIMOSA!

Christine Fonseca’s New Group Blog: An Intense Life

Author Christine Fonseca and I have a lot in common (I can’t believe we haven’t met in person…. yet), but what I don’t have and wish I did are her seemingly limitless energy and ability to get things done.  I am honored to be a part of a Christine’s new group blog, An Intense Life: Embracing chaos every day, where my first monthly post is up today: “When Gifted Children Grow Up.”

“As a first-generation college student hundreds of miles from home, I hit the wall. Hard. Never having developed the study skills or work habits necessary to handle challenging classes, I was the textbook example of someone with what Carol Dweck has termed a fixed mindset: I believed that my ability was set and ultimately unknowable, something to protect at all costs rather than develop…” Read More

Be sure to check out the other terrific bloggers at An Intense Life while you are there.

A Minority Approach to Writing, by E. Victoria Flynn

december-prof-pic-2011 Feature

Note from Lisa: I am thrilled today to share a guest post by fellow Wisconsin author E. Victoria Flynn. Read more about her in the bio, below, and be sure to connect with her on Twitter and Facebook.

A Minority Approach to Writing

by E. Victoria Flynn

Natalie Goldberg insists, “Keep the hand moving.” It’s her ultimate writing rule. Write nonsense, write color, write what is right in front of you, but don’t stop; don’t let the critic in.

This is the part I’m good at, typing alone at the dining room table with kids trampling above my head. It sounds like they’re moving furniture some days, what with the wooden train rattling across the floor. My lap top is open, my hands tap out fragments on their own. I type fastest staring at trees.

The beginning of the session takes place inside an old file titled, “NaNo Notes,”started in November of 2010. There are a lot of words in here, but very few of them transfer to anything sustainable. It is simply the texture of hands moving.

It seems nonsensical, writing anything to get to something, but my work often starts with a question,  What am I going to write? How am I going to say this? Who is this character? And ends with the golden ticket.

Think of “The Minority Report.”

There you see a scene, a mess of action and confusion. Chief John Anderton (Tom Cruise) sifts and sorts images. Stops. Pulls an image to the side. More images. Stop. Rewind. Hone in. Image match. Suspect decoded.

I feel like our brains work a lot like this. We’re a mess of detail and sense. We’re walking experience and emotion. The secret to writing, to harnessing our creativity, lies in moving the nonsense out of the way and nabbing the focus.

Meditation works for some.

I have to empty the gutters.

At some point between madcap clicks, a phrase comes down and sticks. It’s the line other lines follow, the adventuresome sentinel calling out the troops.

With that line, I start again—hand moving, clickity-clack. This time the focus is clear and I’m able to talk through the premise of the story, the character, the blog post, on the page.

Depending on the seriousness of the matter, or the length of the piece I’m working on, I may write the entire thing in this draft file before transferring it to its own page. Whenever I decide to cut and paste, there is no empty white space staring me down because there’s already a hook to keep me anchored.

Certainly, this method isn’t for everyone, but I dare you to give it a run. Lose yourself in everything you’re thinking, then choose a line that sings, and run again.

Now tell me, how does that feel?

 * * * * * * * *

E. Victoria Flynn is a mother writer, NPR addict, coffee glutton, contributing author to The Dead Shoe Society.