Wednesday, April 27, 2022

PROCRASTINATION—A Creative Conversation by Julie Phend and Carol Coven Grannick

Photo by Brett Jordan (Unsplash)
Julie: I procrastinate. I admit it. When a task annoys or frustrates me, I put it off. I’ve missed submission deadlines because I find the process tedious and frustrating. I make lists and assign deadlines and then blow right past them. I do get things done—but I can’t help thinking how much more productive I’d be if I’d just dig in and do the work. So, this year, instead of a list of New Year Goals, I made just one: Stop procrastinating!

Carol: My perspective is a bit different. I find it helpful to see situations in a neutral or more positive way. ‘Procrastination’ becomes an informative signpost rather than a flaw or weakness. I think, This is interesting—is there something here I can learn? 

I’m uncomfortable with activities that trigger my historical shyness or social anxiety. Posting about a success feels like bragging, reaching out to present or “sell” my book and receiving less-than-pleasant responses triggers memories of being laughed at or being an object of disdain. But lots of responses are positive, and as I practice reaching out, or posting a success, I’m more comfortable—which eliminates the need to procrastinate.


What is procrastination?


Simply put, procrastination is the act of delaying or putting off tasks until the last minute, or past their deadline. Most people procrastinate occasionally, but others are habitual procrastinators. It’s a habit that causes undue stress and can negatively impact one’s work.




 So Why Do We Do It?


Most researchers agree on several types of procrastinators. Carol reframes these definitions to reflect a less judgmental perspective.


Performers love the rush of putting off tasks until the last minute and believe they work best under pressure.

Carol’s Reframing: What about saying this, instead? "The rush of meeting deadlines is energizing for me. Knowing that about myself, I won’t call what I’m doing ‘procrastinating’ or judge myself in a negative way."


Avoiders fear being judged or put off doing boring, tiresome tasks. 

Carol’s ReframingCertain outreach tasks trigger historical fears (feeling “not enough”, not mattering, vulnerable to potential shame, embarrassment, etc.) and it’s understandable that we want to avoid that. But respecting this, gently nudging myself to take even one risk and then doing it moves me beyond the fear, and beyond procrastination. Repetitive practice tends to build an alternative ‘story’ to historical fears, reminding us that there are a variety of responses when we take the risk of reaching out.

Indecisives have difficulty making important or stressful decisions, often ruminating over several choices. 

Carol’s Reframing: Ruminating wastes time, so I suggest focusing on the “do” or “don’t do.” Pay attention to the choices, consider emotions as well as intellect. Tell yourself the truth about what direction you feel most strongly about, and whether its impact is worth it. Talk with a trusted friend. If it involves sending a difficult email, save it in “Draft” and leave it there to re-read (to self and a trusted other) before you send it.


Colleagues Have Their Say



We wanted to get a sense of other creators’ experiences, and received responses from seven colleagues to these questions:

Do you procrastinate? All seven colleagues agreed that they procrastinate in some way, from mildly to severely. 

What are the areas in which you procrastinate?      

  • Revision
  • Querying
  • “Something that feels big and frustrating—rewriting a synopsis, facing revisions I’ve received contradictory feedback on—but mostly business-related tasks.”
  • Submitting and beginning a new piece of art: fear of rejection, fear of failing to create what I was imagining.
  • Everything related to writing: the writing itself, response to queries about appearance, fan mail. Why? Low energy, anxiety, indecision. [When] creativity is removed from the equation—for example, doing things for other people—the anxiety diminishes.

 




Tips for Handling Procrastination:

 

Most of us turned to lists and structuring specific times to counteract putting off distasteful, difficult, or uncomfortable tasks—each of us a little differently.

 


Julie: I make lists, breaking down the tasks so I can cross them off. Recently, I've started a running list for the week. I force myself to clear it by Saturday or write the item again on next week's list. I hate having to write the same task on the following week's list, so I'm motivated to get it done. 


Carol: I, too, make a list for each week and break down the tasks if they feel overwhelming. I know and accept that I’m not going to complete everything—and that’s fine with me. I set work and home priorities and can transfer some to the daily note section of my Quo Vadis planner.




We find that for ourselves and colleagues, the following tips also help:

o   Break Down Tasks into small (and even smaller) bits—break into pieces that feel absolutely doable, no matter how tiny! The important thing is to complete a task. 


o   Set Real Deadlines but be generous to allow plenty of time.


o   Change Something: direction, activity, content—it clears and opens your brain to return to the original task.


o   Talk With an Empathic Friend



BONUS TIP! From Carmela Martino, who heard this at Dr. Laurie Santos' The Happiness Lab podcast: Think about how you will feel when [the thing] is done! And find a way to celebrate!


Final Thoughts:

Carol: When I’m ‘putting off’ writing-related business or need a break from those things that must be done, I busy myself with other small tasks, or I relax and distract myself with reading or watching an old video. I don’t judge myself because that never helps me—it makes things worse. Compassion for the resistance to act allows me to explore it with interest and nudge myself gently forward. 

But I also want to say this: Life events call us from our work. I’m grateful that I still have the ability to take care of necessities and crises, to hold tight to and nurture relationships, and to enjoy relaxing time. I don’t view these as taking me away from my writing. 


Julie: Carol’s tips on reframing my tendency to procrastinate and being kinder to myself have helped already! And my new list strategy, mentioned above, is working because I am holding myself accountable for my goals.


What are your experiences with procrastination and tips for moving past it?

Photo by Brett Jordan (Unsplash)

Wednesday, April 20, 2022

The Second Annual GROG Arthropod Roundtable

Hosted by Sue Heavenrich

Last year I hosted the First Ever GROG Roundtable on Arthropods where we chatted about insects and spiders. This year I’ve got a whole new crew of authors to share their arthropod musings: Matt Lilley , whose book Good Eating: The Short Life of Krill hit the shelves in January; Catherine Bailey, whose book Hustle Bustle Bugs was released at the end of February; Karen Jameson, whose book Time to Shine: Celebrating the World’s Iridescent Animals will celebrate its birthday next month; Buffy Silverman, whose book On a Gold-Blooming Day: Finding Fall Treasures comes out at the end of summer; and Jocelyn Rish, whose book Battle of the Brains: The Science of Animal Minds comes out in November and is a companion to Battle of the Butts: The Science Behind Animal Behinds which came out in late fall of 2021.


me: After studying the sex life of cockroaches, I turned to teaching high school science. Now, I observe insects and count pollinators for the Great Sunflower citizen science project. What about the rest of you?

Matt 
Matt: I have an MS in scientific and technical communication and I write nonfiction books for kids. In my writing, I try to teach kids about science and share my love of the natural world.

Catherine: I’m a former research attorney who used to work in forensic science for a grant program. My favorite subjects back then were forensic anthropology and forensic entomology. Now I split my time between raising a family and writing picture books for kids.

Karen: I’m a retired elementary school teacher, now a picture book writer. I love exploring animal and nature themes in my books. These days you’ll find me discovering bugs and creepy crawly critters alongside my curious grandchildren.

Buffy
Buffy: For many years I taught biology and environmental education to students of all ages. Now I focus on writing about the natural world and speaking to kids about writing nonfiction and poetry.

Jocelyn: I have to admit, I was never a fan of the creepy-crawlies. But I am a fan of cool facts, and as I researched animal butts I discovered that arthropods have some fantastically fascinating fannies! 

me: What made you want to include arthropods in your book? 

Karen: The word “iridescent” came up in a movie, and it stopped me cold. Initial research turned up some super surprising ways that iridescent animals use their shine to thrive and survive in nature. After seeing some videos of jumping spiders shaking their sparkles during courtship dances, I was hooked! I can’t wait for readers to meet these incredible spiders and other amazing arthropods in Time to Shine.

Buffy: On a Gold-Blooming Day explores seasonal changes in nature. I have been fascinated with insects since I was a kid, so it would be impossible to ignore insects and spiders we might see walking in the woods, by a pond, or through a field! When autumn begins, we might see crab spiders hiding on goldenrod flowers. These spiders don't spin a web. Instead they pounce on insects searching for nectar and pollen. Crab spiders can change color to match the flower or leaf where they hide.

Jocelyn
Jocelyn: For Battle Of The Brains, I wanted to make sure I featured brainy animals other than mammals. Then I learned about the Portia jumping spider, and she immediately became my favorite animal genius. Her brain is only about the size of a poppy seed, yet she has so many tricks and techniques for hunting for food. I don’t want to spoil her section of the book, but the things she does are truly mind blowing.

Matt: Good Eating is all about the important role that krill play in the Southern Ocean food web. When I first learned about how important krill are to their ecosystem, I thought I might like to write about them. After doing just a little research, I discovered how strange and fascinating they are. That’s when I knew I had to write about them.

Catherine: I have always had a very deep-seated fear of spiders, probably dating back to a childhood trailer trip to Arizona during tarantula mating season. (It’s a thing! And it’s terrifying!). However, I’m raising a daughter who adores bugs – even spiders. I think every piece of Tupperware I own has, at one time or another, housed a creepy crawly critter. I also live in perhaps the “buggiest” state of all – Florida. So, it made sense to write a nonfiction picture book about insects.

me: As Earth Day approaches, what can we do to become more aware of arthropods – and to make Earth a better place for them? 

Catherine
Catherine: Once I decided to write about bugs, I did a ton of research on their behaviors. I was struck by how each insect had an important role to play in its environment – for example, dung beetles roll and bury balls of poop which feed the soil. My book discusses these “jobs” and encourages kids to be still and observe insects at work. This Earth Day, head out to your backyard and set a timer for five minutes for some intentional observation. Bring a pad and pen and write down what bugs you see, and what they’re doing. 

Jocelyn: A few years ago, my brother started keeping bees, and he shared all kinds of amazing facts about them. Bees are extremely impressive, and I enjoy putting on the bee suit to watch their hive in action. While providing honey is a tasty bonus, their role in pollinating and keeping our food supply going is vital. Kids can help bees by planting native flowers that bees love, and that bloom at different times of the year. They can also put out shallow dishes of water with rocks in them that bees can stand on to drink.

Karen: Arthropods have been around for millions of years, and beetles makes up 40% of all the insects on Earth! How crazy is that? It’s incredible to learn that one in every four animals is a type of beetle. They remain a vital part of ecosystems and are found in nearly every habitat. On Earth Day kids can take some time to create environments that invite and sustain local bug populations by planting native flowers and plants.

Karen
Matt: Krill eat the one-celled organisms at the very base of the food web. Despite their small size, krill swarms are so massive that they can be seen from space. Krill are very good at eating and growing, and turning themselves into food for other animals. Many fish, sea birds, penguins, seals, and whales depend on them for food. We can help the Earth by eating more like krill, by eating more plants and less meat. If we eat green plants like a krill eats phytoplankton, we can help conserve natural resources.

Buffy: About twenty years ago, we stopped mowing our backyard. Over the years it has become a field where native plants grow and bloom. The wildflowers attract all kinds of insects that in turn pollinate flowers and provide food for birds and other animals. Is there a corner of your yard that you can save from the lawnmower? You will enjoy seeing the plants that grow and the insects and spiders that you find.

me: I am a big fan of not mowing the lawn! Let’s talk about how you bring your passion to writing nonfiction for children?

Buffy: One of the wonderful things about insects is that you can watch them wherever you live. The more I observe and learn about insects, the more fascinated I become with them.  I spend many hours watching and photographing insects near my house, and it's that fascination that leads me to write about them.

Matt: I try to stay on the lookout for fresh topics that will interest kids in science. I hope that increased awareness and knowledge will also encourage people toward conservation. For instance, if someone reads my books and learns about how cool krill are, then they will also want to protect krill from things like climate change and overfishing.

Catherine: I definitely appreciate bugs a lot more, now that I know how hard they work. I’ve always said, “I’m a worker bee, not a queen bee.” To me, this means I enjoy completing projects and accomplishing goals. I love that even small jobs can have a big impact – which is true for people and bugs. I figured a great way to share this with kids was to present the information in accessible, bouncy rhyme. 

Karen: My youngest son was obsessed with bugs as a child! For years, we never left home without our bug hunting kit, complete with jar, net, and magnifying glass.  His fascination with the subject drew us all in and found its way into the hands-on science lessons I created for my students. As a children’s author, I’ve carried that passion into my books.

Jocelyn: I love learning new facts about animals, especially the kind that make me go, “Wha?!?” or “No way!” or “That’s so freakin’ cool!” And I want to bring that same sense of discovery and wonder to kids. Our world is full of things so different from us that they seem alien, and it’s a privilege (and a total blast) to share these nuggets with kids to help expand their universe.

We could talk arthropods all afternoon… but I’m out of coffee. Check out our author websites, drop by our blogs, and remember to head outside and watch some insects, spiders, crustaceans, and their arthropod kin.

Find out more about Matt Lilley at www.mattlilley.ink
Hustle over to Catherine Bailey’s website at catherinebaileybooks.com
Visit Karen Jameson at karenljameson.com
You can find Buffy Silverman at  https://buffysilverman.com
Jocelyn Rish celebrates animals of all kinds at www.jocelynrish.com
I hang my bug net over at www.sueheavenrich.com
 

Wednesday, April 13, 2022

MUSHROOM RAIN: Debut and Craft Chat with Author Laura Zimmermann by Kathy Halsey

Shifting points of view and perspective, reviving a latent draft, how the day job informs the author's work and visa versa, plus facts you never knew about mushrooms-- it's all here with debut author and developmental psychologist Laura Zimmermann! Let's begin with a review by former K-12 librarian, now children's literature writer, - me!


MUSHROOM RAIN Review

What one learns when reading picture books, especially nonfiction! This dig into the world of mushrooms is both fascinating and magical. With the illuminating illustrations of Jamie Green and the lyrical language of author Laura Zimmerman, readers enter a unique world of fungi.


Such an enticing, active opening!


It’s a simple fun, er fungi read as well a great way to introduce elementary students to biomes and the interdependence of flora, fauna, and weather. The illustrations draw the reader’s eye to examine and linger on the double-page illustrations with multiple points of view. 


Backmatter is inviting and interactive with an invitation to the reader to examine the illustrations in the front matter and go on a mushroom walk themselves. Hands-on art activity will be a boon to educators and parents, too. Writers will learn much from the sparse yet sensory language and the way words and art really do create a special world. (I wish I’d written this!)


P.S. Give this to the skeptic who still believes kids don't like nonfiction. This is a book to pour over whether it's raining mushrooms or not. (Yes, mushroom rain is real! Check the back matter!




Craft Chat with Laura K. Zimmermann

 

Kathy: I read that you came upon the “spore” for MUSHROOM RAIN from a Storystorm idea one year.  You began with research on women scientists, moved on to Beatrix Potter, and discovered the world of mushrooms. How long did that process to find the “right” topic take? How did you discover that mushrooms were “the” topic?

 

Laura: I spent a couple of years researching, writing, and revising the Beatrix Potter story. Had you asked me before I came across Beatrix’s research if I would ever write a book on mushrooms my answer likely would have been “no.” I just never thought about them that much. What really shifted my views was trying to see them from Beatrix’s perspective. The more I did that, the more I began to see what it was that Beatrix loved and a whole new world opened to me. Beatrix introduced me to some of their different shapes and facts like there are mushrooms that smell “exactly like a dead sheep.” But over time, as many manuscripts without a home do, Tales and Toadstools drifted into my “writing drafts” computer folder and I moved on to other things. Then one day, I stumbled across an article about mushroom spores as cloud seeds. I was back in research mode and discovered even more wonders I hadn’t known about. And from that moment on, mushrooms were “the” topic.

 

Kathy: Like many authors, you have a day job. How does your job as a college professor at Shenandoah University intersect with your writing? Does one feed off the other? What skill sets transfer to your writing and research?

 

Laura: They feed off each other. I am a developmental psychologist with a specialty in early childhood. As a researcher I focus on the science side of psychology with a focus on how children perceive and interact with the world. And that focus can be seen in my writing which is based on finding ways to get children as excited as I am about wonders in the natural world. I recently read a review of Mushroom Rain written by Jen Forbus who captured my goal for writing and research perfectly, “Together Zimmermann and Green prove how fascinating--and beautiful--science and nonfiction can be.”

The dark background highlights these unique mushrooms. 

 

Writing picture books has also helped me see and chop excess words in my scientific writing. My college students hear “cut the fluff” a lot from me these days as well. Picture books also find their way into many of my classes. There is a picture book for some aspect of nearly everything I teach. Picture books truly do have stories to tell for people of all ages.

 

Kathy: What drew you to nonfiction writing for children? What do you like most about writing nonfiction?

 

Laura: As a scientist and professor, I gravitate to nonfiction. I’m always down one research rabbit hole or another. The e-books my university students and I created for children in Uganda, Ghana, and Sierra Leone years ago led me to nonfiction writing for children. What I have discovered along the way is why I am still on this path. The natural world is filled with wonders, sometimes we just forget to look. Writing nonfiction for children reminds me of how much is still out there for me to discover.

 

Kathy: I love the sparse wording in Mushroom Rain along with its lyricality. Tell us about your drafting process and how you sifted through facts to shape your story? How did it change over time?

Consonance, assonance, and appeal to the reader's senses.

 

Laura: I generally start by listing cool facts I find in my research. In the case of Mushroom Rain, I also had my Beatrix Potter manuscript. I am a big fan of recycling information from stories that never found a home and when I looked back over Tales and Toadstools, some of my favorite parts revolved around the mushroom life cycle.  So first, I combined that with the cloud seed information. After that it was a matter of figuring out where to put my other favorite facts about mushrooms. Those facts moved around quite a bit before they found their place so the story flowed. Of course, I had tons of help with this from my amazing critique partners—Mushroom Rain would not be where it is today without them or the incredible editorial skills of my agent, Kaitlyn Sanchez, and my editor at Sleeping Bear, Barb McNally.

 

Kathy: As a former school librarian, I crave good back matter. Did you envision four pages of back matter or did your editorial team give you the option? The back matter design is quite engaging, too. Did you have any say in that?

 

Laura: I love back matter too. I think it is the researcher in me. I like the sparse writing style, but by necessity it leaves out cool things I want to share with my readers. The space allotted to back matter was determined based on the book’s layout which was created by the Sleeping Bear team who helped bring it to life. Picture books are all about streamlining, so I did have some cutting to do, but in the end all of the key ideas found a place. All things art and design were created by Jamie Green and the art director. But I love how it turned out. It fits the feel of the book perfectly.


 

Kathy: Tell us about your next projects and plans. Any school visits or conferences on the horizon?


Laura: I have some wonderful Mushroom Rain related interviews and events on the horizon. But what I am most excited about is Earth Day! Stay tuned to social media for more on my first book events with kids!! I’ll also be posting information about our activities on my website (https://laurakzimmermann.com/mushroom_rain/) so even if you aren’t near Winchester, VA you can still join in on the fun!






Wednesday, April 6, 2022

Celebrate Poetry Month ~by Christy Mihaly

April has arrived

bringing sunshine and poems.

Welcome! Celebrate!

April took me by surprise this year. (The passage of time seems to have stopped following the rules of order ... but that's another topic.) But here we are ... so welcome to Poetry Month! 

The Academy of American Poets created National Poetry Month in 1996. As they (poetically) put it, the goal is to remind us "that poets have an integral role to play in our culture and that poetry matters." 

I've been thinking about poetry's power. My nonfiction writing often involves sifting through piles of notes, sources, facts, and figures. When I'm stuck, one way out of the "stuckness" is to write a poem. 

A poem is an antidote to writer's block in two ways: First, it can be completed quickly (I mean a draft ... polishing a poem is a different story). Completing a poem helps me restart my writing momentum.

Second, a poem helps me find the heart of my topic. A poem boils down a complex idea into its essence. I've written poems about the First Amendment, for example. A poetic metaphor, an image, a figure of speech, or a silly rhyme might show me a new way to illuminate my topic, a path around writer's block.

For similar reasons, I love sharing poems with kids. A poem is short -- a plus in these days of short attention spans. And a poem gets right to the heart of a topic, often right into a young reader's heart. 

This photo shows me getting some elementary school students excited about a poem from the wonderful anthology, "Hop to It: Poems to Get You Moving." Created by Sylvia Vardell and Janet Wong, it's full of lively verse guaranteed to get readers on their feet.

So, whether for yourself or for some young people in your life, here are a few ideas to celebrate Poetry Month!




CELEBRATING POETRY MONTH: some ideas

Begin each day with a poem.
Read an old favorite from a dog-eared anthology or surf online for a new favorite. Or, join one of the poetry projects that blossom this month. For example, poet Michelle Schaub hosts a delightful blog, Poetry Boost, offering many resources and poems. Every weekday this month she'll post a video of a poet reading a poem they wrote. Check it out -- you may spot several GROG poets this year.

Take your poetry outside: write poems in chalk on your driveway or sidewalk or playground. (Get permission first ...) Poems should be out where they can be seen -- not stuck in dusty books, right?

Memorize a poem
Montpelier's PoemCity celebration
. Recite it for fun, or for a group. This is a nice way to internalize the meter, the feeling of poetry--and to share it.

Join public Poetry Month events. Find out what's happening in your area. Montpelier, the capital of Vermont, hosts a PoemCity celebration, posting poems city-wide on walls and windows of local businesses. (I'm excited that one of mine was accepted this year.) Many libraries host April poetry events. Attend a poetry slam! Find a poem-writing workshop! And if you can't find an event ... post your own poems. Or create a poetic celebration with your classroom, friends, or family.

Pair pictures with poems. Choose one or more poems to illustrate. Or use a poem as inspiration for another art project. Your images can show what the poem describes, or respond to the poem by illustrating the feelings it invokes. Or anything else! Or, reverse the process: use a photo or work of art to inspire a new poem. That's an ekphrastic poem!

Put a poem in your pocket. Carry it with you and share it with folks you meet. This year's "Poem in Your Pocket Day" is April 29. You can share a poem in socially distanced ways, too: post it, read it aloud and share the video, or add it to your email footer.

Finally, my personal favorite:

Try writing a poem each day. Capture the magic of Poetry Month by writing a poem a day! Explore different forms. Some formal poems quite brief. You probably know about haiku. Why not experiment with a fibonacci poem? (Following the fibonacci sequence, this 6-line poem has lines of 1, 1, 2, 3, 5, and 8 syllables.) Or a list poem, a diamonte, an acrostic, a limerick.... You can find explanations of many poetry forms online. The Writer's Digest listing is a good starting point.

More online poetry resources: 

Poetry Daily offers a contemporary poem each day.
Poetry 180, a Library of Congress poem-a-day hosted by Billy Collins.
The Poetry Foundation: so much stuff here!
Poetry Out Loud: student-oriented poems and programs.
Poetry4Kids: funny poems and more.
Poem Generator: generates poems in different forms from words you suggest.

Happy Poetry Month! May poetry make your heart glad, this month and always. ❤