How Not to Be Distracted by Distractions

I got my trophy in the mail the other day for Sapphire’s win in the OKRWA International Digital Awards. It’s very pretty. I may or may not sit and gaze at it from time to time. Especially during day job conference calls.

My big boss, head of our 60-some person team, Chi Ho really hates it if we’re not paying attention to conference calls. For people in the office, he makes them come to the conference room for big meetings, instead of phoning in from their desks, as many would prefer. Chi Ho says that there’s no such thing as multitasking, that if you think you are, you’re really not paying attention to any of the several things you’re doing. I think he does have a point.

Yesterday I was talking on the phone with a gal junior to me who’s doing a whole bunch of work on my projects. She’s very sharp, organized and I trust her with a lot. We were doing long-term strategizing about finishing out projects for the rest of the year. As we were talking, an email from Chi Ho popped up on my screen and I scanned it – then realized this gal had asked me a question. I rewound the tape in my head, but no, I didn’t have it. I had to confess that I’d been reading Chi Ho’s email and had stopped listening and what was her question again? She started laughing and said “caught you multitasking!”

I’ve been reading The Creative Habit by Twyla Tharp, which was a gift from the lovely Laura Bickle. It’s a very interesting take on creative and leading an artistic life, because Twyla comes at it from such a different perspective. As a dancer and choreographer, her creative process is in some ways the polar opposite of a writer’s. She is physical where we are sedentary, working with large groups compared to our solitary dreaming. But the differences point up the similarities in how we create and nourish new ideas. I’ve been highlighting a lot and this one struck me:

The irony of multitasking is that it’s exhausting; when you’re doing two or three things simultaneously, you use more energy than the sum of energy required to do each task independently. You’re also cheating yourself because you’re not doing anything excellently. You’re compromising your virtuosity. In the words of T.S. Eliot, you’re “distracted from distractions by distractions.”

 It’s a challenge to cut out multitasking because we all get a frisson of satisfaction from being able to keep several balls in the air at once. But one week without multitasking is worth it; the increased focus and awareness are their rewards.

That’s Twyla’s idea – that cutting out all distractions for a week improves creativity. She’s pretty draconian about it, saying that when she’s working up a new dance, she cuts out all input for a week before – email, TV, music, newspapers, everything. This is where I see a big difference in being a writer. I suppose there was a time when a writer prepared to Write The Next Book and would do this creative preparation. However, these days, I think most of us are writing pretty much all the time. I know I have to. I finish one project and move on to the next. So, while seductive*, it’s not practical for me to create this well of silence around my creative process.

*And it’s totally seductive to me. I have this idea that I would love to be a cloistered nun and take a vow of silence. Except that I’m not religious and I really like sex and other hedonistic activities. But still.

Instead, I think this silence can be created on a temporary and daily basis through dint of habit. My ritual now is turning on Freedom for two hours. (Those keeping track at home will notice that I upped the time. Deadlines – they be looming.) This silences the internet. I turn off the phone. The more I make myself sit with no other stimulation and simply focus on the story, the more it flows.

And for the day job? When I talk on the phone, I turn my back to the computer screen.


Competing for Covers

The cover of Platinum. So much pretty.

(Just in case you missed the cover reveal on Sullivan’s blog over the weekend.)

Covers are a funny thing. They are often the faces of our books – the first impression and lasting image. From the marketing end, the cover is the keystone of all publicity. After all, there’s not that many other visual images to tie to a story, except maybe the author head shot. (And for a lot of us, no one wants to go there. 😉 ) For the readers, covers add to the book’s caché. I know readers who collect bookmarks or cover flats of digital books, just to have the cover to look at.

If you’re a writer working with a publisher, what the cover will be is pretty much out of your hands. Oh, we get input–Carina and Ellora’s Cave have us fill out art fact sheets describing the book, characters, mood, tone, genre and visual hooks. And the marketing teams show the draft cover to us and we can give feedback. They smile, nod and give us the cover they want to.

If you self-publish, the writer becomes her own marketing team. Even if she hires a cover designer, she still has to communicate her concept, what the models should look like, the fonts and colors. It can be grueling, as I recently watched my friend and CP, Carolyn Crane, go through. She wanted the cover for her new book, Mr. Real, to be exactly right and wonderful, going through many iterations to get there.

(I know this because I think I looked at EVERY ONE.)

At any rate, she finally decided on a cover that she loved. Everyone was joyful. Until she found out that another author had received a nearly identical cover from her press – and the book is in the same genre and releasing on the same day. You can read Carolyn’s truly hilarious take on the fiasco here.

What strikes me most about this whole adventure though, is how lovely everyone was about it – especially the other author. We hear a lot of tales about author jealousy, infighting, plagiarizing, attack-sockpuppeting and various other kinds of unpleasantness. People love to pass around those stories. I knew this guy once who loved to complain about how women compete with each other in jealous and mean ways. He’d say “if two guys show up to a party wearing the same clothes, they’ll be friends for life – if two women wear the same dress, they’ll be at each other’s throats.”

Yeah. He was an ass.

But whenever he’d say that, I’d remember something that happened to my mom. The first time she ever volunteered to help organize a charity event, it was the inaugural fundraising ball put on by the American Cancer Society in Denver. She killed herself helping to plan this ball. Tons of work. And she stressed about what to wear. We shopped in EVERY store in Denver for the perfect dress. She visited me in college in St. Louis and we shopped there. We visited my aunt in Chicago and shopped there, too. This was over the course of nearly a year. Finally she found the perfect dress (I think in Chicago) and all was right with the world.

She arrives at the ball early, along with the rest of the committee, to finish setting up and in walks her good friend and another committee member wearing the exact same dress. That she’d bought at an exclusive boutique. Myrtle Rose, my mom’s friend, broke out laughing – I mean, what were the odds? – and said she’d go home and change. My mom protested and MR said, no, she’d been torn between two black dresses and all her make-up and jewelry would stay the same – she’d just shuck on the other dress and be right back.

It was done with the same spirit of friendship and generosity as Carolyn showed – and as the other author, Julianna Stone, showed her. After all, Carolyn was out money and the time she’d already invested in showing off the cover. It was well done of her.

I love a happy ending.

Oh, and speaking of – If you’d like win a 3-chapter, synopsis and query critique from me, you can do it here!

Platinum Cover Reveal!!

Hee hee hee.

You have to visit Pearls Cast Before a McPig to see it. Voodoo Bride is a big fan and wanted the privilege.

Here’s the official description (which I forgot to give Sullivan-oops!):

Althea Grant is doing fine. Sure, her Charleston gallery is suffering from the bad economy, and her artistic aspirations have gone nowhere. But she’s happy enough. When rugged metal sculptor Steel rides up on his motorcycle looking to rent studio space, his infusion of cash is more than welcome. But his art is raw, visceral, sexual—and completely inappropriate for her pastel world of watercolor landscapes.

Steel, fascinated by Althea’s rare albino coloring, sees in her the key to his next piece: a metal satyr that can be used for bondage games. Moving into her gallery basement is the first step; seducing the coolly polite lady into modeling for him is the second.

As Steel peels away her careful manners and tasteful outfits, Althea begins to realize her life isn’t just fine at all—it’s as pale and washed-out as the watercolor paintings she’s failing to sell. Can she transform her life and accept her most secret desires?

Out February 25!

Ruby Will Be Coming Your Way!

I’m thrilled to announce that last night I received a contract offer for Ruby from the fabulous folks at Carina Press! Ruby will be the third book in the Facets of Passion series, following Sapphire (10/24/11) and Platinum (2/25/13). Ruby should be out sometime in the fall of 2013. 

So exciting!

This is a milestone for me, because it’s the first time I’ve sold a book I haven’t written yet. Fabulous Editor Deb asked me for a partial and synopsis on a book 3 after we finished work on Platinum. And they liked it!

I feel so grown up now.

Plus? I have a deadline. At least I got to pick it myself. (Yes – I totally used my spreadsheets to plan. Shut up.)

Happy Thursday, everyone!