Turbo Monkey Tales is a group blog focusing on the craft, production, marketing and consumption of Children's Literature. We are illustrators, writers, animators and media mongrels. We are readers! We are published, unpublished and self-published; agented and searching, and 100% dedicated to our Kid Lit journey, no matter where we are on the path. Join our Tribe and grab a vine. The more the merrier!

Monday, May 13, 2013

Reality Check: Investing Where It Matters by Julie

In recent weeks, I’ve been working through a career research unit with my sophomores. Some days I’ve felt FRUSTRATED with how little thought and effort some of the kids seem to put into the possibilities. I worry about them not getting a handle on their own power to choose attitudes and actions—their destinies—so I push.

One day last week, we took a look at a clip from APixar Story, an inspiring documentary about the evolution of the company. We had a discussion about the challenges individuals in the fledgling company faced and what contributed to their successes. 

Mid-chat, I had a doozy of an a-ha moment.

Sometimes the things right in front of me are hard to see.
It struck me that investment is key—not so much the money kind, but the time, effort, perseverance, and belief in what could be (even during the times things look dire) kinds. Success takes real investment. Without it, how can anything really change? It's the difference between the dream of being a doctor, tattoo artist, or writer and actually being one. Of course, I knew that on some level, but now I could feel it.

The a-ha moment had less pleasant second phase (the HA part).It was uncomfortable realizing that in the last couple of years, I've invested so much heart and time and energy into being a teacher--and it’s surely meaningful--BUT it’s not all that is important and meaningful to me. My writing hasn't seen the same tangible investment and that's stressful--an emotional debt.

One of my college classes. I can't show sophomores. ;)
 What If I don’t diversify my investments, don’t get “a handle on my own power to choose attitudes and action” –the exact stuff I’m worried about for my students? I don't want to find out.

So how can I make my investment in writing more a reflection of what it means to me, without defaulting on work or family?

Step one: I’m going public with my goals for investment and productivity.

If you’re struggling with productivity, too, maybe you’ll find Gregory Ciotti’s post on “The Psychology of Productivity: A Proven Way to Get More Done (in Less Time)” as interesting as I did. There’s even a two minute video breakdown of the ideas for the truly time crunched called “The Science of Productivity” over on YouTube at ASAPscience. You should head over and check both out.

The plan?

I need SYSTEMS. Ciotti explains how scientific research suggests it’s not willpower so much as systems I need to stay on track. I need to schedule stretches of time to work on my story and make that time sacred. The hours have a way of filling to the brim with family and school tasks if left open, so I need some strict boundaries there. My goal is to set twenty hours a week aside purely for writing. I’ve blocked out time on my phone calendar and have alarms set to remind me to drop the laundry and get to writing.

I need to CHUNK.  I felt relieved reading Ciotti’s description of how our brains tend to sabotage us when we stand at the base of a pretty immense task. A daily to-do list planned the evening before and achieving the mini-goals of those set writing times create that much needed sense of accomplishment.

I need ACCOUNTABILITY.  Besides  weekly goals, I need a slightly bigger, scarier deadline. So, Monkeys, I’ll put my draft in whatever state it’s in the Dropbox file June 30th. Gifts for any who dare open it.

I need FOCUS.  Research suggests I need to not multi-task (no Internet, noise cancelling headphones, hand each child a cheese stick and a drink before settling into my chair?) and I should give it my all for 90 minutes at a time and then break for 15 or 20 minutes. We're talking full butt in chair and not half-butt.

I'd love to know what you think! Do you feel like your actual investment reflects how much you value writing or illustrating? What could you do or have you done to bring the two more in line? 


  1. Oh man. I absolutely have felt that way. And do. That I needed to invest time and effort into studying the craft was my *what I wish I'd known earlier* point from last week. Thanks for the research and the tools to combat the non-productivity monster.

    June 30th can't some soon enough! :D

    1. June 30th really is too far away. It makes me feel better knowing it was an epiphany you had to arrive at, too. Now I feel cooler. ;)

    2. You couldn't BE any cooler, Jules. You're the hippest monkey we've got!

  2. Julie Bear!

    A great bit of advice for being successful with any venture, be it writing, business or relationships. I am a great investor on things and hope they will give me greater return...but sometimes chasing the dream can feel like chasing rainbows...i find that often it's not the pot of gold but the chase itself that is valuable.

    Thanks for such a heartfelt and revealing post.

    1. I love that! Enjoy the chase... Just need to apply mindfulness skills to writing. Thank you for the kind words, Craig!

  3. Julie, this is such an important post! At some point, every one of us has done more wishing than doing. Or, let the many (important and no so important) "others" block the way to our chair. Sometimes, we block ourselves even as we sit there with constant distractions and pulls from things that are not as important and vital to our happiness and fulfillment. I love you for posting this and hope I'm one of the lucky few who find something cool in their inbox!

  4. Thanks so much, Tracy! I don't know what I would do without role models like you to learn from and celebrate!

  5. Julie, this is wonderful information! I have been distracted lately and am going to use your advice to get back on track. Thank you!

    1. I sure hope it's useful, Marilyn! Can't wait to see more Marilyn productions! :)

  6. As a teacher, writing was always left for weekends and vacation. But even now, the FOCUS part is what I need to work on! Great post, Julie :)

    1. You mean, I can't blame teaching forever? :) Oof. I hope you have a super burst of productivity, Ellen!