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Question of the Month: Discipline

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Tell me what you plan to get disciplined about in the new year.

I recently took 40 days to concentrate on the new book. I didn’t exactly lock myself away, but I kept my FaceBook, email, and online time to one hour each morning. And now I  have the entire new book mapped out—plot, themes, character arcs, and so on. I’m very happy with the shape of it and with what I expect will be the pace of it. (If you’re a longtime visitor at LitPark, you’ll know exactly why I’m concentrating so hard on the bones of the story before I let myself loose with the actual writing!)

The flip-side to my taking 40 days was that I tried to be equally disciplined with vacation time. Of course I still take assignments for reviews and essays and book clubs during my downtime—I’m not in a position to say no to many things—but I’ve put the book away for now and will not work on it again until my kids are back in school.


Stuff to share: I have an essay over at BookReporter about the first book I was obsessed with (I mentioned this last month, but it didn’t go live until Dec. 31, so I can finally give you the link). I answered some fascinating questions over at Julianna Baggott’s blog, including ones about childhood, past jobs, and the publishing business.  I interviewed 9-time novelist Caroline Leavitt over at The Nervous Breakdown, where we talked about what a difference an attentive publisher makes, and of course we talked about her newest book, PICTURES OF YOU, which got a rave in Oprah’s magazine. (Thank you, Early Word, for linking to it!) Also at The Nervous Breakdown, there’s a podcast of me reading from UP FROM THE BLUE, and many thanks to the talented Megan DiLullo for adding the creative spark to it. There was an all-too generous quote by Tish Cohen in The Globe and Mail when they asked about her favorite read of the year. I seriously adore Tish and hope the good karma zooms right back to her. And last thing, later this month I’m going to West Palm Beach, Florida to participate in BookMania. I’ll tell you all about it when I get back.


Seems like it makes sense to finish up by sharing books given and received over the holidays. I like to pick out my own books, and I get about 20 unsolicited books a month from authors and publishers, so my friends know not to add to my pile. However, I still got one book from Mr. H—THE SELECTED POETRY OF RAINER MARIA RILKE—and I’m very, very happy about it. And my brother-in-law gave the whole family I SHALL WEAR MIDNIGHT by Sir Terry Pratchett, which is wonderful… and darker than the others in the Wee Free Men series. Mr. H is reading this aloud to us, a chapter each night, because he does the accents right.

These are the books I gave as gifts: CLEOPATRA: A LIFE, Stacy Schiff; DIARY OF A WIMPY KID: THE UGLY TRUTH, Jeff Kinney; CUTTING FOR STONE, Abraham Verghese; THE RISE OF THEODORE ROOSEVELT, Edmund Morris; A TALE DARK AND GRIMM, Adam Gidwitz; THE WARMTH OF OTHER SUNS: THE EPIC STORY OF AMERICA’S GREAT MIGRATION, Isabel Wilkerson; X’ED OUT, Charles Burns; and SCOTT PILGRIM, Bryan Lee O’Malley.

Feel free to share your own lists… and don’t forget to answer to the Question of the Month. I want to hear what you’re up to!

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  • Colleen
    January 3, 2011

    Clearly I am not disciplined enough. I saw your question and thought, “I don’t want to be disciplined over anything this next year!

    • Susan Henderson
      January 6, 2011

      I think that’s great, Colleen. Sometimes it’s just as important to get rid of the rules and the structure.

      • Colleen
        January 7, 2011

        Unfortunately I am one of those people who have to have structure. However I am a snickers mini kind of gal instead of king size. Too big is overehelming. That’s why my garage is the mess it is. Overehelming. 🙂 I was actually saying I didn’t want to get in “trouble” for anything. LOL. Maybe that should be my goal this year…throw caution to the wind.
        BTW. Saw post below about Kindle. Both my son and myself got a Nook Color for Christmas. Totally loving it. Thought I was getting an e-reader and got an android tablet bonus. Typing this note from it now. 🙂
        Nook Color plus $100+ B&N gift certificates = Life is good!
        Currently reading “Water for Elephants” love it. Just finished ” Mennonite in alittle black dress”.

        • Susan Henderson
          January 9, 2011

          I get overwhelmed, too. I have to give myself things I can finish in a day, even if it’s only writing one essay or one scene, or finishing the laundry. But a goal like, Write a book, or Clean the house is so big I feel defeated from the start.

          Glad to hear the Nook Color is a hit! And I loved Water for Elephants. I’ll have to look up Mennonite–haven’t heard of it until now.

  • Amy Wallen
    January 3, 2011

    I want to focus on my Savory Salons. I have this sense that as we become more and more media savvy in the macro arena of Facebook, Twitter, and the rest of cyberspace, that these smaller more intimate connections will become so valuable to human beings. Especially with authors. Nowadays, it seems we all want to do more than just buy a book, we want to connect with the author and the story behind the story. We crave more intimacy than the status updates on Facebook, as wonderful as those are in another way. My salons are limited to 10 people. I think food and people commune so well.

    That’s one discipline. Sticking to a dream, a hunch.

    Other disciplines: I tend to be a bit of a Nazi with my own self. So, discipline is something I try to lighten up on. Some people would call this attribute lucky, but my obsessiveness is not always so kind to me. I’m in desperate need of massages and my eyeglass prescription keeps getting stronger and stronger.

    Wishing you, Mr. H, and the boys, a joyous New Year! Love, Amy

    • Susan Henderson
      January 6, 2011

      I love this idea of making the world small and intimate again. In fact, I think you might have the beginning of an essay there. And I’m so so so excited about doing your Savory Salon in March! And that’s an understatement!

  • billie hinton
    January 3, 2011

    Writing, riding, yoga, marketing the e-books that are finally up on Amazon (2 up, 2 to go up in the next couple of weeks)…

    I’m taking a detour from discipline this year – I’m good at “going with the flow” of the day and most weeks I manage to get a lot done in the areas most important to me. But then I get antsy about not having done each thing “every day.” So I’m trying to get more comfortable with my own work habits – thinking that if I embrace them, they’ll be even more effective. It sounds crazy in a way – getting less “disciplined” in order to do more – but I have an image of these bright spots of time/productiveness in mind that I’m calling “office hours” and “barn time” and “mom/home” time – and they’re all floating and morphing and I sort of dive into them as they present themselves.

    It’s so exciting that you have the bones of your book – love that image.

    The one book I gave this year was Cursed Pirate Girl which I was so intrigued by when I read about it and KickStart. It is beautiful! And it came to be b/c a lot of people chipped in a little so the author and his team could make it happen.

  • Nathalie
    January 3, 2011

    Discipline? Yickes.
    I got the last Umberto Eco for Christmas (“Il Cimitero di Praga”) and it was a very enjoyable (if fairly scary) read (it’s about the power of disinformation and manipulation).
    I gave my mother the last Erri de Luca book , “Il giorno prima della felicità” (in French). I am eagerly waiting for Barbara Kingsolver’s “Lacuna” to be translated in French and Italian to start propagating it. Any plans for translation of “Out of the Blue”?

    • Susan Henderson
      January 6, 2011

      I think Mr. H might like that Umberto Eco book. And I truly hope my book will be translated into French and Italian. So far, it’s coming out in Dutch and Norwegian.

      I am so in love with Dante’s Purgatorio, and one of the things that just kills me is that I can’t read it in its original language, and I know I’m missing so much goodness.

      • Nathalie
        January 7, 2011

        Just think that theories of Italian students have to suffer all through Dante (and most of them hate him as a result).

        • Susan Henderson
          January 9, 2011

          The book Americans seem to have in common is S.E. Hinton’s The Outsiders. I’m more for Dante.

  • Keith Cronin
    January 4, 2011

    For discipline, here’s something I started doing last year, which seemed to help. I write down the three or four main things I want to focus on during the year, and then I print it out and put it in a small frame that sits on my desk. And written at the top of that list is The Killer Question:

    “Does what I’m doing right now support one of these initiatives?”

    Like I said, it’s a killer question, and it serves as a great reality check.

    As for holiday books, I received HOW TO BACK UP A TRAILER: …AND 101 OTHER THINGS EVERY REAL GUY SHOULD KNOW (gotta love it for the title alone), and THE MEANING OF EVERYTHING: THE STORY OF THE OXFORD ENGLISH DICTIONARY, by Simon Manchester, a follow-up to the absolutely delightful THE PROFESSOR AND THE MADMAN (a great read and a marvelous gift for your literary friends).

    The book I gave this year as a gift was an atypical choice, but it’s been well received: BORN TO RUN: A HIDDEN TRIBE, SUPERATHLETES, AND THE GREATEST RACE THE WORLD HAS NEVER SEEN by Christopher McDougall. Let me first state that I’m not a runner – or even remotely interested in running – and I don’t even remember how I stumbled across this book, but I’m glad I did! McDougall has an engaging, conversational style, with which he explores and challenges popular running techniques and shoe design, while at the same time telling the rip-roaring true story of a colorful mix of characters caught up in the bizarre world of ultra-long-distance running. I am SO not into sports, so for this book to have engaged a person like me is a testament to what a great storyteller McDougall is. RUN to the store and get a copy!

    • Susan Henderson
      January 6, 2011

      Ooh, that’s REALLY smart to ask yourself if what you’re doing is leading you towards your goals. Hmmm, I think I’m going to steal that idea.

      Love that trailer title, and I think you may have interested me in my first book about an athlete.

  • David Abrams
    January 5, 2011

    My discipline comes and goes. In fact, I’m really not attentive enough to properly answer your question, so I’ll just say I hope to knuckle down and finish two stories which lie in tatters and fragments on my hard drive right now.

    As for what I gave this Christmas? My mother was the very happy recipient of my old 2nd-generation Kindle (Gah! Bought in July and already a dinosaur?) after I was the equally-happy recipient of a new 3G Kindle (a million kisses and hugs to my beautiful, insightful, and thoughtful wife–I hope she’s reading this!–who has as much sense as she does cents). So, along with the Kindle, my mother got “Freedom,” “The Passage,” and a good two dozen other ebooks which I’d previously downloaded.

    • Susan Henderson
      January 6, 2011

      A 3G Kindle sounds dangerous for a compulsive book buyer like me. Did you read The Passage? When it came out, it looked like it was going to be one of the big books of the year, and then it just kind of went off the radar.

      Hope you’re tending to one of your fragmented stories right now. I find it less intimidating to start with one paragraph or scene and not worry about the entire piece all at once.

  • Raima
    January 5, 2011

    Discipline? Funny you should ask. I just spent several days thinking about goals for the year in all sorts of areas of my life: fitness, health, writing, friends, family, spirituality and even online activity. I know, from past experience, that I’m motivated by numerical goals; you know, things I can graph, like miles run per week, hours spent doing yoga, words or pages produced. So, I have numerical goals for everything EXCEPT my writing this year. I’m finding this very odd, but it may be because I’m at a point with much of my writing where I’m waiting for other people to make decisions, get back to me, etc etc. Discipline and numerical goals are much easier when I feel a sense of control about my own destiny.

    Anyhow, thanks for asking! So sorry it’s taken me forever to make a comment on your blog. Been lurking here for awhile (as you probably know!) 🙂 Happy New Year…

    • Susan Henderson
      January 6, 2011

      I got a make-your-own chocolate bar the other day, and because I’m trying to start the new year off healthy, I decided to eat the whole thing and get it out of the way of my diet. 🙂

      Fascinating how numbers help to give you something to reach for! And I’d trust your process with your book. Everytime you’ve shared a little of the idea with me, it sounds absolutely solid and fascinating. I’m very much looking forward to seeing what you finally create!

  • Susan Henderson
    January 6, 2011

    Just got back in town and will respond to all the fascinating comments tomorrow. In the meantime, if you live in Florida, I hope you can come to this…

    17TH Annual BookMania! moves to larger venue January 22
    Author/book festival will be held at Jensen Beach High School instead of former venue, Blake Library

    STUART, FL, Dec. 29, 2010 – Beginning at 9:00 a.m. Saturday, January 22, Martin County Library System’s popular BookMania! author/book festival will take place in the 600-seat Performing Arts Center of Jensen Beach High School, 2875 NW Goldenrod Road, Jensen Beach, with more than twenty nationally recognized authors participating in daylong panel discussions and readings. Book signings and sales will be held in the school’s Nutrition Center following each presentation. Food and drinks will be sold in the adjoining courtyard. Events are free and open to the public. No tickets or reservations are required.

    BookMania! is funded by the Library Foundation of Martin County and underwritten by the Colonel Charles C. and Muriel W. Walts Fund. Media sponsor is the Stuart News. Barnes & Noble, provider of books for the festival, will donate a percentage of proceeds from books purchased at both the festival and the January 21 fundraising cocktail party to the Library Foundation. The BookMania! brochure with schedule and author bios is available online at and at all Martin County libraries. For more information call (772) 221-1403.

    The public can get a “sneak preview” of BookMania! authors and their books at the kickoff fundraising cocktail party, “Novel Destinations,” 5:30 p.m. – 7:30 p.m. Friday, January 21 in the John F. Armstrong Wing of the Blake Library, 2351 SE Monterey Road, Stuart. Presented by the Page Turners Society, this unique affair welcomes BookMania! authors to Stuart and gives book lovers the chance to mix and mingle with new and favorite authors while sampling delicious fare from around the world Books provided by Barnes & Noble will be available for purchase and signing during the evening. Tickets are $75 and space is limited. For more information or to purchase tickets call the Library Foundation office at (772) 221-1409 or visit

    Schedule of events January 22:
    9 a.m. panel, Villains and Soldiers and Spies…Oh My!, moderator Scott Eyman, with authors
    Ted Bell, Warlord: An Alex Hawke Novel
    C.J. Box, Three Weeks to Say Goodbye
    Joe Finder, Vanished
    Jamie Freveletti, Running Dark
    Michael Harvey, The Third Rail
    9:45 a.m. – 10:15 a.m. book signing

    10 a.m., Bonnie McEneaney, Messages: Signs, Visits and Premonitions from Loved Ones Lost on 9/11
    10:30 a.m. – 11:15 a.m. book signing

    11 a.m. panel, Flights of Imagination, moderator Sue Whittington, with authors
    Robert Barclay, If Wishes Were Horses
    Joy Fielding, The Wild Zone
    Connie May Fowler, How Clarissa Burden Learned to Fly
    Sena Jeter Naslund, Adam and Eve
    11:45 a.m. – 12:15 p.m. book signing

    Noon panel, Behind the Silver Screen, moderator Jeri Butler, with authors
    Roy Blount, Jr., Hail, Hail, Euphoria! Presenting the Marx Brothers in Duck Soup, the Greatest War Movie Ever Made
    Scott Eyman, Empire of Dreams: The Epic Life of Cecil B. DeMille
    12:45 p.m. – 1:15 p.m. book signing

    1 p.m. panel, Discover Great New Writers and Barnes & Noble Recommends, moderator Jill Lamar, with authors
    Susanna Daniel, Stiltsville
    Karl Marlantes, Matterhorn: A Novel of the Vietnam War
    Helen Simonson, Major Pettigrew’s Last Stand
    1:45 p.m. – 2:15 p.m. book signing

    2 p.m. panel, Families and Cultures Collide, moderator Edie Donohue, with authors
    Conor Grennan, Little Princes: One Man’s Promise to Bring Home the Lost Children of Nepal
    S.C. Gwynne, Empire of the Summer Moon: Quanah Parker and the Rise and Fall of the Comanches, the Most Powerful Indian Tribe in American History
    2:45 p.m. – 3:15 p.m. book signing

    3 p.m. panel, It’s a Dog’s Life, moderator Jackie Williams, with authors
    Jennifer Arnold, Through a Dog’s Eyes
    Susannah Charleson, Scent of the Missing: Love & Partnership with a Search and Rescue Dog
    3:45 p.m. – 4:15 p.m. book signing

    4 p.m. panel, Five @ 4: The Grand Finale, moderator Luann Justak, with authors
    Elizabeth Berg, The Last Time I Saw You
    Susan Henderson, Up from the Blue
    Joyce Maynard, The Good Daughters
    Martha McPhee, Dear Money
    Michael Morris, Slow Way Home
    5 p.m. – 5:30 p.m. book signing

    What: Martin County Library System presents
    17th annual BookMania! – a daylong author/book festival featuring over 20 nationally recognized authors participating in panel discussions and book signings
    When: Saturday, January 22, beginning at 9 a.m.
    Where: Jensen Beach High School, Performing Arts Center, 2875 NW Goldenrod Road, Jensen Beach
    Why: Funded by the Library Foundation of Martin County; underwritten by the Colonel Charles C. and Muriel W. Walts Fund
    Cost: Free and open to the public
    For event information: Call (772) 221-1403.

  • Jessica Keener
    January 6, 2011

    Discipline for me has to do with having faith, keeping faith, acting on faith on a daily basis. I’m not talking about religion, but faith in self, faith in my work, faith in the choices I make–faith that my life and everything in it has purpose.

    The BookMania event looks like a lot of fun, Sue. Enjoy.

  • Keith Cronin
    January 6, 2011

    You’re coming to Florida?!? Awesome! I’ll be there with bells on.

    Oh, wait. It’s a library, so we have to be quiet. Lose the bells.

    Looking forward to it!

    • Susan Henderson
      January 6, 2011

      Do you think you’ll really be able to go?! I’d be so so happy to see you there!

      • Keith Cronin
        January 6, 2011

        Absolutely – I wouldn’t miss it!

        And if by any chance you’re sticking around that night, I’m playing at a cool blues club about 40 minutes south of your event. Food for thought…

        • Susan Henderson
          January 6, 2011


  • Billy Bones
    January 9, 2011

    Mr. Lincoln gets up at 4:30 every morning (except Sunday) so he can put in at least two hours of writing. He likes to keep things simple. Perhaps that’s part of his discipline, too.

    • Susan Henderson
      January 9, 2011

      I’m impressed! And two hours of uninterrupted writing every day makes for a lot of progress. (Glad you’re here.)

  • Elizabeth Crane
    March 5, 2011

    I’m so late to this discussion! I really don’t consider myself disciplined about much of anything at all. Thank god I actually like to write – that alone is what motivates me to do it. Sometimes I have to say “Ok, it’s time to start,” because I can poke around on other stuff forever, but that’s about it. Xmas books: I got Let The Great World Spin and Just Kids and gobbled them both up. Big love.

    • Susan Henderson
      March 6, 2011

      Hey, Betsy, if you come back tomorrow, the March post will be up! I’m big on poking around, too. I found I actually have to make time for it because it seems to relax me and open something up. The trick is limiting that time.

      I’ve heard nothing but good about both of those books. I’ve had McCann’s on my wishlist forever.

Susan Henderson