Episode 175 #HowtoUseaBurnChart
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Episode 175 #HowtoUseaBurnChart

The burn chart mindset, whole book project management, and a how-to for finding a progress tracker that works for you. 

KJ’s an avid user of burn charts. Sarina uses a desktop variant (and has her own style). Jess doesn’t entirely see the appeal. What’s the difference between a burn chart and to-do list? Maybe nothing, if your to-do list goes all the way to the end of your project—and maybe everything, if you’re not paying attention to the difference between what you’ve got on your list, and what has to be done by when and by who in order to meet a deadline. This week on the podcast, KJ tries to talk Jess into the burn chart mindset, Sarina talks whole book project management, and we all come down to a how-to for finding a progress tracker that works for you.

Episode links and a transcript follow—but first, a preview of the #WritersTopFive that will be dropping into #AmWriting supporter inboxes on Monday, September 9, 2019: Top 5 Reasons You Need a Burn Chart. Not joined that club yet? You’ll want to get on that. Support the podcast you love AND get weekly #WriterTopFives with actionable advice you can use for just $7 a month. 

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LINKS FROM THE PODCAST

Pacemaker Planner

KJ’s Burn charts: Happier Parent, left; The Chicken Sisters revision, right.

Sarina’s Pacemarker chart, left and burn-up columns, right.

#AmReading (Watching, Listening)

KJ: The Beautiful No, Sheri Salata (As you consider this one, you might want to take a look at KJ’s Goodreads review here.)

The Writer Files (a podcast)

Sarina: The Rest of the Story, Sarah Dessen

Jess: Daisy Jones and The Six, Taylor Jenkins Reid

Dani Shapiro’s Family Secrets (a podcast)

#FaveIndieBookstore

Norwich Bookstore, Norwich, VT

This episode was sponsored by Author Accelerator, the book coaching program that helps you get your work DONE. Visit https://www.authoraccelerator.com/amwritingfor details, special offers and Jennie Nash’s Inside-Outline template.

Find more about Jess hereSarina here and about KJ here.

If you enjoyed this episode, we suggest you check out Marginally, a podcast about writing, work and friendship.

Transcript (We use an AI service for transcription, and while we do clean it up a bit, some errors are the price of admission here. We hope it’s still helpful.)

KJ:                                00:01                Hey all. As you likely know, the one and only sponsor of the #AmWriting podcast is Author Accelerator, the book coaching program that helps writers all the way through their projects to the very end. Usually Author Accelerator offers only longterm coaching and they’re great at it, but they’ve just launched something new inside outline coaching, a four week long program for novelists and memoir writers that can help you find just the right amount of structure so that you can plot or pants your way to an actual draft. I love the inside outline and I think you will too. I come back to mine again and again, whether I’m writing or revising. Working through it with someone else helps keep you honest and helps you deliver a story structure that works. Find out more at www.authoraccelerator.com/insideoutline.

Jess:                             00:57                Go ahead.

KJ:                                00:58                This is the part where I stare blankly at the microphone like I don’t remember what I was supposed to be doing.

Jess:                             01:02                All right, let’s start over.

KJ:                                01:03                Awkward pause, I’m going to rustle some papers.

Jess:                             01:06                Okay.

KJ:                                01:06                Now one, two, three.

KJ:                                01:15                Hey, welcome to #AmWriting podcast.

Jess:                             01:18                I’m Jess Lahey. I’m the author of the Gift of Failure and some articles you can find if you Google my name and a forthcoming book on preventing substance abuse in kids.

Sarina:                          01:28                I’m Sarina Bowen, the author of 30 romance novels. The next one will be called Moonlighter.

KJ:                                01:35                And I am KJ Dell’Antonia, author of How to Be a Happier Parent, former lead editor and writer for the New York Times Motherlode blog and author of a novel forthcoming next summer, a beach read. And if you are a regular listener, you might’ve noticed a little difference in our introduction today because we are now #AmWriting The Podcast and now with more Sarina.

Jess:                             02:01                Now with more Sarina and you may have noticed some weird hesitation in our voices as we were doing the intro cause it’s been a couple of years doing the regular intro and I’m happy to make a change.

KJ:                                02:11                Yeah, this fall we’re sparking it up. There’s going to be three of us sometimes. We’re going to do lots of interviews, we’re going to do some great new projects that we are excited about. But today we’re just doing a podcast on one of my favorite dear to my heart topics, which is the burn chart.

Jess:                             02:33                This is very timely because in the #AmWriting Facebook group, someone posted just a few days ago, could someone please explain this whole tracking software burn chart thing. And we’ve talked about burn charts a couple of times because KJ likes them. And because I’ve never really used them, I wanted to know more about how to use them, especially, you know, with this deadline looming. But you and Sarina are so good at planning your time I think it’s something I could really learn from.

KJ:                                03:03                Well that was something I was thinking about was I thinking, is there a difference between a burn chart and a to do list? And the answer is not necessarily, If your to do list goes all the way to the end.

Jess:                             03:19                Well, where are we now? KJ, you still use burn charts? Sarina, do you use burn charts?

Sarina:                          03:24                Well, I use a thing called Pacemaker and I can’t wait to hear how much like or different it is from KJ’s burn chart.

Jess:                             03:32                Okay.

KJ:                                03:32                And this is perfect because that is clearly a software thing, right?

Sarina:                          03:37                Yup.

KJ:                                03:37                Yeah. So I, I’m the paper burn chart. You, you are the digital version. All right.

Jess:                             03:44                And I’m the one who just sits in the chair and hopes that I get enough words on the page to meet my deadline in October.

KJ:                                03:51                Yeah. Well I mean I hope you’re doing a little bit more than hoping, but if not, Hey, we’ve got time. We’ve got time to like rein you in. All right, so a burn chart is a physical manifestation of two things and one is the amount of time that you have to go towards your deadline. And the other is your is tangible markers of your progress towards that deadline. So just to really make it incredibly easy. If for some reason you knew that you had to write 10,000 words and it doesn’t matter what they say, just that you just have to write 10,000 words and then you have five days in which to do it. Obviously at the end of every day you need to check off that you have written 2000 words. That would be very easy. You would make one side of your chart, 2000 words, 4,000 words, 6,000 words that you know, and then the other side, the days. And then you would draw a little straight line. And if you got there you’d be right on your line. And if you wrote 2,300 words, you’d be a little above or below your line depending on how you want to measure it. And so really the key is that you have divided the work that you have to do up into measurable….

Jess:                             05:28                achievable…

KJ:                                05:28                Well that’s an interesting piece of it. So when I created my burn chart for The Chicken Sisters revision, I had exactly 30 days and I had 27 chapters and I went through and I had a list of the chapters. So I wrote out the chapters and I thought, well, these are in pretty good shape, so I ought to be able to do these together and this one’s not in bad shape so I sort of tried to chunk them together. And it turned out that after two days I was dramatically wrong. But what was really good because I had sort of drawn this line of where I thought I could get to and I very quickly realized I couldn’t do nearly as much as I thought that I could. So I was able to sort of quickly rejigger the chart right away. And if I hadn’t been able to rejigger the chart, I could have quickly asked for another two weeks because it was immediately clear that I was only going to be able to manage one chapter a day, tops. And some days I wasn’t even able to manage that, but fortunately it turned out to sort of all zip along at the end. So you have to be able to define an achievable goal, yes. But that’s kind of problematic because if you’ve got 30 days and 40 chapters and all you can do as a chapter a day, then there you are. You know, your deadline is not gonna work.

Jess:                             07:00                Yeah.

KJ:                                07:00                So that’s part of the reason to create a burn chart.

Jess:                             07:02                Well, and the nice thing about your burn charts, KJ, having looked at them many times with great envy is I remember when you were writing How to Be a Happier Parent, you had these very pretty burn charts that have an X axis and a Y axis and a line that goes down to zero. And by the time you’re done, your little line meets the bottom line and you’re down at zero and it looks all pretty. And I remember seeing one of those and thinking, Oh well wouldn’t that be satisfying?

KJ:                                07:31                It is satisfying. Yeah I’ve got the Happier Parent one here now. And that was one where I divided the work into chunks that were sort of only coherent to me because it might be outline this, and draft this, and revise that. But as long as I got through, I think I was at a three chunk a day plan, cause I had a pretty solid idea of what I could and couldn’t do. Now on The Chicken Sisters chart I also made a funny mistake. I did the axises wrong. It’s hard trying to think how to explain it, but the way that I did it, it wasn’t satisfying. So if I, if I achieved more than I thought I would achieve because I had put the chapters all along the bottom there wasn’t sort of, if I marked that I had colored it in, it didn’t look good. It didn’t look like I was doing something. So I turned it sideways.

Jess:                             08:36                It needs to look really satisfying. You either have to be coloring – we’ll put all these pictures up on the website – but it needs to look satisfying. You need to be either creating a long bar of color or you need to be reaching some zero end point.

KJ:                                08:51                Yeah. And you can burn up. So you could have like if its the first day of the month and you need to get one chunk down or one chapter done so you put the day on the up and down axis and the achievement and then you sort of color it in and the next day you get and see you can go up or you can, as I did with Happier Parent, you can count down because I needed to cross things off. So I started off at the upper left hand corner and I burned down.

Jess:                             09:25                Okay. That makes sense.

KJ:                                09:27                I checked things off. But in Chicken Sisters I did the axis backwards. I ended up burning up, burning up was more satisfying.

Jess:                             09:41                Okay.

KJ:                                09:42                So how does this compare to doing it on Pacemaker, Sarina?

Sarina:                          09:45                You know, it’s kind of similar. With Pacemaker you tell it what you’re doing. So, drafting as opposed to revising and and then you tell it how many words you need to go.

Jess:                             10:00                Was this designed for writing specifically?

Sarina:                          10:02                Yes.

Jess:                             10:03                Oh, okay.

Sarina:                          10:04                And then you give it your deadline. What I do enjoy is that you can finesse a little bit with telling it when you’re not going to work. Like I had two trips this month and I was able to tell Pacemaker that I would not be writing on those days. And the nice thing about that is that it’s always recalculating. So right now it tells me that on this project I have 11 days left and over those 11 days I have 15,800 words to go. And so it very handily lets me know that I need to write 1,317 words each day to get to my target of 90,000 total words.

Jess:                             10:56                So if you do that or don’t do that, do you tell the app or is it integrated with whatever you’re using to write?

Sarina:                          11:01                No, It’s not integrated. It’s just a satisfying thing to open up the Pacemaker window and enter my new total word count.

Jess:                             11:10                Is it on your phone or on your computer?

Sarina:                          11:12                It’s a desktop app, which I admit is not very 2019.

Jess:                             11:16                Okay. ,

KJ:                                11:18                But this would work really well for either drafting – and I’m assuming if you get to 80,763 words and you write the end, you’re going to count that.

Sarina:                          11:32                Of course.

KJ:                                11:33                It would work really well for that or for revising where you could put in the number of words that you have.

Jess:                             11:43                How does it work for revising specifically?

Sarina:                          11:45                Well, I was just doing a revision on something else and I would have entered it the same way where I would have just told it how many words were left in the unrevised part of the document or rather how many were in the revised part. But it’s actually kind of flexible. I think you can instead just tell it how many revision words you’ve covered that day. You can make it do a lot of what you might want to do.

Jess:                             12:12                Okay. So what happens if, like today for example, my plan is to submit the chapter I’m working on right now to my agent by the end of the day. I was feeling really good about it yesterday and then I dove back into the beginning and I said, Oh heck, this stinks. I have to redo. You know, what ended up being a whole morning’s worth of work. And I think I can still get it done. But how does a program like that account for the fact that what you’ve got is not always what you think you’ve got? Or can it?

Sarina:                          12:42                Obviously it can’t, but it just recalibrates so I like to keep things so that my daily word count than I need to accomplish is 1200 words or lower. Like I, I feel good about life when that line marching across the screen says you have to do 1200 words every day to stay ahead. And now yesterday I didn’t write anything, but I did a lot of thinking about what was wrong with this book and what I needed to do to fix it. So today when I opened up the window, it said, guess what, honey? You’ve got to do 1300 instead of 12, just to keep your head above this ocean and and so obviously I slipped there a little bit, but you know, if I put up 1500 words today, which let’s face it is not an insane number, then it’ll start to go back in the right direction.

Jess:                             13:37                Okay.

KJ:                                13:37                So I guess it just depends on what it is you’re needing to measure. I mean, I admit my burn charts tend to be sort of like complicated multi page affairs because for example, if I was doing what you are doing, Jess, and if I had chapters that needed to go through phases, so you need to draft it, then you need to send it to your agent, then you’re probably gonna revise it, then you’re going to send it to your editor. When I’m doing that, I allow time for those other people’s involvement. So, if I were where you are…

Jess:                             14:14                …you would be in a total panic.

KJ:                                14:16                I would be in a total panic, utter and total sympathy and props for you. After I was done breathing into the paper bag under my desk, I would come out and I would make a list and I mean that’s the thing, you just want to use the list.

KJ:                                14:29                I’m looking at my How to Be a Happier Parent and I listed the chapters and then I checked off: had I outlined it, had I drafted it, had it gone to my agent, had I revised it. I actually was not sending chapters to my editor so I didn’t have that as a piece. And there was a point when I sort of had estimated the percentage that things were drafted and things were a little crazy. But I was allowing for for that process so that when the last chapter that was going to my agent was going to my agent, I would be on say, revising the first three chapters. So I made these really sort of monstrous multi page lists. And then what I did was to figure – each one of these is going to take me three hours, let’s add up all the three hours, and then divide it by the amount of time that I have left and, and sort of lay it out there. And one of the reasons to do that is so that you can see if you’re going to be able, because sometimes you set a deadline you can’t hit. And it’s so much better to recognize that five days into working with your burn chart when you’re like, wait a minute, I’m seven chunks underwater or 12,000 words underwater. Then you can reach out to everyone else involved because when it’s a visual reminder, you can’t fool yourself. You can’t every day go ‘I worked really hard, I did everything I possibly could because there are circumstances when everything you possibly could isn’t going to get you to October 1st with, with the book.

Jess:                             16:24                Well, and that’s why we changed this deadline to begin with. I mean, I hit May and realized, Oh yeah, July 1st is not gonna happen. And I actually went to my agent before she had planned to come to me on May 1st and I got to her before that to say, yeah, we need to change this. But my little sort of clue to myself when something is done – mine’s a lot simpler than yours in the sense that what I do is keep that all those chapters on the left hand side of my page in Scrivener. I close the folder when that chapter is done or out or off to edit. The nice thing for me is I can see, all the time, on the left hand side of the page things that I need to put cues for, where I’m headed. Oh, don’t forget that in chapter seven, I’m going to say such and such. So I have sort of a nice low visual cue on the side, but it’s really pretty simple for me. I don’t really have a strategy as involved. Right now I’m in the ‘just keep my head down and keep plowing through’ and I always worry that if I take time to do things like make a very fancy burn chart, which would be a wonderful procrastination strategy for me right now, that I’m just using up time on something when I should just be sitting at my desk writing the words.

KJ:                                17:39                Well that is a know yourself thing and it’s probably helped by the fact that you’ve written this kind of book before.

Jess:                             17:46                What’s really weird about that though is that I don’t have a burn chart for Gift to Failure. Every once in a while I look around and I think, did I really write that book? Because I don’t remember how that even happened. It’s like that labor thing with childbirth and labor, you know, the only reason you do another one is cause you forget what it was like the first time around.

Sarina:                          18:08                I experience that too, I’ve had to go back into my own books a lot this month to see what I said about certain secondary characters and, and there’ll be a joke in there and I’m like, I don’t really remember where that came from.

KJ:                                18:26                Yeah, I’m having that too. Sarina, one thing I was thinking of when I was looking back at my 2017 journal because I wanted to find the How to Be a Happier Parent burn chart. And I could see all the different places where I’d put up goals and where I’d listed what the different chunks were and sort of re-revised again what I needed to do. And for me that’s a keep your mind on track thing. Sarina, I know that at the beginning of a big season of writing, you’ll be like, I’m shooting for three books and a serial and these are my different deadlines. And I imagine you sort of sticking up giant post-its to put the different deadlines places. And I feel like it’s almost a different kind of big burn chart cause again, it’s that visual.

Sarina:                          19:30                It is and actually I was just doing that last weekend and it’s so much harder than figuring out how many words you can write in a month. What I was struggling with is project management really. So I have this book that I need to turn into my editor on October 9, but having that editorial date set up was a to do list item that had to come into my life sometimes between deciding to write the book and choosing a publication date for it. Because once I finish a project, there are all these other people that have to be involved and that’s where all the stress comes from. So for this book I had to hire a cover designer and we had to establish a date for that and I had to hire an editor because my previous editor is leaving the business and I had to hire both male and female narrators. And this morning I woke up to the knowledge that I hadn’t asked my audio engineer to do the post production on the audio book yet. So it’s all those deadlines that really make me crazy because you can’t sit there quietly with your bar chart in your notebook and you’re not in control of your own destiny up to a point. So I’ve been really struggling with that lately.

Jess:                             20:55                That would be panic inducing for me. I mean the idea that on top of writing this book, I also need to be out there figuring out who my narrators are and what my post production stuff is going to look like. I mean, it’s a much more complicated picture and I think the analogy of project management is really apt. I think that works. Anyone who’s worked in the business world and had to keep together some large project like that with many sort of that many headed Hydra situation. I think that’s a really good comparison.

KJ:                                21:25                Well that is the world the burn chart prompts from. You know, the original use of a burn chart is techies developing software and they would put it up in a group workspace and maybe everybody’s pieces would line and basically what they would do is set up targets. You know, everybody needs to have written their chunks of code to achieve this piece of creating the like button for Facebook or whatever. And then, those are going to go off to the bug checkers while we move on. So that’s where the burn chart idea came from. So it can be perfect for managing a lot of moving parts and keeping track of whether your other people are doing what you need. Like, right now I’ve revised and somebody else has my revision and I’m pencils down and I can’t do anything. But I’m still very aware of the day that my editor is expecting to have this revision back. You just can’t have any illusions when you’ve written it down. And I don’t think you have any illusions. It’s almost just a question of whether or not it’s satisfying for you to see it laid out or if it’s useful. And if it’s not, it’s not.

Jess:                             22:56                I’m also one of those people that I can be completely gung ho about something on one day and I’m all excited and I charted out and for like two days I’ll track my progress and then I’ll forget. And then it’s over. For me, when I’m not focused on the process itself, I tend to lose track of the other details. But I like looking at your burn charts, they’re very pretty. And I love looking at Sarina’s charts cause her charts are gorgeous and I’m very impressed by all of it. For me, right now I don’t know, maybe it’s just because I’m in such a state of panic.

KJ:                                23:31                I just have to say that the idea to me of being where you are without this checklist, visual reminder of what still has to be done. Like, I would lay awake at night mentally drawing little boxes and creating a to do list. And I think some people are just like that. I have another friend and she’s exactly like that. Like in every project there’s that phase where it’s all so amorphous, you can’t make the list.

Jess:                             24:04                That’s how I am at the very beginning. But now I have a mental picture of where each of the chapters are.

KJ:                                24:12                Yeah. And once I get to the point where I can make that list I need to make the list. You know what it’s like? It’s like that whole David Allen’s Getting It Done book where he’s just like some of us just need to write it all down. And if that frees your brain to go, Oh, okay, it’s somewhere, it’s somewhere, like I’m not going to lose that.

Sarina:                          24:39                I’m definitely in that camp.

KJ:                                24:40                It sounds like you’re not, Jess. I mean, it is somewhere, it’s in your Scrivener and that’s enough to make your brain go, okay.

Jess:                             24:53                Well, and actually that’s a good point. If I was using Microsoft Word for this, and I had no central location where all the chapters were in folders. Like the very first thing I did at the beginning was arrange all of the research into the various chapters and then I had the outlines. And so for me, Scrivener has been invaluable because it allows me to quantify to a certain extent where I am with each chapter and that’s what gives me some peace – is being able to see those chapter headings with those folders, with that stuff, with the text I’ve already created and maybe the fragments that I’ve cut out – that to me is sort of burn chart-y. Kind of, without the end point.

Sarina:                          25:32                Jess, do you know the trick about you can import your own icons for those left hand column?

Jess:                             25:40                No, I did not do that, but I’m sure I could spend a good two hours on that this afternoon instead of finishing this chapter.

KJ:                                25:45                That sounds like a good rabbit hole. Oh, I want this one to look like a little folder.

Jess:                             25:50                That’s the problem with Sarina. Sarina’s got all these pretty little add ons for things. So for example, she’s the one who taught me how to use Link Tree in Instagram and she spent the $6.99 to get the very pretty version. And I have the basic version. I was very tempted to go for the pretty version. And then I thought through the process of like getting all those icons and making it look pretty and I said, and we’re sticking with the basics because I knew I couldn’t go there. It would’ve been a very fun little endeavor, but not today. Anyway, things are going great. I did have a dream night before last that you guys will appreciate. So, as you guys know, my deadline is in October and I have scheduled a vacation starting the day after I hand it in. And my in-laws are going to be there and my husband’s going to be there and I’m speaking at a spa at Canyon Ranch and so it’s like a built in vacation. But also I’m working while I’m there and it gives me a place to relax at the same time and I want it done so that I can focus on the relaxation part. And I dreamed the other night that I was at Canyon Ranch and I could not relax and I couldn’t figure out why I couldn’t relax. And I was thinking and thinking and then I realized it’s because I never turned my book in. It was horrible.

Sarina:                          27:11                So did you also forget to put your pants on because that’s pretty much the same chain.

Jess:                             27:20                Well actually what’s really funny about that is the day after I turned in Gift of Failure was the day that I went horseback riding and got thrown from the horse and bonked my head and did really forget that I had written a book. When Tim was leading me back from where I bumped my head and got the concussion and he was trying to see what was happening with my memory and he quizzed me on my book and what it was about and the names of my children and I did not know any of those things. And so really it was sort of like a little bit of a throwback to the day I completely forgot that I’d written a book at all, even though I had written the whole book and handed in it on time, no ahead of time. I think a whole day ahead of time. That’s exciting.

KJ:                                28:06                Well you’re taking anxiety dreams to a whole new level.

Jess:                             28:09                We did have someone on the Facebook on the #AmWriting Facebook page who announced that she handed in her manuscript with, I think she said 28 minutes to spare and she was very happy with herself. Does anyone have anything else to say about burn charts? We will put pictures on the website so that people can see what they actually look like because you guys do some beautiful work when it comes to that kind of stuff. I’m very impressed.

KJ:                                28:35                It is a pleasure, it’s an indulgence. We’re recording in the last week of August and I think by the time this is live, it’s just going to be the first week of September. But this is the week for me when I need to put all my September charts together and things like that. Sarina has already done hers, she was showing them to me.

Jess:                             29:02                Sarina’s the one who has already gotten us our 2020 agendas. So of course she already has her September charts.

Sarina:                          29:10                I’m ready.

KJ:                                29:12                And some things just don’t lend themselves to burn charting. Like if you’re drafting, Pacemaker sounds like it would be better. It’s almost like you only need a burn chart if it is complicated and it’s only satisfying if it is complicated. If you’re just drafting then, stickers on a day. I didn’t do a burn chart for Chicken Sisters until I was revising. I didn’t do a burn chart for drafting it because it wasn’t like that. It didn’t have that many moving pieces. Unlike when I was doing the nonfiction and it was going to the agent and it was moving all over the place.

Jess:                             29:53                Well, and I’m looking at my calendar right now and I do stickers. I’m using the polar bears that Sarina gave me in the middle of summer, which makes perfect sense. I’m using my stickers. I think my stickers are for 1200 words or something, but most days I’m double or triple stickering simply because I have to, or getting negative numbers because I’m editing. But really stickers are kind of irrelevant for me now. It’s about time and progress and feeling good about where I am.

Sarina:                          30:22                Awesome.

Jess:                             30:23                Yes. Gold stars. The other thing that was a big deal for me was I canceled and rescheduled a lot of things that I just couldn’t do. And I’ve said no to blurbing some things and I’ve said no to interviews. But when I got my last contracted piece out to the New York Times, I have a few edits to do, that was sort of a big, dust my hands off and say, whew, now I’m just focusing back on the book stuff. So that was a big deal too. But anyway. Alright. Do we want to talk about what we’ve been reading?

KJ:                                30:56                We did.

Jess:                             30:56                Alright. I can’t go first cause I haven’t thought yet.

KJ:                                31:00                Oh, okay. I can go first because I have thought and it is actually kind of funny except I have to flail through my phone to go back. So I read a book called The Beautiful No and Other Tales of Trial, Transcendence, and Transformation. The author is Sheri Salata and she was the executive producer of the Oprah show for a long time. This is what I’m going to say about this book. In my opinion, there are three kinds of people. Well there are three reactions when someone tells you that they’ve seen an animal psychic, right? And the first one is WTF. I mean that’s number one. The second one is sort of an amused interest and open to the possibility that you might sort of learn something in that process with some humor and a fair amount of, you know, a bucket of salt and some sort of personal, I’m taking something from this cause it’s cool but I’m not entirely bad. Right? So that would be the second. And the third one is all in, baby, animal psychic, tell me what my dogs are thinking. So this book, The Beautiful No, this is a book for people in category three. And if that is you, this is the book for you, go for it. That is what I’ve got to say.

Sarina:                          32:46                I’m stuck on….is animal psychic a metaphor here or?

KJ:                                32:54                No, not even a little bit. And I have had someone look me in the face and say, I have called an animal psychic and I am a two person. I am okay, that’s a really interesting thing that you’ve done and I would love to hear more about it. And if in the process you felt that you gained something, I would love to know about that. But if we can also kind of laugh at the idea, that would be good too. That’s me. I am a two. I am not one, I’m not gonna cross you off my friend list. But I’m also not three and this is really a book for three. You need to be all in with the animal psychic to enjoy this. Although I have to say I kind of couldn’t put it down.

Jess:                             33:47                Well that’s an interesting review.

KJ:                                33:51                It’s not exactly a negative review, nor is it exactly positive, it’s just very specific.

Jess:                             33:57                Alright. Sarina, what you got?

Sarina:                          34:00                Well, I read a pile of books in July, but August for various deadline reasons does not look the same. I am very slowly reading The Rest of the Story by Sarah Dessen and she writes beautiful, measured, contemporary YA novels. And this one I’m certain when I’m able to give it more time, will not disappoint.

Jess:                             34:21                You’re going to have to tell me at some point, I’ve never gone down the Sarah Dessen rabbit hole and I know you’re a fan, so at some point you’re going to have to tell me your favorite one so that I can start with that one. So I’ve had a weird reading month. I felt like I couldn’t start a new book that would really suck me in because then it would be really tempted to listen a lot. So I have been listening to something that has completely sucked me in, but it’s episodic, which is Dani Shapiro’s Family Secrets podcast and it’s essentially juicy family secrets in bite-sized chunks. And it’s completely addictive, but you also have an end point, which is exactly what I have needed. I also have to say, you know those books that you feel like enough people told you that you would really like it, so you really keep sticking with it? And then finally you just throw your hands up in the air and say, forget it. I’m going to give up because I just can’t do it. That’s how I felt about The Snowman by Jo Nesbo. I tried so hard with that book. I really, really did. I just could not care less. So that’s where I was with that one. But I also do have one to recommend. A couple of our guests recommended Daisy Jones and The Six by Taylor Jenkins Reid, and in audio form it’s absolutely delightful. It’s that book that’s about an imaginary rock band during the 70’s and set in Los Angeles. And they have a different voice actor for every character and they’re all well-known actors. It’s a little bit like Lincoln and the Bardo in that sense. Really, really good audio book. But again, it’s something that I can listen to in chunks instead of getting completely sucked in from a narrative perspective. So anyway, that’s what I’ve been listening to Family Secrets by Dani Shapiro. You’ve got to listen to.

KJ:                                36:20                Yeah, I wanted to throw a podcast out there too. The new one that I tried because I wanted to listen to Jenny Nash. When I’m feeling stressed about my writing, I like to find a podcast that Jenny has been on and just listen to it. I don’t even necessarily really listen, it just makes parts of my brain start thinking. Anyway, she was on a podcast called The Writer Files and I discovered that that was going to be a new podcast for me. I really like it.

Jess:                             36:51                She always puts things in ways that are hopeful and optimistic and reality-based, things that feel like they’re huge and I can’t get my arms around them. Suddenly Jenny has explained them in such a way where I’m like, Oh, I could totally do that. I love listening to her. Sarina, I don’t think you’ve ever done an indie bookstore shout out. Do you have one that you could do for us?

Sarina:                          37:15                I’m sure if I did, you have would have already covered it since we cover the same ground here.

Jess:                             37:20                Yeah, that’s true. But you’ve been places we haven’t been.

KJ:                                37:25                I don’t think we’ve ever shouted out our local bookstore where I need to pop in today. Our current local bookstore since we’ve got one that closed fairly recently and another that’s going to open soon. But you know, let’s shout out the Norwich bookstore.

Sarina:                          37:38                Oh definitely.

Jess:                             37:39                They’re worth shouting out again, absolutely. Cause they’re so great.

KJ:                                37:43                I mean always brilliantly curated. One of the things I love about them is that they have a website where I can order the book and then when it comes in, I pop in and I’ve already paid for it and it’s ready. They wrap it in brown paper and put it up on the shelf like I was ordering. So I find that kind of amusing in case I don’t want anyone to know that I’m reading The Beautiful No, which maybe I don’t.

Sarina:                          38:13                Do you know how I order from there? I just email Liza the owner and I say, could you please get these three books for me? And then she emails back a week later and says they’re waiting and then I go in and pay.

KJ:                                38:26                That would be easier. I should do it that way. I do it on their website and every single time the website says that is not your password. You need to create a new password. And I have written this password and it is the password.

Sarina:                          38:38                I guess my method circumvents that and I think, what’s the point of shopping local if you can’t just fire off an email. But I will say the adorable thing about it is that I did some months ago email and say, Hey, could you please get me Barron’s Guide to Colleges? And the email that came back said, Dear Sarina, I can’t believe that the child for whom you were just buying picture books needs this Guide to Colleges. I know. And she was right.

Jess:                             39:19                That’s really sweet actually. I have to say, I was looking through pictures recently and I found a picture of my 15 year old when he was an infant asleep on that bear that they used to have at the Dartmouth bookstore. That used to be on the second floor, the flattened bear. And it was before we even moved to Hanover, but we knew we were going to be moving to the area and I was lamenting the loss of the bookstore and the bear, and you know, the loss of my children’s youth, that kind of thing.

KJ:                                39:52                At the time you complained a lot. I’ll just put it that way.

Jess:                             39:55                Yeah, that’s true. Alright. Kids are back in school, yes?

Sarina:                          39:59                Tomorrow.

KJ:                                39:59                Tomorrow.

Jess:                             40:01                Thursday for mine. So by the time this airs, our kids will be back in school and you can just do a mental picture of us all doing happy dances.

KJ:                                40:10                Tune in tune in next week or the week after, or sometime in the very near future for all of us on that fall fresh start.

Jess:                             40:19                That’ll be good. That’ll be really, really good. Okay. Alright, everyone, until next week, keep your butts in the chair and your head in the game.

Jess:                             40:36                This episode of #AmWriting with Jess and KJ was produced by Andrew Parilla. Our music, aptly titled unemployed Monday was written and performed by Max Cohen. Andrew and Max were paid for their services because everyone, even creatives should be paid.


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