Category Archives: Health

Success By Any Other Name

So. I’ve been off Facebook for a while. I’ve been away from here, too, but Facebook has been the big change.

I needed quiet.

It’s not the updates or the friends that I’ve been avoiding, or even the unavoidable drama. It’s about me and my anxiety. My depression. And above all, my creativity.

I’ve been struggling for a long time. As much as I love writing–as much as I NEED writing as a way to connect with the world, figure myself out, and say things I can’t say any other way–the business side of it has never been good for me. Marketing is an anxiety trigger (for reasons I won’t go into here), and when I found myself unable to do it without breaking down in tears I was getting insanely stressed out in a seemingly unending spiral of stress-anxiety-shame-stress-lather-rinse-repeat.

You see, I thought I was a failure if I never got back to the sales numbers and income that I had with my first books, so I kept pushing.

Because here’s you see on social media when you’re an author:

SELL MORE BOOKS! WRITE FASTER OR FANS WILL FORGET YOU EXIST! TAKE UP MORE SHELF SPACE! WRITE WHAT’S POPULAR AND GRAB NEW FANS! MASTER FACEBOOK ADS! HAVE IT ALL BY HITTING A LIST! BUY THIS COURSE! HUSTLE HARDER AND YOU CAN WIN THE GAME!

And I’m not saying those are bad things to want. They’re good things for the right person, and I’m glad there are people out there who can help.

But when I’m on Facebook and it’s all I see, I start to think that that’s the only way to define creative success these days. Amazon followers. Little orange flags. Instagram likes. Facebook comments. Newsletter subscribers. HUSTLE HUSTLE HUSTLE, and there’s something seriously wrong with you if you’d rather not be in the fast lane.

I needed some time off to get myself away from all of that to understand that I’m allowed to define success for myself.

Honestly, I still don’t know what that means. What I have figured out, I think, is that I can’t let writing become a constant source of stress or I’ll lose everything that made me fall in love with it in the first place. I can’t chase goals that will leave me mentally and emotionally exhausted, with nothing left to offer my family and friends at the end of the day. And that’s where I’ve been headed, honestly.

I do know what I want, I think. I want to take my time, writing gorgeous books that I’ve had a chance to fall in love with, exploring every bit of inspiration and insight that I didn’t see until the second (or third, or fifth) draft without worrying that I have to publish NOW to keep the balls in the air. I want to take days off when the sun is shining and the beach or the blueberry patch is calling, or when the kids are sick or have a snow day. I want to read more. Learn more. Be bored more. Explore stories that have no chance of selling but that I want to tell because they inspire me. Blog more, and not just about writing. Take more time to share other people’s ideas and projects and successes and help them achieve the goals that feel right for them.

I can’t do that AND be stressed out about ticking all of the marketing boxes. Some people can do it all. I can’t. And I’m not sure I want to, given what I know of what it costs me and my brain (bless it).

So I’m in the process of choosing new goals. It’s hard. It’s one thing to say that I want my writing to be about creativity rather than fame or finances, but I do tend to compare myself to others and feel like I’m somehow falling behind if I let myself be happy with what I have instead of CHASING THE DREEEEAAAAAMMMMM that it seems I’m supposed to have.

It’s a process, as is everything else in life. Maybe some day I’ll get there.

I’m not giving up on writing or publishing, or even marketing. I’m at the end of a (damn good, if I may say so myself) 7-book series under my pen name and would really like to see those stories connect with readers who will love them. I’d like to keep publishing, which means making money for edits and such, which means selling books.

I think what I’m trying to do, really, is give up on the stress,the time-suck, the HUSTLE, the bitterness, and the expectations of anything other than writing books that I’m proud to call mine.

I’m trying to get back to the pure joy of playing in my sandbox and then showing off what I’ve made in the hope that others will also find pleasure in it.

I’m trying to fall in love again.

We’ll see how it goes.


But It’s So Early…

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Confession: I actually like dark winter mornings.

The thing to do seems to be to complain about them—how hard it is to get out of bed when it feels like the middle of the night, how impossible it seems to wake up, how cold the house feels after leaving a warm, cozy bed. And those things are true. I want to stay in bed every morning, even if I’m awake before my alarm. My bed is so much more comfortable in the morning than it is at bedtime, my mind is so much more relaxed (not to mention my body). It’s especially tempting to linger when I know I’ve remembered to turn the thermostats down overnight and the house will be cold until I turn them back up and brought the house a little closer to the “comfort zone.”

The disadvantages of being the first one up.

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“Highway to the…”*

I could be miserable about it. And I think I would be if I felt like I was being forced out of bed, stumbling to the bathroom and being thrown into the chaos of waking kids up, making lunches, and getting our days started and then having to rush into my work.

But a while ago I started getting up an hour and a half before I wake the kids up on school days, and it’s helped me look at these mornings a little differently.

It’s hard to get out of bed, but when I do I usually have the house to myself. I turn the heat up and make myself a nest of blankets in my favourite chair to retreat to after I’ve stretched muscles that have cramped up overnight. I light a candle or turn on some electric votives and watch them flicker as I sit and plan my day. I meditate in a house that’s full of life but that sounds empty save for an occasional snore and the sounds of the cats running around (and body slamming each other repeatedly to the floor most days… morning is high energy time for some creatures in this house). I cook myself eggs and read or listen to a podcast instead of shovelling cold cereal into my mouth like I might manage if I were trying to fit my own morning around everyone else’s needs.

I take care of myself like it’s actually a priority.

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There’s something pleasantly lonesome in a dark winter morning, and a kind of calmness I don’t feel when I get up at the same time in the summer.

That’s not to say I won’t appreciate early sunrises when they come. Instead of candles I’ll have the sun filtering through coloured glass, casting bright shadows on the walls. Instead of cozying in with blankets, I’ll have a refreshing shower (which I’ll need if this summer is as hot as the last one was). It will probably be easier to get out of bed. Maybe I’ll even sit outside sometimes to drink my coffee if the bugs aren’t too bad.

But for now, I like this—the chill, the darkness, feeling grateful for my chair, my blankets, and sturdy walls to keep the howling wind at bay.

Quiet winter mornings make it easy to be thankful.

____

*That’s right. I live in Canada, but my thermostats are so old they measure in Fahrenheit and apparently date back to a time when the only thing that existed between 55 and 90 was “comfort.”


What About the Symphony?

I wasn’t going to post today, but I ran across an idea in my morning reading (quoted in Thrive by Arianna Huffington) that made me think–and that I thought might be helpful for others, as well.

“No one imagines that a symphony is supposed to improve in quality as it goes along or that the whole point of it is to reach the finale. The point of music is discovered in every moment of playing and listening to it. It is the same, I feel, with the greater part of our lives, and if we are unduly absorbed in improving them we may forget altogether to live them.”

-Alan Watts

Quite the idea to process while I was going over my plans for the day, setting my goals, and generally trying to take steps to improve my life. Does this mean we should let go with the idea of improving ourselves, our circumstances, our productivity (*cough*), or our lives?

I don’t think so. But it’s a great reminder to look at why I’m setting the goals I am, why I’m creating new habits, and why I’m putting so much damned work into making my days work for me instead of letting them slip away.

Because, as with so much of life, it’s about balance.

I don’t have a boss. Nobody’s going to fire me if I’m unproductive in the short term. Maybe that’s why it’s easy for me to let a day go by and feel like I’ve wasted it (especially if I’m in a bad place with social media or other things that seem enjoyable, but really add nothing to my life). That’s why I need a to do list, why I set my top three priorities for the day, why I get my work done before I play.

On the other hand, it’s also far too easy to buy into the self-improvement hype that says you can do anything and everything if only you believe in yourself… which really means you’re falling short if you’re not doing, having, and being it all (and posting it on Instagram, obviously). To focus so much on what we should be doing to better our lives that we never actually stop to reflect on how far we’ve come or to enjoy the benefits of all this improvement.

I mean, so many things that I do don’t seem like parts of a symphony. I meditate, but I often find the process uncomfortable. I work so hard on my writing that the fun bit where I’m making up stories for my own enjoyment is dwarfed by the analysis, the problem solving, the revisions, the editing, the learning about writing craft–things that can be rewarding in the end, but are often stressful in the moment (and don’t even get me started on marketing, bookkeeping, or taxes). I don’t enjoy telling my kids to get off their tablets and enduring their grumbling, and I don’t enjoy getting them to clean up after themselves when it would really be easier and less stressful to do it myself. I don’t enjoy cooking or cleaning at all. And playing with my schedule and tracking results was rather tedious.

Why not let it go?

Because though I don’t always enjoy this stuff in the moment, it improves my quality of life in general.

Meditation is helping me stay in the moment and is helping me distance myself from emotions and physical pain that might otherwise consume me. Improving my writing means a better experience for my readers, and it offers me immense satisfaction in knowing that I’m learning and growing (and all that other crap makes it possible for me to keep writing, because income to cover editing costs is rather essential). The effort I put into making my kids do things they don’t like is helping them establish habits that will help them (and me) in the long run. Cooking puts food on the table, and while I don’t like cleaning, I do like a clean house.

And as for improving my productivity, I’m happier when I’m getting stuff done, and everyone in this house is happier when I’m not stressed about deadlines that crept up while I was procrastinating. I like knowing that I’m doing my best.

…And none of that is me disagreeing with the quote. It’s why this idea is so important.

Because I do get caught up in it. I feel at times like every minute has to be well spent on working toward a goal or doing something productive. I tend to become unduly absorbed in improving my life.

At times I need to be reminded to stop and smell the damn roses. To appreciate the “fog happiness” that my work offers if only I take time to step away from the stresses and appreciate it.

To actually live the life I’m working so hard at.

Who I am and what I’m doing right now are important and worth enjoying all on their own. This moment and this day aren’t just steps toward some end goal, and what I’ve got now is pretty damned amazing.

Not every day has to be perfect. Blah days and down days and unproductive days are normal and fine. But taken as a whole, there’s a whole lot to appreciate, even in darker times.

I’m proud of the work I’ve done to get to where I am, and my life is immensely more satisfying than it was five years ago. I’ll keep working on improving what I can as needs arise.

But this morning, I added that quote to my bullet journal. I put it on the January “memories” page, on the back of my habit tracker and directly opposite the spot where I note my accomplishments for the month.

Because it’s easy to note the good stuff without really stopping to go, “Yes, I did a thing that improved my life. I did a favour for Future Me, and she’s going to be thrilled about it. I helped make someone else’s life better. I did something I couldn’t have imagined doing a year ago. I improved a relationship even though it felt awkward in the moment. I changed my world in some way.”

It’s easy for me to just jump into the next goal, to not stop to listen and enjoy the symphony as it plays, and to become unduly absorbed in the improvements as though there’s some end goal I’m racing for.

This moment, right now, even with all of its stresses and problems, is what I dreamed of just a few years ago. There’s no guarantee anything will last forever. Every symphony ends. I’m glad to have been reminded to appreciate mine while it lasts.

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Productivity Experiment: The Next Challenges

Okay. So.

I’m still working on my schedule. I doubt I’ll ever settle on just one thing that will work for me forever. Life and its demands are always changing, and so is the time available for my work.

Here’s what I started working on last week:  Batching most of my chores on Saturdays and just doing necessary maintenance during the week (sweeping, dishes, litter boxes, cooking, etc) to see if I can free up time during my prime focus hours on weekdays (afternoon for me, which apparently makes me an oddball) to get more writing work done.

So far, so good. Working in the afternoon is SO much better for me than trying to wrangle my brain into anything like focus in the morning. Whether that’s because of my weird biological rhythms, the fact that I have a far easier time settling into deep creative work when I don’t have the groceries-dishes-walk the dog-phone calls-emails-newsletters-laundry on my mind, or some combination of the two, I find I can start work and stay focused far more easily if I start after lunch.

And amazingly, the children are surviving if I pause to say hello when they get home and keep working until about four.

This is the total opposite of what I was trying before, I know. As of right now, my mornings are for meditation, planning, reading…

And not doing NaNoWriMo. My other lesson from the past few weeks is that I really can’t divide my focus effectively between two projects, and I need to prioritize the revisions that have to be to my Big Bad Editor in January.

But time is only one factor in productivity, and I’ve started focusing more on the other two that you sometimes read about in productivity books: energy and attention. Because scheduling my day and finding time to work is fantastic, but doesn’t mean much if I’m too tired to do the work (hello, early mornings!) or I can’t get my brain to settle down and do the work even when I have the time scheduled.

There are a lot of factors that affect both of these, and we don’t have time here to go into everything. It seems like most productivity books are a little short on them, too; their focus is usually on how to find or make time, not on how to make sure you’re able to use it when you get there (The Productivity Project by Chris Bailey is one nice exception that deals with energy and attention more than time).

Sometimes it feels like exhaustion and distraction just aren’t issues for high achievers… but we know that’s not true, right?

I’ve already started making some changes* in areas that might help:

  • Meditation. I’ve been meditating almost every morning for a little more than a month now using the HeadSpace app in the hopes that I can train my mind to remain in the present moment, choose my focus, be a little more mindful, learn to let go of distractions, and maybe act a little less like a raccoon chasing every shiny thing that pops up. It could happen.
  • Diet. Not going on one, so to speak, but changing what I eat. I mentioned a few weeks ago that I was starting the Whole30 program, and so far I’m sticking with it. I hope that eating better (especially cutting out added sugar) will help regulate my energy levels and prevent the fuzziness I get when my blood sugar crashes, as well as (fingers crossed!) figuring out whether there’s anything in my diet that’s inducing or worsening the migraines that keep me from working so often. I’ll post an update on how it’s going later this week. Spoiler: I’m so conflicted.
  • Sleep. This is why I’m shifting back to working later in the day, at least temporarily. I need to aim for eight hours of sleep per night, and the only way I can get that if I’m waking up at 5:30 in the morning is if I go to bed before my kids. Now, I like an early bedtime, don’t get me wrong. Somehow over the years I’ve changed myself into a morning person. It’s weird, and I’m not entirely comfortable with it, but there you go. But I also like tucking my kids in and being rested. Eight hours is the goal. Ten to six. And I’m aiming to keep it consistent, even on weekends.
  • Exercise. This isn’t new for me. I’ve been walking almost every day (weather permitting) for several years now, and it’s done amazing things for my mental health. This winter I’m going to substitute yoga on days that are too cold to go out to see if it helps with the low energy and winter blahs that accompany the season.

So far, the changes have been positive. I feel good eating the way I am, though it’s hard (and not at all for the reasons I anticipated). Meditation is really difficult some days, and the results are hard to measure. But I am learning to settle in, at least some of the time, and to observe my thoughts without letting them carry me away. I feel good about where it’s taking me.

I’ve got a few other things I’m working on, but I’m not exactly sure where they fit. Slightly less concrete things. Attitudes. Mindsets. Intentions. Accountability. Respecting my limitations.

Those can wait, though, for when I get this other stuff under control.

For now, I’ll be reporting back on some things that are a lot harder to measure than my time use. I’ll be keeping track of the hours I work, but more importantly I’ll be making notes on how much I’m struggling to start work (often my biggest challenge), how well I’m staying on various tasks, and what times of day I hit energy slumps.

Exciting stuff, right?

Do you find that time, energy, or focus is your biggest productivity obstacle? Some combination of the three? Let me know in the comments!


 

*Full disclosure: I was diagnosed with attention deficit disorder a little over a year ago (I’m not hyperactive, which is probably why no one ever spotted it). I want to note it here because my medication might come up when I discuss energy and focus, and I want to make sure we’re all on the same page if I’m talking about my results in gaining energy or shifting my ability to focus.

I always hate it when celebrities get tummy tucks with their c-sections and act like the baby weight just melted off OMG, and not disclosing the help I’m getting seems like kind of the same thing. I’m not gaining hyper-focus superpowers, I’m not overflowing with energy, and I’m still struggling with creative anxiety and other issues that keep me from working when I want to. But I do feel like my brain is getting support that it needs, which is great. It’s a process, just like anything else. Let me know if you’d like to see posts on that topic. It’s kind of a sensitive one for me (people tend to jump to scream overdiagnosis and French people don’t have ADD when it comes up), but much like depression, I’m happy to talk about it if it might help someone.


Godawful Early Schedule Results (Week 4 and Overall)

The one thing I can say about last week is that it happened.

It wasn’t a great one in terms of work hours. Monday was Thanksgiving, so I worked a bit in the early morning and then did nothing more for the rest of the day. Nothing work-related, at least. A migraine hit that evening (after I’d said I was thankful for not having one… that’ll learn me), and I was dealing with them off and on all week. I lost all of Wednesday to one.

But you know what? It happens. It’s a thing I’m prepared for, or that I at least should be by now. It’s nothing worth whining about, especially when things could be so much worse.

And there’s a bright side.

The hours I did work were pretty darned good. I was productive during work hours. After I decided to go ahead and try outlining my scenes in even more depth than I usually do, figuring out the little turning points and conclusions in bullet form instead of in the flow of trying to actually write the scene, my hourly word count crept up to 1600 or even 1700 wph (it’s usually closer to 1200 on a decent day).

Now, I haven’t done the math on whether this is actually more efficient. After all, that planning takes time, and that needs to be added to the time I’m actually spending writing the scene. In fact, it probably takes a little more this way.

But it feels less frustrating and wasteful, and that’s important for keeping me motivated. And it saves me from scenes that wander around too much before getting to the point, which means I might save time in revisions. So that’s cool.

Whatever keeps me going is good at this point.

Good lesson.

ALSO…

This makes 4 weeks of the Godawful Early Schedule. I’ve done my best to get up at 5:30 in the morning, to work for 90 minutes before the kids get up and then again for a few hours after they’re out the door. It’s time to look at my conclusions.

  • Getting some work done before breakfast/before anyone else gets up and I have to be a responsible adult is TOTALLY A GOOD IDEA. I absolutely want to continue with this. Knowing that I’ve accomplished something even if I have stuff going on later (or everything goes off the rails) is such a boost to my day. And having afternoons free means I have time for things like meeting people for coffee… or letting my schedule flip itself upside down if I need to take the morning off instead for an appointment.

BUT.

  • I miss my old morning routine. I want to make this morning work session a part of it, not a substitution for it. Meditation, planning my day, stretching, and reading are all important, too, and help me feel grounded and prepared for whatever comes later. So I need to get back to that.
  • 5:30 is just too early for me. Even after 4 weeks I’m still finding that my alarm clock is yanking me out of dreams instead of light sleep (never mind the fact that I don’t like having to go to bed at exactly the same time as my kids… or before them). 90 minutes of work focus is turning out to be a bit much to ask of my brain before food, caffeine, meds, etc. I thought I needed that big stretch of time, but as it turns out, 60 minutes is almost as good in terms of word count.

So here’s the next big plan:

  • wake up at 6:00. Drink water. Meditate 10 minutes.
  • work on planning/drafting new pen name project for 60 minutes in two 25-minute sprints with a 5-minute break between and at the end (aim for 1500 words). Get up, do floor exercises/stretches on breaks. Make notes for tomorrow’s writing session. Start making tea/coffee.
  • get kids up at 7:30, go through that whole routine (including eating breakfast).
  • After the kids are gone, take care of exercise* by either walking the dog or doing yoga depending on the weather. And shower, because ew.
  • work on Phoenix revisions from 10:00-noon, working in 25-minute sprints again.
  • After lunch, take care of pen name publication/promo concerns for no more than one hour, then relax, read, go for a walk, rest, or whatever I need to do to recharge.
  • And then the kids come home and I do the houseworks and makes the suppers and hangs out with the family peoples and all that jazz (try to find time for fun stuff… I’m still working on finding a hobby). Bed around 10:00.

So that’s the goal for the next few weeks. The ideal. We’ll see how it goes. I’ve had a hard time juggling multiple projects in the past, but that doesn’t mean I can’t learn how to to it, especially when I’ve got a couple of natural breaks in my day. Two projects and then an hour for business stuff should be manageable.

We’ve got a few weeks left in October, and I’m going to try to make the most of them.

And then it’ll be November *gasp*. And that means NaNoWriMo *double gasp*. At that point I’ll have to either get my words-per-hour higher in those early morning sessions or make up extra on the weekends (when I’ll have to add sessions anyway… I’m currently not writing on weekends at all). That, or get these revisions off my desk so I can focus entirely on drafting.

Such tension. Such excitement.

If anyone else is doing NaNoWriMo this year, you can add me as a friend. I’m KittySparkes on the site . I probably won’t be on there a whole lot, but I’ll check messages.

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Gratuitous Halloween decor picture.

 

 


*I typed that as “exerscuse.” I make a lot of those.

 

 


The Social Media Break

A few weeks ago, I sat down in my living room for a visit with two people. We talked… sort of. They both had their phones out, and their eyes were on the screens even when they were answering questions directed at them or offering distracted contributions to the conversation.

A few months ago, I’d have had mine out, too. It’s just kind of the way things seem to go these days. Even if we all start the evening with good intentions and our phones in our pockets, they come out as soon as there’s a question that could be googled (or someone gets a ping that says another conversation demands their attention, so everyone else gets theirs out, too, just to check). And then the devices don’t necessarily go away. There’s always another app to look at, a YouTube video everyone else just has to see while the phone is out, another response to that online conversation. A lot of us feel naked without our phones in our hands. Understimulated. Bored, even when we’re sitting with loved ones we haven’t seen in a month.

This post isn’t about criticizing anyone who’s committed to the always-online lifestyle. I get how appealing it is to have a constant source of (free!) entertainment. I know the pain of worrying about missing something.

And I’m not saying socializing online is bad. I have friends I’ve never met in person, but I consider those friendships as real as any I’ve had in real life. I credit social media with exposing me to a lot of ideas I’d never have considered if I was only experiencing life with the people who happened to live near me. A lot of us work or do our marketing online. Fairly important stuff, as it turns out.

Social media can be cool. I’m aware that Facebook is not, in fact, cool anymore. But neither am I, and it happens to be where my friends are. So that’s been my challenge.

And since I mentioned in a post a while back that I was taking some time away from it, I thought I’d share the results. (If you scroll back a little in my posts here, you’ll find that this wasn’t my first attempt. It has, however, been my most successful thus far.)

I didn’t track the results of this experiment like I am with my productivity stuff. It was just something I needed to do, and I did it (mostly). I didn’t like how much time I was wasting scrolling through my Facebook feed, refreshing it when I ran out of new things to look at. I knew while I was doing it that I was wasting time, that I’d be miserable after, that I should stop. That I wanted to stop. It didn’t matter. It was a thing that I did, one that occasionally rewarded me with an interesting (but almost always useless) hit of information or entertainment.

As Manoush Zomorodi notes in my current non-fiction read, Bored and Brilliant, “I wasn’t using my smartphone to connect. I was using it to escape.” We’re not talking about me using the service intentionally or productively for personal or business purposes. I was getting nothing out of it (except the pleasant little chemical blips in my brain when my efforts were rewarded with a comment or interaction). But it was there. So I was there, too, even though I knew it was bad for me.

Scary.

And then there’s Messenger. I always felt less guilty about spending time having conversations with friends than I did about mindless scrolling and reading, but my desire to always be available was hurting me. The fact that I was responding to every message right away was eating into work time. A lot.

And worse, I had my phone in hand when I was with the kids and they wanted my attention. I wasn’t neglecting them, but it was getting to the point where I was a little concerned that they might engrave just give me a second I’m talking to someone on my gravestone some day.

Now, I expect my family to respect the time and space I need when I’m working, reading, or doing something that’s important to me. I don’t want to raise kids who expect everyone to drop everything any time they want to talk about what Dan TDM is up to today. But I do want them to know that they’re more important than anything that comes through my phone, work-related or not. And when I’m with family or physically present friends, I don’t want to be distracted by thoughts of what I might be missing elsewhere.

Some of you probably know what I’m talking about, but obviously this isn’t a problem for everyone. You might be reading this and shaking your head, with words like willpower and self-control rattling around in your head because you have those things and I so clearly don’t. I’m not going to try to explain it.

Just know that I had a problem, I recognized that it was a problem, and I decided to do something about it.

Moderation isn’t my strong suit, so I went very nearly cold turkey off Facebook, only checking in occasionally with my reader group and posting once in a while to my author page. I deleted the app (not for the first time). I told friends that if I didn’t answer messages, it wasn’t because I was ignoring them. I just wasn’t checking my phone. I turned off messaging on my author page because a) the system is glitchy anyway, and b) my email address is readily available on my website if anyone really needs to reach me.

I was already in the habit of not keeping my phone in the bedroom. I had an alarm clock radio to wake me up, which meant that checking my phone was no longer the first thing I did every day. I’d seen the benefits of postponing that kind of distraction, even if some days that only meant delaying it until I got downstairs and gave in to the urge to check for notifications. Oh, and I’d turned off sound/vibration notifications for Messenger and incoming emails a while back, too.*

So what happened when I really tried to kick the habit, left my phone plugged in most of the time, and started going up to a week without visiting Facebook?

I started finding 99+ notifications when I did drop by Facebook, and found that almost none of them were anything I actually needed to click on. But when I was on there all the time, I’d have spent a lot of time clicking, anyway.

I missed out on finding out that my mom got a new car. And then she told me in an actual conversation. So that was cool.

I stopped checking in with author groups that are full of information I feel like I should know, but that I never use. So yes, I’ve learned less. I’ve also wasted less time learning stuff I won’t use, and I know where to find that information when I decide I do want to use it.**

I stopped feeling anxious when other people seem to be doing, being, and achieving more than me. I settled into my own goals and my current focus on writing, and I let go of my panic over all the promotion everyone else seems to be doing. For the first time in ages, doing my personal best started to feel like enough.

I realized that most of the people I interact with online aren’t really my friends. Those interactions of convenience are really fun, and I genuinely like a lot of those acquaintances. They’re funny and insightful and inspiring when I bump into them. But me dropping off their radar hasn’t made any impact on their lives, and not getting their news hasn’t hurt mine. I’m a lot less lonely than I thought I’d be without them.

I kept in touch with the people who really are my friends and those who made the effort to message me directly, but spent less time disagreeing with strangers and getting pissed off by posts from people I don’t really care about (but who nonetheless get under my skin). My stress levels dropped accordingly.

I had online conversations when it made sense in my schedule, when I wasn’t supposed to be working and when real life people didn’t need my attention. When I could give those online friends the attention that they deserved.

I started paying more attention when I watched TV and movies, and was actually there with the people I was watching them with.

I saw fewer ads for stuff I don’t need and suffered through less of that horrible feeling I get when I realize how targeted Facebook’s ads really are (don’t even get me started on how damn creepy that gets).

I missed Stephen King’s birthday. There’s no up-side to that, except that I’m 100% sure he’s not personally offended by me not posting about it.

I started reading more. Instead of having my phone in my hand while I cooked or when I relaxed after supper, I had a book handy. I started choosing nonfiction books on random topics that caught my attention and found that going deep in a topic in book form was way more satisfying than getting the Cliffs Notes version from a short article.

I started being a little more present in my own life. That night when my companions both had their phones in their hands and the conversation fell into regular lulls as they read posts or had other conversations, I enjoyed the cat who had plopped himself on my lap. I paid attention to how soft his fur was, tickled his little pink toe beans,  and tried to figure out how he managed to be solid and liquid at the same time, oozing into every little space between me and the chair. (I decided that his variable physical state had something to do with the constant vibrations coming from his throat. Or that he’s actually some sort of fuzzy amoeba.)

I stopped losing track of time so often. And I got a little more of my crap done.

And I realized that the things I do are real and important even if I don’t share them with everyone I know. Crazy.

That’s not to say I’m some kind of mindfulness devotee now. I’m still highly distractible, especially when there’s work to be done. Meditation frustrates me. If I’m sitting still, my brain’s working at top speed. My memory is still crap. I have trouble getting to work (though cutting out a few potential distractions has been very helpful). I’m still constantly searching for any kind of mental stimulation, and reading has picked up a lot of the slack that the Facebook void created.

That last sentence might look like six of one and half a dozen of the other, but I’m enjoying seeking out information that interests me instead of accepting whatever happens to be presented. Who knew cannibalism was so fascinating?!*** And yes, I’m missing out on a lot of current events-type news. But I’m learning to say, “No, I didn’t know, can you tell me more?” when someone asks “Hey, did you hear about…?” And that leads to a conversation, and to something I can find information about from sources I trust. So that’s kind of cool on both fronts.

It feels like more of my mental energy is going into ideas now. I’m daydreaming more. Noticing more. I’m thinking about story problems instead of reaching for the nearest distraction to numb my pain when I hit a speedbump in my draft…

…Sometimes. The temptation to just shove the problem aside and go read an unrelated book or write a blog post will likely never go away, and I’m starting to accept that it will always be a struggle.

The first few weeks were hard, but I was actually surprised by how quickly checking on my Facebook group turned into something I put off because I didn’t want to face the stressful information flood of my timeline and useless notifications. I’m actually way behind on posting there. Sorry, guys. (Side note: They’re an amazing bunch of people. I can’t quit them.)

So yeah. Taking time away from Facebook (and Twitter, which I never really liked anyway) has absolutely been beneficial for me. I feel less scattered, and more in control. I like the fact that I’m reading more. I like that I’m not saying just a second every time a member of my family wants to talk to me, and I’m so much calmer when I’m not reading a steady stream of opinions, complaints, and pointless arguments every day.

Is it sustainable? Probably not on a professional level. Being discoverable is kind of essential if I want to meet people who might want to buy my books. There is information out there that I need, and I’ve always liked picking up ideas from unexpected sources. I likely wouldn’t be where I am in my career without the people I happened to meet online when I was in the right place at the right time. I’m missing out on learning what other authors are doing to promote their work and on making connections with people who I might be able to help some day. I’ve likely gone too far into Full Hermit mode, and the pendulum needs to swing back a bit so I don’t become totally closed off and clueless.

But on a personal level?

Yeah. I actually think I’ll stay away for a while longer. And then I’ll creep back slowly. I’ll leave groups and unfollow people who aren’t really adding anything to my online experience. I’ll try to start getting photos printed for myself instead of just posting them for everyone else. I’ll focus on making sure that when I do post, it’s adding something positive to someone else’s newsfeed.

And I’ll limit my time. Instead of setting one day a week or a few hours a day aside as social media-free, I’ll only be on there for a set amount of time. I’ll use that time to make it work for me, and I’ll do my best to remember that my phone is my tool, not my master.

I mean, I’ll try.

It’s all I can do.

Now if you’ll excuse me, I have some kitty cat toe beans to tickle.

 


 

*I highly recommend both of these ideas if you’re interested in cutting back on social media distractions. Having a bit of clear mental space in the morning helps me remember that exposing myself to the quicksand flood of newsfeeds and tweets is a choice, not a foregone conclusion, and it makes me think about the real world first. It also means my phone screen isn’t the last thing I see before I go to sleep. And turning off notifications means that I choose when I get messages. They can’t distract me from my work or whatever else I’m doing unless I let them. For me, setting those boundaries is in and of itself powerful.

**By which time all of the information I’m not learning now will be obsolete anyway. Another note: Checking in with these groups actually feels like work now. I’m at least temporarily off the obsessive treadmill of constantly needing to keep up with information. Whether that will be a good thing in the long run, I have no idea. But I am spending more time actually writing books.

***Cannibalism: A Perfectly Natural History by Bill Schutt. So entertaining. Really.


Attraction, Inspiration, and Crap I Found on the Road

Here’s the weirdest thing I’m willing to tell you about myself: I collect stuff off the street. Metal stuff, mostly, that looks like it fell off a vehicle.

It’s not as weird as it… okay, it is, but I can explain. I walk a lot. Like, almost every day, weather and health permitting. In the summer I have a lovely local boardwalk around a pond I can visit. And if I’m in the mood for treasure hunting, there’s a rocky beach not far away where I can find sea glass handmade by the ocean from the beer bottles people toss off of the nearby scenic lookout.

But winter means wandering the streets. Not much to see there.

Except that one day I noticed a ball bearing at my feet. I picked it up thinking one of my kids would find it cool. Trucks are kind of his thing.

And I liked it. It felt nifty in my hand. Really smooth and heavy and different.

So I kept it, and decided it would be fun to keep my eyes open for more (while trying not to worry about whatever vehicles were shedding these things around town). Sort of like wandering the beach looking for sea glass and shells, but more casual.

…And with more potential judgement from passing drivers who saw me bending over to pick up dirty metal garbage, but whatever. I have zero reputation to maintain, as far as I know.

Long story short, once I started looking, I started seeing. A lot of it was stuff I definitely didn’t want. Plastic bits (I mean, please, I DO have standards). Other crap that blew out of someone’s trash bags on garbage day.*

But I sometimes find what I’m looking for.

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I mean, not to brag, but guys? I’m kinda the Little Mermaid of crap that fell off of poorly-maintained vehicles. You want thingamabobs? I’ve got… well, three, but I’m getting more. Soon.

There is a point to all of this.

The thing is, I never saw any of this stuff lying around before I started paying attention to it. Just like how I rarely found sand dollars on the beach in Nova Scotia until I decided my prize was there if I kept my eyes open. After that, it was rare that I didn’t go home with at least one.

Same with sea glass.

Same with inspiration.

There was a time when I clung tight to the one story idea I had because I thought it was all I was ever going to get. This was THE THING. The story I had to make absolutely perfect because there was no guarantee that the well went deeper than this. I was miserly. I gave up frequently because the one perfect idea in my head never came out right on paper, and OH GOD WHAT IF I BREAK IT?!

Now? Now I believe ideas are everywhere, just waiting to be spotted. I don’t expect them to be served to me on a silver platter, though sometimes they are.** But I trust that if I keep my eyes open, if I believe inspiration is out there, my brain is capable of taking two random things I’ve seen and making something brilliant out of them.

Or something that’s the equivalent of plastic crap, but the point is that the treasures are out there. But I will never see them if I don’t walk around with my eyes and my mind open, believing they’re there.

I worry less about taking a chance and messing up, because there’s more.

I think this applies to a lot of other things in life, too. Like opportunities. Now, big opportunities are more frequent and easier to accept for some people than others, no question. Different people will have different doors opening for us, and not everyone gets kicked out of the nest with a great education or a “small” loan from his or her parents or a rolodex full of high-rolling contacts. But we all make choices that affect us, and we will have some kind of opportunity for something. But will we see it if we have our eyes closed, expecting nothing good come to us? Or worse, if we believe we don’t deserve opportunities?

I’m guilty of that one, and I’ve likely overlooked a lot of chances for success because I thought they weren’t meant for someone like me. But the times when I have believed in myself and been open to opportunity–to saying no to agents and publishers and going it alone, for example, or to joining in on a *shudder* group project with other amazing authors–have been very rewarding.

And if I believe that I don’t only get one shot, that success is not my only motherf*$%in’ option (contrary to what Eminem might preach in that one very catchy tune) because I will see other opportunities, I can relax about messing up, take more chances, and dream bigger.

Or luck. If I believe I’m lucky and define luck as finding ball bearings on the street, look how lucky I am! If I believe I’m unlucky and won’t find any, I suspect the odds of me seeing them drop significantly. I just won’t be looking for them if I don’t believe I’m lucky enough to have them appear in my path.

What if I broadened my definition of luck? What if I embraced it and didn’t feel guilty about believing I’m lucky/smart/observant/whatever word I choose for it, and really stayed open to what might be out there?

I don’t know a lot about this law of attraction and manifestation stuff so many of my online acquaintances talk about all the time. Do I think the universe is a big genie waiting to grant my wishes if only I focus hard enough on what I want? Do I think opportunity and inspiration and luck and MASSIVE WEALTH spontaneously appear because I desire them enough?

Not really, no.

BUT.

I do see the underlying, practical logic of it. The psychology of it, maybe. If I focus on the good things in my life, if I’m grateful for what I have, I’m going to be more aware of them. Kind of like how you never notice blue Volkswagens until you buy one, and then they’re everywhere. They were there all along. You didn’t call them into being because you were thinking about them. You simply see what you’re paying attention to.

Inspiration.

Opportunities.

Luck.

Metal crap on the street, man.

So no, I’m not going all woo-woo mystical and trying to like… vibrate… or whatever it is. But I think, thanks to a ball bearing I almost kicked into the gutter a few months ago, that I kind of get it.

Good things are out there. Utter crap is out there, too, if we’re being honest. But I’m trying really hard to stay focused on the good.

Because what I focus on is what I see. It’s what I get more of.

I’m just keeping my eyes open.

——

*Though true story, I once saw an empty Vienna sausage can in a snowbank and sincerely hoped–and still hope–that my mental image of some guy wandering down main street casually sucking tiny processed meat sticks directly from the can as he strolled along and then tossing the garbage aside is accurate. It could happen.

**In bed, once. You can’t beat that kind of service.

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