Category Archives: writing

Email permissions are like Taco Bell: A pain at both ends. However…

(I was going to call this post “the agony of email”, but come on. That was mildly amusing.)

Raise your hand if you’ve received a bunch of emails lately asking you to update your preferences and give permission for authors and other marketing types to send you emails.

Okay, I actually can’t see you. You can put your hand down.

I’m guessing it’s at least a few of you though, right? And if you’re on my list or Tanith Frost’s, you’ve definitely received them from us.

Or your spam folder has. And if that’s the case you’re going to want to go hunt for them ASAP, assuming you want to stay subscribed to get news on upcoming giveaways (both), cover reveals (Tanith), upcoming new releases (also Tanith), and future free stories (fingers crossed all over the place on that one). Because as of May 25, subscribers who haven’t confirmed permission for us to send emails are going to be unsubscribed.

Dun dun dunnnnnnn…

Spoiler alert: The actual cover will look significantly more badass than this

I mean, I know. What a pain in the ass, right? You already took time to sign up once. WHAT MORE DO WE NEED?

Honestly, I’m not the best person to ask. I know this is a Serious Legal Thing that has something to do with Europe and privacy, and we can get in Big Trouble if we’re caught sending emails without the proper permissions*. So yeah. We asked you to do this. There may be some marketing types who are super organized and on the ball and already have the right permissions, or who actually keep track of which subscribers are in the EU and which aren’t.

If such unicorns exist, I am not one of them. If you’re one of my subscribers, you got the email. And whether you live in Topeka or Tuscany I’ve asked you to update your permissions just so I know who still wants to be on the list.

Two birds/one stone. Bumbling GDPR compliance/”are you still there?” service. Boom.

BUT KATE, WHAT A PAAAAIIIIIIIN.

I know.

But look at it this way. It’s like spring cleaning for everyone! If you signed up for my newsletter because you wanted to win something in a giveaway but haven’t opened one since, you never have to see them clogging up your inbox again!** Same goes for anyone else who’s doing a big clean-up. We’re doing the work for you! YAY! And if you do find our content interesting and want to keep receiving our Big Fun Newsletters, it only takes a minute to click the button, check the boxes, and submit… and then maaaaybe some authors might be planning fun stuff for the subscribers who stick around.

I dunno. It’s just something I heard.

Gratuitous photo of a past giveaway

And though it’s maybe a liiiiiitle bit painful to let go of all of the people who haven’t updated preferences and won’t be receiving future Big Exciting News, this is good for me, too. I do this now, and in the future I’ll know that everyone who’s getting my emails is getting them because they’re excited to see what’s coming next, not because they entered a giveaway or other list-builder promotion and happened to get signed up along the way. The people who stick around now are in it for the long haul. THEY WANT TO WIN THE SIGNED PAPERBACKS. GO TEAM!!!***

I already refer to my newsletter subscribers as VIPs, and that will only be more true by next week.

So long story short: If you want to keep receiving my super-fun newsletters packed with good stuff on a seriously irregular basis (because hey, I’m not going to bother you if I don’t have anything to say), please make sure you check for either the first GDPR email or the update I sent today (and Tanith asks that you do the same) and take a minute to click and update your preferences.

You can of course sign up again at any time in the future if you get bumped. But this feels easier, doesn’t it?

(And if you’re not subscribed yet but want to be, here’s the link for mine. And what the heck, here’s Tanith’s, too. We do have fun.)

 

*Dammit, Jim. I’m an author, not a marketer. I DEAL IN MAGIC, NOT LEGALITIES!

**Yes, yes, or your spam folder…

***Fun fact: I didn’t know until I had to start a newsletter list that it costs money to have subscribers on there whether they’re opening emails or not. So releasing uninterested parties back into the wild (hopefully we’ll meet again some day, insert wistful sigh here) means I may just have a liiiiitle bit more in the ol’ budget for more awesome giveaways. ANOTHER WIN! HOLY CARP! (Side note: NEVER take marketing advice from me. This is probably terrible.)

 

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Writing Process Evolution

Screenshot 2018-01-12 13.36.34

If you’ve been following posts on this blog for a while, you know I like to change things up. Experiment. See how I can tweak things to make my life easier.

I’m trying something new in my writing process that’s working pretty well so far, so I thought I’d write a quick post in case the idea is helpful to anyone else.

Why? Because I’m procrastinating. It’s Friday afternoon, I reached the end of a stage in this writing process yesterday, and the next step (outlining the rest of the series so I know this book is heading in the right direction) is looking rather daunting.

So here we go.

I’m a plotter/planner/outliner. I like to know my characters fairly well before I write, and I like to know where the story is going before I start. That doesn’t mean things can’t change a lot as I write, but it does mean I struggle less with figuring out what comes next, or with later having to cut or rewrite massive sections to achieve good story structure, tension, etc. It doesn’t work for everyone, but it does work for me.* If you’re a pantser who likes to dive into an idea and start writing without a map, this probably won’t apply to you… or maybe it will, come to think of it. Read on.

I usually start with a solid outline. At the very least I’ll have my story structure beats pencilled in based on Save the Cat (Blake Snyder) and Story Engineering (Larry Brooks)–both books I’d recommend, though the former is definitely a faster and more fun read than the latter. For larger books I’m taking more time with, I’ll also dig into theme, character webs, and other helpful stuff with the help of The Anatomy of Story (John Truby). Then I’ll do my scene outlines on index cards, sketching out very quickly what will happen in the scene, and then I’ll start my first full draft.

What I’m doing this time is inspired partly by the Snowflake Method and partly by Monica Leonelle’s methods in Write Better, Faster (which I’m in the middle of right now).

In any case, what I’m doing is a step between the index cards and the first draft. I’m expanding on the notecards, writing out the full scene as I imagine it flowing in my mind, but it’s not first draft quality. It’s just me narrating what’s happening in the scene, throwing in dialogue, action beats, and anything else that comes clearly to mind that I might want to use later. Full sentences, full paragraphs, writing out full scenes and chapters for the full book, but it’s super quick.

The quick draft I just finished is about 26,000 words for a book that will likely come out between 80K and 90K words in its finished form.

Now, that’s still a lot of words. If this step was unnecessary, it would be a complete waste of time. Here’s why I did it:

By writing out the story quickly, I built momentum that kept me writing quickly–and thanks to the notes I’d already made and the planning I’d done, it was efficient, too. Not a whole lot of having to stop and think about what comes next or slowing down to make sure I was phrasing things correctly. I had a 6800 word day on Wednesday (writing for 4 hours), which is unheard of for me. I was writing six scenes a day instead of one.

And now that I have this not-quite-a-draft, I can look it over and see issues that weren’t visible at all in the index card stage, but that I would otherwise have needed to correct after the first draft–after I’d already invested a lot more time and word count into scenes that would need to be rewritten. Or they’d be the issues that stopped me in my tracks during that first draft, slowing me down and discouraging me when that’s the last thing I need.

My hope is that this extra step will ultimately save me time. My first full draft will actually be a revision draft, with the major bumps (mostly related to character motivation) ironed out for me, so this could save me a lot of revisions after the first draft/before my crit readers see the book. And actually writing the draft should go quickly, too, because I’ll have my scenes laid out already. I’ll be able to enjoy exploring the dialogue, descriptions, and all the other fun stuff without having to stop and bang my head against the wall because I’m running into plot and character issues I didn’t see coming.

And as an added, unanticipated bonus, this quick draft has got me REALLY excited about writing these scenes in full and seeing how the notes I’ve made play out when my amazing characters step into the driver’s seat. I’m able to make sure that I’m excited about all of them, which means (ideally) that they’ll also be scenes readers will be excited to read. I can see whether there are laggy bits and correct them now, before I’m invested in them or feeling too lazy to want to change things up.

So there you go. This is the first book I’m using this expanded outlining method on, but I’ve got high hopes for it and plan to use it again in the future. I already wish I’d thought of it for the project currently with my editor. It could have saved me a full rewrite… live and learn, right?

Have any tips of your own that help you save time and frustration in the writing process? Please leave them in the comments!

——

*I was a pantser, once upon a time. I’d like to just dive into a story to see where it goes again some day, but I find that for me planning a story is far more efficient, and I’m slow enough as it is. 🙂


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.


A Few NaNoWriMo Tips

Less than a week to go, people! Are you ready?

I’m not. I mean, my project is almost planned, but not quite. And with everything else on my plate, it’s going to be a challenge to get those words in. But that’s how the event goes, right? Late nights, frenzied bursts of creativity, a few tears along the way.

We’re masochists, but it works for us.

I’ve been thinking about my strategy for National Novel Writing Month and thought I’d share a few of the tips/strategies that work well for me. Some of this might work for you, some of it might not, your mileage may vary, etc. Please don’t take this as a set of rules. What works for me might not work for you. It’s just some ideas to consider.

Feel free to add your best tips or questions in the comments below! We can all help each other that way.

  • Know your why. Two whys, actually. First: Why are you writing and why is it important to you to finish the event? Knowing this will keep you going when you’re on day 23, behind on your word count, and tempted to throw in the towel. Figure out now whether it’s worth it to you to do this crazy thing, how much of a priority it is for you, and how you’re going to get it done. Second: Why this story? If you know what it is you want to communicate or what experience you want to deliver to readers, you’re less likely to wander badly off course and write yourself into a dead-end alley. And knowing what you want to offer to the world is another fine motivator. (Note: I’ve learned that for me, internal motivation is way more rewarding than external. But that’s a whole other post.)
  • Plan. I know, some people are hardcore pantsers and like to start on November 1 without a plan. That’s great for them! For me, having a solid plan for the story allows me to write it a lot faster. I prefer not to pursue tangents that don’t add to the story (and worse, that I’ll have to cut in revisions if I want a story with strong pacing*). Even if you just know where you want the story to go, what your character wants, and a couple of key obstacles along the way, you’ll probably save yourself some rewrites.
  • That said, don’t be afraid to change your plan or take chances. No one else has to see this draft. Go crazy. Make it amazing. Take some chances, learn some lessons and grow as a writer.
  • Get to know your characters. For me, this is far more critical than knowing the details of my plot. Let them be fully-formed, let their decisions affect the course of the story, and make them real. Readers can tell if characters are just puppets doing what the author wants, and will notice if they’re making decisions that are out of character just to serve the plot/they’re just being jerked around by external circumstances and not actually driving the story. They need to act and react in consistent ways, and they need to have an impact on their world. Knowing who they are before you start writing will make it easier to know what actions make sense for them and what obstacles will be the most interesting.**
  • Don’t sweat the details on the first draft. We’d all like to have gorgeous prose, snappy dialogue, killer descriptions, and OMG YES metaphors in the first draft, but worrying about getting it all perfect now will slow you down. Do what you can and leave the rest for revisions. (This applies to non-NaNo drafting, too. You could spend a week writing the perfect scene in draft one and then realize in draft two that you need to cut it. Proceed as you see fit, of course. This was a hard-won lesson for little ol’ perfectionist me, so I like to share it. Speaking of which…)
  • Remember that revisions will be necessary no matter how careful you are now. And don’t mourn that. Celebrate it. Nothing you write this November is final. You can repair plot holes, sharpen dialogue, streamline action scenes, and make that sex scene less cheesy later. It’s a god-like superpower. Focus on how amazing the end result will be instead of mourning the fact you’ll have to make changes.***
  • Make revision notes as you go rather than going back and fixing stuff right away. Recording those insights means you won’t forget them. I usually write them down and then proceed with the draft as though I’ve already made the changes. This makes for really disjointed first drafts, but means I can see the effects of those changes right away AND I don’t drain momentum by getting bogged down in early chapters. Besides, no one but me is going to see my first draft. It’s okay if the seams show. For now.
  • Know when you’re going to do this. If you don’t usually plan your days, now wouldn’t be a bad time to start. You’ll need to average 1667 words per day. That’s not a lot by some standards, but it’s not a number most of us can dash off on the bus during a short commute, either. You probably need to decide ahead of time when you’re going to do it. Lunch break? After the kids/parents/dogs/housemates are in bed? Wake up two hours early every weekday? Cram it all in on your days off? In my experience, not planning means it doesn’t get done. I get to the end of the day and I’m too tired. I say I’ll do it tomorrow. And then it piles up. I’m getting up early to do my drafting this year so I’ll know it’s done even if everything goes haywire later in the day. Consider what will work best for you.
  • Remember that this is supposed to be fun. NaNoWriMo is a little taste of what it’s like to be an author. 1667 words a day feels like a lot at first, but it’s not even the minimum for most professional authors I’ve seen share their daily drafting goals. You can handle this. It will get stressful, and you will be tempted to quit. Once the initial thrill burns off, it’s easy to get bogged down in the more aversive aspects of this task: it’s challenging, there’s not usually any immediate feedback, it’s often solitary, and there may never be any financial payoff, accolades, or other external rewards. But the first draft can also be wonderful if you approach it with the right mindset. This is the only first time you get with this story, the only time when it’s really new. It’s where you can experiment. And if you’re writing a story you love, it’s a wonderful adventure (even if there are dangers lurking in the shadows). Look at this month as a fun challenge and not a pass/fail scenario. Focus on what you’re learning rather than whether your work is perfect. Aim for a growth mindset, throw in as much of what you love in books as you can, and stop to pat yourself on the back whenever possible.
  • Play your cards close to your chest. This is another big “YMMV” tip, but it’s important for me. Nobody sees my first drafts, and I don’t even talk a lot about the story until I’m ready to share it with trusted readers. I like to keep my options open, not feel like anyone is reading over my shoulder, and not have to worry about anyone’s opinions except my own while I’m elbow deep in creating my beautiful monster. I don’t like other people’s fingers in my pie (and I’m very possessive of my vision for the story early on). Talking too much about the details ahead of time drains the magic for me, and other people’s opinions on unformed ideas feel like poison. Basically, I don’t want to be tempted to second-guess myself. Some people like to post chapter by chapter and write by committee… that sounds like an absolute nightmare to me. There’s plenty of time for me to accept critique after I have a solid idea of what I want the story to be. Again, know what you want from this experience and move forward accordingly. Neither way is right or wrong. This is just my personal experience that might be helpful to consider, especially if you might be tempted to give up or start over if someone hates chapter one.

Those are the big ones I’ve got for tonight. How about you?

 


*Tangents, plot bunnies, and random ninjas are a big part of NaNoWriMo for a lot of people who are doing this for the experience, for fun, etc. You’ll see tips telling you to explore great-aunt Beatrice’s failed marriage if it gets you another 10K words on your story, even if it has nothing to do with the legal thriller you’re actually writing (or to squeeze 2,000 words out of describing your hero’s kitchen in astounding detail). And that’s amazing if that’s how you want to approach it or if you’re really stumped and need to get your daily words in while you’re considering what comes next. I’m speaking as an author who has a lot on my plate and can’t afford to lose that time. This goes back to knowing your why. Are you writing because you’d eventually like to publish and earn an income, or is this an amazing adventure for you and whatever friends want to read it?Both are great whys, and neither is right or better than the other in the context of this event. But they could lead you to different approaches to the process, and knowing what you want to get out of this could save some frustration.

**Yes, real means flawed. And being adorably clumsy or sexy-but-not-realizing-it are not generally interesting flaws. Dig deep. Scare yourself. Have fun.

***If I end up with a first draft that doesn’t need revisions, I question whether I took the easy road instead of the best one. Digging deeper is hard, but it’s always worth it for me.


Revised Early Schedule Week 1 Results

These post titles are getting so boring. And confusing. They need better names.

Let’s call this one “Cordelia.”

So as it turns out, waking up at 6:00 is better than dragging my butt out of bed at 5:30. And (surprising no one) I still have trouble getting up when the alarm goes off.

Or to be more precise, I have trouble not with the getting up so much as with the not hitting snooze and getting back under the covers for cozy snoozy this-is-the-best-part-of-my-day time.

I know. That’s sad. But it really is the best. Like, to the point where I’m considering setting the alarm for 5:30 again just so I can hit the snooze three times in rapid succession and buy myself a sweet half-hour in that magical land where my brain gives not a single rodent’s heinie about productivity.

Or reality.

*sigh* I’m happy just thinking about it.

What was I saying?

Right. Anyway, it was a pretty okay week. Nothing earth-shattering in terms of productivity, but I did the best I could. I think. Mostly.

  • I tracked 14 hours of work, which included some planning on a new book for NaNoWriMo, planning and starting revisions on my YA project, inputting fixes on the book I recently sent to beta readers, getting cover art almost done for my pen name’s next book, and updating the autoresponder messages people get when they sign up for pen name’s newsletter (which I actually hadn’t done since before the first book in her series came out. Whoopsie doodle.)
  • I mostly worked on the couch this week and not at my desk, and I’m not even a little bit sorry about it. It was amazing. And cozy. Coziness is wonderful.
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And it makes Jack very happy.

  • I did yoga twice, walked Jack almost every day, and meditated for 10 minutes all seven days of the week.
  • I did homework with the kids, shrink-wrapped all of the windows on the main floor of the house (with mixed success, but I hope it will help a little with the heating bills this winter), and once again did not let anyone starve. I think.
  • I flipped my work hours to the afternoon two days this week when mornings were getting too crazy for me to feel like I could reasonably fit work in before lunch, and my work felt much easier and more flow-y. Afternoons are actually a much better time for me to work, but come with the disadvantages of it being a lot harder to stop when I need to (and me being kind of irritable about it, TBH) and not allowing me to recharge and switch gears before the kids come home. But for my next schedule experiment, I might try doing that more regularly. You never know if you don’t try, right?

Maybe after Halloween.

Which means NaNoWriMo.

Annnnnd I’m also looking at doing the Whole30 program for November. As in the eating-whole-foods-with-lots-of-veggies-and-meat-but-no-grains-dairy-added-sugar-or-alcohol thing. I’m not exactly the queen of willpower, but I might be able to do it. I want to see whether changing my eating habits could lessen the frequency of my migraines and help with my energy levels. Now, if it turns out that dairy is contributing to my acne or bread is causing brain fog, I might decide it would have been better not to know. I mean, don’t tell my husband, but I’m only with him because I found out I couldn’t legally marry a cheese croissant. This would be unthinkable.

But I think I owe it to myself to find out. And just imagine how entertaining my blog posts will be when I’m detoxing from my sugar addiction and I hate EVERYTHING!

Yaaaaaay!

What the heck is wrong with me. Seriously.

Plan for next week: Stick to modified early schedule. Continue NaNo planning during early morning hours, continue Phoenix revisions later in the morning, do pen name publication stuff in the early afternoon, then try to make time to recharge before the offspring invade the premises.*

 


* My children, not the band. And the fact that Monday and Tuesday are both P.D. days (no school) should make this week an interesting one.

 


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 Sticky Stuff

I’ve tried a lot of productivity methods and planners that didn’t work out for me. Here are a few things that have helped. None of them work perfectly or keep me on track all of the time, but they’ve made a huge difference nonetheless. If you have questions or would like to see a separate post on any of them, please let me know!

  • Goal setting. Even if I don’t always hit my deadlines, knowing what I want to accomplish and how/when I intend to get there is the biggest idea that’s helped me in my work. I set goals for finishing books, set 90 day goals for work and home projects, and choose my top three goals for every week and every day.
  • Prioritizing. This connects to those top three daily tasks. By writing down what I’d want to accomplish even if nothing else got done, I remind myself what my priorities are and how I should be spending my time.
  • Weekly planning. Having a nice quality planner that I can decorate (or not) as the mood strikes me makes me want to use it. And taking time on Sundays to get a bird’s eye view of the week ahead helps prevent surprises and crises along the way because I know what’s coming and what I need to accommodate for. I plan meals for the week, too, so I’m not running to the store/scrambling to figure out what to eat/saying “screw it, let’s get McDonald’s” too often.
  • My bullet journal. I’ve tried other daily and weekly planners, and use a pre-printed weekly planner for family stuff. But for my personal needs, nothing beats a blank dot-grid notebook. It holds my long-term goals, project notes, ideas, reference pages for everything from school schedules to clothing sizes, weekly review notes, reading lists, brain dumps, reading notes, monthly/weekly/daily plans… it’s my brain on paper, basically, allowing me to externalize a lot of the things that I’d otherwise forget or be distracted by as I tried to juggle them all in my mind. My daily pages have space for my top 3 tasks, a reminder of the larger goals I’m working toward, to do list (with unfinished tasks migrated to the next day so I don’t lose them), my desired vs actual schedule, notes, and gratitude lists. Weeks include the meal plan, grocery list, goals, a look at next week’s events, and “to do” items I want to transfer to my days. And if I need it to do something else for me, I just create a new page for it or change my week/day’s layout.
  • Figuring out where analogue and digital work best for me. Planning apps, whether it’s iCal for scheduling or Scapple for brainstorming, just don’t work for me. I plan and brainstorm best with a pen in hand and pages I can flip back through, make charts on, doodle all over, and connect with on a physical level. I find that for me electronic notes seem to get lost or forgotten easily, and I find it harder to see connections between unrelated items in separate electronic documents than I do when they’re on physical pages. I remember things better when I mark them down in my own handwriting, and just reading them back in that format often jogs additional ideas that weren’t quite there yet when I made the note. BUT. I don’t draft on paper. Trying to do so drives me batty. I need to type so my hands have a chance of keeping up with my brain, so I can rework sentences as I’m writing them (just part of my personal process), and so I can easily search for previous scenes and information (GOD BLESS SCRIVENER xo). I plan my scenes on paper, then write them on my laptop. (Note: when I keep a journal, it’s on paper. And quickly turns into a bit of a scrapbook stuffed with movie tickets, candy bar wrappers, and movie tickets. It’s hard to do that in an app. I should get back to it some day…)21886923_10155476411810325_826380582_o
  • Limiting social media time and access. Social media is a problem for me. I can lose hours scrolling and clicking on Buzzfeed lists only to discover later that I gained nothing from that time except maybe a headache from staring at the screen, but the temptation to “just take a quick look” can be unbearable. I mean, come on. There are Ten Things I Don’t Know About David Hasselhoff’s Bellybutton? Click. It goes beyond simple willpower and self-control, and I’m aware that it’s not healthy. I try not to carry my phone around with me. I removed the Facebook app from my phone to make access at least a little less convenient. And I try not to let myself post until my work is done for the day, as the temptation to check for notifications is far worse after I do. Social media can be great if you like what you get out of it. For me, the costs aren’t worth the rewards on most sites, so I’m limiting my time. Side note: I am reading SO MUCH MORE now that scrolling’s not an option! Still in kind of a fiction slump, but good HEAVENS am I finding some interesting non-fiction…and none of it about the Hoff’s navel.
  • Daily exercise, ideally outdoors. I realized the importance of this several years ago. It has a huge impact on my mood and mental health as well as my physical condition. Taking forty minutes or an hour out of the day seems counter-productive in terms of getting work done, but I’m not bringing my best self to the office if I don’t get physical activity and fresh air into my day. It’s also a great time to let my mind wander–and if I don’t get that, I feel like a shaken-up soda bottle that’ll explode at any second. I need the release valve.

    21894966_10155475852070325_1932274789_o

    I have extra motivation to get out. This is the face that follows me EVERYWHERE until he gets his walk.

  • Having a routine. This isn’t important for everyone, but as it turns out, it is for me. A routine means I’m working consistently, not waiting on inspiration or a time when I feel like working (which honestly never happens). It also means I’m not using my mental energy and willpower on deciding what to do next. I know what to expect and what to prepare for. I know where my brain needs to be focused, so even when it’s difficult I’m a little less inclined to give up and do something easier. It also helps me remember to do routine tasks that I might otherwise forget, like feeding the dog (right after he goes out in the morning) or watering my plants (Tuesdays, with apologies to those who died in my pre-routine days). Summer vacation was a great reminder for me of two things: how great my kids are, and how desperately I need the routine that school provides for all of us. That said, I’ve learned that scheduling every hour of every day also doesn’t work for me. It’s too much pressure, and I instinctively fight against it. It works for a lot of people, though, so don’t write it off if you haven’t tried it.
  • Working in my office. Interruptions are my kryptonite. I can’t wrangle my brain into a focused state if I anticipate visitors, deliveries, or people talking to me when I’m trying to put ideas on paper. Like, it’s insane how my mind clutches its pearls and reaches for the smelling salts at the idea of distractions…. Or maybe it’s not. Maybe it’s because it takes me so long to get into that focused state that my brain knows it’s wasting its energy if it fights that good fight only to have to start over because MOM WHAT ARE WE HAVING FOR SUPPER*. Not so stupid after all, maybe, even if it doesn’t help me much when I have 30 minutes to work and can’t get anything done. In either case, once I do get focused, I become quite irritable if I’m interrupted for any reason. So the best plan for me is to stick a Do Not Disturb sign on the office door and close that door, physically marking a separate time and space for focus.**
  • Writing down distractions as they pop up. Whether they go into my bullet journal or onto a post-it note, I write down every idea that threatens to derail me. Need to call the school about that thing? Write it down, do it later. Missed a birthday? Whoopsie-doodle, better make a note to get in touch with them later. Forgot to take the chicken out of the freezer? It’ll still be there when this work sprint is over. Writing it all down means it’s not taking up memory/mental processing space, and putting it somewhere visible takes away the worry that I’ll forget it. And if it’s a fun idea, I can use it as a reward and take care of it on my next break. WOOHOO LAUNDRY YASSSSS!
  • Sorting out my values. This is a huge, ongoing thing for me, but it’s making a difference in how I do everything. It’s easy to accept other people’s definitions of success and ideas of what a good life looks like, but if they don’t align with your personal values, they’re going to lead you to making choices that either don’t motivate you or make you miserable. Making a six-figure income is a pretty standard definition of success, and you can find loads of books, podcasts, and advice on how to do that as an author… but for me it would require changes in my life that I’m not ready to make. You can also find a lot of books/podcasts/posts on how to crank out more stories, faster. A fine goal, but what excites me is immersing myself in my stories and characters in ways I can’t manage if I’m rushing them out the door. I can’t have both at the moment, so for now I choose to go deep instead of wide. Hitting the NYT bestseller list is an amazing achievement, but it requires investment of money and promotion time that I’m choosing to spend on other things. My values and needs aren’t better or worse than anyone’s who chooses those other goals. As long as we’re both excited by what we’re doing and not hurting anyone in the process, we’re both successful. But if I chased their goals or they felt forced into my idea of a balanced life, we’d be miserable. Taking time to make a conscious choice about this has alleviated a lot of stress for me. It’s something I’ll have to keep coming back to (I’ll likely want to focus more on commercial success after the kids are out of the house, or maybe travel and new experiences will become a new value), but knowing what I want right now makes it easier to say no to things that don’t align with those values. And I hope that in the long run it will help me stop comparing my achievements to other people’s. (The Subtle Art of Not Giving a F*ck by Mark Manson is a great place to start looking at this if you want a fun, irreverent read that contains a ton of f-bombs and a lot of interesting ideas about pain, choices, and values. The audiobook version is excellent, too, though NSFW.)
  • Getting enough sleep. It’s not always good sleep, but I aim for 7.5 to 8 hours in bed a night. I limit caffeine intake after about 2:00 in the afternoon and try to stay off my computer/phone/tablet for an hour before bed***. I’ve had some bad experiences with non-restorative sleep and with loss of sleep time because of work or babies. I have no intention of going back to that kind of exhaustion if I can avoid it. My brain might screw up a lot on a good day, but it’s nothing compared to days when I’m sleep deprived. I’m having trouble with sleep quality these days, but at least I can try to control the quantity.

That’s about it, I guess. Some of it’s practical, some of it’s a bit more ephemeral, but it all works for me. And these are things I won’t be changing during this experiment (unless I have to to test something else out).

I should note that none of this turns me into a productivity machine. No matter how well I plan and prioritize my day, my brain will try to keep me away from writing, and making myself focus will be at best frustrating and at worst painful. I will likely never find a trick, a drug, an idea, or a coach that can turn me into an eight-hours-and-ten-thousand-words-a-day writer.

But at least I’m going into battle prepared, and I’m getting a lot more done than I used to.

If you’ve got thoughts on what helps you get stuff done, go ahead and leave them in the comments! We’ll take a deeper look at what’s happened since I cut down on social media in a future post, plus anything else that seems relevant to the experiment.

Next week: The results of week one of the Godawful Early Schedule. Dun-dun-DUNNNNNNN…


 

*Answer: It doesn’t matter, just eat it.

**I haven’t always had an office door I could close. Before we moved to this house two years ago, I didn’t. I tried working at a desk in the living room, but you can imagine how that went. I ended up constructing a makeshift office space in the basement out of stacks of plastic storage bins, boxes, and pet carriers, with a sheet strung up for the door and my upstairs desk hauled down to serve me there. It wasn’t paradise, but for the first time I had my own space. It made a real difference.

***I’m running into a problem with this now that I’ve figured out how to borrow library ebooks. I’m like a kid in a candy store, reading a lot… but I can’t transfer most titles from the app to my Kindle Paperwhite, so I’m actually reading from a tablet before bed some nights. CURSE YOU, CANDY STORE.

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