Tag Archives: writing

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.


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.


Productivity Experiment, Week… I don’t even know

Yes, I’ve lost track. I’ve also stopped tracking every hour of my day (WOOHOO!) because I feel like the effort is no longer paying off (though I’m so glad I got those insights in the beginning) and because I ran out of pages in my notebook.

So how did last week go?

Weird. It went weird.

For one thing, there was Halloween. That totally happened. And I had a dentist appointment that day. So that on top of helping everyone get into their costumes plus putting mine on (and feeling slightly ridiculous getting dressed up just to answer the door, but WHATEVER) left me less than productive. I did get a bunch of my proofreading done while I was waiting for the doorbell to ring, though, so that’s something.

In fact, I finished my proofread and made my corrections last week, so that pen name book is ready to go tomorrow.

Actually, it’s available now, but tomorrow’s the OFFICIAL release day.

Wednesday was the start of NaNoWriMo, and I started it off with a… what’s the opposite of a bang? Whatever that is. Zero words on day one. Day two netted 1800 words (much better, but not enough to get me caught up), and Friday was another goose-egg because I was way too tired to function early on Friday morning and then there was this thing with waiting to see if a guest was coming over, and… Yeah.

Long story short, I’m sitting just north of 7,000 words and well south of the “YOU SHOULD BE HERE” line on the NaNo site tracker, but it’s definitely not too late for me to catch up.

And I’m hoping that once I get that pen name book off my desk tomorrow (officially), I’ll be better able to focus on the two writing projects that are currently sitting in the corner, staring uncomfortably at me and each other, waiting for the action to start.

It’s awkward.

This morning I made a list of all of the stuff that’s holding me back from using my time well. The issue still isn’t (generally) time, it’s time use. For one thing, when I feel overwhelmed, I freeze and do nothing, which means I need to keep a running list of smaller tasks I can use to get me warmed up. Also, life intrudes on planned work time. Like this morning: I was going to write all day, working on both projects. Then I had a wicked headache this morning and couldn’t do the computer thing, so there went that hour. Then one of the dogs had a sore paw, so I went to the drugstore to get that kinda-sticky bandage stuff to keep him from licking it, and while I was there I got my flu shot, but the paperwork for that took time and then they made me wait for ten minutes to make sure I wasn’t going to die*, and then I decided to get making tonight’s meatballs out of the way since I only had an hour before lunch, and then there was email to send to people who are reviewing the book, and…

Long story short, it’s 1:30 and I’m just about to dive into my NaNo project, which is likely the only thing that I’ll touch today (sorry, revisions).

Part of the problem is that I don’t have the kind of accountability I need to get and stay on task. I hate to say it, but I need a boss. It’s so easy to let myself off the hook when I don’t start work on time. Because OBVIOUSLY I totally understand the things that get in my way. I was there, man. I get it. It’s cool.

IT IS NOT COOL. I need someone to slap my wrist if I’m not at work when I said I would be.** I am clearly not responsible enough to handle myself.

So that’s something to work on. At least I’m gaining some insight into the problems. That’s step one. Step two is figuring out how I can change my schedule and/or my attitudes or ways of thinking to help me overcome those pitfalls.

I’m getting there.

To end on a positive note, I’m about a week into this Whole30 thing where I’m eating good foods and seeing what kind of impact it has on my health. So far, so good. I did not try to murder anyone for their Halloween candy, and I have not starved yet. Food prep and cooking are definitely eating into my time, but I don’t really mind. I actually like the cooking more than I do the eating***, and I’m discovering some very nice new recipes, AND I’m enjoying some great podcasts while my hands are busy.

My family isn’t exactly jumping on board and begging to eat my roasted vegetables, but we’re all surviving.

I may be less positive by next week, when I’ll likely be sick to death of both eggs and cooking. In the meantime, though, breakfasts are becoming far more interesting than they usually are:

Screenshot 2017-11-06 12.56.35

Thanks for stopping by! Let me know in the comments what you’re up to this week and how your Halloween went!

 


*I may have misunderstood the exact reasoning behind these instructions.

**the fact that my work doesn’t produce immediate feedback and that there’s no direct correlation between hours worked and money paid is a real pain in my ass, too, motivationally speaking.

***This has nothing to do with my food or cooking skills. I’m on a medication that makes food generally “ew,” so I really have to tempt myself to eat. The food is really good.


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.


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.

 

 


Godawful Early Schedule Week 3 Results

Not my wordiest week. To be fair, though, I did lose two days.

We (my family) left home on Thursday evening to head in to St. John’s. Weird timing for a trip, I know. But when one of your favourite authors/a great friend/an amazing person is in town, you make the trip. I got to see Krista Walsh again, and this time I got to show her  a little bit of Newfoundland.

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Totally worth missing a day of work for.

Two, actually. I spent Thursday packing and checking little tasks off my to do list rather than writing. So that’s two days I didn’t add anything to my draft.

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Worth it.

Monday, Tuesday, and Wednesday were split days. I drafted early in the morning, then did other work after the boys went to school.

Monday and Tuesday were all about the book that came back from my editor on the weekend. On Monday I did a quick pass accepting or rejecting the little changes my editor had made to fix sentence or paragraph flow (mostly accepting… she’s good at what she does) and dealing with minor fixes. On Tuesday I went through and did the bigger fixes that required deeper thought: looking at places where something had seemed wonky to her, where I needed to re-think blocking in a fight or bring a character in who had sort of disappeared from a group scene, questions about whether someone’s hand was inside or outside of someone else’s clothing.

And that was actually it. I usually plan on post-editor edits taking a lot longer than two days, but this time everything went smoothly.*

So on Wednesday I used my later-morning time to draft the back cover copy for that book, get the ball rolling on cover art, and format the book so I could send it to beta readers.

As for the early morning drafting, I had great mornings on Monday and Tuesday, even if it was hard to get started. Up at 5:30, writing by 6:00. More than 1,500 words Monday, almost 1,900 Tuesday. By Wednesday, though, I was already feeling burned out (after those big mornings and pushing myself to get through my edits). I slept in until 6:20 and only wrote for half an hour.

Strong starts to the week + burning out by the end seems to be a pattern for me. Actually, it’s the pattern of a lot of days, too. I think I’m scared of not using the energy when I have it because I don’t trust it (or the available time) will be there later if I try to pace myself early on. That might be something to look at in future weeks.

For now, the goal is to keep going with this early morning writing schedule. I’ll still be using early mornings for drafting, and then later mornings will be either for more drafting or for taking care of all the things I still need to do for pen name this month (post-beta fixes, cover art, proofreading in ebook and paperback, planning the next book for NaNoWriMo, figuring out promotional stuff).

I might be able to get this draft of my project (we’ll call it Phoenix here for clarity, though it doesn’t have a title) finished by the end of the week. I’m really hoping that boosts my motivation to keep going. I can feel myself getting lazy even though my deadlines are quite critical at this point.

Hours worked: 12 (3 writing, 5.5 editing, 3.5 other work-related tasks)

Words written: 4,000

Pages edited: two passes on 90K word book (no read-through, just editorial fixes)

Other stuff:

  • cover copy for Atonement written
  • cover art in progress
  • Atonement sent to beta readers
  • family stuff (trip to St. John’s, curriculum night at school, making salt crystals at home because that was a cool thing that happened at school)
  • exercised most days

Not too shabby, really.

HAPPY THANKSGIVING, CANADA!

 


 

*The time it takes to do these edits and fixes also depends on what kind of edits I’m getting. My pen name Urban Fantasy stuff isn’t receiving the same kind of deep substantive edits that I’ll be getting on my current project when it goes to my other editor. That one could involve massive rewrites after I get the book back. Every book in the Bound trilogy needed big revisions and edits after that editor got his claws into them. Lots of work, but they’re far better books for it. And I learn a lot every time.

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Godawful Early Schedule, Week 2 (Results)

Hours worked: 13.5

Words written: 10,858

Week two of the Godawful Early Schedule is in the bag.

How did it go?

Not too shabby, actually. No, I didn’t get up at 5:30 every morning, so I guess that’s technically a fail. But I was always up by six, and did at least some writing before breakfast every day from Monday to Friday. I lost most of my work day on Wednesday thanks to a doctor’s appointment, but still got some work done earlier in the day. I got at least some exercise every day, and once again nobody starved or turned homework in late.

(Side note: I also learned this week that I’m anemic, so I’m hoping iron supplements will help my energy levels climb in the near future. If productivity is about managing time, attention, and energy, I could sure use the boost in that last area.)

I learned a few valuable lessons this week.

  • I need to be better about scheduling specific times for tasks that I’m doing with other people, as I often lose a lot of potentially productive time while I’m waiting. Uncertainty is not good for my productivity, especially if that means anticipating an interruption.
  • I need to schedule short breaks during my early morning writing time, even if I don’t want to stop to take them. I have a tendency to want to work for an hour straight, which is fine until I then need to stop for 15 minutes and only had 90 minutes to begin with (and then don’t want to get back into it for just 15 more). Things might work better if I do  three 25-minute sprints with 5 minute breaks between so I’m not wasting that time at the end.
  • I was sick a few days this week, but I learned that while feeling like crap lowers my motivation, I can still get words out. Even if it means I take my laptop up to the couch instead of working at my desk, even if it means I don’t get quite as many words per hour… progress is still progress. Feeling like I can’t work does not necessarily equal actually nor being able to work.*

So there we go. I still need to work on actually getting out of bed at 5:30. So that’s one goal.

And there’s going to be a big change in the work I’m doing. Edits on Pen Name Book Three came back from my wonderful editor on Saturday, which means I’m going to be dividing my work hours this week. Drafting before the boys get up, editing after they go to school, and getting cover art going… some time. One day, two projects. I’m generally not great at switching gears, but it’s the only way to get both done. And who knows? Maybe having less time to work on each will force me to use my time more efficiently.

There’s only one way to find out.

 


*Self-care note: I do not make myself work if I’m really sick. If I’ve got a migraine that’s bad enough that I can’t string a sentence together (or that will be aggravated by looking at the computer screen for too long), if my mind or body really need me to rest and recover, I don’t push it. I’m not interested in burning out. The lesson here is that “I was sick last night and still feel kinda crappy today” isn’t a good reason to call in sick. I might just need to go easy on myself, instead.


Productivity Experiment Week 2 Baseline Results

Yeeeeeah.

Welp.

It was a week. That is a thing I can say about it.

I mean, it wasn’t all a bad week. It was a pretty reasonable baseline measurement week, actually. Between Monday and Friday I only managed to work 12 hours (mostly writing hours), but I added 12,829 words to my manuscript.

Not as many as I want to be adding per week. Not as many as some people add per day. But that’s not the point. Progress is progress, and I did my best every day.

I averaged about 3 hours’ work on days I was working… which did not include Thursday. Thursday was one of those days I mentioned needing to be prepared for. A migraine and back pain teamed up to leave me in a painkiller-and-brain-fog stupor, which in turn left me lying on the couch watching Roseanne all day.

I got the box set for Christmas. It is most excellent.

I watched more TV on that one day than I usually do in a week. I don’t feel bad about that. It’s not like I could work. So Thursday was a write-off.

And that’s kind of how things go. Sometimes my best is the 4780 words I wrote on Tuesday. Sometimes it’s trying not to feel guilty about taking a sick day.

So between that and my struggles with trying to get started on work in the morning (or like… any time), trying to fit yoga with my husband into our schedule, and having a regular school week to deal with, things were pretty normal around here. Score one for the baseline measurement!

And I got other stuff done. People got fed. No one was crushed under a pile of clutter or choked to death on litter box fumes. A kid had a friend over. I worked on a sample edit with a potential new editor and made last-minute plans to do a panel at Atlanti-Con. I helped with homework. I watched a movie. I waked my dog, and I found time to read. Stuff. Lots of stuff.

Judging by my notes from the past two weeks and my memory of how things worked last year, I’m calling this the baseline against which I’ll be measuring future results:

  • Work hours: 15
  • Words per writing hour average: 1200
  • Sleep: 8-8.5 hours per night
  • Energy: generally low, crash by 6:00 on weeknights

So what does wrapping the baseline weeks up mean?

It means that this week, I start the Godawful Early Schedule.

I’m more excited about it than that name implies. Yes, it’s going to be crazy hard to get up an hour earlier than I do now to fit in 90 minutes of work before I wake the kids up. I’m used to getting up early-ish, but I’m not exactly energetic or what you’d call mentally present in the morning. I may cry. I might not word good.

But if I can make it work?

If I can make it work, I could get a good chunk of my work for the day done before anyone has any reason to interrupt me. I could be alone with my work when I’ve just rolled out of dreams, before distractions have a chance to get to me. I could let ideas filter in the back of my mind while I get the kids up and out, and maybe have new ideas when I get back to writing. Or I could continue drafting in the morning and do edits later, using that natural schedule break to split my day and still finishing my work day by 12:30.

I could have afternoons free for napping so I won’t crash so hard at supper time, or to get a walk in to help me shift gears before home and family time. Maybe I’ll be able to enjoy my evenings instead of watching the clock to see if it’s bedtime yet.

That’d be cool.

We’ll see how it goes. My big plans might not pan out, but there’s always a chance.

(This Thursday’s post is going to take a look at the productivity tips and tricks that are already working for me, which will conclude this series of experiment intro posts. After that, I’ll post reviews of some productivity books, talk a bit about writing/being my own boss and productivity, and of course posting updates on the experiment. Let me know if you have questions/topics you’d like to see covered!

…Assuming I don’t fall down the stairs in a sleep-deprived stupor some early morning and find myself unable to post. It’s not unpossible.*)


 

*Unpossible is a perfectly cromulent word.


The Problem with Productivity

Remember when I said I’d like to see information on productivity for those of us whose lives don’t look like the typical career-oriented person? Well…

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I’ll admit it. Planning and productivity are kind of a hobby for me. I have a planning system that works for me, but I still have a hard time resisting the allure of a new paper planner that promises to guide me in using my time better. And reading about productivity, brain science, and psychology are as entertaining for me as a good novel. It’s fascinating, and it leaves me feeling like the world is full of nothing but potential for reaching my loftiest goals.

I’m very aware that planning does not necessarily equal follow-through. There’s a danger of spending a whole lot of time researching/planning and none actually doing the parts that require work and sacrifice. But all told, this little hobby has done great things for me.

But as I noted in my last post, I have trouble connecting with a lot of advice.

In my reading, I’ve noticed that the subjects held up as examples don’t tend to have lives that look like mine. They’re men (mostly) whose lives revolve around a cycle of work and restoration. Even when it’s acknowledged that they have kids, there’s little indication that it affects their schedules or flexibility in a major way. I often see few women, and fewer who are balancing work with primary responsibility for a home and family*. Fewer still who are also dealing with mental or physical health challenges that can stop productivity in its tracks or whose lives otherwise include factors outside of the standard work/life balance.

And that’s actually fine. We all like to read about the massive successes, the people who organize and use every hour for peak effectiveness. The people who win wars, make half a million dollars a quarter, write multiple bestsellers every year. Of course we do. It’s fascinating. Inspiring, even, and that’s a valid reason to study them. I’m absolutely not complaining that no one follows someone exactly like me around with a stopwatch and a fMRI machine to study her brain waves, and I know stories like “Gina needed two hours to settle down to work and then wrote 1000 words before the school called to say little Jimmy was puking in the coat closet” ain’t gonna make for a productivity bestseller.

But what does it look like when people with different obstacles (or just making different choices) try to follow their example? Our stories don’t show up on those pages, but they’re ones I’m interested in reading.

I have factors in my life that affect my potential productivity. I don’t consider them all negatives by any means. Quite frankly, my life rocks my socks most of the time, even if I get frustrated by the amount of work I’d like to do but can’t/don’t. Some of them are generally negative, but even then I can often see a bright side.

Things like working only during school hours because me being available when the kids are home makes things run more smoothly around here (and because I find it less stressful to not have the office door closed when everyone is home). Being the primary caregiver for kids and the person ultimately responsible for most aspects of running a household (which I know I’m privileged to be able to do, but I find all of it mentally exhausting). Migraines that can limit my productivity to some degree for two weeks out of every month. Limited physical and mental energy. Issues relating to the ADD** I’ve dealt with my whole life but was only recently diagnosed with.

There are other factors that affect my productivity, but you get the idea. I don’t look at these as excuses for not getting things done, but variables to play with as I work toward doing what I want with my life. I also have a lot of advantages. I’ve been a SAHM since our second child was born (full disclosure: this was because I’m not qualified to do any job that would cover the cost of daycare), and this offered me a bit of flexibility when I started my work as an author. I’m naturally inquisitive and can learn quickly if something really catches my interest. I’ve only got a high school education (plus one year of university), but it was a good one. I’ve got a fantastic doctor helping me out. My family supports me. I’m my own boss, which is both a positive (unlimited sick days!) and a negative (nobody cares if I don’t get my work done!). Everyone’s life is a unique mix of challenge and opportunity.

And this can make it hard to get on board with a lot of the suggestions in productivity books. Reading them can actually be a little disheartening. I don’t have the resources I’d need to hire a nanny*** even if I wanted to. I can’t take off for a sabbatical/reading week/focused writing retreat just because It’s Good For My Career. Napping in the middle of the day probably isn’t going to happen, and my other responsibilities aren’t going to get out of the way so I can work during my biological prime time (which starts about 30 minutes before school ends). I have a lot of trouble switching gears, especially once I get really focused on a task, so playing Tetris with my schedule and fitting work in 20 minute bursts around other responsibilities hasn’t worked for me so far.

But like I said, I’ve learned a lot from my interest in productivity. The key isn’t trying to follow exactly in anyone else’s footsteps, but taking a few steps back and asking how an idea might be changed, adapted, turned on its head, mangled, or shifted to look like something I can use.

My time is limited. My focus is often crap (and when I do get into a really focused state, my schedule often limits how long I can stay there). But in 2010 I started writing. In 2014 I published my first book. Since then I’ve published five more (ranging from 53,000 to 192,000 words) and am happy to say that writing is, for now, my job. That’s not a lot of books by many people’s standards, but for me it’s a dream come true. I run a business, and even if I don’t do a great job of it and generally feel like I’m falling behind and always seem to be playing catch-up, I’m making it work.

I’ve managed it by making other people’s ideas work for me, and I know there’s more I can do with that.

So I’m not going to sit here and moan about why I can’t use everything I’ve learned.

Pfft.

No. What I’m going to do is an experiment.

While I was reading Rest (see previous post), I decided that I was going to try some of the ideas presented there and in other books, but I was going to try to fit them into my life instead of demanding that my life get out of my way.

And that to keep me accountable for sticking to the changes I was experimenting with and for tracking the results, I was going to post about it here.

For the next two weeks I’ll be working my regular schedule from last year (and trying to get back into routine after an August that didn’t include many solid work days), and I’ll post about the rules I’ll be playing by during the experiment. Then we’ll get to the good stuff: trying a major schedule change or two, then playing with other ideas to see what clicks.

For now, here’s my goal:

To experiment with productivity hacks and lifestyle changes in order to find a DAILY and WEEKLY ROUTINE that allows me to reach my personal best focus and productivity without leaving me burned out or forcing me to neglect my health, home, family, or the time I need to rest and pursue other interests.

Obviously it’s not a perfect or typical productivity experiment. My goal isn’t to maximize work productivity and squeeze every drop of get-er-done out of every hour of the day. It’s not to find a way to work 50 or 90-hour weeks with kids at home, and it’s not to find a way to publish six books this year and hit a bestseller list while I’m at it (though those are all awesome goals if they make your personal motor run). It’s to figure out how to manage my attention and energy during my limited work hours to make the most of them, to stop wasting time, and to stop feeling guilty about the things I’m not doing during those hours.

…and to stop feeling guilty about not working more. There’s a lot of guilt. That needs to go, too.

My goals, my methods, and my results aren’t going to be a roadmap for anyone else to become more productive. Even if you also happen to be a writer with kids, we’ve all got different challenges, advantages, and ideas of what a good life looks like. My stumbling blocks might even look like someone else’s dream life, and I’ll seem like a jerk for not appreciating them. But I hope my posts will present an example of adapting ideas about productivity to fit a life that doesn’t necessarily look like the ones in the books I get those ideas from. Along the way I’ll share my thoughts and ideas I’ve picked up from the books I’m reading, topics related to my productivity quest, and insights I run into. And my results will be focused on real work, not on hours spent on this project. You’ll see my hours, my word counts, my plans, my successes, and my slip-ups.

If that sounds like something you’d like to follow along with, stick around. It might be interesting, and I hope it’s going to be a lot of fun.

(And if you have any ideas you’d like to suggest/questions about what I’m doing, or want to point me toward a resource you’ve found helpful, feel free to comment any time!)


 

*That’s not to say there aren’t books out there with a different perspective. I’m reading (and will review) I Know How She Does It by Laura Vanderkam, which looks at women with careers and kids. The focus is still on people who make $100,000+ per year and have things like daycare and nannies and business trips, but there are people out there looking at how parents are making things work for them, and that’s pretty cool.

**Yes, I know. It’s ADHD. I have a non-hyperactive subtype that’s common (and commonly undiagnosed) in women, and much of the reading I do about it refers to it simply as ADD. Doing so feels easier for me than clarifying the particulars of what I deal with, so that’s what I’m going with here.

***One of the books I’ve read on managing ADD (written for women) suggested hiring a babysitter so you could focus on getting the dishes done. Sounds swell, but again, not so practical for most of us.

 

 

 


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