Distraction (again) and Avoiding It

Well, I’m sure I could say I have a legitimate reason for being somewhat distracted, given this week’s news, but…

I really need to start closing the browsers more often. I mean, it’s not as if I get into an hours-long doomscroll…it’s more the serotonin rush of being plugged in, I think, added with a lack of focus. And I need to stop it. Again.

I mean, I know when distraction sets in, because it’s so reliably predictable. I could be scooting along at top speed on whatever I’m working on, and as soon as I slow down to grasp at a word or phrase that isn’t coming to me just yet, my brain says oh hey, let’s go on Twitter and see what’s going on! and next thing I know, it’s twenty minutes later. That’s been the top culprit for a while now.

[In a way, I’m glad it’s no longer my delaying any work at all by poring over my music library for a half hour, trying to decide what to listen to. I was terrible at that during the Belfry days.]

Whatever’s going on in the world really shouldn’t be a distraction, at least not unless it’s literally outside my window. It’s okay to be late to the party now and again. I didn’t even know about the events at the Capitol building until almost a full hour later because I’d closed everything to finish up some long-delayed revision work. It took me a bit of time to unreel myself from all that after lunchtime when I had more work to do, but I was able to do it eventually.

I seem to hit Heavily Distracted levels maybe every five days or so. I don’t know if it’s a brain thing an emotional one, but it’s something I have to deal with in one way or another. Sometimes it’s easy, closing those browsers, putting on an album, and immersing myself in work. Other times it’s not so easy, and those are when I don’t have a clear plan. Either way, I work through it somehow, eventually. Sometimes I’ll back away and do something off the PC, like a bit of art or music practice. Or maybe even a word search! [Those are surprisingly calming for me, I find.]

Anyway — life finds a way, as they say. I know I get distracted, and it’s up to me to find ways to avoid that when I can.

Numbers

I’ve always tried not to focus too much on hitting a specific word count, though it doesn’t always work out that way.

Back in my Belfry days, I’d assigned myself a daily word count of 500, if only to ensure that I wasn’t just turning on the computer, typing a paragraph, and spending the rest of the time playing FreeCell and faffing about with my music library. Once I got into the groove, however, the daily word count goal shifted to 1000. This was around the time I was writing The Persistence of Memories and I knew that with the schedule I had, I could hit it easily.

The downside to that run, which lasted until 2004 while writing The Balance of Light, was that hitting word count started becoming a sport. I’d been so excited by that incessant creative drive that I was pushing 1200 on a daily basis, even weekends. So when the Day Job was getting to me mentally and physically (not to mention a budding long-distance relationship that would soon change my life significantly), I was burning out. And that caused my productivity to suffer.

Nowadays I keep tabs on my word count, but I no longer see it as a sport. I see it more a series of small achievements, like the KonMari cleaning system: a little at a time adds up to quality work as a whole. I keep tabs on the numbers in a little calendar notebook, purely for reference and curiosity. Between the 750 Words site, revision work, and new words for new projects over the course of a day, it adds up. I could hit a few thousand pretty easily on any given day, but I rarely think about it.

For a while I used to take these numbers and crunch them on a spreadsheet, but I soon realized that the actual numbers didn’t interest me in that format. While it was interesting to see how productive I could get during various parts of the year, I’d also get frustrated because I knew I wouldn’t be able to hit the same numbers during a heavy fourth quarter. Besides, I’d completely forget to update the spreadsheet for months on end, so I figured…maybe recording metrics is not what’s needed here.

I just want to write, and enjoy the process. I love having a busy and extremely productive day, especially when I finish off a chapter or a major scene. Adding metrics to my productivity only causes me to think maybe I’m not doing enough. [The Former Day Job may also have something to do with that.] It’s not how my brain works, because numbers don’t mean all that much to me in that context. I’m more focused on schedules anyway. It’s why I have my whiteboard, why I have those ‘assignments’ I hit every day. It all adds up to the same productivity goal I want to hit.

I don’t focus on the solid numbers; I just focus on getting it done.

Starting off on a positive note

Wishes for 2021 courtesy of a sidewalk artist in our neighborhood.

I’ve been doing pretty good for the last few months, even despite the pandemic, the news, and everything else. I’ve learned to establish my own personal boundaries and stick to them, and know when to push myself when needed. It’s by no means a perfect setup, but it’s what works for me and keeps me sane.

I suppose I could post what my 2021 plans are here, but to be honest, I don’t have too many right now. At least none that I think are worth posting on Day One, at any rate; some of them can wait until I’m good and ready. What I do plan on doing in 2021 is to be more outwardly positive. It’s still far too easy for me to let the latest news affect me, still too easy for me to fall into cynicism. If it tires me to hear myself go on about it, I imagine it would annoy the hell out of everyone else even more.

I didn’t make any major updates on the whiteboard schedule, instead keeping with the one I’d created when I started writing again some months ago. It still works well for me, so there’s no need to change it up just yet:

Sunday: blog post for Dreamwidth, music practice
Monday: 750 Words, art practice, blog post for Welcome to Bridgetown
Tuesday: 750 Words, art practice, blog post for Walk in Silence
Wednesday: 750 Words, art practice, music practice
Thursday: 750 Words, art practice, Walk in Silence
Friday: 750 Words, art practice, Welcome to Bridgetown
Saturday: poetry, music practice

Right now the “music practice” and “art practice” consist of mere basics: guitar and bass noodling, and simple storyboarding for my novels. At this point it’s more about consistency and getting used to the processes again, and not worrying too much about perfection. I’ve ignored those two for far too long, so it’s time for me to pick them up again.

As for the 750, I don’t have any specific projects I’m working on with them, so instead I’m using it to get back into the habit of ‘writing for fun’. It’s been a while since I opened up that site to just write microfiction or expand on vague ideas, none of which happen to relate to any major project I might be working on. Besides, I sometimes come up with neat ideas for future projects that way!

Anyway…it’s a new year, I’m starting off on a positive note, and I plan on keeping it that way as much as I can.

A year of difference

A strange year needs a strange anime gif. Source: Nichijou.

It’s definitely been an interesting year for most people. As mentioned over at Walk in Silence, I started 2020 off in a terrible mood, primarily due to the (now Former) Day Job situation. It had taken a lot out of me since returning to the office in November 2019: I was suddenly stripped of most of the quality time I normally used for writing, I was wasting at least two-plus hours on the road a day (not to mention roughly $70 a week on gas and tolls), and to top it all off, the “We’re All a Big Happy Family” Return Plan had actually been more of an “Extremely Poorly Thought Out (If at All) But We Still Have to Hit This Tight Deadline and Be Active On Day One Or Upper Management Will Be Pissed And Oh By the Way Your Desk Is WAY Over In the Middle of F*cking Nowhere and Far Away from the Rest of Your Team and It’s Not Set Up at All and What’s That Noise Oh Yes It’s the Building’s HVAC Fans Right at Your Feet” Plan. It was a complete shitshow and I’d lost almost all faith in the company at that point. By the start of 2020 I was saying hell with it, applying for jobs on my phone, and using the 750 Words site for my writing at work because I just didn’t give a shit anymore.

And then of course, the pandemic happened, and (Former) Day Job couldn’t even handle that right. I gave my two weeks, just as the city, state and country started hunkering down for who knew what. I mean, I’d been wanting to take some mental time off from the job for a few years now (let’s be real, the four weeks of vacation a year really wasn’t cutting it at this point), but I hadn’t expected to have that handed to me like this.

Still. I spent three months not writing. I stopped blogging, journaling, and I closed down the second (paid) 750 Words account. I did some spot-cleaning of Diwa & Kaffi, but that was about it.

I knew I still needed that mental leave of absence, so instead of keeping busy, I decided, let’s not continue the daily stress of having the weight of it all on me if I didn’t need to carry it anymore. I continued to send out the occasional job applications and do a lot of household errands. We went for walks around the neighborhood. We followed the right emergency health guidelines (as did both of our families, thankfully). I knew I was lucky and privileged to be able to pull that off, so I spent that time the best I could. I did a lot of extremely overdue mental, emotional and creative housecleaning.

I picked up the writing again some months later, restarting the 750, the blogs, poetry, artwork, and the journaling. It felt right to do it then, now that my mind and heart were a lot clearer. I started toying around with some story ideas I’d come up with during those final (Former) Day Job days. I found I could focus on my creativity at the levels I wanted and needed to have them at. And I started rethinking about what I’d do for the next Day Job.

So yeah. On the one hand, I could easily say that 2020 was an utter failure because of such low word counts, lack of productivity and not consistently releasing one self-published book a year like I had for the last five years.

But on the other hand, I’d done so much more that was just as important, if not more so: I let myself have a clear mind and a calm heart again. I’d say I still came out on top, which is all I could ask for.

I have some interesting plans for 2021, and I’m looking forward to making them a reality!

Updates and whatnot

First on the docket: FREE BOOKS!

Yes, it’s that time of year again, and all five of my ebooks are available for free until the first of January over at Smashwords! Here are the links:

In My Blue World
Meet the Lidwells! A Rock n’ Roll Family Memoir
The Mendaihu Universe Book 1: A Division of Souls
The Mendaihu Universe Book 2: The Persistence of Memories
The Mendaihu Universe Book 3: The Balance of Light

All five books are available in multiple formats, so you can read on any PC, laptop, or ereader! Because I like looking out for y’all.

*

Second of all: chances are I might not have too much to ramble on about in the next few weeks as I’m most likely going to just keep busy offline with my other projects as well as celebrating the holidays, so if you don’t see any posts in the next few Monday/Friday go-rounds, that’s the reason. It’s not that I’m busy, it’s that I’m enjoying not being busy!

*

I’m happy to say that late last night I came up with an idea that could significantly improve the opening of MU4, which I’ve been struggling with the last few weeks. As usual, it revolves around my penchant for starting the story at the wrong time! Of course, I’d already logged off, and had even turned off the bedside light to go to sleep when it came to me, but thankfully I was able to remember it this morning, so that will be part of today’s work. Yay for breaking through a block!

*

I’m still plowing through my music bios and it looks like I’m down to maybe 15 unread books at this point, which blows my mind. I never thought I’d be that caught up! Speaking of reading, I’ve done a factory reset of my e-reader (somehow the keyboard had stopped working) which wiped a number of apps that I’d had on there that I probably didn’t need and never used, but on the plus side, I’ve filled it up with a number of cheap or free e-books that I plan on hitting next year. My average books-per-year has hovered around 70 or so and I’d like to up that. (Why so low? Primarily because over the last few years I’ve been spending a considerable amount of reading-in-bed time doing project revision, and that can take up to a few weeks at a time. I currently do not have any projects at that level at this point.) I can zip through a good-sized book in a few days so for next year’s GoodReads challenge I think I’ll set it at 100 and see how far I get.

*

Speaking of reading, what was my favorite books I read this year? Good question. I’ll need to refer to my GoodReads list and get back to you on that. That could be a good post in itself!

*

…and that’s all I have for now. Hope everyone has a lovely Christmas holiday!

Wintertime

Back in the early 00s, I made it a point to head down to my basement writing nook to get my words done, whatever the weather. I would do this even in the dead of winter, bundled up in layers and a small space heater pointed directly under the desk at my feet. Nothing could stop me from getting my daily thousand words done!

Okay, maybe there were a few days when it was just too cold to stay down there. Those were the days when I’d use the family computer upstairs tucked away in the kitchen pantry. It was a bit uncomfortable as the only chair there was a stool and I slouch terribly when I sit, and I wasn’t always as productive, but at least I was warmer.

Nowadays I’m here in Spare Oom, and it’s one of the coolest rooms in the house at any time of year. The one window faces north so it never gets direct sun, and if there’s any breeze coming off the bay, it hits me first. This is fine during the summer, but in the winter my fingers can get a bit numb. Right now it’s 49 F, I’ve got the floor radiator on, and I’m wearing my house sneakers and the sweater A knitted for me. I’m about to head into the kitchen to make a other pot of coffee in hopes that it’ll help me warm up.

Sure, I’m lucky, considering we don’t get snow, nor does it drop below 40 degrees. No unplowed roads and crappy visibility. (Imagine if it did snow here…this city would be the king of cars-sliding-sideways-down-hilly-streets-and-crashing-into-each-other videos.) I definitely don’t miss any of that at all. We just get a biting chill that we feel in our bones because of the winds coming straight from the Pacific Ocean. One unexpected plus to wearing a pandemic mask outside is that it doubles as a muffler during days like this!

Still, it’s nice to be in a warm room, bashing away at the PC as I try to make those daily words.

Slow Going

Source: Makoto Shinkai

Some days it feels like I’m going in the right direction…but still I’m waiting for the train to actually leave the station. It’s not really a sense of impatience, more like a deliberate slow start to get up to speed. I know I’ll get there eventually, I just want to do it right and with minimal failure or distraction.

I’m pretty sure that part of this comes in response to how I lived for most of the 90s: no idea where I was going, jumping on any bandwagon that sounded cool, throwing everything at the wall to see if it sticks. I made a lot of mistakes. Some easily fixable, but a lot of remorse and embarrassment as well. I knew I was doing it wrong but had no other way, no other frame of reference to learn from. By the end of the decade I’d learned some, but there was still a long way to go.

Here at the end of 2020, I’m starting off what I’d like to think is a new wave of writing. The way I look at my own works has changed considerably; there’s a bit more clarity and a lot more patience and control. I’m deliberately not running headlong into these new projects without a plan or even a solid plot. If this means I take a day not writing, so be it. I know that I’m not avoiding the project, I’m merely not clearcutting my way into a destructive mess. I can pick it up in the next day or so. Five hundred words, even two hundred, is better than trying to force a thousand when they’re not there in the first place.

Lately I’ve been feeling as though I’m at a crucial point in my creative and personal lives; that point where the next steps are going to be a whole new world. Am I afraid of that? Maybe so. I kinda sorta know what I’m doing? I think? But that’s okay; the more important thing here is that I trust myself. I trust myself to move forward, knowing what I’m doing and where I’m going. That helps me overcome those fears. And soon those fears will lessen and not be so overwhelming.

It’s slow going, but it’s going.

Exercising

Source: Nichijou

Thanksgiving is over, the tryptophan/carb coma has worn off, and we have finally finished up all the turkey in the house. It’s also getting colder, which means that, since I am an Old, they are starting to ache. Which means it’s time for me to start moving again. We made sure to get some good neighborhood walking in over the extended weekend, so I’m not worried about being a lazy butt…it’s more that I don’t want to fall into the classic trap of ‘there, I walked a mile, happy now? *becomes a slug for the next three weeks*’ we all fall into around this time of year. I’ve been putting off the daily exercises and stretches I’d been doing in the past (sometimes for legit reasons, but mostly because of laziness, alas), so starting today I want to get back into that again. I’ve never been one for spending hours dedicated to high-level pro-athlete weights and exercises, but I do really miss hitting the gym and getting a good thirty minutes on the treadmill as I listen to tunage and think about new story ideas. Since the YMCA is currently closed, we’re making do by walking the streets of our neighborhood. [Our current fun thing to do is count how many doggos we meet on our walk. Current record is 35!] I need to get back into the habit of taking a few minutes during the day to do a few stretches, crunches and extensions, however.

This also means it’s time for me to get back on my writing schedule. Last week was kind of a washout due to multiple errands and shopping to take care of, but I kind of expected that to happen. I don’t feel too guilty about that. The whiteboard schedule is staring me in the face as I type this, expecting me to make good on my daily assignments. These are writing exercises and projects that I’ve broken down into easily manageable segments (see my recent posts about focusing smaller), so it’s not as if they’ll take up a considerable amount of time out of my day.

Interestingly, I’ve kept my break schedule that I used to have at the Former Day Job, and that seems to give all of this some structure. My morning break was at 9:30am, and currently I’ll still use that time to back away from the PC and write in my personal journal. Noontime is still for lunch so A and I can chat, catch up on our Twitter feeds, and do whatever non-work things that need doing. I use my 2:30pm break for stretches, going downstairs to get the mail, or zipping up the street for any quick errands at the corner shop. And the both of us will clock out at 4pm to take our afternoon walk around the neighborhood. All that time in between, in roughly two hour blocks, is perfect for me to hit things like these posts, daily words, and so on.

I’ll admit that getting myself motivated is sometimes an issue — I mean, who hasn’t been distracted to some level during these political and pandemic seasons? — but once I get myself started, I can usually keep the momentum going until the end of the day. I still get that thrill of finishing a writing assignment like finishing off a chapter or a scene, leaving me one step closer to my goals.

As long as I keep moving!

More on focusing smaller

Yet another gif courtesy of Makoto Shinkai

It’s been a week since my previous post about focusing smaller when it comes to writing, and so far this process seems to be working well for me. Every time I started overthinking the idea I’d been working on that particular day, I stopped myself with the reminder: patience, you’ll get there. The biggest problem I’d been having with Theadia and MU4 over the last few months wasn’t that I was writing crap, it was that I was too eager to get to the goal. And the worst thing I can do is write impatiently.

Some people can write novels out of order. I’ve done it myself a few times…for instance, some of the scenes from Meet the Lidwells were written well in advance as practice sessions at 750Words. And that’s just fine! I’ve been doing precisely that with Theadia lately, just to get the words out and get my brain in the proper mindset for that story. But in the bigger picture, I tend and prefer to write chronologically. I’m a big fan of keeping the Big Story Arc clear in my head so I’m better able to pull all the smaller arcs and characters in the right directions. Thing is, sometimes I let the Big Story Arc thoughts take over, and that’s not good for my writing process.

So what I’ve been doing all this week is focusing on one scene in each project. (As it happens, it’s the opening scene in MU4 and a mid-book scene in Theadia. Perfect example of my occasionally writing out of order.) The main purpose for these exercises was not to convince myself that I was FINALLY working on a new project… it was just to get the creative juices flowing, that’s all.

What’s helping me refocus? Music, of course! Just like the trilogy mixtapes, I’ve been throwing together some interesting mixes for both of the new projects. Theadia‘s mixes have been especially interesting as I’m going out of my way to pick songs I wouldn’t normally choose for this kind of thing. MU4‘s mixes have been similar to the early Eden Cycle mixes of ’97-’98, collecting songs from different genres that evoke a particular mood. I suppose in a way I’m revisiting my old Miami Vice soundtrack style of writing. Hey, whatever works, right?

Another way I’ve been training myself to achieve this new focus is actually a fun project that takes no more than maybe a half hour a day but it’s like a treat for me: storyboarding Diwa & Kaffi! I do one page of six squares a day, just rough visualization sketches in pencil. It’s doing two things for me: One, it’s super fun and something I’ve always wanted to do with my novels, and Two, the daily exercise is helping me get better.

And that, really, is the whole point of this exercise in narrowing focus: getting better.

On Focusing Smaller

Source: Paprika (Satoshi Kon)

I’ve often said that I tend to be a pantser rather than an outliner, but that isn’t entirely true. I’ve done complete outlines before. For example, the outline for Meet the Lidwells! was more or less complete because it was focused on the band’s discography.

On the other hand, I have a few complete outlines for books that I’ve backburnered or trunked. For years I thought the reason for the story’s failure was because I was too hyper-focused on it and gave myself far too many rules and limitations. I’d lose interest because I was trying too hard to make this rigid plan work, even when I constantly told myself it was never set in stone.

A few days ago I was reading someone’s Twitter feed and they happened to mention how, with some creatives with ADHD, they sometimes lose interest in a big project once their brain has solved the problem. That is, they’ve run the whole idea through their head and completed the plot before any work has even been done, leaving the person unable to maintain interest in the creative part of the work.

Suddenly it made sense to me: why do I still feel the pull of some of these backburnered and trunked projects but can never get far with them? Why am I having issues getting anywhere with Theadia and the fourth Mendaihu Universe novel? For years I thought it was because it just wasn’t resonating with me. But why wasn’t it? Disinterest and personal issues don’t seem to be the complete answer, because I’ve felt that with far too many of my completed projects at one point or another.

I had to put it in perspective. Again, with the Bridgetown Trilogy: why did I have almost no problems with that (not including the end of Book 3)? Easy: it was because the bulk of those books — and In My Blue World, Diwa & Kaffi and Lidwells — were written with me only focusing ahead maybe one or two scenes at most. I wrote most of that by sketching out a few ideas during the day job and expanding on those when I got home. [I’ve talked about this process plenty of times, of course.]

There was a reason I kept wanting to get back to that particular process, and for years I misunderstood that yearning as reminiscence and a longing for how enjoyable that process was.

But once I saw those tweets the other day, it occurred to me that maybe there’s more to it than that. Maybe my brain really is telling me that this particular process worked for me, and worked well at that, and maybe it’s time to return to it. I was looking at it wrong; I needed to understand this longing in a clinical sense. I can have a long-term goal with my writing — knowing the direction and final destination of the story — but I have to maintain a much sharper and smaller focus on the scenes in front of me at almost all times.

The reason for that is because when I work out all the moving parts of the entire story and plan it all out ahead of time, I lose interest in it. I’ve already done the brain work and now I’m bored with it. The fact that I keep thinking about these projects, especially when I read older blog posts, notes and outtakes, is because it’s not the story that bores me, but my brain reacting to the idea of the work it involves.

This, by the way, is most likely why my academic years were so damn scattershot.

SO. What this means is that I’ve started adjusting accordingly. My daily words are now focusing on writing short outtakes again. My plans for Theadia, MU4 and other projects are to work on them a little at a time, chapter by chapter, scene by scene. Referring to those outlines only as a road map, and only when needed.

I’m very curious to see where this will take me.