This time last year

Source: Makoto Shinkai’s ‘The Place Promised in Our Early Days’

This time last year, I’d left the (Former) Day Job after what…thirteen or so years?…and took some time off to get my head together. I’ve been thinking about just how frustrated and angry I’d been then, and for how long. The job had effectively cleaved my writing time (and personal time) to almost nil. By the start of 2020 I was barely writing anything worth talking about. I’d fleshed out some story ideas here and there, but I’d barely written any new words at all.

After that time off, I started from the beginning again. I asked myself several questions.

What made me want to write? What stories did I want to tell? What was my writing style? What did I no longer want to write about? Did I really need and want to write what I was currently working on?

And then I just…started writing again. Learning from the beginning again.

It took a few false starts, but I got there eventually. I was aware of my processes now; I knew when something wasn’t working, when something needed more work, when something resonated with me so much that I knew I could see this project to the end. I compared it to other moments in the past: instead of thinking if only I could write like this again, I was thinking this is just like that previous project I enjoyed so much. And I just kept at it.

It’s been a year, and right now I have a full stove with things on many burners: a submission-ready revision of Diwa & Kaffi, the fourth Mendaihu Universe story, a new project based on the work I’d done in those final Day Job Days, and a few possibilities I’m yet to start work on. I’m still working for a replacement Day Job — preferably one in the city that doesn’t maliciously carve away at my cherished writing time — and I’m actively getting in better shape. I’ve been extremely busy, but in a good way. A way that challenges me the way I love to be challenged.

Writing/Life Balance

Sometimes I have to remind myself that I probably shouldn’t be here in Spare Oom and staring at this screen all day long. Most days I’m good with this; I’ll do some local errands or take the day off to go shopping somewhere. Other days I’ll just sit here and crank out the words all day long (and almost forgetting to get up and stretch). I’ll get frustrated when I take days off from writing, of course, because no one else is going to tell these particular stories and I’d rather not waste more time keeping them hidden.

The balance, I suppose, is allowing myself to get up leave the PC for a length of time. I don’t have to get these words out specifically before noon, yeah? I mean, it’s a good deadline but it’s not set in stone. Today I spent most of the morning doing some non-writing work and then doing our taxes. I’ll give myself a pass in this instance, considering one of them is time-sensitive. That’s why this post is late. Later this week A will have a few days off, which we’ll be spending at the zoo and at one of the local museums. My Writer Brain of course is twitchy because it’s time spent away from the PC, but Reality Brain is already calming WB down (You can always write AFTER we come home, you know.), so I’m not overly concerned.

I’ll get there eventually. It all balances out, really. I have slow days as well as extremely productive days. And if that’s true, I can also have PC days and I can have Real Life Outside days too, yeah?

Adventures in Time Blocking

Image courtesy of ‘Your Name’

Sometimes it’s not the lack of productivity that dogs me…it’s the forgetting to work on something that day.

I’ve found over the years that I work best when my day has a bit of a schedule to it. Nothing immovable and set in stone, mind you…just a bit of repetition of a daily habit that gets me up and running. For instance, I’ll have a day where I want to write a blog entry, work on Writing Projects A and B, do some daily exercise, and follow up on a few non-writing errands. And for the most part, I’ll hit every single one with time to spare.

Some days, however, they turn into Best Laid Plans that go awry. Part of it is due to distraction, but it’s also due to that old classic excuse, Out of Sight, Out of Mind. For example, as much as I’ve been wanting to make sure I stretch and exercise more often, that’s usually the first thing to fall by the wayside, usually because I just don’t think about it until it’s too late. And sometimes it’s not enough to have a list of to-do items on the whiteboard calendar, because sometimes I’m too busy working on something else that I completely forget to look at the thing until late in the day. [It’s in my peripheral vision while I look at this screen, it just ends up as visual static that I don’t always pay attention to.]

So what to do…?

I realized it was time for me to try something I’d attempted in the past: time blocking. I know this is something some office workers do; setting up a full schedule of Things One Must Do Today. It’s mostly so that they won’t overfocus on one specific task to the detriment of every other task due that day. I did it during my school years to some degree, and I did it for almost the entirety of my Belfry years. A scheduled habit turns into productivity for me.

I say this because I’ve created one this past week that’s been working quite well; I literally drew up a spreadsheet of times and tasks: 7am check emails and read morning comics, 8am catch up with small projects and job searches, 9:30am write in personal journal (a leftover from my Former Day Job days), 10am morning stretches…and so on. I printed it out and have it hanging on my clipboard next to my screen. I started this with the idea that this isn’t a rigid schedule and is one that can be changed up if necessary. As long as I hit every task within the half hour, is the main goal.

The end result this past week has been a consistent word count for both projects, blogs going out on time, and most importantly, I’ve been exercising and stretching twice a day again! I’ve missed maybe one or two items along the way, but I’m not beating myself up about it because I know sometimes that’ll happen. I may have to go out and do some errands in the neighborhood, or I might want to finish up something important and time sensitive.

The point isn’t to give every single item a checkmark on a daily basis…the point is to give myself a bit of stability and direction, that’s all. And that’s all I really need right now.

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.

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!

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.

Back to life, back to reality

Okay, I’ve goofed off enough. Vacation’s over. Time to get back to work. Well, it wasn’t exactly goofing off, but the point remains that I have things I need to do! Revision! New words! New novels! Blog posts! Artwork! Music practice! Errands! Plant watering! Etc!

Fine, maybe not all of them at once. One at a time, one after the other, is just fine. Put on some music, open up those documents, and close those social media browser tabs. Let’s get crackin’.

Plus, there’s only three weeks left of this crazy year, and I should probably think about my year-end playlists, retrospectives and 2021 plans. This past year may have been intensely weird, stressful and occasionally frightening, but it’s also been eye-opening, revealing and uplifting as well. Never a dull moment, at least.

In the next couple of weeks, I’ll be posting a few of those things: my favorite songs and albums of the year, my end of year mixtape, future plans. Working on where I am and where I’m going. In the new year, I’ll be working on getting Diwa & Kaffi out into the world one way or another. I’ll be working on new projects and finishing old ones. Getting better at my other creative outlets. Starting a new career. And maybe even changing up my lifestyle a bit.

Yeah, I know, time is relative and why wait until New Year’s Day to start a new life when I could just start it now? But one thing I’ve learned this year is that assigning dates and schedules to the things in my life actually serve to help me, not hinder me. It puts my life and my thoughts and emotions in order, and it keeps a clear path ahead. Works fine for me.

Besides, I like a bit of denouement at the end of the year, where the past gets a bit of well-paced closure once and for all.

End of year vacation

As A had scheduled a year-end week’s vacation this week, we’ve been spending the time walking all over the place while the weather is still nice. (It’s raining today, so our walk consisted of a quick jaunt to the local post office to mail out one last Christmas package and then a short circuit around a few neighborhood blocks.)

Wednesday’s was a wonderful, if windy, jaunt of almost five miles from the Presidio marching grounds to Crissy Field and up towards the Golden Gate Bridge. There we saw All The Doggos, many birds, and even a few surfers! I’m quite happy with how the above picture came out. We live in a ridiculously photogenic city. I managed to get quite a few lovely pictures from various places this week!

So. Did I actually get any writing done? Or revision, or art for that matter? Well, I did pick up my guitar to noodle around on it for a few moments here and there, but other than that, I really didn’t get much done at all. And I’m okay with that. I thought it would be fun to just spend the week doing some last minute shopping, watching multiple Jane Austen films, and getting our exercise in. Writing this entry is the most I’ve worked on this week. Which means that starting Monday, she’ll be back at work and I’ll be back to my writing projects, year-end lists and all that fun stuff.

See you next week!