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.

Sometime to Return

I ran away I walked a fine line
Wasting time only to find
You were callin’ I think finally
To remind me I am fine

Whoof. It’s been HOW LONG since I posted here? At least a couple of months. What the hell have I been doing all this time? A bit of this, a bit of that. Going at my own pace for once. Figuring a lot of personal shit out. Cleaning out the attic and the cupboards and rewiring the circuits, so to speak. I haven’t been nearly as productive as I’d like, but I have to remind myself I’d taken this hiatus precisely to break myself out of that mindset.

And now I’m back. Hell, I’ve even built up my whiteboard schedule again! It was a much-needed vacation, but now I need to get back to work. I’ve only got the barest of plans (which to be honest is kind of par for the course for me anyway), but I have the drive and the goals again. And that’s enough for now. That’s all that’s needed.

I don’t know what I’ll be working on next, other than doing the non-creative parts of Getting a Novel Out Into the World for Diwa & Kaffi, but as soon as I know, you’ll most likely be hearing about it here. In the meantime, I’m returning to the blogosphere with both Welcome to Bridgetown and Walk in Silence — same schedules for both — and I’m really looking forward to it all.

Doing the best I can
With or without a plan, I’m taking what I can get
I haven’t seen nothing yet
If one day you wake up and find what you make up
Come and get me, come and take me there

Tabula Rasa

Courtesy of The Girl Who Leapt Through Time by Mamoru Hosada

[Previously posted on my Dreamwidth account a few days ago, sharing it here with minor edits.]

I feel like my writing process is in transition again. Maybe it’s because I’m pretty much running on 90% Editor Brain at the moment, focusing on the Diwa and Kaffi rewrite. [It could also be that the Spring Cleaning bug bit me pretty damn hard this year.] Usually when this happens, I’ll still have a serious itch to get some new writing done on the side, even if it’s just exercise. But lately that itch is nowhere to be seen. Not entirely unsettling, as I’ve had this happen before, and I’m not worried that my Writing Chops have deserted me…just that it feels weird to feel this and not worry about it.

I think one of the shifts in the process might be that I feel like I’ve done enough of scheduling. Now, scheduling is never a bad thing, especially for someone like me who doesn’t always remember when an event is coming up (or a vacation, for that matter), but that’s what my regular monthly calendar is for. I’m talking about what I call strict-scheduling — assigning myself a specific time or a certain project for a particular date, for instance. This is what my whiteboard calendar has been for. It’s something I’ve been depending on for quite a few years now, and I put it there to ensure that I’m working every day.

Now, I’m not so sure I need it anymore. I needed it in the past when I was having trouble getting myself back on track after a long dry spell. I needed it when I was updating my blogs. I needed it as a reminder for specific projects. It was something I’d been using for years to inspire me to get working.

I think I’ve gotten past the needing it at this point. It’s served its purpose quite some time ago and now it’s feeling like a bit of a hindrance. It’s no longer inspiring and feels more like a dreaded homework assignment and drained all the fun out of it.  So I’ve gone and cleared it — wiped all the scheduled items on there. It’s a normal calendar now. If I’m going to use it, I think I’ll use it for reminding myself of long-term deadlines and convention reminders.

Will I come back to use it again? Most likely, but I’m not going to worry about it.

As long as I remember to keep working, that’s all that really matters.

Wait, it’s April already?

nichijou calendar
What the year feels like sometimes.  Source: Nichijou, of course.

I think I’ve trained myself to the point where I’m not looking at a calendar and going ‘Wait, it’s April already?  I haven’t done jack!  MY LIFE SUCKS’ anymore.  Well, not as often, anyway.  Right now I just look at every new month as a way to start off fresh with my whiteboard schedule and see how far I can go with it.  I don’t even feel bad when I miss a day for whatever reason (even if that reason is ‘laziness’).  I just do what I can in thirty-odd day increments.

Typing this made me think of something I’d said during a panel at FogCon a few weeks ago, when someone had asked about the ability to get anything done when one already has a full schedule.  I’d told them about my whiteboard calendar, telling them that it’s not a matter of getting everything completed in one go; it was a matter of doing doing a little bit at a time, and that would add up.  Don’t aim for the finish line every single time…sometimes all you need to do is aim for the end of the chapter, or maybe even a few hundred words.  It does indeed add up by the end of it.  That’s how I was able to write 80k words for Meet the Lidwells in such a short amount of time.

I will fall back into the occasional ‘I’m not even close to getting any shit done’ stress-out, of course.  I’ve been fighting it a lot lately, what with my multiple attempts at trying to write/rewrite/restart the Apartment Complex story.  It’s partly why I’m trying out a rough draft of In My Blue World using 750Words; I’m tricking my brain into thinking that I’m being twice as productive instead of spending all that time freaking out over a single project.  [I’m actually kind of surprised it’s working, to be honest.]

So yeah, I’m not too worried that it’s April already.  In fact, I’ve embraced it — it’s getting warmer here in the Bay Area to the point where I have the window open in Spare Oom to let some fresh air in.  It’s also given me the impetus to get my writing work done early so I can get back into the habit of going to the gym after the Day Job!

It’s just a matter of taking it a bit at a time, apparently.  Or in this case, a month at a time.

Day One, 2018

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The Spare Oom Whiteboard, 2018 Edition

As expected, I’ve spent the morning switching things over.   Calendars to put up (Hokusai prints), whiteboard schedule to lay out (see above), plans to put into motion (ditto).  I said I was going to have a busy 2018, and I wasn’t planning on spending Day One being a lazy ass.  Wouldn’t make a good precedent.

There’s not too much different on the whiteboard, as you can see.  The blog update schedule will remain as is.  I decided to put the Dreamwidth blog (DW) up there on Sundays and Wednesdays, as I consider that my personal (non-writing or music) site and I really should be a bit more social there.  It’s also time to reinstate the daily words (750) to get me back up to creative speed.  Lastly, I reinstated the Art, Poetry and Music beats to the schedule, more as a ‘get back into the habit’ than an assignment prompt or deadline.  The only two things I don’t have listed are my personal longhand journal — which I always write during my morning break on weekdays anyway — and whatever Main Project(s) I happen to be working on, which don’t need reminding.

[Out of shot to the left, which you may have seen from my Christmas picture, is the clipboard that has a more detailed, long-term To-Do list that I will be working on over the course of the year.  And yes, it takes up a few pages.]

I’ve also decided this morning that I’m going to change up my morning routine as well.  I’m not entirely sure what this will entail, but we’ll see where it goes.  My normal routine at present isn’t anything I have to do right then — email, Twitter, webcomics, usually in that order — and it’s not as if I’m really wasting time, but I’m curious to see if I can utilize that time better with other things.  Maybe a bit of longhand work?  Or stretches/exercise?  This is less about me being economical with my time and more about mixing it up to keep from getting bored or stuck in a rut.  This sort of thing tends to change every couple of years for me, and it’s about that time now.

This isn’t to say 2018 is going to be All Creativity All the Time.  I’ll take nights off to watch movies and anime with A.  I want to expand my reading list, and maybe check out more audio books and podcasts.  I’d really like to get back into shape so a few days a week at the Y will do me good, as will cutting down on snacks and junk food.  And just getting out more, being more social, getting some air and sun.  I spent a lot of 2017 in self-imposed hiding for one reason or another, and I’d like to change that.

Bring it on, 2018.  I’m ready to go!

Creating a Writing Regimen

exercise panda

Now that I have a new project to work on, I’ve been thinking seriously about revisiting and revising my writing habits.  I’ve already talked about my writing regimen during the Belfry years, which was probably the most solid and consistent I’d ever had.  [The Arkham West years, not so much.  I spent most of those years just trying to adjust to married life and living on the opposite coast.]  The Spare Oom years have been stable and evolving at a stable rate.

But I just feel that I’m not doing enough.

This is my current weekday schedule:
Eat breakfast, catch up on webcomics
Focus on Day Job stuff during Day Job hours (sneaking in a blog post or Daily Words if time permits during slow time)
Longhand personal journal entry during first break
Catching up on social media or writing magazines during lunch
Breather during second break
Dinner and maybe an episode of whatever A. happens to be streaming that night
An hour or so working in Spare Oom at the end of the night
Getting into bed and reading until lights-out

Weekends include e-mail catch-up, chatting with family on the phone, shopping and errands, outside activities, blog writing, and so on.  End the day continuing work on whatever project I’m focusing on.

Mundane stuff, yeah, but I can’t help but think that I’m really not doing my best at time management here.

BUT!  Since I no longer have a Giant Book Project weighing me down, I realize it’s time for me to give that all a rethink.  It’s too scattered, too disjointed.  I find myself wasting time when I shouldn’t be.  Sure, maybe I’m already using these few hours whenever I can, and just like every other writer, I feel it isn’t enough.  The question becomes: how to get the maximum work out of a limited time frame?

Or perhaps that’s the wrong question.  Besides, that way lies madness.  I’ll never have enough time, even if I decide to drop every other minor exercise to make it happen.

No, the better question is:  how do I organize my time better?

Well, the problem is that I’m dithering.  I’m in the very early stages of Meet the Lidwells! and I’m chomping at the bit to get writin’.  I’m trying a new approach this time: preplanning by way of index cards and an outline instead of making it up as I go along.  [Noted: the reason I’m doing this is that the trilogy project took so damn long and needed so much clean-up afterwards that I figured being more organized might save me a hell of a lot of time.]  All this precision is driving me batty, because I’m so used to being a pantser writer.  I still have this excess energy with nowhere to put it, so it ends up getting wasted on skimming social media or futzing around with my music collection.

And to be honest, I had the same problem in the Belfry years.  I’ve talked about my time wasted playing multiple rounds of FreeCell (or worse, wasting twenty minutes pondering over my cd collection trying to decide what I was going to listen to that night).  And I definitely had the same problem during the Arkham West years.

So what do I do?

Well, the best thing for me to do is to expand on that daily assignment regimen.

One of the steps I take is following my whiteboard schedule.  As you may have noticed, I’ve been reasonably consistent with my blog schedule here and at Walk in Silence.  I’ve also been good at writing the personal journal five days a week during Day Job hours.  I can expand on that, then.  I’ve already given myself a deadline of getting the indexing and outlining done for MtL! by the end of April, and to get the major writing started by the first of May.  I can certainly add more assignments with other projects if need be.

Mind you, I’m not trying to Write All the Things.  I’m just trying to be more productive.  It’s also a long and evolving process, so I can’t expect a complete change right off.  It takes time and practice.  And dedication.

It’ll take time, but I’d like to think it’s worth it.

Bring it on.

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Writing whiteboard, 2017 edition

Here we are, second day of 2017.  The writing whiteboard has been updated, the blogs have been updated, plans have been made.  Sure, January 1 is an arbitrary First Day of the Year, but that hasn’t ever stopped me from the ritual of taking stock of the past and making plans for the future.

So I say this:  Bring it on, 2017.  I’ve got plans for you.

As you can see above, I’ve reinstated the daily 750 Words to the whiteboard.  I’ve also added a second day for ‘art’ — which is actually a catch-all for multiple platforms, including photography, drawing, and more.  The blog schedule remains the same, as it’s been working quite well.

But I also have plans that aren’t on that whiteboard.  Longer-term plans that are currently in my head, waiting to be sketched out on my normal calendar (this year’s selection is lovely paintings my Hokusai).  The release of The Balance of Light, the scheduling of new writing projects, the planning of future ones.

Will this work, in reality?  Well, I have to make it work.  Sure, I’ll be juggling all this with the Day Job and IRL stuff, but I’ve done it before.  I kind of let most of this get away from me near the end of 2016, though for an honorable reason: I had to do some serious longhand surgery on TBoL before I could attack it digitally.  And once that’s taken care of (current deadline: end of this month), I’ll have a lot more time to work with.

I’m also in a good frame of mind to be able to focus on these goals with little distraction.  That was a long time coming, with a lot of false starts and frustration, but I believe I can even further this year.  I’ve got a lot more clarity and focus this time out.  And as mentioned previously, I’ll be attacking the business end of my writing career with gusto this year as well.  It’ll be tough, but I’ll do the best I can.

I plan to be busy, in a good way.  And I’m looking forward to it.

Juggling My Writing with the Day Job

juggling2
This is about the extent of my actual juggling proficiency, tbh.

Juggling between Day Job and Writing Career can be a tricky thing.  I’m lucky in that I work from home, which affords me time to listen to music as long and as loud as I like, plus my commute is about twenty feet from my bed and into the next room.  But there’s not a lot of time to do much writing work, even during slow times.  We both wake up around 6am and start our days at 7:30am.  I have a half-hour for lunch at noon, and two fifteen-minute breaks (one in the morning, one in the afternoon).  Then there’s the time right after work, where we’ll occasionally head over to the local YMCA for some exercise and getting off our duffs.  We’ll have dinner soon after that, when we return.

That gives me about two hours in the evening during the weekdays to work on whatever project I happen to be on.  We’ll get into bed around 8:3oish and read for an hour or two before passing out for the night.  Like any other writer, I really wish I had more time to work with.  But somehow I pull it off.

How do I do it?  Well, a few things, really.

Assigned time.  My midmorning break (around 9:30am) is when I do my longhand writing.  Specifically, I write a daily entry in my moleskine journal.  I don’t give myself a subject to write about; it’s just a personal entry of things on my mind at time.  It may or may not have anything to do with writing, but as long as I’m writing something, that’s all that matters.  The afternoon break (around 2:30pm) is less structured, but it’s there for me to use if need be.

Being conscious of the use of my time.  Not gonna lie, I get sucked down the Wikipedia rabbit hole and the cat gif vortex and the Twitter noise just as often as everyone else does.  I’m okay with a bit of goofing off now and again; it gives my brain a rest, especially if the Day Job has been stressful.  But I’ve also trained myself to shut down the browser as soon as I realize I’m just wasting time.  [An unexpected plus is that my reaction time has gotten faster; I’ll waste five minutes instead of fifteen now.]

Being on a roll.  Sometimes I’ll get into a groove and not want to stop.  Why stop when I can still go?  I used to do this all the time with my old Belfry writing habits, and I still do it with the housework, so why not?  I’ll get one blog post done, and if I have enough time, I’ll write another one.  And if I’m still on that roll, maybe I’ll work on something else.  At least until i get tired or get diverted by something more important.  The downside is that I might exhaust myself now and again, but it’s a small price to pay.  This works out especially well if I’m having a slow day at the Day Job.

Planning out my day.  This is where the whiteboard comes in.  I’ve made it a point that I want to write two blog posts a week for each site.  For the most part I’ve been keeping that, even though some of the entries have ended up going live in the afternoon (like this one) rather than first thing in the morning.  [That’s been my own fault lately.  Still working on the planning part.]

And of course, deadlines.  I haven’t given myself a strict deadline for when I finish editing The Balance of Light, given that this one’s getting a severe surgery as compared to the other two, but I’ve at least told myself that I want it done by the end of the year.  This worked out well for the other two books: I’d chosen a specific date at least a month and a half in the future as the drop date and made sure the book was finished at least a week beforehand.  This meant that I’d focus on nothing except for the editing, formatting and publishing of the books for that amount of time — this meant that things like the 750 Words would fall by the wayside, that the blog posts might end up a bit scant, and that I’d conveniently forget to work on any other projects.  But the payoff was perfect: once the project was considered done, I gave myself a week off to relax and play catch-up with everything I’d put aside.  By the time I’m back to normal, I’m ready to go on the next project.

But what about the Writing/Day Job juggling?  That’s a good question.  What I’m trying to say here is that looking at it in terms of Day Job versus Must Do All The Things isn’t exactly the right way to do it.  The trick is to already know that you only have a finite amount of time.  I only have about two hours of free time in the evening which I can fully dedicate to whatever writing project I’m on.  In those two hours, I’m going to do my damnedest to keep myself focused on it.  And during my Day Job hours, if the pace is slow enough that I can get away with it, I’ll work on something quick and easy like Daily Words, or write part of a blog post.  Otherwise I’ll stick with the scheduled assignments during my free time.  In turn, that lightens up my end-of-day load of work that still needs doing.

 

It’s tricky, but it can be done!

Back to the Grind

Spare Oom awaits.
Spare Oom awaits.

It’s been a crazy couple of months.

Between the trips to New York City and London, the weekend plans, multiple work-related issues and everything else, I’ve been so full up that I’d made the decision to clear the whiteboard schedule, temporarily stop work on a lot of creative projects, and focus only on the most important ones.  That meant that I focused almost all my creative juices on the new Mendaihu Universe story.  Little by little, I let a few things in as time permitted, such as guitar practice and photography.

Now that all the major events are out of the way for the time being, it’s time to get back to the grind and open up the floodgates a bit more.  I’ve replanned the whiteboard schedule again; I’m not filling it up too much just yet, but I’ve added art, music and work on the Walk in Silence book back into the mix, and moved the updating of the WtBT blog to Mondays.  I may revisit the daily 750 Words if time permits.  And musically, I have a few ideas I’d like to record in demo form as part of the Drunken Owl project.

The temporary hiatus did have its positives, as I was able to provide better focus on what needed it, and still have time to relax.  I was also able to recalibrate how I viewed my writing — not just the output but the style, and looking at what can be adjusted — to the point that I should also be able to do the same with my other writing projects that I put aside.  Long story short, I’ve realized that the best practice (to borrow an annoying work-related phrase) for me is to do most of my writing longhand and use my PC time for revision and rewriting, and that’s how I plan to work from here on in.

These last few months have been a relaxing reprieve, but I’ll say this:  it’s great to be back on schedule again.