A House of Order

Well, I’ve done it again. What started as a short story is now quickly ballooning into a feature-length novel. (This is probably some kind of moral failing on my part, I’m sure.) I’m not usually one to bounce around between projects, but there’s been a bit of that lately and I have—somehow and without my quite realizing what was happening—promised to have a first draft of this new story completed by the end of the year.

Sooo… yeah. Things are starting to stack up a bit. I have two short stories I’m picking at, as well as a picture book idea that needs drafting. I’m midstream on editing passes on two nonfiction books as well as a novel; I haven’t quite finished any of them, but I really truly should have by now. And now this. It’s quite a bit more than I normally have on my plate. I try to stay more of a one-project-at-a-time kind of person. But I don’t want to drop any of these projects. I love them all! So now what?

The ever-fantastic CM Schofield has recently inspired me to get myself organized. My system isn’t nearly as glorious as theirs, but I feel waaaaay better for having straightened my stuff out instead of just helplessly letting everything pile up while I stand paralyzed.

The first thing I did was to list out every project that I want to work on, and then to break each down into parts. For example, I have a haunted campsite longish short story idea that I would like to eventually finish. (Ha.) It’s long enough that I should outline it first. And then draft. After that, I’ll probably edit it, and eventually maybe send it off to readers, and then edit it again based on their notes. But for now, I’m just worrying about the outlining and drafting. I don’t think I’ll get beyond that point this summer, so I’m just going to concentrate on that much. I did this for each of my projects that I think I can get to before the school year starts up again in the fall.

With that final school’s-about-to-start deadline in mind, I put all those little chunks into my to-do list with their own staggered deadlines. Remember a couple years ago when I made one teeny mention of my to-do app, Habitica? I’m still using it (and underutilizing it) and loving it. Each of the broken up goal bits went into Habitica along with the date I hoped to have them done by. I also wrote them on my big wall calendar to remind me as those dates approached.

Now, it should be said, I am being really ambitious, both with the amount of projects I’m tackling and with their individual deadlines. I recognize that there’s about a .02% chance that I’ll actually get through all of this in the allotted time frame. And that is A-OK. The point of this exercise was to break the projects into manageable chunks and get each of those chunks on my calendar in a time frame that isn’t so far into the future that I forget it for eight months and then scramble (and fail) at the last minute. Remember, I don’t do things unless there’s a deadline—the more looming, the better.

You know what else I don’t usually work without? Punishments. But since I recognize that these goals are basically nonattainable, and I’m trying to be kinder to myself in this time of difficulty, I’m going easy on the punishments end of the spectrum and am instead offering myself incentives for if I do hit the deadlines. I don’t usually work with rewards so this will be a bit of an experiment for me. Honestly, I haven’t even figured out what those rewards will be yet. (Super cheap plus bad at taking time for myself equals really bad at coming up with rewards.) I’ll let you know how it goes. (It will probably end up being something to do with baking. That’s how I roll. *snickers*)

So that is where I currently stand! I have my first two mini deadlines coming up this Friday, which will (hopefully) springboard me into action that I can keep going throughout the summer. We shall see! I’ll be sure to update this post with the exciting rewards I’ll be lavishing on myself as the season evolves.

UPDATE: So I put my goals all up in a calendar on Google Docs and shared it with my little writing group so that they can heckle me if I fail. But they’ve also posted goals of their own so that I can heckle them back! Yay, friendship! But just in case I actually succeed, here’s the breakdown of the fabulous prizes I’ve worked out for myself. After three successful weeks, I get to pay the kids in video game time to give me a back rub while one of them reads to me. After six successful weeks, I get to have a day of doing no chores, but I still get to check them all off in my to-do list. After eight successful weeks, I get to buy one of those really expensive chocolate bars that Anna got me addicted to. And after ten successful weeks (ha!), I get to buy myself a new houseplant to put on my desk. I currently have NO HOUSEPLANTS on my desk, so I am excited for this one. If it happens. So those are my rewards! Big enough that I want them, and frivolous enough that I wouldn’t just go out and get them regardless, but small enough that I’ll actually follow through with giving them to myself. We’ll see how it goes!

How about you fair readers? Any big plans for the summer? Any super organizational systems that keep you on track? Let me know in the comments below! And until next week, happy writing!

Writing Through the Holidays

Ugh, sorry I didn’t post Monday. I was clinging to doorposts while my husband tried to drag me to the hospital. (I mean, seriously, who wants to die in a hospital when you can be noisily dying at home under a heap of plague-riddled blankets with fifteen half-drunk canteens of 100% guaranteed health tonic you got from that hippie under the bridge last June? Duh.) But after five days of my life passing before my eyes (rather boring, really), I’m on the mend and able to sit up at my computer without weakly flopping over sideways toward the toilet. Yaaaaay.

So! Maybe next time I’ll post about writing through illness (hahahahahahaha), but today I wanted to talk about writing through the holidays. Here in Americaland, October through January is like one nonstop party, hopscotching from one celebration to the next for pretty much three months. At least here in Alaska, I think we’re just happy at this point that nobody’s frozen to death, and then that oh-thank-heaven, the earth is starting to tilt back toward the sun again. (Seriously. Solstice is the best winter celebration of all.)

But all that partying can make it hard to squeeze writing in. I’m too busy babysitting vinho d’alho and wrapping presents in eco-friendly reusable swaddling clothes to write.

Wrong! I am never too busy to write!

Priotitize

I’ve said it before and I’ll say it again: your writing will get time according to its ranking in the priority list. So your first step in the plan of attack is to figure out your priorities! The priority list will of course swap around, especially around the holidays, depending on who’s in town, what’s going on, etc. But if you don’t prioritize your writing, it isn’t magically going to happen. This can seem a little cold at times. I mean, yeahhhh, I’ve been known to maybe sneak my laptop into the bathroom with me while family’s over to squeeze in an extra fifteen minutes of writing. (*mom peers anxiously at door, whispering, “Is she sick?”*) But knowing where writing stands in the pecking order is going to keep you from having unrealistic expectations of yourself. As much as we all want to, we can’t do it all. If you know and accept that it’s more important to you go to the Christmas concert with your cousins, then give yourself a pass and go to the concert. But maybe while the rest of the crew is watching that abomination live-action version of How the Grinch Stole Christmas, that’s the time to sneak off with your laptop to the bathroom. It’s your call to make.

Plan

Once you’ve worked out your priority list for the season, then it’s time to plan out how you’re going to make it happen. (I’m assuming at this point that writing made the list…) You can go about the planning phase as casually or commando-y as you like. For those really into writing plans down, feel free to map out your schedule and hunt out all those sneaky little pockets of free time so you can stuff them with writing; ferociously cull down the time you spend on holiday shopping, chitchatting over hors d’oeuvres, or artfully wrapping gifts. Or, if you’re not feeling quite so hardcore, maybe just schedule yourself a half hour of quiet time each night before bed to knock out some words. (That’s what I do anyway.)

While planning, keep those expectations realistic. Nothing harpoons holiday zen like loading too much on your plate, so while you’re maybe normally able to blitz through 3k a day, give yourself a break if work is crazy and you’re on overtime every night until Christmas, of if you just want to spend a little more of that time with Nana. Goals don’t have to be huge or even difficult to be high-five worthy.

Execute

Do it! Stick to your plan, whether that means just quietly holding yourself to it, or roping accountability buddies into the loop. Both of my main writing buddies have end of the year writing goals and you know what? I just decided that I want to hop on that joyride too! So hey guys, I’m gonna finish the Cinderella thing by the end of the year! Watch me work! And I’ll be sure to litter the path to glory with little prizes for all my hard work. Because I am actually a mule and I only work for sugar cubes.

Holidays don’t mean you have to take all your writing and stuff it in the sock drawer until you guiltily pull it out along with some shiny new resolutions come January. With just a little extra prioritizing and planning, you can keep working right through the busiest time of the year. People like to go on and on about how the holidays are a good excuse- to forget your diet, to forget your budget, to drop all kinds of great habits that we spend the rest of the year developing. Hogwash, I say! No excuses! Keep eating healthfully, keep being financially responsible, and keep writing. If it’s important to you the rest of the year, it should be important to you the entire year. So don’t give up your writing just because Cousin Martha is throwing another Ugly Sweater Party. (Why do you still talk to her anyway?) Keep up those good habits!

All season long: happy writing!

Reblog: Getting Back Into Writing After a Break

Hello, internet friends! It’s another NaNo month, and yet again I’m woefully unprepared for it. Not only do I have very little idea of what I’m writing this month, but I’m pretty out of practice in creative writing at all. I didn’t write a single creative word the entire time I was in Portugal, and I’ve written very few in the weeks since.

So getting into better writing habits is heavy on my mind going into this month. This week’s reblog addresses just that. Katherine Firth’s Getting Back Into Writing After a Break may be written more toward the thesis writing crowd, but I found it to still be applicable. If you’ve been on a bit of a writing holiday lately but are ready to come back, maybe you will to!

Getting back into writing after a break

by Katherine Firth

Often candidates and researchers come to talk to me when they are trying to get back into academic writing after a long break. That break can be a couple of months of holiday or extended sick leave, or it can be a year of maternity leave, or years in professional or industry roles.

They used to have decent writing habits, but when they tried to start up again, they found it wasn’t working. Writing was hard. They might not get a lot of words down. The words they did produce weren’t very useful. It was slow and painful. They started to wonder if they would ever write well again, if they were still ‘up to it’.

In a previous post I said I wanted to find some tips for people who wrote infrequently. There’s lots of recommendations for regular writers in Your Writing Starter, but if you haven’t been writing for a while, I didn’t have great advice for you. I’ve been thinking about it ever since, and now I think I do have some useful things to say!

***

This post came to me when I got my sourdough starter out of the fridge after a month of ignoring it. It was disgusting. It was grey and wet and smelled of paint thinner. The top was covered in a white yeast and had set like concrete. There was no way I could give it some flour and bake a loaf that would succeed. If I did try putting it in a loaf of bread it would be flat. So… my writing starter was in pretty poor shape.

Fortunately, I’ve been doing this for a while, so I knew some things I could do…

To read the full article, follow this link!

Reblog: Daily Writing Routine

Howdy folks! It is now April, and that means it’s Camp NaNo season! Wahoo! I really need this, because I have been super lazy about writing the last few months and particularly the last few days. (Holidays. Holidays WRECK my writing system.)

Speaking of writing systems, the reblog this week is from our friendly neighborhood Well-Storied, about daily writing habits- the good, the bad, and the augh-why-does-it-hurt. Read Kristen Keiffer’s take on daily writing and decide if it’s right for you! Enjoy, and happy writing!

Have you ever thought about creating a daily writing routine? In today's breakdown, I'm sharing my the pros + cons, as well as my personal experience in maintaining a 1,000 day writing streak!

“Real writers write every day.”

Unfortunately, that’s a sentiment you’ll often hear in the writing world, and for a time, I subscribed to it myself. And while I still maintain a daily writing routine, I regret the days I spent telling other writers they should to do the same.

Every writer’s process is unique, and what works for one—or even many—isn’t guaranteed to work for you. And that’s okay! The important thing is to find the writing techniques that work best with your time, your skills, and your stories. Unsure if a daily writing routine would be a good fit for your writing process?

Allow me to share the pros and cons of my own experience with a daily writing routine today!

How I Built My Daily Writing Routine…

I’m far more of a storyteller than a writer. I enjoy plotting, creating characters, world-building, and the like, but the actual process of writing the dang thing is often like pulling teeth for me. And because of that, I’m prone to procrastinating my work.

A few years ago, my writing life was a mess because of this procrastination. I wouldn’t write for weeks at a time, until I grew so frustrated with my lack of productivity that I’d practically hurl myself into the work. Obviously, working with such intensity wasn’t exactly sustainable, and I often exhausted all of my creativity energy and motivation during these times.

I wouldn’t write again for weeks, and so the cycle repeated.

I knew I needed to find a way to stop procrastinating my work, to instead spread my creative energy out throughout the week, but I didn’t know where to start. That’s when I found Faye Kirwin’s Write Chain Challenge, a 30-day course designed to help you build a daily writing routine.

The course itself runs off the principal of a daily minimum. Every day, you must meet your daily minimum writing goal in order to add a link to your Write Chain. Fail to earn your daily link, and you break your chain and must start over.

This challenge seemed like the perfect way to revolutionize my messy writing life, and in February 2015, I began adding links to my Write Chain. After nearly three years of daily writing, I hit my 1,000th daily link earlier this month. One thousand days! 

Never in a million years would I have thought I could work on my writing for so many days in a row. But the practice wasn’t always easy, and it certainly wasn’t perfect…

To read the full article, click here!

Go! Speed Racer!

Running

I did NOT look this happy at the end.

Here in Fairbanks Alaska, summer solstice is a big deal. I mean like eat-too-much, party-all-night, don’t-go-down-‘til-the-sun-does big deal. (I’ll let you figure out what time that would be.) And part of my solstice celebration this year included the Midnight Sun Run.

The Midnight Sun Run is a 10k race kicked off at 10pm. Depending on your cuppa, there can be costumes, alcohol, various pets, roller skis- you name it, it’s there. I even saw someone do the whole thing juggling on a unicycle one year. Another involved some really valiant attempts with a pogo stick. (A pogo stick! Who does that for over six miles? Heck, who does that for over six feet?) It usually draws something more than three thousand participants, although there’s no accounting for all the unregistered runners. This thing is big and goofy and weird.

To up the fun factor even more, Hubby and I decided on a little wager. The loser gets three hours of community service of the winner’s choosing- and does it while wearing an outfit of the winner’s choosing. Now, my husband gets pretty creative with this kind of thing. And I was yet to beat him at… well, pretty much anything. So I was absolutely determined to WIN.

And so I began the grueling, months long process of training.

This, like most of my life, has a correlation to writing. Sometimes, we get out of good habits. I was once in pretty decent shape. But <insert million excuses here> happened and I not-so-suddenly wasn’t. I similarly find myself out of the writing habit (as you may have noticed with this spate of late blog posts).

But giving up and accepting the new state as the always-and-forever is a huge disservice, to yourself and to the world! So, here’s my training schedule for the next several weeks.

Week 1: Write at least three hours

Week 2: Write something daily

Week 3-7: (Camp NaNo starts) Write 1k daily

Week 8-∞: Keep at it

Easy, right?

I suppose you want to know whether this training paid off. I suppose you want to know that I kicked my husband’s rear and made him work in a soup kitchen wearing a wrestling singlet and a tutu.

Except that I didn’t. 😦

This is the other point I took away from all this. Comparing myself to my incredibly athletic husband (or to the nine-year-old boy or the seventy-five-year-old woman who also kicked my butt) is pointless.

Did I improve? Yes. Do I feel fantastic? Yes. Did I beat my time goal? Yes.

I am me and no one else. I run as only I can run. I write as only I can write. And I am completely and utterly happy to be me, the best me I can be. (And I hope that’s true for you, too!)

So work hard to be your best, and don’t worry about how that stacks up with everyone else! Run without registering. Walk the entire way, or run so hard you pee your pants. Do the race while juggling on a unicycle. Forget comparisons and be your own best.

Happy writing!