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1,000

Tomorrow is my 1,000th consecutive day of writing!

On one hand it is a holy-cannoli moment. Ten years ago, I never would have dreamed of having this kind of regularity in my writing life. Even before I was depressed, I wrote in fits and spurts and when I felt like it, sneaking in a writing life in between work hours, chores, family functions, and everything else. I could commit during NaNoWriMo, or when I had a deadline, but I was wholly unconcerned about when I would write next or what I was building toward. My writing life was an amorphous thing and even though I had goals (get published!) I had no plan. I was basically an underpants gnome where my plan was:

Phase 1: Write

Phase 2: ????

Phase 3: PUBLISH!

I had this idea that I’d like to write every day, but I didn’t understand what it would do for me and I didn’t have the follow-through to make it happen. When I realized I had written every day the first week of 2016, it was a surprise. I haphazardly decided to keep going, but that cavalier decision hardened into resolve and I slowly figured out how to juggle writing and all my other responsibilities. I learned that I had to prioritize writing to make my writing life happen. I learned that I had to tell friends and family things like, “this has been fun, but I have to go write,” even though I felt silly and trivial doing so the first few times. I learned that writing was as important as my job (because I wanted it to be my job), so I had to value it.

All of those little lessons and small goals helped me to get to the other hand of how I feel about this landmark.

On this other hand, this non-holy-cannoli-moment hand, writing 1,000 days seems inevitable. It’s still an achievement, don’t get me wrong, but I see no reason why I won’t write for 1,000 more days. Daily writing is such a part of my life now that I no longer question how I will shuffle my day to include writing. And that’s the real power that comes from building a writing habit. I have confidence that I will write today and from that confidence stems other confidence:

That this won’t be my last great idea.

That I can figure out how to write this scene.

That I can find the right word.

That I can do this.

While I’m proud of having written 1,000 days in a row, I’m most proud of cultivating confidence in my writing life and developing the kind of consistency that makes me certain that, if I want to, I’ll be celebrating 2,000 days of writing in 2021.

 

If you’d like to know more about building a daily writing habit, I’ve written previously on why you should write every day and writing while sick. I’ve also written about apps that can make it easier to build a writing habit. If you’re thinking about or trying to build a writing habit, I’d love to hear how it’s going for you.

Not the Post You’re Looking For

I’m off to DragonCon this week, and while preparing for that adventure is certainly an added distraction this month, it’s not the reason I’m phoning in this blog post. Life has gotten unexpectedly complicated and busy. But that’s one of the most consistent aspects of life, isn’t it? Just when you feel like you have everything under control, something comes along to disrupt the flow.

Many of the things currently disrupting my life are good things (including prepping for my favorite convention of the year and my friend moving back to town), but some of them come with additional emotional complications or stress. Right now I’m reminded to pay additional attention to my work-life balance, to make sure that I’m taking care of myself and my needs, and to cut back on responsibilities where I can. Which is why you’re reading this blog post instead of one of the ones I’ve been working on.

Here’s the take away from this short post: when you’re busy or when life is being unexpectedly complicated, it’s okay to cut back on your responsibilities where you can. This might not be the blog post that you’re looking for, but it’s a reminder I’m happy to share.

2018 Goal Progress #2

It’s been a few months, so I thought it was time to check in on my Writing Goals for 2018. If you haven’t checked in with your own goals for the year, I recommend doing so soon. Mid-year is a great time to see how you’re doing and to make adjustments so you can still finish the year with success.

 

Day Count: 365 days

169/365

On track!

 

Total Word Count: 185,000 words

83,215/185,000

I’m currently at forty-five percent of my goal. With the planned 50K for National Novel Writing Month in November, I’m right on schedule.

Since my last goal progress post in February, my focus has shifted from drafting blog posts to drafting fiction, which is another benefit of reducing my blog schedule.

 

Daily Word Count: 150+ words

169/365

Writing at least 150 words every day hasn’t been difficult, but writing at least 400 words a day (my next tier in this goal) has been more of a challenge. I’ve missed 13 days, usually on days when I haven’t felt well, but it goes to show that I’ll push myself for minimums while letting stretch goals fester.

 

Write 1K+ Words: 40 days

6/40

I’ve made some recent progress on this goal, so even though that’s a low number, I’m feeling good about it. I need about 15 days before November to hit this goal, and with a recent shift in my schedule, I think I’ll be able to get it.

 

Draft a Novel

First drafts are always the most difficult step for me in writing a novel. I like revising so much that I usually start revising before I’ve written the ending. I’m still having some difficulty with forward progression, but I’ve got most of the scenes drafted through chapter 5, with a scattering of scenes in 11 other chapters. At the end of the summer I’m going to reassess my plans for when I think I’ll complete the first draft.

 

Revise/Write a Short Story

I put the short story I was working on in February on hold and have a nearly completed first draft of a different story! I’m excited about this, mostly because it’s a first draft under 2,500 words, which is unheard of for me. I’ll continue working on this story over the summer.

 

Read: 35 Books

23/35

Despite expecting my reading rate to drop off during the year, it’s actually stayed at a brisk pace. The 40-book stretch goal has superseded my original goal, and I may—for the first time since I was about ten years old and tearing my way through Baby-Sitters Club—be looking at reading 50 books in a year. This is an unexpected and very welcome adjustment to make to my goals! I think I have to credit audiobooks for keeping me on such a fast pace.

 

My goal progress overall is looking good. How are your 2018 goals progressing?

I Don’t Feel Like It

Even in the middle of a multi-year streak of writing daily, I sometimes hit walls. The walls aren’t as thick as they used to be, and frequently they’ll appear after I’ve written 100 words (so technically I’ve already written for the day), but there they are, blocking my progress. Sometimes those walls come in the form of being unable to fill in a plot hole, or in difficulty articulating a thought, but often all of those walls manifest in the feeling of not feeling like writing. It’s the ultimate avoidance tactic! I don’t have to deal with my writing problem if I just don’t write.

So, how do you deal with not feeling like writing but needing to write?


Write Something Different

I frequently circumvent this wall by stepping away from what I was planning to write and working on something else. That’s how I started this blog post. I had been struggling to draft a chapter (not “feeling” like working on that novel), so I opened up a new document and asked a question: Do you ever not feel like writing? Suddenly I was on my way writing again.

Switching focus can unclog my brain and give myself the mental boost of having written. Generally if I’ve put some easy words into something else, I’ll be past the hurdle of feeling like I wasn’t performing, and then have the confidence to tackle the task that blocked me. (I may not have resolved the block, but I can start working on the problem again.)


Make Some Tea

Getting up and doing something with a time limit can sometimes unblock my brain. Making a cup of tea takes me seven minutes, which means I can devote seven minutes to thinking about what was blocking me, why it was blocking me, and how I can get around that block. Seven minutes isn’t long, but often by the time I have a cup of hot tea, I have a solution for how I can keep writing. (Even if that solution is figuring out a different, unblocked part of the story I can write.)


Give Up

This may sound counter-intuitive as a strategy to start writing again, but sometimes the only solution is to stop fighting. I have many times gotten so frustrated that I marched away from the keyboard, only to suddenly be slapped with the solution. Walking away was key to my discovery. It wasn’t until I had become so frustrated that I was ready to give up that my brain presented the answer so plainly. Sometimes walking away from your writing is a good thing!

 

Feeling like you don’t want to write doesn’t have to stop you from writing. Lean into the feeling a bit, give yourself a break, and once you come back to it, you just may feel like writing again.

The Write Mindset

I recently received a great question* about how I center myself and clear my mind before writing. I think answering this question begins with establishing what “clearing your mind for writing” really means.

For some authors it might mean clearing away distractions to create focus. It might include selecting and molding their physical and mental environments to encourage concentration and creativity. For me it includes knowing what I’m going to write.

I never sit down in front of the computer with a blank page and a blank mind. Today, for example, I came to my writing time with this question in mind, and I had already thought about some things I wanted to say on the subject and how I wanted to organize my response. Tomorrow I will come to my writing time with a draft of this blog post, which I will read before laying fingers on the keyboard. Another day I may seek out a prompt in advance, explore a line of dialogue, or continue a scene on an in-progress story.

All of that thinking and planning and deciding is done before I sit down to write. I do that mental work while I’m in the shower, or eating breakfast, or going to sleep the night before. Basically, I think about writing in my spare minutes, so that when I physically sit down for a ten-minute sprint, I’m ready. This means I spend more of my writing time actually writing, and less of that time staring at a blinking cursor and figuring out what I should be doing.

I still have days when I haven’t adequately planned and I wind up opening and closing several documents, trying to figure out what to work on. Those days of uncertainty and indecision underscore for me how important it is to plan. If I find myself doing that, I stop, get up, and work on something different so I can plan before coming back to the page. (Folding laundry, flossing, and taking a walk are all excellent activities to busy my body while my mind works.)

Planning what I’m going to write doesn’t have to be involved or include outlines, notes, or a chart. The real “plan” comes from eliminating uncertainty. When I come to the page with something in my mind, I can start writing right away and am never stymied by indecision while sitting in front of the keyboard.

Do you have a different strategy for clearing your mind to write? Do you meditate? Use free writing or journaling? What methods work best for you to get yourself into the writing mindset?

 

*This question is actually from a spam bot, but was coherent enough to be useful as inspiration, so you really never know what will inspire you!

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Hesitant to Finish

I am resistant to finishing things.

It sounds ridiculous typed out like that. I mean, the point of starting a project is to have a finish product. In this case, it’s to have a finished story, and having a finished story is an amazing feeling! But even though I know that, I have a lot of trouble motivating myself to finish one pass and move on to the next. For me that hesitation comes down to three anxious questions:

  • What next?
  • Will I have another good idea?
  • But is it really done?


What Next?

This is a question that isn’t just about what project will I work on next, but how will I structure that project? What will my days be like? What is the routine?

I like ruts. I love working in ruts because I know how much work I’ll get done each day, when I’ll start, and roughly what I’ll do while I work. It’s comfortable and consistent and I am super productive once I have a well-worn rut. But getting that rut going is difficult. Figuring out the best way to work on a project takes time and patience, and often means experimenting with new workflows—new ruts—until I find the right one for the project (or for that stage of the project). As a project winds down, so do I, dragging out the last few tasks in anticipation of having to carve a new rut.

I haven’t figured out how to battle this question. The simple solution seems to be to develop a rut for each stage of writing, but every book I’ve worked on has been different, so that means the process isn’t cookie-cutter. For some books I’ve followed a structured outline, and for others I wrote scenes out of order. Perhaps one day I’ll have enough experience with each kind of workflow to immediately know how I’ll attack it, but for now I have to find other methods to banish my worries about what happens next.


Will I Have Another Good Idea?

Well. Will I???

The idea that what I’m writing will be the last thing I ever write is one of the most ridiculous anxious thoughts I could have, but it doesn’t stop me from thinking it nearly every time I near the end of a project. Obviously I’m going to write something else. Even through periods when I wasn’t as creative or productive, I never stopped getting ideas for stories. But this is anxiety talking and anxiety doesn’t have a firm grip on reality, so it throws out fearful doubts like this.

There’s no real defense against an anxious thought, except to not entertain it. I’ve gotten better at ignoring this question over the years, but sometimes it still catches me off guard and slows down my progress, keeping me from crossing the finish line so I can linger in my “last” good idea.


But Is It Really Done?

Of all the anxious questions I have that disrupt my productivity, this is the one that I actually have to answer. Figuring out if a project is actually finished is key to, you know, finishing the project. The problem is when this idea turns from productive checking in with the story to obsessing over commas, prepositions, and if I should start swapping around scenes just to see what it looks like.

I typically use revision checklists to keep myself on track and to eventually identify a stopping point. Sometimes I need to add things to the list—maybe during copyediting I uncover another crutch phrase, so I want to double back to search for that phrase, or I might finally figure out how to condense two scenes—but mostly I stick to the list and when the list is done, I’m done. Having that list as a definitive end point helps stop me from obsessing because I have something tangible to point to that says the story is done.

 

Knowing my weaknesses and having strategies to overcome them certainly helps, but it doesn’t stop me from struggling with finishing projects. Hopefully with continued practice it will get easier as time goes on.

Are there any aspects of finishing writing projects that stymie you? How do you over come those obstacles?

2018 Goal Progress

Since I wrote last week about making adjustments to yearly goals, I wanted to check in on my progress and take stock of how some of these challenges are going (and see if I can convince myself to focus more explicitly on a few of them). So here is my current progress on my Writing Goals for 2018.


Day Count: 365 days

57/365

No days missed and I’m on track for writing 365 days in 2018.

 

Total Word Count: 185,000 words

27,203/185,000

I’m currently at 27,203 words, which is fifteen percent of my goal. Technically I’m a hair behind the daily average to reach this goal, but since I’m already planning a 50K month for November, it’s perfectly fine to be a little behind pace the rest of the year.

I’ve spent most of my writing time drafting blog posts, but my fiction word counts are starting to rise as I get back to work on my second novel.

 

Daily Word Count: 150+ words

57/365

No misses so far on writing at least 150 words every day. I’m actually doing fairly well on the next tier, which is 400 words every day. I’ve only missed 4 days so far! The slow and steady method of small regular word counts continues to be the most successful way for me to keep a writing habit and stay in practice when starting bigger projects.

 

Write 1K+ Words: 40 days

1/40

As I said in my goal setting, I expect to get most of my 1K-word days during NaNoWriMo, but with only one under my belt I feel a little behind. That should change soon, though, because I’m going to be getting back to drafting a novel, and even with a slow and steady pace, I know some scenes will hook me in and I’ll look up 1,500 words later.

 

Draft a Novel

I’ve made some progress toward this goal, picking up what’s already written and beginning the process of sorting out what to keep, what’s missing, and what needs to be reimagined. I’m a little behind the schedule I originally planned, so I’m readjusting my expectations to finish this pass by mid-March and then begin drafting again.

 

Revise/Write a Short Story

Similar to the novel draft, I’ve done a little bit of work on a short story. While I wanted to write it in order, the end was one of the first scenes that came to me, so I finally decided to draft a version of it so maybe I can concentrate on the rest of the story.

 

Read: 35 Books

8/35

I worked through four books in each month and I’m currently deep into one other book and starting three more. That progress tells me I might have underestimated this goal, but I will concede that two of those eight books were graphic novels (therefore, short) and two of the books I started in December 2017, so I expect this finishing speed to drop off throughout the year. Even so, I think by mid-year I’ll be looking ahead to my stretch goal of reading 40 books.

 

It’s nice to be able to report that I’m on target or ahead for most of my goals. How are your 2018 goals progressing?

Goal Adjustment

Making goals at the start of the year is exciting. “I’m going to do all the things! I’m going to live a better life! I’m going to succeed!” But a month or two into the year it’s easy to figure out all those big plans may not actually pan out. So, what do you do? Give up? Punish yourself? Make adjustments?

I’m an advocate for continuing in the face of failure and realigning my expectations. Realignment can come in a number of ways:

  • Trimming out goals that I know I cannot achieve
  • Breaking a goal into landmarks so I can check off achievements
  • Reducing goals to something that is more achievable
  • Replacing goals with goals that better align with how the year is going


Trim

Last year I planned to write two novels—one during the year and a draft of a new one during NaNoWriMo 2017. The novel I was planning to write over the year became what I worked on during NaNo. My time just didn’t align for being able to work on the draft earlier than November. Trimming out a new novel was an easy decision for me to make, even though it was disappointing when I looked back on my plans for 2017. But it was the right decision, because looking back on the year, I have no idea how I would have been able to work on another novel during 2017.


Break

For the novel I worked on last year, I kept feeling intimidated by the process. Rather than continuing to look at it as “draft a novel” (which only sounds simple on paper), I broke it into several steps: write a two-page synopsis, draft character arcs for the main characters, re-read what’s been written, write 1,667 words per day during NaNoWriMo. Breaking the task into those smaller chunks gave me a plan for approaching the whole goal, and, even though I didn’t actually finish the draft, I did all of those other things! So even though I didn’t hit the main goal, I feel good about the progress I made.


Reduce

Last year I planned to write 200K words. That pans out to 548 words per day. I hit the 200K early, but decided since writing was going so well, I should keep writing 548 words per day. Oh. Oh no. That did not work. Instead of beating myself up, I reduced the goal. I changed it first to 500 words per day and then to 400 and finally to writing on a specific project (and at least 100 words). Each adjustment fit with what was going on in my life and it kept me productive on the main goal (writing) without feeling bad about not hitting an unrealistic landmark.


Replace

I had every intention of launching my editorial website in 2017. By the time October hit, I realized I was not in a place mentally where I could offer my services to strangers. My friend had died, my cousin was in liver failure, and several other areas of my life were already in upheaval—did I really need to stick to a goal that could easily be pushed to a later date? Instead of pushing myself when I really needed to take care of myself, I dropped my launch goal and replaced it with a goal to take care of my mental health. I started grief counseling and focused my efforts on being mindful of my feelings, my grief, and finding joy. It was quite a switch from focusing on business, but it was the right switch for what was going on in my life.

 

Your goals should never be static, and they should never hinder you. If your goals are stressing you out and demotivating you, you should revisit them and revise them. Goals are supposed to make us better, to get us closer to the people we want to be, but we have to work with the people we are now and what we can bring to the table today. Realign your expectations, throw out what doesn’t work, but don’t give up.

Weird Ways to Manage Anxiety

Anxiety has been my companion through most of my adult life. Most people wouldn’t know this about me because I am so totally chill about everything, yo. (I made a joke about my NaNoWriMo co-ML and I that his job was talking and my job was planning and panicking—it’s an even division of labor.) Seriously, I do a fair job of managing my stress and anxiety, and mostly it’s through normal means, like taking a walk, taking a nap, or watching a funny movie. But I also manage it through some unusual means, and so I’m here to break down: The Top Three Weird Ways I Manage My Anxiety.


1. Memorization/Recitation

I am an avid fan of Buffy the Vampire Slayer. I’ve seen all the episodes, read a ridiculous number of books and comic books, tracked down interviews and read behind the scenes books. I know quotes, actor names, random factoids, and the name of every episode.

Let me clarify, I know the name of every episode in order. Forward and backward. With episode numbers.

There are 144 episodes of Buffy and when I’m feeling stressed out, I head over to Sporcle to play my favorite Buffy episode quiz. The quiz is simple—you write the episode title and it fills in on the list. And even though I know all the episodes, sometimes I’m a little rusty, or I remember them out of order, so I play the game over and over until I have the order correct forward, and then backward, and then under 10 minutes, etc. (I stop when I feel less anxious, but this can go on for bits at a time for days, depending on what’s causing the anxiety.)

When I’ve got Buffy down, I move on to Angel (110 episodes), and then Stargate SG-1­ (a whopping 214 episodes).

In some ways it’s a time waster, but when the anxiety is high, the repetition can help calm me down and the memorization lets me focus on something that isn’t whatever’s causing the anxiety.


2. Cleaning/Reorganizing/Book Touching

I usually have a smallish (read as: large) pile of paperwork sitting on the corner of my desk and a handful of other things sitting out of place around my space. Picking up those areas is a great way to deal with my anxiety because while I might not be able to get a grasp on other things, I know where these things go! (Some of it is the recycling, I admit.) Even if I don’t make it through the stack, diminishing it at all gives me a sense of purpose and success when anxiety is otherwise blocking my productivity.

Reorganizing my bookshelf is another way I deal with anxiety, but since my bookshelf is already organized, this is often a way of tricking myself into feeling productive. I might shift curios around or find a new bookend, but usually there’s very little to do. What I mostly end up doing is touching the spines of books, reading titles, taking in the colors, and occasionally picking the next book I want to read or identifying a book to give away (that last one is actually productive). Even if I’m not distracting myself by the task of reorganizing, losing myself in my book collection for a few minutes usually helps reduce my anxiety because I’m focused on something else.


3. Faceplanting in a Cat

When I’m stressed, I find my cat and I shove my face in his fur. Or sometimes, he finds me and forces me to cuddle (often by lying on me and shoving his fur in my face—at least we’re in agreement about what’s comforting). This also usually leads to him purring, and there’s little that soothes anxiety as efficiently as a cat purr.

 

Three weird methods, but they all work for me. The reason they work is that all of these activities take me away from whatever is causing the anxiety and allow me to focus on something else—and something I enjoy. Because even when I’m reciting the names of Buffy episodes, I’m thinking about a show that is funny and means a lot to me. So, yeah, even though it’s a little weird, I’m happy to do it if it means that afterward I can function. Do you have any weird coping mechanisms or things that you do before settling into work?

Reader Multi-Tasking

A friend recently flailed at me that I should read a book she was reading. “Oh, I have that one,” I told her, and decided that I should see about reading it sooner rather than later, since I already own it. I wanted to tell her that I’d start reading it right away, only the problem is I currently have five books checked out from the library and have a bookmark in two others. Even I will admit, that’s a lot of books on my nightstand.

When I’ve mentioned the number of books I’m currently reading to other people I usually get gasps of horror or confessions that they can only focus on one book at a time. I get it. I’ve been there, but reading multiple books at a time is my usual modus operandi (though, I admit, right now this is a bit ridiculous).

So how can I possibly read this many books at the same time and not get confused? It’s easy to get confused if there are no differences in what you’re reading, but I vary my reading in three different ways: medium, genre (or content), and pacing.

Medium

Of those seven books sitting on my nightstand, there are four books I’m actively reading, by which I mean, four books that I’ve read within the last week. Of those four books, one is in audio format, two are physical, and one is a graphic novel. Switching between an audiobook and a physical book helps me keep straight what’s happening in each book. It’s easier for me to remember if I read a fact or if I listened to it. Graphic novels are obviously a very different format from all-text or audio, so that’s easy to keep straight as well. The more variety I have in how I consume the media, the easier it is for me to track what’s happening in each story.

Going through four books at the same time is a little excessive, even for me, but it’s normal for me to listen to an audiobook and read a physical book at the same time. I’ve been doing that for the last year or so, and it’s been a good way to help me get through books when I might not otherwise be able to read, taking advantage of time when I’m on a long car ride, taking a walk, folding clothes, or if I wake up in the middle of the night but don’t want to turn on a light. Having the audio option in addition to the physical book has helped me get through more books in the last year.

Genre/Content

If medium is one of the ways I keep stories straight, how is it that I can read two physical books at the same time? This is where genre and content come into play. I find it’s much easier to mentally track which story I’m on if I’m reading things from different genres. For example, if I’m already reading fiction in audiobook and physical formats, and I want to start another book, I usually add something nonfiction. This can also work by reading fiction from very different genres—futuristic science fiction and high fantasy or contemporary realism. The more different the genre or content, the easier it is to keep the stories straight.

In addition to varying books by genre, right now I’m also rereading an old favorite. No matter the genre of the other books, I’m not about to confuse the events of Harry Potter with any other stories, so it’s not difficult for me to keep rereads straight from other stories.

Pacing

Another way I help differentiate between the books I’m reading is by staggering my pacing. I try to space out the books so I’m starting and finishing them at different times. It’s much more difficult to read multiple books if I’m about at the same progress on each one. Climaxes can get confused, or I might not remember which new character is in what book. Staggering starting and finishing points helps a lot—also it means I never have that lag period between finishing one book and starting the next one. (In fact, it might be nice to read just one book for a few days, but I never get out of the habit of reading.)

 

Reading multiple books isn’t for everyone, and not everyone has to do something as crazy as reading four books at a time, but for an author who wants to read for research, read to know her genre, and read for fun, I have found these strategies for multi-tasking some of the best for increasing how many books I read per year, and, in general, for making the most of my reading time.

 

What am I reading now?