Confessions are good for the soul so I confess now I am not a good juggler. Sometimes life presents us with a juggling act which seems outside our abilities. And often the start of a new year does the same.
The questions I asked as I wrote this post were:
Where did 2016 go?
What does 2017 hold in the way of goals?
What about now–the present, today, even tonight?
WHERE DID 2016 GO?
Wherever it went, it dragged by. I felt this year would never end. My days were ones of sitting and lying down to relieve relentless, intense pain. A short break in the early fall led me to believe the journey was almost over. Then a setback occurred.
I am still attempting to reach the end of the journey created by a fall last January. Things are so much better I am able to write a few hours a day on this blog and my book review blog. One good result from my immobility is a stack of books finally read.
Another accomplishment was accepting that some degree of pain will always be with me as a result of a fusion. I’ve also accepted that walking with a cane does get doors opened for you.
WHAT DOES 2017 HOLD IN THE WAY OF GOALS?
A top priority for me in 2017 is the hope of more therapy helping me to reach a higher level of activity. This would allow me to engage in daily activities without the need of pain medications. If I am told I need to take one pill a day, I can handle that. The narcotic haze is not something I enjoy nor do I want it interfering with my creative life.
Other than that, I have decided I am not establishing any set-in-concrete goals for 2017. My plan is to do something different this year. The concept came to me as I searched for a suitable graphic to include with this post. Not finding one, I set about creating my own which is inserted above. The word “now” was not easy to find in the company of the words “present” and “future.”
Days with therapy or doctor appointments and home exercises create a need for flexibility. Working those things around my writing life means there has to be a give and take. That leads us to the “now” option.
WHAT ABOUT NOW–THE PRESENT, TODAY, EVEN TONIGHT?
The word “now” is defined by Dictionary.com as “at the present time or moment.” In my opinion, “at the present time or moment” can mean today, this hour, or a variety of other phrases. It means I have the flexibility of moving something from today to another day. It doesn’t mean I can forget about anything forever. Things go better as long as I get something done and don’t leave it hanging ad ifinitum.
Last week I picked up something from Jamie Raintree, writer and blogger at JamieRaintree.com. I was reading a post by Jamie on time blocking and productive time. I’m not a rigidly organized soul, and my writing proves that when I confess I’m a pantser. This resulted from almost 40 years working for attorneys unwilling to track billable time. Their cry was “it doesn’t let me create the pleas and arguments I need to win!” If I’m worrying about when or how I’m going to get everything done on today’s schedule, I’ll never get it done.
Jamie has created a Time Blocking Worksheet. About her system, she says:
The idea is that you schedule your days in chunks, marking off large time periods for certain types of work, but leaving the details of what work you’ll accomplish more open.
Last spring I, along with others, took a Lenten break from social media. When I returned, I wanted to know more about my presence on social media, including my blog. That’s when I turned to Frances Caballo and engaged her to check my social media sites as well as my website.
The results of Frances’s assessment provided good information, both positive and some not so positive. Eager to see what I could do with her suggestions, I moved ahead full tilt. And as reported in this post, I noticed some rising numbers and growth changes.
Frances even provided a schematic or schedule for posting to the social media sites I use. I have worked hard at prescheduling using Buffer and Hoot Suite. Of course, before you start scheduling, there is the step called curation, which also takes time. After curating and prescheduling, I felt an overwhelming strike against my writing time. Not only against my writing time but against my ability to keep up with certain blogs where I believe my community contacts are strong.
As a result, I’ve learned some things about myself. Most of them I already knew; some of them I didn’t realize until now.
1. I don’t like numbers, and I dislike counting them even less. I never liked math in any form growing up. I still don’t care for math which leads me to my newest discovery about self: it’s all about numbers. Not only do I not like numbers, I like analyzing and counting them even less.
I have heard all the arguments about numbers of followers, social analytics, and platform building. But I’m not sure I agree totally with their arguments. It seems those who enjoy social media and do well at it, and therefore accumulate the necessary numbers for a proper platform, are number lovers and counters. They enjoy the thrill of the chase. Everyone seems in the big race to see who can get the most followers, friends, likes, shares, and on and on and on. None of this holds any great interest for me.
I want to spend my days writing, not counting and analyzing numbers.
2. I’m an introvert who does not like crowds any better online than at a social gathering. Yes, I am an introvert. I’m happily married to an introvert. The good news is I can make myself “perform” at a social gathering doing the mix and mingle dance, but I don’t like it. My husband says I’m better at this than he is. On social media, the party or gathering includes people who follow you who have no profile info posted, the ones who want to sell you Twitter followers, SEO and marketing experts, software application outlets, and the beat goes on. I equate these to the dinner hour marketing phone calls we receive. I prefer to spend any time I have beyond writing communicating with those writers and readers I’ve come to know blog-to-blog outside the confines and requirements of social media. Lately, I feel I have lost touch with these fellow writers. And yes, spending time with them means I’m safely hidden away in my writing corner at home with my laptop and my kitty.
3. Lest you worry about me socially, I do have a few writing friends I gather with personally here in Portland and workshops I enjoy attending. Through the time social media extracts from my days, I had less time to spend with these people. I quickly learned I preferred being with these few than with the masses on social media. Sometimes it’s over lunch, over coffee, or browsing one of our great bookstores in Portland. We talk writing, share our work, and even give time over to fostering friendship between us. It’s the way I like to do business and friendship.
4. Some of the time I spend on social media detracts from my continuing education in the art of writing, and I consider ongoing education prime to my efforts. With the writing community available to me here and just down I-5 South, I have so many opportunities. It is often difficult to choose which one to take advantage of first. There are multiple Meetup Groups for writers in Portland, as well as Willamette Writers and Oregon Writers Colony, with Indigo Editing and PDX Writers offering workshops and classes, and people like Gigi Rosenberg, author and artist coach, who have found Portland to be the place they want to craft and teach (more about Gigi in #5 below). With all these entities offering so much, how can I spend time on social media and not increase my knowledge of my craft? Personally, I can’t, and I won’t.
5. A short time ago Gigi Rosenberg wrote an eye-opening and inspiring blog post, Be Your Own CEO. This post made an impact on my feelings about how I spend my days. In the post, Gigi talks about one of the assignments she gives when coaching artists. The assignment comes in two parts as you’ll see when reading her post. I decided to work through the assignment, knowing already what the answer would be. Mine is the same as Gigi’s. And this is what she had to say:
For me, the one thing is to finish this revision of my memoir. Everything else in my life needs to support that one mission. Because I am the CEO of Me, Inc., and what I say, goes. …
Everything else is going to revolve around that one thing I want. Because I want it and I’m the boss of what I want.
Now, I know what you’re saying: That’s pretty selfish. Not really. We all want something, and most often we want it badly. So badly we are willing to do almost anything to get it. Why shouldn’t a writer, musician, artist, aspiring doctor or lawyer, other professionals, star athletes not do the same?
6. None of the above have mentioned my life outside of writing. In order to cram everything into a 24-hour period with 5-6 hours of sleep each night, I have ignored my husband, necessary work on our small businesses, cleaning our home, cooking at my best level for two meals each day, making proper time for personal devotionals and prayers, forsaken my music participation with my husband, and for the most part have given up my love of needlework (quilting and knitting). Cutting out these things meant I had enough time for social media, the blog, and some of the book. Nothing about that seems quite fair, at least to me. There should be an hour or two each day to enjoy another creative outlet. And I’m going to do just that. Let’s not forget we should all be committed to our health and physical well-being, and I’ll admit I’ve been neglectful of mine of late.
7. The decision is made, and no one can change it. I am going to spend the bulk of my waking hours writing–my memoir, short creative nonfiction, blog posts. Also, I will take back my domestic duties (which I enjoy) and clean my home, do the laundry, and cook decent meals and in good weather help Farmer Meyer with the outdoor work. I intend to make sure nothing is left undone about the two small businesses Bob and I run. Church and daily prayer and devotion will take a greater priority. This is what I want to do, and I choose to do it.
I know there will be naysayers about the time needed for social media. Others will debate whether or not a person has to count numbers or not. Some will argue that I’ll never sell a single book without platform based in a grand social media presence. Even more will disagree with the time I spent on social media providing enough time to pick back up the chores at home and the things I do for others. And there may be some who will find something to say I haven’t even thought about yet.
They are entitled to their opinions. That’s why we choose to do all we can to keep this country free. However, as we used to say when we were kids, “Nobody is the boss of me!”
No, I’m the boss in this office, and I get to choose what priorities I set. I’m also allowed to choose which tasks I don’t need or want to do, especially if I find them hindering my best efforts in my chosen creative outlet, writing.
I hope you’ll find a moment to join in discussion and conversation below.
If you read my last post on January 1, you know what happened to my 2014 goals. When I sat down to set out my goals for 2015, I kept in mind what last year did to my plans. I kept focused on what I committed to in that same post on January 1. My goals for 2015 are simpler and shorter than last year’s, beginning with a focus on the mandate I set for myself of facing frustrations and interruptions with flexibility.
While I will never meet the physical flexibility seen here, I realize I need more attention to flexibility during my daily scheduling.
Goals for 2015 include:
As mentioned above, more flexibility in dealing with daily demands and schedules. I have more than writing to attend to each day: family relationships, preparing meals, household chores, laundry, errands, exercise, and professional reading.
In order to get these all done, I need to realize I cannot commit every day 100% to writing. In 2015, I intend to select one day from Monday through Friday and devote it to my book. The schedule will be kept free of distractions.
Goal #2: Thanks to the artists and writers cooperative where I had registered for a writing class held September-November, I will be able to restart that class in April. Surgery and recovery interrupted my attendance, and the group was fair in extending a large part of my registration fees to join back up in January or April. I chose April to ensure I was fully healed. Returning and finishing this class is important to me.
Goal #3: Work diligently at building platform as I anticipate completing, publishing and marketing my memoir. My newsletter has gained some momentum but not what I’d like to have seen so I need to educate myself on how to increase readership. I’m also leaning more toward using Twitter as my primary social media outlet, and I’ll need to come up to speed there. Sitting on a shelf nearby is the idea for another eBook for my newsletter subscribers, but that is not a definite goal for 2015.
Goal #4: With completion of the class addressed above, I hope to have finished the second draft of my memoir. It is my further hope that I will be able to work with my class instructor in finalizing that draft and readying it for editing and later publication. However, this is not a deadline item and will never be as there are too many changes that can occur in the editorial and marketing process.
Goal #5: In 2015, I want to increase my participation in this writing community I so thoroughly enjoy. My ability to get around and read every blog post has fallen by the wayside, and I’m looking to find a better method for reading and commenting on others’ work. I also want to continue my efforts in supporting other writers by reviewing their memoirs here and other genre on Goodreads and Amazon.
These are all the 2015 goals I intend to set out in black and white. As I said in my last post, there is only one me in each day I’m given and only so much time in that one day to work at the things calling my name. To attempt more would be the closest thing to implosion of a human I can think of at the moment.
As I review that list now, it turns out those could not have been truer words.
Christmas Day 2013 found my husband in excruciating pain that would last until back surgery in March 2014. At the same time, what I thought was allergies turned out to be a respiratory problem with a long recovery time.
With Bob’s home chores falling to my shoulders as well as his health care and my own, the writing life seemed to disintegrate before my eyes.
About the time the dust began to settle, I had the opportunity attend the annual Willamette Writers Conference. Local Portland writer and teacher, Jennifer Lauck, author of Blackbirdand several other books, facilitated two of the sessions I attended. I had met Jennifer before but not in the workshop environment. Jennifer excited me with her mode of teaching, her excitement about the written word, and her palpable desire to help others achieve their dreams.
By the end of the next week, I had registered to take one of Jennifer’s upcoming classes at a local writers’ cooperative. I made it to two sessions, and a bomb dropped the last weekend in September. Pain I hadn’t experienced since spinal fusion riddled one side of my body. A multitude of tests showed no reason for the pain. I had to decide whether to continue the class or taking care of myself. The latter won out. Dropping out was a huge disappointment.
Finally we insisted on another test, and a diagnosis took me into surgery. I am recovering well, and I feel better than I did 18 months ago. That in itself is a bonus.
I share all this with you to underscore the truth of goal-setting, making resolutions, resolving to adhere to a set daily schedule and/or to do list: [tweetthis]A writer’s “other life” doesn’t always cooperate with the plans for the writing life.[/tweetthis]
Lesson learned: I am one person with one life with days presented to me singularly to accomplish what I can. When all the parts of my life and days gifted don’t mesh, I will attempt to be flexible and set frustrations aside knowing there will be tomorrow.
Based on this newly ingrained bit of wisdom, I will be setting goals for 2015 and selecting a word to focus on as I move forward through 2015 while remembering what 2014 has taught me.
What about you? What did 2014 teach you that will impact how you plan as a person and/or a writer for 2015?
The following post first appeared at Sowing Seeds of Grace and recounts the results of my one-week withdrawal from social media a couple of weeks ago. I wanted to share this post here because it also relates to my writing life.
Our hope reached to the edges of seeking to hear God in the silence when free of iPhones, tablets, laptops and other devices connecting us to a world filled with frenzy and constant news from family, friends and the world at large.
Today I am sharing what I heard in that week of silence.
Most of all, let me tell you: It. Was. Awesome!
My days felt free and my own. No “keeping up with” everyone posting on Facebook or Twitter.
Don’t get me wrong. I love connecting with family and friends and learning what’s going on in their lives. But I don’t really need it 24/7, nor do I need to sit down at the computer and before anything else, check in to see what’s new in social media.
In a perfect world, our days would be filled with limitless hours of writing time. However, ours is not a perfect world. At least mine isn’t.
Despite living in retirement, my days are still filled with what seem to be unending household chores, yard and gardening chores, errands, maintaining a small business other than my writing, and more.
I am not an expert on increasing writing productivity. Perhaps like you, I struggle every day trying to find the time to write.
If you look around–in books, on the Internet, magazine articles, there is a plethora of advice on how to increase your writing productivity.
Here’s a sampling of what I’ve found:
1. Eliminate Distractions.
As difficult as it may seem, sitting down to write means limiting distractions and interruptions. One easy tip is to close all open tabs on your computer and have only your manuscript or working document open. If you are still tempted to hop over to Facebook or Twitter or Pinterest, perhaps an app like StayFocusd to limit the time you allow yourself to visit social media sites would help. StayFocusd is free to Google Chrome users. Other such apps include: Freedom, Anti-Social, RescueTime (my choice), and ColdTurkey. A search for “social media blocking apps” will offer a longer list.
2. What is Your Process?
Do you have a process for writing? Or do you sit down and just start writing? Are you enjoying the process of writing? Or have you started something that doesn’t please you or feel right?
Remember, you don’t have to be what everyone else is–historical novelist, memoirist, chick lit writer, biographer. You don’t have to write the same way every other writer does. You can be whomever you want to be as a writer.
Look around your space. What books do you see that you’ve kept after reading them? What fills your shelves? If those are the books you’ve enjoyed as a reader, maybe they fall into the genre you will enjoy writing. Take a good look at the process these writers chose. Discover the writer you want to be. Know yourself, and try to forget the critics.
3. Set a Daily Goal
Determine a daily goal, either by number of words or pages or choose a time increment, such as an hour or maybe two. If you choose to follow a time increment system for daily writing, set a timer for the amount of time. Then write until the timer goes off. A handy app for accomplishing this is Pomodairo, a Pomodoro time-based timer and task management app.
4. Give Yourself Breaks
After you’ve accomplished what you sat down to do, give yourself a break. Take a 10-15 minute walk or stretch, have a cup of tea or coffee, do something to move out of your chair and breathe fresh air. Perhaps you have a note or personal card to mail–write it and get it ready to go in the mail. If that load of laundry is ready to be folded, that will only take a few minutes. Do that. Just do something to refresh your mind and body.
5. Devise a Method to Follow Productivity
I did not realize how important this could be until I signed on to Jeff Goins’ Facebook group, My 500 Words. The goal in this group is to write 500 words each day on something you’re working on or using the provided prompt. It provides accountability, support and encouragement. The accountability is what I was searching for when I signed up. In the process of organizing the group, Jeff mentioned the importance of accountability, including following your own productivity. Not long after, I came across a link to a writing progress tracker developed by author Jamie Raintree. Simple to use and handy in an Excel document on my computer, I can easily log in the number of words I’ve written each day and on which blog or project. Jamie has entered all the formulas to calculate the daily, weekly and monthly word count. Thanks, Jamie!
6. Read Less, Write More
This is an area I need to improve on. I lose writing time each day because I think I should ready everything I find on becoming a better writer, how to write memoir, and more. I can’t resist the idea that someone has a better idea about how to write. Slowly I’m learning that I must stop reading what others think and get on with the writing. As I look around my writing space, there are dozens of books and articles on writing that I have yet to read and in that state they aren’t supporting my writing efforts. I’m finding I tend to learn more by doing than reading about how to do it. If I encounter a problem in my writing, then I’ll go look it up and see what I’ve missed in the doing.
7. Read Your Genre
There is one area you’ll want to read, and that is books in the genre you’ve chosen to write. From these writers, you will learn more about your chosen craft. Watch how they open and close chapters. See how they have developed their characters. How do they use dialogue? Then see if you can apply them to your work. This is not plagiarism as you’re not copying what they wrote–you are modeling the principles of writing they used.
8. Set Goals
Some of us are goal setters, and some are not. If you are so inclined, set large goals first. Then work backward from the deadline established for that goal and set smaller goals along the way to help in accomplishing the larger goal on time. For instance, if you want to publish your book after the first of the year, you will need to have it edited and revised in October or November to leave time for edits and rewrites. What this means is that the book needs to be finished in late summer. This is an example of how you need to set your goals in order to timely complete your project.
Accountability needs to be worked into goal setting. Perhaps there is someone you can tell about your goal(s). A critiquing partner, a writing group member, or a close friend or family member. You’ll note on the right sidebar I have a countdown set. Believe me, I see that more often than is comfortable these days. You can also set the dates on your calendar and set up pop-up reminders for each one.
9. Work When No One Else Is and/or When You Feel “On”
How do we know the best time of our 24 hours each day to write? Some writers wake early in the morning before their family members wake up, and they get in an hour or more of quiet writing. Young mothers who are writers wait eagerly for nap time. I read a post recently by Ellis Shurman on how he found an extra hour in his daily schedule of commuting, working fulltime, parenting and more. Others establish blocks of time on a calendar and then tell their family members they are off to write and are not to be bothered. (Sometimes that works; sometimes it doesn’t!). Actually, for you it might be looking at what you have to carry out and doing that during the part of the day when feel your best, really “on.” Suit yourself. You are the writer.
10. Write Now, Edit Later
You have all heard it. Write until the first draft is completed. No stopping for edits, errors, corrections, rewrites–just write. The temptation for some of us who are Type A personalities to make that first draft perfect is overwhelming. I have finally taught myself to write, write, write–don’t stop. It hasn’t been easy but it does go faster when you’re not continuously stopping to make corrections. Once you’re finished with the draft, then you can sit down with a copy, or maybe you like to do your editing on the screen, and make the necessary corrections, perhaps a little rewriting here and there. I think we may all be familiar with Anne Lamott’s quote on this subject.
11. Bottom Line–Write Your Story and No Harpies Allowed
In your writing, be yourself. Be honest. Tell your story. It is after all your story. Yours to tell, and only you know it and can tell it. If you don’t write it down, how will anyone remember it after you’re gone? How will anyone ever read it and gain any perspective from your life experiences?
We mustn’t let the harpies get in our way. When one settles on your shoulder, close your ears to what you hear: “You can’t write.” “Who is going to read this garbage?” “What makes you think anyone wants to now what you think or feel?” “Get over yourself–you’re not a writer.” remember you are the writer, you own the story, and you can write it without any outside help.
This is not an exhaustive list. If you search the Internet, there are so many ideas about what we writers should do or not do in order to be productively producing our books and essays, our poetry and rhyme. Yet it all boils down to how it works best for each of us individually, doesn’t it?
Do you have a process that works for you? Are you willing to share ideas with the rest of us? Leave comments, ideas, questions, criticisms, etc. in the comments below. Let’s discuss!