Almost All Systems Are GO…Part 2

This is the second part of a multi-part series on the systems I have put or am attempting to put into place in pursuit of the goal to MAKE MY LIFE MORE ABOUT WRITING. Part 1 dealt with Inspiration and Energy. Part 2, below, is all about how I manage my time. Enjoy!

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Time Management for Easily Distracted Creatives

I am not a natural at time management. In fact, I’m naturally pretty horrible at it. I get off track really easily, and have a bit of a reputation for spacing things like bill paying and clipping my own toenails. So a solid system for managing my time is a necessity for me.

The key here is redundancy. One system alone is not enough. I need several chances each day to keep myself on task and to keep tabs on what I’ve accomplished, or what I still have left to do. I’ve come up with five ways of doing this, and each of them motivates me in a different way, which is nice because I get bored easily.

Daily/Weekly Planner

The daily planner is pretty much a no-brainer. Everyone has one, either in analog or digital form; the key is to actually USE IT. I tried planning stuff on my iPhone for a year, using Google Calendars and some different apps, but I never found anything that really worked for me. For one thing, it is easier for me to write short memos by hand than to finger-tap on a touch screen. For another, I found that a good sized planner has a lot more space–I can see whole weeks at a time, with all the pertinent things written down instead of having to tap through to another screen or do that awkward thumb-and-forefinger expandy motion to embiggen the text. Plus, there is something super satisfying about physically crossing a to-do item off of my list.

My planner is spiral bound, about 4×7″, with a brightly colored cover that makes me happy when I look at it. It is divided into weekly sections, and each day of the week has a good ten lines or so to write all the things down on. There is a monthly view at the beginning of each month, and there are a lot of extra pages for note-taking and stuff. At the beginning of each week (usually on Sunday), I go through and write down all the tasks I intend to complete for the week, trying to space them out so that no one day is too hectic.

This is not the first time I’ve had a planner, but it’s the first time I’ve figured out the most optimal way to use it and really stuck with it. Of course, the planner space isn’t limited to just creative projects. My other day-to-day tasks go in there, too. Like the work I do for my virtual assistance clients, homeschool lessons with my daughter, and errands I need to run. When planning my week, I don’t slate out my schedule hour by hour, but I do try to weigh out how long things are going to take, and try to allow myself enough time each day to get some creative work done.

Habitica

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If there’s a pithy, but slightly chastising adage to express a universal truth, chances are Ben Franklin invented it.

So there is this RPG thingy called Habitica that helps you set goals, form habits, and motivate yourself to accomplish stuff. This game has been a wonderful help for me in keeping track of things I want to do on a daily basis, that would take up too much room if I wrote them down in the planner, as well as setting to-dos and projects that have multiple components that need checking off over time.

The game rewards you for getting things done, whether it’s flossing your teeth, sticking to your daily exercise regimen, or completing your novel. You get an avatar, and as you move up in levels, you earn points that can be used to buy your avatar new gear. Every once in awhile, you’ll get an egg drop. Eggs can be combined with potions to hatch pets, which, when fed, grow into mounts. I’m totally geeking out here. Please forgive me, but I love Habitica! Plus, if you get friends and family to join, you can do quests with them. Quests are challenges that make the whole team accountable to each other for staying on task. If one member skips their dailies, for instance, the whole team suffers. But if everyone stays on track until the quest ends, they all get rewarded with treasure and whatnot.

Days For Certain Things

I’ve designated certain days of the week for certain tasks, especially for things that I will often forget to do, or things that NEED TO BE DONE weekly, no matter what.

For instance, Saturday is “working on the property day”. I take two hours to do some kind of cleaning-up or fixing-up project outside. If the weather’s not good, I find an indoor project to work on. What does this have to do with making my life more about writing? Well, this is the kind of thing that I will forget to do or put off for months, and the fact that it’s not getting done will distract me from everything, including my creative projects. So it’s all about limiting distractions.

On Sundays, I do laundry. I used to do laundry whenever I happened to think of it throughout the week. But I never seemed to get through the laundry pile, and it was taking time away from other stuff I would rather have been doing. So now, I do all my laundry on one particular day of the week. While the washer and dryer are running, I work on writing or revision. Two birds with one stone. I haven’t scheduled toenail clipping yet, but it might not be a bad idea.

The Major Hurdle: Sleep Schedules

catnap

Without my systems, this is me every day at noon.

It’s kind of embarrassing to admit this, since I’m, you know, a grown-up person with offspring of my own, and like, things that I do to make money and stuff. But for most of my adult life, I’ve generally slept in pretty late.

“Oh, that’s no big deal,” you might be thinking. “I often let myself sleep in til 9. Sometimes even 10.” Um. No, it was worse than that. On the average day, I used to get up around noon. My whole family did. My husband works late, I’m a night owl, and we homeschool our daughter, so we all kind of got into this pattern of going to bed in the wee hours of the morning and not rising until noon. I consider getting up at ten “early rising”. Serious. And, okay, I guess it worked out alright most of the time. Homeschool gets done. Client work gets done. Household chores get done. Bills get paid, etc. But what really nagged at me is the feeling that I could be doing MORE if I were getting up at normal-people time. It didn’t quite make sense logically, because either way you sliced it, I was getting the same number of sleeping and waking hours each day. But I had started to notice that, on the precious few occasions when I did get up early (early-early, not ten o’clock early), I FELT more productive and motivated to do stuff. So I started getting up earlier.

Going from late-riser to early-riser is not an easy change to make. Trust me. I don’t know how many times I’ve tried to do it before, and failed. So this time, I decided to go with a nice, slow, very gradual transition. For a week, I set my alarm clock for 11:30. The next week, 11:00, the next week, 10:30, and so on. Of course, the other half of waking up earlier is going to sleep earlier. My secret is to listen to audiobooks in bed. Knocks me right out.

So here’s my progress report on early rising: Currently, I’m stopped at ten o’clock for a few weeks because I couldn’t seem to wake up earlier than that. It must be a psychological thing, but if my alarm clock goes off at any time before ten, I’ll hit the snooze button in my sleep. But, even getting up at ten, I am getting clear and definite boosts to my productivity, especially in the writing realm. I may need to try transitioning by smaller increments of earlier-ness, now that I’m legitimately waking up in the actual morning. I could try going back fifteen minutes each week.  My goal is to wake up no later than 9:00 each morning, and it WILL happen. From there, I might even venture further into the mysterious morning realm. Who knows what treasures await me there?

Self-Imposed Deadlines

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This is how I used to deal with deadlines, before I started my own business three years ago. Now I need to apply what I’ve learned about keeping deadlines for clients to my own creative projects.

I am motivated by deadlines. I can’t stand the guilty feeling of failing to deliver on promises I’ve made to clients or friends in a timely manner. Since I know this about myself, I decided to try and use it to my advantage in the creative department. I’ve begun assigning self-imposed deadlines for creative projects.

Sometimes the deadline will be a project completion deadline, like “I will complete the first draft of this story by the end of next week.” I write down the deadline in my planner and add it as a to-do in Habitica. Then I try to space out the work in such a way that I can accomplish the task within the stated time period, without pulling an all-nighter on the last day.

Other times I’ll give myself what I like to refer to as “homework assignments”. These are small tasks that are designed to help me grow and evolve as a writer. For instance, I’ll re-read a favorite short story to analyze the plot or character arcs. Or I’ll assign myself a writing prompt–nothing major, just a few paragraphs utilizing a particular element of fiction for practice. I usually think up these homework assignments in the morning, after my regular writing session, and I’ll give myself between one and three days to complete it, depending on how involved and time-consuming I think it will be.

Both of these methods have proven useful to a certain extent, but I’m not completely sure yet whether this particular system is going to stand the test of continual application. Somehow the promises I make to myself don’t carry quite as much weight as the promises I make to clients and loved ones. So on good days, when everything is going well and nothing unexpected comes up to distract me, I do pretty well at following through, but on more difficult days, these self-imposed deadlines tend to be the first thing I put off until tomorrow. Three or four difficult days in a row, and the deadline is all but forgotten.

What I really need, I think, is more ACTUAL deadlines. Or better discipline. Hmm. This systems thing is a never ending uphill trek, it seems. But maybe that’s just how it looks from halfway up the mountain. Onward and upward!

 

My First Dictated Blog Post!

dictaphone

It’s like I have this lady and her whole setup tucked in my pocket.

This is my first time dictating a blog post! Yay! A few weeks ago I read a book by Kevin J Anderson entitled Million Dollar Productivity for Authors. In it, Mr. Anderson details how he is able to write so many books every year: he dictates his rough drafts. Now, I’ve heard of people dictating their writing before, but I never thought it would be something that I could do. For some reason I so closely associate writing with typing that I have trouble even imagining the process of speaking words onto the page.

But when I stop and think about it, I realize that human beings are hardwired to use all these teeth and tongue muscles we have to tell stories. In fact, the process of reading and writing is completely unnatural to our brains. But telling stories around the campfire? We’ve been doing it for millennia. And we’ve only been writing for a few hundred years. And we’ve only been typing for a little over a century. And we’ve only been using word processors for the past 30 years, give or take. So… with that in mind, I’ve decided that I can train my brain to dictate stories.

There are several reasons why I think that dictating my fiction will benefit me:

  1. I’m less likely to get distracted by Facebook, email, and all of the very interesting things on the Internet.
  2. My hands will not get sore, and I will be able to better avoid repetitive motion injuries like carpal tunnel syndrome. I can walk around the room while I am dictating, and thereby avoid getting a sore neck or cramps in my lower back as I do when I am writing at the computer.
  3. Even though I can type 70 words per minute, I can still speak faster than I can type. That’s even with the mistakes that the dictation program makes. For instance, I just said 70 words per minute, and the dictation program wrote “LXX words permanent.” But it was fairly easy to go back and correct that.
  4. With dictation, I can write my books and stories and blog posts and pretty much anything else while I am away from the computer. I can take a digital recorder or just my smart phone with me wherever I go, and speak into it, take it home, upload it into the dictation program, and have my rough draft ready to revise without ever having touched the keyboard. This means that I can go for a walk or hike and be writing my novel at the same time. I can write my novel while I’m driving (not in heavy traffic.) I can write a blog post while I am washing dishes, waiting for my daughter to get her shoes on, or while cooking dinner.
  5. I believe that dictating will go along way towards silencing my internal editor while I am making my rough draft.
  6. It’s also a good way to add redundancy to my writing career. If I ever break my hand, gods forfend, I will be able to dictate and still meet deadlines on time. If on the other hand, I have a bout of laryngitis, I will still be able to type.

Therefore, I have determined that I must at least give it a shot. So, I decided to practice my dictation skills for 1 to 2 hours daily, for the course of the month. I figure it will probably take that long, if not longer, to become practiced enough to produce most of my drafts through dictation.

I started yesterday. With my smart phone in hand, I went to the lake near my moms house for a walk. For 30 minutes, I spoke into the microphone, trying not to pause. It was extremely uncomfortable. First of all, I just couldn’t think of what to say. I wasn’t trying to write a blog post or a story. I was just trying to get comfortable speaking into the microphone. So, I did stream of consciousness which is basically like blabbering, and it’s very uncomfortable to walk by people at the lake on the trail when you are blabbering to yourself into a smartphone. Nonetheless, I kept with it for the full 30 minutes. I talked about what I was seeing as I walked, I talked about my reasons for wanting to learn to dictate, I talked about a story that I had been writing and trying to figure out where my plot had gone wrong, and I even recited the lyrics to “Hotel California” by the Eagles. I don’t think I got anything useful out of that session.

Today was a bit better. I went hiking on a trail off the Blue Ridge Parkway near my home. I dictated for a full two hours. For the first hour I did stream of consciousness again, and for the second hour I did brainstorming for the second half of the plot of the novel that I worked on in November for National Novel Writers Month.

I just tried to say “NaNoWriMo”, but the dictation program wrote “bananarama.”

Brainstorming by dictation felt really unnatural to me. I was using a lot of “ums” and “ahs”, and I felt like I was going really slowly. But at the end of the hour, I had a lot of material. I think that as I was trying to keep talking steadily without pausing for an hour, a lot of ideas were forced out of my head that would otherwise have been stifled by my internal editor, had I just been sitting at the keyboard.

I haven’t bought any dictation software yet. This is because the program that I would need for my computer is a bit expensive. Luckily if you have a PC, You can get a program like Dragon Naturally Speaking pretty cheaply. Last I checked on Amazon, it was about a $50 on sale. But Dragon Dictate for Mac? $200. Yeah, that’s more of a luxury item for me. In the meantime, I’m using the dictation software that comes prepackaged with Mac computers. I can’t upload my smartphone files into this program and have them transcribed automatically, but it’s good enough to get started.

So I decided that I should try to get fluent in dictation before I purchase software. I’m pretty committed to practicing for an hour at least, each day for the next month, now that Bananarama is over.

I’ll let you know how it goes.

 

My Second NaNoWriMo Win, YAY!!

I invite you all to join me in congratulating myself for winning NaNoWriMo for the second year in a row.

Here it is, all the proof you need that I spent all of November holed up in a dark corner of a coffee shop, alternately typing in a mad fury and mumbling to myself in a mad fury.

NaNo-2015-Winner-Badge-Large-Square

If you are one of the two people who follow this blog’s irregular postings, you may recall that after last year’s NaNo, I felt so self-satisfied at finishing my 50,000 words that I just decided to go right ahead and take a break for a couple of days. A couple of days that stretched on into a couple of weeks and then a couple of months. (If you’re not one of the two people who follow this blog, you can read all about it here.)

Well, I can assure you I will NOT be making that mistake again this year. I have 50,000 words of a first draft of a novel sitting on my laptop right now (with, yes, two backups, one on a jump drive and one on the cloud, just in case my computer gets sucked into a cyclone or something), but 50,000 words does not a novel make. At least, not a Starr novel. I estimate that I’m roughly halfway through the story at this point. So instead of giving myself a nice, well-deserved break, I’m going to continue locking myself in my room for three to five hours a day UNTIL THE DAMN THING IS DONE.

So don’t expect a Christmas card this year, guys.

You have been warned.

Early Writing Memories: The Rock That Would Not Be a Plant

In third grade we had writing journals. Each day Mrs. Coley would announce a topic and ask the class to write about it in our journals for fifteen minutes. At the end of the fifteen minutes, she would collect the journals for review and we’d get them back the next day with a check, a check plus or a check minus. Then she would ask a few of the check-plus recipients to read their entry aloud for the class. I pretty much always got check-plusses, and it was a point of pride for me. Even in third grade I loved to write, and to please people with my writing.

One day the topic was “If I lived in the ground, I would be a…”

I really liked this topic. I got right to work. I decided I’d like to be a rock. But not just any rock. A beautiful rose quartz with a name and dreams and aspirations and magical powers. I wrote furiously and filled up a page and a half in the allotted fifteen minutes.

The next day when Mrs. Coley handed the journals back, I opened mine to see the dreaded check-minus! I almost started crying right then and there. I put my head down on the desk and pretended to be very, very tired so no one would see my red face.

Mrs. Coley asked three of my classmates to read their entries. I listened closely, hoping for some indication of where I’d gone wrong. Turns out, all of the check-plus entries did have one thing in common: they were all about being PLANTS. Daffodils, rose bushes, oak trees and the like. Of course! The topic was “If I lived in the ground,” not “If I were an inanimate object in the ground”. Plus, we’d been studying the life cycles of plants that week, so it would only make sense for the journal topic to be a non-specific curricular comprehension trap. Geez. I felt like such a dunce.

But now that I’ve had twenty-eight years to think about it, I’m inclined to conclude that my journal entry was actually the brilliant one, and that those other kids were just stifling their creative impulses, doing their part to uphold the elementary school status quo. Because I mean, plants don’t live IN the ground. Not entirely. And sentient rocks with magic powers are totally awesome. So take that, Mrs. Coley!

An Excerpt from “The Life and Times of Nathan T. Freeman, Master Defiantist”

Below you will find the second installment of my “Totally Fabricated Bios”. These were perks on my IndieGoGo campaign (successfully funded, btw!!) wherein I promised to write a short biographical piece on the contributor, with no guarantees as to its accuracy. This one is for a new friend, but one who I think will stick around in the friends column for quite a long while. His name is Nathan T. Freeman, and I met him and his lovely family in Acapulco, Mexico at a conference for contrarian geekatrons. 

Nathan requested that I write his bio in the style of the recently late Terry Pratchett (rest his soul). This, needless to say, was quite a challenge. For one thing, Pratchett is a Writing Legend. He was a master of both fantasy and parody and was one of the most prolific writers SF-F ever saw. His Discworld series alone is comprised of so many books that the scholars have lost count. And all of them are exquisite.  I was only being asked to write around 500 words, but to be honest, I had my doubts that I could pull it off.

In the end, I think I did ok. Before beginning, I immersed myself in Pratchett for several days, both reading his books I had on hand in my spare time and listening to a newly purchased audiobook while driving, eating and sleeping. I still didn’t feel ready. So, naturally, I procrastinated. A few days later, an idea hit me and I knew it was time to put the ass in the chair and pound keys. The following is the result. It is short and sweet, and I think it does emulate Pratchett’s voice, at least a little. There are two or three sentences that are decidedly un-Pratchettarian, but all in all I think it’s a good effort. Plus, I invented a pretty brilliant system of magic for this bio, called “Defiantics”, which I think I may have to recycle for novelry purposes. Enjoy!

An Excerpt from “The Life and Times of Nathan T. Freeman, Master Defiantist”

Defiantics, defiantist, nathan t. freemanThere are many names that the “T” In “Nathan T. Freeman” could stand for. A good, upstanding name like Terry would ring nicely. Thomas or Timothy would raise no eyebrows. However, Nathan T. Freeman is cursed with a perpetual shortage of fucks to give for the relative positions of people’s eyebrows. For a man like this, a more… unconventional middle name is required. If you wanted to go for something more unique, Tarachand or Tarlo would suit. But even such exotic names as these lack a certain contumaciousness. The man behind the name, you see, is a Master Defiantist. He is, in fact, the world’s foremost authority on anti-authoritarian magic. Therefore, it is only right that the “T” in question should stand for “The”. And so it does.

Nathan The Freeman began his illustrious career in the mystical arts of anti-authoritarianism early in life when, at the appointed hour, he obstinately refused to exit his mother’s womb. Labor had begun in earnest and all of the required paperwork had already been signed and notarized, and still, Nathan neglected to emerge. Days passed, along with a law or two regarding the need for a firm governmental response to the rising problem of prenatal dissidence. Nathan completely disregarded the mandates and continued to cling to the uterine walls in a contemptible display of disobedience. The delivery nurses threatened to strike and several powerful men in Washington were quite displeased. Finally, after he’d achieved notoriety as a dangerous anarchist-type and the president had declared him an Enemy of the State, Nathan leisurely made his way down the birth canal and, demonstrating incredible small-motor control for a newborn infant, proceeded to flip off everyone in the delivery room. Except for his mother, for whom he naturally felt a loving fondness.

From his origin story one can see clearly that Nathan was destined for greatness, though perhaps not the sort of greatness that gets people put in history books, and certainly not the sort that rulers hand out medals for. No, the greatness of Nathan The Freeman skipped the socially acceptable path of development entirely, forging its own course, thumbing its nose at the opinions of anyone who was not Nathan The Freeman. When, at the age of ten, he showed a promising capacity for magic, society urged him to try his hand at the art of soothsaying. After all, the priests and presidents of the world badly needed talented young diviners to assist them in their quests for domination, and the pay was quite lucrative indeed. Or, failing that, society suggested, he might look into bureaumancy. The job security couldn’t be beat. Society had rather a long list of ideas for how Nathan’s magical gifts ought to be applied. There was conjury and alchemics, bewitchery and curatives. But Nathan had no interest in any of these areas of expertise, and so he just made up his own. Thus he became the founder and first practitioner of defiantics.

Defiantics is an art in which the goal is to get the object of the magical experiment to behave as it wishes, rather than as society, physics or the defiantist wish it to behave. It is therefore a rather imprecise magic, and there is no way of predicting the results of a defiantist enchantment. While an ordinary magician might command an apple to change into a tortoise, the defiantist simply asks the apple what it wants to be. More often than not, the apple remains an apple, though it may be seen to expel a worm or to change its skin from red to green. But every once in awhile, the apple completely and unapologetically throws off the yoke of oppression and decides instead to be an intergalactic spaceship. This has caused some problems, as intergalactic spaceships are not supposed to exist, as such.

The prevailing opinion among experts is that defiantics is a useless and dangerous magic, and that such unruliness should not be tolerated in the magical arts. The academicians have succeeded in wiping the method out of the textbooks and barring entry for would-be defiantists to the most prestigious institutions of magical instruction. However, a few vocal iconoclasts claim that defiantics is far superior to the conventional schools. These rogue professors have been accused by the establishment of being themselves victims of defiantist spells and charms, to which the rogues have responded that even if it were so, it would only serve to prove their point.

Nathan himself remains silent on the controversy, saying that he is too busy being a badass to pay much attention to establishmentarian quibbles.

I’m Going to ODYSSEY!!!!

Through Space!!!

Through Space!!!

A few days ago I got an email that is probably the most wonderful and exciting piece of communication I’ve received since the midwife told me I was pregnant with my now nine-year-old daughter.

It started like this: “Dear Leslie, Congratulations!  You have been accepted for early admission into Odyssey.” And I almost dropped my tea mug on the tile floor.

For those who don’t know, Odyssey Writing Workshop is an annual, six week, intensive, residential writing program for science fiction, fantasy and horror writers. One of the most highly regarded workshops in the world for writers of fantastical fiction, it is a BIG deal. To me, certainly. But also to the speculative fiction community as a whole. The workshop is facilitated by Jeanne Cavelos, a veteran editor with decades of experience in helping people to grow and improve as writers. All of the alumni accounts I’ve read are pretty much unanimous: Odyssey will be the most powerful experience of your writing career. It will kick your ass, melt you down and reshape you. Your assumptions will be challenged, your writing skill will be taken up about ten notches and you will emerge from the six weeks dazed and exhausted, but with half a lifetime of writing craft knowledge under your belt and some awesome new friends as well.

I still can’t believe I was actually accepted. It’s like I’ve been whisked away to some alternate dimension. The Dimension Where Starr Gets To Go To Odyssey.

When I applied, I treated it as an exercise in trudging along despite disappointment. I was sure it would be just another rejection letter to add to the pile I’ve received from numerous submissions to science fiction magazines. I don’t know how many people apply to Odyssey, but I do know that it’s one of only three workshops of its kind in the US and the only one taught by an editor, that it only accepts 16 students each year, and that a lot of really talented writers apply. I am incredibly honored and humbled to be included in that group.

So this puts me in the position of fundraising. Attendance will cost me around $4000, not including any missed income while I’m away, or the summer programs I will have to enroll my daughter in so that my husband will still be able to work while I’m gone. Luckily, there is this awesome thing called Crowdfunding! I’ve started an IndieGoGo campaign to help raise part of the money I’ll need for tuition, lodging and travel to and from the workshop.

I’ve given a lot of thought to what kinds of perks to offer, and I think I’ve come up with a few really sweet ones. Like audiobook narration services, “Totally Fabricated Bios”, and some of my vintage science fiction posters, for instance. And lots more. Check out the campaign, and even if you can’t or don’t want to contribute right now, please consider sharing it on your social media platform of choice. Or if you’re a blogger or podcaster, think about doing before and after Odyssey interviews with me. I really appreciate everyone’s help!!

On Completing NaNoWriMo Without Finishing the Novel

I did it. I completed the NaNoWriMo. I kept my butt in the chair three to five hours a day, every day, throughout the month of November and tippity-tapped away on my keyboard in hopes of producing an assemblage of words that somewhat resembled a novel. And I succeeded. Sort of. Well, I got this:

Impressive, right?

Impressive, right?

But that’s not all! I also completed 52,000 words of my novel’s first draft! I really surprised myself. I was ecstatic! The story was good. The characters were engaging. Everything was far better than I would have expected. But, I was not DONE. Turns out, probably because of the three points-of-view that I insisted upon having in my story, the first draft is probably going to end up being more like 70,000 or 80,000 words. So, while I was feeling (justifiably) accomplished and capable, it was really not time to celebrate yet.

Now, what I should have done after completing the NaNoWriMo challenge was just to keep on keepin’ on. I should have cranked it out until the first draft was finished. But I did not. Instead, I said to myself, “Well Starr, pat on the back. You did it! Now it’s time for a break!”

Hint for writers: DO NOT TAKE A BREAK. It seems like a great idea. Just a couple of days, and then you’ll get back to work. But those couple of days come and go, and pretty soon it’s almost Christmas, and your kid is making a Christmas list that includes impossible-to-obtain items like “a foot of snow”, and your Mom is trying to get you to decide between yeast rolls or hot cross buns for the family holiday dinner, and your dog chews up her dog bed leaving a shredded foam disaster zone in your living room. And you think, I might as well get through Christmas before I get back to work on the old novel. But then Christmas passes, along with all its extra demands and stresses and delights, and then comes a day when you think it might be nice to just sit down and tap out a few words on the novel. So you prepare a nice, hot cup of tea, clear off your desk, dust off your laptop and open up the document. You stare at the words on the page for about half an hour as the realization slowly dawns on you that you can’t remember where you were going with this! There are minor characters in here- with NAMES- who you have no recollection of creating. The main character is in the middle of doing something completely daft, and you can’t remember WHY you put him in that situation- or how it was supposed to turn out. Ultimately, you resolve to go back and read the entire 52,000 words- something you’re NEVER supposed to do in the middle of the first draft- to recover your grasp on this plot. Uggggh.

This was my first NaNo. I thoroughly enjoyed it. I got to meet several other writers in my area. I got a free pass to go to my favorite brewery two to three nights a week (because the environment- and, ok, the beer- got the words flowing for me), and I wrote 52,000 words that were at least somewhat cohesive. I’m really glad I did it. I will probably do it again. But next time, in order to avoid the thing that happened this year, I will do it a little differently. I’ll either commit myself to writing a novel whose draft can actually be completed in 50,000 words- something with a simpler plot, perhaps, OR I will just throw the thirty days out the window and demand of myself that I keep doing my butt-in-chair time until the novel is finished. NO BREAKS. Not even for Christmas menu planning. Not even for the mid-season finale of The Walking Dead (which, by the way, I’m still sad about).

I’m not going to beat myself up about it. For one thing, I actually did an awesome job. I just didn’t do a complete job. But this isn’t a widget factory or a doctoral thesis. This is art. Completion can wait a little bit. I’d like to be a real professional and be one of those writers with daily quotas who “writes every day, no matter what”, but you know what? I’m getting there. Back off, dude. At least now I know I can do butt-in-chair time for approximately 2,000 words a day, every day. The habit will form eventually. And for another thing, if I beat myself up about it, I’ll be too depressed and self-loathing to ever finish the damn thing. And that won’t do. Live and learn and all that.

Well, I’m off to review those 52,000 words. Wish me luck!