Almost All Systems Are GO… Part 1

***Note: When I finished this blog post, it was really loooooooong. So I’m splitting it up into several parts. This first part gives a brief introduction on the idea behind the series, and delves into the first of my productivity systems, which deals with inspiration and energy. Check back soon for more installments!***

Two months ago, on New Year’s Eve, I published a post about my 2016 Writing Plan and all of the creative goals I hope to achieve this year. Three weeks later I began to write this blog post, got over half of it written, got distracted, and didn’t come back to it until tonight. As you can see, my 2016 Writing Plan is hitting the requisite slumps and blocks. But good news! Despite random periods of slumpishness, I am well on my way to doing all the things! (I even was offered beard help.) I’m feeling productive. The words are flowing. The plots are coalescing. The ideas are being seized upon before they flit away. But none of it would be so, were it not for my SYSTEMS. As promised, I am writing this post to fill you in on the details of the 2016 Writing Plan’s logistics and behind the scenes operations.

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I started implementing my systems about five months ago, little by little. Some of them are still in the beta testing phase, and they are all still subject to refinement, but I think I have enough data to illustrate how they work.

The purpose of each of my systems is to get me to do four things:

  1. Stay inspired and energized on my creative projects.
  2. Manage my time, including work time, family time, down time and creative time, in such a way that I don’t end up TOTALLY SLACKING OFF.
  3. Strike a balance for my writing between the spine-tingling creative rush and the tick-tock production schedule.
  4. Most importantly, MAKE MY LIFE MORE ABOUT WRITING. Otherwise known as Immersion.

So, what are these brilliant systems, you ask? I will tell you.

Inspiration and Energy

Here’s a scenario that has happened to me about a hundred too many times. I’m working on this awesome project–a short story or a novel or an article or a blog post, whatever–and I’m just chugging along, feeling super inspired, writing 5,000 words in one sitting, not being able to stop thinking about the project for days on end…and then, Something Happens. It might be a family emergency, or the sudden realization that I am behind on other things, or it might be that I suddenly get stuck in the plot of what I’m writing. In the past, I’ve responded to this sort of interruption by stopping. I can’t say how many times I’ve told myself, “I’ll just take a short break for a day or two, and then get right back to it”, but let’s just say if I had a dime for each one, I’d probably be a hundredaire.

So last year when I was evaluating the roadblocks on my path to being a better and more prolific writer, I identified this one as “easily losing inspiration/energy.” To avoid this roadblock, I needed a system for maintaining inspiration and energy. Here’s what I came up with.

  • Write every day. My current daily word count goal is 800 words of fresh drafting or one scene of revision, which is a good goal (challenging but reachable) for where I’m at in my life right now. But if my schedule tightens up, I’m not scared to reduce that goal to whatever I can tap out in ten minutes. Likewise, if ever there’s a lull in Things To Do, I can ramp up the daily wordcount to fill up all that free time.
  • Have multiple projects going at once. A novel and a short story is working well for me at the moment. This way, if I run into a quagmire in the novel that I’m not sure how to resolve, instead of losing interest and letting my energy wane on the project, I switch over to the short story for a few days. When I do this, I am refusing to let my ideas stop steeping (which is essential to working out plot problems), or my writing muscles atrophy. I’m keeping up with my daily writing, and while I get all stoked on project B, project A is still simmering in the back of my mind, hopefully working out its own kinks. This method has already helped me immensely.
  • Writerly fellowship and peer pressure. My writer friends keep me on track. I’m part of two writing groups, one virtual and one local. My Odyssey class meets weekly on Google Chat to brainstorm and commiserate, and we have a running competition for who can get the most story rejections. We also have a couple of in-person reunion events planned for 2016, because we love each other with a deep and passionate love that makes your marriage look like a last ditch prom date. I’m also part of a group that convenes in meat space near where I live, once a week to critique each other’s stories. After the critiquing, we gather in a circle to type at a feverish pace for about an hour. It’s surprising how effective peer pressure can be for your word count. I’m a busy person outside of writing, so I don’t make it to every meeting of either of these groups, but I try to do at least one of them each week, if not both. It really, really helps. These people understand me, and they encourage and inspire me in ways that no one else really can.
  • Write at a particular time each day. To be honest, I haven’t gotten this one down yet. The idea is that if you sit down to write at the same time each day, you will eventually have your brain trained to be in creative mode at that time. My life is so wacky, however, that it’s really difficult to carve out a specific block of time for anything that can be repeated daily. But I’m hoping that as I get my other activities and responsibilities shuffled into something approaching an orderly schedule, a consistent time for writing will emerge. UPDATE: Since writing this post, I have upgraded to a morning routine, and have been spending at least one hour on writing projects first thing after breakfast each day. The routine is working really well for me, and I’m getting my writing done each day when my mind is at its freshest and most creative!

So, that’s it for inspiration and energy. Look out for future installments of this series, which I will post as I finish revising them.

 

2016 Writing Productivity Plan

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I’ve never been a big fan of New Years’ resolutions. It has always seemed to me that if you really want to accomplish or change something in your life, there’s no good excuse to wait until January 1st to begin. I think the reason why people so often give up on their resolutions is because they don’t really want that change badly enough. They’re just making resolutions because, hey, that’s what you do on New Years, right? The resolutions are for changes that may very well be beneficial to implement, but the feeling or motivation behind them is too vague or wishy-washy to carry them through.

Speaking of changes, I decided in March of 2015 that I wanted to make a few. They’re all interrelated, but they all kind of fall under the umbrella of “Be more productive and do more with my life so that I don’t crumble under the weight of so many regrets that I can’t dig myself out of them.” Yeah. It was like that.

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Look, I’m not an expert on productivity. Far from it. I remember the first time I ever completed a major creative project, rather than abandoning it partway through when I got distracted by a new idea. It was four years ago. I’m thirty-three, and I only figured out how to complete a project four years ago. Also, I have a tendency to be super spacey about schedules, to-dos, and commitments, and I am NOT an early riser. My mental image of a Very Productive Person looks like this: gets up at 6:30, exercises for thirty minutes, makes a healthy breakfast and eats it sitting down, does profitable work for several hours without skipping lunch, completes all errands and housework in a timely manner, and is committed to devoting a certain amount of time each day to creative projects. Also never forgets to pay the phone bill. None of those qualities describe me. Or at least, some of them are only just beginning to. (There will be a blog post on how I’ve managed to up my general productivity over the past few months. Stay tuned.)

What I’m really shooting for here is to make my life more about doing something with my creative drive. More specifically, I want to write more and to do more with my writing. (And when I say writing, I mean the creatively fulfilling kind–mainly fiction. I clarify because I actually do write a lot, but it’s mostly blog posts for my business clients, and while they pay the bills, blog posts about “How to Find the Right Futon Cover” or “Ten Things You’re Probably Forgetting to Clean” aren’t really creatively fulfilling at all.) The thing I’ve realized is, there’s not much stopping me. There never has been. It’s just that I’ve always been too easily distracted or overwhelmed by ADULT STUFF that I ignore my passion. And if I ignore my passion, it will never take me anywhere.

So, in lieu of resolutions, I’ve decided to make a 2016 PRODUCTIVITY PLAN. Or, as I like to think of it: Starr’s Mission to Level Up (And Be More Awesome Than Last Year). It’s basically like what businesses do at the beginning of a fiscal year. A plan for the year is better, and more likely to succeed, than a list of resolutions. For one thing, a plan requires more thought and energy, getting you more pumped up and motivated. It also requires you to figure out HOW you’re going to make the changes you want to make. And, of course, it can serve as sort of a road map that you can refer to going forward to make sure you’re on track. Best of all, you don’t have to wait until New Year’s to implement your annual productivity plan. Any day of the year will do. Just check back with your plan periodically and make a new one around the same day next year.

I’ve been working over the past few months on putting in place systems that will help me progress with my goals, and with this blog post, I’m officially setting my intentions for 2016. (More about the systems in that upcoming blog post I mentioned.) I figure that posting this plan in a public place will have the added benefit of making me feel more accountable for actually doing it.

In developing my 2016 Productivity Plan, I took stock of the things I accomplished this year, and then considered whether I wanted to do more of them next year, and how much more.

To give you an idea…

Things I Accomplished in 2015:

  • 1 First Draft of a Novel Halfway Written (I started it during NaNoWriMo and am still plugging away at it. The first draft should be finished in January or February, 2016.)
  • Won NaNoWriMo for the Second Year Running (Yay!)
  • 6 Short Stories Written (This is better than any previous year, but I’d like to do more.)
  • 12 Posts Written for My Own Blog (Ideally, I’d like to do at least one blog post a week, but I’m trying to set reachable goals here, so I’ll settle for somewhere in the middle. Also, I don’t like how the 12 posts were spread out over the year. When I look at my blog stats, there’s a big gap in the middle of the year where I didn’t publish anything for four or five months.)
  • ~50 Posts Written for Clients’ Blogs (This will probably be about the same in 2016.)
  • 78 Critiques of Other Writers’ Stories (This is freaking AMAZING, and I entertain no delusions that I will match it next year, as most of these were written during my attendance at Odyssey Writing Workshop, where I had to write two to three critiques a day for six weeks. I don’t think I will come close to doing this many critiques again, but I do want to make time for critiquing other writers’ work, for two reasons. One, it is part of my ongoing education in What Makes A Good Story; and two, I will probably need critiques of my own work, so of course I will want to reciprocate.)
  • Estimated 95,000 Total Words of Fiction Written (This might sound like a lot, until you realize that over half of these were written in the month of November, during NaNoWriMo. If I can do 50,000 words in one month of mad activity, then I can certainly get in 20,000 in a regular month, don’t you think?)
  • Estimated 15,000 Total Words Revised (This is sloppy. Just sloppy. I have a pile of short stories sitting on my desk that need revising.)
  • 3 Months of Writing Statistics Recorded Daily (I began recording my daily writing stats on October first, and have fully implemented the habit now. This is awesome. I love being able to watch my words pile up on the spreadsheet. And I only missed 15 days of writing in three months. Which, for me, is very, very good. But I want to do better.)
  • 19 Short Story Submissions Made (Nowhere NEAR enough.)
  • 0 Novel Queries Sent (Which makes sense, because I haven’t got a completed novel…YET.)
  • 17 Books Read (4 science fiction, 4 fantasy, 4 writing guides, 2 literary fiction, 2 short story collections, 1 horror. You can see the titles here.)
  • 1 Con Attended (ReaderCon in Boston–it was a blast!)
  • 1 Workshops Attended (Odyssey Writing Workshop–life-changing! Should probably count as 52 workshops.)
  • 2 Science Fiction/Fantasy Magazines Subscribed To (Fantasy and Science Fiction Kindle edition, and Fireside Fiction. I love reading speculative short stories, and since I want magazines to continue making them available to me, I figured I should do my part to support my favorite ones. Next year, I’d like to support a couple more as well. I’m not sure I’ll be able to afford another subscription, but maybe a small donation here or there when I’m feeling flush.)
  • 0 Beard Progress (An epic beard makes you a better science fiction/fantasy author by giving you like eighty kazillion experience points. It is known.)

(In addition to my Writerly Pursuits, I also mom’d a bunch, did daily social media maintenance for several clients, narrated five audiobooks, ran a successfully funded IndieGoGo campaign, met a bunch of awesome new friends, and did some other stuff…)

Now, taking into account the above list of 2015 accomplishments, which, I have to say, I already feel rather good about, here are my goals for outdoing myself in 2016.

Things I Hope to Accomplish in 2016:

  • Revise 1 Novel (The one I’m currently writing, ideally.)
  • Write another Novel (In November, obviously.)
  • Write and Revise 10 Short Stories (Only four more than this year! I can totally do it!)
  • Write at Least 18 Blog Posts (On my OWN blog, of course.)
  • Write the Obligatory Number of Client Blog Posts (However many they’ll pay me to write.)
  • Write at Least 1 Salable Non-Fiction Article (NOT a blog post. Like a real article, for a magazine or something. Must be on a topic that actually interests me.)
  • Fiction Word Count Goal: 150,000 (This is quite a bit lower than I think I can do. Baby steps.)
  • Revise at Least 100,000 Words of Fiction (Yikes.)
  • 100 Short Story Submissions (Crazy, right? But I’m in this weird cultish blood pact with some of my writer friends. If I don’t submit 100 stories, I forfeit my soul or something. I don’t know, I haven’t read the fine print…)
  • 25 Queries (You know, once I get that novel up to scuff.)
  • Read 20 Books (As always, reading Harry Potter to my kid at before bed doesn’t count!)
  • Attend 1 Con (I’m going to WorldCon!!!)
  • Workshops? (I don’t know. We shall see if the opportunity presents itself. As always, I’m committed to continuing to deepen my knowledge of craft in other ways.)
  • Buy a Convincing Fake Beard

Think I can do it? I’m certainly going to give it my best shot. And I’ll keep you posted as the year progresses.

Do you have any resolutions this year? Or an ambitious Productivity Plan, like mine? Let me know in the comments. Maybe we can be motivation buddies!