Monthly Archives: January 2016

30 Minute Miracles

My day job recently has been…very stressful.

Very stressful.

Sometimes, I finish the work day, and I am in a jumbled state that can only be described as “frazzled.” I cross the finish line and my legs won’t stop. I get to the end of the sentence and I can’t just put down the period and be done.

This is a very stark contrast to how I normally operate, when things are running smoothly: I’m a perfectly functioning automobile heading down life’s interstate. Oh, it’s time to change lanes? I put on my turn signal, move over and boom. Easy.

When I’m stressed out, it’s Fast and Furious, Part Katie’s-Gonna-Kill-Someone.

So I learned something very useful but surprisingly difficult to do: I take 30 minutes and only do things I want to. I close the door to my office. I cross-stitch. I listen to music. I mess around on my computer. I doodle.

I imagine you’re waiting for the ‘difficult’ part here. The activities themselves are pleasant, sure, but it’s the awareness of what is waiting on the other side of the door. There’s this tiny version of me, banging on it with both fists, saying, “Hey! Hey! There’s dinner to make! That laundry isn’t going to put itself away! You do not have time to just be hiding in your room!”

The hell I don’t.

30 minutes. Think about it. How many times have you wasted 30 minutes on an extra episode of a television show? Or hitting the snooze on the clock by your bed?

By taking the time to gather my mental marbles up and put them back in the bag where they belong, I know they aren’t getting lost. I can come at my to-do list reinvigorated.

Give it a try. You have time. I dare you.

Managing Writing Goals

My office is filled with the sound of constant tapping, and I am aware that I have been at this for hours now. I check my word count. So proud. I scroll through the pages. It’s good. Very good.

And then I think of another project.

And another.

And two blogs.

That have been untouched.

I fizzle. My writing heart deflates like a cartoon balloon, pbbt-ing into nothingness.

Sometimes I can keep writing despite this sudden paperweight of anxiety and uncertainty, but it is hard. So, I took some time out to start piecing apart my goals and projects, and I would encourage you to do the same if you find yourself going, “This is all well and good but what about [other project]? Should I be doing that?”

  • Stop and ask, “Who am I right now? What is important to me?” If the answer is, “I am a person with a very hectic day job and I need the escapism that writing can afford me,” then maybe it means that you should manage your time more around pleasure writing than searching for marketing ideas.
  • Pick three flavors. Your writing life is an ice cream store. You get up to three scoops. No more. So which ones do you want to try right now? If you want to edit your book, manage your blog and finish that short story, maybe you could wait to start that parody zine.
  • Ask yourself if the problem is you or the clock. Do you actually not want to be doing a given task, or are you just poorly managing your time and energy? Step back with a spreadsheet that has your day broken down by 15 minute increments. Color-code everything that you have to do, and then break up the rest into what you want to do. Stick to that.
  • Always keep a sticky note of “Do Unto Others.” It’s one thing to lose sight of your own projects, but if you have a commitment to someone else, be sure that you are factoring that in.

What sort of tactics do you use to manage your time? Are you good at keeping track of everything or do you get easily distracted by the squirrels?

Sing Us a Song (And Get Things Done)

solo

Recently, I have found that music has been my saving grace, so far as my productivity/creativity/sustainability has been going. The importance of my life having a great and appropriate soundtrack has been crucial, and I want to share some tips because you all deserve to have a swelling orchestra on your side, too. Or Nirvana. Nirvana has been working really well for me.

  • Decide how much you are willing to pay for it, and do your research: you don’t have to break the bank to get streaming music from the magical world of the Internet. There are plenty of free options, but you’ll have to stomach the commercials every now and then (more frequently when you decide to skip a song). Recently, I’ve been exploring the Google Play Radio, because you not only have the choice of customizing a radio station by a song/artist, but there are also a lot of stations by activity, genre, etc. Some are pretty damn specific. There’s also Pandora, Spotify, Amazon Prime (that one pays for itself with the shipping and Kindle lending library), so on.
  • Get the right stuff for the right time of day: I try not to listen to mellow stuff in the morning, because it makes me want to go back to bed. This inevitably leads to one of my ‘dubstep’ stations. Likewise, at night, I usually want something chill, like a movie soundtrack. I’ve also been taking a strong look at how certain types of music impact different kinds of tasks. If I’m reading or doing something text heavy, I avoid stuff with complex lyrics that my mind will get hung up in. In fact, the more I need to focus, the more I go to something without any vocals at all – which doesn’t have to be baroque, by the way.
  • What am I making and what does it sound like: when I’m writing, using music in a smart way can actually really add a dimension to my characters and scenarios. Is it a face-off between the hero and the villain? Anime soundtrack! Is it a romantic moment between lovers? Cue the REO Speedwagon! Is it an actually serious moment between lovers? Maybe opt for some Andrea Bocelli.

Life can be busy. Times can be tough. Don’t do it in silence. I dare you.

Inspiration is Pain

Wait, wait, it’s really not supposed to be that dramatic…

So this morning, when I woke up, I realized that my brain had become a warzone.

I get migraines of the occasion. Usually they are associated with stress, times of the month, general changes in air temperature, etc. Sometimes, I can get them handled and under control before anything crazy happens. Sometimes, though, especially if they sneak in like invaders in the night, they hit with the ferocity of a summer thunderstorm. There is sound, there is fury, and it signifies my life is ending.

I got up. I got medicine. I went downstairs. I immediately went back upstairs. No light, no sound, nothing. The pain was like my skull had been cracked like an egg. The floor was offensive. The air was offensive. The settling of the house was offensive. I eventually just passed out again from the pain.

And there was one thing on my mind, in those swirling moments of agony: George R.R. Martin is a damn genius.

Why?

Because of this guy:

mountain

This is Gregor Clegane, aka The Mountain, aka Card-Carrying Member of the Old Boys Club of Suck. We know him. We hate him.

But a little reference from the Song of Ice and Fire series is that he suffers from chronic headaches. He’s always taking milk of the poppy to ease it off, but it’s a pretty constant thing that causes him suffering.

After I read that, there was just this moment, this teeny second, that I stopped and went, “That explains so much.” It doesn’t justify it or make anything he does less horrifying and awful, but for just a moment, I could see why it was happening. It wasn’t some deep thing like, “His parents didn’t love him” or “He was just a product of society” or whatever. There was an actual physical torment that was there, like a creaky board in the stairs, gnawing away at him until he snapped. Not to say he didn’t choose to embrace that, but still — this rocked my world as a writer.

It’s easy to make a monster. But making a monster that can be related to, even on a superficial scale, is something to aspire to.

 

Lark VS Owl: Ding Ding

owl v lark

Or “How Not to Get Pigeonholed”

HA. Do you see what I did there?

Okay, anyway, so…there’s a popular notion that there are two types of people when it comes to habits: morning people and night people. Or morning larks and night owls. For most of my life, I have established a card-carrying owl status. When I was in college, my sleeping hours were about 5am to 10am. My bursts of energy tend to come around 9PM to 10PM. I’ve gotten a lot of awesome work done while perfuming my artistry with fumes from the midnight oil.

A while back, I actually found myself getting angry, because with my day job, I do not have the ability to stay up as late without being a zombie the next day. “It’s not fair!” I said. “The world is out to get me!”

But the fact of the matter is this: if you want to get up early, you will. If you want to accomplish things in the morning – if you really want it – it can happen.

Note: if you don’t want to, that’s totally fine and acceptable. But if you do, read on.

For roughly the last week, I have been experimenting with getting up a half-hour early. That’s it. Just 30 minutes. It’s a drop in the bucket so far as a day’s time goes. And it was because I decided that I wanted to be able to get things done first thing, so I wouldn’t have an excuse in the evening. I flipped the script because I saw the results in my mind and took steps to make it happen.

A few tips if you’re trying the owl to lark idea:

  1. Decide on a schedule beforehand. When you’re going to bed and when you’re going to get up. Stick to it.
  2. Get some really good coffee. Drink some in the morning. Just watch all the additives.
  3. Have a bed ritual. For me, that was taking one of the Olly Restful Sleep gummies from Target at 10pm. Not only are these great for getting a full night’s rest if you tend to overstimulated at night, but it sets a countdown in my head. I know that within 30 minutes I won’t be able to keep my eyes open.
  4. Immediately do some stretches when you get out of bed. Be gentle on your body, but get the blood moving. If it’s too much, just commit to standing. Do not sit or get back/stay in bed.

If you’re going lark to owl:

  1. Avoid caffeine after about 7pm. It’s easy to think, “I need something to keep me going,” but it will do more harm than good.
  2. Again, get your blood moving. Stand up. Move around.
  3. Be conscientious of others in your household. Just because you are trying to stay up doesn’t mean they want to.
  4. Once you get to the point that you absolutely cannot stay up another second, go to bed. Make note of the time. Come back to it tomorrow.

Have you experimented with your productive times during the day? Are you adamant that the lark is obviously superior? Or are you set in your owly ways? Open up to the other! I dare you! And tell me about it in the comments or on my Facebook page!

 

Trying (All the) Times

clock

It’s a big HOT TIP for writers: find out when you work best. Experiment and find out that secret segment of time when you are the most productive, when the creative juices are absolutely at their gushiest (ew).

I know every single of one of you probably went, “Sure! But…morning time isn’t happening. For obvious reasons*.”

*obvious reasons = warm blankets, constant zzz’s, Mr. Sandman.

Or, as a variation, “Okay! But…night is not going to work. That just isn’t for me*.”

*because the house is creaky or my wife gets cranky if I stay up or…

Look. You have to try everything.

Recently, we’ve headed into the busy time of my day job. We’re in the middle of the season where we get most of the workload. We are required to do overtime. We work on weekends sometimes. And at this point, there have been many days where I’ve gotten done, wandered downstairs and melted my butt into the couch. I’m not too proud to admit that.

Over the past week, however, I’ve started getting up an extra 30 minutes. That’s all. 30 minutes. That’s not even a whole episode of “Cutthroat Kitchen.” I’ve made myself stay at at least an upright sitting position and I have gotten shit done.

It works. Try it. Or, if you’re on the opposite end of the scale, try staying up a half hour later. It’s not much, and if it doesn’t work, it doesn’t work. But you will have tried.

Is there a time of day that you have avoided because it just seems utterly impossible? Have you tried a different one and been shocked and awed by the results? Tell me about it in the comments or on my Facebook page!

Love the Things You Love

Dare to grab hold of things that make you really happy. Even if no one else gets it. Even if there isn’t a greater goal.

Watch cartoons. Read comic books.

Draw. Paint. Get a bucket of chalk and work your sidewalk until the rain washes it away.

Make things without agency or intention beyond bringing something into existence that wasn’t there before. Don’t you realize how godly that is?

Dress up and stay home.

Play with action figures.

Make castles in the sand.

Stop thinking about it.