Shiny New… What?

No this is not another parody post, although I admit I was tempted.

It’s not exactly the traditional “new year, fresh start” post, either, partly because I can’t do anything the traditional way even if I’m trying and partly because I’ve never managed to make a fresh start without a complete change of practically everything. This is actually kind of normal.

So, while we’re all recovering from the New Year’s Eve partying and thinking about those shiny new resolutions some of us have made (I might make some, but they’re not shiny, and they’re more along the lines of “try to” than “I will”), here’s a few thoughts about actually making the blasted things count.

For starters, they have to be something that you control. “Win the lottery” is a dream, not a resolution. “Buy lottery tickets every week” is a resolution. (I never said it had to be a good one). So is “finish book X”. “Become a bestseller”, nope. Nice dream, but… Okay, these are really stupidly obvious examples, but if you are trying to decide what you’re going to change about your life as part of the next year, it does help to isolate the parts of what you want to change that you can’t affect. They can hide in innocuous places (Like for me everything comes with the caveat of having enough energy and brain after work to actually do anything).

Once you’ve figured out what it is you want to change, it helps to look at how. If you’re trying to stop a bad habit, you have to put a different better habit in its place otherwise as soon as you get stressed you’ll revert to the old pathways. Brains create shortcuts for things that happen often: there’s some kind of trigger stimulus or group of stimuli (I itch), you respond in the way you’ve trained yourself through repetition (I scratch), and your body gives you a reward (It doesn’t itch any more). If you want to stop scratching, you need to change how you respond to an itch and make a conscious effort for at least 5 weeks to do something else every time you itch (good luck with this, by the way – that particular brain-body short-cut is one that gets so deeply ingrained you might not even realize there was an itch until you’ve scratched yourself raw. That’s what happens to me, anyway…).

So, you want to make wordage happen every day? Set up your writing habit so you’ve got a trigger for it (“oh, I just got a big flashing writing time notification”), and for the next 5 -6  weeks, don’t change anything else except that when that big flashy writing time notification (or whatever else your trigger is) happens you open your current work in progress and you don’t close the file until you’ve added something to it. Even if the something is “insert transition scene here later so I can write the good bit now”. Give yourself a time frame (the 20 minute tomato thing works – there are old posts about that floating around here somewhere), and when the time is up, if you’re fighting save what you’ve done and take a break. If things are flowing, fine, of course. And make sure you have some kind of reward other than “ooh, wordage” because if you’re anything like me you’ll look at what you’ve done and go “oh my deity that sucks” (As a side note – I don’t recommend using food as a reward. It creates a new bad habit that you’ll need to get rid rid of entirely too many pounds later). Maybe the reward is you get to go on Facebook and chat after you’ve done your writing time. Or maybe you’ve got a really accommodating spouse/partner/significant other who’ll help you reward yourself with mind-blowing sex (I am not admitting anything here – but I wouldn’t recommend this method simply because it relies on there being someone else who’s willing and ready when you are. Save the mind-blowing sex for some other occasion). Whatever you choose for a reward is up to you – but you’ll find if you keep it going you won’t actually need to reward yourself because you brain will do that part for you. That’s when you’ve got the new habit in place.

After that, all you need to do is try not to accidentally make a different one that overrides your shiny new writing habit.

One last tip: one change at a time. Too much too fast, and chances are you’ll do what I’ve done many times and wind up losing the lot. We’re creatures of habit, every last one of us, and it takes work to build a new habit to replace an old one. Work and concentration. This is one place where multi-tasking isn’t going to work.

May 2015 be your best year yet, and may those of you who want to change their lives be able to do so.


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29 responses to “Shiny New… What?

  1. I’m not even going to TRY on making new years resolutions and plans, and am going with one day at a time. Life has this knack of getting in my way. To wit, my first post of the year makes note of that.

    Probably the closest I have to a resolution is finish Blessed Hope this month. I had planned to do so in the hospital, (or at least make significant headway) but the meds they gave me were migraine inducing. (That seems to be settling down. Now I feel like I am about to have a stroke about 75% of the time. Wheee! I can work with that.)

  2. Draven

    would love to make a scheduled writing time… but i wouldn’t get any fiction done if i did…

    • Kate Paulk

      This is an issue – although “scheduled writing time” can be “I have 5 minutes” if your life is that chaotic.

  3. McChuck

    “… When I give you the keys to a shiny new Australia …”

    Sorry. I just had to say that. Probably an after effect of a mind control ray.

    May this year be better than the last.

  4. robfornow

    Woke up, first thought- “GOD I still miss her.” Looked out the window, it remains as it has been for over a month now; overcast. Walked to living room and found out why the dog was sleeping in the bedroom instead of her chair. Yeah, big yukky mess by the door. Conditions have not changed overnight- life still sucks.

    That tells me that I am going to have to do some massive changes in my attitude if I want things to get better. No body and is going to do it for me. I’m going to have to look for more things to laugh at, I’m going to have to think of new things to appreciate, I’m going to have to put my nose to the grindstone and make some (MANY) accomplishments if I want this new year to have any value.

    So, I have a goal for the first New Year I ever thought I needed one. One of those attitudes to cultivate is the attitude of gratefulness. As such, I am grateful to ATH and the Mad Genius Club and all their minions, Huns, and cohorts in the Evil Kingdom of Evil for their wit, expertise and most of all the expression of the joy of living excluded by all.

    • Kate Paulk

      Gratefulness is a good thing – so is simply looking for the good in whatever crap you’ve been handed (the stuff does make good fertilizer, I’m told).

  5. BobtheRegisterredFool

    My seemingly first priority for the past six years involves factors outside of my control or understanding. I get quite demoralized and confused at times.

    This is good solid advice, yet I cannot promise to use it to get my act better together.

    • Kate Paulk

      You can isolate whatever parts of that priority are under your control and aim to get those done. Or even just aim to accept what happens without throwing fits (I’m working on that one…)

  6. I’m not making any resolutions. I have some concrete goals: lose 20 lbs by my wedding, finish Dragon Noir, then Apple-Cheeked Poison in the spring. Other than that, nose to the grindstone, keep working hard and looking forward a couple of years at a time to make sure things stay on track. Today my goal is about 2K words written and tomorrow it’s 3K. Between the day-by-day goals and the long term, it keeps me going. Oh, and the weightloss goal conflicts with the writing, because it means I need to take time to exercise!

    • Weight loss made easy (if frustrating): have the dentist put a retainer in in late November that does not allow you to eat nuts, chips, caramel, bagles, pizza crust, or anything else crunchy, chewy, or that requires tearing. And set the thing so your front teeth don’t close (no firm biting). I had no idea how many holiday foods have nuts in them! But I lost 5 lbs the first three weeks the blasted thing was in, in part because after I eat, it takes 10+ minutes to scrub and rinse. The nosh isn’t worth the effort.

  7. Hmm, if the year goes as you begin it, the cat’s in deep kimchee. I overslept her usual feeding time by 43.5 minutes.

    On the other paw, I now know for certain that the cat does indeed carry a watch under her fur. And I got yesterday’s writing proofed before watching the Tournament of Roses Parade. Great floats – icky commentators. Too much with the feeeeeels (granted, it’s CA, and the Hallmark Channel, but still.)

    • Kate Paulk

      Oh noes! Being late with the cat’s food is unforgivable! (Just ask the cat…)

    • I watched it on HGTV – wanted to find the blasted mute button. Whoever they were, they were obnoxious. I saw part of Hallmarks rebroadcast and thought their commentators did a better job. Loved the replica of the Tomb of the Unknowns and the Wells Fargo show ender.

  8. I know I want to get Holovideo finished, which means finding the time to go back through and re-read all the existing chapters and figure out how to get from there to the end. It’s been stalled ever since I looked at the outline for Chapter 20 and realized that my 20-something self clearly had something in mind, but my 40-something self can no longer translate the written notes into whatever that was.

    And I want to get The Steel Breeds True rewritten and up on KDP. A task that I thought would be simple when I decided upon it back in August — but what I thought was a sound text in 2003 proved to be very unsatisfactory when I pulled it back out to start in.

    Not to mention the various business and website-building goals I’d like to accomplish this year. And the biggest one of all — learning how to sustain progress on multiple projects at once, instead of having progress on one thing come at the expense of everything else grinding to a halt.

    • Kate Paulk

      Rewriting something you did at 20 is kind of like a collaboration between your 20 year old self and your current self, only you can’t yell at co-author because she’s years in the past…

  9. Oddly, recognized something…. I think it was Sarah who pointed out you need to pick something you can “visualize,” and you pointing that you need to make sure it’s something you can actually influence… both of those mean that you have to look at it and understand what you’re actually doing.

    Which kicked something or other in the hindbrain and made me realize that an awful lot of lying– or maybe it’s just folks accidentally misleading others without real intent to tell falsehoods?– keeps going because folks don’t do details.

    “Make the world better.” Great! “Make the world better by making it conform to My Way of organizing coffee flavors.” Uh….
    “End war.” Great! “End war by surrendering any time we find ourselves in one.” Eeeerrrrrr…..

    • Kate Paulk

      Yeah. That’s why it’s important to get specific. “End world hunger” sounds great. “End world hunger by killing off the entire population” not so much, funnily enough.

      • China’s solution to STDs was brilliant, though. Not only did killing everyone that came to a doctor with one drop the number who’d spread it, now they don’t have to treat folks because they hide it!

  10. Laura M

    This is the year I plan to publish two books, not just one. There, that’s a concrete goal. One of them is entirely drafted and I’m working on revisions. The other is in the second to last scene or so, but I have to go back and re-read a bunch of it because I stopped for NaNo. Stopping for NaNo was worth it because I got a whole draft (in which I wrote the words The End) so that I can publish two books next year. Also, this is the year in which one of my books will have no lawyers at all. I’m trying to grow.