POST!

Actually:

Systems

Thank you all for your patience. I write this to you from my pit in the basement. No, really, my office is full of stuff. I’ve spent the last two weeks digging out from under years of stuff and moving, and it’s only now that I’m coming to understand what a burden that actually is.

A little history, before I get into things. I chased and chased Mrs. Dave until she caught me. Many of you know the story, but suffice to say I can do subtle, much to my surprise. However, this was while we were in the same geographic location. And then we got stationed in different places. She went to Georgia (the state, not the … er, state (yeah, yeah, but nation is different. Kinda)) and I went to Hawaii. By that time, we’d been dating for most of a year, and we didn’t wed until most of two years after that. Even then, she didn’t join me in durance vile tropical paradise until a further two years had passed. By that time, we each had most of a household worth of stuff.

Because I’m full of awesome like that, she arrived to a set up apartment, a measly thirty to forty minutes commute from her command. (It was about the same to mine. Best I could do.) And then her household goods shipment arrived. Suddenly, we had two households worth of stuff in one appx. 800 ft^2 apartment. Joy. We got rid of a bunch, gave some away, donated more, threw away some, but were still over-stuffed. Overstuffed chair: good. Overstuffed apartment: less than good.

Since then, we’ve moved three times, one of them across an ocean and a continent. We landed in a bigger place than the previous ones, but still hadn’t taken the time to fully unbox and sort through all the things. Mistake? Yes, as it turns out. Because of the way these things work, Mrs. Dave immediately dove into the intricacies of a new command. New quals, new jobs, new collateral duties, new people. I, uh, I wrote. Some. (Not enough) Then Wee Dave came along, and from that moment, I’ve gotten very little accomplished that wasn’t explicitly Wee Dave Related Work (WDRW, for the uninitiated).

Well, time has marched on. The Creature has leveled up: Wee Dave is officially a toddler. He climbs up and down the stairs, walks (albeit like the tiny drunk person infants often resemble) more than he crawls, and in one particularly surprising episode, opens the front door unless the deadbolt is thrown. He knows how to plug cords in after he’s unplugged them, though we appear to have convinced him that plugging not-cord-things into the power sockets is Unauthorized.

Speaking of time marching on (and precipitating events, though I wasn’t), we’re going to be in the East Part longer than we’d first thought. Turns out there are Naval Regulations against moving active duty servicemembers until a year after the birth of a child. Working Title #2 will be joining us in a fully separate sense sometime late in January, so we’ll be around here for a while, yet.

While this is a joyous happening (I swear I’m not terrified. Mostly), it has precipitated introspection at the soul-searching level. Also, I’d like Wee Dave to be able to get into trouble downstairs, though I’ll get to that in a bit. Essentially, some changes need to be effected. If I thought I was getting nothing done with one small creature around, what’s it going to be like when I’ve got two under my dark tutelage care?

How does this connect in with the Dread Pit of Stuff to which I alluded earlier? I’m glad you asked! For many reasons, not least of which is the military only paying to move a specific weight of goods, it’s become more than clear (existentially akin to knurd, for those following) that we needed a Reckoning. A winnowing, if you will. Time to cull the herd. And as our time (Mrs. Dave’s and mine) has been effectively commandeered, it was most fortunate that Mom and Pop Dave came to town for a couple of weeks of Grandsquirm Time.

While Mom Dave rocked Occupy Wee Dave, Pop Dave and I spent the time digging out from under The Pit. Was it a complete success? Not total, no. But. It was a start (and what a start it was) and we now have a more livable lair. (To the admitted detriment of my office, at least temporarily. It is to sigh.)

Um, Dave, this is MGC, not Life According to Dave.

Right you are! Writers, I’ve seen more than a few amusing signs, memes, and mottos in my time. You might recognize: “A clean desk is a sign of a sick mind.” I freely admit that I used to swear by this. Not anymore! Seriously, the emotional and psychological weight of unfinished tasks is a stressor I do not need and do not want. I highly recommend taking the time to clear your slate of these unfinished tasks, hanging over your head like a low orbit bombardment fleet. They really put a damper on all the things. Especially the creative ones.

I get an itch when I try to work these days. It’s become so much a part of my process that I barely notice it anymore, but it degrades my ability to do anything related to writing. It’s the “you have more important things to be doing” itch, and the only relief comes from doing those “more important” things. Are they actually more important than writing? Not really. Writers write, and if you (I) don’t write for long enough, your (my) skills degrade, the muse stops talking (though there are other reasons for that) and you (I) stop being a writer. I don’t know about you, but I don’t want to used to be a writer.

The way out – at least for me – is a matter of systems (hey, a thousand words in and I finally get to the point. I must be a novelist or something). I’m finding I need to set up systems that assist me in accomplishing my goals with the fewest distractions. At this moment, for example, I’m upstairs, where the mess in my office isn’t more than that selfsame itch I mentioned earlier. It’s still a distraction, but I’m actually getting something done (albeit done with much tardiness), and I’m not neglecting my responsibilities. Though I am finding myself conscripted to play peekaboo on the stairs or read Mr. Brown Can Moo with some regularity.

Any number of professional writers (the ILoH, the BbESP, our Dave, the Impaler, both Redheads of Doom, and whatever Brad’s going to turn into now that the House Done Burnt) advocate writing every day. Actually, pretty much all successful writers say it’s the only way to go. I expect I’ll agree, as not writing every day hasn’t helped me much, at all. Life, however, has a way of getting in the way, as most know. If you don’t have your systems in place to maintain momentum, creative work is one of the first things to fall apart. Me, I’m working at putting a bunch of those systems in place, as life is about to get a great deal more complicated. What helps you maintain discipline?

21 Comments

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21 responses to “POST!

  1. There’s definitely something to be said for the pomodoro technique: the “I don’t care what else I need to be doing, for the next twenty minutes, it’s X and X alone.” (X may be writing. It may be folding laundry. It just might be updating the sales tracking numbers, or cleaning my desk. But I can focus for 20 minutes.)

    Sometimes I keep a notepad right next to my trackball, so when I think of something else that is utterly important to do, I write it down, think “I’ll get to that when this is over,” and keep on going.

    The next thing we’re going to try is the same as KKR & DWS: having seperate media computer from writing computer. This way, not only does it avoid the aggressive cookies and tracking of mytweetface, it also means that there is no “I can’t think of what’s next… let me go check the latest scores on the drama llama rodeo!” without getting up and physically changing computers.

    • Laura M

      I combine pomodoro with not being allowed to do things I want to do (like check my email or blogs) until the pomodoro of writing is done. Then, any procrastinating is at least productive.

      Also, there are times you just can’t write. The last few weeks as my boys were getting ready to go back to college, I lost all writing focus. I’ll get it back this weekend, and, for me, I’ll start with very little at first. For some reason, I can’t just jump into doing a lot all at once.

      I’ll tell you, writing with little ones is a feat beyond compare. Don’t know how you do it, and my hat’s off to you.

      • I hated pomodoro. I’d just get writing and the &^%$# timer would go off and disrupt my train of thought/writing. Accountability On Pointy Boots helps. I hate having to admit to my friends that I can’t manage a meager 1000 words when I’ve got all day to do it. NaNoWriMo really pushes my limits.

        Last year NaNo was easy, because my husband seriously injured his hand and I wound up being his chauffeur for about three months. There’s nothing like those hours spent in doctor and physical therapist’s waiting room with no WiFi to really get your word count up. I do not recommend this method.

        Once my kids were in school, things changed. Not hugely, because kids get sick, miss the bus (#1 child was a champion at this) and want your attention when they arrive home. None the less, there are blessed _hours_ of time when you can stare blankly at the monitor wondering what to write.

        Before the kids were old enough to go to school? I did more daydreaming than writing. Lots of internet learning, usually at Baen’s Bar, sitting at the feet of the great with my ears open. The writing tended toward small snatches, then trying to hold the idea in my head as I got a drink/snack/changed diaper/admired drawing/everything else and could go back to finish the scene. Or at least the sentence.

        I know the lack of time to write is frustrating. But they do grow up. And they play with each other, so you can sneak time at the keyboard.

        • Laura M

          Hah. I like it when the timer goes off, and I decide to finish the sentence or paragraph and look up again a long time later. And (she said proudly) my kitchen timer is a rooster, and crows really loudly.

          I used pomodoro’s 25 minutes at the day job to focus (w/o actually setting a timer), and it was great. Made me think I was undiagnosed ADD, however, when I realized how often I wanted to check email within the time span.

  2. I need to completely unhook from the Internet, otherwise I’ll spend untold hours on YouTube, Facebook, and surfing through blogs instead of writing.

    My strategy used to be to take my laptop to the Barnes & Noble down the hill from my house, but leave it’s charger at home. I’d buy a cup of something from the Starbucks on site and camp out at a table and write like mad for three hours or so until the low-battery warning came on. I’d have my MP3 player with me too to block out the ambient sound. Even came up with a playlist of kick-ass writing songs to help get/keep me in the zone.

    All in all, it worked pretty well. I was able to bang out 4K+ words a day like that.

    Unfortunately, now that I’ve moved, I think I need to find a new strategy. The nearest B&N is 30+ minutes away, and the chairs in the cafe are horrible: sit in one for longer than half an hour and your butt falls asleep while your back ties itself into all kinds of knots.

    • Feather Blade

      I can’t claim to be writer, but when I’m having trouble getting moving on a project what helps me is “Start anywhere, do anything.”.

      For example, last night I was goofing off on the internet instead of drafting. So under the “do anything” idea, I forced myself to put pen to paper by drafting a blank desk calendar and then tracing it for 10 months worth of paper.

      By the time I was 9 pages of tracing in, I was warmed up and ready to start drawing anything other than calendar pages.

  3. Hmm, why do I suddenly foresee a lot of crock-pots, older duplicate books, and a set of dishes becoming prizes at LibertyCon next year?

    • Oh, hell no. I am not dragging that much stuff a third of the way across the nation just to dump it on people I like. I think we’re going to see about gettinng the books to either vets (we’re in easy driving distance of Bethesda) or to active folks deployed. The rest of the stuff? Equal parts dump or donate.

  4. What, you haven’t found some nice young person on base who’s just starting their first foray into off-base housing, and gifted them with, ah, a starting set?

  5. Reality Observer

    Yep, writing every day is the best advice. I am managing that (mostly), even when it is not writing that will ever contend for the Benjamin Awards. (Although, I did have to get one out of my head yesterday that might, just might, earn me as much as a fin on KU…)

    Carrying that pad around, absolutely. I’ve realized that I have to sleep with it next to me. (Hopefully, I don’t have to find a waterproof method…)

    Other than that – nope, nothing. Except a bad koan – “If a writer is writing in his office, does anyone really notice? Does anyone really care?” (Even the other would-be author in my household cannot seem to get the idea of absolutely, positively stay away from me when I am at the keyboard…)

  6. Samantha Hulatt

    I have a question about the “write every day” adage if a sheltered Newfly is allowed the privilege.

    What counts as writing? Certainly I have the (distant) dream of receiving income from my word-smithing, but I am also a college student (1/4 time or one class), vice pres. of a student organization, wife, mother, and a substitute bus aide. My writing usually consists of homework (I’m taking Intro Statistics ), emails to coordinate a research/service project as well as other club matters and personal stuff, notably text messages (I consider it good training for microflash). I occasionally wrestle/weasel an hour or two to write creatively one to three times a week. (I too keep a notepad close– not only to write down things I need to remember but for the persistent plot bunnies that attack me whenever I’m doing something really important. Sleeping for example.

    I hope the answer is that all writing is valuable. At least the research I do for school can be dual-purpose!

    Thanks for reading,
    Sam Hulatt

    • This is something you’re likely going to have to answer yourself. All writing takes energy, but I find that blog posts (and similar nonfic) are less resource heavy than fiction.

    • Hi, Sam.

      Is all writing valuable? Somewhat….

      Sorry, you caught me on a slack day, and I’m likely to drivel on too long about this one.

      Write every day. Do the pomodoro 20 minute sprint. Write hanging from the ceiling, or as one creative diva of Japan supposedly advised, while holding your breath underwater (he claims this increased his creativity a lot!). Do this, that, or the other…

      What I think we’re all saying is that you need to set up some habits to keep you grinding out words. That may be a daily quota, a daily period of time, or something else. Perhaps you need checklists, character sheets, and all kinds of scaffolding. The trick here is that most writing — even short stories and flash fiction, even those dratted little 100 word drabbles or whatever they are called — takes time. Time to get your head in the write spot, time to organize your thinking, time to make that translation or conversion to words on paper (or screen), time to review/revise/rewrite. And the thing that keeps you going through that thicket, across the hours and days and weeks, is your habit, your system, your ways of working.

      I think what I would recommend for you is to think about what you consider writing. Take it apart. What are the steps, what is the process in your mind? Now, where do you feel strong, and where do you feel weak? You may want to do some practice, some exercises, even some reading to help build up those weaker areas. How do you lay out the process?

      I know some people who spend a chunk of time planning, outlining, doing character sheets and all that, and then dive in and write, write, write intensely for a concentrated time. They also take a break after that focused period. Other people do better with a regular rhythm, morning pages (see Writing from the Right Side of Your Brain, if I remember right), or perhaps a dedicated writing time. That’s the write every day style.

      Think about the way that you write. Think about the things that help you be productive. Lay those out, and consider the best way to fit them into your life now, and for the next… six months or so. Yes, taking classes, having babies, and other life events may well mean that your schedule isn’t like another writers. BUT do try to do things to feed that flame of creation that is inside you. That may mean going to the art museum, spending an hour with a painting, and then writing one blog entry. Or it may mean deciding to do NaNoWriMo this November. Or as my writing group knows, commit to writing one short story every week for six weeks (an exercise based on the premise that doing something for a month or so helps to build a habit — so we chose six weeks as our goal, and every now and then, several of the members write a short story every week. Good exercise!).

      Write every day. That’s a guideline, which matches something that quite a few of us have noticed — we need to spill the words on a regular basis to keep the habit strong. What kind of writing? That depends on you, more than anything else. I will say that I think if you want to do fiction writing, than you may want to make sure you do that on a regular basis — it really isn’t quite the same as writing papers for classes, blog postings, and so forth. Dreaming that setting and characters into place, then walking through a scene and showing your reader the actions, the dialogue, and the thoughts, creating that scene-sequel sequence, and putting all that into words that a reader can follow – it’s a skill, and like most skills, the best way to keep it well-tuned is practice, practice, practice (which looks a lot like write every day — or at least write regularly).

      One more point, while I’m blathering. Let’s say you decide that doing a 30 minute sprint every day is what you need to practice right now. And you set into doing that! But in a month, you may need to reconsider, because 30 minutes seems too short. Or maybe you notice you’re having trouble with humor, and want to add something to tackle that. DO IT! This is your practice, your schedule, and you get to change the goals as you work your writing muscles. You may decide to write romance for a while — and then decide to chuck it, because you really don’t like it. That’s fine. Don’t set up your system and decide that you are locked into it forever. In fact, you’re likely to find you gain a lot quickly from your practice, then it gets to be easy but a grind, and you need to consider how to improve from your current plateau. Just keep those goals growing, and see how far you can go!

      Too long, didn’t read? Okay, try this. If you want to be a writer, you need to build the skills and habit of writing — of the type you want to create. So take a long hard look at the habits and skills you want to build, then decide the best ways to learn, exercise, and practice those skills. Then set your schedule, whether it’s write every day or whatever. And take a look after you’ve been doing it for a while — you may need to reset the goals as you get into your rhythm.

      Good luck!

      • Laura M

        What Mike said: it’s all about creating a habit. And, once you’ve broken a good habit often enough, you know the perils of not sticking to it Every. Single. Day.

  7. amiegibbons15

    if you’re competitive, I recommend word wars. I do them through nanowrimo. You find other people on the chats or forums to war with and you race for the set amount of time. You want to get 500 words in 10 minutes, go to battle against other writers 🙂

    • Laura M

      Another trick is the ten word minimum. Anyone can write ten words a day, so you feel silly not doing at least that much. It forces you to touch the document, and usually gets you more than ten words. And, it keeps you in the story.

    • Laura M

      But, seriously, 500 in ten? Wow.