Posted in writing

Time Enough At Last — Part II

This is part 2 of a post from last week. You don’t have to read that one first but I think it makes more sense and will likely be way more helpful if you do.

Getting (Back) Time To Write

I made a conscious decision, after having no time to write (I had plenty of time to write) that I wanted to write. And so I started on a mission to reclaim my time and write. Here’s how.

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Step 1: It Wasn’t About Tracking In The Traditional Sense

Many people will take a week and track what they are doing in the moment. How much time they spend on things like commuting, making meals, watching television, etc. While I love to track and am a fan of this type of data collection to get a baseline (I even wrote an article about it!), I know that this was busy work.

Yes, it’s busy work. How did I know? Because the facts were simple:

There are 24 hours in a day. I work for 8 of those and sleep for another 8. Where the heck were the other 8 going? I didn’t need to track how much time I was spending on other things. I knew I was spending 5-7 hours on other things and only writing for maybe an hour. No need to track.

Step 2: I Made A List

This was a little hard. I don’t like to admit my flaws and this was, essentially, a baring of every bad habit I have. Every one of them. Like wow. But it had to be done. What did I list? I listed all the things I do in a day. Not every day. But at least 3:5 weekdays was my general way of approaching this very unscientific endeavor. I added to the list as I went about a few days to make sure I didn’t miss things.

Something I have done since my mid-twenties when making lists is to just list everything. And then I go through and find patterns. I find this super helpful. It’s how I can quickly get shit out but then go more deeply. Also, it saves time. It stops that desire to be busy. I’ll break it down for you.

The list:

Dishes
Laundry
Walking dogs
Reading
Listening to podcasts
Napping (ugh, so embarrassing but I do love a nap)
Watching television
Boardgames with Kris
social media
general phone use
Talking to friends on the phone/texting
cooking
grocery shopping
drinking (not like all day, but often dinner in our house includes a bottle of wine)
reviewing mail
paying bills
beauty related stuff (that time you spend picking at your face in the mirror… lemme tell ya, it adds up)
complaining about not having time to write
socializing
cleaning
organizing

I then went through and broke down (by a lettered code) the type of thing they were. So some shit has to get done. I cannot give up walking the dogs, dishes, laundry, cooking, shopping, reviewing the mail and paying bills, cleaning. These are things we have to do.

I then went through and looked at things I enjoy doing: reading, podcasts, napping, tv, boardgames, staring at my face in the mirror and picking at it, socializing (includes talking to friends), organizing.

And I looked at things that I’m not sure why I do them because they don’t necessarily give me enjoyment but they’ve become a part of my routine like scrolling through Facebook and social media way more times in a day than I ever thought I would.

Once I had these categories I thought about each one. How could I do the things that HAVE to get done in the most efficient way? How could I write but still do the things I enjoy, and how could I train myself to stop doing the things we just do.

On that last one, and Kris is going to kill me, we recently talked about how much longer it takes to go to the bathroom in our phone-riddled world. Because, let’s face it, we all look at our phones while on the toilet and then stay longer than necessary to finish the article or click the next link or find the next hidden picture.

Circling back, this listing process is a good example of diminishing busy. Many people would have color coded up front and come up with the categories. My problem with that is that it slows you down because you are thinking of the types of categories by thinking of the things that will be on the list. Brain dump the list, then carry it around and add to it, then break it up into categories. Believe me, it’s faster.

Step 3: Changing my Thinking

I have a few television shows that I really love. Most of these I watch with Kris. The Americans, House of Cards, Love, Search Party. Three of these are Netflix ready. We generally only watch one show at a time… so if nothing is on Netflix, like for the last few months, we don’t watch anything. Americans is on at ten pm on a weeknight. In addition, I can watch any episode of Law & Order: SVU at any time. Like if I were walking down the street and it was a nice day and you were watching it and your windows were open? You would likely turn to find me watching through your window. There is something about that show that sucks me in. This was what revolutionized my process and got me to where I am now, with so much time to write.

Law & Order: SVU is not going anywhere. It will likely survive me and I envision the cockroaches watching it after the nuclear holocaust that has haunted my nightmares since watching The Day After at Jill Monteleone’s in 7th grade. I like Law & Order: SVU and there is an episode of it on all the time thanks to stations that seem to play nothing else, Netflix, On Demand, etc.

My time watching things with Kris are more fun because we are together and it’s something we enjoy watching and discussing. So Law & Order? It’s kind of like dessert. I don’t have to have it with every meal. In fact, I shouldn’t have it with every meal. But sometimes it’s great. What does that sound like?

Step 4: Rewards

At the end of the day we are all five. We want a chore chart with a gold star. This is what Law & Order: SVU taught me about my life. And my writing life especially. I do not need to pop on an episode while eating lunch (which always turns into 2). Instead, I can use it as a reward for hitting some writing goal.

I made a spreadsheet where I listed various writing goals month by month. These spanned several types of writing: blogging, fiction, free writing (still where I get a LOT of ideas when I do it right). I put on things like outlining a short story or submitting a piece.

From there I came up with a list of these things I love to do. List A was things like “reading” or “playing a game”. Things that can be done for an arbitrary amount of time. List B were quickish things that require say 30 minutes. Taking a bubble bath. Taking a nap.

Next I came up with longer term things. These are things I have wanted to do but for whatever reason (I blame Law & Order: SVU and napping) I never have time for. This includes going for a photo walk or checking out a new restaurant for lunch. List C is for pretty big accomplishments, like hitting my monthly blogging goal.

My last list, List D, is for major goal accomplishments and some of them require spending a little money. So… buying a new book or nice pen. Picking up a cute accessory. Taking myself out for a few glasses of wine. These are things I could do any day of the week but saving them and using them to celebrate gives me more inspiration.

And that’s the lesson I learned in a lot of this. I needed to change my thinking and treat things like dessert. Like a special treat. And use my writing to get there. And here’s the thing: I like writing. It’s not a chore. It’s my favorite thing. But I was spending too much time on other things I like. But do I like them as much as writing? Probably not.

Step 5: Assessing and Changing The Plan

Obviously I needed to put this plan into place and lemme tell ya — once I did my writing picked up considerably. Sure I had that dip in February but I’m writing more now than I have in a very long time. But that doesn’t mean I found the quick fix. I have my goals and I track them and I have days that are better than others. And at the end of every month I figure out what is and is not working and change it up.

Prioritizing

The most important lesson in all of this has been prioritizing. Something that I have never found a happy medium of. I am either really good at it, or really bad. One thing that helps me is writing things down. If I write something down, anything, I will likely do it. I like to check things off a list. So I’ve started making them. My writing list looks the same every day but guess what, on the days I take the time to consult the list and cross things off? Yeah, my writing is on point that day.

There are a few ways to prioritize; it may take a while to find a tool that works for you. Here are a few that I have tried and my personal feelings on them. I’m curious to know what other people use since I think there are probably a million methods out there that I don’t know about.

The Things I Stopped Doing

Organizing. In addition to doing certain things based on rewards I have also stopped doing certain things. I really like to organize things. But, my house is very organized. So when I organize it’s more about finding a new system. So here’s what I’m learning: if it ain’t broke, don’t fix it. My pantry makes sense. There is no reason to reorganize my spices. Alphabetically. Sure, it may feel good but I use a lot of fucking oregano. Having it at arm’s length? Way better idea (and quicker, too!). Over-organization is a huge culprit of busy people. It also contributes to having way more stuff than you actually need.

Keeping A Wine Journal. When I quit my job and started freelancing, and actually for a little while before, I was writing about wine. And I started methodically tracking the wines I drank and taking notes and tasting. But you know what? I don’t write about wine anymore. And that feels like work. And it takes FOREVER. I don’t do it anymore. But Jesus, was that hard. Like really hard. Sometimes we do things simply because we’ve done them for a while. Assess the things you do and see what can go.

Drying My Hair. I used to not use a blow dryer between about May and October. I’d shower after dinner and my hair would be dry by the time I went to bed. Now I don’t ever blow dry my hair. That’s a lie. I blow it out if I am going somewhere. I have a LOT of hair. It’s not thick but there is so much and it takes FOREVER to dry. So on a typical day I put a little product in it so my curls don’t go crazy or I just let it go and then braid my bangs. Sure, I work remotely and I don’t have to worry about my hair looking spectacular every day but there are plenty of hairstyles that work without a ton of time spent on it. And, just to be clear, I love hair/makeup/beauty. But if I’m not leaving the house it’s time better spent writing.

Spreadsheets

I started this year with a spreadsheet. It’s nice because I have it in google drive which means I can access it virtually anywhere. It has a tab for each month, a brain dump tab, my running word count recorder and my 100 rejections goal.  it’s great. Clean and easy and it doesn’t the math for me. I can’t count past 4 so this is a serious perk.

But there are some downsides. First, it requires picking up my phone or computer. And those things hold a lot of distractions so if I’m not in the right mindset to begin with I can quickly get led down the path to Wikipedia death spiraling and Buzzfeed articles challenging me to read a list without spending $20. There’s also something about analog that just seems to engage my brain.

Scrap Paper Lists

Whether an envelope or a form letter, there are always scraps of paper lying around. Even in a house like mine where I stand over the recycling bin with the mail. These are great because they are accessible, small, and I feel better about using them.

The number one downside is what to do with them. Like if I’m making a list and I come up with something brilliant, what do I do with it then? Type it? That’s kind of a waste of time and this is all about getting my time back.

The Life In A Notebook

For years I carried a small, blank page, fat, spiral, short sketchbook and just wrote shit down. Everything. If it was important I folded the page over.  I also carried a planner for the calendar. People ALWAYS give me notebooks so I would just fill one and then be done with it.

The problem with this is that it is inconvenient to carry two notebooks. Although sometimes it’s worth it. Like…

Bullet Journal

Yeah. So I swore I would not give in to the hype but I have and I am totally, totally hooked. I have one for life/work and then a separate one for writing. I can write about everything in it from ideas to goals, I track my word count and the projects I’m engaged in. I keep the index up to date so things are easy to find. I’m sort of tempted to move to just one but I feel like having a dedicated space for writing is really important. So far? Not a single downside to this system. Not one. I’ll keep you posted as it goes.

At the end of the day, with some time devoted to really assessing what you’re doing you literally can have all the time you want to write in the world. Yes, my schedule is a little more in line with this because it doesn’t involve kids or commuting but my job does keep me pretty damn busy (especially on Mondays and Wednesdays) and I’m still writing. You’ve just got to get to the point where you are ready to decide what can wait and be done as a reward and what can go completely. Then you’ll start building a writing practice that works for you. And when I say works for you I can’t even tell you on how many levels.

Posted in fiction, Unfinished Fictions, writing

UF-1: March 16, 2017

Writing Prompt: Magical Realism, A Letter, "He Can Change"The news came without fanfare. A Tuesday. A day that was neither particularly nice or terrible when it came to weather. The sky a dull gray of winter. It was around 2 pm when it showed up. A simple black chip in the letterbox. Amelia wasn’t sure she was surprised although feigned just in case anyone was watching and would report. Jacob would be reset. She knew everything the chip represented. And she knew the shame that would follow.

But if she had to be honest, the chip was a relief. The chip, after all, was a period on the sentence that had been determined when he had been caught. When the words on the online forum had been traced to him. When “Dissenter451” was quickly traced. So much for the multiple routing hubs of the so-called FreeNet. So much for the system called the Underground Railroad that was meant to protect identities and consider the good work people like Jacob were doing. So much for that. “So much for everything.” Amelia brushed her hands on her skirt and took the chip in hand like the many other things she bore each day.

The day they’d taken Jacob had been with much more fanfare. The colorful uniforms of the guard spotted from far down the hill. They rarely came to their modest village. Unless it was for a festival or before an election, Amelia felt her fingers twitch in the once-used air quotes as her brain thought the term. They had marched through the streets with the banners on their staffs the symbol of the justice system. A forefinger pointing ominously. They had stopped in front of Amelia and Jacob’s simple home and knocked loudly, but only after much commotion. Commotion attracted an audience. Audiences watched in fear and relief. Fear and relief at what they witnessed kept them in line.

At first, Amelia had raised her eyebrows. “Surely you must have the wrong house, sirs. My husband is a merchant. He sells books.” When their smirks failed to soften she pled. How would she survive on her own while her husband awaited deliberations?

She’d survived just fine. She’d quickly taken over the shop and had started selling the fabrics she embroidered as a hobby. She’d brought home more than Jacob ever did because he was so busy mounting an insurrection. Bookselling was secondary. Books were not sought by the masses. Frowned upon by the leaders.

The chip was simply the penultimate event in this timeline. A timeline of which Amelia was growing tedious. He would be reset. Period. Done. She might see him at some point but he would not recognize her. If he did, suspicions would be cast upon her so she’d already planned a haircut. Traded lip color with a neighbor who was feeling bored.

***

“Are you Amelia, the wife of Jacob who is to be reset?” The voice shook the panes in Amelia’s kitchen.

“I am,” she said wiping her hands on a dish towel. (this chick wipes her hands a lot). She tucked her ginger tresses behind her ears before tugging on the long, full curls that fell in front of her shoulders. She would miss it.

“The emporer wishes to offer you a chance to appeal.”

Amelia froze while putting her now dry water glass back in the cupboard.

Posted in writing

Unfinished Fictions

Yesterday I was thinking about free writing. I’ve never been good at it. I get far too meta and start writing about how I’m not writing anything of substance. I am really good at that thing you do where if you run out of things to say you just keep writing the last word over and over again in order to not stop writing.

But that’s the extent of my free writing abilities. My free writing sessions quickly morph into a list of things I haven’t done, need to do, want to do. And usually these are things like grocery lists written in sentences or lamentations about laundry.

Yesterday, though, I realized something.

Free Writing Doesn’t Have To Be Completely Free

When I did Cindy Reed’s 30 day course to establish a writing practice she had all sorts of prompt generator sites. And she had me use them sometimes. I’ve gotten away from this on my free writing and have either used them to start blog posts or have just written about nothing. Seriously, my free writing is more about nothing than the best episodes of Seinfeld.

And so this morning I decided to give one a whirl. I popped over to google and searched “writing prompt generators” and then clicked on the first to appear. From there I started writing.

And, surprise surprise*, I came up with the start of something. And that gave me an idea. I’m going to start sharing these little unfinished fictions, good or bad. Take them and change them, incorporate them into your own story, add to them and then ask someone to add to yours. Just be sure to comment with a link so we can follow where you’ve taken them.

And if you’re inspired, feel free to start your own practice of not giving much thought to the prompt and just setting a timer for ten minutes and seeing what comes out. Who knows, you might find the basis for something pretty incredible.

—–
*not at all, I should have seen this a mile away. And I probably did. Although I didn’t admit it.