CategorySelf Improvement

Spending Time

My section of the Columbia Gorge has been in Winter Lockdown for 5 days. Today would mark my first full day of work this week, except for the large amount of co-workers who couldn’t make it in from their residences up the mountain.

You’d think this would make the perfect change to sit down and write, and you’d be very, very wrong. So far I’ve spent the time reading, playing in the snow with the twins, playing inside with the twins when the snow in the yard was over their toddler heads, and watching movies with my wife after the two of us have broken our collective backs shoveling snow and digging out the car.

So I’ve been busy.

Writing’s been once of the furthest things from my mind these last days. Being able to play “stay-at-home-dad”, even for a handful of days, has been an amazing and humbling experience. For six months I was staying at home with the twins one day a week and working four ten-hour shifts. But both my wife and I worked full time, and the twins were babies then, less mobile, more nap-focused.

Now my wife is staying home full time, and I miss my time alone with the children. That said, they are super-active 18 month olds, so it’s exhausting trying to keep up with them all day. So I’ve been adjusting my schedule to do what I can to help more around the house.

Which has led to a re-evaluation of when I write. It’s going to have to go back to nighttime writing for a while, which means I need to get healthy so I’m not exhausted by the time the kids go to bed, which means streamlining my mornings to get some exercise in. The slower mornings of snow-days have given me a chance to do just that.

After all, it can’t snow forever. Right?

Twitter Bankruptcy

Have you ever been to a party where you enjoy everything going on except the people who came with you? Nearly impossible to get out of that situation. Especially if they drove.

That’s the vibe I was getting on Twitter. For the last 9 months, I’ve tried my best to understand social media, and Twitter in particular. I engaged with people all over the world in similar hobbies and careers, and it was adequate. I learned very quickly that no one cares about any questions you pose. But mention a problem you’re having and the help comes pouring out (even if you just want commiseration about a terrible workload, and not a ton of GTD tips). “How nice!” I thought. “I should really get involved in some other communities!”

And since I was starting NaNoWriMo, I jumped into the #writerscommunity and #writingcommunity on Twitter. I posted about WIPs and MCs and saw others writing #YA and #MG and however many else hashtags get bandied about those two groups on a daily basis. And the followers starting flowing in! I was addicted, for a time, to the numbers, 100, 200, 500, 1000, 1500. “Magical!” I thought, following back in a fit of writer solidarity, even though I never even bothered to look at their profile, or recent tweets, or even if we had anything in common besides shouting into the same void.

Then came the realization that my timeline had been rendered useless by near-random following of 1500 strangers talking past each other on how best to write fourth drafts, set up a writer’s room, find an agent…all things that I wasn’t interested in. I blame reading some Dean Wesley Smith before starting NaNoWriMo, with the idea implanted to Write Into the Dark (as befits my Myers-Briggs type–another thing WriterTwitter is obsessed over, nearly as much as their Hogwarts House) and Write Clean First Drafts.

I just did 50,000 words in a month, while working full time, having a social life, and raising twin toddlers with my wife. It wasn’t a great book, but I tried my best to write at the top of my game. Now, it turns out my game is weak, but that improves with practice. Writing sloppy didn’t interest me, and hearing that I’d need to spend a year or more rewriting, and pitching to agents, and and and…

I realized then that I caught a ride to the party with the wrong crowd. This was not my tribe. We were not having a shared experience. I wanted to network with a small, curated crowd. They told me to cast the net far, a net with large holes in it, and slog through like the rest. It’s on me that I believed them for any amount of time, even when I knew better. “Maybe there’s a middle path,” I thought. There’s no middle path. These are two competing schools of thought.

You might think I’m anti-writer’s community from the previous paragraphs. I’m not, really; but it’s also very much not my community. We have a desire in common (to write and be read) but the paths we want to take are divergent.

And because we were so divergent, because we wanted different things, I tried to end my relationship with a massive Twitter community. It did not go well. I bungled it. Instead of simply creating lists, pruning my followers and timeline back a little a time–the steps recommended to me by members of #writerscommunity!–I clicked a big red button and unfollowed everyone.

It was not pretty.

Plus, my Twitter name was still on lists and follow Fridays and followers kept coming. I wasn’t following back right away, as I wanted to get to know people a little before cluttering up my feed again, and they dropped off quickly. And then refollowed as they picked up my name on another list.

Burning the tower to the ground and starting over seemed like a good idea at the time. And I salted the earth soon after, deactivating that account and starting afresh with a new attitude and new tactics. My goals for Twitter is simple. Keep a low profile for a while. Follow people I want to follow. Don’t beg for followers. Don’t get on hype-trains. And don’t indiscriminately follow every last person who shows up in a notification. I wouldn’t get into a car with strangers to go party now, would I?

I haven’t updated in the past few days as I’ve been replacing a dead in the water PC, restoring from backups, confirming everything works etc etc. On top of my current email woes, 2019 hasn’t been the kindest for getting started. I’ll be transcribing my notebook to the PC soon enough, though.

Unsteady As She Goes

A bit of a lurching day, but it was a day spent playing outside and walking around town with the twins, so it was an important day. As my kids get older, toddling around, talking, exploring, discovering, it’s the days like today that are the most fun to look back on. But watching two toddlers for 8 hours on your own leaves no time for writing during the day. My hat is off to all full time stay at home parents, twins or not. You do good, hard work!

The long nightmare of being locked out of my email (and calendar, the more pressing part) is coming to a close. FastMail finally started responding at a reasonable rate after Tweeting at them. It’s not a tactic I enjoy but I was getting desperate.

But once the password was reset, I was informed that due to security the new password, the one I just created, wouldn’t be allowed to log in until 24 hours had elapsed. I’m sure there’s a reasonable line between security and providing a good customer experience in exchange for payment, and I’m sure I know what side of the line this falls on. So, I’ll be researching new email services which allow private domains and have functioning support. I’d say ProtonMail except for the lack of calendars. I’d go with G Suite but my privacy isn’t Google’s main concern, even if I am paying them.

Just a few words done today on the short story, and that mainly through handwritten pieces I retyped. Onward and upward, though.

Short Story Word Count: 1502
Blog Post Word Count: 258
Novel Word Count: 0

Gathering Steam

2019 is shaping up to be an odd year, if I can take what’s happened in the first three days as any indication:

  • I came back to work on the 2nd, only to leave early on the 3rd due to illness. I’m also missing work tomorrow because the kids are sick and there’s no daycare solution until next week.
  • Still locked out of my email account with FastMail. Having the support desk be half a world away and responding to my tickets at 3am local is not helping me keep my cool. And yes, I know it’s my own fault I was locked out of my account. Still. Frustrated.
  • Thus far for writing I’ve managed to write a project implementation plan at work (the only thing I’ve gotten done thus far), some fiction and non-fiction regarding RPGs (doesn’t count for my Half A Million goal), and a weekly meal plan (probably not real writing). What I haven’t been doing is putting my ass in a chair and writing fiction–or blog posts!–like I’m supposed to.

Therefore, 2019 is starting a lot like 2018, only with slightly older children to take care of. However, I’m still going to try. I sit down every day, whether I get a flood or a trickle of words on the page, and that’s OK with me. I’m not content with it, I’m not happy with the slow progress, but I’m happy with progress.

Short Story Word Count: 1502
Blog Post Word Count: 258
Novel Word Count: 0

Seriously, if you always put limits on what you can do, physical or anything else, it’ll spread over into the rest of your life. It’ll spread into your work, into your morality, into your entire being. There are no limits. There are plateaus, but you must not stay there, you must go beyond them. If it kills you, it kills you. A man must constantly exceed his level.

Bruce Lee

Getting My House In Order

I always take the week between Christmas and New Year’s Day off from work. In the past, it was just to enjoy a nice holiday break, but for the last two years, I’ve been treating the week as preparation for the coming year. The general steps I take are:

  • Updating my passwords in my password database; I use KeePass. And yes, this means my global password changes. And the key file. Everything gets updated.
  • Purge, delete and close any online accounts I no longer use. Last year, this included things like my Google account, a handful of online games, and some forums I no longer visit. These accounts get burned to the ground, no recovery possible.
  • Take unused or unneeded items, including clothes and books, to Goodwill. This year I’m changing it up, attempting to sell some items on eBay. I have a scale and everything.
  • Schedule annual physical and dentist appointments. Maintain that healthy glow!
  • Check for any incomplete goals on my goal tracker, either complete them or end them. This one runs right into the final task:
  • Set new goals for the following year. Some are daily goals, others are monthly, quarterly, or have set end times in the year (generally either March 31 or September 30, just personal preference).

Starting in the next few days I’ll be going into more detail on these steps. This includes a postmortem, or a nicer term would be using a SWOT analysis, on the past year. This helps in crafting those new 2019 goals.

Plus, if I post the goals here, it’s another incentive to step it up and crush it in 2019.

Giving Up To Move Up

Doing NaNoWriMo this year, and winning, required me to make changes in my leisure time. Goodbye Netflix binges. Goodbye web trawling. Goodbye video games. Goodbye gaming in general.

I knew it would be hard, giving up what I’d consider my hobbies up to this point, but I needed to make room. I didn’t know how long I needed to write every day to hit my goals. I didn’t need extra distractions. And I knew there were demands on my time – demands I like, by the way – that could not be cut down. Wife, kids, work, home maintenance, dog, self-care.

What I didn’t know is how easy it would be to stay away. I’ve no had over a month of not watching TV. Or, at least, not watching hours of TV. I ended my Traveller RPG game in October, and with a small exception of getting an RPG idea out of my head on Twitter, I haven’ t thought about rolling dice for 30 days. I don’t have GoG Galaxy or Steam on my computer.

I don’t have a GoG or Steam account anymore, actually. Ditching video games was the easiest step, as there’s nothing new I want to play and nothing I’ve played I needed to revisit. That also helped in avoiding Netflix temptations. Nothing new grabbing at me, nothing old I want to re-watch. I’m at a point where re-watching a show I liked doesn’t increase my enjoyment of it. Maybe there’s new little things to pick up, but it’s a regression to the mean experience. It’s never going to be as good the second, third, twentieth time. I’ve accepted this, after going through the previous four stages of hobby-death grief.

Essentially, I repurposed over 20 hours of each week by shuffling hobbies. I increased my average steps per day from just under 7K to over 13K. I’m getting better sleep, since I’m not staying up watching movies or gaming. Not gaming has also saved me money. And the kicker is winning NaNoWriMo, gaining the knowledge I can complete a project, that I can write daily, and that I can maintain a daily writing habit of over 1500 words, generally in about an hour.

I’m not saying that I’ll never end up gaming again, or that movies and TV are massive, evil time-sinks. But for now, it’s good to have those particular monkeys off my back. Makes it easier to handle carrying all these new fledgling monkeys.

Pay Yourself

I’m not the greatest as following through on projects. If this were baseball, it’d be great – batting .500! But overall 50% isn’t the best rating in the world for Getting Your Shit Done. Even worse, it’s not an even split of 50% of work and 50% of personal projects are completed. Some work projects die further up the vine while in my care. Maybe that’s out of my hands, but it’s still an investment of my time, energy and creativity thrown into the bin. Outside of that, my completion record at work is exemplary.

Because there’s money involved. I’m paid to care, to craft, to build. No one pays me for personal projects.

So maybe I should start paying myself. I’m not going to finish a 50,000 words for NaNoWriMo without an incentive of some sort, right?

Don’t think this is some crass, money is the most important driver in my life trick. There’s stories and adventures and characters in my head, which are perfectly happy to stay in my head and not on paper. Why would they want to come out? They exist in that perfect, nebulous space of Not Quite Real. It’s Fairyland up there, abstracted away from problems and critical eyes of others. In order to get those ideas out of unreal perfection and into messy, bloody reality, there must be some reward. A tangible benefit for me to throw everyone out of Paradise and into the minds of others, where God knows what will happen.

There’s a few articles on rewarding yourself during NaNoWriMo, and that can be applied to a lot of other projects. It doesn’t have to be anything major for the mind to respond, either. ToDoIst rewards you with Karma, which has set milestones and Titles for achieving a certain number. It’s overall meaningless, but your brain still sees numbers and a line graph going upwards, based on work you did, and releases some of that sweet Happiness Juice into your bloodstream. It’s silly, but that’s a motivating factor for me to do simple tasks I have stacked in my ToDoIst lists. These all chain into Habit Stacks (link), so the reward for doing a quick clean of the toilet bowl rewards my brain with Points, and that leads into taking all my vitamins, eating breakfast and reading for 20 minutes in the morning.

I’ll be using this in NaNoWriMo this year. Adding a few tasks for getting to a Pomodoro or two for writing twice a day will trigger its own small reward. And by meeting these milestones, I can get ready to reward myself later in the month.

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