A Good Start To April

As I said last week, I handwaved March and vowed to get myself together in April. Unfortunately, my body decided that it was not done being sick and that I was going to have a clogged sinus valve of some kind that left my eye pussing for three days and a constant pressure system roaring in my skull. Luckily my sinuses got their crap over with quickly, and I was (mostly) back on my feet by April 1st.

So I’m feeling pretty good. I’ve made strides on some projects. I also got to feel the validation of a few completed tasks as well. That always does my motivation good.

  • The Shadow of Saturn: I need to write 50k words this month to finish my first draft, which is basically NaNoWriMo. And hey, it happens to be camp NaNoWriMo this month, so maybe I should sign up! I’ve already logged 1200 words, and pretty much have to write 2000 words , 6 days a week, to keep up with this goal. No easy feat, but not impossible either. When I wrote the first draft of Paradisa, I was pushing out about 3600 words a day. Hard to believe I ever managed that!
  • Video Business: Almost done with the website. Need to order business cards this week, and make a couple demo reels. I was randomly shooting things with my new DSLR and can hopefully compile that footage into a sizzle reel.
  • Animation/Webseries: So, I haven’t spoken much about this, because I don’t like to talk about projects that are only in the idea stage. And this was a project that, despite my excitement, seemed too ambitious for my skill set. However, I have officially moved past the “in my head” stage to the “I have actually accomplished a kernel of possibility”, and I’m ready to start track this project officially ^_^ Having downloaded Fallout 4 on PC this weekend and leafed through its resource files, as well as tinkering in Source Filmmaker, Silo 2, and the Unity/Cry/Unreal engines, the idea of doing a fanseries is actually within reach…because as much as I’ve moved on to original properties, you can’t take the fandom out of the fangirl :P. More on this later, but I’ll spend most of this month trying out various programs and reassembling a few of the game assets in them. Maybe by the end of the summer, I’ll have a proof of concept together to show off to the fanbase.
  • Indie MoCap: I let this slip last week because of my illness, but I tried out Twitter Promotion and gained 25 followers over the weekend – much more than I anticipated. Not sure it was worth the money, but I guess it was a worthy experiment.
  • Kindle Shorts: Changed my keywords again for Book #1, as sales slipped again. You can check out my first monthly report here, where I break down stuff that worked and stuff that didn’t. I finished Book #2 yesterday, so I’ll publish that early this week.
  • Reading: I’m halfway through Rollback, so maybe I’ll get to 4 or 5 books this month.

Just need to catch up on Dead Air, Paradisa, and the two short stories I plan on writing this month. I still want to make that Cecil B. Demille story happen. I just don’t know where I’m going to go with it.

Cheers to a good April, folks!

 

Can Hard Work at the Day Job Beget Hard Work at Home?

Yesterday, I completed all my planned tasks in half the time I’d allotted. But I’m not telling you this to show off – I want to emphasize how baffled I am by my lack of fatigue. Let me remind you that I’ve spent the last year crawling into bed as soon as I get home. I’d feel accomplished if I could push out a mere 800 words in the evening. I am so used to being tired and apathetic and depressed that feeling normal is….well, it’s weird.

On top of that, this sudden renewal has not just impacted my productivity, but my overall mental health. A few months ago, I was counting calories because I was devastated about my weight. Right now? Pass the brownies, because I couldn’t care less. I was conflicted and stressed about my engagement, wondering if I’m even fit to be married – now, I’m reminded why being with Austin is the easiest thing I’ve ever done. And while the idea of socializing normally stresses me out, I happily drove downtown last Saturday and attended a party full of strangers.

What’s given me all this positivity, especially at a time of year when I’m usually weighed down by Seasonal Affective Disorder (SAD)? The 60 degree winter hasn’t hurt. I also have a wakeup lamp which helps the mornings feel brighter. Maybe the B12 supplements I’ve taken for 6 months have finally kicked in.

But none of that seems powerful enough to cause such a profound shift. And then it occurred to me what changed the most in the past month – the Day Job.

I spent last year slaving over a project that would not end. I dreaded getting up in the morning because I knew I would be asked to tackle problems without a solution. On top of that, only having one project left me with a lot of thumb twiddling time. I felt like a lame employee who wasn’t doing enough.

At the end of 2015, my boss decided to close the book on that project and introduce me to two or three new projects…one of which may result in a patent. All three have been coming along without much frustration, and I have enough to occupy myself on a daily basis without being overwhelmed.

Here’s what I’ve learned from this – while it is certainly tiring to be overworked, it is equally tiring to do nothing. I’m the opposite of a gym rat, but every fitness buff I’ve met swears that exercising gives you more energy, despite exercise itself requiring energy. I wonder if this relationship between idle living and productive living is somewhat the same.

It was a little hard to admit that a bad year at work affected the rest of my life so drastically, but I can’t deny it anymore. As much as I’ve tried to handwave it as “just a place I have to be five days a week”, my job has a HUGE EFFECT on the rest of my life. Maybe if I realized this sooner, I could have taken steps to stay more engaged and active during my 40 hrs/week as a chemist.

So for anyone feeling bland after the daily grind, I implore you to look into why. If any of my story sounds familiar, perhaps talk to your boss about how you can be more engaged, or how you can move past a major roadblock. On the physical side, try taking frequent breaks to stand or walk around your workplace so your body does not grow stagnant from sitting (my job, when it’s actually giving me something to do, has this built in. And I’ve noticed I feel a lot better when I’m not sitting all day).

I realize that for most people, their jobs do not have much wiggle room for change. Heck, it’s not like I could have made last year any easier – that nightmare project was something I had to ride out until it was over. And I’m not saying you have to be in love with your job either. Even as mine has given me tolerable and engaging activities, I would drop it all to work full time on my artistic pursuits if that was possible.

But perhaps being aware of this relationship between your energy at work and your energy at home may still help you. Boredom is an enemy of progress, and you will undoubtedly carry that boredom home with you. So if you have any choice about how to conduct your work life, the last thing you should choose is to be idle.

Productivity Progress Report: Week 1

How about that accountability? You seemed supportive of my scheduling, so I’m continuing the transparency by keeping you aware on my progress. Eventually, all this work may become so habitual that I don’t need to track it. But while I’m still hammering my life into a routine, I need to monitor what I’m accomplishing one day at a time.

And I’m pleased to say that last week went REALLY well. Almost perfectly!

Here’s the schedule again, for reference.

schedule

And here are my results…

Continue reading

Seven Habits of Highly Effective Writers

For the past month, I have lived by a grid telling me what to do each day. For Type B people, this may seem ludicrous. But since graduating from college, I’ve been winging it and have almost nothing to show except one long suffering manuscript and no progress on other endeavors. I wasted two years that I could have been building my film portfolio. Two years I could have been freelancing my graphics skills. Two years I could have been writing and publishing short fiction.

I’m not wasting time anymore.

But a schedule means nothing without discipline, and that discipline is something I have to grow. I don’t meet all my goals every week. I barely meet my goals every month. But I do reach 70-80% of them, and it gets easier every day. By the end of 2015, I hope these goals will instead be habits. And since the point of this blog is to share both my progress and philosophies so that they may help other writers, here are a few tips to transform ideals into real habits:

Multiple projects. I wasn’t always a supporter of this, mostly because one project tends to overwhelm my brain at a time, leaving no inspiration for other things. In some ways, this remains true – I still can’t write two novels at once. But a novel and a short story? That’s okay. A short story and a website? That’s cool too. Spreading your projects across different mediums is a great brain hack, because I think we all have a set of muses instead of just one. You can fire all of them up at the same time and work steadily on everything, rather than burning out “the novel muse” before you’re even done with it.

Meditation. You know how the best ideas come to you in the shower, or on the ride to work, or as you’re about to fall asleep? There’s a reason – those moments are when your mind is most relaxed (assuming you’re not driving in D.C. traffic every day!) Stepping back and letting your mind wander is like instant inspiration. I swear, half the plot twists for Paradisa were born in the bathroom. You could try setting aside 15-30 minutes every day to physically meditate, but I personally haven’t made time for that yet. Instead, I harness my brain’s natural meditation cycles by keeping a small memo pad close by, and by using my smartphone’s voice recorder app. Like dreams, a lot of ideas and writing envisioned during this period can be fleeting, and I don’t want to forget them!

Schedules. Again, some more. Sorry, but they’re essential for me. I have road marks for all of my mediums going all the way through 2020! But some things, like my ambitious feature-length mocap project, actually take that much preparation. When you’re trying to raise hundreds of thousands of dollars for something, you need the luxury of time and a multi-year game plan. And for anyone trying to be an indie anything, you need time to build a platform before you can expect to be successful.

Another thing about schedules – they ensure all months have a fairly even workload. I have allowed myself a hiatus on most things during months where I’ll draft a new novel. Similarly, during months where my novel is in beta, I focus more on non-novel things. I don’t want to reach March and realize all my deadlines have converged at once and I’ve given myself an impossible workload (only to be followed by a month where everything is slow and I’m basically wasting time).

Know your limits. In my prime, I could write 2000 words/hour. That seems like a fantasy now, because I no longer live alone and I have a much earlier bedtime. In fact, I didn’t really have a bedtime two years ago and constantly showed up to work bedraggled. In exchange for getting 8 hours of sleep every day, barely drinking caffeine, and being a decent live-in girlfriend, my maximum daily word count is about 1000 words.

When setting goals, don’t pretend you’re someone you’re not. Remember that sometimes you have sinus headaches, sometimes you want a nap, sometimes you have to work late, sometimes you want to marathon Lost on Netflix. If you schedule yourself like some kind of creative workhorse, you’ll burn yourself out if you meet your goals or you’ll be disappointed if you fail them. Or, like me, you’ll end up at the chiropractor for six months because being hunched over a laptop like a machine crippled your back. >.> Books like “How I Write 10,000 Words A Day” are tempting to emulate, but remember that those people are usually professional writers whose sole job 8 hours a day is to write fiction. For the rest of us working stiffs, especially those of us who want some semblance of a social life even if it’s just with our partner, that’s simply not realistic.

And even with a mere 800 words a day, I’m still writing more than I would have otherwise. It looks like I will complete Paradisa Draft 6 in two months, when it took me 7 months to do the same amount of work on Draft 5.

Priorities. Sleep is now a priority for me. Giving my partner attention is a priority. On the other end of the spectrum, I try to prioritize my art over playing video games and watching TV (which is a shame, because I love Fallout 3 and wish I had time to play it!) But now I’m talking about prioritizing your actual projects. Right now, Paradisa Draft 6 comes before anything else. It’s what I spend the top chunk of my energy on because if everything else fails, I still want a completed manuscript of this book to show for it.

Then there are bonus goals that do not have immediacy behind them, and do not have any particular external deadline (like an anthology reading period) or self-set deadline to meet. I work on these second.

Taking A Day Off. Unfortunately, I did not design a day off into my schedule, which has so far been a terrible idea (as a side point, I’d like to stress that schedules and goals are organic things. Too many people see organization as a prison. It’s not. It’s entirely in your control, and you can make the variables be whatever suits you). When I get the chance to reorient things, I am definitely leaving Saturdays free of responsibility. I never accomplish anything on Saturdays as it is, and I need a day to recharge from the combination of my full time job and the creative work. It’s tempting to shove all your creative projects onto the weekends, but personally, I get a surprising amount done on weeknights. Which leads me to…

Treat writing like it’s your job. Ideally, I will treat Sundays as if I’m a work-from-home writer. Austin works on Sundays, so I have the whole house to myself. I rarely have responsibilities on Sunday aside from household chores and making dinner. So that leaves me 7-8 hours to sit in my office and, for one day every week, pretend like this is my job. I’ve yet to do such a thing – probably because I haven’t given myself Saturdays off yet ;) This is my ultimate goal by the end of the year though, because imagine how productive one could be if they devoted a whole day to writing and creating?

Hope this helps some of you who struggle to find the time or motivation to complete your projects. One of the most admirable methods of creativity that we don’t utilize enough in America is focusing on what you can do with the resources you have rather than aspiring towards goals that are beyond your scale. Time is a resource. Energy is a resource. Find out how much you have of both and work within those limits rather than pretending you have more of either. If you simply commit to working on something – anything – it’s pretty amazing what you can build.