November 20th, 2019 – 420 (nice)

Wow I am not on form today. So far I’ve managed to send an email early by mistake – curse you CTRL-Enter! I’ve also gotten lost helping someone on a call, left half a markbook switched off and, well that’s it. I’m so tired though it feels like I’ve broken everything. This was, not my fault to be honest. I went to bed at 10, which is becoming the new normal. My quality of sleep was abysmal though. If I’d had a Rennie I bet I’d have slept fine, but shoulda woulda coulda. 

My actual work is under control, it’s only my head that isn’t. I’m experiencing the joys of sleep derp vs caffene. I’ve long since figured out having a lot of coffee is fine for me – the indigestion last night was food related. The problem is, coffee is an enhancer for me, not a replacement for sleep. It heightens whatever my current sense is, and right now that’s bleugh. That’s why after two coffees I still feel rough as ever. Not ideal, but if I am careful then within the hour I’ll be back on form. That’s because like my writing, I pace my work. If I don’t sprint for a bit, do a few chip-n-done tasks, I’ll be alright.

I made a decision about my writing schedule that won’t come back to bite me at all. I found that VOL will finish uploading to WattPad on April 4th, but that I don’t start WHT until April 11th. That means the 8th has no scheduled content, and I didn’t know what to do about that. Then I decided to say “screw it”, and lifted “A Planet Named George” out of my Want to do list. I now have a task on Trello to upload the entire story, planned at 12,000 words, on the 8th. That’s a bit insane, but here’s how I see it: it is a short story. It isn’t main project. It’s a bit of fun, and if I finish TSS in good time, it gives me a buffer before I launch into another huge project.

I also love the story. It’s silly, but emotional too. It’s the kind of tale that, done right, could be my break out moment. I’ll upload it as its own story rather than in “Misc Short Stories”, and put the whole thing up at once as a 10-12 chapter story. Call it a practice run for when I put up WAN all in one go. Does that count as a pun? I don’t even know at this point, depends if you pronounce the codes. I tend to call VOL “vol” but TSS “tee-ess-ess”. And how would you pronounce WHT? Like, whut? Ok that was a pun and I need to stop and get back to work now.

November 19th, 2019 – 419

When I get a chance, what I want to do is to go through all my published content, and do a bit “showtime”. That is, a series of edits where I reread the work, and try and spot where I’m doing too much dense “telling”. Show don’t tell is a worn our – and at times inaccurate – trope, but I am pretty sure I still have a ways to go on this one. At worst, a reflective task on my descriptions and evoking of senses would be a useful excersise.

That brings my “Want to do” list on Trello to 51 cards, and I don’t know how to feel about that. This list is the one I expect to bulge and go on and on. In a way that should be a good thing: I’m overflowing with ideas. At the same time, I am aware how much in that list I’m itching to do, and that I won’t for ages yet because of my have-tos. I guess this is a normal angst to have when it comes to productivity and yearning in general. Even so, I wish I could barrel through that list and do a ton of it right now.

It used to be normal for the Want to do list to be 25 cards, so this marks more than double the old normal. Of note, this does not even include the three stories in my effective “Want to write” column. That is: “A Planet Named George”, “Magic: the Squirreling” and “The Write Way”. I intend to write all three, but with both my job and my main stories, they’re either a long way off, or I need a fresh approach. So I guess what I’m mulling today is how do I make more time for my “Want to do”s? And well, I don’t have an answer for that.

On the plus side, I have continued making progress with TSS. I was feeling drained by 5pm yesterday and still wrote another thousand words of the story. We’re about to enter a stretch of the unknown though, as the original skipped a lot of the middle time. That was because I used to “rush” stories, and did not understand the whole point of most stories is that “fun and games.” I decided to skim this because I didn’t get how to write engaging stories. Now I get it, but there’s a lot to come up with. I have some ideas, some intriguing, some adorable. I guess we will see what lands.

I’m saying “I guess” a lot today. That’s not a good sign. When I do that, it often means I’m low or about to burn out. I don’t get the feeling as if that’s about to happen if that makes sense, but I guess we will see. 

November 18th, 2019 – 418

I love Mondays. I know that life changes, and that jobs change and even roles within them are always in flux. But I love arriving at my desk on a Monday and getting into my job. I don’t know if that’s a square or sad thing to say, but meh, when my workflow is under control, my job is fantastic. Difficult yes, but there’s a great deal of satisfaction that comes from feeling in control of work.

I realise now I was wrong in the past I thought I was burning out from “not enough creativity left after work”. I was using up my creativity trying to find order. Now I have a bulletproof system, even the tough tasks are fun. Anyway enough gushing over work, I do too much of that on the whole. I wanted to say that though as with the intensity of the start of term, I tend to lose sight of how good I have it at the moment. Its important to recognise the positives around you, and to be thankful for them.

So on writing: I hit 30,000 words of TSS yesterday. That’s a pretty great milestone on its own, but what’s neat is I haven’t yet hit a wall. I am sure by 40K I will do, but in the past, the first and last 30K have shown themselves the hardest. As I prefer 80K stories, that doesn’t give me a great deal of breezy writing. It’s nice to see that I was looking for patterns where none existed, another way that I can say I am in control. And yes as I said yesterday, even this rewrite is awful, but it’s better than version 1.0 written in 2014 was.

I’ve rearranged my priorities list again on Trello. I realise this is an aspect of my productivity I have not discussed much. One day I’ll write a book on 1K that covers all these little tricks I’ve used and refers to where they came from in detail. For now, I thought it would be cool to talk about this part of my organisational system in a bit of detail.

So on Trello – list-making tool that’s based on the Kanban method – my first list is “Projects”. For me, a project is a heading that encompasses a broader goal that I’ve set for myself. I use the GTD/general good practice mindset of having “as many of these as I need, and as few as I can get by with”. That’s paraphrasing Getting Things Done by David Allen, a book I recommend to anyone. My list looks like the one below:

Projects example

You’ll note I have nine projects, and they’re listed in priority order. Of note, you may spot my placement of CPD at work at the bottom. You got me, this is why I made a point in paragraph one and two of this entry saying work is important to me. That’s not only because I encourage people at work to read these entries if they like my work, but because, well, it is. Placement does not denote I do/don’t care. If I care, it’s on here. I care a lot about staying in shape, I just don’t need to do much on that right now. And as I said, I’m on top of work.

1K is always at the top by contrast, because I build my whole mindset around my writing. I’ve never moved it from my top spot because 1K is my whole life. It’s why I get up in the morning, why I do what I do, including this blog. So second, you’ll see my main not-writing priority is sorting my flat. The flat has become a metaphor for my general health at the moment, and it’s almost there. I want to nail keeping it tidy though, so I need to keep working on this point. As a result, it tops the list, beating out even “Survive the GE”. You’ll note the grim colour choice for GEs, I reserve that for elections.

So what I do, is at least once a week, I look at this list, and ask myself a few choice questions:

– Do I still need each of these projects?

– Putting each against the card above and below it, are they in the correct priority order?

– What can/should I be doing as the next step towards this?

– Have I given the card the correct name?

That last one is important, as you’ll note, excluding 1K, each one is an action. 1K’s action is the entire mantra poem I wrote for the lifestyle. By reordering these, I can say to myself things like the below:

“Yes, I do want a gym membership, but my budget is more important, and I still need to work on maintaining the flat. This interferes with both, so this is not a priority.”

“I need to go out canvassing and delivering. This is more important than working more leisure into my life right now. I can let my personal organisation and routines slip for this because it matters a lot. The flat, by contrast, is more important to me right now. So, I need to prioritise tidying the flat over electioneering.”

You get the idea. It lets me comb what I should be doing at any given time, and makes a lot of the decisions for me, which avoids me burning out. And, it also makes it so no matter what, my writing comes first, which is a critical symbolic gesture.

Anyway, I hope that was interesting. I’m debating spinning off a series of articles on these kinds of topics. That’s with an eye toward consolidating them and my journal entries into a book on 1K one day. But for now it’s time to get back to work,  I have a busy day ahead.

Oh, and on reviewing this in WordPress as I added the image, I have a slight grievance with HemingwayApp. I didn’t realise how much the spellchecker misses, which is annoying as it means I must have several work entries riddled with errors. Darn, maybe worth a clean-up one day…

November 17th, 2019 – 417

Writing a first draft is always a strange experience. You create brand new scenes. You imagine whole different worlds. You find characters leap off the page that you never realised you needed to read before. And as you read the words you’re writing, only one word can describe it:

Awful.

The more I embrace that, and how most problems not only should be finished in post, but can only be tweaked there, the easier the words come. I haven’t written yet today but I feel pretty confident what I’ll write is TSS. I think my “too long streaks” burnout came from trying to make draft one good. I need to stop doing that.

This weekend saw one big plus. I now have a whiskey I like. As a bonus it’s Jim Beam, so not going to break the bank on this. Also I’m now going to go out campaigning on Thursday at last. Feel like I’m more or less back on my feet.

November 16th, 2019 – 416

Yeah I think if I had tried to do a full on campaigning day today I’d have regretted it, I am still not on my feet again yet. I don’t feel too bad about that if only because I mean, what can I do? If I push myself too much I’ll get ill again and won’t be of use in the last week. The last three weeks are the real impact ones, because you have postal votes arriving for people and undecided voters are starting to engage more and the like. There’s no sense burning myself out before that comes to pass or I’ll end up being of no use at all.

My writing, well that’s not going great so far today. On the one hand, it’s not like I’ve written before 3PM in weeks now, but still. Given I have no solid commitments, it’d be nice if my motivation could kick in sooner rather than later so I don’t have to stay up to write. I’ve been wondering whether publishing half my chapters on Saturdays – and thus reminding myself in stark terms how few people are reading my work – is behind my lack of willpower. In spite of myself I am starting to get a bit too hung up on views. It doesn’t help that I haven’t done a review binge or writing contest in weeks given work has taken up all my excess energy.

Whoops forgot to hit post on this at 12, my bad.

November 15th, 2019 – 415

It’s been a busy morning, so I decided rather than breaking my flow, to write this when a natural window appeared. I’ve been listening to Writing Great Fiction as part of ‘The Great Courses’. I do not know why I didn’t buy this audiobook sooner. I love learning, I love writing, and my love of combining the two is exponential. Already I have pages of notes on what I need to work on, including giving my dialogue more emotional oomph. 

There are times I worry that by having my strict-ish schedule, I lose time for this kind of CPD and reflection. As I now have an approach of “3-4 new novels a year”, I am busy with a story at any given time. I should stress, that is the way I want to have it. I used to have yawning chasms between projects that stretched to years at a time at my worst. That made the first decade of my writing ‘career’ miserable, and I never want to go back. I do think I needed that slow approach. I tried all other avenues to peace, and as gruelling as it can be, writing alone works.

But I do need to learn more. I want to be more than a successful writer. I don’t actually care if I succeed in financial terms or not. I want to be a great writer, the kind that inspires people to do more, be more, that helps people in their darkest moments and pushes them to new heights. If I want to achieve that, I need to make sure I’m using my addiction to lifelong learning to its full effect. I’m closer than I’ve ever been, and so far from that goal that it may as well be like the expanding universe, getting further out of reach. But I’ll never reach it or come close to it if I don’t both practice and study.

Bringing things back down to Earth a bit, I am hoping that when I get home tonight a small delivery will have arrived. If it has, I would like to go to the shop, but even as that urge empowers me I can’t escape that – even on 9 hours sleep – I’m shattered. I’m doing better now I’ve worked coffee back in as a habit once more, but I’m still under this strange affliction. I have the sense of unseen leeches pulling the lifeforce out of me, even as my mind remains oblivious. I’m feeling good, cheery, but as if I am going to keel over at any moment. And, well, I’m sick of it. I’ve given up getting any medical appraisal for it, but I have to figure out something.

Paragraph five seems as good as any time on this writing blog to talk about my here-and-now writing. TSS if I write today will have chained 20 days, and close to 22,000 words in the course of that streak. This is great news, and a bit of a concern in the same breath. When I make long chains like this, the crashes are, it seems a lot of the time, dire. I end up ill – please not again – or so tired I slip into late night 1K, a vicious cycle. So what I have the feeling I should do, is take a break and do a fun aside for a day, or even two. That wouldn’t cause any problems on my current schedule.

Except, one. It’s not so much a ‘problem’ as a missed oppotunity. When I was sketching this out, I moved my goalposts to New Years from December 13th. Thank god I did so given the date of the GE is the day before now. I moved it before the migraine-chest-infection-malestrom hit, and lost a week and a half. By the time I finished hate-poetry about migraines, I had about a week too few days, and that assumed I’d write each day. So I said to myself ‘stop on New Years, resume after WHT has a typed draft’. Simple right?

Ah temptation you vile mistress of my demise, you yet again sully my creative endeavours. Because, of course, I proceeded to not drop a day between that time, and today. So in other words, if I don’t drop a day, I could finish TSS by New Years. I know I’ve moaned about this before on here but it is a contentuous issue for me. If I drop a day, this all becomes immaterial, as I am not repeating 1K+ again. But until that point, is it right to aim for that goal? I have not strained myself to keep this streak going yet, so I guess that will mark the real decision.

If I keep writing this I could go on for hours weighing what to do when that moment comes. I have already written so much here, that my full word count for today will be over 2,000 words, and I have work to do. So for now I’m going to put it out of mind, go with the flow, and try to ignore the issue until it becomes an issue. Right now to be fair to this streak, it’s not a bad thing. 

November 14th, 2019 – 414

This week has been about as smooth as a week can be. It is almost as if the mess of sick leave and annual leave taken to try and prevent sick leave rested me up. That’s not true at all, because before this week I was a wreck. It’s all because I have gotten enough routine sleep each night. Shows that if 1K is my bedrock, then enough sleep is, well whatever is the thing right above bedrock. Don’t shame me I’m not a geologist. Bedrock to me is that annoying block that makes killing the Wither in Minecraft a heck of a lot easier.

A quick Google search showed me that I am not alone in that, which makes sense. You know in real life bedrock is pretty darn breakable, even if it puts up a fight. I should pick a different substance to represent absolute. Strange matter springs to mind: it’s dense enough, and we suspect it consumes all it touches. 1K does that and then some. It does not cause an apocolypse though so, eh. Is that such a bad thing? As you can tell I’m in a bit of an airhead mood today.

Writing TSS today would make 19 days in a row of that project for target. What I am about to write is the kind of thing that messes up the best laid plans, but here goes: I can finish TSS by New Years Day. There, I said it, now it won’t happen. It feels a bit odd to lay it out there like this, but I analysed my structure, and there’s no avoiding this: TSS should be 80K. This does mean that it will be less chapters than my other stories, but act one ended at the 24K mark. I will cut the story back to be more lean. If act 2 is the same length as 1 and 3 combined, my normal model, and I cut the drudge back near the start, that makes 20K. 20 times 4 is, well you get the idea.

That may fall apart if I redo my story points, or weight the events in a different way. But it’s nice to have a plan. Plan for now is the same as every day this week. I’ll work till 5, switch to writing at 5, and try and finish before I have to leave the building. Here’s hoping. Back to it.

November 13th, 2019 – 413

My mental health is not being all that nice to me. Even while I start climbing out of the ditch I’m in, it’s still using every hook it can to drag me back down again. I am managing to work more coffee into my routine, and that’s my most effective antidepressent. I’m tempted to go grab some food, because I skipped actual dinner yesterday as I was cleaning. It’ll eat into my budget but I should still be ok. Now I give this some thought, no wonder I’m feeling shakey today. I’m not the best on picking up on my own signals.

I am on a 17 day streak of writing TSS as 1K, so have banked in the process including the extras, around 19,000 words. That is decent given my usual hurdle of 10K roadblocks. In a way, typing is helping my mental process a lot too. Hand writing is tough, laborious, and on the whole is more difficult. There’s merit in handwriting, but I should experiment. I may type the first draft of The First Stroke, to see if that affects the quality. It’s important to challenge my assumptions about what works best. It also means I will get the story done sooner. 

I’m gonna go get some food. Here’s hoping it helps.

November 12th, 2019 – 412

It’s weird. November is a month that in the past has broken many a positive streak. In 2018, I spoke in my journal about how certain I was that November would break me. And yet, based on two years of data now, it is becoming clear I pointed the finger at the wrong month. It seems like October is the specter I’ve let slide under the radar. That makes more sense than I thought that it would. When TUS and TSS were first written, both had the bulk of their work done in October. But in both cases, doing so broke me.

For a long time before 1K, I thought that the act of writing itself broke me down. Looking back, on TSS, TUS, and though I loathe talking about it, The Service to Ore, intense Octobers went sour. But a lot of the time, the roil hit at the end of the month. So, I looked at November for years, and thought it was somehow cursed. My superstitious nature got the better of me. And to top it all off, I ended up attempting 1K+ in October of all months. No wonder I got the worst migraine of my life. 

So now what? I have to post-mortem this, and pre-mortem 2020 well in advance because I do not want to go through that again. The obvious plan is that I need a holiday mid October 2020. That much is a given, and I’ve taken one every year that I can think of now I dwell on it. The only difference this year is I didn’t plan to do so. So next time, that has to get locked in well in advance. It’s not about getting away from work – work was fine in October for the most part. It’s about my pattern of burnout, and who knows, seasonal affective disorder? That doesn’t hold up because why am I fine now?

I’m going to steer far, far away from self diagnosis. That is a rabit hole as a teenager – as many do – I jumped down into an abyss of more confusion. Let’s shift to another topic, that being I have a new book in my top 3 nonfiction. Ronan Farrow’s “Catch and Kill” is such a powerful book. It has the strongest narrative of any book, fiction or not, I’ve read in years. I know this is so off topic with the rest of this post but read this book. It’s terrifying and unnerving, and so well captured. From a pure narritive and writing quality point of view, it is stunning, and it is so much more than just a narrative.

I forgot my noise cancelling headphones today, and that’s confirmed to me how much they help. Not having them feels like a whole different workspace, one I struggle to zone into. This post has taken twice as long per word as yesterdays. To be frank, I may bolt home at lunch to grab them. Either way, for now I am getting back to work, best I can. One thing is beyond doubt: I need to make sure to keep those on me at all times from now on. Yet another thing for me to figure out. But, I like problem solving.

November 11th, 2019 – 411

There’s a common trope of “Monday blues”, of being back at your desk first thing with the weekend gone in a blur. Those who know me well the the only ones not suprised to hear I am quite the opposite. I dislike how rudderless I get on weekends. Then, when I sit at my desk on a Monday, I go through my Trello and before long, I am back in control. What I need to do is capture that urgency at home, but for one huge problem: fatigue.

I get tired a lot. This has been a problem for most of the last twelve or so years, starting in the time after I left college. Looking back in hindsight, I can spot a pattern: when I had less life structure, my fatigue got worse. When you do a bit of reading into contempory psychology and medical research, that is no suprise. Focus is key. Staring at a screen is not the greatest thing for mental faculties, but having a strong day structure? If you have that, almost nothing else matters.

So what do I do to transfer that to the weekend? Well, long time imaginary readers will know this is a long way from the first time I’ve asked that. The best I can do is rehash the old approach and try to tweak it. That does not sound like a fantastic way to go about it, but in my current state that’s all I can do. If I push my weekends to be workfests too hard when I’m already going to lose a lot of time to the election, I’ll get ill. Of course, that takes me going to help with the election. I need to do that this weekend, I don’t care if I’m well enough or not.

If I can nail weekends, I can start transforming my life for at least a day a week into what I want it to be going forwards. I get up, go for a 20 minute walk at half 8. I get to a desk, at home, or wherever. I start to work, on my writing, and do an 8 hour work day. I write, but I also plan, and do social media engagement. That is my goal. If I can ever afford the desk at CoHub that’d be where I’d go. I work six days a week, and if I make £200 a month as a writer, that becomes four days a week at the college, two at my writers desk. That’s still pipe dream right now, but it’s not impossible. 

I spoke to a friend this weekend about where I draw my motivation from. It sounds silly, but a big part of it is living in my imagination, on what would happen if a book took off, or got an adaptation. It’s a bit childish, but it also gives me a pinch of that validation many writers crave, and few are lucky enough to find. Even when it’s a little dream, like that paycheck changing my hobby into a job, that’s what gets me up in the morning. Now, I need to figure out how to do that at the weekend. One step at a time.