Time Crunches and Opportunities

Did I tell you I live by two axioms. Well not just two … oh you know the rest.

There is never enough time in the day.

Things always take longer than you think.

But this blog post is not about making the time to take advantage of opportunity. No. This is about, when time is limited, seeing that limitation as an opportunity.

I am fortunate enough to have a somewhat predictable ebb and flow to my busy times. The word, somewhat, being of course open to a very loose interpretation. But I can look at my year and reasonably predict when my time will get taken over by atypical onerous duties I have no control over.  The rest of the time, however my schedule gets eaten by the usual predators; household, family and job. Still these demands are by and large, reasonable. I have made certain lifestyle choices that allow this, choices that I know, having had some intense conversations about it, others are not keen to make. To each his own. Everything costs: time, money, sanity, soul. Pick what is important and what you are prepared to pay and pay it. Did I say I love axioms? Or maybe I just have too much time on my hands. Not likely.

My previous blog was all about managing the time you’ve got. Key elements are:

  • Plan, but schedule wiggle room – allowing an easy pace to your activities will not only help quell the stress, but may allow you to accomplish more.

  • Discipline not to act, is just as important as the discipline to stay on track.

  • Flexibility depends on knowing the demands of your individual activities – seeing the micro and macro and being able to adjust what can be accomplished in the time allotted.

  • Forgiveness is not making excuses – it’s acknowledging the limitations inherent in our lives.

My biggest fear is having time crunches pull me off track completely. I know. I know. I’m the one all about forgiveness and being easy on yourself… yadayadayada… But I worry that it will be so much harder to get back on the path again. So I try not to stray. That might sound a little exhausting and maybe a little unrealistic. Remember I myself wondered how anyone can keep the pedal to the metal indefinitely, but just because I’m going doesn’t mean I’m going at the same speed, all the time. This busy season I was determined to not stress myself out, but also not let myself down regarding my art.

I explored two challenges this past month. One was a version of NaNoWriMo, called Camp NaNoWriMo that happens in April and July. As you may or may not be aware, National Novel Writing Month occurs in November during which, writers attempt to write a 50,000 word first draft. The cool thing about Camp NaNoWriMo is you create your own parameters for success. Want to write an outline for a new novel or revise a draft, or create a world bible for your new fantasy story? This is your chance. You can use word count or even hours worked as parameters and you decide what constitutes ‘winning’.

I chose hours and committed to 2 hours a day of working on a draft of my current WIP [work in progress]. I did not get nearly as far as I wanted. Ah, axiom number two. How disdainfully you rear your head. I did however succeed with my hours. So, good on me. And again, was I religious about the two hours per day? No. My weekends carried the majority of the load, however even those few minutes during the week helped to keep me chugging along and feeling positive about my progress, slow as it was.  I could have so easily let my manuscript hit the back burner for the month and really been totally justified, but come May, the ole jalopy was going to sputter and steam and give me all kinds of grief getting back on the road. This May not only did I not lose momentum, I was rearing to go.

The second thing I did was the Writer’s Digest Poem a Day Challenge. More writing, I hear you scream at the screen. More?!!! What are you nuts? Now hear me out. While I have been working on short stories, my primary focus has been novels. You know novels – huge gargantuan undertakings, a kin to pushing boulders up hills? Yes. Novels. Poems I thought would be much smaller boulders and might offer a sense of completion far quicker than novels. So, challenge accepted. And completed! Yes, I did a poem a day, every day [except for one day – but I made up for it the next] for the entire month of April. Oh, it isn’t good poetry but it is poetry – some of it, atrocious, some of it, meh, some of it, not half bad. I also used the time to get to some lyrics for songs I have been meaning to finish. [Have I mentioned I’m also a musician – I know, I know – I’m a sucker for punishment]

As an AWADJ time management is crucial. Sometimes though, a crunch is inevitable. Instead of getting squeezed maybe try these [sorry – totally did not mean to rhyme – darn you poetry challenge]:

  • Look for inspiration; activities to galvanize action, challenges that will gently but firmly kick you in the butt to keep you going

  • Focus your efforts: work smaller projects to enhance specific skill-sets

  • Set time limits: narrowing your parameters can give you a manageable quantifier, while committing to a month allows you to get in the flow, make up time, if things get extra crunchy, and create distance from larger projects

  • Embrace change: adopt a flexible mindset to make use of, or create opportunities.

Art doesn’t have to be spelled ‘ART’. It can be ‘art’. A little bit is better than none. Besides, you can make excuses, or you can make art. Which will it be?

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Contemplations on NaNoWriMo

When’s the best time to start thinking about NaNoWriMo.

December 1st

Wha-wha-What???

No, seriously. If you want next years’ experience to be a success, I suggest you sit down and have a good hard think.

December 1st

Because that is the point when all the trials and tribulations are over, but the bitter tang of ire and frustration are still on your lips. When you can still smell the acrid ink and stale coffee. When fresh is the recriminations and tears. And that’s if you manage to win.

December 1st

Because, let’s face it, between now and next year there are all these months in which to do one of two things. Either, you work the trauma up in your mind to a point where just thinking about writing 50,000 words makes you want to run in the opposite direction, or you have adequately lobotomized yourself into thinking it’ll be a walk in the park, only to end up lost and on the wrong side of town. Save yourself either of these delusions. There’s a more constructive path available.

Whether you managed to eke out those 50,000 words or not, you have learned a lot going through this experience. What better time to take note of all the things you should have done, what didn’t go as smoothly as you’d  hoped, and to come up with an approach that ensures that they do the next time around.  Adversely now is also the time to pat yourself on the back. You’re going to want to remember all the smart moves you made that helped you along the way, so that you can recreate them next year.

Here are some suggestions you might consider, to make your next NaNoWriMo easy peezy lemon squeezy – well not exactly, but you know what I mean:

Use Tools

You’d think that a writer might not need to think about this. Tools however could be anything from a great writing software like Scrivener or yWriter that actually organizes your writing, to apps that organize your time. And time seems to be the biggest issue. As there is no tool that’s going to add two more hours to a day, the key is to use the available time more effectively.  Are you an AWADJ (Artist with a Day Job)? Maybe next year strategically schedule some vacation time. I take off every Monday in the month of November. Having those three days is a great way to get into the groove of writing and a much needed chance to catch up on all those low word count days.

Seek Help

Of course, you’re going to seek help from friends and family. They can be a great resource for not only emotional support but practical assistance with a busy schedule.  One of the great things about doing NaNoWriMo, however is there is a whole community out there doing the same thing, going through the same challenge, rising and falling and getting back up again. It is a community of writers who all have tips and tricks and different approaches to writing and the writing life. Some of their solutions might just work for you. But don’t wait for November. This community offers many solutions to help you prepare for, not just get through the challenge.

Get your Head in the Game

This is the hardest thing to do. Doubt, guilt, and fear can plague us. Those are often the things that pull us away from giving ourselves fully to NaNoWriMo. You have to decide whether or not you’re going to let them. Getting great suggestions from other writers and managing your writing time is important, but until you can feel positively invested in NaNoWriMo, you might be the biggest obstacle of all.

But hey, don’t sweat it. You’ve got a whole year to prepare.

Effort

Feet. Huh? How do they do it. How do they get their feet there. Right up to their chins so that they can actually put their toes in their mouths. It’s a marvel. It’s a miracle. It looks impossible. It looks effortless.

And okay, okay. Don’t start. I’m sure there’s some perfectly reasonable explanation. For you doctors out there, cool your jets. Don’t bother getting into some long winded diatribe about the nature of babies bodies and distances between said feet and mouths of said infants and it’s all perfectly normal and blah, blah, blah….

No. Quit it. It still looks amazing because frankly, I can’t do it and can’t remember I time when I could. And I’m not the only one. You always hear adults comment on that whenever they see a baby do that. Or really whenever we see anyone do something we can’t. We want to believe that they’re just lucky or that the hand of God just came down and touched them on the forehead or that the distance between their mouths and feet aren’t as far as ours. We want to believe that. We have to, because we need to understand, why is everything so darn hard for us.

But what might seem effortless is really a lie hidden behind a fear. The truth is those feats of daring do, those amazing successes, and heart-stopping works of art happened because of effort. Someone decided that it was worth it to take the risk or learn that task or sit in that chair and just put their head down and do it. They decided that despite the failures and disappointments and things they had to learn that they didn’t already know, it was worth the effort. October 31st you said to yourself that writing 50,000 words in a month was worth it. And nothing has changed.

So as you round the corner, two-thirds of the way through, and start to speed wobble your way down towards the last leg of NANOWRIMO, keep putting in the effort. And even if it looks like you won’t make the 50,000 or your story is an abysmal mess, or you’ve actually ditched the one you started on for another, keep going. There is nothing more crucial to be gained than exercising the discipline to engage in effort. Effort is what gets you over the hump, around the block and through to the end.

And as for the babies? Don’t worry about it. They’re looking at you and going, feet. Huh? How do they do it. How do they just walk around like that. How do they not fall over. And running? Wow that looks impossible.  But it isn’t. ‘Cause soon there’s some toddler running all over the place and getting into all kinds of mischief. All with a little bit of effort.

Happiness

As you can see from my blogroll, I’m a fan of Ted Talks. If you haven’t yet, I recommend you check it out. Ted presents a wealth of inspiring talks given by inspiring people. It’s like a smorgasbord of heart, soul and mind candy. Except that these are all good for you.

One such delicious treat is the talk given by Shawn Achor. His topic, The Happy Secret to Better Work, is not only thought provoking, but down-right funny. He discusses principles on positive psychology, exploring the concept that success comes from happiness, not the other way. And at this point in our November endeavors, we NANOWRIMO writers might need such good news.

We’ve reached the half way mark. The thrill of the blank page is over. The excitement of meeting your characters and exploring new settings or even worlds is gone. The rush you got from seeing your words spread across the page like droplets of paint into water has turned into so much inky mud. The joy has been replaced by the mad juggling act of keeping in the air all the balls of what has happened so far, and where it all must lead. You’re perhaps a little behind in your word count.  Nothing on the page is making sense. Doubt has started to creep in. But that’s when you need to be positive.

Cast aside the temptation to allow your inner editor to enter the stage. Close the door on stage right and focus on right now. Stop questioning what you’ve done. You’ve changed your mind and your romantic lead is suddenly swarthy and dark, not blonde and blue eyed? Your planet name has morphed into something almost unpronounceable? The Femme Fatal is now the Mentor? Don’t sweat it. Make a comment. Jot down a reminder. You’ve got ‘Draft 2’ to iron out all those inconsistencies, once the big picture is there in front of you.

Let it just happen. You may even discover that the story is talking to you. Here, in the midst of the influence of the muse, within the freedom of non-judgement, in the throws of getting all those darn words on the page, you’ve got a chance to listen to the story that lives inside you. Indulge in the journey of the pen to page, or the finger to keyboard as the case may be.  Give yourself permission to explore. Only then will you reach the end with something in hand. And the only way that will happen is if you stay positive and keep going.

If after getting a dose of positivity from the video, you want more from Mr. Achor, I highly recommend his books Before Happiness and The Happiness Advantage. In them, he lays out steps you can take to bring more positivity into your life. He believes by employing principles of positive psychology, we can improve our well-being for the long-term. And there’s nothing more long-term than writing a novel.

But of course don’t read them right this minute. You’ve got to push through this hump and get those words on the page.

Just remember to enjoy the journey my fellow Nanowrimo-ians.

Community

If you write or have thought about writing or know someone who does, one truth rings out strong and clear. Writing is lonely work. You sit, alone and think. And think and think and then write and think some more and then hit delete a bunch of times and then write and write and write. Every now and then you come up for air and usually at least in my case, hours have gone by and I’ve really got to pee. I don’t mean to be crass, but that’s the truth of it.

How can that happen? How can you spend so much time alone? I think because while I’m physically alone I’m not really alone. I’m lost in a world, of my own creation. I have created my own community. And as much as that might smell of a rank dose of self-important god complex, my world, for as much as I plot and plan and draw diagrams and collect pictures of who and what I think lives there, still seems to have a mind of its own.

This article was supposed to be about community. We are all part of many different communities; work, home, family. I am part of a writers critique group that I meet with once a week. I highly recommend finding a group of writers with similar passions about writing, who can share their work and their journey with each other. That community offers me a place where I can be pushed to be the best writer I can be in a safe and joyful arena. For the month of November I am part of a grand community of writers who all collectively invite the muse to visit them. And in that month I explore a brand new community of characters and settings and worlds that live in my mind and manifest on the page.

Maybe I’m just nuts but I guess writing isn’t that lonely after all.  I’ve got plenty of company.

One third down, two thirds to go, my fellow NANOWRIMO-ites. Heads down and keep going!

National Novel Writing Month – Oh My

What was I thinking starting a blog the same week I’m into another NANOWRIMO.

For those who don’t know, NANOWRIMO also known as National Novel Writing Month, is an online event that happens in November. It is a time when writers band together in communal angst to each write 50,000 words; what constitutes a first draft of a novel. If you’ve never heard of this before or better yet if you’re all too familiar and want a ten-minute pat on the head that says ‘buck up, you are not alone’, watch this.

The Month of Writing Dangerously

So again I ask myself; why have I put even more on my plate?

Don’t I have enough words to put down on the page, without adding more? Did my day suddenly sprout two extra hours? Has my week grown two extra days? Weekend days preferably, of course. Have I learned to function on less sleep? Just so’s you know the answer to all of these questions is a resounding no. A ‘no’ with a deep bone shaking echo that fades into the universe and leaves you with a hollow cold feeling. Yeah. That kind of no. So why am I putting myself though this?

Perhaps I need an outlet to share my own angst. Perhaps after writing several novels, I am forcing myself to take the next necessary step that all authorpreneurs are taking and get myself a website/blog. Or maybe I’m afraid. I’m looking to ease so slowly into social media, [feet dragging trenches into the floor slowly] that this other challenge offers the perfect excuse for why I’m not blogging more frequently. Of course now that I’ve come right out and said it, or rather put it in print, there’s no hiding, no making excuses.

On the other hand, I might just be getting too darn cocky. Last year I finished my novel with days to spare. I don’t actually need the whole month to get my words in, do I? The full 30 days and x amount of waking hours? Naw.  I’m good. It’s all good. Well, we’ll see if hubris doesn’t just rise up out of the dust of my powdery words to bite me on the butt. And of course if she does, I’ll have to blog about it. But then I’ll have something to blog about. Hey! That’s turning a frown upside down!

Good luck to all my fellow Nanowrimo writers. Keep the faith and see you at the finish line.