Increasing Peace and Productivity – No Monastery Necessary

I mentioned on my podcast – First Cup of Coffee with Jeffe Kennedy – just about two weeks ago, that I’d read this very interesting article on how starting the day by looking at the internet changes how your brain functions. The author specifies going for three hours before looking at the internet, which I realize not everyone can do. Many people start their jobs within three hours of waking up and those jobs may specifically require checking email or company social media.

But for many of us… do we HAVE to look at those things within three hours of waking?

And I’m not saying it has to be like this author frames it. Not everyone has the luxury of spending the first three hours of the day meditating, quietly reading, or journaling. Sure, it sounds lovely in theory, but most of us don’t lead monastic lives. I don’t think it’s necessary anyway.

If a person, say, wakes up at 6 am, does the grooming/hygiene thing, maybe eats breakfast or has a hot beverage, could be getting other people ready for their days, perhaps some exercise, likely a commute to the job, then settling in – that’s usually about two hours, right? I mean, I know more than once in college I woke up at 7:30 and still made it to an 8 am class, but college students are not famed for their grooming, nutrition, or good planning. For someone a bit less subject to chaos and late nights than a college student, it seems that arranging a morning to allow for three hours before checking email and social media is entirely a possibility.

It would mean not checking email on the phone while sitting on the subway, and ignoring Twitter until later in the day. It means Facebook instant messages go unanswered for *gasp* maybe a whole twelve hours!! (Seriously – it pisses me off that Facebook tries to shame me by displaying how long it takes me to reply to messages on my author page, encouraging me to respond faster to earn some fucking badge like I care for their rewards. *ahem*) I’m not saying it’s easy to break this habit, especially when these internet companies are hugely invested in training us to look All The Time. I’ve turned off all of my notifications on my phone, and I can’t tell you how often they prompt, then try to command and trick me, to turn them back on. If they want that so badly, we have to know it’s not for OUR benefit.

I’ve been thinking a lot about the Time Before the Internet (TBI) and how different the flow of my attention was. And let me be clear: I love what the internet has brought to my life and to the world. Through social media and online groups, I have made many, many lasting friendships, kindred spirits I very likely would never have encountered otherwise. That’s a *huge* thing. As is the flow of information and sharing of important events. But, I’m not a fan of the way I’ve arranged my schedule, thinking, and life to accommodate the internet’s demands for attention.

One thing about the TBI, which closely predated cell phones (at least affordable ones normal people could actually carry around), was that no one expected us to be instantly available. I remember when email became widely used and my older boss commented that it used to be you’d send out a paper and could count on a week or two of it being off your plate before comments arrived in the mail. With email, that buffer time shortened to a day or two – or less. Now we have Facebook exhorting businesses to reply within an hour – or less. In some ways this decreased latency has helped productivity, but I can also see how it forces me into a responsive mode. If I let it, the internet could have me in a constant battle to respond to messages and notifications.

In that state, when I do produce work of my own?

So, I’ve been trying this. I wake up between 5 and 6 am, do the hygiene thing, feed the cats, exercise (which means some reading), record my podcast or write a blog post, and then I go straight to writing. This means I can’t post the podcast or blog to social media until later in the day, but oh well. Does it really matter what time those things post? I don’t think so.

The result has been astonishing. I’ve been getting my 3,000 words done before noon most days. Then, when I’m done and switch over to business, I get through email much more efficiently than before. I go from one task to the next: post my stuff, answer emails, reply to Facebook messages, reply to tweets. Work on other business.

People: I can feel the difference in my brain. My concentration is vastly improved. The book is flowing well. And when I do face the business tasks, those much-dreaded tasks that tend to slide down my To-Do List are actually getting done.

Highly recommend trying this, however you can make it work. No monastic existence necessary

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How I Became a Morning Writer

Our topic at the SFF Seven this week involves our writing schedules – what’s our most productive time of day, when do we actually write, how much time each day, week, month, etc.

I chose this photo I took of the moon at sunrise, because seeing amazing sights like this has become one of the great benefits of being an early riser. Who knew that catching the moon at dawn could be so very beautiful? I certainly didn’t, because I was never naturally an early bird. Come on over to learn more!

 

Increasing Word Count and Training for #NaNoWriMo

I had a bit of a SNAFU with the podcast this morning, but since I talked about #NaNoWriMo – and this post from 2014 – I thought I’d reprise it here. I’ll podcast tomorrow with the same thoughts!

***

This seemed like an appropriate photo for the topic of the new week – Managing Your Time: If You’ve a Deadline, You’ve a Schedule. How Do You Get Back On Track When Your Schedule Goes To Crap?

I’m in this place right now, getting back on track on a number of levels. My schedule didn’t really go to crap. But I did take a huge step back in September and now, it’s turned out, a good portion of October. It’s been deliberate in some ways and very likely much needed. Also weird.

See, in August I wrote 68,050. The most I’ve ever done in one month. It was a lot for me. More, that followed a straight run since the previous August when I wrote at least 41,000 words every month. In 2013 I wrote just over 497,000 words and so far for 2014, I’ve written 455,000. To do the math for you, that means I’ll likely have somewhere around 550,000 by December 31.

Once I get back on track, that is.

Because, in September, I only wrote 22,402. So far, for October I have 16,831. These are my two lowest word count months since May of 2013. I haven’t been doing nothing, precisely. I edited the novel that comes out in January, Under His Touch – developmental edits up through proofreading – and developmental edits on The Talon of the Hawk, which took a lot of focus, though a minimal additional word count. I worked up a proposal for three more Twelve Kingdoms books and started the first in the concept for another contemporary romance series. There’s been a lot of promo with the release of Rogue’s Paradise in September and preparing for The Tears of the Rosein November.

But I haven’t been doing much drafting. Which takes a whole other muscle.

Speaking of muscles, I was also sick in September. Some kind of low-level respiratory crud that nevertheless laid me low for several weeks. I got behind in exercising, too. Though managed to use the treadmill desk some every day, if only to keep my lymph flowing, I couldn’t run or lift weights. The treadmill served as a cat bed more than it moved. All of this was by way of necessary recovery. I truly believe that. I don’t have another book deadline until March 1. I haven’t gotten sick in a long time. It worked out okay for this to be my down time.

However, it’s now time to ramp up again and the question, the focus of our topic this week, is how do I do that?

I take my own advice. The sort I had the opportunity to hand out a couple of weeks ago when Chris Baty, the founder of NaNoWriMo, visited our local chapter meeting, something I mentioned in last week’s post, too. One gal asked if Chris had advice on how to get going on writing those 1,667 words/day to make the 50K words/month that’s the NaNoWriMo goal. He said he didn’t so I offered mine. I told her that the temptation is to do the math exactly that way – to divide 50K by the 30 days of November and focus on achieving 1,667 words for each of those days. The problem with that approach is that writing that many words on the first day is akin to learning to run a marathon by going out and running ten miles right off the bat.

Yeah, you can probably do it, but you’ll feel the pain later.

In fact, you might be able to do it for a couple/three/four days – and then the crash occurs. Like my recovery time recently, it’s a natural sequel to going flat out.

Better, I told her, to treat it like that marathon training. Build up a little more every day. Stop before you’re tired, because that energy will translate to the next day. Consider setting up a schedule for NaNoWriMo like this:

1 100
2 200
3 300
4 400
5 500
6 750
7 1000
8 1250
9 1500
10 1750
11 2000
12 2000
13 2000
14 2000
15 2000
16 2100
17 2100
18 2100
19 2100
20 2100
21 2100
22 2200
23 2200
24 2200
25 2200
26 2200
27 2200
28 2200
29 2200
30 2200

By the end of November 30, you’d have 50,150 words. Best of all, by the time you’ve got yourself doing 2,200 words a day, it will feel very easy and natural. Because you’d be in shape for it.

This is what I need to do, to get myself back in shape. I’ve gotten back into running and weight-lifting, working my way back up to my previous levels. I’m tracking my treadmill desk miles, making sure I do a little more each week. I need to get back into drafting, but not to 2,200 words/day. Not right off, tempting as that is. I’m going to ramp up like this. Get the words flowing.

Back on track.

Firing that Inner Critic

Something I get asked quite a bit in the various workshops I teach, is essentially how to deal with the inner critic. The questions come to me like this:

How do you deal with worrying about family reading your sex scenes?

My (sister/mother/father/aunt) says I can’t write about this because I’ll hurt people – what do I do?

Every time I try to finish my story, I get bogged down in editing – how can I get past this?

All of these are evidence of the inner critic at work. Even those voices that “sound” like they come from someone else, those are simply concerns that we’ve internalized. It’s like a part of our brains is a tape recorder, faithfully taking down every criticism leveled at us. Then, when we got to write, it “helpfully” plays all of that back for us.

So, a lot of the time I tell people this is part of the gig (which it is) and you simply have to get good at exercising the discipline of shutting this voice off (which is also true). At the most basic level, it’s like learning to exercise regularly. At some point you have to shuck the excuses, laziness and don’t-wannas and just do it.

Write the sex scene anyway.

Write the memoir anyway.

Don’t go back and edit until you’re done.

All of that makes it sound easy, which it isn’t. It’s simple, but not easy. But I haven’t had better advice than this. 

Recently, however, I discovered a tool for myself that I want to share.

Because – don’t mistake me – these things don’t go away. I’ve never met any writer, no matter how practiced or successful, who’s said they no longer hear these undermining voices. The syndrome can come and go, depending on overall life and emotional health, and on the project. 

I struggled with this not long ago because of a chain of events where several people said critical things to me. A couple of them were angry with me and said things deliberately to hurt me. Even though I knew that intellectually, my inner tape recorder faithfully took down all of it, playing it back for me over and over, along with other stuff – negative comments from reviews, chance remarks that no one meant in a bad way. It became this inescapable ear worm that filled my head when I tried to write, making it both difficult and agonizing.

Finally, I made a stack of blank paper squares. I set them on my writing desk with a stainless steel mixing bowl (nothing special about that – just so I wouldn’t set my desk on fire, as appealing as the notion was at the time), and a lighter I use to light the candle in my tea warmer.

Every time one of those repeated phrases came into my head, I immediately wrote it on a square of paper and then burned it. Witness my pile of ash above!

You know what?? It worked like a charm. Those confidence-sapping earworms disappeared. And stayed gone. So much so that I can’t remember now what they were, much as I’d like to give you examples.

I’m encouraging you all to try this. Let me know how it works out!

New Word Count Record! (Also, Why I’ve Been Quiet)

weekly word count recordLook at that! Yes, that’s my weekly wordcount graph for this last week, where I blew my previous record out of the water. I’m just ever so pleased with myself.

I mentioned earlier this week that I wanted to re-jigger my writing schedule to maximize my productivity, now that I’m writing full time. I figured I should be able to up my output, but so far hadn’t done so by as much as I’d hoped. In the past, I worked pretty intensely for several hours, usually getting 2,000 to 3,000 words before switching over to the day job. (Which I did from home, so no commute or like considerations.) I thought I should be able to get up to 5,000 words and still have more day to do Other Things (like reading, house projects, etc.).

But I wasn’t getting there. Even with the Jeffe Training for a Marathon Method (TM) of increasing wordcount production, I was punking out well before 5K. As in, I got tired and couldn’t focus enough to keep going.

So I looked at ways to change things up.

First, I stopped the video watching, as I discussed before.

Then I did the major trick I always resort to when I’m not getting the focus and flow I need. I often fall into the pattern of turning on my computer, opening email and my browser, then checking all the social media and various messages. This often takes my brain in the wrong direction. Now that I’ve been waking up naturally and not setting my alarm, I’ve been indulging in my favorite waking up ritual, which is to lie there for a good half hour before getting up. I rarely sleep later than 7 and most of the time I’m out of bed by 6. But I start waking up before that and love to lie there in a lovely relaxed alpha-wave state, thinking about the book I’m writing, something I call the Dreamthink. If I pour a bunch of other information into my head in between that Dreamthink time and actually writing, I lose a lot.

So, first step was to write first. That would prime the pump and get things going. My first 500 words of the day are always the slowest. I speed up as I go. However, I didn’t want to go too long without checking for messages from overnight, so I decided I’d try for 500 words before anything else, then break to check the rest.

Then something entirely new occurred to me.

I’d been in a pattern of writing intensely for condensed periods of time, but why keep doing that if I didn’t need to? A lot of writers use the #1K1Hr hashtag and benchmark – writing 1,000 words or for 1 hour, whichever it came out to. Instead, I tried a schedule of 30 minutes and 500 words, with breaks in between.

And boy howdy, how it worked!

This is the schedule I set up:

get up/workout

6:00 AM

7:30 AM

1:30

   

write

7:30 AM

8:15 AM

0:45

     500

 

check email/facebook/twitter/blogs/chat

8:15 AM

8:45 AM

0:30

   

write

8:45 AM

9:15 AM

0:30

     500

    1,000

check email/facebook/twitter/blogs/chat

9:15 AM

9:30 AM

0:15

   

write

9:30 AM

10:00 AM

0:30

     500

    1,500

check email/facebook/twitter/blogs/chat

10:00 AM

10:15 AM

0:15

   

write

10:15 AM

10:45 AM

0:30

     500

    2,000

check email/facebook/twitter/blogs/chat

10:45 AM

11:00 AM

0:15

   

write

11:00 AM

11:30 AM

0:30

     500

    2,500

check email/facebook/twitter/blogs/chat

11:30 AM

11:45 AM

0:15

   

write

11:45 AM

12:15 PM

0:30

     500

    3,000

lunch/read

12:15 PM

1:15 PM

1:00

   

check email/facebook/twitter/blogs/chat

1:15 PM

1:30 PM

0:15

   

write

1:30 PM

2:00 PM

0:30

     500

    3,500

check email/facebook/twitter/blogs/chat

2:00 PM

2:15 PM

0:15

   

write

2:15 PM

2:45 PM

0:30

     500

    4,000

check email/facebook/twitter/blogs/chat

2:45 PM

3:00 PM

0:15

   

write

3:00 PM

3:30 PM

0:30

     500

    4,500

check email/facebook/twitter/blogs/chat

3:30 PM

3:45 PM

0:15

   

write

3:45 PM

4:15 PM

0:30

     500

    5,000

reading/gifts/decs

4:15 PM

5:30 PM

1:15

   

finances/business/blog post

5:30 PM

6:00 PM

0:30

   

yoga/weights

6:00 PM

6:30 PM

0:30

   

movie

6:30 PM

9:00 PM

2:30

   

read

9:00 PM

10:00 PM

1:00

   

I was going to post that as a jpg image, so it would be prettier and more compact, but then I heard Sassy Outwater in my head, chastising me about accessibility, so…

At any rate, the first week was a runaway success! I went from 14K on THE EDGE OF THE BLADE to 35K. I’m ever so pleased with how I felt, too. I tend to be a concentrated, focused worker, so the idea of taking regular breaks is new to me, but it worked out great for my endurance! I set up all the times as formulas, so my daily schedule hinges around when I do get up (which I wanted to keep organic) and can be adjusted if stuff comes up. If I get ahead of schedule with especially good writing runs, I finish earlier in the afternoon.

We’ll see how week two goes.