Sunrises, Serendipity and a Tease


At the sight of blackbirds
Flying in a green light,
Even the bawds of euphony
Would cry out sharply.

~ Thirteen Ways of Looking at a Blackbird by Wallace Stevens

I know, I know – I’m forever quoting that poem, but when I see a sky and a bird like this, that line always comes to me. Those bawds of euphony always kind of annoyed me, too.

There’s an element of serendipity to so much in life. Like getting a cool photograph – it’s not really something you can plan for. This morning’s sunrise bloomed with exceptionally intense reds, oranges and pinks. But I don’t always go out to snap pics. This morning, though, David needed to charge his MP3 player before we went to the gym, so I had some time to kill. Then I saw a crow sitting in the big cottonwood by our neighbor’s house, thought of Laura Bickle and her crows, and decided to go back in for my telephoto lens. The bird then obliged by winging through the molten sky for me. I got six or seven great pics – most of which you’ll undoubtedly get to see here over the next couple of weeks.

I know, also, that getting these photos is a result of other long-term efforts – from all the saving and sacrificing we did over the years to enable us to have a home in this place, with these views, to the time I’ve invested in learning to take pictures, and acquiring that telephoto lens.

The last couple of days have brought some great news into my life. I know it’s a total tease, but I can’t say much yet. Still, I’ve been on the phone with Agent Pam the last couple of days and she’s lining up a new publication deal for me. I get to talk with my new prospective editor on Monday and it feels like everything is really coming together. Sometimes I wonder if Pam is disappointed when she calls me with news and I don’t scream or make other high-pitched noises.

Thing is, it feels much like getting a great photograph now. I’ve put in years of effort to get to this place, where all I need is serendipity – and Agent Pam’s enthusiastic hard work on my behalf – to bring it all together. When she tells me the good news, I don’t feel wild excitement. I feel a deep satisfaction. That resonant sense that what I want most is coming true.

It feels good.

So, sorry for the tease, but stay tuned – official announcement should be coming soon!

Serendipity willing.

How I Learned to Stop Procrastinating and Cheerfully Meet Deadlines with Room to Spare

We brought home this fresh boxwood wreath to hang on the front door and Jackson immediately inserted himself in it. For those keeping score at home, he’s just shy of eight months old now.

He’s going to be a Big Kitty.

I’m looking forward to the holiday season this year. I have ideas for decorating and even a cool homemade gift for people. I take this to mean that I’m feeling rested and the creativity is flowing. Part of this, I’ve suddenly realized, is because I changed some of my fundamental habits. What’s more is, I change a bad, lifelong habit without really realizing it.

Which is just extraordinary to me.

It’s *hard* to change habits – we all know this. Especially the bad ones. Those junk foods we crave but shouldn’t eat. That wine we shouldn’t drink nearly so much of. The TV shows we waste time on. The internet surfing when we should be working. I imagine each of us could list our top five bad habits – and then write a book on how many times we’ve tried to change them, how and why it ended up not working. (Because if it worked, it wouldn’t still be on the top five list, right?)

So, here’s one of mine: I’m a procrastinator.

Always have been. Back in school, I was the kid who wrote EVERY paper the night before it was due. I never studied until the day before the exam. (Well, the entire weekend in college for brutal classes like organic chemistry.) I once read the Iliad and the Odyssey over a couple of days during reading week before finals. Even with work, I don’t really get going on a deliverable until the deadline was breathing down my neck.

Deadline stress was my eternal motivator.

Which is awful. If you’re like me, you know just how stress-inducing this Very Bad Habit is. The late nights, the great fear that you won’t finish in time or that, if you do finish, the product will sucketh mightily.

I’ve known this about myself pretty much all my life and just hate it. And yet, over and over again, I would fall into the same pattern. Always dealing with the next fire, the next emergency. I always kind of envied the work-ahead people, but never found a way to break this habit.

Until just recently.

You know what worked? I didn’t change that particular habit, I changed other things that just happened to result in me at long last not relying on deadline pressure for motivation.

It’s like I tricked myself into operating differently. Isn’t that amazing?

I’m amazed.

So, what happened is, I had a number of writing deadlines. One was external – my first ever turn-in-your-book-by-this-date publication deadline, which I was determined not to blow – and several internal deadlines, important to me for keeping everything on track.I really, really, really did not want to be finishing that book the night before the deadline. I could not risk that it wouldn’t be as good as I needed it to be. No shortcuts, no crossing fingers, no Hail Mary’s. I wanted lots of time to get it done and get it done right.

So I planned out all my work. I finished another project that I wanted out of the way, to clear time for the one with the external deadline. I planned my dayjob work so that nothing would actually catch on fire enough to divert me. I worked in both measured paces and intense doses, depending on my time and inclination.

This was the amazing part.

I finished both projects early. Like, 7-10 days early. I’ve *never* finished anything early before in my life. Bizarrely, everything else fell into place, too. I’d wanted everything done before Thanksgiving, so I could relax and not worry about ongoing projects. I finished all my day job work by early afternoon Monday – where usually I’m working into the evening before we leave, trying to clear my desk.

At that point, I realized I had nothing on fire. Nothing that I was leaving undone.

It was miraculous.

I’d somehow learned to do my work ahead of time, in an un-stressed, no-deadline-pressure way, all because I’d restructured my other habits.

Now those of you who’ve followed my blog for a while know that I’ve long been a proponent of writing every day. I have my rituals, my good and productive habits. This overall change in my pattern of behavior grew out of that foundation. I suspect that’s key – I didn’t change everything overnight.

But I also think it’s important that I never tried to stop being a procrastinator. I changed the way I work towards a goal.

And that has made all the difference.

(with apologies to Robert Frost)

Would You Give Up Your Life for Your Writing?

This is the view out our kitchen window. The colors took my breath away.

I’m settling back in after my traveling, not feeling quite so discombobulated anymore. Yesterday, because I got the federal holiday, I was able to get 5,000 words in. I mentioned doing this before, over a weekend, with 5K each day. I do it by writing four 90-minute sessions throughout the day, with breaks in between for walks or household tasks. That means I shoot for about 1,250 words per session, which is a little less than writing at 1K/1Hr. This works really well for me. I find that, in the earlier 90-minute sessions, I might not reach the full 1,250. But by the last couple of sessions, I’m writing much faster and easily make it up.

For those doing the math at home, this also would make for a six-hour working day. If I could do that as a full-time writer, five days a week, that would be very workable for me.

A lot of people are doing NaNoWriMo right now. (National Novel-Writing Month, where you write 50K in the month of November.) It’s a big stretch, even if you’re accustomed to writing regularly. Most people break it out into 1,667 words each day and I’m a big fan of the daily, incremental effort. However, I’ve started keeping track of my monthly wordcounts and discovered I wrote 55,552 words in October – and that 10K weekend made a huge difference in getting there.

The thing is, no matter how you slice it, you have to make sacrifices to get those wordcounts in. The time we spend writing is time we’re not doing something else. When you have a lot of something else’s to get done, that can really pinch.

David, my guy, has long been interested in the teachings of Bob Proctor. (From the same line as Napoleon Hill and Dale Carnegie.) The other day, he said to me that Proctor’s philosophy is that you always give up your life for something. Whatever you spend your time doing, that’s what you’ve ultimately given your life for. 

It made me think. Put that way – what would you give up your life for? Having it be for writing books and stories sounds pretty damn good.

Go NaNo writers!