Why I’m Against Butt-in-Chair, Hands-on-Keyboard

I caught Isabel mid-yawn on this one. What I get for disturbing the cozy winter’s nap with my photo-taking. She – like all cats – is the poster child for this week’s topic, which is balancing writing with physical and emotional health. There’s a catchphrase that writers like to pass around, about maintaining productivity: BICHOK, or Butt-in-Chair, Hands-on-Keyboard. I get that it’s a metaphor, meaning that you get writing done by actually writing, but it’s one I quibble with because I’m so against the sitting-down part. Come on over to find out more. 

Lessons from the Spreadsheet Queen

Get-It-Together-Blog-Hop-Graphic-big-510x510At the invitation of the lovely Alexandra Haughton (and Lindsay Emory, who I’m sure is also lovely, though I don’t think we’ve met), I’m participating in their Get It Together Blog Hop.

Because I am, you know, the uncrowned Spreadsheet Queen.

I began my love affair with Microsoft Excel as soon as it hit the market, using it in various day jobs. It was the tinkering with it for personal use that led me to understand its arcane inner workings. I love the formulas, the conditional formatting, the logic tests. I even make Gantt Charts! (You don’t know what a Gantt Chart is? Stick with me, Grasshopper.) I have my three favorite Excel Workbooks open at all times. In fact, here’s a shot of my screen as I draft this post.

Screenshot 2015-09-01 11.43.34You might have to blow it up to see the tabs at the bottom – but there’s Walking Goals, To Do List and Progress Count. Welcome to my world.

Walking Goals

I use a treadmill desk and keep track of my walking goals daily. I’m part of a Writers Who Walk Facebook group and our goal for the year is to walk at least 1,000 miles. You can see from the screenshot below that I’m at about 780 miles so far for 2015, or 78% of the goal. As we’re only about 67% through the year, conditional formatting shows that green Yes! I am on target. Actually I could do zero walking until October 12 before we hit the red No.

Screenshot 2015-09-01 11.48.14

To Do List

I keep a running To Do List. If I don’t finish tasks set for one day, I move them to the next. My list is rather shockingly empty this week – and thank all the gods for that! I’ve finally caught up on a slew of things. Some days I have twenty task on there. I delete as I go, so you can see that “spreadsheet post for tomorrow” listed for Tuesday will vanish very soon. I love deleting!

Screenshot 2015-09-01 11.55.59Sharp-eyed readers will note I also track carbs, shows people recommend, books I’ve read and other sundry topics.

Progress Count

The Progress Count workbook is where I really geek out. I’ve been using some version of this workbook for easily twenty years, with continuing refinements along the way. The first tab is Priorities, where I track my deadlines, all of which have interconnected formulas. That is, start dates for the next project are calculated off the projected finish dates of others.

Screenshot 2015-09-01 12.15.58I track every step – drafting, cooling (which usually corresponds to crit partner reading time), revising, and all stages of editing for my publishing houses. I preserve these histories, too, and use them to project my finish dates. Right now this tab only projects out about six months, though in the past it’s been as long as two years.

The next tab is Commitments, in which I use all of those dates to make Gantt charts, like this one.

 

 CommitmentI love these because the let me visually process what I’m loading my plate with – especially those dreaded periods of overlap. I also plug in workshops I’ll teach, as you can see. There’s another chart with release dates, too, for visualizing that periodicity.

Then there’s my Overall tab, which counts my daily word count on everything. This is the origin page, which spawned all the others. I track how much I write – including blogging like this – on a daily, weekly, monthly and annual basis. Those are the numbers from Monday, as I hadn’t yet reset it for today. The Words Today section counts from all the ensuing tabs, which follow, one per work in progress.

Screenshot 2015-09-01 12.29.36For example, here’s the tab for THE PAGES OF THE MIND. I finished drafting it, sent it to my editor and now I’m working on developmental edits. Over to the right of the page you can see my revision goal, which is predicated on pages/day, instead of wordcount. I count the words added anyway, for my overall goals.

Screenshot 2015-09-01 12.36.33Finally, I keep charts of my weekly,Weekly chartmonthly Montlhy chartand annual counts!

 Annual chart I’m happy to entertain questions in the comments!

Meanwhile, feel free to join the blog hop Rafflecopter giveaway – many prize packs to be had!

a Rafflecopter giveaway

Personal Best – Chasing that Moving Target

shoelacesI have not always been this person I am these days. The one who puts on her cross-trainers to run in the morning and later to walk at my treadmill desk. In fact, I recall this one time that my colleagues teased me about it. I arrived to work with them in Salt Lake City after the main team had been there a couple of days already. We were starting a big project and a bunch of newbies were being trained. I walked in the room, having just flown in, and my boss says, “I told you all that would be Jeffe.” I asked how she knew and she said by the clicking of my heels. I happened to be wearing a pair of high-heeled Enzo Angiolini boots I still miss – a lovely light buff suede that eventually became too soiled to rescue – that I’d bought at DSW in Boston on another work trip. At any right I told her that heels didn’t necessarily mean me and she said no, but that I always wear them. Then she asked me if I even owned a pair of sneakers or athletic shoes.

At the time, no, I did not.

Like I said, I’m a different person now. Especially since I’ve learned to tie my shoelaces correctly.

It’s funny to remember this, but once upon a time, tying my shoelaces was a Big Freaking Deal. I must have been five, in Kindergarten, and I got pulled out of class for a series of days for “Special Tutoring.” Because I could not tell time or tie my shoelaces. I know, right? With the telling time thing, keep in mind that they wanted me to be able to on an analog clock and we had all digital clocks at home. With the shoelaces…we’ll get to that.

So, this was kind of humiliating for me. I mean, I saw myself as a smart kid. I could already read on my own by then. I’d shocked the hell out of my mom by spelling, then sounding out the name of our grocery store. (Naturally, words were my first and best skill.) I really hated feeling stupid about the time thing and the shoelace thing. Frustrated, too, because despite all that Special Tutoring, I still got it wrong easily half the time.

Looking back, I’ve realized I probably had dyslexia. I only figured this out in college, when I was tired and actually saw a road sign arrow flip back and forth horizontally. It explained the analog clocks that showed me two different times at once, my baffling tendency to run the ball over the wrong goal line and those shoelaces that wouldn’t stay tied.

It’s amusing then to find out that I’d been tying my shoelaces WRONG. After all that Special Tutoring, they didn’t even teach me correctly.

If you don’t know, there IS a correct way to tie shoelaces so that they don’t come undone. Even better, this knot tightens as you run or walk.

All goes to continuing to grow, improve and learn new things. One of the many bounties of the Internet, that we can escape the embarrassment and frustration of Special Tutoring.

Win.

Cats and Oklahoma Weather

005I’m so happy that (new) cat Jackson and (old) cat Isabel get along so well. It doesn’t always work out that way and is so lovely when it does.

This evening I pick up my boss/colleague Laurie and we’re driving over to Oklahoma City for some meetings tomorrow. Then we’ll drive back tomorrow night and she’ll spend a couple of days here in New Mexico. Should be quite the whirlwind!

Otherwise, I’m over at the Contemporary Romance Cafe tomorrow (May 1), talking about where I write. Which, of course, involves treadmill desks. 🙂 If you’re a regular reader here, it won’t be anything new to you. Except to say that I figured out I’ve walked over 150 miles in April and have logged over 61,000 words. It’s been a busy, productive month for me.

Which is good, because Ursula’s book is being kind of wrenching to write. It’s due June 1, so I anticipate May will be another 60K+ month.

Think No-Tornado Thoughts for me!

My Treadmill Desk – One Year Later

treadmill deskA year ago, I set up my treadmill desk. And I posted the Grand Opening message here, which includes links for purchase, etc.

 I promised to give my one-year later review and findings. The upshot?

Love love love.

Seriously. Best investment I ever made.

Yes, I use it pretty much every day. Sometimes I don’t on the weekends, particularly if I’m being really active with other projects like gardening or house-cleaning. I’ve walked as much as 12 miles in one day, though it’s usually more around 8-10 miles. That translates to about 3 to 6 hours on it daily. For reference, I’m at my desk about 12 hours a day.

Can I work on it? Yes! I usually walk anywhere from 1 mph to 2.2 mph. The 2.2 seems to be my maximum for working at the same time. I walk during conference calls, while doing social media and writing blog posts (doing 1.4 mph while drafting this) and especially while writing. I do my 2.2 mph while drafting or editing the novels and it works great. As you can see from the pic above, the way I can rest my forearms on the desk allows me an anchor. I totally forget that I’m walking, too.

More – the steady cadence of walking works great to induce the trance state conducive to writing. Hopefully you all know what I mean. My best work comes out when I disengage all the “thinky” parts of brain that are making lists, wondering what’s for lunch, posting alerts that I need to remember to call such and so back, etc. Once I can sink into that state, the words flow and I’m totally focused. The walking is absolutely trance-inducing and has become part of my ritual for working.

The only things I can’t do on the treadmill is anything that requires intensive mouse work. For example, I have been working on complicated flow charts for my day job. Lots of creating shapes, dragging them, attaching connector arrows. I find it too difficult to maintain a steady line with the mouse while walking.

Otherwise, anything goes! In fact, I find I get restless now if I can’t move while I work. Sitting so much feels wrong.

Since starting to use the treadmill desk, I’ve dropped 10 pounds in body fat. My blood pressure dropped from 160 to 120. Also, my endurance has increased. Though I’ve been running and weightlifting for several years now, the daily walking has really made a difference in my overall health. My body just *feels* stronger and I can, of course, walk much farther without tiring.

Cautionary note on that: start out gradually and work up. Even if you’re in great shape already, the steady pace of the treadmill desk seems to work my body differently. I overdid at first.

I’m happy to answer questions in the comments or via personal message. I absolutely recommend it if you’re considering making the leap. I can’t imagine going back to sitting all day.

I’ll leave you with this – Jackson trying out the treadmill, too. (He still jumps on with me, from time to time. )

 

Fact-Checking Those Resolutions

1_7_14I’m over in the Darkest Cravings Author Cage today answering their Only the Brave questions. Also, Allison Pang blogged today about finding an easter egg I left for her in Rogue’s Possession. Pretty funny! (Okay – WE think it’s hysterical anyway.)

Last year, I did a post on Word Whores on a new way for me to set goals in the new year. I borrowed someone else’s idea and put my resolutions in sealed envelopes and did not reveal them until the end of the year. So here’s how they looked: 2013 goalsI sealed them up and didn’t open them until December 31. This is what they look like now.

006

Very interesting experience to do it this way.

Most significant is that I didn’t remember what I put in them. This was part of the point of the exercise, to test how much I internalized my goals.  That is, would I stick to them without having them stare me in the face?

The answer: yes and no.

Also, REALLY depended on the category, which is illustrative right there. Of my three categories – weight/health, writing and financial – guess which I did the best on? (“Best” qualified as coming closest to achieving – I wasn’t 100% on any of them.)

Writing.

This doesn’t surprise me because it’s really my top priority. Interestingly, it was also the goal with the most points. Eight of them. They were (updated for what titles became, not what I thought they were then):

  1. Write Negotiation to submit to Tuck’s anthology
  2. Write Master of the Opera
  3. Write Five Golden Rings to submit to Carina anthology
  4. Turn in revision of Mark of the Tala
  5. Turn in revision of Rogue’s Possession
  6. Write Blood Currency #3
  7. Write Tears of the Rose
  8. Write Rogue’s Paradise

It’s notable that I kept these writing goals all within my direct control – something I’ve learned over time! So I didn’t include getting #1 & #2 accepted to those anthologies. They were, which was awesome, but my responsibility was to write the stories. Of all of these, I did not do #6. That was a conscious decision to pare that away for at least the time-being. Also, #8 got shifted at my publisher’s request because they wanted a different book first. Fair enough. I call this one a WIN.

Weight/Health

Okay, I didn’t make my goals, but I did pretty decently. Enough to pat myself on the back. I’d set a goal that required a 16-pound weight loss, including a 15% reduction in body fat. While I only went down by 11 pounds (damn those nearly-impossible-to-lose last five pounds!!), I did make a 14.8% reduction in body fat. Thank you new treadmill desk!

Of course, post-holidays, I’m a bit up from that but nowhere near where I was last year. I still want to hit that goal weight. PARTIAL WIN on that one.

Finances

*sigh*

Okay, so this one really wasn’t within my direct control and it shows. I had an ambitious goal for my writing income and fell significantly short. As in, I hit 38% of what I wanted to.

However.

I set that apart because I think it’s a big “however.

However, my writing income was over five times more than the previous year. I set a stretch goal – one that would let me at least reduce time at the day job – and, while I’m disappointed I didn’t reach it, I’m not sorry I set it. I suppose there’s a lesson in that. Reaching is part of it.

So, my overall assessment?

I liked this. It helped me focus myself on goals for the year, particularly for writing, and seeing where my head was this time last year gave me particularly good insights. Many of those writing goals were stretches and I’m really pleased with myself for hitting almost all – with excellent results. It’s also good to see how much I really did accomplish, where otherwise I might think I hadn’t. Like with the weight and money stuff. I tend to dwell on not being where I want to be yet, but now I see how far I came.

Which is important.

Why Star Ratings Really Mean Nothing in the End

Here’s Jackson figuring out how to walk on the treadmill. Such a smart kitty. This was last week and today he was jumping on and walking beside me as I typed this.

This cat invented monkey-see, monkey-do.

I’ve been thinking about reviews lately. Now that the release date for Platinum is drawing nigh, the number of reviews and Goodreads rankings is going up. I’ve really had to stop reading all of them, because I’ve found that I’m aware of all these readers’ eyes as I’m writing, and not in a good way. I write more slowly than I want to and find myself second-guessing whether someone will pick on this or that. Or if this thing will be a dealbreaker for that reader who hated this other thing. It’s kind of like trying to write in a coffee shop full of people talking loudly about your other books. Even the good chatter is distracting.

Occasionally I’ll read one, so I can retweet it or send it to my website people to post. But I only do that if I know the person gave it 4 or 5 stars.

I know. I’m the pansy my stepfather always exhorted me to not be.

The thing is, the 3-star and and lower reviews stick with you, leaving a bad taste in your mouth. The meanness that can be behind those sentiments (not always, sometimes it’s just a fair “not for me”) works like a poison. Here’s an example of how that works.

I get a lot of spam comments on this blog – like upwards of 30/day. It’s not too bad, because they all go to the spam filter, which is amazingly efficient. I just have to empty it every once in a while. Kind of like purging the septic tank. I used to read through, in case real comments went to spam, but that’s only happened once. (I’m looking at you La Tessa – what HAVE you been up to, girl??) Mostly it’s not worth it. Sometimes I look through a few, just for grins.

There’s one brand that’s really nasty. The intent is clearly to garner attention by standing out. Now that I want to find one, there weren’t any. But they go along the lines of “Clearly you have no idea what you’re talking about. Maybe if you were less sloppy, lazy and stupid, I would have come back to this blog.” What will be funny is that it will be on a post saying, oh, that I signed with my agent or something. I *know* that it has nothing to do with what I wrote, or with anything at all, and it WILL STILL BOTHER ME ANYWAY.

Never ceases to amaze me. So works the human psyche, I suppose.

At any rate, this is the other thing I’m trying to remember – a lower star rating doesn’t mean someone didn’t like the book.

No, really. Because I did this recently. I read Gone Girl by Gillian Flynn. (Actually I listened to it on Audible, for what it’s worth.) There were some things that bothered me here and there – I thought some of the plot was over-contrived, some of the prose struck me as trying too hard. And I really hated the ending. If you’ve read it, I’ll discuss privately, but I won’t spoiler it. When I went to rank it on Goodreads, I nearly gave it 3 stars, but the ending bothered me so much. (For the record, it was not because I wanted a Happy-Ever-After.) But then I thought about how the story had captured me and how truly original and interesting the premise is, so I reluctantly bumped it up to 4 stars.

I’ll tell you what: I’ve recommended that book to more people in the last several months than any book in recent years.

See? My star rating, 3 or 4 or whatever, seems to have nothing to do with my personal word of mouth. Because, even if I think you might not like how it ends, I think you’ll still love reading it.

Chalk one up to experience.