Tag Archives: how-to

On Being Productive…and Those Days Where You Really Aren’t.

27 Sep

Inspired by the last week of my life¹, here are two lists: How to Ensure You Will Get Nothing Done and How to Get EVERYTHING Done.

Here goes.

How To Ensure You Will Get Nothing Done

  1. Sleep a LOT. Fall asleep on the couch, don’t set your alarm, and proceed to snuggle your pillow until your cat bites you into consciousness.
  2. Click EVERY link that looks interesting on Twitter. Don’t hold back.  Read everything immediately, leave novel-length comments, and generally peruse the internet at the speed of a poet in a field of dandelions.
  3. Once you’ve finished reading all those interesting posts, check Twitter again. Proceed to click every new link that looks interesting.  Rinse and repeat ad infinitum/ad nauseum.
  4. Say yes to everyone. When people ask you to do things, just say yes!  You have to eat lunch/have coffee/relax sometime, right?  Why not do it with someone else and double (maybe even TRIPLE!!) the time you would have spent doing those things alone??!
  5. Watch as much TV as possible. I’m talking Lone Star, Glee, The Biggest Loser, Survivor, America’s Next Top Model, Project Runway, and The Amazing Race. Side note: I did NOT watch all of these shows this week.  But, I like them all, so I was tempted.  Of those that I did watch, this clip from The Amazing Race is SO HILARIOUS and worth sharing.  Painful, painful, painful—but hilarious.

How To Get EVERYTHING Done

  1. Don’t deny yourself: just be wise. It kind of hurt me to write the above list because it’s so extreme.  None of those things are bad, in and of themselves.  It’s GOOD to get a healthy amount of sleep, to read links on Twitter and make new friends, to spend quality time with people, to watch some TV at the end of the day.  Denying yourself things you enjoy won’t make you more productive—you’ll probably just end up procrastinating with things you enjoy less.  Do things you enjoy, just try not to let them eat your day.  How?
  2. Have a clear idea about WHAT you need/want to accomplish. When you’re not sure where to begin, it’s easy to waste your own time.  Figure out what, specifically, you need to do.  A list of specific goals is a concrete thing to wrap your mind around and is essential toward making progress of any kind.  In my experience, it’s much easier to pull my head out of the clouds and get to work if I know where to begin.
  3. Have a clear idea WHY you need/want to do whatever it is you’re doing. Worthwhile goals usually take time and discipline to accomplish.  They are not always fun.  They are not always easy.  The WHY is your light at the end of the tunnel, and it’s also the steam for your little engine.  It’s the truth you come back to when things get hard and you forget why you started a project in the first place.  Know why you get up before the crack of dawn to write, why you allow yourself two TV shows per week instead of every show on the air, why you sacrifice like you do for your goal—you can come back to the why when things get hard.  When things get hard, it’s too easy to give in to what’s merely fun, while putting off the thing that’s a little more difficult, but worthwhile.  The WHY is essential.  Know yours.
  4. Pay attention to the clock. Not obsessively—just be aware of it.  You’re human: you have numerous passions and priorities, and like all other humans, a scant 24 hours/day to nurture them.  Know your priorities, know yourself, and get a feel for how long it takes you to do things.  Work hard, rest hard.
  5. Then (and this is the thing that seems easy, but isn’t always) DO. I realize this is a revolutionary concept and all—to be productive, you have to do stuff.  Stuff that helps your goal(s) move along, I should clarify.  It really is that simple, and it really is that difficult.  Silly brains, always convincing us we need to do the exact opposite of what’s on our agenda.  Go back to the WHATs and WHYs if when you feel stuck.
  6. Don’t beat yourself up. This is pretty much imperative in being productive.  Some days your focus will just be ornery.  You’ll have things on your heart and mind, or you’ll just be exhausted.  You try and try, but still—nothing.  Or, maybe you don’t try, and you ride the procrastination wave until it dumps you in the sand.  Some days will just be this way, and that’s okay.  The quickest way to have a more productive tomorrow is to just move on and try again, sans self-inflicted guilt trip.

Okay, I think that’s it.  I now raise my coffee mug in a toast to making the most of your time, whether we’re talking ten minutes or ten hours.  Happy productivity, y’all!

¹Which, if you’re new around here, has been completely out of the ordinary for me.  I’m taking a brief break before starting the fourth draft of my WIP, and my usual routine is all messed up.  I pretty much thrive on productivity, so being out of my routine feels very strange.

Who, What, When, Where, Why

26 May

Well, today should be interesting.

I’m breaking from my usual routine of get-up-drink-latte-write-blog-write-workout-and-so-on and am merely drinking black coffee from a French press, preparing to go do something I’ve never done before.

A friend who is a first grade teacher invited me to come speak to her class for Author Day, and I’m this mix of nerves-meet-excitement about it.  When she invited me to speak, I warned her that I’m not technically an author, yet — that while I’ve made significant progress on my novel, I still have a long road to travel before that word applies to me.

Eh, she didn’t care.  “They’ll love you,” she told me, “They’ll be excited just to meet someone who’s writing a novel, published or not.”  Alrighty, then.  Speak I shall.

I’m going to do my best not to bore the little darlings with my (exciting-to-only-me) array of colored pens, my myriad notebooks, my stacks upon stacks of post-it notes, and the minutiae of what goes into a novel.  Most of that will stay hidden away in my tote bag.  Instead, I’m going to focus on the basics: what is a story, and how do you write it?  Can you do it as a first grader?  Does a book have to be a certain length? (Cue my dear visual aids of A Wrinkle in Time versus Harry Potter and the Order of The Phoenix.)  Where can you get ideas? (EVERYWHERE.)

After some attempts at engaging them, I’ll bust out my (totally geeky awesome) notebooks that represent the process — I have one with pictures of my villains and loads of brainstorming, a tattered first draft, a three-ring bindered second draft, and an example of some pages that are bleeding orange, purple, pink, red, and a couple of neon highlighting swipes to boot.

Before all of this, however, I need to tame my mane of hair so I don’t scare them away when I walk in the door.  Seriously.  I’m not exactly sure what a banshee looks like, but it’s the word that keeps coming to mind when I think of how my hair looks this morning.

Deep breath.  It’s only a twenty-minute guest visit.  Twenty minutes.  Not hard, right?

Right.

It’s too late for me to fish for ideas, but out of curiosity — what would you guys say to a group of first graders about being an (aspiring) author?

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Merrilee Faber’s Creativity Workshop

23 Apr

Something really cool just landed in my lap, and no, it’s not a spilled glass of iced water.

It’s an opportunity.

A challenge.

A here’s-a-chance-to-grow-in-your-skills-and-discipline-and-creativity sort of opportunity-slash-challenge, dropped down from the sky courtesy of the amazing Merrilee Faber.

Basically, she’s taken the initiative to organize and put on a fourteen-week Creativity Workshop (one week of intro, thirteen weeks of workshop) from May 2 – August 5.  There’s a whole slew of awesomeness wrapped up in this opportunity, including a wide range of applicable topics to be covered by Merrilee and the various guest bloggers she’s lined up. Here in a minute, I’m going to direct you to her two most recent posts for more information.

To quote Merrilee, “It is a workshop about teaching yourself to be creative when you need to be, not at the whim of the muse or the tides or the phase of the moon.”

I don’t know about you guys, but this sounds great to me.  For more information about what kind of work is involved, what kind of topics will be covered, who the guest bloggers are, and to sign up, follow the links below.

A brief overview (the what, the why, and other answers to questions)

More details, schedule, and sign-ups

Let me know if you decide to join Melissa, Cassie (JC), yours truly, and — of course — Merrilee, as we brave this adventure.  I fully expect it will rock.  In fact, it will probably rock so hard that I’ll spill iced water all over my lap and then be inspired to write something creative about it.

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The Plan: Phase One

19 Jan

Project: Edit is officially underway, and my manuscript is starting to bleed.

That’s a good thing, of course.

So, what does this editing actually look like?  It’s one thing to say, “I read through twenty-five pages and made notes,” but another thing entirely to say how I’m doing that, or what I’m looking for along the way.  

My second draft was a total re-write of the first, so in Phase One of Project: Edit, I’m reading through to, well, see if the changes worked.  That’s still too broad, though.  Here’s what I’m looking for, and how I’m doing it.

What I’m looking for:

  • As I read the novel in its entirety, make note of how the pacing feels, if there are any dangling threads, any continuity issues as far as the plot and subplots go.
  • Scene check: are all of my scenes actually scenes?¹
  • Read with an eye for suspense: are any scenes dragging?
  • Are any scenes or subplots or characters unnecessary?
  • Are action, emotion, and theme woven imperceptibly and effectively?
  • As far as story goes, is there too much of it?  Too little?
  • Have I been intriguing without being confusing?  Or, are things too obvious?
  • Make notes on what to improve.
  • Make a general, very broad outline, along the way. (I’ve made outlines before, but since I strayed from them I want an organized account of the scenes I actually wrote).

 

How I’m doing it:

  •  With a blue spiral notebook and an artillery of colored pens, I’m reading it page by page.  I’m not reading particularly fast, nor am I reading as slow as a snail.
  • With red pens, mark the actual manuscript in places that sound weird, vague, boring, interesting, funny — anything that requires a “Look at this — this is what I’m talking about when I say ____.”
  • With a normal blue pen, in the spiral notebook, write any and every thought I have pertaining to story, character, things that need tweaking/re-thinking, and things I like.  I keep the list above in mind as I read, and make notes accordingly.
  • With my colored pens (orange, fuchsia, lime, teal, purple, forest green), I’ve created a little color-coding system.  I’ll circle or underline my spiral-notebook notes when I come to things that need more vivid or sensual description (orange), things that pertain to theme/things that need to be focused on more but are currently buried in clutter (fuchsia), scenes that need to be re-envisioned in order to work better (a purple “Re-E” written to the side), actions I need to take, such as look for every time ___ is mentioned to make sure it’s not too much (teal), loose ends (forest green)…things like that.  The color-coding is so I can easily point out what needs to change, and how, when it’s time to actually go through and make the changes.
  • I’m putting all of these notes under sub-headings (Chapter 1:Scene 1), giving them titles (“The Bridge”), and listing the pages of the manuscript on which they appear (p. 1-4).
  • In the last section of this three-subject spiral, I’m keeping a running list of these things (Ch1:Sc1 – “The Bridge” p.1-4) and writing a brief description of what happens — or what is supposed to be the focus and is not happening — below it.
  • If a scene is not working or needs to be re-done in order to work, I make a note in red about what, specifically, I’m thinking needs to change about it and marking it with the purple “Re-E.”

 

So, that’s my plan for Phase One, which I’ve scheduled to last from yesterday (18 January) until a week from Friday (29 January).  I’m going to push hard to get through all 336 pages at a steady pace, setting myself up nicely for Phase Two (which is where I’ll start to make sense of, and begin to implement, the changes that need to happen, from large to small).

Anyway.

That’s the plan, we’ll see if it works.

And now, enough talk about this.  It’s time to dive in and knock out some more scenes!

Revision Update, Phase One | 25 pages down, 311 to go

¹Taken from Holly Lisle’s One-Pass Revision Method,a scene: “has a start and a finish, characters and dialogue, engages at least one and sometimes all five senses, has conflict and change.”

Stay Sane in November!

30 Oct

The cats are frolicking (with a vengeance, but frolicking nonetheless).  I just scored three super-cute skirts for $3 each at Ann Taylor Loft.  Thanks to Frugal October, we found ourselves victorious in the Us v. Our Finances battle this month, with more to spare than expected.  My favorite chef, Jennifer, eluded the dreaded elimination for the second week in a row on Top Chef (as she should, because she rocks).  And, it’s been another awesome week of writing.

Must be the calm before the storm.

Like many of you, and unlike many of you, I’m jumping in backs-of-my-thighs-first to the madness of November.  Here’s hoping I don’t end up bruised and black-purple, like my poor sister did, years ago, after an unfortunate leap from a bluff into the river¹.  I’ll be sure to post updates, though I’m going to try not to be exclusively NaNo-focused, since many of you aren’t participating.  Here’s a little something fun for all of us:

Owl and Sparrow’s Seven Tips for Staying Sane In November!  

(Hopefully, you’ll enjoy them whether or not you’re participating in NaNo – I think they apply to the rest of the year, too.)  Here goes:

#1: Priorities: Know Them & Remember Them.  Just because it’s November, doesn’t mean I can slap a pair of 1,667-Words-Per-Day glasses on my face and look at the world through them.  I’m still a wife, I still want to be a healthy person (meaning eat well, exercise, and sleep well), and commitments don’t just disappear for 1/12th of the year.  So I must remember that, first and foremost.  And I hope you do, too.

#2: Stress = Mess!  Stressing out, in my experience, only bears one fruit: more stress.  Doesn’t make you feel better to worry, doesn’t get more words written, it only gets in the way of a clear head.  How are ideas expected to flow through a messy, stressy brain?  So, I plan to stay calm, which leads me to…

#3: Kiss the Critic.  Goodbye, that is.  Everything written can get fixed later, but it won’t have a chance to get fixed if hours are spent agonizing over its inevitable lameness.  Lame just might be the precursor to awesome.  

#4: Squaliteed.  What do you get when you mix speed and quality?  Probably something better than squaliteed, but hey, it was the first thing I came up with.  In a challenge like NaNo, it’s inevitable that quality sometimes gets sacrificed for the sake of mere speed.  In the other eleven months of the year, speed gets sacrificed for quality.  Now’s the chance to smash them together.

#5: The Future is Now!  Especially if you were a passenger on Oceanic 815 and are stuck in the 1970’s with a little Benjamin Linus².  Oh, wait, we’re talking about writing, not the best TV show (ever) on the air?  My bad.  Here’s what I meant to say: write without worrying about the what-other-people-might-think-in-the-future stuff, and rather, write the what’s-the-best-it-can-be-right-now? stuff.  

#6: Chase the Cats, along with other stuff that has nothing at all to do with writing.  I’m pretty sure I’d even get sick of Lost if I watched it all day, every day, for all of November.  Same with writing.  Gotta keep it fresh so you’ll want to return to the story; make some biscotti or some mushroom soup, then come back to the project refreshed (and/or satiated with deliciousness).

#7: Unserious Seriousness.  Last but not least, it is a commitment – and commitments, self-imposed or otherwise, require follow-through.  That doesn’t mean it has to be a drag, though³.  How amazing is it that we have ideas, language, and tools to communicate them?  Food to eat, family to visit, cats to referee?  Other authors at our fingertips to bond with – whether they’re cramming their novels into one month, or spreading them out in a more timely fashion?  Life is amazing, you guys.  Make the commitment, but don’t miss the beauty of it all in the process.

¹In case you’ve ever wondered what small-town Texans do for fun when they’re in high school, it goes a little something like this.  When it’s daylight, go in droves to the river, jump off something high, get bruised if you land with your legs out, do it all over again.  When it’s dark, meet at the gas station and drive up and down the same road all night.  I wasn’t in the in-crowd in high school, so I didn’t get to participate in these exhilarating activities.  In case you can’t tell, I’m sooooooo bummed I missed out.

²Random Lost shout-out!  January, come soon, please…

³Feel free to remind me of this when November 29th rolls around, after the eight-hour drive home from seeing our Kansas relatives, and I’ve spent several days probably not writing.

Pat Benatar’s Coffee Slave

27 Jul

Attention, Snooty Blonde Woman who wiped out the entire pastry case at Starbucks:

Riding here in a limousine does not give you the right to treat the employees (namely, my friend Wanda) like dirt.  Don’t deny it – I was behind you in line, and heard every word while starving to death.  Okay, not to death.  But starving.  

So what if you are Pat Benatar’s* coffee slave?  It’s not generally considered nice to order the staff around, then ask, “Have they started my cups** yet?”  First of all, the “they” of whom you speak is Wanda, who is currently bagging your two trillion pastries, so no, she has not started your cups.  And when she replies it will take four years (ahem, minutes) for your coffee to brew – since you need gallons of it – realize that Starbucks was not warned they would get hit by Hurricane Coffee Slave today.  

Appropriate ways to treat your barista include the following: gratitude, in abundance.  A non-demanding attitude***.  Not taking ten minutes to order when you see Wanda is the only one available to ring people up, and that a line has formed behind you to the door.  While I’m on the subject of lines – next time, it might be a good idea to step aside when you wait for your order, too.  It looked like Wanda was having a hard time taking everyone else’s requests while you waited (impatiently) for your coffee right in front of her cash register.  Just a thought.

So, in case you’re wondering, everyone in the entire building watched your drama unfold.  Of course, I heard every word because I was behind you the whole time****.  Even though the lowly baristas didn’t look like you’d offended them, there is indeed a reason you carried your spoil back to the limo all by yourself: solidarity.

It’s a good thing I wanted oatmeal, since you took all the scones.   

In the future: be nice, and the world will carry your coffee for you.  You will spill less, and therefore become a happier person.

All my best wishes,

The Girl with the Growling Stomach

 

*Hearsay.  A woman in the drive-through told my friend Ann, who told me.  Pat Benatar, if your coffee slave is a charming angel, my sincerest apologies.  

**”Started my cups?”  For future reference, this doesn’t really make sense.  Do you mean, “Started making my drinks?” or “Did she get my order?”  How, exactly, does one start a cup?

***This means, you say, “May I please have…” instead of, “Give me this, that, and every one of those, at this very instant.  Please grow three more arms, while you’re at it.”

****Starving.

Focus & Wayward Scenes

20 Jul

Remy the Cat

Today begins Week Three of the second draft project, and I must say, I am ready to get down to business.  It is dark and stormy here, I’ve had my latte, and my ideas have exploded over the past week.  (Guess I should probably add, they’ve exploded in a good way.  Not exploded, as in, Oh no, now I have a load of worthless junk all over me.)

Last week, I faced – and duly overcame – a dilemma.  During week one, I was focused on getting words on the paper.  I started fresh, and was productive.  Then, somewhere around chapter three, I started thinking, Hmmm…This looks suspiciously like my first draft, except for the first scene.

I love seeing how this writing process unfolds.  The first draft, I wrote straight through, with no outline and no backward glances as I went.  When I finished, it felt fresh and like a good foundation, but it lacked depth and solid roots.  Letting my mind empty on the page provided a wealth of characters and ideas.  

The second draft, though, is not (only) about new ideas – it’s about sifting through the first draft, making sense of themes and adding dimension to characters, which then add credibility to the plot and actions therein.  While my first draft was highly unplanned and free, I fear my novel will never see cohesive, powerful completion if I do not pay meticulous attention to detail.  Hence the second draft process: clearing clutter, narrowing in on the important stuff, and loads of charts, lists, and outlines in place so I can write a focused draft.

So, I pushed pause.  Being a numbers-driven individual, it was hard to step aside from my nifty (and beautiful) word-count-tracking-spreadsheet-extraordinaire.  I focused instead on the character arcs I’ve developed over the past few months, which are much more rich than they were in the first draft.  I crafted a scene chart, which is basically a bunch of color-coded blocks on a spreadsheet, linked by arrows, and functions as a less-wordy outline of sorts (obviously, I’m feeling a bit more loquacious this week due to my charty, non-wordiness last week…).  I worked my way through my notes, section by section, laying out the scenes I definitely need to make those delicious character transformations happen.  Right on schedule, Friday afternoon, I finished it.

It was torturous to wait all weekend to move forward, but I told myself the rest would be a good catalyst to a week of great work.  Now, here I am, Monday morning – so ready to expand those scene-blurbs into full chapters.  I think I have a good structure in place so I can write freely through the scenes, and not waste time on the unnecessary.

I’d love to hear your thoughts, writers, on your experiences.  Do you like outlines?  Do they hold you back or free you up?  

 

PS: Finally saw Harry Potter.  Loved it, though there were some liberties they took with the story.  Those don’t bother me enough to think the whole movie was ruined.  It was visually exciting and the plot was mainly kept in tact.

PPS: Yes, that is Remy the Cat, at the desk where all my creativity happens.  I kicked him out of my chair, and now he’s snoring on the bed behind me.

Satirical Instruction Manual, Entry No. 1

16 Jun

How to Use the Drive Through at the Bank

1. Do not use the buzzer as a weapon. Hearing the buzzer (especially in rapid succession from customers who have been in line for less than two seconds) is equivalent to being the object at whom daggers are thrown.
2. A deposit slip is used when you make a deposit — NOT when you only want to cash the check.

3. No, I cannot do ten transactions at once. You might have to wait a couple of minutes.

4. Yes, you do need I.D. if you want cash back. I don’t doubt that you’ve been our customer for forty years. However, I’ve only been alive for twenty-four of those years, and what’s more, I’ve only worked here for one of those years. And, I’ve never seen you before, so what makes you think I know who you are? Yes, I will need that I.D. Thanks.

5. What on earth makes you think that I’m going to give you cash for a $4000 check made out to your roommate’s sister’s boyfriend’s mom? 

6. We cannot hear you when the tube is coming through to us. Please don’t push the buzzer and then send the tube immediately after you’ve buzzed. For that matter, please don’t buzz at all. See Rule #1.

7. Please send in all transactions at once. We feel silly if we tell you “Thank you, have a great day!” more than three times in one visit. We also feel annoyed. 

8. On that note, if you have ten transactions, please come in, instead…

9. Rolled Coin + Drive Through Tube = Broken Drive Through Tube. Common sense could be Warning #1 on that lesson, Warning #2 would be the label on the tube that tells you not to send coin through. 

10. Rolled coin is better than loose coin, though. We don’t have a counter, and we don’t have time to count your 5,000 quarters. 

11. Don’t be this person: Tube comes in, with a check. “Would you like to cash or deposit today?” I ask. “Cash, please.” Okay. So I proceed to cash. “Anything else today?” “No,” they say. I send the tube back with the cash. BUZZZZ. “Yes?” They tell me, “I want to deposit now.” Did I not just ask you a) if you want to cash or deposit, and b) if you needed anything else? Grrr.

12. Plucking your nose hairs in the commercial lane is unacceptable. We understand that you are busy and may not have time to do this before or after work, but if you want your teller to be able to focus and get your transaction right, do not distract us with this (or any) sort of bodily grooming. 

13. Please have your stuff ready before you pull up — no one wants to sit behind you for fifteen minutes while you fill out the deposit slip that we don’t really need in the first place.

14. “For Deposit Only” is not an acceptable endorsement. Is it that hard to sign your name? 

15. And, finally, please don’t yell at us. We are the bottom of the bank food-chain as it is, why would you think we have any authority over the rules and regulations? We don’t make them. We get paid to keep them.

***

Fortunately, I am no longer a bank teller.  Just thought I’d share some of my most lovely memories and hopefully – hopefully – make the life of some other poor teller a little more bearable.