My drug of choice is writing––writing, art, reading, inspiration, books, creativity, process, craft, blogging, grammar, linguistics, and did I mention writing?

Friday, December 6, 2019

The Last Four Boilers (Personal Update, Meta, and a Dollop of Didactic)

 Twentieth Century Fox,
Paramount Pictures,
Lightstorm Entertainment 
True story aside: the title of this post is an oldish pop culture reference (as I am wont to make), and in the course of looking up exactly how old, I may have shocked even myself. 

I have a shiny new schedule with more time for writing, but for the first time in my life, I'm not going to immediately set about stuffing it beyond its maximum capacity with all the good intentions in the world. That way lies teeth in advanced states of gnashed and hands arthritic from being wrung.

Okay. But you have been hearing me talk for weeks about the new schedule. You know I'm back. Well then just how "back" are we?

Well.....let's unpack that. And along the way, since I don't want to write an entire post just gazing at my navel about why it's best that I take it slow, I'll try to awkwardly pair it with some generic advice for everyone who wants to be a writer.

You see, normally, this is the part where I would be updating the Update Schedule* with absolutely the most ambitious regimen I could conceive of. ("Hello. folks. I'll be updating 34 times a week now, but I'm only going to do six posts on Sunday because that's a day of rest. Be SURE to check in on Fridays when no fewer than four of the posts will be six to ten pages. Book should be done by mid-January. I'm also going to start working out again, and see two movies a week for self-care. And I bought a monitor lizard.....who is pregnant.")

(*Aaaaaand now I notice that this has not been updated in over six months.)

One of the reasons I'm not the biggest fan of NaNoWriMo (particularly for the uninitiated writer) is that it is roughly analogous with someone who's never done or hasn't really been doing it for a while suddenly signing on for two or three hours a day. ("I'm going to start herding lemurs after work EVERY DAY from six until eight-thirty! I'll be the best lemur herder outside of Madagascar by year's end!")

Oh. I get the appeal. I get it so hard. There's this visceral allure in making something just almost as difficult as you can possibly handle––in saying that you're going to do it SO FUCKING HARD that you will get better right away. It proves you really want it, right? If you fill every moment with it, then you really care. And those wide expanses of unspoken-for schedule beckon like untrodden snow to be filled with "productivity" and not "wasted."

Trust me. I get it. Truuuuuuuuust me. 

You're reading a blog by the guy who decided to create an "event" called the Megathlon. It's like a triathlon except it uses every piece of cardio-vascular equipment at the gym, and the five mile run on the treadmill is the SHORTEST of those distances. The entire thing would have taken about 15 hours to finish. I was spending five hours a day in the gym "training." You're reading a blog by the guy who once signed up for 21 units in a single semester because I wanted to knock out the general education classes as fast as possible. You're reading a blog by the guy who created a checklist of minimum times for writing "training" that included things like "Three hours a day reading" and "30 minutes studying grammar." It was like NINE hours a day of this brutal regimen. I've spent most of my life basically operating under the slogan that if it's worth doing, it's worth overdoing. I get this impetus to dive into something overwhelming. In a lot of ways, NaNoWriMo is not even particularly notable compared to some of the daily productivity demands I've made of myself. It's kind of on the low end of the ridiculous scale.

Now for fifty points, control of the board, and a chance at the Cuisinart and the trip to Barbados, see if you can guess how many of those regimens I actually stuck to.

Okay, plot twist. The answer isn't zero.

It's actually one.

Oh, I never stuck to the nine-hour checklist or the Megathlon or "2500 words a day," and I dropped nine units from my 21 unit semester by week three. Those were absurd. But what I did stick to was a much less ambitious goal: to write every day. (Or almost every day.) Some days it is little more than a Facebook post and a couple of emails. Some days it's eight hours before hunger pulls me out of the zone. And from there I go up, adding posts when I have the time to write them, fiction when I find a dedicated few hours, and other projects as I can.

Do I overdo it? All the fucking time. This entire blog is a MONUMENT to me overdoing it. My "I can't keep this up" posts are so frequent that they ought to be a series with their own Reliquary menu. I should legally change my middle name to "Overdoinit." And usually I'm the only one who cares when I can't meet my self-imposed deadlines.

So if you want a universal lesson, oh Writer, let it be this: set reasonable goals. You're just going to feel like a failure if you set some outrageous goal and then can't hit it. Better (in many ways) to find your sweet spot and limits by working up to them.

[In the interest of keeping it real, let me hit the pause button for a second. There's like this WHOLE other side of this. I talk about it all the time but I would be remiss not to mention it here. 99% of aspiring writers who want to be paid and published and whatever else they think "success" is aren't overdoing it. They are underdoing it. They have all the excuses (which I don't judge for legitimacy, so let's not even go there) about why they can't write. From what I know of almost every working writer who ever was, I'm in great company. Almost all of them are perpetually committing themselves to writing "MORE!" And so while I own that I screw this up (royally on occasion), it's also worth mentioning that the folks who are the best in their fields at ANYTHING are probably pushing themselves just a little beyond the "design specs."]

So this time––THIS ONE TIME––I'm going to try to ramp up slowly instead of hitting the ground running. I'm going to recognize that there's a lot of life happening right now, and that if I light the last four boilers, I might run full speed into an iceberg. And I'm going to stop letting my reckless ambition write checks that my temporal inability to time loop can't cash. While it's probably safe to assume that Monday posts will return shortly, I'm really going to trickle ALL that stuff in.
  • It always takes a week or so for a new schedule to really make a difference. (That's why so many people think they've got things handled for that first week when they are, in fact, really completely overwhelmed.) I should wait until then; I expect I'm going to have a more realistic sense of the impact next week and beyond. 
  • So far, I've only really added about three hours to my schedule. 45 minutes a day makes a big perception difference in how rushed I feel getting to work, and it's often the little changes that add up rather than some big "waiting for my ship to come in" moment, but 3 hours a week is not going to give me time to finish my novel by next year. I still need to be better about more often saying no to my clients when they ask me to do a little extra work.
  • Some of this time needs to go to things other than writing. My room is a mess. I need to get to the dentist. I have fallen behind on my hiking. I would love to catch a movie. I can't fall into the trap where "All your freetime base are belong to us."
  • The holidays are coming up and they are brutal on schedules. I may need some extra time, and it's just going to be better not to have something new going before the holidays.
  • While I want to bring what's happening "on stage" back up to speed, a whole lot of what's going on right now in my writing life is "behind the scenes." Fiction. E-books. A merchandise project. I don't want to overcommit to what folks are going to "see," and then not have time for the things I have to quietly work on out of sight. 
So just in general, I think the best play is to move forward cautiously and do lots of self diagnostics so the staff down at logistics have plenty of status reports. Like a gravy, I will slowly add the writing as things thicken.

I think I'm out of metaphors, so I better wrap this up. Push yourself if you want to chase this spurious "making it" thing. But also don't overdo it if you don't want to crash into walls. And if you think I don't know how hard that fjord is to navigate, trust me. I know.

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