S. J. Kelley

On Writing Words (OWW!)

More delays

I can’t believe my last post was four months ago… sigh. I didn’t mention it then, but so much happened to delay progress. Feels so hard to make any headway. And I’ve been at this for 3 years now!

So what happened? After a 3 week vacation in August 2016, we discovered that my husband, a very fit and athletic young man, had to have heart surgery. I was out of my day job for another 3 weeks to be primary caregiver to the kids, as he had to limit his movement during recovery. It took 2 and a half more months before he could get back to his normal routine, and I tried to help out more around the house during this time while catching up with the 6-week day job backlog. Him being a very active and independent person, he hated not being able to continue doing things like renovate our basement, heh. But during this time I shoveled several meters of snow, changed tires, lifted tires (on rims!) into the shed, and took down a trampoline all by myself. It was kind of nice doing the physically demanding tasks that I normally wouldn’t, but it took time. Then, just as we thought life could go back to normal, he had a complication and had to limit movement again for three months, although not nearly as much as the first time. We just got in the clear last week.

I’ve managed to negotiate Tuesdays and Thursdays off again this year (for March-June), which was supposed to follow a 3-week vacation in February. We had big plans for that vacation – clear out the basement, finish renovations, make the home office more inviting – but I came down with a nasty cold with incessant coughing, and was just fried. Then just as I was on the tail end of that, I fell while hiking and fractured the iliac crest of my pelvis, making things like bending and lifting impossible. Today I’m just starting to be able to do up my own shoes using some creative (and non-standard) maneuvers involving long laces. So here we are, renovations still outstanding, and already nearing the end of March. And I’m still doing a teaching job on the side to pay for it all, which is, of course, sucking all of my time. Sigh.

Usually I try to be positive in my posts, but it’s been a long, hard slog just to get through life these past few months, and business progress hasn’t been a crawl, it’s been 0 km/h. I just finished my taxes and this is the second year of claming expenses but no income, and I don’t want the CRA to think I’m not trying to make this profitable… after three years of taking time off from the day job to get this launched! I’ve told myself that I have to put a product out this year to make this a viable business. As a family, we’ve invested a lot into it, not only in terms of time off from work to develop it, but also in resources, courses, software, web hosting, domain registration, market research, etc. We have to make it work this year.

This means I have to treat my writing time as non-negotiable time, just like my day job; it simply has to get done.

My hope if that a year from now, I’ll look back at this time, which I think has been the most difficult time in this 3-year journey, and I’ll think to myself: that was when I finally decided to take this side business into full gear.

Good bye burnout; hello Eisenhower Matrix!

So the Writing in Public thing failed miserably. It was a success in that I felt guilty for not writing, which was the point, but I realized that I’m burnt out. My schedules never really had any leisure time, so I never really got a chance to recharge (turns out washing clothes is not rejuvenating). I would feel burnt out, not work on the novel to relax, but because my schedule said I was supposed to be working on the novel, I never truly relaxed, and instead was full of guilt. All time. So, I gave myself permission to be lazy. Wow. What a difference it makes to sit back at the end of the day and not have a cloud of “I should be…” hanging over my head. This is why people enjoy weekends!

While relaxing, I read a fabulous post on procrastination. At it’s core was the “Eisenhower Matrix” popularized in “The Seven Habits of Highly Effective People” by Stephen Covey. It looks like this:

Urgent Not Urgent
Important
Q1
Urgent and
Important
Q2
Not urgent and
Important
Not
Important
Q3
Urgent and
Not important
Q4
Not urgent and
Not important

This was paired with a cool Eisenhower quote: “What is important is seldom urgent, and what is urgent is seldom important.” The author then goes on to describe how the things that get you ahead in an entrepreneurial side business aren’t usually urgent (like writing a novel) but are nonetheless quite important. We will never achieve our long-term dreams/goals without working on Q2; it’s what gets us ahead. But these lofty goals get overwhelmed by using urgency as the sole method to prioritize where we put our effort, when in reality there should be very few things in Q1. Which means we spend more time in Q3, doing those urgent but not important tasks that keep us busy.

The post goes on to describe where different types of procrastinators fall, and the section on “Impostinators” fit me almost exactly: we look productive, but we’re working on tasks that aren’t all important and won’t get us closer to our goals. He gives examples of “spending the whole day answering emails, running errands, making phone calls, organizing lists and schedules,” etc. If this is a problem for you, I encourage you to read his lengthy post.

So now I want to look at my major goals in life and put them in this matrix. This task, in and of itself, is classic of procrastination — lots of planning, little doing — but it makes me feel better! Why do I want to put all of my goals in the matrix, instead of just my novel writing ones? Well, that was a major point I took away from the post. Q1 and Q2 tasks, the important tasks, should take priority, and urgency should be defined as “what would benefit most from being done sooner” rather than what has the closest deadline. Q2 tasks could be spending time with family, which is just as important as improving my craft.

Goal: Develop my self-publishing business
Urgent Not Urgent
Important
Q1
Write new words
Q2
Update scene metadata
Improve craft
Learn nonverbal behaviour
Not
Important
Q3
Update “Writing in Public”
Q4
Read self-publishing news (The Passive Voice)
Read KBoards
Read author blogs
Listen to podcasts
Work out better schedule
Goal: Everything else (Family, Health)
Urgent Not Urgent
Important
Q1
Sort out taxes
Sort out bills
Book camping site
Q2
Spend time with kids
Exercise
Get kids’ back-to-school supplies
Make basement livable space
List stuff to sell
Not
Important
Q3
Do Laundry
Q4
Watch Netflix
Go down internet rabbit hole

Writing in Public: Day 7

This accountability thing is good for me… I’m not partial to showing how much of a flake I am on the public record. Hopefully these daily posts will deter me from missing more days in future. That said, I had a good excuse: My plan was to watch a Bryan Cohen webinar on author copyrighting and work on the first draft of book 1 this evening, but my parents offered surprise babysitting services so that my husband and I could go out to dinner to celebrate our wedding anniversary. That’s not an offer one can say no to!

Book 1:
————————————————————–
Day   1 (Thu, Jun 23/16) …..    840 words ….. 38,881 total
Day   2 (Fri, Jun 24/16) …..      0 words ….. 38,881 total
Day   3 (Sat, Jun 25/16) …..      0 words ….. 38,881 total
Day   4 (Sun, Jun 26/16) …..      0 words ….. 38,881 total 
————————————————————–
Week  1 total …………….    840 words …..  210/day avg
————————————————————–
Day   5 (Mon, Jun 27/16) …..    920 words ….. 39,801 total
Day   6 (Tue, Jun 28/16) …..    712 words ….. 40,513 total
Day   7 (Wed, Jun 29/16) …..      0 words ….. 40,513 total
Day   8 (Thu, Jun 30/16) ….. —— words ….. —— total
Day   9 (Fri, Jul 01/16) ….. —— words ….. —— total
Day  10 (Sat, Jun 25/16) ….. —— words ….. —— total
Day  11 (Sun, Jun 26/16) ….. —— words ….. —— total
————————————————————–
Week  2 total ……………. —— words ….. —-/day avg
————————————————————–


Writing in Public: Days 5-6

Day 5 went well! Almost got to 1k. I had the day off work but went into my office in the afternoon to focus. Took my leisurely time editing and expanding prior words, and then did three 20 min sprints. Average per hour rates were 1065, 984, and 1290. This is about double what I’ve been able to accomplish with sprints since I started using them in May. Very pleased.

Today (Day 6) seemed like it would be a wash. Dentist appointment in the morning, then kids wanted me all day. Hubby took the kids out on their bikes for awhile to give me some time, which I’m grateful for, but I mostly just pecked away at the words I wrote yesterday, ending up with an extra 27 in the end, and paid some bills. The rest of my writing happened after the kids were in bed. Did about 150 words, then watched way too many compilations of “The Voice” on YouTube, then did the final push. I really need to disable internet…

Overall, still more words that I would normally write, so I’m happy(ish). Plus I broke 40k! Next happy dance isn’t until 50k.

Book 1:
————————————————————–
Day   1 (Thu, Jun 23/16) …..    840 words ….. 38,881 total
Day   2 (Fri, Jun 24/16) …..      0 words ….. —— total
Day   3 (Sat, Jun 25/16) …..      0 words ….. —— total
Day   4 (Sun, Jun 26/16) …..      0 words ….. —— total 
————————————————————–
Week  1 total …………….    840 words …..  210/day avg
————————————————————–
Day   5 (Mon, Jun 27/16) …..    920 words ….. 39,801 total
Day   6 (Tue, Jun 28/16) …..    712 words ….. 40,513 total
Day   7 (Wed, Jun 29/16) ….. —— words ….. —— total
Day   8 (Thu, Jun 30/16) ….. —— words ….. —— total
Day   9 (Fri, Jul 01/16) ….. —— words ….. —— total
Day  10 (Sat, Jun 25/16) ….. —— words ….. —— total
Day  11 (Sun, Jun 26/16) ….. —— words ….. —— total
————————————————————–
Week  2 total ……………. —— words ….. —-/day avg
————————————————————–

Writing in Public: Days 2-4

The weekend was a flop. Kids’ first day of summer was Friday, and there were birthday parties to attend. When I look at the table below, and assess it objectively, I see a person who isn’t committed to this. But I have to be. I want to write 10k a week. That’s about 1430 words per day. Would love to write 2k/day, but I’ve only written more than 1k/day 12 times since I started tracking in January 2015… yes, I’ve made progress and almost have 40k written now, but it’s a slow slog that has to speed up. Onwards!

Book 1:
————————————————————–
Day   1 (Thu, Jun 23/16) …..    840 words ….. 38,881 total
Day   2 (Fri, Jun 24/16) …..      0 words ….. 
Day   3 (Sat, Jun 25/16) …..      0 words ….. 
Day   4 (Sun, Jun 26/16) …..      0 words ….. 
————————————————————–
Week  1 total …………….    840 words ….. 210/day avg
————————————————————–

Writing in Public: Day 1

Ok, I need some accountability. I’ve switched schedules… again. Now I’m trying working after the kids go to bed and staying up until midnight, catching up on sleep with naps whenever I can get them. It’s not working out. No schedule seems to work out. I’m tired. All the freaking time. It takes me an hour just to warm up to the idea of doing more thinking after a day of thinking and then trying my hardest to be patient while looking after children and being sleep deprived. Drained is an understatement. Ugh.

I really like Dean Wesley Smith’s idea of “writing in public” Basically, he posts what he does every day. I had considered writing my daily successes into an agenda (because there are more things to capture than word counts), but I have a bias against analog. I hate the idea of something not being backed up somehow. So I’ll try this blog. We’ll see.

So today I am coming off last night’s attempt to recover from burn-out (my medicine was 5 episodes of “Lie to Me” on Netflix). I actually find the show a good resource for my writing, and it inspired me to pick up a few books on nonverbal communication which have really enriched my writing. I plan to review them. Eventually. Some day. Because time.

So, long story short, I only got 5 hours of sleep. Still managed to get 841 words in though. I’d really like to get up to 2k/day, but 1k/day is already a stretch with the way I’m going. 10k a week would be more awesome than awesomeness. Since today is Thursday, I’ll aim for 5k this week.

I’m starting to realize that my book is going to be long. Act 1 is 25k, and I’m well into Act 2a and it’s going to be much longer. Might have to consider making my transition from Act 1-2 a midpoint, and cluing up the book at the end of what I had originally envisioned as the true midpoint. Would make a good cliffhanger, but would still probably weigh in at 50-60k, which is novel length. At least then I can get a book out sooner!

Book 1:
Day   1 …………    840 words
Total ………….. 38,881 words

Migraine delays

This week I had Monday, Tuesday, and Thursday available for working on my writing. Monday I got up at 5:00 AM, had a shower, everything was going perfect, and then I got a migraine that knocked me out for the rest of the day. My migraines are nauseating affairs that start with blindness, followed by scintillating aura, and then pain and vomiting. Unpleasant. While I could keep it at bay in the afternoon with painkillers and gravol, on migraine days I can’t really use screens. On the plus side, it was a beautiful day and I went on a ninety minute hike with my family.

Today, I still had a pretty killer headache and wasn’t feeling very creative. While the kids were at school, the hubby and I finally gave in to their pleas for bunkbeds and combined their rooms, making one a bedroom and the other a playroom filled with books. They were very excited! My oldest said he was disappointed at first because his bookcase was no longer in his bedroom, but as the night wore on he was saying how excited he was to be able to sneak into the other room and play. He even emptied one of our bookshelf cubes to put his “most favorite of the favorites” books in there, so he could read them in the morning 🙂 I really want to make a secret hole in the closet in the bunkbed room that connects to this room so that they can feel like they’re sneaking in 🙂

In addition to this, I also ran four loads of laundry. As a person who puts off doing laundry as long as possible, I’m pretty pleased with this.

Productivity analysis

Well, April didn’t go exactly as planned. Between making a final exam for my students, holding tutorials, giving said exam, and then spending hours and hours marking it for all 225 students, I didn’t get much done on my work in progress. The good news is that since the last time I posted I’ve written something, even if it’s only 3500 words. As of now book one stands at 30,861 (and yes, that final word is counted!).

I find it difficult to focus unless I know that I am working at optimal efficiency. It doesn’t escape my notice that if I just spent more time writing, and less time optimizing, that I’d have a lot more words written by now. My problem is that I just can’t do anything halfway; when I want to analyze something, I analyze it.

And so, with a little bit of excitement, but also knowing that the following may be taken as evidence of my idiosyncrasies, I present to you my productivity analysis:Productivity analysis

Isn’t it beautiful in its bland grayness? Bear with me.

If you have been reading this blog (I can’t imagine why you would be, but lets pretend), you will note that I track an awful lot of things. The above chart was made from four months of tracking data. Every time I sat down to write, I recorded the time of day, how I was feeling (in the zone, just okay, tired, or groggy), and my average words per hour, amongst other things.

Why you may ask? To be honest, I’ve read a lot about people being productive in the morning, but my angry, murder-esque tendencies tend to come out at that time of day, when I am loath to meet the day star. In the nighttime, I am a zombie waiting to breathe my final breath before falling into my pillows. In short, the ends of my days are miserable no matter which one I choose, but when you have a day job and children, that’s all you’ve got to work with. So if I’m going to be miserable, I damn well want to be efficiently and optimally miserable.

The bars above indicate my writing speed, using the axis on the left, while the line represents my level of cognitive unfuzziness, represented by the axis on the right. I thought I’d see more of a correlation between writing speed and when I thought I was “in the zone,” but this doesn’t seem to be the case. I think my writing output has less to do with how awake I’m feeling, and more to do with how much creative juice I have left to give.

My two options are really only the 4:30-6:30 am time slot, or the 8:30-10:30 pm timeslot. The cognitive unfuzziness levels of these timeslots are similar (63% vs. 67%), but the output is drastically different — 407 wph vs. 255 wph. Needless to say, I am not pleased with these results, but I’m glad I wasted a few hours looking into it, because I was just about to commit to staying up late instead of getting up early.

So there you have it, a night owl whose efficiency patterns follow those of the lark. But the data doesn’t lie, and I’m sure as hell not going to collect another four months of it looking for a different answer.

How will I get out of bed, and not fall to the trap of going back to sleep after the one-week honeymoon period runs out? Well, my husband has a very bright halogen work lamp, and I have a programmable outlet timer. Those two are about to get acquainted.

Three month plan: GAME ON!

I’ve just finished my first round of taxes as a business. Complicated. I don’t have any revenue yet, but I’m claiming my craft/marketing books and training programs. Still have to figure out how to bring my personal library into a partnership. Fun times.

I’m also trying to plan out my next three months. I’ve negotiated having Tuesdays and Thursdays off at work from late Feb – July. February and March will be taken up with my second job (teaching as an adjunct), but I’ve got from March 29 – July 7 to make something happen (the last 3 weeks of July will be taken up with family activities, since the kids are off school).

So that gives me 14-15 weeks, or about 29 full work days plus whatever additional time I can steal from evenings and weekends (with my family responsibilities, it won’t be much).

I’ve edited down Act I of my WIP, and a bit of Act II, and I’m at 27,300 words. Good words! I think I’ve gotten into a groove now in terms of style and voice.

Each Act looks like it will be 24,000 words after editing. I’m a taker-outer rather than a putter-inner, so I have to learn to write in the leaner style I’ve developed while editing. In any case, this would make each book 96,000 words, and I want 3 books ready to go for launch, so 288,000 words less the 27,300 equals 260,700. That means I have to write 17,380 words/week.

Holy crapola!

Assuming I can get 7 hours in on Tuesdays and Thursdays, and an hour in on every other day, I’ll get 19 hours a week. Let’s make it 20 to have round numbers. That means I need to write 869 words per hour. My top speed was about half that. Let’s hope I’ll be a bit quicker now that I’m more practices in my protagonist’s voice; yikes!

I’m going to make my goal 17 k/wk, 1100 words on MWFSS, and 6000 words on TR.

For the next two weeks, I’ll focus on doing scene-by-scene outlines of the three books. I’ve got a 9600 word narrative of where I want Book 1 to go, and another 3400 of ideas of the overall series, but I need to flesh out the nuts and bolts of how I’m going to translate that into scenes, and need to work on Books 2 and 3. I’ve got about 18 hours in the next two weeks to make that happen.

GAME ON!

Motivation

So much of the battle to become an established self-published author boils down to motivation. When I plan out my schedule, it looks like I can get in 10 to 15 hours a week to work on this business, but when reality knocks I’m exhausted, the kids want attention (and to be honest they should be getting more), and it seems impossible to work constantly without having some down time to read, watch a movie, or otherwise unwind.

Readers of this blog will know that I’ve waffled between getting up early or staying up late to get things done. Alarms don’t seem to work for me for longer than a one week period – no matter how much sleep I get it, even if it is 9 or 10 hours, I despise getting up in the morning. Conversely, if I stay up late my creative juices have run dry, extracted in the masticator that is my day job.

I’ve tried many ways to get around this conundrum. Since waking up to an alarm is so difficult, I have instead started setting an alarm to remind me to go to bed at a reasonable hour, and since my faculties are usually not as compromised in the evenings, this is easier to stick to. My latest is to set an alarm to remind myself to get ready for bed at 8:30 pm, and when I inevitably awake at night, if the clock says 4:30 or later, I get up. There’s a bit of science around this. If you wake up naturally, you are usually at the end of the sleep cycle, and thus even if you have had less sleep, you will be significantly less drowsy. This was how I managed to get up this morning. Let’s see how it goes.

I’ve also upped my game when it comes to cues, particularly after reading Heidi Grant Halverson’s book Succeed. I’ve made some very specific goals (related to my novel, healthy eating, exercise, and family), printed up some Don’t-Break-the-Chains, and have written some goal statements on the whiteboard that I pass every morning on my way to the shower:

“When my alarm sounds, I will finish whatever I am doing as quickly as possible and go to bed.”

“If I get up early, focus, and avoid distraction, I will develop my indie career and make steps toward being my own boss.”

Next week, I will once again request to go down to working 3 days a week at my day job, instead of 5. This will be the third year that I have reduced my workload in an effort to make this indie career work. In the first year, I continued to work 5 days a week, but got off a few hours earlier each day. That didn’t work out because no one else seemed to respect the fact that my workday ended earlier, and where I am management I don’t get paid overtime, so essentially I was working normal hours for less pay. I learned from this when the second year rolled around, and asked to work just 3 days week. This time I was sabotaged by my need to take on a teaching job that consumed the other 2 days more than I had anticipated. By the time that job ended I was burnt out, but did manage to put in about 25,000 words, so there’s that. This year I will again go for the 3 days a week, but unfortunately I do have another teaching job. I’ve taken the last 2 weeks off from my main job to try to do all of my lecture prep in advance so that the month of March isn’t a complete wash. Looking good so far, but only time will tell.