S. J. Kelley

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Week of Feb 23, 2015: New schedule… again.

 

Week of Days I wrote Words written Time used WPH
Feb 23, 2015 5 3070 10:25 295

My numbers this week aren’t too bad considering I used a lot of time for mundane things. Managed to hire a new therapist for my son and got an eye exam (looks like I need my third pair of glasses in 9 months; hopefully things stabilize before I go blind or broke, oi!). I’m actually surprised that I got so much time in. I was off from my main job on Thursday but used the whole day preparing lectures and meeting with students for my second job, and I thought that would hit my word count hard. I did put in two insanely late nights, so that probably made up for it. I’ve noticed that the 10:30pm-12:30am window has the worst WPH, but the 12:30am-2:30am window is pretty good. Unfortunately the plan I implemented last week to stay up late a few days a week made me feel like a complete zombie.

My husband, bless his dear and patient soul, never laughs at me as I bounce my new scheduling plans off him each week (we have had this routine for many years; I have no idea how he keeps a straight face when I tell him that this week I’ll figure out a schedule that catapults my productivity, heh). This time he had some advice: whatever plan I choose, stick to it for a whole month, not just a few days or a week. I figured that if I stay up late my brain is so dead that I have to put in more time to hit the same word count (yay data collection!), so mornings it is. So *drum roll* SJ’s plan for the next MONTH is:

WEEKDAYS
4:30 am – 5:15 am: Wake up, shower, snack
5:15 am – 7:15 am: WRITE WRITE WRITE
7:15 am – 8:00 am: Breakfast with the kiddos, make lunches, get everyone out the door
8:00 am – 5:30 pm: MWF: Get to work, work, go home from work; TR: Write and/or do lecture prep
5:30 pm – 7:00 pm: Play with kids, have supper
7:00 pm – 8:00 pm: Kids bedtime routine
8:00 pm – 8:30 pm: Chores
8:30 pm: BED

Estimated writing time: MWF: 2 hrs per day; TR: 3-4 hrs per day.
Total for weekdays: 12 – 14 hours per week.

WEEKENDS
4:30 am – 5:15 am: Wake up, shower, snack
5:15 am – 7:00 am: WRITE WRITE WRITE
7:00 am – 9:00 am: Hot breakfast with the kiddos, make lunches, get everyone out the door
9:00 am – 12:00 pm: WRITE while kids are at morning activities or with hubby (may or may not be possible depending on domestic chores)
12:00 pm – 7:00 pm: Family time, chores, exercise, etc.
7:00 pm – 8:00 pm: Kids bedtime routine
8:00 pm – 8:30 pm: Chores
8:30 pm: BED

Estimated writing time: 4h45 per day.
Total for weekends: 4.75 – 9.5 hrs per week.

Total weekly time for writing: 16.75 –  23.5 hrs.

At my dismal average of ~300 words/hr, I should get in ~5000 – 7000  words per week. That seems mind blowing to me. We’ll see how it goes.

One notable impact is that this will essentially destroy my personal life, since staying up even until midnight will now through my schedule way off. But my social life is basically only seeing my friends once a month, so it should work. Also lacking is any exercise during weekdays. I really want to run for at least 30 minutes every day, but it never happens. If I could get by on 7 hours a night at get up at 3:30 I’d be set, ha! My husband says that I might be able to not feel like a zombie if I get a consistent amount each night (right now I’m on a binge sleep cycle, fluctuating between 4 hours and then several nights of 9 or more). We’ll see. When I went without setting clocks I needed 8.5 consistently. Sigh.

One note for this week: I’ve got 5 chapters in to my book and my spreadsheet calculates that, based on my average chapter length and a plan for 24 chapters, my book will likely be 80,000 words instead of 100,000, so I’ve changed my ticker on the side to 80,000.

Week of Feb 16, 2015: Aiming for stamina + scheduling


Week of Days I wrote Words written Time used WPH
Feb 16, 2015 3 3514 9:22 375

Best week yet in terms of numbers, but still not where I want to be. I’ve been taking Tuesdays and Thursdays off to write and teach (I don’t really get “weekends” with two young kids, I just do the mommy job really). Yet despite having all the day available I seem to only log 3.5 to 4 hours of writing. I have to increase my stamina to be more productive on those days, which should really be my powerhouse days. I’d also love to write every day.

I took some time to come up with yet another schedule to try to fit in my day job, part-time job, and writing, and of course family and exercise (although I have yet to get to that last one; I hope I don’t die young). They say regular sleep is more important than the number of hours, but my normal cycle is to stay up until crazy-o’clock (as in 2am when I have to get up at 6:30am) and then go to bed early the next few nights to catch up. The potential new schedule looked more reasonable because it had a solid 8:15 of sleep each night, but I don’t know how realistic it is. I think I’d do better with longer chunks of time less often, but if Tuesday and Thursday are any indication, maybe not.

I also got thrown a curve ball this week. My son’s therapist is moving on to a higher level position so we have to find someone else within two weeks, which will be challenging if not impossible. Taxes are due and I have a very sizeable bill. And I’ve run out of lectures for my course and have to make more. Fun times.

I got most of the taxes squared away this weekend (earned myself a guilt trip from the kiddos who must think, “don’t disturb mommy, she’s working” is the natural state of things). I thought I’d just do a course prep marathon in the week coming up and take care of that and a bunch of other domestic stuff (hire a therapist for my son, get my eyes checked and new lenses, order a car seat replacement buckle, refute parking tickets, pay life insurance… the List of Boring goes on). At some point I have to replace my 10-year-old hot water boiler before it explodes, but knowing how life is it will probably get ignored until it explodes and we have even bigger problems. 

I’m thinking I should just give into my natural patterns and schedule marathon sessions. Stay up until 2am on Mondays, Wednesday, and Fridays, and take a nap in the middle of the day on Tuesdays and Thursdays (plus in bed early Saturday and Sunday). Hmmm. Gonna go work that out and see how it shapes up. =) Maybe at some point I’ll figure out how to get more hours into the day.

Weekly progress chart — OLD VERSION

I am a new writer, still trying to work out how to be productive and how to write faster. I also love data, and track my output in a spreadsheet. Here I just wanted a place where I could post the weekly totals that I discuss in my Sunday updates, so I could see everything at a glance. I’ll be updating this every week.

Note: I have changed this to display 2 WPH: one is the overall average, which includes when I’m editing (a lot slower WPH) or when I’m typing new things (the one that matters).

Week Week start date Days Words written Time used WPH (avg) WPH (writing)
W-1 Jan 26, 2015 4 1707 6:15 273 n/a
W-2 Feb 2, 2015 4 2404 10:10 236 n/a
W-3 Feb 9, 2015 3 2945 8:05 364 n/a
W-4 Feb 16, 2015 3 3514 9:22 375 n/a
W-5 Feb 23, 2015 5 3070 10:25 295 n/a
W-6 Mar 2, 2015 6 4501 11:16 399 469
W-7 Mar 9, 2015 6 4969 12:31 397 449

I have changed the way I track things. See my new post.

Week of Feb 9, 2015: Going to try getting up early

Well, I got in more words this week than last (2945 vs. 2404) and in less time (8:05 vs. 10:10) but my WPH is still only 364. I have to get that up. Sadly last week I only wrote on 3/7 days, largely due to being tired in the evenings. So I’m biting the bullet and getting up early, cold-turkey and no setting the clock back by so much every day business, and getting BIC (butt-in-chair). We’ll see how that works out!

How to get the most money out of Amazon royalties when converting to Canadian dollars

I was catching up on KBoards today and discovered that Amazon uses a very, very unfavourable exchange rate when converting payments from USD to CDN if you have them direct deposit into a Canadian bank account. Many try to get around this by ordering cheques in USD, but this comes with a delay and other bank fees. Alternatively you can set up direct deposit to a US bank account (they won’t direct deposit to a Canadian bank account that uses US funds; the bank itself has to be in the US). Conveniently, many Canadian banks have branches in the US, so it’s just a matter of finding one with a good fee schedule. The two popular choices seemed to be TD Bank and RBC. Discussions on KBoards seem to suggest that RBC may be slightly better for online transfers. Because I love the business side of things I decided to look further into it. I tried my best, but please note that I’m only human and I may have made some mistakes below. If you spot any, please let me know!

TD Bank costs $5.99/mth USD ($7.49 CDN) for “Simple Checking” but to do “person-to-person” email money transfers “you must have a TD Bank Personal Checking account, a unique United States phone number, a United States issued Social Security Number” (see here), and same goes if you want to do “online banking transfers” to external institutions (just $3 USD if you’re willing to wait 3 days, but useless with no US address). On KBoards there was some disagreement on how money could get out of the TD accounts (wire transfers are expensive: $40 USD).  To avoid high fees it seems most economical to get a Canadian TD account in USD (can get one with no monthly fee, just $1 CDN per transaction), transfer for free between the US and CDN TD banks, then either cash the money out at a local TD bank using their conversion rate, or do an email money transfer for $1.50 CDN to your normal institution and use their admin fee rate. The two options are outlined below, using PC Financial (PCF) as the everyday baking account. PCF charges 2.5% for currency conversion after conversion takes place; currently $1 USD = $1.2510 CDN, so $200 USD = $250.21 CDN and the fee would be $6.26. For the sake of argument, I assume only one deposit per month. All calculations are in CDN (I assume that US Bank site fee listings are in USD):

  • TD (US) > TD (Canada in USD) > PCF (in CDN): $7.49 in monthly fees + $1.00 transaction at TD (Canada) + $1.50 interac transfer + $6.26 admin conversion fee at PCF (2.5%) = $14.75, or 6.49% of the CDN value. 
  • TD (US) > TD (Canada in USD) > TD Converts: $7.49 in monthly fees + $1.00 transaction at TD (Canada) + $6.95 admin conversion fee (~2.78%) = $15.44, or 6.17% of the CDN value.

Meanwhile, RBC (US) charges  $3.95/mth USD ($4.94 CDN) for “Direct Checking” but doesn’t seem to have an email money transfer option. Wire transfers cost $75 USD. A Canadian USD account is only $2/mth CDN, and internal transfers to/from other RBC accounts are free, so once funds are moved into the Canadian USD account it can be sent to any banking institution by email money transfer for $1 CDN (your bank’s admin fee would apply to the transferred USD), or you could go to an RBC bank and convert the USD in your Canadian account to CDN.

  • RBC (US) > RBC (Canada in USD) > PCF (in CDN): $6.94 in total monthly fees + $1.00 interac transfer + $6.26 admin conversion fee at PCF (2.5%) = $14.20, or 5.68% of the CDN value. 
  • RBC (US) > RBC (Canada in USD)  > RBC converts: $6.94 in total monthly fees + $8.39 in RBC conversion fees (as determined by the difference between xe.com and RBC’s non-cash calculator; ~3.35%) = $15.33, or 6.13% of the CDN value.

Alternatively, if one is patient enough to wait for Amazon to send USD cheques, one could deposit them directly into ones personal banking ABM. Fees abound, however, depending on your bank. PC Financial’s “no fee” checking account, for example, charges $7.50 for deposited cheques $1000 or less, and $15 for $1000 or more, plus the 2.5% admin charge for the conversion.

  • Deposit USD check into TD Canadian USD account and convert: $1.00 transaction charge + $6.95 conversion fee = $7.95, or 3.18% of the CDN value.
  • Deposit USD check into RBC Canadian USD account and convert: $2.00 monthly fee +  $8.39 conversion fee = $10.39, or 4.15% of the CDN value.
  • Deposit USD check into PCF: $0 monthly fee + $6.26 admin conversion fee at PCF (2.5%) + $7.50 foreign currency cheque charge = $13.76, or 5.50% of the CDN value.

So the most economical rate appears to be going with cheques after all, with TD. For direct deposit, RBC and an external bank for conversion seems to be the best route, but it will cost a whopping 2.5% more that way.

Week of Feb 2, 2015: Week 2 of data collection

Now entering week 2 of data collection. Last week I spent 6:15 writing and wrote 1707 words. This week I’m up to 10:10 writing, and wrote 2404 words. My WPH is going down, but at least I’m getting more on the page overall. It’s a far cry from my 4403 words per week goal, but I’m getting there.

I have the day off of my full-time job on Tuesday and rather than going on a date with my husband I’m going to spend half the day working on lectures, and the other half on writing. I’m 3388 words behind and have to catch up! The red numbers on my spreadsheet really scream how far I’m getting behind, and it’s certainly driving me to write and get back in the green. Maybe I’ll reward myself with a movie date once I’m back on track, heh.

Finding time to write: Blocking internet access at certain times of day in linux (and making it a recurring task)

Yet another productivity post. My switch to 3 days/week at the full-time job happened this week, but I had to use Tues/Thurs to do lecture prep as I was hired as a last-minute emergency replacement (teaching is my part-time job). My writing time will be less than optimal for the next 2 weeks until I finish all the lectures (or at least catch up a bit), but I did find myself with some spare time tonight around 9pm when the kids were in bed. I figured I’d get in a good 1.5 hours or so, but I wasted the time. Sigh. Warning: the rest of this post might be boring for Windows/Mac users, but if you run Linux, it may be helpful:

I run Linux Mint on my desktop and laptop, and for the last few months I used a modified hosts file to prevent myself from accessing distracting sites on my desktop computer. This is fairly simple. Just type:
sudo gedit /etc/hosts
Then add the following to the end of the file:
0.0.0.0 www.facebook.com
0.0.0.0 www.upworthy.com
Etc. When you try to access the site, it won’t be able to connect. This worked fine for awhile, but then I would do google searches and just get lost on other sites (like I did tonight). Sure, I’m reading and learning, but I really didn’t need to learn tonight; I needed to write. 
Ideally I wanted a script to turn off all internet traffic at certain times of day (like between 7:30pm and 11:30pm, after the kids are in bed but before I am!), but only on my computer. I found a script by zengargoyle that can do this. First you’ll need to install the “at” command (it’s not installed by default on Mint):
sudo apt-get install at
Then make a file:
sudo gedit /usr/bin/SelControl
Copy the following into the file:
#!/bin/bash
#from http://ask.metafilter.com/160649/Block-internet-on-ubuntu
PORTS=”80″ # OR enter PORTS=”80 443″ for https as well
UNDO=””

for p in $PORTS
do
  iptables -I OUTPUT -p tcp –dport $p -j DROP
  UNDO=”$UNDO iptables -D OUTPUT -p tcp –dport $p -j DROP;”
done

echo $UNDO | at now + 1 min # <– change to time you want internet off for
I chose not to block port 443, because I still wanted Google Drive to sync my files in the background. This means that secure websites (those starting with https) still work, so I can still go a simple google search to get a quick definition, but the results are duds 🙂 Once you save the file, you have to make it executable:
sudo chmod +x /usr/bin/SelfControl
And then you just run it whenever you want to block internet access:
sudo ./SelfControl
Now this was all well and good in principle, but what often gets me is that I’ll “just check one little thing” before writing… and that ends up being quite a lot of things; a whole writing block of time of things. I needed something I could set and forget. For that, I had to set up a cron job (as root, so I could change IPTABLES).
sudo gedit /etc/crontab
Then at the end of the file add:
# added by [your name] to shut off internet at certain times
30 19 * * * root iptables -I OUTPUT -p tcp –dport 80 -j DROP
30 23 * * * root iptables -D OUTPUT -p tcp –dport 80 -j DROP
The first number refers to minutes, the second to hours on a 24 hour clock, and the last 3 *s refer to day, month, and day of the week, so * for all three means every day (learn more here). The above turns off access to port 80 (http internet sites) from 7:30 pm to 11:30 pm daily. If you’re between your start time and end time on the first day you set this up, just type in:
sudo iptables -I OUTPUT -p tcp –dport 80 -j DROP
to turn off access, and the cron job will turn it back on again at the time you set. If there’s an emergency and you ABSOLUTELY NEED to access a website (that isn’t https), you can type:
sudo iptables -D OUTPUT -p tcp –dport 80 -j DROP
So my hope is that this will force some productivity on me by the sheer lack of anything else to do. That said, blogger is https, so I can still post during writing time, haha. If you’d rather turn off everything (at the risk of not syncing files in the background) just add port 443 to the above. I’m not quite there yet!

Week of Jan 26, 2015: Productivity and optimizing writing speed

I follow quite a few author blogs. One of those is Dean Wesley Smith’s. Everyday he outlines his writing achievements of the day, which I found interesting to read in the beginning, but they’ve become somewhat monotonous. That said, I think blogging about progress is an excellent way to hold yourself accountable, a topic that author-entrepreneur Joanna Penn wrote about this week (someday I’ll write a post with all the excellent blogs I follow). In the interests of holding myself accountable but not becoming too monotonous, I thought I might write weekly progress updates.

This is the first week that I actually feel I may be able to do this. It’s my final crazy week at work, but my don’t-break-the-chain’s are keeping me on track regardless, and I feel like I’m getting back into “the zone.” I think having achievable baby-step goals really helps it feel less daunting. I’ve printed out my “production calendar” and will put it up with the rest of my goals in my dining room. (Production goals are another thing Dean is big on.)

My little productivity worksheet is now tracking how many words I write a day. Unfortunately I’m finding that if I write 500 and delete 200 old ones from yesterday, my count is still only 300. I both like and dislike this. It’s good because realistically I’m only 300 words closer to my goal; it’s bad because I don’t really have a good grasp on how fast I can write, and that hurts my scheduling. After reading Rachel Aaron’s post on how she used data collection to improve her writing efficiency (check out Step 2), I started keeping a spreadsheet to track how much I write at certain times of day and how I’m feeling. I’ll do some rough analysis once I have some data. (I’m a real fan of data; if you are too, you may want to check out the quarterly Author Earning Reports run by Data Guy and Hugh Howey.)

Every Sunday I will (try to) update my word counter on the sidebar, an idea I gleamed from Hugh Howey, a very successful indie author. I’m up to 11,000 if I count early half outline/half draft versions of Act I, which I won’t. So looks like 2800.

And we’re back: On balance, resistance, and motivation

Clearly I’m becoming one of those blog people who announce to the internet that they’re going to accomplish something great, only to peter out after the first few weeks of newness wears off. Or I could say that life got in the way, that my son was diagnosed with a condition that needed daily therapy and really wore us down, and it was just impossible to squeeze everything in, but it still feels like a huge excuse. Sigh.

I can’t believe I started this blog almost a year ago now. It’s funny that I should post around this time of year; it’s a time of revival for me, a time for coming back to normalcy. Basically from mid-July to around early-Feb my full-time job takes 150%; I’m talking evenings and weekends of overtime and some serious burn-out. Thankfully I’m able to balance this with some down time during the rest of the year, and plan to use my saved up time to only work 3 days a week for the next few months (told you it was a lot of overtime). I had cleared my slate to focus on the novel; no teaching, no more students to train, just freedom! Unfortunately things won’t work out perfectly though, as a colleague of mine took quite seriously ill and I have to make up her classes. So my free time is essentially going down the drain. Again. At least I can afford dry wall for the basement by picking up the extra work, heh. It just always seems that there’s more and more work to do, and my own goals keep getting pushed back.

Resistance is my #1 enemy. It’s hilarious that as part of my day job I help people plan out how to complete their own large writing projects. So I took one of the spreadsheets I make for them and made it work for me instead. There will be a mass restructuring at my day job in 5-years time, and I’m hoping to be well set up with my indie side income by then (HAH! But let’s pretend that’s a possibility for the sake of argument). Anyway, I worked out a spreadsheet that automatically generates a calendar to get 8 books out in 5 years. Each book is planned to be 100k and I’ll use 5% of my time for plotting, 70% for writing, and 25% for editing/proofing. The spreadsheet automatically calculates multiple deadlines for each book: for the start/end of each stage, and then at the 25/50/75% points in between, for each of the 3 stages. Basically I always have a deadline looming so it’s supposed to keep me on track. Even though I only use 70% of my time for writing, I still only need to write ~630 words/day on those writing days to get the whole thing done. Seems more manageable that way.

Another thing I’m doing is “Don’t Break the Chain”, which essentially involves printing out the whole year on one page and giving yourself an “X” when you accomplish your goal. So I bought a huge magnetic white board to put my “chains” on and stuck it on my dining room wall. Classy, no; motivating, yes. I’ve got the old standbys (exercise, eat better, get enough sleep), but also some personal goals (no more “dead mommy” syndrome / be in the moment). And of course, writing. But there I ran into a bit of a problem.

How do you track how much progress you’ve made with plotting? Counting words seems irrelevant, as there’s no end-point word count when you know you’ll be “done.” Counting scenes seemed silly. I wanted to have SMART goals (Specific, Measurable, Attainable, Relevant, and Time-based), but in the end had to be satisfied with “progress” for that component. I’ll use my word count goal for the writing phase, but for the rest I’ll just use my deadlines to keep me on track. I hope.

And now I have to go to bed so I can get my “get enough sleep” check. Which I have set at 7 hours to be Realistic, even though I’ve already determined I really need 8.5 and so even achieving the goal is something of a failure. Baby steps!