S. J. Kelley

Tag Archive: Life

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.

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.

Week of March 9, 2015: Best week yet, but writing takes so long… getting discouraged.

Week Week start date Days I wrote Words written Time used WPH (avg) WPH (writing)
W-7 Mar 9, 2015 6 4969 12:31 397 449

Re: Scheduling

So this is the end of my second week of early mornings, and it’s working out fairly well. I fall asleep quite easily between 8:30 and 9:30, but still have a bit of trouble hauling myself out of bed. Also I’ve noticed that when I first started this I used to start writing right away, but now that I’m getting used to the schedule I spend time “waking up” with email checks just like I used to do in the evenings, so even though I get up 2 hours earlier, I only get about 1h20 of writing time in. And I hate when I’m on a roll and have to stop because I have to go to the real job.

This of course makes me flip flop back to ‘why not just go back to nights?’ If I’m going to ‘waste’ 40 minutes, I rather use that time to ‘wake up’ with a jog after the kids are in bed and then plow away with writing. That would also mean my social schedule gets less perturbed, and if I was on a roll I could run with it and push through work on less sleep, going to bed early to catch up. That inconsistent sleep schedule is bad for your overall health though. And my husband says I’m less cranky when I get up early, and less dead when I come home from work, heh. It’s what I’ve been doing all my life though, so I feel myself gravitating to it.

Re: The long, long road…

This week was also the first major discrepancy between what I wrote and what I kept. So even though I wrote 4969, only 4550 remain. That stung.

I should be happy that I’m up to almost 5k a week. In the beginning that seemed like something I would never reach, but I still feel like it’s not enough. Right now a lot of my weekly count is happening on the Tuesdays and Thursdays I have free. That’s going to end, and then what? Back to the 1500-2000 words a week? Can’t happen; I need to meet my goals. I’m impatient! The end of the road looks so far away, and then there’s editing, and cover design, and marketing, and business stuff, and mailing lists, and figuring out how to stay anonymous.

I read somewhere that whenever you tackle a long task that you should visualize yourself a year from now, and looking back would you have wanted to start in on it earlier, even if it was just a little bit every day? And of course the answer would be yes. Even if I only have half a book the answer will be yes. But once I’ve got my mind into something I just want to dive right into it and burn through it until it’s done. The fact that I can’t because of my job is killing me.

I used to love my current job; I even proclaimed that it was the best job in the world, and I really did feel that way. Now every tiny little thing is getting to me, even if 90% of the time things are good, the 10% eats at my brain. And it comes down to the fact that I still work for someone else.

That’s never really fit with me.

I started a dog walking business when I was 9. I did desktop publishing layouts in high school and early university but I felt more like a contractor. In my current part-time teaching job I feel like I’m in my own game, me and the students. I have a Department Head, but s/he doesn’t tell me what to do; I just give him/her the grades. There’s a freedom there. But in my bread-and-butter job I have a clear boss who I report to every week (and my new boss manages very differently than the old one. I used to feel like a team member whose ideas were appreciated; now I feel like a cog in the wheel who should just shut up and do the work.) While I enjoy the work and feel like I’m making a difference, the fact that it’s employment won’t change, and the environment is so very dependent on the personality of the person I report to. It’s the fatal flaw that’s gnawing at me, and making me quite unhappy with what most people would fall head over heels for.

I was reading on KBoards that there’s no need to try to advance in two careers at the same time, and it hit me that that’s really what I’m trying to do. I’m trying to get a promotion at work (largely so I only need to work one job to make ends meet instead of a full-time job plus a part-time job), and I’m trying to make this writing thing viable. I need to not give so much of myself to my day-job. I put in many hundreds of hours of unpaid overtime a year (I’m salaried, so it’s expected), but I need to start delegating and protecting my time. Something has to give, and I can’t expect my little boys to be the ones who have to go without their mommy. Sadly, that has been the case during peak periods at work, when they’d be heading to bed when I came home. That lasts 4-6 months. Brutal.

As an aside: I’ve never really blogged before I started this one, but man, writing all that stuff out is therapeutic. Reminds me of a study I read that showed that people who journal tend to have a better outlook, almost as much as those who go to therapy. I can see that.

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!

Just keep swimming

I always dislike those blogs that start off with good posts and then randomly go quiet, followed by an apologetic post saying the author has to get back to writing. And yet here I find myself.

The good news is that I no longer have two jobs; my teaching commitments ended last week as I passed in over 200+ graded exams, so that was a great relief. I now only have one student to mentor through the summer, so my workload has drastically reduced — just one full-time job for the next 4 months!

Unfortunately my “life load” has increased… my oldest son was recently diagnosed with a medical condition which requires a significant amount of time and effort to help remedy, and this will persist for the foreseeable future. We weren’t surprised by the diagnosis (and are grateful to have it, as we can now obtain the therapy he needs), but it’s difficult to squeeze the extra appointments and sessions into our schedule. But we do it!

Awhile back, I wrote a post on how I’m trying to squeeze my writing into the early morning or late evening, but I found that if I stay up at night I just take care of random chores that need to be done; bring stuff like dealing with finances, trying to sell off the stuff in our basement, etc. If I went to bed early and tried to get up at 4am, I was still so tired that I’d just hit snooze even if I’d had 7 or 8 hours sleep by that point. I find this tragically ironic, because I always get up for work no matter how little sleep I’ve gotten, so deep down I feel like I just mustn’t be motivated enough to write.

Writing a novel while working full time (and having a family)

I did a lot of googling when I was trying to figure out how to squeeze writing a novel into my already full day. I work full time, teach part-time, and have two young boys who want me all to themselves when I get home. Most sites seem to advocate writing while the rest of the family sleeps (either getting up quite early, or staying up late), but they seem to be written by people with only one job. How could I squeeze in a full-time job, a family, and another part-time job? My schedule looked something like this:

  • 6:30 am – 7:30 am: Wake up and get ready for work
  • 7:30 am – 5:30 pm: Go to work; work; come home from work
  • 5:30 pm – 8:30 pm: Play with kids, have supper, do bedtime routine
  • 8:30 pm – 10:30 pm: Exhaustion sets in, but day is not done; do laundry; make lunches for next day; piddle around on the internet in an effort to wake up
  • 10:30 pm – 1:30 am or later: Do teaching prep after getting second wind
  • 1:30 am: Collapse in bed
The first thing I had to do was find more time… I had applied for and been offered a second part-time job which would have been great for our family financially (I’m the only breadwinner), but I really wanted to take a chance on my dream of writing a novel. Declining that position meant more time to focus on my book, and while we would have had a better life if I had taken the position, I keep telling myself that I’ll have a happier, more balanced life without three jobs…
Next, for my part-time job I decided to only teach courses that I had taught before, even if that meant not getting a teaching position. This drastically reduced the amount of prep work I had to do in the evenings. I also negotiated some flex time at my full-time job so I could do some teaching prep while still at the office.
With my work schedule as tight as I could make it, I had to figure out how little sleep I could get by on. On my old schedule I was a zombie. After I got to work I was semi-normal until about 1pm, and the rest of the day was a struggle. My kids often got the “I’m too tired” line when I got home. My evening work was inefficient and probably took twice as long as it should have. Creativity did not exist. Clearly, 5 hours of sleep a night was not enough!
After a semi-serious look into polyphasic sleep (not recommended by the way), I decided to just figure out how much sleep I actually needed. Adults typically need 6 – 10 hours of sleep, with 8 – 9 being the average (apparently those who only need 6 hours of sleep are genetically rare; see this cool article on Scientific American). I had been depriving myself of sleep all of my adult life, so I had no idea where I was on the spectrum. The solution? I started going to bed when my kids did (8:30 pm!) to see when I would naturally wake up. The first night I slept until my alarm went off — 10 hours. Not good. No problem, I told myself, Probably working off some sleep debt. But how long would it take to work off 15+ years of it?!
After a week or so of going to bed at 8:30 pm, I started to naturally wake up between 4:30 am and 5:00 am. The more I had used my brain during the day, the closer to 5:00 am I woke up, which was pretty interesting. While I was saddened to learn that I needed 8 – 8.5 hours a night, it was better than the 9 or 10 hours I was estimating based on “catch up” nights following my crazy schedule.
The benefit to getting all this sleep was that I seemed to grow 30% more brain. My thoughts weren’t in a fog anymore, and I didn’t lose time to being inefficient. So even though I was getting more sleep, I got the same amount done. Win-win!
Knowing how much sleep I needed, I had to figure out if I should be an “early to bed, early to rise” kind of person or not. This had less to do with me and more to do with the little sleepless people in my house. My oldest son (5) regularly has nightmares, so he usually comes to our bed sometime between 1 am and 4 am and stays for the remainder of the night. When I tried to get up at 4:30 am, he wanted to get up… I had to tell creative white lies to get him to stay in bed (queue guilt…). On the plus side, my most aware hours were used on the book, which was awesome. Unfortunately I couldn’t guarantee that I would get an uninterrupted 2 hours though, because my youngest son (almost 3) starts stirring around 4:30 am and needs to be settled regularly between then and 6:30 am when he gets up. My partner would normally settle him, but since I’m awake I feel I should do it (more of that guilt stuff…).
With mornings being less-than-ideal, I moved onto evenings, but encountered the same problems as when I was on my crazy schedule: my circadian rhythm has me at my sleepiest around 8:30 pm. I stare at the screen and re-read what I already have to kick my brain into gear, but I never really boot up before I have to head to bed at 10:30 pm. On the plus side, I get a guaranteed uninterrupted block of time… unless my partner wants to chat because I’ve been away all day… great for our relationship, but not so great for my book!
I’m still working out the early/late business, and flip-flop daily on which is better. Right now early is in the lead, because this evening I was exhausted and wrote this blog post instead of my book =P In the end I’ll probably end up smooshing and squishing the novel into life’s nooks and crannies, but it’s nice to think that one day I may settle into a schedule!