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Posts Tagged ‘goals’

Gotta get Crows done before the end of the year. Progress updates at House at the End of the Road.

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I’ve spent at least a couple of hours a day most days since Christmas trying to work out a plan and a strategy for 2013.

It hasn’t gone much of anywhere.

I had a mental picture of what I wanted to accomplish and worked out a detailed plan. It didn’t last out the first week.

I put together another plan. That one never even got started.

But I’ve been making progress anyway. Getting things done. (At least I was until I got sidetracked by planning a late winter vacation escape…but a person’s got to have her priorities :D ).

So I’ve decided that for now, for at least the first part of the year, that’s my only goal. Get things done. I’m still recovering from the grief over my father’s death, still coming out of a long dry spell, still tender inside. I need to give myself time and space.

So: I’m going to try to get things done. I’m starting with short story submissions. I would like to start new writing as well, but while the urge is there, the direction is not. But that’s all right. It will come.

Today’s post was inspired by the “projects” prompt in the Merry-Go-Round Blog Tour, an ongoing tour where you, the reader, travel around the world from author’s blog to author’s blog. We have all sorts of writers at all stages in their writing career, so there’s something for everyone to enjoy.

If you want to get to know nearly twenty other writers and find out what’s on their nightstand, check out the rest of the tour! Up next: D Jordan Redhawk.

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change and no change

I just ran across a blog post by Christina Katz that has some interesting things to say about decluttering your career.

She makes some excellent points about letting go of the old things so you can accept the new, which seems to have been the message I’m supposed to learn this year since just about everything I read has been harping on it in one way or another. I’ve been thinking a lot about these issues since early in the year when we cleared out the house. I keep waiting for all the new opportunities that are supposed to fill the empty space, both literal and emotional. They aren’t happening.

Am I expecting too much? Apparently I’m supposed to take it on faith that something will be there when I step out — but so far I’m just wandering in circles.

Maybe I haven’t cut enough old stuff? Maybe I need to take the old bumper sticker advice and do something, even if it’s wrong…

Oh. Wait. Is that what they mean by stepping out in faith? Trusting that it won’t be wrong?

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Erin M. Hartshorn
tagged me in a meme that’s going around, The Next Big Thing. The quickmeme entry seems to have been hacked by somebody with a Newt Gingrich fetish, but some googling turned up this as the main question list:

What is the title of your next book?
Where did the idea for the book come from?
What genre does your book fall under?
What actors would you choose to play the part of your characters in a movie rendition?
What is the one-sentence synopsis of your book?
Will your book be self-published or represented by an agency?
How long did it take you to write the first draft of the manuscript?
What other books of the same genre would you compare yours with?
Who or what inspired you to write this book?
What else about your book might pique the reader’s interest?

It’s geared to writers who are published, with a new book coming out soon, so many of the questions aren’t very relevant to me yet.

I have several projects under way that I’ll begin submitting in the new year.– short stories, a couple of novellas, and a novel titled “Overamped,” about a professional snowboarder dreaming of Olympic gold who gets the woman of his dreams instead. If I took out all Joey’s sex fantasies and all the f-bombs and other modern terminology, the book would shrink significantly, so it’s not a romance :) I’ll probably just bill it as mainstream when I start to market it. I plan to start with conventional publishers, which means finding an agent. Self-publishers have done well in genres, but mainstream is still pretty much the property of, well, the mainstream.

I also have a bunch of ghost story/dark fantasy/somewhat erotic short stories and novellas to go out. I’ll use a different name for those and I’m planning to focus on small online publishers, at least to start.

It doesn’t take me very long to write a first draft. It’s the second and third that take forever. Generally the “first” draft is more of a proof of concept, to make sure the characters are interesting and complex enough to sustain the story, and there’s enough story there. So throwing out an idea after first draft is pretty common for me. Then I’ll expand it in the second draft. Way overexpand it, usually. Then the third draft will be about locating the heart of the story and cutting out non-essential stuff. Usually I wind up combining subplots and characters. For instance, in Overamped, Joey owns a small sporting goods store. In one scene he waits on a customer with a small kid. I was able to combine that woman with the mother of a kid on the snowboard team to turn two “furniture” characters into a bit of emotional trouble for Joey.

I’m not going to tag anybody in particular. If you’re reading this, and it sounds like something you want to blog about, consider yourself tagged.

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Right now I’m trying to write up my September results and October goals. I had very modest expectations, since the primary business of the month was to give myself some space to grieve and recover. I’m to the point where I want to get back to work and feel restless and all that when I don’t, but while I can write down goals that sound good, they’re just in my head. I can’t really commit to them with any belief or desire.

You know the old joke about how bacon and eggs illustrate the difference between being involved and being committed? The hen’s involved, the pig’s committed? In a lot of ways I’ve just been involved with my life, not committed to it. I don’t mean that in an angsty or depressed sort of way, either. I’ve been doing what I want and working hard to get it. But enthusiasm waxes and wanes. Goals change. Discouragement sets in when what once seemed attainable is still just a rainbow on the horizon. And losing someone close to you can make you question all your life’s assumptions.

I’ve been through ups and downs and dry times before. I know that sometimes, commitment means just putting one foot in front of the other while the trail sinks down into the mud. This is probably another of those times. But sometimes it pays to pause and make sure you’re still on the trail you think you’re on.

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Walking to Sanity

Last week Neil and I attended a talk by Nancy Sporborg and Pat Piper, two New Hampshire women who climbed New England’s 67 mountains taller than 4000 feet. (Note for people from western states: a 4000-foot mountain here is about the equivalent of about a 9-10,000-footer in the Rockies.) Nancy wrote a book about their adventures (It’s Not About the Hike) and now they travel around New England giving inspirational talks about their experience.

Nancy and Pat started with noontime fitness walks and quickly expanded to the challenge of peakbagging. The talk covered what they had learned from their hiking: things like “I’m not ready to give up” and “when we commit to something, you can’t stop us.” They talked about how everybody has their own mountains to climb, and they aren’t all literal, and that we can all live our lives and pursue our passions.

They speak frequently to book clubs, libraries, hiking groups, and women’s groups around New England — if they’re in your area, I highly recommend that you attend. They have some lovely photos, too; it’s worth attending just for that.

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We’ve been planning for quite some time to sell the house after youngest graduated from college — a plan that was indescribably far in the future when we came up with it and is now bearing down on us from the high speed lane, without brakes.

It sounds simple enough. Sell the house, buy a smaller one that’s easier to take care of and doesn’t have so much empty space that’s just there to collect junk. And stuff. So much stuff…but I’ve complained about that in other posts. For now, I’ll just say that between getting the house ready for sale (cleaning, painting, fixing, calling contractors, supervising contractors etc. etc.), going through the process of selling (more cleaning, paperwork, phone calls and showings, and then more paperwork, etc.), and finally moving us into someplace new (oh, wait, yes, find a new place while all this is going on, and go through all that paperwork, etc.) my life and schedule are going to be unavoidably disrupted for an unknown amount of time.

That means that planning anything on a tight deadline is not going to work. Planning anything that requires certain things be done at certain times of day is not going to work. I won’t know what days are available for writing or when unexpected tasks, appointments, etc. are going to fling themselves at me from hidden corners. But I don’t want to be totally without goals, either. When I do that, I wind up spending all day playing Fitz or Wordslinger.

After poking around at my goals, at the work I have in progress, and the time I have available, I figured out that most days I’ll have a couple of hours first thing in the morning when I can write. We get up early, so even if I have contractors coming over, I’ll be up before they are.

And I will have other breaks during most days. As long as I know what I’m spposed to be working on, I can make quite a lot of progress. So I’m going back to something that worked for me when the kids were little. I’m putting together a portfolio with half a dozen works in progress to carry with me, and whenever I get a chance I can pull out one of those to work on. When I finish one, I add another to the queue.

That will let me reserve my time at my computer for work that really has to be done at the computer: research, marketing, submissions, and so forth. Oh, and those video games…

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I’m not a morning person. In my ideal world, I’d go to dinner at 8, stay up until midnight or later writing, and not get up until 8 or 9 the next morning. The times I’ve been able to stick with that cycle, I was healthy and happy and didn’t suffer from insomnia.

Oddly, though, I also didn’t get much done, especially writing. The day was half gone by the time I got up and moving, and while the late-night words always seem to be high quality, they don’t come easily. I get the most done when I get up early, no later than 6:30. When I started getting up that early, years ago, it was a forced decision based on work and kids. Now it’s either such a habit that I can’t throw it off, or my body rhythms are changing with age. Be that as it may, an early morning seems to work best for me now.

I used to use the morning time for writing; when the kids were in school, that time before they got up to get ready for school was the only writing time I had. I wrote well then. As they’ve grown up and left home, the schedule has kind of come apart. I’ve kept irregular hours and battled insomnia.

About a year and a half ago, I started getting up again. I’ve been using the early morning time for errands and online stuff. I get up, read my mail, read and reply to Forward Motion posts and my blog, check Facebook, etc. You know the routine. :D Then I’d try to write, or I’d go to the gym to work out and then do the housework for the day and try to write afterward. I wasn’t losing track of loose ends that way, but I wasn’t getting a lot of writing done, either. It’s hard to sit down and get into the story when I’ve already been buzzing around for several hours.

I thought about going out to exercise first thing in the morning, but the gym is crowded then with people working out before they start their job. Besides, experience has shown that I will exercise at other times of the day. Afternoon may be the easiest. I can do chores and errands any time. I can edit, for myself or for Moongypsy, at any time of day. I can read any time.

The only thing I don’t seem to be able to do at any old time is the writing. It goes well first thing in the morning, and it goes well late at night, and it struggles against fatigue, distraction, and interruption the rest of the day.

I was reminded of this rhythm while I was on vacation, oddly enough. We visited my parents, who are 80-ish and no longer get up early. We were in the mountain time zone, but we were waking up at our usual eastern time. So we had at least a few hours in the morning to ourselves. I was able to use some of that for writing.

Now I’m trying to get back on the old schedule at home. Get up around 6, breakfast, sit down to write. It’s only been about a week but already the writing is flowing more easily and productively. I’m happier. The best part of my day is going to the thing I want to do most. I’m also getting more done in the afternoons when I’ve already accomplished the important goals and don’t have to worry about getting done in time to write.

We’ll see if it continues to work that way but so far it’s a successful experiment.

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I was reading an article a while back about some of the science behind the formation and maintenance of habits: “A dopamine-rich part of the brain named the striatum memorizes rituals and routines that are linked to getting a particular reward, explains NIDA’s Volkow*. Eventually, those environmental cues trigger the striatum to make some behaviors almost automatic.”

That makes sense from a functional point of view. If routine behavior becomes automatic, that leaves more of the brain to deal with the non-automatic, the dangerous and threatening, the creative and new. When the habits and routines function in the service of productive living, they let you get more done with less effort.

But what about bad habits? They keep us from getting things done. Shouldn’t the reward system guarantee that behavior like that doesn’t become entrenched? If I’d write when I sit down to write, if I’d work when I need to work, if I’d exercise when I said I’d exercise, I’d get things done, and I’d still have time to rest, relax my brain, enjoy spousal time, and watch the Red Sox.

But I don’t have those good habits. Instead I surf the web, play video games, and whine about how I’m not getting any writing done. The bad habits seem to be stronger than any benefit I’m getting.

Except — those habits must be giving me some benefit. What positive benefit am I getting from NOT writing, NOT exercising, NOT getting things done around the house? What does it think it’s protecting me from? If I start to be an efficient, competent, productive writer, and think of myself as an efficient, competent, productive writer, isn’t that better?

Well, maybe not. If I’m efficient, competent, and productive, I’ll make my friends who are struggling feel bad because they’re stuck and I’m not. If I’m efficient, competent, and productive this week, people will expect me to be like that all the time, and then they’ll push all the work on me, and I’ll be the responsible one in the kitchen working while everybody else plays, and I’ll never have any fun ever again. (There are family reasons why I think this; it’s not just random fear.) And since writing is part of the fun — it’s a cycle. If I write, I jeopardize my ability to write in the future.

The kicker is that the situation that causes me to feel this way has long since ceased to exist. Looking back on it with the eyes of an adult, I’m not sure it ever existed the way I perceived it. The differences I attributed to power and control were probably personality and preference. So I’m stuck in a defense that doesn’t work against an enemy that never existed, and still acting like everything in my life depends on maintaining that defense.

I think it’s going to take a long time to unwind that negative cycle. I’m going to have to start with small steps. If I get a little more done, I’ll feel a little better about myself, and if I feel a little better about myself and my situation, that will mean a positive reinforcement that contributes to the new habits. And so on.

It’s not the only issue going on, but at least now that I’ve recognized it, I can start to work on it.

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* = Dr. Nora Volkow, director of the National Institute on Drug Abuse and an authority on the brain’s pleasure pathway. Full article has aged out, but if you Google Volkow’s name you can find more of her research.

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Yesterday was the big appointment to discuss the issues related to my slightly elevated blood sugar. I was tense and worried, of course — because I knew exactly what she was going to say and I just didn’t want to face it.

Gotta pay more attention to my diet. Gotta lose the rest of this weight, or at least a good chunk of it. 40-45 pounds over the course of 8-12 months, basically. That won’t get me down to svelte but it will be down into a healthier range.

It shouldn’t be that hard. I lost almost 40 pounds a few years back, to get down to this size. I know what needs to be done and how to do it. But somehow this time, it’s hitting me in my insecurities and fears, down in the places where eating has been a source of pleasure and comfort over the years. It’s social glue. It’s a way to give and share love. A beer after a good golf match, a hot dog at the ball game, a brown toasty turkey for Thanksgiving dinner with all the family around, a wine country tour. And they’re telling me that all this is the enemy? (Note I’m not talking about things like pigging out at a buffet or eating an entire carton of Ben and Jerry’s at midnight after a bad day. I’ve done that, and it has its role, but I mean the ordinary pleasures of sharing meals and enjoying tastes.)

Well, no, the food is not the enemy and eating is not the enemy. There are things I used to eat freely that I have to think about and plan for, or maybe avoid because they’re not worth it. As I get older, there will be more of those things. That’s okay, there are plenty of good things left. The world is full of wonderful foods and flavors.

It’s not about giving anything up. It’s about finding the things I know are good for me, that build up my health and enhance my life. I know what many of those are, but I’ll have more to discover. As I focus on health and fitness, the rest will come.

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