Tag Archives: Productivity

The Time of Turtle Steps

For the past month, every time I sat down to write a major post about goals, productivity, and other topics of interest to me, I’ve ended up tossing out what I wrote instead of posting it. Too much of it read like boring platitudes.

I was probably spouting too many platitudes because there were a couple of life crises that happened during the last two months behind the scenes, and as a result I had to hunker down and focus on using what little time I had to just write. Everything else–blogging; getting the editing done on stories to be published as ebooks; marketing plans–got temporarily paused.

I now call times like these the “Time of Turtle Steps,” because even when I keep working, I feel like a turtle surrounded by hares. It feels like everyone else is racing past me while I plod along far, far behind.

And yet, I’ve now learned enough to know that I’m wrong. Those turtle steps add up over time if I keep doing them step by step by step…the hard part is to keep going. Too often we stop out of despair.

Let me give an example from my own experience. In October, a couple of crises hit at the same time.

I wasted a lot of mental energy in October beating myself up for my slowed pace in writing and in working on my career. There was little time to write, and my final word count for the month was 23,255 words.

In November, I decided that while I couldn’t participate in NaNoWriMo since I wanted to keep working on my novel in progress, I could at least change my attitude and stop beating myself up. The crises continued to eat up lots of time in November, but once I accepted that I was a turtle, I found I could mentally relax and enjoy the writing more when an opportunity appeared to grab an hour to write, and I passed the 50,000 word mark for November two days ago.

So my productivity more than doubled once I stopped beating myself up about my writing pace and lack of time to do career tasks.

There are times in our lives when a crisis hits and we have to jettison everything but the most essential tasks. Be kind to yourself and don’t beat yourself up for the slowed pace. It’ll just make it harder to get anything done.

Be a turtle. Do each step by step by step, and keep going…and you’ll be surprised by how far you can get in a month. I certainly was.

The Madness of Perfectionism

I hate making mistakes, no matter how small. Hate, hate, hate it. I’m one of those perfectionists that psychologists like to lecture about. And I know I’m not alone in the world–there’s a whole lot of perfectionists I know.

Being a perfectionist is a pain in the butt when it’s out of control, because it means one can get stuck in a rut of endless actions done over and over and over, or else one quits too soon. It’s an “all or nothing” mindset.

It’s a good thing babies don’t have this trait. Can you imagine a baby deciding after his first babble: “Hey, that didn’t make sense at all. I must have no ability for talking. I might as well quit now and stay silent.”

And yet I’ve seen people quit endeavors after one or two tries because they weren’t perfect at it. Perfectionism, when allowed to reign out of control, can shackle us in mental chains. We give up too soon. Or don’t even try at all, telling ourselves, “There’s no point, I’d screw it up anyway.”

As a perfectionist who loves to write, there are days when I wonder if I’m just a glutton for self-punishment by doing fiction writing on a daily basis. There are so many balls that need to be kept in the air during the writer’s juggle: plot, characterization, setting, narration style, word choices, grammar, structure, etc….no matter how a writer tries, there’s going to be mistakes.

For instance, I just got back today a corrected novel manuscript from the copy editor, and discovered that I’d accidentally left out a few bits of information about one of the villains that readers needed to know.  As the writer I can see into all the character’s heads at the same time, but the reader can only see into the characters by the words that were written on the manuscript page.  That’s why writers have first readers go over a manuscript–no matter how hard we try, we will not fill in all of the “lost” information the reader needs.

Still drives me bonkers when I forget to write something down for readers. I’m a perfectionist. I want to get it right the first time.

I’ve had to learn to accept that mistakes are going to happen. I still get upset, but at least I no longer quit or cycle endlessly in revisions. I find it helps to remind myself about my years in QA in the software industry, and how there was a point in the software release cycle where there were diminishing returns on the investment of time in revisions. There comes a point where a manuscript–or a piece of software–begins to fall apart the more you mess with it.

I’ve always like the advice one old pro gave me, which was, “Once you find yourself changing something in the manuscript, then changing it back to how it was before, it’s time to stop revising and send it off.”

There are days I’m sorely tempted to take the current urban fantasy manuscript that is being edited and hide it so that it’ll never see the light of day, even though it’s been read by an editor, several fellow writers, a careful first reader, and a copy editor at this point. My perfectionism flaring up.

I have to keep reminding myself that there comes a point that a piece of work needs to be released into the world to fend its way on its own.

Also, if I’m continually redoing old work to death, new work won’t get done, ala George Lucas and his endless revisions of the Star Wars films. Lucas is going to end up the patron saint of perfectionism at this rate. 😛

So when perfectionism rears its ugly head, remember Saint George…

Welcome to the Era of Being Hurt by Too Much as Well as Too Little

After a long hiatus, I went to the movies this summer to see several films (Thor was very good), and I was stunned to notice how huge the sodas and popcorn bags are.

I’m old enough to remember when today’s “small” soda size was more like a  “large” back in the 1970s.

I wondered if maybe my memory was faulty, so I did some digging around, and found some outside sources that confirmed that this change wasn’t just in my head. Check out this portion quiz done by the National Institute of Health if you want to see how things have changed in the past 20 years. And here’s an article from several years back at USA Today that covers “Portion Distortion.”

For those of us in the U.S. with the money to pay for food, we can now literally eat ourselves into obesity and bad health if we aren’t paying attention to what is being served to us.  There are so many choices and the portions have gotten so oversized that we can literally eat our way to an early death.

And yet there are still people dying of famine and starvation in this world.

Welcome to the era of being hurt by too much as well as too little. And it isn’t going to just be too much food. It’s also going to be too much information, too much communication, and too many entertainment choices.

In the old days, most people could get away about not being mindful about what they were doing because either the choices were limited, the costs were high, or their disposable income was limited.

But prices are coming down and the technology barriers are falling. We’re about to have too much to choose from and deal with, instead of too little.  Think about it. Already there’s more blogs and e-books and video games than someone could  experience in a lifetime. Internet connections are on 24/7/365 through social media and cell phones, so that the communication demands never stop unless the person mindfully chooses to take a break.

Long ago, when I wanted to goof off from my homework by watching TV, I had only five channels to choose from. There were no VCRs. There was no cable. If I didn’t like what was on those five channels (which happened quite a lot), I was out of luck and had to find something else to do–like read a book, or stop procrastinating and finish my work.

Now I’ve got so much to choose from on my TV that I could spend my entire life on my couch watching show after show and never run out of things to watch. I find myself in an era where I have to make strict rules about TV usage (limits on the number of hours, and having to mindfully think about what I want to watch) or else I’d fritter the hours of my life away.

I’m willing to bet that time management is going to become a critical survival  skill. It was hard enough to manage time in the old days. Now someone’s entire life can easily disappear down a black hole of web surfing, social media, and entertainment, and the big dreams in life will never get done.

A big dream (for example, to become an archaeologist) requires long hours and hard work. It requires focus and dedication over decades. I find myself wondering how many people are going to wake up thirty years from now to discover that they’ve frittered their dreams away by not being able to manage the overabundance of having too much.

I speak of these things because I struggle with them on a daily basis. These days I must consciously remind myself to get off the internet, get away from the TV, or put down my e-reader. I can no longer rely on boredom to get me to stop an entertainment activity since the choices are almost limitless now.

I love it that favorite authors of mine are putting up their backlists in electronic format. I love being able to obtain and watch famous films that would have been unavailable to me in the past. But now I have think about what I want to do and experience, because the options are too vast otherwise.

I was told about Randy Pausch’s lecture on Time Management, which I watched and found a helpful introduction to various ideas and techniques. There are also books by Steven Covey and Peter Drucker that do a good job in teaching time management.

Through trial and error I’ve found one of the most useful questions for me to ask at the beginning of the day is, “When this day is over, what will I regret not getting done?”  Whatever things pop up become the major goals of the day and I do everything I possibly can to do them.

So let me leave readers with this question:

“When this day is over, what will you regret not getting done?”

Shutting Up Your Inner Critic

I just came up with a nifty technique for shutting up the inner critic that I’d like to share. It’s sort of a mental combo of National Novel Writing Month‘s daily word quota assignment, Laura Resnick’s essay “The Long Haul” in Rejections, Romance, and Royalties where she compares writing to trucking, several episodes of Dirty Jobs with Mike Rowe, and thinking about my past experiences as a cafeteria worker.

Step 1: Choose a down-to-earth analogy for writing. It can be trucking, bricklaying, road paving, plumbing, cafeteria cooking, whatever. However, choosing an environment that will make your inner critic feel uncomfortable to be in is a definite plus.

Step 1 Example: I really liked Laura Resnick’s trucking analogy for writing a long fantasy novel, so I chose trucking. Instead of meeting daily mileage goals, I’d be meeting word quota goals. But the mindset had to be the same. I have yet to hear a story about a trucker moping at a truck stop about how his inner critic keeps  telling him his driving sucks…and so he’s stopped driving in mid-journey.

Step 2: Hone in on that inner critic voice that keeps showing up when you’re trying to write. Give it a physical persona that you can visualize in your mind–what does he or she wear? look like? what profession? etc.  (Note, if it takes on a persona that won’t be intimidated by the analogy chosen in Step 1, choose a new analogy.)

Step 2 Example: When I honed in on my inner critic voice, it morphed into an English professor guy who likes to wear tweed.

Step 3:Imagine your supervisor for your analogy to writing.

Step 3 Example: I found myself visualizing that I worked for “Flo.” She runs a small trucking company in North Carolina and loves to eat cole slaw burgers for lunch. There’s a stack of James Lee Burke and Nora Roberts paperbacks on the corner of her desk that she likes to read during breaks. Often she wears NASCAR T-shirts. She has 0% patience for whining or crap.  The trucking garage smells of diesel and there’s the rumble of engines as trucks pull up or drive off.

Step 4: The next time the inner critic voice shows up during a writing session, tell it “Go away. I’ve got a quota for this first draft I’ve got to meet.”  If the critic refuses to go away, make him or her go visit your supervisor to complain.

Step 4 Example: When Dr. Inner Critic showed up and wouldn’t shut up during the first draft work I was doing, I imagined sending him off to Flo to whine at her instead about the quality of my writing. Writers, by training, have very vivid imaginations. My imagination gave me a whole short scene of Inner Critic beginning his whine about my writing, and losing steam as Flo glared at him. Then she asked him, “Are you going to do L.M.’s work?” which made him hunch up as he replied, “No.” Then she ripped into him verbally with insults about his stupidity and laziness until he slunk off. I got back to work since there was a quota to meet. Inner Critic left me alone since showing up again would mean  another yellfest from Flo.

These days, whenever an inner critic voice pops up during the writing of a first draft, I do the steps above, and it shuts that voice up darn quick. I hope it does likewise for you all. Good luck!

A Blog Post to Give Comfort in Rough Times, and a Few More Links

I also found out about a website that has various posts by pro writers (such as David Morrell) about the publishing industry.  It’s called Backspace – The Writer’s Place.

Another great resource is the NINC blog. Members of NINC have to be multi-published in order to join, so I find the information and blogs professional in tone and attitude.

Also, there’s Bob Mayer’s blog. He has 20 years of experience as a fiction writer in traditional publishing, and 2 years of experience doing indie publishing, so I find his posts have a lot of depth to them.