It is time, yet again, to set up some goals for the year ahead and I am posting them on my blog as usual to make it real and help make me feel accountable. So let’s just dive into what I’m striving for this year and why.
Word Count Goal: 350,000
Regular readers right now are looking at that goal and being like…
…because 350,000 words for the year is well below my average for the last seven years I’ve been setting a goal. In fact, I’ve only written less than two out of the seven years. So why so low?
Because that works out to about 1,000 words per day… and leaves me room to actually take some time off, a thing I have never ever let myself do with any regularity before but probably should be doing for general health and sanity. Will I end up writing more than that? Maybe. Probably. When I’m on fire for a project I don’t want breaks. But I’m hoping it will allow me more time to refill the creative tanks by doing things normal people get to do like reading books and watching movies and playing video games and sleep (jk sleep is for the weak).
Beyond that, I’m not setting any goals for…
- …how often I write. I’m miserable when I try to write every day (that GD NaNoWriMo streak badge kills me every year!). I’m a binge writer and I’m fine with that.
- …what I write. Focused. Free. Fiction. Non. Whatever. I’m not limited myself in any way or setting any percentage based goals like I have in the past. (Though I am focusing my efforts more… which we’ll talk about in a minute.)
So… then what is my plan for 2018, you wonder, if it’s not the usual “Write All The Things”?
Oh, dear reader, I will still be writing all the things. I will just being approaching it differently. Basically, I have identified four main writing problems in my life the past few years. These are…
- I have very little writing time and what time I do have is inconsistent, sporadic and interrupted. This has largely been the case since I had kids but now it’s now worse than ever. Relatedly…
- My kids are growing up way too fast and I don’t want to sacrifice time with them to write unless I absolutely have to.
- I am putting up big word counts and getting things out the door… but I never feel like I’m getting enough done. This results in hardly ever letting myself take time off (because I always feel behind) and working far too much, both of which make me cranky and has a bad overall effect on my mental state.
- I keep wasting what little time I have to work and write on social media.
Thus, instead of setting general resolutions this year, I took most of the last month looking into these four problems and finding possible solutions. Implementing these solutions are my goal for this year. Thus my resolution is less of single thing I can check off and more of a whole new system and approach to how I write.
My strategy for combating social media (#4) would make a good blog post on its own so, for now, I’ll just say that I am using a browser plugin that limits my time on social media sites in the hopes of reclaiming that time for writing and, in the month and a half that I’ve been doing it, it’s made a big difference so that’s a fairly easy one.
#1 and #2 are not so easy and they go hand in hand. My writing time is the haphazard mess it is in part because of my two kids always interrupting and taking up that time… but it’s also partly because I have willingly sacrificed a lot of my writing time for extra time with them, especially knowing the big one is starting school full-time in the fall and I am going to miss her so much. (Growing up stinks, you guys! 🙁 ) But I still have career momentum and deadlines and need to be able to find time to write regularly… thus we have the great tug of war for my time.
There’s a reason a lot of writing advice focuses on finding your ideal time of day to write or having a consistent writing schedule and that’s because both of those things make it easier to stay in the right (or should I say “write”?) headspace. Everything takes longer and is just plain harder when you don’t have that consistency. This is the main factor with most of my writing issues these days, particularly why it’s so hard to finish on revisions, why they take so long, why I have so many unfinished works in progress, etc. Not to mention that writing is easier when you’re taking care of yourself, getting enough rest and have the brain space to work on your project even when not sitting at the computer, three things that are definitely not happening for me anytime soon.
But, while I’ll someday be able to get some kind of writing consistency (and, like, an opportunity to hear my own thoughts again), it is what it is for the immediate future so my only choice is to make the best of it. Since I can’t change my writing time or schedule, instead I’m going to focus on making the most out of what time to do have and trying to streamline my writing process to make it easier to pick projects up and down no matter how much time has passed or how many distractions are going on around me. This comes down mostly to more organization and prep work than I’ve ever done before, taking extra time to write-up To Do lists before and after each writing session so I know what I should be doing when I sit down to write even if I’m so tired I don’t remember my own name let alone my characters’ (which is daily these days).
This year is about reducing the mental load by relying more on technology and good old writing it down. Asking less of my poor overtaxed brain and more of nice programs that are there to help. Specifically, I have been using ToDoist for years now to manage my day-to-day tasks because they have this Karma system that basically gamifies your To Do list (and I am a sucker for stupid little stuff like that) and now I have expanded my use of that tool to also include narrowing down my daily writing into a list of tasks in there as well.
Basically, nerding it all up.
Which brings me to #3 and the whole I Am Always Working But Never Feel Like I Am Getting Enough Done thing.
And… what is that even all about, really? Because the numbers show that I am writing a lot, getting things finished, doing productive and focused things… so why do I feel like I’m never getting things done? I took December and did some organization and a big look at everything I had in progress or hoped to write soon and realized something.
While I *am* doing productive work, it’s not always on the right things. Sometimes, I sit down to work and just point myself at the first thing that looks vaguely productive and go to town on it, instead of stopping to think about what would really be the most beneficial thing for me to work on at that moment. The long-term result is that I make more work for myself by doing things out-of-order, starting random new projects before I’m ready, wasting time chasing the wrong rabbits all with the end result that I feel like I’m never getting anything done… because I’m rarely working on the stuff that really matters to me and that I most need / want to get done. I’m working All The Time and checking things off the list, but the most important list of things never changes and it’s discouraging.
My solution to this is, you guessed it, more organizing and nerdiness!
I’m taking a new bigger picture view of my writing. Zeroing in on what’s really important to me. Part of this process involves a new Kanban-style project management board system (part digital, part physical) that I will talk about in greater detail later once I fine tune the process a bit. The other part of this process involves this silly little poster I made myself.
It hangs by my workspace and serves as a mental checklist of things I need to do before I start to work time.
- Slow down, so I don’t rush and screw things up or work on the wrong thing.
- Why are you doing this? Make sure I’m working on something for the right reasons, not just because it’s shiny and in front of me.
- Order by priority. Focus on the things I need, want or have to do before random, less important tasks.
- Organize. Because my brain is too scattered to trust myself to just remember stuff anymore.
- Plan it out. A little planning work ahead of time can save a lot of time from being wasted later on.
- Snuggle those babies! A reminder as much as it is permission to always go for the snuggles when the snuggling is good because the writing will always be there later but kiddos grown up too darn fast!
And the superhero theme? Well, because I have literally given myself contradictory goals this year (most obvious example being take more time off, get more done) and I will need superhuman abilities to pull them off!
Lastly, a new thing I am trying this year is that, once I finish whatever writing tasks I have assigned myself for the night… I take the rest of the night off! Madness! Previously, I would just try to fill every one of my rare working nights with as much work as I could possibly cram in but now I’m doing one big thing a day… and then calling it a night. It has, so far, weirdly resulted in getting *more* done so I am cautiously optimistic about how it will work in the long-term. Also it meant I got to edit a scene during load screens for The Sims which felt like living the dream so that was nifty.
So that’s the plan for 2018. It’s ambitious to try to change how you work, but I’ve built up a lot of bad habits over the years and I think it’s well worth the extra effort to try to break them and do better. Here’s hoping this is a year of finally getting the things done that are important to me and finding a way to work smarter, not harder.