inasmuch as it concerns Vacuuming the Cat:
Procrastinate? Me? Never! That would be silly! Now, if you'll excuse me, I can't quite see my reflection in the basin of the kitchen sink. (Plus, there are cats.)
factors in a personal productivity revolution
- 4,668 wds. long
I have here, in my hot little hands, a brand new printed-out draft of "Caroline's Wake." It's about 1500 words shorter than the version I submitted last year, and, I very much hope, a stronger story. It's not quite ready to submit at this time, but give me a couple more hours to scribble in between the double-spaced lines of the print-out, and it will be.
Today is Day 3 of Actually Getting Writing Done on a Reliable, Workerlike Basis. Seriously, this week has been fantastic. I've been getting my morning shift done in the morning, and I've been using my afternoon shift to create publishable story copy. It is amazing how awesome it feels to transform writing from a guilt-inducing monster into a life-affirming achievement.
I'm not entirely sure what made this sort of productivity and dailiness feel convincingly possible this week and not, say, last week, or last year, or eleven and a half years ago when I quit my day job. But I can point to a few things that could be said to have helped.
Dropped all expectations of content writing. I got cut from first one Examiner gig and then the other, and I decided I was ready to let them go rather than fight to get them back. Examiner only paid according to some secret metric of eyeballs-on-page, which came to about $20 every third month. I was doing it because it was an outlet for babbling about stuff that interested me, not because it paid well. Which was sily, because I already have an outlet for babbling, and that's this blog here.
But this change also occasioned me reevaluating the desirability of having a content writing gig at all. Content writing obviously cuts into my writing time and capacity. Every writing hour spent on Examiner or Textbroker is an hour I'm not thinking up and writing down stories. And while a good content writing gig can be a reliable source of funds, the fact is I'm fortunate enough to have a well-paid spouse who enthusiastically supports my career goals. I can afford to take not just my writing but my fiction full-time.
And if I put all my writing hours toward writing, revising, and submitting short stories, I'm likely to actually sell a few. It's a better use of my time all around.
Which is not to say that I won't be tempted by a decent content writing gig. I did just submit a sample of my writing to a respectable organization that's looking to build a stable of web writers and editors. If that goes somewhere, well, I'll figure out how to schedule it in at that time.
Rearranged my timesheet template. I log my writing on a spreadsheet every day. That's how I know when I've done my five hours. This week I totally revamped the daily template, and it's ridiculous how much this helped. I suppose a well-organized brain is a productive brain.
I used to have my spreadsheet separated out into categories of types of writing: fiction in this block (short story, novel, freewriting), content writing in that block (Examiner, textbroker, other), miscellaneous over thataways (Friday Fictionettes, etc.). Then, if I was feeling decisive, I'd babble out a sort of schedule for the day in a column off to the right, which I might or might not look at again all day.
This week I overhauled it such that the schedule was baked right into the timesheet. Everything I expect myself to do in a work day, it's there, and in order. All the nonsense and clutter is gone. It's just Morning Pages, the Morning Shift block, the Afternoon Shift block, the actually writing blog, done. If I want to be more precise, there's room to type a description--for instance, "Short Fiction" today is described as "finish 'Caroline's Wake' to printable draft" for the first hour and "take your pen and finalize that draft!" for the second. But for the most part, my plan is just to do the next thing until I come to the end of the things.
There's still a line for content writing in the Afternoon Shift block, but mostly it just gets crossed off.
Began enforcing scheduling constraints. Before, I would get lost somewhere between Morning Pages and freewriting, or between freewriting and fictionette, and I might never come back from my long break in order to start the afternoon shift. Having reorganized my timesheet, I can now use it to determine where I break and for how long. Basically, if I'm in the middle of a block, I keep working Pomodoro style until I'm done with that block: 25 minutes on, 5 minutes off. If I get to white space, I can take a longer break for a meal or for playtime, but I have to have a concrete idea of when I'll start the next block. When that time comes around, I absolutely must get back to work.
This is not rocket science. This is what I always should have done, and what I've always known I ought to do. Somehow, this week I'm actually doing it. Amazing. I'm going to attribute it in part to the overhauled timesheet, and in another part to something else:
Reevaluated how I spend my break time. I hate to admit it, but I can't actually fit an hour of Puzzle Pirates into a 5-minute break. I can't even fit an hour of Puzzle Pirates into an hour. It's like football that way. Or roller derby. The clock may say that an hour of game time passed, but it took a lot more than one hour of real time.
The weird thing is, these little self-contained puzzle games are starting to act like both a reward and a trigger. That is, they not only function as "Yay, you worked 25 minutes straight, you get a cookie," but also as this Pavlovian signal that it's time to get back to work. Finishing a "pom" means I get to play a puzzle. Finishing a puzzle means it's time to get back to work.
So, these are things that have helped. (Also, getting up early--I keep aiming for 8:00, but as long as I'm up by 9:00 I stand a strong chance of finishing my morning shift by noon.) But what also helped was simply knowing that it's been more than a year since the rewrite on "Caroline's Wake" was requested, and that's just ridiculous, and the ridiculous shit ends now. And so it does.
this fictionette is watching your tv
- 1,030 wds. long
This week's Friday Fictionette is about a frog with a fantastic opening line, and the change in the world that allowed him to utter it. It's called "The Spy Who Croaked."
As for the experiment with Viggle and the worries about whether it will be a terrible distraction that will kill my productivity--worry not, for as it turns out I'm not allowed to use it. I hear from Various Sources Online that the app's terms and conditions consider emulators a banning offense, and of course Bluestacks is an emulator. And there is no non-smartphone version of the functionality. Besides, it was absolutely failing to credit my music check-ins.
On the other hand, TV check-in appears to work. And football season is upon us...
No! No, I will be strong.
remove the thumbscrews, see what happens
- 5,653 wds. long
I'm declaring this week to be Conscientious Anti-BIC week. It's my week for Active Emancipation from the Tyranny of Butt-In-Chair Philosophy.
It's an experiment. Hear me out.
I've stated my intent to have the short story revision done and submitted by the end of January. One week now remains to hit that self-imposed deadline. That's plenty time for the task at hand, if I use my time wisely and don't dawdle.
Which would lead one to believe that BIC would be the best strategy:
Pick two hours a day. It doesn't matter which two hours, but make them two hours that you can do every day.
For that two hours, you will sit in front of your typewriter or computer. You will have no distractions. You will write, or you will stare at the blank screen. There will be no other options.
Writing letters does not count. Reading does not count. Doing research does not count. Revising does not count. You will write new stuff, or you will stare at the screen... Fill the page or go mad.
...Your mind will rebel. You'll want to clean the toilet, change the cat box, mow the lawn. But you won't, because there are no excuses.
Isn't that logical? Doesn't it make sense? To get something done, you allot time in which to do it, and you damn well do it in that time. What could possibly go wrong with that?
Well... I have this brain, you see. A brain full of avoidance monsters.
It goes like this:
The closer I get to deadline, the scarier the project gets, the harder it is to make myself sit down and do the work.
The more work remains to do, the harder it looks to do it, the more I avoid doing it.
And the more I tell myself things like this:
Your body will rebel. You'll get headaches. You'll get colds. You aren't allowed a choice. You will sit in front of that screen even if your head is throbbing.
...the more those two hours begin to look like torture. Which doesn't exactly help with the avoidance monsters, you know?
Now, I'm not saying BIC is bad advice. There is a time for BIC. BIC is about getting from "thinking about the writing" to "actually writing." My daily timesheet, where I log time spent on writing and try to make it add up to five hours every work day, is all about BIC. But neither BIC nor any other piece of writing advice is the right advice for all occasions. I'm convinced that no writing advice is wrong, but any writing advice can be a bad match given a particular writer and a particular set of circumstances.
I'm experimenting with the idea that BIC is not entirely the right match for me right now.
Fast-approaching deadlines make the work look scary... so I need to work as if I had all the time in the world. Huge, overwhelming goals make the work look impossible... so I need to work with small, bite-sized, non-overwhelming goals. And the BIC philosophy makes the work look like a painful, horrible, absolutely unenjoyable ordeal... so I need to work in ways that don't hurt.
I hereby declare this week to be the Week of Following Rabbit Holes.
Following something that appears to be a distraction is not a waste of time, if ó and itís a big all-caps IF ó you can do it consciously....
You realize that you are not avoiding your project. You are investigating an aspect of it. Or learning something that will help you with it....
The outside culture says yell at yourself for following the urge to fold laundry instead of writing that proposal.
I say: find out what is waiting for you in the laundry.
Which isn't to say that the writing will magically get itself done for me while I go fold laundry, make dinner, stain a closet door, or just up and walking around the block. Rather, the thing that's got my writing stuck might go away while I do those things. This is the art of consciously following distractions, of deciding that the distraction wouldn't be there if it didn't have something to tell me. (If the writing were going well, would I be getting distracted in the first place?)
And if I give myself permission to dive down rabbit holes and see what's down there, the scary, threatening pressure of "two hours, butt in chair, doesn't matter if it hurts, just do it" ...dissolves away. The threat of pain dissolves away. The fear dissolves away. The avoidance dissolves away--why shouldn't it? There's nothing left to avoid.
And maybe instead of simply not avoiding the work, I might find myself looking forward to the work instead... because I've stopped making it look so much like work.
I'm also going to give myself permission not to keep "logging out" and "logging in" on my time sheet. Rabbit holes, followed consciously, count as part of the writing process. (Just like tea with my avoidance monsters.) If in the middle of the work I feel the urge to take a short walk and look for clues, I'll take that walk "on the clock."
I don't want to draw such bright glaring lines between "writing" and "not writing" right now. I want instead to write from a more holistic space, where all of the things surrounding the writing are part of the writing process.
Like I said, it's an experiment. One of many that I've proposed for myself, all of which address in one form or another the hypothesis, "If I am kinder to myself, I will write more and I will enjoy writing more."
Well, when you put it that way...
but the paint did get stripped, there is that
- 5,300 wds. long
For the first time, I appear to have accomplished the paint-stripping stage in a single day. (At least, as concerns one half of a bi-fold door. I didn't try doing both at once this time because that was just awkward.) The secret appears to be this: Assign yourself a writing task you really, really, really don't want to do. One you've been avoiding for weeks now. Suddenly, the paint-stripping job looks like an enjoyable use of your time.
Most of this week, I've been slotting the following item among my writing tasks for the day: "Get that dang short story revised finally. Do you want a shot at getting it published or don't you?" (May not be an exact quote.) And it's amazing how focused I stay on my proposed writing schedule right up until I reach that item. Then, anything looks like a better use of time. Getting my AINC reading done early. Spending just a few more minutes on Second Life or Puzzle Pirates. Taking a nap that mysteriously stretches out to four or five hours. Getting really meticulous about removing paint from the corners of the panel beveling on the closet doors.
One day I will figure out the trick of getting myself to just do a thing already. For now, the process seems to involve several days--maybe several weeks--of inching up on it like a very cautious cat preparing to pounce. The pounce does eventually happen. I take consolation from knowing that. I'd just like to get to the point where the preparation doesn't take so darn long.
recommend that you not
So this is my latest trick. (It is not a smart trick.)
I seem to have returned to Second Life. I logged in for the first time in about three years: firstly, because you cannot leave Groups without logging in, and I had some Groups I didn't need to belong to anymore, nor get their emails; secondly, because I wanted to blog about doing NaNoWriMo on Second Life with the Milk Wood Writers and Virtual Writers, Inc.
There will, by the way, be more blog posts of this nature as November arrives and NaNoWriMo proceeds. I may no longer be one of Boulder's Municipal Liaison--emphatically not!--but I'm still your friendly neighborhood Boulder Writing Example, and NaNoWriMo is a big damn writerly deal.
Anyway, so, Second Life. And apparently I had some L$1,350 (in-game currency) sitting in my account along with about $10 (real world money). Now, I used to blog for the Metaverse Tribune. I'd make L$500 per post, and when my balance got to L$1,500 I'd exchange it for U.S. currency (about five or six dollars, depending on the market that day); and this was how I made a little pocket change off Second Life. But the reason I got into that gig was, I was wearing the Earn2Life HUD and participating in their Pay4Visit program. They send you places, you walk around and look at the place for a certain amount of time, they pay you a few Linden Dollars for your visit. So my blog series at the Metaverse Tribune, "Have Avatar, Will Travel," involved writing reviews of the places that Earn2Life's Pay4Visit program sent me.
I had to branch out a bit from there to keep the blog interesting. The places featured in the Pay4Visit program tend to be shopping malls, skill gaming locations, and strip clubs.
Anyway, upon logging in the other day, I thought, "I wonder if the Pay4Visit thing is still happening?" And of course it was. And following that rabbit trail led to the Fruit Mania traffic boost program, and following that led to the Bletaverse traffic cones, and the traffic cones led to the Gold Rush thingie, and the freeplay casino games, and the Coin Mania sphere, and mini-raffles, and so on, and so forth, and...
That's how I ended up using some random casino's L$1/15min dance pad, rather than FocusBooster, to time my freewriting today. "It's kind of like getting paid to do my timed writing session! Sort of. At a rate of a penny and a half per hour, but that's not the point--"
Don't do this, y'all. It does not end well.
also we research our avoidance processes meticulously
- 4,400 wds. long
Holy cow, hotel business centers are super techy these days. You open up the "printerOn" webpage for your particular hotel--if your hotel does have one--you upload your document, you give it your email address and a fresh 5-digit security code you made up on the fly, and then you saunter down to the business center, enter your security code, and you tell it to print on their fancy laser printer. It was a none-too-fast fancy laser printer, but it got the job done. I now have a printed copy of "A Wish for Captain Hook" for me to deface at my leisure.
Now, our household printer is here in the room with us. I was all set to use it. But because the printer got here less with plans for using it and more for just getting it the hell out of the house and out of the way of the restoration project, it has not sufficient paper with it for the job at hand. Our supply of paper, you see, was already stowed at the top of a closet and out of harm's way.
So that's where half the time I spent on the story went today: Printing the draft. (Like I said, slow printer.) Also getting the draft ready to print in the first plase--for reasons I no longer recall, it was a text document with its italics indicated by underscore characters before and after the text to be italicized.
I spent the other half of the time researching.
No, look, it all started with good intentions. I was scribbling away on the freshly printed draft, honest! But I was scribbling things like, "This was true in 1984, but was it true in 2005?" and "When did different libraries reopen after Katrina?" and "Maybe by then you could get an Orleans Parish library card as a Jefferson Parish resident? Again, 2005 v. 1984" and "Double-check: Nov 24 was Thanksgiving that year?"
Next thing I knew, I was looking up not only the days of the week that the story takes place on (yes, November 24 was indeed a fourth Thursday in 2005, thus Thanksgiving) but also sunrise and sunset, moonrise and moonset, and phases of the moon. So now I know for sure that the last scene really can take place on a night with no moon, and when the sun comes up after the characters' long vigil, I will know precisely what time that means.
So, yes, the metaphorical cat has been metaphorically vacuumed within an inch of its remaining fur. This is just one of the many valuable services we writers provide. For an additional charge, we will also metaphorically wax your metaphorical cat. The cat will not appreciate it, metaphorically speaking, but haven't you always wanted your metaphorical cat to really shine?
the art of knowing the things you already know
- 1,102 wds. long
OK, so, that feeling? That awful "I have no idea how to write the next scene" feeling? The one that doesn't get better even after hours of preparatory freewriting? That feeling is not a valid reason not to write the next scene.
In fact, that feeling is a clear signal that it's time to write the next scene.
Seriously, feeling like "I don't know how to write it" doesn't get better by not writing. It doesn't turn into certainty and optimism just by thinking about the scene some more. It's a sign that I've hit the end of the usefulness of thinking, and I need to put words on the page to find out what the words are.
One of these days, I'll start remembering that right from the start. And the sooner the better. Because this painful process that involves several weeks of "I don't know how to write the next bit" followed by a day where I finally take a stab at writing it and arrive at epiphany thereby, well, it could stand to lose a few weeks off the front.
on research, and deadlines
Today I spent an hour and a half of the working day reading through the HowStuffWorks article "How Special Relativity Works". There are 23 pages in that article. It starts with a run-down of the basic building blocks of the space-time continuum, and it winds up taking you through several iterations of the "twin paradox." By the time I was done, I had expended woefully unnecessary brainpower cycles on just keeping myself clear on which twin remained on Earth and which traveled away from Earth for 12 subjective hours at 60% the speed of light (and why they chose to name the stationary twin "Hunter" I will never know), but I was sorta kinda confident with my understanding of the whole concept in general, and also I needed to take a walk.
The upshot of all this research--for a 750-word flash fiction draft I'm thinking will expand to maybe 1500 words, if that--was the opening line,
We now know that the speed of thought is also a constant, acting as a constant across all reference points.
At least I have until February 14 to submit.
Meanwhile, I still haven't submitted anything this week to anywhere at all. Conscious of this, I started yet another story today, because if ever there's a project I have a chance at starting and finishing on the same day, it's a new short-short written to the latest prompt in The First Line's submission guidelines.
(What did Carlos find under a pile of Grandma's shoes? A homing device, of course. What? Why are you looking at me like that?)
It did not get finished today. Which is technically OK, since this one's got a deadline of February 1, but I'd really like to say I submitted something this week. And I'd like to get back to "Other Theories of Relativity." And also "It's For You."
I hear there are authors who work on only one thing until that thing is done. Only then do they start a new thing. One new thing. Which they work on until it is done. I do not understand how this is possible. Sometimes I kinda wish I did.
A Fitting Memento
So apparently I do have a physical object to remember Null by after all. In cleaning out the cats' supply cabinet this morning, I encountered his old collar, and Uno's. I stored the collars away when the boys became indoor-exclusive cats.
And of course there's the Beanie Baby tarantula, the first toy Null began transporting around the house late at night. Thing is, Null would never chase it or play with it when I was watching, at least not at first. But I began to notice that in the morning the toy was not where it had been left the night before. And when the toy in question is a big furry spider, that can be startling. It was some time before we realized Null's howling was connected to the movement of the toys, and not just your basic "Help I'm lost in the house where is everyone it's darrrrrrk."
So. Here's the spider wearing Null's collar and name-tag.
I'll put up some more pictures soon. Just got finished emailing myself all the Null pictures from my phone. There's also a few on my computer that are just priceless. Not as many as I'd like -- John and I just don't take them all that often. But there were a handful of moments across our cats' lives that just screamed "TAKE-A-PIKCHER, QUICK!" I should share them here, or at least pop them onto Flickr with a link from here.
And then it's back to blogging about writing. And roller derby. Stay tuned.
Love and appreciation to all my friends, near and far, who have been so kind to John and me these past few days. You keep our world turning.
One Minus Zero Is
It has been a point of amusement in our household for the last fifteen years that we're such geeks, we have binary cats. Uno and Null: one and zero. Uno came first, a preternaturally intelligent brown tabby given to us pre-named in the summer of 1996. When the orange kitten adopted us the next year by means of doggedly climbing up my back whenever I knelt anywhere within range, there was only one possible name for him.
It has been a further point of amusement that Null immediately began living down to his name. He was, it must be said, not very bright. Bright-eyed, yes, curious and responsive and talkative and demanding, but no great shakes in the brains department. Almost no sense of cause and effect, for instance. An un-catlike absence of all sense of dignity. He hadn't the first clue what to do with the mouse that popped out of our radiator that one evening. His hunting instincts, such as they were, were exclusively expressed through various small stuffed animals (most notoriously a Beanie Baby tarantula) which he would carry on multiple trips around the house, howling meditatively as he went.
But he was so sweet. He was our puppy-dog kitten; he'd roll over for belly rubs and he'd lick your face if you let him. He liked to sleep between my ankles all night long, or at least until I finally, reluctantly, dislodged him by rolling over and giving my poor back a break. He had the biggest eyes you ever saw. There was a while when he'd purr at the mere sight of food or loved ones, as though in gratitude that John or I or Uno or, well, food still in fact existed.
Null passed away early Sunday afternoon. His kidneys started to go on him last fall, as cats' kidneys often do. We'd done a faithful job of maintaining him for as long as he'd let us, but this past week he simply fell apart. His lips were suddenly covered in ulcers. He stopped eating. A few days later he stopped drinking.
Saturday night John and I slept with him between us. This time he didn't even try to pull himself over for a cuddle. Sunday morning, he was neither sleeping nor really conscious. All he could do was lie there, flattened out like a deflated balloon on the sofa pillows, only breathing because that's what bodies do absent instructions to the contrary. We picked him up and found that, like a newborn baby, he was incapable of supporting his own head. Around 1:45 PM, he coughed a little. Then he wasn't breathing anymore.
We gave him our last hugs. Then we drove him to the emergency vet, who confirmed that he was really, truly gone, gave us their sincere condolences, and charged us $71 for "communal cremation." That's when the pet family declines to keep the ashes. We also declined to have a clay paw print made to remember him by. I don't really regret that -- we have too many sentimental objects gathering dust about the house already. Still, now I wish I'd brushed him down one last time with the shedding brush before we gave up his body to the veterinary crematorium so that I'd have a handful of his fur to spun into yarn to... I don't know, braid into a ring? Hang from the ceiling? Make into yet another sentimental object to gather dust, I guess. I guess it's just as well I didn't.
Walking back to the car, I couldn't help feeling -- and I know this is irrational -- that we'd abandoned him. Pawned him off onto someone else. Given up, absolved ourselves of responsibility. It wasn't that I felt guilty for having given his body to someone else to dispose of. It was as though he were still alive and I'd abandoned him at the vet. Like I said, totally irrational.
And then there's the usual guilt that accompanies the death of a family member who's been sick in a high-maintenance way. Guilt for feeling relieved. Again, I know I shouldn't feel guilty; I know it's no indication that we did anything wrong. But Null had been requiring extra-special care for the better part of three years now. The paralysis incident in October 2009 left him with weak, stumbly back legs and no control of his bathroom functions. We had to express his bladder several times a day and clean up after him a lot. He was on an anti-seizure medication, so we had to clip pills into eighths and make sure an eighth went down his throat twice a day. When his blood tests began to show evidence of overworked kidneys, we started him on subcutaneous fluids three times a week and the vet visits increased in frequency. In the last month, his already wonky back half let him down entirely, and he often decided it wasn't worth dragging himself to the food or water bowls.
With all the attention he'd required, especially toward the end, it's no wonder John and I both breathed a sigh of relief when he was gone. It makes no real sense to feel guilty about that, but I did feel guilty. Worse, I felt responsible -- I'd known before he died that once he did I'd no longer have to be Super Cat Mom, and now I suspected myself of having been looking forward to his death.
This is all perfectly natural. I know better. But my feelings don't seem to know better at all.
The other weird thing is the habit-forming nature of stress and hyperresponsibility. I've blogged about that before in the context of big scary writing projects with fast approaching deadlines. The day after submitting the manuscript, I'd wake up dreading all the work still ahead of me, only to remember that the work was now behind me. I'd be unable to relax all day, sure that there was something I was desperately supposed to be doing. Just so with Null's absence: I'm constantly realizing it's been hours since he was last expressed and I'd better hop to it before he leaks all over the bed and I should make sure he's lying on an absorbent pad and is today the day he gets fluids and it's probably time I brought him to the water bowl or presented him with a little wet food on my finger or encouraged him to excercise his back legs before they totally atrophy or--
And then I realize, Not anymore, and I start breathing again.
At which point, of course, the guilt starts in once more, because my response to realizing that is thank the Gods.
Today we're both doing better, John and I. We're background-sad instead of foreground heartbroken, if that makes any sense. And though I'm still feeling the guilt, it's receded a bit so that I can enjoying the simplicity of our much-scaled-back daily routine. I had forgotten what it was like to not be giving a cat at-home end-of-life care. It's kind of nice. And now we have room to pay some overdue attention to Uno, who has been feeling terribly confused and neglected of late. We're giving him a lot of attention now.
But I miss Null terribly. When I stop to think about it, it hits me like a ton of bricks. Such was his illness that I can't remember when he last purred. I wish I'd known it would be the last time. I'd have appreciated it more.
Friday night, he was in terrible pain and he didn't want to be conscious, but he squirmed across the bed anyway so he could go to sleep with his head on my ankle. If he'd still been capable of purring, I know he would have.