Not being able to write sucks

Since my last post, I’ve made three unpublished blog post drafts. One about daily life. One about plot revisions. One about a new, creative hobby of mine. And they’re all sitting there with only a few paragraphs and nothing more. Let’s just say that it’s quite characteristic for all my writing nowadays. In other words, I haven’t written a thing. And it sucks.

Lesson learnt: If you do too much and keep that up for too long, getting back on your feet is going to be hard. It’s going to take time. A LOT of time. And things you like are going to suffer for it. If you’re in a situation where you think that you should probably slow down or do a little less soon, do it now. The longer you wait, the harder it gets.

It’s not even writer’s block. Everything’s there in my head, I’m motivated, I have everything planned out and don’t feel pressured by anything else than my own deadline, but I just can’t sit down with anything nowadays, particularly not on the computer. It’s like I can’t turn off that “oh God, I’m behind in my translations” feeling that I’ve had for half a year. For those 6 months, translating was all I ever did besides work and dance class. I’m having a hard time convincing my brain that sitting in front of a computer doesn’t necessarily mean that I have work I should do. I’m not procrastinating. I’m having the evening off, damn it! And yes, writing’s work, but it’s definitely not the same.

But apparently opening any kind of writing program or notebook triggers my brain’s “I’m so overworked, I can’t do this anymore” response. It does make sense. My brain doesn’t know that the super-intense translation marathon I had for half a year is over. It doesn’t know that everything involving computers isn’t work, or something urgent and tiresome.

Today I’ll run a little experiment. When I get home tonight there’ll be no computer, no TV, nothing. If I need sensory input I’ll read – I’m currently re-reading Harry Potter, just because reading a book I like and have read several times before seemed to be just the thing right now. I might try to draw again, or perhaps plot a little more on paper. And then there’s loads of tidying up to do. Hopefully that will do the trick.

The takeaway: Too much of a good thing is still too damn much.

There! I’m done with my complaining for now! Writing-related news:

  • I’ve realised that far from all stories on my “to write” list will ever be written, nor should they. That list is now half of what it was. The remaining stories will be background fodder or ideas that might evolve into something else, but there’s no need to insist on writing a story that you don’t feel enthusiastic or confident about.
  • I got a new idea for a story this morning. I think some of it came from a dream of mine, but I’ve had similar ideas for a while now. It wasn’t until now that all the pieces finally came somewhat together. I only have the starting point, so I have no idea what the actual plot will be, but I think it will be fun to write. Won’t say anything more yet!

 

Life choices, editing schedule and this blog

It’s Sunday and I’m trying to muster the initiative to get up and make some dinner. So far it’s not going particularly well, so I thought I’d procrastinate by writing a blog post instead. Because my head works so well when I’m hungry…

Life choices

Two days ago I finished my last translation gig on Fiverr. After doing far too much for far too long and ending up in a place where it’s not healthy to be, mentally, I paused my gig and decided that enough was enough. For one thing, it’s hard to be a writer without any time for writing. My life for the past 6 months have been the following: Get up. Get early to work. Translate a bit before work starts. Work. Go home, eat quick dinner (maaybe exercise first). Translate until brain stops working/you see double/you’re falling asleep at the keyboard. Fall asleep, repeat the next day.

I love languages, and I used to love translation, and it’s been a lifesaver, but when you sit down to work and feel physically ill just from opening the document… it’s not good. So now it’s DONE. I have time to write. I have time to do nothing without feeling bad about it. I can go to bed when I feel tired without pushing myself to just do another page first. I can go work out without feeling bad about the time I spend doing it. Do I need to go on? That first day, I rejected four jobs. Normally I’d feel bad after the first one, and do the remaining three. But now? Nope, I was polite but firm. Victoryyy!!! (aaaand that’s the cue for the song from Lord of the Dance to become stuck in my brain. Again.)

Editing schedule

It should not be a surprise to anyone that with a life like what I described above, I certainly did not make the editing deadline that Cicilie and I had set. By a long shot. Luckily (for me), she didn’t either, and so we postponed it. Again.

This time will be the last, however. I have made a plan over how much I need to write for the next month, and I am only a little bit behind. I have some days off now, so I’m actually confident that I’ll be able to catch up very soon. My ambitious goal is 15k today, which is doable for me, but I want at least 10k.

Our new deadline is October 1st. That’s the goal we are working towards, and which I’ve written in my new plan. We also have another deadline, October 16th, which is the absolute deadline. No matter what the draft is like and how much we have edited, it is to be handed over at that point, sort of like we did back in December. That will allow us some planning time before NaNoWriMo as well.

The actual schedule I’ve made for myself has me finishing the draft on September 24th, except if it turns out to be very much longer than anticipated. Then I will have one week, perhaps plus two more, to fix the new sections I’ve had to write. Time will tell if this is actually realistic this time.

This blog

…will not change all that much yet, though I’ve looked at new themes. However, I have a dancing/training blog that I hardly ever use, and I’ve also felt like three blogs is a bit much. I do write about dancing and health and exercise and whatever else is going on in my life here anyway, so it’s not like the change will be all that great. Any thoughts? Would you hate to see that kind of content here?

It should be said that if I do it, I’ll figure out a way to let you choose to see only blog posts from a certain category/topic. Besides, I feel like I cannot devote enough time and attention to maintain all my blogs properly, and perhaps it will be best to have one main blog in English where I do all my stuff. Seeing that it now has both writing and painting and drawing and language and photography (soon) and all that stuff anyway.

I really do wonder if I will ever be able to write more than one or two entries in a row without discussing something or other I want to change with one of my blogs…

What’s that? My plan? No idea what you’re talking about…

Well.

Apparently there was a plan. And a schedule. And a slightly overly optimistic writer who decided that YES, august would be the perfect time to finish the third draft of Rogue Sorcery. Nevermind that I have an insanely large translation job that I am already late with, plus two smaller ones. Or the fact that, after a long day at work and 4-5 hours (minimum) of non-stop translation, my brain is just a mushy ball of exhaustion. OK, sometimes I take the time to work out right after work, but without it, this kind of schedule just wouldn’t be possible. And did I mention that I’m beta reading not one, but two manuscripts?

Definitely not complaining about the last part, though. I like being able to help out, and both writers asked very nicely and had very interesting stories.

I had planned to use this weekend to (hopefully) catching up with where I’m supposed to be, word count-wise. It didn’t happen. In fact, I haven’t written a single word all weekend. Friday I had work and translations, so no dice there. Saturday… I woke up at 6 a.m., strangely awake, but being that my apartment was a disaster area, I tried my best to fix that instead. I don’t regret it, because now I can actually look up from the computer screen without hyperventilating. Let me just tell you right now that being a naturally messy person while becoming really stressed if everything isn’t tidy around you isn’t a good combination. I don’t even like spotless homes.

The rest of Saturday was spent organizing some photos (another project of mine in which I’m behind schedule), reading blogs and playing Internet games, and going to bed early. Today I did more of the same, and I went for a step class at my gym. Guess who forgot to eat before going? Yep, I did. And breakfast was three hours before I left home. The choreography wasn’t hard, and I’m usually good at choreo, but I just couldn’t follow it at all. It was far easier last week.

Aaaanyway.

Guess how far I’m behind? 28k. And that’s my small goal, if the story ends up at 100k, which it won’t. The optimistic goal of 120k is more likely, and in that case… 35k behind. Hooray. It also turns out that I’ll have no time to write next weekend, since I’m going away with my new job. I haven’t even started yet, but it will be very useful when I do start. I can get some writing done on the airport, though. Didn’t think of that…

Still, in order for this post not to become a total downer, I have vacation towards the end of the month, directly before starting my new job. I’ll try not to take on more translation work, so I can get a lot written then. I do think I’ll have to talk to my writer friend/beta reader about the draft though, because our plan to exchange manuscripts by the end of the month might be a bit optimistic. Just a tiny bit. I am able to write 100k in two weeks, but not while doing other stuff. I think. I did do 250k last November, with a work conference and stuff during the month, so maaaybe it’s still possible… At least she’ll need to get a draft where the end is actually written out instead of just being a summary (I ran out of time last time, too).

 

Somehow I feel I’m too disorganised and scatter-brained to ever have any hope of becoming a full-time writer. I certainly have some work to do in the “being organised” department…

 

Nano Prep part II

This is where the “oh my God NaNoWriMo is only three days away” panic is about to take me. I’ve done what I can to prepare for it this year, but there are only so many hours in a day, and with a busy life… well. Learning my lessons from last year I’ve tried to make sure that I don’t burn myself out before NaNoWriMo has even begun, which is why I did absolutely nothing useful yesterday. (Well, that’s not quite true. I made a healthy dinner, and I worked out for an hour. I also looked at my mandatory assignment (in the most literal sense of the word) and decided I still don’t understand a thing, so there’s that).

Below is, quite simply, the far-too-long list of things that remain to do before NaNoWriMo begins. And if that wasn’t enough… I’ve evidently decided to attempt a 50kDayOne, since it’s the first time in years I don’t work all day on the 1st of November.

  1. Make lesson plans for the two next chapters in my German class (I’m going away for a conference just as we’re starting the next chapter, so I’d like my students to know exactly what they need to do even if they have a substitute teacher)
  2. Make grammar help guides and glossary lists for my German class. Not strictly speaking necessary, but they’re a bit shaky on the grammar.
  3. Make lesson plans for my English class (far easier, thankfully)
  4. Send in the student card application (as soon as I find my passport photo)
  5. Finish plotting The Revenge (working title) – the basics are fleshed out, but I need the hows and whys
  6. Finish the mandatory assignment
  7. Clean the apartment somewhat
  8. Revise some chapters

…Yeah, I don’t think I’ll manage to finish it all… BUT I can try. Number 1, 2, 3 and 6 are the most important, the rest aren’t that critical.

Weekend writer, a.k.a when life gets in the way

I am in general a very optimistic person. In fact, I could probably benefit from being a little less optimistic, or start pairing it with a little trait called “realism” or “common sense”. For example, while a minute seems a great deal longer when you’re at the dentist than when you’re doing something fun, it’s actually the same length and willpower alone cannot make it longer. It should not come as a surprise – it probably doesn’t, either, to most sensible adults – but the rational, logical side of me is frequently out of sync with the rest of me.

For example, not too long ago I thought it would be just fine to work my regular job, a new teaching job for which I am neither trained nor experienced (meaning that I will have to spend quite a lot of time planning and preparing) but which I absolutely love, do some translation work here and there, study business economics (part time, but still), go to dance class twice per week, be an instructor at said dance class once per week, travel abroad to dance competitions, learn what I thought would be four languages at the start of this sentence but quickly realised was six (shows how much I’ve thought this through…), do the occasional gig at Fiverr, train for my half marathon which is in less than two weeks, do strength training, practice drawing, piano playing and singing, blogging, read 50 books during the year, finish the conworld and conlangs for my stories (right…) AND somehow get the time to finish Rogue Sorcery and do NaNoWriMo on top of that. Somewhere in there I also need to squeeze in time to meet friends and to relax and do nothing once in a while. Let’s not forget my rather ambitious goals for NaNoWriMo either…

Yeah… No.

Realistically speaking I know that the teaching job will get easier and less exhausting once I have more experience. I’ve also decided to skip dance competitions this year – I just don’t have money for it, though that didn’t stop me last year (look! Even I can be responsible!) I don’t think I’ll be mentally able to remove my Goodreads reading goal, but I think I’ll have to realise that reading mostly has to be done on the bus or during holidays from now on. As for blogging, drawing, singing and such, I’ll have to take care not letting it slide into “things I have to do”-territory. They should be fun and relaxing things. Language learning is mostly how I pass the time when taking the bus in the mornings, so that’s not really a problem as long as I don’t overdo it (famous last words right there).

But the rest? Dance class cannot really be sacrificed, and I absolutely need to make room for exercising once or twice per week in addition to that, at the very least. Lack of exercise does funny things to my brain and mood. And when I say funny things, I really mean that it drops me right on the doorstep of depression, and the doorbell has rung. It might not sound like a big deal for those of you who haven’t had depression, but let me assure you this: it is. I occasionally have full-blown panic attacks when I feel like I’m on a slippery slope down there again. I think – since I had no drive to do anything at all when it was going on – that is also why I constantly do so many things, even though I really need to find the right balance.

However I intend to find the right balance, I have big goals for my writing this year, and they will not be sacrificed. On the 12th of December I will hand my manuscript to Cicilie, and it will be a complete second draft. I don’t mean that it should be perfect, it probably won’t, but the entire story including plot changes should be written out in full and there should be no “figure this out in the next draft” notes. That means I have the following goals:

  1. Actually make the place names and character names.
  2. Figure out what you need to know about the places and the government/nature/customs, and get it done.
  3. Finish writing the second draft.

Note that there is no “complete the worldbuilding for the rest of the continent” goal on there, or “finish making Ancient Elvish and all its daughter languages” either. Notice that, self?

But as to how to get time to do this, I’m stumped. Can you actually get a first draft done in a reasonable amount of time with a timetable this full? Can you do it if you have only weekends (but usually not the entire weekend) or the odd evening here and there? How much time do you really need, and what do you do if you really need to do nothing one weekend? Then the entire week will be wasted, writing-wise, and that thought will definitely stress me out if it comes to that. Can I really devote much time to writing at weekdays when I have to study as well? If anyone has experience with this type of thing, any tips and input will be very welcome.

Mondays and Thursdays are completely out, due to work and dance classes. Tuesdays I might be able to squeeze in some writing/study time, though my main priority should be to get most of my lessons planned this day (so I don’t have to use Sundays for that). Wednesdays and Fridays I should be able to do an hour of writing and an hour of studying each day – I think that should be the goal anyway, unless there is something out of the ordinary. Saturdays Cicilie and I often meet up at Starbucks to write, so I expect to be able to write AND study quite a bit that day even if I have other plans as well. Sunday writing/study time depends on how much I got done on Tuesdays (i.e. how much lesson planning I’ll need to do), but probably quite a bit.

The main question is: Will this be enough? Of course it is very individual, but it IS a heavy subject that I’m studying, and I struggle with editing at the moment. On the other hand, will there be enough time for relaxing or doing my other hobbies? Will I be able to relax without feeling that I should spend that time writing or studying, or preparing lessons? That will be something I need to figure out as I go along, I think, but I think it’s important to keep in mind. Being able to do all these things for three or four weeks doesn’t matter if I hit the wall the week after. Getting back from that takes time – I speak from experience there… Don’t risk it.

Only time will tell, but I really hope that I can make this work. I am SO ready to finish editing and start sending my manuscript out to publishers!

 

 

Getting into the habit

I tend to become very enthusiastic when I first start a project. If I start a new language, I’ll do nothing else for a week or two, and then forget about it. Or if I start running or minding what I eat, I’ll be very diligent for a few weeks, before it all starts slipping. It isn’t because I don’t like those things – in fact some of them, like dancing and learning a new language or writing or painting and so on are some of my favourite things in the whole world.

One of my biggest problem with both writing and exercise alike is lack of consistency. Whether my goals are too big or too small – they’re rarely in between – I either stress myself out or lose interest, or both. My competitive side needs a bit of a challenge to bother with something, but at the same time, it causes me to easily burn out. If you instinctively make everything a challenge, when will you rest? How will you be able to limit yourself so that you can keep up the habit over time? How will you be able to make the transition from “new and exciting thing I love to do” to “habit that I simply do, just because”?

A year ago I looked for an app or a website that wasn’t just to do-lists in fancy formats – those really stress me out – but which approached it in a format more similar to a game. I like games. I like doing things in order to be able to level up or have other types of rewards. Unfortunately I didn’t find any, and ended up making my own set of tasks and rewards in Word. However, if you have real rewards with real money, and are really broke at the same time… it doesn’t work out well.

It turns out that I looked too soon. Only weeks after I searched, a new website launched, called HabitRPG. It does what it says – it works like an RPG, where you do tasks and are rewarded. You can get in-game stuff, such as weaponry for your avatar (which has an influence on the game), and you can level up. The neat thing is that the more often you are able to do something, the less gold you get for it. But you also take less damage if you fail to do it, since you are already into the habit. If you fail too many tasks for too long, you die (which basically amounts to losing all your gold and inventory and dropping down some levels).

HabitRPG

My HabitRPG profile.

 

Above you see a screenshot of my task view. The leftmost column are the habit column. These are tasks that you typically do once per day. They can be positive – meaning that you only click on them when you accomplish one of them – or negative, in which case you only click if you fail do to it, or both. As you can see I have a fairly good grip of them, which is not quite true since I redid my setup and most of them are brand new. I do have a lot of the habit tasks, particularly small things. There are a lot of exercise or dance-related tasks, such as 10 squats, 10 calf raises and so on, but also updating one of my blogs, drawing something, expand my worldbuilding, make words for my conlangs, study Korean or German and so on. Very neat!

The next column is the dailies. The dailies are tasks that can be scheduled, either every day or on set days of the week. As you can see a lot of them are greyed out: These are either done for the day, so I don’t need to do them, or they are scheduled for another day. As you can see there are some things I struggle more with than others, such as cleaning my apartment or limiting my carbs (I’m not a low carb fanatic, but I do notice a difference).

The next one is the to-do tasks. These typically occur once, and are things that you can schedule pretty far in advance, either with or without a due date. I have been horrendous at these. I did finish a lot of them yesterday, but those that are left are reading-related tasks, and I’ve been in a massive reading slump lately. I’m planning to fix it soon.

The last column is the best one – the rewards. Not much to say about those. And on top you can see my health (I took some hits today) and my points – not long until I level up now! There is also my fantastic avatar, which should be accompanied by a white wolf, but it seems to have disappeared. Red hair is in place and all.

As you can see there aren’t any specific “write so-and-so much” or “run at least this often” tasks in my view. I’ve realised that those stress me out more than I like, and so I have done it a little differently. I don’t usually need to be nagged in order to exercise if I’ve done the rest of it right. Often if I just get started on the small exercise goals I want to do some real exercise before long – and if not, well, I’ve done something. These are things that I can do even on days when there’s no time or weather for running.

As for writing I have one task over in “habits” that simply says “write something”. It can be two words, or two thousand, but something. I can also edit. With the amount of other things I’ve had to do since I began using it I haven’t been able to check that off yet, but I used it a fair bit (to great success) during NaNoWriMo. During November I had two daily writing goals, each with their own word count goal. Coupled with the stats at the NaNoWriMo site as well as a more customized spreadsheet of my own, I had all the motivation I needed.

Why one writing goal and so many exercise goals? Well, partially because it’s so much easier getting exercise done if I can see all the little exercises instead of just “10 minutes of strength” or something. I can do 10 calf raises while brushing my teeth, 10 squats before I start showering in the morning, 10 push-ups before leaving for work… and I won’t be able to cheat. With writing it’s not that easy. I cannot always do the same, because it depends on where I am in the story, whether I edit or write that day, or if I’m too tired to squeeze something sensible out of my brain. On those days I need to be able to check off something, even if it’s just a tiny little thing, and I cannot commit to more than that. It is also because, as one with a chronic illness or two, my health vastly improves if I exercise, even a little bit, and so it is more important to get done.

Have you tried HabitRPG, and does it work for you?

Note: This post is cross-posted with my exercise blog Lightning Feet.

Overachieving without overachieving too much

This year’s NaNoWriMo has proven to be quite the balancing act. There’s been the usual two-day meeting at work that always happens the first few days of November, and there’s a big dance competition coming up next week that will take away four full writing days, plus anywhere between 4-10 hours of dance practice every week. Plus my regular work, meetings in my writing group, translations for my brother’s company, occasionally meeting my friends… and somehow in the middle of it all I’ve decided to write 200k (dream goal 250k).

I know I should probably reduce the goal a little to ease the load, particularly since I’m lagging quite a bit behind now, but… I really don’t want to. Yes, I am behind, and yes, I’m rather tired now, but the first half of the month was the most hectic part. I also really struggled with my novel, which I finished a few days ago and replaced with a significantly more fun one. Besides, I’ll have the entire last week of November off.

We’ll see how it goes. I’m not giving up on the 200k, though – I only need to write a little less than 7300 words per day, and unless something comes up I’m going to write more than that during the last week.

As I mentioned, I struggled with my first story. Those 50k were a chore – the story just would not come out right, and I’m neither used to writing urban fantasy nor 1st person POV, and it took me 80% of the book to discover the plot.

My current story is in a more familiar setting, while being new and fresh (I haven’t written about any of the characters involved before). I’ve only written 11k so far, but I like most of the 11k, and I enjoy writing both the characters, plot and setting. Sure, there are problems, but none that cannot be fixed in the edit. The story has princes, moody kings, war, trickery, dark secrets, mystery, a little bit of romance and quite possibly dragons. The latter weren’t in the original outline (lots of things weren’t, since it’s old and very brief), but something’s got to be in those massive mountains, after all. I think it’s fair to say that while I LOVE to read urban fantasy, writing epic fantasy is more my thing. Epic, sarcastic and dark-but-optimistic fantasy.