how i found time to post this blog

Usually I hate it when someone gives time management advice, or evangelises about a time management system. Most of the ones I've come across aren't flexible enough to adapt to different work situations, involve spending as much time managing the thing as they do using it, and don't scale well.

I do even worse with the common suggestions for writing routines. Keeping a word count minimum and/or writing first thing in the morning have the opposite effect: I get so wound up about meeting the goals that I don't write at all. Deadlines can help — I've sucessfully completed NaNoWriMo more than once — but all this stuff about "goals" and "milestones" leaves me clammy.

Sure as I started out this blog post with the above paragraphs, I think I've found a method that works, at least for me. It's called the Pomodoro Technique, and it's been around for twenty years. But it's new to me, and it seems to be new to the people I've been evangelising to telling about it.

Instead of worrying about your word count, or letting the whole whatever-it-is at hand loom over you, you just concentrate on working steadily on one task, for twenty-five minutes straight, without interruption. When the twenty-five minutes are up, you take a five-minute break to do other things. Then you start the timer for twenty-five minutes again. Each twenty-five minute work period plus five-minute break is called a Pomodoro. The details of how to apply the technique are available for free from the Pomodoro web site.

Note: I have no idea how good or bad the stuff they're selling on the site is. My enthusiasm is strictly for the free book you can download. I also found a free timer for my cell phone that was made to manage Pomodoros. Apparently there are several out there for both phones and computers, although the book just recommends a regular kitchen timer.

What I like is that the technique gets rid of all the anxiety that was making me freeze up. I wrote five nights out of seven last week, and got 4,631 words completed — 369 short of the 1,000 words a day x 5 days a week I was aiming for previously (and failing miserably to obtain). I only wrote one Pomodoro per day, averaging 840 words per session. At two Pomodoros per day, someone could comfortably win NaNoWriMo writing at that rate.

Every technique has its pros and cons, of course. But if your current routine isn't working for you, Pomodoros are definitely worth trying.

writing goals vs. writing normally

I still have it in the sidebar: the 1,000 words a day tag that Debbie Ridpath Ohi over at Inkygirl made. I also have a spreadsheet showing that it doesn't actually work that way in The Eyrea. By now the data is pretty conclusive.

Don't get me wrong — I am writing. Progress is never what I want it to be, because what I want it to be is a full-time job, and that's not happening in the forseeable future. But there's also a perception factor that bothers me. It's taken a long time to come up to the surface, but here it is.

I went through a long period of time where writing was normal in my head, but I was literally afraid to write anything down because it would be deliberately interrupted ("you're doing that and there's dirty dishes in the sink. Shows how much you care about our health"), or read when it was barely beyond note-taking ("what do you mean 'first draft'? fiction is meant to be shared, and you left the notebook on top of your desk"), or diminished (the word I hate more than any other in the English language is "hobby." There's a reason for that.).

It doesn't actually matter if I make 1,000 words a day or not. I have to write something, because if I don't I'm not going to move ahead with the story (and, worse, wind up being that most despicable of beings, the poser). But what matters, what really, really matters, is whether or not writing is normal. It's a symptoms-versus-disease thing.

If writing isn't normal, it will take a larger-than-should-be-necessary amount of willpower to sit down and write. The writing will be more exhausting, more frustrating, and more of a chore than it needs to be. Writing is always work, but if what it takes to make it worthwhile is another entry on a spreadsheet, there's problems.

If writing isn't normal, all the stories will be stillborns. They will suck and while a certain amount of editing will prettify the ones that came closest to term so that they can at least be presented for critique, they will never get to be grown-ups loved by strangers to the parent. They will always be potentials buried in shoeboxes, long before they had a chance to bloom and make their own way in the world.

But:

If writing is normal, then 1,000 words isn't a marathon, but a pacing marker so that the writer doesn't blow their wad too soon.

If writing is normal, then the text's growth rate is regular and steady.

If writing is normal, then you don't need a badge on your blog to make it that way.

When I started this post, I wasn't planning on taking down the badge (I may still check in to Ohi's roll calls from time to time). I think it will be gone by the time this post gets published, though.

The Eyrea, both this visible blog-space and the private virtual and physical spaces behind it, is a place where writing is normal. Anything that contrives past that will wind up being a hindrance, not a help.

The future was in the past

Looks like I'm finally getting over being ill from some things infecting the inside of my head, other things causing emergency room visits, and other things yet requiring more images of my guts... don't worry, that's as much as I'm going to whine about it — at least until the next ultrasound three to five weeks from now. It's just annoying because my health has actually been improving for almost ten years now. It's really messed up the nice writing schedule I had all set up for myself, which means as soon as I'm done this post I'm going to re-calculate the spreadsheet and see how much I have to push out my personal deadline (doing a better job of adding in slack this time) to make this reasonable. I still need to leave time to get the Interim Project done before the next NaNoWriMo, which thankfully I have not one but two (two!) sketched-out ideas for.


Other news:
Odd sights are all around these days — check out this angel doll I found on the sidewalk when I was walking home from the movie theatre this afternoon. It was just lying there on the sidewalk, just as I photographed it, and had been around long enough to get a bit dirty (although not rained on, from the looks of it, and we just had a rain yesterday morning). Judging from the plastic base (not in the photo), it looks like it was part of some shop's window display. You think they could have at least given it a proper send-off in a garbage bag.

Last thing: Blogger now lets you post-date blogs. I wrote a quick one to try out the feature for later this week. Finally, a way for those of us who like to blog regularly but also want to get other things done to get more organised.

Back in the saddle

Last November, after three years of trying to get in the game, I participated and successfully completed my first NaNoWriMo. I admit I cheated a little — you're supposed to start a brand new novel on 1 November, and I continued work on one I had about 7,000 words done already. However, I really did finish just over 50,000 words during the month, bringing my total up to around 57,000 words.

Since then, things have been not so happening on the novel front. I've been getting short stories done regularly, and submitting, and I started these blogs, and, and, and... somehow, whenever novel-writing is involved, listing all the other accomplishments you've made, even within the same craft, just don't matter. You could have ended world hunger, created real and lasting global peace, and found a safe and inexpensive way to reverse global warming, but you know what? Your novel is still on the same chapter it was three months ago, and it's all your fault.

During my morning commute, it's too awkward to write on anything bigger than a paper notebook or my Nokia tablet (hence all the short story-writing that's getting done), but it gives me a chance to think, and what I've been thinking is that if I give myself a NaNoWriMo-style word count and deadline, I will probably be further ahead than if I just keep trying to wing it. One thing about the day job: it makes me very comfortable with project-driven work and with deadlines. Weirdly, in the past six months my most effective writing tool has been a spreadsheet.

I've decided to give myself until 30 June to get the second half of the novel done. I'm at 58,000 words or so, and I figure the first draft will come in around 120,000. That means an average of just under 1,000 words per day to keep on track. Heck, at the end of NaNoWriMo, I could run that off in an hour. I've known approximately what's going to happen for ages; I just need to bloody write it down.

1,000 words a day on average should be pretty good. It's less than NaNoWriMo, but I know that there will be other things happening (like my brother's wedding in June), so I'm bound to miss a few days and need to catch up.

There. I've told the world.

Stay tuned and watch the footer of this blog if you want to see how it goes.