The Ferris Wheel

Hair tie, Moleskine, Kuretake disposable pocket brush pen extra fine.

The Ferris Wheel

When things don’t go entirely as planned

Several things didn’t go as planned this week, as I had a few unforeseen schedule changes, a bit of bad luck with my running, and a pretty bad day at work near the end of the week. As a result, both my running and my writing suffered (I missed a writing day and my long run is going to be 6k instead of 10K).

So what do you do when things don’t go entirely as planned?

Get back on the horse — so you missed a day, or didn’t make your daily word count, so what? Projects that are worth doing don’t live and die on a day (looking at you NaNoWriMo), but on accumulated body of work done over several weeks, months and years. Do you know what is entirely unhelpful to achieving that work? Getting so caught up in you missing a day that you decide to give up entirely. Get back on the horse, get back to fulfilling your daily goal today instead of fixating on what happened yesterday. .

Don’t go into a spiral of trying to make up for the lost work — that’s a great way to set yourself up to fail. If you set 500 words or a 5K run for today, you probably aren’t going to be able to do that and make up for the 500 words and 6K that you missed yesterday. So then you beat yourself up again, feel crummy, and set yourself up to fail by dragging more and more work with you from day to day until you give up. If you missed a day, then you missed a day. Move on.

Focus on what did happen — in my case, my reading this week sky-rocketted, and I spent more time with my family. That doesn’t make up for everything else, but it is something positive that I’m glad happened.

Partial work is better than no work — I ran a 0.5k this week, which sucked, but was better than nothing. There were also days when I wrote only 20 or 30 words. That’s not great, but its better than nothing, and every little thing can keep the habit going.

Check what went wrong and when, and see if you can learn from it for the future — were you too ambitious? Do you need to rework your plan to account for something that you couldn’t foresee when you first built it? Don’t make excuses, but do be honest and make some changes if necessary.

Leave enough ‘breathing room’ in your schedule for these kind of off days — this was my biggest mistake, and the one is going to be hardest to fix, long term. My running schedule can (still) suffer a few delays, but I’m prepping for a race in the fall, and I can’t really afford to leave things like my long run for the evening of the last day in the week. Earlier is better, and making sure that your goals are achievable even if you aren’t at peak performance is important — especially for endurance sports like running and novel writing.

Some beautiful dahlias to make up for the slightly depressing topic.

Now if you’ll excuse me, I’m going out for a run.

When things don’t go entirely as planned

Biweekly Routine

Routines and rituals are important, and one of the signs of a craftsperson is their care for the tools they use. This is true for any kind of maker, whether your craft is storytelling or leatherwork. Every two weeks I try to go through this routine, to make sure that the things that I use when I write are there and in order when I sit down to do my writing.

Clean keyboard


Some computer keyboards harbour more harmful bacteria than a toilet seat, research has suggested. 

A BBC News report published the findings of a consumer group Which? on keyboard hygiene, and not surprisingly they were shocking.

Since your keyboard is one of your main, if not your main writing tool, taking 10-15 minutes every two weeks to clean it doesn’t seem excessive, yet few writers do so.

Here are the keyboard cleaning guides that I use:

PC World: How to Clean Your Keyboard – simple, informative, easy to follow advice on how to clean your keyboard.

Rispter Guide: Cleaning Keyboards – funny, and with plenty of pictures. Also, much more thorough than the PC world guide, and geared towards mechanical keyboard maintenance.

Check backups

You can read up here on how to backup your work. Once every two weeks go over your backups and check to see that everything is where you expect it to be.

Organize notes

Take a few minutes once every two weeks to go over your notes, file or throw away those that aren’t relevant anymore and make sure that you don’t have any loose notes scribbled on envelopes or post-it notes around the house.

Organize file names

If you for some reason work with Word and not with Scrivener (why?), and keep several versions of your work in different files, take a moment to make sure that your file names haven’t gotten out of hand, and you still know where everything is and what everything is. File names “My novel – old new new version 2” — I’m looking at you.

Check notebooks, pencils, pens

Check your notebooks, pencils, pens (fountain pens or not), to see what needs to be refilled soon, reinforced or replaced.

Update Scrivener project metadata

Take some time to fill in character names and short descriptions, places information, references etc. in your Scrivener project’s Characters, Places or Research folders. This information is important to keep on hand for long projects, and is especially useful to keep bundled together with your writing — mainly for search purposes (“where did I reference X character?”).

Biweekly Routine

“Type as quickly as you can, and always carry a pencil”

Clive Thompson in a fascinating, short (~10 min) talk about the benefits of writing with pencil  and typing, and when it’s best to use one or the other.

I used to write all my drafts longhand. Now I just quick draft, outline and try out things (i.e. “big thinking”) with a fountain pen or pencil, and type out my actual draft on my computer (using a “clicky” keyboard, which I highly recommend).

“Type as quickly as you can, and always carry a pencil”

Ira Glass on Storytelling

Speaking of podcasts, Ira Glass, the talented host/reporter/producer/storyteller of This American Life, did an interview a while back on storytelling.

He talks about the basics of storytelling, what makes a good story a good story, and how you can ruin a good story with bad telling. He also expounds on how he got started in radio storytelling, what are some of the challenges a beginner has to overcome, how to get better at storytelling, how to find your voice, and how to cut yourself some slack when you are starting out.

Well worth your time, the interview can be found here:

An audio only version can be found here:

Ira Glass on Storytelling, Radio and Politics (part 1)

Ira Glass On Anxiety, Fame, and the Early Days of This American Life (part 2)

Ira Glass on Storytelling

Fat and Lazy

A little while back I saw this vlog entry by Casey Neistat:

Now Casey has a great, great vlog, and I highly recommend it, if you’ve got some free time (i.e. Not time you should be spending writing). He oftentimes gives inspirational bits about the importance of working harder on the things that you care about, and about how you can do a whole lot with very little if you only have the courage to create.

In this video he maps out his day, and basically urges his viewers not to become fat and lazy. The videography is great, as usual, and the piece is very inspiring. Do the work, push yourself to the limit every day, cut down on your leisure time, invest time and effort in what is important to you. All of these things have been said before, but Casey puts them in a wonderfully vivid and fresh way.

But as someone who is working very hard everyday for a good while now not to be “fat and lazy,” I have a few issues with it.

Casey does have leisure time, and so should you. Unlike what he says in this video, if you’ve ever watched one of his vlog entries you know that he does have leisure time — he just doesn’t count it as leisure (go ahead and watch a few entries if you don’t believe me). Yes, you should cut down the time you spend on video games, TV, social networks, etc. No, you should not cut them down to zero. I recently talked to a friend of mine who used to love playing the piano and taking landscape photographs. His life is now all work and family, with barely enough time for friends, let alone his hobbies. “Don’t you miss them?” I asked. “Of course I do,” he answered wistfully, “but I don’t have time for them in my life anymore”. Don’t do that to yourself. Leave some time for yourself, to recharge and have fun.

If Casey slept four hours a day regularly, he’d probably be dead. We need a minimum of six hours of sleep to, you know, live, and we could all use more sleep than we allow ourselves. We live in incredibly sleep deprived times, and we all need to work hard to get more and better sleep, not less. This is your short and long term health we are talking about here. Don’t cut corners (or sleep hours) on this one.

So yes, work harder. But no, don’t kill yourself doing it.

Fat and Lazy