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.

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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

Staring at the blank page…

Starting to write is like starting to run. Your brain starts playing tricks on you from step one. 

“I’m too tired to run”.

“It’s too hot today — it’s dangerous to run outside”.

“My feet hurt, my head hurts, my throat hurts — let’s not go out today”.

“10k? That’s too much. Let’s run less. You can’t possibly do it”.

Sound familiar?

I sat down to write yesterday, and it was difficult, very difficult to start. My mind started wandering, suggesting that I read my twitter feed, or the NYT, or do anything, just anything but write. It’s like that almost every time I sit down and write, and the only way I found to overcome it is to map out reasonable daily goals and force myself to start anyway. Usually when I start writing I can push myself well enough to the finish, sometimes even a bit farther. The same thing happens when I run — the first 2-3k are a pain, but then I get into the rhythm, and start enjoying myself. 

There’s never been a run that I’ve regretted.

There’s never been a writing session that I’ve regretted.

I just need to remember that when the tiny little coward in my brain decided to protest. 

Every. Single. Time.

Staring at the blank page…

Writing Links

Super busy week at work, which means that I’m doing more overtime than I planned. This translates to less writing time, I’m afraid, but it is still better than nothing. The first sufferer will have to be this blog, because my fiction writing takes precedence over almost everything else these days.

I have finished the basics of my touch typing course and am now simply touch typing, improving my speed, and making sure not to fall into old habits (such as typing with only a few fingers, or glancing every now and then to my keyboard). I have learned to dislike QWERTY, but I’m not yet certain that I want to start learning Colemak at this point.

Anyway, here are a few interesting and useful links that I have gathered over the week:

One Paragraph, Three Drafts – author Diane Chamberlain goes over her (re)writing process using a single paragraph. I find it interesting to watch authors go through their revision process, especially since so few of them are willing to reveal it.

Why Your Attention Span is a Great Excuse for Someone Else’s Failure – a fresh look on some recent eBook (not) reading trends statistics.

Henry Miller’s 11 Commandments of Writing and Daily Creative Routine – short, powerful, succinct words of advice from the author of Tropic of Cancer.

Stephen King on How to Be A Great Writer – this article is this week’s gem. 22 bits of advice from Stephen King on how to become a better writer.

Writing Links

Good days and bad days

I had a super productive day today.

I managed to write double my daily word quota (I wrote 1,067 words today), figure out a problem I had with one of my characters (what is his motivation in a certain scene), complete my basic touch typing training, run my Friday errands, and go for an actual run.

Earlier this week things weren’t so great. I was stuck with one of my characters (what is his motivation in a certain scene?), and I had a very demanding week at work, which translated to me really, really struggling to complete my word quota on Tuesday and Wednesday.

Some days are better, some days are worse — it all evens out in the long run. I just need to remember during the rough patches that I am are running a marathon, not a sprint, and I will be alright.

Good days and bad days

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

Podcasts for Writers

I stumbled upon a list of “8 Great Podcasts for Writers” today, and even though the title was clearly click bait, I read it.

Apart from the wonderful “Grammar Girl”, which I highly recommend, I found little on this list that spoke to me. Composed of mostly of podcasts of men talking about horror fiction, I felt decidedly fooled by the misleading article title. These were neither “great” podcasts, nor podcasts for writers.

So although I dislike list blog posts, I thought that I’d create an alternative list. I listen to several hours of podcasts a week, and all of these podcasts worth your time and attention, especially if you are a writer.

This American Life” – often dubbed the 800 pound gorilla of podcasting, this hour long weekly show is the one podcast you should listen to if you have time for only one podcast. This podcast will teach you more about storytelling in one hour than a dozen creative writing books can. If you are a writer, take time to notice the pacing, the choices the reporters make in selecting their recordings, and what the music in the background is doing. There is a lot of time, effort, talent and experience that goes into each and every episode of TAL and just by listening to it and paying attention you can learn a lot about what it means to be a superb storyteller. Also, Ira Glass.

Serial” – if you haven’t heard of the TAL spinoff with Sarah Koenig, you were probably spending the last year or so in a writer’s retreat in the Mohave desert. Imagine a podcast episode of “This American Life” expanded into a serial, and this is the podcast that you’ll get. The story is fascinating, but the way Sarah tells it is what is most worth noticing. She is the best “first person narrator” that you could meet, and listening to her struggle to understand the story she found herself a part of is highly illuminating. If you ever plan on writing a story with a first person narrator (reliable or not — you’ll hear in “Serial” that reality is not that clear cut), this podcast is a must.

99% Invisible” – another podcast that showcases great storytelling, 99% Invisible with Roman Mars is worth listening to for the way it creates mood and tone. Just listen to “There is a Light that Never Goes Out” or to “Three Records from Sundown” to get what I mean.

Here’s the Thing with Alec Baldwin” – Alec Baldwin has intelligent conversations with creators of all kinds — actors, authors, journalists, musicians and more. If you have a bit of spare time, delve into this podcast’s archive. You can learn a lot about creative people’s mindset, work process and failures from these candid and relaxed conversations. Baldwin’s conversation with journalist Gay Talese is a pretty good place to start from.

Podcasts for Writers

Writing Resource Thursday

This week has been pretty rough at work, so I missed two (!) writing days and one blogging day. Hopefully I’ll be able to make up for at least one day during this weekend.

While I play catchup with my word count, here are some intereting things to peruse:

Seth Godin wrote a blog post with 19 tips for authors that is unique, insightful, and thought provoking. If there’s one thing I am going to take from it it’s this piece of advice (number 2 in the list):

The best time to start promoting your book is three years before it comes out. Three years to build a reputation, build a permission asset, build a blog, build a following, build credibility and build the connections you’ll need later.

Why your characters are boring is an interesting (with a bit too many unnecessary pictures) post from Ben Schmitt on the importance of giving a character something they want or desire, and making sure that each scene expresses a movement towards fulfilling or attempting to fulfill that yearning.

For a scene to truly be a scene, each character in the scene has to want something. There has to be conflict, an obstacle inhibiting the character from getting what they want, and before the scene ends, one of the characters has to be different as a result of that scene.

Finally, another blog post from Ben Schmitt, this time on Now Novel, with 11 pretty solid tips on how to write even when you don’t want to. While I don’t agree with all of them (number 4 for instance. The best time to write is when you have time to write), the majority of them have worked for me in the past.

Have a great weekend, and keep on writing!

Writing Resource Thursday