After reading the great “How to Be Miserable” I decided to start keeping a “three good things” journal at my bedside and write in it every night, right before I go to bed.
The idea is to write three good things that happened to you today, and if possible attribute them. It breaks off the habit of always remembering the bad, upsetting or embarrassing parts of your day, and I also found that it helps me (together with regular journaling) clear my mind and fall asleep sooner.
The good things don’t have to be large, sometimes they’re just a nice meal that I shared with someone, or something good that I read or watched, or just a friendly exchange with a friend or someone at work. The thing is, once you start doing it you:
Realize that even in the shittiest of days there is something good to remember.
Train your brain to look for those things throughout the day, so that you can have something to write down at night.
I’ve been using the Field Notes Resolution weekly planner for that, but you might want to use something larger. I just chose the Resolution because it gave me a reason to use the notebook, and it’s small enough that I’m sure that I will have something to write in it every day.
My to do list today is 45 items long. It’s 10AM and I still have 33 items to go.
I’ve been using the Forest app for the past week to cut down on my phone time, and especially my twitter time. It’s a fun take on the Pomodoro technique that basically lets you set a timer to plan trees in your forest. The tree grows when you finish your timer without touching your phone (you can have the phone play music or a podcast while your tree is growing, you just can’t fiddle with your phone). You can also accept calls while the tree is growing, but you can’t make calls/text/check apps etc. It’s a good gamification of the Pomodoro technique, and a beautiful app.
I’ve finished rewriting chapter 2 and am back to rewriting large swaths of chapter 7. Forcing myself to cut ruthlessly cut things down.
I haven’t written pretty much anything (beyond daily journaling) for almost a month and a half. Some of it was traveling — I spent most of November abroad — some of it was just loss of momentum.
Today for the first time in a long while I just sat down and wrote. I started working on a new short story, part of what I hope will be a collection of short stories, and the words just flowed. 646 of them. The story is far from finished, but I have a good foundation for it. And then I sat down and finished rewriting my novel’s second chapter.
Now, I’ve been dragging my feet with this chapter from the moment I realized that I would have to rewrite it after I had seemingly finished editing it. It’s depressing to have to go back and scrap so much of what you have already written, and I was letting that feeling get in the way of my overall progress.
The good news is that I seem to have come up with at least one strategy to get over my editing and rewriting slump and that is to write something fresh. Once I start writing, it’s much easier to get myself editing, and I’m more motivated to push through to the end.
So even though I need to focus on finishing one work, and not jump from one piece to the next, it is sometimes useful to take a break and indulge in working on a new idea, if only to stop languishing on an old one.
Writing: Working on the outline of my next novel, and planning the second draft of my first one. Tough work, but there is progress, and progress is what I’m looking for.
Reading: Finished the delightful second Vinyl Detective instalment, “The Vinyl Detective — The Run-Out Groove“, by Andrew Cartmel. Enjoyed it very much, and can recommend it if you’re looking for an intelligent pick-me-up. On the verge of finishing “The Night Watch,” by Sergei Lukyanenko. A very Russian, darker but not dark-for-dark’s sake urban fantasy that is well written and sophisticated. Nothing like the childish dark urban fantasy novels that I’ve read lately.
Running: Got back on track this week. Getting myself used to progressively longer runs, and finding out that they aren’t so bad after all.
Drawing: except for a few quick doodles, nothing this week. I’ll try to get a quick watercolour in this weekend.
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.
In the past few months I noticed that I’ve been sleeping less and less at night, and it’s been affecting my health, writing and work. So I’ve decide to take a look at my sleeping habits and see what I can improve.
After just a few days of taking a better look at my life, it was clear that I had three bad habits to break if I wanted to get better sleep:
Stop watching TV or YouTube videos until late at night. I never mean to do this, but one thing leads to another and it’s easy to veg out in front of the TV. I dealt with this by cutting my evening TV viewing completely. As for YouTube — that was taken care of when I dealt with my third bad habit.
Not reading in bed. I thought this helped me fall asleep, but the only thing it helped was my reading goals. Sleep > reading, so this had to go.
Not taking my phone to bed. This has been the hardest, and so I’ve had to make myself a 30 day challenge plan, just to make sure that I create the habit of not taking my phone to the bedroom. It has paid off though, since this was the number one reason for me getting so little sleep at night.
So far I’ve been sticking to my plan for ten days now, and it’s been working pretty well (though it has been a challenge to keep at it at first).
This is what I aspire to — I’ve never seen anyone enjoy their sleep like a cat does.
As I’ve built myself a writing plan, I’ve also started tracking my best writing hours. These are the times of day when I find writing easier and more enjoyable. My goal is to make sure, as much as possible, that my best writing hours as spent doing exactly that — writing.
The problem is that tracking is a drag. Luckily, I don’t need to track my writing time down to the minute or even precisely to the hour. Just knowing that mornings are my best writing times, that I can get some writing done in the afternoon, and that I’m practically useless late in the evening, or after a run, or after a full day of meetings at work is enough. It made me get up earlier in the past few days and try to get as much writing as possible done before I go to work.
When you log your word count for the day, take a minute to also note when you wrote most of those words down, and after a week or to you should have a better idea when your golden writing hours are. Then it’s just a question of protecting them as much as you can.