This week

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.

Also, if you are even a slight fan of Jane Austen, or like improv comedy, you will love this 30min comedy special by BBC Radio4: http://www.bbc.co.uk/programmes/b08tvyw0

Latest flea market finds: two tins, one a WWII US Army First Aid Packet copper tin, and the other a British made Dunlop “Midget Repair Outfit” bicycle repair tin.

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This week

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

Improving my sleep

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).

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This is what I aspire to — I’ve never seen anyone enjoy their sleep like a cat does.

Improving my sleep

Tracking your golden writing hours

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.

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Tracking your golden writing hours

NaNoWriMo

NaNoWriMo, or National Novel Writing Month, begins in November, which means my twitter feed is starting to get choked with related writing-tool-and-advice links. From style guides to plot models that show you exactly how you can write the next Harry Potter book, it seems that you need to become the next Harper Lee is a word counting app or calendar printout, a laptop, and a coffee shop. Take a little step back from all the genuine enthusiasm for writing, and you will see a horde of retailers taking advantage of the event to sell you just the right pen, notebook or laptop bag that will make you a successful author.

So before you click on that can’t be missed writing tips link or head for checkout, a few things you might want to think about:

 Tools do count. I know the joy of notebooks nice enough to make you want to use them, but not too nice to make you afraid to use. But remember that tools are only there to facilitate writing — there is no pen or writing app that will do the actual writing for you. Buying stuff will always be easier and more fun than sitting your ass at a table and getting the actual writing done. Writing is and always will be challenging, to everyone.

NaNoWriMo is probably setting you up to fail. 50,000 words in 30 days is more than even professional writers can deal with, and they do it full time and with years of experience. Writing 1,667 words a day, every single days is a herculean task, a feat of writing bravado that will probably result in something far, far, far from publishable, even if complete in time, and yes, even as a draft. Writing requires time stewing with yourself, your plot and your characters. There are no shortcuts, and steaming through the process is a bit like trying to see Rome, Paris and London in 3 days. It may be possible, but you are so busy rushing that you miss a lot.

Word count is just a metric for writing progress — sometimes it goes up, sometimes it goes down. Putting an emphasis on it rather than on your plot, setting or characters is like planning your family vacation for the sole purpose of maxing out your flight miles.

So here is my bit of NaNoWriMo advice: use the enthusiasm and sense of community around NaNoWriMo to get writing, but take a step back from the mayhem for the sake of your story and your peace of mind.

NaNoWriMo

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

On Learning to Touch Type

For the past two weeks I have been taking the time every day to learn to touch type.

I type a decent 36 words per minute today (sans touch typing), and I rarely look at the keyboard as is. So why make the effort to learn to touch type. If it ain’t broke don’t fix it, right?

One thing was Clive Thompson’s talk on the importance of learning to type fast. I thought that I was a pretty decent typer until I took a typing speed test (here), and discovered that I was merely average. For someone who writes and spends most of my day working on my computer, “average” typing speed is just not good enough. I wanted to stop pausing my writing to scan my keyboard for the right key, and I wanted to stop having to go back and fix typing errors all the time.

The other thing was that my pride was a little hurt by the results of that test. If teenagers can learn to touch type in eight weeks (again, see Thompson’s video), then so can I. I had tried to learn to touch type in the past, but like many of my friends and colleagues I had quickly been discouraged.

So I searched online for a bit, and I found a few very useful, free resources that can help you learn to touch type:

Typing Club – this is the main site that I use. It is excellent, as it teaches you touch typing in small, manageable increments (I am now in lesson 22 for those interested).

Typing Study – another useful site that teaches touch typing in much larger chunks than Typing Club. It also has a speed test and games that help you practice your touch typing. I use it for extra drills, on top of what Typing Club provides.

Type Racer – a very popular touch typing racing game that helps you improve your typing speed.

Keybr.com – another popular touch typing teaching game. Gives you words with blanks in them and sets of keys to learn to touch type. Doesn’t teach by the conventional “home row first, then top row, the bottom row” method.

Typer Shark – here for nostalgia reasons only. A lot of people learned (or tried to learn) to touch type during this childhood using this game. It’s still here if you want to use it.

Typing speed test – another typing speed test site, one that doesn’t use capital letters and punctuation (I got 47 words with it, but it felt like cheating).

Typing tips on Reddit /r/MK wiki – a nice collection of useful typing tools and resources.

/r/BlurredFingers on reddit – a sub reddit devoted to fast typing.

What was really a revelation for me was that once you stick to it for a while, and practice, practice, practice, you notice that it isn’t that you are remembering where each key is, but rather that you are developing muscle memory to where every key is. It takes a few days of persisting, but once it starts happening it is quite stunning. Your mind is clearly no longer spending valuable “processor time” remembering where each key is, and you are free to focus on your writing and your writing only.

This post was touch typed, and took me a little longer to write at the moment, but was a valuable learning experience. We invest time, money and effort in things like finding the perfect notebook, pen or pencil, but hardly enough time in developing skills that are useful for the modern writer.

On Learning to Touch Type