Category Archives: goals

Reflections and resolutions and the requisite splatter of blood

You all know I don’t make resolutions at the New Year. I’ve said it more than once over here, and explained why. Mostly because it seems like an artificial point in time but also because this time of year has historically been so stressful (for me) that resolutions would tend to be along the lines of “burn it all down.”

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But this year . . . this year feels different. I feel different, more resolute. Actually, in going back to re-read a few older posts, I see that last year at this time felt different as well. I resolved then that 2016 was going to be the year of me being selfish and saying “no” and focusing on what I wanted to do, which was write fiction.

To a great extent, that’s what I did. I made significantly more progress in 2016 than the year before — just shy of 100,000 words, a vast improvement — but not as much as I had hoped.

This past year has been really tough for a lot of us, myself included. It has gotten to the point where things that I’d normally take in stride have felt devastating. Things that would normally not feel personal have piled on top of troubles that are very personal and their combined weight has been overwhelming. It’s been an accumulation of tragedy. Following waves of communal grief. Shared anger and frustration and a feeling of helplessness. It has all added up this year and become a relentless self-perpetuating cycle of trauma.

That’s not healthy.

There are so many awful things I can’t do anything about, I’ve lost sight of what I can influence and achieve. But I do think recognizing a problem is a necessary first step in doing something about it. So, there’s that.

*   *   *

I’ve been re-reading portions of my novella, A PLACE TO START — looking at some details for the sake of continuity in the second book — and came across this scene toward the end where Mac (our hero, for those who haven’t read it) (why haven’t you read it?) and Charlie (a wise old mountain man) are having a little heart-to-heart. I skimmed it, as it wasn’t the scene I was looking for, and then stopped and read it again. And again.

Why? Well, see for yourself:

“Life is chock full of pain and death. You can spend all your days anticipatin’ it and, by God, you won’t be disappointed.”

“I don’t spend time anticipating it.”

“Sure you do. That’s all you been doin’ these past three years. Waitin’ for someone else to die. Ain’t no way for a young man to live.”

Mac couldn’t even remember the last time he’d felt young. “We all grieve in different ways.”

“That’s the truth. But after a time, it’s just purely selfish. It ain’t helpin’ those done gone and it sure ain’t good for the people still here. Wallowing, is what it is.”

Mac couldn’t argue with that, but still. “Harsh words.”

“Truth often is.” He spat again. “Fact is, you got a choice, the way you look at things. And you been focused for so long on those moments of pain, waitin’ on the next one, you done lost sight of the happiness and peace in between ’em.”

“Aye. Haven’t seen much of either, lately.” Except with Jo.

“That’s ’cause you ain’t been looking, son. There are whole long stretches of it, between the pain, days and weeks and even years of it. There’s love mixed up in there too, if you ain’t too dense to see it.”

You know, sometimes I read a thing I wrote and can’t quite believe I wrote it. It’s as if past me was giving advice to future me, like I knew I’d need to hear those words someday.

So, that’s one of my resolutions for 2017. Change the way I look at things, try to focus on the positive and happy and peaceful in between the inevitable moments of pain and grief.

While I can’t change certain things, I can limit my exposure. I’ve been doing that already, to a degree, since November. I can certainly set a timer before I look at twitter or facebook or news sites. I can unsubscribe from RSS feeds that I tend not to read anyway and get rid of some clutter. I can mute a good deal of the negativity and anger, and try not to engage in it myself. Maybe. Probably.

In the week since Christmas, I’ve resumed my focus on good eating habits and cut back on consumption of adult beverages and chocolate which, to be honest, had increased a wee bit since November. *sigh* I can’t avoid the fact that my work involves sitting in one place for hours each day, but I can set reminders to get up and move more often. Release some endorphins. Or, failing that, a kraken or two.

I can’t control when people send me text messages and emails, but I can control when I read and reply. In fact, yesterday I spent hours getting rid of hundreds of old unread emails from various group feeds, admitting I’m never going to read them. Given the rapid changes in publishing, most of them were obsolete anyway.

I definitely can’t control whether some idiot mouse decides to enter my house, as one did the night before last, nor can I stop The White Ninja from playing with it to the point of bloodshed. Again.

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Cats are barbarians.

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But I guess I can be glad all I have to do is clean up the mess and not chase the stupid doomed thing myself. Small mercies.

So, those all are positive and constructive things I can do to improve my mental and emotional state. It’s helpful as well to keep in mind that there were a lot of really good things that happened worldwide in 2016. If you need a refresher, take a look at this powerful listing in the twitter timeline of Commander Chris Hadfield, Canadian astronaut and all-around good guy (keep clicking “show more” at the end to see the entire list of 46 items):

Really, go read it. I’d missed hearing about several of them.

*   *   *

I’m also resolving to do something I hope will improve the consistency and volume of my writing output. No promises about what it’ll do to the quality.

The other day I was scrolling through twitter and saw a spreadsheet graphic someone had made where she’d not only tracked her writing, she’d blocked out time during the year for vacation and sick days and flex time and holidays– just like she would if she were working a “real” job. It was complex and colourful and highly organized. It was also a real eye-opener.

Yeah, I know, everyone says you need to treat writing like a “real” job. No surprise there. And I thought I had been doing that, until I saw that schedule and realized . . . I don’t have one. What an idiot.

Thing is, I know how to work hard. I know how to get stuff done. I know what it takes to meet deadlines. And I know I haven’t been doing it. Not the way I would if it were a “real” job with a real schedule.

How do I know? Because for the past two years I’ve been keeping track in my own complex, colourful, highly organized spreadsheet of all the words I’ve written. I can see exactly how and when I’ve been slacking off. Not holding myself accountable. Indulging myself when I should be demanding the results I know darn well I’m capable of achieving. Getting lost in the escape of reading when instead I should be writing.

If I were my boss (and I am) I’d have fired my ass by now.

Yes, I’ve had reasons for some of that behaviour. As I said, tough year. But that certainly doesn’t account for all of it. Some of it, I’m now convinced, is due to a lack of structure.

So I’m going to make a writing schedule for the coming calendar year, with concrete goals. Not just to keep track of what I’ve written, which is good and necessary (for me), but to plan out what I intend to do and when. Create a familiar framework within which to get shit done.

I’m going to schedule four weeks of vacation, something I’ve never had at any job, ever. I’m giving myself a week of sick time and all the weekends and holidays I didn’t get to take off while working in retail finance, even though I wasn’t part of the sales team. In some ways, it feels like I’m still stubbornly making up for that lack of time off, even now.

That sounds like a lot of non-writing days, doesn’t it? I imagine you’re wondering just how, exactly, I expect all that time off to improve output. But here’s the important part, the part I’ve been missing: The rest of the days will be for work.

No more vague feeling of every day being the same, of not having a sense of whether it’s a work day or a weekend or vacation, which makes it way too easy to procrastinate and simply take the day off since there is always tomorrow. And the next day. And the next.

I’m going to hold myself accountable for sticking to it, even if it gets all irregular and pear-shaped at times. Which it will. But I can already tell that having a schedule mapped out will make it easier to get back on track when life tries to derail me. Which it will.

I wonder whether this sudden enthusiasm for a schedule is just a sign of getting older and sensing time slipping away more quickly each year, feeling the need to control it somehow or at least force it into neat categories. I’m sure that’s part of it. I never worried about this when I was younger. Of course, when I was younger I had schedules and expectations imposed on me by others. In this strange new stage of self-employment, the first couple years without a schedule was the most liberating feeling of sheer relief– I have no words for it.

But it feels like it’s time for some order and routine again. Maybe I’m just fooling myself and doing this will be setting myself up for failure and future feelings of inadequacy and guilt and shame. Or maybe it will work.

Won’t know if I don’t try. So that’s my new plan of attack, even though I’m wondering why it took me so long to figure this out. Nope. Not going there. Regrets are useless.

*   *   *

For a change, I’m feeling all resolute at the same time of year everyone else usually does. Time to move forward and make the coming year what I want it to be. And every year after, for however many more there might be.

One thing 2016 demonstrated quite clearly is that none of us are guaranteed more time than this moment right now. And as old Charlie might say, “Not makin’ the most of the time you got just ain’t no way to live.”

We all have varying interpretations of what it means to “make the most” of our time, our talent, our energy. However you define it, my wish for all of you is that you manage to accomplish that in the coming year.

May it truly be a Happy New Year, for all of us.

 

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NaNo update

I promised to report in a few times this month about writing progress. Not that I’m convinced anyone particularly cares to hear about anything other than a finished book, one they can read, but I said I would so . . .

I was making respectable progress, up until last Sunday. Then anticipation and anxiety set in and I couldn’t focus on fiction, waiting for the election to be over. And then the results came in and, honestly, that pretty much wrecked me.

I’ve probably written (and deleted) 10,000 words since the election, but none of them fiction. There are things I want to say, things about politics and civics and our basic humanity, but so far I haven’t figured out how to say them.

I’m a political person, it’s how I was raised. I don’t want to turn this blog into a political thing, but neither do I find it acceptable to say nothing. When I try to be all calm and optimistic, I sound like an apologist for bigotry. Then I write something fiery and motivational and . . . sound like I’m advocating rebellion and revolution.

Clearly, neither is acceptable. So I’m struggling. Along with everyone else I know.

Sigh.

Until I figure that out, here’s where I stand with the fiction writing. I’ve added 7,097 words to one novel, which is not a shabby effort for the first seven days of writing, considering it was filling in and enhancing scenes and not fast rough draft writing. But now it’s day thirteen and I’m way behind what I’d hoped to accomplish.

Perhaps worse than that, the story I’ve been working on is written with a very different and distinctive . . . attitude, for lack of a better word. A departure from my usual style. It’s wildly adventurous and imaginative and confident, which is exciting to write. Except, I’m feeling none of those things right now. The scenes I’ve tried to write since Tuesday sound horrible, like not even salvageable, they’re so out of place.

After some reflection, I’ve decided not to continue with that particular story right now. It’s the kind of thing that would take more work to fix than is worth the dubious progress. In fact, I’d just end up deleting all the words.

But I refuse to let that make me feel discouraged or insufficient. Stuff happens and you deal with it the best you can.

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My way of dealing with this is to work on something else, something I had planned to work on later in the month anyway, once I finished fleshing out the first story. It’s a story that feels more familiar, more in my usual style.

It’s a romance, the second in the McIntyre trilogy, something I intend to self-publish. The kind of story I want to read right now. The one that starts like this:

The first time she saw him he was shirtless and wearing a kilt. The second time, he was wearing a custom-tailored suit and destroying her grandfather on the witness stand. She didn’t much like him either time.

That is, unless I change it.

So, onward.

 

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Once more unto the breach

Well, it’s the end of October and time to answer the question we all ask ourselves this time of year: How many “extra” bags of chocolate Halloween candy should I buy?

No, wait. Not that question.

This one: Should I participate In NaNoWriMo this year?nano_logo-830912ef5e38104709bcc38f44d20a0d

That is, if you’re a writer, probably you ask yourself that question. I’ve been going back and forth about this for a week or so, given that I’ve had mixed results with NaNo in the past. Setting a marathon goal of writing 50,000 words in a month — and not just any month, but November — seems a bit unreasonable. Like, stupidly masochistic. Kill-me-now foolish.

But then I figured, what’s the worst that could happen? I’ll become even more of a hermit? Give up planning nutritious meals, abandon personal hygiene, ignore the menacing accumulation of dust bunnies, forego sleep, snarl vaguely at the cat’s demands for attention . . .

. . . and maybe write a bunch of words?

I’m not normally a “write every day” kind of writer. So I’m not the best fit for NaNo, where the usual reassuring advice is to write 1,667 words a day, consistently, and you’ll be just fine. I tend to do a lot of intense thinking, composing and moving words and ideas around in my head before I commit them to paper, er, the screen. Then, when I do write, words pour out in the thousands. And then I pause again to refill the well.

Except that’s not really working for me right now. And if a thing no longer works, it’s time to try something else.

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I’ve been thinking back to April and the A to Z Challenge, and how surprisingly productive I was, writing to a deadline every day like that. There wasn’t a word count requirement, but I wrote roughly 43,000 words in April. It was insane. Although, that was very different from NaNo in the respect that I also had to edit and polish and post those words every day. I won’t be doing that during NaNo, so in theory should be able to write MOAR WERDZ without the editing slowing me down. In theory.

So anyway, I bookmarked the NaNo site and made a wild guess as to what my user name was four years ago and got a new password and I’m all set to go.

STAND BACK, Y’ALL. WATCH THIS.

Ahem. Actually, there won’t be much to see. I’ll try to post a few word count updates during the month (not daily, that’s ridiculous) in an attempt to make myself accountable over here. Wish me luck?

If any of you writers out there want to . . . follow me? . . . friend me? Huh, looks like the correct term is “be my buddy,” my user name is KD James. I’ll kick your butt be all supportive, if I can figure out how to do that without breaking anything.

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What about you non-writers? Is there anything you want to accomplish in November? Some momentous task you’ve been putting off and need a little push of inspiration to get going? Let me know and I’ll cheer you on in the comments.

Oh, and the answer to that first question? Two, of course. Unless you’re doing NaNo. Then probably the answer is four. Yes, four sounds right. Four family-size bags of chocolate.

 

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Time for yet another summer hiatus

How did it get to be the end of June already? Or maybe a better question is how did so many days pass in succession, as they do, without me noticing? Good grief, the year is half over!

Yes, I have been writing. And thinking, and taking notes, which is an important part of my writing process.

I’ve also been doing a lot of reading. Plowing through novels in my TBR pileup, of course, as well as reading a bit of non-fiction and catching up on bookmarked articles and blog posts in my RSS feed. There are days I feel as if I’ve read the entire internet. Which I guess helps explain how time has passed without me taking note of it.

Either that or someone has indeed invented time travel and it has all gone horribly wrong, speeding us involuntarily along past potential moments of productivity so not only does no one get anything done, none of us have clear memories of the time lost.

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What’s that? It’s just me?

Yes, well, I suspected as much. Clearly, I need to hit the reset button on my work habits and be more mindful of how I waste spend time.

I’ve been told there’s a writing thing in July — and April, apparently — called Camp NaNo. An extension of the more popular and well-known NaNoWriMo in November. Their website proclaims:

“Camp NaNoWriMo is a virtual writer’s retreat, designed for maximum flexibility and creativity.”

I’m not planning to participate officially. Mostly because I’m contrary and really bad at following along and obeying rules. But I’m a member of a small group of writers over on The Book of Faces and someone there proposed we have our own informal “retreat” in July, stating our goals in a similar fashion and cheering each other on. So I’ll be doing that.

My goal is to finish the revision of the story I drafted in April. I really hope it won’t take the entire month, since most of the heavy thinking is done and now I just need to write the rest of the words. Then again, the way time is passing, in three days it will be Thanksgiving and 15 minutes after that, Christmas. Unless my A/C breaks down, then roughly a dozen years will pass before summer is over.

Anyone else have big plans or goals for July? Deadlines? Vacation? Long stretches of indolent wave-gazing at the beach?

I’ll be over here trying not to read the entire internet every day, doing my best not to read anyone else’s words at all. Not even the one-word-at-a-time lure of WWF with my youngest sister. *sigh* In fact, other than email and semi-regular goal check-in and whip cracking with fellow writers, my plan is to be internet-free for July.

Ignoring the internet like . . . well, like a cat with a mouse on its head. Probably you can imagine how long that lasted.

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Wish me luck. And determination. I’m going to need all the help I can get.

 

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To a Year of Living Selfishly

I’ve been feeling reflective for the last week or so. No, not the kind of reflective that makes you all shiny and highly visible so you won’t get hit by a car while you’re out doing questionable things in the dark. The kind where you look back on the past several years and realize how many significant events you’ve experienced in that time. I was going to say “endured,” but that implies they were all bad and they certainly were not. But neither were they all good.

When I say they were significant, I mean they were significantly distracting or required significant amounts of time and energy from me. Many of them I haven’t talked about over here, or anywhere else, because, in spite of all evidence to the contrary, I am a very private person. There are things I’m just never going to talk about in public spaces. Or even in semi-private ones.

But holy guacamole, it’s been one hell of a few years. Sometimes to the point where I wanted to yell, “STOP IT. I CAN’T EVEN THINK ANYMORE WITH ALL THIS. JUST. FUCKING. STOP.” It all has taken a toll, that’s for sure.

And now, suddenly, there’s nothing significant on the horizon. Not that there won’t be, because of course there will. Life happens. “It’s never nothing,” as my dad used to say. But there’s nothing scheduled or looming and I’m feeling gloriously free for the first time in a very long time. And determined.

I don’t make resolutions at the New Year, never have. So it’s sort of a weird coincidence that I’m feeling all resolute here in early January.

I was talking to my daughter about this when she and her husband were here visiting during the last week of December and it was difficult to articulate without sounding like I didn’t enjoy the hell out of many of those events. Because I did. Especially my children’s weddings, which were wonderful. But at the same time, I’m glad they’re done.

I’m delighted beyond words that my calendar is clear. The sheer relief of having no upcoming obligations is staggering.

I really hope I’m not jinxing myself by saying this, but I feel like I’ve done my time. For a while, anyway. I’ve given so much of myself to others — sometimes eagerly and with great joy and pleasure, sometimes not — but now it’s my turn.

I anticipate– no, I am determined that this year is going to be epically, gleefully selfish. I am resolved to focusing on what I want, and what I want is to write fiction. I’m going to concentrate on that pretty much to the exclusion of all else.

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So don’t anyone plan on having any dramas or crises or grand celebrations, okay? At least, not any that require my participation or attention. I’m gonna be busy over here, learning how to say “no” more often and taking care of my own needs for a change.

Who knows, maybe a few of you will conclude that’s of benefit to you as well. It’s a new year, anything’s possible.

 

Oh, by the way, if any of you want to be notified when I’ve completed said works of fiction and they’re available for purchase, you might want to sign up for my mailing list, which you can do HERE.

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