5 Ways to Balance Your Work Life and Writing Life

a stack of rocks balanced on the beachMost of us find it difficult to find and maintain balance between all the different parts of our lives. I often feel like one of those people spinning plates on every body part, including my nose and forehead. But really, finding the happy place in between everything (along with bourbon on ice) is the best way to stay sane in an increasingly insane world where nothing ever stops and “quiet” is quickly becoming an extinct word. So here are a few things I do to get there, stay there, and be happy:

  1. Think Ahead. I have a general idea of what my schedule is going to look like from one week to the next. So every week, I make a list of things I want to get done, and then look at when I can do them. Yes, people say ‘write every day’. I call bullshit. Sometimes, that’s just not possible. I already get up before 6am to get to work, which means I’m not getting up any earlier, and I have to be in bed at a decent hour in order to get up for said job, so staying up late isn’t an option either. So I work with my awake time. I know that I’ll be at work during certain hours of the day, so really, I’m just looking for the pockets. Maybe during my lunch break I can close my office door and read or write something. Or maybe when I get home. And yes, there are some days, when I’m planning to have dinner with a friend, or see a movie, that there probably won’t be time to write. So I don’t plan to. That way, I don’t have to beat myself up about it when I don’t. I prefer to think ahead, see where my opportunities are, and use them to my advantage.
  1. Go Easy on Myself. I’m a master at self-loathing. If I can find a reason I did something wrong, I’ll obsess about it without end. I’m still obsessing about that time I got in trouble in middle school science class for mumbling that an assignment was stupid and got yelled at by the teacher. She was a bitch, but still. I beat myself up every time I walk past a homeless person and don’t give them a dollar. Whenever I stick my foot in my mouth (which is often). So if I can beat myself up for not writing and being unproductive, you bet I will. But I’ve learned that there is always tomorrow. Writing is kind of like being an alcoholic. Every day is a struggle to do something (or not do something). Some days you succeed, some days you don’t. But the important part is to start each day anew. Don’t worry about yesterday’s failures.
  1. Keep a Time Journal. When I didn’t know where my time was going, I started to keep track of it. I’d just write down hour by hour what I did. if you did this, you may find that it takes a lot longer to pay bills than you would have thought. I found that Facebook, TV, talking on the phone, and other activities that don’t seem to occupy space actually occupy a lot of space. I learned to see how to move those around, cut them down, or just pay better attention. I’m not decreeing that you kill your TV and delete your Facebook account (let’s not get crazy, now). Just understand what you’re doing so you’re aware.
  1. Celebrate. When I have a good day, or a streak of good days, I celebrate it. Maybe that means a nice refreshing cocktail and a few episodes of whatever I’m binge-watching (my favorite ritual). Maybe it means dinner with someone special. For you, maybe it’s a gold star on an amazing and intricate chart that you made when you probably should have been writing. But celebrate wins! (And if you did make that stupid chart, use it!) It feels good to win, and winning makes us work harder. It becomes a beautiful cycle where you have a routine of work, writing, fun, work, writing, fun. The last two are my favorites.
  1. Step Away. Sometimes, it’s not about balance, but about escape. I’m not afraid to get away from everything once in a while. Take a little vacation, be it a week in Bora Bora or a weekend on your couch doing nothing (it’s the latter for me, since I’m a broke schmuck). I take time to forget about work, writing, and anything else that stresses me out. Give my body, brain, and spirit some time to recharge, refresh, and refill, so I can dive back in with new gusto when the time comes.

Photo by Deniz Altindas on Unsplash

Letting Go, in Writing and in Life

A buddha statue behind lotus flowersI swore to myself I’d get my manuscript done in 2017. It didn’t happen. I could talk for hours about all the legitimate reasons it didn’t happen. I could talk for even longer about all the ways I procrastinated and avoided it. Does it make logical sense why I chose to avoid something I care about so much? Yes and no. It would take thousands of words and hundreds of dollars in therapist fees to explain it.

Focusing on 2018, I was determined. It helped that I landed a full-time job that starts at the end of February. It also helped that based on some personal circumstances, I realized the manuscript needed to be finished. It was now or never.

My manuscript is a memoir. It’s based on my journey through the fertility process. It details a year and a half of my mid-30’s, where the life I’d imagined for myself faded to black. I had been pregnant with twins. But five days after I became pregnant, I lost my mother to cancer after a lifetime of addiction. The following week, I lost the twins. And nine months later, as I twisted the sterile bed sheets in my hands, I listened to my doctor tell me I would never be able to have children.

It’s a survival story about losing a past and a future at that same time—and learning to carve out a present much different than the one I expected for myself. Those were dark days. The harder I held on to the life I thought I should be leading, the more painful everything else was. But as soon as I pushed off from the ledge, trusting that whatever I fell into was going to be okay, I was free.

It’s about learning to let go.

After such loss, it’s hard not to build up callouses of control again. They start innocently enough with the little things. A set of activities, a diet to follow, a daily routine. But as time passes, it becomes less of a routine and more of a schedule. The control creeps in a bit more, and it morphs your discipline into fear.

Writing is not so different.

Let’s say you’re starting a new project and you’re not quite sure what it is yet. If you’re not a “pantser” then you want to start with a rough outline. Just a general overview of what you want to write.

It’s easier to write around things. You can write extraordinarily detailed outlines with plot points and character arcs and detailed scenery. You can research and read for hours about how other writers have worked through their pieces, look at maps on structure and complete case studies of manuscripts that you love.

You can build the most beautiful scaffolding to support the building of your dream word house. All of this to try and control your fear of sitting down in front of a project with zero words written.  But at one point, you need rip down the scaffolding. You need to hang by your fingertips, in all the discomfort, in all of the pain, in all of the not knowing and write just what you see right in front of your face. You need to let go.

Writing does not like to be controlled. So despite your disciplined character sketches and your sweeping vistas of scene setting, your outline that you’ve so carefully crafted, it does what it wants.

When your writing is shoved into a narrow hallway, it will read that way. Your characters will seem like they’re tight and brittle and they’ll move through your carefully constructed scenes as if they were made out of matchsticks.

If you’re working on memoir or non-fiction, your readers will see right through your efforts of control. To quote Natalie Goldberg’s Rules of Writing, “Go for the real stuff. If you don’t, your writing will be tiptoeing nervously around whatever your real stuff is. You won’t believe it and neither will your readers.”

Whether you’re writing a first draft, editing, or putting on the final touches, it’s important to let go. Get words on a page, kill your darlings, do whatever you need to do to move your writing forward.

I realized that to finish the manuscript, the lesson for me is no different than it was in my mid-30’s—I need to let go. As Buddha once said, “You only lose what you cling to.”

Photo by Sarah Ball on Unsplash

 

The Problem with Rushing

people rushing on a crosswalkI moved to Los Angeles when I was barely eighteen after living in a town where my high school was within walking distance. This, of course, meant that I didn’t have much driving experience before I arrived in a city infamous for its traffic, road rage, and expansive grid system which tapers off into narrow, winding, steep hills. Needless to say, that first year wasn’t pretty. While I surprisingly managed to avoid any accidents, I did not avoid adopting the following habits:

  1. Tailing cars on the freeway, whether the traffic is moving or not.
  2. Changing lanes without a blinker since using it only signals to the car behind you to speed up so you can’t get over.
  3. Speeding up whenever there’s a pocket of traffic-less road, and,
  4. Since clear roads are about as common as flying pigs, how to rush.

I’ve become that person I was warned about. The one who everyone makes fun of at parties when they say, “she’s fashionably late.” But guess what? I can tell you from many years of experience, that there’s nothing fashionable about being late. My version of fashionably late is not a laissez-faire, get-there-when-I-get-there affair. It is an oh-no-I’m-late-get-me-there-now ordeal that spins me into a fight-or-flight, grip the steering wheel, and internalize road rage state of being.

I no longer live in Los Angeles. And yet, yesterday I was in the car—white-knuckle grip on the wheel, perched forward as if ready to pounce on the car in front of me, which I was inching closer and closer to by the second—and it occurred to me that I was rushing for absolutely no reason. I had plenty of time to get where I was going, but the mere action of driving was sending me off into that fight-or-flight, post-apocalyptic, every-woman-for-herself mode.

Why? I asked myself. Why are you stressing out when you know you’re going to get where you need to go eventually?

And while the answer was, I don’t know, it did spark an epiphany: that driving was not the only time I do this. I also do it when I write.

I’m very goal-oriented, which means I’m also a little deadline obsessed. I love setting deadlines for finishing outlines, chapters, drafts—you name it. It feels great to meet them and also gives me a sense of purpose when writing, but, as I mentioned in a previous blog post (Play to Your Edge: Maintaining a Writing Routine), it can also deflate me. When I get busy or when I get writer’s block, my deadlines come and go, and I’m left scrambling to make new ones. Or, worse, I rush the words out just to meet the deadline, which ends up setting me further back because I write myself into a hole or I’m not fully entrenching myself into the scene where I discover all sorts of lovely world-building and character moments.

To be clear, no writing is a waste of time. But rushing affects the quality of my words and also the quality of my life. So while I still think deadlines are important—as well as being punctual—no deadline or event or job interview is worth the cost of rushing.

I am still working on this one myself, being mindful of how I drive, write, and move through my day. But once you’re aware, you will notice those small cues—increased heart rate, constricting chest, clenched teeth—which mean you need to step on the brakes. Because once you do, everything you want to accomplish will be waiting there, ready to be worked on, ready to be finished—within a reasonable timeframe, of course.

Melissa Bloom is a writer, writing coach, and certified yoga instructor who is passionate about exploring the connection between productivity and wellness. As the founder and director of the Mindful Writer, Melissa has developed targeted writing tools and techniques that help people develop a sustainable writing practice to accomplish their writing goals without burning out. Melissa has a background in film, animation, and creative writing. She travels often, learns daily, and attends workshops, trainings, and conferences in a continued effort to hone the crafts of writing and living well.

Photo by mauro mora on Unsplash

The Ups and Downs of NaNoWriMo by Danielle Baldwin

an archery target with grass in the backgroundNovember is National Novel Writing Month, otherwise known as NaNoWriMo. During November, participants are encouraged to write an entire 50,000-word novel in thirty days. With just shy of 400,000 people participating last year, it’s become more and more popular.

November, as described by most writing coaches, is also every writer’s favorite freak out month. Inevitably, writers that participate in NaNoWriMo feel the pressure to churn out word count. This often leads to a crappy first draft. Not normal crappy first drafts that all of us write. Like super crappy—think crappy but with a cape. On December 1st, writers sit down to look at their 50,000-word novel and experience a NaNoWriMo hangover. The late-night caffeine-infused writing sessions that fueled their 50,000-word bender felt good at the time. But then they open their draft to find it isn’t organized. It’s full of character inconsistencies, odd word choices, and flat writing. The prospect of fixing these 50,000 words is overwhelming, but the thought of tossing it is equally inconceivable. Depression sets in and writing coaches spend weeks trying to shake their writers out of a funk.

Despite all of this, NaNoWriMo is still a great idea. That’s right, despite your lasting mental image of NaNoWriMo as a flying poop emoji, there are a lot of benefits to participation. Here are a few good reasons:

Discipline and Focus

We’ve all heard that it takes 21 days to make a habit.  As it turns out, it actually takes 60+ days. Considering I can be weaker willed when it comes to writing, I still hang on to that 21-day myth.

While scientifically speaking I may not be building a new habit (or breaking one for that matter), I am making a routine, and once I build a routine, I’m far more likely to stick to it.

Everyone has different writing habits that work for them. There is no magical key to success. With that said, the majority of “successful” writers will tell you that you need to write every day. I’ll share an example:

A few years ago, I heard Salman Rushdie speak. As often happens during the Q&A session, someone stood up and warbled the question, “What advice do you have for budding writers?”

Rushdie tented his eyes with his hands so he could see the young man standing with the microphone in the audience of 800 people from his spot on the stage.

“Well,” he said, “being a writer is all about your time in the chair.”
The young man nodded vigorously.

“So the more time you spend in the chair, the more writing you’ll get done.”

More bobblehead nodding action from the man at the microphone. He continued to stare at Rushdie, not yet satisfied.

Rushdie realized the young man was still standing. He sighed and reached over to sip water from his glass on the stool next to him. The room was quiet. He cleared his throat and leaned into the microphone.

“So my best advice to you, young man, is to sit the f@#$ down.”

And there you have it. Why participate in Nanowrimo? Because it gets you in the habit of sitting the f@#$ down every day.

SMART Goals

I know the goal of NaNoWriMo is to write 50,000 words in a month. I’d encourage you to start by throwing that goal right out the window.

A SMART goal is one that is specific, measurable, achievable, realistic and time-based. To craft a smart goal, the key is in the “r” for realistic. Setting a word count goal does NOT need to be based on the 50,000 goal for NaNoWriMo. Figure out what your average word count is per hour and set your goals accordingly.

I prefer weekly goals. This gives me some flexibility. So instead of saying “I’m going to write 1,000 words per day,” you can set your goal at 7,000 words for the week (or whatever works for you). Some days you’re going to come home after a long day of work to a broken refrigerator, dog puke on the carpet, and your longest-winded neighbor trapping you at your mailbox with a diatribe about people speeding in the neighborhood. When you’ve extracted yourself thirty minutes later, sitting down for an hour or two to write feels impossible. So don’t. Sit down for 45 minutes. Maybe half an hour. Fifteen minutes if you’re dying, but you know what? It’s 100 more words than you would have gotten normally. Or 200, or 500. And you can still make it up on another day when you’ve got more time and energy to put towards your writing.

Build Your Writing Tribe

NaNoWriMo is well organized. In addition to a website to track your progress and earn badges, there are pop up groups across town you can join to write in solidarity. I’ve even been a part of virtual groups where we wrote via Google Hangouts.

NaNoWriMo meet-ups, both in person and virtual, are a great way to build your writing tribe. If you haven’t had the opportunity to sit in a room with a bunch of other writers and write, I highly recommend it. These are your people. They understand the pain of sitting down and getting words on the page. Their encouragement feels real because they know the pitfalls. You’re also less likely to jack around on social media. You’re part of a writing collective, and it feels amazing.

So don’t give up on NaNoWriMo just yet. While you may not write a 50,000-word novel, you may finish the one that you’ve been working on, bang out some great short stories, or even try your hand at poetry. Good luck and happy writing.

 

Photo Credit: https://pixabay.com/472932/

Writing Full Time—Living the Dream? By Danielle Baldwin, the Newest Feisty Writer

A Smith-Corona typewriter

When I was six, I spent every Sunday morning sitting at the kitchen table with my mom. She would hover over the New York Times crossword puzzle, pencil poised as the smoke from her Kent Kings pulled lazily into the air. Some days I’d help, pushing my cereal bowl to the side to man the thesaurus and dictionary to help her look up words. Other mornings, I would pound away on her portable blue Smith Corona typewriter, crafting a story about flying giraffes or kung fu fighting squirrels.  I knew from those early years, swimming around in the words, splashing them onto the page, that I wanted to be a writer.

It was a dream I pursued through high school and college, one fiction or poetry workshop after the next. But when graduation came, so did a flood of fear; that I wasn’t good enough, that I couldn’t make a living doing what I loved. So instead of pursuing a career in writing, I got a “real job.”

I never left writing completely. I would steal loving glances at it on weekends, working on my manuscript, a short story, or even flash fiction. We’d meet in coffee shops, lock ourselves away in my home office. I’d attend writing retreats and conferences so we could spend more time together. I dreamed of being a writer full time.

So, at the end of last year, when my boss told me that my position was being eliminated, I was more ecstatic than sad. I could spend every waking moment working on my manuscript. This was my chance to become the writer that I’d always wanted to be!

The first few days after the holidays as a “full-time writer” went well. I was focused, energetic and eager to get to the page every morning. But as the days passed, my resolve wavered. Some days I would sit down at my desk, and it was just like days of old—I felt inspired, creative, the words flowed. Other days, I felt like taking a jackhammer to my keyboard.

While I made progress on the manuscript, I was surprised at how hard it was to stay focused.  I found every excuse I could not to sit down and write—laundry or dishes, an errand to be run, a phone call to make. One day, my procrastination efforts were so extreme that I chose to steam clean my furniture instead of sitting down at my computer.  Before losing my job, I could always fall back on a long list of excuses as to why the writing “couldn’t” get done, most of which involved a lack of time or brain capacity to do it. But now? There were no more excuses, and yet, there were some days that I had nothing on the page.

I learned some valuable lessons. Creative work, or really any type of work that happens outside of a traditional corporate environment feels different. The pace of my days changed from having every minute accounted for in meetings or deadlines to relatively open and unscheduled. To feel like I was still accomplishing something, it was important for me to build in some structure: writing dates with friends, accountability partners to keep me on track, and joining a professionally led read and critique group where I have pages due every other week.

I learned to have more patience with myself. There are times to work through your writing, to keep your butt in the chair and your fingers on your keyboard, and there are times to step away. I had to listen to my inner writing guide and learn which was which—to balance my need for a break, knowing I would come back with fresh eyes, with the guilt of walking away from my project.

And this new life still has stress, but it’s a different type of stress that comes from starting a new type of career, building a business around writing, and failing at things so that I can learn and grow. It has taken more time to adjust than I had thought and I still have my days of fear and doubt, just as I did when I was twenty-two, but overall as I sit at the kitchen table every morning with my laptop and my coffee, I’m incredibly grateful.

The Author, a lovely brunette, smiling

After spending twenty years in the corporate world, Danielle is transitioning into a more creative life, which alternately exhilarates and terrifies her. She spends her days working within the San Diego writing community and is honored to be the president of the San Diego Memoir Writers Association. Danielle received her B.A. in Creative Writing from Vanderbilt University and is currently working on her revisions to her memoir and blogging at her site at daniellebbaldwin.

PHOTO CREDIT: https://pixabay.com and Danielle Baldwin

Writing Uninspired: Three Tools for Novel Completion

A ditch in a green field with cows grazing around itEarlier this year I attended the first stop of Neil Gaiman’s book tour for Norse Mythology. I had no idea what to expect and, as it turns out, he had only some idea of what he was going to do. He walked onto the stage to an unassuming, spotlighted podium and began speaking in his whimsical British voice about how he hasn’t done “one of these” in a while. In his hands were small slips of paper where audience members wrote questions before the show. And in between talking and reading short stories, he answered a few, one of which was:

How do you stay inspired?

Without missing a beat, he said that he doesn’t stay inspired. That he wished he could, but that inspiration lasts for about the first twenty pages of writing a book and the rest is like digging a really long ditch.

Everyone laughed. I laughed too. But I also felt this weight lift off my chest; a confirmation that inspiration is fleeting. It fills you up like a Thanksgiving Day parade and then leaves you with the remnants of confetti and a tryptophan coma.

I think about Neil’s words every time I sit down to continue digging my own ditch. And yet some days, I wonder if the key is simply this: one shovel full at a time. Some days, I can’t help but look toward the end of a long expanse of dirt and think, “Why am I not there yet?”

Each morning I wake up with this source of energy coursing through me and sometimes it gets spent before I sit down to write. Some days it bursts out of me and latches onto the first thing—or the necessary thing—of the day. Before I know it, the day is gone, the page is blank, and my expectations spin into an inner pressure that builds all night and into the next day.

And when I pick up the shovel to keep digging, the un-dug part of the ditch appears so much longer. Instead of excitement that I will get there, I feel dread that I am not there.

What, then, is the key to getting to the end? Or, rather, what’s stopping us?

Lately, I’ve been keeping track of what’s most important to writing productivity. Three tools in the writing arsenal that, when in perfect balance, can bring us steadily closer to the end of the ditch: energy, time, and expectation.

Energy: The right amount of energy is almost as good as inspiration. It’s brainpower and word fuel. It keeps the pen moving or the fingers typing. It nurtures the necessary headspace for creative thinking. But without it, our motivation and ideas sputter out of us like the last squirt of ketchup in the bottle.

Time: Time management is vital for accomplishing any endeavor. It doesn’t have to mean writing at the same time or for the same duration every day (heck, for me sometimes it means staring at a computer screen for an hour), but if you don’t meet the page, your words can never get there.

Expectation: Expectation is the wild card of writing tools. It is woven into all of our writing goals and deadlines, self-imposed or otherwise. Low expectations that are exceeded can lead to a boost in energy or inspiration; high expectations that aren’t met can lead to stunted creativity and self-pressure.

Mitigating that self-pressure is the ultimate key to getting to the end of the ditch.

Allow for a dip in energy, a lack of routine, or squandered expectations. Because if, at the end of the day, you haven’t written a word, but you go to bed okay with that fact, you will wake up excited about your project instead of turning it into just another chore on the list.

So be aware of how your energy, time, and expectations interact. Experiment with when and how long you write. Experiment with different kinds of goals—chapters, word-count, even stream of consciousness journaling. Eventually, the right combination for you will emerge. And in the meantime, remember: every word counts!

Melissa Bloom is a writer, writing coach, and certified yoga instructor who is passionate about exploring the connection between productivity and wellness. As the founder and director of the Mindful Writer, Melissa has developed targeted writing tools and techniques that help people develop a sustainable writing practice to accomplish their writing goals without burning out. Melissa has a background in film, animation, and creative writing. She travels often, learns daily, and attends workshops, trainings, and conferences in a continued effort to hone the crafts of writing and living well.

Photo Credit: https://pixabay.com/en/cow-cows-pasture-landscape-whey-1940971/

5 Apps to Keep You Accountable

computer screen with apps lined up at the bottomIt seems like every day someone is complaining about too much technology in our lives. I get it. But the truth is, it’s here to stay, and I for one welcome our Robot Overlords. I can be welcoming, though, because I’ve discovered a few things that can help me reach my goals. Bonus: All of these apps are free (Yes, I’m a cheapskate.).

  1. Todoist

Basically, it’s a running to-do list (and you know how I love lists). You can set it to have recurring items pop up, whether it’s daily, weekly, or monthly. You cross things off as they get accomplished, and it even sends you feedback with information on how many things you’ve completed. It also gives you ‘karma points’ for finishing tasks, which isn’t really anything except feeling good when you read that you completed 5638 tasks since January and seeing a graph that steadily rises as you complete even more. Super easy to use. I swear by it.

  1. Pomodoro/Clockwork Tomato

I’ve used this to track my writing time. It’s pretty cool. It times you in 25-minute increments, with five minute breaks, and after two cycles of that, it puts you through a one-hour work mode, with a 15-minute break after. It’s amazing how quickly two hours fly by when using this. I’m personally motivated by the ticking clock since I can then push myself to finish before the buzzer, or at least write ten more words.

  1. Productivity Challenge

This is very similar to the Pomodoro app, but it has a few more features. It is loud and obnoxious, but I like that. It’s almost like my phone is chewing me out when I just sit there instead of doing something. Once I opened the app but wasn’t ready to sit down and write, so I just left it there. After about three minutes, it started buzzing at me to get going or get out. You bet I sat down and got going! It also has achievements built in—I am currently listed as a ‘persistent slacker,’ which is a rung above an ‘unrepentant slacker.’ I’m determined to find out what the next rung up is, so it motivates me to keep working. It also keeps stats for how long you work, which days you work, and so on, which is good information for when you’re trying to figure out what works best for your schedule. It also has a nice visual design, so I like that.

  1. Writeometer

This can keep track of your word count. I am motivated by word count, so this is nice for me. I like to see that it doesn’t take long to put 500 words down and see how each session builds to a truly massive word count. It also reminds me daily of how many words I need to write to finish by whatever deadline I have. It’s a lot more polite than the Productivity Challenge, but I need a little softness to go with the tough love.

  1. Evernote

This is a must have. It did take some getting used to, but I’ve come to realize that the amazing idea I had at two in the morning is not going to be there come morning. So I can just jot it down here and then roll over and start snoring again. Sometimes I surprise myself with the things I’ve loaded into Evernote. A few months ago, I discovered that at some point I’d had several ideas for children’s books. And truly, most of them were actually workable. Jackpot! I keep separate lists, which includes brainstorming for various projects, blog ideas, book/script titles, interesting articles, and so on. And since I never go anywhere (on purpose) without my phone, what looks like me being cool and checking my Facebook or texting like a popular kid is actually me nerding out on my newest nerdery, which is probably some nerdy book. Suck it, cool kids.

PHOTO CREDIT: Photo by Sabri Tuzcu on Unsplash

Play to Your Edge: Maintaining a Writing Routine

person standing on edge of rockWhen I tell people that I’m writing a book, they eventually ask about my writing routine. My response usually starts with, “It depends…,” because, while I generally write each night before bed—and occasionally can devote an entire morning or afternoon to writing—I may also go several days without putting pen to paper (or, I should say, fingers to keyboard). My routine (or lack thereof) seemed to fall into the “I write when I can” category.

I wanted to do better.

I knew, for instance, that Earnest Hemingway wrote daily, while standing up, and clocked at least three hundred words per day—he also weighed himself every morning and documented it in pencil on his bathroom wall (Okay, perhaps he’s not the best example.). On the other end of the spectrum, Neil Gaiman has revealed that boredom is the key to his creativity, and so he takes regular walks that allow him the headspace to come up with new ideas. I needed something in between to help me mend the gaps in my writing routine.

So I started waking up an hour early every morning. Whether I used the time to write, journal, read, work out, or some combination, this small adjustment to my schedule energized me and sparked a feeling of productivity that lasted the entire day.

Then one morning, I had to wake up earlier than usual for work. I forwent my morning ritual, stumbled out of bed, brushed my teeth, threw on the outfit I—thankfully—had picked out the night before, and left. When I got home, all I wanted to do was plop into bed and shut my eyes. And so I did.

The next morning, I woke up later than usual—and groggier than usual. Sluggishness and unproductiveness clouded my day. When I finally sat down to write, the task at hand felt monumental. I didn’t know what to write; I just felt an overwhelming pressure to do it. But the words were caught somewhere in transit, inaccessible.

The rest of that week was a downward spiral: My journaling was sporadic and uninspired, I finished my leisure book and had nothing lined up to read next, I had no idea what the point of my scene-in-progress was, both my critique partners had to cancel our weekly chat, and, on top of all that, I had no advice to write about for this blog post!

My intention for waking up early was to complete a task before I started my day, thus boosting my productivity. Failing to wake up early (a task in itself) meant I now had more to do in less time. And the more I thought about needing to do those tasks, the less I felt capable of actually doing them. I had taken motivation and turned it into stress.

I needed to take a step back.

There’s a yoga concept called “playing to your edge”—that place just outside your comfort zone but not so far past it that you’ll sustain an injury. The tricky part is, your edge today might be much further than your edge tomorrow. But the mind has already documented the progress you made today and established it as the new standard.

Therein was my problem. I was operating on the inherent desire to do better than yesterday, but imposing that standard was only hindering my ability to meet it at all! Instead, I needed to play to my edge.

The next morning I woke up with the sun, made some eggs, and got on with my day. And that night, the words flowed again.

So whether you operate on the level of “I write when I can” or on the level of “I’ll sleep when I’m dead,” embrace your edge—wherever it may be today—and let it guide your routine.

Photo Credit: https://unsplash.com/search/edge?photo=ke2-WbTxINI

5 Reasons I Love Lists

List with Pencil

Just 5 Things came about because I love lists. Five is a bit of a random number, but it’s a great one because it elegantly coincides with holding one hand up to count things. It’s more robust than three things, and less fussy than 10 (I personally hate top 10 lists in general). But I love lists and will continue to make them until the day I die (which hopefully won’t be anytime soon). Why do I love lists? Let me count the (five) ways:

  1. Organizing my thoughts. When I have a bunch of things swimming around in my head, making a list always helps me sort them out. I can see in one easy place what needs to be done, what can be grouped together, what is urgent, and what can be done later. I can decide if I want to do the group of errands, or the writing, or the fun. My brain doesn’t have to store the information because I wrote it down.
  1. Prioritizing. I can see what is urgent. Sometimes the most urgent thing is washing the dishes. Other times it’s getting groceries. But usually, it’s writing. It may be the third or fourth or eighth thing I write down, but I can do it first once I see how it stacks up to the rest of the list.
  1. They’re quick and easy. Making these lists takes all of five minutes (you see how I love the number five?). And they’re never done. I may make a list that has four things on it, then do a couple, then realize a couple of other things I forgot to write down and add them. I don’t have to make a new list if I don’t want to. But ultimately, I haven’t spent lots of time and trouble poring over what should be on the list. I just wrote it down and got started.
  1. They measure progress. There is no greater joy than seeing how a list changes from week to week. One week, I may write down “brainstorm novella idea.” The next week it becomes “outline novella.” Then it becomes “Write Chapter 1,” and before I know it, I’m writing down “edit first draft.” It feels good not to write the same thing over and over again, and when I find that happening, I take a hard look at my goals and motivations to see if this is something I truly want. If it is, I do that first, before anything else so I can write something new the next time. I call this eating the frog (doing the most difficult thing first), but I don’t remember where I got that expression. Eating the frog motivates me. I do it once, then move on to eating cake.
  1. Crossing things off. Okay, I lied. There is no greater joy than crossing things off the list. I love seeing a list of things with lines through them at the end of a day, weekend, or week. Or month or year for that matter. Each line is a small (or BIG!) victory, and a lesson in productivity. Sometimes I get to the end of a day that didn’t feel all that productive, and I take a look at the list. What felt like ‘doing nothing’ was watering the plants, writing a blog post, catching up on Game of Thrones, washing the dishes, buying a birthday card, paying bills, doing laundry, reading, showering, exercising, and taking the dog for a walk. We may not feel like we’re doing things a lot of the time, but lists can show us what we do so we can be proud of what we accomplish every day.

Photo Credit: https://stocksnap.io/photo/TVEUBLIOSK