That’s the only way to open up this post, because every jackass and his/her mom does one of these “New Year’s Resolutions” posts. Well, since football season is over (#goddamndetroitlions) and Chocodiles no longer exist, the only thing this blackened heart still cares about is writing. Therefore, all of my stratemegizing for 2014 involves how to increase my writing quality and efficiency. More words on the page mean more stories for you.
And yes, Junkies, I will be working on MT. FITZROY and CRYPT BOOK II. But go ahead and ask in the comments, because I know you can’t help yourselves.
So if your job puts your ass in a chair for 8+ hours a day, maybe some of this will help you. I’m listing my two resolutions for 2014, and the one I had for 2013 that’s still rolling along. Yes, just two, because I don’t believe in setting unrealistic goals. I think people can only handle so much: one resolution, two at the most, and you can focus your energy on making those changes.
#1: PUNCH THAT CLOCK, BRO:
I’m re-jiggering my schedule for an 8am start time every day. That’s fingers on the ebonies at 8am, writing. I will do 75 minutes of writing before I do anything else. I’m not saying I have to put in a full day before I check Facebook, email, Tweet, etc., I’m just telling myself to go for one hour and fifteen minutes.
I’m easily distracted. I have a disease called “just let me check one more thing.” That’s who I am and it isn’t going to change, so instead of beating myself up over it, I’m going to channel it.
The urge to check all the things and do all the things quickly spirals out of control, and before I know it I’ve lost two or three hours of my workday. I stared this “75-minute sprint” in 2013, and when I make it happen, it’s helpful. Even if I basically stare at the screen, I’m still kicking out 250 words — that’s one page before 9:15am. If I tell myself “you can dick around with email and tweet about passing gas in a little bit” and focus on the writing for that relatively brief span, I can do 500 words, 750, and sometimes 1,000. That’s around four pages written or edited before 9:15am.
No matter how the rest of the day goes, I know I got at least a few pages in, and that takes a ton of stress off of me. It makes the day go better. And, usually, the mental wheels are greased and I find myself back on the keys for the afternoon shift with a creative head-start.
But I got a day job, and this is hard …
If your creative work isn’t your main gig, finding the time to create every day is a pain in the ass. The job, the bills, the kids, the spouse — there are a thousand things that get in the way. I’ll tell you the harsh truth: if you don’t make your passion a priority, your passion will get kicked to the curb. A good way to to mitigate that loss is to pick specific days a week and times of that day where you are creating: tell your loved ones you need that hour, and don’t give in.
If you don’t find a way to get the ideas out of your head and into another form, the ideas will die when you do.
So, if you want to ride my ass and make sure I’m making new stuff for y’all, feel free to Tweet at me at 8am PT, noon ET every day. Remind me I’m supposed to be at work, working for you, to make new stuff that you will enjoy. I don’t have a job without you, so hold me accountable.
#2: A PLACE FOR EVERYTHING CREATES TIME:
Yesterday, I spent about two minutes looking for my keys. That’s not a lot of time, right? Wrong-o, fish-breath! Those two minutes are no big deal sure. But then there’s the thirty seconds to find my wallet, and my shoes are around here somewhere, and where in the tarnation is my other sock? And that printout on Claymore mines I need for my new story, and where in the hell is that Chris Grall email about combat shotguns?
Maybe you get the point. As a writer, every second I spend bumble-fucking around looking for things is a minute I’m not spending tinkling the ebonies. Ten seconds here, a minute there, and it all adds up. Five minutes a day looking for crap? Ten? Since I work seven days a week, that’s 35 to 70 minutes a week spent looking for stuff. I write about 500 words an hour (2 pages), so I’m losing 1-2 pages a week just because I can’t find shit. Read also: 52-104 pages a year.
The final bit of math: 300 pages is a good-sized manuscript. I’m costing myself a full book every three or four years because I don’t know where I put my keys.
So, this year’s resolution is a classic: a place for everything and everything in its place. The extra five seconds to make sure my keys are hung up on the specified hook means I save those minutes of looking for them. I’m committing to this in 2014: I’m absent-minded as crap, and I think this will help my sanity.
Say hello to my little friend: Dymo Rhino 4200 –>
This bad boy is going to be poked more than the Pillsbury Dough Boy’s Facebook page circa 2009. Dear World: I’m going to label the living shit out of you. Sure, that makes me look like a dork, and I don’t give one runny fart about that.
This bad boy is built for war, with rubberized grip and full QWERTY keyboard. It’s heavy, so it doubles as a blunt-force weapon if anyone invades my office. Plus, the name: “Rhino 4200.” Sounds like its own action-adventure move featuring a cyborg commando with a heart of gold wanted for a crime he didn’t commit.
Folders are cheap and re-usable
To go along with the Rhino, I’m OD-ing on file folders. No more stacks of paper that contain bills, research, notes, that recipe for “eggs in hell” and that article on Christina Hendricks. Everything printed gets a folder, even if it is one sheet. When I’m done? Toss the sheet, put the folder in the “to-be-filled” box and move on. This will give me a neat little pile of folders on the edge of the desk instead of a teetering mass of paperwork. Yes, it takes a few seconds to print a label. The net gain of seconds from not having to hunt for shit gives me positive time in the end.
2013 RESOLUTION, STILL GOING STRONG: STRETCHING, AND ALSO EXERCISE:
These two things are in that order for a reason. In 2013, I started stretching every morning, and it has made a world of difference. And I’m not talking some “downward dog” bullshit where a guy with 2% body fat and a mutant gene for extra-long tendons makes you feel like a decrepit old geezer, either — I’m talking four minutes and forty-five seconds of the basics.
Four minutes and forty-five seconds happens to be the exact length of NPR’s hourly news summary (npr.org). Hit “play,” stretch while you’re listening: simple, regular, and short. I don’t have time for thirty minutes of stretching, because that’s thirty minutes my fingers aren’t on the keys making new stuff. But five minutes? Yeah, I can swing that, and so can you.
I sit in a chair all friggin’ day. As a result of that, my back hurt, my shoulders always felt stiff and my neck might as well have been made from half-dried clay. Those things take away your focus, which impacts your creativity and productivity. Last year, ARealGirl had me buy an actual mesh office chair designed for people who spend an inordinate amount of time sitting on their asses. That helped a ton. Stretching helped even more. After about a month of daily stretching, I felt far less pain than I had since college (it was a long shucking time ago, so don’t ask).
Without question: a good chair and daily stretching have made me a better writer. I feel better, I’m sharper, and I spend less time grimacing because I’m trying to work that kink out of my neck.
Want to know what I do? It’s pretty basic. All stretches are for ten seconds, and I’m going until I feel good resistance and no further — this ain’t Jean Claude Van Damme’s workout here, Chief:
- Right leg over left, try to touch the ground
- Left leg over right, try to touch the ground
- Feet shoulder width apart, legs locked, try to touch the ground
- Wall-push calf stretch, each leg
- Upper trapezius stretch (see image at right, top-left diagram): left for 10 seconds, right for 10 seconds, repeat two more times (this one & the one below have helped my chronically stiff neck immensely)
- Levelator scapula stretch (see image at right, top-right diagram): left for 10 seconds, right for 10 seconds, repeat two more times
- NOW SIT YOUR ASS DOWN, SIR OR MA’AM!
- Legs flat and wide, bent at waist as if you would put your face on the ground
- Grab right toe (reach for it if you can’t grab it yet), bring your chest toward your knee
- Grab left toe (reach for it if you can’t grab it yet), bring your chest toward your knee
- Butterfly stretch
- Lying knee rollovers, three each side (this is the big one for me, helps my lower back, see image at right).
You need to identify the areas where you feel pain and address those areas. You can reduce the stiffness and soreness that affects your concentration and makes your day shitty.
You also said there would be working out, but I ain’t got time to bleed …
Yes, I know, you’re so busy. You and everyone else, Bub. But, just like the stretching can make you feel better and improve the quality of your creative output, some level of working out is going to make you even more-er better. I try to get to the gym every morning, usually manage four days a week. I run for 30 minutes and lift for 30. I’ve lost weight and that, combined with the stretching, has me feeling amazing. Can you manage three thirty-minute walks a week? All you have to do is find 90 minutes a week. You can do that.
I’ll also strongly recommend the FitBit line of products. ARealGirl started using one, and I thought it was ridiculous: “You need a little step-ometer thing to get in shape? Give me a break!” But it worked for her, and since I’d committed to getting in better shape for the sake of our company, I gave the FitBit One a try.
Holy crap. It’s awesome. All it really does is measure your steps. That’s it. But it also tracks your steps, lets you compete against yourself to do a little more each day, and lets you compete against friends who also have a FitBit. Getting in shape is all about motivation. Don’t have buddies who use them? If you jump into the FitBit pool, feel free to add me as a friend.
They make FitBits that clip to your clothes, sit in your pocket, or that you wear like a bracelet. All the stats get logged online and you can check them at any time. You can also watch your stats on your smart phone. There is even a freakin’ scale you can buy which automatically uploads your weight to the FitBit site, meaning you get up, get on the scale, stretch for five minutes to the NPR news summary, and you’re halfway home. You’ll be able to see your progress all ze year long, and find ways to motivate yourself to do a tiny bit more each day.
The better shape you’re in, the better your creative output. If you are able to improve your health even a little, it will help — don’t let anyone tell you different. You don’t have to set the world on fire here, just start with small improvements and consistently work to be a little bit better each week. Give it one month: you’ll feel the difference in your body, and see the difference in your work.