Block Scheduling, Pomodoro, and Word Counts, Oh my!

What do these things have to do with each other? As a someone who struggles with focus and attention issues, the first two things have resulted in consistent word counts. I know some folks are not as worried about word counts, fearing it stifles them, or leads to writer’s block and if that’s you, just look away. But if you are one of those people who need firm guidelines with wiggle room in place this is the post for you.

What is block scheduling? Blocking out a period of time to do whatever it is you need to do. It might an hour or two hours, or fifteen minutes. The important part of block scheduling is to make it consistent, this doesn’t mean every day, it could be every Saturday or Sunday, but when you block off the time, the time is ONLY to be spent writing. No social media, no marketing, no other distractions.

The second technique is Pomodoro, named after the tomato shaped kitchen timer. In Pomodoro, you set the timer for a period of time, usually 25 minutes and then for that time period you focus on just that project, in this case writing. The goal being to write as much as you can during the time period. No editing, no going back, just pushing forward to get words on paper. Why? Because you can’t edit a blank page and getting a load of word salad down that you can fix later is better than a blank page. Build the house, you can go back later and hang the curtains and decorate. You can use your phone timer but the temptation to check into social media or email can be strong. Use a cheap kitchen timer, or get a fancy one if you want. I use the timer on my watch, ‘cause I’m old school that way.

Word Counts, or as like to call them, the secret to getting projects done, are the number of words you need to get on paper to finish your project on time. I use Scrivener and it has a delightful feature that lets you put in your deadline for the first draft and days you will be writing and it will figure out how many words you need to write each session to meet your goal. I like many things about the program but this feature alone makes me love it. Before I used Scrivener, I did this on paper, and it worked, but I love that Scrivener lets me know when I meet my goal. Notice I said “First draft”, editing is a different animal, and I will address that in another post. This is about getting raw material down, so you have something to edit.

How do they work together?

  1. Block out your time to write. Treat it like an appointment. Honor your commitment to write.
  2. Use a timer. Set it for 25 minutes or more, no more than one hour.
  3. Start writing. Don’t look back, don’t do anything else, just write.
  4. When the time is up, get up, stretch, get a beverage or snack. Take 5-10 minutes. And then set the timer and get back to work. DO NOT CHECK EMAIL OR SOCIAL MEDIA. Keep your head in the game. Repeat until word count is achieved or your blocked time is up. If you are not meeting your word goals you may need to adjust them. Find a word count that YOU can meet consistently and will let you meet your deadline.

Keys to success: Remember you don’t have to block schedule all at once. Maybe you only have thirty minutes in the morning, and thirty minutes in the afternoon to write. My point is when it is time to write, write. Don’t do anything else.

  1. You can set the timer for less than twenty-five minutes, do what works for you.
  2. When you set your word count goals and deadlines make sure you are realistic. If you are someone who averages 250 words a day on a good day, don’t think you will suddenly be generating 1000 words a day or more. Use a calendar or planner or if you have Scrivener set up your project target dates. I use Scrivener and am also a big fan of spreadsheets (thank you Jeffe Kennedy) and use my planner every day, but you do you.

This works for me, it might not work for you. If you have been struggling to get a book/shorts story/screen play/ written give this a chance. Don’t quit.

 

 

 

Milestones and Remembrances

This week I will have been married for ten years. In that ten years my wife and I have lived in three states, had twins, owned three dogs, and one rowdy parrot. Cared for our parents through strokes, heart attacks and cancer. Suffered the loss of a child. So much life and history between us.

We have loved and supported and encouraged each other during the six books we have written and had published.  

I have listened to many writers praise their partners for “tolerating my writing.” I always wince when I hear the word tolerate. To tolerate something means that you put up with it, like it is something that is difficult to do. I want to say to those writers: don’t settle. Don’t settle for tolerance. Do not tolerate tolerance.  

Find someone who celebrates your writing. Find someone who is as excited as you are about a beautiful book cover. Find someone that understands when you get up in the middle of the night to write down the plot bunny that scampered through your dreams. Find someone you can laugh with no matter what else is going on in your lives. When you find that person hold on with both hands.

 

 

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Recover and Reset

I had planned on taking a break from novel writing over the Summer. I had home projects planned. I had visions of spending lots of time at the pool, hiking, and gardening and hanging out with my kids. I had planned on some promotion and marketing of my novel, Sum of the Whole,  set to release on June 19th

But then my mom had some serious health issues, and then this happened:

 My kiddo tumbled off the pirate ship. Surgery, two pins and one hot pink cast later I needed to change my ideas about summer.  Heartrending? Yes. Stressful? Yes. Overwhelming? Yes. Frustrating? Yes. Anxiety level off the charts? Yes. So I did the thing I always do when I don’t know what thing I should do next, and want some imaginary control over my life. I wrote.

 I wrote an outline while my mom was in the hospital.

The day after my daughter got home from the hospital I started writing my next novel.

I’ve left the deadline the original one that I set when I had planned out my summer and work projects. I don’t expect to finish writing it this summer, but when I sit down in the Fall when the kids go back to school I will be a bit ahead of schedule. It also gives me a sense of accomplishing something on those days I feel stuck.

My advice when life veers off the expected trajectory, take time to recover and reset.  Do the thing that grounds you, the thing that makes the rest of the world fall away even if it is just for an hour. Do that. And remember this:

“Nature never hurries, yet everything is accomplished.” Lao Tzu 

 

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Write when you can: Fighting the tyranny of the you-must-write-every-day edict.

This post is in response to many articles/books/ lectures that suggest that a writer who does not write every day is not serious. You can probably guess from the title what camp I fall into. I notice a glaring consistency among the you-must-write-every-day-or-you-are- not-a- serious writer crowd.

Most are people who do not seem to realize that everyone has to find a method of work that works with your life, your learning style and physical/mental abilities, and your responsibilities. Many are published authors whose day job is writing, and for them I understand that feeding your family is important and words=money. For anyone trying to become published, that kind of all or nothing advice is unhelpful, and discouraging. 

I have family/work/business obligations. I don’t write every day. In fact sometimes I plan on not writing. Why? Because LIFE is messy, unpredictable, fantastic, and wondrous. I also believe that for me filling the well is what lets me come back to the page ready to write. Am I serious about my writing? You tell me. I have had a collection of short stories and two novels contracted in the last year. I plan on submitting two more novels this year. I am serious and consider myself a professional.  I understand what my productivity level/ability is for producing a manuscript that I am comfortable submitting to my publisher. Could I produce more? Maybe, but this is what is right for me, right now. I don’t believe that taking time off is unproductive. Many great writers did not write every day unless they were working on a project, so don’t let anyone tell you that writing every day is the only way to become a published writer.

I’m taking the summer off to enjoy time with my kids, travel, blog a bit, and think. That is how I work, I need space between creative projects to think and plan my work. I get annoyed when authors discourage people from writing by making arbitrary rules. Find what works for you and do it. Trust your process and try as many different ways of work as you can until you find what works for you. If you need someone to give you permission to not write everyday this is it. Do it your way and trust yourself to find what works for you.

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Hold on for the Ride

I’ve written about my mom before, about how she trusted her instincts to get me through my young life, before ADHD was a diagnosis, and way before anyone had any idea what to do with the wild-ass young me. I was rough, busy, always starting new projects, could not sit still kind of kid. Most people who know me now would say I have not changed.

This Mother’s Day is a Mother’s Day that sees my mom facing some health issues. Not the first Mother’s day I have wondered if I would have my mom next year. When I was in high school my mom was diagnosed with breast cancer. She is a thirty plus year survivor. She showed me then what it is to be tough and survive, and I always think of her as bullet-proof. The number one thing my mom taught me is to never give up. Thanks Mom for all the lessons, and for continuing to be tough. 

For those of you without your mom this Mother’s Day, know that I’m thinking of you. For those of you without children know that I’m thinking of you too. Here’s to all the bullet-proof, kick-ass mom’s out there, wishing you a very happy Mother’s Day. 

Courage and Radical Self-care

I’ve written before about how overwhelm can derail the best of plans. This past year I had a collection of short stories published (you can get them here) and I  signed a contract for a novel in January. In addition to writing I also teach cooking classes, work as a consultant, volunteer at my kids school once a week, work a day job, write this blog and another one, and I have kids and a partner, pets, etc.

Are you tired reading this? Or overwhelmed? I know I am. If you add in the current political climate I am beyond stressed. Like many people with ADHD I struggle on a daily basis with control and focus without outside pressures and demands. I have written before about self-care, here and here and I think that all of the ideas in those posts still work.

This post is about having the courage to stop doing things, in order to do the things that nourish your body and soul. For me that means letting go of my cooking blog for now, and more than likely letting go of this blog in the future. 

When I started this blog I did so because I needed a creative outlet, even if it seemed like I was shouting down a well most days. It was excellent writing practice. It gave me some positive feedback, and I made some amazing friends as a result of it. But with one contract signed, and wanting to publish more I’d much rather be working on my next book. I’m cutting back on my posts and holding on to this blog for now, because if life has taught me anything it has taught me that things change.

I’ve seen some snarky comments about bloggers staying on brand in the midst of the crazy, unsettling political and social upheaval going on right now. I have two things to say about that:

  1. Just because I don’t write about politics does not mean I don’t care. I am not unaware. Please do not suggest I am not sincere about my beliefs because I am not shouting them from this blog.  I am not a political blogger. I don’t plan on being one anytime soon. There are many many others more qualified than I am to do that. Go read their blogs. 
  2. In the midst of chaos a safe space that offers a peaceful place to rest your brain is necessary for survival. Stressing your adrenal glands long term without a break is a recipe for collapse. Life is a marathon not a sprint. I intend to survive this BS with my body and soul intact. 

Taking care of yourself enables you to cope with all the changes and stresses that come along and this is my message to you:

HAVE THE COURAGE TO TAKE CARE OF YOURSELF.

 Make a list of things you are no longer going to do. Then find ways to stop doing those things. Let go of what is not working, make space for what is. Post it where you can see it as a reminder in your calendar, or journal, or the refrigerator.  I’ll go first. 

I’m no longer going to stress over getting everything done because I’m putting myself, my family, and my creative projects at the top of the list.

I’m no longer going to work on any creative projects that I don’t enjoy. This may seem radical but it’s not. If you need permission I’m going to give it to you. If a project no longer makes you happy/satisfied/fulfilled, just stop. That novel you’ve been working on so long, you don’t even remember why you started it? Let it go. Write something that makes you excited to sit down and work. Write something that feeds you.

I’m no longer going to do exercise that makes me dread putting on exercise clothes. That gym membership you signed up for and don’t use? Let it go. Find an exercise program that makes you happy, walking, hiking, yoga, swimming, city- league hockey, slow pitch soft ball, whatever gets you moving and makes you happy do that instead. 

I’m no longer going to attend family gatherings/parties/social events that are stressful. That annual family thing that makes you want to scream and run from the room? Let it go. Politely decline. No explanation is necessary. “I’m sorry I will not be able to attend,” is a complete sentence.

The amazing Audre Lord wrote these wise words, “Caring for myself is not self-indulgence, it is self-preservation, and that is an act of political warfare.”

Caring for myself means staying on brand, staying positive and fighting in my own way for the things I believe in. 

Have the courage to say no. Have the courage to care for yourself. 

Hooray for Queer Sheros- The Edge of the Blade

The Edge of the Blade, the second book in the Uncharted Realms series by Jeffe Kennedy  tells the story of Jepp, the leader and heart of Queen Ursula’s elite guard The Hawks.  After a one night stand with a visiting Prince leads to a diplomatic crisis, Jeep’s love for her Queen leads her to  accept an assignment that delivers her to a culture steeped in misogyny, and sexism, a kingdom where women are kept as bed-slaves or married, and never allowed to lead. A glimpse of hell as far as Jepp is concerned. She uses her wit, her fighting skills and instincts to free herself and Prince Kral from the draconian kingdom that was his home. 

 Filled with sassy, sexy romance and intrigue this is the first book in a long time that I wanted to re-read as soon as I had finished it. Why? Besides the fantastic world building and ripping storytelling, I adored the fact that Jepp, the lead character is a smart, ass-kicking woman, all out of fu@ks to give, and openly bisexual. And not just a glimpse, or a tease kind of bisexual, a hinted at thing that involves a lot of suggestion and fade to black moments. Nope, Jepp owns it.

And in the course of her story where she becomes more involved with a man she only intended to have a fling with she never, ever changes. She does not give over herself to the magic c@ck, that tired trope. Nope, she likes Prince Kral, maybe even loves him and the sex is great but if he can’t get his act together, well its his loss. Bravo Jeffe Kennedy for continuing to write strong women characters who would rather be alone than not be true to themselves. 

This book works as a stand-alone but treat yourself to more of Jepp and read The Twelve Kingdoms series, and The Pages of the Mind before jumping into this book, or be like Jepp and jump in where you want too. 

Jeffe Kennedy is an award-winning author whose works include non-fiction, poetry, short fiction, and novels. She has been a Ucross Foundation Fellow, received the Wyoming Arts Council Fellowship for Poetry, and was awarded a Frank Nelson Doubleday Memorial Award. Her essays have appeared in many publications, including Redbook. She lives in Santa Fe, New Mexico, with two Maine coon cats, plentiful free-range lizards and a very handsome Doctor of Oriental Medicine.

Jeffe can be found online at her website: JeffeKennedy.com, every Sunday at the popular SFF Seven blog, on Facebook, on Goodreads and pretty much constantly on Twitter @jeffekennedy. She is represented by Connor Goldsmith of Fuse Literary.

The Edge of the Blade: Hooray for Queer Sheros

The Edge of the Blade, the second book in the Uncharted Realms series by Jeffe Kennedy  tells the story of Jepp, the leader and heart of Queen Ursula’s elite guard The Hawks.  After a one night stand with a visiting Prince leads to a diplomatic crisis, Jeep’s love for her Queen leads her to  accept an assignment that delivers her to a culture steeped in misogyny, and sexism, a kingdom where women are kept as bed-slaves or married, and never allowed to lead. A glimpse of hell as far as Jepp is concerned. She uses her wit, her fighting skills and instincts to free herself and Prince Kral from the draconian kingdom that was his home.

 Filled with sassy, sexy romance and intrigue this is the first book in a long time that I wanted to re-read as soon as I had finished it. Why? Besides the fantastic world building and ripping storytelling, I adored the fact that Jepp, the lead character is a smart, ass-kicking woman, all out of fu@ks to give, and openly bisexual. And not just a glimpse, or a tease kind of bisexual, a hinted at thing that involves a lot of suggestion and fade to black moments. Nope, Jepp owns it.

And in the course of her story where she becomes more involved with a man she only intended to have a fling with she never, ever changes. She does not give over herself to the magic c@ck, that tired trope. Nope, she likes Prince Kral, maybe even loves him and the sex is great but if he can’t get his act together, well its his loss. Bravo Jeffe Kennedy for continuing to write strong women characters who would rather be alone than not be true to themselves. 

This book works as a stand-alone but treat yourself to more of Jepp and read The Twelve Kingdoms series, and The Pages of the Mind before jumping into this book, or be like Jepp and jump in where you want too. 

Jeffe Kennedy is an award-winning author whose works include non-fiction, poetry, short fiction, and novels. She has been a Ucross Foundation Fellow, received the Wyoming Arts Council Fellowship for Poetry, and was awarded a Frank Nelson Doubleday Memorial Award. Her essays have appeared in many publications, including Redbook. She lives in Santa Fe, New Mexico, with two Maine coon cats, plentiful free-range lizards and a very handsome Doctor of Oriental Medicine.

Jeffe can be found online at her website: JeffeKennedy.com, every Sunday at the popular SFF Seven blog, on Facebook, on Goodreads and pretty much constantly on Twitter @jeffekennedy. She is represented by Connor Goldsmith of Fuse Literary.

 

On Facebook Fasts and No-Screen Sabbaths

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If you have read my blog for a bit you know that I am a big proponent of setting goals and making plans, and being flexible enough to change those plans when other opportunities occur/life happens. This year in response to some self-observation and research I am planning Facebook Fasts and Screen Sabbaths as part of my self-care for this year.

Like many people with ADHD/ADD I do not sleep well and never have, but since the advent of portable screens my sleep has been severely disrupted. I could blame it all on the blue light of the screen but if I’m honest it is not only the effects of the screen that disturbs my sleep. It is the anxiety/stress/mental stimulation that accompanies the screens.

Earlier this year I started taking a break from all screens on Sundays.  It was revolutionary. I remembered what it was like to not feel like I had to engage with anyone but my family. What I noticed most was the lack of urgency. My sense of time was more relaxed. I accomplished my tasks. Without a constant digital reminder of time, I was much more calm. This is not to say that I was less busy only that I was much less pressed and the accompanying relaxation left me happy and rested to start the week. Inspired by a friend’s month long Facebook hiatus I did a three day Facebook Fast over the Thanksgiving holiday and experienced the same feelings.img_5609This year, scheduled Facebook Fasts and continuing No-Screen Sabbaths will be part of taking care of myself and my family and living with intention. I hope you will find the time to disconnect and reset too.

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