Making Peace with Unmet Goals

Pretty much all personal projects screeched to a halt in November, including this blog and my book. I started a new full-time job. I found out I was pregnant (it’s a girl, due mid-July!), and have been trying to get my life in order since.

To wit, here is how I lived up to my 2012 goals:

  • Writing: Complete a first draft of my YA fantasy. Didn’t happen; only have about 1/3 of a draft finished.
  • Reading: 30 books read. Managed to read 25, so that’s something.

So didn’t really meet either of these. And there wasn’t much bookmaking (or crafting in general) to speak of in 2012, either.

But I’ve made peace with it. I accomplished a small amount, compared to what I’d hoped to, but I still made progress. I have a third of a book written! Over 35,000 words! It’s so much further than I’ve ever been before. And I read 25 books last year, which is probably more than I would’ve read without having set a goal. Besides, I did other awesome things. I found a job that’s fulfilling, that I enjoy going to each day. I am preparing for the start of my family.

For 2013, I’ve decided not to set goals. I will work on things as a feel motivated or inspired, and as I have time. I’m going to take life as it comes. I want to continue to work towards my goals of complete my book and reading more, but I’m not putting numbers or deadlines on it. Good things take time, and sometimes have to take a backseat to better or more important things.

To Love About L.A.: Great Comedy

Chris is a huge comedy fan, and over the course of our romance he’s slowly been weaning me onto standup comedians that are my kind of humor. I’ve really come to love comedians like Demetri Martin, Mitch Hedberg, Patton Oswalt, and Dan Cummins.

As the entertainment capital of the world, there are no shortage of shows in Los Angeles. A few weeks ago, we got to see my favoritest comedian extraordinaire, Maria Bamford. You might recognize her from those hilarious Target Christmas ads.

Here’s one of my favorite jokes from her set — about how sure, cooking is easy! But not easier than not cooking.

I love comedy because it gives us a new way of looking at life.

Maria Bamford gets me crying with laughter, but what I really admire about her is that her comedy has such a strong voice and point of view. She talks a lot about dealing with family, and living with anxiety, depression and OCD — and not only makes these topics funny, but also more relatable to the audience. She brings her own perspective and isn’t afraid to share it. She’s subtle, never preachy, but she still has something important to say. I love that about her, and I hope to bring a little more of that into my creative endeavors.

Who are you favorite comedians? How about writers or creators with a voice you love?

Are You in for NaNoWriMo 2012?

NaNoWriMo 2012

I want to know!

I haven’t been planning on it — I really need to finish my current project before starting work on the next. Plus, my two and only attempts at Nation Novel Writing Month (NaNoWriMo) have failed miserably.

But I’ve been thinking of doing a pseudo-NaNo to slather on the word count along with other somewhat insane writers.

Did you know —

there are some crazy people out there (you know who you are — glare) who consistently add anywhere from a 1,000-3,000 words to their WIP a day. A DAY. I’ve said it before, but I’ll say it again: I hate people who can finish a 60,000+ words manuscript in 4 months. But I also secretly love them because they are proof it is possible!

I recognize that this breakneck pace isn’t for everyone, but is definitely doable for me in my current situation. As a person currently between jobs (cough), I really have no excuse for not spending my plethora of extra time hunkering down and really fattening up my manuscript. Add to that the fact that I’ve set a soft deadline for completion at the end of November (a hard deadline for the end of the year), and I realize that I really could/should be doing more.

The minimum daily word count to stay on track for NaNoWriMo is somewhere around 1400 (probably, I’m too lazy to look it up right now), and that’s probably where I should be setting my minimum daily wordcount, anyway. That’s the kind of discipline and habit I want to develop.

So, I think I will join in, unofficially, and commit(ish) to writing 50,000 words in November.

Even though my last two attempts at NaNoWriMo fell ridiculously short of reaching 50K words. Even though I have a mountain of job applications I should probably fill out and send, instead. Even though my house is already messy and neglected as it is.

But even though I was far from succeeding, both times I participated in NaNoWriMo was a great experience, and taught me a lot about how I write. They were great, fun, and infuriating experiences. And, funnily enough, the current project I’m working on had grown from the seed of my first NaNoWriMo attempt in 2010.

So yep. Add 50K words. Write every day. This is happening. In a very unofficial, not-really-NaNoWriMo kind of way.

Who dares to try NaNoWriMo this year?

Are you outlining? Pantsing? Want to share your awesome premise? Comment and let me know! I’d love to be part of your NaNoWriMo support team :)

5 Ways to Make Your Writing & Screen Time More Productive

Typing is the fastest way to write. And computers are pretty obviously necessary for a whole slew of projects. But, it’s hard to keep the momentum going at your 9-5, then to expect to come home and continue slaving away in front of a laptop. But, as aspiring writers, this is often the only writing time we get.

A few months ago, I noticed that I was not using my screen time productively — at all. I’d sit down with every intention of working on my novel or replying to an email I’d been meaning to, only to later realize that an hour had passed and I hadn’t accomplished the task at hand. I decided to shake up my writing routine and try some new things. Here’s what worked for me!

1. Leave your digital workspace clear.

I can’t tell you how many times I’ve opened my laptop with every intention of writing a new blog post or starting work on a new scene, only to be immediately sidetracked because the last thing I happened to be doing was derping around on 9GAG. It’s so much easier to resist the pull of distractions if they aren’t immediately staring you in the face.

So, take some time to save your work, bookmark whatever sites you need to, and then shut things down. It’ll give you a lovely, clean new workspace the next time you need to work — and you can choose to only open the programs or projects you really need to.

2. Know what you want to accomplish.

Whether the goal is to write a thousand words, log an hour on a freelance project, or write until the new scene is finished — having it in mind will help you get geared towards accomplishing it before you even start working. Don’t just have a vague idea; make a concrete goal that is specific and measurable. You need to set a task that is either done or not, so you have something to stick to.

It can be helpful (and rewarding!) to find a way to log the task and what you got accomplished. For freelancers, this is a no brainer (it’s a prerequisite for a paycheck), but for those working on projects for themselves, this can be harder to do.  It doesn’t have to be high-tech or crazy (currently I check off a square of grid paper for every 100 words, which is weirdly satisfying), but it can help you keep the big picture in mind and work towards your overall goal.

3. Batch your tasks (and distractions).

Batching is an idea that presented in a lot of productivity books, and it has some good merits. Sometimes when you’re stuck in a rut, it’s to think, well I’ll just check Twitter really quick, or, I wonder if I have a new email. But by going back and forth to check email or Twitter, to log your time, or so on, can waste crucial minutes — minutes that add up to hours. And when it comes to finding the time to write, that’s a big enough challenge as it is.

Not only do they suck minutes, these distractors also suck your focus. It can take you much longer to refocus and set your mind to the task at hand. By putting all these time vampires together, their effect is minimized. Set a time to do all these things — it could be 10 minutes every two hours, or half an hour at your lunch break — and resist the urge to check them the rest of the time. It’s hard at first, but it’s definitely a habit worth creating.

4. Track/manage your time with apps.

Our hardware and software enable us to do awesome things and to work more efficiently. Computers are made for multi-tasking, but our brains? Not so much — especially when it comes to very cerebral or abstract tasks like coding, writing or crunching numbers.

Here are some apps and web browser plugins that help keep track of time and turn your computer into a single-task machine.

  1. Rescue Time: This program tracks how you use your time on your computer, and analyzes it for you, helping you spot time-wasters and get an honest, real-world view of how you’re spending your time.

  2. Stay Focused: A Google Chrome plug-in, this extension limits the amount of time you can spend on distracting sites. My husband, for instance, uses this at work to limit the time he spends on favorite sites to 20 minutes throughout the day — making sure they don’t eat into his work time or focus.

  3. Think – This Mac OS app blacks out your screen, leaving only the task you are working on. You’ll be less likely to click away from your task if you can’t see icons or other windows in your screen’s background! Some word processors and other programs also include a feature like this — I’m currently using Scrivener, for example, and it has a “Compose” button that makes the document I’m working on full-screen, with the option to black out the background.

5. Step away from the screen.

Like I said, we can sometimes go looking for distractions when our brains are feeling tired because we’ve hit a wall or we are bored with the current task. Instead of getting pulled into something else, take a quick break from your screen. You might walk around and step outside for some fresh air. Plus, this can help lower your risk for health problems and get blood flowing where you need it most — your brain!

Sometimes it helps to just take the problem to pen and paper — something about working the problem out on a notepad makes your brain pay closer attention, and requires you to slow down as you think it through. Often this can help me find just the perfect turn of phrase I’ve been looking for, or help me see why what I’ve been trying isn’t working.

What are your biggest productivity-busters? Have anything you do that helps improve your on-screen focus?

Handmade Library Has a New Look!

You guys. YOU GUYS. If you’re reading this, you’ve probably noticed my

SPIFFY NEW BLOG DESIGN.

Or if you are reading it via a reader, you can’t see it, in which case VISIT THE BLOG SO YOU CAN SEE MY AWESOME REDESIGN.

This has been several weeks in the making, but I couldn’t be happier with it! I designed the whole thing, and my amazing husband, ahem, web developer, Chris, built it. He says it’s very “Elyssa,” and I have to agree.

Handmade Library site redesign process

Don’t worry, the top was to work out the layout. I gave Chris a much better final mockup to work with! Also, the drawing of the face makes me laugh.

You’ve probably noticed some changes in the content of this blog. I’ve been talking a lot more about writing and my endeavors to get better at it. I wanted that to be reflected in the design, hence the typewriter! It’s actually a neat little logo I made a while ago to use on my resume (it’s still on there!), so I just updated the color scheme and added some doo-dads to make it happen. I also made it easier to subscribe, with fancy links in the sidebar that give you three options (so now you have no excuse not to subscribe to Handmade Library—wink).

Overall, I am so happy with the result! What do you think of Handmade Library’s new look?