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Saturday, January 31, 2015

Stop Flogging Yourself

Posted by Tim Stobbs on January 28, 2015

So about now your well intentioned New Year’s resolution might be falling apart at the seams.  After all learning a new habit is hard and we often trip and fall during the process.  Well, at least, I always seem to have issues learning a new habit no matter when I try to get it going during the year.

Yet after failing to get into the habit of writing daily for years, I have come across something very small but helpful that is really getting me to get better at doing it.  The secret to success in this case is very simple: stop mentally flogging myself when I screw up. Huh?

Let me explain.  My cycle typically went like this.  I would be full of hope and determination at the start and then at some point or another fall of the wagon of my new habit.  Often it was small mistake like getting busy one day and forgetting to write.  Then I would feel guilty and immediately try to make up the writing on the next day and double my word count target.  Yet doing two days of writing in one can be hard, so that would often go poorly and I would get more disappointed in myself and I would the miss another day.  Now feeling even worse with a even bigger debt of writing to complete.  Then I would eventually get disgusted and quit the entire attempt.  I would have another epic fail to create a habit to write daily.

This time around, it’s been different.  Why? Like I said I stopped mentally flogging myself.  I don’t try to make up any missed words counts when I screw up a day.  In fact I planned for a few screw up days overall so I don’t have to perfect in the first place.  Now oddly enough, I don’t have feeling of guilt and then shame about messing up a day here or there.  I treat each day as it own personal challenge and I accept I will lose that challenge some days: it’s ok.

I think my problem lies in I was fighting the part of me that was lazy.  By not allowing some goofing off days in my earlier attempts I had doomed myself to feeling guilt and shame and spiraling down to failure.  Now I just accept that fact, I will screw up at times and frankly that is ok as long as over all I’m writing more than I previously was.  Given the option, most people pick being lazy over hard work.  It is sort of a normal feeling to have so life gets easier when you realize this  and plan for it.

Which perhaps is why I’m such a good saver…I’m lazy about it.  I literally forget about it most of the time and only try to do one transfer to an investing account once a month when I’m paying my other bills.  I don’t set a deadline on this action, but rather at some point close to either then end or start of the month.  But if you are just starting out I would highly suggest automatic transfers…I literally did that for years when we got started and it helped out a lot.

So have you been trying out any new habits lately?  How are they going for you? Any tips to share on what works for you?

Learning About Yourself

Posted by Tim Stobbs on November 24, 2014

So far this month I’ve written more than I ever thought possible in a single month.  I’m currently at ~39,000 words on my novel.  Which for those that are curious that would be about 156 pages or 78 blog posts.  I really do think I will hit the 50,000 word goal by Nov 30.

Yet while finishing the first draft of my novel is a good thing to achieve from all this time I’ve been putting in, I’ve also learned more about myself than I thought possible.

When I started this challenge this month, I had this idea in my head of what kind of writer that I am.  I needed quiet to write, I needed to not be too tired, and I needed to somewhat interested in what I was writing.  I also thought I was a writer that worked best with a bit of plot developed and then make up the rest as I go.  I also tended to to write from the start to the end.

Now I have learned all of that was excuses.  Excusing to prevent myself from writing, excuses on how I thought I worked.  Now I know I can write just about anywhere at anytime in any mood including 10:30pm, when exhausted, with music blasting away in my ears with a scene I couldn’t care less about.

I also learned that it is ok to make stuff up as you go. Tangents are fine.  You may not use it, but it may turn into an important scene in the book.  But the most important lesson that I’ve learned as a writer is this: writing is not editing and vice versa.

For years I would read what I had previously written and edit instead of writing. Thus never actually finishing the book and editing the first chapter like seven times over.  Now I’ve finally learned to just shut down that part of my brain and just focus on writing for a while.  So it doesn’t matter if I have plot paradox (fix it later), different character hair colour (fix it later), change the family tree (fix it later), really crappy pacing (fix it later)…end of the world on the wrong day of the week (fix it later).

So yes I’ll have a tonne of editing work to do at the end of this month, but that’s ok because that is editing…not writing.

The other things I’ve learned about myself are:

  • I do very well with bar charts and daily writing goals to get something done.  Yes the pace of 1667 words a day is a bit high to do all the time, but ~1000 words are more reasonable.
  • I do well with some kind of writing support.  Just someone to talk to about it and help keep myself sane during the process.
  • Writing 2000 words is hard, but 200 is easy.  So I tend to write in little blocks of 200 words or so.  Then I do another 200…until you end up at 2000.
  • Just how much damn time I was wasting at month because of movies and Netflix…it’s mind blowing when I gave those up for the month to do this.

So of course I realized that if a person can write 1000 words a day 8o% of the time you can write 292,000 words a year…or one novel, one non-fiction book, a blog three times a week and a collection of short stories.  ALL of them in one year even with a full time job (granted they might not been edited yet, but you get the idea).

Yet the best thing of all about this month was this…for the first time in my adult life I feel utter no guilt about my writing.  I used to have a constant feeling in my mind that I should be working on writing, but not do it.  This month I haven’t felt that at all and it is the best feeling in the world.

In the end, I now know I don’t have to save $500,000 to be a writer.  I can do that today and right now but just writing…shockingly obvious I know, but I can say I really didn’t fully understand that until this month.

So what have you done that taught you a lot about yourself?  Did it change your view of the world?  If so, how?

Repressing the Urge to Run

Posted by Tim Stobbs on October 24, 2013

I’ve noticed something odd in the last year.  Since we have paid off the mortgage on our house and we have a sizable nest egg started I occasional have the urge to say “screw it all” and quit right away.  Why?  Because I’m slowly closing in on the amount saved that I could reasonably downshift my job and work half the time at significantly less pay and still cover all of our expenses.

The obvious downside to doing something that drastic would be locking myself into needing to work part time for the next 30 years at a higher rate than I ever planned.  Yet is a bit more freedom now worth less freedom in the longer time frame?  I really don’t know the answer to that some days.

I suspect this entire mindset is merely a result of having enough saved that I could actually even entertain these thoughts.  I can actually ;ook a scenario in my head and not feel guilty because it isn’t that far off the realm of possibility.  In effect, I’m daydreaming thoughts like this merely because I can.  Unlike the average person my age, I really don’t fear a layoff so what’s the big difference to intentionally downshifting your job?

The other reason to these thoughts is my job has recently been more stressful which makes me a bit unhappy.  I know it is the result of temporary issues of a lot of expectations for getting work done, but not enough staff to really do it all.  The good news is more staff have been approved, so its just sorting out the workloads for next year and hiring someone.  So my daydreaming is also likely the result of my mind looking for a stress relief.  After all, not working half the time right now seems really appealing when you have had a bad day at work.

In the end, usually a good night sleep helps clear my thoughts and gives me a bit more perspective.  I don’t need to do anything drastic and waiting a bit more to see if my day to day workload improves won’t cost me much.  It’s a few months at worst until things get better.  So I play with my daydream and usually put it back in the box.  It’s comforting just to know the option exists…even if I decide to never use it.

So how often do you daydream about saying screw it all and quitting?  Did you find the frequency goes up when your stressed?