Encyclopedia Brown and Mister Rogers.

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About that writing offline I mentioned yesterday

I don’t remember a time when I wasn’t obsessed with notebooks. The first notebook I remember loving so hard that I wore it down to a floppy nub was spiral-bound with an orange cover. In my notebook I wrote down a lot of facts that I thought Encyclopedia Brown would need to know if he ever needed my help to solve one of his cases.

Now I carry two Traveler’s Notebooks: one for work, and one for creative projects. I like having this separation between the two worlds. When I switch between notebooks, I feel like Mister Rogers trading his jacket and dress shoes for a cardigan and trainers.

Writing from: a quiet study in Portland, Oregon. Listening to: Spotify’s Winter Classical playlist.

Postponing nothing.

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Sometimes when I stroll through the circulation workroom of my library, a book cover catches my eye but because my to-read pile is already unreasonably large, I will merely nod respectfully to it and keep walking.

Yeah, right.

Recently my attention was snagged by “The Daily Stoic: 366 Meditations on Wisdom, Perseverance, and the Art of Living” by Ryan Holiday and Stephen Hanselman. I was really digging November’s meditations on acceptance. This month’s meditations are on mortality, and they are more challenging. Example: December 1st was “Pretend Today Is the End” with this quote from Seneca:

“Let us prepare our minds as if we’d come to the very end of life. Let us postpone nothing. Let us balance life’s books each day. . . .The one who puts the finishing touches on their life each day is never short of time.”

–Seneca, Moral Letters, 101.7b-8a

I expected this year’s Holidailies to be about how horrified I am by American politics. But when I considered the meditation, I didn’t want to write about that anymore. I’m no less horrified, and I will continue to combat the forces of darkness, but writing about it online is not how I want to spend my remaining time on the planet. (Writing it all out offline is a different story, and has kept me sane this year.)

In the interest of postponing nothing, here are things I want to tell you today:

  1. Fallen leaves smell really good. I know this because I got a good whiff when I took this selfie even though I have grown to hate how I look in photographs.
  2. I misheard a friend say “Van Gogh’s Mirror” and started writing that short story in my head but if you beat me to it I won’t be too mad.
  3. Reading this essay made me feel somewhat okay again after that NYT piece on Nazis in Applebee’s. And also canceling my NYT subscription. Oops, politics.
  4. I have been knitting a sweater for FunkyPlaid since before we moved to Scotland but I finally got professional knitting help today and I think this year might be the year I actually finish it! Postponing nothing, right?

Writing from: a quiet study in Portland, Oregon. Listening to: “Follow the Leader” by Foxygen.

This Week

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Hello from the midst of another Portland ice-pocalypse! FunkyPlaid and I have a fire going in the fireplace and still have power, but the sidewalks and roads are covered with ice. Now that I have somewhat recovered from last year’s Project 365, I thought I’d attempt this weekly review again.

To combat the winter doldrums, I’ve restarted my daily mood tracking with Exist, which also integrates data from various other services I use to find trends and correlations. Some of the correlations will be obvious — like a better mood on weekends — but I am looking forward to the less obvious ones.

One of the services that Exist integrates is RescueTime, which I use to track how I’m using my computer time. It tells me that I have been 65% productive, which is a 10.2% increase from last week. (That is an overall productivity score, not only during work hours, so it also includes how much faffing off I do online during nights and weekends. This is intentional.)

Work

Three big deadlines hit all at once, which means that I spent too long in my office and felt pretty disconnected from my team. When I got home each night after work, I was too drained to do anything useful. But somehow I managed to begin a new short story draft!

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I finished reading Patricia Highsmith’s The Price of Salt which is a gorgeous novel. It perfectly captures that free-fall of a passionate love affair and all the ennui-ridden rumination that accompanies it. I’m looking forward to watching Carol now that I have read the source material.

I started reading You Are a Badass: How to Stop Doubting Your Greatness and Start Living an Awesome Life because that seems like a good plan for 2017.

This week I have been listening to a lot of Real Jazz on SiriusXM. I also listened to the La La Land soundtrack a couple of times and finally listened to the newest Dinosaur Jr. album, Give a Glimpse of What Yer Not. Hearing Dinosaur Jr. again prompted me to once again attempt to reconstruct one of the best mixtapes I have ever received. (Adam, if you’re reading this, that mixtape haunts my dreams.)

FunkyPlaid and I saw Rogue One: A Star Wars Story and enjoyed it quite a bit. We also finished watching Westworld, which was ultimately a disappointment. I loved the first few episodes, at least. Then we started watching Luke Cage which I like so much more than Jessica Jones!

On the Internet

[ more tweets & retweets, etc. ._.-. this section will be better in the future ]

Ink o’ the Week

I gave Rohrer & Klingner’s Verdigris another go, but it is too dark for me. I’m still enamored with the cool greenish-grey of De Atramentis Charles Dickens. Maybe I should look for an ice-blue to go with all of this wintry weather … recommendations?

Day 282 of Project 365: Reading old drafts.

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Today’s big task was to reboot my writing routine, so I downloaded Scrivener for iOS and synched some manuscript drafts to my iPad. I love using Scrivener on my Mac, and I’m so glad that the iOS app was worth the wait.

While learning how to use Scrivener for iOS, I re-read part of last year’s NaNoWriMo manuscript. I had become somewhat disheartened about it after telling a few people bits and pieces of the plot and worrying over their responses. Re-reading the draft today affirmed my belief that there is a story I want to tell in there, and it’s got solid bones that I can edit into something good.

I won’t make the same mistake again, though; from now on, I’ll keep the details of early drafts all to myself.

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Writing from: my study in Portland, Oregon. Listening to: soft autumn rain.

Day 241 of Project 365: Time is on my side.

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Lately I’ve been struggling with time management. At work, there rarely seems to be enough time to get things done. At home, there is never enough time to relax before I have to get back to work. And on the bus, time smushes up so that even when I have extra hours to read, to listen to podcasts, or simply to ponder life, I do a little of those and a lot more dozing off.

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One thing is for certain right now: I’m not spending enough time writing. I’m heartsick whenever I realize another day has gone by without significant progress on any draft. Eleven weeks into the new job and I’m fixating on being unable to write short stories on the bus. Something is wrong here and I need to figure it out.

Day 16 of Project 365: Panda says relax.

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Many hours later, I am still riding the high of an epic karaoke evening with Writers’ Bloc. The month I moved here I saw them perform for the first time and thought to myself, “I would love to be in Writers’ Bloc someday.”

A year later, I was.

Since then, we have shared many pints in the back room of a local pub, critiquing and scheming and blethering on. I’ve been lucky enough to perform with them a few times, too. Both the critiques and the performances have been invaluable, and I would not have half the excitement for and confidence in writing that I currently do had it not been for Bloc’s influence.

One of the pre-karaoke cocktails I had at Panda & Sons had a hidden message folded up and tucked into it. Panda said relax, and I listened, and I sang, and I laughed, and I will remember.

Writing from: a frosty lounge in Edinburgh. Listening to: the anti-karaoke, Chopin’s Nocturnes.

Day 14 of Project 365: Be ready.

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On the way to the Writers’ Bloc meeting tonight, Gav pointed out this pair of boots stranded on Princes Street. I’d like to make up a story about how they came to be stranded on Princes Street, but I know the truth.

The person last seen wearing these boots was walking down Princes Street, minding her own business, humming a tuneless tune to herself. Out of the corner of her eye, she saw someone approach, and her heart immediately sank; she knew the types in brightly-coloured jackets who lunged cheerfully into one’s path and asked for donations to good causes. She walked faster but could not shake the figure who now loomed into her space. Before she could beg off the donation with mumbled appeasements, a piece of paper was thrust into her hands. She squinted after the hastily retreating figure and then back to what it had given her.

“If you want to fly, jump now,” the paper read. She turned the paper over in her hands, looking for any distinguishing marks, or caveats, or disclaimers. Fly? For how long? To where? And jump? A big jump or a little jump or straight up or to the side or …?

She stopped walking then. She folded the piece of paper once and put it into her pocket. And then she looked up, way up until her eyes unfocused, and she jumped. The boots couldn’t go where she was going, so they stayed behind.

When you encounter an opportunity that scares you, be ready.

Day 1 of Project 365: Morning Pages

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You’ll have noticed that I failed utterly at Holidailies this year. It was the worst timing ever this year, what with the NaNoWriMo hangover and the lurgy and FunkyPlaid being away and trying to cram so much into my last-ever Edinburgh holiday season.

But I have missed a regular prompt to be creative here, and one experiment helped me do that like nothing else did: Project 365.

So let’s begin.

We’re starting with my ever-present sidekick, my Midori Traveler’s Notebook. I’ve fussed over digital productivity tools in the past here, and while I still use a few of them, I’ve been back to analog for a while now. I use the Bullet Journal system in one of my three notebook refills. That one keeps my daily task-list and other lists organised. The second is my writing notebook, in which I record ideas and write first-drafts longhand. The third is the one pictured, my morning pages journal. Per Julia Cameron’s advice, I write three pages every day in this journal to clear the cobwebs. These are stream-of-consciousness words, nothing so structured as to comprise a journal entry.

This year I did make one resolution: other than Project 365, I will not be participating in any something-a-day, something-a-month, something-a-year challenges in 2016. These challenges can be very motivating and inspiring for others but they fill me with anxiety. As soon as I made this promise to myself, I felt relieved. I’ve been using these external benchmarks as indicators that I am … doing what, exactly? I’m not even sure.

On the eve of a major relocation and its surrounding upheaval, it’s time for me to focus on what inspires me creatively, and do more of that. I hope you’ll join me as I figure it out.

On making messes.

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Today I thought I might talk to you about making messes. And just before sitting down to write, I peeked at Twitter, and saw this tweet:

I have never been terribly good at making messes. I cringe at my own floundering, especially when it comes to writing, because my taste is better than my current skill level. NaNoWriMo was a special kind of hell for me, which made it all the more important that I finish: I love surprises, but hate being surprised by myself. This is why I spend time every morning writing the mess out of my brain, what Julia Cameron termed “morning pages”. I grab my notebook and a fountain pen and I make a mess. I am okay with this mess.

But then NaNoWriMo happened, one 50,000-word mess. I’m glad I did it, and glad I finished, but it shook my confidence in my ability to tell a coherent story. My meticulous planning was abandoned within the first week because every time I sat down to write I had no interest in telling the story found in my outline. Knowing that it was more important to get words onto the page than to be strict about an outline, I opted for messy writing. New characters were invented, stuck around for a scene or two, and then disappeared. The protagonists went off on tangents that did not further the plot in any way. I barely adhered to basic rules of grammar.

I would love to tell you that it felt great to make this mess, but most days were slogs punctuated by brief moments of mediocrity. And I realise that all first drafts are crap, but a short story draft has the one shining benefit of being short. By the end of November I had the distinct feeling of being trapped at a party with people who kept cornering me in the kitchen with random anecdotes. “And another thing,” one would tell me as I looked longingly toward the door, stirring the ice in my empty drink. “Have I mentioned my long-lost cousin? Because I really think she would show up right about now and explain about the time I almost drowned as a kid.” What? Okay, no. Stop.

But now that I have a week of distance from NaNoWriMo, I see two bright spots to all this mess-making. One, by wildly bashing away at a keyboard for a month I refined an okay idea to a good one. Only a fraction of that good idea is in the first draft, so it will require a significant rewrite, but now I know the story I really want to tell. And the second bright spot was the camaraderie I felt by sharing this huge, ridiculous undertaking with other people. My mom and I texted our word-counts and encouragement to each other every day, which helped me stay focused despite being demoralised. And my friend sharks and I conducted several terrific writing-sprint sessions together, including our very last so we crossed the finish line at the same time.

I know my writing, and my life, would be better if I could learn to be okay with making a mess. How many things do I prevent myself from trying because I’m afraid to mess them up?

NaNoWriMo 2015

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It’s almost here! National Novel Writing Month, or NaNoWriMo for short, begins on Sunday. I will endeavour to write 50,000 words in the month of November. This undertaking is about quantity, not quality, so I cannot vouch for the words themselves, only the ridiculous number of them. This word count meter will update throughout the month so check back if you want to see how I’m faring.

But I’m a planner at heart, and so I’m using a fantastic tool called WorkFlowy to keep the chaos at bay. Frank Degenaar of Productivity Mashup has just published a thorough and engaging book called “Do Way, Way More in WorkFlowy”. In this interview for the WorkFlowy blog, Frank and I chatted about how I use WorkFlowy to create detailed outlines for my fiction. I also shared the WorkFlowy outlining template I created for use in NaNoWriMo and beyond.

If you do not want to participate in NaNoWriMo but would still like to support the 501(c)(3) nonprofit that makes it all possible, you can donate via my fundraising page.

Wish me luck!