2019 q4 goals

I don’t know how to set goals.

It seems like a weird thing to say, but I don’t get it.

Sure, I can come up with a list of things I want to do, but I find that there’s a disconnect between what I’m doing day to day and the overarching things I want to accomplish. I either lose sight of the big picture, or I can’t figure out how to break the goals down into things I can do in my daily life.

I’ve been thinking about this more because of Notion and having to write out specific tasks. Applying labels and categories and looking at the accumulation of things I’m working on has helped this take shape for me. I’m starting to feel a little less like I’m wandering aimlessly through a featureless landscape and a little more like maybe there’s a roadmap. But also specifically, that I’m the one creating the roadmap. So, in this metaphor, I guess I’m a cartographer? (For a map that will probably only be useful for me… Let’s go ahead and drop the metaphor here.)

This morning something clicked. I was listening to the first ep of season 3 of Genre Hustle about goal-setting, and everyone was giving AP shit (good-naturedly) for having daily, weekly, monthly, quarterly, and yearly goals. And I thought, maybe this is where my disconnect is.

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discovering notion, or one system to rule them all

I’m always on the look out for better ways to organize my chaotic brain. But because each application or tool is really good at one thing and then medium or bad at everything else, I end up with a vast collection of tools that I barely use while trying to hold all of my workflow stuff in my head.

This works about as well as you would expect.

And though I know exactly how it’s going to end (i.e. poorly), my system consistently devolves into this state. Entropy, man. It’ll get you in the end.

At the beginning of last week, I had once again reached that threshold where this “system” was untenable. I was only paying attention to my day to day agenda without thinking about how each of my tasks impacted my overall trajectory towards long-term goals. Was I moving in the direction that I wanted to go? Was I prioritizing things correctly? Is it possible to know any of those things without writing them down somewhere? Maybe for some people, but definitely not for me.

So I found myself looking at the vast array of tools I already use to track parts of my life—AirTable for submissions, Excel/Sheets for story outlines, Word/Docs for brainstorming, Pocket (prev Evernote) for interesting articles or resources or inspo, Calendar for tracking appointments and life stuff, a bullet journal for day to day agenda items, Trello for workflow, variably Todoist or Keep or Workflowy or scraps of paper for checklists…—and despairing. I mean, the process of listing all of those things out gave me mild palpitations.

The idea of adding something to this list was daunting. The idea of shoving a writing workflow/goals tracker into one of these systems, having it fail because it doesn’t quite fit right, and then winding up back in this exact same position a handful of months down the line… It’s so demoralizing.

You see, I end up at this place because I am very particular. I have an idea of how I want to track things, of what might be useful to my brain, and of how I want to interact with a program. The problem I have is that nothing seems to work quite the way I want it to. It’s a lot to ask for, one organizational system to rule them all.

Enter Notion.so.

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making time

It’s the month of setting new goals and resolution. I find that when we’re talking about  resolutions, people tend to talk in terms of things they want to add to their lives. I want to work out. I want to read more. I want to write/draw/paint/spend more time with friends. Etc.

Often, these resolutions don’t stick. There are hundreds of articles circulating the internet about why. About how to set goals. About specificity and actionability. But one thing that I think we need to spend more time thinking about is this: what are you going to give up to reach that goal?

Given that you are a living person (an assumption, but a relatively safe one, I think), you are already using up all the time that you have in each day. That’s not to say that you’re using it wisely or productively, but it is, most definitely, being used, simply because you are traveling forward through time (another assumption, but again…). So it’s all well and good to want to add to your life or pick up a new hobby or do more more more, but unless you’ve got a time-turner or can somehow freeze time, something has to give way.

For me, it’s useful to frame it this way because I want to be more mindful about what I’m doing with my time. There are things that I do way too much of (read Twitter, watch Netflix, the internets) because they are easy or habitual or I just need that sweet, sweet dopamine kick. But there are also many things that I would rather be doing, that I feel badly about not doing. I imagine that this is a nearly universal feeling.

So in addition to identifying the things we’d like to do more, we should deliberately figure out what we are willing to give up. Identifying the things that you want to cut down on this year will also give you a series of cues to check in with yourself.

Once you have a list of the things that you’d like to do less of, the next step is finding the time. That requires being honest about how you currently spend your time. And we all have a tendency to fudge the numbers. Some of the things we do are mandatory and regular (e.g. jobs, childcare), and that amount of the time varies from person to person. And some things are mandatory, but not fixed (e.g. self-care). But when you take a good, truthful, granular look at how you spend your time, you can usually find a hour (or five) here and there that isn’t being used the way you like.

That’s the place to start. What are you doing with those minutes or hours? Is that what you want to be doing? What else could you be doing with that time that would prioritize your goals and well-being?

And sometimes, maybe the answer is watch TV/movies, veg out, and otherwise give your brain a break. That’s totally fine too. I have plenty of those moments. But if I’m watching Netflix, I want it to be because I chose to watch Netflix, not because I fell into a bad habit loop. I don’t want to have those behaviors be thoughtless and automatic.

Tim Urban (Wait But Why) did the calculus: we have roughly 100 ten minute blocks in each day (assuming you sleep 7-8 hours a night). How do you want to spend each of those finite blocks?

2019: looking forward

Resolutions, goals. Goals, resolutions. Who knows.

I went back and re-read my resolutions from last year, and they still generally apply. I think I’ve done a pretty good job with my mindset this year, but there’s still always more work to be done. Most of my systems started degrading and falling apart after the Europe trip, and it was hard to get things back on the rails totally. Which makes sense, but I want to figure out how to make my own systems and structures more robust and much less fragile.

But resolutions are different from goals.

I think of goals as discrete tasks that can be accomplished. I think setting goals is almost more difficult than making resolutions (though the difficulty of execution may be flipped there) because it’s very easy to fall into a trap of working towards something that isn’t actually helpful.

For example, word count. It’s important to recognize that a word count and a complete, coherent work are two different things. Fulfilling a word count doesn’t necessarily mean that you’ve completed a story. Which isn’t to say that word counts aren’t helpful — they very much can be if you are using them to measure what they should measure. But I think that there has to be a clarity there that is often missing when I talk to other people about their goals and when I’m thinking about my own.

My plan this year is to have three month goals, revisit and re-evaluate, and then refocus periodically throughout 2019. Most of the three month goals are project related goals. Originally, I had come up with some deadlines for certain things, but then I realized that most of those were completely arbitrarily decided. I don’t have enough context for how I work and what this whole writing process is to set reasonable timeline goals.

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so let’s start

Remember that in order to recover as an artist, you must be willing to be a bad artist. Give yourself permission to be a beginner. By being willing to be a bad artist, you have a chance to be an artist, and perhaps, over time, a very good one.

When I make this point in teaching, I am met by instant, defensive hostility: “But do you know how old I will be by the time I learn to really play the piano/act/paint/write a decent play?”

Yes… the same age you will be if you don’t.

So let’s start.

– Julia Cameron, The Artist’s Way

writing recap 2018: w44

This week was rather eventful on the writing front.

I finished out my October flash fiction challenge. Overall, I felt like it was a success. Upon reflection, it helped me establish a few helpful patterns of thought and behavior. I learned to stop shooting down my own ideas and to follow them down their little paths instead. I got better at thinking through plot points and being a bit more agile instead of throwing up my hands and self-flagellating.

I’ve been using the technique of “meditating productively” (from Deep Work by Cal Newport) — while I’m doing something that occupies me physically (dishes, vacuuming, walking, etc.), I’ve been deliberately focusing my attention on figuring out plot for whichever piece I’m working on. I mostly use this technique in the shower now. And by the end of the month, I didn’t have to redirect my attention nearly as much. I would just get in the shower, and my brain would think “Oh, I guess it’s time to spitball ideas about where this story is going,” and away we would go. This means that I have many podcasts that are still unlistened to, but a bunch of pieces of fiction that I think have potential. I’m more than happy with that trade off.

The other major writing event was the kick-off of NaNoWriMo, of course.

My mindset this year feels very different than last. Last year, I was full of nervous excited energy and not sure that I could write so many words in a month. This year, after some initial nerves, I’m feeling pretty calm and measured about it. I mean, once I decided I was going to do it (not try to do it). Once you just accept the truth of your success or failure, there’s no more agonizing. Like, ho hum, this is just part of my routine right now.

My plan is to write around 2000 words a day, while taking Sundays off and accounting for some lost days around Thanksgiving. I should still come in nicely at goal even with those allowances.

I still have doubts. The two loudest ones are “what if I’m not good enough to write this story yet?” and “what if I don’t have the endurance to stick with this story through the end?”. When the first comes up, I mostly shrug. How would I know if I’m “good enough” (whatever that means) to write this story if I don’t try to write the story? So although that doubt still sits with me, there’s not really anything I can do about it.

The second doubt is a slightly more interesting one. Because if you think of endurance/willpower/the-ability-to-do-deep-work as a muscle that needs exercising, then the only solution is to just do it (the Nike slogan applies everywhere).

But the deeper fear underlying both is that it’s going to be hard. That it won’t feel easy and simple all the time. That it’ll feel terrible and difficult and frustrating. And, well, yeah. I mean, it will. (That’s why one of my morning page daily “affirmation” things is “It’s supposed to be hard.”) And not only is that okay, but it’s expected, and I’m going to fucking do it anyway.

(Buckle up. I get a little rant-y from here.)

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writing recap 09/21/2018

I’ve spent the last few months working on a novel project that has been running me down. It came in stops and starts anyway, and then I crashed into a wall with worldbuilding issues. I stopped, established the rules of the world, rewrote, and then wrote again, but even still. Each word on the page felt like I had to pull teeth.

A lot of it has to do with the running litany of fears that I have going on in the back of my mind. It was a quiet enough susurrus that I thought I could ignore it, move past it. But my jerk brain wouldn’t let up, and the fears worked their way under my skin. Every time I opened my project, the recitation broke over me, and it just became harder and harder to write past it.

I spent the past couple of weeks working on process. I’ve let mine get messy and out of sorts due to travel and side projects and hoping my house will put itself in order. But I know better than that.

Process is deliberate; entropy is the default state of things.

I needed a reset, but I was going back and forth on whether or not I should take a break from the novel. Because you’re supposed to finish things, right? Was I taking a break because I just wanted to avoid doing the thing? Or was I taking a break because I just needed a break? Can you tell the difference? Sometimes I can’t.

Then again, sitting there and agonizing about it while my processes crumbled wasn’t really helping either.

So this week, I forgave myself for setting the novel aside temporarily. I’ve been working on a few flash fiction pieces instead. Little ideas that I scribbled in my notebook for “a later time.” It has been liberating and gratifying, and it’s nice to not start the day with task aversion and self-flagellation. I’ve started implementing a ritual right before I sit down to write, and I’ve been a little less rigid about timing. Thus far, I’ve completed draft one of one flash fiction piece, am mostly done with another, and am about a third of the way into a short story.

Finishing things is important. I know that novel is going to be there when I go back to it. And I know I’m going to finish it. But sometimes it’s easy to forget what victory feels like when you are in the midst of a huge project. I was denying myself the option of working on other little things during the novel slog because I didn’t want to distract myself. I didn’t think about it as a way to recharge instead, to remind myself that I can actually complete a project.

The question now is, how long should this break be? At what point am I just avoiding the novel again? I’m thinking 2-4 weeks will hit the mark for me, but I’ll re-evaluate at the end of next week.

resisting procrastination

Never forget: This very moment, we can change our lives. There never was a moment, and never will be, when we are without the power to alter our destiny. This second, we can turn the tables on Resistance.

This second, we can sit down and do our work.

– Steven Pressfield, War of Art

resistance is infallible

We can use this. We can use it as a compass. We can navigate by Resistance, letting it guide us to that calling or action that we must follow before all others.

Rule of thumb: The more important a call or action is to our soul’s evolution, the more Resistance we will feel toward pursuing it.

– Steven Pressfield, The War of Art