Feb 18, 2019

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Motivation and the long con

Yesterday, I sent off my first short story submission since November 2017 (and my first rejection in about the same time some few hours later). Mostly that’s because I’ve been working on novels between then and now. A lot of it was also just, Clarion. Trying to write five stories in five weeks (our class skipped the story and the critique during the first week) while also reading and writing 17 critiques every week really just kind of broke me, even if we did have the option of working on the beginning of our novels during the last week. It took me a long while after Clarion to even want to work on short stories again.

But in the grand scheme of things, that year and a half is very small. Even in the scale of what could laughably be called my writing career, that year and a half is comparatively small. I started writing seriously in the fall of 2009. That is almost ten years ago. Fuck. Anyway. It’s a long time to work on pretty much anything, let alone something that mostly goes unnoticed by everyone. So sending that story out got me thinking about motivation. Because while there’s something uniquely gratifying about the act of storytelling, there are still things about it that I don’t inherently love. Editing will be the death of me someday and even while drafting, there are days when it all just needs to be thrown in a lake.

Intrinsic motivation is great and embarking on a long project, you basically need some, desperately. But sometimes you just need the extrinsic stuff to help you get through the difficult days. Here are things I’ve found work for me.

Habitica

Honestly, some day I’m going to have to stop singing the praises of Habitica, but today is not that day. Nothing is better for my motivation than checking stuff off a list. Why, yes, I am a Type A personality, what makes you ask?

Pomodoros

Especially when I’m drafting, pomodoros tend to make me stay focused on what I’m doing. If I’m on a roll, I can write about 500-800 words in a pomodoro and that’s great for getting some good word count in.

Rewards

I especially tend toward Diablo III as a reward system. Hell, that’s what I’m doing as soon as I finish writing this blog post. The earlier I’m done with all the tasks on my todo list, the earlier I get to go Diablo. And if that’s not enough and I’m drafting, I’ll compete against myself. 500 words broken down to 25 minutes is 100 words every five minutes. So I keep my tomato timer on the screen to my left and my draft on the screen in front of me and try to get to the next hundred words before that five minutes is up. And if I get at least 500 words during my sprint, I take a little victory lap around the apartment during the break.

Varying the work

I hate editing. I don’t want to, but I do. So what I’ve found is that not doing the sensible thing of taking care of all of a particular problem type in one pass is even harder. It’s easier for me to do one page than it is for me to do the same amount of work on one topic. Unless that work is the full re-imagining of a scene. It’s weird and inefficient, but there you go.

Trackers

Listen. I’m Type A. I can’t help it. I LIKE lists. I LOVE my Bullet Journal. A combination of these things means that having trackers of various kinds helps me focus on the stuff I need to get done. Online class that gives me a check mark when I’m done? I AM THERE! Can’t stop, won’t stop till I’m done. Pacemaker? Let me at it! Cool mortgage tracker? My naturally spendy self will find any and all ways to save money so that I can make it go down faster. Trackers do a body good.

But most of all, I don’t make myself work on projects I don’t have an interest in. Or if I need to do it for some reason, I try to find something about the project that makes me excited and then write it down by hand somewhere I can find it. Life’s too short for shitty projects.

What do you use for motivation on those long projects?

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Feb 11, 2019

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Knitting in 2019

I mentioned previously that I have a tendency of setting overly ambitious goals for myself and that also applies to knitting. 2017 my goal was to knit 12 shawls, and last year to knit 12 sweaters. I finished the 12 shawls in 2017 and 8 of the sweaters for 2018. But I started many more projects than I managed to finish. And the same goes for many previous years. I have a stash of works in progress, is what I’m saying.

One of the WIPs

So this year, 2019, is the year of working the WIPs. I’m hoping to finish 24 all told this year, some of which should come easy given that there are sweaters that only need sleeves, or a yoke and a cowl or two with just a little missing. Of course, some will be considerably harder, but there we are.

Now, I need to get writing and knitting.

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Feb 4, 2019

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BuJo – an update

Roughly two years ago I wrote about my journey with the Bullet Journal. It has continued to make my life more manageable even as I continue to tweak my process and what and how I record things. At this point, I’m going through roughly a journal per quarter and that suits me well. I’ve moved from Leuchtturm notebooks to using Scribbles that Matter notebooks, mostly because the paper doesn’t bleed as badly when working with fountain pens.

Over the last two years, I’ve learned a lot about what works for me and what doesn’t. I’ve simplified some things and complicated others.

Take my yearly spreads, or future log:

Future log

One of the things I gave up fairly early on once I actually started using the BuJo on a daily basis was the elaborate fonts I was using to decorate my journal. They were fun, but they also took a lot of time and ain’t nobody got time for that.

On the other hand, my weekly spread has gotten more involved, in some interesting ways:

Weekly spread

I saw this spread on Twitter, tried it and so far, after four weeks, I’m loving it. It’s a little bit involved to make it, so I’m not sure at this point if it’s going to stay, but for now I like it.

My dailies, on the other hand, have gotten a boost from Jessica Abel’s Creative Focus workshop:

Daily

I’m still tracking my sleep, my words and my exercise. This year I’m also tracking the daily temperature because I’m making my sister a temperature tracking blanket and this way I don’t need to knit on it every day. The big part that came from Jessica Abel is sitting right beneath those trackers; color coded hourly schedule. I’m working hard on only adding stuff to my daily todo that I can actually finish, and that schedule works for me to make it slightly more likely.

What’s changing?

I think for the next quarter, my collections are going to have to go down in number, anyway. I mean, it’s getting ridiculous:

All but the last two lines are front matter collections. Like I said, it’s getting excessive.

I’ll need to think harder about what to keep. I will probably cut out the trackers. I like the idea of them and I like being able to see my year at a glance for example, but it’s cumbersome to keep up and update, not to mention to transfer from journal to journal. Another option is to just keep one journal with the yearly stuff and only transfer the stuff that needs updating frequently, so as to allow for more space for notes on other stuff, like plot, and such.

On the other hand, last night I participated in Fran Wilde’s class, Journaling for Creativity, in which Fran talked a lot about the way she keeps her plot journal and I gotta say, I’m pretty excited about it.

Plot book index

I gotta be honest; so far I haven’t found a set up that works for my creative projects in the BuJo world so Fran’s setup, somewhat modified, might actually really work for me. Regardless, I am really looking forward to finding that out. And if it does, it might let me take some more collections out of the daily BuJo.

Listen, whatever you may think based on the fact that I’m starting to talk about carrying around multiple journals, I do not have a problem. I can stop any time I want. Really. I am not at all already itching to buy more journals. Not me.

Do you keep journals? If you do, what have you found that works for you?

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Jan 28, 2019

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Let’s talk about money, baby

Growing up, we never talked about money. First it just was there, then there seemed to be an endless supply of it and then suddenly, in 1990, there wasn’t any at all and a scary new word entered my 10-year-old vocabulary; debt. And after that, I was almost 30 before I didn’t have to worry about not having enough money to eat. During those years, money was only the topic of conversation whenever there wasn’t enough of it. But at that point, it was only about what bills could possibly be postponed until the next time someone got paid.

Even now, it’s a little hard to talk about money. It feels wrong and embarrassing. But the thing is, not talking about money is just going to end up hurting you. Not talking about money means not learning to use it. Not talking about money led me to making less than a junior colleague. And I am absolutely certain that I am not the only one. So let’s talk about money.

Previously, I’ve talked about my foray into budgeting. I’m still working it and it has been good for me. Since I started, I’ve mostly gotten to the point where I’m paying off my credit card every month and covering next month’s expenses from this month’s pay as well as investing some 700€ every month. So needless to say, it’s been good. The next over-arching goal is to get our mortgage paid off early. The stretch goal is to get it paid off by/in 2030, which would be 12 years early. Can we do it? Probably not. But we’re sure going to try.

What’s the plan for making that happen? Cut back on expenses, sell away stuff we don’t need or use, putting any bonuses or other extra money toward the mortgage, and actually sticking to the budget every month and not just most of the time. Together with my partner, we make enough money that if we’re diligent, we can make this happen. Especially, if I ever start making money off my writing.

What do you want to do with your money? Are you saving it, spending it, or something in between?

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Jan 21, 2019

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AI, Machine Learning and Lost Potential

Back when I first started working in IT, SAP was all the rage. Everyone wanted one, regardless of if they actually found the functionality available useful or necessary. And because of software consultancy, a lot of consultants made a lot of money making SAP implementations for purposes they were not suited for, sold to clients who didn’t know what they were buying, made by people who didn’t really know what they were doing. And so SAP got a bad reputation among a lot of developers. And business owners as well, to be honest.

The current situation with AI and Machine Learning reminds me a lot of that time. It seems like everyone has an opinion to offer on AI or an application to put Machine Learning to. Unfortunately, I’m also starting to hear a lot of people who don’t work in IT talking about how clueless tech bros are trying to solve every problem with Machine Learning. And often, they forget to listen to the people trying to say that they’re solving the wrong problem.

The thing is, as a developer, this is a super easy mistake to make. Most of the people I’ve met who stay as developers and don’t use it as a springboard to management love problem solving. It’s so easy to learn something new and be so excited to solve a problem with this new tool you’ve learned that suddenly every problem starts looking like a nail.

Lost Opportunities

So I have a confession; I am one of those developers learning Machine Learning and loving it and wanting to put it to use immediately if not sooner. It is honestly kind of addicting. It is such a satisfying combination of problem-solving and the kind of magic that programming can be at its best.

The thing is, this has happened before, several times. What follows has also happened before. It’s called AI Winter. The enthusiasm leads to hype which leads to disappointment which then leads to scaling way, way down on the research and development. And AI, even in its current forms, has so much to give us.

Are there ethical problems with our unrecognized prejudices carrying over? Absolutely. Are those problems going to be problems on steroids if not mitigated? You betcha! But those are all problems that can be mitigated as long as the developers are aware of them. The trouble being, of course, that unfortunately mostly the people developing AI and ML systems are the very people who cannot seem to admit that those prejudices exist to begin with. At least not in themselves.

While I hope that we are heading toward a golden age of AI and Machine Learning, I’m also worried that we are, instead, heading toward another AI Winter. And there’s still so much we could do with this technology.

What do you think AI and Machine Learning should be used for?

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Jan 14, 2019

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Goals vs habits

Last week I talked about the way having and failing in my goals partly worked for me and partly kind of broke me. It can be daunting and sometimes even have a debilitating effect on productivity.

Around this time last January, I realized that I was telling the wrong story in my novel. After I had already written some 40 000 words. I have to tell you, dear listener, that hurt. A lot. There were some isolated scenes from the draft that I could retool and use moving forward, but really, though, it was about 35.000 words that I’m never going to be able to use anywhere else. By the end of January I had already planned out the stuff going forward and on the border between January and February I grieved for the words. (Grieving is too drastic a word, but something like that.)

The thing is, it took me until the beginning of April until I actually started to make any progress on the next draft. At the beginning of January, I was already behind from where I wanted to be so that I could get in a second draft before I needed to send the book in for Blue Heaven. When I realized that I wasn’t going to be able to make my goal of two drafts before Blue Heaven, I froze. I froze for literal months. I lost all that time that could have been productive to faffing about. And I didn’t have to.

Toward the end of last year, I read James Clear’s Atomic Habits and it has honestly had a massive effect on the way I’m approaching this year, to start with at least. When I was reading, this quote hit me especially hard:

You don’t rise to the level of your goals, you fall to the level of your systems!

James Clear – Atomic Habits

And holy shit, that is so true! He also talks about how goals are about the results that you want to achieve and systems aka habits are about the processes that lead to the results. Last year, I broke myself, twice, trying to reach the outcome I wanted instead of focusing on creating the systems that would lead to that outcome. This year, I want to get much more done. So instead of focusing on the outcome, I’m going to focus on the systems.

What I’m doing

I’ve gone back to my morning writing sessions. I hate it. I am not a morning person and any day I have to get up before noon is a bad time. So why would I bring this pain upon myself? Well, it gets me to show up. When I write before work I get words my words in. Otherwise, I often end up just trying for the entire evening. And most of the time, I end up failing.

On top of this, I’ve gone back to Habitica. I’ve reduced the number of dailies from what I used to do and added more in the habit column. This is to prevent myself from clicking “wrote 250 words” on days when I’m editing. My one actual daily is a 10-minute declutter that just needs to get done every day. The actual habits are also mostly measurable stuff like “spend 1 pomodoro on fiction”. Stuff that should work whether I’m drafting, editing or even plotting.

Clear makes a lot of how habits influence identity and vice versa. So this year, I’m working on changing my identity in a number of areas. And I’m doing that by showing up, five minutes, ten minutes, 25 minutes and one day at a time.

What are you working on this year?

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Jan 7, 2019

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Failing Up – a 2018 Story

As people are wont to do this time of year, I am looking back before moving forward and on the whole, it was a weird year. For the most part, I felt like a failure the entire year. And yet, objectively, I did alright.

What I did

I didn’t finish the 12 sweaters that I had planned to finish, but I did finish 8 sweaters and they’re all lovely and squishy and I wear them all the time. I am objectively better off having finished these 8 sweaters and I have three more well on their way to being completed, all equally squishy and lovely. On top of those three, I also have a blanket that is almost all done. But eight plus three and most of a blanket on the way is not 12 sweaters. So here I am feeling like a failure.

Other things that I’m objectively better off on than I was a year ago:

  • I finished the first draft of a novel and I think it’s the best thing I’ve ever written and the book of my heart to boot. (But I didn’t get it query-ready)
  • I got a substantial raise. (But I didn’t have the courage to jump to a more challenging role that would have furthered my career.)
  • I got a hold of my budget and I’m managing to put a lot more into savings/investing and retirement and made an actionable plan for the future. (But I/we didn’t make a substantial extra dent in the mortgage.)
  • I helped resurrect the Blue Heaven workshop that Charlie Finlay started about 15 years ago with some amazing people. I also managed to give feedback that people found useful. (No buts. This thing was an unqualified success.)

What next?

The thing is, having shoot-for-the-moon objectives works for me, but occasionally it’s also debilitating. It feels like I’m getting nothing done since there’s still so much to do. But because there’s so much to do I also keep steadily working at it. It also got me close to burnout after I realized the draft I’d written 40 000 words on wasn’t going to work. So, going forward, I’m going to put more emphasis on the stuff I’ve gotten done during the month in my monthly reviews. I’m also trying to not get caught up in the day to day stuff and work more on working larger goals. Because I also have a tendency of taking on more stuff like classes etc if I find that I’ve done “everything”.

So this year, I’m going focus on making my process better and instilling some good habits. I still have my yearly, shoot-for-the-moon goals and I’m trying to break those down into monthly and weekly goals. I’m only adding items to my daily to-do list that I can get done that day. And if I can get more done that day, I’m going to check my weekly todo and then my monthly todo before I start a new project, whether it’s a creative project or learning project. Really, this is the thing about this year’s goals that scares me the most. Because not making myself crazy by adding too much stuff on my already full plate is a good thing. I think.

The road goes ever on and on.

So, allons-y, 2019! It’s going to be a good year!

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Jul 1, 2018

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Työvoitto

There’s a word in Finnish: työvoitto. It means a victory where you had to push through with a lot of work until, finally, you come out on top. And let’s be clear; this is not a task or project that has a lot of work associated with it that all eventually gets done, oh no. This is a task or project where more or less everything that can go wrong, goes wrong until you finally manage to wrangle the project to completion and collapse on the finish line.

In related news: I finished a novel today.

This is the novel of my heart, the first thing I started to write when I started writing again. This was the third time I wrote the first draft of this novel. The sixth outline. I started work on this version of the novel in October last year. I finished my outline by about the halfway point of NaNoWriMo and then wrote about 40.000 words by January 15th when I got stalled. It turned out, I got stalled because I was writing the wrong story.

Cue heartbreak, demoralization, cries of “I am unworthy!”.

Eventually, after coming close to a burn out trying to get a month’s worth of work done in two weeks, I picked myself up, dusted myself off and started writing. Again. I got to know a new POV character and after a bumpy start finally made peace with her. I wrote and I wrote, on track to get the thing done by the deadline, planning to finish at 110.000 words. *laughter* Yeah, no. Two weeks ago I realized that the end result was going to be about 150.000 words, not 110.000 words.

Cue panic, wailing, ridiculous days with 7.000 words done in a day (my normal is about 2.000 when I’m well-rested), picking up the pace of action.

But I finished. Today I finished the book of my heart that has no doubt taken 10 years off my life. I ended up finishing at 126.00 mostly because the last three scenes were much shorter than average for this project and I more or less completely bracketed the villain’s last POV chapter because I just could not find it in me to go back into his head. This thing will need a LOT of editing and probably a complete rewrite, but at least the story is pretty solid and – for now, at least – I think this is one of the best things I’ve ever written. It was totally worth it, but I’m also glad it’s over.

***

And then, as a housekeeping thing, my first week of Clarion Write-a-thon, I have managed to gather 29 hours out of my goal of 150, all on the novel. Next week, I’ll finally be working on something else. I wonder if there is anything else ever, anywhere? We will find out! You can still sponsor me for Clarion Write-a-thon, here.

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