Tag Archives: momentum

A Whiff of Distraction

You probably already know that the sense of smell is the sense most closely tied to memory. You catch a whiff of something that smells like it might have been the perfume your grandmother used to not so much dab as douse herself in, and all of a sudden you’re five years old again, playing trains in the basement while she watches The Price is Right upstairs.

But did you know why?

It turns out that as the human brain evolved (and yes, I know, the “human” brain wasn’t a human brain until we were humans and categorizing evolutionary changes can be arbitrary, just roll with me), more and more layers were added on to the pre-existing brain tissue. In other words, as we grew “smarter,” we had to keep growing more and more brain to support it. This makes sense. But as we grew bigger brains, the sensory inputs grew with them. Each sense developed its own area of the brain, and like a sulky teenager moving into the basement room, claimed that space as its own.

But not the sense of smell. Your sense of smell stayed put right where it was, in the primordial lizard brain that handles things like breathing and balance and whether to run from that weird sound in the bushes or attack it with an axe. This has kept the sense of smell in relatively close contact with other brain functions — especially base functions — which is, incidentally, why we still use smelling salts, of all things, to rouse an unconscious person: the sense of smell continues to function even while you’re asleep. (This is also why your significant other can sometimes wake you up in the middle of the night with their, uh, emissions. Not that I would know anything about that.)

I know all this courtesy of an article I read (or rather, that I am in the process of reading) on Wait But Why, which is my latest internet diversionary tactic. Tim Urban, the proprietor, does these deep dives (and I mean, drilling through the bottom of the Marianas Trench) on all kinds of topics, from science to futurism to philosophy, and it makes for fascinating reading.

Which is a great way to keep yourself away from a project that’s giving you the screaming willies — just pretend that, you know, everything is probably fine in that particular Scrivener file; certainly the problems in the draft aren’t compounding and spiraling out of control, or coalescing into an insuperable plot monster while you’re keeping your head down and trying to finish out the school year, probably I’m not losing all the momentum I spent the year spinning up, almost definitely my neglected characters aren’t concocting my comeuppance. Nope. Definitely none of those things are happening.

Of course, the problem with spending time on a site like Wait But Why is that it fills your head with all kinds of crazy ideas for other stories you’d like to write, which is also great for your current project, and not distracting from it in any way. You’re trying to puzzle through your current set of #writerproblems and you keep thinking about that awesome idea about two police officers sharing a brain, or a terrorist group weaponizing mosquitoes with Crispr technology,  or or or…

You know, because you don’t already have two first drafts in desperate need of editing right now.

*looks around*

*tries not to think about the current edit*

*sets the computer on fire*

Two more days of school, y’all.

This weekly remotivational post is part of Stream of Consciousness Saturday. Every weekend, I use Linda G. Hill’s prompt to refocus my efforts and evaluate my process, sometimes with productive results.

The Weekly Re-Motivator: Mind Over Mind

I was sitting at work the other day, having just come back from one of several “important” meetings during my planning time, lamenting my general loss of productivity of late. It’s been an adjustment, getting back into the school routine: waking up earlier to get in my runs and workouts, bundling the sprouts off to germcare (sorry, daycare), putting in my time at school, coming home exhausted but still having to cook dinner and wind the sprouts down for the evening, and finally collapsing in a boneless heap to hope that the kids sleep through the night (they’re both in a bit of a midnight waking sort of phase right now, which is a real bummer).

As a result, I’ve lost some momentum on my writing front. I’ve dropped from writing about 800 words a day on my current WIP to 600 or so, and I’m down from five postings a week here at the blarg to three or four if I’m lucky. Which is frustrating. Toward the end of the school year, I was priding myself on those statistics.

Then again, when I think back on it, my workouts were suffering during that time. I was gaining momentum in one area at the expense of the other.

And then further still, I think back to the beginning of summer, when the routine of the workday disappeared and I fell into a funk and wasn’t accomplishing my workouts or the writing I wanted to. I did some, sure, but I just felt so wiped, so burnt out, so unmotivated. Did I need a bit of time to recuperate from the end of the school year? Probably. Did it merit the amount of down time that I took? Meh… I have a hard time justifying that.

And then, my brain flashed back to my time in college. This is a thing I tend to try to stop my brain from doing, because the results are rarely good. I loved my college days, but man oh man were some poor decisions made. And needless to say, the brain doesn’t flash back to the good things when it senses I need a good kick in the arse. No, it flashed back to a stretch of about a year and a half where I did little more than sit in my room and play video games for hours and even days on end. I failed a class, something I’d never done in my life. My other grades tanked. I packed on about fifteen pounds. I turned into a big old jerk (well, even more than normal). Why? I just lost the drive. I felt worthless so I was worthless. And in the depths of that toxic fog, a good friend of mine (who was somehow still my friend despite all my atmospheric jerkitude) came to me with a bit of advice: “The more you do, the more you can do.”

I don’t know if she plagiarized that, and I don’t care. Because it’s true. The mind is a weird organ. It believes what it wants to believe, often contrary to the empirical evidence all around it. That little aphorism led me to get back into my classes and write the first drafts of the play that would grow into Accidentally Inspired, the work that in no small way set the course for the next chapters of my life, and is still setting the course for me.

The more you do, the more you can do.

Momentum matters.

You pick yourself up out of the funk and do something — anything — take a walk around the block, scribble a few bits of dialogue on the page, bang out a few push-ups, chase your kid around the room a few times — and there’s pushback, sure. Your negative momentum holds you in place. But your brain also says to itself, “hey, that wasn’t so bad, we can do that again.” And if you’re smart, you do, and you do a little more next time.

If the me who heard my friend drop that little truth-bomb on me back in college could see what I’m up to these days — even in my current, slightly diminished and frustrated state — he’d have a heart attack. Married, two kids, full-time job, coaching soccer after school, working out five or six times a week, writing novels and short stories like it’s my job, operating a website… The me of the past didn’t believe he could do all that, so of course, he couldn’t. But little by little, he started to believe. Little by little, momentum grew. Little by little, his mind changed.

Were there setbacks along the way? No doubt. The road is neither straight nor level. But by taking on a little more at a time, slowly upping the ante, slowly turning up the burners, I was able to trick myself into becoming moderately productive.

Which reminds me, it’s time to take the kids out on a walk, and then come back and write…


This weekly Re-Motivational post is part of Stream of Consciousness Saturday. Every Saturday, I use LindaGHill‘s prompt to refocus my efforts and evaluate my process, sometimes with productive results.

Little Victories Fuel Big Victories

If you’re like me, a wannabe writer trying to figure out how to make the dream happen, you might be struggling to write every day. I know I did; writing the first draft of my first novel was as challenging as pulling the teeth from an enraged baboon while whistling “Happy Birthday” backwards. Sure, you start off full of chutzpah, ready to slay dragons and save the world every day, but the honeymoon only lasts so long. After a few weeks, you find yourself tasked with churning out more and more words, even though you’ve already used up your good ideas — or even though you don’ t know how to get to the good ideas.

That blank page stretches out in front of you like a wasteland, cruel and without end.

Some days are better than others, but every day is hard. Not just because you have to claim your time from the jaws of your enemies with blood and fire, but because you have to keep the creative engine churning, you have to keep the cursor moving, you have to keep that word counter ticking over like the odometer on a road trip.

Now, I’m not an expert. I’ve yet to make a dime off of anything I’ve written creatively, so I can’t claim to know any better than anybody what you should do to make any money at this endeavor. But I do know that if you aren’t writing, every day, you’re handicapping yourself before the race has even begun. Momentum matters, and if you keep the ball rolling a little every day, you don’t have to kickstart it from a dead stop again. To that end, if there were one piece of advice I’d offer to anybody trying to start writing, it’s this:

You need a daily goal. A set amount of progress that you will, one way or another, put to “paper” one way or another before today turns into tomorrow. Momentum matters. Achieving this goal every day will keep you sliding forward like a glacier. You can’t set out to say you want to write eighty thousand words by November and hope to get there by focusing on the eighty thousand. It’s too big. You might as well be thinking about climbing the summit of Mount Everest when you haven’t even left base camp. It’s a good goal to have, but you’re not going to achieve it today. Or tomorrow. Or next week. And when you fail to achieve that goal, you will lose gumption, you will lose drive, you will lose the confidence that you can achieve this thing. What you need is to focus on what’s in front of you and achieve that, however big or small that goal is. What’s your daily goal? 100 words? 300? 2000? It depends on the kind of time you have available in your days (or, more correctly, the amount of time you can prise from your day’s cold, dead fingers).

I find that, on a normal workday, I can usually find about 45 minutes to write, and that tends to be enough time for about 900 words.

Now, 900 words assumes I’m able to write productively and without pauses for almost the entire time, and that’s not always the case. So my “on paper” goal per day is 600, even though I’m really trying for 900. 600, therefore, is what I want to accomplish so that I can feel I’m not neglecting my writerly duties. 900, however, makes me happy.

How does it go, writing 900 words a day?

A little something like this:

0-100 words: Man, this is hard. Why did I decide to do this, again? I’m not sure what I should be writing at all. (re-reads yesterday’s work.) Okay, maybe this can happen, or maybe this character can set this trap… I dunno, it sounds lame. But if I don’t get to work, I’m not getting my words. Whatever. Just write something.

100-300 words: Well, I guess this is happening. I’m not sure I love what’s happening, but it’s happening. Make sure to keep that character involved. Think about what this character is thinking. Where is this heading? Just keep writing.

300-500 words: Okay, I like what’s happening now, and I see where it’s heading. Maybe, though, it doesn’t make sense for this character to say this thing now, or to take this action now, but I’m not sure how else it could go. Don’t think about it, don’t think about it, don’t think about it… fix it later.

500 words: SHARKNADO. I just realized the perfect thing that should have happened earlier to set up the thing I just realized needs to happen now. Do I go back and fix it? Press on and make a note? (This is usually where I get up and walk around for a minute to rearrange my thoughts.)

500-700 words: I’m either going back and inserting an alternate text to something I already wrote, or I’m forging ahead full-speed with today’s beats. Either way, at this moment, I’m in a state of flow, just letting the words come on their own and keeping up with the narrative as quickly as it’s unspooling in my head.I don’t even check word count during this step. It just happens.

700-900: Flow continues and the possibilities for future events are exploding like popcorn, one after another, each one showing a road to the rest of the novel that might develop into something or that might wither on the vine. There’s no telling which one is the right one, though, so I grab hold of one and ride the wave while it’s high. At some point in this range I realize that I’m almost out of time for today, so…

900-1???: I use my remaining time to find a stopping point. I used to try and finish a beat, but now I like to either stop right in the middle of one or just at the beginning of a new one. That way, when I come back to write next time, I still have fresh in my mind some semblance of where this scene is going. I don’t usually want to stop writing at this point, but by this time there are other responsibilities banging on my door, either literally or figuratively.

So that’s pretty much every day. I push through five days a week like that when I’m drafting. I aim for a blarg post about every other day or when I can manage it, but I don’t stress about the length of the posts anymore (I used to shoot for 1000 words… yeah, this post is over 1000 already, but sheesh, that’s a lot in a day).

900 words might seem like not very much to you. Or maybe it seems so lofty as to be insurmountable. Point is, it’s been a sweet spot for me: It’s a challenge to get there, but not so daunting that I have to struggle every day to make it. But it’s not so easy that I can do it without any effort at all. It’s significant enough to give me a pick-me-up when I meet the milestone, but not so significant that I feel I can’t make it. Pick a goal that stretches you a little bit, but one that you can realistically reach from where you are. Little victories fuel big victories.

I’ll admit I’m feeling somewhat at sea with my current story. There are loose ends all over the place, I’m still getting a feel for the characters, and I’m not even 100% sure where I want the story to go. But what I do know is, I’ll be writing about 900 words a day every day for the next few months. If I can keep to that schedule, then long about September, I’ll have my second novel drafted.

How do you eat an elephant? One bite at a time.

Achievement Unlocked: First Edit Complete!

There’s a great moment in Hook, that early 90’s Peter Pan reboot, where Tinkerbell suddenly grows to human size and her house explodes around her as she embraces her true feelings for Peter Pan, confessing her undying and eternal pixie love for him.

Actually, that moment was a little bit weird. Creepy, even, somehow. But that’s off the topic. She unleashes a blast of magic she didn’t know she had, and with a demure little gasp of surprise, she yelps, “I did it!” Just as much in shock as Peter.

Well, that’s me right now.

Because I did it.

I bound up the sprained ankle I mentioned in my last post — you know, the one where I stepped in a literary pothole — and heaved myself bodily across the finish line. And that’s it. It’s over.

Well, not over over. But the first edit is over. Like really, legitimately, no-more-bullsharknado over. The only thing left now is one final pass for formatting, and then I can put the last nail in the coffin and decide who I’m going to burden with the first reading of this coalesced glob of proto-babble I’m tentatively calling a book. And for that step, I’m allowing myself no more than a week. One week — seven days — and then it’s time to figure out who I trust enough to tear my crazily crafted tapestry to shreds.

But here’s a dirty secret. I didn’t want to be finished. No, that’s not right. I was dying to be finished. No…

Truth be told, I was 50-50 split on whether I wanted to be finished with the whole thing or whether I was going to undertake another massive rewrite. It would have been easy to take the rewrite and stretch the process out for another month or more. So easy. I could still do it, in fact.

The fact is, I just slapped a band-aid on the problem of the disappearing character. She had disappeared without a trace, and I just wrote a magical exit from the narrative for her. (There’s magic in my story; I can totally do that.) Solving the problem she presented for me consisted of writing a single paragraph and changing a few sentences in the chapter at hand. That’s all.

But while I was writing the easy fix, a bigger fix crept into my head. A divergent fork in the road. The road overgrown with weeds and bramble and teeming with dark critters and glowing eyes floating in the mist. And this time… this time… I decided to let the harder road be.

You can bet dollars to doughnuts, though, that I wrote down the idea for the rewrite in case I need it later.

So, that’s that. The first edit is concluded. Or so nearly concluded as makes no difference. Concluded in every practical sense. Pat it on the head, send it on its way.

So what does that mean? It means it’s time to stop thinking of this novel as a pet project and get serious about the business of turning it into an actual book that you, reading this, can actually hold in your actual hands. Or, you know, into a collection of ones and zeroes that your handheld computer can belch up at you without the need for all that clumsy processed tree getting in the way. Either way.

And then…

And then, I guess, it’ll be time to don the greasy garb of the pit fighter to begin once again the dirty work of drafting something new. Because momentum matters, and just because the first edit is done is no reason to consider the work finished.

I was reading some notes by Stephen King about how he prepares to work on a story, and he wrote rather anti-eloquently that he gets the idea in mind and then just goes about his life until the muse — and I’m paraphrasing here, but the operative words are definitely his — shits on his head. Maybe I should start carrying a roll of toilet paper around in my man-satchel.

You know, just in case.

This post is part of Stream of Consciousness Saturday.

Excuses, excuses

Sometimes I blarg about what’s going on in my life, sometimes I find a topic somewhere that I like, and oftentimes on Saturdays I take the topic from Linda G Hill’s site for a stream-of-consciousness post that I type without second-guessing myself.

Today’s topic honestly feels as if guest author Leigh Michaels slithered in through my earhole, squeezed the spongy matter of my brain, and slurped up the juicy bits of raw fear that came dripping out. Her prompt is the word “excuse,” and boy oh boy have I been making excuses lately.

The novel has slid right away from me over the past two weeks. I finally navigated the minefield of rewriting a particularly troublesome scene, and, flush with success, allowed myself to miss a couple of editing sessions owing to… well… a slew of excuses. I was really busy at work (I was). I was mentally tapped after fixing that one scene (it’s true). Kids were wearing me out (always true). And I allowed those excuses to be “good enough” to allow myself not to work on the novel without chipping away at my self-esteem.

However, that permissive slide is in direct violation of the mantra of my blarg, which is “momentum matters”. Actually, no, the mantra of my blarg is that “things don’t always have to mean things, except that things ALWAYS mean things.” And the permissive slide is actually not so much a direct violation of the “momentum matters” thing as it is a perfect example of it.

You say you’re going to get up at 5 AM and run three days a week, and you do it for two weeks, but in week 3 that snooze button is just too tempting, and then it’s all too easy to hit that snooze button every morning, and before you know it, those early morning runs are a thing of the past. You say you’re going to diet, and you do well for a while, but then you go out to dinner and, well, a couple bites of chips and queso won’t hurt, and next thing you’re at the drive-thru ordering a double cheeseburger because the diet is already screwed for the week, why stop the slide now?

So: I allowed myself out of a few days’ worth of novel work, and those few days turned into almost two weeks.

I had good excuses. Valid excuses. Excuses which are totally reasonable for getting me off the hook. But they’re establishing the sort of momentum that I don’t want gumming up the gears around here. Now, work has been busy, and the holidays do have me a bit more stressed than usual… but next week it’ll be something else, some new stressor, some new obstacle to getting the work done. And yes, it’d be perfectly reasonable to acknowledge those excuses and continue not to work on the novel. Believe me, I feel the gravity of that black hole.

But it’s not the time to embrace excuses. The edit is at about 70%. I may not finish it by the new year, as was my goal, but I will damn sure finish it, excuses or no.

So thanks for the prompt, Leigh… you’ve shone a bright light on my dark enabling of my own lame half-assery.

This post is part of Stream of Consciousness Saturday.

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