Last week I had to make a hard decision about my capacity and what I can and can’t keep doing while also taking care of myself.

I post about the importance of not letting the hustle run you ragged but I haven’t been practicing what I preach at all. I’ve taken on more and more projects without letting old projects go. What I’ve ended up with is a plate overflowing with to-dos and a brain overwhelmed with tasks.

Finding myself staying up late night after night to finish projects and stressing about where I was going to find the time to do things. I still loved everything I was doing but I was doing it all poorly. So I had to face the reality that something had to go.

It sucks. There’s no real way around that but looking towards 2019 and the goals I have, I knew that things had to change.

So as December kicks off and 2018 begins to wind down, I encourage you to look at all your projects and see how they match with your goals and, more importantly, how they match with taking care of yourself.

Make hard decisions and be honest with yourself.

Source: Photo by Alex Rodríguez Santibáñez on ...
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AuthorAndrea Judy
CategoriesWriting Life

Most of the writers I know manage some kind of a day job for at least 40 hours a week, but sometimes a lot more than that, as well as all of their writing projects. It can be really hard to figure out ways to manage that and in my case, I don't even have a spouse or kids to complicate my schedule further. What I want to share today are some tips and tricks I’ve found to help manage my energy while spending my day working.

 

1.     Taking a serious look at what my schedule actually looks like.

 I know that it may sound a little silly but actually conceptualizing the times that you are committed to anything related to your day job is vital. If your commute is an hour in the morning then you probably can't try and squeeze in an extra 45 minutes of writing without sacrificing some major sleep. If your job allows for remote working then maybe you can easily fit that in first thing in the morning.

Know the reality of your job: do you actually get to take a lunch break where you could write? It's a really vital part of figuring out what times are even available for you to write. Know when the busy seasons are for your day job. If you work in financials than the end of fiscal year is probably going to be a really stressful time for you. By knowing that, you can try to mitigate the number of projects or external creative due dates you have during that time. Be aware of the most stressful times in your job if it follows a pattern like that and try to work around them.

2.     What are your priorities?

Figuring out what projects are the most important to you can really help make sure that when you do you have time to work on your creative endeavors you actually know what to work on. For a long time I spent a lot of energy spinning my wheels trying to figure out what project I was even supposed to be working on or wanted to work on next. I lost a lot of time by not having my priority set. Now I know what projects I have coming up and what projects I really want to accomplish. It really helps make sure that the limited time I do have is used well.

3.     Figure out what your energy levels are through the day.

Some people get out of bed and can immediately write. Some people can stay up all night writing. Some people hit their peak energy in the afternoons. Figuring out how your energy cycle works give me a huge help. It also can potentially point out some problems in what you're eating or your activity. I noticed that I tended to get really sleepy in the afternoons which lead to me realizing that I probably shouldn't be having giant pots of pasta for lunch every day. It made me sleepy. Now I'm perkier in the afternoons and I've also found that I can get a lot of writing done during my lunch break at work.

While I still occasionally work in the mornings, I found that I am a lot more likely to use the mornings to read and ease into my day. Figure out what works for you rather than trying to work against your body’s natural rhythms.

4.     Take care of your body.

This one always makes me roll my eyes a little bit but it is really important to remember to take care of your body. Now I am by no means saying that you need to be a gym rat or anything like that. I know that for me if I'm not eating at least some fruits and vegetables and getting a little bit of exercise I am a lot less productive and creative. If I'm really struggling, I try to get out and take a quick 10-minute walk around the parking lot. This also means that I try to pay more attention to how I'm sitting and the ergonomics of my desk. It’s not a sexy or exciting tip but this really make a huge difference.

5.     Know what you're giving up.

Part of embracing creative endeavors outside of your day job mean sacrificing things. For me, it mostly means sacrificing video games and TV shows. I am woefully behind on every pop-culture series and I haven't played a game through to completion in years. I've given those things up for the most part because I know that my energy is better spent trying to accomplish my goals. I had to realize what sacrifices needed to be made in order to continue writing in a way that could potentially build a career. It sucks and a lot of the time I still fail and get sucked into playing the Sims. But remembering what I'm working towards and what that requires helps me get back on track a lot easier than it would other hand.

Most writers are managing some kind of a day job and everybody’s schedule and requirements will make that look very different. I'm incredibly privileged to have a remarkable amount of free time available to me because of where I am in life. What works for me may or may now work for you but I really think that stepping back and being thoughtful and deliberate about the choices you're making with your time and energy make a world of difference.

 

Source: Photo by Bench Accounting on Unsplash

I talked about some of my productivity tools and some of my writing tools but something I haven't talked about this month is things that are helping me with life in general. Being a writer doesn't suddenly mean that the floors don't need to be vacuumed and meals don't need to be cooked. Sometimes it's really hard to manage the daily to-do tasks when I'm trying to meet a deadline or even just trying to get enough brain space to finish a project. So here are a few of the things that are really helping me right now.

1. My Roomba

I never thought I would be the kind person who would love a robot vacuum but I absolutely adore my little iRobot; his name is Alfred. It's really handy to be able to just schedule a time when the vacuum is going to run. I have two cats that track litter all over the place and it used to be that every morning while getting dressed I would get litter all over my feet and then have it stuck in my shoe for the day.

Since I started running Alfred every day that's completely gone away. It's great to be able to just schedule a time for it to run and not even have to think about when I'm going to make time to vacuum the floors. It also helps keep me motivated to keep my floors clear so Alfred has a clean path around the room.

2. Frozen meals

I actually like cooking but I've been having a hard time with actually doing it. I promise myself that I will make a nice dinner with soon as I get home from work but inevitably as soon as I get home, I'm exhausted and Pizza Hut delivery it is. What I found is that if I keep the fridge of healthy-ish meals then I don't order delivery.

If it's something I can pop in the microwave or the oven and under less than 20 minutes then I'm golden. It's not the healthiest option but it does provide portion control and minimizes the impact on my budget. On the days when I'm having a really hard time, knowing that there is some frozen ravioli that will take me 10 minutes to make is a huge relief.

For a while I felt really lazy about doing this but honestly it's one less thing to beat myself up for when I just don't have the energy to cook.

3. Themed days

Breaking my days into a theme has helped me do more and forget less. For instance, Tuesday is the day that I work on my podcast. Whether that's by updating the website, editing in episode, or recording a new episode, that's what I plan to do every Tuesday.

Friday is for laundry and Monday is for blog posts. By keeping that kind of consistent calendar I worry a lot less about what I'm forgetting to do and it's honestly free up a lot of brain space.

4, Brain dumps

One of the things I have been doing for almost a year now is what I call a brain dump. It usually happens once every other week, but there are sometimes it happens every week. All a brain dump is, is sitting down, taking about 20 minutes, and writing out every single thing bouncing around in your brain.

I can write down the bigger projects like writing a new novel or the really mundane stuff like doing the dishes. For me, getting it all out of my head and onto paper helps me see what all it is that I need to do and start prioritizing. Doing the dishes won't take that long, but writing a novel, that will take a while. Seeing it on the page in front of me helps me better visualize the amount of time and the size of the project. It also helps me to see if something is just falling from week to week and staying on the brain dump page that I either need to just bite the bullet and do it or I need to evaluate if it needs to be done.

So those are the things that are helping me right now and just like everything else that I talked about this month, it varies from month-to-month and from project to project. What works for me might not work for you but that's okay. The important thing is to learn how to listen to yourself and to do what fits your life, not to lie some productivity girly want you to have or even the life that I have. Going out there, experiment, find what works, and take care of yourself.

Source: Photo by Andy Fitzsimon on Unsplash
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AuthorAndrea Judy
CategoriesWriting Life

I am a little bit obsessed with productivity. I tend to read almost every blog posts that comes across my dashboard that even remotely hints about how to be more productive. I love diving into how people use lists or technology to help them get more stuff done. At the same time reading all about that can also make me feel like an unproductive slug at times. But because I love productivity so much and I spend a lot of time learning about what works for me I thought it would be helpful for me to share the tools I use.

Now as a reminder, what works for me might not work for you. And that's all okay. I'm not telling you there's one way to do things, only what's worked for me. Honestly the best way I found to be more productive as a whole was through a lot of trial and error with learning about how I work and about what works with and for me. Now without further ado here are some of my favorite productivity tools.

1. Forest

I am a little bit obsessed with this app. It's simple and effective. You select the amount of time you want to go without using your phone and then you select a bush or tree that represent that amount of time. You plant the tree or bush and then the timer starts. If you navigate away from the screen where your plant is growing, it will die. The only way to let your plants grow all the way to adulthood and let it populate your beautiful forest is to leave your phone alone.

It also has the option to have background noise which I really love to. I didn't to use it a lot as a timer to keep me on track for how long I want to stay focused on something. It's really great and it's by far my favorite app that I have consistently kept using. Recently they have added an update where you can now plant trees with friends. (I don't have any friends on the forest app yet so I can't speak to how well that works but it sounds super fun.) 

2. Isolation

So lately I've actually found going low-tech helps a lot of ways with getting things done. Since I picked up dictating I've been spending a lot of time locked in my closet. And honestly that isolation has helped tremendously but keeping me focused. In my closet there's not much to distract me or interrupt me. Aside from the occasional kitty cat paw or region under the door to slap me. But I can turn on the forest app, Open up whatever project I'm working on and get to work. I haven't gotten very good at using dictation to be able to browse the Internet's or do much else besides write, which is exactly how I want (so please don't tell me how). The isolation, quiet and focused area help me get a whole lot more done than I would normally.

3. Pen and paper

As much as I love list tracking apps like wonder list, nothing has yet replaced my beloved pen and paper. I keep a daily journal to track everything I want to get done that day and I've done that for quite a few years now. Sometimes I do it in tandem with an electronic list that helps you remember it. I've bullet journaled for a long time so currently I'm using a pre-printed journal but when that runs out I'll probably return to bullet journaling. It's one of my favorite parts of the day when I sip my coffee and put together my list of things to accomplish for that day. It's sort of the ritual that starts every day. Even on the weekends I do it. I'm not particular about what journal or notebook it has to be but I prefer something with a hardcover to survive being in my bag. I'm much more likely to care about what kinds of pens or pencils I'm using the actual notebook itself.

So those are the three main things they're helping me be productive right now. And sometimes not even that works. There are some mornings where I don't put together a to-do list, where I feel too overwhelmed to write anything down, and there are mornings where I will just sit in silence and stare into space in the closet. And there are definitely days that I have killed my poor little tree in the forest app.

Productivity isn't a contest, even though it's really easy to feel like it is, productivity is personal and about what finding what works for you and how you want to work. Lately the world has been a little stressful for me so my productivity has taken a nosedive and the main thing I've learned as of the most important part of productivity is forgiving yourself when you have a bad day. So what are some of the ways that you keep productive or some of the things that really haven't worked for you? I'm always curious to hear about what other people are doing.

Source: Photo by Anete Lūsiņa on Unsplash
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AuthorAndrea Judy
CategoriesWriting Life

For the past two months, I've been having some medical issues that have made working at my computer uncomfortable and painful. My writing output nosedived as I struggled to keep writing even when it hurt. With the dawn of the new year I decided that I would try something new. Partially inspired by Joanna Penn’s book The Healthy Writer, I decided to give dictation a try.

What's kept me from making the leap is that everyone recommends Dragon Dictation, and, to be fair, it seems to be an amazing product for dictation. What's less amazing is the $300 price tag. I didn't have that kind of  money to throw at something I wasn't sure would even work. While looking for alternatives to Dragon, I realized I had an answer right in front of me. My MacBook comes with dictation software already in the general settings. I turned it on and gave it a run.

At it first it was terrible.

 Example from session one. Yeah.... Not even close to what I said. 

Example from session one. Yeah.... Not even close to what I said. 

It got maybe one out of seven words right. It was awful and I figured well dictation isn't for me. But then I thought maybe the problem isn't the software but with using the internal microphone in a noisy space. So I pulled out my snowball, locked myself in my closet to have a quiet space, and gave it another try.

This time it worked like a dream. In 25 minutes I had dictated 3000 words. And most of them we're what I had said. It honestly amazed me. 

So I've kept up with that, and for the past week, I've been working on dictating everything I type. Any time I want to write or I need to get an outline together, I pull out my microphone and go.


Now, it's by no means perfect solution. It requires a lot more editing, not to mention it can be a little awkward speaking your stories. The grammar is strange to have to voice out loud. For example, to get a dialogue line written you would speak:

Begin quote

I hate you

comma

end quote

he said

period

new paragraph

Which would translate to:

"I hate you," he said. 

It's strange getting the hang of and writing the fight scene was a particularly strange experience. It takes a little while to get used to sitting dialogue tags and speaking with the grammar and punctuation necessary. However, over the weekend I've already gotten a lot more confident and feel a lot better about my dictation period

I'm hoping that I will keep up with this dictation. In fact my goal for January is to dictate the draft of my next novella. It's certainly going to be a new experience but I'm excited about trying it out.

So if you're thinking about giving dictation a try, don't let price tag keep you from making the switch. Check your laptop or computer and see what options are already built into the settings. There maybe an alternative you can use. I do suggest using an external microphone that you can adjust to be closer to your mouth. But there are some really great options out there at some pretty reaonsable price points.

So that's my experience with dictation so far a week and a half in. This whole blog post was written entirely by dictation, pretty neat right? So give it a try see how it feels see what happens, at worst, you've lost a little time trying something new. That best, you've found a new way to revolutionize your writing.

Source: Photo by Matt Botsford on Unsplash

When I was first starting to really take myself seriously as a writer (as in writing every day and trying to actively get published), I remember thinking that I was way too boring to write anything exciting. I mean, I don't do drugs, or get black out drunk every night. I don't go wild and travel through dangerous areas in the dead of night. Hell, I think the most dangerous thing I do on a regular basis is walk into my bookshelf nearly every morning when I'm getting ready for work because despite nearly a year of it being in the same place, it's always a surprise!

I grew up with stories about the wild antics of writings, with the motto 'write drunk, edit sober' being thrown around by everyone I knew. I always thought I was too much of a bore to fit in, but what I've found over the last few years has been the opposite. Schedules actually help me keep at my writing more than any sort of wild life ever could. 

Knowing that I'm home by 4 every day and sticking to the schedule lets me prepare to write. It's become a habit now. I don't have to sit and wait to be inspired to write, it's simply 4:00 and time to write. Most of the writers I know who are successful do this. They write and take care of themselves. There are always exceptions to the rule, but by and large, the writers who are making it in the creative world work on schedules, not whims. 

Now clearly not every day works out in an ideal way, but having a steady life where I am not totally clueless about what's coming next helps keep me grounded. When I'm not stressing about what's going to happen tomorrow (or where I'm going to get my next fix) keeps me focused on the story at hand. I've fond that the only real way to get any writing accomplished is really simple: sit on your butt (or stand at your standing desk) and write. There's nothing else that puts the words into the world. Not talking about writing, not daydreaming, not reading. At the end of the day the only way to write is.... to write.

And a boring, stable life helps that happen.

Now, that doesn't mean you have to keep a boring life in all aspects. Try new things, travel to new places, eat weird food that you can't pronounce, and do things that scare you, but never feel like having a stable life is a disadvantage when it comes to being creative.

Source: Photo by Eutah Mizushima on Unsplash

Confession time!

I am a morning person. I love the morning. I love getting up early and getting things done before other people are out of bed. I love breakfast more than any other meal in the world (except maybe brunch) and I want to eat the second I open my eyes.

Most of my friends are night people (RESPECT!) but I would much rather go to bed early and deal with the world in the morning. Things get weird after midnight. What's embarrassing about this is how long it took me to actually admit. I like the idea of being a night person, and the countless articles floating around about how night owls are more creative makes my writer self chafe.

I tried for many years to make night owl work for me. I'd stay up late with my friends, write at night, and generally shun the day, but it never led to me being very good at being well...me. I became a miserable zombie just blindly poking at a keyboard and hoping for the best.

Everyone has their own quirks and their own habits for writing. You develop a system that works. Some people write in coffee shops or else not at all while other people can't write anywhere but their office. Neither one of them is wrong, just different. Over the years, I've realized that fighting against your process is dumb and helps nothing. I know I write better in the morning but I constantly try to write at night because that's what so many other people do. I might be a strong, independent woman but that allure of 'writing the right way' keeps drawing me back even though I know there is no one right way.

Write when you can when it's best for you, and forget what other people are doing. Maybe some people would rather sleep until noon and write until 3 am, if it works for them awesome! Maybe some people write in marathon 10,000 word binge all nighters. But don't ever feel like someone else's process has to be yours.

What works for you might even change over the years and that's okay. Life happens, circumstances change and you keep rolling with it. Writing can be a chaotic, emotionally draining pursuit, don't make it harder by trying to be someone you're not. There is no one magical right way to write, it's whatever way works for you.

Source: Photo by Fabrizio Verrecchia on Unsplash

The process of editing and rewriting.

Cutting words from your work can suck. It can, without a doubt, be one of the toughest parts of the writing process, especially when you either a) have to cut a lot of words/pages  b) have to add a lot of words/pages or c) to cut huge sections and redo them.

Figuring out what can stay and what can go is one of the challenges of making your story the strongest it can be. Here are a  few things that can help (and by the way, making gifs on Photoshop is a great way to waste time but an awful way to get editing done.) These are basically things that I do once I have a first draft of a story.

1.     See what words you frequently use.

You can use wordle to create word clouds of your text and examine what words show up the most by how large they appear (and what words in general appear).

Another great way to check this is to use wordcounter which will create a list that shows you exactly how many times a certain word has been used.  Here’s the same story’s results with wordcounter.

I think wordcounter is more practical but I just love how pretty wordle is.

2. Cut any scene that isn’t moving the story forward.

Even if you have written the best description of a thunderstorm ever to have been written, if it isn’t advancing your story then it needs to go. This can be one of the hardest parts and I usually try to save these little gems in a graveyard word document.

One way to find these scenes is to re-read your story and mark the sections you start to skim over. A better way to do this is to ask a friend to mark the sections they skimmed through. If people aren’t reading those sections then something’s wrong and it needs to hit the floor or be reworked.

3. Read your work out loud.

If you stumble, then highlight that section and go back to look at it later, but read your work out loud. You can even ‘cheat’ and have your computer read it to you; this can really highlight areas that are awkward or that drag forever.

4. Check your beginning.

A lot of times the beginning of your story will need to be cut because you started too soon and have too much just meandering until the story actually begins. You can also have the opposite problem where you start the story too late and need to go back and add information. Look at your beginning very carefully when editing.

5. Check your timeline.

Most of the time when I edit, I realize that I have three sun rises in one day, or four Sundays in a week. I’ve started writing out what happens day by day in an old planner to keep myself in line, but checking your timeline is crucial to a good edit.

 

Those are just a very, very few things that I do when I’m going through my first draft. What kind of techniques do you use?

 

Source: Photo by Jo Szczepanska on Unsplash

I’ve been working away on my latest work in progress, and just crossed the 30,000 word mark last night. I’m hoping to finish it up before the end of this week.

At first I thought I was writing my first draft. And I suppose in a way I am, aside from my outline, this is the first time these characters have seen the light of the page and the first time I’ve told this story to anyone. But, about halfway through, the story veered in a direction I hadn’t seen. I realized I needed to change a major character and rework my main character and the plot in a big way.

For about a day I just stared at this mess of a draft and considered just starting it over again and making all the changes.

I’ve been down that road plenty of times before where I write the first 20,000 words over and over and over in a perpetual groundhog’s day loop of writing.

Instead of sending myself into that kind of hell, I decided to just make a note to myself (set aside with XXX) and keep going as if those changes had already been made.

What this means is that a minor character named Virgil became a main character at word 21,008, and that a main character named Darcy completely disappeared at 24,000 and I never backtracked to fix the words behind them. I’ve even gone back and rechanged the changes I made. So maybe for about 3000 words, Darcy existed again and then was erased for good.

This draft is going to be a mess when I finish, like a Frankenstein monster sewn together with hands on his head instead of ears, and eyes for a belly button. It’s ugly, and gross and going to have to be ripped to pieces to be put back together again. That’s why I’ve decided to call it a zero draft, and not a first draft.

But now that I’m nearing the end of this story, I feel more confident in the characters, in the voice and the story I’m telling. It’s changed drastically, and that’s okay. I’m sure it will change a dozen more times before it’s ready to be unleashed onto the world as a (mostly) right-side together Frankenstein.

The advice I most frequently people at any of the writing panels I’ve been on is to finish what you start, but I’m terrible at following my own advice. I want my first draft to be a perfect story and that just can’t happen (at least not with the way I write) so I make do with what I can make. I paint in the lines as best as I can, and then I go back and clean up.

So, draft zero I hope you’re ready to be finished off…and don’t worry, I’ll get your foot out of your eye socket soon.

Promise.

 

Source: Photo by Andrew Neel on Unsplash
Posted
AuthorAndrea Judy
CategoriesWriting Life