In my last post, I talked about a lot of things, but one thing I said was that it was time for me to decide what’s important to me.
Last Friday at work, I was almost by myself for most of the day, and I had very little to do. So I made myself a time matrix so I could map out how long I spend doing various things that are required so I could see what was left for me to apportion to the things I want to do with my copious free time.
It turns out that my free time is actually kind of copious, when looked at from a certain perspective.
When left to my own devices — in other words, no alarms and without being sick — I will sleep right at seven hours per night. It seems to be what my body requires in order to be fully rested. I can function at a decent level on five. Below that, and I’m firing on too few cylinders to be useful for much of anything that requires concentration. Even reading or listening to podcasts. If I get more than seven — unless I’m sick — I feel tired and logy and worn out.
So I started by marking off seven full hours per day for sleep. And I arbitrarily set those hours between midnight and 07:00. Why? Because if I go to bed before midnight, I somehow feel like I’m missing something. Don’t ask me why, I just do. (The brain weirds psychology.)
And because I don’t spring from bed perfectly clean, coiffed (I shave my head), and ready to go, I will add another hour five days per week of ‘getting ready,’ which includes all of the above plus having breakfast, checking my email, etc.
Then for another forty hours, I must work, at least if I want to eat, have a house and a car, and be (relatively) sane. And because I live and work in the Greater Atlanta Metropolitan Area, that means another two hours of commuting, to work and back. Sometimes it’s less, sometimes it’s more; it averages out to about one and a half hours.
By the way, don’t take this as me grousing. :) I enjoy my job. It doesn’t just “pay the bills”; it is fulfilling on most days. But it is, for the most part, doing things that other people value, and which I would not do if they didn’t pay me. Ideally, I’d be rich and able to do whatever I wanted.1
Now, there are a few other “required” items I have marked off. They’re all writing-related, so that’s good. Two weekly critique groups and one biweekly critique group. I also marked off time to read for the biweekly group, because the submissions can add up to 40,000 words, and that takes a while.
What that leaves me is a surprising fifty hours per week (fifty-nine on alternate weeks) that are basically free and clear.
Now, what do I currently do with all that free time?
My housemate and I are currently working our way through Buffy: The Vampire Slayer, Angel, Doctor Who, and Jonathan Creek. This is what little TV we actually watch: catching up on shows via NetFlix, Hulu, YouTube, and whatever other sources we can find.
I subscribe to . . . an embarrassing number of channels on YouTube. Musicians, vloggers, comedians, scientists, and others. I spend an embarrassing amount of time watching these videos. I mean, it probably takes up almost the entirety of the remaining hours.
Then there’s Facebook. Ah, Facebook. I spend too much time on it, as well. I’ve been easing off on that, reading it for a few minutes here and there during the day, and for the most part not obsessing over it. I don’t, as it turns out, have to know every aspect of every one of my friends’ lives for every minute of their day. Nor do they need or want to know mine.
I also subscribe to quite a few podcasts2, resulting in many hours of content per week, but I find that I can do this while working or driving, so there is generally ample time that isn’t devoted solely to podcasts.
Here are the categories of things I would like to spend time on, with the most important ones underscored for emphasis.
Writing: writing, reading, blogging, critiquing, Codex, submitting
Work: advancement/learning, projects to which I’ve been assigned, proactive projects
Social: spending time with friends, watching TV, YouTube, podcasts, Facebook (yeah, it gets in there), Twitter, whatever (Yes, I’m aware that a lot of what I’m putting under “social” are, on the face of it, solitary pursuits. But there’s a reason it’s called ‘social’ media.)
Family: mom-visits, other family
So there are my five big buckets of time to apportion. As I said above, I put almost all of my uncommitted time, at the moment, into the Social bucket, neglecting everything else. That needs to change.
I get zero exercise. So I figure one of the big things that has to change is setting aside some time each week dedicated to exercise. Just walking, at first. For various reasons I won’t go into, lifting weights or doing any serious training is right out for the foreseeable future, so if I can just walk a few times per week, that might go a long way toward increasing my stamina, health, and fitness. I might even lose weight, if I can also curtail some calories while I’m at it. (My housemate is a personal chef who specializes in people with special dietary needs. She can definitely help on that front, and has been.)
So, let’s say 3 hours per week of walking, briskly. I could do it at work on breaks (one does need breaks away from the computer). I could take the stairs during the day when I’m not having to drag my rolling computer bag with me. The while-at-work stuff is free, because it still counts as work time. So that doesn’t require me to “give up” any of my uncommitted time. I figure I can stop at a nearby mall for an hour-long walk around the inside three days per week (Monday, Wednesday, Friday, perhaps).
I’ve been getting way less sleep. That’s how much time the ‘social’ category takes up. I just have to watch one more YouTube video or see one more page of statuses on Facebook . . . I think my average sleep time has been closer to five hours than seven for . . . years? And that’s just sad, really. These raccoon eyes aren’t because I’m a goth. :)
When I was going to physical therapy for a shoulder injury late last year, I was able to get up at 5, be at work by 6:30 or 7:00, and then leave at 14:00 or 15:00, giving me ample time to get to my physical therapy between 16:00 and 16:45, depending on the day. That proved to me, briefly, that I can rearrange my work day if need be, and no one raises too much of a fuss. Most meetings take place between 10 and 3 precisely because people have varied schedules.
If I can get a replacement power cord for my work laptop, I could even work from home on Tuesdays, which would obviate the need for me to wrestle traffic for that one day per week, and the only thing for which I’d have to leave the house would be the critique group. I could get back two whole hours of “uncommitted time” for doing things like laundry.
So, what’s my point in all this? My point is that I have a crap-ton of time that I could spend writing, reading, critiquing, and generally improving myself as a writer. But instead, I squander almost all of it doing things that have no relevance to me, or any of my long-term goals.
It’s time to man up, in other words, and take the reins. Do what needs to be done. Quit wasting my time and start spending it.
Unfortunately, my inner child (who, by the way, is a four-year-old brat named Bradford; it’s a very long story) is right now stamping his feet and shouting “NO! NO NO NO NO NO!” and refusing to do anything he sees as not fun. He has even been known to hold his breath until he turns blue, and no one wants that, believe me.
So, how can I make exercise fun? How can I make improving my skills at work fun? How can I make giving up — or at least severely curtailing — YouTube fun?
How can I make writing fun?
Step one: Gamify it. More on that in the next post. :) (SEE WHAT I DID THERE?)
- Well, if I’m being 100% truthful, ideally, I’d have a skull-shaped, volcanic island lair with fast internet and a helipad. And to which all of my friends could freely come as a writing retreat or whatever. But that’s never going to happen. Probably.
- This is what we like to call ‘understatement.’ At last count, it would take me 109.8 continuous days — meaning no sleeping — to listen to everything I have downloaded.
I haven’t written much — here, but also in general — since the end of NaNoWriMo in November of last year. A couple of book reviews and the stories of how all three of my blogs got their names, but that’s about it.
I’d love to say it’s because I’ve been busy as a beaver writing and haven’t had time to compose a blog post.
I’d dearly love to say that. Unfortunately, if I do, I’ll be lying.
I could blame it on a lot of things. Blame is fun, as long as it’s not aimed at myself. Let’s try it, shall we?
I broke my good glasses1 last November, just six days into NaNoWriMo, and had to send them in for warranty replacement. So I’ve been struggling to see because my backup glasses aren’t adjusted for the distance between my eyes and where the laptop sits. However . . . I managed somehow to finish out NaNoWriMo with 50,000+ words using those glasses. And now, in late February, I finally have my glasses back, good as new. Actually, they are new. Warranty replacements.
Or I could claim that my right shoulder that I hurt in a fall last summer has been giving me fits, and that the long, drawn-out process of waiting on workers comp to do what’s right has increased my frustration level to the boiling point. And it would be true, but that wouldn’t take into account the fact that it hasn’t stopped me from doing anything else fun that I wanted to do.
So the Finger of Blame™ turns once more to point firmly back at me. Stupid Finger. :)
I did participate in Weekend Warrior over on CodexWriters, and this means I have five brand-new flash pieces to do something with (such as edit and submit). But I also did Weekend Warrior last year, and had five pieces of flash to do something with . . . and I did nothing with them. I have recently started editing those stories2 and sending them through my own little critique process, trying to get feedback on how I can improve them enough to send them out on submission. Because that’s the goal, here: submission. With the ultimate goal of publication.
I’m certainly not doing it for whatever money I might get; writing is not a profession to take up if you plan on making a ton of money, unless you’re Stephen King, Stephenie Meyer, Jim Butcher, or someone like that. No, this is about proving to myself that I can write well enough to make people want to read it. I have stories to tell, dammit, and I want to tell them in a way that people find compelling.
The problem is, what I’ve proven to myself is that even I don’t want to read my writing, sometimes. Allow me to explain.
On Weekend Warrior, the goal is to write a 750-word flash story between Friday at 9 pm and Sunday at midnight, using one or more of five prompts given on Friday night. Once all the stories are submitted, each participant reads all the submitted stories and rates them on a 1–10 scale. Various people use the scale differently, but since each individual uses their scale consistently, it works out even if everyone’s use is slightly different.
Across all nine of my submitted stories (I missed the deadline on week four, this year, but still wrote the story), my average scores have been in the mid-5 range. What a 5 means is that the story has potential, but doesn’t have enough of something to really get the readers involved. (This is based on several writers’ comments on the very topic of how they score others’ stories.)
In other words, my stories didn’t grab the majority. They didn’t keep their interest. They failed to make readers care or want to know the ending. Or the ending failed to satisfy. In essence, it means that my writing is OK, but not exceptional.
Granted, I do get some scores in the 7–9 range (I’ve never received a 10). But I also get scores in the 1–4 range. But in general, it’s firmly wavering between a five and a six.
I should also note that the winners of each round are generally in the high-6 to mid-7 range. I have never seen a story score an average of above a 7, although granted my experience is limited to the two years I have participated. But that extra point or two makes a big difference. The difference between “OK” and “exceptional.”
These are 750 word stories, maximum. And it’s difficult to introduce characters, setting, plot, conflict, an arc of character growth, world-building, and a satisfying resolution in only 750 words. But that’s kind of the point, isn’t it? Others can obviously do it, so it shouldn’t be beyond me.
These readers aren’t just average, run-of-the-mill readers, either: these are my writing peers. These are the same types of people (and frequently the same exact people) who will be making the ‘buy/not buy’ decision at a market where I have submitted.
Now, don’t get me wrong: I don’t take every negative comment to heart and immediately think, “I suck.” What I think is, “I can do better than this.” Followed immediately by, “But how?” And that’s been my stumbling block. Going from “This doesn’t work,” to “Why doesn’t it work?” to “How can I make it work?”
And how can I see this before I submit rather than after the critiques?
And it finally dawned on me that I also read all the same stories they did, these people who are my peers. Many of them are published authors3. A few are award-winning authors in my genres. But on the whole, the stories I scored high were the same ones most of the others did. So we agreed on the stories that did best. And that’s the key.
So, what can I learn from those stories? The ones that not only I, but others whose judgment I respect, judged to be better than the rest.
That’s what finally clicked. I can examine those stories that worked for me as both a reader and a writer, take them apart, analyze them, and try to work out why they work for me.4 What part or parts did or did not draw me in. There are some patterns, and the trick will be to identify when I am following one of those patterns and nip it, as Barney Fyfe famously quipped, in the bud.
This is usually difficult for me, especially if the writing is something I enjoy. When I’m in critique mode, I do it without much effort, unless the story is very gripping, in which case I occasionally forget to critique. But that very fact often becomes part of my critique: “I got so caught up in this section that I forgot I was reading it for critique and just enjoyed it.”
I know for a fact that writers like that kind of comment. :)
I can’t think of a single time anyone has ever told me that. So it’s time to raise the stakes.
And I realize, writing this, that . . . I say this at the beginning of every year. It loses its meaning because I’m always saying, “This year, I’m going to do better! I’m going to write! I’m going to submit!”
And then, along about February, the doldrums hit and I lose impetus. Something falters. I lose confidence. Or I fail to get any good critiques. Or I find other things more important than writing. Like YouTube or podcasts or what few hours of TV I allow myself to watch.5
And I’d like to say “this year, it’s going to be different!” After all, I waited until the last part of February to break my silence. To do that ‘resolutions’ thing that people tend to put so much stock in at the start of a new year.
I’d like to say it. And I hope I will look back and say, “This year was different! I got published!”
But for now, I’m going to concentrate on what is important.
More on that next time.
I did something amusing. I wrote this over the course of several days, and the tone has changed drastically. And it’s so typical of me. I remembered my scores as being worse than they were on Weekend Warrior for both years. In researching for this entry, I went back and examined all my votes and discovered that I actually scored way higher than I remembered. Three of the stories were in the high-4 range, but all of the other seven were firmly in the 5 range. I remembered them being overwhelmingly below 5. So I edited this to have a little more positive tone and outlook. Any maudlin tone that remains is purely unintentional. I actually feel pretty good about the stories I’ve written. I just need to translate that, as stated, into forward momentum.
- I bought a pair of SuperFocus glasses in spring last year, and while I was cleaning them one morning in November, the inner lens popped and oil went everywhere. Luckily, the warranty covers them for full replacement for one year.
- Of the ten stories I wrote, I really like the ideas in seven of them. Two of the others are unsalvageable (one was accidental fanfic and the other was so clichéd, it actually hurts), and the last one is too long to tell effectively in a flash piece.
- To get into Codex, you either have to be published or have completed a juried workshop, which I did in 2012 at Viable Paradise. So some of these peers are literal peers — they have published nothing, but are working to get better. Others are peers only in that we both type on keyboards in the hopes that someone will read the output and enjoy it.
- By the same token, I can take apart the ones that were consistently scored low by others and myself and figure out what didn’t work.
- I know that TV is the bane of many writers’ lives. I actually don’t have cable or local digital TV. I have NetFlix and Hulu Plus and a ton of DVDs. My housemate and I are working through Buffy the Vampire Slayer and Angel and Doctor Who right now. And Jonathan Creek when we find time.
So, where did the name of my blog come from? I shall tell you, and it’s a short tale.
I needed a ‘professional’ site, unassociated with my other two blogs, where I could blog about all things writing-related. My non-writer friends didn’t want to see that for the most part, and the kinds of things I write about on the other two sites aren’t “professional.” I use language I don’t use here, etc.
I wanted my name as a domain, but some lawyer already owned garyhenderson, so with some trepidation, I looked for and did not find ‘garydhenderson.’ So I bought it. Looked for hosting, and set up WordPress. Within days I was ready to go, having picked what I had been told was the best kind of template to use for writing: black text on a white background, with a simple design and no extraneous pictures or colors or fonts.
But I didn’t want to just call the blog ‘Gary D. Henderson’s blog’ either. I wanted something with pizzaz. Panache. A certain . . . je ne sais quoi.
I love me some puns. And I also love homophones. Words that sound alike but have different meanings and etymologies. Words like pear, pare, and pair. Or pedal, peddle, and petal (if you’re from the south, they’re practically identical).
Or write, rite, wright, and right.
I tried desperately to work all four in, but in the end, none of those sounded like anything I wanted to read, much less write.
And what is a writer if not a wright, of a sort. So: write wright. Or WriteWright.
Since that domain is taken and so is the Twitter account (I tried to get the guy parked on it to let me have it, but he did not answer), I couldn’t fully embrace it other than using it as my blog title, which I’ve done, as you can see.
I also own several other domains relating to the series of novels I’m working on, but they are parked and not pointed at anything right/write/wright/rite now.
All in good time. :)
This post is in response to The Writer’s Post Blog Hop 2014 #4 prompt, Explain the Name of Your Blog. The host is Suzy Que. Other entries are linked from her blog post.