4 Ugly Truths about Writers and Time Management

Making Time for Writing

In Episode 1 of SZWordeatery, I offered a few tips on time management for writers and admitted that I don’t always take my own advice. We’re all human; sometimes we spend two hours we didn’t have on a quest to read everything the internet has to offer on the life of Bill Watterson because some article stirred up our Calvin and Hobbes obsession.

But we also work against our better judgment to get the job done. Let’s admit to some truths about the dirty deeds we do for our all-consuming need to write. These are the accidental/inevitable ink-stains on the tidy, white life-coaching package.

1. We make unhealthy choices.

Hungry-Writer

We discover that a 6 o’clock grande cappuccino can power us through a full evening of writing and keep us from crashing as a result of the three cups we had earlier in the day.

We also find that, with those three cups+cappuccino, we can be productive, functioning members of society on four hours of sleep.

We realize that food isn’t necessary when we’re caught up in a flight of inspiration. Why is it dark outside? Didn’t I just eat breakfast a minute ago?

2. Our brains throw tantrums at the worst times.

Bad-Idea-Good-Idea-Writing

No matter how well we plan out our day, our brain might want reading when we want writing. It may not want to do anything at all.

We can’t force great ideas whenever it’s convenient to us. We can only force bad ideas and hope to find a gem in the trash heap.

Sometimes knowing we have a deadline just around the corner is enough to make our brains go into a vegetative state.

3. Life gets in the way of writing/Writing gets in the way of life.

Life-Conflicts-Writing

After a full work week of sleep deprivation and caffeine overdosing, we crash and burn hard when we finally have a full weekend to focus on getting things done.

Family and friends need us when we need solitude.

Dirty dishes walk out of our sinks to slap us after a week of neglect.

We either don’t make time for exercise and end up looking like we were shot out to space and forgotten there, or we do make time for it but all the while cursing our bodily needs for taking us away from our work.

4. We make painful sacrifices.

Saying-Goodbye

To make more time, we give up other hobbies and dreams we loved almost equally, but not equally enough.

We forget what it means to have a free day to ourselves; we calendar relaxation. Activities we used to do for fun become integrated into our work lives–they become blog topics, articles, and pictorial marketing tools.

Time with friends and family is the hardest sacrifice we make. We lose loved ones.

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It’s funny how once you decide to make the time to write and make it a priority, you forget how to live without that time. No, you don’t just forget–you simply cannot do without. When I decided I would make time for writing, I didn’t realize this activity would effectively eat up my life.

This all might sound daunting to someone still on the fence about putting writing first, but here’s another truth:

I never feel like I’m missing out.

When I write, I’m complete and so satisfied with what I’m doing that I don’t feel too bad about declining that invitation to go somewhere fun on a whim.  I may grumble about deadlines, but I actually get a thrill from the challenge. Losing people is hard, but giving up or compromising your dreams for someone else is soul-deadening.

It’s not for everyone. You have to love it in order to endure. Listen to Dr. Kelso; remember that nothing in this world worth having comes easy.

From the Wordless Depths

From the Wordless Depths

I’ve been absent awhile. I’m going through some personal stuff. Let’s just call it a breakup and a move. Because that’s what it is.

I am not the writer who does well under the press of strife and struggle and especially when I feel unanchored. That island sanctuary—that bubble where calm, comfort and energy meet to create the perfect writing environment—is elusive when one’s favorite writing HQ (home) is in limbo. I’ve tried to dock in coffee shops, but it doesn’t feel the same when my writing desk is orphaned elsewhere.

The good news is that I’ve found a new place to call home and everything will be at rights again momentarily. I will overindulge in my workaholism to make up for this blasted month. It’s astounding how much gets done in thirty days, and, alternately, how much can go to seed.

So here are some of my goals for May:

Enter the Paper Darts 800-word writing contest. Details here: Paper Darts Short Fiction Award.

Enter the Shock Totem writing contest. Details here: Shock Totem Flash Fiction Contest.

Finish the first draft of my first-in-a-long-time short story.

Finish revising my YA Fantasy novel and send it off for review. I really need to get this thing out of my hands.

Wait impatiently for a response from a publisher to whom Robert and I submitted Beatrice is Dead.

Maybe I’m kidding myself with this list but it’ll at least force me back into a necessary frame of mind.

May nothing sever a writer from her pen…

My Nerdist Way Character Sheet

I finally got around to creating my character sheet using The Nerdist Way template  as I mentioned I might do a million years ago. I thought this activity might prove entertaining but was otherwise unnecessary because I already know what I want to do with my life. But looking at myself from the outside even at this stage was unexpectedly informative.

The point of creating a personal character sheet is to better understand yourself, your strengths, and weaknesses, and then use this information to take control of your life.

Close-Up-Alignment

I did learn something new about myself. My long-time assumption that I’m Lawful Good aligned was disproven. I decided to take a few alignment quizzes, answering each question honestly, and it turns out I can be a real self-serving jerk.

Here are a couple of the quizzes I took in case you’re interested in finding out where you stand:

Dungeons & Dragons Online Alignment Test (this is obviously designed for players of the online game, but something tells me you, like me, are capable of pretending you live in a fantasy world) — I scored plain ol’ neutral here.

Truly Lawful Productions D&D Alignment Test — I scored 47.2% Good and 17.9% Lawful, with a Neutral Good result. I did not expect to score so low on the lawful scale! I swear I don’t jaywalk.

Not even a million OKCupid quizzes can capture the full spectrum of our identities, but I thought the D&D take was interesting and fun. Knowing your own mind is important to a great number of life concerns and too often we only see ourselves in passing.

Close-Up-CharismaChris Hardwick, author of The Nerdist Way, advises against sharing your character sheet because you’ll want to be completely honest about your abilities while creating it. But I think it’s silly to hide my low numbers. It’s a well-known fact that I have almost no charisma.

The exercise gave me a chance to think about areas where I have basic skills that can beClose-Up-Photoshop improved upon; skills I didn’t think important to writing until recently. Like improving my ability to destroy flash photography, as illustrated by my da Vinci-like artistic representation.

It’s good to step back sometimes, even when you think you’ve perfected the blueprint to your success. I tend to get tunnel vision when faced with a massive task. I’ve been faced with a number of massive tasks lately and looking at the big picture has been difficult.

So here I am, in all my flawed glory. What would your character sheet look like? What attributes and weapons can help you move forward with your goals?

Nerdist Way Character Sheet

Best Place to Write in Los Angeles #3

I’ve decided to continue the Best Place to Write in Los Angeles thread indefinitely rather than ending it here at Part 3, as originally planned. I’ll be taking my adventures in writing beyond coffee shops, exploring some other–perhaps offbeat–spots, and also on the road because I’m a vagabond rockstar and wanderlusting jet-setter…

Justi of Parts 1 and 2 has already signed on as my co-pilot, and, out of the blue, I got my first guest review as well.

The Conservatory for Coffee, Tea & Cocoa — Culver City

Guest Post by Victoria Farrow

Conservatory for Coffee and Tea

I’ve gone to The Conservatory for Coffee, Tea & Cocoa about three times by now. The first time I wasn’t impressed at all. The place is awkwardly designed and feels cramped. It isn’t the biggest coffee shop ever but the seating area is so tight. The chairs and tables are not comfortable or inviting, just patio furniture it seems.

The place was kind of dirty; there are huge burlap sacks of coffee beans on a platform right when you walk in and rogue beans have not been swept from underneath it in forever. They do offer loose leaf teas to taste and buy, but the area to do so is as large as a hallway and difficult to access if more than one person is in that area as well.

Anyway, let’s get on to the important stuff…Their selection is the basic/essential coffee/espresso offerings but it seems they specialize in having various types of beans and roasts available. I’ve had a few different things here and maybe my palette is not fine enough, but it just tastes like coffee or espresso. It doesn’t blow my socks off. Their pastries look good, but don’t get their sandwich croissants; it was made with so much butter it felt like a slippery fish in my hands. Their muffins and scones are better.

Overall, this place is average.

**

Yikes! I thanked Victoria for saving me from a bad cup of coffee. I didn’t rate this one since I haven’t actually been there, but I doubt I’ll be visiting after that review.

Kaldi Coffee — Atwater Village

Kaldi 1.1

Justi suggested this place called Kaldi Coffee & Tea in Atwater Village and I was game to go based on her recommendation, but I was more excited about finally visiting my old java hole adjacent to the South Pasadena Public Library. Although the South Pas cafe is my favorite in all the land, I could never remember its name. It was such a nondescript, tucked-away place. For the longest time I didn’t know it had a name. The mystery was part of its charm.

You can imagine my confusion when Justi told me the name of her recommended coffee shop in Atwater and the very same name came up for my coffee shop in South Pas. The website didn’t mention two locations, so I assume it moved. I can’t confirm because we didn’t go to South Pas. Honestly, I was afraid to find my little coffee shop full of memories abandoned.

The Atwater Kaldi bore no resemblance to my Kaldi, but, inside, a fat leather armchair waited for me in a puddle of sun, so I couldn’t hold a grudge. Justi and I sprawled out like the cold-blooded lizards we are and enjoyed a cup. The shop brews its coffee on site. Could I tell the difference? Not really. It was nice and strong though; after so many weak coffees, I’ve come to appreciate that detail. They also have a large selection of teas.

Atwater is thoroughly gentrified so I was surprised by the lack of crowding inside. I guess hipsters don’t wake up earlier than noon (I swear I don’t dislike hipsters even though I keep insulting them…oh wait, yes I do). Only two or three others occupied the airy, white-walled space. Some uncomfortable-looking patio furniture hedged the street just outside the shop, but it wasn’t warm enough for that. Besides–fat leather armchair!

At Kaldi, I finally finished writing Part 2 of the Places to Write thread so I’d call it a successful writing environment. It was just quiet enough. Perhaps not having a plate of breakfast in front of me helped. Don’t come here on an empty stomach unless fruit and cold pastries satisfies you. It would not do for us, so Justi and I vacated to find food.

Viscosity: 4 out of 5

Novel Cafe — Pasadena

Novel Cafe 2

Justi and I learned an important lesson: never coffee hunt on an empty stomach, especially when you don’t have a plan. I thought we could wing it. We had the infallible Yelp on our side. All we had to do was find a coffee shop that served food. As we frowned at the sparse menu board in a dingy Glendale coffee shop-cum-greasy spoon that Yelp assured us was a-okay, I began to regret my bad planning. We wandered past the fancy shops and “experience” restaurants at the Americana–an outdoor shopping center–and knew we had to get right back in the car and head elsewhere before the day escaped us.

Novel Cafe 1

We tried our luck near Pasadena City College, where Justi had to be dropped off later, and found Novel Cafe. With a name like that, we couldn’t go wrong. This discovery turned out to be worthy of celebration in the form of mimosas. Their menu was thoughtful, they had coffee, and we could sit outside, away from the crowd, and set up our laptops. Although this place was a godsend for hungry people with writing and studying to do, I wouldn’t write here unless I could sit in the outdoor area. Indoors, Novel Cafe is very much a restaurant. I suspect working on a laptop in the low lit social atmosphere would have proved awkward.

This is one of those entries where the place is great, but maybe not so much for the task at hand.

Viscosity: 2.5 out of 5

Best Place to Write in Los Angeles #4

Best Place to Write in Los Angeles #2

4&20 Scraps: The Christmas Tree

4&20 Scraps is the start of my attempt to write something–anything–every day. I’m so wrapped up in revisions, it sometimes feels like I don’t get to create anything new anymore. I’m allowing myself the leeway to write about anything, be it a memory, something that happened during the day, a character study, so I don’t stress about how to fit my daily writing scrap into a box. It’s not going to be themed or prompt-based. This is a free-for-all. 

Please bear with me. I may be writing these at the end of a long day, after a strong drink, and/or when I feel like doing anything but writing, which happens more often than I care to admit. I might tell stories I’ll regret the next day because they say too much about my faults or my personal life. But it will be what it is and who I am.

I will, of course, also continue to post the usual stuff on this blog as well.

***

The Christmas Tree SZWordsmith

The winding 110 freeway was ink and hale. A cherry red Cadillac swam across Los Angeles and, inside the cabin, buzzed with something, maybe excitement delicately laced with fear.

I can’t remember who screamed, “I’m sitting in the front,” first, but, for once, it didn’t matter. We talked incessantly, sang Christmas songs with Natalie Cole, pretended the torment above our heads or the prospect ahead wasn’t terrifying. Mom’s face was a flickering light bulb–lit by encouraging smiles one minute, darkened by intense concentration the next. We slalomed down the exit ramp. The one we took on bright, sunny days. Pre-history. And before long halos spangled milkily on a guarded Pasadena street. The tires crunched over slick gravel and three pairs of feet swung out of the car to kick across the parking lot.

My sister and I breathed the cold scent of pine. They were perfect all of them, but that night we were in the business of choosing one winner. One to join our family of three, to stand tall and steady in our home during the long winter nights. We began the ritual which started with a solitary run down the aisles between the trees. I fell deeper into the trance, turning the crunch of gravel under my feet to the crunch of snow. Turning my short curly hair to long locks, my pony legs into the long, slender legs of a woman, smoothing my pimply skin to suppleness. When the deception was just right, before it was broken by the end of the aisle where I’d shoot out into the bright lights of the garden center and find my sister beside me, I was a princess in a quartz forest, lost but on the verge of discovery. Discovering what, I didn’t know.

The slick diamond dust gathered in the air around the three of us. We had found each other again. We had found our tree.

“This one,” said my mom to the bemused seller of holly and pine. He looked at us–my mom, my sister, me, not much different in height and build. Three pygmies pointing at a giant. “We want this one.”

The tree shuddered as it landed on the car top. We hadn’t thought to bring a tarp or even a sheet. Mom shrugged at the scratches in the red paint, the scratches on a car that was a gift to her from my dad, and herded us into the car.

The lacy edge of fear still lingering in the car now wrapped around us and scratched at our skin. We hushed the carolers on the radio and listened to the tree drag its branches across the roof–right to left to right to left–as we warily guided it through Eagle Rock. The drive up the steep climb of Wildwood Drive was the final test. When we parked in front of the door our smiles returned. While my sister ran into the house for a cup of cocoa, my mother and I stared down the hostage atop the car. My sister returned to supervise the task and we got to work.

Branches broke, fireworks of pine needles exploded in the hallway, sweat mingled with rain, but the tree was in the house, tip to trunk. And the way it went from the hallway to the tree stand is like magic in my memory. So I’ll say the winter wind lifted it off the floor and planted it there.

Not long ago, not years ago, my father drove us down the darkened streets while we sang carols. And not long ago not years ago he played the winter wind that, like magic, lifted our tree and stood it upright. But not that year or the years after.

My mom, my sister, and I stood around the tree awhile. And, once certain it was steady, we could return to our routine. We could stoke the fire and unpack the ornaments and be merry. Because we had done it. We had conquered Christmas. Just the three of us.