I think 2020 is the Year of Disruption. It’s shown all of us that some things can be done differently, or in some cases, maybe not needed at all.
The biggest disruption for me has been time management. I’m a writer with a day job. The day job is a travel ringmaster. I juggle multiple hats, sometimes all at the same time. At times, it’s made writing after work very difficult. There’s nothing like getting home, and the work day has sucked up all your mental energy.
Stuff sometimes comes at me so fast that it was hard even figuring out how to manage all of it. As I’ve read over the last year, this is a very common problem with knowledge management workers. Random tasks come in email, often labeled urgent, and all everyone says is “Put it on a to-do list.”
I started time blocking sometime in April or so. Physically marking my work calendar in Outlook with a block of time for tasks. I’d tried it before, it but fell apart because I was too specific with the blocks. It didn’t make me feel in control of anything.
With COVID-19 pulling back on the reins of the normal chaos, I was able to practice and adjust the time blocking, something I hadn’t been able to do. What resulted was a betting balancing of energy. I’ve had to make decisions about what I can do earlier in the day versus what works better the afternoon.
In March, I saw the writing on the wall, my Facebook wall that is. Everyone, in the attempt to be helpful, was sending out link after link after link of COVID-19 tips. Serious overload!
Add to that, I knew the media wasn’t going to have any governor on what they published. The more scandalous, the better. During 911, they had the sense to stop, but that was lost a long time ago.
So I unsubscribed to all news emails–and was shocked at how many I’d been on. I’m not a news junkie, and yet, it was more than I expected. I also stopped watching news on TV. Instead, I just referred to paper newspapers.
Then I started cutting social media. I’d subscribed to a lot of sites at one point because of a recommendation at a BookBaby Conference several years ago. Now I was deleting my profile where I could. Not all the sites allowed that, and all of them made it hard to do. I bookmarked the Superstars group for Facebook, and shockingly, that nearly killed off visits to Facebook entirely.
More recently, I’ve been thinking about trade-offs about posting comments on other blogs.
Once you start focusing on being professionally published, not dreaming about it, it changes your perspective. Suddenly you see how many books and sites are catering to the dreamers. Worse, these all provide misinformation!
Probably the biggest is on outlining versus not using one (pantsing). To the outsider, it seems reasonable and logical to plan out your story. It’s easy to explain how to do one for a dreamer because it can be done step-by-step. But there are also a lot of people posting that outlining as the ONLY way to write a story and dismissing pantsers outright.
If I ran across those, I always posted a comment because I got lost for a while in the outlining maelstrom. When I was on writing message boards, there was a lot of pressure to conform. With problems in my writing (from craft), I veered to it for a while, spun my wheels, wrecked a few stories. After that, I wanted to post comments because I didn’t want others like me going down that rabbit hole.
This time, when I ran across one of those posts advocating outlining a novel (a non-fiction writer), I stopped and thought about it. I asked myself about the tradeoffs:
What would happen if I did comment?
I’d spend a lot of time writing the comment, probably get frustrated, because I am tired of seeing this nonsense presented as the only way to write. I’m tired of how destructive it is.
The author might do one of two things:
- Remove the comment outright (some authors want people to only agree with their point of view).
2. Tell me I’m doing it wrong.
So I decided the trade-off of being frustrated and the author’s response wouldn’t be worth the time to write the comment. There is only one blogger now I’ll post comments when the topic comes up because it becomes a discussion. Comments can help me expand my knowledge because it forces me to think about how I do something. But even a topic like cycling (a pantser technique) has gotten me admonishments for not doing it correctly.
I know what works for me. What everyone says doesn’t matter.
Right at the end of March, I signed up a health coach from Nerd Fitness. I needed to lose weight and wanted an outside perspective about my eating.
But I’m glad I did because I think I would have gotten sloppy about my exercise. I couldn’t go to the gym, and probably still can’t. That would have left me just doing walking. If I’d been following a routine, I’d have gotten bored and dropped off it. Staying healthy is absolutely the single best thing I can do right now (and always)
I’ve lost 14 pounds so far and can do exercises I thought I would never be able to do.
I tried as best as possible to insulate myself from the stressfulness of COVID-19. Still, my writing dried up for the first few months. I was able to produce a short story (Backlot Deception, below) and worked on my superhero novel (still in progress).
Fifteen weeks ago now, I took the leap and signed up for the Great Challenge on Dean Wesley Smith’s site. It’s a story a week for an entire year. When I get to the end of the year, I get a lifetime subscription to workshops, so a huge value, plus 52 stories.
Teddy Bear Man, the second story in the Challenge, won a Silver Honorable mention from Writers of the Future. I’ve also written stories in two genres I haven’t tried before: Cozy Mystery and Sword and Sorcery.
But it’s been a struggle working on the superhero novel with the schedule for the short stories. I’m still trying to figure out a process where I get the stories done faster, and earlier in the week, so I can get on with the novel.
I also unofficially decided I was going to publish an ebook a week for a year (another challenge of DWS, though nothing I had to register for). My focus also included streamlining everything I could:
- Creating a “Folder Template.”
This helped the challenge, too. The folder has a manuscript template, along with two folders, one called ePublishing Masters (cover and ebook downloads in mobi, epub, and PDF) and another called Manuscript Masters (ebook templates for mystery and spec fiction). I just copy the whole folder and paste it into the Project folder, rename it as “Story 15,” and away I go.
I had to review this several times, ferreting out unnecessary steps. Originally, covers were in one folder and the ebooks were in a different one. So when I published to Amazon or Smashwords, I had to keep changing the folders.
The additional books list is in Evernote, so I can update it there after a release, then paste it into the next release. That’s much easier than remembering to open the template and update it each time. I’m always in Evernote, and it’s easier to hop around the notes.
- Storing an inventory list in Evernote.
Before, I’d been trying to keep track in a spreadsheet. Frankly, spreadsheets are terrible. Because of all the information I needed, it ended up being in two places. Instead, I created a template in Evernote, and store it there. I use the tags for year published, year refreshed, and genre.
- Starting a note-taking system.
This is something I’ve wanted to do since the internet’s gold rush days. There are gems of information out there that might have long-standing uses. But storing it in a way that is useful to my creativity was hard to figure out. Most of the advice is just use tagging.
Instead, I found that I never used the same tag twice, often misspelled them (being a terrible typist and having trouble spelling some words), and notes simply disappeared into the flotsam. Yet, while writing my four cozy mysteries, I kept going to the same pages over and over again.
Enter the Second Brain. It’s a different way of thinking where you can use your notes to make unexpected connections. Basically, I save a note in Evernote that interests me, or that I might have to revisit. When I need it, I type a word that’s in it to find it. That’s not as hard as it sounds. With the cozy mystery, it was “1940s.”
Once I visit the note a second time, I bold the parts of the note I need so I can scan it for what I need on the next visit.
I’ve had to make decisions on what I should save versus what I shouldn’t. The topic should interest me (I find 1940s fashion fun to read about). It also should be something where I would expect to find it in Evernote later. For example, I had to do an on the spot research for one of the stories. What are the cycles of the moon? It’s such a common piece of information that I was likely to simply go back out on the internet next time I needed it. On the other hand, if I needed folklore on the moon cycles, I’d save that in Evernote because it would have some cool parts that might trigger a story.
I’ve always found notes a chore, and this has made them fun.
Finally, a list of everything I’ve published this year.