Is Running The Best Procrastination Strategy Ever? Discuss

LIFE. It feels like I’m looking into fog or deep water, squinting my eyes and searching for defined edges among so many shifting priorities and goals, all moving in and out of focus at different times. Running has been the clearest priority for a while now. I’m also trying to prioritize simple and practical self-care. I hate to use the term “adulting”…but I tend to go from work to runs to social engagements without a lot of time in between, and I’ll leave the dishes in the sink or the work clothes in the pile because getting to the next thing is more important to me than cleaning up my space. I’m really good at working towards big, flashy goals. Training for a marathon, finishing NaNoWriMo, making everything spotless before a party or event. I’m less good at the daily upkeep that would help me feel less scattered and anxious in my environment. So I’m working on it, because it’s winter and I need every bit of positive energy I can get. I’ve also been watching Netflix’s Queer Eye reboot, and it is HIGHLY MOTIVATIONAL to imagine what the Fab 5 might say if they were looking around my apartment.

RUNNING. I am really proud of how much time I spend running…as anyone who’s talked to me for more than a minute has probably figured out. It’s hard not to mention it because any interesting thing I do in any given week probably has something to do with running or one of my running communities. Part of why I’m so proud is because it’s a GIANT CHANGE that I made in my life, and a change that I STUCK TO. I made this change not long after radically changing my hairstyle, which helps with my strong sense of “before” and “after,” and it’s reassuring to be in the “after” and to know that I’m capable of making giant changes. This is who I am now. And it’s a relief to no longer have the constant anxiety of feeling like I should be exercising regularly, because I do. That aspect of my life is now in place. I have different anxieties about whether I’m training properly or doing enough, but BARE MINIMUM I exercise 4 days a week. And even as I struggle with things I have struggled with for years, like keeping my space tidy, and even as I am sad about the things I am sad about, and mad about the things I am mad about (things that ended suddenly, without much closure), at least I am this person now. I ran 27 miles this week. I ran over 1,000 miles this year. This is who I am now, and that means a lot to me.

But… remember those shifting goals, edges obscure, some so vague you have to squint to see the shape of them? I started this blog to write about writing, and sometimes it seems like constantly crushing the running and physical goals has allowed me to slack off on other goals that are difficult, and that I’ve been working towards longer. I get a large or small sense of accomplishment after every single run, and if I’m feeling accomplished it’s easy to put off working on my book until another day. After all, I am tired. I earned this post-run beer. And my laptop is slow and bug-ridden, and I can no longer use it without a mouse and not plugged into the wall. So much hassle. I might as well just watch something on Netflix, or plan out my long run for the week and think about how accomplished I’ll feel after that.

I don’t really have an answer. Priorities shift and life comes in seasons. I may be failing miserably at my December Sketch Challenge, but several times over the past years I’ve been able to use my art training to design athletic T-shirts for one of my running clubs, which combined my big new running passion with my long-term goal to keep making art. Of course doing any of the art I want to do is hindered by my buggy laptop than can barely run Photoshop anymore and my broken drawing tablet…so the real answer here might be that I need to save enough money to purchase tech that would enable me to do the things I want to do. Which means finding a second or a different job and working more hours, which may be difficult to schedule with all the running and won’t leave much extra time for creative endeavors.

And those are some of the things I am trying to balance! Life is always messy and nothing is perfect. I try to make progress every day. Lately when I find myself sitting on the couch, exhausted from a late bedtime and early wake-up and body aching from my strength class the day before, I ask myself, “What can I do to work towards my goals right now?” Sometimes it’s writing a few cover letters and sending out some resumes—each one is a little easier to do. Sometimes it’s just washing my dinner plate and cup before going to bed, or doing a little foam-rolling and stretching to help my legs feel a little better. Maybe tomorrow it’s opening up my manuscript file and revising a chapter, or even a paragraph. A sentence. Who knows, right? Anything could happen. And this is who I am now. I have made changes, and I can make more.

-GM

Blogging. What a Trip.

At post-run drinks the other day, a friend mentioned updating his blog. Then we had a talk about writing our books, about how hard it is to nail the ending, and about how, much, goddamn, TIME you put into something like a novel with no guarantee of that time paying off for you in any tangible way, no guarantee that that book will ever reach an audience other than yourself.

Okay, now I’m depressed about writing again.

But blogging as a topic of conversation in a run space, the runniest of my run spaces, got me a little inspired and thinking that maybe, with a little tending, this blog could be more than a relic of a less active time in my life.

I feel like blogging has an uneasy space in today’s options for communication and self-promotion. If I am looking for attention, for example, I will make a facebook post. This will get me immediate feedback in the form of comments and likes, and will be seen by more people than blog content that requires time to click through to a different website and read a whole post. The immediate feedback feels nice. What a thing to want, though. Feedback. Attention. “Attention-seeker” is a very negative thing to call someone, and if anyone is being bratty, or acting up, or behaving in a way that is over-the-top and destructive to those around them, they are commonly dismissed with the phrase, “Oh, they’re just looking for attention.” So even on Facebook I feel a lot of pressure not to post too much, or too loudly. It can be hard to tell where the line is between sharing and bragging. I often feel annoyed by the relentless positivity of posts that are meant to inspire, often by public figures who have turned their online presence into a brand. I try not to trust this annoyance because perhaps I am cynical or jealous—but I also try to hit a more subdued note, and to not post about accomplishments more than once or twice a week. And yet… I spike my hair up and dye it Rock’n Roll Red (words from the Manic Panic bottle, not mine). I want to be seen.

So blog posts don’t get seen in the instant way a Facebook post would. What’s the point of a blog, then? Is it a diary? My actual diary, for which I use the more sophisticated term journal, is for writing in when I’m mad about boys. I have a series of physical notebooks on predominantly this topic going back to the year 2000. A blog makes a crappy diary because I’m not exactly going to blog publicly about every detail of my life. Sometimes I wish I could—I sure have some witty things to say about it—but I place too much value on my own privacy and the privacy of others to ever use a blog post the way I use my journal.

Maybe a blog is just to have a consistent online presence in a world where things like that matter, or could matter depending on what decisions you make and paths you take. A blog is a place on the internet to hang your hat, ready to mobilize on that future date when you sell your novel or launch your public career as a motivational speaker (Ha!). Or, smaller scale, maybe it’s just to practice saying a few things. To practice writing them down, and to try growing less afraid to share the parts of yourself that are shareable, just in case your sharing might give a moment of pleasure or connection to someone else. Maybe?

This isn’t a big “The Blog is Back” announcement. The future is uncertain and priorities are constantly shifting. But I wanted a to write a post and then I kept wanting to write it, to the point that I’ve actually drafted this on a public library computer while waiting for my replacement laptop charger to arrive in the mail. So maybe I’ll keep wanting to write blog posts. I’m guessing I’ll want to write posts about running, which is why I’ve redesigned the website to feature running in the tagline and header (photo credit Craig Dilger—you can’t see it in the mobile version but yes the tiny runner on the breakwall is me). This might be a temporary redesign—maybe I’ll write another blog post soon about how all my tech is breaking down and it’s making digital art difficult. Maybe not. The future is uncertain. This is a blog post. The end.

Day 25: Winning

NaNo-2015-Winner-Banner

Yeah that’s right, I won early! I reached 50,000 words this Sunday afternoon, more than a week before the end of November. This is a first, for me. Here’s what my progress graph looked like on Sunday:

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I love these graphs, by the way. If I could add any feature to the NaNoWriMo website, it would be the ability to compare graphs side-by-side, or spliced on top of each other. You could compare your current year’s progress to every other year you’ve participated, or you could compare your own graph to any of your writing buddies’. I think that would be neat.

I didn’t stop writing, by the way. I’m now trying to reach a new goal of 70,000 before the end of November. Wanna see another graph? ‘Cause I sure do. Here’s where I am today:

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See how the bars are above the goal line?

Current word count is 55,483, and I’m still lagging about a thousand behind where I want to be for today.

Every single person writes differently, but here’s how I made my win happen:

It started with travel plans for the weekend. I thought I would be away on the 21st and 22nd, and I didn’t know if I’d find the time to write. Starting on Monday of last week, I made it my mission to get as far ahead as possible before the weekend hit. Mondays, Tuesdays, and Wednesdays, I have time to write at the end of my workday before it’s time to go home, of which I took full advantage. It was nice. And so the following few days, when I taught right to the end of the school day, I did the same thing. I stayed late at my desk as long as I could, and typed until I had met my word count. Then I cancelled my travel plans at the last minute, and I was already so far ahead and on a role that I said, hang on, I think I can get to 50,000 by Sunday. And so I did.

My new goal, 70,000, will bring me a lot closer to the end of the story than 50,000. I’ve written this story completely linearly so far; it starts at the beginning and follows a plot and there are no missing pieces or pieces that obviously don’t belong. This is unusual for me, and after the current mess of my dragon book I find it relaxing. Even if I don’t make 70,000 this month, or if the story still isn’t done at 70,000, I want to keep writing until I find the end.

Cheers!

Day 18: Still Okay!

I’ve admired my Aunt Ruthanne’s consistent Wednesday blog updates for years now (A More Colorful Life! Erry Wednesday!). I don’t have any classes Wednesday afternoons this semester and, seeing as this is my third blog post in three Wednesdays, maybe I can follow her example and make Wednesday posts a regular thing.

I won’t write much, though, because I’m trying to get as far ahead on NaNoWriMo as I can before the weekend.

Here’s my progress graph! I’m at tomorrow’s goal, and I haven’t even started writing for today yet.

32,007 words!

32,007 words!

 

I like how this book is coming together. I like the shape of it. I like the characters that are popping up out of the darkness. I like my ideas for the ending. The book feels complete, somehow, in a way my books rarely do at this stage in the writing. I know there are some threads that are missing, and I know I will have to go back to the beginning to weave a few new colors into the story, but I feel like I can hold the whole thing in my hands and I feel it is good. This feeling probably means I am in for a lot of surprises, but I’ll enjoy it while it’s here.

I’m also having fun writing this book. I want this to be my job. How do I make this my job? Oh yeah. Keep writing.

Good luck on NaNoWriMo and every other thing, you beautiful people, you.

NaNoWriMo Day 11 Update: It’s Going Okay

The curve of my NaNoWriMo graph has a different shape this year than it did last year and the year before. I won both years, by the way—when I start NaNo, I finish. Usually I start out strong, though and things don’t get difficult until week 2. In 2013, I fell behind on Day 11. Last year, it was Day 9. This year, well, take a look. I started out behind, and didn’t even catch up until Day 7, the end of week 1. And today finds me behind again, but only by 3,000 words. I’ll catch up tonight or tomorrow.

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Last week, nothing was working. The intro I’d planned turned out to be the wrong way into the story. I couldn’t get a feel for my main character. The next episode of Parks and Rec kept happening on Netflix autoplay. Mentally, I think I was exhausted from all the hard story work I’d been doing on my dragon book right up until I put that project down for Nano. My subconscious story-generator needed a few days’ rest before it could start cranking out ideas for a brand new story—even if it’s actually an old story, and even if it’s a story I chose because I thought it would be less complicated.

This is what I like about NaNo, and the monthly goal. It would be really easy to let a necessary few days of rest turn into gratuitous months or even years. I’ve done it before. But when the clock is ticking and a goal is set, it creates a constant nagging reminder that your writing needs you. So even though I didn’t like anything about my story and even though I was feeling discouraged, I showed up on Saturday to see what I could do. It turned out I could do a lot. I wrote 10,500 words that day, which is a personal best.

So, yay?

I guess what I’m saying is, don’t let a few days of inaction towards a goal make you feel bad. Maybe your brain needed that time to recharge. Maybe your spirit needed that space to find the story. Just stay focused on the big goal, and keep showing up to write.

 

How To Keep Writing

I’m going to start this blog post by telling you to read a different blog post, one written by Wil Wheaton entitled Seven Things I Did to Reboot My Life. The whole time I was reading this, I sat at my desk and nodded my head furiously. Yes. We may have slightly different circumstances, age, struggles, changes, and goals, but this entire article rings so true to everything I’ve been doing (trying, working on) for the last two months—remember my last blog post? Near the end of his article, Wil Wheaton says: “I deserve to be happy. I deserve to feel good about myself. I can do the work that I need to do to accomplish these things.” Yes. This is, nearly verbatim, what I’ve been telling myself over and over again, and scrawling multiple times at the end of my journal each day. I am worth the work I am doing.

Instead of doing everything all at once, though, I focused on exercise first and made it routine. This was heading towards writing, this had to be heading towards writing, but for a few weeks I allowed myself to feel accomplished if I worked out and then went to bed without having written a single thing. And that’s great—but it wasn’t enough.

So now I’m writing, and I’m writing hard. This Sunday is Day 1 of November, when I’ll begin a brand new writing project for National Novel Writing Month. It will also be the Year One anniversary of my main squeeze, my in-progress novel about a trucker girl and a telepathic dragon. I am trying to complete as much of this book as possible before I set it aside for the entire month of November. It has grown so much in a year, from nothing to a 100,000 word manuscript. And there is still so much to do.

The uncompleted draft of a novel is terrifying thing. It’s too much to keep in my head all at one time. The plot itself is overwhelming, and so are the doubts about the story and about the act of writing a book. Even as I’m writing and planning and plotting, I ask myself if it’s too long, if the ideas are stupid, if no one will like it, if it’s too similar to this book or that book, if it will ever be published. And more, even as I am trying to piece together the very first draft, I am already borrowing worries from the future: Will I have to re-write this section? Will an editor tell me to remove this character? Did I write this wrong? Is this bad? Will I ever finish the third and fourth revisions? Will constructive criticism kill all the excitement I feel, right now, for this story?

I even worry about how excited I am. Excitement is temporary. When the sparkle days return to plodding grey, will I keep writing this book? And how can I live with myself if I don’t?

100,000 words says I will. It is so hard to spend hours and hours on something when you can’t see the end of it, but all I can do is continue to check things off my chapter to-do list and keep making decisions about characters’ actions and motivations and what happens next. I am trying (it is difficult) to focus on a first draft, to focus only on writing a whole story that makes sense, and to leave the rest alone for now. Even if it is too long, or too stupid, or never gets published, that won’t mean it isn’t worth doing.

I’ve made a lot of personal progress since August. I no longer have to fight so hard to feel valuable, and to feel like a good person. So I’m fighting for my writing instead, which I’ve been fighting for all along. In 50 years, I’ll probably still be blogging about how writing is hard. I just plan to have written a few novels by then. So here’s the new mantra from my journal: My dreams are worth the work I am doing.

Write, and repeat as necessary.

NaNoWriMo and December Sketch-a-Day Challenge

Winner-2014-Web-BannerI finished NaNoWriMo today. I wrote my 50,000 words, and that’s a wrap for November. Here’s the graph; I even managed to stay pretty close to par all last week, despite traveling to Boston for a really lovely Thanksgiving dinner and weekend with cousins and friends.Screen Shot 2014-11-30 at 6.25.21 PM

I have a lot more time to do creative work than I thought I did, but I need to be working hard every month of the year, not just November. Last year, in the wake of NaNoWriMo, I instigated a Sketch-a-Day challenge for December. I didn’t finish in time, but Ruthanne of A More Colorful Life sure did and I still think it’s a great idea. So this year, I’m doing it for real. If you need an artistic kick-in-the-pants, please join us! I’ll link to your blog if that’s where you’re posting December sketches, and if you’d like to join the online December Sketch-a-Day Challenge community, do a Facebook search for the group I made (it’s called December Sketch-a-Day Challenge) and request to join. The goal is 31 sketches, 31 days.

The Sketch-a-Day Challenge is my big goal for December, but I don’t want to stop writing. I also don’t think I told you anything about my NaNoWriMo novel? It’s the self-indulgent telepathic dragon novel I never knew I had to write, and I don’t think I’m even fifty percent through the story at 50,000 hastily-written words. I have a lot of good stuff, especially good ideas, but a lot of those words are unusable and a lot of them will change once I figure out some answers to the Big Story Questions, and I’m finally at a place where I know which Big Story Questions I should ask. So I’m going to keep working on it. Most especially, I am going to take some time for outlining and researching and organizing—all the things I didn’t have time for during NaNoWriMo. I know I need to do lots of non-word-count related work on the story, and I know my sketch challenge will take up the majority of my daily creative energy, so I am setting a very small writing goal of 500 words a day. This makes a total of 15,500 words for the month. That’s sure a significant drop from 50,000, and I’ll top it if I can, but I think 500 words and one sketch every day will be enough to be getting on with. And I think I’ll get tired. But I think I can do it.

What are your goals for December?