Life Hack: Of Podcasts and Procrastination — Both Can Be Your Friend

We’ve all done it, haven’t we? Procrastinated, I mean. In the past I’ve felt bad about it. When it comes to writing fiction, I don’t usually procrastinate. I have so much to say that I could pretty much write nonstop. But there are times…

Today began with a fun talk with my husband before he went off to work. Then I took an invigorating run followed by a leisurely breakfast. I was happily on the endorphin express. But.

After breakfast this morning I discovered that didn’t want to get dressed because I didn’t want to pick out clothes because I wasn’t in the mood to make choices. (I did it anyway, of course.)

Then I didn’t want to load my too heavy backpack onto my coat and lug it to the café where I am working. Once there, I didn’t want to unbundle and set up all of my things: computer, books, paper, pens, plug the computer in by crawling in the floor in front of everyone, etc. Things that I do everyday without thought have been more difficult today.

And even though I own probably 50 scarves, I forgot to bring one, which bummed me out. Thankfully I am wearing double layers. (Note to self: tuck a neutral-colored one into your backpack for the future.)

Still, once I got here I made my daily “I will do/the universe will do” lists. Okay, I only wrote the “I will do” list. I know what I want the universe to do and most of it reads like a honey-do list: Shampoo the carpets, replace the caulk in the bathroom, put up the Christmas decorations. Things that don’t have to be done today, but it would be nice if they were done before our eagerly awaited holiday visitors arrive. (I have evolved to the point that I know those things will get finished, and I also realize that they have no deadlines attached, so we are good. In fact, some of those might even prove to be fun.)

And oh yeah, Universe: make my dad well.

So here I sit, proud that I have made as much progress as I have. Except I don’t want to do anything on that list I promptly hid after writing. After tunneling into my fiction for the weekend, I am finding it difficult to make the switch to nonfiction today.

My dad is in the hospital and I’m worried about him. I’ll get to see him tonight, but I wish I could ease his suffering and there’s nothing I can do. Nothing. If you know me, you know I can’t handle feeling helpless. I suspect this is the cause of my unease.

Before you think I am just foisting my ho-hum attitude upon you, read on. Because I just discovered today that procrastination is my friend and it can be yours, too. (Minor bit of required diversionary backstory forthcoming.)

I am a podcast junkie. I listen to them when I run. I listen to them while I cook. I listen to them while I clean. Don’t ask me what kind because it depends on my current taste, which is always changing.

This morning I was listening to one while I was stretching, and I was thrilled to hear someone say that when you procrastinate, what you’re actually doing is keeping yourself from taking action before you should. That is, your mind is not in a place where it’s time to do anything, so don’t make a move until it is. I LOVED hearing that. It was just what I needed today.

Maybe I needed to think about my dad a little today after I called my mom and got the not-great prognosis. Maybe it’s okay that I didn’t jump right into my usual routine and pretend that everything is fine when it’s not.

Maybe that hesitation I feel is because the right people aren’t available to interview today anyway, and if I just wait until tomorrow they will be.

Maybe by writing this today, I am not procrastinating at all, but I am writing it for someone who needs it as much as I do.

For some reason, though, I suddenly feel ready to look at that list again. Perhaps this time I will see friendly letters looking back at me that inspire me instead of an enemy with a whip (which the list sometimes feels like, no matter how slim I make it). Here’s hoping.

The Golden Notebook: Organize Your Writing in 2014

If you want more “gold” from your writing in 2014 (be it money or just the satisfaction of seeing more of your ideas captured instead of left to wander off), try using your “golden notebook.”

(Disclaimer: I once owned Lessing’s “The Golden Notebook but got rid of it without having read it because it was copy I bought at the library’s book sale that was too musty and yellowed to keep. So if I totally misused the title, Lessing fans please forgive me. I really do want to read it.)

I have a writing organization system that works great for me – if I use it! So read the above title as a command to myself. Let me explain my system, in case you need one that you, too, can put into place and promptly ignore.

Because I have ideas for every category of writing you can think of (articles, essays, poems, novels, short stories, plays, movies, hints, blog posts and more!), I recently decided to go back to a system I used years ago. I bought two boxes (I am not kidding) of cheap spiral bound notebooks. My goal (seldom achieved) is to carry one with me AT ALL TIMES. No joke. Beside my side of the sofa (what, you don’t have a side?), in the kitchen, on my bedside table, everywhere.

Here’s where guilt has kept me from pursuing this method in the past: I write JUST ONE IDEA PER PAGE! Yup. Why? Because I have binders for these categories and I put the ideas in each binder. Well, that’s what’s supposed to happen so that when the well runs dry on story ideas (Okay, I actually pin that list to my office wall!)I know just where to go to find one. But I feel so guilty wasting paper. Yeah, there’s the tree killing aspect, for sure, but when I was young a notebook was such a precious thing that I have a hard time not filling every line. After reading Nora Ephron’s essay on revision in which she said she would often go through three to four HUNDRED sheets of paper in the course of writing one article, I don’t feel nearly so guilty.

The most important part of the system is writing the idea down. I have persuaded myself that as long as I write the idea down, I can always get my assistant (I’m getting one in 2014, right? Ha!) to file them as long as I include at the top what category the idea falls into. Just in case I have to be the one to wrangle these ideas, I do it anyway.

Except sometimes an idea really fits into multiple categories. Recently I ran across an idea that I classified as a blog post idea, children’s story, and blues song idea. I don’t generally write blues songs, but if someone needs some lyrics, evidently I have some just itching to be birthed. Sometime. The point is that when this happens, I really should write the idea multiple times and label it for each separate category.

You’re going to ask why I don’t just write these ideas and save them as separate computer files. I’ve tried. I don’t know why, but it doesn’t work for me. In this day of Dropbox (which I use all the time to back up my files), you’d think I’d have adequate access to my ideas no matter where I am.

Ah, but my ideas seldom come to me when I’m in front of a computer. They usually come to me when I’m reading, or driving, or running. Or watching TV or… If I waited to turn on the computer and write a new idea down, it could well be gone by the time I entered my password.

Also, looking at a list of ideas just overwhelms me. I prefer to flip through my ideas and see them one at a time. For one thing, it allows me to remember the circumstances in which I first wrote them, which usually makes me smile, and who doesn’t want a reason to smile?

I look at my list with a pen in hand. Here’s where having just one idea per page is very useful: I write down any ideas I have for that idea, maybe a rough outline, sources to contact, and markets for it, if any. That wouldn’t be possible if I had ten ideas per page. This way my ideas are more likely to be used.

About the paper: I use good ol’ spiral bound (Ugh, with those horrible leftover hangy things. Inelegant, I know.) notebooks. I have toyed with using a binder with paper in it, but it’s not as friendly — I like to fold the cover over and really get into contact with the paper as I write…it helps me empty the idea from my mind better. A binder creates a more formal distance and is not as tactile. Maybe it’s just me.

I have tried legal tablets, but alas, no holes, and I get so aggravated when I flip the page and can’t properly write on the top of the opposite side.

I have also tried beautiful journals, but they’re way too pretty to tear pages from, and they aren’t as conducive to writing my ideas as large as I like to. Those spiral bound notebooks really do have it all. 🙂

(By the way: That list of short story ideas on my wall? It works because they are all ideas for a single collection. Otherwise, forget about it!)

My challenge with this system is going back through and marking when I use an idea so that I don’t reuse it. It’s fine to reuse your ideas, but not for the same market. (Confession time: recently I went to submit a story to a publisher, only, thankfully, taking a moment to look at what else I had out on Submittable. Yup, I’d already sent the same story to this market four months before. At least I know I should be hearing back soon.)

Another downside to this method of organization is that you really do need to periodically go through your notebooks and place these papers into the appropriately labeled binders. Hey, here’s the beauty of creativity: just touching these papers and reading them can often jog more ideas. Which must be written down. Which must be filed. Arggh…! Here’s where I reveal the obvious: I despise filing things. I have three or four bags of papers ready to be filed into our household filing cabinet. I’ll get to it. Someday. But at least my ideas are different: none of them seems a burden. Each is like a gift from my mind or spirit to me, even those I think I will never ever use.

Do I think I will ever use all of my ideas? No way. Writing them down and saving them is just a way of honoring them and a way to amuse myself when I later look back and ask myself how I could have possibly thought that was a good idea. Yet maybe there really does need to be a musical written about Van Gogh. Joking…that doesn’t happen to be one of my ideas. Although, where’s my notebook?

The plus side of having so many ideas? If you ever find yourself fresh out of ideas, just give me a shout. I may not have great ideas (although at the time that I write them they are always “the best,”) but I certainly have enough to share.

How do you organize your writing (or other creative pursuits)? I’d love to know! I’m quite sure there are better and more effective systems out there. Wait, let me get my notebook first. There. Now, shoot.

Life Hack: Give the Greatest Gift

Greatest Gift You Can Give Someone Is Your Time

I have had some awesome teachers and mentors who have freely given of their time, and I treasure that. We can all make more money, but none of us can buy any extra time. (Although we can manage what we have better, perhaps.) As creative, we need to give back some of that precious time we have been given.

When I think of how I pestered and questioned my mentors, when I pulled every last shred of knowledge and insight from them that they could afford to give, I feel just a bit embarrassed. My enthusiasm can be, ah, a wee much. There. I admitted it. But they were patient, kind, and generous, God love them.  I wouldn’t be who and where I am today without them.

Make a list of two other creatives who could use some of your time. Do they need a card, a hug, a shout-out of their latest work? Today I read a beginner’s poem. It was fun for both of us, I think, although I did suggest he call his poem “The Thread Amendment.” I’m not sure he saw and/or appreciated the pun.

I instantly know when I’ve met a creative: I feel that magnetism. Sometimes it’s stronger than at other times. I can even feel what I call “repressed creatives.” But that’s a different topic for another day.

Give the greatest gift to another creative — give of your time. It doesn’t take very long to comment on a blog post, to share good news on Facebook, or to favorite an item on Twitter. Just do it. Let’s be there for one another!

P.S. The above photo and quote express well what I mean, but the photo isn’t quite my style. But you probably knew that already. 🙂

Life Hack: Power Hour!

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Sometimes we creative types can become easily overwhelmed. It’s not because we are flawed (never that!), but because we have so many great ideas.

I think I already explained that we are a bit, ahem, disorganized, but I am convinced that too much organization is a creativity killer. A little, however, can be helpful.

This leads me to my next life hack: Power Hour! It sounds like the title of a religious TV program, but it’s not.

Here’s how it works:

Are there little niggly tasks that never get finished? Or started? Don’t know where to start? Make a list of creative tasks — reading a blog and commenting, sending out a query, checking out contests, or maybe reading a writing magazine.

Got that? Great. Then all you need to do is schedule a “Power Hour” for the week. This is for tasks that you just aren’t getting to…like blogging, lol. Now use every minute of that hour to go, go, go! Do as many tasks as you can in that amount of time, and when you are finished, quit feeling guilty until next week’s power hour.

How much can you do in an hour? That’s what I thought.

Does an hour sound like too much? Fine, just start with half an hour, or even fifteen minutes!

Here are some things I can do in fifteen minutes:

1. Submit a story (or two, if I cut and paste my query) online.

2. Record all of the writing contests I want to enter for the month on my Yahoo! calendar, complete with reminders.

3. Print a story and stuff it in an envelope if it’s, sigh, for a snail-mail market. (Sorry, not a fan. Love the markets, just not the cumbersome process. I’m a creative, remember, not a clerical type. Some of my best friends are detail people, though.)

4. Research a residency and daydream about getting in.

5. Write on my “go-to” story.

6. Begin an essay.

7. Read an article or a story from one of the magazines that tend to pile up.

And that’s with only fifteen minutes! Now quadruple that for your Power Hour. What can YOU do with fifteen minutes? Or an hour!

What’s the advantage to doing this? It’s been my experience that we have to make time for the big picture things or the day-to-day will swallow the future. These little things should be those that will add to our lives, to our sense of having a future, of achieving our dreams some day.

Okay, that’s it. Creatives have a short attention span. Or maybe that’s just me. Squirrel…

With my “Power Hour” today I wrote and sent a query, called for sources on Facebook, and sent an email with questions to a source.

What will YOU do with a Power Hour? Share your ideas and let me know your progress!