Avoiding the spiral of doubt and shame

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I was directed towards this post on gamasutra – http://gamasutra.com/blogs/EthanLevy/20140320/213611/Escaping_the_Indie_Shame_Spiral.php – which has some really interesting things to say on motivation and  how to start to avoid the “shame spiral” that I think anyone who sets themselves goals and struggles to achieve them will be familiar with.

It goes something like this:

Start something with excitement, ambition and impossible goals. Fail to meet impossible goals. Beat self up about not meeting them, think work done so far is rubbish and you’d be better off anywhere but here.

Sounds familiar! There’s usually a stage in a project when you think everything you’ve written or created should simply go in the bin after all, or when you’re trying to lose weight, and don’t meet your target so go out and get a doughnut to make you feel better!

Reading the post and some of the comments is a great idea. There’s some really interesting points in it, like:

  • Allocate ‘points’ to projects which represent time. nothing should have more than 3 points, which is half a week. It’ll help you be more realistic about what you can do in the time you have – so you won’t set impossible goals.
  • Allocate points to personal tasks too, so you don’t get a false sense of achievement when you’ve balanced your cheque book and emptied the laundry!
  • Track what went well and what didn’t. No judgement, just hard data.

I also really like the idea of a commitment device – basically, promise to deliver something publicly and then doing so. If you’re trying to get in shape, make it a sponsored run, if you’re writing a novel, post on Wattpad regularly. I’ve been trying to do that more on this blog, making sure I post more often, and would like to extend that to writing fiction for both it and perhaps Wattpad as well. Short story competitions are also great – but remember not to set the impossible deadlines!

What would your ideal commitment device be?

 

 

 

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Half term thrills!

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With all the hassle and political complaining about teaching, it’s an oft-repeated comment that teachers have too many holidays. Any teacher who tells you the holidays aren’t a great incentive is probably not telling the truth, but equally no teacher will ever tell you that they drop their work at 3.15 Friday and don’t pick up till Monday morning at 8am! The half term holidays are a good chance to catch up on everything. They’re a great opportunity to get any remnants of marking done, and after the difficult half term we’ve just had, it’s taken me several days to clear that hurdle! It’s also a good opportunity to get some of that other list done, the ‘someday’ list that doesn’t get touched during the hectic term time when we’re busy responding to whatever is going on around us. And more importantly, perhaps, it’s an opportunity to catch up on the outside work stuff. Visiting family and friends we put off in the term because we have planning to do, to do those grown up life admin tasks that have to wait until everyone’s holidays.

This isn’t a poor me post. Quite the opposite, I think. I’m able to spend a significant portion of my holiday with family which is brilliant, and spending some time just reading, thinking. Not quite writing yet, but certainly clearing the work to do list which I feel has prevented  me for some months now.

I can’t remember which productivity guru it was, but i have definitely read about the conflict between the urgent and the important, and the dangers of allowing one to crowd out the other. There is a fundamental problem in that if I turn up without a lesson planned, I have nearly thirty teenagers who are going to have a wasted hour. There will always be a day job/evening non conflict, and sadly the one that pays for my home will win out, but my goal for the next few months is still to keep at it, finishing bits of projects that have been put to one side. I’ve been reading through some making notes on what to improve, where to edit, and think I’m in a pretty good place to start doing that so watch this space!

Hectic continues apace!

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Has been fairly crazed here so far this year! (and when does it stop being ok to think of it as ‘the new year’? I usually go with my birthday, which is coming up frighteningly soon!). January’s brought with it a LOT of hard work, including several competitions which are great to watch but involve late nights, and a never-ending pace.

Writing so far is seriously taking a back seat, which I find frustrating – and it’s not that I don’t enjoy what I’m doing, because in fact I just had an hour of marking some pretty impressive first attempts at poetry analysis, but I do find the lack of writing frustrating! one of my goals for this year is to improve my ‘ideas bank’ which is taking shape in a couple of different ways. One is to start properly recording ideas – they’re EVERYWHERE at the moment, which means they’ll never become anything, so I’ gradually gathering notes, images and ideas and putting them in one place, starting with a cool new notebook.  

On th Road notebookI’m also going to work through some of the short stories and drafts that I have on my hard drive that are unfinished because I dashed them off and left them. The Mslexia diary this year is dedicated to productivity, and one of the things they say is that unfinished work hangs over your head – it takes up the space you need to finish that new project, because you can’t move on. So, I’m going to work on finishing projects. I’ll add them to the Amazon kindle marketplace, but some of the shorter fiction will be posted here for free, so watch this space!

Two very exciting things from the last fortnight;

I booked onto an Arvon course for the summer, which I’m thrilled about. I’ve been on their mailing list for three years but not committed to it, and I’ve finally done it and, amazingly, they give teachers a grant so it’s affordable, which is wonderful. I really feel like I’m finally getting my writing confidence back, and think this will be a real boost as well, spending a week with other writers. So, I need a novel in progress to go with! My goal here is to rough a draft of the novel I’ve been toying with for years, to get down to it.

The other, even more exciting, is that my fiancé and I had an offer accepted on a house we want to buy! There’s a lot to put in place, financial institutions to pacify, surveys and all that horrendously grown-up stuff we’re gradually finding our way through, but we’re thrilled about it! Watch this space for further developments…

Goal updating…keeping on track

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I wrote in an earlier post about goals and deadlines, and how important they are for maintaining focus and getting things done.

I’m well on track with this, but here’s a little update on how I’m doing so far:

My deadlines:

Ilkley Literature festival open mic competition – I’ve applied for a place; if I get it, it’s on the 30th and I need a monologue or poem to perform

I’m well on the way with this – I’ve been watching a lot of Sarah Kay recently and am so impressed with her performance poetry, especially how she’s performing with being arrogant or self-absorbed or over the top. I watched an interview with her exploring how she got started in poetry and she commented that her first work was all angry and self-reproach – because that’s what the performance poetry she saw was like, and I think that’s what always put me off about it, but I think I have enough material there for a full scale post later!! In any case, I’m writing something that’s midway between story and poem, and definitely designing it around being a performance piece, which is a really interesting opportunity to play with language and sounds of phrases as well as the imagery of the words.

23rd September – have drafted a poem for the ILF in outline
26th September – redrafted poem
28th September – be putting finishing touches to poem
3rd October – plot outline for Mslexia sub

This has become a little messier than intended! I have written a poem, but I probably won’t be doing it at the ILF – I’ll post it here later, but think it’s not quite suitable and am writing something else. That something else may turn into the Mslexia submission, but I do have a further rough (very rough!) draft outline for a story that I think would be more suitable for the Mslexia deadline.

So overall – some tweaking when once written, something doesn’t quite fit the original spec as well as I thought it was going to, but I’m pretty happy with my writing at the moment, especially as this time’s always insanely hectic at school and it’s often hard to get much of anything at all written! Next up are the deadlines for the Mslexia submission and planning a ‘Spring’ outline, alongside trying to work out how to memorise a performance piece, something I’ve not done for a very long time…

Quick goal update

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I wrote a post about goal setting and how important it is to writing and thought I’d follow up with a mini-post saying how I was getting on!

The goal for today was to have finished a draft of a poem for the Ilkley Literature Festival, assuming I get a place. If not, I’ll send it somewhere else. I have done it! Writing poetry is HARD WORK – demands all my language skills! I started with a prose poem/page of writing on a theme that’s been rattling round my head, and have been shaping it into a poem over the past week or so, until I have a draft I’m happy with at the moment. Tomorrow, work starts on redrafting for goal two!

Part of how I was going to achieve my goals is writing every day between 6.30 and 7.30. I’ve not quite managed that every day, but I think I’ve only missed two or three. Using that time effectively though is sometimes a different issue! Something to work on this week, I think 🙂

Have you got some writing goals to share? Need some encouragement? Let me know in the comments!

Goal setting – how to help yourself get writing

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I mentioned in my earlier post that one of the ways to help yourself get motivated and write more is in goal setting, and it seems like a good moment to write about that. I’m stuck at the moment. I finished my last major project, Balancing Act, in the middle of the summer, and I wrote a short story for the Mslexia quarterly submission, but in the week or so since that’s been finished, I’ve floundered. This frustrates me, aggravates me, because I spend several hours a week in front of my laptop not knowing what to do next. Like I said in the last post, I don’t really believe in writer’s block, I think it’s an excuse. I don’t know what to do next because I haven’t planned it and I sit at my keyboard expecting some fully-fledged story to flow like magic from my fingertips which is ludicrous because it has never happened before.

GoalSettingSo – I need to set myself some new goals to get myself through the rest of the year, because three months is a good space of time for goal setting. It gives you enough time to accomplish something meaningful but isn’t so long that you drift off track.

Know where you want to get to.

I like Jim Rohn’s technique for this – make a list of fifty goals you want to accomplish. He encompasses everything: work, family, wealth, personal development and characteristics, hobbies, education. Do the same – it’s also a nice way of working out what’s important to you elsewhere. Then, note whether you want to achieve this in three months, six months, a year, three, five or ten. On my list is that I want to be making a regular living as an author. As a starting goal, that’s fine, but it’s too vague for a short term goal.

Be specific.

Smart goals (specific, measurable, achievable, rewarding, timed – although there are variations) have had a bit of a bad reputation as being ‘management speak’ simply because it’s an acronym, I think. In fact, they’re essential. If you don’t know what you’re aiming for (specific) how will you know you got there (Measurable)? If you can’t achieve something, then you’re setting yourself up for failure and disappointment –likewise if you’re trying to do it in too short a time space for you to be able to do it. And why wouldn’t you make your goals rewarding? They make sense to me.

So my writing goal for the next three months is to write two complete short stories, a poem and have started the next CPA novella. It’s a challenging one in terms of time, especially as this time at work is usually the most hectic, but I think it is achievable if I plan my time properly.  The poem in particular would be rewarding, as I want to get better at writing poetry because I think more than anything it makes you truly consider language.

Plan daily habits and routines

I already try to write from 6.30-7.30pm to make sure that I give some time every day to writing. I’m going to add to this to keep planning, but move that planning to the end of the previous writing session. This should mean that when I sit at my desk at 6.30, I know exactly what I’m doing so there’s no messing about, thinking, wondering, planning. It’s done for me already.

Set interim deadlines

Goals are in ink; deadlines are in pencil

This is generally a good idea – sometimes things take longer than you thought for one reason or another (and you should always try to work out what that was so that you can avoid it next time) and it makes sense to simply extend the deadline a little rather than give up and beat yourself up about a failure.

There are some writing deadlines that are set in ink in terms of competition or submission deadlines but even then, if you miss it – finish it anyway and send it somewhere else.

My deadlines:

 Break it down:

Split your goals into smaller chunks, each with their own deadline, so that you can look at one at a time rather than be intimidated by the entire project. If this was a novel I’d be planning drafts, chapters and scenes. It also means that once you’ve added them to a to-do list, you have a great opportunity to cross them off as they’re done and build your self-esteem with how much you’ve accomplished!

23rd September – have drafted a poem for the ILF in outline
26th September – redrafted poem
28th September – be putting finishing touches to poem
3rd October – plot outline for Mslexia sub
15th October – 1st draft Mslexa sub
20th October – ‘Spring’ plot outline
28th October – 2nd draft Mslexia sub
6th November – 1st draft ‘Spring’
19th November – Mslexia completed
25th November – 2nd draft ‘Spring’
27th November – post Mslexia entry
5th December – Spring completed
10th December – post Spring

Sounds ambitious, and yet manageable, because it’s in small stages that each have their own deadlines! I feel more confident and positive about it already, because I can clearly see how these things will work and how much time they each have.

I’ll keep updating the blog with how I get on, and we’ll see how closely I manage to hit these deadlines!

12 into 13: headspinning review

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mondayI hope that, when I look back over my writing career, I recognise 2012 as an important year. I think quite a bit has changed in the way I approach writing, and it’s starting, in small ways, to pay off. If you’d asked me, I’d have always said I wanted to write – but anyone can say that they want to write a book. In fact, I’ve got four half-novels and a dozen quarter-short stories on my hard drive, but very little actual finished work.

During 2012, though, I have finished three short stories, self-published, on kindle, one previously written, and learned how to create e-books, written three articles for The Yorkshire Times and have the full outline of a novel.

Getting confident

If you don’t get your work out there, you’ll never be successful. I can write as much and as brilliantly as anyone in the world, and if I never show anyone other than my boyfriend and mum, I’ll never be a successful writer. Taking steps by reading at the Ilkley Literature Festival, self-publishing (and telling people that I’d done it!) and writing for an online paper all helped me to get more confident with sending my work out. I also submitted entries to four different competitions and three magazines; saly nothing has come of any of that in terms of publication but the point is: I sent it out. I let other people see my work and opened myself up to comment and potential criticism.

Motivation and Inspiration

Yorkshire Times - my page!Living with someone who also actively pursues a creative career is incredibly motivating, and I can’t say strongly enough how much he’s helped me write, by encouraging me to take the time to do it, talking about ideas and the writing process with me, and simply by believing that I can be a writer. I’m also more motivated to make this a regular part of my life because I want to be able to make money from it one day in the not so distant future; I’m still very much figuring out how to do that, but I think that I am more motivated than I have ever been. I also have more ideas – my notebook is filled with snippets of story ideas, and I never sit at the computer and think ‘I don’t know what to write about’. I might not always know what to write next but that’s a different problem!

Spending time reading about writing, reading other authors’ blogs and books, both about their writing process and stories themselves, has also been incredibly useful and something I’d honestly done very little of before, but want to increase.

Getting organised and setting goals

This again is a big one that I’m learning all the time, and living with someone that wants to do the same thing. I’ve always been quite organised in terms of what I need to do, but when it comes to writing I’ve been used to sitting hen the mood takes me, pottering about, playing, writing a draft without really knowing what I’m doing – tinkering, in other words. Playing at being a writer rather than being a writer. This year, though, I’ve experimented with setting different goals for myself – seeing what works best whether it’s time spent, word counts, or stories completed,  and working out how to set goals that I can achieve alongside my full-time job which I also give a lot of time to at home. Getting more organised in how I write has also been important. I have started planning the whole story first – not rocket science, I know, but a part of turning away from the floaty ‘oh, I’ll see’ school of writing to a more professional attitude. It also means I should always know what I   need to write when I open my laptop, because I know what the next scene is, and I’m not wasting time on a story that won’t go anywhere.

I don’t always get these things right – I’m usually too eager to dive into writing without thorough planning –  but I am getting better, and I intend to keep getting better.

Looking forward

While I want to think of 2012 as an important year, I want to be able to look back at 2013 and think: that was the year things started to happen. I want to release a collection of short stories on ebook and maybe use kickstarter to fund a hard copy. I want to be able to find/create book covers for my stories to make them appear more professional and sellable. I want to be able to market my stories, so that I do start to see some money from them. I want to keep writing interesting and curious stories that I enjoy reading, and I can share with other people.

Even if I flounder along the way, Janus should give me confidence – the god whom January is named for was not just celebrated at the turn of the new year, but the turn of the month, week, even day. And so if I miss one goal? I’ll move on to the next.