How Is It February Already?

Where did January go? A month into 2014, and I feel like I’m already behind. Honestly, though, I can’t complain about the day job being busy. That’s good. We don’t want to be faced with too little work in that particular arena.

But while my daily life rushes forward like this:

traffic moving on the Capital BeltwayMy writing life lumbers more like this:

Now, I could do what I usually would—focus on what I didn’t accomplish in January. But that is terribly unconstructive. That kind of thinking usually leads to more inaction and more feelings of guilt and failure—a vicious cycle leading nowhere. Then, Fate or my Muse led me to this timely post in my email inbox from Joe Cummings of 5 Writers 5 Novels. What a great idea for turning my go-to thought patterns on their heads. If you’re ever feeling guilty or overwhelmed about not getting something done, check out the wonderful advice in that post. It’s helped me clarify what’s needed to get back on the writing track.

It’s Time to Recenter

So before putting January behind me, I evaluated my use of free time. I have more than I think. Those “few board games” on my computer to unwind suck up far more time than I’ve wanted to believe. Those have been cut down. In the grand scheme of things, that’s an easy fix. Unfortunately, some changes are far more difficult.

I have to go back to reading other blogs only two days per week. I had cut back earlier in 2013, but I slipped back into the habit of reading at least some every day. At first, it was just a few, and then it became more and more. Much as I love reading your posts, I have to stick to a schedule. And that’s now one of my newly defined objectives for the year. I’m leaning toward Monday and Thursday and keeping weekends blog-free, including my own. If I can stick with this, I’ll have better blocks of time that I can dedicate to the WIPs. The characters and stories deserve no less, right?

So, we’ll see how I do. January’s PerNoReMo was a complete bust, so I’ve reset it for February. The benchmarks are still low because I can’t see myself cranking out 30,000 words by the end of the month. But if I can stick to my plan, I should have at least 10,000 new ones. And, most importantly, I’d have that momentum reestablished that I started in November.

A Little Fun

Finally, I couldn’t resist a little fun with a couple of photos from the Smithsonian’s National Museum of Natural History. We paid a last visit to the fossils exhibits before they’re closed for a multi-year renovation project.

Bragging rights to the first to caption it correctly!

Reminder—You have until 6:00 pm Eastern Standard Time on Friday to leave a comment on this post from last week to be eligible to win a free copy of A Simplified Map of the Real World!

64 thoughts on “How Is It February Already?

  1. I’m always impressed by the time management skills of working people! You seem to squeeze so much into your day I can understand why you kick back with computer games here and there! Also, I think in general January is one of those “let’s do very little” months, especially after the Thanksgiving thru Christmas holiday frenzy!

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    • A lot of my writerly blog buddies are reporting dismal progress this winter. I don’t know if that’s related to the nasty weather so many are experiencing or if there’s some sort of global malaise that’s set in! I’d really like to get back on the writing track. Somewhere, there’s a fine balance between trying too hard and not trying enough that I need to find…. 🙂

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  2. I think you’re smart, JM. Focusing on what you haven’t accomplished is pointless. There will always be periods when we don’t get as much done as we’d hoped. All you can do is reevaluate and tinker with priorities.

    No idea what that thing is… 😀 Hope you’ll reveal in a later post.

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    • I’m hoping that hitting the “reset” button will get me moving again. I hate using winter as an excuse not to get things done, but then again, the very nature of the season can sap our energy levels, making creative endeavors even more difficult. The light-therapy unit I bought is doing wonders for my overall mood, but I guess sparking my Muse is asking too much. Sigh. 🙂

      I will reveal the answer to the “photo quiz” later, especially if no one guesses correctly. I have a three-word phrase in mind from an iconic piece of American culture. 🙂

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      • I think this winter’s effects have been far-reaching, JM. Snow in Houston — how often does that happen? I think it’s wearing us all out. I’ll look forward to that three-word phrase.

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  3. I can relate in a way. I had put away genealogy after Dad passed (that was 2009). Always expecting myself to jump back in. To date, I have t say I still have not. I “reset” my expectations again thinking that being retired now I will have the time to dedicate toward the effort. I know Dad would be pleased if I did. We’ll see. The amateur photo taker in me is screaming to get out. Not sure which side will win 🙂

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    • I fell away from the genealogy, too, at about the same time as you. In part, I think because I started writing then. I’m actually getting back into it a bit, though. We did the Ancestry.com DNA testing, and while I’m still waiting on my results, Paul has his—a near perfect match for the Belgian and Czech ancestry. I also happened to look at the familysearch.org site this weekend (after years away), and they’ve actually started uploading quite a few original records. Lots of the civil records for that Belgian side, too. I might start going through those again….

      And I’d say with retirement, there’s plenty of time for both genealogy and photography. 🙂

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  4. We do all beat ourselves up quite a lot don’t we! It must be great to get commissioned by a publisher to write a book with deadlines that must be met. We just don’t believe ourselves enough when we set our own goals and deadlines. I haven’t looked at that post you linked to, but will do shortly, sounds interesting. Good luck with February! 🙂

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    • I’ve often wondered if having a publisher and agent standing over me would get me writing more regularly. Or would the pressure send me into a panic or writer’s block? Probably both of those last two, knowing my personality. 😉

      I should have a good block of time this evening that I shouldn’t waste. So we’ll see what I can do with it. I hope your graduate courses are going well!

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  5. You’re right, there isn’t any point in wasting time and energy on what we can’t change anyway.
    I’m going to have a go at the caption – you should have seen the other guy! I have a feeling I’m really close on that!!

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    • We’ll see what I can do this evening with a good block of time that can be devoted to writing. I have to remember that it’s okay to write “garbage” for the first draft. At this stage, getting the ideas down is the important thing. I can clean up the style and words later.

      Great suggestion on the caption! And I hope folks will continue to play along and have fun with the photo, even though Smaktakula saw what I was going for and won those particular bragging rights. I don’t know if the cartoon called “The Adventures of Rocky and Bullwinkle” ever made it overseas. If not, it was a “kid’s” show that had lots of sly lines for the adults in the audience. 🙂

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  6. Love your skeletal imagery of your writing pace, probably because mine is much the same lately. I have this story for my new novel in my head and I’m doing loads of research for it (currently reading a relevant non-fiction book), but I need to actually start getting my storyline down on a Word document. Research is great, but I think I’m using it as an excuse to put off starting the novel. Why do we do this? We love the process of writing so why does our head keep us out of the game? Do we fear failure? Do we fear ending up with a story that wasn’t nearly as good of an idea as we thought? I guess I’m using the collective ‘we’ here, because I hope I’m not the only one who does this.

    But today’s the day. I told myself February 3rd I would start my storyline and proceed to an outline by next week. I didn’t start yesterday because I got to busy with my blog. So today’s the day. You and anyone who reads this are my witnesses…

    Great article you linked to, by the way. Reset. Yes.

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    • Why do we do this? We love the process of writing so why does our head keep us out of the game? Do we fear failure? Do we fear ending up with a story that wasn’t nearly as good of an idea as we thought?

      You are not the only one who does this—I’m right there with you! Even though I know how I want to rebuild my first two WIPs, at times I think the part of me that loves writing is exactly the part of me that has the overabundance of self-doubt. And self-doubt will kick in with comments like, “Really? You’re going to do all this work again so that people can tell you how far you’d have to go to make it any good? Why not just go back to playing games or watching TV?”

      I hate that feeling. Tonight I’ll have a solid block of time that can be devoted to writing. And I’m going to let myself write whatever the heck I want, even if it’s not related to Death Out of Time. And we’ll see what happens with that magical reset button….

      I hope that storyline of yours is cooperating and that old Mr. Nasty Pants has been kicked into a snow bank!

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  7. J, I think many of us are suffering from this “meh” feeling. I think winter does that to people. I agree with your schedule. I could spend a lot of time reading blogs and commenting but I like your idea of limiting that to one or two days a week. The day I did it, I wrote an entire chapter! I actually succeeded my writing goal for that day. I do think that writing down goals and sticking to a schedule is key though and write, just write, whether it’s crap, write. That’s what I have a tough time with–putting too much emphasis on being perfect and it never is!

    And yeah, reset! And ready, set…go!

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    • “Meh” does seem to be rampant these days. Winter can be hard enough, and when it’s as brutal as some places have seen this year, it can only be harder than normal. If I’m serious about writing, I need to be serious about making time for it, even if the weather’s gray and gloomy. But I think I also need to give myself permission to write something that isn’t “scheduled.” So tonight, I’ll go with whatever my brain and Muse want to do. If that’s a piece of total nonsensical fluff, then that’s what we’ll do. Discipline is necessary, but so is spontaneity. And I think I’ve been denying myself too much of the latter.

      Now, to be good about sticking to that reading schedule. 🙂 And the “reset” button has been hit. We’ll see what February brings!

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  8. My caption would be: “Oh nuts! Look who’s horned in on my space.”
    Cheesy, I know.
    I like the schedule idea to free up more time for your writing. Best of luck. You can do it!

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    • Ha, that is a good one! 🙂 I was not that original in my thinking when I took the photos. A certain old cartoon came to mind when I saw those two animals positioned so near each other. Smaktakula below, though, figured out where I was going.

      Now if I can just stick to that reading schedule when it’s so darn tempting to read when I get the notifications. Thanks for the words of encouragement!

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    • I had a sneaking suspicion you’d know what I was going for! Technically, I was thinking just “moose and squirrel,” but hey, you win the bragging rights! What a great show that was. They don’t make ’em like that anymore.

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  9. That ‘Reset’ button has become an inspirational symbol for me too. It’s so refreshing to dump that ballast of guilt that is so counter-productive to writing and start afresh. And great decision about setting aside specific time for blog reading. It’s so darn seductive and difficult not spending time every day, but it simply robs me of my own writing time. So I too relegated blogs to a tighter schedule.

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    • It’s so hard to stay away from blog buddies’ posts! But I’ve got to be good again, or I’ll never finish these WIPs. And, as I keep repeating because my brain doesn’t seem to get the message, the writing is ultimately why I blog. Someday, the brain might get on-board. Or so I hope!

      If I can be good this month and stick to that reading schedule, I think the new “habit” will set in. Then I’ll need to be vigilant and avoid backsliding! I don’t want to rely too heavily on Joe’s reset button too often!

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  10. The beginning of your post had me laughing! It’s impossible to fit everything in these days. I set my alarm clock 15 minutes earlier and read peoples blogs then – a refreshing start to the day, often with some new inspiration!

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    • My husband and I already get up around 5:45, and I don’t think I could manage much earlier than that! I catch up with some of my Internet work then while I’m having coffee, but then it’s either getting ready to go to the office or working out on the days when I telecommute. Thank heaven I can telecommute because I don’t know how good I’d be about exercising otherwise!

      Somewhere, out there, I know there’s a schedule that will work with my mind’s and body’s rhythms. I just need to recognize it and learn to work with it. Then the universe will be in balance, right? 😉

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  11. Mathair and I have been having problems churning out the revamps for our newest novel, New Salem Chronicles: The 13 Reapers. With Christmas, New Year and my brother’s birthday right after each other, it’s difficult to find the time, though it seems that way for everyone after the holidays. It’s as if our bodies have gone in sloth mode and the effort it takes just to get those pistons chugging is not worth it. I always look at it like being at the bottom of Mt. Everest and visualizing the peak as my objective. Just the sheer will power to take that first step is exhausting, but Mathair always told me to set small reachable goals. Once you’ve reached them, set bigger ones and so on and so forth. It’s helped me a lot so far. Good luck with February and your writing, JM. We know you’ll be brilliant.

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    • It’s a bit reassuring that so many fellow writers are in a bit of a creative funk, too, although I wish none of us were! When it comes to writing, though, I’m definitely in that sloth mode. As in that giant ground sloth skeletal mode of the photo. I’m trying to set reasonable, achievable goals for my PerNoReMo writings, but even that’s been tough since the holidays. That’s where I’m hoping the idea of the reset button will help here in February. Just like starting a new exercise routine, it’s best to work up to full-impact, right? Leave the garbage and inactivity behind and take one step at a time. I hope to have better news to report in March!

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  12. I love the skeletal view of your writing. I’m such a random writer and haven’t done a thing for months and then sat down on Saturday and wrote a 12,000 word novelette (go figure).

    I totally understand not having time to read blogs and I try to keep my blog reading down to two days a week. Some bloggers post three times a day and I find it really hard to keep up with them. I, on the other hand, am a random blogger and probably post about once or twice a week.

    Best of luck with the time management and when you find the secret of managing it, please let me know 😀

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    • Ooh, 12,000 words in a day…. Wow, that must’ve felt amazing and exhausting! I’d be ecstatic if I could hit 1,000 sometime this month. 🙂 The darned thing about time management is that no one system works for everyone. I wouldn’t mind that so much if I could find the one that really works for me. My fingers are crossed that I can be good about limiting the reading to two days per week.

      I’ve given up on trying to keep up with bloggers who post multiple times per day. Even those who post more than twice a week may not see me visiting every post. There’s just not enough time in the day to do that with the number of blogs I follow!

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  13. I don’t know how working people do it! I’m still at uni, and even with all the free time I have now I still struggle to be productive. I don’t know how I could get any writing done if I had a full time job. Keep up the good work!

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    • Thanks, Rhiannon! Some folks manage to do it day in and day out—and I tip my hat to them. Even though I’m usually organized and get things done that need to be done, things can fall apart when I don’t have to do something. And I guess since creative writing isn’t a necessity per se, my brain doesn’t always want to focus on it. I’m working on that, though!

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  14. Oh shucks, someone beat me to the Rocky and Bullwinkle guess. I’m all out of clever caption ideas, sorry.
    Years ago someone gifted me with a useful phrase, “Turn the page.” It means don’t waste time on beating myself up on what I haven’t done. Turn the page and focus on getting it done today. That’s what you’re doing. Of course, I (not saying you would), I can take this a little far sometimes and use it as an excuse. As in, “I can always turn the page next week.” Procrastination can be a powerful aphrodisiac with oh-so-many more fun things to do than write the next post or story or whatever.
    You’re disciplined, though. I’ve seen it. You will be again.

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    • Confession time—Procrastination and I are old friends. And that’s a potential drawback of allowing ourselves “resets” or “to turn the page.” But when Life intervenes with valid reasons for missing our goals, then we should give ourselves a break. I have written 1,000+ words so far today, and I’m rewarding myself by catching up with comments on this post. But reading new ones is off the board until tomorrow evening!

      I don’t expect to reach 1,000 words every day, but I’ll celebrate when I do!

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  15. Really, where did January go?? I’ve feel like my editing has been moving at a snails pace. I think it’s because this is my least favorite part of the process. I can always tell when I don’t want to do something because I find myself aimlessly poking around the internet trying to find anything else to do.

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    • And, of course, we can always justify that internet wandering as research, right? I was good, though, today, when my research on how many kilos of rice would be needed for a crew of seven people for two meals every day for a week didn’t devolve into a FB session! For most of us in the US, winter’s been a tough road this year, and maybe that’s contributing to the general writing malaise. Maybe a good dose of sunshine will help….

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  16. January is the tail end of my self-proclaimed “Crazy-Insane Season.” Now that we’re in February, I am drawing a big sigh of relief because I have a bit more free time throughout the day. Not that I’ll be writing during that free time, but recharging is probably more like it.

    The blogging plan is one I seem to revamp every few months according to my rotating Life schedule. Regardless, I have cut down considerably. (I still remember the days when I blogged 30+ hours a week!) No more of that, not even close, and although I feel the difference in my own blog’s showing, I also feel the difference in my creative writing. I have more energy and stamina to write fiction because I’m not spending it all on blogging.

    I noticed that your invitation to comment has changed. Was something inappropriate expressed?!

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    • I suppose like so many things in life, blogging has its good and its bad. One the one hand, I’ve met some fantastic folks and enjoy the interactions so much. On the other, it’s taken a lot of time away from novel writing. On the good side, I’ve gotten wonder feedback that improves my writing. On the other, I sometimes get discouraged when I compare myself to other bloggers and their achievements. Yin and Yang, perhaps.

      I had a break from the day job today and wrote 1,000+ words and did some plotting and organizing of the WIPs. Really a successful day overall, and I enjoyed it. But I need to do well even on days where I’m working. And I need to enjoy writing for the fun of it again. I’ve lost that. I’m beginning to think the desire to publish is causing me to put too much pressure on myself at times, and I end up in paralysis mode. Not a good cycle to be in. Hopefully I figure out something that works soon. )

      I did get one comment in my moderation queue that contained language I don’t use on the blog. I may use the words occasionally around a few people, but never on the blog. The comment was meant for that “who the heck is” post that has received nearly 1,700 recorded views now and continues to get regular traffic. Talk about messing up my stats—it’s a post that really has nothing to do with my writing!

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  17. I know that intersection. I’m still envious of your easy access to so much (morning traffic is a drain anywhere…exhausting after a bit…no way to live….especially with long dark winters and grey dismal days)
    Reading 2 days a week is practical – you stay in the loop pretty much. How do people manage reading and writing blogs so much and still get things accomplished? You’re bound to get more energy once the sun returns. But right to write first!
    (Did you see that recent NOVA show about the bog bodies in Ireland? Really interesting stuff – I thought about your story unearthing the body?…these sort of show are as bad for me as your computer games are …)
    All I could think about the picture was Rocky telling Bullwinkle “I warned you about Roosevelt.”

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    • What I wouldn’t give to see the sun that was shining that day. Not that I miss the 95-degree temperature that went with it! We at least had milder temps this weekend (but still cloudy) when we went to see “The Importance of Being Earnest” at the Shakespeare Theatre Company. That was a great show followed by a very traditional and delicious Mexican dinner at Casa Oaxaca. Today? The ice has just melted off the trees and shrubs, and our “partly sunny” afternoon hasn’t materialized. Sigh.

      I did see that Nova episode. Those bog bodies are so fascinating, but I don’t know how well I would do with excavating them. Flesh on the bones is probably more than I could take. Maybe Meghan could deal with it better than I could…. I’m sure Kat could. Madeleine, probably more like me.

      Great line to go with the photo! I loved Rocky and Bullwinkle as a kid. But when I think about all those lines that went over my head? It’s even better now, I think!

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  18. Yep – I know how you feel! We need more snow days so that we can stay home from work and concentrate on our novels. 🙂 That’s a good idea to follow a blog commenting schedule. That takes up most of my time and then I still feel guilty for not getting to everything. At least with certain time slots like that, we can be sure to spend more time on writing. Good luck with the rebuild – you can do it!

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    • Today came darn close to being an “ice day.” It was enough to coat everything, but the roads were well salted so it wasn’t as bad as it could be. But I’m thinking folks further north and in the Midwest got more snow this week that they didn’t need.

      I had a break from the day job today, and so far I’ve written 1,000+ words and done some WIP organizing. Now if I can just do that on days when I am working! Cutting back on the blog visits should help. But those Monday and Thursday evenings will probably be intense!

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  19. Hey, thanks for letting me know you’re cutting back on blogs. I might’ve thought you didn’t like me anymore. Hee, hee. JM, but I would’ve wondered where you were. I read blog posts every morning, and had other pressing things so now I’m doing them this afternoon. So much for my writing. I probably should follow in your footsteps. Keep up the good writing.

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    • When I read every day, I tend to revisit my favorite posts, too, to see who else is commenting and what they’re saying. A lot of time can disappear that way! So if I’m going to write, I can’t spend every day reading blogs. Which is a bummer because I really enjoy the blogs I follow.

      Now, if I can just translate the extra time into real writing!

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  20. First off I’m not writing a book. I did a bit of technical writing during my engineering career. However, I fell/stumble/dropped from the sky into blogging. It’s fun most of the time. Love the feedback and interaction. Sure it doesn’t rank up there with a novel but it offers me a chance to be creative and do a bit of story telling. I found your blog from a search on that spam type web site that starts with s. Thanks for writing that post and it’s updates. What a crazy scam for getting you over to their web site. Oh one more thing, I did a quick scan on your about page. Washington DC is a favorite on my list of cities to visit. It’s the most international city in the US.

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    • I never dreamed I’d become a top source of info on “that company.” But I’m happy to help let folks know what’s up. I love the interaction with readers on my blog and others I follow, too. Honestly, that’s the best part about it! It does take time away from the novels I’m supposed to be writing, though, and that’s why I’ve got to be better organized about my time.

      The regular trips to DC won’t be cut back, however—I love the city too much to stay away for long. And the international flavor is a big part of that. I’m always curious which languages I’ll hear when I’m there. And there’s always real-life inspiration for the fiction. Thanks for stopping by to chat!

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    • Even when I grab the time back, sometimes the writing desire just isn’t there. And forcing myself to write at those times will result in garbage. Sometimes that’s okay. But others, it can be a sign that I need to stop pressuring myself.

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  21. Thanks for the link to the article JM, another really useful way of thinking about things so we don’t get bogged down in what we haven’t achieved. After drab January, I’m getting into something of a routine too – one week I can concentrate on blogging and the other week I concentrate on my other writing – so far it’s working well, with some new stories finished, but it has been hard to push myself to stick to it!

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    • I think many of us beat ourselves up too easily when we don’t reach the goals we set. And that can start a cycle of inaction and unsurety. So anything that can get us thinking more positively and constructively is good. Some people can establish a routine that works for years. For others, the routine can only hold so long. If we can learn to recognize how we’re best able to move forward, we’re on a better road to success.

      They say it takes 21 days for something to become a habit. So if you can stick with your weekly switch offs for a little longer, maybe they’ll become a new habit!

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    • Sometimes the brain may be telling us it needs a break. Or it wants to work on something different. As a species, I don’t think we’re all that adept at figuring that out, though. Maybe we need a few million years more to adapt to these complex brains and figure out just how they work….!

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