I quite often feel that this should be required watching after reading or watching inspirational creative journey stories. It’s quite an excellent parody of every single creative journey struggle story:
I’m somewhat known for being a night owl. In the past my productive hours have been from 11pm or thereabouts until 3am. No one bothers me, nothing interesting is happening, I just put my head down and write.
Well, now I’m a morning writer.
This doesn’t mean I get up with birds chirping and wide eyes and enthusiastically tackle what I’m up to with a grin and a cup of coffee.
First off, I’m not allowed to have any stimulants due to my heart. It’s a drag, but my last bottle of caffeine happened in November 2008. I’ve been clean since then. It kinda sucks.
Secondly, I still hate mornings. This morning while eating breakfast outside the local coffeeshop Emily looked at me and laughed. “You’re not enjoying the beautiful morning at all, are you?”
Okay, so let’s back it up. A year ago I started tracking my sleep patterns with an app on the phone, and then when I got a new FitBit Charge HR, it started giving me intel automatically.
At the time, Emily was teaching at a school that was a fifteen to twenty minute drive away and had a very early start time. The twins were going to Kindergarten. So I was writing from roughly midnight to three, then they were getting up at five thirty or sixish. I would wake up at noon. But I was struggling with being tired a lot still.
What I found out after studying my sleep was that the whole family getting ready for an hour would wake me up just enough to disrupt sleep patterns for an hour or two, then I’d fall back asleep after everyone was out of the house. I was actually losing 1-2 hours a day to this. So I was getting 7 hours a day, maybe less if I stayed up later to really jam on writing. My app and FitBit were guessing that I was averaging 5.6 hours a night.
I would crash on weekends and basically sleep all day.
Emily recently changed careers to come join me running the various things I do. I guess I haven’t mentioned it before. But so far, six weeks in, it’s been great to have her pitching in. There are so many projects I could use her help on. This means that we were able to enroll the twins locally, to the school just a couple blocks away. A germ of an idea occurred to me over the summer: a whole new schedule change.
Knowing that I was losing a couple hours a day had been bugging me. So I decided to pivot everything into a morning schedule. I’d tried on in the first few months of 2014. I went to bed at 12-1am, I got up at 9-9:30 and I wrote until noon. It had been very effective until it fell apart due to exhaustion. I now know that’s due to those ghost 2 hours of little sleep.
I decided to wake up with everyone.
So, starting on the first day of school I set my alarm to get up with the kids. Because, walking them to school on the first day, how could I not? We got ready, shared the bathroom, ate breakfast, all together.
They were excited to be able to hoof it.
Like an alcoholic taking a last drink before their first AA meeting, I’d stayed up late the night before.
After walking the twins to school, Emily and I took the poodle out for a continuing walk, swinging through town near the local coffee shop and then back home for a full mile’s walk.
Once home I sat down at the computer and got to business. I worked until noon, then took a break for lunch and touching base with Emily about the day. After lunch, I turned to my freelance work.
My first day of that was August 31st. It’s been rather effective.
For one, I begin every day with a one mile walk. So I’m getting my exercise in right away and getting the cobwebs out of my head. No matter what else happens, I’ve seen my kids off to school, gotten a hug, gotten a walk. There are worse ways to start a day.
Secondly, by writing when I get home right away I get the other really important part of my day out of the way: writing fiction. Usually by 10am, I feel like if the rest of the day exploded into uselessness, I’d still have walked and written. Thus: I win.
Combined with my social media break and GTD approach to email I’ve been more productive than I ever have been. And importantly, consistency productive.
But is it sustainable?
I don’t know. I’ve been aiming for 7 hours 20 minutes of sleep a night minimum. I’ve been failing that here and there, but last week I had a string of 8 days in a row of 7.5 hours of sleep minimum, which is really good. I’ve been getting into bed between 11-midnight. I have fallen down a few times. Twice when company was over (I’m social, I can talk all night), one of those times I stayed up until 3am. I was a mess the next day and felt hungover for 48 hours after. My FitBit helps, it vibrates on my arm at 11, reminding me I need to turn in. If it wasn’t for that, I’d never realize. I do feel very tired around midnight now, which is new, but I’ll still accidentally power through that easily if I don’t have alarms to remind me to go to bed.
The hardest thing has been to fight my desire to ‘stay up and push on getting things caught up on.’ I’m juggling more work in my professional life than I ever have. Fitting it all in has been challenging. But with this schedule, I feel like I’m starting to get caught up (I’m certainly right on track for this current novel deadline) finally. But I still, each night, have this old instinct to want to just stay up and power on.
But I am forcing myself to leave things undone and just trust that the schedule will catch me up.
The morning schedule also solved a problem I’ve always had in the past: working while traveling. While in Baltimore I was up each morning before eight and getting my writing done before I was scheduled to be speaking. If I keep protecting my mornings I expect a boost there. I’m also getting up early on the weekends and not sleeping in, then working on projects for a couple hours.
This is week 6 of the new schedule.
In the past, I was never able to make mornings work at all. I spent six years trying to make this happen when at a day job. I spent my mornings unable to get my brain to speed, and I scheduled all important work and focused on getting things accomplished in the afternoons knowing that I’d barely be able to answer emails.
But we change sometimes. I often experiment with changes and track the results just to make sure I don’t follow old habits blindly. In this case, my morning routine seems to be lending itself toward better results, while my productivity in the late hours was falling off (I have records and charts that show this). How productive? A 60% boost in daily average word count and a 40% boost in rewrites and copy edits.
I still find the late hours conducive to creativity and take notes and drum up ideas in the hours just before bed.
So, crossing fingers this holds for the whole year…
Hey, cool, a new review of The Apocalypse Ocean via SFF World:
Having just finished a read-through of all four Xenowealth novels I can recommend them in a heartbeat. This is science fiction at its most enjoyable, offering plenty to marvel at, while still giving food for thought.
Kate Elliott writes:
In the wake of 2009’s #Racefail discussion, LJ blogger delux-vivens (much lamented since her passing) asked for a wild unicorn herd check in to show that people frequently told they don’t read SFF and aren’t present in SFF circles do in fact exist. In some ways I personally think of this as the first unofficial “diversity panel.”
I seem to recall the token diversity panel goes back further than that. I sat on a panel at Conjose in 2002 called “Ebony Age of Science Fiction?” with Wanda Haight, Steven Barnes, Mary Anne Mohanraj, Bill Taylor. And it was incredible seeing a (slightly) more diverse audience than normal Worldcons come to that.
It was, in 2002, packed, by the way. People have been hungry for diversity for a long while, even as others shouted ‘no no no’ and put their fingers in their ears.
Future Classics, a fannish history site it seems, has a lot of panels from Worldcons up. I still remember catching a small piece of Vandana Singh’s Imaginative Fiction: A Third World Perspective panel in 2003 Noreascon. If I recall right, there were some corridor discussions there.
In 2009 I was on a panel at a Worldcon called Writing Racial and Ethnic Diversity in Geographic Terms. You can see a good write up here. If I recall correctly there was much angry aftermath when the panel was over by some people you’ll recognize as ‘sad puppies‘ today (that shit ain’t new).
So while I’m not sure there weren’t token panels before 2009, I do think Kate’s right that around 2009 due to Race Fail there started being more dedicated panels.
Oddly enough, it was about that time I started refusing to be on them due to a reason Kate points out:
Now, however, without in any way suggesting that the need for discussion is over or that we have solved the problems, I am wondering to what degree the “diversity panel” may be beginning to become less effective and perhaps even to exacerbate the problem.
I have begun to agitate, among those who will listen to me, to propose panels with large numbers of PoCs that have nothing to do with diversity. At a couple of cons, I’ve conspired to suggest putting PoCs on futurism or science panels and shock the audience by then proceeding to not talk about race but all the cool shit the PoCs are interested in about said topic.
The one place we managed to get this done I heard was a success, and while some people in the audience were a bit confused, it was a lot of fun.
When I went to Det Con recently I took myself off of diversity panels and their like and asked for hard sciences and futurism. I was on almost no panels with any people of color. At *Detroit Con.* When appropriate, I represented PoC books and media about the future and science to the audience, which I doubt would have been done had I not been explicit about making sure I was on those non specialty panels.
And then, when I was out walking around, several times, people asked ‘oh, hey, I was surprised I didn’t see you an [diversity-related panel X].’
Which is why I did it that way.
I’m not lecturing PoC panelists, by the way, to start spreading around. No, the diversity panels are great. But some day, at a Worldcon, or any other con, I hope to be on a panel of with a large number of people of color that talks about Developments in Near Space Access.
Mainly because I’m trying, in small ways, to fight back against the ‘diverse books book displays’ issue, where a bunch of diverse books are stacked together in a specialty display that… people ignore as they come in.
I think there is a place for that. But I also think honestly representing that diversity means including it not just in cordoned off spaces. Yes, we need diversity panels, and suggestions for diverse books for those of us looking for that. But if that’s the only place we’re showing up, or that a panel-creation committee automatically thinks to stick us… then we’re always going to be in an echo chamber.
So I myself, while championing what others are doing and supporting the diversity panels and sometimes being on them, am trying to more and more to get some PoC friends on a panel with me to talk about other topics, to make those panels diverse just by who is on them.
I haven’t gotten very far with it, it’s still all nascent, but there you go.
I’m ADHD, which means for most of my life I’ve been dealing with distractions and interruptions that constantly thread through life on what can be sometimes a minute by minute basis. I was not diagnosed until I was an adult, by a psychologist who was at a very long practice ceremony next me that I’d been told ‘would be quick’ and ended up being hours. Usually I would have taken a book or notepad with me. Because I hadn’t, I started acting out. They were surprised I was unmedicated.
I remain so.
Over the last three decades or so, I’ve developed habits and coping mechanisms that help me create islands of focus to get things done.
What is interesting about modern life to me is that, over the last 15 years, everyone else has become exposed to ADHD life in a way. Whenever I read articles lamenting the devastating impact of continuous partial interruption, like this one at Entrepreneur Magazine:
It is very easy to lose track of whom you have just followed up with — you end up sending your follow-up email twice or reference something you were discussing with someone else or, worse yet, send an email to the wrong person entirely. (Who hasn’t done that?) Continuous partial attention keeps you from being alert, attentive and focused and can hamper your post-event follow up not to mention your day to day activities.
We have supercomputers in our pockets connected to satellites connected to a universe of instant information. But people are getting swamped with it all.
Well, that’s pretty much what I feel like most days with just the world around me. Only, you can turn off Facebook pings, email dings, etc. I cannot turn off the world. It’s always there, always interesting, and always tapping me on the shoulder. Continuous partial interruption may be new to many of you, but it’s nothing new to me.
As a result, I do not have this loathing of connectivity and all it’s distractions. It’s just another environment that needs careful engagement, much like I have to be careful about how I engage the rest of the world.
Many people around me seem to view connectivity as something that masters them and not an appliance that needs controlled. Which, as someone with ADHD, I inherently view it as.
I’m starting to see this realization spreading as people begin to control their computing environment to get more writing (or any other kind of work) done. They’re realizing they need to turn off email pings and try to create focused spaces. There are four approaches I’ve seen. I’ve tried them all, and so far my favorite is #5.
I’ll walk through them.
1) Shut Off Notifications
This is the most common advice given in taking steps to control your working virtual environs. Turn off text announcements, email pings, pop up notifications and so on.
It’s not a bad first step. But sometimes different work setups require things to be setup to interrupt you. With a work setup, personal communications set up, social media layer, and other functions all stacked up in one workspace, the different functions step over each other.
If you can get away with it, sure. We should all cut back on notifications. But it doesn’t work for me due to the varying ways I use the same computer. I do freelance consulting, eBook design, social media and business and personal communication, browsing, research, and finally writing fiction…
2) Use Virtual Workspaces
I found the use of virtual workspaces a bit more helpful in separating out the various functions I used. Using Spaces in OS X meant I could stick all my writing app windows in one Space, all my comms in another, and so on.
However, notifications from different worlds could still pop up.
Also, it was easy to slide over from one space to another when I was losing steam. Stop writing, just pop over to my communications window and check email… just for a second.
Nope, not a long term solution for me. But it could work for someone who was able to focus easily if notifications were all silent (from tip #1).
3) Disconnect from the Internet
A lot of writers struggling with focus get apps, like Freedom, which disconnect the computer from the internet for a set period of time. That’s usually a fantastic hack for focus. Prevents you from getting incoming notifications. Eliminates the ability to get online and check social media.
I used Freedom back when it first came out and rather liked the focusing effect.
Downside, I do have to do some work online for my freelancing gigs. Also, as someone who has ADHD, I use noise canceling headphones and music to create focus. I stream music. Without internet, I’m out of luck.
Also, I’m obsessive about backing up. I use dropbox to constantly get a backup of my writing, including the ability to revert documents. Hours offline make me nervous.
4) Use a dedicated, disconnected computer to write on
I know some writers who use dedicated devices to write on. I liked the idea of creating a custom environment dedicated to the task at hand. But the expense of an extra computer?
Also, the issues in the last paragraph of tip #3 still stand. I want to be backing up my files.
5) Use Multiple Log Ins
This is the productivity hack I settled on over the last couple months, which has really saved my sanity. I stole the idea from watching a fantastic Python programmer and close friend, Brandon Rhodes. While working with me on a piece of code, I realized he had a login for work for his employer, a login for work on his own custom code, and a login for email and other communications-type work. Each login had a different workspace and set up aimed at the focus it had.
Up until then, I’d been using virtual desktops and clamped down notifications, with internet disconnecting apps during crunch times. Now I sat down and created 4 different logins for the different focuses I had.
One login, my default, opens to a desktop where I do email, browse the internet, do social media, blog, balance the checkbook, get texts, etc etc. This is a chaotic and interruptive place, but that’s okay. That’s what it is.
The next login is my freelance consulting gig. There, my email client logs in to just the email for that job, as well as a to do list… just for that gig. The browser autoloads tabs for the places I need to go for it, and all the apps on the dock are… only for that gig. When I log in, the last opened apps all open up, and last loaded tabs all open up. This login can be interruptive, which it is supposed to be when I’m engaged in it. But when I log out… it is all shut down. If I have to jump back over to my general comms login, for something briefly, I can moved between logins. But the friction of having to log over, type in a password, and wait a second for that place to resume, it’s just enough friction that I don’t do it unless I really have a compelling reason.
My eBook design login is set up to focus similarly on just doing that. All my scripts and templates and software are easy to reach on the dock. The focus again means when I’m there, I’m doing just that.
My Just Write! login contains nothing but writing software and a desktop with access to my Dropbox writing files. In this case, I have elected to leave it connected to the internet so that files are backed up, I have my preferred music streamed, and I can look up facts on Wikipedia.
However, there are no bookmarks to social media or email. To get online, I have to go to my applications folder, select Safari. It defaults to Wikipedia on open. A hint to myself. This Safari has none of my passwords memorized for online services like Facebook, or Twitter (those are long, random strings that are kept in a password manager in the communications area). In other words, I CAN get to those places via that login, but it’s a hassle.
When writing, I tend to be logged out of everything but writing.
The hassle of having to log in and start up the other areas creates friction to the ‘oh, I’ll just quickly jump over and check…’ and makes the brain go ‘eh, that sounds like work. Let’s just stay here.’
There’s a last hack with multiple logins, for those not worried about constantly backing up. You can create a login with child protection safety guards on the writing account to block yourself from getting online, or control where you go.
On each of these logins, I use Dropbox to manage my files. Yes, setting up Dropbox 4 times for 4 logins was a bit slow. And setting it up if I move to a new laptop down the road will be slow as well. But it’s worth the productivity gain.
There are a number of creative things you can do with tailoring environments to your needs, I’m not exactly cutting edge here. But over the last couple months a lot of writers I’ve talked to have lit up when I’ve mentioned doing this and a few have said it has been a big help to them, so I figured this was worth blogging.
Your mileage, of course, may vary.
For a long time I’ve been aware of the amazing Bocas Lit Fest, a gathering of amazing authors and speakers that celebrate books, writers and writing from the Caribbean.
This year I’ve been invited to be one of them.
I’ll be in the company of amazing people. You can see them all here.
Nalo Hopkinson, Karen Lord, and Rhonda S. Garcia will all be attending for a special focus on speculative fiction at Bocas Lit Fest.
I’m looking forward to coming home with many new books and setting foot on Trinidad for the first time. I grew up in Grenada, so there’s a strong triangle of media and people who were Trini, or Bajan. We couldn’t afford to get to Trinidad when I was younger, so now I get a chance to go there.
I’m very lucky.
When I said half the stuff indie writers are now saying in the comments here about Amazon I was called some heinous names and ‘legacy’ writer, a ‘trad pub house slave’ and many other objectionable things. All I’ve done is note in the past that putting all your eggs in the Amazon basket will one day lead to sorrow.
Porter Anderson has a pretty thorough roundup over at theBookSeller.com:
Odd how those squeals of “this is the best time to be an author!” start to fade when you hear about a major self-publishing author’s struggles to pay a child’s medical bills because 75 percent of her Amazon income evaporated in the advent of KU, isn’t it?
Trial and so much error, obviously by Amazon’s folks — who are good people inventing a new wheel — as well as by authors.
What comes next? We don’t know. As usual.
That’s the bottom line: the way, the truth, and the lightheadedness of it all.. We just don’t know.
There’s still a lot of sorting and settling out.
But we are the little insects under conglomerate giant’s feet. It’s not that I’m going to say other corporations are better. Just that I have a cynical eye toward them all! The idea peddled a few years ago that Amazon cared about writers and nothing but writers was silly then, and we’re starting to realize it.
Amazon cares about customers first, and gaining more of them… also first. Giving them free books for signing up to their service is a win for Amazon, even if it’s not a win for writers.
If that means at the writer’s cost, so be it. I warned about this with the cuts that were made in audio royalties, and the cuts made in certain foreign markets if you didn’t go Kindle Select. And even though I sold as a hybrid author, I was consistently attacked for pointing these moves out.
eBooks are a great option. I’m happy to see more arrows in the quiver.
But now we’re seeing the reality set in. There’s lots of work ahead of us. And the gold-rush mentality is fading. Which is a relief.
I’m not giving up on being a hybrid author, but I sure am making sure my books are for sale in multiple areas and in multiple ways.
I’ve noticed some reviews catch that I do my best to adopt they and them as a neutral pronoun. I’ve seen Zir and Ze around, but I’m not sure if that’ll take off. Them and they for a neutral works. Whether or not a character is gender neutral, I prefer to try to keep the character reference neutral. If the character’s gender is truly unknown, it seems fair.
It looks like it’s something younger generations are doing, and their teachers are trying to catch up:
As language catches up with culture, new pronouns have been invented to acknowledge gender-variant identities. Just as importantly, the gender-neutral plural pronoun “they” and its inflected forms, “them”, “their”, “themselves” (and “themself”!), are being used to refer to one person. To mark gender inclusivity, “they” has arrived at the party.
Though I’d submit in SF/F and other circles questions about non-gendered pronouns have been floating around a while.
addendum: Good point by David Thomas Moore on twitter:
@tobiasbuckell Yeah, Chaucer used 'they'. The ban on singular they's an eighteenth century innovation.
— David Thomas Moore (@abaddondave) December 8, 2014
It seems like yesterday I was taking selfies while riding a cable car across the Thames to the O2 Centre, but I’ve been catching up on All The Things since getting home a couple weeks ago.
Meanwhile, the twins started Kindergarten. Which is wild. Everyday they’re heading out with bags on their backs that seem bigger than they are, and they’re riding the bus. Emily takes them in with her on the way to school, and they ride a bus to the sitter and wait for her to get off work. Finding out they were riding a bus on their own was my first parental ‘wait, what?’ moment where I felt this was all happening a bit faster than I was ready for.
Now that we’re back home and slowly getting back into our routine for the new year I’ve managed to finish the rewrite of the pseudonymous novel PS-1 and, I think, tackled all the edit notes.
Which means I’m now back into my edit notes for the novel Island in The Sky which needs done ASAP and doing background stuff for my contribution to Storium. I’m soooo close on both fronts.
Meanwhile, I’m still doing some interviews and promotional items for Hurricane Fever (I’d love to do some more podcasts/audio interviews or video interviews, as those are easier on my hands than typed out interviews!). I’ll be signing in Kalamazoo, MI this weekend, along with Jim Hines, at Kazoo books. We’re hoping we’ll get a great crowd!
So here is the announcement:
“Clarion West is delighted to announce the names of the instructors for the 2015 Six-Week Workshop. Applications will open in December 2014. More information about the instructors and application instructions will be posted in the coming weeks.
Andy Duncan 2015 Clarion West Leslie Howle Fellow
Cory Doctorow 2015 Clarion West Susan C. Petrey Fellow”
(Via News |.)
So first off, what an amazing line up of instructors for 2015. I’ll be keeping some heady company.
One of the things I got to do was meet Clarion West organizers Neile Graham, Tod, and Huw at the Seattle book signing while I was on tour last week. And I have to say, it’s been so hard to keep this secret up until now, even thought I was talking to them the day before the news went out!
So I’m totally honored and amazed that I am now going to be an instructor at Clarion. Having been a new Clarion student myself in 1999, this is one of those ‘coming around full circle’ moments that sometimes happen in life.
It’ll be very, very odd being on the other side of the circle, though. I hope to do well by the students.