PeterMBall

Three Quick and Dirty Time Management Hacks For Writers

I started reading time and project management books a few years back, when it became apparent that my ability to manage my studies was fairly limited. I ramped up my reading in 2011 when I found myself working in an organisation with multiple people for the first time, since I was pretty much used to working on my own or in small groups.

Over the years I’ve tried a bunch of systems and kept stuff from each of them, but this list collects together three of the quick-and-dirty time management hacks that have been particularly useful to me as a writer. All are part of larger, more complex systems that have their own strengths and weaknesses, but I am pretty ruthless about keeping the things that work for me and searching for new options when something doesn’t.

HACK ONE: PRIORITISE THE TASKS THAT UNLOCK OTHER PEOPLE’S CAPACITY TO WORK ON YOUR BEHALF

I picked this one up from Dan Charnas incredible book about chefs, time management, and mise-en-place, Work Clean, and it remains the advice I turn to every time I found myself paralysed by indecision about what needs to come next.

One of the base-lines of Charnas’ approach is simple: the action you take now is infinitely more valuable than the action you take in the future, because the action you take now can trigger next actions. The action you might take later, even if it’s a slightly better call, cannot start follow-up actions until then (and sucks up psychological resources while you manage your own inaction).

In this system, the optimal use of time when all other considerations are equal is doing a task that unlocks someone else’s capacity to work on your behalf.

It’s easy to see the importance of this principle when you’re working in a larger office, particularly if you’ve ever worked in a place where management approval is the black hole where all projects stall and die.

It’s harder easy to grasp the importance when you’re writing, and everything seems equally important in your little office of one, but there is actually hundreds of small tasks that it’s easy to downgrade until you think about them in this way. Here is just a small handful of tasks I’ve noted over the last few years:

  • Reading and signing contracts unlocks publishers ability to work on your behalf, as does filling out an invoice for work done and mailing it off (which unlocks the capacity for people to do one of my favourite things – pay me).
  • Answering an email about taking part in an interview, or responding to a guest-post request, unlocks the capacity for other people to promote you. So does actually doing the work when such things arrive.
  • Researching a new market for that story that got rejected may take ten minutes, but it immediately unlocks the capacity for slush readers and editors to work on your behalf.
  • Filling in grant and scholarship applications unlocks work in all sorts of ways, particularly if it’s the kind of thing where you’re going to need to ask questions. Reading Charnas book is one of the reasons I got a PhD scholarship, ‘cause if I hadn’t I would have left the application process too late to get advice on many of the things I needed help navigating.
  • Editing your existing story so you can submit it will get more people working than writing a new one will. Similarly, getting your story out to beta readers will mean more than the ten minutes you’d gain working on something new.
  • Dragging your feet on a shared project that needs you to do something before other people can do their part has obvious delays built in (although, I’ll admit, I still struggle with this one).

When time is short I used to struggle with prioritizing any of this stuff over creating new words. Now I dedicate a portion of my day solely to the process of unlocking other people’s capacity.

HACK TWO: SPEND A HALF-HOUR PLOTTING OUT YOUR COMMITMENTS OVER THE NEXT THREE MONTHS IN ADDITION TO YOUR PROJECTS

This one is lifted from The Accidental Creative by Todd Henry, and I’d actually recommend doing his whole Quarterly Checkpoint if you’ve got the time and inclination. If you don’t, I recommend this single step as one of the things that helped me start being more in-control of my writing process.

The theory here is simple: it’s easy to overlook the impact things will have on your life and available time, which means you’ll frequently overestimate how much you can get done in the coming three months. Taking a few moments to list the hard and soft commitments you expect to see happening every quarter will shape your expectations in advance, and allow you to plan accordingly.

For example, if I look at the period from November through to January, I can see that I’ve got a series of huge deadlines for the PhD, plus a number of weeks where I’m going to lose work time due to holiday commitments. Even if I don’t take said holidays myself, there will be days where my family and partner have time off and want to spend time with me. January is also heavy with family Birthdays and similar events, which means I’ll need to factor in both birthday celebrations and purchasing gifts during one of the busiest times of year.

If I just planned out my quarterly projects right now, this week, my perceptions would be informed by the fact that I’m largely commitment free and capable of fitting in additional project time. it would be easy to overlook these events and simply assume that the majority of the week will be blissfully free of things that will pull my focus away from work.

Doing this three months out gives you plenty of time to adjust your expectations and plan around the interruptions, whereas a one month window tends to put more pressure on you.

HACK THREE: NUMBER AND INDEX EVERY NOTEBOOK YOU USE, REGARDLESS OF WHAT IT’S USED FOR

This one is straight out of the bullet journal process put together by Ryder Carroll, but it remains the single best idea I’ve seen for keeping track of what’s in a notebook. Even if you don’t intend to use the full bujo method, getting into the habit of numbering notebook pages and indexing their contents saves countless hours of trying to remember what note you’ve put down where. I use this with bullet journals, but also pocket notebooks used for quick notes and shoping lists, larger notebooks where I write story drafts, and the various notebooks I use for tracking what’s going on in gaming.

There are thousands of systems out there for adequately filing your notes online and in filing cabinets, but this is the closes thing I’ve seen to keeping things manageable in books themselves.

What to Do When You’re Convinced You’ve Fucked Up Your Writing Career

Fun fact about writing: it’s going to feel like you’ve fucked up, a lot. There will be days where it feels like things are so fucked up that your career is 100% over, never to be resurrected or rebuilt, and the best thing you can do is wander off and get a job in the fast food industry.

The reasons it feels like you’ve fucked up are varied. Maybe it’s been caused by a decision that seems stupid in hindsight, or a book has come out and done not-as-well-as-expected for reasons outside your control. Perhaps you said something you shouldn’t have in a professional context, or vomited on the first agent you met because you were nervous. It matters not, in the end, because the feeling that settles over you is invariably the same – like someone’s fitting you for cement shoes and escorting you to the nearest pier. You have fucked up, and you are done. Hasta la vista, baby; your writing career is over.

I spent most of last week in that mode. After GenreCon wrapped up a bunch of mangy, you-suck brain-weasels dug their way into my head and started insisting that the con had been a bad cal. Sure, it was successful, but look at the opportunity cost – no writing time, no PhD time, no real gains to speak of. They moved on to whispering dire things about my shoddy work ethic when it comes to writing, then started a refrain about always being the guy behind the scenes instead of actually being a writer. Time to quit, the brain weasels told me. Go find yourself a real job. You’re forty fucking years old and you’re officially no good at this shit.

The nice thing about this being the forth GenreCon is that I’m already prepared for this, and I had projects with non-negotiable deadlines that meant I had to pull my shit together before the week was out. I gave myself forty-eight hours of indulging the brain-weasels, largely because I was exhausted after running a con and needed time to recoup anyway. Then I sat down and started planning a few weeks of writing projects, because the reality is that it’s incredibly hard to actually kill of a writing career stone dead.

It’s just really easy to believe you’ve done it when your expectations and your reality aren’t in sync.

FIRST, SOME PERSPECTIVE: IT’S REALLY HARD TO KILL A WRITING CAREER COMPLETELY, YO

Here’s the bad news: writing is a hard gig, and you’re playing a long game. It’s easy to have a bad year, or feel like you’re achieving a lot without seeing much tangible benefit in terms of income. The message that’s driven into you, from the moment you first express a desire to write, is that the only way to succeed is to be extraordinary. You’re a best-seller or you’re nothing; you are consumed by writing, twenty-four-seven, or you’re destined to fail and die in the gutter.

This will fuck you up, if you let it.

Most writers aren’t going to be best-sellers. Even among the best-sellers, there are aspects of a writing career that they still hunger for, which often manifests itself in canards like genre writers get the money, literary writers get the praise. Truth is, you’re going to spend the bulk of your career being less successful than you’d hoped, but that’s only the death of your career if you accept the premise that less-successful is not-successful-at-all, letting the unmet expectations drive you to quitting rather than re-evaluating.

Here’s the good news: Writing careers are resilient fuckers. It’s actually incredibly fucking hard to truly kill a writing career to the point where you won’t be published or read at all. It takes outright plagiarism or…well, shit, I don’t know, maybe slaughtering a moose at your first writer’s festival and painting the front row with its blood while openly calling all readers morons? Even then, the attention you’d grab would probably help undo some of the damage.

I struggle to think of real, honest-to-god career killers here because publishing will forgive all manner of things if they think they can sell your book. Even Helen Darville got other writing gigs in Australia after the controversy around The Hand That Signed The Paper, and it took a whole new plagiarism controversy around her courier mail column to really shuffle her off the literary radar (and even then, she went on to write for conservative presses and it seems she’s both learned nothing and has a new book coming out).

Odds are, you haven’t fucked up on anywhere near this level. What’s happened is usually something simpler.

SHAKESPEARE WAS A SMART FUCKER

I’m not alone with the brain-weasels. In this year alone I’ve had the maybe-it’s-time-to-quit-and-work-fast-food conversations with three different writers at three different stages of their career. None of them actually did it, to my knowledge, but the desire was definitely there and it usually came down to one word: expectations.

One of my favourite lines in Hamlet is the title character’s lament that he could be bound in a nutshell and count himself a king of infinite space, were it not that he had bad dreams. In a similar vein, I could publish a single short story a year and consider myself a successful writer, were it not for the fact that my goals and expectations aim for more than that.

The brain-weasels give me a list of reasons my career is over right now. When I write them down, there is a recurring theme: I’ve only had two short stories out this year; I haven’t finished enough new work; I don’t have enough readers to justify going indie; I only met a handful of people at the conference and didn’t do enough to expand my network; I haven’t done enough with the opportunities I had this year; I haven’t done enough on my thesis draft, with the deadline looming.

The repetition of only and enough in those phrases is an immediate warning sign for me.

It means that my expectations are not in sync with the reality around me, and I’m prone to second-guessing every decision I’ve made in the last twelve moths and judging each choice a failure. Only and Enough mean I’m ignoring the context that guided all the decisions, or that I’m weighing up what I’ve achieved and measuring against what was achieved in other years of my career (or against the careers of people who have had very different years in the business and different constraints on their work process than I have).

Despite the brain-weasels suggestion that I quit, what they’re actually warning me about is a moment where the things I value about my writing life aren’t currently being met. That’s not a reason to quit, but it is a reason to take some time to figure out how I can match up my practice and my values in the coming months.

THE FEELING OF FUCKING UP LIES IN THE DIFFERENCE BETWEEN WHAT IS AND WHAT I WANT TO BE, THE REALITY OF FUCKING UP LIES IN WHAT YOU DO AFTER YOU IDENTIFY THAT DISCONNECT

Herein lies the lesson: if you think you’ve fucked up your writing career, ask yourself what expectations you had that aren’t currently being fulfilled. The line between success and failure is often a matter of perspective, and you will be harder on yourself than almost everyone else. Look for the thing that you want, and figure out why it’s currently missing.

Once you’ve got that, identify the the smallest, easiest things to move you in that direction you want to go. Inertia will fuck with you in ways that movement will not, and keeping your focus on where you want to be instead of what you’re doing now will inevitably rob your process of the joy that sustains your efforts. Stop looking at the horizon and start looking at the very next step, then focus on enjoying what you’re doing here and now.

Not meeting your expectations is disappointing, but it isn’t necessarily failure. At worst, the brain-weasels telling you it’s all over are really just giving you important information about what you really want to get out writing (mine, post-Genrecon, are largely focused on the hit the cultural capital of my work will take once I start indie publishing). They’re a chance to re-align the mental cross-hairs and focus on the work that is meaningful to you and taking you towards your goals.

There is no shame in re-evaluating plans, once you’ve got that information. There’s not even shame in walking away, if you’ve looked at what you’ve wanted and judged it no longer worth the effort, but walking away is harder than it looks when you’re in the throes of the kinds of disconnect that causes brain-weasels to form.

It’s far easier to take a few moments to consider what it feels like you’re missing in your career right now, then take a few steps to plug that gap while following your business plan.

ONCE YOU KNOW WHAT SUCCESS IS, YOU CAN START LOOKING AT PATHS TO GET THERE

There is a great interview from the wrestler, Chris Jericho, where he talks about becoming a main event talent in the world’s largest wrestling organisation. He wasn’t worried about rising to the top despite being a smaller talent than the WWE prefers, because he’d been at the top of other wrestling companies and he knew what it took to get there. He had to learn how to work in the new environment, but once he knew that he’d get to the spot he wanted.

Everything my brain-weasels are whispering to me are things I’ve done in the past, which means I know what’s involved in getting back to the level I want to be at. It will take work, but work that I know how to do.The things I don’t know, I can still learn, now that I know I need to learn them.

If my whole career tanked tomorrow, I could switch to a pen name and start over (which, lets be clear, is a thing that plenty of writers have done).

Quitting is a big, dramatic action. It’s your brain searching for a solution to your frustrations in the clumsiest way possible, because writing is a gig that is built around the mythology of grand gestures and all-consuming genius. Small fuck-ups feel bigger than they should, big fuck-ups feel monumental.

What’s weird is that the best response is usually doing something small. Once you’ve identified the thing that is bugging you, focus on the smallest and easiest thing you can do here and now to start moving you towards it. Take a small step towards bringing your process back into alignment with the values you bring to your craft.

For me, all those brain-weasels were just complaining about feeling a little invisible as a writer rather than an organiser after disappearing into the conference. This says all sorts of things about my ego, but also means the weasels were placated by a little work on The Birdcage Heart release and drafting a couple of blogs posts. This, in turn, freed me up from the anxiety they caused and got me back to the keyboard to start working on the next thing.

The Sunday Circle: What Are You Working On This Week?

Sunday Circle Banner

The Sunday Circle is the weekly check-in where I ask the creative-types who follow this blog to weigh in about their goals, inspirations, and challenges for the coming week. The logic behind it can be found here. Want to be involved? It’s easy – just answer three questions in the comments or on your own blog (with a link in the comments here, so that everyone can find them).

After that, throw some thoughts around about other people’s projects, ask questions if you’re so inclined. Be supportive above all.

Then show up again next Sunday when the circle updates next, letting us know how you did on your weekly project and what you’ve got coming down the pipe in the coming week (if you’d like to part of the circle, without subscribing to the rest of the blog, you can sign-up for reminders via email here).

MY CHECK-IN

What am I working on this week?

I put two major projects to bed recently, courtesy of GenreCon wrapping up and uploading The Birdcage Heart collection to all sales sites in preparation for Nov 30. That opens up a lot of tie to work on other projects, much of which will get funnelled towards the first PhD Chapter (this week’s to-do list: 3 readings and a new chapter plan after my old one was a little too ambitious) and the next Brain Jar Project, Helltrack (this week’s to-do list: nail down the voice and tone I’m looking for, figure out how to write the first race).

What’s inspiring me this week?

I picked up Nic Pizzolatto’s short story collection, Between Here and the Yellow Sea, because I figured I’d need something post-GenreCon that got me inspired to write. It’s definitely delivered on that front – Pizzolatto may be better known for True Detective these days, but I first encountered him through his debut novel, Galveston, and this delivers the same taut, controlled narrative voice. 

What action do I need to take?

I need to schedule some downtime this week, because my system is still in con-mode where I feel like I should be doing everything and it’s really easy to keep rolling with the high-focus panic that engenders. The need to be productive is overwhelming, but the ability to make decisions is minimal.

It’s also a really bad idea to stay in that mode – the last week was hard on my mental health – and I keep trying to over-schedule my week and do everything at once. I really need to sit down and cross half the things off my list, giving myself a chance to focus on a few tasks that will really be important rather than a hundred tasks that aren’t essential.

Notes From the Brain Jar, or An Argument for Giving Me Unfettered Access To Your Inbox

With GenreCon over, I get to turn my attention to the ignored parts of my writing life that I haven’t yet talked about much. One of these is Notes from the Brain Jar, the more-or-less weekly email newsletter I send out every Wednesday that contains process notes, sneak peaks, thoughts inspired  on recent reading, and the occasionally curated series of links to interesting things.

You can subscribe, if that sounds like your kind of thing, via the sign-up page or just head over to the sidebar on this here site.

You can also check out the archive of previous newsletters. Sometimes I talk about writing or starting a small press. Sometimes I talk about the philosophical problems presented by soup. Sometimes I remind you that I’ve got a new book coming and it would be peachy-keen if you bought it.

On GenreCon 2017 & Taking Off My Convener Hat For A While

My post-con hair frightens me and refuses to be tamed

ONE

I usually roll in here the day after GenreCon and post my thoughts about the conference, but this year I’m caught between either saying too little or too much and so I’ve left it until after I chatted to my boss.

GenreCon 2017 is my fourth go-around with the conference and it’s easily been the biggest, bringing in 240+ writers over the weekend and selling out the State Library venue. That’s a far cry from the 130 writers who showed up for the first conference in Parramatta back in 2012.

I set out to deliver a 2017 conference that would make the best possible argument for keeping GenreCon around when QWC’s management committee and CEO considered their future projects. The result wasn’t a flawlessly run con – no event this size ever will be – but it is definitely the best possible argument I could set forward. 2017 was a year of phenomenal guests, a year where the volunteers of years past solidified into a core team that most attendees will never truly understand how much the conference owes, and the year where the conference (to my knowledge) delivered on all the key points it needed to deliver on.

It’s not a guarantee there will be another – it’s impossible to do that two years out, when working with a non-profit that has a management board, a reduced funding environment, and a small staff – but I feel like the best possible argument has been made with 2017.

TWO

Every GenreCon, we send out invites to a guests because we’re convinced they will show up and kill it. Every year, the guests who elect to come show up and do exactly that, which has the incredibly benefit that it makes us look good simply because we had the common sense to recognise people who were a) smart, b) talented, and c) willing to give generously of their time and experience to help newer writers. A huge amount of thanks go out to this year’s GenreCon Guests: Nalini Singh, Delilah Dawson, Amy Andrews, Angela Slatter, Claire Coleman, Dan Findlay, Emma Viskic, Garth Nix, and Sean Williams.

Thanks also go out to the numerous writers who volunteered to be part of the program, the editors and agents who took pitches at the conference, and to the enormously hard-working volunteer crew who made up the GenreCon Ninja Team. Few people realise just how essential the latter are in making the weekend work, and they aren’t shouted anywhere near the number of drinks they deserve for the hours they put in on behalf of other writers.

THREE

I’ve made three attempts to write this post and deleted all of them, because I keep dancing around a fact that I haven’t been keen to acknowledge in public: if QWC conference runs in 2019, there is a good chance I won’t be able to step into the role of convenor in the same way I’ve worked on the previous four. The end of 2019 when GenreCon would run coincides with the time I’m meant to be delivering my PhD thesis, and I want that thing delivered before my scholarship runs out. My involvement in a 2019 con would be focused, rather than over-arching, with the goal of passing on things I’ve learned over the past five years so that someone else can carry the conference the rest of the way to the finish line.

On one hand, I do not envy them that job. GenreCon is always hard work, and the logistics of putting everything together takes up a huge amount of mental real estate that means it often spills over the hours set aside to work on it. I’ve always been pretty sanguine when that meant giving up other things, but it’s a trade-off that gets harder and harder over time, and it’s made worse by the fact that the con doesn’t end with the con. There’s still the post-game reports that need to be written, the attendee surveys where we figure out what went right and what went wrong. Paperwork and clean-up and conversations and forward planning.

For all that convening GenreCon is a fantastic gig, I doubt I can give up that mental space and still finish writing a thesis. It’s been hard enough to give up that mental space and keep The Birdcage Heart on track for release at the end of the month, despite the fact that many of the stories in the collection were previously published and there’s a minimal amount of work required to get the book over the line.

On the other hand, I do envy them. There are few things I’ve done in my professional life that have been as satisfying as running GenreCon, and especially building it up to the point where hit this year. It was the gig that kept me at QWC for many years, and the gig that brought me back when I resigned as the manager of the Australian Writers Marketplace last year. There is no doubt, when 2019 rolls around, that I will look back and wonder if perhaps I was a little hasty – perhaps it will be less work than I think, or I could just get more done on the thesis in advance…

I plan on ignoring those thoughts, even if part of me will eel a little selfish for choosing to chase after the title of Doctor over working on something that helps two hundred and fifty writers. The temptation to go back and convene “just one more” is always going to be strong, but there’s a danger to sitting in a role like that too long. You become set in your ways right about the time you want someone to come in and look at things in a new way. .

I think 2017 was a pretty good year for my run to end on. It may not have been a perfect conference – no event of this size ever will be – but it feels like it was the best possible conference I could run and it hit all the goals I wanted it to hit.

Thanks to everyone who made that happen, this year and in all the years prior. You lot are fucking awesome.

The Sunday Circle: What Are You Working On This Week?

Sunday Circle Banner

The Sunday Circle is the weekly check-in where I ask the creative-types who follow this blog to weigh in about their goals, inspirations, and challenges for the coming week. The logic behind it can be found here. Want to be involved? It’s easy – just answer three questions in the comments or on your own blog (with a link in the comments here, so that everyone can find them).

After that, throw some thoughts around about other people’s projects, ask questions if you’re so inclined. Be supportive above all.

Then show up again next Sunday when the circle updates next, letting us know how you did on your weekly project and what you’ve got coming down the pipe in the coming week (if you’d like to part of the circle, without subscribing to the rest of the blog, you can sign-up for reminders via email here).

MY CHECK-IN

What am I working on this week?

This week is all GenreCon, all the time. Pretty much everything else takes a backseat to getting the whole thing launched on Friday and running over the weekend, which means my checkins will be pretty sparse this week and next.

What’s inspiring me this week?

I’m about halfway through Caliban’s War, the second book of The Expanse, which I picked up after going through the first book at a pretty steady clip. I love the TV version adapted from James S. A. Corey’s books, but it’s definitely one of those series where the books are the better format. Reading this and the Game of Thrones books in relatively close succession has been really useful, as I can start seeing how they both do the big, sprawling conflict with multiple stakeholders.

What action do I need to take?

Schedule breaks that are meaningful, rather than just collapsing in a heap. This week is kinda constant and it takes conscious effort to keep myself from checking email and checking hashtags for potential problems with the con, and it’s hard to set aside that impulse and get away from the conference.

Coming November 30: The Birdcage Heart & Other Strange Tales

I’ve dropped hints about this on Facebook and the mailing list over the last week, but now that the details are up in the major ebook stores it’s time to make it official: my first short story collection, The Birdcage Heart & Other Strange Tales, will be released in ebook on the 30th of November (with a print edition following in 2018).

PRE-ORDERS ARE AVAILABLE NOW

Rat descends a staircase that never ends, following the rules laid out by his guidebook.

Copenhagen is invaded by angry merfolk piloting war-machines crafted from old shipwrecks.

A musician with a grudge upsets the delicate balance of a very unusual seaside town.

The Birdcage Heart & Other Strange Tales collects twelve weird and unusual fantasy tales from Peter M Ball. Within these pages you’ll meet an executioner tasked with killing a man who cannot be killed, a young man with a birdcage where his year should be, and a frustrated public servant trying to deal with an unruly wizard determined to prove his powers.

You’ll watch a relationship unravel as a young man’s former lovers are revealed to be creatures of myth, reminisce with the residents of a city overrun with giant thorns, and visit Isla Tortuga’s last, great house of ill repute where no-one is exactly what they seem on the surface.

Often strange, always magical, these stories will take you on a journey through love, joy, and sorrow.

The Shortcut Only Works When You’re The First to Find It

A thing I’ve been thinking about this week.

It’s tempting to say there are no shortcuts to becoming a published writer. The default published writers tend to give is simple: write a lot, keep improving your craft, submit a lot, keep going. This is how many of us got our start, and its how many of us keep our careers going, year after year.

It’s tempting to say there are no shortcuts, but it isn’t exactly true. Every now and then people do find a work-around to the old ways of getting published. They wrote a novel and published it to their blog, only to have it picked up by a publisher. They launched their backlist as ebooks after years of being rejected, and suddenly they had a massive career.

There are people who fanfic on Wattpad that got picked up, or they cultivated a project on social media, or they podcasted their story, or they did an early iteration of crowd-funding. There are dozens of stories about people who found their way around traditional publishing’s gatekeepers, and those stories tend to get repeated in every news article or review that springs up around their work.

None of these things are necessarily shortcuts, as they still require work and effort. They just took a different path to publishing, because publishing likes it when authors show up who can write, possess and audience, and come with a ready-made marketing hook. These people get talked about because their path into traditional publishing were exceptions to the rule. They are news because they remarkable, usually because they’re the early adopters who took a chance just to see what would happen.

The first person to capture an audience by blogging their novel was doing something unique; the hundredth person to do it will find that the shortcut was only faster because it was so rarely used. The thousandth person is basically throwing a penny into a wishing well and hoping it pays off. We’ve seen this trick before, and unless you’re doing it better, it’s not going to be the same.

Even if you possess the same level of skill and talent, it’s almost impossible to recreate that success by taking the same path the trailblazer followed. The more a path gets used, the greater the diminishing returns for the work put in.

The Sunday Circle: What Are You Working On This Week?

Sunday Circle Banner

The Sunday Circle is the weekly check-in where I ask the creative-types who follow this blog to weigh in about their goals, inspirations, and challenges for the coming week. The logic behind it can be found here. Want to be involved? It’s easy – just answer three questions in the comments or on your own blog (with a link in the comments here, so that everyone can find them).

After that, throw some thoughts around about other people’s projects, ask questions if you’re so inclined. Be supportive above all.

Then show up again next Sunday when the circle updates next, letting us know how you did on your weekly project and what you’ve got coming down the pipe in the coming week (if you’d like to part of the circle, without subscribing to the rest of the blog, you can sign-up for reminders via email here).

MY CHECK-IN

What am I working on this week?

We’re two weeks out from GenreCon, so creative goals are largely taking a back seat to con management, answering last-minute questions, and whatever minor Brain Jar/Writing tasks I’m fitting around the edges. My main focus this week is making progress on the thesis chapter, and setting aside two hours a day to do some serious reading and annotating as I scan the key texts for quotes I need.

What’s inspiring me this week?

One of the projects I’ve got planned for 2019 or so involves writing in the late Victorian era, right up at the end of Victoria’s reign. I keep putting this one off because I can’t picture it in my head, reverting to Jane Ausen-esque regency trappings whenever I start putting the story together simply because I’ve got a lot more reference points for lie in the 1830s than I do life in 1901.

I mentioned this to my partner and she immediately started looking for stories and shows that would start to fill that gap, and this week we sat down to watch The Paradise – a BBC adaptation of Emile Zola’s Au Bonheur des Dames that moves the story over to England. The first season is an incredible amount of fun, visually spectacular and very sweet, although the second season embraces a kind of absurdity that only makes sense within the context of the show what with everyone engaging in elaborate plots.

What action do I need to take?

Self-care. And not the do-something-relaxing-and-take-care-of-yourself kind, but the somewhat harder lets-be-realistic-about-whats-fucking-you-up-and-manage-boundaries kind, since the combination of con-running, press launching, and upcoming PhD confirmation have moved me over from stressed to the kind of prolonged anxiety that means I’m spending about 70% of my waking hours in a state of fight-or-flight.

Old School

I am still one of those people who follows blogs through an RSS reader, setting aside a portion of my day to process a whacking great chunk of data from around the internet. My feeds are pretty carefully curated and sorted into categories, so I can narrow my focus down to writing advice, say, or SF Authors, or weird science stories that are likely to inspire stories. I still lament the loss of google reader and the google dashboard homepage which used to kick off every day with my email, feed, and project notepad laid out before me.

My feee contains approximately 200 post a day. On average, I read about twenty of them in detail, or open them up and save them in a file to process later when I’ve got the time. Some of those links find their way into social media feeds, some of them prompt discussion here or in my new email newsletter where I bang on about behind-the-scenes stuff, and some are just things that look interesting.

It is the nearest thing to sitting down and opening a newspaper every morning that I can think of in this day and age, and its already an archaic habit.

I didn’t even realise RSS feeds were a thing until my late thirties.