A Kick in the Head

Things that have happened since I last posted:

– I’ve established a daily writing habit before work (I know, I’m as surprised as anyone to be writing productively in the *morning*)
– I have a fairly extensive mask wardrobe
– Two new tote bags that are lighter than my leather bag was, and I think it’s affecting my shoulder/neck issues for the better
– I’ve actually finished a draft, and started a new one
– I’ve been reading before bed again – finished two books and am working on another

I’ve written a bunch of posts since the “Toast” one, and deemed all of them unfit for whatever reason. Mostly because I felt like posting about mundane stuff might appear tone deaf or inappropriate given the state of things and all the civil unrest. I’ve been “escaping” in Animal Crossing and walking the dogs in the evenings, and generally just staying in my own little work/life “bubble”. Think of that what you will. It’s how I’ve been dealing.

But it’s time to get moving again, and my “kick in the head” came from a rather unexpected invitation by our local bookstore to do a virtual author interview. I agreed, and in prepping for the experience, I realized something important about my writing and myself that made me want to get out of my fog and back into productivity in my writing life (work life has been incredibly productive all year, but also incredibly draining, which hasn’t helped the writing life thing).

The thing I needed most was confidence. I got that – just a little shot, and it’s enough, I think, to get me moving again.

My main focus this week is figuring out the time aspect. I need time to update covers, update social media pages, update blogs, and do various publishing & maintenance tasks. But more than anything, I need time to edit and revise. I have several drafts in the edit/revise phase, and they’re “stuck” there due to my lack of making time to work on them. I could release all of those drafts as finished manuscripts within the next six months if I could just set aside some time for “marking up” and time for “typing in”.

So, that’s my goal for the week. Find two 20-minute time slots that can be “set” for each weekday and dedicated for mark-ups and type-ins. It’s really not all that easy, because I need quiet and headspace for those time slots. But, I’m determined. There has to be a way.

If I can do that early enough in the week, then my secondary goal is to set aside one more time slot for writing blog posts. Will I be successful?

You’ll find out next week!


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Goal Prep & A Digital Notebook

Making goals is fun. Reaching goals is fun. Doing the prep and subsequent work necessary to reach goals? Not so much fun. Which is why it’s a good idea to jump right in and create habits while the main goal is still exciting enough to be motivating.

No, I’m not going to bore you (or myself) with weekly reports, but since this is the first week and I’ve made some progress all around as well as some revelations, it seems noteworthy.

I have been reading more – not always at the times I want, but at least a little bit every day, which is good. It doesn’t matter right now how much or what, really, just that I’m carving out time for reading, and I am.

I also have three flash stories ready for editing. I wasn’t ready to jump back into my longer novels just yet last week, so I worked on a few more flash stories instead, and then dictated another yesterday (which will be part of my normal schedule – flash on Mondays).

Lastly, I held BSB “Office Hours” twice this weekend, instead of once. I made a list of things I felt like I needed to do in order to both keep track of important business items (like sales, expenses and assets), and also to move forward with some sales and update type things (like updating books/blurbs, taking care of social media presences, etc). To do all of that in one sitting is…a lot. Overwhelming, you might say (since on the one side, I have to do things I should have started 10 years ago, like…say…build/maintain an asset list). Especially this first week – I didn’t feel like I could even come close to getting it all done.

So I decided to break it up. Bookkeeping and accounting on Friday nights, and sales & maintenance on Sunday nights. That allowed me to…you know – go to bed when I was tired on Friday night (aka 2am Saturday morning), and not have to sleep in quite so late.

I think that should work, at least until I get some things I’ve been neglecting (expenses, asset list, etc) caught up, and the habits to maintain them are established and efficient. Last year, it took several months for me to get in the habit of doing the household budgeting efficiently – it took me a couple of hours per week until I settled into a more efficient workflow and got that cut down to less than an hour, even with paying bills as I go on paycheck weeks.

I’m pretty sure that once I get into a good workflow and get caught up with the BSB stuff I haven’t been maintaining, the time I need will go down, and I can think about consolidating what I need to do. It just takes time, as all new things do. Frustrating but normal.

My reMarkable

In other news, I also bought myself a new piece of equipment that I originally thought would be perfect for the last edits before a draft is ready for copy editing, and it will, but also so much more. It’s basically just a digital notebook – an e-ink screen you can write on and keep your notes organized in. It’s called a “reMarkable“, and it’s very simple, but oh so useful when you don’t want to haul around an inch of printed manuscript to edit (e-ink looks like paper, and the writing surface of this feels like paper too, so it’s a different experience than editing on a backlit screen).

I already have one of my longer novel drafts loaded up and in editing – I can mark it up just like I’d mark up a paper copy, only without having to flip or keep track of separate pages.

Just like a regular notebook, I can also write or draw or whatever in it, so I’ve also got places for blog ideas, notes on drafts and stories in progress, notes for work, business stuff I’m keeping track of…pretty much anything I’d reach for a pad of paper to note down instead of typing it into my laptop or cell. I can and do take small notes on my cell, but the reMarkable is bigger and better organized than the note functions on my cell. Options are good. This option is great, in my opinion.

It would be awesome if I could sell enough books this year to justify the cost. Or even in the next two years. We’ll see.

So, I’m off to a good start, methinks. I just need to figure out how to keep the momentum going long enough to get a few new habits in place. I have a good feeling about these goals, and the new workflow overall…

Are you working on new goals? How’s the momentum so far?


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2020: All About Words

Ah, a new year. Is there anything so soothing to a brain that craves organization than a logical place to take stock of where we’ve been and then make a plan for growth for one more year? I think not, even though I am necessarily starting from behind where I’d like to be. Unfortunately I can’t just drop everything and start over, as much as I’d like to.

But, whereas last year was pretty much all about getting finances in check, this year’s focus is completely different. This year is all about words. Reading them, writing them, publishing them. Steeping in them, as it were.

As always, I have a long list of goals I’d like to work on over the coming year, but three of them have been elevated to “Resolution” status, which means that they get both first priority and my focus even if everything else has to be left behind. Resolutions are the most important goals, as they are the ones I believe will most likely change my life for the better if I complete them.

That said, here are my resolutions for 2020:

1. Set “office hours” for a weekly BSB overview and keep them for at least 45 weeks of the year.
2. Publish a calendar in December 2020 for 2021 that includes 12 flash fiction pieces – one per month
3. Make reading time a priority

The first and third I’ve tried before, and eventually failed at. The second was inspired by a project some other writers are doing coupled by a mass mailing the realtor up the street did for everyone in the neighborhood (I assume – otherwise she really wants us to move) just before Christmas. She’s sent us a calendar for the past few years at Christmas, and next year, I am going to send her one right back. It seems only right to return her kindness, don’t you think? It will make a nice gift for family members too, and of course a good addition to the BSB catalog for sale.

As an added bonus, in order to publish a calendar of flash fiction, I have to actually…you know. Write and edit fiction. So, it’s a good way to motivate myself with a weekly flash fiction piece every Monday to “warm up” after a weekend off writing.

As for reading time…well, I’ve let other things encroach on that to a point where even the 15 – 20 minutes I was doing before bed last year has been “eaten up” by my trying to get more wriing/editing time in after the house is quiet. I haven’t been reading comic books in the morning so they’re piling up again, and my “TBR” (to be read) list is insanely huge, both in print and digital backlogs.

The thing about writing is, you really do need to be reading too, in order to keep that creative well topped off. I’ve let things like writing/editing time encroach, but also gaming time and other times when I have a few minutes and I could be reading, but I scroll facebook or something instead.

I love reading. I miss reading. And I’m getting back to it, starting asap. I have a definitive plan for reading times and will make it a point not to let those times be co-opted for other things. I do not have a specific number of books or list I need to stick with, because it’s not about how many or which books I read, but rather just that I keep reading daily.

Which leaves us with the dedicated office hours. This sort of thing was so much easier when we only watched network TV. I can’t even tell you how much work I got done durimg commercial breaks, whether it was writing, editing, cover art, blurbs, uploading…it was a *lot* of work. Without commercials most nights (we still watch some network TV, just not nearly as often), those “work breaks” are gone, and I think I’m possibly the only person to actually miss them.

In any case, in order for this to work, I knew I needed to define “BSB Overview” specifically, because without concrete, actionable tasks to complete, I will flounder for what I need to do when I sit down, and not do things that really need to be done (which defeats the whole purpose of the weekly overview). So I made myself a specific list of things I need to do during my weekly overview. After those tasks are done, I can keep working or not, but that list is my bare minimum to count as “one week” of office hours. The tasks include things like checking sales numbers, updating accounting, scheduling a minimum of one social media post per account for the week, making a list of potential blog post topics (not writing them, mind you – just coming up with topics), and picking a book to update over the next week or so. A lot of my books are older, and the covers and blurbs need to be updated (the covers were done when size requirements were different, so I really do have to completely redesign those, per the distributor I use – it’s not optional if I want my books to stay available for sale).

That is the biggest, and possibly hardest resolution I have, but it’s also going to be the most important, as doing that will keep the business moving forward and also force me to stay engaged with the business side of writing – which is important if I want to actually keep publishing. I’ve given myself a buffer – I have to hit 45 weeks out of 52, so I can miss 7 weeks out of the year. Vacation, being sick, major holiday….whatever. But only seven. I think that should be easily doable.

So that’s what I’m focusing on this year, and I’m optimistic. I know for a fact that if I can do all three of these things this year, I will be both a better writer and a more engaged publisher by the end of the year, and I’ll have established some excellent habits to take forward with me (much like the financial habits I established last year).

And now, it’s time to go read before bed. Happy New Year, and if you have goals you’re trying to reach, I wish you motivation, determination and perseverance in the coming months!


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2019 in Review

Ah, the end of another year. No, I’m not going to do an entire decade in review, because frankly, my personal timelines tend to get all tangled up in my head after a year or so, and something that happened 20 yrs ago feels like it happened last week, and another thing that happened a month or two ago feels like it’s been over for years. Honestly, I wouldn’t even know how to get 10 yrs worth of “life” straight in my head, much less on paper. Things happen. We learn stuff, do stuff, and hopefully keep moving forward.

I do know that I published my first book and established Brazen Snake Books in 2010. So that was pretty significant, I guess. Speaking of which, I really need to update that cover and blurb…

In any case, last year, I had three major resolutions to work on (and a lot of smaller goals). The big three were:

1) Pay off one major and 2 minor lines of credit
2) Institute a one-paycheck waiting period for all unnecessary, un-budgeted purchases
3) Publish two books

Finances were very much at the forefront of my mind because I’d just done some major overspending, I was way behind on my “normal” bills, and I was very much aware that I really needed to get a handle on both my spending, and the lackadaisical way I’d been handling money.

I’m happy to say, I did get myself in gear, got tough with myself, did my weekly budgeting whether I wanted to or not, and completed those first two resolutions. It was frustrating and annoying a lot of the time, and as soon as I finished paying off those particular credit lines, I was hit with a whole host of dog-related medical bills I had to pay, and then dental work I had to have done, so that was even more frustrating/annoying (because I was on a roll, dang it, and wanted to keep paying stuff off!). But, even though I’m operating closer to my personal margins than I’d like, I’m in a much better financial place this year, with money set aside to be invested when I have the time and a tiny bit of savings (which I haven’t had in a long while), so…those were very worthwhile goals, and I’m still very much motivated to pay several more credit lines off this next year. Which should be interesting because we’re actually taking a vacation in the fall (like, a fly-out-of-state vacation), but we’ll figure it out.

The last goal was an ultimatum to myself to either “publish or perish”, so to speak. I really, really struggled with writing time for the first three quarters of the year. At the moment (and by “moment”, I mean “moment relative to the rest of my life”) my schedule…my life is just not really conducive to sitting down and composing/typing a bunch of words late at night (and there is no other time…oh man, did I try to find another time). I can’t think well enough early in the morning, and my brain was done being creative about three hours before when I sit down late at night after everyone else has gone to bed and the house is finally quiet enough that I can think.

I really thought I was going to have to consign this one to the “perish” bin, as in, don’t bother publishing anymore until after I retire. If I can’t get a first draft down, there’s nothing to edit, and ultimately, nothing to publish. It all starts with the draft.

Late this fall, I decided to try one more thing: dictation. I figured I’m awake and alert in my car, I’m alone, I can have it quiet, and I’m often thinking about story lines or things that would make a great story while I’m driving. I honestly didn’t think it was going to work, because while I talk to myself, I don’t generally “dictate” stories or tell them out loud, and it was exceedingly weird the first couple of times I tried it. But I reminded myself that no one else was listening (and who cares if the other drivers think I’m nuts), and that no one else ever needed to listen to the audio version – the whole point is to dictate and let the program transcribe the dictation, which I can then edit into something readable.

I can edit even when my brain is tired. Editing is much easier than drafting – it’s all critical voice, and that is what my brain is best at – being critical and fixing things. It can do that sort of thing in its sleep (and often does). So the more I dictated, the more comfortable I got with it, and I found that while I struggled hard to come up with even 250 new words late at night, I could dictate a thousand or more in the car just in 2-3 fifteen minute trips to work and back! And then when I uploaded the transcripts at night, I could sit down and edit, a task that wasn’t nearly as much of a struggle late at night after a full workday.

It’s a lot more work to write this way – because the transcription has to be edited into a “first draft”, and then a second round of actual editing to get it ready for copy-editing. But I can do it with the time and energy I have available, when I have them available, and it feels good to be making forward progress on stories again. I’ve written more in the last quarter of 2019 than I have in a long time, thanks to dictation.

So no, I didn’t publish any books this year, though I did write and edit a flash fiction story to send off with my Christmas cards. But I am going to keep writing and have a goal to publish some books next year, and maybe get this whole writing business back on track. I’m optimistic, to be sure.

As for my smaller goals, I got a few of them done, but I never put in place the infrastructure I needed to really be successful with them. I need to make calendar reminders and routines and in some cases, buy something small to make the goal easier. This year, I’m doing that.

More on that in tomorrow’s post on resolutions and goals for 2020.

Happy New Year’s Eve!

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Goals Report & Vacation Days

The frustrating thing about goals is not being able to just jump in and get the changes done all at once.

That being said, I’ve taken some pretty big strides in working towards my resolutions in the past couple of weeks, and considering pretty much everything takes more time to organize the first time than it does to keep up, I think I’m doing pretty well.

Of course I’m behind on my normal stuff (*ahemthisblogandthedogblog*), but once I get the initial set-up done and the new routines in place, everything should go a lot more smoothly. I’m pretty confident in saying it will, actually. I’ve thought it through and broken it down so that I know exactly what steps I need to take for success, so the only thing standing in my way would be…me. As usual.

Sometimes this overclocked brain does come in handy. When it’s not driving me nuts, anyways.

In any case, I went nuclear on the Brazen Snake Books site a couple of weeks ago, and I just finished rebuilding all the book pages and getting the newsletter sign-up back online. With any luck, there will be a new blog post up over there later today as well, and I need to make some new graphics next for marketing. It’s not difficult, just time-consuming, and I’m organizing a couple of book launches for authors working with BSB as well, so there’s a lot to be done. But I’m happy to report that my Friday late-night office hours are really paying off, and I think it will be completely sustainable for the long run, which is a relief. There’s a lot of business-y stuff I’m behind on, so it will take awhile to catch up, but those dedicated hours every week are going to be a godsend. And they save me some free time on the weekends too, so I don’t have to stress over what BSB stuff I should be doing when I *need* to clean the house and have some down time. The BSB site will be easy enough to maintain after all this clean-up/reorganization, as long as I keep up with it. Which I’ll be able to with the Friday night scheduled hours. I wish I’d thought of that years ago.

As far as my other goals go, I plugged several new tasks into my weekend routines, and it’s going well. My feet have been pedicured twice now (and are in much, much better shape already), my makeup brushes are clean and soft for the first time in…well, longer than I care to admit, the inch-thick layer of makeup/dust has been removed from my makeup vanity, my kitchen sink is clean on one side, and my tea center is cleaner/more organized as well (and getting better maintenance). I’ve also started doing push-ups, sit-ups and squats just after my nightly cleaning time and before I sit down to write. This is a twofer, really, because I’m building muscle mass, and also waking my brain up just a bit, which makes it easier to write that late at night. Major win there!

I’m taking this week off from work – today is a federal holiday anyways, and tomorrow is my birthday (which I always take off, because why not?). And since I’ve already discovered that unstructured staycations do not work well for me, I’m planning my days out to get the rest of my “prep work” done for my resolutions so I can just move forward with the new routines from then on out. I’m also planning some extra writing sessions to jump-start the drafts I have in progress and get back into the daily writing “zone”. It’s gonna be a good week, and so far, it’s off to a great, relaxing start.

And yes, I have some hobby-stuff I plan to work on this week as well. Like finally finishing the Haunted Dollhouse miniature mystery I started before Christmas and never quite got back to. That will be my main project on Tuesday, and I can’t wait! Then there’s my TBR comic book pile, and the US Postal Service has a new cataloging app for stamps that I intend to download and start putting my US stamp inventory into. About time they came out with an app for that!

I got some new Smurfs for my birthday, so I need to do some organizing in the blue realm as well to find spots for them. We’ll see if I get to that or not.

I’m planning writing sessions in the afternoons as well as my normal late-night sessions in hopes of making great strides on my current fiction draft, which is pretty exciting too, and should also help me get that daily writing habit well established again.

So, lots to do, but all stuff I *want* to do, and rarely have time for. Onward!

2015 in Review

Normally today’s post is when I’d go back to my 2015 resolutions and see how I did (okay, normally I’d have done that Monday, but last weekend got away from me yet again – funny how they do that). I’m posting the link there so you can go back if you want, but the year got derailed almost as quickly as it started, and just spiraled right out of control from then on out. I had challenges in pretty much every part of my life, and I’m annoyed but not too proud to admit that I didn’t deal with them nearly as well as I should have. In any case, I’m not going to go back point by point on last year’s resolutions, because it seems…pointless, given the year I’ve had.

But, water under the bridge. I learned a lot, made some pretty significant changes, and kept going, which is ultimately all any of us can really do.

I also started three serial novels in newsletters that are not, and will not be finished. To those who may have actually been reading along, I apologize for that. It was a great idea, poorly timed, that got caught up in an existential writing crisis of sorts, and while I could go ahead and force myself to finish those stories, I’m not going to. In fact, I’m leaving behind serialization altogether in the new year, as well as several other writing projects that I was working on for the wrong reasons.

As a matter of fact, I don’t plan to publish any of the stories I wrote in 2015. They weren’t wasted, by any means – in fact, all three are very significant in the fact that each of them revealed something very important to me about myself as a writer and the direction I want to move in as far as storytelling goes. Some hard decisions came with those realizations, but I think it’s definitely a step in the right direction.

I kicked off last year with a new tattoo – my first in 13 yrs or so. You wouldn’t think you could learn much from getting an image inked into your skin, but I got two more tattoos as the year went on, and I actually did learn a lot about myself, and who I have been vs. who I want to be in the process. The last one especially was very…defining for me, and even a relief, in a way.

My job has changed over the past year too – “evolved”, if you will. I make a point not to talk much about specifics of my job or the people I work with online (for obvious reasons), but as difficult as it was there for awhile, I end the year very contented/satisfied with what I’m doing and the environment I’m in.

In my personal life, I did a lot of things wrong last year. But the biggest “sin” was putting my obligations (most often self-appointed) above my personal needs. I spent a lot of time resenting all sorts of different things, and way too much time trying to decide how to deal with it all rather than just…well, dealing with it all. It took a week-long “vacation” just this past month to get my head screwed back on straight, and as annoyingly enlightening as it was, it really clarified things for me and allowed me the “reset” I desperately needed. Hopefully I can carry those lessons through the next year and not let things get so mentally “out of hand” again.

Surprisingly, the key to prioritizing/managing my personal life has simplified itself through the menu “plan/system” I adopted this past fall (the only one I’ve ever managed to follow for more than a week or so). Odd how inspiration comes from the strangest of places, isn’t it?

In any case, the year is basically over, and I’m ready for the new one to start. Onward to 2016!

2015 – The Resolutions Post

If you’ve been hanging with me long, you know I’m a pretty devout resolutionist (and if you didn’t, now you know). I don’t get all the backlash with regards to making resolutions…because resolving to do something is merely making a goal to do that thing, nothing more, nothing less. I’ll be successful with some of them, and some not so much, but even those I’m not successful at will give me something to think about at the end of the year, and help me to refine my goals going forward.

I spent the better part of December working on my list for 2015, mainly because I always over-reach, and while that’s fine, I wanted to really refine the list this year and only include things that are definitely doable. So I’ve been going back and forth among my daily/weekly to-do lists, my proposed writing/publishing schedule and my proposed resolutions, refining, re-organizing, paring back, and in some cases, adding in. It’s not something I take lightly – I ultimately want to give myself the best chance possible for success, and to do that, I need to make realistic goals that will fit with my schedule and the time/energy I have available.

At the same time, I do *want* to overreach a little, just to push myself and make it just a little challenging. If you’re not being challenged, you’re not growing…and stagnation is the enemy of life.

All that said, here’s the list I’ve come up with for this year, with a few explanatory notes added as to why/how I plan to work on certain items.


Personal 

– Journal weekly: To get anything I might be stressing/obsessing over out of my head, so I’m less distracted overall (mental health).
– Monthly mail exchange: To further my stamp collecting hobby, and rediscover the more personal connection of snail mail and short, hand-written notes.
– Go hiking (summer): For better health, and to broaden perspective/stay connected to the natural world.
– Dedicated weekly hobby time: I’ve learned to do this over the past year, but with the higher emphasis on writing/publishing this year, it needs to be on the list so I don’t let that part of my life slide. Important for mental health. 

Writing

– Write better books: By which I mean, keep working consciously to make my writing better with each draft I start (don’t let myself fall into a rut just because my writing schedule is quite challenging this year)
– Maintain a more disciplined writing/working habit: 2k words per day, 5 days per week, or at least 10k words per week, no matter how that shakes out (my normal output is around 800 – 1200 words per day now).
– Release a book or collection every other month: I had very few releases in 2014, and my sales reflect that. One of the best ways to stay visible is to publish often. 

Publishing/Sales

– Monthly newsletters: Often touted as the absolute best way to keep in touch with readers and keep book sales steady, this is something I’ve been incredibly lazy about, because I feel newsletters should have some content other than just “hey, I have a new book out – go buy it!”. Yes, this is perfectionism, but I think in this case, it has merit. So I’ve devised a plan to give newsletter subscribers new, original, exclusive content every month, which will add to my release list at the end of the year.
– Weekly blog posts for author blogs & writing blog: I’m already doing this for two of my author blogs (this one and my Alex alter-ego), but I’d like to get a weekly post going on the Trinity blog as well, and also at The Drafting Desk for writers/writing-related posts).
– Adopt the donation/patronage model for web site downloads for the whole of 2015: All books except new releases will be available at the BSB site for whatever price the reader wants to donate, or nothing at all. This is a carrot, both to draw readers to the BSB site regularly, and also to give those who may not be able to afford regular price for my books a way to get them for what they can afford, even if that’s free. Also, to entice people to try my work in the hope that if they like it, they’ll pay for the next one. This will be the *only* place to get my books for free or discounted prices, and I’ll be revisiting my pricing structure through the other distribution sites (ie, prices will probably be going up on the other sites). I’ll revisit this at the end of the year to determine whether it was a successful experiment or not. 


If you peeked at last year’s list from yesterday’s post, you’ll see that this one is quite a bit smaller…and that’s by design. There are more things I’d like to work on throughout the year, but only those that I’ve given top priority are actually included as resolutions. I have a few day job resolutions too, but those aren’t relevant here (and don’t need to be online).

So those will be my priorities this year…and with any luck (okay, more just a lot of hard work and focus), my book sales will be on the rebound by this time next year, and I’ll be a better writer, as well as in good shape physically/mentally. A lofty goal, to be sure, but certainly worthwhile.

Are you a resolutionist, or do you prefer to just see where life takes you and call it good? If you do make goals/resolutions for the year, what is your biggest one for 2015?