Monday, October 17, 2011

Time Management

Time management is essential to win Nanowrimo. Okay, I sneaked in an image of my cat because I learned a lot about time management from him. Notice the pose I drew him in - sacked out sprawled on the floor mysteriously taking up most of the middle of the room even though he's a tenth of my size. He can occupy an adult bed all by himself too.

He spends 2/3 of his life sleeping. He's very good at that. I don't, because I'm human. I spend a great deal of it poking around online, posting on forums, chatting with friends, hanging out on Facebook, playing Facebook games, maybe watching television. Even though I'm disabled and my day job is just Being A Cripple, a great deal of my time goes into these time sinks.

These attractive diversions all become even more tempting during November.

I took up Daily Art again this month. I do this every October, because it helps me prepare for Nanowrimo. It's another online event on LiveJournal. This year it's called Artifest and some of the artists participating have been doing it for several years under its old name, Artsomofo.

The reason I participate in Artifest is that I care about Nanowrimo. I don't worry so much about Artifest. I'm just goofing around. That's okay - what makes it a good thing for my writing is that I start leveraging my time toward creative activity a month in advance. Drawing and sketching is fun.

Every November, I switch my priorities. Drawing and sketching are a reward when the day's scene or chapter is done. I do my writing first and then I do anything else I want to. I will probably keep on with the daily art, now that I've moved to San Francisco I've got more body energy and can manage to do more than one thing in a day. Back in Arkansas, Kansas, Minnesota or Colorado, I could only count on being able to do one thing in a day.

The rest of my time was taken up with that being a cripple thing. If I get too tired from chronic fatigue, I'm not going to write well. If I get a flare and I've got too much pain from the fibromyalgia, I'm not going to write well. If I walked too far and stood too long and wrecked my back, I might not be writing or drawing while I rest up because the pain is too distracting.

So my equivalent of the "job" thing does take up a serious number of hours in the day no matter what else I do. It schedules itself, it's not something I can control. All I can do is plan around it.

You probably have some distractions in your life that are just as hard to control. It's one thing to be virtuous and turn off the television, or not open your browser until you've done the day's words. It's another thing to reschedule your kids when two of them are fighting in the living room and something spilled. You can't just put them in a kennel until December.

You also can't schedule that big customer surge that had you working a 12 hour day at your job. Somewhere in all this you need to be able to sleep too, or you'll wind up writing gibberish and going to work in your pajamas without telecommuting as an excuse. Life happens. The more you want to do something that takes time, the more likely it is for Life Happens to show up in its most unexpected, frustrating and immersive forms.

The only thing you can control in this situation is yourself. You can't make your supervisor stop scheduling extra hours or your kids suddenly become well behaved angels who require no supervision. The best you can do is to plan around them.

It's easier to start that planning in October. So find a good substitute activity like I did with the daily sketching. Maybe you want to put headphones on and take up dancing in your bedroom - that would probably be good for your health. Ease your way into the habit.

Try to make it daily and celebrate it when you succeed. Ignore failed trials as failed trials. Get a box of gold stars and start giving yourself one every day that you keep up your good new habit. Don't try for large blocks of time at first, let it expand naturally. I set the bar low so that I do always succeed.

It counts as daily art for me if I do a two minute gesture sketch of my cat instead of the nice hour of ink and watercolor version I did yesterday. By hanging on and doing two minute gesture sketches on the hard days, I got in a habit that let me expand to an hour or two of painting. I did another painting yesterday too, it took me about four or five hours to finish because I had to really concentrate to master a difficult new medium. The cat painting was an hour-long afterthought. I had already done my daily art by then.

During November, if you only get two minutes to add another sentence or paragraph to your novel, it counts. You wrote that day. You have kept up daily writing.

Daily journal keeping is good as a substitute habit, because it also involves writing and freewriting. It's very easy to get in the flow of griping about what went wrong, celebrating what I did right, laughing about what was funny or grumping about something that annoys me in the news. I can always find something to write about in journal.

That habit is one that keeps my fingers moving on the keys and leads to good ideas for novels, characters or scenes. I don't even count it as a goal any more because it's as much a habit as eating or sleeping. If I don't get to write out what I think of the day, I'm uncomfortable and crabby until I do.

Journal is also a way to track what interferes with your novel writing. You can try different strategies to get time outside your normal everyday tasks when you're home. Some writers thrive on getting up to do the day's words before anyone else is up. Getting up two hours early and quietly typing with writing music on headphones avoids itnerruptions of all kinds. It also makes a good start to the day - you go to work with an accomplishment under your belt and a sense of confidence.

Others write well late at night when everyone else is asleep or at least buried in a video game on their computer. Don't try to outlast a teenager playing video games. He's no better than a doorstop in that state anyway, so you don't need to pay attention to what he's doing. Let him be during November. If that's a grown man, same thing, he's occupied with something that doesn't need your attention so that gives you a serious chunk of writing time.

Make sure whoever the video game addict in your household is knows that you're writing a novel. They may encourage you in order to get uncontested video-game time during November and come to look forward to it as much as you do.

If you're not a pantser, make your substitute habit preparing for the novel. Write up an outline. Do character biographies and character relationship charts. Make organized notes on the history of your world - even if you set it in something like the real world, it has a backstory. Just the town or suburb the action takes place in is an interesting place to explore and write up so that you're not at a loss when you're ready to start the prose. Plan out every scene and chapter so that each day's words during November are a finite assignment like when you were in school.

But if you're a linear organic writer like me, just find something else that's creative and interesting. Create the habits that will give you at least an hour or two of solitude every day next month.

My last bit of advice is for November itself. On the first days of the month, try for a marathon early on. Write as much as you can every day. Don't stop when you get the first day's words. Keep going and try to get in some more. If you keep writing as much as possible every day in that first initial rush, the extra word count will add up to a hefty cushion of "Virtual Days."

I always chart that. I do not stop at 1,667 words. I keep going to two or three thousand even if I'm pacing it daily. That way I can check to see how far ahead I am. Once I have three or four Virtual Days in the can, I can relax about it.

Then if something happens to break my rhythm, whether that's a tough scene that's a stuck point or a health crisis that knocks me out for two days, I'm still ahead.

It's much easier emotionally to coast and stay ahead than it is to force myself to catch up once I fall behind. Catching up takes a lot of grim determination and self sacrifice, will power, forcing myself to do it when I don't feel like it at the moment. But coasting along enjoying it because I'm way ahead and happy about it is effortless. I have momentum.

I've built up the momentum of a faster pace, so if something slows me down, I still probably make at least a regular day's words.

This habit is why I've become an overachiever. Getting in three thousand word days gets me finished before the last day of the month, at least past the official Win of 50,000 words. But hey, I had more story than that. I hit the mark but the book wasn't done. So I kept going to finish the book and it came out to about 90,000 words.

That was my very first Nanowrimo, in 2000. I finished with 90,000 words and some change about four or five days before December. I was one of the early finishers holding a Green Bar waiting for the verifier to come online so I could get a Purple Bar. All because I was so excited about it that every day I coasted on a bigger effort than minimal.

So build up some momentum to carry you past the slow points. Build a good daily habit starting now, so that when you shift gears to writing you've already got the time blocked for it. Quit Facebook games for the duration. They'll still be there in December if you want to play again.

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