The Sunday Circle: The Smurf Haired Girl Vs The Depressive Episode

[For those not in the know, Peter M. Ball hosts the Sunday Circle on his blog every week, which you should know because you should honestly be stalking his blog by now. This is my response to his questions.]

 

This week didn’t go well. I had PLANS- the sort that needed to happen, the sort that have been struggling to happen with a move and a bunch of drama associated with it. Last week was to be the week I got back on track. I wanted to get to today’s post triumphant and maybe just a teensy bit smug about it all.

The problem, of course, was that I was so busy plotting my triumphant return to getting shit done that I missed the rather obvious issue: I was stacking the deck against myself. If you look at my post from last week, you’ll see it’s the queen of the big-ass to do lists. It’s ridiculous.

And it should have been a glaring neon sign that I was about to be in bad brain territory. Whenever I’m about to struggle, my body lets me know in advance with a random flurry of preparation. Like extreme nesting, I try to do as much as possible so that while I’m feeling like shit, I can at least tell myself that I’m not screwing anything up overly much.

The week started off well. I was focused, I was there. And though the problems I was tackling were breaking my brain and taking forever, I was seeing progress. And then… I wasn’t. There were distractions galore stealing my time, and frustrations that honestly need to be dealt with, and then I fought with someone I adore, and spent two days curled under a doona, freezing my ass off and getting increasingly frustrated that my body’s way of dealing with massive amounts of conflict and stress is with shock symptoms for days afterwards.

So my achievements became ‘I did some writing work’ and ‘I kinda just gave up on getting the fucking blog formatting right this week and decided that’ll do, pig’. That’s… that’s pretty much it. I got a few writing jobs done, and it seems they were well received (I got a charming text from someone I reviewed that absolutely fucking made my day), and I stuck my pride to the sticking place and tried to resolve the big horrible fight of bullshittery when, let’s be honest, I’d have rather just pretended nothing ever happened, because resolution runs the risk of more conflict and more days stuck hiding under doonas unable to do a gorram thing beyond listen to my ‘Depression: The Musical’ playlist and wishing coffee made itself.

So because my headspace is still far too close to shitty territory for my liking, this week, I’m approaching it from a much different- much smarter- direction. I’m scaling back. I’m trying a new rule: one thing daily for my business, and one thing daily for me. That way, on the good days, I can throw more into my day, and on the bad days, I can do the absolute minimum and not feel like a total screw up.

What am I working on this week? Mostly the writing adjacent stuff. I need to get the distractions sorted- the problem with living with a chronic procrastinator when I’m pretty damn good at procrastinating myself is how easily it turns into both of us getting to the end of the day, having done not a fucking thing. That can’t keep happening. Boundaries must be set and enforced.

The collaborative review blog I made, Reviewers of Oz, still needs work. But it’s going to be part of a blog tour for an author’s novel release in mid April, and that needs to be a massive priority. If I can do that well, it’s a damn good way to start moving from ‘new, shitty blog’ towards ‘new, but kinda sorta professional and accepted’ blog, and I want that.

I’m reviewing A Rock & Roll Writers Festival next weekend, which should be a hell of a lot of fun, and a good chance to learn more and chat to some writers and artists I haven’t gotten to meet before. And I’ll need a couple of reviews written for it and delivered by close of business Monday. Doable.

Other than that, I want to get back to writing 2k a day (made easier because Camp Nanowrimo starts next month, which is an ass kicking to get it done, at least), and reading for an hour. For the most part, these are my ‘one a day’ goals.

What’s inspiring me? To be honest, the blind panic that happens when I realise I’ve fucked up; that I’ve missed the glaring warning signs that shit isn’t going well when I know damn well I need to be vigilant. This time, I was really lucky. It didn’t last as long as it could have before I was able to drag myself out of the blue mood. But part of my business plan as a freelancer has to be taking care of myself, and minimising these moments. So figuring out how to pay better attention clearly has to be a priority.

What am I avoiding? The world, maybe? I’m avoiding the part where I have to sit people down and say, ‘as much as I love spending time with you, we can’t keep just hanging out all day. Both of us have stuff to do, and I need to make things happen in a way that isn’t possible when we’re doing this.’ I hate the very idea of that, because it means putting my stuff ahead of someone else’s, and the implication that my work is more important than talking to them about the stuff happening in their world makes me feel like twenty shades of asshole. Which, it shouldn’t. I know that if I was giving a friend advice, I’d be telling them to set that boundary. I’d be telling them that if after weeks of talking it out, nothing’s changing, than continuing those conversations isn’t going to be helpful. That it’s never a bad thing to prioritise your life, and your goals.

Now I just need to get my overly anxious, people pleaser brain on board with that.

Ugh.

The Sunday Circle: A Reckoning

It’s… it’s been a while since I’ve done this, gentle reader.

The utterly kick-ass wonder, Peter M. Ball, has a weekly Q&A opp over at Man Vs Bear, asking 3 simple questions. I’ve been meaning to answer these weekly for a while now. No, really, there are drafts and everything.

So here’s me, sheepishly creeping back into the routine.

What are you working on this week?
Too freakin’ much. Nobody should be shocked at this point. I’m trying to get the review blog live, finally, after a kabillion irritating setbacks. It means figuring out how to set it out, and… yeah. Not my happy place.

I’m also trying to get back into a writing habit, because the move last month absolutely destroyed my focus, and my ability to get anything done. I need to get back on track with the music challenge, and Smart People Talking, too. I’m still trying to catch up on the reviews owing, because, again, moving house sucks heartily.

And I’m trying to wrap my head around how much writing I need to get done this year to keep up with all the longer form projects I’m involved in. You know that moment when you start thinking you’ve maybe bit off more than you can chew, but you decide to try and choke it down anyway because what’s the worst that could happen? 

Yeah. That’s me.

What is inspiring you at the moment?
The new project is a lot of fun, and getting to bounce ideas off someone is awesome. The idea of learning in a more hands-on way about the industry is equal parts brilliant and terrifying.

Being somewhere with minimal internet and zero TV means having to actually write or read, which is great for productivity. Or it will be, when I can get my brain up and running properly.

What part of your project are you trying to avoid?
Designing the review blog. Because Jesus-freakin-Christ, that’s the part I hate. Have you seen how shittily basic this blog is? For whatever reason, whenever I try and trudge my way through the design stuff, I just… my brain just does not compute wtf needs to be done to make it all suck less.

I want it to look good. Professionally casual, I suppose? It’s a bunch of people wanking lyrical about books, nothing academic or overly serious, but I don’t want it to look like some 13 year old’s dear diary, either. But easy af to navigate, and no stupid poppy-uppy mofo asking for people to subscribe or whatever before they’ve even gotten to look at the blog. Because those things are the devil’s work.

And I need to figure out how to (cheaply, because sudden unexpected move means all hail the poverty for a while) make sure that the authors are credited properly. One of the sites I freelance for has the owners name show up on the links, so it essentially credits her for everyone’s work until you click the link and read down. I 100% don’t want to do that. But I don’t know enough to not do that, and this is why this part of the project has been summarily ignored. Like, I need to have one person uploading, because everyone is busy af and it’s easier just to have one person scheduling things than everyone trying to. But I want everyone’s work immediately and clearly credited to them. And I have no idea how to explain that in a way that someone who knows how to fix the problem is understanding.

Honestly, we’re all speaking English, but we’re speaking vastly different languages right now. I hates it, precious.

Also? The writing. Mostly because I’m just a tad overwhelmed by the sheer volume of things I need to get done, and my brain is just kinda looking like Sam Neil when he first sees a dinosaur:

dafuq is that dinosaur doing there

 

Fail. Fail Better.

At the beginning of the year, I set myself an ambitious, but not entirely unreasonable challenge: 2,000 words of writing every day for the year. Which sounds kinda cruisy until you do the math: that’s 730,000 words in a year.

…That’s a big number.

I kicked ass in January, and came close to hitting 1/7th of my goal in the first month of the year. February? Not so much. Life became about the stress of the move, big time. If you’ve ever had minimal money and maximum need for accommodation in Brisbane (or anywhere with unreasonably high rent)… you know what it’s like.  2k a day became ‘get your work done and survive’.

It’s hard getting back into the swing of writing. Even with so small a break, it feels like the muscle memory has died off in the weeks I’ve been freefalling and focused elsewhere.

The voice of anxiety is booming that it’s doomed- how can I catch up? To be back on track means getting another 86k written this month. That’s a big ask with a sprained finger I’m meant to be resting.

Shall I give you a moment to get the dirty jokes out of your system?

crowley is bored
I’m waiting…

We good to continue? Lovely. No, it wasn’t doing anything fun. It was hauling stuff around. And now every time I use it to hit a key (or turn on a light, or use my phone… or…) it reminds me, rather painfully, that I need to cut that shit right out this instant. I want to write, but I also kinda want the pain to stop, too.

So how do you get back on track when it feels like that goal lives on the impossible end of the spectrum? You learn to fail better. I managed about 13k last month. I doubt I’ll make 100k this month to compensate, and that’s okay, even though in this moment anything less than 100k feels like an epic kind of fail. I’m already at 14k- I’ve already beat last month’s word count in two days of work. Instead of saying ‘I must hit 100k’, let’s say 70k- about 10k more than my set monthly target. If I add that little bit extra each month, boom. I’m caught up by the end of the year. It still feels like a bit of a failure, because I’m rocking the anxiety girl chic right now, but it’s failing better than last month, at least.

It’s not always about the massive instant fix. Sometimes, slow and steady is the better option.

Goals and Life

Last month, life went fairly well. Rocked the fiction writing goals, made progress on a bunch of stories- things went so well I blasted past my original word count target by 30k-ish.

I rocked it like a hurricane.

This month? Not so much.

I’m frantically house hunting, which, if you’ve ever tried to find affordable, pet friendly, public transport accessible housing in Brisbane, you’ll know it’s the mental equivalent of stabbing yourself in the arm, over and over every single day, hoping that this time it won’t hurt as much. Funnily enough, that doesn’t help get things done.

At the same time, I’m packing, or trying to. It’s a slow process to try and find all the little bits that have gone awry over the last year, especially when you work from home and actually have to… y’know, get that work done. It’s even more fun to be trying during a heatwave, in a house without air con or fans, with three cats demanding regular attention.

In ye olde worldy days, when I was young and stupid, I asked writers- a lot- how they managed to make it all work. I mean, let’s be honest: life is a shit storm sometimes. How does anyone get anything done in that?

And almost every single writer trotted out that painful line ‘if you value it, you’ll do it’. Which, let’s be honest, is the sort of privileged, hunk of shit answer that sounds like it’s given to them along with the publishing contract in a cheesy ‘how to’ guide style format. I’m gonna be honest: as soon as anyone says it, I assume the biggest issue they’ve ever faced is a slightly sore toe. Maybe a vague sense of unease that lasted about five minutes.

I tend to roll my eyes and look for someone slightly more real and relatable to talk to.

You can value the hell out of something, and still not be able to give it the attention it needs or deserves. The truth is that sometimes, life is gonna kick you in the crotch, and you’re gonna need to rest instead of forcing your way through the pain to the other side. Sometimes, other things need to be of higher value in your life. Like not being homeless. Or not having to replace a bunch of stuff at the worst possible time. There are gonna be times when you write like it’s the easiest thing in the world, and there are gonna be times when every word feels like you’re dragging it kicking and screaming from a tar pit and trying to scrub it clean while it tries to rip your arms off. That’s pretty damn time consuming.

My goal this month was 52-ish thousand words. I’ve just passed 12k. And, honestly? That’s okay. That’s actually pretty damn phenomenal, given the circumstances. Instead of focusing on the lost 40k, I’m focusing on the found 12.

The more stress I throw at myself to get it done, to try and write 40k and pack and move and house hunt and…and…and… the more I’m going to struggle. The more I try to play catch up, the more I throw guilt into the mix, the more impossible it’ll feel, and the quicker I’ll give up. Guilt kills creativity.

So instead, I’m kicking back and relaxing. I’m saying it’s totally fine that there will be months where I get nothing much done. It happens. Life goes on. 12k is infinitely worthy of celebration in a month like this.

Hell, 10 words in a month like this? Still a number to be proud of. Surviving the month without getting a single word down would have been worthy of celebration.

Sometimes, where you’re at is enough. Sometimes, you need to put down the goals you’re beating yourself to death with, and accept that next month will be better.

Progress, not perfection, right?

Habits and Challenges

I’ve been blog-stalking Peter M. Ball for basically forever at this point. And for just as long, I’ve read his conversations around organising and understanding your writing habits, and figured that was something for people way, way smarter than me.

It’s been easy to shit all over that idea that writers can actually own their writing habits, and take charge of their writing. After all, we’re meant to be chasing that ever elusive muse, right? If you’re not waiting for inspiration to rain down upon you like glitter, you’re not really a writer, right??

Writers, like all creatives, have some bullshit ideas hidden in the nooks and crannies of their career goals, both in terms of the art and business of being creative, and in terms of our personal ability to rise to the challenges that show up. I am rife with silly ideas (did you notice that bit about me not being smart enough, because hi, that’s a RIDICULOUS idea). And Peter is 100% right when he says the best way to write more, and better, is to get those stupid ideas out of your gorram skull. Like Van Gogh saying ‘If you hear a voice within you say ‘you cannot paint’, then by all means paint and that voice will be silenced’, but with more of a ‘sit your ass down and write, dammit’ vibe. 

Peter M. Ball is the snarky, grumpy as hell older brother I never knew I needed, and if you don’t read his blog, you really, really, really need to. NEED. TO.

So, here’s the thing: this year, I’ve decided to actually try Peter’s suggestion of setting actual, achievable goals, monitoring how much I write each day, and how long it’s taken me to get it done.The glorious Matthew J. Hellscream and Melanie Edmonds both pointed me towards the word trackers they use- pay as you like arty, gorgeous spreadsheets by Svenja Gosen. And while, let’s be honest, I struggled to choose between the Black Widow, Winter Soldier, and Peggy Carter art, I finally settled on some girl power, and got the hell to work. I’m still getting the hang of this monitoring business, but so far? Wow. The shift in my focus and motivation has been staggering.

Remember: up until this point, I’ve been a sporadic writer of fiction, with massive goals and no sense that I’m anywhere near achieving them. There’s a reason I talk about my writing in terms of gamboling about like a hyperactive bunny.

My 2017 challenge is 2k a day. I know I can hit that target if I try, without it being too painful- I hit almost that amount daily during Nanowrimo, so kicking it up a few hundred extra words daily isn’t that big a deal. It’s a low-ball number for me, given the numbers I can hit during The Rabbit Hole (which makes me feel guilty because most of my friends average about 1k daily, and I’m still learning how to not feel guilty about shit like that).

And what I’m realising is that the more I sit my ass in a chair and write, the less time it takes to reach that 2k. There’s some room to wiggle here- if I’m having a terrible, horrible, no-good, very bad day, then it’s like pulling teeth that have been cemented into place. Same if I’m overtired, not feeling well, or working on transcription work. But when I’m writing fiction, and I’m in a good mental and physical space- boom. Done. I can churn out 2k in the hour and a bit before my flatmates get up of a morning, all the while playing with my ridiculously attention-seeking cat. And then, in the teensy spare moments of the day, I write a little bit more.

The more I do it, the easier it gets. I know writers say that a lot. But until now, I didn’t understand that it wasn’t just one if those shitty things people say because everyone else says it.

With 2k a day, the overall goal is 730,000 words. Which is, let’s be honest, a gorram terrifying number to see staring you down from the top of a tracking sheet. It’s not much better when you break it down to the monthly goals: the goal amount for January was 62,000 words.

But here’s the thing I honestly didn’t get until I started this challenge: it piles up, far quicker than I thought it would. And that’s true even though there’s been days this month where I haven’t written a damned thing. Even with those gaps, on the days I’ve written, I’ve yet to have a day where I’ve hit 2k exactly, and stopped. There’s always been a few hundred words more. Or a thousand. Or, y’know, way more.

Participating in The Rabbit Hole at my local writers centre threw 40k into the mix in three days. Even with a few days of not writing at all, I’ve well and truly kicked past that original goal. Yesterday, I decided that I was close enough to 90k that I might as well bump it up to there. Today, having blasted past that goal, I’ve decided to try for 100k.

Or, to put it another way: after one month of sitting my ass down and focusing, I’ve written more useful words in the span of a month than I did in the whole of 2016. That scares me a little.

Partly, it’s scary because holy shitballs, how much time have I wasted and how much more prolific would I have been with some gorram disclipine? Partly it’s because I know those are the kind of figures that will not be sustainable. I’m having fun now, and my brain (other than the Rabbit Hole days) hasn’t been exhausted by this effort, but I know these are not the numbers I’ll be pulling every month. Which is scary, because my brain needs constant reminders that this isn’t going to last and that’s totally, completely okay.

By the end of the month, I should be just shy of 1/7th of my way through my yearly goal. Which, wow. I don’t even know what to do with that information, right?

But, yes, basically, this is me:

james-spader-boston-legal-2

 

 

Symbolism and Protest

There’s protests happening globally at the moment, arguing against the latest US President. We all know it, I’m not going to yammer on here about the politics of it all.

What I am gonna do is show you this:

captain-america
Image courtesy cspan.com

If you’re a Marvel fan, you might have noticed a little something off towards the upper right corner. A Captain America shield.

If you take away the new iteration of Hydra!Cap, and look at the old school Steve Rogers, Captain America is a symbol of what America aims to be. He’s kind, he’s brave, he’s heroic- he believes in truth, justice, and liberty, and knows that he has to defend those rights. Not just for rich white guys, but for everyone. He does what is right, not what is easy, he respects other people and their beliefs (up until those beliefs cause harm to others, at least). In the words of MCU Steve: he hates bullies. And he’ll stand up to them every single time he encounters them because to not do so is, to his mind, as bad as siding with that bully.

If you’ve ever wondered whether stories have power, this pic is a bit of evidence for the ‘hell yes’ list. For a lot of people, that fictional shield is a rallying cry to step up and be better, to stand up for what’s right even when it hurts to do it. Even if you have to sacrifice to build your better world. That rallying cry transcends gender, religion, race- it’s an open armed call, rather than a way to exclude others or tell them they’re less important than a particular group.

How freakin’ brilliant is that?

 

Ringing in the new

The story goes that there’s magic in the stroke of midnight. It’s always true, because it’s always a fresh start, but it’s even more profoundly powerful in the moment one year dies and another begins. It’s a new beginning, of sorts, but mostly, it’s a reminder that you can decide how the coming day- or the coming year- is spent.

NYE is a ritual. Even if only through the power of alcohol and exploding things, we farewell the old, ring in the new, and chase away the demons of the past with enough blaring pop songs, rock classics, and gunpowder to startle even the heartiest of metaphorical evildoer.

Over the years, the story changed. That thing you do at midnight became the thing you’ll get joy from for the rest of the year. Kissing the one you love? Well, clearly, you’ll have a happy and loving relationship for another year. Surrounded by friends? Obviously, they’ll be there for you for the coming year.

Throughout their year, the pagans held yearly rituals, recommitting themselves to their loved ones, the land around them, their gods. And maybe this idea that we’re binding ourselves to a certain action or emotion for a year stems from that. Or maybe we’re all just hopeless romantics who want to be in the arms of the one we love as we ring in a new year filled with infinite potential.

We all have the power, daily, to make change. We’re all more than capable of deciding what we’ll stand for, and what we’ll accept from those around us. And deep down, we know that every day has the same potential as NYE in terms of recommitting ourselves to our goals, our loves, and our friends and family. But still, it’s nice to have a night of magic once in a while, no?

However you spend your end of year, I hope it’s everything you want it to be and more. Same for the coming year.

Try and stay out of trouble.