A Good Use of Time

I haven’t written much so far this year. Obviously there’s a good reason for that, and I’ve said as much in my weekly writing updates, but I haven’t exactly been forthcoming about what that reason might be. There’s a good reason for that, too. If you follow the blog very closely, you may have figured out the reason for yourself. Or maybe not. If you know me in real life, you almost certainly already know the reason.

Regardless, enough time has passed to leave sufficient ambiguity regarding exact dates, thereby protecting the privacy of all involved, that I feel comfortable revealing the truth at last, here on a public forum.

I’ve made only two prior mentions of V.R. here before. I explained what I meant by “V.R.” one of those times, but it was a small, passing remark.  Here’s where the very close reading comes into play. Longtime readers of this blog will know I refer to my dear son by the identity-concealing epithet “B.T.” So it will not be shocking when I point out again that “V.R.” is the code-name I’ll be using here to refer to his little brother.

That’s right. I’m a daddy. Again. I’m the father of two little boys, now.

So maybe you can start to see why I haven’t had much time for writing. (Incidentally, this is why I gave myself fourteen whole weeks off from writing, when I set my goals for the year, which was the second time I mentioned V.R. In retrospect, I may have been overly optimistic in how much free time I’d have for writing with a new baby in the house.)

It’s not just the baby, mind you. It’s the rest of real-life, too. Like many – probably most – authors and aspiring authors, I have a day-job. A day-job I happen to like. I work on a rather small team in a much larger company. At the beginning of the year, however, that team shrank one person smaller, as a coworker left for a new position at another company.

This has turned out to be quite good for me in professional terms, on balance. I’ve had to step up to the plate, and take on increased responsibilities. I’ve now been involved in more high-profile projects, and I’m playing a bigger role on the team. In time, I believe this increased exposure will lead to professional development opportunities.

But in the short term, it means a significant investment of time at work. Where I used to have relatively free lunch hours, I now regularly work. It has become not uncommon at all for me to work late – one, two, even three or more hours late. All of this eats into time that used to be somewhat available for writing, reading, blogging, and following the blogs of other authors and writers.  Inasmuch as I’m working more, I’m doing those things less.  For all we mortals (and especially the sort into heavy-duty self-help) like to talk of time management, ultimately time management is a zero-sum game.

So this is how my days go: I wake up early… Earlier than I used to because there’s more to be done each morning before I get out the door.  At this point in the day I’m already groggy and tired, because I didn’t get a great night’s sleep the night before.  (Nor the night before that, nor the night before that…)  Because there are now two children, getting ready is somewhat more complicated.  I get out the door a little earlier than I used to.  For now, I’ve taken over primary responsibility for B.T.’s daycare drop-off.  That means I have to build in a little extra commute time each morning.  (Dropping B.T. off at daycare frequently involves reading  a book.)  I still arrive at work about ten to twenty minutes later, on average, than I used to, when I did only a couple drop offs per week.

Most days I get to work already knowing at least one or two things I have to start work on – usually things I didn’t quite wrap up from the day before, sometimes a chance to work on longer term but lower priority projects that get pushed to the side in the hustle and bustle of a normal day. It isn’t long before the rest of my coworkers and my supervisor are in, and then it’s really off to the races. I try to catch breakfast before everyone gets there. But once things really get moving on the day’s work, it’s pretty close to non-stop. I usually work through lunch, eating at my desk. By the time I leave work, on a regular day, it’s a little north of nine hours later. But it’s increasingly common these days that it’s a lot further north of nine hours.

Excepting the extra morning commute time taken to drop B.T. off at daycare, the evening commute is invariably worse than the morning. By the time I get home, my family is sitting down to dinner.  Or sometimes they’ve wrapped dinner up already.  Either way, my evenings often begin by going straight from my car to my kitchen table to eat, and from there to play time.  At this point, I haven’t seen Dear Wife all day save for a hug-and-kiss goodbye in the morning.  The time I’ve spent with B.T. consisted largely of trying to herd him out the door followed by car-driving time (which is not typically the most interactive of times with a few exceptions).  And I pretty much haven’t seen V.R. at all.  So I want to spend time with my whole family, being a good husband and father to them all.  Most days, there isn’t much time for that before it’s time for B.T. to head to bed. 

Bedtime is it’s own lengthy ordeal.  Dear Wife and I mostly take turns, though not evenly, and if I’m not putting B.T. to bed, I’ve got V.R. to care for.  Like his brother before him, V.R. likes being held.  A lot.  If I can manage to put V.R. down, there are dishes to be done and lunches to be made for the next day.  Most of the time, none of that gets done until after B.T. is firmly ensconced in his bed.

By the time all of that is done – and we’ve largely abandonned any pretense of getting any additional house-work done – Dear Wife and I both are thoroughly exhausted.  We’ve both had busy days, and for my part if there was time I missed there that I could’ve been writing, I’m too sleep-deprived to see it.  We take maybe ten or fifteen minutes of downtime to decompress (frequently with chocolate-based assistance)… and then it’s off to bed.

Yet, despite our mutual exhaustion, a truly restful sleep remains elusive, as V.R. makes it known frequently throughout the night that we are terrible parents for starving him.  I mean, it’s been like two hours since he last ate.  We should’ve been on top of that like twenty minutes ago!  The delay is simply unconscionable.  Or at least, that’s what it sounds like he’s saying when you translate his hunger screams into something more polite. 

The morning comes too quickly, and the cycle begins anew.

From the Dark Days to the Light at the End of the Tunnel Part 1

I’ve been wanting to write this post for a while… it’s been sitting in the back of my head for several weeks.  It was actually this post I had in mind when I posted about the titles to my novel projects a couple weeks ago: I knew I was going to write a post updating my “novel history” series of posts from just over a year ago… and I was going to need more convenient names for my novel projects to keep the post straight.

The “Novel History” posts were a series of three posts I did in January/February last year (here, here, and here) that effectively told the story of how I first conceived of “Project SOA #1”, i.e. the novel that I’ve been writing since forever.  If you’re interested in the general history of that novel (and/or interested into some clues as to what that novel is, or was, about – in those older incarnations – I think those posts are an entertainingly written personal history that divulges all of that). 

But I wanted to write a little more about my “dark days” – the days when I did very little writing at all, and the personal disasters that precipitated that productivity decline – and my eventual arrival at a better place.

I mentioned the personal disasters in the third of those three “novel history” links.  What happened was this: five years ago, in the summer of 2006, I had already decided to make my exit from the smallish town where I then lived.  In those days I was also more active than I now am at Church (I’m still active, but I was single and not in school back then, so my free time was significantly greater than it is now), and I was one of the heads of the committee that planned events and activities for the young single adult members of my church.  The big conference of the summer of 2006 was to be my “last hurrah” as I was soon to retire from the business of organizing such activities.  We expected between fifty and a hundred-and-fifty young people from across our rural region to descend on our hub-of-a-small-town for fun, activities, mingling, and, of course, dancing.  Of course, we couldn’t charge much to attend our conference if we wanted to generate a large attendance, so we had to cut cost corners wherever we could.  One big cost target: the music. Continue reading

Creativity is a Finite (and Renewable) Resource

My recent posts on the challenges of being a writer who cannot find the time to write got me thinking.  Particularly, as I contemplated my writer’s journal, a certain reality hit me.

Which is this: I have the notebook as a tool to allow me to write about my ideas during those free moments – those little five or ten or fifteen minute moments – that pop  up even during a busy day.  And I do have those moments – maybe not every day, but several times a week.  And yet, I don’t spend those moments the way I’d like… I don’t write in my notebook.

Is it because I have no ideas I want to write about?  Certainly not!  I have several story ideas that I want to flesh out and prepare for when I have more substantial writing time.  I have novel projects to work on, and short story ideas to contemplate.  And yet, more often than not, I write nothing about these?  Why is that?

I believe I know the answer.

The simple fact is, creativity is a limited, finite resource. Continue reading

Being Prepared for When Lightning Strikes: The Notebook and the Writer’s Journal

Continuing on the theme of being a busy writer with little or no time to write, I wanted to take a moment to talk about my notebook, again.

I first made mention of my notebook back when I first started blogging, over a year ago, and followed that little introduction up with a simple how-to guide on using the tool.

The gist of the idea is this: a simple, easy-to-obtain paper notebook is a great and portable way to keep writing in your busy life even when you’re too busy to actually write.  A notebook is small and easy-to-carry, so you can have it with you no matter where you go.  That means its with you when you catch a break in your day.  It’s with you when you have five minutes or ten minutes or more here or there.  It’s with you when inspiration strikes like a bolt of lightning from the clear blue heavens.

As I commented in my year-old posts, lots of people with more money than I might find a smartphone or other ultra-portable computing device fits this bill better for them.  But hey, we’re struggling writers!  We don’t have money for fancy tech (if drool were money, we’d be all up in that technology, but drool sadly lacks monetary value).  For us, a spiral-bound notebook, Moleskine, or a basic composition book will do the trick. 

That trick being, of course, to take advantage of the rare opportunities to jot down a few notes and tidbits of inspiration when they arise.  But I have a confession to make, in that regard. Continue reading

Staying Motivated When You Can’t Write

Let’s say you’re a writer.  (I’m a writer.)  Let’s say you love to write; nay, you live to write.  Telling stories, it’s part of who you are.  You’ve been doing it since you can remember (I have), or maybe you’ve picked it up recently and it’s infected every fiber of your being.  Maybe you get the occasional recognition for your efforts – no major awards or publications, just the odd nod of the hat – or maybe you’ve yet to make a splash of any size.  Put short, you’re unpublished, but you want to make it in the biz¹.

But you’re in one of those spots in life where you can’t write.  Not because you don’t want to write, and not because you have nothing to write about.  You’ve got ideas you’re just itching to put down on paper.  But you’ve got other obligations, right now, other priorities in life.  You’ve got things you have to do.  And, at the end of the day, there isn’t much time left over for writing.

Last week, I gave you permission, as a writer, to put the pen down and focus on those other things.  Well, that’s a relief.  With all that advice out there thrumming in the background urging you to write, write now, keep writing dangit! – it’s good to know that, well, you don’t have to be writing right this minute, and every day, in order both to consider yourself a writer and to stay the course in your path toward developing a writing career.

Except for one little, niggling detail.  For you (at least it is for me) writing is an existential activity.  It defines you, it’s part of who you are, and you need to do it to feel fully yourself.

There is a lot out there providing motivation to writers.  There’s fellow aspiring author, writer and blogger Ollin Morales’ “Courage to Create“, for instance.  On his site he provides regular encouragement to writers who are in need of motivation to write.  It’s his schtick, the theme of his blog.  There’s also the aforementioned plethora of writing advice telling you to just write a little bit every day – even just a little bit, an hour, a half-hour, 250 words, anything, that’s all it takes!  Most published writers keep their own blogs, and often drop nuggets of wisdom and advice thereon to other aspiring authors.  The internet is virtually awash in advice for writers.

And yet, in all of this, there’s very little advice for those of us in that busy stage of life where we can’t write because other obligations demand our attention.  There’s very little to help a writer stay motivated when what they want to do is write, but what they must do is not write, but something else.

And I’ve been thinking about that a lot the past few days.  I have a half-dozen blog posts I want to write up: ideas for things that are meaningful to me.  I’ve been meaning to write about my choice of genre and the nuance I see in that choice.  There are tidbits and snapshots of my history as a writer that I’ve yet to share.  And, of course, there are these stories burning in my mind that I want to write: another short story that I hope to submit to that contest that I didn’t quite win, and a novel idea where I’ve figured out this awesome opening but hadn’t yet figured out the climax and ending, and of course that other novel project that I’ve been working on since forever.  If you’ve been a writer since forever, like me, you’ve no doubt got a similar supply of projects you want to work on.  Heck, even if you’re new to the game you probably still have a fair handful of ideas you want to write about.  (If you’re out of ideas to write about, well, that’s not the theme of today’s blog.  I’m long on ideas and short on time, so there you go.)  Continue reading

Writing and the Art of Blog Updates

So, two whole days without a blog post, and nary a word from me.  That’s unusual for me and the steady work I’ve been doing.  I really have to apologize, but it’s been an extremely busy week for me, and I haven’t had the time of day to post anything.  That said, here I am, just updating the blog primarily so I can say I have updated my blog.

It’s because of weeks like this that I made such a minimal-level promise of weekly “new material”.  But it’s been my goal to have an update per day, every day.  I think of my blog as something of a potential promotional tool for myself as an author, and I figure the blog serves two purposes in that regard.  First, it provides a place where I can showcase some of my writing.  I can do this by putting up samples of my fiction, which to date I have yet to do, but primarily I do this by having regular blog posts on interesting topics.  The second function of the blog as promotional tool is to provide a place where I can connect directly with readers and potential readers.  It’s a place where people searching for me online can go to learn more about me and my work and a place where people already familiar with me and my work can go to read what I have to say on this or that subject and share their views with me.  Both of these purposes are served by having frequent and regular updates – daily for certain and even multiple times daily if possible.  So, even though I know that right now it’s not always possible for me to run daily updates, it’s a tough pill for me to swallow.  Which is to say, as soon as I’m able, I’ll be returning to daily updates. 

And which is also to say, it hurts me as much or more to be missing these updates as it does hurt you, the dear reader.  I say more because I know I only have, as yet, a handful of regular readers (a good fraction of my traffic is driven by random web searches that somehow drives traffic to my site thanks to my cleverly writing about a variety of searchable topics), so only a handful of people will actually notice whether I continue to update or not.  Over time that may change (and I intend for it to).

Which leads me to another point I’ve been thinking a bit about.  Today, when you search for my name, there is a decent chance it will drive you to a website with the address “https://undiscoveredauthor.wordpress.com“.  Notice how my name doesn’t appear in that web address at all.  “The Undiscovered Author” was really just a snazzy-sounding title for the blog that was representative of what you’d find therein.  But it also represents a condition that I truly hope will not continue indefinitely, vis-a-vis my being as yet undiscovered.  But most popular authors have blogs on sites with their own names in the url.  So, I’ve been contemplating a tiered approach to spreading my name in the authorly blogosphere.  First, there’s this blog here.  Then, recently, I snagged another wordpress subdomain for a blog titled “Stephen Watkins, Writer”, the url of which is “http://stephenwatkinswriter.wordpress.com“.  Right now that blog is an empty shell, a place where I’ve been experimenting with different wordpress themes to find one that fits my style and is easy-on-the-eyes.  At some point, I may shift more and more of my updates to that site in a run up to really pushing myself for publication.

The real gold standard, though, is a website that looks something like: http://www.mynameismywebsite.com, such as you see in the web addresses for several of the published authors listed in my links.  That, of course, costs money.  And until such a time as my writing is actually going to provide a positive cash flow, that’s not something I’m ready to invest in, just yet.  Ultimately, however, that may be the way for me to go.  WordPress.com is free, and that’s great, and with it comes a number of free and somewhat customizable themes.  But if I go the way of having my own domain name, well, there’s a registration fee associated with that, and usually annual hosting fees.  (I know this because I do have a private domain, albeit one without my name in the url.  That said, it’s been down for over a year, ever since the hosting company’s servers were hacked, and I haven’t had time to get up a new site there yet.)  Doing this also requires you to either be an html code-monkey, css-wizard or other technically inclined person able to do-it-yourself, someone with access to Dreamweaver or another site coding tool (very expensive), someone with friends who can do either of these two for very cheap, or someone who can afford to pay for this stuff.  Notice how most of those options also involve having money.  I, personally, have some very limited DIY capability in this regard (though not necessarily all the DIY tools that would be helpful), but none of the DIY time.  (This is another reason the aforementioned personal domain remains down to this day.)

So… well… that was a longer post than I thought I’d be able to do today… but there you go.  The blog, it updateth.  Therefore go forth, and read, and be pleased with the work of my hands.

Weekend Assignment: Thief of Time

This week’s Weekend Assignment asked the question: what activities do you have to do that take up your time and prevent you from doing other important things that you’d rather be doing?

My gut, instinctual answer, of course, is: well yeah, my day job!  That’s not really fair, though.  It’s no secret that my current field is not the field I want to pursue for a long-term career, and I don’t mean that because I’d rather be able to write for a living.  Writing for a living is a great gig, if you can get it, but I have a realistic, pragmatic point-of-view on the matter.  Sure, I’d love to write for a living.  And I’m good at it, even if I can’t say that I’m great at it.  Written communication, in general, is one of my strongest skills – both in interpreting written communication and in crafting written communication.  (As evidence of this, I could point to my GMAT scores; I took the GMAT twice, because my GMAT math scores were not stellar and I knew I could do better.  But the first time I took the GMAT my verbal percentile score was already well into the high 90s.  I didn’t see much improvement on the retake, simply because when you’re already in the 99th percentile, there’s really no “up” left.  My written essay scores were similarly high both times.)

But being good at writing and making a career of it are two very, very different things.  Could I be successful at it?  That remains to be seen.  But in the mean time, I have a family to provide for.  And I take pride in my work, whatever it is that I put my effort into.  I take pride in adding value to the company I work for.  So for me, the problem is that more and more I find that Finance is not a field that is really “value-added” for most companies (unless it’s a Financial Firm, which is another story entirely), and that leaves me feeling dissatisfied when, at the end of the day, I can’t say I’ve done something that is truly meaningful or valuable for the firm.  If you’re not doing something that’s really useful to somebody, it starts to drag on you mentally.  That’s partly why I’m working on my MBA, and partly why I anticipate shifting careers in the future out of Finance and in a more marketing or stategically-oriented direction.  Those are skills and fields within a company where I can mentally trace a direct line between the tasks they perform and the value added to the firm.

So, that’s quite the aside, vis-a-vis the topic of the writing prompt.

So, a perfectly fair answer to the question is commuting.  Except for NPR, I hate my commute.  (And since I usually finish listening to Morning Edition at work, anyway, on my mp3 player, I really can’t say that’s a good part either.)  It’s an hour each way, so that’s 10 hours a week basically wasted that I could be doing something productive.  In fact, I’ve turned down a job offer for a job that was farther away, even though they paid more, in part because of the longer commute issue.  Giving up another 15 minutes each way every day is too great a price to pay when I’ve already paid so much.

What would I do with the extra time, if I had it?  Ideally, two things.  Of course, I’d want to spend time writing.  As it is, I don’t have much time for that at all.  If I could pencil in an hour a day each week, that would really boost my story-writing productivity.  The second thing is also an easy one.  Spending time with my family, especially to be more helpful around the house.  There so much around the house that needs to get done, and I never feel like I have enough time to do it all.  There’s the yard and garden, where neglect has caused weeds and things to run wild.  There’s the broken door jamb on the kitchen door.  There’s all these little things, and I feel like a slacker husband that I haven’t already done these things.

Here’s hoping you can find the time.  Happy writing.