Category Archives: writing

on sensitive moments

So, I’m writing this novel and it’s been eight months and I have no idea what I’m doing.  It’s just like this sometimes. I go and think I’ve got some skills, I’ve written a bunch of novels already, surely there’s one more in there somewhere, but no.  There’s not.  Or maybe there is but I’m going to have to saw off my own head and dump out the contents on the floor if I want to find it.

It’s just that the story and characters keep running together like melted wax, and I wake up at night from dreams where the characters are all having sex with each other, or are eating strange meals with me, but still, I keep at it. I’m pounding out 1000ish words a day, maybe 800 or 600 NET words, you know, three steps forward two steps back, and yeah the words, they are accruing, but into what?  Compound interest?  Or a giant stinking pile of dirty laundry?

I wish I knew.

Meanwhile this happened:

I’m standing in our bathhouse with my pants around my knees, busily inserting a menstrual cup.  Note: if you are a menstruating woman who doesn’t know about these, you totally should try them out, they are awesome.  /public service announcement.  Anyway, I’m fingers-deep, doing my business, when Sophie throws open the door and catches me at it, because we have no privacy in this yurt of ours, it’s a fact.  I say, “um, you’ve caught me at a kind of sensitive moment.”  “Ah,” she says, and leaves.

Okay! So, finishing up, I head back over to the yurt (it’s two steps under an awning from the bathhouse to the yurt’s door) and throw open the door—only to find Sophie, fingers-deep in the Nutella jar.  “Um,” she says, chocolate smeared all over her mouth, “you’ve caught me at a kind of sensitive moment.”

SPIT TAKE!  These kids, they just grow a sense of humor out of thin air, poof, and thank goodness, because humor, you can’t teach that.   But you really, really need it if you are going to have any hope whatsoever at a decent life.   What would I do without my kids???

But, I keep working on the novel and maybe one day it will turn into something, the way my kids have turned into these super cool people.  That’s probably setting the bar too high.  But still, I get up early and stick my head into my computer and after an hour or two the kids wake up and try to extract me and I want to say, “you’ve caught me at a kind of sensitive moment–” but then I’m laughing too hard.

There are nearly 50,000 words now in this, Draft The Third, of my as of yet untitled ninth (NINTH) novel.  A Japanese violinist, a teen-aged girl mourning her mother, and an ex-drug dealing short-order cook, plus three ghosts, are all tangled up together in a weird game of relationship twister.  Or something.  Sounds like the start to a joke right?  A violinist, a girl, and a cook, all walk into a bar….

My goal is to finish this draft, beginning to end, by April 1.

OR DIE TRYING.

[uplifting music here.]

books have their own DNA that will not be denied. at least, mine do.

Back in June I wrote  about outlining my work-in-progress and how strange it was that it seemed to have no SF element.  No magic realism, no paranormal, no weird shit in sight.  Was I really writing a straight, no-fantasy, novel? Inconceivable.

Then in November I wrote about how much I was struggling with it. It just wouldn’t write, I kept skipping writing days, what was wrong with me.  I usually zip along, but no. I should have twigged then, but I did not.

In December I finally figured out the SF element.  That is six months after starting, and only NOW has the root of the problem finally been revealed: I am an idiot. This will come as no surprise to many of you.

Basically, I’m writing a ghost story. There are three characters, a foul-mouthed cook, a violinist, and a teenaged girl, and  and they are all haunted.  Only, see, back in June and all through the end of 2013, I didn’t want to write a ghost story. I thought, “Oh, I’m sick of ghost stories, that’s all been done. This isn’t going to be a ghost story.  I’ll write something else.”  And I went on my merry way, trying to write some other book that had no ghostsbut it’s a ghost story. You can’t take the ghosts out of a ghost story!

No wonder the book ran aground.

Just this month, like pulling teeth, I finally allowed the GIANT FREAKING HOLE in my book to be filled with the ghosts that were meant to be there from the beginning, and…suddenly the book is fine. Of course I’m not writing a book with no SF in it.  This is ME we’re talking about. It’s just that I was just systematically not letting THIS book’s SF be in the book. Now that the ghosts are in there, it’s all going as it should, pages appearing, writing is no problem again.  I’m psyched to get to it each day, I feel happy and at peace with the world, all the strange things I get from a good hit of writing (why?  I don’t know).  As I said: I am an idiot.

Six month of resistance!!!!! SIX MONTHS.

What’s worse, this isn’t the first time I have made this mistake.  I did this exact thing once before. I didn’t want to write a vampire book because DUH. Vampires. So I tried to write Conjuring Raine without a vampire. But of course, IT IS A VAMPIRE STORY.  If you’ve read it, can you imagine Conjuring Raine where Joshua is not a vampire?  NO.  (And if you haven’t read it, go read it!  It’s a great book! 🙂 )  I ended up putting the vampire back in when the story ran aground around the 100 page mark and refused to budge. And all was well.  I just had to accept the fact that I was a person who had written a vampire book.  No shame!

Is twice enough to have learned my lesson? If a book wants to be a ghost story, it’s a ghost story! I can’t just decide for it not to be, because I think I don’t want to write a ghost story. This should be obvious!!!!

Also, writing ghost stories is spooky. As in, I’m kind of creeping myself out lately, especially at night. Plus I’m thinking about death all the time. It’s kind of morbid.  And man, the sex in this one.  Plus swearing, lots and lots of swearing—just this one character, but still.  Nevertheless, I’m surrendered at this point.  It is what it wants to be, ghosts, sex, swearing, and all.  And if I try to make it something else, well…maybe I’ve learned my lesson.

daily rituals: the ways artists work by mason currey, review

dailyritualsDaily Rituals is a compendium of brief descriptions taken from interviews, biographers, and the artists themselves, of the nitty gritty of the daily life of an impressive array of creative people.  It’s based on Mason Currey’s blog of the same title, but goes further, and includes more folks.  From Mozart, Flaubert, and de Beauviore, to Matisse, Hemingway, and Freud, people long dead and people still living, painters, composers, and writers of all kinds, all revealed through their oh, so specific routines—routines that help/ed them get through the day, and more importantly, get through their work.

As a writer with a long time interest in creative process (see my author interview series on same), it will come as no surprise that I love this book.  I’ve been listening to the Audible version the last few days and have found it funny but also nourishing and delicious.

Firstly, it’s so wonderful how they are all so different! Early risers, late night owls.  Those who need uppers—lots of coffee in this book!—and those who need downers—lots of liquor, too.  Hedonists, vs those with monk-like lives.  Those surrounded by family and friends, vs. loners.  Work in bed, work in the perfect chair, work in cafes, work in the family room surrounded by chatter, work in isolation in a stone hut in the woods.

Human beings have created things in every conceivable configuration.

Listening to this book soundly dismisses the idea that there is a right way to be an artist.  It also routes the idea that “getting my shit together” is what will help with my writing.  A huge number of these people are neurotic messes, either falling apart, or holding it together through iron precision.  The great masterpieces of the world have not been created because their authors had their shit together!  On the contrary!  Life is a mess, a disaster, and we create along the way as best we can.

This comforts me.

Workaholics and procrastinators, clockwork schedulers and the absence of any structure whatsoever, the rich with servants, the destitute with no resources at all…all interspersed with sometimes bizarre rituals that have been found to support that particular person’s process—Beethoven’s 60 beans of coffee each day come to mind, but there are many, many.  I don’t want to spoil it for you.

How many times, in listening, have thought, “I do that, too!” or, even more frequently, “Maybe I should try that…?”

Small complaint: I wish there were more women.  I’m glad every time a woman is mentioned. I don’t know that this is a failing of Mr. Curry, or, more likely, that the Big Name Creators have been 99% men for the much of human history.  There are more women as the dates become more and more recent, for which I’m glad.  I crave the women’s voices.

Best quote so far: Joyce Carol Oates.  “Getting the first draft finished is like pushing a very dirty peanut across the floor with your nose

I know!!!

The biggest takeaway: there is no right path!  There is no Answer!  There is only doing your work in whatever way you can manage.

Read this book for solace, laughs, insight, and support.  I feel like I’ve just discovered that I’m part of an army of humans who have been struggling with these same questions—how can I work? how can I make it happen in the midst of all the things that block it? (Jobs, family, money concerns, health issues, anxiety, writers block, boredom, depression, business, distraction, ETC, everyone has had their share.)

So many cobbled together solutions have been put into play by so many of the greats.  I love hearing about them all, from the noble to the perverse.

We all do the best we can to muddle through.  Highly recommended.

a bit of self indulgent blah blah on writing a novel that is taking its jolly sweet time coming out

I’m whispering because the kids are still asleep, the low winter sun is sliding in through the yurt dome (finally), and all is quiet.  This is my writing time.  I set the alarm (Sleep Cycle app on my ipod, best alarm clock ever) and when it goes off, I  reach over to my bedside table for my laptop, pull it over onto my chest, and write, right here in the bed.

I’m supposed to be writing right now—on my novel that is, not on my blog—but I’m not.  Don’t tell anybody.

Actually, I just started the second (okay, it’s the third, but who’s counting) draft of the new novel, working title, Cooking for the Dead, a terrible title, I’m awful at titles.  Anyway.  The second draft means I got as far as I could go (almost to the end) on the first, crappy, just-get-it-down draft, before I realized I didn’t know anything and had to go back to the beginning to change everything.  It’s a stupid system.

But the second draft means progress, and progress is good.

Yesterday, I finished the new first chapter (first pov voice, Takeda), and got to feel that glow of accomplishment all day.

Today, I started the new second chapter (second pov voice, Dog) and got stuck.  Of course.

Gah.

I tried, tried to do this novel in some efficient, organized manner, a la my last book where I learned all kinds of fancy new tricks.  I TRIED to be a plotter, not a pantser, for this new novel.  I really did.  But no.  Spinning this tale has been like trying to spin stubborn, short, fibers that keep breaking and will only come out of the fluff slowly, slowly, slowly.  For example, I only just figured out the fantasy element, that is, the central plot focus!!!—and I’m six months into writing!!!!  How stupid is that??? How can a person write nearly 200 pages of a novel and not even know she doesn’t know the central plot focus?  Okay, I had a clue that I didn’t know…but STILL.

I am an idiot.

They say each novel is different and you only know how to write the novel you’re writing right now.  The next one, you have to start from scratch, figuring the process out all over again.

In my experience, this is true.

So, blah blah, the fluff-strand broke again this morning.  I opened up Scrivener (best writing app in the ‘verse, second app recommendation of the morning!) and realized I have no idea how to write my second pov person, and that I am lost.  Again.  Thus the stalling with this blog post.

I show up, every day, but sometimes I just don’t know how to do anything.  I ask myself, what do I need to know in order to write this chapter?  I know the character, I know what happens, but, but, but….  ????  Maybe I’m just scared.  This book feels so personal.  (I say that about all my books.)

Okay, sometimes it just takes a while for the voice in my head, the one that tells me what to type, to become clear. I need to be patient and keep asking questions.  The answers show up.  They do.

In the meantime, we put up an adorable Christmas tree on Sunday that Paul and Sophie found in the woods, a little frondy cedar.  Today I’m going to make cookies with the kids.  Chocolate chip.  Plus I need to go to the bank,  buy some wrapping paper, and do something about the dishes, lord save me from the dishes.

And all the while I’ll be thinking about Dog, and how to write his chapter.  If it’s like the last six months, I’ll just suddenly know what to do, it will be super obvious, a quiet duh, like the knowledge seeps up out of the ground and suddenly I’m standing in a wet spot.  But it will only be a hint.  Just enough to get me a few more steps along.

It’s maddening!  I have never written a novel hat has required more trust than this one.  I hope it works out all right.  It’s just a little story, no big deal.  So much drama for a little story!

author interviews: Sandra Tayler…who does it all

Sandra Tayler is an amazing example of a mother/artist/business woman managing to keep a dozen plates spinning in the air with grace and creativity. She’s the publisher and editor of the hugely popular, Hugo-nominated comic Schlock Mercenary, created by her husband, Howard Tayler—and yeah, that means she’s managing to be both wife and business partner, a situation that has felled many a fine marriage and/or business. Plus, she’s the mother of FOUR kids. And she writes children’s books. And essays. She is super nice, and oh, and there’s that award winning blog…. Sheesh, there is just more and more to add to this list.

Basically, she’s up there with other mother/writers I know who seem to do the impossible, women like Martine Leavitt—SEVEN kids! nine award winning novels!—or Donna Jo Napoli—five kids, over fifty novels and picture books….plus she’s a freaking linguist!  I heard Ms. Napoli speak once and she had this great bit where she was introducing herself, listing out everything she does, each accomplishment more impressive as they piled up, and then she finished up with, “And you can eat off my kitchen floor……for a week.  And not go hungry.”

Yeah, I know the feeling.

But seriously, I’m so impressed with these gals.  I aspire to be like them when I grow up!  Although, realistically, I struggle with getting out of my pjs a lot of the time….

So, without further ado, let me welcome Sandra, who is ready to give us the secret to her super busy life.  How DOES she do it??

Hi Sandra!  I am so impressed with the fact that you are this full-on business woman, plus mother of four, plus having your own creative projects like the Kickstarter you are currently running to fund your next picture book.  Can you say anything about how you do it all?

This is Sandra…isn’t she adorable?

The quick answer is “practice” I’ve been parenting for 18 years and running a business for 10, but that answer doesn’t help anyone who is on the front end of trying to figure out how to fit all the things into one life. I’ve actually given presentations and written about it.

The solutions will be different for each person and the solutions will change over time. For example, when my kids were little, it was critical for me to keep all the business work in our house as much as possible so that I could be with the kids while working. Now I find that separating out business tasks from family things is the best way to keep sane. I use the school schedules to give structure to my days, much in the way that I used to use nap time.

Also there are lots of things I don’t do. My kids don’t have many activities outside of school and church. We eat far too much frozen pizza. And my house cleaning would not stand up to inspection.  Also I live in fear that I’m going to fail at all of it, particularly the parenting. I’m always second guessing my priorities and wondering if I should be doing something different.

Oh, yeah, I know that fear.  I bathe in it regularly.  How do you try to balance your personal creative life  with running a full-on business?

One trick is to give the two things different physical spaces in my life. My accounting and design work happens at a desktop machine in my office. My own writing happens upstairs on my laptop computer. The shipping and convention work happens over at the warehouse. The parenting happens everywhere, because parenting is sloppy like that. This way when I sit down with my laptop I can easily access that portion of my brain that has been storing writing thoughts. When I close the laptop, I fold away the writing thoughts so that I can focus on something else.

That’s interesting, using structure, both time and physical space, to draw boundaries around the different tasks.  I’m terrible with this, the kids and I have these totally UNstructured lives which somehow make it super hard to feel like I’m getting anything done.  I can see how structure might help keep everything running.

But I’m often jealous of your unstructured life, Maya. Some of it is the natural effect of parenting younger kids, but your unschooling approach to parenting is fascinating and alluring.

Daww.  Well, I suppose there are pros and cons to every lifestyle….

Okay, so with Howard putting out a daily comic and you running both the business and the household, tell me how do you wedge your own creative life into that already bursting picture? What’s it like to live in a home with two writer/storytellers?

Interesting, fun, and challenging. Because Howard and I are both creative, we understand the needs of creative processes. If I peek into his office and I see that he is writing, I know to shut the door and come back later. If he is drawing, I can walk in and talk. Similarly, he respects my need for creative time.

The challenge comes because any creative career requires a support structure to form the business side of the equation. Somebody has to keep the books and make sure that there are groceries in the fridge. I end up doing lots of these support things. In part this is because I am more temperamentally suited to them, but also in part because his creative work pays our bills. We can afford to have my writing time interrupted, we can’t afford it if Howard’s is. We are very conscious of the imbalance in creative time and do our best to address it. Sometimes we succeed, others we don’t. I sabotage myself more often than not.

There is that classic image of being the woman behind the more famous husband/artist, the un-sung (or less sung) power behind the throne sort of thing.  The wife/artist trying to do her own thing but it gets pushed aside for practical reasons, mothering, husband’s work etc….can you say anything more about finding yourself in that role, good or bad?

It bothers me sometimes to be the wife/supporter of a more famous husband. I don’t like being so cliche. On the other hand, Howard’s work is brilliant and worthy of support, so I’m not going to abandon it out of my desire to avoid being ordinary.

Also the supportive work I do is why Howard’s creation is able to support us. Without my support, it would fall apart because Howard doesn’t have the time to do all the business things and still create.

Howard and I talk about the creative balance in our marriage and we’re always consciously aware of the times when something of mine gets put on hold. We maneuver and create space for my projects, even when it makes far more financial sense to focus our efforts on the proven intellectual property. Sometimes the kids sacrifice for my projects too. The point of a family is to provide a growth space for all of the people in it. This includes the mother, even though the common narrative about mothers is that they are static, nurturers who just support everyone else.

So you’re on your own on your laptop, getting some of your own work done…can you describe your writing process?  Tell us something about how you write.

It depends greatly on which sort of writing I’m doing.

I guess my process for blogging is to observe my life as I live it and then to think about it out loud and try to frame it in a way that will be useful or interesting to others. I’ve been blogging almost daily for ten years, so the process has become something that I don’t have to think about much. I just do it.

My fiction writing process is somewhat fractured because it is constantly shoved aside for all the other things in my life. I know that I am happier revising than drafting and that I struggle with creating conflict in my plots, probably because I don’t like conflict in my personal life.

The picture book process is almost always because I am seeking an answer to something that my child is struggling with. I know that the child needs a story, so I try to figure out what story might lead that child to a place of empowerment where they can solve their own problems. So far this has always involved a visual metaphor which can be turned into lively pictures by an artist. Once I have the concept I hang it on the 32 page picture book framework. Pages 1-5 to introduce the character and problem. The next few to create complications. More complications for the middle, then things have to come to a climax about five pages from the end so that it can all be resolved. There is lots of refining and trying to figure out how I can tell the story using fewer words. Picture books are boring if they are wordy or preachy.

Has it all ever gotten too hard?  Have you ever thought of giving up writing, or had writer’s block?

Yes.  I gave up writing twice. The first time was long ago before I started my blog. I was mired in the middle of the truly hands-on era of parenting where all my children were small. I was also dealing with some significant health issues. I looked around at everything and decided that I really should let go of the dream of being an author. It was a childhood thing and I was a grown up now. I was done. The next day I had a creative outpouring of words that lasted more than a week. The second time was a similar situation and a similar result. I gave it up and it came back.

Since then I’ve had lots of times where writing felt like one thing too many. There have been times where I consciously put it down, knowing I wouldn’t be back to it for a long time. Writing has always waited for me. Writing is patient when life gets to be too much. And, like riding a bicycle, I don’t forget how.

Okay, tell us what you are working on right now.  I know you’ve got a Kickstarter cooking along….

Yes, the big project right now is running the Kickstarter so that I can fund the printing of my latest picture book The Strength of Wild Horses. Running a Kickstarter is definitely a project in itself, but soon I’ll get to do the layout and design work for Strength of Wild Horses. I love that part, because then the words and pictures start interacting with each other. I’m always able to fine-tune the words so that everything works together. It is a joy because Angela Call, the illustrator for the project, creates such beautiful images.

Of course, I have other projects, four children, for example. Parenting is a huge and ongoing creative project that takes up a lot of my time. In the business, we spent lots of time this past month setting up a warehouse to store and ship the books full of his cartoons. He just opened pre-orders on his annual calendar, so I have the project of tracking all of those orders and shipping things to customers. The holidays are coming and they always become a project unto themselves. I’m always writing my blog, but that hardly feels like a project. It is just part of how I live. Then there are house projects, of course.  My life is always an ongoing mess of interconnected projects.

Isn’t that the truth.  Well, thank you so much, Sandra!  Best of luck to you and your many projects!

Please visit Sandra’s Kickstarter page or stop by her blog for more on her complicated, busy, amazingly productive life.
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Sandra Tayler is a writer of children’s fiction, speculative fiction, and blog entries. She has sold stories to anthology markets, including DAW. In February 2009 her blog won an AML award for online writing. Sandra spends much of her time as the publication and distribution half of the Schlock Mercenary comic business. Sandra’s publication work and her writing are frequently pre-empted by the needs of her four kids, who alternate between being incredibly helpful and incredibly distracting.

the quantified self, forming habits for behavior change, and my deep and profound love of sleep

For years I had no trouble writing every day, doing my yoga practice, and eating well, but this last year all three have gone into the toilet.  So much so that I now look back on those times when I religiously got up at 5 to write, or had a six-day a week yoga practice, as some kind of mythical Time Before and have no idea how I ever achieved it.  Indeed, I only know those times actually happened because here is a (surprisingly popular) post I wrote in 2009 about how to how to get up and write at five in the fucking morning, and here is my (also surprisingly popular) 2012 post on my yoga practice after three years of near daily Primary series (including through times of injury!)(with before and after photos!).

In contrast, for the last year, writing has dropped to 3 or 4 times a week in the afternoons, and practicing yoga has dropped as low as 2 times a week, and then post-hamstring injury this fall, to spotty once a week trials.

Facing this debacle, I have been trying to figure out WHY, and more importantly, how to get my bulletproof habits back.  Or if that is even possible.  This post is about me clawing my limping way back through tracking.  Maybe.  I think.

In exploring WHY, my first thought was to blame my manga habit.  Because, basically, the time my morning habits (writing, yoga) went to hell coincides with the time when I started staying up really late to read—which led to sleeping in later in the mornings, which ate up my usual writing/yoga time, both of which never seemed to adequately get rescheduled.  It also seemed to nix my morning kale/orange juice in favor of something caffeinated to help me wake up after my sleep depletion.  It’s all manga’s fault!

But, of course, I’m not giving up manga.  Duh.  Instead, I focused on how to get up early, something I used to do as a matter of course.  That had to be the solution!  PROBLEM: turns out I LOVE sleeping in, something I discovered when I was able to give up the murderous 5AM wake time because the kids had gotten older (it’s complicated).  I love it, the lying there all dreamily thinking, drifting, cuddling, warm and relaxed…I don’t want to give that up!

Okay, so it turns out that trying to get up early makes the hardest moment of my day—that of trying to get up when I want to keep sleeping—the very first moment of my day, when I am weakest and most prone to blowing off my larger goals.  Trying to get up early also pits me against myself.  And since I suck at it, it makes me feel like a failure first thing in the morning.  As a result, my effort towards doing it regularly crash and burn, or, more typically, failed to even get off the ground.  Depression and guilt, how I loath thee.  (How did I ever do it back i  2009?  Amazing.)

I know, I know, why not write and do yoga some other time?  Seems so simple.  But, as most thing, not so much.  Afternoons are no good (kid activities) and evenings are husband/family time—if any goal is more important to me that writing and yoga, it is kids and family.  So what about late night?  I’m too wiped.  Plus the kids and husband are all capable of staying up WAAAY later than me.

So, it’s got to be mornings.  What to do???

It got so bad that I started questioning my identity.  As in, I thought I was an “unschooling, novelist, vegan, yogi,” but really I’m an “unschooling, middle-aged woman, getting chubbier all the time, who likes to read.”  At least I got to keep the unschooling part.

There was actually something quite relaxing about downshifting my self-picture.  Lower standards for the win!  No more struggle to attain difficult goals!  Let’s watch tv and eat chips!

But no, that wasn’t going to work.  I really do love writing and my yoga practice, etc.  Lowering the bar is a good vacation but not so great on my long-term self-esteem.

I know!  I just needed a spiffier alarm clock!  Some vibrating thing that wouldn’t wake my co-sleepers, one that would read my sleep-cycle and wake me at an optimal moment of light sleep rather than groggy deep sleep (they have alarm clocks that can do this!).  Maybe something with an app.  Yeah, that was the ticket.  I just needed to purchase something.

Which dropped me right into the explosion of fitness trackers, Fitbit, Jawbone Up, Amiigo, Lark, because many of them have this fancy vibrating sleep-tracking function—God, I had no idea there were so many now!—

Which led me smack into the Quantified Self movement, where curious people track various things about themselves and then learn stuff from the analysis of their data.  That link goes to the Quantified Self page, a sort of virtual headquarters for an international movement…but the main thing is all these cool videos of people talking about their experiments with tracking various things, health, fitness, reading, where one has walked, eating, mood, etc. Very interesting!

I had no idea there were other nutty people who love to track weird data like I do!  This is me, jumping up and down and saying Hi! I’m a nutter, too!

For example.  Before there were apps and trackers and ipods, there was paper and pen, and I used actual graph paper and a thermometer to track my morning basal body temperature for eight years, data I used successfully both as birth control and then for getting pregnant when I chose to.  During that time I experimented with correlating various things with my hormonal cycles, such as mood and libido, and for just a single, silly, example, I found I reliably had a day of worrying about money three days before my period started each month.  I could set a clock by it.  I’d think I was having money troubles, but no, I was just having PMS.

This still cracks me up.  So much of what we think is our personality, our Self, is just chemicals.

A second example.  When Sophie was first born she cried all the time. Colic is something evil people invented to torture mommies and babies.  It was awful.  Hearing from my doctor that it could be related to what I was eating (and passing to her through breastmilk), I cut out everything from my diet (I think I could eat rice and turkey?) and started adding things back in one by one, tracking what I ate as well as keeping detailed charts that plotted Sophie’s mood in color-coded, 30 minute increments of “sleeping” “crying” or “screaming.”  You can get an idea of how bad it was because it didn’t even occur to me until later that I needed a color for “awake and happy,” because she never was.  (I chose blue.)

Over the weeks that I did this, gradually the charts went from lots of red (screaming) with some pink (crying) broken by merciful sections of green (sleep), to some pink, swaths of green, and blooming blue sections that made me want to weep with relief.  I also found I could reliable create red by eating various things (caffeine—no chocolate!!! horror!!!—was a big one), and so was able to stop the red altogether and seriously diminish the pink.

Maybe baby Sophie just grew out of it.  Maybe my charting just gave me something to do to feel some sense of control in a terrible situation.  Or maybe there was something to it all.  I don’t know.

But the point is…I love tracking!  And there is this whole pile of people who are into it, too, how cool is that?

I find there are all these interesting devices these days, too, step counters and heart rate monitors, sure (I’ve played with both, fun!), but also sleep trackers, mood trackers, money trackers, reading trackers, glucose trackers, posture trackers, blood pressure trackers, exercise strackers, GPS locational trackers, etc etc.

It’s so interesting.  I know, I’m such a geek.

But, hey, aren’t we paying just a little too much attention to ourselves?

On the other hand, there is something so freeing about looking at this stuff as DATA rather than, say, a statement of morality, as in, if I’m a good person I’ll make good decisions, so if I’m making bad decisions I must be a bad person…

No.  Maybe these decisions are an effect of triggers, patterns, and habits that I can’t see without taking a closer look.  Maybe it is a lot easier to change habits by changing the environment than by trying to change myself through sheer willpower.  Looking at one’s data as a kind of self-scientist, investigating for clues, is judgement free, and can lead to behavior change through increased awareness and a sense of choice that has nothing to do with will power or being naughty or nice.

So, what about the habits I once had of writing and yoga?

I already do a bit of tracking here on the blog with my page-count widget, as well as my “daily practice” mini-blog over there in the sidebar.  Those are both there for me, more than you readers (sorry), but I’ve been fairly lackadaisical about upkeep.  I would like to track in a more granular way—sorry, I just really wanted to use that word, Quants love the world “granular”—so, I’m looking for some method that is super easy and fun to get the habit tracking part of all this in place.

I have found one ipod app called Lift that seems fun, and fits with a lot of what the habit researchers have figured out about habit forming.  Basically, you want to (1) choose only a few habits at a time to change/implement.  (2) You want to make them specific and actionable.  (3) You want to build up streaks, because these can be highly motivating—the more days in a row that you do your new habit, the more likely you won’t want to break you streak.  (4) You also want to keep tracking simple, like a y/n binary, I did it/I didn’t do it check mark.  Plus, (5) regularly review your results and adjust course as needed…or celebrate!  Celebration is super important.  In addition, (6) chaining habits is powerful—slot a new habit right after an already established habit.   There is more about all of this in the videos below…

But listen: I have had one insight and one GIANT breakthrough.

The insight: the hardest thing (I thought), the bottleneck, about my goals was getting up early—but instead of focusing on the getting up early, I’ve started focusing on going to sleep earlier.  This makes the hardest thing of the day the last thing I have to do, instead of the first thing.  Better.  Because I’ve got more resources to draw on when I’m in my “review my day” mode rather than “I’m half asleep and could give a fuck about goals” mode.

But the really juicy bit, the BREAKTHROUGH:  in my quest to find a good alarm clock—because I kept thinking I needed one until I just started going to bed earlier, DUH, FACEPALM, this is embarrassingly obvious!!!—I’d been trying different apps on my ipod.  But an ipod-based alarmclock put the ipod in my hand first thing in the morning…which often led to reading first thing in the morning.  Which often nixed any other plans or goals.

Basically, if you give an addict their drug of choice first thing in the morning, the rest of the day is pretty much shot.

So, no ipod alarm clock.  Instead, if my first goal is to get up to write, and the getting-up part was the hard part…

…why not put my computer in my hand first thing…and write in bed?

I’m a freaking GENIUS!

So, for a four days now, I’ve put the computer by the bed the night before, gone to bed early enough to wake up early enough that the rest of the fam are still asleep or half-asleep….and I grab my computer and get my 1000 words in before I even get up.

BAM.

Then I track it and celebrate because I am awesome for thinking of this.  And since I’m up, yoga follows breakfast-for-kids, as it used to.  It all depends on getting to bed earlier (not toooo hard) and environmental support (computer by bed).  Will it stick?  I’ve got a four day streak, we’ll see….

Here is a super cool TED talk by BJ Fogg about behavior change through forming tiny habits, a great start to the whole habit thing.

Here is Quantified Self participant, Andrew Tarvin talking about tracking habits over time to create behavior change.  He’s also funny, the founder of Humor at Work, a good, inspiring talk.

Andrew Tarvin – The Perfect Day from Steven Dean on Vimeo.

And for something different, here is data scientist, Rachel Kalmar, who has been wearing 20 different trackers for the last six months and has very interesting thoughts about getting, using, and keeping our data.

I really want a bunch of these trackers, I have to admit.  So expensive though!  Maybe I can pick just one for Christmas….what should I track?  Hmmm….

[sneeze] hi [cough, cough]

I’ve been flat on my back sick for a couple of days.  Which makes me realize I haven’t been sick, really sick, in a long time.  I mean, I was too sick to even read.  That’s sick.  Paul went on a hunting mission and scored some Nyquil-D, which I took and then konked out for about 17 hours.  A bit better today, thank goodness, but I’m definitely not back to Full Maya Strength.  The plan had been to get up early on September 1 and really dig into the new novel, plus do an Intermediate…and I did nothing but sleep.  Today, too.  Guilt.

Oh well.  Maybe tomorrow I’ll be able to slink back into The Plan, even if only at 50% power.

On the upside, Creature of Dreams has sold a bushel of copies and received a couple of good reviews since going live last week, Yay!  My baby is flying free, free as a bird!

If you read it and like, please consider writing a short amazon review, it makes a big difference.  And a shower of Thank Yous to everyone who has written me Toby fan letters since it was free last week.  I have the best readers, ever.

Creature of Dreams is officially LIVE!

YAY! [Pops champagne][crazy dancing]

A new novel is the culmination of a long, long process.  Such a delight to let it out into the world!

Travel photographer, Liv Hannity, forty-one, returns to her Southern hometown on a quest to find her long lost sleep. An insomniac and a lucid dreamer, Liv is used to waking nightmares–but lately they’re getting worse. Parasites have infested Liv’s dreams and are eating her alive. Seriously. Or, so says Grim, Liv’s childhood dream-character-playmate and a self-professed demi-god of dreams. (Or maybe he’s lying. Grim loves a good lie.)

By day, Liv must sort through her difficult past, her overbearing family, her pushy best-friend, and Liv’s new (and much-too-young) boyfriend, Milo. By night, Liv must battle the Creeps, with Grim’s questionable help, as well battle herself–because Liv might be the biggest dream monster of all.

Creature of Dreams is a funny, scary, roller-coaster about love, friendship, getting older, facing the monsters, and waking up. As well as growing up. Finally. (Maybe.)

Now available on amazon for kindles and any device running the kindle app.

copyediting kind of sucks and i am way too busy

Got the proofs back for Creature of Dreams and I’m going through them, one comma splice at a time.  Yeah, I love me some comma splices, so what?  And what about flashback dialogue?  Do we use italics?  Quotation marks?  How the fuck do you punctuate this stuff?  I know what I like, anyway.  I don’t want to look like a bunch of idiots wrote this book, but still, it’s my book, I ought to be able to italicize what I want to italicize.  Humph.

My copy-editor and I always find something to argue about.  I think last time it was ending non-question sentences with a question mark.  You know, that way some people speak, where their voice goes up at the end, as if they are unsure of themselves?  “Do you want to blow me?” said George.  “I guess?” said Mable.  Like that.  My guy hates those kind of question marks.  Luckily that isn’t an issue this time (older characters, possibly, who don’t, in my head, talk like that, I suppose).  This time it is the flashback dialogue punctuation.

Anyway, there is NOT ENOUGH TIME IN THE DAY for everything I’ve got to do, I am just SWAMPED.

Perhaps if I give up sleep.

What about yoga?  What about the occasional blog post here?  What about writing the next freaking novel!?! The one that I am supposed to be producing 1000 words a day on HAHAHAHA.  If I can just get a load of laundry and dishes done and walk the dog and maybe study a little Japanese before bed, maybe I can get to it.  Oh yeah, and provide a sparkling, fun, rich environment for my homeschooled kids…..that.  Don’t forget that.  And love on Paul.

(“Why am I last on the list?” he says.  “It isn’t in order of importance, okay?” “Fine, fine.”)

 

the writing part of Creature of Dreams is done, woot!

The dream novel, my eighth novel, currently called Creature of Dreams, just went to the copyeditor, yay! That’s the last phase, after first readers, the editor, and a round or two of beta-readers. Copyediting means the “witing a novel” part of the project is done!

Now we’ve moved into publishing tasks, the first being a heroic attempt to remove the typos and errors. Next comes cover art, formatting, blurb-age, acknowledgments, then uploading, and bam! A book is born.

I’m psyched to get this one out, the first brand new book I finished in two years (since the book I started before this one died halfway through). Last year’s two publications were projects started years before. It’s a relief to know that that crash-and-burn book wasn’t an ongoing affliction, that I really could write another one from scratch after all….

Anyway, I’m hoping another month at most till release day. Watch this space.