Archive for May, 2018

Writing Around Life: Work

Just as a head’s up, squiders, June is going to be a rough month for me, so there may be a few weeks where you only get one post a week. Those posts will go up on Wednesdays. And then once we’re free from my least favorite month of the year, the schedule will once again be normal and so forth.

Today we’re moving on to writing around work. Work is, of course, important, as it gives us money, and money is unfortunately necessary for things such as food, housing, clothes, coffee, books (excepting library books), and things along those lines. But there are ways to work and still have time for more enjoyable things, such as writing.

As with most things, if you want to get writing done, you must make it a priority. Take a look at your day. If you get home and collapse from exhaustion, then that’s not the time to try and add in an additional task. If you can barely get out of bed in the morning, then don’t think you’ll suddenly be able to get up an hour early and do it then. Be reasonable, be logical, and there are solutions to be had.

Let’s look at some times that could be converted for writing, depending on your personal circumstances.

WARNING: Please avoid using company resources to write unless you have previously checked out the regulations around such things. Some companies may not care if you write on your work computer, say, but in the worse case scenarios, you might be fired or even have your work considered company property.

Lunch breaks

Lunch breaks can be a good time to squeeze in some writing. Most states in the United States require some amount of time be set off for lunch, though if you are salaried, you might need to make the time up elsewhere, depending on company policy on time worked. As we discussed in the school section, small time periods can actually be beneficial for working, since a time limit can provide some added incentive for buckling down and getting to it.

It’s worth it to note that you don’t have to designate every lunch break for writing; if you’d like to go out with coworkers every now and then, or if you know you have a lunch meeting every Friday, you can designate a single lunch period each week to use. Remember that you will need to be reasonable about the amount of time that you can write. Even writing slowly will eventually result in a finished story.

Commute time

Commuting can be useful writing time, especially if you take public transportation such as a train or a bus. Depending on your work situation (such as whether or not you have a safe place to store valuables), you can take a notebook or laptop or other writing implement of choice along. Remember that not all of writing is actively writing–you can always outline, plot, worldbuild, freewrite, etc. and it’s all helpful toward reaching your goals.

Business travel

Not everyone travels for work, and depending on your situation, you may be run ragged when you do–building presentations on the plane, stuck with coworker obligations for dinner–but business travel can be a good time to get some writing done. This will vary, of course. I know people who have taken business trips to other countries, so of course one doesn’t want to be in a hotel room pounding away on a keyboard in that situation. But if you travel a lot, and often to the same place, those evenings in the hotel room can be quite boring. If you do go to the same place quite often, you can scout out places to write–cafes or coffee shops, for example–so that not only are you being productive, you’re not in the hotel all the time either.

Slow times at work

Please, PLEASE, do not do this without first checking if it’s okay. But if you have some slow parts of your day–if you’re a receptionist, but the majority of the patients only come in the afternoon, or if you test software and have time while your code is compiling–this could be good writing time as well instead of sitting around and twiddling your thumbs.

As a warning, though, please make sure you’ve made sure all your work is done and have made a reasonable effort to make sure nothing else is required of you before you do this.

Before/After Work

As discussed above, it might be easiest to just write outside of work, depending on whatever works best for you. If you’re constantly busy at work, this may be your best option instead of trying to squeeze it into your workday around everything else. Pick a time that works best for you, commit to at least one day a week, and give it a try.

Weekends

If you have kids or other obligations, it can be difficult to write during the week, no matter the best of your intentions. But the good news is that weekends exist, and even if you’re busy, they’re also usually long enough that you can get an hour or two of writing in there somewhere. Weekends tend to move in definite patterns with breaks in between activities. For example, you might have something Saturday morning, and another something Saturday afternoon or evening, but nothing scheduled in between. If you can’t plan a definite time every week, you can at least sit down Friday evening and identify a time that will work for this particular weekend.

Another trick is if you get up early on weekdays but tend to sleep in on the weekends, you can pick either Saturday or Sunday to get up at your normal weekday time and get a little writing done before getting on with the rest of your day.

Any other ideas for writing around your workday, squiders?

Advertisements

Writing Around Life: School (Full-time College)

Good afternoon, squiders! Or at least we shall pretend.

Today we’re going to look at strategies for people attending college full-time. This assumes you are carrying a full course load of 12-16 credit hours a semester. College students are notoriously busy, and college schedules tend toward inconsistency for a ton of different reasons. (Classes may be scheduled for multiple days a week but only meet one, outside meetings with teammates may need to happen on a regular basis–or a non-regular one, certain projects may require extra time, etc.)

Between classes, sports, extracurriculars such as clubs or professional organizations, student government, what have you, it can seem like you don’t have any extra time to squeeze out. And in the case of complete transparency, some semesters you might not have a lot of free time. The important to remember is to set reasonable expectations for yourself.

But going to college full-time does have something going for it that actually makes it easier to build in writing time.

You’re on campus all day long.

Most college students’ schedules look something like this:

First class – 9-10:30 am (Physics Building)
Second class – 12:30-1:30 pm (English Building)
Third class – 2-4 pm (Math Building)
Evening Seminar – 6-9 pm (English Building again)

There’s a lot going on there (7.5 hours of class, yikes!), but there’s also a lot of sitting around and waiting. And, in this case, small breaks are your friends.

That 2-hour break between your first and second class? That’s a long break. That’s long enough that you can schedule a meeting with your project group, or head to office hours to get help on your homework. You can get lunch. You can go to the gym. You could go home, if you live on or close to campus. Long breaks are times to plan to specific things done in.

But that half an hour between your second and third class? Some of that will be travel time, depending on how close together the buildings are. (Or maybe your major has the majority of its classes in a single building, and you don’t have to worry about it.) But the other twenty minutes or so? A lot of time it gets wasted, because it’s not long enough to “do” something.

Which makes it perfect writing time.

10-30 minutes breaks are actually ideal for a number of reasons.

  • You’re unlikely to schedule something else in this time, unless it’s especially urgent.
  • The short time period can serve as incentive to buckle down and get to work, as you know you don’t have much time.
  • They add up over time.

Even if you only write 300 words a day, that’s 109,500 words in a year. That’s more than a novel for most genres. That’s a 2000-word short story every week.

As we discussed in the general tips section, it’s important to always have writing tools with you, especially if you’re not sure when exactly you’re going to writing. This is easier in college because you’ll tend to have notebooks/laptops/etc. with you for your schoolwork anyway.

Aside from short breaks, there may be other times that trend toward being good for writing, such as when no one else is around (if you’re on campus earlier or later than most people). Exceptionally long breaks (4+ hours) can also be good, because you can accomplish some school related stuff and still put aside some time for writing. I would argue that it’s good to occasionally break up school work and activities with activities like writing, because it helps you give your brain a break.

It can also be useful to identify one or a few places on campus that are always open to you to hang out in. The library, or a lounge or lobby, a coffee shop or cafeteria, club offices–something along those lines. Somewhere where you can duck in and work whenever the fancy hits you. Ideally somewhere close to a majority of your classes.

You can also write in your classrooms while waiting for class to start, if you get there early. For obvious reasons, I do not condone writing during class.

Any other tips you’d recommend for college students, squiders?

The Return of the Space Dinosaurs

Ugh, Squiders. It is already getting hot for the year, and I do not like hot. My Celtic and Scandinavian genes are not equipped to deal with this madness.

(It could be worse. I could live in Arizona. Ha. Ha. Haha. I don’t know how anybody lives down there.)

(I mean, I know a lot of people who do. But I would die.)

ANYWAY.

I finished up my draft of Book 1 and got it sent out to betas, and so, of course, that means waiting. Ugh, waiting. But it also means I get to work on other things for the first time in years (ignoring the few short breaks I took for mental sanity) which is very exciting.

(Also, I have gotten some feedback back on the first chapter, so I’m not sitting in a beta vacuum. But it will probably be months before I get most of their input. Not dwelling too much. That’ll drive you mad.)

So, aside from ongoing things (short story writing and submitting, monthly serial, very lazily querying the YA paranormal), I’m finally going on my space dinosaur story again.

I call it that because everyone likes space dinosaurs (and there is a space dinosaur, and I ♥ her a lot, and I love the way she plays on the humans’ innate fear of the predator in their midst, bwhahahaha) and because it gives people something to focus on, and then I don’t have to explain the whole plot, because I don’t know about you guys, but when I have to talk about my books it makes me really, really nervous.

Long story short, I wrote most of the draft for Nanowrimo back in 2014. And then I revised the YA paranormal, and then I revised Book 1, and somewhere in there was the entirety of City of Hope and Ruin, and, frankly, it’s been a long time. But I hate leaving drafts unfinished, and I especially hate leaving this one unfinished, because it’s super fun to write.

So I’ve read over my notes, read over the current draft (needs a bit of revision, same thing mentioned three times in three chapters at the beginning, and one character makes a decision not to do something and then apparently changes her mind, but that’s for later), made some notes to myself on where we’re going (I have the worst habit of not leaving myself notes because I always think I’m going to be working on a story sooner than I ever end up doing so), and have started writing again.

I mean, like, 300 words, but hey! And more hopefully whenever I get this GDPR thing figured out and finalized.

(Any resources if you’ve had something to GDPR-ize, squiders? From what I understand, I mostly need to update the forms for my mailing lists, and also send an email out asking if people want to stay on. But the whole thing is daunting.)

It’s so lovely to be working on this again. Hopefully once I actually get going, it’ll be smooth sailing.

How are you, squiders? More writing around life for Thursday, so I’ll see you then.

Writing Around Life: School (Part-time College)

Happy Thursday, squiders! Today we’re going to look at techniques for students attending college part-time.

As a caveat, most students attending part-time are doing so because they have some other responsibility (children, work, aiding aging parents, etc.) so one of the combination sections later on may be more applicable if that’s you. This section assumes college is your main or only responsibility.

If this is you, you might still have trouble finding time to write despite what looks like ample free time. This is due to a strange, but commonly true, factor of human nature.

The less you have to do, the less you get done.

We could argue the psychology of this all day (is it because there’s less pressure to be productive? is it because people with more to do are naturally better at time management?) but we won’t. Odds are you’ve already noticed that this is true. Have you ever found yourself with a free block of time and no plans?

What happens?

Well, a lot of times, nothing. I occasionally find myself with two or three free hours when I could literally do anything I want. I could write! I could go for a walk! I could read outside in the sun! I could conceivably do all three because I have three hours!

But I tend to play video games and eat too many cookies and fail at being productive at all.

There are ways to get around this tendency.

1. Add more structure to your schedule. 

If you find yourself “wasting” large amounts of time where you could conceivably be doing things you want to get done (like writing), it can help to schedule things out. Maybe you go to the gym as soon as you get up, or go for a walk to get your day off to a good start. Maybe you set a timer for 10 am every morning and write for an hour. Maybe every day at 1 pm you spend 15 minutes tidying your house.

By building in some structure, you get rid of that “the day is so full of possibilities I could do literally ANYTHING” thought pattern that may actually be hurting your goals. Also, setting specific times for specific activities can help build a habit that will eventually become second nature.

2. Make a To-Do List (and prioritize it).

It’s surprising how motivating a to-do list can be. The satisfaction of checking something off–especially something that’s needed to be done for a while, or that is more difficult than the stuff that normally gets done–can be excellent. And a list can help you focus your day.

Categorization and prioritization can also be helpful. If you’ve got 12 things on your list, it can look overwhelming, which might be counterproductive. It can help to rank everything by how important it is that it gets done (homework for tonight’s lecture could be number 1 on the list, for example, whereas laundry might be down at number 8 because if it gets pushed til tomorrow it’s not going to be the end of the world). You can also set a goal for the number of things to get done. Depending on your schedule and the things on the list, maybe a goal of 5 things would be good. If more get done, fantastic! But that way you don’t feel disappointed in yourself if the entire list doesn’t get done.

Categorization can also help. This is how I do my to-do lists–I split the list into three categories: work (which includes contract/freelance work, writing projects, things like this blog), house (chores and other maintenance activities, such if I got a contractor coming by to cut down a tree), and other (everything else). I have 2 to 6 activities in each category for the day, hopefully in order of importance. The categorization helps me break down the day so I can see what needs to be done and where.

(You can also prioritize categories; for example, the stuff in the “Other” category might be more important than the “House” category for the particular day.)

3. Look for good times to work.

When you’re scheduling your day, it might be helpful to make sure you’re doing different activities at different times. Some activities feel better in the morning vs. the afternoon, or might not get done if you don’t try to do them at particular times (such as working out–I find the longer the day goes on, the less motivated I am to exercise). There might also be times that naturally lend themselves to certain activities. If you always get coffee between class 1 and class 2, and there’s time, maybe that could be a good time to go some writing. If you walk past the market on the way home from class, maybe that’s a good time to do your shopping. Look at your goals, and see if there’s a logical place for those activities to go.

Anything to add, squiders? Tips for part-time college students that you’ve found helpful?

A Picture is Worth 1000 Words

To be unoriginal in our titles.

Let’s talk about graphic novels and associated subjects!

You know what I like about comics/graphic novels/manga, etc.? You can get through a 300-page book in, like, an hour. Sometimes less.

What’s not fun is there tends to be a gazillion volumes, which either gets very expensive or drives whoever has to drive the books between the library branches insane.

But this is a rough time of year (school year ending! new school year prep has to be done! summer vacations must be planned! It is alternately snowing or 80 degrees and my yard/garden doesn’t know what to do!) and I seem to be fully into the visual story telling medium at the moment, so I thought we’d talk about it.

(The other issue is that I’m in the middle of three books, all of which were written before 1980 and all of which are various degrees of sloggy. This is a mistake and I should have thought this out better.)

First of all, let’s talk about Saga.

Saga is a series by Brian K. Vaughan and Fiona Staples. There’s eight volumes out now, with the ninth due in September. (Wikipedia tells me that the comic comes out monthly, but I like to wait til things are consolidated.)

You’ve probably heard of this. I had certainly heard of this before I picked it up. (And, if I recall correctly, I picked it up after it was listed in a round-up of scifi/fantasy books involving cats.)

(Funny how many stories there are with cats.)

I was a little wary at first, because it’s certainly graphic, both sexually and violence-wise, but by the end of the first volume I was completely invested. It’s a space opera story about a family made up of species on the opposite sides of a long-standing and wide-reaching war.

Just…don’t get terribly attached to anyone.

 

Next there’s Pandora Hearts, which I just started. And, weirdly enough, I picked it up because I saw some character images on Pinterest and thought they looked interesting.

I’m only through the first volume and the series seems to be remotely based on Alice in Wonderland. (“Remote” being the key word.) That may just be a coincidence, but I shall have to read further on to see how true the comparison is.

It’s been a while since I picked up a new manga series, but there’s enough going on here to be interesting–missing memories, secret societies, evil alternate dimensions–and the series is complete, so I don’t have to worry about getting sucked into something that may go on forever (*coughBleachcough*).

And, lastly for today, let’s talk about Comics for a Strange World, which is a collection from the Poorly Drawn Lines comic.

I highly recommend both the collection and the strip itself, especially if one’s humor tends toward dry and existential. I got this for Christmas and it’s probably the best thing I got.

Reading any comics/graphic novels/manga lately, squiders? Thoughts about them or any of the above?

Writing Around Life: School (High School)

Good evening, squiders! We’re moving on to more specific tips this week.

We’re doing school first, because almost everyone goes to school (one would hope, anyway). I’ve got this section divided into three subsections: high school, part-time college, and full-time college. While some tips will be applicable across the board, the difference in scheduling (in high school one is typically at school for a solid block of time, whereas in college classes are spread out all over the place and generally in the least useful combination) makes it a logical break.

High school is an interesting time, when one can do a little of everything and see what sticks. As such, around schoolwork, clubs, sports, social activities, and other time commitments (at least in this state, high schoolers must complete some number of volunteer hours to graduate), it can be hard to find time to work on writing or other creative endeavors.

First things first: no matter what, you must make writing a priority. There will always be something else to do, whether it’s sharing videos with your friends during lunch or checking out the latest student council display. In some cases, you will have to choose to write over doing something else.

The first step is to examine your day. Do you find yourself with free time frequently in a certain class or activity? Is there a block of time open where you have options on what to do? Are you at school early or late?

Here are some places to look for times to write:

Lunch

Lunch can be a good time to write because it’s typically a large block of time with no set requirements (aside from hopefully consuming food). I know this is prime socialization time, but depending on how your school’s schedule is organized, you may find yourself on your own occasionally or on a regular basis, especially if your friends have lunch a different period or have some other commitment (club meetings, travel time if they’re taking college courses off campus, etc.) during that time. Some schools have long lunches, so part of the time can be spent socializing and the other part working.

Home Room

My school called this “Access,” but the basic idea is that you have a period some time during the day where you report to your home room/teacher. Some schools require you to stay in the classroom; others allow you to leave to get help from other teachers or attend club meetings. Not all schools have this time period built into their daily schedule, but if yours does, and you don’t need help/haven’t finished your fifth period homework, this can be a great time to squeeze some writing in, especially since teachers generally prefer the students to be relatively quiet.

During (Some) Classes

Let’s face it. In some classes you may routinely finish your work early. For me, it was biology and drafting. So you can sit there and twiddle your thumbs, talk to your neighbors (and probably get in trouble for disrupting the kids still working), or you can be productive. This does depend on the teacher, however, because some don’t care what you work on once you’re done, but others might throw a fit.

During (Some) Activities

Some school activities require you to be there for long periods of time but not necessarily participate the whole time. You might be in the band and another section might be a mess and need some dedicated work from the teacher. You might be in theater but only be onstage for half the time. You might have a long bus ride to a game. Again, beware of the situation. If you have obligations for the activity that aren’t completed (i.e., you don’t know your lines for the show), those come first.

Before School

Sometimes you get to school early. This seems to be especially true in some bus systems, where whomever made the schedule wanted to be absolutely certain that the kids riding the bus were never ever late. My bus used to drop me half an hour before school started, and even my friends on other buses didn’t show up for another fifteen minutes. It can be hard to get going in the morning, but hey, you’re already up and you’ve successfully made it to school, so it can’t hurt to try.

After Your Homework

So, all of the above time periods can also be used to get some homework done throughout the day. You know what’s great about this? It means you have less homework to do later, and this can be a glorious thing. It means maybe you can get your homework done at a reasonable time, and maybe you can have brain to work on your writing after dinner and before bed. Then you can end the day on something fun instead of, you know, math or English.

Weekends

Weekends can be pretty busy still, depending on your activities and schedule, but you still have three nights to do homework instead of one, so hopefully you will also have some free time to do what you would like. It might help to pick a specific time each weekend–Saturday afternoon, maybe–where you typically don’t have commitments and make that your writing time. That way it’s planned, and it’s more likely to happen.

Another thing the can help with writing around high school is to have friends who also write, or friends who are interested in what you’re writing. Having a support system in place can help your productivity a ton. You can share your work, plan write-ins, and talk about what you’re working on.

Any other tips for high schoolers you would include, squiders? Or, as a high schooler, things you’ve found that have worked for you?

Announcing the Sparrow Readalong

Right, squiders, the results are in from last week’s poll! So for this month’s/quarter’s/however often we get to it’s readalong, we’re going to the doing The Sparrow by Mary Doria Russell.

My spouse will be pleased, as he greatly enjoyed the book and has been after me to read it for years.

This is an older book, originally published in 1997 (so it’s still newer than 85% of the rest of the stuff we’ve read in the readalongs over the years). Goodreads tells me it’s set in 2019, so I look forward to being amused by predictions gone awry.

(I’m reading a late ’70s scifi book right now which has overshot it all on technology and undershot everything social, which is pretty par for the course.)

From what I understand, it’s the story of a Jesuit priest who is part of a scientific expedition to contact a alien race on a planet we’ve picked up radio waves or some such from.

It’s supposed to be really good–the book has a 4.2 out of 5 on Goodreads, and won a ton of awards, including the Arthur C. Clarke award, James Tiptree award, and the British Science Fiction Association award.

Apparently there’s a sequel? Well, we’re see how we’re feeling after we read this one.

Anyway! I hope you’ll read this one with me! (Especially after I dug it out of the bottom of a stack of books.) It’s ~430 pages, so let’s give ourselves a little over a month–let’s discuss on June 5th.