What does it take to be a productive writer? A journal!

I read an article today that caused me to rethink the differences between my really productive Sunday and my less productive Monday, Tuesday, and Wednesday (and Thursday, so far). It was the title of the piece that drew me in—interstitial is just that kind of word.

Replace Your To-Do List With Interstitial Journaling To Increase Productivity: A new journaling tactic that immediately kills procrastination and boosts creative insights” promised not to be just another article on productivity journaling (boring) but something more and I decided I really had to know what the author of the piece had to say.

(Note: you do appear to need a Medium account to read the complete article.)

I wasn’t disappointed, even though I saw right away that this was exactly the kind of journaling I already do on my more productive days. In fact (from the article):

During your day, journal every time you transition from one work project to another. Write a few sentences in your journal about what you just did, and then a few more sentences about what you’re about to do.

The author talks about this as journaling in the “interstitial moments” between projects. For me, I journal when I take breaks between sessions. The example the author showed of this kind of journaling is very close to what I do in my private journal (even down to putting in the time) and I’ve also done it some here on the blog, although not lately.

It’s also very similar to what I did Sunday, and what I didn’t do Monday through Wednesday (or even Thursday, so far).

Since I journal in so many different places, it’s been hard for me to go back and check just how many of my more productive days involved this kind of journaling and how many didn’t, but my gut tells me this has been a significant determinant of whether or not I’ve ended up having a successful writing day.

The problem I have measuring this gut feeling is that I currently log all this stuff in any of three active paper journals (not counting my cheap spiral notebooks), this blog, and my OneNote journals. Some days I write in OneNote (today) and some days I write in my hardback journal, or my 5×8 softbound journal, or my BlueSky spiral notebook (that I adore). And some days I just post to the blog and do no other journaling at all.

I might have a hard time writing a lot of fiction, but let me tell you, I write a shit ton of everything else. ;)

In the “journal everything” section of the article, I saw so much of my own journaling habits that it was a little spooky. I also suspect that many of those days were the days when I successfully overcame procrastination.

From one of my own private journal entries (November 4, 2015):

9:49 am: Started my break. Although my numbers started out low, they’ve improved a bit and the goal of having a record breaking day doesn’t look out of reach so I’m going to keep aiming in that direction.

I’ve been yawning so I hope that doesn’t turn into a problem. But I need do only two more sessions before lunch so it’s not that bad! I can nap then if I really need it.

12:02 pm: 2,021 words

I’m disappointed I’m not further along but I did hit a bit of a wall when it comes to energy earlier. I got through it though. Now I need to have a quick lunch and get back to writing. I think the story is going well and I’m looking forward to where it might go.

My pace is only 622 wph this morning, and I’m 5 minutes short of 4 full 50 minute sessions. That means that I wrote for 3.25 hours out of about 4.25 hours. That’s an average of 20 minutes between every session. Not bad. Better than I have been doing at any rate! Improvement is good. :)

Caught up with Pulp Speeders, now getting to lunch! 12:27 pm.

1:28 pm. And of course, lunch took longer than I expected. My battery isn’t changed yet either. I think I’ll take a short nap. If I can. Just a quick little eye rest. :D

1:53 pm. My quick little eye rest didn’t turn into a nap, but I do feel better and ready to get started again.

3:48pm. 2,498 words

Of course, none of that ended up here on the blog as my only November 4, 2015 entry proves.

I’ll be honest, this article came at an opportune time. I’ve been wishy-washy today about whether or not I wanted to go back to using timers to keep me focused on writing, but I kind of really don’t want to do that, not yet at any rate. This journaling could be the key to keeping me productive during the transition, and could also explain some of my former productivity.

Even the month I posted nothing here and maintained my most consistent writing pace ever (February 2013), I wrote in my private journals. I’d love to go back and read them, but they’re the ones I deleted in late 2014 and I still could kick myself for doing that. I have a note to myself at the top of my OneNote journals notebook. It says simply: REMEMBER – Do not delete journals again!

Funny, but I dare not get rid of that reminder. I also moved to expensive paper journals for the same reason. I’m much less tempted to tear out pages and throw them away when the cost is $9+ for the journal versus the $0.25 I paid for the cheap spiral notebooks I used to use. :D

Know thyself, as they say.

The thing is, this is something I’ve been doing for a long time, but not every day and not deliberately. I think it’s time I give it a deliberate place in my writing day.

Since today hasn’t been great (so far), it’s the perfect time to put this into practice and see if it leads to me writing more words tonight. Because I really need to write, and the 315 words I have so far are nowhere near where I’d imagined this day ending up when I got started this morning.

So thanks, Tony Stubblebine! Your article has made a difference in someone’s life today. :D

That stopped working surprisingly fast

I tried to recreate Sunday’s success on Monday, Tuesday, and Wednesday, but no such luck. It just didn’t work and I’m at a loss to explain why.

Word counts:
Sunday (of course) = 2,073 (5.017 hours)
Monday = 670 (2.4 hours)
Tuesday = 379 (3.533 hours)
Wednesday = 103 (.467 hours)

I’m really not doing well with my 1,557 word minimum, or goal, or whatever you want to call it. I averaged 2.85 hours of daily writing time so that was close but I’m really trying for 3 hours a day—not as an average.

Maybe it’s too much. My all-time average daily is 613 words a day. Even when I wasn’t struggling with the writing, it was only 700+ words. My best month ever only averaged 1,908 words a day, and my best week ever, the best I can recall, only had me at a little over 3,000 words a day average. And these are all definitely averages, because I’m about as consistent as lumpy pudding. ;D

All told, 1,557 words a day in light of that might still be too much of a mental hurdle for me. So I’m dropping it to 1,000. The 1,000 isn’t a goal—it’s a daily minimum. For the most part, I’m going to focus on the three hours a day of writing I want to do, every day, and have that 1,000 word minimum to keep me from puttering along at a 200 wph pace. (Which I don’t doubt at all that I would do!)

Of course, I’m going to hope for more, and push for more anytime that I can, but I want to develop a consistent writing routine and I have to start somewhere.

I feel good about today, much like I did Sunday, so I’m hopeful. However, I decided last night I wasn’t going to continue with the loose schedule I’ve been trying to follow unsuccessfully for the last three days.

Today’s plan: Run the timer down from 3 hours, don’t track individual sessions, focus on making sure I hit that 1,000 words. The pace I need to do that is a mere 333 wph.

As always wph = words per hour.

Self-discipline is a skill: skills take practice and practice takes time

I did not reach any of my goals yesterday. (1557 words, 3 hours writing, finish editing chapters 15 and 16.) I wrote for 2.633 hours and added 122 words to chapter 15.

I didn’t take drastic measures with those chapters as I said I would because things were actually going well with the story. I just couldn’t concentrate, and there didn’t seem to be anything I could do about it. I even turned to a cup of coffee, which didn’t help at all. >:{

Today I am going to finish going through chapter 15 and 16 and I’m going to do it before I stop for lunch.

After lunch, I’m going to write.

Today also begins a fresh start on my 1,557 words a day goal. I’ll also be requiring at least three hours a day of writing from myself. I will require this every day, with few exceptions. I’m doing this because I’m starting to believe self-discipline is something you need to practice regularly, and without it, you’re never going to get the most out of yourself long-term.

I accept that I’ll fall short on the word counts sometimes, because I haven’t changed my writing process and I do end up with days where I delete more than I write. This isn’t about perfection. But by requiring three hours a day from myself, I make it much more likely that on my good days, I might make up some of those lost words. And on days where three hours just doesn’t cut it, I can keep pushing for those 1,557 words.

My biggest hope is that over time I’ll fall into a routine that maximizes the number of words I write in the most reasonable amount of time by consistently staying involved in my story worlds. I’ll stop losing momentum to month-long breaks and I’ll lose less time to massive read-throughs and edits like the one I’m stuck in the middle of now, because I’ll be working on my stories every day. Even if I can’t maintain the three hours and 1,557 words a day pace working on just one story, I can work on other stories. I already know I have that capability.

I’m going at this to build stamina for writing. What I write isn’t as important as the writing itself. Plus, I don’t want to hamstring myself by limiting what I can write. Some days there will be stories I won’t feel capable of or ready to write. Those days need a back up plan. That back up plan is to write something else.

Three hours a day is twenty-one hours a week, and that’s not that much time at all to devote to what is undoubtedly my life’s work.

It’s time for a permanent reduction in distractive reading

I’ve started using the Mind the Time add-on for Firefox again, temporarily, to help me keep an eye on time I’m spending on things I need to cut out of my day so I have more time for reading fiction, watching TV, doing random stuff, all while still having plenty of time for writing.

See that number 1 in the picture above? Yeah. I’m not surprised, believe it or not. I know I have a problem with that site. And FYI, that 8:13 is hours and minutes not minutes and seconds!

Thirty-four percent of my time online is going to clicking through forum threads and reading them, and almost never engaging in actual discussion. It’s stressful. Maybe that doesn’t make a lot of sense, because why go there when I don’t actually enjoy it? But I do go there—every time I get a little antsy and start looking for a distraction.

I’m going to have to make it a rule that I can’t go there anymore. I really don’t know how else to stop this massive waste of my valuable time.

Same goes for news. Almost nothing I read has any relevance to my life at all, and yet, every time I get on my phone or tablets or my browser, I end up scrolling through the headlines, looking for something interesting to read. It’s like an addiction. I really don’t like feeling addicted to things.

Not only that, but I keep telling myself I’m going to watch more tutorials on design, I’m going to read more fiction, I’m going to study a language, I’m going to learn to draw, I’m going to write more every day, I’m going to go out more, I’m going to visit family more often, and yet I keep wasting vast amounts of valuable time reading news and forum topics that are just a repeat of what I read yesterday. It doesn’t make any sense to let it continue.

in light of that, I’m making a new rule for myself: no more trending news, no more NPR, no more Kboards, no more The Passive Voice. I already don’t watch news videos or television news, read newspapers, or news magazines, so I think that’ll cover it.

I’ve reduced my media intake before and I quite liked it. It’s time to make it permanent. It’s like that old adage of closing one door to let another open.

I will seek out the things that matter to me, and in the process, I’m sure I’ll come across other topics that I’ll feel are important enough for me to delve into in depth. No more skimming news items or forum topics looking for my next distraction.

Even writing that, I feel a huge sigh of relief just waiting to escape. It’s the right thing to do for me and I already feel better.

Ah… :D

Facing resistance and adjusting the plan

You know how you make a plan and then immediately feel resistant to actually following through? Yes, well, that’s been happening to me.

So instead of letting myself get too far down that hole, I’ve decided to make a few adjustments to the plan.

I wrote a long post about this and then decided to cut most of it. Suffice to say, I’ve decided I might be better served to have a minimum daily plan that is, to be honest, a little more minimum.

That’d be 1,557 words, every day. Yes. I know some days life will interfere. I still want to write 1,557 words every day, even if I have to switch projects to get them done, or write something quick and ugly just before bed to do it.

I can do this in 3 hours or less most days (based on the fact that my real, I’ve-tracked-it average is about 550 words an hour). It might take longer some days but I’m confident in these numbers—they’re real, they aren’t overly optimistic, and this can be done.

It’s really all about training myself to write every day, because I am not good with habits once I start letting them slip. Seriously, it’s the way I’m wired or something but there ain’t a lot of middle ground with me. The only habits that stick are the ones that I make non-negotiable.

Not gonna lie. This is going to be hard as hell to get embedded in my brain: writing daily is non-negotiable. 1,557 words a day is non-negotiable.

All I have to do is show up and stay the course.

I think the thing I’ll have to remember is that if the writing is going badly, I’m going to have to write shit and just accept that. Some shit is better than no shit, right? :P

Now that I’ve thought this all out, I’m ready to get started with this TODAY. :D I have 412 words written and I need to write another 1,145 words.

I like this more reasonable plan. It’s one I can start working on late in the day and still expect to get done. Here’s hoping that will stop the excuses!

(Have I mentioned that a lot of these posts are totally me just writing out my thoughts and trying to make sense of them? Because, yes, that’s what I’ve just done.)

Practicing writing faster in 40 minute intervals

*And was derailed by a kid emergency. I’ll have to save this one for tomorrow. Ugh! Nothing serious though. Well, nothing serious for ME. Kiddo sure thinks differently. :)*

Tonight I’m working in 40 minute sessions. I have quite a bit of writing I wanted to do today and somehow I put it off until now. I’ve completed three of what I wanted to be nine sessions today. Nine was a stretch I could have hit but definitely won’t after starting this late.

I’ll be lucky to finish six now. Probably won’t, to be honest, because staying up late and messing up my sleep rhythms again would be dumb.

I’d rather not do dumb things. :)

But that’s not what this post is about. This post is about me trying to practice writing faster. First thing I need to do is write more and stop less.

Currently, I stop, backup, and start over A LOT. I need to stop that. Or at least cut back on it significantly.

So I’m going to try to write as constantly as I can during this next session (which is probably going to be my last of the night) and see where that gets me. It’ll be a challenge to be sure.

Here’s wishing myself success! You can wish me success too, if you’d like. I need all the encouragement I can get. ;)

(You’ll notice I’m specifically not saying “luck” up there. Time to stop cultivating that mindset, I think! There’s a post in that explanation but it’ll have to wait until tomorrow.)

You think you got this and then you don’t do the work

That title there? Basically the exact thing that’s happened today. I was sure I was on track after having two successful days of writing—successful in that I sat myself down and managed to write for four complete hours each day, even if it took me much longer than I’d have liked. But then today came and I let myself slip up.

I’ve done four sessions of the twelve I need to do to reach that same four hour goal and it’s already 7:45 pm.

To finish my 8 remaining sessions by a reasonable hour (say, 11 pm) I’ll need to do as many of the remaining sessions back-to-back as I can, and that’s just the truth. Because here’s the thing. I am accountable to me and I’m not going to let myself get away with not doing the work.

Not today. Not tomorrow. Not anytime soon.

I’ve said it before: To be the kind of writer I want to be, I need to change.

Missing a goal once in a while is no big deal and doesn’t feel anything like failure. Missing a goal every single time is not a good thing. There are repercussions to that kind of repetitive failure. I’m done with that. I just can’t be that person, that kind of writer, any longer.

If I miss today’s goal, it will be a 1:3 failure rate. That’s no longer good enough for me. I’ve set my boundaries and 1:3 ain’t it.

But I’m lucky, because this day isn’t over and there’s no reason to accept failure.

Getting back on track is as easy as saying it’s time to start writing again.

(I originally started a new post for today’s session log but I changed my mind and I’ve moved it here instead.)

Daily Accountability

Session 1: 307 words
Session 2: 217 words
Session 3: 48 words
Session 4: 20 words

Sessions are 20 minutes long and my goal for each is 250 words. Not there yet. Working on it. :)

Next day update: Well, shit. I didn’t do any more sessions. I had good reasons, but if I’d done my writing early like I should’ve done, this would not have happened.

A plan for the future

I’m tired of lowercase titles. And yet, I continue to use them. :)

Today I have a plan.

20 minute blocks x 12 of them @ ~750 words an hour = 3,000 words

Yep. That’s my plan.

In fact, it’s my plan for every day for the indefinite future. I’ve been giving some thought to the need for change and some direction for the rest of my year. Those thoughts led me to realize I need to expect more from myself; it’s the only way to grow. I don’t want to be stagnant. A moribund life is not the life I want, despite the fact that my brain is all about strolling down easy street.

I made a note to myself last night. It’s important.

Write for fun! Do more than that though. Make time for other stuff. Don’t drag it out.

I need to write with focus. I need to focus on writing. I need to meet my goals early so I can do other things. Then as a reward, if I want, I can write more later. But always, I need to remember that the only way to meet my goals is to actually prioritize writing and do it first. I get to do it first and save all the stuff in my life that I don’t really want to do for later.

What I’ve typically done, though, is dawdle until I feel pressured to do these other things at the expense of what little time I’ve left myself for writing, because there are immediate consequences if I don’t. (Bills! Dishes! Laundry! Talking to relatives and friends! All of these have consequences for me that I’m not willing to accept if I don’t do them.)

I’ve always felt as if writing daily is a priority, and therefore I feel all the guilt one feels when one doesn’t do that important thing one should have done, but when it comes down to it, I haven’t treated it that way at all.

That’s the big thing I need to change about myself. That’s what I’m going to be focused on changing.

Write in the morning

Reach my word count goal

Or at least do the number of sessions I’ve decided I should be doing at a minimum each day

Then worry about the rest of life and whatever I want to do with my time after that, even if it’s just more writing

Simple. :D

And that answers that question about my paperback covers at CreateSpace

Got this just a short while ago:

Congratulations!

Your interior and cover files for xxxxxxxxxxxxx, #xxxxxxxx meet our technical requirements for printing.

The next step in the publishing process is to proof your book:

FOLLOW THIS LINK TO GET STARTED:

Which I assume means the embedded fonts in the paperback cover are A-okay.  There was no additional message about corrections made for me, on my behalf, or anything like that, so this answers the question of whether or not the PDF cover files would be accepted by CreateSpace with fonts embedded instead of being flattened into the image. Should’ve guessed, really, but I just wasn’t sure.

I’ll be ordering a proof to check this out and compare the quality of print to the covers I didn’t embed fonts for (sending only a flattened image PDF to CreateSpace), and scouring over the digital proof from CreateSpace. If the quality of the text appears better, I’ll definitely be doing this extra step from now on. If it isn’t any better, then I’ll just use GIMP, and only add Elements into the mix when I need to use a font that brings out that unfortunate GIMP text rendering (?) bug.

Also, I discovered something with this round of paperback creation. I’ve consistently had a problem with my PDF cover as exported from GIMP having a transparency that CreateSpace fixes for me. I’ve not had that problem this time. The difference? This time when GIMP popped up the little message during the PDF export, I unchecked all the little boxes for things GIMP was offering to do for me during the export. And now, no transparency warnings from CreateSpace for the three covers I exported directly to PDF from GIMP. Pretty happy to have figured that out. I was exporting a completely flattened image to PDF so there shouldn’t have ever been any transparency anyway, but obviously something GIMP was doing during the export on my behalf was creating it.

New text justification bug in GIMP is bugging me

I think I’ve found a bug in GIMP’s text justification feature. I thought about reporting the bug, but I do not have an account and don’t want an account and don’t have a spare email address where I’d enjoy getting spammed even if I did. The create a new account page warns of that possibility and I chose to take that warning seriously. (Updates below.)

So I’m just putting it out here because I’m frustrated. I spent all day yesterday trying to fix an issue with an installed font that I used for a book cover that turns out isn’t usable in Word for my title page headings because of some bug. If I’d known at the time, I’d have never used the font in GIMP for the book cover.

Lesson learned: when using a new font I haven’t used in Word before, test it in Word. Save the file. Reopen. Is the font still there? If it isn’t, delete the font, because I don’t want to run into this problem again.

I’ve been buying more font licenses lately,  but I still have a pretty big selection of fonts from fontsquirrel and Google fonts on my system that had the right kind of licenses for what I do and I guess I should have expected to run into a problem like this eventually, but I didn’t. I honestly thought fonts just worked or they didn’t. I didn’t realize they could actually be buggy with only certain software. :o

But back to the GIMP bug. Here’s what’s happened. (Update: Definitely a bug. I’ve figured out why it’s happening and I am sure it’s a bug.)

Yesterday I noticed that some of my back cover copy was getting cut off on the right side when I justified the text. I scaled it down a bit from 12 pt to 11.7 pt and it fixed it. This was with Adobe Garamond Pro. Today I have a different book cover in the works and I’m using Adobe Caslon Pro. I tried the same trick when I noticed it was also getting cut off on the right side but scaling it down hasn’t worked to fix this one. I’ve tried every pixel/point size I can in the range I’d be comfortable having this text and it just won’t stop cutting off the very right edge of the fonts.

It’s very frustrating! I definitely haven’t noticed this previously and I updated a few weeks ago to the 2.8.20 version of GIMP. I’d go back to the older version but I truly don’t know if it would fix it, because I’m so behind on putting out my paperback books and I haven’t created one in more than a year until I started doing these.

I don’t know what version of GIMP this issue started in or if it’s been there all along and I just didn’t notice because I wasn’t using these fonts. :(

Maybe I should be doing my paperback covers in Scribus or Inkscape but I do a lot of tweaking of stuff and I don’t want to learn another program with a steep learning curve.

So I guess I’m going to be using a different font for this book cover’s back cover copy.

UGH!

FYI: I’d still recommend GIMP but this kind of thing does make me rethink whether or not it’s worth it to keep putting off converting to Photoshop. I just HATE subscription services. I’ll almost certainly deal and just find a way to work around this problem, but I have to ask myself why I’m being so damn stubborn about it. I do not know.

Update: I figured out why GIMP is cutting off a bit of the right edge of the fonts. It has to do with fonts that have edges that are supposed to fall outside of the margin, in the same way some punctuation is supposed to fall outside of the margins. For example, in my specific case for this text block I was trying to use, the first letter of the paragraph is a “J”. The scoop that makes the bottom of the letter should hang over the edge just a teeny tiny bit (it does in Word and in Scribus and in Photoshop elements. It doesn’t in GIMP. In GIMP, that little effect causes the entire block of text to shift a minute amount to the right, making all the edges of those final letters susceptible to being trimmed by that same minute amount because they’re falling outside the bounds of the text box. And because this is happening no matter the size of the text or the text box, there’s no way to counter it, other than using a different font.

For me, what it meant was that I created my cover in GIMP as usual, saved as a tiff file, opened it in Photoshop Elements 14 (which I had honestly nearly forgotten I had), and added the text for the back cover there. Saved as a PDF, and realized at that point that Elements saves the text as embedded instead of flattened, and decided I’d try that out.

(Scribus did the same. I did get it to work, finally, but it was a PITA, and I don’t like using it. That was when I remembered I had bought Elements last year when it was on sale and that it was on my computer, ready to be used if I wanted to.)

If embedding the fonts produces crisper text on the cover, I might do all future books this way even though it adds another program/step to my workflow.

On the other hand, I don’t know if Createspace will even accept this, because I’ve never submitted a completely non-flattened PDF before. I flatten everything in GIMP, text and all.

But the reason I decided to give this a shot was because I read a paragraph of a page today on the Createspace website that says to make sure your fonts are embedded in the pdf file for the cover. So obviously it’s an expected thing, right?

We shall see.