A link about reading comprehension that’s worth sharing

The Passive Voice posted a link to a great little article about reading today, “How to Get Your Mind to Read,” that tempted me to comment. I wrote one, but then decided the comment went a little too personal for me to post it there, so I’m putting it here instead. :-)

“This was a great piece. I always did spectacularly well on the reading portions of standardized tests, but only after I passed the fifth grade, when I started reading stuff that I wanted to read, a wild collection of random things. Up until then, the school had kept me in the slow reading groups. I also started doing much better than my classmates on games like Trivial Pursuit at about that time, even though I really didn’t like the game much. I can almost bet that had something to do with the kind of reading I started doing at about that time. Not kids’ books, that’s for sure. :) In the end, I graduated third in my class and ended up with my picture on the wall because of my test scores on the ACT. It’s still there, unfortunately, and my poor kids had to live with it staring down at them all through high school. It was awkward that my daughter looks so much like me. She actually had friends ask her why her picture was on the wall and had to tell them it was her mother.”

I liked that this article gave me some interesting ideas about why I might be a “good reader” even though I actually read pretty slowly. I do tend to comprehend what I read, but there are times when I question how I think of myself when it comes to reading. Just yesterday I read an article online that required me to reread a paragraph about four times before I felt like I knew what the heck it was saying!

Sometimes I wonder why it can feel so hard to read some things and not others—even when the words aren’t any more challenging in one piece than another. (In fact, I was thinking about this just yesterday.)

Maybe it’s simply that I’m trying to make connections with knowledge that’s full of gaps.

The article is good reading. Go read it. :D

Seriously, it’s time to end this thing

Alright, it’s time to put an end to my misery. I have to finish this book. Today.

Toward that end—:D—I’ve set a loose schedule and some time goals. (Time spent is really the only thing I can totally control when it comes to my writing. I’ve tried to make time quotas work in the past and they haven’t but I don’t think that changes the fundamental truth that if I want to create a daily habit of writing, I’m going to have to focus on time.)

From 11:00 – 3:15, I’m going to try to get in 3 sessions of 1.25 hours each.

I’m already late getting started because of the kittens (they think my deck is a litter box and I’m trying to break them of that habit as quickly as I can) and this post (I shouldn’t be writing it now but here I am), and there isn’t enough break time built in to make the time up easily, but I’m still going to push for it even if that means going past 3:15. If the book isn’t done by then, and I don’t really think it will be…

From 4:15 – 7:00, I’m going to try to get in 2 sessions of 1.25 hours each.

First note: As of right now, I’m planning all my future sessions to be 1.25 hours each, except on days where I might just need to write and be in a hurry and don’t keep up with time at all. I don’t want to feel locked in to the idea that I can’t write or work on my stories just because I don’t have 1.25 hours available. Those days should be rare, because I’m trying to get into a routine and this is the equivalent of my job and the work has to be done. If I can’t squeeze in a few 1.25 hour blocks of time a day for writing, then I have bigger problems. A person has to make a living somehow.

Second note: I did some reading and rereading of a few things and I’ve become convinced that pushing myself past the 4–5 hour range for time spent writing is a mistake. I deal with low motivation regularly after what I consider really good writing days, and there’s a simple explanation: burnout and need for extra rest after pushing too hard.

If I were used to longer periods of focus, it might be different, but I don’t think so. K. Anders Ericsson has some really good papers on deliberate practice and high performance. (Some other related links.) Considering the fact that I’m still under the two million words written mark for fiction (probably), I still feeling like I’m doing high-level practice every time I sit down to write. I’m not sure the good writers ever quit practicing, though, so it’s not something I expect to change. I will always be trying to get better.

One quote:

Elite performers in many diverse domains have been found to practice, on the average, roughly the same amount every day, including weekends, and the amount of practice never consistently exceeds five hours per day.

And from one of the linked papers:

Across many domains of expertise, a remarkably consistent pattern emerges: The best individuals start practice at earlier ages and maintain a higher level of daily practice. Moreover, estimates indicate that at any given age the best individuals in quite different domains, such as sports and music, spend similar amounts of time on deliberate practice. In virtually all domains, there is evidence that the most important activity—practice, thinking, or writing—requires considerable effort and is scheduled for a fixed period during the day. For those exceptional individuals who sustain this regular activity for months and years, its duration is limited to 2-4 h a day, which is a fraction of their time awake.

Going from my daily average word count and the fact that I average 400-600 words an hour during timed writing sessions, I average about 2 hours a day of writing time. Then I read and study and think. Publishing activities drive up the time I spend working even more. I’m going to stop feeling so damn guilty for not putting in even more time. If I ever make it up to 4 hours of writing a day, consistently, I am determined that I’ll be damn happy about it.

Anyway, I just wasted a huge chunk of time on this post and I must go write. This book is going to end today, one way or another. And yes, 5 x 1.25 = 6.25 hours. I’m pushing myself, but I’m tired of dallying with this book. I want it done.

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

Read a really lovely essay today on a random blog

I think I clicked a link to get to it from somewhere, but by the time I read the essay, I’d lost track of where I’d been. It doesn’t matter. The essay was lovely and I enjoyed it enough to want to share. :)

It warns you for politics, but it really isn’t political. It’s about being human.

Surviving trolls, extremism and other curses of modern life

Training myself to write faster—step 1

Here’s the thing: I write fiction pretty damn slowly. My average pace is about 500 words per hour and it seems to be getting worse. You’d think after nearly 20 books that I’d be getting faster, not slower, but that’s not what seems to be happening.

Now maybe it’s just this one book. Maybe it’s just the last few stories I’ve chosen to write. But I don’t think so. These stories haven’t been the kind of stories that push me into new places as a writer. So the only thing I’m left with is the worry that perfectionism has gotten hold of me again, and that I’m having trouble recognizing it in the moment.

I came across an article today that expressed really well how I’ve been feeling: Write FAST and Furious! Learning to Outrun “The Spock Brain”.

What I particularly liked about the article was that it helped me see that I’ve started holding back in my story. I’ve kind of felt it a few times in this book and another that I worked on a few weeks ago, but I thought, nah, I’m just having second thoughts…

But truly, it isn’t second thoughts so much as fear. Honest to God, flat-out fear that a particular angle I’d taken on something in the book might offend someone.

I really need to think about that for a while, because that’s not the kind of writer I want to be and I’ve always told myself I don’t let other people in my head when I write. Turns out it might not be true.

Here’s the quote that gave me this realization:

Many writers hold back emotionally when writing. Why? They aren’t going fast and hard and so Spock takes over and he wants us to use a seatbelt and our blinkers. He isn’t the guy you want in charge if you’re going for the GUTS and breaking bones.

And another:

Spock Brain is a perfectionist and wants us to take our time, make sure we follow all the rules and put the commas in the right spot. He’s seriously uncomfortable with “suspending disbelief” and he tries to explain everything so others don’t get confused.

It probably helped enormously that I’m a die-hard Star Trek fan, and I’m particularly obsessed with ST:AOS and ST:TOS right now. So this article kind of hit me at the right time with the right message using the right metaphor. ;)

However or whyever—that article gave me something to mull over.

And that brings me to this: I’m going to start trying to train myself to write faster.

Step 1: Accept that I want to write faster and believe that it’s possible.

I know I can write faster if I just let myself.

It’s time to put Spock to bed for a while. I’ll just put Bones in there to keep him company while I use Kirk to get this book of mine moving again. ;)

More reading—productivity tips for artists

I’ve been procrastinating again—or, really, I never stopped. I’ve pretty much spent the entire day reading articles about productivity, flexible schedules, fixed schedules, procrastination, and tiny habits. Today’s most interesting find was “How to be Productive When You’re Lazy – A Guide for Artists” at rubberonion.com.

I do just about everything mentioned already, but it set off a few thoughts that I’m still trying to follow to their endpoint.

The thing is, I have huge aspirations for the next 12 months. I want to write a great many books this year, and I’m not off to a strong start. Frankly, in the bluntest of terms, I haven’t started at all this year.

I obsess too much about how productive I’m being (or not being), and I don’t give myself enough real* downtime, which usually sets off a cycle of procrastination that eats up significantly more time than I might have if I’d just given myself permission to be lazier. ;) These aren’t points of the article/post but they’re the thoughts that came into my mind while reading the post.

Anyway, more to think about as I try to get myself back to writing every day.

*TV watching is not real downtime! (Something I’ve only recently accepted.) When I watch television/videos, I don’t ever end the time feeling better, more rested, or more energetic than I was when I started. Comparing it to something else: reading often makes me want to start writing, but TV almost never does.

Chuck Wendig’s “Garbage-Fire Shit-Show”

Lots of great thoughts fill Chuck Wendig’s post “TOUGH LOVE TALK FOR AUTHORS: THE GOOD, THE BAD, THE WTF” (which I read even though I’m supposed to be avoiding blogs and forums!) but none I love more than the bit I quote below. :) Go read the full post. It’s good.

YOU’RE GOING TO FAIL

You’re going to write a shitty book. Maybe three of them. Or ten of them. And they won’t get published. Or they will (or you’ll self-publish) and they won’t sell. Writing is tough noogies, man. Everybody can’t do this thing well. Success isn’t a guarantee. The numbers are in, and most of you? Nearly all of you? You’re going to fail. And some of you will quit as a result.

BUT…

Failure is not a dirty word, not like ‘fucksmudge’ or ‘jizzdonkey’ or ‘trickle-down economics.’ Failure is great. I’ve failed before. I’ll fail again. Failure is a ladder made of bent metal. Failure is there to cut out the gutless and gormless, the lost and lazy, the easily dissuaded. Failure is a test — not a test of talent, no, but a test of determination. And failure is itself a learning opportunity. How did I misstep? Why? What can I do better next time? Should I include more instances of the word ‘fucksmudge,’ or fewer instances of the word? Failure is a crucial first step.

Entertaining Article Link

Probably completely inappropriate for a Sunday morning, but yeah, I found the following article a fascinating read, and hilarious to boot.

MONSTER PORN: Amazon Cracks Down On America’s Latest Sex Fantasy  via @YahooFinance

My opinion? The problems come from authors trying to use internet marketing tactics and stuff keywords into the descriptions and titles and covers, and since it’s erotica, well guess what? That leads to taboo words being used in public, because Amazon’s storefront is very much a public place.

I checked out the “Alien Seed” book mentioned, and wow, nice cover. Very classy for the genre. If all the monster erotica books looked like that—and managed similar, understated but effective descriptions of the content—I doubt there’d be half the outcry that’s happened. The sample I sent to my Kindle, well, totally for research purposes for this blog post. :D