Monday, January 31, 2022

The Great February Reset

Do you know the best thing about February is? No, not the holiday. Valentine’s Day is one of my least favorite holidays on the calendar. It has always felt manufactured, like if the folks who sold flowers, chocolates, and greeting cards all got together and invented a holiday to increase their bottom lines.

Actually, one of the best things about February is the chance to reset on any habits you might have already broken.

I suspect you’ve seen all the historical data that tell us many people stop doing their New Year’s Resolutions sometime around 14-19 January.  That's just two weeks. Typically we think of resolutions like going to the gym or talking a daily walk to help us exercise or stop eating a certain food or abstaining from alcohol.

Those are all well and good, but often, we creatives want to start a habit and, in some ways, that can be more difficult, especially if we’ve fallen by the wayside prior to New Year’s Day.

But here’s the thing: a New Year’s Resolution is not a one-and-done. It’s not like if you fall off the wagon sometime in mid January you have failed for the entire year. Let’s not judge an entire 365-day cycle by the actions of a 14 or so days.

I’m a firm believer that every new month is an opportunity to get back into a habit or reinforce one you started the previous month. I resolved to write a 1,000 words a day in 2022 (or reach 365,000 words for the year). I’m happy to say that my streak is intact, but boy, some of those days were a slog, especially with a day job.

In fact, I battled with myself over just how important a streak like this is. To remind myself of the power of streaks, I need only look at the small calendar on the fridge. I had fallen away from taking vitamins every day so I needed to start that back up again. I did the Jerry Seinfeld thing where I put an X on the calendar for each day I took my vitamins. Eight days into the new year, I forgot. Boom! Busted up my streak and my January has a hole in it. Irritation.

But my writing streak is alive. My writing resolution is alive. I hope your resolutions are alive, too.

If they’re not, dedicate the month of February to creating a new habit. It’s only 28 days long, an even four weeks. Chances are high if you maintain that new habit until 1 March, you’ll be good to go. But if not, then let March be your new start date. Heck, let each Sunday be a start date. Just start. Then continue. The rewards will flow to you.

Monday, January 24, 2022

Carving Up Your Hours and Meat Loaf’s Example for Creatives

You don’t find the time to write. You make time to write.

That’s an adage I’ve held onto for years. I firmly believe that if you truly want to write, you will make the time to write. Thus, the excuse of “I would love to write but I just don’t have the time” flies out the window.

But sometimes you have to carve up your time to find those pockets in which you can write. I did a little exercise this week that you might find instructive if you are wanting to find all those extra minutes in your week to get your fingers on the keyboard and your brain into its imagination.

I started a new day job this month and this is the end of week three. Naturally, I now have a new schedule, one that involves three days in the office and two at home. It felt like I had less time to write, so I broke down my days.

Every weekday, I wake at 5am. Yes, I am a proud member of the 5am Writing Club. Have been a morning writing for going on nine years now, and dedicated 5am-er for the past three or four. I find it liberating to have the house to myself, only a single light on over the kitchen table, and just a cup of coffee (two, actually) beside me as I write. Zero internet, zero TV, zero anything other than a psalm a day until the words are out of my head.

I work in the office Tuesday, Wednesday, and Thursday. That means I have a hard stop at 6am so I can get ready for work, jump in the car with the daily smoothie, and drive to work, usually listening to an audiobook (most recently finished Carol Burnett’s memoir).

So, accounting for the waking, exercising, Bible-reading time, I’m left with approximately 45 mins in the morning to write, give or take. Doing the math, 45 x 3 = 135 mins. Since I work from home on Mondays and Fridays, I allow myself an extra 30 minutes. 75 x 2 = 150 mins. That’s 285 mins, or 4.75 hours per week in the mornings to write. Not bad at all.

Side note: I don’t write during Family Time at night.

Then there are the lunch hours at the day job. Accounting for regular meetings going long and, you know, eating, I estimate I have 45 minutes I can spend writing on my Chromebook. That’s another 135 minutes, which bring us up to about 7 hours per week that I have to myself and I can write.

I have more time on Saturdays. I tend to wake at 7am, get the dogs, head out to Shipley’s for do-nuts, come home, cook and eat breakfast. Generally, I get to writing around 8am and the family leaves me alone. On Saturdays in which there are few things to do, I can get two hours easy. Then, it’s Family Time (or Chore Time) so the writing is off the table. Now I’m up to 9 hours, more or less.

Sundays are a tad different. I still wake at 7, but I have a hard stop around 9:30 or so to get ready for church. So let’s call it a good 90 minutes. Now I’m up to 10.5 hours of writing time per week.

All it took was for me to analyze my schedule and see what time I have available. There’s a lot I can do in 10.5 hours. I knocked out NaNoWriMo’s 1,667-word threshold in any of those given time frames, but if it’s slow going, I can get 800 words in any one of those writing sessions (although my daily goal is 1,000).

Here’s where the math is magical. If I can average a 1,000 words an hour, that means I can write approximately 10,000 new words of fiction per week. With a day job. With Family and Chore Time factored in.

And all I basically ever do is wake up earlier than my family and write. Makes me really happy, productive, and helps start the day on a good note.

Now, how does your week break down?

Meat Loaf’s Example and His Challenge

The news broke Friday morning that Meat Loaf passed away. I have an unabashed love for his soaring, Broadway-like anthems. In particular, there is a late-career gem I wrote about back in 2016 that was the first song I went to upon hearing the news. Then I listened it again before playing all the songs I have on my Mac.

In the various comments from folks yesterday, more than one commented on Meat Loaf’s improbably resurgence in the early 1990s. In an era of grunge and rap and early hip-hop, here was Meat Loaf singing about the things he would and would not do for love. The song was over the top, the video was even more over the top, but people ate it up. I know I did. There he was, wearing makeup to give him the appearance of a beast, starring in a mini-movie. Were it anyone else, they would have been laughed at.

But not Meat Loaf. He knew who he was, what his talents were, what kind of music he liked and performed well, and just did all that. He was himself no matter what. Sure, he had some down times, but he kept to his talents. When it worked, it soared. When it didn’t, he kept going.

From the last part of the tweet that announced his death came this challenge: “From his heart to your souls…don’t ever stop rocking!”

That’s his challenge to every creative: Don’t ever stop [making your art].

Saturday, January 15, 2022

YouTube and Old Music: Where Memories and People Meet

Do you ever get lost reading YouTube comments? No, not those. I don’t read those either. I’m talking about the other ones. The good ones. [And yeah, there is a book-related comment at the end.]

There is a fantastic YouTube channel if you enjoy old music. I’m talking stuff from the 1940s-1960s. It is curated by Jake Westbrook (that’s the name of the channel as well) and he collects songs for different moods. Last fall, I discovered him and listened not only to the “Vintage Autumn Music” but thoroughly enjoyed his Halloween playlists. One of the best, interestingly, was his Thanksgiving playlists. He’s got ones for Route 66, summer, and many others.

What I particularly enjoy is reading the comments. If you need a dose of goodness, check these out. More often than not, the commenters praise Jake for the curation, but more importantly, they praise the music. Some are from younger people who never lived when this music was on the radio or TV. They marvel at how good the music remains and lamenting modern music.

A particularly nice sub-set of these comments are from folks who have lost parents or grandparents or other family members. The commenter usually relates a memory this music evokes. One really got to me. It was of a grandchild who played these vintage songs as the grandparent was bedridden. The music calmed the older person, letting them get lost in their memories as they passed from this life into the next.

Cut to more modern music. I’m a huge fan of Frontiers Music. This is a great record label that releases new music by new artist who still like melodic rock as well as older artists who no longer have a home in the big music companies. Think Enuff Z’Nuff or LA Guns. Their hashtag is their motto: #RockAintDead.

Anyway, yesterday, the weekly email featured videos of new releases and one of them was for The Alan Parsons Project’s (with a full symphony) song “Don’t Answer Me.” I LOVED that song as a teenager. It was prompted me to buy the album.

Yet, I hadn’t heard it in a long, long time. Naturally, I clicked on the link and heard a newer rendition with the Israel Philharmonic Orchestra. Oh my was it gorgeous. But that prompted me to return to the original and it’s fantastic pulp-style video.

But it was in the comments associated with the original 1983 version that I again got lost in. Unlike Jake Westbrook’s playlists, I was among the generation who experienced this song when it was new. Now, so many of the comments relate to “I’m 21 and I just found this song and it’s so good” kind of vibe. Or, as you can imagine, ones in which younger people discovered the song in the mom’s stack of CDs or their dad recently passed away and this is the song that helps the commenter remember a recently deceased parent. I went down an Alan Parsons Project rabbit hole, but I also experienced the memories of all the commenters. It was a wonderful trip.

But then I got to thinking about books. While there is certainly not a YouTube for books, where is a site for comments like this? Where is the site where grandchildren can talk about how they read their grandfather’s favorite book as he lay on his deathbed and the grandchild realized how good an old book was?

That is a site I’d love to visit.

Saturday, January 8, 2022

Writing Without Paper: Introduction

Can you be a writer without using paper?

I’m a writer and I use a lot of paper. I make notes on yellow legal pads, I make lists of character names on a giant spreadsheet printed out on an 11x17 tabloid-sized piece of paper. In the past, I have used hundreds of note cards to map out a story. Those note cards would then be pinned to the cork board in my office. And don’t get me started on post-it notes that I’ll use to jot down random pieces of things for the story and post them on monitors, laptops, keyboards, or the desk.

Then there are the drafts. Yes, I know there are folks who write and edit within whatever word process they’re using. I can do that, too, but more often than not, I prefer to print it out and read it that way. Sure, I format the manuscript to be single spaced and I print on both sides of the paper, but still, if I have a 300-page manuscript, that’s 150 pieces of paper.

Suffice it to say, when I’m writing a novel, I simply use a lot of paper. This amount goes up and down depending on the length of the writing project. For shorter pieces, I usually don’t have all the background stuff, but I still have the various drafts with all my marks in green ink.

Late last year, I got to thinking if there was another way, a paperless way, to brainstorm, write, edit, format, and publish stories. I came up with a qualified answer: Yes, I think so, but certain equipment and apps would make this job easier.

Equipment and Apps

First off, I needed a new iPad. Mine was a second generation that basically did nothing for me other than allow me to read comics and ebooks. If this was going to work, I needed new tech.

I purchased a refurbished 2020 iPad Pro with a second generation Apple pencil. Wow. Is this thing amazing. Granted, when you’re coming from a 2012-era iPad, most anything is an upgrade, but I’m particularly impressed by the fact that I can get an entire ‘piece of paper’ on the screen at the same time.

The pencil is super cool and seamless. There is no visible lag at all. Among the coolest things: a simple double tap on the pencil changes the function to the eraser (while another double tap shifts it back to the pen). Thus, without even changing your hand position, you can write, make a mistake, erase, and start writing again in seconds. Tres cool.

I paired my Bluetooth Apple keyboard with the iPad and use the device as my primary means to write. But I do not plan to take the iPad to the office (yet) so I compose in Google Docs. That way, I can sync my Chromebook and bring it to the office. It’s rugged and a single unit so it’s been my preferred in-the-office personal device for over two years now.

When it comes time to edit the completed file, I use GoodNotes. Not only does it allow me to edit PDFs. It’s really neat to have the iPad in my lap, pencil in hand, and just read and edit the text. It’s pretty much paper-like, but still digital.

This app is good for general note taking. So far this week, I’ve worked on two short stories, completing one and more than halfway through the second. As such, I don’t necessarily need a notebook with character names, etc., but when I start a new novel, this will be the place where I store said notes. It syncs to my phone so when I’m out with my Chromebook, I’ll have my notes. Granted, I can’t use (nor would I have) the pencil with the iPhone, but that’s no big deal.

Here’s a screenshot of page one of the completed short story.

From there, I’ll be able to make those changes in the manuscript and nary a piece of paper will be needed.


While I have not yet published anything, I already know how to do that part. I’ll spell it out in a future post.

I have an entire process flow, but I want to test it first, work out any kinks, before I share it.

So, am I the only one who is writing without paper? For you other paperless writers, what are some of your preferred tools and apps?

P.S., Happy Birthday, David Bowie. Still miss you.