Best Part of a Holiday

“After all, the best part of a holiday is perhaps not so much to be resting yourself, as to see all the other fellows busy working.”
― Kenneth Grahame, The Wind in the Willows

Zen-like Christmas decorations, Waxahachie, Texas

Oblique Strategy: Do something boring

Went in to work today for the last time this year (not entirely true – thanks to our government and their thoughtful regulations I will have to stop by a couple more times, but that doesn’t really count). It was surprisingly not-unpleasant despite the fact that I finally had to to all of the stuff I had been putting off all year.

Oh, sorry, can’t help myself – I stumbled across one last quote:

“The main reason Santa is so jolly is because he knows where all the bad girls live.”
― George Carlin

Man, I miss George Carlin. Actually, now that I think about it – as far as I’m concerned (I never met him and never would anyway) he is as much still here as he always was.

Daily Writing Tip 63 of 100, Don’t Make Excuses

For one hundred days, I’m going to post a writing tip each day. I have a whole bookshelf full of writing books and I want to do some reading and increased studying of this valuable resource. This will help me keep track of anything I’ve learned, and help motivate me to keep going. If anyone has a favorite tip of their own to add, contact me. I’d love to put it up here.

Today’s tip – Don’t Make Excuses

Source – The 38 Most Common Fiction Writing Mistakes by Jack Bickham

If you are serious about the craft of fiction, you must never make excuses for yourself. You simply cannot allow yourself to:

  • Say you’re too tired.
  • Postpone work until “later.”
  • Fail to work because you’re too busy right now.
  • Wait for inspiration
  • Plan to get right at it “tomorrow.”
  • Give up because (editors) (agents) (readers) (critics) are unfair. (Fill in as many as you want.)
  • Tell yourself you’re too old (or too young) to start.
  • Blame others in your family for your lack of free time.
  • Say your job is too demanding to allow you any other activity.
  • Tell yourself that your story idea isn’t good enough.

Or any of a host of other excuses you may dream up for yourself.

No. Let’s get this straight right away: Writers write; everyone else makes excuses.

Jeebus… I think I’ve used all of these excuses in a single day.

Daily Writing Tip 47 of 100, Thoughts to Help You Press On

For one hundred days, I’m going to post a writing tip each day. I have a whole bookshelf full of writing books and I want to do some reading and increased studying of this valuable resource. This will help me keep track of anything I’ve learned, and help motivate me to keep going. If anyone has a favorite tip of their own to add, contact me. I’d love to put it up here.

Today’s tip – Thoughts to Help You Press On

Source –Writing the Short Story, by Jack M Bickham

I’ve said it before, but it should be remembered always: Good stories aren’t written; they’re rewritten. No matter how bad you may feel about the pages you produce today, they’re better than no pages at all. You can always fix them later. Your job at the moment is to produce something concrete, which you can revise later.

False starts, messy transitions, recalcitrant characters, and all manner of other disasters befall every writer during first draft. Pros don’t let this discourage or frighten them.

Most excuses for not writing are not good enough.

I wish I could take this to heart better than I do. I know I’ve written (in my useless head) more excuses for not writing than I have produced actual pages.

Daily Writing Tip 8 of 100, Use the Pomodoro Technique

For one hundred days, I’m going to post a writing tip each day. I have a whole bookshelf full of writing books and I want to do some reading and increased studying of this valuable resource. This will help me keep track of anything I’ve learned, and help motivate me to keep going. If anyone has a favorite tip of their own to add, contact me. I’d love to put it up here.

Today’s tip – Use the Pomodoro Technique

Source – Anti-Procrastination for Writers by Akash Karia

My final and personal favorite technique to stop procrastinating and start achieving maximum productivity as a writer is the Pomodoro Technique.

If you have never heard of the Pomodoro Technique you have to learn about it.

You can read about it here: Pomodoro Technique Homepage

I wrote a blog entry about it here four years ago.

Pomodoro is Italian for tomato. That odd name comes from a tomato-shaped kitchen timer used by the original author Francesco Cirillo. The tomato isn’t necessary (I use a silver-colored twist dial timer).

The technique is simple:

  1. You decide on your next task and then set the timer for 25 minutes.
  2. While the timer is running you do nothing else and think of nothing else but the task at hand.
  3. When the timer goes off, you take a five minute break.
  4. Then you repeat the process… either on a new task or you return to the same one if it isn’t finished.
  5. Every four Pomodoros (each 25+5 minute work session is a single Pomodoro) you take a longer break

You keep track of how many Pomodoros you accomplish during a day and work on increasing that number.

It works really well to help you focus, avoid distractions, and get through difficult projects – like getting that story written.

I don’t use the technique as much as I should – it does work.

The biggest problem I have is getting through the twenty five minutes without interruption. Even when I silence my phone and hide my email – I have real live people interrupt me on more than half my Pomodoros. It’s very frustrating. Something I have to work on.

One piece of advice that I do have…. A lot of people use software timers or phone apps to do their timing. That is very tempting and good for a backup. However, I think a real, live, mechanical kitchen timer (though it doesn’t have to look like a tomato) works better. The slight ticking noise it makes becomes associated with working diligently and reminds the mind to focus.

Pomodoro

My Pomodoro timer, Moleskine, and Ivory Pilot Prera fountain pen.

The Idea Pomodoro

For a while now I have been working on using the Pomodoro Technique to improve the amount of work I can get done in a period of time, help control stress, and reduce procrastination.

The basic idea of the Pomodoro Technique is to break a workday up into set units of time using a simple kitchen timer or equivalent:

1. Choose a task to be accomplished

2. Set the Pomodoro to 25 minutes (the Pomodoro is the timer)

3. Work on the task until the Pomodoro rings, then put a check on your sheet of paper

4. Take a short break (5 minutes is OK)

5. Every 4 Pomodoros take a longer break

The real benefit of the technique comes when you get in the habit of examining the Pomodoros and see what you were able to accomplish. You can set up a feedback loop where you see what you are getting done, improve your implementation of the technique, apply the improvement, and then see how it works.

I have a way to go before I am a master of the technique. The most vexing difficulty is managing interruptions. But I’ll keep experimenting and plugging away.

What I want to talk about today is the idea of a Specialty Pomodoro. This is a Pomodoro sized and timed chunk of time… 25 minutes, that are set up and used for a specific purpose, rather than simply trying to peel stuff of off the daily todo list.

There might, for example, be a Brainstorm Pomodoro, where a problem has presented itself and you sit there for one Pomodoro and pump out and write down as many possible or harebrained solutions as you can, with no self-editing until the timer has dinged. There might be a Writing Pomodoro – obviously used to pump out text. Or maybe a Plot Point Pomodoro where possible plot points are generated, or a Character Pomodoro… or a Character Name Pomodoro, or a Setting Pomodoro – the list can grow very quickly.

I have come up with a concept of what I call an Idea Pomodoro – which is where I sit down with a Staples Bagasse Composition Book, start the timer going, and simply write down what I want to do, as quickly and with as little thought as possible, until I get the ding.

The purpose of this is to clear my head. There is that feeling of too many ideas bouncing around, too many plans, too little time. This helps clear everything out so I can get back to work. Once an idea is in the book, it is safe, I won’t lose it, it won’t float off to be stolen and used by somebody else. Of course, I have always carried 3×5 cards or a notebook to record sudden ideas, and that’s a good thing (they can be transferred into the Pomodoro) but I found it wasn’t enough. Doing this for a full, intense, Pomodoro feels like a spring cleaning in my brain.

Pomodoro

An Idea Pomodoro - timer, pen, composition book.

My Pomodoro timer is a metal kitchen timer – it feels more substantial and accurate that the tomoto-shaped ones so many people use. I do recommend using the physical timer rather than a computer program – the ticking of the timer seems important and having a real object in the place of a string of bits adds a certain gravitas. The paper in the composition book is thin and you can see the ink on the back side through the paper. Sometimes I use both sides, sometimes I don’t. It doesn’t seem to be important one way or the other. That’s a Pilot Prera fountain pen in the picture.

I like to use the composition book instead of a lined form because I can keep going as long as I need, keeping the limit being time, rather than space. I do find that I can easily fill four or five pages of stuff. Also, I can keep my “book of ideas” with me – all in one place, so I can look at them later and evaluate, act, or discard as need be.

I do use a little code for a hierarchy. Big, top-level ideas are marked with a tick “-“. Smaller, sub-ideas under the big one are marked with an “o”. If I have to go to a third level, I use a hand-drawn asterisk… which doesn’t happen very often.

Later, after my five-minute break or even days later, I can look over the ideas and start building projects or to-do lists. Of course, a lot of the ideas are too ambitious, or too much work, or just plain stupid – and have to be discarded. But that’s cool; I have written it down and can come back to it in the future if the situation changes.

How often do I do an Idea Pomodoro? As often as I need to. It is a spring cleaning of my brain so I do one whenever things begin to feel cluttered. When I find myself jumping from idea to idea and having trouble settling down I know it’s time to carve out the half-hour (including the five minute break) and dump the excess brain dust bunnies out onto a piece of paper.

Does this seem anal – too much work, too much navel gazing? Much ado about nothing? It really isn’t. Once you’ve set everything up it works smoothly and without very much attention. You do get like Pavlov’s dog – the ticking of the timer becomes associated with doing the work.

Speaking of which… there’s the ding. Time for me to take a little break.

Talk to ya later.

What I learned this Week, July 15, 2011

While I don’t share her enthusiasm for a certain morning cable talk show (though I did enjoy this bit of hilarity very much) I really like Peggy‘s Friday blog entries – Things I Learned This Week. Imitation is the most sincere form of flattery. I have no problem in blatantly ripping off her idea.

The Wave that Washes us all

The Wave that Washes us all

What I learned this week:

Procrastination caused by fear… I thought I was done with that, but I’m not. I still must say to myself:

I must not fear.
Fear is the mind-killer.
Fear is the little-death that brings total obliteration.
I will face my fear.
I will permit it to pass over me and through me.
And when it has gone past I will turn the inner eye to see its path.
Where the fear has gone there will be nothing.
Only I will remain
— Dune

Markus Zusak saidFailure has been my best friend as a writer. It tests you, to see if you have what it takes to see it through.


With proper hydration, the most brutal heat can be dealt with.


Too much habanera sauce – while not a good thing in all respects – will clear out your sinuses very quickly.


From a Blog Entry – Global Weirding Coming At Us All, by Walter Russell Mead (read the whole thing)

Except for some entrepreneurs, mavericks and renegades, our technocratic elites are mostly a bunch of rule followers and incrementalists.  They got where they are by scoring well on tests, manipulating the platitudes of conventional wisdom a little better than the next guy and by pleasing their supervisors.

This is almost exactly the wrong way to raise leaders for tumultuous times. …  We are producing legions of promotion-hungry bureaucrats and narrow specialists with no knowledge of or interest in the tumult and chaos that inevitably rises up in times like ours.  We then place them in large, bureaucratically run institutions and expect them to deal creatively with the unexpected, the revolutionary and the totally new.

I can not say it better.


Kingfish is better fried than grilled.

Wankelfish

Wankelfish