Archive for writing life

writing life

Thinking Retreats

One thing I’ve learned from this workshop about discovering and using my strengths is that since most of my strengths involve learning, getting information, and thinking, I get energy from doing those things. It’s not just procrastination when I do a lot more research than I probably need to write something. It’s part of what makes my brain happy so it can do better work. That also gives my brain more to work with in thinking about the story, and it gives me time to puzzle it all out.

It also seems that doing the things that you’re strong with is a good way to avoid burnout because it gives you energy. I’ve almost always started a book project with a kind of “retreat” in which I read and watch stuff related to that project or that reminds me of the project in some way, and it turns out this is good for giving me the energy I need to dive in. But I think it might be good to make time to do regular retreats like this to maintain that energy. It doesn’t even necessarily have to relate directly to the book I’m working on. Just taking time to watch documentaries, read books on history, and brainstorm is good for me.

I’ve hit the midpoint of this book, and after a bunch of false starts and rewrites I think I’m finally on the right track, so now it’s time to figure out the rest. Therefore, since it’s a cool, dreary day (my favorite kind of weather), I’m going to devote the rest of the day to a retreat of sorts. I have class material to work through, and otherwise I’m going to find some documentaries and do some brainstorming while huddled under the electric blanket and drinking tea. Then I can drive forward into the rest of the book starting next week. It’s a lot easier for me to write when I’m able to picture what happens next.

writing life

Strategic Thinking

I’m taking a seminar/workshop on finding and using your strengths. It starts with an assessment that’s usually used in corporate and career-development settings, and then they apply it specifically to writers. This week I did the assessment and got the general results. To the surprise of probably no one, I fall almost entirely into the strategic thinker category. I’m at my best learning things, gathering input, putting it all in context, and then thinking about it (or overthinking). I don’t yet have the information on how this applies specifically to me as a writer, but I see some patterns that fit into this.

I’ve often joked about when it comes to the plotter vs. pantser continuum, I have the worst of both worlds. I can’t start writing without plotting the book, but then I don’t know what the book’s about until I start writing. But after looking at where my strengths are and how my mind works, I think it’s more accurate to call myself a thinker. I need to do a lot of thinking about the book before I can write, and the plotting process provides a framework to guide my thinking and make sure I’m thinking about the key things. Working through all the different story structures isn’t overkill. Each one asks different questions about the elements of the story, so each one gives me different input.

My plotting process isn’t really about creating an outline, and when I have an outline after distilling all that input and thinking, the outline is more of a guideline and a jumping off point than a clear roadmap. Each step in the outline gives me something to think about in visualizing what can happen. I replot so much as I go because actually writing the book gives me more input. I know more about the world and the characters, which naturally changes my plans.

And I’m this way in a lot of areas. This is pretty much how I plan vacations. I do a ton of research, looking up things I want to see and do and finding all the info I need about those things — operating days and hours, scheduled events, menus, reviews, etc. — and make a plan for the trip, but then once I get there and get new info, like seeing what things are actually like and stumbling across new things along the way, I may adjust my plans.

I’m not sure yet how this knowledge may change things, but being conscious of it does help. I know I need to think things through, so I give myself permission to stop and think. It does seem to have helped this week when I’ve hit points where I’m not sure what should happen, and instead of staring at the computer screen and getting frustrated, I go off and think about it, maybe while doing something else, until I have the answer. Knowing that this is all my process makes me feel better about it instead of beating myself up for not feeling productive. Thinking time is valuable working time for me, even if it doesn’t look like “work.”

I’m curious what I’ll learn once I get the info the teacher has on how these strengths are known to apply to writers and if I’m on the right track in guessing about how it affects my process.

writing life

Getting Things Done

I may have found the solution to my “getting things done” issue, and it came about because of my tea habit.

I’ve already found that I get more writing done when that’s the first thing I do when I get to my office in the morning. I leave Scrivener up on the screen when I put the laptop to sleep at night, and I don’t do anything else on the computer until I’ve written for about an hour. I was trying to do the same thing for after lunch, starting the afternoon with writing.

Except, I like to have tea while I’m writing. I do that in the morning because I just bring my last cup of tea from breakfast upstairs with me. Strangely, I feel weird about having my afternoon tea right after lunch. So I find that I just kind of goof around until it’s an appropriate tea time, and then I get to writing.

It occurred to me last week that I could use that time to do the admin stuff. Just because I start the day with writing, it doesn’t mean I have to do the same thing after lunch. My “get started before doing anything else” thing in the afternoon can be admin and promo work.

It hasn’t been a full week yet, and I’ve already powered through a bunch of stuff that’s been sitting on my to-do list for literally months. I get a slight mental gear shift from breaking for lunch, and I’m finishing the workday at about the same time because I’m putting a work task where time wasting would usually go. Then I get back to writing at about the same time I usually would start it.

This sounds kind of like a “duh,” but I had it in my head that I needed to be writing at that time, and for some weird reason that kept me from doing anything else until I’d hit my writing quota. We’ll see how the habit holds up. And we’ll see if actually doing all these little tasks makes any difference. I’m doing stuff like updating the older e-books to add new releases to the “also by” list so people will know there are more books in the series and in some cases even new series.

The new habit is that I leave open whatever software I need for my admin tasks when I put the laptop to sleep before lunch, or I go to the website I need, so there won’t be any temptation to do anything else before I get through that day’s to-do list items.

writing life

Getting Things Done

I’ve noticed during the course of my writing career that writing a first draft is all-consuming for me. I may not spend that many hours in the day actually producing words, but my brain is never off-duty. That means I have no brain left to do anything else. I may try, but I’ll stare at the computer screen and try to remember what I should be doing. This is a real problem because there’s business and marketing stuff I need to do in addition to writing, and most of that requires a lot of attention to detail.

I start my writing first thing in the workday, before I do anything else, and that tends to make me more productive for the rest of the day, but it also means that by the time I reach my writing goal for the day, I have no brain left to do anything else. But if I start the day doing marketing or business work, I never manage to start writing.

I only have about a week left of working on this first draft, so I don’t have a lot of time for experimenting now, but I’m pondering a couple of different ideas.

One is to make a clean break between writing and other work. Right now, I reach my writing goal and immediately try to switch over to other work. Maybe if I stop and go do a bit of housework or exercise and then come back to the computer I’ll be better at switching gears and have more brainpower.

Another possibility is to have a designated “getting things done” day. I did this in the past when I was teaching children’s choir, which meant my workday ended early and I had prep work to do, so I seldom got much done. I declared that to be the “get things done” day and didn’t even try to do any writing on that day. That was the day for errands, personal business tasks like paying bills, and doing any publishing business or promo work. Then I just focused on writing the rest of the week. I think I did get more administrative and marketing work done, but it also hurt my writing momentum. I didn’t get additional writing done on the other days to make up for the day with no writing, and I had to review where I left off after taking a break in the middle of the week.

I’ve also tried scheduling, where I have designated times for writing and for admin and promo work, and I don’t worry about writing goals but go by the clock. That hasn’t been that effective for me because it doesn’t address having run out of steam when it’s time for admin work.

I think I’ll try that break idea next week and see what happens. Right now, I do my exercise at the end of the workday, as a way of making a break between work and relaxation. Doing a yoga session helps me unwind and relax in the evening. But maybe if I did that after writing it would help me shift gears. Or I could take a walk or do something around the house, then go back to the office and start what might feel like a second workday.

Or I could somewhat combine the two and have a getting things done day in which I only write in the morning. Plow through as much writing as I can get done before lunch, then have lunch, and then do my business and promo stuff after lunch. That way, I can maintain some momentum but still get things accomplished.

writing life

2022 in Review

I usually write a “year in review” post outlining things I did, read, watched, etc., and the highlights of the year, but this year was kind of a blur. I keep a list of books I’ve read, and I barely remembered most of them. I had to stop and think to recall what most of them were about. Some of them I honestly didn’t remember reading. I don’t seem to have discovered any new-to-me authors I was excited about.

I know I watched a lot of movies this year, thanks to my “movie night” habit. I don’t keep a list, so now I have a hard time remembering what I watched. I know I loved the new version of West Side Story. I’d have to think about what else there was.

For TV, it was a Star Wars kind of year. Far and away the best series I watched was Andor. I also liked the Obi-Wan Kenobi series. For non-Star Wars stuff, I think my favorite new series would be Rings of Power.

I wrote two books and two half books. I got started on a book that was meant to be the launch of a new series, got halfway through it and realized there was something wrong with it that I didn’t know how to fix, and it might take me the rest of the year to write it. So I put it on hold and got a couple of mystery books written, and then I decided there was another book that would be better to work on and easier to market, so I got about half of it written before I took a break for the holidays.

For the coming year, I’m going to work very hard on actually making a business plan and sticking to it so that I’m not just writing by whim but rather have a schedule. This is important because I’m considering this my make-or-break year. I’m giving myself this year to get my act together and make the writing thing really work before I have to look into getting a regular job. I’d probably keep writing because it’s what I do, but the financial uncertainty is getting to me. I feel like I’m still living like a college student and I’d like to have a bit more security. So, I either have to make a lot more money from writing or I have to get a job. I’ve got this year to really dig in and make the most of being able to have this as my full-time job and see if that will turn things around.

That probably means next year is going to be a blur, too, since I’ll be spending it working hard. I’m going to try to be better about work/life balance and letting my work time be work time and my leisure time be leisure. I’m bad about letting them spill over into each other so that I’m not really effective in my work and I’m not really relaxed in my leisure. I need to be more active for my health, so that’s another goal, to just get up and move more often.

And that’s pretty much it for my look back at the past year and a look ahead at the next year.

writing life

Novel Writing Month

One of the big traditions in the writing community is National Novel Writing Month (NaNoWriMo) in November. One of my big annual traditions is complaining about who had the bright idea to make it a tradition to write a whole novel during a month with only 30 days in it with a major holiday (in the US) in the middle and during the build up to a major holiday season. It’s like they were looking for stress (or had no preparation or travel responsibilities for Thanksgiving). Besides, most of November is when we get our best fall weather around here, so it’s when I want to work the least. I think January is a better month to spend writing a novel. You get 31 days, and there are no major shopping/cooking/travel holidays during the month, plus the weather is conducive to staying inside and writing.

However, this year I will be writing a book in November. I’m not participating in NaNoWriMo. I’ve already got some of this book written, so it wouldn’t qualify officially, and I’m not going to try to have it totally finished by the end of the month. I didn’t plan to be working during this month. I usually try to leave this time of year open for vacation/rest/recovery. This is just where things fell in my work schedule in order to have something to release next year. I’ve done most of the prep work I need to do in order to get started, so I think anything else I do would just be procrastination, and I may as well get going. So, on Monday I’ll get into the manuscript.

I’m going to try for some work-life balance, though. If it’s a nice day and I want to be outside, I’ll go for a walk or hike and let myself have fun. I may bring a notebook and do some work outdoors. I’ll take most of Thanksgiving week off and just enjoy myself while visiting my parents. I’m not going to push for massive daily word counts. I’m setting a deadline to keep myself motivated, but it’s going to be generous enough that I don’t have to push too hard. I’m not even sure what my target word count is going to be. I may set it low to start and see how the book shapes up as I go.

We’ll see if I manage to get that work-life balance or if I go full all-or-nothing, like I tend to. I’ve done a lot of cooking this week, so I’ve got leftovers in the freezer for quick, easy meals, and I’m planning a housework binge this weekend to have the house more or less in order before I fall into the book. And then I get to dive into a world I started coming up with a very long time ago. I’ve finally found the right story to tell in that world.

writing life

Writing Happiness

I’ve come to the realization that writing is good for my mental and emotional health. Maybe not the publishing part, but I need the creation part of things to stay healthy and happy. I feel like I keep having this realization at least once a year, and I’ve probably even written about it before, but I’ve got enough data points now to be sure of it.

A few weeks ago, I was in a real down phase. I suspected it had to do with the summer and being so hot and not being able to go outdoors, along with financial worries and feeling like I was out of control of my life. At that time, I was revising the book I was working on, and I’d been doing that for weeks. Then I went back to work on the mystery book, and after writing every weekday for a couple of weeks, I’ve found that my mood has lifted considerably. It’s still summer, still too hot to go outside, and my financial situation hasn’t changed, but I feel a lot better.

Last year, I was kind of blaming the mysteries for the down mood I was having at the time, but I think it was just that I was writing them back-to-back and spending a lot of time on revision and editing. I ended up feeling burned out last year, and I thought it was because I’d done so much writing, but maybe the problem was that I hadn’t done enough writing. I was writing a lot, but that meant I had a lot of material that needed to be edited, so I was spending weeks not writing. To recover from the burnout, I took a break from writing-related work, which may have been the wrong thing to do.

Now that I’m almost done with this draft, I think I’m going to try keeping up with some kind of drafting alongside the editing, revision, and proofreading phase. Even just half an hour to an hour a day of writing something may help. I may play with short stories or some entirely different kind of book while I’m doing the non-writing work on another project, and maybe that will keep me from getting burned out from not creating. As a bonus, it means I’ll have more stuff written, which is always good. I can still allow myself to take breaks and vacations from work, and I try to take weekends off unless I have a deadline, but fitting a little creation in with the other work may help me avoid burnout.

I think part of it is that writing is fun for me. Part of it may be that it gives me a stronger sense of control. I can’t control the world around me, but when I’m writing I’m controlling my fictional world, and I feel less out of control from everything else. Part of it may be that it keeps me too busy to dwell on things that aren’t going well. I get lost in my imaginary world, and I’m hanging out with fictional people I love. I don’t get that same lost experience from revision. Editing and revision tap into the critical side of my brain, which tends to leave me critical about everything. Creating turns that off.

I’ll be going into revision mode soon, so I’ll put this to the test and see if it works and how much writing a day I need to do to stay happy.

writing life, Books

Little Habits

For another entry in the “life hacks” and productivity category, I recently read a book that may prove to be life-changing, Small Move, Big Change, by Caroline L. Arnold. The premise of the book is that we generally fail at big goals like New Year’s resolutions because they’re too big and vague. You’ll have more success with what the author calls “microresolutions,” which are small but meaningful behavior changes. For instance, a broad resolution to get and keep the house tidy is bound to fail because there’s no sense of when or how to start, exactly what to do, or how to measure it. But you might succeed in resolving to make the bed every morning. That will make the bedroom automatically look a lot neater, and that might motivate you to do other things to tidy the bedroom. After a while, when it becomes a habit you don’t have to think about anymore, you could start a new microresolution, like putting away the laundry right after you do it instead of letting it pile up in a chair. Over time, all those new little habits will add up to accomplishing that big-picture goal.

It’s hardly earthshattering stuff. I wrote a radio feature years ago with a psychiatrist’s tips for sticking to resolutions that included making the goal small enough to achieve and measurable, but the way it’s phrased in this book clicked with me, and the author offers a lot of tips for making it work.

One suggestion she has is to create a mental message that goes with the habit, something you think to yourself to motivate you to do it. For the bed making resolution, you might remind yourself how much you’re going to like coming home to a neatly made bed or how nice it will be at bedtime. It also helps to have a cue to trigger the behavior you’d like to turn into a habit. Tying it to another habit you already have makes it easier to create a new habit. You might make the bed when you get dressed. You can remember “dress yourself, dress the bed.” The resolution may take some fine-tuning to figure out exactly the action to take, the cue, or the message you tell yourself, as well as spotting any obstacles that make the behavior harder. It may turn out that your reluctance to make the bed every day is because you’ve got an elaborate “bedscape” involving layers of coverlets and a complicated arrangement of throw pillows. Switching that out for a comforter and pillow shams so that making the bed is quicker and easier might make you more likely to make the bed.

She also gets into how to find the behavior that will have the most impact. The example she gave from her own life was her desire to get to work on time more consistently. She had to analyze her morning routine to figure out where the trouble spots were, and she figured out that one of her biggest problems was at the train station. She often had to dig in her bag for her fare card, then she didn’t know how much money was on it, so she’d have to check, and then she often had to add money to it for the morning ride, but the credit card readers on the ticket machines were generally not working, so she’d have to scrounge for cash to add just enough for one trip. Meanwhile, she’d miss a train and have to wait for the next one, which made her late. After some trial and error to figure out what would make this go better, she ended up keeping a separate fare card just for the morning commute, which she kept in a special coin purse so she could find it easily. Every Friday before she left the station on the way home, she’d add enough money to it to cover the next week’s morning rides, and she carried enough cash in the coin purse to pay for that. Once she started being able to go right to the turnstiles every morning, she stopped being late to work.

The second half of the book is a lot of specific examples covering some of the bigger resolution categories, like diet, exercise, communication, and organization.

By the time I’d finished reading the first few chapters, I’d enthusiastically made a long list of microresolutions, but then I got to the part where it says to do no more than two at a time because that’s all the willpower your brain really has. Focus on those two, and when they become habit, you can add two more. It takes three to eight (or more) weeks to really develop a habit, depending on how frequently you do a behavior and how big a change it is for you.

I narrowed my resolutions down to an easy one and an important one. The easy one involves the “nest” that tends to develop on my sofa. That’s where I sit to read the newspaper, work crossword puzzles, do knitting or embroidery, brainstorm or outline books, read, etc. I end up with piles of books, papers, notebooks, newspapers, and craft supplies on the sofa, which makes the whole living room look messy. I resolved to totally clear off and reset the sofa before I go to bed every night. There will be nothing left on the sofa — books on the coffee table or end table, newspapers in the recycling stack, craft projects put away — and I’ll straighten the pillows and the throw I keep on the sofa. To encourage myself to do it, I tell myself that it will be so nice to come into the living room in the morning and see it looking neat. The first day was the most difficult, when I had a lot more stuff to put away, but it’s been pretty easy since then, and after three weeks I think it’s become enough of a habit that I’ve taken on a new resolution, to clean up all the dishes from dinner right after dinner — load the dishwasher and wash anything from cooking that has to be hand-washed. I tend to let things pile up in the sink to the point that I can’t fit everything in the dishwasher once I finally get around to loading it. It’s only been a few days, but it’s going well so far. Again, day one was more difficult, but since then there’s less to do and I love coming into the kitchen in the morning and not seeing dirty dishes.

The important one involves work productivity and avoiding distractions, mostly social media and e-mail. I had a bad habit from back in my day job days of checking e-mail as soon as I got on the computer, since e-mail was a big part of my work, and I kept doing that once I started freelancing, then social media got attached to e-mail since that’s also communication related to my work. I might end up reading e-mail and social media and then realize it was lunchtime. A few years ago, I started writing before I go online, since e-mail first thing in the morning is less important to my work now. I formalized that as a resolution to not go online until 10:30. That’s worked pretty well, and I may need to add to that and not answer the phone during my peak working time because that also kills my productivity for the day. I’m still fine tuning what to do about the afternoon, trying to find the right schedule to follow or the right approach. A lot of it is a procrastination tactic, or else the way I take “breaks” when I get stuck, so I need to think of a way to deal with this. I do need to check e-mail after lunch, since that’s when the people I usually deal with for business tend to get back to me about things, so I need to find a way to do that without getting sucked into the rest of it. I think my next tactic will be a designated time for online stuff other than e-mail, and maybe a list of things that must be done before I check social media or any other online stuff that’s likely to eat up a lot of time.

Just a few weeks after I started reading this book I already have a visible difference in my house and a good boost in my writing productivity, so it seems to be working. The question will be whether or not it will stick once the initial enthusiasm wears off. The book is a quick and easy read and even pretty entertaining, so look for it at your library if you’re looking for ways to make changes that work.

writing life, memoir

A Lifetime of Stories

Here’s another installment in my writing career memoir. I mentioned before that I didn’t really start writing until I was almost twelve, but I’ve been a storyteller my entire life. That’s been my primary way of playing and of soothing myself.

I don’t think I’ve ever been a good sleeper. It takes me a long time to fall asleep. My parents say that as a baby and toddler I fought sleep, but I’m not sure if I fought it or if it just didn’t happen (or maybe the reason I have trouble is that I trained myself to fight sleep). I’ve never been someone who could fall asleep the moment my head hits the pillow, no matter how tired I am. I can do all the calming things before bed—dim lights, soft music, reading until I can’t keep my eyes open—and it still takes me about half an hour to actually fall asleep once I put the book down and turn out the light. And that’s story time. Ever since I can remember, I would make up stories in my head to try to settle down enough to sleep. That’s the only way to stop all the other stuff, like planning the next day, remembering the day that just passed, worrying about stuff, fretting over things I’ve said or done, etc., from swirling around in my brain and keeping me awake. The earliest story I can remember was when I was two and I made up stories about the bear in my room. There was a tree outside my window, and the streetlamp made it cast a shadow on the wall over my bed that looked like a bear standing up, upper legs poised for attack. If a car drove by, the headlights made the shadow move like the bear was rushing toward me. I made up stories about being lost in the woods and chased by the bear, or variations on Goldilocks, or sometimes I was the bear. I managed to psych myself out a few times so that I was convinced the bear was real and called out to my parents, who would have to tell me there was no bear, that it was just a shadow (and then they saw what passing headlights did to it and understood).

As I got older and was watching or reading more complex things with actual stories and characters than you find in toddler entertainment, my mental stories were often essentially fan fiction. I made up more stories for my favorite shows or books, or since a secondary character was usually my favorite, I’d make up stories in which that character was the hero. Since I was trying to get to sleep, the bedtime stories tended to be quieter, like the characters just hanging out and talking or even going to sleep.

It wasn’t just trying to fall asleep at night. I amused myself by making up stories whenever I didn’t have anything else to do. During car rides, I was on a pirate ship, spaceship, or covered wagon, or I was being kidnapped. I acted out stories as a way of playing. I had a drawer full of dress-up clothes, and I’d put on costumes and act out stories, or I’d have my toys act out the stories. I made up stories to string together the songs on cast albums from musicals if I hadn’t actually seen the shows and didn’t know the context for the songs. Or I’d make up new stories for the songs from musicals I knew.

When I was seven, we moved to a neighborhood that had a lot of kids around my age, so I had a big neighborhood gang to hang out with, and we mostly played “let’s pretend.” We never just rode our bikes around the neighborhood. We were riding horses or motorcycles or flying fighter planes. We acted out TV shows, playing things like Star Trek or M*A*S*H. Often, this required making up new characters because there usually weren’t enough female characters for all the girls to take part. We loved it when Charlie’s Angels came out because there were actually three girls, and it was the boys who had to make up new characters. I’d often continue the story from the day’s play as my bedtime story, or I’d make up new stuff for the characters I’d created.

Star Wars came out near the end of third grade for me, but I didn’t see it until I’d started fourth grade, and when everyone in the neighborhood had seen it, that became one of the main things to play. When we played in the swings or rode our bikes, we were flying X-Wings or TIE Fighters. We had lightsaber duels with whatever was handy. Again, I had to make up a new character to play since the girls fought over who got to be Leia, and I made up so many stories about that character that they soon branched out from the Star Wars universe to be their own thing.

Still, in all this time, it never occurred to me to write any of these stories down. I didn’t connect the stories I made up in my head with things like books I read or movies I watched, didn’t consider that all of these were stories someone else had made up and then written down.

I still make up stories in my head to entertain myself. Now, though, I write them down and sell them. My bedtime stories are prime writing time, when I figure out things that can happen in my books. I do still occasionally play with mental fan fiction. That’s a good way to test out plot or character ideas without actually putting them in the book I’m working on, or it gives me ideas for stories when the series my mental fan fiction is based on goes in a different direction from the story in my head and I like my version better.

Next: How the writing began.

writing life

Things I Hate Being True

One of my hobbies is optimizing my life. I love finding productivity methods and other tricks to make life work a little better or to make things go more easily. I’m always looking for some new thing that will improve my life. But there’s a lot of advice I resist because I don’t really want it to be true—and then I finally give in and try it and find out that it works even if it’s not fun. So, here are the things that I have found to be true, even though I hate that they’re true:

1) My day goes better when I set an alarm in the morning, even though I work for myself and don’t have to be at work at any particular time.
Not only do I get an earlier start (though not much earlier; we’re talking 10-20 minutes), but I’m more alert and less groggy, and I fall asleep more easily at night. I’m not entirely sure why it works this way for me. It may have something to do with the kind of alarm clock I have. I have a light alarm clock that wakes you up with light. Half an hour before the time you set, a light comes on, dim at first and gradually growing brighter. If you haven’t turned it off by the time you set the alarm for, it will play some kind of sound. I almost never make it all the way to the sound. Usually I wake up about 10 minutes after the light comes on. I love this clock because it makes me feel like I naturally woke up at the time I wanted instead of being startled out of sleep by the alarm. It’s possible that the light does something to reset my circadian rhythms and that’s why setting an alarm makes me sleep better at night.

Anyway, I kind of hate this. I’d rather just sleep until I wake up every morning, but I have to admit that my days go better when I set an alarm. One other good thing is that it makes weekends and holidays, when I don’t set an alarm, feel different from my weekdays.

2) Exercise first thing in the morning gives me more energy all day.
I really resisted this. I thought if I didn’t eat breakfast as soon as I got up, I’d feel awful. I thought I didn’t have the time. But once I started walking in the morning, I had to admit that it made things better. Ideally, I go walking outdoors, but when weather, or sometimes time, doesn’t permit, I may do yoga or even just do some jumping jacks, windmills, or other exercises. Even if it’s just five minutes of movement, it really helps set up the whole day, and I hate that. I’d rather lie in bed and then drag myself to the kitchen for breakfast.

3) When writing is the first thing I do in my workday, I get so much more writing done and am more productive all day.
I resisted this one for decades. I thought I needed to ease my way into my day, and it was important to check my e-mail, in case there was some important information I needed to know. I’d sit down at the computer and start by reading e-mail, then social media, message boards, etc. Then I’d draft my blog post and make another round of social media, etc. I’d post my blog, check around again, and then lunchtime! Finally, I might start writing after lunch. There was no way I’d be alert enough first thing in the morning to write anything worthwhile.

Well, I finally gave it a shot, and it was amazing how well I could write first thing in the morning. Doing that before I started all the other stuff gave me a lot more focus. I reduce temptation by putting my computer to sleep at night with the browser minimized and my current document up on the screen, so that’s the first thing I see when I wake up the computer. I think keeping with this routine has improved the quantity and quality of my work. And I kind of hate it because I really would prefer to spend the morning drinking tea and surfing the Internet.

If your schedule doesn’t permit writing first thing in the morning, this applies to the beginning of any writing session. Do the writing first, the other stuff later. It’s amazing. And terrible.

4) Having a schedule makes the day go better.
One of the things I love about working for myself is setting my own schedule. I do what I want, when I want to. Except I don’t. Strangely, I’m bad about not getting around to doing things I want to do, often because I’m sidetracked by other stuff. I’ve learned that making a schedule makes me more likely to get to all the stuff I want to do. A lot of that has to do with how willpower and decision-making work. You really do run out of energy for making choices, especially late in the day, so if you make all the “what should I do today?” decisions early, then all you have to do later in the day is follow the schedule. My work routine has fallen into habit well enough that I don’t have to make a formal schedule unless there’s a change I have to accommodate, but where I really benefit from this is on weekends. Having a plan means I actually get to the fun stuff instead of just puttering around and then hitting Sunday night and wondering what happened to the weekend.

5) You see more progress when you do something daily.
I am pretty good about writing daily (except I give myself weekends off). It’s everything else that I tend to do weekly. I’d take an exercise or dance class that met once a week and not do anything in between. I had choir practice but wouldn’t sing the rest of the week. But last year, I started doing daily yoga, and it’s amazing how much a difference that made compared to the once a week class I used to take. I’ve been doing daily Norwegian lessons on Duolingo for a couple of years, and I feel like I’ve made more progress with just 15 or so minutes a day than I did in all the years I took Spanish classes in school. I need to get back to doing music this way. I’ve just about lost my singing voice after two years of barely even speaking, so I should start doing daily voice work so I can eventually get back to choir. This also works for housework, doing small things daily instead of doing it all on the weekend (or not doing it at all).

These all work for me, but may not necessarily work for everyone, since we’re all wired differently. But since I was absolutely certain they wouldn’t work for me until I tried them, it’s worth giving it a shot and seeing if these things work for you.