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Coffee Klatch

Photo by Tyler Nix on Unsplash

Eight days and counting. I’m continuing to focus on my 75 Day Writing Challenge. I get a little antsy, though, because there is so much I want to do. In addition to becoming a writer, I want to make art as a regular part of my life. I want to clean and organize my house. And there is the ever-present issue of my health and weight. I know that if I try to work on all of this at once, I won’t have the focus to complete anything.

This 75 Day Writing Challenge is going so well. I thought that when I finish it, I will start a new challenge. I think my next challenge could be a 75 Day Health and Wellness challenge. I still don’t want to do 75 Hard, but I could choose five tasks that fit with my personal goals and fitness level. After that I could do some sort of arts and craft challenge and maybe a home organizing challenge.

I am hoping that completing these challenges will help me to build in the habits I want to establish in my life slowly. At the end of six months or however long it takes me, I will have a more balanced and productive life. When I get tired or discouraged, I remind myself that the time is going to pass anyway whether I’m working on the challenge or not. By the end of the 75 days, at least I will have something to show for my effort.

Today, I completed these tasks…

  1. Wrote for 30 minutes
  2. Read Scrappy Rough Draft for 30 minutes
  3. Read The Scottish Prisoner
  4. Read and took revision notes on Sins of the Father
  5. Wrote this blog post
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75 Day Writing Challenge: All or Nothing

With the Easter holiday, I wasn’t able to complete all my tasks for today. I had to get up early and do my lesson plans for tomorrow. I didn’t dare write first and then save my lesson plans for the evening, because I didn’t know how long we would be gone. Does that mean I have to start the challenge over? Do I have to call tomorrow Day 1? If I made that a rule, I would probably be doing this challenge forever. As committed as I am to this challenge, I know there may be days like today when I can’t quite finish everything.

One thing I am learning from this challenge is that I don’t have to be perfect to complete it. Sometimes, when I am trying to meet a goal, like writing or losing weight, I succumb to all or nothing thinking. I think that if I can’t complete every aspect of the goal every day, I’ve failed and I give up. Instead of focusing on perfection, I need to focus on progress. Maybe, I don’t perform perfectly every day, but at least I am progressing. I think focusing on what I accomplish instead of on what I don’t accomplish will keep me on the right track.

Today, I accomplished these tasks…

  1. Wrote for 30 minutes
  2. Read Scrappy Rough Draft for 30 minutes
  3. Read The Scottish Prisoner for 30 minutes
  4. Wrote this blog post

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75 Day Writing Challenge: Momentum

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I seem to be gaining momentum. For the past several months, when I would think about sitting down to write, I would cringe. It’s something I think about all the time but, for some reason, I just couldn’t bring myself to do it. I’ve also been putting off revising the novel I wrote in 2018. I knew that I needed to read it before I revised it but I plunged in and started to rewrite it. The revisions soon stalled, of course, because I didn’t have a clear picture of the overall scheme of my novel. Yet, thinking about reading my novel also made me cringe. Another thing I wanted to do was study the process of writing. After teaching writing for over 20 years and writing off and on for nearly 50 years, you would think that I wouldn’t have any more to learn. While I’ve kept my academic writing skills honed, my creative writing skills have begun to rust.

Starting this challenge has helped me to gain momentum on all these things. I am writing for at least 30 minutes every day and I have read and taken notes on eight chapters of my novel. One thing I’ve realized is that it’s not as bad as I thought. I dreaded reading my novel because I thought when I read it, I would discover that it was crap. My draft is not perfect, but it’s not crap either. I think with some revision and editing, I can create something that I can publish. I’m not sure why this particular challenge is working when all my other attempts to create a writing habit has failed, but I’m not going to question my progress. I’m committed to keeping increasing my momentum.

Today, I accomplished these tasks…

  1. I wrote for 30 minutes.
  2. I read Scrappy First Draft for 30 minutes.
  3. I read and took notes on Chapter 6-8 of Sins of the Father (https://musing550.blog/2018/11/).
  4. I read The Scottish Prisoner for 30 minutes.
  5. I wrote this blog post.
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75 Day Writing Challenge: Excuses…

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The mission statement at the school where I teach reads, “All students, regardless of background or skill level, will have the opportunity to pursue a growth mindset that will allow them to achieve mastery and to demonstrate they can succeed in high school, in college, and in their chosen career. No Exceptions. No Excuses.” The new Head of School and I were talking about the concept of excuses. What does that mean? “No Excuses.” There can never be an excuse? We were talking about our late work policy which is rather strict. Students begin to lose credit on their papers for being one class period late. The example we talked about is a student who turned his paper in late because he is homeless and living in his car. He couldn’t turn his paper in on time because he had no access to internet. Is that a valid excuse? Should he be given full credit for his paper? Another student says she couldn’t turn in her paper because she just didn’t get around to it. Is that a valid excuse? We decided that a distinction must be made between a reason and an excuse. Being homeless and unable to access the internet until a person gets to school is a reason for turning in an assignment late. Not getting around to an assignment is more of an excuse.

I began to think about my writing challenge. What would constitute a reason for not being able to complete my writing challenge on a certain day and what would be an excuse. Yesterday, I woke up with a horrible headache and upset stomach. As the morning progressed, I began to feel worse and worse and ended up taking a sick day. If I’m too sick to go to work, wouldn’t it be reasonable that I would be too sick to write? By evening, I was feeling a lot better, so I decided that if I didn’t write, it would just be an excuse. If I had a 100 degree fever and still felt ill, then perhaps I would have had a reason for not writing.

In the past, I have made a lot of excuses for not writing. I don’t have time. I have to cook dinner. I have to clean the house. I don’t feel like it right now. When I really put my mind to it, I am able to confront all those excuses and write. I made time to write by using my lunch hour to write. I still have to cook dinner but instead of sitting on the couch after dinner, I sit back down at the dining room table and write. I write instead of cleaning the house. I don’t feel like writing, but I do it anyway. The funny thing I’ve found about this challenge is that the words are coming more easily, so I don’t need to find excuses to avoid writing. In the morning, I start to think about my blog post and what else I can say about the writing challenge and my brain obliges with an idea. As I drive to school in the morning, I think about the story I’m writing and my brain tells me what is going to happen next. This writing challenge is actually priming my brain to write. It gives me reasons to write rather than excuses to avoid writing.

Today, I have accomplished these tasks…

  1. Wrote for 30 minutes
  2. Read Scrappy Rough Draft for 30 minutes
  3. Read and wrote revision notes on Chapter 4-6 in Sins of the Father (https://musing550.blog/2018/11/)
  4. Finished reading Magical Midlife Love and began reading The Scottish Prisoner
  5. Wrote this blog post
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75 Day Writing Challenge: Habits

Last night, after I ate dinner, I mindlessly went to sit on the couch and pick up my IPad. I had to consciously stop myself and make myself turn around. I realized that sitting on the couch after dinner and playing a game or reading on my IPad has become a habit, an automatic behavior that I no longer question. By consciously making the decision to sit down at the table and work on my writing, I made one small change in my routine.

According to James Clear, author of Atomic Habits, small changes like the one I made can lead to bigger changes down the road: “The difference a tiny improvement can make over time is astounding. Here’s how the math works out: if you can get 1 percent better each day for one year, you’ll end up thirty-seven times better by the time you’re done. Conversely, if you get 1 percent worse each day for one year, you’ll decline nearly down to zero. What starts as a small win or a minor setback accumulates into something much more” (p. 15). That’s the benefit of doing a challenge like 75 Hard or my own personalized challenge. Challenges like these call for you to make small changes to your life and follow them long enough to make them stick. I have seen differing estimations for how long it takes to form a habit. Some books I have read say that you can form a new habit in as little as 14 days while others say that forming a habit can take as long as four to six weeks. I think the length of time varies so much, because each person is unique and has their own way of thinking and behaving. Some of us may be able to change our habits in a relatively short amount of time while others may take longer. I am hoping that by the end of my 75 day challenge I will have made writing a habit that sticks.

Today, I completed the following tasks…

  1. Wrote for 30 minutes
  2. Read Scrappy Rough Draft for 30 minutes
  3. Read Chapter 4 of Sins of the Father and completed Revision Notes
  4. Read Magical Midlife Love for 30 minutes
  5. Wrote this blog post
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75 Day Writing Challenge: The Honeymoon Period

Whenever I start something new, there is always a honeymoon period at the beginning. Whether it’s a new diet, exercise routine, or a writing project, I enjoy the novelty of the new activity and give it 100% until, suddenly, after a couple of weeks, it starts to feel more like work than play. I get tired of slogging through the lessons or following the routine. I start to skip a day or two. I think to myself, It’s just one day. I just need a little break. I’ll get back to it in a little while. Before I know it a couple of days become several and a little while turns into never.

One of the reasons I chose to pursue this 75 Day Challenge was to confront this tendency I have to give up on things when they lose their glitter and turn into drudgery. I want to teach myself that I can stick with my goals even when they get hard or I get bored–that it’s worth the effort I put into it. While this challenge is focused on my writing, I am hoping that the discipline I develop from this challenge will help me fulfill other goals in my life, like losing weight and getting into shape or finally organizing my house.

During the pandemic, I’ve heard a lot of messages that I need to be kind to myself and I need to forgive myself for my mistakes. Sometimes, though, being kind to myself really means that I am making excuses for not following through on something I have committed to doing. Today, for example, I got to work at 7:15 and worked until 5:00. I could have told myself that since I had worked so long I didn’t have to go home and work on my writing challenge. It was understandable that I wouldn’t be able to complete all the tasks I had set for myself. I didn’t do that, though. After dinner, I helped my son with his homework and then I got to work. I really wanted to sit on the couch and play a game on my IPad, but instead I sat at the dining room table and worked on revising my novel. Maybe, I was able to fight off my fatigue because this process is still novel and fun. Whatever the reason, I was able to stay committed and finish Day 3 of my challenge.

Today, I completed the following tasks:

  1. I wrote for 30 minutes.
  2. I read Scrappy Rough Draft for 30 minutes.
  3. I began reading the rough draft of my finished novel.
  4. I read for 30 minutes.
  5. I wrote this blog post.
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75 Day Writing Challenge: A Hopeful Beginning

Starting a challenge like this is always daunting to me. In February, I downloaded a workout tracker. The names of the months were spelled out in bubble letters and the letters of the name were divided into segments to represent each day of the month. I was going to work out every day, but only worked out for one day before I gave it up. The tracker is still hanging on the fridge. It mocks me and reminds me of my failure. I worry that this challenge will go the same way. I will stick with it for a few days and then give it up.

The same obstacles that kept me from completing my workout tracker also threaten my writing challenge. I suffer from chronic pain which leads to fatigue. I work full time. When I get home in the evening, I help my son with his homework and have to cook dinner and do chores. This time, however, I am developing some strategies that will help me overcome these challenges.

First, I am looking at time differently. I realized that it is hard to sit down for two hours at a time to work on my challenge, but I can look for small amounts of free time. This semester, during lunch, I have been playing with my phone and streaming shows on my computer. Yesterday, I used that time to write my blog post. Today, I started writing the novel I am going to use for my Camp NaNoWriMo challenge. I also read a book on writing and completed a couple of exercises. On Tuesday evenings, my son attends his youth group so we usually eat out and he doesn’t work on homework. Usually, I sit on the couch and watch a show, but tonight I completed a plan for revising the rough draft of a novel a finished a couple of years ago. Then, I read for 30 minutes. While I wasn’t able to complete all five tasks I’ve set for myself on Day 1, I have to say Day 2 was a success. Here’s to a hopeful beginning.

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Coffee Klatch

A couple of days ago, I asked myself, “Will I ever be published?” The answer was a resounding NO! Because I’m not writing–at all. I have a lot of excuses for why I don’t write. I have too much work to do. I’m too tired. I don’t feel like it. But, until I stop finding excuses to avoid writing, I will never publish anything.

A few weeks ago, I heard about a challenge, called 75 Hard. In this challenge, you do five things every day. You follow a meal plan. You work out for 45 minutes twice a day. You drink a gallon of water. You take a five-minute cold shower. You take progress pictures every day. This challenge is not your typical fitness challenge, but is purported to increase mental toughness. For some reason, I keep thinking about this challenge. It’s definitely not a challenge I would undertake. I am not going to drink a gallon of water a day or take a cold shower, but I like the idea of sticking with something for 75 days and keeping track of my progress. What would happen if I stuck with something for 75 days? How much progress would I make?

I have decided to launch my own 75 day challenge. My goal is to write every day for 75 days, without missing a day. Following the 75 Hard tradition, I am going to complete the following tasks every day:

  1. Write for 30 minutes every day
  2. Publish my progress in a blog post every day
  3. Read a book about writing for 30 minutes every day
  4. Make five revisions to my completed novel every day
  5. Read a mentor text for 30 minutes every day

As I review the five things I am committing to completing every day, I realize this challenge is going to be hard, but that’s the point of the 75 Hard challenge. While my tasks aren’t physical, they represent a tremendous mental workout. Wish me luck! I’m counting this as my Day 1.

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Coffee Klatch

Since the lockdown began in March, I’ve become obsessed with planners. I’ve purchased four or five different planners hoping to find the one planner that would finally motivate me to achieve my goals and get my life on track. My most recent purchase is called “The Perfect Notebook.” It is customizable and streamlined. Surely, a perfect notebook would be the key to ending my procrastination. When the perfect notebook arrived, it sat in its envelope for three weeks until I finally opened it. Then, it sat on the coffee table until it grew dusty. I decided that I needed stickers to decorate it, so I ordered a bunch of stickers. Then, the notebook and the stickers sat on my coffee table until they grew dusty.

Then, last week, I learned that I was exposed to Covid. That same day, my mother fell and broke her hip. Just like that life changed. I thought to myself, What am I waiting for? I want to write, but I use a lot of excuses to avoid it. I have too much to do with my new teaching job; I have to help my son with his homework; I’m tired and it’s easier to sit on the couch and play video games then to write at the end of a long day. Life is passing me by in a blur of excuses.

I finally dusted off the perfect notebook and the stickers that I purchased. I set up the customizable notebook and began to map my goals. I realized that it doesn’t matter what planner I use: a $100 planner imported from Great Britain, a dot journal that I create myself, or The Perfect Notebook. The only thing that matters is me.

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Coffee Klatch

Routine Meister

For the past two weeks since my summer school classes started, I have vowed that I would write every day. I found a new app called Routine Meister that helps you arrange the tasks for the day and develop a timeline. It has been helpful in reminding me what I need to do each day and helping me to focus on each task.

What it hasn’t helped me with is balancing all the areas of my life. Every morning, I enter all the tasks I need to complete for my teaching, writing, and other areas. By the time I am finished, I have a 14-hour day ahead of me. Once, I am finished setting up my tasks, I start my day. Inevitably, around my sixth or seventh teaching task, I run out of time and energy. Every day, my writing routine gets transferred to the next day. Every day, I get up and start the whole process again. After two weeks of this, I finally decided that I need to take control of the tasks, rather than having them control me.

Yesterday, I took out my expensive planner imported from Great Britain and began to plan my week. I realized I can’t possibly complete every task I set for myself every day. I need to prioritize. I decided to make a schedule. Certain tasks have to be completed at the beginning of the week, like attendance and grading. On Monday and Wednesdays, I have two Zoom classes, one in the morning and one in the afternoon. I have to make time to do my lesson plans for next week, so I’m not working until midnight on Sunday night. I’d also like to do my nails on Sunday, instead of work! Instead of trying to squeeze everything into each day of the week, I divided up all the tasks I have to complete and scheduled a few for each day of the week. I did the same thing for writing and also scheduled some time for self-care. I want to learn to play the keyboard and have yet to unwrap the keyboard I got a month ago. I also want to pursue some art projects I started months (possibly years) ago.

Once I made my schedule for the week, I made a schedule for today. I wrote only those things I’d decided I was going to do today. I also gave myself permission to not finish everything on my list. When the time I’d allotted for teaching was up, I moved onto the next item on my schedule. Today, after two weeks, I was finally able to write 1400 words on my latest novel and create a post on my blog.

I think the most important thing I need to remember is that it’s okay not to finish everything on my list as long as I’m making progress. I can’t find balance in my life if I continue to work the way I have been working in a rigid routine. I need to start being more flexible and forgive myself for not being perfect. I need to continue striving for balance in my life, and when I fall, remember to get up and begin again.