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Coffee Klatch

To stay on track while working from home, I have been following the “eat a frog” approach to task management. The “eat a frog” approach is a method for curing procrastination. Procrastination I feel is the biggest challenge I face to my success. The “eat a frog” approach advocates completing your least favorite task first, so that you have the rest of the day to work without worrying about the onerous task. With this approach, I decided I should do my teaching tasks first, then work on my dissertation, and then my writing. Of course, if I am being truthful, my most onerous task right now is my dissertation. I should probably work on that first every day and then get on with things. I’ve noticed a pattern, however with this method of task management. As the week progresses, I lose my motivation and momentum. By the time, I’m finished working on my teaching duties and my dissertation, I don’t have a lot of energy or creativity left for writing. Then, writing becomes the one thing I procrastinate. Writing is the one thing I want to do in my life and it is always last on my to do list. By the end of the week, I am cranky and sapped of energy. I end up avoiding everything and sitting on the couch playing video games all day. While the members of my guild love my dedication to the game during guild challenges, it doesn’t really help me achieve the goals I’ve set for myself.

Prioritize your big rocks.

While reading 52 Small Changes for the Mind, I was reminded of another analogy for time management. In this analogy, important and less important tasks are compared to rocks and sand. The rocks are the important tasks that you need to complete and the sand is the minor tasks. The jar represents the time you have on any given day. If you prioritize the less important tasks and complete them first, you end up running out of time for the important tasks. If, however, you focus on the big rocks first, you can fill in the gaps of time in the jar with the sand and smaller rocks. Using this analogy, I decided that I have three big rocks: my writing, my teaching, and my dissertation. My smaller rocks and sand are all the other less important tasks, like checking my email, making phone calls, and chores. I thought to myself, as long as I put all the big rocks in the jar every day, what does it matter what order I do them in? So, this week, I am trying an experiment. I am writing first and then working on my teaching tasks and dissertation. While proponents of the “eating the frog” approach say doing an enjoyable task first will lead to procrastination, I disagree. By writing first, I am honoring my commitment to becoming a writer. When I write, I lose all sense of time and place. Why would I deny myself this pleasure merely because it’s enjoyable? In the long run, I think I will have more success fulfilling my other obligations, because I will no longer be denying myself the one thing I love to do.

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Coffee Klatch

Photo by Brooke Lark on Unsplash

I have been following a diet plan called Noom for the passed 14 weeks. On Saturday, I posted to my support group about my committing again to the program. I berated myself for straying from the program yet again and having to commit myself again, but then I stopped myself. I have made a lot of progress on the program. I have given up a lot of junk food and am making better choices. I have lost 16 pounds so far. Why should I be mad at myself?

I always get mad at myself for failing to follow a program like Noom perfectly. I also get mad at myself for having to restart my writing routine. This weekend, however, I realized that I haven’t given up like I usually do. I continue to re-commit myself to my health and to my writing. One of my friends told me a while ago that she was really impressed by how much I had accomplished with my blog and how I was inspiring her to write. She said this at a time when I was feeling bad that I had quit writing my blog. Again, I had overlooked what I had already accomplished. I was mad at myself for letting my writing slip, but here I am, again, starting to write.

Whenever I think about changing the theme of my blog, “Beginning Again,” I realize that we are always making new beginnings. No one is going to pursue any activity perfectly, never missing a day. The important thing is that we keep coming back to our important pursuits–that we don’t give up. We keep trying.

Coffee Klatch


Photo by Nathan Dumlao on Unsplash

For the past several weeks, I have applied for over 20 teaching jobs. I started to get the refection emails last week. I would have been discouraged, but then, out of the blue, I got two inquiries about working as a freelance writer. That started me thinking.

Every Sunday, my husband and son watch Joel Olsteen. I usually watch him too, but I’m not a religious person. Joel is always preaching about signs from God and how God has something greater planned for the future. I’ve gotten really sick of this message as I’ve been turned down for opportunities and nothing in my life seems to get any better, but then these two writing opportunities happened. Maybe, these opportunities are some sort of sign. I’m not saying they’re a sign from God, but maybe they’re a nudge from the universe. Go this way-not that way. Teaching no longer seems to be a viable option for my career, but maybe writing can become one. This also happened the same week, I seriously re-committed myself to writing every day.

My email has also been flooded by messages from other writers who do make their living writing. More signs? I don’t know. What I do know is that I can’t really control what happens with a teaching career. I teach what I am assigned to teach. Someone else makes my schedule and tells me what to teach. But with writing-I am the one who is in control. I am the one who decides what I will write and when. I think it’s worth heeding the signs.

See you next week!

Coffee Klatch


Photo by Brooke Lark on Unsplash

So much for having balance in my life. I got so behind on my work for my teaching that I had to focus exclusively on that for a while. Now, I’m starting to get a handle on it again, and can finally get back to writing. One thing that is still holding me back is procrastination. I waste a lot of time that could be used to work on my teaching or my writing. Last week, I started to work on scaling back on time-wasters and focusing on work that should take a priority. Instead of binge watching shows all week-end, I focused on working for a couple of hours each day. I didn’t work all day on both Saturday and Sunday, but I worked enough so I could maintain the progress on my work last week. I vowed that this week I would get back to writing again.

Over the week-end I received an advanced copy of a book on writing from Martin Meadows, Self-Discipline for Writers. I will be posting a review later this week. In his book, he suggested several time-management tools. One method is called Pomodoro. Pomodoro is the Italian word for tomato. The man who devised the Pomodoro method uses the word pomodoro for the tomato-shaped kitchen timer he uses to time himself. The Pomodoro Method is structured in 25 minute increments. You set a timer and work for 25 minutes on a task. Then, you take a short five-minute break. When I read about this method, I thought to myself: I can do anything for 25 minutes. I downloaded a free Pomodoro app and gave it a try this morning. Using the Pomodoro timer, I worked for 50 minutes on revising my novel, and now I’m writing my blog post. It’s only 11:00 in the morning! I haven’t been starting to work until afternoon in previous weeks! (Procrastination again).

Another piece of advice Meadows shares in his book is to focus on one project at a time. I tried to participate in Camp NaNoWriMo this April, but instead of focusing on my novel revision project, I started a new one. I didn’t really make any headway on either project. I’m going to shelve the romance novel I was planning for a while and focus on finishing this first novel.

The past couple of weeks have been hard. We are surviving on one part-time salary. I’ve tried applying for teaching jobs and writing jobs, but have not had any success. I decided to begin treating my writing like a business, another piece of advice from Meadows. I am going to write every day until my novel is finished and then I’m going to focus on self-publishing it and earning some money. While I know I’m not going to get rich, I think I can create a supplemental income if I’m willing to work at it.

It seems like I’m always starting over on my goals, but that’s the point of my blog, Beginning Again. I need to remember that even when I slip up, I can always start anew.

See you next week. No more procrastination!

Killer Preoccupation

“When are we going to finish watching that show?”

“What show?”

“You know. Our new favorite show–MindHunter.”

“Our new favorite show? Like we have something in common?”

“Sure. We have a lot in common. We both have a son. We like to read the same writers. I’m a serial killer. You’re ….”

“Hold on there.”

“I was going to say, you’re studying serial killers.”

“I’m only studying serial killers so I get you right.”

“We’ve discussed this before. You can’t get me right. I already exist. You’re just channeling my reality from another dimension.”

“Not this again.”

“Anyway, when are we finishing our show?”

“I already finished it.”

“What? Without me?”

“Well, you were busy. I’m surprised you even like the show. You’re the one that said that what they say about serial killers is all bullshit. MindHunters is all about how they came up with the bullshit. The FBI agents who interviewed all those serial killers. They based all their theories on serial killers on those interviews.”

“Not everything is bullshit.”

“Like what?”

“Like, how all the serial killers try to control the interviews even though they no longer have any control. That’s spot on. That’s why we do what we do–for control. We control who gets to live and who gets to die. And we’re intelligent. We have to be to do what we do and not get caught. Of course, all those serial killers aren’t that smart after all.”

“Why not?”

“They got caught, didn’t they? They’re sitting in prison spilling their guts to FBI agents. That’s not too smart. And they’ll die in prison, too.”

“So you’re smarter than all those guys, huh?”

“Fuck yeah. I haven’t been caught yet, have I?”

“We’ll see.”

“What’s that supposed to mean?”

“Never mind. I found a new series. You’re going to love it. It’s called I Am a Killer.”

“Shit. You need a new hobby.”

Hypocritical Writer

Yesterday, I wrote a blog post about how detrimental romance novels are to our realistic views of love, relationships, and commitment. Yet here I am embarking on another project for #NaNoWriMo–a 50,000 word romance novel that I will write this April during Camp NaNoWriMo. I could write the sequel to the thriller I wrote in November, but I am currently revising and editing my novel, Sins of the Father, and I am elbow-deep in blood and guts. I need a light-hearted writing project that would remind me that there is more to life than gore and serial killers.

Photo by Tom Ezzatkhah on Unsplash

The challenge for myself is to write a romance novel that follows the features of the genre, but that is also well-written and engaging. My working title is Forget Me Not and revolves around a working mother whose son ran away to find the father he has never met. When she and her former lover finally meet, she realizes that he has forgotten all about her. I will begin posting it in May, so romance-haters beware! Or maybe check it out to see if I improve the genre.

Plugging the Holes

My son likes to watch a YouTube channel called How It Should Have Ended (HISHE). He likes to watch the remakes of his favorite Marvel movies. One of his favorite videos is the remake of Spider-man 3. He loves it when Bernard finally tells Harry that Norman killed himself. Harry fires him for not telling him the truth sooner. Many stories and movies have holes like these. If Bernard had told Harry at the end of the first Spider-man movie that Norman had killed himself, then what would happen in Spider-man 2 and 3? Harry wouldn’t make a deal with Doc Ock to bring him Spider-man and he wouldn’t need to attack Peter in Spider-man 3. Without those holes, the trilogy would become a stand-alone movie. Or would it? Maybe, the writers could have taken the Spider-man series in a totally new direction. Who knows what they would have come up with?

What if writers actually worked harder to plug those holes? Would the stories they came up with be deeper and more satisfying? In the plan of the novel I am currently working on, I decided that one of the main characters would be kidnapped. I didn’t want the protagonist to find this character too quickly, but I also wanted the kidnapper to use the victim’s phone to call the protagonist. In my original plan, it would take the protagonist too long to find the cell phone using cell phone towers. I discovered, however, that the police can find the location of a cell phone pretty quickly. Since the protagonist in my novel was not only the sheriff but also the account holder of the cell phone, she would be able to track the kidnapper even faster. How could I plug this hole? I could have the kidnapper, a devious serial killer, be too dumb to know that the sheriff could track the cell phone in a matter of hours. That led to a new hole. If the kidnapper is also a devious serial killer who has never been caught, how could he not know how long it took for the police to track a cell phone? In the end, I decided to plug this hole by having the kidnapper use the cell phone to lead the Sheriff and her deputies to his latest crime scene. Because the kidnapper no longer had the cell phone, the sheriff could no longer track him and the victim. Her problem became a lot more difficult to solve.

Writers might want to take their work in a particular direction that requires certain plot holes to remain in their stories. They might think that the direction they have chosen is the best way to go, but what if the hole, itself, is a warning that a story needs to change? When I plugged up my plot hole, the danger to my victim ratcheted up a notch and even led him to do something he didn’t think he would ever do. My story took a completely different direction. The plot hole in a story might exist, because the line of the story is flawed. By avoiding the plot hole, the story line can be strengthened.

Prodigal Son: Chapter 1

Elijah sat back and stared at the computer screen. Flexing his aching hands, he read the words he had typed, “extra set of hands for hire.” Three long years it had taken him to get to this point—to be able to read, to be able to write, to be able to use his hands. Madison said he didn’t have to work, but he knew she and Hal were having a hard time making ends meet with all his medical bills and the new baby coming. Whenever Madison convinced Hal to talk to him about working, Hal would pat him on the shoulder. His grey eyes that could be cold like a killer’s would get a warm twinkle, and he’d say, “Just make sure you keep up with your school work, son.”

He had a lot to keep up with. He had never gone to school when he was younger like most kids. He’d never even thought about school until he’d met Madison and Hal. His father had never…

He stopped that thought. He didn’t like to think about his father even though Dr. Ross said he needed to start facing some of the bad memories. She said they would haunt him forever until he learned to face them, until he realized he wasn’t responsible for the things his father had done.

Shaking his head, he focused on his Craigs list ad. He hoped someone would see his ad soon.

A couple of days after posting his ad, someone finally called him. A little old lady who needed some yard work done. He pulled up to the house on Emerson Street. The lady lived a couple of blocks from Washington Park. Unlike a lot of houses in the neighborhood, her house was really run down. The brown paint was peeling on the trim and one of her shutters hung askew. If you asked him, she needed a lot more than yard work. The yard was in pretty bad shape, too. The grass was at least a foot high, and the bushes in the yard were overgrown. Looking at the crumpled piece of paper in his had, he hoped he’d written down the address right. He was picturing a little lawn-mowing or maybe raking the leaves. He hadn’t pictured something like this. Slowly, he climbed out of his car. Madison and Hal had bought it for him when he turned sixteen. That was another reason he wanted to get a job. He wanted to be able to pay for his gas and insurance himself. He walked up the cracked sidewalk to the peeling screen. The mesh of the screen was ripped. Nervously, he knocked on the door. He winced a little at the ache in his knuckles. Little things, like knocking on a door, still hurt sometimes.

He could hear someone talking inside, then footsteps, as someone approached the door. The door opened and a beautiful girl looked through the screen at him. She had long dark hair like Madison’s and sparkling brown eyes. He swallowed. He kept his distance from girls. He didn’t know if he could trust himself around them, so he decided it was safer that way. That was another thing that Dr. Ross wanted him to work on. She kept trying to tell him that he wasn’t like his father, but he wasn’t sure he believed her. The girl frowned at him, and he realized that he was staring at her. He cleared his throat.

“I’m looking for Mrs. Roberts. I’m here about the yard work.”

“Grandma, the guy you hired to work in the yard is here.”

She opened the screen and let him in. He frowned. She just let him in without even checking to see who he was. He could be anyone, a psychopath with a razor sharp knife in his back pocket that he would…

He stepped into the house.

Deletion


Photo by Randy Jacob on Unsplash

After writing 50,000 words in a month, I’ve taken a little break from my novel. I thought that, on December 1, I would sit down and start revising, but I realized I needed a little break. I needed some distance from the piece. As a writer, it’s easy for me to become wedded to a concept–to believe that it is written in cement, unchangeable.

To produce my best work, however, I must commit myself to the idea that my novel can be erased with the click of the delete button. With one swipe, I can turn my world upside down. Right can become left. Left can become right. My main character can change gender, turn evil. I must warp my perspective.

My first consideration is changing my point of view. I tend to write in the limited third-person. I am most comfortable with this point of view because it distances me from the character and the action. I never have to come too close to the character, but what if I leaped into the character’s head? What if I became the character? What would he say if I allowed him to speak for himself?

Another consideration is removing an entire character–really using that delete key. What if I removed one of the main characters? Who would come forward that has been hiding? Would my story flip upside down?

When Picasso wanted to capture the essence of the bull, he did not layer paint on the page like Bob Ross. Rather, he stripped the unnecessary elements away until he laid bare the bones of the bull. With each rendering, he gutted his image until all that was left was the spirit of the bull.

How far am I willing to go to allow my creation to emerge? How much will I strip from my work?

Warm up the delete key–here I come.

A Room of My Own?

Where I write

When my husband and I are driving through neighborhoods we wish we could afford to live in, we imagine what kind of rooms we would have in our dream house. He, of course, wants a man-cave where he can display his sports memorabilia and his action figures–excuse me, his rare collectibles. We imagine a giant room where our son’s massive collection of toys (excuse me, his rare collectibles) can be stored away from the living room.

Image result for writing desks

I dream of a place that doesn’t echo with the sounds of Wii tennis or laundry tumbling in the dryer. A place that doesn’t require me to clean up every time a meal is served. A place that isn’t surrounded by bills to be paid or homework to be finished. It doesn’t have to be a large room, just a small room, preferably with a door, where I could retreat every day to write or meditate or reflect. Where I could find a book without crawling through drying laundry or kitty litter. Where things that were valuable only to me

wouldn’t disappear.

Once when we were looking for a file cabinet at OfficeMax, I found a beautiful desk. It was designed to fit in a corner. It had not one, but two full desk-tops. The kicker for me, however, were the cupboards that ran the length of both desktops. The doors were inlaid with glass so I could see my supplies and find anything I needed. I yearned for that desk with all of my being, and it was on sale, but there was no room in our little house. It seemed that there was room for everything else: two jumbo rat cages, three litter boxes, six giant bins of toys, six book cases, a corner desk and two more book cases for the man-cave, but no room for my writing desk. Perhaps, the message is that there is no room for my writing. So, I make room.

After dinner, the computer comes back out to sit on the dining room table and remind me to write in the morning. It goes away for breakfast, but comes out again before lunch. I carve out time from chores and work and parenting. I don’t need a special room in my house for writing as long as I make room for writing in my life.

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