I am a writer, but I am also a teacher. After a long day of professional development and a long evening of working on my syllabus, the last thing I wanted to do was sit down and write. I’m tired and achy and I just want to relax, but I can’t build my students’ identities as writers without building my own. One thing I learned this summer is that to teach writers I need to be a writer — not a once-in-a-while-when-inspiration-strikes writer but a sits-down-and-writes-even-when-she-is-ready-to-drop writer.
A writer shows up and writes. Every day. No matter what, even if it is just for five minutes. To call yourself a writer, you have to write, even when you don’t feel like it — especially when you don’t feel like it. It doesn’t matter if you write brilliant prose or crap as long as you write — every damn day.
So, here’s to writing crap after a long day of teaching. I am a writer, and a teacher of writers.
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.
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.
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:
Write for 30 minutes every day
Publish my progress in a blog post every day
Read a book about writing for 30 minutes every day
Make five revisions to my completed novel every day
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.
Three years ago today I started my blog on WordPress. It was the same year I lost my job at the middle school where I worked. After a fruitless job search that spring, I turned to writing. Focused on my teaching, I had pretty much given up writing. I thought about writing a lot and had ideas for novels, but I never followed through. I thought that if I couldn’t be a teacher, maybe it was time to focus on my writing. Since then, I have continued to work on making writing a regular part of my life. I found part-time teaching jobs at two local community colleges. At times, I became so busy that I again gave up my writing, but I have returned to it again and again.
This year, I gave up the search for a full-time teaching job. I let all my applications at the school districts in my area expire. I quit looking at the job postings. I had even decided I would no longer search for a full-time teaching job at the college where I worked. I had applied there several times and never gotten an interview. The last time, I applied I received an email from my department chair expressing his sympathy for me not getting an interview for the latest position that came open. He offered to give me feedback that would make me more likely to be hired at the college. I didn’t take him up on his offer. I work hard for the college. I’ve gone to countless professional development meetings and taken part in academic cohorts and equity training. My grading is up-to-date and my students always say how much they like the way I teach my classes. I’m not sure what else I could do to increase my “hireability.”
Then, last week, out of the blue, I got an email from a school I interviewed with last year. They said they had another opening and they were so impressed with me they wanted me to be part of the candidate pool for their current opening. I thought to myself, if they were so impressed with me why didn’t I get the job last year? I sent my resume and transcripts to the human resources person. The next day, they emailed me for an interview. We interviewed over the internet last Tuesday. I was worried that my interview was impacted, because my virus protection blocked my camera from working and they couldn’t see my face. I thought the interview went well despite my technological gaffe. On Friday, I checked my email. They had said they would give me an update about the hiring process by the end of the week. I was going through my email, thinking to myself, Just as I expected, no email. I kept scrolling. In Thursday’s email, I saw it–Offer letter from CEC Parker. I couldn’t believe it. I had gotten the job.
After three long years of scraping by on part-time wages, I will finally have a full-time job. I didn’t want to admit it to anyone, but I missed being in the same school every day where I was a full part of the staff, not just a part-time employee. I don’t miss my last school, but I missed being a full-time teacher. While I am looking forward to being a full-time teacher again, I don’t want to give up writing. I want to make both parts of my life blend together. The last couple of weeks, I’ve really worked on making time for my writing, and I have found that I can write and teach at the same time.
I like this picture, because it reminds me of the most important part in accomplishing any goal-beginning. One of my constant struggles is procrastination. I have a task that I have to do that is difficult and daunting. The more I think about it the more difficult and daunting it seems to become. If I just force myself to begin, then the task becomes more doable.
Tonight, I sat here contemplating the white screen with the blinking cursor. I had no idea what I wanted to say. The cursor continued to blink at me, daring me to make a move, to begin writing. That’s the hardest part of writing for me–finding an idea. I know I want to post in my blog regularly, but what do I write about? What do I want to say? What is the brand I want to develop for my blog? This is what I struggle with, but I know I need to decide on a focus for my blog, so I can keep posting.
I have established three goals for my blog:
By May 30, I will develop a 90-day editorial calendar.
By May 15, I will develop a new weekly feature that I will publish every week until the end of the year.
By May 30, I will assess my theme and develop a focus for my blog.
A year and a half ago, I started taking a course from WordPress called Everyday Inspiration. It was a 20-day course but it took me a year and a half to complete it. I would work on it every now and then, and then get distracted by work or other things. Today, I finally finished it. I liked the course, because it would give me ideas. Now, that I’ve finished with the course, I am going to work on finding inspiration from my life to keep my blog going.
One thing that helps me post in my blog regularly is to prioritize my writing and finish it first. The first thing I do when I get ready to work is start a blog post. Then, I work on my current novel. Then, I work on the tasks I have to complete for teaching. The biggest challenge for me will be to find ideas that I want to write about. I tend to stop posting when I can’t come up with ideas. One thing I learned from this course is that ideas can come from my everyday life. I just have to remember to pay attention. Hundreds of thoughts pass through my head every day and I need to become more aware of them and keep track of them rather than letting them just come and go.
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.
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.
I read a lot of self-help books. I’m always looking for that magic bullet–that one miracle solution that will end my procrastination, get me in shape, and set me on the road to lifelong success. So far, I haven’t found it. I did, however, find a book that gave me some concrete strategies I could use to get things done. In his book, Getting Things Done, David Allen provides a unique strategy for curing procrastination and increasing productivity. Unlike so many other books on goal-setting and productivity, Allen does not recommend creating a vision statement and outlining big picture goals. He asserts that you can’t focus on your overall vision for success until you clear out the tasks that clutter your mind.
He outlines a five-step system for streamlining workflow and prioritizing tasks. The system involves developing a system for capturing and monitoring big ideas and small tasks. His premise is that if you capture everything you need to do in your life in one place, your mind can quit worrying and focus on the moment, no matter what you are doing. He contends that his process will lead to greater peace of mind and increased creativity and productivity. The first step to implementing the process is to clean your work space and buy an in-box. He actually recommends buying two in-boxes, one for work and one for home. He is a strong believer in having a dedicated work area where you keep all items relating to your work. While implementing this process intrigues me and seems to provide an answer to my chronic procrastination, I was stymied by the first step. I have several sets of in-boxes, but I don’t really have a dedicated work area in the house.
My desk is the dining room table. I had a nice desk that I used for my old computer, but my son has taken it over for his own use. I have a small corner with my roll-top desk and a table that sits behind our couch. After procrastinating for several days, I finally took the first step and cleaned off the table. Following Allen’s advice, I handled all the papers that had piled up only once. If something needed to be filed, I filed it. If something needed to be shredded it, I gave it to my husband (a key piece of advice from Allen is to delegate whatever you can). And I recycled the rest. I ended up with a cleaner area where I could store my in-box and other items, such as my daily planner. The next step is to start capturing all the tasks, projects, and ideas I might want to pursue onto pieces of paper and then put them into my in-box. I then go through the in-box and decide which tasks have to be completed, which projects need to be developed, and ideas that could go on a “maybe later” list. The key to this process is the next step-identifying one small action for each task or project that can bring you closer to finishing it. While I have not been able to do a complete capture of everything I need to do, I jumped on this one piece of advice.
One project that has been plaguing me for months is my novel that I wrote for NaNoWriMo 2018. I’ve been trying to revise it, but have made little progress. It seems like a monumental task, but I thought about one small action that I could take to begin moving forward again. The first thing I need to do is sit down and read it. To read it, I need to print it. Thus, my first small action was born. I needed to print my novel. Once I identified that small action, my brain opened up. I thought about other small actions I could take to begin moving forward with my writing career. I can’t afford a book coach right now, but I’ve been reading a book that will help me coach myself. My next action was to read the next chapter. To do that, I had to sit down at the dining room table. Yesterday, for the first time in over a month, I sat down and renewed my writing routine. I carved out an hour to print my novel, read my writing book, Coach Yourself to Success, and work on a freewrite. Today, I carved out another hour and got my novel copied, read another chapter in Coach Yourself to Success, wrote another freewrite, and analyzed a chapter of a novel that is similar to mine. Tonight, I found another hour to write this blog post.
While Getting Things Done may not be a magic bullet, it does provide some key advice for increasing your productivity. It can help you prune the forest of your obligations of all the saplings that keep you from seeing the trees. Once the undergrowth is cleared away, you can make your way through the forest more easily and without losing your way-one step at a time.
I can’t believe that it is one year later and I am embarking on my second novel. I decided this year to write by the seat of my pants instead of writing a detailed outline. We’ll see how it goes. I tried to write in April and July, but school got in the way. This month, I’m going to hold myself accountable by posting my progress every day. I am still editing the first novel I wrote last November and planning the other novel I wanted to write in April, but I wanted to write something completely different to get my creativity going again. I hope it will help me rekindle my passion for my original NaNoWriMo project. Can a person conduct a dissertation study, teach college English and write a novel in a month? We’re about to find out!