Prioritizing Your Core Life Goals


As I’ve gone through my writing life, I’ve changed my process again and again. I don’t think any one process has ever been perfect. And that’s okay. The creative process should evolve, molding both to the project and adjusting to the constant changes in one’s own life.

I’ve written in coffee shops. I’ve composed stories at the breakfast bar in a trailer house, my roommate mixing me large glasses of Red Bull and Jägermeister, as I scribbled stories out onto blank paper. There was a time I even wrote while livestreaming on Twitch.

Sometimes my creative decisions were driven by the Muse, the bursting forth of prose in an endless flow that couldn’t stop for days and weeks at a time. But most of my decisions were for the sake of motivation and accountability. Writing in a coffee shop made me feel accountable because I was there, in a single place away from distractions. The environment of home with its chores and potential entertainments was not available, so I could focus on my work. Writing while live online helped me finally finish my book (click here to watch the moment I finished the zero draft of my novel).

But my process had to evolve. The coffee shop regulars – awesome people though they are – became a distraction as they chatted with me often enough that I found it hard to get into the flow. Twitch was instrumental in boosting me through the final sections of my novel (I was only making progress on short fiction at the time). But even minutes before I finished with my zero draft, my beard got insulted by troll in the chat 🧔. Twitch was endless distraction, sure, but at the time I needed accountability – eyes on me watching me write – more than I needed to be left alone.

I’m done with coffee shops and I’m done livestreaming. At least for now. And, to be honest, probably forever. One of the best things I’ve done in my life is to quit worrying about the side projects and to deep-focus on the core of what I want to be doing and who I want to be. The answer to the what and who of such self-introspection will be different for everybody, but for me, I want to be a novelist who knows about literature.

This isn’t to say that someday I won’t return to creating AuthorTube videos or can’t foresee myself delving into other creative or educational projects. I will if I feel I’ve mastered the essential things first. I value expertise. Always have. But I’ve never prioritized the pursuit of expertise until now.

I think that most of us do find it easier to check our email, boot up a video game, binge a bit of our favorite TV show, check the notifications on all of our social media accounts. I get it. The easier thing is always going to give us immediate satisfaction. Though it’s a short lived satisfaction, for sure.

At least you can spot those kind of distractions. But the easier things don’t always look like rest and relaxation. They sometimes look like work. Uou have to ask yourself, is what you’re doing really leading you toward your goal? Do the things you spend your time on align with what you most value, with the vision of your core life goals? You might argue that having a successful blog or YouTube channel is going to help you sell books when you finally write them. That may be true, but if it’s a book writer you want to be, are you spending 6 hours a day at the writing desk and 2 editing your videos? Are you spending an hour maintaining your author platforms and 4 at the writing desk? Or is it the other way around? Is the mastery you’re acquiring actually in line with your goals or is it a distraction? Is the way you spend your time an inverse of what you truly want?

Only you can answer that question.

I’ve had the rudiments of this blog post in my head for a while now, but I only got around to typing it today because I just finished the second chapter of my slice of life novel, freeing up some time for this. Yes, my devotion to my goals is extreme enough that I’ll even put off writing a little blog post in order to prioritize the core of my goals, making sure that they get done daily. That they get done first.

I know that my life is “blessed” in many ways. Though my job leaves me poor, it usually allows me 4 days a week that I can devote to writing. My handicap with technology – my inherent Ludditism – has actually made a life free of distractions easier. For around a decade I didn’t watch TV. For even longer than that I lacked any kind of video game console. After high school I never played a computer game. To this day, I do not own a so-called smartphone.

Yet, even with these advantages (advantages for me and my particular goals at least), putting one’s time toward the hard work of gaining mastery is not easy. Not at first, at least. Even for me, there’s so much that can please immediately, it’s rather a wonder that I ever managed to complete 3 books, 1 of which was published.

My process will evolve again as my life changes, as opportunities open and close, as my creative needs change. But right now, I have a great schedule that works for me. I found I love to-do lists but don’t do well when I try to micromanage by the hour. I’m not saying this schedule is what you should do; rather, I’m sharing it so that you can see how I prioritize writing and literature, which are the things important to me.

After breakfast: write my slice of life novel until lunch
After lunch: revise my brick of a novel (usually until 2 or 3 o’clock)
After writing: study literature (currently studying the history of literature)
After studying: do chores
After chores: play (most often I like to dive into my antique dictionary collection, find and catalog obsolete and archaic words I think are interesting; I believe play – something relaxing and fun for you – is important after working hard)
After supper: exercise (in the summer, this means a walk)
After exercise: read

As you can see, this schedule prioritizes writing first. Right now I have the new novel I’m writing and the draft manuscript of a novel I’m editing, so it’s easy to split these projects with a lunch break, giving me 4 or more hours of new writing and 2 to 3 hours of revision time. This is perfect because I find I can always sustain attention on fresh writing much longer than on editing and revision work.

My schedule prioritizes literary studies second. This is important to me and something I’ve wanted to know in more detail for a long time. So it’s the second major thing I do in my day after writing. If there’s one thing I’m unhappy with in my schedule, it’s that reading comes last. But I’ll be honest, I often get satisfied after a while of fun with my dictionaries and still have time to read before supper. Reading is like playing for me; some people might claim it’s my default mode. And of course there are occasional social calls and nights when reading is cut short to watch a movie or show with my wife. Yet after days, weeks, and months of a schedule prioritizing my core life goals, pursing them will be an established habit, a routine of success.

I am by no means a successful novelist right now. I am not an expert on literature or even what I’d consider knowledgeable. What I am though is one who gets that I’m not going to form a good habit, let alone succeed in my core life goals, if I prioritize my notifications or choose to continually says, “I’ll watch just one more YouTube video.” And, in fact, I’m just starting to understand that I won’t probably reach my life goals if I say “I’m going to do this other thing one or two days a week” or decide “I’ll spend just a few hours a day on this” instead of the core thing I desire, the actual books I want to write, the real knowledge I want to have. I will write all the hours I can first. I will study for as long as I can. Everything else comes after that. Nothing comes instead of these primary, essential, core goals.

So, what are your core life goals? What have you been prioritizing? Have they been the same things?

A Terrorist Organization Sent Me a Letter

A Terrorist Organization Sent Me a Letter

That’s right, a terrorist group not only sent me a letter, but using Publishers Clearing House style writing, told me I could win guns and gold in a sweepstakes.

Part of entering involved stickers. There were three of them.

I WANT TO WIN GUNS & GOLD!

I WANT TO WIN GEAR & MORE!

I WANT TO WIN TWO BONUS GUNS!

Read the full essay on Medium to find out more about this insidious group and how I responded to this appalling letter.
assault rifle

A Rant Against Myself

A Rant Against Myself

 

Filtered through the abstrusities of Ezra Pound, digested then regurgitated as “ranty blog-fodder,” A Rant Against Myself is creative nonfiction with the emphasis on creative—not memoir, not journalism, and allegedly not essay. It’s 100% pure R A N T.

And you can now find it published in CultureCult Magazine for your reading pleasure (or pain).

Download a Kindle version of the magazine here: CultureCult Magazine [Spring 2019]

Or grab a print copy of the magazine from Lulu here: CultureCult Magazine (Issue #11)

CultureCult Magazine #11

CultureCult Magazine (detail)

2018 Challenge Halfway Point

2019 Challenge Halfway Point

I gave myself a challenge for 2018, and I’m at the halfway point. I challenged myself to start a series on Medium and to post to that series once a week. What I primarily write is fiction, so I decided to have my series follow me as I wrote a dialogue-only short story collection.

Idea Flash

The idea germinated from two unpublished flash-length manuscripts I had in my computer’s story folder. Both were a single, long paragraph. The first was totally in dialogue, with the speakers differentiated through the use of dialect and italics. This story was “Expire,” and I always knew it’d be the first piece in some future collection; I just didn’t know what that collection would be. It’s the first of my dialogues for many reasons. Primarily though, it’s because the content and form of the story both explore the complications of communication through storytelling. Meaning is difficult to convey, especially when you’re working with literary fiction where there may be multiple meanings or the form can be odd, experimental, and artfully crafted.

The second story was a monologue originally designed as a page-length long sentence. I pulled it up, proofread, changed some things within the extant text, added a second speaker to comment on the focus of the long sentence, and — voila! — I had another dialogue.

And so with these two as my base, I challenged myself to write a collection of creative conversations — dialogues all. A challenge not only because of the tight weekly schedule, but also because of the constraints of the form. Dialogues are more or less constrained by an inability to indicate inner-thoughts, background information, motivation, or describe characters and setting (at least I can’t do any of these things without verbalizing them, which isn’t always possible or desirable in this form). While constraining, much like a choosing a poetic form to constrain one’s writing, restricting myself has also been freeing; I haven’t been able to choose from the infinite options normally available to a writer of fiction. Having infinite choices eliminated is in its own way liberating. While I can be experimental and push boundaries to a degree, I still know one thing: it’s all got to be dialogue.

writer silhouette

So, having stuck with the terms of the challenge I set (only dialogue and at least once a week), now that I’m halfway through, I want to reflect on what I’ve done thus far. Specifically, 1) How have I done? 2) What would I do differently? 3) How will I proceed? 4) Will I do it again?

 

How have I done?

I started the series by posting an introduction the first week of January. Every week after that I’ve dutifully put out a dialogue. So I’ve succeeded in that respect. But I haven’t succeeded in every respect.

One of the reasons I gave myself this challenge (outside of forcing myself to complete fiction writing projects quickly) was to build my fan base by putting writing life out there, letting people see the writing journey as it happens. While I’ve gotten a few more blog followers just from being more active on WordPress where I’ve also posted weekly about the latest dialogue, my Medium stats indicate that I haven’t really increased my readership for my fiction — and it’s my fiction reader fan base I am attempting to grow. I’ve done something not quite right. My readership remains dismally low. So low, in fact, that I count it as nonexistent.

Dialogue series stats

 

What would I do different?

The first thing I would have done differently is to have chosen a platform for my updates other than the Medium series platform. There are myriad issueswith the series platform, including accessibility problems and an issue with subscribers actually getting notifications when a series is updated. I also figured out that series have even worse read ratios and interactions from readers than your typical self-posted article. It’s really only publications who opt to use Medium as their parent platform that give most writers any real chance of visibility (two of my dialogues were sent and accepted into Medium publications, The Creative Cafe and Lit Up).

So even without accessibility issues and a broken notification system for series, I may not have found it any easier to build a fan base or increase readership had I simply been self-posting updates or even stories as regular Medium articles. As it is, my stats indicate that I am — though not intentionally — writing these series updates solely for myself. No one else views them. I’ve added to my oeuvre and kept to the strictures of my challenge, but the public journey hasn’t brought in new readers like I thought it would.

While there are no guarantees that another platform would have gotten me more readers, I think the series platform simply doesn’t work for writers trying to build their platform around it, though those with an existent platform could arguably succeed with it. Writing for publishers on Medium seems like the best approach if you’re going to do Medium. Could I choose again, I’m not sure what I would go with (Medium articles, Wattpad, solely my blog, etc.) but it certainly would not be the Medium series platform.

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How will I proceed?

I am failing to gain readers even as I weekly come closer to completing a short story collection, so why continue to write updates at all if I don’t have anyone to read what I’ve written?

As Rosie Leizrowice, one of my favorite bloggers, wrote: “If you love the process, you react the same way to failure as you do to success.”

I am successfully writing; I am failing to reach readers. I don’t care. I love the process. So I will carry on doing exactly what I am doing. More or less.

Vision Planning Strategy Process GOAL puzzle

The one thing I’ll do differently does not change my process, but is itself another process. Since no one is really taking this writers journey with me, I am going to seriously start seeking publication in zines, magazines, journals, and literary reviews where allowed.

While the series itself is just acting as a kind of one-stop place for me to easily view my challenge updates, the process stays intact. The process has allowed me to create at an accelerated rate, far surpassing my normal leisurely speed of writing where I tend to setting aside what I’ve written, only to come back, edit more, and set aside again, practically ad infinitum. And since I’m not reaching readers with the challenge itself, maybe I can reach readers and publishers at the same time.

 

Will I do it again?

Not exactly. While I love the process, I also need to learn from the process, whether that process led to success or failure or (as in this case) a mix of both. What I’ve learned is that imposing deadlines on myself is a fantastic motivator to work more quickly and cleanly. I think knowing this will help me when I turn my attention to planned future collections of stories and essays. I might even be able to apply the most positive parts of this process to future novels.

What I won’t do again is give myself extra work without more assurance that it will pay off in some tangible way. While meeting obligations when under the scrutiny of the public eye is a powerful motivator, I’ve found that without the public eye or an expectant readership I’m still finding success in sticking to the deadlines of my challenge. Deadlines that — I came to realize a while ago — are really for myself.

I’ve also realized that the information-addicted internet culture doesn’t really need me to add my personal writing challenge to the digital cacophony. If I want my words read, I’d do better to stick to the traditional routes of finding readers through the types of publishers whose subscribers have the temperament and attention my words deserve.

So I will be cultivating a process — a process that includes setting deadlines to complete a story, a chapter, or to have a work ready to send to a potential publisher. And you can be sure that once this challenge is done, I won’t be writing another book of dialogues. But the stories and the words, oh yes, they will keep coming.

dialogues

On the Art of the Long Sentence

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I love the long sentence. So much so that I wrote an essay about artful long sentences (not to be confused with the run-on sentence).

You can find the essay published on the This is Writing website. Much thanks to Scott Mullins for taking this project on (oh, and for conducting an interview with me, which will appear on the website at a later date).

Click here to read the essay.
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The Joy of a First Book

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I have a new essay up at StoryFinds about the joy of a having a first book published.

The Joy of a First Book: The joy of having a first book published is not like the joy of a first story appearing in print. With that first story, being published was joy and validation itself. Read the whole essay here.

Randal Eldon Greene on StoryFinds