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?

Literary Listening

Literary Listening

Today I’ve decided to do something fun by giving you a Literary Listening list, which includes podcasts, steaming radio, and YouTube. If you’re a book lover like I am, but also someone who enjoys book talk like I do, then these programs might be worth checking out.

I decided to do this blog post after I asked for literary podcast recommendations in my Literary Fiction Writers group on Facebook (if you write lit fic, please join us!). From the interest the post generated and the lack of submissions from the group, I realized that either we’re all reading books all of the time or, more likely, we writers are just as prone as everyone else to binging on (let’s face it) social media garbage. So, if we can’t always turn to books, at least we can entertain ourselves with something intelligent. And while there is actually plenty of great content online for learning science, art, history, and whatnot, this is a literary blog, so it’s my Literary Listening list and not my other brain-expanding lists I’ll be sharing today.  On this list are things I listen to and watch when I’m in the mood for book talk. There’s also programs I recently discovered and enjoyed. Some of these are well-known, others are not. So, in no particular order:

  1. The History of Literature Podcast

    I think I discovered this podcast waaaay back when only a couple of episodes were released. I promptly forgot about it and am quite surprised that I didn’t discover it again earlier. I’ve listened to couple of episodes this week and I really like the content. It’s informative, informal, and the host’s voice is soothing.
    It looks like the podcast covers individual books, authors’ oeuvres, and short stories with a smattering of interviews and other topics of literary interest.

  2. It’s Lit

    This PBS produced show features Lindsay Ellis, a YouTube-famous video essayist. On her own channel she covers mostly the big screen. But in It’s Lit, she talks books. These videos are binge-worthy short, and you can probably spend an easy evening watching them all. The animation is good if a little dorky, and the same can be said of the topics Ellis covers.

  3. Bookworm

    Hosted by Michael Silverblatt, this KCRW produced radio program is all about the author. Featuring interviews with authors for over the last two decades, this show is a treasure trove of the talented and the famous. If you’re interested in hearing one of the most well-read interviewers speak with great novelists, poets, and even some of our great essayists, then this show is a must for you.

  4. The Book Chemist

    Mattia Ravasi loves to talk about books. On his YouTube channel you’ll find book reviews, a deep read of Gravity’s Rainbow, and more. I like to watch his channel both to discover new books and to see what he has to share about my favorite classics. His videos are a bit rough around the edges, but I still encourage you to give him a try. He’s bound to improve over time, especially if we support him. And we all want our literary booktubers to improve, grow, and thrive. What I really like about him is that he often loves the books and authors I don’t, and vice verse. And yet I still find what he has to say compelling.

  5. For the Love of Ryan

    Another YouTuber who loves to discourse about books. Ryan talks about great writing and great authors. I especially like when he does close readings of short fiction. He’ll provide a link to the story so you can read it before finishing his video. More recently he has been doing a reading challenge and livestreams. You can see Ryan’s passion for literature on his face when he’s talking about his favorite authors. Like most amazing book nerds on YouTube, he could use more support. So, for the love of Ryan, check him out.

  6. Write Now Podcast

    Hosted by Sarah Rhea Werner, this podcast is all about the the writing process and the author. Broken into two types of shows—interviews and monologues—you’ll easily find an interesting episode. I personally love her monologues. Hearing Sarah give advice and reflection on the writing life gives me a boost when my inner-muse is feeling lethargic. The Coffee Break episodes feature authors Sarah has interviewed. You can even find an interview with me somewhere in the archives. Out of all the shows on my list, I’d say Write Now is the most open to all types of readers and authors.

  7. Entitled Opinions

    Hosted from the campus of Stanford University’s KZSU radio station, this program is all about life and literature. Entitled Opinions may have a pretentious name, but the expertise of the host and those he interviews give the title another meaning, one that speaks to a lives lived in pursuit of knowledge and deep learning. Not all shows could get away with a name like Entitled Opinions, but this one most certainly can. The show revolves mostly around literature, philosophy, and art with occasional forays into science, politics, and other topics that anyone interested in the world them will also enjoy.

  8. The Virtual Memories Show

    This podcast was recommended to me in my Literary Fiction Writers group on Facebook by a friend of the podcaster. The first season is pretty bare bones, but it picks up quickly from there. Interviews, literary readings, and literary ramblings are in store on this show about books and life. Episodes are currently listed at the bottom of the home page.

  9. C21 STL

    This seminar-related podcast was founded in 2018. Sadly, it only has four episodes, but I kind of love it. It’s generally a Q&A format covering a range of contemporary literary topics. It’s student-led, having different interviewers running each episode. This might be why there’s not too many of them up yet (no one particular host whose vision runs the thing). So take a listen and maybe even contact Melanie Micir at mmicir@wustl.edu to ask about upcoming episodes.

  10. Shaelin Writes

    This YouTube channel is an amazing source of writing advice. If you’ve ever wanted to know about the how in writing fiction, this is a great resource. From plotting to editing, from developing characters to incorporating flashback, this channel has some practical advice for all writers. Now there are probably tons of great writing channels out there on YouTube, but I’ve gravitated to this one because she’s so often focused on aspects of the writing process I either don’t think consciously about or don’t use at all; I find it intriguing, plus it gets me examining what I typically do by instinct.
    You’ll also find a good mix of recent reads and writing vlogs on this channel, so you’ll not only get advice but also get to know Shaelin along with receiving some great book recommendations.

Literary Listening

I do have a list of about 9 other podcasts and programs I want to check out. As I listen to these and make my assessments, I’ll add them here if I like them.  If you have any recommendations, please do share them in the comments. I promise I will give them a gander.

Remember, if you can’t feed your brain books, book talk is a great alternative. Goodnight and happy listening.

What Makes You/You?

What Makes You/You?

Sally Sheinman, a visual artist living in the UK, created an amazing piece of artwork using my words for her ongoing project What Makes You, You?. Anyone can submit an answer to this question, and for some of these she creates a unique work of art. You can see the collaboration and find more about the project and the artist on her website.

A striking part of Sheinman’s piece is it’s living lifeforce embodied in the main part of the image. These multicolored, neural-like splotches remind me both of DNA and stars (and we are as much star-stuff as we are the DNA and neural connections within us). I love the details included on the figure: a mouth, a heart, and a brain. Sheinman really captured my words in a striking way in this “new kind of portraiture.”

I’ll be including this piece in my oeuvre partly because it’s my words, and since I’m a writer, words are pretty much all I’ve got. But mostly because I want to make sure the most people possible discover the work of Sheinman. She’s talented and truly an artist who knows the value of collaboration and community.

To view the full size image and check out other pieces from the What Makes You You? project, simply follow this link. 

What Makes You You? Randal Eldon Greene July 15th
Find Sally Sheinman
on her website

on Facebook

or on Twitter

Personal Update

Randal Eldon Greene Facebook liked by 666 people

Well, I reached 666 Facebook likes. Anyone who hasn’t already done so, please like my page ASAP!

                          😈😈😈


In more fun news, you remember that thing I wrote: Standoff With Bigfoot Deep in the Remote Woods.  It’s the one weird experimental one I wrote about not long ago (#SuperInnovative #©MyIdea #ScriptioContinuaIsTotallyMyInvention). Well, I’ve decided to try to get it published. So stay tuned. It may be appearing in a zine, magazine, journal, or review near you.

 

Standoff with Bigfoot Deep in the Remote Woods by Randal Eldon Greene


I also want to give a quick shoutout to everyone who has been liking my posts recently. I love seeing those likes. If you do read my published stories, I’d love to know your thoughts as well. I know the modern world is busy, and you’ve got other things to read, click, and like, so I appreciate those who spend a few of those precious minutes choosing my creative work as their source of entertainment, and I’d love to know who you are and what you think.

You all have a great day, and don’t forget to subscribe.

 

(How To) Quit Your Job & Write

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I am starting this blog nearly a year to the day I quit my day job to write full time. This post isn’t actually so much a step-by-step “how-to”; rather, this post is about under what circumstances this may be an intelligent move and I filter this through details about my own decision-making process. I assume that a lot of my readers here have themselves contemplated this move away from the daily grind in order to pursue a novelist’s career. And, if this isn’t you, it will give you a little background about me and about the risks we writers face in order to chase our dreams.

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Should you quit your job to write?

No. Don’t do it: quitting your job is a stupid idea. You’ve got car payments, a mortgage, kids to feed, student loans to pay, a family who—until now—was fairly assured about your sanity.

Yes. Do it ASAP: quitting your job is a wonderful idea. It’s work that’s stupid. All it does is get in the way of you and your Great American Novel. Without a job, you’ll have time to write your masterpiece.

I’m not a huge fan of relativism, but when trying to decide if quitting your job to pursue the career of prosateur or poet is a smart move, you’re going to need to look closely at your own life and situation before putting in your two weeks. That being said, I really feel work is stupid if it’s unfulfilling. An artist is better off making art full time than being jailed in an office cubicle, wasting talent mopping factory floors, or faking smiles to fulfill the expectations of the craptastic customer service industry.

So, I can’t tell you to quit your job or even if it’s a good idea for you in your own particular situation to quit your job. I can only tell you about my own experience in quitting my job.

Let’s start out with this plain and honest fact: I’m not unemployed. You see, I hope to someday make money at writing, but I’m one of these novelists (to paraphrase Flaubert) who can spend an entire morning putting a comma in and then spend an afternoon taking it out. At this pace, I simply can’t make a living as a writer doing articles for magazines or wing out enough short fiction for the New Yorker and other paying venues to keep my debts at bay. That’s why, when I decided to quit my day job, I first sought out another job to replace it. This new job, though, had to have this one important difference: it would allow me time to write, either at work or more time to write outside of work. I ended up getting lucky because I found a job that gave me both.

How do you know it’s time to quit flipping burgers and time to pick up a pen? That’s a tough one. For me, I needed more than one reason to make writing my fulltime vocation. When I quit, I had over three years of tenure. It was a fairly good job, paying well for the area. I ranked highly and was liked by my co-workers. But, the company forced me to transfer to a new position—it turned out to be a position I just didn’t like. Now, I already didn’t actually like my job, but it was bearable (most days). This transfer though involved a lot of technical knowledge of a major video game platform, which was not a good fit for me.

Was this enough to quit my job and pursue writing? No. It might have been enough to find a comparable job, one not involved in any way with tech support or knowledge of the latest first-person shooter, but with equally awesome benefits. What tipped the scales from workaday life to writer’s life was this: the start of a new novel.

Let me set the scene: when I first moved back to Nebraska after many years in South Dakota—most of them spent as a university student—I began working on book. I set out to start writing a short story, but it went past the normal limits of the genre and it grew to be a novella (the longest thing I’d ever written at that point). My first drafts of this book, Descriptions of Heaven, were written between 2012 and 2013. After this, I worked on short stories and further revisions of my novella. Then, in 2014, I began working on a really cool novel, which (had I finished it) would have been a kind of cousin to Derrida’s Glas, except it would have been fiction and quite possibly still a readable document. It’s painful to admit this but. . .this cousin to Glas was a ‘malformed neonate’ and its health was failing as fast as I was writing it. In despair one day, I picked up a blank piece of paper and started writing the first lines of what is now my novel-in-progress. This was gutsy, if only because these lines were the start of a book that had been gestating inside my brain for over seven years. I didn’t know I was ready to write it until I saw that I had actually penned out the first few lines. After the first page was written down on paper, I knew that I had to devote myself as wholly as possible to this book.

The first thing I did was math (an unnatural act for me, which is why I rechecked my work several times) and decided that I could afford to quit if I could get x-amount of pay at another job and if this other job allowed me to devote x-amount of hours to writing every week. And, as I mentioned above, this meant working less hours or a job where writing at work was possible. I’m not going to credit myself with any brilliance in picking out my new, writer-friendly vocation; I got the idea from my best friend, Mike Convery, who had worked at a hotel one summer and normally spent most of his working day deep in a book. Luckily, in the Sioux City area, the majority of hotels and inns are located all in the same general vicinity. I went out on a Thursday night right after work to pick up applications, turned them in on Friday, and had a job at the one closest to my home by Saturday.

Did I vacillate? Yes.
Did my long-time employer beg me to stay? Yes.  🙂
Did I stay? No.
Why? Because, my new job offered me a schedule I couldn’t resist. I work only two days a week. I grant, they’re sixteen-hour shifts, but that’s not bad considering the payoff, which is tons of time to pursue writing. And, really, it’s often slow enough at the front desk for me to be able write, read, watch cartoons. . .or even blog (now that I’m a blogger).

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So, do I—in general—recommend quitting your job to become a writer? Yes, but do it smartly; you might already have the perfect balance between day job and writing desk (you might just need some time management skills to utilize that balance). Or, maybe the workaday life is holding you back. For me, it was a mix of the muse, a poor fit with a new position, and the presentation of a perfect opportunity that led me to make writing the main focus of my working life.

How about you? Would love to hear your stories, thoughts, and concerns about quitting your job to write the next Great American Novel. Comment below.