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?

Dreaming Your Characters

Dreaming Your Characters

It finally happened. I’ve heard of it from other writers, but I’d never had the experience myself before now.

I dreamed my characters.

Not only that, but I was writing them. It was an odd, but thrilling experience.

dreaming woman

When we dream, our brain does this thing we call sleep spindles. As tuck.com describes them: “sleep spindles are sudden bursts of oscillatory brain activity . . . that occur during stage 2 of light sleep. These brainwaves are called sleep spindles because of how they look when printed out on an EEG reading.”

Scientists have linked these sleep spindles to areas of the brain that have been used during the day. So if you do a task for a prolonged period of the day like sewing, teaching a class, shooting hoops, mindless factory work, or writing then your brain “practices” this activity at night in your sleep, giving you sleep spindles in the exact same area of the brain.

Those who sleep talk are oftentimes acting out their sleep spindles. My wife, for example, is a frequent sleep-talker. She is almost always teaching, admonishing kids to quit goofing around, or gabbing with other educators in her sleep.

I imagine that since I’ve been writing even more each day than last year, that my brain has been spending ample time exercising my writing muscles while I sleep.

Dream Catcher

Here’s the thing about sleep spindles and your sleep talking dreams: you shouldn’t be able to remember them. It’s only your rapid eye movement (REM sleep) that you remember. These are typically the more exciting dreams where you’re trying to find something, accomplish a task, get somewhere, are maybe flying, or (if it’s a nightmare) trying to get away from something. In fact, when we talk about dreams and dreaming, we’re almost always talking about REM sleep.

So, while I’ve been brain spindling it up with an increase of 2 to 3 more hours a day at the writing desk this year, it’s still surprising to see my characters come to life in my dreams. While it’s most likely that I was in REM sleep, just the manner of my dream makes me wonder if I hadn’t somehow managed to remember a sleep spindle dream. If I did, then my writing sleep spindles look pretty cool.

sleep spindles

I won’t give every detail, but here’s the gist of the dream: I was dreaming about two of my characters—the two which are the principle characters of the current chapter I’m writing.

Jazzy and Miles were at a white wrought-iron table in an outdoor cafe, and Jazzy was being offered alcohol. I wasn’t in the dream, but I could hear myself narrating what was happening in exactly the same manner that I hear myself think when I write. The scene had to do with whether Jazzy would accept the alcoholic drink or not due to her Christian beliefs which don’t forbid alcohol but do frown on it in practice.

Then my dream switched to a scene with Maha and a more minor character. It’s a parallel scenario with Maha at a wooden table in at a bar and restaurant in the heart of Delhi. In this scene, Maha is having the same issue, except her Islamic beliefs don’t allow her to drink alcohol at all. I again hear my voice narrating the scene and the actions. Like with Jazzy, I can see my character fully, both from a distance and up close. Her face is troubled because she’s in a delicate situation of appearing rude if she doesn’t accept the drink but will be sinning if she does.

Then, suddenly, a line comes to mind that has to do with Miles back at the previous scene. The dream jumps over to Jazzy and Miles who are sitting at the same outdoor table. This one beautiful line flows out of me so intensely that I see it being written in my handwriting at the bottom of the scene below their table. I don’t see my hand, I just see the words appearing in my unique chicken scratch. After this, the dream goes immediately back to Maha’s dilemma, and I wake up right before I’m about to narrate what she decides to do.

Note: neither of these exact scenes appear in my book, but the characters I envisioned do exist in my mind. What was so cool was that they appeared exactly as I picture them. In fact, they seemed even more vivid and lifelike in my dream than they do when I’m writing their story. They looked much more human. The sweat on their brows, the pores on their faces were all clear when the dream was examining them closely.

It was a crazy positive experience that tells me I’m doing something right. And that thing is writing. If I’m writing enough in the day that I spend time writing in my sleep, this means I’m really giving myself over to the thing that I want to do with my life, which is bring a book into existence through words in my mind being transferred onto a page.

Let me know if you’ve ever dreamed about your characters in the comments below.

book and brain

Notes:
All photos except the sleep spindle graph are from Pixabay. The graph is from Goodnights.rest
I also want to make it clear that sleep spindles appear to do more than help us learn. We’re actually still learning about them. Sleep has always fascinated me, and I think sleep spindles and the unconscious processes of learning are some of the most amazing aspects of unconsciousness—even more interesting than REM sleep. What I’ve written above is what I remember about sleep spindles. So do your own research to see what’s new and what other studies might have to say in agreement or opposition to sleep spindle learning.

Scentless Dreams

Scentless Dreams

I’ve been waking up at 3a.m. all week long. It’s horrible because inevitably I end up falling asleep at some point for at least an hour-long nap. I’d rather not nap and just write straight through till lunch. I again woke up at 3 in the morning today, but I work my two 16-hour shifts today and tomorrow, so no napping for me. Maybe this will let me reset my circadian rhythm.

Last week was also my days at the gas station. That is not a way I want to spend my evenings. There’s nothing fulfilling for me in that line of work. If there were opportunities for meaningful personal growth there, I sure couldn’t find them. Yes, I could work my way up in management, but is that truly fulfilling? For me, not so much not at all.

I have now exactly what I want: time to write.
I’m not desiring much else. Perhaps just the elimination of the stressors of student debt. That’s my next goal, but I’m not working another job to reach it. I’ve only got one life, and I’m not wasting it slaving for money. I don’t mind making money, but I’d rather make it doing something that challenges me in a way which makes me grow as a person.


Listed as the story of this week for my weekly writing challenge is Scentless Dreams, a story concerning a talking dog who asks a group of kids to share their fish.

child and talking dog