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?

WIP Wednesday #6: Zero draft DONE

Work in Progress

Ever watch an author finish writing his book?

Watch Literally writing the last pages of my novel. from RandalEldonGreene on www.twitch.tv

If you clicked my video above, now you have. 

Finishing the book took me a bit longer than I expected. Buying a new house, moving in mid-October, setting up the office, and learning how to begin “professional” livestreaming all took time away from actual writing. But actually write I did, and the book was finished yesterday.

writing with pen

My novel technically began in early 2007, as an idea. It had a lengthy seven-year gestation period before the first words of the book were born. I actually started writing it around September of 2014. So it’s been five years in the making, around twelve years total from concept to paper-draft completion. In time since writing began I got a girlfriend, moved into a rental house, got married, wrote a short story collection, became a first time home buyer, had something like 24 short creative pieces published, and saw my first novel printed by a small press.

decluttering desk

The plan today is to begin typing up my zero draft. First, I’m going to tidy up the chaotic mess that is my desk. I think there is such a thing as creative chaos, and the tendency towards this in my writing space seems to affirm it as a fact. But periodic cleaning is a good thing for focus. And a good time for decluttering is the start of a new chapter. This certainly counts as one for me.

I’m still making small adjustments to my process. This includes how and when I livestream my writing to how and when I work on what. For example, I’ve been putting off my dialogues for a long while now. The novel was imperative. And, truly, it still is. But I need to finish editing my collection of creative conversations sooner than later. What I think I will do is set aside certain hours of a specific day to focus on that and other short fiction projects.
webcam
Livestreaming itself has been an interesting experience. I feel like maybe I should move the livestream to YouTube where there is an existent community of authors and writers. I may attempt a trial of  this in the near future. I’d also like to try making some videos for AuthorTube and see how that goes.

As for livestreaming on Twitch, I’ve found that most Twitch people aren’t there to write, even if they want to hang on my stream. For this reason, my most popular streams have been ones where I’m chatting. Chatting while writing is, naturally, distracting. So I’m adjusting my schedule to make sure I consistently do silent writing streams and also give myself more hours of “private” writing sessions (you know, just regular writing, not in front of a camera). So some of my streams are going to be starting later to make sure my writing isn’t overly interrupted by social sessions. In other words, writing comes first; the stream is there to build community by encourage others and myself to keep at it.
whiksey
I’m also encouraging donations with a Whiskey Wednesday stream, where I’ll be imbibing a drink or two during the writing session. There’s a nicely placed whiskey fund tip jar for those willing to subscribe or donate to the cause of writing drunk and editing sober.

How long will this novel take to edit? That is simply something I cannot be sure of at this juncture. Hopefully less than a year. During the writing of this book, I’ve learned not only a lot about how I write, but how my body desires to write and desires to not write. I don’t experience writer’s block, but I do experience distraction, excuses, the easy pleasures the TV screen and of a book (“just one more chapter” becoming an all-morning read). So in the next phase of this novel, I’ll probably be learning a lot about how I edit something this lengthy. Certainly, I have ample experience editing short fiction, and even my first short novel, but this manuscript is sure to both test and teach me.

It’s a test and a learning experience I’m looking forward to.

firstdraft

WIP Wednesday #5: Home Stretch

Work in Progress

I think I’m in the home stretch. But I’m not sure. It’s takes me months sometimes to write a chapter. Technically I’ve been working on this book for years. I haven’t always had the luxury of being able to build a daily writing habit. Nor have I always utilized the writing time I have for working on my novel. But even when I am writing daily, I find it takes me a long time to finish a chapter. And I’m only on chapter 11 of a planned 15 chapters. Yet, despite the evidence of the past, I really feel like I’m in the home stretch.

The number one reason I should not feel this way is that I am moving to a new home. That’s right, my wife and I are moving out of our rental and are buying our very first house together. In a month and a few days, I’m going to be a bona fide homeowner. This week we began packing.

Office

The first box for the move is taped up and labeled.

Trying to finish a book while also getting ready to move is probably not wise. But you know what I think is even more foolish? Not writing.

There’s a time to write and a time to rest. Right now, it’s not a time to rest, but a time to use the changes in my life as a catalyst to finishing the first draft of this book. I figure that if a normal person only gets to pack in the evenings after work or on weekends, then I can just pack after I’m done writing for the day.

moving boxes

I won’t be finished with this book by moving day (Oct. 12!). Still, the feeling of crunch time is helping motivate me to get this novel done. I might get burned-out with packing our whole house into boxes, but I don’t think I’ll be getting burned-out on writing the book. There’s too much excitement there for me. Especially since I have a self-imposed deadline of October 31st.

Why Halloween? Only because I want to do NaNoWriMo, so I will ideally be done on or even before the deadline. Hopefully I’m not setting myself up to fail in November (or to fail to even participate) by cutting things so close. Nevertheless, I think it would be nice to just set the novel aside in November and let my creative side jump into something completely different.

And now for something completely different

I won’t go into my evolving thoughts on NaNoWriMo or into the piece I hope to write for it because it’s not yet being written and this is work-in-progress Wednesday. All of that will come later—if at all. I will, however, share a photo of a note from my wife I found on the back of one of my as yet unpublished stories while sorting through papers that needed filing.

Wow. Three Eyes by Randal Eldon Greene

WOW. This is probably the best thing you’ve written. Seriously, honey!! ❤ ❤ ❤

In summary, I think the rest of chapter 11 and the subsequent chapters will be written faster than all the parts of the book that came before. I’m in the home stretch. Let’s just hope that my move doesn’t stretch me beyond my limits, creatively or otherwise.

Micky packing

WIP Wednesday #4: Am I a Novelist?

Work in Progress

When I began writing Descriptions of Heaven, though I did intend to one day become a novelist, I never intended this narrative to be of book-length. The thing grew from a single scene into a story composed of chapters. It, in fact, unintentionally took the place of a book I was writing about a son dealing with the decline of his mother’s health due to Alzheimer’s disease.

Descriptions of Heaven 3D image black background.

Even with this book published, I had never been quite certain that I legitimately was a novelist, since my first book is what many call a novella. However, I have come across writing just as short as my novella where the publisher calls it a novel in the blurb and foreword. So I was either a novelist who wrote a little novel (novella) or a short story author who wrote a long short story.  Either way, my book was published as a standalone piece, just like any novel—big or small. Yet, I still kept asking myself, Am I a novelist?

Novelist contemplating©2004-2019 wredwrat

When asked what I do all day, my default answer is no longer “I’m a writer” or the only sightly less vague “I write books.”  Instead, I’m more apt so say “I’m a novelist” (though saying I’m a short story author is equally true, short fiction work isn’t a part of my quotidian practices).

There are two primary reason I’ve embraced the term novelist:
1) Recently, a friend on my Literary Fiction Writers Facebook group, during a discussion about the demarcations between a short story and a novel, pointed out that the real difference isn’t word count, but structure and flow. Novels and short stories are extremely different in that respect. While I’m not willing to discount word count as playing a central role in their difference, I’m apt to agree that rather small word counts can still be structured as novels. Descriptions of Heaven has under 35 thousand words, but it is structured as a novel and does not flow like a short story.
2) I have to admit that in this past six months I’ve become much more focused on my novel-in-progress, spending less time on my short fiction, which I often used to write, edit, and submit in lieu of working on my novel. Not only did my computer go kaput, as I explained in a previous WIP Wednesday post, making this kind of productive “distraction” less available, but I’ve also been spending every free day I have novel-writing for as long as I feasibly can. While it’s often not as much as I want, I can honestly say I am spending large chunks of my weekdays writing a novel.

©2016-2019 TheGraphicNovelist
©2016-2019 TheGraphicNovelist

So, there you have it. I have already written one little novel, and most Tuesdays through Fridays I spend my hours after breakfast until lunch writing my next novel. I am a novelist, both a published and actively working novelist.

Real talk time: I think a lot of novelists suffering from impostor syndrome or whatever, suffer a lot not because their book is too small, but because they don’t write as much as they can. No one should spend all their time writing, and in your life there are likely other things that take precedence over creative work. But a lot of us have the time—have in fact painfully carved out some small hours to focus on creativity—and yet we feel like impostors because we haven’t developed a good writing habit, thus we don’t use the time as we should. Consequently, we don’t feel like writers, let alone novelists.

The truth is, I haven’t developed a consistent habit of getting back to the desk after lunch. I can’t even blame it on a honey-do list, since I don’t let chores distract me anymore. My problem is that writing’s been going so well that I often finish my intended writing goal for the day or complete a long scene before the hours I’ve carved out for myself are used up. So I often stop writing because my brain feels like it needs a reset or some time to think about what’s next (yeah, I’m not a huge plotter).

On the one hand, I don’t mind these breaks because I’ve felt productive and hit my goals. On the other hand, I want to make a living as a writer—as a novelist—and in order to do that, I’ll probably want to be putting out a book every other year. Stopping for scene changes isn’t going to cut it.

Maori Sakai writer's life

© Maori Sakai

Here’s four things I’m doing to try and keep it going:
1) During lunch, I don’t turn on the radio or watch any TV. This lets my mind linger on my work, keeping me in my novelist zone or at least letting me transition back there faster.
2) I just get right back to the desk after my break and write. It’s been years since I’ve had to be in a mood or needed the Muse to write. So why I think I need to be calibrate my brain for the next section of my novel, I don’t know.
3) If I don’t have so much as a bullet point on a sticky note or general idea of what comes next, I’ll let myself go on a walk and think about it. I write when I get back. This isn’t something I want to become a habit since I won’t be going on walks come our long Midwestern winters, so I’ll only go out for a walk after serious creative thought. If nothing comes, I’ll let myself head out into the neighborhood for an hour or so.
4) I’m building a habit by writing every day I can, starting as early as I can and staying at it until 3:00pm if possible. Yet there’s this thing called real life that gets in the way sometimes of that good habit, so I’ve been trying to write daily regardless of the time. If needed, I’ve started at 11:00am, which is really late for me. I’ve even resorted to writing in the evening if I didn’t get a chance to during the day. While it cuts into family and reading time writing so late, it also shows my commitment to making a living from my books, continues to build my writing habit, and literally gets me a few pages closer to my goal.

This book is getting done. And, while I am a novelist, it’s forming the habit of novel-writing that’s going to let me someday be a career novelist (and occasional author of short story collections).

author novelist short story writer

© Elias Stein

 

Do you consider yourself a novelist whether you’ve written a novel or not? Or a poet, even if you haven’t made a collection of poetry? What are your writing habits like? Are your habits working or can you improve upon them? Let me know in the comments below.