sunday ROW80 check-in ~ #2

It’s a beautiful, hot and sunny Sunday afternoon, and I’m loving it!  This morning and afternoon have been amazingly productive, and today’s check-in post will be my third piece of completed writing for the day.  Seriously, how can I ask for anything more?  So here’s the scoop on my first week in Round 3 of ROW80:

  • Goal #1 – Write 1000 words daily.  I met this goal on Thursday, Friday and Sunday (today).  I was 20 words short on Wednesday, but come on, Wednesday was a holiday wasn’t it? The other part of this goal is that I take one day off from my writing, preferably Saturday.  I managed to stay away from my WIP until about 8pm on Saturday night, and then I gave in to the need to write something.  All in all, I’m still pleased about how I’m doing with this goal.  But the first week of any new routine/challenge is often the easiest week, right? I’ll keep a lookout for rain clouds forming on the horizon.
  • Goal #2 – Stick to my blog post schedule.  I made a post on Thursday, though I’m not sure how deep the thoughts in that post were, and it wasn’t all that I wanted it to be.  I’m looking at it as a learning experience and realizing that I’m going to need to work harder at finding interesting things to blog about on Thursdays.  I’m making my Sunday blog post now, and this morning I completed the book review for tomorrow’s post.  I feel like I’m doing okay on this goal, too.
  • Goal #3 – Complete the first draft of my WIP.  Since the starting date of July 2nd for Round 3 of ROW80, I have added just over 9,200 words to my WIP.  Whoop!  During this morning’s writing session, I completed the first draft of chapter 4 and I’m hoping to find time today to plot out chapter 5.

I mentioned in my Wednesday check-in that my writing periods were a little bit out of whack.  They are starting to return to normal and I’m starting to write in the mornings again.  Maybe I was just in a bit of a momentary funk or something, but I suppose eventually everything does work itself out.

Another observation that I’m making about my goals is that the one day of the week I was trying not to work on my WIP was the one day that the writing seemed to come easier, and it was also the day that I wrote the most.  I completed an entire scene last night while writing and the time seemed to fly by. Also, the thing about that scene is that it’s important for laying groundwork for another novel project in this series.  I’m not really sure how to explain last night’s writing session, and then, maybe it doesn’t really need explanation.  I’ll look at it as a win, but I’ll still try again next Saturday to take a break from writing.

Thanks for stopping by my blog and looking in on my progress.  Good luck to all of my fellow ROWers in Week 2!

a dollar’s worth of guilt

On Tuesday night, I bought Ceremonials by Florence + and the Machine. It was on sale for $0.99 on Amazon.  Yes, I got twelve new (and great) songs for $1.07 after tax.  I should be insanely happy about this.  I am insanely happy about this and have been enjoying my new music.  But I also feel guilty.

It’s ridiculous to feel guilty over spending $1.07 on a new CD.  I keep telling myself this, but the other side of my brain keeps reminding me that July is a “no spending month” for me. Buying the new CD, even though it was an incredible deal, put the tiniest dent in my goal to not spend money on the extras this month.  At the time of the purchase, I was only three days into my no spending challenge and already I was giving into temptation.  I felt that I had no willpower or control whatsoever.  This, on top of the guilt, made me wonder how I was going to manage the rest of the temptations to consume and spend that await me in the coming days.

Designating July as a no spending month is more of a necessity than a choice.  I work on a nine-month contract, and so it’s up to me to save during those nine months to make sure that all of my fixed expenses are covered for the three months that I’m not getting paid (and yes, this is the reality for a lot of teachers living the glamorous, ‘lazy’ life of an academic, but that’s a whole other blog post).  I have the basics covered—rent, utilities, groceries—and also what some of us like to think are basic necessities, such as my cell phone, Internet service, and my Netflix subscription.  But things like new books, new music, iTunes downloads, clothes, etc. are all “luxuries” during the next couple of months.  This awareness of the need to spend mindfully during July and August provoked my sense of guilt and lack of control over this new CD purchase.

So here I am, trying to make sense of this experience by writing about it.  I know what you’re thinking: don’t sweat the small stuff.  I haven’t ever read that book but the spirit of that statement certainly holds true here.  It’s a dollar.  It’s not even one whole percentage of the many dollars I will spend this month. Not sweating the small stuff is definitely an appropriate piece of advice.  More importantly, though, writing about this experience has reminded me that there are going to be obstacles and blips in the road to any destination, whether that destination is a physical location or something intangible like the achievement of a goal.  Giving into the temptation of new music for only $1.07 was a blip in the road, but it’s okay, and I’m okay, and no catastrophe has or will ensue from that choice.  Further still, life is meant to be enjoyed, and one of the things I enjoy most in life is music.  Ceremonials is a great CD, and listening to it makes me happy.  That emotion is the one that I want to hold onto, and the guilt is the one that I’m going to let go of.  Right now.  There.  It’s gone.

My all-or-nothing mentality needs to undergo some adjustments.  100% of my no spending goal may not be achieved during July, but maybe 100% isn’t even what I should be aiming for.  What I mean is, it’s the process of making daily choices to consume less and spend less that is what is most important because it’s that process that will help me change my spending behavior in sustainable ways.  I also need to value the progress that I do make and not dwell on all the failures.  I’ve written this elsewhere but I still believe it to be true—it’s about the journey, not the destination.  I need to remember that and value each step of the journey.

wednesday check-in #1

It’s Wednesday, which means it’s time for a ROW80 check-in.  Let’s get the progress report part of this post out of the way first, shall we?

  • Goal #1 – Write 1000 words daily.  I am only two days into my first round of this challenge, but I have met my daily writing goal both days.  Success!
  • Goal #2 – Stick to my blog post schedule.  Mondays are designated as Book Review days, and this Monday I posted my review of The Lady in the Lake by Raymond Chandler.  I’m also making my Wednesday check-in so, success here, too!  I am still searching for inspiration for tomorrow’s “deep thoughts” blog post, but I have completed the book that I’ll be reviewing for next Monday’s post.
  • Goal #3 – Complete the first draft of my WIP.  I made progress toward this goal by adding just over 3,700 words to my draft.

So the last couple of days have gone well.  I have no complaints to register with myself, but there has been a strange shift in my writing routine, and I’m wondering if it’s just a side effect of having just finished CampNaNoWrimo or if it’s a change that’s here to stay.  I am a strong believer in establishing a writing routine and sticking to it.  Had I not done this, I have no idea how I would have made it through the process of writing a dissertation.  My current writing routine (and yes, my routine does change according to my schedule, be it summer vacation or fall or spring semester) is that I try to spend two hours writing first thing in the morning.  I got the advice to “write first” from a book by Joan Bolker* and it’s worked really well for me.  I also put into practice her advice of trying to write at the same time each day and in the same place, which have also yielded good results.  In the last couple of days, though, I haven’t been able to generate anything in my morning writing sessions.  I stare at the blank screen, check e-mail, the Internet, Twitter, do chores.  In general, I just allow myself to be distracted.  As I’ve said in another post, I have all kinds of ways of turning off my Internet distractions, but I haven’t employed them.

But I mentioned above that I’ve met my writing goal each day, so what gives?  On both days, instead of doing my writing in the morning, it’s gotten done in the evenings.  Now, I am self-proclaimed “night” person, but in the last few years I’ve managed to become a functioning morning person.  I have become used to doing most writing tasks in the morning and most reading tasks in the afternoons and evenings.  But Monday and Tuesday nights found me writing in the evening, from about seven to ten.  It’s like newborns who have their days and nights mixed up.  Which leads me to the question–is this just a temporary blip in my routine?  I don’t know the answer to this question but for now that’s okay.  I’m going to go with it and see what happens.

Perhaps the only other thing to say about my writing in the last couple of days is that it’s been a struggle to get the words out.  I think part of this stems from my attempt to take more time with my first draft (as opposed to being in the hurry-up mode of a NaNo month).  I wouldn’t say that I’m trying to get it right the first time, I’m just trying to write a less sloppy first draft (or zero draft, another term I got from reading Bolker’s book).  The flip side of that is that there isn’t an outside source of pressure, and for better or worse, I am a person who works best under pressure.  It’s another adjustment that this challenge is encouraging me to make and so for now it’s something to notice and see what comes of it.

With that, check-in #1 is done.  Thanks to everyone who has stopped by my blog and offered support and encouragement in this new endeavor of mine.  Have a good week!

*I am still learning all the tools and tricks of blogging, so I don’t yet know how to turn this into a link.  The book I’m referring to here is Joan Bolker’s Writing Your Dissertation in Fifteen Minutes a Day.


goals for round 3 of ROW80

It’s time to make goals for my first round of ROW80.  I’m trying my best to keep these goals simple, challenging, and achievable.  So here they are:

  • Write at least 1,000 words each day, six days a week.  One thing I have learned in the last year is the importance of taking at least one day off each week and not doing any work on that day.  I’m applying this to my writing as well.  In the last couple of months I have tried to write on a daily basis, and I’ve noticed that I usually want to take a day off and that when I do I come back to my work-in-progress with more focus and enthusiasm.  Right now, I’m thinking that Saturdays will be my designated day off, but once school begins in the fall I’ll have to see if that day works or if I’ll need to shift my day off to another day.
  • Four new blog posts each week.  I just started this new blog and I want to post to it on a regular basis.  My previous blog was a place for random posts but I want this blog to be more focused and reflective.  I think the schedule I’ve come up with is one that I can stick to even when school begins and life gets a lot more hectic.  Also, I’m trying to keep each of my blog posts under 1,000 words.  Does anyone else have a specific maximum length for their blog posts?  This is part of my blogging goal because I feel that during the process of graduate school and writing a dissertation I lost the power of brevity and the ability to be concise.  This is a first step at getting those back. My tentative schedule for new blog posts is:

Mondays – Book Reviews
Wednesdays – ROW80 Check-in
Thursdays – Deep Thoughts
Sundays – ROW80 Check-in

  • Complete first draft of work-in-progress.  For the last few years I have finished a first draft of at least one work-in-progress, and I think that if I can achieve my first goal, I can also achieve this goal.

That’s it.  Progress reports will be forthcoming.  Good luck to everyone in your Round 3 odysseys!

a year and two weeks without cable

It’s been a year and two weeks since I stopped handing over $90 a month to my local cable provider.  When I told my brother that I was going to not have cable at home, he looked at me as though I had three heads and was challenging the proper order of the world.  The question (indeed the proverbial question to so many decisions I make) was of course “Why would you do that?”.  This was followed by another question that at the time I really didn’t have the answer to:  How will you watch sports?

The decision to not have cable had been brewing in my mind for a long time.  January 2010 to May 2011 was a really intense time in my life.  I was writing a dissertation, teaching classes, and looking for a job.  I didn’t have a lot of time to sit on the couch and channel surf, and when I did, I felt guilty and bad about it because I knew I was supposed to be (needed to be) doing something else.  By the time June 2011 rolled around, the number of television shows that I actually watched when they aired was small, and I had discovered that I could do without the rest or wait until that golden era that I assumed would be my post-dissertation life.  I was also moving to a new city, and so the timing was ideal.  I should point out here that with my cable subscription, I didn’t also have some kind of DVR service, and that $90/month I mentioned above?  Yes, that was just for cable.  It didn’t include internet service or phone service or any other fun add-ons.  Just cable.  It didn’t even include premium channels like HBO and Showtime.  Yes, I know, $90.  Entirely too much on the salary of a graduate student.  But, perhaps I digress…

In the last year and two weeks I haven’t had cable at home.  I didn’t fit out my TV so that I could use an antenna and still get the basic broadcast channels like NBC, CBS, ABC, FOX and PBS.  When I say I don’t have cable, I mean I don’t have the capability of watching live television on my television.  I kept my TV, but I can’t even remember the last time I turned it on. It’s not even plugged in and hasn’t been for months—I’m energy-conscious! However, not having cable doesn’t mean that I don’t watch or consume my favorite television shows.  I just watch and consume them in different ways.  This will likely come up in future blog posts so let me just lay it out there right now.  My favorite (currently airing) television shows?  The ones I must see the minute a new episode is available?  Here they are, and this is in no specific order: Castle, The Vampire Diaries, Fringe, Sherlock, Doctor Who.  Yes, it’s a short list.  Certainly not enough to justify $90/month.  I’m not going to lie—in this last year, I bought the season passes for all of these shows, and you know what? I still came out ahead of what I would have paid with cable.  So yes, this decision has actually saved me money.  I get other shows through Netflix (right now I’m watching Season 8 of NCIS).  I already had Netflix and so I didn’t incur any new expenses as the result of cutting cable.  I also only have the DVD option for Netflix, but don’t get me started on all the reasons why.  Basically, I now watch television in one of three ways—season passes or individual episode purchases, Netflix, or watching free online.

But what about sports?  Yes, it’s true.  I love major league baseball, the NCAA tournament, the Stanley Cup playoffs, and grand slam tennis.  Do you want to know what I have discovered about this love of mine?  It’s not as strong and lasting as I had previously thought it was.  The only sports programming that I have gone out of my way to enjoy in some fashion is the Stanley Cup playoffs.  I found a way to listen to live radio broadcasts on my computer.  Not the same as watching but still satisfying enough.  So the answer to my brother’s question of how I was going to watch sports? I don’t watch sports anymore, and I honestly don’t feel like I’m missing anything.  I have discovered in this last year that a lot of things I thought were important to me, just really aren’t important to me anymore.  Will I miss watching the 2012 Olympics?  Maybe a little, but at the same time, how much do I really care?  How does watching the Olympics (or any other sports broadcast for that matter) affect my life in a positive way? If I’m being brutally honest with myself, it doesn’t positively affect my life.  It gives me the chance to stare mindlessly at the television for a few hours, and sure, that can be relaxing, but there are lots of other ways for me to relax. Like meditating.

Not having cable—or that is, not being addicted to staring at my television screen for hours on end—has given me time to do other things that I enjoy a lot more.  Such as reading for pleasure (reading is a big part of my professional life, so for me there’s always a distinction between reading for pleasure and reading for work), writing, trying out new recipes and cooking a nice meal more than one night a week.  I have no regrets about my choice.  Letting go has been one of my mantras over the last year, and letting go of cable has been liberating in a lot of ways.  Unless magic happens and my household gains another person, I can’t imagine that I will ever be a cable subscriber again.

it’s time to declare

I was having a conversation with a friend of mine a couple of months ago.  She has always wanted to take a pottery class, but she had never made time in her life to do just that.  One of the things that I got from our conversation was that she wanted to create something, and for her, that something was something tangible, something she could hold and touch.  During the conversation she said something to the effect of “but if we really want to do something, if we are really passionate about something, shouldn’t we find the time in our lives for what we are passionate about?”.  Fairly soon after this conversation, my friend enrolled in a pottery class.  The experience has taught her that making pottery is really difficult, and it’s not a skill she wants to continue to cultivate.  She’s decided to learn how to sew instead.

I, too, made a goal after this conversation.  I had said that writing was my creative outlet, that creative writing was one of the things I was passionate about, and yet I had to admit that I didn’t make enough time in my life to write.  Especially not in the last year.  I wrote when I had time, but only during a NaNo month did I strive to write a specific number of words each day and complete a draft of a particular work-in-progress.  I realized that I also wanted to make time to write, to cultivate a daily writing habit as far as creative writing was concerned.  So, starting in May, I made the goal of writing at least 1000 words each day.  This goal was also a way of preparing for CampNaNoWrimo which I intended to participate in when June rolled around.

It was while working on my CampNaNoWriMo novel that I stumbled onto ROW80.  I saw it as a hashtag in the tweets of other WriMos and was curious what it was all about.  So here I am, declaring my intention to participate in Round 3 of ROW80.  But here’s my secret confession: I’m not entirely sure that I belong here? I have been looking for a community of writers where I might fit in, but after reading through so many of the other blogs on the Linky, I feel a bit…intimidated to tell the truth.  Still, I am going to overcome that little fear and embrace this challenge and experience, and look forward to seeing how I grow as a writer over the next 80 days.  I think more than anything, I am looking forward to making time in my life for one of my passions and discovering where that commitment takes me.

sunday unplugged

It was my first attempt this summer to completely unplug.  It happened one Sunday, last Sunday in fact…

Before I recount what went down, all the successes and failures, I should do what I expect my students to do—define how I am using the term “unplugged”.  For me, being unplugged means not checking my e-mail, or my Twitter timeline, or reading the newest items in my RSS reader, or visiting any of the sites and blogs I frequent on the Internet.  Not just on my computer, but on my smartphone, too.  Texting and calling friends and family are approved activities, and reading on my Kindle is also acceptable.  Only now am I able to identify what is out of bounds in order to achieve my idea of a blissful, unplugged state.  When I was at the starting line for unplugging, I had no idea what was in or out of bounds.  As you would expect, this presented some problems.

I didn’t wake up with the intention of unplugging.  This, I think, was the first obstacle to be overcome because I didn’t begin in the right frame of mind.  The decision to unplug came only after a sense of being bombarded by the Internet and deciding that perhaps it was a good day to take a break.  It also came on the heels of bemoaning the fact that it had been some time since I had started and finished a novel (specifically, a novel that I wasn’t in the process of teaching).  I didn’t consciously connect these two—being plugged in on a seeming 24/7 basis and not finishing a book—but maybe there is the tiniest link of causality there?  With the decision to unplug, the questions were how to stay unplugged (read: how to avoid the temptation of the Internet) and what to do with all of that time which was normally spent using the Internet to accomplish other tasks (shopping, reading, writing, chatting with friends, researching stuff, searching for entertainment to relieve the boredom, etc.)?

I have all sorts of applications on my computer to help me minimize distractions and get things done—Freedom, FocusWriter, Apimac Timer—and, I use Evernote as a way of keeping track of all the errant thoughts running through my mind while doing other things.  Once the decision to unplug was made, I fired up Freedom and set it for two hours (Freedom turns off your Internet connection for a specified amount of time, and you can only turn Freedom off by restarting your computer).  What did I get done in those two hours? I cleaned my kitchen from top to bottom, made a grocery list and then did some much overdue grocery shopping.

What else did I get done you ask?  I added over 3,100 words to my CampNaNoWrimo work-in progress.  Also, if you recall, last Sunday was Father’s Day, so I talked to both parents and got caught up with everything going on in their lives.  This is especially important to me because my parents are a three-day road trip or a 4+ hour airplane ride away.  I don’t get to see them as often as I want, and talking on the phone is how we keep in touch (my parents are not Skypers yet, but I have hope).

I also picked up a book I have wanted to read for some time and got through the first 150 pages.  I am not a fast reader, so it took me about four hours to read that much.  In hindsight, I wonder if my ability to sustain my concentration on the book is entirely attributable to the book’s appeal (having now finished the book, I don’t think this is the case) or if some of the credit goes to the fact that actively unplugging myself from the Internet helped improve my ability to concentrate and focus on the task at hand?

No, really, let’s think about this for a second.  On the average day, I have Twitter open and keep it placed on the left side of my screen so that I can always see the column in Tweetdeck where the latest updates appear (even as I am writing this, I have my word document positioned so that I can see tweets as they enter my timeline).  Then I check e-mail, or glance at my RSS reader, or look for updates in my online reading club.  I can’t help thinking that the constant movement from one site to another and back again is detrimental to my concentration.  Hence the need for all these distraction minimizing applications.  I know this is not a new idea; I simply feel it more acutely when actively trying to unplug.

Those are the successes.  There were failures, too, and I think some of these are attributable to not being in the right state of mind.  I did find my way to the iTunes store and bought some new music.  I did read through my RSS reader while eating lunch, which is a long-time habit of mine.  I did glance at Twitter when my Freedom sessions expired, and I did update the word count on my CampNaNoWrimo work-in-progress.  All told, these activities probably accounted for 60-90 minutes of my Sunday.  In the big picture, I realize that this is not a lot of time.  What is important about that estimate is that it shows me how difficult it is for me to fully unplug from the Internet.  Still, what my Sunday unplugged gave me was time and space to be creative, talk with family, read a (good) book, and though it is near the bottom of my desired things to do, accomplish some household chores.  I want more of those first three things in my life, and like it or not, I have to make time for chores.  I won’t say that my first Sunday unplugged was a complete success, but it was successful.  It was my first attempt to unplug this summer, but it won’t be my last.