english 251 – flash fiction story starter

Hello Class!

Here is the blog post I promised in yesterday’s class.  Your mission:  Write a piece of flash fiction that features the protagonist and antagonist you began creating in yesterday’s class.  Remember that the story takes place in a mall.  You want to try to use the conflict/crisis/resolution structure we have been talking about in class.  The flash fiction piece should be between 250 – 500 words.  Add your flash fiction story as a comment to this post.

Finally, your flash fiction story should begin with the following sentences:

Most days were the same.  But not today.  Today was different.  Today was special.

Good luck, writers! I’m looking forward to reading Stories from the Mall…

sunday ROW80 check-in ~ #7

Today’s check-in may be more of a reflection than an update.  It may also be a bit disjointed; if it is, apologies in advance.

It’s Day 35 of Round 3 of ROW80.  I was just entering today’s wordcount into the spreadsheet I’ve been keeping to track my progress toward my goals, and I realized that in the last 35 days, I’ve written 48K+ words.  This in and of itself is astounding to me, but then when I reflect on the fact that I wrote almost 80K words during the month of June while participating in CampNaNoWriMo, I’m further shocked at myself.  Yet the problem…well, maybe problem isn’t the right word.  The observation I can make from these reflections is that none of these words were “The End”.  In spite of writing all of these words over the course of the summer, I have yet to type those two small words that give me such a thrill of happiness and exhilaration, and I’m not sure how I feel about this.  Particularly since I had made the goal of finishing June’s CampNaNoWriMo with a complete draft of a story.  On the other hand, one of the things I wanted most out of the summer was to be creative, and I have certainly been creative.  I’ve let my imagination run wild, be inspired, be challenged, and those are all good things.  Still, I can’t deny that I wanted that thrill of happiness that comes with “The End” and I have yet to experience it this year.

I also want to be honest with myself and allow myself to recognize that all of this writing that I’ve done this summer has reinforced my decision to change career directions.  This summer has made it extremely obvious to me that I don’t really want to do the kind of writing I’d have to do in order to find the kind of job I thought I wanted in my current profession.  I’m not sure I would have committed so strongly to making a career change if I hadn’t spent so much of this summer writing, and I’m not sure I would be so certain that it was the right decision for me to make at this point in my life.  I thought that the writing I had planned to do over the summer would be a way to keep my mind engaged and to keep myself entertained and busy with a project while I waited for the return of school and steady income.  It has been that, but it’s also given me time to think about what I want, what I’m willing to settle for, and what risks I’m willing to take in order to find a career that’s more fulfilling than the one I have now.  What makes that statement even more extraordinary is that that discovery was a complete accident.  I had intended for my blog posts to be the place where I made those kinds of discoveries, but instead it happened while I was writing fiction.  I certainly wasn’t expecting that.

One other thing that participating in ROW80 has taught me thus far is to make a commitment to make time for myself and the things that are important to me.  Writing has been one of my outlets for a long time, but it’s only this summer that I’ve committed to making time in my schedule on an almost daily basis to engage in one of my passions.  Before I’ve always looked at my writing as an indulgence, but I’m becoming aware of it now as a necessity.  Logically, I’ve known the importance of making time for myself, but this is the first time in a long time that I feel like I can say I have actually done that, and it’s amazing how much different life looks because of it.  Not surprisingly, the determination to commit time to activities that will not only keep me sane but also healthy has spilled over into other aspects of my life, and I’ve already seen benefits in those areas, too.  Maybe this is all to say that what I thought was the end goal of the summer–to write “The End”–wasn’t really the end goal that I needed most, but because I was in search of those words I found something else that was much more important.

End of reflection.  It’s time to talk about my goals.  Here are my current goals:

  • Goal #1 – Write 1000 words.  My last check-in was last Sunday, so in the days since then, I met my goal on 4 of the 6 days that I was scheduled to write, and I did manage to take Saturday off from writing.  Considering that I spent the first three days of the week trying to get back into work-mode, I’m pretty happy with what I managed to get done.
  • Goal #2 – Stick to my blog post schedule.  Okay, really?  I cannot seem to get back on schedule with my blogging.  The good news is that I am making today’s check-in.  Also, I want to post book reviews on Monday, and tomorrow’s review is already written and scheduled for posting. I also know the topic of my next blog post.  So, things might be looking up, but we’ll see if the plan actually gets executed.  Blogging definitely is something that seems to fall by the wayside when I get busy or distracted with other stuff.
  • Goal #3 – Complete the first draft of my WIP.  I still think this can happen during Round 3, and I’m still making progress.  Like I said earlier, I’ve added just over 48K+ words to my draft since the start of Round 3.  Today’s writing session revealed the identity of the individual who is threatening my heroine, but the why has yet to be revealed.  Not sure how much of the story I have left, but it’s still moving along.

With school starting in just two weeks, I’m going to go ahead and make some changes to my goals now.  Here are my new goals, which I hope will remain in place through the end of Round 3:

  • Goal #1 – Write at least three days each week.  In order to get everything in my life done, I know that I’m not going to be able to find time to write everyday.  I do think I can find time to write at least three days a week though, and my goal is to write at least 1000 words on each day that I write.  The plan now is to write on Tuesdays, Thursdays, and Saturdays.
  • Goal #2 – Stick to my new blog post schedule.  I find that checking in twice a week is too frequent, though I can’t really put my finger on exactly why I feel that way.  I plan to make at least one check-in each week, likely on Sundays.  I also plan to continue posting book reviews on Mondays.  Beyond that, I want to blog on whatever topic interests me at least once each week.  I’m not going to continue to be so rigid in terms of saying these have to be posted on a particular day.  As long as I post once each week, no matter which day that is, I’ll be happy.
  • Goal #3 – Complete the first draft of my WIP.  This goal remains unchanged.  I find that I really like having a project that I commit to finishing by a specified deadline, and I don’t want to lose writing as my outlet once school starts.

Huh. I didn’t really intend to write all of that but I guess I just needed to get it out.  I hope everyone has a great week, and thanks for stopping by my blog!

sunday ROW80 check-in ~ #6

Hooray! I am finally ending my streak of missed Sunday check-ins!  I’m also making this check-in first thing in the morning, which is unusual but today it’s necessary.  My afternoon is blocked off for a very special friend’s bachelorette wine tasting party.  Yes, you read that correctly.  I’ll be touring a few of the local wineries this afternoon under the guise of a bachelorette party. It’s going to be a wild and fun time.

But that’s not why you’re here so let’s get to it.  Here’s how the last few days have gone since Wednesday’s check-in:

  • Goal #1 – Write 1000 words daily.  On Thursday I was about 180 words short of meeting my goal, but I made up for it on Friday and met the goal.  Knowing that I was probably not going to have time to write today because of my aforementioned plans, I wrote yesterday instead so that I could take today off, and I met the daily goal yesterday.
  • Goal #2 – Stick to my blog post schedule.  I missed Thursday’s blog post, but I knew that I was going to so I’m okay with that.  I am making today’s post (woo-hoo!) and I think I’m going to manage to get a book review done for tomorrow.  So, this goal is definitely seeing improvement but has room for more improvement.
  • Goal #3 – Complete the first draft of my WIP.  Since the beginning of Round 3 I’ve added almost 39K words to my draft.  I’m almost at a total of 52K words, and I still feel like I’m about halfway through the story.  I think I can still achieve this goal, but to do that I’m going to have to be disciplined about meeting Goal #1 once school begins.

Ah, fall semester.  It’s just coming into visibility on this road I’m on.  Starting tomorrow I’m going to start practicing my new work routine so that I’ll have worked out the kinks and already have an idea of what’s going to work and what’s not going to work in terms of how I’m going to get everything done everyday.  You might have guessed that I love having a routine.  I’m just made that way, I guess, and it takes me some time to get into a regular routine, so that’s why I’m starting early.  I’m also adding an item to my routine that hasn’t been there in some time.  Some of you are very familiar with it.  It’s that thing called exercise.  Yes, I’m trying to integrate that into my routine.  Four days a week.  We’ll see how it goes.  Me and exercise are not BFFs.  We break up.  A lot.  Definitely an on again and off again kind of relationship.  I’m all set to try this program called Couch to 5K.  Heard of it?  Done it?  If so, share your thoughts below.  I do not like to run (understatement), but it’s exercise I can get without having to pay for a gym membership and then feel guilty about not using it.  I downloaded the app on my smartphone and got a new armband for my phone (definitely less than even one month of a gym membership) so I should be all set to start.  I’m also starting zumba classes on Thursday. It’s not a whole new me, just me with some new stuff happening in my life.

All right, that’s it.  Everyone have a good week! Thanks for dropping by my blog!


(belated) wednesday ROW80 check-in ~ #5

Yes, my post is late! Last night, as the clock rolled past midnight, I was in the middle of an epic writing session that not only yielded 6300+ words but also made my heroine’s life rather miserable.  Someone got wine thrown in his face, tears were shed, trust was betrayed, and loads of embarrassment was felt.  Unfortunately, it’s going to get a bit worse before it gets better for my heroine.  You can see now how I might have neglected to get my post in on time, right? Maybe? Just a little?  Okay, then, let me just give you what you’ve come for…

  • Goal #1 – Write 1000 words daily.  The second week of ROW80 yielded all kinds of writing challenges.  The third week has gone much better for me, I’m happy to report.  I met my 1000 word writing goal on Thursday, Friday, Monday and Tuesday.  Saturday is my scheduled day off from writing and I did take the day off.  Go me!  Sunday I wrote 681 words, and Tuesday, I didn’t write anything at all.  Oddly, on Tuesday I got stuck in a place in my draft that I never thought would have caused trouble, and so nothing got written at all.  Gratefully, I’m past that little roadblock.
  • Goal #2 – Stick to my blog post schedule.  While the writing has been going well over the last week, the blogging has not.  I missed my Sunday check-in, I missed my Monday book review (I ran into a problem last week–both novels that I finished were books 6 and 4, respectively, in a series; it didn’t feel right to post a review of a book in an ongoing series because what if readers hadn’t read the books that came before? They wouldn’t be able to follow my review.  It was quite the conundrum and so I elected not to post a review at all on Monday), and my Wednesday check-in, as I ‘ve already explained above, is late.  Bah!  This area of my goals definitely needs to see improvement over the next week.
  • Goal #3 – Complete the first draft of my WIP.  This is the little ray of happiness in my goals this week.  Since Round 3 of ROW80 began, I have added just over 33K words to my draft.  Given that goal #1 is to write 1000 words each day and to take Saturday’s off, I was only expecting that I would write 26K words during the first 30 days of the round, but I’m well ahead of that pace. I’m in the middle of chapter seven of my WIP, and I’m thinking that maybe I am now halfway through my story.  I don’t plot out how many chapters there will be before I begin writing, but I do know how the story is going to end and my drafts are usually 90K to 100K words.  Right now, I’m sitting at just over 45K. I have so much excitement about this draft right now it’s a bit ridiculous but so much fun.

All right, that’s it.  I do actually have to bring this belated post to a quick conclusion since I have an appointment with The Dark Knight in just over an hour.  Have a great weekend, fellow ROWers and thanks for stopping by my blog!

wednesday ROW80 check-in ~ #3

My how time has flown since Sunday! My check-in is just going to make it in on time, and that just says so much about the power of a deadline doesn’t it?  Anyway, here’s how the last few days have gone for me in terms of my goals:

  • Goal #1 – Write 1000 words daily.  I’ve met this goal each day since my last check-in.  I actually didn’t think I was going to get anything written yesterday but then last night, all of a sudden, I wanted to write, and it was a great writing session.  All is well here.
  • Goal #2 – Stick to my blog post schedule.  So far so good in that I haven’t yet missed a blog post.  The bad news is that I have a blog post due tomorrow and I have no idea what I’m going to write about (does this happen to anyone else?).  The good news is that I have already written the book review due on Monday.  This is the most challenging of my goals.
  • Goal #3 – Complete the first draft of my WIP. I want to have a full draft of my current WIP by the end of Round 3 of ROW80.  I feel like I’m on track, and the good thing is that I am getting words down now while I have loads of time to write and I think this will help me later in the round when school begins and I have infinitely less time to write.  Since the beginning of Round 3, I have added nearly 17,000 words to my WIP.

I continue to be amazed at how much more engaged I am in this WIP than I was with my CampNaNoWriMo novel.  A part of me wants to say that this is because I don’t have the pressure of writing at least 50,000 words in 30 days, so I can take more time.  But, when I look at my daily progress, I can see that I am still writing at a NaNo pace, even though I’m not intending to do that and even though I’m trying not to write at that pace.  I keep asking myself why it is that I seem to like this WIP more than the other (and I am trying to come up with a title for this WIP but it insists on remaining elusive and playing hard to get).  Not that it matters, I suppose, but it’s still a point of interest to me. I like knowing why I do the things that I do.  My current characters are just more…alive in my imagination and I just want to tell their story more than the others.  I think this is why I have been able to meet my daily writing goal almost each day of the challenge thus far.  I’m just a lot more into this WIP.  It’s more fun.  Which is a bonus since right now, writing is my best way of entertaining myself.

The other thing I have noticed about my writing since the beginning of Round 3 is that I have been much better about plotting out the next chapter, so that I have a road map for where the chapter is going to go, what scenes will make up the chapter, how the plot needs to advance and what needs to be revealed over the course of the chapter.  I started doing this during CampNaNo and I have made a conscious effort to continue doing it now and do it a bit better while working on this WIP.  I have never been an outliner, but the rough outlines that I make for the coming chapter have helped me immensely.  This is true even when I diverge somewhat (or even significantly) from the outline.  I would say that my current WIP is a suspenseful romance, so I find that plotting ahead at least one chapter helps me work out the suspense aspect more clearly in my head.

I suppose this is all to say that these check-ins are helping to illuminate some of my tendencies as a writer that I wasn’t necessarily aware of before or hadn’t thought about. Great! I’m all about self-reflection.

Hope everyone’s writing is coming along.  Good luck to everyone who is working on FastDraft right now.  I have been following your tweets and stand in awe and amazement at your progress and daily successes.  Have a good week and thanks for dropping by my blog!


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.