Friday Desk Report – Nov. 13, 2015

Samsung_840_EVO_SSD-8_-_front_blackIt is Friday the 13th, and yet I am cloning and installing a new SSD in my laptop. Nope, no triskaidekaphobia, paraskevidekatriaphobia, or friggatriskaidekaphobia here.

It’s been a good week for writing, and my NaNoWriMo WIP has topped 30k words. I spent the first 29k of that figuring out what the novel was about, and then yesterday finding out how it would all fit together, but it’s not the process, it’s the product, right? For a usual November I would be ecstatic to be at 30k words on this date (and it is, in my 13-year tenure, unheard-of), because I’d be more than halfway to goal–but of course, this year’s actual goal is much higher, and so I am merely satisfied. Satisfied is also a good place to be, however.

I had a story rejection this week but…well, as my good friend Nancy says, at some point they get to be more like a kick on the shin than a devastating injury. They sting for a bit and then you shrug them off and that’s it. I haven’t found a new place to send the story yet because, darn, it’s long, and the majority of markets these days are looking for 5k or less, it seems. I just don’t write that many stories in that length. I’ll try to find some time to focus on that in the next week.

I’m doing a lot of on-call story advising this month since there are so many stories happening in this household right now. But that’s fun, and it’s so interesting to be able to watch other writers develop under the microscope, so to speak. And it’s nice to be able to answer many of the questions that I had to research long ago.

I set up a new blog over at this week, called Stalking the Story. Why do I want another website to look after? Well, I plan to make it the repository for just my writing-related posts, so if that’s all you’re here for, they’ll be cross-posted over there as well. I’m also hoping to have some guest bloggers over there in the coming months. It may, over time, turn into a cooperative blog, which is something I’ve thought I’d like to do for some time now, in partnership with other writers. We’ll have to see how it evolves.

Habitica avatarMy desk is actually getting a bit messy, as it is wont to do during NaNoWriMo, so I plan to take a break this weekend and tidy it up. No, I will not be procrastinating on my WIP. The other thing I did this week was set up an account at Habitica, which is essentially a way to manage your productivity and habits by gamifying your life and translating it into a video RPG. So far, I love it. It’s amazing how much more satisfying it is to make my bed when I know I’m getting XP and virtual gold for it. :) I mean, I’ve only been using it for a few days and I’m already level 5!

Some things I did to earn gold and XP this week:

  • made my bed
  • walked on the treadmill
  • wrote. a lot.
  • did laundry
  • drank more water
  • finished the fall yard work

I’ll bet you did some of those things this week too. BUT did you get XP for them?

SSD Photo Credit: By Samsung Belgium (Flickr: SSD840EVO_008_Dynamic_Black) [CC BY 2.0 (], via Wikimedia Commons

Eleven Reasons To Love Deadlines

Photo by stockarch“Yeah, right,” I can hear you saying. “Deadlines are horrible. Deadlines are stressful. Nobody likes deadlines, let alone loves them!”

Well, I can see your point. Even the name is kind of scary, isn’t it? Deadline. Obviously there are going to be dire consequences if such a thing arrives and you are not prepared.

For writers, though (as well as others, but on this blog, we mainly talk writers, right?), having a deadline can be a positive experience—if you look at it in the right light. Here are eleven* reasons that a deadline can actually be your friend.

1. Deadlines force you to plan your time realistically. You’re always trying to get more organized and use your time better, right? Well, a deadline will make you look at how you’re spending your time and how much time it actually takes you to accomplish something. If you take that knowledge with you beyond the deadline, that time-planning can spill over into your other work and help your productivity beyond this one project.

2. Deadlines make you take control of your work instead of letting it control you. This is a common pitfall for writers; let me give you an example. If you are going to have this eight-thousand-word short story ready to submit before the submission period closes, you don’t have the luxury of following every whimsy of subplot and character idiosyncrasy that your brain comes up with. You have to write this story in a good tight first draft, edit it judiciously, and call it done. You have to take control. Bring that kind of control to other projects, and you’ll end up more productive overall.

3. Deadlines force you to be focused and efficient. Here’s another example. You have five days to finish this manuscript. It shouldn’t take you more than one of those five days to figure out, for instance, that you work most productively in the mornings and are essentially useless after dinner. The next four days, you’re going to make sure you spend time on your deadline project in the mornings. Take this knowledge with you to the next project, and stop doing email and blogging in the mornings instead of writing. Let deadlines teach you skills that go beyond a single project.

4. Deadlines force you to re-evaluate your level of perfectionism. If you have too many manuscripts sitting around on your hard drive because they’re just “not quite ready yet,” this one is for you. Yes, you may end up with a less-than-perfect manuscript if you set a deadline to finish it. But the perfect manuscript is something of a mirage, anyway. Better to have a finished one in submission than a never-done one languishing in a drawer.

5. Deadlines make you develop strategies to bypass procrastination. This one doesn’t need much explanation. You may have the cleanest house on the block or be the best Angry Birds player in town, but if you’re going to meet deadlines, you have to learn to recognize and bypass your own procrastination strategies. One way to do this is to make your procrastination tasks reward tasks instead. You can play ten minutes of Angry Birds or switch your laundry loads along after you work on your project for an hour (be sure to set timers for both!). You may find such things less appealing as rewards. If so, swap them out for something that really appeals to you–as a reward.

6. Deadlines make you realize what it is actually possible for you to achieve. Anyone who’s participated successfully in NaNoWriMo understands this one. Deadlines take all the skills we’re talking about here and let you smoosh them into a big ball of I-can-do-this. And once you know what’s possible…well, you’re likely to take on, and accomplish, more.

7. Deadlines allow you to plan for what’s beyond the deadline. If you have a deadline to meet, it means you’re actually going to finish this project and be able to move on to something else. No-one really wants to edit the same novel manuscript for the rest of their lives, do they? Of course not! You want to finish something so you can get to the Next Big Thing. But neither do you want to drop half-finished projects just to get to the next one. Deadlines let you set parameters to work on things, finish them, and then move ahead.

8. Deadlines help you figure out what your real priorities are. This is sort of related to #7. Sometimes you’ll have to choose between projects because of conflicting deadlines. If you’ve been dithering, trying to work on two or more projects but not really making satisfying progress on anything, a deadline can make you choose what’s important and focus on that.

9. Deadlines make you stop wasting time and actually complete something. Maybe you’re one of those people who’s always talking about writing but not really writing. Maybe you’ve been working on the same damn manuscript for so long that even you’re sick of it. Maybe you’re really trying to write, but something is holding you back—fear of failure, fear of success, yada, yada, you know the list as well as I do. A deadline can make you, er, produce—or get off the pot.

10. Deadlines let you cross something off your project list. Ah, the list. Don’t tell me you don’t have one, and that you don’t know the sweet, sweet satisfaction of crossing something off it. And if you don’t, you should make one. Really. Because there’s nothing as lovely as “Finish X by DD/MM/YYYY” with a big fat strikethrough running across it.  Unless it’s writing “The End.”

Off to try and meet a big deadline of my own.

*Why eleven? Because everyone does lists of ten. I’m trying to think outside the box, here, people.

Photo credit: stockarch

Spice Tins D.I.Y.

And now for something completely different…but I can’t write about writing all the time, can I? “All work and no play”, you know?

So, this is not my own original idea, but I did tweak it to fit my needs, so I thought I would share. I saw the idea over at A Beautiful Mess, to make these cool spice tins that were space-saving, efficient, and nice to look at. However, the original idea was to add magnets to the backs of the tins so that they could stick on the refrigerator. My refrigerator is already full of pictures, notes, and magnetic poetry, so I wasn’t interested in that. I was, however, interested in cleaning up my spice cupboard, and I’m going to swallow my pride and show you why.

Yes, it’s a horrible mess. You can just see some adhesive on the inside of the cupboard door where I had some cork for holding takeout menus, but my idea was to utilize the spice tins idea there. At first I thought I would have to find a thin sheet of tin or something, to put inside the door for the magnets to stick to, but then I realized I was looking at it the wrong way around–all I needed was a magnet for the tins to stick on to, since they’re already metal. This also cut down the work considerably since I didn’t have to cut pieces of magnet sheets for every tin. I knew I could get magnet sheets, since I had found them before. So, line the inside of the cupboard with those, and I’d have my magnetic surface.

As the gals at A Beautiful Mess did, I ordered my little tins from here, but I think you can get similar items from bulk stores. The other materials needed were the magnet sheet (I got mine at Michael’s, a nice long roll that just needed a bit of trimming to fit my cupboard door), scissors, ruler, pencil, and some labels.

I washed all the tins out first, and if you’re doing this, I’d recommend leaving them overnight to dry. The covers tend to hold a bit of water around the edges, and you don’t want to get your spices wet. Dry them off and then give the residual water time to evaporate.

While you’re waiting, you can take stock of your spices and go off and make your labels. I did mine on the computer and used plain white mailing labels (they needed just a little trimming on the edges), but you could hand-letter them, use colored labels, or whatever strikes your fancy. Get creative!

The magnet sheet was easy to trim to shape with just scissors, but the adhesive was VERY sticky. I could have used another set of hands to help me get it in place, nice and straight with no air bubbles. I was alone, so this took me a few minutes, and was actually the hardest part of the project. It turned out well in the end, though.

The final part of the project was to transfer the spices into the new tins. I did discover that the tins would hold only about half a jar of spice, so I have a few jars left hanging around, waiting until it’s time to refill the appropriate tin. From now on I will plan to buy spices in bulk, so I’ll only buy enough to fill the tins. The final product looks great, I think! I arranged them with those I use most on the bottom, within easy reach. You could, of course, arrange them alphabetically, or by color or texture, or whatever way your heart desires. The magnet strength is just perfect–the hold is nice and firm (they don’t fall off if the cupboard door bangs shut) but it takes only the tiniest bit of effort to pull off the one you want to use. They look much nicer than the previous jumble of jars, it’s much easier to find what you want, and BONUS! I have a clean cupboard with much more space for other things.

Site Maintenance Mondays

Not nearly as interesting nor exciting as Submission Mondays, I’ve designated every other Monday (the ones on which I am not reviewing submissions) as Site Maintenance Mondays.

With luck, that will mean only a quick jog around this site, The Scriptorium, my LJ blog, Third Person Press, and SF Canada to make sure that everything is operating within normal parameters. If so, then I will devote some of this block of time to upgrades, improvements, etc. Of course, anything acute will still have to be dealt with as it arises, but I thought by designating a particular day for maintenance, some problems might, in the long run, be avoided, and all the sites will look and function better for it.

Interestingly, in the course of a weekend workshop, a friend characterized me as an organized type of person. I do strive for that. Maybe–just maybe–I’m getting closer.

Organization Quest 2011 (Part 2)

After getting my submissions in order, I decided that the next thing I had to organize better was my time. This is a big issue for me as I have a lot of family demands on my time that I don’t really have complete control over, and I need to be flexible. However, I also need a sort of guide to come back to, so that I know what I’m supposed to be doing when time presents itself.

I started looking for organizer programs, then realized that I already had one on my computer that I use every day, just not to its fullest capacity. My mail program, Outlook, which also has a built-in calendar, with the ability to schedule repeating tasks and appointments, reminders, etc. Talk about not seeing the forest for the trees. It was right in front of me the whole time.

So I spent an afternoon deciding how much time I had in the run of a week, and how I should apportion it. Other writers dealing with the same time issues might find this useful, so here’s what I did. First, I made a list of all the things, writing and writing-career-related, that require some of my time. Then I thought about how much time each one of them requires if I were addressing it on a weekly basis. For instance, publishing The Scriptorium. If I worked on it a bit at a time, instead of frantically trying to put together an issue in a day when the deadline hits, how much time would it take per week? How much time should I spend on the business aspects of writing? How much on Third Person Press? And so on.

Then I filled in a weekly calendar with all my non-negotiable time committments, and looked at what was left. Working back and forth this way, changing things around, and thinking about what times of day are better for me to do what sorts of tasks, I filled in the time slots. This gave me a baseline calender or schedule. It may change as I apply it to the real world, but it’s a starting point. Color-coding the chunks of time also lets me get an overview of how I’m spending the time.

I also made a second calendar, on which I can add one-time events or appointments. I can overlay this calender with my baseline calender to see a week at a glance and know what’s coming up that will interfere with my baseline schedule, and decide if I need to move things around just for the coming week.

I am just beginning to put it into practice, but so far it’s working well. If you’re having trouble fitting writing into your schedule, you may want to try this kind of strategy and see if it helps you apportion your time more productively. Although I’m using Outlook, find a calendar program that suits the way you like to work, and whose appearance and functionality you like. You’ll be a lot more likely to use it consistently if you do.

Organization Quest 2011

If you read my previous post, you might have noted that one of my short-term goals was “Organize submission history/tracking.” I’ve been thinking that organization, not only of this submission data, but of many other aspects of my writing life, is a really key thing that I have to tackle this year. Without a certain amount of organization, I can make as many other goals as I want, but I will have little chance of meeting them.

In the latter months of 2010, I spent quite a while scouring the internet for the “perfect” submission and manuscript tracking program. I wasn’t entirely successful, as I think the only way I’ll find the perfect program is to write it myself or bully my husband into writing it for me to my exact specifications. However, I did find one that came darn close, and after evaluating it, I ended up buying The Writer’s Scribe from Swatski Enterprises.

I’ve think it’s safe to say that I’ve given the program a complete workout since acquiring it. I did run into a few small hiccups along the way, learning the program’s ins and outs, but the support from Doug Swatski was quick, thorough, and altogether wonderful. I’m very happy with the program now and expect that I’ll be using it for the forseeable future.

The image I’ve included (from the program website) is the Submissions Overview screen, and as you can see, it does provide a very nice overview. You can see at a glance what subs you have out, how long since you sent them, and the results of the last submission for any given piece of work, as well as picking up on stories that are due to be sent out to a new market. It also provides a running total of acceptances, rejections, and subs that are pending.

On the other tabs, you can view the details of a story, publisher, or submission. Depending on the level of detail you choose to include on publishers, the program can also suggest publishers for a particular story. It will provide alerts on a time scale you set, to let you know when the date of an expected reply is past. It also tracks sales and expenses, and allows the generation of many different types of reports.

When I said I’ve given the program a thorough workout, here’s what I meant: I input the data for 72 works, 114 markets, and 193 submissions. I went all the way back to when I first started submitting stories, and although it’s quite possible I missed a few, it’s a pretty good record. All my various scraps and folders of paper data are gathered together to give me a nice overview of my submission habits and history, and I can easily see what I should now prioritize.

I did send the developer a few suggestions for features that might be useful to add to future versions of the program, to which he responded very positively.

I’d definitely recommend this program (especially at its very reasonable price of $25 US) for any writer who wants to get serious about tracking submissions. It’s available for both Windows-based and Mac machines.