Social Media Blackout and Goals
I’m posting this to both of my pen names’ blogs so people know about my availability to chit chat and also to help keep me accountable. Part of what makes certain types of good intentions actually work out for me is accountability. If I say something publicly and then do the opposite, I look like a lying asshole. So, it’s a great deterrent, for me at least.
I stopped participating on blogs after making a similar statement a few different times. It has freed up a TON of my time. I occasionally lurk and read blogs, but I no longer comment on them. Now, though, I have another time suck/mental real estate suck problem and in some ways this one may be worse: social media (defined as Twitter, Facebook, and my blog… mainly the Kitty one since comments are still allowed on that one), and email.
The problem is that I have gotten into the habit of “just checking email real quick” before I write. Or checking social media just to “see what’s going on”. Sometimes during writing if I get stuck I’ll check these things for a quick distraction. But… the issue is, I can’t control what I see and my emotional reaction to what I see is unpredictable at best.
People can email me anything. And there are certain hot button topics that just set me off. I can look at my Twitter feed and see something dramatic and horrible going on that distracts me or saps my creative energy because my mind is now focused on whatever the dramatic/horrible thing is instead of on my story.
This is why I’ve said I hate social media (and to a lesser extent, email), because I too often let it control me. Something so random and faceless should not have so much power over my work.
I’m a writer… I kind of need strong emotional reaction to things to write fiction you actually like and want to read. That emotional connection you hopefully feel when you read my work is there because I actually FEEL things strongly. In the real world, however, this can be a handicap instead of a blessing. When writing fiction, it’s awesome.
Last Sunday I got an email from a disgruntled reader yelling at me in all caps and telling me that she couldn’t unsubscribe from my blog and I was “annoying her with all my emails” (blog posts… which aren’t that frequent on either pen name, anyway), and that she was never reading any of my stories again, followed by about fifty exclamation points.
The thing is… I have NO control over my subscribers on wordpress. It used to be set up where I could unsub people from receiving my email updates, but it’s not like that anymore. This was something she’d done to herself and I had no control to fix it. So it wasn’t my fault or problem but she yelled at me anyway. This is just a random stranger but I’m still a human being with feelings and, like all other human beings, I don’t like being yelled at for shit that isn’t my fault.
Had this happened on a Monday morning… well… there goes my writing day.
On Tuesday, someone emailed me something about piracy that got me riled up for a good five hours. This is not this person’s fault. They were just trying to help. It is MY fault for opening email before writing.
I write Monday-Friday from nine am to noon. I’ve decided on this time because it’s early in the morning after I’ve gotten ready and had some breakfast. I’m sharpest then, and I don’t have a bunch of drama and distractions taking up my mental real estate (unless I choose to screw that up by checking email or something). I’ve also decided that if I do NOT write during the block of time for a day that I am not writing that day. I’ve decided this because just “having an office” isn’t enough if I’m not going to structure in some routine. I want my brain to think “Nine am on a weekday, time to write!”
I want to help myself get into that mental zone as much as possible. But I wasted Tuesday. I was sitting in my office the whole time, wasting my work time. After all the time, annoyance (like putting a desk and bookcases together), and money spent on setting up a home office, I am not going to turn it into just another zone to waste time and be unproductive.
So I made an executive decision. I engaged my Cold Turkey App to block myself from my favorite blogs, my blog, Facebook, Twitter, and email. Basically all the things I do not need to do normal writing work and other work during the course of the week. These things are blocked on weekdays. I will check and reply to emails on Saturday mornings along with Facebook, Twitter, and my blog to see what I missed.
Even after just a few days of freedom from all this extraneous Internet, I feel a lot better and my head is more clear.
Emails are not fires. It’s rare for something so dramatic to happen that I MUST reply to the email immediately. I’ve treated emails like fires for too long. Only answering emails on the weekends, allows me to take a step back, approach my inbox with a certain mindset, and also to realize: “Hey, if it sat in my inbox for two days now… really… I can take my time to form the best response rather than write something fast and send it.”
Answering on Saturdays lets me get a full work week behind me and all my word count for that week, and it also gives me a buffer between Saturday morning and Monday morning to deal with whatever emotions are engaged by whatever online contact, so that I can have the mental space to write again by Monday.
I set up an auto-responder for my email accounts to let people know this is the situation when they email me. I’m done being controlled by my inbox and my social media. And the random shit (helpful or mean) that people say to me in those mediums.
I will definitely need full productivity to work toward the new goal I’ve set for myself in 2013. For two years now I’ve set the writing goal of 365,000 words a year. That’s 1k a day. The problem with that goal is that it isn’t really actionable.
It’s 100% unrealistic to think I will write every single day of the entire year. Yes, 1k is a low writing day for me, but a goal that can’t be directly and literally applied is pretty useless to me. It’s easy to take several days off and think 1k is low for me anyway, I’ll catch up, and then not catch up. I will be lucky if I do 300k words this year.
I’ve had this goal 2 years running and it hasn’t happened either year. I think some people would set a lower goal, but the problem isn’t that it’s too much for me to handle, the problem is that it isn’t actionable in a way a good goal should be.
Also, something I’ve learned about myself is… bigger goals net bigger results. Even if I don’t reach the goal… I still get good results because I’m working for something big.
So next year, counter-intuitively, I’m setting a larger goal, but it’s the structure of the goal that I think will help me get at LEAST to the 365k I’ve been trying to hit and failing to hit for two years now.
My new goal is going to be: 10k for 52. That’s 10,000 words a week for the year. I’m going to track this in a few different ways so I know how much my weekly totals are each week (as well as daily totals in each week) and I know when I wrote and when I didn’t write. The past two years I haven’t kept a log, I’ve just kept a status bar on my blog, which isn’t hugely motivational since with a large goal that bar barely moves. I’m also going to factor in some personal rewards this year: like something I wouldn’t ordinarily do for myself or buy for myself or whatever once a month if I meet that month’s quota.
I’m going to be thinking about and deciding on the reward I want for each month in the previous month, that way I know what I’m working for. I might also set up some type of monthly rewards system for the other half of my work and the productivity goals there (the non-writing stuff that I have to do to run a business.)
I’ve been experimenting with 10k a week and it’s something that makes use of my work time and is doable. On a REALLY good day I can do 5k in 3 hours. That’s when the words are flowing out of my fingers like magic. I’ve done 10k weeks where some days were 1k and others were 3k or more. It gives me the normal wiggle room while also keeping me accountable in a more measurable way.
I’ve also thought about when I’m editing a book. There are a few days when I’m deep into edits and not getting much writing done while I’m in stages like the first read through, the beta edits, or the final copyedits and format. I can write two really strong days on those weeks of 5k, and maybe work into the weekend if necessary on edits (because those are crunch weeks and not normal weeks). Or I may have to do something else. I’m not sure yet.
My other goals for 2013 are to get all of my books into audio format, and expand my distribution. I’m cutting out a lot of useless and expensive marketing tactics in order to focus on distribution and audio. The money I spent on things that were only moderately useful to me, could have been used to get most of my work into audio this year, and that’s another income stream, so it’s smarter.
I know I usually post my goals post at the end of December, but since I already know what my plan is, I’m posting it now. I’m also getting into habits now and getting things set up so the transition to actually accomplishing these goals in 2013 is just another day at work.
So even though half a million words sounds insane, especially considering my last two years… I really think I can do it with a new mentality and structure to my goals as well as a monthly rewards system. Another thing: since I’m writing SO many words, there is a lot of pressure off me. With that much word count I can afford to write creative things I will never publish, stuff that’s just for fun. I can afford to experiment with other genres without pressure to release it into the world if I don’t like the result. It gives me the space to play.
Having that space to play gives me no excuses. Current book not working? Set it aside and write something just for me while that book percolates some more. The thing that makes writing “difficult” is the pressure to not screw up something my audience is going to be reading. (The reason I think most people who are fans of the Kitty work love Comfort Food so much is because I told myself every day that I just couldn’t publish that book. It was just for me. So there was no internal editor during the creation process and no self-doubt. So that is why that book turned out like it did. I want to bring that attitude to more of my writing. Because if I can combine that with improved technique… well, I’d say I’d be unstoppable but that would sound really vain.)
If everything I write is not intended for public consumption, I’m more likely to write more. Just staying in that habit will make it easier to write the stuff on the publication schedule. And who knows? I might create something offbeat that I love and want to share that people end up loving. But no pressure.