I Do Declare: The clock is a fierce opponent

I get up every morning, don my battle gear, and go to war … with the clock.

The battles I fight, the struggles I face, and the campaigns I map out are all about choosing the best time of day to get things done.

My high energy time is in the morning. That being the case, logic would dictate that I should be doing the most creative things at that time.

But some days logic takes a sharp right turn, and the to-do list elbows its way to the forefront. I tell myself I’ll just get these couple of things out of the way so I can focus the rest of the day on my passion projects.

You know how that ends.

The tasks take up a chunk of time – or worse, they deplete what energy I had, and I’m left running on empty when I do get to the passion projects.

The thing is, those times when I do start the day with one of my passion projects, I don’t want to stop. I get in the middle of it, become mesmerized and focused and just want to be there all day.

That’s no surprise: It’s my passion, it’s a creative endeavor, it feeds me and it gives me more energy. Who doesn’t want to dwell in that place?

And yet, there’s something in the back of my mind that worries that if I get too involved with a creative project right away, it’ll be hard to get to the tasks I have to get done (the routine, the gig assignments, the do-it-or-else tasks, you know what I’m talking about) – or worse, I’ll neglect them or be late completing them, then I’ll have to scramble to catch up.

It’s not just a what-comes-first issue. I battle with squeezing in creative work on the checklist, in between other must-do work. My experience has been that piecemealing creativity is not optimal.

And yet, what if piecemeal is the only way I’ll get everything done?

This war I wage over the clock is ongoing, and moments when I can “stand down” are rare.

Are there any creativity warriors out there who can share their battle stories? I’d like to hear about some campaigns that were won or weaponry that helped turn the tide.

I Do Declare: Checklists are my life

storm-0914-icon-check-13I confess. I’m something of a to-do list fanatic. Give me some lines with checkboxes and I’m in heaven. This is how I keep track of everything in my life.

Over the years I’ve looked into a lot of different systems. And while I haven’t ever found one system that works, I have discovered that I can pull pieces of many different systems and make them work for me.

And that’s what it all comes down to – what works for the individual.

I offer here what’s been working for me (i.e., my compilation of various systems) in the event any of you out there want to take this and incorporate pieces of it for yourself.

This is what it looks like:

MITgrid1

I track six days’ worth of activities, and my week is Monday–Sunday, so Saturday and Sunday are lumped together.

After keying in the specific dates (i.e., WEEK OF 8/10 – 8/16), I list in order of importance:

Row 1 – Most Important Things (MITs). These are, as stated, most important. They’re the things that will move my career forward, win the deal, give me a sense of accomplishment, etc. If I accomplish nothing else during the week, I want to hit these.

Row 2 – Tasks. These are not as mission-critical as the MITs, but they’re things that must be done, so I don’t want to lose sight of them.

Row 3 – Routine Items. These are everyday things that I might forget if I get too busy. Plus, I like checking them off. On my list, I have things like doing blog posts, exercising and taking vitamins. (Yes, I am prone to forget to exercise and take vitamins. Seeing it in print is a good reminder.)

Below the three to-do rows is where I list info on my current projects to keep them in front of me.

At the bottom are two “parking lots” where I keep track of things that need to get onto the calendar (i.e., usually into the MIT or Task rows) eventually and the list of long-term projects (e.g., pruning the berry plants, which I won’t do until the Fall).

The page is laid out on 8.5×11, landscape. The gap in the middle of the grid allows you to fold the paper without creasing over any text.

For some people this might look like overkill to the Nth degree. But it’s a system that works really well for me.

Want a free Word version of this to tinker with on your own? I’m happy to share. Just send me an email at: info <at> gowriterightnow.com (with the @ symbol instead of “<at>”).

 

I Do Declare: We need to do something about this month’s lack of holidays

augustcelebrate
You go, August!

Welcome into month number eight of the Craziest Year Ever. When I was casting about for something nice to say about this month that we can all agree is the hottest, most humid, and most conducive to hurricanes (we have one off the coast even as I’m posting this), I realized that August is the only month without an official holiday.

It’s true. You can look it up.

  • January has New Year’s Day and MLK Day.
  • February gets all the love with Valentine’s Day and President’s Day.
  • March goes green with St. Patrick’s Day and a lot of basketball madness.
  • April gives us Spring, Easter, and tax day (except when it’s a crazy year like this one).
  • May is remembered for Mother’s Day and Memorial Day.
  • June celebrates Father’s Day.
  • July waves the Independence Day flag.
  • August – ???
  • September touts Labor Day.
  • October has Columbus Day and Halloween.
  • November revels in the Thanksgiving four-day-weekend.
  • December gives us Christmas and New Year’s Eve.

See? No holidays for August. It’s also one of the months with 31 days, which only adds insult to injury: More workdays without a break. No parties for you, August. It’s like the month is constantly in trouble.

Helpful Wikipedia informs me that August was originally called Sextilis – which might explain why it’s always in trouble … haha, kidding … no seriously, sextilis actually means “sixth” in Latin (back then it was the sixth month) – and then around 700 BC it became the eighth month when January and February were added. (Wouldn’t you like to see the minutes of that meeting? “We don’t seem to have enough months, and that’s messing up my PTO. I move that we add two more and put them at the beginning.” “Second!”)

Years later, Julius Caesar, whose ego required him to name things after himself, created the Julian calendar (see?), added two days to August (a-ha, I bet that’s why they stabbed him!), and renamed it August (again with the ego). Apparently he chose this month as his namesake because that’s when he enjoyed most of his triumphs, including the conquest of Egypt.

Which still doesn’t count as a holiday.

Fortunately, in my quest for something praiseworthy about August, I stumbled across a site (nationaltoday.com), which has quite the list of celebratory moments for each month.  (It’s a fabulous site. Go bookmark it.) One in August is National Just Because Day on August 27, which pretty much sums up the whole month.

Here are some of August’s more interesting festive features. Plan accordingly.

Food and Beverage

  • August 1: National Mustard Day
  • August 2: National Ice Cream Sandwich Day
  • August 3: National Watermelon Day
  • August 7: International Beer Day
  • August 16: National Rum Day
  • August 18: National Fajita Day
  • August 19: National Potato Day
  • August 23: National Sponge Cake Day
  • August 24: National Waffle Day
  • August 28: National Red Wine Day
  • August 31: National Trail Mix Day

Pets

  • August 8: International Cat Day
  • August 10: National Spoil Your Dog Day
  • August 17: National Black Cat Appreciation Day
  • August 26: National Dog Day
  • August 28: National Rainbow Bridge Remembrance Day

General Interest

  • August 1: National Coloring Book Day
  • August 9: National Book Lovers Day
  • August 12: National Middle Child Day
  • August 13: International Left-Handers Day
  • August 16: National Tell A Joke Day

 

I Do Declare: A musical genius has departed this world

I was saddened to hear news that Ennio Morricone died today.

The man was a brilliant composer, with an amazing 520 credits (per IMDB.com) going back to 1960. He was well recognized for his art: 91 nominations and 83 wins, though only one Oscar among them.

Helpful IMDB Trivia informs me that he refused to move to Hollywood, despite being offered a villa by a studio more than once, and lived his entire life in Italy. He was married to the same woman for 64 years (staying away from Hollywood may have helped in that regard), and they had four children. I’m not sure which of these details is more impressive. His steadfastness is to be admired.

His music always feels so haunting – in a good way. It follows me around, seizing me at the most unexpected times, and eventually settles into my soul. I have no doubt I am more enlightened because of it, a touch closer to God, perhaps.

Morricone once said, “You can’t save a bad movie with a good score.” That’s an insightful commentary on the movie industry, but I like to think of it as a metaphor for life as well – if we think of “the movie” as our words/actions and “the score” as the façades we often display. It’s likely that his comment was meant to be taken at face value – a note about the industry – rather than metaphorically. That’s fine. I present my interpretation as one more example of his ability to burrow into my consciousness.

It’s difficult to choose one favorite out of his vast body of work, but if pressed, I’d have to pick “The Ecstasy of Gold,” from the movie “The Good, The Bad, and the Ugly.”

Here’s the man himself, conducting this magnificent piece of work:

And here’s the version from the soundtrack:

I Do Declare: The year’s half over and this isn’t anything close to what I thought it’d be

I’m an extreme planner. By this I mean I start every day with a checklist, and I slash my way through it like I’m bringing in the harvest. Which is exactly what I’m doing, I suppose.

I have a master plan that includes an overall 5-year view, a more detailed 2-year view (grouped into quarters), a 1-year view (grouped into months), and weekly views (transferred to a separate planner that groups the weeks into daily views).

I call it my roadmap. I update it every year – reviewing the previous year and moving the specifics (e.g., removing the past year, adding the fifth one out) and revising my goals. Things change. Life happens. Plans get adjusted. We move on.

Last December, I put together a tight plan for 2020 incorporating everything I wanted to accomplish. Here’s roughly what it looked like:

  • Various tasks with my day job (goal-setting per corporate mandate)
  • 1 novel (in progress, about 75%) completed
  • 1 screenplay (in progress, about 90%) completed
  • 1 novel (outlined) to rough draft stage
  • 1 series of ebooks (6 books, in rough draft stage) completed and published
  • 2 cruises (one in May, one in October)
  • 1 trip to the Outer Banks (in July)

Besides all that, I brainstormed monthly fun activities with the kids (individually … so we could spend quality time alone together) and put them into envelopes, which they would open on the first day of each month and see what was in store.

2020 was going to be my year. My goals might have seemed a bit aggressive, but I was eager and excited and down for it. I was all: “Come on, 2020, bring it on! I’m ready!”

Needless to say, plans fizzled out rather quickly due to circumstances beyond my control in ways no one had a clue were about to happen.

  • Who knew we’d barely be into the new year before a pandemic would shut everything down?
  • Who knew the shutdown would affect almost every sector of the economy, causing layoffs – and that I’d be hit with the euphemistic RIF (reduction-in-force)?
  • Who knew I’d grow – in a remarkably short period of time – to despise words and phrases like “essential” and “shelter in place” and “we’re all in this together” and “flatten the curve”? (Ok, given my irritation with buzzwords, that didn’t surprise me. But still…)

And yet. AND YET. I refuse to fall into the Pit of Pessimism. Sure, we’re halfway through a crazy year that no one could have foreseen, but I’ll be honest: It hasn’t been a complete loss. I did learn some things. True, most of them I’d already known. But it took the extreme nature of this year to remind me and to hammer the lesson home. Which isn’t bad.

Things like:

  • Flexibility might be a better attribute than ability. So you get knocked down. That happens to everyone at various times. What’s important is how quickly you can get back up. Learn that life skill and apply it.
  • Being debt-free is probably the most sane and mature goal of all. I am channeling my inner Dave Ramsey here. If things get wacky all of a sudden (like … you know … the way they did …?), it’s so much easier to deal with if you don’t have a ton of debt that required your day job to stay even-keel.
  • I might say I need peace and quiet to work effectively, but that might not be true. Being without human contact for a long period of time has made me appreciate small moments of connection. I will never again take that for granted.
  • Making plans, even if they get disrupted in the zaniest way possible, is still a worthy endeavor. Just because I couldn’t rock the heck of out 2020 with my bullet list doesn’t mean the list wasn’t fabulous. I will simply have to stretch the goal line out a bit. It’s all good.

I expect that my review this December will be quite the introspective journey. And I can’t say I won’t be glad to see this year move on into the history books. It’s my hope that when I make my aggressive plans for 2021, I’ll do it with a measure of the wisdom I acquired this year.

At least that’s the thought that might get me through the rest of this year.

I Do Declare: A good opening line is like a siren call to the muse

typewriterSometimes it’s hard to get started. This I know all too well, having spent many a day staring at the computer screen, hands poised, waiting for inspiration to take over.

But let’s be honest. No self-respecting muse will dash to your side and start nudging and cajoling you into doing your own work. You have to get going first. Then she shows up.

This being the case, I am always on the search for ways to kick-start my writing. One effective way I discovered is to take an opening line and free-write for about 15 minutes. That quarter of a hour usually gives me enough forward motion to get into the story I need to be doing.

The cool thing is sometimes those warm-up exercises turn into stories themselves.

Try it out. Here are some opening lines to help propel you into your story:

  • The cure for seven deadly diseases sat on the shelf in the room across the hall, and no one could do a damn thing about it.
  • I’ve never quite gotten over my fascination with Milton.
  • There are three perfect ways to die, and by the time she was 23, Sally had learned them all.
  •  I never should have given him the code.
  • Henry happened to be there when the tide pulled a jon-boat past the dock, its hull empty except for a cast net in the bottom, full of shrimp.
  • At some point, all parents have to lie.
  • In the woods behind the house, Mary and Janet found a magic hat.
  • Lord have mercy, the sermon lasted so long I forgot I was still mad at the preacher and shook his hand on the way out without meaning to.
  • Voicing an unpopular opinion on Twitter is to face judge, jury, and executioner all at once.
  • No one could have predicted that three hours one afternoon would change the world.

If none of these are to your liking, you might try opening up a magazine or newspaper, grab the first sentence you see, and use that as your opening line.

Go write right now!