Sketchbook #20

Productivity, Writing

Let me start by saying: February was a strange month. It was filled with schedule disruptions (so much snow), and motivational lulls, and the weird feeling that comes with being between writing projects (I’d forgotten that that feeling even exists.) It’s one of those months that feels like I didn’t accomplish anything at all.

My goal for the month was to prioritize my creativity. And… I’ve done that, as much as those schedule disruptions could allow. I’ve stopped checking news and social media before my work is done for the day, and that’s been nothing but good. It was really difficult for the first few days, but that was it—I’ve successfully broken the habit, and when I do read the news or check Twitter, it’s intentional. It doesn’t interfere with my work, and I’m not spending all day simmering with anger over the latest outrage.

(That said… I’m not posting to Twitter quite as much as I’d like. But that’s probably unavoidable.)

However.

I haven’t eliminated, or even minimized, the other distractions that I’ve been dealing with lately. If anything, cutting out news and social media has made me more aware of those other distractions, and more aware of how I really want to be spending my time. But I’m not too worried. Taking care of those things one at a time, and replacing them with better habits, is probably more effective in the long run than trying to change my entire routine all at once.

And, really, I have accomplished quite a bit this month. I’ve made real progress on the sewing project that’s been on my list since sometime last year. (I’ll probably be putting the finishing touches on this week, and then I’ll be ready to show it to you. I’m thrilled with how it’s turning out.) The daily photo project is still going strong, even when I’m not feeling particularly inspired. (I know I’ve said this before, but: I am really glad that I didn’t give myself any kind of rules for this project. I know it would have crashed and burned by now if I was trying to do anything more involved than “one photo a day that doesn’t completely suck.”)

And I’ve decided on my next writing project! I’m still in the very early stages of planning, and it’s going to require a massive amount of prep work (more research and worldbuilding than I’ve had to do in years, even before I took my break from writing), but… it’s interesting. I’m so excited to get to work on it. I’m not sure when I’m actually going to be ready to start writing (I keep thinking I should set some kind of deadline for myself, just so I don’t get too bogged down in prep), but I’m not going to rush it. I’m just about ready to reread my NaNoWriMo draft, and start making my plans for the rewrite, so even if I don’t start writing the new story until this November, I’m still going to have something to work on.

So, yeah. Despite everything, it wasn’t a terrible month. Not as great as I’d hoped, but… not terrible.

My goal for March is to get back on track. Eliminate a few more of those distractions I mentioned, and replace them with better systems. Finish the sewing project. Start digging into the NaNo story again, and start really working on the next one. Focus on the work I want to be doing.

2017 Project365 #53 | Reghan Skerry

Project365: #50-56

Photography

Maybe, by the end of this year, I’ll have figured out how to make cleaning day look at least a little bit interesting, but somehow I doubt it. I just have to accept that some days, there’s nothing worth taking pictures of.

I cannot wait for the weather to improve so I can get outdoors. Soon. (I hope.) In the meantime, I’m actually having some fun trying to make boring things look interesting.

Snapshot #71 | 10 Things for 26 February 2017

Personal

Currently…

1. starting… research for the next story. I’m drawing on so many influences here, and it’s going to be so much fun.
2. finding… a fantastic brunch place and a new favourite bakery.
3. realizing… that, as much as I love my new fountain pen, it’s not great for quick notes. (The ink tends to smear.) It’s great for longer stuff, though.
4. wishing… the snow would go away. It was pretty for the first few days, but now I’m ready for spring.
5. thinking… about simplifying my to-do lists.
6. working… on the tote bag. I’m almost done! I can’t wait to show you guys!
7. feeling… like it’s time to refocus and reboot. (This is actually a good thing—my plans for this year involve both a monthly review and a serious reflection and reassessment session every three months. Both are just about due.) (Also: I really didn’t mean for this to involve so much alliteration.)
8. getting… ready to reread the NaNoWriMo draft. (eep!)
9. wondering… what I should make for Easter dessert this year. (I was leaning toward cheesecake, but that craving has (finally!) been satisfied. I still might, but it won’t just be because I really really want a piece of cheesecake.)
10. hoping… that next week goes according to plan.

2017 Project365 #47 | Reghan Skerry

Project365: #43-49

Photography

We finally got some significant snowfall this week, which is far more photogenic than the dreary grey cold we’ve been dealing with this winter, but did mean that I didn’t get out of the house quite as much as I wanted to.

Weather aside, I’m really happy with a couple of this week’s photos, but I was suffering from a severe lack of photographic inspiration, and… well, it shows. Here’s hoping next week will be better.

Snapshot #70 | 10 Things for 12 February 2017

Personal

Currently…

1. updating… my portfolio. Finally. I’ve still got a little bit of work to add (and I’ll let you know when it’s done), but for now: progress!
2. starting… to make the tote bag that’s been on my list for about six months.
3. making… plans. (I’ve got a tendency to say this a lot, I know. But it’s a good catch-all for all the projects I’m really excited about but can’t really talk about.)
4. getting… used to my new social media rules. It’s doing wonders for my creativity (and productivity).
5. choosing… which writing project to work on next. It’s going to be so much fun. And I need to do so much worldbuilding.
6. trying… a new bread recipe.
7. craving… cheesecake. I don’t know why. (I also don’t know why there isn’t any place near me that sells single slices of cheesecake.)
8. wondering… if the snowstorm is going to interfere with my plans tomorrow. (Probably.) (Definitely.)
9. shopping… for makeup… it’s equal parts fun and torture.
10. researching… everything I need to know for the next writing project (and the second draft of the NaNoWriMo story). It’s a little overwhelming, in a good way.

NaNoWriMo 2016 - Winner

NaNoWriMo 2016: Postmortem

Writing

It’s been just over two months since NaNoWriMo 2016 ended. It’s been ten months since I first started thinking about maybe trying my hand at it. It’s been exactly a week since I typed “the end” on the story I started back in November.

It feels like a good time to look back and think about how the whole thing went.

I’ll start with some backstory. (If you’ve been reading the blog for a while, you might know some of this already.) I used to write. A lot. At least 2000 words a day, four days a week, without fail. I did NaNoWriMo a few times, years ago… until I realized that it wasn’t really a challenge anymore, and that starting a new project in November would mean putting any current projects on hold for a month. I considered myself a writer before anything else.

The problem is, I’ve got a perfectionist streak, especially when it comes to writing.

I was writing a lot, but nothing ever came of it. I’d finish a draft and… I really couldn’t bear to look at it again. All I could ever see were the flaws: formulaic plots and boring characters. And while I know that all first drafts are terrible, mine felt particularly terrible, like trying to revise them into something readable would just be a waste of time. It got to the point where I wasn’t even happy to reach the end of a draft—just faintly relieved that I didn’t have to think about that story anymore, and angry with myself for spending so much time on something so awful, and for my refusal to try to turn it into something not-awful.

I had to stop. Writing was making me too miserable. That was about five years ago now, I think.

But I never really stopped thinking about writing. Story ideas never stopped coming, and I kept studying technique. It always felt like something I’d come back to. Eventually. Once or twice, the urge got too strong, and I tried to ease myself back into it, but it was never the right time. I produced some amazing prose, but always started to hate the process again before finishing anything.

And so, last spring, I started thinking about NaNoWriMo again, and how maybe easing myself in wasn’t the solution—maybe I needed to make a big scary commitment and just see if I could still write at all. By the time November rolled around, I’d (mostly) figured out my story, and got my typing speed back up, and was feeling… weirdly good about the whole thing.

I spent the whole month expecting an existential crisis that never came. Instead, I managed to make it through, writing nearly every day and hitting 50,000 words a day before schedule.

Now, remember: I only typed “the end” last week. The draft is not 50K words long—it’s just over 90K.

And… yeah. It’s terrible. One entire chapter is missing (it was a big empty hole in my outline, and I just skipped it rather than lose momentum). The plot is a little formulaic (though less than previous stories I’ve written… more on that in a minute), some of my characters are boring. But I don’t feel like I’ve wasted the past three months. I’m actually looking forward to rereading it and starting the revision (or rewriting, more likely). I’m starting to put serious thought into my next story.

I’m really glad I decided to tackle this thing.

So, looking back, what did I learn?

I am still capable of writing, and not making myself miserable.

I was genuinely starting to wonder. But I made it through the entire month of November, and the months after, and I never once doubted what I was doing, and I never hated the process. That said: I knew going in that the 1666 words/day every day that NaNo requires isn’t sustainable for me. But it was a good kickstart for that one month, and in the weeks since, I’ve established a good writing routine that feels both productive and sustainable.

I need other writers and creative types in my life.

I kind of knew this, but NaNoWriMo really did confirm it for me. In retrospect, one of the things (and there were several, not all of which are worth going into here) that contributed to my burnout was that my longtime beta reader (the person I regularly bounced ideas off of and trusted to read my earliest drafts) went AWOL, just at the moment I was starting to get serious about my writing. Without that feedback, I had nothing to balance out my perfectionism. So… yeah. That sucked.

But I made a genuine attempt to interact on the NaNoWriMo forums, and find some other people for mutual cheerleading and advice, and it helped so much. Just knowing that there were people out there going through the same thing, and who were genuinely interested in my story (and helping people through their own struggles)… it’s made a huge difference.

The only thing that really motivates me is doing the work.

Over the past year or so—not just on this project—I’ve been trying a few different methods to get myself motivated to do the work that I want to be doing. And, in the end, I’ve learned that the only thing that really works for me is seeing the progress I’m making (however I choose to measure that), and focussing on my big goals. All the tricks and lifehacks in the world are meaningless.

An outline doesn’t have to lead to a formulaic story.

I struggled with this a lot in the weeks leading up to November. I knew going in that I needed an outline, but I also knew that part of the reason that my earlier stories felt so formulaic was because my outlining process was too strict. But I managed to find an outline technique (scene-based, on index cards) and story structure (um… it’s complicated) that worked for me: it gave me the structure I needed to stay on track, and the freedom to discover the story as I went along.

I also learned that every story has it’s own process, and that discovering what that process is is half the battle. I already know that the story I’m thinking about right now is going to need a different approach, but I’m pretty sure I know what it’s going to look like.


So… what comes next?

I’m setting this draft aside for another week or two, just so I can find the distance I need to look at it objectively. Then I’ll read it over, make some notes, and start planning the next draft. (It’s going to need a complete rewrite, and probably a new outline. So it’s going to be a long process.)

In the meantime, I’ve started thinking about the next project, trying to expand the concept into something like an actual story. I’ll probably start outlining it before the end of the month. I’m still writing every day; even if it’s just vague freewriting, it’s still helping me maintain that routine.

I think the experiment was a success.

2017 Project365 #34 | Reghan Skerry

Project365: #29-35

Photography

I am genuinely happy with (almost) all of my photos this week. Some of them are a little uninteresting (it’s really hard to think of a way to photograph the end of a writing project, especially when it’s a digital file rather than paper), and I did struggle with inspiration some days, but on the whole, I’m happy with the work.

(This also marks the first time this year that any of my Project 365 photos were taken with a real camera, rather than my phone. Not sure that really counts as a milestone, but it’s interesting to me.)

Sketchbook #19

Art + Craft, Photography, Productivity, Writing

I generally plan to post these creative roundups on the last Monday of each month.

You might’ve noticed that this isn’t the last Monday of the month. Or that I didn’t actually do a post like this at the end of December.

I’ll be honest: I was busy in December, and blogging wasn’t my highest priority in January. The political situation in the States is still taking up most of my attention, and everything that’s left has been devoted to finishing the novel draft that I started in November and starting the two photo projects I’ve decided to tackle this year.

On the bright side: I finished the NaNoWriMo draft! It took a little longer than I expected—the last major set piece, in particular, was tricky to write—but it’s done. The final count is around 90,000 words, 40K of which I’ve written since November ended.

I promised a proper postmortem once the draft was done, and that will be coming soon. I need to take a couple of days to decompress, and then I’ll be ready to think about it.

I’ve also been thinking about what comes next. I am going to revise this particular story (that alone is a small miracle: I actually think the story is worth revising!), but I need to step away for a week or two to get a bit of distance. But I learned over the holidays that two weeks away from writing is just too long; it took almost a week to get my pre-Christmas momentum back. And since it’ll be a few weeks before I’m ready to start the actual revisions on the NaNo story (I think the next draft is going to need a whole new outline), I need something to work on in the meantime.

I’ve been playing with some other story ideas, trying to decide which one to work on next. Two of them in particular feel promising, but they’re both a bit vague right now. I’ll give myself a day or two to not think about writing at all, then see if I can turn one or the other or both into something like a story.

It’s been a good writing month.

It’s been a good photography month, too.

I already mentioned that I’ve started a 365 project for 2017. I already covered my reasoning in the introductory post, so I won’t bother going into too much detail here, except to say that I’m still really happy with how it’s going. It’s only been a month, but I’m still really happy with how it’s going. Are all—or even most—of the pictures brilliant? Yeah, no. But there have only been one or two so far that I’d call completely terrible, and considering how uninspired I’ve felt some days, that’s a pretty good record.

That particular project aside, I’m trying to be a little more intentional with my photography this year. I didn’t take many photos in January (this is always a slow time of year for me), but I’m trying to think about the photos I do take, and make an effort to improve my craft. I’ve been printing some of my work—not just the good pictures, but the ones that I can learn from—and I’m (slowly) learning to keep a sketchbook.

It’s an interesting process, and I’m having fun with it.

Speaking of sketchbooks… it’s taken some time, but I’m starting to get back into drawing again. I set it aside in November so I’d have more time to write, and December got busy, so it hasn’t been a priority for a while. But I’ve been picking it up again, and I’m starting to see a little bit of improvement. (It sort of feels like setting aside my story for a couple of weeks: I need to find some distance in order to see my progress.)

So, yeah: I didn’t really have a solid plan going into January beyond finishing the NaNoWriMo draft, but it’s been a good month. Just a little unfocussed.

My big goal for February is to prioritize my creative work.

And that means eliminating—or at least minimizing—some of the distractions that have been getting in my way. The first thing I’m going to do is to cut out (almost) all news and social media before I’ve reached my creative targets for the day. I’ll probably still check the headlines (just to make sure that the world hasn’t, in fact, ended overnight) and I can check the social media that inspires me rather than drains me, but that’s it. Everything else can and will wait until after my writing and photography and art is done for the day.

It hasn’t been easy (it really hasn’t been easy), but I can already tell it’s going to benefit my work.

So, that’s where I stand going into February. I’m… pretty happy with everything, actually. It’s a weird feeling right now.