Snapshot #127 | 10 Things for 19 May 2019

Personal

Currently…

1. starting… to pick up supplies for the balcony garden. It’s always a challenge (between the light and the nearby oak trees that try to murder the competition, nothing seems to want to grow out there), but I live in hope.
2. moving… forward with my big scary photo project. Small steps, but in the right direction.
3. thinking… about my creative process, and the things I want to make—in both writing and photography. Exciting things are coming. (Eventually. These things take time.)
4. getting… ready to update my inspiration board.
5. deciding… that I hate the little rubber backs that come on enamel pins now. They’re too easy to lose. (At least I noticed before I lost the pin, too.)
6. accepting… that it’s time to make some updates to the site design around here. I’ve been dancing around the idea for a while, mostly wondering if I was just procrastinating on other things, but… yeah. It’s time. I’m still deciding if it’s a full revamp, or just a refresh.
7. chipping… away at the podcast backlog. Again. (Always.)
8. looking… for a good baby-name site, with historical and demographic data and a good recommendation engine. (For naming characters. Not babies.) I used Nymbler for years, but I kind of hate how it works since the redesign.
9. setting… deadlines.
10. making… a new running playlist. The old one just wasn’t cutting it anymore.

The next thing.

Writing

If everything goes according to plan, I’ll be finishing up work on The Black Sun in a month or two. Really finishing—I’m sure there will be another flurry of work sometime in the future, but I’ve gone just about as far as I can go with this particular story right now. (I mean… assuming the next round of feedback is good.)

It’s kind of a terrifying prospect. I’ve been working on this story since the middle of 2017. I don’t think I’ve ever worked on a single story for this long without abandoning it, but now I can’t quite remember what it was like when I wasn’t working on this story. (Technically, I’ve been working on Violet Lane longer—since 2016—and even finished a complete draft in early 2017, but I only really figured out what story I’m trying to tell with that in the last couple of months.)

For the first time in two years, I’m in a position where I can start thinking about writing something genuinely new.

Close-up of a camera, with a plant visible through the viewfinder. Photo by Reghan Skerry.

Announcing Project366 for 2019/2020!

Photography

Here’s the thing: I love writing, and I love photography. I love studying them, I love doing them. And I’m not terrible at either of them—on a good day, I can admit I’m actually pretty ok at both of them.

But it’s always been hard for me to actually make myself write, or make myself take photos.

And it’s not easy to explain why. Perfectionism’s a problem, definitely. Sometimes it really is a lack of motivation, and sometimes it’s that I build it up so much in my head that I can’t bring myself to start. (Or worse, I have a couple of bad days in the middle of a project, and I put too much weight on them… and can’t get started again.) Sometimes, I think I’m just lazy.

I’ve done well at getting past these blocks when it comes to writing. I write more days than I don’t lately, and I feel good about what I’ve been producing. I’ve made writing friends, people I talk with on a regular basis—about the process, and the challenges—and who help keep me moving forward. (And vice versa! Helping other people get through their own blocks actually does wonders for my own motivation.)

Photography… I’m not quite there yet. I’ve had good moments, and I’ve got some acquaintances who, when I can get over myself and share my photos, are really supportive. (Seriously: thank you. It means more to me than I can say, and I feel awful for not even opening Instagram and returning the favour in… five months? I am so sorry about that.)

With writing, I tend to have concrete projects I can work on: specific stories that I can take from concept to (eventually, hopefully) finished draft. A lot of the photography I do (or try to do) doesn’t work like that, so I’m always trying to overcome the inertia to get started.

Obviously, I need to figure out how to approach photography the way I do writing, and find specific projects to work on.

The 2018 Reboot | Week 9 Check-In

Productivity

Last week was kind of a bust. I made no progress at all.

But I am making up for it this week, and I feel like all of the things I’ve been working on are falling into place. I’ll get to the specifics in a minute, but in general, the last few days have been really good.

So I’m starting to feel like it’s time to make some changes to this little reboot of mine.

The overall goal is the same: to get my creative life in some sort of order by the end of the year, so I can really start to move forward in 2019. And most of my specific goals are the same, too.

But it’s time to rethink that first goal on my list: Improve the quality of the art I’m consuming, in order to improve the quality of the art I’m creating. It’s still a good goal, and it needed to be here, but… I’ve done it. I’ve been doing it, fairly consistently. I can either keep saying “yep, still doing this” every week for the next two months, or I can officially check it off and add something new.

I’m gonna check it off.

And the goal I’m going to replace it with… it’s kind of a big one. (I’m not sure why I’m doing this to myself, taking the easiest one of the list and replacing it with the most difficult, but I’m feeling good about things in general right now, so why not?)

My new goal for the last few weeks of 2018: Clarify my long-term goals: in writing, photography, and in general.

If you’ve been following my reboot, you know that this has been nagging at me for a few weeks now. I’ve got vague long-term goals, and specific short- and medium-term goals, but I don’t feel like I know what I’m working toward, and so I can’t know if I those short-term goals are really moving me in the right direction. And while I’ve been thinking about it, that’s all I’ve been doing. I haven’t actually put any real work into it yet.

Right now, that’s fine—I know what I’m going to be doing for the next two months, and the work I’m doing in this reboot isn’t wasting my time—but I want to have some clear directions and plans in place going into the new year.

And if I don’t want it to be panicking about it over the holidays, it’s time to get to work.

The 2018 Reboot

Productivity

It’s been a long, hot summer, and in the past few months I have fallen out of every good habit I’d managed to establish in the first half of the year.

I haven’t been taking photos, or at least not many. One of my big photography goals for the year—one that I’d hoped to achieve in June—has stalled.

I haven’t been running as much as I’d like, or even managing my usual workout routines. (When the humidity pushes the temperature near 30°C at six-thirty in the morning, I absolutely refuse.)

I’ve been working on the Violet Lane outline, but in fits and starts. When I actually work on it, it’s going well, but it takes an awful lot of motivation to get started.

I’ve been spending more money than I’m really comfortable with. Everything I’ve been buying has been necessary (or if it’s not strictly necessary, it’s something I’ve been thinking about for long enough that I don’t feel guilty about buying it), but it all takes up space and my plans for decluttering have kind of stalled.

I haven’t been watching many movies. I’ve been reading mediocre books. I’ve been falling into internet black holes. My podcast backlog is growing again. Intellectually, it feels like I’ve been consuming nothing but junk food for three months.

(I’ve also been eating quite a bit of junk food.)

Basically: I’ve been in a rut. (I might’ve mentioned this already?)

But it’s September, and September always feels like a fresh start. The way the air feels, the way the light falls, the sudden urge to buy a new backpack (I do not need another bag) (or another notebook) (really. I mean it)… the back-to-school feeling has never gone away.

This year, I’m going to take advantage of it.

I don’t mean that I’m going to suddenly throw myself into everything I just mentioned, trying to fix them all at once. (Though, let’s be honest: that would be a closer analogue to the whole back-to-school thing.) I know that won’t work, at least not for long. But I’m going to use this energy—and the fact that we’re not really that far away from the end of the year—and spend the next few months figuring out how to keep from falling into this rut again, and building systems that can support the work—creative and otherwise—I want to be doing.

That’s kind of vague. I do have specific goals in mind.

Improve the quality of the art I’m consuming, in order to improve the quality of the art I’m creating.
I’m listing this first because it’s easiest, and it’s something I’ve done before. It’s the only one that I can start doing (almost) immediately, with no preparation.

Find a way to structure my time in order to support my bigger goals (creative and otherwise).
I’ve never been great at this. I’ve actually always been really bad at this, and what little progress I’d made fell apart this summer, both because of the heat (I had to give up some of the routines that kept me on track and my motivation dropped to zero) and because the time-tracking app I’d been using stopped syncing and I haven’t found a good replacement. I honestly feel like this is the thing that holds me back the most, and if I can figure it out, a lot of other things will start to fall into place.

Develop workflows for writing and photography. And blogging.
Basically, I need to figure out how to take a concept from idea to finished product in a consistent way, so I don’t get hung up on trying to figure out what I’m supposed to do next. Ideally, this would also include the idea generation stage of things, since I also have a tendency to drag my heels when it comes to choosing something new to work on. This is more of an issue with photography and blogging than writing fiction (I’ve already started putting together a system for that) but they all need work.

Experiment with productivity and journalling systems, and find something that works for me.
I’ve always been a little bit in love with planners and to-do lists, ever since the day they handed out our spiral-bound handbooks/planners in junior high. I bought my first Day Timer when I was sixteen (I still have it, and I know exactly which box it’s in). I’ve used PDAs and iOS devices for more than fifteen years(!!). I’ve experimented with hipster PDAs and bullet journals and any number of pre-designed planners. And I’m still looking for something that does everything I need or want it to do. I still don’t know what that is, and hopefully I’ll be able to figure it out over the next few months.

Finish the work on the office.
I love this space. Before I got so far off-track, I could see a real improvement in my motivation and energy, just from spending time in this room. But the current stage is… not great. It feels cramped and cluttered. I want to get back to work on the improvements, and I want to be able to give you a tour by the end of the year.

There we have it: my goals for the rest of the year. Not including things like NaNoWriMo or other specific projects. It’s not terrifying at all, seeing it all written down like that. Really.

In my part of the world, the first day of school is either today (for university students) or tomorrow (for everyone else). So today is as good a time as any to start. I’m going to check in here every week. I’m not quite sure what form those check-ins will take, or when exactly I’ll do them, but I will keep you posted.

Ok? Ok. Let’s go.

Sketchbook #36

Photography, Productivity, Writing

Most months, I take this post as an opportunity to reflect on the creative goals I’d set, and decide what I want to try to do in the coming month. Sometimes, taking that time to reflect leads me in a direction that doesn’t really fit into the standard format I’ve established for these ‘sketchbooks.’

Which is a roundabout way of saying this might be long, and it might ramble a bit. I’m trying to figure out some stuff, here, and if this isn’t the best way for me to do it, at least it’s been effective in the past.

Ok? Let’s go.

The way I’ve been managing my creative life—the things I’m working on, my creative energy, my time—isn’t working.

Don’t get me wrong: I’m happy with the things I’ve been doing lately. I love the stories I’ve been working on and the pictures I’ve been taking. This isn’t the usual feeling of ugh, I hate EVERYTHING that comes over me every so often, or the low point in my usual three-month cycle. Some of it can (probably) be attributed to the heat this summer—I haven’t had the motivation or attention span to do much work. Some of it is a general anxiety, and I know exactly what’s triggering that. (More on that in a minute, because it’s relevant.) But this goes deeper than that. It’s a restlessness and general dissatisfaction with my current processes, rather than with the work.

For the last few years, I’ve been thinking about writing and photography in terms of “projects:” concrete, measurable goals, whether it’s NaNoWriMo or a specific manuscript, or 365 photos. For a while, that was exactly what I needed—something to work toward, with some degree of accountability.

And that’s great.

Until this month, when all of those projects managed to hit stopping points at roughly the same time. I finished the 100 Days of Black & White photography project. I sent The Black Sun to my beta readers. I launched my newsletter.

… and then I wondered what the hell comes next.

There are things I could be working on: the Violet Lane outline. Various updates I want to make to the website. The big photo project that I keep hinting at and that I swore I’d be ready to announce this month (and which, by the way, I am not ready to announce this month). I’m not working on any of them. (Or not much. I have been picking away at the Violet Lane outline, and I’m really starting to like that again, but it’s going slowly.)

And, like I said: part of it comes down to anxiety. As soon as I sent The Black Sun to the last of my beta readers, I was instantly aware of all the flaws in the manuscript. (But I’m being good about that, at least. I know where this uncertainty is coming from, and I know that I can deal with it. I won’t look at the file, let alone make any changes, while it’s in beta. I’ve gotten some initial response, of the don’t worry, it doesn’t suck! variety, so that’s nice.) Plus I’ve been doing that thing I do with Instagram, where I feel guilty about not having anything to post, so I don’t log in at all, and then I feel guilty about that.

On top of that, the progress I’ve been making on the office revamp has been its own source of stress. As much as I love what this space is becoming, it’s a mess right now. The closet is a disaster area, I’ve still got one ugly old bookcase that I can’t throw out until I’ve found places for all the odds and ends that I’m still storing there. The cat has officially claimed my new comfy reading chair, even though she’s got a bed in the room already (which she’d been using happily until two weeks ago). And every so often, the scale of this hits me and sends my not-so-inner minimalist into a tailspin, thinking about the money I’ve spent (nothing excessive, but still more than I’m strictly happy with) and what’s going to happen when I move (which I’m not planning unless something really big changes in the few months before the lease is up for renewal). I joked the other day that, between the office and my bedroom, I’m basically building a fully-functional tiny house, only… it wasn’t a joke. Not really.

So, yeah: I’m dealing with some stress.

But there’s always stress. I’m not going to meet any of my creative goals unless I figure out how to work around that stress. And the way I’ve been working until now isn’t helping me anymore.

The problem with projects is they’re finite. Eventually, they come to an end (or at least a logical and/or necessary pause), and you have to transition to something new. Different projects require different approaches, even different schedules. Every one of them needs some kind of plan, and every one of them starts with a certain amount of resistance. (At least for me.) I need to overcome inertia to start, and when it’s just one project, that’s fine, but when it’s everything, it’s… not fine. It’s really difficult.

I’m also starting to think that maybe this project-based approach doesn’t actually move my work forward as much as I’d like. I mean, yes, the two photo-a-day projects have noticeably improved my photography. But how much of that is the project itself, and how much of it is just taking photos on a regular basis, and sharing them publicly? Feedback is a huge motivator for me as an artist (as much as it freaks me out), and a creative community of some kind is essential (as much as that freaks me out sometimes). The projects themselves are irrelevant.

That said… routine can be a killer, too. I’m not the kind of person who can sit down at the same time every day and churn out 1500 words, regardless of what I’m working on. (I mean… I can. I’ve been that kind of person, and it was a big factor in my burnout. I’m not going down that road again.) And I definitely don’t want to ritualize the creative process too much. If I need certain circumstances in order to be able to make art, whether that’s a certain environment, or a certain schedule, or even a specific scented candle, then everything falls apart when I can’t repeat the ritual. (Again: I’m speaking of my own experience, here. If the ritual is what works for you, then go for it!)

The trick, then, is figuring out how to consistently produce work, whether fiction or photography or something else entirely, and get regular feedback, without turning it into a chore. It’s figuring out how to focus on the process, rather than the outcome, while still keeping my long-term goals (which still haven’t changed, so at least that’s something) in sight. It’s figuring out what really motivates me, and how to tap into that.

I don’t know how to do that.

It would be nice if I could wrap up this blog post with some clear answers, if I could say for sure what I was going to do. It’s taken three days and over a thousand words just to articulate the problem in a way that makes sense to me, and I’m still thinking about what the solution is.

So that’s what I’m going to be doing in September: thinking about my creative process, and my day-to-day routine, and looking at ways that I can improve it. I’m going to try to get back to regular posting on Instagram, though it probably won’t be a specific project. I’m going to work on the Violet Lane outline and continue to try very hard not to worry about The Black Sun.

I’ll let you know how it goes. In the meantime… if you’ve gone through this, and come to any conclusions, I’d love to hear what helped you. If you’re still going through something like this, I’d love to hear from you, too—we can puzzle over the dilemma together.

Lady's Slipper Orchid | Reghan Skerry

Snapshot #102 | 10 Things for 3 June 2018

Personal

Currently…

1. wondering… where the line between “research” and “procrastination” is. I’m starting to suspect that I’ve crossed it.
2. meeting… my running goals three weeks in a row!
3. catching… up on podcasts. I’m now completely up-to-date, for the first time since… November.
4. loving… the coffee station I’ve set up in the office. Of all the changes I’ve made in the past month or so, that’s my absolute favourite. (The office is still a work in progress, by the way. I’m hoping to be able to give you a tour by the end of summer.)
5. taking… care of some incredibly tedious and stressful technical chores. Not gonna lie: there are times when living in the future is kind of annoying.
6. thinking… about doing some kind of DIY writing/creative retreat.
7. resisting… the urge to buy a whole new set of furniture for the balcony. The current set is perfectly fine, I just need a nice day and the motivation to clean and paint it. (I’ve even got all the supplies I need! It’s just a matter of doing it.)
8. overthinking… everything.
9. starting… to notice that I’m creeping up on that three-month lull in motivation. But it’s early enough that I’m already taking steps to get back on track.
10. reminding… myself that it’s not quite summer yet, despite a couple of days that did a pretty good impression of it.

Sketchbook #31

Writing

When it comes to the big picture, I have a three-month attention span.

It takes three months for that initial burst of energy and enthusiasm to fade.

It takes three months to lose sight of my big goals, and get bored with the day-to-day grind required to achieve them. Three months to start to question whether those goals are actually possible, and whether I’ve got the drive to see them through. Three months to start thinking ’I don’t feel like writing today. I’ll make it up tomorrow.’

In other words, March was difficult.

Not impossible. I put together an almost-complete outline for Violet Lane in about a week, and I’ve been working on a new photo project that I’m really enjoying. Plus, I had a few days in which outside forces conspired to keep me from doing much at all, and that annoyed me enough to push me to start moving again. But that kind of motivation doesn’t really last very long—a week later I was doing things again, but I was feeling stuck, too.

So.

I’ve been taking some time to get myself focussed again, to remind myself what I want to be doing and why I’m doing it. I’ve been looking at what’s stopping me from doing those things, at what gets in my way and keeps me from writing, or taking photos, or whatever it is, and I’ve been coming up with ways to avoid falling into those old familiar traps. I’ve been looking at the way I spend my time, and how I organize my work, and just generally trying to figure out how to do things better. I’m doing what I can to eliminate the worst of my distractions, the ones that steal my attention and don’t give anything back in return. I’m looking at how others have pulled themselves out of ruts like this, and seeing what I can apply to my own situation.

And, as I write the current draft, I’m trying to pay attention to how I’m doing it, what works and what doesn’t. I’ve spent too much time only vaguely aware of my own process, and so, every time I start a new story, I’ve got to figure everything out from scratch. Again.

This all sounds kind of clinical. Maybe it is. But I feel good about the way things are going right now. Violet Lane is progressing nicely, if slowly. I’m on a bit of a roll with the photo project (having fresh flowers on hand helps with that… I’m not quite sure what I’ll do when they finally start to fade). And, a step at a time, I’m getting back on track.

I’m not there yet. Of course I’m not. It’s going to take a while to figure this out. And I’m not going to try to make a hundred changes at once – the temptation is there, but if I do too much too fast, I’ll just end up overwhelmed and right back where I started.

But I’m moving in the right direction. That’s the important thing.

Fighting Inertia

Writing

It’s been… a month and a half since I finished the first draft of The Black Sun.

I haven’t looked at it yet. Soon. As soon as I’ve actually started the Violet Lane rewrite… which I wanted to be working on by now, but I spent most of this week with a minor-but-annoying cold that slowed my progress. But it’s going to happen! The outline is taking shape—I broke out the index cards late last week—and I hope to be able to start the actual writing by the end of next week.

Actually, I’m going to put it out there: I am going to start the actual writing by the end of next week.

It won’t be easy to get to that point, but I can do it.

There are times (quite a lot of them, lately) when the hardest part of writing is getting past the inertia of not writing. It doesn’t matter how frustrated I get with myself (and I get so frustrated with myself), it’s apparently not enough to make me stop whatever mindless scrolling I’m doing and start writing. But sometimes, something happens—I get sick (or I lose electricity for the better part of an evening, which also happened this week)—and I can’t write, for reasons entirely outside of my control, and everything changes. The mindless scrolling starts to feel unbearably boring (it’s kind of boring anyway, but you know what I mean), and all I want to do is write. (And/or take pictures. Or make things, just in general.)

That’s where I am right now. It’s enough to break through the inertia I’ve been dealing with for a month, and I’m ready to get this thing done.

Real words-on-the-page writing starts again by Friday. Feel free to nag me if it doesn’t.

Sketchbook #29

Photography, Writing

(A little late getting to last month’s sketchbook post, but at least I’m getting to it.)

If January taught me anything, it’s that I need to have some kind of well-defined photography project if I’m going to keep shooting. And I need to make a public commitment to that project. Without those two things, I really struggle to stay on track with any of my photography goals.

In other words, it wasn’t a good month for me as a photographer.

It’s not that surprising; it’s always a struggle to get back on track with anything in January, and this has been a fairly dismal month for light and visual interest. But it’s still disappointing; I started the year feeling pretty good about my successful 365 project, so the fact that I’ve barely taken any photos all month feels kind of awful. (So does the fact that I haven’t even logged into Instagram since the second week of January. I feel guilty that I don’t have anything to post, and then I feel guilty that it’s been so long, and then everything just builds on itself.)

I’m not sure how I’m going to fix it. I could start another 365 project, but I’d still run into the issues that I had last year: the weird combination of too much pressure and not enough challenge. I have been thinking about finding some thirty-day challenges, but I haven’t found one that appeals yet. (Full disclosure: I haven’t really been looking all that hard. Most of the ones I’ve seen in the past don’t appeal to me—they tend to be aimed at casual photographers, and again: I want something that challenges me technically or artistically—and I haven’t had a chance to do a new in-depth search.) I’ve also started thinking about a 100-day project of some kind, but I’m not sure what I want to do.

At least it was a good month for writing?

I’m finding my way back into a routine that feels like it genuinely works for me—a happy medium between the intense schedule of something like NaNoWriMo and the complete lack of structure that I tend to fall into when I don’t have a strict deadline. I’m still fine-tuning things (and we’re coming up on the real test now that I don’t have a mostly-finished WIP to motivate me), but… I think I’m on the right track.

And, hey: I finished the draft I was working on! That’s awesome!

… and it is, but I’m also in a bit of a weird mood. Some of it is just coming down off of that particular project (it was taking up a lot of my mental energy), but it goes a bit deeper than that.

I’ve been thinking about art vs. craft lately. For a long time—since before I burned out, took a break, and came back to writing—I’ve been focussed on the craft of writing: learning how to construct a story that makes sense without being painfully predictable, how to create a character that feels real. How to outline a story in a way that doesn’t make me lose interest before I put a single word on the page.

And that’s good! I needed to do that work.

But now—or for now—I feel like I’ve got a solid understanding of the mechanics of a story. There’s always more to learn (seriously, why are action scenes so difficult?), but I’ve reached the point where reading another how-to book or studying another variation on story structure isn’t going to push me forward. (Again: for now.)

All this emphasis on craft (and a conscious effort to rein in my naturally wordy prose) has led to a very… straightforward style in my writing. It’s perfectly ok, but there’s nothing in it that stands out. My best writing has always been the stuff that really plays with language (my favourite compliment that I’ve ever received for my writing is from someone who called it ‘lush’) and form, and I haven’t really been doing that lately. (Of course, we’re talking about a first draft here. It’s been ages since I’ve wanted to turn a first draft into a finished work. Who knows what could happen in the revisions and rewrites?)

Anyway.

Aside from that, I’ve started outlining the rewrite of the NaNoWriMo project I did in 2016. If everything goes as planned, I should be able to start writing it… we’ll say by the end of the month, to be generous (nothing writing-related is going to be happening next week), but I’d like to get into it sooner than that. I’m also trying to figure out what I want to work on next. I’ve got ideas, but they’re still very vague, and I’m not 100% certain that they’re in line with what I want to be doing.

I don’t know if I’m feeling optimistic about the rest of February or not.