Sketchbook #45

Photography, Productivity, Writing

I have no idea what’s going on with July. It’s been one of those months that’s simultaneously been dragging on forever and is disappearing in a flash. But July is almost over (however that happened), and I guess it’s time to think about how it went.

I’m going to start with photography, because that’s the bit that doesn’t make me want to tear out my hair this month. (Fair warning for when I get to the writing bit of this update.)

I’m still in that rut I mentioned in June, still taking far too many photos of flowers and not enough photos of literally anything else. So that’s not great. But I’m still carrying a real camera a few times a week, and I do like the photos I’m taking, even if they’re kind of boring. 

But the real progress has been in the super-secret Big Scary Project. I’m still not ready to launch, but I have made some huge steps forward this month. (That ‘next step’ I mentioned at the end of June—the one that required an incredibly tedious bus ride? I actually tackled that the day after I said that it was going to be my top priority for July. And the bus out there wasn’t air conditioned, so it was pretty much exactly as painful as I imagined it’d be. It was slightly better coming back—at least there was a/c.) 

Point is, I’m incredibly proud of the progress I’ve made on that project this month, and I’m super excited about the next steps. If I can keep the momentum going, I’ll be ready to make some actual announcements by fall.

Now. Writing. (Feel free to skip this bit. Last warning.)

Vintage SLR cameras in my office by Reghan Skerry

The 2018 Reboot | Finale


Technically speaking September was only four months ago.

But 2018 has been the longest year ever, and it feels like it was at least two years ago that I decided I needed to make some changes.

Back in August, every project I was working on had either stalled or was moving too slowly to see any real progress. My motivation had plummeted. I was in a rut, and I needed to get myself out of that rut, and I needed to figure out how to avoid falling into it again. And so in September, I came up with a short list of things I wanted to do by the end of the year. They weren’t huge goals—and they definitely weren’t dramatic—but it was about building a system that could support my bigger goals going into the future.

We’re fast approaching the end of the year, so it’s time to look back at how (and whether) my reboot has worked, and where I’m going from here.

The 2018 Reboot | Week 14 Check-In


Almost there!

Next week, I’m going to do a complete end-of-year report on this reboot, looking at what did and didn’t work over the past few months, and what it means for the future.

For now, I’m just going to do a quick update on how I’ve been doing this week.

Clarify my long-term goals, in writing, photography, and in general.
My focus this week has been on my 2019 goals, rather than the true long-term goals, but I’m starting to feel good about this. Some of the short-term goals (and what I actively resist) are helping me figure out what I want to do long-term, and I’m choosing others that will help me narrow the focus even further over the course of the year. I’m also trying to choose goals and projects for next year that will move me in (mostly) the right direction, no matter what those long-term goals turn out to be.

Find a way to structure my time in order to support my bigger goals (creative and otherwise).
After taking a break last week to recover from NaNoWriMo, I’m back to work this week. (Still in a limited capacity, since the holiday chaos is slowly starting to take over my free time.) And, really, that’s one of the best metrics to judge this particular goal: I was able to dedicate one month almost entirely to writing, and another week to almost nothing, and I don’t feel like it’s broken my stride. I was able to get back to a routine that works for me without any real difficulty.

I’m ready to call this one ‘done,’ even if things are still sort of weird right now.

Develop workflows for writing and photography. And blogging.
I think I’ve made just about all the progress that I’m going to, at least for now.

Experiment with productivity and journalling systems, and find something that works for me.
I mentioned last week that I think I’ve finally landed on something that works. I’m still making tiny adjustments… and that’s fine, that’s half the point of building something for myself rather than relying entirely on a ready-made solution that’s almost (but never quite) perfect. As my circumstances and needs change, I can change my system

I’ve actively started setting things up for next year. I’ll give you a full tour… probably in January, once I’ve really lived with the final product for a few weeks.

Finish the work on the office.
I finally got rid of one of the stupid boxes I’ve been dragging around—never unpacked—through three different apartments!

… and that’s about all the work that’s going to get finished in here before the end of the year. (Maybe. I’ve got one small-but-deathly-dull project I’d kind of like to take care of in that time.) But progress has been made, and that’s what matters.

The 2018 Reboot | Week 11 Check-In

Personal, Productivity

I fell into a bit of a trap this week. It’s a familiar one for me, one I seem to stumble into every time I want to make a big change, whether it’s with writing, or photography, or getting organized, or (this time) setting goals.

I start to think that other people have the answers, and that if I just read enough books or articles or blog posts, I’ll eventually stumble onto the right one, the one that brings everything into focus.

It never happens.

Don’t get me wrong: advice is good. Learning from those who’ve gone before? Awesome. And if I’m dealing with a specific technical issue, like how to edit infrared photos or how to incorporate backstory in a way that doesn’t drag a story down… the research is worth it. But in general? There’s too much noise, too much useless information to wade through. (And, because it’s the internet, let’s be honest: too many people who call themselves experts without bringing any new insights.)

I don’t need to read another article on S.M.A.R.T. goals, or whether it’s more valuable to build habits than to set goals.

I just need to do the work and find my own path. I’ll get there eventually.

The 2018 Reboot | Week 2 Check-In


It’s time to check in on the progress I’ve been making with my work/life reboot.

In general, it hasn’t been a bad week… even if I’ve had a few days in a row that have felt like I completely stalled on all the progress I’d been making. Really, that’s why these regular updates are helpful for me: they make me sit down and think about each of my individual goals, and honestly assess how I’ve been doing. It’s so easy to let a few bad days discourage me (or to get complacent after a few particularly good days), but when I look at the week as a whole… it’s good. I like the progress I’m seeing.


Now. About those individual goals….

Improve the quality of the art I’m consuming, in order to improve the quality of the art I’m creating.
I’m still doing well with this one—I’m actually doing better with this one than I was last week. (I had to finish a couple of the mediocre books I was reading when I made up my mind to do this. They were just good enough that I didn’t want to drop them in the middle of the story. But they’re done now, and I’m on to the genuinely good stuff.)

I still haven’t seen a real improvement in the work itself, but again: right now, I’m outlining one project and waiting for notes on another, so I’m not doing the kind of work where I’d see an improvement. But I do like the way I’ve been thinking about my work lately (there’s gonna be a doozy of a blog post coming up at some point in the near future, and if you’re not subscribed to my newsletter yet, it might be a good time to do so. Just saying), and that’s something.

Find a way to structure my time in order to support my bigger goals (creative and otherwise).
I’m still in the early experimental stage with this. I’ve been trying a few different time-tracking methods (to figure out how I’m using my time now), and reading up on circadian and ultradian rhythms (because why not?).

But the real progress has been due to the weather. As the humidity eases up, I’m slowly reviving my workout and running routines, and that does a lot for my morning routine in general. Maybe it’s a bit counterintuitive—the exercise cuts into my most productive time, sometimes significantly—but I really do find it easier to find my creative flow on the mornings when I’ve worked out or gone for a run.

Develop workflows for writing and photography. And blogging.
Still haven’t done anything with this. I’m going to make this my priority for the next week.

Experiment with productivity and journalling systems, and find something that works for me.
The bullet journal experiment seems to be going ok. I’m keeping things very minimal for now: no complex spreads or trackers, and I’m only adding features as I decide I need them. It means the whole thing’s a bit of a mess for now, but since my goal is to figure out what I actually want in a planner, it’s working for me.

We’ll see if it keeps working in the longer term.

Finish the work on the office.
I’ve been slacking off on my decluttering this week. Just a little, but I do notice the difference.

The problem is that decluttering is boring. It’s going through papers and magazines to make sure there’s nothing I want to keep (there’s almost never anything I want to keep), and until I’m done with this stage of things, I can’t really move forward. Still. It needs to be done, and I’m going to get back to it over the next week.

The 2018 Reboot | Week 1 Check-In


A quick recap: a little over a week ago, I decided that I needed to get out of the creative and productive rut I’ve fallen into over the past few months. And it would be good if I could prevent myself from going down a similar path in the future.

So I’ve set some goals for the rest of the year, to build a solid foundation for myself and my long-term goals going into 2019.

I’m going to check in with these goals every week. I still haven’t quite decided what form these check-ins are ultimately going to take (and they’re not all going to be on Thursdays). But for now, one week in, I’m just going to look at each of those goals, and the progress I’m making (or not).

Improve the quality of the art I’m consuming, in order to improve the quality of the art I’m creating.
As expected, this is the first area where I can see actual progress. I’ve gone through all the unread ebooks I’ve been collecting (am I the only person who finds it really easy to do that? Like, even easier than it always is with physical books?), deleted the ones I know are just ‘junk food,’ and made the ones that I do genuinely want to read easier to find. I cleaned up my ‘wish list’ on my library app, doing the same thing (and adding a few new books that I’m really looking forward to). I’ve (re)committed to watching at least one movie a week; I might increase that to two or three later, if I can make it fit into my schedule. I’ve been doing much better at avoiding those horrible, time-wasting websites.

Have I seen an improvement in my work? Not yet (that would involve doing more work than I have been this week). But I do suddenly have an almost-fully-formed outline in my head for a story that could be so good. Except I very much DO NOT WANT to write the damn thing. Or I do, but… I don’t. (There are reasons. Good ones.) So… I’m not quite sure what to do with that. At least I’m feeling inspired; that’s no small thing.

Find a way to structure my time in order to support my bigger goals (creative and otherwise).
I said last week that this is my biggest problem. I’m not going to magically fix it in a week.

Right now, I’m in the research stage of things: reading about time management (and trying to separate the useful information from the dross) and looking at different time-tracking techniques (my natural inclination is to use an app, but I’ve done that before, and while it’s easy and can produce pretty graphs, I don’t know if those pretty graphs motivate me to actually change things).

So… not great, but I’m moving in the right direction.

Develop workflows for writing and photography. And blogging.
Yeah… I haven’t even started thinking about this one.

Experiment with productivity and journalling systems, and find something that works for me.
Hm. I’ve sort of started? Maybe?

I’ve revived the bullet journal I abandoned at the beginning of the year, and I’ve been experimenting with different ways of using that. I’m in research mode, here, too—and, like time management, wading through all the productivity porn and figuring out what’s useful, what’s useful to me, and what’s just empty platitudes… it’s going to take some time. This is actually the area I want put the most effort into over the next week

Finish the work on the office.
More progress! I’m back on track with the decluttering process (it’s a bit slow—it’s a bit of a challenge, even for an unsentimental minimalist like me—but it is happening), I’ve sourced the final supplies I need for my DIY art project, and I’ve finally got good task lighting. I’m feeling good about this.

In all: it’s not terrible. It’s about what I expected for a plan like this, only one week in. Most of my active projects are still in slightly awkward stages, and it’s difficult to build a routine around them just yet. But it’s a start, and everything will start to get easier as I figure out what I’m doing.

The 2018 Reboot


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.