Sunday, September 14, 2014

Recovering Habits: Basements and 8-Hour Challenges

I have recovered quite a bit since last week.  I have been dreaming and stories are coming back to me.  However, I have been significantly knocked out of my habits.  And.... as tends to happen when life throws you for a loop, bad habits storm in, while the good ones run for the hills.

This is not entirely a bad thing.  Being able to zone out when life is hitting you hard can be a great way to keep it together.  I happen to play puzzle games when this happens.  And I often come out of it with SERIOUS game addiction.  I am currently struggling with Bejeweled.

So the problem I cited last week -- having lost the ability to do certain things -- turned out to be temporary. The real problem is that I have such a terrible need to get certain little gems all in a row, that I sometimes wish that cars on the highway would just slide over into that open space rigth beside them and create a five-in-a-row lightening gem.

My brain, now that it has recovered most of its parts, needs puzzle diversion challenges, and I have two tried and true methods.  They both are ways to practice accomplishing things.

Method #1 - Clearing Junk

This is a particularly useful way to get back in the swing of things after major life issues, but it also works when you have just been too busy to think and a lot of junk has piled up that you didn't have time to take care of.  I also tend to call this "GTD" which stands for Dave Allen's "Getting Things Done" but you don't have to use any particular methodology.

Pick a closet, a junk drawer, the pantry cupboards, your desk, the garage -- anything you've been meaning to get done -- and start clearing it out or fixing it or doing whatever needs to be done with it.  If you really need to rebuild habits -- to the extent that you aren't writing anything -- pick a BIG project and do this in your writing time.  (This works extra well if it overlaps with your creative life in some way -- either involves the subject matter of something you're writing, or you are pulling out old creative work.)

And treat it like a writing project.  Brainstorm.  Plan, and organize, and even buy things for it.  Make seven trips to Staples to buy banker boxes and a quick document scanner.  Start taking notes on further projects this one will spawn. ("Oh, look at all those family photos. I really should scan those for posterity...." Don't stop to scan.  DO take notes on what you might need to do that project -- like a slide scanner, or a space to work in -- and put that list with the photos.)

You will find this job often reflects the sort of discipline you have for your writing, even those "blocked" moments -- just as you need to stop to beat out a detail, or do some research, so you MUST head to Staples for the aforementioned banker boxes.  Possibly to the point of dropping everything in order to do this.

I will likely talk more about this next week, as I have many amusing things to say about what I'm doing in my basement this week.  Right now I will just point out one thing:

In the course of creating an archive for my old photos, artwork, and ephemera/paper collectables, I came across a book of cartoons I did in high school.  They were all on the theme of "Sheep."  They involved these little straight-faced sheep -- fluffy cloud-like body, closed eyes, no mouth, stick legs -- who, in the course of ever more elaborate puns, did all sorts of funny and interesting things.  The captions were not actually clever, nor supposed to be, but were setups for the sheep themselves, who were strangely expressive for creatures with no facial expression.

There are 40-50 of these, and several more captionless sketches.  (My favorites are the little sheep playing a big cello, and the "sheep wreck.")  I will probably post some later on, because my scanner is in a drawer and there is no place to put it.  I don't know what I'm going to do with it, maybe a book, maybe a website.  Maybe t-shirts?

In the meantime the other method of getting back into gear.....

Method #2 - The 8-Hour Challenge

This started with Joe Konrath. Fueled by alcohol, I think, he sent out this challenge one day a year or so ago for people to conceive, write, edit, format, and upload a little book in the period of eight hours.  At the end of the day in question, people sent him their links, and he posted them somewhere.

This, of course, is insane.

Which means that a bunch of people on KBoards decided to make this a regular event.  Except they change the rules somewhat.  Not all on one day, the eight hours don't have to be consecutive. I think they actually expanded it to an outside limit of 24-hours (non-consecutive).

And that is actually a magical thing.  Because if you say "I'm going to do X in a week," you really are leaving yourself a lot of fuzzy time.  You might spend 60-80 hours in a week, or you might spend 8 minutes.  If you actualy give yourself a goal on accomplishing something in a specific number of working hours, though, that can really focus you on a task. 

For instance: This month, the KB folks are choosing finishing unfinished works in their 8-24 hour challenge.  It's all about getting 'er done.  And very often all we need is a few concentrated hours to actually finish something.

I'm going to do some non-fiction for this challenge.  I have been meaning to collect posts from this blog, for instance, into themed booklets.  I have gone so far as to comb through the 1300+ old posts and picked out a number of them, organized which ones might go together.... and proceeded to get stuck on the editing for publication.  Because it's really easy to say "You know, that one's practically ready right now, but this one that goes with it really needs work. I could write a new one from scratch...."

And then get lost in editing and super-ambitious rewrites.  Or just think it's too big of a job for now, and go off and do something else.

So I'm going to stop dithering and being ambitious and just say, "You have eight hours to get this booklet done -- and only six for editing. Save the other two for formatting and such."

I've done similar things -- without intending it -- on finishing a short story.  I'll find a draft that's 3/4 done, or done but for some tricky editing, and I'll just see how far I can get with it in a single session.  And often, if I did this because I had a specific idea in mind, I will get it done, and ready to do that one night.

So, anyway, I'm still not fully back in gear, but I am getting there.

See you in the funny papers.


Elizabeth Spann Craig said...

Glad you've lost the brain fog!

I *love* knocking things out...especially small clutter-free projects like a junk drawer. You're right--really helps to give a sense of accomplishment and helps with motivation.

Ahh...Konrath. :)

The Daring Novelist said...

And if you are an old hoarder like me, it can be pretty interesting, the things you find.

Like I just found a photograph -- looks like a senior picture -- of someone I don't know. My mother doesn't recognize this woman either. Is it a distant relative -- someone we knew sent us her niece's graduation pic? -- or maybe a former student's child?

Or is it a photo some student had brought in to scan for a photoshop project, and left behind, and it somehow ended up shuffled in among my papers?

I'm going to show it to another teacher and see if she recognizes....