The Five-Minute Trick

Cross-posted to the Deadline Dames. Where there are games, prizes, and sometimes pie!

This is not a magic trick, but it is responsible for a great deal of my productivity, writing or otherwise. It’s also responsible for a great deal of my success with exercise (such as it is). Your mileage may vary, of course, and before we get into it I’m going to talk a little bit about my aims and goals when it comes to writing.

I write because I have to; I’ve been doing it all my life to make sense of the world around me and I can’t see stopping. But I also, nowadays, write to pay my rent, feed my kids, and buy myself fresh books. I must consistently produce words that are either publishable-quality, or words that can become publishable-quality with a little help from an editor. It’s important to me to know how to treat myself so I can produce consistently.

This is not easy. Sometimes it requires outright trickery.

If you’ve been reading my blog for a while, you know I’ve been running. I can consistently run three miles at a time now. There is, however, a problem. Running isn’t easy, even if my body is adapting beautifully. It’s sweaty effort. They call it exercise for a reason.

So I trick myself while running. I break up a three-mile run, which takes me about 45 minutes (I’m slow, okay? I’m going for endurance because the zombies will eventually overheat and fall apart) which works out to 15 minutes a mile. But 15 minutes is far too long; if I thought in terms of 15-minute chunks I’d stop after the first one and call it good. Ten minutes is no good either–again, I’d quit after the first chunk. Probably swearing some variant of “F!CK THIS!”

No, it’s got to be five. Five measly minutes.

While I run, I don’t think much about the total run. That’s what the treadmill’s for. I set speed, incline, and distance, then I push the start button and set to. I do not allow myself to think more than five minutes ahead. I break up the entire run into those five-minute chunks, and I think exclusively in terms of getting through the next five minutes. It helps that the time changes every second, so I’m always looking at a new number. (I am easily amused.)

I don’t think “this is a 45-minute run.” I think, “I bet I can get through the next five minutes.” When those five minutes are up, I think exclusively in terms of the next five minutes. Each time I’ve worked through another 15 minutes that way, I give myself a little mental pat on the back for running yet another mile. On and on, and before I know it I’m at the very last five minutes, and I’ve already done the rest so I might as well, even though my breath is coming pretty hard and I’m sweating like a rock star.

This actually represents a step forward, because I used to think in one-minute chunks while running. Five, however, seems to be a comfortable limit for long-distance (read: anything over a half-hour) running.

Goals, you see, are eminently do-able once you break them into small enough pieces. The trick is in the breaking.

This also applies to writing. I can’t count the number of times I’ve just been Too Tired or Too Stressed or Too Something to keep my ass in the chair and my fingers on the keyboard. That’s when the kitchen timer comes out. For writing, ten to 15 minute chunks are pretty OK. Sometimes, when the situation is really dire, I’ll do it by 200-chunk wordcount. Just 200 more words, I tell myself. Or, Just get to the end of this scene. Or, finish this chapter and then you can rest.

The funny thing about that is once I reach 800-1K, something inside my head clicks over and I usually fall into the story. Sometimes it’s as little as 600 words or ten minutes that gets me there. The timer rings, but I’m into it, so I set it for another ten and just go. Or I leave the timer where it is because I’m too busy writing my heart out.

Most days, I wouldn’t get anything done if I thought, “I have to get 3K out today.” I would take one look at that goal and start running in circles, yowling like my tail was on fire. But if I break it up with a timer, or into 200 word chunks, all of a sudden it’s manageable, and I consistently reach my goal.

Aha, I hear someone in the back crowing. But is it publishable wordcount?

For some reason, when I break it up like that, it usually seems to be. The raw act of creating the words uses a different set of mental muscles than the less-raw act of editing and tweaking those words to turn in a publishable draft to my editor. Those 200 words do not have to be publishable–that’s a small enough chunk that I could delete the whole thing if I felt like it and not miss it much. The whole idea of breaking things up like this is to get consistent production; that consistent production is key, in that you have to have enough raw material and practice to have a chance of becoming publishable.

Little tiny nibbles will get you through the whole whale you have to eat. If you have to trick yourself to do it, fine. Whatever gets you to the top of that mountain is fine. Sometimes, when you’re focusing on one foot at a time up the mountainside, you even get some amusement before you reach the top, look back at what you did, and feel like Supergirl.

Or, um, maybe that’s just me.

Over and out.

Posted from A Fire of Reason. You can also comment there.

Biscuits, Tea, And A Sock Monkey

Yesterday I braved Portland traffic (thank God for GPS) and hopped over to Pine State Biscuits for lunch with Mark Henry, Jaye Wells, and Richelle Mead. Oh, LORD. It was great.

The food was delicious–they bake a mean biscuit over there, as attested by the size of the crowd lining up at the door. It’s a tiny place, but we scored a table. The table itself groaned under our selections, because everything looked good. I tried my first fried green tomato; I was not brave enough for the andouille corndog. Both Jaye and Mark were brave enough for that corndog, though, and pronounced themselves ruined for all other weiners for life.

You can kind of guess how lunch conversation went. This is one of the reasons I love hanging around writers. At one point we were all sitting around giving serious consideration to stalker zombies and build-your-own smut scenes. Though that was later at Tao of Tea, where we sat and had a bit of tea to wash some of what we ate out of our systems. (Note: it didn’t work. But I tried.) Anyway, if you want some good down-home biscuits (not to mention collard greens, Southern sodas, or fried green tomatoes, oh my GOD so good), Pine State is worth the trouble and the crowd. And Tao of Tea is such a neat little place!

I can’t guarantee the conversation will be as raunchy, but I can guarantee the food and tea are damn good.

I got home and did some yardwork right before a stormy afternoon rolled in. Two sessions of hail, thunder, torrential rain–March went out like a lion here in my piece of the world. This morning’s sunny, but I’m thinking the weather is playing an April Fool’s joke on me. (The Little Prince’s April 1 joke was propping a sock monkey up in my writing chair. I was uncaffeinated when I saw it, and my start of surprise made him giggle.)

In other news, I finished Murakami’s Sputnik Sweetheart. I realized at the end that all Murakami’s narrators are gateways–things come through them, they don’t necessarily act or react. I read Murakami because he evokes a certain mood in me, just like Duras. Sean Stewart also sometimes taps a particular mood; I’m so busy skating along the surface of the story I rarely take a look below at the mechanics of craft. Which is damn rare, for me. It seems I can’t help but read as if I’m going to edit the damn book. Which might be why I’m generally on such a nonfiction kick, occasional grammatical hoohaws and typos don’t bother me so much.

And now I must bring this ramble to a close. There’s a lot to get done today, from wordcount to correspondence.

Back into the belly of the beast I go. I’m still tasting those fried green tomatoes. And I’m happy about that.

Posted from A Fire of Reason. You can also comment there.

Wiggle Your Big Toe

This morning I went on a banzai run with the Selkie; it was an estate’s worth of books that we packed and hauled down to the store. We work well together both as writers and as book haulers–we exchange information with glances, read each other’s minds, and just plain get stuff done really fast. It’s a joy to work with someone who anticipates and understands.

Several times I was surprised by just how much I could lift and carry–the running and the shovelgloving are working out. I suppose I should do the Obligatory Check In about that here, because I do talk about it a bit…and weren’t there resolution-like things at the beginning of the year?

I do believe there were.

I’m down by sixty pounds, 23 of which I’ve lost since the first of the year. I’m wearing clothes literally half the size I’m used to. I have about another 20-21 pounds to go before I ease up on the calorie restriction and start looking to fine-tune and maintain instead of running my body to shed weight. It is, in a word, bloody amazing. (That’s two words. Oh well.)

The biggest changes, however, have not been physical at all. They’ve been mental and emotional. The sheer scale and intensity of Life Changes and emotional change I’ve weathered, particularly in the last six months (yes, I marked it on the calendar, I am a nerd) have been staggering. I have reached a sort of detente in my relationship with food. I don’t eat to comfort myself nearly as much. My stress level has gone down from OMGPANICALLGOINGTODIERUNRUNRUN to pretty-calm-with-occasional-freakouts.

Which is a nice place to be.

Yes, I’ve had help. Cognitive therapy and a couple of books (this one and this one) have really helped. (However, this book and this book have been MORE helpful; the internal changes are the big deal.)

I’ve also had a lot of help and support from the people who really love me. That’s one thing about one’s life going down in flames: you learn pretty quickly who will be on the other end of the phone line at 4AM; you learn who will help and who will run away.

The upshot is, I feel good. I handed over my ID today (long story) and the clerk did a double take and said, “You’ve lost some weight!” She sounded at least as delighted as I felt. People who haven’t seen me in a while get a strange look, like they can’t quite place me, before comprehension hits. I won’t lie–it’s nice to see that. I get a little glow of accomplishment. I preen a little. Considering I’ve spent most of my life frantically trying to get people to look anywhere but my body, it’s a step up.

So, long way to go. But when I reached the day marked “six months” on my calendar, I looked around. And I felt like, “Okay, hard part’s over. Now let’s get these other piggies wiggling.”

Tomorrow I’ll return you to your regularly scheduled Lili. But today…I’m basking a little in the glow of accomplishment. I feel like I’ve Done Something. Clawed myself up out of a big dark hole, at least.

It’s a nice way to feel.

Posted from A Fire of Reason. You can also comment there.

I Get A Day Off

Yesterday I finished the zero draft of Strange Angels 4, tentatively now titled Defiance. I thought it would take into the middle of this week at least, but yesterday 3.5+K bolted out of my head and took me to the finish line. Sometimes a book does that–sneaks up on one. The zero draft is clocking in at a shade over 62K, which means it’ll break 68-70 when I get the first draft revisions in.

Now my brain, she is broken. I’ve talked before about this–the dynamo inside my head, my energies bent on finishing the book, is now spinning aimlessly. You’ve got to give it time to slow down to a reasonable speed again.

So today is that most rare and magical of creatures, a Day Off. I’ll poke at a trunk novel to keep my hand in, but I won’t look to achieve much.

I scored a DVD of the old Dungeons and Dragons cartoons. It’s hysterical, especially since I watched it when I was young. Like Monk noted, “It’s amazing they did a D&D cartoon with no sharp things.” There was an episode with Lloth the Spider Queen; I snorted and actually yelled, “If they put Drizzt Do’urden in here I’m just gonna DIE!”

The kids both said, “Huh?” And I felt old and geeky. Not a bad combination, since when I told Monk about it he immediately cracked up and agreed. I may be old and geeky, but at least I’m not alone.

Now, I’ve got some relaxing to do as the dynamo in my head slows down. *twitch* *twitch* Because tomorrow it’s wordcount on the short story due…eep, at the end of next month! Oh, Lord. No rest for the wicked.

Catch you later.

Posted from A Fire of Reason. You can also comment there.

Do That Thing

Crossposted to the Deadline Dames

First: Do you think you could build a model Herkimer Battle Jitney? Jay Lake and I both have this thing for Mystery Men. And that’s all I’m going to say.

Friday again, and I got nothin’. My brain is broken, mostly because I’m in the last stretch of Dru 4, now provisionally titled Defiance. This is the point at which I actively resent pretty much anything that tears me away from writing–exercising, eating, loo breaks, bathing, anything. If not for the kids I would probably try to pull an epiphyte and live on air. Fortunately, feeding them is non-negotiable, and it makes me remember to eat. And occasionally bathe myself. *makes face*

Sometimes I think the fierce end-of-book concentration is the “jolt” that keeps me coming back to writing. Sometimes I think it’s starting a new book and having the New Shiny to play with. Sometimes I think it’s the slog in the middle, where the only thing that keeps me going is the craftsman’s pleasure of building sentences and fitting them together. Sometimes it’s rereading a scene and feeling that heart-in-mouth reaction, where I’ve swung for the fences and I know as soon as I hear the crack! that I’m not stopping until home plate.

Did I just bust out a sports metaphor there?

Anyway. Each part of writing is good, for me. Even proof pages and copyedits are good. Even getting the revision letters that make me scream like a little girl in a horror movie are good. They’re good because I’m doing the thing I really feel I was meant and made for. I’m making a living at the one thing that makes me unreasonably happy; my work is also my joy.

It took a lot of hard work to get here. A lot of rejection–and it takes a lot of rejection on a daily basis. On the other hand, I’m making a living. I don’t ever complain or kick too hard. In fact, most days I wake up and think about the day’s wordcount goal and deadlines looming and I think, How in the hell did I get this lucky?

Recently writing has sustained me through a broken heart and huge, stressful Life Changes. Writing has been my solace, my guide, my distraction, my security blanket, and my escape. If you’re lucky to have that one thing you love, it can be your boat through Hell.

Your thing, that thing you love, might not be writing. You’re the only person who has a chance of finding out what it is. Here’s what I want to say this bright, beautiful, raining Friday from the chair where I pull words out of the air and string them together:

Don’t stop. Even if it’s just five minutes a day, or just ten, do that thing you love. It’s cheaper than therapy and more fulfilling than junk food. It can save you from ulcers and restore your faith in whatever needs restoring. It can carry you through the shocks flesh is heir to and celebrate the good things that come along. Do it because it needs doing, and nobody can do it quite like you. There’s a reason it makes you feel That Good–because your way of doing it is unique, and the world needs it.

Do it because you’ve go to. Do it because you feel like you’ll burst or slowly die inside if you don’t. Do it because it feels great, do it because the world needs another chuckle or two, do it because it siphons off all the crazy that would otherwise come out at 3AM in the Circle K parking lot. Just take a couple minutes and do.

After all, our time here is so short. Way too short to not indulge a few minutes a day in the thing that makes us so unreasonably happy, the thing only we can do the way that we do. Let me encourage you, dear Reader. If you need permission, encouragement, absolution, or dispensation to spend a few minutes doing it today, consider that you have it.

Enjoy.

After all, it’s what I plan to do today. One could very easily do worse.

Posted from A Fire of Reason. You can also comment there.

News, Events, And Links

Good morning, all. First, the news.

* There may be a 6-10K-word story dealing with Selene and Nikolai’s reunion in Saint City in the works. I’ll have details when everything firms up, but for right now, I thought I’d let you guys know.

* Events! I will be at the Ooligan Press Write To Publish event on May 23, 2010, at 2pm. I will also be signing in conjunction with Devon Monk and Ilona Andrews at the Cedar Hills Crossing Powell’s on May 25, and by my lonesome in the same location on August 19 to celebrate the release of Jealousy. Details of the Powell’s signings will be forthcoming; they’re usually around 7pm.

* Release news: Heaven’s Spite, the next Jill Kismet novel, is due for release in November 2010. I just confirmed this with my editor yesterday (or was it the day before?) Anyway, now I know, so now you know.

And, linkspam:

* Post-Healthcare Fatigue Syndrome. Don’t worry, the Republicans are still tirelessly working to make sure only the rich have healthcare. Oh, and stirring up their nutwing base to terrify the rest of us. It’s unsurprising, even if it is enough to make one sick enough to need that public option.

* A great Tor.com article on my very favorite fairy tale. Seriously. I collect versions of Beauty and the Beast. I even wrote my own take on it, as yet unpublished.

* Tim Burton might direct Maleficent’s story. OH PLEASE OH PLEASE. Maleficent is my very favorite villain in any Disney movie. The horns! The shapeshifting! The elegant black cape! The sneer! Oh, please, let this come to pass.

* If you’re not reading the Comics Curmudgeon, you’re missing out. I check in with Josh daily to see what the hell he’s come up with now. Comics snark is pure LOVE.

I think that’s about all. I’m on the last push to complete Dru 4, have a detail-round of revisions due for Kismet 5, and there’s a short story in there somewhere needing to be written. I bought a hat to cover up the fact that my hair is at an awkward length. I’ve stocked up on coffee, because the way things are going, it’s going to become one of my major food groups through the month of April.

Fasten your seatbelts, kiddos, it’s gonna be a bumpy ride.

Posted from A Fire of Reason. You can also comment there.

Book Must Flow

Linkspam, because I’m deep in it today. I’ve got the White Stripes on loud and like spice, BOOK MUST FLOW!

* So those deep meandering conversations about Life, the Universe, and Everything? They can actually help make you happier. I think I need to call my friends and get a couple bottles of wine.

* Oh, Luc Besson, you complete me. Lady adventurers and steampunk dragons? I’M SO THERE.

* Here, find out where earthquakes are happening.

* As I have often told my kids, the separate compartment for dessert in one’s stomach is AWESOME. (This is usually right before I’m called “best mum EVER!” for about five minutes, or however long the ice cream lasts…)

Happy Tuesday, everyone. Gotta run.

*dives back into showdown*

Posted from A Fire of Reason. You can also comment there.