Parkinson’s Law

Since I started this blog last year, I’ve learned something about myself. Basically, that without a solid schedule, self-imposed or otherwise, everything in my life grinds to a halt.

Case in point: my blog postings, and lack thereof. I can write everyday, if I want to. I proved that in Taiwan, when I blogged daily for an 11-and-a-half-month stretch, Internet access or no, with minimal damage to my sleep schedule or mental stability. Then I came back from Taiwan, engines raring to go, and started this blog. And Idid well at it at first–I posted often, and I was Freshly Pressed after just a month on the scene. I was elated.

But, over time, my life got more cluttered, and my postings got more erratic, to the point where they stopped for months together. I’ve just come out of one of those stretches, in fact. Looking at my archives links now makes me depressed.

My posts have lost all meaning...

My life has lost all meaning…

So what happened? I lost the structure in my life.

In Taiwan, I blogged. Daily. It was what I did. It was a murderous self-inflicted posting schedule, an imperative I had dared myself to do because it sounded hard, and I knew I would never be willing to let myself down by failing it. And, rain or shine, eventful day or dull one, I would sit at my computer and I would write–something. Anything. Sometimes good, sometimes laughably bad. This, they tell you–and, indeed, I told myself–is what writers do. They write, full stop.

Screen Shot 2013-06-09 at 8.39.14 PM.png

I didn’t realize, though, that writers write because of a decision they make to write. Writing will never just happen. Writing must, always, be a choice, a challenge, a conviction that writing for the sake of writing is worth it. It needs dedicated time, a dedicated mind, and a dedicated purpose: to improve.

After last summer, I lost that. I forgot. My life came at me willy-nilly, and I left it at that. I started freelancing, with my clients rarely sending notice beforehand, on the expectation that, whenever their manuscript came across my desk, I would drop whatever else I was doing and finish their work, pronto. And I did. I skated from deadline to deadline, indulging myself in the luxuries of unspecified work schedules by wasting hours of my time and spending late nights finishing things I should have finished days ago.

I never missed a deadline. My work was good. But, by ignoring the necessity of structure in my life, I lost hours upon hours of my life, hours that could have been spent with friends or reading or in advancing my career or writing blog posts, all poured down the drain of unstructured time; all left at the altar of procrastination.

All lost in the sands of mixed metaphors...

All lost in the sands of mixed metaphors.

Yet even then, I did at least have my class schedule. I knew I had to be somewhere from 10:30 til 3:45 daily, and my freelancing work had to fit around that.

But my classes ended in mid-May, and as the last vestiges of my structured life fell away, I noticed something: I was getting less done. It made no sense. For the first time since I began freelancing, I was having trouble meeting my deadlines. Sure, some of them had shifted up a bit in the week, but that wasn’t enough to explain it. I could actually feel my work getting less efficient. Simultaneously, I felt myself growing bored.

And then it struck me: I’d lost my structure. I’d suddenly been handed my days, wide open, on a platter, and I had no idea what to do with them, so I did nothing. I was experiencing Parkinson’s Law, and the answer to my dilemma suddenly became clear: make myself a schedule. Put in place artificial time constraints. Maybe install Anti-Social.

Yes, we are now at the point where society has dubbed it necessary to pay people to stop us from social networking...

Yes, we are now at the point where society has dubbed it necessary to pay people to stop us from social networking…

So I began blocking out my days, with specific and achievable work goals for different portions of the day, and the same sorts of work at the same times of day. Now, for instance, I write my freelance articles after lunch. I wake up around the same time everyday, and go to sleep approximately eight hours before that. All my work is set to be finished on an orderly timetable of my own device, and well before my official deadlines.

What productivity looks like.

What productivity looks like.

And, already, it’s working. This post, in fact, is part of the fruit of it.

Blogging is important to me. Blogging well, and constantly improving my writing, is even more so. And I am now making the decision, once again, to blog regularly. Not daily this time, but at least twice weekly: I will now publish at least one post on Tuesday, and one on Saturday.

(Yes, I know this is being published on a Sunday. I couldn’t wait til Tuesday. Besides, I said at least twice weekly!)

I refuse to waste my days, or to get done in four hours what should be done in one. In high school and college, I overloaded my days with classes, work, and extracurriculars, and became an expert in getting a lot done with no time. (This is not an uncommon effect; it is part of why studies show that students who work get better grades than those who don’t.) I spent years learning to multitask and learning how to get a lot done with no time; now, I am learning to get a lot done regardless of how much time I actually have.

Paradoxical? Perhaps. Necessary? Definitely.

My life is now scheduled again, and my stress and boredom levels have dropped as my productivity has skyrocketed. Case in point: this is my second post in three days. With my structure back, my life has returned to regular operating capacity. Life is as it should be.

And even if it weren’t, I’ll be back to a regular daily routine next week, as I start a new job. Parkinson’s Law, your days are numbered.

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Piecework

What do you do?

It shouldn’t be a difficult question. It never used to be: I was a student. For years, I was a student–for as many years as I can remember anyone would be asking me that question, I was a student. Sure, I was some other things, too–college is certainly not free here in the USA–but explaining my modgepodge of jobs then came secondary, if it came at all. What did I do? I was a student.

Then, I graduated. And then, for a year, another easy answer: I’m an English teacher. Or, if I thought it would mean anything to whomever I was speaking: I’m a Fulbright scholar.

Now, though? Now, such facile answers seem like pots at the end of a rainbow; now, an answer to this question requires a few minutes of your time, and possibly more than a few clarifying questions.

Or, “What do I do, what do I dooooo?”

What do I do? I’m a hyphenate. To be more specific, I’m a writer-writing tutor-college application consultant-transcriptionist-proofreader-editor; oh, and also, a student at a ministry school. A very difficult-to-describe ministry school, as luck would have it. (I should add blogger to that list, but clearly, with all these hyphens, those that come sans pay have been slipping.) And I’m applying to graduate schools, since you’re asking, and therefore obviously care deeply about my personal life.

My personal life. Not pictured: me

So, it’s complicated. When people ask me what I do, I prefer to turn abstract, and to tell people that my job is like a patchwork quilt, with dozens of little squares sewn together to create a motley arrangement that somehow, (usually) pays the bills.

My life, everybody!

It’s funny, though: when I began this post a month ago, I began it with somewhat of a sour attitude, somewhat of a sense that my crazy, hyphenated world was something to be looked down upon, or to be avoided at all costs. But the truth of the matter is, it isn’t. The truth of the matter is that it rocks.

Why? Well because, ultimately, all this piecework means one thing, and one thing only: I’m doing it.

Right now, I’m making a living doing what I want to do. I’m using my English major, consistently and in several different venues, and getting paid for my expertise in each of them. Sure, none of them are full time jobs with benefits, but they are enough, and they allow me to be one of the apparently tiny proportion of college graduates who are actually using the skills they learned there out in the real world.

And, beyond just being allowed to use my expensive education for something, I’m doing what I want to do, at what is likely to be one of the only times that I’m free to do so. Honestly, what I scrape in through my jobs isn’t much–but it is enough to finance me, living on my own with roommates, taking little trips every now and then, going to a school that I chose, and applying to other schools that I’m choosing. I can flit about and do what I please–on a limited budget, sure, but how many other jobs do you know of that allow you to work from wherever you happen to be? Freelancing may not be steady money, or a lot of money, but it takes the “free” in its name seriously.

My life now isn’t easy, and it isn’t the typical “success” I was taught to strive for. But it works for me, and for where I am right now, and it has provided me with the amazing opportunity to be fully me, doing what I fully want to do, right now.

What do I do? I follow my dreams. And you?

No-write November?

So here’s the deal: I’m about to disappear for a while.

Or, at least, that’s what I’m guessing might happen. I’m actually not sure. I’ve never done this before. Done what before, you ask? This. NaNoWriMo.

For the uninitiated (or the still-uninitiated–I mentioned this briefly back in “Confessions of a (Nonfiction) Writer”), NaNoWriMo (na-no-wry-mo) is short for National Novel Writing Month, which, in America, is actually a thing, and also happens to be November. So, every November, a giant group of wannabe/lapsed/functioning/experienced (maybe?)/aspiring writers take on the totally-unrealistic-yet-somehow-still-achievable goal of writing a 50,000 word novel–in a month.

The rules are simple enough: over the course of a month, write 50,000 words that add up to a single, completed story. You cannot begin before November 1st, or finish after November 30th. You can research and outline ahead of time (I’ve done neither, unfortunately), but that’s it. If you stick to the schedule, you write an average of 1,667 words a day. It’s a bit strenuous. It’s a bit insane. It’s also a bit of a time-suck.

Which brings us to the topic of today’s post: I’m doing it this year. Yes, me, she who feels accomplished if she somehow manages to post once a week; me who hasn’t actually accomplished that feat since August. Me, whose one post deemed by the blogosphere to be worthwhile was one describing just how difficult and painful writing fiction can be. I’m going to write a novel. In a month.

So, maybe, don’t expect to be seeing a lot of me this November. Unless you’re on NaNoWriMo yourself, that is. Then, expect to see me posting daily, adding to my word count like (famous sports person) adds (points/goals/scores/touchdowns) to their (set/match/game). Because YES, I’m going to finish this thing. Time to conquer my fiction rut, with the help of the writer friend who got me into this and the massive writerly community that will judge me if I fail. Peer pressure for the win!

And, if you’re a NaNoWriMo-er, feel free to look me up–my handle on there is bekahg. I’m sure we’ll all need a little encouragement at some point of the month! Sixteen-hundred words a day is a lot no matter what’s going on in your life; with my schedule, it might just mean the end of every nonessential behavior, like blogging.

Or, you know, the beginning of every nonessential behavior. As I write this post, I’m very aware that I’m doing it solely because I have something else more important to work on that I don’t want to do. Procrastination is a powerful force, too.

Peer pressure versus procrastination: which will win? Stay tuned to find out.

227 Emails

So, I was Freshly Pressed.

*Mind explodes*

I’m a bit of a newbie as far as WordPress is concerned–I just got here in July, after all, and haven’t been all too great about posting all that frequently. But, of course, every time as I hit “Publish,” a little part of me thought Wouldn’t it be great if this got Freshly Pressed? Nah, that’ll never happen…

The standard thing for people to do once they’ve been Freshly Pressed, from what I’ve seen, is to then write a post about the experience. So, consider this that post.

There are 227 new emails in my inbox right now, each bearing a little notification of a like or a follow, or a reminder that I really should moderate my comments again. For a while, there–before my post slipped into the relative anonymity of the second page–I had to make myself leave the computer, lest I get overwhelmed by the sheer volume of people reading my blog. I was absolutely ecstatic to have so many people reading–and also absolutely terrified about what it meant. Wait, you mean people are reading what I write now? And they’re liking it? Well…I just don’t know what to do with that information.

This post has been quite hard for me to write, actually. This is my third or fourth attempt at it, which is ironic, given that the post that got Freshly Pressed was about how my fiction is riddled with half-starts and self-doubt–and that I escape by writing nonfiction. Well, shoot. Apparently, once I’m suddenly writing for people beyond my Facebook friend group, my writerly instinct dries up. I’m going to have to work on that…

But first, I just want to say, to all my new readers, THANK YOU! I have been so affirmed by all your lovely comments, and cannot say enough about how blessed I am to have had you all decide to settle down in my corner of the Internet for a while. Those 227 emails have absolutely made my week. I hope you like what you find here, and that we can have some nice therapy sessions on the merits of nonfiction writing.

And now,  since I seem to be just fumbling through this, it’s time for me to go open those emails, one by one, and meet you…all 227 of you. See you around!

(Sidenote to anyone who happens to follow the same vloggers on Youtube that I do: Writing this blog post, I felt like it would come out a bit like Bryarly’s response to Charlie’s recent admission. Different context, but… “HELP WHAT I CAN’T EVEN” is a pretty accurate depiction of the things going through my head…)