Get Your Ass to Mars

Happy New Year, everyone!  I hope you all had a terrific holiday.  Winter actually came in Los Angeles.  We’ve had rain, cold, and even ice!  It’s the closest we’ve had to Hoth in a long, long time.

Now that the celebrations are over and Ryan Seacrest has returned to his dark cave of gloom, we’re all looking to put into action our New Years resolutions, am I right?  We’ve gained some weight over the last month thanks to baked goods.  Our resolutions in the past always collapsed, but this time it’ll be different!  But then the doubts creep in, because if we’ve had such a good track record at not achieving our goals, what’s going to make this year any different?

Well, to hell with that.

We always say, “This year, I’m going to do X, Y, and Z.”  I suggest changing that language to, “This year, I am doing X, Y, and Z.”  Here’s what I am doing, and maybe you’ll walk away from this with a little more guidance.

Actually have resolve.

You can’t have resolutions without resolve, which is defined as “deciding firmly on a course of action.”  This is perhaps the most Dr. Phil-esque resolution I have, but a very necessary one.  This doesn’t pertain to the “I need to recognize that stuff needs to get done” camp.  I recognize that I’m hungry, but that doesn’t put dinner on the table.  Knowing you’ve got goals ahead, the point of this resolution is to follow through on your threat to get shit done.  And might I suggest you don’t pick massive Earth-shattering goals that’ll overwhelm you like the kraken?  If you stumble on them, you’re more likely to give up on everything else.  Capisce?

Manage your time better.

Here on Earth, everyone has the same 24-hour day.  We also live in an age where there are tons of calendar programs.  Google Calendar, iCal, Outlook are just a few of many.  Even before then when pen-and-paper day planners were the norm, there were so many different styles that it boggles the mind when I look back on it.  I literally block out every single waking hour from 6 AM to 11:30 PM.  Everything falls under one of three categories – personal events, stuff related to my day job, or writing – and I make sure none of it overlaps.  I have a set morning routine that ensures I eat a real breakfast, and an evening routine that ensures I get a some reading into my day.  I have recurring blocks of time for writing a bare minimum of two hours a night and optional mornings.  And most of all, I restrict how much time I schedule for work and writing.  It’s usually around 12 hours a day, but no more than 15.  Any remaining black spots are blocked off as “personal time.”

Your body’s not an amusement park.

Ah, the classic “I want to lose weight” resolution.  Let’s face it, if you didn’t want to make this resolution, you shouldn’t have fallen off the wagon over the holidays.  I’m guilty of this too; I just had a few cookies that I probably shouldn’t have.  I’ve struggled with my weight since childhood, but got serious about it in college when my doctor had me one the scale at 252 pounds.  Right now, I’m 199 pounds.  *Pauses to munch on a cookie*  200 pounds.  But I’d like to be around 175, and I’ve gotten as low as 180.  So I know it’s possible.  My walking of habit is great, but my body’s gotten used to it; I barely sweat anymore when I’m out walking.  The fact is I’ve got to get my ass into a gym.  I went to the YMCA around the corner of my house (they gave me a guest pass yesterday).  It felt good, great even.  Sweating it out was more enjoyable than I thought, and I realized that I really do want to stick to it.  And an hour a day a few times a week is not a massive demand on my time.

Get out of your Bat-Cave.

Now we’re getting to the part that pertains to writers.  Writing is a very lonely craft, even with quite a few writer friends.  Enter Meetup, the best tool for the introvert looking to get out of the house.  I joined two writing groups recently.  I went to the first one yesterday, and the second one is coming up in a few days.  One is the traditional “we will sit and write” groups, a jam session, which is great because you always have to be generating content.  The other one might be even more vital.  It’s a workshop group with deadlines and submission guidelines.  I haven’t had that kind of structure since grad school.  I miss that discipline, and I hope these groups will help me stay focused.

Put on your chains.

I don’t know if he still does this, but in a Lifehacker article, I found out that Jerry Seinfeld has this great productivity hack.  I’ll sum it up for you here: “get a big wall calendar that has a whole year on one page and hang it on a prominent wall.  The next step was to get a big red magic marker.  He said for each day that I do my task of writing, I get to put a big red X over that day.  ‘After a few days you’ll have a chain.  Just keep at it and the chain will grow longer every day.  You’ll like seeing that chain, especially when you get a few weeks under your belt.  Your only job next is to not break the chain.’  ‘Don’t break the chain,” he said again for emphasis.”  I don’t have the wall calendar, but a every month of 2016 is tacked above my desk beside each other.  I tried this for a couple of weeks in November.  It felt good.  I tried it again for a week last month.  It felt good again.  Now I’m keeping on it for this entire year with a goal of a thousand new words each, but at least 500-600.  If you keep that up, you’ve got a short story in a week, a novella in a month, and a novel in three.

Go to a conference.

I’ve never been to a writing conference.  I guess you could say UCLA’s Writers Faire qualifies, but it feels like such a hiccup to me.  I think every writer needs to attend at least one conference in their life.  Meet other writers, form friendships, and pick their brains.  What works?  What doesn’t?  I’ve bitched about this since 2011, but this year, I’m definitely going to the Association of Writers and Writing Programs conference.  This is a big deal.  If you’re a gamer, you go to E3.  If you’re a film maker, you go to the American Film Market.  If you’re into porn, you go to the AVN Adult Entertainment Expo.  That’s what AWP is for writers.  The location changes throughout the country from year to year, but this year it’s in Los Angeles, so I really have no excuse not to go.  Plus, it’ll be a chance to see friends I haven’t since grad school.

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