#NaNoWriMo: Using Time

I’m writing from the Home Office today, rather than a booth at Panera or the front seat of my parked car over lunch hour. I have this lovely wingback chair (secretly also a recliner) in the corner of my office, and it’s in that chair that I’ve tapped out about two-thirds of this month’s project (with my trusty EeePC resting on the Logitech Portable Lapdesk that makes in-chair typing not just possible by actually enjoyable).1

This unfamiliar comfort comes to me as the primary benefit of burning some of my precious vacation time to extend the Thanksgiving holiday a little bit. Tomorrow, Kate and I will be spending ten hours of quality time together – with our dogs – driving to (and through) the barren wastelands that birthed me, but I took the extra day to both prep for the trip and write.

That’s right: a whole glorious day of writing – an actual day away from work, and not some crappy Saturday or Sunday, where your writing time is polluted by pointless interruptions like “family activities” and “feeding children” and “things I absolutely promised I’d do, even though it’s NaNoWriMo”. There are no family activities or children to do them with — the kids are at school, and my wife is working. Likewise, I have no weekend home improvement/maintenance obligations, because it is not the weekend.

Do you see the loophole I have discovered? Can you conceive the power that rests within my hands?

Who wants to touch me?


I’m sure you’re asking yourself how I’ll be spending the day — with Thanksgiving coming, there’s even a small chance you’ll be able to enjoy a luxury similar (albeit inferior) to mine, so let me lay out the means with which I maximize my writing productivity on a day like today.

[But first, a brief pause in the writing while kick my daughter out of the house drive my darling child off to participate in the physical and mental enrichment so necessary to ensuring that she can take care of me financially in my old age. ]

*Returns, windblown, toting a mocha with double espresso shot.*

Ahh, evil corporate caffeine goodness. *sips* Ahh.

Okay, now then, where was I. Oh yes.

The Day.

Now is the time that we make the boogie.
Now is the time that we make the boogie.

A writer is working when he’s staring out of the window. – Burton Rascoe

6 am: Get up.

I know this isn’t how most people roll. Hell, it’s not how I’d choose to, if I didn’t have a day job and (more significantly) a four year old to get ready before I can go to said day job. However, I do have those things, so 6 am is what happens, even when I could theoretically sleep in — my brain wakes me up at 5:45 and I start thinking about stuff, at which point I might as well get up.

I eat immediately upon rising, because otherwise I forget, and if you get up and stay active for about an hour or so in the morning without feeding yourself, your body starts worrying it’s not going to GET any food, and goes into fat-storage mode, which means that when you DO eat, it’ll all get stored as… well. Yeah. So I eat right away, check email, catch up on my must-reads out on the internets, et cetera.

Blog Post.
I start putting together the daily blog post.

She slept in a bit, which is fine since we’re in no rush today. She piles into the office and sits with me for a bit, then demands breakfast, which I provide. After, she is given instructions to get dressed for school (and oh how I love that she’s able to do that semi-autonomously these days), and I poke at the blog post a bit more.

Wife arises.
There may be some kissing here. I ain’t sayin’.

Kate also, at Kaylee’s request, is in charge of Doing Hair. Apparently, I suck at it.

School Delivery.
Goodbyes take awhile, since I won’t see Kaylee until Friday and I need to store up as many hugs and kisses as I can.

Drop-off is followed by Ambulatory Caffeine Tropism (run to Starbucks).

More Blog Post.
That would be me, writing this.

Start Next Blog Posts.
I’m going to be on the road all day, so I’m writing a pre-scheduled post for tomorrow (probably built around a comment Nathan Fillion made about the cancellation of Dollhouse) and for Thanksgiving (on the secret practices of Ninja Story Writing). The Thanksgiving one will be scheduled to drop EARLY, peeps, so you can implement the secrets within THAT VERY DAY.

Kate is off to Nia, where she is working on getting her White Belt (first tier of Instructor, I gather). In the meantime, I go downstairs and do about five miles on the elliptical (30 minutes). Say what you will about gym-vs-outside-vs-whatever, this is the deal: with a kid around, it is emm-effing hard to get to the gym regularly (unless the kid’s scheduled to be in a class there themselves), and frankly it’s a pain in the ass to take an hour to get ready, go, and come back from a 30 minute workout. It is not a pain in the ass to walk downstairs and hop on the elliptical – therefore, I actually do it, which is really that part that makes exercise… you know… effective.

Why does exercise make it into the Day of Writing schedule? Because mind and body are all one thing, peeps. They call it muscle memory for a reason; I’m not just a squishy harddrive being carrying around by the meat-zombie – the whole body is the harddrive, and it needs refreshment and exercise as much as your brain to work well. Also, the workout gets some blood going to the brain, which ain’t bad.

(Not to mention Thanksgiving’s coming, and I just had a Venti Mocha — the fact is, I just need to work out.)

The elliptical faces a blank wall, which encourages my mind to wander to things I need to write today. This is on purpose.

Maybe you don’t have a home gym, or a gym-gym? Then go for a walk or something. I highly recommend it.

Another great idea machine. My best ideas come in the shower. I wish I could find a waterproof whiteboard to mount on the wall in there.

Finish Blog Posts.
Hopefully by about 11am, but given that I’m already behind a bit on my schedule AS I WRITE THIS, more like noon.

Lunch! (And Stare out the Window)
Ham and cheese on toast. Coke Zero. Some almonds. I want to keep it light so I don’t get sleepy in the afternoon.

Also, probably dump some of the leftovers that are going to go bad while we’re gone.

Also also, get caught back up on email and Twitter and suchlike.

Write Story.
One keypress disables the wifi in my netbook (I had no idea how often I’d use that feature); another disables the touchpad. Off we go.

I’m shooting for a big chunk of words today: four or five scenes, hopefully.

Scene One done.
Go get another soda. Let the dogs outside. Rotate the laundry, if Kate hasn’t already.

Scene Two done.
Stare out the window for awhile. Think about building an addition onto the house. Finally remember to check to see if the hotel for this weekend has wifi.

Get another Soda.

Err. Wait. Is that an actually bold-faced thing? Probably.

Scene Three, done.
Walk the dogs around the block, pick up the mail. Get outside, let your brain chew on local flora and fauna. Let your dogs sniff local flora and fauna.

Dump all the mail into the recycling bin when you get home. Saves the trouble of sorting it.

Poke around the Internet. Stare out the Window.
Twitter. My own blog if there’s comments. Play the new Adrift podcast back while I’m browsing. Twitter again. Newsreader, and probably Burning Wheel’s forums, just cuz.

Also, log into Lord of the Rings Online on the Main Machine, so that it can download updates, cuz December 1 is coming soon, and there’s a new expansion dropping that day. It’s like they KNOW about NaNoWriMo.

Scene Four… kinda halfway.
I started it too late, and it’s time for…

Which is going to be Chuck’s Stuffed Squash Thing tonight. It SHOULD be a leftovers night, but dammit I want to try the recipe.

Also, we’ll probably watch some TV. Castle and Fringe are on the DVR, so figure we blow at least 85 minutes on both of those, not counting cooking time, so figure it’s dark by the time we’re all done.

Also also, we’ll fold and put away laundry while we watch TV. Hell, I might even pack my part of the suitcase. Watching TV is one of those (very rare) things where I don’t mind multi-tasking.

… Finish Scene Four
This will take awhile. I will get up and get another soda at least once in here.

Browse More Internets.
Kiss at least 30 minutes goodbye here.

Start Scene Five
There is going to be a LOT of window-gazing in this one, because it’s been quite a day. My goal is to get about halfway in, then leave it so I can jump into that on the long-ass drive tomorrow. (Bless the 7 to 9 hour battery life on my netbook. Bless it, I say.)

And that’s the Day.
What to take away from all of this? It ain’t all writing. Breaks are necessary. (Honestly, I’m sure I severely downplayed the number of times I’ll check the internet today.) Refresh your brain often, and spend time with the people in your life because while writing is awesome, having someone to share it with when you’re done is so much better.

That’s it.

Get back to work.

Have fun.

1 – I could actually talk at some length about why I write in the chair/lapdesk on my netbook and not at the nice big desk all of four feet away — the one with the lovely ergnomic keyboard hooked up to the Big Fancy PC and Big Fancy Monitor — but that’s probably a post for another day. Specifically, for a day closer to the start of the month, not the end. Opportunity missed, I’ll come back to it another time.

Habituals Update

It’s been relatively quiet around Casa Testerman for the past week or so. There was a trip to Philadelphia, thick with unexciting wardrobe malfunctions, but otherwise I’m plugging along with writing, reading, and trying to get these damn habits locked in. Lemme sum up:

It’s been a very good month for me as far as new reading experiences go; first there was Terry Pratchett’s Nation, then Neil Gaiman’s wonderful Graveyard Book, and I had the pleasure of catching up with all the cool kids and read The Lies of Locke Lamora on the Philly trip. Great book. Just enough ‘new’ in the fantasy world, with great characterization and plotting. Capers are capered, swashes are buckled, and a great many skulls are duggeried. I came fairly close to sleeping on the couch a couple times, thanks to interrupting Kate’s own reading with chortling, out-of-context excerpts. Recommended (as are the others I mentioned – highly).

The “Adrift” story continues, in which Finnras seems to be engaging in some kind of Cunning Plan. We’ll see if he’s as good at such things as Locke Lamora. Odds are not good.

Habit the First – Tracking what I Eat
This went very well in the first week – I even dropped a few pounds. (Actually, according to the website on which I track such things, I dropped too much in one week, and now they want to me to eat more this week — as in… a lot more… “I can’t afford a whole cow!” more — it’s confusing.

I have regained control of my eating patterns by keep meticulous records.
I have regained control of my eating patterns by keeping meticulous records.

Habit the Second — Getting up an Hour Earlier

This one isn’t going as well. Yes, I’m getting up earlier, but I never have to use an alarm clock normally, and I for damn sure have to right now. Also, I’m dragging through large portions of the day, short on energy and long on nap-tropism.

I think part of the problem is that I haven’t set up any kind of reward for when I succeed at this each day (the other part of the problem is that I have no personal desire or investment in this – it’s wholly external) — so I need some help with that: what kind of reward should I be giving myself for getting up at the crack of dawn every day?

Suggestions need to be something concrete: that early in the morning I don’t think highly enough of my fellow humans for “a sense of moral superiority” to mean anything. Gimme some ideas in the comments.

In May, I will form a habit.

I’m not always fantastic at practicing what I teach.

For instance, a number of my classes have to do with modifying your own behavior (time management, giving feedback, verbal communication, how to not be a pain in the ass for everyone who reads your email, et cetera), so when I talk about what needs to change, I also talk about how to change that habit or, more to the point, how to make the change stick.

Failure to form this habit will result in the tape-and-body-hair punishment.
Failure to form this habit will result in the tape-and-body-hair punishment.

Changing a habit is always the hard part, after all, and it’s why people fail at things like ‘keeping the house clean’ or ‘saving money’ or my personal weak spot, ‘maintaining a healthy weight.’

Usually, this failure stems from one simple thing: none of those goals involve changing just one habit; they require changing a lot of habits and frankly people aren’t very good at changing a lot of habits at the same time. In order to make progress, you need to pick one habit out of the whole mess, and focus on that.

There are, in fact, steps.

1. Commitment. Commit yourself to a habit change, big time. Make your commitment as public as possible.
2. Practice. Changing your habits is a skill, and like any skill it takes practice. Commit yourself to a 30-day Challenge and try to do your new habit every single day for 30 days.
3. Tracking. It’s best if you log your progress every day. This will make your habit change much more likely to be successful.
4. Rewards. Reward yourself. Do so often, early on — every day for a week or so, then every three days, then the end of every week, and then at the end.
5. Focus. It’s hard to do more than one or two habits at a time — you can’t maintain focus.

This is basically what I tell people. I even coach them through it.

Sometimes, I make use of this for myself.
— I wanted to find the time to do at least a little creative writing every single day. This led me to the Adrift story, via twitter, which I’ve now written an entry on every day for the last three months. This simple fact makes me goofy-grin happy.
— I went a long while without blogging very regularly, and I wanted to change that, so I told myself I’d try to write a blog entry every single day in April. With the exception of this last Saturday, I succeeded, and I believe I can continue that habit. (I didn’t write every single blog entry for this blog, but I did always write one.)

Sometimes, I don’t do this for myself, when I should.

As I’ve already mentioned, one of my personal goblins is weight gain. I don’t gain weight fast by any means (I kind of wish it did, as the problem tends to creep up on me, unnoticed), but over the course of the last two years I’ve managed to put on roughly 1 pound a month. I’m nowhere NEAR as bad as I have ever been – my Medium shirts and some slacks have just gotten snug, but that’s it – but about two months ago I decided enough was enough.

So… it’s been two months. And I’ve put on two pounds.

*shakes head*

I’m failing at this because I’m trying to re-institute all the habits I had two years ago – tracking my intake and daily exercise and all that – all at once. It goes for a couple days, and then it falls off my radar for a week. Not for lack of trying, but just because there’s too much “Habit” there to handle all at once.

So, here and now, I am getting a Habit going: During the month of May, I’m going to get back to tracking my food intake. As I have said before, paying attention to what you’re putting in your mouth is far and away the most important thing you can do for yourself, so I’m starting there.

1. Commitment. Well, this is about as Public as I can make this commitment. You can also expect me to add little addenda to my regular posts, mentioning my point totals for the day. (Or possibly tweets.) I use Weight Watchers (the online service – which I’ve been paying for and not really using for over a year). *shakes head*
2. Practice. As I said, every day in May. For June, I think I’ll … well… let’s keep that for June.
3. Tracking. This shouldn’t be a problem as “tracking myself” is actually the point of the whole project.
4. Rewards. I’m a little hazy on what I’m going to do for this, but I *think* what I am going to say is “no computer or TV after work until you log your points.”
5. Focus. I will worry about getting back to a regular exercise schedule until June, though I have some small hope that the points tracking will also remind me when I need to do a little something extra.

And that’s it. Is this an interesting post for you? I can’t say – in this case, it’s really all about me; taking that first step of commitment and aiming the giant whupping stick of PUBLIC FAILURE at my ass.

If nothing else, watching me slog through this process should carry a faint whiff of schadenfreude. Enjoy!

Old School Dinner Plans: Cast Iron Skillet Magic

skilletSo, a few years ago, a guy I know posted about some pretty wonderful sounding food you could put together in a few minutes with fearless use of a cast-iron skillet. Sounded great, except I didn’t have one.

Then I got one – I think as part of our wedding registry, which it was on because of all that stuff I’d read – and… it sat in a cupboard, because it had a whole series of instructions on how to ‘season the pan’ and how you couldn’t actually wash the thing with soap, and you had to RE-season it after every use and…

Well, it just sounded hard.

Yes, I’m THAT lazy. Turns out that seasoning a cast-iron skillet consists of wiping it down with some vegetable oil and putting it away. Big deal.

Anyway, I decided to cowboy up this weekend and get that skillet going. Here’s what I did.

Continue reading “Old School Dinner Plans: Cast Iron Skillet Magic”

The Un-fun Parts of a Blizzard

Me: You know what sucks? Shoveling snow sucks.

Brain: You know what’s going to suck a lot more than that?

Me: … not really.

Brain: That frozen waterfall on the side of your house.

Me: Wha…

Brain: Or rather, replacing the blown-out brass sprinkler valve that the frozen waterfall originates from.

Me: No, what sucks is you. You suck.

Brain: Me?

Me: Why didn’t you tell me to shut that valve off until almost midnight last night?

Brain: Why didn’t you listen to me two weeks ago, when I told you not to turn it on in the first place, because there’s always a blizzard near the end of March?

Me: … Touche.

Brain: It’s Touché.

Me: Whatever. Why the HELL do they put a valve like that on the outside of the house, anyway? That’s the second time it’s frozen and burst in seven years.

Brain: Because if they put it on the inside, it would flood the house when something like this happened.

Me: But something like this wouldn’t HAPPEN if they put it on the inside of the —

Brain: Shh. Don’t speak. You know what happens when you speak.

Me: But —

Brain: Shh. Look, someone updated on Twitter.

Me: Oooh…

White Chili

I had trouble finding the recipe this year so, for the sake of my own ease of reference here’s the white chili recipe I trot out when the weather gets colder.
Or at least when it should get colder.

1 lb. boneless skinless chicken breast, cut into 1/2 in. cubes
1 medium onion, chopped
1.5 teasp. garlic powder
1 tbs. veg. oil
2 cans (15.5 oz) great northern beans, rinsed and drained
1 can (14.5 oz) chicken broth
8 oz chopped green chilis
1 t. salt
1 t. ground cumin
1 t. dried oregano
1/2 t. pepper
1/4 t. cayenne pepper
1 cup sour cream
1/2 cup whipping cream
In a large saucepan, saute chicken, onion and garlic powder in oil until chicken is no longer pink. Add beans, broth, chilis & seasonings. Bring to a boil. Reduce heat & simmer, uncovered, for 30 minutes. Remove from the heat, add sour cream and whipping cream. Serve immediately to about six or seven people.