Earlier this year I read a book called Deep Work by Cal Newport. I loved it so much that I decided to read another of his books, Digital Minimalism. I’m still in the process of that one, but so far, I’m loving it, too.
I know productivity gets a bad rap, but I love learning how to improve, how to be better at, more efficient at, and yes, more productive at because I haven’t been in such a fucking long time that everything and everyone has shot right on by me in this world of being a romance writer. And though comparison is a bad thing… I know this first hand and I know what it can do to creativity and mental health, it’s not hard not to see that my writing career stuttered to less than a crawl in the last…too many years.
I am not satisfied with this.
I am no where done with telling stories.
So, for me to apply deep work (focus) to my writing, I needed to go on a digital minimalistic journey (eliminate some or all of the distractions that had me reaching for my phone or the tablet or the remote control…social media on my phone, in my case). Has it helped? Some, yes.
Without spending time scrolling Instagram, I’ve recovered some hours in my day. I’ve started exercising with a little bit more focus, caught up on household chores that I’d let slide, relaxed more (physically and mentally), and have had an increase in book ideas, story fixes, and overall the creative thoughts have begun to return.
I haven’t written as much as I hoped by this time of the month, but honestly, I’m still happy with the small progress because I’m enjoying writing again. I’m not influenced, nor am I concerned with what anyone else is writing or reading. I’m not listening to any you should or shouldn’t advice unless I’m specifically seeking out information on certain things. I’m just concerning myself with…me in this writing space.
When I started out way back when, I wrote the stories I wanted to write without thinking about marketability, or reader interest. Is this the smart way to do it? Most would say no, especially if publishing is the goal. But here’s the thing I’ve learned… If there’s no love in it, if there’s no joy in it, if I’m not interested in reading it, then there’s not going to be any writing. And the reader I used to write for was me, which means, the reader I need to write for now is me.
I’m listening to music, using a timer for sprints, and just writing where my heart and head lead me. I’m more focused on just telling the story I want to tell and deleting Instagram has helped me do this. My brain and spirit needed a bit of a break.
So… We’re basically halfway through July and I’ve read a few more books than previously, and I have something like…13 active stories that I’m writing on with each in various stages of completion. A couple of them are around the 2/3 – 3/4 mark, some are nearing the 1/2 way mark, and a number of them are in the early chapters. There are novels, novellas, and short 5K word stories (I have plans for these short pieces that I’ll share soon). All of this… I was so distracted from it all and now that I’m not, I’m in a happy place, mentally and creatively.
Not being on social media… Facebook has a lot of author and publishing and collaboration information and I know I’ve missed out on a lot, but I couldn’t trust myself to just stick to boundaries I set for myself. Will that always be the case? I hope not because I’d love to be part of a community of writers who learn and encourage and support and share with each other, but the drama shit was too mentally draining. Book Twitter became a place for judgment and gatekeeping and it was no longer enjoyable for me. Instagram just made me feel like I wasn’t pretty enough, skinny enough, extroverted enough, productive enough, or anything else enough.
I was hella distracted by all of these and with each one I deleted, I gained more of myself back.
I’m digitally minimal right now with regards to social media. I don’t know when or how that’ll change going forward, but for the time being, it’s what I need.
I’m learning to apply deep work to the things I want to get done with regards to my writing career, focusing on the things that will get me where I want to go, and learning to enjoy the journey again without the distraction of shiny things or the creativity killer, comparison.
…but I’ve learned that planners don’t work for me.
I read a book recently, Dear Writer, You Need To Quit by Becca Syme. It was great and it gave me a lot to think about. One of the things was a process the author calls QTP or Question The Premise. This is a tool to use when you need to question something, perhaps when something isn’t working the way you think it should or when you start to adopt a thought process because it works for everyone else and you believe it should work for you, too. For instance:
Planners make people more productive. But…do they?
Everyone should write every day. But…should they?
Procrastination is bad. But…is it?
Becca suggests questioning the premise of the thought, idea, statement, belief, etc… And it can work with anything. She has a whole series of QTP videos on various things regarding writing and I haven’t watched them all yet, but I will because I’m learning a lot. She has one about planning the year out and I did plan my year out because everyone says you should and I fell off that wagon before January was finished and now I’m curious about her QTP video about the subject.
Anyway, so yesterday I found Becca’s video about planners on YouTube and I’ll link it at the end for you to watch if you’re interested. Basically, I fit what she describes.
I buy the planner. I use it for a bit. Then I don’t.
And then I see all the writers who use planners, who swear they’re more productive because of the planners, who spend hours and small fortunes on decorations and stickers for the planners…
Inevitably, I think that I just haven’t found the right planner yet. I haven’t found the right system or method or layout or collection yet. So, I’ll waste time searching online, going to the stores (when they were open for us to do that), spend money I don’t need to spend on yet another planner that should work because it worked for this or that writer.
When I get home, I’ll lay it all out and fill it in and check the boxes when I’ve done the things, all proud of myself for about 3 days or 10 days or a month, sometimes I can stretch the feeling for 2 months, and then… I don’t use it again for weeks and weeks.
Then… Because I’m hella behind, I’ll feel a surge of ‘boy, I was more productive when I used the planner’ and I’ll open it up, skipping ahead to the current date and start again only to fall off even faster. Pretty soon, I’ll start beating myself up because I’m not productive at all, planner or no. I’ll go right for the I’m just too damn lazy spin and I’ll stay here for a while, then dust myself off and just go about life without a planner. But the cycle will start all over again. It always does. Because there’s something wrong with me. I have a defect. It’s me. Not the planner. Not the system or method or anything else. It’s me.
And truthfully, it is me, to a point.
I’m not a planner person.
I’m not a planner. Not like that.
I’m what Becca describes as a Data Responsive person… And I fit her definition of If I see it, I’ll do it.
She uses another term… Data Controlling. If I plan it, I’ll do it. That’s not me. Planning three months, six months… Hell, planning one month in advance or even a week in advance doesn’t work for me.
I do like getting all the shit out of my head because it will help me focus to brain dump. And I do like seeing the list. I do like crossing things off the list. But I’ve tried three different planning methods this year so far and it’s only the middle of April.
So, what does this mean for me? Well, it means, I need to resist the temptation to buy planners. I need to unsubscribe to all the planner newsletters I receive. It also means I need to stick to that which does make me more productive and what does keep me on top of all the things. I need to be able to see things. I tend to look up more than I tend to look down and when I look up, I see the whiteboard and the calendars on the wall. Everything is written out in bright colors and catches my eye and triggers something in my brain. I know these things work for me, but damn, I wanted the planners to work because the planners work for everyone else! Or…do they? (See what I did there? LOL)
Another thing that works for me is not getting up from my desk. Once I get up from my desk, I don’t want to come back to it, so my list of get-to-do’s needs to be short and sweet and only comprised of the top things I want to get done that day. I plan to try the index card or post-it note method to see if either of those will work for me along with writing things up on the calendars.
I have three calendars on the wall…
One is yearly. I put releases up on that one.
Another is monthly. I add my daily word count on that one.
The last one is weekly. I haven’t used it much, but the idea is to take what’s on my index card/post-it note and add it to the calendar each day so by the end of the week, I can see progress being made. I’m one of those people who needs something enforced multiple times and in multiple places so it gets into my head.
I also have a large, plain whiteboard where I keep plot points or other books ideas so I don’t forget them, or things I might need to work out, or the direction I want to take a book in. I have a OneNote account where I keep this information, too, but if it’s not IN FRONT OF MY FACE like the whiteboard, I won’t open it up, I won’t look at it. I will, in fact, forget that it exists most of the time even though the folder is on the desktop.
I need to see it in order to do it. It doesn’t need to have an extra step like open or find under a stack or clear the desk so I can use it.
I’ll miss looking for the pretty planners and seeing all the cool things that people do with them, but planners don’t make me more productive and therefore are a waste of time for me.
Another thing about me…
I’m an all in person. If I see one part of thing needs to be done, I’ll do all of it. For instance, laundry… If I see one group of things needs to be washed, I’ll decide there and then that it all needs to be done and I’ll just do it. I was trying the house cleaning method of this room this day and that room another day and nope. I would rather do it all and get it finished. That kind of lends itself to the If I see it, I’ll do it mindset as well. I don’t want to have to drag cleaning supplies out multiple times a week or fold laundry every day of the week. I’d rather just do it and get it done.
Same with reading a new book. I want to read it all. Either the whole book or the whole series. I want to spend every waking moment reading until finished.
And the same with television shows. I’d rather binge and finish, than to start and stop and start and stop. I’ll lose interest, even if it’s something I love.
If I see it, I’ll do it. If not, I won’t do it at all, or I’ll forget about it for a while until something triggers my brain about it.
So, I’m going to link the video from Becca here about planners and let me know which type of person you are… Does a planner work for you and help you be more productive or are you more like me in that you need to see it and then you’ll do it?
I have to start off by thanking everyone who read and commented through email or on social media about last week’s post: 5 Things I Learned About Resistance to Change. That it touched some of you enough that you reached out was more than I expected when I posted it. But that it did resonate with you, tells me that we could all use a little more vulnerability in our lives and maybe a little more facing the things that hold us back.
I told you I would post some of the things I am doing to combat my resistance to change, to combat my fears, so, if you’re still interested, keep reading… All of what you’ll read below is personal. It’s personal changes I’m making in order to fix and define Lissa Matthews and the Lissa Matthews brand.
One of the big questions in this arena of fear that I’ve successfully cultivated has been ‘Yes, and…?’
I’m losing readers. Yes, and…?
I’m losing respect and credibility. Yes, and…?
I’m scared I’ll fail. Yes, and…?
See a pattern here? There are many other statements I’ve made over the years to foster the fears and fill my own personal arena. But the big different between then and now, is my addition to the statement. “Yes, and…?”
Yes, and… is asking So, what are you going to do about it? What are you going to do to change things? What actions can you take, will you take to get your ass out of that broken down arena and into a brand spankin’ new stadium? For a long time my response was ‘Fuck if I know.’ That, I’m happy to report is no longer my mindset.
And that is the first thing I’m doing…
Change in Mindset… This had to come from me. From inside. When I was ready. I know my faults. I know my weaknesses. I’m learning about the things that hold me back. I’m learning about my limiting thoughts and how they’ve helped me remain stagnant. All of the things on this list are difficult, but changing mindset encompasses all of them and more, and therefore I think, is the most challenging.
Living in a state of fear, of resistance, of scarcity, of lack kept me hunched and curled up inside, shriveled and small, full of blame, envy, poor pitiful me, and stressed. And the saddest and scariest part of it was that I was content there. I was comfortable there. How fucked up is that? Seriously? That was my comfort zone. And being there, nothing ever changed. I was this… person that I didn’t like. I was bitter and scared. And I counted myself out. I. COUNTED. MYSELF. OUT. And that shit sucks. When you grow up fearing letting people in, fearing hurt, fearing abandonment, fearing trying, fearing failure, fearing what others thought, fearing being different, fearing finding out who you really are… Your comfort zone is fear, is lack, is dread, is the belief that you’re never going to get beyond and have the life you have only dared to dream about in small increments.
Well, I sure as hell wasn’t getting anywhere that way… But I had to be ready. No one could tell me to change. No one could tell me to let it go. I had to make the decision. I had to make the choice. I had to decide that Okay, I’m done with this. I’m done being mediocre and broke on the inside and in my bank account and in my heart and soul. I’m done. Yes, a push is good and a push is what I got, but I still had to be open to it. I still had to be ready to receive what changing my mindset from lack and fear and limiting thoughts and resistance would do for me.This year, 2018, I made the choice! I took the push and let it shove me over the edge and into change, into embracing whole-heartedly what was on the other side. I’m still doing it, still moving in, still setting up shop in this new mindset of Abundance. It’s a wide open space full of light and color. Sometimes it’s scary and I want to retreat back to where I came from. I had several days in a row like that this week and I was able to realize and SEE that I was miserable that way. Oh. My. God. I was able to look in the mirror at myself and say “I don’t like this. I don’t want to be this way again. It’s awful.” And I put on what I call my Badass 2018 playlist in Spotify and shake myself out of it, dance myself out of it. Because while there are hard days and bad days and less than productive days and days where I am not sure I’m making any progress at all, I am still in this light and open and colorful space where there’s support and learning and growth and creative thoughts and ideas and passion happening, where changes propel me forward and I see and feel the good and I can employ a phrase I read recently in Jen Sincero’s You Are A Badass… “This is good because…”
The abundance mindset isn’t necessarily about money, though, yes, that, too. But it’s more an abundance of creativity, empowerment, strength, love, friendship, connection, laughter, focus, desire, beauty, kindness, openness, giving, receiving… And when I embrace these things, this mindset, I feel it, I experience it. I become the person I could have been all along had I not lived 40something years in fear.
So, that’s one thing I am doing. I am changing my mindset. I am changing how I see myself and my world and my work. It’s unlike anything I’ve imagined it could be. But that’s not all, folks…
Attitude of Gratitude… This isn’t as easy as maybe it should be. It’s not as natural as it definitely should be. I have to be mindful. I sometimes have to force it…at first. But once I get started, things roll off my tongue. My kids. Food in the pantry. The $7 royalty check that came in the mail when I have $30 to my name and I won’t see another royalty check until the 29th. Coffee in the fridge. Books to read. Good friends. Family who loves me. Racing season. My health. Myself. My life. My ability to tell a story. That you guys read last weeks blog and allowed it to touch you. Music. People reaching out to me, offering to help me, to help teach me, to help guide me. For the life I want and deserve. For everything. I. AM. GRATEFUL! Gratitude for and in everything. At various times of the day. This makes me feel incredible. And as I said, it should be easy to say thank you, but… it’s not. It’s life changing when living in gratitude, when being grateful rather than down trodden and harsh and oh woe is me brightens up the mental and emotional spaces. Being grateful has opened my eyes, has started softening me, making me a gentler and kinder and more genuine person.
Routine… I work for myself. I am self-employed. At least, I played at it (ch-ch-ch-changes). I didn’t have to have a routine. I could do my job whenever, wherever. I was home all day. Please, feel free to call bullshit with me. Because that’s what it all is, what it all was… Bullshit. So, I have a routine now and there are changes to this daily and working toward getting comfortable with those changes is a work in progress and one I’ll share with you if you want. But for the purpose of this post, I now have a routine. I need the routine. I need the structure and focus of the routine. Built into it is time to myself, time for work, time for household things, time for rest, time for reading, time for sleep.
I’ve never, ever been a morning person. However, that is a lie. I’ve never been a 5am-5:30am-6:30am-7am and beyond morning person. I used to think I was a night person, and while I did some great work between 1am and 3am, that was a lie, as well. For the last… 9 months to a year, I’ve had a lot of mornings that I’d wake up, and I mean be wide awake, at 4:30am. I’d look at the clock and think to myself, Nope. No way in hell am I getting my ass out of bed at 4:30am. It would usually take about 30min for me to force myself back to sleep and when the alarm roused me at 6am, I was groggy, grumpy, irritated, and just not very nice. A few weeks ago, I woke up at 4:30am again, and this time I was like, what the hell, I’ll get up. I’ll try this. They say the most successful people get up early and get their day started, I’ll give it a shot. I’m awake. And I know I’ll be bitchy if I stay in bed until the alarm goes off. I was surprised. Completely and totally surprised. I felt incredible. I felt amazing. I felt…dare I say it, Productive. I got started on some work. I had coffee. I had a quiet house. I turned on YouTube and did some yoga. I did some more work. And when I heard people moving around upstairs, I went up to take a shower and came back down to deal with chores and cats. Then, I got back to work.
For the first time in a long, long, LONG time, I was productive. I was moving in the right direction. It has been life-changing. There’s that word again. Change. Do you see it? I’m embracing changes. I’m making changes. I fought the changes and that fight got me NOWHERE.
My day starts at 4:30am. Even on weekends. Naps are incorporated into my day, sometimes. But I will tell you this… On the days at 4:30am is NOT realized, I feel like shit. I’m grumpy, groggy, stressed, frustrated, bitchy, irritated, short with everyone, scattered and unfocused, sleepy, and unproductive.
Learning what works for me is truly mind-blowing. A routine… I needed a routine and I now have one.
Forgiveness… Forgiving others is easier. Forgiving myself is… Well, the truth of the matter is, it’s fucking hard. Forgiving myself for not living up to my own expectations and carrying around the ‘well, I didn’t do it today and yesterday was a bust, too. Might as well not even try tomorrow or the next day. I’ll try against next week.’ I’ve done this on diets and with writing and with housework and with…well, pretty much everything at one time or other. Forgiving myself for how I have treated someone. Forgiving myself for how I have treated myself, for how harsh I’ve been to myself. Forgiving myself for not meeting my goals for the day, for not getting up on time, for curling up in the chair and watching movies all day. Forgiving myself for my attitudes of jealousy and envy and blame. Forgiving myself and letting it all go… Pulling it all up from the soles of my feet to the top of my head and pushing it all out. Easing the burden on my heart, my soul, my mind. The harder I hold it in. The harder it is to let go. The darker and harder I become. But when I do forgive myself and let go? I can pick up and move on lighter, easier. I can see clearer. I can be kinder to myself and in how I talk about and see myself. And that, my friends, also goes back to that whole change in mindset thing.
Having a Plan… This list is in no particular order. All things on it are important and necessary for me to turn my life and my writing career around so I can start going in the right direction, which is UP!
This having a plan thing has become crucial to what I want to do. I want to write. I want to publish. I want old readers back and I want a slew of new readers. I want to touch and move and inspire people with my words. I have always loved to write. Since I was a kid. I loved to make up stories and tell them and live in them. They were my escape from the parts of my real life that were shit. And stories are an escape for a lot of others, too. But I didn’t know how to achieve what I wanted. Oh sure, I had a general idea. But, not a complete and whole idea. And I definitely didn’t have a plan for how to put said idea into practice.
Talk to most authors, bloggers, creatives of all sorts, business people of all sorts and they’ll tell you they have a plan. It might just be loosely written on a cocktail napkin. Or it may be very detailed and span many pages and be bound in leather. But there’s a plan. I didn’t have a plan. Ever. I wanted to write the book and submit the book and move on to the next one. That was the extent of my planning. I didn’t plan series and I didn’t plan long term WTF are you going to do if something goes wrong in publishing… I didn’t pay attention close enough and I didn’t plan. And I lost.
Back in December, I decided I was going to have a plan going into the new year. I was going to figure this shit out. I was going to dig myself out of the fucked up mess I was in and I was going to make it. I had already broken it. As I said before, there was and is nowhere else to go but UP. I have to make it. Will the Lissa Matthews brand shift and sway a bit more before I get it all figured out? Yes. There is no doubt in my mind about that. How it will shift and sway, I don’t know. You’ll have to stay tuned for that in the coming months.
The plan for me is loose. It’s been written and re-written and then, re-written, yet again. It has publishing dates for re-releases and new releases. It has exactly how many books I want to write new this year. It has pre-order dates.
I have a loose blog plan. Blog twice a week.
Something I heard a couple of years back is the word FOCUS. I shared this with y’all back then, but I’ll share it again now.
Writing is one course.
Blogging is one course.
Newsletter building is one course.
Social media is one course.
Marketing is one course.
All these can be broken down even more, broken down into much smaller, much more focused detail. But for this post, that’s a general idea.
It’s like when you’re trying to lose weight or incorporate exercise or switch from sugary coffee to coffee no sugar, etc… Focusing on one shift at a time until you succeed, allows that shift to stick when you move on to the other next shift in behavior you need to make. Some people can tackle it all at once and it work. Most of us, can’t. We get discouraged when we bite off more than we can chew, when we make all the shifts at once and the results aren’t immediate. We give up.
Building what I want from Lissa Matthews will take singular focus. Building what I want from my personal life will take the same singular focus. Working with them in concert will help align them.
So, I have a publishing plan.
I have a blogging plan. This 5 Things post is a weekly thing. I’m focusing on it. Making sure it’s on the blog every week.
My focus is consistency. Being consistent with releases and publishing 5 Things on the blog once a week.
And I have to say, y’all… I have never, since I started pursuing writing, felt more alive and more positive and more determined than I have in the last 6 weeks. I’m shifting, I’m changing, I’m moving forward. Having a plan is going to get me where I want to go. Having a road map, however loose it is, is going to help me get to my ultimate destination.
Which leads me back to the beginning of this post. “Yes, and…?”
All these fears I’ve struggled with on an hourly basis for YEARS: Fear of the unknown, of failure, of success, of discomfort, of loss… Beating myself up while remaining stagnant and scared… My answers to “Yes, and…?” A change in mindset, giving into a routine, forgiveness, creating a plan, and learning to be grateful… There are more, of course. And if you want to know what else I’m doing to shift from downtrodden and lacking hope to I’m a total BADASS and I’ve got this, let me know.
Thank you again for listening… Being vulnerable is not easy. Sharing yourself at your lowest points is not easy. Admitting you screwed up and are the one to blame is not easy. Changing is not easy… But change and growth is necessary if we are to break out whatever corner our fears have forced us into.