The Growing Roar of Approaching Deadlines: Weekly Update

Okay so maybe I haven’t been the most productive I could be.  I don’t have reasons to offer; just excuses.  Well, not even those.  Between you and me, when too much stress piles on, I just shut down.

But when I’m staring that deadline in the face, it’s a defibrillator to the face.

My deadline isn’t so close that I can count the freckles across its pert little nose, but I can hear it coming a mile away like an approaching freight train carrying the weight of my career.*

I have exactly two weeks left.

My existence right now comprises mostly of me alternating between internally screaming and taking yoga breaths.

Since last checking in, I’ve written exactly two more pages.  (IN A WEEK.  TWO PAGES IN SEVEN DAYS WHAT EVEN?–okay, yoga breaths.  Deep breaths.)

Last night, however, I did write the first four (pretty damn decent) pages of the 10-page story I have to submit by November 2 for my next residency (in January, where we’ll sit around in groups and critique these stories.)  It’s about a girl who was drowned in the ocean and became a mermaid and the girl who helps her try to find her murderer.

Tomorrow, the goal is at least three more pages.  Also tomorrow, a dear friend from work is going to help me tackle my plot so I can write the greatest labor ever put on the shoulders of a writer my synopsis.

So here’s my plan for the next week.

Say it with me: manageable tasks.

I’m going to tackle the two 700-word assignments so they are out of the way, not gunking up the works.  With those two out of the way, the only things I have to worry about are the next twenty-five pages of my story and the two to five pages that say what’s going to happen in my story.  That’s it.

And make the conscious decision to write every day, at least a page.

This isn’t about doing battle.  This is about choosing to put another stepping stone in the path to the career I want to have.  No one is forcing me to do anything.

This next week, I’m going to change my vocabulary to replace “I have to” with “I choose to.”  Because I made the choice to get an MFA.  It was an informed choice; it has a clear end goal.  These assignments are a part of that, and I should take advantage of this opportunity to grow while I have it.

In reading news

I finished The Gone World by Tom Sweterlitsch.  SCARED. THE. CRAP. OUTTA. ME.  I physically cringed several times throughout the book.  If you’re a sci-fi fan who loves time travel and doesn’t mind graphic violence and gore, definitely check this book out.  To me, it was the book version of that long flat note they play in the background of ghost shows.

In other news

I’m trying to learn this Disney medley on the piano.  Just goes to show how long it’s been since I’ve challenged myself on the piano and fallen into the comfortable groove of the styles of just a few (*cough*one*cough*) artists.  It’s taking me forever to get this down.  Which is fine.  There’s no deadline here.  So far, I’m semi-comfortable playing the first section (Go the Distance from Hercules) and today I worked on the next one (Part of Your World from The Little Mermaid).  The part I’m really looking forward to is Zero to Hero from Hercules, about halfway through the song.

How’s your week going?

* alright so it isn’t THAT big a deal, but that doesn’t seem to matter to my stress levels, which are determined to churn out anxiety at the highest rate of production as possible

Currently playing: Beautiful by Bazzi

Currently reading: All the Birds in the Sky by Charlie Jane Anders

Drawing up Battle Plans: Weekly Update

It’s not that I have a million things that need doing this month, but the items on my to-do list feel so big and insurmountable that it feels like there’s an army of to-do soldiers charging at me.  (Something akin to Mulan facing down the Hun army on the mountain.)

First step to dealing with stress:

The space around you is your first line of defense.  Armor up.

The first thing I do when I’m getting ready for battle to write is clean up my space.  Doing this on the front side minimizes the occurrence of “Well, I can’t think of what to write next, but look, that pile of papers could use a sort-through, that’s very doable.”

It also makes me feel more prepared.  Exercising control over my environment makes me feel more in control of myself.  Which is a good feeling to have when sitting down to write IMHO.

Desk clean, I get into it.

Current battle: the dreaded synopsis

Now there are those of you out there who love writing synopses.  You’re all freaks.  That’s fine, but it isn’t my thing.  Especially when I have to write a 2-5 synopsis for a story I haven’t outlined yet.

This is the to-do item that has taken on Godzilla-like proportions, and of course it’s making a feast of my fear.  Thing is, I’ve never written a synopsis before.  And whenever I approach something I’ve never done before, there’s the possibility hanging over me that I won’t be good at it.  Fortunately, I’ve gotten to the point in the last few years that I acknowledge I’m scared but do it anyway.  In this case, the only thing getting my butt in the chair is the fact that I have to do this.

(Which was the main appeal of doing an MFA, not gonna lie.  I need the damp breath of a drill sergeant on the back of my neck to get me to do things I don’t want to do–like write 25 pages a month and figure out a synopsis for a story I haven’t planned out yet.)

The Battle Plan

Obviously, I’m a list person.  So when I’m panicking about getting stuff done, I make a to-do list.  Only this time, that wasn’t enough.  I needed a comprehensive approach to exactly how I was going to tackle this Godzilla problem.

Fortunately, I know that when I’m stuck like this, the thing to do is bring in outside help.  So I’ve recruited one of the girls I work with, who has no previous knowledge of my story, to sit down with me next week and help me brainstorm the rest of this novel.  A fresh pair of eyes is just what this novel needs.

My goal is to make a first attempt at it myself by this Saturday.  And then work with my friend next week to see what we can come up with.

And of course, this isn’t the only major thing I have to do this month.  I have to write 25 new pages (versus my critique partners, who are working on revising their first 50 pages).  I have to read a craft book (Damn Fine Story by Chuck Wendig) and write a 700-word response to it.  And write a 700-word self assessment.  The 700-word responses induce only nominal stress.  The 25 new pages and the 2-5 page synopsis are the things that get me.

That’s just for my writing course.  I also have to read two novels this month and write essays for each for my reading course.

Until next week!

Currently playing: Side Effects (feat. Emily Warren) by The Chainsmokers

Currently reading: The Gone World by Tom Sweterlitsch

Where I’ve Been + What’s Next + Time Management Tips?

June MFA Residency

I had my first MFA residency in June and it was amazing.  Stressful at first, because I didn’t know anyone but everyone already knew each other it seemed, an my little introverted self was trying to look as small as possible without looking like I was trying to look as small as possible.  But by day 2 and with the start of classes, I was thrilled to find that I clicked with everyone in my cohort.

Residency was a week of fun activities–writing, discussing, debating the finer points of Harry Potter character arcs across the lunch table.  I didn’t want to leave; I wanted to hang out with these people forever.  I felt immediately and wholly supported in my work and that has been extremely comforting as I’ve started in on schoolwork.

Time Management

The biggest challenge of this Master’s program so far is time management.  Y’all.  I always rolled my eyes whenever this dorky “time management” thing came up in undergrad.  How hard could it possibly be to get everything done?  Seriously?

I should’ve listened.

In May, I started my job at a bookstore, and one of my courses started immediately after residency (end of June) so my first deadline was the end of July and between work and school, I was struggling.  

I struggled during July while I got my feet under me, and I struggled in August because my second course started, but finally, for this month, I managed to fine tune my time management system (*eye roll*) so that I’m getting things done in a timely manner.

That’s right.  The secret to my time management success?  Math.

For my reading class: I took the page count of every book I have to read for my reading class and gave myself 10 days to read each.  That’s page count / 10 = # of pages to read per day for 10 days.  That page count gets written into my daily log and highlighted yellow (for my reading class).  And when I get it done, I cross it off.  The daily page requirement is only between 35-60 pages depending on the book, and that’s so much more manageable than a vague “be done by this date.”

For my writing:  This was so much trickier, because my writing doesn’t like to get done consistently.  I didn’t want to set a weekly goal, because I’d tried that and it just…didn’t work.  So I told myself, “I can do a page a day.  That’s manageable.”  So in my daily log, I wrote “1/25,” “2/25,” etc.  It didn’t necessarily mean I had to write, but it gave me a rough estimate of where I’d like to be on that particular day going at the rate of one page per day.

This month it turned out okay.  I was still scrambling a little bit towards the end, but I still finished with time to spare instead of cramming right up until deadline.  It’s a process I’m going to repeat next month to see if it’s a viable method.  (Wow, that just happened.  I say “viable method” now?)

What’s Next

Right now, I’m in the last month of my writing course, but only second month of my reading course.  (It’s weird, I know.)  I have so. much. to do for my writing course final.  I’ve already made a list of everything I have to do for October (writing and reading) and broken each task down into smaller tasks.  Now it’s a matter of setting some smaller deadlines and sticking to the plan.

In terms of this blog, I want to share more about my writing life as I’m living it versus a recap every four months.  So I’m going to share weekly updates.  Also, since my writing course will be over at the end of October, I want to do some writing responses during November and December to keep my writing up.  Also, would you like me to do some Q&As?  I’m happy to answer any questions you have about writing or MFA programs!

Currently playing: Through Juniper Vale

Currently reading: The Gone World by Tom Sweterlitsch