Lexifabricographer For when the right word just won’t do…

December 7, 2015

The building of habits

I write best when I write frequently.  I’ve figured that much out about my process [1].

The last few months writing have been like extracting hen’s teeth from an angry wolverine – painful and pointless. I’ve committed maybe a couple of thousand words of new text to paper in about four months. It’s been my longest fallow period since I started taking writing seriously again. (Not, I might add, my longest fallow period ever, for which see the years 1990 to 2002 or so). Certainly it was flat compared to the preceding 18 months though.

The difference was, I let myself have days off from writing – days that turned into weeks and months and would probably have lapsed into years if I didn’t do something. And luckily something came along that helped: a few weeks ago I read this article by Mary Robinette Kowal linking writer’s block to depression. Go read it, it’s a good article.

Now don’t get me wrong – I didn’t and don’t think I was suffering from depression. I am pretty sure I know what that feels like, thanks to several years of undiagnosed sleep apnoea and a sleep debt that could have put a fair-sized dent in a herd of elephants. Maybe I was a clinical case and maybe I wasn’t, but I got a clear enough glimpse of the real thing to know its general shape. But the article did give me a none-too-gentle slap across the face, woke me up and made me ask myself: “Is there something wrong?”

Even though I wasn’t writing much if at all, the idea that I had writer’s block never quite occurred to me until I read the article. And yet MKR’s list of typical expressions of writer’s block – the tiredness, the procrastination, the busywork and the general faffing about – were a straight checklist of all the avoidance behaviours I’ve been steadily accumulating since I stopped writing. That was back around the start of August.

I realised the obvious at once, which is that I had lost all momentum. I need momentum as a writer. I need to feel like I’m building steadily, getting faster and sharper and…you get the idea. When I don’t have that momentum, the gravity’s a killer. When I have to pick myself up and get going after coming to a dead stop, I feel like Jon Snow at the foot of the Wall, wondering how in the hell I’m going to get over the top, knowing there’s an army of ice zombies at my back.

I may have carried that analogy too far. Or maybe not far enough. It’s more like I’m the ice zombie, but in that case I’m not sure how to work the Wall into this and anyway never mind that right now.

MKR’s article also included several elements of what I hope will be the solution to freezing up mid-shamble (Stop that!)

First – Mary’s article mentions Habitica, a very basic roleplaying web app that effectively gamifies habit-building behaviour. Down at its core, Habitica’s core gameplay is building checklists and then ticking things off. Boring and artificial as that sounds – and is! – it’s an idea that works very well for me. I’m someone that responds strongly to making lists of things to do and then methodically ticking them off. To put it another way, an unfinished list of even trivial importance is a source of anxiety to me. So a game that rewards me for checking stuff off and sits there glowing judgmentally redly when I don’t is an embarrassingly effective brain hacking tool.

As a bonus, slavish adherence to checklists also encourages me to make sure I get all the other work around the house done as fast as possible.

Second – I’m back to exercising. I have a fairly light workout routine that mostly works the abdominal core. It only takes a few minutes and I can easily do it a couple of times a day. Supplemented with walks of thirty-plus minutes, which I manage a few times a week, I have a decent basis for at least building a bit of strength and endurance, if not necessarily shedding the winter kilos. It’s a tone-up, not a crash course in muscle building and cardio bullshit. Keeping it tight.

Third – At my height, I was writing 750 or more words per day. When I stopped, that dropped to not much more than a couple of hundred words on the few days I could manage anything at all. In the months when I was blocked, I would berate myself for not coming even close to what I knew to be an achievable target. But what I’d forgotten is that it took me months of gradually acceleration to get to that pace. It was deeply unrealistic of me to expect that I could just tool up to top speed without starting in first gear again. I’d stall, and be surprised and disappointed in myself, instead of acknowledging that stalling is the only outcome I should have expected.

So I’m giving myself a break – 100 words a day. I know that as I ease myself back into the habit of daily writing, I’ll start cranking out more. But I’ll start with the consistency, because I know that it works for me.

Fourth – I’m playing musical instruments. I have access to ukuleles and a bass guitar. I’m teaching myself how to play them using fingering charts and Youtube videos. It’s surprisingly fulfilling, even if my fingers hurt very much at the moment.

So that’s me. That’s my summer planned out. I’m getting my words back, I’m going to finish this damn first draft of the novel, and I’m going to replenish my short story stocks. And I’m going to be able to play along to the Gorillaz’ “Feelgood Inc”, even if it costs me a finger or two.

 

[1] I promise not to describe it as a process again, at least not until I finish my MFA and the lobotomy bandages have been removed.

May 21, 2014

Every Bond Theme Ever

Filed under: geekery,musical challenge — Tags: , , , — lexifab @ 3:43 pm

Prompted by a series of random Twitter comments from Chris Sims of the War Rocket Ajax podcast, and a lack of anything better to do of a Wednesday afternoon at my dead-man-walking job, I decided to rank the theme songs from every James Bond film (except the original Casino Royale and Never Say Never Again) in objective, indisputable order. You’re welcome.

(I give all due credit to Sims and his podcast partner Matt D. Wilson, who are conducting a year-long project to rank superhero comic stories, which is a lot harder than this has been)

I will take questions in the comments section.

 

Every Bond Theme Ever

On Her Majesty’s Secret Service – Instrumental (On Her Majesty’s Secret Service)

Live and Let Die – Paul McCartney (Live and Let Die)

A View to a Kill – Duran Duran (A View to a Kill)

You Know My Name – Chris Cornell (Casino Royale)

You Only Live Twice – Nancy Sinatra (You Only Live Twice)

Diamonds Are Forever – Shirley Bassey (Diamonds Are Forever)

The World is Not Enough – Garbage (The World is Not Enough)

Goldfinger – Shirley Bassey (Goldfinger)

GoldenEye – Tina Turner (Goldeneye)

Skyfall – Adele (Skyfall)

All Time High – Rita Coolidge (Octopussy)

Nobody Does It Better – Carly Simon (The Spy Who Loved Me)

Surrender – k.d. lang (Tomorrow Never Dies)

From Russian With Love – Matt Monroe (From Russia With Love)

The Living Daylights – A-ha (The Living Daylights)

For Your Eyes Only – Sheena Easton (For Your Eyes Only)

Moonraker – Shirley Bassey (Moonraker)

We Have All the Time in the World – Louis Armstrong (On Her Majesty’s Secret Service)

The Man With the Golden Gun – Lulu (The Man with the Golden Gun)

Thunderball – Tom Jones (Thunderball)

Tomorrow Never Dies – Sheryl Crow (Tomorrow Never Dies)

Underneath The Mango Tree – Diana Coupland/Monty Norman (Doctor No)

Licence to Kill – Gladys Knight (Licence to Kill)

Another Way to Die – Jack White and Alicia Keys (Quantum of Solace)

Die Another Day – Madonna (Die Another Day)

 

Not ranked:

James Bond Theme – Monty Norman (All of them) – disqualified on grounds of ubiquity and essentiality

If There Was a Man – Chrissie Hynde (The Living Daylights) – unranked because I just cannot remember it at all, but if it’s Chrissie Hynde then it will for sure be at or near the top ten mark.

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