Wood sorrels are wonderful things (referring to the picture). They’re a tasty wild-food, they make a wonderfully delicate flower, and they never wonder about anything except propagation of their own seed.
It’s about eight in the morning here. I haven’t kept up and pre-written my blog as I normally do (and I have two to write today, so expect a second email). I have several projects on my plate, in addition to the day-job, and even my property work has been downgraded in status.
All of this began the other day when I woke up with an idea in my head. I was laying on the floor, finding a comfortable position for my pillow, and it hit me. I knew exactly what I wanted to do with Gecko Print Publishing. The company until this point has been a place-holder. Just a name, and a logo on the back of my books. But I didn’t register the name for it to only be a self publishing endeavor. I simply wasn’t sure which direction to take it.
On that day, I woke up and went to work, and since that morning, everything has been pushed aside to make way for the changes coming down the pipe.
Wake up to a Win
Every morning, my routine is exactly the same. It is a series of steps that I complete in order, and it’s always the same, no matter what I’m doing that day, or where I’m going to be. My journal has been pushed back, and still precedes my writing time, but I consider each step a tiny win.
First off, pushing myself up off the floor. Getting moving in the morning is probably the hardest thing I’ll do all day (even if I’m sawing in the woods). The next step is putting my boots on, so I can go outside with a Monster energy drink and smoke. Yes, I realize this is unhealthy, but it’s my equivalent of morning coffee and a biscuit. It might not seem like a victory, but it centers me. It moves my focus away from going back to sleep, and toward whatever direction I need to go that day. I do this every morning, without exception, and it’s my win. I’ve woken up, and even if I’m still tired as hell, I’m better prepared for the day ahead.
The next step is the bathroom. In addition to normal bodily faculties, I take a shower and brush my teeth. Doesn’t matter if I’m in the woods and that means going through extra steps to make it happen with no running water. This is my next win. At this point, I’ve shaken off the groggy and produced something. I’m in motion, and once in motion, it’s harder to stop. I’ve never finished a shower and laid back down to fall asleep.
Next comes focus. I used to do a brain dump in my journal every morning, but sometimes my shift starts at five, and I use the journal now to wash off whatever remains before beginning a writing session.
These steps might seem simple, but having a preparatory routine prepares you mentally and physically to begin the work.
Prior to writing, I have some precursors as well. I take a short drive, usually to a coffee shop. I write in my journal, at least a page. I take a short break with a coffee and a cigarette. I then sit down and go straight to work without interruption. I will sometimes include a ten-minute social media perusal with these, but of late, I simply can’t. By the time I get through my routine, I’m ready to work, and I go straight to it.
You have to know yourself and your distractions. My phone doesn’t ring often, and all social media push notifications are disables. I don’t get alerts and BS. I check my email and social when I slot time to do so. Otherwise, my project for that day has been selected and my fingers are on the keys.
This is precisely what I’m doing now. Before swapping to another project, I take a short break. I don’t multi-task very often (though I did one day this week). I have one project to work on for the day, a deadline, and a target, and I put all of my energy to that. Everything else can wait. If I finish early, I can pivot, but I rarely do. The clock nearly always runs out before my work does.
On a day where society doesn’t require me to be anywhere in particular (like a weekend for most people), I’ll generally start as early as my normal work-day, and continue on until at least noon. At some point I need to break for food, as it’s one of life’s little inconveniences. Other than that, I try to stay on task and busy, working toward whatever goal(s) need(s) to be accomplished. This is the essence of the work. Sound’s tough, right? But I’m not especially gifted in motivation. I’m actually just as lazy as everyone else, maybe lazier. So how do I groove into these intensive work sessions?
Have a Grand Goal
If you are working on something artistic, then you should believe in your work. But believing in the work you are doing, and your abilities, is often hard for beginners. If you’ve been sewing seeds without reaping any fruit, you can become destabilized by crushing self-criticism.
This is one reason I like NaNoWriMo. It’s generally agreed that every November, a bunch of crap is added to the grand slush pile of the writing world, but that crap serves a very specific purpose. I never knew I could write a novel until I finished one. No amount of coaching can help. You simply have to sit down and do the thing.
The magic of a first draft, a finished riff, a poem, a song, a sculpture, a painting, or even that first home-run in front of a minor league crowd brings with it something magical. It reinforces the idea that you ARE capable of doing the thing you seek. You absolutely can do it. You did it once, and you can do it again. Consider it a right of passage. If you haven’t finished a first draft, this is why it’s so essential to do so, at least if you want to be a writer.
The next right of passage usually comes with your first fan. Someone you’ve never met before praises your work. This gives you confidence in what you are doing, and makes it feel important.
Neither of these rites is guaranteed (they aren’t rights). But they can separate the energy levels between a pro and an amateur. You can short-cut this process though. In fact, you need to. Just tell every negative thought or person to fuck off, and defend the importance of your work. You need to do this. If you didn’t, then it wouldn’t be so important to you.
It’s not promises of gold, glitter, or fame that drive my work. It’s the audience out there waiting for my book to show up so they can read it, even those people who don’t know I’m writing a book for them. There is no greater joy in art than finding an appreciative caretaker of your work, be it a book, a song, a painting, etc. Someone out there needs your work, and you can deliver, or you can let them down. But the first step is creating the work. You can’t deliver something that doesn’t exist, no matter how good at marketing you are.
Focus on one thing, and one thing only.
When I sit down to work, the most important thing in the world is whatever project is sitting in front of me. Right now, it’s this blog post. I’m not drudging through it thinking, okay, let me finish this damn thing so I can get on with what I need to do. If it wasn’t important, I wouldn’t be doing it. My goal in this post is to convey that same sense of importance to the reader, whether you’ve been following my blog since I started it in 2015, or it’s your first time on my website.
Your work HAS to be important. That alone can make or break your focus during a work period. If you are attacking a project because it’s important, you will find that the longer you work on it, the more driven you are.
I started working on a website app the other day for a project that I believe NEEDS to happen, whether I do it or someone else does. I got so tangled up in it that I built an entire website from scratch, found out that it wasn’t going to work on my current platform, and made plans to migrate my platform. The next day I was off from the day-job, and for 11 hours straight (with a short break for lunch) I devoted my time to moving my whole online presence to another platform and learning PHP. I was scribbling notes about how the site should look, what my targets are moving forward, etc. And none of this had anything to do with my original idea a few days ago.
You see, inspiration doesn’t usually show up, and when it does, it’s never a finished product. My goal of earning some extra money through a special skill led to building a website as a hub. If I was going to take the business up a notch, I thought, I had better build an email list. My whole idea was writing lead magnets for myself instead of clients, a B2B market that I’m very familiar with. That led to website, website to “I need a lead magnet for myself too,” and then wondering about what my future emails to that list would look like.
Since my business is all about books and writing, why not show off some of the best indie books available when they are at a wonderful benefit to new customers. This idea is in line with both of my goals, spreading great work and helping other indies find their footing. I don’t care that I didn’t write the books I’m advertising, I’m going to show the world that there ARE good books out there that don’t have to come from mainstream channels, where only a handful of selections are available each month. I also want to help them sort through the aforementioned slush pile to find only the best new indie books, again, even if they aren’t mine. These goals led me to the API app, and at this point I’ve forgotten completely about the lead magnet thing.
In other words, I was inspired to earn some quick money working an extra 10 hours per week. That inspiration forced me to build a new platform, which encouraged a new feature that might be pretty cool. That feature has become the sole purpose of my current work for Gecko Print Publishing. The rest of the business doesn’t matter if that part doesn’t get hashed out and working, and I damn well know it. I have confidence that I’m right in my decisions (rightly or wrongly), and I think it is an important project that NEEDS to happen, two requisites for deep work.
As a result, I can sit here and work as long as I need to, completely ingrain myself in my work, and let a nagging stomach ache be my alert to break off for food. Then, right back to work. As a result, it’s easy to “finish my damn book.”
Adjust your priorities, decide what you want, make it important, and put your fingers on the proverbial keys. That’s all it is, and that’s everything.