Setting (realistic) daily goals

August 13, 2014 in Blogging, On Writing

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About 10 days ago, I posted about taking a new approach to my writing, and that’s to treat every single day as a challenge. So far, it has worked out OK. I’ve been more efficient, but still nowhere near as effective as I want to be.

Part of the problem is that the extent to which I challenge myself can vary greatly on a day-to-day basis. Some days I feel pumped and challenge myself to do a lot. Other days I’m not in the mood and I challenge myself to do very little.

And so I’ve come up with a second prong to my strategy, and that’s to set (realistic) goals every day. Back in the day when I was busy working at The Place That Shall Not Be Named, writing daily task lists was my favourite thing to do. I loved writing down everything that needed to be accomplished and then enjoying the sense of accomplishment as I ticked them off one by one. To some extent it did help me become more organized because there was often so much to do that I felt completely swamped, but usually it was so I could tick things off a list and feel good about myself.

I need to bring that back. From now, I will write up a list every morning of the things I should complete for the day. I usually set extremely unrealistic goals for myself, so I’m going to try and slowly build it up, like a workout (you can’t start off with the heavy weights, you know).

Will report back on that works out.

Treating every day as a challenge

August 4, 2014 in Blogging, On Writing

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Is it August already? Hory shet. Time has flown, again. And so I go back to feeling ashamed about how few steps I have taken towards achieving my writing goals.

But I think I have figured it out

My problem has always been — apart from laziness, procrastination and too many distractions — has been the steadfast belief that I have the power to just put my foot down and say, “That’s it, from now on I am going to be a writing machine, every day until I accomplish my goal.” I would plan ahead and tell myself that I would start powering through at X date, or as soon as I finish X.

Of course, nothing ever goes according to plan. There’s always something else. And so I keep postponing, and postponing. On paper, some of the reasons are legitimate. I might get sick, slashing my productivity at work in half and squeezing dry any free time I otherwise would have had. A child might get sick, in which case my energy levels drop to near-empty and I can barely even think. I might get a new freelance case that gobbles up both time and energy. Paul George might break his leg and plunge me into a mini-depression for a few days.

The line between reason and excuse, however, is perilously thin and often blurry. I’ve postponed writing because I needed to watch a movie or listen to a Grantland podcast. Because there were new levels available in Candy Crush or Plants vs Zombies 2 that had to be conquered ASAP. Because someone recommended me a new game on the iOS. And my fall-back excuse: I still have blog posts I need to catch up on.

I compare this to my constant thirst to begin a healthier diet, which may prove even more difficult. Last week, the excuse was because my parents bought us a few tubs of gelato. This week it’s the honey mustard pretzel pieces. And yesterday I bought some addictive Japanese sour grape gummies. OK, so that last one’s legit, because it’s impossible to stop once you start eating them.

I digress.

Anyway, what I should have realized long ago is that when you have something you want to do, you just need to do it. This “start when I’m fully ready” thing never works because I’ll never be fully ready. I don’t think anyone is ever fully ready for anything. From now on, I’m going to treat every day as a challenge. A challenge to get as much writing done as I can. It could be work-related, blog-related or one of my writing projects. Doesn’t matter, as long as I challenge myself to get the most out of the day. Sometimes I’ll have off days and struggle, but the goal will always be the same. No more looking into the future and no more pointless planning.

I guess we’ll see how this new strategy goes.

Goodbye 2013, there’s gonna be some changes around here

December 31, 2013 in Best Of, Blogging, Misc

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True story: I didn’t even know that it’s New Year’s Eve today until someone asked me what my plans were for tonight. Such is the cloudy mist of routine, exhaustion and apathy that surrounds me these days when it comes to figuring out what is happening outside the bubble of my existence. It felt like yesterday when I said goodbye to 2012 and ushered in an endless list of things I want to accomplish for the upcoming 12 months. And just like that, 2013 is now about to be over!

It’s been a strange year, to say the least. Up at the top of the list is the welcoming of my second child, the absolute highlight of 2013. It’s a different experience when you have a second one. In some ways you care less, and in other ways you care more. I’ve been fortunate enough to be blessed with a healthy boy, a very good boy, one who shits on the notion that “having one child is like having one child, having two children is like having 10.” On the other hand, his elder brother is growing to be quite the handful, so I suppose things even themselves out.

Family has been a gift this year and through all the trials and tribulations I’ve come to appreciate them more than ever, even when my parents are doing their best impressions of Frank and Estelle Costanza.

You know, it’s interesting. Whenever I used to think about who I would step in front of a bus for, there were always people I’d say “yes” for, though there would always be a question in the back of my mind as to whether, when push came to shove, I’d really be able to go through with it. When it comes to my kids, however, it’s a resolute and unequivocal yes. Not even a hint of hesitation. I guess that’s what unconditional love feels like.

While I miss my dear Sydney friends, many of whom I was lucky enough to catch up with during my most recent visit, the friends I have made in Taiwan have been awesome and play another part in my comfortable existence here, complete with regular movies, all the latest TV shows, the occasional book (btw, I smashed my goal of 20 books this year by going for 23), every Pacers game (yay!), and lots of great food and exercise. Oh, and evidently, blogging. But as I have said many times this year, comfort has been a double-edged sword that has sapped me of my career motivations.

That’s where I have to make some changes, man, for 2014. For real. Time to ramp things up and cast aside the distractions. And to be fair, a lot of my distractions are distractions because I allow them to be. That’s it! I’m clearing the plate and licking my chops. Next year, writing MUST be at the forefront of my priorities. Books must be completed. Screenplays must be attempted. Stuff needs to get done.

And that’s all I have to say about that.

Now go and enjoy your 2014.

No more excuses

October 16, 2013 in Blogging, Novel, On Writing

no excuses

I was surprised to see that it’s been about a dozen days since I last posted. And is it really October already? Time flies when you have a full plate.

The last couple of weeks have indeed been hectic but have also allowed me to put things in perspective. My elder son contracted some crazy contagious virus again at daycare and I had to take a few days off work to look after him because we had to segregate him from my younger son to prevent contamination.

Spending so much time with him has been exhausting and great at the same time. He’s really become obsessed with basketball (“ba-ke-bo”, he calls it) and we went about four days straight to practice at nearby courts, sometimes for as long as two or three hours. We would then follow that up with a stroll to a mall in the afternoon and then games at home after a shower. My wife has her hands full with the three-month old so most of the time it’s just me and him.

Kids really are amazing creatures. Maybe it’s because I recently read the book Mindset by Carol Dweck (which I am in the process of reviewing) which is all about living up to your potential by equipping yourself with the right frame of mind. My son has that eagerness and fearlessness right now; he’s curious about everything and once he becomes fascinated with something he can work at it for hours and hours without getting tired or losing interest. He just wants to learn and grow, whereas most of us grownups just want to get by, or worse, achieve something without genuinely putting in the time and effort.

Initially I thought taking a child who hasn’t even turned two to play basketball would be a waste of time because the ball was nearly as big as him and he couldn’t even hold onto it properly. Besides, I wanted to play myself and didn’t want to share the ball. But he chased me around and whined and he whined until I gave the ball to him, and then he began trying to imitate me bouncing the ball off the ground. He stumbled and fell at least a dozen times, scraping both knees until they bled, but he wouldn’t let me take the ball off him or show him how to do it. He wanted to learn for himself.

Amazingly, by the end of that session, he had learned how to bounce the ball with his hands a couple of times. It was only then that he would let me teach him to try and bounce the ball with his fingertips rather than slapping it with his palms. He continued practicing for the next couple of days and got better and better at it, and he even learned how to throw (toss is probably more accurate) the ball further than before. And he was so proud that he had improved.

Unfortunately, he hurt his finger a little bit practicing one day and got scared of bouncing the ball, so I went and bought him a smaller and softer ball to practice with. He’s also become obsessed with watching basketball highlights on TV and loves flipping through books or magazines with basketball pictures. It’s the kind of childlike wonder and passion I wish I had. Not knowing — not believing — that there is a limit on what you can achieve must be a marvelous feeling.

Speaking of passions…I recently celebrated my birthday, and the sinking feeling that I’m not moving forward with my writing is starting to scare me. I’m still writing every day, usually on things I don’t mind writing about, but not on the things I should be writing about. There’s still that fear of starting, that fear of failure, that fear of not being able to do something as well as you imagine you could.

So I’ve been coming up with a lot of excuses. I need to exercise (I do, but maybe not as much). I need to watch TV (which is only true in the case of Breaking Bad, and that’s over now, and the new seasons of The Mentalist and Homeland and Revenge haven’t been very good, though The Walking Dead seems promising…but I digress). I have too many blog posts to catch up on (that is true, but they can wait). I have too many freelance cases to do (I have some, not too many). I have to play Candy Crush, Scramble with Friends and Plants vs Zombies 2 (I don’t). Anything but writing the epic novel or screenplay I have been planning to write for years.

A few weeks ago the names of a couple of my old classmates from my 2010-2011 writing course popped up. I was ecstatic to see that they had each published their own novels, some of which were actually projects they were working on in the course we did together. But at the same time it made me sad and ashamed to realize that I’ve barely touched my own in-progress works. And even with two kids and a full-time job, I probably still had more free time than them.

It’s not just writers either. People all around me are going after what they want. I have friends — some of whom I would never have pictured doing anything — running or trying to run their own start-ups and businesses. Studying things they would like pursue a future career in. Taking risks, chasing dreams — or even just doing something they enjoy more.

I have the time to do it too because of flexibility at my workplace. About three weeks ago one morning I was really pysched for some reason and started writing a screenplay. I got a couple of pages done — it wasn’t particularly good either, but I loved the thrill it gave me. I thought the momentum would carry on naturally and I would keep working on it every day after that, but I haven’t touched it since. What it’s telling me is that if I really want to do something I need to keep at it and don’t think it will come easily. Persistence!

This is on the fringe of relevance, but I will mention it anyway. Last Sunday was one of the most exciting days of my life. I went to watch the Indiana Pacers take on the Houston Rockets in Taipei — courtside — and the experience blew me away. I’ll blog about this soon, but what I want to mention is a former Pacers player I saw sitting in the stands. I was surprised to see him there because this player has not played in the NBA since 2008. He was a promising talent who was selected in the first round of the draft, but his on and off court attitude and drug use pushed him out of the league in a hurry. After playing overseas for a few years he’s still looking for a chance to get back to the NBA, but he’s on the wrong side of 30 now and couldn’t even get an opportunity in the NBA Summer League this year. I looked him up on Twitter and it seems he is full of regret over blowing his past opportunities and taking the people who genuinely cared about him for granted. Now that he’s finally grown up and ready to play the opportunity is no longer there.

I guess this is a roundabout way of saying I don’t want to look back years from now and regret having squandered an opportunity to go after what I want when I have the time and energy to do it. So this is it. It doesn’t mean I can’t still do the other things. It just means I need to get down to doing what matters. No more excuses.

Writing fiction after all that non-fiction is really really hard

August 1, 2013 in Novel, On Writing

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I have recently developed a very real fear that I may never be able to write fiction again.

They say writers need to write, and over the past year all I’ve been doing is reading and writing non-fiction, almost exclusively. At work every day I write news, and in my spare time I write on this blog, which essentially comprises film, restaurant and book reviews these days, or my sports blog, which is, well, all about sports.

My reading habits have also veered towards non-fiction. Browsing through my book reviews this year I see (chronologically from the start of the year):

- Fifty Shades Freed by EL James (fiction) — the final book in the Fifty Shades Trilogy and probably the worst book I have ever read, fiction or otherwise. I think it barely counts as a book, let alone fiction.

- Bird by Bird by Anne Lamott (non-fiction) — the legendary writing book, part memoir and part writers’ guide.

- Tokyo Sketches by Peter Hamill (fiction) — a collection of short stories about Japan.

- The First Five Pages by Noah Lukeman (non-fiction) — another seminal writers’ book about staying out of the rejection pile.

- Inferno by Dan Brown (fiction) — no introduction necessary, though again, some would argue whether Brown’s writing classifies as fiction given that it is dominated by Wikipedia-like entries about history, architecture and artworks. And the quality of the fiction writing is, let’s just say, somewhat lacking.

- Dream Team by Jack McCallum (non-fiction) — a riveting account of the one and only 1992 Dream Team.

- The War for Late Night by Bill Carter (non-fiction) — the fascinating account into the Conan O’Brien/Jay Leno late night television feud of 2010.

- Eleven Rings by Phil Jackson and Hugh Delehanty (non-fiction) — Phil Jackson’s account of how he won his 11 NBA championship rings as a coach and 2 as a player.

- The Elements of Style by Strunk & White (non-fiction) — the writing bible.

- The Jordan Rules by Sam Smith (non-fiction) — the controversial book about Michael Jordan and the tumultuous 1990-91 season of the NBA champions Chicago Bulls.

- The Picture of Dorian Gray by Oscar Wilde (fiction) — the classic novel about a man whose youth and beauty was preserved by a magical painting.

- Justice by Michael J Sandel (non-fiction) — an engrossing philosophy book about morality and the right thing to do.

By my count that’s 8 non-fiction books and 4 fiction books. But one of the fiction books is Fifty Shades and another is Dan Brown, so they don’t really count. And of the other two, one is a short story collection and the other is a classic novel written in the 19th century (which can be helpful but not that helpful).

It’s not that you can’t be creative with non-fiction writing, it’s just that the parameters are defined and confined by the facts you have to convey. With fiction writing it has to all come from your imagination, and that’s where I feel as though my brain has been reprogrammed and all that creativity I once had (however little it may have been) has been sucked out of me completely.

If I had to sit down and write a short story or screenplay right now I wouldn’t know where to start. In fact, just the thought of the possibility of getting back to working on my novels or screenplay makes me nervous, and scared — which probably explains why I have set myself the long-term target of completing all my backlogged blog posts before commencing any “proper” fiction writing. It’s pathetic, I know, but at least I am clearing out my backlog.

To lubricate my ride back into fiction, I am going to try and re-enter the land of fiction. Classics are good, but right now I’m thinking something less challenging, like commercial fiction. I’ve started reading Gillian Flynn’s acclaimed Gone Girl. I’m only about a fifth of the way through but it’s already shaping up to be one heck of a cracking read. It’s one of those books that grips onto you with characters that ring so true you feel like you know them. Apparently Ben Affleck has signed on for the film version, to be directed by David Fincher, so his head keeps popping up in my mind. (And Rosamund Pike has reportedly been cast as the other lead).

I still have some other non-fiction books I must get through, including parenting books on baby sleep (it’s gotta be done) and a couple of book reviews for publication. But my focus for the rest of the year will hopefully be on fiction. I have lined up The Perks of Being a Wallflower, Khaled Hosseini’s And the Mountains Echoed and Anna Funder’s All That I Am, and I intend to get through them all before December 31. I don’t know how, since having a job with two kids under two means I pretty much only have time to read while travelling to and from work and just before bed — but I’m still going to try to reach my New Year’s Resolution goal of 20 books for the year.

And before you start being a dick, give me a break; that’s very good for me already.

 
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