Productivity and writing

I’ve been listening to the Odyssey Podcasts #85 and #86 on productivity.  While the clips were pretty short, there was some quite good, useful info in there that I think will help me try to get back into getting a good writing routine going.

Things like:

  • If writing is #8 on your priority list, it’s not going to get done.
  • Trade time with friends and family, to get blocks of time you can use for writing.
  • You really do need a block of time from 1-3 hours. This may mean getting up at 5am.
  • Habits and rituals are important. Set these up to hack your brain into enjoying and anticipating these. Start with a small habit, like 100 words. It has to be something that you will succeed at, every time.

There was quite a bit of other good information there, so if you’ve got a spare 30 minutes or so, I recommend you hop over and have a listen. I’m thinking I need to do something like:

  • trigger: light a candle
  • habit: write 100 words
  • reward: something nerdy I enjoy doing. A guilty pleasure.

I know chocolate is a good reward, but I’m trying not to go there these days. Instead, something like sharpening pencils in my new electric sharpener (seriously, I love it. Plus: the smell!), or giving myself a star sticker, or even the enjoyment of putting in my loose-leaf paper into the Trapper Keeper I’ve found and started using again.

Seriously, my old Trapper Keeper! OMG. I get a really weird pleasure out of using all my old school stationery. Let’s not visit the fact that my parents have been storing this stuff in a box in the garage all these years.

Photo 13-02-2016, 12 33 24

The velcro doesn’t really work, but who cares. I just use it to carry paper upstairs and downstairs. I write in pencil the way I did when I was a kid. Maybe I should draw some maps too, while I’m at it.

Plus: the paper. You can’t even get paper with three holes punched in them in New Zealand. Everything is two-hole, which is perfectly ridiculous, as the two holes make things swing around too much, and tear. I’ve also got a thing for that red line that runs down the margin – again something not all NZ two-whole filler paper (“refill” here) has.

I’m not going to question it. I am so unfussy about most things that I figure I can be as  obsessive-compulsive as I need to be when it comes to stationery. I *am* rather intrigued by the new Trapper Keepers being sold on Amazon at the moment, and if it turns out this weird way of working does it for me, I might fork out and get another one.

But, er, ahem, where was I? Oh yes, productivity. I think I need charts. Stars. Celebratory pencil sharpening. Something fancy after a significant milestone. A plan. And then, you know, some actual writing. Because writing about writing doesn’t actually count as writing.

Upgrade? No thanks. 

This is my laptop…

It’s an early-2008 MacBook that I bought back when I had a steady job and seemingly endless streams of cash.

Not having used a Mac since the 80s when they were ubiquitous in my grade-school in Washington State (with lovely clicky keyboards, ooo ahh!), I purchased this one with slight trepidation and extreme excitement. I tracked its approach vector via Singapore most days while I sat idle at work.

It arrived, I loved its clean whiteness. So Mac-y! So elegant! I purchased the requisite special wipes and cleaned the keyboard and screen regularly.

It became beloved. I named it Floyd.

Fast forward seven years:

 Floyd is still going strong. His disk seems to make a lot of noise now. A small strip of his cover has somehow come free. I cut it off with scissors, expecting the beginning of the end.

But it is not to be: Floyd plods on, growing slower and slower. The removed bit of cover neither rubs on my wrist nor interferes in any other way when I type.

One afternoon: inspiration! Floyd needs a new disk! Specifically an SSD. Research tells me Floyd will have a new lease of life. He will become more responsive.

I’ve never changed a laptop hard disk before. But my husband has. I consult him. He has things: torque wrench. Anti static mat, and wrist strap. Plus other things. I take the plunge for Floyd. I buy him a new disk.

We make a mirror of the old disk. Put it inside Floyd’s inners. Turn him on. He starts up nearly silently. Hums welcomingly. Steve and I hug. Well, I put my arms around his shoulders as he sits at the dining room table, hardware spread all over the place.

The new disk (now dubbed Agatha, after I retired Floyd to an external casing for the occasional back-up) and I enjoy six months or so of uninterrupted happiness. Then comes the news that Apple will no longer be releasing updates for computers running Snow Leopard. Agatha can’t update. I am starting to lose heart. Sadly I start to look on the Apple website for replacements.

So expensive. I’m not working now and if I want to get any of these I’m looking at 18 months of repayments. I have a creeping credit card that needs paying off. I hate the way looking at these expensive purchases makes me feel. Guilt before I’ve even done anything.

I look at other options: a mac mini? Sell the gaming computer (that also needs to be rebuilt, truth be told) and buy a windows gaming laptop? Get a tablet and somehow use that instead of a laptop? None of these options seem right.

I look at the current generation of Macbooks. They are expensive, with crappy specs, and a weird single port that requires you to buy various attachments just to plug in a USB drive. Plus they are metallic. Too shiny. Too slick. MacBook Pros are equally expensive, though I manage to customise one to fit my needs that would put me back about two grand.

Meanwhile I continue to use Floyd Agatha. I cringe to myself that what I’m using is the Mac equivalent of Windows XP. I’ve become one of those people, the stubborn luddites who refuse to accept the way technology moves on so quickly. The equivalent of finding your style decade and stubbornly sticking to it, fashion-wise.

But seriously, a part of me is so angry that something that continues to work, reliably and to my needs, is suddenly obsolete. I’m angry at the way the world moves on so fast, shedding all but the slick, the well-funded, the fickle. Like a comet, or speeding train that we struggle to hold on to, as it speeds up, and our grips start to loosen…

I’m afraid of aging. Of being so-called “middle aged.” Always a great fear for me. Being a “middle-aged woman.” Why does it sound so distasteful to my ears? At the point where I’m still wondering whether I should continue to dye my hair, or just let the greys take over. I know replacing a laptop doesn’t exactly correlate with embracing aging, but I think the process is similar. At some point you decide to let go of the speeding train. It’s too exhausting to try and hold on.

Same with keeping up with tech. And I say this as a techy person! But mashed up with all of those feelings is also the part of me who hates being told what to do, who hates being dictated to. Who hates the shiny-slick-irritating (seriously, one port, and with all sorts of ugly adapter cables attached?) / fake hair tons of concealer no wrinkles here… It’s all somehow related.

I know sometime eventually I will have to put Agatha aside, but in the meantime holding on to her feels like a bit of a ‘fuck you’ to people who want to make me feel guilty for not giving them my money. For not chasing that train. Maybe one day I’ll again be the sort of person who can just throw down money on expensive hardware whenever I feel like it. But I really hope that when I do eventually head back to work, that instead of scattering cash like confetti I’ll instead stop, wait, and think for a bit first.

I kiss you, you’re beautiful.

Bowie, over and over. Rain today seems appropriate. After a week of looking after a small person, it felt wonderful to sleep in a little (Steve gets up early), have coffee in bed, and read a new book to Leila (Uncle Vic’s Farm, a gift from a book reviewing friend yesterday), and go out to the garage for a cycle on the trainer.

Damp leaf-smell, almost pleasant, but too much on the rotted side; back still sore from hurting it on Monday vacuuming behind my bedside table (pulling things out, seeing dust caked there and slightly desperate to clean it all after hearing the story from my Aunt about how my grandmother, once so fastidious, lapsed with the cleaning once her dementia set in, and the space behind the bed – when my aunt looked – was filthy). Pedalling while reading, my new favourite way to exercise. Reading the brilliant, brilliant, H is for Hawk. I want Helen Macdonald to be my friend. I have a feeling we would be.

After the cycle, a swim in the pool. Grey mist across the harbour, obscuring the city. Up behind us, mist curling round and through the green, green bush. Before I jump in, I stand at the top of the stairs and look out over the valley, over the houses nestled in the green, out over the skygrey sea and the cloud hovering low. Bowie’s dead. A weird sentence that runs through my head again and again this week.

How to mourn a person you don’t know? The papers have been full of this question, all wanting to acknowledge that this hurt and loss we are feeling is real, not just imagined rockstar hysteria. How to articulate the importance of music that has always been a part of your life, that you have listened to, presumably through all of your life stages, and that has always still felt relevant, important, significant? I’m young enough (not yet forty) so that Bowie has been ubiquitous for me.

Perhaps not in my early youth; Mum had few albums and Dad favoured 60s folk, blues, and country. Glam was too out-there for him, I suspect. So we grew up with Dylan and the Beatles, Ian and Sylvia, Johnny Cash and James Taylor. Bowie came later.

When I think of Bowie, I think of late nights with my friend Jeremy, at our youth hostel, first year at uni. Eating toast and drinking tea (on our poor nights), and listening to music. Always early Beatles, always Bowie.

Always Bowie on mixtapes in the car (a ’55 Morris Minor convertible, that dad bought for us to drive, probably because it was cool and old – he loves old cars – but also couldn’t go too fast), driving to first jobs, in horrible uniforms but feeling for the first time the freedom that came with earning your own money.

Always looking at pictures of him, pictures from another time.  So alien.

I think about these things while I swim in the pool, in the rain. I only do breaststroke, feeling my back grate a bit, but the freshness of the water is exhilarating. I think of mourning, of the movements of my arms, a little like I’m flying, and I think of another person who has put her hopes in another, standing on a hillside of gorse and brush, arm extended hopefully with thick leather glove grasping a bit of dead animal. Luring back the hawk, embodiment of all her hopes.

So hard to be honest in public.

Swimming in the pool reminds me of a short story I wrote last year. A story I really, really like. A story I sent out to a few markets but got no interest. A story I think I’m going to put up here instead, and share. It’s called “The Dark Offering,” and it’s about a man, and a pool, and deep, dark thoughts, and a child’s birthday. There are cheezels. It is stilly and horrible. It felt like something when I wrote it.

If you check back in a bit, it should be up. Let me know if you like it.


It’s night, and everyone is asleep but me. Well, me and the cats. Me, the cats, and the neighbour’s tree frogs who chirp us to sleep each evening (and all through the night). You’d think something like that would be irritating, keep you awake. But I find the sound of them strangely comforting, and on nights when they don’t sing, I find myself listening out for them.

It’s the end of the holidays – life goes back to the usual routine in the morning. Steve off to work, Leila and I with our days. I want to do something different. Something that requires some effort, and perhaps on some days, pain. The path of least resistance, the path of comfort, of ease – that way leads to days, weeks, months, where you don’t remember a thing. You remember the days when you had to work hard, even if you didn’t like them at the time. You remember pushing yourself, and you feel proud of those times. I think I need to start pushing myself more.

Exercise, feeling good in my skin again. Something I’ve not really felt since my daughter was born. I know people joke about it, but my body really has changed so much since I became pregnant, swelled, went through labour (talk about bodily trauma: I pushed, but still had to have an epidural in the end because after eight hours of labour I was still only dilated something like 3 centimetres. Took drugs, brought on the labour. Epidural in the wee hours when I could hardly think straight, could hardly see straight through the contractions, yet had to remain absolutely still so the needle would go where it had to. Had to have the waters manually broken. An IV. A catheter. Pushed and pushed until I thought I was going to throw up. Horrible, awful tearing that I at least didn’t feel, and that was stitched up pretty much straight away by my lovely doc. No-one warning me that I’d have zero bladder control; standing up and completely pissing myself. Hideous constipation because, well, of everything. On top of all having to get laxative suppositories from the midwife however-many-days home. Insanity). A miscarriage last year. Not just a miscarriage. A trip to two hospitals. Four days. Four units of blood. Passing out because of the blood loss, first at home in my parents’ shower, and later in hospital after bleeding heavily all night and not getting any help from the night nurses.

Jesus, is it any wonder I haven’t really felt up for a challenge?

Didn’t mean to get all heavy there. But as I was writing the above I felt like I had to get it all out, write it all down in one place. It feels like a lot. Truly amazing what a body is capable of doing, going through, and repairing.

I’m fine now. Like, really fine. I can’t jump up and down without pissing myself still (so skipping rope, jumping jacks, and for all I know, running, are still off the list). But I’m cycling on a bike trainer Steve set up in the garage for me. Swimming in the pool as well. Feeling good about enjoying doing it.

Reading heaps. I’ve read five books in the last couple of weeks, just sort of manic, finish one and pick up the next sort of thing. It feels so good. I know it’s all going to change come tomorrow morning though, and I’m on sole charge of the bubba again.

Writing still hovering, slightly malevolently in the background, over one of my shoulders. At the back of my mind. Hiding behind my eyes. Always there. Lurking. Write me.

And so – I am going to try and force this body to stay up, after everyone has gone to sleep, when it is only the cats and the frogs keeping me company. Sun down, lights across the valley shuttered or else off completely. I will stay up and write, and not worry about it for now. Like Ishiguro said:

I wrote free-hand, not caring about the style or if something I wrote in the afternoon contradicted something I’d established in the story that morning. The priority was simply to get the ideas surfacing and growing. Awful sentences, hideous dialogue, scenes that went nowhere – I let them remain and ploughed on.

He shall remain my inspiration for these night-time dalliances with the page. So what if I am tired in the morning? I’m always tired in the morning. At least this way I’ll feel a bit better about how I’m going forward. This way I’ll have some markers of how I felt, what I did, what I tried to do. What felt so important to me that I had to suffer some discomfort to do it. Perhaps that’s why birth is so vivid for us. We have to work so hard to get there. Then work so hard to bring the child along. The pain! But we remember. And that’s what I want of my days. Not to forget. To remember.

Getting organised…

Yep, this is where I work, part 2. This is one end of the “study,” a downstairs room under the house that’s accessible from an outside door. I’ve taken it over as my woman cave, and filled it up with books, my gaming computer, the tarot card collection, tapes (and my old stereo that still plays them), sewing machine, typewriters and commodore 64, photographic equipment (including all the stuff for a darkroom I haven’t set up yet), and other miscellaneous items.    My sister got me a really nice 2016 diary for Christmas, and I’m already determined to use it to be more organised with the important things this year. Scheduling in writing time, monthly goals, and even when to write blog posts. Maybe I can be a bit more regular this year?

It’s raining today. Apparently we’ve got a tropical storm heading south, which means the rain is pretty warm and we still got in a family swim in the pool this morning. After the last week of warm, sunny weather, the rain feels like a bit of a relief!

I haven’t looked back at my last posts from last year, but I can tell you what happened: I hit a snag. I’m not very good at working through snags, and I know that’s something I need to focus on. I hit a snag and my brain just sits there, gasping and looking around. I know you’re meant to write through those hiccups, back up and try something new, but I find it really hard to do. As a result most of November and all of December have been writing-free. A bit troubling, considering I was hoping to have my first draft done by the end of the year.

I’m not giving up though. I’ve already had my share of “mulligans,” with my writing, and so I’m not stopping, or giving this one up. I’ve set myself an easy goal of 500 words per day. Surely I can write something about something for 500 words. Gotta do this, gotta get through this. After that the rest of the day will feel like I’m home free…

Mid-Oct check-in…

 Erk! See, this is what happens when you take a break. The writing goes out the window, and you should see what’s been creeping in:

  • sock making
  • ginger beer making (and bottling)
  • yogurt making
  • sushi creation
  • general baking (including a dangerously good sesame-seed brittle that I think has been my undoing)
  • book reading (A Darker Shade of Magic, VE Schwab)
  • TV-watching (finished season 3 of Downton Abbey)
  • travel (a trip up to Taupo over the school holidays)
  • Actual socialising with real people
  • Exercising

Shocking, I know. And now I am trying to slowly put the lid back down on all of these very fun activities that need to take a backseat to the writing of words, it is proving to be rather difficult.

This always happens to me. I am a person of many interests, and it is usually not long before I get distracted. The word count card of September did amazing things to keep me on track, and I think I will be starting another for November.

No, I’m not going to do NaNoWriMo. I successfully “completed” years 2005, 2007, 2008, 2009 and 2010, with pieces that I still look at with a sense of awe and dread. Yes, I think I have proven to myself that I can push through something and get the words down on the page. But I’m not sure if writing 1,667 words per day really allows me to ferment/percolate the way I have been with my current book/novel/thing.

Then again…a 50k injection might be just what I need right now. Currently at 39,428 words. Oh help, just when I’d decided I wouldn’t. Maybe…?