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2013: My Year in Review

2013. One minute here, the next gone.   This year has both flown and taken forever, depending on the moment or milestone or how many times Pip woke up during the night.  But at least I sort of knew it was going to be like this going in, and for the most part, I feel like I’ve been able to take things in stride. A clumsy, tripping-over-blocks, sore-knees, lumbering sort of stride, but a stride nonetheless.

  • 2008: The Year Everything Fell Apart
  • 2009: The Year I Put Everything Back Together
  • 2010: The Year I Became Me (aka The Year of Awesome)
  • 2011: The Year of the Roller Coaster
  • 2012: The Year That Threw Me for a Loop

And so 2013 joins the ranks as

  • 2013: The Year of Constant Evolution

My word for the year was “EVOLVE,” and that proved to be right on target.

Looking Back at 2013

I’ve survived almost 10 months of motherhood, and I’m happy to say I still love my life, even if it looks quite different than it did a year ago.  In the interest of pure honesty, there are of course plenty of aspects I didn’t/don’t love.

The Lowlights

  • Pip not sleeping through the night from 3.5 to 9ish months
  • Post-partum depression
  • The hopefully somewhat temporary (let me have my dreams, OK?) disappearance of spontaneity from our lives
  • Buying diapers
  • Constant spinal misalignment due to lugging infant carrier/breast pump/baby/all the baby’s stuff everywhere
  • Pumping
  • Getting up at 4 a.m. on weekdays to pump (which I am thankfully not doing anymore, though still getting up at 4 a.m.)
  • Missing out on 9 hours a day with my family to earn a paycheck that doesn’t come from writing or writing-related things
  • Carrying around 15 extra pounds because the “breastfeeding makes you lose ALL THE WEIGHT” promise is a terrible, terrible lie
  • Not writing (or even rewriting) a single screenplay
  • Pip not sleeping through the night form 3.5 to 9ish months

Yes, I put that one on their twice on purpose.  But I digress.

The truth is, between my truly amazing co-parent and my always-willing-to-babysit family, I am very, very, very lucky.  And even though this year was extremely difficult in some ways, it was also extremely awesome.

The Highlights

  • Managed (barely) a drug-free childbirth
  • Made it through post-partum depression
  • Took 7 trips
    • Family vacation to Tampa
    • Day trip to Joplin
    • Overnight Getaway to Kansas City proper (our first night without Pipsqueak, so it counts as a trip)
    • Weekend trip to Springfield, Mo. (which we now believe is a terrible place, except for they have the Best Cookie Ever at the big huge Bass Pro place there)
    • Road trip to Plymouth, Wisconsin, to see T’s family
    • Weekend getaway to Branson, Mo.
    • Family vacation to Disney World
  • Wrote 17 short stories (this one was my favorite)
  • Finished my short film, STILL, and began submitting to festivals
  • “Won” my 9th NaNoWriMo
  • Read 17 books that weren’t kid books plus a bunch that are kids books so technically exceeded my goal of 24 books DON’T JUDGE ME
  • Saw somewhere around 50 films (way less than a typical year, but still close to one a week on average, plus doesn’t count all the Chuck/Dexter [no spoilers; I'm only on season 5]/Orange is the New Black/Game of Thrones/Breaking Bad/House of Cards/Parenthood/Derek/Doctor Who I watched)
  • Picked up four new freelance clients (Need editing, writing, document/ebook formatting or blogging? Check me out.)
  • Wrote 35 posts for my freelance blog before motherhood took over my life
  • Wrote more than 75 freelance blog posts for clients
  • Wrote 11 posts here on this blog
  • Lost all but 15 pounds of the 70 or so I gained (granted 29 of those were shed in the first week after, BUT STILL)
  • Ran the Thanksgiving 5K for the 4th year in a row with my sisters + T + his mom & brother
  • Did two art projects toward the end of the eyar
  • Took a bunch of photos and even put some up for sale

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Looking Forward to 2014

2014: CORE

“Be bold and mighty forces will come to your aid.” – The Rev. Basil King

I thought about using the word “center,” but that sounds a little too peaceful.  I want to get a little nuts.  

For a few months after Pip was born, if I’m being totally honest, life was about survival: making sure I was surviving, making sure T was surviving, and — above all — making sure this tiny little quasi-human we’d brought into this world was surviving and thriving.  While some days (and weeks) still feel that way, I feel like we’ve found a groove more or less.  It’s sort of like a river, “always changing, always flowing” (yes, quoting Pocahontas because I am a total nerd).  But it’s generally in about the same place at least.

So, if 2013 was all about preserving (and regaining and redefining) sanity, then in 2014 I want to get a little nuts again.  I want to challenge myself to get back to the core of who I am — and I’ve long professed that the core of who I am is a writer, a creator, an artist.  And while my output in 2013 wasn’t completely terrible, it was nowhere near, say, 2009-2011.  And that’s OK.  But I need to get back to it, because that’s who I am.

Happy New Year to You & Yours

That’s it for me and 2013. Here’s wishing you find the magic you’re looking for in 2014!

Popped Cork by Elizabeth Ditty

[Around Here] On Works in Progress

I got a message from a twitter friend the other day inviting me to participate in a blog round-up where folks answer questions about their current works in progress.  I sadly had to respond that I’d love to be a part of it except that I currently have no work in progress.

Pregnant Ditty

Current state of identity these days: Mostly Just Pregnant.

And I don’t feel good about that.

But it’s also not entirely true.  Transitioning my home that less than a year ago was basically a bachelorette pad into a place where our kiddo can be safe to grow and play is definitely a work in progress.

On Jan. 1, I launched my freelance website in an effort to really focus on growing that part of my work life, and keeping up with regular blogging and the social media effort that goes along with that is most certainly a work in progress.  (And in a moment of shameless self promotion, if you or your business is in need of a writer, editor or ebook formatter, hit me up!)

And in exactly one month from now, I’m due to have a tiny little human being for which I, along with my thankfully amazing and excited partner, am completely and totally responsible.  And preparing my mind for that is perhaps the biggest work in progress of all.

And because of all these works in progress, I’ve set aside the bulk of my creative efforts.  I want to start something in that nebulous “thinking about writing but not actually writing” sort of way, but in the moments where I have downtime, I find myself just kind of sitting and zoning out at the internet.

I think-hope this is just one of those seasons of life where I’m collecting input rather than creating output.  Honestly, though, when I think about going through the contest rigamarole again, I just get really, really apathetic.  After the complete and utter failure of my admittedly very-niche-but-very-dear script last year, I’m just not sure what the next step for me is.  The steps I was actually motivated to complete — finishing my short film and submitting it to festivals — are currently being derailed by Adobe Premiere being a flaky butthead.  I’ll still get it done, but the unexpected obstacles at the very end of the process have been disheartening to say the least.

I don’t really have a great wrap-up to this bit of rambling.  Part of me thinks I just need to give myself a break and jump on the creative sparks when they pop up, and another part of me thinks I need to buckle down and commit to something.  I don’t know.

So who’s got advice for me?  So many writers I know have gone through the transition to parenthood and have done so with wonderful success.  Is this lack of mojo just timing + circumstances?  Can I expect it to pass?  Or do I need to whip my butt into shape ASAP — and if so, how?  I know all parents out there love to give advice, so here’s a wonderful opportunity. :-)

2012: My Year in Review

As the story of my life goes, I tend to retrospectively theme each year.

  • 2008: The Year Everything Fell Apart
  • 2009: The Year I Put Everything Back Together
  • 2010: The Year I Became Me (aka The Year of Awesome)
  • 2011: The Year of the Roller Coaster

And if I have to continue that, the only that thing honestly jumps to mind is this:

  • 2012: The Year That Disappeared

or

  • 2012: The Year That Threw Me For a Loop

There’s a little bit of that feeling every year, I think, but this year, I honestly just don’t know where time went. And if it weren’t for being able to look back through photos, blog posts and the bazillion spreadsheets I use to track my life, I probably wouldn’t have any clue whatsoever.  A lot of the goals I set for myself fell by the wayside, but I ended up doing a lot that I hadn’t thought to do.  In summary:

Health & Fitness

Since I was already more or less at my general goal weight/shape, my big health & fitness goal at the beginning of the year was to get into my bridesmaids dress for my sister’s wedding. I was between two sizes, so I took the risk and ordered the smaller one.  And then I got pregnant and had to endure frustration from both my bride-to-be sister and my mother about having to have my dress altered, all while my in-the-know sister egged them on with comments like, “You probably shouldn’t have eaten all those Oreos, huh?”

Ditty & Chrissy at Chrissy's Wedding

Beyond that, the whole weight gain thing has been a struggle, but it hasn’t all been bad.  For instance, I participated in two 5Ks this year, both while pregnant.

After The Color Run, with T

The first was The Color Run, the (very early) morning after we found out we were pregnant.  We mostly walked it because my initial OB/GYN office made me paranoid about my heart rate, but 3.1 miles of walking still ain’t too shabby.

And the Thanksgiving 5K, at 25 weeks pregnant. I promised myself I didn't have to run any more 5Ks while pregnant if I ran the entire thing. I did, and I have kept that promise to myself.

The second was the Thanksgiving 5K for the 3rd year straight, this time at 25 weeks pregnant. Having laid aside my heart rate fears around week 14, I promised myself I didn’t have to run any more 5Ks while pregnant if I ran the entire thing. I did, and I have kept that promise to myself.

I’m still keeping up with a pretty solid exercise routine these days, even ramping it up a bit in the 3rd trimester with some P90X, Bob Harper’s DVDs, and Jillian’s more strength-based workouts.  It’s typically 3-4 times a week rather than 5-6 times a week these days, but anything is better than nothing.  Diet’s another story, but I’d say I’m trying to stick to a pretty healthy/in-calorie-range diet 5 days a week.  Overall, I’m chalking much of this up to experience & just looking forward to getting back to my normal diet/exercise routine in the spring.

Travel

While I didn’t get to take my big “I’m turning 30!” trip to somewhere exotic thanks to that whole “getting knocked up” thing, I did actually manage to have a pretty great year for travel.  I ended up taking 9 trips to new or favorite places.

  • T & I took our first trip to New York City in January. It was also our first trip together — period. And it was lovely.
  • We took a quick overnight getaway to St. Louis.
  • We took a day trip to Joplin, where my parents both grew up, and where I spent the first 20 Christmases of my life and who knows how many other weekends.  I hadn’t been there since before the tornadoes, and it was a bit of a shock to see that my maternal grandparents’ house was completely gone.  But it was nice to visit some of my old stomping grounds, too.
  • We took a nice little beach vacation with my family to Tampa, Fla.
  • We went to a family reunion in Fayetteville & Bentonville, Arkansas.
  • After missing out on the standing room only tickets by exactly one person in NYC, we traveled to Denver to see The Book of Mormon.
  • We went to a family reunion on T’s side up in Plymouth, Wis., near Sheboygan.
  • We took a trip with my family down to Roaring River, where we used to go fishing and crawdad-hunting with my grandpa.
  • We attended the Austin Film Festival in Texas, where I got to meet up with a lot of my friends from 2011′s festival.

Next year will likely be much more home-based, but I do have my eye on a couple of getaways to new places.

Creative Endeavors

I had big goals for this year, but taking on 10 to 15 hours a week of freelance work on top of my day job between March and October made getting things done in the creative department a little more difficult than I’d anticipated.  I loved the freelance work and am hoping to build my business back up in 2013, but it was hard to find balance.  That being said, here’s what I did accomplish.

  • I did a page one rewrite on a script from several years ago.  And while it zeroed out in all the competitions, I was and still am really pleased with how it turned out.  It’ll get another draft next year hopefully.
  • I wrote eight short stories.
  • I completed my 8th NaNoWriMo.
  • I’ve got about 4-5 more hours of post-production on my short film, STILL.

Next year will be another huge challenge in finding balance, but that’s sort of par for the course for life in general.

The Rest

And then there’s everything else.

  • I bought my house.
  • T moved in.
  • We adopted a kitten/monster.
  • I saw a bunch of movies (though not as many as in previous years).
  • I read 24 books, if I’m allowed to count two children’s books that took me like 10 minutes to read.
  • I took my freelancing from basically a hobby to a business.
  • I learned how to make pour-over coffee.
  • I took a ton of photos.
  • I completed seven of the nine months it takes to grow a baby.

And I feel like that’s just scratching the surface.

Looking Back

In 2011, I chose “Let It Be” for my theme for 2012.  Looking back at what I wrote, I said, “Maybe I’ll really, truly learn that I can’t script my life, that people and the universe will ALWAYS throw you for a loop somehow.” Well, if ending up unexpectedly pregnant isn’t the universe throwing me for a loop, I’m not sure what is.

I followed up that statement with this: “Sometimes it’ll be super fun and exhilarating and affirming. Other times it’ll make you want to vomit.” So apparently some part of my subconscious knew about the whole morning sickness thing. In all seriousness, though, I set out to take life as it came, to try to add joyful complications and to eliminate the ones that only caused me stress. I haven’t always done a great job of the latter, but I think I ended up with a pretty great handle on the former.

Which brings me to my phrase for next year…

Looking Forward

2013: EVOLVE

Needless to say, next year’s going to be very different than any of my previous ones. It seems like everyone is constantly telling me, “everything’s going to change.” And if I’m being totally honest, that kind of freaks me out. OK, it really freaks me out. Mostly because I really like my life the way it is, and when people say everything’s going to change, it makes me fearful that all the things I love about my life will go away. The travel, the creative focus, the desire to focus on my freelance career, the ability to work out for 30 to 120 minutes at a time, etc., the time I get to spend and things I get to do with T. But then I look around me and see all sorts of women who have managed to keep these things in their lives — and sometimes increase them — all while adding “mother” high on their list of self-definitions.

They haven’t changed; they’ve evolved. And that’s what I want to do, too. So from now on, whenever anyone says, “Everything’s going to change once the baby arrives,” I’m just going to smile & think to myself, “No, everything’s going to evolve, just like always.”

So, for 2013, my word (in case you haven’t guessed) is EVOLVE.

And I’m naming Lorelai my spirit animal.

Happy New Year to You and Yours

I’ve never seen anyone say it better than Neil Gaiman, so I’ll simply quote him here to close out 2012.

May your coming year be filled with magic and dreams and good madness. I hope you read some fine books and kiss someone who thinks you’re wonderful, and don’t forget to make some art — write or draw or build or sing or live as only you can. And I hope, somewhere in the next year, you surprise yourself.

…I hope you will have a wonderful year, that you’ll dream dangerously and outrageously, that you’ll make something that didn’t exist before you made it, that you will be loved and that you will be liked, and that you will have people to love and to like in return. And, most importantly (because I think there should be more kindness and more wisdom in the world right now), that you will, when you need to be, be wise, and that you will always be kind.

…I hope that in this year to come, you make mistakes.

Because if you are making mistakes, then you are making new things, trying new things, learning, living, pushing yourself, changing yourself, changing your world. You’re doing things you’ve never done before, and more importantly, you’re Doing Something.

So that’s my wish for you, and all of us, and my wish for myself. Make New Mistakes. Make glorious, amazing mistakes. Make mistakes nobody’s ever made before. Don’t freeze, don’t stop, don’t worry that it isn’t good enough, or it isn’t perfect, whatever it is: art, or love, or work or family or life.

Whatever it is you’re scared of doing, Do it.

Make your mistakes, next year and forever.

Happy New Year, everyone.

[Thankful2012] Item 12, 13, 14, 15 & 16: My Twenties

I’m closing the last few days of my 20s this week.  I know the big 3-0 freaks a lot of people out, and maybe I’ll feel a little out of sorts once it hits, but for the most part, I’m pretty happy to say goodbye to my 20s. They’ve been a little too tumultuous for my tastes, but I’m grateful for my experiences, too.  Some highlights:


College

I was good at school, so the classwork at college came to me pretty easily.  The social aspect did not, really, as I wasn’t comfortable yet with who I am.  I felt constantly in the shadow of my then-boyfriend.  And let me tell you, folks, in the quest of how to find oneself, introducing yourself as anyone’s anything is a bad start.  (Lesson learned, much later: You are more than your relationships to others, and if you don’t acknowledge yourself as such, then you can’t expect others to either.)  Nonetheless, I learned a lot from my professors (shout outs to Boss and Lamer, above all), and I wrote a lot of solid news articles and editorials.  College was where I really honed my basic writing skills and got to embrace my editing skills.  I also learned how to coach writers thanks to some incredible coaching by one of my first editors, Abby Simons.  She was the first student editor to take me aside and work with me to figure out how to improve an article instead of handing me back a piece of paper with a few red marks on it.


Love

I’ve never been fickle when it comes to relationships.  My first crush lasted two years, my second another year, and I took great pride in the eighth grade that I managed to hold on the longest to the boyfriend we all passed around — a whopping three months!  My next crush after that lasted a good three & a half years.  And then I met the guy I would eventually marry after 4 years and divorce after another 4.  That relationship defined half of my twenties, and recreating myself after it defined the second half.  I cannot bring myself to say I am thankful for that relationship, but I am incredibly thankful for having come out of it who I am today.  Learning to stand up for myself and demand respect as well as giving myself the freedom to pursue my own passions and explore my own beliefs was one of the greatest gifts I’ve ever been given.  I call that realization my Eowyn Moment.  (This was shortly followed by what I now call My Dorothy Experience, but I’ll have to save that story for another time).

So, during the second half of my twenties, I became the person I wanted to be with.  I started writing like a madwoman, I made travel a priority, and I made pursuing random interests a habit.  I took this Oscar Wilde quote to heart: “To love oneself is the beginning of a lifelong romance.”  And it just so happens that that led me to meeting the true love of my life.

Ditty & T in Tampa


Health & Fitness

I’ve written about my weight loss experience before, but taking control of my health was maybe the landmark moment of my 20s, to be honest.  (It’s funny how I was so mortified by the first picture when now I’m kind of embarrassed of the second one, too.)  It was a reflection of learning to love myself and gaining the confidence to present myself to others how I felt on the inside.  Finding the strength to do get through those workouts gave me the mental fortitude to do a lot of other things, too.  Will Smith actually sums it up pretty well here.

By the time I was done, I’d lost about 110 pounds from my highest weight ever, and I’d gone from a size 22 to a size 4.  But I think the biggest difference has nothing to do with my size and everything to do with how I carry myself.  I was always trying to hide when I was big, and while I’m not exactly a showboat now, I don’t hide from cameras or people.  That’s an inner confidence thing.

After 2011's Kansas City Thanksgiving 5K

Me & Kate after 2011′s Kansas City Thanksgiving 5K

And now I’m pregnant and it’s all RUINED!

Just kidding, obviously.  Even though I’ve gained more than I’d have preferred, I still carry myself with more pride than I did when I was heavier.  I’m still dealing with a lot of self-image issues, especially now, but they’re not what they once were, and I also know they’re temporary.  (And as much as people tell you, “You’re gaining weight because you’re carrying a baby!” it is still not easy when you’ve had a major weight loss experience. Oddly, there is ZERO writing on this out there on the internet that I’ve found, which I’ll have to change soon, I think.)

After 2012's Thanksgiving 5k (25 weeks pregnant)

Stubbornly decided to run the entirety of this year’s Thanksgiving 5K, too — at 25 weeks pregnant.  This is my #pregnantwomenwhorun5ksaresmug face.

I cannot tell you how much I am looking forward to getting back into my normal fitness routine, but it’s out of joy rather than desperation (most of the time) at the opportunity to lose the baby weight in a healthy way while setting a good example for my son.


Travel

As I noted above, I made travel a big priority in my life, especially in the last few years.  The following places stand out:

Ditty does Amélie in Paris

Doing my best Amélie at Le Café de Deux Moulins in Paris.

Travel changes a person.  It opens up your eyes to different cultures and perspectives.  Whether you go near or far, or even play tourist in your own city, I can’t recommend it enough.  And I’m incredibly thankful to have gotten to visit the amazing places I have in just the past couple of years, and I’m looking forward to continuing to make travel a priority in my 30s.


Creative Endeavors

In addition to the screenplays and short stories I started writing circa 2007, I also managed to get one completed short film under my belt: “Love in an Elevator.”

LOVE IN AN ELEVATOR, a short film by Elizabeth Ditty

It was my own version of a student film, and while my inexperience shows, I still think it’s a sweet story.  It’s also managed to steadily gain more than 2,000 views in the two years since I first posted it.  And while that’s a tiny drop in the very large bucket of the internet, it’s a lot more people than I ever thought would see it when I first screened it for 30 friends and family.

Doing that gave me the confidence to try another short film a few years later, which is still in post, but nearing completion.  I’m hoping to enter STILL in some festivals, and I’ve already got a few other ideas I’d like to get into production in the next few years.

There’s no better way to learn about screenwriting and filmmaking than by doing, so if you’ve been writing for a few years and are desperate to see something of yours come full circle, then pick up a camera, grab some friends, and go make something.  Even iPhone cameras take decent video for web these days, so the excuses are getting harder and harder to find.  Go create.  You won’t be sorry.


I could go on and on about why I’m thankful for my 20s (as well as why I’m thankful to be leaving them behind), but I think this is a good enough spattering.  There’s no fighting the years coming on, but we can definitely choose how we spend those years.  As for me, I’m with Tony Horton.

May by the Numbers (Plus Re-Entry Into Responsible-ish Adulthood)

Despite May having suddenly appeared out of nowhere, I’m feeling much less manic than I was at the beginning of last month.  But I am still neurotic and like numbers, so, here’s…

May by the Numbers

  • Number of scripts sent out into the world on Sunday: 3
  • Hours worked at the day job in April: 144
  • Hours worked freelance in April: 42
  • Number of houses purchased in April: 1
  • Age I’ll be at the end of my home loan: 59
  • Number of days ’til the beach: 13
  • Number of days ’til I have to fit into a bridesmaid dress: 80
  • Number of spreadsheets I’m currently using on a daily basis: 11
  • Number of Reese’s Peanut Butter Eggs still in my freezer: 17, miraculously
  • Days ’til our Denver trip to see The Book of Mormon: 104
  • Number of dollars I spent at Starbucks and Chipotle in April: I am afraid to look.
  • Number of short films I’m meant to complete this month: 1
  • Square inches of available counter space in my kitchen at the moment: 4.5
  • Length of average blade of grass in my yard (in inches): 7
  • Books started in April: 3
  • Books finished in April: 0

(Probably Temporary) Re-Entry Into Adulthood

So, now that I’ve got the scripts out the door (and before I jump back into post-production on STILL), I’m shifting priorities just ever so slightly toward attempting a semi-normal routine for a semi-responsible adult. This mostly involves working out, getting my house back to a state of “mostly presentable” rather than its current state of Did a small tribe of messy squatters move in here while your eyes were glued to your computer screen?!,  something I’m calling the #MakeYourOwnFood initiative (which involves — you guessed it — making my own food in order to save money & give the poor folks at Chipotle a break), finding some balance by making time to read for pleasure, and probably mowing my lawn (or bribing the boyfriend to do it with the fruits of the #MakeYourOwnFood initiative).

Regarding said initiative, I’ve decided to really have at it for a week, during which I’m not eating out unless someone else is cooking or buying (i.e., I’m not paying for food, except my non-negotiable morning coffee hit). I actually really love cooking, and it’s hard to point out a more tangible form of creativity.  But I hate cleaning, and that makes for a rather poor combination especially when I’m swamped with other things.  It’s only halfway through Day 2, but so far, so good!

Rocket Salad by Ditty!

Rocket & tomato salad with homemade honey-dijon dressing. First thoughts: "What is this green stuff, and why didn't it come in a Chipotle sack?"
Second thoughts: "Rocket" is way more exciting than "arugula."

Brie, Chocolate & Roasted Strawberry Grilled Cheese by Ditty!

Brie, Chocolate & Roasted Strawberry Grilled Cheese (recipe from How Sweet Eats). I refused my boyfriend entry into the kitchen whilst making this for fear he would refuse to try a cheese-chocolate combination. Pleased to report the recipe passed muster (was there ever any doubt?) and is now Boyfriend Approved.

Ditty's Twist on Panzanella

A Twist on Panzanella. The fun part of taking my lunch is taking advantage of the infinite definitions of the word, "salad."
The terrible, horrible, no good, very bad part: waking up before 5 a.m. to throw said salads together plus having to remember to wash my dishes at work every day. I really feel like I should have a better handle on the latter by this point in my life, but oh well.

If food porn is your thing, you can follow along over on Tumblr or Instagram.  Tonight it’s Shutterbean’s Brussels Sprouts & Bacon Pizza. Boyfriend is definitely a lucky guy this week.*

The funny thing is, I’m only two days out from script work, and I’m already itching to work on something new. So I’ll probably be going at a nutbutts pace again here soon enough, but it’s nice to take a few days and regroup as part of my continuing efforts to pass as a Responsible-ish Adult.

*…if he mows my lawn — bwahahahaha!

Learning to Herd Cats

So, this year I’ve been lucky enough to be able to ramp up my freelance work significantly. I was worried at first that it would use up my creative juices and that I wouldn’t have anything left over for screenwriting and other fiction.

But then I remembered that creative writing does not steal juice from other creative writing.  (And as someone somewhere at some point once said, “All writing is creative writing.)  Just like actual muscles, creative muscles get stronger with more use.

What has been an issue is time.  It’s hard to figure out how to ration your time when everything feels like a priority.

Let’s Define Some Priorities

The day job pays my bills and ensures I have health insurance, so it’s a priority. My screenwriting is my passion, so it’s a priority.

The freelance stuff is something I enjoy and feel compelled to pursue for a variety of reasons, so it’s a priority.

Working out and not eating everything that pops into my mind or line of sight keeps me healthy, my brain functioning better (endorphins? yes, please!), and my clothes fitting (and since I threw out all my old clothes in bigger sizes, this is important), so it’s a priority.

Chipotle & Starbucks - A Writer's Best Friend

Feeling justified at being facebook friends with people you only know because they work at Starbucks and Chipotle is totally normal, right?

A social life of some sort is important because it gives me forces me to take a break from my workaholic tendencies and interact with people other than the awesome folks at Starbucks and Chipotle . Plus my boyfriend is cute and I like to look at him. So that’s a priority.

Boyfriend: Bane or Boon for Productivity?

To Do
Get boyfriend to take semi-serious picture. - Check!
Make smiles a priority! - Working on it!

Priority Management — aka, Herding Cats

I could go on, but I think you get the picture.  I don’t have the answers yet.  Working 12-14 hour days is my norm right now, and I constantly alternate between feeling like I should be doing more with my time and wishing I had four to eight more hours in the day. And I know it’s the same for a lot of working writers and other creatives out there.  So help me out.  Tell me how you’re keeping your head above water so I can steal it.  Here are a few tactics I’m making use of at the moment.

Google Docs

I’m a total spreadsheet nut, and gDocs is the best option for me because I can access it wherever I am. I have a multi-page spreadsheet with every single freelance item I have due, when it’s due, how long it takes me, how much I’m charging, and how many words the final product is (if applicable). When an item has been paid, I move it to another page, and I keep another page with projected income for the month.

Evernote

Evernote is where I create my Weekly Goals.  I try to keep them to about a month in advance so I can add future tasks and events. I have several categories on each Goal Note, starting with a variation on the GITS 1-2-7-14 method and including each freelance item I have scheduled for the week plus other goals like work outs, meals I want to cook, and other goals (like “vacuum,” a box that has remained unchecked for longer than I will ever admit to beyond warning you to watch out for the fur tumbleweeds blowing across my parlor floors). If I have an event scheduled, like a birthday party or a family get-together or a special date night, I’ll add it under the Other Goals because checking off boxes is inexplicably satisfying.

Post-It Note To-Do Lists

This is how I prioritize for the day, and it gives me a chance to check off even more boxes (or line through items, depending on the mood I’m in, because I like to stay unpredictable like that).  This is also a good way to keep myself from assigning 87 tasks a day because you can only fit at most about 40 on a standard-sized Post-it. That is almost a joke. I mean, it’s true, but I try to keep it closer to about 10 — and that’s still overkill if we’re being honest.  But it’s a process, people.  I like post-its because they also fit perfectly inside or on the cover of my pocket moleskine notebook that goes with me everywhere.

So that’s me.  And it’s sort of working.  Most of the time.  For now.  What’s working for you all?  How do you define your priorities, and how do you prioritize them?  Give me some tips!

Juggling & Creative Juju

Lately I’ve been learning to juggle. {Maybe I should learn to actually juggle. That’d be a neat party trick. If I ever got invited to parties.}

Here are my balls. {Get your minds out of the gutters, you saucy sillies.}

  • I work your typical, 40-hours-a-week, non-creative, cubicle job. And full disclosure, it can be, well, emotionally challenging.
  • I recently took on what I think can be called a load of freelance writing work.
  • I’m still pursuing the whole crazy screenwriting dream.
  • I’m supposed to be finishing a short film.
  • I’m trying to keep in shape & to lose approximately 7 pounds in order to fit into the bridesmaid dress I ordered for my sister’s wedding because I’m silly & stubborn & demanded the size I thought I should have rather than the one I measured for post-holiday-binges-and-Melting-Pot.
  • I like to see movies and watch a handful of TV shows as well as read a variety of books, in my efforts to be culturally aware, artistically fulfilled, and to just effing relax from time to time.  Sometimes these activities are combined with one of my favorite pastimes of Hanging Out With My Boyfriend.
  • And then there’s the effort to maintain some semblance of a social life by seeing Other Human Beings in a non-work environment from time to time.

And what I’m finding is that’s quite a lot of balls. {Out. Of. Gutters!}

For a while, I was trying to make myself adhere to the brilliant GITS 1, 2, 7, 14 Method, but it just became too much, and I’d often find myself staring at my computer screen pretending to work but really accomplishing nothing or giving in and mainlining episodes of How I Met Your Mother on Netflix Instant. Once I’m out from under the pressure of the major contest deadlines, I’d like to implement it again, either in its original form or in a modified-for-me version. But right now, it just wasn’t working.

So last week I finally gave in and gave myself permission to focus my creative endeavors on One Thing. And right now, that’s rewriting SoS until it’s in ship-shape for Nicholl and Austin.  The other script I’ve got in the pipeline will wait, an

Sometimes you just have to give yourself a break and take the pups for a walk.

d it will be better for it when I can throw all my creative juju at it instead of parceling it out.  Same goes on the short film. Once the contest deadlines are out of the way, I’ll be able to breathe and dedicate creative energy to finishing post-production and taking whatever next step I feel is appropriate when the product is final.

One thing I’m trying to do this year is to be more forgiving of myself. My mantra is, “Let it be.” I’m ambitious, and I push myself hard — and these are good things when you’re chasing big dreams. But I’m also human, and I deserve to be treated as such — especially by my own self.  Some days, you just need a break. And if you’re working consistently and putting in the effort every day, then allowing those days to be what they are is totally OK.  It’s tough to find the balance between taskmaster and pushover, but I’m working on it.

I’m also working on actually scheduling in downtime on a more regular basis, because when I’m doing that, the burnout days happen less often.  So even though my to-do list seems to grow every day instead of shrink, next week I’m taking a much-needed two days off from everything to go to St. Louis with the boyfriend. No agenda (except going up in the Arch, which is non-negotiable). Just fun. I’m pretty sure I can do that. And I’m also pretty certain my creative brain will be better for it, too.

So that’s what I’m doing. Or trying to do.

The #JanPhotoaDay Challenge — And Why Photo Challenges Are Good for Writers

From time to time on Pinterest, I stumble across a daily photo challenge that piques my interest. In January, I finally decided to take the plunge and participate using fat mum slim‘s prompts as my template.

The keys for me to doing a challenge like this are 1) sharing, 2) allowing yourself to catch up, and 3) using a little creative license when you’re stuck — since the point is, after all, to be creative.

So what’s the benefit for writers? It teaches you to always be looking to your surroundings for inspiration. When you do a challenge like this, you have to find the interesting in the mundane, the beautiful in the ordinary things we see every day. Sometimes it’s simply a matter of opening your eyes or peeling them away from your computer screen; other times it’s a matter of changing your perspective.  It forces you to use your imagination, to solve problems, and to tell a tiny story with a single picture (something that is, perhaps, even more beneficial for screenwriters in particular).  Plus it’s super fun, and when you’re stuck in the Doldrums of Act Two, every little bit of fun you can pass off as creative work helps.

And bonus: If you veer toward the sentimental like I do, it’s kind of fun to have these small moments documented throughout the month to look back on.

So I’ll be participating again in February, again using fat mum slim’s handy prompts. If you’re a writer or fancy yourself creative in any way, you should definitely consider it. It’s such an easy creative outlet with nearly everyone’s phone having a camera on it these days, and you’re looking at about one to two minutes of effort a day, if that. If you’ve got an iPhone, you can use instagram to perk up your photos. I have an Android phone, so I use the Camera360 app, which has done a lovely job (though sometimes I do pull out my fancypants camera on days my phone just won’t get me the detail I want).  Here’s the list:

And last but not least, here’s what I ended up for January (click to see at proper size & not all grainy):

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