(Self-) Organization for creative people – The Basics

self-organization

After my last post about dealing with my perfectionism I was asked to write about how I make my plans. So this is it. And lots more. Because organizing yourself is a highly individual thing, and where non-creative people maybe would just use a run-off the mill planner you can buy in the store, creative brains rarely work with prefabricated grids and patterns. Still, life can be overwhelming and having some sort of support-system helping with that, can take a lot of anxiety out of pretending to be a grown-up, responsible adult. This post is by no means exhaustive, so if you have further questions, please ask!

What I plan to talk about:

  • Choosing the right system
  • Where to begin
  • The Benefits of Colour Coding
  • Sticky Notes
  • How I do it

What I’m not going to talk about:
Apps and other computer-based means of self-organization, there are just to freakin’ many. And they don’t work with me at. all.

Choosing the right system

So. The creative brain. I often visualize mine as a mirror labyrinth filled with balloons, confetti and sparkle, unicorns, streamers and a billion of interesting knick-knacks. There’s a whole other universe hiding in there. Naturally, this makes it very hard to focus on this universe, and its demands and tasks. If I don’t (and I’ve slipped often enough to know this by heart now) put my ideas and tasks to paper, they vanish in this labyrinth to be never seen again. The tricky thing is to find a system that works for your brain and your days. I spent the most part of my day in an office, I don’t have a lot of other appointments I need to keep track of, and I have a complex long-term project running in the background. You might be a freelancer with deadlines and clients, you might need a place to doodle ideas for illustrations, etc, etc… Are you a highly visual person? Do you thrive with tick-off boxes? Do you need to monitor progress? There’s a lot of stuff to be taken into consideration.

There are lots and lots and lots of ready-made personal planners to chose from, if your brain needs prefabricated grids and slots and your days demand a calendar for dates and appointments. They run the gamut from the customizable and very expensive Filofax-System, the Midori Traveler’s Notebook, the Hobonichi Techo and the Passion Planner to all the less sophisticated, but cheap solutions your local stationary shop offers you.

If your brain needs a more flexible thing, there’s an equally staggering amount of solutions to chose from. DIY planners like the Hipster PDA or the Bullet Journal, or sophisticated project management workflows like Kanban boards or Scrum (nicked from software development). Or you come up with a system yourself.

If stuff on paper is not your thing, I gently direct you to the app store of your preferred flavour to choose from one the many, many, many To-do-List apps that can be found there. They come with all the bells and whistles, and build in reminders, which can be useful.

orga1

What works for me: I never seem to be able to find a planner that suits all my needs, although I love the neatness of the stuff you can buy. I’m a perfectionist after all. So I took a sturdy notebook, and build one myself, which I’m going to introduce further down. My very few appointments and other time-sensible stuff lives in iCal and pings me if needed, and I also have all my contacts on my iPhone and Mac, because that’s where I need them.

Somehow this blogpost got out of hand and really long, so I put the rest of it under the cut. Continue reading

making your perfectionism work for you

It is kinda funny, but judging from my own experiences and what others say online, writing seems to be a masochistic occupation. There’s always something to complain about, not feeling good enough about or you just have plain old writer’s block. I don’t know about you, but I don’t want to live a life of misery, so I set out to find the reason I wasn’t happy. The perpetual drama of having to split my time up between the dayjob, the chores, if I ‘m lucky the meagre resemblance of a social life and the writing was making me unhappy. See, I’m a perfectionist, and I always want to do everything right. Quirky as my mind is, it then also builds in some roadblocks. I can only do A if B has been done, but to do B, I have to get C out of the way.

For a very long time I thought being a perfectionist is more of a hindrance at enjoying life than anything else, but it doesn’t have to be. I think, wanting to do everything “perfect” is actually a great thing, the trouble lies in what we define as “perfect”. Working against yourself never ends well, so I decided to tackle the problem from the other end: What makes me feel like I’ve failed my own expectations? I came up with the following observations:

  1. I need a plan. Without a plan, I don’t function at all, and then I feel like I’m failing at life in general.
  2. I like goals. Word count goals, time goals, etc… works great as a motivation, but often I push everything else back to meet the goal. Reaching goals is dandy, not reaching goals is not, obviously.
  3. I can get a lot of stuff done in the morning. In the evening, after work, not so much and only with great effort.
  4. I love to tinker with things and details until they are polished to perfection, often forgetting the bigger picture.

In the last two weeks, I run an experiment. My daily word goal was a mere 143 words, adding up to 1000 for the week. That’s nothing. Not even half an hour of writing. So I tricked myself into reaching the word count everyday with putting the bar lower, leaving me not feeling guilty and actually free to do other things around the house and on my tricked out to-do list. It worked like a charm. I also forced myself to do bigger tasks in smaller increments, giving myself a whole week to finish them. Very often I don’t start something because it feels like way too much. Breaking it into smaller parts prevents that and doesn’t kick me into the “OMG, why haven’t you done this yet?” vicious circle of shame.

Of course, there are still set-backs, mostly because I’m really not able to do anything productive after I came home, and there’s not enough time in the morning to do everything. At the end of the week though I still get to check off a lot of my to-do list for the week and the house isn’t in total shambles, which counts as a win for me. If writing taught me anything, than that every little bit helps.

writing… and inspiration

inspiration

The question every writer is probably asked the most (by non-writing people): Where do you get all these ideas? The answer is never easy, because, well – everything is an inspiration. Writers are observers, and even the most mundane thing can become the spark for a story, a character trait, a scene…

Let’s take the Christmas Story, for example. The little cottage was heavily inspired by a house in the swiss alps, where I spent a weekend a few years ago. It had lots of snow there, it was really cold and it had an oven you could climb on. Bliss for a perpetually cold person like me. The glass peacock ornaments were inspired by actual peacock ornaments my mother has:

peacock

They are very old and very precious, but of course they don’t have the romantic background as in the story. The recipe for the tea Adelie has in the thermos flask is one my mother made all the time when I was a kid. I make it now all the time too. The whole story itself came from my wish for a picture perfect, “like in the movies” Christmas – only that I then had to spoil the fun for Nate and Adelie too. At least they had snow.

It is impossible to write in a vacuum, even when you write about made-up worlds, alternate universes and space ships with gravity generators. When I scroll through Ember I see quotes, designer dresses, landscapes, night skies, obscure scientific morsels like the fact that salmon semen can be used to pull rare earth elements out of waste, artefacts and art installations, pictures of people that look interesting… the list goes on and on. Everything that tickles my fancy goes in there. Of course I have to keep myself on a steady diet of interesting things in the first place – my main source for that is Tumblr at the moment. There are lots and lots of well curated blogs about everything under the sky, which is very convenient. And then there’s my notebook that serves as the catch-all for all the things that my brains cooks up out of the stuff I feed it. I still have to get better at actually writing everything down though, because it’s bit tedious to get it out. Maybe I should get a smaller one that fits into my coat pocket.

So this is a small glimpse in how I get my ideas, I hope you enjoyed the peek behind the scenes.

flash fiction friday #1: mac corman’s candy balls

flashfictionfriday

They used to sit on the stoop of Building 503. From there one had an almost perfect view of the airbase and the runway. During training weeks, they liked to sit there and watch the Camaros taking off, one after the other while eating Mac Corman’s Candy Balls. The sun would set behind the airstrip, bathing everything in a fiery red glow. There were four types of candy balls: red, orange, blue and green. He preferred the blue and green ones, while she liked the red and orange ones best. The roar of the engines would be so deafening that no conversation was possible, so they came up with their own signed rating system for the starts and landings. The yellow and red bag with the blue logo would sit between them, and now and then their hands would touch as they fished for a new candy ball. Even years later, every time she’d see a red and yellow bag with the familiar logo sitting on the shelf of a murky spaceport corner store, she could smell the scent of the burnt fuel, hear the roar of the engines heading for the red ball in the sky, and taste the sweet and sour candy balls on her tongue. She’d always end up buying a bag, stashing it in the console of her ratty Clipper, wondering what ever had become of him.

new logo and new cover

It was just a matter of time until I would find flaws with my initial branding. Too big. Too colourful. Too dominant. Yadda yadda yadda. Doing stuff for yourself is always tricky, because you’re the only one responsible – there’s nobody to bounce around ideas or to brainstorm with. Luckily I don’t put anything into print at the moment… Anyhoo, I redid it and incorporated the (awesome) wings I once did for a United Space Force Badge.

Here’s the logo, all bare-bones and nekkid:
klaiber&havisham_logo

It also looks quite nice as outlines:
klaiber&havisham_logo_outlines

And because I needed a cover for the upcoming short story anyway, I tested the whole design immediately. I decided to ditch the traditional “sci-fi” look (1) and also go for a more minimalistic approach this time. The story plays in huge Hunter class space ship under attack, meaning lots and lots of dark corridors and without giving away too much, it’s nothing like the fluffy stuff I’ve published before. It’s grim. Gory. I’m actually a bit scared to write it, because I fear I’m going to give myself nightmares. I wanted that mood on the cover – tell me if I succeeded?

Screen Shot 2015-01-13 at 07.09.57

By the way, it still weirds me out to see my name on the cover.

(1) Thing is – I’d love to have elaborate illustrations with futuristic cities and space ships and everything on the cover, but I don’t have the funds to pay an artist. So I have to find a workaround.

Books of 2015 #2: Tales from the SFR Brigade (Anthology)

booksof2015_banner

The Science Fiction Romance Brigade is a collective of SFR writers and recently published their first Anthology ebook. I’ve never read an Anthology before. But I don’t regret it, as it introduced me to some fabulous new writers, and that’s the point of it, isn’t it? Also, being a collection of shorter stories and novellas/novelettes, I had high hopes of not being glued to my ereader for a whole weekend. Well… that only worked partially. It certainly is easier to stop though.

I actually read all stories except one, but I plan to read it later. It just wasn’t what I was looking for in that moment. My favourite stories where “Imprint” by Pippa Jay, who I recently met on Twitter and already adore, and “Whiskey and Starshine” by Erica Hayes. “Nobody’s Present” (Marcella Burnhard) was also very interesting.

If you never read Science Fiction Romance before and are eager to try it out, this free little Anthology is great to test the waters. Lots of interesting conflicts and angles, scorching hot heroes and feisty heroines. And space ships, and space stations and science and… guh. Try it. It’s free!

random thoughts about promotion

As I said before, I’m not particularly good in promoting my own stuff. I wonder if it’s the perfectionist part of me that keeps me being all hushed up because of course I’m never truly satisfied with what I put out. In the last few days I looked into the mechanics of building a fan base, and that was pretty interesting. With today’s social media you have a lot of useful tools and there are many interesting strategies to make yourself heard in the cacophony. One of the more useful things I found was the hint that you should build a fan base before you even have your first book out, as loyal fans will of course buy the book AND tell others about it. Second best thing I read: Imagine your ideal fan, i.e. the target group. Like really, imagine a person with a name and things she likes and does, and write it all down. So when you have to think about promoting, you can turn to that and taylor it accordingly. I guess the 20/80 rule is nothing I have to explicitly mention, but it’s still a good reminder. Be on social media, but only promote your own stuff 20% of the time and be yourself and interesting the other 80%.

I compared what I read to the authors I know and how and when they promote their stuff. There are those whose Twitter streams have developed into Retweet-fests of reviews (not recommended), some post a quote of their books every now and then with an Amazon link, and cute otter pictures in the mean time (highly recommended, otters are cute!), some have various blogs about various stuff that interests them and that sort of tie to their books, and some are just themselves and do not promote a whole lot at all. I do not know about selling figures though or how successful these strategies are, but I know what works with me as a potential buyer/fan and what doesn’t.

Getting your readers hooked sounds fairly logic to me, but how do you do it when the book is far from being published? A lot of tips said to publish shorter stuff for free and frequently. Like for example flash fiction every Friday. I have some silly and some serious ideas that I hope to implement soon-ish. (1) My only problem is, that the Meeting of Doom is at the end of April and things haven’t really slowed down at work so life will continue be quite stressful. The last thing I need on top of that is more stress. Gah. The worst thing is to want to produce stuff, having ideas for said stuff but simply no time and energy. *huff*

(1) This is the moment where I’m wishing I had not a day job clogging up all my time. And then I think how nice a steady paycheck is… oh well. You can’t have everything.