It’s been a long month. I mean, if I’m being honest, every month has felt simultaneously way too short for me to get anything done and at the same time like an eternity in which so many things have happened that I can barely remember it all. But this month feels particularly draining.
Part of this is because I’ve been feeling sort of gross all month. I’m currently down with a mild fever (because why would my body let me get things done over the weekend when it can force me to rest?), but I’ve been dealing with what seems like allergies for weeks. It honestly might just be the change in weather as we move from summer to fall, or maybe another case of San Francisco’s notorious mold problem. It’s so much harder to do anything when you just feel tired and slightly sick all the time.
I also think I’ve been trying to push myself more. I’m still not sure if that’s a good thing. I’ve been trying to do things I enjoy more often, which has been good but also means I’ve been cutting into my sleep time. I’ve also been trying to be more productive and use my time more efficiently. I can’t really say I’ve been successful with that.
Some good things, though: I found a new Goodwill near work that is an absolute treasure trove! Oh my god, I still can’t believe I found a new pair of jeans and a decent everyday cardigan, plus a bunch of books I’m planning on flipping, all for less than $16. Not to mention the fact that this Goodwill has a separate section for plus-sized clothes. I almost cried, y’all. Thrifting while fat is almost never easy, but this was a breeze.
Also, as of next week Cael and I are planning on registering our eBay store as an official business. We’re both pretty excited. It’s grown a lot since we started it a few months ago and we’re getting better at it.
So, as much of a drag as most of this month was, September is almost over and the best month is about to start. I don’t really celebrate Halloween anymore but I love seeing all the decorations going up and reading and watching spooky stuff all month. The weather is also usually ideal. I’m also going to be gearing up for NaNoWriMo and really diving into preparations for that. I’m super excited!
Early Friday morning, before the sun had even come up, my partner and I were jerked awake by the sound of the fire alarm going off. Both of us looked at each other, exhausted and annoyed.
“Do you think it’s real?” I asked him.
He shook his head, unsure. We’ve both been through so many false alarms in our building at all hours of the day and night. Rather than inducing a mild panic and ensuring that we get out as soon as possible, the alarm is often just an annoyance caused by some inept college freshman trying (and failing) to cook. “It’s really early,” he said. “Maybe…” I understood what he meant. Who was cooking something at 5:25 AM that had set off the fire alarm? Maybe there was a fire.
And then we heard a young man outside shouting, “EVERYBODY GET OUT! THERE’S A FIRE! EVERYBODY GET OUT!” He kept repeating himself over and over, shouting as loud as he could. My partner and I looked at each other, eyes wide.
“I can’t tell if he’s just some drunk asshole reacting to the fire alarm and joking around or if he’s seeing something we can’t,” I said as I sat up.
“We should leave.”
The guy outside kept shouting. We got out of bed, putting on warmer clothes, knowing that even if it was a false alarm we’d be stuck outside for at least half an hour. (A smart choice – it ended up taking close to two hours.) I grabbed my purse and my bug-out bag (which is woefully underpacked, but still better than nothing) and shoved my work laptop into my backpack. As I heard the first two firetrucks pull up, and then a third and a fourth, I felt my breathing hitch. More than one or two trucks means a real fire. (Unfortunately, I’ve been through enough real fires in my building to know.)
We and headed down the stairs. I smelled something burning and was glad we hadn’t stayed inside. Once we were outside, we saw probably a hundred people all staring in the same direction. As we turned the corner of the building, we saw it, too: flames pouring out the window of an apartment on the seventh floor.
It was a scary sight to see. Especially when, moments later, the glass in the open windows shattered dramatically and the debris fell to the ground in a flaming heap. Nothing else caught fire, thankfully, but as an enormous plume of gray-black smoke rose into the pre-dawn sky, I felt my heart catch. I hadn’t closed my windows. What if the flames spread? What if we did lose everything?
But I calmed myself once I realized that I’d lived through two other fires of similar magnitude, and my stuff and I had always been fine.
And for us, everything was fine in the wake of the fire. But two of the people who lived in the apartment – now a burnt-out, blackened shell – who were injured aren’t. I saw the pile of debris on the sidewalk growing as the fire department pulled it out of the building on my way to work. All their possessions gone, just like that.
My partner and I have been talking a lot about disaster preparedness recently, but money is tight. We pick up a few extra things here and there and split them between our bug-out bag (BOB) and our pantry. With everything going on across the world lately, in particular the huge number of natural disasters that have hit over the last fe weeks, I’ve been a lot more willing to spend any extra cash I have on a few extra cans of food. With earthquakes of varying strengths rippling around the Ring of Fire, including a few small ones closer to our home in San Francisco, the need to stock up has felt even more urgent.
But even still, there’s always this sense that you have more time. When a fire rips through an apartment right in your building, though, things feel a little more urgent. My partner and I have been talking more since yesterday and are going to be getting some supplies this weekend. I’m also planning on doing more research on what to do in the event that an actual disaster happens sometime soon.
That means that I’ll likely be posting more stuff about disaster preparedness and prepping, particularly for the apartment-dwelling crowd who can’t put together the kind of preps that everyone always recommends. I’m also planning on talking about other ways to prepare besides stockpiling, because I feel like if stockpiling is your only form of preparation, you’re limiting yourself. I’m someone who appreciates participating in communal networks of knowledge and help that comes in a variety of ways, and I believe firmly that no matter how much you stockpile, knowing that you can reach out to and rely on others is far more important.
In the meantime, please make sure your stove is turned off and you haven’t left your curling iron on.
When it comes to writing, fresh eyes and a second opinion are invaluable tools. Having someone who can look over your writing and make it flow better and catch all the typos and misspellings you weren’t able to catch on your own can take your blog post, short story, or novel from “meh” to “amazing.” (Trust me, I know – the majority of my job is taking the work of okay writers and making their writing sound like it was written by a great writer.)
Fortunately, you usually don’t really need a professional copy editor like myself to fix the biggest issues with your work. A lot of the problems I see are simple fixes, and with a little practice on spotting those issues, you’ll be able to fix half the issues in your work so that when you actually do have someone go over it, they can focus more on the quality of the content rather than fixing a bunch of easily-avoided errors.
The absolute most important part of this is taking the time to do a first edit yourself. I know that probably sounds like common sense to a lot of you, but for those of you – or, if I’m being honest, us – who want the instant gratification of our stuff being Out There For People To Read Right Now Immediately, this can be challenging. But most blog posts only take a few minutes to read, and investing five extra minutes in your blog post or the latest chapter of your story on Wattpad is not going to kill you, and it will improve your audience’s experience. Whether you take some time to read it out loud or just read over it and check for mistakes, it’s worth it.
“But what do I look for when I’m editing?” you ask. “How am I supposed to tell when something doesn’t sound right or isn’t working? I suck at grammar!” My simplest answer to this is reading out loud. It’s a lot easier to catch when something’s funky in your writing when you have to say it and hear it, especially if you’re a native English speaker. You just know when something isn’t quite right. This works great for issues like:
Tense switches, where authors can’t seem to decide when their sentence is taking place. Like this:
I was walking down the street and then we see each other.
The word “was” tells me that this sentence is taking place in the past. But then the word “see” tells me that this sentence is taking place in the present. It makes for a very confusing experience as a reader and an editor, because I often have to use context clues from other sentences around the problem sentence to decide whether I need to change this sentence to “I was walking down the street and then we saw each other” or “I am walking down the street and then we see each other.”
Grammar issues, like punctuation being outside of quotation marks, or apostrophes in the wrong place. If you have trouble with things like grammar and punctuation, your best bet is honestly to google it. I do it all the time. Every time a teacher or professor has tried to teach me grammar, I have really struggled to understand it. It goes in one ear and out the other. (What’s a past participle? Hell if I know.) I understand how the English language works and what sounds right, but I can’t always explain why. Knowing why can be really important in editing, because English is a mutant language with a ton of exceptions to all of its rules, not to mention a ton of rules you have to memorize in the first place. If you’re unsure about a rule, the easiest thing to do is go to Google. It will often lead you to places like Grammar Girl’s articles where different grammatical concepts will be explained to you in a simple way that is usually pretty easy to remember. But if you don’t remember, it’s totally okay to look it up again. (And again… and maybe a few more times after that because grammar is hard.)
Problems with sentence structure. I will see a sentence that’s just weird. Usually these sentences aren’t wrong, exactly, but they just don’t quite come out right when you read them. I’ve been guilty of this. There’s a lot of different ways that this can happen, but here’s an example:
How foolish that was I have no words to express.
Technically, there’s nothing wrong with this sentence. (At least, as far as I can tell – someone correct me if I’m wrong!) It just sounds weird. And there’s a better way to write it so that it flows better: “I have no words to express how foolish that was.” See how nicely the second version flows? Just changing the words around a bit made the meaning of the sentence much clearer and easier to read.
And that’s really the whole point of editing: you want to make your writing easier to read. We could get really nitty-gritty and talk about every possible issue your writing could ever have, but the details aren’t as important as it is for you to keep the goal of making your writing as accessible for your intended audience at the forefront of your mind.
Have specific questions about editing? Feel like I missed something important? Leave a comment and I’ll answer your question in a future post!
For the past several months, I have been trying to get rid of some of my books. It is… not going well. In the three-ish months (god, I really hope it’s only been three and not longer) since I resolved to separate my books into “keep,” “donate,” and “sell” piles, I have only been able to select about ten books that I’m absolutely certain I don’t want to keep. Some of them are gifts that I am just not all that interested in and never have been, while others were assigned reading that I always meant to finish but haven’t gotten around to. I haven’t read Marie Kondo’s The Life-Changing Magic of Tidying Up(yet), but from what I have heard secondhand, one of the most important things to do when tidying is ensure that the stuff you are keeping around you is stuff that brings you joy.
I love my books. I love having books on my shelf. But I’ve had to admit to myself recently that I have not made much time for sitting down and reading physical books. I read all day at work and I’ve prioritized other hobbies since leaving high school. I can’t say that it’s a good thing, but I tend to prioritize gaming and watching TV over reading. Which means that now, instead of having a shelf full of possible sources of entertainment, I have a shelf full of heavy decorations that are not being used.
I’m a big believer in secondhand books. I rarely buy any books with a hard cover or brand new, because I’m a very heavy user. I make notes in the margins and dog-ear pages. A lot of my favorites no longer have covers and are falling apart. Buying secondhand is simply part of frugal decision-making for me – why buy a book at full price that isn’t going to stay pristine? But a big part of my belief in secondhand books has always been being willing to let books go so that others can love them just as much as I did. But for some reason, I haven’t actually put that concept into practice for several years. I’ve gotten rid of a few textbooks I had no attachment to, sure, but not any of the novels I picked up from the free library in the laundry room and never started, or the books that I am entirely certain I have grown out of that I no longer have an emotional attachment to.
I’m not entirely sure why this is. I think to some degree I just haven’t had much time to de-clutter much of anything in my apartment over the last four years, and I’ve been lazy about taking on big projects. But a huge part of it is that I am deeply attached to my book hoard. The thought of decreasing my collection even by one book makes me uncomfortable. They’ve been a heavy presence at the corner of my eye for so long. Many of these books have been with me since I was very young and it feels wrong to release them into the wild for someone else to have. I can’t say they feel like part of me, but they certainly feel like part of what makes my space mine. I worry that I would be lonely without them.
But even with all those emotional ties, I can’t help but consider things like what will happen when I move out. How many boxes will all these books take up? (Too many.) Will I really want them in whatever new home I end up in? Even if I don’t move out any time soon, do I really want to keep all that space for books that are going unread when I could use it for vital storage of other, more useful items that have had to be tucked away elsewhere? And the more I think about things like this, the more I realize that my hoard is less of a comforting presence and a collection of knowledge and more of a reminder of my issue with letting keepsakes go. So I think back on Marie Kondo’s rule to only keep things around that bring you joy and ask myself: are my books bringing me joy? Some of them. But most of them feel like an anchor.
That tells me that I have to do something about this. I treasure my books, but I need to move forward and let them go. I need to let other people find them and treasure them and hopefully crack them open once in a while. And I need to do it soon.
It honestly feels weird to have already started prepping this early. The 4 other times I’ve started NaNoWriMo (National Novel Writing Month, for those unfamiliar with the challenge) I have waited until the absolute last minute to get started. November 1st rolls around, I remember I made a commitment to myself to do NaNo again, and I just wing it and see what happens. I’ve finished twice this way, and failed another two times. While it’s fun to just let myself type out whatever comes to mind, I feel like I’m not really the kind of person who wants to deal with the stress of pulling two thousandish words a day out of thin air as I hope for the best anymore. My time is a lot more limited and I need to be thoughtful about how I work to make sure I can actually accomplish my goals and not feel overwhelmed.
So, for the first time, I’ve been planning. I have a setting sketched out (a post-apocalyptic America where everything isn’t a gigantic mess and people are actually doing pretty okay–I’ve gotten lots of inspo from the solarpunk movement and have done a lot of thinking about non-capitalist economies), I have a main character (her name is Masha, she’s butch as hell and flies a solar-powered airship), and a general conflict (City People are weird and holding too tight to the old ways, while everyone else just does their best to avoid the City People, but, of course, trade happens between those groups, and things get ugly at one point).
Every time I get an idea, whether it’s for plot stuff or character stuff or setting or whatever else, I make sure to write it down in my journal so I can go back to it later and not forget it when it’s crunch time in mid-November and I’m losing my mind trying to figure out where this story goes and how it works. And it feels really good to be taking care of that ahead of time and feel like I’m setting myself up for success rather than just chugging along and hoping I don’t fail.
I’m also really excited about this story. I feel like I haven’t had a “good” idea in a long time, but my brain popped this one out and it felt like I absolutely needed to do something with it. It’s a culmination of a lot of my interests and sensibilities, with a main character who has been rattling around in my head for a while but just didn’t seem to fit anywhere, in a setting I really care about. So maybe it’s way too freakin’ early to be trying to plan out my book for NaNo, but it’s exactly the right time for me to be getting pumped about spending a month churning this novel out.
I’m proud of the amount of original writing I’ve been doing lately. I’ve been writing a lot of blogposts for work lately. I’ve also been mentally preparing myself for taking on NaNoWriMo again this year (I want to finish a 3rd time!) and doing some other small writing pieces. I’ve been thinking about writing this post for a few weeks, though, especially after putting together this post about creating productively. When discussing tips for increasing one’s productivity, a lot of what gets said is stuff that you’ve heard from people before, but I tried my best to present information that we all kind of know in our hearts as writers and bloggers and creatives and make it feel more attainable and positive. I feel like a lot of posts advising creatives to improve their habits and increase productivity tend to be sort of negative. They often read more like someone telling you off and ordering you to “stop being so lazy” or just make you feel terrible for not being able to be a Perfect Bastion of Creativity every second of your day. Like, bro, depression is real! Being tired is real! Having other things on your plate and not being able to dedicate an hour to your craft every day is a fact of life!
Rather than admonishing myself for all the things I haven’t been able to accomplish, I prefer to do my best, encourage other people to do their best, trust that they are doing what they can, and accept whatever the outcome is. I firmly believe that all you can do is try your best. Which is why I really appreciate both Habitica (formerly HabitRPG) and the philosophy of non-zero days.
The non-zero day philosophy is outlined in the comment ryans01 posted, but I’ll just state the basic rules here:
Rule 1 – No more zero days. A zero day is defined as a day in which you don’t do anything to achieve your goals. A non-zero day is one in which you do something – even something very small, like writing one sentence or doing one push-up – to achieve your goals. The idea is to accumulate non-zeros so that you know you’re moving forward and you don’t fall back into the abyss of not doing things and having zero days.
Rule 2 – Be grateful to the 3 Yous. That’s Past You, Present You, and Future You. You want to thank Past You for doing things that are benefiting Present You. You want Present You to work to benefit Future You. And you want Future You to thank Present/Past You for doing things that made life better/easier.
Rule 3 – Forgive yourself. Sometimes we have zero days. It’s okay. Forgive your past self and devote yourself to being better in the future.
Rule 4 – Exercise and books. Exercise improves your body and your cognitive function, which improves your overall outlook and makes it easier to do other things, and reading expands your mind and teaches you new things.
These rules are simple and easy to follow, and honestly how I live my life most of the time. Motivating myself with outside pressures doesn’t work very well for me. I have to do something because I want to do it. If I don’t feel like doing something, there’s very little that is going to get me to get up and do it. But telling myself that my future self will be grateful, or just knowing that I’ll get the satisfaction of knowing I moved a little further towards my goals? That’s really motivating.
Unfortunately, though, I also tend to get bogged down by self-doubt if I don’t see obvious results for a while. Like, sure, I finished reading a book, but how did that really help me? Is that $10 I put into savings really going to make a difference? Did that run I went on really do anything for me? Was that blog post I wrote really worth my time? It’s easy for me to be doubtful when I don’t have something to look at that shows me my progress. Which is where Habitica comes in.
Habitica is, at its core, a task manager. It allows you to create habits (things you want to do, but don’t necessarily have to, and would like to do every day or every week), daily tasks (things that you want to do every day), and to-dos (one-off tasks that you would like to get done at some point). It allows you to “purchase” rewards with gold, which you earn by completing tasks. Those rewards can be in-game items, like armor and weapons for your avatar, or customized rewards that you come up with yourself, like an extra thirty minutes of watching your favorite show or buying yourself that new book you want.
It’s very simple, which is what makes it so appealing. It’s also very easy to customize and use exactly how you want. I use mine to encourage myself to floss daily, exercise more regularly, eat more green things, read, and do a number of other things. I’ve joined guilds like the Financial Discipline Guild, which encourages me to be smarter with my money. My partner and I made a party together, which allows us to keep each other accountable, because every time we complete one of our daily tasks, it deals damage to a monster we’re fighting together, like the Feral Dust Bunnies or the Basil-List. It gamifies the act of completing daily tasks that would otherwise feel like a chore and I get to watch my avatar level up and grow stronger as I achieve more in my real life. I can seek out support networks through guilds tailored to my interests and needs (seriously, it feels like there’s one for everything, from learning languages to writing to knitting to walking to Mordor).
To put it simply, Habitica makes it that much easier to ensure that I have a non-zero day. Because in addition to following the principles of non-zero days and encouraging myself in that way, I am also held accountable to my Habitica avatar and the other people in my Habitica support network. I also have a way of quantifying my success. My avatar levels up as I gain experience from completing tasks, which reminds me that my real-life self is leveling up, too, just in ways I can’t see as well. If I don’t do what I said I would do for the day, my avatar loses health and eventually dies, which loses me a level. It gives me consequences without punishing me in a way that actually harms me, which helps me forgive myself for not completing tasks while motivating me to do better in the future.
I honestly recommend taking the time to really absorb the non-zero philosophy and set up a Habitica account. I would never have imagined that I’d be the kind of person who flosses regularly, has a physical journal for work and life tasks to help me keep track of things that I write in nearly every day, and exercises more than a handful of times a year. It seems silly that this little game could make such a difference in my life, but it has.