Tag Archive for productivity

It Ain’t a Blockage

It’s not uncommon for people to ask me what took so long between the publication of The Pack: Winter Kill and The Pack: Lie with the Dead. Then they’ll realize how much time passed between The Pack series and Deadliest of the Species and really get to wondering what the hell my problem is.

Non-writers often make the same assumption: “You must be suffering from writer’s block.”

Writers know better: “Writer’s block is bullshit, Mike. Do the work!”

It is and isn’t that simple.

I tend to be in the writer’s block is bullshit camp. There’s a whole lot of precious and pretentious bullshit artists have to wrestle with aside from writer’s block, but really, the fabled block is nonsense. We’re either creative or we’re not. The real problem is some combination of how the process affects us, what our routines are, and how we feel about the outcomes.

I find most people are either creative or analytical. Everyone has a different degree of each, but I think we all tend to lean firmly to one side or the other. Some of us enjoy creating, others are content to consume (not in the dollars sense, but in the sense of simply enjoying the creations of others). Some of us explore new ideas, others are more comfortable with what already exists.

I’ve always leaned heavily to the creative side. Even in my day job, I tend toward the creative. I’m a lot happier working with teachers and students, or finding ways around technological obstacles (like crashed servers), while a number of my colleagues in the same job would rather fiddle with hardware and sift through buggy code.

When I’m creating, I’m happy. When I lose time to a crashed server, I get real cranky, real quick (just ask my coworkers). When I go for extended periods of time without working on some piece of writing, my fuse gets shorter and my mood darkens (just ask my family).

Once I’ve spent some time at the keyboard, or even with a pencil and a notebook, the whole world changes. Things are sunshine and rainbows until something drags me away again.

Which comes to routine. A wise friend of mine calls it the ritual. Every creative person has their own way of making it work. When we’re fortunate enough that it’s our job, routine may go out the window because we have to produce or we don’t eat. For the rest of us, though, we need a ritual.

Yeah, it sounds pretentious. I kind of thought so at first, too. But bear with me, here.

When creating is not our job, we’re forced to live on the analytical side of our brains. We punch a clock somewhere, grind away for a paycheck, doing what we have to do to eat. We have to not create, whether that means troubleshooting servers, bending wrenches, driving trucks, serving up sides of fries, or picking up garbage.

Don’t misunderstand me, here: there’s nothing inherently wrong with these jobs. I know a guy who honestly loves his job riding on a garbage truck. I know a father and son who are perfectly content and extremely competent as auto mechanics. But for those of us who lean toward the creative side of things, it’s tough.

Want to know true misery? Talk to someone who learned programming because he wanted to create games or apps and wound up coding accounting and insurance software instead. They’re working within their dream, even within the degree that cost them a small fortune, yet they’re flat out miserable and don’t even know why.

I digress. The point is the ritual brings us home. We flip the switch from that tiny analytical portion of our brains—our souls or spirits, if you prefer—to the broader creative side. While our colleagues have various ways of decompressing so they can relax, we have to decompress so we can start working on the other side.

I think I deny myself this ritual far too often. When I sit down on a night like tonight, and I light up a cigar and sit out on the porch with the laptop, people assume it’s the cigar that’s doing the work. They think I’m being pretentious again, that I want to have the smoke and fulfill some image of what a writer looks like.

Nope. It’s because I know I’m not going anywhere for a good hour or so, and I can get some goddamn work done.

But I have a day job. I have a clock to punch. Two, actually: I have officially been getting paid to teach martial arts part time since January. I’ve got to get to bed by a certain time because I’ve got to get up at a certain time. We can nitpick the making time versus having time thing and balance it with family, friends, and so forth, but in general the late nights are my best creative time and I often have to deny myself that time for the day job.

I have to suppress the creative and deny the ritual to satisfy the analytical, which is the biggest reason you haven’t seen a short story in a while, and you haven’t seen The Pack: All They Fear or any number of other projects yet.

Last summer was an usual summer at the day job, and I didn’t have as many of those nights available. And boy was I an asshole as a result. This summer is looking to be more relaxing again, so maybe I’ll have more nights like tonight to massage the creative side. We’ll see.

Which brings us to outcomes. Some of us creatives, we spend too much time thinking about analytical things: sales figures; Amazon ranks; reviews and reader feedback; goddamn Twitter follower counts; blog stats; the money our work does or doesn’t bring in. It goes on and on, and it needs to stop.

I need to stop.

Tonight I banged out a blog post for the day job. A creative one. As I near the end of this post, and I exorcise this little demon, I find myself firmly in the creative zone. I feel comfortable, content. My cigar’s almost done and I’ll go back inside, but I feel content. I feel good, even.

And what better outcome can there be than that? I’ll bang on another short piece for a bit. You’ll probably be able to read it before too long, but hey, maybe that doesn’t matter. Maybe that’s not the outcome I need to be searching for. I just need to satisfy my creative side.

So no, it’s not a block, folks. It’s a matter of working on my creative side.

I’m getting there.

About Mike Oliveri

Mike Oliveri is a writer, martial artist, cigar aficionado, motorcyclist, and family man, but not necessarily in that order. He is currently hard at work on the werewolf noir series The Pack for Evileye Books.

Blank Screens & Broken Souls

I’ve been feeling lost this year.

It’s tough to put my finger on why, and I’m not even sure I realized it until I went to St Louis on a writing-related trip a couple weeks back.

Let’s back up a little. We all know not having time to write is bullshit, right? Time is made, controlled, managed. It’s not possessed. Time moves in one goddamn direction at one speed, period. We choose how we spend those minutes.

I know I have to make time to write. A writer writes, do the work, art harder, or whatever your favorite motivational platitude, they all apply. A writer’s work has to get done, period.

And here I am staring at another blank fucking screen.

I worried that I’m not enjoying this anymore. I worried that I should save myself the heartache of rejection and flat sales and keep doing the other things that are going well, like working out at the dojo and building up the classes I teach. I asked myself that toughest of questions all writers need to face at some time or another:

Do I want to be a writer, or do I want to have written?

Most of my writing and brainstorming sessions look something like this:

Bourbon & smokes

It ain’t just for show. I enjoy those times brainstorming and working through problems, as infrequent as they have been the last several months. I feel at peace.

I feel like it’s just me and the notebook or keyboard, and I can finally get some work done.

Feel like. The reality is… different.

Instead I’m sweating other things. I sweat what I should be doing instead of what I want to be doing. I sweat things outside of my control. Things I don’t want anything to do with, but I take on.

And that St Louis trip made that apparent.

Three of us got together to talk writing and comics and the businesses of both. At one point we started batting pitches around the table. One of the guys had a long list of things he was sitting on, things he didn’t have time to work on yet. Things he thought were silly and he backburnered, but kept handy just in case.

I had three notebooks in my pocket and started flipping through them, looking for ideas. I sat there quietly, going page by page, as the other two guys chatted enthusiastically. They suddenly asked me why I looked so angry.

Because it hit me: I’ve fucked up.

Sure, I had several pages devoted to The Pack and the plot to one pitch I’d put together a while back and another based on “All Things Through Me” from the In the Dark anthology, but for the most part, the pages were full of other things.

I burned a lot of pages taking notes in karate class, and that’s cool. But the rest? All bullshit.

Solving problems at the day job, for example. Noodling an alternative to the day job. Lists of things I needed to do at home, or at work. Even a list of things I should talk about here, on the blog, because I’ve fallen waaaay out of the habit of posting.

Three notebooks and nothing new. Nothing fresh. Nothing exciting.

Fuck.

It changed after that moment, though. I jumped back into the conversation, told them about another idea in the back of my head. Something I hadn’t found made the time to sit down and work on.

They loved it. I spent the next week working on it, and as I type this it’s sitting on an editor’s desk, waiting on a decision. The three of us collaborated on another idea, and on the way home, one of those guys and I put together yet another concept that we dig.

I need more weekends like that, because I’m tired of sweating shit like this:

The bane of all techs

This picture sums up everything that I find soul-sucking and frustrating about my day job. I attempted to make one small driver upgrade, and the whole thing came crashing down.  I’ve spent three days off and on, including an hour of a Sunday afternoon, trying to fix it. No success.

Before St Louis, I’d have moved a cot into my office and refused to leave before I gave up on it. Now? Hell, it’s tough to care. I told everyone why this server was a bad idea, and what our alternatives were. I got overruled and now it’s biting us in the ass. I’ve got a workaround and we’ll get through it, but I’m just not going to lose any sleep over it.

Nor will I lose any more productive time to those who have no respect for it.

Now I find myself in a strange, bittersweet position. I’ve been sitting in a cafe, killing time before heading to the dojo for test prep with some fellow karateka. There’s a blank slate in front of me.

On the plus side? That blank slate means I can work on anything. The possibilities are endless. Horror? Crime? Long fiction or short? Prose or comics? It’s exciting, and almost overwhelming.

The down side is I have no commitments. That same blank slate is my career. Tabula rasa. Square one. The ground floor. It’s intimidating, and a little disheartening.

But yes, I still dig it. My fingers itch, and that server can go to hell.

Time to do some damage.

About Mike Oliveri

Mike Oliveri is a writer, martial artist, cigar aficionado, motorcyclist, and family man, but not necessarily in that order. He is currently hard at work on the werewolf noir series The Pack for Evileye Books.

Keeping Productivity Honest with Todoist

I’ve tinkered with several productivity apps and task managers, but none of them have been as simple and convenient as Todoist. As an added bonus, Todoist has a tracker they call Karma which tells me at a glance when I’ve been slacking or when I’ve been productive.

Looks like I'm trending in the right direction

Looks like I’m trending in the right direction

My initial needs were simple: speed and convenience. As much as I love Evernote, its to-do list functionality is a little clunky. A note can include checkboxes and reminders, but there are few layout options, different projects have to be maintained on different notes, and opening and searching those notes takes some time.

Remember the Milk, Producteev, Google Keep, and a few other apps for manipulating Google Tasks didn’t quite cut it, either. They were simple but still a little clunky, especially for managing future tasks, deadlines, or tasks in different projects (or some combination of those).

Todoist, meanwhile, hooked me quick. First and foremost, it has a clean, simple design accessible with a single click of an app or as soon as I fire up the website. I can see all of the day’s tasks at a glance, as well as those for the next seven days and anything already overdue. There’s a daily digest email available for planning, and every day at 9am I get a summary of the day’s tasks pushed to my phone.

Adding a task is streamlined over other apps, too. While some of the task managers require filling out a form and saving it, in Todoist it’s just click, type, hit enter. Done. Changing the deadline (which can be as simple as “tomorrow” or “Friday”) or assigning the task to a project is still right there if you don’t want the defaults, of course, but just this simple tweak saves a lot of time, especially while adding tasks on the fly on my smartphone. It’s the first to-do app that really felt mobile for me, rather than just presenting a mobile portal to my data.

Todoist also gives me ubiquitous access. I have the Todoist website open in a browser tab at all times, and it’s always in sync with the Todoist apps on my Android phone and my iPad. There are checkboxes in both locations for completed apps, but a simple swipe completes a task in a mobile app.

Todoist has a more intuitive and flexible way of organizing tasks. Creating Project categories is a snap, labels can be applied with a click, and there are color codes for both. Adding a subtask is as simple as indenting it, almost like an outline or just tabbing over in a document. On the website, tasks can be reorganized by drag and drop.

Need to postpone something? Done with a click. Need to delete a task? Yup, just a click. I can also add notes or upload files for tasks. I’ve not uploaded anything, but notes have been helpful from time to time, such as when I need a task that follows up on a conversation or involves a website. I’ve even punched in a line or two of dialog into writing-related tasks.

The only feature I don’t take advantage of is sharing tasks or collaborating with others. It didn’t take me long to throw some money at Todoist for Premium, as it has been especially helpful at the day job.

Which brings me back to Karma. When I complete a task, I get karma points. When I miss a deadline, I start losing karma. Other actions, such as postponing a task, seem to influence karma as well, but the deadlines are the most obvious influence.

Karma and deadlines keep me honest. When I blow a deadline, I know where I’ve been slacking. When my karma graph flatlines—or worse, it drops—I know I’ve been really slacking. And when a task says 83 days overdue (which one of my two overdue tasks says), I know I’ve just completely dropped the ball.

This has been a huge benefit at the day job. I have all of my own day-to-day tasks, but I’m also helpdesk so I juggle a lot of other tasks for a lot of other people. Add to that my tendency to see something shiny and go off-task, or to procrastinate and forget about things, and a good to-do manager is a must.

I also use it for daily reminders at home or for family, for things I have to do for karate (whether for myself or for the class I run now), for a side job I have teaching technology to elementary students, and, yes, for writing projects.

On the writing side, it’s been a huge help in prioritizing and planning. It motivates me when I see those looming deadlines. The karma hit is a nice kick in the ass if I blow a deadline, but it also helps me reassess things when I know I’m getting too ambitious in scheduling things. I can leave deadlines open-ended for non-critical tasks, and bump things up after conversations with editors.

Overall it’s been a very helpful tool, and among the first apps I loaded when I changed phones. I highly recommend it for anyone looking for a to-do manager.

And now I can tick writing this blog post off my task list.

About Mike Oliveri

Mike Oliveri is a writer, martial artist, cigar aficionado, motorcyclist, and family man, but not necessarily in that order. He is currently hard at work on the werewolf noir series The Pack for Evileye Books.

Why I Love Evernote (and You Will, Too)

I use a lot of apps, but Evernote has become the single app I’m not sure I could replace. Word processors, task managers, and social media apps are all fairly interchangeable. Operating systems? I have my favorites, but they don’t much matter in the end. Even the device isn’t very important anymore.

Not so for Evernote. Sure, it has competitors offering some of the same features, but it’s so entrenched in my workflow, and I have so much data stashed in its cloudspace, that it would be difficult for me to migrate away from it, even if I wanted to. I have a premium account for the extra features, but I’m also happy to pay up to ensure they’re not going anywhere.

The following video sums up the basic idea and features. Check it out, and then I’ll get on to how Evernote’s been useful for me in so many ways.

Now let’s talk about why you might want to sign up.

I Use It For:

The Day Gig

I juggle a lot of information in the day job, and there’s not a lot that doesn’t find its way into Evernote. Software manuals and instruction booklets can be stored on several services, but Evernote makes them searchable, lets me tag them, and lets me add my own notes. The extensive federal paperwork I have to fill out every year goes into Evernote, along with all of the notes, dates, and filing information that goes with it.

It also makes a great repository for software license codes and activation keys. For a while I’d type in anything I couldn’t cut and paste, but now I just take a picture of the keys. For example, when we purchase interactive whiteboards, there are activation keys on both the board and the CD case. A couple of taps and a photo of every new key is added to the same note as the others.

Separately, I make extensive use of Evernote Skitch to mark up screenshots for passing instructions and tips along to coworkers. With Evernote integration, I have those same notes and annotations to share again later.

Research

This one should be a no-brainer. I record it once, I keep it forever, no matter the subject. If I’m shopping for something, I can snap photos and take notes about pricing and/or features. If it’s a newspaper or magazine article, I can snap a photo and Evernote will make its text searchable.

This is also where the Evernote Web Clipper comes in handy. Web articles, blog posts, Wikipedia entries, and more can be saved and tagged with a couple of clicks. Just yesterday I grabbed an io9 article on powering a starship with an artificial black hole for possible use in a writing project.

Fitness

There are a handful of print fitness magazines I’ll pick up from time to time, but my shelf space is far too limited to keep them around to look up a workout routine once in a blue moon. In those cases I’ll scan and tag the article and slide it into Evernote.

It works the same for digital magazines on the iPad. Whether I’m reading them in the Kindle app or Apple iBooks or Newsstand, a screenshot works as well as a scanner, and Evernote filing is handled on the same device.

Even better, I don’t have to think about them anymore. Magazines go forgotten on shelves, but if I search for “bench press” in Evernote, it’ll turn up a handful of useful articles I’ll have forgotten about.

Recipes

This is how I hooked The Wife. She has a cabinet full of recipe books, magazines, and hand-written cards from her mom or her friends. I do most of the cooking these days, and I can never find the right books. If we go shopping, we would inevitably forget an ingredient or two.

With Evernote, I snap a picture of our favorite recipes. They’re instantly available when I’m cooking, and if we’re at the store and suddenly decide we’re going to make shrimp chowder, I can pull up the recipe right there. I’ve used Web Clipper to collect several new recipes, too.

Now The Wife has an account, and I’ve shared the entire recipe notebook with her. She can browse them on her phone, or she can add to our collection.

Martial Arts

This is where the workflow gets a little strange because I take notes by hand at first. I’d love to use an Evernote Notebook by Moleskine, but my handwriting is way too messy for Evernote to make any sense of it, especially when I’m writing in a hurry in class.

Taking a few minutes to retype them, however, is worth the time. I have research, history, kata breakdowns, judo articles, and more piled up in there, and I often include links to videos I’ve stashed on YouTube for reference. As such, it became an invaluable study guide for my black belt test last March, both for the written test and the board exam.

We also have a class where my instructor has a handout from time to time. We have a binder we keep for these papers, but scans or pictures of these, too, go straight into Evernote. Instead of digging up the binder, I just pick up my phone.

Writing

And now we have the big one. Aside from the writing itself, there’s not much I don’t do in Evernote (though there’s no reason I couldn’t write in a note if I chose to). Let’s just make a list:

  • Character descriptions. Sure beats searching back through a manuscript, and I’ll often paste in passages alongside my own notes.
  • Timelines and continuity. Character histories, plot timelines, back story, all of it.
  • Plot notes. Best way to keep the story straight.
  • Outlines. I’ve been known to use ’em.
  • Submission tracking. Dates, editor information, all of it.
  • Contracts and contract terms. Of course I keep the paper, too, but sometimes I need to look things up.
  • Production notes. Artwork, thumbnails, layouts, cover mock-ups, and so on.
  • Publication details. Street dates, blurbs, reviews, ISBNs, and links.

I’m also using Evernote to collaborate on a project. We have a small pile of notes and reference material in a shared notebook. We’re gearing up to do the actual writing in Google Docs, but Evernote is better for organizing the rest of the material.

I Don’t Use It For:

As much as I love Evernote, there are some things I prefer other apps for. Most notably, I use an entirely different task manager, as Evernote’s task/todo list is a bit unwieldy for my taste. And I haven’t used its reminder feature much because Google Calendar is faster and easier.

All in All:

Evernote rocks. I love it, and at the day job I encourage the staff and students to check it out. There are more uses for it, and there are more videos and articles about those uses than you can possibly keep up with. Project management, going paperless, research, running a business, the possibilities are endless. There’s even a private investigator using Evernote for case management and field work.

If you think it’ll help you, by all means, sign up for an account.

About Mike Oliveri

Mike Oliveri is a writer, martial artist, cigar aficionado, motorcyclist, and family man, but not necessarily in that order. He is currently hard at work on the werewolf noir series The Pack for Evileye Books.

On False Productivity and Professionalism

I’ve been doing a lot of behind-the-scenes work the last couple of weeks. A lot of it is assembling notes and research, putting outlines together, communicating with folks to line up more work. It feels like I’ve been really busy.

Unfortunately, it’s all false productivity.

Things have kept me from the keyboard, but I still do what I can to stay busy and be prepared for that precious keyboard time. It’s the actual keyboard time, however, that counts. I can spend all year with the notes, research, and email, but until these things make their way onto a page that’s available for sale in some form or another, it doesn’t count for squat.

That includes the blog. I haven’t had time to keep it up since my vacation, but while it does serve its purpose, it’s not the priority. The same goes for social media. The priority has to be the clack clack clack that outputs an actual draft. The clickety-clack that outputs a pitch that becomes a gig. The clack clack clickety outputs an outline attached to a business proposal. The priority has to be the writing and the rewriting.

The priority has to be the clack clack clack that becomes the cha-ching of cash flow.

Not coincidentally, this is what makes one a professional writer. “Professional” should be suggestive of its root word: profession. You know, job. Career. Trade.

Whether one is obsessively pounding away at the keys to the detriment of his home, family, and social life or making occasional forays into the office for hurried spurts of writing between a day job and family and social life doesn’t matter. This is all differing views of what a writer should be, and it’s often an idealized point of view, not a practical one. It’s very subjective.

Writing to get paid, or to at least get content out there to build future pay upon, is enough to be professional. Everything else is that same false productivity, and trying to put a compensation level or success level on it is just splitting hairs. It may matter for some status in an organization, but in the big picture, really, who gives a shit?

Finally, I’d like to point out that by some folks’ standards, J.D. Salinger would not be a professional writer. That just seems kind of foolish, doesn’t it?

About Mike Oliveri

Mike Oliveri is a writer, martial artist, cigar aficionado, motorcyclist, and family man, but not necessarily in that order. He is currently hard at work on the werewolf noir series The Pack for Evileye Books.

Defending Your Time

“Wipe away the magic and myth of creating and all that remains is work … No matter what you read, no matter what they claim, nearly all creators spend nearly all their time on the work of creation. There are few overnight successes and many up-all-night successes.”
—Kevin Ashton

I’m getting better at saying “no.”

I just read the Lifehacker article “Why Some of the World’s Most Productive People Have Empty Schedules” and the related Medium article “Creative People Say No.” If you’re a creative type, especially if you’re yearning to undertake a creative profession, take the few minutes to read these articles. (If you’re already creating full time, you probably already live this stuff, and I envy you.)

When your creations put food on the table and keep the lights on, or when you’re trying to balance a creative career with a full-time “real” job, time is your most valuable possession. Money may seem most important, because you trade money around for that food and those lights. Money helps you buy Shiny New Things and even funds business expenses. Lack of money is what keeps you up at night, sweating bills and empty accounts rather than sweating over creating something.

However, it takes time to generate money. If you have no time to create, then you will not generate money with your creativity. You will stay at the “real” job, and you will pour your valuable time into it, and your creativity will continue to suffer.

This is why I developed the “no” habit, and more importantly, why I’m learning to say “no” to myself.

This is why I haven’t seen the latest, greatest movie in the theater, and why I’m always several episodes—or even an entire season—behind on my favorite television shows. This is why I’ve rejiggered my karate schedule following my black belt test. This is why I sometimes have to tell my friends I can’t hang out on a given night, as much as I’d like to.

After a time, it gets easier. You may feel like a jerk at first, but soon people get the idea. They may not always be happy about it, but they understand what you’re trying to do. If I hadn’t finally learned to say no, Lie with the Dead still wouldn’t be finished, and Deadliest of the Species would still be out of print.

My next trick will be balancing my available time between health and creative endeavors. My martial arts training is not just a hobby, it’s exercise. My weight lifting supports my karate and judo, and I’m trying to get back into running to burn off some fat and increase cardio endurance. Adequate sleep is important for general health and for muscle recovery.

Sometimes, something has to give. Deadlines, you know. It sucks, but that’s how it goes. When I find that winning formula for time management, I’ll let you know.

About Mike Oliveri

Mike Oliveri is a writer, martial artist, cigar aficionado, motorcyclist, and family man, but not necessarily in that order. He is currently hard at work on the werewolf noir series The Pack for Evileye Books.

Getting the Work Done

It may not be apparent to the rest of you (yet), but the last month has been good to me. First, the publishers of a work-for-hire OGN project accepted the final draft of the script. Second, my editor at Evileye accepted the final draft of Lie with the Dead. And finally, I started a few things rolling on a couple of smaller projects before moving on to my next big one.

Oh, and I also built a new desk, which I continue to enjoy the hell out of.

This week marked the two-year anniversary of my first appearance on Shotgun Honey. Two years is entirely too long, so I cranked out another flash piece for them on that day. Hopefully they like it and I’ll have a second appearance in the near future. It’s still going strong as a fun little crime fiction site, and they have several repeat offenders. I was honored to be included in their first anthology, Both Barrels, and my next goal is to make deadline for their second book. (If I don’t make it in time, no worries; there’s another cool crime ‘zine I’d like to return to, too.)

Deadliest of the Species is hitting e-readers everywhere, but no reviews yet. Weird. I’ve heard from several folks holding out for the trade paperback edition, though. I’ll have more news on that front as Evileye Books and I put Lie with the Dead to bed.

I’m happy to say the publisher at Evileye was very pleased with the way Lie with the Dead turned out. He had a handful of very small notes which will be addressed no later than this weekend, if not by tomorrow. I look forward to having firm release news soon, as well as being able to share a small surprise for Winter Kill.

If you dug “Bravo Four”, the next The Pack short is under way. I have several planned and will continue to work on them as my editor and I nail down the outline for the next The Pack novel.

I will also have a short story collab going up on Kindle soon. I’ve got the original version edited on paper and will get those edits in place, and then I need to talk to some folks about designing a cover. If said cover won’t break the bank, I’ll have it live sooner rather than later. Stay tuned.

All of this is part of my revised Exit Strategy, which is my plan to get enough projects out there to write full time. I do all right when I finally have something available, but it’s still far from financially feasible to quit the day gig. I’m working up a few things that will help, but the Exit Strategy is long-term, not an immediate solution. For the next few months, at least, I’ve concentrated on making it realistic and attainable. So far, so good. I’ll check off the last goal box for last month very soon and be on track for this month thanks to some vacation time. (For the record, while there is a lot I like about my job, I can’t see myself doing it for another 20 or 30 years. Thus the Exit Strategy.)

And so begins what I intend to be a long and fruitful summer. Stay with me, folks, it’s getting better.

About Mike Oliveri

Mike Oliveri is a writer, martial artist, cigar aficionado, motorcyclist, and family man, but not necessarily in that order. He is currently hard at work on the werewolf noir series The Pack for Evileye Books.

Achievement Unlocked: New Workspace

After fixing two separate sinks with two separate problems this week, I decided to keep on with the handyman routine and build the new home office desk I’ve been thinking about for some time now.

New Floating Desk

Quick shot with the smartphone before I bury the surface with office stuff.

Total cost: about fifty bucks after I return an extra bracket I didn’t need. This is a 6′ x 23 1/4″ bullet-nose shelf from Menards, supported by a trio of commercial shelving braces mounted to the wall studs with cabinetry anchors. I thought I’d need more support toward the front of the desk, but I found braces long enough to do the job. I’ve inadvertently leaned on the edge a couple of times now and it doesn’t budge, so I’m calling it good.

I have a few extra holes around one brace because stud finders are bullshit. Turns out Bob Vila agrees, and I used his advice to measure from an electrical outlet to find the right location. Boom, braced. And it just now occurred to me that I put the stud finder right back in the tool kit it came with, apparently so I can make the same mistake next time. D’oh.

I have to thank my sons for helping me out, particularly the eldest who installed the last few wood screws to anchor the shelf/desk to the braces. We had a light lunch and were starving after the Menards trip, so we hit Taco Bell quick. The Volcano Burrito I ate gave me a huge headache and had me feverish and puking within an hour. We’d have been done a lot faster if I didn’t need breaks to worship at the porcelain altar between measuring, drilling and leveling.

I’m very happy with the result so far. It takes up far less space in my office, I mounted it at a more comfortable height, and it will give me a lot more work surface to play with. I also see now that I need to rethink my wall decorations; everything is up high due to the huge frame of my old corner desk. 

My original vision included a small space to use as a standing desk for occasional work on the iPad or laptop, but that would take up far too much workspace and would require more carpentry work than it’s worth. It also turns out I can buy an Ikea Norbo for $30 and mount it in a separate spot if I really want one. The Norbo wouldn’t match my desk surface, but I’m typically a function-over-form guy. Heck, look at the sand-colored walls and blue carpeting I inherited from the previous homeowner; one year I really will get around to changing all that. I can live with the paint, but there’s also a birdhouse wallpaper border that has to go.

It wasn’t the lazy Sunday I’d originally planned, but I’ll call it a successful Sunday despite Taco Hell. I’m looking forward to putting this thing to the test with some writing sessions over the next few days.

About Mike Oliveri

Mike Oliveri is a writer, martial artist, cigar aficionado, motorcyclist, and family man, but not necessarily in that order. He is currently hard at work on the werewolf noir series The Pack for Evileye Books.

Newton’s First Law of Writing

Once I’ve started writing, I’m flying.

I don’t have a problem finding my groove. My fingers my stop for a few moments as I consider a word choice, examine how a scene should play out, or re-read a passage for rhythm and flow, but otherwise it’s all tap-tap-tappity-tap until I have to be somewhere or until I realize I’d best get some sleep so I’m not a zombie at the day job. (Or worse, I realize I need some sleep or I’ll be too tired to work again the next night.)

It’s Newton’s First Law of Motion at the keyboard: an object in motion tends to remain in motion. Go go go until there’s some element of friction (i.e., children) or some obstacle (i.e., day gig) to slow or stop me. The momentum is greater on the creation side than on the editing side, too. I can build momentum while editing, but editing is the work sie. The creation side is the fun side, the greased, downward slope toward fame and fortune. (Okay, maybe not, but it can feel that way.) Even brainstorming has its own unstoppable and insatiable rhythm as one connection leads to the next two.

Brainstorming

Still my go-to brainstorming tool

But as we all remember from science class, there’s a dark side to Newton’s Law of Motion: an object at rest tends to remain at rest. I apply the same to any keyboard time that doesn’t include the productivity. Monkeying with email, surfing the web, browsing all the crap I’ve saved to Instapaper, hitting a forum, social networking bullshit, et cetera, ad nauseum, all feel like movement, but they don’t get me anywhere. Sure, I might justify some of it as pimping a book or some other effort at marketing, but unless it leads to a signed contract or a negotiated sale, it doesn’t count.

I also find getting an object into motion requires more force than what’s required to cease its motion. This is the real problem. Closing browser tabs, shutting down Twitter, or taking a word processor to full screen all help, but I have yet to find a trigger.

My workout trigger, for example, is simple: I use the warmup routine from my karate dojo. Whether I’m going to practice some karate, hit the punching bag, go for a run, or lift weights, the warmup tells the body it’s time to move. Then I keep moving. The warmup isn’t difficult, it’s just some easy movements to bump the pulse rate up a couple beats and shake the rust out of the joints. Nothing intimidating enough to make it a dreaded part of the workout, or a workout in itself.

Back in the Dark Age of Dial-up, sitting at the keyboard was still trigger enough. Sure, I could start my email downloading, but depending upon mail volume, I could crank out a decent word count before I remember to return to the email window. These days, lighting up a cigar at the keyboard sometimes helps, but I don’t get to do that often in the Winter, and the pull of being always connected can still trump it.

That’s why I’m going to try the Pomodoro Technique. I’ve seen some comic artists recommend it, but it applies easily to any project. The concept is simple: set a timer for 25 minutes and work only on the project until the clock expires. Then take a break before starting over for as many cycles as wanted/needed.

There are timers for it all over the web. I’ve found a couple Chrome extensions that connect with them, too. My plan is to hit those 25 minutes, then use the break time to surf, email, and so on. Break time is reward time. Idle time. Then I get right back to work.

Knock out the nonsense work, but maintain that precious momentum.

I have that same discipline in the dojo, though it’s more habit than using a timer. My theory is it should apply the same to writing after a short while of using the timer. If anyone has tried it, or has any other suggestions, please hit the comments.

I’ll report back in a few weeks and let you know how it goes.

About Mike Oliveri

Mike Oliveri is a writer, martial artist, cigar aficionado, motorcyclist, and family man, but not necessarily in that order. He is currently hard at work on the werewolf noir series The Pack for Evileye Books.

Make Your Workspace Work for You

Ever watch someone sit down and shoehorn themselves into an uncomfortable position and then say this is how they work? I see it all the time with students and co-workers in my day job. Maybe their chair is too high or too low, or the monitor is tilted at an improper angle, or there’s clutter preventing them from getting their mouse or keyboard into an accessible position.

I don’t know the psychology behind it. Maybe it’s laziness, maybe it’s fear of touching something that doesn’t quite belong to them, or maybe they’ve done it enough it’s just plain habit. They sit down so focused on the task that they forget to adjust their environment.

The only advice I can give is be aware of it. Fix it. Get comfortable. Adjust your workspace to you, not the other way around.

Mixed Sushi and Orange Roll

Who says you have to work in a stuffy office?

I bought a high-backed executive chair some time ago because I was told they’re comfortable. I hate it. Turns out it’s made for tall people, and the extra cushioning in the front causes problems with my legs. Now I use a simple metal fold-out picnic chair because it’s much more comfortable.

I was given a fancy corner desk. It has a keyboard tray, and the monitor sits nice and high. Too high, unfortunately. I was constantly having to tweak the angle of the monitor, and I started to get pain in my neck from having to look higher than normal. Now my iMac sits on the flat work surface of the desk instead. It doesn’t look right, but it’s much more comfortable.

Try different music. Try a different chair. Clear your desk entirely and start from scratch. Comfort breeds productivity. If where you’re writing isn’t working—even if it’s only for this particular moment—change it.

If you’re feeling cooped up in your office, leave. This is why it’s good to invest in a laptop, or to use an iPad for writing. It’s not uncommon for me to sit outside and write. I also don’t mind writing in a café somewhere, be it a Barnes & Noble, Starbucks, or someplace local (and I don’t even like coffee). I’ve even done some work at restaurants during lunches or at bars while waiting for friends. John Hornor Jacobs goes out for a bike ride somewhere to write. Brian Keene travels out to his family’s cabin.

Find your happy place and be productive.

About Mike Oliveri

Mike Oliveri is a writer, martial artist, cigar aficionado, motorcyclist, and family man, but not necessarily in that order. He is currently hard at work on the werewolf noir series The Pack for Evileye Books.

Get the Work Done

“A writer writes,” my editor told me once. “That’s all there is to it.”

It was a good pep talk. It’s something I needed to hear, and something I remind myself of often. If I’m going to make a go at this full time at some point in the future, I need to not just land more work, but produce enough to keep it all selling and keep the cash flowing.

If a writer has nothing to sell, then he’s not going to have anything to eat. Even doing it for the love, or as a hobby, requires the work to be out there and available in some form or another.

Brainstorming

When you’re not writing, you need to be thinking.

It took time, but I’m at a point now that things are moving again. The latest draft of Lie with the Dead is sitting on my editor’s desk. I have an invitation to write some novella-length work and I’m now under contract for a graphic novel, both of which I hope to be able to tell you more about in the near future. I have a short story due, a column due, and if I can get it done by 8/1, an invitation to submit a short story to an anthology.

And that’s the firm work. There are still things circulating in the background, some of which may jump to the foreground at any moment to demand my attention.

I told a local friend about all this, and he said, “Man, you must be stressin’ hard.”

Nope. I love this. It’s good to be in demand, and to see fan response to “Bravo Four” and have them demand more.

This is what writing is all about.

So how, then, does one get the work done? The three keys: sort your shit, make sacrifices, develop discipline.

Sorting one’s shit involves a number of things, ranging from resolving personal problems to simply having a plan. Sitting down to develop my Exit Strategy was a big one for me, as was cleaning up some of the personal issues slowing me down last year. I also have a lot of things pulling me in many different directions, and I came to realize tackling them in a catch-as-catch-can manner wouldn’t do any one of them any good. I sorted those, refocused, and figured out how I can tackle each in the appropriate manner.

Making sacrifices doesn’t have to be as scary as it sounds. Dumping satellite and switching to Netflix got rid of a lot of my idle television viewing and the temptation to become a couch potato after a long day at work. My family is out of town this weekend, making it a perfect opportunity to catch up on Breaking Bad season 4 and Justified season 3, but there’s work to be done. When I put a dent in all of it, then I can make time for Walter White and Raylan Givens.

Developing discipline, then, is a matter of remembering how badly you want to accomplish something. My physical goals require a lot of effort and practice, and I make it happen every day, whether it’s running, lifting weights, or getting out to karate class. Once I sorted my other shit and made a few sacrifices, it became a hell of a lot easier to develop the discipline for writing.

When this post goes live, I won’t actually be at the keyboard, I’ll be in karate class and then on the way to a dinner celebration with some friends. Keeping up the blog requires the same attention and focus, though, and I’m writing this post during a moment I’m stuck on another project. Discipline means not wandering away from the keyboard when I’m stuck. It means finding some way to keep busy, to jump start the word machine.

And guess where my ass will be as soon as I get home from that dinner? Yep, sitting in the very chair I wrote this post from and working on one of these projects. The wee hours are very productive for me, and I’m going to take full advantage of them until the day job hours go back to normal in August. (And then I’ll either develop a new schedule or invest in 5-Hour Energy.)

Here I come to save the day!

It’s worked before…

On Sunday I’ll sleep in, get a short workout in and eat breakfast, then ride Lenore into town and write in a coffee shop until they throw me out. Then I’ll come home and keep on going until at least two of the current projects are done.

Sort your shit, make sacrifices, and develop discipline. This is how I am balancing a day job, Daddy Daycare, family time, writing, working out, and karate class.

It can be done.

About Mike Oliveri

Mike Oliveri is a writer, martial artist, cigar aficionado, motorcyclist, and family man, but not necessarily in that order. He is currently hard at work on the werewolf noir series The Pack for Evileye Books.

Last Night, This Happened

Last night I lit up a cigar and made one last push to complete the latest draft of Lie with the Dead. Five minutes after I tossed the stub of that cigar, I posted the following to Twitter:

It felt great to get that off my plate for at least a while longer. My editor will comb through it one more time, then I’ll have a final run-through, and then it’s just proofreading and prep for publication. I do not have a time frame on that, but of course I will continue to keep you updated.

For the new readers out there, Lie with the Dead is the next book in the The Pack series, a sequel to Winter Kill. If you haven’t read Winter Kill, I recommend downloading “Bravo Four” for the low low price of 99 cents. “Bravo Four” is a short story, and it also includes an extended preview of Winter Kill.

In the meantime, there is no rest for the wicked. I’ve got another writing gig cooking, I need to write a column by month’s end, another short story, and if I can swing it, I’ve got yet one more short story due by August 1st.

It’s been a good summer for the Exit Strategy.

About Mike Oliveri

Mike Oliveri is a writer, martial artist, cigar aficionado, motorcyclist, and family man, but not necessarily in that order. He is currently hard at work on the werewolf noir series The Pack for Evileye Books.