Tag Archive for time

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.

Hit the Reset Button

I’m wrapping up vacation from the day job this week. Unfortunately, I’ve spent very little of that time on myself.

Time is free, but it’s priceless. You can’t own it, but you can use it. You can’t keep it, but you can spend it. Once you’ve lost it, you can never get it back.
—Harvey MacKay

I’m not here to dwell on the negative. Most of the problems I’ve had can be summed up by the simple bad timing of my vacation time. One goal was to relax and take time away from the day job, and that part was mostly successful. The other, which I do want to talk about, is taking another look at my creative time.

For one thing, I often spend a lot of time sweating the time I don’t have. That kind of thinking gets counterproductive fast. So rather than pressuring myself to create create create, I spent mostly-idle time thinking about, well, time.

I did a lot of driving, for example. I did a lot of manual labor, such as housework, helping people move heavy stuff, or lifting weights. I did a lot of cooking, in particular grilling and all the prep work that comes with it. It’s mostly-idle time in the sense that I’m physically engaged, and thus unable to jockey a keyboard, but my mind is free to wander. So, when I wasn’t concentrating on preventing 265 pounds of iron from crushing my sternum to powder, I considered how I could best free up other time to jockey a keyboard.

Workouts are one of the problem areas. A karate workout is constant activity, but weightlifting includes rest periods. My bench and weights are in my office, and it’s convenient to sit in front of the computer during rest. I keep a timer running, but in trying to turn those rest periods into productive time and get something done, I created a monster: I got distracted, and my rest periods were blown. Sessions that should be an hour or less ballooned into long grinds, which are counterproductive in several ways. I need to refocus and bang out the workouts so I have more uninterrupted time afterward.

Only skipped a week, but yep, I missed deadlift day.

Fitness time is important, too, and not something to feel guilty about

I decided, during that mostly-idle time, that thinking, plotting, and research is not wasted time. It’s not as productive as cranking out the word count, but it’s still important. I’ve admitted I’m not a seat-of-the-pants writer anymore. Producing a series like The Pack takes more planning. Working on comics means plotting out the beats, the page breaks, the issue/chapter breaks. Putting all those pieces together is not wasted time, so it must count as creative time. Ignoring or skipping that time is foolish.

Next I put some thought into the best uses of my time. Family time is obviously important, as is time with friends. It’s selfish to deny them—and myself—that time. I also spent a lot of time this Spring and early Summer working out with an attack team to help a pair of nidan (second-degree black belt) candidates prepare for their test. I neither regret nor resent that time, but I have to realize next time around that “a couple of extra hours in the dojo” for me also includes a long drive. I alleviated some of that time by hitting a Starbucks to write before or after practice, but the overall time commitment is still there.

In short, I will need to say “no” more often.

I realized, too, that blogging is valuable. Not so much in the sense that it drives sales or interest (it usually doesn’t, especially these days), but in the way it affects my mood. I like the journaling aspect of it, and it helps both my mood and mindset. I haven’t made near enough time for the blog these past few months, and while it hasn’t affected my page counts and other minutiae a lick, it has negatively affected my mood. Ideally, I’ll blather on like this more often in the future.

I packed this thing with notes on the road trip. Lots of good stuff coming.

When I can’t do it digitally, I can still go old school

The vacation has also allowed me take a good, hard look at my routine. In removing the day job from the equation, I can see where I spend the rest of my time.

My morning routine has become a time suck. I roll out of bed and into the computer chair, which started with productive time but lately has become idle time. My inbox and social accounts were busy following the release of Lie with the Dead, but that’s died down. I also have to take a new pill every morning (more on that in another post) and I can’t eat for an hour, which compounded things by making me to feel like my morning’s on hold. I need to revamp that shit, and I need to work with that stupid pill, not against it.

Next I need to do another culling of my RSS feeds. Reading and researching is great when I’m waiting for a software install or virus scan or hard rive restore at work, but there’s no reason to keep up with all that crap the rest of the time. I’ve developed this weird anxiety over unread feeds, and it’s stupid. I’d get home from an event with the kids and look for some relaxing downtime, but what should be at most ten to fifteen minutes of surfing quickly becomes a major time sink. My delete button is my sword to battle the Feedly demons.

The good news is I resisted the television trap this week. Those new episodes of Hemlock Grove aren’t going anywhere. I finally have access to the HBO back catalog thanks to Amazon Prime, but I don’t feel the need to shotgun seasons at a time of Oz or The Sopranos. Cutting the cord continues to be one of the better decisions I’ve made in recent years.

Last but far from least, I’ve dumped the guilt. I still love writing, but I’m extremely busy. Yes, it’s damned difficult to make time to write, but it’s also not doing me any good to hate myself for not doing it. It’s even worse to hate the act of writing for my lack of time. This revelation (decision?) alone may be the most important difference moving forward.

I started my vacation in a foul mood, but in the end I was able to accomplish exactly what a vacation is meant for: I hit the reset button. I didn’t take a trip, I didn’t do anything fancy, I just used the vacation to reflect and analyze my time.

If you’re having the same problems, I suggest you take your own vacation. It will pay off.

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.

Photo Friday: Precious Time

Made this one quick and dirty this week, and it goes back to a common problem: time.

Precious Time

Hold on to the time you have

Rather, it’s hard to make enough time to accomplish everything I’ve set out to do. There just aren’t enough hours in the day, and burning the candle at the both ends causes more problems than it solves.

The key is staying busy without burning out. I’m constantly tweaking my plans, but 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.

Time is When You Make It

I’ve been hearing a lot of “I don’t have time” lately. Hell, I’ve been sweating a lot of that lack of time myself.

I thought about going for a run this morning. It’s an unseasonably warm day, and there’s a storm and a cold front bearing down on us that will plunge temps back down into the thirties. I may not have another nice running day this season.

Then I took a look at all of the things I’ve got on my plate for today:

  1. Clean up the dishes
  2. Get lunch started
  3. Lower the storm windows all around the house
  4. Seal up the attic fan
  5. Finish rewriting this graphic novel script
  6. Put together invoices for a publisher
  7. Go through photos from Friday’s karate graduation
  8. Head out to the dojo to work out with my attack team

It would be nice if I had some time to hang out with the Wife and the Rugrats. This list also fails to address bigger projects like the short stories I need to write and tackling the last round of revisions on Lie with the Dead. Nor does it address my desire to revamp my weightlifting workouts because I haven’t been happy with the routine I put together a few weeks ago.

If today were a normal workday at the day gig, I’d be hosed.

I felt bad about not going out of the run, and griped about not having time. But it occurred to me I’m still going to get a good workout at the dojo. I want to get better at running, but what’s the ultimate goal? Getting in shape. Does it matter how I sweat the extra weight off? If I don’t have time to sit down and look at my weightlifting routine today, will it kill me to stick to the current routine this week? Either way it amounts to moving heavy stuff around and working muscles.

We can’t find time because we’re not looking for it. I don’t think it’s because we’re not working hard, though. I think it’s because we’re not working smart. We’re not addressing and attacking our tasks in a diligent manner, and we let our failures to address some items weigh us down far too much.

Our failures should not outweigh our successes. We should concentrate on what we’ve achieved, then address a plan to address the things we had to put aside. Not the things we’ve failed to do, the things we simply need to reprioritize.

It’s 11:30am as I start this, and for the most part I’ve already taken out items 1-3. 7, honestly, can wait. If I don’t do 4 today I’ll get a chewing from the Wife, but I’ve been chewed out before. 5, 6 and 8 are must-do.

Following lunch in a moment, I’ve got another ten hours or so in the day.

Boom, time made.

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.

Living Like the Shark

Apparently I can’t just sit down and relax. I have way too much to do and not enough time to do it.

I can’t believe it’s May already.

I can’t believe it’s already Wednesday this week. I blink and another day is gone.

I have another book to write, two more short stories to write, and I’m developing one webcomic and planning another. I’m practicing to make Ikkyu (first degree brown belt) in karate and am trying to pump up my home workouts in general. And oh yeah, there’s that family I like to hang out with.

I feel like a shark: I can’t stop moving. If I stop, nothing gets done and everything’s behind me.

The song of the day:

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.

This Weekend, I Cease to Exist

For all practical purposes, anyway.

The Wife will be taking the rugrats out of town, leaving me with an empty house. I’ve got a poker game Friday night, karate Saturday morning, and then I write. If I get bothered at home, I will pack up the laptop, jump on the bike, and ride out to somewhere quiet. If my phone keeps ringing, I’ll simply “forget” it somewhere.

Because I really, really need to get some writing work done this weekend.

I received a flurry of emails last week from a publisher I’m working with, and things are moving along. It’s nothing I can announce yet, but I can tell you that if things pan out, both my comic and my prose fans will be pleased. I’ve only today caught up with all of that email, and I’m on to artist searches.

(That said, if you’re a sequential artist or know one, feel free to point me to a gallery.)

It’s going to take some hustle. Again, nothing solid yet, but I can tell you I have no intention of wandering Wizard World Chicago aimlessly next year. I want to be planted behind a table or booth and shoving product into folks’ hands. There’s a good chance that will happen.

Assuming I can cease to exist long enough to make it happen.

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.

A Year in Pictures

What a difference a year makes.

Despite falling behind on my 52 Weeks Flickr group contributions, I now have an entire year’s worth of self portraits in my 52 Weeks set. Sure, I’ve got 8 more to post, but time-wise there’s a year in there and it’s neat looking back and seeing if things have changed at all.

For example, there was my beardless phase, which I recently abandoned:

The Yin and the Yang

Not to mention the time I busted my head in Pennsylvania:

Home Lobotomy

Yeah, good times.

I can also play the then-and-now game. The following picture was taken in March, shortly after I joined the Academy of Okinawan Karate:

Academy of Okinawan Karate

Compare it to the picture I took just last night:

American Karateka

Higher rank, better gi, looking a little leaner… not too shabby.

A year goes by quick, but as we’re experiencing it, we don’t always see the big changes. I’m glad I participated. It’s kind of a pain to remember to take the pics and keep on top of dumping the pics to the computer and then uploading them to Flickr, but I’m tempted to do it again this year.

I really don’t know how the 365 Days folks do it, though. I’d almost have to cop out and use cell phone pics to post directly to Flickr. I’m sure my cellular provider would love me for that…

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.

Sudden Realization

The other problem with slow weight loss is you don’t see the differences right off. Maybe you start to notice your clothes fit loosely, or you compare some numbers if you’ve been keeping track of your weight for any length of time, but there’s rarely a WOW! moment.

I had one today today.

The daylight savings change was like a switch for many things. One week it’s cool but not cold, and the sun’s still up into the evening. Then the time changed and the Wife and I are busting out the kids’ winter jackets and talking about sealing up all the windows. The sun’s gone shortly after 5pm.

I haven’t been cold walking to work, but yesterday the winds kicked up and cut right through my zip-up hoodie. I broke down and got out my own winter jacket. Halfway to work today, I zipped it up, and was blown away by how much extra room I had. Last year, if I zipped up the jacket it fit snug across my belly. It wasn’t tight like the year before, but it was right there.

Today I was able to grab a big handful of the front and tighten it up. I may not have been swimming in the jacket, but I had inches to spare.

Now that’s progress. The BMI calculations say I’ve got a ways to go, but even if I was convinced BMI was in any way definitive (I don’t think it accounts for muscle), I wouldn’t let it bring me down.

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.

Fits and Starts

It seems like that’s the way everything’s coming these days.

In the fitness routine, my weight’s been stable for a month or so. Suddenly I’m seeing a drop again, and I finally lost another five pounds to meet last month’s goal (missed it by a day). It’s gone the same way since May: I’d shed a few pounds, then float, then lose a few more pounds, then float again. In the long run that’s a good thing, because it appears the slow weight loss — the stuff you work for — tends to stay off more than a diet that you start and stop when you feel like it.

Money definitely has its ups and downs. I’d be getting ready to tighten my belt when a contract or check shows up. I just did a small job for a friend and have a royalty check showing up any time, but then I got the news about the insurance rate increase at work.

Speaking of, the same goes on at work. I got caught up from a few straggling tasks from the start of the school year and had some time to work on some projects, then a teacher discovered some major crisis. I resolve that, skate a bit, and learn about a state database issue that has a deadline in two days.

Last but not least is the writing. I’ll go a month or so with no real news, then hear from an editor. For example, this weekend a mock cover for the German edition of Deadliest of the Species showed up in the inbox. I’ll tap away on To Rise from the Ashes one weekend, then not touch it for a while. I’ve got several other things I should be working on, too, but I’m letting To Rise gum up the works.

I’m starting to realize I have a real problem with time management.

On the face of it, it doesn’t appear weight loss or income could have anything to do with time management. But when applied to the fitness routine, or the amount of writing-related work I actually finish and turn into money, proper time management can have a huge impact. Keeping a better workout routine (between karate classes, that is) could make the weight loss more consistent. Finishing To Rise and a few other projects could set up some additional work and bring in some moolah. And that, in turn, would make it a lot easier to stomach the insurance increase, if not provide a little more stability to the monthly account balance.

So what do I do about it?

Accountability – I need a way to track my writing and make sure I’m doing it. It’s been working fairly well for the fitness with the Weight Tracker the last eleven freakin’ months. One would think it would have dawned on me to apply something similar to the writing. Dumbass.

Motivation – I’ll start with the important question: do I want to be a writer, or do I want to have written? The bibliography says the former. Should I think about the money? Wow. I can’t believe I typed that with a straight face. No, this one’s a bit trickier. I need to get some more stuff out there. And to do that I need to write more. See the problem? I could try to convince myself I’m doing it for the love, but then I’d be full of shit. In fact, anyone who says they write for themselves is full of shit. Writers need to be read. Period.

Distraction – Distractions abound. I need to cut out several of them, and stop overscheduling myself. In fact, I think I’ll talk to the wife right now about keeping next weekend wide open. With Thanksgiving and Christmas coming up, I better take advantage of free weekends while I can.

And now that I figured all that out, maybe it’s time to shut the hell up and actually do something about 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.