Changing the Rules

I have been busy in my head of late assembling a (hopefully small) collection of new rules for myself vis-à-vis blogging (in particular) and making stuff for the internet (in general). This has been fun, exciting, a little madcap, but mostly sobering. I am really crap at persisting in making anything, online or off, almost entirely due to an absence of discipline in my internal life, with an overwhelming amount of mundane life commitments piled on top.

My life is not going to magickally become less crammed full of demands and commitments. Far from it. In two months I will be done with grad school and back home working full-time once again, in a demanding position as head of two departments. So it will do no good to wait and wish for things to calm down. Instead, I need to calm myself down, to tame my monkey mind and re-develop, from square one, the “mind like water” that David Allen speaks of. And after way, way too long spent mostly just feeling sorry for myself and/or panicking, I am at last climbing out of my rotten rut and making a real effort to dust myself off and get charging forward.

So here are, in no particular order or relation to each other, several new rules or parameters I intend to implement and enforce for myself. I don’t expect any miracles to happen as a result, but if I put in the effort, I do expect them to be the first steps down the path to a more balanced, productive, and creative experience of living.

  1. Make stuff. I have to lead off with this, because it is the easiest thing to completely lose sight of. How many times do we (and I include myself as the poster child for this) get lost in a forest of incredible-sounding tips and tricks and tools and methods and other productivity porn, and never end up making a damn thing? That’s right, too many. I fancy myself a creative person — a writer, if you will — and I have let too much moss grow on my tired back. Even while my world is in flames around me, I am taking up my writer’s torch again and starting once more to write myself to safety, or at least to sense. While I have quite a range of written projects in the offing, personal blogging is the most immediate, and offers the most direct path from effort to completion and gratification. So here we go, and no stopping. Even if it is crap (and when isn’t it, really?), it still needs to ship. The lights are coming back on.
  2. No more comments. This one has been a long time coming. The only honest reason to allow comments on a blog post, even moderated ones, is simple: the blogger needs to prove to himself or herself that people are reading their stuff. I will without hesitation admit that is what I have looked to them for as long as I have been blogging. I’m not saying I am beyond that now — I crave attention and affirmation as much as ever — but blog comments are hardly the way to get that in any meaningful degree. I have a lot more to say on this point, but we will have to save that for future post. For now, it is enough to announce that I’m switching them off.
  3. Build up a reserve before launching anything. Too many times over the past, well, whole life, I’ve had an exciting idea, done some initial burst of work on it, then immediately dashed about to friends, family, and the cute barista to get them all to take a look at it forthwith. Even when the response was enthusiastic and rewarding, my creative stamina was so low that, in every case, my output rapidly fell behind my self-imposed expectations, and I just gave up and quit. This time, before I light up a neon sign pointing to my latest endeavor (yes, there is something new in the works), I want to make sure I have the shelves stocked, so to speak. Taking the extra time and effort to stack up a few weeks worth of content means I can open the digital doors with plenty for folks to look at (and judge if they want to keep coming back), and might help me cement the habits I need to keep making stuff at the same pace once the thing is live.
  4. Work in ninety-minute blocks of time. This is entirely behind-the-scenes to my readership, obviously (unless I opt to set up a live webcam of my “writing process” but that thought is incredibly nauseating to me), but I still feel it is worth mentioning. I have only just begun to try it, but I agree with my guru Merlin Mann so far: ninety minutes is a good, solid chunk of time, and I think it is feasible to shut down the nattering distractions of Facebook, Twitter, and real life for that long and really knuckle down on one thing, make real progress, and then break before I start rabbit-holing or fall asleep. I’m going to start setting a timer, and we will see if such a self-imposed constraint can help me push out of the lethargic bubble I have been drowning in.
  5. Embrace the tools I need to succeed. Yes, this translate to new stuff — tools — and this is still difficult to justify, even to myself. Most of me thinks I should just hunker down on the back steps with a Moleskine and a Mont Blanc and write a whole new world. And some days I will still do that, I hope. But so much of the written work I intend to do is bound for electronic formats, it makes more and more sense to work at a keyboard, and while recording words in electronic form is among the most basic of technological tasks, there are also such things as tools that really, really work; that give me everything I need, nothing I don’t, and then get the hell out of my way and let me just make stuff. I have a good start on this (Scrivener is still my cornerstone, roof, and foundation), but I intend to examine what tools will really and truly assist me in my workflows, (possibly) go ahead and get those tools, and then forget about everything else that is out there for a god long time. Obviously much more detail on this point will appear in future, as well.

Of course I know it is all fine and dandy to spout some half-digested productivity tidbits I’ve picked up from some podcast. I still have to prove — first to me, and then to you — that I can step up and put some or any of these worthy rules into lasting action. For now, it’s just more talk from a chronic underachiever who is rapidly running out of chances to get it right.