I’ve been doing a lot of learning new things lately.
My day job has been full of new learning. So much new learning. New programs, new systems, new ideas, new ways of working.
I’ve been taking on a new writing strategy and kind of way of thinking and that’s a lot of new learning.
I finally bit the bullet and took on a new DAW this weekend and am trying to learn to use that and learn a new way to do that work.
It’s something I know but forget, it exhausts me so much. Which I think is fairly normal. It requires a lot of new skills, brain power, and sometimes changing the ways you physically do things. Creating those new patterns and pathways in the brain in a lot of work.
It is also really frustrating to feel not good at something you’ve previously felt skilled at. And it’s not great to stack them on top of each other. I’m very much feeling a deep I’m not good at anything because of all of these parts stacking up on each other.
What do you do to learn? To feel like you excel at something? To get your footing under you in a new realm?
I’ve had a couple of really good chats with friends this weekend. Thinking about brain capacity, what you spend your brain energy on, wearing it down, and being short on capacity.
I kind of having been letting that shift around in my head a little and based on some of those conversations, here are my thoughts.
I have several different kinds of brain capacity and different things spend down different buckets.
This is the stuff that is the focused details, the checklists, the tools. For me this is something I spend down fairly quickly when I’m overwhelmed. I do ok when I have the same project or I know the work and just loop through and am repeating it. When I’m trying to come up with a new organizational plan it’s much more creative than organizational for me. But once I’m settled in, it’s just a matter of following through, which I’m great at when I’m not spending down my energy on other things. (I’ve had a couple of spates of this being really hard for me this year, when I was really sick for over a month, and when I had the Giant Person Eating Work Project. I was a mess.)
For podcasting there was a lot of creating a new plan and coming up with the structure in the month before and the 6 months or so after I started the podcast, but by that point I was settled into a routine and I’m feeling pretty good about it. I have shifted things up a bit here and there and I have a couple more shifts I’d like to make, but they are fairly small, and my routine feels comfortable and like it’s mostly accomplishing what I want.
For writing it’s still a really big challenge on the front and back ends. The middles I’m good with, and the short works I’m ok with. But the start and end of novels or novellas and the organization, planning, and structure that goes into those is rough. I have a novella I’m supposed to be working on putting out this fall and I’m just…exhausting thinking about it. I have no idea how I’m going to manage it.
Oooof. This is…hard. Just hard. It’s such a challenge for me, and the thing I always feel like I’m worst at. It’s also the most important when I’m stressed about other things so that makes it more of a challenge.
When I started the podcast I was at a really good humaning place at work which I think let me feel comfortable starting it out. I was surprised by the amount of humaning podcasting required, but I think that I am an underestimator of how much work it takes me to do. Meeting new people, reaching out, having new conversations, traveling uncharted waters.
Writing I don’t human as much, still more than ideally, but I think much, much less than I need to to really be successful.
And here’s the kicker. In the last couple months at my day job I’ve been moving into work that is basically entirely humaning. (It’s good and I’m excited, but for right now…) It’s exhausting. I need to learn a whole new set of people, how they react, what sets them off, what makes them gleeful, what pisses them off. What to do when I have to ask a favor. What to do when I screw up. And what to expect from them. When someone asks me a question, is it going to make me grind my teeth or will it be a whole lot of something for a 2 second answer.
This isn’t just writing, this is creative problem solving, this is creative thoughts about a project, this is trying to develop something new. Writing is a corner stone of this for me. And it is something that I was doing when my day to day work was less creative. I’ve had jobs that have had a ton of creativity in them. Not writing fiction. But there is a lot of creativity beyond that out there. But when I’ve been satisfied at my jobs, but not quite so challenged creatively, writing has been a great opportunity for me. I don’t think that I want to seek out jobs that don’t challenge me creatively simply in order to write, but I think that it is a internal conversation worth having. At this time and place in my life the answer to that is no. But that doesn’t mean it won’t change. I could very well some day decide that what I want is a quiet job I can do peacefully without strain for 8 hours a day and go home and be incredibly creative.
The day job is taking a lot more of my creative brain. When I’m letting my mind wander at 3 am it is more often wandering to work projects than wandering off into outer space. I’m thinking about how to resolve an issue with work instead of with a character. It’s left me feeling a little like I’m bad at being creative, but I don’t think that’s it at all, I think it’s just different. It’s not that I’m not good at thinking about the world differently, it’s that I’m applying those skills to a different problem in my life.
This might not be the perfect way to talk about this. And it isn’t exclusively technical as in computers and such. It is technical as in the meat and potatoes of the work I’m doing. If it’s writing it’s stuff like how well structured is this plot. Have I done a good job of developing all of my characters. For writing this might include things like creating character bios for all of my characters as well as just the put my damn pen to the damn paper (or my fingers on the keyboard) and write. For work this would be the actual every day work. The digging in and doing it.
Technical seems like the bucket that is most easily replenished. It is also the thing that I can most easily OOMPH my way through if I just need to dig in and get shit done. If that’s writing it’s on day 25 of NaNo still sitting down at the keyboard and typing even though I don’t feel like it. It is following the plan and structure that I already have based on the creative skills and the planning I did. If there’s an outline of what to do, technical is following it through.
Technical isn’t bad at all. It is something I am extremely proud of. Technical is what turns someone from a dreamer into an author. Technical is what makes an “ideas person” into a leader. Technical is doing the damn work. And if you aren’t doing the damn work and you’re just talking about it?
(Thank you Meg from Indoorswomen (which is awesome) for being the Gif Queen!)
I’m mostly just sharing this because I think it can be really helpful to examine where you are (where I am!) and what skills you are flexing or using. Right now I’m using a lot of Creative and Humaning at work and I’m leaning on my Technical for podcasting (which makes me feel really good about the podcast, about being a podcaster, and about podcasting, all forms of that word!).
What are your brain capacity buckets? What do you use? Lean on? Flail with? Other?
There are a lot of New Year’s Resolutions and 52 weeks of and 365 days of things. I generally like to try to aim to build on and do things without imposing too much structure because then I become a overly, inappropriately devoted to the structure instead of the things. So I like the Year of idea. (Thank you Cortex!)
I’ve been thinking about what my year is. I didn’t have a great plan or strategy. A few ideas sort of floated around and I kept working on the things I knew I wanted to work more on.
I feel like all of those things I’m thinking about are now sort of focused on the thing that it has all coalesed behind, so I don’t know that I can be even objectivish about it.
So what is it?
The Year of Story
It sort of all came together. I’m not entirely sure how. A moment of clarity, or confusion, depending on how you see it. This year is the year of story. In writing, in podcasting, in work. I’m not entirely sure what this means for me as I keep going.
I’ve been reading a lot about storytelling, both the art of stories for fiction and for stories of a kind at work. I’m going to be doing more work with other kinds of stories at the office. The trainings I’ve been a part of this year have talked a lot about story. And I may or may not have pushed them that way…
Much of what I’ve been thinking about is the power of stories and the way they are told.
I don’t know that I’ve come up with anything that changes anything, but it will help to coalese some of these things in my own head.
Did you ever say “I quit”? If so, what happened to make you come back to writing?
Yes. Very yes. Absolutely I quit. I didn’t think it was something I could do. I thought it was something that was in my past. There was a tale that I wasn’t creative and I believed it. I completely bought it. I thought that writing was something I wouldn’t be able to do anymore. That part of my life was over. I needed to move on. Enjoy reading and do other things with my life.
I started to have tiny little glimpses that maybe I could. Maybe there was space somewhere for me in writing. Maybe I wasn’t too old, logical, cynical, boring, whatever else. And that little hope grew. I did some writing here and there. I tried to feed and nurture it despite all else. Let it continue to grow.
Then I read something by Lois McMaster Bujold in the course of my regular reading. And it was good and so I looped my way back into the start (I am completely unbothered by reading out of order so it was somewhere later in the series). I read Shards of Honor and Barrayar. Something about a character who was an adult. Not just old enough to drink. But overall quite reasonable and adult. That was amazing. Something about that made me double down on the writing.
Reading more, learning more, writing more. I really started back in on it. And not all my characters are like that, but it very much kicked me into feeling like there was space for me. I also really enjoyed that despite the books being old, like decades out of date, they didn’t feel like it. I didn’t read them and flinch at the language, the characters, the ideas.
So yes, I quit. And yes I came back. And I’m glad. I might do it again, and that too will be ok.
I’ve had a few issues and questions and some people have asked me why lately. I also listened to an episode of Cortex (that I can’t seem to find anymore) that talked about switching costs.
So why do I use Apple products?
(I don’t exclusively, but enough that it is my prominent computing tool at home.)
Because I use MS tools at work and when I get home I want to NOT have to fight with Microsoft tools anymore. After the last couple months where I spent a huge amount of time fighting with a bunch of Microsoft tools this is the prominent reason in my mind. I do NOT want to leave the evils of those jerks who were personally attacking me and my limits (not really but it felt like it) and deal with it more. Just let me go home and not think about work.
Because it was my first primary computer. Long Long Ago before apple was cool, I was given a handmedown machine for college that was an apple laptop and it was awesome. I learned a lot of how to compute on that machine. It was natural to keep working in that sphere as I grew up and finally got to the point of buying my own machines.
Because I don’t support windows machines for my friends and family. I don’t work under the hood of personal windows machines. I just don’t. So I don’t know much. And I’ve let myself drift farther and farther from what I’ve known. Anyone who has been the techiest person in their sphere has gotten asked to fix something. At this point I just say I don’t support anything that isn’t apple. And I know if it is an apple and I can’t quick fix it I can direct people to the apple stores. I don’t need to keep the name of someone on me at all times. Just go to a store and ask for help. If they can’t help you I can’t then I don’t know what to do for you.
I’m already bought into the software. I know how to use it and it would be very time expensive and money expensive to switch. I own a lot of books in iBooks. So many other things.
I’m not interested in switching. The amount of new software I’d have to learn is less now than it used to be because now I’m a part of a lot of online based tools. But it would still be a tremendous amount of learning, time investment would be tremendous. I’d have to spend weeks to learn it and go through the frustration of that to get to a fraction of where I’m at with the tools I currently work in.
It would be expensive to rebuy everything.
I’d have to come up with new ways to say, no, I’m not going to help you but that doesn’t mean I don’t love you, it just means that I don’t enjoy spending hundreds of hours working for free on this thing I find boring and frustrating.
Does that mean I think it is the best or the way I’m doing it is right? Nope. It just means it is what works for me and I’m not interested in switching at this point. May I in the future? Sure…the math on it might change in many ways so I may change. I may feel comfortable splitting at some point and using different tools rather than staying in the same sphere the whole way. So many things could change.
But this is where I’m at right now.
(I just really hope to see a new high end desk top machine from apple in the next year or so…)
I use Google in my workflow quite a bit. I use it for a lot of tracking what I’m doing, spreadsheets to track episodes, spreadsheets for authors, spreadsheets for books and sales, spreadsheets for giveaways, audio, critiques and much more.
I use it when I’m working with authors doing audiobooks. I use it when I am giving suggestions and feedback on pieces. (Oh I love it for that.) I use it for collaborative work.
Every time I finish a piece of audio I send it to the author to make sure pronunciation and everything else is correct.
It concerned me quite a bit when the Google scam went around last week. I got several emails that appeared to come from authors I’d worked with before. I actually saw them and flagged them as something to deal with later (but didn’t open them!). They aren’t authors that had shared google docs with me before so I was a little surprised but not shocked. The message looked really real.
I will absolutely continue to use Google a lot. But it is so important to really be aware of everything. Check those actual urls. Check who it actually came from. Check. Check. Check. It’s only going to get harder to tell the difference between the real things and the scams, phishing, and the like.
What happens if we start to really come to have a solid handle scientifically on who people who will commit crimes are? Who is recidivists? What the trends are? We are a very long way out from being exact. But we might be closer to knowing that someone’s brain has a tendency to quickly anger, to behave impulsively. We might know which brains are more antiauthoritarian, which are more likely to resist, to fight back.
Do we treat people differently? Do we treat? Do we jail? Do we protect people? Do we decide that it doesn’t matter what your intent was? Do we decide that’s all that matters?
What questions come to your mind when you read this? What futures do you see?
I see something come up fairly frequently in conversations about writing, becoming a writing, why you write. Some people talk about it like it is a compulsion. It isn’t for me. I don’t have to write. I won’t die if I don’t write. Writing isn’t like breathing. I have during times of my life not written fiction at all. This is sort of two fold…
Not a compulsion
Compulsion for me is when I stand at the door to my apartment and check the handle for the 4th or 5th or 9th time to make sure it’s locked. It’s when I hit the elevator button and then go back to check anyway. It’s when I get all the way down and out of the building and struggle to not turn around and go back to check one more time. Just one more time. That’s compulsion. The fight with myself to not do the thing that my brain is telling me I HAVE TO DO OR THE WORLD WILL END. For me that’s check to make sure my door is locked when I’m stressed.
Writing is none of those things. I like it, I feel better when I do it, I enjoy it. I get frustrated with it. Sometimes I even stay up to late doing it. But my brain never says the world will end if I don’t do it. I have never had to grab my own hand and pull it away from the keyboard.
I’m not saying this isn’t true for everyone. It might be. But it isn’t for me.
Sometimes I’ve even not written
Gasp to those who say that writing is like breathing. But I’ve gone long stretches in my life where I didn’t write. Where I was convinced that I wasn’t creative. That I wasn’t interesting. That the words I thought weren’t worth the paper. I would feel like maybe I was good at the thing I was good at, but that was it, that was what I got to do with my life and that way that.
I would read things and it was the same thing. I’ve always know I’d write. I’ve written forever. Writing is like breathing. Not a lot of, “Hey, so listen, writing is hard fucking work. It’s not always, or even usually, rewarding. It’s not shiny. It’s not easy. It’s not magic. It isn’t a panacea. It won’t change the way anything happens overnight. But you can do it. Even if you don’t breath writing. You can do it.”
And you know what? It is way more the second than the first. It is much more, in my experience at least, work and hard and not magic. It’s not like fairies and dancing bunnies. Maybe it’s fairies and dancing bunnies for some people. But if it isn’t? And you still want to do it? DAMN RIGHT! Keep putting that pen to paper or those fingers to the keyboard.
So no, I don’t feel a compulsion. I can go to sleep having not written another chapter. (And on a good night without having triple checked the door lock.) But that doesn’t make me not a writer. Or a bad one. And if you are unsure because you don’t feel the same compulsion to write as you do to check to make sure your door is locked (or whatever you may or may not have a compulsion to do) that’s ok. You can still do it.
It’s hard work. But I can do hard work. And so can you.
I’ve been wondering a little lately what’s the point? Not in general. I mean a little in general. But specifically with intellect. What’s the point in being the smartest person in the room if you never bring anyone with?
At the times in my life I’ve recognized that I’m smart (which are not all the times, sometimes I haven’t been…sometimes I haven’t recognized it) I want to do what it takes to bring everyone else along. I don’t want people to fall behind. I don’t want people to get frustrated, flustered, or hurt because they aren’t able to keep up.
Not My Job
I’ve heard a few people who are smart revel in their intelligence and just let others fall behind.
I feel like this is sort of an idea of bootstraps but in another kind of way. You just have to get yourself there, you have to do it on your own.
But I think that part of being smart, especially part of being the smartest person in the room is helping others. If you can’t explain things to people who don’t already know it…how well do you really understand it. You might not be able to get them up to your level, but you should be able to get people a large part of the way.
Sometimes that means stopping and explaining it in a new way. Use an analogy, a metaphor, a story, anything. Do something to help people. Don’t just keep repeating the same phrase over and over.
It’s So Obvious
I’ve done this. I’m trying to do less of this. Some things are, or seem to be, super obvious to one person and completely obscure to another. I see this when I step into another world. I think other people should regularly step into another world. Do something that is someone else’s expertise where you have to. Learn something and feel a little out of your depth. Or don’t even learn it, but have to deal with something in your world that isn’t your thing. That uncomfortable, lost, frustrated feeling. Remember that.
When was the last time you had to deal with something that was outside your realm of expertise that made you feel lost and concerned?
(By the way. I’m not feeling great, I’ve been sick for the last week plus, really rough shape. Ugh. If I’ve missed contact with you please reach out to me again. Thank you for your patience.)
Because of a whole bunch of things I’m giving a shot to better time tracking for a little while. Not sure I’ll do it forever, but I’m going to aim for through March. Though March might be a bad month, is there a good month?
I want to better understand where my time is going. What am I spending time on that I don’t want to. Am I doing the things with my life I want to? Am I putting my energy toward the things that are my priorities?
I also want to try to reclaim some of the writing time and I need to know where that is leeching out, and what I need to cut to get that back.
There is also something to tracking time keeping me more …focused. Like less distracted by random stuff because the clock is ticking.
I’m using Toggl which is really easy to start using. (It was discussed on several Cortex episodes.) I think a lot of it will be thinking about the structure of what counts for what?
When I’m sending a long email/fb message/twitter dm that is really thoughtful conversation or future project planning or helping someone with something, is that social media? I’m leaning toward no? But I’m not sure.