So far, so good, on the new strategy of starting off with the projects, rather than the maintenance: I’ve tweeted, checked in with LinkedIn, worked on some non-fiction books, am blogging, and am about to switch gears to writing my Camp Nano entry, SPIRAL NEEDLE.
I’d felt like I was falling into a bit of a slump after getting through the big Embodied AI and Social Navigation deadlines (more on that later) and I gave this new strategy a try after chatting with my buddy, popular science author Jim Davies (author of Riveted, Imagination, and Being the Person Your Dog Thinks You Are).
Jim taked to me about how prioritizing book-writing was critical for his process. I don’t really have to do that for fiction – or, more properly, I have structured my entire life around ensuring I have time set aside for fiction writing, so at this point it is practically free – but non-fiction books are new to me.
But one of his other suggestions baffled me, not because it didn’t make sense, but because it made too much sense – except I was already doing it, and it wasn’t working. Jim pointed out that most people go through periods of vigilance, slump, and recovery during their day, and that as a morning person he reserved book writing, which required critical thinking, for his early vigilant time. Errands like bill-paying worked well for him in the slump, and he felt most creative in the recovery period in the evening.
Okay, great, I thought, I can use this. Already I can see shifting the order I do things in my day – as a night owl, I start my day off in the slump, recover from that, and then get increasingly and increasingly vigilant the further and further I go into the night. (If I have a project due and no obligations the next day, this can go on for hours and hours before exhaustion starts to outpace execution and productivity finally drops).
So maybe switch errands to earlier in the day, I thought, and productivity in the afternoon. But wait a minute: I’m already using my late nights for my most creative time. Why isn’t this working.
What I realized is that I have an irregular schedule. In THEORY my late-night time is my most productive time, but in PRACTICE on some nights I get an hour, on some nights I get two (or five) and on some nights I am already so wiped that I really don’t get much done at all.
But I do almost always get something done in the morning, even if it takes me time to get rolling. And for me, catching up on papers or writing notes or catching up on my blog is a mostly mechanical activity: it’s not that creative thought isn’t required, but it isn’t to the level of, say, a novel or a scientific paper, where a hard-won sentence may be the result of a half an hour’s search tracking down a key reference or fact, or, worse, an hour’s worth of brainstorming alone or meeting with others to decide WHAT to write.
So: I can’t count on myself to do a creative “chore” – something that has to be done regularly, like blogging or social media, or something that has to be done incrementally over a long period of time, like collating references or thoughts for a non-fiction book – by putting it in my evening creative block. The evening creative block is too irregular, and needs to be reserved for novels and art anyway.
The fix: blog (et al) in the morning.
Let’s see how it goes.
Pictured: tomato and lettuce sandwiches for breakfast, with the leftovers of the tomato as a side dish. At the breakfast table is Christopher Bishop’s Pattern Recognition and Machine Learning, also available as a PDF, the latest of a long series of “difficult breakfast table books” which I laboriously read through, a page at a time – sometimes, one page over several days, until I “get” it – to increase my understanding of the world. Past breakfast table books have included Machine Vision, A New Kind of Science, and Probability Theory: the Logic of Science, the first is out of date now, but the latter two are perennial and highly recommended.