I’ve been thinking about this blog post for a couple of months. I have also had several conversations in that time that led me to believe the issue of what we decide we have time for is an important issue to explore.
A lot of people ask me how I have time to do the things I do. In fact, someone asked me that question just the day before yesterday. I don’t know how to answer that question because I have as much time as everybody else. How I’m choosing to use it may be quite different. I think if something is important to you, you will make time for it, and if it isn’t really that important to you, you won’t.
Case in point: Kirstie Knighton and I were discussing the EC Ning, which is a great resource for English teachers. She mentioned that she has tried to refer several colleagues to the Ning, but many of them claim they don’t have time to participate in the ECN community. Kirstie’s response was, “How do you not have time” for using this fantastic resource to grow and become a better teacher? The answer, of course, is that Kirstie has made that growth and attachment to the ECN community a priority, so she makes time for it.
I participated in NaNoWriMo last month (won, thanks!), and I have averaged about a book a week this year (first time ever!). Why? Those two things, my writing and my reading, are really important to me. I set aside time to do both. I don’t watch a lot of TV. The only show I have to see, aside from a few specials here and there, is Big Bang Theory, and that’s new because I only started watching at Thanksgiving. Sure, I miss out on all the pop culture references, and I don’t get to participate in things like the Lost phenomenon, but I decided for myself several years back that TV wasn’t important to me and that I needed to use my time in other ways, so I let it go. That doesn’t make me better than someone who chooses to watch TV (there is a lot of good TV). It just means I made a different choice regarding my time than someone who watches more TV made. (Interesting side note, there is no correlation between the number of hours of TV someone watches and the number of books in his/her home; I know this because I did a study using a random sample of work colleagues for graduate school and the resulting scatter plot was all over the place.)
Another thing I do is use technology to help me be more efficient. I think people sometimes either don’t use the right tools, or they don’t use the tools they have available to them efficiently. If I want to keep up with certain blogs, for instance, I subscribe to their feeds in my RSS feed reader. Then I check my feed reader and scroll through the updates, reading the ones that seem interesting, and skipping the rest. Dipping in occasionally sometimes makes it seem like I’m doing more than I am. Same goes for Twitter. I put everyone I follow on Twitter on a list. I scroll through the updates to my list in my Twitter client, not necessarily reading every single one, but reading the ones that catch my eye. I join groups that interest me on the EC Ning and the MC Pop Ning and set my email settings so that whenever someone posts to those groups that interest me, I receive an email. If the subject of the new discussion posted is something I think I want to discuss or something I can help with, I post a reply. I don’t necessarily consider myself extremely involved in the worlds of blogging, tweeting, or online discussion. I consider what I do to be dipping in when interested. This is something anyone can do. It’s easier to manage all the online conversations you want if you use free technology tools available to help you do that.
I also multitask. I might be reading RSS feeds or writing a blog post and checking Twitter at the same time. I read while I ride the bus to work (I always take a book with me). I automate certain tasks. For example, I use Diigo for social bookmarking, and I have set up my account to work with my Twitter account and my blog so that every time I favorite a tweet, it is automatically bookmarked, and all of my bookmarks are automatically published to my blog on Sundays. Many weeks, that post may be the only post on my blog, which is why I am always sort of flabbergasted when anyone suggests they don’t have time to blog. Sure you do. Just don’t make yourself some kind of crazy schedule you can’t handle and otherwise post when you are inspired.
I use Google Calendar to manage my time and create appointment slots for colleagues who need technology assistance. There are all kinds of things that you can do if you make yourself a schedule and stick to it. Like anything else, the things you want to do sometimes take planning, and you need to schedule time for doing them during your day.
Obviously having very small children, going to school, or having long required work hours are going to eat up time, and I don’t think people who have such demands on their time should make themselves feel guilty when they can’t participate in activities they want to participate in, but to be honest, these aren’t the kinds of people who tell me they don’t understand how I have time to do the things I do. Most of the people I hear this from have older or even grown children, are not in school, and work a normal 40-hour week like I do. So what gives?
It isn’t that anyone has or doesn’t have time for this, whatever this is to you. If you are telling yourself you don’t time for something, I would counter that you aren’t making time. I have three kids, too. I work full time, too. There are ways to make time to do the things you want to do. You just have to figure out if whatever it is you think you don’t have time for is actually something you want to make time to do or if that’s an excuse you use for not doing things you’re not actually all that interested in, anyway.
I posted this on my book blog, but I don’t necessarily have the same readers on each site. I am so excited because yesterday I validated my novel, and I wrote over 50,000 words during the month of November. The story is not finished yet, and in case you care, I tried a new genre (chick lit). I usually stick to historical fiction of some kind.
I learned some interesting things about myself as a writer as a result of participating in NaNoWriMo.
First, even though I have “won” NaNoWriMo before, it doesn’t feel any less fantastic to win again. In fact, it might feel even better to win again because I feel reassured that the first time wasn’t a fluke. I really am a writer. I really could write novels if I keep at it. After I wrote my first book, I didn’t try to write another one for years. I was a little worried all I had in me was one. I tried NaNoWriMo for the first time in 2006, and I didn’t come close to winning. My story never truly gelled, but I did create a character for that novel who sort of sits in a corner of my mind, tapping her foot impatiently, waiting for me to do something with her. The first time I won was in 2009. I still haven’t edited that novel. I didn’t win last year. I fell behind at NCTE, and I never did catch up again after that. I had over 30,000 words, and it was frustrating to lose, particularly because I thought (and still think) the idea behind that novel was pretty good.
It’s weird that when you create characters they become like real people in your mind. For my 2009 NaNoWriMo novel, I created a protagonist named Imogen Medley, a girl who lived in the mountains of Breathitt County, Kentucky during the Great Depression. She is completely real to me in many ways. I had the rest of her life planned out, even though there was no occasion to show it in the novel. I know, for instance, that she grew up to become one of the first woman judges in her neck of the woods, a calling prompted by an injustice she witnesses during the course of my novel.
A second thing I learned about myself is that the large amount of writing I’ve been doing this year, mostly on my reading blog, has made me a faster, more fluent writer. I know that we writing teachers tell students that they will become faster, better, and more fluent writers if they just practice it more, but I’m not sure I ever noticed a measurable difference in my own practice until this year. I rarely had a problem reaching the daily word count of 1,667 words (except some days I skipped while at NCTE). Many days, I was able to write over 2,000 words. That last day, I wrote over 2,800 words. I was stuck one day, so I just started writing about being stuck, and eventually, I was writing my story again.
When I wrote my first book, I had this massive notebook with all my research. For my 2009 NaNo novel, I put a bunch of research into a program called Curio, but it was clunky to flip back and forth between my research and my writing. This year, I used Scrivener, and I found that having all my research and my writing in one place made me more productive. We should teach our students to try out a variety of tools until they find the ones that work for them. I think we all have trouble with finding the right tools sometimes, and the right tools can make a huge difference in our ability to succeed. I think I won NaNo this year partly because I found a tool that helped me work better and smarter than any other tools I’ve used in the past.
Another interesting thing that I noticed (not so much learned, I guess) is that I seem to like to write dialogue. I worry that my stories have too much dialogue and not enough description, but I like to hear my characters talk. I know dialogue can be tough for some people to write, but I think if you listen a lot, your dialogue will sound more natural. It goes without saying that reading other writers will also help you shore up weaknesses in your own writing. You have models for good dialogue, good description, tight plotting, characterization, and beautiful language if you read a lot. I have also been doing a lot of reading. This year, I’ve read 45 books. I am trying to make it an even 50 before the year is out. I know writing was easier for me this time because of all the reading I’ve done.
I know some writers look down on NaNoWriMo because they feel it encourages sloppy, quick, poor writing. I think some people need the pressure of a deadline to get their words down the paper, and NaNoWriMo is becoming my favorite way to start a novel. I think most people who participate realize their novels aren’t publishable on December 1. In fact, they’re likely not even finished. There may be some misguided individuals who don’t understand that revision is where the real work happens, but they’ll probably eventually be disabused of their confusion (one way or another). Another criticism I hear is that it’s unnecessary: true writers will write whether there is an event scheduled around drafting 50,000 words or not. Perhaps. But I do know that writing along with a community and receiving the moral support of NaNoWriMo has encouraged me. Maybe others don’t need that encouragement, but writing can be solitary. It helps to know you’re not alone.
The most important thing was how much fun I had this time. It was hard work—no doubt about that—but I enjoyed it the whole time, even on days when I had to make myself write because I didn’t think I wanted to.
Good luck to those NaNo participants heading into the home stretch tonight.
After about a year, I have finally edited my portfolio from the Instructional Technology master’s program at Virginia Tech. I needed to redirect a lot of links in order to make sure everything functioned. Feel free to check it out if you are interested in that sort of thing. A link to it has a permanent home in my left sidebar under Links.
- My presentation with Glenda Funk and Ami Szerencse. Loved working with you ladies, and especially loved celebrating your birthday Saturday night, Glenda. Also appreciated those of you who gave me the positive feedback after the presentation.
- Meeting Joe Scotese. We’ve been friends for years, but we had never actually seen each other face-to-face.
- Meeting and having great dinner and conversation with Meenoo Rami and her college friend and college friend’s co-worker (and Glenda!). Loved it! The pizza was excellent.
- Going to the Art Institute of Chicago. It was right across the street from the Palmer House, and after my presentation I needed to decompress. There is absolutely nothing in the world like seeing those paintings up close.
- Forging deeper connections with Georgia folks like Kirstie Knighton, Karen Mitcham, and Kathleen McKenzie (Kathleen, I’m looking forward to being more involved with GCTE).
- As always, reconnecting with the Folger group. I loved working the booth with them on Sunday and meeting up at the Chicago Shakespeare on Friday night (Mike, you let me know when you are starting up that school).
- Meeting Ryan Goble and Richard Beach in the same session. Ryan’s mom is the coolest.
“Smart” Things I Did:
- Visiting the art museum. Sure, I missed a ton of good sessions that day, and I’m hoping to find at least some of them on the Connected Community or elsewhere, but really, it was so worth it to see those paintings.
- Planning my conference in Evernote. I had a whole notebook with all the sessions I was interested in, all the places I wanted to go, transportation information, hotel and airline reservation information, and session notes. Had I not done this, there is no way, especially without wifi access, that I could have figured anything out. I also learned how to send emails into Evernote. I didn’t know how to do that before, and it proved extremely useful.
- Buy a hat and gloves. Hey, it’s not as cold down here in the South. Still got windburn.
- Go to the EC Ning meetup.
- Save money and avoid the exhibits. Look, they are very cool, but truthfully, only the cheap/free paperbacks were worth my while. I didn’t want to carry home or have to mail a bunch of stuff like last year, so good job this year on saving space. Next time the convention comes to Atlanta, I’ll load up completely. Maybe.
- Find time to write. Yes, it was mostly on the plane and at the airport, but as a result of finding time to write, I am only a little behind with NaNoWriMo. Last year, I gave up after NCTE because I saw no hope of catching up.
I came away from the conference wanting to be more active in the EC Ning, MC Pop Ning, and Twitter conversations (especially #engchat). Thanks for the wonderful time, everyone.
On Saturday, I presented with Glenda Funk and Ami Szerencse on teaching the Hero’s Journey. Here you will find my slide deck and handouts. You can find the handouts Glenda and Ami shared here at Glenda’s blog.
Please feel free to share feedback about the presentation and/or add to our list of hero’s journey texts. The Google Doc Glenda shared is not editable, but feel free to add suggestions in the comments. Also, if you have questions or need additional resources, feel free to ask in the comments.
I wanted to add this video for folks interested in The Matrix as a hero’s journey text:
Thank you Glenda and Ami for being awesome co-presenters.
I will share my own reflections and thoughts about the conference at a later time, but it was wonderful to see you all, and Chicago is a beautiful city.