Sunday, February 19, 2017

Time Management For Slackers

Source: pexels.com

One of the things I've been working on since the year started is using a planner to keep track of my days. I'll admit, during the first few days of the semester I was excited to use my planner to note every appointment down--and I did, to the point when I had booked myself for two weeks in advance. Then a lot of stuff happened, and between school, #romanceclass, and my personal life, I haven't been able to plan things as well as I would've wanted to. As a result, my current planner is a little empty when it comes to the activity department. 

Part of this comes from the fact that I don't have it in my personality to plan; I'd already gotten through life procrastinating and cramming, and things hadn't turned out too bad for me. But whenever I sit down and write things down on my planner, I find that I get more things done in advance that I end up crossing out tasks before their deadline. I could get into specifics from my personal life, but the truth of the matter is that, even with my best efforts to plan, I still end up slacking on most days. And on the days when I do pick up the slack, I feel so much relief that my brain goes straight to reward/relaxation mode without moving on to the next task. 

But enough about that; let's go back to my planning system. 

I know a lot of people who swear by bullet journaling, but I find that using a generic planner is enough--that way I can get an idea of what goes on over the week without having to overload myself on what to do. Since I don't plan my days by the hour, I just write down simple reminders ("pay rent") or appointments ("study group at Starbucks") that I can check out at a glance before I go on for the rest of the day. Sure, there are times when appointments get canceled--and it's a bitch to cross them out, especially if I have to use the tiny spaces allotted for weekends--but for the most part I actually like seeing all these deadlines laid out before me so that I can block out some time to do those things. Also, since I'm a chronic worrier, seeing my deadlines in a planner gives me the opportunity to focus all of my worries on one point in time while keeping myself busy (and relaxed) with other things before that deadline. 

Then there are the non-negotiables--things that I have to do, no matter what, because otherwise my days would be out of whack. My non-negotiable hours are between 8:00 and 11:00, which means I have to write during that time--and if I can't write, I can do writerly things like editing and reading. It's gotten to the point where I can't spend that time not writing--like that one week after I finished my #romanceclass2017 manuscript, when I put it to rest before revising it again--and I have to find something to read or write if I don't want my brain to turn into pudding. 

One thing that has changed is that weekends are no longer non-negotiable for me, since there's always a lot going on during those days. I used to block out entire Sundays for non-school work, but since I've started facing Monday deadlines in the last three semesters I've used my daytime hours during the weekends to deal with the things that can't wait until later in the week. Blame my slacker tendencies for that--again, I've done a lot of cramming in my lifetime--but I'm hoping that, once things slow down again for school, I'll be able to bring back my weekend play hours so I can work on my non-serious stuff again. 


But other than that, it's really nice to have your entire week laid out before you, and I actually relax a little more whenever I'm able to fill in the gaps in my schedule. I just hope that, as the year rolls on, I can make a habit out of this so I can make the most out of my time. 

How about you? Do you have a time management system to keep you organized? Let me know in the comments below, or tweet me (@TheStellaTorres) with your comments!  

Tuesday, February 14, 2017

Beyond The Stars

First things first: Yes, I was at the #BitterxSweet event at Ayala Museum, where I sold Crushingly Close and Save the Cake (and signed both books for fans) as well as stuck around for the live readings. Unfortunately, I don't have pictures from that event, for various reasons. There are, however, pictures of me comforting my fellow #romanceclass authors while they sat through the live readings of their books, so there's no doubt in anyone's mind that I was present at the event. So that's that. (You'll have to go on YouTube for videos of the readings, or wait until my fellow #romanceclass authors have processed their feels.)

Now that we've gotten that out of the way, though, I'd like to share a few other things about my writing life that did occur to me over the weekend.

Recently I was out to dinner with a friend of mine, and our conversation turned to my feelings about my writing life. I'm not going into specifics here--there was a lot of intense talk about what we were both going through as writers--but I did mention that I was having a hard time engaging local readers and bloggers with my stories. You see, I had been doubting myself, on and on, because I couldn't stop comparing myself with the other authors in my circle, and I kept asking myself what it was that they had that I didn't. Was my writing good enough? Is it a problem with the market, the readers, the gatekeepers? Did I have the stomach to keep moving on?

I'd also mentioned to her that my NaNoWriMo experience felt like a fluke to me, a rare instance of capturing lightning in a bottle. What if this was it for me--what if, after I'd polished my WIPs to perfection, I'll never be able to write another book again?

Then, out of nowhere, I'd mentioned that I'd lived in Honolulu for 12 years, compared to my six years in Quezon City and eight in the Philippines in general. She just looked at me and said, "There's your answer."

I'd done a lot of thinking about this, and I realized that I haven't really tapped enough into my own multicultural life. I had the advantage of living overseas and being well-traveled, and I hadn't made the most of it in my writing. And yet, for so long, I'd resisted writing about them because I was afraid that I would alienate people, that it would make me look smug in the eyes of people who haven't traveled as much as I have even with the choices that I made in my life.

I can still write about them. I can make good fiction out of them. The problem is, how was I supposed to fit all of that into the rest of my life?

Answer: one step at a time.

I don't have to write all of the stories now, not while I'm in school and not when there are three WIPs competing for my attention. But I can plan them, the same way that I did when I wrote my NaNoWriMo story.  I can build the outlines piece by piece before throwing them into the proverbial blender. Then, when the time comes--say, when the next NaNoWriMo comes along--I'll be prepared to write them, and be ready to commit.

But what will I do with them once I'm finished? Ah, but that's where the real planning comes in. And that's the part that I'm not ready to talk about just yet, because I don't have enough information that's worth sharing. Let's just say that it involves taking greater risks and building up a new strategy that could take me beyond where I am now. This also means taking my writing career seriously--writing every day, doing more research about my publishing options, and generally looking at how far I can take myself in this journey. Again, this is all in the planning stages, but eventually I'll figure out what I'm going to do once I know where I'm going.

Either way, I'm excited about this new direction that I'm taking my writing in, and I'm hoping that I can make the most of this while I can. Here's to new beginnings!

Sunday, February 5, 2017

Crushingly Close: The Indie Print Edition

First and foremost, here's the cover for the print edition!


This cover was designed by the awesome Gail Villanueva, who took our original design for the ebook cover and added the view of Jakarta at night as a nice touch. As with the case of the ebook cover, we both had the same favorite among the design options that she presented to me during the vetting process, so it all worked out in the end.

Now, I know what you're probably thinking if this is going to be available at your nearest bookstore. My answer, unfortunately, is no.

Why?

For one thing, it's not that easy anymore for an indie romance author to get picked up by a mainstream publisher, especially considering what publishers are now in the market for these days. Even if I do get picked up, it would take me even longer to see the book in distribution, because of all the different hoops and channels that I would have to go through with my publishers. This is not a dig at the publisher who picked up my last book, since I learned a lot from them and I'm glad for the experience. But, all things considered, this is a business decision that I had to make for this book, and possibly for my future books.

Think about it: Would you want to wait for months, even years, to see my book in stores, and spend more time hunting it down, waiting for it to be in stock? Or would you rather just go to me instead, and have your book delivered to you in a matter of weeks?

Granted, this is not an ideal way of doing things. Printing books are expensive, and as of now I don't (yet) have the proper business setup to make this sustainable. (And don't get me started on the "prestige" that I'm losing from self-publishing this book! It's like I don't even exist anymore in people's eyes.) Right now, to make things easier for me, I'm selling copies of my books at events and book fairs where other #romanceclass indie titles are available, with the option of meetups with potential buyers. I'm also working on making the book available on CreateSpace so it can be distributed on Amazon and Book Depository for international orders. Once I have the resources to keep this up and running--resources that include time as well as money--I'll be able to expand this operation to include more books and more payment options.

The only thing I ask of you is that you be patient with me, because I'm still in the process of learning. 

Sunday, January 29, 2017

So I Finished A Manuscript (#romanceclass2017 Edition)

After several days of struggling with time management, snit fits, and numerous distractions, I finally finished my first manuscript for 2017. If you do the math, that means I've finished three manuscripts in the span of six months (with this on-and-off one being the first and NaNoWriMo for the second), so I must have had a lot of time and energy while I was going through all of that.

Well, not exactly. 

The way I see it, my NaNoWriMo manuscript took three weeks to finish because 1) it was a complete story when I started outlining it in August and 2) I had more control over my time and environment, since I wrote the majority of it while I was at my place in Quezon City. In contrast, the word count tracker for my #romanceclass2017 manuscript had the most zeroes during December and the first week of January, because I was staying with my parents and had more demands on my time. (It didn't help that we went through three back-to-back funerals in December, which cast a gloomy cloud over our holidays.) When I moved back to town, my daytime hours were full of appointments and errands, but the word count picked up again and I was more driven to write. It wasn't a matter of how much tea I drank that day, or how far along I was on the outline; once eight o'clock rolled around in Diliman, my fingers were on that keyboard, and I didn't stop until it was bedtime. 

It also helped that I had someone to talk to during this process, who helped me untangle some of the kinks that I'd run into while I was writing the story. She was with me from the first time I tried (and failed) to get through the outline, and when things got rough I asked her for her input on story elements such as setting and characterization. What's even more amazing about this was that I found myself making my own decisions about what to write after bouncing ideas back and forth with her--it was more a matter of guidance, which taught me how to put more trust in my own instincts. Seriously, folks, if you're ever in a bind, it really helps to have a writing buddy in your corner. 

So what's next for this manuscript? Editing, for one thing; unlike my past manuscripts, I don't have the luxury of time (because I'm working with a tight submission deadline on this one) so I'm not sure if I'll even have time to put this one through the beta read process. That means I'll have to edit and rewrite this one every night until the deadline strikes--otherwise I wouldn't get anything done. I'm still honoring the "office hours" policy that I'd set for myself during the daytime, so I'll try to get as much of my school stuff out of the way. (This is where my planner comes in handy--I need to fill my days with as much activity as possible, so I wouldn't have an excuse to do nothing at night!) Until then, wish me luck!

Monday, January 23, 2017

Crushingly Close: Now Available for Pre-Order!

Now you can have your own print copy of Crushingly Close! Pre-orders are now open until February 8 before the Philippine edition launch on February 11. Payment information will be forwarded to you once the form has been received. Hope to see you then!

Friday, January 13, 2017

Writer's Drinks, For People Who Can't Stand Caffeine

In the last ten years I've had a torturous relationship with caffeine. Sometimes it gives me the worst side effects, from palpitations to anxiety, and I'm practically inconsolable. Sometimes I get the wrong dosage, and I get so wired that everything comes crashing down over my ears in the worst possible way. 

But when I do hit the sweet spot--just enough to keep me buzzed, but not so much to leave me frayed--everything snaps into focus. My mind is clear, and my writing flows through me with ease. Errands get done. Goals are met. Everything becomes right with the world. 

The trick is to play around with the combinations. 

For one thing, decaf-ing alone is not enough; I've tried using instant decaf coffee, and the results were nothing short of disastrous. (I've got some theories about instant coffee coming from cheap beans, but I could be wrong here.) On the other hand, I've drunk full-strength iced tea on some days, and it has given me mellower results. I've also tried playing around with sugar, and it doesn't look like it has made a considerable amount of difference either. 

Long story short, here are the things that have worked for me, as far as keeping the buzz alive goes. Please note that your mileage may still vary, but it wouldn't hurt to at least try. 

- Chain-store coffee. Just because I have problems with decaffeinated instant coffee doesn't mean that all decaf coffee is verboten from my diet. I've stuck it out with decaf lattes from Starbucks and Coffee Bean for a long time--the buzz is low, and the milk does a good job of smoothing out the bitterness of the coffee. I also single out these two stores because they're the few places where I can get Splenda with my drink if I want to cut down on sugar. (Equal in coffee tastes like melted plastic, and good luck finding stevia anywhere!) Let's not even forget about Christmas drink season coinciding with NaNoWriMo, either; it's like the coffee gods have been listening all along, and want us to get new planners to go with our drinks, too. 

(A side note: One of the ways I survived Christmas drink season at Starbucks was ordering them with decaf espresso, light on the syrup, and no whipped cream. That way, I don't get too dizzy with the extra sugar, and I don't have to feel like a dork for scraping off whipped cream from my glass.) 

- Storebought milk teas. Unlike coffee, chain-store milk tea can be hit or miss (looking at you, Chatime) and they can be too pricey for the amount you're actually getting in your cup. But there are some chains that do milk tea right: Moonleaf and Infinitea make milk tea that chills me out at a reasonable price (at least P100 for a 16-oz cup). The indie milk tea stores in my neighborhood in Diliman charge less depending on the flavor; I found out during NaNoWriMo that black or oolong tea (50% sugar; tapioca pearls if available) gave me the writing boost that I needed for the night. 

- Instant milk teas. My holy-grail drug of choice is Owl Teh Tarik, which is based on the Malaysian drink (read about the technique here)--the brew is foamy, but rich with the right balance of bitter-sweetness. Sun Soya also makes decent milk teas as well; currently I'm into their Matcha Latte flavor, which is an inexpensive alternative to chain-store green tea lattes. Then there's Old Town White Milk Tea, which can be good for two cups to each package; I save those for the days when I have more hot water to spare at home. The only downside to this is that they're made with coffee creamer instead of milk, which can be terrible to your innards if you're watching your sugar. 

- Brewed tea. While I do count on herbal tea to keep me sane, there are times when you just need to brew a bag. Stash and Bigelow make my favorite Earl Grey teas in decaf form, but I've also started experimenting with regular-strength tea, with lots of hot water to control the impact.  

- Iced tea. Lately I've become a bit of an iced-tea snob; I can take or leave the cheap iced tea that I get at some restaurants in Quezon City, but give me a glass of the brewed stuff and you've got a customer for life. As far as fast food iced tea is concerned, I'm partial to the one at KFC, which has the bite of fresh-brewed tea and enough citrus to cut down on the sweetness. (I've heard good things about the tea at Wendy's, though. That may have to wait.) 

Happy caffeinating! 

Friday, January 6, 2017

Bimonthly Goals: January to February

Happy New Year! I know it's been a month since my last post, but a lot of things happened over the Christmas break that threw me for a loop: deaths in the family, academic delays, and even a stomach bug that nearly ruined the first few days of 2017 for me. And I'm not out of the woods yet; as of this writing, my academic career remains in a state of suspended animation because of the delays in the release of my exam results. Don't even get me started with my renewed interest in current events, either. 

In spite of all of this, I've decided that I'm going to put down some goals for myself. It's not a terribly original idea--Jenna Moreci and Kristen Martin (among other authors) have been making themselves accountable on YouTube for their writing goals--but I figured that if I'm going to do something different for this year, then I might as well put something down in writing where everyone else can see it. 

1. Finish my #romanceclass2017 manuscript. If you've been following me on Twitter, you may have noticed that I've been posting word counts for a new #romanceclass manuscript that I'm hoping to finish by the end of February. This time, the stakes are pretty high, and everything is contingent on me having a polished manuscript that's ready for review by the deadline. What makes this especially difficult is not just the demands on my time--which are different from the ones I went through during NaNoWriMo--but the various tangents that this manuscript has taken from the original outline. But I'm honing my instincts as I go, so I'm hoping to get back on the horse as soon as I can.

1.5. Write at least 500 words a day. This is more of a long-term goal for the year, and it's easier said than done--there are a lot of spots on my spreadsheet where I've written 0 words for the day. But this is a workable goal for me; a scene can take me at least 500-800 words to type over the span of an hour, and if that's all I can spare for the day, then I'll take what I can get. That said, I'm planning some writing marathons for this weekend, so I'm hoping I can get my daily word count fixed before school starts again. 

2. Finalize the print edition for Crushingly Close. After much soul-searching, I've decided that I'm going to do an indie run for this book, mostly because I want this book out as soon as possible and I can't let everyone wait a moment longer for this to be published traditionally. Do I still want to see this in bookstores? Yes, possibly, but at this point I think the timing is just right for me to get this new book out while I still can. If all goes well, I can have this out by the #romanceclass event at Ayala Museum on February 11--but either way, if I can do this within two months, then I'll be all set. 

3. Read at least 3-4 books. So many new books are coming out, but most of my reading at this point is related to filling up the well that's been taken up by #romanceclass--which means that there are a few reads that are falling by the wayside. (Sorry, Cormoran Strike.) I've already gotten started on Beard Science by Penny Reid (love the banter and the small-town setting), which I'm following up with Once Upon a Rose by Laura Florand (heard many good things about this), but everything after that (apart from my brother's new book and the new Charlotte Stein that I've pre-ordered) is up in the air. At least I'll be able to hold off on more purchases until March. 

4. Post one new blog entry every week. It might not always be every Monday like I tried to do in October and November, but I want to make sure that I keep in touch with you at least once a week to let you know what I've been up to lately. So far what I have planned for this blog is to start talking about the writing process again, since I've been inspired by the series of blog posts that I did during NaNoWriMo. You'll probably hear more about me doing writerly stuff with things like Scrivener, beta readers, and optimum caffeine intake (more on this later)--but it'll be fun, I promise. 

5. Monitor caffeine intake. I have a love-hate relationship with caffeine. I can't live with it (lest I end up crawling the walls) but I can't write without it (see also: my word-count spreadsheets) which means I have to pick and choose my battles. You'll hear more about it in another blog post, but for now I want to let you know that I'm choosing to live with it, and the consequences that may come out as a result. 

6. Use all of my planners. I have a pocket planner for quick appointments and a daily diary for my prayer time (more of a personal goal than a writing goal). This leaves me with an extra planner that I'll have to use for my medium-to-long term planning. I don't have a system in place this year (unlike last year when I experimented with bullet journaling) but I miss taking time every weekend to look at what I need to do for the week. Here's hoping I can get more things done this way. 

Let's see how this new system goes for us! Here's to a productive 2017.