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There's a FIFTH Element...

A few weeks ago, I posted the four-step process I use to plan my week and keep myself moving forward. But there's a FIFTH element to that process, which I forgot to mention.

View the video at YouTube (https://youtu.be/DOS_tIhr7Xk), if you're so inclined, or play it below! Transcript follows for those who prefer to read.

Thanks for tuning in!




TITLE

The Fifth Element: Million Words Project Weeks 21 and 22


Teaser

A few weeks ago, I talked a little bit about how I attempt to be intentional with my creative life.

In that video, I spoke about my weekly planning date with myself, and my belief that by imposing some restrictions and guidelines on myself, I'm actually freeing myself up for creative tasks.

Imposing limits seems like the opposite oe freedom found in creativity, but I firmly believe that it isn't good for my creative rhythm and artistic flow to just leave my creative life up to chance.

The problem is, when I spoke about scheduling and planning, I only covered four of the key components of my method.

I left out the very important Fifth Element.

I'll cover that, and give you an update on my journey toward one million words, on this week's episode of The Million Words Project.


Welcome

Welcome to the Million Words Project, I'm author, writing instructor, and creativity coach, Eric Sheridan Wyatt.

Twenty-two weeks ago, I challenged myself to write one million new words in twelve months. In this video series, I give regular updates about my progress towards one million words, and along the way I share some of the ups and downs of my creative life, in the hopes that something I share will be helpful to you.

This is the first posted episode of 2023 and the first episode back after a two week hiatus for the winter holidays. You may also notice it is the third episode in a row in which I'm combining weeks of my challenge in order to catch up a little bit and shorten the time between when I actually finish a week and when I film the content for that week's update.

This is a strange episode, because I'm about to share the week-by-week data with you from the last FOUR weeks, and there is a BIG SURPRISE in that data. However, I'm actually going to wait until NEXT week to talk to you about the details of the big surprise.

What in the world am I talking about? Well, let's dive into the update and have a look.


Update

In the last update, for weeks nineteen and twenty, I didn't focus on the actual words written for those two weeks. That episode was very different: I wanted to speak toward a deeper issue that creeps up from time to time in my writing life, and it had very little to do with dissecting a metric like "words written in a given week."

With today’s episode, though, we are back to a more normal focus on analyzing the ongoing data points I collect, so let's take a look at the raw numbers from weeks nineteen through twenty-two.

Weeks 19 and 20 were nearly identical, and weeks 21 and 22 were also nearly identical. Yes, there is some redistribution between the five categories I monitor, but just over one hundred words separated week 19 from week 20 in the total column. And week 21 and 22 were only ten words apart.

As a point of clarification: this was not intentional. I monitor the words written in the non-fiction, fiction, and life-document categories daily. If I do some fiction writing on Monday, I use the master spreadsheet to log fiction writing words on Monday of the current, active week. At the end of the week, the spreadsheet tells me how many total words are written for those categories by adding up each day's activity.

And, at the end of the week, I export my hand-written daily journal pages—which have been transcribed by a handwriting recognition application on my iPad—and I get a tally of those words to add to the weekly grand total.

Two points to take away from this four week snapshot of my writing life.

First, I have continued to make a concerted effort to steer clear of the Life Document. I've set some hard limits on my work in that document for the last two months, in order to re-balance my cumulative totals. And, these four weeks saw a DRAMATIC shift, with two weeks of ZERO words in that project.

This is NOT going to continue, but I did make an intentional choice to not do any work in that document for two weeks.

However, the really BIG secret that is revealed here is that I have been participating in a challenge within my challenge.

That's right. In my effort to rebalance the distribution of words across the various categories of writing I track weekly, I challenged myself to really step up my fiction writing effort.

I'm going to talk in detail about this Fiction First Initiative, next week. And I learned a lot about myself over the five weeks. So come back for more details on that.

But for now, let's just look at the graphical comparison between week 12 on the left, and week 22 on the right. This pie chart shows the cumulative category break down.

On week 12, the cumulative totals were heavily skewed toward the Life Document project. And I had written very little fiction.

I made an intentional effort to take this data, and adjust my focus to rebalance things.

And now, at the end of week 22, just ten weeks later, I have a much more appropriately balanced cumulative total. The Life Document makes up about 35% of my total output over twenty two weeks, down from almost HALF of my output through 12 weeks. And my fiction writing life has begun to catch back up to what my ideal distribution should look like.

Ok, ok, ok. I hear you out there saying, "I'm about to find some cat videos to watch, if this guy keeps talking numbers. I thought he was a writer? Why's he going on about charts and graphs?"

I'll answer that in this week's topic. So...let's go!


Topic

In the update for week fifteen, I talked about my Sunday Morning ritual of making a plan for my week.

I talked about how I review the prior week's progress, assess the things that worked well and the things that could use improvement, make a plan for the new week based on that assessment and my goals, and then execute that plan to the best of my ability.

Review. Assess. Plan. And Execute.

What I realized this week was that my four-step process was missing a fifth element.

Well, it wasn't exactly missing, but I wasn't being intentional with applying the fifth element.

What was that missing piece, you ask?

The fifth element of my process is: MONITORING my progress throughout the week.

I was actually monitoring my progress in two general ways.

First, I was keeping a word count within the five categories of the Million Words Project. This gave me some solid data on where I had spent my writing effort in a given week.

Second, I was checking off items from my ongoing open-loops task list, which was giving me some feedback on my non-writing, or real-world, tasks, errands, chores, and other goals.

What I was missing was real-time feedback about how I was spending my time. I realized this because I was able to hit my writing goals, and accomplish a number of my open-loop tasks, and yet, I found myself still wasting a lot of time with things that really don’t have much value or meaning, and that wasted time was making me feel lousy.

Time is the great equalizer. Some of us may have more resources, more privileges, more talent: but we all have a limit to our time.

When it comes to an artistic or creative pursuit, you may have more time to devote to that BIG THING project you've always wanted to accomplish, or you may have less, due to life circumstances. But no matter who you are, you don't have more than twenty-four hours in a day.

Over the course of this Million Words challenge, I've had several weeks where I've met my minimum word target, and checked off most of the things on my list, but still ended the week feeling like I'd squandered a lot of time on things that just aren't important.

To rectify this, early on, I set up an “ideal weekly calendar.” I divided every waking hour of the week into time blocks in which I would be addressing the various kinds of activities I want to be engaged in. This included various categories of activities, and I attempted to balance the creative and real-life activities of my current life circumstances.

I then posted a printout as a reference, and even went into the calendar app on my phone to set up recurring appointments that would send me a text reminder about what should be happening in any given time block.

Well, let's just say, the ideal week never happened. In fact, I came to realize that I have too many variables in my life right now to come even CLOSE to those ideals.

I plodded on, with constant text reminders of what I would be doing on an ideal day, but because the IDEAL WEEK was so far away from my daily reality, I eventually became numb to those reminders.

At the five month mark of the project, I was constantly waffling between two extremes. On the one hand, I could look at the raw data and think, "I've accomplished a lot!!" I am at week twenty-two and rapidly closing in on half a million words!

On the other hand, looking at the size and scope of what I want to accomplish, it is barely a dent. And, there were plenty of times I ended the week thinking, this is okay, but it isn't great; I still feel like I'm wasting a lot of time.

Neither of those two extremes are fully true, and neither is completely false.

Monitoring my TIME spent needed to part of my ongoing self-improvement. I needed something more concrete and reflective of my weekly reality, not an idealized framework to judge myself against.

So I added a modular, time-based system to my Sunday morning planning session. Each week, I set a certain number of hours I anticipate spending on a variety of tasks. Not just the creative hours I wanted to spend, but the time spent on chores, and errands, and personal tasks. And, time spent in recreation or set aside for maintaining relationships.

And then, each day, as I actually spend time doing those things, I move the task into the completed column. If I get to the end of Monday and didn’t get to one or more of my tasks, I redistribute it to another time in the week. This is realistic, as there is almost no days at this point in my life where the anticipated schedule doesn’t get disrupted.

Then, at the end of the week, I can look at all the wins in one column, and anything that wasn’t accomplished in another. I can easily say, “Next week, I need to do better at putting the hours in to get my household errands done,” for example.

You see, adding this more granular level of monitoring isn't just a motivator to get more done, it is also a method of MONITORING that provides me with data to reign in those two extremes. Because neither the "I've done so much" nor the "I've wasted all my time" perspective is correct.

I won’t do a deep dive into the actual methods I use. If someone out there really wants more detail, I’ll be happy to share more. But for now, I think it’s important to share that Fifth Element with you, in case you want to design your own planning and implementation strategies.

Review. Assess. Plan. Execute. Monitor.

And, it goes without saying, but the final step is to Repeat this process again next week, and the week after, and the week after.


Inspiration

Today's quote comes from the Greek Stoic tradition of philosophy: "Progress is not achieved by luck or accident, but by working on yourself daily."

I would suggest that if you trade the word, "yourself," in this quote, and replace it with "your art" or "your project" you would have an equally true statement.

For me, working on myself includes many aspects of life: psychological, emotional, and physical. The brain, the heart, and the body.

And my literary and business goals are a big part of my overall push toward becoming a better version of myself.

That becoming is not achieved by luck or accident, but by working on myself, daily. To experience progress toward that better version of me, I need to be intentional about the work I'm going every day.


Takeaway

Finding a way to monitor my progress is very important to maintaining a proper perspective. Otherwise, I am likely to either wildly overestimate my progress—which can happen if I'm only looking at the weekly word target—or I might spiral into a fit of creative despair due to a bout of pessimism.

By taking a step back to look at both the big picture of what I'm hoping to accomplish over the long term, while also giving specific consideration of my day-to-day activities, I was able to devise an additional method of self-monitoring.

I am constantly engaging in a cycle of reviewing my progress, making an assessment of what is working well and what could be improved, planning specifically towards improvement, taking action to execute that plan, and monitoring my actions to assure compliance with that plan.


Points to Ponder

I share tips and tricks I use to advance my ongoing creative life, not because I think my specific methods are right for you. Instead, I hope that by demonstrating what I've done to accelerate my creative output, you’ll be inspired to find what is right for your particular needs and circumstances.

This week, I'm going to ask you to ponder a question specifically about how you MONITOR your own progress. You could use this question as a writing prompt in your journal, or as a Writing Out Loud exercise. Another option would be to talk it over with a trusted creative friend, or have an internal dialogue.

If you have a big creative or other multi-step project you hope to accomplish in the coming months or years, how do you monitor your progress?

Knowing that no Big Idea project can be accomplished quickly, how do you ensure the small steps you are taking toward that Big Idea are actually getting you closer to what you hope to accomplish?

Are you monitoring your progress in a way that gives you solid feedback, allows you to adjust, and also keeps you feeling like you're making steady progress?

Because I am still adjusting to the new-normal of my post-pandemic life, I am still constantly tinkering with the framework within which I am approaching my creative and business life. Maybe you've found a solid groove and a consistent creative rhythm. If so, the answer to these questions will serve as validation for the path you are on.

If not, no worries. Today is a great day to start the process of refining and reassessing your creative life so that you can blaze a new trail toward the results you long to see.


Farewell

That's all for this week's update. I hope you'll come back and join me next week as I detail the results of my five-week challenge within a challenge I referred to as my Fiction First Initiative.

Until then, if you find these videos helpful, please consider leaving a comment, or hitting the like and subscribe buttons.

There are also ways to connect with me listed in the show notes, including links to my Twitter, Instagram, and website. Stop by and say hello!

So long for now! And remember: Your words matter. Make them count.


Episode Notes

A few weeks ago, I talked a little bit about how I attempt to be intentional with my creative life.

In that video, I spoke about my weekly planning date with myself, and my belief that by imposing some restrictions and guidelines on myself, I'm actually freeing myself up for creative tasks.

Imposing limits seems like the opposite of the freedom found in creativity, but I firmly believe that it isn't good for my creative rhythm and artistic flow to just leave my creative life up to chance.

The problem is, when I spoke about scheduling and planning, I only covered four of the key components of my method.

I left out the very important Fifth Element.

*****

I’ve recently added a “Buy Me a Cup of Coffee” account to my links. This allows you to leave a “tip” if you’d like to support my writing and other creative endeavors.

https://www.buymeacoffee.com/ericswyatt

*****

Interaction is important to independent artists! If you like a video, song, book, podcast, or other creation of an independent artist, please consider helping them (and me!) out by "liking," commenting, subscribing, and sharing.

Feedback is important. Yours is welcome!

Find all of my links here: https://linktr.ee/ericswyatt

My main website: www.WordsMatterESW.com

My Amazon* Author Page gives you quick access to my books: https://amzn.to/3Ux5X83

Link to episode one, in case you're new to the Million Words Project.

https://www.wordsmatteresw.com/post/i-challenge-myself-to-write-one-million-words

*Amazon links provided may be affiliate links that earn me commission, while adding no additional cost to you.


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