Monday, December 17, 2012

Is Procrastination Your Problem?

Here's how to beat it.

Tools required:

1 Kitchen timer
1 Planner

Why procrastination?

I want to start you off where I started. With putting things off.

I had the problem in the beginning of college. I really put things off. I started drawings at three in the morning before they were due. I woke up at six before class and finished them--barely. I dreaded studio. I skipped class. I missed deadlines and had to beg my instructor to give me extensions, citing "bad breakups" and relationship problems as my excuse. I felt like a failure.

A straight-A student in high school, I was now getting C's. And it was a downward spiral. The worse I did, the worse I felt, the less I tried, and the more I put off.

I went to see a counselor, who recommended a book called, The Now Habit, by Neil Fiore. I won't be cliche and say this book changed my life. I will say it started a spark that has turned into an inferno. At the suggestion of this book, I changed one little habit, and it showed me that I could change any habit.

I'm not trying to advertise the book, so I will give you the secret--don't worry, it's not so much of a secret that I'm risking copyright violation by telling you.

The Secret to Beating Procrastination

Schedule the fun

Schedule the things you do for fun, not the work. Don't put "file taxes" or "finish term paper" in your planner. Instead, write in "hang out with friends," "go to the beach," or "read a book." Write in everything you want to do. Be good to yourself. Procrastination comes from feeling like work is eating away at our lives. Never let work eat away at your life. So schedule the fun part of your life, not the dreaded part.

Here's what will happen.

After you schedule in the fun, you will realize just how much of your day is taken up by the good stuff. And you'll be like, "oh, crap, if I want to go to the beach with my boyfriend on Thursday, read a book on Wednesday, visit my little sister tomorrow, and take two hours just to write in my journal tonight, then I don't have time tonight, tomorrow, Wednesday, or Thursday to write my term paper."

"Hmm. We'll I'm not doing anything right now..."

Okay, so maybe it's not that easy. But it's almost that easy. Once you guarantee that you're getting all the time you want for yourself, your relaxation, your friends and loved ones, your health, and your well being, you'll "hate" your work a lot less because it won't be competing with these things. In fact, you might even start to think it's fun. But there's still one more step.

Limit the work

"What? This is crazy! It's counter-intuitive! You're telling me I'll get more work done by scheduling fun things and limiting work?" Yep. I am.

But it has to be done intelligently. Procrastination is the fear of starting, wouldn't you agree? In order to completely obliterate that fear, we have to make starting really easy.

Here's what you're probably thinking: "As soon as I sit down at that desk, eight to twelve hours will be forcibly ripped from the fabric of my life, taking with it whole chunks of my soul. I will not enjoy a millisecond of it. In fact, those eight to twelve hours--possibly more--will be exactly equal to a hundred billion years in purgatory. Hell, I'd rather do the time in purgatory."

Am I right?

No wonder you're putting off siting at that desk. So here's what you do. Get out that kitchen timer and set it for fifteen minutes. Fifteen. That's all you have. Wow, you might not even be able to turn on the computer and open the word document in that much time. Or how about those taxes? It'll take thirty minutes just to track down all those envelopes and loose forms.

See what's happening? Now you're aware of all the hurdles. All that time, you had been trying to start your taxes, when in reality, you should have been just trying to track down the forms. When you have such a short time, you start thinking about things in smaller chunks. There's an old saying: how do you eat an elephant?

One bite at a time, baby!

So you do whatever you can in fifteen minutes. Fifteen minutes! That's shorter than your average shower. You can definitely do fifteen minutes. But--as soon as that timer goes off, you stop. STOP! Do not write another word. Put the pencil down and step away from the desk.

Now go reward yourself. Watch a TV show or eat a candy bar. Or jog if that's your thing. Call up a friend. Pat yourself on the back. You've just started.

Be really good to yourself in the beginning. You'll work up to thirty minutes on the timer, less rewards, and eventually you might stop using the timer altogether. I still use my kitchen timer, although I just enter in the amount of time I've allotted to work. Like right now, I have twelve minutes left (out of two hours) to finish this blog post.

Another great thing to do is keep track of all the time chunks you've worked. Make a chart, and give yourself rewards when you reach thirty minutes, or two hours. You'll start wanting to put in the next fifteen minutes, rather than dreading putting in the full ten hours.

That's how you beat procrastination. Take back what it's been stealing from you, then cut it into little pieces.

Thanks for reading,
Dan Rix, author of Entanglement

Monday, December 10, 2012

A Tour of Tularosa

For those who've read Entanglement, I thought it might be fun to share a little more of Aaron's world. Today, I want to give you a tour of Tularosa, the fictional Southern California city in which Entanglement takes place.

Is Tularosa a Real City?

Sort of. Tularosa is basically Santa Barbara, my hometown, but I wanted to change a few things so I went with a different name. "Tularosa" is actually the name of a light salmon color according to the Ace Hardware paint department:D

I've always wished I could visit the fictional worlds in books, actually see the places. That's the frustration of reading, isn't it? The magic is only in your mind. So...I can't show you digital photos of Aaron's Tularosa, but I can show you the real place that was my inspiration. Below are a few of the actual locations I pictured when I wrote Entanglement. How do they match up with what you pictured?

1. Arroyo Beach - where Corona Blanca High School has their bonfire after the volleyball game in the first chapter. This is where Aaron first meets Amber, races Clive out to the buoy, and sees the vial sink to the bottom. This is also the same beach where Aaron and Buff ditch class to meet Tina and Amber later in the book, and where (SPOILER ALERT!!!) Aaron later dives to recover the vial. (END OF SPOILER ALERT) I know, helpful right;)

Arroyo Beach--or Hendry's beach--is where my friends and I used to hang out and throw frisbee our senior year.

2. Outside the Pelican nightclub, where Clive and Dominic push Aaron's car off the pier. In Santa Barbara, there isn't actually a nightclub out on the pier, but it should be right about where the blue shop is. Right now, you can get fish and chips there.

3. Mission Ridge - that hill of expensive looking houses with ocean and city views. That's where Amber lives.

I had the chance to see inside a few homes like these while interning with an architecture firm. The views are unreal.

4. The Arlington Theater - where Aaron and Amber go to see a modern remake of All Quiet on the Western Front. In Entanglement, there hasn't been a major war since World War I (because of the discovery of halves in 1935), so it's still called the Great War. Because of this, the war holds a more prominent place in history.

I hope you enjoyed the tour! If you haven't yet read Entanglement, you can glimpse a few of these spots in the first three chapters:)

Thanks for reading!
Dan Rix, author of Entanglement

Tuesday, December 4, 2012

Behind Entanglement: The Premise

Just wanted to let everyone know I've guest posted today on fellow blogger and book reviewer Dianne's blog, Oops! I Read A Book Again. I talk about how I came up with the idea of Entanglement and a bit about the research that went into writing the novel. Dianne has been a huge supporter during the first few weeks the book has been out, so make sure to give her lots of support by trafficking her blog. Read the post here. Enjoy!

Until next time,
Dan Rix, author of Entanglement

Monday, December 3, 2012

Why Every Writer Should Major in Architecture

“How long did that take you…fifteen minutes?”
“Your drawings hurt my eyes.”
“If I was in your building, I would want to kill myself.”
“To be honest, I hate your project.”

These are comments we architecture students routinely heard during the bi-monthly critiques at UC Berkeley’s College of Environmental Design—and we were an easy school. For the first three minutes, you sold your design to a panel of six judges. For the next twenty-seven, they attacked it.

I didn't know anybody in college who worked as hard as the architects. We measured the time since we last slept in days, not hours. Without exception, everybody in our studio pulled an all-nighter before the crit—and for many, this was their second in a row. Or their third.

During crits, I remember people breaking out in tears, to which the judges would just raise their voices and claim they’d never make it as architects. Occasionally, you’d get a good review. Not praise, never praise, just distracted conversation amongst the judges until the thirty minutes were up. But a good critique was poisonous. A good critique could do serious damage…because of what would happen the next time.

A good critique got to your head, and you’d start feeling cocky. You’d act cocky, and the second you walked up there two weeks later, you’d look cocky. They could smell it. And they’d be on you like hyenas.

So we learned a few things. Keep your damn mouths shut. Just smile and nod. If you had to speak, thank them for their advice but say nothing else. And we learned the inevitable: no matter how good your project was, they would always find something to criticize.

During my first three years, I thought it was because they were big meanies and they wanted to hurt my feelings. But during that last year, I learned the truth. They would always find something to criticize because there always was something to criticize. In other words, no matter how perfect I believed my novel—I mean architecture project—was, there was something about it that sucked. Or at least, something that could be improved.

When I realized that, I started listening to my instructors. I took the critiques to heart. I started going back and making “perfect” projects even better. It was like I had crossed the sound barrier. Suddenly, with no ego to get in my way, there was no limit to how good I could make something given enough feedback and enough iterations. Let me show you how it works with some simple math.

Some Simple Math

Quality builds on itself, wouldn't you agree? It’s easier to edit something that’s already written than it is to write something from scratch. Revision is cumulative. It works like interest. Let’s say each time you edit, you make your project 20 percent better. Now let’s say you do ten revisions total. You’re final product is 200% better than the original, right? 20% x 10 = 200%. Wrong.

The law of Accelerating Returns

It works on technology, it works on finance (compound interest), it works on architecture. And it works on your book. After ten revisions, your work is over 600% better. Try it yourself on a calculator. Enter 1 x 1.2 x 1.2 x 1.2…etc. Each time you revise, you’re taking all your prior work and investing it in the next revision. It’s just like investing money. You wouldn't give your retirement fund one year to grow and then take it out and say, “that’s long enough,” would you?

Now, I know it’s weird to talk about writing in terms of percentages, but the same concept applies. It must.

So here’s my challenge:

When you’ve gotten your project—whether it’s a paranormal thriller or an addition to the Guggenheim—as good as you can make it, go back and revise it again. Huge leaps will come only after you push past the limitations of “perfection”. From this point forward, you will amaze yourself with your improvements.

Perfection is not a destination. It is a process.