Clarion Write-A-Thon Week 2: Getting More Out of Habitica

My Habitica Avatar

As I mentioned in my initial post, I planned to use this Write-A-Thon to assess and evaluate what’s working for me and what isn’t. Part of that evaluation is to assess my productivity tools. I was thinking about writing sprints, for example, and how they affect my word count goals.

To that end, I’ve realized that a lot of the times notebooks and planners don’t work for me. I’d love to say: “Yes! Putting pen to paper is the best idea ever!” Except, I have a thousand notebooks, post-its, etc. filled with all kinds of lists. Unless it’s a to-do list, it just doesn’t work for me.

Focusing on that part of my productivity, I circled back to Habitica and am now using it more regularly. (I am @booksofm) on that platform if you want to quest with me.) One tiny aspect of Habitica I hadn’t leveraged in the past is the negative points value, or the damage taken from Habits and Dailies. When I started using that, I got more out of it because it wasn’t just about getting things done. It was also about not doing specific things.

For clarification, Habitica has four categories: Habits, Dailies, To-Dos, and Rewards. Habits are a plus or minus feature that has built-in streaks. Dailies are routine-oriented tasks. The way I use Dailies is to plug in things like my newsletter or something that has more gravitas, like exercise, because those are more concerted efforts than taking my vitamins or doing the dishes. The To-Dos section I use to plug in projects that have deadlines or items on my To-Do list. These are things that often take considerable effort and have multiple steps. Finally, Rewards is your in-game loot, which you get for completing items. You can also create custom Rewards as well.

To gamify Habitica further, there are four things I would love to see. I will probably suggest these at some point; I’m not really active in that community and don’t have the programming skills to help. Right now, this is just me “musing” out loud.

  • Assign Damage to Missed Deadlines on To-Dos: One of the nice features about To-Dos is that you can assign a Deadline. I really like the “Scheduled” view for To-Dos
    which re-orders the items based on due date. I’d love to take that a step further, and have damage taken for a missed deadline. (Even something small like a quarter point per day would be valuable.)
  • Optional: Assign Rewards to To-Dos: Sometimes, there’s To-Dos I have to complete that I really don’t want to. By assigning a Reward to a To-Dos, it’d be a specific reminder that action has consequences.
  • Optional: Add a Projects Category: For me, To-Dos is a combination one-off projects and multi-tiered assignments, so being able to use the existing functionality as another category would help me separate the one-off To-Dos from the larger projects. This functionality already exists within the To-Dos category; you can add multiple steps to a To-Dos that you’d need to check off. Basically, I just want the bigger ones broken out from the one-offs visually, and I’d sacrifice Habits to do that. But, I can see how some people need Habits, which is why I’m suggesting that be optional.
  • Optional: Calendar Integration: I would love to have the ability to integrate my digital calendar with the deadline functionality, but as an option. Again, I’m looking at those longer-term projects I’m already plugging in to get reminders on. If there isn’t a way to do that, I’d take alerts or reminders instead.

Habitica’s strength is that it does gamify your to-do list and it is fun. I love the 8-bit look and feel to Habitica; it’s very old school. If interested, check out

Other Clarion Write-A-Thon Posts

About this Post: In exchange for sponsor support, I promised to highlight how I’m processing my identity as an Italian-American and daughter of an immigrant through brainstorming, story selection, and first drafts. If you’re keen on following my progress, warts and all, I encourage you to become my sponsor and sign up for my newsletter.

It’s (Winter) Not Over Yet and Productivity Reflections

Lord Lardbottom, an orange tabby polydactal manx cat, in a Cuddle Pile

Now is the winter of my discontent for it is cold and white and terribly unpleasing. I enjoy the seasons, when we have four of them, but the spring and fall months seem to get shorter every year due to climate change. Last year, we had an eternal winter, a polar vortex so cold hell froze over, and about two weeks of spring before the temperatures climbed. I’m looking forward to more light in the day in any case.

Winter also brings a fresh round of To Do lists and goals I want to achieve, the type that are within my control and power to control. With the focus on productivity, however, an old and malformed tree has begun to bloom, for this tree–call it Work–is tied to how I view myself in my darkest moments. Its blossoms of self-doubt attract birds that cry: “Are you doing enough?” It’s the “enough” part that’s the challenge for me, because every time I open a new project I feel like I’m at the beginning and I’m starting over again and again. It doesn’t matter where I’ve been, for that’s behind me. My destination is the only thing that does.

Unfortunately, that type of thinking leads to toxicity for one very simple reason: None of us are machines. We are human beings. Life happens! Most people I know are doing the best they can. As I’ve mentioned several times before, Americans aren’t great at talking about failure and loss until we’re on the other side of it. Whether that’s out of fear because we’re deemed unlucky or not, failure and loss are part of our journeys. We desperately need discussions about them because they help people figure out ways to cope. Most people don’t just climb the proverbial career ladder in one trip. Some people don’t want to climb the ladder. Some get climbed over or pushed down. Sometimes the rung is broken. That doesn’t mean that the person who reaches the top was smarter, faster, better–and yet, the social zeitgeist favors “a” story. Someone had a dream, they worked their ass off, and they became wildly successful. It’s the work, you see, that made them what they are. If you just work hard enough, you’ll get there.

This, too, is incredibly toxic because it implies that every dream is possible provided you apply enough effort. What’s wrong with that? The emphasis on “you”. That it’s your fault if you don’t succeed because there’s something wrong or broken or different about you. You get sick, someone dies, your company shuts down, your rent goes up, you get into a car accident–none of which are your fault. Your identity and the things that happen to you don’t acknowledge the big picture; they don’t recognizing systems of power that impact you, too. You didn’t get the job. Okay, that sucks. Why? You didn’t get the job because that position went to the manager’s nephew, instead. All of a sudden, when you start recognizing that pattern or the details, you notice just how much is out of your control. That’s why the myth of personal responsibility in a society filled with millions of people can and does negatively impact us from time to time. If only I didn’t… If only I weren’t so… If only I… Sometimes, you could do all the right things and nothing works out; that doesn’t make you a failure.

So what’s the solution to dealing with those conceits? Besides not listening? I think that’s different for everyone. Our coping mechanisms evolve as we grow and change, too. My solution is to re-frame what I’m doing as a marathon. Right now, I’m tracking my tasks instead of time or word count. Every time I do something related to my personal goals I write that item down in a journal. Over time, I’m building up a log of all those little things I’m doing for myself. Those tasks are written down and dated so I remember in those uncomfortable moments that yes, I am making progress.

If you’re reading this and struggling right now, please know you’re not alone. I don’t know you or your situation, of course! However, if you’re feeling bad because you’re not doing enough? Maybe, you are.

MANW Check-In Week 48: November’s Progress and Finish Lines

Make Art Not War November 2017

Hey, how did your November go? Mine went pretty well, despite two weeks lost to the flu. This month’s theme was FINISH, and by now you have either finished what you started this month or you’re struggling. There could be a lot of reasons behind your lack of motivation or slower progress, and I’ve often found that it’s important to record them. The point of finishing is not to hyper-analyze how you reach the finish line. Sometimes, it’s more important to type “the end” than it is to write it with a flourish or add a bit of poetry. From there, from your failures or setbacks, you might discover new goals or behavioral techniques you can use to move forward.

Here are some examples of setbacks and solutions:

Setback: Falling Behind. Your goal was to reach 50,000 words for a novel this month, but you felt overwhelmed and couldn’t figure out what to write. By the time you got that sorted, you fell behind.

Solution: To prepare for a month of writing, try your hand at outlining and character sketches beforehand. What do your characters want? What stands in their way? Where does your story start and end? Outlines can help keep you on track as you write, because they’ll offer goal posts where you didn’t have any before.

Setback: Lack of Focus.
You knew what you wanted to write, but it was hard to focus. Every time you started, you quickly lost interest and didn’t want to write at all.

Solution: Being resistant to the work happens to all of us. To get past that mental block or stubbornness, you could try warm-up exercises, changing your environment/music, writing something else for fifteen minutes to half an hour, etc. Usually, when you’re slow or can’t focus there’s a reason for that. It could be something as complex as anxiety/depression or a consequence of heavily relying on online tools. It could also, however, be something simple. You’ve never written in that genre before, or haven’t used that technique. Fear can definitely be a factor, even on a subsconscious level, too.

Setback: Can’t Finish.
You have no trouble getting into writing, but you can’t seem to finish what you start no matter how hard you try.

Solution: Try writing the end or middle of your story first. You might also benefit from mini-tasking, or taking your short stories and breaking them out by scenes instead. You might also plan to write for shorter periods of time, lke 15 or 20 minutes, until you rebuild your concentration. If you get distracted, I also find that having a journal or a tool like Evernote next to you can really help. That way, if you have a to do item you forgot or suddenly remember an important task you can write it down and get back to your manuscript.

The next time you have a setback, try identifying what it is and cooking up your own solution. This week’s check-in addresses some of the finer points I’ve been dealing with. Tune in later this week for a brand new 30 Day Challenge!

Weekly Check-in

My Original Make Art Not War 2017 Challenge pledge:

  • I pledge to devote one hour a day to my original art.
  • If I don’t feel motivated, I pledge to write down the reasons why I wanted to take this challenge for fifteen minutes or one-to-three pages whichever comes first.
  • I pledge to mark down on the calendar whenever I complete a day’s efforts.
  • As the challenge creator, I pledge to create a weekly accountability post every Wednesday beginning on January 9th. Comments will be open. Hashtag #makeartnotwar2017 #manw2017
  • I pledge to check into social media twice a week for personal use, and once a month with my local community of artists and writers.

Here’s my current status:

  • Diary of an Aspiring Alchemist is going strong. William Sand finally got the job after a confusing and rocky series of appointments. He’s currently stuck in an archive, reading old books about alchemy and the occult
  • Motivation hasn’t been the issue for me, but I did have a challenging time trying to work while I had the flu. I’ve got a strong routine down now, and need to add back in a few other things. Looking forward to it!
  • So, I’ve been using a new technique on Evernote to mark down progress. It’s been very effective!
  • As the challenge creator, I pledge to create a weekly accountability post every Wednesday beginning on January 9th. Comments will be open. Hashtag #makeartnotwar2017 #manw2017
  • I’m good re: social media. I’m mostly using it for work right now, and I may extend that into 2018. We’ll see how this month goes!

Hope your month went well and better than expected. Write soon!

Mood: Focused. Tired. Deep-fried.
Caffeinated Beverages Consumed: Going to hit the caffeine hard. Vrooooom!
Work-Out Minutes Logged Yesterday: Some walking.
In My Ears: Us Against the World by Coldplay
Game Last Played: Pokémon Go
Book Last Read: A mega-ass ton of anthologies.
Movie/TV Show Last Viewed: Lucifer Season 3
Latest Artistic Project: Make Art Not War Challenge eBook now available!
Latest Releases: Over the Edge for Dungeons & Dragons 5th Edition, Legacy of Lies for V20 Dark Ages.
Current State of Projects: Read my latest project update. New project update coming when I get time.

Using Evernote to Create Project Snapshots

Trojan On Your Computer

One challenging aspect of a professional artist’s job is administration and goal planning. These, sadly, are the unsexy bits. They’re the scaffolding we stretch, shape, and mold our art into, whether we create games, books, movies, etc. Or to put it another way, what I’m referring to is not how the sausage is made, it’s the tools we use to track what kind of sausage we’re making, how much of it, where it’s being sold, etc.

Sometimes, project administration gets in the way of making the things we want to make. I find this is especially true for myself, because I am one individual. I don’t have an assistant or a team of people helping manage my time. I do check-ins, occasionally, to ensure I’m on the right track with a few individuals. Overall, however, it can get cumbersome because essentially I’m running my own business and, to be honest, I never really liked that part of the job. It feels cleansing to organize, but it’s not as satisfactory to me as making art.

Despite this, without a clear snapshot of what’s on my plate it’s challenging to commit to anything new, see where I have space to fit, and feel any sense of satisfaction. The pressure to create, mind you, is different depending upon which vertical you’re in. For gaming, that pressure is high. It bleeds into everything I do, and I often apply that to fiction. That, however, is not realistic considering the work I do in games is often more intense and frequent than anything I’d do for traditional publishing venues. I know that, but in my head I can’t see that. In lieu of manually recreating a system using bullet journaling, I’ve created a few project overview snapshots using Evernote.

    Step One: Create a note to track payment and date of release. Using the checkbox function, I make a list of everything I have that will be released separated by fiction, non-fiction, and games. I add the date (or year), marketing-or-production related tasks, and when that particular item has been paid.

      “Publication Title” (X% Paid)
      Release Date 11/22/17
      Post for X site
      Post for Y site
      Submit pay schedule
      Submit comp copy request
      Update Bibliography

    I often deal with pay schedules or different types of contracts, so payment in the context of release helps me see if I need to follow up or not. This particular snapshot is something that I can attach to a planner/calendar very easily; it doesn’t have financial specifics, but I regard this as a shortcut or a brief overview. Updating this note won’t bog me down, either. To that end, this is also why I include works that are finished and unfinished to clearly see my deadlines and publication status.

    Step Two: Set up a note for works on submission. This note is separated into fiction and non-fiction to start; Other forms (e.g. screenplays/comics/etc.) would be added as needed. Right now I don’t need a spreadsheet to track my work because my focus is a) not on spec and b) doesn’t heavily lean toward short fiction. My goals are modest for the time being, but that may change. Who knows, little luck fairy of luckiness? If, however, my submissions take off I’ll likely need a spreadsheet just so I know what’s what.

    This snapshot allows me to see what I’ve sent out for editorial consideration, and also helps me “count” the number of pieces I have out in the wild. I should note that these are also for original or creator-owned pieces; I have a clear sense of what I own the rights to. If you’re dipping your toe into work-for-hire waters, I would strongly recommend adding reminders of rights to help you keep track.

      “Title of Piece Here”
      Pub: Name of venue
      Editor: Name if applicable.
      Submitted: 10/24/17
      If rejected, resubmit?
      Notes: If rejected, try ‘X’ venue.

    If you notice, this format also helps me prepare for rejection. By listing another venue, I can easily tweak and resub if needed. If published, however, I can copy/paste this to my release schedule and modified the entry pretty quickly.

    Step Three: Create an Ongoing To-Do List. Okay, time for a guilty admission. I like redundancy in my to-do lists, because I’m terrified I’ll forget something if I misplace a journal. Plus, the nice thing about using apps is that the information translates well (and is readable) if I move from laptop to phone. With that in mind, I have a daily mini-list I’ve been using. Basically, date the list. Use the checkbox feature, which you can easily cross off on your phone, and then rinse/repeat by day. If I didn’t finish the day’s previous items that carries over to the next day.

For me, these lists are the fundamentals of project management. It helps me see a) what I’m working on, b) if I’ve been paid, c) what’s being released, and d) what’s being considered. As I evolve my process, I may include other notes to list other details, like market listings, but for now I want to keep my snapshots tightly focused. Your mileage may vary!

Mood: Grey. Like the sky. And my sweater.
Caffeinated Beverages Consumed: Not enough, apparently.
Work-Out Minutes Logged Yesterday: Bwahahahahaha.
In My Ears: Final Fantasy XIII soundtrack
Game Last Played: Pokémon Go
Book Last Read: A mega-ass ton of anthologies.
Movie/TV Show Last Viewed: Beauty and the Beast live action. It was something.
Latest Artistic Project: Make Art Not War Challenge eBook now available!
Latest Releases: Over the Edge for Dungeons & Dragons 5th Edition, Dagger of Spiragos for Scarred Lands.
Current State of Projects: Read my latest project update. New project update coming when I get time.

Streamlining to K.I.S.S.

Music Avatar

Before I get to today’s post, I’d like to share a few pieces of ephemera. I wrote a piece about dealing with rejection for Red Sofa Literary; I hope you find it useful! Second, I have recently discovered the wonders of wireless headphones, which I can connect to my phone. I wound up getting the Mpow 059 wireless headphones in red, and damn. I mean day-am! I can take them on the road and use them while writing in a house of coffee, or I can wander around my pad listening to music without carrying my phone. I’m so into this!

So, today I want to talk about Keep It Simple Stupid. It’s a mantra I apply when I’m overloaded and ready to go. I had a few friends point out that it’s challenging to do this when you’ve been hit with the flu (as I have), and there’s only so many brain spinny wheels to go around. I’m of the mind that physical and emotional health definitely contributes to your productivity, and if you’re unable to make changes it’s because you’ve got more going on than you realize.

The K.I.S.S. system I use is basically a method of prioritization to shape how I use my time. When I know I have a lot to do, then I make listicles (my new and current favorite word) of everything I have to get done: house, personal, work. Then, I prioritize based on what’s important and reduce distractions. Basically, I make a concerted effort to say: “Look, all these little items on my list. The 1,000 things that get in the way of me doing the work. I’m going to cut all that shit out to finish items 1, 2, 3.”

Mind you, you can take this methodology to a different plane of existence. You could: plan your meals in advance, your social schedule for the week, your clothes for the next day. By removing micro-decisions, you’ll clear your brain space to help you focus on what you need to on a macro level. Then, you can figure out the details and adjust from there. Sometimes, your ability to do that greatly depends upon your personality and connections you have to the people around you. That doesn’t mean you’re “doing it wrong”, and I side eye OneTrueWayisms that say otherwise.

Lastly, one thing to consider is that you may be utilizing too many planners, listicles, word count meters, etc. and that is getting in the way of finishing your projects. Over-planning can be a form of procrastination (Say it ain’t so!), because you’re using that as a motivational tool. Think of it this way: every time you write down what you should be doing, you are taking a snapshot of your frozen progress. You know exactly where you are in your work, and that list encapsulates that. If you make more lists, you’re not making any progress. You’re simply reviewing your static position from a different angle. If you find yourself buried by apps, to-do lists, etc. then consider streamlining your process to help you get more use out of the tools.

That’s all the time I have for today. Happy writing!

Mood: I want Christmas cookies. Nay, I need them. Need!
Caffeinated Beverages Consumed: I lost count, if only because I didn’t think the caffeine I drank was impacting my system in any way, shape, or form.
Work-Out Minutes Logged Yesterday: I shuffled and shambled like a zombie rising from the mists of Avalon.
In My Ears: Jack Pack 2 album
Game Last Played: Pokémon Go
Book Last Read: I forgot the title! It’s so far away from me right now… On the table… In the kitchen… *grunts*
Movie/TV Show Last Viewed: Beauty and the Beast live action. It was something.
Latest Artistic Project: Make Art Not War Challenge eBook now available!
Latest Releases: Over the Edge for Dungeons & Dragons 5th Edition, Dagger of Spiragos for Scarred Lands.
Current State of Projects: Read my latest project update. New project update coming when I get time.

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Monica Valentinelli >

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