organization · Personal Life

How I’m Getting My Sh*t Together

If you saw my post on “Life’s a Mess but There’s Hope,” you know that I have been having a rather rough time. Earlier in the year, due to life/emotional stress (or from a potential asymptomatic covid leftover), I was struggling with brain fog, checking OCD, and general anxiety. This combined with work stuff and writing malaise had wreaked havoc on my self-esteem and self-worth, so while I was mainlining YouTube videos, as one does when they feel shitty, I came across Sarra Cannon’s videos about her quarterly planning.

I already am a big proponent of using planners and have used a bullet journal every year since 2016, but when my downhill mental spiral started in earnest in 2020, I stopped setting concrete goals and my organization devolved from there to the bare minimum. So when I saw Sarra’s planning videos, I was excited, especially since she is a writer and entrepreneur, and it turns out her HB90 system is centered around exactly that. Before I go on, I’d like to say that I am in no way affiliated with Sarra’s classes. I just took the HB90 course and felt that I benefited from it.

What is the HB90 system?

The HB90 system was created by author Sarra Cannon (YouTube channel is Heart Breathings) as a way to help others stay organized and move toward the ideal life they want. Instead of focusing on a year at a time, she breaks things down by quarter. Some of you might shrug and say it sounds like every other planner, but there were certain aspects that greatly appealed to me.

The first one was that this system focused on quarterly goals instead of yearly goals. A problem I often faced was getting off track due to life and my yearly goals would rapidly spiral into why bother land. I wouldn’t be able to right that ship and would give up. By having quarterly goals, they are smaller chunks, and after each quarter/90 days, you do a review and figure out what worked, what didn’t work, and what you need to do. That way, if you know you were doing something self-sabotaging, you can sort of check yourself and figure out how to move forward. Also, you can decide if you want to continue a half-finished/unfinished goal or shelve it next quarter.

The other thing that appealed to me was the visualization/ideal life aspect. At the beginning of the course (and each quarter), you fill out questions regarding what you truly want your life to look like. The idea is that if you have a specific direction/vision, you know that your goals should aim you toward that vision and you can eliminate or minimize things that won’t move you toward that life. It wasn’t done in a “you should be rich in the future with a mansion and a convertible” or girlboss kind of way. She’s simply asking you to find an ideal in order to make sure your choices make sense. Something I struggle with is “spaghetti flinging,” so if I don’t know what I need to do, I will do all the things instead. This means, I do a lot of random stuff that doesn’t amount to much. This is meant to eliminate that because I can say, “Yes, this idea is great, but this isn’t what I’m focusing on right now.”

I don’t want to go over every aspect of this course (this is what taking the course is for), but something I appreciated was that Sarra Cannon is mindful of reality and different realities. She asks you to be realistic but also kind to yourself. Don’t set yourself up for failure by being like “New Year New Me!” while still having old you’s habits and abilities. You have to work on that gradually, and I was so relieved to hear her talk about if you have chronic health problems and budgeting your time based on how often you know those things take you out of commission. This really isn’t a hustle culture kind of thing, so that work til you drop and hustle harder wasn’t there. It was about knowing what you are currently capable of and potentially working toward different habits in the future or scheduling yourself better right now. As someone who has inflammation problems, migraines, and anxiety, I can’t live up to the ableist standard of hustle culture, so this took some of that pressure off me while I was working on my goals/schedule.

My Ideal Life

When I was asked to imagine my ideal life, I struggled a bit. Academia has been going through a weird time of upheaval, especially in the humanities where I work, and that has made my own life more complicated. What I decided to do for my ideal life was to create a vision board on Pinterest, and I quickly realized it would make no sense to anyone but me. What I want is a life lived creatively. I want a rich, fulfilling life that is focused on things that make me feel good: my partner, my dogs, going to museums, doing creative writing, doing more art. There’s certainly room in there for a full-time academic position if one should ever come available, but I don’t feel like I can bank on that due to the current climate at US universities. I would like to model my life a little on Vincent Price’s. He was an actor, obviously, but he also loved art and cooking, and I want a life that is filled with creativity in various forms (he also wrote a book about his dog, The Book of Joe). I already crochet, but I’d like to do more traditional art, maybe even pottery, and I’d eventually like to live off my writing (especially if teaching full-time is ever off the table). This means my overall goals should be pointing me toward being able to rely on my writing more and giving myself the space to treat my writing seriously.

My Goals for 2022 Quarter 1

Goals in the HB90 system are a little different from what we normally think of as goals. The HB90 system asks you to pick things for goals that are slightly out of your control. That way you can see whether the tasks you put under them worked or not. So I’m not posting ALL of my projects under these goals, but the idea is that you have an overarching goal, then projects under it (larger scale stuff that you would normally consider goals) and those projects get broken into tasks that can be accomplished between a few hours or a week’s time. So here are my goals for Q1:

  1. To work on publishing new books while reworking my back list to increase my monthly income to $X/$Y/$Z a month (numbers have been hidden because I felt awkward talking about how much I make off my books).
  2. To create an energized community surrounding my works and increase my social media followers by 10%/15%/20% (Focus on newsletter, blog, Instagram, Twitter).
  3. Continue to work on my teaching materials and to maintain my mental health by maintaining a decent work-life balance.

To accomplish these goals, I will be writing more (please see my 2022 Projects post for specifics), reading some books on marketing, taking another course to keep my author knowledge up to date, hopefully sending out more newsletters, fixing the back matter in my books, and working on some departmental stuff for one of the universities I work at.

The Kanban Board

The top level of my Kanban board for quarter 1, aka the to-do section. The other sections aren’t shown since they’re empty.

To keep this post from being 8 miles long, I will not go into minute detail about the Kanban board (you can check out one of Sarra’s videos for detail), but the Kanban board is part of the HB90 setup as well. It is originally a Japanese form of organization where you get a dry erase board/paper/digital board and divide it into three parts. It goes to-do, currently working on, done. The idea is that you put everything in the to-do part, and as you work on it, you move it down until it ends up in the done section. Sarra uses sticky notes, and because my tasks aren’t super granular this quarter, I decided to use dry erase magnets as they are less likely to fall off.

The things written on each magnet are tasks that I need to do this quarter. I’m sure I’m missing some, but that’s what the extra magnets are for. What I like about this technique is that it is very visual. I am a tactile, visual person who needs lists in front of my face in order to remember to do things. If I can see progress (aka things moving down the board), I think I will feel better about myself and maintaining my mental health with be easier. Something I have struggled with is feeling like I’m doing so much but not getting anywhere. Something I’m still gauging is how much will fit in 90 days, but that should come with practice and will vary based on what classes on I’m teaching and such.

Final Thoughts

I’m excited to have some sort of framework in which to organize my writing and indie author stuff because these last few years have been a shit show for me. Sarra Cannon’s videos and course has helped to reignite my focus and zest for being an indie author. I’m cautiously hopeful that this will get me back on track.

Let me know if you want to know anything else about the HB90 program or how I use planners in the future! I do plan to update you all on how this is going at the end of the quarter.

Monthly Review · Personal Life

2017 Reading Recap

I’m back! Sorry for going AWOL after the panic attack post, but life has been crazy and I have been detoxing from life by reading a shit-ton of books and playing a wonderful farming computer game called Stardew Valley. If you’re curious, a shit-ton comes to approximately 120 works read in a year.

You heard me (saw me, whatever). I read 120 works this year, which is up from 53 works in 2016. You may have noticed I used “works” instead of books. The reason being is that this list includes mostly books in the traditional sense but also a handful of short stories and quite a few graphic novels. I can already picture someone tutting my love of graphic novels and manga and subtracting them from my year-end total.

They have a narrative embedded in a static medium, so they count.

More than anything, I wish I could gather all the physical books I read this year and take a picture of them stacked into the great wall of literature, but I can’t bring myself to make that kind of mess or see their number and feel like the book hoarder I know I am. Instead, I’m going to post a picture of my spreadsheet. Yup, I have a spreadsheet of what I read called my Reading Log.

I’m the kind of person who likes to keep track of everything I do, so this list not only appears in Excel but also on Goodreads and in my bullet journal (also color-coded). Here it is:

2017 book log 12017 book log 22017 book log 32017 book log 42017 book log 5

So what do I plan to do with this large spreadsheet? Extract data.

I love data. Don’t let the author and English teacher thing fool you. Being an English major means going deep into analysis and picking apart my spreadsheet is just another way to do that.

In 2017, I read 120 works, 27,282 pages, and their average x/5 rating was a 4.16. Honestly, I’m a fairly easy grader when it comes to books. 5 means it hit the spot and was fantastic. 4 means I enjoyed it. 3, meh but it wasn’t awful. 2 means there was some huffing, eye-rolling, or issues that annoyed me. 1 means that the editing was so terrible that I was mentally editing as I read it OR it was highly offensive and I feel the need to eviscerate it. Most things I read are a 4 because I read for enjoyment.

Before I talk about the sex of the authors, I want to make a few points. I read a lot of series, so many of these authors are the same person counted several times. If an author is trans, I consider them to be the gender they prefer, so you won’t see transgender as a listing. 28 works were by authors were male (Lemony Snicket accounts for 10 of these male authors, so take that into consideration), 89 were by females (Jordan L. Hawk makes up 16 and K. J. Charles 15), 3 were by an unknown (all the same person), 1 was written by a nonbinary person. Someone out there (who I have given Dudley Dusley’s voice) has yelled out “But that’s 121, not 120!” I know. One book (Saga) has two authors, one male and one female. Of those 28 male authors, there were 8 unique authors, and there were 29 unique female authors of the 89.

What I find interesting is that many studies have found that people in general tend to read a lot more male authors than female authors. I have never found that to be the case with my reading. I don’t do it purposely; I just find that I’m drawn more to female authors and enjoy their work more. A lot of it is the more sympathetic or emotional quality of female writing versus male writing. It’s hard to explain but there’s a different quality to it in general. This also probably happens because the genres I really like tend to be female-dominated (historical and paranormal fantasy).

In terms of format, I’ve read 38 ebooks, 33 graphic novels, 22 hardcovers, and 27 paperbacks, or to say it differently, I read 33 graphic novels and 80 traditional books (I’ll explain why it isn’t 87 below). I count graphic novel as its own format because it’s different than a traditional paperback. Plus, just staring at the titles, it’s hard to tell what’s a graphic novel versus a novel. A few years ago, I was one of those book snobs. “Oh, I only read physical books.” Like that means anything. Then, I received a Kindle for Christmas and found an author I loved who only published in ebook form (the whim of a publisher, not her own), so I caved and I’ve loved my ereader ever since. Books tend to be cheaper, I can read in the car or before class or on the sly at my office job on my phone. What surprised me is how many hardcovers I read. I’m not a fan of lugging around heavy hardcovers in my bag, but since I’ve been buying more recent releases, it’s my only other option besides ebook.

I also read 7 short stories, which are included in the 120 and brings “traditional books” to 87. These are, for the most part, stories connected to larger works or series. Sometimes it’s hard to determine where a short story becomes a novella. For the purposes of this post, I decided that anything under 50 pages is a short story and anything over it is a novella/novel.

This next section scares me a little bit because it’s a lot and it looks unruly in my notes. I’ve separated what I read by genre, but I want to be clear that these are what I have decided to call them, not necessarily what their publishers would call them. There was no hard and fast criteria for the genre categories.

32 paranormal fantasy
18 fantasy
16 mystery
11 contemporary
9 historical fantasy
8 historical fiction
5 on writing (nonfiction)
4 urban fantasy
3 science fiction
2 afrofuturism
2 history (nonfiction)
2 YA romance
2 historical mystery
2 nonfiction
1 contemporary fantasy
1 steampunk
1 medieval poetry
1 historical romance

As you can see, I really enjoy paranormal fantasy and fantasy in general along with historical fiction (in various forms). A lot of these categories overlap with each other, and certain categories, like fantasy, became a catch-all for books that I couldn’t pinpoint but often tread the line between real cultures and fantastical new histories.

46 of those stories had LGBT characters as the leads. That means, over a third of the works I read this year had non-straight main characters. I think that is kind of amazing considering how certain groups would like to downplay the role of LGBT people in the world. I refer to myself as queer, so I probably gravitate toward stories and characters I can relate to. Within the list, there are also quite a few books with LGBT characters, but they aren’t the main character(s) and weren’t counted. It’s nice to see that the role of LGBT characters is growing past their past token or comedic or tragic status.

If I could, I would love to see what authors I read the most this year or analyze how long it took me to read a book on average based on genre or length, but I can at least tell you that on average I finished a book every 3.041 days. That’s crazy. It still blows my mind that I’ve read that much. Resisting is stressful, the news stresses me out, and my outlet this year has been reading.

Over the next few posts, I’ll talk about some highlights from 2017’s reading along with my bullet journal for 2018 and the goals I’m hoping to accomplish in the coming year, especially regarding reading and writing.

Happy New Year everyone! What did you read and enjoy in 2017?

Personal Life · Writing

New Year, New Books

Ahhh, another year as an indie author has passed. 2015 has been quite the year for me. I feel like I’ve accomplished so much, yet there’s so much more to do in 2016.

This year I released my second novel, The Winter Garden, along with a short story, “An Oxford Holiday”. While getting through another two semesters of graduate school, I finished writing The Earl and the Artificer and got to meet and hang-out with my best friend who came to visit from the UK. My boyfriend and I celebrated our tenth anniversary. Honestly, this year has been pretty fantastic for me.

I’m a little afraid of 2016. This year I will finish my MFA in Creative Writing and have to look for a real job, which feels incredibly daunting.

Anyway, I have a few solid goals for 2016:

  • Edit, format, and publish The Earl and the Artificer (Ingenious Mechanical Devices #3) by January 30th. You can pre-order it here.
  • Write more books! It’s a fairly obvious goal, but I’d like to write at least two books in 2016.
  • Write every day that I’m not editing. For a while this year, I was really good about writing at least a couple hundred words every day, and that really upped my productivity. I want to start doing that again once I plot out the basics for book 4.
  • Read the books I own. This may sound odd, but I bought a lot of books in 2015, and I haven’t read most of them. In 2016, I’d like to catch up with my reading and try to only buy sequels to what I’m currently reading and not buy twenty for every one I read.

I could go into a bunch of smaller goals I have, but I’m sure those will come up throughout the year. I’m proud of what I’ve accomplished in 2015, and I can’t wait to see what 2016 will bring.

Stay tuned for more stories, new characters, and future publications! I know 2016 is going to be a great year!


 

The Earl and the Artificer (IMD#3) is available for pre-order on Amazon for 99 cents.

eata final cover