Monday, January 28, 2019

Time Tracking Tools for Writers - Getting Started

You know you need to keep better track of your time, but how can you do it easily, without spending a lot of money?

Many software companies offer a brief free trial, followed by a monthly fee or subscription.  If you are making enough money on your writing to justify an expense of $60 or more per year, go for it.  If you're just starting out, or if you are a poet like me, you might prefer something a little less pricey.  You can always upgrade after you make the New York Times Bestseller List.

I personally use Caato, a free time tracker that lets me know how much time I'm spending on each writing task.  I can enter the times manually, or I can let it keep track of my work time down to the second.

If you were to enlarge this screen shot, you'd see that so far this year, I've spent an inordinate amount of time clearing my desk - which seems low-level but I've gotten really tired of not having room to work, so this really is a first-quarter priority for me.

Another embarrassing insight is that I've spent a lot of time on "NOS" (not otherwise specified) tasks, so in February I'll be watching that category closely, to make sure I'm really using my time well, and not just puttering about at my desk.  It's pretty easy to avoid the hard work of writing by playing at it, and I'm always prone to falling into rabbit holes.

If you don't use a Mac or if you also use mobile platforms, Caato won't be the best choice for you.  Fortunately, there are a myriad of options out there for every computer, tablet, phone and gadget imaginable.  Here's a link to a really useful list from

Friday, January 25, 2019

Time Tracking Tools for Writers - Why?


Effective time management skills may seem more appropriate for a Fortune 500 executive than a freelance writer, but creative people may need good time management tools and habits more than anybody else on the planet.

Think about it - we are busy, creative people with obsessive tendencies who are interested in everything, who may fixate on a new idea or task and forget everything else or who may be distracted by almost anything in our environment.  Most of us have to write in odd moments while holding a full-time job and/or raising a family.

To make things worse, we're writing in a constantly changing environment, with markets that are evolving and an industry that provides less editing and marketing support to writers.  We have to take on many of the promotional and marketing tasks which were previously handled for us by publishers.

Oh, and did I mention that many of us are novices, beginners who are on the steep part of the learning curve, where every task seems to take more time than we expected, and we experience more failures than successes, whether we're writing a first novel, self-publishing the first book of poems, or just stumbling through the revision process?  Even established writers have to be lifelong learners who are constantly experimenting and trying something new in order to keep their writing fresh or to keep up with changes in the market.

If you can't manage your time effectively, how on earth are you going to get your writing done?  You need tools and skills.

CREDITS - Artwork

  • "Man Typing" by wesd440. <>
  • "busy busy busy" by cactuscowboy <>

Tuesday, January 15, 2019

Konmari'ing the Government?

I started watching "Tidying Up" on Netflix and was instantly enchanted.  Soon I found myself tidying the bedroom and scouring local stores in search of affordable little boxes to better organize my dresser drawers.

My much tidier drawer (You'd really be impressed if you had seen it before)

Then I noticed a strange phenomenon on Facebook.  My female friends are posting about how they Konmaried a closet; photos of beds covered in mountains of clothing are all over Instagram; news articles talk about how donations have increased over last January and consignment stores are overwhelmed, not with customers but with would-be sellers looking to get rid of their stuff.  Online, Marie Kondo's lovely boxes are sold out.  DIY-er's are posting instructions on how to turn cereal boxes into drawer organizers.


Our government's in a mess.  Ordinary citizens are powerless to fix it.  We can write letters, we can march in protest, but we cannot re-open the government.  Our president and Mitch McConnell seem deaf to our pleas.

Why not go tidy a drawer?  Or if you're furloughed, why not try to sell your stuff to make your mortgage payment?

When the Konmari movement hits the federal government, one of two things will happen:

  • We'll look at our President, and decide he no longer sparks joy.
  • The Republicans who want small government will think that it's time to shutter some agencies.

I have a problem with that second scenario.  Our government must do what we as individuals cannot, such as ensuring food safety, inspecting bridges, and controlling the spread of infectious diseases.  Making sure airplanes are inspected and safe to fly.  Oh, yeah, and securing our borders.  I almost forgot about that one.

At this point, I wouldn't mind Konmari'ing a few politicians.  But services that keep us alive?  Not so much.

I can't take this anymore.  I need to go tidy a bookshelf or something.

Wednesday, January 9, 2019

Did I cause that to happen? IDK what to do, I'm so ashamed..... Aargh!

Simone de Beauvoir’s The Blood of Others

I picked up this book from the "Take One, Leave One" bookshelf at Anthony’s Key Resort in Roatan.  Curiously, there were few light-hearted romances, murder mysteries, or suspenseful thrillers. Most of the books left there were quite serious, as if dozens of guests had hoped to finish a great work of literature while lying on a hammock - or perhaps dozens of them completed their reading and donated the books so others could become enlightened as well.

At any rate, when I finished my Michael Crichton thriller, I rifled through stacks of intimidatingly serious novels, and eventually settled on two books dealing with love and death - one about the death of a parent, and the other about the death of a former lover.  Not what I had planned to think about during vacation, but it worked.

Now, two months later, I have completed my own reading journey, and made it to the end of The Blood of Others.  I am more than ready to pass that book on to another reader!

I’m not sure what to say about Simone de Beauvoir’s novel, except that if it was turned into my writer’s group in manuscript form, we would NOT have called it “a brilliant, electrifying novel” as the New York Times did.  We would have torn it to shreds for violating every principle of contemporary writing practice and typography, including:

  • the confusing lack of white space between scenes
  • abrupt transitions from one time period to another, with no indication that anything had changed
  • inexplicable shifts in point of view from third- to first-person
  • interminable interior monologues, etc.

Apparently, French writers feel no need to make concessions to their reading audience.  If you want to make sense of this novel, or comprehend the work of a French literary theorist like Jacques Derrida or Michel Foucault, you must be prepared to work at it.

Did I struggle with de Beauvoir's text because I am an American reader who does not comprehend the French mindset?  It is because my nation wase not defeated and occupied by the Germans in World War II, and so we have no idea what desperate choices other people must face?

Or are we uncomfortable with the free and endless play of words and signs proposed by postmodernists like Derrida?  Unlike de Beauvoir in 1948, today we are writing in a world in which genre hopping, genre blending, and literary mash-ups are the norm.  Even concepts of gender, which were once thought to be biologically determined and fixed, are now fluid.

A recurrent theme in de Beauvoir’s novel is the degree to which one should accept responsibility for the lives and choices of others.  Should one should feel guilty about influencing others, if their choices turn out to be detrimental?  Does my existence deprive others of basic necessities like food or even life?  Should I eat roasted potatoes if it causes someone else to starve?  Is Angus beef or cavier worse than a French fry?

What about a person's response to Fascism?  Jean wondered if it was right to fight for his freedom if it caused his friends to die.  When the Nazis shot innocents as reprisal for sabotage, Jean's sense of guilt increased proportionally.

As you may have guessed by now, there is a lot of existential crisis, self-doubt and even self-loathing in a novel which promised to be about love.

I guess I struggle with existential guilt too, as if I have to somehow justify my own existence every day.  For a year or two, I read Max Ehrmann's poem, “Desiderata” every morning as kind of an antidote to negative thinking.  During the day, I would tell myself,
You are a child of the universe no less than the trees and the stars; you have a right to be here.

Honestly, after reading The Blood of Others and listening to Jean go on about his guilt for page after page after page, I wanted to smack him and tell him to get over it.  Which, oddly enough, is my reaction to my own habitual and foundationless sense of culpability

This desire to smack myself reminds me of other lines from “Desiderata”:

Beyond a wholesome discipline, be gentle with yourself.
And whatever your labors and aspirations, in the noisy confusion of life, keep peace in your soul. With all its sham, drudgery and broken dreams, it is still a beautiful world. Be cheerful. Strive to be happy.

Yeah, well, in between existential crises, I do strive to be cheerful and happy.  Despite everything we’ve done to it, this is still a beautiful world, and I have the incredible good fortune to be alive and  to experience some of that beauty.

Saturday, January 5, 2019

Want to have a more productive New Year?

Visit Passion Planner's Home Page

Get a Passion Planner.  I'm not kidding - this is a great tool for writers because it gives you a place to:

  • Keep track of dates and appointments
  • Keep track of both work and personal tasks - on the same page but in separate sections
  • Transform a vague goal to a workable plan complete with steps and deadlines
  • Reflect on each month and decide how to improve next month
  • Has a blank "Space of Infinite Possibility" for you to jot down notes, create mind maps or lists, or even just doodle every week
  • Has a place for you to write your daily and weekly "Focus" (boy, do writers ever have to work hard at focusing!  At least, I do - because I am highly distractible and easily entertained).
  • Has a space to write "Good Things that Happened" every week, which is awesome if you are have a tendency to focus on the negatives or want to make happy memories.
  • Keep a writing log or notes on the blank (plain and graph paper!) pages in the back.
  • Has a pocket in the back where you can tuck receipts, photos, clippings, whatever
Not only this, but when you buy one, they donate one to a person in need.  So you're not only helping you be happier and more organized, you're making the world a better place.

Try the Passion Planner for free - let me know what you think.

Thursday, January 3, 2019

Want to write daily? Get a free 12-month calendar

You think I'm kidding, right? Nope. What inspired me to try this was Gretchen Rubin's truly life-changing book, Better Than Before. She writes:
“Comedian Jerry Seinfeld advised aspiring comedian Brad Isaac that, because daily writing was the key to writing better jokes, Isaac should buy a calendar with a box for every day of the year, and every day, after writing, cross off the day with a big red X” (page 112).
In 2017, I rarely wrote.

In 2018, I used my calendar to give me a quick visual indicator of how often I was writing. The red circles are days I wrote; the black x's are days I didn't. Simply hanging this calendar next to my desk transformed my writing habit, because I could see at a glance whether or not I had written the day before. And I hate seeing black x's instead of nice red circles.

If I counted correctly, I wrote at least 15 minutes a day for 264 days last year. To put that into perspective, if you work 5 days a week and don't take holidays or vacations, you will work 260 days a year. 260 is a great goal, and I met or exceeded that goal.

You don't have to limit yourself to writing - you could use this for exercising, or reading, or any other activity you want to do on a frequent basis.

Here's a link to a free calendar you can use for 2019:  Go to now.

This simple tool has been great for me.  If it helps you too, leave a comment below.