Writing in a bad year

2019 has definitely been a year to remember. Two dear aunts, sisters from my Mom, passed away. My beautiful dog, Dana, who was with me for more than 14 years, also passed away. There was a fire, caused by short circuit on the TV plug, that devoured my Mom’s room and almost killed her. My closest aunt had an accident with a huge wardrobe falling and splitting her head badly. My country went into political turmoil for almost 3 weeks, with almost a civil war in the making. Mobs of delinquents attacked people on the street, beating them to death, setting on fire everything they found, including houses. Three weeks I deeply wish nobody goes through anywhere in the world, days we lived in panic, enclosed in our homes or trying to battle attackers when there was still no police to defend us.

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The year is almost coming to an end and although there have been good times in this year, good trips in the middle of everything and other experiences, I cherish this year as the personal growth has been insurmountable.

I’m heading at this moment to WordCamp Guayaquil where I will be speaking about “Wanting to be a blogger and finding time,” in other words about time organization. I would have never imagined a couple of years ago talking about time manage skills. Me, the person who used to procrastinate as nobody else and could never find time for anything. I wondered a couple of times if I’m the best person to talk about this, but I feel I’ve grown so much in the last years, specially in this year that I thought I would share my experience.

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Writing and working full time has been a challenge. I must be honest I only commit an hour and perhaps an hour and a half, the most, to working on my current manuscript. I haven’t been the best at keeping this schedule every day. There are days when I don’t write, and even weeks. But I haven’t give up. It doesn’t matter how slowly I move forward. I’ve committed myself to keep doing it.

At this point, my goal of finishing the review of my manuscript by the end of the year doesn’t look promising. Probably, I’ll end it by the end of January or even February of 2020. But it doesn’t matter, I’m still doing it, little by little, step by step. Besides, I don’t have an agent or a publishing contract that says I have to finish by a specific date. It is true I wish I could have it by the end of this year but nothing will happen if I don’t.

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In a bad year, I could have just plainly written little. My attitude could have been different. Perhaps that would have been the case when I was younger. But my determination has gotten bigger this year. Without it, I would probably have never finished reviewing the first round. I would have never gotten great beta readers and the inspiration the keep writing. Somehow a bad year has make my desire to keep on writing stronger. It has kept me afloat amidst all issues, knowing that there is a greater goal out there for me and that I’m still moving towards it.

Life is about going through problems and obstacles, otherwise it would be pretty boring and we would never grow. Writing on a bad year has actually been a positive experience and I wouldn’t change it for the world. Writing on a bad year has proved to be good.

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Editing methods

After a general revision of my manuscript – where I wanted to make sure that the story, plot and characters made sense – I’ve started a new round of more in depth revision/editing of my writing. To be honest, I wasn’t actually looking to this stage. I still have memories of endless rounds of editing in a previous manuscript that didn’t end that well (that project is now on standby for the moment). I remember spending a lot of time on individual paragraphs, re-writing the sentences, changing words, sentence order, etc. and making the editing process so long that I began to hate it.

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With this new project, my approach has been very different from the beginning. I had learned lots of lessons from my previous project and I didn’t want to make the same errors on this one. Writing the first manuscript was fun. It took me a lot of time but the process was enjoyable. The story and characters acquired a life of their own which helped me sustain the story until the very end (and unexpectedly with a chance for a second part if some day I decide to do it). I focused first on making sure that the characters were strong and that the story made sense. Later I would worry about the writing. And now the time has come.

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I began editing a couple of weeks ago and surprisingly it hasn’t been that bad. I’m not hating it and I still feel energized enough to continue this lengthy process. For this editing round, I’ve set up a list of what I really want to check in my writing:

  • Punctuation
  • Verbalization – that I’m using strong verbs and that I’m avoiding the “to be” verb whenever possible as I know it makes writing weak. Although, sometimes it makes more sense than any other verb.
  • Adverbs – Following the advice from many writing books, I’m trying to avoid them as much as possible.
  • “Excess” words – detecting those words that don’t add much to the writing, like “very”.
  • Passive voice – trying to get rid of this as much as possible as it also weakens the writing – although not always possible.
  • Order of sentences in a paragraph – Are they in the best order? Could I improve the order.
  • Connection with next paragraph – Does the paragraph ends well? Can I connect the paragraphs better, making it more interesting and prompting the reader to continue reading further?

There are many other “factors” to consider when editing your own writing and I know I haven’t considered all of them. But I wanted to only take into account the ones that I consider the most important ones. I didn’t want to re-write all the words thinking of all possible grammatical issues/improvements and fall into a never ending process again.

Aside from that, I’m using three tools to help me with the points above:

http://www.hemingwayapp.com/ to help you detect passive voice, adverbs, long sentences, etc

https://www.naturalreaders.com/online/ – this tool reads out loud your paragraphs. It’s very helpful as listening a voice read your text makes it easier to detect if the writing sounds good, if there are some weird structures, and if the sentences could be ordered better.

Grammarly – I’m using the free browser version that detects misspellings and basic punctuation and grammatical structure. It sort of double-checks the same as the Hemingway App. There is a paid version but too expensive for me right now.

Do you know of other free tools that might also help in this process?

What else do you consider that it’s important to check when revising your writing?

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Scheduling your priorities

I didn’t want to write about this until I knew what I was doing. I still don’t, but I’m improving. For years, I’ve tried to form a good daily writing habit. There had been periods of time when I had written almost every single weekday for months, and then months when I have written nothing. Could I just have a good writing habit that could be sustainable? I want to be able to write every single day or at least 85% (6 of 7 days) as a permanent habit. It doesn’t matter if I only spend 30 mins, 1 hour or more, I just want this to be ingrained in me, in my daily tasks, like taking a shower – I could skip one day, but more?

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For the previous months, I’ve been doing a re-engineering of this process, wanting to make the most of my time: balance my work with writing, personal activities, hobbies and getting a proper rest. I had been failing for years, but I feel that I’m taking a sustainable approach now. How? Simple: I schedule my life priorities, and one of them is writing.

I’ve scheduled writing for the past months for the early mornings, as the first thing I need to do when I wake up. It hasn’t been easy and I’ve missed the process during my vacation. But the key is to understand that this is a life priority; it should be scheduled and not added for “when you have time”. Because let’s face it, if you leave writing for when you manage to organize the rest of your day, your work, your personal life, and everything else, you won’t find time or you will be too tired for it.

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I’ve heard that in order to make a habit, you have to repeat it twenty-one times. I don’t know if that is the magical number, but from personal experience, at least you need a whole month. My “habit making process” has been taking me several months so far. I still struggle with it, but I noticed one change, it’s beginning to be forged into my mind. Like taking a shower, I wake up thinking about writing and that is good enough to care and schedule it. I know I’m going slow –  and sometimes I can only give it thirty minutes per day – but I feel that at least half-an-hour every single day will get me somewhere as opposed to no writing for the whole week.

Any other tips I can give? To support this habit, I’ve started to meditate. I honestly suggest it. It recharges you, and it’s the only time that you actually have for yourself. If you’re not good at this or don’t know how to start, you can take a look at the Calm App.

woman meditating on rock near body of water
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Any other good tips for building a writing habit?

TED Talk: How boredom can lead to your most brilliant ideas

Manoush Zomorodi talks about a developed app-experiment that challenges its users to be “Bored and Briliant”.

As writers, we suffer from time to time from “writer’s block”. We find ourselves “procrastinating” and using/losing time only to check emails, social media and so on. Suddenly we find ourselves out of “ideas” or far from of a clear mind to write. The following talk might give you a different perspective:

 

What do you think about this talk? Do you think you can find writing inspiration during your bored times?

Delivering Happiness

Well, it took me some time to write this post. I was kind of busy preparing my exit at my current job and readying for my new job. I will start in November working as Happiness Engineer for Automattic (the company behind WordPress.com and many other web solutions that seek to make the web a better place). So of course, I’m thrilled. The title of the position is very accurate actually. Happiness engineers deliver customer support but also go beyond that; they make sure WordPress.com users (mostly) go through a smooth and happy experience as they build and manage their blogs or sites.

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Having the opportunity to help people with their sites’ issues and provide them advice, tips, and tools to make things better are exactly the tasks I enjoy the most. Anticipating their needs and contributing with their blogs’ journeys is fantastic. Of course, we can’t solve everything. And I really wish we could, but being there to support and empathize with them is what makes this a great job. We deliver a little bit of happiness in each of our tasks.

So, how did I find this position? It was not that easy, and it was a long path. Basically, you need to prove you’re a good match for this company. And how do you do that? Well, Automattic looks for people who’re interested in learning every single day and growing each time more (I love that!). And what better way to know if you’re a good match for them than to “trying yourself”? Yes, you do that. You go through a paid trial so they can assess if you’re a good fit for the company’s culture or not. But this trial doesn’t only work for their assessment, you also get to taste the company’s culture and see if the role is made for you.

What other characteristics are awesome about Automattic? The company is totally distributed. Meaning that Automatticians (people who work at Automattic) get to work from wherever they are in the world. Living and being from Bolivia, this is certainly a huge plus. (Although, I totally believe the future will be like this). They hire based on what you can bring into the company and not based on where you’re located or if it’s possible to relocate. And let’s be honest, as a passionate traveler, I’m excited about working remotely.

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However, you can’t only assess a company based on the benefits and your position. You need to hunt for the “totally awesome” career factors. You need to hunt for a company that will push you to grow, learn endlessly, and contribute as much as possible. In the little time as a HE trial, I’ve learned more than what I did in all my career life. Period. I can only imagine how much I will be able to learn once I start working with them. My skills will grow exponentially 🙂 And although many companies push you towards continuous learning, some of them actually limit you without noticing (after all, they want you to make the job for which you were hired and not intervene too much with others’ work). At Automattic, I’m sure I won’t be limited. It doesn’t matter if you don’t have a technical background (like me), your opinion and your work is taken into account. You can even rotate and explore as many areas as you like. 🙂

So why do I believe this is my dream job? For me working as HE will let me:

  • Help people every single day and at every single second
  • Grow and learn every single second
  • Have infinite possibilities to contribute
  • Have more flexibility to travel and get to know the world
  • Have really awesome perks (Did I mention you get to travel a couple of times a year to meet the team and the company, you get your home office set up – with the best laptop in the market, the chair of my dreams, a huge monitor, a great desk, endless WordPress swag – and so many other perks?)

I’m super excited. I know the job is going to be challenging (which I look forward to), but at the same time I feel like I’ve received one of the greatest opportunities to have finally the life that I want. I’m also excited to continue writing my books. But the writing journey conditions will be a million times better with a great job supporting me and my family.

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