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2016 Write-a-thon Week 2 report: the first step

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This is the Write-a-thon week 2 report. What, you missed the week 1 report? That’s because I didn’t get to it. And here it is, my week 2 report, coming in the middle of the week.

That… tells you something about what’s going on in my life right now. I’m at one of those points where the setting is maximum chaos. And some of it is about what’s going on externally, and all the various distractions and time vacuums, and some of it is about the way the stress affects my brain. Sometimes, right when I need to be most productive and focused, my brain is jut like “yeah…. no. Let’s watch cartoons.”

For example, right now, sitting here. Well, standing here, since I have a standing desk. Right now at this point in time, I am having terrible trouble focusing my thoughts into a coherent nonfictional narrative that will be (ideally) informative, funny, and insightful about the writing process.

Instead, every word that I type, including really useless words like “that” and “really,” feels like it has to get forcibly wrenched out of some part of me. I type a sentence and then just stare at it for a while, uncertain what the next sentence needs to be. I can’t seem to achieve flow, a sense of forward momentum, and I’m afraid this essay will read like a dying car, the engine sputtering to move things forward a few feet before making a kaCHUNK noise as the car stops. It lurches forward again, seizes up again, lurch, seize, and finally just sits there, whirring and chittering and spitting out foul-smelling blue smoke.

I give it a rest, then get back to it, and the engine starts, turns over, hums, moves the car forward — then a dog darts across the road, and I have to slam on the brakes. It takes forever to get the engine started up again.

See that break there? In between the blue smoke and slamming on the breaks? That was me getting interrupted by life. Again.

This essay is turning very, very meta.

Anyway, my first goal for Write-a-thon 2016 was to submit that one story. And if you know me, you know that submit-a-phobia — an inexplicable reluctance to actually submit my fiction anywhere — is the chief bane of my writing career. I have a hard time submitting stories the way a professional writer needs to do.It is my FATAL, TRAGIC FLAW.

So, submitting stories has always been a thing that sputters forward in fits and starts and alarming kaCHUNK noises and toxic smoke. I can’t seem to turn my occasional success submitting and even publishing into any kind of sustained forward momentum.

I’m trying to figure out how to do that. I’ve been trying to figure out how to turn the chaos of my life back into something resembling order, and integrate writing, revising, and submitting fiction into part of that overall system.

Hold onto your hats, this is about to turn into a commercial for Evernote.

I started using Evernote a couple of years ago, when I bought my iPad. Scrivener for iOS wasn’t available yet (and still isn’t available, you guys are killing me here), and I did some experimenting with different writing applications until I settled on one that isn’t technically a writing application: Evernote, a cloud-synced note-keeping program. It comes in a free version and various tiers of paid versions. I have a paid version because once I settled on using it as a writing tool, I really wanted the feature where you can designate a notebook to be available when your device is offline.

Evernote is based around the concept of notes, which are identified with tags and organized into notebooks. It’s a simple framework that can be made as complicated as you want. If you start googling things like “how to organize Evernote” or “how to use Evernote in your writing career” you will get overwhelmed with the number of interesting takes and helpful tidbits. (Still meaning to check out this Evernote for Writers podcast series)

The problem — or maybe it’s not a problem — is that until you’ve worked with it a while, and tried and failed a few different organizational schemes, you have no idea what is going to work for you. Or maybe you do. Maybe I’m the only one who ever changed notebook and tagging schemes half a dozen times. Maybe I’m the only one who stacked and unstacked my notebooks, stacked and unstacked my tags, consolidated everything into one or two notebooks only to separate them out again, named and renamed hundreds of notes as I changed my mind about how to use titles for sorting.

But, here’s the thing. Evernote lets you do that. And sometimes the very act of doing that, of messing everything up and then seeking a new order, is soothing to my brain. It’s like dumping out all your crayons so you can put them back in the box using a slightly different principle of color organization.

I have long been using the Evernote web clip feature to save submission information when I saw notices like “this market is open again” or “this anthology is soliciting stories” passing across a mailing list or Twitter feed. I tagged them “fiction-markets.” And what did I do with them? Just kinda… you know.. kept them. Sometimes I would delete them when I noticed the submission window had closed.

I kept assuming future me would get it all together. Because Future Me is going to be SO AWESOME!

Except, I already know that past evidence overwhelmingly suggests that Future Me is going to be more or less the same as Right Now Me. Future Me is not better.She is not smarter. She is not more disciplined. She is not more organized. She is not less afraid. She is not more creative.

Future Me will still be right here in the same place as Right Now Me, unless Right Now Me gets moving. That’s the only way Future Me ends up anywhere different, is if Right Now Me starts us on the journey of getting there. And figuring out “hey, this web clipping feature in Evernote is really great! And you can attach a timed reminder to notes too!” might be considered the first step. But one step isn’t enough. I have to keep walking. I have to take the NEXT step.

So… what is the next step?

I’ve spent a couple of weeks trying to figure that out. How can I use Evernote to keep my story submissions on track? What is it that I need to know? How can I use it to keep the process moving forward at a steady clip instead of stalling out and requiring a mechanic to get it going again?

Let’s walk through the process together. One step, then the next step. This essay is step one.

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