Setting deadlines and changing deadlines

The whole point of a deadline is supposed to be that the thing you’re working on is supposed to be done by the deadline, right? Maybe that’s why I’ve struggled with having to move my deadline back twice. Good writers and good workers hit their deadlines, after all.

In August, I set myself the goal of finishing my current rewrite by September 25. I was about a third of the way through rewriting a 110,000 novel, so that made it a very ambitious deadline. I can hit 3-4k a day on a first draft fairly easily, but adding in rewriting and re-reading time, that’s difficult. When I realized I’d miss that deadline, I moved it to October 9.  Just a few days ago, I had to move that deadline again, to the 22nd.

I felt disappointed with myself. Twice, I made a deadline and wasn’t able to reach it. The feeling of failure was pretty acute.

But one of those things I’d describe myself as being mediocre at is setting good deadlines. A good deadline has to be achievable, right? In reaching the first deadline, I counted on KRH going to daycare when we’d originally planned, giving myself 5 whole days for uninterrupted writing. I knew that in order to reach the deadline, I’d have to do a ton of writing on those days. Well, those plans changed, meaning there was no way I’d reach that goal.

I recalculated, moving the goal up 2 weeks, to the day before I expected to return to work. But even then, that required me to write about 3k words a day, again re-writing with rereading time. That takes me 2-3 hours a day. I can do that, but it uses up any nap time KRH might give me and time in the evening. More importantly, it was using time that I needed to finish other temporary but higher-priority goals (basically, stuff I need to do before I go back to work). So after about a week, I realized that wasn’t the best use of my time, either. Hence, another pushed deadline.

I think that for my own sake, it’s important to remember that this was an entirely self-imposed deadline. Some deadlines, in other words, are worth staying up all night for (or at least a few extra hours). But for the sake of a month, when I’ve already told myself dozens of times (and will keep having to, really) where taking care of KRH was the primary goal, then it’s not worth killing myself over. A different deadline would be.

So what makes a good deadline, anyway? I’ve recently been reading Shawn Achor’s Before Happiness: The 5 Hidden Keys to Achieving Success, Spreading Happiness, and Sustaining Positive Change. I’m a big fan of Achor’s other book, The Happiness Advantageas a science-based look about how to bring positivity into your life and the proven benefits of doing that. In  Before Happoiness, there are some interesting ideas about how to design good goals. A couple stuck with me. From Before Happiness.

“Identify your X-spots. X-spots help your brain believe that success is close, possible, and worthwhile. They need not be near the end of successfully completing a project; they can be found all along the way. When you are at work, design minigoals that you can achieve daily so that you can be sure to reap the benefits of mental accelerants each and every day. Set markers to highlight for yourself when you’re 70 percent of the way to each minigoal—that will cue your brain to release the productivity-enhancing chemicals that will speed up your progress. And for particularly challenging or mundane tasks, focus on “progress to date” rather than “what’s left to do.”

Keep your eyes on the beach, not the rocks. Mentally practice and visualize accomplishing the small steps you need to take to get to your goal. Your brain will naturally steer you toward whatever you focus on, so instead of visualizing failure, visualize what success could realistically look like.

Make 70 percent your goal. Design goals or minigoals that you genuinely believe you have more than a 70 percent chance of achieving. If you doubt your likelihood of success from the beginning, then you dramatically decrease your chances of hitting your target. If you honestly believe you have less than a 70 percent chance to complete the goal, adjust it to make its likelihood of success more than 70 percent.”

I recommend checking out his work if you haven’t already. Still, these are things I’m trying to embrace in my current goal-setting. I think it’s easy to see how, by breaking down goals, staying focused on success, and believing you can achieve your goal, you can increase your chance of actually achieving it. Both of my previous deadlines didn’t take these into account. We’ll see if my next attempt can do better.

Finding community

A Facebook post recently led me to reconnect with some members of a community that I’d been a part of, some time ago. During the 2000s, I spent a lot of time in the nascent webcomic community around Keenspot and Keenspace and more independent comics. Most memorable were titles like Bruno the Bandit, Roomies!, Sluggy Freelance, and the one whose community I really got involved in, CRFH!!!.

I spent a lot of my late teens bouncing around the internet, looking for places where I could be. I spent time (that I’m not particularly proud of) on the Yahoo! message boards, in roleplaying chats, and other places. Luckily for me, I ended up in the CRFH!!! forums, a welcoming place that wasn’t toxic. From there, I jumped into a sub-set of fans, who imagined their own universe.

I spent a lot of time with those people, chatting, posting, writing, thinking, dreaming. They were probably one of my biggest influences, as far as being a person. I drifted away from that community as I reconnected with real-life friends and made new ones. I also made my way through other online communities, including a World of Warcraft guild and later, the National Novel Writing Month local chapter.

I don’t think it’s a particular stretch to say that we’re all looking for places where we’ll be accepted and we can also meaningfully contribute. What kind of form that takes and what we want it to take is going to be different for everyone, but if we don’t have that, I think we want it.

But what makes a good community? What makes a healthy community? I think back to the time I spent online, and sometimes I feel like it’s fairly miraculous that I turned out like I did. The time I spent on those Yahoo message boards now makes me cringe. So too does a lot of my behaviour in other communities. I spent time on 4Chan, and looking back it’s fairly clear that some things I picked up there did not make me a better person (and it’s also easy to see how, taken further, people can pick up toxic and hateful beliefs and even be radicalized from the communities they take part in). All of these communities were non-sexual in nature, but I tended to seek out the sexual parts of them, and there ended up being nudes of myself online fairly quickly after it was legal (although that was always by my consent and I count it as a positive experience).

I think it’s easy to see how any of those things could have backfired, and quite honestly I’m glad that social media like Twitter wasn’t around during those days, because the many mistakes I made could have easily been magnified.

When I think about my time in the healthy places, I think some of the most important parts of me are because of it. I found a community that generally didn’t care who I was, in terms of sexuality, political belief, hobby and ethnicity, so long as I was someone who was pleasant to interact with, most of the time. More importantly, they were people who were there during difficult times in my life, when I didn’t have many friends in real life.

Community, I’d argue, should foster positive growth in us, while discouraging the negative and asking us to be better. We should contribute in constructive ways, ways that help both ourselves and others. They should support us when we need it. Perhaps in this way it’s better to be a recognizable face in a small community rather than someone in a large one, but I don’t know if there’s a wrong way to do it.

I think about community because I wonder how I’m going to help KRH find healthy ones. There probably won’t be any one place I can guide him to that will be a positive influence for the rest of his life. Instead, I expect that like I have, he’ll pass through many different communities, sometimes being a problem, but hopefully learning as he does. The internet was new enough (and in my experience, the dangers slight enough) that I was able to make my way through it without being damaged, but I don’t think that’s the case now and I don’t expect it to be when KRH goes online, which I guess will continue to be one of the main ways we seek out community. So how do I help him?

Here’s what I’m planning. I’ll speak frankly to him about my experiences online, as he’s ready, and I won’t leave out the parts for me that are embarrassing or that paint me in a negative light. I’ve had these experiences and I think I can model being better for him. Especially as he’s younger but at all times until he becomes an adult, I’ll keep a careful eye on what he’s doing online, and his exploration of the world in that way will result in a lot of conversations and discussions about appropriate ways to treat others, dangerous beliefs and activities, and probably all kinds of things I can’t even anticipate yet. And those conversations will be difficult, but we’ll have to have them anyway.

I expect he’ll still have to do what I did, which was to go out and make mistakes, to be foolish and childish, on his way to learning. But I hope he’ll follow a similar path to me, in which that learning makes him a kind person. What will his healthy communities look like? I certainly hope they’ll look like mine. But what’s more important is that they be positive places, and he be a positive member of them.


Family vacation

Over the last week, KRH, my wife (Now referred to as CRH) and myself went on vacation.

I suppose you could say we went on several small vacations, smushed together. We spent the labour day weekend with my wife’s family out in B.C., near Radium. The temperature was hot (Nearly 30 C) but despite some smoke, we enjoyed it, mostly because KRH gets to go to the beach. He’s discovered sand as being fun, and was happy to use his shovel to fling it everywhere. Thanks to babysitting from Grandma and Grandpa, I wrote about 15k words while we were there, but still made time for meals and to visit the lake.

We returned home, and the next day we got on a flight… back to B.C. This time, we headed to Vancouver, where CRH’s sister lives. We spent a few fun days there, which included a visit to the Vancouver aquarium.

Then, for the final leg of our journey, we met up with my parents, and we all took the ferry over to Vancouver Island, where we went to a birthday/ reunion of sorts for my side of  the family. For almost all of my extended family, it was their first time meeting KRH, and he rose to the occasion by being cheerful despite many missed naps and intensely late nights. As family reunions on my side tend to go, there was a great deal of wine and even more food.

We returned home tired and with our schedules thrown out of whack, but having had a great time and learned a few things. We think, for example, that we’re raising a little extrovert, who gets energy from people, as KRH was happy to play with grandmas and grandpas and aunts and uncles and be friendly long after he ought to have passed out. We’ve also got a pretty good idea of how far we can push him when it comes to naps, how well he travels, and a bunch of other things.

All in all, a pretty good week, even if I wrote very little for the last two-thirds of it. I’ve discussed before how I think vacations, previously an opportunity for me to work my butt off, are probably going to be a lot less productive, at least while KRH is young. I think I’m slowly coming to terms with that. I can’t sacrifice my writing, but at the same time, this is the sort of vacation I expect I’ll always remember. Those are the sorts of memories I want to create with KRH, so if that means a week or two less writing a year, so be it. That’s a price I’ll happily pay.