Making the Most of Your Time, or Different Ways to Measure Productivity

This blog comes after a week that just blew past, making me wonder – where’d the week go? We’ve all had these weeks where perhaps we were sick or distracted, possibly focused on something else, or else feeling like the whole world was in fast-forward while we’re stuck in reverse. Sure, technically you probably got things done (I mean, you were awake and moving around during the days, so you had to have done something, right?) And yet, your word count is 0 or lower than you’d like, leaving your ego feeling about the same.  You end the week thinking: did I do ANYTHING useful?

Of course you did. Perhaps it’s simply a matter of how you measure it.

Let’s start with the word count. For me, this is generally how I measure my productivity and forward-progress, which may or may not be the best idea. For starters, what “counts”? By which I mean, sure, you wrote two blogs, made notes on plot or character, did some critiques for a partner, rewrites, but possibly only one real chapter on the current WIP. I often only count the work on the current WIP, and I know I’m not alone in this, but is that fair? Really, at the end of the fictional week described, blogs do add into word count, and work like rewrites and background notes – while harder to quantify – are certainly work that brings you forward in progress of either the current WIP, or a future one.

The same goes for if you’re a different kind of artist or creator: just because you don’t have a new, and fabulously complete new something (insert painting, sketch, piece of furniture, etc) it doesn’t mean you accomplished nothing. Have you started? Have you been inspired? Have you been trying to get inspired? Have you been cherishing or feeding your muse?

Here’s what I’m really getting at: creativity can sometimes be difficult to measure, and just because we have weeks where we get less than we wanted done (or it can feel like nothing) there are times when we’re just being harder on ourselves than necessary. If you haven’t done anything to feed or recharge your muse and yourself, how can you expect the poor thing (and you) to keep producing at an endless pace? What can you do to change the situation? If you haven’t been working on whatever the focus of your work generally is (ie: word count on the latest WIP, etc) what have you been doing? Why isn’t what you have been doing allowed to “count”?

It’s very easy to compare ourselves to other writers / artists producing at a far faster pace than we have (or so we imagine) or to get bogged down in what we SHOULD have accomplished or be doing, rather than what we HAVE accomplished or been doing. Sometimes we can even compare ourselves to our own past and find we’re lacking, which probably isn’t any more fair. All we can do is the best we can for right now – putting in as much effort as we can, on whatever we can – and live in the present of what we are doing and accomplishing. Sure, we can make goals for the future (like next week I really will be more productive writing-wise) but really, it’s only the present that truly counts. There probably was a reason why you weren’t writing or producing “at acceptable levels” this past week, and those reasons may be perfectly correct, or even part of your process.

And sometimes, maybe we just need to be a little less hard on ourselves. What have I achieved already this year? Quite a bit more than last year, perhaps? Where do my priorities lie right now? Am I working towards and within them? Don’t lower the bar: just allow a bit more flexibility on what’s acceptable.

Have you had less than productive weeks / months / whatever? Are you someone who accepts them, or beats yourself up? What works better for you? Please comment below.

Werewolves: Victims of Bad Press

Shape-shifters have long fascinated me, particularly werewolves, and in this, my first actual paranormal-themed blog, I must come to the defense of the werewolf. Just post-Halloween, it’s become abundantly clear that werewolves are suffering some major PR problems: they’re cast as the villains, or cursed and afflicted (and still the villain). Other fanged-creatures seem to be gaining in popularity despite their life-issues (ie: they’re undead), and yet the werewolf still gets cast as the bad guy.

This is completely uncalled for. There are so many reasons why werewolves are great (and make great heroes). If you’re into alphas, can you get any more alpha then an alpha wolf? They’re alive, hot-blooded, and passionate since – with their animal side – they may be more willing to give into urges and desires. All that aside, there’s mythological basis to dismiss the bad publicity werewolves keep getting.

Throughout the world, different forms of shape-shifters have long existed in myth, many of them having the ability to change into other animals. To keep things simple, we’ll focus on the wolves, the most likely basis for the werewolf myth.

Are there myths that suggest werewolves are evil? Yes. In Nordic and Icelandic lore exist the pagan cult of were-animals, the eigi einhamr, who have the ability to take on the form or powers and characteristics of their animal (Guiley 117). Once transformed, the animals with human intellect devour others and do evil things. Inuit lore tells of the adlet, a race of man-dogs born of an Inuit woman and a large red dog; repulsed by her sons, she sends them to Europe where they marry white women and become flesh-eating monsters (Guiley 2). Similarly, the windigo of Native American lore becomes a flesh-eating wolf-monster after becoming lost on a hunting trip and consuming human flesh (Guiley 324). The consumption of human flesh is so strong a cultural taboo, in other cultures some werewolves are created as punishment by the gods, such as in the case of Veretius, King of Wales, who St. Patrick turned into a wolf (Ingpen 226-227), and King Lycaon of Acadia who Zeus turned into a werewolf for serving human flesh (Steiger x).

The consumption or hunger for human flesh is one of the “symptoms” when looking for a werewolf, along with hanging out in a lot of graveyards, insatiable lust, animal-like actions and instinct, and excessive hairiness even in human form. Oh, and the mark of the pentagram, which starts to give you a clue where some of this bad PR is coming from. After all, the same folks who see a lonely spinster with a few cats and a talent for herbalism as a witch who should be stoned or burned, may be just as likely to see a hairy guy who gets all the women as a werewolf who should be shot with silver. During the 15th and 16th centuries at the peak of the Inquisition, many were accused as werewolves, guilty of murder and cannibalism. In the Pyrenees alone, some 200 men and women “werewolves” were executed as a result (Guiley 316-318).

What it sounds like is the werewolf is a victim of speciesism, that is prejudice or discrimination based on species, along with the assumption of human superiority on which speciesism is based (and yes, it’s a real word, in the dictionary and everything). Further evidence of this is in the fact that much of what werewolves are criticized and feared for has to do with their close affiliation with their animal nature, the wolf itself.

I would argue the more dangerous side could be their human side. After all, humans have a greater tendency to harm or torture others out of sadistic or psychotic desires, whereas this is practically unseen in the animal world. Humans start wars, use material wealth as a marker of worth, whereas animals are more likely to use something like meritocracy (ie: you hunt the best, are strongest, you win). Wolves work together, in highly organized packs led by their alpha. Their desires and needs are primal, for things like food, sex, the hunt, etc. Wouldn’t werewolves be likely to work in similar ways?

Finally, let’s return to myth, where there is evidence for “good” werewolves as well. Perhaps the earliest werewolf may be King Gilgamesh’s friend, Enkidu c. 2000BC. Enkidu is first created to counter Gilgamesh’s extreme lust, as a worthy enemy. Enkidu instead protects the forest creatures until brought before Gilgamesh, and after wrestling they become friends and go on to battle other gods and giants together (Steiger 99). Shetland lore provides the wulver, a man with a wolf’s head and man’s body covered in brown hair who fishes, generally wants to be left alone, but could be helpful to those in need, leaving food on their doorsteps (Guiley 327). In Spain, a 13th century romance by W. Palerne describes the tale of the noble werewolf, Alphonsus (Guiley 324), rightful heir to the Spanish throne, whose stepmother uses charms and potions to transform him into a werewolf so her son can inherit instead. Rather than becoming evil, Alphonsus rescues the infant William, heir to Sicily, falls in love, has lots of other adventures – but no eating of any one.

Perhaps the most compelling is the snippet about the 1691 Trial of the Werewolf (Lecouteux 168). This is a real, documented trial, similar to some of the witch trials at the time. But, this werewolf does not deny he is a werewolf, and in fact claims he and his fellow werewolves are “Dogs of God” and in fact protectors of human society. Quite a different view from the villains they’re so often portrayed as, hmm?

Anyway, I’ll hop off my soapbox now, and hope I’ve given you reason to be pro-werewolf. Below I’ve included a few links for interest, along with some authors and places where werewolves get to be the alphas they deserve to be. Have I missed any? Have I convinced you? Please, share your comments below, and join the Pro-Werewolf campaign! J

You might also be interested in an earlier article I wrote:“Ode to the werewolf”

For a bit of info about other werewolf trials:  http://yaiolani.tripod.com/middle.htm

Link to a casual English translation of the 1691 Livonian trial: http://werewolf-research.tumblr.com/post/769044033/confessions-of-a-benevolent-werewolf-a-translation-of

Other authors who write “Pro-werewolf”:

Kelley Armstrong

Susan Krinard

Christine Bell (thanks M!)

Sherrilyn Kenyon

Lori Handeland

Angela Knight

Sources:

Coleman, J.A. The Dictionary of Mythology: An A-Z of Themes, Legends and Heroes. Toronto: Arcturus Publishing Ltd., 2007.

Guiley, Rosemary Ellen. Encylopedia of Vampires, Werewolves, and Other Monsters. New York: Facts on File, Inc., 2005.

Ingpen, Michael Page & Robert. Encylopedia of Things That Never Were. Toronto: Penguin Books, 1998.

Lecouteux, Claude. Witches, Werewolves, and Fairies: Shapeshifters and Astral Doubles in the Middle Ages. Rochester, Vermont: Inner Traditions International, 2003.

Steiger, Brad. The Werewolf Book: The Encyclopedia of Shape-shifting Beings. Farmington Hills, MI: Visible Ink Press, 1999.

Summers. The Werewolf in Lore and Legend. New York: Dover Publications, 2003.

Embracing the Blank Page – Welcome to the New Adventure that Awaits with Every Blank White Page

I have heard that some writers are afraid of the blank page. If you are one of them, I’d like to introduce you to a new game that may hopefully help you leap over that hurdle.

Say hello to “What if…”

The blank page is my favorite thing about writing. The same way I look at a fresh layer of snow over everything and immediately want to dash out and run through, making tracks all over it, I love to send a hurried frenzy of words or scribbles all over a fresh page. There is nothing better than a crisp page of paper that has never been written on before. I try to be environmentally conscious, so of course I will write on the back of the page too, but it’s not nearly as good as that brand new piece of paper.

The screen is the same way. With a blank screen, you can go anywhere, do anything, watch the lovely words fill up the page, hopping here and there as you see the word count climb and paragraph after paragraph build the marvelous shape the page will take.

Okay. I get it. Not for you. But, since a glorious blank page is such a joy, I simply must share part of the “why.”

It comes back to the “what if” again. With a blank page, you can go anywhere, do anything, make anything, anyone happen, march, sing, dance, whatever. This is probably part of why I love writing the beginning of a new story or novel, because there are no constraints beyond my own imagination and that of the language.

“Oh, sure, a first page is one thing, but what about chapter 22? Or the rest of the middling sort? They’re hard! The blank page mocks me. There is no freedom. I have to conform to the plot. Everything that has come before determines everything that will happen after!”

You sure about that? Why? Who says? No, perhaps you don’t actually want to introduce an alien into the middle of your Regency romance (although that does sound curiously intriguing, doesn’t it?). But, who says you can’t surprise your readers a little bit? Who says you can’t surprise even yourself?

Here’s the fun of “what if”. Start playing. What if your character suddenly becomes ill? What if something hilariously humiliating happens to one of your protagonists? What if a character suddenly dies? Is murdered? “What if” is endless. Let yourself play. Let yourself consider all the what-ifs – I have heard you should list at least up to 20 – without constraint, without rejection. If you think it, you must add it to your list. Indeed, as you weary of the game or solutions seem in short supply, some of them may be ludicrous. (What if an alien ship suddenly touches down in the middle of the ball, the aliens get out, zap everyone, and the heroine is turned into a toad?). But, amongst that craziness, there’s something wonderful lurking: possibility.

The possibility of surprising your readers, surprising yourself, coming upon something exciting and new which is so much fresher, more unique, and more interesting than what you’d considered before. Perhaps the problem originally was merely that it bored even you, which is why the blank page mocked you. If it bored even you, the author, do you really think it will enthrall your readers?

By all means, plot if that’s what works for you. But don’t let the constraints of that initial plotting hold you back. Run forth, dare something interesting, have fun and play with “what if.” Even if writing is a calling, a career, is supposed to require dedication and hard work, nothing says it shouldn’t still be fun sometimes, because it should.

“What if” is writing joy. Embrace it, and embrace the blank page.

Come on! Back to work! That blank page is calling, so embrace it, play with it, and see where it will take you this time.