A Call for Help for the Cyclone Idai Victims

It’s the last Friday of March and so the first quarter of the year bites the dust. But other than that, it also means that it’s time for another Got Goals? Bloghop Update Day. For those of you wondering what the bloghop is about: A bunch of us have set some crazy/super important goals, and Update Day is about sharing how we did.

The nice thing about doing this is the sense of accountability it gives. So if you would like to join in, just follow the instructions here.

But… Although I wanted to talk about some important changes that happened in my life, I just really can’t get into the zone of talking myself when there’s something massive going on right next door, so to speak. I tried doing it, but I just can’t. It doesn’t feel right, so I’ll talk about all these things into the new month.

Cyclone Idai

Two weeks ago, a cyclone (which is the same a a hurricane) swept over three countries (Malawi, Mozambique, and Zimbabwe) just as it reached its peak intensity, and basically leveled everything in its path. This Guardian article describes the result as “apocalyptic”, and the writer isn’t wrong. Hundreds of people have died, and many are missing. Over a hundred thousand people are living in refugee camps because they lost everything. Over 2.5 million people are in need of aid. And the roads are so damaged that a lot of people can’t even be reached. And now cholera has broken out in Mozambique.

So if you can help at all, please do. I’m linking up to three outreach programs I know of for those of you who want to donate. I’m not affiliated with any of these, and maybe there are other places that you know of that you prefer to be involved with. Or if you can’t help financially, please spread the word.

Doctors Without Borders

Project Idai

The UN Refugee Agency

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Update Day: Setting Goals

Believe it or not, it’s the last Friday of the month, which means it’s time for another Update Day. Since this post is about me finally setting my goals, get ready because it’s going to be a long one.

To help you out, the first part is about how I’m doing and what I’ve been up to in February. Then at the first subheading, I start talking about how and why I set my goals.

I have to say, I’m feeling rather frustrated writing this. We’re two months in and it still feels like I haven’t really sorted anything out yet. I haven’t been able to write since stopping in January.

It’s just that nothing seems to fit into my days anymore except for work. I mean, I’ve decided on my goals at the end of January and have been keeping track of what I’m doing, but when I look at my “done” list for this month, it’s all work-related with a few things like “unpack laundry” sneaked in.

Yeah. Right now, I’m still so busy that putting laundry (that I didn’t even wash myself) into a cupboard is not a chore, but a daily goal.

So I’m finding that a tiiiiiiiiiny bit frustrating.

That said. I haven’t only been working. The truth is, I feel like I’ve burned out last month much worse than I wanted to admit at the time. So much so that when I feel even a little tired (like after I’ve finished my work day), I just can’t make myself write a much as a blog post, never mind working on fiction.

Instead, I’ve been working on some crafts. One of my best friends is expecting her second baby, so I’m busy crocheting a blanket. And when I don’t feel like crocheting (because it’s a bit less than nice to work with wool when it’s this hot), I’ve been working on my needlepoint tapestry. I don’t know if you guys even remember the one I’m talking about. I started it like three years ago.

It’s a 138k-stitch monster of a thing. But I just felt like I wanted to work on it, so that’s what I’ve been doing for fun. I’m finding it really soothing too, because it makes me not think about anything. How?

See those little ants running down one side of the black blocks, those are individual stitches. I’m working from a chart, and that means for every stitch I’m making, I’m counting up or down and then left to right. If I don’t do that, I put the stitch in the wrong place, which is seriously going to suck because it’s not really something that’s easy to fix later. Because fixing a needlepoint tapestry stitch means ripping it and all of the other stitches I made with the same thread out and starting again.

So it absorbs a lot of attention and basically my usually noisy brain basically goes one two three four one two three stitch for hours on end.

But I digress. In January, I promised to share more information on my goals once I decided what they are, so here’s what I did.

Starting Big and Drilling Down

Starting off, I decided to set multiple 5-year goals. These give me the framework of “Where do I want to be five years from now?” Some of them, I’m hoping to achieve in a shorter time, like my income goal, because I have already actively been working at that for a long time already. These goals are meant to be ambitious and can be as nebulous and “impossible” as I like. Why? Because the idea is to drill down into each one and find the things I can do daily to make them more possible. 

My Five-Year Goals Are: 

1) Earn $7500 a month from my writing and publishing skills

2) With a third of those earnings coming from publishing my own writing

3) Be healthier

4) The start-up I’m working on will be off the ground and self-sustaining

5) Do more art (that isn’t writing)

6) Read more

7) Speak seven languages proficiently (if not fluently).

One thing worth noting here is that three of my goals is about “work” and three are about “don’t work all the time, kid.” It’s basically about me looking to find a sense of balance. I can set up to ten of these goals, but for now I don’t really want to do that because I think all of these goals are pretty big and all/consuming. So these are the ones I believe I can manage chasing at the same time.

From my five-year goals, I narrow down to my one-year goals. Now here is where I start to make my goals SMART.

For those of you wondering what SMART goals are, SMART is an acronym, which stands for:

S – specific, significant, stretching

– measurable, meaningful, motivational

– agreed upon, attainable, achievable, acceptable, action-oriented

– realistic, relevant, reasonable, rewarding, results-oriented

T – time-based, time-bound, timely, tangible, trackable

Mostly my goals are specific, measurable, achievable, reasonable, and time-based.

In other words, by drilling down from my five-year goals, I take things that are mostly out of my sphere of control and doing the things I can control. Because each step I take brings me one step closer to making those impossible things possible.

My One-Year Goals

1) Write/Edit 250,000 words

2) Publish Wo6C3

3) Write Wo6C4

4) Read 12 books

5) Get to a healthier weight 

6) Finish one of my art WiPs

7) Improve my French

The top three goals are all writing goals, because right now, the own-writing side of my career is more of a priority right now and together they are aimed to add to my first two five-year goals. 

I set the goal of 12 books because that equates to one book a month, which feels doable, even if it is somewhat of a stretch. 

Given the approach I’ve taken to losing weight, I’m probably not going to hit my goal weight in one year, but I hope to at least be in a lower health-risk class be the end of the year. 

My art WiP will probably be the baby blanket I mentioned, because that has a June deadline. But if I do achieve my art goal, I’ll probably just set another. 

With regards to improving my French and also my seven-language goal… I already speak four languages. In order of proficiency, those would be English, Afrikaans, French, and Mandarin. However the French and Mandarin are really more faded memories because I don’t practice them enough. So the idea is for me to freshen up those two first before I move on to my next languages to learn. I’m still a bit torn on what I want those to be. I can go a really easy way and go for something like Dutch (which is close to Afrikaans), Spanish (close to French), and Italian (close to French and Spanish). Or I can go for more useful to me, which would be Spanish, German, and Arabic. Or I can just go be really random and go for something like Norwegian, Japanese, and Gaelic. I’ll see what I feel like when my French and Mandarin are up to scratch again. 

Back to my goals. I broke my one-year goals down into quarter goals, which got broken down into monthly goals, which get broken down into weekly and daily goals. 

I try to limit the number of my quarterly and monthly goals to around five each, as it’s more about focus than anything else. Weekly and daily goals can go up to ten each, and can relate to any of the bigger goals I’ve set. 

So for example, even though my yearly goal is about my weight, I can set a daily goal that’s about my mental health because it relates to my five-year goal of being healthier. 

But since my quarterly goals are pretty much impossible, given that I couldn’t do anything towards them for two of the three months, I’m going to skip to listing my monthly goals. 

Goals for March

1) Finish the freelance editing job I was booked for.

2) Write/edit 10,000 words.

3) Crochet 21 afghan squares for the baby blanket

4) Finish unpacking (yeah six months in and I’m still not done.) 

5) Read one book

So with the writing/editing goal, I’m not really being specific yet because I just want to get back into writing again. Once I can get into that routine, I can get back to focusing on any one project. 

With regards to reading one book, I’m actually in the middle of two books. One I’m reading for work (but also because it should benefit my writing/publishing goals) and one is in French, so either one I read will actually contribute to more than just my reading goal, which is handy. 

Bu yeah. I’ve finally set myself some goals. Now it’s a matter of figuring out how the heck I’m going to achieve them. 

What about you? Do you set SMART goals? How’s your year going so far? 

Update Day: Taking Action

Usually, Update Day is on the last Friday of the month, but even though last Friday really sneaked up on me, I actually did remember. It’s just that I’ve been so crazy busy this month that I had my first mini burn-out on Friday and that lasted straight into the weekend. 

Yes, I’m fully aware that having the first burn-out of the year within the first month of the year has to be some sort of record. But let me explain. 

I managed to rest for all of three days before the extra jobs (as in the ones not associated with my main contract) came in. And boy did they. I had something like a bumper month where I never had fewer than two jobs to do at any one given time, and all of them were on short deadlines. 

The problem with that was… I need to work a certain number of hours at the contract job to ensure I get the monthly income I need to make rent etc. and my editing work just seriously started cutting into my work hours. Except… if I only did my editing work that came in, I wouldn’t make rent. So there was the problem. 

I didn’t want to let anyone down, but I also didn’t want to not get my contract hours in. So…. I started working between 18 and 20 hours per day (including weekends) to get everything done. I managed that, but then had to increase my daily contract work hours to make up the shortfall because the editing still took up most of two weeks. 

And then I suddenly had three projects that I had to finish writing in a week (plus the research). This I managed. But I literally had to work non-stop on Friday to get everything in. 

So when I was done, and I still had my blog post to write, I just felt like crying. 

At which point I decided to give myself the entire weekend off with no screens (except Netflix) so that I could recover. 

Fortunately for me, I did. 

But the thing is, it made me realize that I had to change something for my own well-being. 

I worked until I was exhausted and that also made me feel sick. And if I kept it up, I definitely would have derailed in some way or the other. But that did give me the impetus I needed to make a change I’d been worried about for months now… 

My freelance rates and turnaround times. 

See, when I got started, I really stressed how fast I can work and how relatively inexpensive I was. It was my way of getting into the market. It was good, and for quite some time, I never felt the impact. First, because I didn’t have anything else to do. Then because I basically entered a quiet editing time while working on my contract.

But this month when everything crashed together, I realized that I could no longer deliver work in seven days unless I was compensated for the fact that I was taking time away from my other contracts. 

So I completely restructured the way I charge for my work, which you can check out on Fiverr

I used to be somewhat worried about making this change. What if my clients didn’t come back? What if I didn’t get any more orders? 

But the last month has shown me that I’m willing to only work on my contract rather than 1) burn out because I have too much to do or 2) take a knock on my income because I wanted to keep my editing prices low.

So that’s basically what my January was about. How about you? Are you also working on changing things this year? How is it going?

Update Day: Rethinking Things

Click here for more information or to join in.

I somehow managed to skip the entire month of December, which I suspect is something I’ve never done in all the years I’ve been blogging. But the truth is, I’ve been procrastinating on doing this post.

I’ve been looking for either that sense of optimism with which I attacked my goals pre-2014… or the grim-but-hidden-under-a-thin-veneer-of-optimistic determination I’ve resorted to since that damnable year, but as the end of 2018, I found very little other than introspection.

Yeah. As I’m writing this, I realize I’m either going to have to heavily self-censor before posting, or just accept the fact that sometimes, being honest means being a bit of a downer.

So maybe let’s just start with some good news. That would be that I’m fairly certain that after five years of disaster following disaster… my family and I are doing… okay.

But the truth of the matter is that getting us here meant that I had to make some serious sacrifices in my writing, social networking, publishing, health… Basically almost every aspect of my life. So 2018 ended on a high note… But it also exacted the heavy cost of everything I’d tried to defer paying on for five years.

And… After the reckoning… I just realized that… I, the person you had known from this blog, had mostly been obliterated in 2014 and the years that followed. And as things grew harder and harder, the more I withdrew from social media, because I simply couldn’t maintain a facade of being happy. And it’s not just my social media. It’s my social life in general. I have to admit that I largely withdrew from everything, simply because I couldn’t stand the thought of lying, but also didn’t want to be that person who complained and bemoaned their fate the whole time.

It didn’t matter as much for the better part of five years, because there’s barely breathing room to think about anything but surviving the next disaster. But now that the dust is settling, I’m starting to realize that almost nothing I had before is left to me. It’s quite an isolating, indescribable feeling. Perhaps the closest thing I can relate it to was going into a war for my life and somehow managing to win… and still come home to discover I lost everything anyway.

Where does one go from there?

This is something I’ve been grappling with since November, but there are no easy answers. But this past five years have been the closest thing I’ve experienced to living in a story. Right down to the dastardly evil deeds, face-heel turns, and a massive climactic moment. Right now, I’m feeling like I’m at the resolution stage of that story. 

And I’ve learned I’m a being of incredible power and resilience. A force of nature of unlimited potential. 

But I find myself yearning back to easier times. Repeatedly trying to do things that hearken back to those times in the hope that if I can get back onto that track, I can go back to the same trajectory I had been on. 

The thing is… that’s not possible anymore. 

It’s kind of sad to realize, and yet, it’s exciting too. Because at the heart of it, it means that I’m at a new chapter in my life. I get to start from scratch. 

The problem I’m having as of now (and the reason why I left this post until the absolute last) is that I don’t know how far I want to take this “from scratch” idea. Because I actually feel like I really have to re-evaluate my priorities and how I’m going about them.

Which means that some things that I’ve been doing for the better part of a decade might end up being cut out of my life or otherwise cut right down to the absolute basics.

So for now, I decided not to set any official goals other than my five-year goal of earning $7,500 per year from my writing skills. For now, I need to figure out what I want, in what order, before I lock myself in for the year.

How are you doing? Are you setting goals for 2019, or are you also holding off for a bit to figure out what you want? 


Update Day: Long-Term Planning vs Short-Term Gratification

It’s the last Friday of the month, which means that it’s Update Day. In case you’re wondering what it’s all about, a few of us writerly types went and set some major goals and we share updates on our progress toward those goals once a month. If you would like more information or to join in, click here.

So how’d I do?

Uh.

Yeah so I honestly have no idea where November went. I don’t know if it’s because of my life getting another curveball (a good one this time, fortunately), or if I’m just really that exhausted, but it keeps feeling like I’m stuck in a reactionary kind of mindset.

On the one hand, that’s not too bad. At least the things I’m having to react to right now are mostly positive. But the problem is that I can’t build anything when I’m spending 90% of my time reacting to unexpected events (and 10% recovering from that).

This is frustrating to me on a very deep level because I literally derive value out of building things toward my future.

But.

That said, that curveball I mentioned was about having to make an unexpected but massively important decision that might end up literally (Yes. I mean LITERALLY.) changing the world. So maybe I should cut myself some slack.

I guess the issue is that lately, the nature of the things I’ve been working on building toward have opposite qualities to the writing goals I’ve been pursuing. With my writing goals, I had this massive goal and no real certainty of how, or even if I’d be able to make it. So in lieu of that, I engaged in short-term goals that would give me a short-term sense of accomplishing something. For example, wanting to write 1,000 words per day meant that I might eventually be able to become successful as a writer. But in the meantime, I still had something written and created to show for my short-term efforts.

This thing I’m building on the side with my family… I’m 90% sure that it’s going to be hugely successful if we can cross a few hurdles in the way. Here’s the thing, though. Even if I do achieve something now, the impact is long-term. So in a month like this, where a significant portion of my mind-space was devoted to this project, I keep feeling like I spent my time on nothing. I guess because I’ll only really see what I did today much later.

I’m kinda in the same place with the other thing that I’ve been focusing on this month. I joined a yoga challenge, where I do yoga for 30 days straight. I do feel better after every session, but I don’t really “see” the impact until maybe a week or so later.

And really, my mind’s not liking this lack of immediate gratification. I suspect it might be part of the reason why I’ve been so exhausted and drained. Last weekend, I took the two days to randomly pick items off my to-do list that have been waiting for months now. The happy coincidence of doing this was that most of the things I did meant I had something once I was done. Like unpacking boxes in my room meant that I have a slightly tidier room and the feeling that at least one thing (one box) was finished. Another thing I worked on was the wireframe for my temporary author website. This is something I’ve basically been threatening/promising myself to do since April. It’s almost done. And every page I created for the site feels like a rush. So much so that I have no idea about whether it’s any good, but just seeing something literally take shape under my hands was so good.

Takeaway lesson for me: Do something with a short-term benefit every now and then. Sometimes we get so stuck on long-term goals that we forget to just do things for the here and now. In December, I’m going to take off for a few days from Christmas into New Year, and I think for that week, I’ll basically be indulging my whims around just creating whatever I feel like.

But for that to happen, I’m going to have to graft in the rest of the month to make up the “lost” hours from that week. So that means I’m going to continue being quiet until around New Year’s Eve, as per my tradition of resetting my goals at the end of the year.

See you then! How are your goals going? Have any plans for December? 

Update Day: It’s Spooky How Fast the Year Is Going…

It’s the last Friday of the month, which means it’s time for another Update Day. For those of you who don’t know, a bunch of us set big/crazy/important goals, and then share monthly updates on our progress toward that goal. If you would like to join us, please click here for more information.

So how my goals are progressing… Well. Depends on which goals we’re talking about. The move went well, but I haven’t finished unpacking. Health goals got derailed by the move, but I’m getting back into it. My exercise goals took a hit this week thanks to a heat wave.

Overall, my life has quieted down a lot since moving house, but within days of arriving here, one of my cats got gallstones. This ended up making it really hard for me to get anything done, because each of the several times I had to take him to the vet or fetch him back took two hours both ways out of my day.

That said, I had another record work month. At the rate I’m going, I’m going to hit the goal I mentioned missing last month and then some. This goal is the last milestone I had left before the final one. Which means that the next time I say I hit goal, I will actually have hit the big one at the top of my blog. Yes. That is huge.

So where will I go after that?

That will take some explaining. When I set up that goal, I made it a bit less daunting by double counting. So in a month, I count future income, income I earn the same month I generated it, and then income that I generated before once it comes in.<

So let’s say I make $5 in royalties in May. I’ll count it as future income in May, and then I count it again in July when I actually get that $5 in my bank account.

Why did I do this? Basically I was approaching this as a goal, and my brain loves the feeling of adding amounts to my tracking sheet. So if I do it twice, my brain is happy. If my brain is happy, I get more done. And I knew from the beginning that half the goal in actual income is a hella comfortable living for me.
Basically, once I hit the goal, I have two options: 

  1. I can change my approach and aim for $7,500 a month in real income. As in the number I have coming into my bank account each month.
  2. I can change my focus and start working on the percentage of my real income that comes from royalties.

I’m thinking I’m going to do both for continuity sake, but I’m leaning toward prioritizing point 2. The whole point of this exercise had been a full-time writer (achieved) of my own fiction (not achieved.) So focusing on upping the percentage income from book sales should help me focus on what I actually want.

That said, I really enjoy what I do for most of my money, so I don’t think I’ll want to stop working on that. But my life is sorting itself out, which means there’s really no excuse for me to not write my stories. And once I can finally get into the place of regularly publishing, I’m going to be really happy if/when the passive income from my published books start coming in.

Speaking of Writing More…

I joined NaNoWriMo. No idea if I’ll be able to win, but I recon any progress will be good.

Are you guys doing NaNo? Let me know your name so we can buddy up. 

How are your goals doing? What are you hoping to squeeze into the last two months of the year?

Do One Thing.

Right now, it’s feeling like I’m on the cusp of something new. Sure, I have a lot of fallout to deal with, but for now at least, it’s not looking like I have any new curveballs coming my way.

This is great, of course.

But at the same time, it’s feeling a lot like I’m emerging from a bomb shelter after a nuclear winter has passed.

I mean… where do I even begin?

It’s daunting to face the task of rebuilding something. Of trying to regroup and get back on even footing. Especially when your somewhat traumatized mind keeps whispering that things are going to go back to hell any second now.

Did I ever mention I’m not an optimist? Can you tell?

Seriously, though, I do realize that I have to believe that my five years of famine have come to at least some sort of an end. Which means I should be looking forward again and moving my way in that general direction.

But man. Moving forward is a lot of work. At the moment, the work is physical, emotional, and psychological. Physically, I have a ton of unpacking to do. Emotionally and psychologically, I’m working toward letting go of five years’ worth of crap so I can heal and move on. While dealing with a mind that very much wants to jump into fight-or-flight mode at the smallest opportunity.

Still, the past few days, I’ve… started feeling like my old self. By this I mean the person I was about three years ago where I felt battered, but firmly believed that I’ll still be able to achieve something. I’m hoping that, if this was an action movie, I would be getting up around now to kick life’s ass after it gave me a pummeling.

Time will tell whether this is indeed what’s happening, but in the meantime, I’m sticking to the one thing I’ve learned by necessity.

Do one thing. 

Even if that’s the only thing I manage to do in a day, at least I did that. (Instead of… you know… curling up in a corner and crying the whole time.)

When things were really shit, I did this. It meant I mostly worked and got very little else done. But the result is that I built a new career out of thin air. One that makes me happy and helped things settle down to the extent that now I don’t have to be at panic stations the whole time.

The other interesting thing is that now that things are calming down a bit, I can do one thing much quicker and easier… And then I can do another. And another…

Which means that, after focusing on only doing one thing, I can look back at a day like today and be shocked at how much I actually ended up getting done. It becomes as simple as keeping track of what I’ve done, and actually doing something instead of fussing about it.

Et voila. My semi-inspirational thought for the day.

How are you doing? What are you busy with at the moment?