Matt Gemmell gives some insight on how he writes his novels using Ulysses.
TOLL is the result of two years of work, and is the second book in my KESTREL series. It’s around 100,000 words long, and required a great deal of planning, research, and organisation. I used various tools for the planning stages, but ultimately I moved almost everything into Ulysses, to keep all my book-related material in one place and easy to access.
You don’t have to be a novel writer to get some value from this post. He goes into detail about his setup and the tips included cover both the features of Ulysses and creating a clever system to make it work on a bigger project (I especially like his use of keywords).
I tend to easily consider alternate options for most of the apps I use. That is not the case for Ulysses — it just continues to get better and I have not yet hit the borders of what it can do.
Motivated from the inside
I’ve been thinking lately about what drives us to pursue certain activities. This line of thinking was initiated by this question in an application form for competing in the Soke Cup (the world championship tournament for the Chito-ryu style of karate):
Why do you want to compete in the Soke cup?
The question is asked because this is not just any tournament. It happens every three years and will include the best and most dedicated athletes in the world. Entering a competition like this should be done with more consideration than a usual event.
As I pondered how to best answer the question, I noticed my son sitting beside with his pen down and an unhappy look on his face. I asked him how he was thinking of answering why he wanted to compete in the Soke Cup. His response was, “I don’t.”
A careful balance
I’ve learned in my time as a parent that you’re often walking a fine line between pushing your children to challenge themselves and allowing them to find their own passions (not to mention creating spaces for adequate rest and downtime). But some kids need a little boost to find a craft to pour themselves into.
Self-direction is great until a child only seeks the easiest path at all times.
Anyway, this all got me thinking about motivation. At times, external motivations are important. They help us to remember about deadlines and responsibilities to others. But ideally, motivation is intrinsic and comes from the individual.
But that kind of motivation is not always found through the course of everyday life. It often needs to be cultivated — that was sure the case in my life.
This particular child of mine is talented, but working hard is not yet a skill he cherishes. He participates in karate because we require our boys to join at least one physical activity outside of school. He’d tried it for a year and while he doesn’t hate it, he also doesn’t love it.
And he has no desire in competing against others or doing the required training for a world-class event.
Finding their way
You can’t force children into pursuits: they have to find their own interests.
My son? I couldn’t ask him to answer a question that asks why he wanted to do something when he in fact does not want to do it. But I also didn’t want to let him just say no and forget about it. I asked him in what way would he want to challenge himself in 2019.
He decided on joining flag football.
I support his decision. When we hit situations like this, I prefer to let them make their own decisions. But at the same time, they need to understand two truths:
there is joy in a job well done, even when you don’t enjoy the job
mature adult do the things that are needed, not only what they want to do
Those were truths that took me far too long to learn.
Alan Jacobs gives some insight into how he keeps track of things when doing research for a book. Reading the post, you come to know he’s tried many ways of organizing things, but he’s recently begun following the methods of Niklas Luhmann’s Zettelkasten system.
He shares how he had thought he was too late in life to adopt this system, but…
But ultimately, when I was working on The Year of Our Lord 1943, I realized that the demands of my research — trying to track the thought and writing of five figures working in complete isolation from one another — called for something like a Zettelkasten system. (It would take a long time to explain why, but it had to do with cross-referencing ideas that were related to one another in a variety of ways: by author, by date, by theme.) Well, I thought, why not have a collection of Zettel that is based not on a lifetime of research but on a single project? So I tried that. And it worked wonderfully.
It’s an interesting post and this kind of subject always catches my attention. But, if you’re like me, you may not understand the terminology being used or the core concept of the Zettelkasten system itself. But that’s the beauty of a good Internet rabbit trail.
Jacobs points the way and this is where I found myself lost for some time. I won’t bore you with details if you're not into information architecture, paper, and organization.
But if you are, save this link for later!
When you have so many things on the go
Maybe it’s simply due to the current stage of my life, but my days can feel so busy and scattered that I have to fight the feeling of being overwhelmed. Where all the different scenarios or locations in my day bring a reminder of another thing that needs tending to, anything thing that I should be doing something about.
And that sense of being overwhelmed leads to the feeling of not even knowing where to start.
How It Looks
As I work from home, usually alone, there are a lot of ways this feeling can come at me. It’s also one of the dangers of working remotely from your home: people think pleasurable pursuits are a distraction (like binge-watching Netflix shows), but in reality, it’s my other responsibilities that distract. When you work in an office, the triggers and reminders of the tasks from the rest of your life are largely out of sight, out of mind.
Anyway, here’s how it can look on any given day for me:
I’m working on my most important work task of the day, the kind of activity where I want to be most focused. As I hit a moment of uncertainty about how to solve the problem, I take my fingers off the keyboard and look out the window as I meditate
At that moment, I observe that is stopped snowing … I wonder if I need to shovel the front deck
Then I question whether I’m going to get in the lunch run I had planned — I dislike running right after a snowfall, but I know I’ll feel pressure if I don’t do it
I return my attention to the task at hand, but just as I start to type, I hear the beep of the washing machine. I’ll need to get the next load going (6 people make a lot of dirty laundry in a week)
Dang that reminds me — I still haven’t taken any meat out of the freezer for dinner. I quickly do that, and put on the next load of laundry, before I forget again
I get back to work and make some progress. But once the uncertainty of how to handle the next unknown strikes again, I glance down at my hands as I stop to think
And then I notice the papers on my desk. Oh man, I need to get that account set up for the latest software tool our youngest’s teacher wants him to use. I write that down in my planner as a task to handle later in the day when work is finished
On the opposite page, my weekly goals are listed out. Sigh. It’s already Thursday, and I haven’t even started on my annual report for the church IT ministry. The board meeting is next week…
And on it goes. Every moment of every day does not feel like this, but the fact that I play multiple roles in my life and work from a space where all those roles converge means I often come face to face with all the reminders of my responsibilities.
How I Handle This Anxiety
How does one cope? Well, different people will have different responses. Not everyone is cut out for remote work, for example.
But here’s what works for me.
Be ok with working in small, micro chunks
You have to change your mindset. Even small bits of progress are just that: progress. I have had to recognize that even if it takes me 4 weeks to complete a task that could actually be finished in 4–5 hours, that’s the reality of the current stage of my life. And it’s ok.
With 4 kids coming up to their teen years, I’m likely the busiest I’ll ever be in my life. We have extracurricular activities 4 nights during the work week (and two on the weekend). I simply have to be on my game and as organized as possible. And some of my own desires have to be laid aside.
This is serving. And it’s a worthy sacrifice.
Another key here is straight out of GTD. I’m being inefficient if I handle the same thing more than once. Whether it’s a piece of paper or an email, I’m always needing to remind myself to process these items (and schedule a related task) and file them away rather than leaving them around.
Do not underestimate the power of the visual trigger. Seeing these items repeatedly will cause anxiety.
Have a weekly routine
This is an area I have struggled against for a long time. Matt Perman makes the recommendation for having a weekly routine, and I have fought this idea for far too long.
But it makes sense. If you wear multiple hats and those hats represent responsibility in a certain sphere of your life, you do well to give each of those roles some attention each week. I am in charge of the IT ministry at our church. It’s not a role for which I have a lot of time to devote, but I serve better when I give it at least a few minutes each week.
I’ve recently themed my weekdays so that each one has a different role in focus. It helps me to overcome that feeling of where to start. If I have a free moment, I focus on the day’s role.
Of course, I didn’t mention the fact that it’s always good to step back and evaluate whether you should cut some things from your life (and learn to say no). That’s a given.
But some things are worth saying yes to, even if it means you’re busier than a one-armed paper hanger.
One evening last week, I was sitting on my front stoop waiting for a friend to come over. I brought a book out with me, but instead of reading I just sat there and let my senses take in the scene.
I didn’t look or listen for anything in particular, I just let the details of this particular moment in the neighborhood come to me: the quality of the air—heavy and warm, the incoming summer storm kind; birds; two couples having a conversation down the sidewalk; the clinking of dishes coming from inside the house to my right; distant hammering from a construction site somewhere in the blocks behind my house.
That sounds nice. Real nice. The busier my life is, the more I long for these moments. It’s so easy to always focus on the next thing and miss the experience itself. Cain sums this up well:
Life can disappear on us just like a cup of coffee consumed on autopilot. In other words, to really experience life itself, as opposed to just more thinking about life, we need to remember we’re having an experience.
This article is a good reminder for me. I need to ensure there is enough margin in my life so I feel free to take the time to enjoy the various moments of my life.
I enjoyed this look at the devotional practices of Richard Baxter. I’m already a believer in Christian meditation, but sometimes hearing the experiences of others can be an inspiration to us.
In The Saints’ Everlasting Rest, Baxter states that, because man is a rational creature, we must reason with ourselves. We are to take a truth and mull it over in our minds. He compares it to a balance that sits before us. There is a natural desire to want to tip it, to add a little more weight, and then a little more, and then a little more, and finally the thing tips. So, it is to be with our hearts. We meditate upon a truth and add reason upon reason in order to believe this truth, to revel in this truth, to delight in this truth, and eventually the scale tips. We bring one reason to bear, and then another, arguing with ourselves, until eventually we are affected.
Since reading this, I’ve tweaked my morning routine slightly. I take a few minutes (not 30, but at least 5–10) to just focus on one aspect of God. The compassion of Christ, the long-suffering of the Father, how Christ fulfills the role of sacrifice and priest — whatever comes to mind or catches my attention in my reading.
And this change has had an impact in how worshipful I am in my devotions. Mixing in reading, intercessory prayer, and this focused meditation has been a blessing. I find the focus on God leads me to praise him more readily. From there, every other activity in my devotions is richer for it.