Writing in My 20s vs Writing in My 30s

I used to write a lot when I was younger. I used to stay up all night and hammer out three to four chapters. When I had a week off from school, I would dedicate a few days to do nothing but write. I participated in the 3-Day Novel Writing Contest three times — and even self-published one of them, The Past In Between,  just for kicks. I knew the well of my imagination and inspiration was never going to run dry. However, something else did… 

It wasn’t my motivation that got depleted, it was my time. Regardless of how successful you get as a 20-year-old, eventually, as the number increases, you will find that the free time in your day to do what you want will decrease. By the time I reached my 30s, my free time to work on my own projects were sparse. 

Now, I don’t want to make a rant about how busy I am, because being busy is lacking priority. If you don’t have time to do something, it is simply because it isn’t a priority. Working on my short stories or my novel isn’t a priority anymore. I have a full-time job, I have friends that I wanted to see, I have a dog I want to take on walks when the weather is nice, and I have a wife that I’d like to spend the prime of my day with. 

Those days that I used to block off simply to write are few and far in between. There are zero days in the year where I can just write. Even when I don’t have any plans scheduled with, I will still need to walk the dog, cook food, and maybe do some chores in preparation for the upcoming week. 

Yet, I haven’t stopped writing. 

Writing is still a large part of my life. It is a critical part of my identity. I still try to fit it in whenever I can, but it is hard to do. You know the saying, “The hardest part is starting.” And it is absolutely true when you are writing. Sitting down and getting to work is the hardest part. I believe it only gets harder when you don’t have an empty schedule to commit to it. 

Expectation: How I Like To Write

In my ideal world, I would have a day fully committed to writing. I would wake up with a fresh cup of coffee and hunker down and immerse myself into my work — deep work, as author Cal Newport would refer to it. I yearn to get into the flow where my writing is essentially pouring out of me like hot water from a kettle. 

I enjoy having the little distractions and blocks in between. I enjoy allowing myself to mill around the apartment for a moment thinking of the direction to guide my characters in.

I would usually have a movie playing in the background, something I have seen a million times before, just to keep me company. Pulp Fiction is a good one. Honestly, anything by Tarantino will do because it’s long… and it works to track how long I’ve been writing. 

This was how I wrote in my 20s. It was something I looked forward to like a vacation. But now… when I do take a vacation, writing is not what I want to do. Writing is fun, but writing is also work. When I have to prepare for a week at the office, I don’t necessarily want to put myself through a fifteen-hour write-a-thon. 

Reality: How I Write Now

Today, I write the same way I do a lot of other things. I squeeze it into my schedule. There are a few days in a month where I can commit myself fully to creative writing, but they are often hijacked. I’m not sacred with those days — although I should be. 

I write whenever I can, fifteen minutes before I head off to work in the morning, thirty minutes during my lunch break, or ten minutes as my dinner finishes cooking in the oven. Any spare time I have, I add it to my projects. It’s my way of making the most out of the little time that I have.

I find these little sprints incredibly hard, but with everything going on, if I don’t have them, I might not be a writer at all. So I sprint. 

I used to be a writer who needs a few minutes to warm up. This can mean sitting at the desk and getting into the right mind frame or it can mean rereading some of my previous writing, which is necessary if I’m working on a longer project. When I only have fifteen minutes blocked off to write that doesn’t leave me a lot of time to get into the groove. I need to start writing. There is no time to hum and haw about where to begin. I simply need to begin. 

Arguably in four scattered fifteen-minute writing sessions, I will probably get more words down on a page than in a 1-hour session, simply because of the urgency, I placed on myself. This had led me to the hypothesis that perhaps writing a first draft should best be done in a series of spurts, rather than one long marathon. This is an experiment I am curious to perform. 

There May Never Be An Ideal Time to Write

What I’ve discovered through these past few years as my time has been segmented and divided between all the people love and responsibilities and obligations I have is that there will never be a perfect amount of time to write. Just like how there won’t be a perfect amount of time to work out or practice an instrument. If you want to do something, you will need to fit it into your schedule. It doesn’t mean you can’t do all the other things in your life, it simply means that when you notice an empty slot in your day — which believe me, if you look, you will find it — take advantage of it. Make the most out of it. Don’t sit there and think about doing it. 

Remember, starting is the hardest part. So whenever you think that there is time to write, start. It’s that simple. Open up your project file, scroll down to the spot where you left off, and continue. Do this every time you have a break in your day and eventually, you will chip away at a project that you were waiting for a perfect time to work on. 

There is no perfect time. There are no better or worst time. There is only time.

Need ideas for your next writing project, check out this article on how I deal with too many ideas

Don’t brag about your work ethic, ever

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Why nobody needs to know that you are a hard worker

By Elliot Chan, Opinions Editor
Formerly published in The Other Press. Dec. 9, 2015

You think you work hard. Well guess what? Nobody cares. Nobody cares how hard you work. People care if you get the work done or not. How hard you work is your business, and even then it’s just your own perception of yourself, and we know how often that is flawed.

It’s a competitive world out there and hard work doesn’t go unnoticed. However, when you start advertising your efforts as if what you’re doing is so much more significant than everybody else, you are putting a target on your back. You think announcing your hard work will get you praise, but rarely is that the case. Telling someone you’ve worked hard, even if you did, is like a pretty skinny person telling you that they are attractive. On the other hand, if you tell someone that you’ve worked hard and they found flaws in your project, then don’t you look like an idiot?

Wanting people to know that you’ve spent significant time on something is natural. We live in an age where sharing information—regardless of how mundane—is as normal as sharing an elevator. But when you are telling people that you work hard all the time, what you convey is that you are stressed out and under pressure all the time. Many people see hard working people, not as inspiring, but as pitiful. They have to work harder, because they suck at what they are doing. Other people with the same job and same assignment as you are getting it done with ease, but here you are, working hard. Pfft! Don’t make a job sound hard; make a job sound enjoyable and painless.

You might think that your boss wants you to work hard, but that’s not true. Your boss wants you to bite off what you can chew and swallow it well. The Canadian workforce loses $16.6 billion a year in sick days. Keeping you healthy and working consistently is better than having you breaking your back and winding up out of commission. Working recklessly doesn’t impress anyone, not even the person paying you to do so.

If you work hard, the product will speak for itself, and nobody will ever be able to take it away from you. It’s true—sometimes, hard work doesn’t pay off immediately. You can play a great game and still lose. But if you are genuinely putting in the effort, with a set goal in mind, you are not after the praise. You probably don’t even care what other people think. You want to do your best. How you get to your accomplishment doesn’t matter, the key is that you get there.

Productivity beats positive thinking

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Relaxing and stressing won’t get the job done

By Elliot Chan, Opinions Editor
Formerly published in The Other Press. November 11, 2014

When you’re stressed, you relax. Although it’s good to wind down after a long day, relaxing when a job or assignment is unfinished may actually cause more long-term stress.

The thin line between rewarding yourself and procrastinating is a harmful illusion we create for ourselves that may be stalling our overall progress in our professions and academics.

If you have a project due next week, you’d probably wait until the last possible moment to finish it like a normal person. Because of this, the project will remain in the back of your head throughout the week, occupying a stressful part of your brain. Then, after a given day of procrastination and concerning yourself with other activities, you’d want to relax; however, to do that you’d have to consciously avoid the idea of that very project. In doing so, you’ll end up thinking of it, hence the paradox of stress.

By avoiding the work assigned to you, you create unnecessary stress virtually out of thin air. If you were to finish the work as soon as possible, you’d instantly feel a relief incomparable to the “relaxation” you would have while procrastinating. Although you’d have the instant gratification of doing something enjoyable, your mind will be restless, knowing that there is something left unaccomplished.

Anxiety and stress cannot be tamed; they must be conquered. You’ll never be more ready to face your challenge than this moment right now, no matter how daunting it seems. If you have a big project, start it now—little steps will act as encouragement and motivation going forward. If you applied for a job, don’t simply sit back and play the waiting game: apply for another. By having more eggs in more baskets, your anxiety and stress will dampen should disappointment arise. If you have someone you want to ask out on a date, don’t strategize and stress over “what if” questions; just go, ask, and see what happens.

Stress is the natural response to the dangers of the world. It’s our animal instinct warning us that there are elements out there that will kill us. But that is not true in this day and age, where the things that stress us out are trivial rather than life threatening. Yet, we still feel that if we fail to do something we’ll be ripped apart, eaten alive. Once we are able to recognize that the threats are all in our head, we can sit down, work, or relax without the intrusion of stress.

People with frequent anxiety attacks hate the fact that people like me belittle their impairment, but I’m disappointed in the way they magnify the task at hand. They believe that by relaxing, avoiding the work, and sitting back, they will be better off in the end. That’s not true. Stress must be eliminated like rotting food. You clean the kitchen if it stinks wouldn’t you? The same goes with stress.

In an Email-Overload Work Culture, Nugg Connects Teams More Effectively

Nugg, a workplace collaboration tool based in Vancouver, understands that every morning, consulting, IT, sales, corporate and communication team members across the globe wake up to the smell of coffee and the often tricky task of emptying their email inbox.

Not surprisingly, the increased volume of digital correspondences has made it difficult to track key decisions, relay messages and identify success and failure throughout the course of a disorganized message thread.

It is the standard, but it is far from perfect. Miscommunication or misplaced messages ends up causing impactful errors that waste time, energy and money.

Nugg breaks workplace communication down into four categories: Focus, decide, track and align. This enables team members to mark each significant message as such, helping the whole team collaborate better and succeed long-term.

“A lot of people live in email,” said Tris Hussey, director of customer success at Nugg Solutions Corp., “and we are not going to fight that trend. It’s a really interesting dichotomy, where we know people are looking for tools that will help keep their team on track above the area of having meetings, emails and task managers.”

It is not good enough for Nugg to simply operate on its own; it must work seamlessly with other platforms, not just forwarding emails, but also completing the round trip. If a worker wants to do everything on Gmail, they can, and that’s the beauty of Nugg.

“Teams don’t often communicate their decisions well or quickly,” said Hussey. “They don’t track or connect decisions with goals. And then they never review their decisions. With this first iteration of [Nugg], you can see the decision records and everything you decided in the past on a particular team. There you can go: ‘Oh yeah, that was a bad decision’ or ‘Yeah! That was a great decision, we took a risk and we made it.’ Before that you don’t really have a record of that.”

According to the work by Professor Alex Pentland of MIT Media Lab, truly effective teams have a high level of energy, engagement and exploration. Energy can be the act of discussing, brainstorming or negotiating, while engagement is the reaction to the energy, should it be a nod of comprehension or feedback to what has been said. Finally, exploration is the act of bringing in new external ideas that has yet to be present within the team. Nugg is currently promoting energy and engagement within workplace, while refining the capability to explore within the platform.

Nugg wants teams to focus on the big picture by allowing the whole team to see what is happening above, below and all around them. The transparency of the application is an important aspect in terms of building a free flowing communication highway with the various company goals as clear destinations.

“We believe teams are more than just projects,” said Hussey. “They are bigger than projects. And there are things that people need to talk about that are bigger than what will happen day-to-day. If I have a project today to update the website, that’s just a facet of the entire mission of the company.”

Hussey added, “It’s the idea of capturing information, ideas and progress in a way that isn’t lost in emails or chats. Someone can say something really brilliant in chat, but if you come back to it five hours later, are you going to see it? No. But in Nugg, you’ll see it.”