On Consistency

Do you ever find that your deepest-held values are the ones that often intimidate you the most? Consistency is like that for me. I preach it nearly as often as I preach Jesus. Clearly I should have blogged about it a long time ago. It is a cornerstone component of my life. And yet… talking about it makes me nervous.

Why?

Because I’m so often the opposite of consistent, that’s why. As soon as I start talking about consistency in one area, I immediately start thinking of ways I’m horribly inconsistent in other areas. So I’m just gonna say it: I am a work in progress.

In this article, I’m going to talk a little bit about why I believe consistency is so important, give examples of some areas where I do pretty well and some where I could improve, and (I hope) inspire you to pick an area of growth to focus on in your own life. Ready? Here we go.

Why Consistency Matters

There are a lot of philosophies out there on how to implement lifestyle changes. From productivity to weight loss to budgeting, you can do a Google search, read some stuff, and find pretty much any method. Some methods work better for some people. I have heard people make convincing cases for massive, imperfect action to boost yourself into change and progress. I have heard that “fast is easy, slow is never.” And I’ve also heard that the way you eat an elephant is one bite at a time.

Depending on your personality, some of these quick efforts to blast through obstacles or bad habits may sound appealing to you. The often sound appealing to me to, and I may jump on a bandwagon for awhile, but I jump off pretty quickly, usually for one reason: Overwhelm.

I take on a lot. I often think I have more time, energy, and ability than what I really do. Not only do I take on a lot, but also I tend to pile it on very suddenly. When reality sets in, I’m buried under a pile of things I said I’d do, trying to juggle too many things at once. I’m a terrible juggler. I get too many balls in the air and I start dropping them, usually with catastrophic results.

Right now, I’m reading Atomic Habits by James Clear, and it’s really resonating with me. I’m still not very far into the book, but what he says about changing your life slowly, with small, consistent changes implemented over time, is something I can really agree with. It is what has always worked the best for me. Maybe I need to change a lot of things, but the idea of changing a lot all at once is intimidating. Changing one small thing, and sticking with that, well that’s not so bad. Anyone can do that. Do that enough times in the course of a few years and you’ll find yourself looking back and realizing just how much you’ve transformed your life.

What It Looks Like For Me

As I said, some I am more consistent in some areas than others. These are not necessary things I am naturally good at or enjoy. They are things I’ve made a consistent, conscious effort to work at. They include:

  • Drinking water. Although I’m not great at doing this throughout the day, I do make an effort to stay hydrated. For me, that starts in the morning with a glass or two of water, usually with a quarter of a lemon, right after I wake up. I also choose water rather than most other drinks, and I try to keep it with me or at least visible so I remember to drink it.
  • Working out. My goal is to exercise for at least 10 minutes 3-5 times a week, and to average at least 2 hours of exercise per week, which obviously means at least one of my workouts has to be around an hour. I do that consistently. I also do the same workout at Planet Fitness once a week pretty consistently. What I’m not great at is sticking to a particular plan or program. I can do it for a few weeks, maybe up to a month, but then I get bored and have to move on to something else. The important thing to me, though, is that I’m doing something and continuing to see progress.
  • Reading my Bible. I track my daily Bible reading through the Bible app from YouVersion, which says I have opened the app 199 times this year, with 27 perfect weeks. If my math is right, that means I have missed less than seven days this entire year. This is a huge improvement from last year, and I can feel that improvement in my spiritual health and general peace of mind. Participating in reading groups with friends and posting the verse of the day on Instagram most days helps me a lot with this.

There are probably a few other things I consistently do well if I thought about it, but whenever I start thinking about what I do well, I also think about areas where I could really improve. Here are some of those:

  • Meal planning. I do this sometimes, and it really helps, but I’m not consistent. I use emeals, which is great, but often I’ll get home with a week’s worth of dinner food and nothing for breakfast. (Hint: emeals actually offers lunch and breakfast plans too, if you’re interested) But sometimes I don’t want to use emeals. I’d rather cook something fun I found on Pinterest. Or I just want to have tacos every Tuesday. You can only have tacos on Tuesday if you remember to buy the taco shells. I could go on but you get the idea. Meal planning is a frequent source of frustration and I want to do better at it. If you’d like to try emeals our for yourself, I’ve got a referral link for you. If you decide to purchase a meal plan with this link, I’ll save a little money on my plan. Try emeals today.
  • Writing. Yes, that’s right, I’m a writer who struggles to write consistently. And you know what? I wrote a book on this! And I still don’t do it. Sheesh, get it together, Allie.
  • Financial tracking and planning. I almost don’t even want to talk about this one. Let’s just say, poor money practices lead to money poor. You know what I mean? Okay.
  • Time blocking. I just discovered this method a few months ago (thank you, Amy Landino!) and it has changed my life. Or at least, it would if I’d do it more consistently. I actually discovered how effective it is for me by doing it for a few weeks and then getting lazy and not doing it. Yeah. I’m totally getting back into that.

If you have any suggestions regarding any of my issues listed above, I’m open to hearing them. Please contact me or comment on this post.

What Could It Look Like For You?

Okay, enough about me. Let’s talk about you. What areas of your life could be improved by a small, consistent change? What action can you take today, and then tomorrow, and then every day for the foreseeable future, in order to make those changes? Talk to me. Post a comment or send me an email, or connect with me on the social networks. And don’t forget to subscribe to my email list if you enjoyed this post and would like to know when I publish new content.

Now . . . go! Transform your life with one small change today.

On Why Weak Characters are Plot Killers

Much has been said on the subject of plot vs. characters. I’m not sure why it’s a debate. When writing fiction, you have a plot, and you have characters. Both are equally important. No one cares about the plot unless they care about the characters, and no one wants to read stories about people who never do anything.

I have heard a sage piece of writing advice, passed down from writer to writer until no one knows who first said it: “Every scene must move the plot forward.” It is true. Each scene must have a purpose, and even if the main purpose is character development or setting, it must tie to the plot somehow. It’s easy to get carried away writing a scene that has developed in my head and forget about this important truth. That’s why books are written on plot and structure and why outlines are important, to remind creative writers not to get so carried away with their creativity and their characters that they lose the plot. But it’s also possible to become so tied to your plot that you lose your characters. And when you lose your characters, you lose your readers. That, my writer friends, is a disaster.

Read moreOn Why Weak Characters are Plot Killers

On Writing Time and Other Frustrations

As I’ve worked for the last month or two on a fairly clearly defined “writing schedule,” I’m finding that getting time to write is difficult. I clearly understand why I had been making such slow progress on my previous project. In this day and age I think the myth of the “stay at home” mother who does nothing but sleep late and go on nature walks and make adorable craft projects with her perfectly behaved children, or whatever it is that we supposedly do all day, has been dispelled. In reality, it is hard work that consumes most of a mom’s time and energy with very little immediate reward or visible progress, other than children who are alive, fed, and somewhat for the most part groomed. It is more than a full time job, it’s a life’s work that for several years is pretty much the only life we have time for. Personal pursuits such as part-time careers, hobbies and interests, are always secondary. And by secondary I mean they fall somewhere in the approximately 5% of time left after chasing kids around and trying (often failing) to run a household, eating, and sleeping. For me, finding time to write has meant making sacrifices in one or more of those areas. And I’m not the kind of person who sacrifices easily, especially when the sacrifices I make also mean asking the most important people in my life to sacrifice time and convenience, too.

Read moreOn Writing Time and Other Frustrations

On Mythology

The project I’m working on currently involves some well-known mythological characters, so I’ve been doing research into these characters and the stories that surround them. It’s fun research because I get to read some imaginative stories, including novels, which are always my favorite. I’m learning that it’s possible to get creative with mythology, because that’s what people do. There’s no such thing as maintaining historical accuracy because over the years people have turned these folks into whatever they want. Which means I get to do the same thing. As long as certain names, places, and things maintain a sense of familiarity, I can build on the mythological foundation and add my own piece to the structure. And that sounds really fun.

I’m making progress with my plot. In all the writing I’ve done previously, I’ve started with characters and then created a story. This time I’m starting with a plot and adding characters. In terms of craft it’s a pretty subtle difference, and I’m approaching my outline the same way I normally would. But it feels weird to me because there are some characters who I don’t have names for yet. I’m not good with names anyway. So I just think of them as “so and so” or as someone’s dad or friend or goat. Actually that’s not entirely true. The goat’s name is Una.

My plan is to spend the rest of this month outlining, and launch into the actual writing beginning in June. I’ve tweaked my schedule and hopefully soon I’ll feel more comfortable with this writing like it’s a job thing. If you’re reading this and you’re one of my writer friends, I’ll finally be ready to do some writing sprints in June so hit me up on Facebook and Twitter and stuff.

Today’s blog is short (like me, haha) but I wanted to check in and update things for those of you who have been asking “how’s the writing going?” Short answer: I’m happy with my progress. Long answer: Weeelll, I’m technically not exactly writing, not yet anyway. But I have most of a plot and I’m going to to some pretty mean things to my main character and I think she has a pet goat. I’m looking forward to writing this book. It might be painful but I think it will be good.

On Research (and Libraries)

I’m a week into my cleaning and research projects, and I’m excited to announce that I have an acceptable place to write while I’m at home, a weekly schedule that includes daily and weekly tasks I’ve been bad about neglecting lately, a stack of books from my library awaiting perusal, and a TBR (To Be Read) list that is growing daily.

I love books. I love real, physical books most of all but there are advantages to ebooks as well. Mostly, I’m finding, one of the advantages is availability. It feels strange to say this, with my dust-collecting Master’s degree being less than ten years old, but I come from an old-school library background. Maybe transitional is a better word. We did online classes and electronic databases but the physical collection, number of volumes as well as useful content, was still a matter of pride. Shelf space was as issue. My experience was also limited to academic libraries. So I was somewhat surprised during my trip to the local public library to discover that they have weeded out a large portion of their physical collection. There are still books available, but many of them have been dispersed among various branches. Luckily for me they have a terrific hold system which allows me to place holds on items, even from home, even for books held in my “home” branch’s collection, and pick them up in the holds area the next day. As a former library assistant in Interlibrary Loan who delighted in rejecting patron requests because they were available in our physical collection (I’m a much nicer person now), I admit I find this system perfectly suited to my needs, and I take full advantage of it. Hey if they want to let clerks comb the shelves for potentially misshelved or missing items and save me the trouble of doing that myself, I say go for it. And then of course there’s the whole world of internet and electronic resources. In this modern age, I can do all the research I need from home, or if that is too loud and crazy, my neighborhood Starbucks.

All that to say, I’m content to work with what I have. I’m the kind of person who does what it takes to get the job done, whatever that means to me, and not really the kind of person who goes far above and beyond what is necessary to ferret out every minuscule factual and anecdotal detail about a place, a time, or a group of people in order to move forward on my project. If I can get a good general picture of who people were, what they called themselves, how and where they lived, what they valued and how they spoke and what ate and wore and what kind of pets they had, I’m good with that. A benefit of fiction-oriented research is I can also use fiction to inform my world. What other authors have written about people and places is, after all, part of the body of literature on the topic. So I get to read textbooks, articles, children’s books, encyclopedias, and yes, even novels and wikipedia, in my hunt for information. And all along the way, my mind is churning as I imagine new characters and how they will fit into this world, finding flashes of inspiration for their journey through it. It’s so fun that I occasionally stop and wonder at the fact that I’m actually getting paid for this. This is literally a dream come true for me. Somebody remind me of that a few months from ago when I’m agonizing over a plot that’s not moving properly and characters that just won’t behave the way I thought they would. Deal?

On A New Project

Once again, I’ve let my blog lapse for nearly a year, not because I didn’t have anything to say (I always do), but because I didn’t necessarily feel that this was the time or place to say it. Now that I have some interesting new happenings in my writer life, I’m renewing my blogging efforts. I’m hoping to give my blog/website a fresh new look later this year, but for now, welcome back to Allie On Life. I’ve missed this. Have you?

So, what are these new writerly happenings? Here’s what I can tell you: Earlier this year the CEO of Lineage Media and Solutions hired me and a couple other authors to write some novels to tie in with some of the company’s creative projects. Last week, we met for two days at the office in beautiful Bellevue, WA to connect and collaborate and discover the world these novels are set in, as well as the plots and characters of our books, and how they all tie together in subtle and not-so-subtle ways. To say that it was fun would be an understatement. I’m hoping I played it cool and professional, like hanging out with other authors is something I totally do and I totally know what I’m talking about and all that, but basically I was geeking out for two days straight and IT WAS AWESOME!!

And now I’m going to write an actual book that other people are actually going to read. Again, playing it cool while totally doing the inner geek out thing. This is gonna be so fun. And crazy. And hard. And you, dear reader, whether you be real or imaginary (because imaginary friends are people too) are invited along for the ride.

The book I’m writing is basically a historical fantasy written from a Christian worldview. At least that’s how I’m choosing to describe it. I’m keeping the title and premise secret because it’s just so awesome that the world isn’t ready for it quite yet. Is that sarcasm? Maybe. Maybe not. Maybe you’ll never know…

Because this is a historical novel, I’m starting out with historical research. Oh. Yes. I’m trying not to get too carried away because there is a book to write, sooner rather than later but hey have I ever mentioned I have a BA in History and an MLS in Library and Information Science? Well, I do. And yes it’s been awhile since I’ve had a chance to do some historical research so yes I’m excited about the chance to do it. And yes there are people in the world who enjoy research. We’re called nerds, people. There are a lot more of us out there than you’d think. Why do you think The Big Bang Theory is such a popular show? It’s because everyone either knows a nerd or is a nerd. But I digress…

Along with the fun stuff about writing, like hanging out and talking about writerly things with other writers, and historical research, and plotting, and actually writing, there’s some boring housekeeping kinds of stuff. Some of it is quite literally housekeeping. I need to create a space in my house where I can be a writer, since at the moment I’m a little bit too broke to rent a table (buy a latte) at Starbucks three or four times a week. I also need to make myself a schedule since the one or two hours a week that I’ve spent writing lately will not be enough to write a real actual novel in time for my real actual deadline. So this week I’ll probably use most of my writing time for things like that, and setting up my notebook, and starting things like a basic outline and a list of questions that I’m hoping my research will answer. I’ll check in here periodically to give an update on how things are going. You are cordially invited to tag along via this blog. I’m hoping it’ll be a fun ride.