When Not Writing Becomes An Art Form…

I’m a list-maker. I have lists everywhere. Scribbled on scraps of papers and post-its.  Written and neatly numbered in notebooks. Multiples notebooks. Typed in the notes section of my iPhone. And so on.  One of the items that is permanently on my to-do list, and appears as an almost daily line item in my planner is “write on Alliezog blog.” I have “blog post ideas” scattered everywhere in various stages of thought-vomit. Lists of potential titles, topics, open letters I wish to write to the world, top 5 lists and so on. But somehow I still manage to go days, weeks and sometimes months without publishing a new post.  My drafts folder is full, my notes are made, but I can’t get my sh*t together and hit publish.

Since I couldn’t decide which blog to complete today, I figured I’d take a closer look at all the excuses I’ve come up with as to why I don’t publish posts nearly as often as I want to. As a “writer” I figure I might as well make not-writing into a legitimate blog topic.

1) I have too much “work-related writing” to do and am mentally exhausted at the end of my days and unable to form comprehensive sentences.

2) I haven’t completely decided on my schtick yet. I constantly struggle with what I want my blog to be and whether I need to have more focused, category specific posts on here or whether I can ramble on about whatever strikes my mood one day, and the next day write about my favorite local hangs in Rhode Island. Who is my target audience? Who is my readership? How will I monetize this thing – and do I even want to – or do I want to keep this space all my own…? See the inner struggle alone is exhausting!

3) I tweet a lot. And post sometimes long, preachy messages on Facebook. And write all those aforementioned to-do lists. Sometimes I even type a cleverly worded text, Facebook message, or email or to a loved one. All that counts as writing right? See – I AM a writer!

4) I’m saving up all my creativity for when someone gives me a (rather large) cash-advance to write my novel…based on…the loosely crafted outline in my head, years of journals and occasionally typed and then re-typed outlines. Fingers crossed!

5) I need to travel! When I travel, I’ll suddenly open the flood gates of creative genius. I’ll totally write my first masterpiece in a sidewalk cafe in France (or England! Or in a hut in Bali!). Isn’t that how all great writers do it? I’ll be just like them!

Hopefully my overenthusiastic exclamation point laden sentences reveal the sarcasm and absurdness of my lame excuses. (I’m apparently real good at that show don’t tell thing writers are supposed to do…)

Hopefully airing it all out (and actually hitting publish on something) will get the writing process going again. If not, at least I now know I can crank out some more excuses and call it a blog post… :)

 

The Summer of Yes…

This summer is all about trying new things and stepping out of my comfort zone.  To do that, I’ve adopted a “say yes to anything” mantra.  I figure if an opportunity presents itself, I’ve got to take it, right?

There’s been a couple of things I’ve been saying I want to do for a while now but as life happens, we often push these things, however big or small they may be, to the bottom of the list, putting work, family obligations and everyday “life” first and sometimes forgetting to embrace the extras.

Every since my childhood trips to Cali, one thing I’ve always wanted to do is learn to surf.  At (nearly) 33, I realize I may be a bit too late and gravity is probably not on my side. While I was once a gymnast (I swear!) I’m not sure I’ve retained much from my leotard days except for decent flexibility and nice calves (no modesty here…).

Especially after my ill-fated snowboarding debacle (I was truly one with the mountain – as in, I was face-down on the mountain for 95% of the time…), I’ve realized I may be getting too old for my whimsical, wishful list of hobbies I want to start. But I digress…

A few months ago, I wrote an article on SURFSET Fitness, a new workout program done entirely on a specially designed indoor surfboard and funded by Shark Tank – one of my favorite shows.  I took a class at Floortime Studios as part of my reporting and thought it was pretty darn cool. When I saw they were offering a summer bootcamp to both get in-shape and take a group surf-lesson at the end, I signed up and will finally be checking off the learn to surf (or at least “get up on a board”)  box on my never-ending life to-do list.

I’ve completed 11 classes so far and am hooked. I plan on signing up for the next session and really whipping my butt into shape. It’s an amazing total body workout including cardio and strength work and I am definitely working harder than I ever did before at the gym or on my casual jogs by the beach.   Stay tuned to hear about my actual ocean-time happening in a few weeks – hopefully I’ll live to tell the tale!

So what will I say yes to next? I don’t know…try me! :)

Lessons from a Coffee Shop Wanderer

Screen Shot 2014-06-07 at 10.56.39 AMI’ve become one of those people. I’m that girl with the headphones, the Macbook and the scattered papers taking up prime real estate at your coffee shop. I’ll totally ask you to switch tables if you’re near an outlet and I need one. You probably think I’m pretentious – sorry about that!

Coffee shop working is pretty acceptable and even common place these days, especially in big cities, but when you live in a destination tourist town and summer is right around the corner? Not so much…

Most of the winter I camped out at my favorite local coffee shop, Empire Tea & Coffee, with no problem. There were plenty of others just like me there. As the nice weather rolled around however, I started seeking out some outdoor spots. I tested out the local Panera which sits across the street from the harbor and has several outdoor tables with umbrellas, a new Empire location which also has outdoor seating, and a downtown joint with no outdoor tables but good people watching never-the-less. This is when my coffee shop wandering started to present a few problems. For one, parking meters downtown switched on for the summer meaning I’d have to trek by foot to the downtown spot, lugging my laptop the whole way. This walk also forced me to walk by fudge shops, throngs of “cruise shippers,” t-shirt shops and vacationers, which can really breakdown your motivation when it seems you’re the only person that actually has a destination and obligation tied to your afternoon stroll. Then there was the sudden crowdedness of my spots. People were actually there to sip coffee absent-mindedly and chat about the weather. How dare they, I’m trying to work!

Maybe I should just hole up in my home office for the summer and leave the coffee shops for the tourists…but what fun would that be? I find it harder to stay focused at home when the sun is shining out my window and if I’m at least out enjoying the ambiance while working, I feel infinitely more motivated.

Since my current work mostly consists of telecommuting from my home base in Newport, RI or posting up somewhere on the Cape, I’ve learned a few tricks for being a New England digital nomad:

1) Tip generously. Duh, I was a hostess/waitress/bartender/shot girl for a good portion of my first quarter century of life, so tipping well has always been my mantra but some people may not realize those baristas need a little love too. If you want them not to hate you as you return day after day for that $2 coffee and a wi-fi password, make sure they see you throw a couple bucks in their cleverly wordsmithed tip jar/bucket/mug.

2) Accept the fact that the majority of people drinking coffee outside on a gorgeous June day in Newport/Cape Cod/anywhere with salty air are probably not concerned with the fact that you’re on deadline. They probably wonder what the heck you’re doing, as they order another scone and debate what they’ll do for the day (beach? shopping? cocktails?) Yeah, their life is rough…

3) Which brings me to point 3. Headphones are key to avoid overhearing the mostly vacation-minded conversations happening all around you. If you let yourself get sucked into people watching *cough* eavesdropping, you will find it extremely hard to continue working and very much want to cut your day short to go sunbathe/sip cocktails/frolic, etc. DO NOT DO THIS – you have bills to pay!

More tips to come, as well as my ever-growing list of favorite coffee shops in little Rhody and beyond.  Happy sipping friends :)

 

On Establishing Routines…

Never have I ever…had a routine in life.  Is this bad?

I don’t wake up at the same time everday, I don’t eat the same thing for breakfast, and let’s not even discuss my bedtime.  Even when I had a traditional 9-5 job, I was never able fall into a comfortable morning routine. Some days I’d randomly be inspired to get up early, go for a run, make breakfast, etc, while other days I’d wake up at the latest possible second, counting off all the things I could skip in trade for a few more mins of sleep (if I don’t blowdry my hair I can snooze for 10 more minutes…and if I don’t shower at all, woohoo, another 30). When I worked for a relatively flexible company in NYC and the start time wasn’t set in stone, forget it. I didn’t even get my coffee at the same place each morning, always randomly stopping somewhere new and even switching up my subway line/walking route for no reason I can really explain.

I never really thought about it too much until recently, when I actually set out to give myself a more structured daily routine.  They say it takes 30 days for something to become habit and I honestly can’t think of too many things I’ve stuck with for that long, at least in terms of daily ritual. So now I’m curious, is this really bad? Is routine necessary for a productive life? Or on the flip side, is it better to not become too comfortable and “set in your ways?” Is being a creature of habit good, bad or indifferent?

As someone who works from home and juggles several clients and gigs, I’ve been grappling with how to best structure my days and also have time to fit in the things that are good for my soul. We’ve already established that getting up at the crack of dawn sadly didn’t work for me although I’m hoping to try again now that the weather’s getting warmer and the sun will be shining early and often.  I tried and tried to make the gym a routine but had the recent epiphany that my gym was actually a sad and terrible place for me. I’m not even being dramatic, there were just no good feelings that came from going there and so I’m ditching the membership in favor of outdoor workouts, yoga classes and maybe a little SURFSET Fitness in between.  All these things make me feel amazing, and I think that’s what working out should be about, not painfully sweating away the minutes in a grey, concrete, nearly windowless room. Sorry Newport YMCA, it’s not you, it’s me…ok, it’s a little bit you…

Recently I posted about writing everday and that’s something I’ve actually stuck to, for the most part, but I can do better! So here’s some things I’m hoping to turn into habits, and I’d love some input on how to best do it.

  • Personal Writing – Is there really a “best time” to write? I’ve read articles that say early morning is best, and even a study that stated we get our most creative ideas when we’re tired.  I think it’s about finding what works for you, but I’d like to carve out some writing time each day for blogging, journaling and ultimately for writing that damn best-seller already!
  • Fitness/Wellness – Notice I didn’t say “working out”  because I’m kind of over that word. I’d like to get into a nice routine however of yoga classes, outdoor runs and other happy activities that are good for my body and my mind. Oh yeah, and more clean eating and all that jazz.
  • Sleep schedule – A biggie for me. Seeking any tips and tricks on somehow keeping regular hours and shutting off my mind at night.

Thoughts, ideas and advice welcome, so fire away!

Write On…

Ok let me get this out of the way first, RE: my last blog. After a week (ok it was more like 2 days) of torturous early rising, I am admitting defeat. After telling a few (normal) people about my lofty goal (5:30am, ha what was I thinking?!), I was mostly met with this sentiment: Why would you willingly get up extra early for no reason? You are so lucky to be able to work from home and not have to be anywhere at an ungodly hour.

I tried explaining to my friends and family who don’t spend a large chunk of their time perusing Twitter and blogs for motivational/life improvement articles (I sometimes forget that I live in a very different world from my real life social circle) that getting up early was essentially the new trendy habit of highly effective people (or maybe it always was but there are just a lot more people writing about it now, thanks Medium…). My teacher friends/family who all get up somewhere in the 5-6 am region were pleased to hear that they are unknowingly on the path to surefire success, but after thinking about it I realized that I was being a little unrealistic. It almost seemed absurd to force myself to change my habits when my current lifestyle actually allows for me to flourish within the schedule that has always best suited me. I get a second wind at night dammit and I’m proud of it! Phew it feels good just to let it out…

Before you all go judging me and calling me lazy I should clarify. On average, I wake up around 7:30 am and start working somewhere around 8/8:30 am, which I think is totally respectable, especially since I technically could get up at 8:54 am, make a cup of coffee and “commute” down the hall to my office with time to spare before 9 am…not that I’ve ever done that…

Furthermore, I’ve realized that I should embrace my current nighttime energy bursts because obviously that’s when my brain is at its best and that’s when the universe wants me to do my thing.  Seeing as I don’t have children or any other evening obligations, I’ve decided it’s totally okay for me to use those hours as my extra time for personal writing, side projects, workday overflow, etc.

In terms of getting in a workout, I think I’ve found my ultimate workout sweet spot when my schedule allows it. This past week I’ve worked out everyday mid-afternoon as part of my lunch break. Whether it was an outdoor run, a quick gym session or a power yoga class, I’ve found that this is my peak performance time and provides the perfect break in my day and reboot of my creativity. Quick workout, shower, lunch and then back at it. I highly recommend fellow work-from-homers try this if/when they can.

You may remember that another reason behind my little experiment was for better compatibility with my boyfriend. While after only a few days of test runs and further contemplation, I realized that we both actually enjoy those quiet moments that are all our own, either early in the morning or late at night when the other is sleeping. On the first day that I did wake up early, I’m fairly sure I was interrupting his well-established routine of sipping coffee, watching ESPN and not speaking to ANYONE.

What can I say, maybe it stems from the fact that most of my jobs for the first 10 years of my working life were night jobs, or it’s just another thing to blame on my parents (kidding mom and dad!), who still stay up for the 11 o’clock news…and sometimes Leno…and usually scrabble on their computer (dad) or Pinterest on their Kindle (mom).  There’s also the whole little matter of my brain having a serious issue shutting itself off at night and thus makes falling asleep difficult, but I’ll save that for another blog post…

Whatever the reason, I’m declaring my first 2014 goal a wash, which brings me to my next fun little experiment for this year. Writing everyday. Obviously I technically already do this for work, but this time, it’s personal. I recently saw a few great blog posts (like this one from David Spinks) about challenging yourself to write everyday even if only for 15 minutes and even if (you think) you have nothing to say. Starting today, I plan to write everyday either in a personal journal, here on this blog, or as notes for future publication (for the best-selling novel I promise I’ll write someday). This won’t include freelance writing assignments or writing/blogging that I have to do for work, it will only count writing that is all my own.  To this end, I am looking to attend some creative writing workshops, writing retreats or other similar events in the coming months so if you know of any, please get in touch! There is coincidentally one this weekend right here in RI that sounds amazing but I sadly found out about it too late.

Any advice/feedback welcome. More to come!

Confessions of a Night Owl…

Just in time for New Year’s, here’s number one on my resolution list!

In an effort to be one of those people who is so successful people actually ask me what the key to my success is (and so that upon answering I can give the now clichéd answer “waking up early” with a smug look on my face…), I’d like to attempt to change my sleeping habits just to see if there’s anything to this recent trend of “look at everything I do before 5am” type of articles…(like this one for example).

My reasons for wanting to start waking up earlier are actually two-fold. 1) I want to be more productive, get more done, be a go-getter, start my day with a workout and maybe some meditation/reflecting, blah, blah, blah and 2) I want to see if it improves my relationship with someone who is on the complete opposite schedule of me. My boyfriend is a teacher and wakes up at 5:30 am every morning (sometimes even earlier, and on his own without so much as an alarm clock or anything…astounding, I know!) Even if he didn’t have to get up that early for work (which he still does even on the weekends where he considers 7am “sleeping in”) he would still be someone who lives and dies by the whole, early to bed, early to rise thing whereas me…yeah not so much.

I’ve always been a night person.  The 11 o’clock news, Jay (Leno) and Jimmy (Fallon) have always been my nighttime buddies and the Friends theme song has sung me to sleep since college, thanks to their all-night reruns and my unhealthy obsession with the show.

Now that I mostly work from home, I am able to have a slightly flexible work schedule and although I still typically start my workday by 9 am, I’d love to adjust that and take advantage of the solitude of those morning hours for some major productivity. Whenever I have been able to rouse myself in the pre-dawn hours I will admit it’s been pretty…nice, there I admitted it.  However, I still think there’s something to be said for those same solitary late-night hours that have provided me with much creative inspiration and productivity bursts in the past. I think morning people and night people are actually pretty similar, and just find inspiration in the quiet and dimly lit hours when the rest of the world isn’t buzzing about yet. I’ve always preferred to pump out work late at night and then go to sleep knowing I already have a head-start on the next day, but maybe switching things up and getting a proper night’s rest before a morning grind sesh would be better for my overall health…I’ll be sure and report back to confirm or deny this.

It should be noted that NYC certainly favored my night-owl lifestyle because I was surrounded by people who didn’t mind working late, playing late and then sleeping in just a bit, knowing that they’d have to do it all over again the next day. Here in RI however, the pace is admittedly a bit slower and it would stand to reason that an early bedtime (and apparently an earlier dinner time, because the whole 9 pm dinner thing doesn’t go over too well here) would make sense. I suppose!

Although I’ve been thinking about making the transformation from night owl to morning person, it wasn’t until I read a recent interview with one of my favorite authors, Elizabeth Gilbert, that I was convinced. She isn’t the first writer to spill her secrets of early morning writing binges, but reading about some of her rituals and how she keeps “farmers hours” when writing a novel, made me want to commit to at least giving it a chance. (On a total side note, how great is this sentiment when asked where you can find her writing? She answered “…on bed stands, beach chairs, and train seats all over the world, I dearly hope.” I think she perfectly captured why a writer writes, and that all they really want out of it is for their words to be read, enjoyed, shared and remembered. YES.)

So what do I hope to accomplish in the early morning hours? More personal writing time, better organizing of my daily tasks and life in general, getting mundane and tedious emails out of the way and catching up on news and blogs in a more leisurely pre-workday fashion, for starters. My getting up early “experiment” will be New Year’s Resolution numero uno and will begin on January 6th for those keeping track, so stay tuned for updates and other resolutions (or rather “life goals” since I kinda hate the word “resolution”). Anyone care to join me for a 6 am virtual coffee-date in the new year? (Okay, maybe 6:30 to ease into things…) Tweet me @alliezog and we can be sunrise buddies!

Officially, Official!

No, I’m not a Mrs., but I am an official RI resident again – with license plates to prove it! After somehow managing to survive more than a year in Newport without a vehicle of my own, I recently purchased my first car after more than 5 years as a car-less city dweller.

Still set in my urban ways, I had no problem walking to the store, taking the train into Boston or home to NY, and even daring to ask if we can “call a cab” when heading out.  (You can’t, in case you were wondering there are maybe two cab companies in RI…). I relied on the kindness of my boyfriend and friends for rides (thanks guys) and walked anywhere I could. I only lived about a 5-minute walk to a grocery store, drug store, yoga studio, coffee shop, etc. and just up the hill from the entire downtown Newport scene, even the beach was less than a mile walk away. I didn’t think twice about walkin’ it, but after a year as “the girl without a car,” I resigned to the fact that a car of my own was inevitably in my future.

I should probably mention that in terms of my job, I am lucky enough to work from home for the most part, only having to go on assignments, to meetings or to an office once a week or so. Because of this, I found a car not completely necessary, and although I love being back in little Rhody, maybe a small part of me was still clinging to the notion of being a city girl…

The lifeline of my NYC car-free existence was my trusty Zipcar membership and when I found out Newport had recently been added as a Zipcar city, I was even less inclined to buy myself wheels. Gas, insurance, EZ pass and even a beach pass included? Yes, please! During the summer months there were cars at a nearby hotel only a few blocks from my apartment but when summer ended and I got the unpleasant surprise that my cute little summer ride was being moved to Salve Regina (the university in Newport that it about a mile or two up the road from me), I knew the time had come.

After a few not-so-fun shopping trips to find said car, which sidenote*, you should never do with your longterm live-in boyfriend whom you are not married to, I took the plunge and am now considered a normal Rhode Islander, meaning that I drive to get my morning coffee, even though there are at least 5 places totally walkable…

I guess there’s no turning back now, so cue up that Rhody fight song!

*Because invasive and pushy sales people will find a way to ask you if you are married/why you aren’t married/whether you plan on getting married and claim it’s to find you some sort of married person discount.  But, in defense of this awkwardness, I did in fact receive a $500 discount due to the fact that my not-husband/live-in boyfriend lease’s a competitive vehicle. Yay for living in sin!