Hi There!

img_20180113_1050517395577474127376146.jpgThanks for visiting Welcome to Bridgetown!

This is the official blog for my writing and other creative endeavors.

I wrote few books I call The Bridgetown Trilogy, which are also under a larger umbrella called The Mendaihu Universe.  I’ve also released a non-genre fiction novel (set in a music biography format) called Meet the Lidwells!: A Rock n’ Roll Family Memoir.   They can be found in e-book form at Smashwords!  Please check out the Buy Stuff tab above for links!

Welcome to Bridgetown is where I talk about writing for the most part.  I’ve been learning the ropes as a self-published author, and I’m more than happy to Pay It Forward by sharing any knowledge I pick up along the way.

I also have another blog called Walk in Silence, which is where I talk about my other obsession: music.  I might talk about anything from new releases to old records to goofy videos to college radio to internet radio and anything in between.  You can find it here.

My blog schedule here at Welcome to Bridgetown is Monday and Friday, with the occasional fly-by or extra post.  I try to post them first thing in the morning, but they may run a few hours later if there are scheduling issues.

Please enjoy!

Kicking Myself Out of the Comfort Zone

polar bear cafe relaxing

It’s all well and good to find your own comfort zone, of course.  It’s always healthy to have that stable ground to come back to when things get crazy.  You can hibernate there for a little bit and recharge, so you can come back out, rested and ready to go.

This is the same for my writing as well.  I have certain comfort zones I stay within, at least for my rough drafts.  I use them as a baseline to work off of, so I know precisely how far I’m letting the plot threads evolve.  This is how I’m able to read the feel of my stories, how I’m able to control how they will affect the reader.

But sometimes it’s good to break out of that comfort zone, and head towards unknown territory.

I realized this when I wrote the Apartment Complex story; one of the reasons it wasn’t working for me was that I was trying to keep it in a stable comfort zone that it didn’t belong in.  So instead I let fate and instinct take the reins on this one.  The end result was that I’d created character styles I hadn’t written before, doing things I had never written about previously.  I definitely wasn’t pantsing it; I knew exactly where this story was supposed to go.  I just let the characters tell me how they wanted to evolve.  They knew more about themselves than I did.  In the end, the story ended up being, in my opinion anyway, one of the best ones I’ve ever written.  I can’t wait to share it with everyone in 2019!

Breaking out of the comfort zone doesn’t necessarily mean doing the exact opposite of whatever your idea of living a safe, comfy life is.  I’m not about to take up free climbing or whatever it is middle aged Manly Men are supposed to do.  But it’s definitely given me a lot to think about in terms of my life at the moment.  This is about getting rid of those old blinders and barriers you’ve been hanging onto for so long, and seeing how far you can go.  You’ll be surprised how big the playing field may have gotten while you weren’t looking.

Play

Recently Dave Grohl released a 23-minute instrumental called “Play” that was written and played entirely by him alone, and upon hearing it, I realized the creation of this track is very similar to how I write novels.

The accompanying video is prefaced by a six-plus minute talk about not just the recording but a music school for kids that he’s taken part in. It’s worth watching for both; in particular, I’m intrigued by how dedicated he is to his creation. It’s not a long-winded progfest at all, but very similar to an orchestral piece in its structure. It’s going in a specific direction through deliberate sections, laying down certain motifs to experiment on and later return to, and each instrument is supporting the other. Grohl also ensures that each segment is played to the best of his ability, leaving no weak or meandering moments.

This is how my mind works when I’m writing an extended project like a novel. While the initial pass-through might be raw and desperately in need of revision, once I immerse myself in the serious work of laying it all down, I’m all in.  I immerse myself in the story by seeing it from multiple angles:  there’s the shape of the overall piece, where I can see the plot’s peaks and valleys as a whole;  there’s the attention paid to the scene itself, and its relationship not only to what’s already gone on, but how it’ll affect future scenes; there’s the volume of the piece, where I can feel when it needs calm and when it needs friction; there’s the motifs (such as character traits, for instance) that I will return to in different shapes and forms throughout the novel.

Over the years I’ve talked with writers and musicians (and music historians) alike and interestingly I’ve found that many of them are kind of surprised when I tell them this is how I taught myself how to do it all, that this was the way it made the most sense to me.  I think this is also why I find myself drawn to other creative people whose process is unique and/or unexpected.  To me it gives their projects a deeply personal touch; it’s not just their style that gets imprinted in the words or the music or the art, it’s their own spirit.  It’s what makes their creation uniquely their own.

Fly-by: brb, going on vacation

mt sugarloaf
A lovely view of Sunderland and the Connecticut River from Mt Sugarloaf.

I’ll be afk all next week, as we’ll be heading eastward to New England to visit friends and family, check out the foliage, and all that fun stuff.  I have already created two mixtapes to listen to on the flight, and I shall be doing a full read-through of the Apartment Complex story just because I can.  [I may also bring In My Blue World for some revision work as well.]

We shall return again on the 15th, hopefully with some nice pictures to share!

On Writing Multiple Projects at Once

nichijou shrine
TFW you plan on getting a lot of work done today.  Source: Nichijou.

I’m still not entirely sure how I pulled it off, but I pulled it off.  I managed to write In My Blue World (and start in on its revision) while writing the Apartment Complex story at the same time.  Each book hovers around 75k words, give or take a few thousand, and each book in its first draft completed form took around six or seven months.

If you’d asked me about ten years ago if I could write two full novels in a year that quickly, I probably would have answered ‘only in my dreams’.

So how did I do it, anyway?  Well, the short and boring version is this:  two daily sessions at 750Words (one during Day Job breaks and the other in the evening), five days a week.  Simple as that.  [This is not a paid commercial for that site, by the way — I just happen to love using it for my projects.]

Going into more detail, I’d say that it was a bit of a trick.  First of all, I had to make sure I had the drive and the willingness (and the time!) to dedicate to it, and that is a lot harder to achieve in reality.  I had to set up a concrete plan — the 2-entry/5-day I just mentioned — and I had to make sure I followed through.  Granted, working from home did help matters considerably, as I had immediate access to the site during my morning and afternoon breaks.  So did providing myself a concrete schedule that never wavered: the morning break at 9:30am and the afternoon break at 2:30pm, plus the evening writing sessions that start roughly around 7pm.  It’s the same reason I managed to write The Persistence of Memories so quickly.

Secondly, I had to ensure that I dedicated the same amount of energy and time to each project, and make sure they stayed separate.  In My Blue World was written during the evening, and the Apartment Complex story was written during the day.  This worked out well, as my mind was on one story during the afternoon, and I could momentarily forget about it and focus on the other one in the evening.  It helped that the two stories are not related in any way so there was no potential confusion!

And third, I treated every session as a way to write a complete and self-contained scene, or alternately, a segment of a much larger scene I’d already planned out that would take a few sessions to write.  I’d always think these out ahead of time, maybe one or two scenes ahead, so I knew which direction I should be headed.  (Knowing what to write and how to start it was another issue altogether, of course, but once I got into the groove it worked out!)   I didn’t worry too much about the scene feeling too short, or incomplete; all I needed to do is just get the basics down, and the rest I can fix in revision.

I hadn’t planned on writing both novels at the same time, but I had invested in both of them to some degree and didn’t want them to stagnate without ever being worked on.  As long as I kept both projects separate and consistent, I thought I could at least give it the old college try.  The fact that I actually did it still surprises me, to be honest!

Writing multiple projects in tandem does require a lot of patience and dedication, so I’m sure it’s not for everyone.  But it can be done.  A lot of writers do in fact work on multiple projects that are at various points of completion.  It’s good business sense to have something new going while your recently completed project is doing the submission rounds.  (There’s also the fact that some writers may also be working on some short-term freelance work as well.  There’s good grocery money in that.)  Now that I know I can do it, I’m more inclined to believe that I could make a habit out of it.

Letting It Stew

charlotte carrot stew

After four attempts, one ragequit, and still no official title, I finished writing the first draft of the Apartment Complex story!  It’s a little over 79k words (about what I expected and wanted) and has been copied to a single semi-formatted doc file that I can work on.  So now what?

I’m going to let it sit for a little bit.

Wait wait wait, I hear you say.  You’ve been working on this damn thing for six months and talking about it endlessly about how much you loved writing it.  Why are you NOT working on it now??

And that’s a legitimate question, and there are two answers for it.  The short one: I’m about to start revision edits for In My Blue World, which is next on the release schedule.  This one needs my attention the most right now.

The longer answer is that giving it a bit of distance lets me look at it with fresh eyes.  Even though I feel that the AC story is my best work to date, will I feel the same a few months down the road?  Reading this particular novel with rose-tinted glasses might keep me from seeing possible issues that need fixing.  Alternately, I might end up being overcritical and pick it completely apart and ruin any joy I felt with the story.

My days away from my novel projects are also personal; I’ve just finished a six-month, almost-daily slog, so I’m due a few days off to do nothing except goof around.  Play FreeCell.  Fiddle around with my mp3 collection.  Post fly-by blog entries.  Go outside and take walks.  Work on my exercise regimen.  Vacations from writing are great!  You should always take a few now and again, especially when you’ve just finished not one but two projects that both need revision.  Your brain and body will thank you!

The novel will always be there until I come back to it.  And hey, I might even have a title for it by then!

Everyday

If there’s one bit of writing advice I’ve taken to heart and follow religiously — and will give it to every other aspiring writer — it would be this:

Write every day.

Three simple words, but so much nuance.

I’m not saying to drive yourself into exhaustion and illness by forcing yourself to get those five hundred pitch-perfect words down on paper or screen.  I’m not even saying you must sit down and make the effort at all.

I’m saying this:  think about what you write, every day.  Writing does in fact include the process of thinking and plotting and letting the idea percolate for a while.  Sometimes that’s all you need to do: just…think about your current project.  Untangle that stubborn mass of threads and let it play out.

It took me a long time to learn this, to be honest.  When I first vowed to write every day, I took it literally.  I tried to write something creative and new every day, whether it was for my work in progress or a new story idea or a poem or song.  That drove me to frustration pretty damn quick, and the resulting lack of any work at all only made it worse.

I soon chose to reinterpret that bit of advice:  Do something writing-related every day.  I started this by starting a year-long transcription project of my old writing.  I’d wanted to do that anyway to have it in digital form, but it also let me evaluate what I’d done over the last ten or so years since I was a teenager.  It let me see how far I’d come, what worked and what didn’t, and gave me ideas where to go next.  And eventually I made it a point to sit down at the PC and work on something, whether it was a journal entry or a blog post or project notes or what have you.

And eventually I got to where I really did want to be: writing something new every day.

Presently I’m doing the same exact thing with my artwork.  I’m currently working on a personal project that involves some drawing of self-portraits and other people and things alongside blocks of text.  I started this a few weeks ago and I’m drawing at least one page a day.  I’m reminding myself that these are pencil sketches and don’t have to be perfect.  Sometimes I’ll get a page done in fifteen minutes, other days I’ll do a bit throughout the day before it’s done.  I’m definitely seeing a marked difference in quality, which surprised me at first, because while I think I’m a decent artist, I’m nowhere near my top potential. This is mainly due to the fact that I haven’t done any daily drawings for years and I’m woefully out of practice…but occasionally I’ll do a sketch that surprises me and makes me proud.

It’s all about practice, really.  You don’t have to be perfect every time you get a pen in hand or start tapping away at the keyboard, or even when you pick up that guitar or those drumsticks.  Hardly anyone is a genius from the get-go.  [If you doubt me, listen to some Beatles bootlegs, especially where John Lennon is involved.  He flubs guitar licks and vocals something fierce.]

Practicing every day doesn’t make you a perfect writer or musician or artist either.  But it definitely helps you get closer to that point.  So write every day, even if it’s just a rough sketch of your character’s neighborhood.  Even if it’s just to kvetch about your Day Job in your journal.  Even if it’s to animate a BongoCat.  Even if it’s to play that twelve-bar blues one more time.

Write every day.  It all adds up.

Throw Those Curtains Wide

I’ve been thinking a lot about life changes lately.  A few personal and work-related events had conspired to unfold within the span of a few weeks to take me by surprise and upend a few long term plans I’d had in mind.

Without going into much detail, there may be a change in Day Job situation that, at first, bothered the hell out of me.  And rightfully so, considering I’m worried about the time lost when commuting or going to an office.  I treasure my writing time and fiercely defend it any way I can.  At the time of these personal events, I’d been thinking seriously about a long-term plan to make all that happen.

The personal events had upended all that.  Still…I never give up when it comes to my writing.  I’m fiercely protective of it.  It’s gotten me through a lot worse over the years.  It’s not just a lifeline but a spiritual release.  And it gives me clarity and drive.

But it wasn’t just about the writing; it was also about making important changes to my life and who I am.  After a day or so of flushing the resulting emotional freak-out from my system, I came to the conclusion: It’s time for me to do something about all of this. 

It’s time for me to be true to myself again.  Far past time.

Over the last few weeks, I’ve been working out how to make this happen.  First off: have a positive outlook.  I might not be able to work from home, but that doesn’t necessarily mean a loss of writing time.  It just means a shift in schedule.  It means perhaps heading to the gym later than usual.  It means sneaking in some writing time during breaks and lunch times and bus commutes.  And continuing with this longer-term plan of changing and improving my life, despite any distractions.

And most importantly, it means not giving up on my dreams and goals.  Ever.

It’s time for me to be true to myself again.  Far past time.

Letting My Writing Evolve

 

naruto confused
Yeah, I feel the same way sometimes, Naruto.

Over the past few years, I’ve come to the realization that I’ve learned an amazing amount as I evolve as a writer… and I’ve ‘unlearned’ just as much.  It’s not just the hard-and-fast general rules we all learned in school that I’m talking about, like the grammar and composition and all that.   I’m talking about rules regarding style and theme.

I think of my pre-trilogy work as me essentially learning the basics: in short, how to tell a cohesive story.  They followed everything I’d learned up to that point.  While you can definitely see a personal style coming out of it, the end result isn’t quite up to par.  I’m going by the rules, but I’m really not putting all that much of me in there to make it my own.  [I mean, other than dropping in obscure music references, inserting bad jokes, and general whinging about how life sucks.]

While my work finally evolved over the many years I worked on the trilogy revision, it really wasn’t until Meet the Lidwells and In My Blue World where I think I finally understood how my writing needed to evolve even further.  They’re both completely new projects that totally do not read the same way the trilogy does.  And even more so with the Apartment Complex story, where I’ve completely broken down any self-made barriers I’d put up in regards to style and story.

I tend to go through certain phases like this with certain aspects of my life; I’ll latch on to a new habit or process, or follow a new interest, and stay with it for a few years until I get bored with it.  This boredom isn’t caused by the thing itself; it’s that I’ve been digging away at it passively and without question until I realize it’s doing nothing for me anymore.  I suppose in the context of the trilogy — where I worked on the damn thing for almost twenty years — it was not just a relief to finally let it go, but to find a new project to latch onto, and in effect, a new writing process and style.

I’m pretty sure that in the next five or so years, I’ll have come up with some new writing projects that the me of today would never expect.  [The Apartment Complex story is a perfect example here.]  I’ve come to fully embrace the shorter turnaround and the shorter project that won’t keep me busy for years on end.  I’m still thinking of writing new stories in the Mendaihu Universe, sure, but they’re not going to be my only claim to fame (so to speak).  I find the quick turnaround much more exciting, and keeps my creative brain on the move.

I enjoy the idea that my writing continues to evolve.  I’m trying to get out of the age-old habit of telling the same stories over and over again, and this is the best way to do it.  I might still possess the occasional tell-tale stylistic quirks that make my writing unique, but the stories themselves will be different.  And that’s how I want it.  It’s how writing will continue to be a joy and an adventure for me.

Distractions, Delays and Determination

polar bear cafe sloth
Yeah, a nap would be good right now…

Day Job Stuff is keeping me on my toes, that’s for sure.  A few things have come up that I’m having to deal with in different ways.  (Yes, I’m being vague for the moment.)  A few personal things have been serving as distractions as well.  Nothing horrible, of course.  Just some irritations, decisions, and changes.

On top of that, I’m going to need to delay the release of In My Blue World.  I don’t want to, but I’d rather delay it than rush the job and put out a half-assed and ultimately unfinished novel.  I won’t do that to y’all, it wouldn’t be fair.  So for all of you who might have picked up my freebie card at Worldcon with the lovely ‘Coming Autumn 2018’ sticker slapped on the back, I’m afraid it’s probably looking more like ‘Coming Early 2019’ instead.  Sorry about that.  But I promise you won’t be let down by the improved and revised version!

Which brings me to determination:  I’ve got a LOT on my plate right now, and strangely enough, I work really well when that happens, as long as I’m completely in charge of it all.  [If I’m constantly distracted by unexpected changes, that’s another thing entirely.]  So a lot of things juggling in the air, but I’m bound and determined to make it all work.  Such is the life of a writer: stubborn will and determination to keep going despite the odds.

Hopefully in a few weeks things will be back to normal and I’ll be able to breathe and take a break again…!

 

More On Being a Healthy Writer

polar bear cafe exercise

I’ve said this before:  one of the biggest problems with being a writer, especially one with a Day Job, is that you’re sitting on your butt for long stretches of time.  I’m really horrible at this, to be honest.  I might get up and stretch now and again, but I don’t do it nearly enough.  I’m sitting for most of eight hours, perhaps head to the gym a few times a week, and then sit for another few hours in the evening writing.

There’s also the fact that I’ve long had a bad habit of snacking whilst working and writing.  I’d like to say I don’t have a Junk Food Stash anymore, but that’s not exactly true… it’s smaller, but it’s still junk food, and it’s in the kitchen.  A few boxes of Pocky, an almost empty bag of chocolates we bought at the Heathrow duty-free.  I’m trying to change that up; I’ll have a banana, or some cheese sticks, or hummus and crackers (Trader Joe’s sells a great snack pack of these that I love).  I’m not drinking nearly as much soda as previous.

But it’s not enough.  I’m not moving around as much to burn those calories.  What I need to do is figure out some regimen that I can sneak in at some point during the day.  A few reps of crunches and stretches.  More walks after work.  More frequent trips to the Y.  I need to MOVE more is what I’m saying here.

So why the health kick all of a sudden?  Well, short version is that I’ve found myself on a lifestyle-change kick right now.  A need to change things both inside and out that I’ve either ignored or put off for far too long.  It really doesn’t have much to do with my age, to be honest — I’m forty-seven and change — but to do with personal things; career, emotions, physical issues, and what not.  I’m reasonably healthy if a bit overweight with slightly high blood pressure.  I’m also thinking more seriously about my calling as a writer, and what I want — and need — to do with my craft as a professional.  Among other things.  I think about it this way: it’s not a midlife crisis so much as it’s a midlife clarity.  Time to shed the bad habits and the lifestyle I no longer want or need and get movin’.

This does in fact tie in with my writing.  Over the last few months, while working on the revision for In My Blue World as well as writing the Apartment Complex story — as well as a few smaller personal things I’ve been sneaking in when I can — I realized that my writing can’t truly evolve if I don’t evolve somehow.  I’ve mined as much as I can from what I’ve been working with for years, and I want and need to change it up.  The AC in particular has been helpful here; it’s the first story where I did not hold back for any reason, and the result so far has been eye-opening on many levels.  I’m immensely proud of what I’ve done with it so far, and I can’t wait to share it.

So yes — this is me saying that I need to keep moving, both physically and mentally, if I’m going to get anywhere.  I can’t be half-arsed about it anymore.

All in.