More on Adjusting

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Part of Drunken Owl’s gear, such as it is…

A. and I had a conversation over dinner the other day about adjusting to life’s changes.  She’s currently between jobs and she might be, as she says, “catching up on years of lost sleep”, but she’s not wasting time at all.  She’s been brushing up on her skills by taking various online courses, and she’s also currently taking part in NaNoWriMo, writing a mystery novel.  We’re both relatively comfortable financially at the moment where she can afford to take some time off and readjust to real life.

This got me thinking as well, because we both understand what it means not to have a job, and especially what it means to live paycheck to paycheck.  So many things we’ve put off for one reason or another, whether it be financial or emotional or whatever.  I always found this deeply depressing and intensely aggravating, to be honest.  Since I was a kid I’d always wanted to be a writer, an artist, and a musician — not one or the other, but all three — but it was hard for me to focus on all of them.  They all demand countless hours of practice, knowledge, and labor that a person already working full time may not have time for.  This is precisely why it took me until my forties to become a self-published author, and to a lesser extent, why it took me until my forties to dedicate some daily practice time for my music playing.  And why, alas, I have never had enough time to focus on art.

I’d said to her that I was both impressed and maybe a little jealous that she now had this time to catch up on all the things she hadn’t been able to do.  I would absolutely love to be able to not think about Day Job stress and simply focus on learning the ins and outs of things I’d love to do.  I would love to take art classes again — something I haven’t done since high school.  I would love to learn how to record multi-track song demos in Spare Oom.  I would also love to improve my writing without having to carve out whatever precious time I might have for it.

[Mind you, this is also why I am always angered by those who view the arts as frivolous and not worth federal funds or adequate payment for delivered goods.  But that’s another post entirely.]

So what’s happening right now is that I’ve been doing some deep thinking about this.  I’ve been contemplating changing up the Day Job for some time, as you already know, and with that change comes the adjustment of other things in my life.  This is a perfect time for me to start making a stronger effort to include those ‘extracurricular activities’ in my daily life instead of keeping them at the level of wishful thinking.

Adjustments

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As much as I deeply enjoyed working from home full time, alas I will have to give it up in the near future.  The most frustrating thing about this is that it was not my decision, but that of higher-ups at my current job.  [Long story short, they’ve decided to phase out remote working to ‘foster teamwork, social connection,’ blah blah blah.  My teammates are equally as frustrated by this decision.]   There are other things at play that are putting my job at risk as well, which is only adding to my frustration.

Which means that this long and extremely fruitful era of writing session scheduling is coming to an end for now.  I’d be lying if I said this didn’t upset and annoy me to some degree.  I got a hell of a lot done over the years in the pockets of time I was able to use, and not having to deal with a commute.

All that said, I’m taking this in the best possible way I can by adjusting accordingly.  Should I start bringing my tablet along to work on things during breaks and lunches?  Should I bring books to read for the bus ride?  [I plan on sticking in San Francisco and taking public transportation, thank you.]  Can I squeeze in trips to the gym after work?  What amount of work can I get done, and how?

I’m willing to make adjustments when and where I can.  It’ll be just like when I left the warehouse job and moved down to New Jersey; I’ll lose what’s been one of the best arrangements for me to balance work and writing.  I can figure it out somehow.

But I ain’t gonna stop writing anytime soon, that’s for sure.

Dragon Pilot and thinking outside the box

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Credit: Dragon Pilot: Hisone and Masotan

I’ve said it many times before, this is one of the biggest reasons I watch anime and read manga:  it forces me to think outside the box.

We’ve recently been watching Dragon Pilot: Hisone and Masotan on Netflix, and it’s a hell of a lot of fun.  On the surface it might be one of those fantasy animes that start off cute and fun and eventually turn weird and creepy (one of my favorite storytelling styles, I should add), and there’s enough bonkers humor to sustain multiple episodes, but it’s really wonderfully written.  The short version: four young female air force cadets (and one back-up) are chosen to fly secret planes that are actually ancient dragons hiding under armor that makes them look like fighter jets.  There’s a much darker and stranger story line that kicks in about three episodes in, of course, but on the way there, we’re given the usual shojo silliness: boy trouble, self-doubt and embarrassment, strange and mysterious adults, the power of love, and so on.  I especially enjoy the camaraderie of the special air force team and its leaders, as there’s definitely a Patlabor-esque ‘group of misfits’ vibe going on.  I’m utterly fascinated at how the main plot is unfolding.  While it might just be about the girls training with their dragons, there’s a deeper, more sinister reason for what’s really going on where their lives may be at stake.

It’s precisely this type of story that inspires me to write my own.  I’m always drawn to stories with this kind of creativity, where it pushes me to rethink my own ideas.  The idea of dragons as fighter jets would not have occurred to me at all.  But after watching just the first episode — in fact, a prologue on the first one explains the entire backstory of it to brilliant effect — I was completely sold on the idea.  It was definitely a damn, why didn’t I think of that?? moment for me.

And I know a lot of readers enjoy this kind of creativity as well; after all, Ann Leckie’s Ancillary series, Yoon Ha Lee’s Machineries of Empire series and Becky Chambers’ Wayfarer stories have the same kind of unique and original styles that have given them huge audiences and Hugo nominations and wins.  It’s taking older tropes and making them new again.

I highly recommend checking this series out…it’s really good fun.

Trading Old Books for New (and Used)

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Every couple of months or so, a spot next to the love seat in Spare Oom starts collecting a pile of books.  These are books that A. and I have finished reading and don’t plan on keeping for whatever reason.  We may have enjoyed them, but have no reason or inclination to read them again.  I mean, there’s a finite amount of space in this apartment, and as much as we’d like, we can’t keep it all.

Besides, we live right down the street from Green Apple Books, which is a Very Dangerous Place Indeed.  We often need space for newer purchases.

Whenever that spot on the floor collects three or four stacks about shin-high, I start putting them into boxes.  Then on a nice weekend, I’ll drive them down to the Friends of the SF Public Library Bookstore down at Fort Mason in the Marina for donation.  Sure, I could probably bring them to Green Apple and get credit for future purchases, but to be honest, I like donating better.

The Friends of the SFPL have a Big Book Sale a few times a year in one of the HUGE warehouses at Fort Mason.  We’re talking football field huge.  Book donations brought to any of their drop-off sites that don’t get sold at their in-library stores get brought here, and it’s quite an event.  Books, videos, dvds, cds, all sorts of media are sold super cheap, often as low as a dollar.  You can literally fill a shopping cart (we often do) and spend maybe twenty bucks total.  It’s a good deal, and it goes to a great group.  And my old books get into new hands, which is even cooler.

[As an aside: yes, I have in fact seen my own donations on the table at these book sales, which I find quite amusing.]

They’ll have their next Big Book Sale next week, and A and I are planning on going.  Which is good timing, because I just brought the last pile of books in last weekend!

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Friends of the SF Public Library’s Big Book Sale down in the Marina.

The battle cry ‘don’t mess with me’

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So it’s revealed via the New York Times — on a Sunday morning, no less — that the current administration wants narrowly define gender as what you were born with, essentially eliminating any definition of transgender.

The biggest WTF line in that article:

For the last year, the Department of Health and Human Services has privately argued that the term “sex” was never meant to include gender identity or even homosexuality, and that the lack of clarity allowed the Obama administration to wrongfully extend civil rights protections to people who should not have them [Emphasis mine.]

I say FUCK THAT.

And I say FUCK YOU, Don.

So why am I posting this here?

Let’s just say ever since this complete sham and embarrassment of an administration came into office — before that, even — I’ve been tempted to write a specific novel on how I feel about what they’ve been doing to the country over the last few years.  It’s similar to the idea I had with the “Noah and the Schoolyard” story that I trunked sometime ago.  I’d come to the realization that the actions and words of this administration were sadly and pathetically similar to the worst of our own childhoods; the jocks and the popular crowd that vilified you for not fitting into their narrowly defined social norms, the teachers that couldn’t find the time or the ability to provide extra mentoring, the elimination of creative extracurricular groups (sometimes at the cost of maintaining a solid sports foundation), the path to ignorance when information is simply not provided, and of course the appearance of an ‘underground’ crowd that decided to say fuck all that, we’re doing our own thing.

I mean, yeah, it sounds like a John Hughes version of Lord of the Flies or Catcher in the Rye, doesn’t it?  That’s why I found I couldn’t work on this story.  It just felt far too personal for me to be able to handle it.

Now I’m not so sure.

It angers me that anyone, presidential administration or not, would go this far.  It angers me to hear ignorant morons gleefully follow this path, all the while saying ‘fuck y’all, you’re on your own.’

Sunday’s news was a big fucking slap in the face for me, on multiple levels.  I’d almost forgotten what this kind of directed hatred felt like.  And it bothers me even more that I don’t always remember that others still get that on a daily basis.  [Well, actually I do remember, just that I often have the privilege of avoiding thinking about it.]

As Charlie Jane Anders tweeted later that day:

It’s easy to feel helpless when bigotry and bad science are becoming the law of the land, and our government is trying to dehumanize so many of us. But we have the power to make noise, to make ourselves heard, and one of the most powerful ways we can do that is thru storytelling.

To that I say ‘AMEN’, and to that I say, I think I might have a new project to work on.

Kicking Myself Out of the Comfort Zone

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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

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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

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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.