Reading and Publishing

I really need to get myself back in the habit of reading more genre fiction again. I mean, not that I’ve been wasting my time at night — my music bio backlog is considerably smaller now — but I’m thinking that I really need to start reading more SF/F. I’ve been kind of avoiding it over the past few years, to be honest. I didn’t plan on it, it just happened that way. I don’t think it’s negatively impacted my genre writing to any serious degree, but it wouldn’t hurt to return to the source again.

One thing I’ve been meaning to do for a while is read more ebooks, and in particular, more indie publications. The other day I decided I was finally going to make good on that by downloading titles from B&N and elsewhere. Most of these are quite cheap and, like my Bridgetown Trilogy, the first book in a series is often free!

You know what I also haven’t done in ages? Self-publishing! I’ve been thinking about it a lot this past year, since I’ve been focused on submitting Diwa & Kaffi. I truly do miss the DIY aspect of it — creating covers, toying with photo editing software, making postcard freebies, and all that — and I’d love to return to that. I’m thinking in 2021 I may in fact do so, especially if I can get one or two of my stories prepped and ready to go. I especially would love to take my photography a lot more seriously again. I do have a creator’s account with Shutterstock that’s currently not doing anything, so perhaps it’s high time I reactivate that as well.

I suppose these two things could be the start of my New Year’s Plans. Sure, why not? I mean, I can start working on a lot of this whenever I like; no reason I actually need to wait until the first of January. [In fact, the other day I jumpstarted the ebook buying and spent $6 on four books and one book bundle!] I have most of what I need to make it all happen, so all I need to do is take the next steps.

Let’s make this happen. Pandemic or not, time to make it all happen.

On keeping the rest of the office clean

I know it sounds silly, but I’ve been waiting for today for at least a month now. Why is that? Well, it’s because I was finally able to get an appointment to donate six rather heavy boxes of books that have been piled up here in Spare Oom since before the pandemic started.

Now, normally I wouldn’t worry about that sort of thing, as in the past I’d have just found time on the weekend to drive the donations over to the drop-off site in Fort Mason. However, the pandemic put the kibosh on that — not only did they stop donations there, they closed down the shop/café. I now have to drive over to Potrero Hill — doable, in a kind of haphazard way that takes a bit of time — to the main donation center. And in order to do that, I’d had to sign up for an appointment…and they were full up at least a month or so ahead when I tried in early October.

Still, I’m happy that I’m able to drop these things off and open up some floor space again. I mean, they weren’t taking up a large amount of space, just the area in front of the closet doors and next to the loveseat. And I’m sure that within the next six months, we’ll have yet another treasure trove of books to donate.

It took ages for me to get rid of the Goodwill donation pile (same reason, all the donation spots were closed due to the pandemic) but thankfully I took care of that last week. The only thing there right now is some boxes and shopping bags that I’m holding onto temporarily for holiday mailing purposes. It’s no longer completely blocking the bottom of one of the book shelves.

Well, you know me…I like keeping things relatively tidy. Not spotless, mind you, just clean enough that I know where everything is, and I don’t have to waste time excavating to find it. (Yes, I am a KonMari fan.) I think part of this comes from having far too much stuff during my Belfry days and getting withering glances from family when I had to pull twelve things out to get at something behind it. And it’s also from my somewhat obsessive way of keeping my music library in order.

This system works for the most part…every other month or so I’ll adjust the systems as need be, or if I feel the urge to shake things up a bit, but right now I’m good with how Spare Oom works. Maximum floor space, ease of accessibility, and a clear seat for relaxing. Keeps a writer happy!

More on focusing smaller

Yet another gif courtesy of Makoto Shinkai

It’s been a week since my previous post about focusing smaller when it comes to writing, and so far this process seems to be working well for me. Every time I started overthinking the idea I’d been working on that particular day, I stopped myself with the reminder: patience, you’ll get there. The biggest problem I’d been having with Theadia and MU4 over the last few months wasn’t that I was writing crap, it was that I was too eager to get to the goal. And the worst thing I can do is write impatiently.

Some people can write novels out of order. I’ve done it myself a few times…for instance, some of the scenes from Meet the Lidwells were written well in advance as practice sessions at 750Words. And that’s just fine! I’ve been doing precisely that with Theadia lately, just to get the words out and get my brain in the proper mindset for that story. But in the bigger picture, I tend and prefer to write chronologically. I’m a big fan of keeping the Big Story Arc clear in my head so I’m better able to pull all the smaller arcs and characters in the right directions. Thing is, sometimes I let the Big Story Arc thoughts take over, and that’s not good for my writing process.

So what I’ve been doing all this week is focusing on one scene in each project. (As it happens, it’s the opening scene in MU4 and a mid-book scene in Theadia. Perfect example of my occasionally writing out of order.) The main purpose for these exercises was not to convince myself that I was FINALLY working on a new project… it was just to get the creative juices flowing, that’s all.

What’s helping me refocus? Music, of course! Just like the trilogy mixtapes, I’ve been throwing together some interesting mixes for both of the new projects. Theadia‘s mixes have been especially interesting as I’m going out of my way to pick songs I wouldn’t normally choose for this kind of thing. MU4‘s mixes have been similar to the early Eden Cycle mixes of ’97-’98, collecting songs from different genres that evoke a particular mood. I suppose in a way I’m revisiting my old Miami Vice soundtrack style of writing. Hey, whatever works, right?

Another way I’ve been training myself to achieve this new focus is actually a fun project that takes no more than maybe a half hour a day but it’s like a treat for me: storyboarding Diwa & Kaffi! I do one page of six squares a day, just rough visualization sketches in pencil. It’s doing two things for me: One, it’s super fun and something I’ve always wanted to do with my novels, and Two, the daily exercise is helping me get better.

And that, really, is the whole point of this exercise in narrowing focus: getting better.

On keeping the PC clean

At the moment I’m writing this, I have AVG Tune-Up going through one of my external hard drives — the one that contains my entire mp3 library, I should add — to make sure everything is running well, as it’s been slipping into sleep mode for no reason lately, usually when I’m in the middle of using it. Hopefully this scan should set things to rights. [Not to worry…said library is backed up on another external that’s running just fine, and is completely up to date….I think.] [Yes, I am a little nervous about this.]

Back in my Belfry days I was terrible at keeping my PC clean. It was partly because we were on dial-up so I was rarely online except late at night on the weekends. But due to the fact that I’d always had hand-me-down lower end models, putting something like McAfee took up way too much room and processor power. I’d maybe run a defrag and virus scan once a month or so. Suffice it to say, every now and again the PC would catch a virus and I’d have to waste precious writing time detoxifying it. Thankfully that didn’t happen too often…and I think the last time it really crapped out to that degree was just before I bought a brand new Dell back in 2003.

The PC I have now — a Lenovo ideacentre 720 — works pretty well considering, and I think I’ve had it for just over a year now with no major issues. A few weird ones, such as the aforementioned external drive sleepiness, a twitchy ethernet connection (a new cable seems to have fixed that), an older external becoming unreadable due to age and power loss (I’ll fix that eventually) and some annoying processor-hogging software (virus catchers, ironically), but other than that, it’s worked just fine. Knock wood.

I’ve learned a few lessons over the years though, that have kept me sane whenever something comes up:

–Cloud storage is a trusted friend. I’m not a big fan of using cloud software as a shareable work platform due to possible connection issues, but for safe storage and access from multiple points, Dropbox has done me well. I keep my writing, pictures and other important files there, and often access them using my phone or my tablet. It’s comforting to know the stuff is there, safely tucked away and easily accessible if my PC decides to die a horrible death.

–External hard drives are great, and they certainly free up a lot of space on the PC, but you’ve got to be a bit choosy about which ones to use. They’ve certainly gotten a lot better, faster and more reliable over the years, but one still needs to ensure that they don’t get infected or burn out. And I have multiple ones — one for the music library, one for the video library, and one for the backup of both. And I’m thinking of reorganizing them in the new year if I get a new 8TB external.

–I’m also choosy about the virus and cleaning software — I want a trusted brand, but I also do NOT want a resource hog, due to past experience. AVG has done me well over the years using Tune Up, Internet Security and VPN, and it’s reliable and very low on the resource levels. CCleaner is great and super easy to use freeware to get rid of pesky internet detritus, setting up which programs should be sleeping when not in use, uninstalling things, and fixing and cleaning registry keys. MalwareBytes is a necessary evil as it does a fantastic job of cleaning out said malware, but it tends to be somewhat intrusive if kept running. I have most of these in background mode and do a full scan every other week or so just I haven’t missed anything.

–And as always, don’t be a dumbass and click on weird links and spam emails. And those are always easy to find and evict from the premises.

Now, keeping my keyboard clean, on the other hand…that I need to be better at. The “n” key is sticking (why that particular one, I’m not sure) and it attracts dust like you wouldn’t believe.

On Focusing Smaller

Source: Paprika (Satoshi Kon)

I’ve often said that I tend to be a pantser rather than an outliner, but that isn’t entirely true. I’ve done complete outlines before. For example, the outline for Meet the Lidwells! was more or less complete because it was focused on the band’s discography.

On the other hand, I have a few complete outlines for books that I’ve backburnered or trunked. For years I thought the reason for the story’s failure was because I was too hyper-focused on it and gave myself far too many rules and limitations. I’d lose interest because I was trying too hard to make this rigid plan work, even when I constantly told myself it was never set in stone.

A few days ago I was reading someone’s Twitter feed and they happened to mention how, with some creatives with ADHD, they sometimes lose interest in a big project once their brain has solved the problem. That is, they’ve run the whole idea through their head and completed the plot before any work has even been done, leaving the person unable to maintain interest in the creative part of the work.

Suddenly it made sense to me: why do I still feel the pull of some of these backburnered and trunked projects but can never get far with them? Why am I having issues getting anywhere with Theadia and the fourth Mendaihu Universe novel? For years I thought it was because it just wasn’t resonating with me. But why wasn’t it? Disinterest and personal issues don’t seem to be the complete answer, because I’ve felt that with far too many of my completed projects at one point or another.

I had to put it in perspective. Again, with the Bridgetown Trilogy: why did I have almost no problems with that (not including the end of Book 3)? Easy: it was because the bulk of those books — and In My Blue World, Diwa & Kaffi and Lidwells — were written with me only focusing ahead maybe one or two scenes at most. I wrote most of that by sketching out a few ideas during the day job and expanding on those when I got home. [I’ve talked about this process plenty of times, of course.]

There was a reason I kept wanting to get back to that particular process, and for years I misunderstood that yearning as reminiscence and a longing for how enjoyable that process was.

But once I saw those tweets the other day, it occurred to me that maybe there’s more to it than that. Maybe my brain really is telling me that this particular process worked for me, and worked well at that, and maybe it’s time to return to it. I was looking at it wrong; I needed to understand this longing in a clinical sense. I can have a long-term goal with my writing — knowing the direction and final destination of the story — but I have to maintain a much sharper and smaller focus on the scenes in front of me at almost all times.

The reason for that is because when I work out all the moving parts of the entire story and plan it all out ahead of time, I lose interest in it. I’ve already done the brain work and now I’m bored with it. The fact that I keep thinking about these projects, especially when I read older blog posts, notes and outtakes, is because it’s not the story that bores me, but my brain reacting to the idea of the work it involves.

This, by the way, is most likely why my academic years were so damn scattershot.

SO. What this means is that I’ve started adjusting accordingly. My daily words are now focusing on writing short outtakes again. My plans for Theadia, MU4 and other projects are to work on them a little at a time, chapter by chapter, scene by scene. Referring to those outlines only as a road map, and only when needed.

I’m very curious to see where this will take me.

On hope versus expectation

The news of Biden’s win broke early on Saturday morning while I was sitting on the couch in the living room, enjoying my coffee and thumbing through Twitter. The change in mood and tone was palpable and immediate; tweets of excitement, happiness and relief, one right after the other, almost nonstop. It was like the sun had come out and shone on everyone at once.

Me? I’ll be honest, to me I’d been so busy prepping myself for the worst in that usual “why am I not surprised” way of the New Engalnder with purposely low expectations. Not entirely pessimistic, just…not letting my hopes up too high so the eventual failure wouldn’t hurt as bad. I had hope, but I was keeping it very close.

My initial reaction to the news, to be honest, was not joyful celebration, or ‘woohoo’ing out our living room window, or pumping my fists like we’d just won the Super Bowl. I thought my reaction would just be an emphatic “oh THANK GOD” but it wasn’t even that.

I just exhaled and untensed my shoulders for the first time in four years. I felt relief.

The Fuckwit (I still do not want to sully my blog with his name here) and the GOP that willfully played along did a fuckton of damage while he was in office. Not all of it affected me personally or at all, but it certainly affected a lot of people I know and love. He and his administration and his party gleefully found ways to disenfranchise, target, and cheat so many people out of their lives and livelihoods. It blew my goddamn mind how often they made the absolute worst decisions at the worst possible moments. And worst of all, he and administration inspired hatred and violence — reveled in it — and not once took responsibility for what came from it.

How do I feel, now that that particular nightmare is close to over? Relatively optimistic. Hopeful. I hate being cynical so I’m trying to avoid that. I’m hopeful that the Biden administration will be smart and forward-thinking enough that they won’t just clean up and fix all the damage that’s been caused but will also think in long-game terms and put positive things into action.

To me, hope and expectation are two different things when it comes to politics. I don’t expect them to be perfect with a 100% success rate, but I hope that my elected leaders will be confident, honest and proactive. I hope that they’ll find ways to make things work even better than before, but I don’t expect miracles. I don’t expect them to hit every single thing on everyone’s wish list, but I hope they’ll at least try to do as much as they can.

Yeah, I know. I hear the “hurr hurr hopey-changey stuff” peanut gallery already. I also hear the “he has to fix [x] first before he can do anything else” crowd. I also hear the “they’re just as bad” and the “but he wasn’t my choice” gang. Everyone has their own take on this. Some of it is self-centered, some of it is self-righteous, some of it is spot-on, some of it completely misses the whole point. I’ve muted most of those conversations quite some time ago.

We’ve got a lot of work to do, and a lot of it isn’t going to be fixed by next weekend. I’m expecting forward motion. I’m hoping that we can clear a lot of these obstacles and roadblocks along the way so everyone can follow as unimpeded as possible.

Working on it

The Theadia project is turning out to be a tougher nut to crack than I’d expected, but at least I’ve learned from experience now that I shouldn’t let that bother me too much. I’ve been spending some of my Daily Words playing around with the plot and searching for the right story that needs telling. It’s very similar to the issues I had with Diwa & Kaffi.

So instead of forcing the story into shape against its will, I’m going the alternate, less stressful route: letting it come to me naturally. And given that this is probably the third or fourth time in a row where I’ve encountered this, perhaps this has become my current style of writing and creating. It takes longer, but there are far fewer dead ends to contend with.

In the meantime, I’m letting myself play around with a few other projects, one of which has been on the Spare Oom back burner for ages, just to keep the writing muscles in shape. I’m not taking them entirely seriously — well, I am, but I haven’t assigned any deadlines or hard stops as of yet.

As long as I’m moving forward, yeah?

On Not Holding Back

image courtesy of ‘Spider-Man: Into the Spiderverse’

Some days I wonder if I’m being my own worst enemy (again) and trying too hard to control every single part of my life, including my writing. Trying to make it work out perfectly the first time. Trying not to make rookie mistakes.

I know some of this is in reaction to my former 90s life in which I reacted to everything and there was little to no self-control at all, but it’s also due to my ten-plus years at the Former Day Job in which I had to make sure everything did work the first time to avoid risk, fines and other financial nightmares.

Which, to be honest, is in opposition to how Real Life tends to work most of the time. Life is messy. Sometimes uncontrollable. Often contradictory. Rarely perfect or pure. Often times you need to just run with what you’ve got and make it work somehow.

I’ve noticed recently that whenever I have A Day with my writing, it’s because I’m trying way too damn hard to control all the moving parts, and it’s not just because of creative block. I become one of those painters forever touching up their masterpiece but never quite finishing it. I get nervous because Oh God What If I Don’t Have Any More Stories, especially after I’ve finished up a few projects I’m rather fond and proud of. I get worried because my portfolio is so thin on the ground and probably not all that impressive by professional standards. I get stressed because I fear I’ll never break through that one particular professional obstacle, forever stuck in the minor leagues.

These last few months have been a bit of a wake-up call in terms of long-game goals for me. I know I have all the tools and the mindset to start something, but I get too focused on the pessimistic what-ifs and worry that I’ll make a bad first impression and ruin my chances, or that no one will listen or care. But I’ve learned, and remembered, that the best way for me to work past all that has been something I’ve been telling myself since that summer in 1995: just shut the fuck up and DO it already.

I don’t always hear myself when I say those words, and sometimes I have to fight my way towards them, but they’ve never let me down in the past. I just need to repeat those words whenever I start doubting myself. Which, thankfully, has been happening far less often nowadays.

Let’s see where this goes.