I’ve actually been pretty good with the 750 Words these days! Once again, it’s mainly because I’m using it for a specific single purpose instead of trying to write something new every day. [In this case, I’m low-key doing a bit of ongoing personal writing tied in with a not-quite-trunked, still-on-the-backburner project, but y’all probably know what it is anyway.] I’m lucking out because the writing I’m doing for it is super easy, and I can hit the numbers I want in about twenty minutes, leaving me with a perfect amount of time for the blogging and work on MU4.
Speaking of MU4, the day after I posted Monday’s entry here, I came to the conclusion that the only way I’d be able to break this low-stakes mindset is to do a complete one-eighty. My first thought was: you want tension? I’ll give you some f***ing tension. I realized I couldn’t just build up to it: I had to make it happen, and make it happen now. An ultimate oh shit moment. And I ran with it.
And it worked! This was exactly the push I needed to get this novel back on track, to give it the boost it so desperately needed. I already know I’m going to need to do some heavy revision of the previous six chapters at some future point to make it work, but that’s par for the course anyway. The important thing here is that I’m right where I need to be again. Now all I have to do is keep it going!
I’ll admit I’m having a bit of a problem with MU4 lately. I have some interesting ideas, but my brain seems to be stuck in low-stakes mode for some reason. I don’t blame anything or anyone other than myself for that; I’d put myself in that mode near the start of the pandemic to a) get through it and deal with the Former Day Job and post-FDJ personal stuff, and b) get into the mood that writing Diwa & Kaffi required. Thing is, I’ve been having trouble getting out of that mode ever since.
This is partly why I’m writing MU4, to be honest. If there was any universe that could get me back into the higher-stakes brainspace, it’s the Mendaihu Universe. It’s much easier said than done, however…I like what I have so far, but I REALLY need to start raising the volume, so to speak. I’ve written several scenes that I think are great, but I seem to be stopping short of Big Epic Action almost every single time.
So I think I really need to shake it up a bit. Whatever’s going on with both my new and old characters, I need to do more with them. They need to get in on the action, get stuck in oh shit situations, do things with consequences. Why am I avoiding writing that? Well, it could very well be that Certain Real Life Politics over the last five or so years took a lot out of me and I’m merely avoiding the emotional stress from it and elsewhere, but I can only avoid it for so long.
I need to connect and channel that tension again. Feed it into something creative. I’m good at that. I know I am. I just need to take that step and do it again.
Every now and again I get to a chapter or a scene that is just not working. No matter what I do to it, no matter what I try, it just…fails. It’s frustrating, sure, but I’ve come to the realization that the true source of frustration lies not in the inability to fix what I have, but in the time wasted going trying to make it work in the first place. Thankfully I don’t let that eat at me too much.
I’m no perfectionist, but I am a writer who trusts their instincts. If this is a scene that just ain’t cutting it, I’ll give it the old college try for a day or so just to see if it’s salvageable. Sometimes it works — I’ll come up with a solution that wasn’t coming to me the day before, or I’ll allow myself some time to work through it in my head first. But more often than not, if it isn’t going to work after a few days, it’s not going to work, period. Cut the offending piece and pasted it in my Outtakes document. [And yes, all of my novels have at least one of those.]
I say this after about three days of trying to write the latest chapter of MU4 and not quite getting anywhere with it. There’s a mood I think works, but there’s no plot, just a few connecting scenes, and that makes for pretty boring prose. My mistake was that I went into the scene unsure where I wanted to go and hoping it would tell me. Sometimes that works, but often times it doesn’t. So what I need to do is cut the whole thing and start from scratch.
It’s frustrating, yes, but sometimes it’s got to be done to move forward.
I had this past Sunday off from the Day Job and spent it frivolously by heading over to the Mission District to watch Fast X at the Alamo Drafthouse (it’s just about as over the top ridiculous fun as you’d expect). Considering my hours change from week to week, I’m always happy that I (usually) get at least one weekend day off like that.
But what about in general? Back in my days at the Former Day Job, I protected my work/life balance as much as I could. But what about the Present Day Job? Well, thanks to my ten-minute, eight-block commute and average of about 35 hours/five days a week, I’ve got a lot more time to work with than I did at the end of my tenure at the FDJ.
It’s been a year and change since I’ve started at the new place, and things are going pretty good. I’ve mentioned before that I take my sometimes wonky schedule day by day, working around it one way or another. When I have an 11:30am-8pm shift, I’ll get up early and write in the morning. When I have a 6am-2:30pm shift, I let myself have a bit of fun or do errands and get my writing done after dinner. And some days I’ll even write a few notes on scrap paper while at work! This is definitely a change from the FDJ when I had to fight for moments for writing when and wherever I could. [Remember those final days when I realized I could access 750Words on my work laptop and used that as much as I could?]
I’ll admit I have the occasional days when I’m a bit too lazy and/or distracted, but I’m no longer feeling too guilty about that. As long as I get something done by the end of the day, even if it’s just a few paragraphs, that’s all that matters.
I’ll be honest up front with one thing: knowing me and my utter lack of patience, planning and focus in junior high and high school, I’d probably have used AI to write some if not all of my term papers if it had been around when I was a teenager. I’d have known enough to take the end result and revise it so it sounds more like me than a bot scraping info from the ‘net, but yeah, I would have been that student. I might have been one of the smart kids growing up, but the slow rigidity of school education often bored me.
These days however, the only reasons I’d use online AI bots is as a playground. Create silly mash-up picture memes. See what it can do sonically with music as inspiration for my own. Use it for character worldbuilding, just enough to keep it a private reference but not call it official. I’m not sure if I’d ever use it for writing, per se, because that would just be a) cheating, and b) taking all the fun out of what I love doing. I mean, come on: there’s nothing I love more about writing than working through the bits and bobs and swivels and parallels that go into writing a novel. That’s the best part! Why would I want to let a bot do that??
As is usual with a lot of my takes on various things, my feelings on AI these days is complex and often paradoxical. I love it and hate it. I’m fascinated and repulsed by it. I hope that it isn’t completely eradicated but I also hope that we find ways to tame it. I hope that it doesn’t die out as a fad but I’m pretty sure that, like VR in the early 90s, companies will try to monetize it and it won’t age well in a few years. I hope we don’t get a lot of terrible movies about AI (guaranteed to be about either hackers saving the day or bots taking over the world, as they often are), but I do hope screenwriters come up with clever ways to integrate the AI idea into their stories.
I do hope that the fad of creating full-on novels via AI will go away and stay away, however. I do believe that one won’t last long as most professionals are already calling ‘authors’ out on it. [And I do put that in quotes because come on: are you really a novelist if all you do is type out a few prompts and let a computer do the rest?] We’re near the beginning of this particular wave, so it’ll probably take a little longer for it to fade away, but I just don’t see it becoming anything major once that wave crests and starts to retreat.
I’m planning on doing a “Twenty Years On” of 2003 soon over at Walk in Silence as it dawned on me that I haven’t done one yet, and I got to thinking about how that time between 2003 and 2005 had become somewhat of a transitional year for me, creatively and personally.
I’d been working at Yankee Candle since late 2000 and had The Best Day Job Schedule Ever since early 2001. The Persistence of Memories was a few chapters in by early 2003, and by the year’s end I’d be starting in on The Balance of Light. I was about to buy myself a brand new PC with a lot more memory and power that would not only help my writing but take the next step in mixtape making, burning cds. I was listening to a lot of great music, even playing it with my friend Bruce. My creative output was at the highest peak to date. I was out of debt for the most part and paying only the student loan and car insurance at this point. I hadn’t been in a relationship in years, and I was okay with that. I had a strong circle of friends that were just a drive away now.
Life was pretty good at the time. Not perfect, but a damn sight better than ten years previous.
This is the era that I’m trying to emulate these days. Not ‘copy’ mind you, because I’m really not one of those people to relive the past to make up for present unhappiness. Not anymore, anyway. This is about emulating that same mental and emotional balance that had become my foundation. And I’ve been given a chance to make it happen again.
I think it helps that I’m no longer at a Day Job that so often threatened to disrupt that balance, now at one where I’m consistently happy and connected and not just another number. But you work in retail now!, I hear you say. Isn’t that more stressful than crunching numbers? Far from it. For me it’s a lot less stressful than banking.
But I digress. I’m in a good place in my life again, the road is clear, and I’m able to reach those same great heights again. And I’m going to make it last for as long as I can.
Brand new characters are always an intriguing exercise, because I don’t always know where I’m going to be taking them. Some of them, like Caren in the Bridgetown Trilogy, are sort of based on tropes (she was originally a mix of Agent Scully in X-Files with a touch of Captain Kusanagi from Ghost in the Shell but became something altogether different). Others, like Zuze in In My Blue World, are characters I already know inside and out before I even start.
While writing MU4, I’ve been introducing a few new characters into the Mendaihu Universe and it’s true, I’m still working out where they’ll end up by the end. I have an entirely new character, Lizzie Kapranos, whose drive is decidedly not like Caren’s; she knows who she is and where she fits in, so her conflict is the refusal to give in so easily to conformity. [Tuckerization time: she’s named after Elizabeth Bennett from Pride & Prejudice and singer Alex Kapranos of Franz Ferdinand. A fierce free-thinker and a bit of an oddball but not without a sense of humor.] Like Miss Bennett, Lizzie is all about staying true to what she believes in. Also like her, Lizzie will (eventually) admit to being wrong when she makes errors in judgement or action.
This might be partly why my word count has been so glacial these last few weeks, as I work out the scene with all that in mind, but to be honest that’s part of the appeal of writing new characters. I get to learn something new about them, and about the story. Their actions will influence what comes next, whether it’s positive or negative. Another new character, Eika, embodies this to the extreme: she’s the id escaping highly restrictive boundaries and set free. Eika is a chaos element in a way, while Lizzie is the stability element. And both characters are completely aware of that role. In the process, Eika and Lizzie are polar opposites but also the key to Balance. And Balance has always been a big part of the Mendaihu Universe.
Do I know where these two will go, and if they’ll ever meet? Maybe? I’m not sure? But it’s in my mind and it’s a vague signpost further into the story that I’m heading towards. And that’s all I really need.
In writing something elsewhere, it suddenly occurred to me that I’ve been using MS Word exclusively for twenty years now. I believe it was sometime in March or April of 2003 that I bought my first completely new PC off the Dell website. With my own money and everything! I’d been using the previous writing programs that came with Windows 3.1 and 98 — MS Write and WordPad — and I realized this would be an excellent upgrade. This was one of those ‘customize your own personal computer’ specials Dell had and I spent the slightly extra money to have that added along with a decent media player that could play cds and dvds. I wasn’t (and still am not) a PC gamer so all that processing power and speed went to those two apps.
Over the years I’ve heard many pros and cons of Word from the writing community. Some swear by it, others swear at it. I’ve heard many writers suggest other programs and refuse to touch this one. Me? I’ve had nothing but pleasant experiences with it. I don’t think it’s ever crashed once on me (not including when it was actually the PC doing the crashing). As long as I keep up my habit of frequently saving my work (thanks, Dropbox!), all is well. Even now that it’s part of the Office 365 umbrella, It’s worked a peach.
All of my novels from A Division of Souls forwards were written, edited and revised using Word, and it’s even used to do the formatting for their Smashwords editions. I’m using it now for MU4. I’ve learned how to use more of its fiddly editing and formatting functions and they’ve pretty much become part of the tool bar at the top header.
I’ll use a Word-like app for reading on my tablet and e-reader, but I don’t plan on switching to anything else at this point.
One of the things in the back of my mind while writing MU4 has been that as much as I enjoy a nod to a previous story, the last thing I want to do is open this novel the same way A Division of Souls did. This is partly why it’s taken me a good couple of tries to nail the landing in these first few chapters. The stakes are just as high, but they’re different stakes this time.
I’ve also been reminding myself that this is a universe that is in constant motion. Sure, there are moments of quietness and contemplation in these stories, but that’s when the mind is in motion. This is how I remember writing the previous novels: every session has to have at least one scene where something moves. It can be incremental, or it can be the steadfast refusal to do so, or it can be a rash unthinking decision.
The Mendaihu Universe always had a theme of Balance In Motion; there are a few scenes in the original trilogy where someone says that life is always changing and never static (or something close to it), and it’s up to ourselves whether to move with the changes or stay in one place. Denni’s decision in this case was the one that changed fate: she chose the former, to adjust her role as the One of All Sacred when and where necessary. No former Ones had done ever done that.
So what about MU4, then? Well, without giving too much detail, let’s just say there’s a schism going on: the ones who have adjusted their fates and those who have refused. One of MU4‘s themes is about how far people will follow those paths. There’s dedication, and then there’s extremism. There’s response and then there’s reaction.
I’m just as curious as you are to where all this movement will take us.
I’m usually pretty good at being patient. If I have to wait for a certain length of time, I’m not all that bothered by it because I’m good at keeping myself occupied in the meantime. [This is especially helpful when I’m working a very busy eight hour shift at the day job. The trick is that I break it up into two-hour increments, and take my lunch or my ten-minute breaks in between.]
Writing a novel, on the other hand, can sometimes be a lesson in just how long I’m able to wait. It’s a different kind of time management, based on the pacing of the story and the time I’m able to spend working on it. In this case, working on MU4 has definitely been a case of patience-testing. I’m purposely not distracting myself with other more compact story ideas, which has happened in the past. I’m determined to see this one through. I do have distraction issues of another sort, however, which I’ve mentioned plenty of times: the Don’t Wanna’s. It’s not that I don’t want to write the story, I just don’t wanna do the work.
Once I get past that, however, I’m good to go. Power up the Word document and get stuck in. And once I’m there, patience is the last thing I worry about: I rely solely on what I need to write at that point in time. Whether it’s a lot of words or just a few, I give the best I can, and that’s when I enjoy it the most. That’s when I realize I could do this all damn day if I wanted. [And have, though rarely.]
It’s after I finish the session when that patience-testing comes in, of course. It’s when I’ve written just a few hundred words and the scene has moved ever so slowly and I’m far from finishing it, that’s when I want to surge ahead and get to the next scene! It’s not that the scene is glacial; it’s just that I’m moving slowly and deliberately.