Still here, still writing

It’s been a couple of weeks, hasn’t it? So what’s been happening in the Mendaihu Universe? Well, aside from the fact that I feel like my writing work is moving at a glacial pace (I always feel that at the start of a project), I’m actually not doing that bad at all. I’m allowing myself to write as few — or as many — words as befits the scene or the session, so some days I’ll get about three hundred words and other days I’ll get closer to seven hundred.

A few things I’ve learned so far:

–I really love writing in this universe. I mean, really love writing it! When I started working on this version, I immediately felt a lot of things click into place: I knew and remembered the universe’s voice intimately, what tone and pace it’s supposed to take. As I’ve said before, I’m not trying to emulate what’s already been written or trying to relive the sessions of the Belfry years, and in doing that I was able to return to that tone and pace naturally.

–I do loves writing me some dialogue. I’ve also been doing a reread of the original trilogy at night as part of the refamiliarization process, and it’s apparent that one of my favorite things about writing fiction is conversations between characters. Sometimes I worry that the scene might stall a little because of it, but my workaround for that it is to keep the characters physically moving somehow. A frustrated Caren will start flailing her arms, an angry Sheila will barely be holding back violent impulses, and Poe will almost always have the urge to light up a cigarette when he gets stressed out. The focus is on the words they’re saying, but I’m also having them react to them in some way.

–My openings are, as always, a hot mess. But on the flip side, I’ve learned to just write them anyway so I can fix them later. All the new scenes so far are a bit weak, but that’s okay! The whole point of writing them is to get the story moving in the right direction.

–I am, as stated earlier, listening to mood-appropriate music just as I did in the Belfry years. Sure, I’m returning to a few classics (I had Beck’s Sea Change on the other day) but I’m also enjoying some newer albums that will surely become a part of the Eden Cycle Soundtrack list. [At the moment I write this, I’m listening to Radio Songs by Blur’s Dave Rowntree and I’m pretty sure this one’s going to be on the playlist for a few months.] Again: not trying to relive the sessions of the Belfry years, merely trying to recapture its vibe and update it. And I think it’s working!

–And lastly, I admit I’m not writing every single day. I’ll take a day off to focus on errands or other important non-writing things. And I’m okay with that, because I know I’ll end up writing again the next day, whether it’s a quick hour’s session before doing a midshift at work or bashing it out after dinner. By not forcing myself, by allowing myself the writing time, the stress of getting it done lowers considerably.

I’m not expecting a quick three-month turnaround. It might take a few months or it might take a year. I’d love to have something out this year, but it definitely won’t be this. I’m taking my time with this one. I’m writing this on my own terms, with the simple aim of writing the stories I truly want to write. I know I’m not going to be a pro writer, I’ve come to terms with that quite some time ago. It’s not the kind of writing I do. But I’m writing something that’s just as intriguing, just as enjoyable and exciting. Something that resonates with me.

And that’s the most important reason.

Note Worthy

Notes swiftly written on the back of old team schedules

First of all, I do apologize for the terrible pun in the entry title.

When I was writing the Bridgetown Trilogy back in the early 00s, my process was that I’d start the day by utilizing the slower moments of my work day at Yankee Candle by doing a bit of plotting. Nothing too detailed mind you, as these moments usually lasted no longer than five or so minutes before the next wave of boxes came down the conveyor chutes, but I wasn’t looking for detailed to begin with. This was merely doing a bit of planning ahead of a few scenes. I’d think a bit about what I wanted my characters to be doing while I built those pallets of candle boxes and then write it out when I had a minute. And more often than not these scraps of paper were nothing more than the backs of copied labels that we’d tape to the side of our finished pallets.

Then later that evening during my writing sessions in the Belfry I’d take those notes and start elaborating on them. Sometimes I’d use them to the letter, and sometimes I’d actually go in a slightly different direction, but the whole point of these notes was that I’d be prepared for the session instead of sitting there staring at the screen or distracting myself with whatever music I wanted to listen to that night. When I returned to the Trilogy in 2009 to finish the last quarter of The Balance of Light I realized that the best way to go about it was to do the exact same thing: longhand notes followed by typed elaboration.

I used slightly different versions of this process for most of my follow-up novels, but never to the same degree. Most of the notes for Meet the Lidwells! contained personal information about the characters and a detailed discography of the band. Same for In My Blue World: for the most part that was written on the fly with most of the notes merely being character bios. I think part of the reason for this was that working for a bank, even as a back office drone, didn’t really lend much time or brain power for this sort of thing. I figured out alternate ways to write novels, even if I didn’t feel it was quite the same.

So when I recently decided it was time to return to the Mendaihu Universe, I also decided that the best way to play all of this out was to go back to what worked: a bit of note writing while at the Day Job followed by elaboration at home. And being that I’m back in retail, I’m once again able to steal a few personal minutes during breaks and slow times to write, this time using the backs of the previous day’s team schedule we have set up at each register. I have the time and brain power for this sort of thing again, so why not take advantage of it?

So far I’ve gotten myself maybe two or three scenes down that I can work with. I’ll be starting off the fresh new version very soon, and I plan on continuing this note taking throughout the entire project. I’m even thinking there’s a chance I’ll do a bit more Tuckerization, once again using coworkers’ last names somewhere while I keep them updated on the latest fictional drama.

All told, it’s not only great to be back in Bridgetown, but it’s also great to return to a process that worked really well for me.

Creating and Cats

Writing — well, pretty much doing anything around the house — with two young cats prowling around and constantly getting under foot and demanding attention can be a bit tricky. Cali and Jules have been with us for a good couple of months now and they’ve been a lovely addition to our home and the biggest distraction ever. (Sometimes enforced distraction when one of us needs to get work done and the other needs to take over catsitting duties.) It’s a matter of taking it as it comes and squeezing whatever time we can to do it all.

During my evening writing sessions I’ll use one of the stick toys to get one of them away from A’s knitting and yarn stash, and eventually they’ll forget that A has all that enticing and chewable yarn in the other room. Jules is a little easier to sway, as she’s more chill about everything and will end up napping on the cat bed I have here in Spare Oom. Cali is a bit harder to deal with, but eventually I’ll get her to calm down as well. Giving them the nightly bowl of kibble also helps. We’re hoping they’ll become a bit less chaotic as they grow older, but for now we’ll need to keep them occupied when and how we can.

In the meantime, as I write this Jules is in the Spare Oom cat bed and Cali is most likely in the cat tree in the living room. That gives us a bit of personal time to get work done. It might not always be a lot of time, but it’s time enough for now.

Juvenilia

I still have pretty much all of my juvenilia here in Spare Oom. Poems I wrote in fifth grade for an extracurricular project, the origins of the Infamous War Novel (my first completed project) and its several versions, the numerous maps I’d draw in the margins of school notes and on book covers, the various story ideas that lasted a few pages and the novel ideas that lasted just a little longer, the several unused Murph comic drawings, the silly exquisite corpse stories between me and my high school friends. I’m only missing a few things, really…some of my early art, a few stories I may have thrown away in embarrassment, things like that.

I don’t read it all that much, but I do think about it now and again. I do so because it reminds me of where and how I started. My dad was a local news reporter and I grew up with a lot of adults assuming I’d do the same considering I too wanted to write, but even then I knew that style wasn’t for me. I loved the idea of making up stories. I tended to have a vivid imagination and weird dreams and I wanted to use them. I must have come up with a few dozen decent ideas — again, most of them lasting only a few pages — before I sat down and started writing the IWN. [And even that one took multiple tries over a few years before I clicked with the first complete version. That was just the one that stuck with me the longest.]

This is partly why I’m okay with having several trunked story ideas over the years. Some of them I truly enjoyed working on, others not so much. Some were written as an emotional outlet, something that needed purging. Some written with the best of intentions but ultimately with little personal connection. Some written in desperation because I needed to do something to balance out personal real-life issues.

I consider my juvenilia reaching into my early 20s. Everything just before I started The Phoenix Effect was written with the idea that I would learn this craft one way or another, on my own terms. It was certainly frustrating to see a number of my college classmates zip by me with relative ease and see print, but I had to remind myself that I wasn’t writing the same thing. I had my own reasons to do this. The Phoenix Effect (and to some extent the unfinished novel before it, True Faith) was different. It was the dividing line between sunny-eyed ‘I wanna be a writer!’ dreaming and ‘I am a writer’ determination.

I’ve used a few ideas from this trunked work elsewhere. Meet the Lidwells! has a few ideas nicked from my abandoned coming-of-age idea Two Thousand, for instance. That novel also uses a few song lyrics I’d written years ago. The universe of Diwa & Kaffi originated from a horror story I’d come up with in high school that I retooled into something completely different. This sort of thing is normal for most writers, actually. There’s no rule against borrowing some of your favorite unpublished scenes elsewhere! But for the most part, I’ve kept them stored away in notebooks and folders in a few bookshelves here. They’re well sorted (I did a major sorting project a few years back) and well-kept so I have no worries about them ever being lost, damaged or misplaced.

Will I ever use any of it in the future, though? Who knows. Probably not, but I’m okay with that too. Maybe I’ll post bits of them in the future, or maybe I won’t. Some writers have donated them to their local library. I doubt I’ll ever get that popular to warrant that, but it’s certainly fun to dream that.

It doesn’t matter that they may or may not be worth to anyone else, but they’re worth something to me, and that’s what matters.

End-of-Year Changes

My annual end-of-year contemplation almost always includes Getting Rid Of Things. Whether it’s physical, mental or emotional, it’s something worth returning to and reviewing what’s gone on over the past several months and deciding if I really need to keep such things in my life. I know, I could do this at any point in time, but this works just fine for me so I’m sticking with it.

I’ve been thinking a little more about why I put Theadia and Queen Ophelia on hiatus, and it occurs to me that unlike the Bridgetown Trilogy, it’s not about having writer’s block due to life changes. I merely felt that while I like these story ideas, emotionally they’re not who I am right now and I don’t feel right in continuing the work. They’re good stories but they’re not the direction I need to go in.

I’ve also been thinking about what that particular direction should be. I don’t want to write another story out of frustration or desperation, nor do I want to passively write an I have no plan but let’s see where this goes story either. I’ve done enough of those over the years.

I need to find out what it is that will resonate with me. Something that excites my creativity. Mind you, I don’t want to fall back into the trap of trying to recreate the same writing mood that I had with the Trilogy, because I’ve done enough of that as well. What will that be, though? Who knows?

Still, I’ve been taking this time to figure it all out. I’ve also been taking the time to adjust how I do that, being well aware of the obstacles and trip-ups I’ve had or made over the years. Don’t be a perfectionist, but do attempt your best. Don’t build up so many barriers, but allow yourself a bit of comfort. Don’t overexplain everything but feel free to deep-dive when necessary. Be aware of the situation but don’t be so self-conscious about it. Find a new voice and figure out how it sounds.

Changes are always a good thing when they make life and creativity even better.

Coming Up on Year’s End

Today’s Black Friday and I’ll be at work by the time this posts — I open the store on Fridays and Saturdays bright and early at 6am — but from what the store manager says, he doubts it’s going to be a mad rush considering we’re not that kind of store. Still, the day after Thanksgiving does tend to be seen as Q4’s final stretch. Just a few more weeks of frantic buying before things go back to normal.

I’ve been thinking about my writing this year and I’ve made peace with the fact that I didn’t release anything this year. And that’s because I’ve actually made a lot of progress with a lot of other things! I finished off an almost-complete composition book of poetry and lyrics, which is great considering that particular well had been dry for years pre-pandemic. Although I didn’t finish Queen Ophelia or Theadia, I did get within a few chapters of finishing both before putting them on hiatus. I started making notes for my romcom idea. I’m relatively consistent with my blogging. And I’ve even revived writing new words on the 750Words site! So it all works out: I’ve been a busy bee, even after starting a new Day Job!

I’ve got a few ideas for what I’d like to do in 2023, and I’m tasking myself to come up with some plans and schedules by the end of December. As always, these plans are more like guidelines than concrete assignments as I am always prone to coming up with new ideas and unexpected detours when it comes to my writing. If anything, my goal is to maintain this consistency I’ve held over the last several months. I’m at a level I’m comfortable with, one I can handle with minimal stress or worry.

And to top it off, I’ve already decided that I’ll be spending most of December not stressing out about productivity. If I have a super productive day followed by a few days of laziness, I’m fine with that. I’ve earned it. It’s healthier to just let those days go by than try to force it when it’s not going to come.

What does come in 2023 is probably going to surprise me as much as it’ll surprise you!

Back to Q4 Retail

After a decade and a half of banking, I am once again back in the retail sector during fourth quarter. Our store has had its Christmas decorations up for a good couple of weeks now (having set them up a few weeks before Halloween) and our aisles are now crammed with cardboard standees selling wares such as chocolate Santas, boutique candies, various toys, and everything else in between. Apparently our company doesn’t do the holiday season half-assed.

Am I dreading the craziness of fourth quarter shenanigans, high volume and constantly running out of paper bags up front? Not really! As exhausting as the last couple months of the year can be, there’s also a special warmth that comes along with it. I do enjoy talking with our regulars (and they are definitely such — some stopping by twice a day on the daily) end even more with new customers who are pleasantly surprised by how unique and accessible our store is. Sure, we’ll have the days with unending lines and short staff, but we survive it. And I’m old enough to remind myself not to let those particular days eat at me.

Sure, it affects my writing time sometimes, but not in the ways the bank used to. The mental and emotional exhaustion just isn’t as prevalent. Banking is very exhausting for the brain, whereas working retail, not so much. At least not for me anymore, anyway. Sometimes dealing with the front end is a bit like herding cats — coworkers and customers alike, when I’m assigned the Front End Manager position for the day — but I try not to bring it home. As long as I dedicate time to the writing, that’s all that matters.

Besides, working in retail means I get some sweet deals for the home!

How can someone so young sing words so sad?

So the original idea came to me after reading multiple romcoms in a row: what about an older woman who, after a successful career in the late 80s and early 90s as a young pop singer and an adulthood stuck in terrible relationships and bad business decisions, has a meet-cute with an equally jaded John Cusack type of guy who runs a record store in the small town she escapes to?

I bring this up as I’m feeling incredibly burned out from my work on Theadia and Queen Ophelia, both of which probably need complete rewrites. As I said to a friend this morning, there comes a time when it feels more like I’m shoveling mud than actually making a sculpture, y’know? It’s obvious that my writing sessions for both are becoming infrequent enough and hardly any work is being done (cat-sitting aside) that it’s obvious that I’m not happy with the stories at all. Added to that, I do nightly rereads of passages as part of my revision process, and lately it’s felt like I’d rather be reading something else. I don’t hate these projects, they’re just not where I need them to be right now, and I’m not ready to devote even more time and brainspace for it. I need to take a break.

That said…the possibility of me writing a meet-cute romcom filled with 80s and 90s easter eggs, music references and other goofy things is something I think might work. And here I thought Meet the Lidwells was my nerdiest story idea…

(Image courtesy of K-On!, by the way. I really need to start watching that series.)

Changing Things Around

Cat Update: Jules has been here for one week and thinks she’s got seniority, but new cat (and sister) Cali has proven otherwise by refusing to give in so easily. It’s been a few days together and they’re not playfighting nearly as much, though they’ll have bouts of chasing each other down our long hallway in full noisy gallop. I think we’ve cured them of waking us up for 2am playtime, but they’ve exchanged that with the 9pm tussling under our bed and the 5am Why Aren’t You Awake Yet. It’s a learning curve for everyone, I guess.

Anyway! As you can well imagine, my writing schedule is falling short due to Watching the Cats (to make sure they settle in well in their new home) and waking up early for the Day Job. It is what it is, and given that it’s also Q4, I will not be surprised if I eventually feel burnout in the next couple of weeks.

BUT! I refuse to let the writing fall by the wayside. I just have to keep focusing on it with the time that I do have. Twitter is currently having its New Owner Dumpster Fire Event which is keeping me from doomscrolling over there. I’ve got my close friends on Discord (we now have a dedicated channel just for our cat pictures, by the way) to keep me company. And of course I still have KEXP to listen to while working in Spare Oom.

It is what it is. I’m used to my writing schedule going all kinds of wonky during Q4. And considering I’m now working retail, the exhausting chaos will be ramping up very soon. I’m only thankful my job frowns on forced overtime (thank you, UFCW Local 648!) and our store is small compared to other outlets. It’ll be busy but not always overwhelmingly so. I’ll always have time to get at least something done each day if I put my mind to it.

And thankfully, the cats are currently sleeping in the cat tree so I can have some me time!

In Need of Distance…?

I’m at the point in Theadia where I think I’m hyperfocusing too much. I do this at least once with every project I’ve ever worked on: I’ll eventually arrive at a point where I’m not sure if I’m making it better or making it worse. Sometimes it’s because I’ve been working on the same chapter or scene for far too many days and I need to let it go and move on (and fix it properly at a later time). Sometimes it’s because I’m working on a scene that’s full of tension that I’ve become so familiar with that I don’t feel said tension anymore.

There’s also the fact that I’ve been a bit distracted by Real Life Stuff lately, and I just don’t have the spoons to connect with it on an emotional level at the moment.

Either way, this is where I need to make a decision: power through until the issues go away, or step away and work on something else for a little bit. Powering through essentially means getting rid of those Don’t Wanna/Oh Hey A Distraction urges, which works really well for me. Stepping away works too, but I usually reserve that for when I’m truly frustrated or physically/mentally exhausted and need the break.

So yeah, looks like I’ll have to soldier through!