Going Online

Don’t forget to add *70 to your dial-up settings!

Sometimes it blows my mind that I’ve been connected online for roughly a quarter century. I believe my first AOL account was in the autumn of 1994, using my roommate’s computer, which I used sparingly because I was too damn broke to pay for the subscription or the phone bill half the time. And even then, I mostly stuck to AOL’s chat rooms.

When I moved back home in late ’95 I talked my family into signing up for it. While the subscription and phone bill weren’t as hard to pay, it was reminding my family not to use the phone when I was online. Most of the time they remembered, but every now and again someone would forget, pick up the phone, and start dialing, severing my connection. (Surprisingly, it wouldn’t be until around 2001 or so when we finally got DSL. It just wasn’t available to us out in the sticks of central MA until then.)

I’d had various emails over the years and started the joncwriter one around 2001 (I think?), but it probably wasn’t until 2004 when I finally took the plunge into full-time social media with LiveJournal. And things have grown exponentially since then. So many platforms, websites, browsers, apps, and everything in between. I’m amazed I can remember half my passwords.

Mind you, I’m not complaining about how Kids These Days Are Always Online, or How The Internet Was More Fun In My Day. I’ve got other things to think about most of the time. It’s more about how I’ve eased off using the internet over the years.

Sure, I still use it a ton, more than I really should. I go through spells of overindulgence followed by bouts of internet detox. As a writer, though, I can’t completely disconnect. I rely on a lot of internetty things to keep me going. I stream radio stations during the day for entertainment and background noise. I have multiple links to online dictionaries and thesauruses (that’s a legit plural, I just looked it up on Merriam-Webster’s site). I almost exclusively download all my music now. It’s a vital part of my writing career. [Yes, even the music. Heh.] And most importantly, I save all my writing on Dropbox so I can access them at any time, even on my phone.

The trick is to catch myself when I know I’m just wasting time that could be better used elsewhere. Catch myself when I feel I’m getting worked up and caught up in the latest drama. Catch myself when I’m faffing about on YouTube watching viral videos. Easy enough to do, but sometimes it’s embarrassing when I realize how often I catch myself. I’ve had to figure out ways to keep myself from goofing off.

Lately, though, I’ve been doing a lot of logging off, closing the browsers. Not out of desperation or frustration, but just because I want to. Part of it is inspired by some of my pre-internet high school and college friends out there who are surprisingly impossible to find on social media — it’s like they decided that they’d rather have a real life than a digital one.

It’s also been a mental and physical choice. The longer and later I’m online, the harder it is for me to fall asleep at night. And sometimes I just don’t have all that much to say that I haven’t already written or blogged about already. Sometimes I just need to take a break and just use my PC or my laptop for its intended use: my writing and music.

I just recently bought a new laptop to replace an old one (which was dated 2013!!) and I’m once again out in the living room in the evenings, sitting next to A while we stream whatever movie or show we’re currently into, and I can focus on the revision for Diwa and Kaffi. I might pop online and check my email or the latest webcomic update or Twitter, but I’m doing that much less nowadays. And I kind of like that.

I’m not nearly as addicted to the internet as I used to be, which is always a good thing. Life goes on both digitally and IRL, and it’s up to me to find that balance that works best for me.

Something I should probably do more often with my desk PC…

[PS: This entry was partly inspired by a panel I’ll be running at BayCon this year: Strange Days: Hollywood’s Take on the Internet, Hacking, and the Digital World in the 90s. I’m looking forward to this particular one!]

What’s Going On?

That’s a very good question indeed, because I’d like to know myself. I’m kind of hovering at the moment, providing nearly all of my writing focus on the editing and revision of Diwa and Kaffi and doing very little in terms of anything new. I mean, I always want to have a new project going, but I’m purposely not doing that for the reason I just stated.

I’m not going to complain, I’m kind of enjoying this break from Writing All the Things. I’m forcing myself to try new creative avenues, which was part of my plan. I’m picking up my guitar more, thinking about songs to write…hell, I’ve even started noodling around on our keyboard after ages of ignoring it or using it as a temporary storage table! I’ve churned out so many words over the last five years that it’s time for me to give that a break and have some fun.

I don’t plan on making my music a professional thing, as I don’t see myself at that level. Maybe putting stuff out on Bandcamp if I ever get a full song down? Sure, why not? I’d essentially be self-publishing my music and I already have a background on that, so I think that would be groovy.

What about the other avenue, you ask? My art? Good question. I’m winding down a few small projects at the moment and will be finding more time to doodle. I’m not sure what — it could be my usual map drawing, perhaps my Murph comics, maybe trying out new styles. I have the sketchbook and the pens and pencils, I just need to start doing it. I’ve always found drawing to be quite calming, so I’m looking forward to doing that again.

But yeah, the writing, after D&K is out and away? Good question. I have plans there, but they’re not set in stone, and they’re not on any kind of schedule. For the first time in I don’t know how long, I’m just going to not think about it for a while…

2: On Flailing

Two more entries to go in 2018, so I thought I’d do a bit of an overview of things I’ve been doing or thinking about over the course of the year, building up to my new writing plans for 2019. 

Ed provides a sterling example. Source: Cowboy Bebop.

I did a hell of a lot of flailing this year. A TON of flailing. So much flailing that it was kind of embarrassing to watch. And I’d rather not go through that process any more than I have to, ever again. It’s a huge waste of time, productivity, and energy.

What the hell am I going on about, you say? A fine question. I am of course talking about the numerous attempts at writing the AC story…about the grand idea of writing longhand as a change of pace…about yet another attempt at writing Can’t Find My Way Home and failing once again…about trying to come up with blog post ideas here without repeating myself…and so on and so forth.

It’s also on a personal level as well. I’ve frequently stated how frustrated I get when I approach something in a reactive manner. I spend far too much time, energy and emotion reacting to statements and situations rather than processing them. Instead of finding a way to fix or contribute to them (or even ignore them if applicable), I focus on how I feel about the situation. It only serves to make me yet another responding echo and totally failing to do anything about it.

And let’s go one further: when I get to this particular level where I see my problem and want to do something about it, chances are I come up with Best Laid Plans to change myself in one way or another. I feel proud of myself for coming up with a kludge that I think (maybe…?) will make things work again. Sort of. Sometimes they work, but more often than not, that’s all they remain: plans. I get distracted. Or worse, I get disillusioned. I fall back into the same feedback loop and I’m back where I started.

And that has been so goddamned tiring and I’m sick of it.

Which is why I’m choosing to spend a considerable amount of time in 2019 on a hiatus. It’s not exactly an internet detox, though. I’ll still be around in one form or another. I’ll still blog here, though on a less hectic schedule. I’ll still be available and contactable.

I just want to stop reacting, stop flailing, stop planning, and start doing more. Figure out who I am at this point in my life, and do something about it. It’s far past time.

3: On Commitment

Three more entries to go in 2018, so I thought I’d do a bit of an overview of things I’ve been doing or thinking about over the course of the year, building up to my new writing plans for 2019. 

Looking back over the posts I’ve made this year, I see that one of my most common themes, especially in the first half of the year, was determination versus knowing when to give up.

Near the start of the year, I found myself floundering multiple times while writing the Apartment Complex story. I ragequit writing it at least three times within the span of a few months. It frustrated the hell out of me, because I knew exactly what I was doing wrong, but I didn’t quite know how to fix it. I just kept going in the wrong direction over and over again. I tried starting over on MS Word. I tried writing out a full outline beforehand. I tried — twice — to write it longhand. Eventually I took a short hiatus from it. Instead I focused on releasing Meet the Lidwells and working on In My Blue World.

When I eventually came back to it, I did what I’d done for the last few projects: I wrote it a single scene at a time using 750Words. Instead of trying to push myself through, I let it grow organically. I knew where the story needed to go, but I let the story tell me how it wanted to get there. More importantly, I let its characters tell me — they all had specific goals they needed to reach by the end of the novel, so I built the main part of the story around the four main characters intertwining with each other.

I learned a few things over the course of writing the novel, things that utterly changed how I look at my writing now:

–Breaking down self-made barriers when the story demands it. The relationship between the two main characters is unconventional and I realized the best way to handle this was to just let it all happen naturally. If there was a hint of romance, so be it. If there wasn’t, no loss, because the love they have for each other is the most important part of it. I had to be true to the characters, no matter what.

–Trusting myself on a much deeper level. I had a vague framework of where I wanted this story to go, and certain beats I wanted to hit, but I wouldn’t know how exactly to get there until I got there. I knew my failed attempts were because I’d been forcing it to go in a direction it didn’t want or need to go in. And again with the main characters’ relationship: I had to learn to trust myself that I’d do a good job portraying their love for each other without resorting to tropes and manufactured drama and conflict. Trusting my characters was a leap of faith.

–Resonating with the story on multiple levels. This story wasn’t about dialing up the tension little by little like I did with the trilogy, or surfing the rise and fall of fame like I did with Lidwells. This story was about understanding different people, cultures and emotions, and figuring out how they were all interwoven in some way.

Anyway, my point here is that I’m glad that I decided to keep returning to the Apartment Complex story despite all the frustrations I faced when I started out. I remained committed to it. I truly believed in the story, that it had something important to say, and that if I remained dedicated to it despite all the frustration, it would be worth it in the end. The result is that I’m super proud of this project and I can’t wait to share it with all of you later in 2019.

4: On Keeping Busy

Four more entries to go in 2018, so I thought I’d do a bit of an overview of things I’ve been doing or thinking about over the course of the year, building up to my new writing plans for 2019. 

It’s been a hell of a busy year. I did that by design, to be honest, and I’m glad I went through with it. It proved a lot of different things:

–I can multitask. I wrote two novels in tandem this year, using two different sign-ons at 750Words. One during work breaks and one in the evening. Both are roughly 75k words, which is actually quite economic for me, and I think a better word count goal. Out of this I learned to be more concise with my writing.

–I self-published a completely new novel that had nothing to do with any years-long project, proving that I can reach a quick deadline and turnaround.

–Writing four blog entries a week, with only the occasional fly-by or short hiatus. Some days it was hard to come up with a subject to write about, but I think I pulled it off for the most part.

–Writing some new(ish) melodies on my guitar and recording demos for them for future Drunken Owl projects. Continuing to expand my guitar playing by learning new styles and reaching for different moods.

–Taking better care of myself healthwise. I’ve lost a bit of weight, especially over the last few months since I’ve started doing morning exercises, and being or proactive about heading to the gym a few days a week, or going for walks in the neighborhood. Eating healthier, cutting down on the snacking and the junk food.

…and all of this while still holding down a Day Job. There’s been a bit of temporary shake-up there as well as a ridiculously long stretch of time dealing with unnaturally heavy volume of work, which only recently has started to decrease.

I don’t feel exhausted, far from it. I’ll have my days where I just want to say hell with it, log off and take a nap, sure, but for the most part, I’m impressed that I got through it all with only one or two sick days the entire time. I actually like to keep busy with multiple things going on, as it keeps me occupied, preoccupied, and creative. (It’s only when it’s too busy that I start getting cranky and sloppy.)

Which is partly why I’ve decided to take 2019 a little bit easier, at least for the first six months. Cut back on the multiple projects, finish off the ones I’m working on, and give myself some time to enjoy nonwriting endeavors like art and music. I’ll go into a bit more on those future plans for the last post of the year, but for now I’m just glad to say I’m proud of all the work I did this year, and I’m definitely looking forward to giving myself a break from it!

5: On Older Ideas

Five more entries to go in 2018, so I thought I’d do a bit of an overview of things I’ve been doing or thinking about over the course of the year, building up to my new writing plans for 2019. 

I’ve trunked a lot of my ideas over the years.  It’s no big surprise…it’s par for the course for pretty much every writer.  I still think about them every now and again, maybe even wondering if they could ever be revived now that I’m a better writer (albeit jokingly — I don’t plan on doing this IRL at all).  Depending on when I started them, I pretty much have them collecting dust on a bookshelf or getting forgotten in some folder on my external drive.

When I think of trunked ideas, I think of one of the plot points in Jack London’s Martin Eden, one of the few books assigned to me in school that I truly enjoyed.  He’s a writer who can’t seem to get an even break, but once he does, it snowballs to the point where he’s digging out his older work, revising it, and his readers keep eating it up.  Thing is, he’s not doing all this for himself; he’s trying to impress a girl.  Interestingly, London pulls this idea off by not blaming her disinterest for his downfall, but by having Martin realize he alone is at fault, thinking ‘wow…I really wasted a lot of my life trying to impress everyone and making myself miserable.’

I don’t think I’ve wasted my years with all those failed writing projects.  I knew well enough to give up on them when the time came.  I realized the most common sign is when the writing feels more like a chore than a project.  [Not to be confused with that feeling of failure we writers often get during the revision process — you know, the oh god this sucks why am I still working on it phase.  Truth: I’m going through this with In My Blue World as we speak.  And yet I still have faith in it, and will see it through to its conclusion.]

Sometimes the ideas are little more than moods or images; they won’t or can’t be expanded into novels, or even short stories.  Sometimes the story is a little too uncomfortable to write.  Sometimes I get through the main planning stage, or even the first draft, and realize how much of an unsavable mess it is.  Regardless of what level I get to it, I’ll have to make a decision: keep moving along with it, or file it away and try something else.

I did a lot of this in 2018.  While I released Meet the Lidwells and started work on In My Blue World and the Apartment Complex stories, I had so many other project ideas kicking around that I realized I no longer had any interest in.  I decided it was probably time for me to trunk nearly everything else that was still up in the air; I just did not feel connected to them anymore.  I’d still feel a “hey this might be fun” wave of interest, but that’s all.  And I can’t base an entire project on that.

I think part of it was also completing the Apartment Complex story.  That novel is…different.  Very different from a lot of what I’ve written in the past.  Even the current past.  It resonated with me in a way that none of my previous novels ever did, even the trilogy.  It felt like a gigantic step forward, and a step away from the work I’ve done in the past.  It felt that this was the direction I needed to go in next, and almost none of my backburner projects fit that mold.

In short, I felt I was closing down one part of my life and writing career, and moving on to a newer, better one.  I had to leave the old stories behind.

I’m looking forward to 2019 being part of that newer, better life and career.  And I’m definitely looking forward to the newer stories, whatever they may be.

Voices

More on the upcoming year, in regards to writing.  I’ve been thinking a lot lately about voices in my stories.  It’s a tough subject to tackle, especially in a short-form blog like this, because there’s so much nuance packed in there.  What kinds of voices?  Whose voices?  Am I talking inclusiveness of characters, or am I talking about the style of storytelling I happen to be using?  Am I talking about dialogue or am I talking about language?  All of the above or something else entirely?

Sometimes I feel as though I keep writing the same story over and over again, just using different backdrops.  Granted, I’m reading and rereading and revising my own words over and over again for so long, to the point where it all starts to blend together and I can’t help but see all the similarities between a character in A Division of Souls and a character in Meet the Lidwells, two completely different stories with completely different settings and styles.  What I have to remind myself is that I’m not hearing the different characters…I’m hearing me writing those characters.

This was one of the reasons I was thinking of taking some time off in 2019 before embarking on another novel project.  I want to find a new voice within myself.  I want to continue to tell my stories, but I feel like I’ve written everything I wanted to write with my current voice.  And that voice has changed over the years, but my stories haven’t.  It’s time to get realigned and bring that new voice to the forefront.

Over the next few weeks, I’ll be working out how I’ll do this and start fresh on January 1, like I always do.  I’ve already done my Year End/Year Ahead post the other day, so I can just post my whiteboard schedule plans and call that done.

Then the real work will begin.

Exhausted Yet Determined

I do still love the holiday season, despite the weather and the crowds and the heightened insanity.  The only thing I don’t love is not being able to provide enough energy for my writing.  I wish I could be as productive at this time of year as I am, say, during the slow spring and summer seasons.  I can still do it, but each year I wonder if I shouldn’t be reviewing my schedule and figuring out a new way to get those words out.

There’s also the unexpected distractions that usually make me irritable for the rest of the day; for instance, I’ll be reporting for jury duty today and thus providing zero productivity until I get home.  [Well, that’s not entirely true.  I usually bring something writing related to jury duty for reading material.  Otherwise I’d be goofing off on my phone while I wait to be called.]  It’s not that I can’t handle distractions or multitasking, it’s the “drop everything and do this instead” mindset that bothers me.  I can’t stand having to completely stop a process to complete a different and unrelated process and then finally go back to the original process if I have time for it, while trying to figure out where the hell I left off.  I say all this because that’s been my Day Job situation for the last couple of months and let me tell you, IT GETS TIRING VERY QUICKLY.

Anyway.  As a writer, I still run on dogged determination and personal priority.  I need to give myself at least two hours for writing projects — this can mean anything from the daily words to whatever major project I’m working on, and it can be split into all kinds of available time throughout the day.  I can usually squeeze in more than that, but my hard fast rule is Two Hours.  

It can be tough to work through it all at this time of year, so one does tend to need a bit of determination and a whole lot of stubborn will.  Some days it’ll be fun, but other days it will be a slog.  Some days I’ll push through and get more done than I’d planned, and other days I just want to log off and go read a book instead.

All that said, I also need to remember not to overdo it.  If I truly am exhausted and don’t have the focus (or the mental acuity or the spoons or the energy, etc.), it’s okay to skip a day.  It annoys me when I have to, but I have to give myself that time off to recharge.

I mean, back in my Belfry days, I’d been known to zonk out in my chair after staying up far too late working on stuff.  I don’t think I need to do that anymore.  Just get the rest when needed, and start fresh the next day.  Everything will still be there when I log back on.

So and Slow It Goes

I’m still on schedule for revising In My Blue World, but MAN does it feel like it’s taking forever.  Some days there’s not too much to fix and I get get a good chunk done, and other days — like yesterday — I have to completely rewrite a major scene.  I’m about halfway through the novel and working off the revision notes I’d made during our UK trip a few months ago.  There are chapters where the notes will say “good — lengthen a bit — tidy up” and others where the notes go on for almost a full page explaining what I need to change.  Such is the writer’s life.

But I’m soldiering through.  I’m not sick of the book (yet) and I’m not at the ‘oh god this sucks’ level yet (which is always a good sign), but I really wish I was a little closer to finishing it up!

Still, I’m still on schedule to release it at Smashwords sometime in February.  The book cover’s already done of course.  I might follow through and do a trade for this one as well, depending on if I can get interest in it.  

In the meantime, as soon as I’m finished with this one, I’ll FINALLY be able to work on the Apartment Complex book!  I might even have a title for it by then!

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.