I haven’t been writing and I’m okay with that

Courtesy of ‘The Garden of Words’ by Makoto Shinkai

Still here, still plugging away at the final revision pass-through for Diwa & Kaffi, so there’s not too much to report at the moment. However, I think I can safely say that I really haven’t written anything new for quite some time.

And I’m actually okay with that.

It’s not a dry spell, because I have a few projects that I can easily work on. I’ve been continuing to write in my journal and do a bit of small creative things here and there. This is different; this is a moment in my writing career where I can take a break from it and not worry that I’m losing my craft. I’ve proven to myself that I can get it back given time and inclination, I just chose to focus on personal things for a little while.

In retrospect, I think this is actually a good thing, because I haven’t given myself a real break since I started the Great Trilogy Revision back in…2011 or so? That’s a long time. Three years of revising those books, three more years of revising them again to prep them for self-publication, and a few more years of writing three more novels. It’s been an extremely creative and productive decade, that’s for sure.

I think can give myself a bit of a mental break.

What will I focus on? Oh, I have all sorts of things. Finally work on my music and my artwork a little more seriously, for starters. It feels good not to be at full acceleration mode on a daily basis. Get outside more. Get to know more people. See and explore new and different things. Focus a little more on life things instead of creative things.

I have no idea when this hiatus will end, but it sure feels good not to give myself a deadline for the first time in years!

Expectations

I’ve been thinking a lot about expectations lately. Personal, professional, emotional, and so on. For years I always felt that I’d had high expectations put on my shoulders, but it’s only in the last decade or so that I’ve realized that most of them have been of my own doing.

When I sent out my first submissions — the short story in 1995 and The Phoenix Effect in 2000 — I wasn’t so much sending them out thinking I was hot shit and The Next Great SF Novelist (though I’ll admit that I let myself half-jokingly hope I had a chance), but thinking ‘OK…you’ve gotten this far in your writing career. That’s a pretty damn good goal to hit, considering.’ My expectations weren’t high, but they weren’t in the gutter either. As long as I did a decent job or at least learned from my mistakes, all was well.

The same thing goes for my Day Job: I certainly don’t expect to ever rise up to CEO level in any job I’ve held, as that’s not a position I want. I like being part of the team rather than its leader. That way my expectations are more realistic: I expect (and hope) that my teammates and I know what we’re doing and that we’re doing it the best we can under a normal deadline. I work so much better behind-the-scenes than I do as a performer, so to speak. The main reason being that it gives me the space to observe the processes, understand them, and maybe even upgrade them if need be.

But what about my own life? That’s a good question. Sometimes I expect too much of myself — that I need to be perfect every single moment, and become frustrated when I fail to hit that bar. Why do I set it so high? Who knows…it has to do with observing others’ actions, whatever they may be, and hoping to reach those same heights. Yes, I know, that way lies madness.

And pretty rich, coming from someone who spent most of his teenage years shouting that nonconformity was the way to go. Heh.

In the last year or so, I’ve been rethinking my expectations. Readjusting them when and where necessary. Part of this came out of my foray into self-publishing: I knew my novels weren’t going to be brilliant and popular and wildly successful, so I let my guard down a bit. I still tried to write the best book I could, I just stopped trying to reach Stephen King or Ray Bradbury heights of quantity and/or quality. The same goes with my personal life: I accepted that I’d fuck up every now and again. I let myself take some blind chances instead of building up Detailed Best Laid Plans.

And instead of trying to be Everything to Everyone, I realized, maybe it’s time for me to be happy on my own terms again. Sure, that sounds like I’ve hit my Midlife Crisis stage, but I really haven’t. This is the least stressed out I’ve ever felt in decades. I’m more proactive than reactive now. I feel no need to recapture my youth (my music collection does that for me). All in all, this is the most content I’ve been in a long time.

All I’m doing now is making needed changes, many of them overdue, to make things even better for myself.

End of World Party

Just like anyone else here, I too read what’s going on in the world lately. I get frustrated. I get angry. I get riled up. I want to go on a long-winded Twitter rant. I want to start yelling and someone, anyone, about why the world sucks.

And then I step back and exhale. I delete the rant and close the app. I reconnect with what’s going on in front of me; the job search, my health, our upcoming trip to the UK, my pre-submission work for Diwa & Kaffi. I wind myself back down to a calm level and move forward again. I don’t ignore what’s out there; I just do what I can to keep it from consuming me.

I wrote Diwa & Kaffi in part because I wanted to write a story that was positive. That doesn’t necessarily mean that everyone is happy and cheerful and nothing bad happens and everyone’s okay in the end. In fact, the exact opposite of that happens. It’s just that this story could not be told in a dystopian way. This is about characters trying their best to be good people, and all the ups and downs that entails.

I used to read all kinds of dystopian novels, but now they exhaust me. Sure, I might return to them eventually, but right now it’s not the kind of book I want to read or write. I’ve got enough bringing me down; I need something that lifts me up and inspires me instead. If I’ve learned anything over the years, it’s that I’m much more productive, both creatively and in real life, if I use the positive as a goal rather than focusing on all the negatives I have to wade through.

It’s about going into battle knowing that I’ll win in the end.

Coming Attractions

*muffled lo-fi jazz instrumental in bg*

I’ve been doing a rethink of a lot of things lately, both personal, creative and otherwise. And lately I’ve been thinking about changing up my blogs here a bit. They’ve both had the same theme and the same layout for years, and I think it’s time that I gave them a proper update. I’m totally fine with my current schedules for them, so that won’t change.

Does that mean a change in subject matter? Maybe…Welcome to Bridgetown will still be my official author blog and Walk in Silence will still be my music blog…but I think I’ve already said a lot of what I’d wanted to say here on the intertubes to the point where I’m repeating myself now. I’d like to expand my horizons a bit, as it were.

So — when is this going to take place? Good question. No idea, but you’ll know when I have a more solid and detailed plan for all this. Posting WIP snippets? Longer or multi-part entries? Personal entries? Book reviews? It’s all up in the air at the moment, but I’ll definitely let you know more as it comes.

See you soon!

Meanwhile…

I have about five more chapters’ worth of revision to go before I can call this second go-round of Diwa & Kaffi done. I’m still on schedule, hitting about one chapter per evening while we watch British gardening shows. [They’re quite soothing after a long day at work, and perfect background noise for my writing sessions…although I do get occasionally distracted!]

I know I’ve talked about what The Next Project will be, but right now I’m not thinking too much about it. All my focus has been on revision, and the next step will be submission research. Right now if feels right for me to dedicated as much time and attention on this project.

In the past this would have bothered me…the fears of running out of ideas and falling out of practice, mainly. Over the years, though, I’ve realized that these fears will only manifest if I let them. I’ve cleared the table of nearly every story I’d put in backburner status, holding onto maybe two or three. They’ll be there when I come back to them. And if they no longer hold my interest, well…I’ll come up with something else eventually. I’m not worried.

Part of this comes with having done a reread of My Work to Date. I’ve reread all three books in the Bridgetown Trilogy as well as Meet the Lidwells over the last few months. It does kind of blow my mind that I’ve already self-published five books and I’m about to submit my sixth to a publisher, all within the space of four years. That’s a hell of a lot more productivity than I ever thought I’d have, to be honest.

So if I have a bit of a dry spell after D&K is out and away, I’m not going to worry too much. As long as I practice.

Writing While Exhausted

I really should know better sometimes.

We just returned from an extremely busy weekend at Outside Lands and all that entails: multiple band performances, vague attempts at eating healthy, walking all over Golden Gate Park, braving the questionable porta-loos, and trying to ignore the more performative extroverts and drunk frat bros. And walking back home six long blocks away at the end of the night. It was a blast and I’m always excited that we have this incredibly cool music festival less than a mile from our apartment, but I am now tired and sore and a nap sounds like a great idea.

And yet somehow I’ve decided that doing my Daily Words, posting an entry here, and working on revision for Diwa & Kaffi later tonight is a good idea. Sometimes I just don’t know when to stop and take the day off.

I used to do this all the time down in the Belfry, back when I was writing the trilogy. I’ve spoken many a time about coming home from a ten-hour day during fourth quarter at the candle factory (when I used to have to go in for 4am in the winter, meaning I had to get up at 2am to get ready and brave the unplowed roads). And yet somehow I’d still decide to do my comic and cd run in Amherst, and spend an hour or so working on the novel. Granted, some days I’d get as far as playing a few hands of FreeCell, write a few hundred words, and call it done.

But other days I’d actually soldier through, fueled by snacks and Mountain Dew, and managed to hit my thousand-word goal for the day. Tired or not, sometimes these writing sessions were fruitful and enjoyable. As long as my brain wasn’t too loopy, I could pull it off.

I’m of course years older now, I eat healthier and go to bed at a decent hour, and thankfully my Day Job doesn’t demand ridiculous hours and overtime, but I don’t plan on pushing myself if I don’t have to.

But if I’m up for it, I’ll at lest give it a try.

More on cleaning out the PC

It’s kind of fascinating to go into the Apps section of my PC just to see what software I’ve downloaded over the years, and if I’ve in fact used any of it. I know there are a few beta-version downloads that I’ve tried because hey, why not, and they’re free. I’ll also admit to downloading a few with the best of intentions and not used them at all. But for the most part, there’s only a tiny core list that I’ll install for each new PC or laptop I get:

Office 365 (includes Word, Excel, etc). Obviously for my writing and other related things. I use this pretty much every single day so I’ve more than made the yearly subscription worth it. And I can use it on multiple computers!
Dropbox. I’ve had a fine experience with this particular cloud storage and have no plans to go elsewhere. The one app I have on everything: the PC, the laptop, the tablet, even my phone.
MediaMonkey, my audio player of choice on the PC for at least a decade or so. It does what I want it to, works fantastic as a library, and if there have been any issues, they’ve been extremely minor and fixable. [I do have an iTunes account, but I only use that for the rare download. Same with Spotify: I have a free account but use it sparingly.]

I use other software for various things here and there, but those are the core three, and the three I use the most. Everything else I’ll grab as needed. Art editing software, music editing software, downloaders, rippers, PC cleaners and firewalls, and so on. Over the years I’ve gotten a LOT better at asking myself do I REALLY need this…? before I download a program. Some I will definitely use at least a few times a month or so, but if I’m not going to be using it for the next six months, maybe I can hold off.

My plan this time out is to maintain a cleaner hard drive, especially now that I’ve also cleaned up my external drives. I’m trying to avoid the mistake I made multiple times in the past, where everything just accumulates and clutters it all up. I’ll also disable a lot of the programs I never use. This will mean a quicker start time, faster processing, and hopefully a longer life!

Updating the hardware (and the cloud)

This past weekend I did something I haven’t done in years: I ordered a new PC before my current one started dying a slow and horrible digital death. I’ve had my current one — an HP Envy 750-114 — since early 2016, and the average lifespan for my PCs is three to four years. It’s still working okay, though it’s starting to slow down to the point where it’s noticeable compared to my new laptop. I’m most definitely not a gamer, but I put my PCs through a hell of a lot, in between novel writing, internetting, song streaming, cd ripping, downloading, and everything else. I always need a PC with a good processor that will let me do all that multitasking. [Added to that, I also ordered a new monitor to replace the one I have…which dates back multiple PCs to 2006! This too works fine, but uses a cable that PCs no longer use. Both of these will be donated once they’re cleaned.]

It feels weird to do this, as I’m more used to squeezing every ounce of use out of it until it finally screams that’s it I’m done and refuses to turn back on. This time out, it’s the mouse and keyboard that are kicking it first. No big surprise, considering. I happened to have a spare wireless combo lying around the house so that’s taking its place until the new PC comes in.

I suppose this is all part of my ongoing KonMari Tidy-Up Project here in Spare Oom. I recently finished cleaning up all the old word files I’d had kicking around, deleting the duplicates (and there were MANY) and properly sorting them in subfolders. In the process I took out the old filing system on my Dropbox account and uploaded the new and much improved one. Suffice it to say, my DB account thus sent me a few emails asking if I was okay, considering I’d deleted a few thousand files within a few days. It’s actually kind of comforting that my cloud storage account keeps tabs like that. Anyway, all is sorted (literally) and things are much easier to find now.

SO! This of course means that I’m already planning out what needs moving from this PC over to the externals for temporary storage so I can upload them once the new PC is up and running. This, of course, is precisely why I had all those damn duplicates in the first place. Over the course of a decade and a half, I had the bad habit of taking this exact step…only to keep the backup files on cds or externals and never getting rid of them once they were safely back on the new main drive. They just all piled up after a while.

Hopefully this major cleanup — and a reminder to delete those backups once they’re good to go on the cloud — will avoid further confusion. Here’s to hoping it all runs smoothly!

Watching 90s Action Films

So A finally made me sit down and watch the original 1998 Blade film, and HOO BOY yeah that was certainly something. Definitely one of those “this is terrible” but in a fun popcorn flick kind of way if you’re into that sort of thing.

It reminded me of something that I’ve been thinking about over the last few weeks or so: man, the 90s were fucked up. I’m not just talking about world events here, which goes without saying. I’m talking about some of the films, books, music, art, pretty much any medium. It’s almost as if us Gen-Xers, realizing that we were essentially the Generation Nobody Paid Attention To, decided to see how far we could push our creativity. And then push it just that little bit more. See what we could get away with. And it usually paid off, because the Gen-X audience loved it when the boundaries were pushed like that. It’s part of our DNA.

Blade in particular is a ridiculous vampire action film with all the bingo spots that makes up 90s action films: badass martial arts battles, quote-worthy dialogue, insane weaponry, a secret rave in a bizarre location, a ridiculous car chase, a few insane how-the-hell-did-they-shoot-that sequences, and all of it edited to fast-bpm techno dialed up to 11. It also features quite a few ‘let’s see how far we can push this’ moments, one especially squicky scene within the first five minutes of the film.

I watched a hell of a lot of these in the 90s and 00s, from the Matrix films to the Underworld films and yes, even the Mortal Kombat films. They were all good fun on a stupidly hot Saturday afternoon during the summer.

They also feature some great whoa! moments, and I’m not talking the Keanu Reeves kind or the car-jumping-a-moving-train kind. I’m talking about the kind that a writer like me would love: the little seemingly inconsequential shots that make me perk up. There’s a shot in Blade that did it for me, when our heroes are being chased down a subway tunnel with way-too-fast trains zipping by every couple of seconds. Dr Karen Jenson somehow loses her balance and lands on the tracks, but at the last second reaches her arm over at an odd angle, thus keeping her face from landing on the electrified third rail by mere inches. It’s a three second shot that didn’t need to be in there, but for me it was definitely an ooh, nice detail! moment. A lot of 90s films are filled with those kinds of shots, and they add charm and reality to the moment.

These often inspired my writing at the time. The original version of the Bridgetown Trilogy (The Phoenix Effect, written 1997-98) features the same level of detail alongside some of the classic tropes. Some of them even show up in the final books. I had a rule for writing them: if I wanted to add a ‘this would look really cool’ moment, I had to give it a reason for being there. I realized the best way to do this was similar to that Blade moment I mentioned above: it had to tie in with the character’s personality. Dr Jenson’s purposely avoiding the third rail underlines a major point of her character: she’s smart and always thinks ahead, especially on the fly. Whenever the Mendaihu gang had one of those similar Hollywood moments, I made sure it had consequences.

While a number of more recent action films have dialed back the over-the-top ridiculousness somewhat, that’s not to say they’ve completely disappeared. See the still-going Fast and Furious series for a prime example of that. It’s even there with more recent stories: the John Wick series is just one over the top fight scene after another. Even there we have a nice attention to character detail: Wick hardly ever speaks in any of the movies. And when he does, he does so for a reason, and his words are important.

My point here? Well, let’s just say that watching 90s action films might be a fun and enjoyable way to waste an afternoon…but even these films have moments that inspire a writer like me.