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.

Fly-by: brb, going on vacation

mt sugarloaf
A lovely view of Sunderland and the Connecticut River from Mt Sugarloaf.

I’ll be afk all next week, as we’ll be heading eastward to New England to visit friends and family, check out the foliage, and all that fun stuff.  I have already created two mixtapes to listen to on the flight, and I shall be doing a full read-through of the Apartment Complex story just because I can.  [I may also bring In My Blue World for some revision work as well.]

We shall return again on the 15th, hopefully with some nice pictures to share!

Throw Those Curtains Wide

I’ve been thinking a lot about life changes lately.  A few personal and work-related events had conspired to unfold within the span of a few weeks to take me by surprise and upend a few long term plans I’d had in mind.

Without going into much detail, there may be a change in Day Job situation that, at first, bothered the hell out of me.  And rightfully so, considering I’m worried about the time lost when commuting or going to an office.  I treasure my writing time and fiercely defend it any way I can.  At the time of these personal events, I’d been thinking seriously about a long-term plan to make all that happen.

The personal events had upended all that.  Still…I never give up when it comes to my writing.  I’m fiercely protective of it.  It’s gotten me through a lot worse over the years.  It’s not just a lifeline but a spiritual release.  And it gives me clarity and drive.

But it wasn’t just about the writing; it was also about making important changes to my life and who I am.  After a day or so of flushing the resulting emotional freak-out from my system, I came to the conclusion: It’s time for me to do something about all of this. 

It’s time for me to be true to myself again.  Far past time.

Over the last few weeks, I’ve been working out how to make this happen.  First off: have a positive outlook.  I might not be able to work from home, but that doesn’t necessarily mean a loss of writing time.  It just means a shift in schedule.  It means perhaps heading to the gym later than usual.  It means sneaking in some writing time during breaks and lunch times and bus commutes.  And continuing with this longer-term plan of changing and improving my life, despite any distractions.

And most importantly, it means not giving up on my dreams and goals.  Ever.

It’s time for me to be true to myself again.  Far past time.

Distractions, Delays and Determination

polar bear cafe sloth
Yeah, a nap would be good right now…

Day Job Stuff is keeping me on my toes, that’s for sure.  A few things have come up that I’m having to deal with in different ways.  (Yes, I’m being vague for the moment.)  A few personal things have been serving as distractions as well.  Nothing horrible, of course.  Just some irritations, decisions, and changes.

On top of that, I’m going to need to delay the release of In My Blue World.  I don’t want to, but I’d rather delay it than rush the job and put out a half-assed and ultimately unfinished novel.  I won’t do that to y’all, it wouldn’t be fair.  So for all of you who might have picked up my freebie card at Worldcon with the lovely ‘Coming Autumn 2018’ sticker slapped on the back, I’m afraid it’s probably looking more like ‘Coming Early 2019’ instead.  Sorry about that.  But I promise you won’t be let down by the improved and revised version!

Which brings me to determination:  I’ve got a LOT on my plate right now, and strangely enough, I work really well when that happens, as long as I’m completely in charge of it all.  [If I’m constantly distracted by unexpected changes, that’s another thing entirely.]  So a lot of things juggling in the air, but I’m bound and determined to make it all work.  Such is the life of a writer: stubborn will and determination to keep going despite the odds.

Hopefully in a few weeks things will be back to normal and I’ll be able to breathe and take a break again…!

 

More On Being a Healthy Writer

polar bear cafe exercise

I’ve said this before:  one of the biggest problems with being a writer, especially one with a Day Job, is that you’re sitting on your butt for long stretches of time.  I’m really horrible at this, to be honest.  I might get up and stretch now and again, but I don’t do it nearly enough.  I’m sitting for most of eight hours, perhaps head to the gym a few times a week, and then sit for another few hours in the evening writing.

There’s also the fact that I’ve long had a bad habit of snacking whilst working and writing.  I’d like to say I don’t have a Junk Food Stash anymore, but that’s not exactly true… it’s smaller, but it’s still junk food, and it’s in the kitchen.  A few boxes of Pocky, an almost empty bag of chocolates we bought at the Heathrow duty-free.  I’m trying to change that up; I’ll have a banana, or some cheese sticks, or hummus and crackers (Trader Joe’s sells a great snack pack of these that I love).  I’m not drinking nearly as much soda as previous.

But it’s not enough.  I’m not moving around as much to burn those calories.  What I need to do is figure out some regimen that I can sneak in at some point during the day.  A few reps of crunches and stretches.  More walks after work.  More frequent trips to the Y.  I need to MOVE more is what I’m saying here.

So why the health kick all of a sudden?  Well, short version is that I’ve found myself on a lifestyle-change kick right now.  A need to change things both inside and out that I’ve either ignored or put off for far too long.  It really doesn’t have much to do with my age, to be honest — I’m forty-seven and change — but to do with personal things; career, emotions, physical issues, and what not.  I’m reasonably healthy if a bit overweight with slightly high blood pressure.  I’m also thinking more seriously about my calling as a writer, and what I want — and need — to do with my craft as a professional.  Among other things.  I think about it this way: it’s not a midlife crisis so much as it’s a midlife clarity.  Time to shed the bad habits and the lifestyle I no longer want or need and get movin’.

This does in fact tie in with my writing.  Over the last few months, while working on the revision for In My Blue World as well as writing the Apartment Complex story — as well as a few smaller personal things I’ve been sneaking in when I can — I realized that my writing can’t truly evolve if I don’t evolve somehow.  I’ve mined as much as I can from what I’ve been working with for years, and I want and need to change it up.  The AC in particular has been helpful here; it’s the first story where I did not hold back for any reason, and the result so far has been eye-opening on many levels.  I’m immensely proud of what I’ve done with it so far, and I can’t wait to share it.

So yes — this is me saying that I need to keep moving, both physically and mentally, if I’m going to get anywhere.  I can’t be half-arsed about it anymore.

All in.

I’ll read to you here, save your eyes

 

doctor who matt smith reading

I’ve been working without my reading glasses lately, and strangely enough I seem to be doing better.  I have kind of weird eyesight in that I’m not entirely near or farsighted, but lately it feels like my sight is getting better for some reason.  I often wear glasses when driving or when reading, but I’m finding it harder to read with them than without them.  Especially when I’m reading text on my phone.

Yeah, I’m not sure either.

Anyway, I’ve chosen not to wear my reading glasses during Day Job hours or during writing, just as an ongoing experiment to see how my eyesight truly is.  I know there are certain things that get me dry-eyed (staring at a screen for hours, natch) and angles that give me issues (looking hard to my left, my eyes go slightly out of skew and I see double — but not to the hard right!), and I’ve been making sure I don’t ignore these issues.

Having decent vision is right up there alongside decent hearing for me.  I read and write about as much as I listen to music, and I do both FAR more than the usual person.  (I also do all the driving in this household, so I’d rather not drive like Mr Magoo, thankyewverymuch.)  I try not to overdo it, and if I do feel like I’m overdoing it, I’ll make sure I take some time to give the ol’ eyes and ears a rest for a bit.

This brought to you by a writer who needs to remind himself to keep to healthy habits more often!

All at once

avalanche.gif

Yeah, I’m having one of those months.

I won’t go into detail, but it’s one of those times where Best Laid Plans are thwarted by no other reason than Unexpected Events.  And this time out I have a few personal issues that have popped up that are causing stress and frustration.  All I can do is deal with them, and balance them alongside these same Best Laid Plans.

It can be incredibly frustrating when this happens when you’re a writer.  You don’t want to ignore the personal issues going on, but you’d rather not put your livelihood on hold, especially when you’ve worked so hard over the years to make them happen.

The most you can do is soldier on somehow, same as if your Best Laid Plans were thwarted by the Day Job, or whatever has come your way.  For me, the most I can do is continue to find the time to push through these projects the best I can, despite it all.

Post-Vacation Exhaustion

that thing you do where was i

Note to Worldcon newcomers who typed in the URL from my freebie cards:  Hi there, and thanks for your interest!  I talk about writing a lot on this here blog, so if you have any questions on that sort of thing, by all means feel free to ask.

*

Note to self: even with the best of intentions, heading out to a major convention fifty-plus miles away the day after a ten-hour flight back from London isn’t the best of ideas, no matter how you slice it.  We have been moving almost nonstop in one way or another for the last sixteen days.  Lesson learned.

We’d decided to take Sunday and Monday off from everything and just relax and catch up on what needs catching up, that way we’re somewhat conscious and rested come Tuesday when it’s back to the Day Job.  We’ve been on vacation for almost the entire month, having flown out of SFO on the 4th and joining the working world again tomorrow.  It’s only two weeks and an extra day, but it feels so much longer than that.

While I didn’t get any new words done on any projects at 750Words, I did do a hell of a lot of reading of both In My Blue World and the Apartment Complex story (as you see from the previous fly-by posts).  I focused most of my attention on the former since it’s first in the release queue, and worked my way up to about the first third of the novel.  I’ll keep this up until the run is complete and then jump in on the Big Honking Revision Process.

Which brings me to the following: I’ve noticed that my revision process has definitely changed over the past five or so years.  I’ve taught myself newer and quicker techniques, discarded my bad habit of flailing the story into shape, and paid a lot more attention to the details.  I’m sure I still have a long way to go, but I’m definitely getting there.

That said, I’ll be back to normal on Friday with more writing insights — I gave myself some time to think about new and different subjects to blog about here, and I hope you’ll enjoy the entries when I post them!

Fly-By: brb, going on vacation and Worldcon

spirited-away

My blogging schedule may be all kinds of screwy the next few weeks, as we’ll be:

  1. Heading out to the UK for a week and a half, starting tomorrow.  We’ll be visiting many friends, shopping at numerous stores, enjoying the free museums, and ogling the royal palaces.  And taking loads of pictures.  I may make the occasional short fly-by post just to keep things updated, but since we’ll be in a completely different time zone, don’t be surprised if they pop up at strange times.
  2. Heading to Worldcon 76 down in San Jose as soon as we get back.  I’m still looking forward to meeting up with many writer friends and chatting meeting even more for the first time.  I may not be on any panels, but I’ll still be networking and having a lot of fun.

I’ll be honest, I’m not even sure if I’ll be able to get much writing done.  I’ll most likely be doing revision work for In My Blue World and doing a read-what-I-have-so-far of the Apartment Complex story.

But I’m not complaining…we’ve been looking forward to this vacation for quite some time!  I’m looking forward to just having fun and seeing all the fun things!

We’ll be back to normal hopefully by the 20th or so!  Thanks for your patience!

Conventions and Meeting People

hb cocktail party
I don’t think the Green Room is usually this fancy or lively.

I’m not exactly an introvert, but I’m not one that can easily insert myself into conversations in public places.  I tend to be more of a listener in mixed company, patiently waiting for a subject I can latch onto.  Sometimes it works, other times I’ll only passively jump in.  [There’s also the fact that I sometimes have trouble filtering noise when there’s multiple loud conversations going on.  It’s not that I’m hard of hearing, it’s that I hear every local conversation and noise at the same level, and need to do the classic hand-to-ear gesture and point it in your direction.  But that’s another blog entry altogether.]

Networking at conventions as a writer can be a daunting task, especially when you’re just starting out.  I certainly hate to come off as pushy or annoying.  And I’m certainly not a born salesman, so I feel like an idiot going up to complete strangers and foisting my books upon them.  I mean, sure, I can do the elevator pitch if I have to, and I don’t mind talking about writing at all, but that’s not how I am 24/7.  I’d rather talk about music, or the latest book I read or movie I watched, or any other mundane subject like we’re friends that met up at the bar.

On the other hand, there’s one thing I’ve learned over the years:  the convention is also full of pros who’ve been in the field quite a long time who feel the exact same way.  Many are already self-conscious and nervous in this kind of public situation.  We’d all rather just wave a quick hello and go back to hiding in our offices so we can write our novels!

In the end, the best way for all of us to break that feeling of mortification is to just jump in and go for it.  It takes practice, but you’ll get it after a while.  It took me a few cons before I finally steeled myself to talk to the pros.  Some of them are even my online friends now!  And as I’ve said, the best way for me to do so is to treat the connection like we were friends at a typical gathering.  I understand that the social link might not actually reach that far, but it helps for me to think of the conversations that way so I don’t feel as nervous.

[Mind you, I also understand there are those with certain anxieties that make this sort thing hard to achieve.  To that, I say: I gladly welcome you into the conversation, and I will try to understand what’s needed for you to feel comfortable while we hang out.]

For years I twitched at the word ‘networking’ because for me it drags up images of businessmen gathering at a fancy overpriced bar in the city center where they all talk about things that I have absolutely no interest in.  After years of social media and the occasional convention, however, I’ve learned that it doesn’t have to be that.  It can be the simple act of meeting a writer and getting to know them, they introduce you to their writer friends, and so on, until you find yourself knowing a surprisingly wide assortment of people, either as friends, associates, or acquaintances.  Social media has definitely helped this become easier for many, including myself.