Wintertime

Back in the early 00s, I made it a point to head down to my basement writing nook to get my words done, whatever the weather. I would do this even in the dead of winter, bundled up in layers and a small space heater pointed directly under the desk at my feet. Nothing could stop me from getting my daily thousand words done!

Okay, maybe there were a few days when it was just too cold to stay down there. Those were the days when I’d use the family computer upstairs tucked away in the kitchen pantry. It was a bit uncomfortable as the only chair there was a stool and I slouch terribly when I sit, and I wasn’t always as productive, but at least I was warmer.

Nowadays I’m here in Spare Oom, and it’s one of the coolest rooms in the house at any time of year. The one window faces north so it never gets direct sun, and if there’s any breeze coming off the bay, it hits me first. This is fine during the summer, but in the winter my fingers can get a bit numb. Right now it’s 49 F, I’ve got the floor radiator on, and I’m wearing my house sneakers and the sweater A knitted for me. I’m about to head into the kitchen to make a other pot of coffee in hopes that it’ll help me warm up.

Sure, I’m lucky, considering we don’t get snow, nor does it drop below 40 degrees. No unplowed roads and crappy visibility. (Imagine if it did snow here…this city would be the king of cars-sliding-sideways-down-hilly-streets-and-crashing-into-each-other videos.) I definitely don’t miss any of that at all. We just get a biting chill that we feel in our bones because of the winds coming straight from the Pacific Ocean. One unexpected plus to wearing a pandemic mask outside is that it doubles as a muffler during days like this!

Still, it’s nice to be in a warm room, bashing away at the PC as I try to make those daily words.

Back to life, back to reality

Okay, I’ve goofed off enough. Vacation’s over. Time to get back to work. Well, it wasn’t exactly goofing off, but the point remains that I have things I need to do! Revision! New words! New novels! Blog posts! Artwork! Music practice! Errands! Plant watering! Etc!

Fine, maybe not all of them at once. One at a time, one after the other, is just fine. Put on some music, open up those documents, and close those social media browser tabs. Let’s get crackin’.

Plus, there’s only three weeks left of this crazy year, and I should probably think about my year-end playlists, retrospectives and 2021 plans. This past year may have been intensely weird, stressful and occasionally frightening, but it’s also been eye-opening, revealing and uplifting as well. Never a dull moment, at least.

In the next couple of weeks, I’ll be posting a few of those things: my favorite songs and albums of the year, my end of year mixtape, future plans. Working on where I am and where I’m going. In the new year, I’ll be working on getting Diwa & Kaffi out into the world one way or another. I’ll be working on new projects and finishing old ones. Getting better at my other creative outlets. Starting a new career. And maybe even changing up my lifestyle a bit.

Yeah, I know, time is relative and why wait until New Year’s Day to start a new life when I could just start it now? But one thing I’ve learned this year is that assigning dates and schedules to the things in my life actually serve to help me, not hinder me. It puts my life and my thoughts and emotions in order, and it keeps a clear path ahead. Works fine for me.

Besides, I like a bit of denouement at the end of the year, where the past gets a bit of well-paced closure once and for all.

End of year vacation

As A had scheduled a year-end week’s vacation this week, we’ve been spending the time walking all over the place while the weather is still nice. (It’s raining today, so our walk consisted of a quick jaunt to the local post office to mail out one last Christmas package and then a short circuit around a few neighborhood blocks.)

Wednesday’s was a wonderful, if windy, jaunt of almost five miles from the Presidio marching grounds to Crissy Field and up towards the Golden Gate Bridge. There we saw All The Doggos, many birds, and even a few surfers! I’m quite happy with how the above picture came out. We live in a ridiculously photogenic city. I managed to get quite a few lovely pictures from various places this week!

So. Did I actually get any writing done? Or revision, or art for that matter? Well, I did pick up my guitar to noodle around on it for a few moments here and there, but other than that, I really didn’t get much done at all. And I’m okay with that. I thought it would be fun to just spend the week doing some last minute shopping, watching multiple Jane Austen films, and getting our exercise in. Writing this entry is the most I’ve worked on this week. Which means that starting Monday, she’ll be back at work and I’ll be back to my writing projects, year-end lists and all that fun stuff.

See you next week!

Slow Going

Source: Makoto Shinkai

Some days it feels like I’m going in the right direction…but still I’m waiting for the train to actually leave the station. It’s not really a sense of impatience, more like a deliberate slow start to get up to speed. I know I’ll get there eventually, I just want to do it right and with minimal failure or distraction.

I’m pretty sure that part of this comes in response to how I lived for most of the 90s: no idea where I was going, jumping on any bandwagon that sounded cool, throwing everything at the wall to see if it sticks. I made a lot of mistakes. Some easily fixable, but a lot of remorse and embarrassment as well. I knew I was doing it wrong but had no other way, no other frame of reference to learn from. By the end of the decade I’d learned some, but there was still a long way to go.

Here at the end of 2020, I’m starting off what I’d like to think is a new wave of writing. The way I look at my own works has changed considerably; there’s a bit more clarity and a lot more patience and control. I’m deliberately not running headlong into these new projects without a plan or even a solid plot. If this means I take a day not writing, so be it. I know that I’m not avoiding the project, I’m merely not clearcutting my way into a destructive mess. I can pick it up in the next day or so. Five hundred words, even two hundred, is better than trying to force a thousand when they’re not there in the first place.

Lately I’ve been feeling as though I’m at a crucial point in my creative and personal lives; that point where the next steps are going to be a whole new world. Am I afraid of that? Maybe so. I kinda sorta know what I’m doing? I think? But that’s okay; the more important thing here is that I trust myself. I trust myself to move forward, knowing what I’m doing and where I’m going. That helps me overcome those fears. And soon those fears will lessen and not be so overwhelming.

It’s slow going, but it’s going.

Exercising

Source: Nichijou

Thanksgiving is over, the tryptophan/carb coma has worn off, and we have finally finished up all the turkey in the house. It’s also getting colder, which means that, since I am an Old, they are starting to ache. Which means it’s time for me to start moving again. We made sure to get some good neighborhood walking in over the extended weekend, so I’m not worried about being a lazy butt…it’s more that I don’t want to fall into the classic trap of ‘there, I walked a mile, happy now? *becomes a slug for the next three weeks*’ we all fall into around this time of year. I’ve been putting off the daily exercises and stretches I’d been doing in the past (sometimes for legit reasons, but mostly because of laziness, alas), so starting today I want to get back into that again. I’ve never been one for spending hours dedicated to high-level pro-athlete weights and exercises, but I do really miss hitting the gym and getting a good thirty minutes on the treadmill as I listen to tunage and think about new story ideas. Since the YMCA is currently closed, we’re making do by walking the streets of our neighborhood. [Our current fun thing to do is count how many doggos we meet on our walk. Current record is 35!] I need to get back into the habit of taking a few minutes during the day to do a few stretches, crunches and extensions, however.

This also means it’s time for me to get back on my writing schedule. Last week was kind of a washout due to multiple errands and shopping to take care of, but I kind of expected that to happen. I don’t feel too guilty about that. The whiteboard schedule is staring me in the face as I type this, expecting me to make good on my daily assignments. These are writing exercises and projects that I’ve broken down into easily manageable segments (see my recent posts about focusing smaller), so it’s not as if they’ll take up a considerable amount of time out of my day.

Interestingly, I’ve kept my break schedule that I used to have at the Former Day Job, and that seems to give all of this some structure. My morning break was at 9:30am, and currently I’ll still use that time to back away from the PC and write in my personal journal. Noontime is still for lunch so A and I can chat, catch up on our Twitter feeds, and do whatever non-work things that need doing. I use my 2:30pm break for stretches, going downstairs to get the mail, or zipping up the street for any quick errands at the corner shop. And the both of us will clock out at 4pm to take our afternoon walk around the neighborhood. All that time in between, in roughly two hour blocks, is perfect for me to hit things like these posts, daily words, and so on.

I’ll admit that getting myself motivated is sometimes an issue — I mean, who hasn’t been distracted to some level during these political and pandemic seasons? — but once I get myself started, I can usually keep the momentum going until the end of the day. I still get that thrill of finishing a writing assignment like finishing off a chapter or a scene, leaving me one step closer to my goals.

As long as I keep moving!

On keeping the rest of the office clean

I know it sounds silly, but I’ve been waiting for today for at least a month now. Why is that? Well, it’s because I was finally able to get an appointment to donate six rather heavy boxes of books that have been piled up here in Spare Oom since before the pandemic started.

Now, normally I wouldn’t worry about that sort of thing, as in the past I’d have just found time on the weekend to drive the donations over to the drop-off site in Fort Mason. However, the pandemic put the kibosh on that — not only did they stop donations there, they closed down the shop/café. I now have to drive over to Potrero Hill — doable, in a kind of haphazard way that takes a bit of time — to the main donation center. And in order to do that, I’d had to sign up for an appointment…and they were full up at least a month or so ahead when I tried in early October.

Still, I’m happy that I’m able to drop these things off and open up some floor space again. I mean, they weren’t taking up a large amount of space, just the area in front of the closet doors and next to the loveseat. And I’m sure that within the next six months, we’ll have yet another treasure trove of books to donate.

It took ages for me to get rid of the Goodwill donation pile (same reason, all the donation spots were closed due to the pandemic) but thankfully I took care of that last week. The only thing there right now is some boxes and shopping bags that I’m holding onto temporarily for holiday mailing purposes. It’s no longer completely blocking the bottom of one of the book shelves.

Well, you know me…I like keeping things relatively tidy. Not spotless, mind you, just clean enough that I know where everything is, and I don’t have to waste time excavating to find it. (Yes, I am a KonMari fan.) I think part of this comes from having far too much stuff during my Belfry days and getting withering glances from family when I had to pull twelve things out to get at something behind it. And it’s also from my somewhat obsessive way of keeping my music library in order.

This system works for the most part…every other month or so I’ll adjust the systems as need be, or if I feel the urge to shake things up a bit, but right now I’m good with how Spare Oom works. Maximum floor space, ease of accessibility, and a clear seat for relaxing. Keeps a writer happy!

More on focusing smaller

Yet another gif courtesy of Makoto Shinkai

It’s been a week since my previous post about focusing smaller when it comes to writing, and so far this process seems to be working well for me. Every time I started overthinking the idea I’d been working on that particular day, I stopped myself with the reminder: patience, you’ll get there. The biggest problem I’d been having with Theadia and MU4 over the last few months wasn’t that I was writing crap, it was that I was too eager to get to the goal. And the worst thing I can do is write impatiently.

Some people can write novels out of order. I’ve done it myself a few times…for instance, some of the scenes from Meet the Lidwells were written well in advance as practice sessions at 750Words. And that’s just fine! I’ve been doing precisely that with Theadia lately, just to get the words out and get my brain in the proper mindset for that story. But in the bigger picture, I tend and prefer to write chronologically. I’m a big fan of keeping the Big Story Arc clear in my head so I’m better able to pull all the smaller arcs and characters in the right directions. Thing is, sometimes I let the Big Story Arc thoughts take over, and that’s not good for my writing process.

So what I’ve been doing all this week is focusing on one scene in each project. (As it happens, it’s the opening scene in MU4 and a mid-book scene in Theadia. Perfect example of my occasionally writing out of order.) The main purpose for these exercises was not to convince myself that I was FINALLY working on a new project… it was just to get the creative juices flowing, that’s all.

What’s helping me refocus? Music, of course! Just like the trilogy mixtapes, I’ve been throwing together some interesting mixes for both of the new projects. Theadia‘s mixes have been especially interesting as I’m going out of my way to pick songs I wouldn’t normally choose for this kind of thing. MU4‘s mixes have been similar to the early Eden Cycle mixes of ’97-’98, collecting songs from different genres that evoke a particular mood. I suppose in a way I’m revisiting my old Miami Vice soundtrack style of writing. Hey, whatever works, right?

Another way I’ve been training myself to achieve this new focus is actually a fun project that takes no more than maybe a half hour a day but it’s like a treat for me: storyboarding Diwa & Kaffi! I do one page of six squares a day, just rough visualization sketches in pencil. It’s doing two things for me: One, it’s super fun and something I’ve always wanted to do with my novels, and Two, the daily exercise is helping me get better.

And that, really, is the whole point of this exercise in narrowing focus: getting better.

On keeping the PC clean

At the moment I’m writing this, I have AVG Tune-Up going through one of my external hard drives — the one that contains my entire mp3 library, I should add — to make sure everything is running well, as it’s been slipping into sleep mode for no reason lately, usually when I’m in the middle of using it. Hopefully this scan should set things to rights. [Not to worry…said library is backed up on another external that’s running just fine, and is completely up to date….I think.] [Yes, I am a little nervous about this.]

Back in my Belfry days I was terrible at keeping my PC clean. It was partly because we were on dial-up so I was rarely online except late at night on the weekends. But due to the fact that I’d always had hand-me-down lower end models, putting something like McAfee took up way too much room and processor power. I’d maybe run a defrag and virus scan once a month or so. Suffice it to say, every now and again the PC would catch a virus and I’d have to waste precious writing time detoxifying it. Thankfully that didn’t happen too often…and I think the last time it really crapped out to that degree was just before I bought a brand new Dell back in 2003.

The PC I have now — a Lenovo ideacentre 720 — works pretty well considering, and I think I’ve had it for just over a year now with no major issues. A few weird ones, such as the aforementioned external drive sleepiness, a twitchy ethernet connection (a new cable seems to have fixed that), an older external becoming unreadable due to age and power loss (I’ll fix that eventually) and some annoying processor-hogging software (virus catchers, ironically), but other than that, it’s worked just fine. Knock wood.

I’ve learned a few lessons over the years though, that have kept me sane whenever something comes up:

–Cloud storage is a trusted friend. I’m not a big fan of using cloud software as a shareable work platform due to possible connection issues, but for safe storage and access from multiple points, Dropbox has done me well. I keep my writing, pictures and other important files there, and often access them using my phone or my tablet. It’s comforting to know the stuff is there, safely tucked away and easily accessible if my PC decides to die a horrible death.

–External hard drives are great, and they certainly free up a lot of space on the PC, but you’ve got to be a bit choosy about which ones to use. They’ve certainly gotten a lot better, faster and more reliable over the years, but one still needs to ensure that they don’t get infected or burn out. And I have multiple ones — one for the music library, one for the video library, and one for the backup of both. And I’m thinking of reorganizing them in the new year if I get a new 8TB external.

–I’m also choosy about the virus and cleaning software — I want a trusted brand, but I also do NOT want a resource hog, due to past experience. AVG has done me well over the years using Tune Up, Internet Security and VPN, and it’s reliable and very low on the resource levels. CCleaner is great and super easy to use freeware to get rid of pesky internet detritus, setting up which programs should be sleeping when not in use, uninstalling things, and fixing and cleaning registry keys. MalwareBytes is a necessary evil as it does a fantastic job of cleaning out said malware, but it tends to be somewhat intrusive if kept running. I have most of these in background mode and do a full scan every other week or so just I haven’t missed anything.

–And as always, don’t be a dumbass and click on weird links and spam emails. And those are always easy to find and evict from the premises.

Now, keeping my keyboard clean, on the other hand…that I need to be better at. The “n” key is sticking (why that particular one, I’m not sure) and it attracts dust like you wouldn’t believe.

On Focusing Smaller

Source: Paprika (Satoshi Kon)

I’ve often said that I tend to be a pantser rather than an outliner, but that isn’t entirely true. I’ve done complete outlines before. For example, the outline for Meet the Lidwells! was more or less complete because it was focused on the band’s discography.

On the other hand, I have a few complete outlines for books that I’ve backburnered or trunked. For years I thought the reason for the story’s failure was because I was too hyper-focused on it and gave myself far too many rules and limitations. I’d lose interest because I was trying too hard to make this rigid plan work, even when I constantly told myself it was never set in stone.

A few days ago I was reading someone’s Twitter feed and they happened to mention how, with some creatives with ADHD, they sometimes lose interest in a big project once their brain has solved the problem. That is, they’ve run the whole idea through their head and completed the plot before any work has even been done, leaving the person unable to maintain interest in the creative part of the work.

Suddenly it made sense to me: why do I still feel the pull of some of these backburnered and trunked projects but can never get far with them? Why am I having issues getting anywhere with Theadia and the fourth Mendaihu Universe novel? For years I thought it was because it just wasn’t resonating with me. But why wasn’t it? Disinterest and personal issues don’t seem to be the complete answer, because I’ve felt that with far too many of my completed projects at one point or another.

I had to put it in perspective. Again, with the Bridgetown Trilogy: why did I have almost no problems with that (not including the end of Book 3)? Easy: it was because the bulk of those books — and In My Blue World, Diwa & Kaffi and Lidwells — were written with me only focusing ahead maybe one or two scenes at most. I wrote most of that by sketching out a few ideas during the day job and expanding on those when I got home. [I’ve talked about this process plenty of times, of course.]

There was a reason I kept wanting to get back to that particular process, and for years I misunderstood that yearning as reminiscence and a longing for how enjoyable that process was.

But once I saw those tweets the other day, it occurred to me that maybe there’s more to it than that. Maybe my brain really is telling me that this particular process worked for me, and worked well at that, and maybe it’s time to return to it. I was looking at it wrong; I needed to understand this longing in a clinical sense. I can have a long-term goal with my writing — knowing the direction and final destination of the story — but I have to maintain a much sharper and smaller focus on the scenes in front of me at almost all times.

The reason for that is because when I work out all the moving parts of the entire story and plan it all out ahead of time, I lose interest in it. I’ve already done the brain work and now I’m bored with it. The fact that I keep thinking about these projects, especially when I read older blog posts, notes and outtakes, is because it’s not the story that bores me, but my brain reacting to the idea of the work it involves.

This, by the way, is most likely why my academic years were so damn scattershot.

SO. What this means is that I’ve started adjusting accordingly. My daily words are now focusing on writing short outtakes again. My plans for Theadia, MU4 and other projects are to work on them a little at a time, chapter by chapter, scene by scene. Referring to those outlines only as a road map, and only when needed.

I’m very curious to see where this will take me.