Despite the distractions

naruto determined
I know just how you feel, Naruto.

The Day Job has been kicking my ass these last few weeks.  The fallout from a new system roll-out that suffered a few growing pains, a ridiculously large workload, and everything in between.  On the one hand, it all makes the day go by ridiculously quickly, but on the other hand, it leaves me hardly any breathing room.  Last week’s vacation was a short respite from that, but alas, I’m still getting my butt handed to me at the end of the day.

Over the last few days I’ve been tempted to lighten the load: stop drawing my Inktober entries, take a hiatus from the blogs and the daily 750 Words, and focus only on finishing Meet the Lidwells.  Or maybe even take a break from that as well.

And then it occurred to me:  That’s how they win.

The last thing I ever want to do is give up my creativity for frustrating reasons.  Yes, I know, this is my Day Job, the one that brings in the money.  But really — do I want to put my lifelong career goals aside because of it?  Hell to the fucking NO.  It aggravates the hell out of me when that happens.

Even if it’s something insignificant like the blogs or the daily words or the Inktober drawings?  Yes, even those.  It’s part of who I am and what I want to do with my life.  They’re the practice that makes me better at what I do, and I can’t give that up.  I won’t give that up.

I was greatly tempted to put up a ‘fly-by’ post a few times over the last few days and say ‘I’ll be back when things quiet down’, but the more I thought about it, the more it made me angry.  I did not want to do that.  It felt like I’d be slacking off, or worse, not taking my writing career seriously.

Don’t get me wrong.  Sometimes it’s hard as hell to balance my Day Job life with my writing life.  I get that.  A hell of a lot of creative people have to contend with that.  We all take time off to recharge, or to regain sanity, or finish a Day Job project, or whatever.  I’ve done it myself plenty of times.  [Hell, I did nothing during my vacation last week except take pictures and do the Inktober entries.]  But I don’t really think I’ve hit that point just yet.

I don’t want to call it.  Not just yet.

Let’s Try That Again, Shall We?

high fidelity bruce

Best Laid Plans were once again thwarted, and I’m pretty sure it was because they weren’t Best Laid after all.  I seem to have forgotten to take into account vacation days off, busy Day Job days, and other events.  But that’s okay!  I’m back, we have nothing of import on the schedule for the next few weeks — in fact, I have today off and other than going around the corner to go see Napping Princess at the 4-Star, I have the entire day to get caught up on things.  Sounds good to me!

[Update: My movie plan was not so much thwarted but delayed today.  As you may have heard, there are currently some nasty wildfires burning north of us, and late last night much smoke drifted our way.  This caused me to barely get any sleep, so I wasn’t really up to seeing a film today.  Perhaps next weekend if it’s still there!]

One good thing that’s come out of this sort of thing is that I no longer feel like a failure.  Sure, the frustration of going past deadline and not hitting my goals as quickly as I’d like is still there, but Everything Is Not Ruined Forever.  Just gotta get up, brush myself off, and start again.

I’m nearing the end of the first draft of Meet the Lidwells and I hope to get it done by the end of this month, at which time I’ll start revisions.  I’m not sure how long that’ll be, but hopefully I can give it a quick turnaround (there won’t be nearly as much triage as I had with the trilogy) and get it out by the end of the year.  Here’s to hoping!

Onward and upward.  Only way to go!

Old habits die hard, but…

python anfscd

…new habits are even harder to keep, especially when you’re trying to reorganize your life.  It’s terribly easy to slip back into the old ones when you’re trying your damnedest to get rid of them because they don’t work for you anymore.

Still, I can’t expect them to change overnight.

I’ve been doing my best to reorganize my life so I’m not wasting so much time passively surfing the internets.  There are a few goals here, of course: I can still get easily caught up in the latest imbroglio on social media, fall down the rabbit hole of You Tube (I wasted a good ten minutes right now looking for other Monty Python gifs and then finding the Spectrum skit, one of my favorites), or staring at the screen trying to think of what the hell I’m going to blog about for tomorrow’s entry.

On the other hand, I have great days when I fall into a groove and I get all sorts of things done.  I’ll close down the browsers and only have my mp3 software running (or a single browser playing a radio station or one of the Sirius XM channels).

So what to do about it?

I’ve tried all kinds of things.  Closing down the browsers.  Knowing the difference between enjoying an unencumbered weekend afternoon and just wasting time.  Obsessive cleaning and reorganizing.  Facing down the Don’t Wannas by doing the damn thing regardless.  Putting my current writing project front and center on my screen (or in this case, on my desk) so I can’t avoid it.  Sometimes it works, sometimes it doesn’t.  Regardless, it’s a matter of actively working on changing those habits.

It’s a slow evolution, but it’s getting there.

my neighbor seki
SEKI YOU’RE NOT HELPING

Soldiering On

i11m0kw
No idea what anime this is from, but I love the cocked hat.

So yeah!  I spent most of Friday, one of the most important days of my writing career, stuffed up, coughing, and feeling like crap.  Yay winter illness!

Well, I wasn’t completely flat out, thankfully.  I managed to get some work done on the Lidwells outline and spamtweet the news of my book release a few times.  I did get some more done this weekend as well, and I did head to the symphony today with A. despite feeling a bit loopy.  I’m not as stuffed up as I usually get with this sort of illness; it’s mostly been a scratchy throat and a congested head.  Wouldn’t surprise me if the sinus floodgates opened up in the next few days, though.  Bleh.

Still…the important thing is that I did some writing work.  One step closer to my goal of getting another novel out in a decent amount of time.

You should take care of yourself first, you say.  Don’t overdo it.  Take a day off now and again.

My mom used to say that all the time, back when I was writing down in the Belfry in the dead of winter, congested and irritable but committed to the cause.  Yeah, some days it was cold enough down there that I worked on the family computer upstairs, but I was stubborn…I wanted to get these books done!

There were some days when I probably should have heeded my mom’s advice and taken the day off to read my comic books or goof off on the PC for a few hours.  On the not-so-bad days I’d get maybe a few hundred words done rather than the thousand I normally aimed for.  On the yeah-I-shouldn’t-be-doing-this days I’d hit more like a hundred and call it done after an hour.  There’s also the fact that I was writing after a full day of physical labor at the Day Job (which could be ten hours, six days a week, during Q4).

Nowadays, I don’t get sick all that often, since the climate out here in San Francisco is a bit warmer and not as pollinated.   I’m not running myself ragged with a physical job anymore, nor am I supporting a smoking habit.  It’s rare that I’ll feel ill like this…maybe once or twice every two or three years at most.   And I rarely overexert myself to the point where I need to sacrifice an evening of writing.

Point being…if I can soldier on and continue to write, even if it’s light work, I’ll do it if I can.  But if I’m going to feel like crap tomorrow, then yeah…I’ll know well enough to let it go and nap it off instead.

*kaff kaff*

On Writing: Rejection Isn’t Always a Bad Thing

For those of you that have been following along for the last few years (or decade or so) with my grand scheme of getting the Bridgetown Trilogy published, today was an interesting day.

Angry Robot Books has had some kind of “Open Door” special event over the past few years in which they would accept unsolicited submissions* until a set date. As it so happened, I had just finished up a major revision of A Division of Souls, and thought this would be a perfect opportunity. I speedily worked through the rest of the revision and sent it in with about two weeks left to go before the December 31 deadline. You may have heard they had a bit of a business shake-up a few months ago**, which caused a significant delay in the reading and accepting process. I’m fine with that, especially as they took the time to follow up with an email informing us they would still read all the submissions.

This morning, I received an email stating that they have decided to pass on the novel.

Now, I’m well aware that this would most likely be the case, for a few reasons: a) they had over a thousand entries this time out (MUCH higher than previous Open Doors), b) digging through a high number of entries to find that one shining piece of gold is normal in the publishing biz, and c) I’ll readily admit that it could still use work. More on that in a few. The long and short of it is, this is not my first rejection, and will most likely not be my last. This is just part of the game.

Am I bummed? Of course, but not overly so. You might say I’m actually a bit relieved, as this gives me the freedom to tidy it up a bit more and shop it elsewhere now.*** Given that I’ve been working on this project off and on for way too long (twenty, seventeen, fourteen, or seven years, depending on the version you ask about and whether or not you count interim years of stasis), I’ve also been doing a lot of thinking about how I would want to see this book out in the wild. Between those years in the early 00’s where I sent it out to various agents and publishers, and now, where self-publishing has become a viable, more professional and accessible option, my options have actually expanded.

I’m actually kind of happy that Angry Robot took the time not only to read the first four chapters of A Division of Souls, but upon rejection went so far to state that they felt “the dialogue could use work, as it reads as too artificial, not natural enough” as part of the reason.

Honestly? That’s the best thing a publisher has ever said to me in all my years of being a writer.

In all the rejection letters I’ve ever received from both publishers and agents, I’ve only received the variation of the “not for us” form letter. Which is all well and good–I’m okay with those too, because I’m pretty sure they at least took a cursory look at it. But this is the first time I’ve actually received something that says “hey, it’s not for us…but here’s what you might want to fix/focus on in the future.”

To me, that means two things: they took my submission seriously, and that they took the time to let me know what didn’t work, even if it was one out of many possible issues that could be wrong with it. And that makes all the difference.

So what are my future plans for the Bridgetown Trilogy? Am I going to make good with the fake cover I made on the previous post and go self-pub? Am I going to be the stubborn bastard that I am, revise AGAIN and find a new home for it? It’s up in the air, really. I’m keeping my options open. Yet another recent reread has shown that some of the dialogue and prose is indeed a bit stiff, and oddly about halfway through, the default reaction for many characters seem to be that of sighing in frustration. Eesh!

One thing’s for sure, I’m not going to ragequit this writing life. I love it too damn much to give up now.

Learn from mistakes. Listen and process the critiques. And make the best damn piece of art you can.


* – For those unaware, ‘unsolicited submissions’ means that the publisher would accept manuscripts cold, rather than through agents or an agreed-upon offer. I highly suggest studying up on the submission guidelines of various publishers and agents to understand what’s needed–some want specific things and/or in specific formats, others will take printed copies, etc. Following their guidelines makes them happy and makes you look like a pro.

** – Short version: They closed down their YA and Mystery imprints earlier this year, and changed ownership last month. Not holding this against them, and I hope for the best, as they have quite a number of great titles out there that are definitely worth checking out.

*** – I would love to go into detail here about multiple submissions, but I’ll save it for a future entry. Suffice it to say, I purposely waited on this one to force myself to start working on other projects on the interim, which has worked out well so far.

On Writing: Determination and Distraction

Some of you may have seen my Twitter pic or my LiveJournal post last night regarding “the Return of the Whiteboard Writing Schedule.”  A few years back I bought one of those erasable whiteboards that has a calendar grid on it and stuck it on the wall, eye-level, in front of my desk.  I used to have one of these in the Belfry years ago as well, which I used as a way to remind me of due dates and deadlines.  It worked out pretty well then, and figured it would be good to have again.

When I first put it up, I came up with the idea of giving myself a strict writing schedule.  Two reasons for this: my writing time is not as concrete as it used to be, and I find that I’m more productive when I give myself a specific schedule in which to do things.  This was proven during the Belfry years when I consistently hit a high word count working in the early evenings every day.  I also had one project going at the time–the Bridgetown Trilogy–so as long as I stayed true to it, I was fine.

I’ve used this schedule since around 2011.  I’ve changed it up a few times, moved things around, dropped a few projects, but for the most part it’s worked.  I chose to drop it for a time earlier this year, but for a good reason: I was doing a major revision of the Trilogy and wanted to devote all my writing time solely to that.  Now that that’s done and that I’ve anchored myself to a new writing project, it’s time to return.  I reused the January 2013 schedule I’d come up with that had served me well; the new project takes up the weekday, with Walk in Silence taking up the weekends.  I’ve also peppered in some offline/personal projects such as poetry, art, and music practice.  I’m also returning to my morning 750 Words, which I’ll sneak in during my work hours alongside my daily journaling. 

It’s a lot, but I like having a lot to work on.  It keeps the creative blood flowing.  It also makes me a better writer in the process.  Furthermore, they’re not strict deadlines but guidelines.  This isn’t homework, something I must do, but something to aim for on a weekly basis.

 

So…what’s this about distraction, then?

Well, that would be the forays over to YouTube, the refreshing of the Twitter feed, my longterm project of music cataloging, among other things.  Mostly done during the work day, when things are slow.  All well and good in moderation.  I can allow myself to let the time pass.  Hell, my old timewaster at work when I didn’t have internet access was doing word search games.  It’s a way to relax and keep oneself occupied.

On the other hand, when there’s nothing better to do and no immediate directive involved, it’s easy to fall into the trap of distraction.  Popping onto a website to see the latest posts, read the latest news, keep up-to-the-minute tabs on friends and acquaintances.  We still get fascinated by immediate gratification, and that’s what the internet is all about.  It’s what movies, radio, and TV were all about.  Which means that it’s up to our own selves to know when to turn it off, because no one else will do it for us.

It took me awhile to learn that.  I’ll fully admit that I get easily distracted.  Playing around with my mp3 collection, falling down the Wikipedia or YouTube rabbit holes, playing FreeCell or Solitaire, you know how it is.  I’d stop myself after twenty minutes or so, basically when my conscience would gently prod me and say “Dude, look at the time.  You’re wasting most of it right now.  You’d better get cracking if you want to get anything done tonight.”  And as timing would have it, my wife would walk in about five minutes before that moment and mock me for dicking around so much.  I’d eventually get things done, but later than usual.

This is another reason for the return of the Whiteboard Writing Schedule:  so I’m too busy doing things I enjoy, such as writing, drawing, or playing my guitar, to be distracted by timewasting things such as cat memes and silly gifs.

So.  How to avoid distraction?  Any specific steps?  Any tricks?

Not really.  Just the one step: Be aware that you’re distracting yourself, and do something about it.  Especially when you notice it and not doing anything about it.  You want to be a writer, yes?  Fine.  You want to get some writing done tonight?  Fine–then stop not writing.  You’re well aware of the distractions–it’s up to you to be procative and cut down on them.  Replace them with distractions you enjoy–reading, painting, hiking, what have you.  They may not exactly make you more productive or prolific, but they’re an outlet that inspires you.  And in the process, they may even change your mood so you’re even more creative once you start writing.