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.

Working on it

The Theadia project is turning out to be a tougher nut to crack than I’d expected, but at least I’ve learned from experience now that I shouldn’t let that bother me too much. I’ve been spending some of my Daily Words playing around with the plot and searching for the right story that needs telling. It’s very similar to the issues I had with Diwa & Kaffi.

So instead of forcing the story into shape against its will, I’m going the alternate, less stressful route: letting it come to me naturally. And given that this is probably the third or fourth time in a row where I’ve encountered this, perhaps this has become my current style of writing and creating. It takes longer, but there are far fewer dead ends to contend with.

In the meantime, I’m letting myself play around with a few other projects, one of which has been on the Spare Oom back burner for ages, just to keep the writing muscles in shape. I’m not taking them entirely seriously — well, I am, but I haven’t assigned any deadlines or hard stops as of yet.

As long as I’m moving forward, yeah?

On Visualization

Storyboarding the first chapter of ‘Diwa & Kaffi’

I’ve said numerous times in the past that I’m a visual writer — that is, I tend to see my stories visually and try to write what I’m seeing in my head. Sometimes it works, sometimes it needs a bit of post-writing revision, but either way I try to tell the story in the best way possible.

Meanwhile, as a fun not-entirely-serious project to get back into the habit of drawing again (and maybe, slowly, getting better at it), I’ve decided to storyboard Diwa & Kaffi, which is one of my more visually-created stories. I wrote it fully seeing it as a Studio Ghibli film or a manga tankobon, so it certainly lends itself to that particular format.

The above page is one from page 6-7, just after Diwa and Kaffi have nearly gotten themselves in trouble all while being monitored by their fathers. Below is the text version:

“You’re right,” Samuel said, leaning back against the railing. “That game of theirs is a bit haphazard. It’s a simple game of catch, but it only tests their timing.”
“There was no coordination between them whatsoever,” the tintrite huffed.
“Agreed,” he said. “but it doesn’t have to be all about coordination, Gray. You watched Diwa navigate the garden almost flawlessly—”
“Almost,” Graymar snorted, flashing a quick fang.
“It’s about knowing the area,” he continued. “I know for a fact I’d have gone the longer way around the garden and playground and missed the catch entirely.”
“You were never good at catch games, Samuel.”
Samuel didn’t miss a beat. “You never wanted to play them! Seriously, though…I see potential. They were confident in their surroundings. They’ve been all over this estate for years, they know it backwards and forwards. I’ve seen them both taking a lot of initiative, helping the tenants, and chipping in during our quarterly festivals. They’re old enough to be our interns now. Diwa has been showing interest in the tenancy committee. He’s been active in the last few meetings. I’d be happy to show him the ropes. And he says Kaffi has an interest.”
Graymar lifted his snout quickly in response. “Kaffi hasn’t said anything about this to me.” Samuel had expected as much. Graymar’s relationship with his pahyoh – with anyone, come to think of it – sometimes required a lot of patience and understanding.
“He’s waiting for the right moment. Ask him, or at least let him know you’re aware of his wishes,” he said. “I’m sure he’ll be interested.”
“Hmmm.”

I’m having a LOT of fun with this diversion, so I’m going to continue with it as time and inclination allows! I’m learning while I’m going too, dusting off a lot of my long-ignored film production/theory knowledge while also letting myself enjoy the creative process. It’s helping me visualize the characters better — in my head I can see what Graymar and Kaffi look like as tintrite, but I haven’t quite managed to nail their exact image as closely as I’d like, for instance — and in the process open up a possible new direction with my creativity.

Will anything come of this? I might shop the storyboard version around, or I might turn it into a webcomic, or it may come to naught. But I’m keeping the options open for now!

Sometime to Return

I ran away I walked a fine line
Wasting time only to find
You were callin’ I think finally
To remind me I am fine

Whoof. It’s been HOW LONG since I posted here? At least a couple of months. What the hell have I been doing all this time? A bit of this, a bit of that. Going at my own pace for once. Figuring a lot of personal shit out. Cleaning out the attic and the cupboards and rewiring the circuits, so to speak. I haven’t been nearly as productive as I’d like, but I have to remind myself I’d taken this hiatus precisely to break myself out of that mindset.

And now I’m back. Hell, I’ve even built up my whiteboard schedule again! It was a much-needed vacation, but now I need to get back to work. I’ve only got the barest of plans (which to be honest is kind of par for the course for me anyway), but I have the drive and the goals again. And that’s enough for now. That’s all that’s needed.

I don’t know what I’ll be working on next, other than doing the non-creative parts of Getting a Novel Out Into the World for Diwa & Kaffi, but as soon as I know, you’ll most likely be hearing about it here. In the meantime, I’m returning to the blogosphere with both Welcome to Bridgetown and Walk in Silence — same schedules for both — and I’m really looking forward to it all.

Doing the best I can
With or without a plan, I’m taking what I can get
I haven’t seen nothing yet
If one day you wake up and find what you make up
Come and get me, come and take me there

Still Here

Source: BeaStars

It’s been what, nearly three months since I’ve posted here? I posted a fly-by over at Walk in Silence not that long ago, but other than that I’ve been keeping quiet. Continuing with the job search, keeping occupied with light projects and reading, and running errands. Staying safe.

I could say I’ve been busy planning my next project, or I could say I’ve been doing research, but I’ll be honest, I haven’t been been doing much of anything creative at all. That was kind of by design, however. I desperately needed the break.

It was probably long overdue, come to think of it. I’d been angry and exhausted for months. The successful writing processes and habits I’d set up years ago were no longer working, and the more I tried to push to make them work again, the more frustrated I became. It had ceased to be enjoyable. It was a combination of a lot of things: Day Job frustration, lack of time, lack of new ideas, lack of interest, and too much repetition.

Other than following through with the post-production of Diwa & Kaffi, I decided to stop everything temporarily. The daily words, new novel projects, the blogs, even the daily personal journal. It was time to deal with Real Life stuff: leaving the Day Job of fourteen years, searching for new employment, staying healthy and avoiding COVID-19, and flushing out some old personal demons that were still kicking around. One month off has turned into multiple months, but this decision remains a positive one. Most of the heavy stress and frustration I was feeling earlier this year is almost completely gone.

I’m returning to some of these creative habits and processes again, but I’m purposely not tying them down into daily/weekly habits. I’ve taken the focus away from completion and competition and refocused on the creativity itself, where it’s supposed to be.

So. Am I working on anything right now? As a matter of fact, I am! Over the last few weeks I’ve been doing yet another reread of the Bridgetown Trilogy, for the sole reason that I’m revisiting that world for Book 4 in the Mendaihu Universe! [There may also be a secondary reason, in which Our Intrepid Author decides that maybe the trilogy needs a new re-edit and may work on this as a long-game side project.] I’m also working on an idea to gather the flash fiction I’ve written for the College Campus/D&K universe into a self-published collection. The waystation idea I’d come up with at the beginning of the year is still gestating at this point, so I’ll most likely get to that one if and when I have the time and inclination.

Will I return to blogging? Yes! Although I’m not sure how and when. Before I left the Day Job, I’d found a workable process in which I used 750 Words to write up rough drafts for these blog entries, so I may utilize that or something similar to it when I decide to fully return. I’ve wanted to revamp both blogs for a while now, and I’d like to focus a bit on that first before anything else.

In the meantime, stay safe, stay healthy, and keep reading and writing!

Writing in the time of viruses

Everything is still groovy here in the northwest corner of San Francisco. A and I have a well-stocked fridge (thanks to multiple weeks’ worth of shopping instead of panic buying), the only thing bothering our health at the moment is allergies from the airborne pollen, and we know well enough to was our hands thoroughly and frequently.

While I’m still concerned about having to continue going into the office at this time (as Sunday evening I have not heard any updates from the Day Job), I’m not overly worried. I sit somewhat away from a lot of other people — purely by chance — so my social distancing has been working out reasonably well so far. If they finally call it and we end up working remotely, I am totes fine with that.

I’m still working on my writing, regardless. I’m doing an edit of the Diwa & Kaffi synopsis that should be done by the end of next week, and I’m hoping to squeeze in some new words or at least new ideas for the possible new story ideas I have milling about in my head. My writing schedule is continuing as normal.

I do, however, remember the occasional winter evenings back in my Belfry days when I felt annoyed and frustrated when I was too sick to be productive. This was the end result of trying to hit a deadline, continue my streak of writing a thousand words every day, having a smoking habit, downing multiple Mountain Dews daily, and working extended hours during fourth quarter at a shipping warehouse. Guaranteed by late December my immune system was shot, my sciatica kicked in, my head was spinning, and my sinuses were pounding. The most I could do is play a game or two of FreeCell and call it done.

I know better now. I try to be creative about my writing time (read: I take it where and when I can get it, including slow moments at work), not give myself deadlines I can’t possibly keep, and I’m a hell of a lot healthier. I’m okay if the only writing I can manage is a paragraph or two in my personal journal. I’m annoyed, but I’m not hung up about it. I write when I can write.

Being healthy is just a tad bit more important, especially right now.

And yes, I time my hand washing via running through the twenty-seven seconds of The Beatles’ “Her Majesty.”

New Year, New Plans

When I made my unceremonious return to the office for the Day Job, I gave myself a month. I’ve done this in the past; life throws me a curve ball that I can’t avoid no matter how hard I try. I’ll be angry and frustrated and be stuck in that feedback loop. But I’ll give myself a month to Just Get Over It.

Mind you, it’s not the same as giving up. I’m still angry about the situation and I’m still making alternate plans. But I’m not giving in. I am not making do. In fact, I’m making the best of a frustrating situation. To wit:

–I’d forgotten what it felt like to have a car commute. When was the last time I had to drive to my job? That would be the temp jobs back in 2005. (I had office jobs in 2006-2014 or so, but I could get to those via public transit.) This reminded me of a few things: how to head out early so I had a cushion of time before logging in; how to find alternate routes; how to utilize the drive time creatively. I spent most of December relearning a lot of that.

–I might be getting home anywhere between 5pm and 6pm (and believe you me, I hate the latter), but I can still work on the laptop while hanging out with A in the living room after dinner. And I still have the weekends to do things.

–I found ways to best use my time for creative endeavors, even on company time. I can write longhand (journal and poetry), my daily words (as of this moment, I can access 750 Words on my work laptop and this makes me so blissfully happy right now), and considering that I’m stuck in a cubicle without all the distractions of Spare Oom, I’m actually forced to not goof off.

–I have multiple mp3 players to keep me entertained when need be, and a lunch and two breaks if I feel the need to surf social media.

So what does this all mean? This means that I’ve realized that my situation is nowhere as dire as I was making it out to be. I spent that month getting that frustration and flailing out of my system, and spent the entirety of December thinking okay, how can I make the best out of all this?

This means that I’m going to continue with the writing schedule that worked so well for me over the last few years. Walk in Silence will be posting Tuesdays and Thursdays again, and Welcome to Bridgetown will be posting Mondays and Fridays again. I’ll be doing my daily words Monday through Friday.

Do I have any specific projects I’ll be working on? I’ve a few, but I’m holding them close right now. I’ll reveal them when the time is right. I can say that I’ll be submitting Diwa & Kaffi to publishers in the next few weeks, however, and I’m really looking forward to that particular project. It’s been too long and I think it’s time. I’m ready for it.

It’s 2020, and I know what I need to do.

Where I’ve Been and What I’ve Been Up To…

excuse me pardon me comin’ through

As I’ve mentioned earlier, I’ve been doing a lot of juggling of personal events and situations as of late. I still can’t go into too much detail, but right now I’m hoping that I’m coming close to the end of it all. And with that, I’m hoping I’ll be able to get back into my writing and blogging!

One major change – one that wasn’t my own decision and I’ll be honest, one that I’m not entirely happy with – is that as of yesterday, I am no longer working from home for the time being. After… (does math in head) … five or six years?… of full-time remote work, the Day Job has decided to end that particular setup and starting Monday my commute will go from one room to another to thirty-three miles across the Bay. That’s an hour in a car both ways. I’ll just say I’ve made my peace with it for now.

What will this mean for my writing? Good question indeed. I’ve been thinking a lot about it lately…certainly I won’t be doing any writing during slow times or during breaks, and I may not even be able to do it every single night once I get home. I’ve thought about going back to longhand, but I’m not about to start that just yet. Too many things are still up in the air. I’ll just say I’ve made my peace with that as well for now.

As for Diwa & Kaffi…? That has been going well, actually! I’m about to start working with a reader to help me nail down a few specific points that need nailing down, and once that’s done, I’ll start shopping it around. I’m doing this at my own speed because I want to do this right. Sorry it’s taking so long, but I promise I’ll get it out there one way or another!

I’m not entirely sure when I’ll be posting next, but I’ll do my best. Thanks for waiting!

Diwa & Kaffi Sketches II

More character sketches for you to enjoy! Here are a few more major characters from the story that are part of Diwa and Kaffi’s life.

Graymar is Kaffi’s paddir (father, in the tintrite language) and the co-landlord of their estate with Diwa’s dad. Everything about him is BIG…he’s enormous, loud, strong and has one hell of an impressive wingspan, making him one of the best fliers in the neighborhood. He often comes across as grouchy, but he’s never shown outright anger or hate towards anyone. He takes his job — and his bond with Samuel — extremely seriously. He doesn’t have a direct Ghibli analogue, though he does have the crankiness of Yubaba from Spirited Away.

Samuel Parkes is Diwa’s dad and the co-landlord of the estate alongside Graymar. He and Gray were childhood friends, just like Diwa and Kaffi, and bonded early on in their lives. Samuel is haunted by his past and has to learn how to overcome his fears. He loves his family very much and does what he can for them, often putting them (and Gray) over his own happiness. He does all he can to ensure Diwa achieves his dreams. He’s your classic Dad character in many Ghibli films (I’m thinking of Koichi from Ponyo); kind-hearted, caring, and dutiful.

Tassh is an aanoupii (a minotaur-like being) who’s soft-spoken and often shy, but is also quite friendly and chatty once he gets to know you. He and his family work in construction, but his real love is horticulture. With Diwa’s help, he acquires a patch of garden on the estate, but soon becomes the estate’s lead gardener, leading to a major job change for him. I’d say he’s got a bit of Totoro in him, to be honest!

Iliah is Kaffi’s older ahmané (sister) and a budding culinary artist. She taught Kaffi many flying styles over the years, and made sure he never forgot his dreams and goals. She’s also good friends with Diwa’s older brother Aldrine and used to hang out with him when she was going to university. She’s very much based on Ursula from Kiki’s Delivery Service.

More to come soon!

Diwa & Kaffi Sketches I

I’ve been having a bit of fun for Inktober this year by drawing sketches of the characters that make up Diwa & Kaffi. I totally admit I’m going against the rules from the start by drawing in pencil and posting them as is (I plan on inking them at some future point), but I really like how they’re coming out! Hope you enjoy them!

First up is Diwa. His background is interesting in that I wanted him to be just a nice kid with an honest goal of taking over his dad’s position as co-landlord at their estate. He’s not looking for fame or glory…he just wants to give back to the community. My way of having him stand out is that he often seems like he’s too good to be true, so his personal moments are always about inner turmoil. I’d say his Ghibli analogue would most likely be Kiki from Kiki’s Delivery Service.

Next is Kaffi, a tintrite (a dragon-like character) and Diwa’s best friend since childhood. He’s very much someone who doesn’t try to make waves all that much, but once he’s up in the sky he becomes an amazing and breathtaking flier. And he LOVES to fly. He’s always honest with his emotions, sometimes to his own detriment, but he rarely lets anything get the best of him. He’s extremely loyal to Diwa and the first to realize just how deep their connection goes. His Ghibli analogue would be Jiro from The Wind Rises, in that he’s quiet but always driven to achieve his goals.

Anna-Nassi is one of my all-time favorite characters I’ve ever written. She’s so full of life and emotion that it’s hard not to be pulled in by it all! She’s a mandossi (a semi-avian, semi-dragon-like being with clairsentient abilities) and a very loud and extroverted one at that. She’s a big goofball and always ready to give anyone a big bone-crunching hug. She cheers Diwa and Kaffi on all the time. She’s also a sucker for anything cute and kawaii. She’s a mix of several Ghibli characters, from Ponyo to Chihiro (Spirited Away), with maybe even a bit of Porco Rosso in there as well.

Also, I just can’t get over how ridiculously awesome her sketch came out!

And last but not least, we have Cole, a hedraac (a humanoid vampire with clairsentient abilities). He’s often the Straight Man character to Anna-Nassi’s silliness, but he’ll also sneak out a devastating zinger when you least expect it. He can be quiet and nervous, partly due to his disability, but he’s exceptionally smart and is usually the first one in the room to understand the situation. He kind of reminds me of Howl (Howl’s Moving Castle) in that he seems a bit out of joint from everyone else and yet is a vital and integral part of the whole story.

I hope to have more done up soon, so stay tuned!