Writing: Coming Back from Sick Days

On the plus side, I received my second COVID vaccine shot on Thursday morning, so I am up to date! I no longer need to worry about if or when I’d ever get them taken care of! (A has already gotten her first shot and will be getting the follow-up at the end of this month.) We’ll still be wearing masks until further notice, of course, but we’re cool with that.

On the negative side, the side-effects did a number on my by Thursday afternoon. Like the first shot, I started feeling the brain fogginess and the lack of energy. This time out, however, I’d also started getting full-body aches. Like EVERYWHERE. My fingers hurt. My eyes hurt. Everything hurt. Somehow a migraine slipped in there as well. All told, it wasn’t a sharp you need to see a doctor pain, but just complete okay you’ve been up for ninety-three hours you really need to sleep now exhaustion. I even had a slight fever. Which meant that Friday was spent here in Spare Oom doing nothing except listening to new music releases and maybe watching some videos. [Thankfully it started going away by Friday night and by Saturday I felt totally fine. Invigorated, even.]

And as I usually reserve the weekends for catching up on emails, doing errands and cleaning house, I didn’t have much time to do any actual writing work that needed doing. This means that I’m now about five days behind on finishing this latest Diwa & Kaffi revision and that’s bugging the hell out of me right now.

See, my problem is that I always feel guilty when I take a sick day from writing. I’m always thinking, ‘Come on…you’d just be sitting on your butt listening to music. Don’t be a slacker.’ I can remember many times back in the Belfry days when I thought this and it never worked out the way I wanted. Instead of getting a thousand words done, I’d get maybe a hundred, play a few FreeCell games, give up, and spend the rest of the evening in bed reading comic books. So this time out, I figured why go through the same faulty reasoning? I finished early on Friday, got in my jammies, and continued my reading Martha Wells’ Murderbot Diaries books. (I’m rereading the first five so I can immediately jump into the new one that just dropped a few days ago.) Best decision I ever made.

SO! What this means is that today, Monday, I am not catching up, but picking up where I left off. It’s best that I don’t try to do everything all at once, because That Way Lies Madness. Instead, I just start back in on the work, and go as far as the day takes me. Whether it’s just a partial or multiple chapters doesn’t matter…as long as I’m heading in the right direction.

Seems as though I did in fact learn from my mistakes over the years!

Comes and goes

Madara coutesy of Naruto

The other day I was thinking about how my list of active story and project ideas seems to fluctuate. This time last year I felt kind of frustrated and empty-headed for various personal reasons and trying to write anything felt like an absolute chore, but now I’m champing at the bit to get multiple projects up and running!

A lot of the time it can be a reflection of what’s going on with me in real life. This can be on the macro-level — such as my frustrations with the former Day Job — but it can also be on the micro-level as well, and it’s the latter I don’t often talk about. I do have days now and again where I just can’t get my shit together mentally, and working past that can be hard. Sometimes it’s because I’m heavily distracted, whether it’s by simple fun things or by lack of focus. I try to soldier on regardless, even if it feels like an uphill battle at times, but by the end of the day I might end up having completed a hell of a lot more than I expected.

The few times I’ve actually had nothing on my plate — or having cleared off a majority portion, such as when I’d finished and released the Bridgetown Trilogy — can feel a bit unnerving. With the trilogy done and away by 2017 (just in time for a twentieth anniversary of its creation), it took me a long time to get used to not having a major epic project constantly in the works. This was precisely why I chose to write multiple shorter and self-contained stories…I knew if I tried writing another large-scale project right away I would burn myself out and fail. But that initial time of a year or so, when I’d started playing around with Meet the Lidwells and In My Blue World and Diwa & Kaffi, I focused on smaller projects. I didn’t even know if I’d be able to see them through, to be honest. All I could do is just keep going, day by day. Rewire my writing brain and create new styles and processes. In the end, I was extremely proud of all three.

Right now I’m actively writing two novels in tandem*, which I know I can do, having done it with IMBW and D&K. In addition to that, I have two further book projects I want to work on that are in pre-production mode (notes and ideas, maybe a few outtakes and a mixtape, but no major writing just yet). So right now I’m in a good place — consistently busy working.

[* – These are actually temporarily on hold while I finish the D&K revision, but I’ll have them back up and running in about a month.]

Do I worry about running out of ideas (or fuel, for that matter)? Not really. I’ve worried about that before, but I’ve always bounced back eventually. Something will eventually inspire me to start something new.

This time last year

Source: Makoto Shinkai’s ‘The Place Promised in Our Early Days’

This time last year, I’d left the (Former) Day Job after what…thirteen or so years?…and took some time off to get my head together. I’ve been thinking about just how frustrated and angry I’d been then, and for how long. The job had effectively cleaved my writing time (and personal time) to almost nil. By the start of 2020 I was barely writing anything worth talking about. I’d fleshed out some story ideas here and there, but I’d barely written any new words at all.

After that time off, I started from the beginning again. I asked myself several questions.

What made me want to write? What stories did I want to tell? What was my writing style? What did I no longer want to write about? Did I really need and want to write what I was currently working on?

And then I just…started writing again. Learning from the beginning again.

It took a few false starts, but I got there eventually. I was aware of my processes now; I knew when something wasn’t working, when something needed more work, when something resonated with me so much that I knew I could see this project to the end. I compared it to other moments in the past: instead of thinking if only I could write like this again, I was thinking this is just like that previous project I enjoyed so much. And I just kept at it.

It’s been a year, and right now I have a full stove with things on many burners: a submission-ready revision of Diwa & Kaffi, the fourth Mendaihu Universe story, a new project based on the work I’d done in those final Day Job Days, and a few possibilities I’m yet to start work on. I’m still working for a replacement Day Job — preferably one in the city that doesn’t maliciously carve away at my cherished writing time — and I’m actively getting in better shape. I’ve been extremely busy, but in a good way. A way that challenges me the way I love to be challenged.

Keeping the Pace

Image courtesy of K-On!

I’m usually good at this, but every now and again I get ahead of myself and the result ends up looking like a half-assed mess of a rush job. Which means I need to do some serious revision to calm it down and stretch it out.

This time I’m talking about the pacing of the story. I’m usually quite aware of how fast or slow a scene needs to be when I’m writing it. I visualize it like I’m making a movie, but I also see it like the deliberate pacing of a song or a musical passage. I like a slow dramatic reveal, but I also like a super-dense action sequence, and each of them needs to have a specific pace. Like movies and music, it’s not just the words that tell the story, but how it’s told.

I used this multiple times with In My Blue World for each character. For example, most of Krozarr’s scenes are slow (but not glacial) and extremely deliberate because that’s how his own mind works; he’s been put in a situation he hates but has to endure, so he takes every action and thought at a pace that keeps him from losing control…and this is ends up being his downfall. Allie, on the other hand, is always, always moving, so her scenes are often frenetic — and when she stops, things around her are not good.

I love writing character scenes like this, because it’s a hell of a lot of fun to be able to tell a story with little nonverbal accents like that. It’s got to be done right, though, and it can’t be a constant thing or it’ll be too obvious and detract from the story.

I say this because I’m doing yet another revision of Diwa & Kaffi and the other day I discovered that an extremely important scene, one that changes the course of our two lead characters, was dashed off far too quickly. This is a scene that should have a deliberately slow pace, where they both are hyperaware of each other’s reactions and emotions and do not want to ruin them, and a scene that should end with a bright and happy resolution. Instead, it reads…well, it reads like an outline, really. A zipped-through scene where I mentally made a note to Fix It Later and completely forgot to do so. I’m pretty sure this was a scene where I got overexcited about the idea and forgot to expand on it! I’m a bit embarrassed at how flat the entire scene is, to be honest, so I’m going to need to give it some heavy TLC in the next few days.

This is also why I do multiple rereads when I’m in Revision Mode: I’m not just paying attention to the story or the continuity, I’m also focusing on the pacing. These rereads force me to see where I went too fast, or where I just stumbled and shuffled too slowly. This in turn helps me figure out how I’m going to fix it, whether it’s to rewrite the whole scene, slow it down by expanding it, or deleting the filler to speed it up.

I don’t always catch them right away, but once I do and it’s up to my standards, I’m usually super proud of the result!

BRB, doing some much-needed revision

So yeah, over the last few days I did a Reread What I Have So Far of my current WIPs, which is something I normally do at various points of their production.

I often do this near the start of every project for a few reasons: one, to see if any of it holds up and holds my attention (which yes, both do, yay!), and two, to get a firm grasp on the story and its many moving parts. This second reason is the more important of the two, as it’s my way of establishing continuity.

And let me tell you, my novels ALWAYS start off with the shittiest continuity ever. This is mainly due to me trying things out just to see where they go. This includes character traits and personalities, extended family and friends, time of day, whatever. I used to say I was ‘flailing’ at this point, but I don’t think that’s a good word for it. More like ‘feeling my way’, honestly. After maybe four or so chapters, I’ll do a Reread What I Have So Far and see what works and what needs work. The end result is that Project A is going in an unexpected but fun direction and I’m quite happy about that, but I definitely need to get its continuity under control. Project B, on the other hand, is going a bit slow but the continuity is just fine. Woo, go me!

Added to that, I’ve decided that I’m going to spend a bit more time doing another revision of Diwa & Kaffi, because I’m taking a writing friend’s suggestion to heart: it needs more description. Not a lot, but after doing a Reread after distancing myself from it a little bit, those bare spots definitely stick out a lot more now. There aren’t going to be any major revision issues with this one, no inserts or deletions…this one’s just to give it a bit more needed meat to it.

So yeah, this is going to be my job in the next couple of weeks. My Writer Brain of course is a bit irritated because I won’t get any new words out for a while, but it’s the price I have to pay. I’ll get back to those new words soon enough.

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.

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