A year of difference

A strange year needs a strange anime gif. Source: Nichijou.

It’s definitely been an interesting year for most people. As mentioned over at Walk in Silence, I started 2020 off in a terrible mood, primarily due to the (now Former) Day Job situation. It had taken a lot out of me since returning to the office in November 2019: I was suddenly stripped of most of the quality time I normally used for writing, I was wasting at least two-plus hours on the road a day (not to mention roughly $70 a week on gas and tolls), and to top it all off, the “We’re All a Big Happy Family” Return Plan had actually been more of an “Extremely Poorly Thought Out (If at All) But We Still Have to Hit This Tight Deadline and Be Active On Day One Or Upper Management Will Be Pissed And Oh By the Way Your Desk Is WAY Over In the Middle of F*cking Nowhere and Far Away from the Rest of Your Team and It’s Not Set Up at All and What’s That Noise Oh Yes It’s the Building’s HVAC Fans Right at Your Feet” Plan. It was a complete shitshow and I’d lost almost all faith in the company at that point. By the start of 2020 I was saying hell with it, applying for jobs on my phone, and using the 750 Words site for my writing at work because I just didn’t give a shit anymore.

And then of course, the pandemic happened, and (Former) Day Job couldn’t even handle that right. I gave my two weeks, just as the city, state and country started hunkering down for who knew what. I mean, I’d been wanting to take some mental time off from the job for a few years now (let’s be real, the four weeks of vacation a year really wasn’t cutting it at this point), but I hadn’t expected to have that handed to me like this.

Still. I spent three months not writing. I stopped blogging, journaling, and I closed down the second (paid) 750 Words account. I did some spot-cleaning of Diwa & Kaffi, but that was about it.

I knew I still needed that mental leave of absence, so instead of keeping busy, I decided, let’s not continue the daily stress of having the weight of it all on me if I didn’t need to carry it anymore. I continued to send out the occasional job applications and do a lot of household errands. We went for walks around the neighborhood. We followed the right emergency health guidelines (as did both of our families, thankfully). I knew I was lucky and privileged to be able to pull that off, so I spent that time the best I could. I did a lot of extremely overdue mental, emotional and creative housecleaning.

I picked up the writing again some months later, restarting the 750, the blogs, poetry, artwork, and the journaling. It felt right to do it then, now that my mind and heart were a lot clearer. I started toying around with some story ideas I’d come up with during those final (Former) Day Job days. I found I could focus on my creativity at the levels I wanted and needed to have them at. And I started rethinking about what I’d do for the next Day Job.

So yeah. On the one hand, I could easily say that 2020 was an utter failure because of such low word counts, lack of productivity and not consistently releasing one self-published book a year like I had for the last five years.

But on the other hand, I’d done so much more that was just as important, if not more so: I let myself have a clear mind and a calm heart again. I’d say I still came out on top, which is all I could ask for.

I have some interesting plans for 2021, and I’m looking forward to making them a reality!

A little off schedule…

A little lizard friend at Immigration Point Overlook in the Presidio, with the Marin Headlands across the way.

…but that’s okay! Yesterday we drove up to Petaluma to visit A’s parents for the first time in I’m not sure how long — definitely before March — and enjoyed a great lunch and caught up with each other. A nice relaxing day with very little to worry about. And today we took a walk through the Presidio, despite it hovering near 80 degrees, and got a good long walk in.

Which of course means I have not done a lick of serious writing since Thursday evening. And I’m happy to say that I’ve finally broken my habit of feeling guilty about that. It’s taken me years, but at this point in my life I think it’s high time I stopped thinking in terms of crunch and OMG I need to Do All The Things before I die, and think more in the moment. Enjoy life for what it’s giving me at that point in time.

If that means doing things like discovering a tiny lizard on the low concrete wall at Immigration Point Overlook in the Presidio and taking the time to get the perfect shot with the Marin Headlands in the background, then I’m doing it right!

What’s Going On?

That’s a very good question indeed, because I’d like to know myself. I’m kind of hovering at the moment, providing nearly all of my writing focus on the editing and revision of Diwa and Kaffi and doing very little in terms of anything new. I mean, I always want to have a new project going, but I’m purposely not doing that for the reason I just stated.

I’m not going to complain, I’m kind of enjoying this break from Writing All the Things. I’m forcing myself to try new creative avenues, which was part of my plan. I’m picking up my guitar more, thinking about songs to write…hell, I’ve even started noodling around on our keyboard after ages of ignoring it or using it as a temporary storage table! I’ve churned out so many words over the last five years that it’s time for me to give that a break and have some fun.

I don’t plan on making my music a professional thing, as I don’t see myself at that level. Maybe putting stuff out on Bandcamp if I ever get a full song down? Sure, why not? I’d essentially be self-publishing my music and I already have a background on that, so I think that would be groovy.

What about the other avenue, you ask? My art? Good question. I’m winding down a few small projects at the moment and will be finding more time to doodle. I’m not sure what — it could be my usual map drawing, perhaps my Murph comics, maybe trying out new styles. I have the sketchbook and the pens and pencils, I just need to start doing it. I’ve always found drawing to be quite calming, so I’m looking forward to doing that again.

But yeah, the writing, after D&K is out and away? Good question. I have plans there, but they’re not set in stone, and they’re not on any kind of schedule. For the first time in I don’t know how long, I’m just going to not think about it for a while…

Letting It Stew

charlotte carrot stew

After four attempts, one ragequit, and still no official title, I finished writing the first draft of the Apartment Complex story!  It’s a little over 79k words (about what I expected and wanted) and has been copied to a single semi-formatted doc file that I can work on.  So now what?

I’m going to let it sit for a little bit.

Wait wait wait, I hear you say.  You’ve been working on this damn thing for six months and talking about it endlessly about how much you loved writing it.  Why are you NOT working on it now??

And that’s a legitimate question, and there are two answers for it.  The short one: I’m about to start revision edits for In My Blue World, which is next on the release schedule.  This one needs my attention the most right now.

The longer answer is that giving it a bit of distance lets me look at it with fresh eyes.  Even though I feel that the AC story is my best work to date, will I feel the same a few months down the road?  Reading this particular novel with rose-tinted glasses might keep me from seeing possible issues that need fixing.  Alternately, I might end up being overcritical and pick it completely apart and ruin any joy I felt with the story.

My days away from my novel projects are also personal; I’ve just finished a six-month, almost-daily slog, so I’m due a few days off to do nothing except goof around.  Play FreeCell.  Fiddle around with my mp3 collection.  Post fly-by blog entries.  Go outside and take walks.  Work on my exercise regimen.  Vacations from writing are great!  You should always take a few now and again, especially when you’ve just finished not one but two projects that both need revision.  Your brain and body will thank you!

The novel will always be there until I come back to it.  And hey, I might even have a title for it by then!

Doin’ a Whole Lotta Nothin’

doing nothing
doot doot just sitting around

I had a vague plan that I’d do a bit of writing on the weekend, even if it was just a page or so.  I figured we’d go out, spend the day at Disneyland, have our fun, and then we’d get back to the hotel and I’d do some work.  I even packed the Apartment Complex story notebook.  If I wasn’t doing my daily words or my blog posts or anything else, I’d at least do something.  Right?

Yeah, we all know how that was going to go, even before we boarded the plane down to Orange County.  Heh.  I didn’t do a damn thing.  I didn’t even take it out of my bag.

But you know, I’m okay with that!  I’ve finally made peace with the fact that I’m due a few days off now and again.  I’d been writing for eleven days straight on not just that project, but on daily words, scheduled blogs, and whatever else I’ve been working on — on top of the Day Job.  But that’s not why I took the days off.  I wasn’t exactly exhausted mentally or physically.  I could have easily kept going with it if I wanted.  And the moment I admit to myself that I should take days off, I’m going to abuse that and not get anything done on time.

No, this was basically to accept that part of the process of writing is not writing.  I’ve gotta let myself just think about the story instead of trying to bleed it out of my brain.  I can instead listen to an album on the flight (The Sound of Arrows’ Stay Free, if you’re playing along) and think not about the story but about the characters in general.

That said, physically I’m still exhausted from the 8.6 miles we walked on Saturday and 7.7 miles on Sunday (plus the two today, thanks to travel through airports and whatnot), but mentally I’m ready to go come Tuesday.  Everything will be back to normal.

So yeah, I’m not too worried about not missing out on writing this past weekend.

PS – This seemed to be a perfect song for this post. It’s also a melody that keeps on popping into my head while writing the Apartment Complex story.

Days Off

shirokuma cafe relaxing

Tomorrow is Veterans’ Day, so had I planned it earlier, I could have taken today off as a floating holiday.  [If memory recalls, I think I used it up earlier in the year so I could go to one of the cons.]  On days like this, I usually get up around the same time, maybe an hour or so later, and start the day.

[Granted, I thought I *did* have the day off (A. even initially took the day off so we could do stuff during the day), thus the inspiration for this post.  I figured I’d keep it up and revise it a bit.]

And like most creative people, my Best Laid Plan on bank holidays is that I want to spend the entire day writing, or doing writing-related things, or catching up on all the small fiddly writing-related things that I’d put aside.  Carpe diem!  Or something like that.  I say Best Laid Plan, of course, because in reality I’m usually doing the exact opposite: futzing around with email, watching cat videos, goofing around with my mp3 collection.  And just like most regular days, squeezing the actual writing work into the last three hours of the day.

Really, though…I do have to remind myself that it’s good to use a day off as a real day off.  Do stuff I enjoy doing that doesn’t necessarily have anything to do with my creativity.  Going on a road trip, going to a movie…hell, even watching an anime series on TV.  There are other things out there I enjoy doing, especially with A., and days off are good for that sort of thing.

If that means I’m squeezing my work into just a few hours as the sun goes down, then so be it.  At least it’ll have been a full, productive, and entertaining day!

What I’m not writing


It’s probably obvious by now that I don’t write about politics in my fiction, at least not as a major plot point.  [Governmental shenanigans do make a few cameos in the Bridgetown Trilogy, but they’re not used for political intrigue.  It’s used to show how bureaucracy and adherence to rules over logic can cause a hell of a lot of headaches.]

That isn’t to say that I haven’t come close to writing a few politically-tinged stories.  The close I ever got to doing so was an short story idea I’d called “Noah and the Schoolyard,” in which the titular character witnesses a breakdown of order during recess, in which several cliques are formed and eventually start to fight each other.  It’s a too-obvious allegory of the present political weather and I found myself really not wanting to write it after maybe a few hundred words.  An interesting idea, but something I know I’d hate writing, let alone reading later on.  Lesson learned.

This also ties in with my decision during the last election cycle to disengage myself publicly from the peanut gallery.  I’d be contributing little except more white noise to whatever was already out there.  I have my opinions (and they’ll still leak out occasionally on Twitter if I’m all het up about something in particular), but for the most part I keep them offline now.

Are there any other subjects I won’t/can’t/would rather not write about?  Sure.  That’s not to say such things are beneath me, of course.  My main reason for not writing about certain subjects is simply a lack of interest in wanting to do so.  [This does not include stories or plots about gender or race — I’m interested in them, I just don’t want to write them half-assed.  I haven’t used them as plot points, but I have tried to be inclusive to some degree.]  I don’t often write what I love reading.  I’m fascinated by hard SF like Cixin Liu’s current trilogy, but I can’t write that genre to save my life so I’m not going to try.

I guess what I’m saying here is that I know my boundaries.  I’m not beholden to them, and if I so chose, I could figure out how to move beyond them.  On the opposite end of the spectrum, I taught myself early on not to hold back, either.  There are a few scenes in the Trilogy where I pushed myself past my normal comfort zone, because it was needed in the story.  But I wouldn’t do it if there was no reason for it.

Now–on that note, I’ve already voted via early ballot here in San Francisco this past weekend, so all I have to do now is wait out all the damn robocalls that are flooding my answering machine and the fliers that I’m sure even the mailperson hates at this point, and let Tuesday do its thing.  I’m not sure if I have the stomach to sit through the coverage tomorrow night (or to read all the live-tweeting for that matter), but we shall see.

[And for the record, if it isn’t already obvious, I’m definitely 100% With Her.  I have some…issues with Trump, which I’d rather not go into here.]

A Bit More About Day-to-Day Balance of Work, Writing, and Play

Some of us writers tend to think of writing as separate from work and play, like it’s a third piece of the balancing-your-life puzzle rather than filing it under one or the other.  I’m one of those, purely out of semantics.  I think of ‘work’ as my day job.  I think of ‘play’ as goofing around online, watching TV or going somewhere with A., or some form of entertainment.  Writing?

Well, writing, at least for me, is a synergy between the two.  It’s work — hella hard work sometimes — because my brain isn’t just thinking about the part of the story I’m telling at that very moment, but also thinking about the story’s end result so many as-yet-unwritten pages in the future.  At the same time it’s an incredibly fun process, because I’m creating something and I’m proud of my ability to do so, especially after all these years of practice.  To that end, I end up thinking of it almost as a second job, albeit one that I enjoy doing.

The trick, at least lately, is to remind myself not to sit on my ass all day long, sun up to sun down.  There’s a life out there, outside of the nonstop chugging of my mind gears.  That’s why we make it a point to hit the local YMCA a few times a week and take long walks on weekends.  But I also need to remember that not everything on TV is crap.  We’ve been really enjoying Wolf Hall on PBS the last few weeks, there’s always another Attenborough or Burns documentary to watch, and Canada and the UK seem to have a wealth of great mystery shows that we can stream.

Back in the early 00s (aka the Belfry Years), I had to remind myself to put down the writing and go out and play now and again.  This is why I went on road trips to Boston and elsewhere, took the occasional night off to watch The X-Files, check out my current stash of comics, or read that new novel I’d just picked up.  Still a bit sedentary to be sure, and I was still working out plot ideas in the back of my brain, but I made sure I didn’t become a hermit.

Nowadays I’ve made it a point to get up during break times at work; I’ll walk down to the lobby to check the mail or get that load of laundry.  I’ll watch an episode of Murdoch Mysteries with A before heading up back to write for an hour or so.  I’ll listen to my mp3 player and think about plot ideas while walking a half hour on the treadmill at the Y.  I’ll still sneak in some writing whenever I can, but not entirely at the expense of living a life outside of writing.

It’s a tricky balance to maintain, and as always, there’s no set-in-stone way to go about it.  It’s all about whatever works for you personally.