Voices

More on the upcoming year, in regards to writing.  I’ve been thinking a lot lately about voices in my stories.  It’s a tough subject to tackle, especially in a short-form blog like this, because there’s so much nuance packed in there.  What kinds of voices?  Whose voices?  Am I talking inclusiveness of characters, or am I talking about the style of storytelling I happen to be using?  Am I talking about dialogue or am I talking about language?  All of the above or something else entirely?

Sometimes I feel as though I keep writing the same story over and over again, just using different backdrops.  Granted, I’m reading and rereading and revising my own words over and over again for so long, to the point where it all starts to blend together and I can’t help but see all the similarities between a character in A Division of Souls and a character in Meet the Lidwells, two completely different stories with completely different settings and styles.  What I have to remind myself is that I’m not hearing the different characters…I’m hearing me writing those characters.

This was one of the reasons I was thinking of taking some time off in 2019 before embarking on another novel project.  I want to find a new voice within myself.  I want to continue to tell my stories, but I feel like I’ve written everything I wanted to write with my current voice.  And that voice has changed over the years, but my stories haven’t.  It’s time to get realigned and bring that new voice to the forefront.

Over the next few weeks, I’ll be working out how I’ll do this and start fresh on January 1, like I always do.  I’ve already done my Year End/Year Ahead post the other day, so I can just post my whiteboard schedule plans and call that done.

Then the real work will begin.

Exhausted Yet Determined

I do still love the holiday season, despite the weather and the crowds and the heightened insanity.  The only thing I don’t love is not being able to provide enough energy for my writing.  I wish I could be as productive at this time of year as I am, say, during the slow spring and summer seasons.  I can still do it, but each year I wonder if I shouldn’t be reviewing my schedule and figuring out a new way to get those words out.

There’s also the unexpected distractions that usually make me irritable for the rest of the day; for instance, I’ll be reporting for jury duty today and thus providing zero productivity until I get home.  [Well, that’s not entirely true.  I usually bring something writing related to jury duty for reading material.  Otherwise I’d be goofing off on my phone while I wait to be called.]  It’s not that I can’t handle distractions or multitasking, it’s the “drop everything and do this instead” mindset that bothers me.  I can’t stand having to completely stop a process to complete a different and unrelated process and then finally go back to the original process if I have time for it, while trying to figure out where the hell I left off.  I say all this because that’s been my Day Job situation for the last couple of months and let me tell you, IT GETS TIRING VERY QUICKLY.

Anyway.  As a writer, I still run on dogged determination and personal priority.  I need to give myself at least two hours for writing projects — this can mean anything from the daily words to whatever major project I’m working on, and it can be split into all kinds of available time throughout the day.  I can usually squeeze in more than that, but my hard fast rule is Two Hours.  

It can be tough to work through it all at this time of year, so one does tend to need a bit of determination and a whole lot of stubborn will.  Some days it’ll be fun, but other days it will be a slog.  Some days I’ll push through and get more done than I’d planned, and other days I just want to log off and go read a book instead.

All that said, I also need to remember not to overdo it.  If I truly am exhausted and don’t have the focus (or the mental acuity or the spoons or the energy, etc.), it’s okay to skip a day.  It annoys me when I have to, but I have to give myself that time off to recharge.

I mean, back in my Belfry days, I’d been known to zonk out in my chair after staying up far too late working on stuff.  I don’t think I need to do that anymore.  Just get the rest when needed, and start fresh the next day.  Everything will still be there when I log back on.

Year In Review, Year Ahead

Source: Say Anything (1989)

This has been quite a long year, hasn’t it?  So many things going on in the world.  Half the time I’m trying to keep a sane distance so I can process it all clearly and intelligently, and half the time I realize I’m doing all I can to keep my head above water.

But I’ve been trying to stay positive.  Even when we have people in “charge” (I say this lightly) doing all they can to obliterate the rules and exclude a portion of their constituents out of legal existence, I’ve been trying to be a positive anchor, even if it’s just for myself.  Someone’s got to be.

BUT!  It’s been an interesting and quite creative year here in Spare Oom.  I had quite the productive 2018, which was unexpected but pleasing.  I made good on my plan of releasing one e-book a year, with Meet the Lidwells! dropping in early March.  I wrote and completed not one but TWO books this year (In My Blue World and the Apartment Complex project) that will be dropping in 2019.  I recorded at least twenty partial demos of songs for my Drunken Owl project, and hope to work on more next year.  And I made more of an effort to write more lyrics and poetry again.  And I’ve been quite verbose in the personal journal this year.  I stayed pretty consistent with my daily words over at 750Words.  Lastly, I had quite a consistent run both here at Welcome to Bridgetown and over at Walk in Silence.  So yeah, a hell of a lot of writing this year.  I’m stupidly proud of myself for that.

So what’s on tap for 2019?  I’ve hinted here multiple times that I’m going to make some big changes across the board, both personally and creatively.  After years of having Best Laid Plans that I couldn’t always follow through with, I find that I’m now in a good place to make a lot of them finally happen.  A few personal events helped force me to look at them in a different, more serious and better planned light.  Will they fall through or will they come to fruition?  Who knows, but I can only hope it’s the latter.  I’m already taking steps to ensure they work.  Let’s just say that when they come to fruition, I will update accordingly, heh.

Overall, 2018 has been one hell of a roller coaster and I’m glad it’s winding down (sort of).  Here’s to hoping 2019 provides a little more sanity!

Source: World Order, “Singularity” video

More on Adjusting

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Part of Drunken Owl’s gear, such as it is…

A. and I had a conversation over dinner the other day about adjusting to life’s changes.  She’s currently between jobs and she might be, as she says, “catching up on years of lost sleep”, but she’s not wasting time at all.  She’s been brushing up on her skills by taking various online courses, and she’s also currently taking part in NaNoWriMo, writing a mystery novel.  We’re both relatively comfortable financially at the moment where she can afford to take some time off and readjust to real life.

This got me thinking as well, because we both understand what it means not to have a job, and especially what it means to live paycheck to paycheck.  So many things we’ve put off for one reason or another, whether it be financial or emotional or whatever.  I always found this deeply depressing and intensely aggravating, to be honest.  Since I was a kid I’d always wanted to be a writer, an artist, and a musician — not one or the other, but all three — but it was hard for me to focus on all of them.  They all demand countless hours of practice, knowledge, and labor that a person already working full time may not have time for.  This is precisely why it took me until my forties to become a self-published author, and to a lesser extent, why it took me until my forties to dedicate some daily practice time for my music playing.  And why, alas, I have never had enough time to focus on art.

I’d said to her that I was both impressed and maybe a little jealous that she now had this time to catch up on all the things she hadn’t been able to do.  I would absolutely love to be able to not think about Day Job stress and simply focus on learning the ins and outs of things I’d love to do.  I would love to take art classes again — something I haven’t done since high school.  I would love to learn how to record multi-track song demos in Spare Oom.  I would also love to improve my writing without having to carve out whatever precious time I might have for it.

[Mind you, this is also why I am always angered by those who view the arts as frivolous and not worth federal funds or adequate payment for delivered goods.  But that’s another post entirely.]

So what’s happening right now is that I’ve been doing some deep thinking about this.  I’ve been contemplating changing up the Day Job for some time, as you already know, and with that change comes the adjustment of other things in my life.  This is a perfect time for me to start making a stronger effort to include those ‘extracurricular activities’ in my daily life instead of keeping them at the level of wishful thinking.

Adjustments

evangelion gendo glasses

As much as I deeply enjoyed working from home full time, alas I will have to give it up in the near future.  The most frustrating thing about this is that it was not my decision, but that of higher-ups at my current job.  [Long story short, they’ve decided to phase out remote working to ‘foster teamwork, social connection,’ blah blah blah.  My teammates are equally as frustrated by this decision.]   There are other things at play that are putting my job at risk as well, which is only adding to my frustration.

Which means that this long and extremely fruitful era of writing session scheduling is coming to an end for now.  I’d be lying if I said this didn’t upset and annoy me to some degree.  I got a hell of a lot done over the years in the pockets of time I was able to use, and not having to deal with a commute.

All that said, I’m taking this in the best possible way I can by adjusting accordingly.  Should I start bringing my tablet along to work on things during breaks and lunches?  Should I bring books to read for the bus ride?  [I plan on sticking in San Francisco and taking public transportation, thank you.]  Can I squeeze in trips to the gym after work?  What amount of work can I get done, and how?

I’m willing to make adjustments when and where I can.  It’ll be just like when I left the warehouse job and moved down to New Jersey; I’ll lose what’s been one of the best arrangements for me to balance work and writing.  I can figure it out somehow.

But I ain’t gonna stop writing anytime soon, that’s for sure.

The battle cry ‘don’t mess with me’

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So it’s revealed via the New York Times — on a Sunday morning, no less — that the current administration wants narrowly define gender as what you were born with, essentially eliminating any definition of transgender.

The biggest WTF line in that article:

For the last year, the Department of Health and Human Services has privately argued that the term “sex” was never meant to include gender identity or even homosexuality, and that the lack of clarity allowed the Obama administration to wrongfully extend civil rights protections to people who should not have them [Emphasis mine.]

I say FUCK THAT.

And I say FUCK YOU, Don.

So why am I posting this here?

Let’s just say ever since this complete sham and embarrassment of an administration came into office — before that, even — I’ve been tempted to write a specific novel on how I feel about what they’ve been doing to the country over the last few years.  It’s similar to the idea I had with the “Noah and the Schoolyard” story that I trunked sometime ago.  I’d come to the realization that the actions and words of this administration were sadly and pathetically similar to the worst of our own childhoods; the jocks and the popular crowd that vilified you for not fitting into their narrowly defined social norms, the teachers that couldn’t find the time or the ability to provide extra mentoring, the elimination of creative extracurricular groups (sometimes at the cost of maintaining a solid sports foundation), the path to ignorance when information is simply not provided, and of course the appearance of an ‘underground’ crowd that decided to say fuck all that, we’re doing our own thing.

I mean, yeah, it sounds like a John Hughes version of Lord of the Flies or Catcher in the Rye, doesn’t it?  That’s why I found I couldn’t work on this story.  It just felt far too personal for me to be able to handle it.

Now I’m not so sure.

It angers me that anyone, presidential administration or not, would go this far.  It angers me to hear ignorant morons gleefully follow this path, all the while saying ‘fuck y’all, you’re on your own.’

Sunday’s news was a big fucking slap in the face for me, on multiple levels.  I’d almost forgotten what this kind of directed hatred felt like.  And it bothers me even more that I don’t always remember that others still get that on a daily basis.  [Well, actually I do remember, just that I often have the privilege of avoiding thinking about it.]

As Charlie Jane Anders tweeted later that day:

It’s easy to feel helpless when bigotry and bad science are becoming the law of the land, and our government is trying to dehumanize so many of us. But we have the power to make noise, to make ourselves heard, and one of the most powerful ways we can do that is thru storytelling.

To that I say ‘AMEN’, and to that I say, I think I might have a new project to work on.

Kicking Myself Out of the Comfort Zone

polar bear cafe relaxing

It’s all well and good to find your own comfort zone, of course.  It’s always healthy to have that stable ground to come back to when things get crazy.  You can hibernate there for a little bit and recharge, so you can come back out, rested and ready to go.

This is the same for my writing as well.  I have certain comfort zones I stay within, at least for my rough drafts.  I use them as a baseline to work off of, so I know precisely how far I’m letting the plot threads evolve.  This is how I’m able to read the feel of my stories, how I’m able to control how they will affect the reader.

But sometimes it’s good to break out of that comfort zone, and head towards unknown territory.

I realized this when I wrote the Apartment Complex story; one of the reasons it wasn’t working for me was that I was trying to keep it in a stable comfort zone that it didn’t belong in.  So instead I let fate and instinct take the reins on this one.  The end result was that I’d created character styles I hadn’t written before, doing things I had never written about previously.  I definitely wasn’t pantsing it; I knew exactly where this story was supposed to go.  I just let the characters tell me how they wanted to evolve.  They knew more about themselves than I did.  In the end, the story ended up being, in my opinion anyway, one of the best ones I’ve ever written.  I can’t wait to share it with everyone in 2019!

Breaking out of the comfort zone doesn’t necessarily mean doing the exact opposite of whatever your idea of living a safe, comfy life is.  I’m not about to take up free climbing or whatever it is middle aged Manly Men are supposed to do.  But it’s definitely given me a lot to think about in terms of my life at the moment.  This is about getting rid of those old blinders and barriers you’ve been hanging onto for so long, and seeing how far you can go.  You’ll be surprised how big the playing field may have gotten while you weren’t looking.

Throw Those Curtains Wide

I’ve been thinking a lot about life changes lately.  A few personal and work-related events had conspired to unfold within the span of a few weeks to take me by surprise and upend a few long term plans I’d had in mind.

Without going into much detail, there may be a change in Day Job situation that, at first, bothered the hell out of me.  And rightfully so, considering I’m worried about the time lost when commuting or going to an office.  I treasure my writing time and fiercely defend it any way I can.  At the time of these personal events, I’d been thinking seriously about a long-term plan to make all that happen.

The personal events had upended all that.  Still…I never give up when it comes to my writing.  I’m fiercely protective of it.  It’s gotten me through a lot worse over the years.  It’s not just a lifeline but a spiritual release.  And it gives me clarity and drive.

But it wasn’t just about the writing; it was also about making important changes to my life and who I am.  After a day or so of flushing the resulting emotional freak-out from my system, I came to the conclusion: It’s time for me to do something about all of this. 

It’s time for me to be true to myself again.  Far past time.

Over the last few weeks, I’ve been working out how to make this happen.  First off: have a positive outlook.  I might not be able to work from home, but that doesn’t necessarily mean a loss of writing time.  It just means a shift in schedule.  It means perhaps heading to the gym later than usual.  It means sneaking in some writing time during breaks and lunch times and bus commutes.  And continuing with this longer-term plan of changing and improving my life, despite any distractions.

And most importantly, it means not giving up on my dreams and goals.  Ever.

It’s time for me to be true to myself again.  Far past time.

More On Being a Healthy Writer

polar bear cafe exercise

I’ve said this before:  one of the biggest problems with being a writer, especially one with a Day Job, is that you’re sitting on your butt for long stretches of time.  I’m really horrible at this, to be honest.  I might get up and stretch now and again, but I don’t do it nearly enough.  I’m sitting for most of eight hours, perhaps head to the gym a few times a week, and then sit for another few hours in the evening writing.

There’s also the fact that I’ve long had a bad habit of snacking whilst working and writing.  I’d like to say I don’t have a Junk Food Stash anymore, but that’s not exactly true… it’s smaller, but it’s still junk food, and it’s in the kitchen.  A few boxes of Pocky, an almost empty bag of chocolates we bought at the Heathrow duty-free.  I’m trying to change that up; I’ll have a banana, or some cheese sticks, or hummus and crackers (Trader Joe’s sells a great snack pack of these that I love).  I’m not drinking nearly as much soda as previous.

But it’s not enough.  I’m not moving around as much to burn those calories.  What I need to do is figure out some regimen that I can sneak in at some point during the day.  A few reps of crunches and stretches.  More walks after work.  More frequent trips to the Y.  I need to MOVE more is what I’m saying here.

So why the health kick all of a sudden?  Well, short version is that I’ve found myself on a lifestyle-change kick right now.  A need to change things both inside and out that I’ve either ignored or put off for far too long.  It really doesn’t have much to do with my age, to be honest — I’m forty-seven and change — but to do with personal things; career, emotions, physical issues, and what not.  I’m reasonably healthy if a bit overweight with slightly high blood pressure.  I’m also thinking more seriously about my calling as a writer, and what I want — and need — to do with my craft as a professional.  Among other things.  I think about it this way: it’s not a midlife crisis so much as it’s a midlife clarity.  Time to shed the bad habits and the lifestyle I no longer want or need and get movin’.

This does in fact tie in with my writing.  Over the last few months, while working on the revision for In My Blue World as well as writing the Apartment Complex story — as well as a few smaller personal things I’ve been sneaking in when I can — I realized that my writing can’t truly evolve if I don’t evolve somehow.  I’ve mined as much as I can from what I’ve been working with for years, and I want and need to change it up.  The AC in particular has been helpful here; it’s the first story where I did not hold back for any reason, and the result so far has been eye-opening on many levels.  I’m immensely proud of what I’ve done with it so far, and I can’t wait to share it.

So yes — this is me saying that I need to keep moving, both physically and mentally, if I’m going to get anywhere.  I can’t be half-arsed about it anymore.

All in.