I’ve said it before: I really don’t want to wax politic here, I really don’t. This blog is about writing. It’s about my love of writing, the things I’ve learned that I want to pass on. It’s a part of my lifelong career. I don’t want to wax politic because a) that’s not what this blog is about, b) I don’t want to bore you/chase you away, and c) I try to avoid said waxing as much as possible these days for health reasons.
So I’m just going to say this about Shakespeare in the Park’s recent interpretation of Julius Caesar: to be honest, when Shakespeare is reworked and set in a more current context, quite often it’s bloody fantastic. We saw a recent version of Hamlet that took place during an extremely paranoid Cold War that worked perfectly. West Side Story (aka Romeo and Juliet, of course) is one of the best musicals ever made. The Globe Theatre’s version of A Midsummer Night’s Dream set in present time that we saw last year was absolutely hilarious. So a version of Julius Caesar in which JC is a very clear interpretation of Donald Trump? Totally makes sense to me. [And yes, it is true that the same troupe did a version some time ago using Obama, to little or no controversy.]
The issue here is not using a sitting President (a term I presently use with a bitter taste in my mouth, natch) in a play in which a major plot point is that he snuffs it. I mean, come on — remember Primary Colors (the book and the movie), which was supposed to make Bill Clinton look like a moron? LOLs for days from the right wing, as I recall. I saw the movie myself — it was pretty bad quality, but its ham-fisted attempts at cleverness didn’t give me the vapors.
The issue here, at least for me, is the willingness to be so incurious, so impassive, so willing to blindly idolize a person to the point that logic flies out the window. Or as Darrin Bell’s comic strip Candorville put it so wonderfully yesterday, “I’m starting to think you’ll say anything just to win an argument.” The vocal backlash was boggling. Blessedly short, but boggling.
On the plus side, it’s ridiculous situations like this that empower me even more to keep on writing. I don’t need to fight against pointless agruments like this. These voices may be loud and have a network megaphone, but they’re also a shrinking base. The longer this play goes on, the less comedic it becomes. There’s the unfortunate byproduct of all this, in which certain people will find this claptrap as God’s Truth and hurt someone, and I do sometimes fear that will escalate if this keeps up.
BUT — I refuse to lay down my quill because of it. More to the point, I want to pick it up more often. To keep sanity alive and kicking.
My original plan to take the week off from blogging was simple: I had a lot on my plate, my energy was tapped, and I’d run out of things to blog about. I’d earned it, considering I’ve had a solid updating schedule over the last five months. Just a week off to focus on Day Job and personal deadlines, and not feel guilty about it.
It seems I chose to get all philosophical instead.
The week before, I’d been using my daily 750 Words to type up a sort of 90s version of my Walk in Silence riff — just writing about the various things that had gone on in a rollercoaster of a decade for me personally. As with the 80s riff I’d posted over at the WiS blog, this was partly about the music but mostly about me purging things out of my system once and for all. By purging, I mean this: writing it out for the final time, coming to peace with it, learning from it. And then moving forward.
I finished up that riff on Monday and briefly thought: what am I going to write about for my daily 750 Words now? I thought about it some and realized that the overall lesson I had to learn from my life in the 90s was this: stop trying to fit in where you so obviously can’t and don’t want to belong.
It’s a general statement to be sure, but the reasoning behind it makes sense. It started way back in my senior year in high school, actually; there’s a reason I half-joked to one of my friends with the following: “It’s hard to be a nonconformist when there’s no one else to be nonconformist with.”
I said that knowing full well how oxymoronic (and moronic) that sounded. The reason I’d said it was because my closest friends at the time, who were all a year ahead of me, had all left for college. They’d all been on my wavelength, something I hadn’t been able to find with anyone else, to such a degree.
I started riffing on that with my Daily Words. It reminded me of something one of that group had written sometime in 1989 along the same lines. He’d talked about being a nonconformist — not so much in a political sense but as a personal decision — and what it took for that kind of mindset to thrive. Like me, he grew up in a somewhat conservative small town where rebelling against the mainstream didn’t take all that much effort: listening to college radio, liking weird things, wearing odd clothes, and giving up all intentions at trying to fit in with everyone else. No mohawk, piercing or tattoo necessary, unless you wanted to go that far. [To my knowledge, none of us did at the time.]
One of his points kind of resonated with me after all these years: it’s kind of hard to be a nonconformist in a vacuum, because the energy behind that mindset tends to dissipate. Why rebel against the mainstream when the mainstream doesn’t care about you either way? And on the other end of the spectrum: if the only reason you’re rebelling is to be among your own kind — other nonconformists — you’re kind of missing the point.
My mistake in the 90s was that I was trying so hard to achieve the latter. I was looking for a surrogate crowd to take place of my old circle of friends. [Remember, this is well before the Age of Social Media, so the only way we could remain in contact was by phone (too expensive), by weekends off (too iffy due to different schedules), or by letter writing (too much of a pain in the arse and a super slow turnaround).] That itself was a dismal failure, and while I did end up finding a great group of friends a short time later, it wasn’t exactly the same. I always felt a bit out of place. And would continue to feel this way throughout the rest of the 90s.
So. What’s the point of this current riff? What’s with the sudden resurgence in fascination with nonconformity? Well, I would be lying if I didn’t say it might have a little to do with the current presidential administration. In an odd way, too me, he and his cronies are a shocking parallel to the jocks and the popular kids at school. They weren’t always causing harm, but they certainly knew how to fuck with people’s heads, and they could not deal with the square peg. Or they’re the eager followers, willingly ignoring reality and/or other people while desperately trying to claim their role as part of The Gang.
Part of it is also me revisiting my fascination with nonconformity, but on a more stable, creative and positive level. It’s no longer about rebellion just for the sake of it (“What are you rebelling against?” “Whadda ya got?”); nor is it about achieving a reactive response. As I’ve said before, I’m trying to avoid falling into the reactionary trap; I’ve wasted far too much time and energy playing that game.
The nonconformity I started riffing on, and what I’ve been contemplating lately, is really about relearning how to ignore outside influence that I don’t need or want. This is more about shedding all the extraneous bullshit in my life, the distractions and the irritations that derail me from what and who I am, and who I want and need to be. I’ve already figured out who I am at this point; I just need to make a more concerted effort to be that person.
This is why I’m the kind of writer that I am, writing stories in the way that makes sense to me creatively, publishing them in the way that makes sense to me creatively. I’m the kind of writer who will hear certain ‘don’t do this’ writing advice and immediately think, well, why not? And then follow up with an attempt at proving it wrong. I go with what my soul sings to me.
In the end, with this bit of recent insight and clarity, my long-game plan is to regenerate a bit (to borrow a Whovian term) and return to that True Self I’d had in my head for years but hadn’t been able to achieve.
“When you think about it, we’re all different people all through our lives, and that’s okay, that’s good, you gotta keep moving, so long as you remember all the people that you used to be.” – Doctor Who (11th Doctor, Matt Smith)
Taking a week off from blogging, folks, starting yesterday. I’ve pulled myself quite thin lately between Day Jobbery and Writing Projects that I forgot I only have so much energy to spare.
I’m going to take some time to reorganize my schedule and activities so I’m not running myself ragged. I may have been able to do this in the past, but age and stress does do a number on a person after awhile.
I’ll be back on the horse on the 22nd. See you then.
…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.
I was originally going to just give you all a fly-by today as I’ve had my ass handed to me all week at the Day Job and I’m just about out of fucks to give running at half-speed right now. My writing schedule has been all wonky, thanks to having to head into the Day Job office yesterday (which I’d forgotten all about until the night before) and not having time for Daily Words or other fun things.
And you know how I am when my Best Laid Plans get waylaid by annoying unrelated things like Day Job stuff or something not working. Or just being plain tired. I get cranky and irritable that time’s been wasted. It’s a mindset that grew from my Belfry schedule back in the day that I haven’t bothered to get rid of.
SO. Do I go online and kvetch about it and then waste the rest of the day doing nothing?
Well, no. I get it out of my system, muster up the extra energy, and soldier on. Because I want to keep a solid writing schedule, damn it! Is that too much to ask? 🙂
Anyway. Don’t mind me, folks. Just having an off week. I’ll be back to normal soon enough.
One of the first things I chose to do the day after The Balance of Light was released was to set one of my guitars to an alternate tuning.
No, really. All my guitars have been in the usual standard EADGBE tuning for years, and over the last few years, I’ve noticed that I’ve been playing the same damn chord progressions and melodies for far too long. I love writing new songs, but I haven’t been inspired enough to come up with that many new riffs that I haven’t already used elsewhere. I figured it was high time to change it up.
My six-string Taylor acoustic is now in the DADGAD alternate tuning. This is for two reasons: one, so I’ll finally force myself to learn how to play it that way, and two, so I’ll pick up that guitar more often. My sister’s a big proponent of this tuning as she loves the versatility it provides. I’ve been meaning to do this for ages, and now that I have the time, I made the move to get started on it.
So what does this have to do with writing, anyway? Why am I posting this here and not at Walk in Silence? Well, mainly because I’m doing the same exact thing with my writing, now that I have the time to dedicate. After years of focusing on the Mendaihu Universe and everything that goes along with it, I suddenly find my brain with a lot of extra processing power again.
So this means that I’ve decided to take some steps that I’ve been wanting to take for quite some time now. The pre-writing work for Meet the Lidwells! has included a full outline — something I’ve nearly always avoided in the past. I’m also playing around with the post-production work early on, since I already have a good idea of how it’ll look and where I think it might sell.
I’ve been reading a lot of different authors and genres lately. I’ve been picking up on the varying styles and moods. I’ve been figuring out how to write a much smaller standalone book with a much smaller cast. I’ve been paying attention to how different races and genders are written. Part of this is so when it comes time for me to write something similar, I’ll do it correctly. Part of it is also because of my fascination in how stories are told from different cultural perspectives; I’m so overly familiar with how Americans tell stories that my own start to sound a bit…bland, so I’d like to try writing my stories from a slightly different perspective.
[Noted, I’m sure someone somewhere will complain that I’m falling into SJW territory, but that couldn’t be further from the truth. I won’t write my novels purely for political reasons, because I already know I’ll fail miserably and they’ll read like crap. The only reason I want to write from different perspectives is because I want to. End of story.]
What else do I plan on doing to freshen up my outlook? That’s a good question. The Day Job does kind of keep me from playing around with my writing schedule, though there’s still room for shaking it up a bit. I wake up early on the weekends whether I like to or not, so perhaps instead of draining my phone battery trawling the internet or watching several repeat cycles of the local news, perhaps I could use that time for creative endeavors.
I’ve also been extremely lax on my artwork, especially over the last year or so! I’ve got some fresh pencils and pens that I’d love to start using again. The art process has always been an enjoyable and calming one for me and I don’t utilize it nearly as much as I’d like. I’d also like to be a better artist than I currently am, to be honest. I’m okay, but I could be a hell of a lot better at it. Same with my photography.
Will any of this end up in my future novels? Sure, why not? My reading a crapton of music biographies inspired the interview format for Lidwells. My immersion in music inspired a fresh outlook on my writing. My photography is sneaking into my side project of creating book covers. And my knowledge of art has definitely helped me visualize scenes when writing.
Now that I have more time, I’m really looking forward these new perspectives.
No, really. If you put me on the spot and say “WRITE SOMETHING!”, I’ll completely freeze up. “Okay, write something about goats!” …goats…? Umm. I got nothing. I’m not a big Mountain Goats fan. LJ had a goat for a mascot. Aaand…that’s about it. “It’s not that hard! Write a story about a goat!” Doing what? “I don’t know! Make something up! You’re the writer!” Umm…
Yeah, from that transcript, it sounds like I just don’t have much of a thought process at all. It sounds like my brain just can’t get out of first gear.
On the contrary, my brain is most likely going:
Okay, goats. Goats. Mountains? Which mountain? Any mountain in the US, or one in Siberia? Which country is it that we usually see mountain goats on those BBC nature shows? Okay, a story about a goat that’s filmed by Attenborough’s team. No, that’s stupid. A goat that befriends the team? Meh. Too hokey. No, let’s back it up. The Pet Goat. NO! No no no. Not gonna go there. What the hell should I write about a goat? Why goats, anyway? I don’t have any interest in goats. Well, goat’s milk cheese is pretty tasty…that reminds me, we need to do our food shopping this weekend. I need to get that, and some more cereal — wait. Where was I? Goats. Man, I can’t think of anything.
This is why I’m not much of a person to write via a suggested prompt. I tend to overthink the exercise. It’s not that I can’t write like that, it’s that my default setting is usually long-form story. It’s why I’ve never really tried writing short stories in the past. It’s also why I know I’d never be a reporter on assignment. It’s not my default setting.
That said, however…
This is one of the reasons why I’ve resurrected the daily practice words. I’m trying to break out of that habit of thinking oh god I have to write 750 words about something and my brain is blank. I don’t know what the hell to write about. Or more to the point: I’ve already written about X, Y and Z. I’m sick of writing the same damn thing over and over again. I want to write something different but I DON’T KNOW–
You know, this is why I need to tell myself to STFU every now and again.
But seriously, I’m doing my best to break my bad writing habits. Instead of blanking out or freezing up, I’ll just write a random passage of conversation, just to see where it goes. It’s one of my favorite exercises, actually: writing a passage that tells a story or part of a story, using only dialogue. No prose, no ‘he said’, ‘she exclaimed’, no descriptive action. I force myself to write as if it’s two people on a blank stage, interacting purely through voice. And in the process, it makes me rethink how to approach my writing.
It’s good that I know what my bad habits are, that way I can do something about getting rid of them.
See, this is my problem sometimes. Maybe it’s an empathy gene that I’m unable to turn off. Maybe it’s my Catholic upbringing where I automatically feel guilty for whatever is going on in the world, even if I had nothing to do with it. Maybe it’s that I haven’t done enough to train myself to be proactive instead of reactive. Empathy’s good, sure. I’m glad I have the ability to utilize it. But I’m really sick of getting caught in that Everything Is Horrible Nothing Is Fine reaction. It’s not debilitating to me as I can manage how much media I take in, but it is distracting.
I say this here at WtBt, because this reactive part of me is not conducive to my creativity. On the contrary, it usually stops it cold. And I fucking hate that. This is why this post is so late today. I just could not find anything worth writing about last night, and I had to beg off so I could get my editing done.
So. What to do about that.
I’m not going to be a blissed-out hippie or an e-head raver and avoid the world. It’s kind of too late and I’m too old for that. But what I can do is be healthier on the emotional/spiritual end of things. [By now, you know by ‘spiritual’ I mean mind-and-body stuff and not religion. Not dissing it, just that I’m not looking for that right now.] Give myself a more positive outlook on life. Be more proactive on how I process things in the Big Bad World rather than just being reactive about it.
And in the process, that just might open up more creative avenues for me.
Most of the time was spent focusing on releasing the first edition of The Persistence of Memories as well as cleaning up and releasing the next edition of A Division of Souls. And once those were taken care of, I focused solely on the Big Galley Edit of The Balance of Light. As of today I am about one third of the way through transcribing my manual edits to the digital document, which will then be formatted to both e-book and trade paperback.
[Side note: I’m worried that TBoL is still going to be quite a long book, so while it’s going to remain a single e-book, I may have to split it up into two trades just to keep the price and size down. More on that when I get closer to finishing this portion of the project.]
The Persistence of Memories had an official drop date of 15 April of this year, about six months after the first book. I haven’t nailed down a specific release date for The Balance of Light yet, but again, the closer we get to the end of this edit, quicker I’ll be able to do so.
All that said, I had to make do without a few other projects in the interim. I put aside any actual work on future Mendaihu Universe books until this one was finished. I also put aside any non-MU ideas that have been brewing; I haven’t trunked them, they’re just on hiatus. In addition to that, I’d also put a temporary stop on my Daily 750 Words exercises. I wanted to clear my desk and get rid of any extraneous assignments and deadlines so I could focus completely on finishing the Bridgetown Trilogy.
The unprecedented decision, however, was to stop writing poetry. I’d come to the realization that it had stopped being something useful to me some time ago. I’d used poetry as a personal experiment for a good few decades: a creative release for my personal dreams, irritations, ponderings, or whatever. But it hadn’t been that for at least two or three years; it has become less of an outlet and more of a chore, and thus less enjoyable. So I wrote one last long poem, closed that composition notebook, and filed it away. I haven’t written one since. Will I ever pick it up again? Who knows. Maybe, but I think I’d need to put some real thought and dedication into that form and do it right this time, instead of the way I used to write it.
So. What’s up for 2017, then?
Aside from releasing The Balance of Light sometime in the early months, who knows. It’ll be the first time in decades where the Mendaihu Universe (and in particular, these three books) won’t be weighing down on me. The slate will be fully clean. For the first time in a LONG time, I’ll be able to fully focus on a completely new project.
I’ll be able to start in on one or more of those Possible Ideas I have on hiatus. A few more stories in the Mendaihu Universe, for starters. I don’t have any concrete plans at the moment, where New Projects are concerned, but once I’m ready, I’ll be planning like a fiend.
I would also like to return to the Daily 750 exercise again. Over the past couple of years it has been a great Word Playground for me, and at least three possible future novel project ideas have come out of it. And of course, I’d like to return to a stable blogging schedule. Those things go out the window for everyone at the end of the year, so I’m not beating myself up too much over them not being timely. Come next year, however, I’m going to make the best effort to stick to it.
I’d also like to practice more on my book cover artwork. As I keep saying, doing the covers for my Trilogy was an unexpected joy for me, to the point that I could see myself doing cover art as a possible career step.
I do have some Big Plans regarding the business side of my writing career. In the next year I’ll be making some very big, very important steps towards raising the bar. [Yes, I know, that’s a business-speak phrase and I can’t stand that kind of talk, but it fits the situation.] I don’t want to share them just yet, but I’ve been thinking about them and planning them in my head for at least a few years now. I’d promised myself that 2017 would be the year they will become a reality. I’ve started giving myself a soft schedule to work with, and will soon be spending some offline time making this business plan work.
And yes, as soon as I’m ready to release these Big Plans upon the world, I’ll let you know!
All told, I think 2016 has been a stellar year for me, creatively. One of the best I’ve ever had. That’s not to say I wish I’d spent more time and dedication learning how to best sell my creative wares online and make money off it, but I’ve certainly reached goals that have been on my bucket list since I was at least ten years old. I’ve rarely looked at my sales numbers, but I’m not taking them too seriously for the moment. I scored a good number of downloads of both books during a month-long sale on Smashwords — a LOT more than I expected to get, to be honest — and while I earned no money, the fact that I did get that many hits meant quite a bit to me. It meant that I was doing something right. It meant I was closer to my goals as a professional author than I’d expected. I now know where I stand, what direction I should head in, and what to expect when I get there.
Which means that 2017 will be the year I step up my game and start making money off of the Dream Job I’ve always wanted since I was a kid.