Back to work

Monday morning is here and it’s time for me to get back to writing. So what is it that I do on the weekends, anyway? That is, when we’re not out and about in the neighborhood or going on an afternoon roadtrip?

Well, for the most part I keep it as my catch-up-with-cleaning days, mostly house errands. Sometimes I’ll drive up the street to shop or get our car washed, but for the most part it’s the Sunday laundry and the Saturday walk around the neighborhood.

Then I attempt to catch up with my email inboxes. I have a terrible habit of sliding a lot of them in one of many TBR subfolders — I’m organized enough that I’ll have a general TBR for store ads and whatnot, a music-related one (no big surprise there), a creativity-related one (writing, art, and so on), a local one (opera, symphony, museum, etc) and a mailing-list one for the Patreons, Substacks and Kickstarters I follow. For the most part I’m good at keeping on top of them, but every now and again I’ll fall behind and next thing I know I have like thirty or forty piled up and a month old. Most of them I’ll delete as they’re mostly shopping mailing lists and news updates I already know about, but eventually I’ll get around to answering some of them. [So yeah, if I don’t get back to you for a bit, I’m not ignoring or avoiding you. I’m just behind.]

But anyway! Monday morning starts the whole daily schedule off again. I do All The Writing while listening to tunage with the occasional mental break to keep myself from overdoing it (and to shift out of that terrible slouch AGAIN), and by afternoon we’re doing our sort-of-daily walk around the block once we both clock out.

Yeah, I know, this is sort of a boring mundane post, but that’s the life of a writer when we’re not in our heads coming up with all sorts of wild and entertaining things for you to read!

Working When It’s Noisy

Enjoying the show from Spare Oom

It’s Fleet Week here in San Francisco, which means that the Blue Angels have been flying overhead for a few hours over the last couple of days. I’m pretty much used to it by now, having always had a perfect viewing platform away from the public (read: one of our rooms!), so it’s just a few hours’ worth of loud each day. [Back during the Former Day Job, there were plenty of moments when I had to pause a conversation during a client call and say “Sorry about that, the Blue Angels just flew over. As you were saying?”]

Does this sort of thing bother me when I’m writing? Not at all. I spent most of my childhood and adult life in a busy house and I currently live in a major US city, so I’m quite used to it. In fact, it’s part of why I’m constantly listening to music; the tunes give me something to focus on so the erratic white noise of planes and whatnot don’t register all that much. I will let myself occasionally be distracted by the air show, especially when they’re flying close by, because why not? It’s fun and it’s only once a year!

Now, hearing the impossibly loud Recology garbage trucks idling and crunching and compacting and clonking outside our building at six in the morning, on the other hand…

Last Minute

Image courtesy of Nichijou

I’m writing this on a Sunday night at 7:30pm and I’m reminded of my school years, when I was absolutely terrible at getting my weekend homework started. I hated having to take all the time doing it when all my friends were outside doing stuff without me, so like everyone else I knew, I’d do it on Sundays.

The downside to that is that I’d wait until after dinner, so I’d be starting it around 6pm. Which, you know, if it was doing math problems or fill in the blank exercises, I could get those done toot sweet. If they were essays or long-term class projects or studying for Monday tests, however…yeah. I was awful at all that. I’d be up well past my bedtime cramming and make the biggest damn hash of it ever. Added to the fact that I couldn’t do a damn thing without music playing. Which, you know, always the distraction. [It took me years to figure out that it wasn’t laziness that caused this. But that’s another post entirely.]

I do in fact have a decent excuse for writing this entry this late this time; we had a busy weekend filled with a movie (Venom: There Will Be Carnage, which was all kinds of ridiculous fun), walking (ALL THE WALKING), shopping, PC maintenance and quite a bit of house cleaning. The weekend is when A and I do a lot of things together, whether it be major events or just walking around the neighborhood and going out for brunch. And I’m totally fine with not getting any writing work done then. I’m not getting graded on it (or receiving a lower grade due to lateness), and it gives me some brain downtime so I can start in on the writing work week with a fresh start.

So yeah. I don’t miss those days of last-minute homework, not at all. Writing these entries might sometimes feel like it, especially when I get too stressed and overthink it, but the high school stress is long gone out of my life.

Of course, tomorrow I’ll have to figure out how to squeeze writing my Walk in Silence entry in between my multiple novel sessions and grocery shopping…

Counting On It

September’s writing work: 57,111 words across three novels, twenty personal journal entries, eighteen blog posts (including this one, written last night), and eighteen rough-draft poems. And having enough time left to send out a few resumes, upload pictures to a stock photo site, occasionally play (and retune) my guitar, and do fifteen quick sketches in preparation for Inktober.

It’s been a super busy month, but this is exactly how I want it.

I’ve always noted my word count in some kind of moleskine pocket calendar. I’ve done it since the Belfry days. I’ve never used it for self-defeating purposes — you know, the ‘I only got 1000 words today, why couldn’t I make 2000?’ — because that never works. It’s more about figuring out my personal metrics, really. What word count am I comfortable with? What count do I think is good but could be a lot better? Which days are my worst, and which are best? Where can I do better, and when am I just phoning it in? I’m curious about these things.

About halfway through September I said to myself, okay: let’s try to make at LEAST a thousand words each for the three novel projects. I noticed, thanks to my word count notes, that I was hitting about 800 for Project A (which I’m doing on the 750Words site), roughly the same for Project B, but lagging on Project C at around 500. I knew it wasn’t because of burnout, though. It was because it was midafternoon and I’d start getting distracted. Whether it was comics, social media, cat gifs, or whatever, the problem with Project C was that I just wasn’t taking it completely seriously. And the last thing I wanted to do was let that one fall by the wayside. Or any of them for that matter.

So instead of saying okay let’s hit three thousand words today, I said let’s hit one thousand for each project. Very big difference there. It forced me to think that no, I wasn’t trying to Do All The Writing. I had three assignments due that day, all of them with specific word count. As soon as I hit one, I’d take a break (writing a blog post, sketching, practicing guitar, etc), then jump onto the next one. And if I didn’t quite hit it, then I could use some post-dinner time to catch up. And as for the journal, poem and sketch: all three notebooks for those are across the room on the (Not So) Hidden Bookshelf and I do all three in one go, taking no more than maybe a half hour at most. I don’t take them entirely seriously, and that in itself is part of another goal: stop trying to be so f***ing perfect from the get-go. And all of this is finely scheduled for most of the day.

See? There is a method to my madness! Heh.

Anyway — I’m quite happy that I managed to get that many words done this month, and I hope to do more. I’ll continue the journal entries, poems, sketches (it being Inktober and all). Keep up my daily creativity, and expand and elaborate on it. Reach out further with submission and freelance.

Let’s see where this goes.

Against Perfection

One of the biggest things I’ve learned over the last couple of months with my writing, my photography and pretty much every other creative outlet I’ve been focusing on lately, is that my worst habit is trying to be perfect from the beginning. There’s no such thing, and I really should f***ing stop trying before I drive myself crazy once again trying to achieve it.

When I was first starting out, it took me a while to realize there’s a difference between professionalism and perfection. Professionalism means many things to me: it can take the social meaning, such as having the patience and the ability to listen to others of different levels and work well with them. Maybe not in sync, but at least understand their levels as much as they (hopefully) understand yours. It can also mean physical (so to speak), such as submitting a clean manuscript and prose that sounds like I devoted a considerable amount of time working on it.

The problem is that when I’m not paying attention, my brain starts thinking that such a clean manuscript and tidied-up prose means it’s perfect prose and product. Which is why we writers cringe when we see our completed and published books out in the wild and suddenly that absolutely terrible typo or horrible use of grammar shows up that absolutely no one, not even the editor, caught. We see an imperfection and Everything Is Ruined Forever.

Lately I’ve been thinking of the title of Adorable’s classic shoegaze record, Against Perfection, and I think it fits perfectly with my recent mindset regarding all this. I’m finding that the only way I can combat this urge to make every single creation of mine an absolutely flawless masterpiece is to actively remind myself: go against perfection. Sure, be as professional as you possibly can, but stop it with the f***ing perfectionism already! Life is messy. Life isn’t precise. It’s full of paradoxes, full of mistakes and misdirections. I’m not saying to submit a terrible manuscript: just stop trying to make every single moment in the story perfect.

I can think of dozens of songs by The Beatles that contain all kinds of mistakes, egregious or otherwise (my favorite being in “Hey Jude”, when Paul swears just before the ‘na-na-na’ coda) and people still think they’re one of the most important rock bands in history. They made their songs as professional-sounding as possible, but the imperfections became part of their charm.

So I need to remember every now and again: it’s okay to have a bit of sloppiness, especially during the rough drafts. Tidy them up in revision. Make it sound great! But there’s no reason for me to make every single sentence spotless and clean. [Hell — this blog post isn’t exactly how I wanted it to sound, but I’m not going to delete it. It gets my point across regardless.]

It’s okay to go against perfection.

The Fever Dream of Being a Creator

I’ve always wanted to create, ever since I was a kid. I knew early on I wanted to be three things: a writer, an artist, and a musician. Not just one or two of them — I wanted to be all three. It wouldn’t be something I’d learn overnight or through osmosis, of course. These were things I knew would be a lifelong learning experience.

The downside to this was that once I’d shared this dream with others, I was constantly reminded that, American capitalism being what it is, the expectations were super high. [Never mind the fact that whenever I mentioned writing as a kid, adults immediately expected me to follow in my father’s footsteps and become a reporter — which I did not want to do. I knew I wasn’t good at it, and it didn’t intrigue me. My strength is in making up stories.] Most of these expectations were learned by experience and by reading well-meaning advice books and columns: write this kind of fiction, always write in that style, shmooze with these people and you’re in. And in college: read these books, be influenced by that author, be a part of those scenes. I really hated that part of the creative field for a long time, to be honest: being forced into a mold I knew I wouldn’t fit into.

I tend to be the kind of writer who’ll read an article talking about bad things in fiction — prologues, dialogue tags that aren’t “said”, adverbs, whatever — and how I should never use them. Of course, the nonconformist in me (thank you, college radio!) always responded with, well, why not? I would use them anyway, not really to prove them wrong but to prove to myself that they can be used, one just needs to understand how they work to one’s benefit. For example, I play around a lot with unspoken pacing in my work as a subtle way to hint at impatience or exhaustion or whatever other emotion a character is feeling. It’s really fun to do and I’ve learned to pull it off. So I’m always worried that someone will read that scene and say it’s too slow, when I’ve spent a considerable amount of time deliberately making it slow on purpose. I know, it’s not for everyone, but I really enjoy doing it.

Anyway — I’ve been thinking a lot these days about just how much time and effort I need to put into my creativity and make it a strong career choice instead of just a hobby or a side thing. All this week I’ve hit 1000-plus words for all three writing projects, and just the other day I officially started up my Shutterstock portfolio page (it’s sparse at the moment but I’m working on building it up a few days a week). Yes, I’ve taken the plunge and also working on my photography. It’s long been on the backburner and it’s high time I started taking further steps.

That’s been my true motto with my creativity all this time: let’s see how far we can take this. It took me years to understand what I truly meant by that; I didn’t want it to mean ‘mavericky pushing the envelope’ or ‘shock value because I can get away with it’. I wanted that to mean, let’s take this creative outlet and play around with it, mold it into something worth expanding on, and make it a long-game career that I’ll always enjoy and dedicate time to. I did that in the late 90s with my writing. I’ve done it to some degree with my music playing. And now that I’ve realized I have another creative outlet that intrigues and inspires me — close-up nature and landscape photography — that I’d like to expand on. See how far I can take it. I’d like to think I’m pretty good at it to some degree (again, always room for improvement, of course) and I’m willing to take that next step to make it happen.

I call all this a fever dream because it feels like one to me sometimes. Dedicating that much time, energy and brain power to creativity is kind of weird if you think about it because most of the time you’re starting with absolutely nothing and making something out of it. I won’t say it’s “magical” as I so rarely think of it in those terms, but it really is unlike any other day job I’ve ever had. It’s following an idea and having absolutely no idea where it’ll take me, but trusting that I’ll get there if I trust myself.

It’s taken me far too long to get to this point, I’ll admit, but I’m glad I’m there now, and I won’t look at it in terms of regret. I’m here now, so let’s embrace it.

Let’s see where it goes.

Getting back to reading

I was doing so well, too. I’ve already hit my GoodReads goal of 80 books for the year (which, yes, includes manga and a few rereads) and I’ve still got three more months’ worth of reading to go. And my Mount Read Me pile is well under control. So what’s happening?

Well, what’s happening is that I felt like reading what I have so far of my current three WIPs. And when that happens, I sometimes fall into a habit of digging through my Dropbox files to find other files to read. I get into a habit of rereading some of my own writing that ends up lasting for a good couple of weeks. There’s also the fact that I bought a new tiny tablet (a Lenovo Tab 7, 3rd Gen) and I just want to play with it for a while. SO! What to do…? I’ve already caught up with Story So Far reading (status: they’re definitely rough drafts but they all have promise), so there’s really no reason for me to keep this up.

Time to get back to reading other peoples’ work. I mean, this is exactly how I find inspiration and influence, right? I have a few ‘I will read anything by them’ authors in this TBR pile, along with some titles that were suggested from others or from Publishers Weekly, and I even have a smallish pile of older music bios that I haven’t gotten through yet. I’ve proven to myself that most of these books I can fly through in a few days, so I can clear that pile by the end of the year if I so choose.

Meanwhile, the WIPs will always be there on my cloud if I need to read them again. I probably won’t for another couple of months or until one or more of them are finally finished, whichever comes first. And if I desperately need to goof off on my tablet again, I did download the Nook app on it, and I have at least a dozen or so books there as well!

Fly-By: Keeping Healthy

Not much to report writingwise today, just that I’ve been super busy with the three main novel projects as well as juggling some other more immediate errands, micro-projects and otherwise keeping healthy. We may not have been walking the neighborhood nearly as much as we have in the recent past, but I’ve otherwise been trying to keep up with the twice-daily stretches, proper sitting positions, and whatnot. And I’m also happy to say that my blood pressure is finally down to normal levels after who knows how long. (It’s always been slightly high, partly due to it being hereditary and also to my copious amounts of caffeine and sugar over the years. I’m trying to do better in that respect too.)

Anyway! Keeping busy, starting in on a few long-delayed long-game plans and Doing All The Things. Exactly where I want and need to be right now!

Roughing It

Image courtesy of Haibane Renmei

One thing I’ve learned this week while following through with my Ramping Things Up plan with my writing is that I’m being a hell of a lot less nitpicky about my rough drafts.

Which is actually a GOOD thing, because I’ve always had a habit of taking far too long trying to bash out the Perfect Manuscript on the first try. I’m no longer spending three hours barely making 500 words and expecting poetry. This does NOT mean I’m being super lazy and writing nonsensical crap and lorem ipsum, of course. It just means I’ve stopped hyperfocusing on something that doesn’t need hyperfocusing right that moment. I don’t need to revise that terrible sentence right now, I can always do it in revision later on. I don’t need to fix the continuity, I can just leave a ‘FIX THIS’ note for later. If I know I’m just rambling in this scene, I can always just stop there, leave another ‘FIX THIS’ note for later, and move onto the next scene. In essence, I’m finally letting myself be rough with the rough draft.

Disconnecting from a hell of a lot of distractions is helping as well, no big surprise.

It’s part of a larger personal project, I suppose. I’m still working on finally allowing myself to be imperfect in general. Nothing wrong with that, is there? I’m allowed to trip up on my words, make mistakes and learn from them, and not set such super high expectations upon myself. [Mind you, this has nothing to do with how my choices/thoughts/etc affect others. This is merely about realizing I don’t need to be The Perfect Person from the get-go. No one is like that, no matter what we might think or believe. And I’ve had a terrible habit of hyperfocusing on that, much to my detriment.]

So what do my rough drafts look like so far? Per my full outline on Project A, I think I’m about 2/3rds of the way through, which is Not Bad At All. That one’s gonna need some TLC in regards to details and continuity, but I’m happy with where I stand with it at the moment. Project B is finally out of the Rewriting Older Scenes haze and is now heading forward with All New Words. Woo! And Project C is already headlong into Chapter 2. They’re all definitely rough as they come, but I’m liking what I have so far. And I’ve even managed to get a lot of minor things achieved: blog entries, Shutterstock uploads, poetry, and more.

I suppose one could say I’m getting my shit together, heh. But really, it’s more about finally laying out a plan that works. It’s me saying ‘okay, it’s time for me to work on [x] now, so let’s get started’ and then doing it. It’s setting me in the right direction, and I have no complaints about that.

Ramping it up

Meryl and Milly from Trigun

A new month, a fresh start, a reworked white board calendar, multiple self-assigned work items, a third novel project, follow-up on recent submissions, research into and follow-up on temporary remote work…is all of this at the same time such a good idea? Will this all end in tears? Will I burn out and fade away?

Actually, for the time being, no. I need this. I need to ramp things up. It’s the level of busy I’m used to, and the level that makes me feel productive. It’s what inspires me to keep going. It’s my own version of crunch, I suppose, but I’m not doing it at the expense of my health and sanity. I love having a high level of creativity on any given day.

I might not be the best at immediate multitasking as I can get easily distracted that way (e.g., attempting to focus on an assignment while thinking about doing the dishes while we’re binge-watching a TV show), I am extremely good at compartmentalizing my daily schedule so that I hit all the beats I assign myself (e.g., the morning journal, then doing my morning stretches, then 1000 words on Project A, then having lunch, then 1000 words on Project B, and so on). This is why I can say with conviction that I can definitely plan for high productivity if I assign a specific time frame for it.

So my plan for September, as it stands, is to spend most of my time reaching a higher level of productivity that I’d still be comfortable with. I’ve already retrofitted any days off — weekend trips, the occasional unproductive day, health issues, whatever — so I’m not going into this demanding that I hit every single beat every single day going forward. I’m merely immersing myself a little deeper in my creative careers and taking further steps as necessary. And if it works out for the best, perhaps I’ll keep going!