I haven’t been writing and I’m okay with that

Courtesy of ‘The Garden of Words’ by Makoto Shinkai

Still here, still plugging away at the final revision pass-through for Diwa & Kaffi, so there’s not too much to report at the moment. However, I think I can safely say that I really haven’t written anything new for quite some time.

And I’m actually okay with that.

It’s not a dry spell, because I have a few projects that I can easily work on. I’ve been continuing to write in my journal and do a bit of small creative things here and there. This is different; this is a moment in my writing career where I can take a break from it and not worry that I’m losing my craft. I’ve proven to myself that I can get it back given time and inclination, I just chose to focus on personal things for a little while.

In retrospect, I think this is actually a good thing, because I haven’t given myself a real break since I started the Great Trilogy Revision back in…2011 or so? That’s a long time. Three years of revising those books, three more years of revising them again to prep them for self-publication, and a few more years of writing three more novels. It’s been an extremely creative and productive decade, that’s for sure.

I think can give myself a bit of a mental break.

What will I focus on? Oh, I have all sorts of things. Finally work on my music and my artwork a little more seriously, for starters. It feels good not to be at full acceleration mode on a daily basis. Get outside more. Get to know more people. See and explore new and different things. Focus a little more on life things instead of creative things.

I have no idea when this hiatus will end, but it sure feels good not to give myself a deadline for the first time in years!

Expectations

I’ve been thinking a lot about expectations lately. Personal, professional, emotional, and so on. For years I always felt that I’d had high expectations put on my shoulders, but it’s only in the last decade or so that I’ve realized that most of them have been of my own doing.

When I sent out my first submissions — the short story in 1995 and The Phoenix Effect in 2000 — I wasn’t so much sending them out thinking I was hot shit and The Next Great SF Novelist (though I’ll admit that I let myself half-jokingly hope I had a chance), but thinking ‘OK…you’ve gotten this far in your writing career. That’s a pretty damn good goal to hit, considering.’ My expectations weren’t high, but they weren’t in the gutter either. As long as I did a decent job or at least learned from my mistakes, all was well.

The same thing goes for my Day Job: I certainly don’t expect to ever rise up to CEO level in any job I’ve held, as that’s not a position I want. I like being part of the team rather than its leader. That way my expectations are more realistic: I expect (and hope) that my teammates and I know what we’re doing and that we’re doing it the best we can under a normal deadline. I work so much better behind-the-scenes than I do as a performer, so to speak. The main reason being that it gives me the space to observe the processes, understand them, and maybe even upgrade them if need be.

But what about my own life? That’s a good question. Sometimes I expect too much of myself — that I need to be perfect every single moment, and become frustrated when I fail to hit that bar. Why do I set it so high? Who knows…it has to do with observing others’ actions, whatever they may be, and hoping to reach those same heights. Yes, I know, that way lies madness.

And pretty rich, coming from someone who spent most of his teenage years shouting that nonconformity was the way to go. Heh.

In the last year or so, I’ve been rethinking my expectations. Readjusting them when and where necessary. Part of this came out of my foray into self-publishing: I knew my novels weren’t going to be brilliant and popular and wildly successful, so I let my guard down a bit. I still tried to write the best book I could, I just stopped trying to reach Stephen King or Ray Bradbury heights of quantity and/or quality. The same goes with my personal life: I accepted that I’d fuck up every now and again. I let myself take some blind chances instead of building up Detailed Best Laid Plans.

And instead of trying to be Everything to Everyone, I realized, maybe it’s time for me to be happy on my own terms again. Sure, that sounds like I’ve hit my Midlife Crisis stage, but I really haven’t. This is the least stressed out I’ve ever felt in decades. I’m more proactive than reactive now. I feel no need to recapture my youth (my music collection does that for me). All in all, this is the most content I’ve been in a long time.

All I’m doing now is making needed changes, many of them overdue, to make things even better for myself.

End of World Party

Just like anyone else here, I too read what’s going on in the world lately. I get frustrated. I get angry. I get riled up. I want to go on a long-winded Twitter rant. I want to start yelling and someone, anyone, about why the world sucks.

And then I step back and exhale. I delete the rant and close the app. I reconnect with what’s going on in front of me; the job search, my health, our upcoming trip to the UK, my pre-submission work for Diwa & Kaffi. I wind myself back down to a calm level and move forward again. I don’t ignore what’s out there; I just do what I can to keep it from consuming me.

I wrote Diwa & Kaffi in part because I wanted to write a story that was positive. That doesn’t necessarily mean that everyone is happy and cheerful and nothing bad happens and everyone’s okay in the end. In fact, the exact opposite of that happens. It’s just that this story could not be told in a dystopian way. This is about characters trying their best to be good people, and all the ups and downs that entails.

I used to read all kinds of dystopian novels, but now they exhaust me. Sure, I might return to them eventually, but right now it’s not the kind of book I want to read or write. I’ve got enough bringing me down; I need something that lifts me up and inspires me instead. If I’ve learned anything over the years, it’s that I’m much more productive, both creatively and in real life, if I use the positive as a goal rather than focusing on all the negatives I have to wade through.

It’s about going into battle knowing that I’ll win in the end.

Coming Attractions

*muffled lo-fi jazz instrumental in bg*

I’ve been doing a rethink of a lot of things lately, both personal, creative and otherwise. And lately I’ve been thinking about changing up my blogs here a bit. They’ve both had the same theme and the same layout for years, and I think it’s time that I gave them a proper update. I’m totally fine with my current schedules for them, so that won’t change.

Does that mean a change in subject matter? Maybe…Welcome to Bridgetown will still be my official author blog and Walk in Silence will still be my music blog…but I think I’ve already said a lot of what I’d wanted to say here on the intertubes to the point where I’m repeating myself now. I’d like to expand my horizons a bit, as it were.

So — when is this going to take place? Good question. No idea, but you’ll know when I have a more solid and detailed plan for all this. Posting WIP snippets? Longer or multi-part entries? Personal entries? Book reviews? It’s all up in the air at the moment, but I’ll definitely let you know more as it comes.

See you soon!

Writing While Exhausted

I really should know better sometimes.

We just returned from an extremely busy weekend at Outside Lands and all that entails: multiple band performances, vague attempts at eating healthy, walking all over Golden Gate Park, braving the questionable porta-loos, and trying to ignore the more performative extroverts and drunk frat bros. And walking back home six long blocks away at the end of the night. It was a blast and I’m always excited that we have this incredibly cool music festival less than a mile from our apartment, but I am now tired and sore and a nap sounds like a great idea.

And yet somehow I’ve decided that doing my Daily Words, posting an entry here, and working on revision for Diwa & Kaffi later tonight is a good idea. Sometimes I just don’t know when to stop and take the day off.

I used to do this all the time down in the Belfry, back when I was writing the trilogy. I’ve spoken many a time about coming home from a ten-hour day during fourth quarter at the candle factory (when I used to have to go in for 4am in the winter, meaning I had to get up at 2am to get ready and brave the unplowed roads). And yet somehow I’d still decide to do my comic and cd run in Amherst, and spend an hour or so working on the novel. Granted, some days I’d get as far as playing a few hands of FreeCell, write a few hundred words, and call it done.

But other days I’d actually soldier through, fueled by snacks and Mountain Dew, and managed to hit my thousand-word goal for the day. Tired or not, sometimes these writing sessions were fruitful and enjoyable. As long as my brain wasn’t too loopy, I could pull it off.

I’m of course years older now, I eat healthier and go to bed at a decent hour, and thankfully my Day Job doesn’t demand ridiculous hours and overtime, but I don’t plan on pushing myself if I don’t have to.

But if I’m up for it, I’ll at lest give it a try.

More on cleaning out the PC

It’s kind of fascinating to go into the Apps section of my PC just to see what software I’ve downloaded over the years, and if I’ve in fact used any of it. I know there are a few beta-version downloads that I’ve tried because hey, why not, and they’re free. I’ll also admit to downloading a few with the best of intentions and not used them at all. But for the most part, there’s only a tiny core list that I’ll install for each new PC or laptop I get:

Office 365 (includes Word, Excel, etc). Obviously for my writing and other related things. I use this pretty much every single day so I’ve more than made the yearly subscription worth it. And I can use it on multiple computers!
Dropbox. I’ve had a fine experience with this particular cloud storage and have no plans to go elsewhere. The one app I have on everything: the PC, the laptop, the tablet, even my phone.
MediaMonkey, my audio player of choice on the PC for at least a decade or so. It does what I want it to, works fantastic as a library, and if there have been any issues, they’ve been extremely minor and fixable. [I do have an iTunes account, but I only use that for the rare download. Same with Spotify: I have a free account but use it sparingly.]

I use other software for various things here and there, but those are the core three, and the three I use the most. Everything else I’ll grab as needed. Art editing software, music editing software, downloaders, rippers, PC cleaners and firewalls, and so on. Over the years I’ve gotten a LOT better at asking myself do I REALLY need this…? before I download a program. Some I will definitely use at least a few times a month or so, but if I’m not going to be using it for the next six months, maybe I can hold off.

My plan this time out is to maintain a cleaner hard drive, especially now that I’ve also cleaned up my external drives. I’m trying to avoid the mistake I made multiple times in the past, where everything just accumulates and clutters it all up. I’ll also disable a lot of the programs I never use. This will mean a quicker start time, faster processing, and hopefully a longer life!

Updating the hardware (and the cloud)

This past weekend I did something I haven’t done in years: I ordered a new PC before my current one started dying a slow and horrible digital death. I’ve had my current one — an HP Envy 750-114 — since early 2016, and the average lifespan for my PCs is three to four years. It’s still working okay, though it’s starting to slow down to the point where it’s noticeable compared to my new laptop. I’m most definitely not a gamer, but I put my PCs through a hell of a lot, in between novel writing, internetting, song streaming, cd ripping, downloading, and everything else. I always need a PC with a good processor that will let me do all that multitasking. [Added to that, I also ordered a new monitor to replace the one I have…which dates back multiple PCs to 2006! This too works fine, but uses a cable that PCs no longer use. Both of these will be donated once they’re cleaned.]

It feels weird to do this, as I’m more used to squeezing every ounce of use out of it until it finally screams that’s it I’m done and refuses to turn back on. This time out, it’s the mouse and keyboard that are kicking it first. No big surprise, considering. I happened to have a spare wireless combo lying around the house so that’s taking its place until the new PC comes in.

I suppose this is all part of my ongoing KonMari Tidy-Up Project here in Spare Oom. I recently finished cleaning up all the old word files I’d had kicking around, deleting the duplicates (and there were MANY) and properly sorting them in subfolders. In the process I took out the old filing system on my Dropbox account and uploaded the new and much improved one. Suffice it to say, my DB account thus sent me a few emails asking if I was okay, considering I’d deleted a few thousand files within a few days. It’s actually kind of comforting that my cloud storage account keeps tabs like that. Anyway, all is sorted (literally) and things are much easier to find now.

SO! This of course means that I’m already planning out what needs moving from this PC over to the externals for temporary storage so I can upload them once the new PC is up and running. This, of course, is precisely why I had all those damn duplicates in the first place. Over the course of a decade and a half, I had the bad habit of taking this exact step…only to keep the backup files on cds or externals and never getting rid of them once they were safely back on the new main drive. They just all piled up after a while.

Hopefully this major cleanup — and a reminder to delete those backups once they’re good to go on the cloud — will avoid further confusion. Here’s to hoping it all runs smoothly!

Thank you, new readers!

Hello and Welcome to Bridgetown, new readers! Many of you — and I mean many of you, which completely surprised me — have been downloading my ebooks for free from the Smashwords Summer Winter Sale going on this month. And I thank each and every one of you! I hope you enjoy them! [And please leave a GoodReads review if you’re so inclined!]

For new visitors, welcome to my writing blog! I’m a big fan of paying it forward, so I write a lot of entries about the writing life in hopes that I can help a fellow writer along. I also like providing readers behind-the-scenes tidbits (such as origin stories, who I’d like to play my books’ characters in the movie version, and of course soundtracks). I try to keep it light and entertaining here, and I tend to use a LOT of anime gifs, but they’re just so dang useful sometimes!

Thanks again for reading!

Do Writers Read Their Own Books?

It’s an honest question. Do we read our own books after they’re out there in the wild? After spending all those hours slaving away at it, pulling it apart and putting it back together, wondering if anyone else out there is ever going to read it…do we want to pick it up again after we call it complete?

We most definitely do, for various reasons. I can’t say if other writers read their own books for the fun of it, but I would not be surprised if some of us do. After all, a good portion of us write these things because these are the kinds of stories we like to read.

Over this past weekend, inspired by finishing off my cleaning and sorting of the Mendaihu Universe papers, I uploaded an epub copy of A Division of Souls to my Nook and started reading it during our relaxing weekend down in Monterey. I haven’t picked up that particular book since I self-published it back in 2015.

I’ve distanced myself from the Bridgetown Trilogy since then, by choice. The major reason being that I had a few unrelated stories I wanted to write and release first. I also wanted that distance so I could look at it with a fresh viewpoint, that way I could reconnect with certain parts of it for the potential Book Four.

I’m already picking up things I’d like to change with it, of course. Perhaps a bit more editing. A few formatting issues that might have gotten missed. Quicken the pacing a bit more, especially in those first few chapters. But other than that, I’m surprised at how solid it all is despite that. Spending so many years on a single project can sometimes become a desperate fall into a rabbit hole, but I can see I managed to avoid that. It’s very heavy immersion, I’ll grant that. This was my Epic Urban Fantasy project and written that way on purpose. Just like Meet the Lidwells! and In My Blue World were written fast and compact on purpose. Just like Diwa and Kaffi was written in a deliberately even and relaxed pace.

And I’ve reread those books as well! I read MtL for the fun of it because it was such an enjoyable and quick project. I reread IMBW because I wanted to make sure I did a good job on it, a few months after I released it. And I’ve been rereading D&K over and over again lately for revision purposes. A common piece of advice that many authors (and agents and publishers) give is that you’ve got to be able to reread your own work countless times and not get sick of it, and I totally get that.

I’m not planning on doing a New and Improved Edition of the Bridgetown Trilogy because of this current reread. At least not yet, anyway. (I might eventually do one to fix the few very minor issues that I catch, but that’s not going to happen right away. Right now, all I want to do is reread the trilogy and see how it sits with me, and what I can glean from it for later books in the Universe.

Still, it is kind of fun to read these things and get that occasional feeling of pleasant surprise and pride: I wrote this? Daaang! Heh.

Journals and poetry over the years

My notebook of choice for poetry and journaling for decades.

The Mead composition notebook hasn’t really changed much over the years. The stiff cardboard cover is bendable cardstock now, but the cover is still available in mottled black and white, still has 100 sheets bound by string and glue, and still fits perfectly in a backpack.

Back in early 1988, when Chris and Natan and I started up our band The Flying Bohemians, I’d tasked myself with writing song lyrics. Deeply inspired and influenced by the music we were listening to on college radio and as you can well imagine, most of it ended up being pastiches of songs by The Cure, The Smiths, and The Sisters of Mercy. There’s some decent stuff in there, given my age and experience, but for the most part it’s the kind of too-serious writing you’d expect from a seventeen-year-old stuck in a small town, waiting to escape.

Song lyrics and poetry became a perfect temporary escape for me then. During bouts of frustration and depression, I gave myself one rule: no boundaries. Let’s see how far we can take this. Mind you, that didn’t mean ‘let’s write the most vile/violent/gross/puerile shit just to get away with it’. I never wanted to go that route to begin with. No, it meant ‘let’s lay our heart and mind out and go deep, no matter how dark it gets.’ Sure, it’s a teenage cri de coeur and everyone’s done it, but I took my craft (if not the words) seriously. It was writing exercise to work on my frequency and consistency, and it was a mental exercise to purge my negative emotions. And they were a creative outlet when my fiction writing well had run dry.

This was an avenue that got me through a hell of a lot over the years. The frustrations of high school, the worse frustrations of college, and especially the dismal post-college years. I may not have always been consistent with it, and would sometimes go years between writing in these notebooks, but I never gave it up completely.

My history with personal journaling, on the other hand, had been spotty for years. For a brief time I used these same Mead notebooks for personal journals, starting in 1991. Most of it was voicing personal frustrations with school, friends, relationships, roommates, and lack of money. Later on, I’d write personal entries in regular notebooks here and there (I’ve been finding quite a few of them during my KonMari Tidy-Up of Spare Oom Project), but they never lasted more than a few pages. And once I joined Live Journal back in 2004, all that writing ended up online.

It wasn’t until New Year’s Day 2014 (after a brief false start a few months earlier) that I bought a 3-pack of Moleskine’s large cahier journal from our local bookstore that I made it a point to redirect that public display back into something personal again. Since that day I’ve been writing in those particular notebooks five days a week with very few exceptions; it’s what I do during my 9:30am break during the Day Job. I’m glad I took that step, as it made me refocus my creative output. My online writing morphed into the two blogs you’re now following. My personal issues now stay personal, just like they were all those years ago.

But what about the poetry? I’ll certainly have highly productive waves every now and again, but those are often few and far between. Those remain an exercise in emotional and mental purging, but they’re also done for the pleasure when the inspiration strikes. I’m working on trying to make this outlet more consistent, however.

Every now and again I’ll pull out one of these journals and poetry notebooks and read a few pages, just for the fun of it. Sometimes I’ll cringe, but more often I’ll let myself revisit the memories and emotions tied to these writings. It’s a way for me to remember what I’ve learned, reminders of where I was and where I’m going. Sometimes it’ll even inspire something new.