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!
Sometimes the problem isn’t hiding somewhere deep in the background and avoiding detection, leaving you spending far too much time focusing on where you think it might be rather than where it lies. Why are my characters not doing anything? Is it because they’re boring? Or that I don’t know what I want them to do? Or that I’ve just jumped into this project with a hell of a lot less preparation than I thought?
No, the issue, I find as of late, is my own damn problem. Being afraid to let those characters do what they need to do. I need them to get into trouble. I need them to cause trouble. I need to strip away more of their worries and fears and make them face them all, whether they’re ready for it or not. It’s an issue I’ve had before, really, and it’s usually caused by going from one extreme to another. I’ve reread some of my older work (trunked, private and otherwise) and noticed I go in waves. At some point I’ll have decided my creative outlets will feature as few filters or barriers as possible and those works will have a bit of wildness to them. Then I’ll go the other way, and write characters that work from an area of personal and/or emotional safety.
Now that I think about it, having written Diwa & Kaffi, which is very much the latter, it’s taken me some time to readjust. [Certainly there are a few personal issues at stake too; I wrote that not long before those final extremely stressful months at the Former Day Job. It took me a lot longer than I thought to work my way out of that mental/emotional situation.]
Which I think is why I feel that both Current Projects have finally broken through those barriers. The only way I could do it is to make the decision for both: I shouldn’t give these characters nearly as much protection as I’d been giving them. They need to face more dangers, more uncertainty. Weird things, bad things will happen to them, or to those around them, and they’ll need to process them. It’s what these projects deserve.
That doesn’t mean I won’t write in the ‘safe’ style of Diwa & Kaffi, of course. I just need to remember that each story I write has a different style that needs specific levels of conflict to make them work.
Yeah, okay, still the Grumpypants here. Doing better than a few weeks ago, but still feeling frustrated as hell. I suppose all us writers go through this every now and again, but sometimes it feels like I’ve been going through it for…a year? Maybe more? What’s going on, anyway?
I feel like I’m purposely avoiding writing conflict. I want to write it, I need to write it, but something’s keeping me from actually doing it. [I would not be the least bit surprised if this had something to do with my personal life.] It could also be that my creative brain is still stuck in the Diwa & Kaffi universe, where conflict was less high-stakes; I stayed there for quite a bit after I finished the story when things at the Former Day Job were getting stressful, as it was comforting to write in that universe at the time. Thing is, I’d like to get out of that mindset and get back to writing conflict again. I’m practically twitching to get back into it.
I don’t blame the D&K project (and its related other project that’s currently on a backburner). In fact, I’m still extremely proud of that particular book; I consider it my best one yet. BUT. Right now I feel like I’m waiting…for something. What, I’m not sure. It could be that my unemployed pandemic time gave me a long-needed mental and emotional respite and my subconscious is loath to let go of it just yet. It could be that I’ve spent so much of my life having to wait to do the things I’ve wanted and needed to do for various reasons, many of them out of my control at the time, and I’m not used to not having that barrier anymore. It could be that I’m just afraid to take that first step into the unknown.
Which, of course, is why I have to remind myself occasionally: just shut the f*** up and DO it already.
Anyway. New month, new outlook. Let’s see where this goes.
I have a very tiny plant garden (so to speak) on the bookshelf that sits in front of Spare Oom’s window. A few of these plants only need the occasional watering (the cactuses and succulents can go weeks without it and be just fine), and there’s one just out of shot on another bookshelf and out of direct sunlight (a maidenhair fern) that pretty much needs to be damp 24/7. These are all super-easy plants to take care of so I don’t need to worry about them too much, but I like to visit them just the same.
We have quite a few smallish plants in the apartment — something A started a while back that I’ve joined in on — and I felt it would be nice to have something in Spare Oom to keep me company. And more important, something non-writing/non-music/non-creative for me to focus on during the day. I’ll deadhead those odd peperomia flowers (far left in the picture) and give the pots a quarter turn or so every now and again, or give the maidenhair fern a full spritz of water. It helps me back away from distractions (or hyperfocusing for that matter) for a few minutes and calms me down.
I am occasionally tempted to get another plant whenever we visit a garden center (and there are many in the city, including one just up the street from us!), and these particular plants are cheap and durable, but for now I think I can handle these. They’re small, compact and just the right size to hang out in front of the window.
Doing some reshuffling and clarifying of the brainpan here these days. I know I haven’t been the most organized or focused person at times, and I’ve been thinking a lot about how to rectify that with regards to my writing and other things. I’ve done some minor shifting of the Daily Schedule which should help me be more productive. And just in general, I’m just…remapping my head a bit, so to speak. Rethinking in ways that make more sense to me.
In the meantime, not much to report other than that I’m actually doing pretty good with the Writing Projects! I need to get caught up with the revision-so-far for one, but I’m hitting close to 1000 words a day for the other, and I’m quite happy about that.
There’s a classic story behind the Beatles’ song “Yesterday” in which the hit song pops into Paul McCartney’s head in a dream one night at Jane Asher’s place in Wimpole Street. Upon waking, he dashes to the family piano and writes the bulk of it that morning before he forgets it. Soon after, however, he is plagued by this weird feeling that he’d just nicked the entire song from somewhere else entirely — it was a melody so simple yet so brilliant, so classic that it’s an immediate standard, he was absolutely convinced his subconscious had heard it somewhere before. He kept it back for a while, noodling with it and occasionally asking his bandmates and other musicians if they recognized it, and finally after a few weeks, the Beatles laid it down as the final track of their Help! album. It would be released as a single in the US as one of the band’s most long-lasting, best-remembered, and most loved songs. (It would even hit a Guinness World Record in 1986 as the most covered song in the world.)
Meanwhile, I’ve been going through some of my old 750Words entries, and recently I came across a piece of microfiction that I do not remember writing at all. It’s dated the 7th of November, 2018, and it sounds nothing like what I normally write. It actually sounds better than anything I’ve ever done, especially for something that was quite possibly dashed off one afternoon while distracted from the Day Job. It’s a simple 867-word story but it’s tight and concise to a level I’m often not used to. There’s no meandering, no riffing, trying to figure it out as I go. It sounds extremely confident. And the subject matter is quite unlike me as well. It has no relation to any of my other projects. I don’t even know what inspired it, to tell the truth. If I’ve written anything similar before or since that time, I’m not yet aware of it.
When I reread it about two weeks ago, I was absolutely convinced I’d nicked it, or that I was deliberately copying someone else’s style. There’s no way I could have possibly come up with this on my own.
Now, however, it’s gotten me super excited to the point that I think I need to submit it somewhere. It’s also made me think I need to do a deeper dive into these 750Words sessions and see what else might be buried in there. I’ve done a lot of ‘dialogue-only’ microfiction over the years (the first one arrived around 2014, I believe) which I find a hell of a lot of fun to write. I’ve written shorts related to my longer work — I have two Christmas-themed stories set in the Bridgetown Trilogy universe that were written for fun, for instance — that in retrospect I think could be used for submission, or maybe collected and self-published. And I have years of poetry that’s never been released except on one of my blogs.
It also made me realize that maybe I should rethink how I look at my writing as a whole. Some days I’m so caught up in the process that I don’t always realize when I’m going off the deep end, or if I’m losing the plot entirely (pun intended). Other days I’m so blocked that I’m convinced I’m not blocked and just being lazy or distracted. Looking back on these outtakes makes me realize that I’ve written more, a lot more, than I think I have over the last twenty-plus years, and sometimes I don’t give it the full attention it needs. Instead I’ll be too focused on gotta get my daily words done today or I need to get this revision done before the end of the season that I don’t always realize what I’ve got in front of me, or what I’ve got stashed away.
When something like this pops up from a forgotten corner of my writing life, I can’t help but be happy to find it again. It reminds me that maybe I’m doing a lot better than I think I am.
On the plus side, I received my second COVID vaccine shot on Thursday morning, so I am up to date! I no longer need to worry about if or when I’d ever get them taken care of! (A has already gotten her first shot and will be getting the follow-up at the end of this month.) We’ll still be wearing masks until further notice, of course, but we’re cool with that.
On the negative side, the side-effects did a number on my by Thursday afternoon. Like the first shot, I started feeling the brain fogginess and the lack of energy. This time out, however, I’d also started getting full-body aches. Like EVERYWHERE. My fingers hurt. My eyes hurt. Everything hurt. Somehow a migraine slipped in there as well. All told, it wasn’t a sharp you need to see a doctor pain, but just complete okay you’ve been up for ninety-three hours you really need to sleep now exhaustion. I even had a slight fever. Which meant that Friday was spent here in Spare Oom doing nothing except listening to new music releases and maybe watching some videos. [Thankfully it started going away by Friday night and by Saturday I felt totally fine. Invigorated, even.]
And as I usually reserve the weekends for catching up on emails, doing errands and cleaning house, I didn’t have much time to do any actual writing work that needed doing. This means that I’m now about five days behind on finishing this latest Diwa & Kaffi revision and that’s bugging the hell out of me right now.
See, my problem is that I always feel guilty when I take a sick day from writing. I’m always thinking, ‘Come on…you’d just be sitting on your butt listening to music. Don’t be a slacker.’ I can remember many times back in the Belfry days when I thought this and it never worked out the way I wanted. Instead of getting a thousand words done, I’d get maybe a hundred, play a few FreeCell games, give up, and spend the rest of the evening in bed reading comic books. So this time out, I figured why go through the same faulty reasoning? I finished early on Friday, got in my jammies, and continued my reading Martha Wells’ Murderbot Diaries books. (I’m rereading the first five so I can immediately jump into the new one that just dropped a few days ago.) Best decision I ever made.
SO! What this means is that today, Monday, I am not catching up, but picking up where I left off. It’s best that I don’t try to do everything all at once, because That Way Lies Madness. Instead, I just start back in on the work, and go as far as the day takes me. Whether it’s just a partial or multiple chapters doesn’t matter…as long as I’m heading in the right direction.
Seems as though I did in fact learn from my mistakes over the years!
This time last year, I’d left the (Former) Day Job after what…thirteen or so years?…and took some time off to get my head together. I’ve been thinking about just how frustrated and angry I’d been then, and for how long. The job had effectively cleaved my writing time (and personal time) to almost nil. By the start of 2020 I was barely writing anything worth talking about. I’d fleshed out some story ideas here and there, but I’d barely written any new words at all.
After that time off, I started from the beginning again. I asked myself several questions.
What made me want to write? What stories did I want to tell? What was my writing style? What did I no longer want to write about? Did I really need and want to write what I was currently working on?
And then I just…started writing again. Learning from the beginning again.
It took a few false starts, but I got there eventually. I was aware of my processes now; I knew when something wasn’t working, when something needed more work, when something resonated with me so much that I knew I could see this project to the end. I compared it to other moments in the past: instead of thinking if only I could write like this again, I was thinking this is just like that previous project I enjoyed so much. And I just kept at it.
It’s been a year, and right now I have a full stove with things on many burners: a submission-ready revision of Diwa & Kaffi, the fourth Mendaihu Universe story, a new project based on the work I’d done in those final Day Job Days, and a few possibilities I’m yet to start work on. I’m still working for a replacement Day Job — preferably one in the city that doesn’t maliciously carve away at my cherished writing time — and I’m actively getting in better shape. I’ve been extremely busy, but in a good way. A way that challenges me the way I love to be challenged.
I used to subscribe to a number of writing magazines all the time, but a few years back I ended up letting them all lapse. I used to get Asimov’s and some of the other fiction digests, as well as the writer-centric ones like Writer, Writer’s Digest and Publishers Weekly. [I also used to get a few music magazines, but it felt like all the ones I liked were either going digital-only or closing down. My music info is mostly via radio, social media and music blogs these days.]
Why did I let them lapse, anyway? Partly because I was overloading myself with too many things at the time. Between balancing the Day Job and writing and self-publishing novels and buying new music and other personal goings-on, I guess I just ran out of brainspace for them. That was about the time I decided it was time to do some high-level life-cleaning and emotional purging, so those were the first to go.
However, recently I’ve been feeling the urge to re-subscribe to some of these titles I enjoyed back in the day. I’ve been feeling very disconnected from the field over the last few months. Not in terms of pandemic hibernation, more like I feel like I’ve fallen out of touch with what’s going on in my chosen long term career field. A personal hibernation, I guess…after I published In My Blue World and did the usual push when and where possible, I disconnected from a lot of things.
I think it’s high time to reconnect. See what’s going on. See where I fit in with the rest of the writing world. Adjust where necessary, learn new things, find out new information. See what jobs are open, freelance and otherwise. Get inspired again. The other week I re-subscribed to Publishers Weekly because I got a lot out of it on a business level. Plus, their book reviews are great, and they have a monthly segment centered around self-publishing called Booklife that’s also given me a lot to work with and think about. I’m also contemplating getting WD and Writer again, and who knows, maybe I’ll go nuts and sample some of the fiction digests again!
Sometimes I have to remind myself that I probably shouldn’t be here in Spare Oom and staring at this screen all day long. Most days I’m good with this; I’ll do some local errands or take the day off to go shopping somewhere. Other days I’ll just sit here and crank out the words all day long (and almost forgetting to get up and stretch). I’ll get frustrated when I take days off from writing, of course, because no one else is going to tell these particular stories and I’d rather not waste more time keeping them hidden.
The balance, I suppose, is allowing myself to get up leave the PC for a length of time. I don’t have to get these words out specifically before noon, yeah? I mean, it’s a good deadline but it’s not set in stone. Today I spent most of the morning doing some non-writing work and then doing our taxes. I’ll give myself a pass in this instance, considering one of them is time-sensitive. That’s why this post is late. Later this week A will have a few days off, which we’ll be spending at the zoo and at one of the local museums. My Writer Brain of course is twitchy because it’s time spent away from the PC, but Reality Brain is already calming WB down (You can always write AFTER we come home, you know.), so I’m not overly concerned.
I’ll get there eventually. It all balances out, really. I have slow days as well as extremely productive days. And if that’s true, I can also have PC days and I can have Real Life Outside days too, yeah?