On the verge of…something

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.

Cattiness

Image courtesy of bluehedgehogs on Imgur

There is really no reason why one of my recent novel projects has a Maine coon cat in it. I mean, other than the fact that I’m surprised I never had cats in any of my previous books or stories, given how much I love them.

Okay, maybe there is a reason, but it’s not a Chekov’s cat. It’s just that the comically large, floofy and cranky kitty happens to be the pet of the two main characters. [Her name is Grizelda, by the way, Grizz for short.] I had no real plans to have the cat get involved in any of the shenanigans that unfold in this novel other than having one of them be the doting mom (fussing and giving scritches and belly rubs and letting her sit on the kitchen table when she shouldn’t be up there) and the other be the mom with withering patience (pulling her off said kitchen table, ensuring she gets fed on time, lines up appointments with the vet).

My point being, this is the first time I’ve used a living being as a way to show part of a character’s personality. They both love Grizzy despite her incessant crankiness and chattiness. They both care about her and miss her dearly when they head out on what is initially a few weeks’ vacation, and worry about her when said vacation ends up being longer than planned. Grizz doesn’t have a role like Einstein the dog does in Cowboy Bebop; she’s just there doing cat things and living her best cat life — including making sure her humans behave, don’t get into trouble, and feed her every now and again.

And, no big surprise, the Grizelda scenes I’ve written are always a joy to write!

Hrmmm….

Marc Antony and Pussyfoot courtesy of
Looney Tunes and ‘Feed the Kitty’

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.

Did I write this? Or someone else?

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.

Thinking Big Again

‘Radiance’ by Mami Kawada — opening theme to Starship Operators

So it seems that one of my Current Projects is going to be another epic. I didn’t quite plan it that way, but I didn’t plan on The Bridgetown Trilogy to be the big ol’ books they became, either. I’m not complaining, though…I have a soft spot for writing big books! They give me a chance to really stretch out and have a lot of creative fun.

There’s of course the world building aspect. While I wouldn’t quite say this is a space opera, it does have some elements of it. Most of it takes place either on a waystation near a busy wormhole gate or at its nearby host planet. I’m borrowing some layout ideas from a lot of different anime movies and series I’ve watched over the years (no surprise there) to build up the infrastructure. This one won’t have any conlangs this time out, though, but that’s fine. I’ve got other major details that I need to keep in some semblance of order instead.

The cast might not be as huge as the Bridgetown Trilogy, but it’s close. There are four major characters so far, with many secondary characters already making important appearances, and they’ve all got their assignments via the synopsis I completed for it a few weeks ago. Big ensembles are a lot of fun to write for me, because I love the challenge of keeping them unique as well as ensuring they all have their own important roles to play in the overall story arc. The length ensures that I give them all breathing room to be themselves as well.

And quite importantly: it has not one but three mixtape playlists already made for this particular project. Possibly more in the future.

Does that mean I’m putting shorter length aside? Far from it — a few of the backburner projects are about the same length as In My Blue World. Knowing that I can do both means that I can definitely switch from one to the other without worry. Who knows, I may even have a few short/flash fiction ideas in mind as well…?

Regardless, I’m pleased to state that this particular project is coming along just fine. Sure, I might trip up here and there, but I think I’ve gotten past the rocky beginning I always seem to have when starting a new project, so it should be much smoother sailing from here.

Shifting Gears

Image courtesy of Steins;Gate

So I was working on two different projects over the last moth or so, writing out a synopsis/outline for each with the future plan of starting the writing soon after I felt comfortable with what I had planned out. So what happened?

Well, two other projects kept nagging at me. Two that have been on my back burners even longer than the two I’d been working on. Two that I pretty much knew inside and out already, they just needed sprucing and leveling up to make them better. I kept them at arm’s length for the last couple of weeks of May, focusing on the ones I already had going but letting these two sit a bit and germinate a bit more. I figured, if by the start of June these two other projects refused to go away (or alternately, started hanging out rent-free in my head all day long), then maybe that was a sign that I should focus on these first.

I mean, it’s not as if any of these have a specific deadline other than a self-made one. I want to get something new done by the end of this year! But no, there’s no agent or publisher chasing me about any of these.

So. June arrived, and I figured, why the hell not? These are two projects that I’ve already done a lot of work on in the past, so it’s not as if I’m starting with a blank Word document here and scratching my head, trying to figure out where to begin. I fired up the 750Words site and did the same thing I’d done with the previous projects: worked out a synopsis, a cast of characters, and the style and mood for Project A. [I say “mood” here because several of the older versions leaned a bit too heavily on the pathos. Which, in retrospect, is precisely why they didn’t work. This version will hopefully avoid that pitfall.] For Project B, I’m going to need to do something a bit different and work out a major outline and piece it all together. Again, most of this has been done several times in the past so the turnaround should be quick and painless.

It’s been only one week, so far it’s been positive forward motion, which is a very good sign indeed. It means these are projects that I’m enjoying, that they cover subjects I’m confident speaking about. Even when I’m stumbling, I don’t (yet) feel like I’m in over my head. Do I feel that way about the former two projects? Well, not entirely. I feel like I’m still flailing a bit on them. Not nearly as much as previously, but my confidence is not as high with them just yet. So I don’t feel bad about shifting them to the rear burners for a bit while I focus on these.

Writing: Coming Back from Sick Days

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

Source: Makoto Shinkai’s ‘The Place Promised in Our Early Days’

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.

Magazines

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!

Adventures in Time Blocking

Image courtesy of ‘Your Name’

Sometimes it’s not the lack of productivity that dogs me…it’s the forgetting to work on something that day.

I’ve found over the years that I work best when my day has a bit of a schedule to it. Nothing immovable and set in stone, mind you…just a bit of repetition of a daily habit that gets me up and running. For instance, I’ll have a day where I want to write a blog entry, work on Writing Projects A and B, do some daily exercise, and follow up on a few non-writing errands. And for the most part, I’ll hit every single one with time to spare.

Some days, however, they turn into Best Laid Plans that go awry. Part of it is due to distraction, but it’s also due to that old classic excuse, Out of Sight, Out of Mind. For example, as much as I’ve been wanting to make sure I stretch and exercise more often, that’s usually the first thing to fall by the wayside, usually because I just don’t think about it until it’s too late. And sometimes it’s not enough to have a list of to-do items on the whiteboard calendar, because sometimes I’m too busy working on something else that I completely forget to look at the thing until late in the day. [It’s in my peripheral vision while I look at this screen, it just ends up as visual static that I don’t always pay attention to.]

So what to do…?

I realized it was time for me to try something I’d attempted in the past: time blocking. I know this is something some office workers do; setting up a full schedule of Things One Must Do Today. It’s mostly so that they won’t overfocus on one specific task to the detriment of every other task due that day. I did it during my school years to some degree, and I did it for almost the entirety of my Belfry years. A scheduled habit turns into productivity for me.

I say this because I’ve created one this past week that’s been working quite well; I literally drew up a spreadsheet of times and tasks: 7am check emails and read morning comics, 8am catch up with small projects and job searches, 9:30am write in personal journal (a leftover from my Former Day Job days), 10am morning stretches…and so on. I printed it out and have it hanging on my clipboard next to my screen. I started this with the idea that this isn’t a rigid schedule and is one that can be changed up if necessary. As long as I hit every task within the half hour, is the main goal.

The end result this past week has been a consistent word count for both projects, blogs going out on time, and most importantly, I’ve been exercising and stretching twice a day again! I’ve missed maybe one or two items along the way, but I’m not beating myself up about it because I know sometimes that’ll happen. I may have to go out and do some errands in the neighborhood, or I might want to finish up something important and time sensitive.

The point isn’t to give every single item a checkmark on a daily basis…the point is to give myself a bit of stability and direction, that’s all. And that’s all I really need right now.