Year In Review, Year Ahead

Source: Say Anything (1989)

This has been quite a long year, hasn’t it?  So many things going on in the world.  Half the time I’m trying to keep a sane distance so I can process it all clearly and intelligently, and half the time I realize I’m doing all I can to keep my head above water.

But I’ve been trying to stay positive.  Even when we have people in “charge” (I say this lightly) doing all they can to obliterate the rules and exclude a portion of their constituents out of legal existence, I’ve been trying to be a positive anchor, even if it’s just for myself.  Someone’s got to be.

BUT!  It’s been an interesting and quite creative year here in Spare Oom.  I had quite the productive 2018, which was unexpected but pleasing.  I made good on my plan of releasing one e-book a year, with Meet the Lidwells! dropping in early March.  I wrote and completed not one but TWO books this year (In My Blue World and the Apartment Complex project) that will be dropping in 2019.  I recorded at least twenty partial demos of songs for my Drunken Owl project, and hope to work on more next year.  And I made more of an effort to write more lyrics and poetry again.  And I’ve been quite verbose in the personal journal this year.  I stayed pretty consistent with my daily words over at 750Words.  Lastly, I had quite a consistent run both here at Welcome to Bridgetown and over at Walk in Silence.  So yeah, a hell of a lot of writing this year.  I’m stupidly proud of myself for that.

So what’s on tap for 2019?  I’ve hinted here multiple times that I’m going to make some big changes across the board, both personally and creatively.  After years of having Best Laid Plans that I couldn’t always follow through with, I find that I’m now in a good place to make a lot of them finally happen.  A few personal events helped force me to look at them in a different, more serious and better planned light.  Will they fall through or will they come to fruition?  Who knows, but I can only hope it’s the latter.  I’m already taking steps to ensure they work.  Let’s just say that when they come to fruition, I will update accordingly, heh.

Overall, 2018 has been one hell of a roller coaster and I’m glad it’s winding down (sort of).  Here’s to hoping 2019 provides a little more sanity!

Source: World Order, “Singularity” video

On Creative Outlets

Source: Beck: Mongolian Chop Squad

I’ve been thinking a lot about my creative outlets.  I know, I know…in previous posts I’ve talked a lot about wanting to play more guitar, write more songs, make more art, but it was always in the context of trying to squeeze it in when and where I could, while also working on my writing.

Lately, however, I’ve been thinking about focusing on these outlets instead of always putting the novels first.  Perhaps instead of trying to brainstorm the next project, it’s time for me to give these two other outlets some serious stage time.  I’ve been recording more than a few song ideas and demos on my phone over the last few months (using the Hi-Q mp3 recorder app) and I think I can work with some of them.  I’ve long been tempted to find decent (and not expensive) multi-track software and do a bit of experimenting, so perhaps it’s time.

As for art…?  Good question. I have a few art notebooks, pens and pencils that are collecting dust as I haven’t used them in a while.  That’s gotta change as well.  I’m much more on an amateur level here, so this would be mostly for personal enjoyment than anything else, at least for now.  But yeah — I miss the enjoyment of drawing, even if it’s drawing my imaginary maps.  It’s a peaceful outlet that chases away everyday stress and makes me look at the world from different angles.  And I’ve always wanted to try new styles; I think I’ve burned myself out on drawing my Murph caricatures.  I’ve also been told (very often, actually) that my storytelling style is extremely visual, so perhaps trying my hand at visual storytelling might be something to look into.

I suppose these thoughts have been brought on by my recent decision to make a lot of personal changes in my life.  I’m not chasing away my novel writing, I’m just pulling it from center stage for a bit so the other outlets can have a chance to shine.  I’ve already proven to myself that I can write novels; I want to prove to myself that I can play music and create artwork as well.

I’m very curious to see where this all leads me.

Source: The Garden of Words

So and Slow It Goes

I’m still on schedule for revising In My Blue World, but MAN does it feel like it’s taking forever.  Some days there’s not too much to fix and I get get a good chunk done, and other days — like yesterday — I have to completely rewrite a major scene.  I’m about halfway through the novel and working off the revision notes I’d made during our UK trip a few months ago.  There are chapters where the notes will say “good — lengthen a bit — tidy up” and others where the notes go on for almost a full page explaining what I need to change.  Such is the writer’s life.

But I’m soldiering through.  I’m not sick of the book (yet) and I’m not at the ‘oh god this sucks’ level yet (which is always a good sign), but I really wish I was a little closer to finishing it up!

Still, I’m still on schedule to release it at Smashwords sometime in February.  The book cover’s already done of course.  I might follow through and do a trade for this one as well, depending on if I can get interest in it.  

In the meantime, as soon as I’m finished with this one, I’ll FINALLY be able to work on the Apartment Complex book!  I might even have a title for it by then!

More on Adjusting

img_20170709_141703.jpg
Part of Drunken Owl’s gear, such as it is…

A. and I had a conversation over dinner the other day about adjusting to life’s changes.  She’s currently between jobs and she might be, as she says, “catching up on years of lost sleep”, but she’s not wasting time at all.  She’s been brushing up on her skills by taking various online courses, and she’s also currently taking part in NaNoWriMo, writing a mystery novel.  We’re both relatively comfortable financially at the moment where she can afford to take some time off and readjust to real life.

This got me thinking as well, because we both understand what it means not to have a job, and especially what it means to live paycheck to paycheck.  So many things we’ve put off for one reason or another, whether it be financial or emotional or whatever.  I always found this deeply depressing and intensely aggravating, to be honest.  Since I was a kid I’d always wanted to be a writer, an artist, and a musician — not one or the other, but all three — but it was hard for me to focus on all of them.  They all demand countless hours of practice, knowledge, and labor that a person already working full time may not have time for.  This is precisely why it took me until my forties to become a self-published author, and to a lesser extent, why it took me until my forties to dedicate some daily practice time for my music playing.  And why, alas, I have never had enough time to focus on art.

I’d said to her that I was both impressed and maybe a little jealous that she now had this time to catch up on all the things she hadn’t been able to do.  I would absolutely love to be able to not think about Day Job stress and simply focus on learning the ins and outs of things I’d love to do.  I would love to take art classes again — something I haven’t done since high school.  I would love to learn how to record multi-track song demos in Spare Oom.  I would also love to improve my writing without having to carve out whatever precious time I might have for it.

[Mind you, this is also why I am always angered by those who view the arts as frivolous and not worth federal funds or adequate payment for delivered goods.  But that’s another post entirely.]

So what’s happening right now is that I’ve been doing some deep thinking about this.  I’ve been contemplating changing up the Day Job for some time, as you already know, and with that change comes the adjustment of other things in my life.  This is a perfect time for me to start making a stronger effort to include those ‘extracurricular activities’ in my daily life instead of keeping them at the level of wishful thinking.

Kicking Myself Out of the Comfort Zone

polar bear cafe relaxing

It’s all well and good to find your own comfort zone, of course.  It’s always healthy to have that stable ground to come back to when things get crazy.  You can hibernate there for a little bit and recharge, so you can come back out, rested and ready to go.

This is the same for my writing as well.  I have certain comfort zones I stay within, at least for my rough drafts.  I use them as a baseline to work off of, so I know precisely how far I’m letting the plot threads evolve.  This is how I’m able to read the feel of my stories, how I’m able to control how they will affect the reader.

But sometimes it’s good to break out of that comfort zone, and head towards unknown territory.

I realized this when I wrote the Apartment Complex story; one of the reasons it wasn’t working for me was that I was trying to keep it in a stable comfort zone that it didn’t belong in.  So instead I let fate and instinct take the reins on this one.  The end result was that I’d created character styles I hadn’t written before, doing things I had never written about previously.  I definitely wasn’t pantsing it; I knew exactly where this story was supposed to go.  I just let the characters tell me how they wanted to evolve.  They knew more about themselves than I did.  In the end, the story ended up being, in my opinion anyway, one of the best ones I’ve ever written.  I can’t wait to share it with everyone in 2019!

Breaking out of the comfort zone doesn’t necessarily mean doing the exact opposite of whatever your idea of living a safe, comfy life is.  I’m not about to take up free climbing or whatever it is middle aged Manly Men are supposed to do.  But it’s definitely given me a lot to think about in terms of my life at the moment.  This is about getting rid of those old blinders and barriers you’ve been hanging onto for so long, and seeing how far you can go.  You’ll be surprised how big the playing field may have gotten while you weren’t looking.

Play

Recently Dave Grohl released a 23-minute instrumental called “Play” that was written and played entirely by him alone, and upon hearing it, I realized the creation of this track is very similar to how I write novels.

The accompanying video is prefaced by a six-plus minute talk about not just the recording but a music school for kids that he’s taken part in. It’s worth watching for both; in particular, I’m intrigued by how dedicated he is to his creation. It’s not a long-winded progfest at all, but very similar to an orchestral piece in its structure. It’s going in a specific direction through deliberate sections, laying down certain motifs to experiment on and later return to, and each instrument is supporting the other. Grohl also ensures that each segment is played to the best of his ability, leaving no weak or meandering moments.

This is how my mind works when I’m writing an extended project like a novel. While the initial pass-through might be raw and desperately in need of revision, once I immerse myself in the serious work of laying it all down, I’m all in.  I immerse myself in the story by seeing it from multiple angles:  there’s the shape of the overall piece, where I can see the plot’s peaks and valleys as a whole;  there’s the attention paid to the scene itself, and its relationship not only to what’s already gone on, but how it’ll affect future scenes; there’s the volume of the piece, where I can feel when it needs calm and when it needs friction; there’s the motifs (such as character traits, for instance) that I will return to in different shapes and forms throughout the novel.

Over the years I’ve talked with writers and musicians (and music historians) alike and interestingly I’ve found that many of them are kind of surprised when I tell them this is how I taught myself how to do it all, that this was the way it made the most sense to me.  I think this is also why I find myself drawn to other creative people whose process is unique and/or unexpected.  To me it gives their projects a deeply personal touch; it’s not just their style that gets imprinted in the words or the music or the art, it’s their own spirit.  It’s what makes their creation uniquely their own.

Letting It Stew

charlotte carrot stew

After four attempts, one ragequit, and still no official title, I finished writing the first draft of the Apartment Complex story!  It’s a little over 79k words (about what I expected and wanted) and has been copied to a single semi-formatted doc file that I can work on.  So now what?

I’m going to let it sit for a little bit.

Wait wait wait, I hear you say.  You’ve been working on this damn thing for six months and talking about it endlessly about how much you loved writing it.  Why are you NOT working on it now??

And that’s a legitimate question, and there are two answers for it.  The short one: I’m about to start revision edits for In My Blue World, which is next on the release schedule.  This one needs my attention the most right now.

The longer answer is that giving it a bit of distance lets me look at it with fresh eyes.  Even though I feel that the AC story is my best work to date, will I feel the same a few months down the road?  Reading this particular novel with rose-tinted glasses might keep me from seeing possible issues that need fixing.  Alternately, I might end up being overcritical and pick it completely apart and ruin any joy I felt with the story.

My days away from my novel projects are also personal; I’ve just finished a six-month, almost-daily slog, so I’m due a few days off to do nothing except goof around.  Play FreeCell.  Fiddle around with my mp3 collection.  Post fly-by blog entries.  Go outside and take walks.  Work on my exercise regimen.  Vacations from writing are great!  You should always take a few now and again, especially when you’ve just finished not one but two projects that both need revision.  Your brain and body will thank you!

The novel will always be there until I come back to it.  And hey, I might even have a title for it by then!

Throw Those Curtains Wide

I’ve been thinking a lot about life changes lately.  A few personal and work-related events had conspired to unfold within the span of a few weeks to take me by surprise and upend a few long term plans I’d had in mind.

Without going into much detail, there may be a change in Day Job situation that, at first, bothered the hell out of me.  And rightfully so, considering I’m worried about the time lost when commuting or going to an office.  I treasure my writing time and fiercely defend it any way I can.  At the time of these personal events, I’d been thinking seriously about a long-term plan to make all that happen.

The personal events had upended all that.  Still…I never give up when it comes to my writing.  I’m fiercely protective of it.  It’s gotten me through a lot worse over the years.  It’s not just a lifeline but a spiritual release.  And it gives me clarity and drive.

But it wasn’t just about the writing; it was also about making important changes to my life and who I am.  After a day or so of flushing the resulting emotional freak-out from my system, I came to the conclusion: It’s time for me to do something about all of this. 

It’s time for me to be true to myself again.  Far past time.

Over the last few weeks, I’ve been working out how to make this happen.  First off: have a positive outlook.  I might not be able to work from home, but that doesn’t necessarily mean a loss of writing time.  It just means a shift in schedule.  It means perhaps heading to the gym later than usual.  It means sneaking in some writing time during breaks and lunch times and bus commutes.  And continuing with this longer-term plan of changing and improving my life, despite any distractions.

And most importantly, it means not giving up on my dreams and goals.  Ever.

It’s time for me to be true to myself again.  Far past time.

Distractions, Delays and Determination

polar bear cafe sloth
Yeah, a nap would be good right now…

Day Job Stuff is keeping me on my toes, that’s for sure.  A few things have come up that I’m having to deal with in different ways.  (Yes, I’m being vague for the moment.)  A few personal things have been serving as distractions as well.  Nothing horrible, of course.  Just some irritations, decisions, and changes.

On top of that, I’m going to need to delay the release of In My Blue World.  I don’t want to, but I’d rather delay it than rush the job and put out a half-assed and ultimately unfinished novel.  I won’t do that to y’all, it wouldn’t be fair.  So for all of you who might have picked up my freebie card at Worldcon with the lovely ‘Coming Autumn 2018’ sticker slapped on the back, I’m afraid it’s probably looking more like ‘Coming Early 2019’ instead.  Sorry about that.  But I promise you won’t be let down by the improved and revised version!

Which brings me to determination:  I’ve got a LOT on my plate right now, and strangely enough, I work really well when that happens, as long as I’m completely in charge of it all.  [If I’m constantly distracted by unexpected changes, that’s another thing entirely.]  So a lot of things juggling in the air, but I’m bound and determined to make it all work.  Such is the life of a writer: stubborn will and determination to keep going despite the odds.

Hopefully in a few weeks things will be back to normal and I’ll be able to breathe and take a break again…!

 

On Submitting a Novel

I’m trying to remember the last time I tried submitting one of my novels to a publisher or an agent, and I’m thinking it may have been at least five or six years go, when I’d just finished the final edits of A Division of Souls.  I’d submitted it and other projects off and on over the years before that, with no success.

That part was frustrating, sure, but I won’t hold it against the publishers and agents.  I get why it’s so hard to get past the slush pile.  I got over it, and it helped me take the idea of self-publishing a hell of a lot more seriously.  It also made me a better writer in the process.

During our vacation a few weeks back, I reread what I have so far of the Apartment Complex story, and I was struck at how different the style is from most of my other novels.  It’s not as frantic as the Bridgetown Trilogy, or free-floating as Meet the Lidwells, or as fantastical as In My Blue World.  It feels like a style I could really sink my teeth into with future novels.  At the risk of tooting my own horn, I think this is some of my best stuff yet.  [Even after threatening to ragequit the project in frustration earlier this year, at that!]

Dare I say, I’m rather proud of it right now.

It got me thinking — maybe this one has a good chance of being picked up somewhere?  I mean, yeah, I have a wish list of publishing houses and agencies where this would fit in quite nicely, and that’s a good place to start.

So why now, and not with the other novels?  I think part of it is due to the fact that my previous work does feel rather indie.  I’d like to think they’re decently written, but they purposely don’t have that Manhattan Literary Sheen™ to them.  [I’m not saying that as a put-down.  I say this as a parallel to, say, the loose noise of early-era Dinosaur Jr or Sonic Youth on indie labels versus their much cleaner late-period major label releases.  I produced my self-published novels to be indie on purpose rather than to attempt to conform to something more commercial.]

Simply put, the Apartment Complex story, I feel, is a story that deserves a strong platform.  I’d rather not see it fall through the cracks due to my inability to get it seen by potential readers.  It’s a story that I truly would like to share with a lot of people.

That said…I’ll have to start doing my submission search soon, because it’s been ages since I’ve looked at a Writer’s Market to see who’s out there nowadays and who’s accepting and who isn’t, and what format they prefer.

But that part’s easy.  It’s getting the thing done and all cleaned up that’s the hard part!