That Time Again: Reading What I Have So Far

Yup, it’s time once again for me to read what I have so far of my projects. The other night I finished reading Project A, and I’m now on the second chapter of Project B. So what do I have to say for myself?

Well, Project A has a lot of…gaps. It’s not horrible work, but I think I can add a few more scenes in between what I do have to make the story that much richer. These will essentially do two things: one, it’ll show the two main characters interacting with the different worlds they find themselves in, and two, it will expand on a few of the secondary characters that will become important later on. This one has been coming along really well and I’m quite proud of what I have so far — it’s sort of a distant cousin of In My Blue World in that it’s a Parallel World fantasy, and I find that I’m really enjoying writing that kind of thing. Who knows, maybe I’ll come up with more of them soon enough!

As for Project B? Well…you can definitely tell I had a bad case of the First Chapter Flails here. Or first chapters, really. By the time I got to maybe Chapter Four I had a better idea of where it’s all going. I can salvage a lot of it by way of snipping out some of the extraneous dead ends and insert a few things that I came up with much later in the story as a mirror plot point. The other day I was in bed reading this one and made myself get up to add four words — just a half-sentence that now makes a vague hint at an extremely important plot point much later in the book. That’s mainly what I need to do with this one: go back and realign the beginning stuff so it works with the ending stuff. I think I might be done with this one by sometime mid-November if I keep up, so I’m already looking forward to working on this one!

As for Project C…? Well, I’ve been bad with that one the last week or so, but that’s because I’ve been working on the outline instead. I should probably be back on that one by next week. I haven’t reread that one in a while, but I think I’ll do that after I finish reading Project B. We shall see…

In the meantime, I’ve also been sneaking in quick doodles for Inktober all this month and I’m proud to say that this is probably the first year I’ve been able to do it this consistently all the way to the end. (You can see my drawings on my Twitter and my Instagram.) I guess this experiment of mine of being super-involved with daily scheduling is working out better than I thought! Woo!

Distraction

The (in)famous Distraction Dance from Fleeing the Complex

Okay, I’ll admit it. I still get distracted, even when I’m on a roll with my writing. Some days it’s not bad…I’ll hear a song on the radio and temporarily stop what I’m doing to look it up and add to my shopping list, or I’ll take a quick peek on social media when I happen to slowly sludging my way through a scene. And yeah, I’ll also have those worse days when I Just Don’t Wanna and I’ll slide into a Twitter thread for a half hour.

I still get through them, though. I’ve gotten a lot better at saying No, you REALLY need to hit your daily goal, preferably before lunch/before you go to bed. I have my workarounds. Part of is that I’ve made sure I’m always conscious of the fact that I really do enjoy these current projects I’m working on, even if it’s taking me forever to get through them. I’ve also made sure I don’t overthink any problems I might encounter. Hell, one of the projects has multiple [FIX THIS LATER] notes all over the place. And that is something I’ve never done in the past, at least not before writing Diwa & Kaffi, and that one was added during revision when I realized I’d left out a major scene that tripped up the flow.

Still, today’s Friday and of course I’ll be heavily distracted because it’s New Music Release day. But I’ve gotten better at that as well. I’m no longer completely focused on the music; I’ll give it all a listen while I work, because I’ve prioritized work first. It works most of the time.

Distraction is no longer my enemy, I suppose. It’s just another sensory input that I’ve finally figured out how to manage.

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!

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…

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.

Keeping It Up

So how am I doing a week after stating that I’m ramping up my writing schedule? Not bad at all, actually! I’m averaging around 1000 words each on all three projects, and staying on top of the other things such as daily drawings, personal journal entries, and these here blogs. It keeps me reasonably busy for most of the day with some extra time to catch up on non-writing writing biz things when need be. Quite happy about that.

So how am I pulling this off? By sticking to my daily schedule, closing browsers, and having a bit of a rough outline of the current scene(s) I’m working on. I’m writing Project 1 by 9am, starting work on Project 2 by 11, finishing that off after lunch and working on Project 3 by 2pm. I give myself about two solid mostly uninterrupted hours with minimal distraction other than perhaps acquiring more coffee.

I’m also making it into an immediate-errand-completion-success process in my head. That in itself is important, as that was now I managed to teach myself to get my schoolwork done on time back in the day. I’ll open up only the Word docs I need, and focus only on that until I feel I’ve done a decent amount of work on it for the day. Sometimes it’s around 700 words, other times it’s 1200, but as long as I’m happy with what I’ve completed and left off at, that’s what really matters.

And what about off days? Well, I took Tuesday off from everything for the sole purpose of celebrating A’s birthday and going out for a bit (we went to see Shang-Chi and the Legend of the Ten Rings, which was a super fun film!) and I ensured that I didn’t feel guilty or twitchy about not working. I didn’t even write a journal entry! That’s the other important thing: it’s totally fine for me to take a personal day off from the writing! Taking the day off isn’t the problem for me…it’s trying to shake the feeling that I’m procrastinating and feeling guilty about it. It never quite goes away, but I’ve learned to ignore it.

I have no idea how long this schedule will last, nor do I want to know, because the point is not to think about things like that. The point is also to keep doing it until further notice!

Not quite used to this

Current Project A has been going in a very interesting direction as of late. For the most part it’s going exactly how I want it to, and I’m averaging around 800 to 1000 daily words on it — words that are coming fast and quick, just like they did with In My Blue World a while back. But that’s not what’s making me nervous…if the prose wants to slide out onto the screen with minimal fuss, who am I to complain or worry, right?

What’s making me nervous is that I am way out of my comfort zone with this one. I mean, I did that on purpose, but still…I really don’t want to eff this one up. It’s not really a space opera, considering I’m not going for the StarWarsy dogfight angle…it’s more like Becky Chambers’ Wayfarers series in that it’s about regular people living out there in the universe. It’s partly inspired by the need for process and compliance inherent within a few of my former day jobs as well as the times when those things can hinder more than help, but it’s more than that; it’s also a personal story about doing what’s right versus doing what’s necessary, and that part’s inspired by American politics of the last six years. And I didn’t want it to be about the upper management or the higher classes, either…I wanted to write this about the citizens that live in this story’s universe. But I don’t want this to be preachy, either. Nor do I want it to be cynical or nihilistic or paranoid, either. Those are the last things I ever want with my stories.

I’m not afraid to write this story, I just want to do it right. I’m taking each scene as it comes, and paying attention to how they unfold. I never make them overly dramatic, as that’s not the angle I’m going for. The main characters handle computer and communications issues like they would at their jobs; stressed out and annoyed, but never for a moment thinking that they’re trying to save the universe. One of the military pilots is defecting out of desperation and fear rather than for nefarious reasons. Another character constantly worries about getting caught. I’m not aiming for gritty realism, though…I’m just writing the story as if these characters were you or I; just your regular imperfect citizens trying to survive on a daily basis.

This is why I’ve yet to give up on it or feel that oh god this is all CRAP feeling just yet. It’s messy. There are a lot of trouble spots that will definitely need revision. But it’s going in the right direction, and right now, that’s all that matters.

Decisions

Luffy from One Piece

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.

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!