1: On Saying Goodbye…?

When I was ten or so, I was just starting to develop my tastes in music by listening to all sorts of things: my sisters’ records, the local radio stations, albums taken from the library, and so on. During one particular family party at my uncle’s house, I asked if I could listen to his eight-track tape collection. He sensed that I was already a big fan of music, handed me a pair of super heavy aviator headphones, and let me have at it.

I remember hearing Alan Parsons Project’s “Time” (from their 1980 album The Turn of a Friendly Card) during that little listening session, because the song stuck with me. I remember hearing the words, and thinking to myself: what if that happens to me? I’d gone past the song’s intended maudlin idea of leaving and unknown future; instead I went even further and imagined what it would feel like to truly say goodbye for a final time, fully knowing I’d never see them again, whether it was someone moving on or passing away. How would I handle that? Pretty heavy shit for a ten year old…

Decades later and here I am, writing this in the last days of 2018, and thinking: I think it’s time for me to say goodbye to a few things. I’ve been vague-posting about this for a few months now, and though I’m really not going to go into much detail here (because, y’know, it’s personal), I can say that it will be a positive leave-taking. It’s me finally letting go of the Old Me. I’ve done a lot of life-cleaning over the years, and I’ve finally come to the point where there are just a few final barriers that I’ve left for last. Personal and emotional barriers I put up a long time ago that I no longer need. It’s time to pull them down once and for all and become the New Me in the process.

Some of this is related to my creative outlets; some of it is related to personal things. It’s not going to be a simple Magical Transformation come January 1, of course, and that’s not what I’m expecting anyway. This is more about getting rid of the defaults I’ve kept myself in for ages. It’s about saying goodbye to old habits and distractions. It’s about taking the next step into something much bigger and more important.

It’s kind of weird and I feel a bit vulnerable about it, but that’s what happens when you decide to take major steps in your life. Especially if they’re ones you’d been avoiding for most of it.

SO! That said, I’ll be making good on my idea of taking a blogging hiatus for a little while in 2019. I’d like to spend some time offline working through all of this. I’ll be working on the post-production of In My Blue World and the Apartment Complex story, but I have no major projects after that, giving me some long-delayed time to focus on other creative avenues for a while.

It’s been an interesting year, to say the least. But despite all its ups and downs, I’m ending it on a positive note, knowing that I’m going into the new year with the same positivity.

Thank you all for following over the past few years! I’ll still post here now and again, but I won’t be on any strict schedule for a while. I wish all of you a happy and creative 2019!!

2: On Flailing

Two more entries to go in 2018, so I thought I’d do a bit of an overview of things I’ve been doing or thinking about over the course of the year, building up to my new writing plans for 2019. 

Ed provides a sterling example. Source: Cowboy Bebop.

I did a hell of a lot of flailing this year. A TON of flailing. So much flailing that it was kind of embarrassing to watch. And I’d rather not go through that process any more than I have to, ever again. It’s a huge waste of time, productivity, and energy.

What the hell am I going on about, you say? A fine question. I am of course talking about the numerous attempts at writing the AC story…about the grand idea of writing longhand as a change of pace…about yet another attempt at writing Can’t Find My Way Home and failing once again…about trying to come up with blog post ideas here without repeating myself…and so on and so forth.

It’s also on a personal level as well. I’ve frequently stated how frustrated I get when I approach something in a reactive manner. I spend far too much time, energy and emotion reacting to statements and situations rather than processing them. Instead of finding a way to fix or contribute to them (or even ignore them if applicable), I focus on how I feel about the situation. It only serves to make me yet another responding echo and totally failing to do anything about it.

And let’s go one further: when I get to this particular level where I see my problem and want to do something about it, chances are I come up with Best Laid Plans to change myself in one way or another. I feel proud of myself for coming up with a kludge that I think (maybe…?) will make things work again. Sort of. Sometimes they work, but more often than not, that’s all they remain: plans. I get distracted. Or worse, I get disillusioned. I fall back into the same feedback loop and I’m back where I started.

And that has been so goddamned tiring and I’m sick of it.

Which is why I’m choosing to spend a considerable amount of time in 2019 on a hiatus. It’s not exactly an internet detox, though. I’ll still be around in one form or another. I’ll still blog here, though on a less hectic schedule. I’ll still be available and contactable.

I just want to stop reacting, stop flailing, stop planning, and start doing more. Figure out who I am at this point in my life, and do something about it. It’s far past time.

3: On Commitment

Three more entries to go in 2018, so I thought I’d do a bit of an overview of things I’ve been doing or thinking about over the course of the year, building up to my new writing plans for 2019. 

Looking back over the posts I’ve made this year, I see that one of my most common themes, especially in the first half of the year, was determination versus knowing when to give up.

Near the start of the year, I found myself floundering multiple times while writing the Apartment Complex story. I ragequit writing it at least three times within the span of a few months. It frustrated the hell out of me, because I knew exactly what I was doing wrong, but I didn’t quite know how to fix it. I just kept going in the wrong direction over and over again. I tried starting over on MS Word. I tried writing out a full outline beforehand. I tried — twice — to write it longhand. Eventually I took a short hiatus from it. Instead I focused on releasing Meet the Lidwells and working on In My Blue World.

When I eventually came back to it, I did what I’d done for the last few projects: I wrote it a single scene at a time using 750Words. Instead of trying to push myself through, I let it grow organically. I knew where the story needed to go, but I let the story tell me how it wanted to get there. More importantly, I let its characters tell me — they all had specific goals they needed to reach by the end of the novel, so I built the main part of the story around the four main characters intertwining with each other.

I learned a few things over the course of writing the novel, things that utterly changed how I look at my writing now:

–Breaking down self-made barriers when the story demands it. The relationship between the two main characters is unconventional and I realized the best way to handle this was to just let it all happen naturally. If there was a hint of romance, so be it. If there wasn’t, no loss, because the love they have for each other is the most important part of it. I had to be true to the characters, no matter what.

–Trusting myself on a much deeper level. I had a vague framework of where I wanted this story to go, and certain beats I wanted to hit, but I wouldn’t know how exactly to get there until I got there. I knew my failed attempts were because I’d been forcing it to go in a direction it didn’t want or need to go in. And again with the main characters’ relationship: I had to learn to trust myself that I’d do a good job portraying their love for each other without resorting to tropes and manufactured drama and conflict. Trusting my characters was a leap of faith.

–Resonating with the story on multiple levels. This story wasn’t about dialing up the tension little by little like I did with the trilogy, or surfing the rise and fall of fame like I did with Lidwells. This story was about understanding different people, cultures and emotions, and figuring out how they were all interwoven in some way.

Anyway, my point here is that I’m glad that I decided to keep returning to the Apartment Complex story despite all the frustrations I faced when I started out. I remained committed to it. I truly believed in the story, that it had something important to say, and that if I remained dedicated to it despite all the frustration, it would be worth it in the end. The result is that I’m super proud of this project and I can’t wait to share it with all of you later in 2019.

5: On Older Ideas

Five more entries to go in 2018, so I thought I’d do a bit of an overview of things I’ve been doing or thinking about over the course of the year, building up to my new writing plans for 2019. 

I’ve trunked a lot of my ideas over the years.  It’s no big surprise…it’s par for the course for pretty much every writer.  I still think about them every now and again, maybe even wondering if they could ever be revived now that I’m a better writer (albeit jokingly — I don’t plan on doing this IRL at all).  Depending on when I started them, I pretty much have them collecting dust on a bookshelf or getting forgotten in some folder on my external drive.

When I think of trunked ideas, I think of one of the plot points in Jack London’s Martin Eden, one of the few books assigned to me in school that I truly enjoyed.  He’s a writer who can’t seem to get an even break, but once he does, it snowballs to the point where he’s digging out his older work, revising it, and his readers keep eating it up.  Thing is, he’s not doing all this for himself; he’s trying to impress a girl.  Interestingly, London pulls this idea off by not blaming her disinterest for his downfall, but by having Martin realize he alone is at fault, thinking ‘wow…I really wasted a lot of my life trying to impress everyone and making myself miserable.’

I don’t think I’ve wasted my years with all those failed writing projects.  I knew well enough to give up on them when the time came.  I realized the most common sign is when the writing feels more like a chore than a project.  [Not to be confused with that feeling of failure we writers often get during the revision process — you know, the oh god this sucks why am I still working on it phase.  Truth: I’m going through this with In My Blue World as we speak.  And yet I still have faith in it, and will see it through to its conclusion.]

Sometimes the ideas are little more than moods or images; they won’t or can’t be expanded into novels, or even short stories.  Sometimes the story is a little too uncomfortable to write.  Sometimes I get through the main planning stage, or even the first draft, and realize how much of an unsavable mess it is.  Regardless of what level I get to it, I’ll have to make a decision: keep moving along with it, or file it away and try something else.

I did a lot of this in 2018.  While I released Meet the Lidwells and started work on In My Blue World and the Apartment Complex stories, I had so many other project ideas kicking around that I realized I no longer had any interest in.  I decided it was probably time for me to trunk nearly everything else that was still up in the air; I just did not feel connected to them anymore.  I’d still feel a “hey this might be fun” wave of interest, but that’s all.  And I can’t base an entire project on that.

I think part of it was also completing the Apartment Complex story.  That novel is…different.  Very different from a lot of what I’ve written in the past.  Even the current past.  It resonated with me in a way that none of my previous novels ever did, even the trilogy.  It felt like a gigantic step forward, and a step away from the work I’ve done in the past.  It felt that this was the direction I needed to go in next, and almost none of my backburner projects fit that mold.

In short, I felt I was closing down one part of my life and writing career, and moving on to a newer, better one.  I had to leave the old stories behind.

I’m looking forward to 2019 being part of that newer, better life and career.  And I’m definitely looking forward to the newer stories, whatever they may be.

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.