Regulators Mount Up

CoffeeShopWriting

So, yeah, I just finished writing a short story. Wrapped up the ending yesterday, and started another one today. I’ll give the former some time to ferment and stay busy brewing up the latter with the intent of having the first edited, published and out to fans this month and the second lined up and ready for similar treatment in November.

I’ve been writing at one of the local coffee shops again and that seems to make all the difference. Even with interruptions, I can knock out an easy thousand words a morning and they’ve started providing free refills so it couldn’t be better.

Given that I’m restarting my creative process all over again, I’ve been trying to remain conscious of how much of me it’s consuming. Don’t get me wrong, I love to read and write as much as just about anything else, but I’ve felt a certain amount of fatigue in the past that hasn’t panned out for me in the long run.

“Okay,” you wonder. “What makes writing more of a task than a pleasure?” And I respond with a list.

  1. Socializing around writing. NaNoWriMo is shortly upon us, and in the past, that has meant I’ve been attended write-ins and the like. Add to that the end of the year conventions and writers groups and Clarior West weekend symposiums and suddenly I’m staring into the headlights of a social-anxiety train. If I try and to that again, it’s a done deal, my x-mas break you’ll have to fish my carcass out of the Sound. My plan this time around is to do everything on my time, commit to nothing and stay sane.
  2. Tying myself to arbitrary deadlines. No one gets to dictate how many words a day I can or even should produce. Not even me. I’ve stopped counting, in fact, and it’s been liberating. Here’s a simple truth that most how-to-write books won’t tell you. Writing more words doesn’t make your writing any better. This is a common trap I’ve fallen into in the past, especially during things like NaNoWriMo. You sit down with a word goal — I’ve got to write 1,472 words a day to complete the NaNo on time, blah blah blah — and pretty soon you’re cramming junk words into a chapter because without them you’ll never have a hope of finishing. Worse, you’ll start splitting out all your contractions because two words are better than one, right? So, at least for me, counting ain’t the way. I write a story because I have a story to write. If it’s only a 200-word story well, then so be it.
  3. No more using writing to excuse other work. If I’m honest, I’ve done this in the past. Mountain of stinky laundry need washing but I’d rather do anything else? Well “writing” can be a convenient get out of doing laundry card. Scared of crawling along your roof-line to clean gutters because you might fall? Tell everyone you’ve got some words to get down. At least for a while, I’m going to make sure that when it’s time to write that’s what I’m doing and when it’s time to do other things there will be my focus.
  4. Rejection! Complicated by all of the above, this is what killed my desire to write last year. A fuck-ton of rejection. And yeah, the advice “grow thicker skin, keep submitting” is good, but only to a point.

    I’m going to be a lot more selective about who and when I submit anything from here on out. Plus, I’m going to raise my expectations. Don’t want my piece? That’s fine, just tell me why. Over the years I’ve submitted over and over again and there have been a couple of good rejectors. C.C. Finley comes to mind. He never responds with boilerplate. He never tells me that I’ve written junk (and should kill myself because I’ll never make it as a writer you rotten slob how could you think you could ever amount to anything …). And he always gives me some indication of why he’s not interested. Even if it’s “Hey, I’m not sure where this would fit in this month’s line-up” or “I just didn’t find your story interesting, but keep trying.”

    If and when I submit, I’m going to do so judiciously. When I’m rejected, I’m going to note down if I learned anything from the rejection. If the answer is no then I won’t resubmit.

Okay, so there are my four guiding principles that I hope will allow me to continue to write. Expect a new story on Patreon in the next couple of weeks.

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Lately, I’ve been considering a retreat from social media. The train wreck of political angst that Twitter has become usually leaves me raging mad. There’s just soo much stupid out there that can be expressed with 240 characters. Volumetrically, that’s what most of it is so even if I intend to focus on the better bits, invariably my attention will be ripped away by yet another red-hatted asshole spouting off about the Deep State or whatever. UGH!

With a Twitter vacation, my mental health and diction can only improve.

And then there’s Facebook, the granddaddy of the old school services, which I’d like to talk about specifically. I’ve been an infrequent FB user for some time, and lately, I’ve been thinking about why that might be.

One reason is that I’ve consciously rejected many of the older media models — television, cable, even newspapers — because those models are all powered by advertisement. I can’t stomach the idea that I’m paying for all that bullshyte twice. First with my time/attention and second by subsidizing the service in question. As is the case with YouTube I’d happily pay a reasonable subscription fee to *AVOID* endless advertisement custom designed to twist my pants in knots.

Facebook has been slipping in advertisements into our feeds for some time, and it’s annoying and wrong, but that’s not the biggest reason for my withdrawal.

I think it was 1988 when I asked Daliah to go to a school dance with me, she was the older sister of my middle brother’s buddy, and we all used to carpool to high school in my tiny 1972 Honda Civic. If I remember all that correctly. Anyway, I believe it was a Homecoming dance, and the theme was jeans and flannel or something like that because I’m pretty sure I still have a picture of the two of us which I uncovered while helping my folks move from Colorado. Ultimately it was this picture that reminded me of that night and what a good time we had together.

The picture also reminded me how scared I was to ask her. How excited she seemed when I did. How enthusiastic she was about going with me in the weeks before the dance. I know that I’m probably scraping the bottom of the barrel of my memory, but because of this one posed glossy in the 80’s I’ve now got a pile of good times and memories that I get to sort through.

Since leaving high school in 1991, I’ve not seen or heard from Deliah. Other than a chance meeting with her brother in the early 2000s this photo was the first time I’ve recalled her or that night. I’ve been positively wallowing in the nostalgia of it all.

Thing is that I’m not “connected” to either of these people on Facebook. Even though I have searched for them, they don’t seem to be around. Consequently, my imagination has been freed, I’m able to wonder “whatever happened to Deliah” because the question apparently can’t be answered.

That freedom is actually exceptionally liberating. Time, distance, age — all the things that change us — they’re still variables for her in my mind. Did she grow up and buy a boat? Is she even now single handing the Pacific in search for adventure? Is she happily ensconced in an Eastern Oregon commune happily raising a brood of Brown Coats who worship The Whedon? Is she a cutthroat capitalist quietly managing the board of some weapons manufacturing company? I don’t know!

Honestly, the more I think about it, I don’t want to know.

Facebook was great at first because it did connect me with people from my past. At first, lifting of that mist was enjoyable. “Oh hey, you’ve got two kids and a happy marriage. Good for you. And you too.” “So sad to learn of your loss or mistake.” But it turns out that the uncertainty and disconnection preserved plenty of precious moments like amber. The insect trapped a million years ago inside the sap of a tree is a focal point for the imagination, cut away the sap and you’re left with a crunchy mosquito.

Adulting

I just dropped A-bear off at school for his second day of second grade. This morning slipped away about as fast as summer seems to have disappeared. The vine maples are turning and there is an undeniable crispness in the air that I’d bottle for later consumption. This is, without a question, my favorite season of any year.

Right now I’m sitting at my local coffee shop trying to get the words flowing. Back at base camp, I’ve got about fifty unfinished projects demanding my attention. Some of them should be addressed before the weather gets colder or wetter or windy. Others, they’re just part of the process between the start and the end.

That’s what most of much of this is, isn’t it? The milestones that mark our lives are more often than not just piles of folded laundry or a freshly mopped kitchen. Transitory tasks completed in a moment and lost to time as quickly as a season.

This autumn I’m okay with that, I’ve made my peace. Don’t curse me, don’t condemn me to live through interesting times.

A Creative Update

It’s about time for one of these. I know last winter I posted about restarting my Patreon and then went radio silent for a long dark time. Having a neurological scare like I did will tend to do that to just about anyone. But wow! It’s like summer out there. My kids are home from school, and I have been writing.

What’s the WIP?

I’m about 3,000 words into an exploration of a multiverse that fragments along the borders of possibilities. My protagonist is learning the ropes from someone more experienced than herself, and I’m poking artists for cover work.

Plus, I’m enjoying writing this story. Infinite possibility imbues the freedom of breaking one’s own rules. No datum, no Amber, no center means I can turn the dials well past eleven to see what happens when the first one is set to -∏, and the next one shows “blue.” Let’s run this baby at Ludicrous for a while.

So, the reason I’m writing this post is to determine who, if anyone, is interested in reading this as a series. Most of you are probably going to see a notification from Patreon or WordPress and immediately move said email into the trash bin, but I’m willing to twist the setting on the possibility that at least some of you will a) read the post and b) reply with anticipation. Even if that’s beyond the boundary of what is possible, get ready, new stories are coming soon.

WIP

The ball is metaphorically rolling up here in the thankfully gray Pacific North West. Much has happened since my last update. I ran across the Grand Canyon after a Mark Watney-esk road trip to into the heart of the early summer heat of the desert South West. A-bear and J-bug are now both out of school (yay me! another year of education down) and Tess is plugging away at the Zu.

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What I’ve Been Reading

“The Timber Press Guide to Vegetable Gardening in the Pacific Northwest” and other similar. Over the last month or so I’ve actually gone through a stack of gardening books like this one. The library has been my friend.

One of the questions I’ve wanted to answer for myself is “Could Mark Watney have done better for himself if he’d grown his potatoes in towers?” The hypothetical answer is yes, he missed a real opportunity for closed-loop sustainability caloric efficiency given his habitat’s space limitations.

I’ve also re-read “The Martian” (at A-bear’s request). Still a great story, and yes the book is better than the movie.

Finally, I’m on book seven of Roger Zelazny’s Princes of Amber series. It’s rolling along well and Wil Wheaton was an excellent choice to read the Murlin segments of the story. One of the things I really enjoy is how you can see the author’s development reflected in his characters over time. Zelazny was arguably a lot more misogynistic and self-centered, much like Corwin, at the beginning of the saga, then nearer its end. Life seems to have tempered his protagonists and that’s refreshing.

Sitting here, I’m thinking that I really need to keep better track of what I’m reading. I’ve gone through a considerable stack of paper books and a few electronic titles as well, but right now I can’t recall a single title. Maybe I’ll resolve to get back on Goodreads or something.

What I’m Writing

I’ve been sort of reviewing the idea of a multiverse through which we can negotiate space-time by pinching possibilities together. Something like a nearness of world’s theory realized in a modern setting. Think Pratchett’s Long Earth series but in a chaotic, non-linear network of possibilities that can and will become weird. Yes, it’s walking along the rim of those deep Slipstream canyons, but that’s where all the best views are.

I’ve passed on a couple of non-fiction pieces mostly because the amount of work necessary for doing the story right far exceeds the compensation. Writing is not an expensive hobby. If your business model requires me to absorb its costs to produce content we’re not going to have a deal. C’est la vie.

Hey There Spring and News

It has been a wet, wet, moisty wet first season so far, but today the sun is out, and there is a seasonably light breeze blowing over the island. I’ve spent so much time focusing on my house, my yard, and my head that my writing has necessarily taken a back burner.

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For a health status updates, you should know that I now, after years of searching, have a diagnosis that isn’t one of exclusion. Functional Neurological Disorder which is, in equal parts, both a blessing to know and an epic gut-punch to know about. I guess my dreams of becoming an internationally renowned opera singer are on pause, unless or until stuttering with a growl and facial tics ever comes back in vogue.

For somewhat obvious reasons I’ve yet again missed an opportunity to submit to Clarion West, but I will remain sanguine about it and hold onto all the work I did for submission until next year. C’est la vie n’est pas? At least I didn’t have a stroke.

What I’m working on:

Currently, I’m two chapters into a short-ish story about engineered genetic specialization as a sort of currency set in the caldera of Mount Olympus. The title eludes me at the moment, but I’m having lots of fun with it. I’ve also forged on with a couple of novel-length outlines which include “Friend of Bees,” “Winter City Above the Clouds,” and re-writes to “Distance.”  I’ll pick all of these up when I’ve got the short done or when I’m stuck on the short story.

What I’m reading:

It’s been a while since I’ve done anything review-y, but I should probably pick that back up again.

I’ve just finished the complete audio set of Bernard Cornwell’s Sharpe’s Series. Unfortunately, I couldn’t locate a copy of Sharpe’s Skirmish, but I have and have listened to all the other stories in that extensive series. Add to this, I’ve been entertained. It’s always a bit of a soap opera, but I guess I like that and Cornwell‘s action scenes are a study in the best way to write those sequences.

Also, I received a recommendation for “The Sparrow” by Mary Doria Russell as a colonization space opera that’s going to make me think. I’m about 2/3rds of the way through the audible version of the story, and there have been a handful of reflective moments, but I’m not giving this work the whole can of beans.

Finally, after reading Tobias Buckell’s multi-nominated work “Zen and the Art of Starship Maintenance” I decided to dust off my cover of “Zen and the Art of Motorcycle Maintenance” by Robert Pirsig. Both of these are worthy reads, but for different reasons. Although, it is my opinion that they’re improved in juxtaposition.

What’s next:

Bees, garage door, more painting and work on the van to name a few big projects. I’ll be headed over to Puget Sound Overland and Coffee at Mule Expedition Outfitters on the 28th of this month with my van to talk about overlanding and maybe find a full-length gear shelf for my roof. Also, I’m going to try to get to the coffee shop at least once a week for some writing time. Likely Wednesdays, but it will vary.

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Refactor

This morning has been productive. I did some work with the bees (corrected an issue with the installation I created … sorry girls), took Aral to school, spent some time at the coffee shop talking with friends, even made a decision regarding the usefulness of yet-another-EEG.

I think the most important takeaway from this morning are some rules I wrote for myself for my writing. Since last year’s river of rejection left me feeling all my attempts to write were worthless I’ve had a very hard time doing the necessary. Still, I’ve got ideas, whole worlds that are banging on the inside of my skull demanding to get out. But I haven’t done what I need to write any of this down and that’s a problem. I need to start writing again as a practice, but the rules I follow regarding this craft also necessarily must change. I can’t write and write only to feel like what I’ve written is a piss poor result for all that time.

New rules are written. They’re simple and the mean that my practice becomes a much more self-contained experience.

Rules to Live By:

  1. Stop seeking criticism from people with no skin IN YOUR GAME. The rule is to write what you want, what you know, and what you’ve planned as fast or slow as you can.
  2. Build the world for “Distance,” “Winter City,” and “Friend of Bees” and other stories methodically and from scratch. Share and talk about ideas only with people you trust.
  3. Begin each story by outlining its plot and understand how it fits into the timeline.
  4. Take your time, spend as much time reading/editing what you’ve written as you spend writing.
  5. Get good at editing your own work.
  6. Remember that publication is only a milestone along any story’s trajectory. It’s not a goal, nor is making money. Keep this in mind when it feels like you’re wasting your time. You’ve written books, and not a lot of people can say that.
  7. Love your stories.
  8. Stop caring so much about a world that doesn’t give two shits about you.