Corrective vs Reflective Influence

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Writing Prompt: How does this huge spider make you feel without using simile.

Today, I’d like to consider the happy realization that I’m still becoming literate. Today, I’d like to thank the universe for random, fruitful encounters too, because the latter gratitude is predicated on the former.

I met a woman at the coffee shop this morning who refocused my mind on a lot of things. During our conversation, I discovered a way to articulate a good number of things that will help not only my writing practice develop but many other aspects of my existence.

Our conversation began because of an off-hand comment I made. She was sitting down at the table next to me and appeared chilled. While she curled up in her down coat, I mentioned that the coffee shop really should invest in some comforters we could just wrap up in as we sip our bean juice.

“Oh, we just got back from Methow,” she responded, and then we started covering some bases. The intrinsic anxiety of electric cars. The gradual, often slow, development of children’s travel tolerance. It meandered for a while until we locked onto the creative process.

“A poet has been appointed ambassador. A playwright is elected president. Construction workers stand in line with office managers to buy a new novel. Adults seek moral guidance and intellectual challenge in stories about warrior monkeys, one-eyed giants, and crazy knights who fight windmills. Literacy is considered a beginning, not an end.”

Ursula K. Le Guin, The Operating Instructions

Writing Groups

Since I made the transition from a mechanistic approach to life to one driven by imagination I’ve been a part of a number of these groups. Some, not all, have helped me reach beyond my current place in a story, effectively leveling me up as a writer. Others, unfortunately, seem little more than side quests where I waste much time foraging endlessly for tokens that cannot be bartered.

“Why?”

Holy cow, have I thought about this. Tried to put it into words, sought to transform my experiences with these groups into, if not a set of Laws to Write By, at least some guidelines to be aware of as I engage my imagination. And, objectively, I’ve failed to transform these adventures into anything other than a confusing, self-contradicting, impediment creating collection of reasons to never write another word. That is until today. This morning, in fact, at the coffee shop.

“Still why?”

Because I’m not starting from the right place. Writing, fuck that, creating anything is a deeply personal practice. You can’t imagine a world, with a bazillion possibilities, while consuming marketing advice about how to sell that. Your head is likely to twist right off your neck, fall on the floor, and roll down the stairs and into the street where raccoons will gleefully braid your nostril hair.

That is to say, I can’t write anyone else’s story. I’ve got to stop trying to do that.

So, to collect my thoughts and get back to the topic, I’ve experienced a number of different writing groups — some helpful, some not so much — and the difference when you peel back this pile of onions is that the helpful ones don’t bother correcting what you’ve submitted. They don’t tell you that something is implausible. They don’t point out line edits that you need to make or suggest sentence reconstruction. These groups are keenly aware of the need for all that, but they also know that’s why we hire editors.

Instead these instrumental, super valuable groups understand that story, even if written for an audience of one, requires a sort of recognition. They answer the question “Do you see the value in this story? If so, where’s it at? Once we know where it’s at, how can we make it much more valuable?”

If creating is a lonely, individual method of imagination then we should define how collaborative efforts, such as writing groups, should help us achieve our particular set of goals. If they can’t and we, as creatives, can’t steer them in that direction then it’s critical we move on.

Setting the Standard

If forty-six years of life has taught me anything, it’s that there is a difference between “it’s” and “its” that I need to be vigilantly aware of and that it’s really important to know what’s important. I’m not sure which of these is more important.

“Despair could never touch a morning like this.”

–Kim Stanley Robinson, Pacific Edge: Three Californias

I am, however, aware that I can ask for editorial help to fix my misuses of the contraction.

Our conversation touched on this idea quite a bit because it’s foundational to success. I stuck those eight words from KSR in this post because to me they represent a fulfillment of what is important to me in my writing. Those eight words are like a protein, folded and unfolded just so; when my eyes or ears suck them into neural receptors and transmit them to the thinking part of my mind for consideration, they fit perfectly. They grab me, they transform me, they light a fire in me.

I don’t know how or why KSR strung those words together. Why he didn’t start this novel with “A morning like this, despair could never touch.” Why he didn’t then go one to write a dialogue between his protagonist and his cast? But, for me anyway, this is by far one of my favorite hooks of all time. It drew me into his tale as if he’d written those words just for me.

Which, now that I think about it is a funny way to look at imagination. Is there any other way to share our experience, our emotions, our inner selves than like this? It’s so random, but there it is.

I’ve known for a long time now what I want my writing to do. I want it to tell a story like this. My goal is to unfold a word-protein in someone else’s mind correctly, just like these eight words unfold in mine.

Literacy

Writing for a market is like meditating for someone else’s approval. One of the alternatives to the word “literacy” is “scholarship,” and both of these words fail to convey the actual meaning I see between them. I’m grateful not just that my brain can decode language in its written form, this is the beginning Le Guin talked about. Instead, I’m thankful that literacy is a study. It is a pursuit of giving and receiving, the exchange of ideas with ever increasing clarity.

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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Reaching

Back in the coffee shop. Getting ready for a productive morning of writing. I’ve got edits and more edits and an outline I need to finish, but I spent a little time getting caught up. Scalzi has this lovely piece about friends that I’d put up on my mental-nightstand; he posits that, despite the currents of mid-life, he’s made more and better friends than he would have otherwise. I appreciate his observations about conventions in this article, and to tell the truth, his words make me want to get back to Detroit and elsewhere. I think, “Hanging out in hotel bars, staying up late with deep (and not so deep) conversations about work and life” might actually be my favorite thing about this business. It’s not something I do too often and when it happens it’s usually memorable and a breath of fresh, adult air.

So I find myself drawn to a theme. Myke Cole makes the cogent observation; he writes “to not be alone.” This blog post feels a lot like a mirror, reflecting an image of my feelings back. Hell yes, most of the time I feel alone and so, despite being surrounded by people in a little coffee shop on a tiny island, I write lonely. But always, I’m writing because I wonder what you’ll think of what I’ve written.

It’s a strange business this. With the recent release of Immortality Chronicles I’ve been watching, with a touch of jealousy, as authors and readers post “in the wild” pictures of the anthology. The sense of accomplishment I feel when I send off a manuscript for publication feels somewhat incomplete because, in the back of my brain, I’m haunted by the simple question “Will they like it?”

The “wild” shots of a book, made possible only through the invention of social media, seem to be closure to that loop. Crazy, can you imagine life for authors before everyone had a camera in their pocket and an internet connection? In any event I know I’m looking forward to seeing more covers with my name on them showing up on Pinterest.

This reminds me of some really useful insight. Jane McGonigal has a new book out. SuperBetter is the pulp version of her excellent health game and its one of those things I can’t recommend enough. One of Jane’s key messages and possibly the one that I find the most helpful is a reminder that “You’re surrounded by potential allies.”

Writers this is important for you because you likely feel like a voice in the wilderness too. Here’s the catch, you can’t be the one to refuse the help.

Scalzi is right, this business is just jam-packed full of friend potential. If it is more difficult in mid-life — and I agree it is — to make and keep friends then at least in one respect science fiction writers and lovers have a huge advantage over the rest of the world. We’re most likely near our potential dearest.

It’s been three weekends that I’ve missed my writing group now. Guys, I’m kicking myself as much as you might be poking needles into voodoo dolls of me. I know that you deserve my full measure of attention, and I appreciate your patience. Things have just been crazy here. I will be there next Sunday. And Melissa, thanks for the kind words. They picked me up right when I needed them.

Same goes for the rest of you. Feeling a little isolated sitting in front of your keyboard? Start by reaching out to the people who will lift you up.

Don’t Forget to Dream

D.S.I Helium 3 Transport Vehicle by Adam Burn

I’m sitting in the coffee shop; A-bear is playing his heart over at preschool, and I’m just not getting into it this morning. Derp move number one, I’ve been tugging at my chin hairs while I read from the ever expanding athenaeum of “Advice Offered to Writers on Writing and Stuff.” The truth of the matter is that I’m not sure what I’m going to write next, and my Twitter feed has once again delivered up this highly distracting narrative in which I willingly participate. Hunched over and fuming, once more, it occurs to me that this is not a good way to live your life.

More importantly, it doesn’t seem like a very productive way to spend your precious writing time.

It’s probably not helping that the new baristas have changed up the music, and I’ve since had to plug my headphones in and crank up the subtle white noise of Coffitivity. Yeah, that’s right, I’m listening to “Morning Murmur” — a recording of a coffee shop while sitting in an actual cafe drinking coffee — how’s that for bathos?

“So what, precisely, is the problem Matt?” you ask.

Well, I started with this blog post from the esteemed and successful Chuck Wendig: Peaks and Valleys: The Financial Realities of a Writer’s Life. Realize, in no way is this me jumping onto his current cluster event. Rather, it’s me taking a critical look at why I seem to come away from his advice posts feeling defeated and ready to quit.

This post and the advice it references are just one member of a distinguished lineage of columns I’d like to label “The Stark Reality Collection.” I’m starting to wonder if it’s even possible for authors, especially those in the SFF community, first to begin making a living from their work and later not tell the world how hard it’s going to be. Often I come away from reading this stuff convinced I’ve done everything wrong. I live in the wrong place, I know all the wrong people, I didn’t go to the right school, or workshop, I write the wrong things, and I put my pants on the wrong way — that’s how wrong I feel.

Defeated before I begin, my options seem limited. Maybe I should just take Wendig’s intimation and “move on to more stable ground.”

Here’s the thing. Fiction moves me. Let me say that again. FICTION MOVES ME. I love a good story. Terry Pratchett’s farewell piece The Sheperd’s Crown recently reduced me to a blubbering mess more than once. And I can’t tell you how much I’ve learned from my recent readings of Kim Stanley Robinson’s Wild Shore Triptych.

I know that I’ve discovered my earthworm. I know that my stories are good enough, and my writing is compelling and entertaining. And yes, I love doing this, even when it’s fucking difficult.

Standing up to assert these strong feelings of self-determination and conviction I rip the headphone out of my computer and nearly dump hot coffee all over my lap. “But really,” I say to myself taking a calming breath. “I don’t need anyone to tell me how hard it’s going to be.”

Want to help successful-author-making-a-living-from-your-words? Stop telling everyone about the big pile of shit we can look forward to wading. That’s the thing about piles of crap; they’re apparent. Everyone knows that they’re there, usually because, much like yourselves, we’re busy trying to clean it off our shoes.

Better, tell us what moves you. Why did you stick with writing even when you weren’t sure when your next meal was coming? What do you do in the morning to warm up for writing? What inspired some piece of fiction we can’t put down. How do you deal with criticism fro your readers or even your editor? Writer’s, especially the good ones, I’ve realized have developed strategies to exceed the piles of crap life leaves on our paths.

I write a lot, I don’t sell a lot (yet). I know that I’ve yet to develop a “real” audience. The numbers necessary to lift me out of this valley just aren’t there yet. This is the sole reason I keep looking into the Library of Stark Reality. I’m looking for feasible ways to grow my audience as I get ready for near term release dates. Want to help? Tell me about the concrete things you did to expand your audience.

And while I acknowledge that it won’t always be easy, this morning I’m resolved that as I build my author platform and find more readers, I will endeavor to imagine with audacity. The boundaries that limit me aren’t worth talking about except when exceeded.

 

The Day I Knew I Would Make It

I have come to discover through earnest personal experience and dedicated learning that ultimately the greatest help is self-help; that there is no other help but self-help— doing one’s best, dedicating one’s self wholeheartedly to a given task, which happens to have no end but is an ongoing process. I have done a lot during these years of my process. A swell in my process, I have changed from self-image actualization to self-actualization, from blindly following propaganda, organized truths, etc. to searching internally for the cause of my ignorance.

The Warrior Within : The Philosophies of Bruce Lee (1996)

This is my third attempt at this post. But this time I know exactly where I’m headed, what I want to say.

This morning the company, where my wife has worked a mere six weeks, shut its doors. An unfortunate turn of events for all involved, something juxtaposed next to catastrophe for us. We’ve been struggling since I got sick. Every time it appears we’ve found our stride something or someone trips us up. I think worse, we’re both exhausted. That’s just the way it is, the only thing left to do now is take the next step along the path. Acceptance does not matter.

I just took the dog for a walk around the neighborhood. Always an adequate salve when the need arises. It’s hot and muggy once again so I walked as fast as I could, trying to whip up a cooling breeze without breaking a sweat.

This go at writing feels about the same. Walk only fast enough to get the breeze without overheating. Pacing is important, it makes the long road possible and the dream achievable. And despite all the ups and downs of employment, health and finance, I still have a dream. I am dedicated to the practice of writing.

Thursday I will rise long before the sunshine and head to airport. I will board an airplane and head to DetCon1. There is momentum in this run, maybe not much, but who can afford in the marathon that is life to sit and lose the race?

The New Grand Strategy

As things so often do, change has come to my family’s doorstep. Tess and I have been adapting rapidly and re-prioritizing and as a result we’ve instituted The New Grand Strategy.

Movement

Colorado is my home state, and being here on the Western Slope has been enjoyable, however, the old saying “you can never go home” hits the nail on the head (to mix metaphors). That is to say, we’re planning on relocating. Soon. Tentatively, we imagine we’ll end up back on the West Coast and of the possible locations where we might settle Seattle and the Sound, we feel, might work out well.

As the potential for (yet another) move entered our conversations we’ve really had to think about the parts of our lifestyle and careers that we’d like to emphasize. As much as I love the landscapes of the Rockies and the Canyon country that sits at its feet, none of this enhances my situation. In fact, while I still get out into it, the pattern is that trail heads are often out of reach for want of time and resources. So I spend an inordinate amount of time pining away for something I am not independently wealthy enough to obtain.

Yep, I’ll probably never again be a working Wilderness Guard. And I’ve made my peace with that, as best as I can. The West Coast has some advantages for us as a family — jobs in our industry, culture in which we can participate, friends we love and miss, public transportation we’ll use, and, yes, even some amazing landscapes which, when viewed through the lens of air pollution currently settled on the Grand Valley, seem very attractive if at times a little moist.

Health

I tend not to talk or write about this much, but my health has been generally good. I haven’t had a seizure in more than a year and I haven’t needed medication to control the seizures for more than eighteen months. (thank the gods above and below). Ultimately, that little episode has resulted in a renewed and enhanced focus on my health. I like to think about it as if I were playing a video game and needing to manage my resources to stay alive through each successive encounter (groan, yeah I’m a nerd).

In the upper right corner of my consciousness are three Health levels — PHY, SPI, MEN — in the past I focused on my physical health, much to the exclusion of my spiritual and mental health. I guess I figured, with naiveté, that if I could run thirty miles at the drop of a hat the other aspects of my being would necessarily take care of themselves. Unfortunately, not so.

These days I apply a great deal of attention to these levels, so, if there was some good that came from that period of my life it resides here. Believe me, seizures are terrify.

Employment

Now that my health is stable and my memory is better we have decided that it might be a good thing for me to put myself forward once again. Yes, this is a call for action. Finding employment is never easy, and I’m spreading my résumé around the internet liberally, but I’m hoping to harness the power of social networks here too. I have many friends and acquaintance and I’d love to impose upon you, especially those of you with whom I’ve previously worked. You know what I am capable of and the best endorsement I can imagine comes from you.

My résumé is posted here. And, as usual I am always available via phone call and email. If you know of an operations engineering position or project management role, I thank you in advance for passing it along.

Self-Employment

If you read that last section and wondered to yourself “What about the boy? What about the writing?” you’re not the only one. Care of the boy and more words will continue to happen. This has been my full time occupation for a while now and relative to anything I might do in technology I enjoy it a great deal more. This should come as no surprise. Said no stay-at-home parent ever, “Gosh, I’m rolling in too much cash. I suppose I should toss another load of laundry in and roll myself hipster cigarettes with spare $100 bills.”

UP SLOPE is nearly complete. It will be delivered to the editor thereafter, and you should expect to see it on Amazon soon. I have several additional projects that are in various stages of outlining, including book three in the sports in space series. I am anticipating writing this one a great deal and it’s been a real struggle not skipping ahead to this project while I’ve got some things to take care of with UP SLOPE.

Even if my word count drops a bit, the writing will continue.

Excellent Article on Forbes

Oh yes, please strip away the mystery. Really enjoyed this article. Plan on reading it again, and then maybe one more time just to make certain the meaning sinks in.

Michael J. Sullivan, author of HOLLOW WORLD gives some excellent advice for indies as well.

Run a Giveaway – Sullivan gives away advanced reader copies (ARCs) of his books on Goodreads up to 6 months before the book is available in print.  This gives the books more value to contest winners who read them before the general public.  “I was only giving away two copies but 2,700 people entered and I got the member names for all of them,” Sullivan told me.  In addition, each contest entry generated a story on that person’s activity feed on Goodreads, which became free advertising for the book.

Build a List – In Sullivan’s world, building readers can be a one on one chore, but the numbers add up quickly.  “I used to go to malls and stand in a bookstore for an event for three hours and I’d get 5 people to read my book.  But then they’d write back to me and some of them would become fans and recommend my books.”  Goodreads makes the same process much easier.

Participate in The Community – Sullivan stresses a central point about communities – they treat others in the community best.  The secret to being promoted within a community like Goodreads is being a good citizen and participating not just as an author but as a reader.  Sullivan was also one of the first authors to friend virtually every reader who gave his books positive ratings.  As a result he now has over 51,000 reviews of his books on Goodreads.