March Writing

  • Longest Chain in March: 10 days
  • Total 2021 Writing days: 64

Not a great month. But, 64 writing days since January is better than my usual track record. When you throw in last November and December, it’s the best 5 months of writing I’ve had in years! Anyway, like I said in my last Weeknotes, the haze is lifting, I think.

I’ve been through this before. I hit some kind of bump and I find myself with almost zero capacity for any kind of creative work. It usually stems from a combination of depression, anxiety, and general exhaustion. I try to fight it for a bit, of course. Push through on willpower. But eventually everything creative stops and I feel like a general loser for a month or four until the haze lifts or something pulls me out of it.

Except this time. I did a few things differently.

First, I didn’t fight it. I let the slump happen.

Second, I actually watched the slump take its course. This was a risky move. I mean, what if it was another week/month/six-months/eight months until I could write again? Well, I gambled against having racked up 5 months of the most productive writing I’ve had in years. As well as, you know, all the other times I got back on the horse and had a productive period whether it lasted a week, a month, whatever. I decided that the worst likely outcome was that one day in the future, I start up again.

Third, and most importantly, I actively fought my natural tendency to berate myself for falling off the horse. And let me tell you, it was not fucking easy. But if there’s one thing I can point to that made the difference between the past three weeks and every other time I felt blocked, this is it.

And so after three weeks with only 2 writing days, I seem to be back in the saddle as of this past Sunday. We’ll see how long this lasts. We’ll make some notes, and we’ll see what happens.

Until then, I’m…

#Weeknotes S03 E11

This one’s mostly about the writing process today. And I’ve got Sunday sauce on the stove so this’ll be quick.

THE CHAIN
Okay, the streak was broken this week. It’s all good!

  • This week’s writing chain: 4 days
  • Total days in March: 11
  • Longest chain in 2021: 33 days
  • Total days in 2021: 62 days

Remember how I kinda forced things last week, but as a way to experiment to see what happens? Well, now I have an idea. Sure, I kept up the momentum the day after, but only to find myself inexplicably in bed for 4 extra hours the next day. Coincidence? Maybe. I tried to grit my teeth and push through for two more days. But the two days after that, I noped out of it all like I should’ve done in the first place.

I spent a lot of that off time dumping stuff into ye olde writer’s notebook and zoning out to music. It’s actually two of the ways I recharge my artistic batteries but here’s the thing–I’ve never purposely paused to do that. Here’s what usually happens, in order:

  1. Pause writing for one reason or another. Could be simple exhaustion, depression, life circumstances, abject laziness, etc.–it’s all happened at one time or another.
  2. Beat myself up from anywhere between, oh I dunno, three days and six months.
  3. Zone out to music or some reading, dump my brain into a notebook, and maybe get the gumption up to start writing again.

Thanks to years of therapy and medication, I’ve been working to notice these things ahead of time. Last week, it paid off and I was able to bypass Step 2!

LISTENING
I picked up Lake Street Dive’s new album OBVIOUSLY. I’ll write up more about it later, but suffice it to say I caught a couple of nice AOR/Yacht Rock-y grooves. I tweeted about them too, which kinda started me on a path I don’t want to go down.

I mean, it might’ve been a little bit overboard to then proceed to livetweet my most recent listen my most of the latest Bill Champlin album LIVIN’ FOR LOVE. It wasn’t every track, so I’ll jot down my review later.

Now that I think about it, I’m torn about livetweeting albums listens….

IN THE WILD
I could interpret Mazikeen draping herself across my keyboard as her way of reinforcing my need for self-care, but I get the feeling that it’s not entirely about me.

#Weeknotes S03 E10

Finally made time to visit the chiropractor for the first time in 8 months. My neck and back begged me for it and I haven’t been paying attention to be honest. I do okay working from home as ergonomically as possible but I just don’t have the Aeron Chair/adjustable desk setup that I have in the office which I haven’t been in for a year now(??) and that takes an inevitable toll. Let me tell you, I needed the visit badly judging by the sick cracks that came out of my neck. I wish I had a mic handy; I could’ve recorded the cracks and licensed them out as sound FX. The adjustments really rang my bell, too.

I mention this to point out how it’s finally getting through my thick skull that self-care really has to be a conscious process. More than just preventive care or care that addresses a specific or acute problem. It’s a bit of a juggling act, like it was when it came to last week’s writing…

THE CHAIN

  • This week’s writing chain: 7 days
  • Total days in March: 6
  • Longest chain in 2021: 29 days (Another record!)
  • Total days in 2021: 57 days

I might have been more inclined to cut myself some slack last Friday if I hadn’t been posting my monthly writing progress the Monday before. In fact, if three months of data indicates that roughly every 4 weeks, you have a day when you’re just not feeling it, then maybe you should run with it.

Thing is, I’m more worried about shooting for a month of consecutive writing days. But that’s how the whole “writing chain” concept is supposed to work. It’s kind of insidious by nature. Still, that doesn’t mean there isn’t room for a little experimentation.


READING
Random things from the transom…

WATCHING
I neglected to mention last time that I binged BURIED BY THE BERNARDS. It’s similar to THE CASKETEERS which I adore and was the reason I checked out the Bernards in the first place. BURIED is definitely its own thing but the heart of the two shows is the essentially the same–the vagaries of a family-owned funeral business.

IN THE WILD
Don’t be fooled by sleeping pictures of Asher Mir lately! The only time I can capture him is in between attacks of the Zoomies!

He plays hard. He attac hard. He eats treats hard. He sleeps hard.

He’s a role model!

February Writing

Sure it was a short month, but success is success! With respect to rebuilding my writing practice in 2021 from what it’s been (rather, not been) for years, I have absolutely nothing to complain about for February.

The story I’ve been working on is one, maybe two drafts away from done. It took as long as it took, and I’m okay with that. And I already know which story I’m going to dissect and finish next. That one will also take however long it will take.

Onward!

#Weeknotes S03 E09

C’mon Shawn, don’t be such a Filipino Steve Perry.
–PSYCH s07e06, “Cirque du Soul”

But, what if we’re all Filipino Steve Perrys?

I was pretty amazed when I first saw footage of Journey Through Time, a side project made up of current and ex-Journey members. Especially with drummer Deen Castronovo’s vocals. I mean, check out “Separate Ways.” During his tenure as Journey’s drummer, he’d sing the occassional song to give Steve Perry’s replacements a break.

Rock fans know (“know”) about what an incredible feat it is for anyone to replicate Steve Perry’s vocals. We said it when Steve Augeri took over. And Filipino rock fans practically shit ourselves when Arnel Pineda stepped in! But there’s a video making the rounds of Journey’s road crew playing “Separate Ways” during a sound check (h/t OpenCulture).

Now I could never sing like but I realized that maybe, just maybe, there were always more Steve Perrys out there than we ever thought there were.

THE CHAIN

  • This week’s writing chain: 7 days
  • Longest chain in 2021: 22 days (New streak–again!)
  • Total writing days in February: 26
  • Total writing days in 2021: 50 days

Wednesday was a hard-won writing day. Now, I know I’ve said similar stuff about the piece I’m working on right now. Well, old me would’ve thought, “That’s because you were full of shit before.” But the reality is that this story had a lot of problems, I solved one or two of them over time, and I just wasn’t done yet. I’m a little better about using the tools I’ve picked up to take a short story apart, kinda like string cheese. I just need more practice, is all.

LISTENING
I know there are a couple of Bill Champlin albums that I haven’t gone all the way through yet, but like my TBR list, things jump the queue every now and then. This time, it’s THE EXCITING SOUNDS OF MENAHAN STREET BAND. Not that I buy Menahan for “exciting,” but there are a few uncharacteristically uptempo grooves. They’re in no danger of stepping on The Budos Band‘s toes, except maybe on the track “Cabin Fever.” Overall, the new album sort of gives me old school Blood, Sweat & Tears CHILD IS FATHER TO THE MAN vibes.

I’m way behind on podcast listening. Like since before Christmas. But how could I pass up Fran Lebowitz on KCRW’S THE TREATMENT?

READING
The podcast made me dig up my copy of THE FRAN LEBOWITZ READER, something I typically go through at least once a year but haven’t in like two or three (life, pandemic, etc). At least I can say I’ve been reading this since well before PRETEND IT’S A CITY made it a thing again!

The book that’ll jump my TBR queue next is Isabel Yap’s NEVER HAVE I EVER. I mean, I dunno, seems like my thing, right?

IN THE WILD
Mazikeen, don’t look at me like that. I need to post this, excuse me… just… excuse me…

January Writing

No excuses for the gaps, but no apologies either. I’m still focused on the long term re-building, not just a more-or-less daily writing practice, but a sustainable one. Sure, 4 day gaps suck; 4 month gaps suck even more. And I’m not going back to that without a fucking fight!

You know, I’m not even worried that I haven’t finished the current short story I’m working on yet. Yes, I’ve finished stories in less time; heck, one time, inside of 12 hours back at Viable Paradise. I’ll get back to that point once I get back whatever the writing equivalent of muscle memory is. And at some point between here and there, I’ll get to posting things like word- or page counts. One step at a time, though. I’ve been very bad in life at trying to walk the line between accountability and self-flagellation.

December Writing

This is definitely an improvement on November! Here’s hoping I can keep up the momentum this year.

To tell you the truth, it might’ve been good if I’d skipped a couple of days, especially around the holidays. I realize I’ve paid a price over the years trying and failing to live up to “Write Every Day Or You’re Not a Writer(TM).” It was bad enough when one legit reason or another got in the way. Even not-legit reasons. Family matters, emotional exhaustion, abject laziness–it was all the same result to me: failure.

Writing to feel like you’re fighting failure wasn’t sustainable, and not just for the obvious reasons. My particular struggle was that any taste of momentum and success I had became like cocaine to Rick James. And like any drug, the more you get, the more you need.

I guess if the pandemic did one thing, it got me out of some old “writing habits” that were really just ways for me to keep chasing the momentum dragon. And it gave me the room to start building new habits and chase different dragons.

November Writing

For the first time in I don’t know how many years, I did the NaNoWriMo thing. It’d been long enough that I had to recreate my profile from scratch. No, I didn’t get 50,000 words but that’s okay, because that wasn’t the point for me this year. Instead, it was more about how to build a sustainable daily writing practice for 2021 by trying different things and seeing what worked.

To be honest, I didn’t get even remotely close to 50K, but I managed more days of writing than I have in any month in 2020, even taking the pandemic into account. And, if you’ve been following the state of America these days, you can probably glean the perfectly reasonable causes for some of the gaps.

So, what did I learn last month…?

  • I’ve always been a big believer in the Writing Chain as a productivity marker. And it sure paid off!
  • I think I’ve finally cracked for myself how to actually write what Anne Lamott famously calls the “shitty first draft.” As shitty as my shitty first drafts always were, I found ways to make them even shittier by setting my personal bar even lower in order to just get stuff on the page. Boy, was it freeing!
  • What bars did I lower? For one, deliberately ignoring continuity mistakes that I know I’m making at the time. So if I wrote that it was raining when the paragraph above talked about a sunny day… well, fuck it. I don’t even make a mental note to “fix it later” because I trust that when I do get around to revisions, I’ll catch and fix it then.
  • I’ve learned to be okay keeping my metrics for daily success a little variable. Because they’ve always been variable. Daily Word Count(TM) never satisfied me, especially in the revision stages of a project.
  • So, what are my daily metrics? Depends on what I decide they’re going to be the day before, as long as it’s something I know feels right. So, it could be “draft 3 pages.” It could also be “make a revision pass.” Or, “generate a beat list for the next scene.” Whatever works to move a project forward.
  • I’ve finally learned how to leverage the right dayjob habits into my writing process. I beat myself up about this for years, not feeling able to find whatever it was that led me to relative success and proficiency at my dayjob but not in writing.
  • I experienced the utility of stopping for the day even though I feel like I have more — because I finally got it through my thick head that trying to push through when I’m out of gas has almost never worked. And even when it did, it generally wasn’t worth it.

I think ultimately, I’m learning how to trust myself a little bit more, in terms of what sorts of artistic practices resonate with me. Wow, like like all the money I’ve spent on therapy is finally starting to pay off!

#Weeknotes S02 E05

Unlike Anderson .Paak, I’ve never had The Best Teef in the Game. I had a minor dental emergency this week. Parts of a back molar around a filling I’ve had since I was a child started falling off. No pain or anything, but it did bring me to a dentist for the first time in, well, a long while. I’ll have to go back in a couple of weeks, but in all likelihood it’s just due to the inevitable bone loss that comes with age. No cavities! (I generally don’t get cavities, not since I had those fillings when I was a child.)

The tooth will likely have to be extracted. If it does, I’m going to ask to keep it as a shank. Maybe tie it to the end of a pole, like a spear.

Oh well, at least my back is doing better!

I’ve been tapped to be part of a task force at work that I really can’t talk about. Not “I’d tell you but I’d have to kill you” top secret, but I’d rather not be another angle someone looking for more information thinks they might be able (inappropriately) pursue. That’ll make my next week interesting.

WRITING PROGRESS
Longest Writing Chain This Week: 2 days, but 4 days overall!

Not really a lot of a lot of progress on revisions for Short Story 01, but I’ve worked a lot developing a couple of fresh ideas. Better than being stuck, I guess.

ROTTING MY BRAIN
I wanted to like the film 1917, I really did. Just wasn’t for me, though. I didn’t really glean anything that I hadn’t already seen in BLACKADDER GOES FOURTH, the DOCTOR WHO episodes “Human Nature”/”Family of Blood”, and series two of DOWNTON ABBEY.

Caught up a little bit more with THE EXPANSE. I’m 3 episodes away from Season 3. I’m still a little taken aback at the show’s plot scope and intricacy!

FEEDING MY HEAD
Kit Reed’s STORY FIRST: THE WRITER AS INSIDER is, in the first three chapters, a pretty succinct distillation of the sort of writing truths that most other writing books tend to start talking about halfway in. I’d only ever met Kit Reed in passing before she left us, but I did see her do a few convention panels. So I can actually hear her voice in my mind as I read…

I should say at the outset that if any of you are going to make it in show biz, that is, if any of you are going to write fiction that pleases anybody besides yourself and possibly your most doting relative, you are going to have to develop the habit of rewriting.

So yes, stuff I’ve seen before (i.e. rewriting) with nuggets that are new-to-me sprinkled in (i.e. writing as show biz).

THOUGHT OF THE WEEK

(Okay, maybe having Crumb actually would open one up to demonic possession….)

IN THE WILD
Fjallraven Kanken No. 2 backpack I love it when retail therapy dovetails with actual, practical need. I decided I needed a lighter load to carry on days when I have chiropractic appointments after work. It wouldn’t be bad if I had a car, but I’m a bus/walking person, which you can be in the town I live in.

I still needed a smaller, lighter back for my Ultraportable EDC-In-Exile but slightly bigger than the STM bag I was using, that was simple enough that I don’t leave essentials behind when I need my full loadout, yet something that would still be kind to my back while I’m going to a chiropractor twice a week.

I’ve had my eye on this particular Fjällräven Kånken No. 2 bag for awhile, and decided I had nothing to lose by trying it out. It’s been a week and so far it fits the bill completely. I’m still not giving up my Filson, though!

#Weeknotes S02E02

I didn’t slack this week. I got sick. And up until very recently, I didn’t see a practical difference between the two. The voices in my head say, (a) okay fine, “sick” is a reason but you’re still as behind as you would be if you just fucked off and (b) no one wants to hear you whinging.

Luckily, therapy has been good for me. So yes, I can acknowledge that I didn’t keep up with my daily diary (a la Barry) or drawing exercises (a la Brunetti). But I did take care of myself, and that was the important thing. Staying home from work, seeing a doctor, getting my back adjusted — all important things. Right? Right.

(And if repeating that to myself over and over really keeps the demons at bay, well that’s fine too.)

WRITING PROGRESS. So, then how’d my first week of 2020 go?

Longest Writing Chain This Week: 2 days. But I did have 3 writing days altogether.

I suck at coming up with interesting code names, so I’ll continue calling what I’m working on right now Short Story 01. Same “Short Story 01” I was working on this time last year, but I made some decent progress on its rewrite by experimenting with Oblique Strategies (I have an app) to get me through problem areas. The results are interesting, even if I decide not to keep them.

ROTTING MY BRAIN. Still working my way through THE EXPANSE but I’ve been seeing what the animated HARLEY QUINN is all about. Well, it’s now overtaken AGGRETSUKO as my favorite cartoon. HARLEY feels like it has everything I love about old Adult Swim shows but without the “Jokes for you and your stoner buds who’re up too late” vibe.

THOUGHT OF THE WEEK

Seriously, printing and scanning over WiFi with my tablet has actually made my life better twice this week.

IN THE WILD. Trying to address just one of the various and sundry ways I’ve neglected myself lately.

I know, but it helps my back, shut up. And, no jokes about “Now, why don’t you get your attitude adjusted?” My inner voices beat you to it!