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!

“I can still hear you saying you would never break the chain…” [March 2017]

Well, I warned you last time this wouldn’t look pretty. That there is 7 days of writing in a 31 day month. Still, better to light an inch than curse the dark.

One of my VP20 crew told me, “Output is not a measure of value.” Which other friends and loved ones have told me before, of course. I’ve always known this intellectually, but deprogramming is hard. I’ve taken a step in that direction (I hope) by realizing that maybe for right now the fact of having to re-invent my writing process wheel after the sorts of interruptions I’m facing (almost exclusively dayjob-related stuff) is just a feature and not a bug.

That doesn’t mean I stay happy with it, though. But maybe I don’t have to resent it so much until I can make changes. And changes are on the horizon. I’ve got a new short story I’m working on for a particular market; just 3 weeks until the deadline. Plenty of time–if I can stay on the stick, that is.

“I can STILL hear you saying you would NEVER break the chain…” [February 2017]

God, I’m far behind in every way. It’s the end of March and I’m just getting to posting February’s writing progress now. And it’s not pretty. But there’s only one thing for it in cases like this. Pick yourself up, stagger forward, and just focus on putting one foot under the other.

So, there’s my February. Not great. But the one thing I can say about it is that each set of blank days represents specific and identifiable dayjob issues on which I had to focus, and that just took up all my energy. That’s not a “poor me” complaint; just a fact. A reality that I have to own up to and face. And I need to make my peace with it, and find a way to light an inch, rather than curse the darkness. And in a way, the fact that I wrote for as many days as I did in February kinda shows I did just that.

In fact, compared to March, I’ve probably lit a whole yard. Wait until I post this month’s utter failure. No, that’s not hyperbole–wait ’til you see it. Still, I know it’s important that I post it anyway. Accountability, right?

In the meantime, I’ll have to go through that whole process of making peace with what got in my way this month, what did and didn’t get done, and move forward next month.

“I can STILL hear you saying you would NEVER break the chain…” [January 2017]

What you’re seeing up there is my attempt at a January writing streak. Each red X is a day I met a preset minimum fiction writing/editing goal. The end goal, of course, is to have as long a chain of Xs as possible. I’m not off to a hot start this month, but we’ll find out together how February turns out.

I tried posting these a few years back, but it lasted all of five minutes. I’m gonna try public accountability again though, if for no other reason than to live out the main takeaway from my Viable Paradise experience: Put up or shut up.

Breakfast with the Social Medias

I’m at the cafe I usually sit in on Sundays, gearing up for today’s writing with coffee and baked goods. I decided to dive into my social media networks (and, tweak the new site here a little bit). I spent what I felt to have been a productive hour interacting a bit. As soon as I post this, I’m going to turn all of that off but then I realized something — sure, the next time I tune in again, I might’ve missed something. But because of how big the big things tend to stick on social media, it’ll be back around again like a TV rerun.

Which then made me think that just because social media is designed to be a stream and is meant to be consumed as such (since it’s on 24/7, nonstop because of its ubiquitous presence on all of our devices), it doesn’t mean I have to treat it that way. Just what is the actual difference between the social media stream, and any other media stream I had coming up in the 80s and 90s (TV, radio, recorded media, etc.) with respect to its demands on my attention and how I choose to respond to that demand?

A New Old Writing Manifesto

I was reading the latest issue of Warren Ellis’s ORBITAL OPERATIONS newsletter this morning and while I myself didn’t expect a Spider Jerusalem rant, this shouldn’t have surprised me:

I’m sure some of you tuned in today expecting a Spider Jerusalem-scale political rant. Some of you may even have been wincing in expectation of it. But I’m not Spider Jerusalem. He was my Id from twenty years ago. Going off here would be empty virtue-signalling from someone with no serious skin in this particular game. Whatever I say next, it’ll be through the work.

And so it immediately brings to mind how I resolve that conflict as I write. How do I make whatever I say come through the work? As always, I’ve had the answer all along…

What are you dealing with now in terms of plot points, themes, concerns now? The world and everything in it: Hunger, poverty, the anguish of the human race, the desperate sense of self destruction that we entertain all the time, the deep pervading gloom that comes with our inability to cope. Of course, you’re going to over-concern yourself with issues. It’s right that you should do so, and it’s expected… this year. Next year. But not three years from now.

Leave that soapbox behind. Carry with you, at all times, your sense of caring and your concern. But put it into the mouths of flesh and blood people. If not, write tracts.

Now, not to be critical, but I think it’s fair to say there’s a certain privilege in being allowed three years before transforming your soapbox feelings to good fiction writing. But that part of the prescription isn’t important, really. And I don’t want to dismiss tract and pamphlet writing, either; lots of folks do both. But the principle is sound.

As for me and my writing though, I have the motive, and now I have the means. And now I have some writing to get back to.

##

Today’s soundtrack: BLACKLISTED by Neko Case

Refilling the Life Bar

I’m still piecing my mind back together from the two wildest weeks in my writer life, with Viable Paradise three weeks ago followed by World Fantasy the next week (note to self: do that post soon), followed a week back at the dayjob during which I still wasn’t sleeping sensibly. It’s my own fault; it’s been 21 years since my hometown (racist mascot, and all) got to be in the World Series.

This leaves me drinking coffee past when I should on a Saturday night, trying to do a little more catching up since I took most of last night and most of today hibernating and flushing my brain. I finally have a little bit of energy that I don’t immediately have to burn on another commitment, like the dayjob. But it’s a precarious state. The bed, the couch, The Commonwealth are all calling to me. It’s okay, though. If rest is what I need and I can get it while picking away at my to-do lists and maybe a little bit of editing, I’m good.