Panic! Not My Idea of Fun.

So, yesterday I spent in a tea-blissed panic of my iMac failing. Seriously failing, going from numerous hard boots to then mucking about in Safe Mode and trying to divine meaning from the screed of text it offered up before the computer would turn itself off. (I say tea-blissed, because I spent the morning staring at the computer, drinking lavender and pomegranate green tea and not screaming.)

I ended up restoring the system from a backup on my Time Machine (not an actual Time Machine, either the cool TARDIS sort or the Apple product, just a hard drive I have running the Time Machine program), which of course now doesn’t want to make any further back-ups. Sigh. Regardless, I am back up and running after 8 hours down.

If something were to happen to the iMac, I wouldn’t be without a computer. I still have the MacBook Pro trucking along. But it was a cold shower, that’s for sure. The iMac has been more reliable, to date, than any desktop I’ve ever had, and the Apple laptops I’ve had enjoyed (and continue to enjoy) lifespans far beyond the PC laptops I’d used pre-2008. I expected the iMac to be the same, especially as it’s only a year and a half old.

Oh well. It’s running now. Let’s hope it keeps that way.

fingerscrossed

In the meantime, two weeks left to hit both my targets. Today’s words for BLOOD are almost done and after today’s episode of Cabin Pressure (which you can find here on BBC Radio 4 at 1:30 PM EST on Wednesdays) I start those line edits for STAR DOOR.  I think my twin targets are still doable, but ask me again in a week. *g*

 

Final Thoughts On The Year

So, that was 2012. Lot of good books read, lots of words written, lots of time to think back and think forward.

In an entry I posted last year about the end of 2011, the main take away was fuck fear. I wanted to be brave, try things I had never done before. I had visions of trying my hand at archery and horseback riding, being reckless and bold in ways I had never been.

Instead, I quit my job and took up contract work.

If going to Viable Paradise cemented my commitment to this crazy beast-business of writing, leaving the call center I worked at was like having the wide and badly fashioned yoke lifted from my shoulders. That job was emotionally grinding in a way that few jobs ever are and the months after were an awakening to the happier person I used to be. Beyond that, the time spent off-contract hasn’t just let me write — it’s redefined my relationship to writing. I’ve taken my vows, as it were. Writing will never be in the back seat again, it will never not be the most important thing. If I’m working eight hours a day, there will still be writing, before, after or on my lunch breaks. Doesn’t matter how it gets done, only that it does. It’s habit now, like brushing your teeth, and when you skip it you get that phantom itch of something being just a little off until that need is satisfied.

Bad habits can be made accidentally; good habits can only be made thoughtfully. You can’t expect that you’ll naturally get into the habit of something when that something is usually challenging and hard. You have to be committed to it, yes, but how best to go about doing it thoughtfully? Well, you plan, you measure, and you review, over and over.

For me, this self-measurement started as a simple Numbers spreadsheet. Brutally honest here: keeping track of word counts in the beginning was not inspiring. Too many blank spots on the sheet and I started feeling bad about them. A negative spiral, that. Then I realized I didn’t have enough information to punish myself, setting aside the question of whether or not I should be punishing myself. I had numbers but not context; I needed to know why I didn’t write on those days. I started tagging each entry with more information — was the reason I didn’t write sheer laziness, or was I sick, or out of town, or did I have too many commitments? Was I doing something else related to writing, like reading a beta novel or reading through my own work for edits? Understanding why meant I could take smarter steps to make sure I didn’t sabotage myself (see lazy) and making me recognize the related work (reading/editing). It made the whole process less binary and less punitive. Now the tool was working for me.

So, if last year’s end-note was fuck fear, what’s this year’s then? Not so sound-bitey this time, sadly. Just a new attitude. Open up. Explore. Keep working at it, and approach the task with curiosity and joy.

What are you going to bring me, 2013? And, more importantly, what am I going to bring you?

Zombies, Cheese, and Nostalgia

After living off of macaroni and cheese for two days and hiding behind a triple-locked door, I was relieved to see city emergency crews making the circuit of the neighborhood and advising residents that the temporary quarantine had been lifted. Yeah, quarantine, as if it was a virulent flu or something.

We know better.

And so do the people who also got the word out during the weekend. Over at Underwords Press, fellow Viable Paradise alum Erin Underwood did a terrific job collecting all the eye-witness accounts. Brave lady. Thank god we all made it out okay.

Speaking of Viable Paradise, there’s a whole new crew of talented folks that have been picked by the staff and are at the island right now. They have passed through the door to their week apart from the world. I’m not alone in getting nostalgic — the mailing list for our year has lit up with folks sharing memories of a week none of us were prepared for and none of us would give up. I have thoughts, lots of them, competing with each other. I blogged about VP last year when I came back, but I’ll likely be blogging about it again soon. It’s damn hard to not get melodramatic about it. I’ve just deleted the cheesiest line, we’re talking full on cheddar, to spare you the worst of it.

In the meantime, while I struggle to compose my VP thoughts, I struggle with my WIPs. I printed out the entirety of STAR DOOR, a lovely satisfying stack of first draft goodness coming in at 426 pages, giving weight to all the electrons I’ve gathered up. Meanwhile, I’m trying a sideways approach with the BLOOD v3.0 revision. It’s being sly with me, so I figure time to be sly with it and weasel my way into the narrative through some epistolary free-writing in different character point of views. I keep setting dates and goals for myself, but until I actually get pulled back in and the writing has started, those are all soft goals with no teeth to them.

About Those Updates …

I’ll admit it. There was some laziness involved. You see, I’m kind of in love with Tumblr these days. It has all the brevity of Twitter with all punch and fangirling of your favorite geek hubs. It’s more visual, and it lends itself to rapid dissemination of all the things that tickle a girl’s heart, and sometimes other places.

Tumblr seemed a good place to post these mini-updates of where my writing was at any given moment. Quick check-ins that wouldn’t spam the blog here. (Spamming is something I sort of worry about, and if you saw my rampant Tumblr reblogging, you’d understand my concern.) Plus, I could use fun gifs.

And then I felt guilty, ’cause I was having so much fun with them over there, so started cross-posting them here. Whether they are spam or not, that’s your call.

The progression, over the last four weeks or so, has become increasingly negative, until this weekend I just posted this gif, without comment.

Ah, inarticulate frustration. Thy name is an Alan Rickman gif. 

New words on any WIP of mine had stopped coming. I dived into a lot of reading, a lot of plotting, a lot of trying to find the story I wanted to tell. And each week, I’d get more anxious about my fun-little-Tumblr-post, making it not so fun anymore. Each update a confirmation that my dread manifested. Ugh.

Then something clicked. I did not want to post one more goddamn ‘no progress’ post.

So I won’t be. Cracked open a joke short story I’ll never be able to sell but will be amazeballs to write, and then all of a sudden the log-jam on STAR DOOR busted clear open. All in, I’ve written 3,500 words in the last three days and I think that’s just the beginning. Hot damn, and about time.

(Did my brain just need a month off? Dunno, but I hope the Pina Coladas were good.)

 

It’s Just Not Logical

Yes, that's a bit of rum and coke.I’ve always liked the idea of chess, I just was never very good at it.

What’s not to like? You have the classic board, these lovely little pieces doing battle. You can project almost anything onto the board, be it the calculating tactician moving his pieces across the map of disputed territories or the tangled love affairs of two families at war for the same crown.

My folks had a chess set, old even when I was a kid. It’s pictured here after its resurrection from the depths of the basement. Faintly stamped on the inside of the folding chessboard is the phrase ‘Made in Poland’ and it’s honest to goodness metal used for both the hinges and the hook that holds it closed. The pieces appear to be hand carved, only in that they are irregular, with different widths and different angles of cuts that make up the faces of all of the pieces, down to their little green felt bottoms.

The book pictured with the chess set is Logical Chess, a Viable Paradise book recommendation by the esteemed Jim MacDonald. His lecture on writing was framed in metaphor, and chess was one of them — for conceptualizing your story, understanding that every move a protagonist makes results in a reaction, and vice versa. Your novel is made of these pieces, and in the vein of good chess, you only move the pieces you need to move and you always think in terms of the longer game.

And since I need very little prodding to buy books, and since I remembered loving chess (or at least the idea of chess), picking up the book was a no brainer. I’m going through each game the book describes, moving the pieces along as I read. It both relaxing and invigorating as much as it is educational.

However, another metaphor reared its head while playing, one that has amused me to no end and has made me mindful about other stuff, particularly my ego and especially about persistence.

When I was a kid, I played chess never thinking beyond the immediate move — and that usually meant I lost the game. I had this inexplicable and unfounded belief that if I played wildly, without care, that somehow this undiscovered raw talent for chess would emerge and I would start winning games. Become, suddenly and with no real effort, good. The fact that it never happened that way was only a minor deterrent at first. When it kept not happening, when my inner chess-savant simply refused to present itself, I stopped playing.

Flash forward to present day, where my hand was poised over the Queen when the little thunderbolt of awareness hit me — that was how I thought about my writing back in the day! That it would all just stream out of me, perfect, if I was meant to do it.

I chalk that up to being a bright kid. (EGO!) When I was in grade school, stuff came easily to me. I didn’t have to work for it and I got praised by parents and teachers alike. If I came up against something I wasn’t naturally good at, I would think there was no point in applying myself towards something I showed no aptitude in. As a result, I developed poor work habits.  Eventually there came a time when the stuff I was good at needed more out of me then what I’d needed to provide up until then — and I checked out, even with writing. Maybe I shouldn’t be writing, I thought, since it’s not coming to me naturally.

Like it was magic or something, girl? Sheesh. Oh, the funny lies we tell ourselves.

So there I was the other day, thumbing through the chess book to learn the code to understand what the hell Qxg6+ means*, remembering how I thought as a kid that I should just have this innate talent for the game and instead I got so frustrated I stopped playing altogether — and BOOM, the object lesson clicked into place.

Checkmate, Stephanie.

I had mostly learned that lesson with respect to writing about five years ago when I started taking writing seriously and realizing it would be a long apprenticeship. But the wider cause and effect didn’t occur to me until that moment. I felt a little foolish for a few minutes, then picked up the Queen and went on to the next game.

I’m still terrible at chess. A third of the way through the book that demonstrates using the greatest chess matches of the last hundred plus years and my computer will still soundly spank my ass if we play head-to-head. But I’m learning. Even when you lose, even when you don’t make the thing you set out to make, you learn.

Humble, stubborn persistence is a skill we must learn, sooner or later. Probably the most important skill.

* The Queen takes the piece currently on square G6 and puts the opposing King in a state of Check.

Research

After spending the day shuffling items around in my office, I spent a chunk of the afternoon finally getting around to that book I’d borrowed from the library. You know, that bit of serendipity I mentioned earlier? Yup, all about the history of medieval medicine! This is of vital importance to me, as the main character for BLOOD is a would-be scientist, like her father. But beyond some very vague ideas of how she might go about any of this, I’d skimped on many of the details, favoring action and dialogue.

No longer!

And the cool thing is just how much they did know back in the 1600s, which is my watermark for the highest level of technology in my weird little gothic world. Things like the first microscope, mechanical hands, surgery that removed cataracts, even mobile surgery kits.

How cool is that?

I have a sweet little setup, actually. Book is on a book stand to my left, iPad and Bluetooth keyboard in the middle (where I am taking the notes and now writing this blog entry) and the Macbook on my right cycling through Good Eats episodes.

I love the future. Don’t you?

As far as my Getting Things Done blowout? Yeah, on hold. I did spend some time today moving around my tools, things like screwing my little IKEA bucket holder on to the wall, pairing down storage boxes, getting things off of my desk. I still have more reading to do to finish the book and I think I’m going to need some supplies to get the system in place. Like, specifically I want to move my filing cabinet into the office proper, but then I have a gap in my living room that needs to be filled. (It files and holds stuff on top of it! Huzzah!) Maybe even a second filing cabinet. I also have to figure out how much of this will be electronic and how much of this will be physical. I plan on doing some writing tonight, some exploratory thinking about what it is that I want to track, store and use. In going through the book, I’ve realized that I’ve got a pretty decent system of inventory for all that life stuff — folders for banking info, for work, for my medical papers, my cats’ vet papers, my taxes, and so on. But it’s my creative stuff that I have all over the place as well as all the task-related stuff, both creative and non-creative, that I need to get a handle on.

Anywho, I’ve got reading to do!

Making Up Lost Ground

I have big plans for this “weekend” of mine. Big plans.

Now that I feel like I (sorta) have my real life issues taken care of, I’m looking forward to clearing out my headspace and getting back to the real work, the life’s work — writing.

First up, I want to settle in to a new routine via the Getting Things Done paradigm, a la David Allen. I’ve bought numerous programs to help me organize all the crap I collect, but have never managed to implement them successfully. And the last one, Pocket Informant for the iPad/iPhone, gave me the option to select one of three organizational methods it supported, including Getting Things Done.

I figured I might as well go to the source.

I’m halfway through the book, and there is a lot of good stuff in here. Things like, if it takes less than two minutes, do it now and get rid of it. Don’t use a to-file folder cause if you can’t be bothered to put it away the first time, you never will the second time. Don’t continue to worry about something once you’ve decided, ’cause it’s a waste of effort. Don’t just make a list of to-dos, figure out the next physical action to take.

I think what appeals to me most about the methodology is that the goal is to get everything into a trusted system so that your brain doesn’t keep chewing over the same things repeatedly, to the point where you stress out and have no mental room for constructive, creative tasks. If it’s not captured somewhere, either physical or electronic, it’s still kicking around in the old noggin.

This all makes a terrible amount of sense to me. ‘Cause I feel like so much of my life is weighing me down that it keeps me from coming to the page fresh and clear minded. I want to manage my time better and get more done — more writing, more reading, more self-improvement. Too much time is just flushing down the drain. No more!

My only concern is that the book was published in 2002. There were PDAs back then, but the technology has progressed mightily and I wondered if there was a more recent edition that might address that but no such luck. He’s had other books published since then, so perhaps a different volume addresses this or maybe some other writers have filled the gap. Regardless, I want to implement this system ASAP, and as cheaply as possible. Priority number one for the next two days.

Up next, the novel. Writing.

Lastly, the meet and greet with a potential new member for the critique group! He’s a guy I know from work who happened to spy one of my writing books in my cubicle-cel. He asked me if I write, I said yes, babbled a bit, and then he asked if I shared.

Happy little alarm bells started ringing like the cathedral of Notre Dame.

“Why, YES, and as a matter of fact …”

So, the group is going to meet him, see if he likes us and if we like him. We need someone who is interested in active participation, who can string together a sentence, and who isn’t afraid to share his work or receive critiques. Not that we go after our critiques like they were the last blond cheerleader at Sleep Away Camp, but it’s not going to be a love fest, either. So, we’re asking for a small sample and we’re going to bring in our own pieces to show him what our critiques have looked like.

We’ll see what happens. I’m hopeful. He seems clever, and while quiet, when he speaks its generally something useful or interesting. He said he’s been looking for something to help keep him on track and encourage him to move forward. I know our group has done that for me. Hopefully we can be the group that does that for him, too.

Mind Officially Stuffed!

I was lucky enough to be able to crash a local, scholarly SF Convention, its first ever but hopefully the first of many. It was one of those weird things where life just makes it available to you and you don’t dare miss it. A convention that takes place during the week, hell during my days off! How do I not go to that? How does anyone?

So for two days I was privileged enough to listen to some fascinating papers that covered topics from Philip K Dick’s views on reality, on the stereotype of the Evil Genius and Absent-Minded professor, on embodiment in Anime, on cyclical verses progressive history — consider the mind BLOWN!

I have much, much to say about it, thoughts for which are still formulating, percolating. But there will be bloggage. I’m also going to prepare my notes and pass them out to the group (if they are so inclined).

But two things:

For Tuesday, I took notes exclusively on the iPad and its virtual keyboard. And I did all right, even impressed myself with how much I managed. My notes are about a page each for each presentation, covering the major points and a few of my own sidebars.

For Wednesday, I decided to mix it up and brought my Bluetooth keyboard. I’ve been meaning to try it out but a recent thread in the OWW mailing list mentioned it again and I thought why not? I had wanted the ease-of-use that my laptop would offer so I could get down as much of Sawyer’s talk as possible. But boy, that laptop is heavy and with the bussing routes interrupted from the strike, I’d have had a very long haul. And if it didn’t work, I could just go back to the iPad alone. So I dug out the stand I had purchased, and thought useless, and took it with me.

And boy HOWDY did it work out! I easily managed three times the amount of notes, at times even able to keep up with the presenter and write more of my own asides. The Bluetooth did heavily drain the battery, as expected, but it is a very viable way of taking notes for class. The battery life would be more than adequate. The only thing I couldn’t do effectively was reposition the cursor (and I wonder if my Bluetooth mouse would work with the iPad?) or draw diagrams. Not that the later proved much of an issue, but it could be. Overall, I was dead impressed.

The other thing? I didn’t realize how much I missed Laurentian. It was two days of challenging material, something meaty, something large enough that you can’t just skim it, and toss it aside. Just like the science or social-based panels at a regular Con, these lectures gave more information than you can safely hold in your palm. I wish I’d taken the keyboard with me yesterday, though there is value in just listening, without the pen scratchings or the keys tapping alongside each spoken word.

So like I said, I’m brain-full! Happily stuffed, ideas and perspectives crammed in there, leaking out my ears. It was like I’ve gotten a taste of something I used to eat a long time ago, familiar and alien all at once, that I’d forgotten I’d even missed.

Why I Write

I’m reading Plot and Structure by James Scott Bell. I’d picked it up a couple of years ago but it ended up on the shelf only barely pawed through. Having recently read (and adored) Bell’s book, The Art of War for Writers, and needing some guidance as I get into the next 30,000 words (a nice milestone, thank you for asking), I decided to pick it up again.

Besides finding some curious bookmarks inside it, I’m also finding some great advice. And exercises! Who misses school? Oh, I do! I do!

Anyways, here’s the first exercise. It was written to a ten-minute timer, so I really let it rip. And I liked what I came up with.

Exercise 1: When readers read my novels, I want them to feel _______________ at the end. That’s because, to me, novels are ___________________.

I want them to feel like they were somewhere else, that my words brought them out of their lives and into the world I created. I want them to be breathing the air of my dreamscape, wearing the clothes of my characters, grieving over the decisions they have made and triumphing with them when they at last succeed. If they were checking their watch, if they were skipping ahead to see how many pages are left in the chapter, if the dullest television show playing on in the background causes them to lift up their head when they are reading my book, I have failed. I want them to marvel at the majesty of my vistas yet savor the small details of the day-to-day. I want them to smile while they read, cry at the sad parts, curse the character that they have come to love as much as I do when s/he makes the wrong choice for the right reasons. I want them to worry after my characters. I want them to figure out the story puzzle mere seconds before the characters do, for good or ill. I want the world to linger with them after the book is done, harken back to either a phrase, a scene, a character, play it again in their head like a mini-movie that they directed from the script I gave them.

That’s because that is what a good novel does for me. You read and you aren’t thinking word by word, you are inside that world, wholly and unreservedly. Novels are the best sort of escapism. They occupy your whole mind, they take as investment a part of your soul. A good book doesn’t give you time to realize it is a book, it’s so immersive that you cannot think about it clinically, you can only react emotionally. They become memories of other lives not lived, of loves and choices and griefs shared but not burdened. And it brings the fantastical to life, the possibilities of a world uncertain and full of magic.

Above all, I want them to feel it was worth it, that the journey I took them on was meaningful, fun, breathless, witty, surprising and satisfying. I want them to keep my book, to maybe reread it during a dark period of their lives, and let it give them peace, give them a laugh, give them a dark place to shelter from some darker place, give them a little adventure, a little love, when their own lives are 9-to-5 purgatory. I want them to take off their shoes, turn the lights down low, come to bed with that book and a glass of wine, knowing that it is the most indulgent and rewarding part of their day. I want them to squee with excitement when they get to the juicy bits and for their eyes to go wide when they tell their friends, “Dear GOD you have to read this.”

Because dear GOD, I had to write it.

But What Else?

Relaxing with a glass of wine tonight, hoping my back and I can come to some sort of cease fire arrangement. What my back doesn’t know is that if negotiations go poorly, I’ll be doing a double cross and picking up some muscle relaxants. Take that, back!

(Old Woman)

Anywho…

I’ve been unofficially trying to blog every two days. Or so. I’ve more or less, mostly less, done so and I don’t think I quite like it. Not that I don’t like blogging. But way, way back when I first picked it up I found that when I started drifting to general life topics, I got less interested in the blog itself.

Doing book reviews doesn’t interest me. While I have my opinions (oh, do I have opinions!), I don’t want to slag off someone’s work. I do that in the privacy of my own book journal or occasionally with friends in real life. Just can’t help but think that someday, if I am supremely lucky, my books, things I have labored over and loved, would be torn a new one for all the world to see. And besides, someone loved these books enough to be publish them, even if I don’t.

I would like to make the blog more link-a-rific, collecting tidbits that I find off the ‘Net relating to writing, but because I blog so infrequently, such links are a week old by the time I think of it and a week on the Internet is like a century ago.

An idea for a new kind of website popped into my head the other day, one I’ve been toying with, but it would be a separate creature from the blog and far away yet. Still pondering.

As far as writing goes, I spent my Saturday night working on BLOOD. I’ve changed the 1st person entries into 3rd person, and then I wrote a new scene. Managed over 1,700 words, which is excellent for me on a work night. Left me a little burnt out the night after. Even today, which was the Monday night write-in, I didn’t really write anything substantial. I finished blocking out a scene and updating my scene cards.

I also solved my quandary regarding a sudden P.O.V. character as I went through the scene lists and cue cards. One of my previously written scenes can easily be re-written from his perspective, and improved upon as a result. I won’t do so now — it would be more intensive of a rewrite than switching from 1st to 3rd — but I might save it for when I get stuck, which I seem to do a lot with BLOOD. Very stop and go, when I just want to go-go-go!

Wine has worked it’s magic. This “weekend” of mine will be split between house work and writing. Would like to try for at least 2,000 words in the next two days. Wish me luck!

PS: Can I ever tell I wrote this entry with that glass of wine! Fiddled with the sentences and stuff, as well as putting back the old woman joke that disappeared because I was using HTML codes.