The case of the vanishing writer

It’s not you, it’s me. I’ve been absent from here and most other social places for a while.

The good news is that I’ve been toiling away, writing my next book. I’ve finally found a real, focused writing process that feels like work (but in a good way).

The bad news is that my focus comes at the exclusion of almost everything else. Other than the family, and getting my butt to the gym, I’m a bit of a hermit.  There are countless coffee chats I’ve put off, events I’ve skipped, and a bunch of ‘should do’ tasks that are on the farthest back burner imaginable.

I’m getting close to the end of the first draft, so bear with me. Soon I shall emerge from my dimly lit den to sniff out socializing and camaraderie.

Piles of sand, not much castle

As I mentioned earlier, I am in the midst of writing my next book. It’s in the early stages of the first draft (not even a title yet) and each day is a bit of a slog. I’ve tried to make my peace with the first draft always being a bucket of hot garbage, but it can still be frustrating. One might say that labelling my work in progress “hot garbage” could contribute to morale problems.

So, I’m working to use an alternate metaphor for the first draft. I came across this Twitter quote from author Shannon Hale (@haleshannon), and it might fit the bill:

“When writing a first draft, I have to remind myself constantly that I’m only shoveling sand into a box so later I can build castles.”

This is a tad more flowery than I normally like, but I’ll give it a test drive. It doesn’t mean that the process of shovelling sand isn’t also frustrating. You know that the sand is just gonna pour out of the scoop into a heap, but you secretly long for it to magically coalesce into the structures floating around in your imagination. There’s no magic here, though. Just work.

It’s a lot like choosing to stumble into the woods without a compass or a plan. You push through scratching brambles and slip down muddy embankments without any sense of which direction you’re going in. Every step might be taking you far away from your destination. But once and a while, you crest a hill that rises above the tree cover and you see the landscape spilling out towards the end of your journey. The promise of finding the end of the story and being able to retell it is enough to send you back into the brush and weeds to keep plodding forward.

To all of my fellow writers near and far, plod on!

The plan for 2016

(To be completely accurate, it’s the plan for the rest of 2015 and 2016, but let’s not get too hung up on technicalities)

As is normal for anyone approaching the end of a calendar year, I’ve been thinking about the year that has passed and the new one ahead. After some high quality musing,  a few different ideas fell into place and I set about creating a writing schedule for the next year.

I was excited when I sat down to make the schedule. Mere moments later, I was overwhelmed and panicked. That’s right, I made up my own task list and promptly freked out at how much there was to do. Who needs external adversaries when your own brain is playing Moriarity to your low rent Holmes?

After a considerable amount of calming down and coffee drinking, the panic passed. There’s still a lot to do, and I’m not promising my internal deadlines are hard and fast, but I have a road map. Would you like to see it? Here are the highlights:

  • Finish the first draft of book #4 (underway now, aiming to be done by end of February. Gonna need a title too)
  • Revise WitchKids for an enhanced 3rd edition, with even less mistakes AND new content (ETA Mid-March)
  • Revise Kingmaker for an enhanced 2nd edition: less oopsies, new story bits (ETA End of March)
  • Revise The Patchwork Boy for enhanced 2nd Edition (ETA mid-April)
  • Edit and publish book #4 (ETA oh geez sometime in 2016. End of May?)
  • Book launch party for book #4 (after it’s done, okay?)
  • Forest City Comicon (November 5&6)

And that’s not everything I want to work on, either. Sheesh.

Learning From the Front of the Class

The latest in my series of unique adventures put me in front of a room full of writers, to give a talk about science fiction and paranormal fiction as a part of a writer’s workshop series. I’ll admit, the vague and massive topic made me a touch nervous. I had a fear that somewhere there was a detailed note describing what I was actually supposed to talk about, and the class would sit and watch me with puzzlement as I talked about exactly the wrong thing. Continue reading

Best way to build your audience

The continuing quest for new readers is at times very tiring. It’s no easy feat to convince hordes of strangers to invest time (and a little bit of money) in your writing. But you have to do it,  because writers need audiences.

Oh sure, storytelling is a self-fulfilling pursuit to an extent. So is daybecauesdreaming. If internal satisfaction was enough, then most books would stay unwritten, floating in their author’s head in a nebulous cloud of possibility. Committing those ideas to concrete form on paper is driven by a need to share that story.

So, with a song in my heart and some promotional material in my hand, I set up a table at our local Comicon (Forest City Comicon) and gently hawked my wares to the attendees. Some people stopped to chat, many smiled nervously and walked on, and a bunch took a promotional bookmark that me and my tablemate foisted upon them. (Here’s what the fancy bookmark looked like)

Bookmark

But there was one interaction in particular that made the day worthwhile. I was sitting at the table munching away at a mediocre hot dog in a very stale bun when a young girl, probably around 9 years old, came up to the table with her little sister in tow. The older girl was in a Sailor Jupiter costume and had a very serious and earnest look on her face. She locked eyes with me in a feat of rare bravery for someone so small and said “your book sounds interesting and I think I might like it,. Can you tell me more about it please?”

My dad instincts wanted me to hug her and praise her for being so brave and well spoken, but I wisely chose not to hug the tiny stranger across the table. Instead I gave her a quick summary of the books. It was an interesting challenge to condense my normal rambling explanation into something a child could absorb on the spot, even a bright child like the girl in front of me. She listened closely with her attention unbroken throughout the whole exchange, and when I finished, she thanked me and walked off with her sister. Less than 5 minutes later, she returned with the rest of her family. Her dad asked her “are you sure that this is what you want?” and she nodded fiercely. Dad handed over the last of her allowance and she promptly handed it to me to buy her own copy of WitchKids.

And that was the best sale I have ever made. Thanks, Sailor Jupiter.

Scarcity confusion

I sat around last night envisioning myself on death’s door. What? Oh, sure, like I’m the only one who plays out morbid scenarios in their mind occasionally. Every once in a while, my subconscious shouts “hey, we’re gonna die someday. Wonder how that’ll play out?” and, being the overly creative fellow that I am, I oblige my psyche by fleshing out the grisly details. Did you know that Anthony Burgess, the author of “A Clockwork Orange”, was once diagnosed with terminal cancer and wrote 5 books in ONE YEAR so that his wife would have some kind of money after he kicked off. (As an aside, he got better from the terminal cancer). With that story for source material, and my ongoing unhappiness with my own work ethic, my imagination took off.

Last night’s mortality scenario included a prolonged stay in a hospital room where I was feverishly churning out new writing in a race against the clock. The small sense of pride that came from the idea of working hard in the face of death was an awkward sensation. Have to find the upside to everything,

But then I paused my daydream to give myself a reality check. Maybe, I’d be a little bit happier in the here and now if I put a little more effort into working while I wasn’t on my deathbed. To use an automotive metaphor, I am a car in 1st gear trying to go up a hill. Other cars are passing me because they are working harder. I’m content to putter up the hill because the road isn’t collapsing behind me, and the light at the top of the hill is going to stay green forever. But it’s not.

I know, I know, “time is short” is not a revelatory statement. You have to make do with what you have and get your priorities straight. That’s where my troubles lie. I’m wired to prioritize pleasure and comfort instead of meaningful work. Something from a long time ago, probably during childhood, convinced me that happiness and nice things are going to disappear, so I gorge on them. I eat every meal like a fatter, hungrier man is on his way to eat my food. I hate to pause a video game and leave the room for fear of it vanishing before I return.

So that’s where the scarcity confusion is, and where I need to put in some work. No one is coming to take my happiness away. There will be plenty of time for fun, I promise, but there are books to write first.(and laundry and dishes and vacuuming and volunteering).

Opportunity Costs and saying ‘no thanks’

Opportunity Cost: the loss of potential gain from other alternatives when one alternative is chosen.

What an interesting last 5 years it has been for me. You’ve been able to follow along my adventure here in the blog, as I discovered new possibilities and chased what must have seen at times as wildly divergent goals. It’s like I woke up after decades of dozing to realize that I had a lot more to offer the world than I thought, and still had time to do something about it.

So I started jumping at every chance that came by. I wanted to make a difference wherever anyone would let me. That’s an important distinction to make: I still felt, deep down, that I wasn’t really that useful (thanks, shoddy self-esteem) so I had to desperately leap at every opportunity.

I don’t want to mislead you into thinking that I haven’t found most of these volunteer efforts rewarding and educational, though. I have met fantastic people and experienced some real revelatory moments during the 5 year ‘say yes to everything’ binge. I’ve been part of some great teams, and I’ve finally become comfortable in the knowledge that my contribution to the team makes a difference.

But there have been a few less than stellar moments of frustration and fatigue. I’ve found myself in a few meetings torn between a guilty sense of not doing enough, and a profound desire to not take on any more work. It isn’t a fun internal conflict to manage. I felt pulled in a million directions without and sense of making progress. I was tired and unenthusiastic about my commitments.

The problem recently extended into my creative life. I had a handful of projects I could work on, and I started picking away at all of them, seemingly at random. One of the projects was a one-act play that I intended to stage in our Fringe festival next year. I wrote it up and did a read through with a friend of mine. later that night, as I started to compile the full list of all the work necessary to bring the script to the stage, I finally asked myself an important question: is producing this play going to move me closer to my goals? More importantly, what are my goals?

And lo! A bright light shone in my mind,  and clarity came storming in. As soon as I chose a goal (actually, a couple of them) I could now measure each opportunity against the cost to my progression. I stopped saying yes just because I could do it. I sat down and reviewed all of my standing commitments and asked “does this move me towards my goals? Is it a good fit for my life and am I a good fit for the organization?”. It was surprisingly hard to be so ruthlessly objective. I hate quitting anything, and I doubly hate letting anyone down. But I made a cut list, and I narrowed down my efforts. In the upcoming weeks, I’ll start looking at a couple of new opportunities, and they will have to meet the same criteria. I’m a talented guy but time is short and I have to make the most of it.