Tuesday, September 29, 2015

Join the Club

In a way, I'm a bit sad.

I've been sticking with the Don't Break the Chain approach to revising one of my old drafts -- a book that optimistically combines love, sex, religion, drugs, death, magic, biodiesel and video games under the unlikely title of The Ballad of Congo Willy.[1] This was the product of NaNoWriMo for me in 2011, and I have attempted rewrites and restarts every few months since the keys cooled from the original draft, always fizzling out for one reason or another.[2] But I'm actually almost nearing the end of it now, three months into making myself spend some time with it every night. I can't say that it's actually good, but I know at least that it's improved from its previous form, shoved in a box on a shelf being ignored.

Inspiration was hard to come by for this one, and instead of getting itchy fingers at the approach of November this year -- time for a carnival o' writing! -- I'm feeling kind of... dry. Empty. Not used up, necessarily, but not as eager as in years past. A bit sad, even, because there's no way I'm not doing NaNo this November, and more than I'll allow myself a night away from C.W.. Writing even terrible fiction is such a sea change from my day job mucking around with databases and code,[3] and I enjoy the oddball camaraderie of the Typewriter Brigade and the general festival nature of NaNo. For someone who slips into his habits easily and stubbornly refuses to get out, a month of creative chaos is a welcome and necessary part of my life now.

But what to write about?

I know that I'm not a (seat of the) Pantser come November. I don't just sit down at the typewriter and bleed. I need at least a sketch of a character or two, and a situation to toss them into: the basics of an outline, which I adhere to or drift from over the course of the thirty days. This flawed exercise is my capital-p Process, such as it is. And usually I am coming into October with just exactly these basics, having scrawled them down in notebooks and index cards during the summer. But I've spent all that time this year rewriting and revising, not sowing. So just as I'm forcing myself to Get Creative Daily, Dammit, I'm going to cutover into Full Bore Planning Mode in October.

The Internet[4] attributes this quote to Jack London:
You can't wait for inspiration. You have to go after it with a club.
After three months of enforced hill-climbing, I completely agree. There are days when rewriting C.W. was mental agony, and days when I couldn't get out of the way of my fingers fast enough. And I know that book is far better[5] overall for the attention it's been paid this summer, especially when the going got tough. And now I'm looking at the hill that is November, and realizing that I need to climb this thing yet again, and the only way to do this is to grab hold of both sets of bootstraps[6] and go.

But it's friendlier with more.

So here's a challenge to you, dear reader. Who's with me? Who's willing to head out and club up some inspiration? Who needs to break out of their daily rut a bit and write four weeks of bad prose? "I have nothing to write about" isn't an excuse.

Who's going to join the club?

[1] I did say I was being optimistic.

[2] Just one reason: pure unadulterated slacking off. I've tapped a vein of the stuff and mine it all day long.

[3] All of which is flawless, of course.

[4] "The Internet is always right." -- Abraham Lincoln

[5] And much, much weirder. I'm happy with that, too.

[6] Not sure this is physically possible. Not worrying about that, either.

Tuesday, September 1, 2015

Two In, Two Out

The daily beast is getting fed. This is a good thing, generally. Two months of daily writing down, a scant two more months to go before NaNoWriMo begins. Muse willing, I hope to actually have a second draft done by then, fully digital, and ready for an editing pass and then farming out to beta readers. Even with school happening now with the kids, I'm able to at least hide for 15-30 minutes and keep my toes in, creatively-speaking.

Feedly the Daily Beast in 2015

November will happen regardless. There's no avoiding November.

Peeved Rhino

Friday, July 31, 2015

The Chain Unbroken: Feeding the Daily Beast

The way up

So, it's been a month. How's it been going?

The daily writing is definitely a thing that's happening. Like NaNo, the first week was exhilarating, the second was suck-laden, and the third and final weeks have been feeling more downhill-ish. This is probably a good thing. I'm rewriting my 2011 NaNo draft, an effort that I've started and abandoned many times before. I've dug out the draft and have it standing by, but so far have not needed to refer to it. Somewhere along the trail of aborted rewrites, Things Changed Direction, and now the typescript is more of a ghost of Once Was than a skeleton of What Will Be. But it's still comforting to have around, totemic in a way, and of comforting heft.

View from the top

So I'm not exactly at the top yet. In fact, I'm not sure I'm quite halfway. But I'm happy with one of the big decisions -- putting most of the book in first-person present tense -- and have come up with other things that I want to incorporate when this is finally in digital form, for at the moment, it exists on paper, in my head, and in various iterations of Chapters 1-Through-3 sprinkled across my hard drive and my email folders. The Inner Critic is loose, alas, since he only gets chained up during November, so he keeps whispering in my ear that This Is All Boring Tripe and What Gives You The Right and so on. I'm trying to rise above, mainly by putting my main characters through hell and/or making them more mentally unbalanced than originally drafted. I don't know if this is a healthy approach to deafening the self-criticism. It feels a bit sadistic. I'm not sure that I'm supposed to be enjoying that.

At the start of the month, I ran off a simple* 6-month calendar for myself to cross out. For July it looks like this:

     July 2015
Su Mo Tu We Th Fr Sa
          X  X  X  X
 X  X  X  X  X  X  X

 X  X  X  X  X  X  X
 X  X  X  X  X  X  X
 X  X  X  X  X 31

The chain remains unbroken, but there's many more links to forge. Time to grab the AlphaSmart and a quiet corner** and hammer on some words.

* Thanks to the excellent cal program built-in to Linux and Mac OS X: cal 2015

** Ha ha three kids ha ha "quiet corner" ha ha ha

Thursday, July 2, 2015

Shortcuts, long cuts, and the unbroken chain

The summertime NaNoWriMo event is going again, "Camp NaNoWriMo" for the uninitiated. The very last thing I want to do in July is sit and write, though. It's hot here in Northern California, and especially hot this week, with rare humidity to up the ante. I'm taking sunrise walks to try to get the step count boosted in our office FitBit competition without actually having to step outside during peak heating hours. I have a physique and temperament much more attuned to cooler autumn days, and feel that summer heat is best experienced from indoors though insulated glass, with a cooling iced coffee at hand.

Morning walks have advantages. Solitude, for one, and lovely views that remind me why I'm glad to live where I live, when the sun and ongoing drought is trying to turn us all into people jerky.

The rewards of getting lost

This view, for example, which greeted me as I headed off in a new-to-me direction, and discovered a park that I'd never visited before. I think I've found the site of next year's Typewriter Day celebration, for sure. I look at a slightly different face of this mountain from my office. It's good to see it in a different context. I also got to be warned on the way out of the park with the possibility of mortal peril. That wakes you up a bit:

Take a little time out

That arrow is pointing in the exact opposite way I intended to travel, of course. And from this vantage, I wasn't entirely sure where I was. So, instead of making a poor choice and taking the short-cut to the right along a busy sidewalk-less street, I veered left, looking for landmarks. Being the suburbs, it didn't take long: the trail crosses the street at a known point, so I set off along it, thinking that eventually it would give me the option to go right again, back to home and breakfast. And yes, after a lot of wandering and one bad turn up a service road, I made it. The long route was worth it in the end, terminating just up the street from the campus where I set up for this year's Typewriter Day.

My pace was easy, and I passed only three people for the hour I was out. I was in no hurry, though shortcuts were plentiful, if not particularly useful.

The shortcut less-traveled

I know I've spent a lot of bytes here alternating talking up NaNoWriMo and bemoaning not having the motivation to sit down and really finish any of the many, many drafts that are stacking up in my life. I've started and stopped multiple times, and spent more time searching for "the one true editing solution" than I have actually revising.

Let's face it, it's a slog. A long, tedious slog, and there's no short-cut for it. Ignore the signs at your peril, and prepare to be run down by criticism if you do. And most importantly, take it a step at a time.

I read Jerry Seinfeld's "Don't Break the Chain" advice for the first time a few weeks ago, and I've been (of course) procrastinating about applying it. But with the news about Camp NaNo starting up again, and a fresh month on the calendar, and the good habits of daily steps under my feet... I think it's time to break out the red marker and set up my own unbroken chain this summer, even if the trail is long and points the wrong way.

Tuesday, June 23, 2015

The Fringes

Typewriter Day 2015
The original typing spot, more comfortable than it looks

20150623 typecast

Pro tip: make sure your ribbons aren't dry before Typewriter Day, and allow settling time if you must re-ink. Splotchiness aside, it was good to get fingers on keys again, and I attracted only a small amount of attention from a group of passing students out early on campus. Summer sessions must be starting up since I saw more people during my half-hour typing walkabout than I have in the last three weeks. Or maybe it's just the attractive magic of the day.

Typewriter Day 2015
The backup typing spot, once the aural assault began

The Corsair still surprises me for being less-awful than I imagine it to be. For this purpose, it's just about perfect as it is light enough to carry, with the enclosed plastic body and sealed bottom keeping it free of dents and making it suitable for just about any surface.

Typewriter Day 2015
How convenient: waist-level typing stations with their own outlets for your coffeepot

Typed on a SCM Corsair Deluxe, nee Skyriter
SCM Smith Corona Corsair Deluxe

Thursday, June 18, 2015

A Cat Named Abraxas: the Mythos Continues

I'm not sure what brought it on, but the witchy gift prepared for my youngest last fall finally paid dividends with an outbound letter left on the porch last night full of questions in scrawly pencil. The response letter is below.

If nothing else, it's a chance to play with calligraphy nibs, which don't have nearly enough opportunities for use in day-to-day situations.

20150618 pencast pt1

20150618 pencast pt2

With a nine-month gap, this may be the slowest interactive fiction experiment ever... but it's still a lot of fun.