The End Is Nigh!

bob3Cower in fear, for the Four Horsemen ride!  War and Famine and Death and…the other one!

The brewery is out of beer…

No, really, totally out of cans.

All the certainties in my universe are gone.  Innocence is forever lost, and my dreams crushed under the jack-booted heels of “production problems”.  Crap, it’s like they repealed all of the laws of motion, even the ones I didn’t like.  It’s like Einstein sat up in his grave and said he got it all wrong.

What’s next?  My word processor runs out of letters?

Crap, I didn’t even want the stuff to DRINK!  I had a delivery to make, one I have to reschedule now…

*sigh*

No, this is not a first world problem, goddamit!  This is universal!  Beer is either the second or third oldest drink in the world (after water and, potentially, mead), and one that was drunk for millennia in preference to water!*  Hell, it was beer that got the Israelis through that Egyptian-slave-thing; that brought the Germanic tribes strolling down to Rome to create the seeds of modern Europe; that got the Vikings off their fat asses and sailing around…

*The brewing process kills and filters most of the contaminants and little critters that made old-school urban water so…erm…questionable.

No, you say?  It’s more complicated than that?  Bah!  A pox on you!  It’s my blog, I get to interpret history however I want!

Ahem…

Sorry.  My production-problems-caused trauma is turning to full-fledged PTSD on me.

Wait…

Wait a damned second…

ohno.jpgWhat if the beer never comes back?

WHAT IF THE BEER NEVER COMES BACK?!

Forget the Apocalypse…forget AIs exterminating us…forget nuclear wars and genetic plagues and all the other End of Days scenarios…THE BEER IS GONE!!

An Off-Topic Squirrel Moment

Aside from the lunacy of Alabama’s recent special election, I don’t comment on politics much.  Hey, as I’ve said before, you and I might disagree — or we might be totally simpatico — but that doesn’t mean we can’t have a meaningful conversation.  It certainly doesn’t mean we can’t be friends.  Not to trot out an old (vastly maligned) saying, but “some of my best friends are…”  You get the idea.

But you know who I’ve decided I respect?  Political writers and bloggers.  To dive into the cesspool of domestic politics every single day?  To write about it…hell, to even acknowledge it, every single day?  Worse, to do so voluntarily?!

Yeah, there ain’t enough shampoo in the world to wash that particular stink out of your hair.

But, and this is the big but, I love to read about politics, and to explore the backstabbing and shenanigans as much as the next guy.  Err, maybe more than the next guy: that history degree in the Roman Republic ain’t because I liked Catullus’ poetry…

It is, quite honestly, the politics that draw me into history.  It was, especially, the cut-and-thrust of international politics.  That there is some fascinating stuff, especially if you have a basic understanding of the cultures involved.  Unfortunately, far too few people seem interested in that part of it.  Far too few want to understand before they (try to) judge.

Countries like Russia, China and Iran — just to name three of the biggest players in the news right now — make easy “villains” in the kabuki theater of the US’s worldview.  Unfortunately, that is simplistic thinking of the worst sort.  That is thinking that gives rise to stuff like the (satirical) map I added to this post.the-world-according-to-americans

Thankfully, for those who want to learn and understand, that thinking lasts only until you actually get to know the histories of the others, the outsiders (from your perspective).  Until you look at things from other perspectives.  Until you switch off prejudices and judgments and try to understand.

Oh, even when you do so, the world is still full of adversaries and allies (well, confluences of interests, anyway)…but it’s nice to understand that your adversaries are neither insane nor maniacally evil.*  Historically speaking, Russia and China have valid reasons for why they are the way they are, both politically and culturally.  Hell, if we had their history, we’d have some of our own issues, too.**

*Both sides of the current US domestic political insanity could learn THIS damned lesson.

**Yes, I know — we DO have our own issues, but I’m staying off domestic politics in this.

And Iran? Let’s be honest: in spite of the last forty or so years, Iran is pretty much the oldest continual civilization in the world (the Persians).  It once was a beacon of science and art and learning…and will be again.  That is something I very much believe.  That is also why I have been so interested in the recent, nascent protests taking place there…they give me (and others) hope for the future.

Sadly, until you understand that history — the history of the Persian people as much as the various states that fall under that name —  Iran will be little more than mullahs and violence and threat.  Once you learn, there is so much more there…

Just like understanding the Russians: a country that has suffered violent invasion and slaughter for most of its history.  Hey, it’s not paranoia if everyone really is out to get you…

Just like China: a country that, in living memory, really was carved up and dominated by outside powers as private, colonial fiefdoms…

And that interplay, the “great game” between nations on the world stage, is just as fascinating now as it was centuries, or millenia, ago.

Inspiration And Influence

C6ucM8rU0AI0vbtI’m pretty sure anyone who writes, or creates, can sympathize with this!

As an aside: greatest comic strip ever.  No, really…Calvin & Hobbes had it ALL: art, writing, humor, and the right touch of feeling and honesty.  Even more than the next two on my list — Bloom County and The Far Side —  Bill Watterson was a freaking genius.

Today’s strips?  That’s harder…Dilbert comes to mind…but that’s about the only one that really stands out at the moment.  Some of the web-comics are interesting, but nothing out there comes anywhere near those “top three”.

[Note – apparently Berkeley Breathed is drawing Bloom County again, via Facebook and GoComics … I haven’t yet had a chance to check it out, but that might very well be enough to get me to create a Facebook account…we’ll see.]

At any rate, due to lack of anything resembling coherent thought at the moment, I decided to call out some things that, well, just plain work for me.  Not necessarily things that are groundshakingly amazing, but things I admire…and learn from.

Simple, powerful prose is a wonderful thing, especially when it has a sense of humor.  From Neil Gaiman’s Neverwhere:

“Richard found himself imagining the earl sixty, eighty, five hundred years ago: a mighty warrior, a cunning strategist, a great lover of women, a fine friend, a terrifying foe. There was still the wreckage of that man in there somewhere. That was what made him so terrible, and so sad.”

Dammit, but I love that passage.  As a character description? It is incredibly evocative, and paints a picture in a mere fifty words that well and truly nails the character.

Writers, they say, write.  Well, writers also read.  And in reading, they study and they learn…and, hopefully, they improve.

To stay on theme, here’s another passage*…one that nails its setting (London) in an equally effective way (actually, this quote is pulled from the single longest run-on sentence I can think of — don’t try that at home…not, at least, until you are as successful and well-known as Gaiman himself):

“It was a city in which the very old and the awkwardly new jostled each other, not uncomfortably, but without respect; a city of shops and offices and restaurants and homes, of parks and churches, of ignored monuments and remarkably unpalatial palaces…”

*Can you guess what I’m re-reading right now?

Books are not the only thing from which to learn…not by a long shot.  I’ve talked enough about my love of music, even quoted from a few songs.  Well, there are some lyrics out there that are, quite simply, powerful.  As with good prose, good lyrics evoke and inspire…they make you think and question, and bring to mind thoughts and feelings far in excess of their few words:

“With everything discovered just waiting to be known,

What’s left for God to teach from his throne?

And who will forgive us when he’s gone?”

—The Gaslight Anthem, National Anthem

 

“With nothing left but a chord to stretch

And a word to get on by

Sometimes you reach for the bottle before the sky”

—Chuck Ragan, Nothing Left to Prove

There are dozens of additional examples I could give…an entire iTunes library, in fact, from which I could pull quotes and lines.  That’s not the point of this.  No, the simple point is this: words have meaning, and power.  Poetry and music just as much as prose.  Give yourself the time, and the reason, to study and to learn how others have harnessed that meaning, and that power.

Read the good and the bad, the new and the old…read to enjoy, but also to understand, and to learn.  There’s an old saying about “standing on the shoulders of giants.”  Well, that applies to writing as much as to science: read what has been done, read what has worked, and take it onboard*.  Pull it all in, mix it around, and feed your own style…

*An interesting writing exercise I’ve heard about a few times (but have never done): instead of reading a story you truly admire, transcribe it.  The thought is that, by writing, you will internalize the structure and words in a way you would not through simply reading…  Hand-cramps and time aside, that is an interesting thought. If anyone out there has actually done the exercise, let me know how it worked!

Snarking At The Moon

Okay, so I write sci-fi (for the moment)…

This, apparently, makes me an “expert” to some folks.  Now, I do know a lot of shit about a lot of things, but that’s mostly because I read…and because I love to learn.  cqg441259eqn34Hell, I once had to learn the actual math behind orbital mechanics — it made the nerd in me tingle with excitement, and the historian go out and get drunk.

None of this means, however, that I have a PhD in Astrophysics…

I still get the questions, though.

“What’s this stuff about habitable Earths around other stars? Does that mean people, too?”

“Why can’t we just build bigger rockets and go to the next star to meet them?”

“Why go to [insert planet/moon here]?  There are no cities or people, so why go all that way just to find some algae?”

*sigh*

Want to know about the political nature of the various priesthoods under the Roman Republic?  Or maybe get a breakdown of the Social War and its role in the rise of the Empire?  Maybe even learn a bit about Marius and Sulla?

You don’t?

Okay…okay…

Most of the sci-fi-ish questions I get arise from a couple of problems:

  1. Folks don’t learn the basics — specifically, the basics of physics and how the universe works, and so don’t know what to question, let alone how.  They learn “everything they need” from stories in the news, which leads to…
  2. Reporters are idiots.  Take relatively simple, easy-to-communicate facts and they will still dumb them down into complete uselessness.

So, a few (bitter, snarky) answers:

All of the “Earths” we have discovered so far are not.  Not “Earths,” I mean.  They are potentially rocky planets in something like the right orbit to potentially have liquid water.  That’s it.  That’s as “Earthy” as they get.

Let’s take the potential earth-like planet “found” orbiting Proxima Centauri.  Hey, it’s the closest star!  We have neighbors!

censored

It’s a potential rock orbiting a red dwarf, for fuck’s sake!  In order to be in the “Goldilocks zone” where liquid water can exist, it orbits all of 7.5 million kilometers from the star.  Earth, by comparison, is twenty times farther from the Sun…hell, even Mercury is something like five times farther out!  You could go boil your head in a microwave for the next thousand years and not absorb a tenth of the radiation that cooks this rock every single “day”.  If it does have “intelligent” life, those folks will look a whole lot like reporters…

Ahem, never mind.

And, before anyone asks: No.  Just no.  We cannot go there at the moment.  Oh, there are all kinds of theoretical engines that could get us there in…well…in a century or two.  But none of them actually exist at the moment.

Don’t get me wrong, some of those technologies and theoretical engines are fascinating — but that is all they are: theoretical.  Even if we could build a sufficiently powerful, practical VASIMR engine right now, do you know how much fuel you would need to accelerate to (and decelerate from) anything resembling a useful interstellar speed?

Even if we perfected the perpetually-fifty-years-away technology of nuclear fusion, you would still need loads of deuterium or tritium for the reactor.  And that fuel for your reactor does not include the (exponentially worse) metric-shit-ton of reaction mass you would need for your thrusters on the ride.

And, please, don’t even get me started on the pipe-dreams of “solar sails” and “laser-powered” craft.  For the former: take a sheet of paper and hold it on your finger tips…that is roughly the amount of thrust you would get from a square kilometer of solar sail in our inner system.  In interstellar space?  Yeah, your dog could fart you to Proxima Centauri faster.  And “laser-powered”? Just pure sci-fantasy bullshit.  Those designers read “Mote In God’s Eye” way too many times…

Just…no.

Look, I’m not shitting on the legitimate excitement of these discoveries…nor on the dreams of exploration.  We need those dreams.  We need to continue to stretch and reach beyond our grasp, or we will stagnate and die.

But, for the love of God, could we please do so with a modicum of common sense?

There are “new earths” out there.  The odds are there is intelligent life out there.  But, in all honesty, these things are a century or more from mere confirmation, let alone direct interaction.

No, what should really excite us right now are the wonders, and discoveries, on our own doorstep.  I agree 100% with manned missions to Mars…if only for the dream of discovery.  But that’s not the truly exciting stuff.  No, what really floats my boat is more of a reach…and more of a dream:

Missions to Titan, and to Europa, and Enceladus…places that are the most likely of all to have life.  No, it won’t be “intelligent”, but it will be different.  Different DNA, different evolution.  Crap, what more could you ask for?  Do you know how much we could learn just from some freaking algae?!

Missions to Uranus, and Neptune, and Pluto. These planets (and their moons) are things about which we still know next-to-nothing…

And let’s not forget the practical: asteroid mining, orbital research and manufacturing…

No, we have more than enough to keep us busy at home, thank you very much.  Dream big — always dream big — but act small.

Lost In The Woods

I’ve talked before about how writing is very much a thing of momentum, and about how starting again, after you’ve broken that momentum, is a terrible task.  Unfortunately, even my Palahniuk-inspired theory of writing an “album’s worth” every day is not enough to always maintain that momentum.

But what happens when you break it?  How do you start again?

That’s a significant challenge…one I am facing right now.

With the loss of momentum comes a certain loss of confidence, a loss of that feeling of “knowing where I am” in the story.

It’s a bit like my off-trail hiking, honestly.  I don’t get lost easily — I’m confident heading off into areas with nothing resembling a trail because I’m good at using landmarks, and my own internal “compass,” to keep a picture not just of where I’m going, but also where I’ve been.  When I lose that picture, when I lose that situational awareness…well, let’s just say getting lost in the backcountry is a lot less fun — and a lot more sphincter-clenching — than getting lost in a city.

There is a sense of helplessness to being lost, and a loss of control, that is particularly disturbing.  I don’t like being helpless…and I sure as hell don’t like not being in control.

The trick is not to panic.  Panic and (unreasonable) fear are why people get hurt in the backcountry.  No, when I get lost, I narrow down to the little things.  I start navigating “small”, with nearby landmarks, and I head for higher ground.  Most importantly, I stay aware of my situation — I never lose sight of what I’m doing, even if I’m worried about water, or light, or cold…

Well, that same feeling of (story-oriented) helplessness and loss of control comes out when the writing momentum is broken.  There’s that moment of fear, and confusion, when you don’t remember where you wanted to go in the story, or even where you’ve been.  There’s also that same fear.  Oh, it’s not physical, not like wandering lost through grizzly country.*  No, it’s a thing of mind and spirit, and it’s disheartening as hell.

*That there is a bucket list item I don’t recommend to anyone.

“But,” I hear you ask, “how do you break out?”

Go small.  Navigate, and head for higher ground.

In this case, I’ve found that rebuilding the lost momentum has to happen a small step at a time.  Any effort to “jump right back in” to the previous pace will just make things worse.  It took me a long while — and a great deal of frustration — to learn that lesson.

It is also more than just “getting words on paper.”

As I mentioned in a previous post, I want to get my writing right “in the lens.”  That means writing well.   In this case, it means turning back to something that is still a pretty new thing for me: flash fiction.

100-300 words is ideal for me…at least for now.  At that length, I can conceive, write and revise a piece in a couple of hours.  Whether or not I succeed at writing a good piece is important to me, and that’s what leads to the goal of the exercise: revitalizing the creative process itself.

Just like cresting one hill leads me to the next and to the next, and finally back to terrain I recognize, a day of writing leads to two, and then to three…and finally back to that momentum and rhythm that is so vital to me and my writing.

Error, Coffee Deficiency Detected

Honesty time: I am the least handy person on the face of the planet.  I, literally, am that guy that looks at a paint brush and has to figure out which end to hold…

We are, on the other hand, redoing the taproom at the brewery.  And I, of course, have to help.

Well, “help” might be more accurate.

I’m pretty sure my friend’s two young daughters are contributing more than your friendly writer-host, but…well…

“Here, start texturing this wall…” my friend said.

“Here, build a space shuttle from scratch…” I heard.

I looked around, in a panic, until I found someone who could help.

Two minutes later, I was carrying shit to the trash and a six year old girl was texturing the wall.  All was right with the universe.

The downside, unfortunately, is that writing (and everything else) has taken a back seat for a couple of days.  Well, that work is kinda-sorta-done-ish, so now I get to play catch up.  Hell, maybe I’ll write a carpentry scene…if I had any idea whatsoever what I was doing in that regard.

error__out_of_coffee_by_runedragoonAs part of catchup, today’s post is going to be short and sweet…plus, I’m out of coffee.  Writing without coffee, even so much as a blog post, would very likely result in the spontaneous combustion of my brain.

Grocery store, here I come!

Nonverbal Communication In Writing…?

Note — this was supposed to go up yesterday, but…err…well…I screwed up.  I load and schedule these posts in advance (usually).  When I loaded this one I…ahem…selected the wrong date.  D’oh.

I’m a music guy.  I love music, and I don’t mean just one or two styles — I love, and can appreciate, the talent and appeal of all kinds of music.  I don’t think there is a style I won’t listen to, if the artist has talent and commitment.

Music, in fact, plays a huge role in my writing.  I’ve mentioned before that I have to have the right “soundtrack” playing in order to really get the most out of a scene.  Not just the message of the music, but also the beat, the tone, the character…they all help create the environment I need to write effectively.

Well, when it comes to the actual stories we write, those things matter, too.  We don’t talk about them enough, in fact.  Oh, folks love to talk about the tone and “color” of a scene.  “Pacing” generally gets in there, too.  But we talk about those things like they are discreet and separate.

They aren’t.

I mentioned music to open this because the rhythm and beat of a song underlies everything, is the structure on which the whole song is built.  Think back to some of your favorite music.  Better yet, think back to those songs that moved you emotionally, either to joy or to tears.  Think about the rhythms and beats they used, as much as the notes and words, and how those changed and adjusted to shape the message.

That applies to writing, as well.  The beat and rhythm of a story is important, as important as the words themselves.  Unfortunately, we far too often mistake “pacing” for that necessary rhythm.  Now, don’t get me wrong: all stories need the right pacing for their contents.  But that pacing is a “big picture” concept, is the flow of the story as a whole.

The rhythm of the story?  That’s different.  That’s granular, and intimate, and needs to change and adjust to reflect what is happening at any particular point.  It is needed, also, to build and reinforce the emotions and feelings you want your reader to feel.

Scenes long and languid, full of description and character development…

Scenes short and staccato, with just a few words to paint each picture and action…

Scenes with the slow, smoldering intensity of emotion (whether love or hate)…

I could go on, but I think the point is made.  A good story needs all of these…all of these, and more.  If you want to be more visual, you can come it from the perspective of movies (another passion of mine):

The slow panning of an establishing shot: peasants in the fields.  Verdant green against the deep blue sky.  A gentle breeze bending the young grain.  Slow and stately…a mood is created.

Then erratic, staccato jump-cuts as black-clad raiders thunder through on horseback.  The flash of a sword.  A bit of red to mar the green.  Fire.  Screams.  Hints of faces, of horror and savagery.  But never does the camera linger long enough to truly focus on any one thing.  The horror, and the emotion, comes from those flickering flashes of disturbing images.

The raiders leave, sated…and the rhythm changes again, communicates something different: a long, lingering shot that lets you see the bodies.  Men who died badly.  Women sobbing.  A young boy, the sword in his hand nearly as big as he, lying in his own blood.  A slow, painful zoom onto another child, clutching in horrified, wide-eyed silence at one of those bodies…

The scene is easy enough to imagine, and to write…but it is the changes in rhythm of the movie’s editing — and the changes in the soundtrack from slow and pastoral to brassy and loud, and finally to the minor key of mourning and death — that creates the emotion of the whole thing.

Short, choppy sentences.  Dynamic, strong words.  One detail on which to focus…one detail to carry the message of the whole scene.

Or sentences of depth and complexity.  Sentences that tell the reader he or she is safe, can linger a bit over the words and concepts.  Words that carry emotion and description.  Words and sentences that are gentle, even, and convey all the detail of your characters and your world.

Too many stories use one structure, and one rhythm, throughout.  Too many stories worry about the pacing of the plot, without thinking a bit about the rhythm and pacing of the scenes, or the actual words.  I well-and-truly love me my Tolkien and my Asimov (to provide just two examples), but have you gone back and really read them recently?

They are, to put it gently, dry and monotone.  Tolkien’s battle scenes read like the narration of a history professor centuries removed from the conflict…and Asimov?  His (small) handful of battles read like they are in the stories because they are required, not because they actually belong.

And both use one rhythm, and one limited emotional range.

This is, by the way, why I listen to music of such variety…and why I watch — and try to learn from — so many movies: to find other rhythms, to find other ways to communicate emotion and meaning.  The ultimate writing challenge, for me, is to study and learn, and to find ways to communicate in words the nonverbal emotions that have so much meaning in those two far-different mediums.*

*One of the coolest lessons from my linguistics days involved nonverbal communication: we watched a horror movie with the soundtrack and effects removed.  There was just dialogue to carry and convey all of the information and emotion. It didn’t work…at all.  That lesson stuck with me…

CrossFit For Your Imagination

I’ve been reading a bit about the chip “vulnerabilities” found recently in, well…pretty much everything.  “Spectre” and “Meltdown,” they’re called.  Now, the computer geek* in me has an interest in these things for a number of reasons…and the corporate management monkey in me who used to deal extensively with the planning and implementation of CRM and sales systems REALLY has an interest…

*And, yes, I do realize that this appellation doesn’t usually apply to folks with degrees in History and Linguistics.  What can I say, I’m good at confusing people.

But the writer in me?

The writer in me is having a goddamned field day just making shit up about them. Err, “speculating,” I mean.  Yeah, speculating, that’s it.  No matter how you slice it, it’s still “making shit up,” but speculating sounds so much more complicated and serious!

Hell, the names of those chip vulnerabilities — defects, to you and me — are more than enough to get things going, even before getting to what they actually do.  “Spectre,” for God’s sake?  James Freaking Bond is behind me with a vodka martini fueled smirk, even as I type that.

“What,” my brain screams, “it’s not just Intel…it’s all of them?!?!”

That’s not a defect, that’s malfeasance!

It’s the NSA!

It’s the Illuminati!

It really is freaking SPECTRE!

Hell, maybe it’s KAOS, and Agents 86 and 99 are behind me somewhere, too!

Wait…I’m writing sci-fi: it’s aliens!

No, seriously, folks, THIS is (at least) half of what writing is: taking everyday, real-world shit and “speculating” your ass off.  Stir the pot of your imagination…then start adding characters and plot hooks and various crises…marinate until well combined, then bake in your favorite word-processor until finished.

God, the making-shit-up part — the speculating, dammit! — is why writing is FUN.  No, really — try it.

Even if you write the most serious, uber-intellectual literary fiction out there, do yourself a favor and let that bit of little-kid-imagination we all* still have lurking slip off the leash and run wild for a few hours.

*Mine just happens to be overdeveloped as hell…

Play with it…be silly, be creative, stretch the boundaries of how you would normally conceive of a story.  You can always have a nap afterwards and return to normal.

And if you currently do let your imagination run wild on a regular basis — stop looking at me like that! — keep doing it.  Just like your vocabulary, and your plotting, and your world-building, your imagination is a skill that needs constant practice and support to grow and strengthen.

For those new to writing, I cannot stress enough how important it is to work and stretch and develop that sense of silly, fun imagination.  In spite of the names the uber-serious and pseudo-intellectual folks like to give such things — childish, immature, naive, pointless — you’re a writer!  If you’re a fiction writer, your imagination is, at the end of the day, all you really have.

The dreams we had as kids?  The games we used to make up?  The stories we used to believe like they were real?  If you can’t tap into that well — or at least into the memory of it — you are shorting yourself something fierce.

Plus, it’s fun as hell because, well…ALIENS!W84BtfO

Keeping Momentum

IMG_0163This blog was once intended as a practical, “behind-the-scenes” view of the writing process.  It has, I’ll admit, morphed away from that intent.  I still, however, do have that underlying urge to occasionally share my own hard-won experience and advice in writing.

Today’s IWSG topic gives me an excuse to play to that (occasional) urge: “What steps have you taken to put a schedule in place for your writing and publishing?”

To tackle this one, I have to — with more than a hint of sad revulsion — briefly put on my big-boy pants and flash back to my days as a sales and marketing monkey.

In the old days, when I used to manage staff and projects, I would create timelines and plans with all kinds of measurables and delivery dates.  I knew, every time I checked that schedule, exactly where any project stood at any particular moment.  I also knew, within reason, when any element, major or minor, was going to be finished.

I do something similar with the writing.  Err, I try to do something similar.

At the end of my normal prep process, I have a detailed timeline and a list of all the scenes in that particular story.  That list includes the day/date of the scene, the setting and the characters involved, as well as notes on things like tone, perspective, and some background on what has gone before.

After I create that plan, however, the schedule is…well…the schedule can pretty much kiss my ass.  Hey, I left the world of cubicles and meetings and schedules for a reason, goddammit!

I write whatever scene strikes my fancy at any particular moment.  I’ve found that jumping around the story like the caffeine-addled squirrel that I am allows me to match the scene to my mood and inclination.

As strange as it may sound, that little tic actually makes the entire project go faster.  Recently, I tried forcing myself to write things in order, and it turned out to be a serious failure.  A failure from which I am still trying to recover, I might add.  Writing a fight scene when I was feeling mellow and laid back…writing a love scene after a bad day…writing exposition and setup when there was chaos around me…these things were not a recipe for success.

Now, the above is pretty idiosyncratic to me, but there is something in there that can apply to almost any writer: don’t write to your word-count, write to your story.

If your plan is solely to write 1000 (or 2000, or 5000) words a day, then that is exactly what you are going to do…write words.  Whether or not you advance the story is another thing entirely.

It is far too easy — and far too common — to get so caught up in the “measurables” that you lose sight of just what those those measurable really represent.  Call it the writer’s version of “forest for the trees.”

Thinking of my story in terms of scenes, however, is something that works quite well.  Each scene is (roughly) a day’s worth of writing, and represents a discreet and significant unit of the story itself.  If I stick to the plan of writing one scene a day, I am certain to advance the story…and to get my necessary work done.

Honestly, it also plays into psychology…or at least into my particular psychology: finishing a scene provides a more significant sense of accomplishment than simply ending the day with 2,500 more words written.

My last bit of advice on this, and perhaps the more important one, is this: momentum is king.  Writing — again, at least for me — is very much a game of momentum.  A regular rhythm of producing at least one scene per day builds not just your story, but also your confidence and the flow of your words.  Break that momentum?  Stop that flow?  Not only do bad things happen, but you make it vastly harder to start again.

Look, for most of us writing isn’t all that different from pushing the Sisyphean boulder up the hill. Take a break and that damned rock can roll right over you on its way back down.  But if you keep pushing…

…if you keep pushing, you find the next hill.  And the next hill, like the next story, is always better.

Fevered Imaginings

Important safety tip: the flu is a great time for weird, out-there thoughts and dreams with all the potential in the world to turn into cool stories. It is also, however, a terrible time for remembering those ideas…

Two nights in a row there were wonderfully interesting ideas.  And two mornings in a row there was a distinct lack of energy and focus with which to actually turn those fevered imaginings into something even so basic as a character or a setting.

Ah, well, such is life — it’s not like I need more little ghosts fluttering around the back of my mind demanding to be written.  I have enough of those, thank you very much.  Hell, there are a couple that date back to, err, well…

Let’s not get into how far they date back.

When I was young, I used to bitch and complain about writers who got distracted in the middle of a series. “How can you,” I would scream, “start writing something else right now?!  Finish the goddamned series first!”

Umm…okay, so I actually still do that.  I’m looking at you, Patrick Rothfuss…*

Ahem.  Let’s not get into that.

As a writer, though…

As a writer, I completely understand that urge to explore different characters and different stories.  There are so many stories to tell.  And, as I’ve said before, the next story is always the most interesting one.

Which, of course, does NOT mean the Kingkiller Chronicles can sit there unfinished without massive consequences!  Well, not without massive, ongoing nerd-rage, anyway.

Wait, what was I saying?

Crap, I can’t even claim a hangover, let alone a long New Year’s Eve, as an excuse for today’s random ramblings.  Nope, the plague get’s that particular credit.  Woohoo, sickness for the win!

Where was I?  Oh, yeah: finishing stories.

You — well, I — “budget” a trilogy at roughly 350,000 total words.  We — nope, still I — sit at the 200,000 word mark…and those fluttering ghosts still won’t shut the fuck up.  Those other damned stories still want to jump up and down and demand their own attention.

And I still want to listen.  Then again, in my defense, some of those stories sound like a lot of fun!

Those ideas, by the way, are precisely why this blog is semi-anonymous.  Not only do I write fiction with a pen-name, but the sci-fi and fantasy stories get different pen-names.  And 75% of those fluttering ghosts just happen to be fantasy stories.

*sigh*

I suppose there’s only one thing for it — time to get back to the writing…

*Just remember, Mr Rothfuss: even while you finish the third book, I still need my regular doses of Viari and Dreibus on Acquisitions, Inc!