10 Things I Totally Didn’t Do While I Wasn’t Writing Last Week

1. Spy on you. You should close your curtains. Nice couch, though. Ikea?

2. Binge read an entire book series. Definitely not the Alanna the Lioness series, or the Beka Cooper series, or most of Harry Potter.


3. Remove a bunch of parts from the Jeep.
It’s cool. It was just the top. And sides.

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Hi.

4. Punch another hole in my face. Definitely didn’t do that, and my mom was definitely not disappointed in me.

5. Re-read four years worth of RPG notes. Because it’s not as though GMs love to bring back the enemies you forgot about.

6. Come up with seventeen new story ideas. About 10% of which are viable. Theoretically.

7. Refresh my summer wardrobe. My aesthetic is equal parts Fury Road and Rock of Ages.

8. Make a shitload of cookies and freeze them against the oncoming Too Hot To Turn On The Oven season. You should never have to choose between pistachio shortbread and comfort.

9. Get a fucking sunburn. I was outside for, like, five minutes and I had sunscreen on!

10. Write. Definitely not. I just…may have scribbled down some notes. On something. I wouldn’t worry about it.

14 Steps To Planning For That Big Writing Project.

Crown Royal Northern Harvest

Better fuel up.

1. Figure out how long it is. Or should be. Or will be.

2. Figure out how many words you can write/edit/extrude/divine in a day without completely losing your shit.

3. Berate yourself for not being able to get as many words done as a famous person/another writer/some imaginary version of yourself.

4. Drink.

5. Get a calculator. Or your phone. They’re the same thing.

6. Divide the number of words needed by the number of words per day OH GOD I’M ASKING YOU TO DO MATH THIS IS WHY YOU TOOK UP WRITING YOU HATE MATH.

7. Figure out how many days a week you can devote to this project. Don’t forget to include other obligations, including but not limited to: jobs, families, pets, exercise, sleep, world domination, reading, taxonomical classification of nose hairs, and banned genetic experimentation on the ants in your backyard.

8. Divide days needed by days per week. This is your number of weeks.

9. Add, like, ten percent to that number, because shit happens.

10. Add on an extra week to account for the time in the middle when you’ll realize you made a mistake four chapters ago and now have to fix everything.

11. Examine the resulting timeline. Don’t forget to include any scheduled vacations.

12. Realize you’ll be done shortly after Christmas. Christmas, 2035.

13. Drink again.

14. Start.

10 Things I’ve Learned In A Decade Of Creative Work

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This wine is for medicinal purposes after realizing how long I’ve been writing.

Writing Tuesday’s post made me do some math, and the result of that was: it has been almost ten years since I completed my first manuscript.

The actual decade mark will come sometime early next year, but it’s close enough. I remember it quite well, because in the spring of 2006 I was finishing up my master’s thesis and wondering how I would fill a year before going into PhD work.

Eight months later I burned all my PhD applications and watched the ashes flutter away in the January wind.

Since then I have not had a ‘real’ job. I’ve worked temporary part-time stuff, but nothing that you can tell people when they turn to you at a party and ask the dreaded question: “And what do you do?” I’ve been writing.

Here are some things I’ve learned in the last almost-decade:

1. There is no validation. Do not expect the easy win. In some ways, doing this is worse than a day job, because at least there someone can tell you if you’re doing it right. Artists are all pitching words or images or songs into the void and hoping something comes back. It is not for the faint of heart.

2. This is a long con. Be prepared for the long haul. This road runs into the desert, and there’s no proof it ever comes out again. Take water and sunscreen and a machete, because you’re going to be out there a while.

3. People don’t get it. Maybe art is something they don’t understand or something they wish they had done or something they feel is morally wrong, but, man, a lot of people do not fucking get it. Tell them you’re an artist and if you’re lucky you’ll get a blank stare. If you’re not…

4. It makes some people angry. On the upside, these people usually act like complete assholes, so you can safely ignore them while they flail around with their judgmental snark and passive-aggressive comments. It’s about them, not you.

5. Even work you love can be hard. There will be days when you want to punch yourself in the brain to make all the words fall out.

6. If it takes more than it gives, then you’re probably in the wrong job. All jobs take, and creative jobs are no exception. The only difference is what they take. In my case, writing has taken my time, my mental energy, my personal financial security, my independence, my other ambitions. It gives me joy, entertainment, freedom, and purpose. If you’re not getting more than you’re sacrificing, according to your own idiosyncratic math, then you’re doing the wrong thing. Actually, I guess that applies to all jobs.

7. You’ll work harder at this than any other job you’ve ever had. A couple of years back I had to put myself on a regular schedule, because I was spending almost eighty hours a week working on writing and was on the verge of burning out altogether. Even now, I work about fifty. That includes writing, outlining, editing, researching markets, sending out submissions…there’s a lot of unseen work that goes into producing art. And you usually don’t get paid for it. Be prepared for that.

8. It makes you a different person. Not a better person, note. Just different. I am not the same person I would have been if I had gone on to do my PhD. Or gone into teaching. Or done anything else. I look at the world in different ways. Sometimes they’re good ways. Sometimes I’m mining personal tragedy for story fodder.

9. You’ll want to quit. At least once. More likely thousands of times. Sometimes all in one day.

10. There is no rush like creation. When everything’s clicking over just right and all your hard work is coming together, you’ll fly. And you’ll never want to come back down.

On Bad Days

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Maybe this will soften the blow of the swears I’m about to drop.

It is a truth universally acknowledged that a writer in possession of a good story will have days where that story turns on them, rending the skin from their face and chewing on their entrails.*

Yesterday was that day.

Today? Jury’s still out. My entrails are still scattered on the hardwood and I’ve yet to try reading the future in them.

This is the point where I suppose I should write something inspiring about how bad days make better writers, about the Artist’s Fight, about how even James Joyce struggled. Except fuck James Joyce.

Or I could do a list. People love lists. Seven Things To Do When Writing Sucks Harder Than A Closeted Varsity Athlete, maybe.

Except I don’t want to.

What I want to do is write. It is what gives my days purpose.

But I need to get this blog post done first. Not that I think any of you live and die by my words, but I made a commitment. And if there is one rule for writing, it is: finish.

So. Bad day yesterday. And if you’re here because you had a bad day, then I only have one thing to say.

So?

Bad days happen. You can spend your time navel-gazing about whether this means you don’t have it in you to be a writer, beating your breast about the difficulty, the unfairness, the grand sweeping suckitude of it all.

Or you can get on with things.

Pick up your entrails, stuff them back in your body, and duct-tape everything together. Staple your face back on. Smile.

Because we’ve got work to do.

*I’d say “with apologies to Jane Austen”, but I’m not sorry. I might be an asshole, but I’m not going to add ‘liar’ on top of that.

PSA: Don’t Read The Comments, Even On A Fucking Recipe.

talking without brainsI read the comments this morning.

Not the comments here. No, I keep those well-moderated and have no problem slam-dunking someone into the Oblivion of the Block List if they act like an ass. And most of you are awesome, so, go you.

No, I made the mistake of scrolling past an article I was reading into the comments section.

I know. I know. Rookie mistake. You hate to see it.

Usually I know better. Hell, I used to have a browser extension that blocked the comments sections of websites unless I clicked to make them show themselves like the cowardly insects they are. It was great. No more accidental scrolling past the updates for the local library to see the barely-literate complaining that libraries are “obsuleet”.** No more looking up a book review and seeing the hate for characters that are anything but straight white cisgender men. No more sexist trolling on feminist journals. I switched browsers recently and hadn’t put the extension back up yet. No reason; I’m used to stopping before the comments.

But I was looking at a recipe, for fuck’s sake. I wanted to check other’s results making it. I thought that was safe.

Silly writer.

Anyway, after the devolution of a fucking recipe into a bigoted, slur-filled, all-caps screaming match, I am prompted to issue the following notice:

If you preface a sentence with “I’m not a racist, but…”, then you probably are. And a liar to boot.

Likewise for “I’m not a sexist, but…” and “I’m not a homophobe, but…” and “I’m not an ableist, but…” and and and…

I could really keep going forever. Just like those comments sections. Reading them is like swimming in raw sewage.

If you follow one of those openings with a comment that is racist, sexist, homophobic, or otherwise bigoted, then, yeah, you are that thing. You’re just trying to deflect the criticism with a half-assed attempt to show that you know those things aren’t cool. Which is somehow worse. You know saying those things is bad, but you can’t be arsed to actually stop saying them.

That behavior will get you blocked on this site, now and forever.

So, the next time you feel the urge to say “I’m not a [insert bad thing here], but…”, just don’t. Because you probably are. You’re just giving yourself an excuse.

*Immediately after writing this, I enabled Shut Up for Chrome. Ahhhhhhhhh.

**Not a joke.

Broken

Blood of Enemies

Mugs like this help, too.

You are broken.

That’s okay. So am I. So is, I assume, everyone else reading this, because if you’re of the age where you think you’ve got a story to tell, then you’ve probably got a few cracks. Whether you know it or not.

Sometimes they’re hairline fractures, hardly big enough to see, but definitely big enough to feel. Sometimes they’re fissures wide enough to let the darkness in until it seems like the darkness is all there ever was and ever will be.

That’s okay, too.

Because if you’re trying to tell a story–whether it’s with words or pictures or chords or steps–then all those broken pieces are where it starts.

We want to hide those pieces. If life teaches a lesson, it’s to keep that shit to yourself. No one wants to see that. No one else feels this way. Fuck you, you think that’s a problem, there are people starving to death, you entitled first world asshole.

But telling stories is sharing, and not in the kindergarten sharing-is-caring way. Sharing is ripping yourself open and examining what falls out of the cracks, even if it’s bloody. Especially if it’s bloody.

We’re afraid of what other people will think about it, but that shit is fuel and vehicle, N2O4/UDMH and rocket, guzzoline and War Rig all in one. And everyone’s got their own. We all come equipped to roll, but most of us never make it out of the station and into the desert.

People ask writers where their ideas come from. It’s there. The cracks and the stuff in between. The only question is: what will you do with it? Will you put all those broken parts on display? Will you drag up the stuff that’s too personal, too sharp, too real, and use it? Because if you do, you’ll tell a story that’s more you than anything else. The story only you could tell. The only one that’s worth telling.

So write about it. Write about shitty relationships and broken homes. Write about being ten years into a life you chose and not being able to sleep because what if you chose wrong? Write about struggling and falling down and not knowing if you want to get up again. Write about escaping, about fighting, about settling, about watching the clock roll over to midnight and realizing that another day is over and you didn’t do anything that you wanted with it. Write about the stuff you left behind and the stuff you carry with you into the desert.

You think no one want to hear that? Fuck you. The only story no one wants to read is “once upon a time everything was fine.”

And we don’t want that because we’re all just as broken as you.

So tell that story. And don’t worry about the judgement. Underneath we’re all held together with duct tape and rusty staples.

Insomnia: A Timeline

Fender Laser Eyes

Look at this asshole.

10:00: Great time to go to bed if you get up at 6:00 am. Great time for your night owl friends to say “You’re going to bed already? My kids go to bed now.” Also: this is the time my asshole cat starts snorting coke from the stash she almost certainly keep somewhere in the house.

10:30: The time I mean to turn off my light after reading for half an hour.

11:42: The time you check the clock again.

11:45: I have to be up at what time?

11:47: The time I actually turn off my light.

11:52: The time I turn the light back on to finish that chapter.*

12:18: The time I turn off the light for real this time.

12:23: The time I start mentally revising my latest story.

12:42: You know what would make this story awesome? Robots.

12:43: No, dinosaurs.

12:44: No, robot dinosaurs.

12:45: Did I just pitch Transformers 3 to myself?

12:46: Get back on track. That story’s not going to fix itself.

1:07: I wish this story would fix itself.

1:14: Balls, I need to get some sleep. Okay. Enough story bullshit. I can think about that tomorrow. Right now, it’s sleep time.

1:22: I SAID SLEEP TIME, ASSHOLE CAT.

1:38: *Actually asleep*

3:49: HOLY BLAZING SHIT CANNONS, THAT DREAM FIXES THE STORY PERFECTLY. I MUST WRITE THIS BRILLIANT IDEA DOWN BEFORE SLEEP RETURNS IT TO WHATEVER WONDERLAND IT CAME FROM. *taps excitedly on phone*

4:01: *asleep again*

4:45: Asshole Cat begins the Face-Biting Tapdance of her people, and I wake up with fang prints on my nose.

5:13: I regret not getting a dog.

5:15: I get up to pee. Asshole Cat accompanies me, because peeing is a team sport.

5:19: Asshole Cat is adorable, and I take back what I said about getting a dog.

5:20: Why is there a note about wombat combat pilots on my phone?

5:21: WOMBAT COMBAT, ahahahah, you kill me, sleeping brain.

5:22: *asleep again*

6:00: whuhfuckintimeisit?

6:01: Shit.

6:02: God, I should check those notes from last night….Yep, just as I thought. Wombat combat, something about the Illuminati and….hey. This one’s not bad. It might even work. All I have to do is…

6:03: Crank up the writing engines and put on the motherfucking coffee, because it’s a new day and I’ve got writing to do!

*If you share a bed, this is followed by 11:53: The time your bed mate asks what the hell is wrong with you.

Priorities And Other Bullshit About Being An Adult

Getting the extra arms was expensive, but totally worth it.

I want to be awesome at everything.

I don’t know if it’s my classic Type A, overachiever personality or just my relentless interest in just about everything from robotics to art to yoga to cooking to combat sports, but I want to be good at stuff. All the stuff.

But, not being possessed of infinite time, energy, and resources, I have to choose.

Being human is like character development in an RPG. You start off with so many points and you can put those into whatever you want, but they are finite. You can’t do everything. And even when you figure out what you want, you might have to prioritize those as well. Is it better to put all your ranks in Perception, or to spread them out and be less good at seeing that the goddamn dungeon floor is trapped?

We all have to choose what we want to spend our time on. And, since practice is usually correlated to performance, by extension what we want to be good at. If you want to be a great dancer, you need to devote a lot of time to it. Likewise if you want to kill it at Halo, or be a world-class chef, or, say, a writer.

And the very act of choosing what to specialize in means that there are other things that you have to let go. Or at least let go of doing extremely well.

I devote the majority of my time to writing, because I want to be awesome at it. Therefore, lesser amounts of time get devoted to my artwork, my video game skills, my coding projects, and my robot army. And some things, like fencing, knitting, and digital painting, have been put aside for the moment. I might come back to them one day, but right now, they’re simply a lower priority than everything else.

This gives me enough time to work hard on my writing, have fun with yoga and running and art, and still have time for a modest social life. And, you know, being married. And I love all those things, but I’d be lying if I said there wasn’t the occasional wrench as I realize I have to let something else go to prioritize what I really want.

But there is good news. You probably have stuff that you want to do. And stuff that you have to do. And stuff that you’re just doing without really considering whether you want/have to or not. You can mine time from the things that you just do out of habit and repurpose it for stuff you actually want. Like taking your tv time and using it to learn French or Python. Or letting go of a volunteer position that has become a burdensome obligation and devoting the time you’re no longer spending in meetings to writing.

Ultimately, your time is yours. You have to choose how you want to spend it.

What have you given up to pursue something you wanted more?

Post-Mortem: Gutting Your New Year’s Resolutions

If this was your list, maybe skip this post.

Here we are, three months into the new year. Is it still new? Or is it a slightly used year now? Previously loved? Whatever, 2015 is now one-quarter over, and you know what that means?

It’s time to check in on those New Year’s Resolutions you made.

Now, before you look guiltily at your running shoes and then dive head-first into a bag or Doritos, I am not here to make you feel bad. I’m quite sure most of you have other people for that.*

All I want you to do is think back. Did you make a resolution? How did it go for you? If you stuck with it, why? And if you didn’t, why not?

Don’t turn away from this stuff, especially if you didn’t follow through on your resolution. Yeah, it might suck to look at what you consider to be a failure, but look anyway. Get down there, rip it open, and sniff the entrails of the failed attempt, because they are fucking full of information.

This is where you learn stuff. About yourself, what motivates you, what doesn’t, what can keep you going when you don’t want to,  and what makes you give up in hopeless frustration.

So do your post-mortem. Did you resolve to write 1,000 words every day and give up halfway through January? Then maybe that’s not the right goal for you. How about 500? Or writing every weekend? Or maybe not writing at all, and spending that time on something you actually enjoy. Or perhaps you need a different type of motivation: writing a flash fiction story and posting on Twitter every day.

Or, if you persevered, why? What kept you going? Because, after three months, I know damn well that there were days you wanted to give up. So what did you use to keep yourself on the path when the going got rougher than off-roading on a bike made of cheese graters?

For my resolutions—finish The Book by July, finish a sketch every day—I’ve been making good progress. I had to take three weeks off from writing due to Serious Health Issue at the end of January/beginning of February, but I got back on the horse and kept going. And I still kept up the sketching during that time. I used things like my sticker motivation calendar and public accountability in the form of posting the daily sketches to Facebook to keep me on track. As of now, I have 89 sketches (missed a day in the hospital) and 70,000 new words on the novel manuscript. Go, me.

Make notes. Examine where you succeeded, and where you failed. And be better prepared for next year, when we’ll do this all over again.

So, that’s me. How about you? Did you make resolutions? Did you stick to them? Did you learn anything from not sticking to them?

*If you don’t, then there is a surcharge for Making You Feel Bad, which comes in Regular, Mocking, and Disappointed Mother Who Only Wants The Best For You flavours.

Vacation Home: Things I Learned Visiting Discworld

The Discworld, my brain's favourite vacation home, captured in all its glory by Paul Kidby.

The Discworld, my brain’s favourite vacation home, captured in all its glory by Paul Kidby.

I spent half of Thursday crying and the other half reading. Both because Terry Pratchett had just died.

It’s hard to explain why I was so upset by the death of a man whom I had never met. And now, never will. Part of it was that, probably: I will never be able to tell him how much those books meant to me. Something I’m sure he heard a thousand thousand times, but I like to think that no one really gets tired of hearing how they touched someone else’s life.

It was the stories, of course. And the characters. And the turns of phrase that stuck with me, year after year. I have all the Discworld books, and some of them have been read so many times that they’re falling apart, and need to be replaced. One, in fact, finally split on Thursday afternoon, after sixteen years of me reading it over and over.

Reading those books was—and is— fun. And reading has got to be entertaining, or what’s the point? But it wasn’t just fun that made me stick with them, or them with me.

Those books were, to paraphrase Tolkien, a light in dark places for me. They told me that being weird wasn’t just okay—the world is full of places and people who will tell you that being your weird self is ‘okay’, like you need their permission, and besides, ‘okay’ is the very fucking definition of mediocrity—but that being weird was awesome. It was something to be celebrated. And the people who didn’t understand that were probably Auditors* in disguise or something, so fuck those people.

The books told me that even things that hurt you can be laughed at. And should be.

They also told me that I wasn’t alone. That no matter how isolated or lonely I was—and there were long periods when I was both—that there were, somewhere, people who understood. One of them was this odd British man who wrote characters that felt like me, like someone had ripped out a piece of me and stuck them to a page**, but there must be others. I wasn’t sure how I would find them, but just the knowledge that they must be out there was enough to get me through. It meant that I wouldn’t always be alone.

That sort of thing means a lot when you’re sixteen.

And now I’m thirty-two. It’s been a lot of years since I first picked up a Pratchett book in the library—Lords and Ladies, if anyone’s wondering. But I’m still reading them, and now I read as a writer. And you know what? They’re still just as good. In fact, as a writer, now I can appreciate the economy of description and sharpness of observation that were among Pratchett’s hallmarks. I can see the humour and the anger.

I’m going to spend some of the next few weeks re-reading all my favourites from the series. And when I read about Death and his garden and the black desert, I’ll be thinking of Sir Terry.

Goodbye. I hope I can someday write something that touches someone half as much as your work did.

*The Discworld incarnation of rules and conformity, and exactly as boring as that sounds.

**Vimes and Susan in particular.