Monday Challenge: Scouting The Path

Crows feeding

“What do you know? They taste like chicken. And Doritos.” (Photo credit: Wikipedia)

This is the last blog post of the year. Tears me up a little, that does. Well, not literally, because I’m not a big crier*, but if I was, I would be. And if I hadn’t done really nice eye makeup that day. But if I was a crier, and if I hadn’t done something like this Smaug the Dragon-inspired makeup look**, then there definitely might be a slight chance of mistiness. Maybe.

It’s been a fun year. But it’s time to look down the road.

So that’s what this Monday Challenge is for, word wombats: thinking ahead. You’ve got a new year coming up. A whole year in which to write.*** That’s three hundred and sixty five fucking days during which you can be creating pocket universes and spinning beauty and terror out of the void.

What are you going to do with that year?

Monday Challenge: come up with something you want to create this year and then write that the fuck down. On a notepad, on a whiteboard, on your forearm or forehead. I don’t care where you write it, just write it. And then put it somewhere you can see it every day. Not to nag, but to remind. Because it’s a lot easier to forget about our goals when they’re not staring us in the face every fucking second like carrion birds wondering what your insides taste like.****

Plans of attack come later, along with everything else. For today, just think of what you want.

What is 2014 going to be the year of?

*Except, as established, during the first nine minutes of Up.
**The word ‘fierce’ was invented for this.
***And do other stuff, I suppose. If you have to. God.
****The pair of crows I keep seeing lately have this look.

Monday Challenge: Hatching Time

Moon Moth eggs hatching

Hey there. We’re your nightmares. (Photo credit: Wikipedia)

The entire world has been shellacked. For real.

We’ve been getting a lot of freezing rain the last few days. For those happy souls out there who live in an area where this is not a thing, freezing rain falls as a liquid, but freezes when it hits the ground. It covers everything it touches with a layer of ice. Back in Newfoundland, we call it glitter because, damn, is it pretty when the light hits it. All shiny and new like the human at that bar last night, the one that was out of your league. Just don’t make the mistake of actually approaching it, because there is a reasonable chance that it will destroy you.

The car is entombed in a sheet of ice. The snowbanks have all been candy-coated. In some places, a vagary of the fall has made the ice completely opaque. So things like the compost bin have turned into white eggs, waiting for some unspeakable hatching. Anything could be under that layer of ice. For all I know that’s not even the goddamn compost bin. It could be anything out there. Maybe something made off with the compost in the night and has replaced it with this white egg, trusting that the humans won’t realize it is not their green plastic bin full of banana peels and manky leftover salad until it’s too late. Until it hatches, emerging into the still winter air with an unfurling of unspeakable limbs and wings, ready for action. And hungry. So very hungry.*

Monday Challenge: what’s inside that shell?

I’m going to arm myself with rock salt and a flamethrower now.

*I swear to god, I sat down to write something nice and light about the weather for this. BRAIN WHAT IS WRONG WITH YOU?

Monday Challenge: Present

Presents

Ignore any twitching; that’s normal. (Photo credit: Wysz)

I got you a present.

Yes, I know it’s early. But this isn’t strictly a holiday thing. It’s not even strictly a present, really. It’s more of a…challenge, I guess. Yeah. That’ll do.

It’s over there, under the tree. No, not that one. That one’s mine. Yours is the big one. Yeah, that one. The one that’s moving slightly.

Why? Well, I can’t tell you that. It will spoil the surprise. And I love surprises.

Sure, you can pick it up if you want. Careful, though; it’s heavier than it looks. And don’t be alarmed if you hear anything. It’s supposed to make that noise.

What’s that? Why is it leaking? Strange. It shouldn’t be doing that. No, no, of course that’s not blood. Though it is very red and festive-looking, isn’t it?

You know what? Maybe you should open it now, just to check and make sure it’s okay. Go ahead. I’ll be over here. Behind the door. You just open it, and tell me what’s inside.

Merry Christmas.

Static and Noise: Getting Off The Computer To Boost Creativity

English: Picture of San Francisco at Sunset. F...

It looks so peaceful before the Idea Beasts come to play. (Photo credit: Wikipedia)

I have a computer addiction.

Seriously. If there was a device that could be implanted in my eyeballs that allowed me 24/7 access to my computer, I’d do it.

So you can imagine how fucking difficult it is for me to take a break from that sweet, sweet glowing box. At the moment, I am taking a computer break. I’m still on it for writing these posts, of course, because the alternative of hand-writing it and then posting a picture of the paper seems a little too cutely hipster-ish for me. But I’m no longer spending most of the day on it: writing, editing, researching, digitally painting.

Not because I don’t love all those things. I do. God, I do. But the computer is full of noise: Twitter, news feeds, the Book of Faces,  YouTube. And then there’s the articles I need to read, and the notes I have to make on them, and the endless rabbit hole of information that I can follow so very, very far down.

I love noise and chaos. But some things need silence to grow, and the semi-ripe ideas I’m working on are among them. Too much static and they never get the brain runtime they need to come to fruition. They just get lost in the swirl of new information. If they’re every going to turn into anything worth writing–and by extension anything worth reading–then they need a little quiet space in which to turn from larvae to monsters that can knock down San Francisco.

So. Time for a break.

Now, before you abandon your internet connection entirely, a caveat: I can only take this break because most of the things I’m doing right now can be done offline. The re-outlining of the novel works best on paper or index cards. I have no short stories in the first stage of writing or editing; instead, I have ideas that I need to work on. Nothing is awaiting final editing before being returned to editors. And I’ve switched to sketch books and pens for a while instead of digital for art. If I had other things that had to be done, then I wouldn’t be able to unplug. And some of those ideas I’m working on would probably die.

The circle of life, baby.

This whole ‘no unnecessary computer’ deal may seem to run contrary to other things I say. Especially the bit about reading a lot and letting a brain compost pile build up so that the ideas bubble to the surface like swamp gas. Two responses to that: 1) what in the name of Primordial Chaos gave you that idea that I ever make sense? Seriously? You’re expecting logic here? And, 2) one thing does not work all the time. Knowing when to switch it up because it’s the right move—as opposed to switching because what you’re working on is hard—is an instinct you need to cultivate. And right now, mine is saying, get the fuck off the computer, woman. Go lie on the couch with a notebook instead. That’s what has to be done now. Worry about tomorrow at the next sunrise. This is what will work today.

So, riddle me this, word herders: what will work for you today?

*A friend of mine once created an RPG character that is so obsessed with information she has a staff of hundreds to sort it and send it directly to her cybernetic implants. That character? Apparently loosely based on my information habits. I can’t decide if it’s an insult or a marvelous pastiche**. Though I suppose it could be both.

**Or an attempt to tell me that I creep him the hell out.

Monday Challenge: I’m Being Followed

Deutsch: Rattenfängerauszug Hameln Tag der Nie...

My hat is better than this, but if you guys want to dress up as rats, I’m not going to stop you. (Photo credit: Wikipedia)

Hello, new followers!* Welcome to the Bare Knuckle Army. Don’t worry, it doesn’t require any real service, though you will be receiving a complementary tinfoil hat in the mail so I can read your thoughts.**

The concept of a follower is an odd one. I picture a bunch of people hanging out in my living room while I write this: sitting on the couch, petting the cats, occasionally getting up to peruse my bookshelves. That one guy in the corner talking to himself. There is the nagging sensation that I should put out snacks.

Or I imagine a huge trail of people following me, in my comic book t-shirts and ripped up jeans, over a mountain range. Like a fucked up Pied Piper.*** We’re all heading to the same place: story land. But on the way there’s an awful lot of monsters. Some of them will come with us, too.

Well, I can’t promise I won’t lead you astray, but at least the trip will be an interesting one.

Down to brass tacks then: you’re here for a reason. Those of you new to this, every Monday I put up a writing challenge to get your week started off right. Sometimes it’s an idea, or a character exercise. Sometimes it’s whatever weird shit I find floating around in my brain when I stagger out of bed on Monday morning and have to remember how to act like a Qualified Adult. Give it a try and see what happens. And if there are any brave souls out there who would like to post their results in the comments, I’d love to read them. And I salute you.

In honour of all of you today, you Monday Challenge is this: write about someone being followed. Write from the point of view of the follower or the followed; write is as paranoid or as silly as you like.

And stay close. We’ve got a long way to go yet.

*Every time I get a new follower, I turn around, half expecting to see someone lurking behind the lamp in the corner. Watching. Waiting.
**It is very stylish, though. Tell your friends.
***Pied Piper Me also has a very stylish hat.

Monday Challenge: Down To The Wire

Pumpkin Carving Organ

All hail the murder bees! (Photo credit: Wikipedia)

Ever notice how things are always more difficult when you do them in a rush? Everything, from cooking to writing to bomb-disarming to sex. Nothing benefits from the feeling that Time, that grasping bitch, is reaching from behind and throttling you. Unless Time is a dom and you’re into that sort of thing. In which case, you’re excused. Report back Wednesday.

For the rest of you, the sad fact of the matter is that rushing almost always gets us nowhere. If you’re driving, it doesn’t even get you to your destination that much faster. Maybe a minute, especially in cities and towns. Which is acceptable if you’re Jack Bauer, but otherwise just seems like a lot of fuss for nothing.

But we keep doing it. Rushing through, trying to get it finished before…well, that’s always the question, isn’t it? Before what? What  cut-off awaits that you’re trying to outrace? Occasionally, you may find that it’s a real thing, and then you need to rush. You have to finish that paper before the due date tomorrow. You have to finish surgery before the patient bleeds out. You have to finish carving that pumpkin before the murder bees arrive and wreak vengeance on those who have been lax in their gourd-carving duties.

So, today, write me someone trying to do something in an awful gods-be-damned hurry. They trip, they stumble, they fuck it up…but they keep going. Because something important is riding on this, and they need to get it done.

Go forth, word-herders. And get it done.

Monday Challenge: Things Long Lost

Pecan pie.

Probably doesn’t cure migraines, but ask me if I give a fuck. (Photo credit: Wikipedia)

It’s Thanksgiving weekend*, the traditional celebration where we stuff ourselves with as much food as possible in the hopes of surviving yet another Canadian winter. As you sit down to your feast, please, take the time to evaluate your neighbours as a possible food source for the months to come. It’s not rude; it’s tradition.

*Fact checks on Wikipedia* Oh. Well. It seems we celebrate things a little differently in my family. To each their own, I suppose.

So, according to this, the real point of the holiday is to give thanks for things that you have.** But, because this is me—and possibly because as of this writing I’m into day three of a marathon migraine***—we’re going to do something else.

Monday Challenge: Write about something you’re grateful that you lost. We lose things all the time; it’s a species trait. Keys, names, weight, baggage, faith, the way, the number of that guy from the bar last night. Stuff disappears from our lives and into the vast wormhole of Now Where Did I Put That? Some of it deliberately.

So, today, think of something that you no longer have. Some thing whose weight you no longer have to carry. Some thing whose loss improves your life.

Ready? Go. I’m going to go stake out the neighbours house again. Or maybe eat an entire pecan pie.

*Here in Canada it is, anyway. Those of you who come from the United States, I guess it’s just another fucking Monday for you.
**This year, in no particular order, I am thankful for the following: the people I love, hot sweet tea, October nights, sex, whiskey, the cats and their murderous ways, the existence of brownies and nachos, and that natural twenty I rolled the other night in an RPG.
***Secretly training for the New York Migraine.

Nerd-Herding: How To Keep Track Of Your Crap

Hoarders: small business edition

My office before digital media. (Photo credit: RobertFrancis)

I have, as I have mentioned, lots of ideas. And I gather a lot of information. When it comes to info, I’m the hunter-gatherer: I’ve moved beyond waiting for it come to me and now venture out on my own to find it.* But how do you manage all that? How do you turn the information and the raw idea seeds into something useful? And how the hell do you keep track of it all?

One word, people: notes.

I use two systems** for notes, one digital and one meatspace:

Evernote

Ah, Evernote. Or, as I think of it, the Junk Drawer app.

This is where articles, essays, pictures, news items, recipes, knitting patterns, and random pieces of information go. I make a note, tag it, and then throw it into one of the notebooks. I have all my newsfeeds synced to this, so I can send things to a giant SORT pile to take a closer look at later. An important step, that one, because otherwise I’d lose hours of my day just going through things and figuring out if they’re useful. Now I tag it and toss it.

It syncs to my phone, so I can glance at this stuff during the dead space time of the day: standing in lines, waiting on hold, going to the bathroom, trying to escape from a boring conversation. I read it more closely then, and highlight or tag any particularly interesting sections. Then it goes into the right notebook—‘Writing’, ‘Food’, ‘Weird’, ‘Tech’, ‘Skills’, ‘WTF’, what have you—so that I can call it up when I’m scratching my head and trying to remember what I read somewhere once.

Notebook

I never met a writer who didn’t love notebooks. I swear to Christ we’re the only ones who get excited about back to school stationary sales.

As I mentioned, I use the Moleskin Cahier Large and am very happy with it. Or rather them, since there’s a herd of the fucking things by now.

There is a distinction between the notebook and Evernote. Evernote is for raw information. The notebook is for the physical equivalent of thinking out loud. It’s easier for me to test an idea to failure if it’s in a form I can scratch out. Which is why you’ll find long sections in my notebooks with titles like ‘Reasons why M. Should die’ and ‘A Bunch of Things That Don’t Happen’ and ‘What if there were space badgers?’*** Half those sections contradict each other, sometimes in the space of a page. Doesn’t matter. They’re just for working that crap out.
And sometimes, when it is worked out, it goes back into Evernote. In a notebook called ‘Story Ideas’.  This is the cycle of ideas: information from Evernote, working out on paper, then semi-coherent crap back into Evernote. It’s a system that works for me because, one, things rarely get lost and, two, I can find it when I need it. Nothing’s worse than trying to find that one idea in the pile of papers six feet deep. Besides, it’s a fire hazard.

So, this is my system, but I’m always open to improvements. Writers and other information junkies out there, how do you keep track of your shit?

*Actually, truth be told, I have designed a variety of systems to ensure that information I’m interested in—technology, science, medical, crime, just plain fucking weird—is delivered to me automatically and continuously throughout the day. And night. The stuff I go looking for is the stuff I don’t know exists.
**Mostly use two systems. In a pinch, I’ve been known to use email, bar napkins, and my own skin to keep track of things.
***For extra fun points, I went through the notebook on my desk and took actual section titles. You’re welcome.

Inspiration is Everywhere

giant motorized prozac cupcake

The other prescription for boredom. (Photo credit: yananine)

I haven’t been truly bored in about five years. Or, in other words, since I started writing full time. Oh, sure there have been times when I had to do stuff I didn’t want to. Or times when I just genuinely wanted to lie around and do nothing. But being bored, as in unable to think of anything that would entertain me or fill my time? Really can’t remember the last time.

If I had to put a cause to it, I’d say that it’s the writing. The more writing you do—in other words, the more that you open yourself to the creative possibilities of any situation—the less easy it is to be bored. Even doing shit like waiting at the doctor’s office. You know the scene: dog-eared magazines covered in disease, something unbelievably inane on the television, people coughing or sneezing or bandaged or just generally looking miserable. And that one kid who’s unbelievably hyper. So I pass the time by imagining how different characters would react to the place.* Hint: often not well.

Places like this would have been prime grounds for boredom once, but not now. Same goes for waiting at the dentist’s office, being stuck in traffic, going on a long drive, or just those inexplicably null hours where nothing’s happening. I just…can’t get bored any more. At least not by myself. I can be bored by TV shows or movies, bored by conversations, but time by myself? Not so much. I just…leave.

I realize that this does not sound particularly well-adjusted, but I’m okay with it. I’ll take escape into a private fantasy world over being forced to watch Mass for Shut-Ins at the doctor’s office any day.**

Also, let’s not forget that the world is amazing. Like Louis CK says, “Everything’s amazing and no one’s happy”.*** Inspiration, much like its sibling, Distraction, is everywhere. At the risk of classifying myself now and forever as a hippy, you’ve just got to look for it.

I do. All the time. I can’t stop it anymore. And, honestly, I wouldn’t even if I could. Because who doesn’t want the world to be a more fascinating place?

* I sometimes read, too, but I’ve noticed lately that, since I read on a Kindle, I get a lot more questions than I get reading done. Usually I don’t mind, since anything that encourages people to show interest in reading is all right with me, but it’s hard to answer questions with a sore throat.
**Yes, this is a real thing. And that’s its actual name. I thought it was a joke when it first came on, but, alas, the world is a very strange place.
***I love that skit. I actually ripped the audio of it just so I could put it on when I’m travelling and getting frustrated. It’s very hard to take that shit seriously when someone is yelling , “And then what happened? Did you you fly through the air majestically like a bird? Did you partake of the miracle of human flight, you non-contributing zero?” Alas, NBC made YouTube take down the one I ripped, that just has the travel part, but this one has the whole piece.

Taking it Slow

English: rose bunch, Rosa sp. cultivars, flowe...

I got that idea some roses. Ideas love roses. (Photo credit: Wikipedia)

I woke up the other day with an Idea. I know this is the cliche of writers, that brilliant lightbulb moment upon awakening, but, I have to say, this never happens to me. My dreams are…well, let’s just say they’re not terribly useful for writing. Unless I decide to have a go at surrealist horror. Then I’ll be prepared.

Anyway, this idea. It’s really the opening couple of chapters to a book, complete with the two main characters and a couple of supporting ones. It’s the beginning of a story.

So. Now what?

Yeah, I could just jump in and start WRITING ALL THE THINGS. And you can get things done that way, no joke.  But a lot of the time I’ll end up driving the excitement of that high-octane creative burst right into a concrete retaining wall. And that’ll be the end of that story idea. I will have destroyed it in my eagerness and desperation, like a teenage boy who just can’t keep his damn hands to himself on a date and ends up kicked in the junk. Except in my brain. No one wants to get kicked in the brain-junk.

This is just an idea right now. A good one, I think, but it’s not a whole story. There’s a whole list of shit that needs to be done before I can start writing in earnest.

1. Character development: I have an idea of who two of the main characters are, but they’re not complete yet. Who are their families? Do they have any? What kind of social circles do they move in? What are their bad habits? How do they take their tea? I might not need to answer all of these, but I’ll definitely need to answer some before they’re a real person. And I need some other people, too.

2. Story Development: I have the idea of what happens in the first couple of chapters. One of the characters has ended up in a very bad situation that she needs the other character’s help correcting. But I think there’s more to it than that; this bad situation is only part of a larger bad situation that affects a lot more people. But I have no idea what that larger situation is yet. Seems like something I might need to know before writing the novel. Otherwise, it’s a short story, and not a great one.

3. Setting: That workshop I went to on creating place will come in handy here. I get the impression that the setting will be very important to this story. At the very least, it’s going to influence the pace and nature of events. Some time spent developing that and creating a sense of it in my own mind will go a long way toward making the story—and the characters—concrete.

4. Outlining: About two-thirds of you just groaned, but I’ll ignore you for the moment. Outlining is important. I need one to write anything longer than five pages. Otherwise, I get so caught up in what’s happening right now that I forget where I’m going. That’s where long, loosely-connected story arcs get introduced. And, yeah, sometimes they can be interesting. But most of the time, they lead me astray. And by the time I get back on track, I’ve lost whatever feel I had for the characters and the story. Story telling is like herding cats: they keep trying to wander off and you can only control about 60% of them at any given time. But try to stay on track or you’ll never get them to the cat-barn. Or wherever it is people are going when they herd cats. Cattery? Cat house? No, that’s something different. The point: I need an outline. And I don’t have one yet.

I probably will end up doing some writing over the next few months on this story. Small scenes, mostly, things that I’ll use to get a feel for characters and the story itself. But officially, writing won’t start until November. That’s right: NaNoWriMo time. This year, I’m getting the groundwork done early.

And in the meantime, I’ll just keep sweet-talking that idea.