Supply Cache: Preparing for NaNoWriMo

Some Reload -energy drink bottles.

Shown: Creativity Fuel (Photo credit: Wikipedia)

(Before we begin, a correction: you can use this checklist for any new novel project you’re starting, not just those that take place during NaNo. But post titles can only be so long before they start looking ridiculous.)

Good morning, soldier. I see you’re getting kitted out for another mission into First Draft Land. It’s a dangerous country out there, full of plot holes and fact mines. There are places where your creativity is going to bottom out on a dirt road far from anywhere you want to be. So, to increase you chances of survival completing your mission, you should make sure you have the following things in your supply cache:

Stimulant Delivery System: We recommend caffeine, both for its ease of access and myriad of delivery mechanisms, which includes coffee, tea, chocolate, energy drinks, gum, soap, and those little white pills truckers take. Those of you who choose nicotine instead should be warned that, although the author quit smoking years ago, on a bad day she will still drag you out back and beat you to death with a tire iron just to steal that cigarette from your cold, dead hands.

Notebooks: For character details, setting maps, plot points, grocery lists, and the occasional tear-soaked missive about how much you hate writing.

Recording Apparatus: The preferred method these days is the computer word-processor, but acceptable alternatives include typewriters (electric and mechanical), another notebook, random sheets of paper, and the walls of your cell. However, keep in mind that verification will be difficult for some of these methods.

Distraction Filter: Ranging from the ability to screen phone calls and email alerts to a very supportive spouse who will field any and all household crises. If your Distraction Filter takes the form of another human being, be warned that they may require paying or some other form of compensation.

Music: Include high-energy for those stimulant-induced burst of creativity, instrumental for days in the zone, and whiny emo bullshit for the low points. Running mascara optional but highly encouraged.

Guts: Because sooner or later all the shit listed above will stop working. You’ll be tired. You’ll run out of inspiration. You’ll have to take phone calls from that guy you hate. And you’ll think, It’d be a lot easier just to give up right now. And the kicker is that it will be.
There’s only on thing that will keep you going then: a certain deep-down contrariness, a willingness to grind it out. So do a check and make sure you have it on hand. Because, out there, in the wilds where the roads disappear…you’re going to need it.

Putting Up With Your Ass: Living With Writers

bourbon caramel

I would lick this picture if it wouldn’t taste like computer. (Photo credit: rosebengal)

Writers are batshit insane.

No joke, man. What else would you call someone who imagines things happening constantly?* If we didn’t try to put words around it, we’d be borderline delusional. As it is, there’s some kind of new disorder up for inclusion in the DSM called Maladaptive Daydreaming, which, judging by the extremely loose criteria, I and nearly everybody I know has. Seriously. I can’t make this shit up.**

But sometimes we find someone who will put up with the unending stream of red-hot crazy that spews forth from us, burying our lives under the madness. Parents, friends, lovers, spouses, children…if you’re a writer, and you’re not living in glorious, slightly creepy solitude like Salinger, then someone, somewhere, is putting up with your ass.

So, for all the people out there who give us the space and time to write: thank you. Really. You put up with a lot. You don’t get too worried when we start muttering to ourselves about firearms ballistics, or the genetics of cheetahs. You’re there when the acceptance letters come, and when the rejection letters pile up. And sometimes you bring us tea/bourbon/tea with bourbon/an entire bottle of wine and a chocolate cake.

And, yeah, you deal with our odd hours, our spaciness, our weird references to things that don’t exist anywhere outside our own heads, our demands for printer ink and even more bourbon. Most of the time you don’t even complain. If you do complain, it’s probably because we’ve forgotten to shower for a week again. Sorry about that.

But it’s not all bad. In return for your patience and support and baked-good-fetching, we show you cool things, or sad things, or things that are just a little bit too weird for words, but that we tried to put words around anyway. Sometimes there’s a little bit of magic in it. Sometimes it’s just crazy. But that’s who we are.

So again, thanks. And pass the bourbon, would you?

*Other than creative. But according to some people I’ve met, that’s worse than being insane.
**Well, I could, but I would have made it cooler. Symptom of a superpower, maybe.

Just One Line

English: "Cocaine toothache drops", ...

Warning: your children may vibrate in place. (Photo credit: Wikipedia)

Hi. My name is Steph, and I have a problem.*

I thought I had it under control, but the last week has been…illuminating. We had house guests, friends we haven’t seen in a while. And it was great. I love seeing old friends, especially when they can get their geek on with us. We saw The Sight**. We had epic food. We saw the Avengers (again, in my case). We went on a road trip to see other friends, and met some new people. We learned the NATO phonetic alphabet (don’t ask). And we had many laughs, most of which would be too hard to explain here. Not that I’d try.

But through all the fun and the good times and the catching up… I couldn’t stop thinking about writing.

At first it was innocuous enough. It can wait, I thought. Right now I’m being a Normal Human Being. A break will be good for me. You can do this.

And I was good. For a while. I had my blog posts roughed in ahead of time, so all I had to do was make them live, which took hardly any effort. I thought of edits, and just filed them away for later. I had scene ideas, and kept them in my head. I only stared off into space for ten, fifteen minutes tops.

But then I got a really good idea. Okay, just write that one down, I told myself. Just that one, and just the idea. It’s not like actual writing. They won’t even notice. It’ll be fine.

But then there was another idea, and another. And next thing I knew, I was up at two am, writing dialogue on my iPhone in the bathroom, hoping no one would see the light. If anyone had opened the door, I would have hid in the tub, screaming, “Don’t look at me! I finally thought of the perfect line! I just needed one line, man. Just one to get me through!”

I think I succeeded in hiding my problem from the others. Sure, they probably suspected when they had to poke me to get my attention, or when I was scribbling furtively in my Emergency Notebook. But this isn’t about them; this is about me, and my problem.

I need to do some real thinking about this. And I will, I swear.

But first…first there’s a scene. It’s waited long enough, and I’ve got the itch, man, that feeling that I just have to get something down on paper. But it’ll just be the one scene. Just one.

…Don’t judge me.

*This should really be plural.
**This should not be plural. This town only has one.

My Crazy: Let Me Show You It

baseball bat

I have the bat all picked out. (Photo credit: wikipedia)

 

You ever have those days where you get off to a late start with your errands and chores and other necessary parts of living, so you feel like you’re a step behind all day? And you manage to get most of the errands and other shit knocked out before it’s too too late, but by that time all the words in your head have built up and it feels like there’s some weird word pressure going on behind your eyeballs. And you know that if you don’t get that shit out of your head and onto some paper or a screen or some kind of recording mechanism soon, it’s going to rupture something in your brain, maybe knock some vital connection loose, and then you don’t know what will happen, but it’ll probably involve the windshields of all those damn cars that keep parking on the wrong side of your street and a baseball bat, so you try to get through everything else as fast as you can so you can get the damn story out of your head before it dies and festers in your imagination like a raccoon trapped behind the wall of your porch in high summer, poisoning and stinking up the air around it, but you can’t seem to find the time to finish up everything else and just get to it, so the story just keeps scratching at the inside of your skull, trying to tunnel its way into the world, driving you crazy with its sharp little claws and slowing you down even more…

Yeah. I’m having one of those days.

I swear to God, sometimes I think I write less because I enjoy it and more because I’m afraid of what will happen if I don’t.

So I’m going to go write now. Just to be on the safe side.

Word Gods and Comment Junkies

Paul Pierce within an illustration of a Mediæv...

They will worship my brilliance! If, you know, they want to. Whatever. (Photo credit: Wikipedia)

Writers are simultaneously the most arrogant and the most insecure people I know.

Seems like it should be a paradox, right? Seems like the subject should collapse in on themselves, a ball of forces creating social anti-matter. Or anti-social matter. Which makes more sense, given the stereotypes of writers.

On one hand, we feel that we have something interesting to say. Something other people should stop whatever they’re doing and listen to. We’re like a street corner preacher standing on a crate and yelling at passerby: “Hey you! Yeah, you. Have you read this? You should. It’ll change your life, man! It’s good! You should—hey, where are you going? Don’t walk away from me! You’re missing out, asshole! You’re missing out!

And on the other, we’re so dependent on the validation of others that we might as well not exist without it. After all, a story needs to be read. Otherwise, it’s just an exercise in mental masturbation. So after we’re done haranguing people to read our stuff, we abase ourselves before them: “Hey, did you like it? Can you tell me why? If, you know, it’s not too much trouble…” And we’re hungry for the comments.* Oh, the comments. The ego-boost that pushes us back up towards arrogance, or points out places we can get better.

Even this blog exists as an exercise in arrogance and insecurity. I have something to say about writing, something that I think people should hear. And when a new post goes up, I’m so fucking proud of myself. I said something. I put words around my brain squeezings and made a thing. I am a word-god, creating out of nothing.

For about five minutes. And then I’m relentlessly updating the stats page to see how many people are reading it. And waiting for comments. Because I need the validation, man. Just one more page view. One more hit. Just to get me through to the next post.

You might think this little chaotic vortex of emotion is unhealthy. No arguments there. But I would argue that it’s also necessary. We have to believe that we have something worth saying, or we’d never say it. We’d just sit around and daydream about it. We need a certain amount of arrogance, a certain amount of ‘I am important and you should all listen to me’ to sit our asses down and write.

And we need the insecurity, the humility, to know that without an audience we’re just talking to ourselves. And to know that, as good as we think something is, it can usually be better. That drives us to seek criticism, to make changes, and to not pitch a fucking hissy fit when someone points out a flaw in our work.** Because there are flaws, and spelling errors, and plot holes you could break a leg stepping in. And you know it, deep down.

That’s writing: knowing you’re good, and fearing that you’re not good enough.

And people wonder why writers drink.

*This is actually a thing a friend and I have going: one of us writes a scene, and that scene is not considered complete until the other person comments on it. Like, real, typed-up comments. A little unhealthy, I know. But I still want those damn comments.

**Most of us, anyway. Don’t be that guy.

Going Full Writer

Bradypus variegatus Deutsch: Drei-Finger-Fault...

My life is bitter, just like this leaf. Tasty, tasty leaf. (Photo credit: Wikipedia)

This was waiting for me on my Twitter feed this morning:

 Established writers & artists are 18 times more likely to kill themselves than the general population. (Via @qikipedia)

Thanks for that.

Now, I have no idea how true this is. Like most everything else on the internet, you’re well advised to take it with a grain of salt. But still. There is was. Right in between some note about how Buzz Lightyear was almost called Lunar Larry and a notification of the new Chuck Wendig post. “Good morning! Time to start your writing! Would you like some cyanide with your coffee?”

It’s put an interesting note on the day.

Do you think this sort of thing happens to dentists? “Hey! Here’s some teeth and, by the way, you’re more likely to kill yourself than any other profession!” Or is it just creative types that get watched like we’re an interesting new species? Suicide Sloths*, maybe.

There’s a zoo exhibit that would never catch on.

It’s the implication of a cause and effect relationship that intrigues me. The scientist part (admittedly probably a mad scientist) wonders what kinds of experiments were done. Was there a lab that locked monkeys in a room with typewriters to see if they could both produce the collected works of Shakespeare and give in to despair over their perception of the essential meaninglessness of life? While a control group of monkeys are given tiny cubicles in which to work, and maybe some little ties, and red staplers.

My methodology may be flawed, but I’d fund that experiment.

Of course, the tweet says ‘established writers and artists’. Perhaps it’s a signing bonus. The advance check in one hand, and a razor blade in the other? “Ah, there’s the cause of death. He had a Razor Clause in his contract. Initialed it, too, the silly bastard. Rookie mistake.” I’ll look carefully for that in the next contract I see.

I realize I am not making a strong case for being sane at the moment.

Crazy rambling aside, it’s part of being creative, I think. Not the suicide rate (can I get a footnote on this? Sources, people, sources.) but the implication that you’re different. People occasionally watch you for any interesting signs of madness, like they’re waiting for you to go Full Writer and start using a bubble mower on the lawn naked at four am. Maybe it’s because writers and artists are perceived to have more freedom than other professions. “You wear odd socks to work? And no pants? And draw Hermetic symbols on your naked thighs in Sharpie to protect yourself from the vibrations of spy satellites? How creative!” Some people give the impression that they’re making notes for a future TV interview in which they can claim to have seen this coming years ago.

And, to a certain degree, people who do this sort of thing are different. We spend half our time in an imaginary world, interacting with people that don’t exist. And, if some of my past posts are anything to go on, doing horrible things to them. No one normal does that. It can make you wonder if you’re teetering on the edge of something, so close to slipping off…

Then, if you’re me, you shrug, say “Fuck it”, and get back to work. This might be madness and it might not, and I don’t really care. Because it’s entertaining.

And, when it happens, I’m sure my neighbours will be highly entertained by the lawn thing.

*Obligatory ‘slow death’ joke here.

The Seven Stages of Writing Projects

Stuffed tiger wearing a sombrero

Actually, my thoughts tend to have more tigers in them. But they were edited out of this post because they're shy. (Photo credit: Wikipedia)

Stage One: The Beginning
This is awesome! This is the best idea I’ve ever had! And it’s going so well. Christ in a fucking whorehouse, I don’t think I could screw this up if I tried.

Stage Two: The Speed Bump
Oh, shit, I screwed it up. No, no, no, don’t worry. You can get back on track. You just have to…make the main character…a…zombie? No. Sociopath? No. Park ranger? Meh.
…Sociopathic zombie park ranger? Yes.

Stage Three: The Second Wind
Now that I really know what this is about, there won’t be any more problems. Hell, I can see the end from here. Now it’s just a matter of getting there. And I’ve really got a feel for Clancy, the sociopathic zombie park ranger with daddy issues.* I can do this. Just. Keep. Going.

Stage Four: The Wall
This is the worst fucking thing I’ve ever written. I don’t even want to call this mine. I’m going to leave it outside the church with a note saying, “Please take care of my hideous brain progeny and try not to scream when it slithers out of the basket and under your bed. It’s just trying to hide from my hate.” I want this story to fucking die.

Stage Five: The High
Holy shit, I’m on the downhill stretch! And everything’s coming together! Wheeeeeee! (Happy noises fade away in the distance.)

Stage Six: The Collapse
I…have no more words left. I’m done. And I have no idea if this story is great, or just another word monster that should be buried at the crossroads so it can’t find its way back to me. I don’t know if I should celebrate or kill it with fire.
…I need a drink.

Stage Seven: The Re-Visit
(Six-twelve months later) Hey, this is that story I wrote back when I thought sociopathic zombie park rangers were a good idea. Man, that was a weird stretch. I should have a look at it now, see how bad it is.
…Actually, this is better than I remember. You know, it’s not great, but it’s got good bones. It just needs some polish. And a metric assload** of rewriting, but I can do that. I’ve even still got all my original notes, because I hoard information like a post-apocalyptic squirrel who isn’t sure spring is ever going to come.
Yeah, I can totally do this. Time to throw this one back on the fire and start hammering. And this time…this time I won’t freak out about it. No more doubts and shit. Just pure, solid writing without all those ups and downs.
This time, it’ll be different.***

*Honestly compels me to point out that I’ve never written anything with a sociopathic zombie park ranger with daddy issues, especially one named Clancy. But now I feel like I should.

**Metric assload is my common measure of rewriting. It is described as the amount of rewriting I can do before starting to twitch, multiplied by 1.5. It replaced the far less standard Imperial assload some time ago.

***It won’t.

EVERYTHING WILL KILL YOU

When you do as much research as I do, and especially when that research tends to be of the internet variety, some things change for the worse inside your head. Example? Glad to provide one: every random pain/ache/illness becomes a life-threatening condition. It goes like this:

 Ow. I have a headache.
Headache? Fuck, that’s not good. Is it one of those stabbing ice-pick ones?
No, more of a dull throb.
OH GOD. That’s no headache, that’s the feeling of a brain parasite chewing its way through our frontal lobe!
…What?
Does this hand look shaky to you?
Only because you had nine cups of coffee again.
Irrelevant! Or…maybe the brain parasite wants coffee. I think I read that somewhere. Maybe it needs the energy to gnaw our brain.
Can’t be getting much sustenance from it. Look, if  we had a brain parasite, we wouldn’t have a headache. There’s no pain receptors in brain tissue.
Where did you hear that?
Read it somewhere.
Yeah…well…shut up. How do I know you’re not the parasite?
…The parasite is talking to you now?
Hah! You admit it!
I’m going back to editing. You feel free to join me whenever you finish twitching.
I can’t edit! I have to go research sentient brain parasites.

And so on. I’d write more, but I seem to have done something stabby to my rotator cuff and typing is not helping, Funny that. I’m going to eat Easter chocolate and read Locke and Key until I stop thinking that I have some kind of shoulder gangrene. Or until my arm drops off. Either or.