Writing When Extremely Fucking Busy: A Guide

Dream Police

The Dream Police are here to help you manage your time. (Photo credit: Wikipedia)

Let’s get this out of the way: we are all Busy Adults With Many Important Things To Do. I get it. But some times are busier than others. Like the soap-box racer run from now until Christmas.

So, how do you fit the writing in? Here’s how.

1) Bring Down The Walls. Put as few barriers between yourself and writing as possible. I used to be bad for this. I never said I could only write in the morning, but if the morning went by and I hadn’t written, I was way more likely to say ‘fuck it’ until the next morning. Ditto for the computer: if I was AFK*, I’d likely not do anything. This is writer fetishism**, and it kills books.
Don’t make it so that you have to be using a certain computer, notebook, desk, system, or pen. Don’t make it so that you can only write at a certain time, a particular day, one specific location. Carry a notepad and pen for times when you’re out of the house. Learn to love the note function on your smart phone. As the ideas occur to you, jot them down. Make notes or scribble out full sentences on cocktail napkins. Don’t save it for later; do it now.

2) Hello Sunrise. Get up earlier. You’ll expand your day by more than that extra hour. If you’re like me, getting up early means I had to make a special effort. If I get up with the dawn—or before it, as has happened on occasion—I’m going to make damn sure that shit gets done. Otherwise, why the fuck did I bother to get up at all? Besides, most people are either still asleep or getting ready for the day, so the chance on interruptions is smaller. By the time the rest of the world is firing on all cylinders, you’ve already powered through the day’s writing and half your to-do list.

3) Crank it To Eleven. But first get a good pair of headphones. I’m writing this on the foldout couch in my sister-in-law’s basement while the washing machine is cranking, the weather outside is raging, my brother-in-law is working on the phone in the next room, and the rest of the family is wandering around upstairs and talking. It’s not quiet, is my point. And it is very easy to get distracted. So I have headphones, and I listen to Cheap Trick and Skid Row while finishing up my blog post.
Also, a very key point is that headphones serve as a visual cue for those around you that you are fucking busy and do not welcome conversation at this time. It’s the real world equivalent of being AFK or changing the Skype icon to ‘UNAVAILABLE MOTHERFUCKER, CAN YOU NOT READ?’*** I love talking to people, but sometimes you’ve just got to shut it out for a little bit in order to get shit done. Then you can go back to being a social human.

4) Say The Dirty Word. Not ‘fuck’, or any of the others that speckle this blog. And my conversation, for that matter. Learn to say ‘no’. No, I can’t take care of that for you. No, I will not be going there. No, do it yourself and go away.
The world is full of time vampires. Most of them do it not out of malice, but out of thoughtlessness. But the result of the same: your precious time will slip through your fingers. Unless you learn to say no to the constant demands for it.
So learn that word, you little badgers. Use it well. Because if you want the time to do this, you have to take it.

*Away From Keyboard, for those who don’t spend a lot of time online.
**In the sense of imbuing an object or ceremony with power, not in the sense of sexual preference. Though the two concepts are related, if your ever want to do some reading in anthropology.
***They also serve this function well while flying. I don’t love talking on planes. I just want to sit back, crank some good tunes, and enjoy the miracle that is human flight.

7 Non-Writing Things Writers Should Do

English: Turning a hot compost pile

My brain is a steaming pile of facts and paranoia.(Photo credit: Wikipedia)

1. Read. Seriously, how do you expect to make good words without reading some good words first? That’s like expecting to be a world-class chef without eating. Except then you’d also be dead.

2. Exercise. I know, I know: you want to write so that you have a legitimate excuse for sitting on your ass in your pyjamas all day,  having candy pumped directly into your veins. Fuck off. Your body is more than just the carrying case for your brain. It’s the entire sensory apparatus that you use to take in new information. And it’s a hell of a lot harder to create well when you feel like shit all the time.
But in case you need more convincing, here, try this: exercise improves cognitive function. Move your ass and get smarter. Plus, better sleep. And the ability to fend for yourself in a post-apocalyptic wasteland, because I am not carrying your ass.

3. Have Human Interaction. Writing is solo*, so we spend a lot of time alone. Make the effort and talk to another human being occasionally. Tell yourself you’re doing research if you have to. But connect. It’ll make you less creepy. And make your written interactions more realistic.

4. Sleep. You don’t sleep, your brain pickles itself in toxic waste. That’s science, yo. Chronic poor sleep with bottom out your creativity. Nothing wrong with the occasional all-nighter—fuck knows I’ve done them myself, when the heat is on and the words are pumping—but don’t make a habit of it. Get your sleep and be more coherent. Not to mention less likely to wrap your car around a tree.

5. Learn Stuff. Any stuff. A new language. A new sport. How to make pho. What the typical meal for the Chinese Emperor was circa 1543. Learn stuff, and toss it into the compost pile of your imagination. Let it ferment and make new shiny ideas for you. And, you know, have fun in the meantime.

6. Create. Not just write. Try another creative avenue: drawing, cooking, landscape gardening, singing, interpretive badger arranging. You’ll have fun, for one. And, for another, you will discover that creativity, like all the best cannibals, feeds best on creativity.

7. Find People Who Aren’t Assholes. People who won’t make fun of you for writing. People who understand that having an imagination is not an affront to the right-minded. People who are open. They don’t have to be writers themselves, but they should understand that what you’re doing is awesome. Because it is.

*For the most part. Some people work with collaborators and co-writers. But your cat is neither.

30 Days Of Madness: Making The NaNoWriMo Decision

 

Project No One Leaves volunteers canvassing an...

Have you thought about letting a 50,000 word race into your life? (Photo credit: Wikipedia)

It’s that time of year again. The time when the evangelists start knocking on my door and asking personal questions about the state of my soul.*

Wait, no. Not that. The other thing. NaNoWriMo. It’s that time of year: the time when hordes of aspiring writers start wandering dead-eyed around the streets in search of adverbs and caffeine. Be wary, regular humans. It’s scary out there when the word-herders get loose all at once.

You may be trying to decide if you’re going to try slaying the 50,000 word dragon. I’ve done it five of the last six years, and always finished. I did it last year and turned out the zero draft of what I think is going to be a pretty good project, once I finish rewriting it. Several of the projects I’ve worked on during NaNo have become finished manuscripts which are being sent out on submission. And some of those projects might not have gotten finished otherwise, and certainly wouldn’t have gotten finished so quickly.

But this year I’m out of the race. Mostly just because of timing. I want to devote my energy to the rewrite of the novel I finished last November, and rewrites are fucking slow. They don’t lend themselves to the pace of NaNoWriMo. At least mine don’t. Yours might. Also, I’m going to be on vacation for about two weeks in November, seeing family and old friends. The probability is high that I will be far too drunk to write.*** At least on some days.

I realize I’m not making the decision easier, and I’m not trying to. Ultimately, you have to decide if NaNoWriMo is the right fit for you. In case you missed it last year, here are the two posts I wrote about NaNo: Four Reasons To Do It and Four Reasons To Skip It. Peruse. If you’re on the fence, they might help you decide. Or they might reinforce the decision you’ve already made.

So tell me, fellow workers of brain and caffeine: are you doing NaNoWriMo this year?

*Actually, full disclosure: after talking to a couple of the ladies a few years ago**, they no longer come to the door. I think I’m on some kind of list now.
**Politely, I might add. Don’t be a jerk: good rule for life.
***The ghost of Ernest Hemmingway just appeared to smack me in the head for typing that.

 

Your Two Step Plan To Writing Awesomeness

Mardi Gras Marathon, New Orleans. Crossing the...

Woo! The end! Now what?(Photo credit: Wikipedia)

You want to be a writer? I can help you. I have your plan right here. And it’s dead fucking simple. Only two steps. That’s ten less than alcoholics have. Ten whole less steps! Fuck, babies manage two steps before falling down. Surely you can do it?

All right, enough beating around the bush. Here’s the plan. You need to do two things.

1) Write.

2) Finish.

Most people can manage the first one*, but I meet a hell of a lot of people who can’t figure out the second part. They start things, they write, but they never finish. Everything’s always ‘in progress’ or ‘half done’ or ‘being worked on.’ Nothing wrong with that stuff, but sooner or later you have to finish things. Here’s why:

It’s an accomplishment. You are no longer a writer with half a novel, or five-eights of a short story. You have a complete work. It might suck, it might need more polishing than the Hope Diamond, but it’s done. You climbed that mountain. Good on you.

It’s a fixer-upper. Hard to fix things that aren’t done. You go back, thinking you’ll just change one thing, and that thing snowballs into another thing, and another. Before you know it, you’ve started the same story eighteen times and are no closer to finishing the goddamn thing than you are to achieving cold fusion in your food processor. Get to the end, then look back and see what needs to change. It’ll be clearer. Trust me.

It’s a learning experience. I finished my first novel about five years ago, and it sucked. It still does. But I learned a hell of a lot from it. Mostly what not to do. Now, that thing will likely never see the light of day, but I still think of it fondly from time to time.** Because it was my first, and you never forget your first. Or what you learned from the experience.

It’s a power up. Nothing gives you creative wings like finishing a project. I finished a short story this morning and have since learned to walk on water, spontaneously generated candy from nail clippings***, and achieved cold fusion without a food processor. And I blew through the rest of my to do list with a swagger in my step. Because finishing things is awesome.

Go forth and finish, children. Bask in the glow. Enjoy the moment.

And then put on your editing brain and get back to work.

*And a lot of people can’t, but I’m not talking to them. Mostly because they make me angry.
**And will continue to do so as long as I never have to read it again.
***It wasn’t very good.

On Perfect Days

Rosa Perfect Moment 3

Some days just bloom. (Photo credit: Wikipedia)

I was talking with a friend the other day and she expressed concern over my latest novel project, the Rewrite of All Things on the zero draft manuscript of The Patchwork King. Apparently posts like this one and this one, and maybe this one as well, had made her think that it wasn’t going well. And, reading back on those posts, I can see why.

But it’s not true. Actually, aside from the major hiccups that accompany any story wrangling exercise, it’s going pretty fucking well, because even after a day of fighting with it, I’m still in love with the story itself. Even when it’s being a bastard. A good sign that both it and I have the bones for the long haul war that our relationship will no doubt be.

There are lots of posts out there about the slog. I should know, I wrote a bunch of them. And I will continue to do some more. Probably because I feel like that’s what people need the most. They—you—come to the internet when other answers have failed. When you’re not finding the inspiration or the knowledge or the stones to sit down and do what you know needs to be done. What you want to do, in your heart, but know may be too difficult for you.  That’s when you come to me, and I’m glad for it. Because no matter how far down in the shit you think you are, if you’ve got a will to go on, then I’ve got a way for you to get there.

Still, it’s worth remembering that, for all the shitty days and the empty nights and the times that it seems like all we’re managing to do is crap out another pile of bloated excrement with which to fill our hard drives, in the middle of all that…there are still perfect days. Days when the words come and the plot falls into place and the characters we made like the dime store gods we are walk the walk and talk the talk. Days when it just comes. Like we feel it was meant to.

And if we don’t write as much about those days as we do about the shitty ones, I like to think it’s because we’re too busy enjoying them. Still, it’s something worth hanging on to when the clouds roll in to our little universes. And maybe something worth sharing with people who are out there going through the same shit that we find ourselves wading through on other days.

Seven Entirely Useless Facts

English: Fossil of Herrerasaurus, an extinct d...

Most people think the Rack-o-saurus is extinct. (Photo credit: Wikipedia)

So, yesterday was my birthday.* It was a good day. I spent most of it eating food that’s very bad for me and drawing ninjas and cat-girls**.  In between those activities, I managed to put together this list of More Things You Should Know About Me.***

1) I Own More Superhero T-Shirts Than Other Shirts. One of the benefits of working from home. Bonus fact: I have three each of Captain Marvel and Iron Man.

2) If You Ever See Me Out Running, There’s An Even Chance I’m Pretending To Be A Giant Robot. Well, how do you get through your workouts?

3) My Favourite Drink Is Whiskey. Straight up. Scotch usually, Lagavulin 16 year old for preference. It pairs as nicely with a handmade creme brulee as with double stuff Oreos.

4) I am Rack-o-saurus. This is my friend’s term for the size of my breasts. I wear a medium in bikini bottoms and an XXL in tops. It’s entirely disproportionate. Upside: I rarely paid for drinks when I was in university. Downside: I have fallen over a lot. I’m top heavy.

5) I am a Dungeon Master. And a Game Master. And a Keeper, and a Storyteller, and all the other names the different gaming systems stick on the person who runs the game and throws horrible things at the PCs. It’s a lot of fun, though I usually prefer playing over running a game.
If I’d taken up the hobby when I was single, it could have worked out well for me. Female DMs are a rarity; female DMs with the aforementioned rack-o-saurus characteristics even more so. I could have dressed in a chain mail bikini and worked nerd bachelor parties.

6) I Really Like Opera. Classical music in general****, really, but opera has a special place in my heart. Or ears. Probably ears.

7) The Only Movie To Make Me Cry Since I Was Five Was Up. I mean, seriously. Have you seen the first nine minutes of that movie?

There you go: seven more entirely useless facts about me. Writing on writing resumes on Monday. In the meantime, I’ve got birthday junk food to finish.

*31. Officially in my thirties now. And it’s awesome.
**Normally I dislike the diminutive ‘girl’ as a suffix, but the character in this case is 17, so not legal age, so girl it is. Otherwise, I would have said I was drawing cat-women.
***Last year’s edition is here. I think this is going to be a tradition.
****Except Mozart. Fuck that guy.

Turn ‘Em Out: The EDC

One of my more recent internet curiosities is the EDC, or the Every Day Carry. Google it, you’ll find a ton of tumblrs and archives of people turning out the contents of their pockets on the internet. The EDC is, simply, the items that you carry with you every time you leave the house. If you’re a George Carlin fan, it’s the smallest possible version of your stuff.

I don’t know why I find it so fascinating. Maybe it’s the idea you get of a person based on the items they consider utterly necessary. Their survival kit. Or how it varies according to habits, hobbies, professions, and inclinations. Or maybe I just like going through other people’s pockets.

So, here’s my EDC*:

Image 2

1. Wallet. It’s just a wallet. Nothing special. Man’s wallet, though, because women’s ones tend to be covered in glitter or bulky ornamentation, which means I can’t get it in my damn pocket. Nothing really interesting in there: just cash, bank and credit cards, driver’s licence. Oh, and my S.H.I.E.L.D. Field Agent Access Card. You can’t see it. You don’t have the clearance.

2. Notebook. There have been a lot of incarnations of this. Most recent, and likely to stick around for a while, is the Moleskine Cahier Journal Plain, size large. They come in packs of three, which means I usually have a spare around. I never used to get the Moleskine thing, but then I started carrying one of these and got converted. The paper doesn’t bleed, the books are durable, and the size is perfect for throwing in a shoulder bag or tucking into my back pocket. Also: plain paper! Bloody hard to find in a small notebook, but important to me. My thoughts don’t always come out in words and even the ones that do are rarely linear.
The one shown above is almost finished, and it’s still in pretty good shape. Which, as anyone who has seen how I abuse my possessions will know, is impressive.

3. Glasses. Because, goddamnit, I still need them.

4. Reliable Pen. Emphasis on the reliable. I fucking hate when I’m out and about, working on something, trying to scribble fast enough to keep up with my brain, and the goddamn pen gives out. Or scratches, or skips, or whatever other fucking bullshit the God of Writing Implements decides to torment me with. You can keep your cheap ballpoints. Like the notebook, I’ll spend a little more on something I use every day.
And no pencils. Pencils are for drawing, not writing. And they smudge like a motherfucker.
Also, the pen must have black ink. Not blue. Black. Because reasons.
The above model is the Pilot disposable fountain pen, which I quite like, but I also use the Sharpie pens.

5. “Phone.” Really a pocket computer/music player/text message depot. I almost never use it for actual phone calls. This is an iPhone 4, couple of years old. Still works well, though I do notice the battery life starting to drop.
Also includes a voice recorder, which is useful for those times when my hand can’t keep up with my brain and I have to make auditory notes.

6. Keys and knife. The keys for opening doors, the knife in case anything weird was waiting on the other side.
A note: I recently stripped this down to just the essential keys: car and house. The third key is for a friend’s house that I’m checking on this summer, so that’s a temporary thing.
And the knife, while tiny, is quite sharp and has a number of other useful attachments. Like a bottle opener. Because if there’s one lesson I learned from dorm parties, it’s that an extra bottle opener never goes astray.

7. Saint medal. No, really. I’m not religious, but my mother is, and she gave it to me. It’s St. Jude, the patron saint of lost causes. Quite the sense of humour, my mother.
I’ve worn this for a number of years, so the copper is starting to show on the medal itself.

8. Wedding ring. Polished titanium. Incredibly light, incredibly comfortable, and (again, important for me) incredibly durable. It’s still picked up a couple of scratches, though.

And that’s it. That’s the kit for the wandering writer. It’s deliberately small. While I often carry a purse, I don’t like having to, so everything here can fit into pockets on on my person. Even the notebook tucks nicely into the back pocket of my jeans.

So, I showed you mine. Now what’s in your pockets?

*Unlabelled, because I couldn’t be arsed to open my photo editor this morning. If you can’t tell which item is which, you might have a problem.

Being Selfish: Finding Time To Write

Stress

At least I’m not as stressed as these guys. (Photo credit: topgold)

My time management has been shit lately. Part of it’s because of summer—more nice weather, more stuff to do outside, more rescheduling of other things in order to accommodate vacations and visits and the like. Everything from the gym to movie dates to blood donation times is getting moved around, shuffled into a new place like one of those sliding tile puzzles.*

And in all this reorganizing, guess what gets pushed off to the side?

Those of you who guessed ‘writing’, step forward and claim your prize: a narrow-eyed glare from yours truly.**

Despite the increase in daylight hours, there still doesn’t seem to be enough time in a single day to do everything I need to get done. How you people with kids do it, I have no fucking clue, but I salute you and wonder how you manage not to leave the little time-sinks on the side of the road somewhere. I feel like I need an extra couple of hours every cycle just to stay on top of things. Not much. Two extra hours, that’s all I ask. I need more time.

So, how do we do it? When life looms in all its overwhelming glory, a tidal wave of obligation and desire threatening to swamp you, how are we supposed to find more time to make things up?

Difficult question. But least the solution is simple, and like all simple solutions, fucking tricky to implement: you make the goddamned time.

Life will always get in the way. Always. It’s kind of what it does. The question is not how do you stop life from doing that, because that’s like trying to stop the tide, but how do you deal with it when it does?

So we make the time. We reorganize. We stay up late, we get up early. We steal handfuls of minutes from otherwise boring tasks—standing in line to pay parking tickets, sitting on a bus, waiting for supper to cook. We take back lost time.

And, yeah, sometimes that means being selfish. Taking a morning and locking yourself in your room or your office or your underground bunker with a ‘Do Not Fucking Disturb’ sign on the door. Saying, “Sorry, can’t go out tonight, I’m staying in to work on a project. Maybe next week?” Making the time by sacrificing something else. Not forever, but for now.

Because if you really want something, you’ll make the time. And if you find that you can’t, then maybe you should be questioning how much you want it in the first place.

*Which I always hated, for what it’s worth.
**Didn’t say it was a good prize.

The Undersides of Corneas and Other Observations

Fun with an Argon-ion and a He-Ne laser. Most ...

He tells me it didn’t look like this on his end, but I like to pretend. (Photo credit: Wikipedia)

So, that LASIK thing. It didn’t happen. Not for me, anyway. Turns out, according to the day-before check-up, that I’m at high risk for complications. I would have had a fifty-fifty shot of my eyes ending up worse than they are now. I won’t lie, I still thought about it—everyone secretly believes they can beat the odds, right?—but in the end, I didn’t go ahead with it.

However, the Husband, feeling guilty and knowing me, did sign a waiver that allowed me to watch a close up of his procedure on a monitor. So, although I was denied the opportunity to have my own eyes sliced open with a laser, I did watch the process happen to someone else.*

You don’t really know someone until you’ve seen their cornea folded back.

This is me all over: I have to look. No matter how weird and disturbing. I have to know what is so weird and disturbing about it. The more I think about it, the more I think it’s just part of my writer-artist brain. The nature of observation is built in, even if what you’re observing is really fucked up.

And, in some cases, it proves pretty useful. For example, I now know how the iris reacts when exposed to a laser. I don’t know when this is going to be of use to me, but I have a feeling it’s going to come up in some science fiction piece I write. Or maybe I’ll just start doing paintings of it. The Husband’s eyes looked like the northern lights under that laser, all bands of green and gold and blue.

The point: if you’re going to write, you have to observe. Not necessarily eye surgeries, though it might come in handy. But everything. Cloud formations. The patterns of supermarket check-out lines. The cadence of speech in your home town. The way a woman’s skirt stretches in the breeze like a bird’s wing. The ragged edges of skin on a scraped knee. You have to train yourself to see, and then to translate. That’s the path to fiction that’s seamless, immersing the reader in a moment.

See, and remake. Just try not to walk into traffic while you’re doing it.

*For the non-squeamish, it is pretty cool. Though the other patients did look at me like I was insane when I said I wanted to watch.

This Could Be My Origin Story

lasik 012

Loading superpowers. Please wait. (Photo credit: Jacob Davies)

So I’m getting LASIK.

Before going on, I should point out that ‘things happening to my eyes’ ranks second only to ‘enclosed spaces with no hope of escape’ in my personal Horror Hall of Fame and Screaming. I know Freud said such fears were castration metaphors*, but, one, I don’t have anything to castrate, and, two, does it really have to be a fear of anything other than having your eyes explode? That seems like enough to me.

And yet I am going to allow a stranger to cut open my eyes, shoot a laser into them, and then fold the cut-off piece back into place.**

And I’m going to pay for this. Though, after reading that description, I’m really trying to remember why.

Oh, right. Here are the reasons. I wrote them down in case I forgot.

1. Convenience. The more active I get—and I’ve gotten more active as I’ve gotten older, which is a nice surprise—the more glasses annoy me. I might as well strap clouds directly to my eyeballs when I’m running in the rain or the cold. And then there’s swimming, and hiking, and camping, and fencing, and a hundred other things. Not to mention that working on the computer with glasses is like watching a JJ Abrams movie: lens flare everywhere.
Before anyone suggests contacts, I’ve tried. Wearing contacts for me is like being stabbed in the eyes for twelve hours a day. So, one big stab is a fair trade.

2. Vanity. God damn it, I look better without glasses. I have very wide, very expressive eyes. A friend once remarked that, should I ever become a ninja***, the traditional mask would do nothing to disguise me. Anyone I was fighting would recognize me in a heartbeat. The conversation would go like this:
Opponent: Hey, I know you.
    Me: …No, you don’t.
    Opponent: Yeah, I do. You’re that writer chick. Steph something.
    Me: …No, I’m not.
    Opponent: You totally are. I recognized your eyes. Yeah, like the way they’re narrowing at me right now.
    Me: You brought this on yourself. *Bludgeons opponent to death with a toaster oven*
I’ll admit, I’m not sure how LASIK is going to help with this, but at least I won’t have to worry about finding a mask that allows for glasses.

3. Origin Story. It’s a giant laser, right? And there’s a lab and stuff. A routine procedure. A normal**** woman…

…I figure there’s, like, a one percent chance I’ll come out of this with superpowers. And with that possibility, I just have to know.

Don’t worry. If it works, you’ll know.

You’ll see it on the news.

*Of course, so was everything else.
**I watched a lot of videos on the procedure on the assumption that they would help with the gut-wrenching anxiety. I was wrong.
***Most of my friends assume that I’m going to someday need training to fulfill my goal of justice and/or world domination.
***Will you accept normal-ish?