Health Aids That Live At Your Desk, Because So Do You.

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Home sweet home.

Bonus: none of these are location dependent. Work in a coffee shop? You can do this! Standing desk? Sure, you hipster douchebag!* Hunched up on your bed with your laptop? All this shit fits on a nightstand, next to the lube and that serious book you want your one-night-stands to think you’re reading.

Tennis Ball. Use it for self-massage, releasing whatever that shoot pain in your hip is, rolling your probably overworked forearms and hands on, and throwing at people. Really, for a couple of bucks a can, you can’t get a better multi-tasker. Plus, apparently there’s a game you can play with them or something?

Water. Not coffee. I’m sorry, coffee, you know I love you, but you are not a replacement for water. Bonus: drinking more water makes you retain less water, so you feel less like a bloated sack of crap when you leave your desk to go be human among the humans for a while.

Fitness Tracker. Entirely unnecessary, but it does add a certain “futuristic cyborg” element to the day. Mine reminds me to move occasionally, presumably because it thinks I’ve died. My selection process boiled down to “this one looks the least like shit, so I’ll probably actually wear it.”

Eye Drops. Working at a computer leaves me with eyeballs that feel like marbles covered in sandpaper and then dipped in hot sauce. Get some drops so you can stop peering at people like you were just accidentally awoken from cryo-sleep.

Stretches. We’re all going to be hunchy gargoyles before too much longer. Stand tall above your peers and stave off vulture neck by occasionally doing some stretches and exercises.

*I did the standing desk for a while. I liked it, but found that it only worked for certain types of work. First draft writing was great, editing not so much.

The Totally Objective Ranking Of Things To Eat At Your Desk

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FunDip is not included in the ratings because it’s not food. It is awesome, though.

1. Fresh Fruit. “Nature’s candy”, as natural food enthusiasts will tell you when you ask, and even if you don’t. Pros: Infinite variety, tastes good, pretty colours, actually fucking good for you. Cons: sticky juice hands, obnoxious crunching, equally obnoxious sense of superiority to those inhaling Cheetos around you.

Rating: 3/5 Hungry Rats

2. Vending Machine “Cookie”. This isn’t a real cookie. Real cookies don’t hang out in a metal box waiting for your willpower to drop at 3 pm. At best, it’s sugar glued together with vegetable oil and boiled hooves. At worst, it’s already home to a cockroach which you will discover only when it’s half a cockroach. Pros: Sugary, quick energy, can be dipped in coffee, comfort food if your idea of comfort is being kicked in the lower intestine twenty minutes from now. Cons: expensive, tastes like regret and cardboard.

Rating: 1/5 Hungry Rats

3. Trail Mix. Suitable even if the closest you’ve ever been to hiking is that time you got an allergic reaction watching Naked and Afraid. Sweet, salty, both…there’s a mix for everyone. Or you can just throw a bunch of chocolate chips and almonds in a bowl and go to town. Pros: Tasty as fuck, customizable, probably not deep fried. Cons:People with allergies will stab you in the neck; also, everyone’s got that friend who picks out the stuff they like and leaves everything else, which clearly violates the social contract.

Rating: 4/5 Hungry Rats

4. Chips. Like cocaine to us salt addicts. Pros: Available fucking everywhere*, cool regional varieties, enough salt to de-ice a road. Cons: Salt bloat, that asshole who “just wants one” and then takes a handful.

Rating: 4/5 Hungry Rats, minus 1 for having to go up a belt notch.

5. Coffee. As a starving student I learned the age-old truth: with enough cream and sugar, this can be a meal. These days I drink it black because I lost my taste for sweets. Plus I’m lactose intolerant and soy milk is a crime against nature.** Pros: Keeps you awake, cool mugs, your only friend on lonely nights when your face is lit by the neon glow of your laptop screen and you can pretend you’re in a noir movie. Cons: NONE DON’T YOU DARE SAY ANYTHING BAD ABOUT MY BELOVED I WILL FUCKING CUT YOU.

Rating: 11/5 Hungry Rats SHUT UP.

*Except the graduate pub of my old university, which banned unhealthy snacks but still served beer. I dunno, man, my eight pint while I drank away my thesis stress just didn’t go down right with celery sticks.

**Soy milk tastes like drinking smugness and dishwater.

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.

10 Things To Make Your Workspace Less Of A Soul-Sucking Shithole So You’ll Actually Get Some Work Done

1. A scribble pad. For all those ideas that need a place to live.

2. Something you enjoy writing with. I got my first fountain pen last year, and I heart it so hard. Here she is.

Lamy 2000

Matte black and very sharp, so I’m, like, 90% sure this is a spy pen.

Aside from being beautiful and a genuine pleasure to hold, I’ve found that it actually helped my hand pain. Less pressure to write = less pain for me. And for someone who always does their best thinking in a for-real notebook, that’s a big deal.

3. Something nice to look at. A window. Some good pictures. I have a framed blueprint of the arc reactor from Iron Man. See?

Arc Reactor

A surprising number of people have thought this was a blueprint of a real thing.

Oh, and some pictures of people or something. I don’t know who those people are. I’m definitely not married to one of them.

4. Toys.

Winchesters vs nightmare moon.jpg

There are weirder episodes of Supernatural than this.

Dean: What the hell, Sammy?

Sam: I don’t know!

Nightmare Moon: EVERYPONY SHALL BOW TO ME.

Dean: Screw this, let’s just kill it.

5. Motivational Poster.

Whatever Bitch.jpg

Cross stitch by Kat Nicholson.

Or cross stitch. As the case may be.

6. Headphones. Very necessary equipment. Whether I’m listening to heavy metal, Taylor Swift, or stereoscopic thunderstorms, I don’t want to be able to hear my neighbour’s reciprocating saw while I’m working. Or his kids. They’re both loud.

7. Stress Relievers.

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These are foam and silicone, FYI. Real brass knuckles are still stress-relieving, but also come with jail time.

A d20 because I’m a nerd. Brass knuckles because I’m a nerd who can kick your ass.

8. Breath Freshener. No one likes your six-cups-of-coffee-and-two-cigarettes breath, man. No one. Not even the cat, and he licks his own butthole.

9. Places for all your shit. Corral that crap lest your desk disappear beneath a thousand thousand pen caps and paper clips.

10. You.

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S’up.

If you avoid it, it’s not a workspace; it’s just a place you store crap you don’t use. And that’s what the pit in the basement is for.

Set It All On Fire, Child: Editing

Set It All On Fire

I found this on my phone, and I have no idea why I saved it, but I’m glad I did.

I’m picking my way through my manuscript right now, piece by excruciating piece. And, as that last sentence might tell you, it’s not fun. Few things in writing are less fun than looking through your own stuff for every fucking thing that’s wrong with it. Unless, you know, you don’t think there’s anything wrong with it. In that case, one, yes there is, and two, you’re in for a rude awakening when you ask for feedback, cupcake.

Anyway.

Sometimes the only way to get through this crap is to set goals. Make a chart. Figure out how much you need to get done in order to reach the end, and then divide that by the number of working days. I can only edit for a max of about two hours in one go before my brain melts out of my ears, so 110,000 words at two hours a day is…

A long time.

Well, not that long.

Other things probably take longer.

Like building a house. Or learning a second language. Conquering Australia.*

But, still, in writer terms, this is taking a while.

And it should. Finishing it too fast would mean I rushed through it, which means there’s still problems I didn’t find.

This way, a piece at a time, I can get…well, not all of them. But most of them. Plot holes are like ants, or the mystery pens: I don’t know where they come from, but if I see one, guaranteed there are a thousand more of the fuckers hiding nearby.

My job, on this second edit, is to expose their places, mark the locations, and come back later with fire and poison. Editing as I go leaves me with a tangled mess, as the plot holes scurry back into their nests because I’m too busy remembering what I changed here to find what I should change there. I need to take my time and get this right, or at least as right as I can.

So, when you’re tearing through your story, making it up for editing, remember: go only as fast as you can and still do a good fucking job. Otherwise it’s more work later, and one more chance that you’ll either fuck it up or get frustrated and give up.

Edit first; fire later. Say it to yourself.

I’m almost to the fire. So close.

But not yet. First…first I’ve got a lot more of these days to get through.

* I kid, Australia. We’re cool.

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.

The 25 Moments You’ll Have After Finishing Your Manuscript

Crown Royal Northern Harvest

I got your stiff drink right here, hur hur hur. 

1. The Afterglow. Wow. That was…wow. Hand me a cigarette, would you? And that bottle of whiskey.

2. The Replay. Did you see how I wrapped up that nagging plot thread at the end? And that climactic scene…that was amazing. I’m amazing.

3. The Exit. Well, this was fun, but it’s time send it to beta readers. Not that they’re going to find anything to comment on, right?

4. The Send Off. Enjoy, beta readers! You’re in for a treat.

5. The Next Thing. I should start a new project.

6. The Worry. It’s been 24 hours. Why haven’t the betas gotten back to me? Didn’t they stay up all night, red-eyed and weeping, unable to put my book down? What’s wrong with them?

7. The Reassurance. They’re probably just taking their time to enjoy it. Yeah. Yeah.

8. The Temptation. I should call them.

9. The Resistance. No. Be strong. You’re not that needy.

10. The Questioning. Are you?

11. The Distraction. Come on, man. Get it together. They’re a busy person. They’re probably not spending all their time reading your book. They have to…work, or sleep, or some shit. Just write this short story until they get back to you. That’ll keep you busy.

12. The Failure. I hate this short story.

13. The Dark Turn. I bet the betas hate my book.

14. The Darker Turn. I hate my book.

15. The Peek. It can’t be as bad as I remember. I’ll just read some of it over…

16. The Reveal. Huh. Didn’t remember that dropped subplot. Or that vanishing character. Or that name switch.

17. The Hope. Maybe they won’t notice.

18. The Truth. They’ll notice.

19. The Horror. Fuck me, another plot hole? And where did that guy come from? What happened to that guy’s head? How many problems are there in this thing? How did I not notice them before? Was I fucking blind?

20. The Scramble. Maybe…maybe the betas haven’t started yet. Yeah. Sure. They’re busy people. Maybe I can fix all this before they read it and email them another version. A better version. Yeah. That’ll work. Then they never need to know how I–

21. The Notification. Was that my email alert?

22. The Return. Shit.

23. The Resignation. Well, as long as they sent it back, I might as well see how bad it is. They must have hated it. It’s got so many problems. Maybe the comments they left will make it easier to give up writing and become a wandering kung-fu master.

24. The Comments. Wow…this…this isn’t as bad as I thought. I mean, yeah, there’s issues, but…they liked it. Mostly. Except for these bits…and I didn’t like those, either, so…

25. The Rewrite. I can fix all of this! Crank up the atomic turbines and brew the coffee! I’m going back in!

Dominos Falling: When The Story Takes Over

Only one way to go from here.

When writing a novel, there comes a time when things become…inevitable.

Not in the boring sense. But eventually you’ve done all the work setting up those dominos in intricate patterns all over the floor, and the only thing left to do is knock them all down.

Also like dominos, this tend to happen fast. So fast that writing is like trying to stay ahead of an avalanche: move fast, step light, and for god’s sake don’t stop.

I have reached this point.

This is where the pace picks up. 1500 word days suddenly turn to 3000 word days. Or 5000. Or more. And all I want to do is keep writing until the inkwell runs dry.

So that’s what I’m going to do. As of now, the blog is on hiatus until this novel is finished. Time to stock up on coffee, crank the tunes, and hold on for dear life.

See you on the other side.

Maps and Railroads: How Much To Plan When Writing

Picturesque, but not for me.

I’m a planner. This has been well established. It’s how I write shit. I don’t plan, nothing gets done. Or, it gets done, but badly. Either way, not a win.

But a common question I get is: how much planning is too much?

Well, the answer depends on the writer. Some like the vaguest idea of where they have to go next; others like every turn planned out.

How do you figure out which way is yours? Simple: plan until you know what you have to do, but stop before it hampers your creativity.

I plan until I don’t have to think about what I’m going to write the following day. I turn up at the desk, open my documents, and, hey, here we are. Next thing I have to write is that scene with the lockpicks and the peanut butter and the bag of medical-grade cocaine. So I dump the characters in that situation and see what they come up with. I know, generally, where it has to go, but I’m not sure how to get there. That’s what the daily creativity is for. I need a map, but not a railroad. I’ll get there when I get there.

Your mileage may vary, of course. You might find that planning every twist and turn is perfect for you; all you need to do during writing time is show up and follow along. I’ve found that very busy people who find it hard to carve out actual in-front-of-the-computer time fall into this category. They can plan in their heads or a notebook or a smartphone, and then get it all out once they get time to do the writing.

Others might find that they like driving in the fog: they only need to see as far as the next turn. Any more than that and they think: what’s the point? I already know what happens, so why bother to write it?

So, how about you? What’s your method? How much do you plan out ahead of time, and how much is on the fly? And how well does that work for you?

The Beginning of The End: Second-Stage Outlining

Novel building and rocket launching: both end in explosions.

Those of you who follow me on Twitter* may have noticed, interspersed with the power ballad lyrics and coffee adventures, that I was outlining again last week. Not a new project; just fine-tuning some of the details for the end of the current project.

You see, I have passed the halfway point on this novel, which means it’s time to start planning for the end.

I set a goal to have the manuscript done by July 1st. That gives me just a scooch over two months to type The End and mean it. Do-able, certainly. But not without a plan.

I knew, roughly, where I had to go when I started, but then I had to go back, look at all the threads I’d developed, and figure out where to tie them off. It’s time to start resolving things. But what, and in what order, and how…I had only the roughest idea when I started.

Time to plan it out now.

The result of that second-stage outline is that I now have a solid plan for the rest of the book and I can estimate how many more words it will take to get us there. I usually tack on an extra 10,000 words to that estimate, because sometimes things come up in the end that I get all excited about and it takes longer to get through them than I think. Divide that by the number of weeks I have left, and the number of days I usually write out of those weeks**, and I arrive at a daily word count that I need to hit to make that goal.

It’s about 2000 words a day. Which is well within my ability.

Having a plan of attack for the second stage of novel writing serves two purposes. One, there is far less wondering what the fuck do I write today when I get to the computer in the morning. The longer I spend thinking about that, the less I get done, and the further behind I get. Which, if I want to hit my deadline, is another source of worry.

And two, it gives me time to plan a kick-ass party for when I finish. I’m thinking BBQ. Because summer should be here by then. Maybe.

Does anyone else do this? Who out there does second-stage outlining? Or do you know how everything goes when you start? Or, hell, do you just wing it? TELL ME YOUR SECRETS.

*Your poor bastards.

**Usually five out of seven, for what it’s worth. I take Saturdays off and Sundays are for minor edits and planning out the rest of the week.