I used to write.

I used to write. Now I just complain about my lack of writing and give feeble attempts at guilting myself into writing.

I think it all went downhill when I self-published my last novel, Chrysalis. I’d been looking forward to releasing it for a while. It was polished, it was the start of a series I’ve wanted to write for a long time, and I was finally going to get to share it. My first foray had had a little success, so with this one I had hopes for. I made newsletters, an author page, I even advertised. I thought I had everything lined up.

It bombed. Worse than bad reviews, it received almost no reviews. I think I can name every person that read it. While I am generally a go lucky, well adjusted and happy guy, I felt a writer’s fugue encroaching. Efforts to work on the sequel floundered. Writing in general began to lapse. I tried to motivate myself, but I couldn’t find the words. I blamed equipment (maybe it’s the software; maybe it’s the type of hardware; this interface doesn’t empower my words), the seasons (despite evidence to the contrary, I feel more productive in the colder months), and the stress of the day job (I got promoted! I’m hiring! I’m a 2 man shop at the moment!), I failed to see the obvious: I was in a writing depression.

Past me never let the real world slow me down. I’ve written in commuter vans at 5 in the morning and on scraps of paper between tasks at work. I’ve given up mornings and/or evenings to be able to get in those needed words of the day. Blaming anything – even the valid – is just masking what was really going on. Although by no means a true depression, I am (as they say) “down in the dumps” when it comes to writing. I’m burned out. For the last month or two, I’ve largely withdrawn from social media. It’s a lot of extra static in my day that, although interesting, sometimes even vaguely informative, doesn’t really add any value. I find I just don’t miss it. Most of the updates I get aren’t personal (not all, but most). I check in on twitter occasionally, mostly because the format lends itself to dipping in every now and then without feeling compelled to catch up on day’s worth of posts. Facebook? Not so much (I check for messages every few days, but avoid most of the timeline at this point). I’m not even following my favorite blogs any more, though based on what I see in Feedly, they aren’t publishing too much either.

So, what have I been doing with my time? At first, I played video games to fill the void. I highly recommend The Last Guardian, by the way, if for no other reason than it’s like playing an interactive Studio Ghibli movie. Then I played and beat Mass Effect: Andromeda. A little too easy in parts, a little predictable, but I enjoyed it. Then there’s the reading – I’ve read 13+ books in just over a month now. I’d like to think my brain is saturated with the primordial ooze of story at this point. I don’t know if that’s fair, maybe that’s just putting more pressure on that weary organ, but surely something is brewing in there.

My hiatus from blogging isn’t over, though. Instead, I’d like to provide fewer but more informative posts. We’ll see how that goes. But for the few of you wondering what was going on in the world of Mike, there you go. Feel free to drop me a line, but it’s time for me to get back behind the screens and see if I can put some words together.

The Week That Was, August 6 Edition #7storychallenge

It wasn’t a particularly exciting week, but I did finish a few things.

Read two books this week (TWO?!?). You can thank the amazing Multnomah County’s public library for that, in particular the amazing array of books they have available in Overdrive (service that lets you checkout books on your e-reader). I won’t give the titles here, because to be honest I was disappointed with both. Each had interesting story ideas, were parts of series – and were plagued by horrific prose. I know my writing must be shite, because I have the lack of sales to back that up. These were bad.

I pulled a story from submission this week, mostly because I realized the “publication” was dead. So, that one went back out, because that’s what we do. But riding high on that tide, I also finished a new(!) short story and sent it out this week. I don’t hold high hopes that it will succeed at the professional market I started at, but go big or go home.

That got me  toying with an ambitious idea. A challenge, if you will. There are 21 weeks (and 1 day) left in the year. In a perfect world, I’d love to say I can do a story a week.

Yeah, I knew that was insane the second I thought it. But...I bet I could do seven new stories, out the door, between now and the end of the year. Let’s face it – some weeks are going to be crap. Work, sick, life, and work will combine efforts to bring that down. (Yes, work was listed twice. Those who understand are just nodding along.  But then, some weeks aren’t going to be so bad.) Some weeks, though, I should be able to crank out two stories.

I’m not challenging myself to write a certain number of words. Word challenges ultimately fail for me. Maybe it’s because at the end of the day there’s nothing to point at but more words. But finishing stories? Those give a sense of accomplishment, a sense of completion.

So here it is:  I’m challenging myself to write 7 new short stories and send them out before the end of the year.  That’s seven, never seen by slush readers before, stories.

I won’t even count the one I sent out this week. But with 21 weeks, seven is the perfect number in my head. Three weeks to work on a story should be completely achievable. And then you get to cap it by sending it out.

I’ll even add this gauntlet – a challenge to my fellow writers. Join me. Embrace the dark side. Remember, a short story is anywhere from 500 to 17,000 words depending on your market.  Ping me on twitter (@kodermike) or use the hashtag #7storychallenge, but join the fun. Mock me when I fail. Celebrate with me when we finish.

Who’s up for the challenge?

Breaking the Writing Cycle

It’s been a strange and long trip lately with regards to my writing. As anyone who doesn’t solely make a living writing – and that’s most of us, no matter how successful we are (or not) – it’s hard to find the time and energy after a long day of the real world. Like Harry Chapin said in Cat’s Cradle,

…my new job’s a hassle, and the kid’s got the flu
But it’s sure nice talking to you…

In other words, the day to day can be overwhelming at times (even if none of the kids have the flu). And writing? It slips. It falters. It loses it’s magic after 12 hours of work and trying to make time for the kids and spouse and everything else in the adulting world.

And yet, plenty of people do it, and far more successfully than I. Feeling too exhausted to write, when I do get those few free minutes, and I’m not prattling about on this blog, I end up spending them on trying to improve the process. “Surely,” I tell myself, “the problem with my writing is that I’m not using the write tool, or the right tracking, or the right environment.” And then I tail spin in a random direction, neatly avoiding ever coming close to writing or, more importantly, completion.

At some point, this cycle becomes less about writing and more about inventing the perfect setting for the craft, and the art of writing itself loses both its joy and its appeal.

Time to fix that, no?

Now, ever since reading Douglas Smith’s Playing the Short Game, I’ve tried to adhere to the philosophy Doug espoused: put that short story out there, and keep putting it out there until it sells. I’ve had to veer a fraction – he advocates only selling to the best and never accepting less than professional rates, which is truly an admirable goal. But when all the professional paying venues have turned you down, you start sending it to the less than professional venues. The fact is, though, that the stories I’m sending out now are the same ones I sent out two years ago, because I haven’t written a new short story since leaving Virginia.

Time to end that cycle, too.

This week, I realized with no small bit of sadness that I have made more and been more successful with my short stories than with the two novels I published combined. Don’t get me wrong, I love the longer format, I enjoy being able to write the longer pieces, but they don’t seem to do as well as my shorter pieces. That doesn’t mean I plan on stopping writing novels, but I do want to spread my writing out a bit again.

When I’m fully engaged in writing – when the story is in my blood, when you can see it in the air as I exhale – I can crank stories out like mad. I want that back. The way to getting that back is not to be worrying about scripts that monitor and report my word output. It isn’t by coming up with the best suite of tools and piecing them together like a classic watchmaker.

It’s by writing.

To that end, I find myself rereading this repost from Dean Wesley Smith on his blog. This isn’t the first time I’ve read this article – I even have a copy saved in Pocket – but every time I read it I find it helps rekindle that flame just a bit. I don’t know if I’m as brave as Smith wants us to be. I don’t know if I have what it takes to trust the Heinlein rule of never self edit. But even if I can incorporate a little bit of what he suggests, so long as it is enough to help me break my self-made walls and have fun again, then that’s enough for me.

I don’t think that’s going to change the frequency of my blog updates, unfortunately, though next week there’s a small chance of a flurry of posts while I’m in San Francisco for work. But who can tell. But I do hope to share more writing updates, more frequently, as the summer ends and autumn approaches.