Writing from the shore of Quiddity

Sorry for the long radio silence. To say that real life (vs. this dream of a life we share online) has had to take precedence the last few months is to sell it short. Too much of life lately has been in dealing with the very tangible, leaving little room for thoughts and musings idylically shared online.

For long time readers of this blog, and I know I must have alienated most of you but surely there are a handful left, I _am_ still writing. I think Ramsey Campbell expressed it best in Where Nightmares Come From, a smaller press book on writing with a lot of hidden gems.

I once waited to continue work on a story until I felt inspired, only to burden myself with writer’s block that lasted six months.

Ramsey Campbell, The Process of a Tale, pg 100

I don’t want to be overly dramatic about it, but real life aside, writer’s block has been a huge factor. I’ve been struggling with understanding where my voice as a writer lives. For too long, I think, I’ve been trying to affect a type of writing because it’s what I enjoy reading. But when I break it down, I don’t enjoy writing it. I have beside my desk the first draft of The Mermaid’s Tears. It’s a beast, it’s rough, and there’s a lot about it I loved writing. There’s also bits that stick in my craw.

A month or so ago, I started a new short story. I’ve stumbled a bit the last few weeks on finishing it, though I intend to buckle down and get it out this weekend because I already have starter notes for a few more stories I want to write. It’s a change in direction for my writing, or rather a reversal back to how I used to write before I got it in my head I had to be a great fantasy or science fiction author (I will be neither). I’m writing this one largely by hand, because by hand is how I first started writing before I had laptops and portable technology that made digitizing everything easy. But I can share the first few lines of the first draft:

     In a house by the Sea, there lived a boy. It wasn’t the boy’s house, but it was empty, and it was dry, and for a time, it was safe.
     The boy had nothing in this world but the clothes on his back and a grey metal box. The box had eight sides – the six you can see, and the two you forget. It was covered in carving of ornate vines, cut from the surface of the box.

All of that is likely to change, but it’s the seed that started a story, and that felt good to accomplish. I don’t know how many words I’ve written – my handwriting shifts from tight and neat to sprawling and messy and back again over the course of the pages, making a rough per page count hard. I’ll know it’s done when I finish writing it, I suppose. It’s a gothic, I think, or maybe not. I’ll find out when I get closer to the end. 

Hopefully, I’ll have more to share soon. Just don’t be alarmed by long silences

Do Not Adjust Your Browser

Like an episode of the Outer Limits, you might be tempted to adjust your browser, assuming there must be some mistake at the sudden appearance of material on this blog.

To say I have been dealing with a malaise of the mind and spirit is to oversimplify. I have, for the last few months, been completely burned out, especially when it comes to coalescing words into sentences, or even words in general. I haven’t written more than a word or two of fiction in months. Months. It pains me to no end to admit that. I get a perverse sense of satisfaction from writing fiction; it’s therapeutic, invigorating, and fun. But between the stresses of work and the real world, the last few months I just haven’t had the energy to spare to create fiction. Or, for that matter, to blog. Or even read. I set out this year with some simple goals, but somewhere along the way I got slowed down.

But, finally, the weather outside is changing. Today is a cool, drizzly day here in the Pacific Northwest, and the beast within my mind stirs to embrace it. Sure, it could be the boost in vitamin D I’ve started taking, but I suspect it’s equally a seasonal response. This is the weather I yearn for. This is the weather I most associate with reading books and writing fiction. This is the start of the Writing Season.

So gather close, friends. The most glorious season of the year approaches!

My tricks for more productive writing

Lately, I’ve started getting back into the mindset of wanting to push out higher word counts on a daily basis. There’s no secret to why – I’m working on a novel again (see front page sidebar for writing status on Chrysalis, which I update every few days. Chrysalis is intended to be the introductory novel for my character, Niki Hunter). The last few days especially, I’ve seen my word counts jump from a few hundred a day to a few k a day.

To be fair, the last few days I’ve also been off from work and without much in the way of commitments, unless you count going to the movies or taking the kids to Pokemon a hard pressing engagement. These are, however, the things that have worked for me.

  1. Tunes. Preferably something with a strong drum tempo and low word count. I prefer either Hans Zimmer (Man of Steel, Dark Knight, or the Sherlock Holmes soundtracks) or Bear McCreary (Battlestar Galactica reboot – I have them all). I find my fingers pounding in tune to the tempo, and I like that.
  2. Typing effect. Yeah, it’s arcane and stupid, but I’ve found that the sound of typing – especially when it corresponds to letters appearing on my screen – helps fuel my writing. The nice thing is that there are a lot of options here – you have FocusWriter, which can handle text and ODT files and has typewriter sounds built in. Or you can get something platform specific, like NoisyTyper on the Mac, that turns every keystroke into a typewriter sound.
  3. Actively counting words. I’ve loved Jamie Rubin’s scripts for word counting and spreadsheet updating without muss or fuss. Every time I change toolsets and workflows, I write helper scripts to keep the spreadsheets updated. The problem I’ve had lately, in addition to finally finding a tool that doesn’t meld well, is that the same thing that makes these scripts great – the lack of human intervention – also makes them less than ideal for mental tallies. Instead, I’ve gone back to an old spreadsheet format I used to use, which let’s me record daily writing updates on the novel and returns how many words I’ve written. This is not for everyone, or probably even for most, but for me the manual process of updating my word count serves the function of  reminding me how much I’ve done and how much more I might need to do. Programs like Scrivener or Storyist, if that’s your thing, can do this for you automagically. In my quest to be more platform agnostic, I’ve been working in LibreOffice lately, making for some more manual efforts.
  4. #1k1hr – this twitter hashtag, when used, has helped me produce more words than I ever thought possible. The notion is simple. Announce or search on twitter, and then with or without others, start writing for exactly 60 minutes. I don’t know if it’s the time constraint or what, but I’ve had great success with this. There is no winning or losing, but the focusing for an hour on just the one thing – writing – can be exactly what you need sometimes.

These are the tricks that seem to help me. Of course, nothing beats just sitting ass in chair and writing. I hate using the expression, but these are like productivity hacks that work for me. Give a few a try. Worse case, you can leave me a comment somewhere telling me how awful it turned out and then my secret plan to figure out who my readers are will have begun to hatch.