Project Resurrwrite!

So what have I been doing? Writing! Very slowly… But slow is better than no.

My brain feels rehabbed, my writing is getting stronger again. I no longer look at my old stories and feel like that kind of writing is impossible. But I’m a different person now. Less dark, less brooding. And that is reflected in my writing. And that’s fine.

my habit was DEAD ASLEEP

But I had a problem- my writing habit was dead asleep. I could do a week in a row, but then I would always miss a day, and some days 250 words seemed outright impossible. Eventually I kept giving up.

So right now I’m focusing on rebuilding the never-miss-a-day rhythm I used to have. How? By avoiding procrastination. How, you ask again? (Because avoiding procrastination is everyone’s problem.)

I avoid procrastination by removing all the road blocks. I have a super-easy goal of one new sentence every day. Even if I’m sick or crazy with work, I can still hit it, but usually I blow it out of the water.  Almost never do I feel resistance for this habit, and even when I do, I tell myself — remember, one sentence and you can bail.

But you know something? Other than two days where I was terribly ill, I’ve never done just the minimum. I always do more, and sometimes way more. Sometimes a thousand or two thousand words.

I’m 15 days in with no misses, and it seems pretty do-able to keep going for a year like this.  That’s my real goal. Resurrect the writing habit. Make writing and the  tiny sub-habits surrounding writing automatic.

Instead of making glorious, insane goals, and then having me and my sun chariot careen drunkenly into Mount Olympus, I’ll just keep plugging away and see how it all works out. One step at a time.

No magic here. No super secrets. Just slow, consistent grind.

Lost in the mist, returning to the light

For the last year, since I nearly died from a rare complication after a routine surgery, I have felt crushed down — a lesser version of the person I was before.

I still completed a novel. I still bent my brain to learning languages and Go and story structure and poetry and music composition and piano. But memory was slipping away from me. Only bits and pieces would stay. One day I would feel like I was the old me again, the next I would be a shattered mirror with the biggest and most important pieces lost in fog.

I wondered if this was it,if I had gone as far as I could go; if this wall in front of me was unclimbable for my every-day-older-and-weaker hands. I am not young anymore, in my body, but I am still young inside. Reaching. Striving. But my grasp was so short, so weak, I felt like every time I tried to climb up I slid back down farther.

But now I see the hope. I ate better, began exercising again, and began researching supplements. I researched anti-aging supplement and supplements to clear up mental fog and fight Alzheimer’s/Parkinson’s. I read all the scientific studies I could find on Google Scholar, made grids and tables, dug deep, or at as deep as I could for a brainfogged man.

Just three months ago, I began taking some supplements (50 mg pterostilbene, 100mg 7-keto-DHEA, and 120 mg Niagen, all once every day; 300 mg Citicoline and 10 mg Noopept a few days a week when I really need to be sharp). All of these are available over the counter.

My eating is still far from perfect and my exercise could use work too. But there’s a big gap between PERFECT and GOOD ENOUGH, and I seem to be at Good Enough.

The results? Great. Essentially, my brain and body are working again. Better than they have in a looooong time. The supplements, the exercise, and the eating all stack with each other and reinforce the results.

My body moves faster when I sword fight. I have more endurance, and I can do much more before I am injured, and my injuries heal faster. Not like wolverine or anything. But I’ve been fighting crazy hard every week for 6 weeks and I am am still going. In one battle, I defeated all 12 opponents on the other team after my own team had been destroyed. It has become common for me to steamroll 3-5 people of low skill with few problems.

I’m entertaining to talk to again; witty. Remembering random trivia is easy now instead of like slamming my head into a wall.  My Go and languages are easier to learn (still difficult but easier). Even my writing is getting easier, faster, better. The clouds come less often and are almost always a result of simple sleep-deprivation. (Side note: when I hit exhaustion on this stack you are well and truly exhausted and will want to lay down and go to sleep no matter what time of day it is.)

I don’t know how long the stack will work, or if my body will eventually adapt to it so that the benefits disappear. But I am happy with it for now.

I am turning back into me again.

Note: I found this stack out of desperation, and I don’t recommend it for anyone except myself. Every brain and body are different, and everybody reacts differently to supplements. Please do not take a supplement stack without consulting your doctor and doing all the research for yourself; it can be very dangerous. Never take a stack with SSRIs or MAOIs or other strong medications. There are all sorts of possible complications from drug interactions, including fatal ones. In addition, I want to be clear on this: No one under the age of 25 should take Noopept. The brain is not done developing until 25, and there are no studies on what Nootropic substances might do to a developing brain.

Go / Weiqi / Baduk

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So as an escape from the mundane (and a vent for stress), I started studying Go (a.k.a., Weiqi in Mandarin, Baduk in Korean). It’s the oldest board game we know of that is still played today, with boards and pieces dating from 2,000 years ago.

We call it Go because that’s what the Japanese call it, and they introduced it to the west.

If you are after a challenging, infinite game that has no luck to it, this is your game. It FAR easier to learn than chess — almost as easy as checkers — but the strategy is much deeper.

Only this last year did a computer finally manage to beat a top human player in Go. (They started beating Chess Grandmasters in the 70’s).  According to one article, there are more legal board positions in the game then there are atoms in the universe. This has made Go the holy grail of AI research, because if you can make an AI that can learn to master Go, it can — by definition — master anything easier than Go.

All hail our new AI overlords, AlphaGo and (soon) Zen. May they be kind and gracious tyrants. 😉

The Hallelujah! Booth

So… How am I increasing my productivity? Well, there are several techniques I’m using, but here’s a really simple one to implement…

The Hallelujah! Booth

I get this idea from Joseph Campbell (author of The Hero with a Thousand Faces, and the source of most commercial fiction/movies plot structure as we know it. His idea is that you  a “Sacred Space” and a “Sacred Time” will nurture your creativity.

This is the space you have that is dedicated to you and your creativity. You go here to create and to do. In my experience, this is perhaps the easiest way to start making time for your writing habit, and teaches your brain that there is a time of day to be creative. That said, you don’t HAVE to have one. Jay Lake, one of the most productive writers I ever met, wrote anywhere anytime.

But I do have one.

So what’s my sacred space/time? It’s a specific booth at Chick Fil A that I show up to before work. I put in a solid hour of writing, and sometimes, if i get there early, a little more. The weakness of this is that 1) Weekends as a whole are difficult, since I don’t go to work those days, and 2) Sundays are really hard, since Chick-Fil-A is closed. But I’m learning to work around that. Slowly.

Whether yours is midnight in your closet or mid-day in your car in the parking lot of an Office Max, defining a sacred space and time will get your habit rolling.

Writing lots of words!

So, I mentioned recently that I’ve been researching productivity and how to speed up my writing. Well, it’s been going pretty well. Actually, I’m lying.

I’m bouncing with joy at the results!

–Lies, Damned Lies, and Statistics–

Here are my results. As always, statistics should be taken with a grain of salt:

  • 51,780 Total Words for the entire month of January, 2016
  • Writing
    • 26,747 new words
      • all before Jan 16, when rough draft was complete
    •  2578.2 average WPH (words per hour)
  • Editing
    •  22,276 words edited
    •  869.7 average WPH

The remaining words fall into a misclellaneous bucket of brainstorming, plot noodling, etc.

–How Many I Keep–

I keep getting this weird question, over and over: “But how many do you keep?”

This is a weird question, that seems to assume that more productivity is worse productivity. I’ve actually seen a reverse trend. I’m getting out lots of words, and while they might not be perfect, I have, out of 17 scenes written with the process, only tossed half of one in the garbage.

…And that was a really complicated fight scene.

…And what I threw away gave me a much firmer grip on what needed to happen and what order.

So no real words lost. Instead, mostly, I end up expanding the words.

–Some Cold Water–

This is nothing compared to some authors, who get 10k words per day on a consistent, repeatable basis. I can only dream of getting there.

I’m currently at about 3-4k per day for new words, and 700-1.9k for edits.

That said, I’m doing pretty well, a lot better than any time I’ve had before. It’s massively more productive than the 0 words a day I had been getting, that’s for sure!

And, fingers (and toeses and noses) crossed that I’ll get better! Especially on my editing speed!

Feet back on the ground

It’s been a tough few years. My grandfather died, followed by my wife’s grandfather, and then my mom. Grieving while sorting through complex reams of estate paperwork, overwhelmed by my mom’s thousands of collectibles filling up every corner of the house.

Then the house burned down, and we lost everything of both ours and my mom’s, and we were living in an apartment again on month-to-month lease fighting with the builders who couldn’t seem to figure out to make a house even pass a code inspection.

This year I had a minor surgery followed by a major complication, and I was in serious danger of dying or having massive brain damage (none of which came to pass, knock on wood-grained polymer composite). To top that off, I fell down a flight of wooden stairs over Christmas, breaking a 1.5″ thick piece of pressure treated lumber with my spine.

Thankfully over the last month things have slowed down enough that I can write for an hour a day, and that’s awesome. My feet are back on the ground. Literally. Take it from me, this is a lot better than having them up in the air, past your head, as you plummet ten feet down.

But now I am obsessed with writing productivity. Part of me is absolutely sure that I have lost three years of prime creative time, and I have to catch up some how. So I’ve been researching. Testing out theories. And last month I reached 54k words and finished the rough draft of a new 100+k book I’ve been working on since last August.

This pretty awesome, but I have a long way to go. A lot of successful selfpubbers produce 30-45k per week, which is about 4x what I’m at. Maybe I don’t need to keep up with them, but I feel the pressure to try.

Still, I’m proud. This is a big first step in the right direction. I’ve got tons of ideas I want to write, and now I’m not scared to invest the time in some of the stranger ones.

Let the novels fall like dominos!

New Writing Exercise: TV Episode Breakdown

This is a fairly common exercise, but if you haven’t run into it before, here you go:

1) Pick a TV Show you like, or at least that you are interested in learning about
2) Play an episode in a medium where you can pause it
3) take notes on the high level what-happens and the emotions that occur; if there are commercial breaks, mark these, as they are often act breaks.
4) When the show is done, go back through your notes and see if you can identify patterns, structure, and what was good about the episode

Be warned, this can be very enlightening. Too much so.

I did this to an episode of Bleach once, and now all the combat-escalation based Anime are easy to predict.

Robert Johnson, the Rock and Roll Faust

If you haven’t heard about the blues legend Robert Johnson — who supposedly sold his soul to the devil to master music, and who sang about walking with the devil, being chased by hell hounds, and making a deal with the devil at the crossroads, and who supposedly died at age 26 howling and barking like a mad dog at the moon — then you have now. To say his impact on rock and roll was astronomical would be to put it too weakly.

robertjohnson

Robert Johnson has often been held up as one of the most amazing musicians ever by many rock and roll legends, however a lot of his songs sound very high-pitched, eerie, and can be offputting to new listeners. This is because they were recorded slightly too fast on the record machine, probably to cram more songs on the record and save money.

Well, now someone has at last gone in and slowed them back down again, and man, I like them better this way. I could listen to them all day. As an added bonus, you can now hear the influence of Son House on his singing, hear the emotion and humor in his voice, and his songs also feel like a natural extension of the Mississippi Delta Blues.

Listen to them here:

 

(Bowie )

You! Set your dainty cup of grease down,
and be like the you you remember, like the man just-dead.
Days cry for him.
He’s gone, all of his time piled up, unsmelted ore behind the Now,
and I will set this down with drills in stone in the Met:
“There are wonders at the door,
Be seeing ya.”

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Back in the House; back to writing

The House

We are back in our house at last, recovering from the house fire. Everything is new and shiny and uncluttered and just about perfect. For the first time in my life I am not surrounded by books in every room, and it’s surreal and unsettling like I’m surrounded by a vacuum and might be pulled in at any moment.

But the lack of visual clutter and massive to-read piles that I will never actually read: that is relaxing too. Honestly, it’s a relief to be free of all the mess, and of most of the books too. Many I miss, don’t get me wrong; they are treasures beyond compare. But the vast majority were simply self-imposed duties I could not fulfill, weighting down my artistic conscience.

Really, I like the new place. It’s much better than the old place. Minimalistic, with only what we need.

We even have a new fake Christmas tree, and the needles aren’t even melted 😉

Writing

After two years of successive tragedies (the death of my mother, my grandfather, and my wife’s grandfather one year; the burning down and rebuilding of my house the next), I am finally crawling back into writing.

All the time I spent exploring plotting seems to have paid off. I am developing a pretty good plot that I love (shock! awe! when did such a thing ever happen before with pre-plotting? Never!). Also, I’m doing some pretty fun world building.

My actual writing skills are quite rusty, and I don’t like the words I am making, but I wonder if I should really worry about that. Once I have the plot, characters, and scenes nailed down, and I iterate through the book, the rust should be mostly gone. Then I can turn around on the rewrite and really polish the style up.

It’s nice to be optimistic again about the writing. I guess it takes a while to get your feet back under you after being bulldozed down so many times.

As the great philosopher Chumbawumba once said, “I get knocked down, but I get up again. You’re never gonna keep me down.”