Writing – Whassup with me!

A long time ago, in a galaxy far far away, there was a terrible commercial where people said “Whassuuup” to each other over and over, and this commercial had nothing to do with writing.  But…. I’m gonna use it as an excuse to update you on my writing anyway! Mwuhahaha!

First, I’m writing again. Yay!!! And for 143 days in a row!  Double yayyyy!!!

My minimum is 1 sentence, and many days I get less than 100 words. But word count per day has been getting bigger, and my last session I hit 2,300+ words. Triple YAYYY!!!

If you want to know what I’m up to, I’m doing my own version of the mini habits system by Stephen Guise. Basically, it’s a really low-bar checklist so I don’t wimp out. Here’s the book that got me started, and it’s working for me:

good writing habits!
Yes, this an affiliate link! But it’s a really good book about he started writing.

Getting stronger after hell

My writing muscles are building back up, and my prose quality is going up. I have better control over the pacing and emotional beats of my scenes, as well. Basically, I’m getting all those skills back that I lost after my Three Years of Hell (TM), where my mother died,  grandfathers died, my house burned down, and I almost died and lost a lot of mental sharpness because of a surgery gone wrong.

Writing novels only for now

Writing wise, I’ve been working exclusively on novels. Honestly, I don’t have the time or the emotional fortitude to submit my short stories, so no sales there.

I’ve currently got two projects in the works:

  1. A rewrite of novel (first book in a series)
  2. A new novel (second book in said series)

I work on both every day, minimum 1 sentence each, and I also work on outlines (minimum one step/spreadsheet cell) or scene sketches (minimum three bullets) every day. Them’s the rules, and they’re working for me.

The daily grind!

The rewrites on the first book are soaking up most of my word count. It was a particularly hard book to edit, and I edited it 3.5 times line-by-line before I figured out what was wrong: The writing just isn’t up to my standards, and a simple edit will never fix it. Normally I’d trunk it and move on, but the structure is strong, and there are some really kick-ass scenes, and I like the characters. Complicating matters is that I’m about 22,000 words into the second book of the same series.

So I’m currently in the process of taking scene sketches and rewriting the entire book 1 from scratch. It’s the first time I’ve ever done a rewrite from scratch, and it scared the hell out of me at first. Honestly, it’s not terribly hard. It’s just loooooooong. It takes a lot of time because you’re doing double work, scene sketches, then writing. I know someone’s going to say I don’t need the sketches, but I think I do; I need the buffer so the bad writing of the earlier drafts doesn’t “infect” this one.

Results for my Writing

The results so far have been fantastic. It’s gone from a book that I couldn’t say enough bad things about to one I’m actually satisfied with. Quadruple YAAAAAY!

I know I know, you still have one more question: What ELSE am I doing (because I can’t possibly be busy enough)? Well…

한국어 배우고 었으습니다. I’m learning Korean!

NOW…. Whassup with you? C’mon… WHASSSSSSUUUUUUUP with you?


I have quite a few articles  on  writing. If you’re interested in them, may I suggest you start here with “The Path to Mastery”.

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.

Go / Weiqi / Baduk

folder

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. 😉

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!

I will be appearing at ConDFW this weekend, 2/19/14-2/21/14

To my (tiny) fan base (and to my much larger group of friends):
I will be appearing at ConDFW this weekend (2/19/14-2/21/14). Come check it out!

My panels:

Friday 6p-7p: The Foot is Mightier than the Pen
– Me and Adrian Simmons show writers what real martial arts looks like.

Saturday 4p-5p: Star Wars vs. Star Trek
-I will be on the Star Wars side.

Sunday 11am-Noon: Mining for New Ideas
– Where to find new iedas for your writing.

Looking without looking, seeing without seeing

When you look at a field, what do you see? Do you see “green” or “grass” or even just “field”? If so, you’re not really looking.

I am looking at one now, and I see at least five to ten different shades of green, at least 3 different shades of tan and brown, and everything bit of grass, living or dead, at a different length. Even grasses of the same species look unique. They clump together, run in strips or curves, and the leave huge open spaces. Fate and randomness has textured like the rind of an orange.

This field was once a building, a vast warehouse, and the foundation of it is still there underneath, and there are tiny bits of rubble just beyond sight. The bulldozers scraped the whole surface clean once, long ago, and so the field always looks like it has been plowed for crops where their teeth dragged and then overgrown even though it has never been plowed before.

But what really amazes me are the bushes. You don’t even see them when you look at this place at first — you look and you see “field” and that’s all, and all the bushes disappear from your eyes because you see a category, a shape, an abstract object instead of the thing itself. It is cruel and heartless dominance of the abstract over the real.

Really, it’s like Plato and Aristotle had it all backward, that the abstract, perfect world of “forms” is not a thing beyond or behind reality, but an instinctive creation of the mind, a simplification that the brain resorts to in order to be able to process all of the data and sort it and organize it in a useful way. The “shadows on the wall of a cave” are not the physical world at all, but the cognitive system of grouping, classification, and ordering that our mind uses to construct meaning.

Reality is always complex, textured, nuanced, with layers of history right there, visible under the surface, between the bushes and the blades of grass, but the mind cannot handle all of this information at once. It is too much. It is not useful, not relevant to survival or thriving, and it is discarded. And that is the way it should be. Usually. But sometimes you need to turn that filter off, and you need to see what is actually HERE.

Because sometimes the “perfect form” is not enough.

Because sometimes you need the truth, with all its various shades.

Because… sometimes… the world is beautiful.

2013 in review

The WordPress.com stats helper monkeys prepared a 2013 annual report for this blog. My stats are like completely unimpressive, but that’s not shocking for an unknown genre short story writer.

Here’s an excerpt:

A San Francisco cable car holds 60 people. This blog was viewed about 2,000 times in 2013. If it were a cable car, it would take about 33 trips to carry that many people.

Click here to see the complete report.

Novels, Old and New – and Doubts

I’ve been plugging away at my novels, up to 16k words on the new novel, a Crouching Tiger Hidden Dragon-style adventure that uses Tai Chi Chu’an (Taijiquan) as a central element.

I’ve also been getting a reader to plow through my Great Depression-Era Range War/Western novel; when feedback is in from that, I will send it to an agent.

Writing-wise I am consistently, if slowly, scrimshawing out words. Submission- and agent-wise I am in the doldrums, drifting about the ocean sails-up with no wind in sight.

I don’t think there’s such a thing as a writer without self-doubt gnawing at his/her bones. The current, devouring ones for me:

1) If I sell both books, can I really get away with jumping genres so wildly?

2) I don’t seem to write as cleanly or as muscularly as I used to. Will I ever be as skilled again with words?

3) The current novel looks like it will be huge, and the themes are very scattered. Am I skilled enough to pull it off? Will I have to go back and do a rewrite, mid-draft, to keep making forward progress?

4) Will I ever successfully write a sequel to anything?

Fragility and the Brittle Will

There is something about loss that makes you fragile, easily cracked, breakable. Like your skin has been spun from a thin porcelain shell, and if grips your hand or arm too hard their fingers will punch through into the hollowness — the vast and bitter void — beneath.

I went to see the movie Argo the other day, and event the trailer for Lincoln made me tear up. When we got to the voice over by President Carter at the end, I broke up. I think things like this are to be expected, but I wish I was stronger. I wish that I had the willpower to be as I was before, to hit all my goals for the day like I used to, to write and exercise and practice Chinese, but I am just not there yet.

I don’t think it’s something that can be forced, either. My writing, for instance, is much weaker right now than it is, normally. I know it; I can see it in my diary entries. I just can’t FIX it. And I’m getting better, it’s just SLOW.

I told one of my friends recently that loss is like getting hit in the brain with a hammer. You have to wait for the blood to clot and the structure to heal before you can think again. There was one point where I literally felt so stupid that I thought would start drooling on myself (I think I did, actually), but that is long past now.

Just today, I played cards at lunch and was smart and sharp and clear for the first time since Mom died. I think this is a sign of things turning the corner, of my feet being back under me. But anything, even the slightest breeze, can break me.

I will have to be careful what movies I watch for a while. Anything more serious than Wreck-It Ralph I will have to pass on.

Diary Entry, 17 Oct 2012, The Day of My Mother’s Death.

Yes, I actually have a diary AND a blog. Most of what goes up here is not personal, but I recently suffered a tragedy, the loss of my mother, and I think the only way to share that is to share the diary entry for the day. I have cleaned it up a little, given it some context, but it is generally unedited.

Wednesday, 17 October 2012
Up late, running behind in the morning. Come into work knowing I must get a report draft done at work for the Disaster Recovery Test that happened Sunday, so I have time to get it reviewed and edited before Friday.

Novel-wise, after reading and digesting some plot books last night, I really feel like Jesus and the Red Baron is about to come together. This causes a conflict in me, a need to do one thing and a feverish desire to do something else. Ah, the minor dramas life are founded on.

Immediately after writing the above lines, probably somewhere around 7:30am, during a break, my cell phone rings, caller ID saying it’s my mother. I open the cell phone and say, “Hi Mom, what’s up?” but a man’s voice responds. I think for a moment I’ve simply misread the caller ID, but then he says, “Sir, this is Officer (I don’t remember) from the Hawkins Police Department.” and I’m immediately chilled. When he continues and says, “I don’t know how to tell you this,” I know immediately that my mother is dead.

There is no other reason a police officer would call from my mother’s house and say those words. He continues to explain that she was found dead this morning and that they needs someone in the family to come down and release the body to the funeral home. I am not much use for several moments, all I can say is, “Oh god, oh god,” but I finally remember that her brother, Uncle Tim, lives nearby in Tyler. I then wonder how I forgot that I had an Uncle at all. I guess in shock/grief, the mind does some crazy stuff.

The second I am off the phone, I type up a careening 3-sentence email to my boss that mostly apologizes that the DR report will be late, and then I shut down my computer and call my wife. I am not thinking clearly, still, and tell her to take Sami to school. Just before I leave work, I tell my co-worker Nesbit what’s happened, and he asks over and over if I am able to drive or not. I must look shaky or staggery or something. I tell him I am NOT sure if I can drive, but I don’t really have a choice.

Nebit’s right, I drive like a madman — I’m just lucky not to hit anyone. At one point, I pull through a stop light like it was a stop sign. Future reference: Driving while crying, not safe.

When I get to my house, I call Uncle Tim, and he says he’s heading down and asks when will be there, and then I realize that yes, of course, I have to go down immediately. I should’ve know better than to put Sami in school, I should’ve known I would have to go out to mom’s house ASAP, but my brain is not working well. I tell Tim we will be there as soon as we can.

We pick up Sami Faye, throw some clothes in a paper bag, and head out for the two-hour road trip to Hawkins. On the way, I call Betty Brown, my mom’s best friend who lives near her, but Betty’s not in. Her husband answers instead and is terrified that it’s me. He thinks he will have to tell me that my mother is dead, and it’s tearing him up like a tiger from the inside. I manage to choke back my own emotions, and quickly tell him I already know what’s going on, and just have Betty call me when she gets back. Tim and Cheryl  call to tell me that they’ve left while the body is removed; Tim cannot stand to see dead bodies, and I think he should probably counted sane for that. They are at the only restaurant in town, having lunch. I ask them if they have a key, because we do not, and if the door is locked, we may be locked out. They don’t have a key, and they think the house may already be locked.

We get out there, though, and the house is not locked. Tim and Cheryl are inside, holding down the fort. The house is wrecked — not dirty — very few dirty dishes, actually, all in the sink, and a steak on the table she had intended to eat, yes — but the mess is primarily paper. Bills, statements, and junk mail going back twenty years, every prescription bottle or health supplement or medicine she bought in the past 10 years, many of them sealed in the wrapper in valuepaks but still expired. The pantries are the same: huge boxes of food and expensive teas, expired for years, but unopened and still sealed.

She was a collector, my mom, but unfortunately she collected a lot of things that were useless.

We spend most of the day cleaning the papers out of the kitchen — they’re stacked three feet high on the dining room table and most of the counters, shoved into shoeboxes, shoved into every drawer. One huge drawer overflows with phone books, all of them she’s ever received. And everywhere, everywhere, we find pictures of Sami Faye. My mom really loved her, I guess, even though she seemed so distant during visits. Like my  wife says, I don’t think Mom figured out how to be a Grandma, but she was happy to be one.

At some point during the day, my wife tells Sami Faye that Ma Jo is dead and gone away forever, and that her house is ours now. Lucky for us, Sami is too young to understand. She takes it very well, and is sure that Ma Jo will come back one day.

Sami, it turns out, loves Nick, Jr, and watches it for hours, especially this show called UmiZumi. We don’t have cable at home, so this is an unexpected blessing and really frees us up to work.

Call Steve D, mom’s retirement person, call a lot of relatives, but I don’t get to the bank before it closes. That will be for tomorrow.

The amount of trash is unbelievable. Near dark, there is an entire corner of the yard full of trashbags, all full of paper.

There’s a moment of panic in the evening as I remember there are guns in the house, and our daughter is loose. We go searching and find a BB rifle, and for a few minutes we think it’s real, so we call Uncle Tim. He tells us that if we find any guns, just lock them in the trunk of the car.

At the funeral home, earlier in the day, we sort out most of what will happen at the funeral. We will come back tomorrow to pick the urn and pay the bill. Mom always wanted to be cremated, and she owned a plot next to dad, so we know where to put her. Cremation, it turns out, is very inexpensive. Betty B doesn’t know that mom wanted to be cremated, and I am very concerned about this as she is my mom’s closest living friend. I am upset for a while, thinking maybe my mother didn’t tell anyone but me, and that I am going to be looked down on as a cheapskate and as a someone who has dishonored the memory of his parents, but Brother Bill, the pastor who lives next door to Mom, says Mom told lots of people about cremation, and to not worry about it.

We sleep at the house, bringing in the mattress of the daybed into the bedroom that was mine in my youth. We know for sure that we will stay mostly through the weekend, but we have to go back up briefly before Friday to ship an Etsy sale and get stuff for us. Still, it is hard to sleep with all the work left to do.