‘Twas the night before NaNoWriMo…

And all through the condo I was breathing a sigh of relief over not taking part this year.

Honestly, I’m looking forward to having a bunch of free time for other stuff in November. There may be a cure for my writing ills, but the last few years suggest to me that the cure is not National Novel Writing Month.

It feels a bit weird sitting out for the first time in ten years (!), but it also feels right. And nice.

Now to maybe write something without the pressure of 1,667 words per day…

Cloudy with a chance of doom

The chance of doom is minimal, but you never know.

Today the sun has departed and the clouds have rolled in. My mind is similarly clouded as I question the effectiveness of the so-called “extra strength” cough medicine I took this morning that has not particularly stopped me from coughing. Maybe it’s a perspective thing. If I hadn’t taken the cough medicine, I would be on the floor, in endless coughing spasms, my sides sore, feeling worn out from the effort. In that light, the cough medicine is actually working pretty good.

Meanwhile, this flu or whatever it is has reached the annoying stage. I try to remain positive and think how much better I’ll feel when it’s moved along, but right now a nap would be seriously nice. Just curl up on the cold tile floor, right here. I don’t need carpeting. Or a pillow. I’m surprised I’m not napping right now, in this chair, as I type.

Changing gears, I looked through my blog a few days ago semi-randomly. I do this from time to time, usually starting out by searching for something specific, and ending down the rabbit hole that can keep me checking YouTube videos for hours when I totally didn’t mean to do that.

One of the things I re-discovered is how in-depth some of the writing prompts I worked on were. There are complete stories, albeit short ones, on this very blog. I thought to myself, “Neat!” and “I should do more of this.”

So starting tomorrow, when I am hopefully feeling a bit better, I am going to tackle a prompt whenever I have nothing else to write about. Get the ol’ creative juices going again. Maybe this time it will stick. Stranger things–such as the election of Trump–have happened.

This post brought to you by Day 3 of the flu or convincingly flu-like.

Still technically writing every day

I have not found my groove yet early in this new year when it comes to writing, but I am writing something every day, as I had vowed to do. So yay for sticking to it for nearly a whole week so far! Only 51 more to go.

Part of the problem is my mind feels cluttered by negative thingamabobs, mainly but not exclusively related to a growing professional dissatisfaction. Maybe all those years of not working in a field I am passionate about is finally having an effect. I’m not saying there is something I am passionate about–clearly I struggle with writing, no matter how many books I read on the subject, and how diligently I follow all the little tricks and things to keep you going–but I can’t help but think there might be something I’d be generally more satisfied in doing in my work life.

But every time I take one of those “This is the work you SHOULD be doing!” tests, the results are always somewhat dubious. So I’m not sure how to go about investigating a possible career side-step. I’m also aware that I’m not exactly a 20-something that can freely experiment with a bunch of different jobs to see what sticks (or maybe I could, who knows?)

Anyway, the important thing is I wrote something today and maybe I’ll hit the treadmill again tomorrow. Also, only two more months until we are back on Daylight Saving Time, hooray. All right, this concluding paragraph was a little random. Maybe I accidentally lapsed into free writing. There are worse things that could happen. Like scurvy or the return of parachute pants.

A neat but weird idea for writing

I thought of this while looking at my wrist, which is where my Apple Watch is, and realizing how much of my interaction with my watch is via Siri (voice commands for the uninitiated).

Sometimes it’s handy to do a little writing during the commute when you’re smushed in with everyone else, by pecking out a few sentences on your phone. Except actually doing this completely sucks because pecking out anything on a phone is a maddening exercise in madness and commutes are awful enough without trying to enhance the effect.

But doing some quick voice dictation would be pretty easy and sometimes even accurate enough to not qualify for one of those “Oh, autocorrect, you lovable scamp!” websites. The only problem here is dictating a story into your phone on a crowded train will do nothing but enhance your reputation for being a scary and/or eccentric person.

The solution?

Some fancy technology that allows your voice to transmit to your device while being completely silent to everyone around you. Yes, you’d still look like a kook talking to yourself, but at least you’d do so while preserving your voice and preventing others from hearing and therefore swiping your million dollar ideas.

Hmm, I swear this idea sounded better when I spoke it aloud to myself.

Here’s a Pinterest (or whatever you call them) question I have answered myself

Under the usual headline of “We found some fresh pins for you” I looked over my latest email from Pinterest (a name that is equal parts dumb and clever). Most of these messages contain collections of tips on writing because I indicated writing was my primary interest when I signed up, rather than drag racing or bocci.

Here’s a “pinterest” from the latest missive I received, along with what I suggest is the only possible correct response:

How to make your novel impossible for the reader to put down

Super glue on the cover

Websites for writers that have been eaten by monsters (perhaps)

The domain writersdigest.com is not available. However, writersdigested.com is. Think of the possibilities. Think of Harlan Ellison trapped in the stomach of some great mythological monster like the hydra or the leprechaun.

Then think again about how the domain is still available and maybe there’s a reason for that.

But still, Harlan Ellison trapped in the stomach of a leprechaun. It demands to be written.

My word factory continues to appear abandoned

The first and only rule of writing is to write (so I say).

Today the weather changed from weirdly hot to slightly cooler than normal, clouds gathered up in the sky (their favorite gathering place) and presented the threat of showers (it sprinkled a little). I opted to skip my lunch walk because I don’t like walks in the rain or on the beach or around candlelit dinners or mostly because I was paranoid the sprinkle would become a downpour and I’d return to work sopping wet. I also wanted a day off from the walks to show my right leg how beneficent and kind I am, to encourage it to heal and be wonderful and normal once more.

My usual plan when I skip the lunch walk is to curl up (well, not actually curl up, that would be uncomfortable) with my Surface Pro 3 in the staff lounge and do some writing. How much writing did I do at lunch today?

None.

But I surfed the internet. Oh yes, I learned about new gadgets, read opinions on various things and caught up on the news. But writing? Not a word.

I felt bad and proceeded to have an afternoon filled with cascading or at least remarkably coincidental failures. Karma? Perhaps.

Next lunch break I’m writing.

Discipline and writing…why does this sound familiar?

From one of my aborted attempts at reviving a journal comes this snippet on writing, which was penned (literally, as you can see) on my 25th birthday:

Waxing on writing with ink

In case the image stops working, here’s the text in convenient text form:

In truth, I like to write. A daily journal is an exercise in writing and an exercise in discipline. Everyday I must pour out thoughts on these pages, and attempt to be at least reasonably lucid and/or coherent. Through this daily regimen I will sharpen and hone my writing skills, I will cause the juices of creativity to practically sploosh out of my ears. Occasionally, I may even record something profound (do I have a straight face as I write this? I’m not tellin’).

This is culled from the first entry in the journal. It was followed by one more entry, after which none followed. Even all these years later I can appreciate the rich, flavorful irony reading through this paragraph of filthy lies.

On the one hand it’s nice that I recognized the need for discipline in writing back when I was still young enough to be at my sexual peak. On the other hand, I apparently didn’t keep a straight face while writing any of this (see: giving up on this very same journal after two entries). On the third hand grafted on Frankenstein-style, I have kept writing since that 25th birthday, even if the dry spells have occasionally been prolonged droughts.

More writing exercises and other writing…soon™.

Questions about writing

Some parts of the writing process are pretty straightforward–you put down words, taking care to organize them into sentences, paragraphs, scenes and chapters (assuming you’re working on a novel) in order to tell some kind of story. Other parts seem less sharply defined, perhaps a reflection that each writer tackles these other parts differently.

But still, I wonder, and so I ask:

  • How much of the first draft remains in the final version? 50%? 20%? 0.5%?
  • If the percentage above is low, is it because major chunks of the story get chucked/reworked or is it because sentence after sentence is meticulously altered?
  • How many drafts does a story usually go through?
  • How often does the writer know how the story will end before writing the ending?
  • Do most writers write the story in order or do they jump around scenes and assemble them later?
  • How often is stuff tossed in because it sounds neat, resulting in the writer later having to go back to make the neat stuff fit the rest of the story?

And probably a whole lot more. The big ones are the first two.

Any writers that are not spambots are welcome to chime in.

Random story ideas

Here’s a few story ideas off the top of my head. The intention is for these to be more useful than funny, unlike my writing prompts. I’m going to try using one of them if it speaks to me. You know, like, “GET OFF YOUR LAZY BUTT AND WRITE ME INSTEAD OF LOAFING AROUND AND DREAMING OF DONUTS!” And yes, in my mind the story prompt would yell at me like a bad stage actor.

Ideas:

  • the initial stage of the afterlife of someone (with possible non-stupid twist)
  • the world changes in subtle but disturbing ways for someone
  • strange messages start appearing on a phone or tablet 
  • a giant alien mothership arrives and then nothing ever happens 
  • two words: ghost jogger 
  • and a few more that I will add later because it’s late, I’m tired and falling asleep 

On couches, writing and Fleetwood Mac

I find I write best on this blog when I tackle a topic early in the day or evening. If I wait until mid-evening, say, I’m already shutting off my brain for the night and planning non-thinking activities like sleep* or watching amusing/strange cat videos. But it is difficult for me to jump in early because when I get home from work I am almost always mentally tired (I work in technical support). I usually have dinner shortly after getting home and after that there is a small window between brain-still-active and brain-go-nap where I can start writing with some energy and enthusiasm but more often than not I find my brain simply doesn’t want to participate.

This concerns me because I think I have some talent when it comes to writing and could improve on it with practice. As Stephen King put it:

While it is impossible to make a competent writer out of a bad writer, and while it is equally impossible to make a great writer out of a good one, it is possible, with lots of hard work, dedication, and timely help, to make a good writer out of a merely competent one.

I am competent for the most part, even if I often feel I get it right through dumb luck or some other process I can’t fully explain or even understand, but I realize that the hard work and dedication King speaks of are lacking. It’s easier to slouch back in my chair and passively let myself be entertained until it’s time for bed and then to dream I’m playing with Fleetwood Mac (see below).

I’ve read a few books on writing over the years, some of them focusing on the nuts and bolts of the craft, others more inspirational. King’s own book “On Writing” has left me fired up each time I’ve read it but the fire burns fast and hot and before long it’s embers and then ash. I need to find a way to keep the fire stoked.

And there is no book or magic trick or sure-fire technique for this. It’s just dedication and hard work. I need to find that within me or just move on to other hobbies, like This Couch is Very Comfortable or Tonight I’m Going to…Nah, This Couch is Too Comfortable.

I made the first step last August when I promised myself to write every day. With only a few exceptions due to unusual circumstances I’ve stuck to that and it has helped to instill some of the discipline I need. But it’s only a first step. The next step is to turn this discipline toward my fiction writing, which has been largely moribund for the past half year, a few days during NaNoWriMo excepted.

I’ll try this week and report the grisly details here. It may be fun. It may even be better than a comfortable couch.

 

* I recently had a dream where I was playing guitar with Fleetwood Mac. They had another guest performer on stage and he announced the next song would be “The Baboons” or something like that. I was concerned because I was not aware of any such Fleetwood Mac song. When the band started in I quickly recognized it as one of their familiar hits and jumped in, at which point the strap on my guitar broke. I awoke before finding out if I dropped the guitar on the stage, produced an unholy shriek of feedback and had Lindsey Buckingham exclaim, “I love it! Keep it!” because remember this is the man who wrote “Tusk.”