the recluse writer, but on purpose this time

So plague-blogging is a thing now!

I’ve gotta be honest with y’all, being shut up in the house is not doing as much for my productivity as I would have hoped. Previously I had been going to the library to get my work done, and, well, the libraries are all closed. Along with everything else. It turns out a change of scenery is one of those load-bearing things that helps put me into work mode just as much as pen and paper and reliable audio do, and without it, I get a little — how do you say — antsy. And not the good kind of oh-man-gotta-write antsy, the I-need-to-get-outta-here kind.

Crochet is very good for combatting the antsiness and keeping my hands busy (and watching new-to-me Austen movies at the same time, hello Persuasion and Emma, 1995-6 was a very good time for Austen yes indeed), but very bad for my overall word count. We’re over the 15,000 word mark on the draft now, but less than 5k written over the course of 10 days is not what I call a good sign. Of course a small amount of writing is better than no writing at all, but still.

Well …

Reader, I was trying to avoid marathon sprints, but life in the time of corona means I can go ahead and subject my eyeballs to the blowtorch and write 10,000 words a day and not have to worry about being an utter recluse (quarantine means social distancing is a GOOD thing!) or about being utterly useless afterwards.

And hey, once I finish the draft, then I’m perfectly justified in crocheting my little heart out until my eyeballs recover. Then editing, and publishing the darn thing.

Maybe I’ll even dip my toes into audiobooks. Hey, I’ve got the time for it now.

According to a whole bunch of people on Twitter (and any number of articles written in the last few days; apparently Twitter is a primary source now) Shakespeare wrote King Lear during a plague. Well, I’m no Bill Shakes, I know that for sure. But I can see how madness being a factor makes a whole lot of sense; same as witches talking about regicide in Macbeth makes sense when you take into account King James’s fascination with witches and his brush with an assassination attempt. Well, maybe my main character being shut in a tomb for safekeeping is a bit too on-the-nose for COVID-19 … but in my defense, the thing she’s hiding from isn’t a virus, just other people.

Talk about social distancing.

getting things done

The other Monday, coming home from the airport, I observed aloud that the con crud hadn’t affected me so far, so I must have escaped it this year. So naturally I started coming down with the crud two days later.

One of these days I’m gonna need to stop treating constitution as my dump stat. And stop tempting the evil eye while I’m at it.

Some observations on the writing front:

Writing longhand seems to work better than it used to. The sensory feeling helps make it feel like a ‘new’ thing, and I’ve always liked using different types of writing accessories, so this way the crow brain gets a little justification for having bought that multipack of gel pens a while back.

Using the sticker journal method combined with Writeometer helps to reinforce the daily habit as well as tracking progress. Being sick and brain-foggy over the last week of February hurts to look at in terms of empty writing time, but that way I wasn’t splitting my concentration between writing and getting better, and when I got better, I was able to maintain the same level of productivity from before.

Especially since I didn’t get sick in the middle of a 10k-in-one-day sprint. See? I’m learning.

(Note: there is a difference between the brain fog of coughing one’s lungs out, and the brain fog of sneezing one’s lungs out. I just haven’t properly quantified it because I would rather be concentrating on literally anything else.)

You’ll notice I’m using things like gel pens and stickers to make the act of writing more sensory. That’s on purpose. I like tap-tap-tapping on a keyboard just fine, but if I’m gonna be out of ideas, lately I’d prefer to be so with a pad and paper than with my computer — because with the former, I just generally stare into space and click the pen a few dozen times and then just get back to it. It’s its own fidget toy, basically. With the latter, not much to fidget with unless you decide to whip out the Google Chrome no-internet-connection dino game. And at that point, the siren call of the internet starts up, and, well. In any case: it’s part of this whole “working with my brain instead of against it” thing.

Piggybacking off that idea of making writing more sensory is the auditory dimension. Some people function best with pure silence, others with white noise or variations (and there are many sites where you can adjust the white noise to sound like a coffee shop, or rain, or even a space ship); I function best when I have something to listen to that I already know inside out, and that also functions as a time-measure. So I cue up movies that I’ve seen a thousand times before. This has its own pros and cons … it has to be something I know down to its very bones and am used to watching, or I will get distracted by the actual movie rather than what I’m writing. At this particular moment in time, that means Jane Austen and romcoms. By the time that Lizzie rejects Darcy’s proposal, I know I should have already written at least 500 words.

(I have an idea rattling around my head of not only keeping track of word count with a graph and stickers, but with little game tokens to track chapter and novel count. But at the moment this is less feasible, and frankly feels like similar efforts from my crow brain to try to persuade me to buy more tabletop rpg dice. Yes, that d20 is very shiny. No, I do not need another one.)

While I don’t make graphs detailing every single plot beat, I do need a general map of where I’m going before I start. Which, for my current project, I have! Which I made during downtime at LTUE, actually. But which I haven’t actually looked at much since then. Might try doing that more often, the further into it we go. Especially since the big thing that I stumble into as a roadblock is “what the heck do I do next”. (Yeah, past me has declared before that writer’s block is only a matter of wanting to write, not not-knowing what to write. Past me has said a lot of things that turned out not to be accurate.) One thing that I do to combat this is by jumping around and writing scenes outside of chronological order. Hopping around the timeline can be fun, and is actually pretty helpful — if I don’t write it down, I will forget — but when it comes down to connecting the dots after the scenes are mostly written, how to transition from X to Z, well, that’s when it starts getting tricky. So having the outline to refer back to is gonna be handy.

But even if I haven’t been quite using all of the tools at my disposal (cough outline cough), I’m still writing much more than before. 2k or 3k a day is a lot more manageable than a 10k sprint, and so far I’ve been able to sustain that momentum. As of this morning we’re already over the 10,000 word mark — that’s pretty exciting. I’m hopeful that this story will be just as fun for readers as it is for me, writing it.

Well, buckle down and back to work!

LTUE 2020

Obligatory LTUE recap time!

One reason I love going to this con is that I always get so many ideas, just being around so many other writers and going to so many panels. From zombies to medieval sieges to colonizing the ocean, I’m so chock-full of thoughts they’re about to start pouring out of my ears. Fabulous.

The commute to the con is also part of what makes it such a good trip. I love planes and trains, and once you get past security, airports are pretty good too (despite the jacked-up restaurant prices). Something about liminal spaces just really really does it for me.

I also got some new reading material, and have already polished off one of the four books I bought at the signing on Friday. (Goodreads review is incoming — but in the meantime, suffice to say I love a good villain manifesto.) It’s really cool to connect with other indies, and that’s actually going on my to-do list for 2020: reading more indie work. Classics like Warm Bodies by Isaac Marion and The Martian by Andy Weir are good (no, I’m not just saying that because they both got movie deals out of it), but there’s so much more out there. And that’s the whole point of indie! That you can put anything you want into the world. What wonderful freedom as a writer; what wonderful freedom as a reader. Time to get going!

Related to that point, or kitty-corner to that point, is something else that hammered in this time that hadn’t been emphasized in the other LTUE cons I’ve been to. Brad R. Torgersen was the writers’ keynote speaker, and it was really cool. The guy’s worked really hard for a really long time. A guy like that says something, and you best listen. And one thing he said was that if something (a story, a genre, whatever) isn’t working, try something else.

That sounds like the most obvious thing in the world. But it needed to be said — or at least, I needed to hear it.

I’ve pretty much been bashing my head in trying to write the fourth Iron Gentry novel. I’m about 2/3rds of the way done with the manuscript. But I just can’t get any farther with it. Ok … so I took a break, and wrote a whole 40k draft of a romance. And then I went back to bashing my head against that Iron Gentry book for the rest of the year. And wondered why I wasn’t able to get anywhere with it.

Brad R. Torgersen’s keynote was like a lightbulb going ding! over my head.

If romance is what really scratches my id right now? If that’s what I’m excited to write? Then, dude, what the heck am I doing writing anything else??

Now, it’s still gonna be historical or supernatural or scifi, because it’s still me we’re talking about. I’m not completely switching gears. But the Tomelin books are (mostly) done; the main trilogy for Callan and his family is over. I can afford to branch out into different worlds at this point.

And, you guys, I’m really stoked. I have SO many ideas. I’m already almost 3k into a new draft.

And that’s the whole point of LTUE, after all. To develop, to get better — and to get out there and write.

So I’m off to go and write.

the only place left to go is up

So — a 2019 recap is in order. The second week of February isn’t too late for that, right? Right.

I was not active on here. I should have been, but if I’ve learned anything from the last year, beating myself up over not doing something is the best way to ensure I continue to not do it. So there’s that: it is what it is, and we learn, and we move on.

I got a new day job. A step up from the old one, and a step closer to where I want to be.

I picked up some new/old skills. I learned how to fight with a rapier and a dagger in addition to a longsword, and I relearned how to crochet, and I sewed my first big clothing project. (A brocade jacket, which I’m pretty proud of. I should post pictures.)

I lost fifteen pounds. I blame that on rapier class, mostly, which can be blamed on Alexandre Dumas, because I read The Three Musketeers and just had to learn.

I got more active with tabletop rpgs. Even started my first ever campaign as a DM, which has been an amazing experience.

And I wrote.

I didn’t publish anything. Not original fiction, and not fanfiction. My AO3 account has been dusty and silent for over a year now, and, well … you know how my Amazon page has been.

But even if I never published a word of it, I still wrote. I polished off an entire 40k first draft of a novella. And here and there — halfheartedly, but still better than nothing at all — I worked on a partial draft of the fourth Iron Gentry book, adding just under 20,000 words to the draft in 2019. Most of these were written before I got the new day job; and the majority of the novella draft was written in a caffeine-fueled marathon that lasted for three days, clocking a total of 28,617 words in that time.

Not exactly sustainable. Add a day job to the equation, and … yeah. No. Definitely not.

(No, NaNoWriMo did not happen in 2019. Partially because day job, and partially because I got sick twice.)

But 60k words in a year isn’t anything to sneeze at. That’s a novella and a half, and it’s more than I wrote in the year 2018, if I remember correctly.

But in addition to that, I also wrote just under 225k of personal projects with a friend, most of which was based on The Three Musketeers.

Yeah, Dumas is definitely the criminal mastermind here, not me.

Will any of that ever be shared with the public? Probably not. It was damn fun, and I have a good time rereading it, but it wasn’t written with the intention to be consumed by anybody except myself and the friend I wrote it with.

… which I think goes a long way toward explaining just why I was so prolific with that, but not with the original fiction, or even the fanfic I pop on AO3. It’s a hell of a lot less pressure to goof around with a friend where no one else can see than it is to try to make something worth putting out to the public, to say nothing of putting a price tag on it.

The other main explanation is that because it was a personal project, a series of ongoing conversations with a friend about a book (and a movie, or multiple movies) that I love, in the year 2019 we wrote pretty consistently from the middle of March all the way through December 31. We did it in our free time, in stolen minutes during lunch breaks and in the morning before work, after work, long stints on the weekends. I haven’t tracked it on a graph, and I’m sure we had a few dry spells, but if we didn’t average writing 5 days out of 7, I’ll eat my tablet stylus.

It wasn’t a job. It was a hobby: it was fun, and I looked forward to doing it, and I did it whenever I could.

A third, smaller and sillier explanation is that formatting factors into it more than I’d thought. There’s this darn thing called smart quotes, and when I’m plunking along in the message system I use with my friend, smart quotes don’t register and it doesn’t matter what device I’m typing on. Whereas in Google Docs — my go-to for writing original and fan fiction on-the-go — on my laptop, smart quotes populate; but on my mobile devices, neither love nor money could convince those little Android keyboards to give me smart quotes.

Google Docs used to let my tablet do them, but it updated in the middle of last year and now… yeah. Nope.

This is why there’s a saying that goes “if it ain’t broke, don’t fix it.”

(See, I told you it was silly.)

In any case, altogether that’s nearly 300,000 words that I wrote in 2019. The equivalent of four novellas, or three nice-sized books, or one doorstop.

There’s a number of lessons to be learned here.

  • Get past the block of “oh man this has to be perfect on the first try,” so stuff can actually get written. Give myself permission for it to be silly and florid and dramatic, and to goof off with it a bit.
  • Getting excited, looking forward to it, leads to doing it whenever possible. Make it as easy as possible to do.
  • If something else is blocking me, find a way around it. Writing longhand seems like a good solution here, since I don’t have to worry about mobile devices formatting all my quotes the wrong way.
    • Related to the “make it easy” bullet — bring a notebook and pen with me everywhere I go, so I can write wherever I go. Not just my personal journal, but a writing one.
  • Reward my brain for writing, instead of beating it up when I don’t. Joy Demorra over at @thebibliosphere has a writing log that’s part of a rewards system for her daily routine, which is basically tracking the daily word count by putting a shiny sticker in her journal for every X amount of words. Does it have the same basic function as one of those NaNo tracker graphs, or my Writeometer app? Yes. But oooh boy, my crow brain is a lot happier about shiny stickers than it is about graphs.
    • At the same time, don’t fix what ain’t broke. The journal is for tracking total daily word count; Writeometer is best for tracking progress in a specific project. So I’ll probably end up using both.
  • Last but not least: when all of these conditions are being met? When I’m enthusiastic, when I’m giving myself permission to go off the rails, when I’m writing every minute that I can and not worried about formatting? I actually write a hell of a lot.

And that’s pretty reassuring.

So 2019 wasn’t a total bust after all — and hey, it can only get better from here.

alexa, play “the boys are back in town”

That there is a joke, because I will never own an Alexa, because the Internet of Things scares the living daylights out of me.

— Anyway.

The thing about the internet is you can start a sentence with “the thing about” with absolute confidence, and sound like you actually know what you’re talking about, as though you’re an expert.

I am not an expert.

I mean, clearly, considering my last post was from (*checks blog*) March. Yikes.

Procrastinator? Me? I don’t know what you’re talking about.

There are a few factors into this. One, the day-job-search which turned into the new-job-navigation (five-month-mark at the end of October, woo!). Two, the attempt to Konmari my living space, which has had middling success thus far. Three, the re-engagement in my local European martial arts club, which I had dropped last fall and only got back into this summer. Four, jumping headfirst into more tabletop rpgs with some long-distance buddies, including my own pseudo-homebrew LOTR campaign. Also, this month I picked up sewing as a hobby, and actually made a pretty cool  brocade jacket on the first try, if I do say so myself.

Life goes on. I’m not going out dancing every night, but I am busier than I was this time last year.

But the fact of the matter is that these things don’t excuse my absence on this blog. If nothing else, I could have at least spared a few minutes here and there to write “I ain’t dead”.

And if I’d taken a few minutes here and there to work on my novel drafts every day, then — well — see my previous post in March about writing being like brushing your teeth.

Writing-wise, I am full of cavities right now.

And then you look at the pile of Things To Do, which seems to get bigger every minute, and then (if you’re me, at least) you balk, and then you decide to ignore it, because in the moment that’s easier. That’s a problem for Future Me is practically a slogan of mine by now.

It’s not a good way of doing business. I can’t write this on my taxes next year, that’s for sure, unless something miraculous happens in the next (*checks calendar*) two and a half months.

Yikes.

It feels disingenuous to tell you now that I’m gonna work hard to be better, when I’ve made those promises before and not kept them. It feels disingenuous to say I’m going to try to post a weekly update, and write SOMETHING every day.

But the alternative is to do nothing at all, and I’m done with that.

I want to be better. So I am going to try — actively try — to be better.

And hey, NaNoWriMo is coming up soon. What better time to start holding myself accountable again?

writing is like brushing your teeth

or: get ready for an overly-explained metaphor that you’ll have to scroll all the way down to the bottom of the post to read.

My new laptop has been up and running again for just over a week now, and in that time I have written nearly 28,000 words — today I’m hoping to cap it off at a neat 35,000. On Goodreads the other week I mentioned that using the Writeometer app is a good way of making writing fun, because the neat little bar graph and line graph show my progress (and the bright green graphics certainly make it nice, and the little inspirational writing quotes on the main app page are super cute).

But what it also does is it keeps me honest in not only how much I write, but how long it takes me to do it. What it comes down to — and I can’t claim that it makes sense, all I know is that that’s how it works — is that if I don’t time myself to write as much as I possibly can within 20 minutes, and do so multiple times a day, then I waffle around a bit and at most I’ll write 5,000 words.

The week before my old laptop died, I clocked almost 12,000 words, none of those using timed sessions.

Between yesterday and the day before, I clocked nearly twice that amount. By timing myself, 20 minutes at a time, for nine hours yesterday and six hours the day before.

Now, that wasn’t all in one go each day. I had to get coffee and eat food and take out the recycling and water the plants and get the mail and sleep. And what I found is that I naturally fell into a rhythm of 4 sessions in a row, then getting up and stretching my legs and running errands as needed, then getting back in the saddle.

And waking up this morning, I knew very well that doing marathons like that isn’t sustainable: because my wrist hurt, and because my eyes felt like they’d been dried with a blow torch. I normally spend my days staring at a computer screen, but not quite in such a concentrated manner, and dang if it doesn’t make a physical difference.

So: writing is like brushing your teeth. If you’re anything like I was as a teenager (and college student), and you forget to brush for days at a time until finally about a week later you realize your teeth are absolutely covered in gross slimy fur, then when you finally do brush your teeth (taking five minutes to excavate and floss and all the rest) your teeth feel so shiny and slick and clean that you wonder why you don’t do this every day.

I do brush my teeth regularly these days. And (knock on wood) I haven’t gotten a cavity yet. But the procrastination to the point of discomfort, and then the mad rush to do a week’s worth of time in a matter of hours, is the exact same whether you’re brushing your teeth or whether you’re writing.

And frankly, it’s healthier to write 3,000 words a day for eight days than it is to write 24,000 words in the space of 48 hours.

The long and the short of it is that by the end of the day today, the rough draft of my first romance novella will be going up for edits — and by the end of next week (given a more reasonable pace rather than a marathon), so will the fourth Iron Gentry novel.

Les Mis BBC, a review

or: the one where I’m tempted to use capslock, and must manfully refrain, otherwise it would be all capslock.

I wrote a post almost a year ago mentioning the BBC adaptation of Les Mis, and made a lot of placating noises about how adaptations are never exactly like the book, and how in some cases I actually prefer adaptations that are wildly different from their origins. And in some cases, yes, that is still true. But with Les Mis BBC …

Oh boy, how do I put this.

Wicked the musical has some of the character tropes from the book, and has the same basic plot beats, but is completely different from the book in terms of tone and outlook. The book is nihilistic and pessimistic; it speaks of terrorism as the only way to combat a totalitarian regime, it speaks of death as inevitable, none of the characters (and I do mean none of them) are sympathetic, and there is so much weird R-rated stuff going on that it’s frankly amazing my parents let me read it in middle school.

Wicked the musical is about none of that. Wicked the musical is about finding meaning in life even when it’s easier not to, and about friendship and love saving people even at the eleventh hour; its characters are all sympathetic, except for the main antagonist, and nobody dies. And yeah, there’s a suggestive scene, but it’s nowhere near as raunchy as something from Heathers or Dr. Jekyll and Mr. Hyde. Frankly, it barely hits the PG mark.

Transforming a pessimistic book into an optimistic show, that’s something I’m fine with. More than fine. Enthusiastic about, even.

But what Andrew Davies did with Les Mis was the opposite.

Continue reading “Les Mis BBC, a review”

update roundup

or: the Case of the Over-Caffeinated Laptop.

First off, an extremely belated happy 2019! LTUE was two weeks ago now, and the con crud has run its due course. I have several sparkly new ideas to either turn into new projects or add to existing projects, and a whole bunch of new reading material. Shoutout to Natalie Whipple, whose book The Vengeance Code is first up on my to-reads, and who had some great insights in the “Pantsing: Making the Most of Draft 0” panel.

In terms of actual writing, the fourth Iron Gentry book is still on Draft 0. For the last few months – well, basically, up until a week ago – it had been extremely slow going. Then all of a sudden, something in my brain went click and I was averaging nearly 1700 words a day (the same as a NaNo daily word count). Everything coming up roses, all was well, one of those days I clocked over 5000 words –

– Then yesterday the great coffee spill of 2019 occurred.

Reader, I wept. I bawled like a little baby. That laptop has everything on it, not just my writing, and there was only one viable USB port left on it – and the last time I backed it up was back in September.

If nothing else, this has hammered in the lesson that I really, really ought to do weekly hard drive backups.

According to the various tech support sites, for liquid in the keyboard the device is supposed to air out for 96 hours before you should even try to revive it. So for the next three days, it’s mobile devices only. Thank God for tablets, right? I would hate to be typing this up on my smartphone.

If everything goes well, I should be back in business Monday evening. At which point it’s full steam ahead, and aiming (ideally) for a mid-April release.

I’ve decided, in the interim, to work on some projects that I can’t sell for money (aka fanfiction). That way I can try to keep the high productivity going and maybe even turn it into a habit. It makes sense to me to have links to all of my writing in the same place, too, not just some of it – so as I update fanfic, I’m going to post links to them on here as well.

A Harry Potter/Les Misérables crossover fanfic is a very different subgenre of fantasy than Iron Gentry, considering the time period if nothing else. And I find that my writing style changes a little between original stuff and fanworks. (For one thing, I would never dream of selling something written in the present tense. But that might just be me.) But it’s really fun as a hobby, honestly; and fanfic lets me do crazy whackdoodle crossovers that I can’t use to turn a profit, too. And since original flash fic isn’t working out for me as well as I’d hoped, fanfic seems like the best way for me to get free writing samples out there.

Wish me luck on my laptop – and see you soon!

The Tree’s Gossip

“Perhaps it’s time to teach you summoning.”

This was completely out of nowhere, in the middle of lunch, a thin vegetable soup that Yarrow had spent almost the entire morning poking at. Yarrow nearly dropped her spoon; as it was, she could not contain herself from gaping at her teacher like an idiot.

“Summoning? As in, spirits? D-demons?”

“ ‘Demon’ is a very broad term,” the old woman said dryly. “And most of them look on it as an insult, so maybe pick another word to call ‘em by.”

“Alright. But — well — summoning!” Yarrow tried to collect her thoughts. The first truly witchy thing since she’d come up the mountain! “What — can I ask what brought this on?”

Nettle gave a gusty sigh. “Anthracite’s gone and stuck his beak in fey business. It’s only a matter of time until Her Royal Nibs decides to interfere aboveground. And that means getting backup from other places. You might as well learn it now, before you have to.”

It was gibberish, all of it, as far as Yarrow was concerned. But she wasn’t about to look a gift horse in the eye, or however the saying went.

Especially since it looked like some of her questions might finally be answered.

Continue reading “The Tree’s Gossip”

The Apprentice

Yarrow first met Anthracite as a mistake.

She was still getting used to answering to the name “Yarrow,” which was the first of her problems, because any witch worth her salt never answered to the name she was born with. Names were powerful things, more powerful than nail clippings or strands of hair. Only blood came close. If one of the long-leggedie-beasties of the forest got ahold of your real name, you could say goodbye to sense and wit and freedom.

Anthracite wasn’t just a long-leggedie-beastie, though, and more’s the pity: he was the crow-headed ferryman of the dead.

The second of Yarrow’s problems was connected to her first, and it was this — that she had only been a witch for three weeks. Where other young people in the village her age were taking on apprenticeships as chandlers, carpenters, spinsters, and blacksmiths, Yarrow had taken up an apprenticeship with the forest witch. She was an old woman, her hair pure gray and her face as wrinkled as a walnut, her clever fingers gnarled and spindly-long; and when she had knocked on the door and settled by the fire, Yarrow’s parents had taken the news … reasonably well, all things considered.

“Reasonably well” included such behaviors as turning pale (her mother), turning bright red (her father), making angry comments about how the witch ought to get out of the house before her hide got tanned (her mother), and pleas for the witch to reconsider (her father).

The witch Nettle had been undeterred. And Yarrow, after the initial shock of having someone tell her that she had the knack for magic, had been intrigued. It was the curiosity in her: once you got Yarrow by the curiosity, then she had you, and she’d not let go for love nor money ’til she found the answers to her questions.

(That was her third problem. But we’ll get to that shortly.)

Continue reading “The Apprentice”