Also, Play

Last week I wrote about getting back to work (which I am!) but this week I’m going to talk about making sure I have time to goof off. Consistent, that’s me.

There is a reason. I’ve mentioned a couple times that I play in a Dungeons and Dragons campaign, and after our last session one of the other players mentioned how important the game has been in helping them handle some stressful stuff in their life. We got to talking about it. One by one, we all came out with different ways that our D&D game has had very tangible, real world benefits on our lives.

In my case, the D&D game has been invaluable in getting me into a social situation on a regular basis and in forming closer relationships with some very good people. I tend to be shy and somewhat socially averse, so I also tend to isolate myself a little. As much as I value my alone time, I also know that it isn’t good in excess. Our D&D game has been great for getting me out of my hermitage.

Now, this isn’t a commercial for Dungeons and Dragons. Obviously there are lots of ways that I could be socializing, and probably lots of things that would have been helpful to my fellow players as well. What’s important is that we all found something that was useful in the way that we needed it to be.

We are surrounded by messaging of various kinds telling us how important it is that we work hard. I seem to get reminded at least once a week about how early some people start their day, the implication being that if you’re not at a desk somewhere by 4am, you might not be doing enough.

And obviously, dedication and sheer labour are essential if we’re going to achieve whatever goals we happen to have. My next book will only get written if I sit myself down and bang out the words. Heretic Blood will only find a home if I get out on the (virtual) pavement and knock on some (electronic) doors. Work is essential.

It’s also important to take time to deliberately not work, though, and do other stuff that helps get or keep us in the frame of mind to work effectively. Especially when we get busy, it can seem like an automatic thing to do to throw all the play overboard.

For what it’s worth, I don’t think it’s a very good idea.

Go play.

Thanks for reading.

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Back At It

Not too sure what to write about, this week … my holiday break is winding down (I have various disadvantages coming from the work I do, but the amount of time off I get in December is an undoubted plus) and I am gradually getting back to things. I’m preparing for a new term of teaching new groups of students. I saw my first class Monday and it seemed to go pretty well. Things start in earnest next week.

Having taken some time to rest and recharge, I’m also looking to get back to work on the writing stuff, as well. As usual, I had grand ideas about how much I was going to accomplish with my time off, and, well, it didn’t work out like that. Sometimes it really is important to just pause for a while, let yourself have some space and time where you’re not trying to accomplish anything.

This afternoon I took a long walk in the woodlot near where I live. I watched the birds, fed a riotous mob of chickadees, and enjoyed the peace of a snowy forest. I came out feeling quieter inside than I have for a little while. In terms of stuff that Got Done today, the list is not impressive. However, that time to pause has its own kind of value.

Now, I may have somewhat over-indulged over the past few weeks, but I may also have done just what I needed to do. Now, it’s time to get back to work. I want to continue my progress with the new WIP, and I need to finally write that query letter for Heretic Blood, so I can start looking for a home for it seriously. And I need to do the work that more directly pays the bills.

I genuinely believe that I will do all of these things at least a little better because of my quiet time, though. The chickadees are likely to agree.

Thanks for reading.

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2019

So 2019 is here; another year has passed. I’m not the right person to comment meaningfully on all that happened in our world in 2018, except to say that we made it through some heavy weather and have some daunting challenges ahead of us. We persevere.

I think I’ve mentioned here before that I’m not one for New Year’s resolutions. I think that more often than not they become sticks we use to beat ourselves with and a means of amplifying our self doubts. If making a resolution works for you, then do it, obviously, but while I am trying to achieve things, for me there hasn’t been a lot of value in making ritual declarations out of them. There is still a certain inevitability to reflecting a little over the year that has just ended, though.

2018 was a reasonably good year for me in a lot of ways: I finished (well, more or less) writing Heretic Blood, which I think is the most challenging writing project that I’ve ever taken on. Can*Con, which I help organize, was a great success. I made some new connections that I hope will be both professionally valuable and new friendships. I went to places that I had never been, and spent time with dear friends who I hadn’t seen in far too long. I read wonderful new stories.

Certainly there were challenges and setbacks, but overall I must consider myself extremely fortunate for the year I have just had. There’s lots to do in the year ahead: a new project I’m just getting started with, finding a home for Heretic Blood, and a new Secret Project that I should be able to tell you more about shortly. I hope I’m continuing to grow as a writer and stretch myself professionally.

Thanks for being a part of it all by reading this blog. I hope you’ll stick around and discover what 2019 has coming with me.

Happy New Year.

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Theme Music

Work continues – in between end of term stuff at the day job – on the new WIP; I crested past 10,000 words last week, which is not a huge amount but is enough of a Hunk of Stuff to make me feel like this thing has some momentum behind it, especially when I can get a little more time devoted to it. It’s a neat feeling, although I do have the odd twinge of doubt that this is really a good idea. If Heretic Blood was the most difficult thing I have written to date, this new thing is the craziest idea I’ve ever seriously tried to work on. Apparently the crazy ones are the good ones. We’ll see.

I am also encouraged because I’ve started to figure out the new project’s theme music. No, really. I don’t write my stuff imagining it as a movie or TV show (or a comic), but I do sometimes ‘cast’ the characters I’m writing. That’s mostly just a fun mental exercise for in the middle of a 10k or something. But, I always have theme music.

This isn’t necessarily the same as music I play while writing, although I usually do have that going on. I play all sorts of different things almost every time I write, and it isn’t necessarily connected to what’s going on on the page at all. Mostly I just choose something that’s either going to relax me or otherwise get me into a pleasant headspace where I can focus on making the words happen.

Every story I’ve written, though, has at least a couple pieces of ‘theme music’ that are basically connected to the mood and feel of the piece I’m working on. I don’t honestly know why I do this, because I’m not at all a musical person in the sense of writing it or performing it in any way. I guess some part of my creative brain reacts to it, though, because forming that link between the story ideas and the right piece of music seems to be an important step.

Once I have the theme music (which I usually will hear and just go ‘oh yeah, that’s it, isn’t it.’) it tells me a lot about what the tone of the story is likely to be and the direction I want to take it in. In the past, at least, figuring out the theme music makes it much easier to get to work on the writing. I’m not entirely sure why. I find it genuinely fascinating that there are these parts of my creative process that appear to be important, but I don’t (apparently) consciously understand why or how. Most of the time, I also feel that it’s one of those things that’s best not to ask too many questions about.

This all sounds, I am sure, slightly(?) overly-mysticized, and no doubt it is. I expect there’s some reasonably straightforward neuropsychological reason for why things work the way they do. Ultimately, though, it doesn’t matter. I’ve got the theme music.

That means it’s time to keep on with the writing.

I probably won’t blog next week, what with it being the holiday season, and all. See you in a couple weeks. Thanks for reading.

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On Sabine

I really don’t have a good idea to write about this week, but I have been thinking a lot about Star Wars (in part because of the RPG I game master, and in part because I’m doing the Star Wars Lego advent calendar), and so I think I’m going to do my thoughts on Sabine Wren. For those who have maybe missed it, Sabine is one of the characters from the Rebels animated series that I’ve talked about on here before.

I really enjoyed the series overall, and I think all the characters were written quite well. Sabine was the one that really surprised me, though. I kind of cringed a bit when I first saw her because she’s a young girl in Mandalorian armour – the stuff Boba Fett wears. I think I’ve also said several times before on here that I think the Star Wars writers have fumbled the ball pretty badly where Boba Fett is concerned.

They had a character with a neat visual design who people thought was cool in part because of the look and in part because he was an enigma. Boba Fett had fan support far beyond what his actual role in the movies really justified. The response to this was to not only do more and more with that specific character, but also to recycle that visual design into seemingly as many places as possible. A copycat bounty hunter in basically the same suit. Another identical looking guy for the prequel trilogy. Mandalorians everywhere. Everything they’ve added has, to me, undermined where the appeal of the Boba Fett character came from so that by the time I saw Sabine show up on Rebels, I was like ‘oh noooo’.

But then, she turned out to be far from just a retread of the ‘bounty hunter in cool armour’ concept. I mean, yes, Sabine is good in a fight and enjoys explosives, but there’s a more interesting layer. She’s an artist. That (to me, now) overdone armour is brightly painted and stylized. She bombs things with paint, and wants to leave a her symbol behind to let the Empire know who just kicked their ass. When she’s gonna take a stolen TIE Fighter into battle, well, she’s not gonna do it until she’s given the thing a custom paint job. I’m still sorry we never saw that thing again.

I guess it’s maybe not a surprise that I’d dig a character who is, on some level, another creative, but I also think this was just not a character we’d seen in the Star Wars world before. Knights, space pirates, royalty, con men, yes … but not really an artist. So that was cool, and it got me to buy into the Sabine character long enough for the writers to give me the rest of her story. Which did, in the end, involve a whole bunch more dudes in that goddamned armour, but by then I didn’t care because it was Sabine’s story and they found a way to make me care about that.

So well done, but also something to think about regarding characters in general. It gets me back to the idea that I keep running into from writers I respect that it doesn’t necessarily matter if the bare bones of your idea (plot, setting, characters, whatever) are brand new, because you’ve never told their story before. Sure, a particular character concept (Mandalorian warrior!) might have been so chewed over that people are sure they’ve seen it all before – but they haven’t seen you do it yet.

I mean, I still don’t think I ever want to see another Mandalorian armour bounty hunter in my Star Wars, but maybe I do, and I just don’t know it yet, because it’s gonna come from a writer that I haven’t seen use that particular brush to paint with. I think it may be the hardest thing to learn as a writer, and I’m sure still working on it: believing that the story I have to tell could not be done by anyone else, alive or dead, and that means it has an audience that wants to hear it.

Tell that story with confidence. Paint brightly.

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Read Whatever

Busy times just now, so a bit of a brief one. I saw several separate discussions on the internet recently about people being told that they ‘must’ read various authors, either to ‘properly understand’ SFF as a reader, or to be able to ‘properly write’ it. This is not, it’s true, unique to SFF or fiction in general; people will make the same argument about appreciating music Properly or film The Right Way or whatever. It’s not something that I’ve ever been told personally, but I sure have seen many suggestions along the lines of ‘you cannot truly understand SFF until you’ve read <Author>’. <Author> is usually a white dude from like the 1960s, although not exclusively.

I don’t care who the author is, though, this is bunk. There are lots of great stories out there, ones that will blow your mind, and you should read them. Seek them out. Hunt them down, feast upon them. The thing is, that even in a ‘niche’ genre like SF, or fantasy, or horror (or, or, or), there’s so many different kinds of story, too. For any individual reader, there’s some you’ll like and some you probably won’t, because of the writing style, the thematic approach, the characters, whatever. It’s very silly, to me, to think that there’s some imperative to read the stories we know or can guess that we won’t like very much, just because A Name wrote them.

A friend of mine noted (tangential to one of these discussions) that he’s never read any Heinlein. I’m not 100% certain, but knowing him as I do, I don’t think he’d enjoy Heinlein’s stuff very much. There’s like a billion things out there to read, why spend your limited time on something that doesn’t grab you by the throat and scream ‘READ ME’?

Likewise, as a writer, the most important thing (it seems to me) is to write the stories you feel passionate about. You can absolutely do that, because the story comes from you. There’s no background reading required (although yes, reading widely in general will improve your writing). This goes back to one of my very first blog entries and that advice from Stephen King (still some of the best writing advice I have yet seen) – you’re ready to write when you feel ready to write, and if someone tells you you’re not because you haven’t read X or Y books from whenever, tell them to get bent. Go ahead and smoke that shit.

Now, if your objective is to study the history of a field, the development of (say) SF fiction over time, then sure, you’d need to go and read particular influential and impactful writers and landmark books. But if you’re just reading to read? Read whatever tells you that it must be read. If you’re looking to write? Congratulations, you’re ready to sit down and try it out. Just write the story that you’re excited to tell everyone.

Gatekeeping, man. It’s extremely tiresome. Most creatives really don’t need anything additional feeding our impostor syndromes. Give these kinds of argument all the attention they deserve, which is none.

That’s what I’ve got for you this week. Thanks for reading.

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Weird Directions

It’s early days on the new WIP, which is always exciting, and things are going pretty smoothly. They usually do when I’m just getting started, because I can jump right in on all the scenes that I’m particularly excited about and know just how to do. The tougher work will come later, so I’m enjoying things like the 2,000 word morning I had today while that lasts.

I also recently had an idea that would change the WIP a fair bit. I think it’s pretty cool and I like it a lot, but it would also make the whole thing a good bit weirder. I mentioned this on Twitter and most of my writer friends responded with variations on ‘do the weird thing’ which should not be a great surprise coming from a) creatives and b) writers of primarily SF, Fantasy, and horror.

Now, you might argue that I might want an unbiased opinion, but honestly, however much I know they do tend to love weird shit, they are also professional creators of this kind of thing and if their advice is to steer into the weird, it’s an idea worth giving a lot of weight.

I do think, generally, that you have to write what excites you, or it won’t be as good as it could be, and if the idea that is making me ‘ooh, yes please!’ at the moment is something pretty out there, well, so be it. Maybe the sober reflection on suburban life will be next in the queue. (It will not be next in the queue.) I also think, from my fairly limited experience, that it’s easier to dial things back in terms of how daring and intense they are than it is to turn up the volume on later drafts. So I’d rather write this thing as weird as I can conceive of it and figure out where to pull back on it if it turns out to be too much than write something where the primary feedback is ‘well, it’s a bit dull’.

All of which to say that I’m going with the pretty weird idea and steering the WIP in a direction that will make it very different than the way I originally imagined it, probably riskier in terms of whether it is going to work or collapse into a glorious mess, but will also definitely be a more unique tale. Those are the ones that are the most worth telling, I figure, so off we go.

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New Project!

This blog started out as a public accountability component to my stated intention to complete my first novel. In other words, I figured saying I was going to do it publicly would help shame me into sticking with the project even when I didn’t necessarily feel like it. I’ve decided to engage that function of the blog again this week, as I get set to seriously begin my next WIP.

Now, astute readers will know that I did already start working on another piece during the summer, and no, this is not that. That project got back-burnered when I had editing to do on Heretic Blood, and now I have another idea I’m a bit more excited by. It may not be exactly Best Practices to switch over like that, but if I have learned anything about my writing process it’s that I do best when I’m working on an idea that I’m excited by in the moment. I still like that other story, and I expect I will get back to it in time, but right now I’ve got this other idea burning a hole in my imagination and I sort of want to jump on it while the excitement holds.

It also makes starting to learn Scrivener a touch easier if I’m starting fresh with a new project instead of working out how to import an existing document into this new program. So, hopefully, I can sort of accomplish two objectives at once. Of course, that depends on ruthlessly carving out the time to really give this new project significant attention, because If I’ve learned a second thing about my writing process, it’s that if I leave a project for a while, I lose that elusive ember of excitement, and then it takes a while to stoke it up again. So if I’m going to do this, I need to attack it consistently, which is what I did with King in Darkness and Bonhomme Sept-Heures and even (mostly) with Heretic Blood.

I hope that this will start tomorrow; I’m meeting a friend in the morning for a writing session of the sort that gave me the final push through to finishing Heretic Blood and bashing it into shape to start sending out into the world. I’m pretty excited to see how this story goes; it will be quite different from anything I’ve written in a long time.

I haven’t written a lot so far, but (unconventionally for me) I did start at the beginning, so here’s a little taste. I’d love to hear what you think.

We were nearly cornered by armed goons and whether any of us lived through the next few minutes depended entirely on whether the old guy in the filthy coveralls was the right kind of crazy. And look, instead of ‘armed goons’, some people would insist I should be saying ‘law enforcement officers’, sure. And the old man, yes, he might theoretically be one of the most valuable people in any system. But so far, we’d had to basically drag him up three flights of stairs and down a whole bunch of corridors, and his main contribution had been to scream at the top of his lungs and make sure everyone knew exactly where we were. I’ve had relationships get off to better starts. And as situations go, well, I had my gun, and I had my ship, and usually that’s enough. But this was not great.

I think I’m going to call it Spacebender, and I think it’s going to drive my friend Derek Kunsken insane. I’m excited to get started with it, and I’m already looking forward to sharing more of it with you.

Thanks for reading.

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Tools

Not much of an entry again this week; I’m still swamped at work and now also sick into the bargain, so this has been a far-from-productive last few days. I guess the only significant Writing Thing I did recently was taking the plunge on buying myself a copy of Scrivener. (Let no-one say that I don’t do retail therapy, at least a little)

At least in theory, I think it might be helpful for me. As I’ve mentioned before on the blog, I tend to write my stories out of order, doing whatever scenes I feel inspired to write or have clarity on as they come to me. Then eventually I stitch them all together. I am given to understand that Scrivener will make this a bit easier as you can have parts of your overall document defined as scenes and then easily shuffle them around. Sounds good, if I can teach myself how to use it.

A lot of emphasis is sometimes placed on tools, and sometimes we attach identity to them. I have seen various people say something along the lines of ‘if you’re a serious writer, you must get Scrivener’. I’m sure that’s not accurate – obviously lots of people thrived as writers before it existed, and many still do. I wrote King in Darkness and Bonhomme Sept-Heures on nothing more complicated than Open Office, and although Heretic Blood is probably not in its final form, I’ve created it the exact same way.

More importantly, I’m not sure it’s *helpful* to suggest that in order to be taken seriously at any particular craft, you have to use a particular tool or set of tools. For writing, all you really need to do is write. It doesn’t matter how you do it, and you should probably look around at different options and try some different things to find what you’re most comfortable with, but as long as words are ending up on the page, nothing else matters. Getting a tool doesn’t get you anything if you don’t use it, and you can do a lot of work done with really basic stuff as long as you just keep at it. I suppose I’m just a little tired of seeing suggestions that people are Doing It Wrong.

I didn’t pick up Scrivener for any reason other than that I am at the start of a new project and now is the time to try it out. (Well, also that retail therapy thing) We’ll see how it goes. My guess is that at first it’s going to slow me down as I learn to operate it, but hopefully down the line it will make things go more smoothly. And if not, well, Open Office is still always there.

That’s it for this week; I hope to have a little more to talk about next time. Thanks for reading.

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Doldrums

Short one this week, as I have been neither very productive nor feeling very inspired the past few days. Some of this is purely ‘real life’ related: we’re in the busy part of term for me and a lot of my energy is going to that. Some of it is a bit seasonal in another way; it’s cold and wet right now, I’m not doing the long outdoor runs that I enjoy so much through the summer, and while I’ll adjust, it’s a bit grim just now.

It’s also true that since I have more or less stopped work on Heretic Blood (or at least, the work is now in the ‘find someone who would like to publish it’ phase), I don’t have a go-to project that is sitting and waiting for me whenever I have some writing time. I’m in the process of figuring out what that next project is going to be, and I have a few ideas I think might be cool, but nothing that I’ve really gotten a lot of traction with yet.

I could probably sit and force myself to grimly pound out some stuff that I wouldn’t be feeling too excited about, and would probably read exactly like something that I really didn’t feel like writing. I’m not convinced it’s a worthwhile investment of time, though. Some people will insist that you gotta grind out stuff regardless of context, and while I do think it’s important to keep working on my writing as often as I can, I also think it’s basically fine to recognize the times when I’m not going to do good work, and put my energy elsewhere. Clean the house. Run the errands. Read some stuff that might get me excited to get back creating.

So, while it’s fair to say that I’m in a bit of a writing doldrum right now, the best thing I can do for myself is keep in mind that this is ok. I’m never going to be equally productive all year round. There will be periods where I write a lot, and times where, for a variety of reasons, things don’t go as well, or I may be needing to put my energy elsewhere. It doesn’t really mean that anything is ‘wrong’, it’s just part of the respiration of my creative process. Some times are not the right time for me to create. That will change, and what’s important is to take advantage of the times when I do have the energy and inspiration to write stuff that I can take pride in.

Or so I keep telling myself.

Hopefully I’ll have gotten back into a bit more of a creative mode, and have a meatier blog for you, in another week.

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