Category Archives: Writing

Management

One of my major procrastination/leisure activities is of course video games. I do enjoy many of the audio/visual spectacles of the newer ones, but I also dig a classic old game sometimes too. One that I played the heck out of when I was in university, and was then delighted to find a port of for my current system, is a game called Championship Manager 97/98. It’s a football management simulator; basically you pretend to be in charge of a European football club.

Of course I enjoy the sports part of the game, but – perhaps inevitably – that’s not all that I like about the experience. In my current game, I’m far enough into things now that nearly all the real-world players have retired and so the game is populated by a bunch of fictional athletes. Essentially, nothing more than names.

Except that I know about all of them. I know what they all (on my team, definitely, and some on others) look like, I know their personalities, I know about their lives outside the game. Because, of course, I have to fill in all these things while I’m playing the game, because that’s how my writer brain works. It’s part of how I know that I will never stop writing.

I’ve been thinking a lot about my writing in general, lately, as I guess you can probably tell from the tone of the last few blogs. I didn’t have a terribly productive summer. The Eager Volunteers have noticed that I haven’t sent them anything in quite a while. The process of finding a home for Heretic Blood is, well, still in process.

I have, from time to time, wondered if I should just call it a day. Like, I don’t support myself with my writing, and very few people would notice if I just didn’t do it any more. Maybe I could just leave it. Maybe I should.

But, of course, I will never stop writing. I know my writer brain will always find some way to do what it wants to do. I have extensive backstories for all three Dungeons and Dragons characters that I’ve played this summer that will never come up in the game. I have all the places in the Star Wars RPG that I gamemaster that my players will never visit, the NPCs they will never meet (along with the ones they do, and have). I have all those details of my imaginary football players’ lives.

So not writing is not really an option for me. Whether I will, or can, do it in any kind of professional capacity is certainly questionable. It probably doesn’t matter, or shouldn’t. There is, I fear, a parallel with my running: I am not by any stretch of the imagination a competitive runner. My times at any distance are nothing remarkable. But, I enjoy the challenge and I enjoy the act of being out on the road.

In the end, maybe that’s what writing will be for me. Playtime with words. I’m honestly not sure, at this moment. Expectations are perhaps being managed. Not as fun as managing imaginary football players, but probably more worthwhile.

I am sure I’ll never stop writing, whether it is another novel, or the story of a person perhaps only I will ever meet.

Thanks for reading.

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Summer’s End

Short one this week, as my summer rapidly expires and my mind is turning to rapidly onrushing things. Overall this is really not a bad thing – I enjoy teaching, and interacting with students (most of the time, of course) and so getting back to work isn’t exactly a crushing burden.

It does mean that my days and weeks will change, the demands on my time will significantly alter, and some things that I’ve been devoting more time to will get a little less attention, for a while. Especially as I wasn’t nearly as productive with my writing through the summer as I had hoped to be, that feels a little disappointing, but I also wonder if it might be a good thing. Perhaps a change in perspective and circumstance will make it a little clearer where my energy really needs to go next.

The summer did seem to flash by awfully fast, but in many ways that’s the consequence of having filled it with lots of things, almost all of which have been lots of fun. I suppose on some level I would always like just one more week of quiet lazy mornings on the deck with my flowers and a sleepy cat and the bees about their business, but the truth is I’ve had a great luxury of time to myself already.

I don’t honestly think I misspent it, even if I didn’t get as much Stuff done as I thought I might. I think I was probably more mentally and physically tired coming out of winter and spring than I realized at the time, and really needed some slack time to recuperate and recharge.

In any case, it’s all all right. Writing is primarily something I do because I love it. Even if it has been easy, the last few days, to see all the exciting stories from WorldCon in Dublin and think ‘if only’, I have to believe that if my writing is good enough, that kind of thing will come. Or it won’t, and I’ll still have another summer of blooms and birdsong and a coffee with my words.

I’ll let you know how it all goes.

Thanks for reading.

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Just Finish

Most of last week I was away on my yearly trip up north to the small town where my mother’s family is from and where my parents have a little cabin. It’s become a good peaceful winding-down to my summer (not as productive as planned/hoped this time ’round, but stay tuned) and a bit of a break from the city and phones and (mostly) email that is a welcome corrective.

I also get to visit with family members I don’t see too often, and hear some old family stories. Of course many of these, I have heard before, but there’s still something that feels good about refreshing the familial memory store, a little. One story this visit (as often happens) was about my grandfather, and it has Stuff in it that I need to try to remember.

My grandfather was quite an amateur athlete, really. He did bike races, canoe races, snowshoe races, and he did distance running and walking. He won a bunch of them, in his younger days, and then he didn’t win any longer, but he really never stopped doing them. I imagine some of my interest in running draws its roots from there, and I often think of him, mid-run. I didn’t really start running until after he had passed away, which I regret, because I like to think it’s something we would have had in common.

I wear a bandana on my head when I run, and I get a lot of grins when people see it and a fair number of pirate comments, but the stereotypical pirate look has nothing to do with why I wear it. On one level, it’s just a practical solution to being bald and preventing sweat running into my eyes the whole time I’m out there, but of course there are other answers to that. The other level is that that’s what my grandfather did. I remember being very young in the back seat of the family car, and we met granddad out on one of his training runs and stopped to say hi. He was wearing a red bandana, that image has always stayed with me, and so at a certain point I decided to give it a try myself. It works pretty great.

So there are things I remember, but also things I’ve forgotten, or never knew until the family stories are getting told. The one I’m thinking about today is just something my grandfather apparently said to my aunt when they were midway through a canoe race. That it doesn’t matter how many people finish ahead of you, as long as you don’t quit. As long as you finish.

One of the things that really did draw me to running was that it’s not necessarily competitive. As the saying goes, the race is long and in the end it’s only with yourself. The race is yours. As long as you finish, you did just fine.

It’s a harder frame of mind to maintain than you might think, because of course they time these things, and it becomes hard not to think about ‘could I be just a little quicker, if’ and compare your time to x and y other people you know who did the same race, or the same distance, or even what you did, a year or two ago. Obviously pushing yourself to achieve the best you can is important, but this can so easily become another thing to beat yourself up over and make yourself feel bad about.

It extends, again I guess obviously, beyond running. Why haven’t I written more, or better? Why haven’t I had more published? Why wasn’t this summer as productive as I thought it would be and imagined it could be? Why haven’t I done as much, or as well, as x or y other people I know?

And again, having goals and standards is important. But at least for me, this can so easily become self-defeating again, if I follow the chain of thought through to the conclusion that I’m really not very good at this, not compared to x or y, and that it would really be better if I just stopped. Running. Writing. Whatever.

I at least need to listen to my grandfather when my mind starts to skitter off down these corridors. It doesn’t matter how many people are ahead of you. The race is yours, and only yours. Just finish. Do what you are capable of doing, on the day, through the week, through the summer. Do the best you can and know that you can do no more, and that is good enough.

Anyway, it’s another perspective that I try to keep in mind, both about my running, and things in general. You do your best with the tools you’ve got and the time and energy you’ve got and make the best decisions you know how to make and in the end, produce whatever you can. What other people produce isn’t really even directly relevant. Their situation was not yours.

My grandfather and I never had this conversation, or as many as I would have liked, at all. In some sense, though, I do think he is with me at times, as I run all my various sorts of races.

Thank you.

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On the Portability of Dreams

Long-time readers of the blog may remember that I’ve commented in the past on a particular tree that I used to see when I was out running (they said: oh no!) that was signposted as ‘The Dream Tree’. It was a type of white ash tree and that specific tree had apparently been a gift to the city from a group of visiting dignitaries. I thought the idea of a Dream Tree was a lovely one, thought about it often, and the notional final book in my series of stories about Adam Godwinson (from The King in Darkness and Bonhomme Sept-Heures), should I ever write it, would be called The Dreaming Tree.

Two or three summers ago now, the Dream Tree fell victim to the ash borers that devastated so many trees in the city. At some point I wrote a poem about it. Eventually they cut it down, and took the sign away. Now this year, as I stretch out the distance on my runs again, I have discovered that they have put the sign up again, beneath another tree (presumably also white ash?), further down the river. It’s the exact same sign, but marking a different tree as the Dream Tree.

This brings to mind a couple of questions. First is kind of a ‘Ship of Theseus’-ish one: does it actually matter which ash tree is marked as the Dream Tree? If the idea is to commemorate the gift to the city, well, that’s still being done, the tree is beautiful, and people can read the little story and think nice things about all of it. But it’s not the original tree. (Going further: was the tree I first got to know as the Dream Tree the original? Have there been a succession of them?) For the purpose of the sign, and the label, and what visitors will take away, does it matter?

I suppose as a historian I would suggest that it does, because the original thing that was placed or planted there at a point in time carries some significance that a duplicate or replacement does not. I’d probably like it better if the sign mentioned that this tree was a successor to the original Dream Tree, but I may be being too much of a stickler about it.

There’s another question that I thought about for the rest of that run, which is maybe more interesting. We all have dreams, ideas about things that we would like to do or see or have happen. Often enough, they don’t happen exactly the way we might have imagined that they would. I know that’s very frequently been the case in my life, both in and out of writing. And of course there are many dreams that haven’t yet shown me what will come of them.

In some cases, and contexts, people would say that a dream that is not fulfilled has died, like my first Dream Tree. But something else does happen, in many cases having some similarities to what I had imagined, along with differences. Most of the time, I’ve been fortunate enough that what I have had in reality has been really very wonderful, even if it doesn’t perfectly match up with a dream.

Should we really talk about a dream having died in such a case, or is it just a case of a different tree? How much can our dreams move and change before they’re not our dreams at all any more?

Personally, I think it’s an important part of dreaming to realize that while they are very powerful, we also shouldn’t hang our happiness on getting precisely what we dreamt about. In becoming reality, our dream will transform and shift and change its shape. By the time we get some sort of result, it may look like a different tree entirely.

But it still came from our dreams, and perhaps that’s the only important thing.

The only conclusion I have is that, whether it makes any particular sense or not, I am happy to see the Dream Tree on my runs again, tall and strong and beautiful and not the same as the other, which will forever grow beside the river in my imagination.

Thanks for reading.

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In Praise of Praise

On Twitter this week, I saw one writer bemoaning another writer they knew who was ‘self rejecting’, which is something I know I need to look out for. Self-rejecting is basically when you decide your work isn’t any good, and so you don’t query on it, or submit it, or let anyone look at it. I’m in the midst of querying Heretic Blood, and it is definitely discouraging at times (especially when you get the form-iest of form letter replies) but at least if you’re submitting places, you’re giving people a chance to say yes. They can’t say yes if they don’t see it.

Like I said, I am prone to being tough on my own work and I know self-rejection is a thing I need to watch out for. So far, a summer of ‘no’s on my new book has made the idea of not sending it out any more seem at least a little attractive. Maybe it’s easier to decide the book is no good and stop.

Fortunately, I had a couple little boosts as well. I wrote a social media post for Can*Con that a bunch of people said nice things about. I gave a friend some advice on the story they were working on, and they walked away feeling much better about it. Those little reminders that I have some idea what I’m doing can be so valuable in keeping your legs under you and keeping in motion on what you’re working on.

So, trying a few different things is good, but just as important to me is to offer genuine praise and admiration to artists when you think they did something cool. Even a little bit of positive reinforcement can be huge for someone struggling in what is often a very solitary and difficult field. Don’t underestimate how much your positive comment may mean to someone.

Also, none of that happens if I’m not putting my ideas out there, even on a very small scale. No-one can like your work if they never see it. It’s genuinely fine if you just want to write and have it be for no-one but you, but if you want to really know what anyone else thinks about it, at some point you have to let them see it.

Until you do, you can’t know if they might think it’s good, but equally, you also don’t know that they think it’s bad.

From my point of view, writing that has hard work done on it deserves an audience at some point.

Thanks for reading.

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On Schedule

I very nearly forgot to write this. It is 11:30 (ish) as I am typing up this entry, and had I been a bit quicker heading for bed I would have missed putting a new entry on the blog on schedule for the first time in quite a while. I decided it was worth making sure I didn’t.

I tend to do better with routines, in writing and in a lot of other things. If I have definite, regular times to Accomplish Stuff, more things happen than if I leave them for Whenever. Of course, the thing about routines is that they disappear awfully quick if you break them. Thus, here I am, typing this entry.

I am trying to (re)establish some routine, in general, this week. I haven’t been as productive as I would have liked to have been thus far in my rapidly-disappearing summer, and it feels as though a lot of that is because I’ve never gotten into a steady rhythm. I’ve been up to lots of different things, many of them fun and positive, but there’s been no pattern to it.

There’s still time.

Part of the reason I nearly forgot to write this entry is that there had been another break in my routine over the weekend – I was away at the Ad Astra conference in Toronto. I had a very fun road trip and weekend with friends and fellow creatives, and it was very good to feel connected to a community of writers and to feel like I am doing a real thing that other people do rather than just wasting time when I sit down to write.

So it was a good thing to do, even if it threw off my running routine and (apparently!) disrupted some of my other scheduling as well. That’s the other thing about routines – you have to know when it’s valuable to let them go, at least for a while.

Anyway, that’s what you get for this week. The blog’s routine has (barely) been maintained, and perhaps that will be an omen for me increasing my productivity over the last bits of my summer.

Thanks for reading.

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The Work Continues

I ran a little bit of a race yesterday. (Yes, it’s another one) It went reasonably well – I was quicker than I was a month ago – although there’s still also room for improvement. Not a dream race, one that could have been better in a few ways, but not so bad, and worth having done.

I’m feeling that way about a lot of my writing these days (see the ‘Hatewords’ entry from last week) – I don’t feel like I’ve really hit a good stride with the project I’m trying to work on, and I’m not entirely happy with what’s getting produced, but it isn’t (I think) irredeemable either and it’s better than not writing anything.

Sort of goes back to something I have written here (and continually remind myself) a few times recently: it really doesn’t have to be perfect, as long as you’re still working on it. I’m still training for my running every week, and I’m gonna keep plugging away at this WIP, and (I trust) both will gradually get better.

This actually meshes somewhat with yesterday also having been Canada Day, and my feelings about the country where I live of late. I think I’m very fortunate to live here, and there are a lot of things about this country that we can all be justifiably very proud of. There’s also a lot of things that need serious work and attention.

We need to do much much better by First Nations people, who still have uranium in their water and systemic racism in their path. We need to do right by LGTBQ people. We need to stop dickering over what it might cost and shift ourselves to really do something about climate change, if it isn’t too late. We need to root out and destroy the rising forces of white nationalism, that would have been unthinkable to see when I was young. And on and on.

Real, serious things to work on. It doesn’t mean that everything about this country is awful and that there’s nothing to be pleased about. It just means there’s more work to do. For all of us, as a society, and for each of us as individuals.

Running.

Writing.

Being decent people.

Thanks for reading.

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Hatewords

Yesterday I wrote about 1,300 words and hated all of them.

Well, most of them, anyway. I was working on the WIP, and generally felt like everything I was writing was pretty crude and clumsy. I’ve written a lot here about how sometimes it’s ok to just decide the day is not going to be a good one for creating, and sort of pull the ripcord on it. I still think that’s an important thing to give yourself permission to do, sometimes.

This wasn’t *quite* one of those days, though – I was banging the scene I was working on into some kind of shape, kind of roughing it out, and even though I’m pretty sure when I go back and give it an editing pass that a lot is going to change, it wasn’t quite ‘throw in trash’ bad. I am not proud of what I wrote, and it’s certainly not something I would share with anyone else, but it was a step towards something that I’d give to a reader.

Obviously it’s a fine line. I wasn’t feeling great in terms of what I was producing, but I was *producing*, and in the end much as I felt pretty hostile to what I created (thus the ‘hatewords’ label a friend of mine assigned to them on Twitter), I know it was a step forward that I wouldn’t have taken if I stopped entirely.

Remembering to give myself permission to also produce stuff that isn’t immediately perfect is also important, because it’s obviously easier to fix something that is written but has issues than start from nothing. All stuff I feel like I should know, but obviously need to keep relearning.

Thanks for reading.

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Push

Consider yourself adequately forewarned: this is another running analogy.

Late last week, I had – in terms of time – probably my best run of the summer. (I was also largely fuelled by a payload of fury, but that’s probably not highly relevant. Case in point #9283 that ‘keep your emotions in check’ is a heap of bullshit) I do think it helped that I was Very Angry, and it probably also helped that it started raining a bit partway through (motivation!) but what both of those things really did was get me in a mindset where I was willing and able to push myself.

Yeah, I was getting a bit tired, and yeah, legs a little sore, but that doesn’t necessarily mean slow down. Maintaining max performance necessarily means that it’s going to feel like you’re doing as much as you possibly can. Especially for something that I essentially do for enjoyment, that’s not always the easiest thing to do. Slowing down is both the response my body appears to be angling for, and the one that comes more easily. Which is basically fine – except that it won’t lead to my best running – because running is a hobby. I don’t, however, want my writing to be just a hobby.

I mean, this is far from an earth-shattering observation, but it’s one I do need (apparently) to remind myself of periodically. We can do hard things, but they are still hard. That means both that yeah, it’s ok to find them difficult to do, but also that they’re going to require some perhaps uncomfortable effort to get done.

That’s true for getting the best time out of a run that I can, and also true as I try to get back in the writing groove now that I’m done teaching for the summer. I would really like to get a complete first draft of the WIP knocked out by fall, which is going to require a significant amount of work to achieve. It’s not going to happen if I take it easy and write when I feel like it. I’m going to need to push.

I’ve written before that I also think the ‘write every day’ rule is goofy and that there are times to admit that writing is not going to be a thing that happens on a particular occasion and let yourself off the hook about it. As with most things, there’s a balance to be struck here, between pushing yourself to get the work done and also recognizing limits.

I thought Rich Larson put it well when we had him on Broadcasts from the Wasteland (what is that, you ask? Well, go here) – basically you have to show up for work as a writer, i.e., sit down at <whatever writing technology> and try to get the words going. Some days the answer will be ‘no’ and that’s ok. Most days, you’ll get at least something done. Some days will be outstanding.

The thing is that just like I need to push a bit on the runs, I also can’t just wait around for the days when I feel absolutely overflowing with inspiration to write. Not if I want to be my most productive and have writing perhaps be more than a hobby. (I should say that some of this absolutely depends on my writing friends who are good enough to tolerate writing in the same space as me. 🙂 )

So: pushing myself, to write, and to run.

Thanks for reading.

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Kerr Avon

Yesterday, we got the sad news that the actor Paul Darrow passed away. I never met him, nor did I see very much of him out of character any place, so I can’t say I knew him. And yet, the news was very saddening to get, because Paul Darrow played Kerr Avon on the show Blake’s 7, and my, did I love that character.

I wrote a bit about Avon and Blake’s 7 once already, but I’m going to dig a bit more into it today, because Avon is truly one of my very favourite TV characters ever. (Only a very little bit because young, not-experienced-with-accents me really thought they were saying ‘Evan’ for the first couple episodes) It’s a bit odd, in a way, that I have so much affection for Avon, because in some ways he seems to be the kind of character I don’t have a lot of patience with, these days.

To explain – the basic premise of Blake’s 7 is a bunch of escaped criminals in a battle against a totalitarian Federation that rules the galaxy with an iron fist; basically Robin Hood in space, or a cynical flip of Star Trek. Most of the titular Seven are more or less as you’d expect: idealistic to differing degrees, fond of each other, and definitely dedicated to the idea of the Federation’s overthrow.

Not so Kerr Avon, computer crook and embezzler, who is clear enough that his goals are survival, and getting rich. He’s derisive with gusts to contemptuous towards the others, especially as regards any lofty goals. Avon is a cynical pragmatist with, it seems, no time for anything other than what’s best for his own self. Not, in general, the kind of character I dig very much.

The first reason I do enjoy this one is that whatever else is true about him, Avon is fun to watch. The writers gave him a lot of great lines. (Watch this compilation and see if you don’t have at least a little affection) I think this is where people sometimes go wrong with anti-heroes or bleak characters: we’ve gotta at least want to follow them around on some level, and Avon was always worth watching for the next line he might drop on some unsuspecting twit.

The other reason I think the character works is that there’s just enough hints dropped that it’s possible that some or all of the above is an act, or partly an act. Avon talks a good game about ditching the others, but never does it. In fact, he’s always there when needed. He definitely thinks he’s the smartest one in the room, but in terms of actions, he’s always there for the group when it comes down to it. Again, I think there’s a lesson for dark characters, here: there needs to be something that makes us want to be on their side, at least a little.

With Avon, it was relatively easy to do because he was on the team, in the end. Exactly how much, well, that was harder to say. That brings me to one of the things I love about the whole Blake’s 7 series. Wonky as the sets often were, the writing was very well done, and they had the confidence in their audience to deal with some ambiguity. Exactly how much of a selfish jerk was Avon, and how much of it was an act? Hard to say. The final episode, with its gloriously grim ending, with Avon’s ‘Have you betrayed me?‘ (this to Blake, who for much of the last act has seemed to be working for the Federation) can be read in different ways: is this Avon’s arrogance, unable to believe that he’s been outwitted? Is he shocked at the idea of it being Blake who’s the turncoat, rather than the other way around? Or, is he horrified at the idea of betrayal of a friend (a friendship Avon would never have admitted existed)?

We never know, for sure. We never know exactly how much ‘anti’ there was in Avon’s anti-hero, and I love that ambiguity. You genuinely never know exactly what to make of him, and puzzles are always enticing. In sum, although Kerr Avon was undoubtedly a darker type of character than I usually enjoy, there was a lot done right in his creation and performance, and so I liked this particular one a great deal.

Anyway, although I didn’t know Paul Darrow, I am still deeply sad to hear that an actor who gave me a character I loved has gone. I shall enjoy Kerr Avon forever, and think about him – and, of course, Darrow’s performances – whenever I need one of those tricky ‘antihero’ types. Perhaps there was a little Avon in my prickly druid Gwriad, from my D&D game. The good thing about fictional characters is that they do stay with us forever, and so in at least a little way, so do the people who created them and brought them to life.

Thank you, Mr. Darrow.

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