Tag Archives: This is Not Advice

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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Getting Stuff Out There

Since I wrote last, mostly what I’ve been working on is trying to find a home for Heretic Blood rather than creating anything new. I’ve just not been successful at finding a regular time when I have both the minutes and the energy to keep working at the new project, so I’m trying to be successful at something else. Querying is a little easier to fit into briefer windows and pick away at when I can, so hopefully I can be at least a bit productive over the next while this way.

That’s not to say it isn’t difficult, because it absolutely is. Finding the right people to query is hard. Writing a good query is devilish. Hitting send is (for me) the hardest thing of all.

It’s kind of silly, because all I’m doing is sending writing to people who want to receive writing, but I also know that they are either going to say Yes or No to my story and, of course, I’m fairly heavily invested in that Yes. I think putting your work out there for judgment is always hard, because you’ve done your best with it, woven part of your soul into it, and then people will either like it or they won’t, and if they don’t, it’s never going to feel like nothing.

It is something common to basically all art. At some point, you put the picture up on the wall, or put the pages in front of someone, or get up on the stage, and you see what they think. That act takes courage, no matter what the context may be.

And yes, absolutely, you can write just for your own enjoyment and never do anything with what you create and you’re still a writer. I take great joy and satisfaction in the act of writing and I’m pretty sure I would do it even if I knew that absolutely zero people would ever read it. On the other hand, I have always wanted to share my stories, and hope that people would like them. It has never been easy, giving my story to people, whether a single individual or sending it off to a professional that I hope will like it.

But, I believe that stories want to be told, and read.

Get your stuff out there.

It’s a little scary.

Your art is worth it.

Thanks for reading.

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Starting Points

Struggling a bit for a topic this week, so you’re going to get something from Evan’s Barrel of Random Writing Thoughts. Enjoy?

Anyway, I read some conversations talking about the starting point for a new story. A lot of very good points were made about starting with the protagonist, what they want, and how they’re going to get it. Or a character, their challenge, and how they feel about it. You establish those things, and then you can start writing. And it makes perfect sense, and is perfectly sound.

On the other hand, I don’t think I’ve ever followed that process. The story that became The King in Darkness started with the ending scene. I had that ending in mind, and built the rest of the story backwards from there. What characters do I need, and what circumstances can construct the path that gets us to that point? Very different process.

For the story I’m working on now (for some values of ‘working on’), my starting point was an article I read on the BBC website talking about how FTL travel is not only impossible with current technology, and current ideas about technology, but is probably just straight-out impossible, even allowing for tech we haven’t thought of yet. ‘Well that’s no fun,’ I thought, and then proceeded to think about how well, if it can’t be done with science, how could it be done? Magic, obviously. That idea, and my hard SF-writing friend’s probable reaction to it, made me smile, and I created all the rest of what I’ve got from there. There’s dragons now. Very different process. As far as I can recall, I don’t think I’ve ever started from the starting point a lot of authors I respect agreed was their baseline for being ready to write. Man, creativity is endlessly fascinating.

And look, none of this is to say that I’m doing it right, or that I’m clearly doing something wrong. The main reason I mention this is just as yet another piece of evidence in the growing case that there is no Correct process for writing, or even a Correct part of the writing process. There’s only what works for you, and what doesn’t work for you, and even that may change from project to project. There’s certainly something to be said for modelling what other artists do, especially if you admire their work or if you feel like you don’t know how to proceed. At the same time, there’s no need to feel constrained by what other artists do, or to feel bad about your own process if it’s different. In the end, all that matters is that the creation happens.

God, that’s perilously close to advice. We’ll stop here. Thanks for reading.

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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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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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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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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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Back to It

Just a very quick note this week as I don’t really have a great topic idea while also getting a bit busy with the impending start of the fall term and doing some programming work for Can*Con. I also just got home from a vacation up north a bit where I was able to spend some time tending a fire again. As I’ve written about before, I find that deeply satisfying and it was a very nice break. Now back to it.

Primarily right now, “it” is doing revisions of Heretic Blood to get ready to try to find a home. I always find it a strange experience going over my own work. I wrote all of it (honest!) but I will find mistakes that I absolutely cannot believe I made that make me cringe (discovered today: three consecutive ‘Chapter Seven’s) along with word choices and phrases that strike me as awful. I can’t believe I wrote that, yet I indisputably did.

I will also find those parts that make me smile, I’ll read a turn of phrase and think it clever, and every once in a while I will read something that gives me a little chill or flare of excitement. I can’t always believe I wrote those bits either, yet I indisputably did.

Part of this is just to say how important it is to revise thoroughly and find a process for it that works for you. When I sent out the first ‘complete’ draft to my Eager Volunteers, I thought it had most of the rough edges knocked off it, but both they and I have found really glaring errors. They’re in there. Edit your stuff.

Part of it is also what is for me a helpful reminder that even though all the missteps, large and small, are in there, the good stuff really is in there too. Finding a flaw in the work isn’t a sign that it needs to be abandoned, or burned to the ground and started over. It just needs more work.

Revising is not nearly as fun for me as creating something fresh, but it’s at least as important if I’m going to end up with something that people actually want to read. If ‘being there’ is a significant factor in success, so is being willing to do the grind. Most any field that I have any experience with whatsoever has some kind of grind associated with it, and if you want to work in that field, you gotta do the grind eventually. Put it the work, get it done, and that’s how you get back to the fun parts. And it is satisfying, in its own way, to look back at what you were just able to grind on through, know that you took care of that, and did it the best you could.

I have comments in from another Eager Volunteer. Back to it.

Thanks for reading.

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Not Insane

From time to time I meet up with some other local authors and we sit in a place (it varies) and do some writing. It’s very slightly social (the idea is not to talk to each other the whole time) but mostly the idea is to be productive. I find doing it in a group useful mostly from an accountability standpoint, i.e. I will feel guilty if the others see me goofing off on Twitter instead of writing the thing I’m meant to be writing. Also, going to a different place to work from time to time (although I deeply value my Writing Deck time) is useful because it stops me wandering off to do laundry or pet the cats instead of staying on task.

So the group writing sessions are very useful. I got refocused and back on track with the first draft of Heretic Blood by going to a bunch of them, and today I got a nice little bit of the new project hammered out by just going to a room with some other writers and sitting there and getting shit done. Well worth getting out of my pjs for.

Today’s session was also useful in a different kind of way: during one of our ‘get more coffee’ intermissions, we got to talking about how we work and I mentioned that thing I do (which I have written about here several times) where I write the first draft of my stories out of order. I think I’ve also mentioned that when I explain this process to other people, I get a strong feeling that it sounds insane.

Today though, one of the people I was writing with, who happens to be a thoroughly legitimate professional (and, in fact, I suspect that after a few more years go by, people won’t believe me if I claim to know him) said that he does the same thing, for many of the same reasons. I don’t mention this to argue that this means I am doing things Right (I still don’t believe that there is a Right way to do things), but because it was really very validating to have another writer say that yes, they do things that way too.

I think it’s very easy to convince ourselves (especially those of us prone to Impostor Syndrome) that however we do things is a massive ongoing disaster and that people will think we’re insane for doing it. So it’s almost a relief to hear that yes, other people use the same methods. I would go so far as to speculate, in fact, that no matter what method any individual writer is using to get the words on the page and their stuff completed, there’s a whole bunch doing the same thing. Because it works for them.

So what I’m doing isn’t insane (or at least no more insane than the endeavour of ‘creative writing’ is as a whole), what any of you reading may be doing also isn’t insane, and what matters is that the shit gets done.

Man, that’s dangerously close to advice again. We’ll call it there.

Thanks for reading.

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And We’re Back

Last week, for the first time in a very long while, I missed a blog entry. There were reasons.

You may recall from the previous one that I was away on a trip overseas, and last Tuesday was the day I was travelling home. In theory it was all supposed to work perfectly – I would get home in the evening with enough time to sit and write something for this. I even had a good idea of what I would write about.

Didn’t go according to plan. Due to a huge flight delay, my trip home ended up taking just under 23 hours, door to door, and I didn’t arrive home until the early hours of Wednesday. Not a great way to end what had otherwise been a splendid trip, but (as I have reminded myself several times) if my problem is that there were problems with my international travel, I’m really doing pretty well overall.

However, the blog didn’t get written. One might argue – with some fairness – that I should have had lots of time to write something while I was waiting around in the airport, but I was a) jealously conserving my battery power so that I could monitor what was going on and communicate with people; creating a tiny illusion of control or agency in a situation in which I could really do nothing at all. I was also b) grumpy, increasingly tired, and running on bad airport food and thus not in a mood to write anything at all.

So the blog didn’t get written, but what I wanted to do today was not present a bunch of excuses (or at least, not only that) but to use this as yet another example of how sometimes, no matter what our intentions are and what plan we have, the world intervenes on us and things do not get done as we hoped they would. Probably well-meaning writing advice often insists on writing every day, or writing set amounts or at given rates. Sometimes this is very useful advice, but sometimes it isn’t.

Sometimes, life is not on your side, and you’ve just gotta let things wash over you, and when it’s done you get back up and you get ’em the next time. A plan is good. Recognizing that sometimes the plan needs to bend, and that that doesn’t mean you’ve failed, is better. Ideas like ‘write every day’ or completion schedules are useful to us only insofar as they help us be productive. If they become a thing that adds to stress or becomes a way for us to beat ourselves up, then they’ve stopped serving any good purpose, and it’s perfectly okay to let them go. It doesn’t mean you quit. It doesn’t mean you failed. It doesn’t mean your work is any less legitimate than anyone else’s. It just means that man, sometimes you have a day, or two, or several.

You get back at it. Writing the blog is something I enjoy and doing it every week is a way to make sure that I don’t find that three months have passed without me doing any entries. However, it wasn’t the end of the planet that I didn’t get an entry done last Tuesday, and doesn’t mean anything other than that it was a really bad day. I’m back at it with this, and back working on revisions for Heretic Blood and planning the new WIP. The work is always there when you’re ready to get back to it.

So, starting a new streak of ‘every Tuesday’s today, and as always, I thank you for reading.

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