Monday Challenge: The Geographic Cure

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Eat my dust, old life.

God, the Monday Challenge. It’s been a while, hasn’t it? Let’s bring it back, just for funzies.

If you’ve ever read about addiction—or had any experience with it yourself, either first hand or through others—you might have heard of the geographic cure. It’s a theory that changing location can get you sober. Move from the town where all your favourite bars and drinking buddies are, get away from your dysfunctional family or the job you hate, and maybe you can find the will to kick the habit.

I don’t know what the stats are, but I doubt the geographic works by itself. Wherever you go, you take yourself along for the ride, and that’s the part that needs changing. I’d hazard, though, that the geographic cure can help, if you’re using the change in location as a way to change yourself. Especially if it’s a temporary way to kickstart recovery. There can be relief in a momentary reprieve from the daily pressure, which is why vacations are so popular. But sooner or later, you have to face yourself again.

Aside from addiction, though, I think a lot of us secretly believe in the geographic cure. How often have you looked around and thought that if you didn’t have this job, this town, this family, this life, then everything would be different? Who hasn’t felt the urge to just leave, walking away from it all and vanishing without a trace into a new life? Into a new self?

Monday Challenge: write me a character trying to leave their problems behind. How far would one of your characters have to go to try a geographic cure for their problems? And how long would it be before the problems eventually caught up?

Planting Your Flag: Making A Writing Space Where You Can Get Shit Done

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Shown: future location for my Writing Lair. Laser sharks optional.

1. X Marks The Spot. If you can, have a dedicated writing space. I know this isn’t possible for everyone. Hell, it wasn’t for me for a long time. I’ve done most of the writing in my life sitting cross-legged on my bed or couch, because there was no damn room for a desk. Or, in most of my university apartments, even a table. But these days I have a desk—a drafting table, actually—that is solely mine. You can tell it’s mine because I painted it Really Fucking Red and have robots standing guard on the corners. Not having a dedicated place is no excuse for not writing, but, speaking from experience, having one makes it easier.

2. You’re Not A Fucking Toddler, Pick Up Your Shit. Just because you have a desk doesn’t mean you get to bury it under a pile of crap. If there’s no room to work, then guess what? You won’t. You’ll take one look at the bloody mess and do something, anything, else. So organize. Put your stuff away: books on shelves or in boxes, credit card statements in the filing cabinet or the paper shredded, the skulls of your enemies neatly arranged on a shelf somewhere. What’s the point of collecting all those skulls if you’re not going to display them properly?

3. All You Need Is Love. And Pens. Whatever you need for writing—laptop, paper, pens, skulls, whatever—have a place for it on your desk. Pens in the cup, notebook on the left for referring to, scratch pad to the right with a pencil standing by, coffee on the coffee mat, stereo remote next to it, computer in front. If you have what you really need nearby, then you won’t waste time looking for it.

4. Reset, Don’t Rage Quit. At the end of every day, reset everything in your space to zero. Put the pens you used away. Close the notebook so the cat doesn’t puke a hairball on it. Tidy away any scraps of paper, used coffee cups, full ashtrays, candy wrappers, and other miscellany of the writing day. Clean that shit up and reset properly. Even if you had a crappy day and all you want to do is throw it all, laptop included, into a trash compactor. Don’t leave it. Start the morning with a clean, organized desk. Otherwise, you’ll waste time and energy cleaning.

5. Headphones Are Proof That The Universe Loves Us And Wants Us To Be Happy. They block out so much: traffic, coffee shop noise, conversations you don’t want, the sound of my neighbours screaming at each other again. I’d get a lot less writing done if not for my headphones. They’re getting a page in my dedications.

How do you make your writing space welcoming? What does your dream desk look like? Don’t pretend like you haven’t thought of it.

Spin Me Round: Finding–And Losing–Your Writing Groove

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Like a record, baby, right round.

A strange thing happened the other day while I was busy ruining a person’s life.*

I’d settled into the morning writing slot with barely a ripple, pausing only to answer the door—package delivery; guess who ordered more damn notebooks—and refill my coffee. As I cruised toward noon, word count goal long since vanished into the rearview mirror, I realized something:

I’d hit my groove.

There is a time in a manuscript’s creation where it suddenly gets easier. No more fighting the plot or the characters. They know what they have to do, and all you have to do is chronicle the steps they take to get there. Like the needle finding the mark on some quality vinyl, the groove awaits, and once there the words shall flow and so will the time. I’ve forgotten lunch once already this week, and only noticed when I ran out of the little mints I keep on my desk. I was hungry, but, damn, my breath was fresh. And there was a new chapter finished and the next one started, like magic.

Here’s one thing about the groove: it doesn’t happen by accident.

This groove occurred because I have been planting my ass in front of this laptop every morning without fail. I wrangled characters, agonized over decisions, and generally slogged my way through the muddy, thorn-filled early paths, forcing my way on with the brain equivalent of a machete and a grimace. I fought. I persevered. I was generally too bloody-minded and contrary to quit.

And now, as a result of all that, I know who the characters are. Therefore, I know what they would do when faced with a given situation. And what the other characters will do with the inevitable fallout of that character’s decision. The tune is all there; all I have to do is sing along.

This will not last. There will come a time when I will slip out of the groove with an angry-cat-scratch, when I’ll lose the feel, when it will all suddenly be hard. Again. I know this will happen, because it has happened before. Many times. As many times as I’ve had writing projects, as a matter of fact, because any time something takes longer than an hour to complete, it has the potential for grooves and therefore the potential for slipping out of them. So I know it will happen. Probably not today; today’s been good already. Maybe tomorrow. Maybe a month from now.

So I’m writing this blog post to remind myself of this groove, and how it was created. And to leave a plan for my future self: here. This is how you get back. This is where the good shit lies.

Now, if you’ll excuse me, the groove beckons.

*An imaginary person. I rarely ruin real people’s lives, except possibly by accident.

Four Ways To Make Getting Started Suck Less

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Wait, what am I doing again?

1. Start at the same time every day. Or around about the same time. Pick a time that works for you—mornings, evenings, on the train to work, on your lunch break, on the weekends in between hunting your fellow man for sport—and stick to it as best you can. Yes, sometimes things get in the way. Just this morning I had to run errands when I normally start writing, because if I wait until the afternoon all the people who drive like rabid weasels seem to come out and make getting around on the ice that much harder. But I finished the errands as quickly as I could—key cutter, dry cleaner, vet’s office, robot death machine maker—and got back to my desk. Result: I still got my main writing done in the morning, albeit with a later start. Habit is a powerful motivator, so make it work for you.

2. Start before your brain fills up with other junk. If you’re a morning writer, no dawdling while you catch up on last night’s Twitter feed. If you do your word bashing in the evenings, sit your ass down right after supper or after the kids are in bed. No watching that one episode. No reading that one chapter. Just plant your keister in front of the computer before you have a chance to talk yourself out of it.

I use this for morning workouts, too: before bed I lay out my running gear and plan my route. Then when the alarm goes off I can operate on automatic pilot and get out the door before I can think better of it. I’m a kilometer in before I even wake up, and by then I might as well finish the damn run.

3. Start with a low goal. I mentioned this last week, but it bears repeating. Set your initial goal low and move on from there. My 500 word goal has me consistently hitting 1500-2000 words, just because once I get in the flow I don’t want to stop. But it also gives me an exit if I have to stop: meetings attended, appointments kept, food hunted down and stuffed in my trunk. I mean my car trunk, not my steamer trunk. The steamer trunk is strictly for bodies.

4. Start knowing it’s the hardest part. Getting started is like trying to yank a tree stump out of the ground with nothing but a chain and a four wheel drive: there can be a lot of wheel spinning and cursing, but it’s not going to happen otherwise. And then when it finally gives, the hard part is past and you can just drive freely. Except maybe you should remove that stump first. Probably not good for your truck to have it bouncing along behind you like a newlywed’s tin cans.

Anyway.

Getting started sucks, because you have to start from zero every time. But once you’re rolling, it’s so much easier. So get started knowing that it will be the hardest part of the whole damn deal.

There Is No Writing Without These Five Things

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The muse isn’t this into you.

1. There is no writing without reading. Okay, there is, but it tends to be shitty writing. Read, and read widely. Fill up your brain’s compost bin with ideas and let them sit. Turn occasionally. That’s a thing you do with compost, right? I don’t know, I’m not a fucking gardener.

Anyway, soon, you will have idea compost in which you can plant your own stories. Just don’t be surprised if the fruit they grow is strange. Or radioactive.

2. There is no writing without getting your ass in the chair. You have to work at writing. You have to place your sitting bones in a chair, or otherwise prop them in front of the Magical Writing Box, and get to work. Writing will not do itself while you’re watching YouTube clips of Russian dashcams. It doesn’t turn up if you wait around. The muse can be a shitty date that way. You can dress up nice and wait around for it to pick you up, but it never does. You’d be better off taking yourself out, getting a table, ordering something big and alcoholic, and starting on your own. Get the party started and the muse will show up. Or it won’t. Whatever. Fuck that guy. You don’t need him.

3. There is no writing without coffee. Not for me, anyway. Hey, at least it’s an improvement on the cigarettes.

4. There is no writing without fun. If you hate sitting down to your computer or notebook or stack of engrave-able methane tablets, if you hate having to put all the words in the right order, if you hate the time you spend doing it every single time…then you’re not writing. I’m not sure what you’re doing, but it sounds like you’re engaging in some really boring form of torture. And I bet it makes you bucketloads of fun to be around, champ.

You gotta have fun, or what’s the goddamn point? Though if you want to beat yourself up that bad, there’s probably someone on the internet who will pay to watch.

5. There is no writing without investment. And I don’t mean day-trading. If you’ve got no investment in your story, in your characters, then the writing isn’t going to happen. You don’t always have to like it—the above comments on fun speak to the majority of the time, not the entirety of it—but you should want it. You should want to tell that story. You should want to spend time with those characters, even the ones who make your skin crawl.

Fill in the blank with your must-haves, word nerds: There is no writing without_____________.

You Get A Gold Star: Tracking and Motivation

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I would need a matching roll that said FAIL for days I missed.

Tracking writing progress is hard. Not the actual process, because every damn word processor has a word count dealie that you can enable and either watch obsessively as it goes up with every keystroke or check every now and then. But it can be hard, when you’re working toward an uncertain conclusion—Will you finish? Will it get published?—to feel like you’re getting anywhere except deeper into a hole.

So I added stickers.

This isn’t my idea. I came across it on Twitter when someone posted a picture of their month back in December, and Google’d my way around until I found this video. The idea is pretty simple: assign a value to a sticker. A day’s writing, say, or 500 words, or an hour, or three pages. Get a calendar. Every time you hit that goal, put a sticker on that day’s square.

Maybe it’s the undying third grader in me, but I love stickers. I did back then, when I had a sticker album and would trade with friends at recess*, and I do now, when I use them to track my writing progress.

Thirty-two years old, and I’m still collecting stickers. I’m pretty sure that’s on the next season of Intervention.

The whole point of this is to give you a visual cue to show your progress. You could do this with your computer or phone, I guess, but for me that’s not the same. I have to turn those on, for one thing. The calendar—Legend of Zelda, FYI—hangs right next to my desk where I can look at it before I fire up any of the Space Age Devices in the morning. I can see the progress I’ve made, and, just as importantly, I can see where I didn’t make any progress. I can see days I skipped, empty of stickers. Such a tragedy.

I’m using the stickers to track other stuff, too. Red is writing. Blue is sketching. Yellow is bloggery. Pink is reading. Which of course just adds another layer of obsession: I have to get them all.

My point: don’t be afraid to do something downright silly in order to motivate yourself. In fact, don’t be afraid to do something downright silly ever. Life’s too short.

So, how are you guys getting your January motivation on?

*But not the sparkly ones.** Never the sparkly ones. Proof that I was a magpie even then.

**You can have the damn fuzzies, though.

New Year, New Manuscript: Kicking Ass in 2015

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Does anyone know what happened last night?

*Emerges from a cocoon of chocolate boxes and gift wrap*

*Flails around for coffee*

*Finds coffee*

*Drinks all the coffee there is now and ever will be*

Right. That’s sorted.

So, back after the holiday break. Whether or not you celebrated anything at all, I hope you had a nice one. If you did not, then I hope it was because you were bereft without my presence and not anything serious. I got a mohawk while we were apart. Small children love it, and one of my favourite things this holiday season was when little boys and girls would tell me how much they liked it while their parents looked on in horror. I hope at least one of those children locked themselves in the bathroom with a set of clippers this Christmas and had a go at making their own mohawk. If not, maybe next year, Santa.

Now that the gifts, food, and bullshit family drama is being packed away for another year, its time to get back to business. You might be taking the year off, and that’s fine, but after a couple of weeks I’m ready to get back in the saddle. Those of you who are joining me, mount up. The rest of you, catch up to us later.

The thing about this time of year is that everyone and their dog and their dog’s dog is making resolutions. Which are so often broken that otherwise sensible people who want to change something are leery about the idea because, if they fail, it puts them in the same category as everyone whose gym membership is gathering dust by January 20th.

Which is bullshit. Not doing something because everyone is doing it is just as stupid as doing something because everyone is doing it. Either way, you’re letting someone else make your decisions.

Personally, I like resolutions. They might be a cliche, but I’m not above a cliche. It also feels like a good time of year to do things like this. The days have turned, ever so slightly, back toward light. And whatever darkness we carried into the ground-down stump of the year has been burned away on bonfires and fireworks, leaving just us, clean and ready to start again.

So. Resolution. I am going to finish this book before the end of the year.

Now that I’ve said it, I have to make it true, or else I’ll be a liar.

Coming back after a break, though, can be a rough road to ride. Easy to fall off. Easy to get discouraged. My best trick for coming back after a significant break—whether it was precipitated by holidays, illness, or just life getting in the goddamn way again—is to set the bar low. Make hitting that goal easier, but, and this is important, make damn sure you hit that goal every day. Then, when it gets too easy—like, you don’t even have to try—increase the goal.

What an easy goal looks like will be up to you. For me, it’s 500 words: the bare minimum I feel I can get done every day. For you, it might be 100. Or 67. Or 3,000. If you go past that number, great. Reward yourself somehow. Not with something that detracts from the original goal, though. For example, no extra days off if you go over. That’s like rewarding yourself for eating healthy by mainlining pixie sticks and caramel sauce: it is damaging to your overall goal. Instead, if you go over your writing goal, have a cookie. Watch a movie. Smash old cathode ray tubes. I have some posts about rewards that I’m working on for future days, so more on that later.

So, your turn: who’s making word-herding a part of their 2015 plan?