Unexpected Break! Everyone Panic!

Due to some Unexpected Serious Real Life Stuff that needs dealing with, I’m taking a two week break from blogging, starting now. I’ll be back on the 29th, just before New Year’s, to harangue you all into making writing a part of your resolutions, but until then, keep you word counts up. I don’t want any slacking while I’m not here. Don’t make me assign you busy work like a grade school teacher about to step outside for a surreptitious cigarette behind the wood shop.

In the meantime, read some of the archives, work on whatever project you have going on, and enjoy the veritable rain of junk food that heralds this time of year. No, no, don’t cry. You’ll be fine.

I’m out.

Advertisements

Scaling Back: When Too Little Is Just Enough

I am not nearly this cute when I nap. Though I am often covered in cats.

I recently developed a Health Thing which means that I have to get more rest. Not ‘should’ get more; there’s very little I can do about it when the fatigue strikes except try not to fall asleep at my desk*. I can go from ‘totally fucking awake’ to ‘holy shit, no one has ever been this tired, where’s the cocaine, I have to—Zzzzzz’ in eight seconds flat. Aside from possibly being some kind of record, this means that I’ve had to alter my habits.

Like writing. I can no longer write my standard 2000-2500 words a day because, in addition to writing, I still have other things that have to get done. Like showering. And errands. And doctor’s appointments.

I’ll admit, I tried to bull through at first. I’m not known for my tractability, and as far as I was concerned, this was just another obstacle that had to be overcome, like ‘writer’s block’ and other bullshit. If I worked hard enough, I could get through it.

Which was a lie, of course. When your body isn’t working the way it should, you can’t just power through. And trying leads to frustration, anger, and resentment, both of yourself and the project that you should love but that just seems to eat every waking second of every day.

So I scaled back.

This wasn’t easy for me. ‘Doing less’ has always sounded suspiciously close to ‘giving up’ to me, because I am the Queen Bitch of Overachievers. That’s probably why I spent those first few weeks alternately giving myself pep talks and hating myself for not being able to follow through on them because my body, selfish cunt that it is, demanded sleep above all things.

If I’d had access to meth, I probably would have had a go. Just sayin’.

But, finding myself tired, angry, and meth-less, I had to try something else.

I made the choice to scale back my writing day. My daily word count is now 1000 words instead of 2000. And, lo and behold, it’s given me back my day. Now I can get the other stuff done. And, more importantly, I look forward to those 1000 words again. They’re not a boulder I’m rolling uphill. They get done, and I’m happy with them. You know, most of the time.

Writing is fun again.

So, this is your permission slip from me to your psyche or whatever overworked neurotic part of you can’t let go when it needs to: doing less is better than doing nothing. Sometimes it’s just what you need. And that’s okay.

…I’m gonna go take another nap. Later, word-nerds.

*Converted to a sitting desk instead of my more usual standing desk for the duration. I miss you, standing desk.

The Asshole Who Lives Upstairs

Don’t go up there.

There is a voice inside my head. It’s inside everyone’s head, near as I can tell, though admittedly my statistical sample is small.*

This ubiquitous little tribe of head-voices are not the fun kind. They are the kind that only come out when you’re halfway through a project, or nearly done with a run, or trying to ask for a raise. It’s the voice that tells you that you can’t.

I call this voice the Asshole Upstairs. Because that’s what he** is: an unpleasant upstairs neighbour who only makes himself known when he’s ruining something.

Like: You can’t do that, what will people think?

Or: Skipped a workout today? Never mind that sprain, you’re weak.

And the always popular: No one will ever want to read what you just wrote.

See? Asshole.

Writers hear this little voice a lot. Maybe because we’re used to listening to the shit that happens inside our heads more closely than the average person. Our imaginations are strong. Unfortunately, not every part of your imagination is positive. Some parts of it are downright awful: the paranoia, the anxiety, the inferiority complex. All the parts that go into the voice of the Asshole Upstairs.

Having this guy around is like having a really shitty roommate that you can’t evict. You can try ignoring him and hope the lack of attention starves him to death. However, he never really goes away.

But, like many unpleasant things, it doesn’t mean the little shit can’t be useful.

I always work best if I have an enemy to aim at. If the enemy is inside my own head…well, that just means I’m keeping him nice and close, doesn’t it?

Never underestimate the power of spite. You might hear more noble rallying calls***, but I personally get a great deal of satisfaction out of making a delightfully obscene gesture at those who try to tear me down. Even if they’re a part of me. Especially if they’re a part of me.

It’s probably the vestiges of Angry Punk Teenager Me, living somewhere near the Asshole Upstairs, stomping on his ceiling with her big boots and scrawling graffiti on his door. When he gets started, she turns up some NOFX or Dayglo Abortions and drowns him out.

To everyone out there with their own version of the Asshole Upstairs camped out in their brain: you’re not alone. And neither is he. You just need to find another voice up there to drown the little fucker out while you raise a pair of middle fingers and get on with your day.

Because the best revenge is living well. Followed shortly by telling naysayers to fuck the fuck right off.

*In other words, I just asked a bunch of people I know about it. SCIENCE.

**Yes, I always think of it as a he. Don’t know why. Choose your own gender or let it be a mystery.

***I mean, not here, but somewhere.

Coffee, Create, Repeat: Planning Chaos

My schedule is not that different from this. I even schedule a nap some days.

I have a daily routine: get up, read articles, drink coffee, get dressed*, write, exercise, lunch, shower, edit. Nearly all of the aforementioned activities are accompanied by music and the occasional caffeinated beverage. It sounds boring. That’s because it is. And that’s by design.

The less random daily shit I have to devote brain power to, the more space gets freed up for actual creativity. In other words, every second I don’t spend deciding if I’m going to read articles before or after my run is a second that I can use to think of reasons why my main villain seemingly devoted his entire life to being a giant douche. You know, the important stuff.

People think creativity is all about chaos: the endless swirl of energy that moves ideas around in your head and makes you spew them out on the page or the canvas or the eight-track**. And, you know, that’s part of it. But only part. Because the secret is to balance chaos with order. Very little gets created when you’re standing in front of the open fridge, wondering if you should have lunch now or later.

And then there’s the matter of time management. If your writing routine consists of ‘sitting down whenever I feel like it and scribbling down a few words before not looking at it for a month’, then you’re not going to produce as much work as someone with a more regular routine. Because of that, what you do produce will likely be of lower quality as well. Not because of talent, but because in order to get better at something you have to work at it consistently. I started a routine a couple of years ago, and the improvements I’ve seen in my writing in that span of time have kicked the living shit out of the improvements I saw in the years before when I was flailing around and figuring things out.

Now, what ‘consistently’ means to you is variable. I have to write five days out of seven, but I often do more because I want to. A lot of weeks I write every day. But not everyone likes to do that, even if they can. Maybe you’re a Saturday writer. And that’s fine. Maybe your routine involves getting up at 2 am to paint yourself with chocolate frosting and run naked through your neighbour’s backyard. And that’s fine, too.*** Whatever your routine is, just make sure it works—i.e., it makes you write.

And don’t forget to break your own rules every now and then. It’s a routine, not a prison sentence.

* I don’t like working in my pyjamas, though since I work from home, I totally could if I wanted to. That’s right: I’m just throwing that opportunity away because I can.
**I know there are artists out there who record on vinyl; is there anyone who’s doing eight-tracks?
***Just stay out of my backyard. I’ve placed bear traps.

The 7 Faces of Doubt, Or How To Never Get Anything Done, Ever

 

That bat-faced little shit in the bottom right, he’s the Distraction Of The Internet.

Doubt is the worst of all demons. You can keep those weird ones with the goat faces that haunted Sunday School when I was but a wee impressionable young thing.* Doubt is the worst because 1) it’s insidious and 2) most of the time, you’re the one producing it. I’ve never met a creative person who wasn’t, at some moments, a festering boil of doubt. You’re being your own demon, which I imagine is a big savings for Hell. Teach people to condemn themselves, save demon-power. Of course, it’s non-unionized work, but you can’t have everything.

But doubt it a tricky bastard. It doesn’t always look the same, and sometimes it brings friends. Sometimes it takes the form of something so different that it could be mistaken for something sensible. But it’s a lie, and you need to be able to see through it.

So, to help you with your daily projects, writing and otherwise, here is my spotter’s guide to doubt:**

1. Procrastination: If you never get around to it, it doesn’t count as ‘failing’, right?

2. Research: I just need to know how yaks were essential in to the culture and economy of the mountain people of Outer Mongolia***, and then I can start.

3. Tiredness: Oh, I was totally going to get to that today, but I didn’t sleep too well last night because I had that dream about the robot otters again. And, you know, there’s not enough coffee, and I could really use a cookie, and *indeterminate waffling noises*. Tomorrow. Tomorrow’s fine.

4. The ‘Muse’: I just don’t feel it. You don’t expect me to work when she’s not here, do you? Art cannot be rushed!****

5. Distraction. OH MY GOD I LOVE TWITTER SO FUCKING MUCH.

6. Perfection: I can’t start until I have the perfect opening line. And I can’t move on until I’m sure that everything is in place. It has to be perfect, or there’s no point. It’s not like there’s a thing called ‘editing’.

7. Timing: Ehn, it’s not really a good time now. I haven’t had enough Yak Butter tea*****, and it looks like it’s going to rain. Besides, I only start things on the first day of the month, and this month that was a Sunday, and I don’t work on Sundays. Maybe next time things will line up right. Today….mmm, doesn’t look good. Sorry.

So, what form is your doubt taking today?
*Honestly, I’m surprised more Catholics don’t write horror. The shit they tell you in Mass is fucking terrifying.
**At the moment, I’m dealing mainly with #3 and #7, with a side order of Holy Crap Am I Busy.
***…I actually wrote ‘yak’, realized I was just going on old movies to assume they were in Tibet and the like, and had to take a ninety second research break. IRONY FOR THE WIN.
****Fuck yeah it can. In the words of Henry Miller, “Even when you can’t create, you can work”. It’s not all fairy dust and magic wands; sometimes you need a sledgehammer.
*****Now I’m stuck on yaks. Though using the reference twice means the research is less a waste of time, right?

6 Things All Writers Should Start, Plus A Journey Song

Either stabbing practice, or a giant pencil sharpener. (Photo credit: wikipedia)

1. Start being weird. I know a lot of you have already gotten a head start on this one, but for those of you who are still hesitant to dip your toes into the waters of weird, allow me to give you a friendly shove into the deep end.
For starters, read the bit from Wednesday about stopping the fucking timidity. Apply that to yourself.
I once got my ass stuck in a tire swing and had to be rescued by the fire department. I trip while traversing the perfectly flat floors of the local mall, as well as malls abroad. I am not cool. And I am happy to not be cool, because cool by its very nature means giving a crap about the opinions of strangers who, apparently, exist solely to judge your social appearances.
Fuck those guys, real or imaginary. Be weird. Be different. Be you. And maybe then you’ll start to figure out what you want to write.

2. Start supporting each other. I don’t mean siding with people you know are an entire bag of dicks* just because they’re writers. I mean not actively tearing each other apart. Especially on the Internet. Using the relative anonymity of the online world to abuse others is cowardice, and the universe hates a coward, though not as much as I do.
Writing is not a zero sum game; someone else’s success is not had at your expense. So stop being a cock.

3. Start stabbing. Other people, I mean. Not yourself.
I practice Recreational Stabbing a couple of times a week, though at the gym they insist on calling it ‘fencing’. It serves the dual purposes of anger management and weapons skills. And it’s fun. Find your fun, whether it involves pointed objects or not.** All writers need some fun. And the weapons training doesn’t hurt.

4. Start a band. Writing is fucking lonely. But it doesn’t have to be. Find your people, your band, your superhero team with whom you can defeat evil, or at least give it a very stern talking to. They’re out there, somewhere. Some of them may be reading this blog. And, contrary to what some of the more paranoid corners of the internet would have you believe, not all other writers are out to steal your ideas. Only some of them, and those ones are easily defeated by feeding them the plot lines to Michael Bay movies.

5. Start DIY cybernetic implants. *Check notes more closely* No. Sorry. This is my to-do list. Anyone know where I can buy robot parts?

6. Don’t Stop Start Believing. Because Journey rocks.
Writing can be a long road. And the road to publishing can be even longer and more filled with potholes which are in turned filled with scorpions. So it’s easy to get discouraged. To get cynical.
But cynicism is like your mom: easy. And it doesn’t get you anywhere except to a pile of excuses filled with reasons why you can’t do shit: The industry is dead. It’s all who you know. I’m not willing to touch an agent’s Fun Zone, so of course I can’t get a contract.
Stop that. Start believing again. Not with the rosy-eyed glow of innocence, but the kind of hard-edged, diamond-tipped belief that will drive you through disappointment and failure. Believe in what you’re doing enough to get better at it, because belief does not replace hard work. But it does make the work go better.

*CoughOrsonScottCardCough.
**Though if it doesn’t, I don’t even know you anymore, man.

The Bullshit-Free Guide To Achieving Your Writing Resolutions

THEY’RE COMING.

It is a new year, and while I accept that this date has no significance beyond the social, I know that, out there, writers are busy making their new year’s resolutions.

But what to resolve? To write a novel? To publish a novel? A short story? To write every day? There are so many possible incarnations of this desire to do better that it’s hard to figure out which one you need.

Which is where I come in.

These are not resolutions; they are directions. A path you can choose. A state of mind that will help you mow down all the writing resolutions you made while blitzed on champagne and Red Bull. And you should make these words work for you not just in January, but every day, all year long.

So, get your mirror, look yourself in the bloodshot eye, and repeat after me:

1. I Will Write. No more excuses. Put fingers to keyboard or pen to paper, motherfuckers. Arrange words in an order that pleases you and hopefully some other people. Repeat.

2. I Will Finish My Shit. An unfinished project is like a hangnail on your brain. Finish it. Only then can you work on making it pretty.

3. I Will Not Give In To The Soggy Demons Of Despair. I imagine them like wads of other people’s used tissue: gross, useless, and if you touch them, you might pick up something that will take fucking months to shake off. And oddly prevalent during the darker months of the year.
Disgusting though they are, when enough of the Soggy Despair Demons get together, they can cause trouble. You don’t want them in your house. Best solution is to set them on fire with work.* Seriously, if I get taken out, it will be by the Flaming Hellbeast of Spectacular Failure, not the Soggy Formless Tissue-Things of Never Tried At All.

4. I Will Stuff The Haters In A Sack And Then Beat The Sack With A Big Spiky Stick. Metaphorically, people, metaphorically. Don’t try to pin the blame for your assault charges on me.
Common candidates for inclusion in the sack are, of course, enemies, naysayers, the people who tell you to stop wasting your time writing, and the aforementioned Soggy Despair Demons.** But while you are stuffing people into your mental Sack of Hitting, don’t forget to make room for the following: ‘friends’ who think you’re being silly, media outlets that report fiction is dead, and yourself on those bad days when you feel like giving it all up.
All of you: get in the fucking sack.***

5. I Will Fail. Repeatedly. Because failure means I’m still trying, still working, still changing.
After failing? I will try again. And, in the words of Samuel Beckett, fail better.
*They’re pretty damp, so they smoulder a bit, but with enough fiery work, you can reduce those fuckers to ash.
**Not included are people who give you genuine, helpful criticism, even if you don’t want to hear it. Toughen up, princess.
***Thank you, Dara O’Brien.