Priorities And Other Bullshit About Being An Adult

Getting the extra arms was expensive, but totally worth it.

I want to be awesome at everything.

I don’t know if it’s my classic Type A, overachiever personality or just my relentless interest in just about everything from robotics to art to yoga to cooking to combat sports, but I want to be good at stuff. All the stuff.

But, not being possessed of infinite time, energy, and resources, I have to choose.

Being human is like character development in an RPG. You start off with so many points and you can put those into whatever you want, but they are finite. You can’t do everything. And even when you figure out what you want, you might have to prioritize those as well. Is it better to put all your ranks in Perception, or to spread them out and be less good at seeing that the goddamn dungeon floor is trapped?

We all have to choose what we want to spend our time on. And, since practice is usually correlated to performance, by extension what we want to be good at. If you want to be a great dancer, you need to devote a lot of time to it. Likewise if you want to kill it at Halo, or be a world-class chef, or, say, a writer.

And the very act of choosing what to specialize in means that there are other things that you have to let go. Or at least let go of doing extremely well.

I devote the majority of my time to writing, because I want to be awesome at it. Therefore, lesser amounts of time get devoted to my artwork, my video game skills, my coding projects, and my robot army. And some things, like fencing, knitting, and digital painting, have been put aside for the moment. I might come back to them one day, but right now, they’re simply a lower priority than everything else.

This gives me enough time to work hard on my writing, have fun with yoga and running and art, and still have time for a modest social life. And, you know, being married. And I love all those things, but I’d be lying if I said there wasn’t the occasional wrench as I realize I have to let something else go to prioritize what I really want.

But there is good news. You probably have stuff that you want to do. And stuff that you have to do. And stuff that you’re just doing without really considering whether you want/have to or not. You can mine time from the things that you just do out of habit and repurpose it for stuff you actually want. Like taking your tv time and using it to learn French or Python. Or letting go of a volunteer position that has become a burdensome obligation and devoting the time you’re no longer spending in meetings to writing.

Ultimately, your time is yours. You have to choose how you want to spend it.

What have you given up to pursue something you wanted more?

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Writing By Comet-Light: The Lie Of The Right Time

The people in 1070 realize it’s finally time to write that strawpunk bubonic plague epic.

Here is a pervasive myth of our era: I’ll start when it’s the right time.

When I can concentrate. When I feel creative. When I can devote my undivided attention to it.

And “the right time” goes on to encompass a set of demands so far-reaching and esoteric that it could be Slayer’s tour rider. When it’s Sunday. When the moon’s full. When I have a bowl of M&Ms and two bottles of Cristal and 100 white goats for sacrifice.

But the fact of existence is that the perfect time never comes along. Ever. I’ve been on the look out for a perfect time for more than thirty fucking years and I haven’t seen one yet. Maybe they only come along at great intervals, like Halley’s Comet.

And, guaranteed, there’s someone out there waiting for the next appearance of that flaming sky ball to start writing something. See you in 2061, asshole. Rest assured we’re not waiting with bated breath for whatever masterpiece you think you’ll shit out by the light of a comet.

There will never be a right time to start anything. So you might as well get off your ass and do it now.

What’s the rush, you say. I have time. What’s the hurry?

The hurry is that the reaper is on you trail, motherfucker. And you don’t know how close it is.

A little melodramatic, but it’s true. There might not be time tomorrow. Okay, it might not be death that slows you down*, but there’s always something else. Social gatherings. Jobs. Families. The siren song of bad television. The inertia of trying to start something new. 

I fall prey to this as much as anyone. For years, I put off writing because there wasn’t time. I was busy: studying, moving, doing thesis work, learning to fight, learning to be in a relationship, learning what happens when you overwork and burn out. I couldn’t possibly add another thing to that pile.

And maybe I was right. But I know that I wouldn’t have burned out so hot and so fast if I’d made time—even a little; an hour a week, maybe—to work on something I loved as much as fiction writing.

If you wait around for the perfect time, you’ll grow old and die without doing anything. And I’m not even talking about climbing mountains or figuring out how to use monkey blood to power your robot army. This is writing. You start writing by opening up to a new page and putting words on it. Words that you know. As far as barriers to entry go, it’s only marginally higher than putting on your fucking socks. And you have to do that twice.

After getting started, of course, things change. You have to work at doing better. At doing it right. And that’s a whole other bucket of snakes. But realizing that you can start whenever you want is a pretty damn big snake on it’s own.

There is no right time. There is only the time that you make.

*Especially if the assassins fail again.

Guest Post: How To Be A Writer

Take the blog! Don’t look back!

[As a special feature for the time I’m on vacation, Bare Knuckle Writer is bringing you Guest Posts by random mental patients friends of mine. Be nice to them.]

I want to be a writer.

Cool. Then write. Goal accomplished.

Smartass.

No, for real. One of the many beautiful things about writing is that anyone* can.

You want to be a pilot? That, my friend, will be an expensive process. Want to be in a rock band? You need other people who share your vision. Olympic gymnast? I hope the gods gave you a flexible spine. And possibly a severe eating disorder.

But you have to be in fairly dire straights not to be able to get your hands on pen and paper. And if you’re reading this post: my friend, you are not in those straights.

No, I mean a writer writer. Like, published and paid. People wanting to make movies and TV shows of my creations. You know, like George R. R. Martin or J.K Rowling.

Ah. I understand. What you want, then, is not to be a writer, but to be famous. Or rich. Or both. And that is something different. Unfortunately, I cannot help you with those things, as I am neither rich nor famous.

I am, however, a writer, however intermittently these days. I have universes in my mind, and I occasionally use written language to render those private imaginings into a form which I can share with others. And whether I ever have anything of significant length published or not, at the end of my days I will count the hours I have spent penning into notebooks or toiling over my laptop as time well spent.

Because I loved it, for the sake of it.

I love that there are fully formed characters walking around in my head, many with emotional imprints as strong as the flesh and blood people in my life. Is that psychologically healthy? Arguable. I’m all right with it, though.

When I write I am a god. I create worlds, histories, climate patterns. I control the seasons, even how many seasons the world has.

When I polish a poetic description of a crisp and golden autumn day, or feel my fingers move like quicksilver to script the casual banter of two too clever characters. . .whenever I feel I have succeeded in crafting a segment that could lift you the reader up or break their heart or produce a genuine gut laugh, it’s a victory. And that victory exists whether the words I have created reach ten eyes or ten million.

Many people have this flawed idea that people who ‘make it’ always knew they would. That those writers didn’t have to carve time out of already busy schedules, didn’t have to sacrifice family time for story research or deal with doubt or worry about working two jobs to pay the bills during the course of their novel creation. Like, the process was easy because the result was somehow guaranteed.

I may not know my ass from my elbow some days but my 32 years have granted me at least this much wisdom: no result is ever guaranteed.

That is why it is of such dire importance to spend our days doing what we love. Now. Not what we we think will yield us riches and prestige 5 or 10 years down the line, but what we love in this present moment in which we exist.

I don’t care if what makes you happy is crafting surrealist spoken word poetry or spending as much time as possible with your children or taking extraordinarily long showers with detachable shower heads— make the time to do it.**

Maybe you only like thinking about writing ideas, but the actual process of ‘type type edit curse delete curse question existence’ makes you think Bukowski was onto something with the whole ‘drink self into oblivion’ plan. That’s cool (the not writing plan, not the chronic alcoholism plan). Just imagine, then. Be an imaginer.

But if you love writing then do that. Write. Create something that makes your heart sing and your chest swell with pride. Don’t worry about the whys or wherefores. When it is done, if you think you have something of value and the idea of dollar signs and your name in lights seems appealing, then worry about how best to market the completed product you now have. If it’s something you crafted lovingly and poured yourself into with fiery abandon, it may not be all that hard.

Maybe. Again, see above point: No result is ever guaranteed.

No result except this: If you do what you love, your days are well spent. And that is true whether the fruits of your labour are justified with dollars and TV contracts or no.

Nomadic since the summer of 2007, Krys C is a former traveling tattooist and current aspiring pro fighter. Her wandering has thus far brought her to somewhere between 26 and 31 countries, depending on your politics. She occasionally writes things at The Road To Ithaca.

*[Anyone literate, anyway]~Pedantic Vacation Steph

**If you love all of those things and more besides. . .well, sugartits, it is time to be realistic. You can do one thing well, ten things decently or twenty things poorly***.‘How to prioritize’ would be a whole different post. Series of posts. Novel. Series of novels.

***Actual numbers may vary depending on person, existence and tasks.

Strap In And Grab Your Important Bits: Planning Your Year In Writing

Get in, loser.

All right, we’ve talked about ideas and talked about getting excited. Now it’s time to get down to brass tacks. Except we’re dealing with the imagination, so I suppose we should be getting down to…brass dendrites? Brass gut flora? Something brass, anyway. * We need a plan.**

Here is your plan:

1) Define your goal.

2) Figure out the steps along the way.

3) Fucking do it.

I recognize that some clarification may be in order.

Part of your plan is going to depend on your goal. Want to write a novel in 2014? Figure out how long you think it’ll be. If you’ve got no fucking clue, guess. I usually say 100,000 words. Why? It’s a nice round number. And it translates to roughly 400 pages of a paperback book. A good length for fantasy or horror, which is what I tend to write. I’ve written shorter and longer, but this is my benchmark.

Got a length? Good. Now figure out how long you have. Got a year? Then that means you have to write…273.972 words a day. Better round that up to 274, just so you don’t stop mid-noun. Not much, is it? Even assuming that you’ll only write five days a week, that’s only 385 words a day. You can do that. So you do. There we are: plan set. All you have to do is colour it in a little.

But what if your goal isn’t to write something, but to publish? Well, assuming you have a finished manuscript—you do have a finished manuscript, don’t you? If not, finishing that is the first step, so back the fuck up—then start researching places it could find a home. Agents or publishers for a novel, magazines or anthologies for short fiction. Make a list. Write a letter. Start sending. When it gets rejected from one place, move to the next on the list.*** Repeat.

And what if, like yours truly, your goal for the year involves not writing something entirely new, but editing an existing project? It’s not such a clear cut goal then, but it’s still definable. I will come back to this in a later post–actually, I’ll come back to most of these in later posts–but for now, here’s the bare bones: go through the manuscript with a red pen; make a big list of what needs to change****; make a plan for those changes and figure out how long they will take. Good rule of thumb for editing? Unless you are very experienced at it, it will take three times longer than you think. At least. You think you can have the changes written in a month? Budget three. If you get done early, then, hey, happy handshakes and big bottles of booze all around. But budget more time than you think. Trust me.

Making a plan—especially one that you figured out the timetable for, and not one you got out of a book that claims anyone can write a novel in two weeks or can be published in three—keeps you on track. It breaks down the bigger goal—Write A Novel, Get Published, Edit The Unmerciful Fuck Out Of That Story Until It No Longer Resembles A Half-Digested Dictionary—into smaller ones—write 500 words today, send out a query letter today, figure out the end of the first chapter today. It grounds you in reality. Which, for people who work inside their own heads, is not at all a bad thing.

Some caveats:

1) Goals change. It happens. Sometimes you think you’re working toward one thing, but realize halfway through that you’d be better off working on this other thing. It’s cool. Don’t panic. Just re-evaluate. Sticking with something that’s no longer what you want is a waste of time. Just make sure it’s really a change and not just you giving up. I suggest strategic reevaluations at three, six, and nine months. That way, you have enough time to get in there and have a go, but also ample opportunity to make course corrections if they’re required.

2) Don’t forget the all important Step Three. Fucking do it. Or all this talk is just masturbation—might make you feel good but it sure as hell doesn’t accomplish anything. You can abandon plans, you can change goals, you can fling yourself out of the literary airlock and into the great vacuum of I Don’t Know What I’m Doing….as long as you keep moving. Plans are good, steps are good, but at the end of the day, the only part that matters is strapping into the launch seat and putting the pedal to the floor.

Now go forth and conquer.

*I really do think like this. It’s amazing I get anything done.
**If you’ve ever read A Hat Full of Sky by Terry Pratchett, you know the importance of a good PLN. If you haven’t, go read it.
***This approach assumes no simultaneous submissions, but if your market allows them, then go for it. Just keep a list so you don’t forget what went where.
****Don’t be upset if it says ‘everything’. Mine does.

Cyborgs, Soldiers, And Gunslingers: A Year In The Word Mines

amy Whale, breaching, Stellwagen Bank National...

This is what it’s going to look like when I go back to the gym tomorrow. (Photo credit: Wikipedia)

This time of year, I always find myself doing a little thinking. Maybe it’s the scrolling down of the Gregorian calendar. Maybe it’s because I’m stranded on the couch like a beached whale until that last holiday meal digests.* Whatever the reason, this is the time of year for taking stock.

Those of you who are long-term readers probably remember my goal for this year: thirteen rejection letters. Well, that goal was accomplished, just barely. There was also an acceptance in there, so bonus.

Writing-wise, this was a fucking busy year**. I started rewriting a novel, cranked out a half a dozen new short stories, laid down the foundations for another novel, and posted three days a week here. Blogging alone, that works out to….*does quick math*…around 80,000 new words. Plus maybe another 25,000 words of short stories. And another 50,000 from the Sandbox and World-Building files. I have no idea how much is new on the novel because that’s the nature of rewrites: too much cutting and backfilling and general re-jiggering. But, however you slice it, this was a productive year.

Now the question becomes: what next?

Honestly? I’m not sure. This year—the year of the short story—was fun. Gave me a chance to try some new ideas and new places, at least one of which is on its way to developing into a full-blown world. But, at the same time, my energy felt scattered. I was jumping from project to project, one step ahead of the deadlines, and every story was different. Cyborg magic. Military horror. Post-apocalyptic sci-fi. Alternate world fantasy. Storybook horror. I ran the fucking genre mash-up gauntlet this year, and came up with some really interesting stuff. But, because I was focusing on all those, my novel rewrite isn’t even close to bloody finished and I didn’t start the other novel that I was planning on writing.

So, here’s the question for 2014: focus on the novels exclusively, or try to do both again***?

I’m going to mull this over while eating my way through the rest of the Christmas candy between now and New Year’s. In the meantime, keep me in the loop, word monkeys: how do you feel about your writing year in review, and what are your plans for 2014?

*Fasting sounds like a better and better idea this time of year.

**You know, for me. For some of you this output might be slack; for others it might seem unattainable. Your mileage may vary.

***Better this time, obviously.

Static and Noise: Getting Off The Computer To Boost Creativity

English: Picture of San Francisco at Sunset. F...

It looks so peaceful before the Idea Beasts come to play. (Photo credit: Wikipedia)

I have a computer addiction.

Seriously. If there was a device that could be implanted in my eyeballs that allowed me 24/7 access to my computer, I’d do it.

So you can imagine how fucking difficult it is for me to take a break from that sweet, sweet glowing box. At the moment, I am taking a computer break. I’m still on it for writing these posts, of course, because the alternative of hand-writing it and then posting a picture of the paper seems a little too cutely hipster-ish for me. But I’m no longer spending most of the day on it: writing, editing, researching, digitally painting.

Not because I don’t love all those things. I do. God, I do. But the computer is full of noise: Twitter, news feeds, the Book of Faces,  YouTube. And then there’s the articles I need to read, and the notes I have to make on them, and the endless rabbit hole of information that I can follow so very, very far down.

I love noise and chaos. But some things need silence to grow, and the semi-ripe ideas I’m working on are among them. Too much static and they never get the brain runtime they need to come to fruition. They just get lost in the swirl of new information. If they’re every going to turn into anything worth writing–and by extension anything worth reading–then they need a little quiet space in which to turn from larvae to monsters that can knock down San Francisco.

So. Time for a break.

Now, before you abandon your internet connection entirely, a caveat: I can only take this break because most of the things I’m doing right now can be done offline. The re-outlining of the novel works best on paper or index cards. I have no short stories in the first stage of writing or editing; instead, I have ideas that I need to work on. Nothing is awaiting final editing before being returned to editors. And I’ve switched to sketch books and pens for a while instead of digital for art. If I had other things that had to be done, then I wouldn’t be able to unplug. And some of those ideas I’m working on would probably die.

The circle of life, baby.

This whole ‘no unnecessary computer’ deal may seem to run contrary to other things I say. Especially the bit about reading a lot and letting a brain compost pile build up so that the ideas bubble to the surface like swamp gas. Two responses to that: 1) what in the name of Primordial Chaos gave you that idea that I ever make sense? Seriously? You’re expecting logic here? And, 2) one thing does not work all the time. Knowing when to switch it up because it’s the right move—as opposed to switching because what you’re working on is hard—is an instinct you need to cultivate. And right now, mine is saying, get the fuck off the computer, woman. Go lie on the couch with a notebook instead. That’s what has to be done now. Worry about tomorrow at the next sunrise. This is what will work today.

So, riddle me this, word herders: what will work for you today?

*A friend of mine once created an RPG character that is so obsessed with information she has a staff of hundreds to sort it and send it directly to her cybernetic implants. That character? Apparently loosely based on my information habits. I can’t decide if it’s an insult or a marvelous pastiche**. Though I suppose it could be both.

**Or an attempt to tell me that I creep him the hell out.

Fools and Cowards: The Classification of Writers

Charge!

Charge! Wait, what was I doing again?(Photo credit: Kaptain Kobold)

There are two types of writers: Fools and Cowards.

Here is how you identify them: Fools rush in before the story is ready, and get stuck along the way. Cowards spend so much time planning that they forget to go at all.

I’ve always been more the Fool. I know, I know: the outliner, who sometimes goes as far as a scene by scene plan, says she rushes in? Pull the other one. Two points here: one, I’m not pulling anything of yours, even if you buy me dinner first; and, two, I outline that way in order to delay myself as long as possible. At least that way I have half a chance of getting some thinking on the story and the characters done before I start to write. It’s an effort to rein in my own impatience and make something useful.

But I still rush in. I still get stuck. Part of the reason is that I am a swirling vortex of primordial chaos in boots. The other is the fear of not doing.

I remember a moment from Neil Gaiman’s Sandman. In fact, I remember it so clearly that, though I no longer live with someone who has all the graphic novels and haven’t read it in years, I can call it quite distinctly to mind.* Lucius, the librarian, is going through Dream’s library, where all the books that have never been written are stacked neatly on shelves. He takes down one and remarks that the lady who dreamed it nerve wrote more than a few chapters in real life, though she often spent hours thinking about it before bed.

I’ve always thought that little moment—and it was little, maybe a panel in the comic—was both true and sad. I wondered what the story was about. And knew that there are thousands of stories out there just like it: dreamed but never written.

Trust me, I know the fun of dreaming quietly about stories in the small moments before sleep hits you with a pillow-padded hammer. It’s cozy. And better than watching YouTube videos before bed.

And you know the best thing about those stories? They’re perfect. Because they almost never get told. They remain dreams, far removed from the hacking and grinding and general messiness that happens when you try to write something for real. Because the thing about dreams is they don’t have to work.

But the thinking, the dreaming, the brain work, is all necessary to tell a good story instead of another word abortion cluttering up shelves real or digital. If you neglect that stuff, then you run into problems: plot holes, dead ends, a mushy middle section. You get stuck. And when they get stuck, a lot of people give up. Which is no fucking good either.

Fools rush in, but cowards never go at all. Given the choice, I’d rather be a fool; at least they’re getting somewhere, even if it turns out to be the wrong place. But I could stand to cultivate a little more thinking before I jump in. I could do a little more brain work before I start writing the main story instead of halfway though. Or after. I have been known to do it after.

There re two types of writers by nature, but in order to get anything done properly, we need to act as both. We need to dream a little, do the legwork. But then we need to charge into the breach and damn the consequences.

*Mark of a good story teller, that.