10 Things I Totally Didn’t Do While I Wasn’t Writing Last Week

1. Spy on you. You should close your curtains. Nice couch, though. Ikea?

2. Binge read an entire book series. Definitely not the Alanna the Lioness series, or the Beka Cooper series, or most of Harry Potter.


3. Remove a bunch of parts from the Jeep.
It’s cool. It was just the top. And sides.

IMG_1676

Hi.

4. Punch another hole in my face. Definitely didn’t do that, and my mom was definitely not disappointed in me.

5. Re-read four years worth of RPG notes. Because it’s not as though GMs love to bring back the enemies you forgot about.

6. Come up with seventeen new story ideas. About 10% of which are viable. Theoretically.

7. Refresh my summer wardrobe. My aesthetic is equal parts Fury Road and Rock of Ages.

8. Make a shitload of cookies and freeze them against the oncoming Too Hot To Turn On The Oven season. You should never have to choose between pistachio shortbread and comfort.

9. Get a fucking sunburn. I was outside for, like, five minutes and I had sunscreen on!

10. Write. Definitely not. I just…may have scribbled down some notes. On something. I wouldn’t worry about it.

Hit The Road, Jack: 5 Benefits To Getting Away From Your Desk

I swear, he was here just a second ago…

I know, I know. I just wrote a post on the benefits of having a dedicated writing space, and now here I am, writing about getting out of that space. I’m a living contradiction. Deal with it.

For reals, though, there are some serious benefits to occasionally shaking it up and moving your writerly ass to a new location. *blows trumpet fanfare* FOR EXAMPLE:

1. Step Away From the Reflecting Pool, Narcissus. Your space is sometimes so you that you lose sight of anything else. Your books, your radio, your music, your mechanized death ray security system. But not everyone has those, or even thinks they’re necessary.* There’s a whole world out there, buttercup, and it doesn’t revolve around you. Get out of your space and experience someone else’s. It’ll freshen up your brain and maybe give you some new ideas.

2. HOLY SHIT I CAN FINALLY BREATHE. Your space is also the place where everything tends to accumulate. Work, writing, other obligations like paying bills and having a family, the occasional court summons or contract killing. Burying your creativity under that mountain can stifle it, until you’re reduced to staring blankly at your computer screen, putting things in your Amazon cart and taking them out again. Get out and get some space.

3. Ghost Mode Enabled. If you’re always in a certain place at a certain time, then other people know where to find you. Which means they can interrupt you. And they will, because Murphy’s Law of Interruptions states that anything that can be interrupted will be interrupted. Leave your accustomed hidey-hole and you might just get a nice, uninterrupted block of time in which to crank out an entire chapter. Don’t forget to erase your tracks or THEY’LL FIND YOU.

4. Go Dark.  Man, I love Wi-Fi, but it has killed my productivity. Some days I just turn it off at home so I can get stuff done without wanting to pop onto Twitter every eight fucking seconds. Benefit of leaving my little writer nest: there is no guarantee of Wi-Fi. At least not free Wi-Fi. And at this point I’m as likely to pay for internet access as I am to pay for water: only if I’m desperate, and I’ll still complain about it.

5. Fresh Meat For The Writer Stew.  People-watching is a seriously underrated form of entertainment. The clearly hungover man three tables away from me, in a rumpled Armani jacket and a red silk tie that he’s tied too short, will probably appear in some story of mine eventually, if only because he cuts such an interesting figure slumped over his cell phone. And an entire platoon of small children just wandered by wearing sequinned devil horns. What the ever-loving fuck, universe. I wouldn’t see this crap from my living room.

I’m on vacation at the moment, but what’s your excuse for getting out? Where do you go? And why?

* Though people who live without music are like aliens to me. How do you do it?

Monday Challenge: Anything To Declare?

“And I see here you’ve claimed your suitcase is a sovereign nation…”

I just got back from a week in Cuba with friends. There are many stories I could tell of that time—Hector the Crab King, the Kamikaze Nightclub Bat, the Trouble with Troblins—but I’m going to tell the one that happened before I’d even set foot on the island.

When you’re flying internationally, on the last leg of the flight, someone comes around with customs forms for you to fill out. Name, rank, serial number, most recently committed crime, that sort of thing. Just the basics.

And, significantly, any controlled or banned substances you’re bringing into the country.

I’ve never been entirely sure why those sections are included. Perhaps customs officials use it to catch the stupider of the smugglers. Or maybe some people don’t realize what they’re bringing is illegal. “Holy shit, no illegal drugs or firearms? Do I ever feel silly! Better go to the bathroom and flush this kilo of heroin and AK-47. ”

Before any of you get on the phone to Homeland Security or whatever the Canadian equivalent is*, no, I was not smuggling anything illegal. But I had gotten very little sleep the night before, and I didn’t read the customs form carefully enough. I assumed I was checking that I had not brought drugs, firearms, or illegal llamas into the country.

Instead, I had checked that I had.

And not just one thing, either. According to that customs form, I was bringing everything. Liquor? Sure. Drugs? Why not? Animal products, plant seeds, toxins? Hey, check out my suitcase full of kittens, daisies, and ebola.

Thankfully, before I approached the customs window and got taken away to a dark windowless room by the Cuban police, the Husband spotted the mistake. He’s a pharmacist, so it’s just second nature for him to double- and triple-check every document he sees. So, instead of the story of how Steph Was Never Seen Again, this becomes the story of Steph Having Another Laughable Screw-up In A Lifetime Of Them.

But it almost didn’t.

Monday Challenge: someone is having trouble at customs. Did they do anything wrong? Maybe. Or maybe they just screwed something up. Or this can be as Kafka-esque as you like.

And in traveling as in the rest of life, remember: read the damn directions.

*One dude with a German Shepherd and a stern look. But not that stern.

Shake It, Baby: Breaking The Routine

I find it hard to imagine a better avatar for chaos than a Furry using a ShakeWeight.

I find it hard to imagine a better avatar for chaos than a Furry using a ShakeWeight.

 

Routines can be great. They give a structure to what is essentially a structureless thing and make sure that you’re not just dicking around on the internet, looking at cat memes and whatever argument is brewing on Twitter today. But watch out for the moment when the routine–as embodied in your schedule, your word count spreadsheet, your plan–becomes more important than the actual thing you’re trying to create.

I don’t think this is just limited to creativity, either. When I started running, I had a routine: five days a week. No excuses. On one hand, that worked out fantastically: I was far less likely to flake on a run in favour of a new video game than I would have been if I’d just said, “eh, I’ll just run whenever I feel like it.” And I ran more, which built skill and endurance faster. But, after a while, the schedule took precedence over other things. Like injury. I kept running with burgeoning plantar fasciitis for a lot longer than I should have, because, in my head, meeting the plan was far, far more fucking important than the pain. I’m lucky I smartened up eventually, or I could have done a lot more damage than I did. As it is, I have a little twinge in my left foot to this day. Which conveniently serves as a reminder not to be so fucking stupid. Not saying I always listen, but…

Writing is the same: having a plan is a great idea, but it should serve you, not the other way around. And sometimes the best way it can serve you is by fucking off altogether.

Getting away from my daily stuff–the word counts, the research goals, the deadlines–cut something loose inside my head and helped me solve plot problems I’ve been working on for months. Part of it was because I was hanging around another, very creative person that I could bounce ideas off. But I think a lot of it was just the change. The routine ceased to matter at all, and the ideas flowed.

Now that I’ve returned home, I have gotten back into a routine. But it’s a different one. The time away also allowed me to reassess my day, see where it was helping and where it was holding me back. And I can put those ideas into practice, make something out of them.

So, if you’re a planner, inject a little chaos into your life. Your creativity will thank you. And the routine will still be there when you get back, ready to put all that new madness to good use.

Monday Challenge: Unassailable Truths

“I’m beautiful, so I can do whatever I want. LOL.”

Aaaaand I’m back. Good things: Australia was awesome! I have a new tattoo! Peacocks are assholes! Bad things: Krys* wouldn’t fit in my luggage! I’m still so jet lagged I got confused by a fork!

You know one of the best things about vacation? Aside from the new places and new people and familiar people and food? It shakes you out of your routine. Me, I love my routine. I helps me get shit done. But that doesn’t mean a break from it isn’t a good idea now and then.

After coming back from a three week break from virtually everything that defines my days–home, writing**, blogging, art, exercise, gaming, continent–I find myself rejuvenated and refreshed. And a hell of a lot more creative. On vacation, it was actually getting weird at a certain point: I hadn’t written or painted for weeks, and I was starting to feel…full. Like if I could have juiced my brain, pure artistic endeavour would have come out. And maybe some lol cats.

I learned many things on vacation. Among them:

  • -Peacocks are assholes
  • -Lamb ribs are a big fucking deal
  • -Scrotums can appear unexpectedly***.

Anyway, if I’m back, you know what else is back: the Monday Challenge. Now updated in real time instead of scheduled weeks in advance!

Today’s Challenge: write me someone learning a fundamental truth about the world. Fire is hot. Things fall. Australian rules football makes no sense but is awesome. Someone somewhere has learned an inalienable truth about their world and must now incorporate it into their life.

Out. I got stuff to do.

(Housekeeping: I didn’t have much access to the blog whilst meandering around Melbourne, so some comments went unapproved until recently. If you submitted one but still haven’t seen it, let me know and I’ll check the spam filters. Sorry for the delay and thanks, as always, for the comments!)

*You might remember her from her blog, On The Road To Ithaca, or guest posts like this and this.

**Okay, I did some of this while I was away. But it was different stuff, all right?

***Related: if you have a wardrobe malfunction, you should just own it.

 

5 Things I Learned About Writing While Trying To Get Home

Other passengers make excellent cushions when properly subdued.

1. All airport coffee is inferior coffee. Both in terms of taste and caffeine. Five cups and I was barely vibrating.

2. That weird half-doze I inevitably fall into while looking out an airplane window brings me the best ideas. I don’t know what it is. Something about staring at the sunlit tops of the clouds puts me in this strange not-awake, not-asleep trance. My eyes are open, and I’m reasonably sure that if you talk to me, I’ll respond*, but all higher brain functions are temporarily suspended. If you put an ear up to my head, you’d hear white noise. Or maybe the ocean.

Something about the Airplane Trance brings me awesome story ideas, though. I think it’s because, with all logical thought disengaged, my creative parts take over and start freewheeling through my brain like a Ferris wheel cut loose from its moorings. I get characters and stories and scenes that way. All partials, of course, because Airplane Trance Brain is absolute balls with planning, but still interesting stuff. Yesterday, on the tiny prop plane that takes people to where I live, I found two guys having a conversation in my head. I’m not entirely sure what they were talking about, but I sure as hell want to find out.

3. Writing is the best way to kill time when your flight is delayed by eight hours.** Absorbing, entertaining, and magically transports you to another place. Which is more than your airline can do at the moment.

4. People will bite you if you come near their power outlet. Based on the evidence of that guy in the suit with a laptop, iPad, iPhone, bluetooth headset, and travel vibrator connected, spider-like, to a single outlet at Pearson Airport. Relax, dude: I charged at the hotel.

5. If you write on a plane, people will read over your shoulder. Yes, I’m talking to you, Leather Jacket Guy Whose Elbows Extend To The Ends Of The Earth. And you, Miss I Bathed In Perfume Before Boarding So I Can Force Everyone To Sit In An Immoveable Cloud Of My Stink. I can see the reflection of your roving eyes in my laptop’s screen if you’re behind me. If you’re next to me, I can tell that you’re not reading your book because you haven’t turned a page in an hour. Don’t think you fool me with your sidelong glances. I know what you’re doing.

Ditto for notebooks. I’ve had people tilt their head to better decipher my handwriting. Pretend you were stretching your neck for the eighth time in ten minutes all you want. I know what you’re doing.

I just don’t care.

In fact, just for you, I’m going to pull up that crazy sex scene and start editing it right fucking now. Enjoy.

*Or I would if I didn’t have headphones on.
**And then cancelled entirely. Polar vortex wins again.

Popcorn and Rubber-Necking: NaNoWriMo Survival Guide For Spectators

Buckley and Eddie.

Dude, we should totally order a pizza and watch writers flip out. (Photo credit: Wikipedia)

As promised, part two of my Survival Guide to NaNoWriMo. Part One, for Participants, is over here. This time, pull up a sideline chair and get the popcorn. Here’s how to make it through the month when it seems like everyone around you is obsessed with plot bunnies and word counts.

1) Breathe. Don’t get caught up in the hype/panic. That shit is contagious. Hang around enough stressed out people and you’ll feel stressed even if you’re not doing anything. Avoid this bullshit—since stress is probably half the goddamn reason you’re not doing NaNo to begin with—and remember to take a deep breath. Or get a drink. Both help.

2) Do Other Shit. Not doing NaNo? This looks like a great time to reorganize your office. Or get a head start on your holiday shopping. Or finally make some headway on the ninja-training-for-dogs program. Bonus points: you get to brag about the stuff you’re getting done to your word-count-obsessed friends.

3) But Don’t Neglect Your Writing. You don’t have to write a novel, but that doesn’t mean you get a free pass. My favourite: using November to really nail down the outline for my next big project. Or catching up on my submissions. Continue to work on something, just to keep your hand in. Besides, it builds good habits for when the Great Time Suck, also known as the holiday season, strikes.

4) Enjoy the Show. Make some popcorn and crack open a cold one, because shit is about to go down. The autumn-chilled streets will be filled with wandering packs of word-herders, all looking for inspiration and extra words and ninja plot spackle techniques. Avoid the mobs, but enjoy the spectacle of creative madness. For extra rubber-necking points, go to the NaNo forums and eavesdrop on the freak outs.* You can even help with some, if you’ve done NaNo in the past and have the benefit of wisdom and experience. Or at least what passes for them on the internet.

5) Be Kind. Your friends are not themselves right now. It’s their Time Of The Month, if you take my meaning. They will return to the fun-loving rock-and-rollers you know and love soon, but until then, remember that they’re bat shit crazy and should only be approached with caution. And a stick. Don’t forget your Writer Poking Stick.
If you have forgotten your stick, then remember to be kind. They’re stressed and deep in the horrifying child birthing process that is required to bring a story into this world, screaming and covered in goo. Cut them a little fucking slack.
And pray for December.

*This may strike some people as voyeuristic. Sure it is. But if you don’t want to get gawked at, have your freak out somewhere that’s not a public forum.