inasmuch as it concerns Routines:
Pen meets paper, fingers meet keyboard, nose meets grindstone, butt gets glued to chair. Y'know.
but setting up the dominoes is haaaaaaard
- 3,400 wds. long
I've been avoiding my short story rewrite of late. That is because short story rewrites tend to terrify me. They loom like giants, towering with the hugeness of the work to be done. But at the same time, they are nebulous, ill-defined. You can't stick a sword in 'em anymore than you can in a cloud. You can't see through 'em, either. Basically, it's a huge mass of blinding, suffocating fog.
My emotional reaction tends to go something like this: "Oh, Gods, there is so much work to do to make this story into a real and functioning story, and I don't have a clue what that work is going to look like, how do I even start?"
As always, the only way out is through. Through the fog, through the cloud, out to the other side. It's rough going, but if you keep putting one foot in front of the other you get somewhere. It might not be the final somewhere, but it will at least be a somewhere from which you can aim yourself at the next somewhere.
I know this stuff. But it's very easy to forget that I know it when I'm facing an impenetrable fog giant.
Yesterday, happily, I was forced to rediscover it.
You know how writers talk about setting a timer for a period during which you can either stare at the page or type on it, one or the other? And eventually you do the latter because the former is boring? That's kind of the position I put myself in last night. I sat myself down in that restaurant booth, and I told myself, "You don't leave here until you've completed your day's writing. Yes, that means revising 'Snowflakes'." And I opened the project file, and I read and reread and re-reread the first scene and all the notes accompanying it, and eventually that got boring, so I started typing just to give myself something else to read.
By the end of the night, the fog had begun to coalesce into a recognizable shape. Instead of just sitting there wibbling, I was asking myself, "How do I get this scene to convey all this information (which I've listed in this handy linked note over here) without making things awkward and clunky?"
I didn't have answers yet, but at least I finally had an answerable question.
My job today was to try to answer that question. I think I might even have done so. But again, it required me to stop simply dreading it and just effin' do it.
If I can only convince myself to sit down and stick my eyeballs on the story that needs revising, revising becomes... well, not easy, definitely not easy. It becomes, I suppose, inevitable. Kind of like if you just push the little train to the top of that first hill, it becomes inevitable that it'll travel through the rest of the roller coaster ride. Like that, only not all at once. Bit by bit, each day. But it's the same principle. You only have to make the decision to knock over the first domino. The rest happens more or less on its own. At least, it does if you've set the dominoes up correctly. If you haven't, at least now you can see what needs fixing.
So that's where I'm at: kind of between dominoes three and four, wondering what it will take to get dominoes five, six, seven & etc. to follow. Hopefully my backbrain will be able to munch away at things over the weekend so that they'll flow more smoothly on Monday.
losing hit points and slumping under pressure
Yesterday was day 2 of using HabitRPG to help improve my dailiness. And I was really, really enthusiastic about it. Mainly I was impressed with the way it reshapes and repurposes that classic gamer urge to "do stuff to get stuff." I have a weakness for doing in-game things to get in-game rewards, resulting in a lot of fun but very little daily productivity. HabitRPG offers those tantalizing in-game rewards in exchange for doing real-life things, resulting in increased daily productivity. This is very cool. It means I'm not just looking forward to finishing each task on my writing list for its own sake and for the sake of getting it over; I'm also looking forward to these accomplishments for the sake of earning experience points and virtual coins.
Well, today I discovered a certain downside of HabitRPG. For me, that is. It's absolutely not a general downside that every user will encounter. It's just my downside, because I am a basket case.
That downside is this: It's yet another way for me to expect perfection of myself and punish myself for failing to achieve it.
You know what that means: Pressure, and freezing up in the face of pressure.
So this morning I woke up and failed to immediately write down what I'd dreamed. No big deal. It happens. But because dream journaling is a thing I try to do every morning, I'd had the bright idea to code it into my HabitRPG task list. (More details than you really need: I made it a Daily when I set up my account, but I changed it to a Habit yesterday.) Which means that I wasn't just disappointed in myself for letting the dream memory slip away. I was also dreading having to admit my failure by clicking that little minus button next to my dream journaling Habit and losing hit points over it.
So what did I do next? I went back to sleep. Because I'd already tangibly failed, so why even try?
Stupid I know. I told you, I'm a basket case about this. But that's how I never got out of bed until 12:30 and didn't actually start writing until 4:00 PM.
The good news is, I did snap out of it in time to start writing at 4:00 PM. I snapped out of it, did a little math, and became suddenly determined to do what I hadn't managed to do since first setting up my HabitRPG account: achieve a 5-hour writing day.
Tonight was a scrimmage night. It would be very close. But it was possible. It just meant getting back to work immediately after scrimmage and keeping at it until midnight or a little bit thereafter.
Which is why this blog post comes to you from the Old Chicago in Longmont. I know me, see. I know that if I drive home from derby with all the best intentions, they will nevertheless evaporate the moment collapsing in bed looks like an option. So I decided that collapsing in bed simply wouldn't be an option.
And now it is midnight and my timesheet shows a total of five hours for today. Take that, evildoers! I have achieved a perfect day!
Next up: Driving home without falling asleep on the road. Also the more difficult challenge of falling asleep in bed despite all the coffee I just put into my system. (Arrrrgh.)
accidental literary conversations
- 267 wds. long
Writing at Fuse again today, which makes it three times this week. I think we've finally succeeded in making it a routine, John and I. Either that, or the prospect of a free beer during "Friday happy hour" is sufficient temptation to overcome all resistance.
I'm liking our Fuse workdays, but I find I like them best when we get there before ten o'clock. When we get there later than ten, then we have breakfast upstairs, there there's the inevitable settling-in period downstairs, and what with one thing and another I don't get to my first "real writing" task until about eleven-thirty. Momentum is lost and never truly regained.
But today John had a 9:30 AM meeting to "go" to, which is to say to be present on the phone for, so we made sure to be there by then. Suddenly the day stretched long and full of possibility, and I was able to do all the things with teeny breaks for Puzzle Pirates in between and still not feel I'd left anything undone by the time beer-o'clock rolled around.
One thing I had time for was a lunch-hour walk to the library, just three blocks away, for some short story research. Here's the thing: I'm beginning to realize that "Other Theories of Relativity" appears to have entered into a three-way conversation with Katherine Paterson's novel Jacob Have I Loved and Ray Bradbury's short story "The Kaleidoscope" on the other. So I've checked them out of the library to refresh my memory because these sorts of conversations should be held deliberately.
The Bradbury connection became obvious rather quickly. I mean, you've got some number of astronauts stranded in space and contemplating their inevitable demise--how do you miss that? Unless you hadn't read the story, of course. I had, and it stuck with me in the same menacing, unpleasant way as "A Sound of Thunder" and (I think) "The Rocket Man." Only I couldn't remember which collection it was in nor its name, so I spent some time in the library flipping to each story's first page and reading the first line.
"The first concussion cut the rocket ship up the side with a giant can opener." Yep. That's the one. And on an unrelated note, a story critique note: A line like that, I'm expecting the next line to start with something about the second concussion. But no, Bradbury left me hanging. I also find the story's ending to be slightly off-pitch and missing its rhythm; the little boy's line should be "cried," not "screamed"; and the mother only needs to say her line once.
Why yes I am critiquing a Ray Bradbury story. There's no chutzpa about it. I critique everything to do with story. I critique movies, and video games, and occasionally friends' conversations. It's a writer thing. (At least, it's this writer's thing.) Deal with it.
The nod to the Paterson novel only became clear to me once I'd got some vague idea of the sisters' relationship. The reflection isn't exact, but it falls along similar lines. The main character is very clearly the Louise of this pair, all her life resenting her sister's successes even as she's proud of them; yearning for a deeper connection and, in scrambling after her sister to try to regain it, constantly stepping into emotional bear-traps.
I'm really not looking forward to rereading Jacob Have I Loved. I remember it as being a beautiful, haunting novel, but I also remember how angry it made me. Every injustice visited upon Louise, every callousness committed by Caroline, every circumstance that made utter futility out of Louise's attempts to be her own person--argh. And there's no use being angry on behalf of a fictional character! There is nothing constructive to do with that anger! So I go through my days grumpy and cranky and I take it out on people and then I realize why and I feel stupid!
I think the only book that has come close to having that effect on me since has been Jane Eyre. I was not pleasant to be around while I was reading Jane Eyre.
For now, I might not so much reread Jacob Have I Loved as simply open it to random pages and see if I get an "a-ha!" out of it. I may save actually rereading that book for when John goes out of town in May. Then there'll be no danger of the book making me inappropriately cranky at him.
back in high school and it's ok
This week an errant internet discussion reminded me that I have Ursula K. LeGuin's Steering the Craft on my bookshelf and have not yet read it nor worked through it. This struck me as unfortunate, an oversight to be corrected straightaway.
When I got to the first exercise, I remembered why I bounced off of it previously. LeGuin takes writers through the basic building blocks of the craft; accordingly, the exercises are themselves fairly basic. Here's the very first exercise:
Being Gorgeous: Write a paragraph to a page (150-300 words) of narrative that's meant to be read aloud. Use onomatopoeia, alliteration, repetition, rhythmic effects, made-up words or names, dialect--any kind of sound-effect you like--but NOT rhyme or meter.
I think my past reaction to this sort of thing was, "Please. I'm not in high school anymore."
Which I admit sounds pretty darn arrogant of me. In my defense, I suspect a non-trivial portion of that response was my old adversary, Resistance-To-Writing, in disguise and looking for any excuse to keep me and the blank page apart.
To whatever extent arrogance and resistance played a part, and in which proportion each had a hand, this week I'm making amends. Tuesday I darn well sat down with "Being Gorgeous" and my 25-minute timer and I wrote the beginnings of a really silly ghost story. Wednesday, I fed the next exercise to my freewriting session--a paragraph of 150-350 words without any punctuation--and the results were a sort of eerie musing on the breakneck pace of the unrequited striving that is the human condition.
Now, 150-350 words isn't going to take 25 minutes to write, not even if I think hard about each sentence. So after I'd done the exercise, I considered the questions and thoughts LeGuin follows up the exercises with and babbled about them on the page. And--what do you know?--by doing this faithfully, by genuinely engaging in the exercise, by not deciding ahead of time that I was way beyond this stuff--I came to some unexpected understandings of my process and my relationship to the elements I was obliged to use.
The punctuation-free exercise brought me to these observations:
- Take away my syntactical pauses, and my tendency will be to try to write as fast as I can! I had to dial that back a bit so I could think about what I was creating.
- Next my tendency was to try to express my having run out of ideas by means of a stop or a pause. To break out of that, I had to think up some words that lent themselves to forward motion rather than to pausing, and to pushing the idea to its next possible permutation.
- "Words that lend themselves to forward motion" in practice meant choosing words that complete or continue a clause begun by the previous couple words, such that rather than having a string of clauses clumsily glued together by conjunctions, I was trying for a series of overlapping clauses.
- The piece began in first person plural ("Then we started..."), but the moment an imperative snuck in ("quick quick jump up higher and higher and reach a bit more just a bit"), I naturally slipped into second person singular ("and you know you'll never get there but you're incapable of ceasing...."). It's a good thing I seem to be able to get away with second person narratives, because it seems to be one of my default storytelling modes.
So these are the thoughts I start having when I give myself permission to just go back to high school already, what are you afraid of, scared you might learn something? Jeez.
PS. In Scrivener, these Daily Idea files got the label "Exercise," because that's what they were and that's how this works.
more scrivenings and some non-scrivenings
Q: So with all my praise of Scrivener FOR EVERYTHING, FOREVER AND EVER, why am I still composing blog posts in EditPlus?
A: Because I've got EditPlus set up with keyboard shortcuts and macros for HTML, that's why. Why type out a link tag with a new window attribute over and over again when I can just highlight the link text, click CTRL-A, paste in the URL, then click CTRL-1 to add target="_blank" in the appropriate spot?
That said, I would love to be able to keep all my blog posts for, say, Puzzle Pirates Examiner, inside a single Scrivener project. That would be very organized. Now, I know Scrivener lets you reassign preferred keyboard shortcuts to a huge list of commands, but does it have a built-in way to create keyboard macros? That would be keen.
Meanwhile, today I took another walk through all the files in my Daily Ideas project (which goes all the way back to 2009 but thankfully doesn't contain one file for every day since) and assigned labels to them. Most of them are vignettes written to a writing prompt, and as such are labeled "prompt". The ones that used my actual dreams as prompts got labeled "dream", because that's a valuable distinction for me. Any of the above that came out looking like surprisingly well-developed for its origins might have gotten labeled "drafting". On the other extreme, files where I mainly just talked to myself on the page about problems with my current WIP got labeled "brainstorming." There were probably more labels; I was getting punchy by the time I got back to mid-2011.
A lot of the early files turned out to be only a sentence or so. This is because when I started the project, it wasn't so much about daily timed writing as it is now. I started doing it because I wanted to remind myself that ideas aren't scarce. I'd prove it to myself by coming up with a new one every day. So many of the early files are just that: a story idea, jotted down as it occurred to me, without much development.
Many of these, along with longer pieces that struck me as something I'd like to come back to soon, I marked with the status "To Do". I created a search results collection based on that status. Now, when I'm not sure what to write today and the Prompt Pile is empty, I can take a look at the things in that collection, pull one out, and start to make it into the story it deserves to be.
So, yes, Scrivener continues to be really darn useful. But I suppose I've got to admit that it can't do everything.
- 51,730 wds. long
Have I mentioned Scrivener yet? I think I maybe have. Have I mentioned that I've gotten addicted to it, fast and hard like a fall off a hundred-foot cliff? No? Let's talk about that. At length.
(I have a handful of topics waiting for a day when the day's work doesn't lend itself much to blogging. That's how it is. Some days, it's all triumphant teapots and contest submissions; others, it's just the daily slog. The daily slog is itself a triumphant thing--showing up on the page every workday is beyond price--but it doesn't in and of itself make for entertaining reportage. So today, instead of anything precisely about today, you get the Scrivener post I've been meaning to write for a little while now.)
The experience of using Scrivener is surprisingly dissimilar to that of using yWriter. And while yWriter has a bunch of cool features, I found I didn't really avail myself of the ones that made it unique. Oh, I made character lists for my novels, entered deadlines into the project settings, occasionally used the daily word target report, but then I'd forget those features existed for months at a time. Mainly I used yWriter to create and edit related files which I organized into a project structure.
That's the feature that Scrivener excels at. Put that together with all the different ways you can then interact with those files, and you've got a compelling argument for never composing in any other text-editing program again.
("Says the author who's composing her blog post in EditPlus 3.31." Hush.)
Thing is, I'm using it for everything now. Almost everything. Because it's so damn flexible. In yWriter, you put scenes (RTF files) inside chapters (a nominal folder), and that was it. But in Scrivener you can do almost anything you like.
A blank project has three default items in its "Binder" (the file/folder system in the left-hand sidebar) which you may rename but not delete: the uberfolder "Draft," where the files that make up your manuscript will go; the resource folder "Research," where you can store your supporting documents; and the circular file otherwise known as "Trash". Inside the first two you can store files and folders in a sort of directory-tree style formation, with almost no restrictions on how you do it. You can put files inside folders, and folders inside folders; but you can also put folders inside files, and files inside files. And all of these, files and folders alike, are basically RTF documents that you edit within Scrivener's basic RTF editor.
You can edit each file separately, just as you would in yWriter. Or you can view a group of files as though they were a single continuous document ("scrivenings mode"), and edit them from that view. Or you can define a group of documents as a "collection", so that you'll deal with just the files that meet a certain criteria (scenes from a particular character's point of view, scenes that take place in Miami, documents that contain the word "quintessence") and temporarily hide all the others.
Then, you can add all sorts of meta-data and notes and toggles and things to each file. This is like but unlike yWriter in the sort of blanks it gives you to fill in and what you can do with that data once you've put it there. In Scrivener, each file is additionally represented by an index card with the file's title (the same title you see on the file in the Binder) and a synopsis displayed thereon. Then you can add document-specific notes, keywords, meta-data, even photos and other reference material. This is useful, among other things, for looking at a group of index cards together in "corkboard" view, or for searching for all files marked by a particular meta-data label.
And THEN when you're ready to produce your manuscript, Scrivener has a powerful "compile" feature that takes a customizable list of documents from the binder (the default being all the contents of the "Drafts" folder) and uses them as a blueprint to create a standard manuscript, a PDF, an ebook, a Microsoft Word file, or whatever it is you need, applying formatting of your specification to the raw data.
So. What am I using it for?
Novels. Scrivener was created to aid authors in the task of cobbling together novels. My first Scrivener project would be the rewrite of my 2013 NaNoWriMo draft, the YA faerie romance involving roller derby. Going off an online colleague's recommendation, I downloaded a Snowflake Method template for Scrivener and began snowflaking the hell out of Iron Wheels therein. (Funny how I need a 50,000-word draft before I can answer questions like "What's this character's general motivation? What is their goal?")
So far, this means I'm mainly interacting with a "Tasks" folder which contains a file for each of the 10 steps of the snowflake method. The instructions for each step are in the file's Document Notes for easy reference, and I follow the instructions in the editor for each file itself.
I've also started filling up the Research folder with helpful items, like a list of those rules of junior roller derby under the WFTDA which differ from the adult rules. I expect I'll soon be creating files in the Resources folder with notes about the Upper Court, Lower Court, Outer Court, and the Field. Also notes about the human town that Rage's high school is in.
I look forward to finally typing revisions from the yWriter project from November into the Scrivener project as files in the Drafts folder.
Short stories. On another Codexian's recommendation, I downloaded Jamie Todd Rubin's SFWA Short Fiction template so I could see how useful Scrivener might be for editing short stories. It's way useful. The Drafts folder (renamed "Short Story") contains not just a folder with the story itself in it--separate files for separate scenes or a single file for the whole story--but also a first page header file with your contact info and an automatically populated word count field (rounded to the nearest hundred). When you compile, this results in a document in standard manuscript format with a perfect page one.
That's super cool. Cooler still is what I'm doing with the template's "Critiques" folder: one file for every draft, each draft littered with notes toward its revision. When a story undergoes peer critique, I add each critic's comments to the draft as linked notes--a feature similar to that of the comments feature in MS Word--which are color-coded to distinguish between different critics' contributions.
Then, when I'm ready to type in the new draft, I split the editor and put the annotated draft below the split and the brand new draft above, making it easy to reference once while creating the other.
Daily exercises. I'd created a yWriter project called "Daily Idea," for my daily freewriting exercises. Each day's exercise was a scene file whose title reflected the day I wrote it and a short phrase describing the resulting vignette. They lived inside "chapters" named for the appropriate month. The first month of every new year got tagged as "begins a new section," which was expressed through boldface.
I transferred these over to Scrivener, dragging batches of RTF files from Windows Explorer over into a month folder that lived inside a year folder that lived inside the "Daily Ideas" uberfolder. The date of the exercise became the file's title, just like in yWriter, and the descriptive phrase went in the synopsis field on the index card. Anything I'd put in yWriter's description field for that file/scene, I copied into Document Notes.
Here's the fun part: As I brought these files over, any writing which I recognized as being part of the groundwork for an actual story got labeled with that story's title as a keyword. Now I can create a collection based on the results of a keyword search and easily find all these materials to help me draft or revise that story.
Lastly, there's the Prompt Pile folder, where I put blank untitled files whose synopses are those writing prompts that occur to me at odd times. If I should get to freewriting time and have no idea what to write, I'll drag one of those files out of Prompt Pile and into the current month's folder.
Content Writing Articles. This is just getting silly. But that DMS article I turned in yesterday? I wrote it in Scrivener too.
DMS articles are organized by sections. Generally there's a 50 to 75 word introduction, then there's three to five separate sections of text. I used to write these articles in EditPlus, starting each section with a TITLE ALL IN CAPS followed by a blank line. When it was time to paste this stuff into the DMS editor interface, there'd be a lot of tiresome scrolling and searching and clicking and highlighting by hand and trying not to grab the empty line after or before the text. I kept all the articles as separate text files in a Windows directory.
Now I have a Scrivener project for DMS articles. Each article is a file in the Drafts uberfolder, and that file acts as a folder in that it contains one file for each section of the article. Now, to copy a given section and paste it into the online editor, I simply click on the section file in the binder, then press CTRL-A to highlight the whole thing. Then I change its font from courier to arial for a final proofread before CTRL-Aing again, CTRL-Cing, and CTRL-Ving into the DMS editor interface.
The other nice thing about separating the sections into their own files is the way it reinforces the "bite at a time" approach to a dreaded task. Like I said, I have a mental block about DMS articles. But if I can convince the dreading part of my brain that "Look, all you have to do today is this little section here, just 75 words, that's not so hard," it's not as difficult to get myself to sit down and write those 75 words. Scrivener's file structure makes it easier to get that message through to my recalcitrant brain.
That just leaves my research. Sadly, you can't move or clone the default Research folder, and I don't want to store my article titles, article URLs and copied text all the way over there. So I just put all that in the containing file, the one named after the article itself. I may come up with an even more useful way to store that stuff later. Maybe as a "Research" folder inside the article, which then contains one file per reference document, and each file will have relevant quotes as well as the URL and the title formatted the way DMS likes 'em.
The moral of this story is that Scrivener flexible and highly addictive. It's not just that it's useful for just about any kind of writing that I do. There's also a pure pleasure derived from figuring out how to adapt this tool to each sort of project. It's as though the designer of Scrivener had people like me explicitly in mind: slightly OCD, entirely Type-A, people who get a sense of both puzzle-style entertainment and accomplishment/fulfillment from creating organizational structures and filing things away.
It's actually kind of genius. Scrivener takes a particular kind of procrastination to which I am susceptible, and positions it such that it leads directly to getting actual writing done. Genius.
I'm in awe. More importantly, I'm getting writing done. Which is the whole point of the exercise, isn't it?
the author in conversation
Today was kind of a blah day. Slow moving, no new breakthroughs, hung up on non-writing tasks. Today was kind of not.
The only thing to report is this:
I'm working on the story I want to submit to The First Line on February 1 (that's Saturday, by the way). That's the one with the prompt, "Carlos discovered _____ [fill in the blank] under a pile of shoes in the back of his grandmother's closet."
As I mentioned, I filled in the blank with "homing device." The main idea is that this device has been passed down through the family from mother to daughter for generations, with the understanding that someday, something or someone not of this planet will arrive. Carlos finds it and brings it to his mother, Lucita, who somehow never got given it or told about it. Lucita is only just finding out this, her family's secret, by reading her mother's journal. They are going through her mother's house and things because her mother has just died.
I'm trying to avoid the sort of last-minute stressy race to beat the deadline I put myself through with "Anything For a Laugh." So I'm getting a little worried about not being finished yet.
Like I said, today didn't really move. I had hoped to complete a draft before I left at 5:45 PM for roller derby practice. That did not happen.
But here's what did happen: I discovered, or rediscovered, that my tendency to think out loud can be used for good and not just embarrassment of me and irritation of others. If I leave the radio off and drive in silence from home to the Bomb Shelter, and I just start talking to myself about my story, I discover things about the story. It's like my 25-minute freewriting exercise: a few minutes in and everything takes a sharp left turn off the rut I've been stuck in.
So apparently Nena Santiago isn't, in fact, dead, but missing. Her mother went missing when she reached advanced age, too. And her mother before that. The homing device isn't calling one single arrival during some future generation, but is arranging the rapture, so to speak, of each successive woman in the dynasty. But Nena never did pass the homing device on to Lucita because she didn't believe in it, and besides she resented the whole "Now you have to get married and have a daughter" thing, which got her saddled with a real jerk of a husband whom she may or may not have in fact murdered. And by the way did you know that old pile of shoes has rock climbing shoes and tap dance shoes and moon boots next to the dress flats and sandals? And oh my goodness Nena's journal is full of things.
And also there's the title, which just came to me like a punchline when I hit the word "rapture." Only if I'm going to give it that title, I had better find a way to connect this story with that chapter in Roman history it's alluding to. And also, there'd better be a nod to how all the women in this dynasty share a last name despite living in the here-and-now of the U.S. where it's more common for married women to take their husband's name.
And did I mention that I'm shooting for flash fiction?
The important thing is, the story's moving now! Hooray for 25-minute commutes.
your 'hedonist' quality has increased, delicious friend
Yesterday the sky was blue and the sun was warm when I arrived at the Bomb Shelter for roller derby practice. But I could smell that "mean wind from Greeley" carrying the odor of cattle down into Boulder County, and I thought, Really? Snow again? Do we have to?
Yes. We have to. Three hours later, an overcast was hurrying out from the horizon. This morning, everything was white.
"John," says I, "I am not at all enthusiastic about leaving the house."
"Well, we don't have to hurry," says he, "but I still want to go to Fuse like we planned."
"OK," says I, and I get ready to go.
This is one of the many ways John is a good influence on me, and also why co-working spaces are awesome. If I had stayed home, guaranteed this would not have been a writing day. This would have been a sleep-all-day day. The sight of snowfall goes in at the eyeballs and down into the bones, producing a sluggishness and a deep sleepiness. Hibernating creatures are smart creatures. I want to be just like them.
But instead, because John insisted, we went to Fuse. There are no beds to go back to at Fuse. There's just a roomful of people Getting Work Done. I actually want to be just like them.
Also, the Commons work area downstairs has no windows, so I don't have to constantly fight off the effect of the sight of snow.
Fuse has gotten more exciting lately with the launch of the cafe. The cafe is simply called "Food at the Riverside," and its menu is full of elegant, tasty things, some simple and some very fancy indeed. Full-time Fuse members get a 15% discount and can run a weekly tab, which is dangerously convenient. But not as dangerous as it could be; the gourmet menu is surprisingly inexpensive.
For example, there's Lobster Benedict. Lobster freakin' Benedict. One perfectly poached egg atop an english muffin of feed-the-farmer thickness, spinach and sun dried tomato laid on thick, hollandaise sauce smothering the lot, and finally, sticking up like a leaning tower of mouthwatering delectability, a lengthwise half of lobster tail with its half of the tail fin on. Also a fruit cup on the side. This meal costs a whopping $6 before member discount, tax, and tip.
I've said before that the future vision of Fuse--that is, once all the things they have planned for the Riverside come to fruition--sounds like a modern-day egalitarian upgrade to the Victorian concept of the gentleman's club. I've said it, but now I'm starting to experience it. Something about being hailed by name by diners and staff alike before we're done stamping the snow off our shoes (it's like a scene out of Cheers), and sitting down to a spot of breakfast (half a lobster tail on top of my egg benedict, I cannot get over that) before heading downstairs to work on my short story in progress. Over endless cups of tea. Punctuated by occasional conversations, brainstorming, networking, and show-and-tell.
It's very pleasant. It's also great motivation to write rather than sleep the day away.
Tomorrow's motivation is unfortunately destined to be less pleasant. I have to take the car in--the 17-year-old car we're trying to keep on the road as long as possible because they don't make it anymore and we like it--to find out where our radiator coolant fluid is leaking from and make it stop. But while the car's in the garage I intend to hang out at Pekoe with my morning's work and a pot of tea. So that'll be nice.
on research, and deadlines
Today I spent an hour and a half of the working day reading through the HowStuffWorks article "How Special Relativity Works". There are 23 pages in that article. It starts with a run-down of the basic building blocks of the space-time continuum, and it winds up taking you through several iterations of the "twin paradox." By the time I was done, I had expended woefully unnecessary brainpower cycles on just keeping myself clear on which twin remained on Earth and which traveled away from Earth for 12 subjective hours at 60% the speed of light (and why they chose to name the stationary twin "Hunter" I will never know), but I was sorta kinda confident with my understanding of the whole concept in general, and also I needed to take a walk.
The upshot of all this research--for a 750-word flash fiction draft I'm thinking will expand to maybe 1500 words, if that--was the opening line,
We now know that the speed of thought is also a constant, acting as a constant across all reference points.
At least I have until February 14 to submit.
Meanwhile, I still haven't submitted anything this week to anywhere at all. Conscious of this, I started yet another story today, because if ever there's a project I have a chance at starting and finishing on the same day, it's a new short-short written to the latest prompt in The First Line's submission guidelines.
(What did Carlos find under a pile of Grandma's shoes? A homing device, of course. What? Why are you looking at me like that?)
It did not get finished today. Which is technically OK, since this one's got a deadline of February 1, but I'd really like to say I submitted something this week. And I'd like to get back to "Other Theories of Relativity." And also "It's For You."
I hear there are authors who work on only one thing until that thing is done. Only then do they start a new thing. One new thing. Which they work on until it is done. I do not understand how this is possible. Sometimes I kinda wish I did.
dreams during sleep and waking
Two things I've been getting back into the habit of, these past few weeks. They're related. Dream recall is one and freewriting is the other.
I have a long history of writing down my dreams. My earliest formal dream diary dates from 1987 (age 11), but I know I wrote them down even before that. Somewhere in a spiral flip notebook is the penciled record of dreaming about Mom and me baking bread together, "and then today, Mom suggested we bake bread!" That's right: My first written dream record was of a precognitive dream. Believe it or not.
But occasionally I get out of the habit. My last dream narrative from 2013 was on Halloween morning. Between then and January 5 I mostly just didn't remember any dreams, but I know I was also guilty of not bothering to write down those shreds that survived the journey back to consciousness.
This was Not Ideal. I rely on dreams for inspiration. I look forward to them as entertainment and recreation. Even my nightmares I tend to look back on as an exciting adventure. I regard my own lack of dream recall as a tragic waste of opportunity. So I attempted to revive my dream recall practice as part of revamping my writing work schedule.
If you, too, want to recall your dreams, and if you've had little luck at doing so, a solid strategy is to send a clear and concrete signal to your subconscious that you're listening. It's amazing how well it generally responds to that signal. You send that signal as follows: Last thing before bed, prepare your dream recording device, whether it be electronic or manual. First thing after you wake up, before you even open your eyes, observe your first thoughts. Write them down, whatever they are. Keep up this morning practice and it's very likely that those first thoughts will have become dream memories.
So that's what I did. Each night, last thing before going to sleep, I would boot up Alchera on my laptop, open up the "New Dream" dialogue, and date it and timestamp it for when my alarm was set to go off the next morning. Then I'd hibernate the laptop and leave it within easy reach.
(By the way, Alchera is wonderful. I have been using it, and corresponding with its creator, since 2001.)
This may not work for you, it doesn't work for everyone, but it seems to work really well for most people. It works dramatically for me, and this January has been no exception. After two full months of no dream recording at all, I've got 12 for the month of January so far.
(Recording dreams fulfills my animal instinct to COLLECT ALL THE THINGS. The two word summary for your basic Taurus personality? "I HAVE.")
My freewriting practice--in which I think up a prompt, however slight, and write to it for 25 minutes straight--has improved similarly since I made a point of doing it every working day. At first, prompts were hard to think up, and every prompt seemed barren of potential. 25 minutes seemed to take forever. But after a few days either I lowered my standards for "potential jumping-off point" or just started getting inspired more easily. Everything started to look like a writing idea. And while the 25 minutes remained long and scary, I got back in the habit of trusting one word to lead to another.
For instance, today I was drinking a cup of post-gumbo coffee at Milo's, and that made me think of an old Velvet Hammer song, "To Be," about endless cups of coffee and endless games of solitaire as the narrator waits for the right moment to act, which of course never comes (and boy is that a song that hits home from time to time)... So I started off describing the cup of coffee, and how it looked, how it was a deep well of black that was almost green, and... damn if it didn't look like a surface you might scry in. Before I knew it, I was beginning a story about a reluctant oracle who was trying to not see visions in every cup of coffee and every game of solitaire, and who is being compelled by a former acquaintance and a new customer to pick up her divinatory tools and deliver up a prophecy, pronto.
No time to stop and wonder "Where the heck did that come from? How'd I get from describing my cuppa to this?" No time to think about that! I've only got 21 minutes left to find out what happens!
Here, as with dream recall, it seems the imagination just needs to be reassured that I won't shoot down its every idea. The process is the purpose. The point of the journey is not to arrive. And so forth and so on. You get the picture.
But of course, this is the easy part.