Day 5: From the Stanley to Happy Birthday Atlas
- 10,782 words (if poetry, lines) long
Right now this very moment, I am at Atlas Purveyors. I'm slightly typo-drunk on a red plastic cup of Boulder Beer's Flashback Anniversary Ale, poured for me lovingly by the familiar face behind the counter whose name I never quite caught. The cafe is crowded with people here to celebrate Atlas's 1st birthday--a year ago this month they opened where The Tea Box used to be--and I'm being a little antisocial. The only people here that I know are the proprietors and staff, and they're fairly busy (see above). I've escaped the crush by hiding with my beer and my laptop back in the hallway, which is inexplicably empty.
Occasionally someone picks up a bit of chalk and adds a thought to the freshly cleared wall-long blackboard. "We ♥ Atlas." (That was supposed to be a heart. I don't know why it doesn't want to be a heart. ♥, dammit, ♥!)
I've been up since 7:30 this morning, and I've driven up to Estes Park and back. Between the small amount of sleep last night and the trek up to 7,522 feet (I thought it was 8,300 but I was wrong), you'd think I'd be more tired. But I was looking forward to the party, and I kind of feel obliged to be here. A bunch of NaNoWriMo buddies and I, we've been meeting here since Atlas's beginning. It's a favorite office-away-from-office, and I want to help celebrate them, even if it means slipping out of a crowd of strangers to hole up in the hallway under a photo called "Blue Crossing."
Atlas is inextricable from recent memories, and current experience, of NaNoWriMo. So here I am.
But most of today I was in Estes Park, at an all-day write-in that the Municipal Liaison of "Colorado :: Elsewhere" set up. We met at the Stanley Hotel, famous filming location for Kubrick's adaptation of King's The Shining. Appropriately, one of the Wrimos present used a typewriter, an Underwood with features remarkably like my off-brand Sears knock-off. The dining room manager asked her to knock it off, as it was noisy. Shame that.
(Incidentally, I've heard enough "red rum" jokes today to last me until Halloween 2011. You are not allowed to recommence the jokes until then.)
We had word war after word war, and when I surpassed 10,000 words early in the afternoon I gave myself permission to put it away and make a start on my Demand Studios queue. Which is a little backwards. You're supposed to do the Soul-Numbing Professional Hackery first, then give yourself the reward of Working On The Novel. But, oh well, my schedule put them backwards. It all worked.
--oh hey! Speech! Applause! Good things! (Owner Chris Rosen, quoting his dad: "When someone walks through your door, remember: that might just be the best part of their day.") And the raffle prizes are being announced! It took them some 5 tries to find someone present to win the Illegal Pete's gift certificate...
So where was I? Ah. Well. I haven't done any editing since I got back into Boulder--I mostly started cooking. Like a fiend. "Bake the eggplant before it rots! These okra are about to go--quick! Cook them down for frozen gumbo starter! A fly landed on the butternut squash; is it going bad? Quick, roast it! And if I'm going to defrost the pork bellies for lard for the gumbo, I should make kimchichigae with it..." Then I remembered the party at Atlas, and I looked at the time, and I hastily put everything in the fridge. (The eggplant got baked and the squash got roasted and the okra went into the crock pot.)
Anyway, today's excerpt is short, because it's entirely Zero Draft. No light polish this evening. Enjoy... I guess?
What she absolutely did not expect was a short, dark woman in a button-down blouse and jeans of indeterminate color--it was dark in there, the curtains drawn tight, the only light what ventured in from the hallway fluorescents past Lia--a woman fallen from the bed to the floor, legs tangled in the blankets, her arms still outstretched from having reached for the nearest support, which had happened to be Lia's nightstand, temporary rest place for cast-off coins and life accoutrements still on her person at bedtime. The woman lay under the strewn shards of last night's water glass, two pairs of glasses, uncountable loose change, and random silverwhere. Her clothes were no longer bloodstained, but you'd expect a woman to change clothes sometime in five weeks. You might not expect her alive and unwounded if the last time you saw her she'd been dead of a slit throat, though.Which is actually from the very first few hundred words of today. After that we have Jet cleaning up the mess and unknown dude trying to convince her he lives here while searching the apartment. And Lia hiding from hallucinations under a bush in the park. It's the dude I'm not sure about--I mean, adding him was a good idea, but I'm not sure what he's up to. I think whatever he's looking for, Lia is wearing it. Maybe on an earring. Maybe on a nipple ring. Something she stole when she fled the city. Fun times!
Lia stared, her right hand slowly lowering the kitchen knife.
"Oh, like that was going to work," said Jet. "Trained assassin, remember? Well--come on, can I get a little help here?" Lia backed up a step, shaking her head. "Sorry about your glass--I hope it wasn't terribly irreplaceable? Hey--Lia--don't be like that--"
She was slamming the door before she even knew she was moving. Slamming the door, dropping the knife, bolting down the hall and out the door. She knew you couldn't run away from hallucinations, but she didn't know anything else to do but try.
(Meanwhile - yum, birthday cake! And possibly more beer...)
Day 4: It's OK To Write More
- 7,770 words (if poetry, lines) long
So I wasn't much looking forward to today's writing. It's mostly both characters being emo and angsty after parting ways. So, what the hell. I queued up the most emo and angsty song on Hunting High and Low, "The Sun Always Shines On TV" ("I fear the crazed and lonely looks the mirror's sending me these days"), I put it on infinite single-track replay, and I gave in to the mopey introspection. And I got a scene in which Lia is absolutely questioning her sanity, what with having all but convinced herself that Jet was a hallucination or a waking dream or something. Except she doesn't want to believe herself capable of hallucinating that convincingly. Except how else to explain the bit where Jet went from alive, to messily dead, to vanished? Lia has not been having a good five weeks.
("What with one thing and another, five weeks passed.")
I might never have gotten that far if it wasn't for some healthy competition at tonight's write-in. Have I mentioned, by the way, what madly enthusiastic Wrimos we have in Boulder? It's not that huge or far-flung of a region. Denver is bigger. Hell, there's only one region in the entire country of Brazil; it's called "Elsewhere :: Brazil". And yet, in our one-and-a-half-county region, we have write-ins to accommodate every schedule, every neighborhood in every suburb (practically), most of them initiated not by us Municipal Liaisons but by people who just liked the idea of, say, having a write-in at Flatirons Crossing, or who wanted to do Healing Tea Saturdays again. We have a scheduled write-in per day, average.
Today, we had two. One in Boulder, and one in Longmont. Since the two write-ins overlapped, we decided to engage in a bit of Word Warring. Word Wars are a bit like Word Sprints. You set a timer, and you try to get as many words written as you can in the allotted time. That's a sprint. Add competition, and it's a "war." From 7:10 to 7:30, the Boulder-at-Red-Rock-Coffeehouse crew vied with the Longmont-at-Ziggy's crew for the highest average of words per Wrimo.
But I'd been at Red Rock since 5:30--some had been there since 5:00--and I'd already hit 6667 total words, the normal Day 4 goal. Getting there took me through Jet's being emo and angsty over whether maybe she was a bit too attached to playing human and whether it was a problem that making out with her best bud back in her home world just didn't do it for her anymore what with there being no challenge or surprise to it. (Her home world is outside of space and time. "World" isn't the right word for it. Words aren't right for it. You see the problem I'm setting myself here.) And then maybe two paragraphs into Lia Five Weeks Later, and then I was done.
But it was only 6:15. I couldn't let the side down! I had to do more writing come Word War time!
Natalie Goldberg has an anecdote about a student who would write to the end of the ten minutes, to the end of the page, and then stop. This is in Writing Down The Bones, in the chapter called "Go Further." Goldberg writes, "Write to the eleventh minute if you need to. I know it can be frightening and a real loss of control, but I promise you, you can go through to the other side and actually come out singing."
It would have been no big deal if I hadn't. I had reached my goal for the day (get to 6667 words total). I could always right the rest of Lia Five Weeks Later tomorrow. But would I have written the same scene tomorrow as I wrote today? Would it have been the same Lia, the same family she can't cut herself free of, the same foggy mirror sending her frightening looks?
I don't know. This is some of what I got.
Abruptly Lia stood, shouldered her purse, and left the bus stop. Half a block along the way she heard what sounded suspiciously like a city bus's air brakes, but she didn't turn. It was a 10 minute walk back to her house, and the whole way she tried damn hard not to think of anything at all. The first flakes of a November flurry were beginning to fall by the time she got home; her dyed copper hair was salted with snow. She brushed it off as she let her front door slam closed behind her.Incidentally, Boulder won the Word War. But our averages were pretty darn close - 800 as compared to 750. We look forward to next week's rematch.
She collapsed in the armchair in front of a dead TV and sat there for five minutes or so, her mind as empty as she could make it. A sort of static buzz seemed to snap around her head like a fly. She didn't think about it at first. It stabilized, turning into a generic high-pitched ringing in her left ear, an almost electronic tone being played on a MIDI keyboard that didn't exist outside her own mind. Great, now my hallucinations are auditory. I'm one messed-up cookie. With that thought, she got up and marched herself over to the phone.
"Yeah. Sorry, Di--just can't seem to get out of bed this morning. I think I'm coming down with the latest 'flu that's going round the office. What, Jackie too? Send her my regards. Well, we'll see how it goes. I hope I can make it in tomorrrow--no, don't worry, I have no plans on being the next Typhoid Mary. Thanks, Di. 'Bye."
She hung up the handset, letting it clatter back into its old-fashioned wall-hanging base. The sound seemed to echo from the bedroom, as though something in there had fallen over at the precise moment she'd ended her call. Still hearing things, she supposed. But the ringing in her left ear was gone, that was something.
In the bathroom, she splashed water on her face and blinked, owl-like, at her reflection. Her narrow mouth, once so familiar and comfortable in the mirror, now seemed twisted, as though someone had snuck into her room while she slept to add weights to the ends of her lips. Just a milligram here, a flake of iron there, adding up over the weeks or years. She forced a smile, just to see what it looked like. It looked fake. She relaxed and watched her mouth sag into that warped scowl. Her lips were pale, with little pink in them. They were almost the same faint tan as her skin was at the end of the summer, visible at a distance only because her summer tan was lightening to her usual Celtic pastiness.
It sounds Welsh, said Jet.
Lia sputtered a cursed at the mirror, then began to shout. "Yes, dammit, I guess it does, I guess I can't cut myself off from my family even when I try to rename myself. Thank you oh so fucking much for pointing that out, imaginary person!"
What's that supposed to mean?
"Shut up. Shut up." Lia covered her ears and let her forehead fall against the mirror with a thunk whose echoes bounced around in her skull, less real than the voice of her memories. "It's been five weeks, what the hell are you doing in my head now? You never existed!" Her own voice seemed less real too.
Less real than the voice of a nonexistent woman repeating its query in her head. What's that supposed to mean?
"It means I'm done, I'm done being sick and scared and traumatized! You're just a figment of my--my trauma, OK? Go away. Please."
So, who's the fucking jerk now?
Lia squeezed her eyes shut as tight as they would go, then opened them, then turned on the water in the sink and the tub. Hot as it would go and with as much force as the building pump could muster up to her top floor apartment. She concentrated in the steam and the white noise on the face staring back out from the glass at her. Its expression scared her. The fog from the steaming water below covered it up, but she knew it was still there: a stranger wearing her face and twisting it into crazed permutations of depression, psychosis, loneliness.
Day 3: Don't Try This In Company
- 5,401 words (if poetry, lines) long
I love write-ins. I love ten-minute word wars, and the occasional sounds of fellow writers snickering or groaning over what their characters just did, and the exhortations when one writer gets stuck to "have ninjas attack!" I love the industrious sound of several laptop keyboards clacking away. It keeps me focused on my own work, keeps me away from the temptation to just call it a day and go play something mindless.
But write-ins are not the most conducive setting for writing sex scenes. If I'm going to alternate between going red-faced with embarrassment and getting short of breath while trying to find non-ridiculous words for the pornographic pictures in my head, I'd really prefer the privacy of my own home. Also, the fear of someone reading over my shoulder gets intense.
Alas, I got to this scene while in the library with three other writers. So I turned up my headphones, turned down my laptop's monitor brightness, and took nice deep calm soothing breaths.
Then I came home and edited the sucker in private. Yes, I know, editing during NaNoWriMo is heresy. Heresy! But I'd already passed Day 3's target word count of 5001. Where's the harm, right?
"No," Jet whispered, "not enough time. They're right on top of us. No, Lia, stop." She pushed against Lia's shoulders and scooted back along the seat.I'm not entirely sure what I'm going to write tomorrow. I've come to one of those vague places in the plot-as-imagined. Day 4 seems a little soon for that.
Lia cursed softly. She struggled upright. "All right, your loss. I guess I'd better make myself presentable."
Jet ran her hand idly along a bent and torn piece of the car's chassis that came to a wicked backwards-aiming point just above the dash. "You should go flag them down."
She was right, but Lia argued anyway. You can't just give in, not at the start of a relationship, or you'll be giving in the rest of your life. "Why me?"
"One, it's your car. Two, you're not covered in someone else's arterial blood." She indicated her rust-drenched clothes. "Also your shirt isn't ripped wide open."
"Fair enough." She got the passenger side door open--it took some pounding to make it budge--and slithered out over Jet's hips. Jet gave a sharp hiss as she passed, pulling Lia up short. "You OK?"
"Jerk. Shouldn't have let you start what you can't finish. I'm fine."
"OK, well--you wanna take care of business, better make it quick. I'll be right back with the cavalry." Lia walked around the car as Jet worked her way to a sitting position, using the twisted spike of metal for leverage. A miracle that didn't skewer one of us on impact, Lia thought. What Jet had done, did that count as a miracle? She couldn't help glancing back as she made her way toward the sound of sirens--she hoped Jet didn't end up cutting herself.
Later she wondered whether it was a premonition or just paranoia, whether the thought had prepped her to hallucinate or whether something even stranger was going on. In any case, leading the emergency responders back to the car, walking some ten feet ahead of them, she caught a glimpse that tore a scream out of her, the first since the crash. A brief descent in the terrain put the car temporarily skyward, and she could see clearly into the cabin where blood ran over the seats and pooled in the buckets. Jet's face stared without comprehension over the dash, wearing the ghost of a grin that seemed wholly detatched from the deep gash in her throat. Lia screamed again and ran toward the car.
The ground rose once more so that the car's crumpled top lay between her and any view of the interior. Lia collided recklessly with the driver side door, yanked it open. The paramedics, hearing her scream, picked up their pace behind her. She knelt beside the steering wheel, staring at nothing. No one was there. Not a drop of blood, not a shred of clothing. No one was there at all.
Maybe something will come to me in my sleep.
Day 2: When Characters Decide To Be Real
- 3,457 words (if poetry, lines) long
"So what are you writing about this year?" Common question. Probably the most-asked question between Boulder Wrimos last night. My answer? "It's an urban fantasy involving an interdimensional assassin and a woman who's unhealthily turned on by danger." And I haven't been very pleased with that answer, because it makes the assassin, Jet, sound like the only real character in the book. It turns Lia into a sort of mentally deranged caricature who is of course going to be attracted the first James Bond clone who comes along.
Today I wrote the scene where Lia has just picked a hitchhiking Jet on her way south out of town. Jet is bruised and bloody and has just stepped out in front of Lia's car. Now she's Lia's passenger, and she's getting interrogated about what she was up to just now.
Now, before I wrote this scene, while Lia was still an uncomfortably two-dimensional danger-addict, I imagined her losing control of the car as Jet described her most recent assignment. For no better reason than she found the story all exciting and arousing and stuff.
Stupid. Very stupid. But it was all I had.
Then I actually wrote the scene and realized Lia had a connection to Jet's victim, and what turned Lia on was knowing that the bastard was dead.
Miles roll by while I try to decide how far is far enough. They never say. Lia breaks the silence, all abrupt and suspicious: "Were you really trying to kill yourself?"And I'm thinking, that's a relief. Lia has some back story now, and she's starting to look potentially rounded as a character. You know. Rather than flat.
How much do I tell her? What harm can it do? But not much good, either. "Maybe for a moment there."
"Well, then, for a moment there, you were a fucking jerk." I watch her hands grip the wheel tighter. "You want to kill yourself, you can do it without dragging someone else into your drama. Fucking jerk." Silence again, for just a moment. Then she yanks at the volume knob. Old school punk music soars and batters my dream ears. For the briefest of moments I consider throwing myself out of the car. But no, this might not be far enough away from the scene of my assignment yet. I can't really be sure.
Ten miles I'm still not sure, but Lia turns down the volume again. "Why?"
I'm lost in thought by now, replaying my actions of the last two hours. My right shoulder feels wrenched: Ritchie, grabbing my wrist as I headed for the door. My mind's ear is faintly occupide with the noises Tresco made behind me as I escaped. A job well done is a joy to remember.
"Jet." The sound of my name brings me back to the here and now. I don't hear it often. "Why would you want to kill yourself?" Lia sounds oddly curious this time around, like one artist comparing techniques and preferences with another.
So I think about the question. I think about acceptable ways to answer it. It's never a good idea to get involved with non-involved characters in a dream, not even to the point of conversation. But it's not forbidden, either. What harm can it do? "I just killed a man," I tell her.
She jerks the wheel a little--surprise? Panic?--and punches the accellerator momentarily. When she eases off the pedal, her eyes stay wide. "It finally happened. Five years of picking up any hitchhiker I run across, I finally pick up a criminal." She sounds incongruously delighted. "Shit. An honest to God killer."
"Assassin." The correction is automatic, a reflex borne of long, intense training. "It's different. Well, to me anyway. It's all down to the reasoning."
She's silent awhile, smiling at the road. Outside, the desert is featureless, a far cry from Mapleton Ridge's depressing skyline. Yucca dot the ditch beyond the highway shoulder, and rock formations dominate the distance like the portfolio of an indifferent dilletante sculptor. "Who was he? The man you killed."
That's easy. Talking about other people is a lot easier than talking about myself. I don't have to be guarded. "Called himself Tresco. Leader of a gang calling themselves the Swifts."
Lia's putting on speed again. Just a little, but she's keeping it on this time. "Tresco."
She doesn't answer. Her knuckles whiten again. Then she laughs, hard and merciless, and I begin to wonder if I'll survive this ride. But that's OK. I'm far enough away now, I'm sure of it. "Tell me about it," Lia demands, sudden and decisive.
"I don't know much. He wasn't a very good gangster. I expected him to be more competent, but apparently he's--"
"Tell me how he died."
I glance at her, sidelong, and I see the set of her jaw. "What do you want to know?"
She grits her teeth--I hear them click and grind. "Make me see it. I want to be there."
Tomorrow: the car crash! A scene I'm pretty sure I know inside out, through and through. Which means I will probably get surprised again.
NaNoWriMo 2010: Day 1. Rocked. Also Fermented.
- 1,732 words (if poetry, lines) long
I spent a large part of Halloween weekend doing two things: making kimchi, and stressing about the NaNoWriMo Day 1 activities. Often simultaneously. It is trivial to stress while stirring a rice-flour porridge, running the blender, waiting for salted cabbage to wilt, or chopping up raw oysters. These activities don't occupy the brain. It doesn't take much effort to fill the brain with stress while doing them. Indeed, more effort is required to not stress.
But as it turns out, today rather rocked. So the stress was either A) unnecessary, or B) for a good cause.
I'm going to choose B) here. The stress was like, for instance, the stress over a possible Y2K disaster. In both cases, the stress wasn't just biting-the-nails insecurity; it was the emotional prompt for thoroughness of preparation. And preparedness averts unfortunateness. The result is everyone thinking you stressed for no good reason because obviously nothing went wrong, thus nothing could have gone wrong.
Well, that last bit is true about Y2K (which made a lot of programmers sad). Not so much true about my organizing NaNoWriMo kick-off activities. More "Wrimos" than I can easily count have thanked me for doing so; I do not feel unappreciated. In fact, I think they think I did more work than I actually did. As it turns out, a lot of the work involved asking people "Can we use your space?" and them saying, "Sure!" and me saying, "What, really? Really?" Then I packed a bag full of Stuff and showed up. The rest of the work was Boulder-area Wrimos being awesome.
So. Activity the first: We had an Inaugural Midnight Write-in in the lobby of the St. Julien Hotel. And the staff there were fantastic. Nobody cared whether anyone in our group was actually staying at the hotel; in fact, one couple had taken a room (ooh, luxury! *jealous*), but at no time did I feel compelled to point at them and say, "We're with them!" No. The bar manager and the night manager were both hugely solicitous, helpful beyond our wildest dreams, and exceedingly permissive considering that we taped up posters, took over half the lobby, moved furniture around, unplugged their lamps in order to plug in our extension cords, laptops, and my electric kettle. (In fact, the night manager seemed surprised that we would bother to reverse all the changes we perpetrated.) Aside from patronizing the bar a bit, we weren't paying the hotel any money for use of the space. And they didn't mind. They treated us like honored guests. They were amazing, y'all.
Wrimos began arriving as early as 10:30 PM. They ordered coffee, wine, and beer from the bar. They began moving furniture around, like I said, that we could all sit in rough circles around extension cords. Someone brought cake. Someone else brought cookies. I brought a bag of apples and a bucket of candy and some tea-and-coffee fixin's (the bar provided us coffee mugs galore). We ordered pizza from a nearby Papa John's (yet another thing I was amazed the hotel staff didn't mind us doing). Every once in a while someone would check the clock and announce how long we had until midnight.
Then, at midnight, we all started writing. Silence settled over what had been a merrily chatty party. Silence, that is, except for the clacking of keyboards.
I thought I did pretty damn well getting to 1674 by 12:45 AM. I still do think that's pretty damn good, but I am humbled at having been told that another Wrimo reached 5,000 by 2:00 AM.
Far as I can tell, everyone had fun. More than 20 people attended--that, on a Sunday night! And words got written. Thus: Success!
After the clean-up and the various carpools home, after John and I got home, after I sleepwalked my way through changing Null's diaper (I shall tell the story of How My Cat Got Into Diapers another time), I crashed and crashed hard. Aside from sleepwalking my way through feeding the cats at 10:00 AM, I pretty much slept until noon.
And at 7:00 PM we did it all over again, only with more partying and conversation and less actual writing, and the venue was Atlas Purveyors. And it was crowded--I mean, ker-OW!-ded. I lost count of the attendees attempting to find seats among the Monday night regulars (and there were a heck-a-lotta those as well). One couple did sort of give up and go home shortly after arriving, but most everyone else was able to endure the bustle and the lack of chairs long enough to enjoy meeting their fellow Wrimos and enjoying great conversation about how Day 1 had treated them so far, what word processors or novel-organizing software they preferred, and what genres they were writing in. Some of the non-involved Atlas customers got interested and started asking us about NaNoWriMo. We may have effected one or two conversions.
And now I am home. And I have edited a little of what I wrote this morning, in order to have a paragraph or two worth exhibiting on my NaNoWrimo profile. I hope to keep updating the excerpt on display under my Novel Info there on a daily basis. That's been a goal of mine in years previous, but I've never managed to do it.
So here's my Day 1 excerpt:
Lia's iPod had been repeating her Ramones playlist since pulling out of her mother's driveway four hours ago. At that time, she'd adjusted the car stereo's volume to a level known as I'm So Fucking Pissed I Could Scream (But If I Did I'd Never Stop Screaming, So I Won't). It was a very specific setting. You turned up the volume until the precise point at which the bass line started rattling the dashboard, then you turned the knob another 90 degrees. Some two hundred and fifty miles later, Lia was no longer So Fucking Pissed Etc., but she'd left the volume untouched because, hey, Ramones. And because it warded off the specter of falling asleep at the wheel, which was more likely than falling asleep in her childhood bed. The night was dying; the road was long. Thank God the road was long. Sometimes she suspected that only the distance between her family's home and her own was what kept her from killing herself.I have also managed to jar up all the kimchi made this weekend and left out to ferment; it's now in the fridge. And it tastes pretty darn good, including the batch with oysters in. I am lucky in many, many ways. To be married to someone who both supports my writing and doesn't object to my making kimchi is to be truly fortunate.
The Preliminary Results of Good Intentions
Well. Alternating one day off and one day on isn't ideal, but it's improvement. At two articles each "on" day, it comes to a week averaging one per day. Which I haven't had for months. So. Improvement.
Via researching articles at my Day Job, I now know far more than I ever wanted to know about nitric oxide boosters, saunas, marine phytoplankton supplements, and Colorado authors whose words may or may not have been embroidered and used without permission by promoters of marine phytoplankton supplements.
Also, via certain "improvements" to the Day Job's author interface... OK, the scare-quotes weren't really appropriate their. They really are improvements, I have to admit. But the "Recently Submitted Work" section I've discovered has more than one possible status per article. There's "Pending," which I'd expect. But then there's "With Editor," so that neurotic writers like me can get the heebie-jeebies. "OMG! An editor is looking at it RIGHT NOW! They're still looking at it! Why are they taking so long looking at it? I did a bad job, didn't I? It requires stupid amounts of editing, doesn't it? It's going to get rejected, isn't it? I FAIL AT LIIIIIIIFE!"
This is how many writers' minds work. This, despite the logical voice in my head that quietly points out that "With Editor" probably means the editor selected my article out of the ready-for-edits queue and will eventually get to it.
What "eventually" means I do not know, because the new-and-improved interface is missing an editor's deadline on my pending articles. Oh well.
I'm beginning to really miss working on fiction. Which I hadn't done except in fits and starts for... well, months, I think. Fiction is work, too, but it's enjoyable work.
Now, there are times when I begin to think fiction isn't enjoyable. I'm told all authors have times like those. For me, those times are mostly when
- I've begun to think the story I'm working on sucks great big sandstone boulders,
- I think the story is fantastic but my ability to get it down on the page is nonexistent, so I'm not even trying.
Not that I'm complaining, mind. I am transmuting words into money. But it doesn't hurt to use these moments as teaching moments: there are other words you can transmute into money. The process is much less certain and depends on a hell of a lot of other external factors, but it's so much more enjoyable.
Roll on November, eh?
Oh Hey, I Already Have a Job
As those of you already know who follow my husband, John, on Facebook or on Twitter, he's between jobs at the moment. Since 2004, John's been the only one of us who's been employed full time outside the home for actual real money, so when he's not in anyone's employ we both get a little antsy. Not that we're really worried--he has a couple interviews scheduled next week and recruiters lighting up the phone like a Christmas tree. Turns out, they hear "senior-level java programmer" and they want a piece. Excellent. And we're covered for basic expenses for a reasonable period of job-hunting. But, still, antsy. Perhaps more me than him with the antsiness; I'm a pro worrier, and I'm the household accountant.
Also, the reason we've been a one-income household for more than 5 years now, the very specific reason, is my writing career. I left a well-paid web development job in order to write full time. So what's my excuse for not having written much recently, hmm? Non-productivity causes guilt. Lots of guilt.
So, feeling guilty about being the household bum, I asked him last week what he thought about my going back into the workforce. He told me not to sweat it yet. I nodded and felt simultaneously relieved and unconvinced.
And then it occurred to me this weekend: Duh. I already have a job. And I don't mean "I write like it's my job." I mean, "I have a job. A writing job."
I write short articles for Demand Media Studios. That right there is as much of a job as I want to make it. The gig goes like this: They have a list of titles. I get to choose titles from the list and write the corresponding article. Once a copy editor approves the article for publication--which they generally do, giver or take a rewrite request--I get a flat fee of $15 to $25. My accumulated earnings show up in PayPal twice weekly.
It is absolutely within my power to conjure up money by the power of my pen. Well, my typing. And some mad l33t Google-fu.
But I'd been holding onto this one article title since researching it from Chicago Union Station, and had done nothing with it whatsoever. I hadn't earned much in September or August, either. I could hide behind the excuse of recent travel getting me out of my rhythm, but the fact remains: I hadn't really been using this power of mine for awhile now. And, really, that's inexcusable.
That quiet muttering noise you hear is me calling myself all sorts of foul names.
So this weekend I reserved as many titles as it took to fill my queue, and I wrote and submitted two of them today--including the one I'd been hanging onto since Chicago.
And it was a pretty darn full day already, what with grocery shopping, assembling a two-week supply of cat food, doing laundry, tending a compost pile, and other household chores. Not to mention lunch at Harpo's and watching the Saints rip the asses off pretty much everyone on Tampa Bay's defense and handing each back to the corresponding player in the end zone. (After last week's embarrassment, that felt good.)
So after doing two articles on a Sunday full of Stuff, I am imagining how much I could get done on a weekday when I'm supposed to be "at the office" (usually Atlas Purveyors, sometimes Red Rock Coffeehouse) for a full working day.
Of course, part of that working day should involve fiction. I have several short-shorts that really, really, really want to go out and meet the nice people if only I'd take the time to redesign their wardrobe and give them driving directions. But I think I might put some of that on (further) hold while I concentrate on making up for lost time at the day job. At least until we see how John's interviews this coming week go.
Besides, NaNoWriMo is on its way. Fiction will absolutely happen then, never fear.
Action Comes Before Motivation
Today was one of those terrible doldrum days, when I couldn't seem to raise the energy to even figure out what I wanted to do. After getting my Examiner stuff done, I sort of ran out of momentum. I knew what I ought to do. I ought to do any number of writing tasks that have been languishing for weeks. But of course the very fact that I hadn't done these things already made it harder to get up and do any of them. You know the routine.
This morning's Examiner stuff included blogging about the upcoming Rebel Tales e-zine and its submission guidelines. Reacquainting myself with Holly Lisle's internet presence reminded me that I had a print-out of her free e-book Mugging the Muse: Writing Fiction For Love And Money on my shelf. Having very little energy doesn't preclude reading; sometimes reading is all I manage to do on days like this. So I started paging through.
It was a good choice of book for today's reading. There's nothing quite like the biography of someone who literally wrote themselves to financial independence to get me excited about writing again. The little voice in my head starts muttering happy things, like "You could totally do this!" and "All you have to do is write!"
"Yes," was my response (poor happy little naive little voice!), "but besides being in this low-energy 'I don't wanna' space, I have that awful tight-muscles-on-the-right-side headache again."
"So go to the gym," said happy little voice. "Go climb some walls. That'll stretch out your back nicely and your headache will go away!"
Happy little voice had the right idea. It was past 5 already, the day was starting to look like over, but darn it, I'd pedal down the street with my climbing shoes and attack some bouldering problems.
Which is about when I remembered the commonplace I'd picked up from Dr. David D. Burns's book Feeling Good: Action comes before motivation, not vice versa. Almost the moment I decided on going to the climbing gym, my energy level rose by about 110%. I was visualizing myself biking down the street, locking up the bike at the gym, putting on my climbing shoes, hanging off of a low wall and contemplating where to put my feet... Imagining the action was itself an action.
I knew this stuff. I always used to say that if I could see myself doing a thing, doing the thing became inevitable. I didn't need to read in a book that getting into motion is how I get energized. But it does seem to slip my mind.
So, one bike ride and three novice-level bouldering problems later, full of energy not only from having exercised but having accomplished some small, do-able things (I finished those three problems! Go me!) I was at my desk with my notebook and able to start writing. Funny how that works.
For my next trick, how about I do that in the morning instead of at dinner time?
Oncoming NaNoWriMo in the Key of A(-ha)
- 0 words (if poetry, lines) long
Because I am that much of a nerd. Or something.
So, earlier this month, I became aware that NaNoWriMo was approaching. And fast. But was I worried? Well...
I figured, what with riding the rails again in late September, I'd have plenty of time to brainstorm my way toward A Plan. Possible plans included a series of interconnected stories among the people who appear in "First Breath," a real concerted effort to rewrite Melissa's Ghost or maybe Like a Bad Penny, or... I dunno. Those were the only Plans coming to mind.
OK, yes, I was worried. But I was just about succeeding at convincing myself otherwise.
And then I was driving home from the airport, having dropped off a visiting friend, and a plot went and hijacked me. A potential plot. A sort of treasure map leading toward a plot, maybe, with plot elements dribbled all over the landscape.
Long drives in traffic require music. To this end, I had my laptop headphone jack connected up to my car stereo via the cassette-tape-with-a-wire doohickey, and my laptop was dutifully playing through four a-ha albums. The first three, plus East of the Sun, West of the Moon. Playing through them all. Repeatedly. (One of these days, my laptop will send a hidden transmission out to some vigilante corner of the net, and I shall be hauled off for sound card abuse. Until that day, my guilty pleasures are MINE ALL MINE and NO ONE WILL TAKE THEM FROM ME.)
And I had that thought I often have when listening to this particular collection of tunes: "Dang, these lyrics have some surreal & evocative corners to them."
And then somewhere in the crossroads between "Early Morning" and "I Dream Myself Alive" I ended up with two characters in my head having an on-again, off-again relationship. One of them happens to be a dimension-hopping assassin. Who may or may not, in actuality, be an angel. It was totally obvious. And each song that came on after that made me go, "Oh, OK, and they meet when one of them picks up the other hitching on a desert highway." Or, "I get it! She's a shape-shifter." Or, "Someone gets killed here. I'm not sure who, but it's not good."
Later, very excited, I told John about this Plan. He gave me a bit of a skeptical look. "Where are you getting this assassin stuff from? Where does that ever come up?" But it does. It's all there. There is an amazing amount of implied violence in a-ha's discography. Also dimension-hopping, if you take literally lines like "I knew this world would break my heart."
All of which eventually gets me pondering the line between "inspired by" and "fan-fiction about." I suppose it's hard to call it fan-fiction when the canon material is so nebulous. You sort of need a defined, consistent worldbuild in the original to have fan-fiction about it. Put another way: I can imagine fan-fiction based on the title track to Rush's 2112. (Imagine, hell. I've written some.) But I have a hard time imagining fanfic about Rush's Presto, because I just can't see an intentional story being told across the course of that album. Writing a story that incorporates themes from each of the songs in order might possibly count as extreme fanwank, but I think it would be more accurate to say that the author used those eleven songs as a very complex writing prompt.
And so with this. So I spent a great deal of my writing time on the train just listening to those four a-ha albums while writing descriptions for possible scenes in yWriter. The working title is Death in a Dream, because the assassin travels to other worlds by going to sleep in her own and dreaming, and after completing her assignment she ends the dream and causes herself to wake up by killing herself. Maybe it should be Deaths in a Dream, plural, like that.
I'm really, really impatient to get to the actual writing. And that's good. Obsession gets the ideas flowing. But it's also unfortunate, because I intended to have two or three short-shorts out the door by the end of October. It's not too late, but with my mind thoroughly distracted like this, it's going to be difficult to concentrate on revisions.
Poor me. My life, so hard. Heh.
So Practice Detachment Already
Intensity of intention has an inverse relationship with productivity.
To wit: This morning I got up and said to myself, "You've only finished three paid content-writing articles all month! And the third requires a rewrite! And when this month have you done anything substantial, fictionwise? But it's a brand-new day! 24 potential stuff-doing hours remain in August! Do your rewrite, and then spend the rest of the working day doing articles! See how many you can do! I bet you can do a lot!"
Then I did absolutely nothing all day. I read a lot of blog. Blog this, blog that. Answered emails. Read more blog. Walked around downtown. Ate pizza. Ran out of blog to read, so went back and read previous blog after hitting refresh a lot.
Finally, finally, roughly around stupid o'clock PM, I did a quick Denver Metblogs write-up and I completed that one article rewrite.
And that was all.
So at one end of the spectrum is "Eh, whatever. Kick back and relax." At the other end is "OMG panic panic panic GET A MOVE ON!" It's a stress-and-guilt spectrum. It goes from zero to stomach-churning. But it's a weird little spectrum in that it's not a line but a circle. The two ends curve back around and meet up at a single point, and that point is called total lack of productivity.
Somewhere in between is a happy area, a land of the blessed, a sort of Avalon of stress-free motivation where tasks are approached in a Zen-like state of detached intent. It's all, "Yes, I have stuff to do," but it's missing that instinctively self-destructive component of "and any sense of self-esteem I can rightly lay claim to hangs on my doing it!"
I'm not sure I've ever actually been to Avalon. I'll tell you this, though. I'll know it when I see it.