Tag Archives: wordcount

Hello? Is it me you’re looking for?

No, I’m not gone, and despite the rather thick layer of dust everywhere, I haven’t abandoned this blog.  This is one of those periods of radio silence I mentioned way back on Day One…it’s just gone on a bit longer than I’d been thinking these types of spells would.

That isn’t to say that this post is a “hey everyone, I’m back, expect multiple posts per week from now on” piece.  I honestly have no idea what will be going on here and when for the near future.  The day job is slow now (though looks to be ending up rather manic shortly, all the way until late spring), but there are other things taking a sizeable chunk of my attention span:  books to read, games to play (got a PS3, finally, and there’s a metric shit-ton of games to catch up on), evolving family dynamics that are important to me, that I want to be present for and not regret missing later on.

Mostly, though, I hit a point late last year where I was able to come to peace with some things that were starting to rear their heads again.

Put simply, I love writing.  Fiction, non, whatever.  Short pieces, longer pieces, Lakers pieces, all of it.  Falling through the hole in the page and being utterly and completely present in the moment, with the external censors and observers turned off, is a transcendent, ecstatic experience for me.  My understanding of the process, and my experiences with it, have done more to shape my understanding of the world and my own spiritual and religious outlook on the world than all the reading, praying, fellowship…ing, etc., put together.

But it’s not a compulsion for me, at least not usually.  I don’t feel “wrong” if I haven’t written on a regular basis recently (again, at least not usually).  The love of it is always there, but the alignment of my priorities and the net gain when weighed against the other things I’m not doing when I’m writing is something that ebbs and flows.

Up until about a year ago, it had ebbed for nearly ten years, and then last year was a definite case of flow.  I wrote half a dozen new short fiction (the microfiction this blog is named for), two much longer stories (edging into the realm of short novellas), and over 50,000 words on a new novel, the longest single piece of work I’ve ever put down on the page (even if it’s not done yet).  Not to mention  what is close to 100,000 words worth of posts here on the blog.  For anyone not named Piers Anthony or Stephen King, that’s quite a haul, and compared to the years-long dry spell preceding it, it was astonishing.

And then—partly due to external events (like changing my job and career path), partly just due to the tidal flow of these things that I’ve come to accept within myself—it began to ebb again.  I have a new story, longer than the microfiction, shorter than the epic genre pieces of last year, that’s about 2/3 done…and has been in the works for almost two months, off and on.  I have the scattered notes for the second part of my essay on Grace spread across two different notebooks and a partial Google Docs file…and it’s showing no signs of coalescing in the immediate future.  I even figured out a solve for a major issue with the novel that was one of the reasons progress on that came to a halt (I couldn’t muster the effort to keep bricklaying on new chapters until sorting out that major structural flaw)…but have no real compulsion to try to get my head around the effort it’s going to take to write the remaining 40k or so words that it’ll take to finish the book.

See, while it rarely feels wrong for me to take a break from writing (even if that word, “break”, is a bit longer than what other people would consider using that word for), what does feel wrong to me is to feel bad for not working when I don’t want to.

I know I’m going to piss off anyone reading this who’s done any sort of work towards becoming a writer themselves, especially if they’ve taken a class, or a workshop, or read books on the subject.  Because beyond style, beyond how to find an agent, or use of adverbs, or proper manuscript formatting, the one thing they will all tell you, relentlessly and with zero pity, is:

–          Doesn’t matter if it’s great, just get it down on the page (or “Don’t worry about getting it right, just get it written”).

–          Write every day, no matter what.

–          You can’t call yourself a writer, you either write or you don’t write.

And, hey, that may work for some people, probably even most, it just doesn’t work for me.  I’m not setting aside every other effort in my life to make writing my primary path.  Writing is, for me, ultimately, fun.  It is a good thing, a benefit that enriches my life beyond the daily work to be happy and healthy with my family and home.  It is, in other words, gravy, desert, a bonus bit that helps the sum of good things equal something great.

And I refuse to view it like taking my vitamins.  I refuse to feel guilty for not having written X-hundred words every day.  I refuse to beat myself up because this weekend, just like last weekend, I’m going to pleasantly descend into the proper gaming posture and spend multiple hours “wasting” time that could better be spent on something “more important”.  Like writing.

Writing isn’t important in and of itself.  It isn’t some holy task that we—even those of us who love it and are really good at it—are obligated to complete on a regular basis, like attending church or changing your underwear.  It is nothing more than scribbled symbols on paper (or the electronic facsimile thereof).

Its value comes first and foremost from the benefit it brings to the person making those scribbles.  If you’re lucky, someone else will gain additional value from it later when they read it, but sorry, that’s a downstream consideration, not the reason pen first gets put to paper.  And it loses all value for me when I start beating myself up for not having done it.  I’m okay with the notion that I may, at times, be suffering a lower level of amazing greatness in my life than I could, under ideal circumstances, if I found a way to incorporate writing into that ideal circumstance.  But I refuse to take a net loss from a happy baseline just because, at that particular moment, writing was not a part of forming that happy baseline.

Imagine if the money in your pocket was worth 20% less because it was all ones, fives and twenties, and without some tens in there, the rest of it just didn’t mean as much.

That’s horseshit, and something I will not have in my life anymore.

Not to say that a regular regimen isn’t a good thing for many, even most other writers.  And truthfully, when the compulsion to scribble on the page is upon me, it helps to have a schedule, even a quota, to make sure I keep myself organized, because under those circumstances, a lack of writing ­is a bad thing, not because I was supposed to and didn’t, but because I wanted to and didn’t manage to make the time for it.  It’s when I don’t want to—and note, this is not an active “I am really opposed to writing right now” but a sated “I don’t feel a strong urge to write right now” thing—that beating myself up for doing something I do want to do instead of writing just seems absurd to me.

And I’ve now spent almost 1300 words writing out why I don’t feel like writing.  And I’m okay with that contradiction.  To sum up, I’m not gone for good…just not entirely sure when I’ll be back.

See you soon(ish).

Sore and tired

I’ve been trying to figure out what to write about for this next post.

Lakers?  The NBA’s in its deadest spot of the year right now, mid-summer with most of the major personnel moves already made and training camps still more than a month away, but I can always come up with something to say there.

U2?  I could let you know the results of this mad march through their entire career (still going, btw, with Zooropa just about to wrap up as I type this; I’ve had to take the expected breaks for family/food/bathroom/etc., so it may not finish tonight), or any of a hundred other thoughts I’ve briefly touched on here and elsewhere and expand on it in full.

But no, neither of those, at least not tonight.  If I’m going to complete this Refresh of the blog, catching both it and everyone who swings by up on where my head is at right now, then I need to cover all the bases.  And aside from my family (which I will not now nor at any point the future be writing about here), the three most important things in my life are the Lakers, U2…and writing.

So, a post about writing it is.

I need to point out something that I’ve mentioned in the past but never quite explicitly laid out before:  writing has seldom been a compulsion for me, the way it seems to be with every successful, productive writer I’ve read and admired in my life.  Sure, there have been stretches in my life where nothing has felt right unless I’ve been at a keyboard, or sitting with a notebook and good pen, churning out the wordcount.  As recently as this past spring, I had stretches where I was putting down well more than 10,000 words a week.  (To give a reference point, the average published novel is approximately 90k-100k words, meaning at a rate of 10k words a week, you could write five complete novels in one year.)

But that’s the exception, not the rule.  I don’t ever really get hit with writer’s block; it’s more what Kevin Smith so eloquently referred to as “writer’s laze”.  As in laziness.  As in, more often than not, I don’t want to expend the energy to create something that will entertain others as much as I want someone else to entertain me.  Getting back into a groove where that someone who’s entertaining me is me takes a convergence of events that I have yet to fully understand, let alone master.

Viewed another way, my relationship with my writing would be familiar to anyone who’s ever spent time working out.  When you’re in the thick of it, taking even a single day off leaves you feeling awful, with your entire life out of sorts until you get your body moving again, muscles working, sweat flowing…  But if you take more than a few days off, it gets harder and harder to remember how good it feels when you’re in the thick of it, and easier and easier to reach for the remote/beer/chips instead.  That’s not the whole of it, but it’s a measurable part.

And I’d have to say, right now, I’m very comfortable on my writing couch, and finding it harder to remember how good it feels when I’ve worked up a wordcount sweat.

Part of it is just that this stuff is cyclical, and not something I’m going to beat myself up about.  If I ever, ever feel like writing is something I have to do, and begin chastising myself for not doing it, like a sinner eager for the burn of confession, then I will stop cold turkey.  Writing improves my life, its presence in my life makes it a better thing; I will never allow it to be viewed in reverse, that writing is the default baseline, and its absence is a sub-optimal, suffering existence.  So, I’m not working right now at the same pace I was recently.  That’s okay.  I love the people around me, I show up on-time for my job and work hard while I’m on the clock there, I find lots of things in my life that make it well more than worth living…a downswing in my writing production does not negate any of that.

Part of it is the new job I’m working at.  There’s a much longer post in my head, waiting to be written, about this specific sub-topic, but the short summary is that after eight years of joy and suffering, I’m in a new place, with a new vocabulary and syntax—and I don’t just mean the words we use at the workplace, I mean the rhythm and intent that the entire workplace operates at—and it’s taking me some time to figure out how my life fits with all that.  Imagine a musician, just joined an orchestra, learning a new piece of music.  And while he’s not worried about his ability to play the new piece and play it well, and fit in well with all the other musicians around him, it’s still new to him, and so all the little things that define him as a musician worth having around have to come from conscious intention, rather than unconscious trust.  I know, after I’ve been there for a while, I’ll know the people, places and processes well enough that I can focus my conscious intent on what’s truly important, rather than the moment-to-moment logistics, but at the moment, it’s consuming rather a large percentage of my mental RAM, which doesn’t leave a lot left for working on a novel that has three main characters, their stories intertwining, all while a massive religious war is breaking out (and I’m right now at the moment when the armies are invading and alliances are forming and breaking…it would be a bit much to wrap my head around if I were reading it, let alone trying to create it out of blank pieces of paper).

And part of it is just that the creative tank is low, and I need to fill it up.  You don’t tend to realize just how limited your input of vital nutrients is until you push yourself out of your comfort zone and start relying on every last ounce of what you’ve got.  Borrowing from an analogy earlier in this post, about six months ago I started working out in earnest, driving my body to do more and more each day, only to completely crap out a month ago, and realized that I hadn’t paid any attention to my diet.  I was still eating the same crap food, but my body needed far more of it, and much better of it, if I was going to be able to keep up at that pace.

If you replace “body” with “writing output”, and the food bit with creative stimulus…well, that’s where I’m at right now.  I can’t work off just the pure adrenaline that accompanies the realization that I can work, I need to make sure that all aspects of my life are pulling in harness, input supporting output, the rhythm and routine of things resulting in a harmony that’s pleasing and worth pursuing.

I’m in the earliest stages of that process right now, and thus the actual wordcount output has been a bit low.  I don’t expect that to last.

In the meantime, I’ll be posting an old story tomorrow, one of my all-time favorites, just to keep the fiction blood fresh here.  Something to keep the pump primed until the spice begins flowing again.

Victory…by which I mean minimal fail

Chapter 6 is done…it’s damn ugly, but will be making its way here at some point tomorrow.  And then Chapter 7, which has been done and waiting patiently for over a month now.

In the meantime, I have given in and joined the cult of writers with an online-centric presence.  Allow me to present a fucking widget tracking wordcount; I’m more ashamed of this than you are, trust me.

The curse of presumption

So, I note that it’s been 24 days since I posted Chapter 5 up here.  24 days since I set out on Chapter 6, which still isn’t finished.

It was about then–24 days ago–that I started to project outward and realized that this novel I’m working on (yes, I finally said it) was not the first of two books, but the first of three.  Chapter 4 had grown all out of reasonable proportion, cramming way too many events into what turned out to be way too many words, which ultimately led to my splitting it into two distinct chapters, each of them still of an almost-too-long length.  And then Chapter 5 followed, which ended up with a rather prominent wordcount, despite the brevity of the actual events that happened within.

And as I took a look at what I’d done, and what that might mean for the work as a whole, I realized that under my original plans, I was looking at a novel coming in somewhere between 120,000 and 150,000 words, which is way too fucking long for a first novel.

(First published novel, I should say.  I’ve danced this dance once before already, which is one of the few things allowing me to think I might actually see this thing through to the end this time.)

So, I decided to restructure my plans, aiming for 18 chapters rather than 30, and a nice round target of 90,000 or so words for the first book.

Then Chapter 6 came along.  In 24 days, I’ve written nearly 12,000 words.  And, to this point, barely 2000 of those will actually find their way into the final first draft of the chapter.  It’s been some of the hardest writing I’ve ever done, digging and digging through fucking bedrock to find the true path.  And the work isn’t done yet.  But soon, dammit, soon it will get where it needs to go.

So, apologies…no new chapter tonight.  And I’m not sure when it will be done.  You’ll be the first to know, or at least first after I know myself.  In the meantime, I leave you with something that inspires me, and keeps me grounded during both the worst and best of times…it might be one of the most important lessons I’ve ever learned, something that keeps me warm on cold nights and able to breath in the darkest of hours.

So the hell with it.  Chapter 6 is awesome, finished or not.  And so am I.  And so is Captain James Tiberius Kirk.