March’s Fuel

What the heck did I do in March? Well, I did spent a week in Mexico. I went intending to do a lot of reading, and while I did do some, it wasn’t quite as much as I intended. Nor did I spend as much time at home as I expected. So this month’s fuel was a little lean, and mostly books. And that’s fine! So what did I read?

The Stars Are Legion by Kameron Hurley. I first came to Hurley via her writing advice, and in fact she gave me some great thoughts a little while ago. So naturally I grabbed this book as it came out. I’d started reading some of her other work, but I admit this was my first completed novel by her. And wow. This was a great book. Really good. It put so many twists on so many sci-fi tropes, and always managed to surprise me. It’s very much worth your time to check out.

You Are Not Your Brain: The 4-Step Solution by Jeffrey M. Schwartz and Rebecca Gladding. So this book isn’t fiction, but an author I’m a fan of recommended it on twitter. So I grabbed it, and I think it’s going to change a lot of things for me. The book is grounded in the idea that, because of how our brains work, we can train ourselves to get lost in emotional sensations sent by the brain. In fact, the more you focus on and think about these sensations, the easier it gets, because your brain is very good at re-writing itself (neuroplasticity). But if you can wire your brain to focus on bad habits, you can also use that power to train it to have good habits. I learned a lot from this one and I’m still applying the 4-step method in my life in a lot of different ways.

The Black Company by Glen Cook. I admit, I try to focus a lot of my reading on more modern novels. I want to know what’s being written now, not what was written years ago. But The Black Company has been sitting in my library for quite a long time, and I decided Mexico was a great place to read it. It was not a book I regretted reading, either. I found it to be written in a very different style than a lot of books I read, but never one that detracted from my enjoyment of it. Anyone into military fantasy will probably love this one.

Meanwhile, I’ve finished with rewriting those rewritten Cloudbreakers scenes. It still needs a lot of work, but it’s still an early draft so that’s to be expected. I feel better about where the novel is going and the overall state of it than I did before.

2nd draft

Cloudbreakers
53% Complete
47,476 of 90,000 words

Changing everything

So I haven’t been posting my Cloudbreakers status updates lately. It’s not because I’m not working on it, but I have had to pause the rewrite.

I came to a realization a little while ago. One of the three viewpoint characters was wrong. That part of the story follows a group trying to rescue the main character. I wanted a viewpoint inside the group, whose relationships with each other and acceptance of the friend is a major plot point. Each had their reasons to go along with the rescue, but each had different points of impact through the series. By choosing one as a viewpoint character, I was de-emphasizing the others. Worse, none of them had a reason to be a viewpoint character, so their motivations came through rather flat, especially the one I choose.

I’ve been working on this novel since September, and working it over in my brain since I wrote it as a short story back in 2013. Took me this long to realize that the viewpoint problem was right there. Another character accompanies the group, one who’s romantically interested in the main character, and who also manages to betray her. In other words, someone with a whole lot invested in the outcome of the rescue. She also functions as an outsider to the group, being able to comment and observe things. She travels with the group for the whole journey, so she’s in a position to tell the part of the narrative I need to tell. In short, she’s perfect.

Why I didn’t I see this until now? I’m not sure, but I knew from the start that it wasn’t working. I think this is part of the writing process, in which you understand what does work and what doesn’t.  I think a good writer will understand that when they read it, even if they don’t know why it doesn’t work immediately, which is possibly why I felt those scenes weren’t working.

So what do I do about it? That character’s viewpoint is about a third of the book. I’m midway through a rewrite, so this took me back to the start to fix those scenes, which I’m still working on now. I’m confident the result will be a better book, and I’m glad to have this solved on what’s essentially my third draft rather than a much later one, even if it does derail my progress a little bit.

Six months

I knew things would be tough after KRH arrived. I expected it to be. Indeed, I feared never being able to write as a parent. I worried that this was going to be the end of my writing career. I worried I simply wouldn’t have the time. I wondered what I’d give up and sacrifice for this duty of parenthood that I’d chosen. Of course, I looked forward to that duty as well. I had a ton of curiosity about who my child would be, how they would grow up, and what our time together would mean both to me and them. But there was a definite period where fear was one of the things I felt the most.

Six months have passed, as of yesterday. A lot has happened in that time. The stringbean baby has grown up a lot. He has hair and two teeth (and he’s kept the bright blue eyes I love so much). He’s grown so much, and now he’s as chubby as a baby should be. He talks (for a given value of talking). He grabs things (my hair and beard, mostly). He’s happy and healthy. He can roll over onto his tummy. And much, much more. What seems like an eternity is also the merest heartbeat, as near as I can tell.

So where are we? Where am I? Maybe that’s a better question. I don’t think I exaggerate to say that the last six months have been the most challenging of my life. For all that I feared that KRH might be the end of my writing career, I didn’t think having a child would be so hard. In those six months, I’ve run on less sleep than I thought would be possible. I’ve had the foundation of my life shaken deeply just from KRH’s sheer needs and the amount of change going on. I’ve struggled with just what it means to be a parent. A lot of thing have seemed a lot less certain than I thought they would.

Before KRH, I spent a lot of time reading, looking for reassurance that I would still be able to write after he arrived. One of the things that really didn’t allay my concerns was the suggestion that I should give up writing for the first 6 months of KRH’s life. I can’t afford to give up that much of my writing career, I though, and I definitely can’t afford to do it more than once (as my wife and I still plan to have more kids). I decided to ignore that advice, and instead I thought writing through that time would make me a better writer. More diligent and disciplined.

I’m glad I did keep writing through the last six months, but I’ve accomplished a lot less than I thought I would. The hours I’ve been able to spend at the task have been dramatically declining. March was one of the worst months I’ve had, time-wise, since I started keeping track of my hours written. I find it tougher to focus now, and the time I had for myself to write (after I got home from work) is now the only time I have to spend with KRH. That isn’t to say that I’ve accomplished nothing, as I pumped out the first draft of a novel and I’m halfway through a second draft, but I’ve underwhelmed my expectations.

In those six months, I’ve learned a lot. What worked before (writing after work, long afternoons in coffee shops, time to myself for rest and recovery) isn’t the same now. So I need to find different things that will work. I need to learn to refocus and concentrate better than I used to. I need to be able to write on less sleep than I used to enjoy. In short, not at all how I thought this time would go.

I struggle with that a lot. I had a plan for how I wanted these months to be, and instead things have been totally different. I don’t think I understood, in some ways, just how my life was going to change. I’m still not sure I do.

I don’t intend to give up writing. I’m not happy unless I’m chasing this dream. But I think I am going to have to accept spending less time with it than I wanted. I am going to have to adjust my expectations on myself, at least as long as my wife and I have young children. That doesn’t mean give up, but it does mean to adapt and persevere in ways I haven’t had to before. So that’s what I’m going to have to keep doing. But then, isn’t that what we do our whole lives? Yes, this circumstance is difficult, but it will make me better. I think I have to rely on that and have faith in myself.

Like scar tissue

So lately some of my favourite writers have been over on Reddit, dispensing advice and answering questions. At the time, I was struggling with confidence, so I asked Kameron Hurley and Brandon Sanderson the same thing, “how do you develop toughness as a writer?” You can read their answers at the respective blog posts, but they said pretty similar things. You can control the process, not the goal of publication, so do what you want to do.

Chuck Wendig is the writer who, for me, most personifies Dad and Writer. I’ve been following his stories about his son bdub for years, now. So naturally, when he appeared like a swarm of bees on Reddit, I asked him the same question. Here’s what he had to say.

Man, I dunno, it’s like scar tissue. You can’t build up scar tissue without submitting yourself to the slings and arrows of it — you gotta take the hits, you gotta be willing to suck, gotta be willing to take the rejections right on the chin and let it rattle your teeth. In terms of pushing past the bullshit of the world, well, I’ll admit, all the Heinous Fuckery going on in the world makes it hard, but you also have to realize that stories matter. Escapist stories matter. Resonant stories matter. All stories matter, so be a part of that. Commit and contribute. Turn off the news. Turn off social media. Commune with the work and tell the world to fuck off for a little while.

Stories matter. Do the work. As with the past advice I’ve been getting, this was important for me when I received it. I’ve been trapped in a bit of a funk for some time, probably since KRH was born. Not only does the world feel like it’s hurtling toward chaos, I’ve struggled both with the fact that I can’t spend as much time pursing my goal of publication as I used to, and with feeling stuck, like my new project has an uncertain future and that I’m not sure how to take it where it needs to be. I’ve been starting to emerge from than funk lately. This is a good reminder that what I’m trying to do matters. Writing is important. My writing is important. I needed that.

Meanwhile, I also asked Wendig about writing as a Dad. His thoughts.

Well, in some ways it’s easy, because being a writer isn’t like being at a 9-to-5 job — I can come in, make breakfast, make lunch, still be a part of his life and then go fuck off to Imagination Unicorn Karate Land for as long as I need to.

But here’s a few tricks:

a) write early in the morning, before Tiny Human awakens b) forgive yourself and the kid — it doesn’t really start to get easier until they’re 2-3 years old c) it’ll get much easier when they go to school, too d) carve out little pockets of writing time whenever you can

In some ways, it’s a little tough to keep in mind that things won’t get easier. KRH is just 5 months old. 2-3 years old seems like a long way away, and if my wife and I have more children, as is the plan, then it just starts the plan all over again. That feeds into my fears that I’m missing my window, so to speak. But Wendig reminds me that it can be done, (even if I don’t have a magical writing shed). That’s the sort of thing I’m focusing on going forward.

2nd draft

Cloudbreakers
42% Complete
37,836 of 90,000 words