The routine

I don’t think it’s a big secret to say that I’ve struggled a lot with writing since KRH arrived. If I’m honest with myself, a lot of things are going “wrong” with my writing right now. I’m finding it harder to find time to write, and when I do, I struggle to focus and concentrate. And when the stars align, I find myself easily pulled out of it. As such, the amount of time I’ve been butt-in-chair to write has been steadily decreasing.

It wasn’t supposed to be this way. I was going to keep writing at the same pace after KRH as I had been before. More, in fact, because I was going to learn to be more productive and get better at finding small bits of time to write. This was a time of major life change, so I was going to use the opportunity to get better.

Hasn’t happened. I’ve struggled, a lot, and things seem to be moving in the wrong direction. Maybe this is understandable, given just how big a life change this has been, but it doesn’t feel that way. I feel desperate, when I should feel hungry. I feel this way about a lot of things in my life, but I’m not sure how to change them.

One thing I’m going to do to change this is start to work on my concentration. I do have time to write, so making good use of it is critical. I’ve heard a lot about the power of routine to build productive habits, so I’m working on a 4-step routine that I can do so my body and brain knows “now it’s time to work.” Here’s what I’m going to try.

  • Stretch – 2 minutes
  • Meditate – 2 minutes
  • Think about 3 things I’m grateful for
  • Visualize my true self – what does the person I want to be do with the time? What would allow me to look back and feel happy about this time?

That that’s it. I hope it won’t take more than 5 minutes, but that I can use it to build the productive habit. I’ll report back on how it works.

April’s Fuel

April came and April went. What did I do in April? I’m not entirely sure!

That’s a lie, of course. I did some things!

Shadows Linger and The White Rose by Glen Cook

I kept reading Glen Cook’s The Black Company books, and I finished Chronicles of the Black Company. The second and especially third books lacked some of the military themes of the original, but Cook still spun an excellent tale that kept me engrossed. I’d like to read more about the Black Company, and I know more exists, but it was time to switch gears to something else.

The Malice by Peter Newman

That something was the sequel to Peter Newman’s excellent The Vagrant. The Malice had been sitting on my kindle for some time, and I decided it’s moment was now. The Malice was a different book than The Vagrant, dispensing with the title character except briefly. However, in many ways this his story told in reverse, and it retained a lot of the wonderful power of the original, even if it lacked some of the visceral newness from the setting that I enjoyed when I read the Vagrant. Nonetheless, The Malice was an excellent read and I can’t wait for the sequel.

Dreams of Neo-Tokyo by Scandroid

I discovered Scandroid a few months ago. I’m a huge fan of 80’s-eqsue synth music, and the cyberpunk theme makes this that much better. But then we got a remix album. So. Good. A+.


Battle Brothers

I don’t find myself with a lot of time for games right now, and when I do, I tend to go toward a few stalwarts because I’m really just looking to forget about things for a while. So it takes a pretty good new game to interest me. But maybe it’s no surprise that after reading so much Glen Cook I found some time to play Battle Brothers, a neat game about running a mercenary company. I found it quite reminiscent of X-COM, in a low-fantasy sort of way, so I’ve been merrily leading my mercenaries around, slaying bandits, escorting caravans, and recruiting the sort of bloodthirsty men I need for this kind of work. The game is as much management as it is combat, which I prefer, and it’s also exceptionally unforgiving, with a lot of brothers dying random deaths from lucky hits or bad positioning. What I like about the game is that losing your brothers this way doesn’t necessarily mean a restart or necessarily being set back.

 

You might have noticed my progress on Cloudbreakers getting increasingly slow, to the point where actually very little is happening. I’m in a situation where, in order to take my parental leave, I need to wrap up about a year’s worth of overtasking. Unfortunately, that means less time writing right now. I hate that more than anything, especially when I don’t think I’m going to get a lot of time to write while I’m on leave. But I don’t think there’s a lot I can do about it, except soldier through and try and recover later.

2nd draft

Cloudbreakers
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53,137 of 90,000 words

you’re not gonna die

So some great writers keep stopping by Reddit. This time, Yoon Ha Lee came to discuss his novel Ninefox Gambit (which was excellent and well worth your reading time). The authors who I’ve been asking lately were all later into their careers, and while Yoon has published many short stories, I asked him about his journey to publication. Here’s what he had to say.

I used to have a folder FULL of rejection slips. So yes, I have definitely been there! I know it can get discouraging, but please, keep writing and submitting. Somewhere out there is a reader who wants your story.

For general advice…hmm. I think there are a few big things here. One is perseverance–it’s an emotional skill. Writing is frequently isolating and discouraging, so finding ways to handle that is very important for your long-term sanity. (Personally, I vent to my husband. The stories my husband could tell…) Find other writers: writers who are not yet writing as well as you do, whom you can mentor; writers at your level, for solidarity; writers whom you aspire toward, to be inspired by. Keep pushing your craft. The only way to learn to fly, in writing, is to jump off a lot of cliffs. And the beautiful thing about writing is that when you jump off a cliff in real life, you’re probably gonna die (so PLEASE don’t literally jump off cliffs) but when you take storytelling risks trying new things in writing, you’re not gonna die. The results might be embarrassing, but you’re not gonna die. And you’ll probably learn something new and cool and add techniques to your bag of tricks.

Read–not just the kinds of things you want to write, but read things COMPLETELY DIFFERENT to broaden your horizons. If you want to write epic fantasy, read noir, read baseball match reports, read jewelry catalogues. I promise you that you will learn unexpected things about how to use language that way.

In a way, Yoon answered the question I keep asking. How do you develop toughness and grit? How do you persevere? I like the idea of it as an emotional skill. Perhaps I’ve been treating it too much as something mechanical, like it was something I could learn by repetition. And while I’m sure practice is important, maybe there’s something else to it. Something to ponder, anyway.

2nd draft

Cloudbreakers
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53,137 of 90,000 words

The primary caretaker

Ever since KRH was born, now seven months ago, I have been Dad only part of the time. Which isn’t to say I haven’t always been a dad, but for much of the week, I am busy at my day job. For the most part, when I’m at work I’m not parenting. My mind isn’t in parent mode. In a similar vein, for at least some of the last seven months, while I’ve been happy to be the person taking care of KRH for an afternoon or an evening, I have never been the “primary” parent for a long period.

That’s in part been because of the physical reality, because although he’s started solid food, we were never able to get KRH to take a bottle with any frequency, so until recently he needed Mom at least a few times a day. And in part, my wife has been the one on leave from work, so the vast majority of taking care of the baby has fallen on her, even as she’s needed to recover from pregnancy and birth (a job I think we often underestimate).

Long story short, I’ve never really taken up the full time job of caring for a child.

That’s going to change shortly! Next month, I’ll be starting parental leave, while my wife goes back to work. For my wife, it’s going to be difficult to leave KRH, but we decided we wanted either of us to be able to take care of KRH on any given day, and we decided the best way to do that was to make sure I had time to be the primary parent. So for about three and a half months, that’s going to be my job. I’m really thankful that my wife is willing to give me the opportunity to do it, because I think I’m going to learn a lot and hopefully have great times in the process.

What this probably isn’t going to be is an opportunity to write a whole lot. I’ve already cut the time I’m writing down because I just haven’t been able to keep up lately. I’m expecting, honestly, to get almost no work done while I’m on leave. I’m expecting taking care of KRH, plus doing household things, to take most of my time. If I do have time to write, great, but I don’t anticipate it. So while my writer brain really doesn’t like that and screams about it, I’m getting an opportunity to just spend time with KRH. It helps, of course, that he’ll be as playful and independent as he’s yet been and it’ll be warm and lovely for the months I’ll be on leave. So I anticipate lots of summer walks and trips to the park and the zoo and festivals and all sorts of similar things.

I have a while until this begins, but I can’t wait. I’m sure when it happens I’ll have a lot of things to post about.

2nd draft

Cloudbreakers
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53,137 of 90,000 words

I want it five years ago

I spend a lot of time thinking about personal growth. I think it’s important for us to acknowledge that we are imperfect creatures by nature, and that there is always some way or another we can improve ourselves, be it our health, our personality, our habits, whatever. As a writer, I see how slowly improving my writing techniques and output will eventually yield massive gains and indeed that has been my plan for a long time.

But somehow, I think, my thinking about growth has gotten twisted, or maybe always been twisted. As a society, I think we hear a lot of stories about people who made massive changes overnight. They quit smoking cold turkey or took up a health lifestyle or quit their jobs to write or were one day struck by an epiphany and did something. And I think we tend to idolize those people whose willpower, apparently, is simply enough to sit down and make that massive change.

I don’t think most change comes from that method. If it does, maybe it shouldn’t. Sure, if that works for you, but I can’t off hand think of anything I’ve accomplished through that kind of massive change. And yet, if you looked at my planning document(I use and love my Volt Planner, I’m consistently setting goals across multiple areas for massive change. I’ve gotten better about breaking goals down into achievable bites and strategizing methods, but I’m still often trying to pack big changes into a month.

I think one of the reasons I’ve found the jump to parenthood so difficult is that I somehow expected that it would be a milestone and an opportunity. I thought that since everything would be changing, it would be an opportunity to set all the blocks of my life exactly as I wanted them. I’d eat perfectly after KRH, I told myself. I’d get really good at stealing 15 minutes here or 30 minutes there of writing, so that I’d actually write more and more efficiently than before. I’d get to the gym more regularly, something I only started doing a few months before KRH was born. And so on and so forth.

Does it shock you, dear reader, to learn that none of those massive changes worked out? Even though I had broken things down into achievable bites? It turns out that having a baby was more difficult than I expected, in different ways than I expected. So here I am, six months after KRH was born, and much of my change is still unmade. It doesn’t help, I think, that when I set out to make a change, I want it to happen five years ago, and if not then yesterday will have to do.

Now, this realization is a bit funny because I’ve long mentally accepted the idea of continuous growth. But I think I really need to focus on the fundamentals and try and do less of what doesn’t work. So in May I’m going to do that, and I’m going to pick a few narrow areas to try and improve in, rather than filling my list with to-do things. We’ll see what kind of progress I can make.

2nd draft

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