Moving Forward

(or, Concerning the Worries of a Budding Novelist)

I’m not going to lie to you – this article is about to drop some truth on you.  Heavy truth, the kind that comes out when you’re philosophizing with your best friend at 3:00 am after a night of heavy drinking.  Hopefully, that means it will be a therapeutic, inspirational kind of truth as well, not kind that will result in us going comatose and waking up the next morning with regrets.  It concerns moving forward in pursuit of a dream.

Camp-NaNoWriMo-2013-Winner-Campfire-Circle-BadgeCamp NaNoWriMo has finally come to a close, and it is with great pride that I announce I have reached my word count goal!  Well, my adjusted word count goal of 25,000 words, anyway.  I admit this is far from my original goal of 50,000, but 25,000 words is still nothing to sneeze at (unless, of course, you’re allergic to this much raw, unbridled progress!).  I am making significant headway with my novel, and for the first time in my life, I feel like I might actually finish a book.  Maybe I have what it takes; maybe I can succeed at a life goal I’ve had since I was a child.  I’ve written so much and I’ve learned even more, maybe these dreams are possible.  Maybe I can throw everything I have – all my focus, my energy, my extra time – into becoming a writer rather than just one who occasionally writes.

Of course, that’s easier said than done.

You see, I felt this way once before, years ago when I had dreams of being a video game designer.  I did my research, I enrolled in classes, I made plans and worked what jobs I could to get by, and I worked harder than I’d have thought possible trying to make that dream a reality, barreling forward with what felt like supreme clarity.  Then, I got tripped up.  A financial screw-up left me with an extra heap of student loans but no qualifications to show for them, and my situation was worse than when I started – certainly no closer to my goal.  I had to surrender then or dig myself into a deeper hole without even the slightest promise of being able to climb out again at the end.

The experience of hitting that colossal roadblock still haunts me today, and it makes it difficult for me to readily commit to another leap.  This time, I don’t need an extra degree, I don’t necessarily need documents saying I’m qualified to do what I do, and I don’t really need to make a monetary investment in order to proceed.  But I do need focus.  I’ll need to set the things I dabble in aside while I dive deep into this one pursuit.  I’ll need to see that my paying work doesn’t interfere with my writing and vice versa.  I’ll need to write even when I don’t want to, and I’ll need to risk making myself hate the thing I love.  I’ll need to face rejection and failure as well as the possibility, years down the road, that I’ll look back and see all of this as wasted time that I could have spent trying to get a fancy job that would let me get a fancy apartment of my own.

I could just continue as I have been.  I love writing; I could easily keep it up as a hobby.  This book has been on my mind for the better part of three years now, and if I’m lucky and still quite diligent, I could finish the first draft within the year.  But then, for the second draft, how long would that take using just free moments here and there?  How many edits will I go through?  How long will I search for a publisher?  When will I start the next book I want to write?  What happens if I meet someone in the meantime, suddenly taking up rock climbing in a blind fit of infatuation?  What happens if there’s an alien invasion?  Will I wake up one morning, grey-haired and tired in the service of our alien overlords, still wondering if I’ll get published someday?

That may be a bit over-dramatic, but it illustrates my concern.  I know from experience that when I hedge my bets, I stay safe, but I go nowhere.  I keep doing art, writing, random job searching, and intermittent studies, always in spurts, never committing myself in full to any one pursuit lest I miss an opportunity provided by another.  However, by doing this, I fail to improve any one skill to the point where I become extraordinary.  I know I’m capable of charging ahead toward a single goal like an unstoppable force, but I don’t have enough faith in myself to know that the goal I choose is the right one – the one that can make me happy and keep me out of the poor house, more or less.  Maybe that’s the main thing that needs to change.

I will see this story finished, one way or another.  Whether or not it will meet the world at large one day is yet to be seen, but I hope it will.  Maybe it’s time for me to just give in to that tricky little can-do feeling and shut out the naysayer within.  My instincts were wrong once, but what doesn’t kill you makes you stronger, right?  Besides, if you don’t try, if you don’t give it your all, then you can’t rightly weave a touching cautionary tale from your failure, can you?  If all I’m destined to be is the master of feeling sorry for myself, I might as well earn those laments!

Every celebrated author was once a struggling, aspiring author.  They were all the way up until the day they were not.  Some may have suffered less than others, some may have had extraordinary luck, some may have been identified as geniuses early on, and some may have gotten more recognition than their mediocre writing deserved, but there was a time for each when success was uncertain.  For whatever reason, they plugged on – maybe in wild, inspired bursts, maybe in a long, drudging crawl.  And then, one day, it all became worthwhile.  I don’t think I have it in me to fail utterly, completely, and permanently, not yet.  So, by my humble reckoning, it seems the only option left is to one day succeed.

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The Necessity of Periodic Revivals

(or, An Apology and a Continuation)

Life is a tricky thing.  One silly project, random virus, or visiting  friend comes along, and your routine is ruined for weeks.  We all know this.  But this is a blog, not a breaking news site, so we’re going to forget about the weeks of silence on move forward into a brilliant and more productive future!

I always take a great deal of inspiration from the Spring, seasonal allergies notwithstanding.  It’s not that I have any particular aversion to Winter, but once things start bursting into bloom, you can just feel the life around you so so intensely.  The greens of the leaves and grass are fresh and vivid and eager; the varied hues of the flowers spark brightly in the sun and smolder richly in the rain.  There are invigorating scents everywhere, birdsong to be heard all day long, and … let’s be honest, a totally bipolar and unpredictable weather pattern.  Among the cycle of the seasons, this is when there is the most excitement in the the air, the most opportunity and promise.  While some ladies celebrate the Spring by donning their tank tops and flip-flops in 50 degree weather, my friends know this as the time when I take way too many close-up pictures of blossoms and things.

They're just so damn pretty!

They’re just so damn pretty!

So, taking inspiration from nature’s own revival, I hope to get back to business!  By which I mean all the personal projects that, as of yet, produce absolutely no pay.  Such is the way of things, I suppose.

Writing with Distractions

(or, Despite It All, I Still Love My Cats)

So, while writing at home, I frequently encounter this scenario:

 

Thankfully, my cords are inaccessible to kitties, but the rest applies.  For creatures characterized by their aloofness, my cats can be awfully needy when I spend a day at home.  So, have I come up with a method for beating this frequent distraction?  No.  No I have not.

In all seriousness, distractions are a massive productivity killer when it comes to big projects of any sort.  You need a few from time to time to keep you sane, but succumb to too many and you might as well give up.  For me, at least, writing requires a certain amount of time to sink into the material and get surrounded by it.  Anything that breaks the fragile imaginary world I’m diving into to pull my stories from throws me off my game and increases the amount of time I need to write the same amount.  What do you do when you’re easily distracted by things like kids, or tv shows, or in this case, cats?

First thing I’ve found is that being home is not conducive to getting a lot done.  Even a crowded, noisy coffee shop proves less distracting than being at home, provided you have some headphones to blot out the noise.  When you’re out somewhere, the task you’ve brought with you is the only thing you can do, so you might as well do it!  And for me, being in a public place makes me much less comfortable wasting time dilly-dallying with Facebook or checking updates on my 500 favorite webcomics.

The second thing that helps?  Finding a good soundtrack.  Complete silence leaves too much room for a cacophony of thoughts to fill the void, but listening to my favorite rock tunes just ends with me jamming out karaoke-style.  So, when it’s time to get down to business, I pull out the instrumental stuff.  My favorite music to work by consists of soundtracks from tv, movies, and video games.  These melodies can be beautiful, haunting, driving, and energizing, and they were designed as a part of a larger experience, often where plot, visuals, dialogue, or gameplay take precedence.  They tune out the distracting thoughts (as well as some actual distracting noises) and provide me with a mental place to work from.

The worst distractions come from inside, however.  Nagging thoughts about bills that are due, dishes that need to be washed, birthdays that need to be remembered … lose focus for even a few seconds and they can come cramming into your consciousness like half-drunk concert attendees catching the last metro train of the night.  Sadly, I don’t have a method for dealing with these distractions beyond hoping that I stay lost in the story I’m weaving long enough to keep them at bay.  You’ve just got to keep focused!  Keep trudging onward!  Trudging, I say!

Currently, my writing goals are outpacing me by a few thousand words, but they haven’t beaten me yet!  Good luck to anyone else out there working on something big!  Those little victories on distant horizons can sometimes be closer than you think.