magistrate: The arc of the Earth in dark space. (Default)
It's always an interesting feeling when you've been completely paralyzed by the sight of the blank (or unfinished, or finished but requiring revision) Word document for days, weeks, or months, only to discover when a deadline looms that yes, if it comes down to it, you still can pound out 2500 words in a single Sunday. When 100 words have been giving every indication of being a Sisyphean task, you have to wonder where the switch got flipped.

I have a feeling it's in the "deadline" part.

When I was taking classes at the University of Iowa, one of my major complaints was that their fiction writing courses were non-graduated. There was no beginning, intermediate, advanced path to take – everyone, including the people just looking for three easy credits and with no passion for writing, got tossed into the same courses, and with the added complication that a lot of them thought "science fiction and fantasy" meant "you can't say anything about it because it's all just made up and doesn't have to make sense" meant that, with the exception of classes run by a couple excellent people, I didn't often get a lot out of the critiquing parts of the workshops. But they were still invaluable to me.

Why?

Because sometimes, all you need is the magical combination of time to write, the expectation that you'll write, and a commitment to persons outside of yourself that you'll produce something, even if it isn't a lofty piece of literature which will stand the test of ages.

Which is why Clarion West is such an amazing place, to be honest. Well, one of the reasons. I can't ignore the chance to learn from six amazing teachers with six different strengths and styles, or the amazing families you can form there, but what makes it a truly mind-altering experience is the fact that for six weeks, your entire life can be writing. You can saturate yourself with your fiction. Set aside work, cares, feeding the cats (or the kids), making yourself dinner, all the niggling cares of the so-called real world. All that's expected of you is fiction. The world is built around your fiction. And for your fiction, you are welcomed, supported, honored.

There's a reason so many of us join the Write-a-thon every year, hoping to grab back some vestige of what the workshop experience is like.

Anyway, now that I've tricked my brain into admitting that it hasn't burnt out forever and ever and that it can still string words together into a somewhat coherent narrative and that all the rest is just whining, I'm going to see where I get by the end of this week. This Friday, I have the first meeting of my new job; immediately thereafter, I'm going to be helping to launch a company. It'll be an exciting and busy time, and pretty much the opposite of the workshop in terms of the precedence my immediate world accords my writing.

But, you know, it's okay. As ever, we'll see how it goes.

...

There aren't any really good Write-a-thon-quotable passages from the 2500 words of yesterday, so I'll give you a snatch of one of the next projects I'm going to be working on: the post-apocalyptic pseudo-moleman-infested extremely unromantic love story Rust City.

"Do people do that?"

"Look to sex for comfort?" Ferro asked. "It's a thing people do, yeah."


[Semi-boilerplate text: As always, I hope you'll check out and support the Clarion West Write-a-thon (and me in particular, if you feel so inclined). Your donation will help a workshop that makes it all but impossible for authors not to produce. And producing is half the battle.]
magistrate: The arc of the Earth in dark space. (Default)
I blogged a little bit, earlier, about getting myself even-keeled through meditation, and I was actually kinda surprised at the response I got back from it. Given my own newfound fascination with the topic, I suppose I shouldn't have been, but I think I'm getting used to my interests either diverging sharply from those of my peer group or just being niche interests in the first place. So assuming there's interest in more of this, and proceeding on the assumptions that

1) Solutions are pretty meaningless without problems, and

2) Writing things down helps me order and deal with things,

I might as well write this up.

First,

A brief overview

Here's a snapshot of my life at the moment: I'm working 40 hours a week in my full-time job, an additional four hours (plus a few hours baking and possibly an hour in transit, setup, teardown, transit) at the Farmer's Market (Saturday mornings), and trying to rekindle an active life in the UU Church on Sundays. Combined, this is my major time commitment over the week, as well as meaning that there isn't a single day during the week when I can sleep in, unless I consider 9:00 on Sundays to be sleeping in. I'm working the Clarion West Write-a-thon, which, in my case, has me writing one complete short story or novel chapter, or revising one short story, every week. I'm in a two-bedroom house which is now housing three people, two cats, a dog, and some gerbils. I'm trying to untangle several years' worth of tangled-up finances, which keep getting compounded by red tape (Iowa Student Loan, I'm looking at you) and odd errors (such as the person at Paul's who accidentally charged me the last four digits of my debit card rather than the cost of goods, and then had to have it refunded through my bank). I'm preparing for a move, and a possible side gig as a freelancer.

Those are all big, overarching things, which aren't the same as specific issues, which is significant. But they're situational stressors, which are also significant. More on that later.

Wallowing and solving

I haven't talked much about the crap what goes on in my life, because I'm making a concerted effort to be productive about it, and I recognized a trap that I used to get caught in. Basically, there's a trick I noticed some time ago: if someone has a problem, and they talk a lot about that problem, but they reject all approaches toward solving that problem, odds are they're not invested in having that problem solved. Which is understandable. Attempting to solve a problem takes effort, and there's no guarantee that it'll work, and effort and failure are both daunting things. Someone may earnestly want a problem to be solved, but be unwilling to take any action to solve it. They'll find problems with all the proposed solutions, dismiss ideas with "I can't" or some variation without seeming to consider how they could, or put in token effort and then, when that fails, dismiss the entire thing as a wash. So I catch myself having mental conversations like this:

Me (whiny): I wish I had more money. I have all this debt to pay off.

Me (sensible): Well, let's look at ways of handling this. You could prioritize your spending and increase your payments.

Me (whiny): I've done that, but it'll still take a long time to pay.

Me (sensible): Then let's look at how you could make more money. Could you get a raise, or find extra work?

Me (whiny): I don't have time for another job, and I haven't been here for long enough to negotiate a raise, especially since I think we're under a pay freeze.

Me (sensible): Have you looked into the specifics of the pay freeze or salary increases? And if you don't have time for another job, how about freelancing? Or looking to prioritize your time a bit more?

Me (whiny): I can't prioritize my time any more! There are only so many hours in the day!

Me (sensible): And how many of those hours do you spend doing not much? How many hours do you spend doing things like surfing the internet or playing video games? Are you accepting those as a higher priority than making more money and solving this problem?

Me (whiny): I have to do those things to recharge my batteries. I don't have the emotional energy to start freelancing.

Me (sensible): Have you looked into ways of increasing your mood and building up emotional energy in better ways? There's great research on the mood-lifting effects of regular exercise, and often you don't feel that great when you're surfing the web or playing video games; you might be using those as a crutch rather than a genuine way to feel better and solve your problems.

Me (whiny, in summary): Look, solving this problem is hard and I don't want to try to! I just want to complain!

...and that gets me nowhere. So when I catch myself with this thought process:

1) I have this problem! I hate having this problem! => 2) I'm going to write a blog post about my problem!

I try to short-circuit it and turn it into this:

1) I have this problem! I hate having this problem! => 2) I'm going to sit down and find a way to solve this problem.

And when I do that, the funny thing is that I'll occasionally find a way to solve the problem, and then I'll solve it, and once I solve it, I don't really need to blog about it any more. As a result, I suppose the entire process has been pretty opaque to people who aren't me.

But there are things I haven't solved yet...

Which I've been shutting up about because I'm still in the "Don't complain, SOLVE" stage. It's interesting – writing things down, breaking things apart and examining the issues, is actually a really big part of how I problem-solve. It's just that when I do it publicly, I always have to be wary of taking sympathy and validation instead of solutions. Because the problem is, a lot of the time when someone complains and people come by and say "Oh, that's horrible! That is such a big problem!", they go away with this empty, palliative feeling. There, see? I have sympathy. People know what a terrible thing I'm enduring, and they agree that it's a serious thing, and they think I'm totally cool for enduring it. And they walk away with a temporary high and the same exact problem.

But I figure there's a middle ground to be had. So! If you folk will promise to keep me on track, I'll try to open up this process for you. And maybe we can all learn a few things from each other.

Deal?

Case study coming very soon.

*Subject line referencing The Willpower Engine, a blog dissecting specific mechanisms of motivation, willpower, behavior, emotional repair, habit-forming, etc. I've found it a fantastic resource.
magistrate: The arc of the Earth in dark space. (Default)
I did something amazing today.

I didn't get as much sleep as I needed, woke up tired and hungry and cranky and finding it hard to concentrate, missed one bus and almost missed the one after it, got in, sat down to work, rammed my head against this apparently-unsolvable problem which I'd been wrestling with since Friday, and then immediately got set off by three or four unrelated things filtering down to my from the internet. All this before about 9:30, so, yeah, I was ready to have a really awful day where nothing went right and I couldn't focus on anything and I was stuck in a horrible mood all day. None of that is the amazing part.

The amazing part is that I gave myself 15 minutes – a 15-minute song, actually – to close my eyes, meditate and regroup at my desk, and remind myself that I didn't have to take responsibility for the things that were making me seethe, that I had inroads on how to solve the problem in front of me, and that I had tools like a pad of paper and a pencil to help me organize thoughts and work through them. And after those fifteen minutes I opened my eyes and I got to work, I engaged myself with my immediate universe, and I made progress.

And I felt better.

This is significant because, while I've been working on meditation and mindfulness for a while, this is one of the first times I've been able to use it to pull myself out of that bad a mood. And it worked.
magistrate: The arc of the Earth in dark space. (Default)
Crossposted on over from [personal profile] an_owomoyela...

I've just finished up the first rough draft of Redacted, my Week 2 story for the Clarion West 2010 Write-A-Thon, featuring the nicest antagonist church I've ever had the mixed pleasure of writing. At 5,800 words, many (many) of which I'm sure will be cut in revision, it's not as sprawling as some things I've written, though I still wish I'd been able to wrap it up in 4,000.

Stay tuned to [personal profile] an_owomoyela for a short discussion and excerpts!
magistrate: The arc of the Earth in dark space. (Default)
My short story "Abandonware" is up at Fantasy Magazine today!

Abandonware is a work of science fantasy, which was favorably reviewed in the June 2010 Locus Magazine.

I'll have an author spotlight up on Fantasy Magazine in the coming days. I'll also have a look at and excerpt from my first Write-A-Thon story on [personal profile] an_owomoyela soon, and you can definitely still donate to Clarion West by sponsoring me.

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