Life — October Update

The hiatus is over! I took a much longer break than anticipated because, I’ll admit: it was extremely relaxing to have one less thing on my plate for a while. It took no small amount of willpower not to continue, but because of last week’s promise to resume, I’m making myself return! You have past me to thank for anticipating future me’s thoughts. Monthly Update Topic Order: blog, writing plans, video games, reading/listening, school, and other things.

The blog is in an interesting position. The hiatus has allowed me to think about my position as a writer, and what the daily upkeep really does for me. I’m far beyond requiring the self-discipline necessary, which was one of the blog’s primary purposes (aside from directly increasing the amount of content I wrote). In all honesty, I’m seriously considering dropping a lot of the daily posting of the blog in favor of streamlining and improving what I do produce. Especially since the production I’m in opens in two weeks and finals are just around the corner, I won’t have much free time on my hands. Resuming a daily 500 word minimum is the last thing I need. But nothing is set in stone yet (or online? Doesn’t sound nearly as good)—so stay tuned.

As far as writing goes, Spear Gate still has my full attention. I’m putting more focus on Upper Terrace and Varra’s side of the story because Maelys is less important at the moment. I have lots of plans of where I want the story to go, but some of them are a little conflicting. Suddenly getting arrested tends to have that effect. I’m definitely to the point where notes are very important, because I can’t afford to lose my ideas!

I’m sort of all over the place with video games at the moment. Mostly I’m playing Heroes of the Storm and Hearthstone, but also, depending on whether or not I’m playing with friends, I’m playing a bit of Overwatch and, more recently, Speedrunners. I’ve recently started playing Heroes of Might and Magic again, as well, and I was surprised to realize that I like 6 way more than 5. It’s far more intuitive!

These last several weeks I’ve been speeding through Critical Role. I had calculated how many hours I would need to put in it per week to finish by the end of the year, but I also wanted to watch the last episode as it was livestreamed. When I found out it was ending very soon, I started watching two or three episodes a day at 1.5x speed. Alas, I’m still on episode 91/115, and 115 was the last episode, having aired last week. I’ve still got 90 hours to power through, but at least I can rest easy knowing that their next campaign won’t start until next year.

As I mentioned earlier, school is pretty stressful. The show I’m in opens at the end of October (and I just realized I’m not sure if I’ve filled out the paperwork yet), and two of my three other classes require a lot of my attention. I’m debating a topic I barely understand very soon, and the unfortunate thing about that class is that I feel as though I’ve got a much better handle on the subject than most other people there. Really though, I just planned out this semester very poorly. It’s all I can do to conserve my energy and just tread water until it’s over.

Other things. On top of school, the next weekend on which I have no plans is over a month away. I don’t know where I’m going to find the time to write, but I have to, somehow. Really, things just aren’t going the way I’d like them to be. It doesn’t help that it’s still hot over here. Even with the free time I have I don’t feel like I can relax, so I’m a little at a loss. I think maybe resuming the blog probably works against me finding comfort, but at the same time whenever I take a break it makes me a little disappointed in myself.

Here’s hoping the Daily Dose won’t take too much out of me in the coming weeks. But if it does, a longer hiatus may be the only option.

Life — September Update

September is here, and with it comes lots of new and exciting things. I don’t really have a preface for anything this time around, so let’s just jump right in! Monthly Update Topic Order: blog, writing plans, video games, reading/listening, school, and other things.

I’m actually pretty comfortable with the state of the blog right now. Despite having taken my first ever sick day and having a different post be almost eight hours late, I think I’m doing fine. The system has me publishing fiction on a regular basis, and the only thing I might have any concerns about is the fact that I don’t really have anything to review right now, and as far as D&D posts goes, I usually only play it once a week, and I don’t want the Wednesday posts to just be “what did we do last week”. At the same time, I’ve only been a real dungeon master for about a year, so I’m not all that experienced, so it feels a bit strange to do lesson posts on that front, but I’ll keep with it as long as I can keep content coming!

Spear Gate is still going strong. the current draft is over 12,000 words long, and that doesn’t include the short stories that don’t involve the main characters. I’ve been starting to think of the Spear Gate as something akin to a web comic that just updates weekly. I like the sound of that for a number of reasons, but of course looking at it that way brings pros and cons. If it is a “web series”, then there is no draft. When you post it, it’s done. But that also makes it easier to keep moving forward. Plus, if there’s a web series that posts a weekly, continuous story the way I’ve been doing it, I don’t know about it, so I can call myself original. (Side note: There’s no way it hasn’t been done, but still.)

I haven’t been playing a whole lot of games, as I still don’t have a proper desktop. I’ve been keeping myself busy with Titanfall 2, but I also recently reinstalled Hearthstone on my phone, in addition to the fact that I’m playing Pokemon: Go more and more. (It’s still not an amazing game, but it’s leaps and bounds ahead of where it was when the fad died out.) If everything goes well, however, I should have my computer and everything set up by this time next week. And when Destiny 2 gets released on the PC, I plan on putting a lot of time into that, as well as returning to Heroes of the Storm!

Podcasts and audiobooks have taken a bit of a backseat lately, as the school year has just started. That said, I’m currently about halfway through The Martian, which is about as great as I expected it to be, and I’m also just over halfway through Critical Role. That means I still have well over 150 hours to go. Maybe I’ll be caught up by 2019, because they’re still adding 3 hours of content a week! One day I also plan on devoting myself to podcasts a bit more. In my Top 3 alone there is a D&D one, a voice acting one, and a story script writing one that I’ve barely started, if I’ve even gotten that far.

Fall semester, 2017. It’s the heaviest load I’ve taken since high school, though it’s still not as big as typical workaholics I’m sure. My schedule does require me to be in class all but nonstop from 8:30-2:30 on Tuesdays and Thursdays, though. My biggest gap is half an hour, which is barely enough time for lunch! Overall, the classes seem fine. I’m taking two theatre classes, and the others are lecture heavy, so there isn’t a whole lot of homework, which is a concept I can get behind. So, despite being in a state of perpetual exhaustion because of the schedule, and also slowly melting because of the heat wave, I think this semester will be a good one.

What else is there to say? I’m back to teaching improv again, which is a great feeling! The more improv in my life, the better. I also hope to start doing actual performances again sometime soon, but that’s still a ways away.

Anyways, hopefully it starts cooling down soon!

Review — Naruto (Final Thoughts)

I finally finished Naruto a few days ago, after having bought the last five books I had been missing for years. Now, I’ve talked about Naruto before, and while it was after the series was finished, it was before I had read through it myself. So, I’ve included a link to the original post, but this isn’t a sequel post to that. To be perfectly honest, I’m not even going to reread it. Alright, full thoughts on the story I’ve been following (literally) since childhood: go! (And don’t worry, I won’t spoil anything.)

I was surprised. Most of the reason I wasn’t in a hurry to finish the series was because it would mean leaving a huge part of my childhood behind. I was a fan of the series ever since Toonami started advertising “A cool new show about ninjas!” When I was maybe five years old. It’s how I got into manga, though to be fair that was probably an inevitability. Finishing the series and moving on would mean accepting adulthood, in a way.

Before I  finished it, my perspective on the series was that it was the best manga/anime out there, but even then I wouldn’t recommend it to anybody. It’s really long, and the first two hundred chapters/episodes are, admittedly, not great. That’s like telling your friend to watch a show and promising it starts getting good after season 12. Why bother? There’s way better uses of your time. It’s the same reason I have no interest in Game of Thrones.

So, what do I think now that I’ve finished it? Well, my reaction wasn’t what I expected. I’m almost completely indifferent. Nothing exceptionally shocking happened in the last five books (~50 chapters), and, once you get far enough, you can see how it will end perhaps eight or nine books in advance. It’s not bad, mind you, but it’s not overwhelmingly exciting. I’m just plain old whelmed.

When you finish a book series, you’ll often get that cathartic bubbling of emotion that says “Oh, no, it’s over? What now?!” But Naruto has been over for years now. I honestly think I was more emotional over hearing about the last chapter having been published than I was actually reading it myself. I had already moved on.

But is the series good? Has my perspective on it changed? Yeah, of course. The ending is satisfying, but it’s not exceptionally amazing. I don’t feel as though I’ve wasted my time, because it’s such a big part of who I am. The complexity of the characters and the world is something I really admire, especially since that doesn’t happen in anime/manga very often. Of course, most people don’t have the luxury of being able to write the same story for fifteen years straight, but you get the idea.

Naruto is “fine”. If you want to spend that kind of time, it’s good. But for me, when it comes to watching and reading, “fine” isn’t good enough. I look for the “great”s and “amazing”s. So while I thank Masashi Kishimoto for the journey and helping me become the person I am today, I don’t think I’ll be convincing anybody new to pick the series up. (Somehow I don’t think he’ll shed any tears over that, though.) I doubt I’ll ever even start reading Boruto, either. I need to diversify my exposure to media more than I have been, so while I’m sure it’s good, it’s not worth my time.

Life — Struggling With Writing

I’m starting to find myself in that position again: the one where I just have this underlying feeling of exhaustion. The one where sleep isn’t a factor, or if it is, it’s where you feel even more tired because you’re sleeping too much. As a writer, it’s a feeling I’m very familiar with.

It’s the first red flag that says my writing isn’t getting anywhere.

So far, the Spear Gate project has been going swimmingly. I started back in May and as my main focus of fiction writing, I’ve already put nearly 20,000 words into the universe. This isn’t a huge amount by any margin, but for me, it’s pretty rare to be that focused on any one thing. Even Dreamscape, my latest attempt at a novel before this one, took five months to hit that many words. It’s mostly because I’m always doing a myriad of other things simultaneously.

I’ve had a blast writing the Spear Gate book. But this past week, I’ve been having a really tough time pressing onward. Between rewriting a big chunk of Chapter Four, and starting off Chapter Five with a slow opening, it hasn’t written itself like previous chapters have.

Usually, this just means I’m getting bored of the project. Things aren’t turning out how I want to, and so it gets harder and harder to write until one day that threshold of “Achieve Writing” is too high for me to hit.

But this time, it’s not because I’m bored. It’s because two things are happening right now. First and foremost, the Fall semester started. I’m taking more classes right now than I have in years, and all told, I am at the school for nearly twenty hours a week. (For the sake of simplicity, let’s also pretend that the amount of time spent doing “homework” is zero hours.) Add to that my time spent at the high school teaching improv (another six hours), subtract an hour every day (minus one) for writing these blog posts, three hours dedicated to my writer’s group, and on average six hours a week set aside for Dungeons & Dragons related activity, and that’s over forty hours of time that isn’t really mine. Now, you could make the argument that D&D and the writer’s group is my time, but I really do consider that “Hobby/Personal Improvement Time”, where I socialize and practice bettering myself as a person. Either way, it is definitely not time spent relaxing and recharging.

Add to this a messy pile of things I need to do. Coordinate with people about future plans, arrange dates, schedule and organize personal matters and goals, help out friends with personal projects, etc.

I realize this sounds like whining compared to people that work a tough job sixty hours a week, so let me amend this. I salute anyone that works harder than me, which I imagine is well over half the working class. I do consider myself hard working, as I’d guess probably most people think that about themselves, but I can safely say one thing: I feel my writing is suffering because of it.

But I mentioned two things happening, and only brought up one: a lack of time. The second thing is an elephant I don’t even like to acknowledge, and it’s something I realized very recently. The Spear Gate book is still being written. I’m not even close to being done with the first draft. That means that literally any feedback I get on the book right now is useless.

I came up with this analogy the other day. Somebody reading my story might finish a chapter and say “Huh, this doesn’t look right. You kind of threw this out of the blue.” or “I don’t see why X character would jump to this conclusion. This conversation doesn’t flow right.”

Imagine my book is a person. running, leaping, sitting, whatever. The sort of critiques I mentioned would be equivalent to saying “This person is running weird. They aren’t bending their knees enough.”

But here’s the thing. I’m still drawing the skeleton. If anything, I’ve barely made a rough framework of where the knees would even go on this picture. It’s not fair to say the picture doesn’t look right when the artist isn’t even done drawing it. At the same time, it’s not fair to have somebody look at it and expect them to give feedback that works. In this analogy, I need a reader to tell me if I correctly drew a skeleton, not whether or not the picture looks good.

This leads me to conclude that nobody should look at the Spear Gate book until I’ve written the ending. People can help me draw the muscles as I’m working on major rewrites for the second draft, but before that, I’m just getting disheartened. And I don’t know if that’s healthy for the book.

I’ve been thinking lately that all of this is too much, and I should just take a break from writing, to focus on school. But that leads me to consider: I recently became the leader of my writer’s group. I need to bring them something. I can show them several months worth of short stories, but what good would that do me?

Answer? I don’t know. I’m a thinker. I can identify the problems, and I’ve gotten really good at that over the years. But historically I’ve been awful at finding solutions that actually work, so I really don’t know.

Life — Scheduling a “Catch Up” Day

Recently my life has been so busy that I’ve had things piling up more and more. The sort of things that aren’t urgent but do need to get done, like ordering textbooks online, or talking to people about future plans, etc. This sort of thing is almost never in the forefront of my mind, simply because there’s always something more pressing, and when there isn’t, I’m too tired to do it.

So, how do you make sure you don’t let those things fall by the wayside? It’s pretty simple, really. Maybe you’ve heard of the priority analogy called “The Jar of Life”. Important things like livelihood, family, friends, etc. are ping pong balls, less important things like your job, house, and hobbies are marbles, and the trivial stuff like what you do with your free time is sand. If you start big and add the unimportant things in later, you’ll have room for everything. If you fill the jar with sand first, you won’t have room for ping pong balls.

Now, this analogy is intended to teach you about priorities, so it’s not entirely relevant, but bear with me. These side jobs that need to handled but aren’t important for your direct, day to day life can often be forgotten. They’re marbles, but they are also a source of stress because they can be unconscious baggage on your addled mind. You know you’ve got lots to do, but you’re too busy to get it done, and when you get home you know you won’t have the energy to do any more, so it becomes a vicious cycle.

Here’s how I handle it. I keep track of everything I need to get done. (I put this list on my phone so I always have access to it.) Then, I resolve to spend the most convenient day off working on those errands. I don’t treat it as a day off at all, in fact. For that day, all of those errands have top priority, and I need to get as much of it done as possible. Depending on how quickly errands pile up, this “Catch Up” Day could be weekly routine for you. Otherwise, you might only want to schedule it once you have enough stuff to justify spending the day doing them.

This accomplishes two things. One, knowing what you have to do and resolving to do it all at once will get it done quicker. You won’t have to worry about squeezing in an errand between work and relaxation. Two, it is extremely relieving to get everything done. You may not consciously perceive that burden of things you know you have to do, but once you clear it up, it feels great. You can rest easy knowing all the non-urgent stuff that needs doing has been done.

Personally, I’ve found this to be a great conclusion to the week, because when I get back to work/school the next day, I’ll feel like I’ve already been extremely productive. Even if, realistically, it means discarding my only day off, that one carefree night of sleep is worth the trouble.

Life — The State of Spear Gate

To be honest, I don’t have a whole lot to say today. I’ve had a particularly exhausting weekend, and with the first week of the fall semester happening just prior, I’m a little out of breath… not to mention the fact that I still don’t have a desktop of my own, and that isn’t likely to change until September. So, good on me for being a functioning human being without a real computer for a sizable amount of time, I suppose.

But anyway, I thought I’d talk for a little bit about the state the Spear Gate universe is in right now. There’s a lot going on, but on my blog the only attention it really gets is in the fiction section (obviously) and the little chunk in the monthly updates. That said, it occupies a huge amount of my time and thoughts, so where are we at?

The book just passed 10,000 words, which I’m pretty excited about. It’s nothing to write home about, but it’s historically the point at which I get bored with whatever the project happens to be, so the fact that my feelings towards it have only shown the slightest hint of boredom (in regards to the rewrite) is a good sign.

Consequently, I am starting to plan a little bit further and further ahead. I intend to keep the vast majority of that to myself, but know that I am starting to look further than “what happens in the next chapter” as far as what the characters are doing. The strange thing is, they are starting to surprise me with how much depth they’ve naturally evolved with, and I’m scared I’m not taking enough notes! In fact, as of writing this right now I’m creating a Google Doc of stuff I need to not forget.

I have mighty big plans for this universe. A lot of it is too big for the book I’m currently working on, and require things to be established that aren’t. If it does upset me enough, though, I can throw it in anyway and blame it on a “first draft” thing, promising myself to foreshadow stuff in later. For example, ‘Death Warden’ is a special rank in an army unit that has a very specific job (use your context clues). However, Tebrein’s army has never been mentioned and, for where the story is, it isn’t important. So, I don’t know how to fit it in, but I have a cool scene envisioned. This example is one of many.

The Spear Gate universe is huge. Each planet is intended to be capable of comfortably housing several book series that may or may not be relevant to each other, so I can’t possibly fit all of my ideas into the first book alone.

Also, the more I write, the more I realize that I’m sort of accidentally emulating Brandon Sanderson. I don’t think anyone that knows the author would even put the pieces together because on the surface they’re so distinct, but there are points. Now, I realize this is a consequence of my very picky reading habits, but it is what it is. As I plan further and further ahead, Rozire is starting to feel a lot like Hoid. If you don’t know what that means, don’t worry about it.

Life — The Three ‘Me’s

I measure a lot of my success based on the progress I’ve tracked for myself, and how much further I am from my goal. I have endpoints for three distinct things I want to achieve in life, and those endpoints are actually people. Figures whom I admire for very distinct and different reasons, but all who have become something that I want to match (or surpass) in the coming decades. Now, I’ve talked about all of these people before, so I’ll include links to previous posts where I talk about each more singularly.

The first person is probably the most obvious and the most distant goal, and that is Brandon Sanderson. Now, obviously he has achieved things in the sci-fi and fantasy world that is extremely impressive. Having such a name for himself and working on multiple highly anticipated book series is nothing to sneeze at, but the reason he’s one of my endpoints is that he has such a knack for worldbuilding and putting giant concepts into edible chunks. I doubt he’ll ever be as famous as J.K. Rowling because his world is so expansive, but success isn’t necessarily measured by a paycheck. I’m the furthest away from achieving anything he did because he’s so far out of my league professionally, but his ability to constantly write new and diverse worlds never ceases to amaze me. Brandon Sanderson is therefore my aspired “Professional” identity.

My aspired “Hobby” identity is Matt Mercer. Him being an endpoint represents everything I want to achieve in my free time. Not only is he an amazing dungeon master for D&D, but he is also an incredible voice actor. His status as one of my endpoints is a little more ephemeral, because I also attribute this to my career as an improvisational actor and teacher. I don’t really care about doing anything with my abilities as a voice actor, improv actor, or dungeon master, but these are all nonetheless a part of my life, and I want to be able to be awesome at each in my own right. In this sense, I don’t think I can ever achieve this endpoint by virtue of the fact that he does those things as a professional and not as a hobbyist, but they are aspirations of mine all the same.

Lastly, and this may or may not be the most accessible goal, is my “Social” identity, whom I attribute to Sean “Day9” Plott. He is a streamer that plays games like HearthstoneDota 2, and made his name for himself by talking about Starcraft. The reason he’s on this list is because I think his most admirable quality is his personality. When you’re watching him play, (and I think this is pretty rare for streamers), the focus of the content is not on the game, but on him and his reactions to it. He’s built a community with the people that watch his stream, and is very engaging with his viewers. Not only that, but he also loves to tell stories and give advice. Day9 is an extremely charismatic person, watching him would be enjoyable even if I had absolutely no interest in the game he was playing in. While I have no intentions to have any sort of ‘online personality’ (outside perhaps this blog), I want people to have that sentiment towards me, as well. I want to draw in people based on my social character, not my accomplishments or anything like that. This endpoint is the hardest to gauge because, while all it takes is a change in character, that’s by no means easy. In fact, it’s pretty contradictory to the way I’ve lived my life up until recently. I’m taking steps, but it’s difficult to say how far the path leads, and I doubt I’m on the most direct one there.

I think a lot of people might interpret this information and incorrectly conclude that I’m not happy with where I am. On the contrary, I think I’m doing okay. But I think it’s healthy for us as people to have goals, both short term and long term. And it’s okay to have goals you will probably never achieve, because you’ll still get somewhere by trying. I would be lying if I said I expected to actually accomplish any of these endpoints (except maybe one). But that’s not really the point. All of these are markers to help me find the path I want to take, and while I might not get where I’m going, I’ll probably be content with wherever I end up.