Me — Too Many Ideas

The problem with getting so many good ideas is that you can’t use all of them. Couldn’t even begin to. I’m sure I’m no different from every other creative person in that I have a list of cool ideas I don’t want to lose, but I know half of them (at best) will never see the light of day.

I just thought of a really cool idea for a game, that I could maybe turn into a short story, and then while watching a movie today I caught the tail end of an aesthetic I really enjoyed. I could perhaps marry the two ideas, but in the end, the idea I have is for a game, not a story. I’m not going to say what that idea is (though I will tell you, Dev, next time I get the chance to talk to you in person), but it has a chance of being the story that publishes on Friday. On one hand, this is good. Having good ideas you don’t have time for end up saying a lot about the ideas you do end up putting effort into. But on the other, it’s frustrating.

I had a really cool idea about a novel where the protagonist was one of a million in an army against a small group of (we’ll call them) adventurers. The idea wasn’t so much of putting focus and sympathy into one of the orcs that gets decapitated by Aragorn’s sword, but rather the angle I had presented looked more like “these four people are bad news, and have godlike powers compared to the common man. How can we make the common man have a fighting chance?”

The ten second pitch for the idea was “imagine playing chess where one side only has 16 pawns and the other side has a knight, bishop, rook, and queen”.

I’ve tabled that idea for now, though. Not because I don’t like it or because I ran into problems. Actually, the only reason I haven’t already tried my hand writing that story was because the idea for Spear Gate swooped in while I was putting it together, and it whisked me away. I still plan on visiting it. I even tried framing it into Spear Gate. But in the end, it didn’t work. There’s a lot to the framework of the story that I didn’t explain, and that framework clashed with what I had in mind for Spear Gate. So it’s been on the back-burner for a while.

The worst part is I still haven’t been able to figure out how to hold my personal interest in the novels I’m working on. I resolved to write Spear Gate until I reached the end, but I’m starting to doubt if I can. I really need to get out of the habit of quitting on long projects before I’m even halfway through, but I don’t see how that’s possible when that new cool idea comes along. I would highly doubt this is a rare problem authors face, and yet I’ve never seen or heard any advice on how to tackle it.

Sometimes, new ideas can be a curse.

 

Me — Dear Me, But One Year Ago,

Dear Me, but one year ago,

I find that life is generally a lot easier to deal with when the things coming at you are being handled one at a time. Life is stressful and exhausting when events are out of your control or too big to take on, but when you dice those big things up it doesn’t seem so daunting. Don’t look at the entire ladder and think “Oh boy, I have a long way to go,” because that’s discouraging. Instead, just grab the first rung, and then the next. I’m not going to be a well-known, established author in a day. In fact, that idea is nothing more than a glimmer in the distance. I just have to make sure I know how to stand first. Then I’ll try to walk. Then I’ll start marching towards it.

It’s the little things that, once done, tie you over until eventually you realize “Hey, look how high up I am!” That’s when you realize you have a fear of heights, which has a whole lot of other issues attached to it, but first you have to focus on climbing the ladder. One rung at a time.

Things just don’t go the way you plan. And that’s okay. It happens. Pretty much 100% of the time, actually. What’s important is that you just make the best effort you can and then learn from what went wrong. If you don’t know what went wrong, well, that’s a different story. If that happens (when that happens), just keep tabs on what happened. If a similar thing happens again in the future, you can cross reference and learn more about yourself and the process. Learning about how you and the world works by trial and error.

I know that a lot of this is what you’re already doing, but it’s also totally okay to stop and breathe. Go to your room and think about what you’ve done. But, really. A habit of hyper-productivity is all well and good, but once you learn to stop, sit down, and breathe, you’ll realize that most of the time, things only happen at the pace you set for it. You’re only stressing yourself out because you have these grandiose goals, and your expectations for yourself are too high.

Just stop and breathe.

Believe it or not, moments of calm actually help revitalize you rather than discourage you by making you feel like you’re going too slow. I admit I’ve been bad at following this particular piece of advice lately, but at the same time, I haven’t really needed to.

I’m good with where I’m at. Life is stressful enough to keep me feeling productive, but quiet enough to give me the time I need.

Things don’t go as planned. Your life may still pretty much where it is now, but that’s honestly okay. Just keep your eyes on the horizon, keep track of how you want things to change, and take on that ladder one rung at a time. And even if you’re in the same place a year from now, sitting in this same chair at this same desk. That’s totally okay, as long as you’re happy and your eyes are on the horizon.

Sincerely,

Kollin, but a year later? The current one? Whatever.

Me — Knowing Yourself

Recently (within the past few years) I’ve noticed that I really don’t know myself all that well. I, like everyone else, have this nebulous list of wants and needs, but lately, I’ve realized that in order to figure out the “how” of achieving this list, it’s important to understand the “why” those wants and needs are in place. If you don’t know the “why”, figuring out the “how” can be nearly impossible.

It isn’t enough to say “I want to start a family and be successful.” There are lots of ways to accomplish this. If you want a family because you think it will make you feel validated as a person, you need to dig deeper. There are lots of ways to feel validated as a person. This isn’t to say that your list of wants is wrong, just that the why can inform your decision making. Why is having a family the way you choose to pursue your goal of validation? Is it because you never felt like you had a supportive family? Or because you want to leave something behind? Or something completely different?

These aren’t the questions I ask myself, but the idea is the same. Figuring out the “why” will make the “how” much clearer, but it’s not always easy to see. Sometimes, the wants themselves are difficult to understand. This happens a lot with teenagers who are just finding things (and people) they like. I’m sure we’ve all heard stories about (or are) people who dated people against their sexual preference because they didn’t know themselves to act differently. It’s a learning process, and the path is really obscure. As in, the canopy is four feet high and we can’t even see where we’re going because we’re constantly getting whacked with leaves and branches.

I don’t have any clear cut answers that will help you figure out who you are. I’m a little busy asking myself hard questions. There are two things that I’ve made a habit of doing, though, to ensure that I’m at least on the right path. One: ask yourself if you’re happy, or if you feel you’re taking steps to get there. If not, what steps can you take now that will put you in that direction? Two: Constantly keep tabs on how you feel. Keep track of what makes you feel good and bad, and use this as a road map. Play Hot-Cold by yourself, and soon you’ll develop a compass that will get you somewhere. It may not be the place that you expected to go, but constantly questioning everything, and thinking about why you are the way you are is bound to yield good results, even if it doesn’t happen right away.

In my experience, everyone older than you seems to know what you’re doing. It’s amazing, if you think about it. Everyone 50% older than me seems to have their life on track, but as soon as I get that old, I realize I’m wrong. I’m probably showing my age a bit by asking this half-rhetorical question, but I’m curious: do people ever really “figure out” who they are? Or are we all just swimming around in a pool of confusion and only barely figuring out where we should be?

Me — Habits and Resolutions

Everyone likes to start every new year with a resolution. Like “I want to lose weight” or “I want to be more mindful of other people’s perspectives”. If you’re not one of those people, you’re probably one that likes to bash on other people’s goals. It certainly isn’t easy to suddenly become a new person, and a lot of resolutions are sort of destined to fail.

One problem I see a lot isn’t that people establish goals that are too high, it’s that they set goals with no road map. They say “I’m going to lose weight” but don’t get a gym subscription. They want to eat healthier but don’t take the time to research what sort of food they should start eating. They just set this idea and put it on the shelf only to be procrastinated indefinitely. That just doesn’t work.

I used to make blog posts on “How to do X”, such as making this post about how not to fail, but I think life is, in general, too complex to have problems such as this solved in 500-800 words. So I won’t try to tell you the solution to the problem. Instead, I’ll just talk about what I do, because it seems to work out for me alright.

In the end, the goal isn’t actually as important as the steps you’re taking to get there, and a lot of those steps involve habits. I, like everyone I’m sure, have a lot of things I want to change about myself. But instead of deciding to turn instantly be the person I want, I’m taking actions that the person I want to be would have a habit of doing.

I actually got a Phone App called Habits that works amazingly well, and yet is so simple. You write down things you want to do, and how often you want to achieve those things. Most of my goals are daily things I don’t want to forget doing, so I can easily keep track of whether or not I’ve done that thing today. It also has a stats page that keeps track of streaks and how “strong” your habit is. It’s nothing special, but things I would otherwise want to be different about me are suddenly things I do regularly, because the only thing I need to remember is to open the app every once in a while and look at the checklist. I will say—checking things off a to-do list is an amazing feeling, so that in and of itself is a great reward.

So if you want to lose weight, don’t just give yourself a deadline. Ask yourself what steps you’re taking to achieve those goals and work for it. I have some awesome writing related things planned for this year, but I know that these things won’t magically get themselves done. I’m going to have to make sure I stick to my schedule.

Also, as a general rule I think post changes in a person’s life are too gradual to actually consciously perceive on a day-to-day basis, so having a resolution where you want something to change quickly is not only unrealistic, but also discouraging!

Best of luck!

Life — It’s the Heat’s Fault.

Well, it’s finally happened. I’ve actually managed to completely forget writing the next day’s post. I’ve come close a few times. Lying in bed, thinking about what I got done that day, I’ll remember the fact that I had meant to write something but never got around to it. In those circumstances I’d get up and write. Even at two in the morning when I’d have to wake up early.

But last night that didn’t happen. I didn’t get home until past midnight, and I wanted to relax a bit before going to bed. In bed, I realized I had forgotten to do homework for my 8:30am class. But even then, I was too tired. I resolved to get up earlier to do it. Having assumed everything was settled, I went to sleep (though it took a while because it was so hot out). So, while I did forget to prepare a post ahead of time, I won’t let myself skip a day (again) with no valid excuse. So here it is, even if it is a bit late.

I actually feel perfectly justified blaming all of this on the heat. It’s hard for me to even think straight when it gets too hot, and even with air conditioning and fans, lately it hasn’t solved the problem. (I don’t even have a computer in my room to be generating heat!)

I don’t “like” writing. But it gives me fulfillment and a sense of accomplishment, so I do it. It’s never easy, but when it’s hot, all I can think about doing is try to stop being hot. For me, this means below 75 Farenheit. With the state of the weather lately, that means I have to be out in public where the air conditioning is overkill, and that means I can’t comfortably write or sleep, so there’s no winning.

I feel like June through August is just a state of “getting by” for me. It’s always a struggle simply because of where I am, who I am, and what my life is centered around. It’s the point where I have to swallow the net loss and accept that when everything cools down, both literally and figuratively, I can produce more, and have an all around more enjoyable existence.

This is pretty much why I hate California. I shouldn’t hate 25% of every year simply because of things I have no control over. I’m not going to get into that today, though. I’ve talked about it before, and there’s no use in whining over being a victim of circumstance.

Really, though, I think I could be happy if it weren’t for the heat. Despite my apprehensions about my current writing system in general, I do like where Spear Gate stands, and my semester is bearable. I’m super tired every day, but I can shrug it off.

I don’t like being trapped inside because cracking a window open means the house might melt. So, I’m just sitting here. Biding my time. Twiddling my thumbs. Waiting for October to come when it starts, finally, getting cooler.

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.