Me — Enjoyment From Productivity

According to my happiness tracker, an average day for me is about a 7/10. It wasn’t particularly good, but there wasn’t any bad things, either. It was just a day, as are most other days. I’ve been noticing a trend lately that kind of bothers me, though.

Weekends, the days I don’t have work, aren’t really any better than weekdays. On average, it’s about a .25 difference. That seems off. Relaxing doesn’t make me happier than working? Well…

I’ve found that the single biggest factor that will increase how good I feel about any given day is how I spent my time. It doesn’t matter (much) whether I had work or whether or not I had time to sit down and breathe. It’s all about productivity. How much work on personal projects did I get done. That’s the biggest thing. Hanging out with friends or playing D&D also consistently increase my happiness on a given day, but not to the same scale as getting work done.

It’s interesting to note that even after I’ve made this observation, getting work done on a weekend is still just as hard. Even when I know my day will be better the sooner I get stuff done, I still end up going to bed after only crossing one thing off my list and feeling terrible for it (which is made up for by having relaxed all day). I spend every work week telling myself that I’m going to spend the entire Saturday crossing everything off my list so I can have a blissful Sunday, but then I wake up Monday morning with only the things that needed doing getting done.

The worst part is, I don’t know where the problem is. I would love to figure out how to just get things done and appropriately reward myself for being productive, but I’m wondering if I just need to learn to relax and enjoy relaxing. I’ve tried the latter, and it certainly isn’t as easy as just ignoring the responsibility to live in the moment.

Around this time last year I was consistently getting up at 5am (on the advice of Day9) to get stuff done before work, then getting home just to relax. It worked like a charm, but I haven’t since been able to replicate that behavior. (I’d be tempted to try this tomorrow morning, but I’m still getting over a cold and I feel cutting my sleep by two and a half hours would be asking for trouble.)

I guess part of the problem is that a lot of the stuff on my to-do list already feels like work. Editing short stories for my next anthology isn’t fun, it’s just something I need to do. Writing for the passion project is fun, but it’s also not nearly as much of a priority, so it feels a bit like I’m wasting my time when I’m doing that instead of editing or fully relaxing.

I don’t know about you, but it’s nearly impossible to reward yourself for hard work when you can instead reward yourself for no work at no consequence. I imagine this is simply a perpetual struggle for “real” adults, but it’s not something I’m even close to having a handle on just yet.

Me — August ’19 Monthly Update

July really started off rough, but towards the end of it things have started to look better. I’ve noticed something strange about my moods, lately. According to my happiness tracker, the toughest weeks—the ones where I’ve been depressed and unmotivated—have pretty consistent scores, only having a rough deviation of 1. It looks like a generally state, if a little curvy line. The weeks that I generally feel better fluctuate a lot more, with ups and downs that look like a seismograph, where the worst days are about the normal level for my depressed states. Strange to think that if I’m happy, every other day will still be as bad as a normally depressing day, I’ll just have better good days.

Anyways, onto the updates. As always, the Monthly Update Topic Order™: blog, writing plans, work, school, D&D, video games, reading/listening, and other things.

With my last semester of college starting up in a couple weeks, I’m going to cut Saturdays off the weekly schedule and only post once a week on Tuesday. I expect to be pretty busy, being either at work or at school 60 hours a week (with free weekends, fortunately). More on that in a bit, but I think it’s time to back down on the blog now that my plate is full again.

I’ve been writing a lot recently! Work on the full length Lisa Stenton play has resumed, and the first draft of the first act is 100% done! I plan to start plucking away at the second act next week. I’m also chugging away at the collection of short stories for my passion project (which we hope to unveil in the next few months!), and the backlog is growing! I’m super excited to show everyone what we’ve been working on. Lastly, progress on the second short story anthology is going slow, as it’s not very high on my priority list, but it is going, and I’m collecting edits for the manuscript now.

Work has been fine. The last month was a slow one, as the summer always is in my line of work, but August is already promising to be very busy, with a ton of huge jobs coming in. I’m not sure how to feel about that, because on one hand, the boss is happy with the revenue, but on the other, the stress of deadlines and upkeep will be much higher.

As for school, I’m excited to say that, assuming all goes well, this will definitely be my last semester of college. I tried to get one of my AA’s last semester, but they said I was missing a class I definitely was not missing, which was irritating. Hopefully, that’s all sorted out, and I’ll have two AA’s and more than a couple certificates to boot. Plus, I plan on performing in my first full length play. I figure I’ve played every other part in the theatre world—writer, director, costumer, stage designer, tech crew, etc., that I might as well finish as an actor again, where my interest in theatre all started.

D&D. Buckle your pants. The Aleor campaign began with the Night of Fire, December 31st 2018 (or, Safepass 30, 427, if you’re Aloran). 7 months and 28 sessions later, my reign of terror awesomeness is over. The Knights of Fire (yes, that’s what they named the guild) have traveled hundreds of miles, fought a god’s familiar, deterred a rising evil, and restored a lost people. I’m going to take a break from DMing as this chapter closes, and my brother (one of the current players,) will continue where I left off as we explore what comes next. I’m very excited to play as a PC again, as I haven’t done that in quite a few months and frankly, I need a break! The last few sessions were really a blast though, and I’ve discovered that I’m already nostalgic for the Octopath Traveler soundtrack, as that is what I used as background for the majority of their adventures. I feel like I can start chronicling the campaign now, and I’d better do it soon before my notes and my memory are harder and harder to line up!

Nothing interesting to say about video games. Still mostly playing Heroes of the Storm and MTG Arena, but I also recently picked up Sunless Skies, which is a story-driven adventure game full of eldritch horror. It’s a sequel to Sunless Seas, and it is everything a sequel should be: all the features the last game had plus a bunch of quality of life changes and new mechanics! I love it, but it’s not one of those games you can sit down and play for twenty minutes, so it’s hard to find the time to enjoy it.

In the meantime, I’ve been doing a reread (re-listen, rather) of The Dresden Files, because Jim Butcher just finished Peace Talks (no release date yet), and I want to remind myself of all the things that have happened and where we’re at because it’s probably been over four years since I read Skin Game, and it’s a lot to catch up on. I just finished Book 2: Fool Moon last night, and I’m starting to think I should pace myself if I don’t want to finish way too fast.

I actually have nothing else to say! I mean, that’s still quite a bit, but I’m excited for all the new things happening in August, and the next few months should be really busy. Can’t wait.

 

Me — Writing Update

For those that may be interested in the current writing projects that I’m working on, here’s a quick update.

At the moment, I have three projects I would consider myself to be actively working on, and while they’re all big, my level of investment on them can vary quite a bit.

Most relevant to you is probably my second short story anthology (the first of which is self-published and available on Amazon). To give some insight, this new book is the same premise—about two dozen short stories written across all of my universes from Nacre Then to Spear Gate to Lisa Stenton—but these new stories are from 2017-2018. My first book was pretty much published to be a collection of the first stories I ever wrote, and as such, I barely edited them at all before compiling them into the anthology.

This new book, I would say, is different in the sense that I’m setting it up to be a solid set of good shorts. (This is all the best stuff from those two years, after all.) This means that the stories need edits, and in a few cases a solid rewrite, before they’re ready to be shown to the world. Obviously it’s a lot more work, but where the first book was intended to be a proof of concept, I hope to publish this one with a true sense of pride (and excitement!) for sharing some of my best stuff to my friends and family. Suffice to say that the list of works has already been put together, and several stories have gotten edits, but I’m only about a fourth of the way through the full process.

My second project is the Lisa Stenton play I’m still working on. I have the first act done, and a rough outline blocked out. I don’t expect that the manuscript to this thing will ever end up anywhere, but I feel her story needs to be told, and I haven’t written a singular full length piece in far, far too long. I’ll provide updates as it progresses, but in the meantime, we’re slow going on that one. I do, however, fully expect the full first draft to be done by the end of the year.

The last project is also a collection of short stories, but for a completely different purpose. The passion project I’ve been a part of for nearly a year now has been making really good headway, and we have plans to implement a way to monetize our world soon! I’ve been pretty tight lipped about it because the things I would like to be sharing would end up being the things we’re trying to monetize, so it would be counterproductive in that sense. Suffice to say that I hope the short stories I’m setting in that world to be a regular incentive for the audience we’re drawing in! I’ll also say that I’m already really proud of some of the work I’ve come up with from this project. It’s some of my best work in a while.

All of these things feel like slow going when I’m counting it by days, but at the very beginning of 2019 the only aforementioned thing hat had any relevance was the second anthology, which, while it was always on my radar, hadn’t even been put together yet! In another six months, I hope all three of these things will be done and finished (though the third will hopefully be an ongoing process).

Stay tuned, for there is always more to come.

Me — Where to Go After the First Draft?

As you may or may not know, I’m putting together my second short story anthology, which will be collected stories from three established universes as well as several standalone shorts. I’ve been bringing a few of these into my writer’s group, and depending on the story, I’m getting lots of varying types of feedback. What I mean by that is, I’ve heard everything from “this is perfect, don’t change a word” to “it’s a solid concept, but it needs a lot more polishing before it’s ready” (which is a nice way of saying it’s terrible).

When you’re getting lots of feedback that wildly contradicts one another, it can be difficult to know what you should think. It’s easy to agree with the person who loves it and simply move on to the next story, but it can also be soul-wrenching to hear that somebody doesn’t like the thing you’ve worked so hard putting together. It might even be enough to make you want to throw it in the garbage and start over completely.

And maybe that’s what the story needs, but I’m of the opinion that you should never destroy your work. Instead of deleting the file where you keep your first draft, if you must start over from scratch, why not simply make a new file titled “second draft”?

That being said, how are you supposed to know when a story needs to be rewritten completely, or if it simply needs some edits?

As with virtually any writing advice you receive, what comes next is going to be hearsay, so take it with a grain of salt.

In my experience, when I go to my writer’s group I will already know if a story needs to be rewritten from scratch, but it all depends on what I’m trying to do with that piece versus what it actually does.

For example, I wrote a short story in my Spear Gate universe that was essentially written for the atmosphere and the scene. I fell in love with the crazy weird locale the story was set in, so I wanted to make it about the locale. This meant thorough descriptions and a narrative style that matches the mood of the setting. But what ended up being written was a story about a mom with a robot butler worried about her son, and the mom happened to live in a weird place with odd descriptions. The difference is the focus of the story. Instead of writing about Neda and how anxious she was that the sun was setting and her son was supposed to be home by now, I should have written about the cold steel of the walkway she sat on, and the warm cup of coffee doing little to stave off the chilly breeze.

This is a flaw that edits would not fix. Or rather they could, but the wording would have been altered so drastically that it would become a ship of Theseus. If you have to change every sentence, is it really the same old story? In this case, it’s clearly better to simply rewrite it. So I did, and as you might imagine, I think it works much better than it did.

If, however, the story is accomplishing your basic goals, whether it is an interesting character, or a cool plot twist, etc., then more than likely the only thing you’ll need to change is how well the story accomplishes those goals. Maybe the plot twist could be better if it was more subtly foreshadowed, or the interesting character needs a longer interaction to really shine. In this case, you don’t have to tear the whole scaffolding apart, you just need to go back and reinforce what’s already there.

Now this is a huge topic, so I might discuss it more thoroughly later, but the main point here is that you’re the author, so you’re the deciding factor on what the story needs. Don’t let somebody tell you your story sucks if your character simply needs clearer motivations. But if they have good points and you agree that your character simply isn’t interesting enough to be the protagonist, maybe a rewrite is in order. Just think about what you’re trying to accomplish with your story and look at how critical the flaws are, and woven into the story those flaws happen to be.

Learning! — You, Me, and the Rule of Three

“The Rule of Three” is something that gets thrown around a lot in many fields. I’d say they’re especially prevalent in my fields of writing and theatre/improv, but it appears everywhere.

In fact, saying “the rule of three” is immediately misleading because there are so many rules of three. That’s simply because 3 is a magic, holy number. You have the Christian trinity, the 3 act structure, the 3 Musketeers, you name it.

To put it very briefly and very simply, 3 is the perfect number to establish a pattern or a group without overwhelming the audience of the message. It’s easy to describe the function of God the Father, the Son, and the Holy Ghost, but as soon as you add a fourth, it starts getting exponentially harder to remember which is which. It’s the same thing with the 3 Musketeers.

If you have 7 of something in a story, you can’t reasonably expect to teach the audience about each individual thing and expect them to hold interest. Their attention span will only last for about 3 or so.

The logician in me thinks its unfair that 3 gets so much praise for being the holy number. It’s a self-fulfilling prophecy, you see.

So this is to say that when you’re writing something, whether its a story, a piece of worldbuilding, or a plot, you know whatever—use the rule of three. Don’t put five characters in a story that works with three. Don’t put 2 try-fail cycles unless you have a good reason for doing so. When you write a passage using lots of repetition, communicate the idea thrice. (I was about to quote Marc Antony’s usage of the phrase “honourable men” in his famous monologue, but he actually states it 5 times, not 3. Damn Shakespeare and his 5’s!)

You get the idea. But this rule is a bit different in improv (and comedy writing in general). In fact, it’s a lot more specific than just “use the number of three because it’s a good psychological tool”.

When you’re writing a sketch, or performing in an improv scene, the first time you use a joke it’s funny for it’s own sake. When you later repeat this joke it becomes a callback—it’s funny because of the reference. But when you use this joke again, you can’t simply repeat it, because then it becomes repetitive in its own sake. You’re milking it. Instead, you find a way to turn the joke on its head and present it in a way the audience doesn’t expect. In The Three Stooges’ “Slowly I Turned” sketch, you see lots of uses of the rule of three. Funny enough, the actual punchline of the joke is used 4 times, but the last two times its used in a way that isn’t expected.

All this is to say, in conventional writing the number three is a good rule of thumb to know how many times to use a trope or with establishing rules/characters, and in comedy it’s a good way to get punchlines, but only if you subvert expectations on the last use.

 

Me — April ’19 Update

I feel as though I have some big decisions down the line. I’m not necessarily going through a lot at the moment, and my life isn’t particularly stressful, but my path is nearing a precipice, or perhaps a simple fork. The thing is, the choice that I make in the nearing future is going to impact the rest of my life.

But before we get into that, the Monthly Update Topic Order™: blog, writing plans, video games, reading/listening, school, D&D, and other things.

Once again I feel as though the blog is in a good spot. Twice a week is a great pace for somebody whose writer’s block has become mentally crippling. No changes on the horizon.

On that front, I’ve been sort of working on a story for the passion project I’ve been collaborating with, and even that has proven to be an insurmountable slope. So far, in 10 days, I’ve written two different beginnings, each roughly 400 words long, and the story is simply supposed to showcase a piece of worldbuilding, nothing even largely important or exciting, really. I did recently write nearly 8,000 words in a month (not staggering by any means, but with a mental block as powerful as mine’s become, I was pretty proud of it.) I was able to do that because I was given very strict time limits to adhere to when I wrote each scene, and was held accountable for it. As it turns out though, I cannot self-impose similar time limits on my own projects, because I know that there won’t be any consequences if I fail. I know there’s a workaround in my head somewhere, I just don’t know what it is yet.

As far as gaming goes I’ve been playing a lot of World of Warcraft lately, but almost purely as a time sink as I mindlessly kill monsters, because…

I’ve once again picked up The Dresden Files. This is my second time going through the series, as Jim Butcher is nearing the end of Peace Talks and I’m optimistic that we will (finally) get a release date in the coming months.

I’ll hold off on the school topic because it ties into decisions.

D&D has been going quite well. Buckle your seat belts. The Knights of Fire (the party in my Aleor campaign officially has a name!) has just left the city of Craydon to venture into ancient Elven ruins for… reasons. I make no promises, but I intend to start posting a campaign diary of all that’s happened very soon. Perhaps even starting Saturday.

The other campaign I’m a part of (as a player, not a DM) just ended, and my character was the only one that died in the final boss encounter. The poor orc mystic only ever wanted to be a tree, sleeping on dirt and meditating as often as possible, and only in death did he get his wish, having helped save the world! I will note that this is basically the first ever campaign I’ve been a part of that we played start to finish consistently, even coming to a natural end. It wasn’t until our DM gave us the epilogue and one of the player characters visited Ki’s grave that I got a little sentimental. That campaign was very much a “silly over rules”, and neither our characters nor the plot had any depth, and I didn’t really like the mystic class, and we’re planning on starting a new campaign soon, and I might be more excited than I’ve ever been for my new character, and yet, I can’t help but feel a little sad that the story of Ki and his friends is over, doomed to fade into obscurity as new campaigns and new characters take to the stage.

*Pause for dramatic effect*

So, other things. At risk of getting too personal, I’ve grown to actively dislike my living situation. Specifically, I have never once in my life had my own room, and therefore have never really known a true sense of privacy or ownership of my own space. Most often this is fine. The brother I share a room with has the same interests as me and now that we aren’t kids anymore we get along great. The problem is that our lifestyles are very different and not conducive to sharing a space. Added onto that is the fact that I do not like living in Southern California, primarily because of the living cost and lack of weather. As such, I’ve been seriously considering and making tentative, mental plans to move north, to Oregon or Washington. My trip to Portland felt in a lot of ways like I had found a home, and I’m desperate to go back.

However. There is an increasing likelihood that I’m going to be staying in SoCal for a bit longer. I have to take an extra semester of school, as I’ve previously established, and that alone sets me back a year. What’s more, my job may “require” me to step up my hours, as we’re going to be short handed soon and since I like working there, I’m more than happy to give them a hand and return to working full-time. In addition to that, there is a possibility I might be teaching improv more seriously next school year, and I have confidence that the passion project I’ve been working on will have legs to stand on by the end of the year. All of these are heavy incentives to stay, and I like the prospect of pretty much all of those things.

And yet, if I do stay here, part of me feels like I’m delaying a transition to a new life I would be much happier living. New friends, new job, new everything. Scary, yes, but I’m not really one to let something like that get in the way. My problem is that I know I need to move in order to preserve my sanity. Moving within the area I live might solve some problems, but the larger issues of living in Southern California would remain and would delay what I believe to be an inevitable migration northwards.

I feel as though I can’t win, because choosing one means losing out on a lot of things the other option yields. The nice thing about this situation is that both options are promising, and I’m not picking the lesser of two evils, and in addition to that, this choice is only presenting itself now, and I won’t be required to make any life changing decisions for a few months at least.

Until next time!

Me — Writer’s Block

I’m always excited about having extra time to work on personal projects, but I feel like every time that day arrives, I get nothing done and it just makes me upset.

I can’t articulate why, but my writer’s block has gotten so bad that putting any words on the page has become nearly impossible when it’s a personal project. Homework assignments being the exception, I’ve written one short story since July, and the shorts of that point and a few months prior were all meaningless little trifles.

It’s become a constant source of frustration. I have 5 things on my to-do list for this weekend, and the short story is my top priority, but instead of getting that done I’m taking infinite breaks and just being sad. I can’t relax and play games because I have stuff to do but I can’t just get that stuff done, so the days where I have no school or work end up being cycles of self-loathing.

I wrote the Act One to a full length play for homework in basically a month, and that was because I was told what to write and given very strict rules on what to do (write a scene where X and Y happens in one hour, GO.) I won’t say it was easy, but I ended up with 50 pages of content (that was actually not bad, all things considered!) that never would have existed otherwise.

The thing that sucks is that I obviously can’t impose those rules on myself, because there’s no consequence to me failing. If I take a break and go on Facebook or Instagram, nobody will be breathing down my neck, because the only thing I’m losing is my time (and my sanity, but who needs that?)

I did manage to get nearly 500 words of a short story done for the passion project I’m working on, but I hate it. Looking back on it I’m realizing it’s because none of my characters have established reasons for doing anything, and the story is just uninteresting overall. Which, unfortunately for me, means I need to scrap it and start from scratch.

People in my writer’s group often talk about how much they loved writing a scene or a character, and it never ceases to amaze me that people can just sit down and enjoy the process, because every time I look at the screen I just sigh and internally beg to be doing anything else. Luckily (or unluckily, as the case may be), I’m on a computer where all of my favorite time sinks are.

If anything, I think this is the proof that I’m never going to make a career out of writing books. (I almost said why I’m never going to be a published author, but given the fact that I already am, that would be dumb to say.) I can talk about worldbuilding and story structure all day, but sitting down and actually writing scenes and dialogue attributions and character motivations is just a nightmare.

How do you people do it?!