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 — 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.

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 — My Persistent Problem with Pretty Projects

I admire people that can just write because they enjoy it, and churn out books because they like telling stories, whether or not those stories are good or will ever see the light of day. I’ve never been like that, and to this day, I would consider myself to have only ever finished a complete draft of one novel. This was almost six years ago, and I was in high school at the time.

Ever since then, it’s been the same exact process. A new idea starts to interest me, and I mull it over for a few weeks. I may or may not outline it, but whether or not I do is always a conscious decision. After that I get to work, and about a quarter of the way through, the idea is no longer interesting. I start getting bored until it gets harder and harder to push myself to write, until one day I say it’s not worth it anymore. By then, I may have another new idea to jump onto, but not always.

Soldier of Nadu‘s second draft. White Tower/Kitsuki’s EmissaryDreamscapeRise of the Riftguard. The Lisa Stenton anthology. Spear Gate.

I’ve tried everything. From extensively outlining to no planning whatsoever, to writing a collection of short stories rather than a full book. It just doesn’t work.

And now I’ve got the Xelfure project churning over in my head. The more I think of it the more it’s starting to sound like the prequel to the central book series of Nacre Then. But when I first started thinking about it it was barely a short story. A novelette at most. But I thought, while I was dabbling in Nacre Then, why not throw in characters I was already familiar with? And take the opportunity to flesh out characters that didn’t have a solid place in the lore? Well, the idea has entirely outgrown the original framework of the story I had set up—a two layer narrative of past and future is now simply a novel with typical flashbacks, and I will openly admit I don’t like the sound of that. It’s just not what I want for this story, not to mention the size of such a project will never get finished given how I’ve tackled writing the past several years.

I don’t really know what my problem is, but I would hazard to guess that I worry too much about perfection right off the bat. I write good first drafts, I won’t short change myself on that, but rarely do I go back and edit, and I think the way that I write and the things I want to write are completely incompatible. I can only write a good first draft if that story is short, because if it’s too long the pieces I’m juggling get too hard to handle on one pass, and since I don’t know how to go back and make changes I simply lose heart and stop.

I do think that I just need to be okay with writing for writing’s sake. Very rarely have I ever had that mindset. Even the weekly short stories aren’t for me, it’s because I feel obligated as a writer to have an output and having something to show for myself. I don’t think that that’s inherently a bad thing, but it does mean I’m not enjoying what I could.

I’ll say it again—I don’t know how anyone can enjoy writing, but I respect anyone that does. I don’t like writing, I just like having written. It’s a subtle difference, but a big one.

Me– Aug ’18 Update

With the onset of the fall semester comes The Wave™, and I’m pretty scared that I’m tackling too much at a time. As I’ve already talked a bit about last week, I’m expecting to count hours of free time in the single digits every week, but I’m thinking of it as setting up for an awesome 2019.

So as always, here’s the Monthly Update Topic Order™: blog, writing plans, video games, reading/listening, school, and other things.

Currently, I’m not planning any blog changes. I expect I’ll be able to churn out blog posts in between classes on Mondays and Wednesdays, so I’m not that worried about my ability to post nonfiction three times a week. It’s the short stories I’m more concerned about. As it is, I’m already posting them six hours late (usually), and I expect my restrictive schedule to make it even harder to post those on time, if at all. So while I don’t want to stop writing fiction for a few months, it might be an inevitability. Especially considering I’m even going to miss a few months of my writer’s group because of scheduling conflicts, and thus won’t have any real reason to write.

I’m also a bit nervous about writing plans. I won’t get into it now, but for the past few months I feel great about my stories whenever I’m away from my computer. In fact, when I’m in the shower thinking about the story I intend to write in the next 20 minutes, I can’t wait to sit down and get going. But as soon as I stare at the screen, suddenly I need to vacuum or do laundry, or check my email. Anything to get me away from the screen. What’s worse, Xelfure’s story is getting bigger and bigger in my head. What was once a more dedicated short story is now threatening to be the prequel spinoff novel to the Nacre Then trilogy I’ve refused to think about for years, and that terrifies me, especially since I’m going to be the busiest I’ve probably ever been in my life very soon, and thus won’t have time to focus on anything big like that. So, stay tuned for what may or may not ever become a thing.

New video game news, for once. I’ve still been playing lots of Heroes of the Storm, and I have plans for reaching level 10 on every hero by October (though that may be a bit optimistic). But when I have larger chunks of free time I’ve been playing NieR: Automata, and I also recently bought Pyre because it was on sale and I’ve been looking at it ever since it was announced. Haven’t touched it yet, but it is downloaded!

I’ve finished all the audiobooks I’ve had backlogged, and have recently been binging Welcome to Nightvale. It’s a bi-weekly radio broadcast of a fictional town called Nightvale, and the podcast is basically just Lovecraftian horror. Imagine a regular news broadcast of Innsmouth if it was actually a comedy. It’s been interesting, and I intend to review it once I’m caught up. Maybe next week.

Oh boy, school. My semester’s going to be pretty busy, but not as busy as I had anticipated. I found out today (yesterday, as of this posting) that a class that would have taken 16 hours a week is redundant on my schedule, so my weeknights are now mine again. My current tentative schedule has me on campus about 24 hours per week, with me actually in a class for most of that time. If all goes well, I might actually also be directing a short play that I wrote, but that’s a bigger thing, so more on that later. So, with that in mind, I’ll be on campus a lot, so who knows what else that might lead to, time commitment wise. That said, I’m hoping this will be my second-to-last semester, so if that’s the case these super busy fall and spring seasons are almost at an end.

As far as other things go, I don’t have much to say. I’m tentatively hyped for the near future for a lot of reasons, but most of those are tenuous or too distant to be relevant for me to mention now.

Eyes on the horizon folks, and hey, maybe we’ll get lucky and it’ll cool down before November.

Me — A Rare Free Weekend

Warning: this is a bit all over the place. It’s pretty much a very rambling free-write.

 

So, I (obviously) didn’t post a short story this weekend. I’d like to apologize. I offer no excuse, but instead I give you an explanation. When I woke up Saturday morning, I realized I had absolutely no plans whatsoever for the entire weekend, and I don’t know when the last time that was. I doubt it’s happened at all in 2018, (cancelled plans excepting).

As happened, I decided to spend it doing nothing productive at all and see where that got me, and I succeeded. I wrote a tiny bit and went to go buy groceries, but that’s about it. Beyond that, I played a ton of Heroes of the Storm and NieR: Automata. I’ll tell you what though, doing nothing was hard. It’s not as though I had to make a conscious effort not to be productive—I’m sure I’m not more or less lazy than anybody else—but I can’t let myself relax without feeling bad about it. I would play a few hours of something, get bored and stop. Make food and then struggle to find something else to do.

The heat certainly doesn’t help. It’s going to be over 100° for a good chunk of the work week again, which will be tough. I find it hard to be comfortable when it’s over 80°, even if I’m not doing anything.

So no, I didn’t have a great time relaxing. I got a lot done in the games I’ve been playing, but other than that it’s hard not to feel like I threw the weekend away. And it’s not as though I have a shortage of things to write. Beyond the two or three small personal projects I’ve been touching on here and there, I want to work on that Xelfure story I brought up recently. I realized that the two-layer narrative is unnecessary, and while I do want to keep it, the “story” is complete in itself, so I shouldn’t need to worry about the flashback part. Honestly, it’s just been difficult to get started because it’s not going to be a simple 2,000 word flash fiction. I don’t know how long it would end up being, but it’s a good length. Multiple weekends worth of writing for sure, and it scares me.

I’ve been thinking about my resources a lot lately. My time and money is generally stretched pretty thin, and gaining one means losing the other, when I’d love to have more of both. I’m sure that’s the case with the vast majority of people though, eh? Struggling to find that balance.

In any case, don’t expect me to stop writing those weekly short stories. Next weekend’s is bound to be interesting. If nothing else, I think I need to write these little stories for my own personal sanity if nothing else. I have this irrepressible need to be productive in everything I do. Heck, even all the games I play I have specific long-term goals in mind.

Time grows short. The fall semester starts in about a month, and I have plans for pretty much every waking moment during the work week throughout the semester, which means any and all things that could possibly be considered “free time” must all be done on the weekends. Oh boy.

 

Me — New Prompt Challenges

I’ve had a fun idea for writing stories that are based on one-on-one interactions with people. I’ll just tell you about it now and then talk about it.

Ask somebody to give you a writing prompt. Anything it all. Could be one they Google, or just random words. Doesn’t matter. You also ask them to give you a number up to 200. (You can tell them that that’s your word count, but if you want to keep it hidden you can.)

Then you spin that into a micro-fiction story. That’s it. That’s the whole challenge.

I think this is neat because it does a lot of things all at once. First, it can tell you something about the other person. How they get this writing prompt and what they tell you will inform you a lot about their personality. If you ask them for a specific word number and they say “2” rather than “152”, then that tells you something else.

I’ve done this twice, and already I’ve come up with two interesting stories. Forcing yourself to change gears so drastically is a cool switch, because the number is really important for how you approach telling this story. The first friend I tried this on gave me a prompt longer than the word count he gave me. It was as follows:

Prompt: The fictional city of Leshburg is controlled by three crime syndicates/mobs. Upon waking up on December 14th, each mob boss has developed schizophrenia overnight. This is the story of mafioso Don “The Collapser” Delucci. 25 Words.

Story:
His rivals slain via tommy gun,
The city had fallen, “The Collapser” had won.
He asked his voices, “Am I done?”
They responded: “Yeah sure.”

It’s almost more poem than story, but that’s just it. I obviously don’t need to worry about backstory or context because the person I’m writing it for is the one that gave it to me.

When I’m writing these stories, I try to throw in the additional rule that I need a punchline. I think that’s what really makes this challenge work. With such a short story, I needed the rhyming aspect because the punchline is the sudden subversion of the rhyme. Obviously, with more words you can set up something better and, arguably stronger.

But I’m honestly having a lot of fun with this. I’m enjoying asking people for a prompt and word count because I learn a little bit about them, and then I get to spend the next few hours thinking about a brand new story. I might start doing this as a birthday present of some sort, I don’t know. All I can say for sure is that it’s been a blast so far, and I’d highly recommend it for flash fiction writers that want to challenge themselves.

I’m going to try to do one of these a day, but I highly doubt I’ll post them on the blog. I think by nature the prompt and the subsequent story is a private interaction. It means more to the individual than I would to the world, so publishing them would dilute the value, and obviously reading a random prompt and story wouldn’t feel nearly as good as giving a prompt and reading a story written for you.

It saddens me a bit, though. If I were more confident in the viewership of this blog, I would ask for people to comment with prompts and word counts. If that happens enough, maybe I could even make a weekly post based on four or five micro-fiction prompts people commented the week before.

I don’t ask for comments a whole lot, but if this is something that interests you, feel free to leave a comment with a prompt and word count (up to 200 words), and I’ll write you a story. If I get more comments than I expect, then we’ll turn this into a real thing.