Writing in 2014

I haven’t published any fiction this year, but I did finish the zeroth draft of a novel.

I hesitated to claim this milestone, holding out for a proper first draft that I can share with a few select first-readers. But the end of the year has arrived and my novel remains (as it has been for several months now) this close to being a first draft. Still—a zeroth draft is something.

We moved. Granting that moving is not writing, and acknowledging that this post is where I review my writing in 2014, I’m still going to mention the fact, because moving takes so much time and effort. And we didn’t just move once. We moved three times: To our summer place, then to our winter palace, and finally to Winfield Village. Because of that, I totally gave myself a pass on productivity for the summer and fall.

However, I officially revoked that pass as of the solstice. I really, really want to get the novel out for people to read, and the only way to do that is to work on it every day. To that end, I’m back to working on it daily—and did in fact work on it every day for the last 10, except that I gave myself Christmas Day off (hat-tip to ol’ Ebenezer).

I’m actually quite confident that I’ll get the novel done (that is, in a proper first-draft state) in fairly short order. Confident enough that I’ve started to do trivial stuff, such as tweaking the formatting. (I’m assuming that most of my first-readers will want an ebook, rather than paper, so I’m fiddling with Scrivener’s ebook generation parameters. When I finish, I want to be able to generate a book right away, and not have to spend three days on ebook configuration to get what I want.)

I did a few other small bits of fiction writing. In particular, I wrote a very short story in Esperanto and submitted it to the UEA Belarta Konkurso. It didn’t win a prize, so I should follow up by submitting it to some Esperanto literary magazine, but I haven’t done that yet.

I wrote a lot less for Wise Bread than I have in past years, but they did publish 6 of my articles:

Very late in the year, that last article got featured on Business Insider as The Simplest Way to Live Simply and Cheaply.

Hey! I wrote a novel!

It kind of snuck up on me. I hadn’t realized how close I was to being done with an entire draft.

After a couple of awkward starts, things had been going along pretty well until about spring. That’s when I started drawing more directly from the text of the short story that had been the basis of the novel, pulling the scenes from the short story and slotting them into the right spot in the climax of the novel. Except that process went very badly. They didn’t fit well. The tone was wrong. The characters had drifted. I kept finding small off-hand remarks to set up some thing or another, and realizing that in a novel there should instead be a whole earlier chapter to set that thing up. I kept finding that once I’d written those scenes, there was nothing left of this scene. It was such a struggle, I became discouraged. Progress ground almost to a halt.

A couple of times I got back to it, grabbed a scene, and reworked it—deleted the one-line remark and added the earlier chapter, reworked the interactions so that the characters were true to how they’d developed in the novel up to there, added full-blown scenes where the short story version had just had a brief reference that the hero had done something. But I found all that work hard and not much fun, so I kept not doing it.

Since moving to the summer place, I’ve been trying to reestablish a habit of daily writing, figuring that it should be as easy right now as it will ever be.

Today is my birthday, which I took advantage of by choosing to set my schedule exactly as I wanted—I got up, did a little social media stuff, had breakfast, read a little, then sat down to do some writing. I spent a good long while on one scene, because it had a lot of compressed action that needed to be more fully worked out in a novel-length work. Then the next scene went very quickly, because it was short, and then the next scene went quickly, because it was just about right in terms of tone and character. And then I realized that it was the last scene! I had finished my novel!

There’s a whole lot left to do, of course.

Although I tried to get the set-up stuff inserted as I went along, a lot of it is missing, or only present in vestigial form. I have to fix all that.

Probably a bigger deal, there were many little clever bits that might have set up something neat, but didn’t, and many short turns down side roads that seemed cool, but that didn’t end up leading anywhere. I need to locate each of those and think about whether it does lead somewhere—and then make sure that the “somewhere” it leads to is actually in the text and not just in my imagination. The others, of course, need to be ruthless pared away.

Most important, in the writing of the book I’ve finally figured out what it’s about. That too needs to end up in the text, and not just in my head. In particular, there’s a lot of economic and political stuff that kept showing up in my brain to be stuffed in the book, but didn’t all show up at the right points, so ended up getting stuffed willy-nilly into whatever corner happened to have a bit of space in it at the moment. Those bits need to be pulled out and carefully tucked into the right corner, now that I can see the whole thing and can figure out where they really go.

So, a lot of work to do—but it will be a lot of work on a novel! A novel that exists! A novel that I have written!

Another attempt at a daily schedule

One reason I haven’t been more productive these past two years is that I’ve let my fitness activities consume the morning hours that are my prime writing time. I know that, and I want to free that time up for writing, but I’m loath to give up my taiji, because of the way it has been almost miraculous in changing my body for the better.

Five years ago I was starting to feel old. I could still do all the ordinary stuff I needed to do every day, but my spare capacity was shrinking. My balance and flexibility and strength and endurance were all less than they had been—and only just barely good enough. Any unusual stress, such as carrying something heavy up or down stairs, or moving across rough or shifting terrain, seemed dangerous. I had trouble getting a full night’s sleep, because my back would ache after lying still for a few hours.

Taiji (together with lifting) turned that completely around. I feel better than I’ve felt in years. I really don’t want to give that up.

The problem is, I’ve been devoting a huge chunk of each morning to the lifting and the taiji class, and morning is by far my most productive time to write.

Fortunately, I think I’ve figured out a way to deal with that. The key—and I’ve known this for a long time—is to start my writing first. Once I’ve had a solid writing session, taking a break for some exercise is perfect. After that, I can get back to writing. (Whereas I’ve found it very hard to start writing after a long morning of exercise.)

The way we’d been doing it, we’d do our lifting before taiji. We briefly experimented with doing the lifting after taiji, but I found that hurt my knees. (My theory is that the taiji tired out the small muscles that stabilize my knees, making them just a little too wobbly for heavy lifting.) This has been great for actually doing the lifting, but has meant an awfully early start to the day—too early to fit in writing first.

So, during the last week of December and the first two weeks of January, while the taiji class is on break, I’m experimenting with a new daily routine. I’m still tweaking it, but as currently sketched out, it looks like this:

  • At 7:00, right after breakfast, I sit down to write fiction, and work for 90 minutes.
  • At 8:30 I take a break and spend the hour from 9:00 to 10:00 engaging in some fitness activity: lifting or taiji. (Once the class resumes, I’ll do the class on days that it meets, and lift on the other days.)
  • Back home by 10:30, I write fiction for another 90 minutes, then break for lunch at noon.
  • After lunch I get back outside and walk again. Lately I’ve been using this time to play Ingress, but in the summer I may just walk, go for a run, or whatever.
  • In the mid-to-late afternoon, I may do a bit more work on some writing-related activity: Writing non-fiction (such as a Wise Bread post), revising stories, submitting stuff to editors, critiquing work for the Incognitos, etc.

I’m trying to be a bit more careful about social media, because of how easy it is to fritter away a whole morning reading stuff my friends have found interesting, without abandoning it. Right now I’m checking social media briefly before breakfast, then staying away from it until after lunch, then pretty much allowing unlimited checking in the afternoons.

I’ve been doing this for more than a week now (with the modification that on Saturday and Sunday I just do one fiction-writing session, rather than two). It’s going great so far—I’ve gotten several thousand words written on my novel.

I’ll keep you posted.

[The core of this post was originally written as part of my year-end summary of my writing. However, not being about my writing in 2013, it didn’t belong there, so I’ve pulled it out and made it a post of its own.]

Clarion 2001 poster

clarion-2001-poster-framedAll the writers who taught at my Clarion did readings at the Archives Book Shop, a local bookstore in East Lansing. To advertise the readings, the Clarion office folks printed up a poster with the names and dates. And, as one of our little perks, we each got a copy signed by all the writers (and by our special guest editor).

I’ve had this poster for more than 10 years now. I always meant to get it framed so I could hang it up, but it was one of many things that I kept not getting around to. But for some reason, this past week it suddenly seemed to be the thing to get around to next, so I did. I measured the poster, went to a local shop that sells ready-made frames in standard sizes, and picked up a frame the right size. It was just what I wanted (simple, black, wood frame), but instead of a proper hanging wire, had some crappy metal bracket for hanging the picture, so I also had to buy a kit with some screw eyes and picture hanging wire, but that was cheap.

It still took a couple of days to get it all put together—picture in frame, screw eyes in frame, wire strung between screw eyes—but now it’s done.

I’m pretty pleased. Maybe having it up will help inspire me to keep at my fiction.

Click through for a picture big enough to read all the details.

Writing in 2013

I’m kind of disappointed with my writing in 2013. I wrote less this year than any year since I quit working a regular job.

I don’t have any new fictions sales. Worse, I don’t even have any stories out, which is just dumb, because I’ve got some new stories that have not yet made the rounds.

I was less productive at my non-fiction writing as well, only writing 15 articles for Wise Bread. (Actually, I’ve written two more that have been turned in to Wise Bread, and that I assume will be published in due course.)

There are bright spots. I’ve got a novel-in-progess that continues to appeal. (Unlike previous novel attempts that fell apart after ten or twenty thousand words.) In the first half of the year, I completed two short stories (plus one in Esperanto). As the year drew to a close, I was back at work on my novel, writing every morning. It feels good. (I’ve started a new post about my new writing schedule, that I’ll post once I have a bit more experience with how it’s going.)

Here’s the list of Wise Bread posts for this year. I’m pretty pleased with all of these, even though there aren’t as many as I’d like. (Can you spot where the Wise Bread editors started rewriting all my headlines?)

 

Published haiku poet

I don’t really think of myself as a poet—the menu on my site, which includes categories for my fiction and my nonfiction, doesn’t even have a category for poetry. However, for many years now, I’ve been writing haiku in Esperanto.

It started specifically because of Esperanto. As a beginner with the language, I wanted something tractable. A haiku was small enough that, even if I had to look up every other word, I could put it together and keep it in my head long enough to compose and finish something.

It was also a shared activity with my brother, who was learning Esperanto as well, and similarly found haiku to be appropriately sized. Our haiku were often rather silly observations on the quotidian details of workaday life, and even more often shared jokes—puns based on elaborated misunderstandings of one another’s haiku, and the like.

A few years ago, Steve started taking his haiku more seriously. He read about the Japanese tradition of haiku. He started focusing on writing better haiku. He wrote a lot, and he shared them with other people who cared about haiku. He didn’t quit writing funny, trivial haiku, but he wrote more serious haiku. Haiku that tried to capture something universal through a keenly observed moment. Haiku that used the tools of the Japanese tradition to express something.

I found myself rather left behind. He encouraged me to make a similar study—he even lent me some books—but I didn’t find myself moved to deepen my understanding of haiku.

A few things happened since then. One was simply being more and more impressed with Steve’s haiku—feeling ever more keenly how left behind I was. Another was the publication, by a Japanese Esperantist we met on-line, of a book Kiel verki hajkojn en Esperanto (How to write haiku in Esperanto), which condensed a lot of the stuff Steve had been talking about and applied it specifically to Esperanto. Most recently, a local haiku poet (who also happens to be past president of the Haiku Society of America, former editor of Modern Haiku magazine, and current editor of the Modern Haiku Press) started a haiku study group that meets at the Champaign Public Library.

Participating in the study group, I took one of those little leaps that anyone who works in a creative endeavor takes from time to time. My haiku are perceptibly better.

And so I now have a published haiku. The same Lee Gurga who leads the study group also edits a weekly haiku feature in the News-Gazette, the local paper. He selected one of my haiku for today’s column. He elided the Esperanto original, so I thought I’d share that here:

Glataj folioj.
Senresta en mallumo…
kota genuo

Oh, and I should mention, this isn’t my first ever published haiku. One of my haiku was used as an example in Kiel verki hajkojn en Esperanto. Oh, and I’ve three times traded my haiku for earrings at the Haiku Earring Parties at WisCon.

Finished the demon story

For the first time in far too long I finished a draft of a story and sent it out to the Incognitos and a couple other first readers.

The working title of this story is “the demon story” and it is special in that it is by far the oldest story still in my “active” folder. It has its roots in the very first story that I started working on when I started seriously trying to write fiction for the pro markets, back in the 1990s. I have versions of this story dating back to 1995.

It’s also unusual in that it’s the only story that I’ve finished a draft of and then neither submitted nor abandoned.

The usual advice—almost universal advice—is that you not endlessly rewrite the same story. You’re almost always ahead of the game to simply write the best story you can, finish it, start submitting it, and then go on to something new. At some point, if you can’t produce a submittable draft, your time is almost certainly better spent working on a story that you can finish.

For this story, I’ve made an exception. I like it too much to submit a version that doesn’t work.

However, I’m done with it for now. Hopefully, the critiques will tell me that it’s nearly working, and give me a few tips for improving it. If so, it’ll go out to editors very soon.

Writing in 2012

I didn’t sell any new stories in 2012, but I did have two reprint sales:

I’m a bit dissatisfied with my productivity of new fiction—I scarcely finished a story all year, although I worked on several, as well as on a novel. I will apply myself to both with renewed vigor in this new year. (The novel, in particular, although forward progress stalled out some months ago, is still attractive. That’s different from previous novel efforts, where I discovered structural problems that made them seem too flawed to be worth continuing.)

One member of the Incognitos moved away this year. That, together with the fact that none of us was quite as productive as in years past, has meant fewer meetings, especially in the second half of 2012. However, we’ve recently been in touch to work out plans for including the absent member via Skype, so we’re all set once we start getting stories finished again.

On the non-fiction front I did about as well as last year.

I had a guest post at Asta Lander’s Simply Living blog called Choosing Freedom, about the tradeoff of freedom for a high standard of living.

I was interviewed about my thoughts on personal finance and frugal living for both a podcast and a radio program, specifically:

One of my old Wise Bread posts was featured on the Soldierette blog.

I wrote 27 articles for Wise Bread. I’ve bolded a few where I thought I managed to say just what I was trying to say:

Interviewed on Navigating Your Money

Mike Tierney of the Navigating Your Money podcast interviewed me last week and has already put the show up. Listen to me natter on about frugal living here:

Episode #19: Live Like You Have More, On Less

I haven’t actually listened to it. I find the idea of doing so fills me with dread. (I’ve heard other people say similar things, but am a little surprised to find myself so strongly affected.)

Wise Bread’s Will Chen has assured me that I sound reasonably articulate:

I especially like the part where you explained that a budget is not a limit but rather a tool for showing you what you CAN have. The part about sharing tools is also a really awesome part. You did great, but the host is also really good. He clearly has read through your material and gets your philosophy.

So there you have it. If you’re interested in what I’ve been saying, but you want to hear it in my voice rather than reading it on the screen, here’s your chance.