Tuesday, December 11, 2018

Life Update 2 // Upheaval and No Internet

I never got around to finishing my series of life updates before November rolled around, so this blog is going to maintain its status as update central for the next few posts, I think. Let’s take a quick break from writing to talk about life. (What am I saying? Writing is life.)

I guess the first thing I want to cover doesn’t come first chronologically, but it’s the easiest to talk about, and so I’ll lead with it. I moved. Not far—I’m still in Virginia. This has been my third move, and my third town, in as many years. Our original deal with our landlords was that we could rent their basement until their daughter decided to return home to live with them. Long story short, that’s what ended up happening, and they were able to give us sixty days to find a new apartment and move out. For some of you, sixty days may feel like a wealth of time, and we managed, but we were also supposed to be traveling for roughly two weeks of that, which made it more interesting.

We’ve been all moved into our new apartment for three months now. The downside to our new place is that we don’t have internet. My understanding is that our landlords have tried to get internet, but providers aren’t willing to come out and give service to this area. VA encounters issues like this, despite how wealthy this county is. Actually, in some ways, because of it, since when you’re rich you think you can afford to demand that there be no ugly eyesores like cell towers and at the same time ask yourself why you never have more than one bar of reception. So yeah, no internet, and while my sister and I have unlimited data on our phones, there are only a few spots in the apartment where we can access the LTE network. Eventually we will look into a booster, but that hasn’t been our priority.

The silver lining to this whole situation is that, while it’s not especially convenient to not have internet, and I’m not being rewarded a million dollars for my suffering as certain memes have hinted, my productivity has skyrocketed. I no longer have the option of sitting around on YouTube, unless I wanted to stand outside and enjoy the brisk, below freezing breeze. This has turned writing into a generally more appealing option.

We live in an expensive county, and while we were blessed with low rent two apartments in a row, our new place is significantly more expensive, so I’ve been picking up more hours at work. (We also pet sit for our landlords on the regular, which lowers the rent. Their dogs are adorable, too, so that’s a perk.)

This all leads me to my next update, which is a long time in coming, but for months I wasn’t ready to share, and I couldn’t give you all the details, even if I’d wanted to. I got a new job ten months ago. I work at a pie shop now, and I love it. Sure, I have to deal with rude, angry, thoughtless, indecisive, clueless people all day, intermingled with the regulars I’ve come to love. But I love my boss, my coworkers, the location. (It’s smack dab in the middle of town, houses squeezed together and businesses clustered like close friends, but there’s a field WITH COWS IN IT, like, RIGHT BESIDE THE ROAD. Businesses, houses, COWS, more buildings. *shakes head*) The work is physical and challenging, but even though I’m on my feet all day, lugging around heavy trays of pie, I don’t go home every night feeling like I have to crawl into bed. I don’t spend my days off trying not to have an anxiety attack at the creeping thought that it’s a matter of time before I will have to go back to work. Probably I will talk someday about what it’s like as an eating disorder survivor working at a pie shop, but today is not that day.

I needed to take another step in my personal growth, and getting a new job was that step. Phrasing it that way feels a little dishonest to me, because it implies that there was an abundance of agency on my part, and in retrospect I did make a life-changing decision and act of my own accord for my own good, but at the time I felt like I got backed into a corner. I was extremely unhappy in my old job. It had been getting worse, and I had been buying into the lie that another job, especially in a secular environment, would be just as bad. Things reached a breaking point when I finally decided to speak up about something that had been happening to me. The whole situation was really dark (to the point where I drove around, for several days, with a teddy bear in my passenger seat as moral support), but the bright spots were equally bright. Prime example: the day after I quit my job, where they were kind enough to let me leave without an official two weeks’ notice, and where they also gave me thirty days paid leave, I had my job interview at the shop, and I was able to start work the next week. I could have started sooner, if I had wanted to, but I needed time to collect myself.

Now I work more hours than I used to, at higher pay, and while I’m not rolling in wealth, I have a better shot at independence than I did before. Mostly I’m just happy to have more money for Starbucks.

I’ve had to gloss over a lot of details in this update, and I will have to skip a lot more before it’s done, because there are people I don’t want to hurt, and there are people who will be angry at me if I talk about what they did, are already angry at me for telling the truth in other venues. But if I’m going to tell you everything that’s been happening in my life, I am not going to skip over the most glaring section. You have the right to know, and I have the right to talk about it.

The bare bones is this, and maybe I’m saying too much, but I want to say something. I left my job because it turned toxic, and while that specific issue was resolved beautifully, and the person I had to forgive is a better friend than before, another issue popped up after that. And another. Because it wasn’t the job that was toxic, it was the people and the environment they created. These people were my friends; this was my church. I came to them for help when someone was leaving me afraid for my safety and well-being, and they punished me for it. They punished my sister for standing up for me and trying to clarify details that had been lost in the mix. They betrayed us in ways we should have expected and braced for, but didn’t because we thought too highly of them. I worked for almost three years to achieve a level of vulnerability and trust with my church friends that I now regret. I think it would take an actual miracle for me to go back to attending that church, and there are certain people that I never want to see again.

Someday, I think I want to talk about how Christians fail, because not enough people are having this discussion, or allowing it, and it benefits no one when we hide our ugly. Now I understand why people leave their churches, leave the community, leave the faith. This is not a hurt that is easily described or overcome. So if you are the praying type, I would appreciate your prayers. This happened five months ago, but I’m still living in the aftermath, and I’m going to be honest with you, I am having a very hard time forgiving these people. I have spoken to my therapist numerous times about how to do this, and I am trying.

I realize this update got dark pretty fast, and I apologize if it was too depressing for you. I appreciate you sticking with me. If you’re worried about me, please don’t be. I have my writing, and I have my job. I have a new house, and I have a few friends still left to my name. I will be okay. But I wanted to be honest with you about what’s been happening, and this is where I’m at.

What about you, coffee beans? What are some hard times you’ve been experiencing lately?

Friday, December 7, 2018

NaNoWriMo Shenanigans // Part Two

And now for part two of my NaNoWriMo update. If you're looking for part one, you can find it here

After finishing draft two of HIRAETH, I had plenty of NaNoWriMo stretching out before me and, in the spirit of the month, I wanted to churn out a ton more words. But I had a serious book writing hangover. I wanted to be working on HIRAETH. I wanted to be reading HIRAETH. I wanted to crawl inside it and let it seep into my blood. Other books felt dumb and boring in comparison. So I did what any rational person would do—I decided to tackle the project that has, every time I’ve touched it, given me the worst case of writer’s block ever. It’s name is BMT.

This book and I, we’ve known each other for four years. I spent a whole year daydreaming about it before we got together. We’re that couple that everyone gapes at and then asks themselves, “Why are they even together?” BMT has begun to feel like a running joke to me. Am I feeling bad about my writing? I can always pick up BMT and feel worse. Do I want to turn my brain into sad writer soup? I know where to turn.

It was almost NaNoWriMo suicide. Every day, I felt my gaze wandering from BMT to other projects, other words. I wanted to cheat on that book so bad. I did have a quick fling with a short story, but it was over in a day, and then I was back, staring at BMT’s ugly mug. Sometimes I think that my continued dedication to wrestling this book into submission is proof that I really do dislike myself.

I ended up editing a lot of what I had edited in 2016 and 2017, just running the story through my fingers, trying to get the threads, trying to figure out what went wrong, where it went wrong, where it always goes wrong. I drafted some stuff, too, in an effort to break from my normal chronological headspace and write out of order like I did when I was drafting HIRAETH in 2016. (To clarify, I wrote a full rough draft for BMT in 2015, but most of it is rancid garbage and so I am trying to start fresh.)

Eventually I had to rip off the bandage and look at the ugly, infected sore I’ve been dancing around for four years. I hate this book. I hate almost everything about it. Nothing works. The colors are wrong, the feel is wrong, everything is wrong, wrong, wrong, but there is just enough right, hidden beneath it all, that I have not been able to walk away, still don’t want to walk away. I wrote a super long list of all my problems with the story, everything that makes me want to stop writing and, instead, knit sweaters for snakes in the Arizona desert (you know, so they won’t get cold at night). Then I took that list of problems, and I brainstormed ways to address each issue. It seems obvious that I should have done this years ago, so maybe I lose some writer cred in saying I didn’t think to do it sooner, but I didn’t think to do it sooner.

Some of the issues were easy to address. For instance, I needed to establish clear rules within which my time travel world was going to operate. My story has been plagued with inconsistencies and plot holes spawned mainly by my inability to put up a fence around my playground. I’d waffled, writing one scene where time travel works one way, another where it works differently, and this zig zag running made it difficult to head in any set direction. It was starting to feel like that whole “sound and fury, signifying nothing” scenario. The quote feels especially apt, because most days I end up feeling like BMT is more than just a little melodramatic.

Here’s another fun confession. Lazy writers make ugly art, and I was making ugly art. I spent so much time avoiding scenes that I knew I needed to include, and it left my story flimsy and overwrought. I avoided those scenes because some subconscious part of my brain that I wasn’t willing to look at or address kept telling me they were too technically challenging to write, that I wasn’t the sort of writer who could write scenes like those, so there was no point in even trying, and the hilarious thing is that I think I spent so much more energy trying to write around those scenes, trying to write out of sinkholes I wrote myself into, than I would have if I’d just done the work. Lesson learned. Don’t be a lazy, fearful writer. Do the hard thing. It probably won’t kill you.

The topper on this sad wedding cake of a relationship is that I don’t like the characters. No, that’s not accurate. I don’t like the color beige; I don’t like the smell of lilacs. I hate the characters, every single one of them. I can’t expect any reader to love these characters if I don’t even want to look at them. I can’t write this story if I don’t want to spend time in its world. I’m still brainstorming solutions for this issue, because it’s extensive, and I may need to do some character transplants, if that’s a thing. But I’ve named the monster—I know what it looks like. Now all I have to do is cut off its head.

There are more issues, but I think everything else can be dealt with by plotting and planning and taking notes, and since I am no longer allergic to outlining, even though it isn’t what comes most naturally to me, I don’t expect that will be much of an obstacle.

As for what the story itself is about, I’m sure I’ve mentioned it before, but I’ll summarize it here: When Ember’s attempt to use black market time to save her boyfriend fails horribly, she kidnaps a time traveler and sets off to undo her mistake before time runs out.

Here, have two completely out of context snippets. Also, please note that Vince and Fred are stand in names until I think of something better.

She turns to Vince. “Tell me about the scanners.”

He glares at her.

Her hand rests on her gun, still tucked into her shoulder holster. “You know, the sooner we save Fred, the sooner I set you free and you can go to a hospital. I would get to work, if I were you.” As she says it, she sees the thought she has tried to hide from herself, only lets her mind touch it for a moment before wrenching it away, back to the task at hand. If she lets him go, he will tell her grandfather, and it will ruin everything. She does not think she will be able to let him walk away from this, even if she wants to.

“Tell me how we’re going to find him, then.” Ember tries to focus on the word he used, disintegration, how it sounds too much like decomposition. Until now, the solution has seemed fairly straightforward to her. Grab Fred from the time vortex, pull him out. She hasn’t considered that they might be working with a very small window in which saving him will matter.

“Finding him should be easy enough,” Vince says, and she has to focus on his words to understand them, her thoughts are so distant and scattered. “The scanners are always on, always tracking and recording activity in the vortex. So they will show when he entered and where he’s been since he did. We can extrapolate from there where he’s likely to end up next, and how long he’s likely to hold together. A lot of it will be guesswork, but we’ll have a starting point and a framework to go on.”

Ember nudges him aside and takes a seat at the desk. Almost without thinking, she traces her hand across the screen, feels the fuzz of static beneath her fingers. For an instant, as she watches the hundreds of blips, she feels as if she could will them all to safety, clear out the time vortex with nothing more than wishful thinking.

She doesn’t know why they are all there, but there are so many blips, more than she could have ever guessed. The longer she looks at them, the more they seem like bacteria on a slide, stained blue and viewed through a microscope. They move in imperfect circles, intersecting, bouncing off each other, every blip its own center of gravity, like they’re hitched onto one point in time, and they’re spinning around it in ever widening revolutions. It’s not as clean as that, but that’s how she prefers to look at it. Which one is Fred? She massages her temples, tries not to think about how good a strong cup of coffee would be right now.

She turns away from the scanner, her pulse a jackhammer in her throat. “Okay, so tell me which one he is.”

And that’s it for today, Coffee Beans. Have you ever spent a long time working on a project you don’t like? Have you ever conquered writing a story with characters you can’t stand? Teach me your ways.

Tuesday, December 4, 2018

NaNoWriMo Shenanigans // Part One

How did my NaNoWriMo go, you ask? Let me tell you, it went better than I thought. I realize that sounds anticlimactic, considering how disappointing last year was for me. If you’ll recall, my goal was to write anywhere between 50K and 100K words. I ended up with 121,121. Definitely not something to turn up your nose at. Compared to last year, when I felt like I was digging words out of my brain with a spoon, this NaNo was a cakewalk. Even in the best month, not every writing day is going to be amazing. Most days are just average. But this month was full of more amazing days than I think was my fair allotment.

I’m going to cover this NaNo update with two posts, because I worked on two major projects, and I have a lot to gush about. I also figure I’ll share a snippet or two per project, because I’m feeling magnanimous.

You might recall that, way back in November 2016, I drafted a story I have oft referred to as my Super Secret Novella Side Project (SSNSP). My plan had been to whip that thing into shape and share it on my blog, back when it was supposed to be, you know, a novella. Then I got sick, and it sat untouched for a long time. When I finally picked it up and started working on it again, it was only as (brace for it) a side project, something I pulled out when my main WIP was stalling. Somewhere along the line, I decided that while it would make a decent novella, I also wanted to expand on it and explore how it would play out as a novel.

I may have, from time to time, referred to SSNSP as GITM, though I can’t remember. Either way, GITM is a meaningless title, a stand in with little relevance to what the story has become, so feel free to forget it immediately. When I began drafting it in 2016, I’d wanted to write a story with a glitch in the matrix sort of feel, so that’s what I called it, but it very quickly veered off course to something I like a whole lot better. Right now, it still doesn’t have an official title, but I’m changing the stand in to HIRAETH, which is a great deal more applicable.

When I started work on it this November, it was a feeble, 20K word story, gap-toothed and malnourished. I already had a chunk of it edited, but my main challenge was to beef it up and give it a good, thorough scrubbing.

About halfway through the month, I finished the draft, which is a weird sort of draft 2 hybrid. Let me clarify. My first draft was 100,000 words or so of mayhem, in which I drafted the story multiple times, back to back and in no particular order, trying to get a handle on what I wanted to say. Then I went into an editing frenzy and hacked away at it, keeping only the scenes and, in most cases, paragraphs that I thought had potential. I had the gall to call it a second draft, but it was only an 8,000 word, semi-coherent, extra-detailed outline. That round included zero editing, only chopping, so it doesn’t deserve a draft number, in my opinion. Then I started adding to it and editing as I went, that being the process I finished this November. I’m choosing to call this completed draft a second draft, because that’s how it looks chronology-wise, but I’ve been told it’s very clean for a second draft, and it certainly feels that way.

Currently, it is still a feeble book-thing. It weighs 42,000 words soaking wet, which, translated into normal-people-speak, is not even 200 pages. I love it. I love it to pieces. I have already read it twice through, just for fun, and I don’t normally do that sort of thing, because it’s hard not to see flaws everywhere I look. This book has been the easiest, most painless piece of writing I have ever pulled from my brain box, and it’s a breath of fresh air on the heels of DRACONIAN.

I still need to feed it some protein powder to give it muscles, because it’s a scrappy little thing, and my goal has gone from being a nice person and sharing it on this blog, to seeking out traditional publishing. I’ll need to insert some scenes, at least 8,000 words worth, (which feels like coming full circle) and I have some anxieties about that, because the pacing feels tight, and I don’t want to throw off the balance I think I’ve achieved. But I also have to make the science in it accurate and sufficiently nerdy, and I’ve got some ideas. I’m ruminating. I already got one set of beta feedback, which made me cry happy tears.

Here’s a quick rundown on what it’s about, without giving too much information: The crew of the Hiraeth, the most advanced spaceship Earth has ever produced, is tasked with terraforming a planet lightyears from home, but soon the mission devolves into chaos as the ship begins to break down, and, one by one, people start to go mad.

I could gush about this thing forever, but I think I’ll end up turning into one of those moms who talks up their snot-nosed little Johnny so much everyone secretly hopes Lassie will push him into the well. So I’ll just leave you with this snippet.

Objectively, you know that there are six thousand windows on the Hiraeth. Until recently, you had not realized exactly how many windows that is. It is a staggering number. You can avoid them a great deal during the day, if you stick to the inner portions of the ship. Where they present the most trouble for you is when you are on the flight deck, which contains the largest window of them all, and when you walk to your quarters at night. For whatever reason, the ship’s designers thought the captain would want a view of the outdoors, and so they built your quarters on the outer ring. You must walk along a corridor of windows to reach your room, and once inside, you are faced with another. It is almost as if they thought you would want to look out at the stars.

Over the past couple nights, you have considered relocating your quarters, but for a long list of reasons—the first being convenience and the last being your desire to maintain an appearance of normalcy—you have decided not to do that yet.

With every window you pass on the stretch of corridor, like an endless house of mirrors, you feel eyes on you. It’s subtle. If you force yourself to focus on other things, you can even forget it for a while. But then, inevitably, you remember—you feel it again. It’s less a sense of being watched and more of being observed. Not like being seen, like being looked at. So there it stays, in the back of your mind, an adrenaline drip building up in your blood.

That’s it for today, Coffee Beans. If you participated in NaNoWriMo, what projects did you work on? What are you excited about (writing or otherwise)?

Thursday, October 25, 2018

Life Update #1 // November is Coming

How? How is it almost NaNoWriMo already? Of course, NaNoWriMo is awesome, and I can’t wait. But how so soon? TELL ME. I’m still having trouble realizing it’s only a few days away. I’m not prepared.

*takes deep breath* I am calm.

It occurs to me that I never updated you on my last NaNoWriMo and how it went. I mean that not in an “it just occurred to me” way, but more of a “this occurs to me on a regular basis and I have already drafted multiple posts as a result and then failed to publish them” way. Since work on my current main project is reaching a period of semi-burnout, which I would like to keep as brief as possible, I figure it’s time to take a break and tend to my sorely-neglected blog. There are so many posts and updates I want to finish and share with you. My Out of Coffee, Out of Mind drafts folder is starting to feel like a diary of sad dead ends.

Before we discuss this coming NaNoWriMo, let’s deal with the previous one, since that’s what’s been bugging me the most. Last I spoke with you on the subject, I had plans to write a ton of words, albeit not as many as I have in NaNoWriMos past. In case you didn’t notice, I didn’t succeed. Or rather, I hit 50,000 words, so in all respects, I did win NaNoWriMo. *throws confetti* I don’t mean that in a disparaging way. I am not trying to be down on myself for the number of words I wrote. There is nothing wrong with 50K, and those who write only 50K are still winners in every respect. But for me, it was a sad achievement because I have done better in the past. I was used to overachieving, I enjoyed it, and I had looked forward to doing it again.

Last November was hard. It was sandwiched between difficult months. On one end, I was struggling with the leftover brain fog from my last bout with an eating disorder, and on the other hand, I was fighting another relapse. Almost as soon as November began, I realized that I was too close to a complete mental burnout to try anything more than the minimum needed to win. In comparison with what I have done before, it felt like I barely participated. When I saw all my fellow overachievers from years past going pedal to the metal, I’ll admit, I did cry a little. I had been part of something that meant a great deal to me, and I had lost that, even if it was only temporary. There was this huge gap between what I wanted to create and what I was able to create. The muse just wasn’t there; my vocabulary felt stunted, my attention span limited. It was like a bruise that I didn’t want to poke. So that month, taking care of myself meant taking a step back and only writing what I needed to keep up my winner’s streak.

That’s not to say I didn’t love what I was writing. Over the course of the month, I fleshed out several ideas, drafted a bunch of blog posts, wrote some poetry, and ultimately, did whatever I could to get the creative juices flowing. I didn’t finish a novel, or even come close. That would have been asking too much of my brain, especially given the story ideas I had chosen. My biggest triumph that month, aside from choosing to take care of myself, was drafting the beginnings of a story that, while emotionally difficult to write, felt more rewarding and more promising than anything I had worked on in a while. Funny thing is, it came to me while I was watching a video on poisonous mushrooms, and it came all at once, in a deafening rush. Even though I have yet to tack down the nitty gritty details, I have all the bones of the thing—I found its skeleton, hidden in the back of my mind, complete and tangible. Actually writing it was surprisingly difficult, given the existing framework, like moving sand with tweezers, but it was difficult in a “I am trying to paint what I am seeing and I am trying to paint it well” way, and less of a “I don’t know what to paint” way. I picked it up yesterday, fleshed out more ideas, got excited and bought a writing journal for it. Every time I touch it, I get an electrical shock.

As for what I’ll be doing this November, I’m not sure. Naturally, I know that I’ll try for at least 50,000 words. Over the course of the last month or so, I have developed a routine where I try to read for an hour each day at a coffee shop. During November, and the days leading up to it, I plan to turn that reading time into additional writing time. Since I’m working forty hours a week now, I don’t know if I will have as much time to overachieve as I have had in the past, and I don’t know if it would be healthy for me to try just yet. This has been a hard year. So I don’t know if I’m going to attempt more than 100,000 words.

With regards to what I’m going to write, I don’t know. I have several options. I might cheat this NaNoWriMo and edit an existing project instead of drafting a new one—I have several novels I’m trying to polish, and I’m not excited about setting them aside completely for a whole month, although it might be good for me to take a vacation from them. I could also pull out my trunked novel and, for nostalgia’s sake, give it a complete revamp. Last November’s promising story is still begging to be finished, so that’s a possibility. There’s another novel I really want to work on as well, one that’s begging for a complete fresh start, beginning with a new rough draft. Those are my options, I think. I have so many balls in the air already, I don’t want to add any more just yet.

But I doubt I will know for sure until November first.