Thursday, November 30, 2006

Bootcamp Progress

I thought I'd post an update on how things are going so far (and thereby jinx any further progress).

The plan of doing timed writing AND untimed writing every night was a little ambitious. Apparently. What I've been managing to do every night is the timed freewriting. Because it's so very non-threatening. I know that all I have to do is sit down for x number of minutes and whatever verbiage I spew out in that amount of time is fine. No pressure to have pretty sentences or plots that make sense or any other traits of good writing. Just sit and spew, and when the timer goes off, I can call it a day. That I usually end up writing beyond the timed limits is a bonus.

I did a week of setting the timer for twenty minutes. I didn't have any prompts to start with, and I ended up spending four nights writing the continuation of a single "story." And while words were coming out, and I was having fun writing, there was a very meandering, stalling quality to the story. Lots of time-filling waste of prose. I had the feeling that I could keep it up indefinitely and end up with the world's longest plotless novel. (There are a lot of contenders for that title, though; some of them award-winning.)

Feeling vaguely dissatisfied, I did a look around for articles and books with freewriting exercises, and came across this book called Fast Fiction. I'd seen the book on Amazon before but never felt compelled to look into it further. The basic concept (as gleaned from Amazon reviews and elsewhere) is to set the timer for five minutes and then to write a complete story in that time. The key point that I was missing earlier, though, is to have a writing prompt before you start and the intention to wrap up the story in five minutes. I'm sure there are other tidbits I'm missing, but since I still haven't bought the book, I will continue to miss them. Holly Lisle's workshop on timed writing also recommends having a topic.

I should mention that I've always been very resistant to the idea of doing writing exercises, the thought being that by doing exercises I was taking time and energy away from doing my "real" writing. Since I wasn't doing my "real" writing however, I finally figured that I should at least be doing practice writing. (David Gerrold's Worlds of Wonder is my favorite writing book because of a one-page chapter about how, until you've written one million words, it's all just practice. You practice writing short stories and novels, practice sending them out, practice getting them published, and hell, practice accepting awards if it comes to that. But until you've reached that million word mark, practice is all it is. I wanted to have that page enlarged to hang on my wall, but since my copy of the book is now lost forever, I don't think that will ever happen. Would make a lovely Christmas gift from someone though...)

I've done a week of "five-minute" timed writings now with random topic prompts. What I've found is that I still end up writing for about twenty minutes--I can't seem to wrap up a story in less time. The timer goes off and I still keep writing. I'm averaging about 700 words a day, which isn't bad considering I am only writing for twenty minutes. The prompted writing has produced what I consider to be interesting sketches for stories. They'd need to be thought out a bit more and revised (another new concept that the Muse will be learning at some point soon), but I expect that the revisions will be somewhat less painful than they had been, since a.) I have a more-or-less complete story arc that I know in advance, and thus, an outline [my apologies for mentioning the dreaded "O" word--the afrighted know who they are], and b.) I haven't invested a lot of blood and tears into the drafts so far. Fewer darlings to kill.

So, I'm happy with things thus far. One of the main things I've gotten out of this exercise is dispensing with this notion I'd somehow acquired that each story awaits in its perfect form out in the ether and the writer's job, like Michelangelo's idea of releasing a sculpture from stone, was to somehow capture that story. I don't know that I'd consciously thought of stories like that, but I was aware of judging whether aspects of the story were "right" or not. Is that the right structure for this story, the right tone, the right theme? The timed writings, where I'm making things up as I go, has reaffirmed writing as an act of creation. I'm not simply the means of transmitting a story, some sort of messenger for the story muse, whose job is to deliver the message correctly, but the person in charge of how the story goes. Instead of discovering the proper form for the story, I'm deciding it. I don't worry about what the story wants to be, only about choosing what to write. It's good not to be worrying about writing something "right," especially for a born perfectionist.

The second thing I've gotten out of this is that I'm having fun writing again. I've relearned how much I love making up stories and writing them down. And that, of course, is the most important lesson of all.

Do I have a new story yet? Well, no. This is a very one step forward, two steps back approach. I'm basically reinventing my whole writing process. One thing at a time.

Saturday, November 25, 2006

What's This?

Walking to the store today, with icy white things whipping down from the sky, I felt like Jack Skellington:
What's this? What's this?
There's color everywhere
What's this?
There's white things in the air
What's this?
I can't believe my eyes
I must be dreaming...

If I remember correctly, the white stuff is called "snow." I seem to recall it from my childhood, when we would pray for "snow days" so school would be cancelled. In L.A. a "snow day" is when they bring a truck filled with snow to the school and dump it on the playground for the kids to play in.

Update: The day after. Still snowing. When we moved up here, they told us it doesn't snow in Vancouver. Liars.


The word of the week here is turbid:
not clear or transparent because of stirred-up sediment or the like; clouded; opaque; obscured: the turbid waters near the waterfall.
2.thick or dense, as smoke or clouds.
3.confused; muddled; disturbed.

The word, while also describing my current state of mind re: writing, is relevant this week because for the past eight days Vancouver has been under a boil-water advisory due to high levels of turbidity in the reservoir waters. The heavy rains last week caused mudslides that dirtied up the reservoirs, turning the tap water here a nice yellowish brown. (This was best illustrated by the water in the toilet, which perpetually looked like it needed to be flushed. I was going to take a picture, but good taste prevailed. Or possibly I just didn't get to it while the waters were particularly bad.)

Because of fears of bacteria contamination in the water, they issued the boil-water advisory. So, for the past week, no using tap water for drinking, brushing teeth, or washing fruits and veggies. The water all has to be boiled or bottled. Which reminds me of living in China last year, except that at least everyone there knew that the water was unsafe and had big bottles of water delivered to the apartment.

The water looks better now, only faintly brown. But they aren't going to make any decisions about the advisory until after the weekend, so it's off to the store to get more bottled water.

And then I'll try and clear up my mental turbidity about this story that won't decide what it wants to be.

Thursday, November 23, 2006

For aspiring auteurs...

I recently found out about a reality TV show/competition for wannabe directors being produced by Steven Spielberg and Mark Burnett. It's called "On the Lot". The show will follow the usual format: 16 contestants, weekly challenges, eliminations, etc. The winner gets a million dollar development deal with Dreamworks.

The website has the five-minute application films that people have submitted so far. (There's still time to submit a film--deadline's February 16, 2007!) I haven't watched any of them yet, but I'm supposing there's some decent little films.

I showed the site to Brad since his dream is to direct movies (as mandated by L.A. County law), but I don't know if he's going to enter something or not.

I'm a little surprised that it's taken this long for them to get around to a show featuring directors--it seems like a more natural fit for TV than following, say, wannabe business tycoons.

Tuesday, November 21, 2006

Everything's Been Done Before

I recommended David Gerrold's SF writing book to Ben the other day, and while browsing through Gerrold's Wikipedia entry, I discovered this:

"After Heinlein's death, Ginny Heinlein gave up her California home, and Gerrold adopted Heinlein's cat, Pixel."
What? My cat's named Pixel, too. A little more searching revealed that Heinlein apparently had a cat named Pixel in The Cat Who Walks Through Walls. The same cat also makes an appearance in To Sail Beyond the Sunset. Neither of which I've ever read.

My cat Pixel was a little upset to hear that he didn't have an original name, and more upset by the fact that his name had been used by Heinlein, of all people. He's not such a big fan of Heinlein's books.

Oh well. At least this explains how Pixel can magically appear in a room half a second after I've thoroughly looked there for him.

Saturday, November 18, 2006

Mt. Shasta

I took this picture while we were driving up to Vancouver last week. Lots of beautiful scenery in northern California.

Tuesday, November 14, 2006

Muse Bootcamp

Enough of that airy-fairy, "write when you're ready" nonsense. I've coddled my Muse for too long now, and what has she done for me lately? Nada. She flits by with an idea every few days or so, but does she stick around for the hard slog? Decidedly not.

Awed once more by the Gord Almighty and his prodigious output, I've had another hard stare at this thing that's shaping up into something suspiciously akin to writer's block. And here's the problem, I think: my brain's gotten into some bad habits. Laziness, for one. But also, the inability to stay focused and immersed in the fictive dream.

I had an idea for a quick, little piece I was going to jot out after coming back from Austin. Quick and little--key words there. Now, I am going to give myself some leeway since I was moving and starting a new job and all that. But when I finally did sit down to write this past weekend, I got all of 200 words in (painfully and slowly at that) and that was it. Brain shut down. Muse in retreat. I'd write a sentence, maybe two, and then my mind would wander away, like an Alzheimer's patient with ADD. Story? What story? Oh...that story. Right. Where was I? type type typ--Oooh, what's that over there?

So that's it. No more pandering to the whims of Inspiration and Mood and prissy notions about Art. I'm setting up a schedule for crap manufacturing and this is how it goes:

1. Timed freewriting--twenty minutes to start. I'll gradually up this to an hour over the course of the next few months. "Freewriting" is probably the wrong word, since I have to be writing a story, no journalling or free association. This is to retrain myself to keep writing and stay in the flow. Because if I stop to think about the right word or the next logical action, it gives the brain a chance to stall out, get distracted. Not that thinking about those things is bad, which is why there is also exercise number two.

2. Daily word count goals--I used to do this. I had a big desk calendar with a little checkbox on each date. I'd color in the box with pink highlighter when I'd completed my 1000 words for that day and I'd write the day's tally beside it. I stopped doing it when we moved to China because my calendar wouldn't fit in my suitcase, but that was okay because the habit was set enough that I could do without my checkboxes. That no longer seems to be the case. I'm lowering the bar to 500 words a day to start. (Since I'll already do about 500 words in my twenty minutes of freewriting, it works out to 1000 a day anyway.) The word count must be added to whatever new story I'm currently working on--I don't have any revisions planned for a couple of months anyway; it's useless to even think about them until I can get this whole writing discipline thing under control again. Once I can use my daily word count goals to actually complete drafts of things, then I can think about revisions.

The observant reader will note that the emphasis here is on quantity and speed rather than quality. I'm not really concerned about that. My Muse is obsessed enough about quality that I trust that after I churn out enough crap, she'll get exasperated and try to wield her influence to make it something decent, scheduled rigidity or no. (How much crap it's going to take, I don't know. Could be a few weeks' worths. Could be more.) But until then, quality control is out the window. If I don't have any stories to send out for a few months, so be it. As long as writing is getting done. The current system isn't producing anything publishable either--since it's not, in fact, producing anything at all.

Sigh. Nothing like having a day job to kick you into seriousness about writing.

Wednesday, November 08, 2006

Existence Update

Pulse? Check.

Brain activity? None.

Status: probably not dead. Although I feel like I was and have been reanimated as a zombie. (Luckily, I have not had any cravings for the taste of brains. Yet. And if I did die, I missed my dramatic exit scene, so I hope someone caught it on tape.)

World Fantasy and relocation updates forthcoming upon resumption of thought processes.

Wednesday, November 01, 2006

My Life: The Soundtrack

I'm supposed to be packing so I can be ready for my 5am SuperShuttle pick-up and possibly sneak a couple hours of sleep before then so I won't be a complete zombie when I get to Austin (I am, after all, going to the World Fantasy Convention, not World Horror). Which makes this the perfect time to try out this meme I saw on Nick Mamatas' LJ a few weeks ago for creating the soundtrack to your life's movie. I figured I'd do it now and save the film editors some work.

The rules:
1. Open your library (iTunes, Winamp, Media Player, iPod, etc)
2. Put it on shuffle
3. Press play
4. For every question, type the song that's playing
5. When you go to a new question, press the next button
6. Don't lie and try to pretend you're cool...

Opening Credits:
Gold--Lamb (Huh. Didn't even remember I downloaded this album. Anyway, at least the movie gets off to a rollicking start.)

Waking Up:
Happy?--Judy & Mary (J-pop. Whee!)

First Day of School:
It's My Life--No Doubt

Falling in Love:
Harmony in Balance--Nawang Khechog

Fight Song:
City of Delusion--Muse

Breaking Up:
Water Shows the Hidden Heart--Enya

Strange Liberation--Jeff Beal and Nawang Khechog (Apparently this is a prom/meditation retreat.)

Life is Good:
Stay With Me--The Mission UK

Mental Breakdown:
Cupid's Dead--Extreme

So Like A Rose--Garbage

Feel the Same Way--Saigon Kick ("Feel the same way, for the rest of my life...")

Getting Back Together:
Polaroid Girl--Massive Attack

Stand Up--Trapt (!!)

Paying the Dues:
Last Dance--Sarah McLachlan (It's hard to know what the hidden meaning is when the song's instrumental. However, since paying one's dues is a process of slow and dreary slogging, this works.)

The Night Before the War:
Wasteland--The Mission UK (Appropriate.)

Final Battle:
Bleeder--Nothingface (Album Title: Violence)

Moment of Triumph:
Thank You--Alanis Morissette (A bittersweet triumph, I suppose. "Thank you disillusionment.")

Death Scene:
Starfuckers, Inc.--NIN (Apparently Hollywood is going to be my downfall.)

Funeral Song:
Song for Love--Extreme ("My love just died...")

End Credits:
Phoenix--The Cult (Nice. Setting up the sequel.)

Right. Well, thank God none of my really embarrassing stuff was on that list. And I don't know how random my mp3 player is since three artists showed up twice and yet dozens of other artists made no appearance whatsoever. Weird.

Okay, I guess I do need to pack now. Yay! Texas, here I come!