It is upon us!  National Novel Writing Month has come again.  Am I participating?  Yes!  Am I going to make the fifty thousand words?  Probably not!  I’ve done it before, more than once, but I’ve also failed more than once, too.  It’s just a question of my focus, and, if I’m honest about it, my focus right now isn’t very good.  I’m in a slump, I think I mentioned that in a recent post.  That certainly isn’t going to help.  I also have a lot going on in writing projects that don’t count towards nanowrimo.

I’ve got a cookbook I’m working on.  It’s a humorous little creation that needs to be tweaked a bit, then edited, then handed off to someone who knows a bit more than I do about cooking, then tweaked again… eventually, though, it’s going to be quite hilarious.  I hope.  I’ve also got book three of the ghoul series that I’m working on, and, I hope, I’ll be able to start promoting book 2 and the print version of book 1.  Soon.  I hope.  God, I really need them to put that stupid book in print.

Anyway, the point is, it’s going to be a rough year for nanowrimo.  But that’s actually a good thing.  The purpose of nanowrimo is to get writers to push themselves, and one way or another I will definitely be pushing.  I just have to pick a project.  I’m thinking about doing a YA story that I’m planning to release under a different name.  My actual name, in fact.

Part of the reason that I have this nom de plume is because I write in several different styles, and it feels like a bad idea to write my adult oriented works and my YA stuff under the same name.

Well, for those of you out there who enjoy writing, Nanowrimo is an exciting experience and I suggest you look into it.  It’s more than just a goal of fifty thousand words in a month, it’s an opportunity to bond with other writers, and participate in a group tradition in a field that is, traditionally, an individual activity.


So, I’ve been thinking recently about regrets.  specifically about my regrets.  I’ve got more than a few, some are because of things I actually did wrong, others are because of my anxiety which makes me mull over things again and again and again until they drive me crazy.

But sometimes I like to think back and ask myself which ones I really wish I could undo.

So, here it is, one of the big moments I regret.

I was walking through a big lots and I grabbed this outdoor rooster sculpture thing.  It was for my grandmother, she collected stuff like that.  Anyway, I was walking around and I turned a corner and this girl, about my age looked up and saw me holding the sculpture.  Almost immediately she started giggling.

I knew what I had to do, but I couldn’t bring myself to do it.  To this day I regret not telling her, ‘if you think this one is big…’

False Dichotomies

So, I’m becoming both increasingly horrified, and increasingly fascinated by false dichotomies.  A large part of it is the coming election.  Any time there’s an election it seems like the first thing on the agenda is deciding what we’re debating and the two sides that we have to choose between.

One of my favorites is gun control.  Dear god, what a vague term.  Gun control.  It’s like ‘car safety.’  You’ve got people standing on one side saying, ‘No, we won’t you put control chips in our cars that limit them to five miles an hour,’ and people on the other side saying ‘Seatbelts should be required in all vehicles!’

I’ve gotten in debates before with people only to find out a few minutes in that we pretty much agreed on what should be done, but I was putting the emphasis on what steps should not be taken, and they were putting the emphasis on what steps should be taken.

The absurd thing, though, is that when the election comes we won’t be choosing between a range of ideas, there will be two concepts set in stone that we pick between.  Damned if you do, and damned if you don’t.

There’s a part of me that wants to start working on a farce based on the dichotomies in politics, and there’s another part of me that feels like I’m living it.  Sometimes I think that the most unrealistic stuff in science fiction isn’t the technology or the weird aliens or the strange mental powers or the inevitable sexual hijinks between species that should not be sexually compatible (come on, star trek, seriously?  Everybody’s bits and pieces match up?), the thing that’s the most far out and crazy is the portrayal of governments that are more or less functional.  And the united front that alien species portray to one another.

Anyway, just a little rambling to break up my day.

The slump

I’ve hit a writing slump.  Woah, it has been a long time since I’ve really had to deal with one of these.  I mean, sure, I’ve hit a few rough patches, but this one is a bit more serious.  I haven’t done any serious writing in about a week.

I think that writer’s block is unavoidable when you are a novice or intermediary writer, but I also believe that it’s something you can train yourself out of, eventually.  Honestly, I was beginning to hope that I had trained myself out of it.  Some writers I know believe that writing is a little like breathing, in that you have to have time periods where you’re only taking oxygen or ideas in, in order to have periods where you’re pumping work out.  I don’t think that’s the issue.  I still have ideas.  I have plenty of ideas, but whenever I try to put them down I feel like man with numb hands trying to juggle chainsaws.

In times like these, I don’t usually focus on my big projects.  Those are too important to stumble through when I’m like this.  Instead I search for some idea, some thought that holds even the faintest bit of appeal and start working through that.  What I produce usually isn’t any good, but I save the stories anyway to go back through later, to see if I put anything out that actually resonates with me when I’m in a writing frame of mind.

Also, as I’ve said before and will undoubtedly say again, the better you do pushing through these things when it’s hard, the longer you’ll be able to go, and the more pleased you’ll be with the results, when the writing becomes easy again.

Still, it sucks.  Hitting a slump is miserable, and the only things that really make it better are knowing that you’ve gotten through them before, and knowing that other people have suffered from them and got through as well.

Organize your thoughts

So, every writer has their strengths, and every writer has their weaknesses.  As it happens, I know that one of my big weaknesses is that I’m not a very visual person.  I don’t really think of my characters in terms of their appearance, and I don’t really think of places in terms of their layout, or where they are in relation to one another.  Most of the time, it really isn’t that big of a problem.  I don’t usually have a reason to tell the reader how long it takes to get from point a to point b, or describe a particular birthmark, or anything like that.  But every once in a while I find myself tripping over myself.  Especially when I’m working on a series.

For example, for effect I might have my main character looking up at one person, in one scene, and looking down at another, half a book later.  If I do that, it’s going to make it hard to explain how the person he looks up at and the person he looks down at are standing nose to nose glaring into each other’s eyes a book or two later.  But that is something I am completely likely to do simply because my writing is largely about emotional effect and I don’t often think about the physical limitations.

That’s one of the reasons I’ve spent the last few years training myself to keep a cheat sheet for my characters.  I usually group them together with the people to whom they’re most closely associated, then I write a brief physical description, focusing on two or three features, and make a note of anything important about them.

Usually that’s enough.  I have to admit, I would like to have photographs instead.  I know that some writers will ‘cast’ their book as though it was a movie, putting actors into specific rolls so they have somebody to visualize when they’re writing.  Honestly, given the kind of stuff I write about, I think I’d do better to use mug shots for my characters. Especially since you can see, right on the photograph, how tall they are.  Who knows, maybe I’ll start doing that.

The thing is, that’s great for people, but it’s harder for locations.  Sometimes I use places that I’m familiar with.  For example, the protagonist of my current series lives in a trailer rather like the one I lived in for a year.  He decorates his differently, of course, but when I’ve got an action sequence in the works, it’s helpful to imagine it happening in a place I’m intimately familiar with.  But that doesn’t always work, Mostly because I’ve only lived in a few places.  And the layouts of my homes don’t help when I’m trying to create a working business.

Not to mention, my stories take place in cities and while I don’t feel the need to draw out actual maps for my readers to reference, it’s not a bad idea to have something that I can reference so I’m consistent when dealing with drive times or remembering which place is nearest to which other place.

For that, I’ve found something fantastic!

Did you know that the people who make newspapers use giant rolls of paper?  And when those rolls of paper get too small to be used in making more newspapers, they sell the rolls?  At pretty decent prices, I might add?  Right now I’ve got two rolls of unused paper, which is more than enough to completely cover the walls in my bedroom, living room, and kitchen, and I spent less than fifteen dollars on them!

These things are fantastic!  I’ve got a map of my fake town, a giant timeline with a rough sketch of everything that’s going to happen in this series, blueprints for where my protagonist lives and works, and more blank paper still available than I’m likely to use in the next five years!

I’m considering taking my cheat sheet of characters and making character clouds on one of these suckers.  It might help me as I try to keep track of who is connected to whom.

Well, that’s my helpful tidbit for today.  Spend a few bucks on big paper and cover your walls with your ideas.

How do you clear your head?

I love to write.  I really do.  Building, not just a story, but an entire universe, then populating it with interesting characters isn’t just my idea of a good time, it’s my obsession.

But sometimes it gets to be a burden.  There’s so much going on, so many things that you know need to happen, so many directions to pursue and loose ends you need to keep track of so you can tie them up later, it just starts to weigh you down.  When that happens, you need a way to clear your head.

When I’m dealing with a few tangled threads and just a little bit more chaos than I meant to create, I take a quick walk.  There’s a wonderful two mile loop right next to where I live.  It’s a long enough walk that I’m sure to get distracted and calm down, but not so long that I’m actually tired when I get back from it  Just far enough to get the blood flowing.

But sometimes I’ve got more than tangled threads.  Sometimes there are knots.  Sometimes the strands I’m trying to weave together have been rolled in dirt and those stickers that I can never seem to keep from growing in the yard.  Sometimes what I have isn’t just chaos, it’s anarchy.

When that happens, I play with numbers.

Specifically, primes.

Now, let’s be clear, I’m not a mathematician, either by profession, or talent.  But that’s the beautiful thing about prime numbers, you don’t need to be a mathematician to play with them.  People have been trying to sort out prime numbers for centuries… actually, millennia.  They are fascinating because they continue infinitely, but without reliable pattern… at least, not that anyone has discovered yet.  Play with them long enough, though, and you’re sure to find something that looks promising.  But pursue it at your own peril.

I’m currently pursuing a theory that involves a pyramid of numbers.  So far I’ve written the pyramid out to 1680 digits, and dammit if I don’t need to write it out a couple thousand more.

It’s tedious and frustrating and mind bending, but by the time I’m exhausted from that, the unsolvable puzzles in my latest work have usually worked themselves out.  And if they haven’t… well, they just don’t seem quite so insurmountable anymore.

What about you?  How do you clear your head?