Good Bye and Good Riddance, 2020

When my wife and I moved into our new house back in February, we thought that would be the most stressful thing we did this year.

When I backed out of working a booth at a conference in early March because some Covid-19 cases had been reported in California, we thought I was being overly cautious.

When I had my birthday party on Zoom in April, with cases raging both here and back east, we thought that would be the low point.

When May came, and protests exploded across the country, we thought it wasn’t safe to join them because of the potential for the virus to spread, never imagining that the police would be the biggest threat.

And then…and then the year is a blur for me, truly. Protests, and cops run riot, and record wildfires, punctuated by two camping trips taken in desperation, to get out of the house, to get somewhere, away from people, only to find that those spaces were crowded, too, and it seemed that no one, young or old, thought wearing a mask or keeping their distance or traveling with just their families was important.

I remember October, because for Halloween we turned out the lights and huddled indoors and hoped no one stopped by to ask for anything, for fear of them bringing the virus with them.

I remember November, because the election dragged on and on and on, and the Trump Regime launched an attack on the legitimacy of the results that failed in the courts but convinced my entire family back home that Biden is an illegitimate President.

Oddly enough, November is when I was first able to mentally breathe again.

It’s also when I started writing the novel I’m currently working on, jumping into NaNoWriMo with both feet and falling on my face, as is the 2020 way.

But I picked myself back up, and I’m still working on the book. I like it more and more, as I write it and figure out new things about it. It’s going to be different from anything else I’ve written: a fantasy with very little magic, a historical book with a diverse cast across two continents, a novel told in third-person with entire chapters written in first.

I have no idea what I’m doing. I have no idea if anyone will want to read this thing once it’s done. It’s scary, but also….a little liberating?

I think that’s something I want to take into 2021 with me. An attitude, of not quite “fuck it,” but close. More like “you have no idea what’s going to happen in the world, and no control over it, so you should write what you want and worry about selling it later.”

Which is not to say that I’ve held back from writing the stories I’d like to. More that, when writing them, I’ve aimed to write something sellable, something I think the market will buy. It’s a…pressure, I guess, that I put on myself. To put some elements in and not others, to shy away from tackling anything too big or too strange.

This novel is one step along the path of letting that go. It’s a weird structure. It’s about a time and place(s) that no one (in the US) writes about. Its main character is disabled.

It’ll probably go nowhere, even if I manage to pull it off, craft-wise. I’m writing it anyway.

So thank you, 2020, for teaching me this much: Writing is hard, so you should write what you love.

See you all in 2021.

Keeping Score: December 25, 2020

Happy Holidays!

I’m finally back in my office. All the house work we’ve had done for the last three months — while we lived, worked, ate, and slept sealed-off in the guest room — is over. Taking down the barrier between the guest room and the rest of the house was like opening a huge present; we were grinning like kids the whole time.

And the work all looks fantastic, and a little unreal. Like we’ve stumbled into someone else’s house. But no, it’s ours! And we can once again use it all.

So I’m back to watching the sun come up over the mountains just east of the city, hammering out words before the work of the day begins.

Speaking of which, the novel’s up to 18,000 words. So I’m putting out about 2,000 words a week, which is not bad, but does mean this draft won’t be done until looks away, does mental math sometime in June (?!).

Which is…fine, I suppose. That’s still a novel draft in less than a year. But if I only work on one project at a time, that means it’ll be six months before I get back to editing my last novel. I’ve gotten some excellent feedback from my beta readers, and I’d like to incorporate it all before sending it out to agents.

Maybe I can keep working on the new draft during the week, and edit the other novel on the weekends? That’s technically not taking the weekend off, but it is taking a break from the current draft. And editing’s the kind of work that’s hard for me to track, in the sense of how many words I’ve covered. These editing passes I’ll need to jump around in the narrative, adding a bit of dialog here, changing a description there. It’s not linear work.

What about you? Do you work only one project at a time, even if that delays things? Or do you find a way to juggle multiple pieces at once?

Anyway, as we wind down 2020, I hope you and yours are coming through the pandemic safe. I hope the vaccine gets rolled out to where-ever you are soon, and that enough folks get it for the danger to pass.

Good riddance to 2020. I’ll see you all in 2021!

Keeping Score: December 18, 2020

Novel’s at around 16,400 words. I haven’t done today’s writing session, though, so I should finish out the week closer to 17K.

The deal is working, so far. Holding myself hostage, unable to go for my morning job or take a shower or have breakfast or anything until my writing’s done for the day, has been rather effective.

And I’m looking forward to the weekend again, when I can daydream and doodle and research and not have to worry about hitting a word count. That recharge time is proving important, for my mental health and for my writing.

Funny, I think I started this year by throwing away word count goals and the idea of penalizing myself for not meeting them. Here I am at the end of the year, once again setting daily word count goals and forcing myself to meet them. It seems not only do different techniques work for different people, different things can work for the same person at different times.

What about you? What previous writing habit have you brought back this year, if any? Or maybe there’s an old trick you’ve dropped?

Keeping Score: December 11, 2020

Novel crossed 15,000 words today!

My pace has slowed since NaNoWriMo, but I’m still managing about 2,000 words a week, which is pretty good for me. Puts me on track to finish this draft sometime early next year.

I’ve changed up my writing routine a bit, both to give myself more time to write, and to have a chance to recharge.

So I’ve made a deal with myself: I have to write in the morning, first thing, as soon as I get up. No news, no twitter, no email. Just writing, until the day’s words (at least 250) are done. I can take however long I want to set those 250 words down, but I can’t do anything else until I do.

Most days, I end up going beyond those 250. Once the pump is primed, the words keep flowing.

In exchange for this early-morning discipline, I only have to write on week days. Monday through Friday. Saturday and Sunday are days off, now, just like they would be (I hope) if I were a full-time writer. If I did write full-time, I’d still need vacations. Still need days off. But I’d have no one to tell me when to take them, and I’d probably feel guilty if I did.

So I’ve made this deal. Treat writing like job, get it done first thing in the morning, and in return, I can take the weekends off.

Sunday was the first day I’ve deliberately taken off (from writing) in…months. I still did some research for the current book, digging up images and articles on Swedish manors built or renovated in the 18th century. I sketched some notes for future scenes. But I didn’t write anything, didn’t have to produce any words.

It was…incredibly relaxing. It was glorious.

And I came into Monday’s writing session recharged. Ready and eager to go.

This is the first full week I’ve been working under this self-made bargain. I’m looking forward to the weekend, having met my word count goal every day this week, first thing upon waking.

What about you? Do you ever take days off from writing? Do you feel guilty when you do, and if so, how do you handle it?

Keeping Score: December 4, 2020

So I didn’t win NaNoWriMo this year. It wasn’t even close.

But I’m not quitting on the novel. I’ve come too far not to see it through.

And NaNoWriMo has got me flexing my writing muscles again. After today’s writing session, I’ll have churned out almost 2,000 words in a single week. That’s not novel in a month pace, sure, but it’s a novel-in-a-few-months-pace, which is better than I’ve been able to achieve since the pandemic began.

Even so, I still feel pressed for writing time. I want to brainstorm for a bit, every day, before working on a scene. Or after finishing a scene, reflect on what might be missing from it, what I’ll need to add the next day. And that’s hard to do, when I’ve only got thirty minutes or so free to spend on the novel.

It’s good that I’ve got some vacation coming up at the end of the month, then. That’ll certainly give me more time in which to work.

But I want — I need — to carve out more time during a regular work day. Which might mean dropping some of my other hobbies (I’ve been brushing up my French, and learning Swedish) in order to make that time. Or maybe I’ll get up even earlier, so I can make that time at the start of the day.

Not sure what’s best. Gotta figure something out, though.

What about you? What do you do, when you feel like you’re not getting enough writing time?

Keeping Score: November 27, 2020

Did I say I could write at least half a day this week, free from distraction?

turns to self from last week: Oh my sweet summer child.

I’ve been able to put in a full day of writing just once. Once

Every other day, I’ve had my water shut off and construction going on in both the room right next to my temporary office (I’m currently working in the dining room) and above it. They’re grinding, sawing, singing, at random intervals, throughout the day.

It’s…impossible to concentrate.

Still, I’ve managed to squeeze some words out. Crossed the 11,000 word mark on the novel yesterday, which felt good.

But I’m nowhere near close to hitting 50K by the end of the month. According to NaNoWriMo, at my current pace, I’ll be lucky to finish by end of February 2021 (!).

So while I’m bummed about not “winning” NaNoWriMo this year, I’m still glad I did it, for two reasons.

First, because I was doing it, I was able to convince a friend to take the plunge, and try his hand at his first novel. And he’s won! He’s well past 50K at this point, and is on track to wrap up the first draft of his first novel. I’m jealous of his word-count, true, but I’m also overjoyed that he got it done. Can’t wait to read it, when (if) he’s ready for beta readers.

Second, because the time pressure for word count did push me to stop using outlining as an excuse, and just start writing. I was terrified of getting lost, of not being able to write it if I didn’t know where I was going.

I forgot that I’ve written all of my other novels without an outline. All of them. Short stories, as well.

I’m not a full-on pantser, but I do discover things while I’m writing that I don’t seem to think of when simply outlining. I need a plan to get started — characters, situation, possible ending — but once I’m in it, the plan gets altered so much that a detailed outline would be pretty much trashed by the time I’m 5,000 words in.

Outlining, for me, comes later. Once the first draft is done, and I’ve mapped out all the place I want to go, all the things about the world I want to see. Then I can pull together a detailed outline, find the weaknesses in the story, and use an updated outline to produce the second draft.

So I’ve learned a bit about my own process. It takes longer, this way, I feel, but at least it happens. Better to charge ahead and produce a draft that can be edited, then to spin my wheels creating an outline that’s going to get thrown out once ink hits the page.

And what about you? If you did NaNoWriMo this year, what did it teach you about your own writing process? Do you write better in the morning or evening? Do you need to outline it, or do you need to wing it? Can you write through distractions, or do you need a calm place in which to work?

Radicals Disguised as Conservatives

My wife and I are re-watching The West Wing for the first time since Trump took office. It’s been…revelatory, to see those people and those controversies again, after the last four years. To imagine (again) a White House whose biggest scandal might be some harsh words said to a fundamentalist on television, a White House where a single lie to the Press Core can occupy a character’s arc for a whole episode.

A White House that might hire Ainsley Hayes.

If you’re not familiar with the show, Hayes is a young Republican that out-debates a high-level member of the President’s staff on a political talk show. When the President finds out, he decides to hire her to work in the White House Counsel’s office. She refuses, at first, to come work for a Democrat. But after seeing them working in the White House (as part of being there to turn the job down) the Chief of Staff summons her sense of duty, and she accepts.

I love the Ainsley Hayes character. She’s an excellent counter-weight to the arrogance of the other staff members, she’s smart and witty and optimistic amidst the daily hustle and bustle of the administration. And she faithfully represents the Republican position on issues circa 2000, right down to her objections to the Equal Rights Amendment.

It’s during an episode where she has a casual debate with another staffer on the ERA that she articulates the Republican governing philosophy:

I believe that every time the federal government hands down a new law, it leaves for the rest of us a little less freedom. So I say, let’s just stick to the ones we absolutely need to have water come out of the faucet and our cars not stolen.

This is an absolutely accurate summation of what Republicans believed (and many still believe).

The problem is, it’s not a conservative stance. It’s a libertarian one.

Libertarians want to roll back the role of government to what it was in the pre-industrial period: foreign defense, a little bit of property law, and that’s it. That’s why the Libertarian Party wants to legalize all drugs: the War on Drugs is not in service of either of those goals.

Which is all well and good, but neither is Social Security. Or the fire department. Or public schools.

If you believe that more law means less freedom, then you have no interest in making good laws. Because the only good law is the law that never gets passed.

This stance has been masquerading as conservatism in the United States for the last few decades, but it is not conservative.

To try to recover the conservative position, let’s turn to the writer considered the progenitor of the movement, Edmund Burke:

Society cannot exist, unless a controlling power upon will and appetite be placed somewhere; and the less of it there is within, the more there must be without.

Hmm. Doesn’t sound like he thinks fewer laws means more freedom.

Nothing turns out to be so oppressive and unjust as a feeble government.

Oh? He doesn’t want to make government so small he can “drown it in the bathtub”?

Two more quotes, both of which, I believe, sum up the actual conservative position:

A state without the means of some change, is without the means of its own conservation.

And:

The greater the power, the more dangerous the abuse.

In other words: Modern Conservatism is opposition to radical change

That may sound like a small philosophy, but it turns out to be a big one. Burke was writing (from the safety of England) during the French Revolution, forming his philosophy out of opposition to the Terror.

He opposed both the refusal of the French aristocracy to change and the radical changes being made by Robespierre et al.

The conservatism of Burke fully believes in the power of government to do good. But it acknowledges the potential for government — like any powerful organization — to do evil.

It’s a combination of a skeptical view of the nature of people — government being necessary, in part, to protect us from our worse instincts — and a skeptical view of power wielded without check.

So while Burke might have opposed something like the ERA in his own time, someone like Burke dropped into the US of the 1970s, where women had been voting and going to college and having careers for decades, would have seen no issue with enshrining their equal status in law. In fact, he would have (rightly) seen it as a preservation of liberty against backsliding by the state.

Okay, one more quote:

The people never give up their liberties but under some delusion.

For a true conservative, one of the purposes of law is to firmly entrench the rights and liberties of the people. Thus more law can and does mean more freedom, if those laws are written correctly.

Also note that for Burke, liberty is not the freedom to do as we please. Burke believed that we could not be free unless we tamed our passions; that only a people with their emotions in check could be said to be free.

To take a more modern example, freedom does not mean the freedom to go without wearing a mask. Public health fits squarely in the realm of government, and those who defy laws written to preserve public health are not exercising their liberty, but inciting anarchy. That’s a true conservative viewpoint.

It’s difficult to see, after decades of the Republican party trying to put their stance into practice, but they are not conservatives. They’re radicals, shading into libertarians, wrapping themselves in a tradition they no longer follow.

Keeping Score: November 20, 2020

Slow but steady.

I’m at a little more than 7,000 words on the new novel so far this month. Behind where I need to be to finish NaNoWriMo, but further than I was a few weeks ago. That’s got to count for something, right?

Writing during the week has been difficult. Work has been…stressful, and I’ve needed to come in early and stay late, just to keep up. That’s obviously cut into my writing time, but it’s also drained my batteries before I even have a chance to sit down at the keyboard for the day’s words.

As a result, while on the weekend I built up to around a thousand words a day, during the week I’ve fallen back to a few hundred. Sometimes. If I’m lucky.

There’s light at the end of this tunnel, though. I’ve got a week of vacation coming up. A full week, when I can write at least half the day, before house and family obligations pull me away.

It might not be enough time, even then, for me to catch up to where I need to be to reach 50K by November 30th.

But I’m going to try for it, nevertheless.

Hope your own writing is going well, and if you’re trying NaNoWriMo, that you’re slaying each day’s word count, day by day.

Onward!

Keeping Score: November 13, 2020

Work on the novel has been slow but steady this week.

I’m not getting down more than a few hundred words a day. But I am getting them down.

The slow pace feels like a lack of time, for me. As in, I don’t seem to have enough time to gather together my thoughts about where the story should go, and then set them down. Like I have just enough time to do one, but not the other.

And for NaNoWriMo, I need to do both.

Hoping to be able to make up some lost time this weekend. Wish me luck!

Biden Defeats Trump

You love to see it.

Jesus, we actually fucking did it.

We’re kicking the Giant Orange Baby out of the White House.

This is an historic victory, for so many reasons.

First Black woman elected VP.

First South Asian VP.

First woman VP, period.

A record 74 million votes and counting for the winning candidate. In the midst of a global pandemic. And while the incumbent spent months casting doubt on the entire election process.

Biden’s also the most experienced President-elect we’ve had in a long time.

Obama was a one-term senator. Bush II had been a state governor, but hadn’t served in the federal government at all. Same for Clinton.

And we all know Trump hadn’t worked in government at all, not even at the level of parking attendant.

You have to go all the way back to George H.W. Bush to find a President with anything like Biden’s experience. Bush I had been VP to Reagan for eight years, and before that he’d been a Congressional Representative, the US’ Ambassador to the UN, and CIA Director.

It’s a good precedent. Bush I was a steady hand at the wheel, avoiding the quagmire in Iraq that his son would jump into feet-first, and navigating the end of the Cold War with grace.

But maybe a better parallel for Biden is even further back, nearly sixty years back, with LBJ.

Like Biden, LBJ served for decades in the US Senate before becoming VP to a younger, less experienced, but more charismatic President. And when he took office, he was seen as carrying the burden of finishing what the previous President had started. Just we look to Biden to consolidate and extend Obama’s legacy.

Thankfully, LBJ was a master at getting legislation passed, which is how a Texan ended up signing both the Voting Rights Act and the Civil Rights Act.

Biden’s going to need some of that skill to work with Congress, especially if the Republicans hold onto the Senate and McConnell decides to continue his role as Majority Roadblock.

We can only hope the parallel holds that far. Goodness knows we could use some good luck, here in the States, after four years of being cursed with the worst administration in over a hundred years.