Keeping Score: January 22, 2021

It feels good to have a competent President again. A President with some dignity, who doesn’t spend his time tweeting out misinformation. Whose Press Secretary thanked reporters after her first press briefing, who doesn’t see journalists as the enemy. A President who made news this week because of the raft of actions he took to kick off a national response to the coronavirus pandemic, not the lies he told.

The day after the inauguration, I sat down to write after a long day at work, and when I looked up I’d written twice my daily word count, smooth as butter.

I could get used to this. I want to get used to this. Not in the sense of taking it for granted, but in the sense of it happening, over and over and over again.

There’s much to be done, politically. Too many Americans are locked up in prisons. Too many Americans fear the loss of their job so much they’re willing to endure urinating into bottles and absurdly low wages, while their bosses complain about not knowing how to spend all the money they’re making.

But it’ll be easier, collectively, to tackle such things, if we don’t all have to worry about the President, too, coming after us. If we have the headspace to write, and call, and paint, and march, and sing, and petition, without wondering, every day, which shoe the executive is going to drop on us that day. What painstaking progress the administration rolled back with callous ease this morning.

It’ll be good to feel like we have an ally in the White House. Not perfect, by any means. But not actively trying to set us back.

Novel’s at 24,580 words. More by the end of the day, since I haven’t yet done my daily words. Back to the rhythm of 2,000 words per week.

I’m at the point where I’m stitching together the pieces I’ve written for the current sequence, before pressing on. I’m having to shift some paragraphs around, moving them either earlier in the chapter or later, so I can keep them without interrupting the flow of things.

I can already see parts I’m going to have to revise. Conversations that don’t go anywhere (currently), descriptions of daily life that will need to be rewritten according to the research I’m doing.

I’m…uncertain, whether to fix those, or just press on. The advice I’ve gotten from the Writer’s Coffeehouse says to move on, to just make a note of it, so it’ll be easy to come back to, but to keep forward momentum going. Finish the draft, then go back and patch things up.

And it’s good advice! Only…if I already know how things need to change, shouldn’t I change them? Or worse, if I know things need to change, but I’m not sure exactly how, isn’t it better to find out the more stable form for them now, so I can keep writing the book with that in mind?

I suppose the advice is meant to keep me from getting bogged down in revisions, instead of finishing out the draft. And I definitely do not want to do that. And it’ll probably be easier to make the changes I need once the book’s done, and I can see the whole story, rather than now, when I’m still mapping it out.

So I suppose I will press on. Still going to make notes about revisions to the scenes, though, so I don’t forget them when it’s time to edit.

But to have something to edit, I’ve got to finish this draft.
Onward!

Keeping Score: January 15, 2021

What a week, eh?

Trump’s been impeached for a second time (finally). The insurrectionists who stormed the Capitol are being rounded up (thank goodness). And tech platforms are waking up to their complicity in the planning of the attack, and as a result, dropping right wing extremists so fast it reveals how much they were dragging their feet about it before.

Not that my family back home believes any of that, of course. I mean that quite literally: they don’t think Trump has been impeached, they think “antifa” (insert eyeroll here) caused the riot, they think the First Amendment requires their favorite BBS to let them post anything they want.

It’s…amazing, to me, to see the people that wrap themselves in the flag and “Blue Lives Matter” defend folks that invaded the Capitol with the intent of halting a Constitutional process (and perhaps grabbing a hostage or two) and beat the cops that tried to stop them.

What happened to the party of law and order? The party of civics, of wear-your-tie-to-school and don’t-you-know-how-the-government-works, hippie? Was it always a smokescreen?

So…yeah, I’ve been a little distracted. Writing-wise.

But I’m still hitting my 250-words-a-day target! Not always when I’m supposed to (in the morning), and not always in a single session (10 minutes at lunch, 20 minutes after work, 15 minutes before bed…), but I am getting them done, every day.

Not much more than the minimum, I’m afraid. Which is why the novel’s only at 22,894 words. But it’s progress, all the same.

Taking weekends off is still helping. Relives the pressure for a bit. Lets me do some of the research I need to do to properly write the section I’m on, which can soak up a lot of time (can you believe it’s hard to find an English-language book on 17th-century Central Asian history and culture?). Also gives me a chance to reflect on where things stand so far, and where I’d like to novel to go next.

What about you? How is your writing going, two weeks into the new year?

The Mandalorian: Season 2 Review

Ye gods, it has been hard for me to avoid spoilers for Mandalorian Season 2. Even though I deliberately avoided every article, every review, still things would slide by on my Twitter feed, and then boom spoiled.

So two of the “biggest” reveals — well, okay, three — were basically spoiled for me before I even started rewatching Season One.

I…well, I hate that, so I’m going to be very careful here. The first part of my review will be completely spoiler-free, promise.

The second part will have spoilers, but I’ll label it in huge header-style letters first, so if you haven’t seen Season Two yet, you can stop before you get there.

Ready?

Let’s go.

Non-Spoiler Review

Season Two is a huge improvement on Season One.

In Season One, the episodes were very much disconnected, both tonally and plot-wise. It felt like the kind of show that a network that 20 years ago would have been shown out of order on a network, because they thought no one would notice.

Season Two finally gets its plot arc together. Each episode flows naturally from the last, and builds on it, till the final episode feels inevitable, instead of weirdly tacked-on.

As a result, every single part of the writing is stronger. The dialog is better, because it has a purpose. The individual plots are better, because they’re not mucking about, they’re building to a conclusion. And we get to see more character moments from Mando, learning more about him, and how he changes over the course of the Season.

Basically, everything that was missing from Season One is finally in place.

And thankfully, they don’t throw out the elements from Season One that mostly worked. They revise them a little, perhaps, but amidst the new cameos and characters, it felt good to see them tying into locations and events from Season One. It made the whole thing seem more grounded, more real.

So what’s not to like?

Well, I’ll save the details for the spoiler section, but basically they still don’t know what to do with Moff Gideon other than have him be SO EVIL, LIKE REALLY EVIL, HE WEARS BLACK AND EVERYTHING CAN’T YOU SEE HE’S EVIL?!!

And they can’t seem to think of a good name for something Imperial other than to call it “Dark,” which makes me think they drank the Dark Kool-Aid in their Dark Treehouse while wearing their Dark Hat (and listening to Dark Music) just a little too much. It’s not scary at this point, it just sounds uncreative (and a little racist, to be honest).

Finally, after all the buildup I heard online about the last episode, it was a complete and total letdown. Plot-wise, character-wise, and ending-wise. Just meh.

SPOILERS SPOILERS SPOILERS

This next part of the review has spoilers! If you don’t want ’em, skip out now. I’m going to give you till the count of 3.

1…

2….

3.

“Dark” Troopers? Seriously? That was the best name they could come up with? The scariest name?

And what’s scary about them? They have better armor than stormtroopers, they’re kind of strong? I mean, really, how are they a frightening force?

They’re obviously there so that the only thing that can rescue our heroes from them is a Jedi. Which is…so frustrating, and feels like a lost of wasted potential.

Ditto Moff Gideon. “I’m done with the Child, you can have him”? And then Mando just believes him? Mando, who a few episode earlier we saw shoot an enemy that claimed to be disarming? Mando, who we’ve seen call in a New Republic hit on an entire base? That Mando?

I don’t buy it, not one bit.

I feel sorry for Moff Gideon. They have him strutting around in that ridiculous armor, which he has no business wearing in the first place, spouting villain dialog which goes nowhere and does nothing.

Dear god, I just remembered: “Dark Saber.” Jesus Wept. What a horrible name for a MacGuffin.

And then Luke shows up, and he doesn’t sit down to chat, doesn’t explain anything, just this dude in black comes up and says “Give me the child,” and Mando just hands him over, no problem.

Hahaha, nope.

They’ve taken the ship. Why not have Luke stay for a bit? Discuss his plans? Get to know the Child?

Oh, it’s because de-aging CGI is expensive? Well, gosh, maybe they should have had some other Jedi come in and take the Child.

Like, oh….How about Qi’Ra? No computer-based aging required. We know she was working with Darth Maul, so her being a trained Sith is possible. And she can pretend to be a good person, at first, who’s willing to take the Child.

But having someone actually evil, actually, interestingly evil, take the Child gives us a plot engine for Season 3, and a cliffhanger for all of us who’ve seen Solo.

Instead, Luke’s flown in, taken the Child, end of story. What’s left to do?

Oh, the whole rule over Mandalore thing? That’s so obviously a fake problem, I don’t…I don’t really care.

I might care, if Mando had to try to protect the Child while getting involved in a plan to retake Mandalore and put what’s-her-name on the throne. That’d be interesting.

But that ship’s sailed, hasn’t it?

So for me, the final episode was just a big letdown. Going out with not a bang, not even a whimper, but more of a sigh.

I think the first five episodes of the Season are fantastic. But things start to wobble in Episode Six (it was good to see Boba Fett kicking ass, sure, but did Mando really need to throw himself at that force field three effing times?), and then completely come apart in the finale.

I don’t know if I’ll watch a Season Three. Having established their show once, and fixed it the second time, then thrown it all away, what’s there to draw me back?

Keeping Score: January 8, 2021

Oof, 2021 started out well, didn’t it?

I mean even with the spike in Covid-19 patients, and the continued lies spread by the President and his allies about the election, I had a feeling on New Year’s Day that we’d escaped the awfulness of 2020. That we’d turned a corner, the case numbers would be coming down soon, President Biden would be in office in just a few weeks, and we could start the work of rebuilding everything the Republican Party has destroyed over the last four years.

Even the Georgia elections (!) gave me hope. My fellow citizens in GA turned out in such numbers that they put the two Dems over the top, putting an end to the use of the Senate as just a roadblock to legislation. Exciting times!

And then came the coup.

I know, I know. Attempted coup. Or riot. Maybe insurrection, if you’re a journalist and you’re feeling spicy.

And suddenly all of the mental habits I’d tried to shed from 2020 were back. Reflexively checking the news every five minutes. Doomscrolling on Twitter. Cognitive dissonance from looking out my window, seeing a bright January day in SoCal, and then hearing reports of shots fired in the Capitol building.

Texting friends living in DC, to see if they’re okay during the madness.

I called my brand-new freshman-clean House Rep yesterday, not just to urge her to impeach Trump, but also to check in and see if they were safe.

What a country.

Difficult to think in such times. Difficult to write.

But so far, I’ve managed to do it. Each day, closed out Twitter, stared at the screen, reading over the previous days’ work until I sink back into the story.

And it is sinking. It is an escape, for me. A needed one, in this case.

So I’ve pushed the novel up to 21,348 words. I’m almost done with the scenes I’ve been working on, patch-work-style. I move up and down the page, writing sections as they come to me, completely out of order. I leave visual gaps in-between them, extra newlines, to show that these are fragments. Then go back in and fill the gaps later, stitching together all the pieces until they read like a continuous whole.

It’s not how I’ve written other novels. Not even how I usually write stories, either. But it’s the only thing that’s working for me, right now. So I’m using it.

Hope wherever you are, that you’re safe, that you can still put yourself in the headspace to write, even if it’s just a few words.

Hang in there.

Keeping Score: January 1, 2021

We made it to a new year!

In the past, I’ve taken that for granted. One year rolled into the next, I got older, and the world kept turning.

Not this year. This year, reaching January feels like an escape, like ducking under a closing door just before it seals itself shut.

So a sincere Happy New Year to us all!

Novel’s at 19,864 words. I’m still butt in chair every morning, forcing myself to stay there until I hit my word count goal. Some mornings it’s easier, some it’s harder, but…I’m always making progress.

I’m actually starting to run out of runway on the research I’ve already done about the setting. Which means I’m having to make more things up out of thin air, and thus getting more things wrong. I’ve already had to revise a few scenes based on new reading I’ve done. That’ll happen more and more, I expect, until I can catch up.

I know that ultimately, I’ll need to do some heavy editing of this draft, once it’s complete. Not just to fix some inconsistencies, but also to ensure the things that are consistent are historically accurate. Or at least, as accurate as a non-specialist like me can get them in a fictional tale.

But since I know I’ll need to do it, it doesn’t scare me to get things wrong now. What’s important now, I think, is to get the emotional beats of the story right. If I can nail down the characters, and how they react to the things that happen to them, I can fix the details later. Even if those details mean I need changes to the events of the plot, that’s fine. So long as the emotional arc of things is right.

That’s my theory, at least.

I want to thank those of those you who’ve been reading me regularly through this hell year. You give me hope that someday, these novels I grind away at will see the light of publication.

And for my fellow writers, I offer a hope and a blessing: May your writing be a joy and comfort to you. May your inner editor take a vacation when you’re drafting. And may all your tales be true.

Onward to 2021!

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?