Where is this horse you speak of?

It has been a lit­tle over a month since I have writ­ten any fic­tion. Not a word. But I am get­ting back on that prover­bial horse.

A lit­tle over a month ago, I was offered a half time job by a friend, and I took it. Thus a third, part-time career was born. I am writ­ing words for a small, local, mod­er­ate polit­i­cal orga­ni­za­tion. It fits me polit­i­cal­ly pret­ty well (I’m an unabashed Lib­er­al, but a reg­is­tered Repub­li­can), and there is a des­per­ate need here in Kansas for any­one with a mod­icum of sense to speak out. I am encour­ag­ing peo­ple to be get­ting on that. I write for our social media prop­er­ties (see, jar­gon!) and also “craft” our mar­ket­ing mes­sage. And I’ll be blog­ging once we get our new web­site up.

So, you know, get­ting paid to write!

And even if it isn’t get­ting paid to write my fic­tion, I do get to put words togeth­er, and that part has been fun.

But.

I’m here to do this. I quit my mod­est but bet­ter-than-this pay­ing job to write fic­tion. And this past month, I have not done that. It’s been the usu­al cock­tail of work I want to do, work I’m not sure I want to do, per­son­al moti­va­tion issues, Life Stuff To Do, and now Job that Must Be Done.

But.

I am up, and I am at ‘em. And it is five in the freakin’ morn­ing.

And I am writ­ing.

The unintended red herring

File under, “Lessons learned while writ­ing.” I have a ten­den­cy to throw details into a sto­ry that explain a prob­lem in my head, but are not meant to go fur­ther than that. But a read­er, who is not in my head, reads that detail as cru­cial, and chas­es it down the rab­bit hole until they real­ize it is just a dead end. Frus­trat­ing. And no tiny doors to climb through at the bot­tom.

For exam­ple. A new char­ac­ter shows up out of the blue, and announces that he is here to inves­ti­gate an old death that he believes is mur­der most foul. Mur­der? How unex­pect­ed! How juicy! Who died, and why? Who is this mur­der inves­ti­ga­tor? Tell me more!

But the inves­ti­ga­tor is real­ly here for some oth­er rea­son. He made up the mur­der inves­ti­ga­tion as a cov­er. I move on with his real moti­va­tion, and ignore the mur­der, because, what mur­der? Bor­ing!

But the read­er is intrigued, then con­fused, then lost, then maybe dis­ap­point­ed and angry. And when they emerge from the oth­er end of the stages of grief, they have missed all the good stuff I was doing in the mean­time.

Must avoid the unin­tend­ed red her­ring.

No rose garden delivered today

Anoth­er month gone by. It went fast, but most­ly because I didn’t do a lot of pro­duc­tive writ­ing. I hit what you might call a bad patch. I have nev­er been the best at being relent­less­ly focused, and when you com­bine that with two cre­ative blocks, well. Noth­ing gets done.

Huh. So, are you ready to throw in the tow­el?

Wow, straight to that, eh? Yes I was, briefly, yes­ter­day. I was invit­ed to par­tic­i­pate in some­thing I very much want­ed to do, but I can’t because of mon­ey issues. This is the first time I’ve real­ly come up against the fact that I’m not mak­ing any mon­ey. Sure, we’ve been cut­ting back and pay­ing close atten­tion to what we spend, I’m clean­ing the house now, instead of hir­ing it out, and I have a finan­cial dead­line loom­ing in the mid­dle dis­tance, but this was the first time I couldn’t do some­thing I real­ly want­ed to do.

I thought about giv­ing up and real­ly look­ing for a job.

But I did some think­ing last night, and I decid­ed against it. Writ­ing, heck cre­at­ing any­thing, is like exer­cise. I know it’s good for me, and when I do it, it feels fan­tas­tic. It’s fun, I feel good, and after­wards there’s a glow (endor­phins!) about the rest of my life that can’t be beat. I’ve writ­ten about this before. Writ­ing is fun. Mak­ing stuff up, putting it down, being cre­ative… it’s a rush.

Get­ting start­ed is hard. Each day. Each moment, some­times.

So, what’re you gonna do about that?

I thought about get­ting a tat­too, like “FOCUS!” or some­thing, but they cost mon­ey and I already have a tat­too-reward-plan for weight loss. I thought about get­ting an ADD diag­no­sis (I expect I am in that crowd), but well, damn, I’m an adult. I’ve come up with a mantra, and some words to live by, to try to inspire/reason myself into work­ing. I’ve thought about ask­ing peo­ple I love to hold me account­able (that seems like a dick move, though). I’ve tried to post word counts each day I write (did you notice how not-often I did that? Exact­ly). I make lists and cross things off. I’ve even changed to-do pro­grams recent­ly, because sure­ly the last one was my prob­lem.

And then there’s the pos­si­bil­i­ty that all of these things are them­selves a prob­lem.

So you need to keep it sim­ple?

Why yes, thanks. That is what I was get­ting at. I need to sim­pli­fy. I have a few ideas, and I’ll let you in on them next time.

Sure, kick the can down the road. Fine.

I will, thanks.

You said some­thing about a mantra?

I did. For a while now, since last Spring, I’ve had some focus words I try to keep in mind. Goals for what­ev­er I am doing. They’ve evolved a bit, but I think I’ve set­tled on them now, and I look at them every day. They are not meant to inspire, so much as make me yearn to reach them. Words to live by, as it were.

Last night, I also came up with a phrase, a mantra of sorts. Some­thing to repeat to myself in a moment of sloth. I’m try­ing it out today, and it has most­ly worked. We’ll see.

But you’re not going to tell us what they are, are you?

No, I’m not. I’m over try­ing to force myself to do stuff by being pub­lic about it. Pub­lic-sham­ing myself doesn’t work. This is some­thing I need to fig­ure out with myself, by myself.

So, did you do any­thing this month?

Well, yes, I did. I hit a block on the short sto­ry I was writ­ing, so I took a few days and wrote a children’s book. It was an awful lot of fun, and it wasn’t too com­pli­cat­ed. i got to play with lan­guage a bit dif­fer­ent­ly than in a longer form. I’m sure it is not ter­ri­bly good, but I like the idea very much. Right now I am flesh­ing out the descrip­tions of the illus­tra­tions, pret­ty inte­gral to enjoy­ing the book. While i was writ­ing it, I was think­ing of Jane Yolen and Mark Teague’s How Would a Dinosaur… books, and Bri­an Floca’s books (Loco­mo­tive and Moon­shot espe­cial­ly) for inspi­ra­tion.

Once I have the illus­tra­tion descrip­tions done, I’ll send it out to my friends for some feed­back. Then I intend to work on it, and final­ly I’ll need an illus­tra­tor. An illus­tra­tor who doesn’t want to get paid any time soon/ever. Per­haps a starv­ing illus­tra­tor.

Can you tell me what this kids’ book is about?

Nope.

Seri­ous­ly?

Seri­ous­ly.

You jerk

Yes, well. I’m afraid the ele­va­tor pitch will make it sound like some­thing it isn’t. Plus, the work­ing title is crap.

What ever

See you next month.

One more month of writing

Hey all. So, it was about a month ago that I post­ed that last update on my writ­ing career. You may be won­der­ing how the writ­ing career is going.

Yeah, how is the writ­ing career going?

Okay. I spent this last month doing a lot of world­build­ing, which was fun.

An aside for non-SF/F fans: if you’re writ­ing fan­ta­sy in a world that is not our own, or sci­ence fic­tion in worlds sig­nif­i­cant­ly dif­fer­ent than our own, you need to spend time work­ing out how it is dif­fer­ent, and what that means. World­build­ing can be brief or com­pli­cat­ed. Mine was both, I spent most of my time try­ing to rec­on­cile two suns and no moon, but I’m “build­ing” the rest as I write.

In that time I’ve also start­ed and scrapped four short sto­ries. The one I am work­ing on now is real­ly more of a pro­logue to the books I’d like to write. What hap­pens in it is impor­tant but would have hap­pened off-screen in the books. It is fun.

So, I am writ­ing. But career? Not yet, I am afraid.

What else is up with the not-work­ing thing?

Not-work­ing? I see what you’re doing there.

Well, I got canned from my social media writ­ing gig, which was sad, but okay. As a result, we decid­ed to dump our house­clean­ing ser­vice ($$$!), and I have tak­en those duties on. But we also decid­ed we can’t live with­out col­lege bas­ket­ball ($$!), so we’re going to add that back in this month. Still a net sav­ings. And I am pur­su­ing a web­site design job (just a one-off, not a career!) to help make ends meet.

Today, I dust­ed. The whole house. Blinds, fans, pic­tures, sur­faces, etc. Took about an hour.

But you still like what you’re doing, right?

Oh, yeah. I love it. I dream about it. I think about it all the time. I write myself notes in church about things I want to put in my writ­ing. I would rather write than do just about any­thing else. I have fun doing it. I even have fun doing it when it is hard.

I had a moment a few weeks ago, when I broke for lunch. I was look­ing for some­thing to read, and I real­ized that what I real­ly want­ed to do was read my sto­ry. My book. I want­ed to write it more so I could find out where it is going.

Whaaaat? You don’t know where your book is going?

Yeah, so it turns out that I am not a detail plot­ter. Or rather, I do plot things out ahead, but as I write I come up with new, bet­ter, more detailed ideas. I start­ed writ­ing the sto­ry I’m writ­ing now from one character’s per­spec­tive. But it was tak­ing too long, he was describ­ing all the things, and they were all new to him (and to the read­er). And then I fig­ured out a major plot point that is cool, but he was only tan­gen­tial­ly relat­ed to it. I mean, he’s in the mid­dle of it, but doesn’t know any­thing about what is going on. There was no meat for the read­er. So I scrapped that, and now I’m writ­ing the same sto­ry, but from five (hope­ful­ly six) char­ac­ters, each with their own scene. I think it’s work­ing out real­ly well. But I ful­ly believe I may have to go back and change some­thing again when I fig­ure out how that sixth char­ac­ter fits in.

It is a bit messy, as process goes.

But you know what? It’s fun.

So, you’re hav­ing fun?

Darn tootin’.

What’s next, then, guy who doesn’t plot ahead

Well, I hope to fin­ish this sto­ry soon. Then I’ll have to do a sec­ond draft. I’ll write about that lat­er. Then I hope to get it out to a few trust­ed friends and/or fam­i­ly for them to com­ment. Then I’ll draft it again, and then I’ll send it out and see if any­one thinks it’s worth pub­lish­ing.

One sto­ry? That’s a lot of eggs in one bas­ket, no?

It is. And I should prob­a­bly have a cou­ple oth­er sto­ries going, too, but I don’t have the time, real­ly. 8am to 3 pm goes by real­ly fast. And dur­ing that time I’m clean­ing, eat­ing, and walk­ing the dog, in addi­tion to writ­ing. After three, the kids are home and we’re man­ag­ing home­work and chores and dish­es and din­ner and activ­i­ties (swim­ming, soc­cer, Lego League, scout­ing, etc.) and then we have oth­er stuff (like col­lege bas­ket­ball, did I men­tion that?) and gro­ceries and laun­dry and all that stuff.

It would appear that I may get about two to three hours of writ­ing in a day.

Sev­en weeks in, I am not sure that is enough time.

Don’t be a down­er, dude

No, no. I have to say, even with all that, I real­ly do love my life. Absolute­ly love it. And the absence of my pre­vi­ous job is still a won­der, I go to sleep on Sun­day not dread­ing the next morn­ing. But more than that, I love build­ing these sto­ries, even the ones I have tossed on the waste bin. I lurve it, even.

So, yeah. I want to be writ­ing more, and I want to write for the rest of my life, and those are my goals. And I am the one that can get me there.

I’ve only just begun to write

Some of you may already know that I quit my job a cou­ple of weeks ago. Some of you may even know that I also quit my career at the same time. I’ve been work­ing in High­er Edu­ca­tion web devel­op­ment or tech­nol­o­gy since I took my first part-time job at the Uni­ver­si­ty of Iowa in 1996. That’s sev­en­teen years of web devel­op­ment work at three dif­fer­ent insti­tu­tions. It is a lot of time put into a career to flush it all away now.

But I have.

What are you doing instead?

I am going to write.

Um, okay. What are you going to write?

Well, that’s the ques­tion, isn’t it? When I start­ed, or rather, before I start­ed, my glib answer was that I’d write any­thing any­one want­ed to pay me for. That felt like the answer I was sup­posed to give, the answer that made this leap off the cliff at least some­what sen­si­ble. “Sure,” I said/thought, “I’ll write any­thing as long as it pays. Tech­ni­cal writ­ing, spec writ­ing, social media, what­ev­er.” Peo­ple who knew even less than I do about the writ­ing busi­ness would take that as a com­fort. I did for a while, until I fig­ured out I was fool­ing myself.

As it turns out, I don’t want to write just any­thing. I don’t want to do tech­ni­cal writ­ing. I don’t want to write web arti­cle-ads for pen­nies “just to get your name out there.” I don’t want to do PR. Is this because I’m only two weeks into it, and I’m still flushed with the promise of a Writ­ing Career? Will I be beat­en down by the end, will­ing to write ad copy for the local FREE Rental Mag­a­zine? I prob­a­bly am unrea­son­ably chip­per about it, I’ll admit.

But for now, I want to write three things. I want to write opin­ion arti­cles (hey, that’s what a blog is for, huz­zah!), I want to write fea­ture arti­cles, and I want to write sci­ence-fic­tion and/or fan­ta­sy and/or fic­tion. Basi­cal­ly, I want to write sto­ries.

What makes you think you can make it as a writer?

I know the road to becom­ing a writer is lit­tered with the car­cass­es of oth­ers’ attempt­ed careers. I know that “starv­ing artist” is a stereo­type for a rea­son. My moth­er once told me that she believed that peo­ple are artists or writ­ers because they can­not help it. They can­not stop writ­ing. They can’t not write.

That’s not me. I am lazy, unpro­duc­tive and eas­i­ly dis­tract­ed.

But my moth­er also raised me with an excess of con­fi­dence, and I do think I am a good writer. I think I can, is the answer, I guess.

How can you afford it?

Well, I can’t, frankly. The wife and I sat down and worked out a bud­get that would keep our stan­dard of liv­ing rough­ly where it is, at least where our kids are con­cerned. So we kept after school activ­i­ties and enrich­ment stuff, but killed TV. We save on child care but not on health care. We’re not eat­ing out (ever, it seems) and we’re watch­ing our spend­ing like hawks (lazy, eas­i­ly dis­tract­ed hawks). And even so we’re in the red. That is, we’re bud­get­ed to be in the red. That’s not good.

So I have picked up a small time gig doing some social media writ­ing, and that is help­ing us close the gap. But what I real­ly need is to write, so I can sell, so I can write some more.

How long before you come to your sens­es?

I’m telling peo­ple that I’m giv­ing it a year. Some stuff hap­pens in a year that will make it much hard­er to do this, if I’m not mak­ing any mon­ey yet. Or, you know, if it looks like I won’t be bring­ing in any mon­ey any time soon, some­day. If it turns out that I am a ter­ri­ble writer.

Okay. So how is it going?

So far it is going okay. I’ve been at it for two weeks now, full time. The first week was tak­en up with a meet­ing and time spent on the social media gig. Ramp­ing up on that took longer than I had thought it would. I also had some issues keep­ing my not-writ­ing bound­aries firm that first week. Then last week I kind of lost it a lit­tle, in terms of my focus. Focus is an issue for me, as it has always been. If I’m into some­thing, it is easy to lose myself in it, be pro­duc­tive and cre­ative and awe­some. If I’m not, it can be a dis­tinct chal­lenge to make any head­way (my sis­ter will remem­ber a leg­endary bout with frac­tions in the sixth grade…).

Last week, I had too much on my plate, or thought I did. And as a result I drift­ed. This week, I’m much more focused. The chal­lenge will be to main­tain that every day, every morn­ing.

I’ll keep you in the loop on how it’s going.

So, is that it?

Yup. I’m also going to read. I’m told that read­ing is the best way to lubri­cate the writ­ing. I hope to walk the dog on occa­sion, and I’ll be here when the kids get home from school. But I am try­ing my best to keep the not-writ­ing away from the Writing’s time.