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.