The endless slog through the morass of procrastination

I have reached 20,000 words on the novella I’ve been writing since November of last year. Yeah, that’s like, 2000 words per month. But despite the inchworm-like pace I’ve been maintaining on it, I still feel like reaching this milestone deserves some kind of cheering.

However.

If I keep up at this pace it won’t be done for probably another year, and that’s not even including the journey through the circles of hell that are rewriting, editing, editing, complaining to the editor about the edits, more edits, and finally formatting, losing the document, and formatting again.

So, how to step on the gas? How to focus on this thing above other shiny new things and just get it damn well finished?

Part of the problem is that I don’t think about the story enough. It’s got to be swimming around in my head constantly–bubbling, boiling–new ideas floating to the surface like bodies breaking away from their cinder blocks. I find that whenever I’ve been stuck or unmotivated for a while, taking a walk and really focusing on what I’m trying to do will knock stuff loose. It’s getting in the habit of doing it that’s the hard part.

If I spend more time thinking about it, the drive to write it will come. Even 1000 words a week would double the pace I’ve been keeping. God, that is depressing to type right there. I should be able to do 1000 words a day, that’s like, half an hour of typing right?

Here’s my plan. I’m going to think about the story every day, for at least a few minutes. About the characters–what are they doing? What are they feeling, thinking, eating, dreaming? About the world, the plot, and what’s to come. About what I’ve already done and what it might foreshadow or how I could use it or twist it to my needs. If I can keep stirring the pot of ideas in my head instead of hopping over to new, unrelated plans all the time, I hopefully won’t be able to keep from writing it. And if I can just keep typing words, a little each day, I might be able to finish this thing in like… five months.

Okay, that’s a worst case. But the worst case is now half what it used to be! Right? Right.

Anyway, thinking is important! I’m going to do more of it.

 

 

Xenogenesis

I just finished the Xenogenesis Trilogy by Octavia E. Butler, and am somewhat shocked that I’ve not heard of her before now. After reaching the last page and hearing the narrator say ‘first published in 1989’ I was even more startled. How have I gone most of my life without hearing about this series or author, and could some part of it be because she’s a she?

The story centers on a woman, Lilith, who wakes one day to find herself captive on an alien ship. We soon come to learn that the Earth has been mostly destroyed by a nuclear war. Aliens arrived some time afterward, and took what remaining humans they could find aboard their ship.

This is not your regular alien invasion story. The aliens are traders, but what they trade in are not material goods, but instead, genes. Every species they meet, they take a piece of to add to themselves in some way, adapting and changing themselves, then moving on.

There is much more to it than this, of course. The idea is very in depth and well thought out and intriguing. The one thing that continuously stood out to me though, was the lack of constant ‘fight, kill, destroy, win’ that is in so much sci-fi these days. Instead, in this series anyone who tries to solve a problem with violence is looked down on, and treated like one might treat a child throwing a fit. Those who resist and fight instead of compromise and adapt are portrayed as weak and foolish. I found it quite refreshing.

The series as a whole had a lot to say about the human condition, and how it handicaps us with a tendency to destroy ourselves. Our hierarchical ways combined with our intelligence, the books argue, are an inescapable disease waiting to kill us. The only cure is to change, genetically, in a way that most of the characters saw as losing their humanity.

In the end, there was no burst of violence to fight back and stay human, there was no brilliant solution that someone discovered and rushed to save the day. There was only a slow, peaceful acclimation and adaption to the new way of things.

I’ve never read a story quite like this, and it makes me wonder if the ever-prevalent ‘fight for what you believe in and never change or stop and somehow you’ll win’ is a male thing, and maybe I need to read more woman sci-fi writers. It seems in most adventure stories, the hero is glorified for never changing their opinion, never even considering any other ideas than what they began the story believing, and always holding true to their ideals, even to the death. Compromise is never smiled on, adaption and change is never given the credit it deserves, and is instead seen as a weakness. I never thought much of this before and took it kind of for granted. Now I bet it will irritate me in future novels I read.

I highly recommend this series, and look forward to reading more of Butler’s work.

Planets… Everywhere!

NASA just announced the discovery of over 1200 new planets, doubling the number of confirmed exo-planets. This number, I’m sure, will continue to grow at an exponential rate as our technology improves, until counting planets in exact numbers becomes as pointless as trying to count the exact number of stars.

It’s looking more likely every year that we’ll find evidence of extra terrestrial life in my lifetime, and I can’t wait! Intelligent life.. maybe not, but I am so excited to see how a whole other environment would evolve life differently, even at the single-cell level.

When writing, I try to think of strange worlds and life very different from our kind of life, but all we have for a reference point is ourselves and the world we know, so any imaginings are going to be influenced by that. Until we see other life for the first time, we won’t really know what to think. A completely alien ecology will likely be something totally unimagined.

Will life even still follow the basic rules of evolution? We just don’t know. We can say that we know how life evolves, and we can imagine what kind of life would evolve in different environments, but does all life evolve the same way? Follow the same rules? It’s really hard to make any judgments based on a sample size of 1.

So let’s hurry up and find some alien life already! Sci fi writers everywhere will be extremely grateful.

Falling

I’m listening to The Ophiuchi Hotline by John Varley. In a recent scene, a character is described falling into Jupiter. She is wearing a futuristic space suit that keeps her from burning up as she enters the atmosphere, or being crushed by the pressure right away. She falls, and falls, and falls, blacking out several times from panic. Jupiter is huge, 1300 times earth’s volume. That’s a long way to fall. Eventually she passes through her panic and accepts her death. She enjoys the view. The sunlight paints colors on the boiling clouds. lightning strikes permeate the deep. She detects life forms swimming through the air.  All she can do is watch, and marvel at the beauty around her, in the time she has left.

And that’s life, isn’t it? Albeit on a much accelerated time table. We are all falling toward death, and no matter how we panic and scream and flail our arms for something to grab  to slow our fall, there is no stopping. There is no parachute. Our mothers birthed us into a free-fall that will end with us crashing into the ground of old age if we’re lucky, or colliding midair with disease or accident if not.

It’s coming, and quick. All we can do is accept it, and enjoy the view on the way down.

Habits: hard to make, easy to break

I was keeping a journal. A notebook I would write in every day, a thought here and there, a list of events. I have trouble remembering things that happened more than a few weeks ago, so it’s a nice help to my distracted brain to write them down. I was into it for a while. I got a nice pen, I would bring it to work with me every day, and write any thoughts as I had them… but for the past month, I just… haven’t been doing it.

Why did I stop? I don’t know. It’s easier not to do something than to do it. And once you don’t do it once, its easier not to do it the next day, and the next and the next, until it transforms from something you forgot to do, to something you used to do.

Doing anything is hard. It’s so easy to sit and stare at a TV show, or read a book, or play a video game–passively experiencing someone else’s creation, instead of creating for yourself. It is infinitely easier, and really, not that much less rewarding sometimes, to read a really good book than it is to write something good.

So why do it? Why do anything, when it’s so much easier to not do it and just passively experience what’s already been done? It’s not for the money, that’s for sure, or the fame, or respect, cause you have a similar chance of winning the lottery than getting that kind of recognition for your creations. So why do it?

I think, because it satisfies a deeply human need to create. Even if no one, or very few people, experience your creation, it is still  yours and it satisfies some impulse we have to make changes in our environment, to shape the world to our ideal, to spread our ideas and feelings to others. To communicate.

When we watch a show or read a book, we are being communicated to by the creator. And though that can be enjoyable, anyone anywhere can only take so much being talked to before they want to do a bit of talking themselves–even if no one is listening.

It’s easy to slip into the habit of being an observer, and much harder to make it a habit to create. But I think it’s worth the effort, even if it never pays off in any tangible way, it will pay off spiritually, and emotionally for you personally.

So all you creative people keep doing what you do, even if it’s just for you!

 

Words need to ferment

This week was the three-year anniversary of the day I finished the first draft of my first novella, Iapetus Shift. That’s right, the same novella I just published last month. It took me about three months to type out the 30,000 word draft, but over two years of it sitting in my metaphorical drawer before I could even think about doing anything with the beast.

Not that I didn’t try. I would open the file every few months and start to read it, get a page or two and just close it in disgust. It actually made me feel physically ill to look at it I hated it so much.

I’ve often had this reaction with my short stories. It takes some time to be able to step back from something you’ve been working so closely on. Usually after sitting for a few weeks, a short story has fermented enough for me to enjoy the taste, so to speak. But this novella, being the longest thing I’d ever written at the time, it took a lot longer to age. And because it took so long for me to get past my disgust at it, I started to think that maybe it wasn’t this same effect of being ‘too close’ I had with shorts. Maybe it was something else.

Maybe it actually just sucked.

Once you get a thought like that in your head it’s hard to shake it, and I eventually decided to just forget about the thing and take it as a learning experience. But it was always there, in the back of my mind, like a box of junk in the corner of a crowded closet. You know there’s good stuff hidden in there if you can ever find the time to dig through all the crap… but mostly you just don’t want to bother.

In the end, it took two years before I could look at it and think ‘yeah, I can work with this’ and then another year of rewriting and editing. And even during that time I swung back and forth between ‘yes I can do this!’ and ‘oh god this is awful why am I bothering’, but eventually that pendulum settled on ‘I like it!’

And it only took three years.

I sure as hell hope my next project doesn’t take that long…

Anyway my point is, just because you hate something doesn’t mean it sucks. Get a second opinion, even if that second opinion is from yourself a few months (or years D: ) later.

Writing is hard

Why is it so difficult to type words? I know how to spell, I know how to string sentences together to express thoughts. So why do the words come so grudgingly?

I think, for me, the problem is one of caring too much. I want the words to be perfect, to evoke exactly what I’m trying to say, to be free of errors or confusion. When I don’t care so much about what I’m writing, and tell myself I’m just writing ‘for fun’, the words flow freely–and, are not of noticeably less quality than when I agonize over every syllable.

I know this, yet I can’t help but caring, over-analyzing, and fretting over each word.

The key is to find a way to trick myself into not caring about the quality of my work (until editing begins, of course), but that is easier said than done.

I can do it for a while. At first, I start spewing words without a care, but as they start to pile up, I inevitably go back and look over what I’ve done and realize it’s kind of good. Then the care starts to set in. I start worrying about the parts of it that don’t make sense. I start worrying about keeping up the quality, it suddenly becomes important. And once it matters whether it’s good or not, my writing slows to a crawl.

I’m stuck in that crawling stage now. I know, eventually I’ll swing back to not caring. After so long with so little progress I’ll eventually say ‘screw it, I don’t care anymore, I just want this stupid thing finished’ and return to vomiting words. But then, I’ll realize that my vomit is good, and start liking the story again, and grind to a halt again.

Is the trick simply to not read what I’m writing? I don’t know if I can manage that, since I have a pretty terrible memory and have to check what I named characters or places fairly often. But maybe that is part of the key.

I know there must be a way to trick myself into staying in the word-vomit phase. If I can discover it… it could be the secret key to fantastical success!

How do you do it?