(I was asked to repost this to make it rebloggable, so here it is again)
Sleepyhollowjacks asks: During your Heart-Shaped Box writing days, how did you divide your time between projects? A few days a week on the occasional short story, the rest on Judas? One of my…
Last year I bought a giant wall calendar that I used to track my writing habits. I used a green check to indicate days when I wrote, and red checks on days that I didn’t. I bought the calendar a few months into the year, so one of the first things I did was put red checks through those months. This was not a good beginning.
I ended up writing only intermittently, usually one or two days here and there followed by weeks of nothing. Lots of red Xs, easy to see from across the room. It didn’t take long before I only updated the calendar occasionally, and usually only to add a bunch of red Xs. I did have success late in the year when I wrote a story and had it accepted for publication, but after that I struggled with all of my follow-up work, and pretty soon I stopped updating the calendar at all. It was clear that my system wasn’t working.
However, I still wanted to find some way to track my writing and inspire myself to keep doing it every day. I’ve been wracking my brain for years trying to figure out a way to apply my reading habits to other parts of my life. Finally it occurred to me that I shouldn’t track days I didn’t write because it was just demoralizing. Instead, I should only track my successful days.
Luckily I had this brainstorm at the start of the month, just in time to begin a new goal and put myself on solid footing. I took a quick trip to Target and picked up a new calendar along with some stickers I would use to track my progress. You can see the results below.
I’m proud to say that I wrote every day in January of 2013.
One of the things that was a huge help was the fact that I kept my criteria for writing very forgiving. I knew there would be days when writing would be the absolute last thing I’d want to do. Days when I’d be exhausted or put it off until the last minute. Usually both at once.
Instead of forcing myself to work on Fiction Fit For Publication, I decided that any kind of writing would count towards my goal. That meant writing in a journal, free-writing, flash fiction, prose fragments, blog posts, anything that went on for more than a hundred words or so. At first I fell back on journaling or free-writing pretty often, but once I started getting into the swing of things, I found it much easier to blog regularly.
I updated Full of Words the most, but I also wrote some pieces for GamerSushi that I’m pretty proud of. I quickly discovered that writing every day began to take away some of the specter of writing in general. Blogging was no longer quite so intimidating because I knew I could knock out a book review in under an hour if nothing else came to mind.
Today I’m kicking off February by writing this post. My goal is to continue taking things easy. Sure, I want to start producing more fiction, but right now the important thing is writing every day no matter what. I have a feeling that the more I write, the more I’ll want to write, and the easier it’ll be to tackle something more ambitious.
Until then, I have plenty of books to review.
Jake hefted the bag and pushed his way through a wall of vines and into the clearing. A thorn caught him on the cheek and his fingertips came away bloody when he gingerly felt the cut. He cursed under his breath and pressed his sleeve into the side of his face while he took a look around the clearing.
The bag was heavy and full of clanking metal, so he grunted and dropped it before striding purposefully to the edge of the trees and walking the perimeter. He counted off distances in his head, idly checking leaves and twisting branches as he passed. When he finished the circuit he did a quick bit of mental calculation, nodded to himself, and returned to the bag, which he opened and up-ended. A pile of thick metal bars spilled out on the forest floor and he regarded them critically.
He picked up two lengths of metal and walked to a likely spot on one side of the clearing. Standing so that his legs were shoulder-width apart, he carefully laid the bars down, one to each side. He did his best to keep them parallel, but absolute precision wasn’t required at this point, so he didn’t spend too much time fussing with them. Instead, he walked briskly back to the bag and grabbed another two pieces of metal then lined them up much the same way.
He spent the next hour or so laying out two parallel lines of metal bars that ran from one end of the clearing to the other. His forehead was drenched with sweat when he stopped, panting, and regarded his work, which looked like nothing so much as an ambitious child’s attempt at train tracks. He took a few deep breaths, wiped the sweat away, and began the next part of the process. The important part.
He produced a rag and a small glass bottle of golden liquid from one pocket, unstoppered the bottle, and poured some of the liquid into the rag. He leaned down and wiped the rag down the entire length of one line of metal bars, replenishing it with liquid as necessary. When he’d repeated this process with both lines of metal, they seemed to glow faintly with a strange inner light.
Jake stoppered the bottle again, returned it to his pocket and took a small leather-bound journal from another pocket. He turned and walked a few feet back from the lines of metal, opened the journal and flipped through until he found the pages he was looking for. After clearing his throat and taking a deep breath, he began reading.
As he spoke the words in a steady, booming voice, the lines of metal began to shimmer. As they shimmered, they began extending further into the forest on each side. The trees parted around them, forming first an arch and then a tunnel that stood ten feet tall and a few feet wider on each side. When Jake finished his recitation and closed the book with a snap, the resemblance to train tracks was unmistakeable.
His work done, Jake returned the book to his pocket, bundled up the empty bag and sat down on the forest floor to wait. He pulled a flask from an inner pocket and took a quick slug, wincing as the liquor burned his throat. He wondered, not for the first time, why there couldn’t be an easier way to arrange a meeting with the Colonel.
It wasn’t long before he heard the far-off sounds of a train approaching. When it began applying brakes, he gathered his things and stood. The engine burst into the clearing with a squeal and immediately filled the air with clouds of steam and the smell of burning metal. A few cars passed before it came to a complete stop.
A door on the closest car opened and a conductor stepped out, beckoning Jake forward with one furry paw. Jake presented his ticket and the conductor smiled in a toothy, feline way that wasn’t altogether reassuring, but that didn’t stop him from walking up the steps into the car’s darkened interior. He was barely inside before the train lurched into motion.
The car was cloudy with sweet-smelling smoke, and the seats were full of creatures with eyes that glinted yellow and green in the dim light. Jake did his best not to stare. The car he wanted was further back, so he kept walking until the smoke thinned out and the decorations weren’t quite so shabby. Here the seats were replaced with enclosed rooms that allowed the upper-class customers a modicum of privacy, not to mention better air quality.
He found the right door and knocked. After a moment’s hesitation, a gravelly voice spoke from within.
“I said most explicitly that I was not to be disturbed!”
“It’s me, sir. You called for a meeting.”
“I suppose I did. Come in, then.”
The Colonel was alone in the compartment, sitting on one bench with his face to the window, watching the forest speed past. Jake noticed that the thick orange hair on his face and hands was starting to show a little grey.
“You’re late. Pull down my briefcase and take a seat.”
Jake did as he was told and waited while the Colonel thumbed in a code and clicked open the briefcase. He pulled a thick red file folder from within and handed it to Jake before shutting the briefcase again and setting it aside.
“Start reading. We’re going deeper into the Shade Kingdom than you’ve ever been before.”
Jake hesitated for a moment under the Colonel’s laser-like gaze, then flipped the folder open and began reading. The Colonel turned back to the window with a sigh and left him to it.
“Beautiful country you have here. Shame it won’t last.”
Jake ignored this and turned another page, only to involuntarily suck in a breath at the face pictured there. Her face.
This was going to be interesting.
Why good books are good and bad books are bad.
Why I am smarter than everyone else on the panel and in the world
Everything women write is good and everything men write is bad, but this isn’t sexist
How to be more like me.
Why all my life choices have been validated by my…
The day riots. When I stumble out the door of my apartment into the mid-day glare, the sun feels closer than it has ever been, and I imagine it burning off the sea in great clouds of steam. I wince and look down at my feet, tears stinging my eyes. That is when I see that I am standing in a pool of rainbow light, broken apart by the air thickening around me. I gasp and dive back through my still-open front door just before a ball of electricity explodes behind me, right where I had just been standing.
I lay on the floor, deafened and shaking, and curse under my breath when I realize that the ringing in my ears is, at least partially, my battered StormAlert shrilling dire warnings from the table where I left it. I stay flat on my back until my heart stops banging around inside my chest and the insistent beeping tapers off into silence.
I drag myself up off the floor and shove the StormAlert into my pocket like I should have in the first place. It really only gives me a few seconds’ warning, but sometimes that is all I need. I’m still standing, more or less. Never mind my attempt at suicide through absentmindedness.
Before I head back out into the day, I grab a sweat-stained baseball cap from the hallway closet and jam it down over my forehead. When I reach the threshold again, I stand there for a few seconds, holding my breath and listening to the strange, shattered stillness of the morning. The only signs of my near-death experience are a few scorch marks on the pavement and the acrid scent of burning ozone. I shut the door behind me, clutch the StormAlert in my pocket like a talisman, and hurry down the sidewalk with my head down against the glare of the sun. First to the store, then to Georgia’s.
At the checkout line, the owner tries to smile at me, but it curdles into something more unnerving than friendly, and I gather up my bags without a word. I’ve been a regular at this store for years, and I remember chatting with him some days. Empty pleasantries, but comfortable. Now the haunted look in his eyes makes me avoid eye contact, and his store is a ghost town. He keeps it open out of some perverse combination of stubbornness and denial, and I can almost believe things are normal again until he bars the door behind me.
Georgia only lives a few blocks away, but any time spent outside is doubly dangerous, so it always feels like miles. I stay beneath awnings and back in shadowed doorways, trying to find what cover I can. Everything smells like burning and it only makes me walk faster.
When Georgia opens the door, her stare is a thousand miles away. Only after I catch my breath and croak her name for the third time does she snap back to reality and let me into the refrigerated darkness of her apartment. I dump the grocery bags on her kitchen table and search for a light switch. When the overhead light sputters on, she blinks and clutches her shoulders, a wan smile fluttering across her face in a pale imitation of her former toothiness.
I do my best to smile in return, and she begins unloading the bags and putting them away. I am watching the curves of her back bend and stretch underneath the material of her thin white shirt when her voice floats back over one shoulder.
“How have you been? Still up to no good?”
She makes it sound airy and nonchalant, like always, and now I do grin despite myself.
“Oh, you know. Same old, same old. Keeping my head down.”
We put the rest of the groceries away in silence, then she pours two glasses of iced tea. We sit in the living room, sipping quietly, letting the glasses sweat moisture into our hands, and it feels like we are the only two people in the world.
“Are you staying safe, Joe?”
“Absolutely. I had a near miss this morning, but –” her head snaps up and I rush to reassure her “– but I’m fine, it was nothing, don’t worry about me.”
“I do worry about you, though. What would happen if you…”
She trails off and looks deep into the bottom of her glass, some imagined future tightening the skin around her mouth. Her skin is pale, almost translucent in the reflected light, and her hair hangs limp and unwashed, brown roots creeping further up into the blonde. She looks years older than she did before all this started, but she is still the most beautiful woman in the world.
I look at her and after a few moments I work up the courage to ask again, even though I already know the answer.
“I could stay. If you want me to.”
She shakes her head, no.
“He could be back any time. You know how he…”
She trails off, nothing more to be said. I sit there, drinking my tea, letting the ice clink against my teeth. After a moment I feel her hand, cool and damp and small, slip into mine and I squeeze it gently.
We sit there for a while in silence. When my tea is empty, I set down my glass and she pulls my head into her lap. I fall asleep with her stroking my hair.
When I wake, it is early evening, and I gather my things to return home before dark. We embrace in the doorway, and I press my hands into her shoulders, my nose into the side of her neck.
She stays carefully inside her apartment when I leave. I drink in one last look of her before she closes the door and I turn away to walk back home through the heat still radiating up from the pavement outside.
“There are dreams and there are career plans. They are not the same. Some dreams are compensatory: visions that we retreat to in times of stress, like blankies for infants, things that comfort us and tell us what we need to be told. The dream of being a famous writer can be like that: a dream of infantile power and attention that disguises the more immediate need — for safety, self-love, serenity, peace in our hearts.”
Just a quick post to point out a nice long post John Scalzi made re: the dedication/stamina/stubbornness necessarily to write and get published as a novelist. Here’s a choice pull-quote I can relate to:
[Some writers] start writing something that they thought might be a book-length idea, only to find not only did it not qualify as a short story, it was better for everyone involved if the stunted, weird thing was taken behind the tool shed, whacked with a shovel and buried without anyone else knowing it ever existed.
This episode was a bit harder to write, but I’m really proud of how it turned out, especially considering how rushed I was when I wrote it. My only regret is that I wasn’t able to find more places for comedy and/or jokes.
Eddy, Nick and Daniel all say they’re happy with the tone of the episode and love how it turned out, but I knew there would be fans that might complain about it being “too serious”. Oh well. Can’t please ‘em all.
Feel free to check it out, although I do recommend catching up on previous episodes first. The Leet World has become almost entirely serial at this point, so if you aren’t caught up on the previous episodes, you’ll be lost in the wilderness watching this one.