2014: Goals, Plans, Dreams

On one hand, I’m not sure there’s much purpose, at this point, in setting “goals” for the year.  I frankly have no idea what to expect in terms of time, sleeping of the baby, and energy levels in the year to come.  How can I set goals if I don’t even know what I’m going to have to work with?  However, I think there’s value in looking forward to the year and trying to assess what can be accomplished and what I want to accomplish.  So I’m going to follow the model I’ve set for myself the past couple years and look at my year ahead, and how that fits into my longer-term goals and dreams.  The one caveat: this year, I’m going to focus here primarily on the first half of the year, after which time passes I’ll assess where I am again and plan going forward from there.

Thinking About Long-term Goals

My thinking about my long-term goals hasn’t changed much over the past year.  Here’s what I had to say about my long-term goals last year:

I haven’t made much of a secret about it my long-term goals and dreams… it’s implicit in my blog’s tagline: “A Day in the Life of an Aspiring Fantasy Author”.  By “aspiring fantasy author” I mean not that I aspire to write… but that I aspire for my writing to be published.  …Now we live in a day and age when the definition of the word “published” is in flux.

On my blog I’ve been critical, and thought critically about, both the new Digital Self-publishing paradigm and the old traditional publishing model.  I’ve pointed out some of the systemic problems with each, and  how those problems negatively impact authors.  So, for me, it seems I could go either way.  There are strengths, weaknesses, opportunities, and threats with either road.

But when I say my long-term goal is to be a published author, I’m really talking about traditional publishing.

I then went on to dig into some of the “whys” behind my preference for “traditional” publishing to “digital self-publishing”, but I won’t rehash those here.  The reasons remain, largely, the same, though perhaps the size of my dreams has moderated somewhat in the year past.  (I’m basically in my mid-thirties, now.  Older and wiser.  Getting “rich” off of writing no longer seems even remotely achievable, even as a stretch-dream.)  But the overarching long-term goal I stated before, and the reasons for pursuing it that I give, remain the guiding star by which I’m plotting my medium-term journeys.

2014 Goals

In the last two years, I’ve given my goals as it relates across 4 categories: how much I plan to read during the year, how frequently I intend to write, completion of manuscripts and submission of manuscripts.  This year I’d like to add some new categories, while I’ll be dialing back somewhat on several of the prior four.

1) Read at least 400,000 words worth of fiction in the first half of 2014: In 2013, I was able to put over a million words worth of fiction reading under my belt.  I’d like to think I could do that again.  But I’m not quite ready to publicly lay down a goal that ambitious for this year, and given the total state of flux that V.R. has left our life in, I can’t even say whether it’s realistic or feasible to do it again.  Instead, I’ll focus on the first half of the year.  I want to try to do at least 400,000 words of fiction by July 1st, 2014.  Depending on how I do on that goal, I’ll adjust my 2014 expectations accordingly at that time.

2) Find a consistent writing schedule that I can realistically achieve, and then maintain it: In the past two years I’ve set ambitious goals for myself in terms of the frequency of my writing – at least, they were ambitious to me.  In both years I failed utterly to achieve those goals.  Right now, I simply don’t have a clear idea of whether or not I even can keep a consistent writing schedule.  So my goal for the first half of 2014 is to try and find one.  This is at least partially contingent on V.R. finding his own consistent sleeping schedule.  While 2013 was marked by a complete lack of consistency on his part with regard to sleep, 2014 is so far shaping up to look like it might be different.  I’m not sure what happened on January 1st, but things have been normalizing quite a bit since then in V.R.’s sleep department, though we’re by no means out of the woods.

If I can make it to the mid-year point on this goal successfully, then I’ll be in a better position to gauge how much writing I can achieve, and how frequently I can write in the second half of the year.  If not, it’ll be a continued search for a predictable and consistent schedule.

3) Contingent on the success of Goal #2, focus on completing a final draft of one short story: This goal is entirely contingent.  If I can succeed in finding some sort of consistent writing schedule in 2014, then my first effort will be to complete a final draft of a short story, namely the same short I’d been working on previously (i.e. Story of V).  Since last I put words down on Story of V, the world of that story has blossomed in my head, and it now constitutes an out-of-chronological-order “chapter” in a longer epic fantasy series of short stories.  In my head, these stories are each independent stories with their own characters (with a few recurring characters) and their own beginnings, middles, and ends.  But a thread runs through them that ties them together into a larger, hopefully coherent narrative.  That’s the idea, anyway.  But first… if I can, I want to finish this story.

4) Contingent on the success of Goal #3, submit completed story to a professional market or content: More contingency goals. If I can find time to write, and if I can thereafter finish a draft of this story, then and only then will I have something to submit.  Basically: I’ll cross this bridge when and if I come to it.

5) Develop a plan to revitalize the blog: The first of my new goal categories concerns this very blog.  Simply put, the site is dated and clunky. For a long time I’ve been wanting to update the blog to make it better and cleaner and update the visual appeal.  The blog also lagged a lot in 2013 for posts and content. A lot of this was due to lack of time for blogging, this is largely true. But some of it was for lack of something to blog about.  I believe that I need to take a broader view on what sorts of things are of value to discuss on this blog, and what I want to talk about.

This goal isn’t to complete the revitalization.  It’s to set up a plan to do so.  That plan will need to balance competing desires for maximum blog-beautifulosity and interestingification with minimum time input.

6) Find a consistent blogging schedule that I can realistically achieve, and then maintain it: Similar to Goal #2 in almost all respects except instead of relating to fiction, it relates to blogging.  I’ve long wanted a consistent posting schedule; maybe in 2014 I can figure out what a realistic schedule might be.

7) Personal Life Renewal: You know something else that dropped off a lot in 2013? My personal life. As in the whole Husband and Father thing.  I was so overtaken by being father I had to be (for little V.R.’s sake) that I hadn’t taken time to focus on being the father I want to be (for both V.R. and B.T.) Not to mention, you know, romancing Dear Wife. Of this I’ll say no more, except that I want to be very clear that these three people are my highest priority, and I want to acknowledge that here in my blog.

There.  That should be enough to keep me very busy for the next six months.  How do you plan to spend all that time?

2013 In Review: Goals, Books, and Writing

The fact that I didn’t find the time to post my goals for 2013 until February should have been a clue, early in the year, that this was not a promising year for achieving such goals.

Those goals, in brief, numbered 4: first, read at least 750,000 words of fiction, second, write at least 1,750 words of fiction per week (with a few caveats), third, complete the first drafts for at least two short stories and, third, to submit one completed draft in to a publishing market.

Perhaps one out of four ain’t bad, considering the year it’s been at the Casa Chez Watkins.  The short rundown of whether I met my goals: Yes, No, No, and No.

Yes, I read over 750,000 words of fiction.  In fact, I read over one million words this year.  The things I have read in 2013: A Memory of Light by Robert Jordan and Brandon Sanderson, The Hundred Thousdand Kingdoms by N.K. Jemisin, Mistborn: The Final Empire by Brandon Sanderson, and most of the first four books of the “Fablehaven” series by Brandon Mull, those being Fablehaven, Rise of the Evening Star, Grip of the Shadow Plague, and about 70% of Secrets of the Dragon Sanctuary.  Every book I’ve touched in 2013 has been a pleasure to read, and each enjoys my hearty recommendation.  Plus, I joined Goodreads in 2013 (feel free to friend me) in spite of my reservations on their being purchased by Amazon.

No, I did not write 1,750 words per week in 2013.  Not even close.  In truth, out of 52 weeks in the year, I actually wrote more than 0 words of fiction in only 5 of them.  Of those five weeks, only one week came even close to my stated goal.  Four of those five writing days occurred in the first quarter of the year.  This will prove to be a relevant detail. My total wordcount for the year: roughly in the neighborhood of 4,600 words total.

Consequent to the last, no, I did not complete any short stories and no I submitted nothing to any publishing markets for consideration.

So what did I do in 2013 besides read and nothing?  Allow me to reflect on the themes that the year presented to me.

V.R.

Yes it really is that simple.  No I don’t mean “Virtual Reality”.  I mean my second little tyke.

Fatherhood, of course, was it’s own challenging transition.  When I first started this blog lo these many 4 years ago, I already knew that Fatherhood was an imminent facet of my future.  The blog was, at the time, an outlet for the internal pressures inside me striving to find release in the medium of creative writing at a time when life was already fairly busy.

I had thought, when we began to prepare for our second child, that being the father of two wouldn’t be substantially more demanding of me than being a father of one.  More demanding, yes, but not lots more.

I was… mistaken.

Since the advent of our second precious little one early in 2013, I can now count on one hand, to some approximation, the number of nights in which I have had a full night of uninterrupted sleep. (Remember how I said that the fact that most of the writing I’d done this year was in the first quarter was a relevant detail? This is how it is relevant.)  I find myself chronically sleep-deprived and both emotionally and intellectually drained.  What wherewithal I have has been devoted to trying to be a good husband and parent and to doing my best to have an outstanding year in my dayjob.  Being mostly – but not always entirely – successful in these endeavors has come at the cost of virtually no writing progress whatsoever in any of the several writing projects I am theoretically juggling.  (“Theoretically” because in practical reality those balls have been lying gathering dust this year, and hardly a one has been picked up or dusted off this year.)

So why, in all this, was I able to do so well in reading? Two reasons, I think: first, while reading is an intellectually engaging activity, it is markedly less cognitively demanding than writing and composition.  Second, relating to my writing head-space and proclivities and how that contrasts with reading: I can read in very short bursts (though I prefer not to be forced into shorter bursts) of as little as a page or two or a few minutes at a time.  Any progress made during that time is still progress toward any quantifiable reading goal. For writing, it’s not so simple for me. You’ll find lots of advice out there suggesting that one should make use of every available free minute to write, be they five minutes here or ten there. Except I can’t actually do that, or at least I’ve not yet found it in myself to do so.  I need enough free time and space, chunked together, to allow me to get into the story I’m producing, to delve into the characters and to feel the beats and rhythms of the plot.  If I have only five minutes in which to do this, any words I write, however few in number they may be, are more likely than not going to need to be deleted later, in which case the writing becomes a game of one step forward and at least as many steps back.  Not a terribly successful formula for progress.  All this while simultaneously draining still more from my already meager and dwindling cognitive reserves.  (A sad milestone for me this year: I believe 2013 is perhaps the first year I know of in which I felt stupider at the end than I did going in.)

Writing didn’t happen.  Reading did happen.  And something else happened in 2013.  I did lots of fathery-type stuff. For all that my mental resources felt drained, I still have a lovely and happy family, and I’m reasonable certain that all the members of that family – both little boys as well as wife and, yes, probably even the dog – are happy to have me as part of their lives.  Little V.R. may not sleep with anything remotely resembling consistency at night, but when he’s awake at the same time as the sun is up, he’s a genuinely joyful and adventuresome soul with a keen passion for the zest in life.  And let’s not forget B.T., who continues to grow and develop in delightful ways, proving at every turn that he’s gifted with a bright and inquisitive mind, a sensitive and loving heart, and a strong desire to make sense of the world around him.  Between the two, my own heart is so full of proud daddy emotions that the organ has undoubtedly had to increase in size somewhat dramatically in order to encompass it all.

I’m sad that I’ve had a poor year with respect to my writing – I’d be lying if I said otherwise. But I think it is equally true that the joy B.T. and V.R. have brought me in return this year has been fairly just compensation of another kind.

I’ll update with a review of my year in blogging at a later date, but here’s a sneak preview: The life-altering consequences of adding a second child to our home was felt not only in the realm of fiction writing.

So that’s the year looking back, for me.  How was your 2013?

NoNoWriMo

It’s that time of year again.  We’re 12 days into the month of November, and authors and would-be writers all around the world are cracking their knuckles and flexing their story-muscles.

So far, I’m on track this year for a perfect NoNoWriMo.  That’s right: I’ve written 0 words of fiction so far this month, and if I keep up this pace of 0 words a day, I’ll be able to crack that 0 word total by the end of the month.

I’m being facetious, of course.  Can you tell?  In reality, if you were taking part in NaNoWriMo, you should find yourself somewhere around the 20,000 wordcount mark today.

Hey, I’ll level with you: if I had the opportunity to participate in NaNo, I would.  Heck, if I could find the time to put down five thousand words, much less fifty thousand, I’d take it.  I don’t really take pride in the fact that I’m not doing NaNo and that I’m not writing.  I take no pleasure in the fact that it has been 3 months since I’ve written a word of fiction (compounded with another 5 months of no writing before that solitary instance of activity).

But a blog where I complain about how little I’m writing is no fun to write, and an absolute killjoy to read.  So I make light, when I can.  Just one of the ways I put one foot in front of the other and keep moving forward without losing hope that, yes, one day I will be a writer.  I don’t even mean necessarily a published professional writer, though I hope one day to be that too, but a writer as in someone who writes.  Right now?  I can’t really claim even that designation.

But you know what designation I can claim? A dad.  And not a half-bad one at that.  Not always a good one, sure, but more good than bad.  And I’m a husband.  Maybe a middling one, but at least I make the effort.  And I’m a an employee.  I like to think I’m an asset to my company and that I bring a lot to the table.  Right now, this trifecta takes the overwhelming majority of my time.  Most of the remainder (not counting sleep, of course) goes to a fourth thing which I am: a responsible homeowner.  The long-running projects Dear Wife and I have been engaged in are currently languishing for lack of energy to complete them, but I’m well on my way down another, more time-sensitive home owner’s project that’s eating a lot of time: reclaiming my yard from the unruly wild.  (Okay, so, currently the moles are sort of winning.  But new grass is one its way, and I’m still looking for new options on how to deal with the subterranean varmints.)

That’s the forecast for November 2013.  But tell me, how’s your month going?

Links to Chew On: The Great Library

Oh look: it’s my semi-annual link dump.  Enjoy these links to chew on:

  • Has one of the Seven Wonders of the Ancient World been reborn?  Bibliotheca Alexandrina explores the new Library of Alexandria – which is pretty awesomely cool.
  • Jim Butcher offers his advice to aspiring authors (of which I am one).  He warns that most aspiring authors will kill their dreams by their own hands.  I know of what he speaks: I struggle daily with whether to pull the plug and turn off the terminal life support on which my dreams of authordom subsist.  (Those dreams have been nigh-mortally wounded by my abyssmally-low wordcount productivity, which is a result of many factors, chief among which is my decision to focus my attention on things that I’ve deemed more important than writing – you know, the stuff I go on and on and on about here in my blog.)  If I ever come out on the other side of this, it will because of my dream’s will to live, to survive, to endure and, yes, to “transcend”.
  • Cory Doctorow has some thoughts on the ca. 19th-century marketing platforms that Publishers are currently using, and how they can move forward into the 21st-century.  (Hint: It doesn’t involve DRMed eARCs.)  Marketing is one the of four or five top reasons to go with traditional publishing instead of self-publishing.  But if traditional publishers can’t be bothered to use modern tools to do a more effective job at this, then that severely diminishes the argument in their favor.  Heck… even I, with my homely Microsoft Access and Excel skills can do better than a word processing file to keep track of this stuff.  (Okay, who’m I kidding: I’m mostly a whiz at Excel and pretty darn good at Access, too; but who else am I kidding: these aren’t so rare talents that any given corporation can’t find an intern or two who’s at least sufficiently competent with these basic tools to create a better tracking mechanism than that…)  As the number of publishers drops to a few, large corporations, it seems nonsensical to me that they can’t find the wherewithal to do even basic 21st-century business stuff.  I hope this changes, and changes soon.
  • Speaking of Marketing, this recent post on io9 about “7 Misconceptions About Sci-Fi Publishing” talks a bit about Marketing in one of its 7 points (the seventh, in fact).  It jives with a lot of the things I wrote about book marketing on my blog here, but comes with added extended quotes from actual book publishers!  The other six points in that piece are of varying grades of quality.
  • In “Movements: So What Do You Think of My Story…” on Strange Horizons, Filipina author Rochita Loenen-Ruiz discusses the mindset and headspace needed to write about cultures other than your own.  Her article doesn’t use the word, but it’s highly critical of people who use “Exoticism” when writing other cultures.  By the same token, the piece praises those who approach writing other cultures with a humble attitude, as exemplified by: “I have these characters from a culture that is not my own, and I’m trying to get it right.  Can anyone help me and take a look at this?”  For my own purposes, since I work largely in secondary-world fantasy, this becomes a question of how to portray interesting non-real cultures that reflect more than just the typical Western-European tropes, but which are also not mere cultural charicatures.  Except for the occasional foray into sci-fi, I won’t have a lot of “Japanese” characters or “Filipino” characters or “African” characters or, for that matter, “European” characters.  But I hope that I will be able to write characters from a variety of different fictional cultures and borrow – graciously, humbly, and respectfully – from a variety of real-world cultures to fill my invented worlds.  So, not “Japanese” characters or “African” characters, but characters with a clear cultural and ethnic connection to other real-world cultures, and done in a way that is interesting and (hopefully) not offensive.  I’ve no doubt that I have and will fail, from time to time, but I will strive to improve.
  • Packing to go on a book tour is not something I have to worry about.  It may not be anything I ever have to worry about (but it’s a worry I’d love to trade up for).  If, however, I do have to face the challenges of preparing for a book tour, John Scalzi’s rundown of how he packs for it would undoubtedly serve as a useful primer.
  • This is really for my own theoretically future-reference, but seeing as how I have almost no experience querying and writing synopses for my stories, this turn-by-turn run-down of what to include in a synopsis should prove a useful instructional aid if I ever need it.
  • I’ve waxed on and on about my inability to spend any time writing (and my attendant shame at being so anti-prolific).  One could say I’m “obsessed with daily wordcounts”, inasmuch as you extend that phrase to include obsession with a daily wordcount that’s consistently 0.  Author Jason Sanford looks at this sort of obsession a little differently.  The crux of his argument is that quantity does not equate with quality – but frankly I take that as a given, an article of faith.  On the other hand – you can’t have quality with a quantity of 0.  Author Rachel Aaron – she of the 10,000-words-a-day fame – also has some thoughts on this subject, to wit: she likes her some writing speed, but she still has to go back and rewrite to make her stories better, and she finds herself doing that more and not less as she goes along.  So at the end of the day, she and Jason are basically on the same page: you can’t skip the rewriting/editing/revising/whatever stage.  I suppose that what is best in life is to have both, eh?  Fast first drafts and nice, thorough rewriting/edting/revising/etc.
  • Here’s a very brief round up of links on SFWA and the GenderFail Kerfuffle – these links go mostly to authors whose blogs and feeds I already follow, but contained within these links are a wealth of additional links that provide a lot of food-for-thought.  First, I saw SFWA President John Scalzi’s post on the subject.  Without a little more context, though, I was more-or-less a fish out of water.  What, precisely, had happened?  Thankfully, Jim Hines was on hand with a somewhat more complete round-up of links on the subject (although see also the caveat he adds here, and his additional thoughts).  Included in that list was a link with a pretty thorough diagnosis of what happened, and included scans and/or PDFs of some of the offending material.  (Hines’ link list is worth perusing if this issue is of interest to you.)  The quick-and-dirty version: the last few issues of the official SFWA publication have had some problematic and misogynistic material in them: from a female warrior in an overtly “sexy” chain-mail bikini, an article about “lady” editors that spends too long extoling the phyiscal attributes of some of those editors (i.e. their beauty), and a praise of Barbie as an exemplar of longevity as attributed to her maintaining “quiet dignity the way a woman should.”  And then in the latest edition, two venerable old authors of the genre – the ones who wrote about the attractive “lady” editors, lambaste their critics and compare them to censors, fascists, and mass-murderers. Mary Robinette Kowal was more angry about how those two authors were able to singlehandedly trash the credibility of the SFWA with the misogynistic rant than about the rant itself – an understandable reaction from a former board member.  Jason Sanford is a little more direct and to-the-point: it’s “Time for the men of SF to tell the sexists to go to hell“.  Tobias Buckell, without providing context for why the post was necessary, linked to an article that made the point that “criticism isn’t censorship“.  (Jason Sanford seconded that notion.)  N.K. Jemisin made a reference to the SFWA kerfuffle (as well as to past kerfuffles such as RaceFail and others that were new to me) in her Continuum GOH speech.  This is one of those cases where I’m glad this discussion is happening before I become a writing professional.  It’s good to see people who are gracious and upright about these issues bringing them up and pushing for change – it’s good to have good examples.  It’s also good to expose myself to viewpoints that may illuminate some previously-unexamined latent sexism that I may contain within myself as a product of the culture I grew up in.  I hope I can be better, myself.  Meanwhile, some people are leaving SFWA over the ongoing sexism, while others are joining in the hopes of making a change in the organization.  At present, I am in a position to do neither…
  • The SFWA Gender-Fail dust-up was really just the beginning.  Misogyny is just one form of hatred and bigotry, and now an SFWA member has hijacked the SFWA twitter feed to spread other forms of hatred.  The hater-in-question was briefly referenced in Jemisin’s Guest-of-Honor speech linked above, and he took the opportunity to direct a lot of his own trollish malevolence toward Jemisin, and to do in a most transparently racist way.  There are now members of SFWA calling for him to be kicked out of the organization.  I don’t get a say – I’m not in SFWA – but I support their cause, and if you happen to be in SFWA, you should to.  Check out Amal El-Mohtar’s post on the subject linked above.  He’s got details on how to contact your SFWA representatives.  (ETA: The deleted section is no longer relevant, thanks to the next bullet.)  Tobias Buckell shares some similar thoughts on the matter here.  Jemisin replied (only a little obliquely) here, with a true take-down that cuts to the heart: “There can be nothing more pitiful — dangerous, certainly, but still, pitiful — than a person whose self-worth depends solely on their perceived ability to diminish others. That is a person who truly has nothing of his own.”  Some additional reactions to the aforementioned hateful bile here.  (As it turns out, the SFWA Board started looking into what actions it thinks it might take…)
  • At the end of the day, SFWA decided to expel the member referred to above.  Jemisin – the injured party in this case – responded to Beale’s expulsion, then offered a glimpse into her thought process had SFWA chosen not to do the right thing (thankfully, a counter-factual).  Meanwhile, writer SL Huang has a convenient timeline (with tons of links) of events in this latest dust-up, starting from the January 2013 SFWA Bulletin with the bikini chainmail cover and the initial, mildly offensive articles by Resnick and Malzberg, going through Resnick & Malzberg’s subsequent meltdowns, former SFWA president John Scalzi’s apologies, the unmasking of a serial sexual harasser from within the halls of Tor Books, the reactions of aforementioned hateful racist, homophobic, misogynistic turd, subsequent online discussion related to said turd’s misuse of SFWA communication channels, and finally the expulsion of said turd.  That’s a lot of controversial stuff, and I could link to all of it, but in the interest of time it seems more efficient to link you to someone who’s already aggregated a lot of those links…
  • It seems Amazon has decided to get into the Fanfic business… I haven’t much – or anything, really – to say on the subject.  I don’t write fanfiction or tie-in-fiction or anything of the like and neither do I have any desire to tread down that road, pesonally.  I  have way, way, way too much of my own stuff that I want to do to worry about adding to other peoples’ worlds.  But I’ll let some other, pro-authors opine: here’s John Scalzi, Jim Hines, and Tobias Buckell with some thoughts.
  • An infographic on the effects of writing on the brain http://www.bestinfographics.co/amazing-facts-about-writing-and-the-brain-infographic/
  • A modest bit of research on the classifications of Geeks and Nerds
  • Tobias Buckell has some interesting thoughts on the nature of “advice” from people who are doing well in publishing – whether via the new “self” model or the old “traditional” model: their advice is heavily skewed by their “Survivorship Bias“.  In other words: they think that because what they did worked for them, that there is some universal truth that can be taken from their experience and replicated perfectly.  What the Survivorship Bias ignores is the stories of the people who did the exact same thing as those who succeeded and yet… they failed.  Because they failed, we don’t hear their stories, so we assume the stories of the successful are accurate.  There’s a lot more than this on Buckell’s post, and you should check it out.
  • So how did that case/trial against Apple for publishing colluding work out? No big surprises, but Apple was found Guilty.  The evidence suggesting probable collusion seemed pretty strong – which is why all the publishers eventually bowed out; they knew they couldn’t win this fight.  Only Apple had pockets deep enough to bother trying.  Scrivener’s Error, of course, has thoughts on the ongoing matter here and here.
  • Scott Lynch doesn’t understand what you mean when you say you’re looking for a “shortcut” to publishing success…
  • Is Barnes & Noble’s Nook e-reader on it’s last legs?  They seem to have made the decision to exit the “tablet” business.  It would be pretty sad if that were the case – the Nook readers are the only really substantial competition for Amazon’s Kindle readers, as far as I can see.  I’m aware others exist, but without being attached to a content-purchasing backend, I suspect they’re all pretty much dead-in-the-water.  Nothing against Amazon (really; I use them all the time) but I’d really prefer they didn’t have a de facto monopoly over e-book distribution… (and no, Apple doesn’t count, first, because they don’t make readers, they make only tablets, and second because hello aforementioned antitrust litigation.)

Writing Progress: Week Ending August 3, 2013

Hey, would you look at that!  I wrote something:

Book of M:

  • Background Notes Wordcount: 0 words
  • First Draft Wordcount: 0 words

Story of V:

  • Wordcount: 0 words

Project D:

  • Wordcount: 1,460

Grand Total: 1,460 words

Does this mean that my long drought of non-writing is at an end?  Does this mean I’m back in the saddle?

In a word: No.

In more than one word: I can’t really say that it is, yet.  Too early to tell.  But I suspect for a while to come that my writing progress from week to week will continue to favor “No Writing This Week” more often than not.  While the proximate cause of my long dry spell in writing (i.e. my being the father of a still-mostly-new-to-this-world infant such as whose age is still  measured in months, and especially of such a one as has had an erratic sleep schedule) has noticeably improved, it has not been fully resolved.  To wit: I’m still the father of a something-month-old baby who doesn’t sleep for more than about 4 hours in a single stretch at night (a noticeable improvement overall, especially in terms of this length of time becoming generally (though not always) more consistent and predictable).  Besides the sleep issue, there’s all the other responsibilities one assumes when becoming the father of an infant.  No small commitment of time, that.   So, I’m still generally sleep-deprived and short on free time.

But for last week, at least, I wrote something.  And it felt great!

You might wonder a bit at the thing that I worked on.  It was neither the Short Story that I’d been focusing on (with intent to send off to Writers of the Future or to some other fiction market upon getting through some clean revisions), nor the Steampunk-flavored Post-apocalyptic Epic Fantasy novel.  The latter is still my main long-term project.  The former has morphed, in my mind, into an “epic” short story series, which may yet see multiple short stories set in the same world, with different characters at different times, each a hopefully satisfying read and a complete story on its own, but which ultimately weave together to tell a longer, more cohesive story.  (Time will tell if I can meet that ambition.)

But “Project D” – so named because it is neither a novel nor a short story nor, really, any of those other wordcount-bound sub-classifications of units of fiction.  It’s a personal project, really.  It’s fiction, yes.  Some flavor of fantasy.  And at this juncture I doubt that I will ever make the story public – that is, I do not expect to see this published and available for reading by other people.  (Though I may opt to solicit for feedback from a small number of trusted folks.)  Not to be too evasive about it, but it’s a “book” for one of my children.  (This one is technically for the older of the two.  The younger will undoubtedly get his own book in time.)  As a “book” it’ll probably be very short – no longer than a very long short story.  But I have ideas enough for this to be an ongoing multi-part serial story (again, doubtless, with some cross-over for the expected eventual book for the second child).

I’m strangely excited for this project.  Like I said, my head is just bursting with ideas for it.  I decided to let my imagination go wild and take me where-ever it though to go.  Whether I’m looking at tired tropes or something strange and new and wonderful… Who knows, who cares?  The only person whose opinion will matter, at the end of the day, is the child for whom this story is written.

And so that’s where I am today.  If I write this week again, then maybe there’ll be another update next week.  If not… well… neither you nor I will be surprised.

2013: Mid(ish)-year Review

I sort of began the year with a set of goals for the coming year.  By sort of, I mean I didn’t get around to posting them until the first of February.

They were ambitious but, I told myself, achievable.

Now the year is a little past half-gone, and the time of the Mid-Year introspection and self-review is upon us.  (Okay, maybe it’s behind us for everyone else, and I’m just late to the party.)

And I see now that I should’ve taken the fact that the year was a month-gone before I was able to find the time to post my goals as an omen for how the rest of the year would go.

But reality has a way  of, you know, being real, in spite of whatever spin you might like to put on it.  It catches up with you.  And, it turns out, you can’t make great things happen by the sheer force of optimism.  So it is that I start this mid-year review a humbled man.  So, let’s review the ways in which I have been humbled, and maybe contemplate, if I can, what humility has taught me?

1) Reading Goal – This is the one goal I set for myself that I still have a chance of achieving this year.  My goal was to read 750,000 words worth of novel-length fiction this year.  So far I’ve made it through somewhere just north of about 500,000 words, which means I’m closing in on 70% of my goal for the year.  Not bad.

2) Write 1,750 words of fiction per week – Considering that I’m going on my 19th consecutive week, now, without a single word of fiction writing.  Well… I certainly dropped the ball on that one, didn’t I? I have an excuse – a perfectly good excuse (i.e. the relatively recent introduction of infant V.R. into our lives) – but excuses are excuses.  The fact is, the year is half-gone, and I’ve written scantly more than 3,000 words total.  That’s over 4 weeks of the total 28 weeks so far.  (And, if you do that math, that’s much less than 1,750 words in the weeks in which I did write.)  So, basically, this is a goal that I’ve yet to come even close to meeting on any given individual week, and I’m way past exhausting my 14-week supply of “freebie” weeks.  Even if the second half of the year recovers somewhat (current prognosis: not bloody likely), this goal would still merit an overall failing grade for the year.

3) Complete 2 Short Story First Drafts each less than 8,000 Words – As I stated in my original goals, I began this goal with a leg up.  I’d already completed the majority of a first draft when the year turned.  Well… I finished that first draft.  And I haven’t written a word since.  Still… in theory this goal is still within the realm of possibility.  If things ease up at  home (read: V.R. starts sleeping more regularly), I might be able to actually pull off a second first draft.  Actually, it’s rather unlikely, but even if I can get a second first draft started, I’d consider this a goal mostly met.  Or at least mostly enough to feel good about it.

4) Submit at least one completed and revised work to a professional market – Not gonna’ happen.  2013 is not going to be the year when I make my first professional short-fiction sale, nor even the year in which I get my work back out in the market.  As mentioned above, I have one short fiction first draft ready.  But I don’t see how I can get this fully critiqued and revised (through both an alpha and beta reader stage) in time to get it out to a market this year.

What Have I Learned?

I guess a few things.  Namely: a new baby in the family is a bigger time commitment than I fully appreciated.  I was in the middle of Grad School when B.T. came along.  And his personality and V.R.’s personality have some differences.  So while I thought I knew what to expect, I really didn’t.  Fatherhood is an ongoing learning process, filled with many joys, many challenges, many triumphs, and the occasional failure of vision, foresight, planning, or patience.

Nor have I yet fully grasped the implications of my own writing process, the time and energy I really need to accomplish anything meaningful in my writing.  Which means, simply put: as a writer, I’m not yet where I want to be, in terms of skill, talent, focus, and self-awareness.  I’ve a long, long way to go before I’m the writer I want to be.  And I doubt I’ll achieve anything significant in terms of publishing before I get a lot closer than I now am to that ever-receding, evanescent and evasive goal.

So now, I’d update my 2013 goals in a more formal manner but… I think the above self-examination will suffice.  I’ll try to be more conscientious (and more realistic) in setting my 2014 goals when the time comes…

Links to Chew On: In One Fell Swoop

Wow… Has it been a while since I cleaned out my link supply.  I guess it’s well and past time, now, isn’t it?  So here’s a half-year’s supply of links for you to gorge in one fell swoop.

(Incidentally… it’s taken this long because I typically don’t just post the links, I often include my own commentary.  That takes a lot of work and blogging time.  Of necessity, my commentary on these links will be kept to a minimum.)

  • John Scalzi and David B. Coe were just two of the authors who weighed in when Amazon announced their new author ranking tool.  Neither was terribly enthused, and neither took the bait.  Myself?  I can’t say I have an opinion that counts; I’ve got no dogs in this race. 
  • Mary Robinette Kowal shares some words of wisdom as she parses the difference between “audience” and “market”.  A hint: you want someone to read your story, right?  Who is it that you hope will read it?
  • Some people don’t quite trust the “cloud”, or Amazon.  This story of a user whose data was wiped by Amazon without explanation is part of the reason why.  Some further perspective and updates on this story could be found here and here.
  • SCIENCE!  It boggles the mind!  Imagine if this artificial leaf technology proved viable, and really took root…
  • SCIENCE!  It boggles the mind!  Imagine if we could develop viable technology based on the insanely mind-boggling weirdness of Quantum Entanglement that somehow enabled faster-than-light communications! 
  • I’ve occassionally been critical of some aspects of Apple’s business… but when it comes to criticizing Apple, this is is just a bridge too far.  Seriously… literal demonization is for intellectual lightweights
  • SCIENCE is SCIENCE!  It still boggles the mind!  Also, space opera-class tractor beams, here we come!  (Imagine the real-world practical applications of a system like this.)
  • I know I’m the last geek on the internet left to opine on this, but, hey, did you hear Disney bought Star Wars?  What am I thinking.  Of course you did.  It was only the biggest news in Geekdom when word got out.  I found some additional (and interesting) reactions here, here, and here.  Actually, I do have a somewhat unique opinion of my own to share on the topic: Prequel Remakes, anyone?  As in… Prequels that don’t suck!? I actually have an idea or two about how that might work – what you need to keep and what you need to jetison – and it’s a lot more complicated than “Kill Jar Jar Binks”.  If anybody actually cared enough to ask, and I found the time to answer, I might share those thoughts in another post.
  • Surprisingly, there wasn’t a lot of chatter in the Writing World, that I saw, talking about the Random-House/Penguine merger.  Here’s the NY Times, Hollywood Reporter, and Publisher’s Weekly on the proposal (which, as I understand, has subsequently been green-lit by a Justice Department that’s clearly asleep at the wheel).  Speaking strictly from a business-strategy perspective, this is bad for writers, inasmuch as it presents a strategic “threat” (in the classic “SWOT” analysis style) to writers.  The reasoning is fairly simple: for writers publishing in the traditional industry, the publishers are their customers (not the actual readers, although the readers are still very highly relevant; see above-linked wisdom from Mary Robinette Kowal on audience vs. market).  When the suppliers in an industry (i.e. the writers) are many in number and the customers (i.e. the publishers) are few, that creates an imbalance of power in favor of the customers, who are able to negotiate/force lower prices or customer-favorable terms on the suppliers.  (This is the same effect that allows Wal-Mart to lean so heavily on its suppliers.)  That means, ultimately, that less money will flow toward writers.  It’s bad for readers too, because of the opposite effect: when suppliers (in this case the publishers) are very few in number, and customers very many, the suppliers have disproportionate power to force customers to accept whatever terms they dictate.  This is why monopolies have traditionally been considered bad in America (although the government’s monopoly-fighting powers have been severely restricted and defanged in the last few decades).  For some further thoughts and legal analysis, check out Scrivener’s Error on the subject.
  • Hey, did you hear there’s a whole new way to get published, these days?  It’s called self-publishing. But with new publishing dynamics comes new ways to scam would-be authors.  Here’s John Scalzi, again, with a warning note about one of the myriad new ways self-published authors may find themselves on the business end of a scam operation…
  • Did Nathan Bransford really just compare the biographies of Steve Jobs and George Washington to NaNoWriMos?  Nathan clearly knows his stuff, but his argument that even without the traditional publishing industry large-scale, high-quality, critically and culturally important, time consuming and expensive books will still be produced sounds a bit off-key.  His pointing toward Kickstarter as a means of funding 500,000-dollar epic biographies and such doesn’t bear any meaningful resemblance to reality.  (How many crowd-funded Kickstarter publishing projects can you name?  I can think of only a small handful, some even quite successful, but none with which I am familiar are at all comparable to a Steve Jobs or George Washington biography.)  Nathan also misses the mark in a big way by arguing that books are commodities.  Some books, perhaps, are.  But many books, and especially the most important books, and possibly most books generally, lack a critical element of what makes a good a commodity: fungibility.  The fact is, one book is not easily traded for another; one author is not the same as the next.  Because of this, books are different than commodity goods.  That’s just basic economics.  This doesn’t necessarily negate the question of whether books should be cheaper and easier to produce, or whether digital disruption is a good thing, or the fact that there are big problems in the traditional publishing world.  But it does undermine some of the basic underpinnings of Nathan’s argument. 
  • Speaking of Kickstarter, here’s the story of one of those very few successful publishing Kickstarters with which I am familiar: Tobias Buckell’s Kickstarting of his new novel The Apocalypse Ocean.  I haven’t read the other books in this series (this is the fourth; the first three were traditionally published) but the first book in this series is still on my To Read list (which I’m sure I’ll catch up to eventually).  The story of Buckell’s Kickstarter campaign makes for some pretty fascinating reading.  Obviously this relates to the pri0r link, and in case you missed it, I threw in a second link to an interview Buckell did in which he discussed his Kickstarter experience.
  • The State of My Career“, in which author Jim Hines responds to critics of his who popped up on the blog of Kristine Rusch (here).
  • The  Encyclopedia of Fantasy is Free?  Oh, here it is…   
  • Here’s a fun little article on the Macroeconomics of Middle-Earth (and the impact of Smaug)… because DRAGONS!
  • It is the conventional wisdom, now, among the brashest cheerleaders of self-publishing that you will automatically make MOAR MONEY self-publishing than you can going the traditional publishing route because ZOMG 70% ROYALTIES!  AMAZON 4EVR!  But best-selling author John Scalzi would like to disabuse you of that notion as he discusses how the finances of an e-book “gold mine” would actually work out for him, based on the data and sales of his most recent best-seller.  Short form: self-publishing will work for some, of course, but it is not automatically the best decision, financially speaking, for every author.  (About which, Scalzi has another thing to say about the reasons writers write.  Yes, it’s about artistic stuff or love of story, or whatever.  But, quite frankly, it’s also about the money.  Not “get rich quick” money, but “hey, I could do this for a living” money.  There’s nothing wrong with that.)
  • Bilbo’s “Contract” with the Dwarves… Because Hobbits!
  • Tobias Buckell shares some thoughts on being a pro-writer
  • There’s been a lot of interest bubbling up around the idea of resales of ebooks.  Here’s John Scalzi with some thoughts on this recent Publisher’s Weekly piece that speculates on an Amazon patent filing; there are some interesting comments from readers on Scalzi’s post. Scalzi follows up with an additional thought. But that’s not the end of the story, as Tobias Buckell points out a news story on a judicial ruling on the resale of mp3s, and suspects this will have an impact on the idea of reselling ebooks.  The Guardian takes a crack at the topic, as well (with an extended aside on the subject of the difficulty of citing e-texts in academic papers). I suspect we have not heard the last of this, yet…
  • Macmillan Settles with the DOJ: And thus this particular episode of Publishing Cat Fight (that is, episode 3.x, “Major Publisher Collusion vs. The Trustbusters”) came to a close… but the show promises more shenanigans and hijinks in future seasons.  (You knew the networks were going to renew this one…)
  • Speaking of more shenanigans and hijinks… Independent Booksellers sue Amazon and the DRM-happy Big publishers, because DRM as it’s currently implemented effectively locks Independent Booksellers out of the e-book market.  Not surprisingly, John Scalzi has a few thoughts on this, which I feel merit linking.  But there’s another perspective on this lawsuit that needs to be considered, as well: the technical side.
  • Speaking of DRM, Tor UK has a run-down of what it’s been like after one-year DRM-Free.  The short take-away: Tor UK thinks the move has been “hugely positive”.
  • I’m sure you’ve heard by now about the Epic Smack-Down battle between SFWA and Random House with their new e-book imprints such as Hydra and Alibi?  Well, here’s a link rundown of what I’ve seen on the story: I first became aware of the story when John Scalzi (outgoing president of the SFWA) noted that it looked like RH’s Hydra imprint was trying to suck authors dry.  He followed up with an assessment of an actual contract from Hydra’s sister imprint Alibi. Scalzi’s assessment? RH was acting like Jurassic Park’s “raptors at the fences“, systematically testing the resolve of hungry-for-publication authors for weaknesses.  Publisher’s Weekly carried RH’s response to SFWA’s slamming.  SFWA provided an official response here. John Scalzi had further thoughts and musings on the event related to advances and negotiating power. As part of the fallout to the debacle, Random House made changes to the contracts at Hydra and Alibi. Scalzi further opined on the changes made to the contract (tl/dr: good on RH for changing the contracts after public outrcy, but mostly those contracts still sound like they suck; note: this is my reading of it, and may not comport with the author’s actual intentions).  Literary agent Evan Gregory responded to the whole story with a defense of “royalty-only contracts” as a viable path to publication for many niche-genre writers.  But the legal shark from the Scrivener’s Error law blawg smelled blood in the water… here’s Scrivener’s analysis of the end result, and from a legal perspective, the shark is not pleased.
  • I still see the “No Adverbs” writing advice zombie periodically rear its misbegotten head, but this is perhaps the final take-down of that silly and erroneous writing advice.  To extend the zombie metaphor: it’s a headshot.
  • This video about Damsels in Distress in video games makes a lot of awesome points, and is well worth watching.  But the big take-away for me, as a fan of the Zelda game franchise?  Based on this vid’s mock-up of a Master Sword-weilding Zelda, I would so play a Zelda game where Zelda was the protagonist and got to kick but with sword and shield. She looks awesome as her own Hero.  Maybe this time Ganon targets the other piece of the Triforce and Zelda has to save Link?  Yeah.  I’d play that.  Here’s the home site for this video series, and I look forward to more of these at Feminist Frequency (where there are more videos on other topics of interest to speculative fiction fans).
  • So… Amazon purchased Goodreads… This has inspired a a number of folks to opine on the acquisition and its implications, including here, here, and here.  For myself: I was this close to jumping into Goodreads and setting up an account.  I mean really: this close.  As in, it was really more a question of when would I find the time than if I would.  But now?  I’m going to wait.  I’ve let Amazon have enough of its claws on my personal preferences.  I’d prefered to have had a separate, independent place that filled Goodreads’ role.  So, we’ll see how the site evolves and Amazonifies before I decide to take another look at it.
  • In which Tobias Buckell vents about frustration with news media that wanted to make him a poster child for the Brave New World of Publishing, and then lost interest when they learned he was taking a hybrid approach.  The money quote: “In retrospect, I should do what a couple other preachers of the new digital movement do. Decry traditional publishing, say you should go it alone, while working with a corporate behemoth of my own anyway so I get hybrid career and the attention boost.”  This is so true: nearly to a man most of the biggest names in digital self-publishing have achieved their success by simultaneously shouting about the death of large-scale corporate publishing and the virtues of the go-it-alone approach while raking in the benefits of deals and agreements with large corporate publishers of one kind or another. (Chuck Wendig has some mirror-image-like thoughts on the same matter.)
  • Dramatic publishing debacles are never, it seems, in short supply.  This time it’s Night Shade Books – which has published some pretty great stuff, but apparently has been financially mismanaged for years.  They want to pay back all their authors the  royalties they’re owed.  But to do it, they’re going to sell those author’s contracts, and force some pretty onerous contract changes going forward, like a sharp cut in royalties and some provisions that are ripe for abuse.  At least, that’s the picture I’ve gleaned from a variety of sources that have shared opinions on the subject.  Here’s Jason Sanford, Michael Stackpole, Tobias Buckell, agent Joshua Bilmes, Justin Landon of Staffer’s Book Review and Girl Genius creators Phil and Kaja Foglio with more on the whole sordid tale.  (In fact, that’s just the beginning… each of those has several more links you can follow to find even more juicy details.)  Obviously, I don’t have a dog in this fight – I’m a “pre-published” writer, so-to-speak, and have no business connection with Night Shade nor with any of their authors.  But based on the information I’ve seen in these places, were I in a position to have the choice the Night Shade authors have before them, I’d probably say: thanks, but no thanks; I’ll take my chances in bankruptcy court.
  • Chuck Wendig isn’t actually arguing with Hugh Howey in “Indie First? What Is Best In Publishing?” (The obvious two possible answers: “To crosh the traditional publishers, see dem driffen before you, and hear de lamentations of deir big box bookstores.” vs. “To crosh the self-publishers, see dem driffen before you, and hear de lamentations of deir poorly designed covers.”  Take your pick.)  Sadly… Howey and many of those who are cheerleaders for the digital self-publishing model are so far into “One-True-Wayism” that a relatively moderate voice like Wendig saying “Hey, waitaminnit, there’s more than one path, and different paths will be better for different people for different reasons” sounds, to these One-True-Wayers, like an attack.  The best quote from Wendig’s article, for my money: “Preference matters. The parameters of happiness and satisfaction are not universal across all of authordom. When you say something is best, you’re speaking in terms so simplistic they’re meaningless. Best how? Best for money? Readership? Respect? Happiness? Everybody has a different metric…” This is a microcosm of one of the most important lessons I learned in my MBA: How you measure something, and the metrics you use to measure it, matters, and to arrive at a useful comparison between options, you need to be able to be able to take account for a variety of different preferences on a variety of different axes of measurement.  When you put useful though like this into something, you won’t come out with a “Option A is the BESTXRS 4EVR!”  Instead, you’ll have a useful model into which people can input their own preferences and ideal outcomes and come out with the best individualized option that meets their own preferences.  Wendig’s article is sort of an analog, purely-qualitative version of a useful model like that, and it’s well worth the read.  Tobias Buckell, who has linked to Howey as a voice of reason on self-publishing before, has this to say on a related topic (vis-a-vis Howey using his platform in unpallatable ways): “Don’t punch down“.
  • A short film… Because ZOMBIES! And also Heartstrings! Yeah, I found this zombie/father-themed short flick both moving and refreshing.  You should check it out.
  • It turns out: this whole digital self-publishing revolution?  We’ve been there before.  In “Nobody’s Job But Yours“, webcomic artist and self-published novelist K.B. Spangler discusses the similarities in the boom & bust of the two media.
  • Because this is something important, I’m going to link it: “David Farland’s lack of insurance due to refusal of insurers to let him sign up for a plan” by Tobias Buckell with a link to this article: “An Army of Friends Rally Around Best Selling Author David Farland“.  I’ll leave to the reader as an exercise a study of the political, social, and moral implications of this story…
  • Charlie Stross muses on some ways that publishing could change, if legacy boilerplate contracts were modified to fit modern market realities…
  • And Stross again, back on the subject of self-publishing, on why he feels it would not work for him… this touches very briefly on something I’ve been musing, myself, about self-publishing.  In the modern digital self-publishing paradigm, I’ve wondered at what factors help or inhibit success.  The relative prolificity of an author seems to be one such factor.  Many of those who are successful cite the size and growth of the backlist as a key factor of their success.  This, then, favors authors who can write faster.  Authors who, for whatever reason, take longer to write a good book… may be at a disadvantage in the digital self-publishing world.

Non-Writing Update: Week Ending March 30, 2013

Yes, I did no writing last week.  Again.  So, starting this week, and continuing until I’m actually writing with something that I consider regularity again… I’m going to forego my weekly writing updates.  I’m taking the stance suggested by T.S. Bazelli in response to my last weekly update: I’m a writer on sabbatical

But I don’t want you to think I’ve dropped off the internet, or whatever.  I’m on sabbatical from my fiction writing, but I’m still going to try to keep up the blogging – if I drop it now, I’ll lose the few readers I do have (all five of you).  Hey, it took me like 3 years of regular blogging to build up a readership of 5-ish folks.  I’d rather not go back to square-one and start from scratch, nor throw another shrimp on the barbie, or pack another cliche into this sentence.  So I’ll be back each week if nothing else at least with a short note letting you all know what’s up in life.  (Longer and more interesting posts will still be infrequent, based on when I can find the time to write them.)

Last week?  Mostly, more of the same.  But thanks to the magic of Dear Wife, we did have a family movie night on Friday.  We – all 4.5 of us – snuggled up together (the dog curled up at our feet), ate our dinner on the couch, and watched Finding Nemo.  Well, three of us watched Finding Nemo.  V.R.’s eyesight doesn’t extend the distance from the couch to the TV, yet.  And Shasta doesn’t really get TV. 

I am happy to report that Finding Nemo still holds up as a fun movie-watching experience all these years later.  We had a great time, and felt like a normal family with actual free time to do actual fun things.

Everything else continues busy unabated.  But I look forward to a few more occasions of tentative relaxation in the near future.

Writing Progress: Week Ending March 23, 2013

Spring may have sprung*, but when it comes to writing, there’s no spring in my step:

Book of M:

  • Background Notes Wordcount: 0 words
  • First Draft Wordcount: 0 words

Story of V:

  • Wordcount: 0 words

Grand Total: 0 words

There’s no need, I think, to rehash all the reasons why my writing hasn’t exactly blossomed.  Suffice to say that the pace of life with both V.R. and B.T. continues unabated.  At the moment, I have no reason to expect anything else.

As I said last week, it is now quite clear to me that I was being overly optimistic when I set my goals for the year.  I knew V.R. was coming, obviously, but I thought it was possible for me both to have a baby and to find time to write.  Maybe if I didn’t already have a demanding daytime career, that might’ve been true, but I do and it’s not.

I have no reason, at this point, to expect the next several weeks to be any different.  If I get any writing in, it won’t be much, and will almost certainly be substantially lower than my stated weekly goal of 1,750 words.

As the regular reader here could possibly tell from the tone of my recent posts, this all leaves me in a bit of an anxious and emotionally conflicted state. As I should hope is obvious, adding V.R. to our lives has been a happy and much-looked-forward-to occasion. And I regard the developments at the day-job that keep me so busy as being largely positive. But as a writer, which is a big part of my self-conception, all of this is a significant set-back. It’s difficult when you go through a sustained period of time where you must, of necessity, suppress an important part of yourself. For me, there’s a lot of internal angst and conflict over whether I can even honestly use the term “writer” to describe myself when I can’t even perform the most basic and self-definitional of tasks attributed to writers: namely, to write something, anything, regardless of quality. If I can’t even put words to paper, then what am I, really? A poseur?

The answer, I think, is that right now, and for the immediately foreseeable future, I’m not a writer. I’m a father who sometimes, on rare occasions when opportunity presents itself, indulges in a fantasy hobby of writing. I hate to call myself a hobbyist, because writing is so much more important to me than a mere hobby, but at the present time it feels the height of pretense to call myself a writer, much less an author, aspiring or otherwise.

I know that’s just the stress of the moment speaking to me. This, too, shall pass. But in the meantime, the fact remains: I’m not writing. And I don’t see that changing for a while.

Which leaves me wondering: why am I running through these paces, going on about how much writing I’m not doing, every week? I wonder if the time hasn’t come to say: “Hey, I’m not writing right now. I’ll let y’all know when that changes.” Then, I can focus what very limited blogging time I have to writing something more interesting than the same old “hey, no writing this week” post.

What do you, dear reader, think?

__________________________
*Spring offer not valid in all locations. Please check your local weather listings for more details.

A Good Use of Time

I haven’t written much so far this year. Obviously there’s a good reason for that, and I’ve said as much in my weekly writing updates, but I haven’t exactly been forthcoming about what that reason might be. There’s a good reason for that, too. If you follow the blog very closely, you may have figured out the reason for yourself. Or maybe not. If you know me in real life, you almost certainly already know the reason.

Regardless, enough time has passed to leave sufficient ambiguity regarding exact dates, thereby protecting the privacy of all involved, that I feel comfortable revealing the truth at last, here on a public forum.

I’ve made only two prior mentions of V.R. here before. I explained what I meant by “V.R.” one of those times, but it was a small, passing remark.  Here’s where the very close reading comes into play. Longtime readers of this blog will know I refer to my dear son by the identity-concealing epithet “B.T.” So it will not be shocking when I point out again that “V.R.” is the code-name I’ll be using here to refer to his little brother.

That’s right. I’m a daddy. Again. I’m the father of two little boys, now.

So maybe you can start to see why I haven’t had much time for writing. (Incidentally, this is why I gave myself fourteen whole weeks off from writing, when I set my goals for the year, which was the second time I mentioned V.R. In retrospect, I may have been overly optimistic in how much free time I’d have for writing with a new baby in the house.)

It’s not just the baby, mind you. It’s the rest of real-life, too. Like many – probably most – authors and aspiring authors, I have a day-job. A day-job I happen to like. I work on a rather small team in a much larger company. At the beginning of the year, however, that team shrank one person smaller, as a coworker left for a new position at another company.

This has turned out to be quite good for me in professional terms, on balance. I’ve had to step up to the plate, and take on increased responsibilities. I’ve now been involved in more high-profile projects, and I’m playing a bigger role on the team. In time, I believe this increased exposure will lead to professional development opportunities.

But in the short term, it means a significant investment of time at work. Where I used to have relatively free lunch hours, I now regularly work. It has become not uncommon at all for me to work late – one, two, even three or more hours late. All of this eats into time that used to be somewhat available for writing, reading, blogging, and following the blogs of other authors and writers.  Inasmuch as I’m working more, I’m doing those things less.  For all we mortals (and especially the sort into heavy-duty self-help) like to talk of time management, ultimately time management is a zero-sum game.

So this is how my days go: I wake up early… Earlier than I used to because there’s more to be done each morning before I get out the door.  At this point in the day I’m already groggy and tired, because I didn’t get a great night’s sleep the night before.  (Nor the night before that, nor the night before that…)  Because there are now two children, getting ready is somewhat more complicated.  I get out the door a little earlier than I used to.  For now, I’ve taken over primary responsibility for B.T.’s daycare drop-off.  That means I have to build in a little extra commute time each morning.  (Dropping B.T. off at daycare frequently involves reading  a book.)  I still arrive at work about ten to twenty minutes later, on average, than I used to, when I did only a couple drop offs per week.

Most days I get to work already knowing at least one or two things I have to start work on – usually things I didn’t quite wrap up from the day before, sometimes a chance to work on longer term but lower priority projects that get pushed to the side in the hustle and bustle of a normal day. It isn’t long before the rest of my coworkers and my supervisor are in, and then it’s really off to the races. I try to catch breakfast before everyone gets there. But once things really get moving on the day’s work, it’s pretty close to non-stop. I usually work through lunch, eating at my desk. By the time I leave work, on a regular day, it’s a little north of nine hours later. But it’s increasingly common these days that it’s a lot further north of nine hours.

Excepting the extra morning commute time taken to drop B.T. off at daycare, the evening commute is invariably worse than the morning. By the time I get home, my family is sitting down to dinner.  Or sometimes they’ve wrapped dinner up already.  Either way, my evenings often begin by going straight from my car to my kitchen table to eat, and from there to play time.  At this point, I haven’t seen Dear Wife all day save for a hug-and-kiss goodbye in the morning.  The time I’ve spent with B.T. consisted largely of trying to herd him out the door followed by car-driving time (which is not typically the most interactive of times with a few exceptions).  And I pretty much haven’t seen V.R. at all.  So I want to spend time with my whole family, being a good husband and father to them all.  Most days, there isn’t much time for that before it’s time for B.T. to head to bed. 

Bedtime is it’s own lengthy ordeal.  Dear Wife and I mostly take turns, though not evenly, and if I’m not putting B.T. to bed, I’ve got V.R. to care for.  Like his brother before him, V.R. likes being held.  A lot.  If I can manage to put V.R. down, there are dishes to be done and lunches to be made for the next day.  Most of the time, none of that gets done until after B.T. is firmly ensconced in his bed.

By the time all of that is done – and we’ve largely abandonned any pretense of getting any additional house-work done – Dear Wife and I both are thoroughly exhausted.  We’ve both had busy days, and for my part if there was time I missed there that I could’ve been writing, I’m too sleep-deprived to see it.  We take maybe ten or fifteen minutes of downtime to decompress (frequently with chocolate-based assistance)… and then it’s off to bed.

Yet, despite our mutual exhaustion, a truly restful sleep remains elusive, as V.R. makes it known frequently throughout the night that we are terrible parents for starving him.  I mean, it’s been like two hours since he last ate.  We should’ve been on top of that like twenty minutes ago!  The delay is simply unconscionable.  Or at least, that’s what it sounds like he’s saying when you translate his hunger screams into something more polite. 

The morning comes too quickly, and the cycle begins anew.