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A Subtle Difference In the Way I Write Story Notes

I think I’ve identified which story I’ll be writing next, and have begun fleshing out my notes.  This process allows me to see just how much of the narrative I have figured out and areas that need work.  It was in this process, where I’m still working out who wants what, does what, why, and so forth, that I made an interesting discovery:  everything was couched in terms of “perhaps” and “maybe.”

To my horror (if only my horror had been more horror-like), I saw that I tend to do that fairly often.  Then I deleted all those possiblies, maybes and perhapses, and you know what?  The planning took on a much stronger feel.  It also made me analyze what I’d come up with to determine whether or not it’s any good or if I can do better.  Those “maybes” allow something to sit there on the page, in limbo, neither accepted nor rejected, and so I can never work with the indefinite.  By deleting them and saying, “by golly, this is the way it is,” I’m left to either accept it–and build on it–or come up with something better to replace it.

Writing is a humbling endeavor.  Three books written and I’m still learning all sorts of things.

There’s More To Life Than Writing

It’s easy for me to measure my output–or lack thereof–in pages or words written per day.  But as I mentioned in How Do You Measure Preparation?, it’s harder to do that with things like story research, note-writing, plotting, character-building, and other Very Important Bits of writing work.

The title of this post is a reminder to myself that, now that I’m serious about my work, there’s more to writing than just putting words on a page.  There’s marketing to do, searching for story markets, making story submissions, formatting my work for different platforms (including print editions), and getting my work listed on those platforms.  All of which are important–none of which help with getting words on a page.

I need to allow myself time to do these things and to not feel guilty that I’m “not writing.”

Pay Yourself First

There’s a very common rule in personal finance that says: Pay Yourself First.  It applies in equal measure to goals.

The thinking behind it, financially speaking, is that we can’t waste what we don’t have.  When we pay ourselves first, we set aside our savings before we pay any other bills or spend any money.  It’s priority.  Then we pay bills.  And if, after paying ourselves first, we don’t have enough money for your bills?  Then we have to work harder to ensure we can (and double check our spending habits).  That simple. We’ll usually work harder to pay bills than we ever would to set extra money aside.

When people wait and pay themselves last, they often don’t end up saving at all because there’s nothing left for the last person in line. Do it first, and succeed. Do it last, and fail.

In many interviews with successful writers, buried within talk of their inspirations and so forth will be some variation on a theme of “I got up early every morning and wrote ten pages”  or “The first thing I did when I came home from work was shut the office door and write 2000 words.”  It varies, but usually it’s there.

They paid themselves first.

For a while, I woke up around 5 in the morning so that I could get my work done before arriving at the office at 9.  I felt that my writing was the most important thing to me, and so I would give it the first hours of the day, before the daily routine sapped my brain power and energy.  I paid myself first, and it worked out.  I might have been tired when I came home, but it was a satisfied, content kind of tired, because I knew I’d already accomplished something that day and there was zero guilt involved in frittering away my evening hours via lazy entertainment.  I’ve since gotten off that cycle and need to return to it (a case of “practice what I preach,” for sure.)

There are ways to apply this to any goal.  Want to learn a foreign language? Go over your materials and practice while drinking your morning coffee.  Starting a new business venture?  Do your research before your day job, or block out inviolate evening time before dinner or after-dinner movies to ensure that you’ll do it.  It’s not even so much the time of day wherein your effort occurs as it is your attitude that’s important.

So many goals start with “One Day…” and stay there.

You’ll never find time.  Extra time does not come knocking at the door.  You make time*.

* Or kidnap it off the street, transport it via unmarked van to your residence, and then drag it in to your office… but the former is usually easier and raises less suspicion with authorities and neighbors

Be Ruthless In Pursuing Your Goals

When it comes to accomplishments, life seems to work against us.  Obstacles will always pop up in our way. Even more so when there are no deadlines and the desire is solely internal, like often happens with creative work.  It’s easy to let it slip another day, another day, and another day.

You must be ruthless in pursuing your goals.  This means two things.

  1. You will have to push past the laziness, the “meh,” the “I already worked 8 hours today and made dinner, what more do you want?”, the “I’ll start tomorrow,” and all the other excuses that will come up when it comes time to get to work.  This is pretty common stuff here.  Stuff that most “x help,” where x is whatever activity you’re trying to do, will talk about and help you beat.
  2. You will have to make sacrifices–and only you can deem what is an acceptable sacrifice and what isn’t.  This could mean cutting your TV time.  Or it could mean not going out with friends.  Or not taking on another commitment during the week.  It’s easy for us to get too involved in too many things and then find that we have no time for ourselves.  To yoink a phrase from Stephen King (with apologies), commitments are like dandelions: if you don’t keep them under control, you’ll soon find your lawn covered in them.  Note that the sacrifices could also be your other projects (see my post, “Murder Your Darlings“).

The hardest part of number 2 is the ability to say “no.”  I don’t enjoy telling friends that I can’t make it on a particular night or have to drop my commitment. But I have to be ruthless in ensuring I have the time necessary to get my work done.

“Isn’t that pretty self-centric?” some might ask.  To which I say: “Absolutely.”  You have to be.  The world will take whatever you give it and ask for more unless you put the brakes on.  Just like we don’t give away all our money so that we can pay rent/mortgage and so forth, don’t give away all your time.  Keep some for yourself and don’t feel guilty about it.

Life will encroach and the excuses will let it.  Stomp out the distractions without pity.  This is even more important at the beginning of any habit/process.  Later on, it’s easier to ease up a bit, but always be on the lookout for those stray commitments that pop up.  Don’t automatically say “yes” to them.

Be ruthless, and you’ll find that your goals are closer than you think.

New Fiction – “Number Four” (and excerpt)

Cover image for the novel Number Four

I’m glad to finally announce that my second book, Number Four, is now available for Kindle.  Other formats are on their way.  If you’ve been keeping pace with my progress on MOROCCO, here it is at last.

And now, time for an excerpt:

* * * * *

Lin broke from a space-out session when the trucks pulled to a lurching halt. She’d been thinking about the orientation she was missing. Dorm room assignments. How the cafeteria account worked. That kind of stuff.

The soldiers keeping guard over them hopped out of the transport and gestured for them to do the same. Another pit stop.

What a shitty way to spend a Saturday.

Stops came infrequently, probably four or more hours apart. Time was hard to judge when she didn’t have a watch and all there was to do was stare at the metal floor of the transport, out the back of the vehicle at the endless spread of bright sand and rock. Or daydream. She hadn’t dared take Apollo out of her backpack for fear they’d take him. Each stop was a welcome chance to walk and stretch. Her butt hurt from hours on a hard bench and her back was sore from no support. Long sleeve shirt in hand, she shuffled along the bench to the back.

When she jumped out, she judged her exit from the truck a bit wrong. Her tank top caught on a bolt that protruded from the frame and tore.

Paul stood stretching a few steps away. Lin poked a finger through the hole in her favorite purple shirt and the flap of fabric that still remained. The shirt itself was old and faded and wasn’t fit for much other than the mall or hanging out around the house, so it wasn’t a great loss. Might even still be wearable—comfort was no slave to fashion.

As she came up next to Paul, she realized that she couldn’t even say where the nearest mall was. A hundred miles away? A thousand? Clothing stores and pretzel stands were another world away. If she hadn’t been so hell-bent on rocking the boat of life, she might have even been at the mall right then, spending early birthday money. Hell.

No chance yet to talk to Paul about tomorrow. Poor guy had looked so depressed in the last village that she couldn’t bring herself to mention it. A little late to say anything now. Pity would only make it worse.

The sun slipped lower in the sky. Bright blue began to fade to purple and red around the edges of the horizon. Looking at the sand was no longer excruciating due to glare, and so she stared down at the sand and rock beneath her feet. If she closed her eyes, she could almost pretend she was at the beach, if it weren’t for the state of her body and the foreign shouts of the men around her. Strange how sand could be the same so far away.

A breeze picked up, rippling goosebumps along her skin. She ignored the idea that the goosebumps were partly due to the vast emptiness that engulfed them. They were surrounded by nothing, but it hid them all the same. How would anyone ever find them out here?

She pulled her long sleeve shirt on. Earlier in the day, the shirt was protection against the sun that beat down relentlessly. As day slipped into evening, it was protection against the chill breezes that picked up. It’d also help cover the hole in her shirt.

The wad of rolled-up bills and Paul’s memory card were an itchy, sweaty mess between her breasts, but she dared not reach in to adjust them. She followed Paul’s gaze to a spot on the horizon but saw nothing. Maybe he wasn’t even actually looking.

A guard called to her and gestured. She followed.

Another reason for the stops were restroom breaks. If that was what they could be called. One guard would take her somewhere out of sight, then turn around while she dropped her pants and squatted as best as possible. There wasn’t too much need, considering the little they had to drink, but her body managed to produce some kind of moisture each time.

Lin was in the middle of just such a thing for the second time that day, more just in case than any real need—not like she could call out for a stop at the next highway exit—when she looked down and saw the tear in her shirt.

She didn’t have breadcrumbs, but she could leave something.

Her guard still had his back turned. Her current predicament probably meant he wouldn’t turn around until she signaled she was through. Still, she had to be careful. One hand grabbed the little flap of torn fabric, and with the other she grabbed the rest of her shirt. With a fit of fake coughing to hopefully provide some cover, she tore.

A quick toss sent the scrap flying into a nearby shrub. The faded purple fabric looked completely out of place and pretty pathetic, resting as it was in a snarl of brush twigs two inches above the sand, but at least it was something. Any victory was a victory, no matter how small.

She finished up and signaled the guard. Shirt crumbs had little use out here, especially when the first one started in the middle of nowhere, but hope was all she had, and as she climbed back into the truck, it felt good to have done something.

At each stop, she added another scrap.

* * * * *

Number Four