Close Enough

Photo by Sven Scheuermeier on Unsplash

I listen to a lot of podcasts. I believe the scientific term is, a crap ton. Being an At Home Dad means lots of driving around and I usually only have kids in the car for one leg of the trip. If any of you remember the old NPR show Car Talk; I think of myself as the Russian chauffeur, Pickup Andropov.

On my way back from dropping a kid at a practice, I was listening to an episode of Hidden Brain. If you don’t know it and you’re at all interested in the workings of the human mind, you should binge listen to as many episodes as you can.

This particular episode was about living vicariously through YouTube DIY videos. The research is fascinating and show that subjects gain a false sense of confidence in their abilities after watching a DIY video. They used moon walking as their test case and, if you care to check out the videos of people attempting a moon walk for the first time, it’s good for a smile. In addition to DIY videos, they addressed armchair quarterbacking in sports. It’s as if we can feel we’ve gained experience just by watching someone perform a complex physical task. We not only know we can carve a wooden spoon from an old board but we could make a friggin’ business out of it.

But it’s not just complex physical tasks and watching videos.

As writers, most of us are also voracious readers. Anyone who reads often and consistently (especially genre fiction) has thought, Crap. I can do better than this. I thought that very thing this week before I listened to the Hidden Brain show.

Now that I’ve been doing this for a couple of years I can see that overconfidence in myself. I’ve got one completed first draft of a novel and another nearly done. I still don’t have a completed work that I’d want anyone to read. The more I write, the more I see the difficulty and can appreciate the time and effort that goes into (in my opinion) crummy scifi and fantasy. I’ve still got a way to go until I feel that I’ve reached the ‘crummy’ tier and I’m not sure I’ll ever reach the level of good.

Recognizing the overconfidence in myself is another brick in my journey. I still don’t know if that brick is part of a path or a wall. I do know that perseverance is the only way I’ll figure it out.

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Trial

Photo by Ian Chen on Unsplash

Whelp. The outline for the novel has weakened and failed. It worked well up to the midpoint and I still know how it ends, but it was structurally unsound in the last third. I think I’ve solved the problems. Maybe.

I’ve hit 80k words and I’ve got a plan to bring all of my threads together in the climax. It looks like it’s going to work out well enough. I’ve been taking notes as I’ve gone with the changes I know I need to make. It should make the (extensive) first and second edits more manageable. Maybe.

It feels like I’ve only got about two weeks of writing left to complete the first draft. Maybe.

I wanted the outline process to not only give me a roadmap but I wanted to make the writing easy. I’ve learned a ton and each book I write is going to make me a better writer. But I’m learning that the writing is never going to be easy.

I know. I know. The pros out there all say it’s never easy no matter how good you get. They sounded a lot like the parents I talked to before I had kids – the most challenging and rewarding thing you’ll ever do. It seems I must experience to understand the words of the experienced.

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NaNo, Chickens, and Truth

Ha! See! It’s been two months since I posted. I stopped right after my first publication. Coincidence? I’ll let you be the judge.

NaNoWriMo

National Novel Writing Month was a success for me. For those of you who don’t know, NaNoWriMo happens every year in November. It’s a huge community of writers (millions I think) that sign up and track daily progress on their way toward ‘winning’. To win NaNo, you’ve got to write 50,000 words in the month. That’s 1667 words every day for each day in November. This was the first year I attempted it and it was valuable for me on a couple of different fronts.

It was a great target to try and hit. My daughter told me, “That sounds like a great goal, Dad. Even if you don’t make it, you’ll have a lot of words.” I love that kid. I decided that I wanted to maintain my general writing flow of five days a week spend the weekends with family. This meant 2,500 hundred words a day for me with some extra pushing to cover the anticipated shortfall over the Thanksgiving holiday. I managed to hit just shy of 51k when the dust settled on November 30th. 

It gave me permission to just write. I know this sounds stupid. Obviously, this is a personal problem that some writers will never experience. But, for me, turning off the internal editor that wants to revise now, Now, NOW is a big deal. I was still struggling on my first day so I fell back to some advice that I’d been ignoring because, well, it sounded simpleminded. I turned off spell check. Yep. The squiggly, red line was a huge impediment to my flow. With Scrivener’s full-screen mode and spellcheck off, I was able to meet and exceed my word goal every day except a few around the holiday. 

At the end of NaNo I had completed roughly half of the novel I’d outlined.  I hope to finish the first draft in December.  If you want to give NaNo a shot next year, send me a buddy request (user name is Mike Blackwelder) and we’ll race.

These long writing days are part of the reason I haven’t been posting in a while. One if the other reasons is, chickens

Chickens

Did you know that chickens are going to be the marker for the start of the Anthropocene epoch? Neither did I! Quick summary – The Anthropocene is the name of the era we’re in right now. It is defined by the massive environmental changes we humans have made to the environment. Chickens, it appears, are a great marker for future archaeologists. I would have thought plastic bags or nuclear waste but, not unexpectedly, I would have been wrong. Since the chicken is the most numerous terrestrial vertebrate on the planet (I didn’t know that either!) and its biology has been completely shaped by humans, it makes a perfect indicator for vegan scientists after the distant, post-roaster, apocalypse. 

There’s a great article at Science Daily article. You can find it here. Which leads naturally into …

Truth

And you may be asking, what the hell that has to do with the price of corn in Iowa. Chickens, as it turns out, are one of the other reasons I haven’t posted in a while.  Chickens = Truth.

The truth is, there are long stretches of the writing process that are, by design, just writing. It’s not that interesting like when your friend runs a marathon and you show up to cheer them on and you only see them twice – once at the beginning and once at the finish line. Like the marthon, there’s not much to see and there’s not much to share while writing a novel. And, frankly, this whole blogging-about-the-writing-process-experience thing has been done a thousand times before and has been done far better. 

My passion has always been science-specifically archaeology, paleontology, space sciences, and futurology. Throw in reading and writing and you’ve got yourself a burrito. To keep my interest in this blog up, I’ve got to dig into those things I’m passionate about. Even if it’s not original or particularly interesting to whoever reads this, it’s interesting to me. 

I still plan on posting about how I’m doing on the writing front and posting fiction and personal essays. Along with that, I’m going to share the cool stuff I’ve been researching and tripping over when I fall into a Google hole. I may even throw in a book review here and there and some insight into the beta reading I’ve been doing for other indy authors. 

In short, I’ve decided to change things up to keep it fun. I’m not going to worry about platform building or brand building or SEO optimization. I need to stick to what I enjoy so this doesn’t turn into a job. Unfortunately, I had started to think about these posts in relation what you might want. I wanted you like me and maybe buy my shit someday when I have something to sell. That’s a dangerous path for a creator to travel and especially dangerous for me.  So, in the future, you’ll probably see posts about exoplanets and post-human body augmentations and cozy mystery beta reviews. You know, fun stuff. Hope you stick around. 

See. Chickens equal truth. 

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Published!

So y’all <he bites his lip to hold in his excitement> I got a short story accepted for publication. This is my first. It’s a horror piece that will be published in TL;DR Press’s Autumn Quarterly Anthology.  I’ll be appearing with twenty-five other talented authors.  My story, Cheek to Cheek, had been bumping around in my head most of the summer. I’m glad it found a great home. The anthology should be available to purchase soon and all of the proceeds will be donated to The Pilcrow Foundation, a charity whose mission is to provide new children’s books to libraries in rural communities all across the US.

I don’t know why, but I had to think about posting that news. It feels braggy somehow. My midwestern core acts like a magnet with the same polarity as my accomplishment and gently tries to push it away.

That aversion to self-promotion is silly for a variety of reasons.

1) This is something I’m proud of and should be happy to shout at the top of my lungs.

2) As an author, I’m going to have to learn to love (meaning tolerate with a fake smile) self-promotion if I have any hope of building an audience.

3) The only people who will see this announcement are a handful of friends and family and the 342 East European bots that are subscribed to the site who I don’t want to delete because sometimes I get lonely.

I’ll post again when I get availability details for the anthology.

Next week – NaNoWriMo

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Update and Fiction

It’s been longer than I intended between posts.  My volunteer opportunities started to bump up against one another a few weeks ago and my blogging and writing have taken the hit.

I’ll keep this one short because a) I don’t have anything interesting to say and b) I’d like to get back to my outline.

I have decided to do National Novel Writing Month this November (hence the need to get back to my outline).  After asking my daughter what she thought about NaNoWriMo, the wonderful, sweet girl said, “It sounds like a good challenge. It’s okay if you don’t get all 50,000 words, you’ll still have a lot more than you would have otherwise.”

I love that girl.

I have been writing a little as well. The vignette below is a chunk I cut from a larger piece.  I like how this turned out but it doesn’t fit with the theme I ended up with, so rather than leave it to molder in an old draft I included it here. I’m not sure it stands on its own, but I leave it here for you anyway.

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Punctuation Part 2

I’ve been studying again. Restudying really. Some of the punctuation lessons I thought I’d learned have drifted away like smoke. I threatened to hit you with another set of punctuation and now I’m following through. What I’m attaching here is a summary sheet of the punctuation rules that I gathered from Writing Well in the 21st Century and The Elements of Style.  I wanted a one-page summary so I didn’t have to keep flipping around, and I wanted a single page that I could put up on the wall by my writing desk. I’m not sure the summary will be adequate for those that haven’t read either book, but this quick reference has been great for me when I’m trying to remember where to place a comma.  I’m including the text of the document below as well as an attachment for printing.

Best of luck.
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Mistakes were Made

I’ve started my second novel.

The first one was an enormous learning experience.  I pantsed it–had a loose idea of what I wanted, sat down at the keyboard, and started pounding away. It took far longer than it should have and it’s about as good as I expected.  I’m not sure I can or will fix the major problems.  The first book was about uncovering the knowledge that can only be gained by doing.

From that experience, I’ve decided to veer into new territory for the second book–outlining.  Continue reading “Mistakes were Made”Facebooktwitterredditpinterestlinkedinmail

Submission

I’m sure the three of you out there (hi, mom) are wondering, “Why hasn’t Mike posted in a month?  Is he dead in a ditch?  (No, mom) Has he finally ordered enough party balloons and hydrogen to launch his lawn-chair dirigible?” (not telling) You’ve been waiting for the slice of chocolate cake that is my blog post for too long. I promised you, cliffhanger style, that I’d continue my exploration into punctuation.  I lied. Too boring. I’ve had way too many interesting conversations and experiences to dig into semicolons.  You can do the research. It’s not hard. Other stuff is hard. Let me explain.

So, what have I been doing? Submitting. Continue reading “Submission”Facebooktwitterredditpinterestlinkedinmail

Punctuation Police

Before I dig into punctuation, I wanted to let readers of the blog know that I finally finished the first draft of my novel yesterday. The well is complete and is filling with water now. I expected there to be some euphoria or incredible lightness of being. I was happy, don’t get me wrong, but there were no fireworks. Maybe they’ll come in time. It’ll be a while before I dig into the (cripplingly massive) edits.  Until then, short stories and outlining the next novel. Now, on with our previously scheduled post.

Never in life did I imagine myself writing a post about punctuation. The more I researched the topic, the more I realized how much I didn’t know. You can skip this one if you’re solid on commas, semicolons, and the differences between em and en dashes.

If you’re like me, standing on very shaky comma ground, you mind find some of this interesting. This effort is primarily a learning for me. If I write my research down, I’m much more likely to remember it. I will be focusing on punctuation in fiction but much of what you’ll find here is applicable across professional and non-fiction work. Any errors I make through misunderstanding are mine and not the authors and editors of my reference material. Continue reading “Punctuation Police”Facebooktwitterredditpinterestlinkedinmail