The Foolish Man

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I’m at a weird point in my writing process, one I haven’t been at in a rather long time: the very beginning.  I’m trying to write a brand new book, in a whole new universe, with characters I’ve barely begun to conceive, and I have absolutely no idea what I’m doing.  Most of what I’ve written in the past has fit into one of two story universes (my epic fantasy and my superheroes) and even when I started new books, they still fit within those universes and involved at least one character I had worked with before.  Outside of the books I’ve written for those two series, I tried starting two other books that were potential works for my Goddard thesis three years ago when I started the program (I made some progress on Drowning Sarah), but I didn’t get very far with either of those.  In addition, in the past decade, I’ve started three stories for NaNoWriMo that were brand new and I lost with all of them because I couldn’t get past 20-30k.

This new story feels important.  I want to write it, but I think it’s beyond me.  For reasons I’ve mentioned previously, I need a fresh start in my writing.  I need a new story that doesn’t have any association to my previous writing life or to my previous self or relationships.  I need something that I can write that won’t make me feel dragged down by the past.  The problem is, every time I’ve come up with a successful new story idea, I had a writing partner to work me through the tough bits.  Getting through much of this program without a writing partner was a struggle, but I had all the work we’d done in the past to fall back on and we had a brief attempt at reconciliation, during which, I was able to work out the rest of the major issues with my book.  I can’t write on my own.  I spent three years and more money than I’d care to think about becoming a better writer, but I still can’t write on my own.

So here I am, with a brand new story–and I need a brand new story–about something that is deeply important to me and in a way I haven’t seen in much literature and I think it needs to be out there, but I don’t know how to write it and I don’t know how to proceed with this story without someone who knows me and my writing to work through it with.  I am writing random scenes as they come to me and beginning to ask the big questions about the story, consider potential plot elements, flesh out the characters and the universe, and at every turn, I come up against a massive, insurmountable wall.  All the other times I got stuck, I could just look at where the characters ended up or consider what else is going on in the world at the time that could affect it or would be affected.  But I haven’t got any of that.  It’s like trying to build a brick house on sand.

Sometimes I wonder why I put myself through this.  Accountants don’t have this kind of trouble.

J

Time is Marching On

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I can’t believe it’s been another week already.  Time gets weird when you don’t have a regular schedule to keep track of.  Interestingly enough, I just finished reading Orphans of the Sky by Robert A. Heinlein and the society within which the story takes place as lost the concept of measured time because they have been trapped inside a ship for generations with no view of the outside world and therefore nothing to show the passage of time.  It hadn’t occurred to me, but Heinlein pointed out that on Earth, we measure time based on physical events and changes in nature such as the rotation of the earth and the movement of the stars and planets, therefore, trapped in a world that has no view of anything like these, time would cease to have the meaning it has to us.  There wouldn’t really be the same need in such a situation, especially in such a small society, of perhaps thousands, that has no contact with the outside world.  They grow plants, but in a controlled climate, there would be no need for seasons.  They have sleep times and wake times, but without the sun, they wouldn’t need to be on a 24-hour schedule.  Their greetings were always “Good eating.”  As there was no more concept of days and all the parts of the days, such related greetings would mean nothing and in that contained environment, food was scarce and therefore the concept their society revolved around.  I could write a whole annotation about it, but since I’m not required to and I’m being lazy now that I’m out of school, I won’t.  But it has gotten me thinking about what other ways the environment of the world in which your book is set might affect the characters and their culture.  Heinlein has a fascinating religion within the society that twists concepts of science–that no longer have meaning to the people because of their lack of contact with the outside world–into analogies rather than fact and I started wondering what other ways this idea might work in contained societies (large or small) that have branched off from the norm.

In any case, I recommend the book if you want some good ideas for world-building and some food for thought about how beliefs and superstitions develop within a society.

J

Baker’s Dozen

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Happy Friday the 13th!

I love Friday the 13th.  Thirteen has always been my favorite number and I love going against the superstition, so I have always loved Friday the 13th since the time I learned about it (which was probably from an episode of Shining Time Station; yes, I’m that old).  I want to say something commemorative or something about the day and how I’m celebrating, but it’s been a fairly chill day and I have nothing more to say on the topic.

You’ve heard a lot from me lately with the big stuff going on, so I’m popping in with a quick post just to keep up the habit and to let you all know what I’m up to, but I don’t have a lot to say.

Now that I’m graduated and have to be responsible for keeping up with my writing on my own, I have three basic angles I’m using to approach my writing:

I would like to do a web series.  One of the faculty at Goddard told me it’s probably my best option to break into screenwriting, so now that I have a chunk of free time, I’m going to be working on that.  Right now, it’s all in the brainstorming stage, so I have no idea what it’s going to be.  But it’s a thing.

I’ve been told a good way to break into the fiction world is write short stories and get them published in magazines, so I’m planning to work on that.  It is my brain to try to write some short stories, I just have no idea what to write them on.  I’ve basically written one short story ever.  So I’m thinking about how to approach this very different form of writing (which I think would feed the whole web series idea pretty well, since both are very short forms of fiction, which I have no experience writing).

And lastly, I want to write a new novel.  I’ve been trying to figure out what to work on.  I have a bunch of books in my Supers series, which I’m sure I’ve mentioned before, but I feel like I need to take a break from that one.  I need something fresher.  So I have been mulling over old ideas I haven’t done much with and some potential new ideas and this morning, I’ve been thinking about revisiting the ghost story I was working on in my first semester.  It feels like a novella, so it wouldn’t take a huge amount of time to put it together and finish it.  I just need to figure out what the actual story is.

So that’s my writing life.

Happy Friday the 13th!

J

Master of Fine Arts

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This is my last night on campus.

I am sitting alone in the room I have stayed in 5 of the 6 times I’ve come to campus.  The other time was a room in the same building, but downstairs.  My roommate, Em, shared the room with me 4 of those times, but I have had it to myself since Em’s graduation.  It is a lovely room with sparse furniture in a fairly old style that has been worn down by countless residents, both from the full residency days and from this era of low-residency degrees.

Bittersweet is a word that has come up in my thoughts a lot.  Most of my time here this time has been more sweet than bitter.  I have been wrapped up in the excitement of seeing everyone again, attending workshops, and preparing for the experience of Graduation.  This hasn’t left much time for the sadness of leaving this place.  But now, as I sit alone in my room for the last time, after having said most of my goodbyes, I feel the edge of loss.

This place has been magical.  It has changed me more than I ever imagined and probably more than I know.  I came here to learn how to write and to get that piece of paper to frame on my wall.  Much of the reason I wanted a master’s degree was for the sake of the accomplishment and for the potential higher pay that comes with higher education.  I could have gotten it in anything and when I decided that I wanted a master’s, I wasn’t particular about what I studied.  Knowledge is knowledge.

Six years and 8 months ago, I sat in the Centrum of Southern Utah University waiting to receive my Bachelor of Interdisciplinary Studies.  As I sat and waited, I watched as dozens of students crossed the stage to receive their master’s hoods.  As I sat in that audience, waiting for my own conferral, I realized that that was what I wanted.  I wanted to cross a stage and be hooded a Master of Something.  After graduation, I dove into working as much as I could to begin my student loan payments and rebuild my savings.  I didn’t have a plan and I didn’t have time to jump into a master’s program, so I let the idea percolate and kept an eye out for possible programs, without looking too seriously.  My advisor at SUU–the one who had to sign the paperwork to approve my request to complete an Interdisciplinary degree–had said that I should only pursue that route if I had no interest in taking my education beyond a bachelor’s degree or if I had any interest in teaching, because I would not be eligible for either.  I taught for three years starting the following Fall.  In the summer of 2012–two years after completing that bachelor’s degree–I discovered Goddard.  I began the application process, hoping to be accepted for the Spring 2013 semester.  Unfortunately, I met my fiancé right around the same time and things got serious as I got closer to the application deadline.  I realized I would have to put my education on hold if I were going to continue with this relationship and it seemed worth it at the time.  In the end, the relationship delayed my entrance into the master’s program by a year.  I have been frustrated by this on occasion.  There have been times when I wished it was already over, that I had my degree, that I didn’t have to deal with more annotations, but I could never truly wish that I had been able to enter the program when I might have, because that would mean wishing away all the incredible experiences I had during the time I went and the many wonderful people I met and bonded with.

When I started my first residency, the then program director Paul Selig told us, “People come to Goddard at the right time.”  At the time, I hoped he was right.  Now I know he was right.  Had I come at an earlier time, I would not have taken away the same things I did.  I would not have grown as much as I did because–much like the characters I’ve written about–I wasn’t ready to fully accept the change I was capable of until I let go of everything I thought I wanted and opened myself to new possibilities.

I came to Goddard when I was ready to be here.  And as sad as it is, I think I am ready to leave.  There is always more that could be learned at a place like this, but I have taken in as much as I can at this point and I am ready to move on to the next chapter.

So as of today, I can officially call myself a Master of the Fine Art of creative writing.  I still can’t wrap my brain around it.  Can one really be considered a master in something after studying it in depth for only 2-3 years?  I feel like I still have so much to learn, so many places my skills fall short, but real writers feel that way too.  I am a real writer.  I have a piece of paper to prove it.  But now the real work begins.

J

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And There You Have It.

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“All you need to be a writer is perseverance, a low-level alcohol dependence, and a questionable moral compass.”

–Anna Kendrick

And there you have it.  All you need to be a writer.  I already adore Anna Kendrick, but this just made me extra happy.  I guess I’d better work on my perseverance.

J

Meh.

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This week has been incredibly long.  I blew out a tire on Tuesday, which I don’t have time to do anything about until Monday.  My new computer crashed.  I don’t need it because I still have the old one which seems to be working perfectly well (despite my concerns that it was going to crash at any moment about a year ago, right before I got the new one).  My biggest concern with that is that I had a few documents on the new computer that were not saved anywhere else: one was the journal I’ve been keeping up for the past year (which was mostly me bitching about things I don’t want to think about anymore, so it might actually be better if that was gone) and the other was the Word version of the final version of my thesis.  I do have the Word version of what I submitted as my “final” manuscript in packet 4 and I have the PDF of the actual final version that I submitted for digital archive with Goddard, so I do have my most recent changes, it’s just a matter of combing through that for the handful of typos and stuff that I fixed and applying them to the older Word version.  I don’t want to do that.  I don’t really have a need to do that.  All I really need my thesis for now is deciding what to read for my graduate reading at Goddard in a few weeks, which I can do from the old version or the PDF.  On top of these major issues with my technology, I’ve also been working about double what I usually do and trying to prep for Christmas.  It has kept me very busy and in a rather non-creative mood.  With my brain not in the mood to write–and with a mountain of books still to read to meet my Goodreads goal for the year–I’ve been focusing on reading as much as I possibly can.

I have finished six books already this month, among them are three audiobooks, two manga, and a novel I’ve been very slowly working my way through for the past year or so when I’ve had free time to read for fun.  I still need to finish 11 books to meet my goal of 30.  When I first started doing the yearly reading challenge, it was my plan to start with something somewhat manageable and then increase my reading goal each year.  I’ve been stuck at 30 for the past few years and only just managed to reach it at the very last moment, so I haven’t increased it.  Reviewing my past challenges, I see now that I’ve been doing it every year since 2011 and it has been set at 30 every year.  I didn’t meet my goal the first two years, but I did 2013-2015 and I am determined to make it again this year.  Having to read for school has been both a help and a hindrance to meeting these goals.  It does require me to read a certain number of books each semester, but I’ve also gotten stuck reading a number of books I didn’t like, so I didn’t quite push myself to the end, so I would spend a good chunk of time working my way through 300 pages of something, then give up because I had a deadline to meet and once the paper was in, then I just put it book on my “currently reading” shelf and moved on to the next thing I had to read.  Those reading assignments plus all the piles of homework and the crap with changing jobs and everything else hasn’t left much time for reading for fun (and it’s left me burnt out, so when I do have free time, I spend it on Netflix or Facebook instead of reading like I probably should be).  So, now I am fighting my way through the remaining 11 books.  One of my biggest struggles with that was that I was already in the middle of two audiobooks (maybe three?) on my other computer and now that I can’t make it work, I can’t go back to my bookmarks and the biggest reason I wanted the new computer is that the audiojack on this one doesn’t quite work, so listening is hard to do.  But I’m making it work.  I found a collection of Richard Matheson short stories (previously known as Button, Button: Uncanny Stories, but now changed to The Box because of the movie by the same name which was based on the short story “Button, Button”) that I had been in the middle of, so I’m working on that, plus some more manga and a couple of new audiobooks.  I am very determined.  I have to read about one book every 1.36 days to meet my goal.  That’s not hard.  Not at all.  If you don’t hear from me this time next week, it’s because I’m reading.

J

 

Two roads diverged in a yellow wood…

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Another week has gone by.  It is beginning to sink in that the semester is over as I am realizing that I suddenly have a lot more free time than I would have anticipated, even with taking on extra shifts at work.  Perhaps I’m missing something important…  Now that the pressure of pushing myself through the end of my final semester is over AND I’m mostly recovered from that push, I’m starting to think about what I might write now.  I have decided that the world of Zinthe needs a break–or perhaps that I need a break from it–so I have begun considering what I might write now.  I have my superhero series that has been percolating for a few years and sitting on the back burner during most of my time at Goddard.  I have Drowning Sarah, which was very nearly my thesis and which I think still has potential–if I can only figure out what the actual story is.  And then I have a few jagged pieces of ideas that I have begun to play with in my head.  I am considering starting a new novel.  I have also begun thinking about doing a collection of short stories.  I’ve really only written one short story, unless you count The Girl with the Corn Silk Hair, which I don’t, because it was really just notes on backstory to myself.  I’ve been told short stories are a good way to break into the publishing world because they’re quick and you can publish a lot of them and you have many options for where to publish them, so if you can get them written and get them published, then you start getting your name out there, which is a boost to your writing career in general.

Now that I don’t have the deadlines and the pressure of school to keep me writing, I have to find a way to keep myself motivated on my own.  I have graduation coming up which will give me a few days of residency, the last one I will have a Goddard which is a bitter-sweet thought.  Residency always has a way of getting me excited to write again and bringing up great new ideas, so I want to be prepared to take advantage of that.  I’m also considering going to the AWP conference in February, which I hope will keep me excited and motivated to write.  So, my goal over the coming weeks as I prepare for graduation, is to gather my writing ideas and get a few that interest me and if not get started on writing, then at least have my notes on them and my ideas ready to go so that I will be ready when the muse strikes.

I can do the school thing.  I’m very good at the school thing.  But I don’t know how to do the writer thing, not as a realistic career option.  I’m striking out into new territory.  Goddard has done amazing things for my writing and given me the tools and a new perspective to go out and really write, but I’m not sure how to keep myself working on it without the regular deadlines of packets or the invaluable feedback from advisors.  I don’t know what to write to get myself published and it isn’t really a career if I don’t get myself published.

So now, the real challenge begins.

J

Loss for Words

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On this, the one year anniversary of losing my writing partner, I am reminded of Alex & Emma.

“There are some things that are nothing more than what they are.  They’re not meant to last.  They just take their place in your heart and make you a little smarter the next time.”

–Emma Dinsmore

J

Just Do It.

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“Discipline is choosing between what you want now and what you want most.”

― Augusta F. Kantra

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Also:

 

And hopefully that is the kick in the pants I need to get this finished…

J