Archive for the 'projecting project progression' Category

Oct 06 2011

Bandage-free (for what it’s worth) and general update

I’ve finally been cleared to stop wearing the bandages around my chest, after having to do so every day for five solid weeks (there were a couple of days that we gave me a few hours to “air out” but those don’t really count).  Part of why this was so irritating is that a lot of the skin that the bandages covered has radiation recall, which is a condition or side effect that happens to skin that gets too much radiation (say, from having to get irradiated twice when you’re only supposed to get it once and definitely not while on chemo).  Even though the skin isn’t particularly discolored it feels like it constantly has a small rash or varying degrees of irritation, especially if anything rubs against it.  They hand out handfuls of little sample tubes of Aquaphor, a petroleum-based intense skin therapy ointment at the radiation clinic for just that purpose, but other than keeping a couple to fit in my purse just in case I need it on the go, I’ve long since run through the free stuff.  We’re going through this tub pretty quickly too.

So I should be happier about being bandage-free; after all, it took up a good 30-45 minutes of each day, irritated the heck out of my skin, and was just generally all around a pain (figuratively and literally).  But I hurt just as much if not more without the bandages (to the point of tears getting back into bed several times this week).  There are still pockets of fluid inside me that I can feel move around (and sometimes hear, gross eww yuck).  The doctor attempted to aspirate two different areas this Tuesday visit to get some of the extra fluid out, but apparently while there’s enough to be noticeable, there’s not enough to actually get out with a needle.  This is supposed to be a good thing — it means that my body has a good chance of absorbing it all on its very own, though of course if I notice abnormal swelling call the doc to go in and be aspirated again.  And there’s still a centimeter-sized indentation/hole on my right side that everyone says is closing up quite nicely, but walking around with a hole in one’s skin makes for some paranoia.  At least it’s mostly stopped squeaking this past week.  Now all I have to put up with are the nasty squishy sounds from the internal (but small, really!) fluid pockets.

I’ve got a prescription for lymphedema sleeves and gauntlets; now must find out if Medicaid covers it.  I think I’ll have to make yet another appointment for someone to measure me and tell me what size to get, if I recall last year correctly, though I suppose policy could have changed.  The difference there is that last year, I had the chance to stay on top of things and only come close to actually getting lymphedema.  This year, I got it while on steroid medication and in the hospital, so I never had a chance to do any of the preventative measures I did last year.  It’s one of those things that once you have it, you can control it, but it never quite goes away.  Every time I go on a plane, or exercise, or on flare-up days that you can’t predict the frequency of, I’ll have to wear them.  If I’m lucky, that won’t be every day.  Again, I’ll soon put up a wishlist for those who want to get me a nice birthday or holiday present, since the ones Medicaid is likely to cover are the racistly-named “skin tone” beige color.  Those are fine for around the house I suppose, but I don’t see why something like that has to be ugly to be functional.  There’s a nice company called LympheDivas that has them in bright colors and awesome patterns, and flashy beauty is definitely deserved for going out and about.  Sort of like when I wear brightly colored scarves on my head when out, rather than a neutral-toned hat or beanie — I’m certainly not trying to hide my illness, and if I have to wear them anyway, might as well be fabulous about it.  There’s apparently even a shop in Austin that I will have to get out to and check over once I’m a bit more mobile.

And that’s the most frustrating part.  They were NOT kidding when they said this surgery would take twice as long for me to heal from.  I’m not even back to where I was pre-surgery in my healing from all the other stuff cancer-wise I was healing from before whacking the rest of my boobs off.  Back still hurts, fatigue at near maximum levels (still passing out over the keyboard or while watching shows).  Most days I don’t even feel close to that pre-surgery landmark, much less moving past it to healthier zones.  I am up to doing what I count as PT every day; walking, especially up hall inclines for doctor’s appointments or around the pharmacy or other errand counts.  So does holding the ever-squirming baby or helping to feed her solid food.  Still doing the in-bed exercises for my legs, focusing on those glutes and quads that are weak as jello.  Tried a couple of arm exercises, those don’t go as well and the past couple of days I’ve used my arms WAY too hard — as in I probably shouldn’t be typing and certainly not this much, it’s that bad.  If I’m *lucky*, the next week will get me back to pre-mastectomy health zones, but I can’t count on it.  I just have to keep doing what I’m doing and hope that it will get me there eventually, since they said it would be more like 12 weeks of recovery.  From the surgery.  And then I could start actually moving toward better health states.  I don’t know if this stuff teaches patience or forces it, most days it’s just put one foot in front of the other (metaphorically) to get through and hope that the little bit better is around the next corner.  And the next. And the next…

And next week is another bone treatment infusion, which will set me back a few days with extra bone pain and fatigue and all that not-fun.   I am so very tired of this.  It’s better than dying, for sure.  But so, so, tired.  Life doesn’t stop to wait for me to heal; there’s still kids to take care of, and budgets to help manage, and hopefully a few friends to see, and I have to get help on all of those anyway.  We’ve got someone to help with the kids and house stuff, someone else to help with the budget managing (which we’re going over with the metaphorical fine-toothed comb in October), and I at least still have writer’s group most Sundays, which is work but has a nice social tone to it as well.  Once I left the hospital, the friend visits mostly dried up.  I recognize a lot of that is because the hospital was way more conveniently located than where I live, but I still miss the visits (and the friends, of course).

Speaking of writing, I’ve got an idea to slightly re-write another already-existing story for a market that just sounds cool, even though they only pay semi-pro rates.  At this point I need to be getting my name out there and worry about the pro rates when I can, but not obsess only on those markets.  I think I’ve sent out a story or two since I last reported on such conditions here on the blog.  I’ve written a new piece on the new project I have in mind, and participated again in Leah Petersen‘s Five Minute Flash Contest this week (I haven’t been able to for the last several weeks due to doctor visit conflicts).  My two contributions haven’t been all that great, but the effort was made, and at this point getting back in that saddle is the goal, fine-tuning the quality comes next.

There’s probably a lot I’m leaving out, like what about the latest scans?  Well I talked to the nurse about them, but decided not to report until next week when I’ve actually been to the doctor and heard it from him, but sounds like more good news.  I’ve started my anti-estrogen drug tamoxifen, main noticeable side effect so far is the hot flashes are back.  Thankfully my doctor agrees with me that unless scans dictate otherwise, we’re waiting on the ovo-hysterectomy until I’m actually at a point that vaguely resembles “healthy”, so I won’t have to worry about that until sometime next year.  It would be a novel sensation to heal up from a surgery starting from a healthy point instead of at the brink of death’s door; I hope I get to try it.  Even surgical menopause might not be all that bad since chemo and tamoxifen will have put me most of the way there before the organs ever come out.

Oh, and my mom is doing the brave and smart thing and having her own prophylactic double mastectomies next week. (Meaning, she doesn’t have anything showing on scans but she has the same genetic flaw I do and it’s the smart thing to do BEFORE problems show up.)  So take a little of the good energy you’ve been sending me and toss it her way; since she IS getting surgery from the point of healthiness and it sounds like she has good doctors, she should heal quickly and well.  I’ll probably try to have a quasi-interview thing here on the blog with her about it at some point.

Now to quit hurting my arms by typing and watch a show until I pass out.  And take my overdue meds, they don’t help if I don’t take them.

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Sep 20 2011

wound tracking (TMI warning)

My underarm is not supposed to make a sound like air escaping from a blown-up balloon as you pinch it just enough to let air out from the blowing end.  There’s obviously a hole somewhere.  Thankfully the doc appointment is tomorrow.  But oh how gross.  I hope it’s something to do with the broken drain on that side, and not something worse.  Gross, ugh, gross.

The left side, that just had the completion mastectomy, at least is healing beautifully.  The drain holes on that side huuuurt.  But otherwise it’s fine.  I’m worried about what we’re going to do about the right side, even though I know worrying is wasted energy.  It is what it is, and will be, and I’ll survive it.

I’m worried about the scans on Wednesday, and what we’ll learn from that.  I suspect that each scan will be met with some trepidation ahead of time, even when I’m healed and healthy and just doing my two-month maintenance scans.  After all, that’s the first sign that something goes wrong, is if those scans change what they tell us.  I trust my doctor implicitly, I know he already has a plan B, C, and D in place for whatever shows up, but I’m so ready for some time to just follow a plan A for myself for a while: heal myself, take care of my kids and my family, write my stories of fear and joy, finish my collaborative art project with my artist friend who I believe strongly in, travel around and learn more about this crazy and terrible and beautiful world we live in, and test clean and consistent on my 2-month scans repeatedly.  Reconnect with others, make some sort of difference in peoples’ lives for the better, fill myself and the world with joy because we could always use more of that.  Love.  Live.

But first, gotta get past this gross wound-healing stage.  Wish me a speedier and complication-free healing from here on out, as you have the time and energy to do so.  And spare a moment or three to send good vibes to all those affected by the Bastrop fires — or even better than Facebook-style vibes, find out ways you can help them re-build. (Like I said, we’ve got a full shed that Eric or anyone else with a truck can come scavenge to their hearts’ content; it’s not doing us any good with the stuff just sitting out there not being used. Contact us if you want to be one of those people.)

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Nov 22 2010

Process Analysis Progress

I think I’ve mentioned that I’ve been doing some deep internal analysis of writing process, which connects to everything else. As I get more of my baseline health back, and as my other life commitments aren’t dwindling anytime soon (family care, house care, self care, etc), I find a greater and greater need to efficiently manage my time for maximum productivity throughout my life.

I didn’t have to worry about this balancing act nearly as much, before. I was one of those people who regularly seemed to have enough accessible energy for two people. (Note: It’s possible I still do have near that level of reserve, but can’t as easily tell because so much more energy is tied up in recovery/body maintenance these days.) I would get tired, sure, but I very rarely was unable to fit all of what I wished to accomplish into a day, in terms of the energy spent on tasks (timing is a different story).

This was one of the harder things to adjust to, before and after cancer surgery. I had a lot of internal resistance, and resentment, and stubbornness bordering on denial, especially in the early months. I loved being Wonder Woman. I never really took it for granted, as I have family members and friends with chronic health issues that need careful energy management, but I was quite glad not to need such adjustments for myself. Until I did need them — then I was quite glad I’ve always been a person who pays attention to things; while learning a new level of energy management was frustrating, I also had gathered quite a few tips and information on how to go about obtaining that knowledge while observing others close to me. My stepmother in particular is fabulous about knowing how and where to spend her daily energy, and even when to push her limits and pay for it later vs. when to rest and cancel or reschedule something.

After surgery, managing my daily energy was mandatory if I wanted to both heal and get anything else done at all. And since life doesn’t pause for death or near-death, there was certainly a good amount that needed doing, that I could possibly do, and wanted to do. And still at first my mind tried to negotiate, make end-runs around necessity, push just a little harder than was wise. Seeing those closest to me dealing with their own brown-outs from the crisis didn’t help that urge subside. I spent most of my time in the first few months post-tumor doing nearly as much of the sitting and resting as I was doing before surgery. Somewhere in there, I made a very important internal shift in thinking, which is complicated in nuance to describe but I shall try.

Without giving up my belief that I can eventually have most of my “old self” back (helpful psychologically at this point in recovery), I started to accept the realities of the now, where now there were certain things I needed to track or do or not do daily in order to keep healing and keep doing more in general. For example, through the past several months and continuing currently, I must take a daily nap for maximum energy availability. Up until the past six weeks or so, I didn’t even have much choice over when that nap happened. It’s yet another sign of healing progress for me to recently regain some measure of control over when my nap happens, and that change has freed up several schedule pieces to be a bit more flexible about what activity happens when.

Right after surgery I was up for no more than sitting in a chair, my main activity for the previous year. By the end of the second month afterward I was doing light house duties (no lifting), and writing sporadically, and doing moderately all right at family care. By the end of the fourth month, I was functioning for most of a day (with lots of rest) but flailing on balancing all the different desires and responsibilities of daily life. By six months out, I was still nap-dependent (and sinus ick gave me the equivalent of a couple steps back in progression of health for another 6 weeks or so) but managing to get more than half of my daily tasks and commitments to some level of completion or to the next rest point. However, my writing consistency was still far more erratic than I wanted it to be, most often conflicting with needed nap-time.

Now, eight months out from surgery, my stamina is still the slowest to come back online, but I’ve gained nap timing flexibility if not yet nap exemption. I’ve learned how to fit writing in daily — at least theoretically. The next post will focus more specifically on the writing-process progress over the last several months. I’m still not getting done everything I want to in a day, but who of us really does?

Thankfully, I don’t yet feel as if I’ve reached my recovery limits. I also know I will reach them eventually, and that the post-cancer healed me will very likely not have the same energy capabilities of pre-cancer me. Some days, I still push against that knowledge. Other days, my interminable positive attitude is determined to find ways to get as much back as I can — but much more healthily than before.

The biggest change in this area is that I no longer have a significant urge to push my body past its current limits, the way I sometimes did previously. It’s so much easier to give myself basic needed self-care that I have to remember my own perspective shift when listening to others who are still struggling with this learning. I’d love to find ways to communicate in a way for others to viscerally understand why this is so important to monitor and take care of, without them having to go the near-death experience or life-crisis route to learn that.

You will die with things left undone. You can’t escape that reality. To me, therefore, it makes more sense to focus your efforts on doing the things you genuinely want in your life, managing or outsourcing as much of the life-maintenance stuff as you can, and letting go most of the stress over the rest. Post-cancer, every goal, every task, and everyone currently in my life are deeply wanted, and worth spending my daily energy on. That doesn’t feel like a priority likely to change. How do you manifest this in your own life?

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May 03 2010

Actual post about writing

(Note: I know many of you are anxiously awaiting more tales about the recent cancer experience, and they will be coming — and soon! — but at the rate that works for me and my processing of what was, among other things, an extremely traumatic event. Anyone needing more up-to-date health info and who is on Facebook can join my Fan Page there, which posts 2-4 times a week on health status and current known recovery info. I appreciate the concern!)

(Also note: SpinAThon raised over $2500 and sponsored 42.8 hours of spinning and knitting! Thanks so much to everyone who participated and donated, that will help a lot towards current medical costs. Stay tuned next week when we’ll have a silent auction and put up for bid the results of the SpinAThon efforts, along with many other lovely unique arts and crafts.)

I just planned out the next year and a half of work.

Talk about milestones on the “feeling like a Real Writer” path! Tomorrow/later today/after I’ve slept more, I’ll be officially “back on the job”. (Thankfully for my recovery I have a sit-down job where I can take nap breaks as needed, since tomorrow also starts Yoga-as-rehab sessions.) I have a much clearer idea of what rate I need to be writing at on certain projects in order to have them completed by my goal dates. The rest of 2010 is still going to be a bit off, but it looks like I might actually get some decent work in, as well as finish a long-overdue project.

No worries, regular blogging will continue on a weekly basis if not more frequently, and Callie posts will continue (probably at a rate of 2-3 a month) until…well, until there aren’t any more posts on that arc to write! I’ll also probably write about this new writing routine and how well it works out, and where adjustments need made, and all the other blathery things I think are interesting about life and work. Glad every day that I’m still here to fill the screen with words, words, words.

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Jul 27 2009

writing process and trust

Had a great conversation with a friend the other day online, about when to let stories go and when to push through and finish them. Conventional writing wisdom I’ve encountered often describes the “wannabe” writer as someone perpetually working on that first novel (but never finishing). Given how many writers attach parts of their ego to their created works or their creative process, it’s not surprising that many feel a sense of failure from not finishing a particular work.

Good writing advice I’ve seen elsewhere does take the time to remind a budding writer that the hindbrain processes are strange and mysterious, you’ll have more ideas than you’ll ever have time to write, and you can often learn more from your writing “failures” than your blissful successes. Here are a few of my own current writing aphorisms I’ve found useful:

Along similar lines as “trust your process” recommended elsewhere, I’d say that “trusting your process is trusting yourself”. The more I let the story’s needs dictate how and when writing happens, the stronger the stories seem to become. When I try to impose external “shoulds” on a particular piece of work (such as, this should be done in this way, or I should be further along on this than I am), I’ve found that almost inevitably I will have a less pleasant and rougher road working on that piece than I do on the ones where I trust the process of creation, however quirky it looks viewed from out here. Sometimes things will take longer than they “should”; assuming you’re not working to a deadline, at this stage in the process you’re the only one passing judgment on you. Are you precognitive that you know the exact creation time-line of each work you envision?

One I have to repeat to myself regularly on the novel and occasionally on shorter works, is “it doesn’t matter if it’s good, it matters if it’s a draft. Drafts can be fixed.” This is a good one for quieting the internal editor that makes you want to go back and polish the beginning bits to perfection before, you know, actually getting to the end; or to barely write because your sentences must be award-winning quality the first time they hit the page. My first drafts are some cringe-worthy, cliched, one-dimensional things, more often than not. However, I’ve noticed that cliches can often be secret code or thought cues when later reviewing the draft, and my revising mind can come up with much better prose more clearly and quickly if I’m following my own hindbrain’s shorthand. My stepmom and first editor Mary Bass says that even a final work is never “done”, in that you always have the option to go back and change or improve your own work. (Whether or not you “should” is a different panel.)

A more recent realization that has been helpful is “just because it’s generally good to finish things doesn’t mean that everything started must be finished.” Just like a musician has scales, or a dancer has stretches, a writer will have bits and pieces of elusive stories lounging in the trunk. Some of those will eventually grow into finished works; many or even most will simply exist as snippets of almost-was. It might be helpful to view them as writing exercises, or brain warm-ups, rather than personal failures.

Similarly, “done doesn’t always mean finished,” whether you mean “I am so done with this POS!” or as another reminder that a finished product isn’t the only marker of success, just the one most obviously recognized as such. I like going back and looking at my writing idea one-liner posts to myself; I rarely find anything I want to use (yet) in a story, but I do enjoy seeing how clever (or sometimes so very not) I am even when just brainstorming or idea-churning. My hindbrain seems to insist on hiding them under half-a-dozen different tags, but that just makes finding them a bit of an adventure, which seems to be part of the fun.

What, if any, are your experiences with any of the above ideas in your own work? (Oh, and I’ll be away from net connection next monday so no writing post then, but feel free to comment in the menatime on this or any of the other ones, I should have phone and limited email access.)

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Jul 08 2009

Learning experience (or, revising really is fun!)

Back and recovering from the trip like a tired, aching thing. Still much work to be done, just doing what parts I can do while sitting around and resting for today. Now on to the interesting stuff…

I’m entering in the last round of edits for “…Elmer the Cat” today in preparation for sending it off. This has been a profound learning experience from start to finish. In the first draft, I had the voice of the narrator so clearly in my head that writing the story was quick and much more linear than many of my stories. It’s been through 6 readers and several revision rounds, including an awesome workshopping that I think I already mentioned, with Steve and Nathan (and Kendra sitting in) up at 4th Street. Had another deep session with Nathan on the plane back, and I think one of the biggest signs that I had to be done with working on it for now was that in some of my own editing suggestions, I’d moved far enough away from it that I was starting to lose the voice that had come through so clearly in draft 1. Happily, Nathan caught most of those and I do think the result is a tighter story. I certainly hope I can get this one published, and already have three or four places lined up to send it to, so we’ll see how it goes.

While I’m trying to remember to take the time to appreciate my accomplishments, there’s more writing to be done! Already a full to-do list today, with catching up on emails to be written at the top of the list. (Also, trolling the trunk for salvageable stories, and jumping the next hurdle of brainstorming so that I can move on with the novel work. And updating the to-do list, hehe.)

Another experience in learning my writing attitudes and routines recently has been quite nifty. I stopped working on the novel for a bit to focus on “…Elmer the Cat”, and thought (rather casually) that I was having a slack-off moment on the novel, being a lazier writer than I really want to be. However, since I’ve been working on letting my head move more at the pace it wants to go, I didn’t struggle too much to self-castigate and just enjoyed the short story work — and my, did I enjoy it! Even as much as it pushed my limits I loved every bit of this latest short story, from brainstorming to drafting to final-for-now revision. (Though I agree with my stepmom Mary, that there’s no such thing as a final draft, you can always go back and revise or rework a piece whenever you feel it needs it.)

And in the process, figured out that the reason I was hesitating on the novel work wasn’t slacking off at all, but a wall needing smashed in regards to a (very good) editing suggestion I received from the marvelous Ella, that I needed more definition of time/space/place. And I agreed with her thought, and realized that not having some of that defined was part of what was slowing me down in this second draft — and that the faster I got to codifying that, the less of this draft I’d have to go back and re-write from the ground up later. Saving future me work is definitely a goal of mine, so my other learning experience this week was a more subtle layer of trusting my writing process/hindbrain, that even apparent laziness might actually be a useful break to regroup and rethink. Also, knowing which hurdle it is that I’m jumping this time is invigorating to the desire to dive back into the work.

For anyone reading who wants to join in, feel free to comment on any of the above or jump into this discussion: What sort of experience have you had with your work or craft recently where your own process surprised you by working outside of your expectations?

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Jun 01 2009

The Dreaded Middle

I’ve heard a lot of writers complain that they can write the beginning of a story, and many can even write the end of a story. The expanse of unknown territory between those two points is a large part of what stops beginning writers from finishing projects. How do you get a reasonably coherent story with the bits between the beginning and the end filled in?

One writer, Marissa Lingen, seems to solve this dilemma by writing non-linearly. (I’m sure there are other non-linear writers, but I know her so she’s my example.) I would definitely check out her website or LJ to find out more about her process, since I’ve only dabbled in experimenting with non-linear story writing, and she’s quite good and experienced at this technique. But essentially, if you can get your mind to have no problem writing chapter 27 after your chapter 9 which followed Chapter 31 and so on, the middle-of-the-book becomes much less worrisome as a concept.

A variant suggested by several authors is to break your project down into more manageable goals. If you’re trying to fill in the entire story between what you know about the beginning and the end, the project can seem large enough to feel overwhelming, especially if you’re writing a novel. If, however, you know a few major scenes or events that happen along the way, write those scenes, then see if you can figure out how to get from the beginning to the first of those written scenes, then from there to the next one, and repeat until you reach the end. (This process can also be done non-linearly for those who prefer that method.)

For me, on larger projects like novels, I find that working for too long on the novel can get discouraging in part because it feels like I haven’t accomplished anything — an irrational feeling, to be sure, but it still slows down my writing process. Once I get too frustrated at the slowness of forward progress on a larger work, I’ll give myself a couple of weeks to switch my main focus to writing a short story instead. I find that the act of writing and completing a shorter work tends to rejuvenate my desire to work on the novel. I don’t usually have the “Dreaded Middle” issue come up for my shorter stories, but hopefully someone reading will have some good thoughts to share on how to get through that for anyone who struggles with it.

Similar to this, you might find it helpful to create an actual checklist where you can record your completed stages and goals still pending and have the physical record of your progress where you can see it. If you have a writing support network, telling them about your stages of progress when you finish them will get you some pats on the back that many writers find helps them continue creating. A more controversial suggestion is (for trusted writerly supporters only) show them the completed sections or chapters as you finish them; your early fans will be begging you for the next installment and that can be a big motivation to keep writing. Do NOT try this option if you are the sort of writer that feels that once you tell the story to someone else there’s no point in continuing work on it, or if a fan failing to respond in timely fashion will crush your spirit or bring your work progress to a halt.

If you can work in a group setting, consider having regular meetings with likeminded folk where you all share space and work on your own projects. Sometimes just the proximity of others will help keep you focused and on task. If the group contains other writers, a creative roadblock can often be gotten around with a shared brainstorming session. If you’re the type of writer who prefers solo work, you can still get some of this effect if you have a public blog and post your progress markers there. Either way, remember to genuinely congratulate yourself for accomplishing the pieces along the way toward a finished story, and don’t beat yourself up for all the work that still needs doing unless you really, genuinely are motivated best with the stick rather than the carrot. And speaking of carrots, for those of you that work best that way, make sure to have rewards that you are working toward for completing your more manageable milestones. And then, remember to actually give yourself the rewards when you get to those points.

One thing to keep in mind, especially for novel-length works, is that project planning and organizing skills, even those gained in other areas than writing, can be quite useful. While writing is art, and a creative process, most people can’t get to a completed major work on creative drive alone. Finding ways to educate yourself on the skills needed to keep forward momentum going on a project; breaking large unmanageable project pieces down into smaller, achievable chunks; learning to manage your resources and energy so that you don’t get burned out along the way: all these skills and more aren’t just useful for writers, and there’s more than one venue you can learn them in.

As always, don’t forget to care for the main tool of your trade–your body! Getting enough sleep, eating meals with a variety of needed nutrients, getting some form of physical activity or exercise that occasionally gets you out of your chair, and monitoring your mental and emotional health and needs are all ways that you can keep yourself in optimal writing form. The more you are stressed, exhausted, or unhealthy, the less well your mind functions, and the more likely you’ll experience roadblocks in the way of completing your writing project.

There are even things you can do to alleviate accumulated stress while keeping your butt in that writing chair. Writers often spend long amounts of time sitting in one position and staring intently at a computer screen. The same healthy habits you’re supposed to be practicing when you do that behavior in an office setting (that no one really does, but they DO make a difference and really are a good idea) will help you not get too stuck on one thinking track. Every 20 minutes, take 1-2 minutes to look away from the computer screen and focus at something on the far wall from you. Stretch out your hands and arms or give yourself a little hand rub while you do. Every hour, take 5 minutes to get up out of that chair again and stretch your legs, arms, neck, and any other sore parts. Pace around a bit if you have the space and find that you are feeling slow or sedentary, to get your blood circulating more vigorously. Every 2-4 hours, take a short break away from the computer to do 20 minutes of more vigorous stretching or eat a meal. Don’t forget to eat! If you’re having problems remembering these, and it won’t be disruptive to your process, consider setting an alarm.

If you’re the sort of person likely to forget to eat or take breaks when you get caught up in your project, arrange your workspace so that you have (preferably nutritious) snacks at hand. Buy a big drink container with a sealed lid for water and make space to have it next to you. Staying hydrated and fed will feed your mind and help generate ideas as well as more writing.

Steven Brust suggests that “the illusion of progress can often lead to real progress”, or it’s better to write something bad and delete it later than it is to be stuck and not writing. He also mentions that if you can manage it, find ways to enjoy writing the middle part for its own sake, and turn your focus away from the goal-oriented attitude. Trust that the end will arrive eventually, and if you succeed you’ll often find that the middle part writes fairly quickly.

This reminds me of my one of my own writing mantras that I’ll wrap up with : Remember, it doesn’t have to be good, it has to be done. You can always edit, revise, and improve a crappy first draft into something better; it’s pretty hard to do that with something that isn’t at least technically “finished”.

What are your preferred ways of getting through the middle parts of a major project without getting bogged down?

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Feb 18 2009

Drafts done, drafts ongoing, and the excessiveness of the written word

By virtue of declarative fiat, I have reached the end of my novel first draft, and am hard at work on starting the second draft. This is different from the revising stage, which is not yet. Given the current game plan, I expect there to be three drafts before I revise and start showing it around, so I certainly hope I’m faster at writing these next two drafts!

In case anyone is curious about the process, the first draft was all about character exploration and development. As such, it may be a done draft, but not a readable one. The second draft will focus on the linear plot structure, a quick and dirty romp through what tangibly happens. The third draft will preferably bring together the preservable pieces of drafts one and two while layering in all the cool meta bits.

To perkily distract myself from how daunting the task sounds when viewed from the big picture, I counted up the stories I’ve written over the past 1.5 years. Yes folks, fear my mad accomplishment skillz: in less than two years, I’ve completed fifteen stories, have six more in progress (published four online, two in print so far), started an ARF (with the help of many others), and finished a novel draft. Not too shabby a job, when you look at it in that light.

One response so far

Oct 21 2008

Project Brain-Eater

We are valiantly fighting the good fight of having the collaborative project eat our brains by allowing at least one hour in every 24 for our personal projects.

Ok, perhaps I hyperbolize a bit here.  Now that I don’t have to worry about two presentations back-to-back, I can get down to the simple life of owning a business, coordinating a massive online project, and writing a novel  and some short stories.  Simplicity incarnate!

There go those hyperboles again.  Time to develop a new plan of action, since the goal is still to have a finished draft of the novel by the calendrical year’s end.  Note that not specifying a GOOD draft done will speed up the process quite a bit, heh.  And I think there are a couple of stories lying around that need cleaning up before being kicked out of the nest…

But right now I think I’ll continue to obsessively reload certain blogs to see if new content appears.  Oh, and super-squee happiness for other-world characters commenting on our household blog!  The cool parts just keep growing!

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Oct 06 2008

riding the line in creative viral marketing

When working on a big project and trying to come up with cool ways to draw people into your created world, it’s sometimes hard to guess which line to straddle in how much and how fast you disperse your information. You want to make sure any early adopter fans are in on it soon enough that they feel their specialness, but you don’t want to escalate so quickly that you run out of entertaining content too soon or overload yourself.

On the one hand, when you’ve been cooking a big project for a while and it’s time to start manifesting the results, it’s very easy to want to spill everything all at once. “And here’s this cool thing I did, and this one, and this too, and ooh shinyoverhere!” But while you might hook in some people with the elegance or intricacy of your scaffolding, for most people you’ll catch their interest with the thing itself first. Peeling back the draping comes later.

On the other hand, it’s also difficult to get an outside perspective on how subtle or obvious to be when scattering project references that you hope people will put together to find your baby. Something that looks incredibly obvious to you, the people working on a project for the last n months, might not have such readily apparent connections to those encountering the ideas for the first time.

Part of the fun of creating little tidbits for people to find and geek over is watching the reactions as they encounter and interact with your work. For the creators, it can diminish the fun slightly to have carefully balanced hints and clever approaches only to have to go back and slap a big neon blinking glowing pointing finger sign all over your efforts. The reaction enjoyed by someone watching someone else find an in-character email isn’t at all the same when the first person has to ask “so, didja get that email?” (And in that example, you might not even know whether there was a tech trip-up that caused the email in question to not be delivered, or whether it was caught by a diligent spam filter on alert for unrecognizable origins.)

However, if you’re trying something new, and especially in the early stages, sometimes you have to do a little more hand-holding than you might otherwise be inclined to do. This doesn’t mean swing the pendulum all the way into showing everything you’re doing all at once, but does mean that you have to be willing to launch with a simpler and more obvious approach if your well-crafted more devious plans fall short of your goals.

I’m not sure whether these will be of interest to anyone else, but they’re some of the thoughts flowing through my mind as I attempt to patiently wait for people to start noticing our little venture. It’d be nice if I did more posts like these; I should consider that thought.

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