Shutting up and Writing

Today, I’m participating in a virtual Shut up and Write meeting. I haven’t attended Shut up and Write since late 2013. I didn’t think I’d ever attend one again, and certainly not during the pandemic.

But my friend Mike Baltar invited me and to join, and he even provided the link and password this morning. All of the lame excuses I would have used to dodge such a meeting failed, because Mike is a good friend that follows through.

Odd how my friends are named Mike and Michael. I’ve talked about Michael here before. This seems like a good point to talk about Mike.

Mike is part of my current critique group that started in late 2019 and is, miraculously, still going. Maybe it’s not that much of a miracle. Just like how this morning, Mike provided links and reminders of the Shut up and Write meeting, he has been administrating the “Woodthrush Astronomy Club” writer’s group, making sure the Discord we use is up-to-date.

While I’ve been in my pandemic-based writer’s slump, which as I’ve described the last few days is really more a matter of me losing faith, Mike has been playing games with me. We found out at the end of the last Writing Excuses Cruise that we both play Valheim, so I set up a dedicated server for us to play together. We’ve been meeting at least once a week, building a base and going on Viking adventures. It’s been really great.

He also invited me to join him with a couple of other friends for online gaming on Wednesday nights. We meet on Discord, get into a first-person shooter game, and have a good time that doesn’t involve the pressure of productivity. It’s been like being on a vacation from my regular life.

I’m not sure if he’ll see this or not, but Mike has been a solid pillar that’s been helping me get through a very difficult time. I didn’t ask him to, and I’m not sure if he’s aware of how dark things have been for me. I really appreciate his friendship, even as a large part of me feels I don’t deserve it.

The Shut Up and Write virtual meeting has been good, though. It feels low pressure, yet wearing my headphones and being on camera provides some pressure, which motivates me to stay on task and get stuff done.

Today, it’s broken into two sections, with a lunch in the middle. During the first section, I revised the next 10,000 words of Spin City to submit to my critique group. These revisions I’m doing are extremely light. They’re mostly just adjusting some of the prose to make it flow a little bit smoother. I also updated the synopsis the critique group has access to, so they can review what’s happened previously before reading the next section.

Another quick aside about the critique group… I’m not sure that it functions to provide useful feedback for any of us. Since there are 6 of us and we’re submitting 10k words from our stories every other month, it will take 2 years for any of us to finish a 120k novel. That’s too long. If we artfully set up something towards the beginning, none of us are going to remember much about that setup a year and a half later. If we take the feedback we receive to heart and make adjustments to our story based on that feedback, we’re going to make our stories misshapen messes.

The value of the critique group, at this point, is community and accountability. That’s fantastic value, probably better than any writing advice we might offer to each other. I do not devalue the critique group, but I think it’s important to look at the function of the thing for what it is, and not expect it to do more than it can. If we want writing critique, we’ll probably have to change the way do our submissions so that we don’t draw stories out over 2 years.

Back to Shut Up and Write.

During the lunch period, we were free to open up our mics and cameras and chat. I spoke with Mike and the co-lead of the group about blogs and social media and the business of writing. At the same time, I had tinkercad open, revising the model for my 3D print project.

I started the print last night and discovered this morning that things went wrong. The printing surface separated from the aluminum underneath, so the whole print and the glass wound up on the floor. When I came out this morning, the printer was drawing black spaghetti in the air, with twists and turns of malformed PLA gumming up the works. Quite a mess, and a learning experience.

I’m redesigning the print so that it won’t require as much time or material. I think it got cold in the garage last night, and part of the print separated from the glass. The printer caught on it, pulled the print and the glass out of the clip, and sent it tumbling to the floor. If it didn’t take as long to print and required less material, the chances of it going wrong should be smaller.

I dedicated the last part of Shut Up and Write to this blog post. Now that I’m coming to the end of the post, I’m coming to the end of today’s Shut Up and Write. At least my part in it.

It’s been good! I didn’t think I’d ever attend again, but it seems to be under different management and is functioning more like it should. Maybe I’ll attend again in February, when they do their next virtual marathon.

Maybe by that time, I’ll be writing fiction again, and not just blog posts.

Before I try to write something new, I want to finish the revision of Synthetic Dreams. I want to get the full revision completed and then get that into the hands of a few people I care about and trust. I hope I can get Michael to read it. I’d like to get a couple of people from the Writing Excuses community to read it. Maybe not to give me a full critique, but just to gauge the temperature. I’m too close to it and still think it’s wonderful, but maybe it’s only wonderful to me.

I need to remember that one story doesn’t represent my entire writing career. It only represents what I was working on at that time.