The Value of Dreams

I had a bit of an argument with a friend, that turned into me getting called an idiot.  That stung, but the argument has had me thinking about dreams and hopes and motivation.

I’ve had a few people in my life tell me that they thought I was optimistic, and I’m thankful for that.  I try to have a positive outlook as much as I can.  Unfortunately, when I dig down deep, I find a dark, shadowy place that seems very cold and pessimistic.

To put it more clearly, I have dreams and hopes, but I can’t rely on my dreams and hopes as motivation.  It doesn’t work for me.

In order for me to move forward, I have to forget about the dreams and focus on putting one foot in front of the other.  That’s what I’ve been doing with my writing.  I’m not trying to become famous.  I’m not even holding my breath on being able to sell my stories.  The only way for me to move forward is to focus on the work at hand, and try to make it the best I can make it.

“But Brian, if you don’t believe in your dreams, no one else will!”

Who cares if anyone else believes in my dreams?  Dreams are like wishes.  They don’t edify.  Maybe some people can pin a dream on a clipboard and use it as a to-do list, but I don’t see it.  My dreams have always been too insubstantial, or too impractical, or simply too big.

Maybe a less negative view (see?  I’m trying to be positive!) is to think of dreams as The Future.  We’re supposed to learn from the past, plan for the future, but live in the present.  The work at hand is the present for me, so that’s where I’m keeping my attention.

When I was working on computers, I used to joke about being pessimistic about them, so that all of my surprises would be pleasant.  In a way, I’ve adopted that idea with other aspects of my life.  I don’t want to be hurt by failure.  I don’t want to get my hopes up too much, just to have them dashed by a few rejection letters.

Maybe that’s cowardice, but I don’t think so.  I think I’m avoiding unnecessary pain.  As long as I keep writing, who cares if I am pursuing my dream or not?  In practice, I am, but the reality is that can’t be my motivation.

The downside is that without things like NaNoWriMo, all of my energy for going forward is internal.  It’s all down to willpower, to put myself in front of the keyboard and get the words out of my head.  That means that when I get tired, I stop.  There is no external pressure to keep me going, or to provide a jolt of energy when I need it.

I’m in a couple of writing groups now.  Perhaps I can use the submission dates for those groups as external pressure points to keep me on target, when my internal engine is starting to lose steam.

As long as I keep going, I don’t think it matters.  I just have to keep moving forward.


NaNoWriMo 2013 — In Retrospect

I’ll just put this here.

NaNoWriMo 2103 Winner


It wasn’t easy.

Like last year, I had some business obligations arise in the middle of November.  I was flown to Albuquerque for a little while.  I had to do onsite visits for some companies.  I had to write documentation for some of the projects I’m working on at work.  It ate away at my time, energy, and creativity at some of the worst times.

I fell behind.  I wrote a little most days, but there were a few days where I simply couldn’t get to the keyboard.  I tried to make up for the lost days on the weekend, spending hours and hours at different Starbucks and Paneras throughout the area.

At the beginning of November 29th, I only had 35,545 words.  I wrote around 6500 words on the 29th, and around 8000 words on the 30th, crossing the finish line with 2 and a half hours to spare.

The book isn’t done.  It’s mostly done.  It’ll take fewer words to finish it than I expected a few chapters ago.  Maybe in my mad rush, I’ve skipped over some important plot points, which I’ll need to go back and fix.

In this exercise, I’ve learned two extremely valuable things:

  1. I can meet a writing deadline when I need to
  2. I can turn off my inner editor, when I need to

So what are my plans now?

  • I’m going to finish my “Baggage” story (which I’m renaming to “Unclaimed Goods”).  I received some fantastic feedback this month at Convolution for it, but because I was trying to finish my NaNoWriMo project, I never took the time to act on that feedback.  I want to lift my short story to the next level and sell it.
  • I need to finish the first draft of my still unnamed Mel Walker novel.  I’m 50,000 words in now.  There’s no turning back.
  • I need to finish the first draft of my fantasy novel, A Clean Slate.  I’ve learned a lot since I started it.  Once I’ve finished the first draft, I can go back and fix the things I already know are broken and wrong.  This is something I can do while the glue is drying on the Mel Walker novel.
  • I want to start posting on a regular schedule to my blog.  I was really happy during October when I was posting here frequently.  I don’t think I need to post every day, but a regular schedule would be good for me.

I don’t think I’m going to write anything tomorrow.  Tomorrow, I’m taking a break.


Successful Writing, Rough Teaching

It’s the end of another long, three day stretch. Mondays are ridiculous, with work, teaching, then band. Tuesdays are pretty long, as I stay late at work to make up for leaving early to teach on Mondays and Wednesdays. Wednesdays, I work, teach, then go off to Starbucks to try and work on my book with Michael. Wednesday evening, before bed, I’m wiped out. I was so tired this evening, that I almost didn’t come out to the garage to put up this blog post.

Today, I’ve been thinking a bit more about what I want to do, and what I’m doing. On Facebook, someone had linked a video I’d seen before, in which a man is talking to students. He asks them, if money was no object, what would they be doing? The point of the video is that whatever our answer to that question is, that’s what we should be doing. It’s better to have a short life full of love and peaceful satisfaction, than a long one in which you are continually doing things you do not enjoy, just so that you can keep on living, doing those things that do not satisfy you. I agreed with that sentiment the first time, and I agreed again today.

So what am I doing? Am I satisfied? Am I doing what I’m supposed to?

When I’m wrestling with my muse, trying to get the words out, feeling the strain of the work that’s involved in writing, I have some doubts. I wonder if I’m wasting my time, scribbling down words that no one will read. I wonder if I am so arrogant as to think that people should spend their time reading my stories, listening to my voice.

These days, I’m pushing through the doubts. I know that whatever it is I do, there will be times when it feels like work. Whatever my vocation, there will be moments where I wonder if I’m doing the right thing, or doubt my ability.

Today was a tough day. I got to the kids’ school and set up for Computer Club. When I was teaching, I made some mistakes. I’m having a hard time keeping the kids interested, and I hate having to repeat myself so much. I put concepts out to them that seem like they should be simple to them at this point, but half of them seem more interested in surfing the web and playing games. I know that I’m doing a good thing, and that in the long run, some of these kids are getting some good exposure to programming that might even serve them later in life. I’ll keep teaching and doing my best, but I know that I’m not supposed to be a teacher. At this point in my life, it’s something I can do twice a week, voluntarily. If it was my full time job, I’d hate it.

On the heels of the rough computer club, I went to go write. I’d made it to the other side of the scene I’d struggled with for so long, but I still didn’t know what I was going to say in the next part. I wasn’t sure if I was going to be able to figure it out. I wasn’t sure I had the strength to make decisions for the story. I’d been making decisions all day, and I was feeling mentally tired.

Michael and I visited for a little bit. He told me about some of the stresses he’s feeling at home, and how he’s struggling to keep his dream of being a writer alive. While it saddened me to hear about his struggles, I welcomed the distraction, keeping me from having to face my keyboard and the hungry, blinking cursor.

Then it was time to write, and I wrote. I strained to find a place to start at first, but then I had an idea, and I pursued it. Once we got going, time flew, and the words formed easily. Michael and I had written in silence for about an hour and a half, each adding more than a thousand words to our books. It felt good. It felt like victory.

I’m not supposed to be a teacher, but I think I’m supposed to be a writer. Maybe I’ll never have readers. Maybe I’ll never make a living doing this thing that I love. It doesn’t matter. As long as I keep doing what I love, I won’t find myself at the end of my life full of regrets, wishing that I’d tried something else.


WorldCon Notes Posted!

I procrastinated, and I waited, and I floundered for a long time.  Finally, I’ve taken all of my handwritten notes from all of the panels I’ve attended since Reno, and I’ve organized them and posted them here.

There’s a new navigation section at the top called “Convention Notes.” Under that, there’s a section for every convention I’ve attended.  Within each of those sections are the notes.

I thought that I’d taken notes at a panel at Westercon, but I’m unable to find them.  It may be that I opened up my laptop, but never wrote anything down.

On a different note, I rearranged the way I’m doing my sample pages.  I’ve scrubbed away the remaining boiler plate language and added another piece of short fiction I wrote for a game several years ago called “The Diary of Jacob Descarte.”


Short Story Euphoria

It’s Monday.  It’s not exactly one of those Mondays, though.  There was a little bit of traffic coming in to work, but it wasn’t enough to distract me from Roy Dotrice’s voice as he’s reading Dance with Dragons.  I’m a little bit sick, but it’s not so much that I can’t do my day’s work, or go teach Computer Club, or go to band tonight.

Today is actually feeling like a really great day, mostly because it’s coming off of yesterday, in which I wrote a 4000 word Sci-Fi short story.

It feels so good to finish something!  All too often, I start projects, get somewhere in the middle, then stop.  The reasons I stop are varied, but it always feels like failure when I don’t finish something I set out to do.  Yesterday, I finished something.  I’m probably going to be floating a few inches off the ground for the rest of the week, buoyed up by this feeling of victory.

The story itself is about bag handlers in a world where travelers stow their bodies along with the rest of their baggage.  Rather than suffer through long lines in security, cramped, uncomfortable seating, and layovers, people plug into a virtual reality while their bodies are preserved and shipped efficiently to wherever it is they’re headed.

The idea came to me while traveling, obviously.  I was on my way to WorldCon when I thought about it.  While attending Sheila William‘s Kaffeeklatsch, it occurred to me that I might actually write this story and submit it to Asimov‘s.  Later, after looking at the Convolution website, it seemed like a good idea to me to finish it quickly and submit it so that I can attend the Writer’s Workshop.

I remembered the cut-off date for the Writer’s Workshop as being this coming weekend, so I thought I had a much shorter time to get the story done.  Melissa went with me to Starbuck’s yesterday, where she sat and drank some coffee and read some stories while I worked.  To my surprise, and to Melissa’s, I finished before we left.

It turns out that when I have an idea, I write at about 1000 words per hour.  That seems like a respectable pace.

So I have something finished, and I’ve been sharing it with friends and family.  Melissa didn’t care for it that much.  She was left with questions at the end, so I’m not sure I did a good enough job delivering the story.  It may be that I need more exposition, which is an atypical problem with these sorts of stories.

I’ve decided to let the story sit for a day or two, and revisit it once the excitement has worn down.  I know that there’s some places I’m going to want to edit.  I might discover that this isn’t the best I can do.  I might actually really hate my little story, which would be too bad.

For now, though… I’m just so happy to have something finished that I might be willing to share!


Back to School and Writing!

After the amazing week I had last week, it was difficult to get back into the normal schedule.  It was made especially challenging in that this is the week that the Computer Club I’m running just started back up yesterday.  I barely had time to recover from WorldCon before I was up in front of some kids again.

It didn’t go badly.  When I did this last year, it was my first time, and I really didn’t know what I was in for.  Yesterday, it was light and easy.  There weren’t that many kids, and two of them were my own children.  All but one of them were in the club last year, so we all knew what was going on.  It also helps that I made it High School only, rather than 6th grade and above.

I think the club is going to go really well.  I especially think that having the web site for it will make it easier, because I’m going to use it to keep notes as we go along.  It means I’ll be able to maintain a regular, steady pace, and if anyone is absent or falls behind for any reason, they’ll have a place they can go to catch up quickly and easily.  I’m excited about it, and the kids seemed excited about it, too.

After Computer Club, I went to Starbucks and met up with Michael and Cody.  Michael looked even more exhausted than I felt, which is understandable since he has the baby at home.  We talked for a bit, and we were slow to get at the writing.  We did get to it, though.  Cody seemed to be particularly prolific last night, in spite of the fact that he was writing everything by hand.

I only added about 600 words.  It was difficult for me to get that much.  I’m not huge into plotting things out in advance, but I do have a plan when going in, and I do establish milestones to write towards.  One of my problems last night was that I’d passed a milestone, and I haven’t really figured out the next one.

I have a ways to go.  It’s slow going, but I’m taking some comfort in that there is progress, in spite of all the other things going on in my life.  Tonight, I’m going to a Shut Up and Write event.  This weekend, my whole family is doing some kind of 3 mile walk.  I think it involves glow-in-the dark shirts.  And there is still the regular work, an upcoming band performance…

Honestly, 600 words is starting to sound pretty good right now.


A Busy Sunday Morning

I’ve been busy and productive!  It’s important to include both parts.  I don’t know how many times I’ve been simply busy, but didn’t actually produce anything.

With the new school year begun, it was time to sit back, wait for the bar to come down, and get ready to ride the roller coaster ride that is Computer Club.  I started it last year, because while I believe in my kids’ school, I find their computer science division to be sorely lacking.  One might even describe it as nonexistent.  So starting last year, I left work early two days a week in order to fill the brains of students with what I know about computer programming, heaven help them.

It went okay.  I made some mistakes, the main one being that I had kids ranging from 6th grade through high school.  The age range was too wide, which lead to the pace of the whole program being too slow and varied, which lost the interest of the serious students.  So this year, I’m narrowing it to high school age only.  I’ll probably wind up with very few students this year, but maybe that’ll be better, too.  We will see.

Here is the new web site I put up for the Computer Club.  My plan is to use it heavily for keeping notes and staying on track in maintaining a solid pace.

In other news, I went to a Shut Up and Write event yesterday and I got a ton of writing done!  In addition to adding about 2500 words to my book, I plotted out some more of the backstory.  I’m not a huge plotter, but it needed to be done in order for the context of what I’m currently writing to make sense.  To rephrase, my characters were entering a place where they’d been before but couldn’t remember, and I needed to figure out what they did while they were there before.  It’s way more confusing to describe than it is to just read.

Tonight, the band I play with has a performance.  That should be fun!  Some of the stuff we’ll be playing should go over really well.  Some of it, I expect to be a bit of a train wreck.

Tomorrow or the next day, I’ll post about WorldCon!


Describing my World

I heard back from my friend Tim, and he’s willing to do cover art for me.  I’m really excited about it!  Tim is a fantastic artist, and as we were growing up, I always assumed that our stars would rise together, me with my writing and him with his visual art.  He and I both lost our way for a while, but we’re both finding our way back to our dreams.  It would be fantastic if we could help each other achieve them.

He asked me some questions to help him visualize the setting in my story, and it was a good exercise for me.  I had done quite a bit of thinking about what the characters looked like before I launched into the story, but I only had some vague notions as to what the world actually looked like.  There’s some geography in my head, some of which won’t even show up in the book.  But the architecture?  The building styles?  I hadn’t given it that much thought.

As I told Tim, my setting is relatively low fantasy.  There aren’t any elves in the woods, or dwarves in their mines.  The world of A Clean Slate is primarily occupied by dirty, sweaty humans.  They don’t have medicine.  They’re not far off from starving, and if it weren’t for some key elements of the story, they’d be fighting each other and dying more often than living.  You could compare it to Game of Thrones, except I gave everyone a lobotomy and removed sexism.  The book I’m writing is my fantasy, not George’s.

Actually, I really wouldn’t want to live in the world I’m writing about.  I like the comforts of home and the wonders of modern technology.  It’s an interesting world, the way a tragedy is interesting.

I have a really long ways to go, still.  The word count isn’t climbing that quickly, and my focus the last couple of weekends has been almost non-existent.  Maybe I can coax out some more speed by setting a finish date.  I’m hesitant to do that, though.  I’m enjoying the process at the moment.  I just need to slice out more time.


Out of Go-Juice

I met up with M. Todd Gallowglas (Michael) for our second weekly writing date last night.  It’s amazing how much it helps to have a writing buddy!  Last night was the third time we’d met up, and it was really great to hang out with my friend.

Unfortunately, it didn’t quite work out as well as the previous two writing sessions, and it’s all because I ran out of go-juice, on multiple levels.  I will explain.

First of all, yesterday was a longer day than most of my Wednesdays.  Melissa needed me to drive her to work that morning, which meant I needed to get up earlier than I wanted to.  It also meant my drive was longer than usual.

My workday was somewhat long.  I worked really hard to get a particular project I’ve been working on finished, and I had to troubleshoot some problems that were somewhat daunting, and I needed to give technical direction to one of our temporary programmers.  All these things were a bit taxing.

After that, it was the slightly longer drive to pick up Melissa, and a battle through traffic which involved an accident and road construction along the way.  After we got home, I had just enough time to grab my writing laptop bag and head back out into more traffic, to go to Roseville and meet up with Michael.

None of the things I’ve mentioned are individually taxing or terrible.  I don’t mind getting up earlier than usual.  I don’t mind driving Melissa to work.  It all adds up, though, so by the time I met up with Michael at the Starbucks, I felt a little bit exhausted.

This is not a simple story of defeat, though!  A little weariness isn’t going to hold me down!  I was determined to push through and add some words to my book!

As I said before, though, I was out of go-juice, on multiple levels.  In my hurry to get out my door, I didn’t grab the power cable for my laptop.  I opened it up, started writing, and discovered I had less than 20 minutes of electricity left.  My laptop was out of go-juice.

I’m saving my book on SkyDrive, so that I don’t have to worry about losing a machine and losing all my hard work.  I closed my laptop, and pulled out my phone.  Defeat was not an option!

But then I saw that I had less than 20% batter life on my phone, which generally means only a few minutes of actual use.  I managed to add another paragraph or two to my story, but that was it.  My phone was out of go-juice.

I was tired.  My laptop was dead.  My phone was dead.  So my Writing Wednesday ended early this week.

I said my farewells to Michael, gathered up my things, and went out to my car.  Wouldn’t you know it?  My gas gauge was sitting on “E” as well.

So last night wasn’t the greatest writing session, but it was still a good day.  Words were still added.  This is a marathon, not a sprint.  Next time, I’ll just have to make sure I have more fuel in the tank.


My First Book

The book I’m working on right now is coming along.  This weekend, I added another 500 words or so.  It’s not a huge amount, but since I was basically relaxing and taking the weekend off, I’m happy.

While it will be my first book to put in front of a larger audience, it really isn’t my first book.  My first book is a SciFi-mystery set on the moon, featuring a private investigator named Arthur Kane.  I started it when I was about 16, and I worked on it for a couple of years.  It’s told in three parts.  Also, it’s absolutely terrible.

Through my 20s and early 30s, I really had a difficult time starting another book, partly because I kept telling myself that I needed to fix The Arthur Kane Stories.  I restarted the book several times, but I couldn’t get into it.

I started writing the character of Arthur Kane before I started The Arthur Kane Stories, actually.  I’d visited my friend Doug, and he’d shown me a writing project he’d done for school that featured a detective.  It seemed like so much fun that I thought I’d try to write my own detective stories, and came up with one living on the moon, in the not too far flung future.

The early Arthur Kane was rich, athletic, an amazing marksman, perceptive, and brilliant.  He was also a mechanical genius because, you know, his grandpa had invented the flying car.  He was flawless, and that was the problem.  Every character should have flaws.  But I’m not going to beat myself up too much over that.  I was 12 or 13 when I started, and uneducated in such nuance.

When I was writing those first short stories, it was always fun.  I was just making up stuff, and my hero was defeating the bad guys and being brilliant.  It was a great way to pass the time, when I was playing video games.

Then my dad died on Halloween in 1988, and I stopped writing for a while.

A few months later, when was I 16 years old, I went back to my computer (an Apple IIc), and started a new Arthur Kane story.  My attitude was different, and the story was different.  I wasn’t just having my unrealistic super-detective cruise through life anymore.  I gave Arthur flaws, and I put him through some terrible stuff.  His home was destroyed, his best friend and partner was nearly killed, and the bad guy nearly got the best of him.

I didn’t realize until many, many years later that I was writing in order to help me deal with my dad’s death.  Arthur became flawed, because I’m flawed.  Arthur was going through hard times because that’s what I was feeling.  Arthur was me.

At the end of the first act, Arthur got out his saxophone and played a farewell to his grandfather, and was recovering.  He still had his issues, but he was respectfully moving on from the past, just as I was recovering and getting past the worst of my mourning.

The Arthur Kane Stories was my first book, and it really isn’t a publishable piece of fiction.  There’s a few copies of it out there, printed off with my dot matrix printer.  Maybe, if I become successful as a writer, I will polish it off for real.  Maybe it’d work in the Young Adult market.

I didn’t write it to make money, or to become famous.  I wrote it because I was a kid that needed an outlet for dealing with the death of his father.

I’m not writing my current book to make money, or to become famous, either.  That would be nice, and I’m certainly hopeful, but I don’t think that can be my motivation.  I’m writing now because the kid that wrote The Arthur Kane Stories started calling himself a writer, and I want to make sure that it’s true.