Current State of Affairs

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I typically like to get my posts up by Monday night. Obviously I’m a bit off the mark this week. In part because no particular topic really jumped out at me as interesting to write about. Not surprising, since my brain is kind of on strike against creativity, originality, and just any general mental effort of late. So rather than go in depth or get all philosophical about any one specific thing this week, I decided to just lay out all the random things currently going on for me that have either caused this psychological ennui or are symptoms of it.

Sounds super exciting and fun, yes?

The number one main cause of Blah-ness: Work. 

If you’ll recall, I gave my notice and will be quitting my career as a Project Coordinator at the end of July in order to pursue that coveted title of “Published Author.” Silly me, I thought that doing so would result in fewer projects being dumped in my lap. Not so, apparently. Which normally wouldn’t bother me, but all my current projects are really just God-awful tedious. So I’ve been spending my days stressing over a thousand tiny but vital details to guard against multiple catastrophes, which is the absolute worst combination of nerve-wracking boredom and mind-dulling paranoia.

Just one more month of it, though. Then freedom! Sweet, sweet freedom.

Major Symptoms of Blah-ness:

  1. Almost zero motivation to write.

It’s been very hard, after finally getting through the day, to make myself sit back down at my desk and prod my brain into more effort. I’m actually quite proud of myself, though, because I have been doing it. 500 words a day. That’s my goal. And the main thing keeping me at it is a group I joined on Absolute Write, where you post your monthly goals, then update everyone each week. I want so badly to be able to tell complete strangers that I’m on track! Weird, I know. But it totally works for me. Of course, everything I’ve written has just been terrible, but I’m nearly halfway through my current project, which is honestly amazing considering the past month I’ve had. So, all in all, I’m very pleased.

2. S. M. Stirling’s The Emberverse Series

When I’m exhausted and not feeling like the cheeriest Cheerio in the box, my default activity is usually reading. And usually, reading something I’ve read before that I know won’t be a disappointment. Comfort in familiarity, you know? I’ve never read the Emberverse series before, though. And it’s a bit of a monster. More than ten books in the series, but there’s also a prequel trilogy, and it adheres to the expected page count standard of a good epic fantasy (i.e. 500-1000 per book). This is not what I would normally pick up in my current mood. However, this is Bunny’s most favoritest series of all time. For nearly five years now, he’s been trying to shove it down my throat (lovingly, of course), and for various reasons, I’ve been resisting.

Well, a week or so ago, I picked it up on a whim. Now I’m on the third book.

One of the reasons I initially resisted reading it was because I checked the reviews on Amazon. I am a self-admitted snob, and almost never read books that have less than 4.5 stars on Amazon. There are, of course exceptions, but when I read the reviews for Dies the Fire, I got a little worried. A few mentioned things that I thought might annoy me, like the excessive Wiccan-ness (not because Religion, but because of the excessive epitaphs of “Goddess this” and “Goddess that” which would throw me out of the story) and the whole notion of how impossibly lucky the main characters were. I was scared it’d fall back into the realm of some of those hated tropes, where the author gets lazy and uses convenience or unrealistic characters to move the plot forward.

I’m happy to report that none of my fears were realized! The “luck” factor is outright addressed in the book, and makes total sense to me. And the characters are really pretty wonderful (I’m 100% Team MacKenzie). Even the ones I don’t really like are still very REAL and enjoyable to read about. And Stirling has a knack for descriptions. For me, he goes a little overboard with the setting on occasion, but there are gems in there of beautiful, one-line phrases that hit home perfectly, even to describe something complex or unusual. Now I wish I’d been taking notes while reading to share . . . But in addition to that, he’s very good at describing people briefly, but with enough uniqueness to make them individuals, even in a book with a cast of dozens.

And I do have an example of that!

“She had the same wide-eyed look as her younger daughter, except that it came across as less like an elf and more like an over-bred collie, and her voice was pure Back Bay Boston, so achingly genteel that she didn’t unclench her teeth even for the vowels.”

This is something I know I need to work on. My side characters are more often than not flat and dull. As are my scene descriptions. So I’ve been trying to take note of what Stirling author does, because he manages to convey all this information without doing any real damage to the pacing.

Also, it’s just a very interesting idea for a story, and wonderfully executed. I now see why Bunny was so lovingly insistent and adorably frustrated with each refusal.

3. The Great British Baking Show

Totally unrelated to writing, but I love it. Bunny and I discovered it not long ago and have been watching about an episode a day. We just finished the “first” season. First in quotes because I think there are more seasons on BBC, but Netflix only has the PBS versions. I must find all of them. And I’m pretty sure a large chunk of my upcoming free time will be spent baking, as inspiration has been rekindled in that hobby.

Luckily, I also plan to rekindle my running hobby, which should help to balance the inevitable consequences.

4. Half in the Bag

The only good part of tedious work is that I can usually have something playing in the background for marginal entertainment. Lately, it’s been the YouTube show Half in the Bag by RedLetterMedia. It’s basically a movie review show by two guys who are independent movie-maker types. On one or two episodes, the humor has gotten a little too gross for me, but mostly they are right up my entertainment alley. And, as a bonus, they talk about storytelling quite a bit, and the do’s and don’t’s. Of course, they’re talking about it in relation to movies, but many of the rules cross the mediums and are helpful for writing as well.

On the same subject, there’s another YouTube channel I’d highly recommend that examines movies, but far more in depth and exclusively from a story-telling aspect. Lessons from the Screenplay doesn’t come out with videos as often, but when he does, they are wonderful and incredibly helpful for all kinds of fiction writers. He tends to pick a topic, then find a movie that succeeds completely in that singular area. For example, he looks at The Dark Night when discussing how to create a good antagonist. For how to build suspense, he looks as Inglourius Basterds.

So those are all the things I’ve been doing, instead of posting on my blog or writing in any substantial quantity. It’s not a good mental practice, I know, but I’ve fallen into a bit of a loop where I just keep telling myself, “Well, I can’t do that now, but I’ll definitely get to it when I quit my job!” At this point, the list of things I’m going to do when I quit will take up more time than my job ever did. Hopefully, though, they’ll be things I enjoy a whole lot more, while producing a whole lot less nerve-wracking boredom or mind-dulling paranoia.

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