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Apnea Update: CPAP Ho!

Sleep CyborgSo when I mentioned the sleep apnea thing back at the start of April, a whole bunch of folks were like “Get thee to a CPAP Machine.” To which I nodded sagely and said, well, yes, that’s on the list, we’re just waiting to see how bad things really are. 

Last week, I took twenty-four hours off work and did my first official sleep test to see how things were. I spent a couple of hours hooked up to electrodes and other stuff while I slept. It gathered data.

Turns out, things were pretty fucking bad. The diagnoses for chronic sleep apnea kicks in at around 30+ interruptions in sleep per hour. I was averaging 60-70 interruptions an hour, with a couple of periods where I’d stop breathing for up to a minute and a half at a time. When I start doing the math on that, my ongoing feeling of utter lethargy starts making all kinds of sense.

“We should probably get you on a CPAP trial, ASAP,” the nice lady from the sleep clinic said. Then we made an appointment Monday to start a one-month trial.

I’m not sure I remember what it feels like to be a fully-rested human being, but I’m hopeful I’ll get a reminder sometime in the next few weeks. Thanks, everyone, who weighted in with their advice and experiences.

Random Updates: Apnea, Supanova, Angela Slatter Kicking Ass

ONE: WRITING WHILE SLEEPY

So I missed a blog post yesterday, but in my defence I was squirrelled away writing a little over 4,000 words on various creative projects. That represents nearly a third of my wordcount for April thus far, so I’m feeling pretty happy about that.

Yesterday was also the point where I added the words “FUCK THE APNEA” to the top of my spreadsheet where I’m tracking my yearly wordcount. One of the reasons I feared admitting there was something wrong was the self-knowledge that I am a lazy, lazy writer. Give me a good reason to not write, and I’ll take it. I’ll happily prioritize other things ahead of writing goals.

(For all the people who mentioned CPAP machines when I first posted about the Apnea – after consulting with my doctor and talking over how serious things have gotten, I’ve been booked into a sleep clinic later this month to begin a home assessment. That should be the beginning of my doctor offering non-diet-and-exercise type solutions to help with the process. Thanks for the prod folks – I would have left that process a lot longer without our advice)

TWO: COME VISIT QWC AT SUPANOVA

If you’re at the Gold Coast Supanova this weekend, I’ll be working the Queensland Writers Centre’ booth in the publishers area for most of the day on Saturday. Feel free to drop by, say hello, and talk writing for a bit. Ask me questions about the upcoming GenreCon and how cool it will be. Admire the passing cosplayers, who form of geekdom I don’t truly get but am always impressed with.

Then go find my friend Allan’s booth, under the moniker of The Tardis Guy, and marvel at the props he’s been making.

THREE: CONGRATULATIONS ANGELA

So my friend Angela Slatter won three Aurealis Awards last weekend, which you’d think would be enough big news for one writer in the space of seven days. But no, not Angela, she thinks bigger than that and works three times harder than the other writers in her vicinity – and so the official announcement has been made over at the London Book Fair that Angela has signed a three-book deal with Jo Fletcher Books for her Verity Fassbinder series.

 

Can you say “Fucking kick-ass?”

‘Cause, believe me, this is fucking kick-ass. I’ve read the first book of this series in draft for and I say, with all due acknowledgement of my bias as Angela’s friend, that it’s a damn impressive book that’s going to catch people’s attention.

Coming Full Circle with Brain Jar Press

I’ve spent the last few months preparing for my major project in 2018: launching Brain Jar Press and getting its first book ready for release.

I did my first stint with indie publishing back in 2005. It’s strange, looking back, because indie publishing hadn’t really taken hold in fiction publishing yet and I was still a few years away from writing fiction anyway. I focused on short, useful products for the D20 system, the open-sourced rules for the edition of Dungeons and Dragons that was in vogue way back then.

It taught me a lot about the difference between writing and publishing, and it shaped the way I thought about everything I did in writing after that.

2005 is another world, given the pace publishing moves at these days. We didn’t call it indie publishing back then – I set out to be a micropress, producing content by me and a small group of other people, and in the space of two years we managed to get out 50 odd products. I had a blast, and I enjoyed the process of taking a book from a raw idea to a finished product, and it represents the single-most focused chunk of time I ever had writing because I knew where everything I did fit into the overall plan.

I made a pretty good chunk of money, too, courtesy of some forward thinking and an attempt to hit niches that needed to be filled. The products I got rebadged after the end of the D20 system still sell, and I imagine the rest would too if the death of my PC and back-up drive hadn’t wiped out all the production files at the end of 2006.

In another place, another time, I’d have settled into RPG publishing for good and probably done okay with it. Instead, a computer failure forced me to sit down and replan my next few years, and I noticed four things:

  • First, the yet-to-be-diagnosed sleep apnea was kicking my ass, making it harder to focus on the business side of things. Since I wasn’t anywhere near being willing to admit that something was wrong, I focused on conserving energy.
  • Second, the writing was on the wall for the 3rd Edition of Dungeons and Dragons, and the d20 system would lose marketshare as a result; this would result in some pretty significant shifts in the business plan and a lot of product rebranding, which the computer death made…problematic.
  • Third, I had just been exposed to the fairly toxic streak of ideology among some gamers that would eventually harden into things like Gamer Gate, and I was disheartened by the idea of writing for that audience.
  • Fourth, I had just gotten into Clarion South and was about to focus on fiction for the first time in nearly fifteen years, so it was time to pivot and try something new.

And with that, the Clockwork Golem Workshop shut it’s doors and I started writing fiction. Then I got a job at Queensland Writers Centre, and eventually found myself running GenreCon. I watched the rise of indie publishing in the fiction and non-fiction space from the sidelines, passed on what I knew from the RPG side of things to folks who came to QWC’s indie publishing workshops. I learned a lot from researching those seminars and following the evolution of the indie side of things, and I learned even more by comparing the way indie publishing evolved in the gaming space with the way the nascent self-publishing options transformed into viable strategies.

The thought of getting back into publishing has been around for a while. I started putting together plans for how I would approach indie publishing back in 2012, but that was three years before the sleep apnea was diagnosed and the upside of knowing the effective business models for indie publishing is being able to gauge whether it’s an effective thing for you, your goals, and your process. The thing eager beginners often miss about going indie is that it works best when you’re dealing in quantity, producing multiple books a year and building up a long series. It’s a business model that works based on a deep, readily accessible backlist. If you’re not starting out with that backlist – and most writers diving into this aren’t – then your first few years are basically building that list from the ground up.

In 2012, I knew I wasn’t going to produce solid work at the speed I’d need to in order to make self-publishing viable, given my long-term goals. In 2015, I felt like I was getting closer, but still wasn’t able to hit it. In 2016 I started looking at the changes I’d need to make going indie viable for me and my long term goals.

A few months back I put together the business plan and did all the paperwork for making Brain Jar Press an official business. Next month, on November 1st, I put a collection of my short stories, The Birdcage Heart & Other Strange Tales,  up for pre-order.

On November 30, it becomes an actual book, and I gear up to hit the ground running in 2018. The things I know about indie publishing will come up against the thing that I need to learn, and I test the long-term plan I’ve been tinkering with for nearly five years against the reality of actually writing, releasing, and commissioning books.

I’d forgotten how much I enjoyed the publishing side of things, after nearly a decade away from it. I’m looking forward to the learning curve as I figure it all out in a whole new era.

The Sweet, Seductive Song of October Productivity

I have spent the last few weeks agreeing to do things, comfortable in the knowledge that time when I would actually have to do said things was comfortably distant in the future. Except now the future is almost here, and this will be my last week where all my writing time is actually devoted to writing-related tasks.

I tend to forget that October is a good writing month. The weather is pleasant and there is a kind of lull in the yearly commitments, a quietness between the festival chaos of September and the beginning of the end-of-year chaos that comes in November. Every year October comes around and I do a whole bunch of work and I think, well, this is nice, it would be great if this was all year round. And then I start making plans, because everything seems so achievable.

Then November reminds me that those plans are foolish, and December derails them entirely.

It doesn’t stop me from making plans.

Two years ago, around this time, I got it into my head to try and write 600,000 words in the space of the year. I largely did it to prove a point to a friend of mine, who believed it wasn’t a sustainable pace for a writer, and I failed rather spectacularly. I ended up falling short by a good 220,000 words, and after finally getting around to editing some of the short fiction drafts I wrote that year, the 380,000 words I did do weren’t terribly good.

Which…I’m okay with, mostly, given that I was either feeling asleep at the keyboard ’cause the sleep apnea hadn’t been diagnosed yet, or basically fighting my own brain twenty-four seven ’cause I hadn’t yet figured out that maybe I was a depressed.

Still, I don’t like leaving things unfinished, and I really don’t like leaving a point unproven. The massive burst of productivity that comes with October has started whispering its siren song to me, pointing out that November is coming…

 

Reporting In

I’ve grown complacent about travelling in recent years. I went from doing very little of it, to doing a whole lot, and somewhere along the line I stopped fretting about the logistics of getting places and packing things.

I paid for that, over the weekend. Three nights in Melbourne with antidepressants and a power chord for the CPAP machine meant I was feeling particularly blunted by the end of the trip. I yawned a lot. I got light-headed in the afternoons, just like I did before the apnea was treated. I had headaches and wasn’t quite so in-charge of my emotional state as I’ve grown used to in recent weeks.

Now I am home and medicated and catching up on sleep. Still blunt, but getting sharper, and vowing not to leave things behind again.

I went to see Nerve last night, and it was terrible, but exactly the right kind of terrible for my mood and mental state. If you’re okay with cheese, teen melodrama, and a plot that takes common sense out back and shoots it, Nerve is not a bad C-grade movie to pass an idle hour or so. The script is bad, the depiction of the internet makes 1995’s Hackers look state of the art, and the leads are charismatic enough that you almost don’t mind too much.

A photo posted by Peter M Ball (@petermball) on

Some More Thoughts on Writer and Business Models: No Plan Survives Contact with the Enemy or Reality

Last Monday, I talked about the need for writers to develop a business model. It’s not the first time I’ve said this and I doubt it will be the last, but it was the first time I’ve said this here on the blog and in such am easily sharable form. That meant people started giving me feedback, which largely came in two camps:

  • How, exactly, do I do this business model thing? GIVE US DETAILS; or
  • Dude, I’ve got a business model, but it’s not working the way I want.

I’ll address both of those eventually, but given that I’m Melbourne today (and I’ve gone three days without medication and CPAP, thanks to poor packing on my part) I’m going to hold off on answering the first. Mostly because I started and it got very, very long.

As for the second: well, I’ve worked for a bunch of small businesses where exactly this has happened. This is the nature of running a small business, particularly one where you’re dealing primarily with other businesses who act as middle men, as most traditionally published authors do.

Many of those small businesses I worked for had plans, but their plans were…flawed. Based on wild guesses and the way they expected (or wished) their customers behaved. Everyone does this. Think about all those small stores and restaurants that crop up, chug along for a few months, then fold.  These are business driven by hope and high expectations, then let down by the realities of their situation.

People put together flawed business plans all the time. Their business models are based on expectations that don’t quite match reality, and they’re either unwilling to change their plan based on the new information or they’re just unable to switch to a new direction in time.

Point is: business plans change. A well-constructed business plan is a living document, periodically reviewed and evaluated to ensure that it’s working the way it should and changed when situations demand it.

For writers, this can be a harsh piece of advice, but the truth is that shit is going to change when it comes to publishing. The genre that you love writing in may suddenly cool, meaning you’re no longer able to sell the work you’ve written; the books you were pinning your hopes on didn’t sell as well as expected, which means your publisher is less enthusiastic about buying more; some guy invents a device that reads ebooks and sells it cheaply, and suddenly the whole business model of publishing is massive disrupted and indie publishing is everywhere.

You adapt, or you die.

This isn’t always an easy thing to do. I’m very much in an adapt-or-die space at the moment. The last few years of sleep apnea and depression were a double-whammy that utterly messed with my writing, and I’ve been adapting my business model on the fly for most of that time. It allowed me to keep from admitting that the apnea and the depression were problems, but it didn’t allow me to make smart business decisions. It’s easy to just lower your head and keep charging, when your business model falls apart, instead of admitting that things are wrong and you need to change.

The one saving grace is this: I was willing to adapt my business model and I was consciously making a choice every time I shifted. It may have been frustrating, and occasionally heartbreaking, but it meant I wasn’t as frustrated as it could have been if I’d just kept plugging away using the same plan I’d set back in 2010.

THE  BIG PROBLEM WITH FIGURING OUT YOUR BUSINESS MODEL

Here’s the bad news: I can’t tell you what your business model should be. There are plenty of ways people become professional writers and the playing field doesn’t exactly start out even. And a lot of the decisions will have a lot to do with the kind of writer you want to be, where you’re willing to compromise, and what other skills you have. I’ve taught workshops on this, and in six hours I still feel like I’m barely scratching the surface.

Take writing out of the equation for the moment and think of it like this: you want to start a business serving food to people. That’s your starting point.

But your business model can’t rest on that alone, because…dear god, the myriad ways you can implement that are staggering. Do you want to run a food franchise like McDonalds? Do you want to be a small local take-away, or a café, or a restaurant? Are you willing to ride around in a food truck, trying somewhere new every day? Do you want to be a catering company?

All of these involve serving people food, but the business models are different. Even if you pick one – say, starting a restaurant – you have to start making decisions about how high-end you want to be and who your clientele are going to be and what you’re going to build your menu around. And, let’s be honest here, a lot of what you can achieve is going to depend on your reputation as a restaurateur/chef, and your ability to generate start-up capital.

Writing is no less complex as an industry, but the lack of information around the business side of things frequently means that people assume that it’s a one-size-fits-all industry.

It takes a lot to start breaking down every single possible business model, even in an industry where the different models are a little more visible. That’s why there is a process to putting together a business plan that looks a little like this:

Step One: put together a rough outline of your plan

Step Two: RESEARCH THE HELL OUT OF YOUR INDUSTRY AND SEE IF YOUR PLAN IS VIABLE

Step Three: Adapt your plan as required.

Not Hung-Over, But…

I don’t get hangovers anymore, on account of avoiding alcohol in the name of not making the sleep apnea worse than it needs to be. But there are days when I miss alcohol, and there are days when I definitely miss that mild morning-after feeling where you’re slightly seedy and aware of it and things can be made better by the application of good music and prodigious amounts of bacon.

Today I feel hung-over. Not because I drank, but because my brain just unloaded a whole bunch of crazy on me last night and it resulted in an evening of adrenaline and sleeplessness. And a morning where I slept through my alarms – all fucking five of them – and had started to get that shaky feeling that comes from taking the anti-depressants late.

So I have cooked a pile of bacon. And applied good music. And maybe, quietly, dispaired at the idea that I will never actually create something as glorious as the film clip to Pulp’s This is Hardcore.

Also, that I will never own anything as cool as the pianists ring around thirty-eight seconds in.

Sick Day

Four days of a sore throat and runny nose. Four nights without using my CPAP machine to regulate my sleep apnea, which means I wake every day with a head full of cotton wool, exhaustion, and nascent craziness waiting to be given form. I slough around the house, coughing up phlegm. I sleep in fifteen minute bursts, before my own biology revolts and wakes me up to start consciously sucking down air again.

I do not trust myself to react to anything, because all my reactions are basically insane: extreme; ill-formed; straight from the exhausted, primal Id. I cannot be trusted to engage with other people. I can barely be trusted with the written word.

I was planning on starting a new project in June – a short, straight-rush project contained by thirty days, just to see if I could manage it.

This is going to make things interesting.

 

Finishing

I haven’t finished a short story in years. It’s a thing I’ll bust out in conversations about writing, even though the evidence of its untruth is out there. I have written stories. Some were published. Many were not. This is probably for the best, since they were mostly fiction written in the grip of the apnea fugue, and it’s hard to really understand what I intended beyond insert words on blank page so I can tick the writing box and pretend nothing is wrong.

This is not a good way to write. Especially when you realise there’s a problem, get it treated, and discover that checking the box doesn’t actually mean much.

And so, in my head, I stopped writing short fiction, despite the evidence to the contrary. When I did write it, I failed to finish it. The things I finished, by and large, were because people asked me to write things and the terror of letting said people down hurt more than struggling through the fugue.

And those stories? They rarely felt like they were mine.

The last time I actually felt like a short-story writer was 2013.

I am not disappointed in the things I’ve written since then, but I do kinda miss the regular hit of finishing things and sending them out. Getting stories out there, into the world, that I remember writing and feel a sense of connection too.

I am thinking about this a lot today.

You know, while sitting here at the computer. Trying to remember how the short story thing goes, so I can finish this particular draft.

Welcome to May

It’s cold and grey in Brisbane this morning. My alarm just went off, alerting me that it’s time to get up, which would be awesome but for the fact that I have been awake for two and half hours now. There are very few things I miss about having undiagnosed and untreated sleep apnea, but the ability to wake up early, realise that it’s bullshit o’clock, and go back to sleep is definitely one of them.

These days, if I wake up at bullshit o’clock, I get up at bullshit o’clock.

On the plus side, I get some writing done. Words on the story draft. Words on the novella re-write. Words here, which tend to be the third priority in a day, and thus becomes the thing that suffers when my priorities undergo tectonic shifts.

It is cold and grey out there this morning. Perfect writing weather. I kinda wish I could fuck off work for the day, sit here on my couch, and finish a goddamn story.

But that would be unprofessional of me.

Goddammit.