PeterMBall

The Sunday Circle: What Are You Working On This Week?

Sunday Circle Banner

The Sunday Circle is the weekly check-in where I ask the creative-types who follow this blog to weigh in about their goals, inspirations, and challenges for the coming week. The logic behind it can be found here. Want to be involved? It’s easy – just answer three questions in the comments or on your own blog (with a link in the comments here, so that everyone can find them).

After that, throw some thoughts around about other people’s projects, ask questions if you’re so inclined. Be supportive above all.

Then show up again next Sunday when the circle updates next, letting us know how you did on your weekly project and what you’ve got coming down the pipe in the coming week (if you’d like to part of the circle, without subscribing to the rest of the blog, you can sign-up for reminders via email here).

MY CHECK-IN

What am I working on this week?

Still running through the mix of projects this week.Both Project Beeman and Project Red are in the final neck this week and next, and I have to keep reminding myself that the final scenes never feel right on a first draft because they’re victim of all the problems in the earlier drafts. This means one of the big task that’s occupying my attention is fleshing out Project Beeman and doing some corrective rewrites on a bunch of scenes that are using the wrong POV or simply don’t work after the story changed around them.

What’s inspiring me this week?

I spent some quality time being introduced to The Tudors this week, where I spent a lot of time failing to recognise Henry Cavill and basically being surprised at the number of people who went on to be more recognisable in other things. It has had the unexpected consequence of getting me looking at a lot of the history, winding back to the War of the Roses for the additional context it provides.

What action do I need to take?

I’ve got three emails that really need to be sent that keep getting put off and about 500 words of copy, all of which advancing Project Countdown to the point where it hits the pointy end.

Getting Shit Done is Always Subjective

If there’s a pattern in my writing routine that remains unassailable, it’s this: Thursdays are the hardest days of the week. It’s rare that I get a day where writing is the sole thing I’m doing – there is always thesis work, and meetings, things that need doing for GenreCon and spending time with my girlfriend – but Thursdays are inevitably the day where the balance tips towards not-writing. It’s the day I spend six hours at work, the evening in which I will go game with my friends, and it’s often the evening where my girlfriend and I will abscond to the local sushi place for pre-game dinner.

On Thursdays, I get stuff written before work. Yesterday, I managed about two thousand words, which is a pretty fucking efficient day given there was only about two hours of writing time before I had to jump on a train. It just felt like a failure, in many respects, because the rest of the working week I can usually manage twice as many words before my brain grinds to a halt and refuses to do more. Everything else that gone done in that day didn’t register, because my brain is focused on stories and deadlines and thinking through what needs to be done when.

Productivity is subjective. A year ago, getting two thousands words done on a work day would have seemed like a monumentally awesome thing. I would have given myself a mental high-five and been incredibly pleased with myself. Even a week ago, I would have nodded sagely and put the days productivity into context.

Instead, this week, I brooded on the lack of productivity for most of the day, and spent the commute home on an overcrowded train pondering the difficulties in telling the difference between a bad day, actual depression, and the feeling of being three-quarters of the way through writing a book and deciding everything is awful. Then I came home from gaming and dragged another thousand words out of my brain, because I’ve got projects and deadlines and gantt charts to follow and the book does not get any easier to write or any closer to finished if I’m not working on it.

I’ve written 14,699 words since Monday. I will get that up around 17,500 by the end of today, which means I’ve hit my targets for the week and can afford to take the weekend off to recharge the batteries and come back on Monday eager to be working again. By the end of the month I’ll have a thesis novella of my plate and will be searching for beta-readers for Project Beeman, then start brainstorming the second book in that particular novella series.

By every metric I use to measure what I’m doing, I am getting shit done. I am keeping projects on track and bringing them home, managing my time effectively. Subjectively yesterday felt like arse, but objectively I did exactly what I needed to do.

Which is why I have the metrics and plans, creating the hard edge I can use to measure things instead of trusting in my gut.

Feeling like you’ve got shit done is subjective as hell – the good days are rarely as good as you’re thinking and the bad days are rarely as bad. Data for its own sake is useful, but incomplete. Data within a context or timeline shows you progress your gut will ignore, which is what makes it worth tracking. My brain can tell me Thursday sucked all it wants, but the data I’m tracking tells me the things that got done kept my urgent projects on track, and the things I had to set aside had minor effects on my deadlines.

In short, it was a shitty day, but I did a pretty good job with it. I totally got shit done.

The Sunday Circle: What Are You Working On This Week?

Sunday Circle Banner

The Sunday Circle is the weekly check-in where I ask the creative-types who follow this blog to weigh in about their goals, inspirations, and challenges for the coming week. The logic behind it can be found here. Want to be involved? It’s easy – just answer three questions in the comments or on your own blog (with a link in the comments here, so that everyone can find them).

After that, throw some thoughts around about other people’s projects, ask questions if you’re so inclined. Be supportive above all.

Then show up again next Sunday when the circle updates next, letting us know how you did on your weekly project and what you’ve got coming down the pipe in the coming week (if you’d like to part of the circle, without subscribing to the rest of the blog, you can sign-up for reminders via email here).

MY CHECK-IN

What am I working on this week?

I mentioned a whole bunch of things in Friday’s post that are still very much on the cards, but my priority for the coming week is running down the checklist of things that need to be done to get Project: Countdown finalised by the end of September.

Splitting my focus continues to work for me. Three of the five writing projects that get my time on a daily basis have deadlines within the next three months and all are ahead of where I expected to be at this point. I had a big epiphany about Project Beeman on Friday that has basically made the entire book fall into place, and set up a bunch of the things that will follow it in the months to come.

What’s inspiring me this week?

I put out a call for books with great racing descriptions this week and a friend suggested S.B. Divya’s novella Runtime which features cyborgs running ultra-marathons. It’s a neat little cyberpunk concept with some great worldbuilding, but reaction to it has been mixed as people either love it or find that it falls into that perennial critique of novellas – “it feels undercooked and I wanted more.”

I feel on the latter side, and given that I’ve written a bunch of novellas and plan on writing more, I spend a lot of time paying attention when I have that reaction in an attempt to figure out where it’s frustrating me. I’m still not sure yet, but reading reviews and comparing my reaction to other people’s is intriguing.

What action do I need to take?

That checklist of things for Project Countdown? I need to revisit it and rebuild it from scratch at this point, since I’m still working on the next-action list I put together a month ago and things have progressed much, much faster since then. I’m now at the point where there’s a bunch of vague things I know I need to do, but no clear guidelines about when or how they’re going to occur.

I also need to keep a close eye on the site’s spam list this week, as it swallowed a bunch of incoming posts from last week’s Sunday Circle.

 

Things I Am Currently Doing, September 8 2017 Edition

  • Sitting in the UQ postgraduate room, waiting until midday when I will go and meet with my supervisor about the work I’ve done while she was away at WorldCon. Happily, I can report that there’s been some movement in my thinking about Dramatic vs. Iconic characters in series works that will be useful to explore in my creative project, and I’m on track to finish the first of my novella drafts by the time we hit the end of September.
  • Working on said novella draft, dubbed Project: Red in my to-do list. The current word-count is spread the full length of the project, mapping out the plot and its movement, so much of what’ remains is going through to flesh out scenes and make them make sense.
  • Working on Project: Gladiator, which will be the first in a series of short, very pulpy novels that I may-or-may-not have danced around the idea of writing a few times on social media. Currently one-sixth of the way through and just sorting out the voice issues – I’m starting to deploy present tense, as this is very much trying to capture a B-movie feel and present tense is the tense of film treatments and scripts.
  • Working on Project: Beeman, which started out as a novella and is probably going to trundle into short novel territory.
  • Proofing The Birdcage Heart and Other Strange Tales, a collection of short fiction that I put together to test some ideas I was reading about for the thesis and liked enough to put as a book. This one brings together twelve stories on the fantasy/magic realist/slipstream end of my work.
  • Putting together Not Quite The End Of The World Just Yet, which will essentially be the follow up for the above that brings together some of the stories I’ve done which fit in the range between slipstream and SF.
  • Preparing to put together an email newsletter, which is one of those things I’ve been toying with for nearly a year now and have no real reason to avoid anymore.
  • Hyperventilating and fretting about things.
  • Getting everything in place to finish off a thing that’s been on my list as Project: Countdown for nearly a year now, waiting for me to finally commit to it.
  • Hanging with guinea pigs, which are considerably cooler than I first thought they would be.

The Sunday Circle: What Are You Working On This Week?

Sunday Circle Banner

The Sunday Circle is the weekly check-in where I ask the creative-types who follow this blog to weigh in about their goals, inspirations, and challenges for the coming week. The logic behind it can be found here. Want to be involved? It’s easy – just answer three questions in the comments or on your own blog (with a link in the comments here, so that everyone can find them).

After that, throw some thoughts around about other people’s projects, ask questions if you’re so inclined. Be supportive above all.

Then show up again next Sunday when the circle updates next, letting us know how you did on your weekly project and what you’ve got coming down the pipe in the coming week (if you’d like to part of the circle, without subscribing to the rest of the blog, you can sign-up for reminders via email here).

MY CHECK-IN

What am I working on this week?

This week I settled into a weekly routine where I split my focus between 3-5 different writing projects at different stages of completion, moving each of them forward. It’s utterly counter-intuitive in many different ways, but I realised I’d need to write about 3,500 words every week day to hit my current deadlines and it’s the easiest way to complete them.

Which means, on the slate this week: moving into the second half of the second act for Project Beeman, hitting the midpoint of my first PhD novella, Project Red, and the end of the first act on Project Gladiator. I’ve also got some incidental design and research that needs doing for a little thing that’s in my bujo as Project Countdown.

What’s inspiring me this week?

I’ve been re-reading bits and pieces of Joe Lansdale’s Hap and Leonard series, as he remains one of those writers where I always see something new in how he’s done it.

I also sat down to start watching Wynona Earp on Netflix. I’d heard it was good, in that general way that the internet latches ono good shows, but it’s actually quite extraordinary (and possibly a show that is custom-built to appeal to Kevin). The last few years have a seen a lot of shows launch that work in the same terrain as Buffy the Vampire Slayer, but Earp takes that initial brief and essentially creates a modern Western with some great characters and really tight writing.

What action do I need to take?

I have a small list of things that need to be done for Project Countdown that I keep putting off because a) they’re going to cost money I haven’t fully budgeted for yet, and b) they’re going to feel like I’m getting closer to doing this particular project and it’s somewhat scary. The next step is a lot of google searching, form-filling, and making a long-term decision.

On Loving What You Write

New writers are often told to ignore the market and focus on writing what they love. It’s solid enough advice, for what it’s worth, but I think there’s a flipside to that. At some point, no matter what the project, you need to figure out how to love what you’re writing.

There are probably writers out there who can write a whole novel without coming to loathe or fear the manuscript, but I do not come across them all that often. What’s far more common are the conversations where doubt has seeped in, or an idea that was once exciting and shiny has grown worn down with use and the realities of sitting there and putting words on the page. Ideas move away from their Platonic ideal as you write them, because execution is harder than imagining. The set up of the first act is significantly more exciting than the delivering on that promise in the second and resolving it in the third.

My first attempt to write a novel suffered horribly because of this. I wrote four seperate first acts, pulling in fresh ideas without thinking through their resolution. The things I write today still struggle with the impulse. As I hit the second quarter of a book I start creating things that need to be excised from a story, tucked away for something else because they’re pulling focus.

I had to step back and focus on the thing that started it for me: why did I want to write this? Why did it seem fun?

I need to figure out how to love the project all over again, instead of asking it to be something it wasn’t meant to be.

What You Deliver, What You Sell

The folks over at Writer Unboxed recently put up a pretty good post about what going to a writers conference really buys you. As someone whose in the thick of organising a major writers conference myself, it’s always good to see these things discussed and get some idea of how other people are placing value on the conference experience.

It’s also a useful reminder of something that’s been true ever since I first started working with writers: writers will map their future success onto some pretty weird-ass things. Which means there’s a big difference between the things that will have the most benefit for attendees, versus the things you actually have to sell in the marketing to get them at the conference.

I make very little secret about my personal belief that networking and discussion between writers is the most valuable thing an event like GenreCon can offer the writers who attend. Attending a course or panel where you learn something important is great, but the long term benefit of having a broad pool of other writers who are aware of your ambitions and your work is significantly greater.

Your network is a source of advice and support, and it can be an incredible source of work if you’re engaged and active in the community you’ve built up. I’ve sold a novella because of my network, and first got my gig at the writers centre because of it. I’ve had blog posts turn into paid work, taught workshops, and landed freelance gigs. And I’ve learned far more talking to other writers over lunch or drinks than I have in the vast majority of the workshops I’ve attended, because workshops trend towards the general out of necessity and your friends can be very specific in their advice

But the thing about networking you keep in mind as an organiser is this: it’s not sexy. It appeals to no-one, particularly among a community with more than it’s fare share of reclusive introverts who prefer not to talk to people. It doesn’t have the immediate appeal of, say, pitching your work to publishers or doing workshops. You spend a lot of time focusing on those things when selling the experience, knowing that they’re thing that will get people through the door.

And every time someone contacts me, stressed out about the details of pitching or workshops, I find myself having to hold my tongue. They’re often freaking out because they see these as the big opportunity, a chance to get discovered and have their work launched into the big time. I just want to sit them down with a cup tea and say, stop stressing about the pitching, just focus on talking to people about things that aren’t your work all weekend. 

The idea of having your work discovered is strong, particularly when the wall between you and editors feels impossible to breach, and no-one likes the idea of networking. It feels too much like business cards and cynical interactions, nothing at all to do with art.

Networking, done right, is none of that. It’s just taking a deep breath and forgetting what you want for a while, focusing on finding out about others. Spending fifteen minutes talking to an editor about the books they love will do far more for your career than a short, five-minute pitch. They’re going to hear a lot of pitches over the weekend. They’re going to have significantly fewer conversations about how awesome Georgette Heyer is, and it’s not like they’re going to be unaware of the fact that you’re a writer when you meet at a writer’s conference.

The Sunday Circle: What Are You Working On This Week?

Sunday Circle Banner

The Sunday Circle is the weekly check-in where I ask the creative-types who follow this blog to weigh in about their goals, inspirations, and challenges for the coming week. The logic behind it can be found here. Want to be involved? It’s easy – just answer three questions in the comments or on your own blog (with a link in the comments here, so that everyone can find them).

After that, throw some thoughts around about other people’s projects, ask questions if you’re so inclined. Be supportive above all.

Then show up again next Sunday when the circle updates next, letting us know how you did on your weekly project and what you’ve got coming down the pipe in the coming week (if you’d like to part of the circle, without subscribing to the rest of the blog, you can sign-up for reminders via email here).

MY CHECK-IN

What am I working on this week?

I’m moving forward on a range of writing projects at the moment – I basically kick off my day by opening five different scrivener files and working in each in order of importance. Project Beeman remains the top priority and it’s moving pretty decently now that I’ve managed to get unstuck on a plot issue. The secondary projects requiring big chunks of word-count are a novella for my thesis and a personal essay.

What’s inspiring me this week?

I did a pretty good job shifting my focus over to refilling the well this week, and I’ve absolutely adored reading Elizabeth Bear’s Karen Memory. I’m a pretty big fan of Bear’s at the best of times – she’s a great short fiction writer and an intriguing novelist – but Karen Memory is the first of her novel-length works where she’s busted out a strong narrative voice and a first person narrator (despite it being a strength of her short fiction work). The novel itself is a kind of steampunk western, although it doesn’t borrow too heavily from Western tropes in the way that most people think when they hear the term. Really intriguing worldbuilding anda . lot of fun to read.

What action do I need to take?

My workspace is massively disrupted at the moment, on account of swapping out my big roll-top desk for something that will fit into my tiny apartment a little better. Lots of tools are currently boxed up until I do the actual physical moving of furniture on Wednesday, but I’ll need to rapidly unpack and reorient myself once all of that is done to get back into a writing routine as soon as possible.

The Sunday Circle: What Are You Working On This Week?

Sunday Circle Banner

The Sunday Circle is the weekly check-in where I ask the creative-types who follow this blog to weigh in about their goals, inspirations, and challenges for the coming week. The logic behind it can be found here. Want to be involved? It’s easy – just answer three questions in the comments or on your own blog (with a link in the comments here, so that everyone can find them).

After that, throw some thoughts around about other people’s projects, ask questions if you’re so inclined. Be supportive above all.

Then show up again next Sunday when the circle updates next, letting us know how you did on your weekly project and what you’ve got coming down the pipe in the coming week (if you’d like to part of the circle, without subscribing to the rest of the blog, you can sign-up for reminders via email here).

MY CHECK-IN

What am I working on this week?

Still working on Project Bee-man this week. I’ve been stuck on a particular scene for a few days, unable to get past it, which is usually a sign that there’s a problem earlier in the draft that makes the current action unbelievable or narratively weak. The fact that I’ve let it bog me down, to the point that my brain is starting to noddle around on other projects and focus on admin-stuff, is probably a sign that ploughing on through has probably stopped being the best approach and it’s time to start looking at the previous scenes to figure out what needs to change.

What’s inspiring me this week?

My major narrative consumption this week has been The Defenders, which is a somewhat welcome return to form after the disappointment that was Iron Fist. It’s fascinating to look at this through the lens of series, as it’s the pay-off for all sorts of things that have been set up in prior Netflix series for half the characters. To see them take things that have been central to Iron Fist and Daredevil, then weave them into the storylines of Jessica Jones and Luke Cage which tend to be more self-contained and stand-alone, is the kind of narrative challenge that very few writers are ever going to face outside of comics-style, shared-world narratives.

I’m also impressed with the cinematography. One of the strengths of the Netflix series has always been their look and the colour schemes, and that doesn’t go away now that they’re an ensemble. Scenes focused on a particular character share the visual motifs of their original series, and when they start interacting the colour palates are blended in interesting ways. It’s a nice consideration that impacts on the way we read the story without being overt.

What action do I really need to take?

I’ve outlined one in my weekly plan, but that’s kinda secondary this week. What absolutely needs to start happening is putting some focus on refilling the well again, as most of my media consumption this week has been He-Man cartoons and old pro-wrestling episodes. I’ll be sitting down today and outlining some overt consumption goals, identifying a handful of books/shows/movies to consume over the coming week.

When In Doubt, Start

I’m sitting at my desk thinking I should probably write something, but it is a chaotic kind of morning on a chaotic kind of day, and my brain is focusing on everything but the task at hand.

I keep projecting into the future, looking at all the things that need to get done in order to finish off any given project. Even when I sit down and apply the various management tasks that are meant to stop you doing that – Getting Things Done, the Pomorodo Technique – I am still projecting forward and the resistance is building up and the subtle, low-key panic of so-much-to-do-and-I-am-not-enough builds up.

My conversations with my psychologist often revolve around the fact that my brain is not my friend, and it’s surprising how often they’re the one telling me that despite the fact that get your fucking brain out of the process has been my writing mantra for years. I’m meant to take a deep breath when this happens. I’m meant to focus my attention on starting something, instead of getting lost in the mire of a distant, unknown quantity that is finishing.

This seems simple, but it’s not. Most people’s lives are a melange of competing priorities, but the moment you engage in any kind of creative work you’re likely to find yourself becoming a hybrid of competing jobs and tasks. On any given week I’m trying to balance long-form fiction work, my short story drafts, my university commitments, and my commitment to running GenreCon. I’m trying to keep my apartment to a sane level of organisation and run a weekly RPG session for my friends. I’m trying to balance being a good partner to my girlfriend and support my friends and family members.

My brain rebels at the idea of starting something because even the decision to start means picking something from that list and saying This! This is the most important thing on this list right now. 

So I set my timer for thirty mintues and I close my eyes and point. I start on the thing that I’m pointing at and work that the timer is done. It may be wrong, but there is movement, and movement is better than stagnation. Stop panicking about the writing and it will come back, one way or another.

And if it doesn’t, set the timer again. Get started on another task and move on.