PeterMBall

Sleep

I woke several times over the weekend and went to work on my thesis prospectus in the wee hours of the morning. Solutions to problems kept coming to me as I dozed off, found their way into the work in progress because I didn’t trust myself to remember them later. Going to bed at 11 PM quickly turned into working until 5 AM, then sleeping until later in the day.

It was great. Incredibly great. It’s been nearly a decade since I worked those kind of hours. It happened all the time before I started working in offices, but the demands of being somewhere at a certain hour meant adapting to other people’s patterns. Getting up early has become such a habit that I’ve organised much of my life around it.

I meet a friend for breakfast once a week, at an hour based on the fact I used to rise at 6 AM without fail. I have a certain degree of flexibility over when I go to the office and work on GenreCon, or agree to meet with my thesis supervisor, which would theoretically make it possible to start later in the day, yet I still default to starting at 9 where possible.

 

But for the first time in years, I can look at the fact that I prefer to work in the quiet hours of the morning and sleep late and see it as semi-regular possibility.

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?

Two weeks until I have to hand in my thesis prospectus, and I’m about a third of the way through my draft at the time of posting. I’ve more-or-less admitted that nothing else is being done until I clear this as the major project that is stressing me out, which unfortunately includes drafting the short talk I’m meant to be doing Friday.

Short version: if you need me this week, I’ll be hip-deep in genre theory and thesis planning.

What’s inspiring me this week?

A few weeks back I had a heated discussion with Kevin about the difficulties facing John Wick 2 as a sequel, largely because the first film has a strongly dramatic, very personal arc for the main character that reminded me a lot of Die Hard. I figured the sequel risked being very much the Die Hard 2 of the series – all the same beats, with none of the emotion behind it, with the law of diminishing returns starting the slow transition from everyman to superman.

And, in truth, John Wick 2 doesn’t come anywhere near matching the emotional stakes of the first film, but it comes a damn site closer than many other franchises could manage and the way they’ve set that up is fascinating. It remains a film that is at its best when the action is small and intimate, focused on the consequences of John’s actions and choices on him and his circle of allies. It’s at its worst when it goes big, exploring the larger mythology of the world presented in the first film, which transforms the central character from a bogeyman walking among mortals into a bogeyman walking among gods. At one part he becomes, metaphorically speaking, bulletproof, and that’s a misstep that stops an incredibly good sequel from being a thematically great sequel.

What part of my project an I avoiding?

This is one that I don’t like to admit, but over the last week my oh-shit-I-have-a-deadline instincts saw me ignore a lot of the basic habits that have kept me relatively even for the last twelve months or so. This kinda hit a boiling point on Friday, when I was running on three hours sleep and on the jangly, anxious side when interacting with people.

The upside is realising what was happening much, much earlier than usual, but it does mean that this week basic self-care (and regular sleep/work hours) go back on the menu, no matter what.

What Writing An Offline Journal Taught Me About Writing My Thesis

I started writing a pen-and-paper journal for three reasons.First, because I spent months as a reasonably well-paid blogger and worked around the corner from a store with a wide range of notebooks. Then people started giving me notebooks as presents. And now my flat is overrun with blank Moleskins and Leuchtturm’s and Decomposition notebooks, and I’m working my way through them as quickly as I can (mostly, so I can buy new notebooks without guilt).

Second, because I need a place to process things and make notes about what’s going on in my life in way that is not blogging, Facebook, or Twitter. The years I spent writing on Livejournal, and the early days of this site, have been incredibly valuable when looking back and figuring out yearly patterns, and occasionally I need a black-box which reminds me why I made certain decisions that look considerably worse in hindsight.

Thirdly, and most importantly, I’d hit a point where various research into why things like Cognitive Behavioural Therapy works had convinced me that starting a gratitude journal was probably useful for my overall mental health, but I am severely adverse to the idea of gratitude journals and never maintained one for more than three or four days before getting irritated and pitching it aside.

The goal of gratitude journals – hacking your brain so it gets used to scanning the landscape of your life and registering opportunity and positive events – made a lot of sense to me. The process usually attached to that just felt heavy-handed and twee. So I ditched the process and kept the goal, incorporating it into a general journal practice, and hit upon something that I could stick with.

After four months of doing this, I’ve stumbled across a fairly important realisation about writing in general:

I DO NOT WRITE WITHOUT AN AUDIENCE IN MIND

My first attempts at writing a journal were sporadic and loaded with resentment. I disliked the process and wanted it to be over with, because the feeling of self-indulgence got to me really fast. Journaling felt like wasted time, given all the other things I’m meant to be writing that people are actually paying me to write.

What turned me around on the process – and got me working on it regularly – as the advice to write it as a letter to yourself. Start with Dear Peter, end it with a sign off. Create a sense of distance between yourself-as-writer, and yourself-as-reader, and make it clear that you’re writing for an audience of one.

Writing seems like a solitary activity, but it has more in common with acting than you’d think. In some ways, writers are constantly playing to an audience, figuring out how to make the best use of their space to generate effect. Except our space isn’t a stage or a set, our stage is a series of reader expectations based on genre, language, and place of publication.

Writers work to understand those expectations and find ways of using those expectations to surprise and delight the reader. It’s one of the reasons new writers are urged to read widely and read often, so they can develop an understanding of what those expectations are and how other people have used them.

Writing is at its hardest when that audience, or their expectations, aren’t clear in your mind. It’s like walking out on stage and forgetting your lines, or walking into a party where you know no-one and aren’t sure how to behave. The audience is there, but you don’t know how to play to them anymore.

This week, I’m working on my thesis prospectus. Four thousand words where I sum up the first four months of research and outline where I expect my project to go.

And I’ll be honest – it’s damnably unpleasant compared to writing other things. I don’t know the audience I’m playing too, and I don’t know how to surprise them. Or, to put it another way, I’m not yet certain I even have all my lines down yet, but there’s people coming in to see the early play rehearsals where the cast is still learning the script.

It helps to remember I felt this way about writing in a journal four months ago, and I felt this way about writing fiction a decade ago, and about writing poetry, and RPG books, and theatre, in all the years I wrote things before that.

The nice thing about this is that you can get to know an audience and their expectations, once you know that’s what you’re looking for. You read enough, and you pick up enough advice, and somewhere along the way, you figure out who you’re writing for. You build a picture of the audience in your head and you figure out what they’re after.

Everything gets a little easier after that. Not a lot, just a little, but it’s usually the line between I am going to get working on this and oh, wow, there’s cool things on Netflix right now.

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?

Catching up on the thesis prospectus after much of the last week was eaten up by a virus. I’ve worked out that I’m probably going to need to write a lot in order to get the 4,000 words I need, just because I process things as I go..

What’s inspiring me this week?

There’s a lot of argument about Master of None season 2 on my friends list this week, with the general consensus being that it’s got moments of brilliance but the final episodes let it down with some really unpleasant character development. I don’t disagree with that, but I also don’t think this show is about character arcs – of all the shows that make use of Netflix’s freedom from commercial constraints, Master of None is one of the few that eschews conventional narrative structures and embraces a more vignette-driven approach. It’s a show that takes a lot of chances simply because it can, including presenting its main character in an incredibly un-empathetic light.

What part of my project an I avoiding?

Weekly planning has fallen by the wayside a bit with the virus, but I need to remember that time spent planning in advance will save me time rather than wasting it.

On Aggressively Curating Facebook Feeds

I spent a hair over six hours on social media last week, which is considerably more extensive than usual courtesy of the extra time spent losing my mind over Riverdale with friends. And I used to think my approach to managing Facebook so it didn’t eat all my time was pretty goddamn tight. Then I read this post on Lifehacker about unfollowing everyone on your friends list to transform the default feed into a desolate wasteland and I was all, holy fuck, that’s genius.  

I haven’t quite gone scorched earth yet, but did elect to get really, really aggressive. Yesterday I opened up the new Newsfeed Preference system which makes it far, far easier to see who you’re actively following and began to really, really ask myself if everyone on that list was posting stuff that I either a) wanted to engage with on a daily basis, or b) actually cared about on a daily basis.

An hour later, my default feed only shows content from twenty-four friends, my two favourite authors, one of Australia’s best reviewers, two family members, the Facebook group we use to organise my weekly Superhero game, the Facebook page for my local cafe, and the two groups I have to follow for uni purposes.

Everyone else is curated into lists – gaming friends, writer friends, editors,  family members – that I check into at specific times but don’t really care to see on a daily basis. Or, you know, I’ll search for them when I want to see what they’re up to or I have something to post to their wall, in much the same way I’ve done for the bulk of the people I know for the last three years.

Now, I’ll admit makes Facebook spectacularly dull. Instead of a rotating stream of new content, I can watch a post about my friends sitting in a bar or getting the PLR done at the top of my feed for a half-hour or more regardless of how many times I hit refresh. About half the people I’m following only post/like/comment on something three or four times a day.

But that’s good. I’m after dull. Facebook has its own ideas about how it should be used, but what I’m after is a steady stream of information from people I really, really care about rather than a deluge of information that I’m half-interested in.

I’ll be trailing it for the next month to see how it goes, but over the last eighteen hours or so the pace has switched from ongoing distraction to remarkably pleasant way of catching up with people.

Which, all in all, makes it easier to get back to writing.

Reading Inhabitat Again

I started reading the Inhabitat blog eight or nine years ago, maybe. Not long after I’d started writing fiction after a long spell in the trenches of other writing work. I stopped reading back in 2013, because Habitat publishes a lot of content and there simply wasn’t time to read it while working a part-time day-job. That space was taken up by blogs about time management and productivity and how to internet better.

I don’t work a part-time day-job anymore, and as as peeps who follow my twitter feed may have noticed, I’ve picked up the Inhabitat habit again. Their brief to sit at the intersections of architecture, design, and the environment is like crack if you’re interested in how the future may look, and they’ll occasionally bust out truly mind-blowing shit like plans these South Korean plans to build skyscrapers inside of Giant Sequoia’s to keep them from falling over.

But as impressive as that particular idea is, it’s stuff like the tin-shed renovations that actually appeal to me. My comfort reading, this week, is Aaron Bestky’s Architecture Matters where the dean of the Frank Wright School of Architecture traces how architecture interacts with our daily life and why it matters. One of the thing he notes, early on, is architectural design’s tendency to be noticeable when it’s also monumental. It’s a discipline built around going big or going home.

What’s noticeable in smaller places – homes, bars, restaurants, stores – is the province of designers, people who come into a functional shell and transform the interior while the architecture recedes into the background.

The spaces we move through every day shape us in ways we barely think about, simply because we pay more attention to the stuff that’s packed inside them.

 

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?

My check-in will be a little short this week, on account of a horrible cold that is making staring at a screen less fun than usual. But once I’m up and about again, this week will be about the thesis prospectus and a small pile of post-its full of instructions after talking to my supervisor on Friday.

What’s inspiring me this week?

The penultimate episode of Riverdale hit Netflix on Friday and I officially give up trying to predict what’s going on in that show. Their ability to ratchet up tension in slightly unexpected ways is fantastic, even as the show itself revels in the fact that it’s cheese. Easily the most interesting TV show I’ve seen in years.

What part of my project an I avoiding?

Going by my habit of going “I’ll cancel the next thing on my schedule, but maybe I’ll make the one a few hours later,” admitting that I’m sick and probably not going to get a lot done 🙂

What I’m Reading: Dear Sweet Filthy World, Caitlin Kiernan

My copy of Caitlin Kiernan’s latest short story collection arrived in the mail last week. It’s a beautiful book full of beautiful, terrible stories in the old-school definition of terrible, meaning they are causing or likely to cause terror. The kind of stories that make Kant’s description of the sublime comprehensible, which is more than Kant manages to do when he writes on the subject.

There are very few writers who are on my yes-I-will-by-everything-you-release list. Even fewer on the list where I will buy everything in fancy, beautifully produced hardcovers and special editions. Basically, there is one name on that list, and it’s largely because Caitlin Kiernan is the best short-story writer working today, doing things with language and story that most writers can barely dream of doing.

 

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?

Setting aside creative work entirely this week and focusing on getting the rough draft of my Thesis Prospectus written. It’s not a big document – just 4,000 words – but that’s a deceptively short amount given what I’m trying to pack into it (and my lack of familiarity with the format/voice required after nearly a decade away from academia).

What’s inspiring me this week?

As you can probably guess from Friday’s post, I’ve been enjoying James Ellroy’s Black Dahlia this week, and in particular the first four chapters. The write-up of the boxing match is incredible and I’ll probably spend the next few weeks pulling it apart so I can better understand the blocking and techniques that went into making it so good.

What part of my project an I avoiding?

Not my project, inherently, but my sleep schedule has gone to hell over the last few days, which is probably a sign of how much I really, really dislike the idea of doing the prospectus write-up. Much as I love the research side of the thesis, and banging on about literary theory in general, I still really dislike the writing-up and assessment side of things.

The Black Dahlia

The first major sequence in James Ellroy’s The Black Dahlia revolves around a boxing match between the protagonist, beat-cop Bucky Bleichert and his soon-to-be-partner Lee Blanchard. The fight takes place at the end of the fourth chapter, and it’s loaded with stakes: personal stakes, for Bleichert and his father; professional stakes, given his advancement in the police department is dependent on this fight; social stakes, since the bout is a ploy to garner public support for a bill that will earn the police department money; and, ultimately, big emotional stakes, because everything is in balanced against each other. A win on the personal side of things means tanking his professional advancement. He can have one, at the cost of the other.

So the entire fight is one big choice for Bleichert, where he figures out the kind of man he’s going to be for the rest of the book. It feels more intense than the climax of most novels, and you’re only 10% of the way through the book. It artisinal, in the old-school sense, where you can see the quality of the workmanship as a layperson, but you’re in awe of it if you know the details of what you’re looking at. You can see the labour that’s gone into the book.

It does this so well I basically read it, had a lie down, and contemplated giving up writing because…damn.