Writing Goals Update

A couple of weeks ago I posted here about some of my writing goals for the year.  I thought I’d check in and see how the year has started.  I have added some progress bars over on the sidebar of the blog to give a sense of where I am.

My first goal for 2017 is to finish my NaNoWriMo book from 2016.  #NaNoFinMo in December was a colossal failure, so I declared January as #NaNoWriMo2 (the Quickening) and set forth.  Then, of course, I didn’t touch the story at all this month until a couple of days ago, when I sat down and added a little over 1,700 words.  That puts me just over 88,000 words total.  I have set an arbitrary goal of 100,000, but there’s no real sense yet of whether that actually means anything.  I can see the end beginning to warm up (and wander a bit away from my outline.  As stories do.) but I have no idea if I have 12,000 words of story left.  Might be less.  Might be more.  It doesn’t matter, I suppose; the story will be as long as it needs to be.  I just think it would be cool to have a draft of over 100K.  I’ve never come close to that length before.  I hope to get some work in on it this weekend.

My second goal is to write more short stories this year and post them to the blog for everyone to read.  So far, I have fulfilled the first two 2017 editions of the Chuck Wendig Flash Fiction Challenge.  If you haven’t read them yet, please go check them out!  The third challenge was just announced today, so that story will be a project for the weekend or early next week.  I put up two progress bars for Chuck, one that shows the total percentage of challenges I have completed this year, and the other that reveals whether I have done the most recent one or not.

I have put up two similar bars for The First Line.  The First Line is a literary journal that publishes quarterly.  The prompt each quarter is a line that serves as the first line for every story in that quarter’s issue.  I have submitted to TFL several times without being published.  I plan to submit all four prompts this year, and if the stories are not accepted I will share them here.  The stories are due 2/1, 5.1, 8/1, and 11/1.  That is why the YTD bar fr TFL currently says 0/4.  It will not be at 100% until sometime in October.

My third goal is to blog more often with non-fiction posts.  Updates such as this one don’t count.  I haven’t done this yet.  There’s no progress bar for this one.  Just look for different kinds of posts and you’ll know I’m doing better.  My problem with this is as it has always been for me as a writer:  I need to get better at creating time to write and working it into my daily/nightly routine and being disciplined and motivated about doing it.  I want to write, but I don’t want my wife to feel like I am neglecting her to go sit in front of the laptop.  That’s a hard balance to figure out.  Does anyone out there have any advice?  How do you do it?

I want to write more often this year, and I am hoping these goals will motivate me to do it.  I’m not going to do these check-ins very often; that’s what the progress bars are for.  Keep coming back and see how I do.  Wish me luck, and as always, please support your local blogger.

Chuck Wendig: Social Anxiety

So.

Here we are, halfway through January, and so far #NaNoFinMo2 (the Quickening) has been a total failure.  But all is not lost!  This is the second week in a row I have written a story for the Chuck Wendig Flash Fiction Challenge.

This week, the name of the game is Something That Scares You.  The assignment is to take a fear and turn it into a story of 1,000 words or less.  So of course, I chose to take my social anxiety and turn it into a quasi-autobiographical character sketch.  Of course I did.  What is a blog for, especially mine, if not to place my fears and emotions on the altar of my creativity and display them for the world to gawk at?

I couldn’t come up with a clever title, so I just called it “Social Anxiety” and ran with it.  I hope you like it.  Hopefully I’ll get on with the book soon.  That’s a whole different set of anxieties I’m trying to get past, though.  Wish me luck.


SOCIAL ANXIETY

The telephone sat on my desk, still, plastic, inanimate.  Just looking at it I could feel my stress level going up.  My breathing quickened.  My heartbeat accelerated.  My face was flushed.

I stared at it.  It ignored me, involuntarily mocking me, unmindful of the emotional devastation it wrought.

It has been my greatest fear since I was a child.  I developed a stutter when I was in the fourth grade and it manifested itself most virulently when I answered the telephone.  The sound of the “h” at the beginning of a word—hair, hero, hello—defeated me every time.  My throat closed up, my breathing stopped, and I could do little more than gasp three of four times until the word came out in a rush, almost in a shout.

I finally stopped talking on the phone altogether when I was about 13.  The mental block was enormous.  It was years before I trusted myself enough to answer the phone without sounding like I was having a seizure.  Even now, more than thirty years later, I know how to control my disfluency and I do it without thinking 99% of the time.  But I still have to hesitate and consciously gather myself when I answer a telephone call to make sure I don’t stumble.

I built walls in adolescence that were too tall to see over because I was afraid to try to knock them down.  As I have gotten older it has become easier to do things that once seemed impossible and the walls have crumbled some.  They still stand high enough to impede my progress if I’m not cautious, though.  Most of the time I am careful enough that I can work around and over them but this…

This was too much.  In an attempt to force my way out of my fears I had taken a job that required me to be on the phone all day, helping people fix problems with their computers.  I knew on the first day that it had been a terrible miscalculation.  Every time the phone rang I broke into a sweat and my heartbeat filled my ears.

I answered the phone, but I hesitated and stumbled, and I knew that I was making the wrong kind of impression with the person on the other end of the line.

“{Pause} H- {stumble} hello {continue in a frantic rush to maintain momentum} and thank you for calling Outreach.  {Deep, calming breath}.  My name is Sam.  What can I help you with today?”

Once I got past the introduction I was fine.  I knew my stuff—I gave good answers—and I was confident and firm in my advice.  That first second, though, that moment when I had to answer the phone and greet the caller, that defeated me nearly every time and it made my life a living hell.  It made me afraid of the telephone again, for the first time since I was a teenager.

It was the same every time the phone rang.  Six calls an hour, they wanted us to take, eight hours a day.  That was 48 opportunities to stumble, to fall, to appear foolish, to be laughed at.  It’s no wonder my self-esteem was flatter than Wile E. Coyote on asphalt.

I needed to find another job, but I couldn’t.  I was paralyzed by the knowledge that looking for a job would lead me to having to speak on the phone with someone for an interview, or just to get information.  The very thought of having to do it drove my anxiety up to the point that I was afraid I was going to have a breakdown.

Of course, that made it even worse, and I could feel depression beginning to dig its claws into me as well.  I was well and truly stuck.  Anxiety on one side ready to rip my throat out, depression waiting to wrap its coils around me on the other.  I didn’t know how to get out.

This story is supposed to have an ending around here somewhere (hopefully a happy one), but it doesn’t.  It’s still in progress.  I’m in a different job now and the situation has changed since then, but my walls have been rebuilt just a little and are higher than they were, and my fears are still there, lurking behind them, waiting to pounce.

I know it’s only a matter of time before those fears reemerge.  I have to believe that I can be stronger than they are, and I have to be confident in my ability to combat them.  Once I truly believe that I can do it, the rest will fall into line.

For now, I soldier on, answering my phone when I have to, trying to make the best of it.  I’m taking a brick off the wall every time I do.  Eventually it will be low enough for me to see over again, then step over, then finally kick over.  Only then will I be free of my fears.  Only then will this story ever really end.

Chuck Wendig: Derelict

It’s the first Chuck Wendig Flash Fiction Challenge of 2017!  I am going to try my hardest to write every one of these this year.  This one is called Apocalypse Now!  The instruction is to write about an apocalypse in less than 1,500 words.  Not the Apocalypse, mind you, but an apocalypse.

I wrote about the far-future aftermath of two different apocalypses–one physical, the other intellectual–rather than the apocalypses themselves.

I wrote the first version of this story in 2005 and it has gone through several rounds of revision over the years.  This is version 5.0 and it has been surgically altered to be lean and mean and, I think, the best it has ever been.  Version 4.1 was 5,200 words long.  Version 5.0 is 1,494 words.  Gone are the monks and the clones and the shuttle and the tacked on pedantic moral.  All that’s left is the ship.

That’s really all that was ever needed.

Please to enjoy “Derelict”.


DERELICT

The ship drifted, alone in space.

All of her lights were dead.  There was no power feeding them; they had ceased signaling many years before.  Her engines were silent.  There was no sign that she had ever been active.

Her only neighbors were a rocky planetoid of nondescript classification and an ancient star, red and swollen.  At one time in the distant past the star was known as Sol to the inhabitants of its third planet, but those people, along with their planet, were long dead, swallowed by the star’s expansion.  They had called the planetoid Winter.  It was as it had ever been, a lonely lump of rock in what had once been Sol’s asteroid belt.

The ship had once had a name too.  Her name was Candescence, and she had been part of an automated exploration fleet that was sent out into the galaxy in search of knowledge.  Ah, those had been heady days!  A young civilization, flush with confidence and vigor, had stretched its wings and ventured into the great unknown.

None of the ships returned.  No knowledge was gleaned from their mission; no trace of them was discovered.  As the centuries passed, the people who sent the fleet out into space realized that their ships were not coming home.  They were superstitious folk who saw the loss of their fleet as a sign that they were not welcome in the universe at large.

Chastened, and no longer curious about the secrets of the sky, they abandoned their in-system colonies and lowered their gaze back down to the surface of their world.  They turned inward, carving out great cities within the crust and mantle of their planet, disappearing forever from the eyes of time and space.

Their ships, however, continued their mission, spreading out through the galaxy, gazing all about them, filing their findings away.  What the builders did not know was that their fleet had been lost because their theories were faulty, which led to their technology being corrupted.  Simply put, the Loom drive didn’t work the way it was supposed to, and the ships were unable to return home.

The builders had developed an agrarian society over thousands of years.  Their clothes and their homes were woven from fibers that they created themselves from the coats of their herd animals, and as they looked at the stars, it followed—quite logically, they thought—that space should be woven from fibers as well.

To travel through space, they decided, all they had to do was interpret the pattern of the weave and re-weave it.  The Loom drive had been developed over generations to do that.

However, their understanding of the structure of space was imperfect.  The Loom drive was able to complete an initial weave, but once the ships came out of the pattern they created, they were unable to enter back into it.  The changes the Loom made to space reflected in the structure of the Loom itself, and rendered the Loom unable to affect real space again.

Had its builders known of this consequence, they could have shielded the Loom from its own effects, and the ships would never have been lost.  Instead, the ships each wove a single pattern then were stranded far from home in real space, unable to reactivate their Loom drives, subject once more to the whims of physical law and ordinary spacecraft drive technology.

Candescence’s weave brought her to a binary system containing two aged stars, one of which had faded to become a white dwarf.  There was a third body in the system, barely visible at the limits of Candescence‘s instruments.  It may have been a brown dwarf, or it may have been a large planet, far off in the outer reaches of the system.  In real space, there was no immediate way for Candescence to get close enough to know for sure, so she moved on.

The second star in the system was an older red giant, and its gravity caught Candescence.  Her primary engines fired, struggling to free her from the clutches of the star, but strains placed on the ship by the structural changes to the Loom drive had affected the rest of the propulsion system as well, and the engines were no longer up to the task of moving the ship against the gravitational tide.

In time, the engines burned themselves out.  They repaired themselves using autonomic trial-and-error sequences then, eventually, burned out again.  After many cycles, the repair systems themselves died.  The ship was thus unable to repair itself, and became an inert object.

Over the next few thousand years, she continued to orbit the giant, having become a long-period comet.  At some point her central computers died as well.  Her mission was over, but Candescence journeyed on.

When she reached perihelion for the final time, she swung around the star and was flung on her usual outward trajectory.  This time, however, her path was given a slight gravitic shove by the white dwarf as she moved past it through the system, which allowed her to break free of the giant’s influence.  It sent her into a slight tumble as well.  Her inertia carried her off into interstellar space, and she careered across the void until, centuries later, she cartwheeled into the Sol system.

The star reached out and grabbed her.  Candescence was again a comet.  She settled into a regular orbit around Sol.  A single circuit, falling in from what remained of the Oort Cloud, circling Sol, and falling back out again, took nearly nine hundred years to complete.

As she circled Sol and headed back out through the asteroid belt toward the outer reaches of the system, her outbound trajectory intersected the orbit of Winter.  After several revolutions, their respective orbits brought Winter into the area of intersection as Candescence passed through.

They passed close enough to each other that Winter’s gravity, feeble as it was, was able to reach out and tug at Candescence, trying to pull her away from Sol’s grasp.  Not wanting to lose its prize, Sol pulled back.  Candescence became caught in a tug of war between the two, and her tumble ground to a halt.

As the orbits continued to progress and intertwine, she found herself lodged in one of Winter’s Lagrange points, the gravitic influences of Winter and Sol canceling each other out.   Candescence had been brought to a virtual halt in space for the first time in millennia.  Winter continued in its orbit.  Candescence trailed along, wedged between two masters.

The automated exploration ships of Candescence‘s fleet were shaped like long, thin lozenges, divided into three sections.  The middle section, comprising nearly half the ship’s length, contained mission-required computers containing exploration databases and instructions.  The computer systems that operated and steered the ship, as well as the engines–both Loom drive and real-space propulsion–functioned within specialized sections at either end of the ship.

The engineering and command sections were separated from the central computer areas by thick bulkheads with airlocks built in, so that in the event of depressurization in one section, the rest of the ship would remain unaffected.  Even though there were no living beings on board there was need to regulate the comparative pressures in the different sections of the ship to maintain efficient operations of the mission computers.

There were hatches leading outside the ship in each section as well.  These hatches were simply doors that were opened or secured through the extension and retraction of thick metallic deadbolts on the top and bottom, as well as each side, of the door.

As Winter and Candescence danced through their orbit they occasionally encountered debris, solid material left over from the destruction of Sol’s inner planets during its time of expansion and blown out into the asteroid field on the solar wind.  This debris would rattle against the ship and finally, a piece smaller than a grain of sand lodged itself in the seal of one of the outer hatches.

The speed of the ship’s orbit combined with the grain’s intertia and eventually forced it through the seal, creating a tiny breach.  Slowly, almost a molecule at a time, air began to escape from the still-pressurized central section.

Over time more air raced toward the hole and the pressure behind it began to build.  When the pressure that was built up exceeded the pressure of the space outside, it suddenly forced an immense amount of air through the breach and the top of the hatch buckled, cracking the deadbolt at the top of the hatch.  The integrity of the hatch thus weakened, the rest of the deadbolts gave way.  The hatch exploded and blew outward, propelled by a rush of air from inside the ship.

Candescence was dislodged from Winter’s Lagrange point by the force of the explosion, and was soon recaptured by Sol’s gravity.  Tumbling once more, she again became a long-period comet, and her journey continued.

The ship drifted, alone in space.

Welcome to 2017, Part the Second

Look  I’m doing it!  I blogged two days in a row!  Yay!

(You laugh, but that will look like a major accomplishment in August when I haven’t posted anything since January.)

This post not about writing, though, so I will leave that there all alone and sad and move on to the topic of tonight’s post, which is “things that I want to do in 2017 that don’t involve writing.”

I guess it’s a New Year’s Resolutions post, but it’s not, really.  I’m not resolving to do these things in 2016, I’m just putting them out there and saying I’d like to do them if I can ever get around to finding the thought of motivating myself to do them.  As I do, now and then.

This is kinda inspired by Wil Wheaton’s ongoing effort to reboot his life.  It’s my own half-assed effort to do the same.  If I actually do these things I will certainly change my life in some major ways.  I look at these as more like big-picture signposts.  Things I would like to head toward and accomplish, if not this year, then further down the road.

1.  I want to write.  I talked about that last night.  Go read what I said.  I’m not going to go over it all again when I said it all so beautifully 22 hours ago.

2.  I want to read.  I had a Goodreads Reading Challenge goal of 45 books in 2016.  I read 48 books, and listened to 31 audiobooks, for a grand total of 79 books read.  #nailedit  This year I set my goal at 60.

I have a very specific plan of what I want to read in 2017.  I am currently reading SK Dunstall’s very excellent Linesman trilogy.  After I finish that I am going to read James SA Corey’s Expanse series, currently at 6 novels (with #7 coming out later this year) and a few novellas/short stories.  I have never read the books, but I enjoyed the TV series last year and am looking forward to season 2 of that, as well.

After I finish that, I’m going to embark on a full-blown Brandon Sanderson re-read.  He is one of my favorite authors, and Elantris in particular had some very heavy influence on my own early writing efforts.  I want to re-read what I have read before and catch up on everything I haven’t.  That should manage to take me the rest of 2017, if not into 2018.  Sanderson has some doorstoppers.

There will be some Dan Wells in the mix too.  I think he has books coming out this year in two of his ongoing series.  On the audiobook front, I am currently hip-deep in a re-listen of the Wheel of Time.  Speaking of doorstoppers and Brandon Sanderson.  I see no reason that will not last until 2032 or so.

3.  Improve my physical well-being through a combination of diet, exercise, and sleep.  I do pretty well with my diet, but there are things I can improve on, like portion control.  Sometimes, I just eat too much.  I can do better.  I also have a major chicken minis addiction that probably needs to be controlled.

I also need to do better with my exercising.  I was running pretty regularly last year but just got out of the habit and, as with all things, once I stopped, I stopped.  I want to get back to running at least three days a week and maybe start doing other exercises as well.  If I thought I would go, I would join a gym, but I don’t trust myself to use it once I’ve paid for it.  I’m not making enough money to pay for a gym membership that I never use.

I’d like to be able to get more sleep.  More than a lot of other things on this list, this one is solely on me and my choices.  Since I was 15 years old, maybe longer, I have had the ability to get by on 4-5 hours of sleep a night.  That’s getting harder to do as I am getting older–and that’s a difficult admission to make–but I keep trying, to my increasing detriment.  I have to get up at 4:30 am for my job these days, and I usually go to bed at 11:30 or 12:00.  It’s hard, and it’s getting harder.  I am just so used to staying up late, though.  To get even six hours of sleep I’d have to get in bed by 10:00 to drift off by 10:30.  That seems impossible.  I’ve never gone to bed that early.  This one is going to take a lot of legit work and may not even be in the cards for this year.

My ultimate physical goals are to run a 5K in under 30 minutes, a 10K in less than an hour, and lose 40 pounds–and maintain that loss.  I’m not sure those things will come this year, but i can make a start towards them.  My long-term-secret-secret goal is to get in good enough shape to run a Spartan Race.  And my back says, yeah, right.

4.  Improve my psychological/emotional well-being.  I’ve been saying for years that I could benefit from counseling or therapy but I never make the effort to find a provider and go.  I have some deep-seated insecurities and self-esteem/self-confidence issues that go back to high school and even earlier.  My emotions atrophied when I was a teen and my emotional development was extremely stunted for a variety of reasons.  In some ways I have never recovered from the things that I put myself through back then.  It still affects my life on an almost daily basis.  I’ve never been diagnosed (easy to say, since I’ve never gone for evaluation), but I’m sure I have some depressive issues, probably some anxiety, and some aggressive social phobias as well.  I need to talk to someone and get myself straightened out.  No idea if medication is needed, but it would probably help to find out.  Maybe 2017 will be the year I finally get around to doing it.

5.  Do other stuff.  I have an old ukulele of my brother’s that’s been leaning against my desk for two years.  I want to learn how to play it.  I want to play more games with my wife and kids.  I want to spend less time on the internet (unless I’m writing in my blog!).  I want to have a fantasy football team that doesn’t suck when it gets to the playoffs and that has running backs that stay healthy.

6.  Rebuild my interpersonal networks.  I have good friends I haven’t seen in years, some of whom have kids I have never met.  I want to reconnect with my brother and his family.  I want to spend time with my dad when he comes back to town.  I want to be in the lives of the people I love again.  I want to be a better friend, a better brother, a better son, a better husband, a better dad, a better person.

You know, all the easy stuff.


It’s not going to be easy.  That’s a lot to throw out there and hope for.  I’m pretty sure it can’t all be done in one year.  I can plant a seed for 2018, though.  And 2019 as well.  And 2020, and beyond.  Some of those things will never stop needing to happen, so I can draw them onto my soul with permanent ink.  Hopefully it really will be permanent and they won’t fade away.

Some of this I just want to happen.  Some if it, I need to happen.  I’ll check back in from time to time and see what kind of progress I’m making.  Wish me luck.  It’s not going to be easy.  Happy New Year.

Welcome to 2017, Part the First

I have a tradition on my blog of writing posts around the beginning of the year in which I look back at the year past and review writing goals that I had set for the year past that I did not meet, and then look ahead into the new year and set goals that I will review a year later, having not met.

2016 is a unique case, in that it wasn’t a complete failure, only a partial one.  I rebooted my blog last January with the intention of kickstarting a writing habit that had gone slowly dormant over the previous few years.  For the most part, I was successful.  I wrote—and posted to the blog—a few short stories, inspired by Chuck Wendig’s Flash Fiction Friday prompts.  Granted, there were more prompts I did not post an entry for than the ones that I did, but I did write new content, for the first time in quite a while.  I am proud of the effort that I made.

I also resolved to complete NaNoWriMo for the first time since 2011.  I had made a few unsuccessful stabs at it since then (see my last post for a review of my checkered history with NaNoWriMo), but I was determined to finish it this year.  I had an actual story idea for the first time since 2011 and I—heretofore rigidly entrenched discovery writer that I am—actually engaged in story prep!  During late October I sat down and worked out a rudimentary long-form outline for the first time since I wrote Mother’s Daughter in 2008.

And it worked!  I won NaNoWriMo, writing more than 76,000 words in November, which is by far the most productive NaNo I have ever completed.  November 17 saw me write more than 10,000 words in one day to go over the 50K mark at the earliest juncture ever.  My goal was to add count to the story every day and I did it.  I wrote something every day, even if it was only a sentence or two.  Most days I wrote about 90 minutes and added around 2,000 words.  That seems to be a fairly consistent pace for me.

Even with all those words, the story was still unfinished when November ended.  I plugged a couple of introductory chapters I had written several years ago onto the beginning and forged into December, which I dubbed with the hashtag #NaNoFinMo, for National Novel Finishing Month.  This is where the fail comes in.

#NaNoFinMo was a fiasco.  I only wrote a couple of days in December, and barely advanced the story.  With the introductory stuff and the little bit of writing I managed to do, the story currently stands at 86,325 as of December 12, the last time I wrote.  I spent November trying to write like a madman.  I wanted to get to 50K, then when I went over 50 so early I set my sights on 75, and I made it.  The problem is that I think I burned myself out.  The tsunami of enthusiasm I coasted through November on seemed to disappear on December 1, leaving the story as yet undone.

So what are my writing goals for 2017?  They are three-fold.  I want to say I am committing to these, but I know my history of not living up to commitments when it comes to my writing, so I’m not going to commit to anything.  I have no confidence in myself to see these through, but I am going to put them out there anyway.

  1. I want to finish my story. This story is already the longest piece I have ever written, and I want to say it is done.  I have no idea how much is really left to write, but I want to get it done in January.  #NaNoFinMo was a fiasco, so I am going to go ahead and dub January #NaNoFinMo2 and hope that the Quickening takes me and sails me through to the end of the tale.  nanowrimo.com may consider me a winner for NaNo2016, but Sam’s Official Writing Canon will not consider it a win (and I won’t get myself a winner’s t-shirt) unless I actually complete the story.
  1. I want to post more story content on the blog. I have no idea if Chuck Wendig is going to continue with Flash Fiction Fridays in 2017, but even if he doesn’t I want to write stories and post them here.  If I complete a First Line prompt, I’ll post it (unless they accept it).  I can find prompts elsewhere, or maybe even generate ideas on my own (you know, as writers do).  I want to write words down and put them here for you to read.
  1. I want to blog more beyond just fiction. The very earliest days of my blog were me talking about my life and sharing memories.  It was epistolary and personal and I want to get back to that.  I have moved so much of that kind of stuff to Facebook, but surely there’s longer-form stuff I could come up with to post here.

So, writing goals for 2017:  complete #NaNoFinMo2 (the Quickening), post more fiction on the blog, and blog more often in general.  Three goals designed to increase my BICHOK; to get my butt in the chair and my hands on the keyboard.  Despite failing at similar goals year after year after year, I am putting them out there.  I want to do it this time.  I already talked about my history with commitment.  I’m not going there.  I promise to try, though.

You’ll know if I’m successful, because there will be new stuff here.  Please, keep coming back to see how I do.  If you do come back and see I haven’t posted in a while, call me on it.  Help me stay accountable for my goals.

Tomorrow, there should be a post.  I want to talk about some of my other, non-writing goals for the year.  I also want to get started back in on the story.  It will be an early test for my resolve to write more.  Wish me luck, and please support your local blogger.