Tuesday, April 26, 2011

Jealousy Among Wordslingers

In my evening twitter procrastination session, I was treated to a conversation with Albert Berg about writers and jealousy. We had noticed a trend among writers, especially the bookless of us. of unhealthy levels of envy.

Maybe I haven’t been a part of the writing game long enough to become jaded or lose patience with it, but I never understood it. A few blogs this week even insinuated severe resentment for their writer friends anytime they landed an agent, sold a book, enjoyed indie pub success, or even revealed a cover.

The conclusion we came to is a lesson my mom taught me a long time ago: Worry about your own shit, and get me another beer.

Now, don’t take this as an endorsement for alcoholism, but seriously, all of us author and writer types are struggling to break free from obscurity. We all struggle to put our words out there and hope that they have meaning for someone, and that we might make some coin while we’re at it. If that chance happens for a friend of yours, be proud, and help them pimp that shit. If you work at it, the time will come to unleash that novel of yours on the unsuspecting public, and those who you helped on the way will gladly repay you in kind.

Wednesday, April 20, 2011

Workspace Wednesday - The Whiteboard

Since Wednesdays are always kind of a low content day for me, I decided that for the next few weeks I would give you all a little peek at my writing area. I’ve been slowly improving it, and turning it into a proper office, and I have to say, the results have been immediate. I suppose that’s what happens when you aren’t staring down a concrete wall under fluorescent lighting.  Without further delay, I give you Workspace Wednesday #1

Stifled creativity got you down? Is that little notepad on your desk not enough to keep you motivated? Try this: add a giant motherfuckin whiteboard to the room. I suppose a chalkboard would work, plus you could be like a steampunk genius, dusting the chalk off of your ugly brown suit.

The whiteboard is a chaotic organizer. On the one side, I have all of my information about goals and the like, while the other is completely open to whatever might strike me in the moment. Sure, a notebook is more portable, but sometimes that inspiration deserves size 320 comic sans font. Or chicken scratch dependent on your personal proficiencies. In recent weeks, I’ve been using it for brainstorm sessions, most of which I take a picture, and then load into One Note for posterity. The system works exceedingly well.

Another unexpected benefit I have found is the mobility. A white board gets you up and moving. It isn’t exactly exercise, but when you have been crouching over a desk all day, it certainly is an improvement.

The allure of a blank canvas is often too much for my friends. They know not to mess with my notes, but sometimes, you come home to find mini masterpieces like the above picture. Also, 4:20 today. Take from that what you will.

One last bit of advice: don’t buy a brand new board if you don’t have to. Surplus dealers, like the ones found at colleges and in most cities, get them in periodically. School districts might have some in their surplus warehouse if you are willing to make a few phone calls. I also had some luck on Craigslist, but they wanted more than I was willing to pay. I picked up that bad boy for ten bucks.

Also, a few links for you writerly types:

Austin Wulf breaks down how to make writing work with your schedule.

Albert Berg doles out knowledge about hard work and luck.

Emmy nominated sage, guru, and ultimate penmonkey, Chuck Wendig, tells you how not to bug the fuck out when writing your novel.

The good folks at Lifehacker explain why having a little uncertainty in your planned work can be a good thing.

Monday, April 18, 2011

Dirty Deadline Love

I’m not sure there is anything quite as intimidating in writing as a deadline. It is a mysterious and brutal force that holds us accountable to ourselves, our clients, and our craft. If abided by, deadlines can demolish our preconceived limitations and progress our writing abilities. I’ve read lately about writers hating deadlines, citing that it stifles creativity. Others simply seem to fold under the pressure of accountability. I used to be like that. It took me more than a year of writing sporadically to realize it, but deadline hate is merely an excuse of delineates and hobbyists.

Without deadlines, either set by ourselves or others, very few of us would have the discipline to finish a project. Committing to a piece of writing, especially one of novel length becomes a strange pipe dream; projects we tell our friends about but rarely sit down to work on.

Last month, when I did my writing challenge, I was faced with word counts I had never reached before. For multiple days I had to break word counts that I had never hit before, or accept the consequences of missing my deadline. I never thought I was capable of a seven thousand word day, much less two in a row. I had never broken five thousand, and on the last day I busted out 9,000 words. Was it the prettiest prose of my short career? Probably not, but I do have a wicked stack of work in front of me. Would it have been better for me to have just done the work on a daily basis? Of course, but procrastination got the better of me, as did work. Instead of simply giving up, I put in the time, and learned what I am really capable of.

In physics and in writing, the work in is equal to the work out. There is no easy way to get better, only faster ways. If we work our asses off to attain our goals and do so in a regimented manner, then success will come. It may not always be in the form of a bestseller, but your body of work will speak for itself.

Tuesday, April 12, 2011

Graffiti of the Mind

Muddled down by sensationalism, our minds have become cluttered with the refuse of a non-stop society. We are inundated with what we are told to buy, what news we are to swallow each morning, and the vague statements of those who would tell us that everything is okay.

The constant barrage of information mangles our focus. Reflection is a lost art, as is discourse without fanaticism. I watch as people who have differing opinions on whatever today’s present hot topic is consider anyone that opposes them to be a bad person. They pass judgment solely because they do not think alike. Polarized thought without the use of reason is dangerous. If one cannot at least consider the differing views of another, especially in the face of evidence, then the argument is lost before it began.

The only way to counter this mentality is through reason. We have to be willing to step back, look at the graffiti, and discern art from the mad scrawling of bored desperation. Either way it’s all writing on the wall, but it is ultimately our choice on what we do with it. Choose wisely friends, take with you what has value, and toss aside the rest.

Monday, April 11, 2011

Guest Blogging for a Great Cause

Over at Hurting but Hopeful, I wrote a guest blog post about Zen and the Art of Spondylitis Warfare. I've talked about it briefly before, but I have a condition called Ankylosing Spondylitis. It just so happens to be that particular ailment's awareness month, along with several other autoimmune rheumatic disorders. This post unfortunately occupied my Monday spot, but I will be back on Wednesday with a standard blog post.

Anyway, the link to my article is here.

If any of you have questions about the disease, hit me up in the comments. There is a lot more to it than a few Wikipedia articles. I want to thank my friends Barrac and Evan are helped me get the picture, and are deserving of beer and fine steak.

Monday, April 4, 2011

Contracts and Stupidity

I’ve been at the keyboard a lot this week. My bet with P.E.T.A, which was made into a contract and mediated by my sister, is over. I learned a few things about myself, and my writing this past month. Let me break it down for you.

Week 1: Full of hope and motivation, I sat my happy ass down at the computer and plugged away on a few old projects. Words flowed here and there, but usually only to the tune of about 500 per day. Not too terrible considering how little daily writing I had been doing in the previous weeks. I’m already a bit behind, but hey, daily writing is what counts.

Words Written: 3,500
Words Remaining:  23,500

Week 2: I can make up my word count tomorrow; maybe even do some at work if nothing breaks. I’ve got plenty of time. After all, I did NaNoWriMo once, and had to get 4,000 a day for a week to finish. A movie after work? Some MMA fights? Sure, I have a social life and I’m a writer, look at me go.

Words Written: 1,215
Words Remaining: 22,285

Week 3: Everything is broken, nothing works, and my world is an explosion of old eMacs and hatred. Pfftew…. Sizzle, whirrrrrr, clunk. Hey Tony, we need you to set up an entire lab of 28 computers and find a way to make 20 DOS applications work in Windows 7. On each computer. Oh, your back is in the middle of a flare up? That’s fine; we have kid’s strength drugs to help you with that. In the far distance, a printer attacks a child, a TV falls on a duckling, and a dead mouse is in the power supply.

Home is my only retreat from spiteful technology, or so I thought. Sitting in my room, Cornelius Funk, my computer, spins his fans for the last time.

Words Written: 0. Zilch. Nada. Unless you count the 12 words I scribbled on the underside of a computer heading for the recycling concentration camp. They shall not be uttered here. This is a family blog.
Words Remaining: 22,285

Week 4: Spring Break, in which I testify that there must be a loving and caring God for such a gift as a paid week off. Coming after the worst work week I have had in recent memory, it was glorious. Now, my brain tells me that I owe slightly more than 3,000 words per day to pull this off. A few days of puttering around 1,000 words, and I am left with 5,000 words a day for three days, and I bet you never saw this coming, 7,000 words per day for the next two.

Focus is a hell of a thing when you have a true and costly deadline. For the next two days, I am a machine. I write and chip at the word count till my hands are bloody. That was actually from the cat, but damn, they were sore. That smell coming on the wind? That’s not Greeley (a cow town that so graciously sends its massive stank over to us on windy days), that would be me and my swollen brain. It’s gone the way of my old computer tower, and no longer functions as a body management system, but a word processor. In about 36 hours, I produced 14,000 words on a new novel project.

I defeated the bet at 11:53 pm on March 31st, proving once again that more than anything; I am a cheap ass and the best procrastinator on the planet. I’m sure some of you would like to challenge me in a procrastoroff, but like tomorrow, when you aren’t about to hit refresh at 4chan for six hours.

I also learned that despite my best intentions, when I break 4,000 words, my writing goes to pot. In doing this challenge I have made a mountain of product, for which will need hours more editing than intended. This challenge was to get me writing daily again. In a way it did, for that last week, but not in the way I intended.

If I am to keep doing this, I must find it within myself to schedule, plan, and work so that I am not just slinging words for an arbitrary number. I think I might be able to manage, considering what I just put myself through to save a couple hundred dollars. I’ve woken up the past few days, gotten on the computer and written. Sometimes I get my 1,000 or more, sometimes less, but forward motion counts, so long as I at least make an honest go of it.

Will I ever do this challenge again? Maybe, but I need to really assess what keeps me from moving forward. I have to figure out what I’m so afraid of. Is it judgment? Failure? I’m not entirely sure at the moment. I faced it all in this challenge. I defeated it even, but this month will show if I have learned anything from it.

Thank you everyone who supported me in this foolhardy bet. It was as fun as it was painful. Here is to 25,000 words for April, hopefully done over the entire month. 

Friday, April 1, 2011

Freaky Friday: A Cosmonaut’s Tale

Space travel has always been one of my biggest interests. As long as I can remember, I’ve hoped that commercial space travel would be attainable in my life. The thought of leaving this planet, even just to attain orbit has been a dream of mine since I was a child. Hell, I would have settled for space camp, but that was just a bit out of reach due to expenses.

I’m not sure if there is a larger, grander idea than to travel to other planets; to rip our species from the confines of limited resources and the threat of premature extinction. It is a noble cause, and one that has been rife with sacrifice. Test pilots of various types have perished; the crew members of Apollo 1 met their demise on the launch pad. No one will forget that our shuttles have ripped apart in the atmosphere. If my numbers are accurate, 28 men and women have fallen trying to reach the stars. While that number may not seem catastrophic in comparison to many of mankind’s endeavors, only around 500 people have made it to space.

One story in particular, which is coming out in a book called Starman by Jamie Doran and Piers Bizony, recounts the tail of cosmonaut named Vladimir Kamarov. Some of you may have read about him in the past, but let me recount it if you haven’t.

In 1967, Russia and its satellite nations were engaged in a space race with the United States. This was a supplement to the Cold War (and in my opinion, one of the few incredible things to come from the Cold War), which was pretty much a dick swinging competition between over arms and technological superiority. You all know about this, so I won’t go into the political details there, only the ones surrounding this mission.

For the 50th anniversary of the Communist Revolution in Russia, they planned to have Mr. Kamarov take the Soviet spacecraft Soyuz into orbit, dock with another craft, and then come home. It might not have been the most technical feet these days, but it was groundbreaking at the time.

The only problem, Kamarov, and his best friend, the first man into space, Yuri Gagarin, knew that this was a doomed mission from the outset. Upon prior inspection of the craft, they found more than 200 mechanical faults in the spacecraft. This included parachutes that would not open upon reentry. When they tried to bring this to the attention of their superiors, everyone who saw the memo was either demoted, or sent to Siberia to freeze to death. This mission was a matter of national pride, and was going to happen no matter what.

Faced with certain death, Kamarov chose to pilot this mission. He did this to save his friend Yuri, who was already a Russian hero, and would have been his replacement if he backed out. I’m sure had he backed out from this, he would have been sent to Siberia as well, but it was the friendship that caused him to strap into that capsule, and rocket into the great beyond.

As expected, mechanical failures started happening right away. The launch of the craft he was supposed to dock with was cancelled, and he was left orbiting the earth. United States radio towers were listening in as the Soviet told mission control that he was going to die. The Soviet Premier at the time called him in tears to tell him that he was a hero, and then Kamarov spoke to his wife for the last time, trying to find the words to tell his children.

When the decent began, over the radio, Kamarov shouted that heat in the capsule was rising, and that they had killed him, cursing the engineers as he plummeted toward the earth. He went screeching into the earth, the capsule nearly liquefying on impact. They only found a heel bone in the remains.

Now imagine the terror of certain death smiling at you as your strap yourself into the capsule, knowing that this was your last ride. Defying all sense and logic, he pierced the heavens and accepted his fate. He saw the earth with his own eyes in a way that nearly all humans can only dream of.

Vladimir Kamarov showed noble bravery in keeping his friend out of that rocket, but the pride of a nation murdered him. With this book, maybe his sacrifice can mean something more than a failed space mission 44 years ago. It might be more than the terrifying experience, but a tale of a man laying his life down for a friend.
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