Tag Archives: SoCS

Seams Impossible


It was a fun week off, but tomorrow I’m back to work on that least enjoyable step in the creative process: editing. I’ve edited a novel before, but man … looking at the edits ahead of me is a little bit like staring down the craggy peaks of Everest. This stuff ain’t gonna be easy.

I’ve taken the conventional wisdom for editing perhaps too much to heart, giving myself plenty of time in between drafts. Ideally, they say, you want to come back to your work as a new reader would come to the story, divorced from any cuddly feelings the author might have for this or that character or plot point. In my case, it’s been something like nine months since the ink dried on the first draft of the story I’m about to tackle. And the parallels between a nine-month fermenting process for a story and the time it takes to fully cook a human baby (yeah that looks a little wrong as I sit here and re-read it) are probably too obvious to list.

So: the characters in the story are likely to appear pretty fargoing foreign to me, especially given that I seem to recall introducing some pretty massive shifts in their development about forty percent of the way in. Likewise the plotting, since I’m fairly certain that my past self left a note to my future self to rewrite most of the beginning of the story with a different character as the protagonist. Oh, that Past Me. How easy it must be to come up with these tremendously bold ideas when you don’t have to do any of the legwork. Wouldn’t it be cool if your antagonist were a sentient pile of roaches instead of just a really nasty dude? How about if we set the entire story in an underwater hidden city? Or maybe the story all stays the same, except that now every single character speaks a different language? This guy, I tell ya. Just because he’s pouring the magical unfiltered story-gunk out through his fingers, he thinks he can suggest just any old thing.

Of course, without those crazy ideas — not the dumb ones, mind, because you can’t go diving down every rabbit hole to see what’s at the bottom — the story feels rote, uninspired, like a cardboard sandwich slathered in gluey mayonnaise. Some of the rabbit holes have to be explored, and that’s what the second draft is for: turning down the side streets that you noticed in the first draft but didn’t have the time for. Abandoning the main thread of the story you found yourself telling and hacking into the newly discovered jungle of the story you could tell.

And then, of course, comes the real work: the part where you look around at all the strewn and scattered bits of story, littering the floor like so much discarded fabric at a dressmaker’s, you collect the bits that look the least objectionable, and you start sewing.

So: may my needles stay sharp, may my plot threads not fray, and may my eye for fashion be clear. It’s going to take all that and more to get through this one.

This weekly remotivational post is part of Stream of Consciousness Saturday. Every weekend, I use Linda G. Hill’s prompt to refocus my efforts and evaluate my process, sometimes with productive results.


Hirsute Spheroids, née Hairy Balls, and Your Story


I’m a bit of a physics nerd, by which I mean I love physics oddities and learning macro concepts about how the universe works without actually getting my hands dirty in any of the intractible numbers involved. That fascination often leads me down rabbit holes on youtube, whence I arrive hours later, head buzzing with cosmic understanding or mind shattered from inability to process.

Today’s SOCS prompt is “hair”, and while it’d be easy for me to write again about my lack thereof, my mind immediately leapt to the hairy ball theorem (which is, if nothing else, a perfect example of how badly scientists need help naming things — the “hirsute spheroid theorem” would prompt no more than 1/5th the giggles). In short, the theorem states that if you have a hairy ball (*snicker*), there is no way to comb it in such a way that all the hair lays flat. (And there’s nothing worse than a hairy ball with a cowlick.) The math proves this, though I don’t care too much about the math (that’s the department of my sister and her husband, both Georgia Tech grads who do the rest of us the favor of making sure that the numbers support the buildings that stand up around us and the rockets that put our fancy things up in the air or shoot other countries’ fancy things out of it). What I care about is concept. Hairy ball. Can’t comb it flat.

Here’s a brief explanation of the theorem, if you want a better explanation of it (and Minute Physics is worth the subscribe, by the way):

But this is a writing blog, not a maths blog, so why the hockey sticks am I blerping around, getting all hot and bothered about a physics conundrum?

Because writing stories is a bit like the hirsute spheroid theorem. (Nope, still makes me giggle, if only 1/5 as much.) Stories are these weird little hairy balls. The ball (giggle, snort) is the world of the story, where the characters frolic and screw up and alternately threaten the safety of the world or rescue it from deep-sea humanoid squid monsters. The hair (chortle, cackle) is the characters and their frolics. And like the follicular matter in the hirsute spheroid theorem, there’s no way to have those frolics or those characters line up perfectly. Like a lump in the carpet or, well, like the hair on a ball (okay, seriously, I’m done laughing at that), when you flatten it down in one spot,  it springs up anew somewhere else. Lay a perfect plotline that neatly traverses the entire surface and you arrive back at the beginning to find a bizarre cowlick sticking up.

For a writer, this seems like a problem, but it’s not. Note that the hairy ball theorem is stated as a theorem, not a problem. An observation of reality, not a lament of the way reality ought to be. It’s only a problem if you assume that your hirsute spheroid must somehow attain a measure of perfection, which it never will anyway — the perfect being the enemy of the good, as it is.

Stories have flaws, in other words, and it’s a fool’s errand thinking we can iron them all out. Instead, embrace the flaws, iron out what you can, and accept the odd fact: bed-head is, for some reason, in style.

Image result for bed head

Also, a note: careful with your googling if you go searching the hairy ball theorem. Also, just for the lolz, the Wikipedia entry for the hairy ball theorem cheerily points out that, on Wikipedia at least, “‘hairy balls’ redirects here.”

This weekly remotivational post is part of Stream of Consciousness Saturday. Every weekend, I use Linda G. Hill’s prompt to refocus my efforts and evaluate my process, sometimes with productive results.


Pitiful Excuses


Pitiful excuses for the week: I’ve got a few. Not that every week doesn’t come with a few excuses, but some are more pitiful than others.

Of course, this week’s big pitiful excuse is bigger than the average pitiful excuse, which is: a stomach bug tore through our house like a honey badger (I almost wrote an angry honey badger, but then that’s redundant, innit) on peyote. First my daughter had it (barfing all over my wife, which she enjoyed about as much as you’d expect, my wife being something of a germophobe the way our new president is something of a Twitter user), then my son had it, then I had it, and finally, my wife has it.

So it’s been a stressful, and kind of miserable, week. Add in a couple of snow days* to the mix, and the beginning of rehearsals for our school’s upcoming musical, and the fact that the new semester is starting so new students are popping into and out of my class like quantum particles winking in and out of existence, and it makes sense why my productivity would take a hit.

Which it did. I missed a run day Wednesday, and I missed two days’ work on the novel, not to mention posting absolutely nothing around here (which is hardly an obligation, but it does keep the juices flowing). Missing days sucks. Even five years into a running habit and three years into a writing habit, I can still feel the black hole of slothitude and couch-lump-syndrome tugging at me with its unflagging gravity. While I know a day here or there isn’t going to knock me into that black hole, the lost productivity is a sharp reminder that the hole is there. Lurking. Waiting. The black hole doesn’t just swallow you up one day; it doesn’t have to. Time is on its side. One missed day turns into two, turns into three, turns into a week, and somewhere along the line you cross the event horizon between taking a break and giving up.

Of course, the reminder that the black hole is there, waiting to swallow you, is good enough motivation to kick me right out of my funk.Even though the week started off decidedly poorly, I still ended up with about 1800 words and a good bit of outlining for the end of the novel, and a nice little mini-arc of action to write that will start me off next week. The writing always goes easier when you know what you want to write before you sit down to write it (would that I always knew when I sat down!).

In summary: kind of a crap week, salvaged. But that’s what you do with crap weeks, innit?

Next week can only be better.

This weekly remotivational post is part of Stream of Consciousness Saturday. Every weekend, I use Linda G. Hill’s prompt to refocus my efforts and evaluate my process, sometimes with productive results.


Hardly Moot


The prompt for this week’s SOCS post is “moot,” a funny-sounding word which is one of those weirdly connotated things that no longer means what it actually means. Like literally. (Though internet outrage has kind of fixed the rampant misuse of “literally”.)

About the only way you see “moot” anymore is in the phrase “moot point,” a phrase that comes out of mock trials which essentially means meaningless or without consequence. But I can’t hear the word “moot” without thinking about this:

Image result for lotr treebeard

The mothertrucking entmoot from LOTR.

“Moot” means meeting, and in the second book (and, yeah, okay, the second movie), the ents — the living, sentient trees — hold an entmoot to determine the fate of their forest. The problem? The ents hold this moot in their native tree language, which is “a lovely language, but it takes a very long time saying anything in it, because we do not say anything in it, unless it is worth taking a long time to say.” (Which could, in fact, be the subtitle for this blog, given how I like to go on and on. The worthiness of the things I talk about to be talked about at length is, of course, another matter.)

Long story short (too late), the ents meet for several days before they decide that they will not meddle in the affairs of men, much to the chagrin of the hobbits who have petitioned them for aid. The world is going to sharknado all around them, the hobbits protest, and ents will be affected eventually even if nothing happens to them right away. But the ents take the isolationist path, pointing out that the trees will outlast whatever squabbles the creatures of the earth busy themselves with.

Then, of course, they learn that actually, the forces of darkness are chewing up the forest to fuel their war machine, and well, that’s that. The trees uproot themselves and wreck shop all over Isengard, because nothing motivates you like the threat of imminent destruction.

(I could point out that this is a pretty thinly-veiled dig at politics and politicians with their endless pontificating bureaucracies, but that’s not the point of this post.)

All that’s interesting and fascinating (though maybe just for me), but ultimately, well, moot in the contemporary sense, because the simple, understood definition of “moot” is that it doesn’t matter. The origins of the word are well and good, but these days it means this, so really, who cares?

And speaking of moot points, the problem is perspective and scope. Much of what we do in life, creatively or otherwise, is moot. Pancakes for breakfast, or cold cereal, or skip breakfast entirely? Doesn’t really matter. Take the long way to work or the quick way? As long as you get there on time, who cares? Read the Game of Thrones series so that you can claim superiority over the people who just watch the TV show, or don’t? Outside of the odd water cooler conversation, there really is very little difference in your life.

Put it on a bigger scale. There will be very little difference on a national level, or even a state level, over the life of one person, even a highly influential one. Things take the course they take, and not much will change it. A bigger scale still: consider, for example, Paris. Unless I have some readers in France I’m unaware of, I really am completely removed from anything happening in Paris. My entire existence, as far as Paris is concerned, is moot. Let alone the world.

But go even bigger. In our own solar system, humans have got some manned missions done in our neck of the woods, and we’ve sent a fair few probes out to the far reaches, but for the most part, all the accomplishments of humans are represented by a tiny speck of light in the night sky. A moot exercise, you might say, as we’ll never have that perspective — but astronauts get that perspective all the time. It’s called the Overview Effect (a thing I literally learned just now!)

If you zoom out far enough, everything becomes moot. And if you’re prone to Nihilistic thinking (cough, cough), the maw of that realization yawns wide beneath your feet at just about any moment. Why bother creating — it’ll all be lost to time and the void eventually. Why bother doing anything?

But taking the long view, while it’s probably good for planning your retirement and your diet, is maybe not the best thing to do in cases like this. Any story I could possibly tell is statistically unlikely to disturb the waters very much, even if it becomes profoundly popular. Those waters are thoroughly saturated already, if you’ll pardon the pun. But that doesn’t mean that, for a narrow slice, the stories aren’t worth writing (or reading!). In a lot of ways, the writer’s self-affirmation is not unlike the teacher’s: if I can reach just ONE student…

The truth is, I don’t think I even need to reach a single reader. It’d be nice if I do, of course — and better than nice if I could reach more than one. But when I create, I’m creating for me. It brings me tiny little pangs of joy to make up characters and bounce them around in the snow globes of my creation. On a global scale, or a national one, or even a local one, that might very well be moot.

But given that this life is the only one we get, it only makes sense to fill it with as much joy as we can.

This weekly remotivational post is part of Stream of Consciousness Saturday. Every weekend, I use Linda G. Hill’s prompt to refocus my efforts and evaluate my process, sometimes with productive results.


The Weekly Re-Motivator: No Such Thing as Coincidence


I posted earlier this week about my missing flash drive.

It’s now been a solid week since I realized it was missing, and having now cleaned the house and looked in every reasonable place three times (and the unreasonable places, once or twice), it’s hard to argue with the simple, impassive truth. It’s gone.

And because I’m an idiot, the missing little chunk of plastic and silicone has taken with it about 40,000 words of work — the bulk of almost three months daily wordhammering — on the latest novel.

Just gone. Not like somebody broke into my house and my TV, dvd player, and all my wife’s jewelry are missing — that sort of thing, while senseless and random, would at least make sense in a causal sense. There would also be the lovely spectre of somebody to blame. No, it’s rather like I went to the grocery store and came back to find my dog gone. All of her toys still strewn around the house. Sprouts of fur on her blanket and bed. Leash on the wall hook. But no sign of the mutt herself; just the back gate swinging in the breeze. The gate I forgot to close before I left the house.

It’d be tempting to think that it’s an awfully big coincidence that my entire project literally vanishes when I’ve been struggling so mightily with it over these past few months. Some of the days have been good, but most of them have been a bit too much like work, and as much as I like the central idea of the book, there’s just something … off about it. Maybe it’s the tone, maybe it’s the point of view, maybe it’s the setting; hard to pin down, but the idea just hasn’t caught fire with me the way I wanted it to.

So it disappears when I haven’t backed it up in months, and wipes out all those months of work.

But I don’t believe in coincidences; at least not in that cosmic, maybe it was meant to be kind of way. I’m furious with myself for losing it. I’m ready to throttle myself over the idiocy of failing to back up my project. And no matter how the project might have pained me, I don’t believe that simply throwing all that work out the window — literally, it turns out — would have been the best choice. Even bad writing sometimes reveals hidden gems, turns of phrase worth keeping, little narrative nuggets buried among the scree and scrap.

But I also don’t believe that it just happened. I think that, if I were really proud of this work, if I really felt it was worthy of my time, I probably would have safeguarded it a little bit better. I think if it mattered to me that much, I would have found the time to click a few buttons and back it up.

I don’t think me losing the flash drive and the project is the universe’s way of telling me that the project is wrong. I think that me losing the project was my own way of telling myself that the project was wrong.

Because here’s something I noticed in edits for my first novel: as much as I changed things, there was a hesitation to really deconstruct the thing, to shred it to pieces and rebuild the stuff I had spent so much time building the first time around. I did that deep rebuilding in places here and there, but a not insignificant portion of the first draft survived, coming through with only cosmetic changes.

With this project, though, I won’t have that option. I know the outline of what I wrote — the plotlines and the character developments that need to take place to get me to the middle — but I won’t have the fleshy bits, the meat of the story. I’ll have to rebuild all that.

Which is frustrating, but also kind of liberating. Not only am I not tethered by the shortcomings of the draft, but I can’t even see them in the rearview mirror. I’ve got no choice but to take this in an entirely new direction.

And the fact that I’m not filled with dread at the prospect tells me that, even though it burns worse than a throatful of rotgut bourbon, it doesn’t have to be all bad.

So maybe it’s just a coincidence that my project vanished into the ether when I was filled with so much doubt about it.

But I kind of don’t think so.

Maybe it’s just more likely that I’m devoted enough to this thing to turn this lemon — and man, is it a hell of a lemon — into something like lemonade.

Or maybe I have an alter ego who knows what’s best for my writing and chucked the thing in the garbage disposal while I thought I was asleep.

Either way, it’s time for a fresh start.

This weekly remotivational post is part of Stream of Consciousness Saturday. Every weekend, I use Linda G. Hill’s prompt to refocus my efforts and evaluate my process, sometimes with productive results.


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