Cycling back with Translocator 3

Cycle back

I’m in a weird place with the current draft of Translocator 3 — right at the end of the first act, just over 20,000 words written so far, and trying to get everything into its proper place for the setup before I move on into the middle of the novel.

As a result of a few mistakes I made while writing what I’ve got on the page so far, I had to go back to the beginning and read through twice as I cleaned some things up and made necessary changes. I changed the role/title of a character. I altered the timeline so that everything lined up better. I fixed a few inconsistencies in plot elements that I had forgotten (*facepalm*) in the months since I finished The Alien Element.

All this is to say that while I’ve only got 20k words on the page, I’ve written more like 30k or maybe 35k if you count all my notes, cuts, and revisions.

But as usual, it was necessary and good work, and I’m glad I took the time to do it. The story is better off for it.

Some writers call this “cycling”, where you jump back a ways and clean up the story as you read through it for a second (or third, or fourth) time. Once you hit “white space” (where you left off), you’ve got the fresh memory and momentum to carry on.

So that’s where I left off this morning, before I had to run off to do client work and other stuff during the day. White space. Tonight I cooked dinner with Shelly and turned in a writing workshop assignment, and then wrote this. So tomorrow I’ll start fresh, and hopefully knock out the last chapter in the first act. It’ll be fun, because it’s designed to end with what should be a jaw-dropping moment.

That way Act 2 can open with a bang.

And a twist. Because what would the opening of act two be without a twist?

Zatarain’s

I once asked a friend, a chef who had spent years living in New Orleans, what he thought the local secret to delicious New Orlean’s style jambalaya was.

“Everyone makes it different,” he said. “That’s why it’s called JUMBLE-aya.”

I snorted and pretended to straighten a stack of plates. We were standing in the long, open kitchen of the restaurant during a quiet night. He leaned forward across the prep station to hear me.

“Okay, how about this…What’s the best jambalaya you ever had?”

“My aunt’s, probably. She’s a great cook. Makes two big pots of jambalaya for family reunions, one with Andouille sausage and another with crawdaddys.”

“Ugh. Like with the heads on and shit?”

“Delicious.” He made a sucking sound with his fingers as if he was draining the head of a crawfish of its juices.

“Okay, but there’s gotta be a local trick, right? Special spices? Some kind of hot sauce? Like, what’s the go to? I want to know how New Orleans locals make it. I just use the stuff in a box.”

He shrugged. “Zatarain’s.”

“Wait, really? That’s what I use.”

“Then you good, man.”

“Huh.”

“Damnit, now I want crawdaddys.”

“My bad.”

“Make yourself useful and get me some more plates.”

•••

I don’t know whether my chef friend was being straight with me or just trying to get me out of his hair.

I’m inclined to accept that New Orleans locals love Zatarain’s as much as I do.

Because this stuff?

This stuff is DE-LICIOUS.

I gotta get myself down to New Orleans one day soon.

The path of discipline

The other day I wrote about how creativity is not a well that can be emptied, or which diminishes over time. It’s more like a muscle that gets stronger with exercise.

I was talking about writing. But sometimes coincidence packs a hell of a punch. I fired up my podcasts app yesterday and saw that Jocko Willink, decorated Navy Seal, was guest hosting The Tim Ferriss show.

The topic? Discipline.

He has a new book out called Discipline Equals Freedom: Field Manual. One section talks about the “psychological win over the enemy” that a person gains from waking up early, which leads him to the topic of discipline.

This is what he says…

“Now, some scientists have claimed that discipline dissipates the more it is used—that willpower is a finite resource that is reduced every time it is used during the day.

This is wrong. That does not happen.

To the contrary, I believe, and studies have shown, that discipline and willpower do not go down as they are called into action—they actually get stronger.”

Could it be that discipline and creativity are the same that way? They get stronger, better, smarter, the more you use them? The more you work at it?

This makes sense to me. Creativity, especially regular writing output over a long period of time, certainly requires discipline. It can be hard. It calls up fear. It demands sacrifice. Creativity and discipline are the same that way.

Willink goes on for a while about this. Then he warns the reader away from the downside…

“Unfortunately, the opposite is also true. Once you step off the path [of discipline], you tend to stray far. When you don’t prepare what you need to do the ne

xt day, when you sleep in and then skip your workout and you don’t start attacking the tasks you have—because you didn’t write them down the night before—that is when you make bad decisions. That is when your will and discipline fail. You figure you might as well have that donut for breakfast and once you have done that, might as well put down four or five pieces of pizza for lunch. It doesn’t matter anymore—you’re off the path and that is a disaster. Your will didn’t break—it never showed up in the first place.

So. Get on the path of discipline and stay on the path.

Discipline begets discipline.

Will propagates MORE WILL.

Hold the line across the line and victory will be yours.”

Willink’s words inspired me so much I actually got up early this morning and exercised. That’s why sleep is calling me at 9:21pm on a Saturday. So I’m going to head to sleep.If you’re still awake for a while longer, you can listen to the man read the words himself on Tim’s show. He is inspiring.

Jolt to the system

Photo taken at Houndstooth this afternoon.

Austin is littered with coffee shops like this. Free WiFi and delicious, imported, overpriced cups of joe. Spent a few hours there writing to finish up the day. Backwards Fridays continue to serve me well. It’s like a jolt to the system. A soft refresh.

And now the weekend stretches ahead of me like the still waters of a lapis lagoon.

Reading: The Traveler

I picked up this high tech thriller a few weeks ago. Started reading tonight.

The Traveler by John Twelve Hawks. Published 2005 by Vintage Books.

Good solid opening chapter, a training scene combined with a betrayal. Our hero, Maya, reminds me of the skateboarder in Neal Stephenson’s Snowcrash, a fearless young woman. Danger obviously lurks around the corner. And it’s exceptional, because Maya has been prepared for it in a perfectly believable way.

The voice is stark and cyberpunky and occasionally sarcastic. I’m into it. This is what the talking heads said (from the back cover):

“A cyber 1984…page-turningly swift, with a cliff-hanger ending.” —The New York Times

“A fearless, brilliant action heroine; a secret history of the world; a tale of brother against brother… and nonstop action as the forces of good and evil battle it out.” —The Times-Pocayune

Those are good blurbs.

*takes notes*

Anyway, reading is always a relaxing way to end a night. Are you reading anything good tonight?

3 things I learned blogging for 30 days in a row

Today marks the 30th day in a row of blogging here on mgherron.com!

I’m celebrating this small victory with my favorite cider…

*KACHNK*

*HHSSSSSSSS*

*SLURP*

Ahhhh, yeahup. That hits the spot.

Blogging every day for a month was a good challenge. Here are a few things I already knew, but which the challenge brought to the forefront and clarified for me.

1. Streaks don’t tolerate excuses

Inevitably, if you try to do anything worth doing for 30 days in a row (writing, exercising, getting enough sleep) there will be days when you won’t feel like doing that thing.

Just the way it goes. The sun can’t shine forever. Clouds will roll in. Such is life.

Does that mean you get to take a break? No way, buddy. Don’t even think about it.

Having a 30 day blogging streak means that I posted when I didn’t want to. I even posted when…

  • I didn’t know what I was going to say
  • I didn’t feel like writing
  • I was tired
  • I was on vacation

There were even days where I nearly forgot, and didn’t post until close to midnight.

But I didn’t give in to the excuses.

It helps when you set the bar low, and can always reach for some low hanging fruit. With blogging this means being able to post a photo or a quote and call it a night. With fiction, try setting your goal so low that it’s laughable. How’s 50 words? Five minutes? Surely you can manage five minutes a day. And when you’ve got that down pat, make it fifteen.

Piece of cake. You’ve got this.

2. Daily words add up over time

Even better is to see how many words it all adds up to in the end.

I totaled the number of words in all 31 blogs.

Total (including this blog): 7,250 words

And this took about fifteen minutes of effort per day. Sometimes more, sometimes less.

7,250 words is the length of 1 – 3 short stories.

Or 2 – 3 epic blog posts.

Of course, in that time period I also wrote about 15,000 original words of fiction 😀 But that’s my life, not yours.

Set your own standards.

Stay calm, write every day, and it will eventually add up if you can learn to be patient. This works with any kind of writing, whether that’s fiction, nonfiction, blogging, or your memoirs.

It’s amazing what’s possible with consistent practice over time.

3. The more you give, the more you have

This concept is hard to put into words. It’s even harder to explain to beginning writers in a way that they are inclined to believe because it’s counter intuitive. But I’ll try.

Take this example:

The more ideas you brainstorm, the more ideas you will have.

Don’t believe me? Try to brainstorming 10 new ideas a day. If you do that for a week, I’ll bet that you’re bursting with ideas at the end of the week. At the beginning of the week you won’t be able to imagine what those seventy ideas would even be. By the end you’ll be writing in the margins of the page because you’re running out of room. Ten won’t be nearly enough!

That’s because your creative brain gets used to the idea, gets better, and comes up with more ideas. How? By teaching it to come up with ideas in the first place.

Same with writing. The more words you write, the more you will be able to write. You build your muscle by using it. At first, fifteen minutes of writing will exhaust you. You’ll be able to increase the amount of time you spend writing given practice.

A lot of people (myself included) started out by thinking that creative energy is some kind of finite well. That you can use it up, or run it dry.

But that’s not true. Writing isn’t a well. It’s a muscle.

And how do you make muscles stronger? By using them.

I’ve overcome this hurdle so many times that I thought I was past it entirely. And yet when I undertook this challenge, one of my first thoughts was, “I’m going to need more ideas. I don’t have enough blog ideas for 30 days. What am I going to write about?”

That’s the well trap. When you see yourself speaking negatively like that, saying “I can’t” or “I don’t” or “I never,” cut it off at the root. Creativity is not a well. It doesn’t dry up…unless you don’t use it.

I don’t always know what I’m going to write in the day’s blog post. Most of the time I have no idea.

But the more I did it, the easier it became.

Having a daily practice even took the anxiety out of it. If I don’t post for a long time, I feel a huge pressure to make the next post great, perfect, wonderful. If I post every day, there’s another chance tomorrow, and the next day, and the next.

If I’m in the mood, I can write long posts like this one. If I’m not, there are other options. Half the fun is coming up with creative ways to maintain the streak with the minimum amount of effort.

I guess you could call me lazy. I call it smart.

I’ll try to keep up the daily blog, at least for now. It’s a good challenge, and fun. Hope you stick around.

***

Special thanks to Jason H. Abbott, BookDragonGirl, jenniereads, todaysechoes, Christy Esmahan, and Jason Knight for reading and liking and sharing. I see you, and I thank you.

If you’ve read anything I’ve written here in the past 30 days, would you chime in with a quick comment to let me know what you’d like to see more of?

A new apocalyptic book cover!

The next short story I’m going to publish as a solo effort is a post-apocalyptic adventure called Centurion, which first appeared in the science fiction anthology At The Helm: Volume 3.

But I like having them available as standalone ebooks, too, and since I’ve now managed to establish a brand for my post-apoc series, it’s really fun to see them all together.

So here’s the new cover for Centurion, which will be published soon. Plus all the other post-apoc stories I’ve put out this year, four of them that have covers.

I almost have enough for a low price collection.

Writing has nothing to do with how you feel about it

I’m gonna have to go look up the writing book where I first encountered this advice, because it’s escaping me right now, but the wisdom went something like this:

The quality of your writing has no correlation to how you feel about it while you’re writing.

That’s right, no matter whether you’re happy or sad, angry or depressed, jubilant or hungover, your emotional state does not correlate to the quality of the words you’re writing.

I’ve had days when I’m a miserable grump, and write a great scene in spite of myself. I’ve had days where I’m depressed and write crap.

I’ve deleted scenes that I thought were brilliant and which I wrote in a burst of inspiration. Oops.

I’ve had good days and bad days and everything in between. The quality of my work stays consistent—and (I hope) actually improves with time.

Will it be easier to sit down and work when you’re in a good mood? Of course.

That’s why taking care of your health is so important.

But you don’t have to be in a good mood to work.

As a professional, you go to work no matter how you feel. Do you want to be a pro? Then get to work.

This fetish with the flash of inspiration is damaging to the working writer. It gives the wrong expectation. How can a writer not be disappointed with a bland day when they expect genius at every turn?

In the end writing is a craft. And like the woodworker goes to the shop every day no matter how he feels about his work at the moment, so must the writer.

Otherwise how are you going to get enough practice to be any good at this thing?

Are you going to wait until inspiration strikes?

Are you going to wait until you’re “in the mood”?

Nope. The time is now. Get to work.

Sometimes writing is thinking

Today was mostly life stuff — groceries, cutting the grass, seeing friends, cooking food. Good food, too. The steak and lemon risotto we made for dinner was absolutely delicious.

I did find a little time to write. The first part of that was spent doing distance and speed calculations for the logistical problem I stumbled upon on Translocator 3 yesterday. The second part was spent staring off into space wondering how I was going to fix it.

Sometimes thinking is writing. And in this case it certainly was because I seemed to have backed myself into a corner.

But eventually I figured out a good solution. I fixed it as I went through the first three chapters. Now things are moving quickly again. There will be more dialogue to tweak near where I left off at chapter 9, but that should do the trick.

Reading the story on paper is fun and I find myself getting sucked into it as a reader. Definitely a good sign.

I ended up adding about 500 words today.

More tomorrow.