Month: May 2020

Abandonment Issues

It’s not every day that I decide to abandon one of my stories. If I run out of steam on a story then I will usually put it down and then just never pick it back up again.

The Kissiltur trilogy was the first story I consciously abandoned because I kept trying to make it work and it kept not working – I was spending time better used for other projects when I didn’t even really have any passion for it any more. In that case I was fighting against the sunk cost fallacy: I had put so much time and energy into it; surely I could make a story out of it somehow?

Another term for “spending time better used for other projects” is “wasting time”, and that was ultimately what pushed me to the decision to abandon that story. I just needed to work on other things, so drawing a line under the effort on the Kissiltur books was important – it gave me permission to stop.

The other week I decided to pick up my 2017 NaNovel, Disconnected, and see what I could make of it. I did a rough compile into ebook for review, then realised it was unreadable because the default font was Courier and it still included all my [embedded notes].

Disconnected is a sequel to my first novel-like story, The Manx Connection. Cleaning up the text for review reminded me of some of the misgivings I had when I was writing it, and then when I actually went through and read it all in a straight line it confirmed what the problem with the novel was: it was bad.

The manuscript is not technically bad: my writing technique has improved a great deal over the years so that first drafts are actually readable and only tend to be disjoint between widely separated sections (eg the name of some incidental characters might drift on their infrequent appearances). No, the story and the characters are bad.

These things are fixable, eventually, but my experience tells me that the prize is not worth the effort. There are things about the story that I like – the central motifs of loss and shame are powerful – but I don’t know how I rescue the things I like from the problematic story elements and characterisations.

So after patching up my comments for the first handful of chapters I decided to put the story down, a positive decision which allows me to move on.

I’ve instead gone back to Song, recompiling the latest state to see what I am missing. I feel like I am reacquainting myself with a machine I haven’t operated in a while, but the controls are familiar and it still functions pretty well. I’m looking forward to working on this.

As for the other story… Disconnected is not the first novel I put down, nor is the Kissiltur trilogy. The first NaNoWriMo story I abandoned was my 2006 effort Paragons, and I rewrote that one in 2016 as a much better book. So I have hope that I can come back more successfully to the others at some point in the future.

I already have ideas for how I could fix them. I’m just not going to work on those right now.

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Routine Reestablishment

As I reemerge from the brittle burned out shell of the work I was doing last summer, I have become increasingly frustrated that I have not been writing much.

There are many reasons I wasn’t writing consistently before, although it was mostly just raw burn out. Since I have rested enough to recover some of my enthusiasm for creating I’ve found the need to reestablish some of the habits and routines from the before times.

Setting Aside Time

The new normal is a timeless wasteland where the days merge into one undifferentiated stream of anxiety and boredom. Finding the mental energy to create is one thing, but finding a way to set aside time and space for creative work is hard.

I’ve been able to maintain my regular Friday evening creative time, although with the burn out it has not been as writing-focussed as I would usually expect.

I have also had good luck writing in my notebook. I will read a bit of something, then take a break to write half a page or so on the story I am working on.

It’s a start.

Transitions

I am in the position of being able to perform my day job more or less unimpeded from my home, which is fortunate economically but unfortunate creatively because I still have the same workload and the same demands on my time during the day.

Something that I and many of my colleagues have complained of is the difficulty in demarcating between work and personal time. For me this specifically means I have been missing the transition time, especially the bus ride between home and office. That half hour each way of time when I can do nothing else but write or read or feed my brain in some way was a critical component in completing creative content.

So I’ve been taking the “bus”.

I have a standing desk riser that I do my day job at but if I sit down at my personal desk for 25-30 minutes I can get a lot done before I start the day job. I set a kitchen timer to limit the commute time.

It’s also very helpful in resetting my brain. I don’t have the crashing gears of going from family interaction to day job tasks without a transition; the commute has always helped me get in the right frame of mind to do my job. I’m just making the commute a time of choice rather than necessity.

But with that the “bus” has arrived at the stop (the timer has gone off) so it’s time to take up the day job controls.

Onward.

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Webcam Tripod Mount

I miss playing Magic with my friends.

I want to play paper Magic rather than online. None of the digital clients run on computers that I have access to (translation: everything is written for Windows, an operating system I have, to summarise, problems with) but to stream an overhead view of a playmat while also seeing your opponent’s (or opponents’) board state requires an external camera.

So I ordered a webcam. Pandemic times being what they are, it took six weeks to arrive. I had intended to get a camera with a tripod mount, but a combination of not reading the listing properly and a limited array of choices meant that the camera I received does not have such a thing.

The camera instead has a clamping bracket intended to wedge it against the top of a screen (flat monitor or laptop lid). So attaching it to tripod needs a bracket for the clamp to attach to which can itself then be mounted on a standard tripod thread.

Technical Details

The standard tripod thread is 1/4″ / 20 UNC. I cannot give a definitive statement on what those numbers mean, but I have exactly that size of thread in my tap and die kit1.

The ideal material for this would probably be an angle of extruded plastic, something like HDPE, about two inches on a side. It would be simple to drill and tap, and it’s definitely strong enough to carry the load of a camera that weighs less than 100g.

But I don’t have any of that, and since this is a project where I would like to use what I have on hand I will be making this out of 1″ x 1/16″ mild steel bar.

The Plan

The bracket is going to be an ‘L’ shape, two inches on a side.

The fabrication plan is therefore:

  1. cut a 4″ piece of bar stock
  2. clean up rough edges
  3. drill appropriately sized hole (use matching bit to 1/4″ / 20 tap) an inch from one end
  4. tap the hole
  5. bend the bracket in the middle

I am fairly confident that the steel is thick enough to take a meaningful portion of thread especially since, as noted already, the camera is not heavy. Indeed, the bracket itself is likely to weigh more than the camera.

That’s it. I will report back on how my fabrication efforts proceed.

[1] the ability to cut threads into an appropriately sized hole or onto bare rod stock lets you solve problems fairly easily that you might otherwise fix with glue. Currently I only have a set with SAE sizes because living in the US means that those are the thread types you encounter most often.

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Aft Gang Aglay

I wouldn’t claim that my plans in the second half of last year were especially well laid.

I worry about burnout. When I look back I would say that I’ve had several phases of being burned out in the past, although they also coincided with episodes of depression. Last year I was not depressed in any meaningful way: anxious, certainly, because there were things going on that made me fret far more than I usually would, but I was not undergoing the numbness that depression usually brings to me.

Not depressed, but definitely burned out. Burn out city, man.

Hence, while I planned on continuing my monthly goal update posts during this hiatus, I have not been following my personal planning routines at all. While I expected to focus on my writing, I instead found myself flapping around loose, too exhausted to focus on anything at all.

In the midst of that flap I went to the Willamette Writers Conference. I like that conference, and I like the people I meet there. I found several like-minded writers who I wanted to stay in touch with… but then my burn out took away any hope of actually maintaining contact. Everything seemed hard, from sending email to making words. I felt like I had been given a gift but then squandered it.

My gut feeling on this is that I was trying to do too many things at once. I have always been someone who starts new things readily, but I don’t have the time or energy to do all of it and while I can sometimes manage to juggle six or ten things for a short period of time, something has to drop. Last summer, I dropped everything.

Two things this year have helped me drag myself back to something approaching a functional creative life.

Firstly, my wife and I took a mindful self-compassion class. I am not someone who has ever had any kind of mindfulness practice, although one of the goals of my exercise routine is to shake my brain away from its loops and whorls, and I now identify this as a kind of mindfulness. The tools I learned in that class have been very helpful in letting myself be kinder to myself.

Secondly, the pandemic pause. This time of forced separation from the world has allowed me to retrench, to recharge some batteries that I didn’t even know were drained. It has got me back to making stories because I want to rather than out of obligation.

With that, I will say that this blog is still on hiatus from any kind of regular posting, but I expect to put things here a little more often. There are stories and projects I want to talk about, and this is where I do that.

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