Finding a voice over the years

I’ve been participating in National Novel Writing Month since 2004.  My only failure was 2012, when I was too stressed out about my impending move across half the country for the job I just retired from, and in 2005 and 2006 I wrote two novels in November rather than just the one.  So: I have fifteen novels under my belt, never mind the short stories and vignettes and the like I’ve also written over the years.

What I don’t have–or didn’t, for quite a long time–was a consistent voice.  It became obvious to me early on that if I read too much in October, I’d end up writing novels that read a whole lot like what I imagine The Asylum’s take on those authors would be if they published novels instead of movies: low-budget knockoffs that mainly make you wish you were just watching the real thing.  So I stopped reading novels a month or so before most Novembers in an attempt to keep myself from just aping the authors I like.  (My one explicit attempt to do such aping was the year that Iain Banks died; I reread the entire Culture series in October and set out to write an explicit pastiche.  I failed miserably.  Turns out that Banks’ voice is pretty unique, funny and sharp and clever all at the same time, and copying that is really really hard, particularly when you only have thirty days to do so.  Who knew.)

And, at least in recent years, I’ve found that I do have a voice.  It’s not particularly strong yet; I think that its development is definitely hampered by the fact that almost all of my writing is done under the severe time constraints of NaNoWriMo, and so I value vomiting as many words as possible onto the page at the highest speed over clever writing for the ages, assuming that’s even something I’m capable of.  But despite that high-pressure high-velocity environment, something of my character still shines through.

Perhaps some day I’ll even have some examples worth sharing to make my point.

It’ll be interesting to see, first, whether I’m actually capable of sustained writing without time constraints; back in 2010 I challenged myself to write a million words over the course of the year, and only managed a little over 300,000, but that was just a much longer constraint.  Now, well… I’m not entirely sure.  Will I need to set artificial deadlines for myself?  The advantage for someone like me of being a published author is that your publisher and editor set those deadlines for you, given that they generally want to see the work they paid for before the heat death of the Universe, but I have no such constraints.

And if you’re wondering: hey, Phil, is this longish meta-post about writing just another way for you to procrastinate when it comes to actually working on your fiction? then, uh, go bake a batch of cookies and then give yourself one.  And send me the rest.  A writer’s gotta have fuel, after all.

Weekly status update [0001/????]

My first week of retirement draws to a close, and I’ve gotta say: it feels good.  Real good.

Of course I miss the hell out of a lot of people; some have kept in touch, whether via email or Hangouts (and even a few via comments here on the blog–hi, Beth, Chris, and Derrick!), but we all know how much easier it is to just not communicate.  Staying in contact with others is work, real work, and life in the modern era is easy to fill with so much other stuff that unnecessary communication falls by the wayside.  As someone with free time now, it’s incumbent on me to keep those channels open as best I can.  And I’m going to try.

Work, though?  I’d be lying if I said I missed having a job.  Maybe I will, as time goes on.  Right now, not so much.

The only Real Adulting I did this week involved picking up some prescription glasses I procured on the cheap thanks to my ex-employer’s excellent benefits; I now have what amounts to eight different pairs of glasses with the same prescription.  You know, Just In Case.  In life as I did at work, I plan for catastrophic failure.

Definitely Not Adulting things I did this week:

  • Watched a non-trivial amount of serialized stuff via the magic of Netflix and Amazon Prime Video.  Strong recommendations: Altered CarbonThe AmericansTransparent.  Less strong, but still enjoyable as a not-quite-as-good Black MirrorPhilip K. Dick’s Electric Dreams.  Altered Carbon is on Netflix and the others are on Prime Video if you want to follow along at home.
  • Played a tremendous amount of Let It Die, Suda51’s most recent weird-ass video game.  It’s free-to-play, but in a way that you could easily never pay a penny and enjoy the game completely.  I’m actually in danger of burning out on it due to putting so many hours in–I’m somewhere north of 70 right now and less than halfway through the game–so I’ve intentionally backed off some in the last few days to give the game some room to breathe.
  • Got back into solving pencil-and-paper puzzles.  I have a Japanese sudoku magazine that has less than ten puzzles left before I’ve completed it from cover to cover.  I can’t remember the last time I completed every single puzzle in a puzzle book.  Of course the ones left are the hardest, but that’s part of the fun.  After I finish it, I plan on moving onto Djape’s first Trigons book.  Trigons are fascinating and pretty brutally hard, so I’m going to have my work cut out for me.
  • Ate a bunch of junk food that I shouldn’t have.  Malt-o-Meal’s Chocolate Marshmallow Mateys are maybe the best sugar cereal I’ve ever had, and my newfound love for them terrifies me.

Things I didn’t do but plan on maybe kinda sorta looking at next week, you know, if I feel up to it or whatever:

  • Getting back into leisure programming.  Probably something simple at first, like some code cleanup on Giles.  Like many things in my life, I have lots of grandiose plans, but now I also have way less in the way of excuses to not actually execute on those.
  • I should probably, like, look at Rewind (AKA the novella I always talk about as being “actually pretty good”) or something?  And, uh, think about how the hell I’m going to expand it to a novel?  Yeah, this almost certainly isn’t happening next week, because it’s big and scary and I need to work up to it.

This entry is already too long, so I’ll leave you with a question: what would you, the reader, like to see here?  I’ve tentatively settled on a few-times-a-week schedule, but I’m open to feedback as to what sorts of things I should be writing.  Personal reviews of games and movies and stuff?  Musings on game design?  More slice-of-life bits?  Feel free to either reply to this blog entry or send me Philback.  There’s no point in writing this stuff if no one wants to read it; I already have entire novels that are never going to see the light of day and I’m not sure I need to add to that volume.

A screeching start to a new life

Last night, as I was preparing to go to sleep, my heater kicked in one final time with a loud skreeeeeh from outside before steadying out to the usual thrum.

I thought: Are you frakkin’ kidding me?  My first day of retirement is tomorrow and the heat’s going to be broken.  I can’t even go into work to escape!  And then I did what just about everyone in such a situation does: I climbed into bed and sincerely hoped that the HVAC Faeries would magically fix the problem while I slept.  As they do.

This morning I peeked out of my bedroom window at the condenser.  It hadn’t exploded overnight–you’d think that would have woken me up, but you’d be wrong–but I did notice something suspicious.  A shiny, glinting layer of ice covered most of the top of the unit, with only a small hole in the center where air could actually make it through.

I bundled up, crept my way through the soggy backyard in the bright morning light, and looked at it more closely.  Apparently a perfect combination of rain and cold caused a thick sheet of ice to form on top of the condenser.  Actually thick, as I noticed when I tried to break some off with my bare hands; half an inch or so.  (Here is where I regret not taking a photo; sorry about that.  I’ll do better next time.  This whole “letting people know what’s going on in my life” thing is kinda new to me.)

Back inside to grab a nice heavy fork, back outside to start banging slash chiseling slash scraping the ice away.  Ice chips flew everywhere, hitting my sandaled feet, skittering off into the damp grass, but soon enough I cleared almost all of the ice from the top of the unit.

I tromped back inside and walked over to the thermostat.  Moment of truth: I bumped it back up from the chilly 58° I leave it on overnight to the toasty 64° I keep it during the day.

Thrmmmmmm.  No awful screech, just the comforting hum of a properly working heating system.

Thank goodness.  One day of disaster averted.  How many to go? How many to go?

An oblique reference to that Simple Minds song

I’m sitting at home, shivering; I didn’t bother turning the heat on, because I thought I would be throwing up a quick WordPress install, dashing off a quick blog post, and then heading immediately to snuggle under several layers of blankets to protect me from the North Carolina winter.

Sigh.  Turns out there really isn’t such a thing as a “quick WordPress install.”  Mea culpa.

Anyhow, I’m writing this the night before my last day of work.  I’ve been at my current job for slightly more than five years, and I’ve made a lot of friends there.  (And no enemies, as far as I’m aware, although that’s the sort of thing that it’s easy to be oblivious about.)  Deciding to leave was simultaneously one of the easiest and hardest decisions of my life.

On the one hand: I’ve been planning on this early retirement thing for years.  YEARS.  And working in the tech industry is a sure-fire way to accelerate that sort of plan, especially if you’re a somewhat thrifty single person such as myself.  In addition, my excitement at doing my job has been declining for a while, to the point where it was starting to impinge upon my performance, which meant it was time to Make A Decision, something I had been putting off for as long as I could.  And that decision ended up being pretty easy: when you’ve been planning on doing a thing for a long time, why not do that thing?

And yet.  Never mind the free food, the camaraderie, the ability to learn about cool new things way before the rest of the world sees them.  There’s something deeply satisfying and invigorating working in a high-energy high-skill environment, where just about everyone you interact with is smart as hell, challenging you on a daily basis to learn, to be a better person, to understand the way everything works just that little bit better than before.  My previous job was at a university; there, I could sometimes just glide through an entire day, interacting only with the UNIX systems I maintained and my regular lunch-time card game crew.  Not so much here.

There are a lot of unknowns still.  How will I handle simply not seeing people for days at a time?  I keep telling everyone that it’s crazy to “be bored” in this modern era of video games and, you know, the Internet, but will I actually be able to stave off ennui?  I’ve got plans to polish up one of my many novels and try to get it published; will it turn out that, as much as I enjoy writing, I simply can’t handle the editing/re-drafting process?

I’m not a person who deals well with change, and I’m changing just about everything about my life effectively overnight.

This blog, too, is a change.  I’ve never been able to write one consistently, although I’ve tried over the years; I had thought about bringing one up as I neared my planned retirement, then never followed through on the idea until now.  Enough people have asked me over the past week about how they could keep up with my plans that I figured, what the hell.  Surely I’ll have enough time when I’m retired to actually post something on the regular, right?  If nothing else, it’s an excuse to flex my writing muscles at some time other than during NaNoWriMo.  (Knowing me, it’s likely to also be an excellent way to procrastinate.  I could teach a master class in productivity as procrastination.)

I’m excited, and terrified, and excited all over again.  Perhaps we can see how it all works out together.