Weekly status update [0042/????]

Ahh, the sweet return to normalcy after the pressure that is NaNo.

  • I don’t allow myself to read while I’m writing in November; it has a habit of over-influencing what I put on the page.  So, with the novel knocked out, it’s time to dig back in, right?  Well, yes and no.  I still had an enormous stack of books from the library that I had been renewing as I wrote, and when I was in the middle of reading the second post-NaNo one I realized that I kept glancing at that stack with trepidation, and (worse) I wasn’t even enjoying the book I was reading.  Not that it was a bad book!  It just felt like an obligation rather than, you know, the pleasure that reading should be.  Ugh.  So I bit the bullet and brought almost everything back to the library, knowing that I can check them out again in the new year at a more leisurely pace.  The only one I kept is Ash: A Secret History, which is famous for being the longest single-volume fantasy novel ever written.  It’s so long that the US printing is actually four books, but one of the libraries in Cardinal has the single-volume edition.  It weighs three or four pounds, easy.  So, yeah, I’m reading, and this is still a lot of book to finish in the next three weeks, but it’s just the one.
  • I’ve also jumped back into the puzzle books full-force, which has been nice.  I’m so very close to being done with a book of sudoku that I’ve been poking at off and on for something like four years, and my goal is to knock it out before I go back home for the holidays so I can swap it out for a new one.  Hopefully it won’t take as long.
  • As mentioned earlier this week, I’ve even been doing some programming, which has been nice.  I still want to jump into the rewrite of DXV’s Dudes of Stuff and Things, but I’m going to hold off on that until the new year, since I know I’m not going to work on it when I’m back home for the holidays.
  • Oh yeah, it was Thanksgiving this week, wasn’t it?  I went to a coworker’s house for the evening and made the (very hard, given my predilections) decision to not meaningfully stray from my diet, even though there were so many delicious carbs there.  So many.  But I felt better afterwards for staying strong, and I still got to hang out with friends for a while, so it all worked out.  (We also played CrossTalk, which is a fantastic family/party game.)
  • On a meta note, it seems like most of the problems with the new Gutenberg editor in WordPress have been fixed.  That’s nice!

The time when I travel back home for the holidays rapidly approaches.  I’m looking forward to it, to be sure.  If anything, Thanksgiving made me kinda excited to go back and see family and some of my old friends.  Soon!

Weekly status update [0038/????]

As promised (and expected), a comparatively peaceful week.

  • I read eight or nine more novels in the pre-NaNo rush.  Five of them were The Long Earth and its sequels, a collaborative effort by Terry Pratchett and Stephen Baxter.  They were… fine, I guess?  The setting was neat, but none of the books really had a plot, per se, other than the fourth.  Mostly they were picaresques.  Easy reads, though.  Bruce Sterling’s Islands in the Net was much more interesting, a pretty obvious reaction to the typical cyberpunk stories that the man had popularized with his Mirrorshades compilation.  I’m currently in the third (of four) “Okie” novels by James Blish.  The compilation sorts them chronologically rather than in publication order, and it shows; this third one was the first written, and feels a lot rougher than the others, in the weird sort of way ’50s sf often does: absolutely crazy stuff happens (like sending a planet out of the galactic plane as if it’s no big deal), and the book treats it as a fait accompli.  It’s weird, but a nice change from the headier modern stuff I’ve been reading otherwise, so I’ll finish it up in the next day or two.
  • That said, I’m still going to have a ton of books left on my sofa at the start of NaNoWriMo, only four days away now, which means I’ll have to keep reading throughout the month.  It’ll be less of a problem than usual, I guess, since I don’t also have a job sucking up the oxygen (and time), but it’s going to be something of a first for me.
  • Speaking of NaNo, I’ve spent a lot more time thinking about my upcoming novel, including thoughts about how it’s likely to end.  I think I have a pretty workable (if very rough) outline of the main body in my head.  That sort of thing often changes with the writing, and I’ll definitely let it if it needs to, but it’s a good start.
  • As part of the prep work for said upcoming novel, I had to look into the modern state-of-the-art for Google Web Fonts.  (You’ll see why… hopefully.)  I think I’ll be able to do what I need to do with a minimum of pain, although I’ll have to write a custom text-to-HTML translator for this novel so it’ll look right.  I’m… actually kinda looking forward to that?
  • Still watching a bit of TV.  I manage an episode of Last Man on Earth and Brooklyn Nine-Nine most days, and Luke Cage and Orange is the New Black every other day or so.  I’m looking forward to finishing both of the latter shows, mainly because I want to bump The Chilling Adventures of Sabrina up on the queue for timeliness/thematic reasons.
  • Other than my usual free-to-play gaming, I’ve put quite a bit of time into video pinball in the last week or two.  Pinball FX3 has the Williams licenses now, and those tables have been fun to mess around on, but I’ve mainly been grinding Sorcerer’s Lair, which I still think is the best table Zen’s ever made.  I find it really strange that it’s their free-to-play table, particularly given how many hundreds of dollars I’ve sunk into all the other ones… but that’s fine.  It was interesting watching a Twitch streamer play the table for the first time, having the same dawning sense that I did many years ago of “oh, there is actually something to this whole pinball thing!”  Yes.  Yes, there is.
  • The diet’s been pretty much derailed for the last couple of weeks, at first due to the visit and then later because it’s always easier to say “tomorrow” than it is to actually buckle down and do the right thing.  I’m typing this up as a bit of public self-shaming to, you know, buckle down and do the right thing.
  • On a meta note, the new Gutenberg editor for WordPress is horribly buggy; it tends to eat anything after italics in a bullet point unless you do some stupid shenanigans, as one example that I had to deal with several times while writing this update.  I may go back to the classic editor for a while until they fix more of the bugs.

In the middle of next week begins the month-long adventure of NaNoWriMo, which will be… interesting, for sure.  I look forward to it with no small amount of trepidation every year (and wrote about it earlier this week), but I do look forward to it.  I don’t know how it’ll mess with my posting schedule here, though.  We’ll find out together, I guess!

(Also, Gutenberg ate the last couple of sentences of this post three times because of that stupid italics bug.  Ugh.  Back to the classic editor I go.)

Absence of thought

I realized that it’s Wednesday and I haven’t yet done my now-pretty-regular “post that isn’t a weekly update” this week.  The thing is: I don’t have anything particularly exciting to write about, at least not that fits the loose format that I’ve established here.  No one wants to read me rail about the current political situation here in the US; there are much more cogent thinkers out there who are doing that work better than I ever will, and “screaming into the void” has never been my favorite pastime.  (I will, however, leave this here.)

So instead you get a meta-post about the act of writing these things in the first place.  Exciting!

I have to admit that sometimes (often, really) I just don’t have it in me to post something.  I think it’d be easier if I were more willing to dash off thoughts, Twitter-style, on the regular, but I feel that the blog format almost always warrants something of more substance.  And I don’t always have that substance to give.  I mean, yes, I could start going through my book and video game collection, writing reviews for everything I’ve finished, but that’s not the core concept of this blog–at least, not in my mind–and that also sounds a lot like work.

I suspect that a lot of people would have no sympathy for that argument.  I’m retired, after all; what else do I have but time?  As much as I have, though, that time is still fundamentally limited, at least until the techno-Rapture that will make us immortal.  (Immortal slaves to the machines, mind you, but immortal nevertheless.)  And as vapid as it may seem, most of the time I’d rather just play more Diablo III or watch some more Twitch than come up with a slightly-cheeky take on something that happened in my life (spoiler: nothing really happens in my life) or banging out a review of a vaguely food-related product.  Each day is still a day closer to the end, and I want to spend them doing things I genuinely enjoy.

And yet.  I think I’ve gotten a lot out of writing these blog entries, even though I’m writing for an ever-shrinking audience.  That last part doesn’t surprise me, as the number of people likely to read this was at its largest the moment I retired and will only fall off as people figure out “huh, not much going on with that Phil guy’s life, is there?” and phase out their readership.  And that’s fine; while ostensibly this exists as a way for people to keep up with what I’m doing now, it’s just as much a way for me to exercise my writing muscles on a regular basis, something I’ve always meant to do and never actually got around to in my prior life.  Well, I finally got around to it, and got around to fixing my typing with Colemak, and got around to playing at least a few games and reading a few books that have been hanging shamefully over my head for years, so this retirement thing seems to be helping me make at least some headway on years of inaction.

And, hey, look, by rambling on about my lack of material to ramble on about, I’ve managed to gin up an entire blog post worth of content!  Thanks, meta-writing!

It’s something I can’t do too often, though, or it’ll get just as tired as anything.  And while I often find it hard to find something to write about–and often don’t want to write at all–I do think that it’s the right thing to do, at least now.  I think I will appreciate being able to look back at these posts in the months and years to come and see what I was thinking about, how I felt, how early retirement was going.  So: I’m gonna keep on keeping on.  But this week you’ll have to put up with this very meta post as your additional content.

Sorry.

Weekly status update [0017/????]

I had a couple of conversations yesterday evening about my blog; I was at a social going-away party thing that had a lot of people I hadn’t really talked to since before I retired.  And it made me realize that in some ways, yeah, this blog is exactly the sort of obligation I’m trying not to have this year.  I’m not gonna lie.  Sometimes it’s hard to come up with something even semi-interesting to write about, and I feel that as a sort of weight around my shoulders.  But I also realized that a little obligation, a little “hey, you need to do this at least a couple of times a week” is actually a good thing.  Never mind the practical, useful side of it, the fact that writing here is good de-rusting for whatever future tippy-tappy endeavors I embark on.  A tiny bit of discomfort that results in something that others seem to enjoy?  That’s the best kind of obligation.

  • I don’t think I even cracked a puzzle book once this week.  That might be a first since retirement.
  • It’s because almost all of my time has been spent reading.  After finishing off King’s The Outsider, I immediately put his “crime trilogy” on hold at the local library.  It was a long weekend, so I couldn’t get them until Tuesday, but snag them I did.  I’ve already finished the first two and plan on spending the rest of today reading the third.
  • I got them in large print, too.  It’s nice.  I had already jacked the font size way up on my Kindle back when I read the first Wheel of Time book, and having something much like that in a physical volume is handy.  Unfortunately not a lot of my favorite genre (science fiction) gets large-print editions, so I’ll have to enjoy this luxury while I can.
  • I didn’t really watch TV either.  I did play some video games, but it’s mostly the usual free-to-play suspects.
  • Keto’s going well.  I still haven’t weighed myself, but I had the most important signifier Friday morning: the shorts I had been wearing off and on the last few weeks were loose enough I had to hitch them up repeatedly at Walmart.  Woo!
  • I saw Deadpool 2 with some good friends from work last Saturday.  It was… exactly what I wanted out of Deadpool 2.  If you saw the first, and thought of it as “a comic book movie cranked to 11,” then Deadpool 2 was the same thing cranked to 13 or 14.
  • No further movement on the “getting rid of boardgames” front to report.
  • Dove deep into reading about modern abstract boardgames again, which happens every six months or so.  The result this time was some code changes to Giles to make one particular game more flexible.  The desire to implement a whole new game or two has mostly passed, unfortunately, but even this little bit of programming felt good.
  • Still no actual prose on a page, although stuff is aggressively percolating.  Soon.  Soon.

Soon.  (Man.  That doesn’t even look like a word to me now.)

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.