Resolving the future

I’m not a fan of New Years’ resolutions. I’ll be the first person to admit that I have trouble with follow-through when I’m not fully invested in a project–and sometimes even then–and all making resolutions seems to do is increase the guilt factor when something inevitably falls by the wayside.

That said, I do have things that I’d like to have happen in this coming calendar year. They’re not necessarily projects I’m going to start today, or when I get back from this trip, but instead stuff I want to work in in the medium term, want to be eyeing as possibilities when I’m looking for something to do.

Here’s a bulleted list of not-really-resolutions:

  • I went off the diet hard for the holidays, because that’s the only way to stay sane in Louisiana when you’re only there for a short time, but I’ll be getting back on the wagon when I make it back home. I’d like to be within shouting distance of my goal weight by the end of 2019, which should be totally feasible if I take it seriously.
  • I’ve done a bit of prose writing outside of NaNoWriMo in the last week or two, which is a genuine rarity. I’d like to continue doing so, with greater frequency, whether it’s short pieces I can post here or longer-form stuff.
  • Speaking of prose, I’d really like to start working on the rewrite of Rewind this year as well. It’s the closest thing I have to a real, “salable” story (whatever that means), and although it needs a lot of work to get it up to the sort of standard that I think it needs to meet to be shopped around, it still needs less of it than anything else I’ve ever written.
  • I’d also like to get back into recreational programming. I have DXV’s code sitting quietly over on Github, unnoticed and untouched, and I think if I could work up the enthusiasm to work on it the act of rewriting a game in another language would actually be a very interesting experience. There are other potential projects, too, of course, both open source and personal.
  • Whether I end up making a decision about moving somewhere else or not, I need to do something about my ridiculously large board game collection. Narrowing it to 100 or so “big box” games, plus a bin or two of smaller stuff, would do worlds of wonder for my sanity, never mind dramatically easing any future shipping around of the whole mess. I have at least one potential way to shed most, if not all, of the collection; I just need to take the time to do a massive, more-detailed inventory to make it happen. And, potentially, investigate alternatives if that falls through. (Anyone want to buy ~2000 board games, most still in shrink? Reasonably priced, I promise!)

It’d also be great if 2019 ended up as less of a total dumpster fire in terms of the world writ large, but on that front there’s not much more I can do other than exercising my vote and, possibly, taking up some sort of volunteering. That said, here’s to hoping all of our 2019s are better, resolutions or no.

Weekly status update [0047/????]

Sorry about the lack of a mid-week post. On the other hand: holidays.

  • Lots of time spent with family over the last week. My oldest sister and uncle stayed over at Mom’s for Christmas Eve, and we added my nephew and his SO for Christmas night, so it was a pleasantly packed house in the evenings. My younger-older sister and her spouse showed up for Christmas Day, and various other friends and extended family members drifted in and out of the house over the days. This is one of the nicest things about being “back home:” seeing everyone.
  • I’ve also played a metric ton of board games, mostly with the neighbors (and in particular their youngest son, who now works at the same place where I did as a student at LSU). He and I have played a bunch of two-player stuff, and we’ve played bigger games with more of his family. Some highlights are:
    • the new Dominion expansion (Renaissance), which I got for Christmas, and which feels like another Adventures/Empires level endeavor;
    • Evil High Priest, which came in right before I left to come home, and which is a solid take on worker placement with some take-that mechanics added in;
    • Spirit Island, a serious step up for my neighbors, but one that went over surprisingly well despite its length. (I’ve played it before, but am always happy to play it more frequently.)
  • I’ve also been watching TV with my mother, a long-standing tradition. We just finished the third season of Travelers last night, which left me really, really hoping they get renewed for a fourth season. We’re also watching the last season of The Americans together and are almost done with it as well. (If you read what I wrote before, you understand why I don’t mind watching it again.)
  • There’s been a bit of a puzzle/videogame combination thing going, in that what gaming I’ve done has been on my DS and 3DS; specifically, the Nikoli Nurikabe game on the former, where I only have ~15 puzzles (out of 300) before I’m finally done, and Picross 3D Round 2 on the latter, where I’m deep in the postgame. I’m on weirdly difficult puzzles in both, though, and have put them down for the last few days.
  • Food. So much food. A lot of it has been delicious junk food–I ordered a ton of stuff from the Tootsie company direct (link withheld so that I’m at least less responsible for your irresponsibility) and the usual Airheads and Gold-n-Chees)–but my mother is a fantastic cook and I’ve been taking heavy advantage of her culinary skills. I’ve actually only eaten out twice since I’ve been here, which has got to be a record low. There are too many tasty things to eat at the house to leave.
  • I’ve even done a bit of writing. It’s awful and private, but it’s writing nevertheless.

I’ll be hanging out mostly by myself for the next couple of days, while the family is off elsewhere, which is a surprisingly pleasant break in the middle of my visit. But I’m looking forward to them being back as well. All in all, it’s been a nice, if a bit hectic, visit, and one I look forward to continuing. There are lots more board games to play, after all.

Weekly status update [0041/????]

This one’s a day late, but there’s a reason for that.

  • I did it!  My sixteenth(ish) NaNovel, Ex Urbes, is done, as of about three minutes ago.  I wrote 50,214 words according to wc, and a few more than that according to the official NaNo word counter.  (They actually used to use wc as well, so it kinda bugs me that they don’t any more.)  It was an interesting experience, writing while retired, quite different from the way I’ve written NaNo before; I didn’t feel a lot of time pressure, so found it hard to do much more than 2-3K a day.  Yesterday put me at 38K, though, and I decided that I was gonna finish this weekend come Hell or high water… and when I woke up this morning I went, no, I’m finishing today, dammit.  And so I did. 12,369 words in one day is less than half of my peak, but it’s a pretty sizable chunk, roughly fifty pages or so of a typical book.  Not bad.
  • What is bad?  The novel.  It’s terribad.  But I’m glad it’s done.
  • Ways I’ve wasted time this week while not doing NaNo:
    • I continued to watch an episode of both Last Man on Earth and Brooklyn Nine-Nine each day.  I’m almost at the end of the first series and the end of the last released season of the second, so that’ll be over soon.  I… should probably watch more Sabrina, but as an hour-long show it felt like too much of an indulgence this week.
    • I also did a bunch of puzzles.  I got another order in from Japan on Monday, and it included the latest Nikoli “Penpa” magazine, a superb variety mag they put out once a year that’s always my first recommendation to anyone who says they want to branch out and try things that aren’t sudoku.  I’m doing the book in round-robin format, doing the first puzzle of each type, then circling back to the start of the book to do the second, and so forth.  It’s been a nice variety.  (I skip Numberlink, though.  I hate those puzzles.)
    • Lastly, I’ve been watching Twitch sporadically.  I no longer really watch Landail, due to some creepy sexist stuff that goes on there that I decided I couldn’t really be part of any more, but catsonurhead is still awesome, and I’ve started watching some native Spanish-speaking streamers who also manage English better than I ever will their language.  The number of watchers on their channels are low, so it’s got a nice community vibe.
  • We also had an extended game night this week at Fercott Fermentables.  We played Antike II, and I won, although for most of the game I was strictly mid-pack.  That game is absolutely fantastic, and it sang with five players.  I look forward to bringing it home for the holidays and playing it (along with Spirit Island) with my next-door neighbors.

I still have a stack of books to read, many of which are close to being unrenewable, so I’m going to get cracking on those tomorrow.  But for the rest of tonight I plan on vegging out and watching Twitch.  I think I’ve earned it.

Rolling down that hill

As of last night, I’ve written a bit over 25,000 words on Ex Urbes.  That’s the halfway point in terms of NaNoWriMo, although I don’t feel that I’ve reached the halfway point of the story itself at all.  Given how… not very good the story is, though, I’ll probably be pulling it to a stop at the 50K mark, wherever that ends up landing story-wise.

I’m not much of a plotter or outliner, and so my stories tend to be written very much “in the moment”: this happens, then this, and oh, this other thing as a consequence.  This style of writing has its upsides and downsides.   First, a few of the negatives.

  • Complicated plots are hard.  If there are a bunch of stories interacting, with characters moving between them, you’re going to want to have at least an outline to work with, tracking where everyone and everything is so that you don’t have massive continuity issues.
  • It’s easy to get lost in the weeds.  My stories have a bad habit of turning hard into tangents, as some idea takes me away from the actual thing that is happening for a while, until I fumble around and go, “oh yeah, I’m supposed to be writing about that.”
  • Length ends up being pretty random.  Sometimes what feels like an epic story gets told rapidly, because I haven’t thought up enough detail to make it the length it should be; other times, what should be a short bit of detail ends up a rambling diatribe.  (See above.)

There are quite a few positives, though:

  • My stories surprise even me.  For example, I thought this particular one was going in a very specific direction; I even “stacked the deck,” so to speak, in an attempt to make that happen.  But as of this most recent chapter, the main characters involved basically told me: No, that’s not what’s going to happen here.  Instead, this.  Which is fascinating.  There are several stories I’ve written where I put something in early, for whatever reason, and then it ended up vital to a later part of the tale through no conscious planning on my part.  That feels like magic when it happens.
  • The plot tends to feel organic.  Oftentimes the parts I have planned beforehand have to be tinkered with because, once you get to them, it turns out that they don’t fit; characters have revealed their motivations to be different, the world is turning out slightly differently than that particular beat needs, and so on.  Because I do as little of that as possible, though, the path through the story ends up feeling very natural on rereading.  Which makes a lot of sense, because it matches what I was doing in the moment when I was writing: following the most natural path for the story itself.
  • It is very well suited for NaNoWriMo.  I expect that I can write a well-plotted lengthy story, but that sort of thing takes care and effort that I don’t really have to give during a month-long sprint to the finish.  Making it up as I go along?  That I can do.  I’ve only ever managed to write one heavily plotted NaNovel in the 14 years I’ve been doing this, and it was terrible.  The plot also ran out less than a third of the way through, so I ended up having to wing a huge chunk of the story anyway.

Every writer is different and every story is different.  I mostly write for myself during NaNo; I know that the quality of my output is hampered by the constraints, and so don’t concern myself overmuch with how consumable the end product is.  I think that’s a smart decision, but I can also see how it’s holding me back.  I really need to work on a story without those constraints, one that holds together from the start, and NaNo just isn’t the place for me to do that.

Maybe next year.

Weekly status update [0040/????]

Writing, huh?  This is writing, right?  This is gonna be a short one, given what’s going on.

  • It’s NaNoWriMo.  As of just a few moments ago, I cracked 16,000 words on Ex Urbes, the cyberpunk thriller I’m writing instead of Sharp because I had a lot of trouble with that story, as I wrote about.  Ex Urbes isn’t any good, but it is easy to write, so that’s been working pretty well.  I haven’t yet had one of my typical “amazing days” that help me knock out the novel sooner rather than later, but I’m ahead of the standard month-long pace, and am likely to continue pulling ahead even if I never have a burst-writing day.
  • One of the problems with NaNo, though, is that I feel like I can’t do the other things that I like to do, because I should be writing.  I still have a big stack of books that I need to read, but I can’t read, because I should be writing.  I’ve barely touched my puzzle books, because I should be writing.  What that actually means is that I end up watching Twitch and browsing too much stupid stuff on the Internet, because those are lower commitment, but wasting more time than I would if I allowed myself the other things.  Ugh.
  • have been watching a bit of TV, though.  I finished up Orange is the New Black, and intentionally haven’t added another drama to the list.  I also haven’t watched Sabrina past the fourth episode.  Mostly I watch a single episode of Brooklyn Nine-Nine and Last Man on Earth each day, plus The Good Place on Hulu the day after it airs on TV.  That feels like little enough to be messing with NaNo.

I need to finish up this novel so I can put books back on the agenda.  I’m going to aim to do that over the next week, but we’ll see if that happens.

Dull the blade, busy the city

I’m afraid I won’t be sharing Sharp,

I started it on the first, as I almost always do.  The writing was in a heightened literary style, which made it extremely slow going, and after a few paragraphs I realized that it just wasn’t going to work.  I re-read them, and they came off as juvenile, a kid trying on their parents’ clothes rather than something worth reading.

(Side note: I should have known better.  My attempted Banksian novel several years back had the same problem, although I found that tone a lot easier to imitate than the one I was attempting with Sharp.

On the second I rewrote the few paragraphs I had written in my own style, and it seemed a whole lot smoother.  I finished off the first chapter, happy to have found a bit of a groove.

That died on the third.  I’m not sure what it is; maybe Sharp

On the fourth, I decided to start all over with a different story, one that had been tickling the back of my brain for a while.  And I wrote over 3000 words with almost no effort, and another two thousand and change yesterday.

Ex Urbes is not good; it’s full of infodumps and sidelines that go nowhere.  But it’s easy to write.  I won’t be sharing it either–because it’s terrible–but I’m also no longer worried about NaNo.  Disappointed, sure, because I still really like the core idea behind Sharp and was looking forward to sharing it… but c’est la vie.

Anyhow, sorry to those of you who were wanting to read along.  Next year, perhaps.

Weekly status update [0039/????]

Oh, hey, it’s November.  Gulp.

  • I kept reading aggressively through November 1st.  I wrote about The Orphan Master’s Son here; it’s one of the best books I’ve ever read.  I also knocked out another Christopher Priest novel, The Separation.  I still like him, but I feel that he really basically writes the same novel over and over again.  Each one has begun to feel a little too same-y compared to the rest.  Timothy Zahn’s Spinneret was the last book I read; I finished it on the morning of the 1st.  Some of you may recognize his name from the Thrawn trilogy of Star Wars novels that really kicked off the Extended Universe back in the ’90s.  Spinneret was fine, if slight.  I’m taking at least a brief hiatus, even though I still have way too many books sitting on my sofa to read.
  • November started, which means NaNoWriMo started as well.  I began writing Sharp on the evening of November 1st, and after getting ~300 words into it I stopped.  The literary style I was affecting simply wasn’t working.  I should have known better, honestly; the last time I copped a style that wasn’t my own, it was for a Banksian pastiche, and I had similar troubles putting words to page at any reasonable rate.  This time, though, the words weren’t just slow.  They were awful, as I discovered when I reread it.  So: I tossed it and started over today.  I’m a little over 1500 words in now, and those words came at roughly 6-10x the rate of the original 300, so that’s good at least.  I’m not sure yet if the story is any good, though.  I’ll keep you posted.
  • The first of November was also the first day of open enrollment for health insurance under the Affordable Care Act (AKA “Obamacare”).  I had to finish on the phone, because COBRA is complicated, but the end result is that I should have insurance next year… and it should be free.  That was a surprising discovery, but it’s because I make a lot less money now that I’m retired.  On the one hand, it feels kinda weird and wrong that there isn’t means testing to go along with raw income.  On the other hand, government stuff like this never, ever breaks in my favor… so I’ll take it.  I’ve still got to contact my COBRA coverage company and get it to terminate on December 31st, but that can wait until I get at least the beginning paperwork for the ACA stuff.
  • Let’s just say the diet didn’t hold and leave it at that.  I’ll try harder this coming week.
  • I’ve been trying to actually stay on top of TV for once.  Last Man on Earth and Brooklyn Nine-Nine continue; I’m in the last season of LMoE.  I just finished season 2 of Luke Cage tonight (it was fine but not great) and am close to finishing season 6 of Orange is the New Black.  I started watching The Chilling Adventures of Sabrina on Hallowe’en, for obvious reasons, and that’ll take the place of Luke Cage for the time being.  It’s cheesy but fun.
  • Boy, this was a down month for the stock market.  And there’s likely more on the way.  Those numbers used to be a lot more hypothetical in terms of affecting my continued financial health than they are now.  Gulp.

I’m gonna keep cracking on this novel for the next few days, at least, to see if it’s got legs.  If so, I’ll try to assess whether the writing is worth sharing or not.  If it is, well, I’ll be linking it here, which should provide something a bit different to read, horse story notwithstanding. 

Certainly not showing

NaNoWriMo approaches, and I grow more and more apprehensive with each passing day.

I’ve been doing NaNo ever since 2004; see this earlier post for a breakdown of what I’ve written over the years, but basically it amounts to a novel a year, two each in 2005 and 2006, and failure in 2012 when I was getting ready to move cross-country for a job.

As time goes on, the actual act of writing has gotten easier, which isn’t too surprising.  What hasn’t gotten easier is writing something good, something worth reading.  NaNo operates under a tight time constraint, so my default response when the first story I try to write in November starts to stumble is to write something else, something easier, something that I know I can bang out over a week or two.

It’s, inevitably, garbage.

In the past I’ve had the excuse of, well, life. I had a full-time job.  November is never exactly a calm month with the holidays approaching.  There were other distractions, other events, that made taking the easy way feel less like a cop-out and more like a reasonable coping mechanism.  It’s either garbage or I don’t write anything

This year is different, though.  The excuses are much more evidently just that: excuses.  I’m not going anywhere next month.  I don’t have a job to distract me.

If I fail, I have no one to blame but myself.

It doesn’t help that I’m actually excited about this particular story idea, in a way that I haven’t been since I wrote Rewind

The readership of this blog is tiny but non-zero, and I feel some level of obligation to that readership, an obligation to provide something interesting to read.  NaNo seems like it could be an excellent source of that material… but it could also be an excellent way to watch my attempt crash and burn.

It’s not that I’m worried that I can’t pump out 50,000 words over the course of the month.  It’s that, this year unlike all the previous ones, I feel it’s important that those 50,000+ words actually be somewhere in the vicinity of good.

So: I worry.

I still plan on sharing the story here, but I’m going to wait until I’m far enough “in” that it doesn’t seem like I’ll be tossing it aside.  That seems like a reasonable compromise, to me, and it’s still no promise that it’ll actually get finished.  Or be any good.  We’ll have to see.

Wish me luck.

Weekly status update [0037/????]

After several quiet weeks, this one ended up pretty much jam-packed from start to finish.

  • But first: the deluge of words doth continue.  I read my first Christopher Priest (of The Prestige fame) and enjoyed it enough to make an exception to my “no more holds before December” rule so that I could get… well… The Prestige.  John Carreyrou’s Bad Blood, about the Theranos debacle, was a sobering (and fascinating) read.
  • Most of the week, however, was spent with my cousin from Louisiana, who was visiting the area.  She stayed in Asheville through Tuesday, then headed my way Wednesday until Friday.  It was a pleasure hanging out with her, driving around to the various sights, eating a bunch of food I probably shouldn’t have had but, y’know, guest!
  • Monday I rode a horse for the first time in my life.  I wrote about it here.  We also visited downtown Asheville–yes, I made the obligatory stop at The Chocolate Fetish, although I forced myself to only get one thing there, a single dark chocolate and sea salt caramel–and I spent time going over a bunch of puzzle types with her, as she’s new to the whole paper-puzzles thing.
  • Tuesday was game night back home, but I took the opportunity to write up the horseback outing.  I decided to do something different stylistically, treating it as a story rather than the looser form of a blog entry, and inasmuch as that sort of thing “works,” well, it seemed to work; a couple of people were surprised to learn that “Along for the ride” wasn’t just a short story of my own devising.  Which, I mean, I guess it is?  Just not a fictional one.
  • Said game night was spent playing Spirit Island, which was fun and frustrating and fascinating in roughly equal measure.  We lost, although I feel we hung on considerably longer than I felt we would after a terrible start.  I’ve already decided that it’ll be making the trip back home for the holidays; I want to get more plays in.
  • Wednesday was mostly spent in and around town, starting with lunch in Hickory (Vietnamese, yum) and including a stop at a local antiques store so that my cousin could pick up some knick-knacks to bring home.  We went up into the mountains for a bit, hiking a scrap of the Green Knob Trail before the sun got too low.
  • An early start Thursday had us back up in the mountains.  We hiked Linville Falls and Mount Mitchell, which was… perhaps a bit more than we should have done, given that neither of us are at peak levels of stamina.  But it felt good exerting myself in a way that I basically hadn’t done since I retired, and my cousin was duly proud of her own efforts.  The day closed out all the way down in Charlotte at The Glow, which was fine if a bit underwhelming.  The carvings were amazing, but they had to all be at a distance behind ropes to keep kids from messing with them, which made the experience feel rather detached.  Still, it was the sort of thing I never would have done on my own, and I’m glad my cousin dragged me to it.

I slept like a rock most evenings this week thanks to high levels of physical exertion, and although I had a great time, I’d be lying if I said I wasn’t looking forward to next week being a quiet one.

Weekly status update [0034/????]

This is another hell of a week, but at least (mostly) not for me?  Thin comfort.

  • The trilogy that started with Ninefox Gambit stayed mostly excellent, although I wasn’t completely enamored with the conclusion.  Still, worth a read.  I also read a bunch of other books too.
  • Other book notes the first: I actually quite liked Harry Potter and the Cursed Child, which is apparently Not The In Thing, but whatever.  (I’ll freely admit that its core “schtick” is one I’ve thought a lot about, which alters my judgment.)
  • Other book notes the second: Fortune Smiles is a fantastic short story collection by Adam Johnson.  One of the stories is very dark, but it warns you pretty close to the start, and if you read the book in chronological order you’ll be warned earlier anyhow.  This was another one of those “pick it up at random in the library” books that I almost certainly wouldn’t have ever picked on my own, so: yay library displays!
  • Other book notes the third: I’m in the middle of reading Harlan Ellison’s seminal sf collection Dangerous Visions; I can see how it would have been pretty damn transgressive in the late Sixties, although with the benefit of hindsight it occasionally has a whiff of Trying Too Hard.  Most of the stories are excellent, though, and as a whole it holds up impressively well.  My favorite bit so far isn’t one of the stories at all, but Ellison’s introduction where he tears into the whiny Old Guard and their complaints about how the new sf just isn’t the same as the old.  The fact that it could be taken almost verbatim as a tear-down of the modern “crisis” in sf that, for a while, centered around the whole Sad Puppy/Rabid Puppy/etc. thing is delightful.  Everything old is new again, kids.
  • Despite continuing to read at a rapid pace, I also continue to check out library books at an even more rapid rate.  Half of my couch is covered in them.  I have thirty-five checked out right now, many of them huge tomes full of short stories that will take me forever to finish.  what am I doing
  • We had an extended game night Tuesday.  We played Concordia, one of my favorite games, and I did very poorly, coming in last.  Part of that was an idiotic play on my part in one of the final turns that cost me something like fifteen points.  I acted like a complete jerk at the end, though, so… I’m afraid I’m not a lot better about that whole situation than I was when I wrote about it last.  Ugh.  I’m not happy with myself about that.
  • Finished up Bojack Horseman season 5, which was amazing, and Jessica Jones season 2, which was… fine… I guess.  Started on Luke Cage season 2 and Orange is the New Black season 5.  I may actually drop that last one, which is veering dangerously close to the sort of “everything is miserable and you get to watch” modern take on TV that I just can’t handle.
  • I weighed myself on Thursday for the first time in, uh, almost a year, I guess?  I’m at 271 pounds; my best guess for how much I weighed when I started on this diet in late April is somewhere between 330 and 360 pounds, so I’ve lost something in the 60-90 pound range over a bit more than five months.  (In case you’re wondering, my goal weight is 180, which is technically overweight from a BMI standpoint but is actually on the line where I go from looking healthy to looking less so.)  That’s pretty damn good progress, even though I’ve got a long way to go.  I was also reminded that I should never, ever own a scale.  They ruin my  will with the irregular ups-and-downs.
  • Lots of puzzles, too; I’m finally getting to a point where I’m relatively confident in my Kakuro solving, and I continue to work on several other books and magazines on a one-off basis.
  • No prose, although I did finish up my Guide to the Cardpocalypse series.
  • I also came up with the core idea for my NaNoWriMo novel.  My current plan is to share that here as I write it (although probably not as body text, which would be overwhelming).  We’ll see if I still feel that way come November.
  • Mostly just the usual on the videogame front, although the launch of Hollow Knight on the PS4 made me buy it (again) and play it, since I find that sort of game way more suited to a big TV and recliner than my computer.  If you like Metroidvanias, I strongly recommend it.

Well, that was excessively long, so, uh… until next time!