Wednesday, November 27, 2013

Making My Rules: Word Count

Over the summer, I conducted an experiment. After reading Seanan McGuire's post about her word count goals and methods (link), I decided to give that method a shot, even though a part of me protested that Seanan is a real writer, who knows what she's doing and I don't. I had also been reading Dean Wesley Smith's blog (especially the Killing the Sacred Cows of Publishing entries), and many of the things I read there encouraged me to believe that I could write at least one thousand words per day if I just tried.

Back when I started writing my novel with the working title Love Story, I wrote about five hundred words per day at  my lunch break. But when I started a new job, I had a whole new lunch to get used to, and I fell off my schedule for about two years. I thought about restarting a few times in that period, but I also felt embarrassed at the story I had started. It was easy to make excuses and let the file languish.

I also had a couple other stories that I wanted to work on, and on July 2nd (yes, I know, almost a month after Seanan's blog) I challenged myself to write three thousand words, one thousand on each of three stories, in one day. I've got a desk job, forty hours a week, and over the summer most weekends involved a backpacking trip. There were all sorts of reasons that I "couldn't" do this, but I decided to try anyway.

I would just write one thousand words a day on whichever projects I was working on, at least one thousand words. I would just do it, no bullshit, no excuses and no drama.

Somehow, it worked.

I never worked on more than three projects at a time, so I ended up with about two months of one to three thousand words per day over a period of about a month from July 2nd to August 8th (with a break at the end of July for an extended backpacking trip). I just did it. I got excited and I wrote words even when I didn't know where the story was going. The more I wrote, the more energized I felt about the whole thing.  

I finished that novel I had started three years ago, two novelettes and three short stories. I also started a story that I've yet to finish, a sequel of sorts to one of the novelettes. I wrote over sixty thousand words in about a month.

That doesn't seem real to me, and I just went over my notes from July and August and tallied it all up. But it does make sense with the novelettes around fourteen thousand a piece and over thirty thousand on the novel and one to two thousand for the short stories. Give or take.

But once I finished that novel, I lost steam. I took a break, because I didn't want to try and maintain that pace while I was taking a class as well as working, and because I wanted to devote enough energy to the class to get a good grade. Excuses, I know. But I haven't stopped writing. I wrote another short story in September and even submitted it to a market. I've been keeping up a blog entry per week for each blog, and while that isn't fiction, it is writing.

A writer writes, right?

And I've got another non-fiction project that I'll eventually sic on the world. The goal is to have it done by December 15th, but schoolwork may interfere. Still, I'm going to get it finished and published and then get started on the next thing, and the one after that. I'm not going to stop, even if I don't know where I'm going.

It's the motion that matters.

Wednesday, November 20, 2013

Therapeutic Melodrama

I am stressed out.

There's no good reason for me to be stressed out. I'm doing well at my job, I'm exercising, and I really shouldn't be worried about my schoolwork. I'm not making perfect grades, but I'm not making bad ones.

But I'm stressed. I can feel it in my body. I can feel it worming its way into my consciousness as I think about the bills that have to be paid and the papers I have to write and then there's a group project and an annotated bibliography and we're about to start a testing cycle at work and the holidays are coming and I know my family wants to see me but that brings it all right back to the money and my head starts to ache.

I've stopped wearing contact lenses because I thought they were giving me headaches. After not wearing them for a week, I could hardly use them when I put them back on. My theory is that I've been squinting for so long so that I could use them that once I relaxed by going a week without, I'd lost the squint that made them effective. And that frustrates me too. My glasses are old, scratched up and as soon as I start to sweat they like to slide off my face. And I'm one of those people who would be legally blind without vision correction. I'm nearsighted, and by near, I mean pretty damn intimate. I have to be within six inches to see something without blurriness intruding.

So it feels like it was a waste of money to buy a year's supply of contacts when I had to stop using them and it's not like you can return these things. I'll have to wait to get a new pair of glasses, and my husband needs a new pair as well since he hasn't even been to the eye doctor in like five years.

We've got some medical bills to pay off, credit cards to pay off, and I'm pretty sure the only thing keeping my car running is wishful thinking.

And I'm scared. I'm scared because I am now the age my mom was when she was diagnosed with Multiple Sclerosis. And every little ache and pain, every time my toes tingle from too tight shoes or my hands fall asleep, every time my vision is blurred from tiredness, I wonder if I'm headed down the same road. 

Everything feels like doom and gloom and the end of the world and I know it's not. I know my problems are not so bad. I know I'm not getting MS. I can pay my bills and put food on the table and gas in the car and there's only the two of us. It's not that bad.

But I hate that. When I was young and dissatisfied with certain things about my home life (dissatisfied to the point of staying at school as late as possible and crying for the whole hour train ride home), I would try to convince myself that I had nothing to cry about, because other people are worse off than I was.

It didn't help then and it doesn't help now.

To look at cases where someone went through a situation worse than mine and came out better does nothing but make me feel inadequate.

"Oh, you're sad because you have a paper due when you're only taking one class and working 40 hours a week? Well, you shouldn't be! So-and-so over here is working 80 hours a week, taking a full course load, pre-med of course, and raising three children and a dog with no spousal support, after overcoming the challenges of being homeless as a child and being born with no left foot! Cheer up!"

So I'm stressed. Tight shoulders, headache, tiredness - don’t even get Ambrose started about the stomach aches - and it doesn't help that the Blackhawks have had two horrible losses in the last week (Come on guys, I need you to win tomorrow!).

But I can't depend on outside sources for help in getting less stressed. I know that I have to deal with what I can control, and what I can control is my own reactions. I've got this well-worn path through my brain of worrying and fretting. It's such an automatic response that it feels like it is me, when it isn't me, it's just a behavior. A behavior I can control.


So I'm trying to recognize the worry and stop it before it starts to hurt. It's a start.

And writing helps. Okay, this kind of writing helps, it would be nice if writing research papers helped, but no, that's simply not the case. Winter break can't come soon enough for me (I'd write Thanksgiving break, but that's going to be a working vacation).

Wednesday, November 13, 2013

Bashful Self-Promotion

I'm having a hard time getting myself to write this.

I, in response to a challenge on another blog, one which, I am certain, the author regrets ever holding, wrote and self-published a book, of sorts, within a strict time limit of eight hours.

And, unlike many who answered this challenge, I did it using my own name, so any of you who have idly Googled me since September may have already stumbled across this.

The challenge was based off of books that were more joke than content, deliberately using tropes and bad covers on a lark. I couldn't quite bring myself to match their taste, or I couldn't think of an original idea that didn't feel like it would be insulting, or, probably closer to the truth, I was afraid to put out my actual sense of humor for sale and see whether others agreed or not.

So I took an idea I had already had, of making a blog entry about trail markers for my hiking blog, and ran with that instead. And I wrote some words for it and added pictures and made a cover and published my book. E-book. Well, more like an e-pamphlet. Still. It's out there. And I gave away a couple hundred copies in the first few days after the blog promotion and then forgot about it.

Recently, I took a look and discovered to my surprise that a minuscule number of actual sales had been made. So, I talked it over with Ambrose and he convinced me to post this.

On the one hand, I do like it. On the other hand, it isn't perfect. And I like to be perfect when I can.

But there's no such thing as perfect.

So, here you go: Stay on the Trail by Jeanne Bustamante

Tomorrow and Friday (11/14 and 11/15), it'll be free. Otherwise it's 99 cents. And it will be free again some time in the future, possibly with some updates and additions (and when it's updated, anyone who has previously downloaded it will have the option to get the update for free), when my second non-fiction book comes out. With any luck, that will be before the end of the year, and I will be posting a blog when I release that one, no hiding it for almost three months.

I promise.

Or is that a threat?

Wednesday, November 6, 2013

Speaking Out

Last night, when my class broke up into groups, one of the members of my group mentioned that she felt comfortable speaking in small groups like this, but would get nervous when speaking to the entire class. I joked that she shouldn't worry, because half the class would be zoned out and not paying attention anyway, not because I particularly think that about this particular class, but because I wanted to try and give her a strategy to get around those nerves. Those kinds of nerves are still quite familiar to me, even if I've convinced myself that I've gotten rid of them.

After our main discussion, I told my group that my speaking out in class was not something that I could have or did do in my twenties. I wanted them to know that I am not a natural at making myself heard or speaking in public, even if I do talk in this particular class a good deal. I think, at what I perceive to be their age, I did not realize that I could change myself. My "self" seemed such a sacred thing, something I would have to accept and deal with, rather than modify. I defined myself as shy, unable to speak up and easily frustrated in group situations. To challenge myself to change was unthinkable. If I changed, then I would become other than myself.

Now, I feel differently.

At my last job, I, at times, had to take phone calls. It's a pretty standard thing to do at a desk job, and I didn't really have to take all that many - maybe one to three calls in a week. But every time that phone rang, I would react. My hands would go cold, my face would go hot and my heart would race. It made answering the phone almost unbearable.

I didn't like my reaction, and I was just starting to come to realize that it was entirely within my control. I knew that nothing happened on those phone calls to justify that level of fear response in my body. I had nothing to be afraid of, and nothing to worry about, but I was worried anyway. Why?

There was no reason. To fear sounding like a fool or making a mistake to that extent only hurt me. It did not help me. There was nothing I was doing that made me feel good or enjoy myself. The only reason I kept reacting that way was that I was clinging to some notion that I couldn't change without losing my identity.

I was wrong.

I think there's something misleading about the idea that it's okay to be yourself, and loving yourself just the way you are. It forms of the self this impregnable edifice and allows people to hide behind claims that they cannot change, when it's really that they won't. Life is change, and to prevent yourself from growing does nothing to preserve your self-integrity. It merely limits you.

"When they tell you to shut up, they mean stop talking. When they tell you to grow up, they mean stop growing." - Tom Robbins, Even Cowgirls Get the Blues

I read that novel in high school, and that line has always stuck with me. I cherished an ideal of not growing up, in the sense of being open to grow. I went to a college where the entire experience was built around group discussion, even though I was terrified of speaking up and voicing my opinions. I didn't talk a lot then, but I learned, and I passed and I graduated, eventually. And now, I'm talking in meetings and classes, and it probably seems like I'm one of those confident people I alternately despised and admired when I was younger.

I don't know if I succeeded, but I really wanted to let those members of my group know that it was possible to change. There are techniques, tricks and, of course, there's always practice, but you have to want it. And sometimes, it helps just to know that it's possible.