Swings, Roundabouts

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I’m well-overdue to touch base with my blogging. It feels like days to me, it must be said, and yet it’s getting on for fourth months. I’ve lost a blogging season! So, back when the year was young, I banged on about embracing organisation. How’d that go?

Middling. What I gained on the swings I lost on the roundabouts. My uni work—researching and writing up a thesis for my honours year in sociology, which completes at the end of this semester—stayed organised and has gone according to plan. It’s taken some hard work, with more yet to come. This semester, most of the assessment happens close to the end, right when the thesis itself is due, so it’s been a lot like sprinting towards the mountain to be sure you’re there when the avalanche hits.

But the positive side is that I’m currently ten thousand or so words into the thesis and on schedule.

My fiction writing did less well. At first, I observed the writing schedule and managed to write one short story of 8,000ish words and was glad to have done so. After that, I needed to borrow time for uni deadlines, mostly, and the odd life crisis, and as things proceeded, it became easier to give up the blocked out writing time. (Which, as an explanatory note, included time put aside to update this blog.)

I don’t entirely hold it against myself. I do have obligations to meet and the time has to come from somewhere. I’m the only one who suffers when I don’t write and that makes writing the natural target when time is short. But I do feel… I want to say a wistful pang, but it feels more like that time I tried to pass a gallstone the size of a golf ball.

Still, it’s not all red ink in the writing ledger. It’s important to remind yourself of that, I think. I’ve written 10,000 words of the thesis. That constitutes a substantial chunk of an entirely unfamiliar genre of non-fiction writing. That’s also included taking feedback from my thesis supervisor and rewriting. The aforementioned 8,000ish SF story may only be partway to my original fiction writing goal, but it’s not nothing. There’s still another 5,000 words of the thesis to be written, and 6,000 words of additional assessment split between an essay and script for a presentation summarising my research. Research itself is a transferable skill for writers, as is the discipline of sitting in the chair and producing words to a deadline.

I’ve also been nibbling around the edges of writing. Reading articles and blog posts on the craft and business side of things, and listening to my favourite podcasts, such as Writing Excuses. I’ve jotted down a few notes and ideas. It’s not enough to quiet the bellowing of my “wistful pang”, but it’s something.

The lesson, I suppose, is to organise, and do your best, yet recognise that there will always be trade-offs. And I can still hope to do better.

Where I’m At and Where I’m Going…

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Sometimes, you need to stop and take stock. Life happens, time catches you by surprise, change socks you in the jaw, and you just need to stop, look at your feet, look back, look around, and make a plan or two.

Where I’m At

Well, I’m drifting. Three months since my last blog post, two months after the one before that. Blogging isn’t my first priority, but neglecting a blog is certainly a sign—like the wind dropping just before a movie sailing ship falls into the doldrums.

Oh, there’s been some movement.

I’ve finished the first semester of my sociology honours year and taken a bit of a break. Recently, I’ve been in the data gathering phase of my thesis research. My topic ended up focused on relating identity theory to public punitiveness with the aim of improving the public’s satisfaction with criminal justice policy (reflecting my sociology/criminology double major). It’s my first original research, of course, and, though the scope of an honours thesis is limited, it’s been challenging.

I’ve written a couple of short stories and sent them around to the markets. One story was shortlisted at Andromeda Spaceways, but was ultimately rejected.

My social world has taken a bit of a hit, reminding me that nothing is permanent except change. And my self-image has stirred uncomfortably at the approach of a landmark birthday; there’s no pretending I’m permanent, either.

So… movement… but not much to show for a year, either.

Where I’m Going

Well, I sometimes wonder. But my plan necessarily focuses on study and writing.

I already have a substantial plan for study, as that’s a necessity if you hope to end an honours year with a thesis actually in hand. Let’s pretend study will take care of itself.

Writing is the thing. I continue to struggle to make time for it, to my ongoing and deep frustration. University must take precedence if I want all that hard work to pay off, but I do believe I can do better.

There have been two core frustrations:

  • I’ve not been writing enough to practice and improve my skill set, leaving me good enough to know I’m not particularly good, but not good enough to do anything about it.
  • I’ve been writing short stories despite wanting to write a novel, because short stories are bite-sized chunks that fit into narrow slices of available time. But neglecting what you want to do in pursuit of grim practicality is soul-destroying.

With change and mortality firmly in mind, I’m going to stop short stories for a while to focus on my first novel. Rather than dither and procrastinate, as I’ve too often been prone to do with writing, I’m drawing on my university skill set to pursue the novel as an organized project, no different from my thesis—planned, scheduled, actively pursued. I don’t know what the novel will be, yet, or if it will be any good. There may be false starts. But the goal is to produce a finished, novel-length work within eighteen months.

Accountability

To keep myself on track, I’ll be posting progress to the Townsville Spec Fic Facebook group.

And, I’ll blog the process here in, probably, terrifying detail. If the novel equates to my thesis, then this blog will represent my field notes. In the end, I hope to have mapped my own process in a way edifying to my future self and anyone else who chances to read it.

And Back…

Well, tropical cyclone Debbie has now thoroughly degenerated into a low and is wending its way inland to rain itself into oblivion.

My community was spared, in the end. Cyclones being the wild meanderers that they are, at various times Debbie threatened north of us, to hit us square on, then trended south with occasionally unnerving swings north before bringing its full grief to bear on the Whitsundays and Airlie Beach. As it was, the system was large enough that tens of thousands had to be evacuated from low-lying areas of Mackay, and until close to the end Townsville was still expected to have winds equivalent to a category 1 or 2 cyclone.

Ultimately, Townsville was spared even significant gales, and can account ourselves blessed on that score. Best wishes to those who bore the brunt, who are today beginning the long clean up.

Brief Pause

With tropical cyclone Debbie breathing down my neck of the woods, I’m likely to be absent from the blog and other social media for a brief time. Preparing for the possibility of the cyclone making landfall nearby, in downtime reading Enforcing Order by Didier Fassin as essay prep and distraction (I don’t enjoy cyclones one little bit and tend to become rather anxious when they’re hovering nearby). North Queenslanders, let’s hope it all goes well!

Frustrating Week So Far

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Five day into having committed to make progress on the SF short story, I’d be inclined to report that the outcome has mainly been frustration.

Technically, I’m now four scenes in, but that represents little real progress. It doesn’t count a first scene written before determining where the story should actually start, then discarded. Monday and Tuesday produced the bulk of this week’s new words, 1500 or so. Yesterday was mostly rewrite of those scenes followed by 230 new words (i.e. barely any at all) and today was rewrite of rewrite ending when I ran out of time with no new words.

To be quite honest, I’ve gone quite flat in general. I’ve not been reading apart from material needed for my study, and study itself is proceeding like a crawl over broken glass. I’ve applied self-discipline to honour my various to-do lists, but it’s all quite joyless.

On top of which, it’s frustrating. If I sacrifice writing time for study, and study doesn’t go well, then what’s the point?

And I really do miss lost writing time. I need the practice. In one of his video tutorials on writing, Brandon Sanderson talks about reaching the point where you’re good enough to realize how bad you are (to paraphrase), and I’d say that’s where I’m at. It’s certainly its own kind of frustration. I feel a strong compulsion to improve, to level up past that point, but it’s not going to happen when my practice consists ten words a day wrenched out between other obligations.

Stupid other obligations.

Top Chef: The Opium of the Tired

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After a long and tiring day of shoving information into my head and pulling essay out (i.e. today), only an evening curled up with US reality cooking show Top Chef will do. I’m up to season 13, so I’m clearly too committed to deflect by claiming it’s a guilty secret.

Still, I figure I can frame it as sociological. Seriously, those chefs are usually in full impression management mode. “I’m great. My food is great. Game face. Got this. Kick arse…” usually followed by them plating burned slime that makes the judges gag.

And, if I’m making delusional excuses, all that conflict’s gotta be material for characterization.

But if I’m truthful, I’m just a lapsed semi-demi-hemi-foodie who thinks Top Chef comes up with the most cunning challenges of the cooking competitions. Also, I want to spend the night without a single thought in my head…

We’re Having a Heat Wave…

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Australia’s ongoing heat wave passed by my neck of the woods today. Mercifully, the temperature only made it to 36.5 degrees celsius (though the apparent temperature reached 39.9 degrees, and it felt it).

Yesterday wasn’t much better. It’s the nature of heat waves that they continue for days without much relief at night and, as your basic poor full-time student, air conditioning is not within my budget. The resulting sleepless nights tend to gang up with the oppressive heat of the days to turn your brain to gruel. Basically, you end up like an extra from The Walking Dead, but instead of meaningless repetitive moaning you repetitively moan, “It’s sooo hot.”

Still, trying to write while sleepless did produce the typo of the day, when I realised (roughly the tenth time I re-read the sentence) that I’d typed Miss Garda stood behind a stool-lined dinette strewn with bowels and canisters, wiping her hands on her apron and regarding him through narrowed eyes… Certainly makes the scene more high-stakes than the bowls and canisters I’d meant to write…

Bah. It’s too hot to proofread.