So you might know that in addition to working on Confluence and planning Book 3, I’m also trying to study for the CompTIA Project+ exam.
The study guide and course do NOT have practical exercises; I guess they don’t think this not-quite-IT certification warrants those. But without hands-on practice (not just quizzes), I’m worried that I won’t retain some of the practical concepts. This really should have been a full-on course, with homework.
I’ve been trying to apply them to the only work I’m actually doing right now, but since I’m well along in the process for Confluence, trying to break it down into work packages retroactively has proved difficult. SOOOOOOOO…
I’m gonna start over, with Book 3 as the project, and plan it using these concepts all the way through.
This means ditching JaNoWriMo but not the writing I’ve already done. It’s okay; I didn’t get very far anyway, and we’ve been pretty busy dealing with a major threat to our democracy, a deadly pandemic, and drastically altered holidays. Starting over on a project just means it gets the attention it deserves.
If you’re tempted to @ me for the about-face, remember, I’m doing all this by myself while also job hunting and looking after my mom. (Although she’s frustrated with how long it’s taking—as anyone would be—she’s actually doing really well.) The stress of being unemployed really does not lend itself to higher thinking.
November looms yet again, when writers everywhere try to cram 50,000 words into one month!
I am not participating in NaNoWriMo this year. I have a project (Book 3 of the Tunerville trilogy), I’m outlining it, and I even started a rough storyboard for the book trailer. What I don’t have is time.
As you know, I’ve been job hunting for an excruciatingly long period. I still haven’t been hired anywhere, but the state of Missouri did recently offer free CompTIA IT training to workers displaced by COVID-19. I qualified for this due to being a long-term unemployed person whose job hunt was completely derailed by the pandemic.
So now I’m preparing for the Project+ certification exam. I can’t write a book and do that simultaneously. However, this should bode well for the future. Not only will I have a certification to add to job applications, but I’m boosting the rudimentary project management experience I obtained at my last job.
Confluence is with my editor. Deadline: Thanksgiving. Although I doubt we’ll have any guests this year, I need to be ready to hit those revisions in December. I hope to have most of this study and maybe even the exam knocked down by then.
I promised you I would finish the trilogy, and I will. With that in mind, I’m launching my own personal, month-long writing challenge in January, which I will call JaNoWriMo!
Note: this is not an official thing, so don’t go looking for it online (edit: whoops, somebody did it!). It’s just me adapting to a crazy situation and the tendency for the Universe to make me sit here for months and then pile it all on at once.
I doubt I’ll finish in one month, especially if I find employment by then (sooner, please, so I don’t have to move during the coldest, wettest time of the year). Someone could even offer me a job out of state, since remote work is now a legitimate way to start. If so, cross your fingers that this hypothetical company happens to be in the increasingly narrow list of areas where I’d actually want to live.
Weekly updates for JaNoWriMo might work better. I’ll also pop a word count meter up on the blog so you can see how it’s going.
As of this writing, we have no clue who will win the 2020 U.S. election, what will happen in the aftermath, or whether we’ll even have democracy by January. All we know is that it will probably be very unsettled and chaotic for a while. I feel for anyone doing NaNoWriMo this year; the added stress is sure to derail you, but don’t give up. The whole point is to get you working.
Artists and writers are scribes of history, whether or not they include actual events in their work. So keep creating. Keep doing the thing you love. It will get you through these dark times. It will help others who need a breather, or an escape. Your voice is important.
Y’all, I have seriously neglected you, and I’m sorry.
I have pandemic brain. Yes, you understand it. We’re all suffering from it. Time has no meaning. Days blend into one another. If you’re working, you’re either stressed from worrying about contagion or stressed from navigating your job at home, maybe around family members also working from home, kids, pets, etc.
If you’re not working, as I Still! Am! Not!, you’re stressed from that.
Last post, I mentioned I was going to republish a third and final edition of The Shiny Folk and other stories at Amazon. You can read my explanation for that move at Boomkaart Books’ Media page. Honestly, I wish I didn’t have to distribute there, but IngramSpark is too expensive. It costs me nothing to publish with KDP, even for print-on-demand. Of course, that’s by design; Jeff “Greed Dragon” Bezos makes money off me, though God knows I’m not making very much. If it’s free for you, then you’re the product.
Again, sorry my pandemic brain forgot to come over here and tell you I’d launched it, and about the free book promotion.
I’m extremely happy with the new book cover, however. I think it turned out great. It’s miles better than the last one.
I added a couple of stories—one from this blog, one I published previously in a now-defunct literary journal (that I’d put on the blog), and one brand new story, “MathLex.” If you’ve been following me for a while, you know how difficult math is for me, so guess where that one came from? The cover is black because a couple of the stories fall into the horror genre, particularly “Jack and the Bean Sprout,” which I’ve never been able to sell since it’s straight-up disturbing.
Have I been writing more stories? Well, yes and no. Short fiction isn’t my favorite medium; although I like reading it, I’m not so fond of writing it. “MathLex” is new. I started a promising work about werewolves, but honestly, I don’t have the bandwidth for it right now, between revising Confluence and job hunting.
I said January 2021 for the release of Confluence; I may have to push it out a little depending on the timing of editorial feedback. Once it’s out, I can write the final book in the trilogy—it’s all laid out in my head, and I’m toying with the idea of writing it during this year’s NaNoWriMo.
The Catalyst is on hold for now, although it’s completely outlined. I’m not worried about that one. I just don’t want to pull a George R. R. Martin or Patrick Rothfuss on y’all, or leave you with an unfinished trilogy if I should get the ‘Rona or my head explodes from all the stress.
I tend to work better if I have something to work around. Like a job.
And may I just say that if a person goes to all the trouble to prepare for an interview, i.e. looking up the company website and info, setting up a nice space, dressing up, logging into Zoom, etc. etc., they at least deserve a rejection email. If you ghost me, you go on my shit list. FOREVER. And no, an email a month after the date you told me you wanted someone to start doesn’t count.
In the meantime, I’d better get back to it. There is no rest for the self-employed, and that includes writers, who don’t get paid until we actually finish the work. In between bouts of app-centered self care, that is.
The screenplay continues to grind along very slowly. I don’t think a massive online open course where people can proceed at their own pace (i.e. fall behind) is best for beginners learning a very interactive writing process. There are so many people in the class that no one can connect. The platform doesn’t allow you to follow anyone to see their progress. This is massively frustrating, since we’re required to give feedback to other writers. I would have preferred an in-person class with more interaction.
Critique is useful, but I’m tempted to just proceed on my own. I downloaded all the videos and lectures. Although I think it could be shot on a fairly low budget, I highly doubt I’ll ever do anything with it. It’s fine; this screenplay is only for learning anyway. Your first anything will never be your best.
I’ve set a release date of January 2021 for Book 2. And — I have a working title! It’s Confluence.
If I hustle, I should be able to revise and find an editor (and then revise again after that). Setting a deadline will hold me accountable. I really wish I could go somewhere else to work — the library would be good — but Missouri’s caseload keeps going up, so no.
Meanwhile, I took some time yesterday to mock up a layout of Chris’s house from Tunerville, where his maternal grandparents lived. When they died, his mother sold the house to him to keep it in the family, since Chris intended to stay in Martinsburg. Paulette and Alan moved to St. Thomas close to Chris’s brother Adam, his wife Carmen, and their grandchildren Mags and Henry. (Martinsburg and St. Thomas in Missouri are both fictional.) If you haven’t read it yet, you can get it at the title link.
Here’s the ground floor and the basement.
Image: A. Elizabeth West
Here’s the upstairs and the attic. I did these in Word, which sucks. I need to find some cheap (or free) easy-to-use room layout software.
Image: A. Elizabeth West
It helps me to have a representation of the space. When I’m writing, rooms tend to shift around in my head. During Book 1, the living room kept changing places with the dining room and the parlor / study. And the downstairs bath didn’t even exist! Chris’s bedroom also moved from the back to the front. But the kitchen has always been in that spot.
I don’t care if it’s not perfect. This is how it looks in my head. I need a solid image of the space for a pivotal scene.
In June, I attended two online workshops — How to Write Fights and Action Scenes, and Act Like a Writer — with comic book and NYT best-selling novel writer Jonathan Maberry, author of V-Wars and the Joe Ledger series, among others.
He presented scads of useful information and even took questions. Jonathan is very accessible on Twitter and prices his workshops affordably, a great help to little starveling writers like me. The proceeds from both went to an affordable housing organization, so coughing up $50 felt worth it in every way.
The Shiny Folk and other stories
I’ve taken my story collection down from the Boomkaart Books website temporarily. WordPress downgraded my ability to sell it directly from that platform unless I purchase an expensive Business account. I can’t do that presently, so the only alternative is to sell it via Amazon (ugh, I know). To do that, I have to raise the price a little and burn one of my ISBN numbers, so I’m including new content and a brand new cover. This will be the last edition of the collection. When it’s ready, I will let you know.
Conlang / Worldbuilding
Again, plugging away. I finally settled on place names for the world that goes with it. Of course, anything can change at any time as I plunge deeper into grammar, etc.
I also made a map using Inkarnate, an online map maker any Dungeons and Dragons players reading this will probably recognize. I like it despite the free version being somewhat limited. Should I stay on the high fantasy kick, I might pony up for a (very reasonable) Pro account.
Here’s a teaser:
That’s pronounced BETTHH-rah, by the way. In this language, ss is pronounced as the th in them. That’s all you’re getting. I’ve already said more than I probably should.
I’ve never gone this deep into fantasy before, and I’m not sure it will be a success, but it’s fun, so I don’t really care. If you enjoy the story, that’s all that counts.
I’ll leave you now to return to job hunting and revision. Stay safe — wash your hands, wear your masks, and avoid all the germy people (most of them).
Creative people often work in solitude, and they need time to work. So why can’t I work?
You don’t have to be creative to relate, especially right now. Productivity waxes and wanes. At any given time, some or all of the following have been in play.
Stress from being unemployed
Long-term unemployment is not the same as a vacation or a sabbatical. Not having an income involves a lot of stressful emotions — worry about bills, despair that one will never work again, a sense of inadequacy at the lack of response to your efforts.
Before mine, which predated the pandemic, I lamented the lack of time in which to write. If only I could do it full time, I thought, I’d have so much more content out there.
Now, the time I have to write is filled with job applications, scouring pages of listings, seeking just the turns of phrase to make a potential employer realize that failing in a job no longer suitable for me did not make me a failure. That being unemployed did not make me unemployable.
Too much unstructured time
At first, productivity remained untouched. I restructured one novel and wrote another. I published a short story collection. I started making a conlang. I dipped back into my blog.
But I soon discovered that limits on my creativity actually hone my concentration. If I had an hour to write, say at lunch, my brain knew it had to make the best use of that hour. Too much time can be as bad as not enough. In short, I’ve become so used to working around other things that when I have no things to work around, it’s harder to work.
Professional artists treat their art as a job, with dedication, discipline, and determination. After all, talent means nothing if you do nothing. Schedules are important. Having little to do all day can really mess with your sense of time.
Lack of privacy
As if that weren’t bad enough, we’re now tentatively emerging (too early, IMO) from a nationwide lockdown due to the novel coronavirus, perhaps the first of many. Countless workers have lost their jobs. Others are able to telecommute but find their productivity lacking. To buckle down when other members of the household demand your attention or ignore the presence of another person toiling in close proximity requires mental effort most people aren’t used to.
I can relate to this; in my own house, I was alone. Now I’m in someone else’s space. Their constant footfalls, muffled phone conversations, and occasional forays into the space they carved out for me are distracting as hell.
Basements tend toward chilly no matter the weather outside. My hands are constantly stiff, the fingers icy. The drugstore hand/wrist supports I use when typing for long stretches of time don’t help. Thanks to the virus, any other working space, such as a library or coffee shop (noisy and distracting themselves) are off-limits.
Also, it’s dark in here. A bright space tends to feel warmer, the sunlight pouring in and warming not only the room but the mind. Windows or not, it seems perpetually dreary compared to my old city.
The cure will undoubtedly involve more exercise when parks feel safe again. It’s very unpleasant to walk in the neighborhood, plus it keeps raining. If nothing else, I can get on the floor and stretch.
I don’t want to be here. I didn’t want to be in my old city either, but I especially don’t want to be here.
If I’d found a job that was (heavy air quotes) “good enough,” I might have stayed a bit longer. (I definitely would have if I’d known the ‘rona was coming.) I had friends, a spiritual group of like-minded practitioners, personal service providers I respected and liked, and a sense of community even as I despised the limitations of that community:
Depreciating job market — low pay, little growth, few means to escape
Cultural isolation — lack of diversity, a dearth of entertainment options
Bigoted politics and an evangelical religious majority (the less said about this, the better)
I want to leave the state entirely. The weather can be extreme and often violent. The economy here is depressed thanks to years of conservative rule. Salaries are below average.
It’s no wonder writing is tough right now.
What’s a writer to do? One thing that can really help is to pivot your creativity. Exercise that muscle, but in a different way.
Make something. I did make a wicked new book trailer for Tunerville, however. Huge thanks to my friend John Hutch for the excellent voiceover. He did a fantastic job (and yes, I did pay him). That took a whole different set of skills.
I’ve also been making masks for the family from an Instructable. I’m getting good at them; I can whack one out in an hour. Sewing sucks, but now that it’s mostly an automatic process, I can let my mind wander while I stitch.
Try a different kind of writing. I’m taking a screenplay class. I’m writing a screenplay! I have software! The same kind Rian Johnson uses!
Read something. Not only does reading rest your mind, but it can inspire you, especially if you’re stuck. Or watch a movie. Pay attention to the storytelling, or just relax.
By the way, writing a screenplay is TOTALLY DIFFERENT from writing a novel. It deserves its own post. I really wish I had my own space; I like to exercise my dialogue out loud (even for prose), and I can’t comfortably do that here.
Regardless, it’s not time to give up yet. I will find a job, have a place of my own again, and Book 2 will come out. I’m not giving up.
Through April 30, “The Shiny Folk and other stories” is absolutely FREE! You can download it here.
Hello, all you lovely fellow quarantiners. My golly gosh, we’re in a little bit of a jam, aren’t we? Well, let’s just make the best of thin—
Nah, this sucks.
At least there are tons of memes coming out of this. The internet does not disappoint.
As you know, I’ve been job hunting, but thanks to that bitch ‘Rona, everything’s on hold. There are jobs listed, but larger companies have posts that have been up for at least a month. I figure they’re in a hiring freeze right now. One employer for whom I did a pre-employment assessment contacted me three weeks ago and said they decided to delay hiring. They’re not the only ones, I’m sure.
The rest are roles like scientist, electrical engineer, supply chain manager with ten years’ experience, that sort of thing. I keep looking and applying. The governor just extended this state’s stay-at-home order to May 3. I was really hoping to be employed and in my own place before my birthday at the end of May. Then I can stock up properly for the next emergency.
I’ve been trying to stay productive even though I’m not working. So I’ve done the following:
Made a new book trailer for Tunerville, as the first one was super dumb
Hired a voiceover actor for the trailer
Started a screenwriting class on Coursera (meh)
Wrote a treatment for said screenplay
About to dive into the restructure of Book 2
Planning a serial fiction project; not sure how or when that will come out
We shall see. I’m very lucky I have a place to stay, although I really want to get out of here.
Personally, I’ve been staying home and bingewatching Dark Shadows on Hulu. I hope they don’t ditch it; I’m almost caught up to where I left off when it vanished from Netflix. I’m also having a lot of fun with screenshots.
Barnabas, you done screwed up.
And Buffy the Vampire Slayer. I’d forgotten how funny this show is, and how heartbreaking.
I’m off for TV time now. Stay safe, follow social distancing rules, and don’t forget to take time for self-care. And don’t forget to wash your hands!
This isn’t working, folks. Not the book, but blogging the process. I keep thinking about what I’m going to say here rather than there. I’ve barely begun and already it’s tanking my concentration.
The story is a bit more complicated, and it’s a new genre for me. So for now, I think I need to go dark on blogging about it. That does NOT mean I won’t pop in here to let you know how it’s going, or if I wrestle a writing-related bear and want to discuss it. Or if anything else happens.
It’s been a few days now since the big move. I feel much better than before. The brain fog was real, and the extra pressure of word counts did not help at all. I didn’t just move; I upheaved my entire life.
I don’t know if doing this will be very very good, or very very bad, but it had to be done. Trying something new is scary.
Yes, I’m taking a stab at it. This year, it’s going to be a bit harder, as I have a LOT going on.
What’s Going On?
Hallelujah, I’m finally getting out of the town I’ve been
stuck in for-fricking-ever. I’ve been job hunting forever, and there is no
growth here. Plus, I’ve priced myself out of the small market. So what I need
is a bigger market.
My crappy house has sold, and I’ll be able to move anywhere, though it will probably have to be within Nearby BiggerCity for now. I don’t really want to be there, either. However, the universe has been throwing favorable signs at me, and I’ve thrown a bucket of wishes at it, so we’ll see.
Since I won’t make enough profit to move somewhere cool and then get a job, I will be the literal
nerd in her mother’s basement. It’s just temporary, however, until I find
something. If I find work out of state, Oliver and I can just tootle away. I
can come back for my stored stuff later.
Photo: Elizabeth West
Closing is November 7 and I have to move 200 miles and two locations away before then, so this is going to take some organization.
Since I’ve no clue where I’m going to end up or what I’ll need, the new homeowner, a younger person starting out whose grandparents are buying the house for him (aww), is purchasing some of my furniture. I’ve sold a lot of the rest on Facebook Marketplace and Craigslist. Only a few things are going with me; the rest will be in storage.
Yes, I’ll have to move twice, unless something happens between now and then. The next two weeks will be key. It’s a little difficult to pack while you’re still actually using the things you need to pack.
This may not even happen, but if I’m chosen as a mentee, I
will be revising one book at the same time I’m writing another. Gah!
There’s a new idea floating around in my head, though I might actually write Book 3 just to get it out and done. If nothing comes of Pitch Wars, then I can take my time with the conlang and revision of Books 2 and 3. It’s possible to publish earlier works later after you’ve broken through (please, universe, let me break through).
Several tasks remain before I’m ready to dive into this year’s project.
Book 3 is already outlined in my head and has plenty of notes. New Idea is currently nothing but a blurb I wrote while practicing query letters. Regardless of which I choose, I should at least hit the high points to keep myself on track.
Music to write by
Last year’s Writing Music playlist will suffice. If I make a new one, I’ll share. I still have loads of albums to pick from.
I don’t mean a schedule, but the way I prepare and how I get
into each session. Since I’m trying to cultivate a better writing habit, I’ve
spent some time thinking about what works best for me.
Sitting in one place at basically the same time
of day (usually evening, especially if I’m working)
Reading a little where I left off (this only
works if I’m writing from start to finish, which, as you know, I don’t always
I want to talk about that last one. Sometimes, when you sit down to write, it’s hard to get started. Long ago, when I was stuck once, I did an email workshop called Daily Writes, created by Shery Arrieta Russ. I discovered that it helped to free-write for a few minutes about what I intended to accomplish that day. After finishing the workshop, I kept the habit as a way to unblock myself when I couldn’t seem to get started. All the blah-de-blah can be deleted later and doesn’t affect my word count.
I don’t expect to get all the way through Book 3 (or whatever) in November, but last year, I finished Book 2 the following month. Since I’ll be in a new city with no money (until I find a job) and no life, I reckon I’ll have lots of time.
Thank the universe I’m still on track; I only managed around 710 words today. I’m not sure I trust this counter, either. Feels like it should be more. Oh well.
Started the day by forgetting to set the alarm and oversleeping. The neighbor’s carer has been bringing her dogs to work, but they didn’t bark like apocalyptic car alarms this morning, thus letting me stay in bed far longer than I wanted to. How dare they.
Then, a job rejection. After which I went on Twitter, which actually made me feel worse, because stupid people, oh my damn.
I wanted to take a walk because I haven’t done it for days, but it started to drizzle. I have cold weather gear but no wet gear so that killed that.
Sat down to write and mentally felt like this little constipated cloud from the Rocko’s Modern Life Christmas special.
Now there’s a mysterious pain in my back and I might be getting a migraine, yay. I already gave my protagonist one; it’s only fitting.
Still, I got some writing done. It’s frustrating when it doesn’t just slide smoothly out of your head onto the page, but that’s the nature of this beast. Sometimes it bounds out happily to meet you and sometimes you have to drag it along.
If you’d like to help victims of the California wildfires, this Slate article has some advice on donating, including links.