Organization is paramount as the content on this blog begins to grow.  I’m now on average adding about 800-1,000 words a day.  Assuming I can sustain this pace for a year, I’m looking at annually adding 292,000 – 365,000 words.  Put in perspective, Tolstoy’s War and Peace was “only” ~587,000 words.  At this rate, I could write that in less than two years!

Haha, just kidding.

Obviously, not all words are created equal.  And my writing, like anyone else’s, will be more “quality” on some days versus others.  And that’s okay!  I listen to several “writerly” author podcasts and a quote that always stuck with me (but I can’t remember who said it ☹️) that I heard years ago was, “Writing is like carving an ice sculpture.  But first you need the block of ice.”

I generally think of fiction writing using the “Joe-Abercrombie-Layering-Paradigm.”  Abercrombie describes his writing as a series of methodical steps, similar to painting a Photoshop composition.  First, you draw a basic pencil outline.  And then you ink it.  Then comes the base colors.  Then shadows.  And finally, the highlights.  Now, to be sure, not all initial pencil outlines are necessarily good.  Some are most definitely superior to others and you can’t just dump garbage on the page and expect it to somehow miraculously evolve into a Rembrandt.  But, another writerly piece of advice that numerous authors have repeatedly raised which I think is useful:  “Don’t expect too much from your first draft.”  You’d never look at pencil sketch and be upset that it’s not the Mona Lisa.  Thus, in that same way, for me at least, the first phase of fiction writing is just getting the basic plot and characters down. Abercrombie himself has remarked that it’s often not until he’s finished his first draft of a novel that he actually realizes what it’s about!  Imagine that! Writing tens of thousands of words without initially knowing where you’re going!  It’s a thing!  And it works!  You just need to persevere and have a little faith.

Anyway, with WordPress, I have something this time around that I previously never had in my spiralbound notebooks when I wrote longhand:  Extensive organizational tools!  By far, the most useful which I’ve poured hours into, is WP’s tagging system.  As I’d mentioned earlier, the surface area of this blog is growing at a rapid clip.  Thus, as I pour out the words, I’ve attempted to organize all of it with some high-level schemas:

And on my fledgling story front, all that is accessible via:

Honestly, part of me really enjoys organizing my writing.  Almost as much, if not more, than the actual writing.  Weird OCD trait, I guess. So little time; so much to write and organize! 😊😀😁

Writing Rituals – Part I

Writing rituals are critical in helping me produce consistent and quality output.  It’s crazy to me that I’m rapidly approaching the 30-day mark of my daily writing exercise.  A month of consecutive writing!  I’ve been generally satisfied too with what I’ve produced.  Obviously, it’s not Shakespeare; but I’ve been pleased and even at times surprised with the material I’ve conjured from the depths of my brain. It was rattling around in there all along! All this time, who knew?

On the last Knowledge Project episode, Shane Parrish interviewed Apolo Ohno, the most decorated winter Olympian in American history, and what has stuck with me is Ohno’s commentary about ritual.  Before every big race, he had a standard routine; in fact, many athletes have some version of this– they’ll listen to a specific song or repeat a personal mantra right before a big race to “get in the zone.”  There’s an idea that the next several minutes of my life are going to be tremendously high-stakes.  Another example:  Recall your student days when you took standardized tests for college admissions.  There was a gravity then that those next 180 minutes were going to determine your very destiny.  And thus, it was time to step up: Everything boils down to this.  Everything is on the line.

For writing, I’ve come to realize through tons of trial and error, that it’s similar.  Once upon a time, I believed it was a matter of discipline.  Just sit down every day, put in the time and work, and grind your way to victory. This is totally wrong though.

Preparing to write is more similar to preparing your mind and body for the act of sport. Similar to how a runner prepares his/her body and mind before the starting gun, the first writing phase –just general production getting the initial story and ideas out of your brain and onto the physical page (rewriting is a whole different phase and process altogether)– is like taking your position at the starting blocks.

I’ve mentioned elsewhere that I’ve been happiest when my output when the writing has been effortless– when it’s just flowed.  (Real talk: I’ve had stretches of inspiration where I banged out 500 words in 20 minutes right before dinner that I’ve been more pleased with than spending an entire day, nose-to-the-grindstone.) But the trick now, is getting to that flow state. How to get into that zone.

In this vein, I’ve been trying to study myself and learn how I –as a system– operate.  It’s strange just how little I knew myself.  Here’s one epiphany, for example, I’ve recently discovered:  When I get stuck, I take a shower.  It’s weird, but there’s something about taking a shower that ignites ideation for me.  Same with brushing my teeth.  It’s strange, I know. But some of my best ideas have come when I’ve been brushing away at those back molars while absently staring off into space.  Noticing these patterns have allowed me to exploit and weaponize these life hacks to better be productive.

Two Weeks In

Two weeks have now passed into my new fiction writing project and what I’ve been a bit surprised by is the fecundity required to generate, unceasingly, two-thousand words a day, which has generally been my target. (Needless to say, I have definitely not been consistently hitting this daily goal.)  I’ve always enjoyed writing, but other than a few Novembers when I attempted NaNoWriMo (without succeeding), I’ve never tried to consistently hit daily word counts when I write.  I historically just wrote when I was struck by a particular idea or thought that I found intriguing.  Being forced to hit a daily count is exhausting though.  Maybe I’m doing something wrong?  I honestly don’t know.

Once you set off on a journey produce an actual, complete fictional product though, the process changes a bit.  It’s an interesting project of mixing several components:  Of course, the writing.  But there’s also editing, revision, ideation, and organization.  There have been some days in the past two weeks where I’ve written zero new words and either just edited/revised old writing (trimming fat, adding color, etc) or just brainstormed and organized, doing a lot of “meta-writing” like tagging certain passages or writing out certain ideas/characters/plots just so they make more sense to me.  That “meta-writing” is a bit like commenting code when I program my day-trading bot (which I’m also simultaneously still slaving away at!  Need to find a way to pay the bills!)  None of the comments compile into any assembly, obviously; they’re just there to help me keep track of what’s going on. Between day-trading, writing, and seeing doctors and taking meds, it’s all been pretty draining. Yet, where there’s a will there’s a way. “Every journey of a thousand miles begins with a single step,” Confucius once said (I think).

I don’t know if I’m doing this right, but I’m currently just trying to race through 100,000 words as fast as humanly possible so I can get some sort of scaffolding up, even if I know I’ll have to eventually toss some here or there; or revise heavily.  It’s much easier to carve an ice statue once you have an actual block of ice.

Writing Inspirations – “Product Market Fit”

I read a lot about other writers.  Specifically, I’m fascinated with people’s different creative processes.  How do people ideate?  How do they develop their ideas?  What are the rituals or sources of inspiration that they use to get the train going?

While there are obviously many different schools of thought on the matter, the approach that seems to work best for me so far is a combination of John Scalzi’s and Lev Grossman’s.

From the Scalzi school, I’ve adopted a very commercial, capitalist approach:  First and foremost– what subject is probabilistically most likely to sell the greatest number of books?  What is the “Product Market Fit?”  Notably, when Scalzi wrote Old Man’s War, he perused the shelves at his local bookshop and identified the genre which appeared to move the most units. Military Sci-Fi was the answer.  As the story goes, Scalzi aspired to be a professional novelist (he was already an accomplished newspaper columnist by that point) and really didn’t possess an allegiance to any particular genre.  More than anything else, he was motivated by how to make the most money possible.  Additionally, then he honestly assessed his own abilities and that intersection of the Venn Diagram was thus the birth of Old Man’s War.

I really enjoy following Scalzi’s blog and writings because this guy is one fecund sob.  Truly, Scalzi’s production is genuinely legendary.  Sure, the quality might not be Lev Grossman-level.  But Grossman only puts out a book once every half-decade or so.  Magician’s Land was published in 2014, already nearly six years ago.  As Scalzi has remarked previously in multiple places, writing to him is a cold-hard vocational trade.  It’s a feature, not a bug, that he deliberately aims for being as mass-commercial-mainstream as possible.  He enjoys raking in the cash!  And possesses not an iota of romanticism about it.  And I think that’s profoundly inspiring.  I too, like Scalzi, hope I can one day make a living from writing fiction.  So I pretty much hang on his every word anytime he says something about the craft/business.

My other huge inspiration is Lev Grossman.  Man, this guy can really write.  I’ve actually had the opportunity to meet Mr. Grossman at various book-signings that he’d hosted in the past.  And what I admire most about him is just the sheer beauty of Grossman’s writing.  Sure, it doesn’t always go somewhere, plot-wise, but the absolute gorgeous prose just can’t be denied.  I once read an Amazon review somewhere that compared Grossman’s writing to “cul-de-sacs” and that analogy is entirely accurate.  Again, it doesn’t always go anywhere, but the words fit together so enchantingly that that alone is worth the admission price.

Organization is Half the Battle

First, random highlight of the week. This is truly spectacular; really inspires the human spirit:

I have found that in fiction writing, organization appears to be half the battle. As I begin to amass an increasingly large body of work –drafts, revisions, finalized copy, brainstormed ideas– the challenge becomes keeping track of it all. Luckily, I love to organize things! I’ve been having a fun time tagging everything and putting it all into a sort of coherent structure. Onward!

Also, this is so true:

A New Fiction Writing Project Begins!

So things on the health-front have unfortunately deteriorated recently.  I think Bagel, having been gone for over two months, certainly contributed to that, to some extent.  But of course I don’t blame her at all; I’m glad she’s off doing what she wishes to do.  She’s currently still abroad and having just finished training, she just flew off again, to yet another country, to actually begin her real job.  I’m very excited for her.  We still talk nearly every night over video chat and that certainly helps.  But currently, more than ever, I’ve been gripped by an ever-expanding loneliness, especially when it is late at night and I am alone in the apartment.  During the day, when I’m feeling well enough, I can escape to the library or to cafes and achieve some level of human interaction.  But at night I’m left by my lonesome.  And consequently, I think the illness has unfortunately become worse recently and more debilitating.

To this end, one of my doctors suggested I take on a new hobby to try to organize my time into a more specifically-directed activity.  The thinking is that by taking on a more active hobby, it could possibly help me feel better.  Because of the illness, I’m unable to perform any kind of strenuous physical activity so exercise and sports are out of the question.  And while I’ve always reads lots of books and watched TV shows, these activities are too passive.  So as we shift into a more palliative mode of care, doc suggested I try writing; specifically, writing fiction.  Of course I’ve always journaled.  But the idea now is I would try to marshal whatever mental energies I could summon into weaving together a story.  It’s an interesting thought.  And many decades ago, when I was a child, I’d always dreamed of wanting to become a writer one day.  So hell, why not.  Maybe one day I’ll look back on all this with great amusement; let’s write a story.

To start, before I begin writing in earnest, I think it’s necessary though to establish a tone for what is to come.  A sort of “organizing principle.”  Having read a lot of fiction, I feel all authors possess an “organizing principle” when they write fiction.  JKR writes with a childish whimsy with a firm grasp on worldbuilding.  Lev Grossman writes similarly, but more adult material.  John Scalzi is a shamelessly commercial writer, hugely successful, whose prose centers mostly around quippy dialogue.  So after some thought, I’ve decided that my organizing principle, if it can be called that, will take after what I affectionately refer to as the “Michael Bay/Fast & Furious” model.  Even when there are explosions happening on screen and a $100M-worth of special effects blasting into your eyeballs, I never want the personal and intimate human story to be lost.  It’s a tightwire balancing act of never losing focus on the personal while still acknowledging the sweeping grandiosity of the world writ large.  Because, yeah.  Whenever I write, I do wish for there to be a twinge of spectacle.  Larger than life characters and plots.  Monstrous villains and gallant heroes.  I strongly feel an important component of fiction lies in its ability to give the reader a chance to escape from the mundaneness of the real world, into another more exciting, funnier, adventurous world.  That’s my aim at least.  How well I achieve that humble aim, well, I leave to you, dear reader.

Authorial Responsibility & Burden

In my humble opinion I feel an author possesses exactly zero authorial responsibility and burden apropos meeting some kind of standardized set of social expectations and norms.  I just finished listening to Hank’s Green interview with B&N and also saw that J.K. Rowling has stirred up controversy again, this time for casting Claudia Kim, a South Korean actress, as Nagini from the Harry Potter books.  Apparently this is a huge faux pas because it propagates a sort of “unhealthy ‘Asian Dragon Lady’ stereotype.”

For all the culture warriors out there expressing outrage:  Take a breath, calm yourselves, and please sit down.

Rowling owes all of you people nothing.  The same way Lucas owes all of you people nothing as well.  If you dislike their creative decisions and the choices they’ve made, the door’s right there.  Please show yourself out.

I’ve heard that there are broadly two camps of thinking when it comes to this topic:  Camp A thinks that an artist creates for themselves.  Camp B thinks that the artists creates for their audience.  I plant my flag firmly in Camp A.

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