The three month vacation that punctuates every school year has come to an end. Tuesday morning I put on what I hoped looked professional (though not what was originally planned due to crazy cold weather that barely broke 60), and headed out to make new co-worker friends and perform the dance of small talk.

Long vacation periods in winter, spring, and summer invariably come with two small talk dialogue options. Before you leave it’s always, “Have any big plans for the summer?” When you come back people want to know, “How was your summer? Go on any big trips?”

My response to the pre-break question is always, “No big plans, just going to get stuff done around the house.”

My response to the post-break questions is typically, “Nothing much…” and then I expound on some festival I attended (Renaissance Faire, State Fair), or a trip up to visit my aunt and uncle who live up north.

The simple answer to why I never have anything big to share is that I have no money. Ongoing student debt from my 7 years in college combined with an unexpected (aren’t they always) appendectomy a few years ago really did a whammy on my ability to splurge, and so I have fun with what I have, which in this case was a lot of time.

Yes, the summer months were spent enjoying all that summer has to offer such as warm (but this year almost never sweltering) weather, no schedules, and the blissful calm of moving to a new apartment that left me being the only person in it during working hours.

Oh, and also I did this.

Furball Finished 1

That, my friends, is a complete rough draft for a novel. It is the result of sitting down every day after seeing my boyfriend off to work, and writing.

I learned a lot about my writing process this summer. For example, I found out I really do need to get my work done right away in the morning because otherwise I get terribly distracted. There’s always some chore calling my name, or the rabbit hole that is the internet. I also found out that the reason I haven’t finished the book I’ve been working on for the past 3 years is that if given the opportunity I will tinker away at the words, because it’s easier than pulling ideas directly from my brain.

Yes, writing a rough draft is haaaaaard. You start out all bright-eyed and bushy-tailed and excited to get things down, and as you go you start realizing that there are parts you don’t want to write, or the mountain of plot that lay ahead is just too long a journey. You want to be done. You want to celebrate an accomplishment. You want to move onto something else that isn’t so difficult, or you haven’t spent so much time on. (Okay, so maybe all that was just me. I’m projecting all of my struggles onto you. Sorry.)

The easiest part was the climax. (That’s what she said?) That scene turned into my final day of writing. Suddenly everything was easy, and I hit a point where I realized I couldn’t stop. I had to keep going. (It didn’t hurt that I was 4 days away from the new school year and had promised myself I would be done before I walked through those double doors into the school building. That kind of motivation is amazing.)

That fervor of needing to finish was actually more exciting than writing the words “The End.” No joke. I wrote those final words, turned to my boyfriend and said, “It’s done.” No thrill of excitement, just cold, hard facts. He looked up from his video game, smiled, and said, “I’m so proud of you.” Then we went back to ignoring each other as I sat, unsure what to do, and he more than likely unsure what else to say in my lack of excitement. When I had explained to him a few hours earlier that I really just had to write and get it finished because I had this burning need to do so he was as excited as I was. I imagined an ending where I threw up my hands in joy, wrapped my arms around my boyfriend, and we made ourselves a few adult beverages to celebrate.

The reality was…underwhelming.

Surreal.

I mean, I had spent the last three months (the whole of my summer vacation) working towards this goal, and now it was over. I was Inigo Montoya.

Drafting Business

It helped that it was a Friday and as such I had a weekend of board games and socializing to distract me. That made the transition easier.

However, when the weekend was over, and the work week begun, I sat in my living room wondering what to do with myself. I had seen my boyfriend off to his job at 6am. I didn’t start work until 8am. Normally I would be writing at this time. (or napping, cuz let’s face it, waking up with boyfriend’s alarm at 4:30am when you have nothing else to do with your day warrants going back to bed and trying again), but I couldn’t do that.

I sat, basking in the gentle yellow glow of the lamp, the world outside still dark, picked up my draft, and started reading it.

So far, it’s not too bad.

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Never split the party.

In the world of DnD that is perhaps the Golden Rule of adventuring.

Bad things happen when you split your party.

I’m sure there have been times when my gaming group has split up our characters and things went just fine. We came, we saw, we conquered, and we got some really great XP and loot to divide between far fewer than the normal group number. Ding! We level up early! Yay!

Those times are hazy in my memory. What stands out are the moments it did not work out in our favor.

I had been gaming for about a year when I saw this Murphy’s Law play itself out. Adventuring in a giant city we were schmoozing one of the head honchos and hoping to get out of it all relatively unscathed. When things were going good our Bard decided to wander off down the hall. And then things turned sour. Negotiations didn’t work out and we found ourselves in initiative. Things were bad enough being down a man… and then the Bard came back with several more giants in tow.

Miraculously, we all got out alive.

My group seems to skew lucky in that way when in combat. Our DM once sent a trap that our tank fell into, finding himself face to face with a HUGE earth elemental. Any other player would have been dead, but the dwarf’s armor class was so high the elemental needed to roll a 19 or 20 to hit him. He downed that monster all by himself. We were all totally jealous.

But splitting the party doesn’t always happen in combat. It happens out of combat, in towns when everyone gets to hang loose. These are the moments my gaming group forgets the rule, and it’s when we have the worst luck.My Bard once thought nothing could be more satisfying than setting the Paladin up with a nice wench. He was wound awfully tight and needed to chill out. Little did I know that wench was a shape-shifting monster who attacked him the moment his armor was off. Another time my Barbarian was left alone in a bar when a shifty Rogue intent on joining the party sidled my way. This set in motion a chain of events no one could have seen coming. Party members fought party members and we opened a gateway to hell that popped out demons like candy from a machine. The world imploded. The game ended, and we sat in awe at the havoc we had reaped upon the world by splitting up.

Never split the party.

In my writing life I forgot this all important rule. I know it doesn’t apply to exciting story telling. After all, who wants things to go as methodical as possible? Boring. However, there it was in the back of my mind, the idea that the whole group was going to make it out of the dungeon they were delving. I had it all planned out. One of them is chicken shit and stays behind, the other two make it to the treasure and then they come back for him.

I neglected to consider how the dungeon works. There are magical transports that one cannot come back from. You need magic of your own to get back through. They were hoping to get a special magical item at the end of all things that would make that possible…but they aren’t getting it. It isn’t there anymore. I had forgotten that there would be no magical deus ex machina to solve all their problems.

As soon as the door closed on the party member who stayed behind one of my characters remembered what I had forgotten, and it floored me. I had known this was coming, and yet I hadn’t. I went to work considering other methods of character retrieval and then remembered the all important villains whose plans do not make rescuing possible. The attack will be brutal and the two remaining party members will be forced to flee.

They may not be able to come back.

I had split the party, and casualties are inevitable. Things are not going to go as easily as I had planned, and no matter the argument that as an author I can change the flow of events to create a reality in which it all works out I realize that I don’t want to. I don’t want their lives to be easy; I want them to be real. I want my characters to deal with adversity in ways they did not expect.

So, much like the Fellowship of the Ring loses Gandalf, my group is losing a member. He may come back as Gandalf the White, but he will not be present for the next leg of the journey.

That’s what happens when you split the party.

Boomerang

Posted: March 31, 2017 in Uncategorized
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I may have mentioned this before, but I’m a nail biter. 31 years old and I still can’t kick the habit. It’s not for lack of trying, either. In fact, there are times when my nails get so long I actually need to cut them; when everything goes according to plan and I hardly think about them.

Then life hits, stress levels adjust, and I’m right back to ripping, biting, and gnawing.

It’s a nervous habit. The older I get the more I realize it doesn’t have much to do with a desire to bite them, it’s more of a compulsion. It happens in the moments I’m not thinking about it. I’m sitting at my desk, fiddling with an edge of a nail and then suddenly there is a divot, a small indentation that my other nail fits perfectly into. I worry at it, and then it is gone, leaving a jagged, uneven mess in its place. Can’t leave it like that, so I continue to pick and bite until it has achieved a new level of sameness, one that is far shorter than it started.

Every time I do this I wonder why I didn’t just grab my nail clippers. I have them. They travel in my purse for times like that when an edge needs to be cut. Only clipping them doesn’t seem to satisfy the compulsion, the urge, the need to relieve some inner anxiety in a physical way.

No matter how hard I try, I never seem to form the habit of leaving my nails alone. There are moments of triumph and then agonizing defeat.

Likewise, the road to writing has been bumpy this month.

February went off without a hitch. I upped my word count for a total of 3,532 for the month.  I was looking forward to another increase for March.

It didn’t happen. While February was full of nothing but smooth growth, March saw things torn apart. Life was too much and the tenuous hold I’d made upon creating a new habit was destroyed. My writing this month looks much like my nails. Not much more than a nub.

April will be better.

Partner Work

Posted: February 6, 2017 in writing
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Part of the school experience is getting assigned group projects. The size of the group varies but it always means you and at least one other person. This is no doubt supposed to teach us how to work together with others towards a common goal. As a child it always meant a really big project but if I worked with the right person it could be not only doable but enjoyable.

Invariably, there also comes a time when you get paired up with someone you don’t want to work with, who shirks their half and pisses you off. For me, a particularly clear memory of this is my senior year in high school. The class was Physics, and already that was a black mark against this from the start because I had a really hard time understanding Physics. There were all these formulas, and terms, and math…math I didn’t quiet understand. I didn’t do well in physics, which added particular stress to the whole partner issue.

Anyways, we had been assigned lab partners and while I had no particular grudge against the boy I was partnered with, that soon changed as he spent way more time fraternizing with friends than doing any work. By the end of class we had completed the lab but the write-up left something to be desired. Rather than make plans to call him in up after school to finish it up I did what any introverted, independently minded, pissed-off girl would do: I took it home, finished it by myself, and handed it in without his name on it.

The teacher saw straight through me and told me he couldn’t accept the assignment if we hadn’t done it together.

I said, “Fine.” Then I proceeded to not hand it in at all.

At the time I felt I was making a point, though I’m not sure what that was. Perhaps I felt it should have been obvious why I hadn’t finished it with my partner. More than likely I didn’t want to get into a discussion about how my partner hadn’t done any of the work lest it turn into a big deal.

I took the zero. And now that I think about it, he did too. I’m not sure if his semester grade could handle it, but mine couldn’t. As a student who was typically A’s or B’s, my C average really didn’t need a zero to help it sink any further towards a D. But I did it, and the experience reinforced the idea that most of the time it’s better to work alone. Group projects are great fun with friends, and sometimes necessary, but overall a person can really only count on his or herself.

This trip down memory lane isn’t just cathartic; it has a point.

My friend, Carlos, recently got interested in podcasting, and like anyone who has an idea but isn’t sure how to implement it, he came to the group with his idea and looked for support. Like any good group of friends we offered ideas and told him we were totally on board to help him in this.

The problem was that Carlos wanted a podcast in the style of old radio, much like the Thrilling Adventure Hour. He envisioned a fantasy-based story with monsters and mayhem, and was looking not only for people to add their voices to his cause, but also to help him brainstorm and write.

Here enters the bystander effect wherein we were great with initial ideas and help and then fizzled in execution. There were too many cooks in the kitchen and not enough leadership. Someone had to step up and say, “This is what we’re doing and how we’re doing it.”

Much like my Physics lab, it didn’t get done.

We took the zero, and Carlos networked with some other friends to create a simpler podcast about Vs Card Games which has now branched out to encompass board games as well. (Shameless plug, if you are a Vs Gamer you should check them out at Team Attack.)

The original podcast idea fell to the wayside.

Then, because nothing ever dies on the internet, Carlos stumbled upon the little bit of work we had gotten done on GoogleDrive. He texts me up and tells me he’s still interested if I am. I say, “Sure. When can we get together and hammer this thing out?”

We set a date, I come over, and after three hours we had a 10 minute long script and ideas for the next 4 episodes to finish the story arc. This is the first time since middle school I have written collaboratively. Writing has been a solo adventure for me. I do it, I share it with people I’m close with so they can have a look, but I don’t work together with people to get actual writing done. If you have a strong idea of something it’s really hard to let it go in favor of someone else’s idea. You have a clear picture and then they gum up the works with their ideas, and then there’s secret upset because things aren’t going as you planned.

I’m guessing here.

The experience was miraculously smooth. And fun! Oh my gosh I forgot how much I like only writing dialogue! Especially dialogue that is flippant! I feel like it’s my true medium, and so much easier to work through brain blocks when there’s another person there to think of what happens next.

So I guess my point is that sometimes it’s good to have a group project, even if past experience has taught you otherwise.

Satisfying Resolutions

Posted: January 29, 2017 in writing
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New Year’s Resolutions are difficult. Every year we hear about people making them and then breaking them. There’s a good reason for that. Changing your life is hard. It’s so easy to fall into the slump of comfort, of the familiar, of returning to old habits.

I wouldn’t call what I’m doing now as “killing it”, but its better than nothing. In the past 29 days I’ve written 2,490 words. This is a little shy of the 100 word a day goal I have set myself this month. Not bad considering I didn’t write 100 words every day. In fact, if I sat down 3 days a week that would have been fantastic, but I didn’t even come close to changing my daily habits.

What has changed is my level of focus. I’ve prioritized writing. Making smaller “to-do” lists has been beneficial as well. I’ve been trying my hardest this year to put three priorities on my list a day. This stops me from succumbing to overwhelm, as in the past I’ve made lists of everything that needs to get done and picking off the list as I went (not to mention adding). By keeping it at three it limits the scope of my focus.

I don’t feel like I have to do everything. It’s made sitting down to write very freeing. By having only three things on my list a day it allows me to feel empowered to write. If it makes my list I feel free to come home and write first.

The low word count requirement takes over the pressure I feel when I sit behind a keyboard. If writing is on the to-do list but I find myself exhausted or mentally taxed from work it’s only 100 words. Every time I sit down I surpass the goal, allowing me to feel satisfied that I’m succeeding.

I’ve made a lot of progress this month. I’m looking forward to making even more next month.

It’s Still Good…

Posted: December 16, 2016 in Life, writing
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I’m notorious among my family and friends for not eating my holiday candy. It doesn’t matter if that stocking is filled with all my favorites, including a Reese’s Tree (best Reese’s ever), I’ll still let it sit. I’m not certain when this habit developed, but it’s possible that I’ve never really had much of a sweet tooth. Growing up the most interesting item in my stocking was usually the Smuckers’ chapstick candy cane. You know, the one where instead of M&Ms piled within a plastic candy cane prison there is instead three tubes of chapstick. I’d bust that sucker open and smell each one in turn, making a game plan for which would be used first and which one would be saved for later.

Perhaps that’s the root of it all: saving things for later.

It’s like inside my head there should be a perfect time and place to eat the candy, that moment when all I want is peanut buttery chocolate goodness. So rather than indulge now, I keep it. Reese’s Trees have been known to exist way past the holiday season in my house. It stays in the stocking until the stockings go away, then, “Oh! I totally forgot I had candy! Let’s just put this on my desk to enjoy later.”

Weeks go by and then months. Before I know it it’s the middle of summer and I still have that Reese’s Tree lying around, accompanied by its little Hershey Kiss friends in their red and green wrappers. What complicates the problem is by this time there may be Easter candy hanging around as well. Who knows? It could be a regular past-their-prime candy party.

Finally, I eat them. I eat them far past their season and they are still delightful, but I can’t help but wonder would they be better if I’d eaten them when they were “fresh”? Does delaying the gratification of eating the sweets really do justice to them? I don’t know. It’s that time of year again and I have St. Nick’s candy in a stocking that I haven’t touched.

My writing, in recent years, isn’t all that different. I’ve been working on a book for the past three years. That’s not a finished draft that I’ve been tweaking until I feel it’s perfect. It’s literally bits and pieces, sweet little exerts that have come along at one time or another, typed up but never completed. I’ve been waiting. Waiting for the perfect time to work on it. Waiting for inspiration to strike. Waiting for my “sweet tooth” to tell me it yearns for the written word.

After three years the story is still good, still captures my imagination, but it’s stale. Like the holiday candy I hoard away, it’s missing something. Missing that thrill of the unknown. There are other shiny new stories beckoning. Fresh ideas. Yet it feels wasteful to set aside what I’ve been working on for so long. So I keep it, waiting for the right time.

I’ve decided it’s time to stop waiting. Stop hoarding. I’m starting my New Year’s Resolution early. I’m going to finish this book in 2017. July 1, 2017 I am handing over a finished manuscript to my friend the Book Gnome, because it’s time I eat my candy.

Writing Weather

Posted: November 4, 2016 in writing
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I don’t know what it is about November, but it makes me want to write.

Perhaps its the fact that by November school is well underway and my brain has settled into the rhythm of the work day. Less stress of remembering where I need to be means more time to daydream about things that aren’t work.

Maybe its the weather, as the heat of summer gives way to the ever cooling fall. Sure, there’s still plenty to enjoy outside, but when the sun starts going down around 5 the heat goes with it. No need to be outside in the chill when its comfortable indoors.

Or it could be my inbox, with its happy NaNoWriMo reminder e-mails sparking my inner Pavlovian dog to drool at the idea of a month dedicated to nothing but fictional bliss. Contrarily, I won’t be participating this year. I’ve had years when I’ve said I’m busy and then still attempted, and I’ve had others where there was nothing more pressing than the siren call of a word count, but either way for the past five years I’ve at least given it a shot. Last year I even won. (Shocking, because I’m perpetually behind in daily word counts.) This year, though, I really put myself in a bind with a play. Next week we enter tech week, and the following week we perform. There is no way in hell I have a spare minute.

Whatever it is (schedule, weather, NaNo habit, or a mysterious writing bug) I’ve found myself very much focused on the stories that exist only in my head. They kept me up a few nights ago. I wrote, fell asleep, woke at 4am and decided I couldn’t get back to sleep until I finished getting all my ideas down. Since then my brain won’t shut up. I don’t really have the time, but it’s there. Nagging me.

I can’t wait for this play to be done so I can have a little fun with my other mistress: writing.