Monday, March 26, 2012

How Do I Do It? Volume!

Operation Hat Trick is moving ahead. I haven't been multi-tasking as much as I thought I might, but I've been making good progress on 'Dragon's Tail'.

I've been experimenting, as I mentioned, with ways to be more productive, and I've hit on an approach that's been helpful, and that's also been forcing me to adhere to my attempts to accept imperfection.

As people who follow me on Twitter know, I do a lot of my writing with a program called Write Or Die. It's a simple program (or web application -- you can use it for free online as well) that more or less forces you to write -- you enter an amount of time and wordcount goal and start typing in a simple word processor. Based on your goals, Write Or Die will start punishing you for not meeting them, through a variety of means ranging from changing the screen to blood-red and making angry sounds to (at the more punitive settings) actually starting to delete what you've already written if you leave the screen idle too long. It's terrifying and  I recommend it wholeheartedly.

Another function it has is the option to disable the backspace key. I'd been curious about that function for a while, but hadn't used it. But in thinking about increasing my productivity, I found myself wondering how much time I was really losing going back and fixing typos. I deciced to find out.

The answer: I was losing a LOT of time to fixing typos. When I started disabling the backspace, I found my word count totals nearly doubling over comparable amounts of time. Stopping myself worrying about those typos, or about any kind of wordsmithing, let me put that time back into getting the words down.

Which is great, but obviously raises a new question - is it worth it? Is the typo-ful, unwordsmithed copy I get so messy that any time saving is a wash because of the extra clean-up required?

Well, see for yourself. Here's a sample of my un-edited, just-as-it-appeared-on-the-screen, no-fixes prose. I didn't do this in Write Or Die, but I did stop myself from editing it as a wrote, so the result is pretty much the same.


This sis am aexample of me trying to type the words tt that I'm thinking of very quickly. Sometimes it goes fine and sometimes I make typos and sometimes I change my mind about what I was going to say, but i can't go back and change it. For sometone like lyme, who's neurotic about typos and really, really proud of my ability fo spell and use correct grammar, this is a bit isconcerting, but i find that overall,t he flow works, that I get what I teintended down on the screen. And anfter all, i was going to edit it later anyway, right? So ma what doe a vfew more typos matter? The point is to get the owords down.


So yeah. You can see why my word count is approximate: There's not only a lot of redundancy to be edited down, there are typos that read as words, throwing off the count.

Overall, though, it seems to work. It's messy, but it's readable. I know what I meant, at least enough that I can clean it up later. The point, after all, is to get the owords down, so ma what doe a vfew more typos matter?

But I am left wondering what it means that, when I'm pressed for time, I can spell 'neurotic', but not 'the'.

Sunday, March 25, 2012

The Weekly Wordcount, Plus Even More Meta!

The new approach I've been experimenting with makes wordcount a bit difficult to measure accurately, but it looks like I've written something in the nature of 4,000 words this week, all of them for the new short story, which now has the working title 'The Dragon's Tail', and which is not fantasy.

I think it's basically done, but I'm not totally sure, because I wrote it out of sequence, continuing to write more middle after I'd written the end. Since I don't really want this one to go more than 3,000 words, I should probably stop writing and start putting it into some kind of order.


Oh, and I added a widget to the sidebar of the blog that displays my most recent posts on Twitter; I held off on doing something like that for a while, because in the past I skewed a little more personal on Twitter -- I get political there, for instance, which I've only occasionally done here.

But you know what? This is part of who I am, too. I'm not going to hide it. Especially since it's not likely that anyone reads this blog who doesn't already see my more personal stuff via either Twitter or Facebook. And when, eventually, there are those other readers... well, I don't see how I can communicate directly, honestly, and openly about who I am and not include the personal and the political. Besides, I'm trying to work on that whole excessive-conflict-avoidance thing.

Monday, March 19, 2012

Keeping the Plates Spinning, Or, Operation Triple Crown Is Go!

The good news is, I seem to have overcome my fear of short fiction, which was the last vestige of my anxieties around writing prose. I still don't feel like I'm all that good at short fiction, but that's just a matter of continuing to practice the form.

And there's the rube*.

I just finished one short story (it runs long for a short story at over 7,300 words; what can I say -- I'm prolix) and I've started another. I have a fun idea for a third in the back of my head, but I don't want to get ahead of myself: Short fiction isn't and shouldn't be my exclusive or even my main focus right now.

What is my main focus? Well, looking back over some of my earlier posts here, I remembered that I finished the first draft of my novel at the end of April last year.

In other words, almost a year ago. A #@%&ing year ago.

This lead to a predictable and unproductive spiral of frustration and anger at myself, yadda yadda why aren't I more productive blah blah.

But, you know, been there, was poster child for that. Enough already. The real question is, what am I going to do about it?

I'd like the next draft of the novel to be done - and out to my beta readers - before the one-year anniversary of the first draft rolls around. I'd also like to finish the new short story - it's something I thought up in response to a call for submissions, and there's a deadline attached. Finally, I need to get cracking on the script for the next arc of Cold Iron Badge so that Patrick can start drawing it after some of his other obligations wrap up at the end of April.

From today to the end of April is exactly six weeks. That's three major items on my creative to-do list (which of course doesn’t even touch on the other things I need to stay on top of).

Well, I have recently been experimenting with ways to increase my productivity as a writer (which I won't get into now, but may post about later if anyone's interested), and I'm starting to think that I just might be able to do it. It's going to require three things:

I need to write every day

Every day, for reals, no excuses.

I need to be able to switch from project to project at the drop of a hat

This isn't always easy for me; I tend to be in one project's headspace and need or at least want time to switch gears. It'll be interesting to see if I can push this and not have, for instance, voices or stylistic flourishes carry over inappropriately between different works.

I need to plan

The short story is the simplest of the three things I want to finish, and that one I can handle a little more organically. The rewrite of the novel, though, and the script for the comic, are going to require a plan. For the comic, I have a pretty solid outline to work with; my plan for the novel is currently a lot more nebulous, and I need to pin down exactly what I want to achieve, and how I want to do it. From both an artistic and time-management standpoints, I want to aim for efficiency - this is fine tuning, not a total overhaul.

It's in the BHAG

This plan falls solidly within the scope of “It’s so crazy it just might work”. Of course, I'm a proponent of the BHAG - the Big Hairy Audacious Goal - as a motivator, and this tripartite goal I've just set for myself is certainly big, hairy and audacious. But a goal as a motivator only works with accountability. That's where you come in. I'll be posting updates here as I launch myself into Operation Triple Crown (or whatever; I expect the name to change regularly).

In other words, more news as it happens!



* Me. I am a bit of a rube.

Tuesday, March 13, 2012

This Is Who I Am: The March 2012 Edition

As I more-than-half-expected, the prospect of skewing a little more personal made me more-than-half-apprehensive.

I've started and abandoned a couple of previous versions of this post. Being glib is easy; it's when I start actually trying to communicate something that matters to me that I start over-thinking and second-guessing.  But you know, enough is enough. I'm just going to push through and get this done. So let's begin.

Hello, I'm Stephen, and this is my blog. It's called Back From Erstwhile because when I started it, some years ago now, I thought of myself as an "erstwhile writer", and I wanted to begin - and document - the process of moving from being someone who used to write to being someone who writes. 

Now it's 2012, and you can't really dispute that I've managed to become a writer again. With the help and support of a great many people, I've seen books in print collecting the two comics I co-created, Xeno's Arrow and my new project, Cold Iron Badge (although neither, to be honest, is currently widely available). I've written the first draft of a novel. I just finished a short story (one of several I’ve written over the past few years) and I have other projects in my head, warring for attention with one another and the rest of my life. 

Those other things – the ones I usually gloss over as “the rest of my life” -- are really what I wanted to talk about today. Let's stipulate that I'm a writer, and that one of my big goals is to become a professional writer (which is a process that I hope to move forward and share with you over the course of this year).

So leaving that aside, who else am I?

I am a parent

This is a big one. I have two children; my daughter is eight and my son is six. They're both beautiful, happy, healthy, smart and loving kids. They're also both autistic. 

Special needs change the experience of parenthood in ways that it's hard to describe -- especially for me, since I don't have an experience of parenting typically-developing children to compare it to. My partner Sarah describes it as having to work ten times as hard to make one tenth the progress, and that's a big part of it; things that come naturally to most kids are a constant struggle for us. 

And the rewards are different, just as the challenges are; sometimes bigger, sometimes smaller, always different. We take our joys where we can find them, and there are joys, joys that, on balance, are much more than worth it. But it's often frustrating, usually tiring and always takes up my focus and energy in a way that not all parents have to deal with; it's one reason that as I have mentioned more than once, my time is at a premium and that I call my lunch time at work "The Writing Hour".

I am a guy with a day job

I work, as I've mentioned here occasionally, at the University of Toronto. I have a very good job, working with good people, doing interesting stuff. Given that, and given how essential to my and my family's life my benefits package is, I expect that I'll continue to be a guy with a day job for a long time to come. I know that a lot of aspiring writers are counting the days until they quit the proverbial day job; that is not me.

I am a partner

My children did not burst full-formed from my brow like Athena from the head of Zeus (unless there's something that someone hasn't been telling me). My co-habiting co-parent Sarah is the other side of that equation, and in addition to being a generally awesome co-parent, does a huge amount of the planning and logistical heavy lifting that being a family with special needs requires - coordinating and being on the front line for all the appointments and therapies for our kids. I am not the greatest time manager in the world, and her sooper-geenius level skills in that capacity continue to impress me, after our being together for about a decade.

The shared experience of parenthood changes any relationship, and when special needs are involved, the change is even more profound. It can be hard to maintain the other aspects of a relationship in the face of those stresses, and it's kind of impressive that Sarah and I work together and get along as well as we do under the circumstances.

I am sick

I'm mostly better now. But I caught whatever the bug that's been going around is, and that, along with the kids being sick too, was pretty much the exclusive focus of the last two weeks. Most of my time not spent working and caring for the children was devoted to coughing, blowing my nose and sleeping. Well, not all at the same time...

I am a guy who needs to get back in shape

This is another area where I've been erstwhile. My weight is something I've struggled with for much of my life. There was a period when I managed to get not just into shape, but really good shape -- but that was before kids. I have a lot less free time to spend at the gym, now, and it shows. Not to mention that I'm a stress eater with a weakness for carbs. I was starting to get on track towards the end of last year, getting into a groove with the exercise room in our building, but that kind of fell by the wayside when 2012 hit and brought a big old mess of stress and sickness that ate a lot of my time and energy. I will be getting back to the gym, and I'll probably start documenting that process here too; I just want to be done with this damned coughing first.

I am a guy who blathers about who he is on his blog

So that’s who I am. It’s not a complete list; it couldn’t be. It’s not everything I've ever been, or everything I'll ever be. It's obviously not even, really, everything that I am at this moment in time; there’s a lot more I could have included if I wanted to drill down beyond the substantive (I am… A Man Who Enjoys Cheese; A Guy Who Over-uses Semicolons!) .

But it's what's important, and top of mind. It's where my focus, energy and time are going. It's who I am right now, March 2012.

And who are you?