Writers like me spend a LOT of time doing research to set a novel in time and place, to select the best time of day for a scene, to subtly (we hope) slip a reader into an alternate reality where we are going to tell a story that should keep the reader turning pages far into the night.
To create a world that the characters and the reader can explore for a certain distance off the main story path, we have to know a LOT more than the reader, or the shallowness of the setting will show through the words somewhere, and the lack of fit among all the pieces set down as background will leak through into the reader’s subconscious, taking the reader out of the story to wonder ‘if that could even happen.’
NETHERWORLD has several movies in it, and my current section is the shooting of a movie based on certain parts and unanswered questions in the life of the Reverend Charles Lutwidge Dodgson, aka Lewis Carroll, author of what is commonly known as ‘the Alice books’:
Alice’s Adventures in Wonderland, and
Through the Looking-Glass, and What Alice Found There.
The amount of ‘information’ out there on this popular author (and mathematics teacher at Christ College, Oxford) is staggering.
There are entire societies dedicated to his books, his life, his work.
He is a well-known historical character, and many others have staked their reputations on writing about him.
What’s my motivation?
Even non-actors have seen an actor in a movie ask the director, What’s my motivation?
Because HOW you say something, in fact, how you use your whole body to say something, depends on WHY you say it, the motivation that gives the lines written by the scriptwriter a connection to the whole world of the movie.
Good actors go much deeper than that to create their own version of a character, to use their time on screen to make us believe the character so deeply that it’s a shock to see that actor – in a different role! “But he was so good at…” is a common reaction.
A good movie has more
The motivation for making that movie at all, for expending what can be millions of dollars on a particular story, for bringing that story to a fully-realized version that may some day be an immersive 3-D experience for viewers who participate in the movie as a character (we’re getting close with virtual reality – it’s only a matter of sufficient processing power in computers), depends on whether the investment can be justified, made to pay because there are so many people, worldwide, who want to watch (and later, to be).
Go on about how the good stories are distillations of an internally consistent process that requires knowing all the possibilities – and choosing the ‘best’ for the gut of the movie. And the actors work hard at figuring out why.
Which brings me full circle to research
And a character of mine, an actor, doing the research for a role he will play, but deep research, research that goes beyond reading the materials handed to him, or discovered in the easy-to-get-to online sources such as Wikipedia (a huge resource I support every year).
But the characters all come from me, so if they need to do research, guess who’s doing it for them?
It takes time.
It takes time away from the writing. That’s the dangerous part.
It is real research, research into primary sources such as biographies, sometimes histories.
And it is research that has to be stored, savored, coordinated (all those sources don’t agree with each other), until it is used to produce action in the character in the novel – and writing of that action by the author of the character in the novel.
Well, I have been down the rabbit hole again. Found all kinds of fascinating things, some of which I did not dig deep enough to find when I set this section of NETHERWORLD up, years ago. The slow brain makes it even slower.
And now, darn it, I have to figure out how to use all that research to give the character his motivation, and the readers something that keeps them turning pages late into the night.
My kind of author works hard for the readers she craves.
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For my kind of extreme plotter, you might think everything would be planned down to the last jot and tittle – before writing.
It seems that way for some scenes I’ve written – I know exactly what I’m doing when I go in, and then I do it, polish a bit, and get out – and we’re done.
Because having the content and the outline and the knowledge of where a scene will go can make it easier to see what fits and what doesn’t, as I go.
Unfortunately, they’re the minority of my scenes.
Another set of scenes takes more work because there is a lot to include, and the correct path through all the necessary points can take me a while to organize.
And then there’s 32.2.
The sow’s ear of the title.
Oddly enough, a scene for which I had plenty of content.
But it came out of my head very oddly, as almost a single long piece of dialogue, a phone call no less, with the banter between Kary and her best friend writing itself as I eavesdropped.
Very realistic – I could SEE them talking, SEE the little connections, the friendship, the gentle poking when one person thinks they know better what the other needs, a scene you might overhear at brunch, or in a park, or while watching the children on the swings at the playground…
And it was wrong
Boring – to me!
And I could see a reader doing the thing writers dread: skimming. Skipping ahead to see where the meat starts again. Not seeing the content because it was in the form of a dialogue between two women.
Just getting to the realization of what was the problem took me days.
Because there was nothing obviously wrong, and I write dialogue all the time, and it wasn’t particularly bad.
Good dialogue doesn’t guarantee great scenes
Almost a thousand words of good, realistic but compressed dialog.
You hate to give that up – and it took quite a bit of practice to be able to do that in the first place, create dialogue that gives the reader necessary knowledge in the form of a story.
I almost did what I never do: let it stand, leave it to the beta reader, move on and come back to it later, live with what I knew was highly imperfect (in my standards) because I had no idea what was going on that produced it.
But I did know:
The brain fog was thick on the ground and I couldn’t see over, through, or around it.
And this is what I produce when I can’t think: ‘almost’ writing.
It depended too much on the reader’s previous knowledge.
There was not enough scene-setting.
And it repeated things the reader already knew – a capital sin if done in any quantity: do NOT give readers an excuse to start skipping!
I bit the bullet, lowered the dose of a medication I thought might be the culprit for the recent fog increase (it was), waited for a couple of days until, thankfully, the head cleared.
Then I took all of the scene except for the initial paragraph, and put it in another file in the Scrivener project, fully prepared to dump the whole thing if necessary.
And I was able to get back to work – because I was darned lucky.
My greatest fear in life is that I will reach one of these points, know something is wrong, and never more be able to do what I’ve been doing to analyze, understand, and, fingers-crossed, improve what I’ve written, from the first gasp to the final zinger.
I’ve had this happen before to a smaller extent – I had to learn to write every kind of scene (and there are more kinds, I’m sure) – and since I’m still writing, have emerged every time.
But brain fog is more insidious than exhaustion, and you can’t just rest it away.
Brain fog scares me
It alters my essential self.
This time I found the cause, and it was something I could change. There are consequences, of course – in this case more physical pain – but I have other alternatives for physical pain, even if I’m trying not to use them (to spare liver and kidneys from having to disassemble those molecules and get rid of them); in the worst case, I can just tough it out, do some of the physical things such as stretches or (in non-pandemic times) immerse myself in the therapy pool’s warm water, wait until it passes if it has a specific cause…
Do not recommend your favorite remedy for brain fog – thanks, but I’ve tried an awful lot of things over the years that didn’t work, and I don’t have the stomach to try more. Assuming you even have one – brain fog is a particularly difficult ‘symptom’ to treat because it is so vague and amorphous and non-specific.
It’s a Catch-22: you need to be able to think to work yourself out of brain fog, and you can’t think until you’ve worked yourself out of brain fog.
Sometimes the passage of time helps.
Sometimes the disappearance of a physical illness, or its successful treatment or management, helps.
Sometimes – the scary part – you’ve lost that part of yourself and it isn’t coming back.
And sometimes you figure it out.
Once that cleared
I took a hard look at what I had been ‘creating,’ that conversation that repeated things unnecessarily.
And I got to work.
I went back to process: I’ve detailed my Left Brain righT method before; I still use it, tweaked a bit but usually to add a detail, not change something already there, seven-and-a-half years later.
Step by step I followed my own prompts for considering, choosing, refining – including much smaller amounts of that big chunk of realistic dialogue – listening to the bits as I locked them in (to make sure the language flows), defining the structure, doing the work I call writing fiction, and little by little, 32.2 emerged from the shadows of a disaster.
It started doing what it was supposed to do, and I got less scared.
One of the hardest tasks a novelist faces is answering the question:
“What is your book about?”
And every writer will face that over and over and over.
I’ve saved this post from Writers in the Storm since 2013.
When the novel you’re trying to describe is going to be as long as Gone With the Wind, and tops out over the course of a trilogy at around a half-million words, reducing ‘about’ to a few words is a feat that brings most writers to their knees.
The lucky ones, traditionally published, probably don’t have to/get to make these decisions (for which they trade complete control of their work and pitiful royalties forever) – because their publisher makes the decisions for them (usually without much input from the writer), and then, again for the lucky ones, uses the results to market the book.
I’ve known since the beginning
Which is why I spent a long time learning exactly how to achieve the ending I wanted for Pride’s Children: and ran scenarios from beginning to end over and over until the beginning made the ending, in my mind, inevitable – and I was ready to write the definitive version.
The process is a time loop for plotters like me, and doesn’t determine the words readers will ultimately get – only the story that I want to leave in their minds, the life lived, the consequences of the choices, the necessary paths.
As in a play, what the theater-goers see as spontaneous and happening before their very eyes needs to be so completely memorized and rehearsed that the actors never say a word out ot of character.
Other people write differently; this is how I do it.
What I’m trying to say here is that I have many versions of tagline, logline, and pitch, created and struggled with over the years since 2000, but I’ve never comfortably answered the question of ‘about’ when asked, and stutter like an unprepared schoolgirl when it comes up.
But I hadn’t dared. Which seems silly.
Those who forget the past (or ignore it) are condemned to repeat it
All that happens is you have to keep doing it, over and over, like Groundhog Day or Russian Doll, because the question doesn’t go away.
Can’t go away – as long as there are readers.
Why now, halfway through NETHERWORLD?
Because I am exhausted from fighting this particular battle, and stuck in the deep chasm of having to write what I planned to write way back then.
Because challenges not faced come back to haunt you.
And because I think I got it.
Sidetrack for a minute into the writer’s greatest fear: Appearing ridiculous
Also sometimes known as biting off more than you can chew.
And choking on it.
But what I didn’t know in 2000, when what I’m about to post was almost as clear as it is now, except that I wasn’t sure, hadn’t put in the hard work to make sure, that I could come anywhere near to achieving what I was setting out to do.
As you probably know, mere appearance never works.
Failure is fine – there is no shame in attempting to become an astronaut, and not making the cut (I did, and didn’t). But you have to try, and you can’t skip steps. And you can’t wish for proficiency when what you need to do is find a way to learn (ie, the 10,000 hours trope, which is really a lot more hours if that’s what it takes).
Delusions of grandeur, Impostor Syndrome, Fear of Failing
They take their toll.
Why does it matter so much?
Because the world has removed so much of what I can do that what’s left is pitiful.
Because I have this one thing that I value, that keeps me sane, called writing.
And where I have all the control and all the responsibility, because not a word goes out without my say-so.
So I thought about all of this, and worked on it for months, and then let it sit.
I’m ready to let them be public, even though some will not be fully realized until the end of Book #3:
Tagline: Pride’s Children is
The Great American Love Story.
To safeguard a powerful actor, a damaged writer must first salvage herself.
When a reclusive bestselling novelist crosses paths with the rising actor of his generation, she finds her capacity for obsession is not dead. The friendship that develops when his next movie films near her rural refuge, and he fulfills his promise to visit, creates a challenging bond that threatens to destroy her. But when America’s Sweetheart decides she’s the one who will engender with him Hollywood’s supreme dynasty, can the writer navigate the razor’s edge from friendship to forever love, and save his unborn children?
Mission statement: what you are trying to achieve
To make the mainstream reader live three lives so closely from the inside, right behind the eyeballs, that reading Pride’s Children is a roller-coaster ride which makes the ending inevitable and utterly believable.
I just had to go through this – again – and other writers might need the same trick
When I woke up this morning and reached for something on my desk, I disturbed the page I used (photo above), scattered all the little pieces of paper, and realized I don’t need to keep them around forever, even if they did rescue me.
I’m an extreme plotter by nature and by practice and by brain damage.
Things have to be organized so I know what goes in each scene, because I can only work with the content of ONE scene at a time (and yes, if you’re wondering, I have used this trick on paragraphs, beats, and scenes as well, when my brain refused to do the organizing internally).
When I got to the current piece in the middle of the WIP, I realized that, inexplicably when I stared at it, the next scene was NOT ready for my ‘process.’
I came to a standstill
For several days.
Abortive attempts to write the next scene failed to make that scene gel, despite having a title and the usual nubs I use to attach words.
Since I was worrying about politics, and in the middle of getting vaccinated for the coronavirus, it took me a while to track down the reason: when I was doing the Great Reorganization of 2007 (GR07), I had had the same reluctance, created something that sort of worked at the time (a list of scenes covering what would happen in this part of the story), and decided to DEAL WITH IT LATER.
Unusual for me, but I was trying to get to the end of GR07, we had half the way to go, and I only had a few more days of the concentrated time I had been saving for the reorganization.
I believe in football American style they cause it punting.
In 2007 I moved on
Never thinking that it would be 2021 when I got to this point in the writing.
I was young(er). Naive(er).
Trying desperately to take that original rough (very rough) first draft of the whole story to the next level – which required the complete reorganization AND a committed devotion to upping the quality of my writing (no, you are never going to see that draft).
and it worked
I moved on. GR07 became the reality.
By dint of work, the writing problems got solved one by one.
Pride’s Children PURGATORY was written and published in 2015 (yeah, I’m slow), and I immediately moved on to NETHERWORLD.
I believe they call it a poison pill
Maybe not so bad.
But a buried little landmine all the same.
Because there was a reason. I know it now and I knew it then: this piece was going to be very hard to write.
And, as is usual with such, incredibly important.
I couldn’t handle it in 2000, when the story came to me.
I couldn’t handle it in 2007, except to realize there was no way around it, and I would have to deal with it during the writing of the second book (nameless at that point).
And I couldn’t handle it at first when it got to be late 2020 and I hit the red flag marking the mine.
I couldn’t even have written this post.
You can’t skimp on the hard parts when you write
The hard parts are WHY you, and not someone else, is telling this story.
The hard parts are where your writing should shine, and, given enough work and time, where they will.
If your story doesn’t have hard parts well executed in it, it’s not going to be the best book you can write.
Because you shirked.
I don’t shirk.
I kick and scream and complain and try to find ways around the roadblock and hope some insight will just remove it.
And then I admit it needs the work, and I do it.
On this one I had to go back to Kindergarten
Yup. Basics. Writing things on single lines. And cutting the sheet into real-life strips of paper.
And rearranging those strips, edited as necessary (in pencil), into the RIGHT order, with the right words, plus any surrounding fill text, until the whole emerged.
That’s the level I have to go back to when things get really bolloxed up for whatever reason.
Eventually, it works, and I find it all amusing. Sometimes I blog about it.
But you’d think that by now I’d be out of Kindergarten, wouldn’t you?
It is starting at the opposite end of society: those vaccinated most urgently are the older people, who otherwise have an appalling death toll from Covid-19 if they get sick.
The fear has been very real among those of us with co-morbidities, who in normal times could look forward to a bit of retirement and the presence of children and grandchildren at the end of a life of labor.
This community went from people who had dinner with other people in a catered dining room several times a week to an entire building of people whose food was delivered in takeout containers every day. For almost a year so far. We have accumulated (and tried to recycle) countless containers, with the dining services having trouble, it seems, buying the same container shapes every day.
There is only so creative one can get with plastic takeout boxes.
Why the light at the end of the tunnel?
Because, if all goes well, most of us – of around the 250 people in Independent Living in one main building, 15 cottages, and 16 ‘garden apartments,’ will receive the second dose of the Moderna vaccine this Thursday, and two weeks later will achieve the maximum protection that can offer us.
We’re not sure yet what will change once there are a bunch of us in that state: the precautions will still be in place, a few people won’t have been vaccinated (including some staff – I don’t understand why they are not jumping on the chance to be protected), and the fear that ANY encounter with another human being might end up being terminal will be muted a bit while we wait for the rest of the world to catch up.
A reversal – normally vaccinations are for the young, and we elders have a lifetime of toughness to protect us.
Anyone who was alive for the 1918 flu is now over 100 years old.
I’m writing now because the suspense is at its maximum
None of us want to be the ironic case of the last old person to get Covid-19 and die from it – that won’t happen for a while but it’s worth pondering.
So those of us who believe in vaccines and modern medicine, however imperfect, are being very careful for the next three weeks or so.
I have a doctor’s appointment in March, and it will be the first time I’ve gone off campus feeling safe in over a year.
I desperately need new glasses – but have refused to make optional medical appointments with people who will be close to my face and body while their breathe could be my end.
Ditto dentists – you won’t believe how carefully I have been brushing my teeth so as to avoid any unnecessary visits (and have eschewed the necessary cleanings) for this year: I don’t want someone, even someone masked, gowned, and with a face shield, that near to me.
I have some experience, having caught the flu in 2018 from the only time I’d been out of the house in months, but decided to accompany the husband to his eye-doctor appointment: someone left a flu virus in that waiting room for me.
So the stress level is still high
And we look askance at the crew of men painting our halls and installing new carpets (first upgrade in 20 years) – and going home to their families every night. They need the work, the facility needs the facelift, but we don’t need all those people we’ve never seen before (thanks, guys!) wandering our halls.
This last Friday was the first time testing of all the staff revealed no new cases in quite a few weeks. It may be just random luck.
Or it may be that the staff have already had their two shots + two week wait, and are now as safe as they can be. I hope so, for their sake. They are very nice people. And there are almost as many of them as there are residents (we have higher levels of care in the same building, which increases our staff requirements). 200 or so.
(Still don’t understand why any of them would refuse the vaccine against a deadly disease they could transmit to the older people they work for.)
The public stress changed
From worrying about the election and the devoutly-wished disappearance of the previous mob, to wondering how the current administration is going to manage to reverse so much damage.
But I no longer watch – it’s politics as usual, the grownups are in charge, and I can’t do a thing.
The grownups are at the helm of the current actual focus on getting control of the pandemic. Another place I have limited reach and scope.
Since I’ve blocked all the people who are science-deniers, my only remaining advocacy point is to remind them that THE DISEASE IS MUCH WORSE THAN THE VACCINE.
A few have legitimate concerns; most should just make sure their doctors know their problems, and they are watched for a time after the actual injection to have a quick response if they have the exceedingly rare anaphylactic reaction. EXCEEDINGLY RARE.
But I’m so tired
Months and more months of stress have taken a real toll on the writing (and the other parts of my life, which I try to ignore).
I have only just regained some semblance of a normal sleep schedule with melatonin in tiny amounts at bedtime and my Daylight therapy box in the morning as soon as I get up. Now I’m wondering when I can get off the regimen, because the melatonin always makes me a bit groggy, and that is the enemy of me writing fiction.
A couple of weeks of better sleep is not enough for a year of stress, but I’m getting there.
The work proceeds apace
Yesterday I managed to take all the notes I had accumulated in 2016 on the critical medical topic which is an intricate and ineradicable part of this section of NETHERWORLD’s plot, and make sense of them: they were very badly written in the original source – and that is now behind a paywall!
So I’m feeling proud of myself for documenting everything so well that I was able to figure out what I needed, from what I gathered over four years ago in another state!
When I do research, I carefully retain the link or other source information, in the great fear that I will forget where I found something and fail to attribute it correctly, so my paranoia has served me well.
And some form of exercise occurs occasionally
I got a trike ride, a short one, this weekend – because the outdoor pool has glass in it from a broken table top during last week’s windstorm, and is unusable, even in the mild weather we had (they still haven’t told us how the heck they’re going to clean it up, they who put glass-topped tables near the pool in the first place!).
And I get out of the apartment to pick up lunch or somesuch on Maggie, my MAGnesium Alloy Airwheel S8 (a bicycle seat on a hoverboard – google it) a couple of times a week. Not nearly enough exercise for anyone, even disabled and chronically ill, but all I can manage.
The great outdoors in California in the wintertime is still great.
So that’s the report from a Continuing Care Retirement Community (CCRC) for today
I can feel, on re-reading my words, that the stress is lower.
How goes it with you?
If you are offered the vaccine, and don’t plan to take it, I’m curious how your thinking is going. I promise to be civil.
And otherwise, along with MY children, I hope everyone will be protected by a vaccine as soon as possible – I’m tired of living like this.
Not tired enough NOT to continue to take every precaution, but you know what I mean.
No, not the picture. That is just a photo of part of our lovely campus at the University Retirement Community.
If it’s warm enough, this is where we have our ‘younger women (<= 75)’ First Wednesday lunch every month, a way for the youngest members of URC to meet each other and connect. Since people move here at all ages, it isn’t the newcomers, per se.
But one of our residents decided to start this group, and it has been nice to have lunch with my contemporaries, some of whom have just moved here.
Most people at URC are older than we are.
Which brings me to my first topic: the coronavirus and the vaccine.
Because we live in a community where most residents, from independent living to skilled nursing, are over 75, when it came time for Yolo County to offer residents in Independent Living the coronavirus vaccine, they decided to include those of us under 75, but living here, the vaccine at the same time they vaccinated older residents and offered the vaccine to the whole staff.
We found out and signed up, along with most of the residents, a few days ago.
So, on Jan. 7, the day after the Capitol riots in DC (more about that later), husband and I got the first shot of the Moderna vaccine. We had very minor side effects, and I got an odd one (but so did others): a slightly red, slightly itchy upper arm around the injection site – but over a week after the shot! It went away before I reported it, only lasting a couple of days, but that was unexpected. Which is why I mention it.
We are scheduled for the second shot Feb. 4, four weeks after the first, and, if all goes as expected (management reassured us yesterday, but that means nothing as they have no official notice, no vaccine on hand, and no control – BUT have not been informed of any problems), two weeks after that, or from about Feb. 18, 2021, we will be as protected as this vaccine can make us.
Almost a year since we went into virtual hibernation, we may be able to move about in the world. No one knows how long it will be before our kids qualify – they are late 20s, early 30s – so this place will be more like a bubble or relative safety, and we may be able to socialize more with our peers. But it’s a big first step.
The stress has been hard to take, especially since some people don’t seem capable of keeping their mask over their nose.
The said Jan. 6, 2021 Capitol riots in OUR capital city
Along with most people, we watched horror as the day when a simple procedural count of electoral votes, certified already by each state, were supposed to simply be read into the record!
Now that 45 has been gone, and Joe Biden and Kamala Harris have pledged to uphold the US Constitution (as their predecessor promised, and then failed to do), it is hard to remember the enormous stress it has been to watch and read about the waning days of a wannabe dictator who attempted to reverse a legal election, and tried to get his sycophants to keep him in power via an attempted coup.
It will be a long time before that is all sorted out, but the days from Jan. 6 through Jan. 20, 2021, will not easily be forgotten, as the authorities slowly regained control over a situation that never should have been allowed to happen, and scared the heck out of the rest of us in the process.
The stress, predictably, made it difficult to write fiction – and made it impossible to blog. Anything I wrote might have been proved false within minutes.
I couldn’t make myself find some relatively stable and harmless topic, and I couldn’t write about what I was seeing and reading second hand.
A real rollercoaster ride of ‘this has never happened in my lifetime.’ And my lifetime has included the Cold War, the Vietnam War, the assassination of President John F. Kennedy, and the moon landings.
I’ll slowly recover – because of the title of this post.
The grownups are back in charge of the country.
Not that I could do anything about anything while they were not, except express outrage on FB, forward liberal posts there, and end up blocking or unfriending people who used hate language.
But, like many of us, I could not take my eyes off the trainwreck, even if I managed to limit it to a quick look several times a day into the headlines, and watching the coronavirus death toll.
Biden and Harris have, as the cliche goes, ‘their work cut out for them.’
I think that means that now they have to sew it into something resembling a garment. Or a shroud.
The sympathy for the victims and their families that was not expressed in the past year was given attention before the grownups even took office, in front of the Lincoln Memorial.
The choices for people in charge have, some of them been a bit surprising, but I don’t have a reservation about the selections that I know anything about. If Ben Carson, who doesn’t seem to care about anything, could head HHS, the Biden appointees can learn whatever they need to learn, and at least are people of integrity – and not all white men, by a huge margin over 45’s.
Nothing will be perfect, and not soon.
As there is incredible damage to stem, and then reverse, it won’t be fast.
I want accountability. Silly me. I hope we get some.
But even then, I leave that to the politicians, to the grownups.
I can’t help, and my opinions are not based on knowing enough to offer solutions.
I will sign petitions, such as the one to provide more funding for ME/CFS research, which, had it been done in a timely manner over the last four decades, would have been ready to help the long-covid survivors who end up with a raging post-viral syndrome.
I will vote, and urge people to take seriously both voter registration and voter intimidation before the midterm elections.
I HAVE NO FEAR OF VOTERS.
But removing post boxes so people can’t vote by mail, removing polling sites so they have to wait in line at the few remaining ones for HOURS, and the rampant intimidation of AMERICANS by domestic terrorists so they dare not cast their votes, is WRONG, makes any elections ‘won’ that way illegitimate, and is a nightmare to leave our children.
Anyone scared of legitimate votes is a FASCIST. There seem to be a lot of them.
We have a long way to go on so many fronts that were made so much worse by 45 and his minions.
But I don’t feel I have to be aware of every action any more: legitimate authorities will tackle the problems one by one.
I never was in charge, but now I’m getting out of the fray as much as possible.
I have NETHERWORLD to finish THIS YEAR. If God gives me life and brain.
And the farther you are from the beginning and the end (if you’re an extreme plotter as I am), the more likely you are to get to a point where a scene just isn’t obvious.
You know what the chain of scenes has to accomplish (connecting beginning to end efficiently and while keeping the reader entertained), but the specifics of some of the scenes just don’t set off the process which ends in writing the scene as if it had always been there.
I wasn’t surprised to find out it happened on this timeline
On the story that is not primary right now, the character timeline that is keeping one of the three characters off on her own while the other two are doing a very personal interaction necessary to the story, together.
So I know exactly when this character is rejoining the primary thread, and what is going to happen from that point on, but the notes I took on what she does meanwhile, in scenes that have to make her emergence exactly right when it happens, were placeholders, and they don’t satisfy, precisely because they are placeholders.
You can’t let the reader completely lose sight of a character
Not for chapter after chapter. Because in real life, a character is always the main character on her storyline.
It is possible that the time spent alone on her story is not all that interesting to the reader.
In GWTW, many long pages go by when we don’t hear what Frank Kennedy is doing – because Scarlett doesn’t care yet. Then, when her story demands another husband, and she decides she deserves what he has, and her sister would just waste it, she grabs him, and he has a presence in the main story until she manages to get him killed.
That’s one way to do it.
It’s better if that character is doing something
Something that needs reporting back to the reader, and something that will cause major problems if not resolved by the right time in the right way.
Something that really worries the reader.
Something that heads off in a direction far away from what the reader wanted the character to be doing, and that gets worse with each peek we get at what she’s up to and why.
In other words, I was missing an opportunity
And that’s why this scene I’m working on (31.5 for those keeping count) is giving me trouble.
It doesn’t yet have the danger coefficient it needs.
I don’t allow ‘middle’ scenes. Waste of good space and plotting sequence work. If the scene isn’t enhancing the story, it shouldn’t be there, but I have my other constraint which says we need to see what this character is up to.
The reader deserves that: my implicit contract with readers is that I won’t waste their time. If something is there, it can’t be removed (and the books shortened) without doing violence to the story and leaving a hole.
I just hadn’t thought out this particular sub-plot in the detail it needs, and my subconscious noticed – and stopped a perfectly good, if unnecessary, scene from being written.
It was okay.
But not good.
And it is going to have to be much better before I can enjoy writing it, and if I don’t enjoy writing it, why bother?
So I apologize in advance to my beta reader – this is going to make you very unhappy, and that’s exactly what I want to do, because the depth of despair predicts the heights achievable every time.
I made some lists, and I found all kinds of fodder.
I may end up using all of it in various degrees.
I have a bunch of decisions to make about relative strengths and what to summarize versus what to make the reader live through, but the thought processes have generated far more than I needed, and now I get to choose only the best.
I felt a bit lost, and I’ve been struggling with that feeling since I finished 31.4, and now I know how to proceed with making this timeline contribute to the rightness of the conclusion, instead of merely walking along the side track until it crossed the main path again.
Thanks for listening.
This is how I make progress, by understanding what I’m doing – and then writing it down.
I’m trying not to make too many mistakes twice.
That ol’ subconscious knows what it’s doing.
Happy New Year – and I hope you survived 2020 intact!
I told myself that when the Electoral College did their thing, the stress about who the next president will be would lessen.
But not enough.
There’s a pandemic going on.
I had hoped the arrival of vaccines would help, and it did – until I realized that even though we’re over 70, and living in a care facility, those of us in Independent Living will not qualify for the vaccine for quite a long time. Staff will be ALL vaccinated first – not a bad thing, as they are the ones who DAILY go back into the community.
People in Assisted Living, Memory Support, and Skilled Nursing will be vaccinated.
We will not. Not at first.
And it will be a VERY long time before I don’t have to worry about my children (late 20s, early 30s), because they will be among the last vaccinated, which means their quarantines (and ours) will not end for many months.
I told myself that when I found a new doctor, completing the process of picking one more deliberately than how we found our first Primary Care Physician (PCP) when we moved here over two years ago, and met him or her, and things seemed more to my liking (the first physician was fine, but we are not, it turns out, on quite the same page philosophically as I had hoped), that I could relax.
It did – I had a wonderful first visit yesterday during which all we did was talk, and at the end. I had asked the nurse, ‘Could we do this at the end?’ when I got there, and she agreed with no hesitation (good sign), because I was so stressed about having done that horrible thing, CHANGING YOUR DOCTOR), so that when she took my blood pressure, it was fine (Note to self: make sure I send a note to the cardiologist).
I get it: they’re busy, and they have to process people through quickly. For most people it doesn’t matter much if the nurse talks to them continuously through the process, they’ve exercised (getting to the doctor’s office DOES constitute exercise) within the past half hour, or they’ve not been allowed to rest quietly – or any of the other guidelines.
But for those of us for whom going to the doctor brings up a whole host of issues, stress significantly raises the measurement taken under not ideal conditions – and that is the number that goes into your permanent medical record.
So that particular medical stress has been lowered – but is not gone. And the contortions I had to go through in my mind and in person left me completely exhausted and unable to write a word yesterday. I couldn’t even nap!
And, of course, my medical system still doesn’t have someone with expertise in ME/CFS I can talk to – I continue to be completely responsible for whatever self-care measures I can find and execute to deal with what, for convenience and so readers can understand because it’s FRESH, is exactly like what the Covid-19 long-haulers are discovering: no one knows enough to help them get themselves back after a virus, and for some it’s been almost a year.
Removing the stress isn’t a panacea
In many ways, it dumps you back into the situation you lived in before the stress started, but at a significantly lowered coping level.
There’s the long-neglected to do list.
There are the problems with money, which for some are an annoyance, but are a major new source of stress for those getting unexpected bills, do not have the expected income, or are even worried whether their investments will be ravaged by the stock market rollercoaster – and they will have to depend on their children to pay the bills because their nest egg will not get them through!
I won’t be able to relax completely about the election until Biden is IN the White House, either – too much nonsense has gone on.
There have been some new health challenges – notably the blood sugar rollercoaster (much better, thank you) – which consumed lots of time and caused much worry. The kind that RAISES blood pressure (yup, all stress reinforces other stress).
I don’t know how to get back to – or to – ‘normal.’
My resilience has been challenged by 31 years of chronic illness.
And we’re still in lockdown, not particularly conductive to relaxing, abetted by the news that California’s screwed up bigtime. If you look at all the graphs, it is likely much of the soaring covid and covid death rates were NOT helped by Thanksgiving, and we’re about to repeat that with the year-end holidays.
We take it day by day.
But it’s been incredibly hard to write. To create NEW fiction. To find a time during the day when the brain is functional (not just in survival mode) so I can use it.
And ignore the guilt that comes from not using some of that ‘good brain time’ to do things that really should be done, and which I’ve been planning to do in the evenings AFTER writing – something that just keeps not happening.
Be kind to yourself
And everyone else.
Be especially kind to those who have been working because they have to – we have an amazing staff here, but they are human, are working under plague conditions, and have had to live with weekly testing, knowing some of their colleagues have tested positive, and that a mistake on their part might severely damage one of the old people in their care.
And don’t expect to get back to normal easily or quickly.
Because we don’t.
Stress stays there, like a phantom limb, even when it’s technically reduced or gone.
For many reasons lately, I have been having trouble blogging, must less writing fiction.
It all came to a head about a week ago, when I realized I was having what I thought might be ‘attacks’ of very low blood sugar – and they scared me.
I’d wake up in the middle of the night, or realize after working for a while, and I hadn’t eaten in a while.
My body would be screaming at me, and I felt as if I would pass out if I didn’t eat something THAT INSTANT.
The process of getting food in me – any food in me – was fraught and frightening: I would start eating something easy like cottage cheese, and not stop until I had consumed a couple hundred calories, and then would sit there in the kitchen, shaking, until it took hold, or diverted the blood from my panicky brain to digesting what I had just eaten, or whatever – but it would leave me trembly for what seemed hours after.
So after several days of this, and on the weekend,
I promised my husband I would contact the doctor, and, as the online appointment page offered me a video visit at 9:45 Monday morning, I took it, and was waiting when the doctor tuned in.
Best visit to a doctor of my life: I hate doctor appointments after over 31 years of a chronic disease that I’ve never had help with, and this time it was in the comfort of my own office and computer, and, through some twist I never figured out, the video took up a very small fraction of my screen, and his head was smaller than a passport photo.
Long story short, as every doctor under the sun (it seems), he wants me to entirely change the way I eat.
I said no. It works for me.
But afterward, I got to thinking, and sent him an email suggesting that since we had a blood glucose meter, I could take measurements for a while at different times of day, and maybe figure out what was going on. Other alternatives would involve a hospital stay – something I’m hoping to avoid right now – and the effort required to change my entire system of eating is not something I would undertake unless all else has failed AND he guaranteed it would work. Not likely.
Let the games begin
I spent the next morning after husband picked up some new supplies (his were from 2013) getting the system to work.
I called our nurse. Took the meter down to her office.
She took it down to Skilled Nursing, where no one is allowed right now who doesn’t work or live there, not even friends and family.
She said the meter didn’t work – gave errors – BUT she brought me back in a tiny plastic meds cup a single drop of the control solution (glucose in solution at a particular concentration), and Maggie and I brought it back to the apartment.
Courtesy of good planning (and luck), I had one of the lithium batteries the device needed, and it worked, and I was able to test the monitor with the control solution drop!
Now for individual measurements
I learned the whole make a hole in yourself and gently squeeze a drop of blood out of your finger thing, which I hope not to have to do ever again after this, and started recording both the measurements, and the things which might affect my blood sugar levels: when I ate, whether I felt particularly shaky, how long it had been since I slept (I take at least three naps a day lately), what I ate (though I’m not planning on altering that, and it was mostly low carb stuff).
It’s a real racket: the test strips are $1 apiece, and you need a new one for each drop you test (unless you mess the drop up, and then the spare works sometimes). The little lancets (poky things) aren’t supposed to be reused. And the control solution (I have some coming in the mail from Walmart) was $15 for two 4oz. bottles. And here’s the kicker: you’re supposed to test your meter once a month (or when you think the results are messed up), AND discard the opened bottle after three months, and I defy anyone to use up that much liquid in three months!
I don’t see how diabetics manage their testing.
In any case, I now have a solid week of about 5-10 measurements a day, and I will sort them out in Excel, graph them, analyze the graph and notes, and send a copy off to the doctor.
But the answer is
that although my blood sugar IS lower when I’m feeling very shaky and unhappy, it is NOT low enough to be classified as clinically low. Even when I felt I had to respond this very instant, it was probably me overreacting.
Now I measure, and then I eat if necessary, but I’ve also relaxed enough to realize it is very uncomfortable, but I’m NOT going to pass out, and even at the worst, I can actually breathe through it and handle it rationally.
Which is where the accumulation of tiny things comes in:
This has not been a normal year.
I needn’t list the things that have happened, or the continual stress of being locked down or the reason for the lockdown.
The worry about whether loved ones were okay has been huge; some were not, which was even worse.
And I’m sure this was my version of covid fatigue: the stress level got so high that a slightly (okay, it was scary and not little) exaggerated feeling of doom accompanied the more frequent occurrence of something uncomfortable and frightening of episodes that have been happening all along.
And I’d been making them worse without realizing it.
Because my brain stops working when I eat, and then I have to take a nap to restore it to even remotely usable conditions, I was postponing eating as long as I could, hoping to get some writing done.
Which led to
So when I finally had to admit I had to eat, we were at full-blown hunger – and the lowest of my normal range blood sugar range – and it took time to recover. A lot of time. Even after eating.
I might have been able to shorten that time had I been willing to eat something with sugar in it, but that also messes with my brain, with consequences sometimes lasting more than 24 hours, and I didn’t want to start down that path. So I accidentally made things much worse – and then freaked out over it.
I told the husband. I told no one else until I talked to the doctor.
We all try not to worry the offspring, right?
But I have been in a high dudgeon state, and of course incapable of writing fiction. OR blogging. Or, indeed, anything except wondering if this was going to be it.
I’m not even sure they would check for low blood sugar if I ended up in an ambulance, and husband wouldn’t be allowed to go in with me. Which added to the worries, as, if it’s really low, and not corrected, you can literally die.
When I had to deal with it because it happened at 3-4am, I was not in the best state to be rational – sleep deprivation does that.
And, as usual, the solution, eating, was putting on weight – and I already have to deal with that, and no, I do NOT seek help from doctors for that: their success rate, long-term, is 2%, though somehow EVERY SINGLE TIME you see one they mention you should lose weight, as if it were something you could decide one night, and have done with by the morning.
So I also have not much to write about or post about.
Us being in the middle of an unchanging physical, global, and electoral nightmare.
And California, which had seemed to be doing okay, is now having most regions almost to the highest pandemic status, including the Greater Sacramento area, and is no more free of covid problems than the rest of the nation.
If you’ve ever done a stress inventory (you should – find one online), I know my stress levels (with an easy life in a nice place and people bringing me dinner every night) are in the DANGER ZONE. I can only imagine what it’s like for others who don’t have our resources, who have to go to work, whose children are in school, who have a relative or friend in the hospital or who work in one.
I apologize for the self-centered nature of the above half-assed post.
It’s all I got right now.
That, and watching the sales graph at Amazon: sold two ebooks this month! After nothing for several months before that. And it isn’t going to get any better until I finish book 2 and revisit the complete marketing problem – from website (prideschildren.com – don’t go; it’s very rough right now), to ads, to finding more reviews (pretty please – if you’ve ever planned to write one, now would be very nice).
I’m really trying to get to the VERY good end of this volume. Can’t wait.
I am glad to put this scare behind me, and hope to be able to create more than a few words of fiction every day, because I can’t wait to get to the end of this one.
Let me know how you’re all coping with stress, and if you have stories of how it’s pushed you far out of your comfort zone.
Recommend PC to a friend if you were always planning to do that.
Bye for now. I have no idea when you’ll hear from me again, but I really miss you.
My apologies for being lost – missing in non-action.
Every time I start settling into a topic something happens.
Often it makes what I was going to write pointless.
The pandemic is a rollercoaster
Over 250,000 dead – and we’re pretending it’s not happening, led from the top?
Over 11,000,000 cases – and that’s only ones that are caught and tallied?
We’re heading into the winter flu season – conditions will be ripe for passing on ALL kinds of viruses and germs – so the numbers that are already horrifying me are going to get much, much worse.
And people (!?!) are still planning to get together for Thanksgiving in the USA after the reports from the Canadian Thanksgiving which showed surges from people getting together and spending time in interior spaces without masks.
Do we really have to repeat or exceed the 50,000,000 worldwide deaths from the 1918 flu?
It’s bad enough that we’re repeating the behavior from 1918.
Oh, and they’re starting to talk of triage in hospitals, and letting the weak and old and disabled and ill die first again. People like me.
Election results are a rollercoaster
I don’t even want to go there.
I avoid even the reputable news sources closer to neutral and accurate reporting because they are telling us everything, because we need to be able to find out, but I can’t take it any more.
It took me forever to figure out the ‘Opinion’ pieces on The Washington Post are only that, someone’s opinion.
They aren’t news or truth or even remotely accurate just because other part of the newpaper are supposed to be unbiased reporting.
Their headlines sit there and jangle me.
Every previous (well, in my memory – since about 1969 when I moved to the States) ex-president or failing candidate conceded, called and congratulated the winner of the election, and made plans – for the good of the nation. Power alternated between parties, and legislatures were not necessarily of the same party.
And it will be months of this wrangling, while we hold our breath and the departing administration tries to lock in its failures or perceived gains, instead of moving on.
The lockdown at our little CCRC is a rollercoaster
We have lost and gained and lost again:
the outdoor pool
the indoor pool
meetings of a certain size
dining in the dining room with friends
use of public rooms, the arts room, and the various lounges
and every other resident activity that makes living in this kind of retirement community a pleasure.
Some have returned via TV or zoom; others will have to wait.
And people still have not mastered the simple requirement of wearing a mask that covers NOSE AND MOUTH, ALL the time, and not handling things like the microphone.
We have had relatively few cases – but we have had some, and we go in fear that something will change or get worse.
My personal life is a rollercoaster
Some of it is probably stress, and continued stress, and never really being able to relax from stress.
My pain meds – which I always used to toss down the hatch with some water without thinking much about it – have been giving me major trouble. I think it’s finally become impossible for me to take them on an empty stomach (I would often remember to take the night ones right before bed).
With all the time I have, I can’t count on myself to be functional, and it seems to take huge amounts of attention to find myself with a couple of hours during which I can focus. I hope that gets better.
But we’re heading into WINTER, and I know I am highly affected by the shortening of the days. It is worse because I am already a night owl, insomnia seems to be part of the package, and, if I go to bed at 6am, and sleep until 11 or 12, and then need an afternoon nap or two, I have precious few hours exposed to daylight.
I should be arranging for a couple of surgeries, one relatively minor (but nothing is minor when you’re a slow healer), one significant – and I don’t want to go anywhere near a hospital right now.
There is some POSSIBILITY that research into post-covid long-haulers MIGHT deliver some results for those of us with ME/CFS – but nothing much has appeared yet, and it’s a long-odds hope. More likely: the new sick people with symptoms like mine will overwhelm the available medical systems – which have nothing to offer them because they’ve never developed it for people like me.
All that is hard to manage on a day to day basis
And I can’t plan, and I can’t count on myself, and I can’t see my kids, and I can’t help anyone.
But I am managing to write a few words when I’m not oscillating like a tuning fork.
And after 31 years, I at least have the ability to know that if it’s a while yet, I’ll survive, and not go completely off the rails because of ‘pandemic fatigue.’
And that is why I haven’t blogged much.
I’ll get there. We’ll all get there, those of us who survive, but it’s a rollercoaster.
I rode over to my flu-clinic appointment, and rode through the drive-by on my trike, Trixie, because we have been in California since Aug. 2018, and haven’t bought a car.
And haven’t yet acquired driver’s licenses.
We were doing okay with Uber and Lyft until the pandemic; now I’m not taking that chance.
I’m practically never leaving the premises except for a short trike ride occasionally – and everything out there looks perfectly normal (I stay on the greenway, don’t get off the trike).
A few days later, the medvan took me to my cardiologist appointment with Maggie2 – and I decided to just ride her home – and took a few pastoral pictures on the way home.
Beautiful day, almost too hot in the sun, and yes, I wore my helmet (not that I usually bother – I go about a mile an hour; you can walk faster).
When you don’t hear from me
it’s because I haven’t had much to say for one of two reasons:
I’m bummed, the body isn’t working, and I can only stare at the screen and feed myself, or
Pride’s Children NETHERWORLD lost about two years to us moving. I started it in 2016, and had hoped to finish it in 5 years instead of the 15 it took PURGATORY, but I hadn’t planned on the move.
No matter – the new insight I have into how my body works is letting me have a few more usable hours, and I’m plugging along, as slow as usual during the actual time the brain is on (I do a LOT of work preparing for a scene, consume many hours in the writing, and spend gobs of time editing).
So it takes up most of my days to get some usable time around the limitations, but lately the words are coming out the way I like them to, and I am about to finish another chapter.
The ‘real world’ is crazy
Between the pandemic and the politics, and us being in lockdown with pool hours only available mid-morning, right in the middle of my writing time, and me still spending hours staring at the screen, I’m surprised I’m getting a single word on a page.
My secret is Freedom – and the self-discipline to block the internet for a set of hours, with no way to get more than the few sudokus I set up before I start (for breaks).
FIGHT FOR THE RIGHT TO WRITE is my motto.
And fight WordPress for the right to blog my words my way. Mostly I win.
We are being allowed a little other freedom
We can have dinner on the outside terrace by La Brisa, our alternate dining venue.
We can have dinner with ONE other person or couple in the regular dining room, with the tables now very far apart, and our temperature checked before we sit down, going in one door of the dining room and out the other (which, due to the design of this place, requires us to go down from the Third Floor by the Central Elevator to the First Floor, walk a fair distance, and take the East Elevator up to the Fourth Floor where we live.
They tell us it’s Yolo County rules. It’s supposed to keep people from bunching up. But they still do it when we’re the last seating.
We had dinner with friends yesterday, for the first time since March, and will be having dinner with different friends next Saturday – assuming no one gets ill.
And we’re still using the outdoor pool (Yolo County again), but I had to get out after 20 minutes because it is way too cold, and I couldn’t take it any more. Slightly better than nothing.
In other news
And we went to a wedding in Boulder, CO, by zoom because our son and new daughter-in-law (finally) have decided to postpone the reception but had the wedding. It was lovely. Parents and sibling on both sides, and the bride’s grandmother. California, Texas, and New York were represented.
There will be a party when it’s safe – they have a venue date for October of NEXT year.
And that’s about it except for compulsive news reading (NYT, WaPo, a few others) about the pandemic, and we’ve sent our ballots in by mail and the State of California confirms they have been received.
I hope the nightmare is over. Nobody is taking it for granted.
What a year!
And this is why I don’t blog when nothing has been happening – it’s boring!
My lovely beta reader is expecting, and they have had three hurricanes go over their heads lately (Gulf Coast-ish).
And the fires are mostly out around here.
The other night when I couldn’t sleep I felt an earthquake rattle the bed – it was a 2.7 (tiny to those of us brought up in Mexico City), the person at the Front Desk didn’t feel it, and the Earthquake reporting site had it as happening about ten kilometers from here.
Hope you are all having a more exciting life than I am – and stayed safe over Halloween!
Humans are born needing love to survive – ‘failure to thrive’ may even be a cause of death when there is not enough love, in the form of feeding, holding, keeping warm, for an infant to want to live.
If that love isn’t present ‘enough’ by a certain age, it may never be recovered. Adults who have survived have significant problems. The Romanian children kept in orphanages and later adopted often were incapable of attaching to their new parents, parent who were not prepared to deal with them and their special needs.
Distinguishing between a Romance and a mainstream love story
like Pride’s Children is critical for my advertising, and it is something I still have a very hard time with.
Romance readers do not like Pride’s Children.
The negative reviews I have come from people whose expectations were not met.
And that’s my fault – because something I did caused them to EXPECT a Romance.
Romance readers have very clear ideas of what they want:
a relationship between TWO people
relatively short books
more of the same only different – from the same author
an HEA (happily ever after) or at least HFN (happy for now) endings
and in some cases, a form of point of view that alternates, in the same scene, between the points of view of the two characters
covers which indicate the kind of Romance enclosed within, from chaste to steamy
recommendations from Romance websites
There are many variations and compilations, but those are the basics from what I can discern.
I wish I wrote Romance – it is in some ways much easier to signal what a book is, and to market.
There is also a huge amount of competition!
A mainstream love story is a different beast
Even though Gone With the Wind is often listed as a Romance (and ‘Romance’ is what all novels used to be designated), it is not: no happy ending, not even a HFN. NOT a relationship between two people – Ashley Wilkes is in the middle for most of the book. And no head-hopping: the point of view is firmly locked on Scarlett for the whole story, but in a limited, not very intimate, omniscient way.
I’d call GWTW a mainstream love story, even a fairly literary one.
And I think that is the key to its enduring success.
At the end, we ache for Scarlett, for ‘tomorrow is another day,’ for her transformation, for her future – which made it irresistible for the Margaret Mitchell estate to allow a writer to take the story further.
Unfortunately, they picked a Romance writer, which I believe was the wrong choice, and didn’t buy.
But the marketing… with the book’s fame, they could market it any way they wanted.
I don’t have that fame.
Traditional publishers might have known how to market Pride’s Children
Many things kept me from submitting Pride’s Children to an agent, trying to find a traditional publisher:
I’m deathly slow
Disability is handled in the story – at the time I was nearing a finish, disability only got lip service while being sort of categorized with ‘diversity’
I’m pathologically stubborn
I have believed the indie self-published path is better for a long time now
I dislike not having everything in my control
I was sure I would be getting, “Nice – but not for us right now” responses, as traditional publishers went with things they were more certain they could sell
I knew I would be asked to change certain elements of the story to something more palatable
I don’t like their royalty structure
If I break out, I want it to be because of what I did, and not for someone else to be able to claim the credit.
But not going traditional leaves me in charge of marketing and publicity.
And most indies do not write mainstream literary fiction!
So there is little path to follow, and that among mostly indie historical novelists; though if I end up taking as long as I seem to be, ‘historical’ may fit me. Depends on whether it is 25 or 50 years since the events happened, as 2005/6 is the timeframe. I’ll probably make 25 by the time I finish the third volume, but probably not be around for 50.
I am gleaning information and ideas from many sites and groups
None of them really appropriate.
I need to figure out how to ‘go viral,’ to capture the zeitgeist, to become popular.
While still having zero energy, fighting my body daily to get some writing brain time, and trying to blaze a trail.
I have ideas. I have sources and places to put ads (some of the previous ones were expensive disastrous messes). I get cannier and sneakier and more educated and more focused with each thing I try.
But it hasn’t been, and won’t be, easy.
The last attempt led me to USTO.gov (copyrights and trademarks and such) to make sure a phrase I will trademark wasn’t being used already.
But the cost is not zero, and the category I fit in right now – intent-to-use – won’t last long enough for my purposes, so I’m not revealing it until I’m ready to use it. Meanwhile, I will be on tenterhooks.
Which brings me full circle:
‘Write a good book,’ they said.
But never said that part of that may make it extremely hard to sell.
As usual, comments are very welcome – and I love getting suggestions.
Also, my thanks to Stencil for their graphics software and ability to have a free account for up to ten images a month.
The instructions for getting to shore safely when caught in a riptide are to let the current take you where it will, while swimming slowly across, until you’re out of its grasp.
If you try anything like fighting the current, you will drown after you become exhausted, unless one of those nice fit lifeguards sees you and gets to you in time.
Because the current is stronger than you are – by many orders of magnitude.
What is brain fog?
If you have to ask, you haven’t had it. I’m glad for you.
It is feeling, within your own skull, that you just can’t think.
That your brain is in there somewhere, maybe, but you can’t get to it. Other names are chemobrain, fibrobrain, stupor, …
No matter what you seem to try, you can’t get out of the fog – and you can’t think.
It can be caused by illness. By medication. By sleep deprivation. By eating or drinking too much or the wrong thing.
It is a huge part of life with ME/CFS (myalgic encephalomielitis/chronic fatigue syndrome).
It robs you of hours of time.
Healthy people may have ways of exercising through it. Some people can take a stimulant like caffeine to focus and wake up, or ADHD meds.
Rest SHOULD help, but for people like me is often not restorative.
And what is this thing you’re calling a vagal wave?
The vagus nerve enervates much of your body, from the spinal column up to your brain, and out to your limbs. Including innards you don’t have conscious control over, such as your digestive system.
It covers so much territory, it’s hard to know exactly where the sensations are coming from sometimes.
I get periods of time, long ones, when it feels like a wave motion is going on in my body, and all I can do is sit there and let it do its thing. Sometimes painful (the meds after stents caused a horrible case of constant waves of pain in the gut), sometimes not.
When I sit in front of the computer screen, ready to write or focus or think, but the waves are going, all I can do is to grit my teeth and live through them, hour upon hour.
But I’m a problem solver by nature and training
and I finally was able to pay enough attention to the combination of not being able to think, and feeling as if I was in an aquarium (the modern kind with waves).
Data is essential for problem solving, both to identify what’s going on, and then, when you come up with solutions, to see if you’ve managed to change something.
And I finally collected enough data (over months of not being able to write very often), to see some correlations.
I have to eat. We all do. And I can’t think starving, so I can’t postpone the eating TOO much, plus I seem to get these shaky periods of low blood sugar if I put off eating too long, and then it’s an emergency to eat something.
I don’t eat many carbs, so it baffled me – sugar messes with my brain, and the day after eating sugar there’s no way any thinking is going to happen. I don’t even bother trying any more.
But I FINALLY noticed
that 10-30 minutes after I EAT, the waves start, and the brain fog.
I used to try to push through – and the only result of that was to spend hours in that state.
I tried taking naps when I got tired – but they weren’t organized or planned, and the effects didn’t seem to correlate with anything; it was just something I HAD to do.
And I finally figured it out:
My damaged and severely limited energy metabolism doesn’t have enough at any given time to do BOTH: keep me awake and functioning (or even get there), and digesting my food.
It took some tweaking, but I have found a system which takes advantage of my need for napping and my need for food, and times them so that they don’t conflict.
So now I run a time-share
I get up, drink First Diet Coke, and try to get a bit of writing or organizing done before I eat anything.
When hunger tends to shut me down – anywhere from a few minutes to a couple of hours later – I prepare for the next phase: I eat something (mostly protein), but I start getting ready for the changeover from thinking to digesting. I take notes so I can pick up easily when I come back.
And when I feel the waves starting, I get into my jammies, pull the shades, turn the lights off and add an eyemask to block external stimuli, and get in bed.
I set a timer for 35 minutes.
If the wave approach is gentle, I’ll do a quick range-of-motion set, a couple of minutes worth.
If the approach is sudden and severe, I just crash. I used to fear this part – now I just realize I dragged my feet too much.
Lights out. Body temperature drops abruptly (ergo, the jammies). Sometimes deep sleep, sometimes a coma-like state.
The digestive part of the vagus nerve’s control takes over – and I don’t get in its way. No reading. No TV. NO COMPUTER. No trying to think, or push through it, or ignore it.
Just give in.
And when the alarm goes off
I get up, stretch a bit. Get some water, and Second Coke, and NO FOOD.
And within minutes I’m functional again (inasmuch as I’m ever functional), and I can usually work/write for an hour or two until I’ve used up my nap energy, and need food again.
I try not to do Third Coke after Second Nap – that’s too much caffeine for the day (each can is about 45mg of caffeine – peanuts compared with a cup of coffee or an energy drink, but it’s about as much as I can tolerate at a time without getting scarily shaky).
What I should do is not drink First Coke until after First Nap, but that has other physical problems related to it that I prefer not to go into here.
For years I’ve taken 3-5 of these 35 minute naps every day.
And I ALWAYS wake up in a better state than I laid down in.
But this is the first time I’ve coordinated all the pieces, and added the realization that DIGESTION TAKES PHYSICAL ENERGY.
And that my energy supplies are so low, I can’t afford to have the processes of thinking and starting digestion going at the same time.
I’ve been testing this system for the past week
I’m only taking 1-2 naps most days – probably because they are at the right time.
Eating is the trigger – every time. I hadn’t realized how strong it is as a trigger. Though it makes perfect sense: you eat, your body starts digestion. Duh!
Not having a good night’s sleep can cost me the first workable period, and, on a bad sleep night, I may not be able to recover the following day at all.
If I exercise at all – and right now we’re only allowed to use the pool in a predetermined half-hour slot during the 8-11am time – even if it’s the gentlest possible stretching in water – most or all of the rest of the day is shot, because I can’t make up that energy. So the two swim days a week are going to be non-writing days, most likely. Evening would work, but the county rules for the pandemic require a staff person supervising, and the facility is only providing that on weekdays in the morning. Before, I used the pool alone whenever I wanted to, and it was usually in the late afternoon or evening.
If I try to defeat the system and push through, all I do is foul everything up, and get neither rest nor functionality nor good digestion. Timing is critical, as is diversion of energy from one stream to the other.
I might have figured it out sooner
if I had a readout somewhere on my body of both energy usage and remaining stored energy.
I’ve been fighting this battle for years, but I never got quite the data until I noticed the crash after eating – and thought about it. And then it made sense: I’m broken, but I still have some small amount of control.
What I need was all this pandemic isolation and time, and the frustration of the crashes, and some insight that I still don’t know where I got. I have time – lots of it – but was not making much progress in writing NETHERWORLD, except what felt like randomly.
And when the brain was there, I could write for a while – and then it would go.
The PRINCIPLE is the key
I have only enough energy for one process at a time.
I’m lucky I do. I think aging takes its toll, too, and I’m probably producing less energy, total, every year.
Many people with what I have don’t have even this amount to work with – and spend their days playing catch up, with task after basic task barely getting done.
I’ve written this in the hopes of saving someone else with this kind of severe energy deficiency management the years of figuring out how to make the most of their energy creation and storage capacity.
Please let me know if this is of any use.
And pray it makes me a faster writer – I really do well with my brain on!
My thanks to Stencil for the capacity to make interesting images for these posts. Give them your business if you need to produce this kind of image – they have lots more stuff available than the free accounts use.
Despite the recommendations of every editor on the planet, some of us do our own*.
Editing’s no different from any of the other tasks a self-publisher tackles:
You are not going to do it perfectly
It is a skill – and you are not born with it
Learning has many steps
There are books which will teach you (or you can take a class)
It takes time to do it well
It is not inexpensive – if you count your time
The professionals started somewhere
The results are there for everyone to see
No matter what you do, someone will criticize you
There are objective standards – but not everyone agrees what they are
There is great satisfaction in doing it yourself
Why do your own editing?
Because, in the long run, everything you learn makes you a better writer. Because you can. Because it is always available, on your own time schedule, at your own price (but don’t forget that the time you spend editing might be better spent writing). Because you can’t afford what a good editor costs, and a bad one is useless.
In my case, because I am incapable of interacting with someone else about my own work. Call it a feature – or a bug.
How to have an editing program assist you
After I have almost everything written, polished, listened to, and in what I consider final form, I run it through AutoCrit – and all of the COUNTING it does for me:
Two-, three-, and four-word phrases repeated (ouch – unless deliberate).
My own personal word list.
Each and every one of these flagged items gets put through a wringer: Context. Intent. The possibility of synonyms, and a consideration of nuance. Number of repetitions. Whether the repetition is by accident or design.
In other words, everything that has bitten me before.
What I don’t let it ‘help’ me with
Why? Because I don’t trust its judgment on ‘passive voice,’ or ‘subject verb agreement,’ or ‘tense.’ Or ‘readability.’
I have a set, but complex, style. Autocrit doesn’t see italics, for example, but I signal to the reader that something is a direct thought by changing to first person and putting the text in italics. So if you read:
There is no way I’m telling him that.
you’ll know it’s a more intense thought, in those exact words, than general internal monologue:
She wasn’t going to tell him that.
It’s too complicated for an automatic program.
But the counting alone is an amazing help for me
When and where I need it.
This is my reason for having a lifetime membership – my brain is tired more than lazy all the time due to chronic illness and disability, so I let it serve up the most convenient word WHEN WRITING. But I’m not going to let first words stand – not without a raze-to-the-ground fight.
Because my readers deserve the best I can provide on the LANGUAGE side of the writing.
Self-editing with a program is a tool
It takes a fair amount of time per scene, but I think of it as the best investment of that time I can make, because the final product is improved in so many ways. I look for strong verbs instead of verb + adverb combinations, more precise nouns instead of common nouns, and also places where I can reinforce a motif or thread I want to keep.
And I don’t have to count or do the time-consuming searches because Autocrit is merciless.
After the scene is polished through this process, I put it through several of the steps one final time – because I have had the experience of working on synonyms and nuance, and finding out that to reduce the count of one way of saying things, I have increased the count of another!
*Adapted from an online comment – you may have seen some of this material before.
Do you use an editing program to improve your own writing?