Monthly Archives: December 2020

When you have to micromanage your plot

YOU CAN’T PLAN EVERYTHING AHEAD OF TIME

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.

Every time.

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Happy New Year – and I hope you survived 2020 intact!

May 2021 bring you joy and peace.

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Major stress doesn’t just END neatly

A peaceful setting on the greenway, mother with stroller and child

GETTING BACK TO NORMAL?

Outside stress

I told myself that when the Electoral College did their thing, the stress about who the next president will be would lessen.

It did.

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.

Medically-induced stress

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).

It would have been lower, I’m convinced, if I didn’t have to fight so hard to have the American Heart Association (AHA) guidelines for accurate BP measurement followed.

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.’

Nobody does.

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.

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The deadly accumulation of tiny things

I’VE BEEN DOING THE BEST THAT I CAN

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.


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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.


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