Category Archives: Brain training

A place to lump all those efforts to create new neural pathways to replace the ones that die; serious efforts to stave off the dementia which runs through my maternal ancestrecesses who lived long lives; stuff that makes my brain hurt, and thus must be good for it.

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.


************

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.


************

Taming brain fog and the vagal nerve wave

Surfers

WORKING AGAINST THE INEVITABLE IS EXHAUSTING

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.


Based on a prompt: Baby Egg

 

THIS ONE’S FOR MARIAN

She insisted I should finish it.

I decided to give myself a few more words than the 100-word limit of the Drabble – it takes time to shorten, and I’m in the middle of NETHERWORLD, but her prompt inspired me, and here it is:

BABY EGG

She went every day to visit the baby egg. Through its translucent shell, her first child grew peacefully, with her heart sound piped in, and a gentle periodic rocking to simulate her walking around the kitchen.

Protestors screamed outside the lab that it was unnatural.

But it had finally removed Eve’s curse: no birth. No stretching the body out of shape. No pause in the ability to work. No pain. No surrogates wanting to keep the babies they carried for others.

She’d have to be in town when the baby ripened, but, other than that, she couldn’t see why she wouldn’t bond perfectly well with her offspring – after all, adopted babies did fine, didn’t they? There was the oxytocin nasal spray, and the hormones for lactation, and the nanny to do all the changing of dirty diapers.

It should be a hoot to play with when she had some time.

Here’s Marian‘s prompt:

It’s a baby egg. The neighbors got chickens that lay teeny wee eggs and gave me some. I had tomatoes from the farmers market, so I made a marriage in heaven.

She has a cute picture of a very small egg in her hand.

For the record, this is the new ‘block editor’ for WordPress, and I hate it.

Any time you change things I was perfectly happy with, I resent the huge loss of time.

I no longer have any idea where the things I depended on have gone.

If it ain’t broke, don’t fix it.

They do realize some of us have damaged brains, right?

I have no idea how to access the media, or how to insert an image, or…

Pretty much sums up my life.

And I have no idea what this will look like, vertical-spacing-wise.

SIGH!

——————-

How to torture your favorite writer

Graph from Kindle showing how many page reads Pride's Children has over a month

THIS IS OLD – BUT THE PRINCIPLE STANDS

I haven’t advertised in ages, because I haven’t figured out exactly how to do it when you write in a 1) smaller niche (mainstream love story), that is 2) usually NOT indie (and you write indie), and are 3) slow (so there won’t be another book for readers for a while longer).

As an expected result, sales are slow (but someone bought a paperback this month – Yay!).

And, under certain conditions, you can SEE a reader take your book out of KU and read a few pages (first yellow bar – around 10, maybe 11 if the next bar was right after midnight).

And then read a few pages every once in a while.

From a later graph and adding all the page reads (PC is just under 400 pages), I think the reader finished by May 19th.

Slow writers take our encouragement where we can get it

But it is amusing to watch a graph like this one (and the speeding up at the end) go by when you are doing your daily check.

And to decide what you’re going to assume about the reader (since you have no data but the few points on the graph, which you assume come from the same borrow) based on NO OTHER INFORMATION.

In this case, I assumed a busy life, and a few pages read at bedtime by someone who KNEW they had to get up in the morning to work. Fair enough?

READERS owe writers NOTHING

I will say that as many times as necessary.

Once the book is on the open market, buying – or borrowing from KU – is more than enough for a reader to give the writer.

At that point, we hope they will enjoy it.

Anything else, a rating, a review, a recommendation – is above and beyond, and a gift.

If a reader buys the paper book, we usually don’t even find out if they read it unless a review shows up (these can really make your day; the absence is just normal reader behavior, because few review).

Between the reader and the writer

This has been the contract (a one-way contract) almost forever: I will read.

Going to the next level of writing a fan letter was very rare, even in the olden days.

Doing anything else other than having a warm feeling for the experience (if that happens) nowadays is as rare.

When you see a book with many reviews, it is usually because the book sold many copies – and the usual percentage (tiny) of readers left their impression.

Occasionally, a very good (or very bad) book may solicit a higher percentage – meaning it hit readers in the gut.

Torture away

Writers don’t expect much feedback

Our readers are mostly not writers – they are the people we hope to serve entertainment to.

But it is possible (probably unconsciously) to torture your writer – by proving you can put the book down, over and over.

If you need to do that, please go ahead. It does require you borrow the book from Kindle Unlimited first – and then read it a tiny bit at a time.

Know that the torture is even better because Amazon pays authors not when the book is borrowed, but as the pages are read.

You’re welcome.


PS: I’m going through my files of draft posts I never finished to see if any still tickle my fancy. This one did.


 

Target reader emotions when you plot

WHAT DOES THE READER REALLY WANT?

I just had a tough decision to make in a scene.

I waffled – there were two ways to write the thing, and there were pros and cons for each of the ways.

Until I hit the right question.

The two ways were:

for a character to stew all day hoping she could achieve her goal that night

-or-

to be confident all day that she would achieve the goal, and spend the time planning how she would enjoy it.

The first way is more dramatic – for the character.

The question?

What is worse – for the READER?

The actual plot will go to the same place: either she will or she will not get what she wants; that was predetermined in 2000 when I started this.

But now that I’m writing the scenes, I need to shift a bit from ‘what happens’ to ‘how do I PRESENT what happens’?

I know where it’s going – the reader does not.

I created the rollercoaster – the reader wants a good ride and a thrill.

My virtual teachers (writing books) teach me that the reader can handle the centrifugal force from being thrown around curves in the plot.

More than they can handle being on a nice calm piece of exposition which is BORING.

Once I asked the right question

the answer was obvious.

The ride for the reader is MEH if they see her seethe all day – they can hope she won’t achieve her goal, assume something will come along, again, to defeat her.

Instead, if I write it right, the reader will see her confident – and reviewing all the reasons she is sure to get – what they don’t want her to get!

And that will torture the reader more than the feeling of ‘she has failed before, she will fail again’ READER certainty.

Can’t have the reader comfortable, now, can we?

Process

This is why I spend the time arguing with myself, in writing, and asking myself why my brain isn’t letting me go ahead with the writing – because it needs to know which plan we’re following here before it will set out the tea lights in their little tin holders and illuminate the path we’ll walk.

I never get much lighting beyond what I need strictly not to tumble over roots and rocks. Then I pick my way along.

It works better for me to know – and the reader to have to guess – where we’re going. I already discard great gobs of ideas and executions which are not what I need. I can’t afford to make decisions on the fly.

I like my shiny new toy. I’ve been using an intuitive version of it for a long time, but I love having the tool be something I am conscious about, in the top tray of the toolbox. Makes it more likely that I’ll pick it up.


If you’re a writer, do you do this?

If you’re a reader, admit it – you want drama, not a smooth ride. You want that ending EARNED.


 

The point in writing with care

EVERY WRITER ANSWERS THIS QUESTION

It has become common for writers to tell other writers how to write.

Unless they are discouraging other writers deliberately to keep the competition down!

And every writer who has any control (beginners can often see only one way to do things) constantly makes choices:

  • Is this word the best word for this use?
  • Will MY readers think this is pretentious – or the reason they read ME?
  • If I use a sentence fragment as part of my style, or this particular character’s mental processes, or [select reason] – will MY readers get their panties in a twist?
  • Can my intended readers follow plot complexities?
  • And – most importantly – am I limiting myself by the way I prefer to write?

All of these are valid questions, all have to be answered regularly, all have many answers.

How to choose?

I’m asking myself these questions, as usual, because I just finished the last two scenes in a chapter, and it took me two whole days of using AutoCrit (my online editing program) to get the text the way I wanted it.

Two whole days of whatever brainpower I could muster is still a lot of hours.

And they are hard work. Choices come down to nuance, nuance to familiarity, familiarity to everything I’ve ever read – and processed.

For an example, I’ll put up a section of these scenes, and show the differences:

Sample edit from Chapter 27

There are hundreds of little changes between when I’m finished with the story and when I’m finished with the language.

Why change?

The original was fine, with nothing hugely wrong.

But I’ll find I overused a particular word or phrase.

Or a piece of dialogue doesn’t sound like the character (Cecily, like Andrew, is Irish).

In fact, just as I finished checking the above comparison, I realized I’m missing two places where my tiny intimation of the speaker being Irish is incorrect (I use ye’re – but still have you’re) – and that will be checked several more times before publication.

This section comes from Scrivener – and is missing italics. I’ll have to check to make sure those are as I want them, as discussed in a post on my stylistic choices.

I do my own editing

This is a statement of fact, not a battle-cry.

I found early that my brain is too damaged to do the negotiating, arguing, back and forth, discussing – that goes with having someone else edit your work.

And that it was easier for me to take on the task, plus it forced me to improve my bad habits immediately.

I like the control. I accept the responsibility. And the mistakes I make will get corrected asap if egregious, with the next major revision if minor.

And there isn’t an ant’s chance with an anteater that I’ll have to defend my own choices: nobody can possibly know my style better than I can.

I have the sense to use an excellent beta reader – and always pay attention to what she catches or notices (she’s usually right).

For someone like me, it even saves a lot of time (a relatively expensive commodity for me). Because I handle a single scene (up to maybe 3k) at a time, and it’s familiar to me because I just wrote it, so I don’t have to reload anything into my memory.

The pitfalls of that are obvious: the mistakes will get overlooked because they are so familiar. So I have many passes for just one thing. I have checklists. I keep a list of the things I haven’t mastered.

Nothing’s perfect, but that does get a lot of the little typo buggers.

Is it ‘good enough’?

Yes – after I put the hours, the work in.

Is it getting easier? Yes – if I still put the hours in, and the work, and don’t try to shorten the editing phase by getting impatient to finish.

I think it matters.

It does make me very slow.

I think it’s worth the effort.


Does lack of editing in published work irritate you? Do you notice it?


Thanks again to Stencil for the ability to create graphics – and their free account. If I ever need more than ten a month, I’ll get their paid subscription!


 

How to profit from a plot hole

A PLOT HOLE CAN BE AN UNMITIGATED DISASTER

And I’m not going to tell you the size or the significance of the one I just wrestled into submission. Just how.

It’s in Chapter 29 of the WIP, Pride’s Children NETHERWORLD, the second volume in the trilogy, and you will have to remember this AND suss it out yourself when NETHERWORLD is available.

That’s not the point.

The point is that I’m pleased as punch with myself for finding out how to deal with one, and my struggle may save another writer some angst – and amuse readers who wonder if this ever happens and how writers deal with them.

Plot holes

It is almost impossible to invent a world – and not run into a few.

In fact, in the world I’ve built, I’ve been surprised time and time again when the plotting does work out, or a small change in a relatively unimportant date or fact renders everything copacetic again.

Because you do know writers make an awful lot of fiction up out of whole cloth, right?

No matter if ‘inspired by a book’ or idea (even fuzzier) decorates the credits of a new movie, or if ‘inspired by characters created by’ [name] is attached.

And if it did actually happen, there may even be apparent plot holes.

But if it didn’t, well, a writer does the best she can, and leaps into the void with a ribbon between her teeth attached to – a plot.

It depends on when you find the plot hole

If before you write a word, and you can’t find a way to get around it, you can dump the whole project.

But that usually entails dumping a lot of good stuff. Just with a plot hole or two in it somewhere.

However, your options are more limited if you find a reasonably-sized one (for your character’s definition of reasonable) in the middle (almost literally) of the second volume of a trilogy, and it is supporting a plot point you are not willing to change.

What to do, what to do?

First of all, OWN IT

Do not leave it there for an astute reader to find it, not if you’re planning to leave a legacy to the ages.

Readers blab. They leave reviews (if you’re very, very lucky). They tell each other. And for some reason feel they have to mention it when they recommend it: “It’s a lovely book, you know, but it could never happen because it has a few little flaws…”

And, if you’re an extreme plotter like me, it’s plausible – it’s just that it isn’t quite possible or true.

Or the author would have noticed it sooner, and taken care of it in development or plotting or outlining or the calendar or… You get the idea.

So I did what I do with a lot of problems:

I gifted it to a character

And that’s where I’m rubbing my hands with glee.

Because now the CHARACTER has to come up with a solution. And once the CHARACTER has a solution, they have to deal with the problem of whether to cough it up right away and admit they screwed up, or to keep a good and almost logical solution tucked away in their head to be used if someone else notices.

And you then get extras: You can have them get away with it – for a while.

And have it bothering them.

And then, if you’re evil enough, you can have it come up at a most inconvenient time, force them to do their little song and dance, and let another character realize they’re not being entirely truthful.

Which has been kind of delicious.

And is exactly what I mean by profiting.

My readers will tell me

If it worked.

I’m assuming most of them will not be through my gleeful blog posts about writing – I can think of nothing worse to destroy the ‘willing suspension of disbelief’ than lifting the skirts and showing readers the machine under the table.

But what I’m hoping will happen is that any reader who happens to notice that little glitch will also notice that somewhere very soon, before they got too worried by it, a solution popped up to take care of the problem – and the itch is scratched.

And they hurry along, reading, to see what other little problems might crop up – as that is the way of fiction, problem/solution/problem/solution… until the final happily-ever-after, mostly, solution at the end.

So that’s what I spent the last three days on

And a couple of thousands of words in my notes.

And images and calculations and links to places where I got my data from Mr. Google.

And then this tiny little hand-polished paragraph which will get read, absorbed, and left in the reader’s wake.

After all, one must tell one’s readers the truth most of the time, so they will not notice the occasional little lie we have to sneak in – or this wouldn’t be fiction.

On to the next author problem!


If you’re a writer, have you ever had this particular little problem?

If you’re a reader, have you ever noticed this problem? What did you do?


 

 

Creating a new normal from debris

This morning, while the husband had gone to the grocery store on the URC bike to get the few things we need to supplement the dinners here, I spent a half hour singing.

With Kate Wolf, on Green Eyes.

And with Gordon Lightfoot, Sundown.

The first I had never sung; the second, I remember singing so many times back when it was new, I was in college and grad school, and had joined the Columbia Record Club, and had several of his records.

It is easy to let things slip when under a pandemic

I didn’t realize how long it had been since I sang.

Apparently, going to church on Sundays, plus starting an hour-long, twice a month folk-singing group here at URC had been enough to keep my vocal chords in working order, even tired. Each time, after an hour, I had used my voice, and it seemed okay and I was happy with the quality of the sound, happy enough not to give it another thought.

Well, it has been months since I did that kind of regular singing (forgive me, Carol, singing teacher, for not singing every day).

And when I tried to sing about a week ago, it was as if someone had stolen my vocal chords and left someone else’s unused ones in their place.

It was scary. The singing voice was almost paralyzed, and nowhere near what I had come to depend on whenever I wanted it.

So there’s one more thing I have to maintain consciously

The list is getting very long.

Every day, before I can get to sleep, I have to put all my joints through my little stretching and range of motion exercises – or I twitch so badly sleep is impossible. Literally. For hours. Lying there in bed, twitching as if hit by a cattle prod every 5-10 seconds. And now I also have to get up and eat something so my stomach will let me go to sleep.

None of this body stuff used to be my responsibility (except weight: as I’ve said many times before, I do not understand why I should have anything conscious to do with maintaining the right body weight – I don’t have to remember to breathe or make my heart beat!).

I’ve given up complaining – it doesn’t help. When I realize I’m twitching because I didn’t do my exercises, I force myself to lie there – and do them.

When I realize what has woken me up at 3am is that my blood sugar is crashing, I get up, eat a half cup of cottage cheese, and then, while my brain’s blood is diverted to digestion, quickly lie down and get back to sleep.

The demands of the body are nonnegotiable

Insistent.

Immediate.

And a pain in the neck.

But I develop another heuristic, another shortcut for dealing with the new problem, pay attention for a few days or weeks, and put it on the list of ‘things that must be done.’

And I fear when someone else must take care of me, because they’re not going to have the ability to do the necessary actions the instant I need them, and I’m going to spend a lot of my time uncomfortable and not able to do a thing about it.

What a life!

One more consequence of the lovely gift we’ve all been given is to watch it go away.

How to deal?

ME/CFS? Aging? Luck of the Irish? Who knows.

I try to let it take as little of my time and life as possible.

Not complainin’, just sayin’.

And I do whatever I need to keep writing.

While watching the appalling stuff burbling out in our society that has long been suppressed. And trying not to cry.


What is on your list? What are you in charge of that you never had to worry about before?


Thanks to Stencil for the ability to create graphics that are more interesting than the words I throw into them.


 

Do the right thing while you still can

SOMEONE MIGHT NEED TO HEAR A KIND WORD

The poem Maud Miller was quoted in Thomas R. Lounsbury, ed. (1838–1915). Yale Book of American Verse.

John Greenleaf Whittier died in 1892, but his words have resonated.

There is something valuable in using the current world crisis to do things you should have done, now, before the opportunity is taken from you.

This week I wrote a ‘thank you’ letter

I have been mulling it around in my mind for months, because it had the potential of turning into something else.

I finally gave up on the ‘something else,’ which has been, and still is, an unformed request for help of an indeterminate kind.

And that was the holdup: I couldn’t figure out what I wanted to ask for, and it wasn’t clear how. Sometimes that confusion means something: don’t do it.

But eventually I realized that right now, a thank you note out of the blue, when someone is quarantined and disconnected from office routine and usual sources of affirmation, might make the day bright for a person who, through his work, has made my life easier, and my writing better.

With my slightly increased brain function and the pressure of ‘what if something happens to either of us,’ I had a moment of energy, and quickly sat down to put words to page. Added a short handwritten note (the handwriting had been held up by the damaged right shoulder – thank you notes should probably be written by hand), and sent it off.

Now every time I remember the help, I can feel good about having sent the note – instead of guilty that I should, really, and haven’t figured out what to say. It’s DONE.

This week I sent a tough letter to someone

My, how many ‘somes’ are showing up in this post!

But the writings are private, though the insight might be useful, so they cannot be replaced by proper nouns, and can’t even be granted common nouns, so you’ll just have to see if this is still useful.

One of my favorite parts of the John D. MacDonald Travis McGee stories is Meyer’s Law, which for my own purposes I usually remember as ‘Whatever the hardest thing to do is, that’s the right thing to do.’

My ability to quote correctly is legendarily bad – here’s the Google result:

John D. MacDonald — ‘In all emotional conflicts, the thing you find the most difficult to do, is the thing that you should do.–Meyer’s Law

And I am dating myself! The stories are from the 1960s!

Detour aside, this was something that, if our positions were reversed, I would have appreciated getting from the other person. But the contents were very deep, and I greatly feared adding to the other person’s pain.

But Meyer would have been proud of me: I decided it was her RIGHT to know, and that she could deal with it however she wanted to, but I couldn’t forgive myself for not giving her that choice, however painful.

I’m glad I did and she thanked me, and it will probably be the last time we ever communicate, not because of anything bad, but because the contents were the result of our two lives touching over something (here we go again with the somes) which will never happen again.

I promise not to forget, as long as I have memory. And that has to be good enough.

The results are that now I can move on

Every time in the future either topic comes to my mind – which will happen – I have closure. I did what I needed to do. The actions are in the past instead of in a vague future.

And I did the right thing.

For the reference: it hurt as much as I had expected, maybe more – and I can take it.

I see too many books now with this as their foundation

A person in the present turns out to be haunted by something they did or didn’t do in their darkest past, and the future is forever colored by avoiding the sore topic – until something explodes.

I don’t like this trend in novels – everyone has a horrible deep dark secret. An event in the present (usually a death – or a missive discovered from someone who died) results in digging into the past, and explosions ensue.

It is true that times were different before, that things that can be revealed now – a secret marriage, a child given up or adopted, a wrong to someone’s life or reputation – might have had much bigger repercussions ‘back then,’ and we’re more able to survive the revelation now than when it happened.

‘Do it now’ stops future pain – for me

But the present state of uncertainty in our real-life lives makes me hope I don’t get to the end without doing what I should have done.

I have a few more of these to clear up, and then I’ll be free of that particular kind of regret.


 

 

 

 

Testing the new block editor tentatively

Water drops. Text: How to survive Boredom. Not very well. Alicia Butcher Ehrhardt

THEY TELL ME JUNE WILL FORCE USE OF THE NEW EDITOR

So I’ve decided to test it out while I still have room to run and scream if I don’t like it.

So far it seems very much like the old editor, except with new controls – which I don’t know yet.

I don’t even remember creating the graphic above, but it’s in my media file from my days in New Jersey, so I probably did.

I’m getting a bit more energy from my low-dose naltrexone.

ldn works differently from medicines.

It blocks opioid receptors in your brain for a couple of hours, during which your brain decides something’s wrong – and creates more of them.

This leads to more endorphins, and other things happen, so you find yourself dealing with generalized inflammation as well.

Some people even think it will help deal with the coronavirus; I’m not going to test that deliberately, and don’t know how I will tell that I have or haven’t, but it’s a good thought. Anything that helps.

I’m also getting, a lot of the time, less brain fog

This is the main reason I’m interested in it: in these thirty years I’ve had ME/CFS, I haven’t found anything I can DO to reduce brain fog, and have had to wait every day to see if my brain would kick on and be usable.

Then I’d have to make sure whatever functionality showed up that day wasn’t needed for something critical in life, which is why I did very little writing when we were moving and packing and sorting and dejunking and dealing with real estate agents (theirs) and lawyers (theirs) who didn’t do what they said they’d do or when they said they’d do it, even though the contract clearly said we could dump the whole idea if they didn’t.

My top level functionality hasn’t improved

but I think the bottom level may have come up a bit.

The most notable effect, after taking a year to slowly titrate the ldn up to the therapeutic dose, is that I seem to spend more time every day toward the higher end of the functionality my brain is capable of, and get more done in that time.

And it seems to come every day, which was something I couldn’t count on before.

In fact, I was doing prep work for today’s writing around midnight last night – something that, trust me, never happens. I’m usually dead by 8 or 9 pm, even though my brain refuses to admit it and allow sleep.

Objective measurements?

Four finished scenes in the last two weeks – absolutely unheard of.

It still takes a lot of time to do what I do, but I’m spending more time per day doing it, so it is taking fewer days to get in the necessary time.

As my friend MT would say, Woo hoo!

And other than finding it slightly annoying, I’m not having any trouble making the new block editor do exactly what the old editor did, which is a few headings, some paragraphs of text, and image or two, and

Wait a minute. Where did the categories and tags go?

There they are, under a tag ‘Document’ up at the top of the page.

So far it is twice as many steps to select a heading style for a block of text. Annoying.

There is still a link ‘Switch to Classic Editor,’ which I will use until it disappears, but this was not that hard to figure out – for my simple blogging needs.

Which I’m pretty sure won’t change until five years or so from now when they decide to edit the editor again.

Oops. WAIT. Where’s my horizontal separator line?


This exercise has taken me to the ONE UNFORGIVABLE SIN of an editor, eating my text.

The previous one SAVED everything as I wrote.

Now I have to do it manually.

VERY BAD EDITOR.


Staying comfortable in the saddle again

Section of a side view of the Rose Garden at URC showing the side exit door and some of the path

Out door – but not in right now

UNEVEN SIDEWALKS AS A CHALLENGE TO CONFIDENCE

We are on lockdown, which currently means you can go out, but not in, through all the usual exit doors in our building.

Why? So they can control who comes into our facility, and make sure they’re wearing a mask, and pass a quick health check, and I think take their temperature. Good precautions, and control of entrances is a part of that.

They’ve added a check station by the campus’ front entrance from the street, so cars and people coming in can be queried as to whether they are essential personnel, essential visitors, or not. A patrol car with a private security guy sits there, and some of our staff are in the little covered space to deal with contractors, delivery people, etc.

No enforcement possibility is necessary – it’s all voluntary, but family members are being turned away, even if they’re bringing something, most of the time.s-l500

Maggie2 is identical to Maggie

Both are black. Unobtrusive.

Maggie waits for me to find a part and a repair person.

But I found that after two months of not riding, I’ve lost confidence in my riding ability and Maggie2’s balancing ability, so I need to go out with some excuse to ride around a bit every couple of days.

Part of it is sidewalks and paths and curb cuts and cutouts: they make look smooth to an able-bodied walker with no balance problems, but they are neither truly flat nor even remotely smooth.

Sidewalks and paths are made a square or rectangle at a time, with gaps between them. When a repair is done, or a utility opening is created, the finished product is roughly smooth (an oxymoron).

I’m not a light-weight kid with the great balance of youth

There is a lot of me, and the Maggies cope, but I sometimes wonder how much of a strain it is, and how near the actual limits I might be, especially when riding outside, with up and down slopes. I don’t go near steep gradients any more, and plan my travels with slopes in mind.

But if I haven’t been in the saddle for even a couple of days, I’m ever so slightly nervous when I hop on board, such as to go down to get the mail. When trundling down the corridors, I’m conscious when I start that I’m a little unstable.

It’s like when I haven’t spoken Spanish for a while, and my sisters rattle off on the phone, and I’m expected to just jump in and participate – and I feel so awkward reaching for a noun or wondering if they still say things in a particular way.

So tonight I went for a little planned ride

Checked the battery – 3 out of 4 dots. Good.

Took the elevator down to the first floor (elevators are wobbly because they’re on cables), and headed toward the side door (in picture). Right now the entire first floor is being painted, the furniture changed, and the carpet replaced – and is covered with a layer of plastic that crinkles as we ride along.

Use the paper towel so I don’t touch any surfaces directly, from the elevator buttons to the door opening buttons first into the stairwell, and then out into the side Rose Garden.

Grit teeth – tell myself it isn’t that big of a slope out. It isn’t.

Say hello to other Resident who chooses this moment to come out with a large dog and a frisbee – and ask that they both be mindful of where I am, as I don’t want to be knocked down or startled off my perch by a vigorous dog which is aching to get some running and jumping and catching in.

Go down the path – and run into a moving van which has barely left enough room for Maggie and me to go down the sidewalk.

In through the front lobby – and check that I can get out of the building near the Skilled Nursing section. They say yes. But when I get down there, I find that the door opener doesn’t work after 5pm, but I can get out if I push the door. Push, hoping no alarms will go off.

Then around the north end of the building, in and out of the patio area, and back to the front entrance – all the while up and down slopes, on and off of sidewalks, around sharp corners (keeping the two of us in the center of the walk), around patio furniture piled willy-nilly, smelling some lovely roses, and up and down several curb cuts.

On our way back now

Check in, chat a moment, tell them the door doesn’t open automatically after 5pm., but you can still get out (front desk seems knowledgeable all the time, but the details sometimes escape them).

Chat with a few of the servers, both of us masked – we miss our dining room staff like crazy. One is excited they are moving toward reopening some of the dining venues. I tell him we are not: no cure, no treatment, no increased hospital capacity, no vaccine – and exhausted medical personnel. We’ll probably stay in much longer than strictly necessary.

Pick up the mail. Chat with another Resident (I have to keep backing up). She’s hoping the path from hospital (starting in December, not covid-19 related) to Skilled Nursing and now to Assisted Living is only temporary, and that she’ll be able to go back to her Independent Living unit. I tell her I hope so, and want to know – I will be resisting the Assisted Living part in a similar situation unless I’m sure it’s reversible if I can handle it.

Zoom up the corridors, reverse the elevator ride – and husband say: “That was a short ride!”

Decontaminate

Put mail away, put everything back in its place, being very conscious of what might have touched a surface outside the apartment, stabling Maggie2, and washing hands twice, thoroughly, during the process.

And we’re home!

I regained my comfort, mostly, with riding. I’m glad I included time outside and with challenges – they were a bit scary and got better on the circuit. Other people commented on how smoothly we move – and I didn’t disavow the prowess.

But I know.

And that’s all the excitement of the quarantine/isolation at the CCRC today. Absorbing, eh? And reset the brain by seeing other humans (I haven’t been out much otherwise), and talking to them.

Until next time.

Tomorrow is trike ride day.

These things seem and are trivial, but they’re also important to do for psychological welfare, especially since we’re going to be at this a long time.


Stay well.

Writing persists, though right now it seems to be taking me 5-6 hours to get that brain to come on every day. I am well into becoming Andrew to write the next scene, after days of gathering.

That’s all I ask for.

Hope everyone out there is staying safe. Or recovering. I know some are not, and still have trouble some days believing the whole disaster.

“Another nice mess you’ve gotten me into.” Yup. Part of the week’s research included watching that used in a whole bunch of their movies. And yes, that quote is accurate. Memory is funny.


 

My writing is a walk through a minefield

I AM ALWAYS MY OWN FIRST READER

One piece of advice to writers I’ve always followed is to “Write the book you want to read and that you can’t find.”

I guess as a writer I’m looking for the readers who FEEL the way I feel.

I’m having trouble finding more of them because WE tend to hide our feelings as too intense, too troubling, too deep – and are much less likely to discuss those feelings with other people as we recommend a book.

It is too close.

I am not my characters, and my characters are NOT me.

Because, if anything, there are significant parts of me I’ve consulted when writing all three of the main characters in Pride’s Children PURGATORY, and now Pride’s Children NETHERWORLD.

Readers know what it’s like to be inhabited by warring camps, typically portrayed in cartoons by a little angel over one shoulder, and a little devil over the other.

I contain multitudes.

But I AM an actor

The training, and the thinking, and the practice come in very handy when you have to split parts of yourself off for a character – and maintain some distance from your self.

I’m sure you can’t play Macbeth without finding justifications for killing your king.

So, before you go traipsing through one of my scenes, I have to do the hard work of feeling my way from the First Line to the Last Line, so that it is smooth and satisfying for a reader who goes that way but once.

It’s part of what makes me slow.

Adrenaline is hard for my body to process – and all hormones are big parts of the emotional states that accompany their surges through the bloodstreams of humans.

I have to feel more than usual, and have a smaller capacity for recovering from the emotional hormones, than most people.

You have to get very close to emotions to write them.

Yesterday, as research for the next chapter in NETHERWORLD, I had to go through, over and over, a part of life that, as a married woman who just celebrated 45 years with her first and only husband, was very far behind me.

No one knows the future – it could be useful in some cases, but I’m hoping I won’t need what I went through yesterday, because, as all important decisions, it was exhausting!

And I can’t stop writing these sections until I can recreate that on the page, in words, first in myself, and then, with some degree of certainty, in both men and women.

Models in literature

I had myself wondering today how close Margaret Mitchell got to Scarlett O’Hara, or Charlotte Brontë to her Jane.

I’m not sure Mitchell was fond of Scarlett – Scarlett and my Bianca have a lot in common – and Mitchell gave Scarlett no HEA: she prevailed, but her victory was Pyrrhic at best: never being hungry again is pretty low on the hierarchy of needs.

I take some of my examples from Dorothy L. Sayers, who at least left Harriet and Peter happy and married, but made them work very hard for that win: the hard work is, to me, essential to the outcome.

I don’t take shortcuts.

All of this may make more sense when the next book comes out, if you’re one of the clan.

I hope you are.

When this is all over, I’d love to talk about it. Right now I’m too raw.


If you haven’t read PURGATORY, and do so now, you’ll have a much better idea of what I’m talking about – as well as an appreciation for why it took so long. I had to learn to do the writing/feeling connection – and do it in EVERY scene.


Drop a line if you have any idea what I’m saying. It gets lonely out here.


 

The mainstream literary pleasure of highly literate readers.

STUCK WITH THEIR HEAD IN A BOOK

That’s where the young readers are, when they can get away with it. I was.

I kept books in three locations in our house in Mexico City, and snuck around so my mother wouldn’t find me and want me to do something – but I always had a book. In English. Of what was around the house, including my parents’ collection of the Great Books (only the half I liked) plus the James Bond novels and such my father brought home from business trips..

It is like an addiction, pouring words into your head.

Many people learn the pleasure of reading later – and do perfectly fine with it. But there is a subset of humans who are bookworms from a young age, and once they discover the printed word, can’t get enough of it.

My readers tend to be in that group.

Figuring out words in context is a big part of that

If you read material that is probably too hard for you, you’re going to run into words you’ve never seen before. That’s when the vocabulary starts to build: you don’t understand the sentence a word is in until you have some tentative meaning for the word, so you guess, store it away as a ‘possible,’ and move on with the story.

Do this enough times, and that word will get its meaning altered a tiny bit each time you run into it, because each place you see it will give it context, and eventually most words will have a complex meaning that settles pretty close to what you’d find in a dictionary.

Or you could ask someone (mom, teacher…) or look it up, and nowadays touch it on your Kindle and have the meaning pop up, but all those things take more time and interrupt the flow of the story, so many of us reserved that for rare occasions, and just kept reading.

The literary mainstream novel

English is an incredibly rich language (we steal anything we don’t have, and, voilà, it’s English now), and I can find the perfect word for most applications – with the nuances I’m looking for.

My readers don’t need anything explained: they either know it already, or they will be fine figuring it out in context.

Mind you, I’m not looking for the truly ‘literary’ one-of-a-kind only an English professor would know them words.

Just the words that I’ve acquired from all those books I’ve read – without paying specific attention.

The only ‘class’ I’ve ever taken in ‘English’ was the Freshman English course I took when I transferred as a junior from UNAM in Mexico City to Seattle U., which it turned out later I didn’t need to take.

That class also got me to write the only term paper I ever wrote, something wild about the psychological significance of Wuthering Heights, and for which I immersed myself in the literary criticism journals at the SU library, which had articles such as ‘The Window Motif in …’

I had fun, I got an A+, and never before or since was exposed to language that way.

I am not a literary writer; I’d have to have an entirely different background for that, and it wasn’t my path as a physicist. At this stuff, I’m an autodidact. They’re at an entirely different level.

Pride’s Children is just where it all came to roost.

They said, “Write the novel you want to read, and can’t find.”

‘They’ were right. It has been great fun just letting a novel be what I wanted it to be, and using everything stored in my very odd and now damaged brain exactly the way I want to.

And my readers like it!

That’s such a charge.

Here are some of those words from Chapter 27 of Pride’s Children NETHERWORLD, which I just finished writing, and am now polishing up to send to Rachel, my wonderful – and omnivorously trained like me – beta reader. AutoCrit, my editing assistant software, flagged them as ‘uncommon in general fiction.’

  • interlocutress
  • verandah
  • malevolence
  • illusory
  • epigraphs
  • attribution
  • obeisance
  • dopamine
  • quintessence
  • scrupulous
  • galvanized
  • volition
  • tableau
  • pragmatist
  • modus operandi
  • bafflegab
  • choreographed
  • Janus
  • excoriated
  • impeccable
  • preternatural
  • demotion
  • demonstrably
  • asunder
  • pique
  • bawdy
  • Uttar Pradesh
  • pachyderm
  • impunity
  • wafting

Not really that tricky, are they?

But you don’t hear them much, and they like to get some attention, too.


Thanks again to Stencil, which allows me to create graphics with very little effort – and wonderful photos. When I need more than a few a month, I will definitely get their paying version. Meanwhile, I mention them here every once in a while, in case others need the same capacity.


 

The enervation of being unable to plan

IT FEELS LIKE A BLANKET OF LEAD

I signed up to refresh my French at Duolingo.

Every day they nag me to do the 5 minutes I signed up for.

I usually do more once I get there, but it is like lifting boulders to get myself over there and start.

Yes, I will look back when this is over (assuming I survive), and wish I had spent my time better, but…

But…

I will be better once my head clears.

Two days ago, I was struggling with a scene. This is normal for me: they don’t come easy, but I don’t care – it’s work I love.

Getting started writing every day requires a brain, and I struggle for hours most days trying to find something (other than time) which will encourage that brain to turn on.

And yes, I’ve tried writing when the brain isn’t on – pretty similar to making mudpies, for all the results.

Back to the point:

Two days ago I had a reasonable working day, got half the current scene into shape.

Yesterday, after two days of NOT riding the trike, I decided I had better get out there before I start making monkey noises, and went for a short trike ride around the greenway.

Except that we’re into a hot week, which means I can’t even go down to the garage to hop on the trike after about noon – because the garage is so hot I can’t function.

So it had to be in the morning.

And riding in the morning meant I was severely brain fogged the rest of the day, and could simply NOT focus.

I haven’t had carbs in days

Eating carbs usually results in me being brain fogged until the residue is out of my body, and I’m once more working on fat and protein. I haven’t been as strict with myself in the past, and it is REALLY hard not to have the only good dessert the dining staff sends in a week – after all, food is our only comfort provided by the facility now, and the lack of choice is getting me down.

But I’ve made the effort, and I can’t blame the current situation on carbs.

Today is merely the result of yesterday’s trike ride, as was all of yesterday afternoon and evening: having ME/CFS MEANS there is no way to get the energy back.

Not being able to do anything is also a sign of depression

in normal people.

We’re used to it, but I have to ask myself if I’ve let the situation and my limitations bump me into that territory.

And then I have a day in which no interruptions occur, and I keep my nose to the grindstone until it finally sharpens enough to write with, and I know it’s not discipline – it’s the disease.

What it is is a sign that I can’t expect to get a writing period on a day I go out for a mentally-necessary trike ride, which is in itself frustrating.

I can’t plan around it.

There is no plan C. I ride OR I write. And if I go longer than a day or two without writing, my brain seems to think we are doing something new, with all the Resistance to starting that comes with new things.

If you wonder why it takes me so long, that’s part of it.

The pandemic is just more of the same. A lot more.

Don’t worry about me, because I’m still doing this: there isn’t anything else.

But it gets pretty frustrating each day to have all this time – and not be able to plan or to count on myself. For purely physical reasons I can’t control.

I just hope I finish these books before the virus gets me.

Oh, and put on the list somewhere the end of the story – for those who might care – if I don’t make it.

Can’t plan that, either. Making it.


It’s hard writing one of the most emotionally powerful scenes in the novel from a place of such flat affect. The first half is great (IHNVHO), but I want the second half to hit you in the gut, too.

So no trike ride for me.