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.

A writer’s Patreon can be fun

Neon plastic dinosaur toys with text: A new venture, a writer's Patreon; Alicia Butcher Ehrhardt

FOR THE CHATTY WRITER!

I just finished another free public post in my new Patreon:

Workspace notes for Scene 21.2
https://www.patreon.com/posts/18317676
984 words

I’m using this Patreon as
1) a place to post the finished scenes in Book 2 (Pride’s Children: NETHERWORLD) as I create them – the first chapter of the book, Chapter 21 in the trilogy as I number continuously in case I ever get to put the whole thing in a single volume (tagged ‘Free public posts) is now posted in its entirety, a scene a post.
2) a place to talk about me, me, me: my writing process, my ideas, my scenes – for those with a burning desire to examine how I do what I do (still producing more ‘Free public posts’ for now).

Why? Because I need it; but more because my writing process produces 10 to 100 times more written material, per scene, than ever ends up in a scene, and that’s the kind of ‘reward’ Patreon recommends that writers produce for their patrons.

I’d love to see Ursula LeGuin’s work notes for The Left Hand of Darkness if they were available, so I’m enjoying producing a few of this kind of posts to see if they are attractive. My #1 patron loved the first one. We’ll see how her enthusiasm holds up.

And it got my brain going this morning to have something both specific, and not too hard (as it’s based purely on that background material I already produced) to get writing on.

Stop by and poke around the free stuff already there, and give me some feedback. Are you interested in having patrons?
https://www.patreon.com/alicia_butcher_ehrhardt

And for me, the question is: Will you be my patron?

I checked out many of the writing Patreons. It’s not an easy site to do searches, but patience was rewarded, and I looked at fifteen pages of them to see what other writers were doing, what they were offering as rewards, and where they were on their writing journeys.

For strict writers of fiction (short stories, novellas, novels), I noticed that many were looking for support while writing their first novel – with no previous material listed as proof that they could finish one.

It is continuous crowdfunding – so to keep patrons interested and coming back, the writer has to produce a lot of new material.

I’m among the more organized Patreons; it isn’t a requirement. I’m sure the pressures of keeping a subscription site going are considerable if you don’t have a lot of usable material already. There are a lot graphic artists doing things like webcomics and graphic novels. Alas, I lack the talent (or the interest to develop any I like) beyond producing at least a few more covers that scream ‘Alicia did it!’

When I get to that stage again, I might use this (if there is interest) to post not just the final cover, but some of the steps and the thinking. Again, if I’m doing the background writing anyway, some of my readers might enjoy watching the process.

Reward tiers, ie, cost to patrons

My lowest tier is for scenes, and the next lowest is for scenes + background posts. Patreon wouldn’t let me offer them for less than $1, but you are allowed to cap the number of payments you will make in a month (which won’t stop you from getting them, only from paying for more than one a month).

My intention is to post up to two scenes a month, and up to two additional background scenes a month (to give myself time and space to make them look good – and remove a few spoilers from my notes which were intended to be private or to overwhelm my biographer(s)).

Patrons will help shape what I put up for those Workspace posts.

There are rewards for the truly committed – I’ve priced them in consideration of how hard it will be for me to satisfy the requests, and warned some may bring my writing on that day to a halt (I can only use each energy spoonful once, and I get far fewer than normal humans get).

Patrons can stop patronizing (patroning?) at any time, and late joiners will have the advantage of getting more early posts for free – and the disadvantage of not having as many credits toward a copy of the book when it’s finished.

So it’s an easy thing to try out.

1) Read the public posts already there (click button in sidebar to take you there).

2) Decide if you want more.

Easy peasy.

Maybe I’ll see you there. Got questions? Wish I’d had someone to answer them when I started the Patreon, but even I managed it in a week or so.

 

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Flexibility is worth working through pain

Setting sun behind woman leaping. What you give to keep yourself in shape? Alicia Butcherr EhrhardtIT IS HARD WORK TO STAY FLEXIBLE

To keep writing

Over this past week, while struggling with the chore of de-junking a house, divesting myself of decades worth of stuff, and getting my singing in, I have been physically exhausted (even though I direct the work, not do it).

The sleep I’ve been getting has been fractured, erratic, odd – and never deep enough.

So, the perfect time in life to take on another major task?

So, of course I did

As I mentioned in the previous post, I started a Patreon page for Pride’s Children; NETHERWORLD, Book 2 in the trilogy (see button on sidebar – I figured out how to have one with a link!!!).

Because, among other things, I realized that the moving tasks are ordinary. And while they need to be done, and every detail has to be supervised by me, and there has been a huge emotional content (you try capturing in a few scrapbooks about twenty years worth of homeschooling three kids!), it wasn’t hard, or tricky, or complicated, or complex, or even challenging.

Ordinary stuff. Every homeschooling family has tons of stuff to dispose of. Every family moving out of a long-time home has a lot of stuff.

But there is no great intelligence or problem-solving ability necessary; in fact, that gets in the way because methodical and utilitarian are the words that describe the process. Just do it. Make a decision: box it for the move, declare it object unnecessary, give it away.

What keeps your brain usable as you get older?

I’m convinced it is USING that brain, not letting it get fuzzy and lazy and go easy.

Starting a page on another platform for promoting your work – that’s complex and challenging. Patreon doesn’t make it particularly easy – I find a lot of applications which are developed for online and Windows use somehow seem to lack menus and a sitemap which works and guides that are more than basic – and I had to keep poking to find even rudimentary details. Such as which is the best way to get your money out (when you get any).

Inexplicably, for Direct Deposit via Stripe,  the payment page gave you a form to fill out which required banking information AND your Social Security number, but which didn’t mention fees.

And for Paypal, it listed some fees which could reduce your take.

Thus giving you the impression that even though Stripe usually costs money, the direct deposit part didn’t. Making it better than Paypal.

Stuff like that. (It’s not true, BTW. But you have to figure it out based on the amount being transferred, by going to the two payment methods’ sites and doing the mental work.)

Digging and logical thinking

It would be nice to have no fees to deposit your money earned into your bank account – Amazon does it, right? Amazon’s fees are probably included in their calculation of their cut – they just don’t break it out.

Doing this kind of mental work, hard, new, in a different and unintuitive (for me) format is worth doing – because it keeps me flexible – for the next thing that comes along.

I’ve found myself getting lackadaisical about learning tasks like how to control the network of TV and Netflix and Amazon video and Youtube – the spouse clicks thousands of times a night while organizing a couple of hours of something to watch. I let him do it, most of the time.

But watching TV is not my profession. Writing is. And I take it seriously for now, and as long as I can do it. And it changes continuously, but no one is going to make it easier for me.

So I charge in, do the work, maintain the flexibility to attempt and conquer the next challenge, and revel in the ability to still master the new.

It’s exhausting – and necessary.

And then there’s all the daily physical exercise

Which keeps the physical pain under some sort of rough control, so I neither take too much additional medication nor sit here in a haze of pain, unable to think.

But physical pain is boring. Not intellectually challenging.

So I’m not talking about it.

But I gotta get my mental ‘steps’ in, and push that to the limit.


Do you find yourself slacking off when there’s something new to be learned? Are you conscious that you’re passing up opportunities to keep the ol’ cerebrum functioning? Are you making an actual choice?


Don’t forget to visit the Patreon page  – the first chapter’s on me (pages are public), and you don’t even need to figure out how to create an account, and then have to close it. Feedback welcome, whether or not you will use the platform to read.


 

The major stressor and the Gordian knot

SOMETIMES THE SOLUTION IS OUTSIDE THE BOX

Things get tied in knots; sometimes the only solution to a bad marriage is a divorce. But that applies in other situations:

Teacher/student – this teacher has it in for your kid, for whatever reason, and the only way the kid will survive is switching to a different teacher, or a different school.

Parent/child – the child must leave home to get away from a controlling parent OR the parent must eject the nestling which has turned into a cuckoo bird and is eating the family out of house and home.

Boss/employee – leave that job, if you can, before it eats your soul; fire that employee before she sets the factory on fire.

And one I’ve done once before, in many years in the system: if the main stressor in your life is a particular doctor, switch before they stress you into the heart attack they think they’re protecting you from.

The signs were many.

Doctors have different outlooks on life, differing way of using ‘guidelines,’ different bedside manners.

Because change is so hard for me and others with ME/CFS (usually entails MORE doctor visits, transferring of many records, finding the new person, hoping you don’t have an emergency until you’re comfortable with the new one, getting them to read all your paperwork…), we often stay too long with one who ‘at least fills out the Social Security paperwork.’ I don’t need that any more – but worrying about blowing a gasket (ie, stroke) from an occasional blood pressure spike is a sure way to spend your life worrying about your pressure, which RAISES it.

I had reached the point of considering my home BP measuring device an additional stressor, and the taking of the BP another. But I have friends who have had strokes, and it ain’t pretty.

It reached the breaking point a month or so ago when something (I have an idea now, but no proof) led me to have a BP spike DURING my semi-annual cardiologist visit, in their office. ONE measurement. They refused to take it again (to see if it would be coming down), and instead went to full alert.

Full speed ahead, man the torpedoes!

To make a very long story short, after having an abysmal experience with – and stopping after ten pain-filled, zombie-brained, gut-wrenching (lit.) days – another BP med, I switched cardiologists – to the one I just saw (and had met during one of my hospital excursions and noted he was a breath of fresh air then).

He says, not only don’t worry about it, but don’t measure it! He realized the process had become stressful, but that my record of measurements didn’t show a real problem. He suggested, since I need salt to maintain blood volume, and don’t follow a low-salt cardiac diet, that I might have had too much some night (yes, yes, yes! very possible – when I add salt to the occasional popcorn or nuts!). NO ONE had ever told me it could set off a spike.

He actually listened to my difficulties with tolerating meds, said I’d tried most of the first-line ones, and reacted badly, and that the next line of them would likely have even worse side-effects. But that he didn’t think I needed any.

I see him in six months, and the largest stressor on my list (death due to not taking the doctor-prescribed cardiac meds) vamoosed in a puff of smoke. Plus the secondary stress I was also ignoring: going to that office and that doctor. It’s subtle.

Changing was the right thing to do – and a serious object lesson: listen to your stress level. If a doctor constantly puts you on red alert, consider whether this is the best doctor for you. With the other one, I felt every time that I was defending myself from being put on medication I didn’t need.

Such a relief: I agree.

I should have listened. To myself. We’re not all alike; neither are they.

I was just worried the first one would prejudice the second one, and I would then have to go far afield to find… You can always stress yourself out.

And I learned that the salt I need may cause BP spikes. Good to know – will watch that more carefully.

Status post March 7, 2018

IMG_0080

STILL HERE, STILL ALIVE

A quick update to anyone wondering why there haven’t been any posts in a while. Busy, is why, and no brain.

House:

We are moving at the moving thing. Have had professionals in (yeah, we’re too old to do this one) for almost every aspect of the process of getting this house ready for sale. A person with CFS can’t do this. A person with CFS is doing this. Ergo, very little writing stuff.

New Jersey:

Just had a huge load of snow dumped on us. And it’s still snowing. At least 4″, maybe more, and the neighbor’s car is stuck in the street outside my house. Will it finally be our last one here? Depends on Mother Nature.

California:

Still the goal (I hope), but we haven’t been able to get out there to look, so aren’t even on a waiting list. The process slowly accumulates data, though. I have a better idea of what to look for in end-of-life care after our parents have all gone before us from Jan. 2014 to Jan. 2018. They all lived long lives (91, 91, 94, and 97), and we will always miss them. Some of their later years were NOT fun – possibly we can learn from them. One thing we HAVE learned is to get out of this house and leave affairs in tidy order, because it gets much harder with age. I simply can’t imagine how other people wait until they’re 85!

Writing:

Still working on getting reviews – just got a very nice one from the Midwest Book Review. Found a few tiny typos in PC1, and am just perfectionist enough to be in the middle of reloading the corrected files, and just human enough to tell you there are two errors of typography that I cannot correct. I have failed, they “doesn’t shows,” as my Uncle Charlie would say, and they will stay there to avoid tempting fate. 2011 Mac version of Word is to blame, and no, I’m not telling you what they are. I have some Pride.

Pride’s Children: NETHERWORLD

Sent off the next finished chapter to my beta reader last week. I am proofing and editing solidly before sending things out now, a chapter at a time, but long chapters (13K) take a while to research, write, and edit. I hope the rest goes a bit faster, but can’t wait until I’m someplace else and all the junk is gone, even if I have a simple table and one chair.

Health:

Finally agreed to try a new blood pressure med, Diovan, an “angiotensin II receptor antagonist,” whatever that is, supposedly with fewer side effects. After the debacle of last year, the only thing that made me reconsider is that I’m under quite a bit of stress right now, and occasionally get BP spikes in the evening, an alarming state of affairs. If I can find something I can tolerate that does its job, possibly I can avoid blowing a gasket until we’re resettled. Started up my cardiac rehab again (up to 75% of before) after getting the flu – and being out of commission for three weeks. Plus the flu gave me higher blood pressure, and kicked my nice low 60-66 heart rate up to 100 – MOST uncomfortable, because I COULD not meditate it lower. There are many reasons your BP can be up – perfectly reasonable reasons, but that doesn’t protect you from the consequences, so I’m being sensible. Again, assuming I can tolerate something. Not hopeful, but maybe it’ll give me a breather. Oh, and I’m in the process of finding a cardiologist who doesn’t RAISE my BP. Wish me luck. NOTE: since I started taking the stuff 3 days ago, I haven’t been able to THINK, but then there is that stress…

So that’s it, my pretties. Boring as all get out, but you are updated in case you were wondering, and I’m trying to do about ten times more than I can (sang in church again, FINALLY, the last two Sundays). And resting aggressively so I can be there mentally for my assistant as I am the final arbiter for dejunking. Hate it, hope a lot of it will be over soon, and I can get back to my nice calm writing.

And how are YOU?

The Discipline of the Long-Distance Writer

SITTING HERE – RESTARTING MY BRAIN

I am NOT a sports fan, but Philadelphia is around the corner, and I’m pretty sure they put a great amount of very hard work into preparing for their win. As did the other team – so there is that elusive luck quantity about peaking at the right time, and having everything work out when you need it.

BUT: it is not luck that wins most times. It is luck on top of preparation. Most ‘overnight successes’ aren’t. And if you have the great win right out of the starting gate, you still have to do it again – witness the number of debut award-winning novels whose authors can’t repeat the win. And are never heard from again (unless they whine about how hard it is in the pages of The New Yorker.

Everything about Cary Tennis’ aphorism:

The most heroic thing a creative person can do is to live an orderly life so the work can get done.

is true. I don’t get anywhere without hours at the keyboard.

I’m acutely aware that, because I start at such a low level every day, a little thing like the cold that is messing with my mind is enough to render me useless to my chosen profession for both the days when I’m actually sick, and the aftermath days when I wonder where the Mack truck came from, because everything aches.

It’s not the pain that bothers me – lots of people live in pain. It’s that after a certain amount, I can’t think. And I’m way over that amount right now, sitting at my computer trying to think.

Priorities

When you have choices, at least some of the responsibility for what gets done in your life is yours. If you choose to go to the gym regularly, your body may be stronger and more reliable. If you could, but you don’t, the deterioration or lack of strength is partly your fault.

I have to get back to my basement exercises as soon as I can breathe normally, so I don’t get worse.

One thing at a time!

Use what you have in your writing

I was wondering where that extra edge of tension would come from in the scene I’m writing, and it occurred to me that I’m living it.

A common phenomenon for people who live with ME/CFS is the PEM crash. PEM – post-exertional malaise – is another one of those phrases which minimize a real disaster. PEM is really post-exertional exhaustion – a crash that can last for days after you do something more than you could really handle at the time. A crash that is made worse by trying to do things before you’re past it. A crash that is created, somehow, by taking energy out of your muscles with adrenaline.

I don’t know if it’s the adrenaline itself, being very slowly processed by a damaged liver, or if something else in the fragile body system is triggered by the push that precedes the crash. There is no known cure, though fluids, proper nutrition, and LOTS of rest can help.

It is another of those realities which cannot be ignored.

We’re watching the Olympics, and hearing about the athletes pushing through their pain and damage. And about permanent damage that can end an athlete’s career. Sometimes, they can work through the pain; sometimes, if they do the hard rehab work, they can improve their performance. Sometimes they try to ignore it; sometimes that works, or works long enough for them to achieve the next milestone. Hard to know whether they can take the chance – and win in spite of an injury – or whether, this time, it doesn’t matter how much pain they can tolerate in a broken foot, because they still can’t use it right.

I always come back

So far. Eventually.

But I’ve both speeded up (due to experience and practice) and slowed down (due to having been ill longer, and, that favorite of everyone, getting older).

I’ve reached an odd-enough spot that I want to document it, to see how to improve process, if possible, or to just move it along this time.

The immediate projects are competing fiercely

And they are getting done – albeit at a speed that would make a tortoise cry: my parents’ final tax returns (VERY long story) have been in the mail long enough that it’s the IRS’ problem, not mine. Yay! But talk about soul-sucking, useless tasks that teach you nothing you can use in the future.

I have a couple of small typos/errors I want to fix – but will have to re-load all the information about making files for Amazon and CreateSpace into my head, and then learn the new task: how to post a change in a published work. Good to know, not so easy to acquire; I’ll have to take notes, too, or I will forget.

I’m putting off working on putting Too Late, the Pride’s Children prequel, up on Amazon because it is TOO SHORT, and I fear a backlash. From whom? Dunno. But my fertile mind throws up roadblocks whenever it can find them. It would throw up roadblocks if I decided to STOP WRITING and just ENJOY OLD AGE. So it’s no reason to stop.

On the record: I am now more afraid of doing a short story wrong on Amazon and forever ruining my reputation than I am of having gotten my parents’ tax returns wrong and being jailed by the IRS for tax evasion. Easier to laugh at that once I’ve pinned it to a blog post.

The long-term move is back on the horizon

We have to get out of this house. Not because it isn’t lovely here – it is – but because the maintenance is something I can’t help with any more, and it is unreasonable to let the husband do it all, and difficult to find people consistently to do it for you. Plus the complete social isolation of rarely getting out of this room.

But now, following the last days of all four of our parents over the past three years, we have a whole lot more questions to ask and details to worry about that we hadn’t even realized – and won’t be in a position to control at whatever age they happen, because you are not all that functional at that time of life. Way too many things went wrong. Things like nurses in the hospital who won’t make the effort to make sure their patient can HEAR them. Things like ‘hospice’ – a lovely idea from the 70s – having been turned into another Medicare supplier which is farmed out to the lowest bidder, and has failed, dramatically, when most needed. They don’t even have hospices any more – just services dependent on funding and staffing. Once would have been bad luck. Twice is systematic.

So the thought of moving near where at least one of our children might locate permanently (San Francisco), rather than generally to California and taking care of ourselves, has reared its ugly head to mess up the choices. But most people don’t move out of a retirement community once they’re in (except when they can’t pay for it), so choices made now are crucial for the future. When we won’t be in a position to make them for ourselves.

This is what I do when I feel a tiny bit better

I hope being able to think a few things out, and blog about it however lamely, means the cold is on its way out. I’ll still be a dishrag for a couple of days, but the drive to write SOMETHING, and to try to make it coherent, first comes back when I realize I haven’t posted in a while.

And if I can use that idea in the scene in progress, well, I won’t say it’s been worth it, precisely, but I may be able to profit from it anyway.

And here we go. And there’s another bunch of semi-connected thoughts out of the mind and onto the page.

And I’m more terrified than ever of getting the flu!

How’s your winter going?

The Greatest Generation is now gone

AND, UNTIL IT’S YOUR TURN, LIVE

At the beginning of 2014, my children had four living grandparents 90 or over.

As of last week, they have none. Husband’s dad, a good man, at 97, the last of our beloved parents, now knows if there is an afterlife or not. Our parents are missed, and there is nothing anyone can do about it except remember them.

It is sobering to think about now being the matriarch and patriarch of anything: husband and I are both eldest children. My parents did that so well for so long, and I can still remember my grandparents in Mexico doing the same thing. And I am not capable of doing any of what they did, keeping the family together by having everyone over for dinner on Sundays or Mondays, holidays and birthdays. I have been the beneficiary, and can’t pass it on. Our kids are currently in San Francisco, Boulder, and Troy, NY.

I have so many stories, and I have passed them on (ask my kids – I’ve talked their ears off), but I have not the energy to write many of them, not while I’m still writing fiction myself: there are only so many hours in a day I can use, and stories are best transmitted in person.

Making new traditions

I have come up with the idea of us going to a resort once a year, all of us. Not at Christmas or Thanksgiving, but at a convenient time. We can see each other every day, spend time with slow Mom on the beach or in the pool, and then those who can will take advantage of whatever the resort and local area have to offer, and maybe gather for dinner. For that talking part. A way to bring together someone with no energy and descendants with it in abundance. As long as the old folk can travel.

This way, I reason, they can go to the in-laws (when they have them) for holidays without trying to be in two places at once.

We’ll see if it works out; but we can’t maintain the family homestead, an awkward but much loved house with way too much space and maintenance, and too many stairs, just so the small clan can gather at a time when travel is horrible and in a place (suburban central NJ) where you have to go elsewhere to do anything. I have failed the task of ‘everyone is going to Grandma’s house.’

So be it.

At home in Mexico, a gigantic extended family still gathers – but we don’t go.

Now to focus on the two of us

I have to make my tiny daily allotment of energy cover getting out from under the responsibilities, which are becoming overwhelming (mostly for husband), and out of the social isolation which comes from having little energy to go anywhere.

Selling a house and moving, possibly cross-country, and settling in to a retirement community, is non-trivial, but it is only going to get harder. Most people leave it too long, and move in a crisis. I need things I can’t walk to here: a pool, a gym, facilities like a sound studio – and many of the Continuing Care Retirement Communities (CCRCs) have them. We need to find friends – ours here are moving away, or are no longer with us.

And I am aware of how delicate my ability to write is: everything that has come along has stolen days worth of writing because it needed that focus and clarity I can only achieve for a couple of hours a day at most.

The last of the big brain-sucking tasks,

finishing the tax returns for my parents, who were both American citizens even though they lived in Mexico since 1957 (and Pepita when she was a child), was finished yesterday. Daddy’s went with the postman.

I gritted my teeth and filled out Mother’s immediately following, aware that if I set the second task down I would have to learn from scratch all the tasks and arcane instructions – when I could force myself to do it again some time in the future. It was such a huge task (for me – not for a normal human), and consumed so many hours since June 2016 when my sisters gave up and asked me to do it, that I despaired of ever finishing. Mother’s is sitting in a sealed envelope for the postman today.

Each return was four simple pages. Above the surface there is no evidence of the frantic paddling below that reading and filing take, IRS worksheets and arcane bits from processes intended to make it hard for the very rich to take everything with them (ie, hand it over to their rich heirs). To finally end up at the same point for each detour: $0.00 – insert in box X of form 1040.

And on the bottom line: no tax owed. Which is good, because, IIRC, IRS penalties for filing late are some percentage of the tax owed.

I made every mistake possible during my filing of this twice-in-a-lifetime (mine) paperwork, including, yesterday, deleting the just completed return by writing the IRS instructions over it. Don’t tell me I should have let a tax accountant do it. Just believe me that it would have been far worse, and on someone else’s brisk timetable (the horror!).

I can do this stuff: but it takes days’ and days’ worth of all the energy I have.

And I learn nothing that I can use again. I fervently hope.

I’m a writer now, and still working

I plan to finish Pride’s Children, Books 2 and 3. Several nice people have claimed they’re waiting for the rest of the trilogy. As long as life and brain hold out, that’s the plan, and I’m very aware it doesn’t depend on my intentions. I hope God isn’t laughing too hard.

With the latest marvelous review, I have made some new connections on Goodreads, and possibly learned some useful marketing tips.

I despair at where the energy will have to come from to do a better marketing job, but obscurity is the other option, and I’m not happy with that, either.

When I do settle in to the writing, though, the deep pleasure is still there; my beta reader is content and says I haven’t lost it; and I still experience that moment, for each scene, when it all clicks and I know: that’s the way it really happened.

Given that Olympic skiing is off my list of possibilities, I’m glad I have the writing one for the story only I can finish.

There is so much yet to learn

A huge part of life is doing the best I can so that, if they every figure out ME/CFS, and it isn’t too late for me, I will be able to take advantage of the medical research, and maybe write faster. Or go skiing again.

My support group on Facebook has other people like me, and invaluable sustenance (as well as overwhelming loss). We CFS folk have little hope, but losing it all hasn’t happened for me yet.

If I did, I have no idea what I’d do all day.

But we are the oldest generation now, husband and I, and we don’t give up. Yet.

That’s why I’ve been missing from the blogging world. Hope you’ve all been okay.

What do you do with infuriating reviews?

NOTHING

I won’t even defend the grammatical correctness of that statement in the picture: EVERYBODY has an opinion, most of them WRONG.

WRITERS put their opinions out into the world where anyone can read them.

Readers have opinions, too, and they get to express them in many places, one of which is the very modern REVIEW.

This is the system now, people.

Get used to it.

For all the complaints, the reviewing systems are not going to disappear because they have enfranchised the disenfranchised billions who never had a platform before, and now they do.

Moderators may keep the discussion to civil levels.

Insecure bloggers will delete or alter comments they don’t like from opinionated readers who disagree with them.

But I’m finding that I don’t spend much time reading the word of bloggers who don’t ever bother responding to their interlocutors. Not worth it. It has become a two-way street.

[Sort of. The pitifully awkward communication via mobile may be the ONE thing that destroys the system, because it is much harder to do on those tiny keyboards. But wait for good speech-to-text software and microphones that can pick up the speakers subvocalisations, and we may be back in business.]

Everyone’s a critic.

Today a writer whined about her first 1* review, on an FB group I participate in – after writing a bunch of books! Lucky woman. Most of us get a 1* on the first book!

I could tell you stories. In fact, I will. Below. Because one of those reviewers (not the 1* one this time, but bad enough) got MY goat. [Lovely thing, name of Billy, soft, intelligent, beautiful brown eyes… but I digress.]

Writers are asking for it

Literally. We want reviews. We want feedback. We want to know when our arrow has hit their bullseye.

But we don’t want their bullshite.

We want praise. Glorious and unstinting and erudite and literate (not the same thing) praise.

Because, to be able to write well (assuming that’s what the goal is; with some writers you wonder… but I digress), we have to sit at the keyboard and open all our veins to get enough blood to write with (takes lots of extra blood for all those sidetracks and failed attempts that occur with good writing… but I digress).

And being open is a target for, well, bullies. (Anyone who doesn’t like our prose is… darn it with the digressions today.)

Unconscious bullies. Jealous bullies. Bullies-who-had-a-bad-day.

What to do?

NOTHING.

Nothing overt or aimed at readers or argumentative or likely to start a flame war online!

There is enough garbage on the internet already.

And we have the example of very popular writers: pick your favorite, and your favorite book, and go look at the reviews. All of them. ESPECIALLY the negative reviews.

And remember, on AMAZON a 3* review is NEGATIVE/CRITICAL. Don’t believe me? Check those reviews on your favorite book’s page again: the 3*, 2*, and 1* are CRITICAL/NEGATIVE reviews.

On Goodreads, 3* is good, 4* is great, 5* is ‘best book I ever read.’ According to their rubric (I don’t make these things up – what’s the point when you can check so easily?).

On Amazon, 4* and 5* are good, 1*, 2*, and 3* are bad. Just to summarize that neatly for you.

Got it?

Find a place where it’s safe to vent (your own blog should be such a place, even though it’s pretty public, as long as you don’t identify anyone specific or any specific negative/critical review). Better still, complain only to friends and on closed writers’ groups, but it may not be as satisfying.

The upside?

Another review is another review. They keep adding up. SOMEONE is reading.

And reader/reviewers write their thoughts and opinions in their reviews; other people may read the reviews and gain more understanding of what they may be choosing to read. This is good, especially with the negative reviews.

But it ALWAYS points out to you that your ad copy, cover, description, back copy, quoted editorial reviews – everything up until the sample/Look Inside – is attracting certain readers. This should make you pause and THINK.

I know I have a lot of thinking to do (I knew that already, but it was far down on the To Do list, and has moved up quite a bit) when I get a negative review from someone who probably should not have read the book. Because it’s really not their kind of book – and I can’t change it to BE their kind of book. The story’s already set in concrete, all the way to the end of the trilogy, even the parts I haven’t written yet. The style, tone, characters, plot – all implacably going to be very similar to what is already published.

If someone states unambiguously they don’t like Mexican food, don’t give them a coupon and invite them to rate your Mexican restaurant. ‘Twill end badly on Yelp.

So our signals are crossed.

I’m glad they tried something obviously out of their regular reading zone. I’m very appreciative of their reviewing – most readers don’t, and it is an effort I appreciate. I’m not particularly pleased they rated the way they did, but I’m very glad they pointed out in their review what they liked and what they didn’t. That’s data for me, not for writing, but for marketing.

Not sure this counts as a rant, but it is an attempt to bang my head on the wall. Without doing too much damage – I’m slow enough already.

As an author, I do not go to my reviews and down rate the reviews I don’t like. It’s better if readers do that.

Now I’m going to take a nap. All this ranting wipes me out. Especially the ‘tread lightly’ part.


A reminder that Quozio and Stencil provide me ways to make images, gratis, and I would get a subscription if I needed more than a few graphics a month. This little bit of advertising – and the things I create with their tools – will have to be my form of payment for now. I AM grateful. The words, of course, are mine.


What’s your favorite negative review?

What do disabled writers fear most?

FROM THE DRAFT POSTS FILE – 6/30/14

Waiting since June 30, 2014:

You fear getting worse. Because you can. Get worse.

And when writing is a marginal activity already, getting worse can be the snowflake that sets off the avalanche.

When I was young and able – a status not all people who are disabled can claim – I thought I could handle ANYTHING that Life tossed at me.

I was me – I’d figure out a way. Somehow. Eventually. And I always seemed to. I had a brain!

Now that the only way out is death – which is, I hope, still not close – I am facing the trauma of becoming even more disabled, more dependent on other people, less able to care for myself.

Frankly, it scares the hell out of me.

I fear losing even more of my mind. Now, if the planets are aligned, and I have done everything correctly, I get to live in the simulacrum of the mind I used to have – quick-witted and opinionated and so-often right – for at least a little while every day, or to feel it there, right beyond my fingertips if I take that nap, stop leaving the house so many times in a week, get to bed early: it’s there, it hasn’t gone completely, and I had it yesterday, maybe today, perhaps tomorrow.

I have already told my husband to put me in an Alzheimer’s/dementia facility if my mind goes – I don’t want his tender care, watching over me, stuck with that version of me. My mother and my grandmother sank into that hole, and it isn’t pretty – what if I got CFS because I am somehow genetically weak? And have already passed it on to my kids – the older two without knowing, and the third, the girl, after I was sick?

That way lies madness.

We all have SOMETHING wrong with us.

And it’s only going to get WORSE.

The happy seniors hiking in the mountains are in the minority: statistics tell me that if I live to 85 (I planned to live to 115), my chances of dementia are 50%.

On top of this unhappy state of affairs (and I have to my credit only one thing: I’ve never asked Why me, Lord?), I have been dealing, for a number of years, with the inability to walk properly – and here I thought it was ‘ONE disability to a customer.’ And it’s getting worse.

Actually, no – if part of you doesn’t work perfectly, if part of you is ‘disabled’ – it has a tendency to put other parts of you at bigger strain, and to make you more likely to get something else. Plus the statistics are exactly the same for you for anything unrelated to your disability as it is for other people: there’s no reason to think having ‘gotten’ your disability, you can now breathe free: people with one thing can be gifted with another unrelated one just fine (CFS and back problems do not usually go together, though possibly less exercise meant less fitness, which led to more susceptibility to back problems, or earlier, or…).

So why do I write about this potentially depressing subject?

You know the answer: because I’m that weird thing called a writer, and that’s how I get my jollies. No, really, I’m compelled to write down – anything that floats through my head. To get it out of there, of course, out where I can beat it with a stick (if you do that while it’s IN your head, there are problems).

There. I feel a bit better. Thanks. Thought you might like to know.


PS I speak only for myself – THAT I’ve learned. Finally.

PPS Going for that delayed nap I should have taken much earlier, but I couldn’t make the decision to, because, well, I’m over the age of consent and resent like heck that my mind needs frequent naps to work at all. Plus – oh, joy – the sheets finally came out of the dryer, and I always nap better on clean sheets. (Note to self – try to remember that, will you?)

PPPS Relentlessly dragging myself back from the brink.


2018: Still here, still writing.

Stubborn cuss.

And note I finally published in late 2015.

How to self-edit fiction with AutoCrit

CAN A WRITER SELF-EDIT SUCCESSFULLY FOR PUBLICATION?

I keep getting into online discussions with editors (cui bono?) who insist that no writer of fiction can or should self-edit. Not for publication, they say. And they cite the example of so many self-published books which are full of typos and grammar mistakes and spelling errors as proof.

Yes, there are many self-published books which need better editing. According to Sturgeon’s Law (Theodore Sturgeon, 1918-1985, American SF author and critic):

90% of SF is crap, but then 90% of everything is crap.

My paraphrase, but it will serve. It is now being applied particularly to self-published work, but applies to traditionally-published work as well. We can argue about the percentages, but the point is that much work gets published without meeting someone’s standards.

Some of us care. A lot.

I happen to believe that the best gift an author can give herself is to learn to self-edit well enough for publication.

The reason is simple: If you can learn to produce quality work all by yourself, the READER gets the unvarnished best the writer can produce, UNALTERED by someone else.

Voice unaltered. Tone unaltered. Style unaltered. Judgment unaltered. Story unaltered.

The thing which makes a particular writer unique is preserved for the delectation of the reader. Artisanal. As all writing should be.

And it only comes from really being aware of what you write – and why.

Okay. Now that we have the WHY, let’s have the HOW:

Think of the best quality in published traditional work. You should aspire to better that standard.

This is not an easy task. There is learning. And failing. And getting appropriate feedback. And yes, making mistakes in judgment and execution.

But setting yourself a rigorous process, adding to that process as you learn, and following that process isn’t that hard. It just requires becoming aware of the difference between the story in your head, and the story on the page, and not quitting until the difference is as small as you can humanly make it. We call this ‘work.’ Hard work. I have made a contract with my readers that I will do this work before they get to read what I write.

It is work that is rewarded by making you a better writer. Big reward. Useful reward. And, in the long run, it will save you money, frustration, and dealing with people who don’t get your vision for your own work.

Enter the final mechanical stage.

Once I have used everything I have learned about writing from my teachers, books by Sol Stein, Donald Maass, Blake Snyder, the Dramatica team, and all the reference books off- and online, I have a scene or a chapter which needs to be cleansed of dead skin.

It isn’t ready for the beta reader until it is finished, but my ‘finished’ needs the final mechanical stage. I use AutoCrit for this purpose. As close as I can get to the original AutoCrit program which is basically a counter of terms and a comparer of those terms against a database. There is a new version; I’ve learned to ignore the new parts because the last thing in the world I would pay attention to is a program telling me what to write. Writing is my job.

I want the mechanical editor to tell me what I’ve done, in a very black-and-white way. I want it to count for me, because counting adverbs is the most boring thing I can think to do by human. Or counting the number of times a four-word phrase (each possible four-word phrase in my text) is used. Or counting the number of times I have used words or phrases (and showing me where they are). And making a list of unusual words.

For this I use certain specific sections of AutoCrit.

After pasting the text in, I visit the following menu items:

Strong Writing: Adverbs, Cliches, Redundancies, and Unnecessary Filler Words.

Word Choice: Generic Descriptions, and Personal Words and Phrases.

Repetition: Repeated Uncommon Words, Word Frequency, and Phrase Frequency.

For all of the above, I ignore the program’s nagging (such as ‘Remove about 3’ when it somehow decides that I have too many occurrences of ‘that’), because for me, AutoCrit is only an automated counter doing the dirty work for me because I’m too lazy to do it myself (and know that humans given mechanical tasks make huge mistakes because they get BORED).

I do NOT use other sections. Why? Because they judge me. Or someone wrote a little piece of text to put there that sounds just like it. Once we go from comparing the number of times I use ‘that’ to the average for fiction in their database, I have all the information I want from an algorithm.

Pièce de résistance: how to use the information.

This is the writer’s job: every single counted detail from my text, generated easily by a program, is now subject to the final test: Is this the way I want it?

In other words, it’s back to me. Not with suggested ‘improvements.’ Just counted, and displayed for me to decide if it serves my final intent to have the text stay the way I wrote it (remember, I considered it pretty much finished before I tossed it into AutoCrit).

If it shows me clichés from its database that I have used, I have to decide if the character using the cliches uses cliches. Some do, some don’t. Clichés are neither good nor bad. For some characters I will keep the cliché but try to make the sentiment unique again – which leads to some pretty interesting substitutions from that subconscious brain.

If it shows me I have used one of my personal words a certain number of times (my worst lately tends to be ‘get’ and its variations ‘got’ and ‘getting’ and ‘gotten’ – all of which I’ve input to my personal words file in AC), I will decide 1) if there are too many, 2) if they are the only way to say something (rare), 3) if they have a literary intention (parallel structure often leads to word repetition the database can’t account for),…

Generic Descriptions usually have to be separated into two piles: those in dialogue (and even those benefit by tweaking) which mark a specific character; and those in the internal monologue where I dump what other people use a narrator for (It was a dark and stormy…), ie, description. I may have a very good reason (really) for using the generic description, but it doesn’t hurt to be reminded to check.

I never, ever, use AC’s Homonyms tab, because it is excessive, and I can spell, and have NEVER yet found myself using the wrong homonym. Okay, maybe two or three times in the 3.5 MILLION words I’ve put through AC, but NOT by using the Homonyms tab. Too much stuff to process – there are a lot of homonyms in English, and they will find all of them and offer what seems like every other word in a red box. There must be a better way to do that mechanically (don’t mark every ‘you’ because it might be ‘ewe’); meanwhile, I put those words I might misspell by accident into my Personal Words file (though, thought, through, thorough).

Summary

First, examine every single kind of counted word or phrase that you might not otherwise catch, and

Last, decide whether and how to fix it: you’re the author – it’s your baby.

Very simple.

It still takes time, and a lot of effort, and a lot of thinking, and going back and forth to Scrivener with the text of a scene.

I find I can do about 5-10 corrections at a time, after which I save the results in Scrivener, get a fresh copy of the text, paste it into AC, and re-process that tab/menu/submenu.

All other types of errors – spelling, punctuation, point of view consistency, chronology and plotting, content (was this character a red-head?) – should have been eliminated (by me, the spellchecker, and a dictionary/thesaurus) before I use AC.

But I care – and I’m not using my beta reader except as a first reader. For what should be finished work, so she has as clean an experience as I can make. I don’t want her pristine read complicated by anything that distracts her from the flow; when she tells me something doesn’t work for her, it is going to be taken very seriously.


And that is how I use AutoCrit (I have a Lifetime membership – worth every penny) to do what no human editor should be asked to do (count) and what I don’t want an editor to do (change ANY of my words, which includes suggesting I change them). They may not be happy about this, but it is the least traumatic way for me.

I really should stop even clicking on those ‘everything needs an editor’ posts. Their authors, some of them editors, hate people like me.

Is the gift worth your LIFE?

ONLY IF YOU HAVE TO

I wake up angry too many days.

Then I spend time getting myself at least back to neutral, because I live with other people, and it isn’t fair to them to have to put up with me in that mood, unless I have no other choice, and we already know I have a choice, because I have used that choice successfully every day for many years now: figure out how to, today, and get over yourself.

Every day I berate myself

Because I don’t get to work sooner.

I sit at my computer, and end up checking out whether anything has changed in the world since I forced myself to go to bed last night. Now that we have online subscriptions to the Washington Post and The New York Times, I do a quick flip through the headlined new articles, to see if anything needs my attention.

I remember the comic (xkcd, I believe) about how someone can’t go to bed because the internet is broken.

I know it’s partly physical: for some reason probably related to illness, the brain comes on slowly, and usually doesn’t really focus on anything mentally challenging until after first nap. That baffles me, and scares me, because I have to drag myself into that first nap, too, always convinced before I do so that it won’t help, that if I could just force myself through, block the internet, START working I would now be fine for the rest of the day, and I’d get everything done which never gets done.

Every day I test out my mental speed by doing hard sudokus: under about 6:30 minutes, I can probably do something useful with a small effort; over that, and I can’t usually write, and, worse, make mistakes of epic proportions (luckily Scrivener has snapshots and I do backups erratically but so far successfully). Those scare me – when it takes you a month to write a scene exactly the way you want it, and you think you have deleted it, well, it’s not a pretty feeling.

Nothing helps until somehow

The process starts up by itself, if it’s going to that day.

Many days it doesn’t – and I am helpless to understand why. Because it seems that other, equally stressed days, work.

I laugh when I see people suggest taking days off: it takes me so long to get back to where I was when I’m forced by Life to do something else for a few days that I am pretty sure I won’t make it back to writing ever.

My brain is on instructions to at least try every day, and, indeed, I have no idea what I’d do with a day taken off deliberately from writing.

Back to the ‘gift’ I’m writing about

And that gift IS writing.

Not that I have any choice in the matter, it seems, but the writing, as it is now, is the result of who I’ve become.

And that’s the question: if I had to choose, and I had the Hobson’s choice of writing what I do and being sick, or neither, would I value what I’m writing enough to choose illness if that were its price?

Is one single story – if that’s all I manage – worth a life?

Is LoTR worth Tolkien’s life, GWTW Margaret Mitchell’s? And why classify myself with them (and neither was ill). What about ‘Barbie Takes Manhattan’? Or ‘Bridget Jones’ Diary’? Or ‘Harry the Cat’?

The choice is an illusion

I have children and a husband – they come first.

And, as soon as they don’t need me this instant, I try again to focus.

I took my nap, am more awake (though sudoku still says well over 7 min.), and I come back to the same question: is this worth writing? Is it worth my life? I’m not sure what the answer is, but it certainly is what I want to do with my life, with the energy I get, with the time I spend/waste every day.

I didn’t make this choice – it chose me. Somehow. Like the other gifts in my life, I’ve found myself nose deep in the pool whether I liked it or not.

By standing on tiptoe, I manage not to drown. And then another day comes, and another task, and I find myself, on the good days, inside my head walking Kary and Andrew through an exchange, planning exactly how Bianca will take the next step, knowing what is coming, but not exactly how the words will play out yet.

And wishing I could speed it up.

What did you get for Christmas?

The same old thing.

I don’t want a pony.

But I want this. And if this is the price, yes, bring it on.

Hope you got what you wanted.


 

Is the artist in the way of the art?

IS THE WRITER’S APPEARANCE A DETRIMENT TO HER OWN WRITING SUCCESS?

When I was growing up, books had plain covers (no representative art), and the only means of interaction between reader and writer were the words on the page.

I usually skipped things like Forewords, and if I read the author’s bio, it was a quick pass, more destined to reinforce his name than anything else, so if I liked the work I could find more by him.

To this day, I have no idea what Robert Heinlein looked like, and only know what Asimov looked like because he was a bit of a media hound (and I had him confused with Einstein, which would have tickled his fancy. I think.).

There are statues of Marcus Aurelius, in stone or bronze, I assume – never even thought to look.

Modern digital life has changed all that

It is almost annoying when an author goes to a great deal of trouble not to let readers know what she looks like.

I prefer actual current photographs for avatars.

It is a problem for those with multiple pen names.

And I wonder just how much it influences the readers, especially in some genres.

Should Romance writers be pretty?

Humans who have sight are very visual creatures. It is estimated (somewhere) that 80% of our energy goes to dealing with visual input.

We react negatively to ugly things – after millenia of evolution that correlated ugly things with things that were often bad for us, such as rotted animals or toxic snakes.

Other things, such as the thickness of the ankles of young women in countries where sunlight was insufficient part of the year – which is an indication of ricketts, a disease which might also have affected her other bones, and make her more likely to have problems in childbirth, have gotten folded into our standards of beauty: thick ankles = not attractive.

I notice the way authors present themselves (check out Kristin Hannah’s Amazon author page) – and wonder how much that affects her sales (she’s gorgeous, and that’s a great photo). Wonder how any others can compete.

Do readers wonder if any of what’s in the stories is based on experience?

What about opinionated authors?

What do you think of authors whose claim to fame includes a very solid amount of in-your-face-ness? Are you more likely to read their books?

I loved Rudyard Kipling stories; reading about his attitudes has put a bit of a damper on reading his books, and would make me think hard about gifting them to a grandchild if I had one.

I make judgments about people based on their appearance

All the time.

I also immediately catch myself at it now, and look at those judgments dispassionately to see how much might be true. I have managed to change my own opinions quite a bit by a continued practice, and no longer automatically make some judgments which used to bother me a lot because they were so automatic, and couldn’t possibly be true.

But I’m wondering if, in the race for sales, those who look good have an unfair advantage. Again.

At least in getting started in the race.

Choose how you present yourself online

Not suggesting this should change, but I can’t quite stop making those automatic judgments about the photos that people choose to represent themselves with on their author page. Or avatar. Or book cover.

The good thing is that it is usually just at a few places, say Amazon, FB, your blog, and they don’t get to see what you look like first thing in the morning.

I need to work on that.

Do you ever think about how you are influenced by what you ‘know’ about an author?

My funny 2017 Thanksgiving Day story

THE CLUELESS WRITER STORIES

The only excuse for this is that I’m pretty isolated, the kids are too far away for travel and for various reasons we two just don’t ‘do’ Thanksgiving any more (except that husband has opted to have me make his traditional pizza – I get the crust ready, he piles on everything he loves).

Out of the blue

My dear friend Sandy called this morning, to invite me out for lunch for my birthday. It’s a tradition we’ve had for a long time. As she has moved from New Jersey to Vermont (though her youngest is still here), it is an unexpected pleasure because she is here to celebrate the day at her old home.

I was delighted, and we quickly agreed on a time and place. We eschewed our old ‘writing partners’ traditional restaurant because, the last couple of times we’d been there, we both agreed quality had dropped.

I enthusiastically agreed to The Cheesecake Factory. They’re a bit noisy, more at dinnertime though lunch should be okay, but their food is good and has a great variety, and they have low carb cheesecake!

Write it down, Alicia!

I write the information on a Post It!, being as I am getting forgetful and don’t want to make her wait tomorrow, even changing the refill on the gel pen to make sure the note was nice and dark. I stick the note where I can’t possibly not see it several times today, which is what I need for it to penetrate.

I’m sitting here at the computer wasting time, as I do in the mornings, thinking about the posts I’ve read this morning, and the general concept of being thankful for what you have, and grateful in general. I turn to erase the message on the answering machine which is blinking in my peripheral vision’s range.

Suddenly, the slow-moving cogs in my brain finally do something. I stare at the note. I start laughing.

I call Sandy, startling her (I’m sure she’s probably up to her ears in cooking or something), and say, “Do you realize what day tomorrow is?”

She said no, and I pointed out it will be Black Friday. She still doesn’t get it. I said The Cheesecake Factory is in QUAKERBRIDGE MALL.

We agree neither of us do Black Friday – and I said, “But other people do.”

Disaster averted

We had a good laugh, picked a different place far from any shopping venues tomorrow, and will have a great lunch catching up.

I can only imagine what it would have been like if clueless me had gotten into the car and tried to drive to the Mall tomorrow for lunch, late as I usually am at that point.

I hope ONE of us would have noticed by then.

Happy Thanksgiving, my friends.

Me, I’m just grateful I’ve received so many things today to make me laugh.

Life happens in between story moments

FENCE, WALL – THAT WAY IS BLOCKED

Where is the rest of life? FRIDAY

One illusion novels maintain is that nothing of importance happens in the moments the writer chooses not to present on the page.

I bank on that bit of prestidigitation myself; I’m not against it, but I have to remember to consult my story calendar, the plot, and logic, when I fill in one of the prompts I always use:

Timing considerations: Since last scene, or last scene for this character, what has changed/happened? Does it make sense? Does it have conflict opportunities? Does it have to be dealt with?

A novelist fills the gap with a word, a flashback later (if the reader is lucky), or a jump cut, simply switching to a new scene with the assumption that readers can figure it out.

And we do. Movies no longer need those silly calendars showing the pages blowing off – we get it.

There is still, in most novels, a sense of moving forward in time, and not bothering to document the smaller bits that make up existence: characters eat, take a taxi, work.

But readers have an innate sense of when an author left something important out. The reader’s mind goes, “Huh?” Too many of those, and the reader is no longer interested in the story because, truly, there isn’t one.

We’re watching a couple of streaming TV programs: Hinterland (set in Wales) and Crossing the Line (set in Europe), and have these little discussions about linearity of plot, because either they do things differently on the other side of the pond, or we’ve lost some important ability, because we don’t get things much more often than we expect not to understand.

It’s a minor annoyance when watching TV, and my guess is that something got cut between the script and the final edit – different people doing the work? The shows are atmospheric enough to carry through (though the first seems both skimping and padding because I think I could cut it from 90 to 50 or 60 minutes and it would be improved considerably).

Life is boring

And full of little details – things which have to be done – but which contribute nothing to the eternal verities. I spent my good time this morning talking to online pharmacy and doctor’s office personnel – and got no writing done. Eventually, the pills I depend on may make their appearance, and I won’t be in so much pain I can’t think, much less write. As many of us are finding, those drug-seekers out there (some of which are probably just getting crappy medical care, and are experiencing pain they should be) are making life much longer and more boring for those of us who are trying to follow the rules.

It’s always so: the rules are tightened, but the people who are breaking them aren’t affected, and the ones who were not doing anything wrong have to deal with more paperwork.

This makes the future scarier

I can sort of cope now – if I don’t do anything time-wasting such as trying to concentrate on my writing for a few hours.

Some day I won’t be able to cope at all, and someone else will have to do this stuff for me, and they probably will neither do it right nor efficiently, and I will have no choice but to suffer the consequences.It is laughably difficult to leave instructions for such things as “don’t feed me carbohydrates,” or ” I can’t lie comfortably very long on my left side without a VERY thin pillow under me,” or “I HATE raw tomatoes.”

I hope that doesn’t happen too soon.

Meanwhile, I cope day-to-day

Badly, because my coping skills are somewhat age-dependent, as everyone’s are, but much slower than most people’s to start with.

I really thought I’d be further along – that I’ve learned to gather the input for a scene faster, and turn it into prose faster – but it isn’t even keeping up with the increased pressure of “thing that must be done.”

The big ones

Settling my parents’ estates and filing the required tax returns – an exercise quite pointless, as there will be no tax money in it for the government.

Finding a retirement community – I have realized lately that financial information (ours and theirs), and knowledge of floor plans and meal plans, is barely the beginning. As I dig deeper, I find the questions of medical care when you can’t navigate it yourself, and even simply paying your bills in that condition, are much more important. And we haven’t even STARTED visiting the Assisted Living and Skilled Nursing components of the Continuing Care Retirement Communities (CCRCs), which are looming as more and more important to choose correctly from the beginning, because you’re going to end up in them if you live long enough! And you will not be gleefully looking forward to moving in to them in most cases.

Dejunking this house/Selling this house – a difficult pair of things to do requiring millions of decisions which we can repent of at leisure.

And the very worst of all

I resent not being able to work myself out of the current many holes. A lady doing the fast walking jog many people think is called ‘running,’ but won’t mess up her hair or get her too sweaty; the man with the white ponytail and the limp who goes out for a painful walk regardless of the temperature or conditions most days; the children – especially the one little grandson who spends HOURS trying skateboard tricks or shooting baskets when he visits next door – all these people are ‘working on it,’ my standard response when asked about anything, but they are actually working on something.

Me, I’m stuck. I get one little thing done, painfully, and the ‘things needing doing’ merely provides the next customer in a Black Friday-long line.

I gotta get out of this place, but it may end up being the last thing I ever do, at this rate.

I make a list, read it, pick one thing to do. It is the A1 now, and the system is to get it done, because it is the log that is holding everything in a jam. But I’ve been telling myself that for weeks, months, years – and it’s a lie. There’s always another. When do you know if something is real or just depression talking?


What’s the answer? Is there a solution? SATURDAY

I’m hoping so. I’m hoping it is to focus on all the little good pieces:

the last message from the online pharmacy was that they had approved my prior authorization – without any further calls from me to them OR the doctor’s office; they may even manage to send me my perfectly legal, non-narcotic, non-opiate pain pills without me having to chase them down, and possibly even repeat that twice more in 3 and  months. Meanwhile, I pray the generics figure it out.

I am much further along in the estate-settling – and can’t do anything further this weekend; I hope I have figured out the way that doesn’t require exorbitant taxes.

I think that ‘we have to get out of this place’ has finally penetrated – we’re both quite tired of the continuing stream of maintenance, and the computations are almost done; a trip to California may be in the offing (let’s hope I survive!).

I may have located the cause of a couple of physical problems – that would be a lovely set of things to remove from my life.

And my standby solution – rest and reset the brain – still seems to work. Happy weekend – I’m going to go use it now.

And maybe one of these days I’ll learn to advertise…

One for my side: Google confirms I can spell pretidigitation and know what it means!


How’s your weekend going?

And thanks again to Stencil for the ability to make images out of thin air.

Fiction: the SECOND-BEST path to empathy

DIRECT EXPERIENCE BEST PATH TO EMPATHY?

En carne propia‘ – ‘in your own flesh’ – is always the best way, subject to the limitation that reflection is necessary to develop empathy, and a certain amount of facility with the concept of sharing something emotional with another human being, which is not necessarily evident in all cases of shared experience.

Having cancer does not confer automatic empathy with other victims of the disease.

And direct experience also has the flaw of actually being divisive if the two people with the same experience have reacted very differently, and they put that down to some inherent quality in themselves. This results in the ‘I got cancer, and I did X, and now I’m far better than those lazy sods who won’t make the effort to do X…’ phenomenon.

Because direct experience doesn’t include another person.

You’d think it would make people empathetic, or at least sympathetic toward the others in similar circumstances, but no.

Fiction is a largely underused way to deliberately develop empathy

The fiction-based trick is that you can be pulled into experiencing what another person – a character in a book – experiences, IF there is enough information in the writing.

On August 22, 2017, I had a guest post on Big Al’s Books and Pals, and I posted the link to that article here. The title Al chose out of the ones I supplied as suggestions was ‘Want to be someone else? Read fiction.’ Which is true, but didn’t mention empathy. My bad – I should have chosen my own title.

I had a couple of interesting conversations there with readers of the blog who commented, and that was the extent of the feedback.

I’m reproducing the whole post here:


Fiction is uniquely positioned to develop and increase empathy, because it provides a way around and under and through the barriers most people put up around their hearts and minds.

Humans think in stories. Why? Because we spend our lives learning the rules that ensure our survival.

Our brains are wired to learn in two ways: first, by direct personal experience – a hard way to learn some rules. Our feelings then cement the lessons, make them unforgettable.

And second, by empathy – acquiring knowledge through the experience of others.

For this, reading fiction is the best way to learn. The rub is the experience has to feel real for it to serve that purpose, exactly as if it happened to us. And the way we do that is through our emotions, which are engaged when the experience is ours.

Fiction is better than facts: facts have no emotional component to make them stick. We store them away, hope to remember them when we need them. Going on a hike across the desert? Bring water. Check.

Fiction is better than non-fiction: reports of the experience, say, of crossing the Antarctic in the middle of winter, are both entertaining and raise in us sympathy for the sufferings of the explorers. Poor guys!

And reading fiction is much better than video input for one simple reason: we can’t pretend video is happening to us when it is so clearly happening to someone else. Sympathy, not empathy.

And that’s the key: reading fiction is the best way we have to feel the emotions created by experiencing something as directly as possible without it happening to us. Because, as we read, we have to put in the effort to create, out of black marks on a page, the actual experience in our minds.

Listening to stories works almost as well, but requires a storyteller, and the emotional component is affected by that teller.

Reading is just you and the book.

Oh, and the author.

Most fiction invokes the sympathetic response in the reader – the entertainment value hooks the reader, and we’re off on an adventure. There is absolutely nothing wrong with this, because we need entertainment to relax after our own lives, however crazy or calm. Lots of entertainment.

But the best fiction aims deeper: to ‘grab the jugular.’ To ‘feel like a punch in the gut.’ Or the dreaded, to make you think. Which is really to make you experience, to fully engage your empathy, to make you feel as if it happened to you. To teach you. To change you.

Here is where another of the rules of life comes into play: humans hate being preached to. The preaching is an overt attempt to change the reader or the listener, via logic backed up with emotion. Usually negative emotion, fear: you are bad, you will go to hell, you must change! You are bad, you will destroy the Earth, you must change! If you touch the stove, you will get burned, don’t!

So the author without the moral authority of the preacher or the physical authority of the dictator has to be sneaky. Covert. Tease and wheedle rather than command. Better still: make you complicit in your own change. Make you want to change.

And how does the author do that? By pulling you in with superior entertainment value (remember, we need lots of stories) up front, and by layering the experience which creates the empathy for the new experience under that. Great stories, story moral picked up by the reader from being the character, having the story happen directly to him.

We then come full circle to Show, Don’t Tell. Show the character having the divorce or being attacked by terrorists or marrying the prince. If you have your parameters right, if you’re telling the story the right way, the reader has identified with the character, and the reader is getting divorced. The reader has to escape the terrorists to save the President. The reader walking down the aisle just realized the rest of her life is proscribed by royal protocol.

The author’s power is very real.

Authors don’t always use this power to its fullest, because there is a final step: choosing the purpose of the empathy, choosing the change for a higher aim: the good of humanity.

Sounds horribly preachy, doesn’t it?

What prompted this post is that I don’t like a recent way this power is being used, to push an agenda which makes me sick to my stomach: the proposal, supported by carefully crafted stories, that people who are defective/handicapped/ill should remove themselves from the world because they are a burden to other people, and that this frees the other people to go on to something better.

Disabled people already face an uphill battle in many areas of their lives. Having society go back to an earlier model of disability which says that ‘they’ are a burden to other people, and therefore don’t have the right to the same hopes and aspirations as the ‘normals,’ is a huge step backward. To encourage them to consider removing themselves is a further abuse against their rights to live and to love.

As an author of fiction, I have the following tools:
I know how to create sympathy and empathy.
I know how to appeal to men and women.
I know how to entertain.
I know how to bury something deep in the fabric of a story.
I know how to make you identify with a character.
I know how to create situations that test the limits of character and privilege.
I know how to manipulate your emotions.
And I know that ‘disability porn’ – using disabled people to be ‘inspirational’ – is roundly despised by disabled people everywhere.

By picking the right story to tell, I believe I can make you buy my premise that disability is not the end of life as you know it.

Now that I’ve revealed many of my secrets, you still have to decide whether you’re going to let me try. And then decide if I know what the heck I’m talking about.


Why repost my own post?

Because I don’t think readers of the original blog, which sends out daily emails with reviews of indie books, are used to posts that are not a review, and I’m hoping the ideas will resonate with readers of this blog.

 

Character motivation fail last ditch solution

SOMETIMES, LOOK AT THINGS BACKWARD

I’m STILL a new author. Millions of words written over more than twenty years, but only one novel published.

It’s always something

And I’m surprised to land in a situation I haven’t had to write before? Gimme a break! There a huge numbers of situations I haven’t landed characters in and had to write them out of yet.

Sometimes I just have to laugh at myself. After the headache from pounding my head against the wall goes away, of course.

Book 2 of Pride’s Children, NETHERWORLD, has been giving me writing problems since the minute I got started on it – that should have been a clue.

There is no point in writing scenes and circumstances similar to the ones in PURGATORY, because I’m finished with PURGATORY. I know – have always known – that NETHERWORLD has to kick everything up to a new level, or I’m just going through the motions to finish a story I could be bored with.

How is the second novel in a trilogy different?

Only I’m not. I have a whole new set of story pieces that need exploring. Plotting with Dramatica does this. And writing with it has been described as going through a four-story house, thoroughly exploring every room on each floor before going up the stairs to the next floor. Everything on the second floor is new. Sitting on top of the first story, but not requiring me to go back down to the first-floor rooms, because they’re already done.

What I have to do, instead, is listen to the gut feeling that tells me I’m NOT writing something the way I want to (I know when it’s right; this scene isn’t).

And yet the process is complete. I know how to gather all the pieces of a scene, how to get it (or something like the final version of ‘it’) started, how to organize the flow, how to end a scene with a line that leaves a question.

Notes from the current Production file:

I have one per scene; that’s where I work all this stuff out because the inside of my head is not usable workspace for complicated stuff – I lose too much.

All this agonizing really means is there’s work to be done. So do it.

Other writers have written outlandish things – there are solutions. Only I will have to figure out my own.

And in all those years of stuffing my head with reading material, I must have absorbed something useful. Making the effort will bring up any pieces I can’t find in my writing books. It’s just work.

The Production file notes (pieces removed, so as not to give plot away at this stage, marked by ellipses):

Nope, there’s still a motivation problem. We know why Z is unhappy – Y is being a stinker about the …. We know why Z pushes X and wants W there.
But we don’t really see why X ultimately agrees to assist.
X is stuck – things are NOT moving forward.
X thinks W might be able to help.
W can say no, and X will be off the hook.
But X is the one who has to write a letter to go with the … Z is sending.

X has an ethical dilemma.

Turn it INTO an ethical dilemma

Let’s look at it from the other side: X DOESN’T write the letter. X argues with X to attempt to see what’s bothering X. X figures it out: sort of screwed either way.

Then X looks at consequences further down the line – and doesn’t like them.

Work OUT the ethical dilemma

Production files again:

Then Z goes ahead with his plan (and Z’s now pissed at X); W comes or doesn’t.
If W comes, W will wonder what the hell, and why didn’t W even get a whiff of warning from X.
If W doesn’t come, does W interpret it as X being protective? Or as X not warning W – for X’s own selfish reasons?

Ethical dilemmas in real life

I need to remember that in real life, if the answer is clear, an ethical dilemma doesn’t exist or is trivial, and it is BORING.

And that readers pay to see someone other than themselves grapple with consequences as a way to see a different possible solution.

I’ll work it out. Soon, I hope. So I can write it – and go on to the next one.