Tag Archives: self-improvement

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.


 

Scene not working? Change something MAJOR

NOVEL SCENES HAVE A PURPOSE

They are not just ‘something that happens next.’

There are many different ways to accomplish that purpose, but there’s a tendency, as a writer, to have things happen in a particular way, and to have that way get stuck in the chute.

The more things a scene needs to accomplish, the longer it may end up needing to be.

But writers’ brains have the same habit of getting stuck behind the wrong idea as any other brain. And maybe my ME/CFS brain does this more than most writers’ brains because change is so difficult for me.

When it isn’t gelling

So the first thing to do when a scene isn’t writing itself, after a reasonable amount of time expended trying, is to separate the essentials from the window dressing, and consider finding a different way entirely to enact the required elements – and change the window dressing to something else entirely.

A scene could be huge, with many characters interacting.

Or a scene can be small and intimate, or small and intimate within a chaotic outer setting, or the kind of scene where it isn’t until the end that you realize a whole bunch of things have come together.

A paced novel will have all kinds of scenes, to avoid monotony, to keep the feeling of surprise and discovery going.

But few scenes have only ONE way to accomplish their task.

When I started writing this post, I had just made a deceptively small change – the hour of the scene went from 4pm to 8pm – taking it from mid-afternoon to sunset – and was able to unstick a line of attack completely. The number of participants also dropped – from crowd scene to two principals.

Lawrence Block says that when things get stuck and you don’t know what to do next, you should bring in a man with a gun.

That’s a pantser’s move.

I’m an extreme plotter, so that’s not really an option.

But one of my writing guides, Armando Saldaña Mora’s Dramatica for Screenwriters has a whole section on how to change the scope and size of a scene, and still accomplish that scene’s purpose. Which is the real advantage of my kind of plotting, where everything has a place.

Changing a scene completely is often a budget move for movies

If the purpose is for the Protagonist to say goodbye to the Antagonist, say, the scene can be large and showy and done in front of hundreds of extras – or it can be small and intense and private and done in the back seat of a taxi (“I coulda been a contender” speech, Marlon Brando, On The Waterfront). Where the taxi isn’t even really moving.

It is something only the novelist will know in a novel, where words themselves are relatively cheap, even if producing them costs blood: was this scene completely different at any point before publishing?

Changing the scene in NETHERWORLD

You don’t have to choose between ‘telling’ and ‘showing’ a scene; there is more than one way to ‘show.

The original scene was going to happen while ON the set of Opium, filming in India, where the main character would watch the filming for an hour or so, and then form her own conclusions about the undercurrents in the cast.

It works much better without the actual filming being observed, and the scene purpose is fulfilled in an even more intense way. Since the details of filming were background in PURGATORY, the reader gets the idea – and I don’t have to repeat it.

The result:

  • An unstuck scene
  • A better scene
  • A scene between two main characters, instead of one with many to track
  • Advancing the plot
  • Better dynamics
  • Definitely better dialogue

So if it isn’t working, and you’ve spent enough time that it should have gelled by now: consider that you can use a lot of what you already figured out – but reframe how the reader is going to learn what you need the reader to know.

Be bold; try something different.


Really different.

Have you done this?


 

Creating a roadmap for scene arcs

I’ve done this before – and didn’t realize it actually needs to be a ‘thing,’ a part of my regular writing ‘process.’

Most of the time, my plotting assigns all kinds of details to scenes, leaving the actual writing to when I get that far in the list of scenes, as I work one at a time until it’s finished.

So I can concentrate on writing one scene, one little visual polished bit, at a time, knowing that the scene will fit into the story like a jewel into a necklace.

But a scene can be too small an entity to work with when the story arc needs several scenes to tell a part of the story, during which point of view will shift in each scene (I stick religiously to a single pov per scene), but the story will continue, and, if I’m skillful enough, the reader won’t notice the patchwork quilt squares, but only the whole.

IF my plotting is good enough initially, and thought out in enough detail, I can trundle along, scene by scene, and the bits will connect.

But when the plotting was changed in the great 2007 reorganization?

Then I was forced to make some large decisions and some fine grained decisions about what would go where of all the bits in the story, and some of those details were tentatively assigned to a scene, or a point of view character, and I knew I would have to rearrange some of the bits when I got there.

I’ve done the several-scene roadmap idea more than once before. The first three chapters of Purgatory, for example, are all about the Night Talk show where two of the main characters meet in New York, while the third main character watches the show from Los Angeles.

So I’ve worked with the concept before, that plotting can have arcs even within the larger story, but I never stopped to formalize that for myself.

It’s a lot of work

I think of it as fractal in nature: pick a scope – sentence, paragraph, beat, scene,… and plot first, then write – and the dialogue will happen, the interior monologues will support it, because we all know where we’re going, together.

Sometimes a film director will allow actors to improvise – but it is always within the director’s (and the script’s) larger vision of the whole. Within that whole, individual pieces can be executed in many ways, but all have to serve the story. Or they will have to be expunged (kill your darlings) from the final product, which will otherwise be a mess.

But for extreme plotters like I am, breaking up the process, and doing the structure solidly FIRST, allows me to just write when I get there, to listen to the characters in my mind, and write down what they say, because I’ve given them the setup – and the writing part of my brain seems to have a mind of its own.

Back to my skyscraper analogy

Get the plumbing and the elevators and the water lines and the steel structure right first – or the sewage from the 29th floor won’t proceed to the treatment plant, and the first time someone flushes up there won’t be pretty for those on the 28th floor.

But after that, interior walls may have some variation (as long as they aren’t load-bearing), so that one floor can have a large open conference room where the floor directly above has offices or apartments. That is my roadmap idea. Within the plan for a whole building, there can be individual floor designs – followed by the decorating (writing) of the individual rooms which is the ultimate purpose of the skyscraper – interior spaces of all kinds and sizes within the plan.

Sometimes I can plan a whole building at a time, others a floor at a go, sometimes just one room, and sometimes a perfect grouping of furniture before the fireplace where we will sit and talk.

And the roadmap part?

Think of the roadmap as linear, while the floorplan of a skyscraper’s floor is 2D, and the building itself is 3D.

The ROADMAP allows you to visit every room on each floor – in a particular order, the one chosen by the storyteller.

Think of it: the last time you let a Real Estate Agent show you a dwelling, did they arrange your tour so you ended up in the perfect room? The one the agent knew would close the deal?

The ROADMAP is how I get you where I want you, the Reader, to go.

I work and plan and think and manipulate – so you will say wow.

The whole idea is to tell the story for YOUR pleasure – and for that you have to let me be dramatic, and show you everything in an order I hope you will like.


Just when you think your writing process is a lock – there’s something more to write ABOUT it. For me, it’s one more thing nailed down that I won’t forget to do because my brain isn’t working.

It’s an interesting way to work, with a limited brain as my tool.


 

Sleeplessness is where coronavirus stress shows

I FEAR THE FEELING OF FALLING ASLEEP

I have to confess that I’m not normally an easy sleeper.

Partly because late evening I feel almost human (it’s not real – I don’t make good decisions then, and I can’t write then).

And partly because every single morning is a struggle to get myself into a state where I can function at all.

Here at the retirement community I’ve had the ability to sleep later in the morning, and to take naps whenever I need to (or should) take them, I have been able to compensate – and get enough total sleep during a day so that I’m not a complete zombie (there’s a reason sleep deprivation is literally torture).

But it’s mostly fear

I have learned, grudgingly, to give in to the sensation of losing control of my own mind – because I try to master my fears.

But I have never liked the loss, and I fight it – especially when I’m tired and my decision-making faculties are diminished – and I can literally force myself to stay awake if I think something bad is going to happen that needs me to be coherent to deal with it.

This is NOT improved when I wake up in the morning and something new hurts.

Or I find the body position I’m in has resulted in one ankle pressing the skin and flesh on the other ankle into something completely flat that aches and cramps as the blood returns, quite painfully.

Or the medicine that I took right before sleep has decided to dissolve in the back of my throat and wake me with uncomfortable pressure in the middle of the night.

If I could skip sleep

I would. Almost every night.

But I feel worse without it.

And I know intellectually that sleep is so critical that a form of torture is to not let people go to sleep.

I also take 3-5 half-hour naps during the day to rest my brain: if I haven’t had enough sleep the night before or days before, those naps can turn into deep sleep with nightmares during the day. Even with an alarm.

The lockdown and the coronavirus make it hard to let the day go

The tireder I get, the less I can use my mind to suppress the things that are worrying me – as they are worrying everyone on the planet right now: my personal situation re medical services, the lives and careers of my children, and of my family in Mexico. The uncertainty of tomorrow.

Knowing we haven’t had a case here (probably), and wondering if we will – given the news that the virus rips through senior communities leaving devastation in its path.

Since it’s a constantly changing situation, we can’t relax into a new routine, because nothing is routine now.

So I have trouble sleeping.

I’ve tried most ‘solutions’

But I either can’t take them (I tolerate very few meds) or they require me to do something at a time my brain isn’t capable of it.

And you can’t cure existential angst – it’s real.

Meanwhile, I brush my teeth, make sure I have something I can eat in the middle of the night, do my stretches for restless leg syndrome, say my prayers – so that when I reach that point every night where all of a sudden sleep is worse than continuing awake, all I need to do is lie down.

And the battle to stay asleep begins.

Because it’s never a one-time decision.

Things that keep me from staying asleep:

  • hunger
  • uncomfortable binding around any part of me
  • anything bumpy under me
  • pain
  • worry
  • a thought in the middle of the night that must be written down
  • sometimes (!) fiction
  • being too cold or too hot (repeat several times each night)
  • gut pressure (what the heck did I eat?)
  • thirst
  • the sound of the firetrucks and ambulances coming to the lobby
  • outside sounds (do they really have to do these things mid-night?)
  • rain
  • husband’s breathing
  • funny tastes
  • a muscle that twitches every ten seconds for hours
  • etc.

I can now consume cottage cheese in the middle of the night without waking – much. Which then requires that the next chunk of ‘sleep’ be done sitting up a bit.

If I’m desperate, I turn the computer on and play sudoku or something – after about an hour and a half (one sleep cycle), my body is given permission to try again.

And eventually it takes. And sometimes I can sleep enough into the morning to almost have a decent number of hours’ worth total sleep.

I don’t think it will get better for a long while – the world has turned and is now essentially unstable.

Who wants to go to sleep when it might be your last time awake?

Which is silly, because ‘going in my sleep’ is my preferred method of checking out!

Because I’m not ready. Honest. I’m in the middle of a novel, the middle of a trilogy, and finishing them is the plan.

Even if ‘plan’ has become a joke.

Hope y’all do better at this sleeping thing than I do.


 

You’ll never guess what I’ve done

Alicia sitting on an Airwheel S8 (a bicycle seat on a platform with gyroscope stabilization)

ALICIA SITTING ON MAGGIE, MY AIRWHEEL S8

Start with the obvious: what the heck is that?

Her name is Maggie because she is made from a magnesium alloy.

Conceptually, think of  a ‘seated Segway-type device’, and imagine me zooming around the Davis greenway this afternoon, just to get out of the house.

In addition, I have Trixie, my adult trike:

img 0797

with her basket:

img 0798

for days when I have energy for exercise (and don’t even want to think about plugging her into an outlet).

And lastly, I have my trusted Sylvia (Who is Sylvia?), my Invacare walker (no pic).

These are the devices that I use to get around our new home (University Retirement Community at Davis, California).

Maggie requires the least energy from me.

Here’s the picture of one of her siblings (from an ad):

Airwheel S8

I bought her on Ebay for around $500. There are more, but I have the feeling they may be produced at the factory in batches. I got the two-year Ebay Fair Trade Warranty, which I hope never to have to use, and joined the Electric Unicycle Forum, so I have a place to ask questions (Maggie is in one of the subcategories). These devices are powered by electric motors, and gyroscope stabilized.

How did you find Maggie?

Starting over three years ago, I googled ‘seated Segway.’ Segway doesn’t make one, but I can’t stand for very long, and need the seat.

Also, I have very little energy, and I try to use it for my writing (you all remember my writing, right?).

I watched videos on Youtube, with my favorite being this. It is short (23 seconds) and so cool. I wanted to be her.

Then I checked Ebay, and found several vendors offering the Airwheel S8.

The rest has simply been convincing myself that I could do this. That it wasn’t the craziest thing someone my age (late 60s when I started looking) could even consider. That I should try it quietly riding around the corridors late at night (the corridors even have hand-rails – I haven’t needed one once).

Why?

But I knew I needed something like this because this community of around 350 people are mostly in four floors of a single building, and the halls are very long to get to places.

I can’t do so many things because I don’t have the energy to get to the rooms where they happen. Even going down to dinner was painful and energy-sucking; I did a lot of it scooting backward while sitting on the walker’s seat, looking over my shoulder.

I want to remain INDEPENDENT as long as I possibly can. I don’t have the energy to push myself in a manual wheelchair.

And I am simply not psychologically ready for a powered wheelchair or scooter (besides which, they occupy a lot of space, both in halls and when parked).

But what if you fall on your face? Won’t you look foolish?

Ayup.

The thing that surprised me the most was how easy it was.

Charge Maggie up (3 hours max). Push the red button on the base. Push the red button on the remote – and she comes to life; beep! Sit on the saddle; beep! Put one foot on the base, dare lift the other foot onto the other side of the base.

Ride into the living room and startle the husband. Go out and try it in the hallways. Done. Go home and wonder if maybe watching the Youtube videos taught me subliminally – or it really is just that easy. Ayup.

Show people in small quantities.

Within a week all pretense is over, and I’m showing off every chance I get – haven’t been this cool and the center of attention in decades.

Do you have to balance?

Not much. It’s as if you were sitting on a bicycle seat on a post on the ground. Maggie does the stabilizing by reading your slight tilt, and feeding power to the wheels to follow your commands: slight lean forward or backward to go (move toward neutral position to stop), press on the seat with your inner thigh to twirl.

I am far more stable on Maggie than on my own two feet. Irritating, but I have no choice – the nerves to the muscles on the back of my legs are damaged, and only transmit a small amount of my instructions. On Maggie I can literally just sit there, not moving at all.

Going for a ride

The hardest movement (gulp) was the first time I was faced with a downward slope. A tiny downward slope. I held onto Maggie and walked down it. The next bit was an upward slope, so I tried that sitting – rock solid moving slowly up the slope. The next downward one (gulp) I just rode down, just as stably. Huh. Within ten minutes I was doing the slope up and down to the underground garage.

Since then, curb cuts. The bumpy things they put there for blind people to sense (way too bumpy, if you ask me – poor blind people!). Driveways. Speed bumps!

The biggest danger is cracks in the sidewalks and between cement sections of sidewalks and streets – anything uneven. Maggie scoots over them while I hold my breath the first time. The asphalt paths around here have deep fissures, so I do have to watch where I’m going.

Inside, I come to almost a complete stop at corridor intersections – don’t want to knock any of my fellow residents down.

Enough for now

Many more things have been occupying my time, and I’ll post about some of them (sorry it’s been so very long since I blogged).

Adjusting to the LDN (low-dose naltrexone) has been tricky. Adjusting to the social life has been time-consuming.

But I’m finally writing consistently again (my beta reader thinks I haven’t lost my touch), have some control over where the energy is spent (we’ve used the pools a lot in the hot weather), and, as the dining room manager said tonight, “You seem much happier since you got Maggie.”

Happiness it is. I had a crazy idea to save my energy – AND IT WORKS!

Now all I have to do is reconstitute some of my singing options from New Jersey, here at URC, and I’m set in a good place.

Husband admitted tonight that he’s proud of me – and seems to enjoy explaining Maggie to the masses.

Stay tuned. Questions welcome – I’m turning into such a ham: I stop, demonstrate, and talk about Maggie anytime someone smiles!


Pride’s Children NETHERWORLD is proceeding. Prepare by reading PURGATORY – I haven’t had ten seconds for marketing, and the readers have been commensurately few. If you like it, please recommend me to your friends.

And I’m working on getting the Prequel short story TOO LATE published.


 

Still writing with ME/CFS years later

THE MORE THINGS CHANGE, THE MORE THEY DON’T

This is ME/CFS month again, for my nth time – and May 12th is ME Awareness Day again – as I’ve blogged about for several years now (since we got more activists and activism going, including Jen Brea’s Oscar-nominated documentary, UNREST).

And nothing much has changed – I’m still sick all the time (that’s what chronic means), and have no energy, and don’t get much done, and don’t get what I want to do done, and all that jazz.

So I found a wayback post from Feb. 2013 that describes almost exactly the same thing I still live with. No capacity to learn – or rather, no capacity to retain enough energy to make good decisions.

And I’m six years older, which doesn’t help (unless you’re 13 and desperately want to get away from home). We ME/CFSers are not spared the vicissitudes of aging, and are probably much less capable of putting in the effort that might stave off the ravages of time (exercise, putting energy into good living and good eating, etc.) than those whose life circumstances are easier.

I say easiER, rather than easy, because Life isn’t ever easy (ask any cosseted princess).

Remember I don’t do much editing on these oldies but goodies, but it is proof of nothing much changing (except moving to California!!!) yet.

I’ll let you be the very first to know if something improves!


Writing with ME/CFS #1 – surfing the web for THE ANSWER

********

CAUTION: These posts tagged CFS are a product of my struggle to write in spite of a chronic illness that has brain fog as a side effect. They are probably not interesting except to people who live with/try to write under similar circumstances. They are not intended to be whiny – though they will often sound that way. They are intended to be factual, and to help me find workarounds.

I wouldn’t bother except this is my blog, and I need an outlet, and a small subset of readers may find something helpful. Writing helps me sort things out. You have been warned! Welcome!

********

The mornings when the psychic energy to block the web is missing,

I roam the small set of sites I follow, looking for someone else to give me words to read.

Today’s excuse was that DH called me from work before my brain was on: he’d left important papers in the front hall and a frantic romp through two computers and a memory stick were required to email him usable copies. Other days it’s been a call from a doctor’s office requiring me to do something immediately, or a call from my dad needing a bank transfer…

I’m seeing a pattern here: whatever the attention-consumer is must be dealt with RIGHT NOW. PWCs (persons with CFS) have a much smaller amount of usable psychic energy – which I will define as the ability to MAKE myself do something as well as the ability to ACTUALLY do something – than normal people. It’s part of the brain-fog problem. If I could jot the interruption on a sticky or my ‘gathering’ sheet or type it into Things – and deal with it in the normal course of business (maybe today, maybe not until next month), it would lose much of its power to consume. But I can’t – this is an EMERGENCY and must go to the top of the list. Worse, it must be done NOW.

Somehow, I come up with the energy to deal with what needs to be done – and it gets done – but there is an aftermath, a surcharge if you like, and the accomplishment is followed by a period of being awake but completely non-functional. We PWCs really can’t afford adrenaline – it takes much longer to metabolize it.

During that aftermath I often surf the web.

I’m looking for THE ANSWER. What’s the question? Who knows – who cares? Something in me wants someone else out there to tell me what to do, now, in such an authoritative way that it drags my mind out of the hole and gets it to work again.

There’s nothing there. I have a file where I record the ‘nuggets’ gleaned from surfing, the things I am absolutely grateful I have discovered. A short list (Dec. 2012-Jan 2013):

I: Standing desk, walking desk [PV + comments]          3:02 PM
I: Boomer Novels – and Boomer Cafe website [PV]       9:41 AM
I: Sworn Secret,  Amanda Jennings [Dead Guy – Lynne Patrick]
E: Friend – Have started Freedom: IT CAN WAIT        11:17 AM
I: Sharon Reamer. Good book video, cover [PV ->]    12:27 PM
I: Dropbox – saving your information         [PV?]          12:27 PM
I: Reviews [PV], bloggers charged with defamation    12:29 PM
I: Decision fatigue – and sugar!

I: means the nugget came from the internet, E: that the information was in an email. PV is thepassivevoice.com.

Looking at the list,

I can see that many hours of surfing went into relatively few really critical pieces of information – and ALL of them could have waited. Until the day’s writing was over, at least, or until the next day. In the case of late ones, I was surfing instead of going to bed, thus mortgaging the next day’s writing, for the relatively small pleasure of today’s surfing. I KNOW these things – it’s a little daunting to see that my precious nuggets are so irrelevant.

Back to the question of Why? I think it is because, like playing solitaire or sudoku or a million other games, the ability to do something that looks as if I’m using my brain – ie, being human – is required to keep me sane. And I have used up the ability to be creative, so I settle for the APPEARANCE of creative: Look – I solved another HARD sudoku puzzle! I’m ME. I’m functional!

This is data.

I don’t think I’ve put it quite this clearly before: human brains WANT to create, to ‘do something useful with their time.’ If I can’t have real, I will settle for apparent. It’s Catch 22: if I have the energy to get myself out of the loop, I’m not IN the loop. If I’m IN the loop, I don’t have the energy to get myself out.

I’m learning. I can restore SOME functionality when I can put myself down for a nap. Afterward, most of the time (depending on the surcharge), there is some restoration of functionality for that day, that time – I may even get something done.

THE ANSWER: to be normal.

It’s not on the web. It’s interesting that after 23 years I still look for it. The brain wants what it wants: to be the way it used to be.


It’s over 29 years now.

Still here, still broken, still trying to find an answer I’ll remember when the brain refuses the jumps.

I am so boring!

Why do you surf?

Fiction dialogue easier if you write a play

TO WRITE FICTION, WRITE DIALOGUE

Beginners novelists have a lot of craft to learn.

Technically, you are still a storyteller if you write the story as prose, an epic poem, a graphic novel, a play, or a movie, but the crafts are very different. But learning the particulars takes years, and most writers pick a format and stick with it, with each form (Ex: prose) having long (novel) and shorter (story, novella) versions to practice on.

But you don’t stay a newbie novelist if you find you like writing, and learn some of the finer details such as point of view, plotting, or theme. There is room for continuous improvement, and one of the areas which bedevil beginners the most is the art of writing dialogue.

Mine became adequate as I went along (and no, I’m not showing you early drafts of Pride’s Children), but I needed to kick it up several orders of magnitude.

It took several years before the play (Tangled Webs) I naively thought would be ready for my daughter’s sixteenth birthday present was finished, and she was in college before I did, and here is part of what I learned.


From November 2012:

For better dialogue in fiction: write a play

When you can’t depend on interior monologue to get your point across, you lose a huge advantage. As a writer of fiction, you can either be blatant (He felt like death.) or subtle (He remembered med school: learning all the ramifications of the vagus nerve, enervating myriads of gastric components and pathways, useless for pinpointing the source of trouble in his gut, useful only to prove something, somewhere, thought it was wrong. But he’d never expected to feel so many of them. Simultaneously.) when using interior monologue, deep or distant.

But you get to choose.

As a playwright, you work with action and dialogue. Period. And have collaborators – actors and directors – who may aid you or may fight you, but whom you don’t control.

Tradition in the theater preserves the playwright’s absolute control over the dialogue, the WORDS. Many actors and directors will routinely cross out stage directions and the author’s parenthetical instructions on HOW to say a line or move about on stage, but they will not change a WORD of the dialogue.

Even in an adaptation of the play ‘Mary Stuart’ in high school, in SPANISH (I was Queen Elizabeth I, the actual lead – whee!), our director limited himself to crossing out large amounts of dialogue (the play was too long for us), and making the tiniest transitions where absolutely necessary. He would not change the translator’s version of the WORDS.

This is an absolute gift for novelists.

I urge every novelist to go out and write a play*.

Buy yourself $100 worth of playwriting books (buy – so you can write in them). Swallow them whole. Pick a visual story. Write the darned thing (maybe I’ll get back to the how in a later post).

And learn to live within the constraints of the form: you tell your story in the DIALOGUE you give your characters.

Oh, all right. You also have setting, and choosing WHICH of your characters are on stage at a given time, and stage/dialogue parenthetical directions.

But DIALOGUE is your main weapon.

And your written dialogue in your fiction gets much better.

You shouldn’t do ‘talking heads’ or ‘As you know, Bob’ dialogue, any more than you should do it in a novel – doing so demonstrates a distinct lack of technical skills.

It’s “I’m going to paint the Mona Lisa with BOTH hands tied behind my back, using only this paintbrush clenched in my teeth.” Because that’s what it feels like when you start.

But it CAN be done. It’s been done since the beginning of time. It can be done WITHOUT a narrator to gum up the works. And it can be done so the audience feels like eavesdroppers, watching something real happening right in front of them, right now.

Heady stuff. Ask full-time playwrights. Ask actors and directors.

Dialogue in plays is elliptical (not the shape – the punctuation mark), at cross purposes, full of innuendo and half-said things. And lies. Lots of lies. But it must tell the story or you are merely doing pantomime. It has to add up.

The WORDS matter.

And that is precisely its value for writing the dialogue – and telling the story – in fiction: it has to add up.

Doing it with time constraints – on stage – leads to the most economical method of telling a story, the fewest words. Doing it on stage, intended for a live audience which gets BORED and restless within seconds if the pieces of story it is receiving do not add up immediately, is like boot camp for dialogue.

The audience can neither skip ahead nor review something unclear.

And it won’t like being bored. So you learn to leave nothing out, and put nothing extraneous in.

Audiences want stories to make sense, pronto, and continuously. So you learn to feed them the story in bite-size pieces, story beats, so they can put the whole thing together in their heads and follow.

It is an awesome discipline to acquire – and the results, in terms of the ability to create good dialogue in fiction, are equally awesome, so much so that stripping a scene I’m editing down to ONLY the dialogue, and walking through it as if I expected it to be performed on stage, is now one of the basic steps in my process, and a step that often shows exactly where the flaws are.

Thoughts?


A quick reminder: Pride’s Children will only be on sale for about another week, if you wanted to get the 0.99 ebook version. I’m putting it back up there, and, just for the heck of it, will try the $9.99 price point. (It was 8.99 before the dollar experiment.)


 

Listen to the priceless gift of feedback

HONEST FEEDBACK IS ABOVE RUBIES

This one’s as true as when I first wrote it, before even being published at novel length, and in general people who ask for feedback in my various online writer’s groups are open to getting it, and gracious when it isn’t quite what they asked for.

Maybe I’m getting pickier at the groups I’m in.

The principle is the same: if you’re going to argue with the messenger, don’t order the service.


FROM April 2013:

Feedback: the priceless gift

Had an experience that made me take notice – so I stopped to figure out what happened.

I had gone to a new website – looked mildly interesting – for a writer. This writer put up the cover of his first book as kind of a teaser for his second – so far so good – and it sounded interesting enough that I clicked through to Amazon – considering buying.

So: he’s got me as a live one.

I read the description of the second book, and my brain goes, ‘Wait a minute – something not quite right here.’

The description for the second book was for a science fiction book. Conspiracies and space warfare and etc.

It was supposed to be a sequel – to his first book, written a while back.

But here’s the problem: the cover for the FIRST book hadn’t said a word about SF, just a one-word title and a name (of new writer – not one who is known to write SF).

The importance of covers

The ARTICLE he wrote was about the importance of COVERS. So I was primed to actually consider HIS in more detail than I normally would have done.

And it didn’t say, to me, what it was supposed to say. To me, the image and the title did NOT convey ‘SF inside.’ My opinion, of course.

So, being the nice helpful person I am, I bothered to go back, think it through, and tell this writer my impression of his cover strategy. As mildly and inoffensively as I could. I don’t do this often, and only when I think I have something to add to a thread. It takes a bit of time,

And he ARGUED with me! When I happened to go back to see if there was further discussion (being interested in covers, as a writer who will be self-publishing one of these days, because that’s what drew me to his website/blog in the first place), I read that he thought I was wrong, that there WERE SF elements on the cover, and I had somehow missed the signals.

Which miffed me, again mildly. [By way of credentials, I have been reading SF since the 1960s, and even had a membership in the SF Book Club which kept good SF coming regularly.]

Do you argue with the gift-giver?

I stopped to think why, and realized that there is a lesson there for ME: If someone does you the favor of giving you unbiased feedback about any aspect of your writing from THEIR point of view, your only acceptable response is “Thank you – I will think about what you said.”

Not to argue that your visitor and commenter is WRONG.

I have done this before, left careful feedback, and clearly labeled it ‘my opinion.’ Heck – I did it at Hugh Howey’s website (before his current fame – not that long ago), and his response was exactly right: Thanks for the suggestion, and I will consider it carefully. As a commenter (and now a fan – having gone to Amazon after his response and bought the whole WOOL omnibus), I felt listened to and appreciated. As if, in a small way, I had been able to contribute something.

So I got a valuable lesson from the experience: the one thing you cannot buy is the unvarnished opinion of a new true commenter. It is a gift when someone offers a considered opinion of your writing. It is feedback from a new READER. And it means you have made a connection. The last thing you want to do is discourage or discount the flash of inspiration you get. The aphorism is “You never get a second chance to make a first impression.” It is TRUE.


Thoughts?

Making things worse to make them better

Jetty going out over a lake with the moon in the night sky. Text: There's always dark before the light. Alicia Butcher Ehrhardt

SOMETIMES YOU HAVE TO BREAK THE MOLD

to get to a bigger, better place.

The mold is a comfortable place.

Okay, not so comfortable: it has flaws. You are just used to the flaws.

Until the day when the flaws add up to something so large it can’t be improved.

Only destroyed.

I’m trying to get settled in the new, larger mold.

It’s just taking a lot more work, and a lot more time, than I told myself before the move (if you don’t do that, minimize the cost of the change, you can never get unstuck from the mold).

If you focus too hard on the cost of change, you don’t change. You CAN’T change.

Because change is very expensive, and not just in money.

I’m impatient.

Everyone tells me to ‘give it time,’ and tells me how long it was before they were settled in our new community, before they had unpacked all their boxes, before they knew enough people, before they reconstructed their new life.

But after the change, the invoice shows up and demands to be paid.

As the pain of the move diminishes, and becomes, like all memories, a series of amusing vignettes you recount at the dinner table to people you hope will become new friends, and whom you are now entertaining so they will know you’re not just a complainer (deadly) or a bore (deadly), the pain of the new become more evident: you are not there yet.

For me, it has been the amount of time I am still not writing new fiction.

I’ve spent a decent proportion of time with the internet blocked off, NOT writing new fiction.

Yet.

I sure hope it’s ‘yet.’

You see, I also moved to improve the body.

I have started the PT I so desperately wanted, and which was one of the main reasons for coming to this particular place. PT is downstairs. An elevator ride and a couple of corridors worth of distance.

And next to the pool, so I can just pop into the warm water afterward, and then take a nice shower, and then…

Go back to the temporary home and find myself completely ragged out for the day.

And the next day the sacroiliac joint has given me a day of intense deep aching. So I do the exercises for that…

It’s necessary. Now is the best time. And it has plopped the next barrier to writing right in front of me.

People recommend patience

and not being too hard on myself.

And not expecting too much, possibly even now, since we’re beginning the process of working with Facilities to fix our permanent abode in Independent Living from being gutted, to having a place for everything and everything in its place, a state we are NOT achieving here (doesn’t feel worth the work when you’re going to have to do it all again soon).

But they don’t have the itchy feeling of how much of my identity is tied up in being a writer – and actually writing.

So many accomplished folk here, with long resumes of happy productive lives, whether involved in work for pay or in bringing up happy and successful children, and it serves to emphasize the many things I could not do due to illness, the may experiences I will now never have.

I didn’t expect that part.

Many of them are still doing the wonderful trips and community service and voter registration and visiting schools…

The ones who are past that are often quite a bit older.

And even the ones who are now disabled who are living here often have not been that way for long.

Only now I meet more people than in my previous isolated state

and have had, metaphorically speaking (and without any ill intent on their part – this all comes out in conversations), my nose rubbed in it.

I used to be better at ignoring the fact that I was ill and isolated, and the rest of the world had lives. Problems, yes, but lives.

By a determined cheerfulness in my own life, so that I did not alienate those I still knew, I kept the worst of it under wraps most of the time. It gets very boring to listen to complaining, however justified. I preferred to spend my time with my husband, far-flung kids, and small coterie of friends enjoying their presence and company when I had it.

I made ignorance – avoidance – my bliss.

And I wrote. Things other people can’t. Don’t. Don’t even want to. But which make me unique.

And clamped down on envy as unproductive.

I’m confronting all this a third time.

Fourth? Fifth? All in a bunch, everything repressed comes back to be dealt with in a new stage of life.

I really hope it’s the last time. But it can’t be.

It gets boring, even to me.

The light will return. Proof of that is that I keep trying. If I’d stopped trying, I’d really worry.

This may be one of those raw adjustment times you put behind you once things are to a new normal. But it’s daunting to think it may total a year by the time we’re in the ‘forever home,’ and I get back to really working.

Another very good sign is that I’m aware of it. I’m not happy about the uncertain period, but I still crave writing something coherent, and even more, writing something I’m satisfied with. I know I’m not where I want to be, and that the steps we’re taking should, with a bit more of that patience stuff, put me in a better writing place.

Life moves on, inexorably

I’d just like to think that the effort for change results in a better working environment, and is a net gain.

Ask me in a couple of years.

Meanwhile, this is a recording of the current state of mind.

I have gone back into my own posts, that now number well over 500, to find things I almost don’t remember writing – and I only started blogging in 2012!

Nothing very new yet

except that I realized how sparse even the blogging has gotten, and feel compelled (by me, not my lovely readers and commenters) to put out at least an update+what I’ve been thinking post every once in a while, until I have more substantive ‘content.’

And, looked at in hindsight, there has been an awfully large amount of change survived.

Please pray for rain for California, and no rain in some other places – that has been, after the elections, another huge concern: we are right in the plume of the Camp Fire, and yesterday were in the ‘hazardous’ category. Worrying about the firefighters, and all those who have lost lives, family, and homes. And wildlife. And what happens after.

And, as usual, not being able to do a darned thing.

Be well. Write when you have a moment.


 

Were you wondering where we were

 

Part of Alicia's face with pool in background

THIS IS WHAT ALL THE FUSS IS ABOUT

This is what I moved Heaven and Earth for: to move to a place with a pool. Not just any pool, but one in the same building, and one of four.

And, of course, we moved so the kids won’t have to wait until we’re even older, and then help move Mom and Dad into the old folks home.

Things have changed in the world, and we no longer needed a big house and two cars in the suburbs to bring up a family.

And we were definitely not enjoying life, taking care of said house. Most of our friends are moving – and suddenly our quiet suburban court was no longer the place where we hung out. Not that I’ve been comfortable hanging out outside for years now, since I stopped being able, physically, to do even a half-hour of gardening (I truly didn’t mind pulling weeds) at a stretch. No point in lovely perennials if you never get out of the house.

The saga continues

We’re living in our second temporary quarters of the move.

The first was an Extended Stay America just north of Quakerbridge Mall on Route 1 in central NJ. We were there from the day before the movers took our stuff away (a night we slept two hours at the motel, and then stayed up all night at the old homestead while trying to get everything packed before the movers came.

Not the best method for me – I’d sleep a half-hour, get up to pack for a couple hours, repeat – all night long. I’ve packed that way for ‘vacation’ trips before, and it isn’t pretty. But it had to be done.

But this is much better because we’re at the guest suite until our furniture and boxes arrive at the end of the first week of September (NJ is a long way from California by moving van), and finally starting to catch up on sleep and get hooked into the system here.

The food is too good

Shrimp and lovely no-sugar-added carrot cake for dinner tonight, with a salad someone else prepared – but I can already see we will have to be careful, or the pounds will pile on – and the clothes arriving next week won’t fit!

The hours are a little on the early side for what we’ve been accustomed to, and we’re getting into the habit of being exhausted well before midnight – feels odd to a confirmed night owl, but you don’t argue with dining room hours if you want to be fed.

Photo of fitness center showing hot tub, therapy pool, and indoor pool

It took me two days, but I finally had time and energy – dropped the laundry off on the way down, and headed for the pool. For a while.

Then I took a shower in their well-appointed locker room (people don’t usually bother with locks) in the handicapped stall because our unit doesn’t have the seated shower. Let me tell you, I haven’t felt this safe getting clean since we took down the shower doors back in NJ months ago because the agent said the house looked tacky with them (they were old and corroding, but I could lightly hold onto the inside bar for some stability).

I have achieved my goal of avoiding a fall, even thought vertically challenged. We’ll have one of these showers in the permanent 2 BR apartment when we get it, but meanwhile I will take my safe showers by the pool. Falls are a major cause of problems for people as they get older.

So the first stage of the move in is over (we put things in the drawers!), and by the next time I write, we should be in our permanent temporary (1 BR) quarters, waiting to see what becomes available for a 2 BR.

In excellent spirits, if still figuring out where everything is

And you do need to take your keys and ID badge with you every time.

Not completely coherent here, but we are okay, the worst is probably over (except for the move IN coming up, and the second one some time in the future), and everyone here has been so nice.

I have to figure out a better way to send the photos to the blog from the iPhone, too, but too many details to worry about right now, and my cobbled get-arounds eventually work.

So bye for now. More when I have it. Moving is a pain for everyone, I’m sure, but eventually it will all be over.

Can’t wait to get settled enough to write – I’m way behind.

Oh, and the fitness expert/instructor seems awfully confident she can get me walking again. Please pray.


 

Liberate the writing mind from the tyranny of time

PLAYING WITH TIME IS THE WRITER’S TOOL

Freeing the mind from the constraints of the linear computer screen.

My ‘left brain’ is linear. Orderly. And must eventually win: the words I produce on the screen or page will have to load into the brain, even in chunks, in an orderly fashion.

I call that the tyranny of the chronology. Or the tyranny of time. Tyranny, in any case.

Even if the story is being told non-linearly, with foreshadowing and backstory, and revisits the same events from different points of view, the ORDER of the words in the final product must be a queue: one behind the other.

We are creatures of time, mired in time, stuck in time – and used to dealing with input presented to us, in time.

Half our metaphors and clichés involve time:

A stitch in time saves nine.
In a timely manner.
Time heals all wounds.
Time to die. Time for dinner.
To everything, turn, turn, turn.

Our most common question: What time is it?

We’re born.
We live.
We die.
In that order.

Time is a relentless dimension, going always headlong into the future from the past, with a moment only in the present – and we are dragged along, willy nilly.

So much so that we hardly notice it.

Time is like air, not noticed until there is a lack

The right brain, which doesn’t do things that way, is also dragged along. Even if it takes in many things at one perception, each instant in time will bring a different set, to be perceived and dealt with – if possible – before being assaulted by the next.

This affects writing in many different ways, but especially in giving a power to the words already on the page – in their ordered stream. The left brain resists changing that which is already sorted into a linear order. It did all that work to organize things, and now you want to change their order? It demands to know, Why? It gets in the way of finding a better order, a more coherent whole.

Loosening the grip of time

For me, one of the best ways to stop that linear progression is to go to paper: a fresh sheet of scratch paper invites scribbling. Pencil, pen, colored markers. A neon yellow highlighter. A printed copy of the current version or pieces of older versions invites scissors and tape. And rearranging. Always rearranging. Clumping – and stringing out. Grouping in different ways.

I know there is software for that – to make a screen more like a whiteboard. Maybe the next generation will be comfortable with its freedom, and not notice its inherent limitations: the screen doesn’t allow you to cut it into pieces.

But ‘going to paper’ stops time for me for long enough to see if this fiction has a BETTER timeline in it, a different order for all those perceptions and illuminations of the right mind.

Manipulating time – for story

Always in mind is the idea of how to slip all these bits and pieces of the story into the reader’s head so a coherent whole story can assemble, KNOWING the reader’s mind is different from my own, KNOWING that the story for the reader will be different from my version in many and subtle ways because every head is a whole world, and every world in a mind is different from every other one. Presenting the building blocks in the best way I can think of to invoke the reader’s use of her built-in software.

Overcoming my OWN Resistance to changing anything – to make it better – requires that I manipulate time for my own purposes, which also requires that I step out of the constraints linear time puts on ME.

‘Going to the paper’ does this every time I try it: there is something magical about messing with time, but I have to do it non-linearly, with different tools than my usual ones, and in a way that takes me back, metaphorically, to when it was okay to scribble anything anywhere (and I even had a hard time staying on the paper), before I was truly conscious of time, when there was only ‘now.’

‘Going to the paper’ in real life, too

I have to do a lot of year-end paperwork. It is stressful and confusing, and requires decisions from a mind not functional yet this morning. I can sit here, staring at the screen until the cows come home – and nothing useful will happen.

Making notes on paper, scribbling, adding bits and pieces, and drawing arrows from one piece to another – going to the paper – is the only way I’m going to get through it.

Respecting time

The most important thing a writer can do is to respect the reader’s time – and put nothing into a story that is not strictly necessary.

That said, it has to be in the context of the readers you hope to attract, as time sense is a strong predictor of the kind of books a particular reader wants, and the writer’s is developed by the sum total of everything the writer has ever read.

Pretty big order, there.

I think the most important measurement of respect is that your target readers will never demand back the time they spent reading you. And the ones who are not your ‘tribe’ will accuse you of wasting theirs.

How do you finagle ‘time’?

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.

Update on Pi day 2018: almost alive

JUST SURVIVED ANOTHER SH*T STORM

Concerned about occasional blood pressure spikes, I asked the cardiologist to prescribe something with the fewest side effects possible, and was given a prescription for an angiotensin II receptor antagonist (ARB) called Diovan, which was filled with a generic called Valsartan – and I’ve again lost ten days of my life.

After I’ve had a horrible pain and zombie-brain time with it, I start getting more detailed with my research, and find out the Celebrex (my pain med and ONLY other prescription med, which I finally found after trying about thirty other things) and Valsartan (and not only other ARBs, but also ACE inhibitors and betablockers (my old pal from last year, metoprolol – which contributed to last year’s hell, and which I also won’t take again)) are contraindicated because each drug makes the other drug less effective.

I’m getting very annoyed at people who don’t check drug interactions.

Also, people like me, with ME/CFS, are often sensitive to even small doses of meds. Starting on a SMALL dose would make a lot more sense. Maybe they think it was a small dose. I don’t. Ask my husband about my pain-filled week+. I don’t like to spend a long period of time breathing through pain I can’t seem to get control over, while worrying about the extra load in painkillers and what they will do to me and my poor overloaded liver and kidneys.

Just generally annoyed – and farther behind – AGAIN. It gets tiring. And when they don’t even call back after a week after I reported side effects (they said they would), even more.

I halved the dose, then quartered it, then stopped. Five days later, I’m starting to regain control, and my mind worked last night for a couple of hours. Woo hoo!

And yes, I’m aware I’m two days late for Pi Day, and didn’t get any pie. Hope your life is more even-tempered.

And I’m still worried about those occasional spikes. But no med will help if I CAN’T TAKE IT!

Fearlessly make a stress inventory and face it

FACING STRESS IS A TOUGH ONE FOR ME

I realized that I’ve been living in a very tightly wound knot, and I’m making myself aware of how often I need to relax my shoulders and breathe.

Stress has the potential to further affect my health, even as far as accelerating my death, and exposing me to not very pleasant forms of that.

Normally, I’m a calm person, but the past couple of years, continuing chronic illness (ME/CFS), the debilitating back pain I will find a surgeon for once we’re settled (maybe), plus new health challenges give me a resting platform that would be too much for anyone not used to it (or who has a choice).

But I didn’t realize how MUCH stress

I’m laughing at myself (laughter at self, good) because I recently identified that my assistant, who works for me part-time, was carrying way too much stress from her other, real, job, and family circumstances, and I wisely gave her one of the stress inventories available online, suggested she fill it out, and she did, and she discussed it with her doctor WITH her parents present – and I think it helped.

So I was primed – and knowledgeable – and still to clueless to realize I had an awful lot of extra stress this past year.

Fear for your life is big stress –

but you can’t think about that every minute. Not unless there’s something you need to be doing.

Including coming up this Feb. 21 on the one year anniversary of the stent debacle last year (from Feb. 6 to 22, IIRC), where it took the (?) cardiologists three heart catheterizations, 4 hospital admissions in two hospitals in different states, a nuclear stress test, and luck – before they found the place (on the third stent) which was going to cause a nice heart attack as soon as it closed up a bit more. Don’t ignore chest pain, folks.

Two more days, and all I’ll have left is the medical PTSD (keeps biting at odd times); the memory of the horrible side effects of the drugs, all of which I dumped; the possibility of more drugs if the flu (yup, I’m getting over the flu, too, and yes, I had the shot) after-effects don’t go away.

I hate turning into a hypochondriac, so I ignore anything that isn’t severe – while remembering that doctors sent me home from the first catheterization with chest pain – and a clean bill of health.

So, facing the stress requires listing all the possible sources

Very partial list:

Moving: We’ve lived in this house, only the second one we’ve ever owned, since 1981. On March 5th it will have been 37 years. I’m pretty useless around the house any more, so all the fixing will have to be done through intermediaries, which means finding, making decisions, following up on, paying strangers wandering through my house. And making the decisions (and expenditures) necessary to sell a house in good enough condition to attract a decent buyer.

Dejunking: With each assistant, I’ve been dealing with the stuff which accumulates in a house with five people and the mother ill. For literally YEARS. With no false sense of keeping it all forever. To show a house, it must be tidy, the closets must feel airy and large, and the storage spaces should appear ample. Do you have any idea how many coats I’ve given away? How many remain? And how many are not mine?

Finding our forever home: I’m not doing this again, so we have to pick a place to live, with our diminishing energy for the task and before other people have to do it for us, that we will die in. I’ve written about Continuing Care Retirement Communities (CCRCs), and we’ll be visiting California to pick one, knowing it’s intended to be a permanent move.

Kids: I will point out that any good parent of adult children worries like crazy about everything (and ours are doing well), by definition.

Family: How to see our far-flung offspring, and arranging the once-a-year vacation, with activities at all levels from zero (me) to healthy young adult. We weren’t doing the ‘visit Mom and Dad for the holidays’ thing anyway (they no longer really fit here, and there’s nothing to do, especially nothing I can participate in).

Finances: Goes without saying, even if you have savings – plus there’s that pesky bit about spending after you’ve spent your entire adult life (especially since disability meant I would not be earning again) NOT-spending. They want how much for a two-bedroom apartment at the CCRC?

Gizzy: A big problem. Rodents are not welcome at all CCRCs, chinchillas are long-lived, and she’s been a bit spoiled. It would be better for her to have a younger owner. Define ‘better.’ And how to find one, and hand her over safely. I will take her with us if I have to, but I’m coming to the realization that this may not be the best solution for either of us. Love the little gray furball.

You get the idea.

There are actually many many more, and some of them are connected with writing.

Slow writers have a problem in that the possible feedback from self-publishing (not even going anywhere near what writers who are not established enough to call the shots go through with traditional publishing) is slow. Unless the writer does all the things successful indies do – promotion, newsletters and mailing lists, interviews, keyword ads – the best help is the next book, and Pride’s Children: NETHERWORLD will probably not be finished this year, not at the current rate. It goes well – the advantage of a writing system like mine is the ability to work on a manageable piece at a time – but slower than usual.

Benefits of dealing rather than slogging on

The payback for doing the move should be the ability to dump a lot of the above stresses, and get back to a writing schedule which doesn’t keep getting interrupted.

Okay, those of you laughing in the back: I know it doesn’t work that easily.

But I do have the fact behind me that when I finished my parents’ final tax returns, and mailed them to the IRS, that stress just stopped. Hard. I worried for a day or two I might have done something incorrect – and cut that out. The paperwork supported the returns I mailed in – and that’s that. I have a nice plastic box an inch thick only with everything I might need if audited. Done.

I have started

I sent my assistant to the basement with my iPhone to take pictures of the information on the tile boxes. I checked out that the tile store I bought the front hall and bathroom tile from are still in business. Closed, by the time I checked, but open tomorrow.

I called the recommended mason. Yes, he does chimneys on roofs! Sent him pictures I finally extracted from the husband’s OneDrive. He is coming by tomorrow to take a look. Yes!

Oh, and I finished the last beat of the last scene of the next chapter – and listened to it in the robot voice – and it’s fine. I think I’m writing cleaner and sparer as I go (but it could just be this scene).

I firmly believe there are a finite number of steps necessary to get a house ready for market. I am determined to direct the efforts. I talked to someone who will call me back tomorrow about staging (yay cellphones – she was half a country away on a trip).

The flu will go away. I will find something to eat, and watch Olympics, and try to get some sleep.

And go back to whatever I can do tomorrow.

Did it help to list the stressors?

Yes, but the danger there is that listing is not reducing. Only reducing is helpful in the long run. Had we any intention to stay here when I started nagging several years ago, they’re gone. The movement is forward, interrupted by everything.

It’s keep moving – or literally die trying.

If I could finish my writing first, please?

The pain of discovering typos in published work

ONLY GOD HAS NO TYPOS

Pride goeth before a fall

I know that. I expected that. And my typo rate was, I thought, rather low, especially considering that I ended up being, for reasons too long to go into, my own proofreader.

And I worked my tail off at it. It’s very hard to be critical of your own work. So? It’s part of the job.

Now, I have found egregious (well, to me) typos in traditionally published books – one major book on writing that I use almost daily has ‘principal’ (main, or the guy who is in charge of a school) instead of ‘principle’ (fundamental truth or morally correct behavior) not once, but twice – so the author got it wrong and the proofreader failed to correct it; or a proofreader got it wrong, changed it, and the author didn’t catch the incorrect correction. Or they both have no idea they don’t know.

I earmarked the place, and occasionally toy with the idea of sending a note to the author (which I don’t do – not my circus, not my monkeys). For future editions, you see. Because it is the kind of book that gets future editions.

But it amuses me to know it’s there. And I still love the book.

Proud of having low error rate, until…

I had found ONE wrong word, ONE extra ‘s’ at the end of a word, and a couple of places where, when doing the final formatting pass through MS Word (to get widow and orphan control, running headers and footers, and right margin indents for the print version of Pride’s Children), WORD inserted some stupidities (specifically, leaving –” as the only thing at the beginning of a line, 5 or 6 times) after I published.

They’re on my list of things to correct on the CreateSpace file (yeah, it’s on the to do list, somewhere in the 9000s). No one who reviewed has commented on those tiny typos, so they’re not all that significant in the flow (or my readers are being kind).

And all but the first two are not present in the ebook, which didn’t go through Word.

Acceptable. Imperfect, but not too much.

Possibly because my youngest daughter mentioned it (she finally read the book!!!), I was a little more attuned to a particular possibility when I was sitting in the doctor’s office yesterday, reading my own book.

And then, wham! I saw it. I’m not even sure if it’s the same thing my daughter mentioned (though it may be), and I now know exactly what I did, and it really doesn’t affect the story that much.

But I am now aware of a FLAW that I, as a perfectionist, can’t let stand.

Easy to fix?

Can’t let it stand.

You know me.

I moved the idea of putting an errata page on prideschildren.com up on the list – so those lovely people who purchase the first book in the trilogy in paper can correct their own copies (not that many readers, but still…), possibly now aware that they have the coveted First Edition – flaws and all.

Or I can slink away, offering (consider yourselves offered to, if you are one of these wonderful people) a corrected copy as soon as I can make them, and being aware that they were either too kind to point this out to me, or, better, too engrossed in the story to even notice.

The ebook will be corrected (again, asap – not a fast possibility, either), so that anyone who downloads it again will automatically get the corrections. If they care. Because this new little typo is in both versions. [hangs head]

The good side

There’s ALWAYS a good side.

I caught it (before I had a chance to look up my daughter’s questioning whether I had it right). From reading it myself in a relaxed way, with nothing else to read. Rather than from it being scornfully pointed out by a reader. Rather less painful – or is it?

Because I’m indie and self-published, it is both my responsibility and my right to fix it (so I don’t have principal for principle for all eternity of this print run).

CreateSpace and Amazon make it easy to fix (haven’t done it yet, so that’s ‘easy in principle’ for now): I upload the corrected files (I believe), wait, and within a couple of days, I can hold my head up in public again.

I have added (mentally – that darn To Do list is so darn long) a few things to the ‘look out for’ list for my AutoCrit editing passes. Especially since my brain appears to be losing its mind, I will now examine every single ‘s in each scene because the world not understanding that plurals don’t have apostrophes is its problem, not mine. I will speak sternly to the brain, and it will whine that it’s so overburdened already, and I will remind it that I’m in charge.

Etc. I.e., I will improve my skills based on this little irritating contretemps.

And because I’m indie, I don’t have to deal with a proofreader about the whole thing.

So why am I making a big deal of this?

Because professional means that you worry about these details, and that you try to make the next one have fewer (not less) errors.

It’s good for me to see where improvement is necessary (believe me, there is a whole new process in place so this particular little error won’t recur).

And it actually bolsters my belief that self-editing, and learning from your self-editing how to be a better writer is critical.

I stand behind my own work, even in the tiny places.

For the future

It’s okay to point typos out to me if you notice them. I just got a wonderful email back after my beta reader read – and liked – the next chapter. I strive to send her finished work. And her wonderful nitpickiness tells me what she likes, asks questions which lead often to some wonderful back-and-forth, and always mentions the little things. She found two. I love her for that.

It also reinforces that doing the beta reading one chapter at a time has some significant advantages for me: a chapter is a reasonable size chunk of writing to deal with at a time. Things get noticed.

And I can’t see how this would possibly work with a traditional publisher, the timing, and the diffusing of responsibility. All while the writer is supposed to be writing the next book. Not for me, anyway.

So there it is. And no, you won’t find out from me what I did wrong (at least not until the Errata page comes out). If you didn’t notice, I’m not going to be the one to point it out. Nope.

Welcome to the wonderful world of independent writing. PLEASE feel free to contribute your own stories.


Thanks to Stencil and Quozio, my go to places for images. I’m resonsible for the silly words that appear in them.