Tag Archives: Winter

Writing Maintenance

As my car and my body struggled to deal with the below zero temperatures yesterday morning, I started to think about how writing is a lot like maintaining a car.

For one thing in cold weather, it’s not a good idea to let your engine sit for more than few days without being run or it’ll complain the next time you try to turn it on. Similarly, writing works best when you’re doing it often in regular sustained bursts. When you “turn the key” so to speak, on your next post or the next chapter of your novel, the words are more likely to flow naturally if it hasn’t been that long since the last time you took your writing out for a spin.

Similarly, you can get a lot of carbon build up in an engine if all you do is city driving. Sometimes you need to take a car out on the highway to get rid of that grime. With writing the equivalent of this is to practice different kinds of writing. If all I did was write blog posts, or sit sequestered in a room working on my novel, eventually my mind would start to get filled with crud. One type of writing can help free up gunk that’s built up in other types.

If it’s been a really long time since you’ve driven a car, like 18 months or more, one of the first things you need to do is put some new gas in the tank, and maybe even drain some of the old gas out. This is kind of how it feels to go back to anything you’ve written more than maybe a year or two ago, especially as you’re developing as a writer. Something that looked tight and provocative to you when you wrote it will look horrible to you a little later. Here’s the only problem, you’re not always right. Sometimes we can over tinker, change the grades of gasoline or try a bunch of additives, when really all we need is a fresh tank.

Every now and again we need to assess how things are going with our writing. Is it worth putting more money or time into this car, or should we get a new one? This doesn’t mean giving up driving, it just might mean going in a different direction. If you’ve been trying your hand at genre fiction for a long time, and it really isn’t getting you anywhere, maybe it’s time to try writing something else. Then again, maybe not. Some people get 300,000 miles or more out of their cars (personally I’d love to hit the moon with mine, but it’s a Ford so that’s unlikely).

We do regular maintenance on cars and we should do regular maintenance on writing as well. Whether it’s writing exercises, or reading good books, there are things that help us to keep running more than just the practice of writing. You wouldn’t drive a car without ever changing the oil, or the brake pads or the tires. Why would you write without reading books? Sure you don’t have time, but eventually something may happen that will cause you to need to make the time.

Lastly, it is possible for an engine to overheat, particularly if it’s been driving at 70 or above for 10 hours or so. Taking breaks is just as important, sometimes more so. We can’t operate at peak speed forever, we need to slow down. I’ve been feeling this a lot with the two week cycle of The Sky Below, and I relish the Thursday and Friday after a chapter is released where I don’t really think about it. I need the recharge before I can keep going.

Keep driving and keep writing. And pray for spring!

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Gravel in a blender

Well I’m in week two of my second cold of the winter season. The first cold ended with a lot of sinus stuff and congestion (i.e. going through tissues in bulk). This new cold decided to be creative and go down further in my throat to manifest as a cough, which mainly likes to go off when I’m trying to get to sleep. I’m lying on my side, and suddenly I wake myself up with a fit of coughing. Why the cat decided to sleep next to me through this I’m not really sure.

During the day I don’t feel so bad, but this winter season has just been difficult to wake up and get the writing work done that I want to do. When I’m feeling bad I have a much more escapist mentality, sinking my time into TV or even better video games. Ironically this last cold kicked off almost immediately after playing a game. I was playing Batman: Arkham Asylum on my lunch break and was feeling fine, but as soon as I stopped playing I realized I felt like crap. During the weekend following I spent most of the time I wasn’t asleep playing the game just to distract myself from how I was feeling, which was remarkably effective. This is probably how people starve themselves to death, but that’s one of the benefits of being married, my wife keeps me alive 🙂

Fortunately I’m starting to feel better before the holiday, but the holiday season isn’t exactly the best time to be productive either. And it’s cold outside and I always manage to forget to defrost my car before I have to go.

This is all by way of saying sorry I haven’t been blogging here nearly as often as I should. My intention is to find a way to hit the reset button and get everything going in the new year. I have been building up some ideas for more of a structure that hopefully you guys will like, and will make this easier for me to sustain even when I’m feeling crummy.

That said I have been enjoying the time off. Those Batman games are ridiculously immersive (I’m now on Arkham City). I used to play shooters more in college, but I actually like action platformers a little better now. Still combat to be sure, but less focused on a linear narrative of mowing down waves of stuff. Batman forces you to think about combat rather than button mashing, but not in an excessively complicated way. And he doesn’t kill which is nice too.

How have you been coping with winter?

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The Fractal Man (First Iteration)

If I leave for work early enough, I don’t see them.

I can drive in total darkness, and though I know they are all around me, somehow I can keep my mind calm. I take back roads and places were lights are never on, but inevitably that means I am only surrounded by more of them.

The time change has been playing hell with my plans. Not only has it negatively affected my sleep schedule, but now the sun rises and I can’t even step outside my house before I see one.

Trees, dead trees. They’re everywhere you look.

winter-trees

It doesn’t snow much where I live. With snow the pattern is blurred, the image less sharp. My mind can float between long patches of white and it never tries to land. Of course I know that each snowflake is one too, but it’s the trees that haunt me. The trees that demand my attention.

The sky is perpetual gray. It should have been spring weeks ago, but all we seem to have is winter. Every day it’s cold and my windshield is covered with a diffusion limited aggregate which I quickly try to dissolve with my heater. Then I drive and there’s L-system’s everywhere.

I don’t see the math. As good as I am, I’m a programmer after all, I don’t have the RAM to look at a tree and see how it was made. But I see the pattern, see each branch split and then split again, each part similar if not identical to the part that came before.

In the spring, summer and fall the leaves hide the pattern. Sure, there are iterated function systems for leaves but they’re too chaotic to nail down. They’re focused on numbers. L-systems, however, they’re just words, letters, commands. The mind is built on an L-system. The brain is a three-dimensional Hilbert curve. The lungs, an inversion of the trees I see every morning. Maybe that’s why they steal my breath away when I look at them.

I try to focus on the road, on the wavering yellow line, the cracked pavement, the dust on my dashboard. Anything to keep my world inside the car, into the few feet directly in front of me. Of course this isn’t a very safe way to drive, but somehow I manage.

Work is calmer. Desks, cabinets, tables, chairs, cups of coffee as long as it’s kept in a thermos where the steam cannot escape. It’s all so human, so Euclidean, so simple. Nothing is chaotic. Each day is a repetition of the one previous. Every conversation is a variation on the same couple of phrases. Each cubicle individual but the same, arranged in grids, with calm regular hallways.

cubicles

The food is simpler too. Hamburgers in round disks. Fries in long rectangles, or tots in cylinders if the mood strikes. Anything organic has been homogenized, processed, packaged until it is comfortable for the human form to consume. Even the pi/4 radians of pizza.

I don’t like my work. I mean who does really? But it’s the only time I don’t really think about them. My building’s in an industrial park with lots of stark parking lots, and the few trees that are in the distance can only be seen from the windows of people with much better offices than mine.

But inevitably the day ends and I have one of those work places where people are actually encouraged to keep regular eight hour schedules so I can’t hide in my cubicle waiting for it to be dark again. Fortunately, there’s a bar right down the road. It’s surrounded by trees of course, but the windows are shuttered, the room kept dark for the TV’s and pool tables. I drink weak beer and wait, every now and again going outside for a cigarette to see if it’s safe to move again.

I really should quit smoking, but somehow the thought of what the habit is doing to those perfect bronchioles makes me smile, helps me to calm down. But the habit also forces me outside and outside is where they can find me.

The beer dulls the senses enough to put a haze on the world around me, further helping my efforts to stay inside the car. I don’t get drunk very easily, I’m a pretty big guy after all, but if I drink the right I amount I can dull my senses until I can get back to my house.

I sit in the living room again because I don’t have the courage to enter my office. My books are there. I could just get rid of them, after all they’re the reason any of this is happening in the first place. But knowledge isn’t something you can just package up and send out of your life. And those books call to me at night, dying to reveal their secret truths of the universe to which they have only given me a glimpse.

Instead I drown myself in the banality of reality television and game shows, eating the same frozen burrito every night for dinner. I go to bed, and I pray that my dreams are black, calm, silent.

506b0ec4fb04d60a510017ee._w.540_h.405_s.fit_

And this is how I spend my days, or at least that’s how it’s been for the last three years. The world is an endlessly repeating self-similar place, and I’m beginning to wonder if things will be this way forever.

To be continued

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How was your drive today?

I’m probably going to be working a “straight eight”, so since I’m sitting here at work at the moment, I’m going to try and get the day’s writing quota out of the way instead of a regular blog post. In the meantime, how’s the weather where you are? The little red-haired girl was a trooper, waking up with me at 4:30am and helping me shovel out the driveway (she did most of it frankly, she’s kinda awesome). Stay warm my friends 🙂

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Sleepy, Frozen, Need Coffee

Sorry for the last couple of delays. Like many of you I stayed up late to finish the super bowl and slung cruel words at my alarm clock at 4:40 am this morning. Upon attempting to leave my house (many snoozes later) I found that my car doors were frozen, not frozen shut mind you, but frozen open. The locking mechanism freezes when it’s really cold and the door will not shut no matter how much slamming, cursing and wringing of hands is applied. Suffice it to say a full blog post is not in the offing today. I’m going to sip my coffee now. Hope your mornings are going better and see you guys tomorrow!

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