Saturday, May 25, 2019

The Long Dark - human habitation

Continuing occasional posts about worldbuilding for my current WIP.

Aside from extreme weather patterns, the colonists in The Long Dark have another major problem to contend with. The planet is superficially Earth-like - similar gravity, similar temperature on average, abundant water and an oxygen/nitrogen atmosphere. All sounds moderately livable. Except for one thing. Both the air and the water are laced with a cocktail of poisons. Without treatment they are deadly.

OK. I decided the toxins would be large organic molecules and relatively easy to filter out, so there is no shortage of air and water per se, but they do need treatment.

That means you can’t go out onto the surface without a mask, and all living areas need to be enclosed and secured to keep the native atmosphere out.

This isn’t as extreme as living on, say, the Moon, where you have to pressurize living spaces against vacuum, but you do need a reasonably airtight barrier and airlocks everywhere. So, the colonists live in large domes, clustered together into towns and cities.

The dome arrangements of the town of Serendipity, where most of the action takes place. The large ovals are vehicle garages and warehouses. The smaller domes are habitats and workshops. The town is roughly a kilometer across.

The relatively habitable equator is ringed by eighteen large cities. These are occupied year-round, and contain all the major industrial processing and hydroponic growing areas.

Away from the equator, in the twenty to thirty-five degree latitudes, there is a scattering of nearly fifty smaller towns in each hemisphere. These are only occupied during Elysium’s summer months. Half the planet’s population live here, harvesting medicinal products and other useful materials from the depths of the plant mass. At the turn of the seasons they have to migrate across the equator to escape the winter deep freeze - the “Long Dark” of the book’s title.

Map of Elysium showing up to forty degrees north and south. The equatorial cities and the northern towns are marked here.

Friday, May 17, 2019

Husky Houdini

When we moved to Canada we got a husky. We installed a new fence all around the back yard to make it husky-proof. In all the years we had Gypsy, and later Ellie, our Australian Shepherd, we never had a dog escape unless someone left one of the side gates open.

Sadly we lost Gypsy in 2016, but now we’ve added Mishka to the family, a five-month old husky who gets along fabulously with Ellie.

Tuesday afternoon: Panicked call at work from Megan, who’d dropped by home to pick up some groceries. Mishka is missing. Ellie is still there, and the gates are secured, but no Mishka.

Immediate conclusion - someone’s taken her.

Luckily, a neighbor whose property backs on to one of our next-door neighbor’s, called Ali to say she had Mishka. She has two huskies herself, in a fenced yard, and noticed she had mysteriously acquired a third. So, we were glad to have Mishka back but instead of one mystery, we now had two. How did she get out of our yard, and how did she get into our neighbor’s - both supposedly husky-proof?

Tuesday evening: Check the fence all around the back yard. No signs of digging. No loose fencing anywhere. No obvious way for her to get out.

Wednesday morning: Feed dogs as usual and let them loose in the back yard. A little while later, spot Mishka roaming the front lawn.

Conclusion: Somehow, she can escape. So likelihood is that she got out on her own yesterday. No need to assume some stranger had let her out for some reason. From there, our favorite theory is that she found her way through the neighbor’s property to the road behind, and someone found her wandering. It’s possible someone mistakenly though they knew where she lived and let her in with the other huskies.

Wednesday evening: Take Ellie out the front and pretend to go for a walk, leaving Mishka on the deck under covert observation, hoping she’ll repeat her feat and let us see how she escaped. No such luck. A lot of plaintive whining and wandering around on the carport roof, but no jailbreak.

Wait ... what? She’s not supposed to be able to get onto the carport. We have a deck over the garage, with the carport alongside. The roof comes up level with the railing that runs around the deck. Very early on, to stop Gypsy climbing up there, I installed fence panels along the edge of the roof nearest the deck. It stopped Gypsy, but not, apparently, Mishka. She happily squeezed around the end of the fence in the few inches between that and the edge of the roof.

That’s the far end of the fence in this picture. The carport is behind the fence to the left.


More worrying, she then decided to jump into the hedge jutting out and shielding the carport entrance. She floundered in the greenery ten feet above a very hard driveway.


Luckily I was able to reach down from the deck and haul her out. She must have decided that was fun, because she repeated the performance later that evening and had to be rescued again. Not very comforting. What if she did that when we weren’t around?

Regardless, whenever we tried to tempt her to escape again, she went straight for the carport. Current theory is that she escaped previously by jumping down the far side, only a five or six foot drop into the neighbor’s yard because we’re on a hill. But clearly the carport has to be out of bounds.

Thursday morning: New lattice panel added to the deck to act as a deterrent.


Friday: No more escapes. Fingers crossed!


Saturday, May 11, 2019

Breaking the Block

While I’m taking a breather from The Long Dark, waiting for the first part to get critiqued, I’ve turned my attention back to another small project that I aim to complete this summer.

A short e-book, Breaking the Block, looks systematically at a range of causes of writer’s block, and suggests possible remedies.

I’ve tried to pack the booklet with examples and practical tips, but the theme running through it is that writer’s block is not in itself an ailment, but simply the visible symptom of some deeper underlying cause.

It often seems to me that writers feel helpless when the words stop flowing, and they believe they have to wait for inspiration or for the right mood to strike. My belief is that the problem can be tackled more proactively, you just need some ideas on where to look for the source of the blockage before you can bring the right countermeasures to bear.

Even if you don’t find a specific tip in the booklet that helps you in your own situation, I think it helps to adopt the mindset that writer’s block is not some amorphous ailment of the writerly mind. Instead of feeling helpless, understand that somewhere there is a specific cause that can be overcome once you’ve shone a spotlight on it.


Sunday, May 5, 2019

Victoria Public Library

Yesterday saw the launch of the Greater Victoria Public Library’s 2019 Emerging Local Authors collection.

This is the fifth year they’ve run this innovative program, now being emulated in a number of other libraries, which showcases local authors and illustrators.

I joined about eighty authors making up this year’s collection for a launch party in the covered courtyard at the library. Our books, including The Ashes of Home, will be shelved prominently near the main library entrance, and they’ve put together a rolling slideshow for their display screens.



You can find out more about the collection at:
https://www.gvpl.ca/virtual-branch/emerging-local-authors/

Sunday, April 21, 2019

Easter weekend

Hope everyone is enjoying their Easter break.

I’m making use of the extra time to do some writing, obviously.

Aiming to complete what I call “revision 1” of The Long Dark. In practice, a revision is actually multiple passes through the text looking at various aspects. After finishing the first draft I let it sit for a while, then begin with a complete read through as a reader, making notes of general impressions and areas that need tightening up or expanding on. This is at a high level, to get a feel for the story as a whole. More reads on the computer, making edits as I go, then print the lot off on paper and go through it again with a red pen. Now I’ve just got a few notes left to work through.

At the same time, I’m pushing the nonfiction Breaking the Block through the critiquing queue at Critique Circle.

Back in the real world, this is the time of year we are usually thinking of getting our deck cleaned up and in use. But, despite a brief spell last month, it’s not yet warmed up enough to be inviting. Maybe next month.

Instead, we’ve revitalized a part of the garden that’s been neglected for years. This corner sites behind the garage and deck, and used to be a rather useless patch of grass. Several years ago, we got rid of the grass, built steps, path, and retaining wall, and filled it with soil but never got around to planting it properly. Well, now it’s planted :)


Saturday, April 13, 2019

Self-congratulation

Goodreads is an online forum first and foremost for readers. Readers discuss, swap notes on, and review books they’ve read. The purpose is to inform other readers and to share reading experiences.

Of course, authors hang out there, too. Wherever there’s an audience of readers, there are opportunities for authors to engage and maybe attract new readers.

One of the discussion forums I follow posed a question about authors rating and reviewing their own books. I’ve seen authors do this ... give themselves a five-star rating and a glowing review. At one point, very early on in my time there, I had seen this so often I figured it was seen as an acceptable practice and (briefly) wondered about doing this for my own book (just the one out there at that time).

Then I started thinking how this would come across to a prospective reader.

How does it come across to me?

That stopped me in my tracks, because my gut reaction was that it was sad, tacky, and smacked of desperation. If you have a load of other people’s reviews then you really don’t need to add your own. It serves no purpose in terms of visibility. On the other hand, there’s nothing much sadder than a book with just one review ... from the author. IMO you’re better off with none.

Actually, I take that back. A sadder sight is a five-star review from the author standing out among a clutch of one- and two-star reviews from genuine readers. That says they’re not only desperate, but completely out of touch with reality.

What do you think? What crosses your mind when you see someone rating their own book on a forum meant for readers?

Saturday, April 6, 2019

Brexit ... or not

This side of the pond, we have ringside seats to the surreal reality show that is American politics. While I’ve grown heartily sick of hearing about the Orange Toddler’s latest tantrums, the rest of my family back in Britain is equally sick of the even-longer-running drama of Brexit.

Some groups are pushing for a second referendum. “Let the people have their say,” they say. Opponents point to the fact that the people already had their say. Here’s where I think we get into slightly shady territory.

I remember reading about the shock when the result of the referendum was announced. There was disbelief across the whole political spectrum, and more than an unearthly hint of “What have we done?” I suspect a lot of people who voted to leave didn’t really want to leave at all. But they did want to send a message to the politicians that business as usual was not an option. It was a protest vote, something that many people felt was safe because there was no way it would actually pass ... until it did.

That’s the danger of protest votes, or of poorly-explained polls.

The time for a second referendum would have been right away, as in - this was so unexpected and has clearly taken everyone by surprise, let’s do the prudent thing and ask, “Are you sure?” That’s the common-sense response when you get an entirely unexpected answer to a question. Verify, to make sure the question was understood and the answer is genuine. Then move on.

But nearly three years have passed, we’ve passed the date when Britain should have by now been out, and we’re still no closer to having any clue how this will all shake out.

Saturday, March 30, 2019

WeWriWa - last one for now

http://www.wewriwa.com/

Weekend Writing Warriors is a weekly blog hop where participants post eight to ten sentences of their writing. You can find out more about it by clicking on the image.

Concluding a chapter from Ghosts of Innocence, Shayla has stolen the identity of a new high-ranking Imperial appointee, Brynwyn bin Covin. She’s been met by a soldier (Kurt) from the Imperial Palace Guard, who’s escorting her to the Palace. Outside in the square Kurt spotted a row of coin-operated punishment stalls. Shayla stopped in front of a young woman prisoner with two young children, and had no choice but to live up to the expectations of her position by inflicting some pain on the woman. But she put a halt to any further torture, declaring that the woman has been punished, and provided money to feed and clothe the children.

The quote mentioned at the start is from a snippet a while ago, though only a couple of pages back in the story. It began, "Tribute to the Emperor, vengeance to the Almighty."

=====

"And mercy to the children, for they are your future judges," murmured Kurt, as they walked back across the plaza, completing the quote Shayla had used a few minutes before.

"Amen to that," said Shayla, taken aback. "I'm impressed. That was from the original Mikhael Avantis edition."

Kurt nodded. "Most people misquote it as 'for they are your future.' It rather loses its meaning like that."

"Go and see if the car's ready," Shayla said. She didn't want to get into a religious discussion right now. "And make sure that heathen wretch of a porter has loaded all my baggage safely."


=====

Seems Shayla made the right impression on Kurt. And that’s it for now. I’ll be back, maybe later this year, with some scenes from The Long Dark. I’m plugging away at initial rounds of editing, and will be putting it through beta reading and detailed critique for the rest of the year.

Meanwhile, I’ve also finished the first draft of a non-fiction booklet on handling writer’s block. This will be a companion to my earlier Critique Survival Guide. As this is only a short booklet, I plan to edit and publish Breaking the Block this year alongside editing The Long Dark.


Saturday, March 23, 2019

WeWriWa - Shayla makes things right

http://www.wewriwa.com/

Weekend Writing Warriors is a weekly blog hop where participants post eight to ten sentences of their writing. You can find out more about it by clicking on the image.

Continuing a chapter from Ghosts of Innocence, Shayla has stolen the identity of a new high-ranking Imperial appointee, Brynwyn bin Covin. She’s been met by a soldier (Kurt) from the Imperial Palace Guard, who’s escorting her to the Palace. Outside in the square Kurt spotted a row of coin-operated punishment stalls. Shayla stopped in front of a young woman prisoner with two young children, and had no choice but to live up to expectations of her position by inflicting some pain on the woman. But she put a halt to an further torture, declaring that the woman has been punished.

=====

Shayla called the Overseer, who had been hovering at the edge of the crowd. She whipped out her notepad and scrawled briefly on it, then pressed a handful of coins into his palm. "See to it that these children are properly fed and clothed."

He looked blankly at the handful of money.

"I have just lodged a pledge that this gift be used appropriately in the spirit in which it was given," Shayla continued, "witnessed by all people present here. The timestamp will tally with surveillance records. You will ensure that this pledge is honored." The man didn't look overly dishonest, but it never hurt to be sure.

He bowed. "It shall be done, Magister Summis."


=====


Monday, March 18, 2019

An Indie interview

I’ve just been interviewed by fellow author, Katherine Luck, over at How To Write Like. Please hop over to the site and say hello, and while you’re there read up about a variety of authors.

Katherine Luck is the author of the novels The Cure for Summer Boredom and In Retrospect. Her latest book, False Memoir, combines the high stakes of a gritty psychological thriller with the guilty pleasure of a sensational true crime tell-all. You can read more of her work, including the “Dead Writers and Candy” series, at the-delve.com.

I was also tickled to learn that Katherine is just a short hop away, across the water in Seattle. I hope they’re enjoying a touch of the welcome spring that we’re enjoying here in Victoria!

Saturday, March 16, 2019

WeWriWa - Shayla recovers from her slip

http://www.wewriwa.com/

Weekend Writing Warriors is a weekly blog hop where participants post eight to ten sentences of their writing. You can find out more about it by clicking on the image.

Continuing a chapter from Ghosts of Innocence, Shayla has stolen the identity of a new high-ranking Imperial appointee, Brynwyn bin Covin. She’s been met by a soldier (Kurt) from the Imperial Palace Guard, who’s escorting her to the Palace. Outside in the square Kurt spotted a row of coin-operated punishment stalls. Shayla stopped in front of a young woman prisoner with two young children, and had no choice but to live up to expectations of her position by inflicting some pain on the woman. But she slipped out of character when she stopped others from following her example.

=====

No! This can work, and remain in character too. Her mind raced as she saw a way forward. "How can you stand to see this? A woman resorting to stealing to feed her children? This is a holy town, a site of worship. You of all people should help your poor. The collection box at the temple is supposed to be there to help people like this, so they don't need to steal to live."

She surveyed the circle of faces, staring down anyone who dared meet her eyes. "This woman has sinned, she has been punished."


=====

Saturday, March 9, 2019

WWW - and across the finish line

http://www.wewriwa.com/

Weekend Writing Warriors is a weekly blog hop where participants post eight to ten sentences of their writing. You can find out more about it by clicking on the image.

Continuing a chapter from Ghosts of Innocence, Shayla has stolen the identity of a new high-ranking Imperial appointee, Brynwyn bin Covin. She’s been met by a soldier (Kurt) from the Imperial Palace Guard, who’s escorting her to the Palace. Outside in the square Kurt spotted a row of coin-operated punishment stalls. Shayla stopped in front of a young woman prisoner with two young children, and had no choice but to live up to expectations of her position by inflicting some pain on the woman.

=====

A few people cheered. One man stepped forward with a coin in his hand, but stopped short when Shayla whirled round. "Shame on you!" she spat. "All of you!"

It took Shayla a fraction of a second to realize her error. Wouldn't Brynwyn have approved of further punishment? Yes, but Shayla couldn't let this continue.

The crowd fell silent once more, faces showing anger and confusion.



=====

Oops! Seems like her character has slipped! It’s not over for Shayla yet.

“Across the finish line” in the post title refers to the fact that I’ve finally finished the first draft of The Long Dark. Just a fraction over seven months’ work but there’s still a long road ahead. I expect to be revising and editing for the rest of this year and I will soon be looking for beta readers to provide feedback on high level story flow, plot and character development etc.


Saturday, March 2, 2019

WWW - a tough act for Shayla

http://www.wewriwa.com/

Weekend Writing Warriors is a weekly blog hop where participants post eight to ten sentences of their writing. You can find out more about it by clicking on the image.

Continuing a chapter from Ghosts of Innocence, Shayla has stolen the identity of a new high-ranking Imperial appointee, Brynwyn bin Covin. She’s been met by a soldier (Kurt) from the Imperial Palace Guard, who’s escorting her to the Palace. Outside in the square Kurt spotted a row of coin-operated punishment stalls, and Shayla realizes the crowd will expect her to inflict some pain on the prisoners there. She’s stopped in front of a young woman prisoner with two young children.

=====

A hush descended on the square.

Struggling to quell a tremor running through her whole body, Shayla dropped the coin into the slot.

A dreadful scream rent the air. It tailed off into convulsive sobs, joined by a chorus of wails from the children.

Shayla felt the square spinning around her. She was almost overwhelmed by revulsion at the coin-operated torture she had just inflicted. She gritted her teeth, trying to twist her grimace into thin-lipped satisfaction. Immerse in the character! Brynwyn was a self-righteous prig.



=====


Yup. She did it  :(
The question is, what’s next?

Saturday, February 23, 2019

Weekend Writing Warriors February 24

http://www.wewriwa.com/

Weekend Writing Warriors is a weekly blog hop where participants post eight to ten sentences of their writing. You can find out more about it by clicking on the image.

Continuing a chapter from Ghosts of Innocence, Shayla has stolen the identity of a new high-ranking Imperial appointee, Brynwyn bin Covin. She’s been met by a soldier (Kurt) from the Imperial Palace Guard, who’s escorting her to the Palace. Outside in the square Kurt spotted a row of punishment stalls, and Shayla realizes the crowd will expect her to inflict some pain on the prisoners there. She’s stopped in front of a young woman prisoner with two young children.

=====

"You have courage, my son. Be strong," Shayla said. The boy glared back, hatred in his eyes, tears streaking his grimy cheeks.

The woman looked up from the girl, no more than three or four years old, still clinging to her. "I have sinned, My Lady. I am ashamed. But my children need to eat."

Shayla nodded. She studied the woman, noting the sunken cheeks, grey complexion, and ribs showing through her skin. And so do you.



=====


Saturday, February 16, 2019

WWW and it’s snow joke

http://www.wewriwa.com/

Weekend Writing Warriors is a weekly blog hop where participants post eight to ten sentences of their writing. You can find out more about it by clicking on the image.

Continuing a chapter from Ghosts of Innocence, Shayla has stolen the identity of a new high-ranking Imperial appointee, Brynwyn bin Covin. She’s been met by a soldier (Kurt) from the Imperial Palace Guard, who’s escorting her to the Palace. They have just stepped outside while Shayla’s baggage is loaded into the car. Kurt spotted a row of punishment stalls across the square, and Shayla realizes the crowd will expect her to inflict some pain on the prisoners there.

=====

Shayla sorted through her money and selected a small silver coin. This would be a heavy jolt. Prisoners occasionally died from neural stimulation, despite the safety limits built in, but her briefing notes had been very clear regarding Brynwyn's harsh views on duty and discipline. She had to stay in character.

"Leave my mommy alone!"

Shayla looked down, surprised, at the tiny bundle of fury pummeling her with minute and ineffective fists.

One of the duty guards pulled the child away. He raised his fist to cuff the young boy, but Shayla held up a cautioning finger. The guard bowed his head. "As you wish, Magister Summis."


=====

When we moved to Canada, everyone talked about the long winters. “Not so,” we said. “We’re settling in Victoria, BC where people move to to escape the winters.”

Thing is, Victoria isn’t geared up to deal with snow like the rest of Canada. Most winters we’ve been here we’ve had snow, but it’s always been one dump, one day of traffic chaos. Then the roads are cleared and things settle down. It all looks pretty for a couple of weeks then it melts.

Last three years or so we’ve seen a change in the pattern, to snowfall spread out over multiple days causing fresh problems every day. This past week is a case in point.

Friday I happened to be working from home, catching up after my trip to Ottawa that I mentioned in my last post. During the day, about 5cm fell which I cleared from the driveway before Ali got home. Sunday night the storm hit. About 30cm which closed the highway that night. We dug ourselves out in the morning and I managed to get into work by mid-morning. It takes the three of us somewhere between 2 and 3 hours to shift that amount of snow from our long driveway.





Very scary drive home Monday in near-whiteout conditions. Lots of cars abandoned by the side of the road. Ali and Matthew were home (schools closed) and cleared the drive for me. Tuesday morning - another 30cm overnight and another 2-hour workout to dig ourselves out again. Wednesday was fine, but slippery slushy stuff started falling Thursday. Not much, but enough to be dangerous - probably more so than a proper snowfall. Our drive opens out near the bottom of a hill, and even crawling down at less than walking pace I couldn’t make the turn into the drive. The car just slid sideways. Managed to correct and carry on down to the bottom, then came back up and reversed into the drive. Yes, scary. Another brief workout Friday morning before getting to work.

Looks like we’ve got a reprieve for the coming week, with the possibility of more to come next weekend. We’ll see.

Of course, I’m still thankful to be living in relatively mild Victoria. Much of the country has had it a lot worse, so I can’t really complain. Wherever you are, I hope you’re staying warm and dry and safe!



Saturday, February 9, 2019

Weekend Writing Warriors February 10

http://www.wewriwa.com/

Weekend Writing Warriors is a weekly blog hop where participants post eight to ten sentences of their writing. You can find out more about it by clicking on the image.

Continuing a chapter from Ghosts of Innocence, Shayla has stolen the identity of a new high-ranking Imperial appointee, Brynwyn bin Covin. She’s been met by a soldier (Kurt) from the Imperial Palace Guard, who’s escorting her to the Palace. They have just stepped outside while Shayla’s baggage is loaded into the car. Kurt spotted a row of punishment stalls across the square, and Shayla realizes the crowd will expect her to inflict some pain on the prisoners there.

=====

Shayla started at the far end of the line, scrutinizing each prisoner and reading the placards in front of them. Some met her gaze, some looked away, expressions a mixture of pleading, defiance, resignation.

Theft from a market stall... Insulting the personage of the Emperor... All petty crimes. One in particular caught her eye though. Stealing from the Temple collection box. Brynwyn would not approve of that. She looked at the young woman standing, naked and manacled, before her. She ignored Shayla, murmuring instead to two young children clinging to her.


=====

After months of consistent progress ahead of schedule, my writing took a big hit this week. I was out of town for in-person workshops for a major project I’m working on.

Working face-to-face gives you a level of understanding you simply can’t get from teleconferencing. The technology is great for routine discussions, but it blocks the subtle cues of posture and eye contact that can ring warning bells that people may be using the same words but they’re reading different meaning into them.

With collaboration from provinces across Canada, getting people together like this is costly in travel, but those kinds of misunderstandings can prove fatal to a complex multi-million-dollar project.

It’s also costly in personal terms. Traveling from Victoria to Ottawa is an all-day process. Then the workshops themselves. Then returning home, leaving late afternoon Ottawa time and getting home after midnight local time. Tag on an evening beforehand of sorting out and packing clothes, papers and laptop, and a day afterwards of catching up and recovery from sheer exhaustion. Net result, an entire week gone by and not a word written.

Have to do better this weekend!

 

Saturday, February 2, 2019

Weekend Writing Warriors February 3

http://www.wewriwa.com/

Weekend Writing Warriors is a weekly blog hop where participants post eight to ten sentences of their writing. You can find out more about it by clicking on the image.




Continuing a chapter from Ghosts of Innocence, Shayla has stolen the identity of a new high-ranking Imperial appointee, Brynwyn bin Covin. She’s been met by a soldier (Kurt) from the Imperial Palace Guard, who’s escorting her to the Palace. They have just stepped outside while Shayla’s baggage is loaded into the car. Kurt spotted a row of punishment stalls across the square, and Shayla realizes the crowd will expect her to inflict some pain on the prisoners there.

=====

She tried to ignore the stench of urine and excrement while she thought. How would Brynwyn behave here? She was sure that Kurt would be taking note of her actions. He may appear to be genial and bumbling, but she had felt him observing her. Who might he be reporting to back at the Palace? If nothing else, people there would be curious about her. She was an unknown from the Provinces taking up a senior public appointment. Whatever she did here, whatever she said, every word, every gesture, would find its way to attentive ears in time.


=====

Tuesday, January 29, 2019

Measure wisely

When I posted about progress and motivation last week, a comment there reminded me of the darker side of targets and measurements. The comment was about feelings of backsliding when the writer took a pause from writing in order to go back and work some changes into the manuscript.

My feeling about that is: if the changes are improving the story, then it’s still progress, not backsliding at all.

The trouble is that it can feel like you’re taking steps backwards if you only focus on one way of measuring progress. And that can be dispiriting.

I think it’s important to be careful how you choose to measure progress, and to pick measurements that make sense. And those measurements will change depending on what you are doing.

For example, while I’m working on a first draft (like I am right now) then word count is a useful measure of progress. It is certainly one that I use, and which I (usually) find motivational as I discussed last time.

Even there, though, you could easily choose other measures of progress. If you are a detailed plotter, for example, then you probably have all your chapters mapped out, so you could measure progress by how many chapters you’ve finished drafting. I don’t work like that, so that measure makes no sense for me, which goes back to the “pick measures that make sense” part.

But when I get into edits and revisions, word count is not a good guide. Instead, I start tracking how much of the manuscript I’ve worked through in the current revision round. Different task, different measure.


When setting myself targets, I prefer to think first about what I am trying to achieve - what is the goal, or the benefit I’m striving for? Then I ask myself, how will I know when I’ve achieved it?

That may be enough for a fairly short task, for example: by this time next week I will have completed X. But if the goal is going to take weeks or months, that’s when measurements of progress come in handy to keep me on track. Then I ask one more question: how can I tell how well I’m doing? This last question should give you clues as to what to measure if you want to track progress over time.

Yes, targets and measurements are powerful tools. Used well they can provide great motivation, but a poor choice can crush you.


Saturday, January 26, 2019

Weekend Writing Warriors January 27

http://www.wewriwa.com/

Weekend Writing Warriors is a weekly blog hop where participants post eight to ten sentences of their writing. You can find out more about it by clicking on the image.



Continuing a chapter from Ghosts of Innocence, Shayla has stolen the identity of a new high-ranking Imperial appointee, Brynwyn bin Covin. She’s been met by a soldier (Kurt) from the Imperial Palace Guard, who’s escorting her to the Palace. They have just stepped outside while Shayla’s baggage is loaded into the car. Kurt spotted a row of punishment stalls across the square, and was busily dropping a coin into each slot until he ran out of coins. Shayla threw him a handful of small change.

=====

He looked surprised, then delighted. "Eternal thanks, Magister Summis," he spluttered.

"Tribute to the Emperor, vengeance to the Almighty," Shayla intoned, showing that she felt it to be nothing more than her duty to help him.

By now, the onlookers had closed in behind Shayla. Talk stilled, as if in anticipation of sport beyond run-of-the-mill torture. She felt eyes burning into the back of her head as she approached the line of prisoners. She felt alone. Exposed. It was not like an assassin to be the center of attention like this.



=====


Thursday, January 24, 2019

Progress and motivation

Just a quick celebration.

I finished last night’s writing session a little way past the 90k mark.

That is a big deal, because I’ve now reached a respectable novel length and am on course to top out somewhere near 100k. Some scenes still to write, some still to figure out, but the pieces seem to be falling into place.

Overall, this first draft (like the previous one) has gone remarkably well. I think I’ve taken a more methodical and practical approach to the task than in the early days - basically treating it like a job with targets to meet and a goal in sight.

I have mixed views on targets and motivation. People talk about “write every day” and that’s pretty much what I’ve been doing successfully for the past few months. But it’s not enough on its own. On its own, “write every day” is too vague to be useful, but I team it up a whole raft of tools and strategies to keep the writing fed.

I’ve blogged before about keeping writer’s block at bay, and the more I think about it the more I stand by those basic principles. They seem to be working for me.

So far so good, but here’s the “mixed views” part. That last sentence is phrased very deliberately. I could have said “They seem to work for me” but that implies an enduring and unchanging promise of success. So I reworded it to “be working”, continuous present, with the implied “for now”. In other words, while it works, it works, but if the techniques stop working then it’s important to change tack and do something different.

One of my motivational tools is a graph of my writing progress. Word count. Nerdy, huh? But when I’m generally on a roll, I find this helps me add at least a few words even when I don’t feel like it. It helps me through the tough times.

The evil side to word count graphs crops up when things are not going well. Not just the “I’m stuck” or “I’m tired” kind of not going well, but the “I am really sick of this story but I set myself a target!

I’ve been there before, and believe me, it’s not healthy. Yes, sometimes it can force you to grit your teeth and get you through the quagmire, but the trick is to know when it’s crossed the line from honest motivation to tyranny.

I won’t be held hostage to any given technique or target. If it ain’t delivering, then adjust it or ditch it. And that’s where I think a lot of people trip up. They find, or learn about, or are advised to try, some miracle motivational technique and then become enslaved by it. Either it doesn’t work from the outset, and they beat themselves up because it’s vouchsafed by *Insert Big Name Author Here* and so the problem must be them. They’re not doing it properly. Rather than acknowledging that it simply isn’t right for them right now. Or it works, for a while, but then it takes over and rules their life even long past its usefulness.

So, it’s good now and again to remind those rules, those tools, those pieces of advice just who’s boss around here!

But, let’s finish off with a pretty picture. Here’s my graph as at yesterday. The blue line is a gentle target I set myself back in July. The red line is my actual count climbing up way ahead of target. My motivation now has been not to see if I can meet my target, but seeing how far out the water I can blow it!



Saturday, January 19, 2019

Weekend Writing Warriors January 20

http://www.wewriwa.com/

Weekend Writing Warriors is a weekly blog hop where participants post eight to ten sentences of their writing. You can find out more about it by clicking on the image.




Continuing a chapter from Ghosts of Innocence, Shayla has stolen the identity of a new high-ranking Imperial appointee, Brynwyn bin Covin. She’s been met by a soldier (Kurt) from the Imperial Palace Guard, who’s escorting her to the Palace. They have just stepped outside while Shayla’s baggage is loaded into the car. Kurt has spotted a row of punishment stalls across the square.

=====

Kurt grinned and strode across the plaza, rummaging in his pockets.

Shayla followed at a more sedate pace, swallowing back acid. She knew what would be expected of her.

The sparse crowd, mostly pilgrims on their way to the temple, parted before her.

When she caught up with him, Kurt was moving down the line slipping a small coin into each slot in turn. Moans and screams followed him.

He stopped near the end, turning out his pockets with a frown.

"Run out of small change?" Shayla asked.

He nodded, the corners of his mouth downturned.

She tossed him a few coins.


=====

Quick update on The Long Dark

Writing has been going very well recently, and after last night’s session I started to get that giddy excitement of feeling like I’m on the home stretch.

To put it into perspective, I’ve been plugging away at this since the end of July, and I think I’ve got a few weeks to go - maybe end of February? But I’m fleshing out scenes of the final confrontations and, although there are details still to figure out, I’ve got the main plot turns mapped out to bring me to the finish line.

The situation is not much different from any other night in the last week or two, but emotionally, for the first time last night, I felt like I’d crested the hill and can actually see the finish line approaching.

Saturday, January 12, 2019

Weekend Writing Warriors January 13

http://www.wewriwa.com/

Weekend Writing Warriors is a weekly blog hop where participants post eight to ten sentences of their writing. You can find out more about it by clicking on the image.




Continuing a chapter from Ghosts of Innocence, Shayla has stolen the identity of a new high-ranking Imperial appointee, Brynwyn bin Covin. She’s been met by a soldier from the Imperial Palace Guard, who’s escorting her to the Palace. They have just stepped outside while Shayla’s baggage is loaded into the car and Shayla spots air cruisers taking pilgrims up to the mountaintop temple despite air travel restrictions. The previous snippet ended with the soldier (Kurt) saying, "I hear the temple has dispensation from the local security commander."

=====

"The temple has much influence in these parts." Which is why I chose this path into the Palace. Shayla fought to keep her expression neutral to hide a surge of contempt. Bad idea to let religion compromise security.

They walked on in silence for a few moments. Kurt looked across the plaza at the punishment stalls. The hungry glint in his eyes turned her stomach. He caught her eye, hesitant, seemingly on the verge of asking something. She anticipated the question and nodded in the direction of the stalls. "Go ahead."



=====

Reminder: There’s still a little time left to buy any of my e-books for $0.99 before prices revert to normal.

Friday, January 11, 2019

The little surprises in life

My son is usually predictable when it comes to food.

At least these days he’s broadened his horizons, but up until last year any time we asked what he’d like on the menu for the coming week he was guaranteed to say ‘pizza’. OK, pizza is still by far his favorite, but nowadays he’s more likely to put forward other suggestions such as omelets or quesadillas. But he’s still pretty predictable.

Anyhooo ... this evening Ali is out coaching basketball until late, so the evening meal is just us two boys. So I put a choice to Matthew, would you prefer:
(a) Spag bol - which is what we had planned for this evening,
or (b) leftover cottage pie - which we had last night,
or (c) a fry-up ... bacon, egg, hash browns, beans ...

I was certain he’d leap at that last option, and to be honest I was looking forward to a quick fry-up, just for two.

But he floored me by immediately saying “not that last one ...” and then pondering the other options.

Now, I know he likes pasta, but I didn’t imagine cottage pie was even a contender. The astonishing thing is he has never been known to refuse bacon, which (in this household) merits a food group unto itself!

So, pasta it is :)

Saturday, January 5, 2019

Weekend Writing Warriors January 6

http://www.wewriwa.com/

Weekend Writing Warriors is a weekly blog hop where participants post eight to ten sentences of their writing. You can find out more about it by clicking on the image.





Continuing a chapter from Ghosts of Innocence, Shayla has stolen the identity of a new high-ranking Imperial appointee, Brynwyn bin Covin. She’s been met by a soldier from the Imperial Palace Guard, who’s escorting her to the Palace. They have just stepped outside while Shayla’s baggage is loaded into the car.

=====

"This is the first time I've worn these robes." Why am I explaining myself to this man? But Kurt was nodding, and she realized she'd unwittingly hit the right note.

"'If you should seek to serve me, first you must leave your pride at the door,'" he quoted. "Many in your station would have made it known before now."

"Duty with humility," she whispered. She looked across the square to where a fleet of cruisers busied themselves ferrying people to and from the mountain top. "Corporal, I thought you said all air travel had been restricted."

He followed her gaze, and sniffed. "I hear the temple has dispensation from the local security commander."


=====


Tuesday, January 1, 2019

Hello 2019

One of the things about growing older is that those around us are also growing older, and this has brought some adjustments to our lives this past year. Our Christmas was even quieter than usual, with Megan out of town visiting her boyfriend’s family this year. We’ve grown used to taking the day easy, preparing food at a leisurely pace, eating and drinking when ready, calling home to our families back in Britain. None of that really changed, but it felt strange doing it with three of us instead of four.

At least we were able to keep up what has become a family tradition in recent years, of visiting a Chinese restaurant downtown last night, and having friends around for lunch today. The famous Toblerone cheesecake (recipe over on my other blog here) made an appearance. First time I’ve made it in a while.

Looking forward, I’m not one for New Year resolutions. I prefer to set goals whenever in the year it makes sense, not just because of the day on the calendar. Current goal is to finish the first draft of The Long Dark by March, and get it through initial revisions and then a thorough round of critiques before the end of the year. Progressing well on that first goal, having just passed 75k words yesterday.

Whatever your goals and aspirations are, I wish you well for 2019.

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