Merry Monday – Methods

flower-1385756_1920Today, I had my visual fields test and eye check up. The visual fields test is rather like a crappy videogame. You press a button each time you see a light. It’s crappy because it isn’t fun to sit in an uncomfortable way while you wear an eye patch and you aren’t allowed to move. Because my eyes run dry, it’s extra uncomfortable for me. I have to blink multiple times to keep my eyes from heading into emergency tearing mode. Sometimes we even have to pause. We tried to pause today and the machine got angry and decided we had to start over. I was almost done with the right eye. In theory, the tests aren’t that long, but preservatives in eye drops and bright lights all cause me pain. My eye doctor doesn’t do the puff of air to check for glaucoma. She uses advanced photographic imaging to look at my optic nerve and the health of my eye along with her own eyes and bright lights. Does that mean the puff of air was no good at checking for glaucoma? Not at all. Many eye doctors still use it.

Unable to continue reading the novel I brought or use my phone once my pupils were dilated, I was forced be more present in the room. What did I see? A man who had an unusual way of tying his shoes. He pulled the laces tight and wrapped them around his fingers until he had a little ball and tucked them inside his shoes. I wondered how well it worked to keep his shoes at the right tightness for him. Until that moment, I never knew there were other methods than mine and the bunny loop method. I never once sat there and thought that he was tying his shoes improperly, only that he did it different than I do. All that matters is that it works for him.

In Microsoft Word, I can cut and paste text in a number of ways after selecting the text. I can use shortcut keys (Ctrl+X, Ctrl+V). I can right click with my mouse, choose the menu option to cut it, then do the same to access the paste option once I have my cursor where I want it. I can use the symbols on the menu ribbon. I can go into the larger edit menu. I could write a macro if I wanted to. All of these methods result in text being copied and pasted. Some might be faster than others, but that doesn’t make them better.

I spent time with friends last night and up until I had seen the way my friend uses her bullet journal, I was unconvinced in the point of an analog planner. Why not just use digital calendars and todo lists? But something has been wrong for me lately. I haven’t been accomplishing as much as I want to. It’s possible I’m a little depressed as getting laid off tends to do to a person. Incidentally, that’s why I’m so upset with my doctor and reporting him. You don’t refuse care to a person with the symptoms of depression. It’s hugely irresponsible. But I digress. I think my digital todo list is fantastic, but there’s so much on it that I’m feeling overwhelmed. So I looked at how she mostly plans for each week with the odd event that is longer term and I said perhaps that is what I need. If I focus on just a couple of things each week, rather than a list that shows novels years into the future, maybe I’ll actually get where I want to be. It’s possible that it won’t work for me and I know that my friend won’t be mad at me if it doesn’t. She didn’t appear to be using the bullet journals recommended short forms, but her own instead.

Problems begin to occur when people decide their method is the only method to accomplish a goal. I’ve run into this a lot with colleagues and especially micromanagers. Sometimes the key to solving a problem isn’t everyone approaching it from the same direction, but members of the team having different pieces of the mission or a different mission that is a piece of a bigger whole. That kind of division is good. Like in Star Wars. A group of rebels provides a distraction and cover fire, while another group gets the power cable plugged in, while the heroes get the plans transmitted, and another group busts through the planet shield. It’s hard for the mission to succeed if people in one of those groups argues with each other on the best way to provide cover fire or if the cover fire group spends their time judging how the power cable group goes about getting their piece done.

Everyone has different needs that are similar. Take plants, for example. All plants need sun. Some need more shade than sun and die in direct light. Some need full sun. Some need indirect light or at least to avoid the sun when it is at full strength. All plants need water. Some need very little once in a while. Some need to be misted rather than watered. Some cannot have water touch their leaves. Once in a while they need fertilizer too. The components of that fertilizer will differ as some need more nitrogen, some need bone meal, etc.

There are hundreds, perhaps thousands of ways to write a novel. There might even be as many ways as there are writers. Many writers don’t write each of their novels the same way. There are pantsers, plotters, and hybrids. Among those are a variety of ways to plan, draw inspiration, get through blockages, narrate, characterize, create the setting, manage pacing, etc.

And I think it’s wonderful.

It’s wonderful that there are different ways to do things. I’m looking forward to seeing how people from different dojos do kendo this weekend. Maybe I’ll learn something that will help me be better.

Ciao,
R~

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Fortifying Friday – Calluses

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Image created using Bit Strips.

I first started learning guitar in grade 12. We had a course we could take and get credit for as part of our high school diploma. My then boyfriend was also taking it and class was slightly uncomfortable once we broke up, but I enjoyed it regardless. I had a blast performing with the class. I was supposed to sing too, but singing performances and I are like that Buffy episode “Nightmares” where Willow ends up singing with Pavarotti and can’t utter a word only weird screechy noises… Yeah. Put me in a car with friends and I’m fine. Shower? You betcha. In a musical or band performing in front of people. Nope. Unless I’m just one of the choir and not alone. I did make it through an O’ Canada performance with only two other people one time in high school, though. All our strongest choir members were at another performance and the football team needed singers. Us three thought there would be more, but nope. I’m off on a tangent again, aren’t I? The point I was trying to get to was that my learning of guitar was put on hold, not because of the failed relationship, but because it hurt my fingers too damned much to play the thing.

I hadn’t built calluses yet.

Calluses are a pain in the ass. There’s no way around it. You have to play until it hurts and play a little bit passed that, but not so far passed it that your fingers bleed. Bloody fingertips mean cut fingers and downtime from playing while they heal. We don’t want downtime because we need to build our calluses.

I’m to the point now where I can play for a whole hour before it hurts. My calluses are coming along. Those fingertips feel almost like leather.

They’re frail, though. I have to play every night to ensure they get strong.

I’m not sure what the writing equivalent to calluses is in this digital age. Few people write by hand enough to get writer’s bump today. But I’m not talking about a physical callus. Could it be learning to accept rejection? We build up a tolerance to it and it hurts less each time we are told no. Perhaps it is learning to edit? We get better at killing our darlings as we collect experience. But that may only be some of us. I know I’ve begun asking myself what I’m aiming to accomplish with a sentence, paragraph, or chapter and I’m getting better at cutting when it isn’t accomplishing the objective.

Perhaps calluses are really just visible experience markers and as we write more, we can see the progress in the quality of the words on the page. In which case, we should challenge ourselves with stories that make us uncomfortable to write. Stories that push our own boundaries and force us to reach for something beyond our current skill level.

I know, at one point, I was playing guitar and it was all just noise. Now it sounds a lot more like the song I’m playing. I’m not playing with the recordings yet or at the right speed. I’m going to soon, though. In fact, my guitar teacher gave us special versions of the songs we wanted to play that used easier chords because we couldn’t play the advanced ones at the time. If I had the time and the cash, I’d take more lessons from her. She was pretty cool and skilled.

In writing, my work last year felt like a mess of scenes that didn’t necessarily link together. Now it’s got a flow and looks like a novel. There are things like foreshadowing. There are climaxes and there is setup, etc. There’s more to do to make it the best it can be but it’s coming along really well.

I’ve now been playing guitar for over a year. Lately, I play every day. Sometimes only a song or two. Other times I lose track of how long I’ve been playing and suddenly it’s bedtime. I used to have to stop after a short amount of time. Especially songs that used my ring and pinky fingers as those are often on the two thinnest strings. The strings that hurt the most. Now, those fingers have the thickest calluses. They have come farther than my other fingers.

In martial arts, I began barely able to hold the sword in the right direction. Which was the blade’s edge again? Swinging it straight down the center line was hard to do. Harder still was the horizontal cut. Sensei would say things that had deep meaning to someone who wasn’t me. I eventually got the basics to a level that we can now build on the physical skill as well as the mental understanding. Each class I learn something. Often Sensei told me about it last year or perhaps even the year before, but I am only able to understand it now.

Calluses are a mark of experience and while I have a long way to go before I can be called good, I’m moving in the right direction.

I’m targeting my fitness callus next. There will be extra challenges for me with food allergies, exercise-induced asthma, and tendon pain. I discovered I was already in the right weight range for my height and frame size, so my current goal is to tone. I made up my own HIIT routine to help focus on the areas that I use in martial arts. What I enjoy about HIIT is that it is scaleable and you always just do your best. Instead of counting the amount of pushups you did, you just give it everything you have for the duration. I never feel like I suck because I did 20 instead of 25 of something. However, my original goal of doing HIIT twice per week was ambitious because my fitness callus had not been built.

I’m also working on my French callus. Language learning works well a little bit each day. Too much and you overwhelm your brain. Besides, you didn’t learn your first language that way. You saw a thing you wanted and mom or dad told you the name of it. You gradually learned to then describe its appearance, texture, etc. Then you learned to speak full sentences instead of fragments. They were simple at first. “Clifford is a big, red dog.” It’s easy to put too much pressure on oneself to know something after a short amount of time. So I immerse myself a little at a time. I get a library book in French and work through it with a dictionary nearby. I don’t use translation app because that doesn’t force me to use my brain and map the neural connections that will build the callus.

And there’s the geocaching callus. Currently, I have a high DNF rate (Did Not Find) and it’s frustrating. I’ll keep trying, though. I know it’ll get easier at some point. I installed a GPS app on my phone to hopefully get a little closer to the caches than a 13-foot range. After that, it’s honing other skills. I have to train myself to see the single grain of white rice in the salt shaker.

Whatever you’re working on in life, you’ll face tough parts and you have to push through it to build those calluses. Challenges help us build calluses and prepare us for greater things ahead.

Ciao,
R~

Oh, here’s my 7.5-minute HIIT workout in case you’re interested. I just modified one that I found online so it was more martial arts focused. Change the time as needed to scale it to you:

30s Jumping Jacks
30s Push Ups
30s Lunges
30s Punches (alternating left and right)
30s Jumping Jacks
30s Side Kicks (alternating left and right)
30s Front Kicks (alternating left and right)
30s Lunges
30s Push Ups
30s Crunches
60s Obliques (30s each side)
30s Squats
30s Leg Raises
30s Stretches (or as long as it takes you to stretch things out)

My Writing Method

Many people struggle with getting words onto the page, so I thought I’d share what I do. I’ve spoken about it before, but not given examples. I often write in layers, but sometimes I skip over several layers as I’ll get inspired to write a scene. Getting started is often the hard part.

Layer One

Write the general idea of what you want to happen.

Example: Dog bites girl.

Layer Two

Expand on that. What kind of dog?

Example: The European boxer bit into the girl.

Layer Three

Spark the senses more.

Example: The brindle-haired European boxer snarled as he tore into her flesh.

Layer Four

Why do we care about a dog bite? Is the girl important?

Example: She never got over the attack. It followed her. There was always a dog at a house party, or even out on the sidewalk.

Layer Five

Have we been writing an inciting incident or has it actually been backstory? Probably backstory, but that doesn’t mean we have to scrap it. Who is my character?

Example: Suzy had been on the West Hampton police force for five years now.

Layer Six

Put everything together.

Example: Suzy had been on the West Hampton police force for five years now. A call came in. Domestic dispute. She arrived at the scene. The woman was throwing plates at her husband. Cheating bastard, apparently. She tried to break it up. The family dog tackled her. That’s when it got fucked up.

Suzy remembered the day that European boxer attacked her. The stench of its hot kibble breath against her face. She was a child then. The pain as the boxer’s razor-teeth tore into her flesh. The metallic stink of her blood as it poured onto the rough gravel beneath her.

That wasn’t happening again. The couple had continued screaming while she lay under their dog. She unholstered her gun and placed it in the dog’s mouth.

She shouldn’t have done that. Blowing that dog’s head off stopped the argument, but it also ended her career. Now she had to spend time each week at an animal rescue to overcome her fear. It was her only chance at rejoining the force.

Editing

After I’ve written a bunch of scenes like that and have a finished story of whatever length I’m aiming for, I edit.

For the scene above, I’d probably start with Suzy arriving on scene in the middle of the argument. Maybe she ducks a plate. Maybe she raises her voice and that’s when the dog tackles her. I might add dialogue, but only if it’s important to the rest of the story. I might put the whole scene in a different tense. In present tense, we wouldn’t know what was coming for any of the characters. I’d also add metaphor wherever I could to add another layer of depth.

I might actually develop this idea further. It started taking on a life of its own.

Ciao,
R~

Deadlines

The long weekend is almost upon us Canadians! For me that means the Guelph Iaido and Jodo Seminar. I think I’m almost ready.

Aside from the detailed preparations of the weekend, I also got some writing things done.

I entered the Lush Writing Contest with a horror piece about a high school girl who’s had enough. I had to submit early since I would be traveling on the final day of the contest. I won’t know anything until the fall. I didn’t even have time to pass it through my writing group first, but I could hear their words of wisdom as I raced to the finish line. It was my first submission. I hope I did all right with the cover letter. I’m used to writing those for jobs, not for writing contest entries. They said to be brief. Knowing me, I may have taken that too much to heart.

I revised a copy of the first chapter of The Page & The Magician to put into the auction at the Guelph seminar. I hope whoever bids on it enjoys it. It will likely change in future edits, so they’ll have a truly unique copy of the first chapter.

I was stuck for a while on the short story I submitted, which I’ve titled Monster Who. I was also stuck waiting for information for part of my chapter I’m auctioning off. The deadlines forced me to move through those pain points and come up with something to say. I’m sure that will be helpful in the future.

I’m still on chapter five for editing The Page & The Magician, but I’ll be kicking into high gear on that soon.

I’ve been waking up pretty early the past few days. This morning wasn’t as bad as the rest. I’m sure I’ll be sleeping in the car on Friday since I can’t read in vehicles. I have some sleep debt to repay, I’m sure.

I also closed off a couple of things at work today and finished something early.

Well I think I can do a few more things before bed to get ready for the weekend like wash my indoor grill and my new flask. Can’t forget the vodka.

I won’t be making a ROW80 post on Sunday as I’ll still be at seminar. I hope everyone has a fabulous May long weekend if you have it.

Ciao,
R~

Ottawa Comiccon 2015 – Day 1

When I awoke this morning, I could hardly contain my excitement. I was up before my alarm and messaging my friend to plan our meet up at the con. That was around 6:30 A.M.

Nervous energy hummed ran throughout me all morning. I did things like dishes and worked on tomorrow’s costume. I played guitar.

I arrived at Comiccon around 1:30 P.M. My friend arrived about 30 minutes later with her twins. It was off for food once inside, which was a perfect time for a snack for me and water.

Then it was off to Benoit Chartier’s panel on writing. I learned some things. I disagreed with others though I saw the value. I’m not someone who follows a set process when I write. It feels too much like a box. I try to write the same time each day, but I don’t always fully understand the story before I’ve written it. The journey of writing is one of discovery for me. This may change in time as I’m sure I will grow as a writer. I’m sure having a clear idea of where I’m going is helpful for most people, but what usually happens to me is that I plan a bunch of stuff and decide it’s not right once I get going on the story. As I plan projects in my day job, I fully understand the value of planning, so even when I don’t follow the majority of my novel plan, it’s not a waste of time. The point of planning isn’t to stick religiously to the plan, but to start the process of thinking about one way things could go. It’s important to be open to deviating from the plan because the end solution is often better than the planned one.

After Benoit’s panel, I went to a panel on Horror Movies. It was looking at the social aspects. Despite a large amount of technical issues, I found it interesting. The presentation ran through every decade talking about what was going on in horror movies and also what social situations like wars, pandemics, etc were going on at the time. It’s made me realize that paying more attention to what’s going on in the world could improve my writing.

Next up was a shopping trip. I wanted a copy of Benoit’s novel as I kept forgetting to bring money to the Ottawa Independent Writers meetings to purchase it from him there. I arrived at his booth and Benoit wasn’t there, so I had to wait for him to come back. Across the way was the booth of another friend, but it was packed, so I couldn’t get near what I wanted to purchase from there. This was stressful because I wanted to grab the stuff and head over to the Billie Piper Q & A. Eventually Benoit returned and I got a signed copy of his book Red Nexus. My friend’s booth opened up shortly thereafter and I was able to get something that is part of my Saturday costume.

The Billie Piper Q & A was a lot of fun and it was full of sexual innuendo without being inappropriate for children. I blurted out an answer of Sean Connery while Billie was describing all of the qualities required for a human to be the Tardis. I wonder if she heard me or if someone further up also suggested Sean Connery because I wasn’t that close to the stage.

I capped the night off with a Steampunk panel. I think my day tomorrow starts with another Steampunk panel.

On the way home, I had to detour when I was almost there as there was a large accident by Aviation and Ogilvie. I turned too soon on the detour and went in a circle briefly.

Here is a picture of today’s costume:

Catwoman_2.0

Well I need to embellish the item I bought and head to bed, so I can get up early and get ready for Day 2.

Ciao,
R~

Layers

Accomplished since Wednesday:

– Wrote some research notes that I’m not counting in my word count as more than 3/4 are copied and pasted.
– Saw Jupiter Ascending
– Practiced guitar
– Made macaroons
– Went on a date
– Finished covering a cord in my living room and started painting it
– Got a haircut (long overdue on that one)
– Did a load of dishes
– Worked on my paper mess
– Finished sorting through costumes
– Went to Iaido class
– Put away some clean clothes
– Watched some episodes of Homeland
– Put gas in my car
– Finished my 2015 objectives for work

So I think tonight I feel like talking a bit about my writing process. Right now I’m not putting a lot of words into my story, but I’m okay with that because that’s part of my process. Sounds weird, right?

I write in layers. My first layer is often like:

“Character A is going to do something and Character B is going to feel some way about that.”

So Layer 1 is just a simple statement to capture a very basic idea.

Layer 2 may elaborate on that further and list the different situations that scenario has spawned.

Layer 3, I actually write the scene where the characters say things, but probably not in the best words possible.

Layer 4, I often get ideas to build on the scene.

Then everything else is left to editing.

In editing, I check whether or not what I’ve written belongs in the place it is in the book. I check if it’s said the way the characters would say it (sometimes I naturally write like the character and other times I don’t right away – especially in early chapters – so then I have to go back and fix the discrepancy). I also go over it to see if I have chosen the best words to elicit the right emotions from the reader and if I’ve painted the picture I want them to see. I check obvious things like spelling and grammar last, for the most part, because it’s inefficient to correct words you may be deleting altogether. Sometimes it’s hard to resist though.

Why don’t I just write the whole thing the way a character would say it? There’s a couple of reasons for that. Sometimes I haven’t gotten to know the character well enough yet. They’re shy perhaps and are taking their time to open up to me. Another reason is that I may just be in a hurry to get the fundamentals of a scene down.

Right now I’m in research mode. I’ve seen the odd little scene in my head and written notes for those, but I haven’t seen my battle yet because I don’t know who the players are. I’m working on that though. I’m researching magical creatures and picking my teams. Who are all the players on the good side and who’s on the bad side? It’s crucial I answer that before I try to write the battle. I’m aiming to have the players figured out this week and then I should be making some serious wordcount progress.

I’m not in a hurry to reach editing though. I’ve skimmed some of my early chapters and figured out I have a lot of work ahead to make my story flow in a way that makes sense and is entertaining for the reader.

Anyway, there is a method to my madness. It’s kind of organized chaos.

Is it really Sunday already? I better get to bed.

Ciao,
R~

A bad workman…

Today’s proverb is, “A bad workman blames his tools.”

I don’t fully agree with this. There is merit to it as some people just look for excuses to avoid doing something. There are valid reasons to having the right tool though.

Take process mapping, for example. Yes, one can process map by hand or use paper-based methods involving sticky notes (I’ve seen it), but at some point it becomes rather cumbersome to maintain and a realization that the paper could become damaged and a lot of work could be lost, occurs. Sticky notes fall off. Plus, it’s hard to share a very large paper copy with others without them having to come to a specific site to see it. Putting it into a computer-based tool like Visio becomes a necessity. Not all versions of Visio are created equal. Some versions one may spend inordinate amounts of time trying to get something to work, where a newer version lets you document the process in seconds because they constantly improve the tool.

Yes, you can write a novel on paper, in notepad, in Word, or in something like Scrivener. There are benefits to each method. I often start my first scribblings in paper as I have with a recent piece that may or may not become a romance novel. With paper, I often feel like I don’t want too much of it on paper as I’m scared it will be spilled upon or have some other catastrophe occur and I will have to rewrite. Rewriting isn’t terrible as I usually write it better the second time, but there is the odd time I’ve felt that I lost an amazing piece of work (perhaps only amazing in my own mind haha). Notepad is as simple as it gets with a few font options and word wrap being it’s features. I often used to do random notes in Notepad as little pieces of my series that I wasn’t sure where to use. I used Notepad in conjunction with Word because those little notes in Notepad took up less space than they would as Word documents. I was writing in Word for a long time using the outline view option to allow me to navigate through my story without having to scroll through pieces of it. Now I’m finishing it in Scrivener because it’s amazing. I get the benefits of Word’s outline view, combined with the benefits of separate little notes, and a whole host of new features like the ability to take a snapshot of a webpage for citing and referencing. This means that I don’t have to be online to work with my novel if I’ve grabbed the research material beforehand. This also means that I don’t have to take up so much room on my hard drive with pictures of things. I can split the view so I can be writing while having the webpage open in the application. That all being said, I could have finished writing it in Word likely, but it was getting cumbersome to work with and Word is rather prone to crashing.

My point is that there always comes a time where it is necessary to upgrade if getting the job done efficiently is a concern.

The only reasons to stick with old tools are artistic ones or short-term monetary ones. The Woodwright’s Shop on PBS is an example of an artistic or artisan use of old tools. It’s neat watching the way things were made years ago and it’s probably rather enjoyable to be able to take such time and care with each piece he produces. Were he in high demand, he likely wouldn’t be able to keep up using his current toolset. He would need power tools. Still, there is this enchanting element to putting so much care into each piece. He’s not in a rush. He’s truly enjoying his work. How many can say that today? How many times are workers today rushed to complete something and unhappy with their own finished product? Software gets released with bugs and products with extra holes or missing pieces. The world of today is a hurried one. I refuse to take that approach with my novel. Sure, I’ve been at it for a few years, but I’m doing it to my own level of quality. Rome wasn’t built in a day and the first Harry Potter book took 5 years to write, in part because she was planning parts of the rest of the series. Life was likely crazy raising children alone and working whenever she could. I’ve had my own challenges along the way and I’m not worried about it because the time it takes to write it doesn’t diminish the words on the page.

Anyway, I may be getting off topic. I think everyone has tools they prefer for certain jobs. I find it uncomfortable to rollerskate if I don’t have the right socks. Some derby girls can’t imagine playing the sport while wearing underwear. Labeling someone as a bad worker simply because they have a preference for one tool over the other doesn’t make sense to me. They may be exemplary in actuality and know something you don’t about the different tools. Drummers often prefer specific makes of drumsticks and drums. Yes, they can jam with different ones if they had to, but why would you make them? Artists may be at the extreme level of pickiness with their water preferences, brands of paint, guitars, etc, but that doesn’t make them bad at what they do. I don’t believe this proverb is anything more than a blanket statement issued after observing only a small sample. Yes, I can manage to perform my martial art with a longer bokuto than I am used to, but the quality isn’t the same until I’ve had time to get used to the change. I also don’t believe that only rockstars, famous authors, Gotham all stars, or CEOs should be allowed to be choosy with what tools work best for them.

Yes, it may be true that a bad worker will blame their tools, but they’ll also blame everyone else around them and anything they can remotely associate with their poor performance. They’re easy to root out and the rest of us shouldn’t be lumped with them.

I guess this proverb got to me. Sorry if I ranted too much 😉

Ciao,
R~