I struggle with self-discipline in all things, not the least of which is keeping myself on a regular writing schedule each day. As Mur Lafferty mentions in her terrific podcast I Should Be Writing (ISBW #301), Cory Doctorow pointed out that if a writer puts out only 250 words per day, the result will be a novel in a year. It sounds simple, but my writing is more like panic-and-binge than the machinelike regularity I’d like to develop.
Enter The Magic Spreadsheet. It’s a brilliant idea–to tap into the natural human competitive spirit and our tendency to become creatures of habit. The Magic Spreadsheet awards points, one point for 250 words, and level-ups for consistency. After keeping up with a daily quota for awhile, who would want to break the chain? Not me. I’m going to give this a try, and if it’s like so many others’ experience with this simple strategy, (I suppose for me it’s a tactic, since I’m just starting it.) I’ll make progress on my “extracurricular” science-fiction novel while keeping up with the MFA responsibilities of pushing my literary novel forward and annotating books.
If any of you has tried using a word count spreadsheet in an attempt to make yourself more productive, I’d like to hear about your experience.
By the way, there are a few of you who seem to read my message-in-a-bottle blog fairly regularly. I’d just like to say Thanks for tuning in. I really appreciate it.
How about some horror fiction? Check out the November 15th edition of Tales to Terrify which features two chilling tales by Joe McKinney, narrated by me. If you like what you hear, leave a comment on the Tales to Terrify website. If you love it, you can support the ‘cast by picking up a printed anthology for the horror lover on your gift list.
Hey, it’s not every day I meet a classic rock hero. I grew up on the Eagles’ music, and Frey wrote some of the first tunes I learned to play on the guitar. They played for about four hours, and I surprised myself by knowing the words to all but a couple of the songs. You could say I’ve been influenced.
I recently finished Denis Johnson’s collection of short stories called Jesus’ Son. The book follows a drug-addled character known as “Fuckhead” through several misadventures that are likely to produce a range of emotions from empathy to disgust, humor to anger. I met Denis Johnson back in June at the University of Tampa MFA summer residency where he appeared for a readings, question-and-answer, and had lunch with a small group of us star struck writing students. I seriously doubt he’d remember me, but I remember him as a polite and intense man with no time for bullshit. I liked him.
The overall effect of Jesus’ Son on me, once I got over being reminded that a layer of our society exists in a constant state of hopelessness fueled by a circular cycle of alcoholism, hard drugs, and bad decisions, was to ask myself what it is in human nature that nudges some of us toward self-destruction. I think these stories illustrate, like old-time fairy tales that teach children to obey their elders, what can happen when we value escapism more than establishing and maintaining meaningful relationships. To the question of how people can descend into a state that allows them to commit terrible acts without remorse, the stories in Jesus’ Son may provide some insight.
Denis Johnson may not have intended any sort of instruction when writing these stories, and perhaps they are as pointless as they seem, the ramblings of wasted losers clinging to the underbelly of society. I prefer to assign some sort of purpose to stories like these to counteract the realistic horror I find in them, and if readers are looking for a modern set of cautionary tales, Jesus’ Son fits the bill.
Each of us is the hero of their own story. Write about a person in a position of no great authority or importance, someone with no expectation for heroism or greatness. Toss this person into something that scares the living shit out of them–something well out of their weight class. They must not only fight to survive, but must bide their time and set conditions for success. The situation must be one with no possibility of backing out. They’re compelled to resist wrongs being done with a slim chance of escaping imprisonment, exile, death, or whatever consequence they fear most. Try to get the whole idea down in one sitting.
News comes to me that Nebula Award-winning author Eugie Foster has gotten a rather unpleasant surprise in the form of a fast-growing tumor in her sinuses -- cancer, in other words. Here's her write-up with the details. She's prepping for surgery even as you read this.
The good news is that she does have medical insurance, which will cover much of her costs.
The more insignificant we discover we are in the universe, the more important it seems (to me) to make something meaningful of our short, short lives and to spread the human race beyond the tiny, vulnerable bubble of air and water where it spawned.