Helpless in the face of luxury

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(I’m posting this to share my experience, not to solicit advice. If others want to share their experiences, too, I’d love it, but no advice, please.)

“It’s called willpower,” Colson Whitehead says in this PW article about… well, about many things, only one of which is the need some writers have of hiding themselves away in a hostage pit because they can’t handle distraction.

I’m one of those writers, and I freely admit that it embarrasses me. When the writing gets really difficult, I find it very difficult to focus on the problems and opportunities there, and all too easy to check my emails, or Twitter, or my LiveJournal friends list.

It used to be that I could hide at Starbucks. They charged for wi-fi and I’m too cheap to pay for my procrastination… then they backed down and offered it for free. Soon I was checking my emails, just in case something important came in, and are there new posts on LJ? Oh, what crazy shit has so-and-so said about books this time? An article on health care reform! It’s my duty as a citizen to stay up-to-date on politics, and besides I can read it while this funny video loads.

And don’t forget that I need things to blog about other than the usual I’m-tired-my-butt-itches crap. Links for the Randomness posts! Op-eds to disagree with! Movies to pick apart!

Except that I didn’t really need any of that. What I needed was time and quiet space to work. I don’t need a physically quiet space, but I do need one where my jump-around brain won’t latch onto something interesting and easy, like my Twitter timeline or the book I’m reading.

There was a Radiolab from a while back that talked about the bargains creative people have to make. It’s worth listening to, maybe while you’re doing dishes or something. For me, it’s helped me work out a new plan to increase my productivity: just like all those people who put A WOMAN UNDER THE INFLUENCE in their Netflix queue as something they’ll watch someday way out in the future while continually picking THE HANGOVER or DRIVE ANGRY for what they want to watch right now, it’s easy for me to plan virtue way in advance, but nearly impossible to grasp it in the moment. If I could be trusted to back up my own material manually, I’d crack the case of my laptop and pith my wi-fi connection. Since I can’t, I use Dropbox.

So I turn my laptop on the night before and set Mac Freedom for six hours. Maybe eight, but usually six.

That’s long enough for me to do my pages, then revise one of my old short stories for a self-pub collection I’m considering, and that’s it. I can reboot if I want to check my email at the library or whatever, or I can come straight home and wait for the timer to run out, at which point the household wi-fi handles all the backing up.

But that’s the best work around I can come up with at the moment. My brain has a hard time staying on task, and talking about willpower misses the point. If I’m hungry, tired, cold, or depressed, I can write. Adversity I can handle. What I have a hard time with, apparently, is fun, luxury, pleasure, and comfort. Those are the things that will ruin me.

Update: An article on the limits of willpower.

Eating 3.64 cookies

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Friday on Twitter, I joked that once Child of Fire received 300 ratings on Goodreads, I would eat 3.64 out of 5 cookies in celebration. Well what do you know. It happened! Last night I bought some Pepperidge Farm Nantuckets (no limericks, please) because I knew I wouldn’t have time for the preferred option, which was baking fresh.

And I took pictures:
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In which I work

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I’ve been a little unproductive lately. I’m not sure exactly why, but the pages have been difficult. Revisions have been difficult. Polishing has been difficult.

Yesterday I deliberately got a late start, set Freedom for 3 hours, and focused. It was good.

This morning I made sure to be up by 5 am. I set Freedom for the max: 8 hours. I hit the Starbucks and the library and tore into the notes (and polish) for Twenty Palaces.

And I finished more than half the book.

I dunno, you guys. Do you think the internet might by harming my productivity?

Progress on Twenty Palaces

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This morning I spent about half an hour on the phone with my agent going over her notes for Twenty Palaces aka “book zero” aka “the prequel.” They were mostly pretty straight forward and will not require much work to fix. One note, though, was a biggie. It gets at the heart of Ray’s actions and motivations in the last part of the book, and it’s yet another example of me failing at the craft because I wanted to make a point rather than keep to the characters.

Still, I took a long walk in the hot sun and I think I have a solid, sensible way to address it.

Now I just have to get to work. Good day.

Sun!

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It’s almost seven am, I’m freshly breakfasted, the hummingbirds are floating outside my window, the stellar jays are squawking, and the sun is shining.

I’m going for a walk.

But it’s not going to be a “fun” walk; it’s going to be a vigorous exercise/plot walk. A Key, An Egg, An Unfortunate Remark has been a bit difficult lately and I’m not sure where it should go next. This walk will be a chance to plot a course forward. Which I need.

Also, did I mention that the sun is shining?

Hopefully, I won’t see you guys around the interwebs for a few hours.

This is worth reading

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Running the Barkley.

It’s the sort of extreme running event that extreme running events think goes too far, an event where people literally lose their minds while running it. They start hallucinating, get amnesia, totally lose themselves. It’s a race that’s almost designed not to be finished.

It reminds me of a profile I read some time ago about a distance runner and his training methods. He’s from Eastern Europe somewhere, and he does the same thing: runs until the pain is too much and the exhaustion made him hallucinate and go mad. The quote that stuck with me (which I’ll have to paraphrase) is from his trainer, who believed that when the runner was telling them the pain was too much, when he hallucinated, thought he’d gone blind, couldn’t remember where he was or why he was running, that was the point at which the trainer thought he’d given about 50%.

There’s a temptation to turn all this into a lesson for my own life. Maybe you feel that temptation, too. I mean, what’s the analog in my life for a long project that makes me crazy? Not writing a novel. I may complain about it (because I’m a crybaby, but you knew that) but it never drives me to the point of hallucinating. Maybe if I wrote something as long and complex as George RR Martin’s series, I’d have something comparable. I mean, seriously, writing a novel is not that hard.

Of course, there’s also parenting, but the rewards of that are self-evident, no matter how grueling it can become.

But it’s interesting to me, to see what people can achieve. It’s strange to think of something as the upper limit of human endurance, only to discover other people blow past them regularly.

Apparently, this is how I work:

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1. Shiny new idea!!! Must think about ways to make it good.

2. Think think think think.

3. I can’t stand the wait! Must start writing!

4. write write write

5. Holy crap, I’m just about at the end of the book and it’s only 34,000 words long? Why didn’t I think more before I started? If I don’t figure something out, I’m going to have to ditch all the work I’ve done on this shiny idea!

6. Think think think self-recrimination think think think.

7. Hey… what about [completely obvious thing]? Oh! Think think think think.

Norwescon Con Report

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Short version: No.

Long version: I’ll be spending tomorrow at the library, writing my new book.

Probably.

I will say that I saw more ass crack than I’m personally comfortable with, and while people were perfectly nice, the folks I did manage to chat with did not share any of my interests. No, I’ve never seen the Matt Smith “Doctor” (and I’m not all that fond of Tennant, either). No, I don’t know what “GNOME” is, let alone what it’s doing on my MacBook (“running” apparently).

Actually, it was pretty much what I expected: a place for folks to connect with their friends and blather about things genre.

It does require me to ask myself: What the hell are my interests? What could I talk about at a con? The nuances of the ACA? What the hell do I know about now that I’m a stay-at-home dad who spends most of his time working on books and trying to get his son to flush the damn toilet?

At least I know what programming is like.