23 December 2010

A Car Theft for Christmas

As a longtime driver of extremely used cars, I've never been in a position to gracefully resell a car or (heaven forbid) turn one in to a dealer against the purchase of a new car. The two cars I've owned by my very own self have gone melodramatically.

The first, a 1965 Ford Meteor, rusted out. My mechanic told me to sell it, but I just couldn't let it go.

The frame broke in half when they tried to put it on the hoist to check the brakes.

I cried for an evening, and stayed up all night drinking a bottle of wine all by myself as a tribute to that fine, extremely large vehicle. I remembered the good times: the time her muffler fell off in the alley and I had to drive to the mechanic hearing the mighty eight-cylinder engine's full roar, the muffler on the passenger seat beside me. It was extraordinary.

Then there was the time my friends and I drove her all the way to St. Louis and back.

I was still driving the Meteor when I met Dave. Let me tell you, a giant green vintage car that looks like it was used on the set of Mad Max for a while is a great thing to have if you're trying to meet a guy like Dave. I won't say what kind of guy that is, because Dave is many things, but let's just say he was greatly impressed by that car, and that greatly impressed me.

When the Meteor died, I would have been really stuck for a car if my dad hadn't given me his old Dodge Spirit. I know, right? From super sexy vintage badass car and dad car. The Spirit wasn't exactly my dream car, but I was super poor and in no position to complain at all. And you know, that circa 1994, burgundy wonder with its matchy-matchy interior was not so bad. Six cylinders gave her a lot of pep. And I didn't care if the dog gucked up the interior with his muddy feet. We've gotten along well enough for the last four years or so.

A couple of Saturdays ago, I went out to get into the car and take the dog to some remote hiking trails for a good, solid walk.

Someone had broken into the Spirit over night. They'd tried to drill through the driver side door and failed, apparently, then drilled through the passenger side door (the street light was shining on that side - better visibility), and gotten into the car.

At that point, my neighbour, who happened to be awake at 4:30 in the morning, looked out her window and saw the guy enter my car. She woke her husband up and told him to go out and check out what was happening.

In getting dressed, he turned on a light. I guess the guy saw it and ran away.

He'd already pulled the ignition out. As I understand it, he was about five seconds away from starting the engine and driving away.

Long story short, because of my fabulous neighbour, there was still a car to send to the garage and be assessed for the insurance claim. The insurance company called it a total - a little bit too bad, since the car was still in running order. At the same time, the payout was more than I could possibly have gotten if I'd tried to sell the car.

So today, Dave and I bit the bullet and bought a new car. Well - new to us, and newer than any other car I've owned. It's a 2009, previously used by a rental agency. We're happy with it. It's fun to drive.

In some ways, that would be car thief did us a favour. Not as big a favour as our neighbour, though, which is why we gave her and her husband cookies. Mister car thief, you'll just have to settle for an internet shout-out.

Merry Christmas, everyone. But an extra special Happy New Year to the car thieves out there.

17 December 2010

Don Hertzfeldt's Wisdom Teeth

Don Hertzfeldt of Bitter Films releases Wisdom Teeth on YouTube, "just in time to ruin the holidays." I laughed hard, and nervously, through the whole thing.

16 December 2010

Conspiracy, the Paranormal and Me

Image by Ibrahim Iujaz of Not So Good Photography.

I'm in love with modern conspiracy theory and current research on paranormal phenomena and their attendant concerns about shifting realities, earth changes, dimensions of consciousness and the darker aspects of the powers that be. If you're like me and you want to eschew vampires and werewolves for a different flavor of beast, might I suggest reptilian overlords and black-eyed kids? You need only dip your finger into the rich, weird soup of paranormal and conspiracy research to find endless fodder for new mythologies and world building.

I'm not (so far) drawing directly on any of the common tropes of conspiracy theory, like 2012 predictions, the New World Order, or UFOs. I've dabbled a bit in shadow people and old hag syndrome (although the latter isn't new - it's quite old).

I think what really interests me in this research is the way that attending to extreme experiences makes you feel. After listening to a podcast or reading about paranormal and conspiracy perspectives, the world around me tends to feel just a bit shifted from normal. There are lots and lots of us whose experiences don't fit into the comfortable, mundane boundaries of the everyday. When you listen to a story from the fringes, and the teller is obviously speaking his truth, it changes your ideas of the possible. For a writer - especially for a genre writer - that is a very good thing.

As I'm continuing to work on my current novel, I'm putting my characters through the kind of profound paradigm shift that occurs to people who undergo fringe experiences.

If you want to get a taste of what I'm talking about, I can't recommend a better entry point than the Mysterious Universe podcast. Hosted by the lovely Benjamin Grundy and Aaron Wright, the podcast covers "the strange, extraordinary, weird, and wonderful and everything in between." Focusing on the UFO phenomenon and paranormal news, Grundy and Wright read stories from around the world and discuss the implications each week. Bonus factor: cool Aussie accents.

If you want to go deeper down the rabbit hole, Red Ice Radio is where I would suggest you go. Unlike MU, which tends to filter stories through discussion, Red Ice chooses researchers from an astonishing range of alternative backgrounds and perspectives, and gives them an hour or more to share their stories, theories and points of view. I've learned more about the huge variety of things that people can think about and research from Red Ice than I ever imagined possible. They discuss "Ancient Civilizations, Geopolitics, Conspiracy, Secret Societies, Fraternal Orders, Esoteric and Occult Subjects, Science and Technology, Phychology, Space, Spirituality, Health, Religion, History, The Future, Transhumanism, GMO, Archaeology, The New World Order and much more." Host Henrik Palmgren approaches every interview without judgement and with questions aimed at allowing the guest an optimal chance to share his views. I've especially enjoyed interviews with Neil Kramer, Christopher Moors, and Jeremy Narby, but you'll have to find your own magic combo. Bonus Factor: cool Swedish accent.

15 December 2010

You Show Me Yours, I'll Show You Mine! January 3rd

Boggers Sarah (Falen) Ahiers of Falen Formulates Fiction, Hannah Kincade of Musings of a Palindrome, and Summer Frey of And this Time, Concentrate! are hosting a celebratory post NaNoWriMo 2010 Blogfest on January 3rd.


The deal: on January 3rd, 2011 we all post up to 500 words excerpted from our 2010 NaNo Novels.

Sign up here at And this Time, Concentrate! and join in the fun.

14 December 2010

Read Any Good Books Lately?

Lovecraft and Derleth enthusiasts Bad Advice for Good Times have a very important message for us all.

On a slightly more obscure, even more brilliant note:

Well played, Bad Advice, well played.

13 December 2010

Writing Practice, Morning Pages, Raw Word Count

I have a tai chi friend who struggles with the concept of practice. At one point, he said, "I think in some way's it's better to sit in a chair and think about tai chi, rather than practice and do it wrong."

Can you spot the faulty logic here?

Keanu knows the answer:

That's right, Keanu. Tai chi is something you practice by doing it.

Likewise, if you want to write, the way to get better is to do it.

A couple of weeks ago, I was talking with an aspiring writer friend of mine about how many words you can manage to get down on the page in a day. She was talking in admiring tones about a friend of hers who wrote a large manuscript in a relatively short period of time. The friend had done somewhere around 1200-1500 words a day. Which is pretty good. (Although some people claim you need 10,000 hours or one million words before you stop writing crap.)

I averaged a little better than that during NaNoWriMo this year, although on most of the days that I wrote, I produced between 2500 and 3k.

In many ways, this has been the year when I discovered I could do raw word count. Of all the lofty creative goals I set back in late December 2009, my 2010 raw word count goal (225k, if you must know) is the only one it looks like I'll meet. But it's also been, in many ways, the most important goal.

Because I learned a lot in those 225k (or, I should say, 200k - I've got about 25k left at this point).

My writing friend was a little mystified by all this raw word output. She has trouble squeezing out 300 or 400 words in a day of writing.

I'm not trying to boast here. But I was trying to figure out why I was able to get a couple thousand words of raw, rough draft in a couple of hours. The answer? I have done a whole heck of a lot of writing practice.

Back in the early 90s, when I was first realizing my dream to write, I discovered Natalie Goldberg. I read her Wild Mind: Living the Writer's Life back then, and it was a revelation. Mostly, the idea that simply writing for writing's sake was productive and helpful and made you a better writer, felt correct to me. It also took a lot of pressure off. Natalie Goldberg recommends writing in ten-minute stints. Set a timer and go, keeping your hand moving throughout the ten minutes. I did a lot of timed writing when I first read Wild Mind, and for a long time afterward. Unlike journaling, timed writing is just stream of consciousness stuff. Goldberg says it's about learning to trust your mind. I agree with that. It's also about building stamina as a writer.

Fast forward to early 2007. For some reason - I don't remember why now - I picked up a copy of Julia Cameron's The Artist's Way. This book is laid out as a multi-week course, with different exercises and areas to explore in order to release any blocks you have to creativity. The fundamental structure of Cameron's program is two-fold. She recommends a weekly "artist's date," where you take yourself to places or allow yourself time to do something that inspires you - what Cameron calls "filling the well." She also recommends what she calls "morning pages:" three raw, unedited, written-as-fast-as-you can stream of consciousness pages of writing, done first thing each morning.

Now, I never did get the hang of the artist's date, except for when I was living in Washington, DC, and I could go to a different and free museum every single weekend. But I did do morning pages, for a long time. They are time consuming. I have since fallen off the morning pages wagon. But I learned a whole heck of a lot by doing them. (If you're like me and barely functional in the morning, take heart: according to Noelle Stern, writing at Archetype: The Fiction Writer's Guide to Psychology, doing morning pages at night will not kill you or anyone else.)

Now, when I do raw, unedited, stream-of-consciousness writing, it's in the service of plot and what I call raw word count - the number of words worth of creative fiction I've written in a year. The 200k I've done so far includes 61 079 words of new novel, a bunch of short stories, and pieces of another, now-defunct novel. Not all of that word count was easy to execute: a lot of it came out with the approximate elegance of phlegm at the end of a bad cold. But the habit of just letting it all flow out on the page is something I trained myself to do through lots of practice, lots of timed writing, and lots of morning pages.

I've had people - creative writing teachers, specifically - sneer at the concept of writing 50k in one month, or getting a ton of writing down in short order. And I'm intrigued by claims that your creative juices really flow if you write as little as 500 words a day. But for me, I have to say, I'm comfortable with larger output, if I know my plot point A and point B for the day. I'm amazed at how little 3k really is, how little plot happens in that space, and some days, the best days, I'm scrambling to get it all down and keep up with the idea factory.

My point is, writing fast is something you can learn to do. Likewise, writing is something you can learn to do. If your dream is to write creatively, you have to practice. Your brain has a writing muscle, and you're training to become an Olympic athlete. Writing practice, morning pages, and raw word count are your training tools.

11 December 2010

The Fussy Writer's Guide to Making Time to Write, part 3

This post is part 3 of a 3-part series. Part 1 is here. Part 2 is here.

It's not just about the writing, you know. It's about having time to dream. It's about a sense of spaciousness. It's about having room to breathe.

Without these things, I personally think we're not fully human. We need time. You need time.

For me, the answer to getting a dribble of income going has been turning (again) to freelancing. For a while I worked for a charitable organization, writing web copy. That was an okay gig. Eventually, I discovered the world of online content writing. I write for a large studio that offers up front pay, and my goal for 2011 is to get more into writing for revenue share. I've barely begun putting ads on my own websites, mostly because my track record in writing consistently for those is crap (obviously), but it's something to consider. There are people out there who offer great and free advice on how to get into online writing. Start with No Job for Mom, and if that turns your crank, try The Freelancer Today's Make Money Writing a Blog series.

Let me be clear about this: online writing is not your key to instant wealth, and I don't recommend it for everyone. Most sites pay a scanty amount. You have to write very well, very fast, in order to make an okay amount. If you're going for revenue share / ad revenue, you have to be persistent and you have to not have a pile of bills or debt waiting for immediate payment. Many people have a fantasy that writers make a ton of money, and that there's some magical online source that will pour cash into your bank account if you can only get there.

This fantasy is false, at least for me. (Of course, if any of you have reached the pot of gold at the end of the rainbow, feel free to comment!) My experience is that online writing is okay part time work that pays an okay part time wage, most of the time.

But remember how you just spent some time paring down your expenses? It doesn't matter if your income is a dribble. Your outflow is also a dribble. And you'll have the luxury of time.

It doesn't have to be freelance writing. Try dogwalking. Or part-time receptionist work. Or anything that doesn't make you feel like hell all the time.

If you're a fussy writer, like me, it will be worth it.

10 December 2010

The Fussy Writer's Guide to Making Time to Write, part 2

This is part 2 of a 3-part series. Part 1 is here. Part 3 is here.

So, let's say you're a fussy writer like me. You want to write a lot of the time, while having some time left over for other life pursuit type stuff, but you also have bills to pay.

Two words: marry rich.

Just kidding. (I am not totally kidding. If you find someone to love who can support you in your vocation/s, take them up on it.)

But okay, let's say that marrying rich is not an option. Here's the first thing you need to do:

Pare down your expenses to the lowest possible amount.

I'm talking about really looking at where your money is going. Shave your budget right down. Decide what you need and what you don't need. Second car? Get rid of it. You won't need to go anywhere: you'll be writing. New shoes? Buy them later. Clothes? Value Village, Goodwill, or some other discount store. Or, consider this: that old sweater you already own is perfect writing gear. No one is going to see you in the workout pants that have a hole in the knee.

Obviously, how you do this is up to you. Some expenditures will have obvious solutions. I traded my book purchasing habits for trips to the library: easy peasy. I planned major expenditures - car repairs, vet visits, dentist trips - such that they spread out over time, rather than clumping up in one month where their effects would be disastrous.

The big thing for me was groceries. In our household, my partner covers rent and utilities, and I deal with groceries, car insurance, basic car maintenance, and internet. Groceries were the biggest item on my list. They still are, since I'm not too willing to compromise on eating healthfully. But I did cut back on our bills by shopping almost exclusively from the perimeter of the grocery store - the dairy, bread, meat and produce sections - focusing on healthy, unprocessed food rather than prepared stuff. I had been doing this already, but I amped it up pretty extremely.

My point is that it's vital to cut back on all expenses if you want to live like a fussy writer.


Fussy writing is not about taking 15 minutes a day to try to squeeze in your writing dream. It's about great gouts of time that you can roll around in and play with and dream in.

If you want more time, the easiest way to get it is to cut back on the hours you work. Negotiate a day off. Move to part time. Move to a lower responsibility job. The bottom line here is, you need to make a change. Time is money, people. Less money earned equals more time.

Being frugal - as extremely as you possibly can - will allow you the freedom to write.

Maybe you're entertaining fantasies of J.K. Rowling-like success. That's totally fine. Entertain those fantasies all you want. The fantasies won't pay the bills. That novel you're writing, well, it might not either. But it definitely won't get written if you don't take the time.

Here's what I've learned in the last couple of years of actually writing: dreams of success don't even come close to the happiness you feel when you know you're making yourself into a better writer. Finishing a short story and submitting it is a great accomplishment. Drafting a novel, realizing it's horrible, and drafting another one is good, hard work. Learning new tricks and understanding more and more about how to make your writing better - that is where it's at. All of these things are so, so sweet, and all of them are only possible if you spend great gouts of time on your writing.

I have to admit I'm at an advantage here, although it probably won't sound like one. When I decided I was done with higher education, it was at the crest of the economic crisis (which, admittedly, seems to have continued cresting). I was not super employable, and there were no jobs, anyway. I learned to budget on no income to speak of, and I learned exactly how little I could get by on. I realized that a full-time job isn't necessary for me right now. I would imagine that many of my decisions would seem totally absurd to someone with a good job (or at least a job), but coming from the totally unemployed side, working part time looked great and not scary at all.

Since I've started to cobble together a living, I've found that it is totally possible to fit work into my life, not the other way around.

More on that in part 3.

09 December 2010

The Fussy Writer's Guide to Making Time to Write, part 1

I am a fussy writer. I am also a fussy cook, a fussy walker-in-the-woods-avec-chien, a fussy meditator, and a fussy tai chi practitioner.

What I mean by "fussy" is that when I find something that I like to do, I want to do it right. I want to spend lots and lots of time doing it. I want to clear my schedule for that thing. I want to take my time. I want to treasure it. Otherwise, I find it difficult to focus, and I become a cranky jerk. I don't feel right about myself, or about other people. I become irrational. I lose it. It's indecorous.

When I decided to clear my schedule for writing, three years ago or so, I began to poke around looking for advice from other writers in my situation. I talked to friends about it. A lot of them were trying to skootch 15 minutes of writing into their week, or whatever. They were sad. They weren't really writing.

My martial arts background has served me well, in many ways. I know that you can't learn something by practicing it for 15 minutes once a week.

I wanted to find writers like the one I wanted to be, meaning writers who write all the time and still stay afloat financially without becoming super burned out.

I spent some time researching this. I looked into writer's blogs of various kinds. The successful ones mostly seem to have hatched from an egg with a contract with a major publishing company clutched in their yolky talons. When a well-established writer did talk about the days before he or she made it, the stories tend to be about slogging at a day job and crying into the keyboard while becoming increasingly sleep-deprived. While I respect and admire people who work at soul-grinding, mind-sucking jobs - or even just full-time, regularly tiring jobs - and then come home and still find time to write copious gouts, I just can't.

I'm getting old? I don't know if that's an excuse or a reason. I'm getting impatient is more like it.

With a little more research, I found some blogs by writers just starting out, who talked about freelancing to fill in the gap in income. Fortunately for some of these aspiring writers, they happened to be skilled in certain highly valued and well-paying areas that meant they could divide their time between writing and paid work and still make a good living. Unfortunately for me, my degrees are all in the arts. These days, let me tell you, it seems that nobody wants an English major. Especially not one with a PhD.

Ultimately, my goal was to create time to write, meet my financial needs, and allow me to feel like I still had some juice left over after I did work for pay.

Because there is a dearth of information out there about the seedier choices made by aspiring writers, and I am (pretty happily) living some of those seedier choices, I wanted to use the space of this blog to post about how I'm managing to stay afloat while still doing what I want.

I hope that parts two and three of this series will be useful to you, especially if you're facing a similar set of conundrums.